Prophetic Texts Relating To Imamat of Imam Ali

Once the Holy Prophet addressing his companions said:

"Greet Ali and address him as "Commander of the Faithful".

He said so on the occasion of Ghadir, but somehow or other this sentence is reported separately from the event of Ghadir. The Sunnis do not accept this report as continuous one but the Shi'ah scholars have proved that it is so. The Tajrid does not make any further comment on this tradition which it describes as reliable though disconnected in its chain of transmission.

Mulla Ali Qushchi says that this tradition cannot be accepted as continuous, and that it must be an isolated one, for it has been quoted only by some, not all. The books like the 'Abaqat and al-Ghadir have concentrated their efforts on proving that all the reports relating to Imam Ali's Imamat are continuous and mutawatir. In these two books, especially in al-Ghadir the transmitters of the tradition of Ghadir in every generation till the 14th century have been enumerated. It names more than 60 companions of the Holy Prophet who have reported this tradition. It is interesting to note that all these names have been collected from the Sunni books.

Similarly this book mentions the transmitters of this tradition from among the successors of the companions. All these approximately belong to the first century. Then in the same way it names the transmitters of this tradition in every generation and every century. A special feature of al-Ghadir is that it has cited literary sources also in support of this tradition. While 'Abaqat and other books have only mentioned the names of those persons who transmitted it in each age and century.

The poets in every age reflect the main ideas current among the people during that age. Had it been true that the event of Ghadir was invented in the fourth century, it would not have been mentioned in the verses composed by the poets of the first, the second and the third centuries. In every century we find that the question of Ghadir is a part of the literature of that century.

Then how can we deny this tradition from historical point of view? We often go after men of letters to ascertain whether a subject existed over history. If it is found that many men of letters have referred to it in each century, it becomes certain that the idea has existed during their times. The author of the 'Abaqat has devoted a whole book to one single tradition and has critically examined all its transmitters. Seeing what a gorgeous bouquet he has arranged, one is filled with wonder.

There is another tradition which the Holy Prophet is reported to have pronounced addressing Imam Ali. He is reported to have said: "You will be the Caliph after me."

Besides these two there are several other such traditions too.

Sirah Ibn Hisham is a book written in the second century. Ibn Hisham himself probably belonged to the third century, but this book was originally written by Ibn Ishaq, who lived in the second century. It was later summarized by Ibn Hisham in whose authorship it has come down to us. This book which is considered to be reliable by the Sunnis, recounts two events which have not been mentioned by the Tajrid. Anyhow, the events are relevant and as such we reproduce them here.

The Event of the Day of Warning

One of these events relates to the Day of warning, a name taken from the Qur'anic verse revealed in the early days of Islam:

"Warn your close relatives" (Surah ash-Shu'ara 26:214).

Till then the Holy Prophet had not begun to propagate Islam openly. As we know, at that time Imam Ali was still a boy, and lived in the Holy Prophet's house. That is itself an event. The Holy Prophet asked Imam Ali to arrange some food and invite the descendants of Hashim and Abdul Muttalib to it. Imam Ali prepared a meal of meat and arranged some milk as a dessert. After the guests had taken food, the Holy Prophet said:

"I am a Prophet of Allah, raised by Him as such. If you accept what I say, you will be happy in this world and the Hereafter."

As soon as the Holy Prophet's uncle, Abu Lahab heard these words, he was enraged, and said:

"Have you invited us to tell us all this nonsense?"

Abu Lahab raised so much hue and cry that the meeting ended in a fiasco.

The Holy Prophet asked Imam Ali to arrange another meeting. Imam Ali himself says that the number of the persons who attended the second meeting was more or less forty. The Prophet said to the audience:

"Whosoever of you accepts my call first, he will be my legatee, vizir and successor."

He made this announcement several times, but nobody responded. At last Imam Ali rose from his place and accepted the offer. The Holy Prophet said:

"You will be my legatee, vizir and caliph after me."

