As other axioms, the afterlife (Ma’ad) is one of the first requisites for stepping into the religion of Islam and is defined as the existence of another world that creatures enter after their death, where they experience eternal life. It is noteworthy that the belief in receiving revelation and prophethood (Nubuwwah) builds the foundation of this axiom; in other words, one cannot find acceptance in the afterlife unless he comes to faith in prophethood and more importantly, monotheism (Tawhid).
Nevertheless, prophets didn’t come to impose the idea of Ma’ad on their followers, rather led people’s mind to ponder on this issue and recognize its validity. The reason for this concept to be considered as an axiom is that Islam not only wants us to have faith in the afterlife dependent on the belief in prophethood but also through individual and conscious investigation.
Aside from revelations that prophets received, there are some other ways and proofs for coming to believe in the afterlife which is the result of the intellectual and scientific efforts of human beings, including the knowledge of God, the universe, and human soul. Here we will briefly introduce each of these ways.
This argument which is based on the axiom of monotheism (Tawhid) -God exists and is the only one and should be accepted through rational thinking -, claims that God cannot be considered perfect and wise unless we believe in the existence of a world beyond this material world, an afterlife. In other words, without afterlife, the whole creation will become meaningless and vain.
If we find a wisdom governing the universe, then it necessitates the existence of another world which complements creation and forms a part of it. But why? We justify this issue based on God’s attributes.
God is just and has built the foundation of the universe, heaven, and earth on Justice. Human’s life, also, is placed within this just order; therefore, God’s justice requires every creature to be endowed with what they deserve in order to avoid denying their right.
The reward of many good deeds is not obtained in this world, just as many sins that cannot be punished thoroughly during this earthly life. Accordingly, since this world is limited and does not have the capacity to provide human beings with their deserved rewards or punishments, another world with infinite and unlimited time must exist in order to make up for the rights that people have not acquired in this world.
Wisdom is attributed to one whose deeds are always purposeful and would result in a specific and clear goal. Therefore, the wise God does not commit any absurd or nonsensical deed, otherwise, his action would be the result of his ignorance and lack of knowledge.
Moreover, the creation will not be meaningless, if it leads to eternity; if the creatures have been created for eternity and permanent endowment from God, then it shows an existence – as opposed to nothingness, inexistence – and continuity, thus it would not be absurd.
In addition, he has created every creature for a special purpose and has provided them with the means of reaching it. If He has endowed them with certain desires and capacities, then surely He has anticipated the appropriate answer for them, too.
For instance, in response to the urge for thirst or hunger in animals, He has created water and food in order to satisfy this need of them. Similarly, He has bestowed upon human beings the desire for immortality and eternal perfections; most of us feel the urge for eternity and unending life, as well as everything good in its best way.
If there were no way of reaching these desires, then why would God have placed them in human beings? These feelings do not fit into this earthly life and cannot be satisfied here; our All-wise God has for sure devised a plan for mankind to fulfill these needs, that is creating a world where they are able to experience everlasting life and achieve what they long for in their perfect forms.
Looking around, we can find many instances that remind us of the Resurrection and the revival of human beings in the afterlife. The very first thing that comes to mind when we think about the creation of the universe, is that the same power and wisdom that has created this world also has the power and ability to create another one. When we compare this power to our own capabilities, the occurrence of the afterlife seems far-fetched, however by the omnipotent being who has brought this world into life, this act is not at all infeasible.
Moreover, we are faced with many incidents in this world, on a daily basis, which is fairly similar to what will happen in the afterlife; we have seen them so many times that we have got used to their happening and consider them typical and insignificant, however at a closer look, we can find out the systematic and repeated order that governs the universe.
We constantly experience the cycle of life and death in nature with the change of seasons, that with the coming of winter and autumn everything - trees, flowers, etc. - on earth seems to be dying, and by spring, the sky sends its drops of rain to awake the hibernating earth and bestows a new breath on it.
Considering God’s power, the afterlife thus is neither impossible to happen nor something beyond our understanding or illogical based on the events that take place in the universe.
What we as human beings consider as our “self” or “I” is in fact a fixed and permanent fact. This “I” is actually the soul in mankind which is an immaterial and unchanging reality and has every action of the body under its control.
