The Imam's Communication with the World of the Unseen
There are those to whom a gate is opened onto the treasuries of the unseen and who become aware thereby of certain hidden truths. This takes place by means of inspiration and illumination, for entry into that sphere by means of mental activity and ratiocination is completely impossible.
Such non-sensory and non-rational perception, made possible by flashes of illumination and inspiration, is a valid way of knowing reality, for although it might appear difficult to justify from the point of view of a mono-dimensional and materialist worldview, there is no scientific reason to deny it
Dr. Alexis Carrel is one of the well known scientists who assign a particular value to inspiration and gnostic perception, regarding it in fact as a divine gift This is what he says:
"Scientific geniuses, in addition to their great capacities for research and perceptive insight, also possess qualities such as illumination, by means of which they discern things that are hidden from others. They see connections between phenomena that are apparently unconnected and instinctively perceive the existence of unknown things. Thanks to their clear vision, they are able to read the thoughts of others, without recourse to their sensory faculties; to observe phenomena that are more or less distant, in terms of time and space; and to provide more definite information concerning certain things than that which is yielded by the senses.
"For one illumined in this sense, it is as easy to read someone's thoughts as to describe his face, and in fact it is misleading to use the words 'see' or 'feel' in connection with what passes through his consciousness, for he neither sees anything nor seeks it in a given place he simply knows it.
"Numerous are those people who under normal circumstances do not have this kind of illumined vision but have experienced it once or twice during their lives. It sometimes becomes possible for us to perceive the outer world by means other than our outer senses. There is no doubt that the mind can sometimes establish communication between two individuals over great distances, and instances of this type, the study of which is known to present day science as metasychics, have to be accepted just as they are. For they contain truths within them and present us with a dimension of human existence that is not yet properly known. It may be that one day the cause for the extraordinary perceptive powers of some people will become clear." 
The human spirit thus has means of communicating with the external world that lie beyond sensory and rational perception, and through the appropriate researches scholar's have come to accept that communication with the world of the unseen is not only possible for man, but a reality.
In just the same way that experience shows it to be possible to make contact with the external world in a dream and even to gain information concerning it, there is nothing to prevent our inner, spiritual faculties providing us with similar experiences while we are awake. This is an aperture that God has opened for His servants, permitting them to glimpse certain hidden mysteries and truths.
Given the fact that such a gift is bestowed on ordinary people, what is to prevent perfect human beings, such as the prophets and the friends of God who possess exalted qualities and attributes, from communicating with the world of the unseen and learning hidden truths, on a higher level and in a more extensive fashion than others, thanks to the depth of their devotion and inward purity?
One of the sources of the knowledge of the Imams is the inspiration that is bestowed on them by God's order; through communication with the world of the unseen, truths and realities become disclosed to them. There are numerous traditions bearing on this, confirming that persons chosen by God can indeed establish communication with the unseen and come to perceive a whole series of complex mysteries.
The inspiration that comes to the Imams initiating them into certain hidden concerns, is different from revelation, because the one who receives inspiration does not see the angel of revelation. However, the truths that are bestowed on the Imams help them greatly in expanding the scope of their vision and augmenting their cognitive abilities.
It needs to be added, of course, that the communication of the Imams with the world of the unseen is not unbounded, resulting in a complete awareness of all things unseen, or independent of God's infinite power; their relationship is with a specific zone or region of the unseen within boundaries set by God Himself. Given the inherent limitation of their knowledge and their dependence for it on divine power, they cannot attain that which is absolutely unknowable to all except God. However, since each of the Imams is the most perfect man of his age, thanks to his rank and luminosity, and a complete manifestation of the divine names and attributes, the Creator of the World, the Knower of the Unseen and the Manifest, discloses to them certain matters relating to the unseen, thereby broadening and deepening their vision and opening an aperture onto what otherwise remains hidden.
It is not possible for them to enter into contact with the world of the unseen independently, as is apparent from the traditions in which the Imams deny they have knowledge of the unseen; what is meant is that hey have no complete or absolute access to the unseen and Cannot gain any knowledge of it without God's will and permission.
In addition, the Imams received certain knowledge concerning the unseen that had been vouchsafed to the Most Noble Messenger peace and blessings be upon him and his family.
One of the companions of Imam al-Baqir, peace be upon him, asked him about the meaning of the verse: "None knows God's unseen realm except those whom He chooses from among His messengers." (72:26)
He replied: "I swear by God that Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, was one of those whom God desired to acquaint with the knowledge of the unseen. If God designated Himself as 'Knower of the Unseen,' this is because knowledge of certain matters is restricted to Him and hidden from His servants: things He predetermines in His knowledge before creating them and informing the angels of them, and which He then exercises His will to create or not to create. As for the knowledge of that which He both predetermines and wills to create, this is the knowledge that was conveyed to the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, and then to us." 
The Noble Qur'an declares with the utmost clarity that God Almighty gives knowledge of the unseen to chosen servants such as the prophets in various ages. The Immaculate Imams can also make contact with the world of the unseen whenever necessary by seeking God's aid and support and thereby gain access to knowledge they need.
This does not mean that the Imams made regular use of some inner force in order to make contact with the world of the unseen in the course of their daily lives to obtain supernatural support. For it is a fundamental principle that the Prophet and the Imams should not exhibit any fundamental difference from other human beings in their mode of life; ill taking decisions, they relied on their own judgement of matters as they appeared to be, and often consulted their companions. Their acts took place in accordance with their own will and choice and were based on knowledge acquired by conventional means. Like other humans, they were subject to all the duties and obligations of religious observance. The way in which they exercised their teaching and guiding function in society was not visibly different from that of others, as a result of which some people came to imagine that they were on the same level as ordinary scholars of religion.
