Chapter 7: Imamat in the Quran
In the previous meeting we discussed the verse, Today I have perfected your religion and completed My favour to you and have chosen Islam for you as a religion, and said that the internal and external evidence relating to this verse showed that, as reported by the Shi'ah and the Sunnis both, it was revealed in connection with the Ghadir al-Khum event.
As at present we are discussing the Quranic verses on which the Shi'ah arguments about Imamat are based, we propose to quote two or three more verses in order to elucidate the trend of the Shi'ah arguments.
One of these verses is a verse of the Surah al-Maidah which comes some 60 verses after the above quoted verse. The verse runs as follows: "0 Messenger! Make known that which has been revealed to you from your Lord, for if you do it not, you will not have conveyed His message." (Surah al-Ma'idah, 5:67)
It is necessary to make a few preliminary remarks which will be helpful to understand this verse and the previous one.
Special Position of the Verses Relating to the Prophet's Progeny
A point that is really somewhat mysterious is that the Qur'anic verses relating to the Prophet's progeny especially the verses which from our Shi'ah point of view relate to Imam Ali, have a special way of expression. Though these verses have enough internal evidence to indicate what they signify, yet they have been inserted in between some other verses dealing with some other points. That is why effort has to be made to get at their significance. This special feature has been admirably dealt with by Muhammad Taqi Shari'ati in his book, Imamat and Khilafat. Others have also mentioned this point, but he is perhaps the first to deal with it in Persian. This feature also provides an answer to those who ask why Imam Ali's name has not been expressly mentioned in the Qur'an.
The Verse of Tathir (Purification)
For example, we have a verse known as the verse of Tathir (purification):
"People of the house, Allah wants to remove all kinds of uncleanliness from you and to purify you thoroughly". (Surah al-Ahzab, 33:33)
Here purification means a particular kind of purification that has been mentioned by Allah. It does not mean an ordinary or a medical cleansing. That is not what is meant. In fact it means the removal of all that is regarded by the Qur'an as rijs or rujz that is all kinds of dogmatic, moral and practical sins. That is why it is said that this verse indicates the infallibility of the members of the Prophet's Household and their being far above all sorts of impurities.
Suppose we are neither the Shi'ah nor the Sunnis but are some Christian orientalists who want to see what the Divine Scripture of the Muslims says. We come across this verse in the Qur'an and then when we refer to Islamic history and the Muslim traditions, we find that not only the partisans and followers of the Prophet's progeny, known as the Shi'ah, but even the members of that sect which is not a special supporter of the Prophet's progeny while mentioning the occasion of the revelation of the above verse, state in their most authentic books that it refers to Imam Ali, Fatimah Zahra', Imam Hasan, Imam Husayn and the Holy Prophet himself.
There is a Sunni tradition which says when this verse was revealed, Umm Salamah38 one of the Holy Prophet's wives came to him and asked him if the verse was applicable to her also. The Holy Prophet replied that she was blessed but she was not included among those to whom the verse applied. The authorities who have reproduced this tradition are more than one or two. Many reports to this effect are found in the books of the Sunnis.
We find that the above-quoted verse is mixed with some other preceding and following verses relating to the Holy Prophet's wives.
"0 you wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women. (Of course the verse does not mean to say that the Prophet's wives are superior to other women.) 0 you wives of the Prophet! Whosoever of you commits a sin, the punishment for her will be doubled. The punishment will be doubled, because she not only commits that particular sin, but also violates the sanctity of her husband and is guilty of sacrilege.
"Whosoever of you is submissive to Allah and His messenger and does right, We shall give her double reward".
She will be doubly rewarded because a virtuous act of hers actually consists of two acts. This case is similar to that of the sayyids who are said to be doubly rewarded for their good deeds and doubly punished for their evil ones. That is not because a sin committed by them is different from that committed by others, but is due to the fact that their sin is twofold. For example, if a sayyid, God forbid, drinks wine, he besides committing that sin, is guilty of sacrilege also, for he is a descendant of the Holy Prophet, and any person who sees him acting openly against the Holy Prophet's teachings, gets a very wrong impression of Islam.
In these verses all the pronouns are of the feminine gender. O you wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women if you have fear of Allah. Obviously the wives of the Holy Prophet are being addressed here. After two or three verses the pronouns suddenly change into the masculine gender and we arrive at this verse: People of the house, Allah want to remove all kinds of uncleanliness from you and to purify you thoroughly. Then again the feminine pronouns are used twice. The Qur'an does not do anything haphazardly.
