Crux of the Sunni/Shia Divide
Most of the polemical debate between Sunni and Shia revolves around peripheral issues such as Mutah, Matam, Saqifah, Ghadeer Khumm, Fadak, and other such side issues. However, the fundamental issue of debate–namely Imamah–is oftentimes ignored. In the words of Sidi Abu Salih:
Every other disagreement the Shia have with the Sunnis [other than Imamah] has its roots in the Shia insistence on Imamah as a principle of Islam, both in belief and practise. From differing views and interpretations of history, entirely different systems of Hadith collection and authentication, and divergent manners of performing Islamic practises, all these dissimilarities can be traced back to Imamah as a doctrine in Shia faith.
It is therefore only reasonable that the focus of any serious quest for truth would begin and end with the principle of Imamah in the mind of the truth-seeker. Trying to research about the differences between Shia and Sunni without considering the dogma of Imamah as a main sticking point will lead to dead ends and fruitless arguments. I have personally witnessed a number of [Sunni-Shia] discussions that quickly descend into chaos because one side or the other wishes to discuss a subject of peripheral importance.
Source: Sidi Abu Salih, Imaamah and the Quran: An Objective Perspective, p.5;Download book here
It is safe to say that if the Shia did not believe in the concept of Imamah, then they would not be considered a separate sect. The other issues of contention between Sunni and Shia are simply a consequence of Imamah. Hence, Imamah and its validity in the Quran is the main issue of contention between the Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’ah and their Shia brothers.
Before we proceed, it is important to state what exactly is the Shia doctrine of Imamah.
The Shia doctrine of Imamah: Apart from the Prophets, there are another group of God-appointed persons called Imams. These are people who possess Ismah (infallibility) and have access to a knowledge that is not accessible by ordinary people. The world cannot be empty of an Imam otherwise it will be destroyed. In the Islamic context, these individuals are twelve people among the descendants of the Holy Prophet (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) who are appointed by nobody except Allah (عز و جل) alone to lead the Muslims. Anyone who chooses a leader other than these twelve is misguided and not a complete believer. The twelvth (last) of the Imams is the Mehdi and, although he has been in occultation for more than one thousand years, he will return when Allah (عز و جل) wishes and then justice will prevail.
Importance of Imamah
The above stated doctrine of Imamah is the core belief of the Shia. The Shia consider five articles of belief as fundamentals of religion. These are:
1. Tawheed (Oneness of God)
2. Nabuwwah (Prophethood)
3. Ma’ad (Day of Judgement)
4. Adl (Justice of God)
5. Imamah (the above stated doctrine)
Imamah is considered by the Shia to be one of the Usool-e-Deen [fundamentals of religion].
In the words of Sidi Abu Salih:
In Shi’ism, the matters of religion are divided into Usool-e-Deen and Furoo-e-Deen. The Usool-e-Deen are the principles of belief in the religion, analogous to the Pillars of Faith in Sunnism. The Furoo-e-Deen relates to the practises in the religion, such as prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, and so on.
To introduce the reader to what constitutes the Usool-e-Deen in Shi’ism, I will quote the following tract from Allamah Muhammad Husayn al-Kashiful Ghita’s book “The Origin of Shi’ite Islam and its Principles” (Asl ash-Shi’ah wa Usuluha):
“Those matters which concern knowledge or wisdom, are called Usool-e-Deen (fundamentals of religion) and they are five: Tawheed, Nabuwwah, Imamah, Adl, and Ma’ad.” [“The Origin of Shiite Islam and its Principles, Part II: Fundamentals of the Religion”, Part II: The Fundmentals of the Religion, Section The Fundamental Beliefs, p.218]
In similar fashion, the Shia scholar Muhammad Ridha Muzaffar states: “We believe that the Imamah is one of the fundamentals of Islam (Usool-e-Deen), and that man’s faith can never be complete without belief in it.”
…The [only] real issue of contention [between Sunni and Shia] is with respect to [the belief in] Imamah. As [the Shia scholar] Allamah Kashiful Ghita mentions: “It is the question of the Imamah which distinguishes the Shia sect from all other sects. Other differences are not fundamental; they are furoo’i (i.e. secondary)” [Asl-ul-Shia wa Usuluha, p.221]
Source: Sidi Abu Salih, Imaamah and the Quran: An Objective Perspective, p.7;Download book here
Thus, the importance of Imamah in Shi’ism is more than the importance of Salat (prayer); Imamah is considered Usool-e-Deen [i.e. fundamental] whereas Salat is Furoo-e-Deen [i.e. secondary]. It would be accurate to say that the Furoo-e-Deen are a direct consequence of the Usool-e-Deen. Imamah is considered the most important pillar of Islam. And by Imamah, we do not mean “leadership” since even the Sunni–as well as any group of people–consider leadership to be an important issue. When we refer to “Imamah” we are referring to the specific Shia doctrine of God-appointed infallible leaders who must be followed.
