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All factions of Shi'a Muslims, despite their myriad differences, agree on the fundamental concept of Imamah: That the authority of leading the Islamic state is divinely-granted, and that not following the rightful Imam is disobedience to God's authority.

I was reading this article — clearly anti-Imamah and likely biased — and it brings up some very good points, namely that while every Shi'a sect may have its own evidences to prove that its Imam is the "correct" one, these evidences are not universally accepted, and even outright rejected by other Shi'a factions (obviously, otherwise they'd all be following the same Imam).

The Qur'an is mostly silent on the exact succession of leadership or how it is to be decided, and this is an issue that's been hotly debated since the death of the prophet himself. Given that one accepts the Shi'a concept of Imamah, how can one be sure that he is following the correct Imam given the fact that there exists about 70 different branches of Imams or representatives(detailed here), each branch split over the same succession issue as faced during the time of Prophet Muhammad pbuh's death? What criteria are available for determining who is to be the actual Imam of our time?

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Didn't you say in the question that there each group has a different way of showing that their Imam is the correct one? –  Daniel Aug 30 '13 at 20:25

2 Answers 2

First of all let's see what is in Quran:

Imam is selected by Allah, and the wrongdoers can not be Imam

enter image description here

And [mention, O Muhammad], when Abraham was tried by his Lord with commands and he fulfilled them. [Allah] said, "Indeed, I will make you a leader for the people." [Abraham] said, "And of my descendants?" [Allah] said, "My covenant does not include the wrongdoers." - Al Baqarah-124

We can understand from this Ayah that:

  • Imam is selected by Allah: "I will make you leader of people."
  • Wrongdoers can not be Imam: "My covenant does not include the wrongdoers""

Prophet Muhammad PBUH has 12 followers

Many Sunni and Shia books have narrations of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that there will be 12 leaders for Muslims after him. I provide the most famous Sunni references here, there are much more:

النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَسَمِعْتُهُ يَقُولُ ‏"‏ إِنَّ هَذَا الأَمْرَ لاَ يَنْقَضِي حَتَّى يَمْضِيَ فِيهِمُ اثْنَا عَشَرَ خَلِيفَةً ‏"‏ ‏ ... ‏"‏ كُلُّهُمْ مِنْ قُرَيْشٍ ‏"

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: This Caliphate will not end until there have been twelve Caliphs among them... All of them will be from the Quraish. Sahih Muslim 20,4477

Are 12 followers of prophet, the first 12 Khulafa?

While some Scholars have tried to link above Hadith to the first 12 Muslim governors (Khulafa) after prophet, there are other scholars who did not accept this idea for different reasons.

For instance Abi Dawud, the great Sunni scholar, has narrated the above Hadith as the first narration of Book Al Mahdi in his famous book Sunan Abi Dawud (see reference) as a Sahih (=Correct) narration. Clearly Al Mahdi is not among the first 12 governors after prophet, rather he is believed by both Sunni and Shia Muslims that will make world full of justice in future (See this and this questions).

Clearly the 7th governor - Yazid ibn Muawyah - is not a good choice in list of 12 followers of prophet Muhammad (PBUH), because of what he did in his life (See wikipedia). At the same time of Yazid and after him, there appeared other independent governors in different parts of Islamic countries and there was no consensus about government, making it so hard even to list the first 12 governors.

So who are the 12 follower of prophet Muhammad (PBUH)?

The above narration of prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and many other similar narrations are among the reasons that majority of Shia Muslims believe in twelve Imams, no more or less.

There are many narrations that every Imam informed Muslims who will be the following Imam, excluding Imam Mahdi who is the last. Also there are many narrations that Muslims of any time asked their Imam to provide evidences, specially by testing his scientific and wisdom dominance over scholars of the same time. By these means, Shia Muslims of every time have identified their true Imam.

Are them selected by Allah?

According to the first Ayah in this answer Imam should be selected by Allah. Is there any evidence that 12 Imams are selected by Allah?

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O Messenger, announce that which has been revealed to you from your Lord, and if you do not, then you have not conveyed His message. And Allah will protect you from the people. Indeed, Allah does not guide the disbelieving people. Al Maidah 67

Great Sunni scholars believe in above Ayah, Allah ordered prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to announce Muslims about Wilayah of Ali ibn Abi Talib (Karram Allahu Wajhah) in his last Hadj in Ghadir Khumm. For instance see following Hadith of Suyuti, great Sunni scholar:

وأخرج ابن أبي حاتم وابن مردويه وابن عساكر عن أبي سعيد الخدري قال: نزلت هذه الآية { يا أيها الرسول بلغ ما أنزل إليك من ربك } على رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يوم غدير خم، في علي بن أبي طالب.

وأخرج ابن مردويه عن ابن مسعود قال: كنا نقرأ على عهد رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم { يا أيها الرسول بلغ ما أنزل إليك من ربك } أن علياً مولى المؤمنين - Dun Al Mansur of Suyuti

See wikipedia for more than 100 Sunni references of this and related narrations.

