Thursday, August 8, 2013

Imamate in The Quran

As you are aware, this khutbah comes to you from reality and from reality. This is no hypothetical presentation and it is not a reaction to the events that are taking shape around us. In this frame of reference you are aware that? Muslims are in the grip of a type of revival and in this context there is the issue of leadership. It's a legitimate issue, it's a nagging issue and as much as it's an important and central issue, it seems to have been approached from the extremes- either extreme negligence or extreme hyperbole. Our attempt here, in this set of circumstances- the people in Egypt as an example are trying to define or mould a leadership and they're going through ups and downs and forwards and backwards as they are doing that; the people in Tunisia have an Islamic leadership that makes frequent visits to the United States and other places in Europe (and) we don't know if they're looking for solutions in democracy or they are looking for crutches in what is supposed to be their reliance in Allah in these particular matters; (and we can't go through all of the instances that we have), but we have also now the Islamic leadership in the Islamic state in Islamic Iran that has withstood the test of time, the internal intrigue and the ferocious foreign intrusion into its internal affairs via wars, via hypocrites, via fifth columnists- you name it- in this arena there is an issue of leadership as we said. Leadership simply transferred into the Qur'anic Arabic language is Imamah and it is mentioned about twelve times in the Qur'an. The Imamah or Imam or A'immah is mentioned about twelve times in the Qur'an. At least one of these times the word has a negative connotation and because this concept has been sidelined to the extreme by those who fashion themselves as Sunnis and because it has been centralised to the extreme by those who fashion themselves as Shi'is. We think we should visit this issue in a thoughtful manner so we're going to have to quote these twelve ayaat in the Qur'an some what briefly where this concept is evoked.

The first one is in Surah Al Hijr ayah seventy nine- Allah says in reference to two societies, the society of Prophet Shuayb (alayhi as salaam) and the society of Prophet Lut (alayhi as salaam)
We, (meaning divinity or Allah), took revenge upon them- these two societies are of a certainty in a position of illustrious or instructive leadership.  (Surah Al Hijr verse 79)
As we said in one of the khutbahs before, when it comes to this word the aspect of ta'wil which is the primary meaning of the particular word Imam in this context (and) in those societies in the circumstances of those times- so Imam here according to some Muslims, (and we're trying to be open minded about this and looking at the broad range of explanations), means a record in the form of a book or a ledger so the meaning of the ayah becomes .
These two societies occupy a leading position that illustrate a lesson of guidance to those who follow.  (Surah Al Hijr verse 79)
Remember, these are societies that are at the front pages of Prophetic history so they are at a teaching (or) leadership position to societies that shall follow.

Then another ayah, number twelve in Surah Yasin- a surah that most Muslims read, especially at times when someone passes away. Allah is speaking of His ability and His power.
And everything we have taken count of… (Surah Yasin verse 12)
Once again, the word Imam to some Muslims means a register or a ledger or a book of accountability.
And everything we have taken count of in a register or book or ledger. (Surah Yasin verse 12)
But then, another meaning of this word in this ayah, (and the previous ayah), is
And everything pertaining to individuals and societies we have taken count of in reference to their leadership preference. (Surah Yasin verse 12)
As you may follow, in the explanation of these ayaat there's no contradiction. Its contradiction that begin to generate distances between Muslims but when there's no contradiction why should there be any distances among Muslims?

The most quoted ayah when it comes to Imam that many Muslims are some what familiar with is ayah one hundred and twenty four in Surah Al Baqarah. Allah says to Ibrahim (alayhi as salaam)
I am for sure developing you into an Imam or a leader for people; Ibrahim replies- and of my descendants, (meaning), will you have my descendants also be leaders? (Surah Al Baqarah verse 124)
Allah's answer to Ibrahim was
… My promise to you or My trust pertaining to this leadership shall not be acquired by Adh Dhalimeen. (Surah Al Baqarah verse 124)
Here, the word Imam has a consensual meaning. All Muslims whatever their school of thought, agree that Imam here means leader- positive leader, guiding leader, legitimate leader. (We think that if we go on like this it's going to consume a lot of time. We took three out of twelve ayaat therefore for the sake of time we're going to have to be picky and choosy about some of these ayaat).

