Tuesday 24th of May 2022
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Ninth Lecture
The Twelve Imams

The Narrations Concerning the Twelve Imams

Having proved the issue of the Imamate and Caliphate of `Al¢(s), we now will discuss the Imamate of the other Imams.

A summary of our discussion is as follows:

There are numerous narrations recorded in the books of both Sh¢`ah and Sunni scholars which talk in general about the caliphate of “twelve caliphs and Imams” after the demise of the Prophet(s).

These narrations are recorded in the most famous sources of the Sunni scholars, such as ¯a¦¢¦ al-Bukh¡r¢, ¯a¦¢¦ al-Tirmidh¢, ¯a¦¢¦ Muslim, Sunan Ab¢-D¡w£d, Musnad A¦mad, and the like.

In the book called “Muntakhab al-Athar,” there are two hundred and seventy one narrations dealing with this issue; most of these sources are written by Sunni writers, the rest by Sh¢`ah scholars.

For instance, in ¯a¦¢¦ al-Bukh¡r¢, which is the most well-known source of the Sunnis, we can read the following: J¡bir Ibn Samara says: I heard the Prophet say:

يَكُونُ إثْنَا عَشَرَ أَمِيراً- فَقَالَ كَلِمَةً لَمْ أَسْمَعْهَا- فَقَالَ أَبِي إنَّهُ قَالَ كُلُّهُمْ مِنْ قُرَيْشٍ.

“There will be twelve commanders (princes, chiefs) after me”; then he uttered a sentence I could not hear; then my father said: the Prophet(s) said that all of them would be from Quraish.”([1])

In ¯a¦¢¦ Muslim, this same narration is recorded in the following manner: J¡bir says: I heard the Prophet says:

لاَ يَزَالُ الإسْلاَمُ عَزِيزاً إلَى اثْنَيْ عَشَرَ خَلِيفَةً… ثُمَّ قَالَ كَلِمَةً لَمْ أَفْهَمْهَا، فَقُلْتُ لأَبِي: مَا قَالَ؟ فَقَالَ: كُلُّهُمْ مِنْ قُرَيْشٍ.

Islam shall always remain respectable and honorable up to the time of the twelve caliphs and successors. Then the Prophet said a sentence I could not understand. Then I asked my father for an elaboration. He said the Prophet(s) had said: “all of them are from Quraysh”([2])

The eminent follower of the Prophet, `Abdull¡h Ibn Mas`£d, records in Musnad Ahmad: that the Prophet(s) was asked concerning his caliphs. He replied:

إثْنَا عَشَرَ كَعَدَدِ ُنقَبَاءِ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ.

“They are twelve Imams, like the chiefs of Ban¢-Isr¡’¢l who were twelve.”([3])

The Content of These Narrations

These narrations, in some of which Islam’s dignity is supposed to be dependent upon the twelve caliphs, and in some others the survival of Islam is said to rely on them and in others all the caliphs are said to be from the Quraysh and in yet others all the caliphs are said to be from Ban¢-H¡shim, are harmonious only with the Sh¢`ah ideology. The interpretation of these narrations is quite straightforward for the Sh¢`ah, whereas such an interpretation has created many paradoxes for the Sunnis.

Could the number twelve refer to the first four caliphs, the Umayyah caliphs and the Abbasid caliphs?

We know that the number of the first caliphs was not twelve; neither was that of those caliphs in addition to the Umayyads and the Abbasids. The number twelve would not match with all these previous caliphs put together.

Besides, there were individuals like Yaz¢d among the Umayyads, and Man¥£r Daw¡n¢q¢ and H¡r£n Rash¢d among the Abbasids, whose cruelty and injustice were known to everyone. They could never be identified as the Prophet’s caliphs; neither could they be referred to as means for the dignity or honor of Islam, they were simply outside these designations.

Besides, the number twelve only pertains to the Sh¢`ah twelve Imams. Now in the words of a distinguished scholar among the Sunnis, Suleiman Ibn Abraham Qanduz¢ °anafi in his book, called Yan¡b¢` al-Mawaddah, he says:

“Some scholars have said that there are well-known narrations which indicate the fact that the number of caliphs after the Prophet(s) was twelve. These have been narrated by a host of narrators. What could be drawn from this narration from the Prophet(s) is that these twelve successors were from his Household. This is because this narration could not be attributed to the first caliphs, since they were not more than four; neither does it refer to the Umayyads since they were more than twelve. Besides, all of them except for Umar Ibn `Abd al-`Az¢z, were cruel individuals and tyrants. Furthermore, in accordance with what `Abd al-Malik Ibn `Umar narrates from J¡bir Ibn Saharah, these twelve were among the Ban¢-H¡shim. The reason why the Prophet referred to the tribe from which the successors should come in a whispered tone was that some were not happy with the idea of a government of the H¡shemites. This narration does not cover the Abbasids, either, since their number was more than twelve. Besides, they did not act in accordance with the verse on mawaddah or love:

قُل لاَ أَسْأَلُكُمْ عَلَيْهِ أَجْراً إِلاَّ الْمَوَدَّةَ فِي الْقُرْبَى.

Say: I do not ask of you any reward for it but love for my close relatives. [Qur’¡n 42: 23]

Therefore, this narration implies that the twelve Imams only belong to the Household of the Prophet.