All Muslims respect the 12 followers

The 12 offsprings of prophet Muhammad (PBUH) are respected by all Muslims; Sunnies respect them as the family of prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and big scholars, and Shia respect them also as Imams.

In Masjid an Nabawi there are the names of Allah, prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his twelve offsprings and great Sahabah who lived with prophet installed which shows respect of all Muslims.

enter image description here (pictures are from Shafaqna news website).

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the example you gave of past prophets having 12 disciples are actually against Shia imamat coz all 12 disciples were immediate disciples not successors. Hence it infact proves the Righteosuness of the Ashre Mubashra Sahaba. Please correct your answer! –  Islam Jan 21 '13 at 5:04
Moses was succeeded by 12 tribes of Beni Israel each of them having 12 leaders."We [Allah] divided them [the Children of Israel] into twelve tribes, each a whole community". [Qur'an, sura 7:159, "The Heights"] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Lost_Tribes#Twelve_Tribes –  Islam Jan 21 '13 at 13:43
@aliabbas, Ashre Mubashrah Sahaba can not be an authentic Hadeeth because at least three out of the ten took part in a war and two were killed there without repenting, they had rebelled against the ruler of the time (Imam Ali --peace be upon him) and this is a sin according to Sunni beliefs, see here. Also Ali's focus was probably on the number 12, as the Hadeeth from the holy prophet --peace be upon him and his household-- clearly declares 12 successors! –  owari Jan 21 '13 at 19:51
  1. If you have been convinced to become a Shia, then simply see by which faction of Shia are you convinced, the same reason that make you convert from Sunni to Shia will also guide you select the right choice for you, and Allah will not expect from you more than you have been given ability (just be sure to try your best).

    وَلَا نُكَلِّفُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا ۖ وَلَدَيْنَا كِتَابٌ يَنطِقُ بِالْحَقِّ ۚ وَهُمْ لَا يُظْلَمُونَ

    And We do not lay on any soul a burden except to the extent of its ability, and with Us is a book which speaks the truth, and they shall not be dealt with unjustly. [23:62]

  2. it is impossible that the difference between two sects be only their Imams, different Imams will guide to different ways:

    وَجَعَلْنَاهُمْ أَئِمَّةً يَهْدُونَ بِأَمْرِنَا وَأَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْهِمْ فِعْلَ الْخَيْرَاتِ وَإِقَامَ الصَّلَاةِ وَإِيتَاءَ الزَّكَاةِ ۖ وَكَانُوا لَنَا عَابِدِينَ

    And We made them Imams who guided (people) by Our command, and We revealed to them the doing of good and the keeping up of prayer and the giving of the alms, and Us (alone) did they serve [21:73]

    وَجَعَلْنَاهُمْ أَئِمَّةً يَدْعُونَ إِلَى النَّارِ ۖ وَيَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ لَا يُنصَرُونَ / وَأَتْبَعْنَاهُمْ فِي هَـٰذِهِ الدُّنْيَا لَعْنَةً ۖ وَيَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ هُم مِّنَ الْمَقْبُوحِينَ

    And We made them Imams who call to the fire, and on the day of resurrection they shall not be assisted. / And We caused a curse to follow them in this world, and on the day of resurrection they shall be of those made to appear hideous. [28:41,42]

    if two Imams were exactly guiding similarly then what was their differences. So focus on what they guide to, what they rule and judge based upon, if they have been given gifts (like knowledge) from Allah as all the Shi'ism believe that Imam and rulers are chosen by Allah. If you saw reading their Ahadeeth makes you feel Allah, brights up your mind, and make you feel closer to Allah then you can rely on such Imams better, and if you understood that the rules go well with your Dunya'ish desires then stop following them until you can research more deeply about the differences.

  3. The truth is always self-consistent and if there is only one correct solution then there would be only one self-consistent set of beliefs, so try to find paradoxes in all such sects and think over any single of them if they are resolvable. Once I did something like that and I came to no paradox in twelvers until it was then resolved for me. This really describes Qur'aan and is strongly backed by Qur'aan, as was claimed in the Hadeeth of two weighty things (ثقلین).

You said in comment:

you have not even answered the question in the sense off surety as i find the life and teachings of the 4 CALIPHS also to be virtuous and good.

