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.
Prophethood is a sublime status granted only to those who are chosen. A prophet deals with the heart and souls of humans; it is, therefore, a delicate matter to believe in the one who claims prophethood. Hence, there should be a sign that lets people recognize a real prophet from a fake one; that's "miracle." A "miracle" is an extraordinary act or event that no other human, from the first to the last, can perform it or cause it to happen, except a prophet. It can be neither explained by natural or scientific laws. For Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), the Quran is known as an everlasting miracle that is the most outstanding of Prophet's (PBUH&HP) miracles. The question is: why the Quran is considered as a miracle? Let's find out the reasons.
1. The Quran Is Unique in Style and Inimitable
The Quran is revealed with great eloquence and fluency to convey the message. Precise, poetic, targeted, and meaningful terms used in the Quran are such that no weakness of expression can be found in any of its Ayats. In fact, the words are chosen such that they express the desired meaning in the best way possible (Fasaha) with the minimum usage of words (Balaqa). And, these are features that scholars of Arab literature have noticed in every chapter of the Quran .
What makes the Quran a miracle in this regard is that, until the present, no one has been able (and no one will be able) to bring even one short Surah similar to that of this holy book. A Surah that could express the highest scientific facts in simple, comprehensible words and describes different aspects of a scientific matter as clearly as possible. This is an issue that has already been addressed in the Quran: "And if you are in doubt concerning what We have sent down to Our servant, then bring a Surah like it, and invoke your helpers besides Allah, should you be truthful." (2:23). There is no historical account of those who succeeded in defeating this claim of the Quran. If there existed any, those who have always challenged the origin of the Quran should have recorded it.
2. The Quran has been Brought by a Prophet Who Was Uninstructed (Ummi)
According to both historical records and the Quran, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) was Ummi before he was chosen as a messenger of Allah Almighty; he hadn't been taught by any teacher to read and write 1]. "You were not able to read or write before the Quran was revealed to you; however, the followers of falsehood would have tried to confuse the matter" (29:48). Therefore, the Quran that its words are in extreme eloquence and fluency and reveal sophisticated concepts cannot be Prophet's (PBUH&HP) word. Hence, it is a divine work gained through revelation, a "miracle."
3. Scientific Facts Revealed by the Quran
The Quran is not a book of science or a specialized book, nor has it aimed to concentrate on scientific facts. However, these kinds of information are stated in the Quran to demonstrate the wonders of creation and Allah Almighty's glory.
In this regard, the creation of humans is described in detail in the Quran (23:12-14). In the first step, the human being was fashioned from clay. Other measures include the creation of man from spurting water, a drop of semen, the sperm fashioned into an embryo, this embryo fashioned into a shapeless lump of flesh. From the lump of flesh, fashioned bones, clothed the bones with flesh and then created the consanguinity and affinity .
The movement of the earth is another fact mentioned in the Quran: "It is Allah who raised the heavens without any pillars that you see" (13:2). In this verse, it is mentioned that there exist invisible supports that raise up the heavens. These supports are now referred to as the gravitational and other unseen forces in the universe. This scientific fact that is valid today was unknown in that era, and even one thousand years later when Galileo explained this fact and was sentenced to death. That's why it is not explicitly stated in the Quran; otherwise, it would have been banned .
4. Accurate Predictions
Some accurate predictions are among the verses of the Quran. This proves that it has been descended from an absolutely knowing source that can report the unseen.
As an example, in the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), Mecca was controlled by polytheists for a while. They did not let Muslims enter the city and do the Hajj rituals. Then, Prophet (PBUH&HP) dreamed that he succeeded in performing Hajj with his companions. This was confirmed in an Ayah: "Certainly Allah has fulfilled His Apostle's vision in all truth: You will surely enter the Sacred Mosque, God willing, in safety, with your heads shaven or hair cropped, without any fear." (48:27). In the next year, this dream came true.
In another case, the Quran has predicted that: "Byzantium has been vanquished in a nearby territory, but following their defeat, they will be victors in a few years." (30: 2-4). Some years later, both predictions came true.
From what has been discussed above, it can be deduced that the Quran cannot be written by a human being. It is undoubtedly from a superior all-knowing all-wise source, which is Allah Almighty. Consequently, the Quran can be considered as one of Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH&HP) miracles, the greatest one, of course.
- H. El-Ramady, et al., "Soils and Human Creation in the Holy Quran from the Point of View of Soil Science," Env. Biodiv. Soil Security, vol. 3, pp. 1- 9, (2019).
“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