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.
The Holy Quran is a record of the exact words of the last revelations from Allah Almighty to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP). Since he was uninstructed (29:48), he recited the words to his companions, who either memorized them or wrote them down. Here are some facts about this divine Book.
The Holy Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) through the archangel Gabriel (Jibrail) in two forms : all at once and gradually. The Holy Quran was once revealed on the night of Qadr (Laylat al Qadr): “The month of Ramaḍan is one in which the Quran was sent down” (2:185). Also, it was sent incrementally over 23 years until he passed away, which caused the faithless to object: “Why has not the Quran been sent down to him all at once?” (25:32)
During the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), the Quran was written on the skin of animals, palm’s wood, and tissue. After Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) demise, there was a need to unify the written texts of the Quran into one specific Arabic dialect and to clarify the reading of the Quran. This happened in the time of the third Caliph, who ordered to collect a unique version of the diacritic the Quran, and other versions were eliminated such that he united the Muslims on one authoritative recension . It should be noted that the actual version of the Quran is the one which was originally collected during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) and under his supervision. That is to say, the content of this holy book has remained undistorted since it was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), and only its form and diacritic was unified at the time of the third Caliph. Therefore, the longer surahs are found at the beginning of the Quran and the shorter ones towards the end.
The Quran has some other names the most important of which are :
• Al-Kitab, meaning the Book: “This is the Book. There is no doubt about it.” (2:1-2);
• Al-Furqan, meaning the criterion for the right and wrong since it gives Muslims some tools to differentiate between the truth and false, the lawful and unlawful: “Blessed is He who sent down the Criterion (the Furqan) to His servant that he may be a warner to all the nations.” (25:1);
• Al-Dhikr, meaning a reminder because the Quran reminds us of Allah Almighty: “Indeed We have sent down the Reminder, and indeed We will preserve it.” (15:9).
The Quran is composed of 114 chapters, called "Surahs", and 6236 verses, called "Ayats". It is divided into 30 sections called “Joz’” and 60 sub-sections called “Hizb.” The longest surah is Baqarah and the shortest Kawthar.
The surahs of the Holy Quran are divided into two groups: those revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) when he lived in Mecca, called Makki, and those from after his migration to Medina, called Madani. Generally, the ayats about the Islamic axioms, such as monotheism, prophethood, and afterlife, were revealed in Mecca since the new Muslims required to get fully acquainted with these principles. The ayats about governing the Islamic society, practical principals, and details were revealed in Medina.
Every surat of the Quran has a specific title. These titles were known from the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), and he was the one who introduced these titles initially. The titles were determined to represent the concept and topics discussed in that surat or a priority considered in the Quran about that surat .
It is essential to treat the Quran respectfully since it is a divine revelation in every aspect. In this regard, the paper upon which the Quran is written and the Arabic words on its pages should not be touched without having performed ablutions (Wudhu). Moreover, when one is reading the Quran out loud, it is better if the listener keeps silent, listens (7:204), and thinks about the meaning of words.
- M. H. Ma’rifat, “Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur'an,” p. 64, 2000, Tamhid Qom cultural institute, Qom, Iran.
- M. H. Ma’rifat, “Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur'an,” p. 133-136, 2000, Tamhid Qom cultural institute, Qom, Iran.
Every Muslim agrees on the fact that the Holy Qur'an came down as a revelation to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) in Arabic as we see in the following two verses:
The Holy Quran 43:3
"Surely We have made it an Arabic Qu'ran that you may understand."
The Holy Quran 12:2
"Surely We have revealed it-an Arabic Qu'ran-that you may understand."
Today with uncountable nationalities embracing the fold of Islam, many read the Holy Qu'ran in their native tongue and thereby pose different questions and arguments about reciting it in their own tongue.
These arguments include the following:
1. It is not wajib (Obligatory) to read the Holy Quran in Arabic because it is not specifically mentioned in the Holy Qu'ran that we must read it in Arabic.
2. Non-Arab Muslims do not understand the Holy Quran in it's revealed language and since Islam is a way of life, then it is more important to understand the injunctions, clear signs, stories of the Holy Prophets (AS) of Allah to gain guidance from these instead of spending time; learning a language, reciting in that language that they believe does not benefit them and that the time in which they would be occupied in reciting a language that is, they feel, not of use to them, then this time although not exactly wasted can be put to better use in acquiring actual knowledge.