Let me answer this by asking you a question. If is tell you a lie, is there any way to understand it? Of course, yes. No lie will be said unless some contradictory issues will arise subsequently. So let focus on the contradictions rather than what we are simply told. Not necessarily the majority of people care much to diagnose a saying, they simply accept anything they are told if they are somewhat familiar with the narrator, even if the narrator is not completely known and approved, as long as the saying is not very odd to their minds. Let me now tell you a news: Abu Sufyan was indeed too pious from the very beginning, but he was doing Taqiyyah to prepare pagans of Mecca to submit to apostle of Allah! Is this any strange on its own? Have you ever seen Abu Safyan to judge this News? You will accept it if you are told such by Umar, won't you? The same News can be given about any other person, including the four Caliph, how can we judge these news? Because the majority of the companions of the apostle of Allah have approved that? What if there arise some contradictions then? Would you accept what your intellectual power suggests or the suggestion reached to you through books written some centuries ago by those whom you don't know personally? Qur'aan itself came to the pagans and although there were some good tidings in the previous Heavenly books but Qur'aan itself relied mostly on its own massage. There are many who came to be believers without ever being aware of such good tidings. So Islam recognizes a greater weight for the massage and the intellectual power and the Fitrah, compared to that we discuss who has said what! See how Imam Ali --peace be upon him-- addresses the same issue:

from: وسائل الشيعة، ج‏27، ص: 135

مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ أَبِي الْقَاسِمِ الطَّبَرِيُّ فِي بِشَارَةِ الْمُصْطَفَى عَنْ إِبْرَاهِيمَ بْنِ الْحُسَيْنِ بْنِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ الْبَصْرِيِّ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ الْحُسَيْنِ بْنِ عُتْبَةَ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ الْحُسَيْنِ بْنِ أَحْمَدَ الْفَقِيهِ عَنْ حَمَّوَيْهِ بْنِ عَلِيِّ بْنِ حَمَّوَيْهِ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ الْمُطَّلِبِ الشَّيْبَانِيِّ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ عَلِيِّ بْنِ مَهْدِيٍّ الْكِنْدِيِّ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ عَلِيِّ بْنِ عُمَرَ بْنِ طَرِيفٍ الْحَجَرِيِّ عَنْ أَبِيهِ عَنْ جَمِيلِ بْنِ صَالِحٍ عَنْ أَبِي خَالِدٍ الْكَابُلِيِّ عَنِ الْأَصْبَغِ بْنِ نُبَاتَةَ عَنْ أَمِيرِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ ع فِي حَدِيثٍ أَنَّهُ سُئِلَ عَنِ اخْتِلَافِ الشِّيعَةِ- فَقَالَ إِنَّ دِينَ اللَّهِ لَا يُعْرَفُ بِالرِّجَالِ بَلْ بِآيَةِ الْحَقِّ فَاعْرِفِ الْحَقَّ تَعْرِفْ أَهْلَهُ إِنَّ الْحَقَّ أَحْسَنُ الْحَدِيثِ وَ الصَّادِعَ بِهِ مُجَاهِدٌ وَ بِالْحَقِّ أُخْبِرُكَ فَأَرْعِنِي سَمْعَكَ وَ ذَكَرَ كَلَاماً طَوِيلًا حَاصِلُهُ الْأَمْرُ بِالرُّجُوعِ إِلَيْهِمْ ع فِي الْأَحْكَامِ وَ تَفْسِيرِ الْقُرْآنِ وَ غَيْرِ ذَلِكَ.

Imam Ali --peace be upon him-- was asked about the discrepancies among Shi'ite, so he answered: "Verily the religion of Allah is not recognized through the personages, but instead through the signs of truth, so first know the truth and you will know its personages. Truth is the best of opinions, whoever talks about it in open is a Mujahid" then he continued a long Hadeeth that refer the people to Ahlul Bayt --peaece be upon them-- in the rules of religion (jurisprudence), description of Qur'aan and etc.

We have a good website here that we can discuss things with each other in peace. We can care about our own beliefs and our brother beliefs without anyone being injured or titled as Mushrik. It's a very nice place to gather witnesses from all the sects of Sunni and Shia and decide which one can be the truth. This has been elsewhere suggested by Imam Ali ar-Redha --peace be upon him-- when he said: "May Allah bless who revive our affair", he was then asked: "how will your affair be revived?" and he replied: "learn from our knowledge and Ahadeeth and teach them to others, since people if are informed of such contents would follow us" [بحارالانوار جلد 2 صفحه 30]

So good to have you here with a background from branches of Shia different than the mainstream Shia. You can input whatever that you like for us to discuss around them from different perspectives. And Qur'aan will always be our main shared source, in shaa' Allah. Only let me add here a point and that's it, the twelver Shia brothers also know that Imam Sadiq --peace be upon him-- first introduced Ismaa3eel as his successor, and all of us also agree upon Ismaa3eel being highly pious, however, the we recognize introduction of Ismaa3eel by Imam Sadiq --peace be upon him-- as a Taqiyyah in the times that declaring Imam Kazim --peace be upon him-- could result in him being murdered, and as you may know Ismaa3eel passed away while Imam Sadiq --peace be upon him-- was still alive, so that some Shia Muslims refused to accept the fact and followed some personal opinions like Isma3eel has not passed away and things like that. It is probable that our history books may have conflicts, so the direct way would still be the fact that every religion stand over its teachings not its personages and we can start talking around conflicts among their teachings.

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