In Part I, we discussed how important Imamah is to the Shia, and how they view it as more important than Prophethood/Messengership. In Part III, we looked through every instance in the Quran in which the word “Imam” is used, and we found that not once is the Shia concept of Imamah referred to in the Quran.
Now we compare this with the plethora of verses in the Quran which discuss Prophethood/Messengership. Verse after verse mentions the Prophets and Messengers, their names, their roles, and their stories. And yet, we fail to see any similar such discussion of the Shia Imams. In fact, no mention of the twelve Imams is in the Quran. The obvious question is why would Allah mention Prophethood/Messengership so many times in the Quran, but fail to mention Imams, which–according to the Shia–are more important than the Prophets/Messengers? This is a very big anomaly that is difficult to explain away.
The following is an excerpt is from “Imaamah and the Quran: An Objective Perspective” by Sidi Abu Salih:
After going through the instances where the word “Imaam” is mentioned in the Quran and determining that none of them proves nor supports the concept of Imaamah in Shiaism, it was only apppropriate to examine the context and meaning provided to the words “Nabi” and “Rasool” in the Quran.
Examining the Word Nabi in the Quran
The case with the usage of the word Nabi is quite different from that of the word Imaam. While the root word from which “Nabi” originates is used in different ways, such as “Naba’” (news), “Naba’tukuma” (inform you), “Anbaaka” (informed you), the terms Nabi and Nabieen/Anbiyaa (plural forms of Nabi) themselves are used in a very specific manner in the Holy Quran. From the approximately 80 instances wherein the words Nabi or Nabieen occur, not one of them refers to anything other than a Prophet of Allah.
Below is a list of a few instances when the word Nabi is used in the Quran. The list is categorized, to show that Allah has revealed a variety of topics surrounding His Prophets.
Rejecting and killing Nabis without just cause and its punishment
﴿ ضُرِبَتْ عَلَيْهِمُ الذِّلَّةُ أَيْنَ مَا ثُقِفُواْ إِلاَّ بِحَبْلٍ مِّنْ اللّهِ وَحَبْلٍ مِّنَ النَّاسِ وَبَآؤُوا بِغَضَبٍ مِّنَ اللّهِ وَضُرِبَتْ عَلَيْهِمُ الْمَسْكَنَةُ ذَلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ كَانُواْ يَكْفُرُونَ بِآيَاتِ اللّهِ وَيَقْتُلُونَ الأَنبِيَاء بِغَيْرِ حَقٍّ ذَلِكَ بِمَا عَصَوا وَّكَانُواْ يَعْتَدُونَ ﴾
Ignominy shall be their portion wheresoever they are found save (where they grasp) a rope from Allah and a rope from men. They have incurred anger from their Lord, and wretchedness is laid upon them. That is because they used to disbelieve the revelations of Allah, and slew the prophets wrongfully. That is because they were rebellious and used to transgress. (Quran 3:112)
True believers accept all Nabis of Allah
﴿ قُلْ آمَنَّا بِاللّهِ وَمَا أُنزِلَ عَلَيْنَا وَمَا أُنزِلَ عَلَى إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ وَإِسْحَاقَ وَيَعْقُوبَ وَالأَسْبَاطِ وَمَا أُوتِيَ مُوسَى وَعِيسَى وَالنَّبِيُّونَ مِن رَّبِّهِمْ لاَ نُفَرِّقُ بَيْنَ أَحَدٍ مِّنْهُمْ وَنَحْنُ لَهُ مُسْلِمُونَ ﴾
Say (O Muhammad): We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and that which was vouchsafed unto Moses and Jesus and the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered. (Quran 3:84)
Belief in the Nabis is a basis of faith
﴿ وَلَـكِنَّ الْبِرَّ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ وَالْمَلآئِكَةِ وَالْكِتَابِ وَالنَّبِيِّينَ ﴾
…but righteous is he who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the prophets… (Quran 2:177)
Allah sending Nabis as bringers of both good news and warnings
