Chapter 6: Imamat and the Verse Regarding Despair of Unbelievers

We have already discussed that the doctrine of Shi'ah regarding the question of Imamat is basically different from that of the Sunnis. Hence it is not correct to say that both the Shi'ah and the Sunnis believe in Imamat alike, and differ in regard to its conditions only. In fact the Imamat in which we believe is absolutely different from the Imamat in which the Sunnis believe. It is equally incorrect to put the question whether the Imam is to be designated by the Holy Prophet or elected by the people, for the Imam of the Shi'ah concept appointed by a Prophetic ordinance, is quite different from the Imam of the Sunni concept, who is appointed by consultation and election.

We have already discussed the various stages and the conditions of Imamat, and pointed out that the Shi'ah begin the consideration of this question from the top and then come down to the facts as they exist to make sure that their theory is not merely hypothetical. They ascertain if the Qur'an has said something in this respect and whether the Holy Prophet has actually designated someone to this high office.

First we intended to discuss the relevant points in the order in which they have been mentioned by Khwaja Nasiruddin, but as the Eid al-Ghadir (festival of Ghadir) is going to be celebrated shortly, we deem it better to explain first the verses connected with that occasion.

The Holy Qur'an says:

"Today, the unbelievers have lost hope of ever harming your religion; so fear them not and have fear of Me! This day I have perfected your religion for you and completed My favour to you, and have chosen Islam as your religion." (Surah al Ma'ida 5:3)

The two parts of this verse begin with "this day". Both these parts are naturally interlinked with each other. In this verse this day may mean 'to-day' or may refer to some other day mentioned earlier. When we say that such and such person has arrived this day that means that he has arrived today. Allah says that this day (we will explain afterwards which day) those who disbelieve are in despair of harming your religion. Having lost all hope of their success, they have stopped their hostile activities against Islam.

So do not fear them. The next sentence is very astonishing. Instead, fear Me. It may be noted that the question involved is that of religion. Does Allah mean to say that 'the disbelievers can no longer do any harm to your religion? If any harm is to be done to it, it will be done by me? We will explain later, what the verse actually means. Continuing Allah says: This day have I perfected your religion and completed my favour to you. In this part of the verse two words, perfected and completed have been used. These two words approximately mean the same thing, but with some difference.

Difference between Perfection and Completion

A thing, the various parts of which should appear successively is called incomplete so long as its final part does not appear. When its last part appears, we say that it has been completed. A building is still incomplete even when its pillars have gone up and it has been roofed. It. is complete only when all parts of it get built up and it is finally fit for occupation. That is not the case with perfection. A thing may be called imperfect even when all its parts are complete, but not fully developed. A fetus is completed in the womb of its mother. In other words all its parts get built up. But even when it is delivered, it is not a perfect man. That means that it is not as mature as it should be. To become fully developed and mature is different from being complete. In fact the difference between completion and perfection is the same as between quantity and quality.

The Qur'an says:

"This day I have completed for you your religion, and then adds: perfected My favour to you and chose for you Islam as a religion."

In other words, Islam is now what Allah wanted it to be. Evidently the intention is not that Islam is still what it was, yet Allah has changed His view about it. What is meant is that now Islam, the chosen religion of Allah, has reached the stage of completion and perfection.

That is what the verse means. Now the question is to which day the phrase 'this day' refers. Which is the day on which according to the Qur'an, the religion of the Muslims was perfected and favour of Allah completed? That day on which such an extraordinary event took place must be a very important day. To this point both the Shi'ah and the Sunnis agree.

It is astonishing that the preceding and the following verses give no indication as to which day is that day. The context provides no verbal indication. In the preceding verses no important event has been mentioned, to which 'this day' may be referring. Very simple rules of law regarding the meat of certain animals, carrion, blood and pork have been mentioned in the verses immediately preceding this verse. Then all of a sudden the Quran says: This day the disbelievers have lost hope of ever harming your religion; so fear them not, fear Me.

This day I have perfected your religion for you and completed My favour to you, and have chosen Islam for you as a religion. Then the Qur'an again turns to previous theme and says: But he who is forced to eat the forbidden meat by hunger, not by will to sin, for him Allah is forgiving, Merciful. These verses have been so placed that if the intervening verse is taken out, the other verses run smoothly and the subject matter is not disturbed. The subject of meat has been repeated at two or three other places in the Qur'an, but there this intervening verse is not found.

Which Day is Meant by this Day?

Both the Shi'ah and the Sunni commentators of the Qur'an have tried to ascertain what 'this day' signifies. There are two ways of doing this.

