Question: “What is the main epistemic problem in Twelver Shiaism?”

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By a member of the Team

بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيم

If I am asked about what is the core problem with the Twelver Shia religion, the main issue that comes up is an epistemic one:

 We have a religion claiming to be protected by Infallibles, while at the same the way in which the religion is deduced is through the fallible means of transmissional chains, deductive reasoning, and the like. This issue is at the very core of the difference between us and the Twelvers, since from an abstract point of view, the Twelvers will reject each and every single ruling or the statement of narrational facts as given by any number of Companions if it contradicts with what their “Infallibles” supposedly propound, regardless of the number of chains available for the saying or ruling of the “Infallible”.

 But there is a paradox in here: Do the Shias down to the person have direct access to the “Infallibles”? Clearly not – it is the distinctive characteristic of the Twelver faith that their final Imaam is in occultation, and that his guidance is not through direct outward means, but rather through spiritual and invisible means.

But since this is the case, how do we know what the “Infallibles” themselves are propounding except through chains of narration? Indeed, their very existence and their “divinely revealed positions” are known supposedly through mass transmissions and narrations.

 Since that is the case, then how can it be said that the Mutawaatir narrations coming through the Muslim community are to be rejected based on the solitary narrations attributed to the “Infallibles”? That is, there must be compatibility between the mass transmissions coming from the Prophet and the sayings of the “Infallibles”. If there is a clash, we cannot discard the mass transmitted matters from the community of Muslims at large, since that would open up the possibility of dismissing all those narrations talking about the “Infallibles” as being fabricated. This is one major paradox.

 Now, if it is said that it is possible that one rule of the Prophet was known to many, but there was a change in this that was only known to the “Infallible” (that is, ‘Ali (RAA)), then why should this be restricted to simple rulings? What prevents this axiom from being applied to the text of the Qur’an itself which we know has been transmitted through many routes other than ‘Ali (RAA)? In such a case, why can we not accept the idea of the entire Qur’an’s text being abrogated en masse and replaced with something else and given to ‘Ali (RAA) only?

 Another point is that, in such a case, then how would we know that the supposed “mass transmission” of ‘Ali’s (RAA) “Infallible Imamah” was not cancelled and replaced with that of some other “Infallible Imam”, ad infinitum and applied to every single “Infallible Imam” in the chain?

 The truth is, that if the Shias were true to their Usool (fundamental and base axioms and suppositions), then they would learn everything such as the Qur’an, and every single narration directly from the “Infallible” and would trust no one else at all, since according to them, trusting “fallible teachers” is what has supposedly caused the disasters upon this Ummah.

 What all this shows is that the first Asl (rule) of the Shia is that ‘Ali (RAA) is the Imam after the Prophet , not that they use their reasoning, their immediate senses and transmissional information in order to gather information about the world, whether that is the normal world or what can be known only through revelation. For the Twelvers then, the conclusion is the basis for the foundations, and this is a very simple-minded way of taking things, due to the arguments above and some other similar ones that we can consider.

And through Allah is our success.