مهدويت | Mahdawiyat
The Necessity of Existence of an Imam at all Times
Dr. Fahimi: I don't know why you Shi'a insist that you should prove the existence of the Imam. You are so unrelenting in your belief that if the Imam does not exist physically, you say he is in concealment. Since the Prophets have already delivered the injunctions from God, why would there be a need for the existence of an Imam?
Mr. Hoshyar: All those proofs that are advanced to prove the necessity of the general prophethood and require God to communicate His injunctions to humankind, also necessitate that an Imam should exist as a proof for the existence of those injunctions and their protection. In order to elaborate on what we have said, it is necessary, however briefly, to present first the proofs that require the existence of the general prophethood and then proceed to prove the existence of the Imam.
If you keep in mind the preliminaries that have been already established and which we will briefly touch upon here, the matter concerning the necessity of the general prophethood will become clear to you.
(1) A human being has been created in such a way that he cannot run his affairs on his own. He needs the assistance and cooperation of others. In other words, he is created civil and social by nature. Hence, he must act within a society. It is obvious that self-interest and survival are the cause of conflict in a social life. Each person in the society is engaged in exerting all his endeavor to benefit from limited material resources. In reaching this goal he has to overcome numerous obstacles and compete with other individuals who are equally engaged in attaining the same goal. Under those circumstances individuals become obstacles to each other's goals and, hence, end up stepping upon each other's rights. It is at this point that law is needed to regulate social relations so that people's rights should be protected from being infringed upon, and conflicts should be resolved without creating chaos and lawlessness. It is possible to surmise that laws are a precious treasure that have been discovered by human beings. Furthermore, it is probable that from the early days of organizing their society human beings have had access to laws and have always respected them for their own good.
(2) A human being has been innately endowed with the capacity to perfect himself and attain prosperity. In his ongoing struggle, a human being has no other purpose than to become truly perfect. All his endeavors are geared towards attaining that lofty goal of perfection.
(3) Since a human being is on his way to perfection, attention to the true meaning of perfection has been made part of his natural disposition. Hence, it should be possible for him to attain it, because God does not create anything in futility.
(4) The point that a human being is made of body and spirit is well established. He is material through his body; whereas his spirit, although intimately connected with his body is regarded as belonging to the world of incorporeal beings.
(5) Since human being is made of two elements, namely, body and spirit, he is bound to have two kinds of life: this worldly life, related to his body; and the spiritual and contemplative life, related to his soul. Consequently, in relation to each one of them he will have a life of prosperity and damnation.
(6) Just as between body and spirit there is connection and relationship, with ensuing unity, so is there a perfect connection and relationship between the material and spiritual life. In other words, the quality of life in this world has a direct impact upon the spiritual life. Likewise, the psychic conditions and other spiritual characteristics have an impact upon the way human acts surface.
(7) A human being is on the way to perfection and is attentive to the requirements of innate and natural perfection. Moreover, God has not created life without a purpose. It is incumbent upon God to provide the means to attain the goal and to acquire the perfection intended for humanity so that it is able to distinguish and pursue the path that leads to the attainment of prosperity and avoid that which leads to sinful deviation.
(8) By nature a human being is self-centered and pursues his own interests. He is not interested in any other thing than serving his own good and interests. In fact, he endeavors to exploit fellow human beings and take advantage of their endeavors to serve his ends.
(9) Although a human being is engrossed in pursuing his own real perfection and is engaged in an intense search of that truth which he believes would lead him to its acquisition, more than often he fails to reach that goal. The reason is that his own egocentric desires and internal emotions overcome his ability to distinguish the straight path. These traits actually obscure the ability of practical reason to lead humans to that desired perfection, and instead mislead one toward the path of damnation and self-destruction.
What System Can Make Human Beings Prosperous?
Since human beings must live in a society, and since obstacles to preserving one's interest and the exploitation of fellow humans are a necessary part of social life, there is a need for law to control such self-serving interest that could lead to chaos among the people. Such a law can create order in the society only when the following conditions are fulfilled:
(1) Such law has to be comprehensive and effective to cover and administer all spheres of individual as well as collective human activity. It should provide for all the human exigencies without neglecting any aspect of social life. Such a legal system should promulgate laws that would be in conformity with the natural and actual needs of individuals, reflecting both the internal reality as well as external conditions of human beings.
(2) Such law should lead to the real prosperity of human beings and not merely their imaginary and speculative perfection.
(3) Such law should be attentive to the well being of the entirety of humanity, not just a particular group of people or specific individual.
