Al-Huda Foundation

Lives of the Twelve Imams From the Alhe Bait (AS)

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        Al-Qur’an is the Word of Allah, His Last Testament revealed to Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam.  Muhammad was the Last Messenger and the Blessing of Allah for all mankind.  The Quran contains commandments, laws and references prescribed by Allah for mankind to live a balanced and guided life on earth, and to prepare for the eternal life of fulfillment after the material death. 

The Prophet of Islam lived his life in accordance with this Qur’anic code of law and interpreted this to the believers.  His way of life changed the old ways, and became the new Sunna (the code of conduct) for the Muslims to emulate.  The sayings and the quotes from the Prophet constitute al-Hadith (the Traditions).  

Al-Islam, the Faith of all Muslims, was perfected and completed by Allah through His last Messenger.  The Qur’an, very clearly and eloquently speaks about Huquq-ullah (the rights of Allah) and Huquq ul-ibad (the rights of people), and gives out details on how to regulate one’s personal life, manage personal assets, conduct business with others, observe human rights in peace and war, charitable giving, helping the orphans and the widows, distribution of one's estate after death and the methodology of making the last will.  It is beyond comprehension that Allah would not have given specific instructions to His Last Messenger regarding the continuation of the Message after him.  However, the Divine Justice did provide a specific certificate of completion of the Faith when the Prophet made a public announcement of his successor with the Last Revelation from Allah: "This Day I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen Islam as your religion” V:4.  

It was that day the Prophet announced Ali to be his successor.  Ali would be their Maula (lord), just as he himself had been to them.  This event is recorded in all the books of Hadith and many classic writers have expounded it with details extracted from the authentic books of Hadith.  Whereas most Muslim authorities agree that this event actually did take place, they disagree over its interpretation and implication.  According to the Shiite interpretation, this event signified the appointment of Ali as the successor to the Prophet, as well as the lmam of the time.  

However, on the death of the Prophet, Abu Bakr was elected the first Caliph in Saqeefa Banu  Sa’ada under unusual circumstances.  The supporters of the election considered it to be extremely important to obtain the oath of fealty from the Madinites.  Ali was busy with the burial of the Prophet and could not participate in the conference held at the Saqeefa.  Since Ali knew that the Prophet had intended him (Ali) to be his (the Prophet's) successor, he refused to acknowledge Abu Bakr as the successor to the Prophet.  For his refusal, Ali had to endure hostilities.  

Just before his death Abu Bakr nominated Umar to be his successor, and Ali was overlooked.  Likewise, before his death, Umar appointed a committee that picked Uthman as the third Caliph and Ali was ignored once again inspite of his definite superiority over others on all grounds.  When Uthman was murdered and the Islamic State was in a terrible mess, people came to Ali and begged him to assume the responsibility of the Caliphate, which he did.  

The tenure of Ali's rule was plagued with bloody civil wars, the causes of which began with the election of the first Caliph and the associated developments that followed.  The progeny of Ali, the chain of the twelve Imams, also continued to suffer from the consequences of the same rift in the politico-religious philosophy that has divided the Muslim Ummah (the nation of believers) into the Shiite and the Sunni Muslims.  This rift widened especially after the battle of Siffin.  

With the passage of time, the Caliphate became a purely political and administrative position.  Most caliphs in the dynasties that followed, were quite impious and unworthy of being the representatives of the Messenger of Islam.  The religious guidance of the Ummah had to come from the legitimate representatives of the Prophet.  This representation came from the Imams from among the Ahle Bait, the progeny of Ali and Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet of Islam.  

Following the example of their patriarch Ali, the Imams of Ahle Bait did not contest the rulers of the time for their political standing, but continued to uphold the Truth, and to represent and guard the Message of Islam with their lives.  For this, they had to suffer persecution, internment and martyrdom at the hands of the caliphs of the time.  

The word Imam has generally been used in different contexts.  For example an Imam is one who leads a prayer in a congregation.  An Imam could be a learned man of the Faith.  Many renowned authors of religious books and jurists have also been called Imams.  The rulers of certain Muslim states even today are known as Imams.  However, the concept of Imamate as held by the Shiite Muslims has a specific meaning and significance.  

According to the Shiite Muslims, there are ahadith quoted from the Prophet himself, saying that the Imam of guidance were to be from among his Ahle Bait.  He had predicted their number as being no less than or greater than twelve.  These Imams could neither be self-proclaimed nor elected or appointed by a popular vote.  The appointment of the Imai-n is a divine ordinance and must be affected according to the Will of Allah.  These criteria include the elements of piety and infallibility.  This further means that the personality of the Imam has to be that of a Perfect Human being (Insaane Kamil).  

According to the Sunni Muslims, the Imam need not belong to the Ahle Bait of the Prophet.  Whereas such a person should be pious, his appointment need not come from the Prophet or Allah, and the Ummah may choose or elect any pious person to be their Imai-n.  Here, although piety is an essential pre-requisite, the human fallibility cannot be excluded.  

The twelve Imams from the Ahle Bait carry an unbroken chain of custodianship of the Message of Islam, and link themselves to the Messenger through his daughter Fatima, and her husband, Ali.  They all conveyed the same uniform message to the believers, the same tradition and the same methodology in the spiritual and ritual practices of the faith.  They had declined to accept the rulers of the time as U-lul Amr (the ones vested with authority by Allah).  

Each one of the twelve Imams got his appointment as the successor before the preceding Imam passed away.  Because of the nature of their appointment, they did not accept the caliphs of their times to be the U-lul Amr (the ones vested with authority from Allah).  For this, they had to endure unrelenting persecution at the hands of the caliphs.  None of them could lead a peaceful life.  Eleven Imams were either slain or poisoned, the Twelfth Imam (Muhammad al-Mahdi) is in Ghaibat (hidden).  For the believers, the Twelve Imams are the means of Salvation.  They are the "Rope o 'Allah " that would lead mankind from earthly errors to heavenly piety. Allah says in al-Qur’an: "And hold fast, all together, by the Rope which Allah  stretches out for you) and be not divided among yourselves: and remember with gratitude Allah’s  favor on you” III: 103.  

"Nor does he (Muhammad) say (aught) of (his own) desire.  It is no less than revelation sent down on him.'He was taught by one Mighty in Power." Llll: 3-5   

The Prophet is quoted having said "I am leaving behind you Something, that if you take hold of it you would not be misguided after me, (that is) Thaqalayn (two precious things).  One of them is higher than the other, the Book o 'Allah, which is a Rope extended from the heaven to the earth, and my kindred (Itrat), my household (Ahle Bait); for indeed the two of them will never separate until they return to me by the Hawd al-Kawthar (the Pond).  

The famous jurist Imam ash-Shafii composed a lively poem on Islamic Unity, and expounded on the Rope of  

           Allah thus:

    When I saw the people carried off

    Their departure to the sea of errors and ignorance

    In the name of Allah, I boarded the Ark of Salvation

    This is Ahle Bait of Mustafa., the Seal of Prophecy

And I caught hold of the Role of Allah, that is their love

    As He commanded us to hold fast to the Rope".


This book is dedicated to my parents whose love, 

nurture and sacrifices shaped my personality and career.