The axiom of the afterlife cannot be accepted unless one has a belief in the existence of a soul in human beings independent of their body, which is responsible for their conscious choices and deliberate actions. Otherwise, the belief in the afterlife is not possible, since if we see human beings as only this body that would be destroyed and diminished by death, then we cannot expect them to be revived exactly as the same; the human being that will be brought to life again would be for sure a different creature.
The only valid assumption would be that when a person dies his soul continues to exist until it returns to the body. Accordingly, the issue of the afterlife is justifiable through the knowledge of the human being’s reality which leads us to consider him as an immortal and infinite being.
Furthermore, as it was mentioned above, human beings are endowed with certain capacities - desire for immortality, to have eternal perfections - which are not fully compatible with the characteristics of this world and require another world for their fulfillment. If there were no resurrection for human beings, then his creation would be pointless from the very beginning, since his perfection has not manifested itself in this world and the means of receiving this goal would become useless and in vain.
To conclude, the aim of creation is going back toward God and to attend His final judgment among His creatures on Resurrection Day; everything in this world has been created to return to its God, reach eternity and never fail to exist.
They have come to life in order to pursue the path to their perfection and ultimately join God Almighty. It is noteworthy that the afterlife is not considered as dependent and the result of this world, but rather as a necessity and introductory for this earthly life; God has created this Universe, especially human beings with their extraordinary capacities - the power of the mind, the urge for seeking God and joining Him, etc.-, for becoming immortal in the afterlife and reaching the summit of their capabilities and eternal bliss; thus this world only provides the ground for the ultimate goal of creation. Afterlife is the final destination of creation and this world is only a temporary dwelling.
“Muhammad is not the father of any man among you, but he is the Apostle of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets, and Allah has knowledge of all things” (33:40).
Based on some Islamic narrations, God has sent as many as 124000 prophets to humankind throughout history in different lands; the first of whom was Prophet Adam (AS), and the last divine prophet was Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
What do you think was the primary purpose for which the prophets were raised? God says in the Holy Quran:
“O Prophet! Indeed, We have sent you as a witness, as a bearer of good news and as a warner. and as a summoner to Allah by His permission, and as a radiant lamp” (33:45-46)
“Certainly We sent Our apostles with manifest proofs, and We sent down with them the Book and the Balance, so that mankind may maintain justice;” (57:25)
According to the verses above and many other verses in the Quran [i], prophets were all sent to awaken the inner prophet within each person (i.e. people’s reason), guide them to the right path and invite them to monotheism (worshipping the only One God), which would ultimately lead to their well-being and salvation here in this world and also the hereafter. In fact, no one can deny the effective role prophets had in different aspects of people’s lives in history, as Will Durant puts:
“There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion. France, the United States, and some other nations have divorced their governments from all churches, but they have had the help of religion in keeping social order” .
Now you might wonder, “if God is One and all the prophets were sent to bring us closer to Him, then why would He send different religions?”
From the Quranic point of view there is No such thing as different religions, but rather “all Prophets irrespective of the fact whether they had or did not have an independent code of law, had the same mission and preached the same message” . Quran says:
“Indeed, with Allah religion is Islam, and those who were given the Book did not differ except after knowledge had come to them…” (3:19)
So, why would God send as many as 124000 prophets?
The answer is God’s message had to be renewed and developed according to the requirements of the time, the environment and also the people to whom God’s prophets were sent. Based on the stage of human development in each time and environment, a preaching or law-giving prophet [ii] would come to restore the divine message which had previously been changed, destroyed or distorted by people.
As stated above, people’s intellectual immaturity was the main reason why God renewed his message and developed it over time. However, by the advent of Islam and revelation of the holy Quran, humanity had passed the period of its childhood and had become mature enough to preserve its intellectual heritage, i.e., the religion of God. One thing that proves human’s maturity at the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) is that literacy had become more common among people.
That is why the Prophet’s (PBUH&HP) main miracle is not of anything physical, material and time-dependent, instead, it is a book which is made of words understandable for people of all times. In other words, God, then, guides people and shows them His signs using words (Quran) not by events like parting the sea (led by prophet Moses) or healing the blind or the sick (led by prophet Jesus). God’s message, accordingly, was revived through the revelation of the holy Quran and hence, Muhammad (PBUH&HP) was the last prophet of God.