Attention must also be drawn to the fact that awareness of the unseen world, in the sense of the foreknowledge of events that are bound to occur, neither has any effect on the actual course of events, nor enables the Imams to exert any control over the actions of others, nor implies any obligation on their part to attempt to do so.
The Imam's knowledge that a certain individual is about to embark on a certain course of action, in accordance with his own choice and free will, has not the slightest effect on that individual's decision, nor does it in any way serve to restrain him, thereby negating his free will. Knowledge of that which God has definitively decreed is simply a form of awareness of events that will come to pass; it does not create for the Imam any additional duty of either enjoining a given course of action or forbidding it
One of the companions of Imam al-Baqir, peace be upon him, relates that someone from Fars once asked the Imam whether he had knowledge of the unseen. He answered: "Sometimes knowledge of the unseen is granted to us, and sometimes it is not. God entrused some of His mysteries to Jibril, and he conveyed them to Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, who in turn informed of them whomsoever he wished." 
Someone once asked Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq, peace be upon him, whether the Prophet witnessed the hidden dimensions of the heavens and the earth, as Ibrahim did. He answered: "Yes, the Prophet saw those dimensions, and so does your Imam." 
On another occasion Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq also said:
"Whenever the Imam wishes to be informed of something, God informs him of it." 
"We are the administrators of God's affair, the treasures of His knowledge, and the repository of His revealed mysteries." 
"God's greatness requires that when He appoints a person as His proof to mankind He discloses to him the knowledge of the heavens and the earth." 
"If I were to meet with Musa and Khidr, I would tell them that I am more knowledgeable than both of them, and I would expound to them matters unknown to them. For they knew only what had been and what was, and they knew nothing of what would happen down to the Day of Resurrection, whereas we have inherited knowledge of all that from the Prophet." 
"I swear by God that knowledge of the first things and the last things has been bestowed on us." On hearing this utterance of the Imam, one of his companions asked him whether he had knowledge of the unseen. He answered: "Woe upon you that you find it necessary to ask such a question. We are fully informed of each drop of sperm in the loins of men and the wombs of women. Woe upon you; open your eyes, and let your hearts perceive the truth! We are God's proof, dwelling among His creation, but only the believer whose faith is as firm as the mountains of Tihamah has the ability to perceive this truth. I swear by God that if I wished I could inform you how many pebbles exist in the world, even though their number is constantly growing, by night and by day. I swear by God that after me you will rise up in enmity against each other until one group among you destroys the other." 
Imam al-Baqir, peace be upon him, said: "Once the Commander of the Faithful, 'Ali, peace be upon him, was asked about the extent of the Prophet's knowledge. He replied: 'He had the knowledge of all the preceding prophets; he knew all of the past and all of the future. I swear by God Who holds my soul in His hand that I know all that the Prophet knew, and that I know all of the past and all of the future, up until the Day of Resurrection."' 
Imam al-Baqir' peace be upon him, also said: "I am astonished at those who believe in following us and accept that obedience to us is equivalent to obeying God and the Messenger, but then contradict themselves and oppose us because of a sickness in their hearts. They underestimate us and object to those who fully appreciate our worth. Do you imagine that God would make it obligatory for His servants to obey us unless we had been given complete knowledge of the heavens and the earth and provided us with all we need to know for solving the problems people encounter?" 
Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq, peace be upon him, reported the Commander of the Faithful, 'Ali, peace be upon hmm, to have said: "God bestowed upon me nine distinguishing qualities that He gave to none other save the Prophet: He opened up for me channels of knowledge permitting me to know when every death occurs, when disasters descend, what are men's genealogies, and the decisive speech (that separates truth from falsehood); He permitted me to hook upon the world of the unseen, so that past and future events were unfolded before me; He perfected religion for mankind, completed His blessing for them, and accepted Islam for them as religion for them by appointing me as the holder of divine authority. and He instructed Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, to inform the people of all that. These are God's gifts to me, so may praise be given to Him alone." 
This is a selection from the very copious traditions on the subject that have been transmitted from the Immaculate Imams. Whenever the Imams deemed it a necessary part of their duty to proclaim truths from the world of the unseen, they made manifest matters that would otherwise have remained hidden.
The Sunni scholar Ibn Abi 'l-Hadid writes:
"When 'Ali, peace be upon him, invited people to ask him about the future, he was claiming neither divinity nor prophethood. What he meant thereby was that he had learned knowledge of the unseen from the Messenger of God. As for the predictions that he made we have tested and examined them all, and found them to correspond to reality, which is a proof of the accuracy of his words and the unique knowledge of the unseen that he possessed. For he said, 'I swear by God Who holds my soul in His hand that I have knowledge of the future and can tell you whatever you want to know."' 
There is a celebrated story about a certain Maytham al-Tammar, one of the close companions of 'Ali. One day, in the presence of a number of other people, 'Ali foretold the sad fate that was to overtake him in the following words:
"O Maytham, know that after my death you will be arrested and hung from the gibbet. On the second day your beard will be reddened with the blood of your nose and your mouth, and on the third day, you will be pierced with a spear, and you will go to the presence of your Lord. The place where this will occur is near the house of 'Amr b. Hurayth, and you will be the tenth person to die in that way, the only difference being that the gibbet from which you are hung will be shorter than the others. I will show you the tree from which it will be fashioned." Two days later, he showed Maytham the datepalm in question.
For days Maytham stayed close to that datepalm, which was situated in a quiet open space, immersed in worship and supplication. Every now and then he would look at the tree, murmuring to it: 'May God bless you, for I have been created for you, and you have been created for me."