﴿ كَانَ النَّاسُ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً فَبَعَثَ اللّهُ النَّبِيِّينَ مُبَشِّرِينَ وَمُنذِرِينَ وَأَنزَلَ مَعَهُمُ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ لِيَحْكُمَ بَيْنَ النَّاسِ فِيمَا اخْتَلَفُواْ فِيهِ ﴾
Mankind were one community, and Allah sent (unto them) prophets as bearers of good tidings and as warners, and revealed therewith the Scripture with the truth that it might judge between mankind concerning that wherein they differed… (Quran 2:213)
Allah’s covenants with the Nabis
﴿ وَإِذْ أَخَذَ اللّهُ مِيثَاقَ النَّبِيِّيْنَ لَمَا آتَيْتُكُم مِّن كِتَابٍ وَحِكْمَةٍ ثُمَّ جَاءكُمْ رَسُولٌ مُّصَدِّقٌ لِّمَا مَعَكُمْ لَتُؤْمِنُنَّ بِهِ وَلَتَنصُرُنَّهُ قَالَ أَأَقْرَرْتُمْ وَأَخَذْتُمْ عَلَى ذَلِكُمْ إِصْرِي قَالُواْ أَقْرَرْنَا قَالَ فَاشْهَدُواْ وَأَنَاْ مَعَكُم مِّنَ الشَّاهِدِينَ ﴾
When Allah made (His) covenant with the prophets, (He said): Behold that which I have given you of the Scripture and knowledge. And afterward there will come unto you a messenger, confirming that which ye possess. Ye shall believe in him and ye shall help him. He said: Do ye agree, and will ye take up My burden (which I lay upon you) in this (matter)? They answered: We agree. He said: Then bear ye witness. I will be a witness with you. (Quran 3:81)
Forbidden to take Nabis as Lords
﴿ وَلاَ يَأْمُرَكُمْ أَن تَتَّخِذُواْ الْمَلاَئِكَةَ وَالنِّبِيِّيْنَ أَرْبَابًا أَيَأْمُرُكُم بِالْكُفْرِ بَعْدَ إِذْ أَنتُم مُّسْلِمُونَ ﴾
And he commanded you not that ye should take the angels and the prophets for lords. Would he command you to disbelieve after ye had surrendered (to Allah)? (Quran 3:80)
Some Nabis favored over others
﴿ وَرَبُّكَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَن فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ وَلَقَدْ فَضَّلْنَا بَعْضَ النَّبِيِّينَ عَلَى بَعْضٍ وَآتَيْنَا دَاوُودَ زَبُورًا ﴾
And thy Lord is Best Aware of all who are in the heavens and the earth. And we preferred some of the prophets above others, and unto David We gave the Psalms. (Quran 17:55)
Nabis sent to previous nations
﴿ وَكَمْ أَرْسَلْنَا مِن نَّبِيٍّ فِي الْأَوَّلِينَ ﴾
How many a prophet did We send among the men of old! (Quran 43:6)
The reader may think of other categories where to place some of these Verses in addition to the ones provided, and there exist many other cases when the word “Nabi” is used in the Quran that are not listed (this would prove repetitive in the context of the discussion).
From the few examples provided, it is obvious that the term is used with the meaning of “Prophet of Allah” and nothing else. The Sunni and Shia commentaries do not even spend time in trying to prove that the “Nabi” refers to a Prophet sent on a mission from Allah, save for perhaps the first time the term occurs in the Quran. This is because the inference is so obvious it needs little explanation. Even the bitterest enemy of Islam does not attempt to show that “Nabi” means some other type of “prophet” that is not related to its religious connotation.
The different ways in which the functions and roles of the Prophets are delineated in the Quranic verses themselves is very straightforward, while the term “Imaam” is not treated in such clarity. I personally found myself amazed at such a contrast. The reason for this is the weight given to the doctrine of Imaamah in Shaism to the point that many Shia scholars consider it as being higher than Nubuwwah. It seems strange that in the “more important” case only 12 examples are mentioned, some of which go against the doctrine under discussion, while the “less important” dogma has been mentioned much more often (almost seven-fold), all of them pointing towards “Divine Prophethood”.
