Imamah in the Qur’an p5: Ibrahim’s [a] prayer

September 18, 2010

In part 4 I showed that the medium Ummah was not the whole Muslims Ummah, but a select few that will bear witness on mankind on the Day of Judgement.  I quoted the following verses about this group of people and noted two  things – that this group was chosen, that it was named by Ibrahim [a] ‘Muslim’.  These are the two verses in question:

[22:77] O you who believe! bow down and prostrate yourselves and serve your Lord, and do good that you may succeed.[22:78] And strive hard in (the way of) Allah, (such) a striving a is due to Him; He has chosen you and has not laid upon you an hardship in religion; the faith of your father Ibrahim; He named you Muslims before and in this, that the Messenger may be a bearer of witness to you, and you may be bearers of witness to the people; therefore keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate and hold fast by Allah; He is your Guardian; how excellent the Guardian and how excellent the Helper!

To learn more about who these people were, we should turn our attention to the following verses from Surah Baqarah which mention Ibrahim’s prayer for this group of people in more detail:

[2:128] Our Lord! and make us both submissive to Thee and from our offspring a group submitting to Thee, and show us our ways of devotion and turn to us, surely Thou art the Oft-returning, the Merciful.

[2:129] Our Lord! and raise up in them a Messenger from among them who shall recite to them Thy communications and teach them the Book and the wisdom, and purify them; surely Thou art the Mighty, the Wise.

For the purposes of brevity I will keep it simple.  Ibrahim [a] has just finished building the Ka’aba; he has carried out a great deed, and is in the presence of one of the most Holy structures on Earth.  So, when he prays for submission (Islam), is he praying for the elementary grade of Islam that we all profess, or something special?  Clearly, he is praying for the highest degrees of submission, as he already possessed the elementary grade of submission anyway.  This is further proved by his words ‘submissive TO THEE’; he doesn’t just say ‘make us submissive’, but supplicates ‘make us submissive to thee’, emphasising that the submission asked for is not the ordinary one of everyday muslims (i.e. professing shahadatayn) but complete submission.

The important point is this: Ibrahim [a] then repeats this supplication for a group from his offspring.  The two verses at the top of this page show that his dua was answered – that these Muslims he prayed for exist.  The verses from surah Baqarah show that the submission of these Muslims was not elementary grade submission, but a lofty grade of submission, that Ibrahim [a] supplicated for himself and for Isma’eel [a].  It follows, then, that this group of Muslims – the medium nation according to the verses in part 4 – is a select group of people, and not the whole Muslim Ummah.

More can be said about these verses, but for the purposes of discussion the above suffices.  For a more detailed exposition I refer the reader to AlMizan.

Imamah in the Qur’an p4: The Medium Ummah

September 22, 2008


In parts 2 and 3 it was shown that the Earth cannot be devoid of a Witness who witnesses the deeds of the people.  These witnesses will bear witness on the people and the Prophet will bear witness on them. 

The Prophet > Witnesses > People

[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

As the witnesses are in between the Prophet [sawa] and the People in their witnessing, they are known as the Ummatun Wasata – the intermediary or medium group.  They are in the middle, linked to the Prophet on one side and to the people on the other.  In the Qur’an we read:

[2:143] And thus We have made you a medium nation that you may be the witnesses on the people and (that) the Messenger may be a witness on you

The title of medium nation is usually misinterpreted to mean a nation between two extremes: between the extremes of polythiesm on one side and christianity on the other for example.  But being a medium nation in this sense doesn’t have any relation with being witnesses on the people, and the Prophet being a witness on them.  Allamah Tabataba’i [r] has said:

What this exegete has said is true in itself, but it does not explain the wordings of this verse. The ummah, by virtue of its position in the middle, may be called a criterion to judge the extremes, as well as a point to which the people of the two extremes should return. But it does not make it a “witness” for the two extremes, nor it gives the ummah ability to observe the said extremes. Apparently, there is no correlation between being a medium (in the above-mentioned sense) and being a witness. Also, there is no reason why the Messenger of Allah should be made a witness for them; there is no correlation between the two witnessing. But the verse clearly says that the Messenger of Allah shall be a witness for the ummah, because the ummah shall be a witness for the people, and it shall acquire that status because it is a medium ummah. 

Moreover, when the Qur’an has in so much detail discussed the reality of witnesses and witnessing (as shown in parts 2 and 3), there is no reason to interpret the verse otherwise.

This mediumship has been mentioned elsewhere in the Qur’an:

[22:77] O you who believe! bow down and prostrate yourselves and serve your Lord, and do good that you may succeed.
[22:78] And strive hard in (the way of) Allah, (such) a striving a is due to Him; He has chosen you and has not laid upon you an hardship in religion; the faith of your father Ibrahim; He named you Muslims before and in this, that the Messenger may be a bearer of witness to you, and you may be bearers of witness to the people; therefore keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate and hold fast by Allah; He is your Guardian; how excellent the Guardian and how excellent the Helper!