(4) Such law should lay the foundation of a society based on human virtues and the perfection of humanity. It should lead it to the attainment of that lofty goal by putting a high value on earthly life as a means of procuring those virtues and that human perfection, and not as independent of it.
(5) Such law should possess the efficiency to protect the people from manipulation and chaos, and guarantee the rights of all individuals without discrimination.
(6) In its promulgation, this law should be alert to the spiritual needs of the people in such a way that none of its laws should be a cause of harm to the meaningful existence of the people. Nor should it lead to the deviation from the path of perfection.
(7) Such law should protect the society from turning away from the right path of humanitarian existence and from choosing the path of destruction.
(8) The lawgiver of such a system should be well informed about all the crooked and scrupulous aspects of human encounters and should be knowledgeable about all the judgements given at different times and places.
Undoubtedly, a human being is in need of this kind of law and it is regarded as the necessity of his life. Without such a system in place human life will be in danger. In light of this indispensable need, it is relevant to raise the question of whether human-made law is capable of administering human society justly.
We believe that human-legislated law, influenced by short-sighted human intelligence, is imperfect and does not possess the ability to administer human society with justice. Some examples would clarify this statement:
(1) Human knowledge and information is both limited and deficient. The average human being is unaware of all human needs and the laws of nature. He also does not possess sufficient knowledge about good and evil and all aspects of competing interests among various laws and their impact upon the formulation of final judgements in different places and times.
(2) If it is hypothetically admitted that it is possible for human legislators to promulgate such laws, it is undoubtedly impossible to concede that these legislators are aware of the ways in which the worldly and the spiritual life interact with each other to produce actions that suggest their deep roots in human nature. And, even if they are in possession of such an awareness, it is very negligible. Evidently, taking care of that spiritual life is beyond their legislative program. Hence, human prosperity is viewed only from a material perspective. On the contrary, these two aspects of human existence are intimately related, and their division is inconceivable.
(3) Since human beings are self-centered, manipulation and exploitation of a fellow human is part of his nature. Every person gives preference to his own interests above the good of others. Hence, conflict resolution and the prevention of exploitation are beyond his competence. The reason is that the self-serving goals of the human legislators will never allow them to disregard their own and their supporters' interests and work towards the common good of humanity.
(4) Human legislators always promulgate laws shortsightedly. Moreover, they are influenced by their prejudices, habits and defective thought. Consequently, the laws are enacted to protect the interests of the few, without due attention to the benefit and harm that could accrue to others. In these laws the general welfare of humanity has not been the source of legislation.
Indeed, it is only the divinely ordained legal system that is in conformity with the laws of nature and has been promulgated with the purpose of advancing human prosperity in this and the next world. Hence, it is free from every selfish human motive. It is, certainly, enacted to further universal human prosperity. Thus, it is clear that humanity needs the divinely ordained law and God's benevolence makes it necessary that He provide a complete and perfect system through His messengers.
The Other-worldly Prosperity
Even as a human being is constantly occupied with the mundane aspects of life, there is some mysterious life rooted in the depth of his own self to which he hardly pays attention, and he appears to have almost forgotten about it. He is bound to reap prosperity or adversity in relation to this neglected self too. In other words, good thoughts and true beliefs, virtuous conduct and praiseworthy actions that stem from the prosperous self would lead to spiritual perfection and ascendancy as well as to success and excellence, just as erroneous beliefs, immoral behavior and blameworthy conduct, which stem from the perverted self, lead to the impairment, destitution and deviation of the self. Hence, if a person places himself on the path of perfection, he will permit his essential and real self to be nurtured and refined so as to ascend and revert to its original abode, which is all light and bliss. On the contrary, if he sacrifices all the means to attain the perfection of the self by surrendering to the animal appetites, then he will transform himself into a violent, lustful animal, having completely deviated from the straight path.
Consequently, a human being is in need of a carefully structured program for the progression of his inner self without which he cannot expect to travel this hazardous and highly intricate path. By allowing his animal appetites to overcome spiritual and moral perfection, he actually surrenders the ability of his intuitive reasoning to reach sound judgements. As a result he falls into the darkness of misguidance, destroying his power to carry out the requirements of a virtuous life, judging good to be evil and evil to be good. Indeed, it is only God, the Creator of human beings, who knows the source of human prosperity, the good and the evil, who can provide the right guidance and complete program to attain true perfection and happiness, and to avoid those things that cause destitution and adversity. In sum, a human being needs the Lord Creator also in attaining his prosperity in the Hereafter.
