Chapter Three: The doctrine of Imamah from a Sunni perspective


The root cause of our difference is Imamate

Afriqi states:

There is no gainsaying that of all differences that exist between the Ahl as-Sunnah and the Shi‘ah, the issue of Imamah is by far the most serious. It is in fact quite within the limits of reason and logic to say that the question of Imamah is the root of all Sunni-Shi‘i differences; all other differences will upon closer scrutiny be found to result from the difference that exists on that central point.

It is indeed amazing that on this point we are in absolute agreement with this Nasibi, this is indeed the difference between the two sects. Despite all the propaganda from the modern day followers of Mu’awiya it needs to be recognised that whilst this is indeed the root cause of our differences, both sects are in absolute agreement over the necessity to have an Imam to lead the Ummah. The difference lies over the method used to appoint an Imam. As Shi’a we believe this to be a Divine rank and that Allah (swt) and his Rasul (s) are in the best position to decide on who will lead. Sunnis believe this is the right of the Ummah. For the Sunni argument we need to go no further than quote Mulla Ali Qari’s book “Sharh Fiqa-e-Akbar”, which sets out the madhab of Imam Abu Hanifa, this is what we read in the Chapter “Masala Nusbul Imamah” (Issue of appointment of the Imam):

“It is the majority opinion that there is a duty to appoint an Imam. But there is a difference, as to whether this is Allah’s duty or whether this is incumbent on the public. The belief in the eyes of Ahl’ul Sunnah and Muttazalites is that the duty to appoint an Imam is a duty of the public. In terms of Hadith and logic this is a duty of the public. In accordance with this belief, there is a Hadith in Sahih Muslim, narrated by Abdullah ibn Umar ‘He who dies without giving bayah to an Imam dies the death of one belonging to the days of jahiliyya’. This is why the Sahaba viewed the appointment of the Imam as so important that they preferred it to attending the Prophet’s funeral, because the Muslims need an Imam so that orders can be made on Jihad, and so that Islamic Laws can be implemented”.
Sharh Fiqah Akbar, by Mulla Ali Qari, page 175 (publishers Muhammad Saeed and son, Quran Mahal, Karachi

Under the commentary of the verse:

When your Lord said to the angels: Indeed, I am placing a vicegerent in the Earth. (2:30)

Ibn Kathir records:

“Al-Qurtubi, as well as other scholars, said that this Ayah (2:30) proves the obligation of appointing a Khalifah to pass judgements on matters of dispute between people, to aid the oppressed against the oppressor, to implement the Islamic penal code and to forbid evil. There are many other tasks that can only be fulfilled by appointing the Imam, and what is necessary in performing an obligation, is an obligation itself”

Ibn Kathir further commented:

The Khalifah must be a responsible adult Muslim male, able to perform Ijtihad (independent legal judgments), physically able, righteous, with knowledge of warfare and politics. He also must be from the tribe of Quraysh, according to the correct view, but it is not necessary that he be from the tribe of Bani Hashim, or that he be immune from error, as the Rafidah (Shiites) falsely claim.

It is indeed strange that according to our opponents, the appointment of an Imam is an OBLIGATION, and that such an individual would have to implement the Islamic penal code, forbid evil, aid the oppressed against the oppressor. Despite this immense task the fact that (unlike Shias) they do not believe that only our Creator knows who/what is best for us they believe that they are wise enough to select a perfect guide for themselves. The result of this man appointed belief system is that that there have been Imams/caliphs who were themselves unaware of Islamic injunctions and were oppressors of the highest order. At one of the prominent Sunni websites, we read the famed ‘Aqidah al-Tahawiyya by Imam Abu Ja’far al-Tahawi al-Hanafi (239-321 AH)’ translated by Iqbal Ahmad Azami that includes comments on the Sunni belief on the importance of adhering to an Imam:

“We do not recognize rebellion against our Imam or those in charge of our affairs even if they are unjust, nor do we wish evil on them, nor do we withdraw from following them. We hold that obedience to them is part of obedience to Allah, The Glorified, and therefore obligatory as long as they do not order to commit sins. We pray for their right guidance and pardon from their wrongs.”

We are therefore not surprised to see that the people who deemed themselves wise enough to choose a perfect guide fell into a quagmire of confusion on the issue. They do not believe in rebellion against their Imam but strictly follow figures who rebelled against their 4th caliph, they believe that the Imam should be the one that implements the Islamic penal code, forbids evil, aid the oppressed against the oppressor and yet we see them forging forward to accept the caliphate of Yazeed [la]; who was a rejecter of Prophethood, a homosexual, and a tyrant. All of this confusion has been on account of the Sunni Sect’s failure to accept that our Creator (swt) was judicious enough to select a guide for us, who would implement His (swt) shariah, alhamdolillah the Shi’a accepted the decision of Allah [swt] in this task and that is why we found our imams to be perfect in all respects; possessing the perfect attributes that Ibn Kathir found abhorrent.