Examining the Ayahs of the Quran it is seen that there is not a single Verse with the word “Nabi” that speaks against the concept of Nubuwwah. Moreover, the belief of Nubuwwah can easily be put together by using the Quran as the prime reference without stretching the meaning of any of the Ayahs. Later it will be seen that some of the Verses discussing Prophets and Messengers contradict and seriously undermine the essence of the Shia Imaamah doctrine. For the time being however, it is enough to note the difference between the manner in which Nabis and Imaams are discussed in the Quran in terms of clarity and importance given to them.
Examining the Word Rasool in the Quran
The next topic to look into is the Quran and its usage of the word “Rasool” (Messenger). Like in the previous case with the word “Nabi”, the root word has been used in different ways, with the terms “Arsalna”, “Arsala”, “’Yursil” sometimes referring to Allah sending Messengers, or to Allah sending a punishment, or at other times to a Ruler sending a delegation.
However, with respect to the specific word Rasool (and its plural “Mursalin”/”Rusul”), we see that the total number of times the term has been used exceeds 360 times. There are a few instances (around 15) where the Messenger being referred to is either an Angel, or a Messenger that is not divinely sent. However, in the remaining cases (about 350 cases) it can be seen that the Rasool is in effect a human sent by Allah to declare His religion to a given people. So yet again, the level of clarity the Quran uses in describing Rasools and its coherence with Islamic belief is quite unlike the comparison between the term “Imaam” and the doctrine of “Imaamah” in Shiaism.
Again, some of the places where the word Rasool has been used are presented below, placed in categories for us to understand the various ways in which the Quran explains the role, function, and duties of Messengers:
Messengers sent to Every Nation
﴿ وَلِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ رَّسُولٌ فَإِذَا جَاء رَسُولُهُمْ قُضِيَ بَيْنَهُم بِالْقِسْطِ وَهُمْ لاَ يُظْلَمُونَ ﴾
And for every nation there is a messenger. And when their messenger cometh (on the Day of Judgment) it will be judged between them fairly, and they will not be wronged. (Quran 10:47)
People will not be punished until a Messenger is sent to them
﴿ مَّنِ اهْتَدَى فَإِنَّمَا يَهْتَدي لِنَفْسِهِ وَمَن ضَلَّ فَإِنَّمَا يَضِلُّ عَلَيْهَا وَلاَ تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَى وَمَا كُنَّا مُعَذِّبِينَ حَتَّى نَبْعَثَ رَسُولاً ﴾
Whosoever goeth right, it is only for (the good of) his own soul that he goeth right, and whosoever erreth, erreth only to its hurt. No laden soul can bear another’s load, We never punish until we have sent a messenger. (Quran 17:15)
Peoples rejecting Messengers
﴿ وَلَقَدْ كُذِّبَتْ رُسُلٌ مِّن قَبْلِكَ فَصَبَرُواْ عَلَى مَا كُذِّبُواْ وَأُوذُواْ حَتَّى أَتَاهُمْ نَصْرُنَا وَلاَ مُبَدِّلَ لِكَلِمَاتِ اللّهِ وَلَقدْ جَاءكَ مِن نَّبَإِ الْمُرْسَلِينَ ﴾
Messengers indeed have been denied before thee, and they were patient under the denial and the persecution till Our succour reached them. There is none to alter the decisions of Allah. Already there hath reached thee (somewhat) of the tidings of the messengers (We sent before). (Quran 6:34)
Punishment for those who reject the Messengers of Allah
﴿ وَلَقَدْ أَهْلَكْنَا الْقُرُونَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَمَّا ظَلَمُواْ وَجَاءتْهُمْ رُسُلُهُم بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ وَمَا كَانُواْ لِيُؤْمِنُواْ كَذَلِكَ نَجْزِي الْقَوْمَ الْمُجْرِمِينَ ﴾