It is noteworthy that the majority of divine prophets were the preaching ones who would interpret and spread the teachings of the law-giving prophets. But now that God has provided all requirements for humans to achieve their individual and social perfection giving them His book of guidance and wisdom to think, and people have reached a higher intellectual stage and become mature enough to interpret God’s message [iii], there won’t be a need for a new prophet.
At this age of knowledge, the religious scholars are capable of applying the general principles of Islam to the requirements of the time and place and deducing the rules of religious laws :
“The scholars are the inheritor of prophets” Imam Sadiq .
It is clear from what has been discussed above that the intellectual maturity of human has played an essential role in the finality of prophethood in several ways:
It has enabled man to receive his evolutionary program all at once and not by stages,
It has enabled him to keep the celestial Word of God (Quran) unaltered,
It has enabled him to interpret the revealed word of Allah, preach and propagate the teachings of religion and apply the religious principles to all the changing circumstances .
The last mentioned task is now performed by religious experts (Mujtahid) and is named Ijtihad meaning striving and making an effort to deduce the divine laws of Islam from the reliable sources and proofs.
The finality of prophethood does not mean that humanity is now able to dispense with religion. It is the need for prophets and the revelation of God that has ceased to exist, which is only because God’s message has been immune to any sort of alteration or distortion since the advent of Islam:
“Indeed We have sent down the Reminder, and indeed We will preserve it” (15:9)
This message is indestructible, and all people of next generations can have a recurring experience when dealing with it, irrespective of time.
However, God has never left the earth devoid of His guidance, and Imams as the successors of the Holy Prophet (PBUH&HP) have played the main part in maintaining humans’ spiritual connection with God from then on.
[i] “Certainly We raised an apostle in every nation [to preach:] ‘Worship Allah, and shun fake deities.’ Among them were some whom Allah guided, and among them were some who deserved to be in error. So travel over the land and observe how was the fate of the deniers” (16:36). Also see: (7:59, 7:65, 7:85 and 7:73)
[ii] The messengers of God where either law-giving, who would be sent with a noble message and guidance and whose number did not exceed the fingers of one hand, or preaching who would spread and propagate the teachings of the law-giving ones.
[iii] "We ought to present you with the principles and you ought to arrive at specific conclusions from them." Imam Sadiq (AS) 
[iv] the holy Quran, the tradition of the holy prophet and 12 infallible Imams (Sunnah), consensus (Ijma`), and reason (`Aql)
- Mand and Universe
- Wasail al-Shia, Bab 6, Hadith 51, 52
- al-Kafi, vol. 1, p. 32, Hadith 2
One of the principles of Muslims (Shia Islam) is Imamate which means leadership and is a universal authority over people’s religious and worldly affairs. Imams are religious experts who are consciously and willingly infallible and perfect leaders who provide believers with Islamic teachings and laws to help them reach prosperity and perfection.
The followings are the differences between Imams and prophets:
The prophets have brought us the religion, its axioms, and God’s commandments using revelation they received from God, whereas Imams protect the religion against any kind of deviation or distortion and are responsible for the performance of God’s commandments.
In other words, prophets show us the right way towards the divine source, i.e., God, but Imams guide us through this path step by step until we reach it. Apart from the necessity that the Prophet’s path should be known, there have to be leaders (Imams) who are perfect themselves and can teach people and stimulate their energy to help them realize their full potential at any time.
The second difference is that prophets had direct communication with God, and God’s commands were revealed to them, but Imams have not been direct receivers of God’s message; rather, they got it from prophets, and at times, they were supposed to interpret and update that message.
However, whatever roles the prophets had, have been all transferred to Imams. Moreover, our major prophets were Imams, too; they were also responsible for the protection of God’s religion as well as performing His orders in the society and had significant roles in guiding people.
As mentioned above, not every prophet was Imam, nor did every one of them have the opportunity to expand and interpret the commandments they received from God. There are two important examples of the greatest prophets that were also Imams; Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and Prophet Abraham.
What the Quran says about Abraham is that he was tried by God with certain commandments which he fulfilled (2:124). His final test was to slay his son - Ishmael- who was born to him when he had reached his old age. After they both submitted to the command of God and Abraham showed his willingness to sacrifice all his belongings for Him, God asked him to stop, for He wanted to see his sheer submission, not sacrificing his son. So Abraham had passed the stages of prophethood and a lot of exams when he reached the status of Imamate and God appointed him as the leader of humanity:
“[Allah] said, I am making you the Imam of mankind ” (2:124).