Afriqi cited this Shi’a Hadith:

Afriqi cited:

The Nabi sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam said: “The Imams after me are twelve. The first is Amir al-Mu’minin ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib and the last is the Qa’im (the Mahdi).

Reply– The Prophet (s) said that he would be succeeded by twelve Khalifas

We have no problems with believing in these twelve Imams, alhamdolillah we deem our 12 Imams to be the true representatives of Allah (swt), appointed to represent Islam on a complete (Muttliqa) level not a partial (juzwi) level. With regards to why we have limited the number to twelve, we will point out that this restriction has been placed by the Prophet (s) himself who said that the Deen would stay intact until the assignment of the twelve, something attested in Sunni and Shi’a sources. We have taken this Hadith as part of our Iman, calling ourselves ‘Ithna Ashari’. The Ahl’ul Sunnah whilst accepting the authenticity of the Hadith are unable to determine the identity of the twelve.

We know that Islam exists, in that there is no doubt. But its existence is directly linked to twelve caliphs; this is what we read in Mishkat al Masabih:

“I heard the Apostle of Allah say ‘Islam shall not cease to be glorious up to twelve Caliphs, every one of them being from the Quraish”. (And in a narration) “The affairs of men will not cease to decline so long as twelve men will rule over them, every one of them coming from Quraish. And in a narration: The religion will continue to be established till the hour comes as there are twelve Caliphs over them, everyone of them coming from the Quraish”
Mishkat al Masabih Vol 4 p 576, Hadith 5

Furthermore, in Sahih Muslim we read the following:

“The affairs of the people will continue to be conducted as long as they are governed by twelve men, he then added from Quraish”
Sahih Muslim, Hadith number 4478 English translation by Abdul Hamid Siddiqui

We read in Sunan Tirmidhi:

“I will be followed by twelve Khalifas all will be Quraysh”.
Sunan Tirmidhi Volume 1 page 813 Urdu Translated by Maulana Badheya al Zaman.

Imam Ahmed recorded the Hadith as follows:

Narrated from Masrooq who said: ‘We were sitting with Abdallah bin Masood while he was reciting the Quran and a man asked him: O Abu Abdul Rahman, did you ask the Messenger of Allah how many caliphs this ummah will have?. Abdallah bin Masood said: No one has asked me this since coming to Iraq except you. He then said: Yes, we did ask the Prophet and He said, “There will be twelve, the same count as the chieftans (nuqaba) of Bani Israel”.
 Musnad Ahmed bin Hanbal, Volume 1 Hadith No. 3593

al-Hafidk Ali bin Abi Bakar al-Haythami stated about the tradition:

Narrated by Ahmad, Abo Ya’ala and al-Bazar, its (chain) include Mujaled bin Saeed, al-Nes’ai said about him thiqa but the majority said about him daeef, the rest of the narrators are thiqa
Majma ul Zawaid, Volume 5 Hadith 8967.

We read in al-Mustadrak al-Hakim, Volume 3 page 218 (Published in Hyderabad in 1334):

Aun bin Abi Jahifa narrated from his father: ‘I went to Prophet [s] along with my uncle. He [s] stated: ‘The affair of my Ummah will continue unless there come 12 caliphs’. Then he said something in a low voice. I asked my uncle who was sitting close to Him [s]: ‘O Uncle! What did He[s] say?’ He replied: ‘O Son! He [s] said that all of them will be from Quraish’.

Hafid al-Haythami stated about this hadith:

“This tradition has been recorded by Tabarani in Auwsat and Kabeer and by Bazar too and the narrators of Tabarani are from Sahih”
Majma ul Zawaid, Volume 5 page 190, Hadith 8968

Ibn Hajar Makki in his anti-Shia book stated about the 12 Khalifa Hadith:

“There is an Ijma about this hadith being Sahih”
Sawaiq al-Muhriah, page 11

Imam Tirmidhi stated under one of the versions of 12 Caliph Hadith:

“This Hadith is Hasan Sahih and has been narrated by Jabir from various ways”
Sunan Sahih Tirmidhi, Volume 2 page 45, Hadith No. 2149 (Published in 1342 in Delhi)

And like we just wrote that Holy Prophet also used ‘Imams’ instead of ‘Caliph’. Holy Prophet [s], it is narrated that:

The Prophet (s) said: “The Imams are from Quraish”
1. Sunan Nisai, No. 4818
2. Musnaf Ibn Abi Shaybah, ‘Kitab al Fadail’ No. 31770

So what can be summarised from these Hadith:

  • Islam will exist until the Day of Judgement
  • In that time 12 Caliphs will have been leaders of the Ummah. Islam will continue as long as these 12 have ruled.