The sheer importance that the Shia scholars give to Imamah can be seen by their views on those who reject Imamah. Let us see what the popular Shia website, Al-Shia.com, has to say about this:
Al-Shia.com says“:“فيمن جحد إمامة أمير المؤمنين والائمة من بعده عليهم السلام بمنزلة ( 6 ) من جحد نبوة الانبياء عليهم السلام . واعتقادنا ”
“فيمن أقر بأمير المؤمنين وأنكر واحدا من بعده من الائمة عليهم السلام أنه بمنزلة من آمن بجميع الانبياء ثم أنكر بنبوة محمد صلى الله عليه وآله “
Translation: Imam Al-Saduk says, “Our belief is that the one who rejects the Imamah of Ameer al Mumineen [Ali] and the Aimmah (Imams) after him, has the same position like the one who rejects the Prophethood of the Prophets.”
Further, he states: “And our belief is that the one who accepts Ameer al Mumineen [Ali] but rejects a single Imam after him, has the same position like the one who believes in all of the Prophets and then rejects the Prophethood of Muhammad (saws).”
Al-Shia.com says“Shaikh Mufid declared:
“اتفقت الامامية على أن من أنكر إمامة أحد من الائمة وجحد ما أوجبه الله تعالى له من فرض الطاعة فهو كافر ضال مستحق للخلود في النار”
Translation: “The Imamiyyah [Shia] are in agreement (’Ijma) that the one who rejects the Imamah of one Imam and rejects the obedience to them which Allah ordered is a misguided Kaffir deserving to remain in Hell-Fire forever.”
Therefore, we see that this issue of Imamah is not one to be taken lightly. On the one side, the Shia scholars say that those who reject Imamah are misguided and deserving of Hell-Fire. On the other hand, the Sunni scholars say that those who accept the Shia doctrine of Imamah in toto [i.e. in totality] are guilty of believing in false prophethood (i.e. Dajjals).
Where is the Doctrine of Imamah in the Quran?
We ask the reader: where is the doctrine of Imamah in the Quran? This is a very sound question. The Quran is the book of guidance and we have been told by the Prophet (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) that whenever we feel lost, we can consult the Quran and it will never betray us. The Shia doctrine of Imamah is not a minor issue, but rather it is very important and it is the core belief of the Shia. Its importance is to the extent that the Shia Ulema hold that because of disbelief in this doctrine, 80% of Muslims are misguided and in fact not true believers. If this is the case, then we ask the reader: which verses of the Quran have given us this “all-important” doctrine of Imamah?
If Imamah is central to Islam, and the Quran is the central book of Islam, then surely the Quran should have the belief of Imamah in it. And yet, for hundreds of years, the Shia scholars have not been able to answer the “Quran Challenge.” The Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’ah has repeatedly challenged the Shia to produce even one single verse in the Quran that outlines the Shia concept of Imamah. Time and time again, anyone who tries to seek proof for Imamah from the Quran fails to do so.
The Quran Challenge
This is an open challenge for the Shia to give Quranic verses which outline and justify the Shia concept of Imamah. Can the Shia produce even a single verse outlining Imamah, without any additions to the translation, without parenthetical insertions to the translation, without Hadith to “support” their interpretation, without Tafseer, and without their own personal commentaries leading us from verse to verse?
When the Shia is forced to produce the Quranic verses without any additions, he will find it impossible to even come close to fulfilling the “Quran Challenge.” Not a single verse in the Quran says anything even remotely close to “O believers, after the Prophet, there will be twelve Imams chosen by Allah and you should follow them.” The Shia can never produce a single verse in the Quran that shows anything evensimilar to this. In fact, the Shia will be forced to produce long Tafseer and circuitious arguments involving certain verses with added meanings to them; but if we ask the Shia to simply read the verse without any insertions, then suddenly they cannot produce even a single verse in the Quran to justify Imamah. Suffice to say that the Shia becomes polemically incapacitated if he is forced to use the Quran and Quran alone.
The Shia have stated that Imamah is the fundamental of faith, and so there should thus be many verses in the Quran on this topic. Yet, the “Quran Challenge” only asks for the Shia to produce even a couple of verses from the Quran, yet even this is not possible. Not a single verse in the Quran mentions the names of their Infallible Imams; not even Ali’s name (رضّى الله عنه) is ever mentioned in the Quran. But more importantly than this, there is not a single mention of the very concept of Imamah. This is peculiar, to say the least; how can Imamah be part of Usool-e-Deen (a fundamental pillar of faith) and yet not be mentioned even a single time in the Quran? The truth is that the Quran mentions all the fundamentals of belief, and if something is not in the Quran, then that “thing” cannot possibly be a fundamental of belief.