We destroyed the generations before you when they did wrong; and their messengers (from Allah) came unto them with clear proofs (of His Sovereignty) but they would not believe. Thus do We reward the guilty folk.(Quran 10:13)
Belief in Messengers as a Pillar of Faith
﴿ آمَنَ الرَّسُولُ بِمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْهِ مِن رَّبِّهِ وَالْمُؤْمِنُونَ كُلٌّ آمَنَ بِاللّهِ وَمَلآئِكَتِهِ وَكُتُبِهِ وَرُسُلِهِ لاَ نُفَرِّقُ بَيْنَ أَحَدٍ مِّن رُّسُلِهِ وَقَالُواْ سَمِعْنَا وَأَطَعْنَا غُفْرَانَكَ رَبَّنَا وَإِلَيْكَ الْمَصِيرُ ﴾
The messenger believeth in that which hath been revealed unto him from his Lord and (so do) believers. Each one believeth in Allah and His angels and His scriptures and His messengers - We make no distinction between any of His messengers - and they say: We hear, and we obey. (Grant us) Thy forgiveness, our Lord. Unto Thee is the journeying. (Quran 2:285)
﴿ يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ آمِنُواْ بِاللّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَالْكِتَابِ الَّذِي نَزَّلَ عَلَى رَسُولِهِ وَالْكِتَابِ الَّذِيَ أَنزَلَ مِن قَبْلُ وَمَن يَكْفُرْ بِاللّهِ وَمَلاَئِكَتِهِ وَكُتُبِهِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ ضَلاَلاً بَعِيدًا ﴾
O ye who believe! Believe in Allah and His messenger and the Scripture which He hath revealed unto His messenger, and the Scripture which He revealed aforetime. Whoso disbelieveth in Allah and His angels and His scriptures and His messengers and the Last Day, he verily hath wandered far astray. (Quran 4:136)
Some of the Messengers’ stories have been told to us, some have not
﴿ وَرُسُلاً قَدْ قَصَصْنَاهُمْ عَلَيْكَ مِن قَبْلُ وَرُسُلاً لَّمْ نَقْصُصْهُمْ عَلَيْكَ وَكَلَّمَ اللّهُ مُوسَى تَكْلِيمًا﴾
And messengers We have mentioned unto thee before and messengers We have not mentioned unto thee; and Allah spake directly unto Moses (Quran 4:164)
Purpose of Messengers
﴿ رُّسُلاً مُّبَشِّرِينَ وَمُنذِرِينَ لِئَلاَّ يَكُونَ لِلنَّاسِ عَلَى اللّهِ حُجَّةٌ بَعْدَ الرُّسُلِ وَكَانَ اللّهُ عَزِيزًا حَكِيمًا ﴾
Messengers of good cheer and of warning, in order that mankind might have no argument against Allah after the messengers. Allah was ever Mighty, Wise.(Quran 4:165)
﴿ وَأَطِيعُواْ اللّهَ وَأَطِيعُواْ الرَّسُولَ وَاحْذَرُواْ فَإِن تَوَلَّيْتُمْ فَاعْلَمُواْ أَنَّمَا عَلَى رَسُولِنَا الْبَلاَغُ الْمُبِينُ﴾
Obey Allah and obey the messenger, and beware! But if ye turn away, then know that the duty of Our messenger is only plain conveyance (of the message). (Quran 5:92)
Disbelievers and Messengers on Day of Judgement
﴿ هَلْ يَنظُرُونَ إِلاَّ تَأْوِيلَهُ يَوْمَ يَأْتِي تَأْوِيلُهُ يَقُولُ الَّذِينَ نَسُوهُ مِن قَبْلُ قَدْ جَاءتْ رُسُلُ رَبِّنَا بِالْحَقِّ فَهَل لَّنَا مِن شُفَعَاء فَيَشْفَعُواْ لَنَا أَوْ نُرَدُّ فَنَعْمَلَ غَيْرَ الَّذِي كُنَّا نَعْمَلُ قَدْ خَسِرُواْ أَنفُسَهُمْ وَضَلَّ عَنْهُم مَّا كَانُواْ يَفْتَرُونَ ﴾
Await they aught save the fulfilment thereof? On the day when the fulfilment thereof cometh, those who were before forgetful thereof will say: The messengers of our Lord did bring the Truth! Have we any intercessors, that they may intercede for us? Or can we be returned (to life on earth), that we may act otherwise than we used to act? They have lost their souls, and that which they devised hath failed them. (Quran 7:53)
Believers and Messengers on Day of Judgement
