(Draft Article) Twelver Shias, Prophet Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) and Verse 2:124 – An Analysis of Tabatabai’s Arguments

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By MuslimAnswers.net Team

بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيم

We received a question from a person leaning towards Twelver Shiaism who wished to know what the Ahl-us-Sunnah makes of Prophet Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) and Verse 2:124- or more concisely, what the Ahl-us-Sunnah make of the Twelver Shia claim that this Verse provides one of the strongest proofs for their concept of Imamah.  The Verse under discussion says:

وَإِذِ ابْتَلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ رَبُّهُ بِكَلِمَاتٍ فَأَتَمَّهُنَّ ۖ قَالَ إِنِّي جَاعِلُكَ لِلنَّاسِ إِمَامًا ۖ قَالَ وَمِنْ ذُرِّيَّتِي ۖ قَالَ لَا يَنَالُ عَهْدِي الظَّالِمِينَ

When his Lord put Ibrahim to a test with certain Words, and he fulfilled them, He said, .I am going to make you an Imam for the people. He said, And from among my progeny? He replied, My promise does not extend to the unjust.


The question that was asked is: “Do you believe Abraham was given the right to be an Imam after he had already attained prophethood?”

We were provided with a link to the Shia scholar Allamah Muhammad Hussayn Tabatabai’s interpretation (Tafsir al-Mizan)[1] and told to respond to this matter.

In answering this question, we believe it is best if we tackle Tabatabai’s interpretation and point out its flaws in relation to the claim that this Verse proves an “Infalible Imamah” in general and for Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) in particular. After all, the questioner relied on this interpretation in order to pose the question. Thus, by breaking down the problems present in this Tafsir, we can go a long way towards both answering the question presented to us as well as many other questions that may pop up in the minds of many people in regards to this Verse. Also, we believe that among the Twelver Shia Tafsirs available, Tabatabai’s tries the utmost to tie this Verse with the Shia concept of Imamah, and any objection to the Shia understanding of this Verse without considering this Tafsir will be incomplete.

Tabatabai’s viewpoint is that Imamah in this Verse refers to “Divinely appointed Imam”, while we disagree, and say that an analysis of the Verse based on the postulates forwarded by Tabatabai himself shows that it cannot possibly be what the Shias wish for it to mean, but that is rather refers to a general type of leadership that is not tied to any divinely created position or rank.

To begin, we have to point out that the Imamah doctrine is the fundamental point of divergence between the Ahl-us-Sunnah and the Twelver Shias.  Whoever is under the impression that the differences between us are how historical matters are interpreted may not understand the matter totally.

To make an analogy with the Christians, we will readily admit that we do have a number of historical differences with them regarding certain issues. However the main reason why these historical matters come up to begin with is because we radically differ with them on key theological points – such as whether it is God incarnated into this world- and any historical differences stem from this matter. Thus, with the Twelver Shias the matter is somehow similar, in that all the historical differences, all the differences in how narrations are interpreted, differences in how rulings are derived, etc. all come from the Twelver Shia insistence that an “Infallible Imam” exists and that this is a divinely ordained matter.

So we have to first know what exactly “Imamah” is. According to the Twelver Shias, Allah the Exalted has sent Prophets and Messengers to different people at different stages of human history. We will agree with them on this matter, and there is no problem there. However, the Shias also say that there is another divinely created post, “Imamah”, which corresponds with the matter of guiding people to Allah.   

At this point, it is good to bring in the explanation from Allamah Tabatabai himself, who says when discussing this Verse, that there are seven basic factors related to “Infallible Imamah”. He enumerates them as follows:

First: Imamah is a Divinely-made status.

Second: The Imam must be ma’sum, by Divine ‘ismah; in other words, he must be protected by Allah from sins and errors.

Third: The earth cannot remain without a rightful Imam, as long as there is a man on it.

Fourth: It is essential for an Imam to be supported by the Divine help.

Fifth: The deeds of the people are not hidden from the Imam.

Sixth: The Imam must have knowledge of all that is needed by the people for their good in this world and the next.

Seventh: It is impossible for any other person to surpass the Imam in any virtue.

Also, from what Tabatabai mentions in his description of Imamah from the rest of his interpretation of Verse 2:124, we can gather that he forwards the following points:

a.     Imamah was granted to Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) at an advanced age of his life, long after he had been granted Prophethood and Messengership. This is clear from Tabatabai’s statement:


It refers to the occasion when Ibrahim (a.m.) was given the imamah. It had happened during the end period of his life; it was the time when he had become very old, after Ismail and lshaq both had been born, and he had brought Ismail and his mother to reside in Mecca, as some other exegetes also have taken note of this fact. This timing is clearly pointed at by his words, “And of my offspring?”, when Allah told him: “I am going to make you an Imam for men.” Obviously he did not know, nor did he even expect, that he would get any offspring, until the angels brought to him the good tidings of Ismail and lshaq.


b.     The position of Imamah is higher in rank that than of Prophethood and Messengership. This can be inferred from the Shia narration included in the Tafsir:


as-Sadiq (a.s.) said: “Verily Allah (to Whom belong Might and Majesty) accepted Ibrahim as a servant before making him a prophet; and verily Allah made him a prophet before appointing him as a messenger; and verily Allah appointed him as a messenger before taking him as a friend; and verily Allah took him as a friend before making him an Imam. When He combined for him all (the above -mentioned) things, He said, ‘Surely I am going to make you an Imam for men.'”


c.     The Prophets and Messengers convey the message, but they do not necessarily guide the people by the command of Allah. In this respect Tabatabai says:


…  it has not been proved that whoever is rightly guided by Allah should also be a guide to Allah. Therefore, it is not necessary that every prophet should be called an Imam.


d.     The person who is rightly guided by another person cannot guide others to truth himself; this is a logical result of saying that the Imam is directly guided by Allah, and the rest of humanity is guided by means of this Imam.  The relevant quote is:


all the deeds of the Imam are good, he is guided to them, not by any other person, but on his own by Divine help.


as well as:


…This contrast means that the one who guides to the truth, is rightly guided by himself; conversely, the one rightly guided by another person cannot guide to the truth.


e.     The use of the word “Thaalimin” (unjust ones) in the Verse under discussion refers to any person who has ever committed a sin at any point in his life. If the person is not Infallible then he is a Thaalim as per this Verse. This is clear from Tabatabai’s statement:


Now, it is clear that the adjective, “the unjust”, (in the Divine declaration, “My covenant will not include the unjust”) covers everyone who might have done any injustice, for example, polytheism, idol-worship or any other sin, in any period of his life, even if he may have repented and been good afterwards.


So we have to understand the relationships that are being presented by Tabatabai’s interpretation of this Verse before moving on with our criticism. Thus, according to Tabatabai, Imamah in general and the Imamah of Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) in particular carry the following connotations:

An Imam is (i) only one person in the entire world who outstrips everybody else in all possible virtues. Also, (ii) his existence is necessary as long as humans remain on this Earth, and as soon as one “Infallible Imam” dies he is replaced by another. So in this sense it is “inherited” from one Imam to the next. He (iii) guides the people by the Divine Command, something which is different from the general guidance of Prophets and Messengers (according to this theology, the person occupying the post of Prophethood or Messengership may directly guide people to Allah, but this is only due to the fact that such a person has also been ‘appointed’ as an “Infallible Imam”). Also (iv) from Ibrahim’s (Alayhi Salaam) case it is deduced that the position of an Imam is much higher than that of a Prophet and Messenger. Moreover (v) the meaning of the word “unjust” (Thaalim) is taken to signify any sin whatsoever, and any sin disqualifies the perpetrator from holding the post of Imamah.

All the points given above are important, and we will keep coming back to them when discussing this Verse and how the Shia understanding clashes with what this and other Verses of the Qur’an are conveying.