One way is to find out its significance from the context and the other is to refer to history and tradition in order to find out on what occasion this verse was revealed. Those who have chosen the first course are indifferent to all that which history and the Sunnah say about the background of this verse. They look only to the substance of verse, and claim that it relates to the day on which the Holy Prophet was raised. According to them 'this day' means that day, not today.

It may also be mentioned that this verse belongs to the Surah al-Maidah, which is the fifth chapter of the Qur'an beginning with the following verse:

"Believers stand by your contracts (obligations)". (Surah Ma'idah, 5:1)

All commentators of the Qur'an agree that this chapter is the last one revealed at Medina. It was revealed even later than the Surah an Nasr. It is true that one or two verses placed in other surahs were revealed subsequently, but not a complete surah. Thus the Surah al-Ma'idah is the last Surah revealed to the Holy Prophet.

Various Views regarding what is meant by 'This Day'

(i) The Day the Holy Prophet was Raised

We have said that according to some people this day means that day, not this day. The question is what that indicates? They say that as this day has been described as the day on which Allah chose Islam as His religion for people. Naturally this day should be the day on which Islam commenced. But this argument is based on the words: I chose Islam for you as a religion. It could be valid had these words not been preceded by the sentence which says: This day I have completed for you your religion and perfected My favour to you. The day Islam was incepted is the day of the beginning of Allah's favour, not the day of its perfection. Hence 'this day' cannot be the day on which the Holy Prophet was raised to Prophethood.

(ii) The Day of the Conquest of Makkah

Another possibility is that 'this day' means the day of the conquest of Makkah. This is also a mere possibility without any evidence in support of it. It is argued that another day of great importance in the history of Islam is the day when Makkah was conquered, as on that day the following verses were revealed:

"Surely Allah has given you a signal victory, so that Allah may forgive you of your sin, that which is past and that which is to come." (Surah al-Fatah, 48:1-2)

There is no doubt that 'that day' was of great importance. In the Arabian Peninsula; Makkah spiritually had a unique position. Since the attack on the Ka'bah by the People of the Elephant and their defeat in an astonishing manner, all Arabs held the Ka'bah in great reverence and regard it as the most sacred place of worship. Following this event the Quraysh felt proud of themselves. They said that the Ka'bah was so sacred that a formidable army attacking it was afflicted by a celestial catastrophe and annihilated to the last man. The Quraysh believed that the event showed their importance. It had a psychological impact on other Arabs also, who began to respect and obey the Quraysh.

Since that time the Arabs had begun to believe that nobody could overpower them and seize the Ka'bah. But against all their calculations and expectations the Holy Prophet conquered Makkah easily without any bloodshed. During that operation nobody received the slightest injury. Perhaps the Holy Prophet had this point in view besides the sanctity of Makkah when he took special care of ensuring that Makkah was occupied without any bloodshed.

If fighting had taken place somewhere else, and a hundred Muslims had been killed, nobody would have attributed the loss to any special cause. But had the Muslims suffered any loss on the occasion of Conquest of Makkah, the pagans would have said: "Look, the companions of Muhammad have had the same fate as the People of the Elephant." So the Holy Prophet arranged the things in such a way that there were no casualties on either side. Only Khalid bin Walid killed out of malice two or three persons in the outskirts of Makkah, where a few persons were showing resistance. When the Holy Prophet heard the news, he denounced Khalid's action and said:

"Allah, I do not hold myself answerable for what he has done. I am not happy with his action."

This was the reason why from psychological point of view the Conquest of Makkah produced an extraordinary impact on the people of Arabia. They were tremendously impressed by the fact that the Holy Prophet was able to occupy Makkah and that too without suffering any loss. Consequently other people of the Arabian Peninsula also surrendered themselves. They began to come to Medina in large number and embraced Islam.

The Holy Quran says:

"Those who spent and fought before the victory are not upon a, level with the rest of you. Such are greater in rank than those who spent and fought afterwards. (Surah al Hadid, 57:10)

As before the Conquest of Makkah the Muslims were still a small community, they performed all good deeds because of their strong faith. But after the conquest the situation underwent a change. People were pouring in and embracing Islam. Anyhow, their Islam did not have the same value as the Islam of those who embraced it before the conquest. Therefore there is no doubt that the Conquest of Makkah was a great victory of Islam. We also do not dispute this fact.

As we have said, some people hold that it is the day of the conquest to which Islam has attached so much importance and said:

"This day those who disbelieve are in despair of ever harming your religion; so fear them not and have fear of Me! This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour to you, and have chosen Islam for you as a religion."