﴿ وَنَزَعْنَا مَا فِي صُدُورِهِم مِّنْ غِلٍّ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهِمُ الأَنْهَارُ وَقَالُواْ الْحَمْدُ لِلّهِ الَّذِي هَدَانَا لِهَـذَا وَمَا كُنَّا لِنَهْتَدِيَ لَوْلا أَنْ هَدَانَا اللّهُ لَقَدْ جَاءتْ رُسُلُ رَبِّنَا بِالْحَقِّ وَنُودُواْ أَن تِلْكُمُ الْجَنَّةُ أُورِثْتُمُوهَا بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ ﴾
And We remove whatever rancour may be in their hearts. Rivers flow beneath them. And they say: The praise to Allah, Who hath guided us to this. We could not truly have been led aright if Allah had not guided us. Verily the messengers of our Lord did bring the Truth. And it is cried unto them: This is the Garden. Ye inherit it for what ye used to do. (Quran 7:43)
Messengers put under hardship
﴿ حَتَّى إِذَا اسْتَيْأَسَ الرُّسُلُ وَظَنُّواْ أَنَّهُمْ قَدْ كُذِبُواْ جَاءهُمْ نَصْرُنَا فَنُجِّيَ مَن نَّشَاء وَلاَ يُرَدُّ بَأْسُنَا عَنِ الْقَوْمِ الْمُجْرِمِينَ ﴾
Till, when the messengers despaired and thought that they were denied, then came unto them Our help (Quran 12:110)
Believing in Allah and His Messengers as a way to Sincerity and Paradise
﴿ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرُسُلِهِ أُوْلَئِكَ هُمُ الصِّدِّيقُونَ وَالشُّهَدَاء عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ لَهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ وَنُورُهُمْ﴾
And those who believe in Allah and His messengers, they are the loyal, and the martyrs are with their Lord; they have their reward and their light (Quran 57:19)
Thus, it is seen that the way the word “Rasool” has been mentioned in the Quran is even more commanding and authoritative than for the word “Nabi”. Only 13 of the occurrences of the word “Rasool” were included above, and yet theer can be no doubt as to what type of “Messenger” the Quran is referring to. As noted before, there are some cases in which the word “Rasool” has been used outside of its religious meaning or has been used with respect to non-human Messengers. Yet the total number of occurrences where the Messenger being alluded to is in line with Islaamic doctrine are so many and so unambiguous that only a fanatic would deny the importance Allah has placed upon the concept of “Risaalah” in the Quran. Even if a person with minimal knowledge on how to interpret the Quran where to give his opinion about these Verses, we would find that his understanding in many cases corresponds closely to that of the expert scholars of Islam. This is due to the radiating clarity with which many of these Ayahs have been revealed. Again, if we were to compare it with the “higher” principle of Imaamah, we would see the weakness of the Shia arguments.
I started to see the difference between what the Shia scholars were stating in terms of the importance of Imaamah and what Allah Himself has said in the Quran. Was it only a coincidence that the manners in which these doctrines are discussed are so vastly different? Or is it because Imaamah is not part of the Islam revealed to Muhammad (Salla Allahu Alayhi wa Salaam), and is the product of a different outlook?
This article was excerpted from the following book:“Imaamah and the Quran: An Objective Perspective”
By: Sidi Abu Salih
Synopsis: Imamah is one of the fundamental beliefs of the Shia, and it is the major difference between the Shia and mainstream Muslims. The Quran is the central book of Islam, and hence, it contains all of the major beliefs of the Muslims. In the book “Imaamah and the Quran”, the author analyzes how Imamah, the major belief of the Shia, is absent from the Quran. This book was instrumental in the creation of this website, and it can be purchased here.