Thus, it is possible to conclude that the Wise God has not exposed humankind, which is potentially capable of realizing prosperity as well as disaster only to the deviating powers of the self. Nor has He abandoned humankind to the forces of ignorance and confusion. Rather, He has endowed humanity with abounding benevolence and kindness by guiding it through the prophets who are selected from among humans. These prophets have been sent with ordinances and laws to direct the lives of the people toward this and other-worldly prosperity and to warn against the tribulations caused by ignoring this guidance. By doing so God has removed all the possible excuses human beings could make for having failed to reach the appointed goal of prosperity.
The Path of Perfection
The path of human perfection leading it to God is embedded in sound belief, righteous action and virtuous conduct. The information about this path was revealed to the Prophets so that they could undertake to call people towards it. It is important to emphasize that this path is not merely a formal path that has no connection in form or essence to the divine goals. Quite to the contrary, it is the path that is real and true, which has its source in the divine lordship. Any one situated in its course can ascend to the highest levels of the limitless universe and paradisaical heavens by going through the inner perfection of the self.
In other words, true religion is such a straight path that whoever situates himself in its course, perfects hisHher essential self and his humanity through the straight, benevolent path and returns to the prosperous abode and the source of all perfection. And anyone who deviates from this straight path has to go through the inhuman path of demonic existence, without any virtues and good conduct to support themselves. Such individuals actually become incapable of treading the precise path of benevolent existence. Indeed, such an individual cannot expect anything better than being damned to perdition and hell fire.
The Infallibility of the Prophets
The Divine Benevolence makes it necessary that the prophets be sent as the guides to teach the people religious ordinances and laws so as to lead them to their prosperity in this and the next world. This goal can be accomplished only if the prophets are protected from committing any errors in delivering the divine message to humanity. Otherwise, human beings could make an excuse for not having received authentic directives from God. In other words, a prophet should be immune from any kind of error and forgetfulness in conveying the divine revelation to the people. This is known as `isma ('protection' or 'immunity' = 'infallibility'). Moreover, a prophet himself should be an exemplary person, having followed all the divine injunctions in his personal life. It is only then that he can call upon people to follow the divine guidance, demonstrating its validity through his own character and conduct. In this way the people can follow him confidently toward their own true perfection. In addition, it is a rationally derived proposition that no person can expect others to carry out moral and religious directives when he himself does not follow the same. A call to the divine path must be exemplified by the prophet.
It is obvious that our own knowledge and perceptions are not free of error, because they are conditioned by the way our sensory perceptions receive them. No one can deny the numerous times when our senses have made errors in perception. However, when that knowledge and those ordinances come in the form of divine guidance from God, delivered through the revelation to the prophets, these are immune from such dangers. In fact, revelation is not the kind of knowledge that is derived from sensory perceptions. Otherwise, it too would have been prone to same dangers as human perceptions are, depriving people of the confidence that is necessary in religious ordinances. Religious truth and knowledge about hidden matters is given to the prophets through revelation which descends upon their heart and their inner self. This very truth is experienced by these prophets in their earthly existence, which they convey to the people in accord with their capacity to understand and to follow it. Hence, the religious truth given to the prophets and delivered to the people by them remains immune from any falsehood or error.
It is for this reason that the prophets are protected from disobedience and error of judgement, and are empowered to act upon their knowledge. How can it be otherwise? A person who has attained that level of truth through experience and direct observation cannot be expected to act contrary to that truth. Moreover, after attaining such a level of perfection he cannot be expected to forfeit that blessing by falling into sinful deviation.
Rational Proof in Support of the Imamate
After having demonstrated the necessity for general prophethood to guide humanity to its this- and next-worldly goals, it is accurate to hold that the same proof can be utilized to establish the fact that, whenever the prophet dies, there must exist in his place someone who can lead the community to those ends. This person should be someone who can continue the work of the prophet in providing the divine ordinances and reach out to the people in their search for the religious and spiritual path. God's purposes cannot be fulfilled without such a person existing among the people to promulgate those laws without errors of omission or commission. Thus, in the absence of the prophet, God's benevolence makes it necessary that there should be someone among the people to make sure that divine revelation is protected from human interference and interpolations, and that divine laws are made accessible to the people at all times.
