The philosophy of Imamat- part 1

Dr. Seyed Yahya Yasrebi

Section One                                                

The philosophy of Politics in Shiite Teachings

 A philosophical Analysis of principles, affairs and purposes (objectives) of Imamat, based on the essentials of human’s Social life.


Imamat, guardianship and guidance of Muslim nation, was the most susceptible issue to Muslims after the death of holy prophet (PBUH). From two aspects, this issue was sensitive;

Doctrinal Aspect; founded on which, Imamat has paved the way for many detailed and lengthy controversies and disputes in Kalam (Islamic theology), Feqh (Islamic Jurisprudence), history and Hadith.

Political Aspect; this issue has provided the ground for many political clashes (engagements) from the very beginning. In the history of Islam no more swords unsheathed, and bloods shed, except for the sake of Imamat.[1]

Shiia perspective on this issue has been focused from its institution (outset) and this religion has been known as Imamates (Twelver’s), believing this principle as being fundamental.

Although all of Islamic religions and sections have accepted the principle of Imamat, they disagree over it from different angles. The most important cases of disagreement are as follow;

1- Quiddity/real nature of Imamat

It seems that there is not any disagreement as to the description of Imamat. All of Shia, Sunni, Mutazilate(separatists), and Asharite Scholars, have described it as follow:

 “Imamat Includes a comprehensive and all-sided presidency in the realm of people’s faith and religion, based on succession to the holy prophet (PBUH)[2]“.

But, despite this seemingly common consent (unanimity), there is a deep difference in Shia and Sunnis’ Outlook. On the one hand, Sunnis have descended Imamat to kingship resulted from victory and violence of ambitious individuals, and they don’t even believe people’s apparent allegiance as the requisite for its legitimacy. The way to grab victory and violence, even through an intermediary, is not important.

For instance, if a Baqdadian caliph has seized his violence and victory with the aid of Seljukian sultan, again he is Muslim’s leader and his obedience is obligatory for all, as Qazali[3] Stipulates on this idea.  We do not exaggerate if call Sunnis’ Islam the Qazalis’ one, because of his status in Sunni teachings.[4]

On the other hand, in Shiite point of view, Imamat ascends to absolute existential and legislative guardianship. Comparing with prophethood, whilst Imamat is of the lower position in perception of “divine inspiration”, from other sides such as epistemical authority, existential and legislative guardianship, infallibility and people’s  (obedience) obligation to obey , is equal to prophethood. Taking other considerations into account, the position of Imamat is even superior to prophethood. This superiority is from two angles:

A. Exoteric facet;

It means that guardianship and management of Society are the necessities for Imamat, whereas the prophethood necessitates divine communication and hidden knowledge.

 Although some prophets like David, Suleiman and the holy prophet of Islam (AS) were rulers and Imams of their society besides their prophecy, but prophethood does not always necessitate guardianship of society. This issue has also been pointed in Qur’an;

Ibrahim, the friend of God (khalil), who is one of the arch-prophets (possessor of determination) and owner of religion was appointed as people’s Imam by God, after he passed different tests/ordeals competently.[5]

B. esoteric facet

Based on Gnostics opinion, guardianship is the inner part of prophethood and every prophet receives meanings of spiritual realities from Divine Presence and notifies them to people by their right of prophecy. Therefore guardianship connects prophet to Truth and prophet-hood to creatures. So, prophethood is considered as a branch (appendage of) with regard to principal of guardianship.[6]

2- Imam’s characterization

Shia and Sunni’s perspective in this case is also completely different. Sunni scholars take two things seriously from Imams Portrayal; “Being Koreyshite” and “glory”. Knowledge, piety and people’s oath of allegiance are not important if these two characteristics exist in person.

 Imam Muhammad Qazali counts (considers) l0 conditions for Imamat, which six of them (being koreyshite, wisdom, puberty, not being slave, being male and health) are not acquired ,and the others are acquired (glory, virtue, knowledge and tactfulness).