In order to bring out the full force of our objections, we will quote from Tabatabai’s Tafsir as applicable, followed by our comments keeping in mind the general principles Twelver Shias in general and Tabatabai in particular state about Imamah.

Issue #1: Making Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) an Imam for mankind can mean a new status without it being a separate divinely appointed position

Tabatabai objects to some of the Sunni commentaries which say that the meaning of “Imam” in this case could refer to Prophethood, or Khilaphah. He says:

Ibrahim (a.s.) was already a prophet whose obedience was obligatory for all men. What would be the sense in telling him that Allah was going to make him a prophet for men? Or, to make his obedience compulsory in all that he said and did? Or, a head of his ummah to order or forbid in matters of religion? Or, a successor? Or, a khalifah in the earth to decide between the people by the order of Allah?

Tabatabai also says:

Therefore, it would be wrong to say to that prophet, “I am going to make your obedience compulsory for men although I have already made it compulsory.”

To this we answer that it is possible that he was raised to a rank of a higher Prophet – to the ‘Ulul Azm- a Prophet whose stories would be recounted over and over again and whose rank would reach very high, and whose deeds would form the basis for the actions of millions, nay billions of people in the future, even if he is not present with these people in a bodily form to lead them. We accept that obedience was compulsory to those living in his time. Allah exalted Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) by making his example compulsory to be followed by generations and thousands of years after his passing on to his Lord.

So what we need to know in here is: Can Allah tell a people to follow the example of someone who is not alive anymore, and say: This is the leader I want you to follow? For the Twelver Shias such an interpretation would be improper, since they believe that the “Infallible Imam” is present amongst them at every moment, and whenever they hear the word “Imam” their minds turn to this meaning.

However, it is clear that – as an example – for the Prophet Muhammad it is indeed the case that we are told to follow him even though he is not physically with us. So to begin with, such an interpretation is not far-fetched at all.

Also, consider that many of Ibrahim’s (Alayhi Salaam) important actions are the basis for what the Muslims of today are ordered to do. Do the multitudes of Muslims not see that the Holy Ka’aba was constructed by Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) and we are obliged to turn our faces in that direction to pray? Do the multitudes not see that the rites of Hajj are centered on the trials and tribulations that Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) and his family had to go through when he and his family where in the Holy Land of Makkah? Do the multitudes of Muslim men not recall that Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) was the first person to be given the order of circumcision, and that every Muslim male is required to follow the footsteps of Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) in this respect? So from this we know that such an interpretation (that he was made into a Prophet of higher ranking, or a head of this Ummah, or that the people would be required to follow his orders with respect to many matters) is in fact not far off at all, even if he is not physically present amongst us. Every day, and every year we are commanded to follow Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) in his ways and mannerisms.

Even the blessed Prophet Muhammad was ordered along the same lines, with the revelation:

ثُمَّ أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ أَنِ اتَّبِعْ مِلَّةَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ حَنِيفًا ۖ وَمَا كَانَ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ

“Then We revealed to you, [O Muhammad], to follow the religion of Abraham, inclining toward truth; and he was not of those who associate with Allah.” (Surah an-Naml: 123)

So this conclusively proves that a person can be told to follow the footsteps and the mannerisms of a previous Prophet even if that Prophet is not physically leading or showing anyone the way.

Issue #2: Obligatoriness of following a Prophet versus the rule of the Imam being the only one who guides the people by the Command of Allah

It is known that following the dictates of the Prophet sent by Allah is an obligation. In this respect, Tabatabai says:

When a man is given prophethood, it becomes obligatory for the people to obey him.

However, we have to recall what Tabatabai also said about guidance:

…it has not been proved that whoever is rightly guided by Allah should also be a guide to Allah. Therefore, it is not necessary that every prophet should be called an Imam.

He also says:

Clearly, the imamah does not mean any type of guidance; it is a guidance, which emanates from the command of Allah.

This brings up a dilemma for the Twelver Shia, since the first phrase goes against the rule brought up which says that the Prophets do not necessarily guide the people to the way of Allah. But we know through a simple reading of the Qur’anic text that Prophethood is of a nature wherein the Prophet conveys the message, and the people are supposed to obey him. This obedience constitutes being guided by the Prophet by the Command of Allah, without any need whatsoever for an Imam to accompany him.

If one looks into the stories of the Qur’an one will never ever find any intermediary person whom the Prophets ordered to be followed if guidance was to be achieved by the masses. Rather, the Prophet came to his people, conveyed the message to them, and those who obeyed and followed him were given guidance due to the efforts and call of the Prophet, not due to the presence of an Imam. We never find any of the enemies of the Prophets saying that ‘We are disbelieving in you and the Infallible Imam’ or that ‘We only believe in the Imam, not in you’. In fact, every single story about the way that the message is conveyed from Allah to human beings, starts with Allah presenting the town or city and immediately presenting the Prophet that came to such a place. It is not a case of the town or city being presented, the people being shown as ignorant of the Imam or disobeying the Imam, and Allah sending the Prophet in order to remind the people that they should follow the Imam[2].

If the objection is brought up that such Prophets were already Imams when they were sent to the people, we say that such an idea is speculation. The whole Shia interpretation of Verse 2:124 gives us reason to bring up reasonable doubts as to whether such Prophets were indeed “Infallible Imams” at the time of calling their people and conveying the message. And if we take the story of Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) as an example, we would say that such Prophets were probably not Imams at all at the time of calling their people to obey Allah, since according to the rules brought up by the Twelver Shias themselves, the Imamah would be granted to them after a long and difficult struggle and almost certainly at the end of the Prophets’ life, when the presentation of the message to their people had passed by a very long time before.

This is not a case restricted to the previous Prophets, but it would be incumbent on the Twelver Shia to show tell us when –according to them- Muhammad himself passed from the stage of Prophethood to that of Imamah, and who was the “Infalible Imam” guiding him and his nation before this transition took place, as well as how Allah the Exalted presented this Imamah to Muhammad [3].

In spite of the elucidation provided above, it is natural to expect that the Twelver Shias would do their utmost to advance their own viewpoint. Thus, Tabatabai says concerning the difference between “being guided by Allah” and “guiding others to Allah”:

What we have inferred from the foregoing description is that if one guides to Allah by His command, he must be guided aright not by any other person but by Allah Himself. But the Qur’anic verses have not shown that its contrary proposition is also true, that is, it has not been proved that whoever is rightly guided by Allah should also be a guide to Allah. Therefore, it is not necessary that every prophet should be called an Imam. In one place, Allah declares about various prophets that they were rightly guided by Him, and yet does not join it with the statement that they guided their people to the truth. He says: And We gave to him (i.e., Ibrahim) Ishaq and Ya’qub; each did We guide, and Nuh did We guide before, and of his descendants, Dawud and Sulayman and Ayyub and Yusuf and Harun; and thus do We reward those who do good; and Zakariyya and Yahya and ‘Isa and Ilyas; every one was of the righteous (ones) and Isma’il and Ilyasa’ and Yunus and Lut; and every one We did exalt over the worlds; and from among their fathers and their descendants and their brethren; and We chose them and guided them to the straight path. This is Allah’s guidance, He guides thereby whom He pleases of His servants; and if they had set up others (with Him), certainly what they did would have become ineffectual for them. These are they to whom We gave the book and the wisdom and the prophethood; therefore if these disbelieve in it, We have (already) entrusted with it a people who are not disbelievers in it. These are they whom Allah guided, therefore follow their guidance. Say: “I do not ask you for any reward for it; it is but a reminder to the worlds” (6:86 – 90).

The context of the above verses shows that this Divine Guidance is an unalterable firm decree; it will continue in this ummah even after the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.)

Here Tabatabai makes a fatal flaw. He mixes up the two matters as per his criteria and makes a sudden shift from general “Guidance” for Prophets to “Divine Guidance” for the “Infallible Imams”.

