Allah swt has informed us in the Qur’an that every group of people has a witness, and on the Day of Judgement this person will bear witness on what they did. This topic has been addressed a great deal throughout the Qur’an.
[4.41] How will it be, then, when We bring from every people a witness and bring you as a witness against these?
[16.84] And on the day when We will raise up a witness out of every people, then shall no permission be given to those who disbelieve, nor shall they be made to solicit favor
[40:51] Most surely We help Our messengers, and those who believe, in this world’s life and on the day when the witnesses shall stand
These witnesses are both Prophets and non-Prophets. During the time of Nabi Isa [as] the witness was Isa [as] himself. Similarly, during the time of Prophet Muhammad [sawa], it was he who was the witness. But what happened when Isa [as] died? And when our Prophet [sawa] died? Did they continue being the witnesses or not?
The Qur’an is clear that they didn’t, and someone else took their place.
[16:89] And on the day when We will raise up in every people a witness against them from among themselves, and bring you as a witness against these.
Notice in the above verse Allah swt says that these witnesses are ‘from among’ their people. This means that the witness has to be alive amongst his people to be their witness; he can’t be dead. This is further proven by the following verse:
Jesus [as] will say: [5:117] And I was a witness over them while I lived among them
Isa [as] makes it clear that a witness has to be living among the people, and when the witness stops being amongst them, he stops being their witness.
So now we come to the conclusion that after Nabi Isa [as] their was a witness who succeeded him, and after that witness there was another… and so on until the time of our Prophet [sawa], where he was the witness. After the Prophet [sawa] there had to have been another witness who took his place, as the earth cannot be without a witness because the Qur’an says that every people have one.
Before we continue lets read what the famous sunni exegete Fakhr ARazi has said about this under [16:89]:
وثبت أيضاً أنه لا بد في كل زمان بعد زمان الرسول من الشهيد فحصل من هذا أن عصراً من الإعصار لا يخلو من شهيد على الناس وذلك الشهيد لا بد وأن يكون غير جائز الخطأ، وإلا لافتقر إلى شهيد آخر ويمتد ذلك إلى غير النهاية وذلك باطل، فثبت أنه لا بد في كل عصر من أقوام تقوم الحجة بقولهم وذلك يقتضي أن يكون إجماع الأمة حجة
He says that the verse proves ‘that there has to be in every time period after the period of the Prophet [sawa] a witness, and the conclusion of this is that there will never be a time during which there is no witness on the people’
If this isn’t proof for Imamah then I don’t know what is!
Unfortunately ARazi then goes on to say that this witness is the consensus of the Ummah! This is despite the Qur’an making it clear that theses witnesses are individuals that will bear witness against their own people.
So we have established that the Earth can never be devoid of Witnesses, and that these witnesses are sometimes Prophets, and sometimes not. This is because there isn’t always a Prophet alive amongst the people. The following verses serve as more proof for this:
[39:69] And the earth shineth with the light of her Lord, and the Book is set up, and the prophets and the witnesses are brought, and it is judged between them with truth, and they are not wronged.
[4:69] And whoever obeys Allah and the Messenger, these are with those upon whom Allah has bestowed favors from among the prophets and the truthful and the witnesses and the good, and a goodly company are they!
These verses mention Prophets and witnesses as different groups. This means that there has to be at least some witnesses who are not Prophets, or some Prophets who are not witnesses.
What is especially noteworthy about the last verse [4:69] is that the witnesses are described as being ‘those whom Allah has bestowed favors on’. This particular phrase has been mentioned elsewhere in the Qur’an, in a Surah that every Muslim is familiar with:
[1:6] Keep us on the Straight path (Siratul Mustaqeem]
[1:7] The path of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed favors
These witnesses are therefore the people of the Siratul Mustaqeem. Actually its more than that; Allah swt defines the Siratul Mustaqeem through them in verse 1:7. There is no deviation in the Siratul Mustaqeem. There is therefore no deviation in the path of the Witnesses; they are infallible.
Going back to verse [4:69] above, Allah swt says that by obeying Him and the Prophet [sawa], we can become ‘with’ those on whom He has bestowed His favours. He doesnt say we become ‘one of them’, He says we become with them. And as Allamah Tabataba’i [r] mentions in AlMizan, being with them is different than being one of them. This shows the greatness of their status, and is not something that can be reached by us even if we follow the Prophet, and just like Prophethood it is something special.
(i) The Earth is never devoid of a witness therefore there is one alive amongst us today
(ii) The witness can be a Prophet or a non Prophet.
(iii) The witness has a very high status in Allah’s eyes.
(iv) The witness is infallible.
In the next section I will explain further the role of the witnesses as expounded in the Qur’an.