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In the Name of God بسم الله

The Ways to Recognize the Imam

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Salamun Alaykum.

During the history of Islam, some have falsely claimed to be Imam. In our era, still there are fake Imams; one claims to be Mahdi while another claims to be the 13th Imam!

In out narrations, the Imams (عليه السلام) have introduced different ways to recognize true Imam. Here in this thread, I will have a discussion on this very important topic, taking benefit from the book Rah va Birahe by Nusrat Ayati in Persian.

Edited by amirhosein_88
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So what are some of the ways according to Nusrat Ayati for a person living in the west to recognise the Mahdi? (may Allah hasten his reappearance). I mean would he be dressed in a certain way regardless of his location based on local customs or has he aspects of fixed dress codes? Such as in the cold western climate. I ask because I heard that he can be anywhere. 

Edited by Murtaza1
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Introduction

“Imamate” enjoys a great and unique status in the eyes of Muslims, especially the Shi’a and that is why, during the history, some fake claimants have tried to, through claiming to be the Imam, attract the attention of some ignorant lay men and gain some wealth and positions. For this reason, on one hand, the infallible Imams (عليه السلام) always tried to guide their followers by clarifying the criteria and signs through which a true Imam can be distinguished from the fake claimants. On the other hand, the Shi’a, by asking about the signs of an Imam and the ways to recognize the false claimants, asked the infallible leaders for help and guidance. Therefore, in Shi’a collections of Hadith, there are many narrations in this regard: sometimes, the infallible Imams (عليه السلام) began to explain the issue and sometimes, they answered the questions of their companions about the ways to know the Imam. The first category of narrations include:

«لِلْإِمَامِ عَشْرُ عَلَامَاتٍ ...[1]»

“There are 10 signs for the Imam …”

«عَنِ الصَّادِقِ ع قَالَ قَالَ أَمِيرُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ ع وَ الْإِمَامُ الْمُسْتَحِقُّ لِلْإِمَامَةِ لَهُ عَلَامَات‏ ...»[2]

“Imam al-Ṣādiq (عليه السلام) quotes Imam ̔Ali (عليه السلام) as saying: the Imam who deserves the Imamate has some signs …”

«أبي الحسن علي بن موسى الرضا ع قال للإمام علامات‏ ...»[3]

“Imam al-Riḍā (SA) said: Imam has some signs …”

Among the narrations of the second category, mention can be made of the following:

«عَنْ مُعَاوِيَةَ بْنِ وَهْبٍ قَالَ قُلْتُ لِأَبِي جَعْفَرٍ ع مَا عَلَامَةُ الْإِمَامِ الَّذِي بَعْدَ الْإِمَامِ؟»[4]

“Mu’awiya ibn Wahb says: I asked Imam al-Bāqir (AS): what is the sign of the Imam who succeeds the previous Imam?”

«عَنْ أَبِي الْجَارُودِ عَنْ أَبِي جَعْفَرٍ ع قَالَ قُلْتُ لَهُ جُعِلْتُ فِدَاكَ إِذَا مَضَى عَالِمُكُمْ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ فَبِأَيِّ شَيْ‏ءٍ يَعْرِفُونَ مَنْ يَجِي‏ءُ بَعْدَه‏؟...»[5]

“Abi al-Jarud narrates that: I asked Imam al-Bāqir (AS): May I be ransom for you! When the knowledgeable of you, the people of the household, (I.e. the Imam) passes away, how the next one is known? …”

«عَنِ الْحَارِثِ بْنِ الْمُغِيرَةِ النَّضْرِيِّ قَالَ قُلْتُ لِأَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع بِمَا يُعْرَفُ صَاحِبُ هَذَا الْأَمْر؟ ...»[6]

“Harith ibn al-Mughayra al-Nazri says: I asked Imam al-Ṣādiq (عليه السلام) that how the owner of this status (I.e. Imamate) is recognized. …”

«عَبْدِ الْأَعْلَى قَالَ قُلْتُ لِأَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع الْمُتَوَثِّبُ عَلَى هَذَا الْأَمْرِ الْمُدَّعِي لَهُ مَا الْحُجَّةُ عَلَيْهِ؟ ...»[7]

Abd al-A‘la has said the following: I asked Abu ‘Abd Allah, ‘In the case of those who rush to hold control of this matter (leadership) and who claim to be for it, how can one verify their possessing Divine Authority?’

