We know that after the passing of the Prophet of Islam, Muslims were divided into two groups.
One group, called the Sunnis, believed that the Prophet of Islam had not selected a successor and that he had left it up to the people to assemble and choose a leader for them.
A second group believed that the Prophet’s successor should be as pious as the Prophet himself and should be competent to have the spiritual and material leadership of the people and defend the very foundation of Islam.
This latter group believed that such a successor could be appointed only through God and the Prophet and that this appointment had already been made by the Prophet who had chosen Imam `Al¢(s) as his successor. This latter group is designated by the title Imamiyyah or Shias.
It is our objective to delve into this issue through rational argumentation and through the use of historical and logical reasons and by resorting to the sacred verses of the Holy Qur’¡n and the Prophet’s tradition. However, prior to such discussion, let us first refer to some important issues.
Does such a discussion bring forth disagreement and discord?
When the issue of Imamate is brought up, there are some who would say: today is not the right time for such arguments. Today is the time for the unity of Muslims and discussing the Prophet’s successor only causes disunity among Muslims. These people also add that today all Muslims have common enemies, such as Zionism, and eastern and western colonialism.
Therefore, we should not bring up such disturbing topics.
However, this conservatism is wrong for the following reasons:
First: What causes disunity is prejudice, Logical arguments and revengeful aggression. logical and rational discussions, which do not include prejudice or obstinacy on the part in the participants of the discussion, and which are held in an amicable atmosphere not only do not cause disunity and division, but could bridge differences and strengthen commonalities.
In my frequent journeys to °ij¡z to perform the Hajj pilgrimage, I have had frequent discussions with Sunni scholars, and we both felt that these discussions would have no negative effects on our relations. Indeed, we felt that these discussions increased our understanding lessened the difficulties in our relations and eradicated any potential hatred from our relations.
The significant point in such discussions was the fact that we had a lot in common and these commonalities could help us against our enemies.
The Sunni school consists of four branches: the °anafis, the °anbalis, the Sh¡fi`¢s, and the M¡likis. The very existence of these four branches has not brought forth disunity among them, however. And when they include Sh¢`ah jurisprudence as the fifth branch, many discrepancies are removed. Recently, the great Mufti (leader) of the Sunnis, the chancellor of Al-Azhar University in Egypt, Sheikh Shaltut, took a big stride in formally accepting Sh¢`ah jurisprudence in this way Through this method he could bring forth, mutual understanding between Muslims and a cordial relationship developed between him and the late Ayatollah Borujerdi.
Second: We believe that true Islam is manifested in Shiism more than in the other Islamic sects. Having a deep respect for all sects of Islam, we firmly believe that the Sh¢`ah branch could introduce Islamic principles and solve problems better than the other branches.
Why should we not teach this Sh¢`ah school to our children? We would have wronged them if we did not do this.
We are certain that the Prophet of Islam had appointed a successor. Why should we not pursue the discussion logically? While discussing such delicate issues, however, we should take care not to hurt any one’s religious sentiments.
Third: The enemies of Islam have leveled so many lies and accusations against the Sh¢`ah to the Sunnis and against the Sunnis to the Shias that these two branches have separated and have gone their different ways.
But when we discuss the issue of Imamate in the manner presented above and clarify that which the Sh¢`ah emphasize through the Holy Qur’¡n and the traditions it will become clear that the enemies of Islam, which all the branches have in common have used their tricks in spreading false propaganda to cause divisions among Muslims.
As an example, I will never forget my discussion with one of the high standing religious leader of Saudi Arabia who told me he had heard that we use a Qur’¡n in Iran that was different from their Qur’¡n.
I became astonished and told him that he could investigate this very easily. I told him, “I invite you to come to Iran and go to any mosque to see if the Qur’¡n is different from yours. There are many Qur’¡ns in every mosque. In fact, you can find a copy of the Holy Qur’¡n in the home of every Muslim family. Our Qur’¡n is exactly like yours. Furthermore, most copies of the Qur’¡n we use are printed in °ij¡z, Egypt and other Islamic countries.
No doubt, this amicable discussion removed one of the misunderstandings from the mind of a religious leader.
We, therefore, conclude that discussions on the Imamate, if carried out according to the approach mentioned above would solidify Islamic unity and provide the opportunity to clarify facts and would lessen differences.
WHAT DOES IMAMATE MEAN?
As the title indicates, “Imam” means the leader of the Muslims and in Sh¢`ah ideology an infallible Imam is the one who acts in the capacity of the great Prophet of Islam, with the difference that the Prophet is the founder of Islam and the Imam is its keeper and protector. Revelations are revealed to the Prophet but not to the Imam. An Imam receives his instructions
from the Prophet and his knowledge is vast.
In the view of the Sh¢`ah, an infallible Imam is not a political leader of the Muslims. Rather, he is in charge of the spiritual, material, apparent and hidden aspects of the Islamic community. He is the defender of Islamic doctrines and law and a genuine servant of God.
The Sunnis do not interpret Imamate in this way.
They look at the Imam as mainly a political leader of the Islamic community.
In our future discussions, we will prove that at every period of time there should be a divine representative, either a Prophet or an infallible Imam among the people, so that he could protect the truth and lead the truth-seekers. If one day, for certain reasons he becomes hidden and disappears from our eyes, his representatives could teach the principles of Islam and establish an Islamic government.
THINK AND ANSWER
What is the logic behind such expressions as this: “Today is not the time to discuss Imamate?”
How many logical answers could you offer for such a discussion?
How have the enemies of Islam brought about division between the two major groups of Muslims? How could such differences be bridged?
Do you remember any examples of such divisions?
What is the difference between the concept of Imamate in Sh¢`ah ideology and Sunni ideology?