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Imamah: the Antithesis of Egalatarianism

  • Introduction
All four of the rightly guided Caliphs were selected by a system of Shurah (mutual consultation); furthermore, the general public gave their Bayat (pledge of allegiance) to show their acceptance of each of these nominations. As is apparent, this system of nomination was egalatarian in spirit and consistent with fairness.

The Four Rightly Guided Caliphs did not utilize the system of absolute monarchy or hereditary kingship that was common during that time, namely because it was contrary to the spirit of Islam. Hereditary kingship entails that certain people are created superior to others based simply on who their parents are, and whose womb they come from. A prince becomes king simply because he was born from a mother who is a queen and a father who is a king. He could be the most wretched and vile person on earth, but this does not matter because he was born to the right family. Likewise, a person born to a peasant would “inherit” the status of peasant and could never rise to the rank of leader of the people.

The Shia would have us believe that the leadership of the Muslims is to forever be a hereditary kingship. The title of “Imam” is passed down by birthright. As such, the Imam’s bloodline is inherently superior to everyone else. The son of the Imam automatically becomes the future Imam simply because he was fortunate enough to be born to the right womb. The Shia say that Abu Bakr (رضّى الله عنه) has no right to the Caliphate because he was not related to the Prophet (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) and was not part of the Ahlel Bayt; they say that Ali (رضّى الله عنه) must be Caliph because he was related to the Prophet (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم). Likewise, they scorn Muawiyyah (رضّى الله عنه) because they say that he was born from the lineage of Abu Sufyan, and the Shia will never forget to mention this fact, as if this has any bearing on the nature of Muawiyyah (رضّى الله عنه).

The Shia adamantly believe that the leadership of the Muslims cannot go outside one lineage, namely that of the Prophet (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم). This concept of birthright is contrary to the spirit of Islam, which dictates that men work for their rank and position in this life, and that their lineage cannot possibly dictate their greatness. This would go against not only Islamic morals, but against our contemporary notion of fairness as well.

  • The Quran

Islam came and destroyed the concept of hereditary rank. The Quran declares that people are created inherently equal and differ only based on their Taqwa (piety):

“Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most righteous of you.” (Quran, 49:13)

The Quran repeatedly holds each individual responsible for his or her own conduct. The actions of one soul cannot affect another, neither positively nor negatively. To do so would go against the egalatarian spirit of Islam, and would instead be a reflection of Jahiliyyah custom in which people thought they would be saved based on their familial connections as opposed to their Taqwa. The Quran categorically declares that on the Day of Judgement a person’s familial connections will be cut off: “so now all relations between you have been cut off” (Quran, 6:94)

And then Allah says:

“…one soul shall not avail another” (Quran, 2:48)

And again:

“…one soul shall not avail another” (Quran, 2:123)

The Quran categorically states that no soul shall have an effect on another:

“…no soul benefits except from its own work, and none bears the burden of another” (Quran, 6:164)

And again, Allah repeats it “that no bearer of burden shall bear the burden of another–And that man shall have nothing but what he [himself] strives for” (Quran, 5:38-39)

As well as: “that every soul delivers itself to ruin by its own acts” (Quran, 6:70)

  • The Hadith

The Prophet (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) declared that people were born inherently equal “except by piety and good action (Taqwa). Indeed the best among you is the one with the best character (Taqwa). Listen to me. Did I convey this to you properly?…Each one of you who is here must convey this to everyone not present.” (Excerpt from the Prophet’s Last Sermon as in Baihiqi)

The Prophet (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) said:

“There are indeed people who boast of their dead ancestors; but in the sight of Allah they are more contemptible than the black beetle that rolls a piece of dung with its nose. Behold, Allah has removed from you the arrogance of the Time of Jahiliyyah (Ignorance) with its boast of ancestral glories. Man is but an Allah-fearing believer or an unfortunate sinner. All people are the children of Adam, and Adam was created out of dust.” [At-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud]

The Prophet (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) said further:

“Undoubtedly Allah has removed from you the pride of arrogance of the age of Jahiliyah (ignorance) and the glorification of ancestors. Now people are of two kinds. Either believers who are aware or transgressors who do wrong. You are all the children of Adam and Adam was made of clay… If they do not give this up (i.e. pride in ancestors) Allah will consider them lower than the lowly worm which pushes itself through Khara (dung).” [Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi]

The Shia are accusing the Prophet (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) of being a hypocrite; after all, how could the Prophet (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) praise and exalt his progeny and lineage whilst forbidding anyone else from glorifying their lineage?

  • Historical Examples

People should not be accorded special rights simply because they were born to the right womb. People should be judged on their Taqwa, not their birth. Bilal (رضّى الله عنه) was a slave, born to a slave woman, and today he is remembered as one of the noblest of Sahabah–despite his “lowly birth.” (He is also one of the few Sahabah that the Shia respect.) On the other hand, both Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab were from the same bloodline as the Prophet (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم), and yet they are the two people who Allah has promised Hell-fire for them.

And to take it even one step further: today, there are descendants of Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab who are highly religious Muslims, and will Insha-Allah enter Paradise. We do not think their lineages will any way hamper their greatness. Such a thing would run contrary to the egalatarian spirit of the Quran. And what about the example of Prophet Nuh (عليه السلام), in which his own progeny died as a Kaffir? And what of Prophet Ibrahim (عليه السلام) whose own father was a Kaffir?

Another interesting observation is that if Allah really wanted to exalt the lineage of Muhammad (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) in such a manner as the Shia do, then why was Ali (رضّى الله عنه) not the son of Muhammad (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم)?

  • Conclusion

The bottom line is clear: the womb a person is born to does not decide the status of the person in the eyes of Allah. On the contrary, the only thing which distinguishes people is their Taqwa. Hence, it is inconsequential that Ali (رضّى الله عنه) was related to the Prophet (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) and it does not boost his nomination to Caliphate over that of Abu Bakr (رضّى الله عنه). The fact that Abu Bakr (رضّى الله عنه) is not related to the Prophet (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) cannot possibly even be mentioned as a criterion for his rejection as Caliph. The birthright of Ali (رضّى الله عنه) or Abu Bakr (رضّى الله عنه) cannot be even one iota of the reason for their nomination as Caliph as this would be discrimination and bigotry, and Allah is not a bigot but rather he is “Most Just.”

It is discomforting that the Shia trace Imamah through bloodline in the same manner as a hereditary kingship. The title of Imam passes down through the blood, and the progeny are considered superior to everyone else based on their birthright. They are born Imams, and this is a rank given to them based on no effort on their own part. Regarding the Imam, the Shia Hadith in Al-Kafi says: “He possesses all virtues and worthy attributes without any striving on his part, and he is adorned with all lofty characteristics.” (al-Kulayni, al-Kafi, Vol. I, p.200) Source: http://al-islam.org/leadership/

Allah did not select people to become leaders based on their birth but rather instead He chose from amongst the people those of best of character and those with the most Taqwa. Taqwa is what defines a person’s rank and station on this earth. It would be completely unfair for Allah to decide rank based upon birth, as this goes against basic morality and ethics. Prophet Muhammad (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) was not the best of the humans because of his birth, but only because he was the best in Taqwa.

The idea that one lineage is superior to another runs contrary to the egalatarian spirit of Islam. The leadership of the Muslims cannot be confined to one family as the Shia claim it is, but rather it is open to any Muslim, namely the one who is most pious, regardless of his familial descent of which he had no control whatsoever.

Article Written By: Ibn al-Hashimi, www.ahlelbayt.com

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