Imam or leader is the title given to a person who takes the lead in a community, in a particular social movement or political ideology, or in a scientific and/or a religious form of thought. Naturally, because of his relation with the people he leads, he must conform his actions to their capabilities in bout important and secondary matters. As is clear from the preceding chapters, the sacred religion of Islam takes into consideration and gives directives concerning all aspects of life for all men. It investigates human life from the spiritual point of view and guides man accordingly; and it intervenes on the plane of formal and material existence from the point of view of the life of the individual.
In the same way, it intervenes on the plane of social life with its regulations (i.e., on the plane of government). Thus, the imamate and religious leadership in Islam may be studied from three different perspectives: From the perspective of (1) Islamic government, (2) Islamic sciences and injunctions, and (3) Leadership and innovative spiritual guidance. Shi`ism believes that since the Islamic society is in dire need of guidance in each of these three aspects, the person who occupies the function of giving that guidance and is the leader of the community must be appointed by God and the Prophet. Naturally, the Prophet himself was also appointed by Divine Command.
The Imamate and Succession
Man through his God given nature without doubt realizes that no organized society, such as a country or city or village or tribe or even a household consisting of a few human beings, can continue to subsist without a leader and ruler who puts the wheel of the society in motion and who will govern each individuals will and induces the members of that society to perform their social duty. Without such a ruler the parts of this society would disperse in a short period of time, causing disorder and confusion to reign. Therefore, he who is the ruler and governor of a society, whether it be great or small, if he is interested in his own position and the continued existence of his society, will appoint a successor for himself if he is to be absent from his rule temporarily or permanently.
He would never abandon the domain of his rule, which would be oblivious to its existence. The head of a household who bids farewell to his household, upon a journey for a few days or months, will appoint one of the members of his household or someone as his successor and will leave the affairs of the house in his hands. The head of an institution, the principal of a school, or the owner of a shop, if he is to be absent even for a few hours will select someone to represent him. In the same way, Islam is a religion which according to the text of its Holy Book and the Sunnah is established upon the basis of the primordial nature of things. It is a religion concerned with social life, as has been seen by every observer near and far.
The special attention God and the Prophet (PBUH) have given to the social nature of this religion can never be denied nor neglected It is an incomparable feature of Islam. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) was never heedless of the problem of forming a social group this was so since the beginning of Islam’s influence in Arabia. Whenever a city or village fell into Muslim hands he would, in the shortest time possible, appoint a governor or ruler in whose hands he would leave the affairs of the Muslims. In very important military expeditions in the Holy wars (Jihad) he would appoint more than one leader and commander. In the war of Mu’tah he even appointed four leaders, so that if the first were killed the second would be recognized as the leader, heading his command. And if the second was killed, then the third would be leader, and so on.
The Prophet also displayed great interest in the problem of succession and never failed to appoint a successor when necessary. Whenever he left Medina he would appoint a governor in his own place. Even when he migrated from Mecca to Medina and there was not, as of yet, any idea as to what would happen; yet still, order to have his personal affairs managed in Mecca for those few days, he appointed Ali (may peace be upon him) as his successor. In the same way, after his death Ali was his successor in matters concerning his debts and personal affairs.
The Shi`ites claim that for this very reason it is not conceivable that the Prophet (PBUH) should have died without appointing someone as his successor, without having selected a guide and leader to direct the affairs of the Muslims and to turn the wheels of the Islamic society. Man’s primordial nature does not doubt the importance and value of the f and that the existence and continuation of that society depend upon a just government which agrees to carry out these regulations completely.
This fact is such that anyone possessing intelligence would not neglect or forget it. At the same time one can doubt neither the breadth and detailed nature of the Islamic Shari’ah, nor the importance and value the Prophet (PBUH) attached to it; thus, he made many sacrifices for its application and preservation. Nor can one debate the mental geniuses and perfection of intelligence or perspicacity of vision of the Prophet (PBUH) (beside, this fact is confirmed by revelation and prophetic narrations).
According to established traditions in both Sunni and Shi’ite collections of hadith (in the chapter on temptations and seditions and others) it is transmitted from the Prophet (PBUH) that he foretold seditions and tribulations that would entangle the Islamic society after his death and that corruption would penetrate the body of Islam until (a later time) worldly rulers who would sacrifice this pure religion for their own impure and unscrupulous ends. So, how is it possible that the Prophet (PBUH) would neglect to speak of the details of events and trials of years or even thousands of years after him, and yet would neglect the condition had to be brought into being most urgently after his death? Or that he should be negligent and consider as unimportant a duty that is on the one hand simple and evident and on the other significant to such a degree?
How could he concern himself with the most natural and common acts such as eating, drinking and sleeping and give hundreds of commands concerning them, yet remain completely silent about this important problem and not appoint someone in his own place? Even if we accepted the hypothesis (which Shi’ism does not accept) that the appointment of the ruler of Islamic society is given by the Shari’ah to the people themselves, still it would be necessary for the Prophet to give an explanation concerning this matter, He would have had to give the necessary instruction to the community so that they would be aware of the problem upon which the existence and growth of Islamic society and the life of religious symbols and observances depended and relied.
Yet there is no trace of such a prophetic explanation or religious instruction. If there had been such a thing, those who succeeded the Prophet and held of power in their hands would not have opposed it. Actually, the first caliph transferred the caliphate to the second by bequest. The second caliph chose the third caliph through a sis-man council of which he was himself a member and whose order of procedure he had himself determined and ordered.
Mu’awiyeh forced Imam Hassan to make peace and in this way carried away the caliphate after this event the caliphate was converted into an hereditary monarchy. Gradually many religious observances identified with the early yeras of Islamic rule (such as holy war, commanding what is lawful and prohibiting what is forbidden, the establishment of boundaries for human action) were weakened or even disappeared from the political life of the community, nullifying in this domain the efforts of the Prophet of Islam.