 Tabatabai starts out by saying that a number of Prophets were guided by Allah, but that they were not necessarily guiding others to Allah. However, after quoting the relevant Verses which mention the Prophets he says that this “Divine Guidance is an unalterable firm decree; it will continue in this ummah even after the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.)”. Now he is talking about “Divine Guidance” for the “Infallible Imams”. So if we follow the line of reasoning presented we have two choices:

1.     Either the Verses completely refer to “general Guidance for Prophets” in which case its continuing in the Ummah after the Prophet Muhammad does not arise since Prophethood has finished with him.

2.     Or if it refers to “Divine Guidance for Infallible Imams” then the argument from Tabatabai is erroneous, since it would show that Prophethood and Imamah are indeed interchangeable, and there is no separate position of “Imamah”. And this line of thinking is bolstered by Allah’s saying: These are they whom Allah guided, therefore follow their guidance. In this case, by Tabatabai’s own rules, Prophets are guided by Allah, and they guide others to Allah without any separate post or position being needed.

If it is still asked by someone that how would Allah the Exalted say that He will entrust the book, wisdom and Prophethood with a people who will not disbelieve in it, and yet these people are not the “Infallible Imams” the Twelver Shias speak of, we say that Allah mentions in other parts of the Qur’an that he has entrusted and given these three things – or some of these things- to people who are not “Infallible” (here we are directly quoting the words of the Ayah, and will discuss certain pertinent matters in the paragraphs below), such as when He says:


ثُمَّ أَوْرَثْنَا الْكِتَابَ الَّذِينَ اصْطَفَيْنَا مِنْ عِبَادِنَا ۖ فَمِنْهُمْ ظَالِمٌ لِنَفْسِهِ وَمِنْهُمْ مُقْتَصِدٌ وَمِنْهُمْ سَابِقٌ بِالْخَيْرَاتِ بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ هُوَ الْفَضْلُ الْكَبِيرُ


Then We conveyed the Book as an heritage to those of Our slaves whom We chose. Now, some of them are those who wrong their own selves, and some of them are mediocre, and some of them are those who outpace (others) in righteous deeds with Allah‘s permission. That is the great bounty, (Quran 35:32).


Allah also says:


وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحُكْمَ وَالنُّبُوَّةَ وَرَزَقْنَاهُمْ مِنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَفَضَّلْنَاهُمْ عَلَى الْعَالَمِينَ *

وَآتَيْنَاهُمْ بَيِّنَاتٍ مِنَ الْأَمْرِ ۖ فَمَا اخْتَلَفُوا إِلَّا مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا جَاءَهُمُ الْعِلْمُ بَغْيًا بَيْنَهُمْ ۚ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ يَقْضِي بَيْنَهُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ فِيمَا كَانُوا فِيهِ يَخْتَلِفُونَ



We gave the children of Isra‘il the book and the wisdom and the prophet-hood, and provided them with good things, and preferred them above all (people of) the world, and We gave them clear proofs of the Matter (i.e. the religion). So they did not fall into disagreement out of mutual jealousy, but after the knowledge had come to them. Surely your Lord will judge between them, on the Day of Judgment, in the matters in which they used to differ. (45:16-17)


From this we would know that Allah ascribes the conveying and giving of these three things to those who are not infallible, but rather some of them were good after receiving them, and some were not good after having received these gifts. So then in the Verse 6:89 as well as Verses 35:32 and 45:16-17, this entrusting means the belief of the normal Muslims about the truth of the book, wisdom, and prophethood and the fact that they were given to the Prophets mentioned before as well as to Muhammad – and not these three things themselves being handed to them. In this respect, even the Shias would accept that to say Prophethood itself was handed down from one of the “Twelve Infallible Imams” to the next one in line is blasphemous and a clear statement of disbelief.


Remaining within the confines of this topic, if it is said that the Messengers conveyed the message to their people and someone else guided them, then this is an artificial breaking off of one the functions of Prophethood. The Twelvers wish for us to believe that a Prophet like say Ismail (Alayhi Salaam) would convey the message to his people, but his brother Ishaaq (Alayhi Salaam) would be the one in charge of guiding them. This is a very far-off idea that does not stand up to any scrutiny. First, it is logically improbable that a Messenger would be sent to a people to merely convey the message, and then the “only true Imam” who may live thousands of miles away is charged with guiding them.  Also, if such were the case, then the Qur’an would have been replete with the actions of the “human Imam” who would guide the people concurrently while the prophet or messenger was conveying the message. In such a case, we would not only know who is the “human Imam” who guided not only the people to whom the “non-Imam Prophets” were sent, but who was also guiding the “non-Imam  Prophet” and serving as his guide in all spiritual, theological and legal matters.

In this respect, the most damning contradiction to this idea is the fact that the Quran itself directly ties the guidance of people with Prophethood and Messengership.

Thus, Tabatabai says the following about Prophetic guidance:

“It is different from that guidance which only shows the way – and which is usually done by the prophets and messengers of Allah as well as by other believers who guide the people towards Allah with sincere exhortation and good advice.”  He then brings up the following Verse:

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِنْ رَسُولٍ إِلَّا بِلِسَانِ قَوْمِهِ لِيُبَيِّنَ لَهُمْ ۖ فَيُضِلُّ اللَّهُ مَنْ يَشَاءُ وَيَهْدِي مَنْ يَشَاءُ

And We did not send any apostle but with the language of his people, so that he might explain to them clearly; then Allah makes whom He pleases err and He guides whom He pleases… (14:4).

We see that this verse itself contradicts Tabatabai’s premise in that the prophet gives the explanation and the guidance is then left directly to Allah. There is no further medium (no Imam) who “explains the explanation” or “Divinely guides after general guidance”.

Tabatabai also brings up the Verse:

وَقَالَ الَّذِي آمَنَ يَا قَوْمِ اتَّبِعُونِ أَهْدِكُمْ سَبِيلَ الرَّشَادِ

And he who believed (i.e., the believer from the family of Pharaoh) said: “0 my people! follow me, I will guide you to the right course” (40:38).

He does this in order to try to show that this is a “general type” of guidance not connected to “Infallible Imamah”. We have to ask in here: Why would we not take the Mu’min in Verse 40:38 as having “Imamah”? If it is said that this believing man is guiding in a general sense, then it would become incumbent upon this ‘Mu’min” (as per the Twelver Shia doctrine) to point to the Imam that is to serve as the Infallible guide, since the guidance of the non-Imams is general and the guidance of the Imam is specific and so much greater according to Twelver ideology. As per the Twelver Shias, the “Mu’min’s” pointing to himself would make no sense, and would be tantamount to rebelliousness and disbelief.

