In the discussion of prophethood, it was proven that it was essential that God, the Wise, should dispatch messengers for the guidance of mankind, should provide them with the laws and commandments so that they could achieve prosperity and perfection; now we say that: Since the life of messenger is not eternal in the world and through his demise it is quite possible that divine commandments which came for the guidance of mankind might have been destroyed.
Therefore, after the prophet there must be someone so that divine commandments without any less or more addition should remain preserved near him; he should make efforts and endeavor in guarding and preservation of those commandments; he should guard the religion and execute the divine commandments, which guarantee the prosperity of mankind. He should look after for the worldly and religious deeds of the people, so that the path of achieving the prosperity and perfection for the human beings remains open and the link between God and the people should not be disconnected; such a person is called an Imam or successor.
The Imam is a protector of the treasure of knowledge of the Prophet; the Imam is the most perfect manifestation of a human being as well as of religion. He is leader of the people; he himself takes a spiritual journey of perfection and prosperity as well as guides others.
3.2. Characteristics of an Imam
The Imam too, like a prophet, should be immune from making any mistake or negligence in remembering commandments, their propagation, and execution so that the divine commandments should remain with him without any less or more; and he should not allow the people to deviate from the straight path of honesty in execution of commandments and administration of the society; the main road of perfection−which is not more than one−should not be obstructed.
The Imam should be infallible and immune from the performance of any sin and rebellion. And his deeds should be in compliment with his words, so that his words and values should not lose credit and should not lose his confidence and trust from the people. If he would commit sins, deeds opposite to the religious commandments, he would become as an example for the people and through means of his character would invite them to oppose religious commandments. Thus, the Imam must be infallible i.e. he should act upon all religious commandments and should be decorated with the esoteric essence of the religious commandments.
B. Knowledge of Imam
An Imam must know all divine commandments of the religion. He must be thoroughly knowledgeable with respect to every aspect relevant to his spiritual position and leadership. He should be a learned scholar (a’lim) to possess all religious commandments with him, so that in guidance and administration of the people, he should not be helpless and incompetent; he should be able to keep the straight path of prosperity open.
C. Distinctions and Perfection
Earlier it was proven that an Imam acts upon all religious commandments and undertakes his journey in the context of religion. Therefore, he should be the most superior and most perfect human being. He journeys upon the straight path of religion and accompanies others with him and guides them. An Imam is a total manifestation of the religion, and in his blessed existence all realities and divine learning could be witnessed.
It could be utilized from history and narrations that the infallible Imams (a.s.) like Prophets had miracles and were capable of performing acts which were not possible by ordinary human beings. Occasionally the circumstances required that proof of their position of infallibility and imamate depended upon their performance of a miracle.
Whoever would refer to the books of narrations, their excellent virtues, history, and with unprejudiced intellect should review the abundance of miracles that have been attributed to the Infallible Imams (a.s.) and would attain the certainty that overall they had possessed miracles and outstanding works. Of course it is not our intent that all miracles that have been related to the Infallible Imams (a.s.) are true and correct; instead perhaps among them some false and unknown matters might have been existed.
E. Imam’s Identification
An Imam could be identified through two paths:
The Prophet or the previous Imam should introduce him and appoint him as his successor and leader of the people. If he is not introduced by God, Prophet and previous Imam, the people by themselves could not identify the Imam, and could appoint him as their leader for their governmental affairs; because it was proven earlier that an Imam and leader of the people should be infallible, most distinguished and learned scholar of the community.
Other than God no one else has knowledge about the position of his infallibility. Ordinary people are not in a position to diagnose the infallible from the non-infallible. Regarding perfection of his holy essence and divine knowledge no one knows except God and Prophet.
In order to prove his Imamate, if an Imam has performed an outstanding act or miracle, his imamate would be proven because had his claim been a lie, God would not have certified his credibility through the means of a miracle.
Difference between an Imam and Prophet
Imam and Prophet have differences between them from the following point of views:
A Prophet is the founder of a religion and is a bringer of the religious commandments while an Imam is the guardian of commandments and is responsible for their execution.
A Prophet receives the religious laws and commandments through the means of revelation and has direct communication with God; but an Imam is not a receiver, i.e. the laws and commandments are not revealed upon him instead he receives them from the Prophet and has a vital role in the guidance, and admonishment of prophetic knowledge.
3.3. Appointment of a Successor and Number of Imams (a.s.)
Whoever in the society possesses a position and rank and is responsible for its ruling affairs, if he wants temporarily not to go to work, without any doubt, he appoints a successor for himself and assigns responsibility of ruling affairs of the society upon him. He would never be ready to leave that congregation or community without assigning a supervisor or manager. The Holy Prophet (S) of Islam too paid a serious attention about this task and assigned plenty of emphasis regarding this matter.
Every village or city that was conquered at the hands of Muslims, he immediately appointed a ruler and governor for it. When he dispatched soldiers to the war-front, he assigned a commander for them and also he occasionally assigned his replacement in case of his martyrdom or sickness. Whenever he journeyed or participated in a war, he appointed his successor and assigned the ruling affairs of the community in Medina to him.
The Holy Prophet (S) was the ruler of the Muslims, he was not negligent about this matter that after his demise the Muslim society requires an infallible ruler, who through means of execution of divine laws and commandments should administer them and should make efforts and endeavors towards the advancement of his cherished objective. The Holy Prophet (S) knew well that Islamic nation could not remain as a living, powerful, and Islamic nation without an infallible ruler.
Due to this reason it could be said with absolute certainty that: The Holy Prophet (S) with all that compassion that that he had for overall discipline and order of the Islamic community and survival of Islam; it was impossible that he would leave the world without appointing a successor or leader for ruling affairs of the young Islamic nation. Apart from that it was proven earlier that an Imam should be appointed through God and Prophet because except God and His Prophet, no one else could testify to his infallibility.
Therefore it is absolute duty of the Prophet to introduce an infallible Imam to the people and if he has acted negligently in this regards, he has left the matter of prophethood and propagation of religion as incomplete. It is because of this reason that we are certain that the Holy Prophet (S) has declared his successor and Imam of the Muslims.
The Holy Prophet (S) not only appointed the successor immediately after him, instead he also introduced the forthcoming Imams after him. In plenty of traditions that have reached to us through the Holy Prophet (S) the numbers of the Imams have been declared as twelve. The Holy Prophet (S) said: “There would come twelve caliphs after
me and all of them would belong to Qureshite. The first person of them would be Ali (a.s.) and last one would be the promised Mahdi (a.s.). And in some of narrations the names of all twelve persons have been mentioned.”1