In this verse we notice two changes. Firstly here the expression, People of the House has been used, whereas previously the Wives of Prophet were addressed all along. Secondly the feminine pronouns have been replaced by the masculine pronouns. These changes are not without a reason. Actually this verse deals with a subject different from that which was dealt with by the previous verses. The verses preceding and following this verse prescribe certain duties for the wives of the Holy Prophet and inter alia imply threat, fear, hope and command. Addressing them the Quran says:
"And stay in your houses and do not display your embellishments in the pre-Islamic way." (Surah al-Ahzab, 33:33)
This instruction implies an order as well as a threat. The Holy Prophet's wives have been told that if they would behave well, such and such would be the result, but if they would behave differently the consequences also would be different. As such this passage of the Quran implies fear as well as hope.
This verse that is the verse of tathir or purification is more than a simple eulogy. It signifies that the members of the Prophet's progeny are infallible and free from every sin and error. It is an independent statement and has no connection with the verses preceding and following it. Those verses were addressed to the Holy Prophet's wives, and this verse is addressed to the 'People of the Prophet's progeny'. In those verses the feminine pronouns were used, but in this verse the pronouns are masculine. Anyhow, this verse which has no connection with the verses preceding or following it, has been inserted into the midst of them.
It may be called a parenthetical sentence. We all know that sometimes it happens that a speaker speaking on a subject makes a sudden digression and then again resumes the subject on which he was speaking. That is why our Imams have emphatically stated that it is possible that some verses of the Qur'an deal with one subject in the beginning, with another in the middle and with a third in the end. A great deal of stress has been laid on this point in connection with the interpretation of the Quran.
Not only do our traditions and our Imams say that this verse is not connected with the verses preceding and following it and that it deals with quite a different subject relating to these to whom it is addressed, but all the Sunni sources also have reported this fact.
Another example of a parenthetical verse is:
"On this day I have perfected your religion." (Surah al-Ma'idah, 5:3)
Here also we find the same case, rather a little more amazing. The verses preceding this verse deal with very simple and ordinary rules of law:
"The beast of cattle is made lawful to you . . . . . . Forbidden to you are carrion and blood and swine-flesh and that which has been dedicated to any other than Allah and the strangled and the dead through beating and the dead through failing from a height and that which has been killed by the goring of horns . . . . "(Surah al-Ma'idah, 5:1-2)
Then all of a sudden the topic changes and we come across the following verses:
"Today the disbelieves have despaired of harming your religion; so fear them not and fear Me. On this day I have perfected your religion, completed My favour on you and have chosen Islam as your religion." (Surah al-Ma'ida, 5:3)
Then the theme which was being discussed earlier is once again resumed. Basically these two verses are not in keeping with the verses preceding or following them. Evidently they have been inserted in the midst of the verses dealing with a totally different point. The same was the case with the verse we were just talking about. We find that it was inserted between other verses in such a way that if it was removed, the other verses would not get disjointed. Similarly if the verse, On this day I have completed. . . . . is taken out, the harmonious flow of the verses preceding and following it will not be disturbed.
It is a verse inserted in the midst of other verses in such a way that it is neither a tail-piece of the verse preceding it, nor a prelude to the verse following it. It deals with an entirely different subject. The internal indications of the verse itself as well as the reports of the Shi'ah and Sunni sources, all support the view that it is an independent verse. But why has this verse after all been inserted in between the verses with which it does not have any connection? There must be some reason for that and a good reason too.
The reason to which our Imams also have alluded can be inferred from the Quran itself. Hence, out of all Islamic precepts, the divine commands, relating to the special position of the Holy Prophet's progeny and the question of Imam Ali's Imamat, had the least chance of being implemented. Owing to their deep-rooted prejudices the Arabs seemed to be the least prepared to accept these ideas. Although the Holy Prophet had received Divine instructions regarding Imam Ali, he apprehended that if he made them known, he would be accused of nepotism by the hypocrites mentioned in the Qur'an, in spite of the fact that he never gave preference to himself over others.
In keeping with the Islamic teachings it was his habit not to make any discrimination, and this quality of his was a very important factor in his success. To proclaim Imam Ali as his successor was a Divine command, but he knew that the people of weak faith would as usual say that he wanted to distinguish himself. We have seen that in the above verse, the words on this day I have perfected your religion, were preceded by the words, this day the disbelievers are in despair of ever harming your religion; so fear them not and fear Me.
What is meant is that the disbelievers have lost every hope of their success against Islam, and so fear them not and fear Me. As pointed out earlier, it is a Divine way of Allah to withdraw His bounties and favours, from those whose inner condition goes bad. Such people may be deprived of even Islam, which is also a Divine favour. To say: fear Me is a way of saying: fear yourselves. In other words, the Muslims no longer faced any external danger, but they were threatened by an internal one.
It may be noted that this verse is a part of the Surah al-Ma'ida, the last surah revealed to the Holy Prophet, and it was revealed sometime during the last two or three months of the Holy Prophet's lifetime. By that time Islam had gained a good deal of power.