Some argue that they can not learn Arabic because they are not good with languages and others still insist that while they read the Holy Quranic interpretations in their native language in the holy month of Ramadan, they have actually completed an entire Quran that month.
And a final argument given is the following:
"I do not understand at all why the Quran should be read in Arabic? Yes, Allah Almighty has said that we sent the Qur'an in Arabic for you to think about, but if we read the Qur'an in Persian, can we not think about it?"
So let's begin to answer these arguments by going directly to the Holy Qu'ran where the word Arabic is mentioned exactly ten times and see what Allah is telling us.
In the Holy Quran 12:2,
"Surely We have revealed it-an Arabic Quran-that you may understand."
In the Holy Quran 13:37,
And thus have We revealed it, a true judgment in Arabic, and if you follow their low desires after what has come to you of knowledge, you shall not have against Allah any guardian or a protector.
In the Holy Quran 16:103,
And certainly, We know that they say: Only a mortal teaches him. The tongue of him whom they reproach is barbarous, and this is a clear Arabic tongue.
In the Holy Quran 19:97,
So We have only made it easy in your tongue that you may give good news thereby to those who guard (against evil) and warn thereby a vehemently contentious people.
In the Holy Quran 20: 113,
And thus have We sent it down an Arabic Quran, and have distinctively set forth therein of threats that they may guard (against evil) or that it may produce a reminder for them.
The Holy Quran 26:193,194,195 and 200
193. The Faithful Spirit has descended with it.
194. Upon your heart that you may be of the warners.
195. In plain Arabic language.
200. Thus have we made it enter into the hearts of the guilty.
The Holy Quran 39:28,
An Arabic Quran without any crookedness, that they may guard (against evil).
The Holy Quran 41:3,
A Book of which the verses are made plain, an Arabic Quran for a people who know.
The Holy Quran 42:7,
And thus have We revealed to you an Arabic Quran, that you may warn the mother city and those around it, and that you may give warning of the day of gathering together wherein is no doubt; a party shall be in the garden and (another) party in the burning fire.
The Holy Quran 46:12,
And before it, the Book of Musa was a guide and a mercy: and this is a Book verifying (it) in the Arabic language that it may warn those who are unjust and as good news for the doers of good.
As we see from the ten verses above, Allah has a specific message that he wants to imprint on our minds and hearts by the adjectives which he brings with the word Arabic in the same verses. However, let us not rely on our own assumptions or interpretations as I can already hear the arguments that may arise that, yes, it may be that it was revealed in Arabic because the people of the time were Arabs and how could they understand another language but today we come from many different nations and tongues. So let us continue by looking at a clear hadith from Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (as).
Imam Sadiq (as) said:
"Learn Arabic, which is the word of Allah, and Allah has spoken to His servants in that language (the meaning of the Qur'an), and speak your jaws in Arabic and pronounce the end of the words clearly". (Al-Khesal. Vol 2. P 258)
In this above tradition, we see that the words of Imam As-Sadiq (as) are not advising or recommending us towards an action or a behavior, rather the words are decisive - a command. What is our Imam telling?
He says: "Learn Arabic", these are final and conclusive words from the sixth Imam (as). He further tells us that Arabic is the word of Allah, he does not say the Quran is the word of Allah but Arabic itself. He tells us that Allah has spoken to His servants in Arabic "That language" and finally, he explains the physical aspect of the recitation - how we should recite in Arabic? "Speak your jaws in Arabic and pronounce the end of the words clearly."
The above tradition coming from the Sixth Imam himself should also instill into our hearts that there is a science to the recitation of the Arabic Quran and when something has a science, then there is a cause and an effect. By mentioning the jaws, we see that there is some physical benefit for our actual body that comes from reciting the Holy Qur'an in Arabic but what more does he tell us about this recitation?
The following tradition, answers this question.
Imam Jafar As-Sadiq (as) said "Try your best to read the Qur'an correctly in true Arabic pronunciation in the same way that Arabs read it."
p 270 The life of Imam Al-Sadiq (as) Allama Baqir Sharif al Qarashi.
By the mentioned verses of the Holy Quran and the clear tradition (without even touching on the benefits of Arabic), there should be no doubt left about the actual command from our Imams and the guidance in the words of Allah himself that although we must understand the Holy Quran (reading in our native tongue), still there is nothing that can replace the function and role of the word of Allah in His own language.