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Turbulent History of Imamah

  • The First Ten Imams
The cornerstone of the Shia faith is the belief that the spiritual and temporal leadership of this Ummah after the demise of the Prophet (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) is vested in the Imam, who is appointed, like the Prophet (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) himself, by Allah, and who enjoys all the distinctions and privileges of a Prophet.  (In fact, the Shia regard their Imams as superior to all of the Prophets aside from Prophet Muhammad [صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم])  

However, the Shia believe that Imamah, unlike Prophethood, can never come to an end. In this regard there is a well-known Shia hadith which says that “the world cannot exist without an Imam,” and another which says: ”if the earth were to be without an Imam for a single day, it would sink.”

Thus, when it came to pass that the first of those whom they regard as their Imams (Ali [رضّى الله عنه]) left this world, a problem arose. Some of those who regarded themselves as his followers claimed that he did not in fact die, but that he was in occultation and would return to establish justice. Others said that he was succeeded as Imam by his son Hasan (رضّى الله عنه), who was in turn succeeded by his brother Hussain (رضّى الله عنه).

When Hussain (رضّى الله عنه) died, there were some who claimed to follow his other brother Muhammad (known as Ibn al-Hanafiyyah) as their Imam. When he died, his followers claimed that he was in reality alive, in occultation, and that he will return in due time. Others amongst the Shia took Hussain’s son, Ali, surnamed Zayn al-Abidin, as their Imam, and upon his death transferred their loyalties to his son, Muhammad al-Baqir.

When al-Baqir died, there were once again elements from amongst the Shia who denied his death and claimed that he would return one day, while others took his son Jafar as-Sadiq as their Imam.

When he died, there was mass confusion amongst the Shia: each of his sons (Ismail, Abdullah, Muhammad, Zakariyya, Ishaq and Musa) were claimed by various groups amongst the Shia to be their Imam. In addition to them, there was a group who believed that Jafar did not really die, and that he would return one day.

More or less the same thing happened at the death of his son Musa. Some of the Shia denied his death, believing that he will return, and others decided to take as their new Imam one of his sons. Some of these chose his son Ahmad, while others chose his other son Ali ar-Rida.

After him, they took as their Imam his son Muhammad al-Jawwad (or at-Taqi), and after him his son Ali al-Hadi (or an-Naqi). At the death of Ali al-Hadi, they looked upon his son Hasan al-Askari as their new–and 11th–Imam.

 

  • Death of the Eleventh Imam

Six years later, in 260 AH, Hasan al-Askari, at the very young age of 28, is lying on his deathbed, but unlike any of his forefathers, he leaves no offspring, no one to whom the Shia might appropriate as their new Imam.

The Shia who had been regarding Hasan al-Askari as their Imam were thrown into mass disarray. Would this mean the end of the Imamah? The end of the Imamah would mean the end of Shi’ism and the Shia were surely not ready for this.

The confusion that reigned amongst the Shia after the death of Hasan al-Askari is reflected by the Shia writer Hasan ibn Musa an-Nawbakhti (who was alive at the time), who counts the emergence of altogether fourteen sects amongst the followers of Hasan al-Askari, each one with a different view on the future of the Imamah and the identity of the next Imam. Another Shia writer, Saad ibn Abdullah al-Qummi, who also lived during the same time, counts fifteen sects, and a century later the historian al-Masudi enumerates altogether twenty separate sects.

There were four major trends amongst these various sects:

(1) There were those who accepted the death of Hasan al-Askari as a fact, and accepted also the fact that he left no offspring. To them, Imamah had thus come to an end, just like Prophethood came to an end with the death of Prophet Muhammad (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم). However, there were some amongst them who kept hoping for the advent of a new Imam.

(2) The second trend was to deny the death of Hasan al-Askari, and to claim that he would return in the future to establish justice upon earth. This idea of occultation of the Imam is used by the Shia of various sects whenever it is convenient.

(3) The third trend was to extend the chain of Imamah to Hasan’s brother Jafar.