The duration of all twelve will be until the Day of Judgement. 12 is the crucial number the Prophet (saws) here is only referring to 12 khalifa’s, but how can this be the case when dozens of khalifas ruled the Islamic State? It is clear that the Prophet’s concern was only with 12 of them. These 12 must have some importance, Rasulullah (s) informs his followers of their coming in the capacity of Khalifa’s.

The Sunni interpretation of the twelve Khalifa’s Hadith

It is in accordance with this Sunni belief i.e. that it is the duty of the public to select or elect the Imam of the Ummah that Qari interprets the Hadith of the 12 Caliphs in the following way:

  1. Abu Bakr
  2. Umar
  3. Uthman
  4. Ali
  5. Mu’awiya
  6. Yazid
  7. Abdul Malik bin Marwan
  8. Walid bin Abdul Malik bin Marwan
  9. Sulayman bin Abdul Malik bin Marwan
  10. Umar bin Abdul Aziz
  11. Yazid bin Abdul Malik bin Marwan
  12. Hasham bin Abdul Malik bin Marwan
    Sharh Fiqa Akbar, by Mulla Ali Qari, page 73 (publishers Muhammad Saeed and son, Quran Mahal, Karachi)

Ibn Khaldun after including the five Rightly Guided Khalifas says:

“Mu’awiya is the 6th, Umar bin Abdul Aziz is the 7th the remaining 5 will be from the Ahl’ul bayt, the lineage of Ali”.
Muqaddimah Volume 2 page 178 Urdu translation by Maulana Raghib Rahmani.

The former grand Mufti of Deobandies, Maulana Muahmmad Shafi states:

“Of the four, Sidiq al Akbar, the Great Farooq, Uthman Ghani, ‘Ali al Murtadha (may Allah be pleased with them) are included after some time Umar bin Abdul Aziz is accepted by consensus as the 5th rightly guided caliph”
Tafseer Maarif al Qur’an Volume 3 page 78

The gap between the death of Maula ‘Ali (as) and Umar bin Abdul Aziz coming to power is several decades, it has been 1300 yrs since he died and he hasn’t mentioned who the remainder seven Khalifa’s, who are they and how will this prediction be fulfilled? It would have been better for the Mufti to fill in the names of the remainder 7, but he didn’t mention any other Khalifa.

After a detailed discussion in ‘Tareekh ul Khulafa’ page 28 Suyuti states:

“The 12 Khalifas mentioned by Rasulullah (s) are the four rightly guided khalifas, Hadhrat Hasan, Hadhrat Mu’awiya, Ibn Zubayr, Umar bin Abdul Aziz is the 8th. Muhtadi should also be counted because during the Abbasid reign he was a just person just like Umer bin Abdul Aziz was from Banu Umayah, Tahir should be counted as 10th caliph because he was a symbol of justice, after these 10, two caliphs remains among those one will be Imam Mahdi who will be from the Ahl’ul bayt”.
 Tarikh al Khulfa (Urdu), page 28 by Jalaluddin Suyuti

Al Muhaddith Shah Waliyullah Dehlavi was and is still regarded as a high ranking scholar from the Sunni’s. The Deobandi scholar Maulana Siddiqi writes:

“Shah Waliullah of Delhi, the celebrated philosopher, theologian, legist, traditionalist and commentator before whose learning and piety bowed the Arab and non Arab Ulama, found all the qualities of a mujtahid in his person”.
Taken from ‘Awake to the call of Islam’ Vol 2 no 9, Sep-Oct 1974, by the Young Men’s Muslim Association.

This is his interpretation of the aforementioned Hadith.

  1. Abu Bakr
  2. Umar
  3. Uthman
  4. Ali
  5. Mu’awiya
  6. Yazid
  7. Abdul Malik bin Marwan
  8. Walid bin Abdul Malik bin Marwan
  9. Sulayman bin Abdul Malik bin Marwan
  10. Yazid bin Abdul Malik bin Marwan
  11. Hasham bin Abdul Malik bin Marwan
  12. Umar bin Abdul Azizl
  13. Walid bin Yazid bin Abdul Malik

Qurrat ul Ainain by Al Muhaddith Shah Waliyullah Dehlavi, page 297

Shah Waliyullah takes Yazid out of the khalifas list because “he could not establish his kingdom, his reign was short and his character was not good”.
Qurrat ul Ainain by Al Muhaddith Shah Waliyullah Dehlavi page 298

Bare this in mind because that means Shah Waliullah feels the other individuals all had good characters. It is not necessary to analyse each individual; we will simply cite the character of Walid the 12th Caliph in a later chapter.