Whenever he ran into Amr b. Hurayth he would say: "I am to be your neighbor, so take good care of me." Amr did not understand what he meant, so he asked him in surprise: "Have you decided to buy the house of Ibn Mas'ud or Ibn Hakam?"
Time passed, 'Ali was martyred, and Maytham's ordeal began. He was arrested and turned over to 'Ubaydullah b. Ziyad, who had been informed of Maytham's zealous devotion to 'Ali. Drunk with power, and intent on extinguishing the fire of belief in 'Ali's family, 'Ubaydullah asked Maytham: "What happened to your God?"
Unintimidated by 'Ubaydullah, Maytham replied: "He is setting a trap for the oppressors."'
'Ubaydullah said: "I hear he foretold your fate." "Yes," Maytham answered, and when 'Ubaydullah insisted on hearing the details, he continued: "My master 'Ali, peace be upon him, told me that you will hang me from the gibbet, and that I will be the tenth person you martyr in that fashion, and that my gibbet with be shorter than the others."
Full of anger, 'Ubaydullah told Maytham that he would deal with him in a manner other than that which 'Ali had foretold.
To which Maytham responded: "How can you oppose what he said? It was the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, who informed 'Ali what my fate would be, and he had been informed of it by Jibril, the trustworthy spirit and angel, who learned of it from God Almighty Himself. I know the exact place where I will be hung from the gibbet, and I know, too, that I will be the first Muslim in whose mouth a muzzle is placed."
AUbaydullah gave orders for Maytham to be imprisoned. While in prison, he came into contact with al-Mukhtar and told him that he would be set free and rise up one to day to avenge the death of Husayn b. 'Ali by killing 'Ubaydullah.
Not long passed before al-Mukhtar was indeed set free, while Maytham was brought once again before 'Ubaydullah. He ordered him to be hung from a gibbet fashioned from a datepalm near the house of Amr b. Hurayth, who immediately remembered what Maytham had told him and accordingly instructed his servant every night to sweep the area in front of the datepalm and to light a lamp there.
For as long as Maytham hung from the gibbet, the people would gather to hear him discoursing On the virtues of the Prophet's House, for love for the family of 'Ali had become intermingled with Maytham's faith. 'Ubaydullah was informed of the situation, and told that Maytham was humiliating and mocking him by his behavior. Accordingly, in a fit of rage, he ordered that a muzzle be placed in Maytham's mouth.
Maytham's fate proceeded to unfold just as 'Ali had predicted. On the second day that he hung from the gibbet, blood poured down from his nose and his mouth, and after all kinds of torture had been inflicted on that pious man, he was martyred with a thrust from a spear. Such was the painful end of that man of God." 
'Ali, peace be upon him, once said in a sermon after the Battle of the Camel was over and his army had entered Basra:
"I swear by God that this city of yours will be flooded so that your mosque will look like a ship floating on the waters; God will punish this city from above and below."
Commenting on these words, Ibn Abi 'l-Hadid writes:
"Basrah has been flooded twice up to now. One of the two occasions was during the caliphate of al-Qadir Billah when the waters of the Persian Gulf rose and flooded the town, and from all of its buildings only a part of the congregational mosque could be seen, in just the same way that 'Ali described it The whole city was destroyed, and many people perished." 
Imam Hasan b. 'Ali, peace be upon him, predicted that his wife Ju'dah would poison him, and he also told Imam Husayn, peace be upon him, that thirty people claiming to belong to the ummah of Islam would conspire to kill him and enslave his household and children. 
The Bani Hashim once decided to make Muhammad b. Abdullah the caliph and they convened a meeting for the purpose. Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq, peace be upon him, accepted their invitation to participate, but when Abdullah asked him to swear allegiance to Muhammad b. Abduhlah, he answered as follows:
"You and your sons Muhammad and Ibrahim will never be able to win the caliphate. The first person to seize it will be this person,"pointing to al-Saffah" followed by that person "pointing to al-Mansur" and then the caliphate will fall into the hands of the descendants of al-'Abbas. Matters with reach the point that even children will hold the office of caliph, and the counsel of women will be sought. As for your children, Muhammad and Ibrahim, they will both be killed." 
Imam, al-Baqir, peace be upon him, told his brother Zayd b. 'Ali, who was later hung from the gibbet in the Kannasah quarter of Kufah:
"Do not allow suspicious people to incite you, for they with be unable to ward off God's punishment from you. Be not hasty, for God does not conform Himself to the haste of His servants. Do not seek to outpace God (by acting prematurely), for difficulties and disasters will defeat and destroy you. I entrust you to God, O my brother, for you will be hanged at Kannasah." 
Shaykh Hurr al-'Amili writes: "The prediction made by Imam al-Baqir, peace be upon him, in this hadith is well-known and of indubitable authenticity."
According to Husayn b. Bashshar, Imam al-Rida, peace be upon him, said: "Abdullah al-Ma'mun (the 'Abbasid caliph) will kill his brother, Muhammad al-Amin." Husayn asked for clarification, and the Imam said: "Abdullah who is now in Khurasan will have Muhammad the son of Zubaydah put to death in Baghdad." 
Hudhayfah reports Imam Husayn b. 'Ali, peace be upon him, to have said the following:
"I swear by God that the Umayyads will decide to shed my blood, and 'Umar b. Sa'd will be the commander of their army."
Since the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, was alive at the time, Hudhayfah asked Husayn: "O grandson of the Messenger, has the Prophet informed you of this?" And Husayn responded that he had not. Then Hudhayfah went to the Prophet and informed him of what Husayn had said. The Prophet said thereupon: "What I know, Husayn knows, and wh at Husayn knows, I know." 
