|Two kinds of Imams|
The Holy Quran has mentioned two types of leaders (Imams). The first type is the one who leads the people towards Hell. Allah declares in Surah Qasas, verse 41,
'And We made them Imams who call to the Fire, and on the Day of Resurrection they shall not be assisted.' It means that the end of the one who accepts such an Imam will be in Hell.
The second group of Imams guides the people by Allah's command. Surah Sajdah, verse 24 points out 'And We made of them Imams to guide by Our command when they were patient, and they were certain of Our communications.' 'Say: Is there any of your associates who guides to the truth? Say: Allah guides to the truth. Is He then Who guides to the truth more worthy to be followed, or he who himself does not go aright unless he is guided? What then is the matter with you; how do you judge?'
(Surah Yunus, Verse 35)
Ameerul Momineen Ali (a.s.) has described the characteristics of both kinds of Imams in his orations. 'The reality of people is not understood by their names but by the pattern of their behavior and mannerisms. Just as clothes hide the defects of the body, external manners cloak the defects of the soul. A connection of the soul is a necessity between the Imam and the follower. If a person (i.e. Imam) is not pious in his own heart, he will not be able to guide his followers towards piety and servitude. Hence if we desire Heaven and want to safeguard our eternal life from the chastisement of the Hellfire, then we have to search for an Imam whose inner and outer selves both are complete manifestations of divine command.
Such an Imam must necessarily be adorned with piety completely, i.e. must be an infallible.
We will discuss the characteristics of the Imam of Hellfire and the Imam who guides to the truth, in the light of the sermons of Hazrat Ali (a.s.).
The Imam of the Hellfire
'…certainly, the worst man before Allah is the oppressive Imam who has gone astray and through whom others go astray. He destroys the accepted Sunnah and revives abandoned innovations. I heard the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) predict - On the Day of Judgment the oppressive Imam will be brought without anyone to support him or anyone to advance excuses on his behalf, and then he will be thrown into Hell, where he will rotate as the hand-mill rotates. Then eventually he will be confined to its hollow.'
(Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 164, vol. 1, pg. 608-609, Ansariyan Publications)
An oppressor is not only the one who usurps the rights of others and persecutes others. The Quran declares, '…and whoever exceeds the limits of Allah these it is that are the unjust.'
(Surah Baqarah, Verse 229)
These include those disobedient of Allah's commands, who have violated His edicts and exceeded His limits. The Quran further proclaims, 'and whoever did not judge by what Allah revealed, those are they that are the unjust.' (Surah Maidah, Verse 45)
If somebody makes additions to the religion or forbids an obligation, he has violated the divine command which tantamount to injustice. Therefore, any person who has not been appointed an Imam by Allah and he claims this position for himself, he has transgressed the limits of Allah and has disregarded Allah's orders. He is a tyrannical and an oppressive leader, whose end has been described above in Hazrat Ali's (a.s.) sermon. Indeed the Holy Quran condemns even those people as oppressors who befriend such persons - '…and whoever makes friends with them, these are the unjust.'
(Surah Mumtahenah, Verse 9)