Here Allah swt has introduced this group as:

1) Chosen

2) Named by Ibrahim [as] as ‘Muslims’

It will be proven in part 5 that the group that was named by Ibrahim [as] as Muslims was not the whole Muslim nation, but a select few from his offspring that had reached the peaks of submission.  This will be further proof that the Medium group is not the entirety of the Ummah.


1) Allah swt says Medium Ummah, so how can you say it’s only a small group from the nation and not everyone?

Answer:  Apart from what has been mentioned about them being witnesses on the people, and the Prophet being a witness on them, the questioner should know that ‘…the original meaning of this word is “people”, “nation”, “group”, as Allah says: and blessing on, you and the people (umam = plural of ummah) from among those who are with you; and there shall be people (umam)… (11:48). This word is sometimes used even for one person; Surely Ibrahim was an Ummah obedient to Allah (16:120). Therefore, it is the context or the intention of the speaker which decides how big or small a circle this word describes in a sentence.’ (AlMizan)

2) Verse 22:77 starts with ‘O you who believe…’ so this is referring to all Muslims, not a select few.

Answer: This is not necessarily so; the context tells us who these believers are.  Secondly, there is no harm in saying the verse is addressed to all the believers.  Sometimes when a nation has people with certain positive traits, these traits are applied to the nation as a whole.  For example, it is correct to say that the Arabs were the fathers of Chemistry, eventhough in reality it was only one Arab – Jabir Ibn Hayyan – who was the father of Chemistry.  As Allamah Tabataba’i says, ‘A distinction enjoyed by a group is attributed to the whole nation, because the group is a part of the nation.’


We’ll end by looking at what the Ahlul Bayt [as] have said regarding the verses.

alBaqir (a.s.) that he said: “Only the Imams and the Messengers will be witnesses for the people. And as for the (general) ummah, it is unthinkable that Allah would call them as witnesses – and there are among them those whose testimony is not accepted for a bundle of vegetable.” (al-Manaqib)

aSadiq (a.s.) said about the verse, that you may be witnesses…: “(It is) then (wrong) if you think that Allah in this verse means all the monotheists, the people of qiblah (i.e., the Muslims). Do you think that a person whose evidence is not acceptable in this world about a as-sa’ (= a weight about 3 kilogram) of date, Allah will call him as a witness on the Day of Judgment and will accept his evidence in presence of all the previous nations? Certainly not. Allah does not mean (here) such of his creatures; He means only that ummah in which the prayer of Ibrahim was granted; you are the best ummah raised up for the (benefit of) men (3:110); and they are the medium ummah and they are the best ummah raised up for the men.” (al-`Ayyashi)

Imamah in the Qur’an p3: Role of Witnesses

September 7, 2008

Asalamu alaykum,

In part 2 it was established that the Earth cannot be devoid of a witness.  These witnesses will bear witness against us on the Day of Judgement, and then the Prophet [sawa] will bear witness on them:

[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.

This is part of Allah completing his proof on the people in Qiyamah.  There will be absolutely no doubt concerning what they did.  Not only will their book of deeds be shown, and their limbs testify against them, and those that they oppressed complain against them, but the witnesses will also come forth and bear witness on what they did.

If these witnesses will be bearing witness on the people, it follows that they know what the people did.  If the witnesses do not know what the people did, then how will they bear witness?  Therefore the witnesses see our deeds, by Allahs will.  Let us read what the Qur’an says about this:

وَقُلِ ٱعْمَلُوا۟ فَسَيَرَى ٱللَّهُ عَمَلَكُمْ وَرَسُولُهُۥ وَٱلْمُؤْمِنُونَ ۖ وَسَتُرَدُّونَ إِلَىٰ عَٰلِمِ ٱلْغَيْبِ وَٱلشَّهَٰدَةِ فَيُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ

[9:105] And say: Work; so Allah will see your work and (so will) His Messenger and the believers; and you shall be brought back to the Knower of the unseen and the seen, then He will inform you of what you did.
In order to encourage the believers to do good deeds, Allah swt tells them that He will see what they do, and so will the Messenger and the ‘believers’.  Then they will be brought on the Day of Judgement and shown the unseen and seen of what they did, ie the reality.
The first point that we should bear in mind is that Allah, His Prophet and the ‘believers’ will see  the people’s deeds in this life.  We know this because the verse continues and says ‘…and you shall be brought back’
Now that we know that it will be in this life, we need to establish what is meant by the Prophet and believers seeing the people’s deeds.  Pondering on the verse, you will conclude that it is the reality of the deeds that the Prophet and the believers will see.  This is because Allah is telling the people to ‘work’, and work is made up of the physical act + the intention.  If it were merely the physical act then a hypocrites deeds would equal that of the believers.  So this work which is made up of an interior and exterior dimension will be seen by Allah, His Prophet and the ‘believers’.
This exterior and interior dimension of the deeds is hinted at in the second part of the verse where Allah swt says ‘…brought back to the Knower of the unseen and the seen, then He will inform you of what you did’. The knowledge of the unseen is referring to the intention and interior of the deed, and the knowledge of the seen is referring to the exterior physical form of the deed.  Allah tells the people that He will give them this knowledge of the seen and unseen of their deeds on the Day of Judgement.  Therefore the context of the verse is further proof that it is not merely the exterior of the deed that is seen by the Prophet and ‘believers’, it is also the unseen hidden dimension of it.
From the above it’s obvious that the word ‘believers’ does not refer to every Mu’min, but to a select group from amongst them.  If we take this verse with those that were mentioned in part 2, we see that they go together perfectly.  As Imam Ali [as] says, ”Parts of the Qur’an interpret other parts”.
Finally let us look at what has been transmitted from the Ahlul Bayt [as] regarding these verses.
Ya’qub Ibn Shu’ayb narrated: I asked Abu Abdillah [as] on the words of Allah swt ‘Work for Allah will see your work and the Prophet and the Believers’.  He said: ”They are the Imams”.
Sama’ah narrated from Abu Abdillah [as]:  ”What is wrong with you!  Why do you disappoint the Messenger of Allah?” A Man asked: ”How do we disappoint him?”.  The Imam said: ”Do you not know that your deeds are presented before Him?  When he finds sins in them it disappoints him.  Do not disappoint the Messenger of Allah.  Do things that will make him happy”
Ibn Aban AlZayat said: Once I asked ARidha [as] to pray for me and my family. The Imam said: ”Am I not praying for them?  I swear that by Allah your deeds are presented before me every day and night.”  He (AlZayat) has said that the statement of the Imam seemed to me extremely great.  The Imam said to me: ”Do you not read the words of Allah: Work for Allah will see your work and so will His Messenger and the Believers.”  The Imam said:  ”I swear by Allah that he (the believers) is Ali ibn Abi Talib [as]”.
May Allah swt give us the tawfiq to please Him, His Messenger and His Awliya’ always.

Imamah in the Qur’an p2: A Witness for every people

September 7, 2008

Asalamu alaykum,

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.

In conclusion:

(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.

Imamah in the Qur’an p1: Introduction

September 6, 2008

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Asalamu alaykum,

Over the next few weeks I will inshaAllah be posting a series of short articles on the doctrine of Imamah in the Qur’an.  My intention will not be to cover all the verses that discuss the topic, but only provide the reader with enough proof to show that the doctrine has an undeniable basis in our Holy Book.

There is no single verse that explains all of the dimensions of Imamah in one go, but these different dimensions are explained in many different verses throughout the Qur’an.  When all of these verses are taken together, we get a good understanding of what the doctrine means.  Many details of the doctrine are not explicitly found in the Qur’an, for example that there are 12 Imams after the Prophet, or that the last Imam is called Imam Mehdi [aj], but this is to be expected.  All of our doctrines are explained in more detail in hadith.

A common argument made by non-Shias is that if Imamah is one of the Usul Din (tenets of faith) then we would expect many decisive verses explaining the concept.  They argue that these verses should be so clear that no hadith would be required, just like we do not require hadith to prove the other tenets of faith from the Qur’an, e.g. Prophethood.  In answer to this,

(i) There are such verses that are clear and do not require hadith, and these will be provided in due course.

(ii) If a particular hadith is accepted by all Muslims, then it is a hujja (proof) for all Muslims and so cannot be rejected.  So even if Imamah could not be proven without recourse to hadith, it doesn’t mean that it is not true.  It also does not mean that it’s not an important doctrine.  If we study Muslim history we find that after the death of the Prophet [sawa] the Ahlul Bayt [a] were cursed, fought and killed.  Their enemies tried their utmost to eradicate them completely, but this didn’t happen to the Qur’an.  No matter what hardship the Ahlul Bayt [a] were facing, the Muslims always had the Qur’an in their hands.  It can be argued that had Allah swt made the successorship of the Ahlul Bayt [a] explicit in the Qur’an, then the enemies would have tried to destroy the Qur’an in the same way they tried to destroy the Ahlul Bayt.  This ambiguity would therefore serve as a protection for the Qur’an, and ensure the Muslims always had access to it.  Those that read it carefully and understood the contexts and reasons for revelation would see Imamah in the Qur’an, but those that didn’t, wouldn’t.  Imam Ali [as] says ”There is enough light for one who wants to see”