Meeting of the Head of a Tribe with the Holy Prophet

This is another event found in the Sirah Ibn Hisham. It is still more significant. The Holy Prophet was still in Makkah. The Quraysh were not allowing him to propagate Islam. The situation was very tense. Anyhow, during the sacred months31 the Quraysh stopped harassing the Holy Prophet or at least did not harass him to the extent of inflicting any bodily injury, although even during these months they did not allow him to pursue any activity connected with the propagation of Islam. Anyhow the Holy Prophet always took advantage of this temporary truce. He called upon various tribes who assembled at the 'Ukaz fair and at Arafat, (The pre-Islamic Arabs also performed Hajj, although they had their own style of it.) and invited them to Islam. While the Holy Prophet went round the tribes, Abu Lahab chased him, and contradicted and belied him. The head of a tribe was very shrewd. He talked with the Holy Prophet for a little while and they said to his people:

"Had this man been of my tribe, I would have devoured the Arabs with his help."

What he meant was that the Holy Prophet was so multi-talented that with his help all the Arabs could be subdued. Then that man turned to the Holy Prophet and said:

"I and my people are ready to have faith in you provided you give us your word to appoint me or one of my people to be your successor."

The Holy Prophet said:

"It is not up to me to say who would succeed me. It is with Allah."

This is an event mentioned in the books of the Sunnis.

The Tradition of Ghadir and Its Continuity

Another argument of the Shi'ah is the tradition of Ghadir. Khwaja Nasiruddin says that the Tradition of Ghadir is mutawatir. Mutawatir is a technical term. A tradition may either be mutawatir (continuous) or khabar wahid (isolated). An isolated tradition does not mean that it has been reported only by one person. It is a tradition which has not been reported in a convincing way. It is immaterial whether it has been reported by one person or by ten. For example, somebody says that he has heard such and such report from the radio. You think that he is right, but you still want to see what others say. If the report is confirmed by someone else, you are a little more convinced. When you see that many others say the same thing, you become sure that there is no chance that all of them may be telling a lie. The number of the reporters of a continuous tradition must be so large that there should be no possibility of their conspiring.

In the above example it is possible that ten persons conspire to say that they have heard the particular report from the radio. Even 200 persons may combine. But there are cases in which there is no such possibility. For example, you go to South Africa and find a person saying that the radio has broadcast such and such report. Then you go to East Africa and again find some persons reporting the same thing. Then you go to West Africa and the same story is repeated. In this case you cannot say that all these persons have conspired to tell a lie. This is called tawatur or continuity. The Shi'ah claim that the tradition (hadith) of Ghadir has been reported by so many people that any conspiracy is out of question. For example in the case of the tradition of Ghadir we cannot say that 40 companions of the Holy Prophet had conspired to tell a lie, especially when we see that many of them were hostile to Imam Ali, or at least were not friendly with him. Had these reporters been of the type of Salman, Abuzar and Miqdad, who dearly loved and followed Imam Ali, it would have been possible to suspect that because of their excessive attachment to Imam Ali they combined to invent a story. The people like Qushchi allege that this tradition is an isolated report, but the Shi'ah say emphatically that it is continuous. According to this tradition, the Holy Prophet addressing the audience, said:

"Do I not have more authority over you than you yourselves have?"32

All said:

"Yes, you have."

Then he said:

"This Ali is the master of him, whose master I am".

The Holy Prophet wanted to affirm that Ali was as superior to others as he himself was.

There is another tradition, which is also continuous according to Khwaja Nasiruddin, but Mulla Ali Qushchi says that it is isolated, although even he does not deny its substance. Regarding this tradition also scholars like Mir Hamid Husayn, the author of the 'Abaqat and Allama Amini, the author of al-Ghadir have paid much attention. Mir Hamid Husayn has devoted one full book to it. This tradition is known as the tradition of Manzilat. The Holy Prophet is reported to have said to Imam Ali:

"In relation to me you occupy the same position as Harun occupied in relation to Musa with the exception that there will be on prophet after me."

The Holy Prophet said that when he was proceeding for the Tabuk operation, which was only a campaign, not a battle. It took place after the Battle of Mu'tah, which was the last battle fought by the Arabs against the Romans during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet. This battle took place to the east of Medina. Istambul (Constantinople) was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Syria was also under the Romans. Brisk preparations were going on there to launch an attack against Medina. The Holy Prophet deemed it advisable to take troops up to the border of the Romans and he successfully accomplished that mission.33

The Holy Prophet, as the politicians put it, wanted to make a show of his power. The Muslims went up to the Roman border and then came back. In this expedition the Holy Prophet did not take Imam Ali with him. He left Ali as his successor in Medina. The Shi'ah scholars say that this action of the Holy Prophet shows that he knew that fighting was not going to take place. Naturally Imam Ali did not like the idea of being left behind. As he felt dejected, he said to the Holy Prophet:

"Would you not take me with you? Do you leave me here with the women and the children?"