This dignity was also given to our last prophet -Muhammad (PBUH) - who conveyed the message of God at the beginning of his mission and in the meantime he carried on teaching people and leading them to the right path.
In the religion of Islam, Imamate is a position that is necessary according to the following rationales:
According to Shia viewpoints, Imamate is proved to be the grace of God (Lutf), which is one of His attributes defined as ‘beneficence’ or ‘kindness’ that would help to bring His creatures nearer to His obedience and facilitate their moral rectitude. In fact, that is the grace of God that requires Him to appoint Imams to keep people away from God’s disobedience.
People are different in obtaining awareness; some are capable of finding the right path, some are not; Imams help both groups to find their way through perfection.
23 years of preaching did not give Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) the opportunity to teach people Islamic laws, thoughts, and beliefs completely. So, there had to be perfect people, trained by the prophet to give humans all the Islamic teachings and to guarantee the endurance of religion.
Prophets are necessary to strengthen the rational knowledge of humans by their words. Although people can rationally understand the majority of realities about religious principles, there are still uncertainties in their hearts which can prevent them from carrying out such principles wholeheartedly.
However, when these rational perceptions are strengthened by prophetic words then all of these doubts and distrusts would be obliterated, and humans can approach their sacred goals. There are some affairs whereby the common sense of human beings cannot identify their advantages and disadvantages.
In such cases, people should resort to religious leaders to help them distinguish the good from what is not. Many things can be useful, and some others can be harmful. Before ascertaining which is which, human beings are not able to distinguish between the good and the bad purely by relying on their intellectual power. Consequently, they feel the need for someone who can clarify these qualities, and this is something which is only within the power of religious leaders who are connected to the divine through revelation .
God has a purpose for his actions, and since He is absolute perfection, the ultimate purpose of His divine action is creating the human being, and the aim of human creation is his perfection, the best example of whom are Imams. Furthermore, the human is the noblest of all creatures and Imams are the noblest of them who reach perfection before anyone else on earth. In other words, life, existence, knowledge, power, and beauty cannot be given to or obtained by the other creatures before they are manifested in perfect beings, Imams.
The importance of Imamate is clearly stated in this verse of the Quran:
“Today I have perfected your religion for you, and I have completed My blessing upon you, and I have approved Islam as your religion” (5:3).
Complete vs. Perfect
According to this verse, Imamate is what through which God has perfected His religion and completed His favor. Here we need to see the difference between perfect and complete:
The religion is considered complete only if it includes all the necessary constituent parts. Perfect versus incomplete, however, has a different meaning. A complete compound object can potentially turn to something it is capable of; that is one can change and pass through the stages of perfection until they reach it and as long as they have not attained that very last stage, they are still incomplete.
The religion of Islam gets completed when God’s commandments (favors) like praying (Salat), fasting (Sawm), Zakat, Khums, etc. are all sent to us. Imamate completes the religion, for it is the last favor sent to human.
The perfection of Islam, though, concerns the truth of this religion, not the exoteric laws and commands. One cannot fully understand the reality of Islamic doctrines, i.e., monotheism (Tawhid), prophethood (Nubuwwah), the afterlife (Ma’ad), alone without Imams. Therefore, Imamate, the last stage of human evolution, improves the quality of faith without which the religion cannot reach its perfection.
As mentioned before, Imamate is the last grace of God upon us which has to exist so as to prove God’s perfection. This cannot be endowed unless Imams are infallible and therefore this status of them needs to be text-oriented; that is their selection by God is stated in Quran and Hadith and asserted by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and each of his twelve successors:
God has never left the earth devoid of an Imam; Imam Mahdi is our current Imam and the ultimate savior of humankind who has been living in occultation since 874 AD and will return with Christ to fill the earth with peace and justice.
So the concept of Imamate, rooted in the revelation of God, is approved in important verses of the Quran, and what’s more, it is rationally based on the reasons mentioned above. God has created humans to give them the opportunity to go through the right path to attain eternal bliss and perfection. That is why He has appointed for us infallible Imams as successors of the last prophet -Muhammad (PBUH) - to help us achieve this purpose.