One can refer to numerous other Verses to see how Allah directly ties guidance to the Prophets and Messengers that were sent to a people. For example, we see:

وَمَنْ يُشَاقِقِ الرَّسُولَ مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُ الْهُدَىٰ وَيَتَّبِعْ غَيْرَ سَبِيلِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ نُوَلِّهِ مَا تَوَلَّىٰ وَنُصْلِهِ جَهَنَّمَ ۖ وَسَاءَتْ مَصِيرًا


Whoever breaks away with the Messenger after the right path has become clear to him, and follows what is not the way of the believers, We shall let him have what he chose, and We shall admit him to Jahannam, which is an evil place to return. (4:115)


وَلَقَدْ بَعَثْنَا فِي كُلِّ أُمَّةٍ رَسُولًا أَنِ اعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ وَاجْتَنِبُوا الطَّاغُوتَ ۖ فَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ هَدَى اللَّهُ وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ حَقَّتْ عَلَيْهِ الضَّلَالَةُ


We did raise a messenger among every people, with the message: Worship Allah and stay away from the Rebel (the Satan). Then, there were some among them whom Allah guided, and there were others against whom deviation (from the right path) was established. (16:36)


وَمَا مَنَعَ النَّاسَ أَنْ يُؤْمِنُوا إِذْ جَاءَهُمُ الْهُدَىٰ إِلَّا أَنْ قَالُوا أَبَعَثَ اللَّهُ بَشَرًا رَسُولًا


Nothing prevented people from believing, when guidance came to them, except that they said, Has Allah sent a man as a messenger? (17:94)


إِنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا وَصَدُّوا عَنْ سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَشَاقُّوا الرَّسُولَ مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُمُ الْهُدَىٰ لَنْ يَضُرُّوا اللَّهَ شَيْئًا وَسَيُحْبِطُ أَعْمَالَهُمْ


Those who disbelieve and prevent (others) from Allah‘s way, and oppose the Messenger, after the Guidance has appeared to them clearly, shall never bring harm to Allah in the least, and He will render their deeds vain. (47:32)


هُوَ الَّذِي أَرْسَلَ رَسُولَهُ بِالْهُدَىٰ وَدِينِ الْحَقِّ


He is the One who has sent down His Messenger with guidance and the Faith of Truth… (9:33, 48:28, 61:9)


In these Verses one can see that direct guidance from Allah has been tied with the office of Mesengership. There are more Verses in the Qur’an with the same message, proving that the guidance of the Messenger is indeed the most complete guidance, and that it is not subservient to a “more absolute guidance” of any “Infallible Imam”. If the objection is brought up that Muhammad (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Salaam) and other Prophets referred to in these Verses were already “Infallible Imams” at the junction when the Verse is mentioned, we would be correct in demanding proof from our adversary for this proposition, since for him “Infallible Imamah” is granted after a long time and merely saying that a certain Prophet is an “Infalible Imam” without proof is not a proper statement to make in this respect.


Moreover, if our adversary were able to bring forth such a proof, the truly difficult barrier for him would center around why would Allah tie direct guidance from Him to Muhammad’s (Salla Alalhu Alayhi Wa Sallam) and other Prophets’ roles as Messengers, rather than tie it to their supposed role as “Infallible Imamah” which is what it should be if the Twelver Shia religion were correct. Moreover, when one considers some of the Verses above (such as Verse 16:36) one can see that the guidance from Allah is tied to an early stage of the Prophets’ mission, when he starts giving the message to his people and not after a set of long trials and tribulations, showing that the “Prophethood” aspect is the one being emphasized.


Issue #3: Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) was directly guided by Allah long before the Twelver Shias claim he received “Infallible Imamah”


With respect to the argument that the “Infallible Imam” is the only one who can guide to the truth, Tabatabai also presents the following argument:

And Allah has said: Is he then who guides to the truth more worthy to be followed, or he who himself does not go right unless he is guided? (10:35).[4]

Here Allah puts two groups opposite to each other: one is that which guides to the truth; and the other, that which does not go right unless guided by someone else, in other words, the one which needs a helping hand to be guided aright. This contrast means that the one who guides to the truth, is rightly guided by himself; conversely, the one rightly guided by another person cannot guide to the truth.

As we had shown before with respect to Verses 6:86-90, this explanation in untenable when compared with many Verses of the Qur’an.


In the specific case of Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam), such reasoning brings up a number of additional matters. For example, if it assumed that the “Infallible Imamah” was given to Ibrahim at the last stage of his life, we are left wondering as to who was the “Infallible Imam” that was spiritually “guiding” Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) for all the decades before he achieved this position. And we have to admit that it is impossible for a Prophet of a stature and rank as high as Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) to have any other person guiding him at any moment of his life, whether this guidance is in spirituality, morality, theology, or any other matter. Surely, if there was an “Infallible Imam” of such high standing that he would be Ibrahim’s (Alayhi Salam) human guide in all spiritual and legal matters related to the religion, then the Qur’an would have definitely given us information about this hypothetical “Imam”.

However, we see the opposite when we read the Qur’an. We see that Ibrahim (Alahyi Salaam) is always guided and hopeful to be guided by Allah directly, without the intervention of any other human “Imam” or any other human intermediary. Thus, we read the following Verses in the Qur’an:


قَالُوا ابْنُوا لَهُ بُنْيَانًا فَأَلْقُوهُ فِي الْجَحِيمِ  *فَأَرَادُوا بِهِ كَيْدًا فَجَعَلْنَاهُمُ الْأَسْفَلِينَ  *وَقَالَ إِنِّي ذَاهِبٌ إِلَىٰ رَبِّي سَيَهْدِينِ


They said, .Build for him a structure, and throw him into the blazing fire. So, they intended to bring harm to him, but We made them the lowest (by frustrating their plan). And he said, I am going to my Lord. He will show me the way. (37:97-99)


وَإِذْ قَالَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ لِأَبِيهِ وَقَوْمِهِ إِنَّنِي بَرَاءٌ مِمَّا تَعْبُدُونَ  * إِلَّا الَّذِي فَطَرَنِي فَإِنَّهُ سَيَهْدِينِ


(Recall) when Ibrahim said to his father and to his people, .I disown that which you worship,

except the One who has originated me; so He will guide me.. (43:26-27)


If we take these two sets of Verses alone we would see that the Twelver Shia ideology falls down completely. This is so because clearly Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) expects to be guided directly by Allah after leaving his people. If the Shia ideology were correct, he would have to mention the “Infallible Imam” who is guiding him, or at least hint towards such an “Imam”. Remember that according to the Twelver Shia ideology being forwarded by Tabatabai, we know that Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) still had a long time left before becoming an “Infallible Imam” from the time he left his people to the time he was very old. Yet he tells his father and his people that the way will be shown to him directly by Allah, not through the agency of an “Infallible Imam”. Not only this, but Shia ideology would require everyone who was a believer other than the “Infallible Imam” of that time to actively tell humanity at large of the “Infallible Imam” they are required to follow, since in the absence of this “Imam” all the beliefs and the good deeds of the people are worthless.


The same is seen with respect to the following Verse:


يَا أَبَتِ إِنِّي قَدْ جَاءَنِي مِنَ الْعِلْمِ مَا لَمْ يَأْتِكَ فَاتَّبِعْنِي أَهْدِكَ صِرَاطًا سَوِيًّا


My dear father, indeed there has come to me a knowledge that has not come to you; so, follow me, and I shall lead you to a straight path. (19:43)


Again, we see that Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) is telling his father to follow him directly and assuring him that he himself will guide him to the straight path, without the mention of an “Imam” that would act as the intermediary between the Prophet’s “general guidance” and the Imam’s “absolute Divine Guidance”.