The Holy Prophet said:

"Do you not like to occupy the same position in relation to me as Harun occupied in relation to Musa, except that there would be no prophet after me?"

The Holy Prophet meant to say that whatever relationship Harun bore to Musa, Imam Ali bore to him with the exception of Prophethood. Now let us refer to the Qur'an to find out what relationship existed between Harun and Musa. We find that the Quran reports that in the beginning of his mission Musa asked Allah:

"My Lord! Relieve my mind and ease my task for me; and elaborate my tongue, so that they may understand my saying. Appoint for me a Vazir from my folk, Harun, my brother. Strengthen my back with him. And let him share my task, so that we glorify you much, and much remember you." (Surah TaHa, 20:34)

The word Vazir is derived from the root, Vizr which means a burden or a responsibility. A Vazir is the person who relieves the burden of his master and shares his responsibility. Later this word came into use in the sense of the minister of a king.

Hence, Prophet Musa asked Allah to appoint a person to help him and share his task. For this purpose he suggested the name of Harun.

At another place in the Qur'an we see that Prophet Musa says to Harun:

"Harun, take my place among my people." (Surah al-A'raf, 7:142 )

Thus we find that according to the Qur'an Harun was Musa's Vazir, his chief supporter, his partner in his task and his successor among his people. That was the relationship between Prophet Musa and Harun and the same should be the relationship between the Holy Prophet and Imam Ali. Had the Holy Prophet not said, "Except that there would be no prophet after me", We could say that the Holy Prophet had some particular likeness in mind, but when he excluded Prophethood, it became clear that this relationship existed in all other fields (of course social, not physical). It appears as if the Holy Prophet wanted to say to Imam Ali: You occupy the same position in relation to me as Harun occupied in relation to Musa in all divinely appointed fields.

The answer which the Sunnis give to this argument is that they could accept this tradition, if it had been continuous, but it is an isolated one. But as we said earlier, the scholars like Mir Hamid Husayn have proved in their books that this tradition is continuous.

Question and Answer

Question: The impression which I have gathered from the foregoing discussion is that there exists to a certain extent a frontier between Imamat and the administration of government. You have (Ayatullah Mutahhari) said that Imamat involves certain duties and functions, and the administration of government is only one of them. I do not know what the other duties are which do not imply administration in any way. What so far we know of Islam shows that there is no frontier between this world and the Hereafter or between this worldly and the next worldly activities. The deeds relating to the Hereafter have a bearing on this worldly life and the deeds relating to this world are meant to improve and perfect social life and to help establishing a just system of government. We see that the Quran puts forward as a model the life of those whose devotional acts were directed to improving this worldly life and establishing just administration. It attaches greatest importance to Jihad. We find that all the efforts and the life style of the Imams were directed to regaining their right of rulership and administering the government. In this respect there was no difference between those who made open struggle and those who organized their campaign secretly in their prison or their hiding places. I am not aware of any duties other than the administration of government which can justify the institution of Imamat, for it is the administration of government alone which can justify all the activities relating to Imamat.

Answer: The question of frontier has been raised by you only. I never used this word and I do not think that it is proper to use it. As I have said the Shi'ah believe that the level of Imamat is higher than that of the government, which is only one of its functions. Another function which is of a higher level is the duty of an Imam to expound and explain Islam. Furthermore, an Imam is the infallible authority on religious laws. We say that one of the functions of the Holy Prophet was the administration of government. But the right to administer government was not given to him by the people. It was a right given to him by Allah, by virtue of his being superior to all other men. In other words the Holy Prophet ruled because he was the expounder of the Divine laws and had a spiritual contact with the hidden world. I never wanted to say that there was a frontier between this world and the Hereafter, nor did I mean to set apart the functions of an Imam and a ruler. I did not say that an Imam looks after those affairs of the people which relate to the Hereafter and a ruler looks after those affairs of the people which relate to this world. If I had said so, your criticism would have been justified. The Shi'ah have a theory. If it is proved, the question of rulership, is automatically settled.

We believe that Imamat is next to Prophethood. As in the presence of a Prophet, the question of the rulership of anybody else does not arise, similarly in the presence of an Imam also this question does not arise. The question of the form of government in the modern sense arises only when we suppose that no Imam exists or when the Imam is in occultation as the position is during our times. Otherwise in the presence of an Imam of that level in which the Shi'ah believes, the position is quite clear.