The idea that the Muslims face a danger only from within; not from without, is conveyed by another verse also; which we have quoted earlier. That verse said:
"Messenger! Make known that which has been revealed to you from your Lord, for if you do it not, it would be as though you have not conveyed My message. Allah will protect you from men." (Surah al-Maida 5:67)
It may be mentioned that in the Qur'an there is no other verse urging the Holy Prophet to undertake a particular task. It appears from the tone of this verse as if somebody was being impelled to do a thing, but he was wavering. In this verse the Holy Prophet is being asked to make known what has been revealed to him. He is also being threatened that if he did not do so, he would be regarded to have failed in his apostleship. At the same time he is being assured that he will be protected and therefore he need not have any fear.
In the previous verse the Muslims were told not to fear the disbelievers. As such the Holy Prophet could not be expected to have any fear of them. But this verse shows that he was still apprehensive and uneasy about something. Naturally he could not be afraid of the disbelievers, he was actually only conscious of the danger of turmoil on the part of those who were not willing to accept Imam Ali's succession. I cannot say whether these people were also disbelievers in their hearts, but somehow they were unable to swallow the idea of Imam Ali's Imamat.
Incidentally the historical events also tell the same story. In other words the sociology of the Muslims shows the same thing. We see that Umar said:
"We did not elect Ali as a precautionary measure in the interest of Islam."
The Quraysh could not tolerate Imam Ali. Therefore they did not accept him.
Quraysh did not deem it proper that Prophethood and Imamat both should be in the same family." What he meant to say was that Bani Hashim had secured a distinction because of Prophethood. Should Khilafat also be in that family, all the distinctions would go to one house? That was the reason why the Quraysh disliked Imam Ali's Imamat. Ibn Abbas gave a very convincing reply to what Umar said and quoted many a Quranic verses in support of his argument.
It appears that the same situation that existed in Muslim society has been expressed in different ways, by the Qur'an in one way and by Umar in another. For example, a report says Imam Ali was not considered fit to be the Caliph because he had killed so many prominent Arabs in the battles of Islam. The
Arabs being malicious by nature the descendants of those who were killed by him bore malice against Imam Ali even after they had been converted to Islam. Some Sunnis also advance this plea, and say that although Imam Ali was superior to others and better qualified, yet he was not chosen because he had a large number of enemies.
Thus during the Holy Prophet's time the atmosphere was charged with a feeling of anxiety; and a revolt against the announcement of Imam Ali's succession was apprehended. Perhaps that is the reason why the Qur'an has mentioned the question of Imamat in these verses in such a way that every unbiased man could understand their significance, but still it has avoided to put this question in a way that its rejection by those who were bent upon rejecting it, could become a revolt against Islam and an outright rejection of the Qur'an. In other words the Qur'an has allowed the opponents to conceal their rejection under a thin cover. The same is the reason why the verse of Tathir has also been inserted in the midst of other verses. But every sensible and honest man can detect its real meaning and can see that it is an independent verse. The same is the case with the verse, On this day I have perfected your religion and with the verse, Messenger! Make known what has been revealed to you from your Lord.
The Verse, Your Guardian is Only Allah ....
There are some other verses relating to this subject which are thought-provoking. They make man feel that these verses have some special meaning, which can be comprehended with the help of the continuous reports only. One such verse is as follows:
"Your guardian is only Allah, His Messenger and those who believe, establish prayers and pay the zakat while they are bowing in prayer." (Surah al-Ma'ida, 5:55)
The payment of zakat while bowing is not a usual or normal procedure. Hence it cannot be said that this thing has been mentioned as a general rule. Therefore it is certain that this verse refers to some particular event, but it hints at this event in such a way that its denial may not be regarded as a revolt against the Qur'an. Still every unbiased person can easily come to the conclusion that the verse refers to some unusual event. Those who pay zakat while bowing does not refer to a usual practice. It implies an exceptional event which took place by chance. What was that event? We see that both the Shi'ah and the Sunnis agree that this verse was revealed in connection with Imam Ali.
What the Gnostics Say?
There are some other verses also the significance of which becomes clear only after some deep thinking. That is why the Gnostics have since long said that the question of Imamat and Wilayat is the inner side of Islamic law. That is what the Shi'ah also believes. Hence, the Gnostics have expressed the idea well. To understand the question of Imamat it is necessary to penetrate into the husk a little to be able to reach the kernel, for basically it is a question that requires deep thinking. Only those who are endowed and blessed with this quality have been able to understand this question well. They invite others also to reach the depth of this question. Some respond whereas some others do not.
We now propose to look at some other verse, so that the logic of the arguments of the Shi'ah may be fully understood.