Chain of guidance

It is crystal clear that Imamat is the exclusive right of the Ahle Bait (a.s.) and anyone who claims this right for himself/themselves is a liar and an oppressor. There is a well-known tradition from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) widely narrated by all scholars and traditionalists in their books. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) prophesied,

'This nation will have twelve leaders and guides and all of them will be from the Quraish. The one who leaves them will not harm them.' (i.e. the one who has distanced himself will be among the losers, because his death will be that of ignorance). (Musnad-e-Ahmad b. Hanbal, vol.5, pg. 312)

The tradition of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) clearly highlights that there will only be twelve Imams till the Day of Judgment and all these leaders will be from the tribe of Quraish. Within the Quraish, the Imams will be from Bani Hashim. From the traditions mentioned above we conclude that after the demise of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) till the Day of Resurrection, this nation will have twelve Imams and all of them will be from Bani Hashim.

Regarding the tradition from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) - 'I leave among you two weighty things (Saqalain), the Book of Allah and my progeny', Imam Ali (a.s.) was asked - Who is the progeny? He (a.s.) replied:

I, Hasan (a.s.), Husain (a.s.) and the nine Imams (a.s.) from the progeny of Husain (a.s.), of whom the ninth one will be the Mahdi (a.t.f.s.) and the Qaem (a.t.f.s.). Neither will they separate from the Book of Allah nor will the Book of Allah separate from them, till they meet the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) at the Pool of Kausar.'

(Kamaluddin, vol.1, pg. 240-241)

Aamir bin Kasir asked Imam Ali (a.s.): O Ameerul Momineen (a.s.)! You have made us aware of the guides of disbelief and the caliphs of evil, now introduce to us the guides of truth and the real guides after you.' Imam Ali (a.s.) informed him, 'Yes, surely it is the promise of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) to me that this religion will have twelve Imams and leaders, nine of whom will be from the progeny of Husain (a.s.). The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) has narrated, 'When I went to the heavens for Meraj, I saw written on the pillar of the Arsh
'There is no god except Allah, Mohammad (s.a.w.a.) is His Messenger, and I have aided him through Ali (a.s.) and I have helped him through Ali (a.s.)'

And I saw twelve Lights. I asked:

O My Lord! Whose lights are these?

The reply was - These lights are of Imams from your progeny.

Then I (Ali (a.s.)) asked: O Messenger of Allah, will you not tell me their names?' The Holy Prophet replied,

'Yes, certainly. You are Imam and Caliph after me, you will repay my debts and fulfill my promises. After you will be your two sons, Hasan (a.s.) and Husain (a.s.), and after Husain (a.s.) will be his son Ali - Zainul Abedeen (a.s.), after Ali (a.s.) will be his son Mohammad (a.s.) whose title is Baqir. After Mohammad (a.s.) will follow his son Jafar (a.s.) whose title is Sadiq. After Jafar (a.s.), will be his son Moosa (a.s.) whose title is Kazim. After Moosa (a.s.), will be his son Ali (a.s.) whose title is Reza. After Ali, his son Mohammad (a.s.) will succeed him and his title is Zaki. After Mohammad (a.s.) will follow his son Ali (a.s.) whose title is Naqi. After Ali (a.s.) will come his son Hasan (a.s.) whose title is Ameen and Askari. After him will be the son of Hasan (a.s.), Qaem (a.t.f.s.), whose name will be my name and who will bear maximum similarity with me. He will fill the earth with justice and equity as it would have been filled with oppression and injustice.'

(Vol. 1, pg. 138, Imam Ali (a.s.) narrated about the condition of Imam Mahdi (a.s.))

There isn't just one tradition like this. We find several traditions on these lines and the number goes up to 20. For instance, Imam Ali (a.s.) recounts from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) who has categorically stated that from the time of his (s.a.w.a.) death till the Day of Qiyamat there will only be twelve Imams, and then each has been mentioned by his name.

The entire arrangement was made so that people would know that Allah and His Prophet (s.a.w.a.) had already selected the Imams. It was not that anyone could be an Imam according to the wishes of the Islamic nation. It was not that an Imam who was supposed to follow his father in the chain of Imamat, died in his father's lifetime, leaving the chain of Imamat suspended until the people appointed the deceased's son as the Imam in his place. All the above traditions, were narrated when Janabe Ismail b. Jafar Sadiq was not even born. The list of Imams (a.s.) narrated by the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and Imam Ali (a.s.) does not show Janabe Ismail's name. Therefore, if he was never destined to be an Imam then where does the question of usurping his Imamat arise?

Another thing that is evident is that the twelve Imams (a.s.) enumerated in the prophetic tradition mentions the first Imam as Imam Ali (a.s.) and the twelfth and last Imam as Hazrat Wali-e-Asr (a.t.f.s.), who is the Imam of our time and is alive on this earth today and is amongst us but we are deprived of his meeting due to our sins and disobedience.

