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  • 8/7/2006

The Imam of Mankind

the imam of mankind


    "Verily, I make you the Imam for mankind..." (Holy Qur"an 2:124)

    The Words of God are thought-provoking. The verse mentioned above refers to a remote period of history when Abraham (AS), already a God-sent Messenger to several nations, was granted a new distinction. He was made the Imam or "[Absolute] Leader" of all people of his age.

    As those who read the Holy Qur"an are aware, when that great Patriarch asked the Lord whether the office of Imamate would be conferred on his descendants, he was given the clear reply: "...My covenant will not reach the unjust." (2,124)

    This is how the All-Wise Creator sealed the issue of Imamate or leadership of mankind by saying in the most explicit terms that it is He alone who grants legitimacy to the leader since leadership means to guide the people and not to be led by them. If masses and fallible persons were to give direction to society"s affairs, the result would be catastrophic as it happened in the so-called ancient civilizations that ignored and ridiculed God-sent leaders and were subsequently destroyed.

    In other words, the leadership of mankind is not an elected office, nor can anyone be nominated to it, and neither can the unjust be called legitimate leaders, no matter how democratically they press forward their claims. It also means that even a divinely-appointed leader has no authority to pass leadership onto anyone else without God"s formal commandment as is evident from the Allah"s answer to Prophet Abraham (AS).

    To further emphasize this important point in the light of recorded history, the Power that brought the universe into existence did not leave mankind a leaderless lot. He sent a chain of Messengers in different parts of the world, culminating in the universal message of Islam entrusted to the greatest of them, Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).

  The Holy Qur"an introduced this noble scion of Abraham as "Mercy to the creation" (21,107). It also vouched that the Prophet "does not err, nor is led astray; neither he speaks of his own inclination; it [his wording] is not but revelation revealed." (53,2-4)

    Thus on 18th Dhil-Hijja, 10 AH (632 CE), after 23 years of preaching to mankind, when the Seal of the Prophets was returning from his farewell pilgrimage to the Inviolable House (Holy Ka`ba) built by Abraham (AS) in Mecca, divine orders made him stop in his tracks in the wilderness of Arabia beside the spring (Ghadeer) of Khum, with the words:

     "O Messenger deliver what has been revealed to you from your Lord; and if you do it not, then you have not delivered His message, and Allah will protect you from the people.." (5,67)

    There was urgency in the divine tone. The covenant made with Abraham (AS) in antiquity had to be renewed. A criterion had to be set in full view of a congregation that exceeded 100,000 pilgrims, so that no unjust soul, even if he were to seize the reins of temporal power after the Last Prophet, would dare lay claim to the Imamate.

    It would be befitting here to quote such authoritative scholars of the Sunni school and their books as al-Wahidi (Asbab-un-Nuzoul), Abu Iss-haq Tha`labi (Tafsir-ul-Kabir) and Ahmad ibn Hanbal (Musnad), who say that upon revelation of this verse, Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), called back all those pilgrims who had parted ways at Juhfa for their respective destinations. Then, after a sermon, in which he charged the congregation of pilgrims to bear witness that he had fulfill his mission towards mankind, he lifted his cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib (AS), and declared thrice:

the imam of mankind


  "For whomsoever I am master, therefore this Ali is his master ."

    Ibn Hanbal writes that the Prophet expressed these words four times, and that some of the prominent companions including Abu Bakr, Umar ibn Khattab and others surged forward to felicitate Ali with the words bakh-khin (congratulations) on his appointment as the leader.

    An Imam was appointed; a just Imam who like his cousin the Prophet and his great forebearer Abraham (AS), had spent every single moment of his life in obedience to Allah; a worthy vicegerent, who during those chaotic years after the passing away of the Prophet would serve as the barometer of truth. Vested interests would soon jockey for power through buying of public votes, swaying people with deceptive slogans, commissioning a council to select a caliph and using military means to usurp the caliphate, but leadership as defined by God the Almighty had been placed beyond their reach.

   They and those who were misled by them would try hard to ignore Ghadeer and the issue of the divine right of leadership by claiming that the Prophet had named no successor and it was the democratic right of the Arabs to elect anyone from among themselves on the basis of majority vote. How retrograde was their way of thinking, just like the greed for power of the modern politicians!

    But God"s covenant with Abraham (AS) had long disqualified anyone with the slightest blemish, no matter what virtues and services for Islam the undeserving could cite. Imamate was for the infallible Ali (AS), the Amir-ul-Mu"mineen (Commander of the Faithful) and the Imamin Mubeen (Manifest Leader) mentioned in Sura Yassin (Holy Qur"an 36,12). The spotless personality of the "Virtuous of the Believers" (Saleh-ul-Mu"mineen - 66,4) who gave alms while in the state of ruku" (genuflection) during prayer (5,55), has been elucidated in God"s Book in many a Sura and need not be recounted in this brief article.

    For those blessed with a grain of faith, the event of Ghadeer-e Khum sealed the issue of leadership of the Umma. The divine verse that was immediately revealed after the discharging of this great responsibility by Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) is worth pondering upon:

   "This day I have perfected for you your religion and have completed My favor on you..."(5,3)

    Despite such clear proofs, should we still entertain unjust thoughts that the Prophet (God forbid) left the issue of succession undecided and that the leadership of Muslims is a free for all contest?

By: Seyyed Ali Shahbaz

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