This outstanding person must also, like the prophet, be immune and protected from committing any error and mistakes in receiving, recording and delivering the divine ordinances to establish the proof that God's guidance for the people is intact. Moreover, he should be fully knowledgeable about the truth of the religious ordinances and should himself act upon those ordinances so that others can bring their own acts and opinions into conformity with his and follow his example in their search for truth, without falling into doubt and confusion and without resorting to excuses for not having found the proof of religious truth. Since the Imam must also be protected from committing any error in carrying out this great responsibility, it must be pointed out that the Imam's knowledge is other than that acquired through sense perception. Hence, his knowledge is different from the knowledge of an ordinary person. Through the Prophet's own guidance the Imam possesses clear insights into religious knowledge. Moreover, he is endowed with direct experience of the truth through his inner eyes. It is because of this that he is protected from any error or forgetfulness, and so acts in accord with this experience and direct observation of religious truth. More importantly, it is this attribute that qualifies him to assume the Imamate of the Muslim community.
In other words, there must exist among the people a perfect individual, one possessing absolute faith in God's revelation and exemplifying the best character and personal qualities in order to lead people in the minutest details of God's ordinances. At all these levels he must be protected from error, forgetfulness, and acts of disobedience. He must be ma'süm. It is the coming together of faith and action, knowledge and practice, that makes him the personification of all the possible human potentials of perfection. The realization of these potentials indisputably annoints him the leader of humanity. If humanity, at any point, is deprived of this leadership, the situation could lead to the disappearance of the divine ordinances which were proclaimed for the betterment of humankind. Moreover, it could lead to the discontinuation of divine help and could sever the connection between the divine and human realms.
In other words, there should always be a person among the people who is endowed with special guidance from God and is protected through God's benevolence in order for him to provide the necessary guidance and lead the people to their perfection in accord with their divinely endowed potentials. Moreover, through his knowledge and in any way possible, he should aid them in their journey towards their Creator. It is the existence of the sacred presence of the Imam as the Proof of God and as a perfect example of religious life that can make the divine presence known and divine worship possible in a society. Without the Imam's existence God cannot be known or worshipped perfectly. The inner self of the Imam is the receptacle for God's knowledge and divine secrets. It is like a mirror that reflects the realities of the material world, and people derive benefit from these reflections.
Dr. Jalali: Surely, the protection of religious ordinances and laws is not confined to one person who should know it and practice it all. Rather, if all religious ordinances and laws are distributed among the people and if each group learns and puts into practice part of these ordinances, all of them can be protected both from the perspectives of knowledge about and practice of them.
Mr. Hoshyar: Your hypothesis is refutable from two angles:
First, in our previous discussion we have pointed out that there should always be one outstanding person among the people who should be an embodiment of all the possible benevolent qualities and a personification of the religious existence in all its meanings. Moreover, he should be free from any need of acquiring the necessary sciences and education from any other being than God. If such a person is absent among the people, then humanity will be deprived of God's proof and knowledge about God's purposes. To be sure, when any species is left without a purpose its destruction is certain. According to your hypothesis, such a perfect person does not exist because each one of these persons, even when he knows and acts upon a number of those ordinances, is not on that straight path of religion and actually has deviated from it. The reason is that religious ordinances are inevitably too interrelated and profoundly interconnected as a whole for them to be taken in part.
Second, as pointed out earlier, since God's ordinances and laws are sent for the guidance of humanity, they should remain not only constant but should also be safeguarded. All ways to their change, distortion or destruction should remain firmly closed, and they should remain safe from all dangers. This goal can be fulfilled only when the person in charge of it is protected from error and immune from forgetfulness and disobedience. There is nothing in your hypothesis that guarantees this because the problem of error of judgement and forgetfulness is a possibility for each one of the people. Consequently, the divine ordinances and laws are not immune from any change or alteration and neither so the proof of God's immutable guidance nor the elimination of people's excuse is procurable.
Textual Proof for the Necessity of the Imamate
Mr. Hoshyar: All that we have said is further attested in the traditions reported on the authority of the ahl al-bayt. If you are interested in an investigation of them you might refer to the books on hadith. Here we will cite some of these for your benefit:
One of the companions of Imam Sadiq by the name of Abu Hamza says: I asked the Imam, "Can the earth survive without the presence of the Imam?" He said, "If the earth is devoid of the Imam it will be destroyed."
Al-Washsha', a close associate of Imam Rida says: I asked the Imam, "Can the earth be without an Imam?" He said, "No." I told him that it has been related to us that the earth cannot be without an Imam, except when God is angry with the people. On that he said, "Nevertheless, the earth cannot be void of the Imam, otherwise it will be destroyed."
Ibn al-Tayyar reports that he heard from Imam Sadiq that if there remained two persons on earth one of them would be the Proof of God. In another tradition Imam Baqir is reported to have declared: "By God, from the time God caused Adam to die until this day, God has not left this earth without an Imam through whom His guidance becomes available to the people. It is this Imam who is the Proof of God for the people. As long as there is a need for God's proof the earth will not be without an Imam."