But as we have pointed out there is nothing in the text or in history to prove that this verse refers to the Conquest of Makkah. Further, a part of this verse does not support the contention of these people. The words, 'I have perfected your religion for you and completed My favour to you, show that by then everything about religion had been revealed and nothing was left unsaid, but we know for certain many religious instructions were revealed subsequent to the Conquest of Makkah. This position does not tally with the words; I have completed My favour to you. When somebody says that he has completed a building, he does not refer to a building that is still incomplete.

Many verses of the Qur'an, including those of the Surah al-Ma'idah, which is a lengthy surah, and contains a good number of rules of law, were revealed after the Conquest of Makkah. How can this verse which is a part of the Surah al-Maidah relate to the Conquest of Makkah which took place in the eight year of the Hijra while this surah was revealed towards the end of the tenth year? Even if we say that the verse under review alone was revealed on the occasion of the Conquest of Makkah, the perfection of Divine favour still does not tally with this event.

There is another difficulty in interpreting 'this day' by the day of the Conquest of Makkah. The verse says: This day the unbelievers lost hope of harming your religion. Now the question is whether it is a fact that the disbelievers lost every hope of resisting Islam on the day of the Conquest of Makkah. It is true that the Conquest of Makkah was a victory of far reaching effect, but is it also a fact that the disbelievers on that day lost every hope that Islam would ever be vanquished? That does not seem to be the case.

(iii) Recitation of Surah al-Baraat by Imam Ali

There is another day which is regarded very important, and so it was. It is said that 'this day' possibly means the day on which the Surah al-Bara'at was recited by Imam Ali at Mina in 9 A.H. The conquest of Makkah was a military victory. It established Islam as a military force and even as a moral power. But the Holy Prophet still lived under the terms of the Peace Treaty which he had concluded with the infidels. Under this treaty the disbelievers had the right of entering Makkah, circumambulating Ka'bah and even of participating in the Hajj ceremonies. The Muslims performed Hajj according to Islamic law and the disbelievers performed it according to their own rites.

In 9 A.H. Surah Bara'at was revealed. At that time it was decided that Imam Ali should go to Mina, and recite this Surah there, publicly proclaiming that thenceforth the pagans had no right to take part in the Hajj ceremonies, which were an exclusive privilege of the Muslims.

Generally it is said that the Holy Prophet first dispatched Abu Bakr at the head of the Hajj caravan. He was still on his way when the verse banning pilgrimage to Makkah by the pagans was revealed. There is a difference of opinion among the commentators of the Quran as to whether Abu Bakr took Surah Baraat with him or he went only as the Amir of Hajj. In any case it is unanimously held by the Shi'ah ad the Sunnis and is considered to be a point of excellence going in favour of Imam Ali that the Holy Prophet on his own personal camel sent him to Mina as his special envoy. The Holy Prophet said to him:

"You must go because I have been Divinely instructed that this surah is to be recited by none except you or someone related to you".

Imam Ali proceeded and met Abu Bakr while he was still on his way. The story goes that Abu Bakr was in a tent when the Holy Prophet's special camel uttered a loud cry. Abu Bakr, who was familiar with this cry, came out to find that Imam Ali had come. He was set aback, and thought that there must be something very important. He said to Imam Ali: "Is there any special news?"

Imam Ali said: "I have been detailed to recite Surah Bara'at to the people." Abu Bakr said: "Has anything been revealed against me?" "No", said Imam Ali. Here there is again some difference of opinion. The Sunnis say that Imam Ali proceeded on his way and recited the surah according to his plan. In the mean-time Abu Bakr continued his journey, though he had lost one of his assignments. But the Shi'ah believe, and many of the Sunnis also as mentioned in al-Mizan the commentary on the Qur'an that Abu Bakr returned from there, called on the Holy Prophet and said: "Messenger of Allah, has anything been revealed in this surah against me?" The Holy Prophet said: "No".

The day on which Surah Bara'at was proclaimed, was an extraordinary day for the Muslims, because on that day the infidels were debarred from taking part in Hajj ceremonies and entering the holy precincts. It was made clear to them that they could no longer be allowed to lead a polytheistic life. Islam does not tolerate polytheism.

It accepts co-existence with Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism, but not with paganism. Some people say that perhaps 'this day' means the day on which surah Bara'at was revealed. In reply to them it may be said that this presumption is not in consonance with the words of the Quran which says: I have completed My favour to you, for many religious instructions were received subsequently. This day must be one of the last days of the Holy Prophet's lifetime after which no fresh religious instructions should have been received.35

These explanations of 'this day' have no textual indication or historical evidence to support them.