Question: Which of the two reports according to Sunnis is isolated, the report relating to the Ghadir al-Khum or the report which you have quoted and according to which the Holy Prophet has said: "Greet Ali; he is your Amir"?

Answer: Perhaps even the Sunnis cannot deny the continuity of that part of the tradition of Ghadir which says: "Ali is the master of him whose master I am", although Mulla Ali Qushchi says that even this part is an isolated report.

Anyhow it has been reported by so many traditionalists that it is not possible to deny it.34 A very large number of persons have even reported the first part of this tradition, which says: "Do I not have more authority over you than you yourselves have." The Shi'ah believes this part of the tradition also to be continuous. But as far as the other tradition: "Greet Ali and address him as the Commander of the Faithful", is concerned, the Sunnis do not at all admit that it is a continuous report. Perhaps we also cannot prove that it is continuous. Anyhow that makes no difference. From our point of view the continuity of the following tradition, which is of basic importance, is obvious:

The Holy Prophet said:

"Do I not have more authority over you than you yourselves have?"

The people said:

"Yes, you have."

Then the Holy Prophet said:

"This Ali is the master of him, whose master I am. My God! Be friendly to him who is friendly to Ali and be hostile to him who is hostile to Ali."

Furthermore, the Sunni scholars are not unanimous as to whether this tradition is continuous or isolated. Some say it is isolated and others admit that it is continuous, but say that it does not mean what the Shi'ah claim. The Holy Prophet has only said: "Whoever is my friend let him be Ali's friend also." We say that it does not make sense that the Holy Prophet assembled people at Ghadir al-Khum only to ask them to make friends with Imam Ali, especially in view of the fact that he also added: "Do I not have more authority over you than you yourselves have." It also may be noted that the word Mawla is not used in the sense of friend.

Question: Was the verse: "This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour to you, and have chosen Islam for you as religion" revealed after the event of Ghadir al-Khum?

Answer: No, it was revealed at Ghadir al-Khum.


  1. The Shi'ah attach great importance to the religious aspect of Imamat. As we said earlier in our times Imamat who mostly considered to be tantamount to the administration of government, but that was a wrong notion. Imamat is mostly a religious question and the administration of government is only a function which it involves.

In a sense Imamat and administration of government are two terms which in certain respects overlap each other. But basically Imamat is one question and administration of government, although a part of the functions which an Imam should discharge, a different question. It is funny that during the period of occultation we talk about the administration of government, but keep quiet about the real significance of Imamat, which must not be considered to be equivalent to the administration of government. According to the terminology of the Shi'ah scholars an Imam is in charge of religious as well as secular affairs.

Being in charge of religious affairs, he automatically holds the charge of worldly affairs also, just like the Holy Prophet, who being the religious head, was the head of the government too. If we suppose hypothetically that no Imam existed at any time or if we know that the Imam is in occultation, in both these cases no religious head would be present. Therefore in these cases the question would of course arise how should be the head of the government.

  1. The months of Zil Qa'dah, Zil Hijjah, Muharram and Rajab are the sacred months, during which fighting was kept suspended and vengeance was not sought. Routes were safe during these months and coming and going of persons and goods normal. An annual fair was also held at a Place near Makkah named 'Ukaz.

  2. The Holy Prophet referred to the following verse, "The Prophet has more authority over the believers than they themselves have." (Surah al Ahzab 33:6) Being a Prophet of Allah, the Holy Prophet had authority over the life, property and everything of the people. He had more authority over the people than the people themselves had. Of course he never exercised this authority for his own selfish ends. Allah appointed him the representative of the whole Muslim society and as such he had authority over the life and property of the Muslims on behalf of Muslim society as a whole.

  3. Last year we had a chance to go to Khayber. Till then we had no idea how far Khayber and Tabuk were from Medina by the direct route via Shusa. The whole distance was found to be exactly 600 kilometers. By the ancient routes the distance might have been greater. The distance between Medina and Khayber is 360 kilometers. We were really astonished by the courage and resolution of the Muslims who traversed this long distance with the poor means available to them at that time.

  4. The reason why it has been reported by a very large number of transmitters is that at that time the sayings of the Holy Prophet were only remembered and not written. Naturally the traditions containing Imam Ali's name could be remembered by more people than any other traditions.