In fact, the story of Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) which can be placed at the beginning of his mission clearly shows that he was confident that Allah had directly already shown him the way. We read:



وَحَاجَّهُ قَوْمُهُ ۚ قَالَ أَتُحَاجُّونِّي فِي اللَّـهِ وَقَدْ هَدَانِ ۚ وَلَا أَخَافُ مَا تُشْرِكُونَ بِهِ إِلَّا أَن يَشَاءَ رَبِّي شَيْئًا ۗ وَسِعَ رَبِّي كُلَّ شَيْءٍ عِلْمًا ۗ أَفَلَا تَتَذَكَّرُونَ


His people argued with him. He said, Do you argue with me about Allah while He has already led me to the right path? I do not fear that which you associate with Him, (because it cannot harm me), unless, of course, something is willed by my Lord. My Lord encompasses everything with His knowledge. Would you, then, take no lesson? (6:80)


وَاتْلُ عَلَيْهِمْ نَبَأَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ  * إِذْ قَالَ لِأَبِيهِ وَقَوْمِهِ مَا تَعْبُدُونَ * قَالُوا نَعْبُدُ أَصْنَامًا فَنَظَلُّ لَهَا عَاكِفِينَ  * قَالَ هَلْ يَسْمَعُونَكُمْ إِذْ تَدْعُونَ  *أَوْ يَنْفَعُونَكُمْ أَوْ يَضُرُّونَ *

قَالُوا بَلْ وَجَدْنَا آبَاءَنَا كَذَٰلِكَ يَفْعَلُونَقَالَ أَفَرَأَيْتُمْ مَا كُنْتُمْ تَعْبُدُونَ  * أَنْتُمْ وَآبَاؤُكُمُ الْأَقْدَمُونَ  *فَإِنَّهُمْ عَدُوٌّ لِي إِلَّا رَبَّ الْعَالَمِينَالَّذِي خَلَقَنِي فَهُوَ يَهْدِينِ*



And recite before them the narrative of Ibrahim, when he said to his father and to his people, ‘What do you worship?’  They said, ‘We worship idols, and stay devoted to them.’ He said, ‘Do they listen to you when you call (them) or do they bring benefit to you or harm?’  They said, ‘No, but we have found our fathers doing like this.’ He said, ‘Have you then ever considered what you have been worshipping, you and your ancient fathers, they all are an enemy to me, except the Lord of the worlds, who created me, and who guides me (26:69:78)


This is with respect to the stories of Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) when he was just starting to present them the true message of Allah the Exalted, and when he had started refuting the polytheistic beliefs of his people by means of showing them how all the heavenly bodies vanished. This was at a very early stage of his Prophethood, and yet we see that he refers to being guided directly by Allah in the past tense, not as a hope for something which will happen in the future (which we saw in Ayahs 43:27 and 37:97-99). This shows even more conclusively that Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) had been guided directly by Allah without the need for any intermediate “human guide” long before the Shia beliefs would make us think.


So we see in here again a big disjunction between what Twelver Shias would want us to believe with respect to the nature of Imamah and what the Qur’an teaches us in this respect. Such contradictions cannot be ignored by anyone who wishes to make a proper analysis of the topic, and have to be taken into account so as to see that the Twelver Shia presentations of the matter are self-conflicting and cannot withstand a rigorous examination.


Issue #4: The use of the word “Thalimin” in Ayah 2:124

 One of the main points being forwarded by Tabatabai and other Shia ‘Aalims is that the use of the word “Thaalim” is a substitute for any person who has ever committed a sin, no matter how small that sin may be. The following quotes will show the Twelver Shia position:

The imamah is such an exalted and sublime position that it cannot be given except to one who is extremely virtuous by his own self. If someone’s soul is polluted, even in a minute degree, by any injustice or sin, then he needs someone else to guide him back to the right way.

Now, it is clear that the adjective, “the unjust”, (in the Divine declaration, “My covenant will not include the unjust”) covers everyone who might have done any injustice, for example, polytheism, idol-worship or any other sin, in any period of his life, even if he may have repented and been good afterwards.

Here Tabatabai tries to bring the concept of “Infallible Imamah” as understood by the Shias and tie with the use of the word “Thaalimin” in the Verse.

Tabatabai also brings forth the following line of argument with respect to how “Infallible Imamah” was granted to Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam):

Logically, we may divide mankind into four groups: (1) One who remains unjust throughout his life; (2) One who was never unjust in any period of his life; (3) One who was unjust in the beginning, but became just later on; and (4) One who was just in the beginning, but became unjust afterwards, Ibrahim was too sublime in position to ask for the imamah for the first or the fourth group. This leaves two groups (the second and the third), which could be included in his prayer. And Allah rejected one of them – the one who was unjust in the beginning but became just later on. Now, there remains only one group who could be given the imamah – the one who was never unjust in any period of his life; that is, who was ma’sum.

In spite of all these presentations and explanation being forwarded by the Twelver Shias in general and Tabatabai in particular, there are a number of issues which stand out in Tabatabai’s own presentation of the Verse and which show that such a conclusion is unwarranted, and that the correct meaning is that the “Thaalimin” referred to in this Verse are those who are disbelievers and habitual sinners.

a.    First off, we will deal with Shia narrations that are presented in this respect which in fact undermine the Twelver Shia belief:

Tabatabai brings forward the following narration in favor of his view of what “Thaalim” means anyone who has commited even the smallest of sins:

al-Mufid has narrated from Durust and Hisham from the Imams (of the Ahlu’l-bayt): “Ibrahim was a prophet, and he was not an Imam until Allah, Blessed and High is He, said (to him): “Surely I am going to make you an Imam for men” (Ibrahim) said: “And of my offspring? ” Then Allah, Blessed and High is He, said: “My covenant will not include the unjust” Whoever had (ever) worshipped an idol or a sculpture or an image, cannot be an Imam”

If one examines this narration one can notice that the meaning of “unjust” in this narration undermines the entire Shia ideology: The word “Thaalim” is equated with bowing down to an image, sculpture or image. It is known that this is an act of plain kufr (disbelief), not merely any small sinful act – even in our Fiqh (jurisprudence) if a Muslim bows down to an idol even if it was in jest, he will have lost his faith and will have to re-enter Islam. If the Twelver Shia doctrine were to be consistent in this respect, it would have to be said that every time someone commits a tiny sin, he leaves Islam and becomes an apostate. Such wild interpretations are obviously not part of any sect or cult that claims to be Muslim[5]. So it is known through this that the Shia presentation of the word “Thaalim” in this case is definitely incorrect.

Another narration brought forth in this respect and included in Tabatabai’s Tafsir is:

as-Sadiq (a.s.) said: “Verily Allah (to Whom belong Might and Majesty) accepted Ibrahim as a servant before making him a prophet; and verily Allah made him a prophet before appointing him as a messenger; and verily Allah appointed him as a messenger before taking him as a friend; and verily Allah took him as a friend before making him an Imam. When He combined for him all (the above -mentioned) things, He said, ‘Surely I am going to make you an Imam for men.'” The Imam further said: “It was because of the greatness of it (i.e., imamah) in the eyes of Ibrahim (a.s.) that he said: ‘And of my offspring?’ He said: ‘My covenant will not include the unjust. ‘” The Imam explained: “A fool will not be Impugn of a pious.” (al-Kafi)

Tabatabai explains this last phrase in the following manner:

The words of the Imam: “A fool will not be Imam of a pious,” point to the verse 2:130-131: And who forsakes the religion of Ibrahim but he who makes himself a fool, and most certainly We chose him in this world, and in the hereafter he is most surely among the righteous. When his Lord said to him, Submit (yourself), he said: “I submit myself to the Lord of the worlds.” In this verse Allah says that whoever turns away from the religion of Ibrahim – in other words, whoever is unjust – is a fool;

Here we should consider two things: With respect to the word “Thaalim”, Tabatabai actually proves our point with regards to the usage of this word, and what it means to be “unjust”: He mentions that whosoever turns away from the religion of Ibrahim- whosoever becomes a disbeliever- is the unjust person and is the foolish one. This is in contrast with the orthodox Twelver view in regards to this Verse, where it is being proposed that “unjust” means commiting any sin whatsoever during one’s life.

Secondly, with respect to the phrase “whoever is unjust-is a fool”, this is an allusion to the original Arabic phrase in the Quran. The Arabic word used in this case is “Safiha Nafsah” its being a description of the “Sufaha”, those who are foolish and stupid. One has to see that in the Qur’an this word involves not any small excusable sin, but disbelief and becoming astray from the religion altogether, when the word is used to refer to acts that have a direct bearing on one’s faith. Even though we have already shown that this is the case with respect to Verse 2:130-131, examining the following Verses will further clarify our point.

وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ آمِنُوا كَمَا آمَنَ النَّاسُ قَالُوا أَنُؤْمِنُ كَمَا آمَنَ السُّفَهَاءُ ۗ أَلَا إِنَّهُمْ هُمُ السُّفَهَاءُ وَلَٰكِنْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

And when it is said to them, .Believe as people have believed, they say, .Shall we believe as the fools have believed? Beware, it is, in fact, they who are the fools, but they do not know. (2:13)


سَيَقُولُ السُّفَهَاءُ مِنَ النَّاسِ مَا وَلَّاهُمْ عَنْ قِبْلَتِهِمُ الَّتِي كَانُوا عَلَيْهَا

The foolish among the people will say: What has turned them away from their Qiblah which they used to observe? (2:142)

قَدْ خَسِرَ الَّذِينَ قَتَلُوا أَوْلَادَهُمْ سَفَهًا بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ وَحَرَّمُوا مَا رَزَقَهُمُ اللَّهُ افْتِرَاءً عَلَى اللَّهِ ۚ قَدْ ضَلُّوا وَمَا كَانُوا مُهْتَدِينَ


Losers are those who kill their children foolishly, without knowledge, and hold as prohibited what Allah has provided them, falsely ascribing it to Allah. They have gone astray, and they are not on the right path. (6:140)


وَأَنَّهُ كَانَ يَقُولُ سَفِيهُنَا عَلَى اللَّهِ شَطَطًا


and that the fools among us used to attribute to Allah extremely absurd things, (72:4)


So it is seen that in the first case the fools being referred to are the hypocrites, who are disbelievers. In the second case, it is referring to the disbelievers who were taunting the Muslims with respect to their change of Qiblah. The third instance refers to the Makkan polytheists, and describes their actions as foolish. The last case refers to the disbelievers from among the Jinn and how their sayings of disbelief were said to be foolish. In all these cases, we see that a “fool” refers to a person totally devoid of any understanding of the religion whatsoever to the points that his beliefs and actions place him within the ranks of the disbelievers.

b.    Next, we need to see how the word “Thaalim” is used in the Qur’an and whether it lends support to the Shia belief in “Infallible Imamah”

When one reads the Qur’an one will notice that the mention of the word “Thaalim” is not at all tied to “the one who commits any sin whatsoever”. From the dozens of times where this word is mentioned in the Qur’an, the crushing majority of them refer to those who habitually commit sins/ and or are outright disbelievers. Before going into the instances where this word is mentioned we have to remember that the word “Thalimin” is presented as an absolute qualifier, in that it is not constrained to mean a “certain type of Thaalim” or unjust person.

So from this we would already know that there are a lot of verbal gymnastics being played by the Twelver Shia exegesists in order to reach their desired conclusion. The Ayah merely says that the ones who are “Thalimin” will not be given Imamah. It does not say that those who have ever committed any sin are disqualified from becoming Imams. Since the Shia view presupposes that an injustice or any small sin tarnishes that person’s reputation forever and consigns him to eternally be among the “Thalimin”, if we can show that the Qur’an does not show the matter in this way, then we have basically closed all the avenues that the Twelver Shias would like to pursue in order to forward their claim.

Thus, when we look into the Qur’an, we read Verses and phrases such as the following ones:

وَالْكَافِرُونَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ


and it is the disbelievers who are unjust. (2:254)



سَنُلْقِي فِي قُلُوبِ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا الرُّعْبَ بِمَا أَشْرَكُوا بِاللَّهِ مَا لَمْ يُنَزِّلْ بِهِ سُلْطَانًا ۖ وَمَأْوَاهُمُ النَّارُ ۚ وَبِئْسَ مَثْوَى الظَّالِمِينَ


We shall put awe into the hearts of those who disbelieve, since they have associated with Allah something for which He has not sent any authority. Their ultimate place is the Fire; and evil is the abode of the unjust. (3:151)


وَنَادَىٰ أَصْحَابُ الْجَنَّةِ أَصْحَابَ النَّارِ أَنْ قَدْ وَجَدْنَا مَا وَعَدَنَا رَبُّنَا حَقًّا فَهَلْ وَجَدْتُمْ مَا وَعَدَ رَبُّكُمْ حَقًّا ۖ قَالُوا نَعَمْ ۚ فَأَذَّنَ مُؤَذِّنٌ بَيْنَهُمْ أَنْ لَعْنَةُ اللَّهِ عَلَى الظَّالِمِينَ


The inmates of Paradise will call out to the inmates of the Fire: .We have found true what our Lord had promised to us. Have you, too, found true what your Lord had promised?. They will say, Yes. Then, an announcer between them will call out, The curse of Allah is on the wrongdoers (7:44)


وَقَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لِرُسُلِهِمْ لَنُخْرِجَنَّكُمْ مِنْ أَرْضِنَا أَوْ لَتَعُودُنَّ فِي مِلَّتِنَا ۖ فَأَوْحَىٰ إِلَيْهِمْ رَبُّهُمْ لَنُهْلِكَنَّ الظَّالِمِينَ


The disbelievers said to their prophets, .We shall certainly expel you from our land unless you come back to our faith. So, their Lord revealed to them, We shall destroy the transgressors, (14:13)


نَحْنُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا يَسْتَمِعُونَ بِهِ إِذْ يَسْتَمِعُونَ إِلَيْكَ وَإِذْ هُمْ نَجْوَىٰ إِذْ يَقُولُ الظَّالِمُونَ إِنْ تَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا رَجُلًا مَسْحُورًا


We are fully aware of the reason for which they listen, when they listen to you, and when they are in secret consultation: when the transgressors say, You are following none but a bewitched man. (17:47)



وَقَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لَنْ نُؤْمِنَ بِهَٰذَا الْقُرْآنِ وَلَا بِالَّذِي بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ ۗ وَلَوْ تَرَىٰ إِذِ الظَّالِمُونَ مَوْقُوفُونَ عِنْدَ رَبِّهِمْ يَرْجِعُ بَعْضُهُمْ إِلَىٰ بَعْضٍ الْقَوْلَ يَقُولُ الَّذِينَ اسْتُضْعِفُوا لِلَّذِينَ اسْتَكْبَرُوا لَوْلَا أَنْتُمْ لَكُنَّا مُؤْمِنِينَ


Those who disbelieve say, .We will never believe in this Qur‘an, nor in that which was before it.. But if only you could see when the wrongdoers will be made to stand before their Lord, repulsing words (of blame) to one another! Those who were held as weak will say to the overbearing, .Had you not been there, we would have been believers. (34:31)


قُلْ أَرَأَيْتُمْ شُرَكَاءَكُمُ الَّذِينَ تَدْعُونَ مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ أَرُونِي مَاذَا خَلَقُوا مِنَ الْأَرْضِ أَمْ لَهُمْ شِرْكٌ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ أَمْ آتَيْنَاهُمْ كِتَابًا فَهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَيِّنَتٍ مِنْهُ ۚ بَلْ إِنْ يَعِدُ الظَّالِمُونَ بَعْضُهُمْ بَعْضًا إِلَّا غُرُورًا


Say, Tell me about your (presumed) co-gods whom you invoke beside Allah. Show me that part of the earth that they have created. Or do they have a share in the (creation) of the heavens?. Or have We given them a book so that they are upon a clear proof from it? No, but the wrongdoers promise one another nothing but delusion. (35:40)


Thus, we see that it is of utmost importance to take notice of these Verses, where the “unjust ones” have been placed side-by-side with disbelievers, and the description of those who disbelieve and those who are unjust has been used interchangeably, as if there was no difference between the two as far as these Verses are concerned[6]. We should also take note that just as there is no specification as to what “type” of unjust person is devoid of “Infallible Imamah” in Verse 2:124, also in these Verses the “unjust ones” are being talked about in general terms, without specifying any particular “type” of unjust people. Such a matter should not be lost on those who seek to truly understand the meaning of the word “Thaalimin” in Verse 2:124 and those who realize that consigning it to mean any and every type of sin whatsoever is uncalled for according to the Qur’anic text itself.