In Surah Al Isra', ayah number seventy one Allah says
On that day of accountability and judgement We, (meaning Allah), will call forth every community of people in accordance to their Imam. (Surah Al Isra' verse 71)
Here the Muslim mind goes two ways in understanding Imam here. Either it's the Imam or the leader of their reference book, meaning their scripture, i.e. those who consider the Qur'an to be their guidance and their leadership We will call them forth and those who consider the Injeel or the Gospel to be their leader we will call them together etc. and so forth; but then the other more particular meaning is
We will call forth for judgement every community of people in accordance to the leadership that they designated for themselves. (Surah Al Isra' verse 71)
Once again, we don't have conflicting meanings (but) because in some of the people's minds today the issue of Imamah becomes almost an exclusionary issue, (i.e.) "I have my understanding of Imamah or Imam therefore if another Muslim doesn't have my understanding of it there's supposed to be some distance." We don't know where this distance comes from but they place a distance between them and the other Muslim where in their understanding of the same ayaat there is no distance. There's a difference of ta'wil or there's a difference of prioritizing the meaning but that doesn't mean there's a distance.

Then, in Surah At Tawbah, ayah number twelve we encounter an ayah that takes away from the over worked exaggeration of the word Imam or A'immah. In some people's minds this word has the connotation of the inference of ismah to it. If someone says Imam then a particular group of people think Imams then Ma'sums. Listen to this ayah. For those who have that type of thinking, we invite you to listen to read this ayah in which Allah- who's words are infallible and who's words are the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth- Allah says to you and to me and to all committed Muslims
Wage war against the Imams of kufr... (Surah At Tawbah verse 12)
A'immah is the plural of Imam. So Allah is telling us that kufr has its Imams. So for those who are locked into a certain definition of Imams we invite you to take a closer look at the wording of the wahy, at Allah's very ayaat.
… for they certainly cannot be trusted or they have no trust to them; it may be that in this method of dealing with them they may cease doing what they do. (Surah At Tawbah verse 12)

Just in case someone says "that's just one ayah in the Qur'an…" OK- there's another ayah in Surah Al Qassas, ayah number forty one. Surah Al Qassas is basically concentrating on the clash of wills between Musa (alayhi as salaam) and the Pharoah (or) between Bani Isra'eel and the Pharoany system. Allah says
And We have rendered them A'immah who invite to the fire or Jahannum … (Surah At Tawbah verse 12)
Imams, leaders to Jahannum?! This doesn't sit well with some people who have not developed the Qur'anic understanding of life issues.
… and on the day of resurrection they have no help and no victory … (Surah At Tawbah verse 12)

So these are some of the ayaat that deal with the concept of Imamah. (As we said we had to exclude some ayaat simply because the time doesn't permit). So after you go through these ayaat, (you can go to any concordance and look at the ayaat in the Qur'an), one thing whatever ta'wil you may have in mind, you get the unmistakable impression and understanding that leadership is an important aspect of living a wholesome and fulfilling Islamic life. Now we come to the more particular issue that grinds down into a clash of concepts between those who think of themselves as Shi'i Muslims and those who think of themselves as Sunni Muslims.

So when we are looking at these two communities of Muslims in the world, (i.e.) the Sunnis and the Shi'is, there are some difficulties in surmounting some particular concepts pertaining to Imamah or leadership. There's no time to go into detailing these ideas or these conceptualizations but one of them is the concept of ismah, i.e. the leader is ma'sum or infallible. This has a historical portion to it when you speak about twelve Imams and it has a contemporary to it. There are none of these twelve Imams now who have political practical authority so why should there be an argument among Muslims when right now you and I, whatever our Islamic background information is cannot point to a particular person in that traditional explanation of the word Imam. This is not a Qur'anic explanation but in this traditional or historical explanation and say "look this is the Imam. He's on this city. He's that person. I can see him. I can hear him." It doesn't exist!

There's an issue of an nass, i.e. "that the Imam's are appointed by a divine statement either coming from the Prophet to begin with or coming from the Imams that followed him." OK- if there is a nass that is applicable in our time- present it. Other Muslims want to know. Come forth (and) tell us where is this nass in our day and in our time. For those who don't have a nass, (we're saying this because there's no time to explain it but we're dropping it for reference purposes), there's what is called walayat al faqih. We don't want to get into the internal sensitivities of this issue between those who affirm walayat al faqih and they have their own references and they have their own reasons for it and those in the Shi'i context, (we're not speaking about Sunnis here), who take issue with it and they quote certain of these historical references and they go on and on. 

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