Abu Hashim, one of the companions of Imam al-'Askari, peace be upon him, says: "I wrote a letter to the Imam complaining about the hardships of prison, and in his reply he wrote that very same day I would perform the noonday prayer in my own home. When noontime arrived, I was indeed set free, and I performed the prayer in my own home." 
Khayran reports: "One day I went to see Imam al-Hadi, peace be upon him, in Madinah. He asked me what news I had of al-Wathiq. I told him that I had been al-Wathiq ten days earlier and that he had seemed to be in good health. The Imam remarked that according to the people of Madinah al-Wathiq had died, and he then asked about Ja'far. I told him that Ja'far had been imprisoned, under very harsh conditions. The Imam responded that Ja'far had been released and made caliph. Next he asked concerning Ibn Zayyat, and I informed him that Ibn Zayyat was busy taking care of people's affairs. He told me that such activity had proved harmful for Ibn Zayyat. After pausing a minute, the Imam continued: 'What God has foreordained must necessarily come to pass. al-Wathiq has died, and Ja'far has become caliph and put Ibn Zayyat to death.' I asked when all this had happened, and he told me, 'Six days after you left Baghdad."' 
Suwayd b. Ghaflah says: "One day when 'Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, peace be upon him, was delivering a sermon in the mosque at Kufah, a man got up and said: 'O Commander of the Faithful, when passing through the Wadi 'l-Qura I heard that Khalid b. 'Urfatah had died; beseech God that his sins may be forgiven,' 'Ali, peace be upon him, said: 'I swear by God that he is still alive, and will remain so until he leads an army of the misguided of which the flagbearer will be Habib b. Hammar.' Then somebody else got up and said, 'I am Habib b. Hammar; why do you say this of me even though I am one of your devoted companions and followers?' 'Ali asked him, 'Are you truly Habib b. Hammar?' 'Yes,' he answered. Then 'Ali said, 'I swear by God that you will indeed be the flagbearer of that army, and that you will enter the mosque of Kufah by this gate.' As he said this, he pointed to the Bab al-Fil (Elephant Gate)."
Thabit al-Thumali says: "I swear by God that I witnessed the whole event. Later I came to see that 'Ubaydullah b. Ziyad sent Amr b. Sa'd against Husayn b. 'Ali, peace be upon him, at the head of a vast army, which was commanded by Khalid b. 'Urfatah and had Habib b. Hammar as its flagbearer. They entered the mosque of Kufah through the Bab al-Fil." 
One of the remarkable events foreseen by the Commander of the Faithful was what happened to Rashid al-Hujriyy. When he was captured and taken before 'Ubaydullah b. Ziyad, he was asked: "What did 'Ali tell you I would do to you?" He replied: "That you would cut off my hands and feet and hang me from the gibbet."
'Ubaydullah exclaimed: "I swear by God that I will do the opposite of what 'Ali predicted to make it obvious that he was lying." So he commanded that Rashid be set free. But just as Rashid was about to leave the all, 'Ubaydullah gave orders for him to be brought back, saying the harshest punishment I can conceive for him is to cut off his hands and feet and to hang him from the gibbet." For he thought that this would help him to efface all trace of justice from society. 'Ubaydullah's orders were carried out, but Rash id continued courageously to voice his convictions.
Fury overcame 'Ubaydullah, and losing all self-control he gave orders for Rashid's tongue to be plucked out. When Rash id heard of this, he said, "This, too, is part of what 'Ali foretold for me." Then his tongue was cut out, and he was hung from the scaffold. 
These are a few examples of the stories that are to be found in books of history and tradition drawn up by compilers who lived at different places and in different periods. They compel any fair minded person to conclude that the Immaculate Imams were in communication with the world of the unseen and had the ability, with the permission of God, to gain knowledge of hidden truths whenever they wished.
 Alexis Carrel, Insan, Mawjud-i Nashinakhteh, pp. 135 ff.
 al-Kulayni, al-Kafi, Vol. I, p.256.
 Ibid., p.256.
 al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, Vol. XXVI, p. 115.
 al-Kulayni, al-Kafi, Vol. II, p.258.
 Ibid., Vol. I, p. 192.
 al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, XXVI, p. 110.
 al-Kulayni, al-Kafi, Vol. I, p.261.
 al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, Vol. XXVI, p. 27.
 Ibid., p. 110.
 al-Kulayni, al-Kafi, Vol. I, p.261.
 Bihar al-anwar, Vol. XXVI, p. 141.
 Ibn Abi 'l-Hadid, Sharh, Vol. II, p. 175.
 Ibid., p. 291.
 Ibid., p. 253.
 Hurr al-'Amili, Ithbat al-Hudat, Vol. V, p.147.
 Abu al-Faraj al-Isbahani, Maqatil al-Talibiyyin, p. 172.
 Hurr al-'Amili, Ithbat al-Hudat, Vol. V, p.266.
 Abu al-Faraj al-Isbahani, Maqatil al-Talibiyyin, p.298.
 Hurr al-'Amili, Ithbat al-Hudat, Vol. V, p.207.
 Ibid., Vol. VI, p.286.
 Ibid., Vol. VI, p.213.
 Ibn Abi'l-Hadid, Sharh, Vol. II, p.286.
 Ibid., Vol. II, p.294.
The Method of Choosing the Imam or Leader
One of the topics which have been constantly under discussion among Muslims since the very rise of Islam is the question of selecting the Imam or the Leader; it is in fact this question that brought about the division of the ummah into Shi'ah and Sunni.
