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Why is the station of Imamate [imāmah] higher than that of prophethood [nubuwwah]?

Why is the station of Imamate [imāmah] higher than that of prophethood [nubuwwah]?

Why is the station of Imamate [imāmah] higher than that of prophethood [nubuwwah]?

 

           

                                               

Reply: First, we will examine the precise meaning of three of the words we find in the Qur’an and the hadīth and these are: prophethood [nubuwwah], messengership [risālah] and Imamate [imāmah] so as to clarify why the station of imāmah is higher than each of the other two mentioned positions.

1. The station of nubuwwah

The word nabī [prophet] is derived from the word naba’ which means an important piece of news. Therefore, the literal meaning of nabī is “bearer of very important news” or “announcer of very important news”.[1] The word nabī which is equivalent to the English word “prophet” is used by the Qur’an to mean a person who receives divine revelation from God, the Exalted, through various means, and conveys to people the news revealed to him without the intervention of other human beings. Scholars define this word as follows:

.البشر من وساطة بلا الله من مؤدّ إنّه

“A prophet is a person who conveys the divine revelation to the people without the intervention of other human biengs.”[2]

On this basis, the nature of the duties of a nabī is confined to receiving revelation and conveying to the people what is revealed to him. The Glorious Qur’an says in this regard:

فَبَعَثَ اللّهُ النَّبِيِّينَ مُبَشِّرينَ وَ مُنْذِرينَ ﴿

“Then Allah sent the prophets as bearers of good news and as warners.”[3]

2. The station of risālah

In the lexicon of revelation, the word rasūl is referred to a prophet who, apart from receiving the revelation and conveying it to the people, shoulders the burden of conveying a divine message [risālah] and has the responsibility of delivering the message to the people. In this regard, the Glorious Qur’an says:

فَإِنْ تَوَلَّيْتُمْ فَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّما عَلىٰ رَسُولِنَا الْبَلاغُ الْمُبينُ ﴿

“But if you turn your backs, then know that Our Apostle’s duty is only to communicate in clear terms.”[4]

Therefore, the position of risālah is another station which is given to a nabī. In other words, each of the concepts of nubuwwah and risālah points to one of the peculiarities of the prophets who receive revelation from God in that they are called anbiyā’ (plural form of nabī) because they receive divine revelation and bear news. And they are called rusul (plural form of rasūl) because they have the responsibility of delivering the message [risālah].

From what have been stated so far, we can conclude that so long as prophets hold the position of nubuwwah and risālah, they are only guides who make known to people what is lawful [alāl] and what is unlawful [arām] and show them the ways to attain felicity and prosperity, and they have no responsibility except reporting what is revealed to them by God or delivering a message.

3. The station of imāmah

The station of divine imāmah, from a Qur’anic perspective, is different from any of the two stations mentioned earlier and it is identical with broader discretion and practice in the domain of administering the society and leading the people.

Now, in the light of the luminous Qur’anic verses, we shall introduce some clear proofs in this regard:

1. Concerning the bestowal of the station of imāmah on a revered prophet, viz. Ibrāhīm al-Khalīl (Prophet Abraham) (‘a), the Holy Qur’an thus states:

﴿ وَإِذِ ابْتَلَى إِبْرَاهِيمَ رَبُّهُ بِكَلِمَاتٍ فَأَتَمَّهُنَّ قَالَ إِنِّي جَاعِلُكَ لِلنَّاسِ إِمَامًا قَالَ وَمِن ذُرِّيَّتِي ﴾

“And when his Lord tested Abraham with certain words, and he fulfilled them, He said, ‘I am making you the Imām of mankind. Said he, ‘And from among my descendants?’”[5]

In the light of this Qur’anic passage, we realize two facts:

a. The quoted verse clearly states the difference between the concept of imāmah and that of each of the two concepts of nubuwwah and risālah because many years prior to a series of divine tests, one of which was the decision to sacrifice his own son (Ismā‘il), Ibrāhīm (‘a) attained the station of nubuwwah, and we will prove this fact in the following:

We all know that God, the Exalted, granted two sons (Ismā‘īl and Isāq) to Ibrāhīm (‘a) when he was old as he has been quoted by the Glorious Qur’an as saying:



[1] If the literal root of the word nabī is intransitive, then it carries the first meaning, and if it is transitive, then it carries the second meaning.

[2] Shaykh a-ūsī, Rasā’il al-‘Ashar, p. 111.

[3] Sūrah al-Baqarah 2:213.

[4] Sūrah al-Mā’idah 5:92.

[5] Sūrah al-Baqarah 2:124.

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