One should also consider the fact that there are dozens of more Verses just like these where disbelief and being unjust (being a “Thaalim”) have been used in such a way that one of the words describes the other one, in such a way that no person can say that being a “Thaalim” means having done any sin during one’s lifetime.

So this selection of Verses where the word “Thaalim” has been used shows how far the Twelver Shia interpretation is from the reality of the situation as presented in the Qur’an.

c.     When it comes to Ibrahim’s (Alayhi Salaam) own descendants, the Qur’an states that the “Thulm” committed by some of his progeny is of the open and clear type

Another important fact that should be considered is that with respect to Ibrahim’s (Alayhi Salaam) descendants who are the subject of this discussion with respect to “Thulm”, the Qur’an specifically mentions that the “unjust” in this case are those who are plainly unjust, not merely those who may have done a sin at any point of their lives. Thus, we read:


وَبَشَّرْنَاهُ بِإِسْحَاقَ نَبِيًّا مِنَ الصَّالِحِينَ *

وَبَارَكْنَا عَلَيْهِ وَعَلَىٰ إِسْحَاقَ ۚ وَمِنْ ذُرِّيَّتِهِمَا مُحْسِنٌ وَظَالِمٌ لِنَفْسِهِ مُبِينٌ


And We gave him the good news of Ishaq (Isaac), a prophet from among the righteous. And We did bless him, and Ishaq. And among the progeny of both of them, some are good and some are utterly unjust to their own selves. (37:112-113)


So connecting this Verse with the one under discussion, we see that Allah, the Exalted, has specifically said that the injustices and sins being referred to as being part of the actions of some of the progeny of Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) are the clear, plain, and big sins that are inexcusable, such as disbelief and major sins. It is as if Allah the Exalted had already refuted the arguments from the Twelver Shias within the Qur’an itself long before they were formulated, so that there would be no excuse for those who wished to follow unforgivable mistakes in belief.


If the objection is brought that it could be that the “Muhsin” people being referred to in this Verse could be “unjust” when looked at from the angle of “Thulm” meaning all sins that can be committed, we will answer by saying that this is an artificial objection made by forcing “Thulm” to mean what the Twelver Shias’ would like it to mean in different instances of the Revelation, and then applying such divergent meanings to whichever portion of the Qur’an they wish. If such were truly the intended meaning of this Verse, we would have to really wonder why the Qur’an mentions the exact word “Thulm” with the adjective of “plainly”, “clearly”, and “utterly” (“Mubin”), and why some other explanation using different words was not adopted by the Qur’an in this case. Since the usage of words and phrases in the Qur’an is not haphazard, we are forced to admit that the bringing up of such a phrase was perfectly aligned with the reality of “Thulm” and what it meant in the context of Ibrahim’s (Alayhi Salaam) descendants. 


d.    Also, we need to consider the story of Musa (Alayhi Salaam) and how he prayed to Allah after mistakenly killing a person

Among the Twelver Shia beliefs, it is known that Musa (Alayhi Salaam) was one of the “Infallible Imams” from Ibrahim’s (Alayhi Salaam) progeny. However, we see that the Qur’an itself would negate Imamah for Musa (Alayhi Salaam). After unintentionally killing a man, Musa supplicates to Allah, saying:

قَالَ رَبِّ إِنِّي ظَلَمْتُ نَفْسِي فَاغْفِرْ لِي فَغَفَرَ لَهُ ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ

He said, “My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, so forgive me,” (28:16)

The Arabic phrase used is “Inni Thalamtu Nafsi” showing that Musa (Alayhi Salaam) considered that he had indeed committed Thulm and was begging Allah’s forgiveness for this. So taking from the explanations given to us by the Twelver Shias we see that their claims of Imamah for Prophets such as Musa (Alayhi Salaam) would be unacceptable according to their own standards, since this would mean that a person who cannot ever lie (such as Musa (Alayhi Salaam)) was accepting of the fact that he had committed an injustice by mistakenly killing a person.[7]

From the preceding discussions we can easily see that the insistence of the Twelver Shias to make the meaning of “Thalimin” to correspond to any and every sin puts them in a very difficult position. This is not only with respect to the dozens of instances where this word is used to signify disbelief and denial of Islam, but even with respect to the very narrations the Twelver Shias use to forward their claims regarding their beliefs. We can safely say that their positions in this respect are totally erroneous and devoid of any scriptural basis.

Issue #5: Related matters brought up from other Qur’anic Verses in order to advance the concept of “Infallible Imamah”

We have already dealt with many of the issues surrounding Verse 2:124 and the inappropriateness of the Shia interpretation. There are some other Verses brought up by Tabatabai while discussing the matter of “Infallible Imamah”, and we thought it was appropriate to show how they do not fit at all with the general points of Imamah being forwarded.

For example, the Verses below are brought up by Tabatabai, along with the following explanation:

“Surely, I am clear of what you worship; (I worship) but (only) Him Who created me, for surely He will guide me.” And He made it a word to continue in his posterity, so that they may return (to God). (43:27-28)

Thereafter, Allah says that He made this Divine Guidance “a word to continue” in Ibrahim’s posterity. This is one of those verses in which “word” has been used not for speech but for a substance it refers to the guidance as “a word.”

As we may recall, in the interpretation of Tabatabai we see the view being forwarded that Ibrahim (alayhi Salaam) was only a Prophet during the time while he was with his father and his people, but not a Messenger nor an Imam as per the Shia view. So the “word” –if we wish to take it in the meaning of a covenant- that is to continue refers to Prophethood, not Imamah, even if we follow the Shia logic. The reason is that the matter described in the Verse is Prophethood and nothing else according to Shia logic, so this is what remains in his progeny. There is also no indication that this “Word” will remain in his progeny to the exclusion of any other people, nor that this word will be personified within a certain chain of people until the Day of Judgment. This is also corroborated by the fact that in the very next Verse, it is said that the people (of Quraysh) were left to enjoy their deeds until “truth and a clear messenger” came to them.

بَلْ مَتَّعْتُ هَٰؤُلَاءِ وَآبَاءَهُمْ حَتَّىٰ جَاءَهُمُ الْحَقُّ وَرَسُولٌ مُبِينٌ

However, I gave enjoyment to these [people of Makkah] and their fathers until there came to them the truth and a clear Messenger (43:29)

If Imamah were the intended meaning, stressing on the Messengership of Muhammad is out of place. The only solution comes if we concede that the “word” refers to something else, most likely the testimony of faith, and certainly not “Infallible Imamah”.

In another place, Tabatabai mentions:

Also, Allah has said: (Remember) the day when We will call every people with their Imam (17:71). (We shall explain when writing about this verse that the “Imam” here means the true leader, and not the scroll of deeds, as some people think.) Therefore, the Imam is the one who shall lead the people to Allah on the day when hidden things shall be tried, as he leads them to Him in the manifest and esoteric lives of this world. The last quoted verse also shows that there cannot be a single period, a single moment, without an Imam, because Allah says, “every people.” (The detailed proof of this statement will be given under that verse.)

It is interesting that Tabatabai says that the detailed proof for this statement would be given at the relevant Verse, since in his interpretations of this very Verse, Tabatabai mentions that everyone has a human imam, but he fails to show how this Imam is the “Infallible Imam” of the Twelver Shia religion.

Thus, Tabatabai says[8]:

مشعر بأن الإِمام المدعو به هو الذي اتخذه الناس إماماً واقتدوا به في الدنيا لا من اجتباه الله للإِمامة ونصبه للهداية بأمره سواء اتبعه الناس أو رفضوه.