The Shi'ah are committed to the principle that the right to designate the Imam belongs exclusively to God, and that the people have no role to play in this respect. It is the Creator alone Who selects the Imam and identifies him to the people by means of the Prophet.
The attachment of the Shi'ah to this understanding of the Imamate, and the attention they have Lavished on the belief that God and the Prophet alone may choose the Imam who serves as God's proof in each age, spring, however, from a profound respect for the rights and dignity of man.
In just the same way that prophethood implies a whole series of attributes and conditions, so too the office of the Imam, coming after the Prophet, must similarly be accompanied by certain qualities. This necessity arises from the fact that the Shi'ah refuse to accept as Leader of the community anyone lacking in the key qualities of justice, inerrancy, and perspicacity. A proper command of the religious sciences, an ability to proclaim God's Laws and ordinances and to implement them in society in the appropriate way, and, in general, to guard and protect God's religion none of this is possible in the absence of those qualities.
God is aware of the spiritual capacities, religious rank, and piety of the Imam, and in accordance with this awareness He knows, too, to whom the custodianship of religious knowledge should be entrusted: who it is that can carry this burden and not neglect for a minute the duties of summoning men to God and implementing divine justice. But quite apart from this aspect of the matter, the Shi'i understanding of the Imamate also reflects a lofty human ideal.
If we say that people have no right to interfere in the matter of choosing the Imam, it is because they cannot be adequately informed of the inner purity and piety of individuals, of the degree to which they adhere to the values of Islam and the Qur'an; above all, they cannot perceive the presence or absence of the divine principle of inerrancy.
It was therefore the prerogative of the Prophet to designate his successor, and of the Imam in each age to select and appoint Leaders.
If, however, a claimant to the Imamate was able to demonstrate ability to communicate with the unseen and to display inerrancy in his exercise of leadership, in a fashion akin to the miraculous powers of the prophets, then his claim might legitimately be accepted.
There are the methods proposed by the Shi'ah for recognizing and gaining access to the Imam; they form a set of criteria that prevented the true header of the Muslims in each age from remaining unrecognized.
The other approach to the matter is in stark contrast to that of the Shi'ah. Because there was a certain vagueness and ambiguity surrounding the consultative principle in its application to the question of leadership from the very beginning, the Sunni community resorted to a variety of methods for selecting and designating the caliph, so that in practice the following elements came to play an important role.
1: Consensus (ijma'). The Sunnis say that the choice of caliph rests first and foremost on selection by the community, so that if the ummah elects a given individual as its leader, he must be accepted as such and his commands must be obeyed.
As proof of this they cite the method followed by the Companions of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, after his death. Gathered together at the Saqifah to select a caliph, a majority decided upon Abu Bakr and swore allegiance to him; so that thereby he was recognized by consensus as successor to the Prophet without any objection being raised. This constitutes one method for designating a caliph.
2: The second method consists of Consultation and the exchange of views among the prominent members of the Muslim community. Once they agree among themselves on the choice of a leader for the community, his caliphate becomes legitimate and it is incumbent on everyone to obey him.
This is the method that was adopted by the second caliph. When 'Umar was about to die, he nominated six people as candidates for the caliphate and told them to select one of their own number as leader of the Muslim community by discussing the matter among themselves for not more than six days; if four or five people were able to reach an agreement, the opponent were to be disregarded. A six-man assembly was accordingly convened, and after the necessary deliberations the caliphate was awarded to 'Uthman. This, too, is said to Constitute a legitimate means of selecting the caliph.
3: The third method consists of the caliph nominating his own successor. This happened in the case of 'Umar, who was appointed caliph by Abu Bakr without any objection being raised by the Muslims.
Such, in essence, is the position of the Sunnis on this matter.
Let us now review the objections to which each of these proceedings is subject.
The necessity of the inerrancy of the Imam, of his possessing a firm grasp and a comprehensive command of all religious matters, in both principle and detail, is rooted in the Qur'an and the Sunnah, as well as being vindicated by historical experience. All the oppression, wrongdoing, corruption and error that we see in Islamic history arose from the fact that the leaders did not have the necessary qualities of an Imam. Even if all the members of the Islamic ummah choose a given individual as Imam and successor to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, this cannot ill and of itself bestow legitimacy and validity On his caliphate.
As for the caliphate of Abu Bakr, all the Muslims, in any event, did not swear allegiance to him, so there was no question of any true consensus being formed. It is also an undeniable historical fact that no real election took place, in the sense of all the Muslims who were scattered in various places converging on Madinah to take part in an electoral process. Indeed, not all the people of Madinah participated in the meeting where the decision was made, and some of the Prophet's Family and Companions, as well as some of those present at the Saqifah, refused to proclaim their loyalty to Abu Bakr.
Ali b. Abi Talib, peace be upon him, al-Miqdad, Salman, al-Zubayr, 'Ammar b. Yasir, 'Abdullah b. Mas'ud, Sa'd b. 'Ubadah, Abbas b. Abd al-Muttalib, Usamah b. Zayd, Ibn Abi Ka'b, 'Uthman b. Hunayf, as well as a number of other leading Companions, objected vocally to the caliphate of Abu Bakr and by no means concealed their opposition. How then can the caliphate of Abu Bakr be regarded as having rested on consensus?
It might be said that the participation of everyone in the selection of the successor to the Prophet is not necessary, and that if a number of leading and well-informed people reach a certain decision this is enough and entitles the caliph to acceptance and obedience.
However, why should their decision be binding on everyone else? Why should other reputable and outstanding figures, whose commitment and devotion were beyond all doubt, have been excluded from making a decision that was to have such far-reaching consequences for the fate of the Islamic ummah? Why should they submit unconditionally to a decision reached by others?
