LESSON TWEWNTY-FIVE: THE REASONS FOR THE INFALLIBILITY OF PROPHETS
The belief in the immunity of the prophets (a) against sin, whether intentional or unintentional is one of the important and categorical beliefs in Shi’ism. The great Imams (a) have verified this fact to their followers and used different discourses to deal with the relevant challenges raised by its opponents. One of the most popular arguments in this relation is that of Imam Rida (a), and has been recorded in the books of tradition and history.
However, to deny the forgetfulness of the prophet with reference to the lawful and everyday aspects of their lives has been more or less a matter of debate, and the sayings from the Prophet’s Household are not free from discrepancy. Nevertheless, research on such sayings needs further explanation, although such a belief is by no means fundamental.
Moreover, there are other reasons for the infallibility of the prophets, which can be divided into two groups: Intellectual and traditional (Qur’anic).Although traditional reasons are more trustworthy, two intellectual and some traditional reasons for the infallibility of the prophets will be discussed in this chapter.
Intellectual reasons for the infallibility of prophets (a)
The first intellectual reason for the necessity of the prophets’ immunity against committing sin, is that the main objective for their mission is to guide man towards the truth and teach him how to perform the duties God has assigned to him. Moreover, the prophets are in fact the representatives of God among men and must guide them towards the right path (al-sirāt al-mustaqīm). However, if such representatives and missionaries do not obey the Divine instructions themselves and their behaviour contradicts their mission, people will find the contrast between their words and behaviour contradictory and, therefore, the objective of their mission will not be thoroughly fulfilled. Thus, God’s wisdom and kindness necessitates that the prophets be pure and innocent, and for them to refrain from committing any undeserving action even if unintentional or due to forgetfulness. The people will thus never accept unwillingness or forgetfulness as an excuse for the prophets to commit a sin.
The second intellectual reason for such infallibility is that, rather than advertising the content of revelation and their mission to the people, the prophets are responsible for educating and purifying and helping the most talented of people reach the highest level of man’s perfection. In other words, rather than teaching (ta’līm) and showing the people the right way, the prophets are responsible for educating (tarbiyah) and leading them. Such an education is valuable and solely applies to the most talented and outstanding members of the society. To educate such people needs the most deserving educators who are themselves at the topmost level of man’s perfection and have the most perfect form of faculty (malakah) - the faculty of Infallibility (malakat al-‘ismah).
In addition, the educator’s behaviour in educating others is generally more important than his words; therefore, if a person has deficiencies in his behaviour, his words will not affect the people in a desirable way. Hence, God’s objective for sending prophets as the educators of people will not be thoroughly fulfilled unless they are immune against any kind of deviations in their words and behaviour.
Traditional reasons for the infallibility of prophets (a)
The Holy Qur’an has described a group of people as being, “purified for the sake of God” (mukhlas), (the word mukhlas is different from mukhlis. The former refers to a person who has been purified by God, and the latter is a person who is pure in performing his worship).Satan does not intend to mislead this group of people, who are exempted from his oath to mislead the children of Adam (a):
“He (Iblīs) said, ‘By Your might, I will surely pervert them, except Your exclusive servants among them” (Sād:82-83). There is no doubt that Satan’s refusal to mislead them is due to their immunity against being misled or corrupted; otherwise his enmity would include them and he would do whatever was in his power to seduce them.
Thus, the term used to describe being purified for the sake of God is synonymous with being infallible (ma’sūm). Although there is no evidence for the allocation of infallibility being given to the prophets (as), it is certainly one of their qualities. The Holy Qur’an refers to some of the prophets as being purified for the sake of God (mukhlasīn). For instance:
“And remember Our servants Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, men of strength and insight. Indeed We purified them with the exclusiveness of the remembrance of the abode [of the Hereafter]” (Sād:45-46) And also:
“And mention in the Book Moses. Indeed he was exclusively dedicated [to Allah], and an apostle and a prophet” (Maryam:51).
The Holy Qur’an also asserts that the reason behind the immunity of Prophet Joseph (as), who was severely tempted with the committal of sin, was that he was a purified person. “So it was, that We might turn away from him all evil and indecency. He was indeed one of Our dedicated servants” (Yūsuf:24).