The preceding discussion indicates that the Imam (that the people are being) called by is the one that the people have taken as their leaders in this world, not the one that has been chosen by Allah for Imamah and granted guidance from His command, regardless of whether he is followed or rejected by the people.

فالظاهر أن المراد بإمام كل أُناس في الآية من ائتموا به سواء كان إمام حق أو إمام باطل

It is clear that the meaning of Imam for every people in this Verse is the one who has been followed by them, whether he is an Imam of truth or an Imam of falsehood.

From here we see that Tabatabai himself realizes that this Verse has no explicit mention of “Infallible Imams” being the only “guides” referred to in here, but that even with the “Imam” in this Verse taking on the meaning of a human guide, the “evil guides” or “evil Imams” would still have to be included for the Verse to have a proper meaning.

Issue #6: Perpetuity of “Infallible Imamah” and the “Imamah” of Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam)

At this stage, we should go back to one of the comments made by Tabatabai in his Tafsir of Verse 2:124. In explaining the basic factors of Imamah, Tabatabai says:

The earth cannot remain without a rightful Imam, as long as there is a man on it.

The above statement is of enormous worth. What this means is that every single ”Infallible  Imam” after the first human on Earth has to inherit the Imamah from the previous “Infallible Imam” without exception whatsoever. Since it has been shown that what Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) had received from Allah was something other than the Twelver Shias’ idea of “Imam”, the whole edifice of Shiaism collapses. And this is because we know that the continuous chain of “Infallible Imams” has not existed since the beginning of humanity, it was nonexistent when Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) was given Imamah, he was unable to pass it down to his descendants[9], which means that Muhammad was unable to receive this and pass it down to Ali (Radhia Allahu Anhu) and the rest of the “Infallible Imams” in Shia ideology.

It is important to note that the Twelver Shias have no answer to the very crucial question: Who was Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) inheriting the “Infallible Imamah” from? In Verse 2:124, the declaration of Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) being made an Imam is by means of Allah informing him directly. In Shia ideology though, this is done through the declaration of the previous Imam to the one who is to succeed him after his death. If Twelver Shiaism was correct, the first human (Adam (Alayhi Salaam)) would have been the one who would have been inspired with this covenant of perpetual Imamah among him and the “Infallibles” from among his descendants, and the Quran would have been replete with instances of how the Imams were the ones totally responsible for guiding people to the straight path, regardless of the existence or lack thereof of a Prophet/Messenger.

Moreover, if we take a second look at some of the narrations presented by Tabatabai in order to forward his arguments, we will see some additional problems coming up for the Twelver Shia understanding of “Imamah”. For example, it is mentioned, as part of the supposed narration from Imam as-Sadiq with respect to “Infallible Imamah” being granted to Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) that Allah said:

He said, ‘Surely I am going to make you an Imam for men.'” The Imam further said: “It was because of the greatness of it (i.e., imamah) in the eyes of Ibrahim (a.s.) that he said: ‘And of my offspring?’ He said: ‘My covenant will not include the unjust. ‘”

Now, if the position of Imamah had been something present from the beginning of the human race, it is inconceivable that Ibrahim (alayhi Salaam) would have been unaware of what it was, what it entailed, what its characteristics were, and who was eligible to occupy this post. Thus, the issue of it being “great in his eyes” would not have come up at all.

It can further be objected to in here that Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) had no knowledge about the position of Imamah at all. From the Verse one can see that he is surprised about the mention of being made an Imam for humanity. That is why he asks “and from my offspring?” If the Twelver Shia religion is the one that had been legislated by Allah the Exalted from the beginning of mankind, Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) would have known the nature of Imamah right from the moment of his birth, would have known all the points brought up by Tabatabai, and there would definitely not have been any need for Allah to inform Ibrahim that Imamah is to be confined within the realm of non-Thalims.


The discussion regarding this Verse may seem to be very difficult for the members of the Ahl-us-Sunnah when they are first presented with the Twelver Shia arguments and queries, and even more so if the Sunni is not well-versed with the intricacies that the “Infallible Imamah” of Shiaism entails.

However, when we honestly start to look into the various arguments presented by their exegesists – the Tafsir of Tabatabai being one of the foremost interpretations in this regard- we see that the number of problematic arguments from the Shia side start to come out one after the other, with minimal intervention from our side other than to identify what these problems are and how they contradict the other arguments presented by the Twelver Shias and by the Qur’an itself.

One of the more obvious matters we understood from this discussion was that Twelver Shia scholars give certain technical meanings to words and phrases in the Qur’an, which as further research down the line will easily prove, are incompatible and totally contradictory with the totality of the Qur’anic message. The reason for this is because the technical meaning was wrong to begin with, and was forced on such words and phrases from without. This was not the place to go into a full-fledged discussion about such flaws in Twelver Shiaism, but the reader should understand that this is one of the most glaring problems with the Twelver religion, and shows the disorganized manner in which the religious tenets were formulated in comparison with the Qur’anic message.

Thus, it is necessary for us to present these flaws to both the Sunnis and the Twelver Shias so that all can observe the inconsistencies in the Shia doctrines and explanations. After the truth of the matter has been made visible to all, it is incumbent on those who are on the wrong path to rectify themselves, leave such mistaken ideologies, and turn to the path of Islam, so that they may be saved from the punishment awaiting those who deny the truth after it has been made clear to them.

And our last prayer is that Allah, by His Mercy, may enable us all to enter Paradise and to avoid the punishment of the Hellfire. Amin.


[1] The link given to us was http://www.shiasource.com/

[2] If any Shia were to say that the people were ignorant of the Imam since he lived in another place, this would bring up two problems: Firstly, the geographical location of the Imam should be irrelevant to the guidance of the masses, since his alleged guidance should be available to the entire world. Secondly, even if we concede the previous point, the Prophet that comes to the city would still remind the masses that they should follow the Imam, since the Imam-Prophet dynamic would remain unchanged regardless of their geographical distance.

[3] Even though it is instinctively wrong for the Muslims to think of things in this way, that someone was totally guiding the Holy Prophet even though he is the best of all mankind, yet this is what the Shia position compels us to ask. This is because the Twelvers insist that Imamah comes after Prophethood, yet they also insist that there needs to be an Imam at every point of time who everyone – including the “non-Imam Prophet”- has to follow.

[4] This Verse is in reality talking about the idols and false gods that the polytheists used to worship. So in this context it would be out of place to say that it refers to a person who is guided by Allah versus someone who needs help to be guided. However, since the argument is brought up, then we can examine how it fits into the rest of the Qur’anic Verses and the rest of the arguments presented by the Twelver Shias.


[5] Even the Khawarij group (who are coincidentally the diametrical opponents of the Twelvers in many crucial creedal matters) consider only the one who has committed a major sin to be a disbeliever, but do not extend this flawed interpretation for every small sin. The same applies to the Mu’tazili sect, who did not extend their concept of Manzilah Bayna al-Manzilatayn (the position that the perpetrator of major sins is neither a believer nor a disbeliever, but in a “Location between the two locations”) to include small sins.

[6] But the reader should note that this is not something from which a theological principle such as “all unjust people are disbelievers” can be deduced, especially when “unjust” means: done any sin whatsoever during one’s life. Rather, the “Thulm” referred to in these types of Verses is polytheism and the “Thaalimeen” in here are those who die upon polytheism, as one may understand from the interpretation of Verses such as 6:82. 

[7] We do recognize that Prophets are sinless in Sunni theology, but this issue can be brought up since our opponents do not accept many of our sources, nor do they accept our methods for reaching conclusions, so here we are simply taking their beliefs along with the meaning that may first come to one’s mind when reading this Qur’anic Verse.

[9] That is, even if it is said that Ibrahim (Alayhi Salaam) passed something down to his progeny, whatever he passed down was something other than “Infallible Imamah”, so its existence would be irrelevant to Twelver Shia ideology.


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