What proof is there for the legitimacy of such a procedure? Why should a historical event of this Type constitute a legitimate or binding precedent?
A procedure of this type can be regarded as legitimate only if it is explicitly designated as such in the Qur'an or the Sunnah, in the sense of the verse in which God declares: "Take and accept that which the Messenger ordains, and abandon that which he forbids." (59:7)
As for the Companions, there is no proof that they necessarily acted correctly, apart from which some of them disagreed with others, and there is no reason in principle to prefer the views of one group of the Companions over those of another.
It is true that a majority of the people of Madinah gave their allegiance to Abu Bakr and thus ratified his selection as caliph, but those who refused to do so did not commit any sin, for freedom to choose is the natural right of every Muslim, and the minority is not obliged to follow the views of the majority. No one can be compelled to swear allegiance to someone whom he does not wish to see at the helm of Muslim affairs or to join a compact he rejects.
When a majority does force a minority to conform to its own views, it violates the rights of the minority.
Now those Companions who were gathered around Ali, peace be upon him, were compelled to follow the majority that had given allegiance to Abu Bakr, even though neither God nor the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, had ordained any such act; it was therefore a clear violation of their rights and their freedom. Worse than this was the fact that Ali b. Abi Talib was forced to participate in the swearing of allegiance and to change his position, even though he was the one whom the Messenger of God had named an authority for every believing man and woman. No one with a sense of justice can approve such a denial of freedom.
It must also be said that Muslims of later generations who adopt a negative attitude to a granting of allegiance made by their ancestors cannot be condemned for this or regarded as sinners.
During the caliphate of Ali, people such as Sa'd b. Abi Waqqas and 'Abdullah b. 'Umar refused him their allegiance, but in his magnanimity the Imam left them free to do so and did not compel them to pledge him their obedience.
In addition to all this, if the caliph is not designated by the Prophet, no one can be forced to follow the mode of conduct prescribed by a caliph whose only claim to legitimacy is popular election. Such election does not bestow on him immunity from error and sin, nor does it enhance his religious knowledge and awareness. The ordinary believer retains the right of following someone other than the caliph, and this applies still more forcefully to the one whose level of religious learning is higher than of the caliph.
However, when allegiance is sworn in obedience to a command of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, this indeed counts as a swearing of allegiance to the Messenger of God himself; then no disobedience may be countenanced, and obedience to the one to whom allegiance is given is incumbent not only on the Muslims of that time but on those of all succeeding generations. In addition, the Qur'an regards allegiance given to the Prophet as equivalent to allegiance given to God. Thus the Qur'an says:
"O Messenger, the believers who swear allegiance to you have in reality pledged their allegiance to God; God's hand is placed on their hands. Whoever thereafter violates his oath of allegiance works towards his own perdition, and whoever remains faithful to the covenant he has concluded with God will soon receive from Him an abundant reward." (48:10)
It is self-evident that the successor chosen by the Prophet will be the most perceptive of men and the most knowledgeable concerning the ordinances of the Qur'an and the religion of God; in fact he will possess all the qualities of the Prophet with the exception of receiving revelation, and whatever command he gives will be based on justice and the implementation of God's laws.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, is related to have said: "My community will never agree upon an error." However, this tradition cannot be adduced with respect to the question of successorship for it would then contradict the commands of the Prophet and effectively cause people to disregard his words; it would permit them to prefer their own views to his. Whatever applicability it may have must be confined to cases where there is no clear or authoritative ruling from the Qur'an or the Sunnah.
What was intended by the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, was that the community would not agree upon an error in cases where the ummah is permitted by God to solve its affairs by mutual consultation, where such consultation takes place in an atmosphere free from intimidation, and where a given choice of action is unanimously approved. If, however, a certain group of people incline in a certain direction and then try to impose their views on others and compel their agreement, there is no reason to regard the outcome as representing a valid consensus.
As for the swearing of allegiance (bay'ah) that took place at the Saqifah even if God and the Messenger had given permission for the matter to be decided on the basis of consultation, no true consultation took place. A certain group of individuals set the agenda in advance and then expended great effort to attain the result they themselves wanted. This is the reality of the matter, as was even the second caliph himself came to acknowledge:
"The selection of Abu Bakr as leader came about by accident; it did not happen through consultation and the exchange of views. If someone invites you to follow the same procedure again, kill him." 
In the course of a sermon he delivered at the beginning of his caliphate, the first caliph apologized to the people in these words:
"The swearing of allegiance to me was a mistake; may God protect us from its evil consequences. I myself am fearful of the harm it may cause." 
buring his event-filled life, the Prophet of Islam, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, showed great concern for the welfare of the Muslims and paid great attention to the preservation of religion and the unity and security of the Muslim community. He feared greatly the emergence of division and disunity, and wherever the Muslims went and established their control, the first thing he did was to appoint a governor or commander for the region. Similarly, commanders were always appointed in advance whenever a battle was being planned, and even deputy commanders were appointed to take over the leadership of the army if necessary.
Whenever he set out on a journey, he appointed someone as governor to administer the affairs of Madinah.
Given all this, how is it possible that he should not have given any thought to the fate of the community after his death, to its need for a guide and a leader, a need on which the destiny of the community in this world and the hereafter depended?
Is it possible that God should send a messenger to guide men and to found a religion; that the messenger should endure all kinds of hardship and difficulty in order to convey God's commands to mankind, and that he should then quit this world without making any further provision? Would this at all be a wise or logical course of action?
Would any leader be content to entrust the fruit of his efforts and struggles to blind chance?