This is because they are superior to others due to their knowledge, their piety, and their family background; these people have inherited their knowledge directly from their great-grand father, i.e., the Prophet(s). This statement is confirmed by the narrations of Thaqalayn and numerous other narrations handed down to us by the Prophet(s).”([4])

It is interesting to note that in my discussions with some Sunni scholars in the °ij¡z, they presented me with a quite different interpretation of this narration. Their interpretation makes it clear to me why they have met with a dead-end. They told me,

“Perhaps by twelve caliphs is meant the first four caliphs plus eight others who would come later!”

Our point to make is the following:

What is wrong with accepting the interpretation that coincides with the twelve Imams of the Sh¢`ah and abandoning that interpretation which leads us astray?

Distinguishing the Imams by Their Names

The interesting point to note is the following:

In some of the narrations which have been handed down to us through Sunni scholars narrated from the Prophet(s), the names of the twelve Imams are explicitly mentioned with their names and characteristics.

Sheikh Sulaym¡n Qanduz¢, the distinguished Sunni scholar, in his book, called Yan¡b¢` al-Mawaddah, reports the following:

A Jew, called Na`thal, had the honor to meet with the Prophet(s). He asked the Prophet about his successors. The Prophet(s) introduced them in the following way:

إنَّ وَصِيِّي عَلِيُّ بْنُ أَبِي طَالِبٍ وَبَعْدَهُ سِبْطَايَ الْحَسَنُ وَالْحُسَيْنُ، تَتْلُوهُمْ تِسْعَةُ أَئِمَّةٍ مِنْ صُلْبِ الْحُسَيْنِ.

قَالَ: يَا مُحَمَّدُ، فَسَمِّهِمْ لِي.

قَالَ: إذَا مَضَى الْحُسَيْنُ فَابْنُهُ عَلِيٌّ. فَإذَا مَضَى فَابْنُهُ مُحَمَّدٌ، فَإذَا مَضَى فَابْنُهُ جَعْفَرٌ، فَإذَا مَضَى فَابْنُهُ مُوسَى، فَإذَا مَضَى فَابْنُهُ عَلِيٌّ، فَإذَا مَضَى فَابْنُهُ مُحَمَّدٌ، فَإذَا مَضَى فَابْنُهُ عَلِيٌّ، فَإذَا مَضَى فَابْنُهُ الْحَسَنُ، فَإذَا مَضَى فَابْنُهُ الْحُجَّةُ مُحَمَّدُ الْمَهْدِيُّ؛ فَهَؤلاَءِ اثْنَا عَشَرَ.

“My successor is `Al¢ Ibn Ab¢-±¡lib, then his two sons °asan and °usayn; then there will follow nine other Imams from his generation.

The Jew asked the Prophet(s) to call their names. The Prophet(s) replied: “When °usayn passes away, his son is `Al¢ and when `Al¢ passes away, his son will be Mu¦ammad and when Mu¦ammad passes away, his son will be Ja`far, then his son Moses, then Moses’ son will be `Al¢ and then his son Mu¦ammad. And when Mu¦ammad passes away, his son will be `Al¢. After `Al¢, his son will be °asan. Upon the death of °asan, his son will be Mu¦ammad Al-Mahd¢. These are the twelve Imams.”([5])

In the book, Yan¡b¢`, there is also another narration reported from another book, called “Kit¡b al-Man¡qib,” which has named the twelve Imams by their names and refers to the last Imam who is now in occultation but will someday rise and fill the earth with justice.([6])

Of course, the number of Sh¢`ah writers who have dealt with this narration is countless.

One Who Dies Without Having Known His Imam…

In a narration from the Prophet(s) recorded by Sunni scholars, we read:

مَنْ مَاتَ بِغَيْرِ إمَامٍ مَاتَ مِيتَةً جَاهِلِيَّةً.

“One who dies without having known his Imam, his death would be a death in ignorance”([7])

This narration vividly shows that there is a sinless Imam in every period of time who should be identified. Not recognizing him would place a person on the way of destruction.

Does the word Imam in this narration refer to leaders like those who are the heads of world governments, such as Genghis Khan, H¡r£n Rash¢d or puppet governors of different types?

No doubt, the answer is negative. This is because many political leaders are generally dishonest, tyrannical, sometimes affiliated to either the east or west and agents of foreign countries. Naturally, adopting them as Imams would send one to Hell.

Thus, it becomes clear that at every period of time, there should be an infallible Imam who should be identified and followed.

Of course, the veracity of the imamate of any Imam is possible not only through the above approach, but also through the confirmation handed down to us from the previous Imam about his successor and by observing their miracles.


In which books can narrations related to the twelve Imams of the Sh¢`ah be found?

What is the content of these narrations?

What are the unsuitable interpretations of these narrations?

Do the names of the twelve Imams appear in the narrations recorded by Sunni scholars?

What is another way to prove the existence of the twelve Imams?

([1]) ¯a¦¢¦ al-Bukh¡r¢, Section 9; Kit¡b Al-Amqam, p. 100.

([2])¯a¦¢¦ Muslim, Kit¡b Al-Im¡rah, the chapter of Annas Tia’ li Quraysh.

([3])Musnad A¦mad, Vol. 1, P 398.

([4])Yan¡b¢` Al-Mawaddah, P 446.

([5]) Yan¡b¢` Al-Mawaddah, P 441.

([6]) Ibid, P 442.

([7]) Almu`jam al-Mufahras li-Alf¡¨ al-¦ad¢th al-Nabaw¢, Vol. 6, P 302.

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