Imamah Not Mentioned in Quran
Every single fundamental of Islam is mentioned in the Quran numerous times. Tawheed and the concept of Allah (عز و جل) are mentioned over two thousand times. The concept of Messengers and Prophets [Risalah and Nabuwwah] is mentioned repeatedly; in fact, the words “Rasool” and “Nabi” is used over four hundred times. All of the other Usool-e-Deen (fundamental of religion), other than Imamah, are mentioned hundreds of times in the Quran. Yet, the Quran remains completely silent on the issue of Imamah.
The Shia say that Imamah is one of the Usool-e-Deen, but we see that even the Furoo-e-Deen (the subsidiary and secondary parts of religion) are mentioned much more than Imamah is (which is actually never mentioned). Salat (prayer), the second pillar of Islam, is mentioned 700 times in the Quran. Zakat (charity), the third pillar of Islam, has been mentioned over 150 times. And yet, where is Imamah? The Quran is the complete guide for humanity, and yet the Shia are saying that the fundamental core belief (i.e. Imamah) is not in it.
The Quran clearly says that Muhammad (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) is divinely appointed as the the Messenger of Allah (عز و جل) and that we should follow him. If there was another divinely appointed person we were supposed to follow after him, shouldn’t his name also be mentioned in the Quran? Why is it too much to ask that the twelve Imams be named in the Quran? Or how about even one of them? Not even Ali (رضّى الله عنه) is named in the Quran. For argument sake, we will not even demand names; what about even the very concept of divinely appointed Imams that will come after the Prophet (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) and that we must follow them? We would argue that Allah (عز و جل) should have included the names of such people for the book to really be complete, yet we are unable to find even a single verse in the Quran which describes even the concept of Imamah. Not a single verse can the Shia produce in this regard.
The Quran is the ultimate guide for humanity. It contains all the fundamental beliefs of our faith. If Imamah was really a part of our faith, then it would be in the Quran. But Imamah is not in the Quran and we reject whatever belief is not justified in the Quran. There are many verses in the Quran that say that the believers are those who pray, give alms to the poor, do good deeds, and other such things; but why is it that not a single verse says the believers are those who follow and obey the Infallible Imam?
Both Sunni and Shia, as well as all other Islamic-oriented sects, have their own set of Hadith, Tafseer, historical accounts, and rituals. However, the Quran should be mutually agreed upon by both sides as being an authentic guide to the truth. In the words of Sidi Abu Salih, in order for a dialogue between Sunni and Shia to be fruitful,
…the Lowest Common Denominator should be found, a work that will be accepted as fully authentic in terms of its message and its integriy by both the Sunni and Shia sides. This book is, of course, the Noble Quran. Therefore, the first and most important place to look for resolving big differences of doctrine such as those between the Sunni and Shia sects should be the Quran.
Source: Sidi Abu Salih, Imaamah and the Quran: An Objective Perspective, p.14;Download book here
Thus, whichever group has basis for its beliefs in the Quran, it is this group that we should adhere to. A group whose beliefs are not in the Quran cannot be followed as this would be refuting the Word of Allah (عز و جل). The Quran is complete in its guidance; Allah Almighty (عز و جل) says: “We have left nothing out of the Book.” (Quran, 6:38)
In Nahjul Balagha, which the Shia believe are Ali’s sermons and letters, Ali (رضّى الله عنه) says: “The Quran is the Hujjat (Proof) of Allah for his servants…it is the basis of Islam…and the guidance for anyone who follows it and justification for anyone who takes it as his approach and the evidence for anyone who takes it as his supporter in his discussions and winner for anyone who uses it for making his arguments.” [Nahjul Balagha, Sermon 198]
Imam Sadiq is reported to have said in Shia Hadith: “Anyone who comes to recognize the truth from any sources other than the Quran will not be saved from Fitnah.”
The importance of the Quran is stated clearly by the Infallible Imams of the Shia: “If you come across two Hadiths narrated from us [Imams] then compare them with the Book of Allah; what is in accordance then take it and what is in disagreement then reject it.” (Al-Istibsar, Volume 1, p.190) And again: “Whatever comes to you related from us [Imams] then compare it with the Book of Allah; whatever is in accordance with it then accept it and whatever contradicts it then reject it.” (Al-Istibsar, Volume 3, p.158)
The realization that Imamah does not appear in the Quran may come as a shock to our Shia brothers. We encourage them to look in the Quran for verses about the twelve Infallible Imams, and surely they will not find any. As stated by one brother: “I did not find Shi’ism in the Quran.”
Article Written By: Owais Muhammad
Edited By: Ibn al-Hashimi, www.ahlelbayt.com
Special thanks to the author of the following book“Imaamah and the Quran: An Objective Perspective”
By: 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.