Amid these 4 conditions, he just considers “glory” as the base of Imamat and does not take others into account seriously. It is interesting to notify that Qazali holds that glory would be sufficient if it’s taken by the emphasis of mighty sultan.[7]

As Taftazani three centuries later says that Imam is appointed in 3 ways and with 3 factors:

Swearing Alliance, Will (testament) and Ex-Imam Designation, and Violent Domination. In explanation of the first factor, he brings it down to such an extent that he believes oath of allegiance by a powerful person like sultan would be sufficient in proving and appointing Imam.

About the third way and factor, he continues the discussion as follow:

“The third way is victory and domination. Therefore in case of imam’s death, if anyone claim to be Imam without the ex-Imam appointment and also people’s pledge of allegiance to them, they could really be caliph of the prophet and Imam of the nation if gain control over people with glory and authority. Even though they are evil-doer or play the fool”.[8]

But Shia believes that Imam should have two following fundamental conditions:

1. Knowledge and awareness protected by hidden revelation and grace and naturally secure against committing a sin.

2. Infallibility from lesser and capital sins.

In addition to the description of Imamat and characteristics of Imam, Shia and Sunnis perspective on the issue of Imamat is different from other directions (aspects) including theologicality or jurisprudenciality of issue, Imams applicability, the ways to prove and appoint Imam, that we avoid to discuss them concerning the capacity of this writing and also avoidance of the repetition of the discussions accessible to those interested in many books and articles.

Since the main aim here is to explain the objectivity of the fact of Imamat and actual necessity for Imams characteristics with a philosophical outlook, we’ll continue our discussion in two parts.

In the first part, we consider the role of Imam in objectivity of society based on the exterior of the case through thought and intellect criteria and explain the basics and aims of Shiite philosophy of politics through analytical method.

In the second part, we interpret and elucidate the reality of Imam, Gnostic-philosophical fundamentals of Imam’s existence and his attributes contingent upon the interior of the issue and mostly with standards documented on the discovery of Sadraeian transcendent theosophy and Islamic mysticism.

[1] – Mohammad – ibn-Ahmad  Shahrestan: “Almelal-Va-Alnehal” v1 p24

[2] – Sheikh Tousi; “sharh ol-ibarat ol-mostaleha bayn ol-motakallimin”, Maverdi “al-ahkam ol-soltani,ah” , Saad-o-ddin Taftazani “sharh ul-maqasid”, Mirseyyed Sharif Jorjani “taarifat va motekallemane digar az ferqehaye mokhtalif “.

[3] – Abu Hamed Mohammad – bin – Muhammad Qazali “fazaih ul-batiniah”  chapter 9, 10. Tuftazani “shrhe maqasid” V5-P223

[4] – As Taftazani has repeated “Qazali’s idea 3 centuries later that ” Imamat is achievable through the allegiance of one powerful individual who can bring people under his violence and dominion”, Taftazani “sharhe maqasid”

[5] – The Cow (2); 124, Also refer to: Sheikh Tousi “alrasail ul-aashar”  pp 111-116″   (resalah fi feraq bayn ol-nabi val imam”

[6] – Valid books of theoretical mysticism, including “moqadameye qeisari bar sharhe fosul,bahse vilayat”

[7] – Imam Muhammad Qazali “fasaih ul-batiniah”pp168-194 and also; Abu hamed – ibn- Muhammad ibn-mohammad Qazali “ehya ul-ulome din” Vo12 P 141

[8] – Saad  o-ddin Taftazani “sharh ul-maqasid” P 233

As a juridical Question, Sunni Scholars have different viewpoints on Imamat and its prerequisites. Some of them even perceive justice as a precondition for it but as we mentioned before they have not insisted on it. Because if they take account of justice ,they should pass a sentence to depose/dethrone evil doer and bloodsucker rulers, but not only they didn’t pass anything also prove it; “sharh ul-maqasid”pp243-245.Maverdi”al ahkam ul-soltaniah”p6