- The Holy Qur’an claims that unconditional obedience to the prophets (as) is obligatory.
“We did not send any apostle but to be obeyed by Allah’s leave” (al-Nisā’:64).
However, unconditional obedience to the prophets is acceptable provided that it is in line with the obedience of God and has no contradiction in obeying Him. Otherwise, the commands from God with relation to unconditional obedience to Him and unconditional obedience to those who are subject to sin and deviation would be in opposition.
- The Holy Qur’an has allocated Divine responsibilities to those who are not involved in ‘cruelty’. In response to Prophet Abraham (a), who asked for the position of ‘Imam’ for his children, the Holy Qur’an asserts:
“My pledge does not extend to the unjust” (al-Baqarah:124).We know that the committal of sin is oppression towards oneself (nafs), and that the Qur’an terms a guilty person as an oppressor, therefore the prophets who
hold the position of the Divine responsibilities of prophecy and prophetic mission must be free from any kind of sin or cruelty.
Numerous Qur’anic verses and traditions can be employed to discuss the infallibility of the prophets; however we will conclude the discussion at this point.
The philosophy behind the infallibility of prophets (a)
At the end of this lesson, it is worth discussing the mystery behind the infallibility of the prophets. The mystery of their infallibility in receiving revelation is that their understanding of revelation is basically free from any mistakes, and one who has the merit of receiving it will find revelation a scientific reality, which he thoroughly comprehends. He will also recognise the relationship between the revelation and its issuer-whether or not there is an Angel in between, in this relation the Holy Qur’an states:
“The heart did not deny what it saw”. (al-Najm:11) Furthermore, it is impossible for the receiver of revelation to hesitate as to whether or not he has received it, over who has sent the revelation to him, or as to what its content is. Therefore, if in some man-made stories there are cases where a Prophet is doubtful about his prophecy, fails in understanding the content of the revelation or does not recognise its issuer, they should not be given ant credence. Such cases are like saying that one is doubtful over one’s existence, presence, or conscience.
To discuss the mystery behind the infallibility of the prophets in performing their Divine responsibilities, such as proclaiming God’s message needs an introduction, which comes below:
Man performs his favourite actions through a feeling of desire, which forms within him towards a subject; the desire is then activated by various factors. Moreover, by having access to various sciences and a variety of senses, he recognises the way to his objective and practices whatever he thinks will help him reach it. At the same time, when there are contradictory and intervening desires, he attempts to recognise and choose the best and most deserving one. Nevertheless, due to man’s lack of knowledge, he may commit a mistake in his evaluation and/or recognition, or due to ignorance and/or his association with an inferior desire, he might miscalculate the better choice. In such a case there may be no further opportunity to re-think and recognise the best choice.
Therefore, the better a person is at recognising the truth, the higher and more everlasting the attention he pays to his choices will be; and the higher the intention for harnessing his innate desires and excitements, the more remarkable the success he experiences in choosing the best will be. This will in turn secure him from deviation and wrong -doing.
This is the way the talented people, by acquiring the necessary knowledge and insight and by utilising their proper education, goes through the different stages of perfection, so that they can touch the borders of infallibility. When they reach such an exalted position, then such people do not even think of committing sin or wrong doing; this is in the same way that a wise person would never think of taking a poisonous or fatal drug or consumes unclean or rotten substances.
If we assume that a person’s ability for recognising the truth and the purity of his soul is at the highest level, as described in the Holy Qur’an like the pure, clean and flammable olive oil, which is ready to blaze even without a spark.
“Whose oil almost lights up, though fire should not touch it” (al-Nūr:
And if we further assume that such a person due to the same characteristics receives Divine education, confirmed by the Holy Spirit, he will (surely) go through the stages of perfection at the utmost speed and fulfil the long distance towards perfection in a short duration of time. To such a person the disgracefulness of sin is as recognisable as the dangers of poisonous and rotten substances are to an ordinary man. Just as ordinary people are not forced to avoid drinking and eating poison, an infallible person is also not forced to avoid sin.
Verify the infallibility of the prophets through intellectual and traditional evidence.
Which verses of the Holy Qur’an determine the infallibility of the prophets?
What is the mystery behind the immunity of the prophets against mistakes in understanding revelation?
How is the prophets’ infallibility against sin in agreement with their freedom?