Messengerhood was a divine trust given to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, and he was far too exalted a personality to neglect that trust in any way, particularly by leaving its preservation to chance. Making the designation of his successor dependent on election would have been tantamount to precisely that, for the outcome of any election is always a matter of chance.
If the purpose of religion is to educate humans in their humanity and if the laws of religion are to promote the development and refinement of humanity, a leader must always exist together with the religion in order to secure the material and spiritual needs of the individual and the community and guide men in their upward progress. There can be no doubt that governmental power is needed in order to obtain the implementation of God's laws and the preservation of His commands, and this need implies in turn the necessity for a leader and guide who will assist men in their strivings and counteract their lack of full awareness and their vulnerability to satanic suggestion. In the absence of such a leader, religion will become muddied and distorted by superstition and arbitrary opinion, and the divine trust that is religion and revelation will be betrayed.
Furthermore, if the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, had left it to the Muslims to select the caliph, he would have done so with the utmost clarity and in the most categorical way possible, also specifying the procedures they were to follow in choosing and appointing him.
Are the affairs of the ummah after the death of the Prophet of no concern to God and His Messenger? Are the people more farsighted than God and His Messenger, or better able to discern who the leader should be?
If the Prophet did not appoint a successor (khalifah) to himself, why did Abu Bakr do so? And if the Prophet did do so, why was the one he selected pushed aside?
Another problem that arises with respect to the choice of caliph on the basis of mutual consultation is that the Imam must be the guide of the ummah in all matters of religious knowledge. No one can doubt that he must have in addition to faith and commitment comprehensive knowledge of God's laws, because in confronting the numerous and complex problems that arise the Muslims need a suitable authority to whom to turn for sure and reliable guidance. The successor to the Prophet must therefore be the heir to his knowledge, which makes the identification and recognition of the successor a matter of particular importance.
We have already explained the fundamental role of inerrancy ('ismah) in both the Prophet and in the leader (imam) designated by the Prophet. Now how can the Companions, who themselves lack inerrancy, take it on themselves to recognize one who is inerrant?
Furthermore, if it is the right of the Muslims that they should choose the successor to the Prophet, how can this right be restricted by 'Umar to a mere six people? All six were from among the Migrants, and not even a single one of the Helpers was assigned to advise them.
The verse: "The Muslims are to organize their affairs on the basis of mutual consultation" (42:38) serves only to indicate that one of the characteristics of the believers is to consult each other in their undertakings; it does not indicate in any way that leadership of the Muslims is to be based on majority vote, nor does it make incumbent obedience to the decisions taken by a caliph so elected. The verse does not even say anything about the way in which consultation is to be organized and whether or not the presence of all the Muslims is required.
Even if the consultative (shura) principle were to be applicable to the question of leadership, the decision would have to be made by means of a general exchange of views, not one restricted to a mere six people, in the selection of whom 'Umar did not see fit himself to consult with any of the Companions. He even awarded a veto to Abd al-Rahman b. 'Awf, who was well known for his wealth, something that cannot be justified by reference to Islamic principles. The deliberations of those six were, moreover, overshadowed by threats and intimidation, in that orders had been given for those who failed to agree with the majority to be put to death.
When appointing 'Umar to be caliph, Abu Bakr did not consult with anyone, nor obviously enough did he leave the question of his successor to the people for them to decide; it was entirely a personal decision on his part.
In any event, the consultative principle becomes operative only when the leader himself convenes a consultative assembly for an exchange of views on various questions, notably current topics touching on social relations and policies adopted by the leader in response to social need. Consultation with relevant specialists takes place, but after their opinions have been heard, it is the leader himself who takes the final decision. For his religious knowledge is superior to that of everyone else, and it is his pronouncements that enjoying public support are worthy of being put into effect. Unity of direction and leadership must at all times be preserved, because a divergence of opinion, in the absence of a leader making the final decision, will paralyze the government.
Thus the Qur'an says: "Obey God and the Messenger, and never be drawn into dispute and disagreement, lest you be defeated and your power be scattered to the winds." (8:49)
It should also be borne in mind that Surah al-Shura was revealed in Makkah, at a time when the Islamic system of government had not yet taken shape, and that at no time was the government of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, based upon consultation.
The verse concerning consultation is, then, a general encouragement of the believers to consult with each other, and it has nothing to do with matters of governance and leadership. It relates to practical concerns of the Muslims, to the various problems that confront the Muslims. There is absolutely no justification for interpreting the verse as sanctioning the designation of the caliph by means of mutual consultation, for during the age of revelation government was exclusively in the hands of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family.
Furthermore, the part of the verse recommending consultation treats of the desirability of spending one's property in God's path, which is also something desirable but not mandatory.
Yet another consideration is that the verse occurs in a context dealing with the wars of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family. Some of the verses are addressed to the Muslims in general and the warriors among them in particular, and others to the Prophet individually. It is plain that in this context the encouragement to consult is inspired by compassion for the believers, by concern for their morale; it is not that the Prophet is obliged to act in accordance with the opinions of those he consults. For the Qur'an clearly proclaims:
"Whenever you take a decision, place your trust in God and act in accordance with your own opinion and wish." (3:159)
This context also suggests that consultation applies to military matters, particularly to the concerns that arose during the Battle of Badr, for the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, consulted his Companions about the advisability of attacking the Quraysh trade caravan led by Abu Sufyan that w as returning from Syria. First Abu Bakr expressed his opinion, which was rejected by the Prophet; then 'Umar expressed his, which was likewise rejected; and finally al-Miqdad gave his opinion, and the Prophet accepted it. 