In another tradition Imam Sadiq is reported to have said: "God has created us in the best form and has appointed us as the caretaker of all the divine knowledge. The tree spoke to us, and through our worship God is being worshipped." The Imam also said: "The vicegerents [of the Prophet] are the gates of divine knowledge. Hence, one should enter religion through them. Without them God cannot be known. It is through the existence of these vicegerents that God will present His argument against His servants."
Abu Khalid, a close associate of Imam Baqir asked the interpretation of the verse that says: "Believe in God, His messenger, and the light which We have revealed." The Imam said:
O Abu Khalid, by 'the light' is meant the Imams. O Abu Khalid, the light of the Imam in the heart of the believer is more brilliant than the sunlight. They are the ones who enlighten the hearts of the believers. God denies and conceals this light from whomever He wishes, as a result of which the heart of that person turns dark and becomes veiled.
According to another tradition, Imam Rida said:
When God wills to appoint someone to look after the affairs of humanity, He expands his chest and makes his heart the source of realities and wisdom. He continuously endows him with His knowledge so that after receiving it he would not be incapable of answering any question. Moreover, in explaining the realities and providing the right guidance he would not fall into any error or falsehood. He is free from any corruption and error, he is ma'süm. He remains all the time the recipient of God's support and assistance, and is protected from sinful deviation. God appoints him to this prominent position so that he becomes the Proof of God's existence on earth. This is God's special favor, which He gives to whomever He pleases. Indeed, God's bounty is extensive.
In yet another tradition the Prophet declared: "Stars are the security for the dwellers of the heavens. If they get destroyed so will the dwellers of the heavens. My family members are the security for the dwellers of the earth. Hence, if they do not exist, the dwellers of the earth will also be destroyed."
In one of his orations Imam 'Ali said:
The earth will not be void of the Qa'im who will stand by the command of God and will provide the proof of God's existence for humanity. Sometimes that proof is manifest and well attested, and at other times it is in fear and hidden. This is to ensure that God's proofs are not terminated. These proofs are few and their whereabouts is not known. I solemnly declare that although they are few their status is extremely elevated. Through them God protects His proof and evidence until that time when they can implant those proofs in those who are like them and cultivate them in their hearts.
The knowledge [given by God] has led them to the true insight and they have attained the spirit of certainty through it. That which baffles the lovers of wealth and makes it inconceivable for them appears easy and readily accessible to these proofs of God. That which frightens the ignorant, the proofs of God are intimate with it. Their connection to this material world is because of their physical body whose spirits are connected with the highly exalted places. They are God's caliphs and His callers to faith on earth.
In another sermon Imam 'Ali b. Abi Talib has described the excellences of the ahl al-bayt, saying:
The elegances of the Qur'an are about them and they are the treasures of God. When they speak they speak the truth, but when they keep quiet no one can speak unless they speak.
They are the pillars of Islam and the sanctuary of [its] protection. With them truth has returned to its proper position and falsehood has retreated and its tongue is severed from its root. They have understood the religion attentively and carefully, not by mere heresy or from narrators, because narrators of knowledge are many but those who understand it are few.
In short, on the basis of rational and textual evidence one can surmise that as long as human beings live on the earth, there must exist a perfect and divinely protected person among them who could personify all the perfect qualities that the human being can possibly attain. Moreover, such an individual must be responsible, both theoretically and practically, to guide humanity. This person is the Imam, the leader of humankind. Having himself ascended on this sacred path of human perfection he takes it upon himself to call others onto those stages and stations. Hence, he becomes the mediator between the hidden world of the spirit and the human world. The bounties of the hidden world descend upon him first, and through him reach other human beings. It is obvious that the non-existence of such a person among people would inevitably lead to the absence of any goal for humankind. Such an absence would necessarily lead to the perdition of human society. In the final analysis, regardless of any other proof, this rational and textual evidence confirms that there is no period in history, including our own age, without an Imam. Since there is no manifest Imam at this time, we can say that the Imam is in occultation and lives a concealed life.
It was quite late in the night. Everyone was tired and it was decided that the discussion would continue at some other time in the near future.
1. Kulayni, Usul al-kafi, Vol. 1/334.
3. Ibid., p. 333, 335.
4. Ibid., p. 368-69.
5. Ibid., p. 372.
6. Ibid., 1/390.
7. Suyuti, Tadhkirat al-khawass, p. 182
8. Nahj al-balagha, Sermon No. 147, Vol. 3.
9. Ibid., Sermon No. 154.
10. Ibid., Sermon No. 235.