(4) The fourth trend was the claim that Hasan al-Askari did in fact have a son, but that the son went into occultation.  The Ithna Ashari Shia (i.e. Twelvers) are from this group.

 

  • Multitude of Shia Sects

Throughout the history of the Shia, there have been dozens upon dozens of sects, each claiming another lineage for the Imamah.  And at each turn, either the Imamah goes to a son, a brother, or if not any of these, then the Imam must have gone into occultation; at each step, there are more schisms and consquently more Shia sects. Because of this, there have been somewhere near one hundred or even more sects of Shi’ism. Today, there are dozens of existing Shia sects (Druze, Bohras, Nizaris, Zaydis, Jarudis, Sulaymanis, Butris, Ismailis, Kaysaniyyas, Qaddahiyyas, Ghullat, Aga Khanis, Usoolis, Imamis, Shaikis, Akhbaris, etc) but it should be remembered that for each sect in existence today, there are dozens more which died out. There are fiver, sixer, sevener, niner, elevener, twelver, fourteen-er Shia.

In Shia belief, it is Kufr (disbelief) to falsely ascribe Imamah to an individual who is not really the Imam.  As such, each Shia sect looks down upon the other Shia sects as Kufaar (disbelievers) since they follow a different chain of Imamah.  An unbiased outsider would no doubt find this amusing, but the Ithna Ashari Shia is adamant when he looks down on Ismailis, Aga Khanis, Bohras, Druze, and other Shia sects, unable to see the same inaneness about himself.  In their own circles, the Ithna Ashari Shia scoff at Ismailis and look at them as a silly minority of heretics.  Little do these same Ithna Ashari Shia realize that the vast majority of the Ummah (namely the Ahlus Sunnah) looks down upon the Ithna Ashari Shia in the same way.  Shi’ism is simply a collection of heretics of every different color.

Even the way a Shia has to identify himself is reflective of the number of sects at every turn: the Shia must describe himself as not just an Ithna Ashari but rather as Ithna Ashari Imami Usooli Jaffari Shia.

Twelver Ithna Ashari Shi’ism was never the predominant sect of Shi’ism like it is today;  it was as marginal as the rest of the Shia sects.  The only reason that the Twelver Ithna Ashari Shia have become so predominant is simply because of the actions of one man: Shah Ismail I, ruler of the Safavid Empire. He converted to Ithna Ashari Shi’ism because he wanted to oppose the dominant Ottoman Empire which was Sunni. So Ismail I made Ithna Ashari Shi’ism the official state religion and forced the entire Persian population to convert to Shi’ism or accept the penalty of death. This was the Shia Inquisition against the Sunnis of Persia, who made up the majority of the population in Persia up until this point.

If it had not been for Shah Ismail I, the Ithna Ashari sect would have died out just like the other dozens of Shia sects died out; or at most, it would have been a marginal sect like all the other obscure Shia sects (including Ismailis, Druze, Bohras, etc).  Had Shah Ismail I converted to the Druze Shia sect, then the majority of Shia today would be Druze.  It was simply chance that the Ithna Ashari sect became the dominant Shia sect;  had Shah Ismail I not been born, then the chances are that the majority of Shia alive today would not be Ithna Ashari.

Despite the multitude of Shia sects, they are the same:  they are all false religions which use their fabricated Hadith to justify their own Imams. These Shia criticize the Sunnis for not following the Imams, but they themselves can’t agree on who the Imam is! How fickle are the Shia that they can attribute divine appointment at whim!

The truth is that there is no such thing as Imamah, and the Doors of Prophethood have forever been closed with the Prophet Muhammad (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم). There is nobody after him, and anyone who claims this is a Dajjal. The last Prophet was Muhammad (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) and his name was mentioned in the Quran. Where are these other so-called Infallible Imams in the Quran? Why did Allah not include them? Certainly that would have cleared up the mass confusion amongst the various Shia sects. Will the Shia then not understand the folly in their ways and how far they have strayed away from the Quran? 

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