If the Prophet consulted with others, it was not in order to learn from them an opinion superior to his own as a prelude to acting in accordance with it His aim was rather to train them in the methods of consultation and the discovery of correct views. In contrast to worldly rulers who refused ever to consult ordinary people, because of their pride and arrogance, the Prophet was instructed by God to show the believers his concern and compassion for them by consulting with them, at the same time increasing their self-esteem and learning what they thought However, the final decision was always his, and in the case of the Battle of Badr, God informed him in advance of what the result would be, and he in turn conveyed this to his Companions after consulting with them.
The command to consult and to exchange views is also for the sake of finding the best way of fulfilling a given duty, not for identifying what is a duty and what is not; this is an important difference.
Once a clear and authoritative prescription exists in the Qur'an or the Sunnah, there is no ground for consultation to take place. Society has no right to discuss commands that are grounded in revelation, for in principle such discussion might result in the annulment of God's laws. In just the same way, consultation is meaningless in any human society once the legal duties of its members have been determined.
The successorship of Ali, peace be upon him, was clearly established by the Prophet in accordance with divine command at Ghadir Khumm, at the beginning of the Prophet's mission, and again when he was on his deathbed. There was therefore no issue needing to be settled by consultation.
The Qur'an does not permit individuals to entertain their own views on any subject where divine legislation exists, for it says: "When God and His Messenger determine a matter, no choice remains therein for any believing woman or man. Whoever turns away from the command of God and His Messenger has openly chosen misguidance." (33:36)
Or again: "God creates and chooses whatever He wishes, and men have no right to choose in opposition to His choice." (28:67)
Since the choice and selection of a leader is exclusively God's prerogative, and since in fact He designated a leader, it is meaningless to seek out others as possible leaders.
The task of the Imam is guiding men and demonstrating to them the path that will lead them to happiness. That being the case, the correct method for the selection of an Imam is the same as that which the Qur'an spells out for the prophets: "It is indeed incumbent on Us to guide mankind, for the kingdom of this world and the hereafter is Ours." (92:11-12)
It is then the responsibility of God alone to provide for the guidance of mankind and to make available to it whatever it needs at the various stages of existence. Part of what it needs is assuredly guidance, and only the one whom God has appointed may present himself as a guide. Numerous verses of the Qur'an bear witness that God bestowed the status of guide on the Prophet.
The appointment of an Imam as successor to the Messenger of God takes place for exactly the same purpose as the mission of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, which is serving mankind as a guide and exemplar to whom obedience is due. This being the case, no one has the right to lay claim to this function or to demand obedience without a proof of having been appointed by God. If someone nonetheless does do so, he will be usurping God's right.
The Sunni theory that sees in Abu Bakr's designation of his successor a justification for such a procedure is open to another objection. If the designation is made by an inerrant Imam, it is valid and authoritative, for one possessor of inerrancy can recognize another and safely entrust the affairs of the ummah to him. If this not be the case, one lacking the quality of inerrancy has no right to designate a caliph whom people are obliged to obey. If it be said that this is what Abu Bakr did and no one objected, it must be answered that severe objections were indeed raised, but no attention was paid to them.
Such are the views of the Sunni scholars concerning the legitimacy of three different methods of choosing the caliph, and the objections that need to be made to those views.
 Ibn Hisham, Sirah, Vol. IV, p. 308; al-Tabari, Tarikh; Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil; Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah.
 Ibn Abi 'l-Hadid, Sharh, Vol. I, p.132.
 Muslim, al-Sahih, "Kitab al-Jihad wa Sayr" Bab: Ghuzwah Badr, Vol. III, p.1403.
The Imamate of the Most Excellent
One of the questions that has been the subject of much discussion between Shi'i and Sunni scholars is the Imamate of the Most Excellent. The Sunni position is that if someone can be found to exist in the ranks of the ummah who is unequalled with respect to virtue, knowledge, and piety, someone less excellent than he may still legitimately become leader of the community and exercise the functions of successor to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family.
In order to prove their point, they cite the caliphate of Abu Bakr and 'Umar, and they maintain that although 'Ali b. Abi Talib, peace be upon him, was present at the time and his worthiness and perfection were far more apparent than those of anyone else, the Companions nonetheless selected Abu Bakr as successor to the Prophet.
The Shi'ah believe that the Imamate constitutes an extension of prophethood in its spiritual dimension. The one who after the death of the Prophet is to serve as an authority for the Muslims in their learning the ordinances and principles of religion, who is to settle newly occurring problems for which no precedent can be found in the Qur'an and the Sunnah, whose words are to be a decisive criterion such a one must indubitably be more excellent than all others in his virtues and perfections. When God selects someone as the teacher of humanity and the guide of the ummah, to expound His laws, to interpret the complexities of the Qur'an, and to defend the truth and develop the personality of the ummah, He entrusts this position to an exceptional and inerrant person who is utterly unique in his spiritual qualities, his outer and inner attributes, his communication with the world of the unseen. Such a person perceives the inner truth of things with his inner eye and is always oriented to the truth in such a way that his faith is never corrupted and his deeds never deviate from the right path.
The Imam is therefore the most excellent being of his time, the foremost of all his contemporaries. Imam al-Rida, peace be upon him, says the following concerning the distinctive qualities of the Imam:
"The Imam is utterly free of sin and pure of all fault. He is celebrated for his knowledge and his forebearance. His existence is a source of pride to the Muslims, of anger to the hypocrites, of perdition to the unbelievers. The Imam is unique in his age, in the sense that no one can attain his rank. No scholar can come within range of his knowledge, and he is unequalled in all his qualities. He possesses all virtues and worthy attributes without any striving on his part, and he is adorned with all lofty characteristics. This is a great gift bestowed on him by God in His generosity." 
 al-Kulayni, al-Kafi, Vol. I, p.200.