Asbagh bin Nubata (r.a.) a very reliable companion of Hazrat Ali (a.s.) narrates, 'I presented myself before Hazrat Ali (a.s.). I saw that he was engrossed in some thought and marking with his blessed finger on the earth. I queried, 'O Ameerul Momineen (a.s.)! What is the matter, I find you today in some perplexity, making signs on the earth, do you love this earth? He (a.s.) replied:

I swear by Allah that it is not so. I have never befriended this world, rather I was reflecting about that son, the eleventh one from my progeny. He is the Mahdi (a.t.f.s.), who will fill the earth with justice and equity as it was filled with injustice and tyranny. There is an occultation for him in which some people will be deviated while others will be guided.

(Kamaluddin, vol.1, pg. 288-297, A'laamul Wara, pg. 400)

How clearly Hazrat Ali (a.s.) has described and illuminated the chain of guidance and Imamat. Who could be more unfortunate and wretched that despite such a clear and illumined chain of guidance and Imamat, rejects it for those deviated guides who have usurped Hazrat Ali's (a.s.) right? Those who have harassed and persecuted Janabe Zahra (s.a.), burned down her door and waged war against her husband - the rightful Imam and celebrated on his martyrdom and were the main protagonists of the incident of Karbala. Their sons killed Imam Husain (a.s.) in Karbala, they made captives the Ahle Bait (a.s.) and martyred them one after the other.

Their lives were devoid of Islamic teachings, they opposed the Quranic commands secretly and publicly, they were steeped in sins and prohibited acts and abandoned the religious obligations completely. They were prisoners of their carnal desires and neglected the hereafter and in this manner deprived themselves of guidance. Then how was it possible for them to guide others?

Guidance has only one path and that path is the way of Hazrat Ali Ibne Abi Talib (a.s.), finally terminating in Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.) who is the Imam today. There is no other path leading to true guidance and there is no other guarantee for success and happiness in the world and the hereafter.

We end this discussion with the declaration of Hazrat Ali (a.s.) inviting everyone to leave aside prejudices and rise above personal interests, to purify the intellect and consciousness, to decide about one's own end, lest the coming of the Angel of Death finds us perplexed and uncertain. Today there is time and tomorrow could be too late. Our decision will take us either to Paradise or to Hell. Let us not spoil our hereafter for this fleeting world.

'Observe this world, which you desire, towards which you move with desire and proximity, which sometimes angers you and at other times makes you happy. It is neither your actual abode nor the station for which you were created, nor is it the place towards which you are invited.' 'Take lesson, for it is not going to remain for you, nor are you in it forever. If it has beguiled you with its charm then it has also made you fearful with its wickedness. Do not be influenced by its scare and do not seek it greedily out of its fear.' 'Advance towards that abode towards which you have been invited and turn your hearts away from this world. None of you should lament like maids on deprivation of a thing of this world. Be patient on the obedience of Allah and wish for the completion of the bounties by safeguarding that which has been commanded by our Book to be safeguarded.'

'Pay heed, if you have safeguarded your religious beliefs then loss of anything of this world will not harm you. And if you have wasted and destroyed your religion then none of the worldly things, which you have safeguarded, can bring you any benefit.' (Nahjul Balagah, Sermon 173, vol. 1, pg. 644, Ansariyan Publications)

May Allah turn our hearts towards truth and give us the blessing of patience!


Freedom, Human Destiny, and the World in the Nahj al-Balaghah Dr. Syed Waheed Akhtar

The theme of freedom is repeatedly emphasized and elaborated in the Nahj al-Balaghah. We shall quote a few relevant passages to substantiate the points made so far.

. . . (God) has given inborn disposition to human minds to shape themselves either towards good or towards evil." (Khutbah 75) They were given complete liberty in this world, of thought and deed, to think as they like and to do as they desire, so that they may develop their minds, and with the help of such developed minds, free will, and the span of life allotted to them, find the purpose for which they were created . . . . 12 (Khutbah 86).

In Khutbah 86, Imam 'Ali (a) further says that human beings are given sound bodies and limbs with perfect senses to acquire the knowledge of the external world and the light of reason and wisdom, so that they are able to exercise their freedom of thought and action.'" This point forms a recurring theme of the Nahj al-halaghah, for a sound body, sound senses, and reason are necessary conditions for exercising freedom. Those who are deficient in these respects are not held responsible for their acts, such as insane persons and infants. Solely those endowed with these things are responsible for their acts:

. . . Lives of men who were enjoying themselves to their hearts' content and had perfect freedom of action have such useful lessons in them to teach . . (Khutbah 86)14

From the above-quoted passages, certain points can be inferred: man is given complete freedom with the ability to exercise it; freedom has a purpose: to realize and obey Allah and act in a just manner. Justice can be defined as maintaining equilibrium among various obligations and rights. One has to be just to oneself. There are many verses in the Holy Qur'an and innumerable passages in the Nahj al-Balaghah restraining men from indulging in excesses even in desirable deeds, such as generosity, excess of which is israf and is prohibited.