«عَنْ أَبِي بَصِيرٍ قَالَ قُلْتُ لِأَبِي الْحَسَنِ ع جُعِلْتُ فِدَاكَ بِمَ يُعْرَفُ الْإِمَامُ؟ ...»[8]

abu Basir said the following: “I asked Abu al-asan, ‘May Allah keep my soul in service for your cause, by what proofs can one know the Imam?’”

«عَنْ هِشَامِ بْنِ سَالِمٍ وَ حَفْصِ بْنِ الْبَخْتَرِيِّ عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع قَالَ قِيلَ لَهُ بِأَيِّ شَيْ‏ءٍ يُعْرَفُ الْإِمَام‏؟ ...»[9]

Hisham ibn Salim and Hafs ibn al-Bakhtari have said the following: “Once a certain person asked Abu ‘Abd Allah, ‘By what means is the Imam recognized?’”

« عَنِ ابْنِ أَبِي نَصْرٍ قَالَ قُلْتُ لِأَبِي الْحَسَنِ الرِّضَا ع إِذَا مَاتَ الْإِمَامُ بِمَ يُعْرَفُ الَّذِي بَعْدَه‏؟ ...»[10]

Ibn Abu Nasr has said the following: “Once I asked Abu al-Ḥasan al-Riḍā, ‘When the Imam dies, through what means can one know the succeeding Imam?’”

«عَنْ أَحْمَدَ بْنِ عُمَرَ عَنْ أَبِي الْحَسَنِ الرِّضَا ع قَالَ سَأَلْتُهُ عَنِ الدَّلَالَةِ عَلَى صَاحِبِ هَذَا الْأَمْر ...»[11]

“Ahmad ibn ‘Umar has said the following: “I asked Abu al-Ḥasan al-Riḍā, ‘What is the proof that establishes one’s possessing Divine Authority or being the person in charge of leadership?’”

The great number of such narrations, especially the ones reporting various questions of the Imams’ companions about the ways to recognize an Imam, may well prove the great number the claimants who tried to deceive the simple-minded people by establishing themselves as the Imams. That is why the Shi’a were in serious need for such knowledge and used to remove their concerns by asking the Imams. For the importance of this issue, Shaykh Kulayni, the prominent scholar of Hadith, has dedicated a chapter of his Al-Kāfi to this matter, titled “the reasons verifying the Divine authority of the Imam” and gathered the related narrations.


[1] Al-Kāfi, vol. 1. P. 388

[2] Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 48, p. 164.

[3] Al-Khisal, vol. 1, p. 527

[4] Al-Kāfi, vol. 1, p. 284.

[5] Al-Khisal, vol. 1, p. 200

 

[6] Ibid.

[7] Al-Kāfi, vol. 1, p. 284.

[8] Al-Kāfi, vol. 1, p. 285.

[9] Al-Kāfi, vol. 1, p. 284.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Al-Kāfi, vol. 1, p. 285.

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knowledge as a sign for the Imam

As mentioned explicitly in various narrations, one of the signs to recognize the Imam is his knowledge. The infallible Imams have used different terms including:

A.   Knowledge in an absolute form

In some narrations, knowledge in an unconditional way, has been introduced as a sign for the Imam, such as:

1.   «عَنِ الْحَارِثِ بْنِ الْمُغِيرَةِ النَّضْرِيِّ قَالَ قُلْتُ لِأَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع بِمَا يُعْرَفُ صَاحِبُ هَذَا الْأَمْر؟ قَالَ بِالسَّكِينَةِ وَ الْوَقَارِ وَ الْعِلْمِ وَ الْوَصِيَّةِ»[1]

“Harith ibn al-Mughayra al-Nazri says: I asked Imam al-Ṣādiq (عليه السلام) that how the owner of this status (I.e. Imamate) is recognized. He said: with calmness and gravity and knowledge and will”.

