The Fundamental Doctrine of Shia-Imamah


With respect to beliefs, all Muslims share the belief in God and His unity, the prophets in general and the mission of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in particular, the Resurrection, and the just and fair treatment of everybody on the Day of Judgment. These are the most fundamental principles of Islam which are agreed upon by all Muslims, based upon the Quran’s teachings. However, the contention between the major denominations of Sunni and Shia is with regard to the Shia doctrine of Imamah.

The Shia doctrine of Imamah:

Apart from the Prophets, there are another group of God-appointed persons called Imams. These are people who possess Ismah (infallibility) and have access to a knowledge that is not accessible by ordinary people. The world cannot be empty of an Imam otherwise it will be destroyed. In the religious context, these individuals are twelve people among the descendants of the Holy Prophet who are appointed by nobody except Allah alone to lead the Muslims. Anyone who chooses a leader other than these twelve is misguided and not a complete believer. The twelfth (last) of the Imams is the Mehdi and, although he has been in occultation for more than one thousand years, he will return when Allah wishes and then justice will prevail.

Bihar al-Anwar of ‘Allamah Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi (died 1111AH), widely reputed to be the greatest and most influential Shi’ite scholar of the Safawid era. During his lifetime he occupied the office of Shaykh al-Islam in Isfahan, capital of the Safawids, and even to this day his works are indispensable to the Shi’ite clergy as well as their lay public. We quote here the name of the chapter, as well as the number of narrations he documents in each chapter:

1. The Imams possess more knowledge than the Ambiya’ [Messengers or Prophets] (13 narrations).   Bihar al-Anwar vol. 26 pp. 194-200.

2. The Imams are superior to the Ambiya’ and the entire creation. The Covenant of the Imams was taken from them (the Ambiya’), the Mala’ikah and the entire creation. The (Major Prophets called) ulul-‘Azm (Nuh, Ibrahim, Musa and ‘Isa) attained the status of ulul-‘Azm on account of loving the Imams. (88 narrations).   ibid. vol. 26 pp. 267-318.

3. The du‘as [supplications] of the Ambiya’ were answered because they invoked the wasilah [a medium to approach Allah Almighty] of the Imams. (16 narrations).  ibid. vol. 26 pp. 319-332.

4. The Imams can bring the dead back to life. They can cure blindness and leprosy. They possess all the miracles of the Ambiya’ (4 narrations).  ibid. vol. 27 pp. 29-31.

5. Nothing of the knowledge of Heaven, Earth, Jannah [Paradise]and Jahannam [Hell]is hidden from them. The Kingdom of the Heavens and the Earth was shown to them. They know all that happened and that will happen up to the Day of Resurrection. (22 narrations) ibid. vol. 26 pp. 109-107

6. The Imams know the truth of a person's faith or hypocrisy. They possess a book that contains the names of the inmates of Jannah, the names of their supporters and their enemies. (40 narrations) ibid. vol. 26 pp. 117-132.

The titles of these chapters create quite a vivid impression of the narrated material upon which the shia base their faith. The office of Imamah can thus be seen to incorporate more than just the political leadership of the Ummah. The Imams are more than just heads of state with a divine right to rule. They are the repositories of every branch of knowledge and perfection possessed by the Ambiya’. The existence of the world depends upon their presence. They are the intermediaries upon whose intercession acceptance of the prayers of even the Ambiya’ depends. Their office is one that combines political, religious, scientific, cosmological and metaphysical supremacy over the entire creation.

The belief in such a doctrine constitutes the same deviation of the previous nations.

Say, "O People of the Scripture, do not exceed limits in your religion beyond the truth and do not follow the inclinations of a people who had gone astray before and misled many and have strayed from the soundness of the way."(5:77)

The above-stated doctrine of Imamah is the core belief of the Shia. The Shia consider five articles of belief as fundamentals of religion. These are:

1. Tawheed (Oneness of God)

 2. Nabuwwah (Prophethood)

 3. Ma’ad (Day of Judgement)

 4. Adl (Justice of God)

 5. Imamah (the above-stated doctrine)

Allamah Muhammad Husayn al-Kashiful Ghita’s book “The Origin of Shi’ite Islam and its Principles” (Asl ash-Shi’ah wa Usuluha):

“Those matters which concern knowledge or wisdom, are called Usool-e-Deen

(fundamentals of religion) and they are five: Tawheed, Nabuwwah, Imamah, Adl, and Ma’ad.” [“The Origin of Shiite Islam and its Principles, Part II: The Fundamentals of the Religion, Section: The Fundamental Beliefs, p.218]

In similar fashion, the Shia scholar Muhammad Ridha Muzaffar states: “We believe that the Imamah is one of the fundamentals of Islam (Usool-e-Deen), and that man’s faith can never be complete without belief in it.”

Allamah Kashiful Ghita mentions: “It is the question of the Imamah which distinguishes the Shia sect from all other sects. Other differences are not fundamental; they are furoo’i (i.e. secondary)” [Asl-ul-Shia wa Usuluha, p.221] Source: Sidi Abu Salih, Imaamah and the Quran: An Objective Perspective, p.7

The Shia have stated that Imamah is the fundamental of faith, and so there should thus be many verses in the Quran on this topic. Yet, the Quran criteria only ask for the Shia to produce even a couple of verses from the Quran, yet even this is not possible. Not a single verse in the Quran mentions the names of their [allegedly God appointed persons to succeed the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him] Infallible Imams; not even Ali’s (may Allah be pleased with him/peace be upon him) name is ever mentioned in the Quran. Moreover, there is not a single mention of the very concept of the Shia doctrine of Imamah. It is only reasonable to conclude that when a book of guidance is not explicit about something, that thing cannot be a fundamental tenet of guidance.

“We have not neglected anything in the Book” (6:38).

And We have come to them with a Scripture which We have detailed with knowledge; a guide and a mercy to those who believe. (7:52)

This Quran could not have been produced without God, but it is to authenticate what is already present, and to give detail to the Scripture in which there is no doubt, from the Lord of the worlds. (10:37)

Every individual whether she/he is Shia, Sunni or any other sect, must pray to Allah alone for guidance and seek Quranic based evidence and shun sectarianism.

Say: "Shall I seek for judge other than God? - when He it is Who hath sent unto you the Book, explained in detail." They know full well, to whom We have given the Book, that it hath been sent down from thy Lord in truth. Never be then of those who doubt. (6:114)

As Muslims and believers in the the Quran, we must take heed of the warning found therein:

And [is ordered] to recite/pursue the Qur'an. And whoever is guided is only guided for [the benefit of] him/herself; and whoever strays - say, "I am only [one] of the Warners. (Quran 27:92)



And Allah knows best.




Al-Afriqi, Abu Muhammad.

The Quran and Imamah.