Doing justice to others, which ensures social and political morality, and just behaviour in relation to God, requires abstaining from overindulgence in ritual worship. By maintaining justice in all the three aspects-that is in relation to oneself, others and God-man is free to determine his destiny. In contemporary Western philosophy existentialism is credited with introducing the notion of man's freedom in shaping and molding his own destiny, but a glance at the Nahj al-Balaghah is sufficient to arrive at the conclusion that it was Imam 'Ali (a) who advanced this idea for the first time:

"If by destiny you mean compulsion (physical or otherwise) whereby we are forced (by nature) to do a thing, then it is not so. Had it been an obligation of that kind, then there would have been no question of reward for doing it and punishment for not doing it (such as breathing, sleeping and eating are physical necessities entailing no reward or punishment), and the promised blessings and punishments in afterlife will have no meanings. The Merciful Lord has given His creatures complete freedom to do as they like, and they are prohibited from certain actions and warned of the consequences of such actions.

These commands carry in them the least trouble and lead us towards the most convenient way of life . . . . He sees people disobeying Him and tolerates them, not because He can be overruled or be compelled to accept human supremacy over Him. He did not send His prophets to amuse Himself or provide amusement for them. He did not reveal His orders without any reason and purpose. Neither has He created the galaxies and the earth without any design, purpose, and program. A universe without plan, purpose, and program is the idea of the infidels and heathens; sorry will be their plight in the fires and the hell. . ." (Sayings: 78)

(Destiny) was an order of God to do it, like the order he has given in His Holy Book "You are destined to worship him and nobody else'' .Here destined means "ordered", it does not mean physical compulsion.15

From this brief saying, many points relevant to philosophical and moral issues can be derived: determining one's destiny is an act of man's free will, different from physical compulsion; Divine commands are rationally designed and have a purpose; the universe itself has a design and a purpose; in this purposive scheme of creation man is free to act or not to act in accordance with the Divine purpose; voluntary acts of men deserve reward or punishment according to their nature; and that freedom brings in its wake responsibility.

Kant, who could not bring himself to accept the existence of God on the strength of ontological, causal, and teleological arguments, had to evolve a moral proof for the existence of God, in which God, freedom of human will, and life after death served as the essential postulates of morality. If we compare Imam 'Ali's approach to the problems of freedom, morality, purposiveness of creation, and the existence of God, we may come to a more convincing philosophy.

Imam Ali does not require any proof for the existence of God, but believes in Him on the ground of revelation and his own inner experience. This is the same stand which was taken in the West by Kierkegaard in the 19th century after realizing the inadequacy of reason in proving or disproving God. Recent theology in the West accepts the inner yearning of man to have faith in a Supreme Being as the only criterion of belief in God.

Starting from the same position 'Ali ('a) proves the purposiveness of creation, arguing that it is created by an intelligent, knowing, and just God with a design and a purpose, and all His commands are just and reasonable, for He does not command man to do something that is beyond his capacity. Human freedom is an essential constituent of this purposive world, without which man would not have been able to pursue certain goals. It is also necessary for morality, which comprises voluntary actions.

Thus freedom is not a postulate in Imam Ali's world-outlook, but an organic part of a just and purposive order. His firm faith in a just God makes him believe in the Hereafter. In this way, the Islamic world-outlook he presents is more coherent and consistent than that of Kant or any other Western philosopher. In this system, human reason does not give rise to antimonies, because it is not required to trespass the region of faith or inner experience.

All the three axioms of morality which Kant derived from his moral philosophy follow in Ali's Islamic system of thought from faith in God and freedom of human will. In the world conceived by him all individuals are free and they form a "kingdom of ends," that is the beings sovereign in this world and only subordinate to Divine commandments. They are not subservient to other human beings and are masters of their own destiny. In this sense Imam 'Ali (a) considers this world of ours better than any conceivable worlds. There is a saying of his that refutes the commonly believed notion that the Imam ('a) despised the world and his approach to it was ascetic and pessimistic. He heard someone abusing the world and said to him that it was not the world which deceived man but it was man who was allured and enchanted by it, and subsequently debased himself and polluted the world. He said:

"Verily this world is a house of truth for those who look into it carefully, an abode of peace and rest for those who understand its ways and moods, and it is the best working ground for those who want to procure rewards for their life in the Hereafter. It is a place of acquiring knowledge and wisdom for those who want to acquire them, a place of worship for the friends of God and for angels. It is the place where prophets receive revelations of the Lord. It is the place for virtuous people and the saints to do good deeds and to be assigned with rewards for the same; only in this world they could trade with God's favours and blessings, and only while living here they could barter their good deeds with His blessings and rewards. Where else could all this be done?16 (Sayings: 130)

This passage may remind one of Leibnitz's saying: "Ours is the best of all possible worlds", which reflects an optimistic view of the physical world. 'Ali (a) regards it so because it is here and here alone that man's freedom is tested as to how far he acts justly. In the light of this passage we can justify Iqbal's view that man chose freely to leave Heaven and come to this world.