2.   «عَنِ الْحَسَنِ بْنِ الْجَهْمِ قَالَ حَضَرْتُ مَجْلِسَ الْمَأْمُونِ يَوْماً وَ عِنْدَهُ عَلِيُّ بْنُ مُوسَى الرِّضَا ع وَ قَدِ اجْتَمَعَ الْفُقَهَاءُ وَ أَهْلُ الْكَلَامِ مِنَ الْفِرَقِ الْمُخْتَلِفَةِ فَسَأَلَهُ بَعْضُهُمْ فَقَالَ لَهُ يَا ابْنَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ بِأَيِّ شَيْ‏ءٍ تَصِحُّ الْإِمَامَةُ لِمُدَّعِيهَا قَالَ بِالنَّصِّ وَ الدَّلَائِل‏. قَالَ لَهُ فَدَلَالَةُ الْإِمَامِ فِيمَا هِيَ قَالَ فِي الْعِلْمِ وَ اسْتِجَابَةِ الدَّعْوَةِ.»[2]

Al-Ḥasan ibn Al-Jahm says: “One day I attended a meeting with al-Ma’mun and ‘Ali ibn Mūsā Al-Riḍā (عليه السلام) was also present there. The theologians and rhetoricians from various sects had gathered there. One of them asked the Imam (عليه السلام), “O son of the Prophet of God! What is the proof of Divine Leadership which proves the validity of one who claims it?” The Imam (عليه السلام) replied, “(Divine Leadership of one who claims it is proved) by what has been written and by the proofs. The man asked, “What is the proof of a Divine Leader?” The Imam (عليه السلام) replied, “It is knowledge and the fulfilment of the prayers.””

B.   The ability to answer questions

According to some narrations, the sign of Imamate is that the Imam is able to answer all the questions, such as:

1.   «عَنْ أَبِي الْجَارُودِ عَنْ أَبِي جَعْفَرٍ ع قَالَ قُلْتُ لَهُ جُعِلْتُ فِدَاكَ إِذَا مَضَى عَالِمُكُمْ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ فَبِأَيِّ شَيْ‏ءٍ يَعْرِفُونَ مَنْ يَجِي‏ءُ بَعْدَه‏؟ ُ قَالَ ... وَ لَا يُسْأَلُ عَنْ شَيْ‏ءٍ مِمَّا بَيْنَ صَدَفَيْهَا إِلَّا أَجَابَ فِيهِ»[3]

“Abi al-Jarud narrates that: I asked Imam al-Bāqir (AS): May I be ransom for you! When the knowledgeable of you, the people of the household, (I.e. the Imam) passes away, how the next one is known? He said: … and that he will not be asked about anything in the east or in the west unless he will give the right answer.

2.   «عن أبي الجارود قال سألت أبا جعفر الباقر ع بم يعرف الإمام قال بخصال ... و أن يسأل فيجيب و أن يسكت عنه فيبتدئ‏.»

“Abi al-Jarud says: “I asked Imam al-Bāqir, ‘by what proofs can one know the Imam?’ He said, ‘Through several qualities. …That when asked he would answer, and if one remained silent he would begin to speak on the issue.”

3.   «عَنْ أَبِي بَصِيرٍ قَالَ قُلْتُ لِأَبِي الْحَسَنِ ع جُعِلْتُ فِدَاكَ بِمَ يُعْرَفُ الْإِمَامُ قَالَ فَقَالَ بِخِصَالٍ ... وَ يُسْأَلُ فَيُجِيبُ وَ إِنْ سُكِتَ عَنْهُ ابْتَدَأَ.»[4]

Abu Basir has said the following: “I asked Abu al-Ḥasan, ‘May Allah keep my soul in service for your cause, by what proofs can one know the Imam?’ He said, ‘Through several qualities. ... That when asked he would answer, and if one remained silent he would begin to speak on the issue.”

In the last 2 narrations, the second of which has been quoted from al-Kāfi, the Imam states: “he answers when he is asked” (يُسْأَلُ فَيُجِيبُ). The letter ف before "َيُجِيبُ" implies immediacy. Therefore, this expression involves that the knowledge that is the sign of Imamate is the one needless of thinking and contemplating. So the Imam is the one that when asked, answers immediately without requiring time to think; thus, the knowledge which is not free from contemplation is not the sign of Imamate.


[1] Ibid.

[2] Uyum Akhbar al-Riza, vol. 2, p. 200.

[3] Al-Khisal, vol. 1, p. 200

 

[4] Al-Kāfi, vol. 1, p. 285.

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