We shall now turn to ‘Sirat un Nabi’ by Allamah Shibli Numani. Sufficient as to its rank are the words of the Sunni scholar “Muhammad Atiqul Haque:

“Sirat an Nabi is a unique book on the life of the Prophet and is acclaimed as one of the best books in the world. He wrote only four volumes of this book and the remaining four volumes were written by his disciple, Syed Sulayman Nadvi”.
Muslim Heroes of the World, by Muhammad Atiqul Haque, page 130 (Taha Publishers Ltd, UK)

Allamah Syed Sulayman Nadvi records the names of 12 caliphs cited by Hafiz Ibn Hajar:

  1. Abu Bakr
  2. Umar
  3. Uthman
  4. Ali
  5. Mu’awiya
  6. Yazid
  7. Abdul Malik bin Marwan
  8. Walid bin Abdul Malik bin Marwan
  9. Sulayman bin Abdul Malik bin Marwan
  10. Umar bin Abdul Aziz
  11. Yazid bin Abdul Malik bin Marwan
  12. Hasham bin Abdul Malik bin Marwan
    Sirat un Nabi, Volume 3 page 380 published in Lahore

Let us turn to the great Hadith scholar Allamah Waheed uz Zaman Khan Hyderabadi. This figure was a scholar of the Qur’an, he wrote a commentary of Sahih al Bukhari spanning 9 volumes. He also wrote commentaries of Muslim, Nasai, Abu Daud, Ibn Majah, Muwatta Imam Malik and authored ‘Lughat al Hadith’. We will demonstrate how he has contradicted himself in his interpretations of this Hadith. In his Sharh of Bukhari, Tayseer al Bari page 267 he states:

“These 12 have passed through the Ummah, the number from Hadhrat Siddique through to Umar ibn Abdul Aziz are 14. Two reigned for a very short period Mu’awiyah ibne Yazeed and Marwan, if we remove them we have 12 Khalifas”.

In his commentary of Sunan Abu Daud Volume 3 page 347, Allamah Waheed Zaman departs from this position:

“Outwardly this Hadith is difficult. The focus of the Ulema is on the four caliphs via whom the Deen remained intact and the vast bulk of the Ummah were agreed upon them, the remaining Abbasid and Umayyad Khalifas were unjust tyrants, although amongst them just individuals also existed”.

So we see that among Sunni scholars, everyone came up with his own set of 12 caliphs and they have always been confused on this matter [imamate] this is why it had been said by Imam Hajar Asqalani:

“There is no one who could tell the correct meaning of this hadith”
Fatah ul Bari, Volume 13 page 183 (Published by Daarul Ma`arifah, Beirut)

In ‘Lughaat ul Hadith’ page 108, letter Jeem [Meer Muhammad Kutb Khana, Karachi] he states:

“There is major difference in determining the twelve, The Imamiah have taken it to mean the 12 Imams. And the Sunni Ulema say different things. Allah (swt) knows who the twelve were. We know that Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali were amongst the twelve thus leaving seven. They will be born at various intervals, some may have already passed by, and some remain. The 12 are completed with Imam Mahdi”.

In Lughaat ul Hadith page 61, Allamah Waheed uz Zaman then offers a completely different point of view, interpreting the Hadith as follows, he says:

“The Sunni Ulema have scratched around and after the 4 rightly, count some from the Banu Ummayya, and some from the Abbasids that were good and just. I have stated in ‘Hidayath al Mahdi’ that the twelve refers to the twelve Imams…”
Lughaat ul Hadith Volume 1 Kitab ‘Alif’ page 61 (Published in Karachi)

Let us now cite his book Hidayaath al Mahdi, page 102 published in Delhi in 1328 Hijri, wherein Zaman after writing down the names of the twelve Khalifas states:

“These twelve are our Imams, they are our Leaders. In their Khilafah is inheritance of the Prophet (s)…These people are the sunset of the skies…May Allah (swt) grants us the next life with the 12 Imams, may our footing remain firm with them, and may we remain loving them until the Day of Judgement”.

What is clear is that Rasulullah (s) foretold the coming of twelve successors, and yet even today the Sunni Ulema can’t agree on who these twelve are. On the other hand the twelve Imams that the Shi’a accept as their Guides, are recognised by all for their greatness, knowledge and piety.

A discussion on a version of Hadith which says that the Ummah will agree upon all twelve caliphs

It is now quite clear as to which of the Islamic sects adheres to the same number of Imams/Caliphs as identified by Holy Prophet [s]. Our opponents seek to counter this strong evidence by producing different traditions such:

Umro bin Uthman – Marwan bin Muawiyah – Ismaeel i.e. Ibn Abi Khalid – from his father – Jabir bin Samrah who narrated that: Holy Prophet [s]: ‘The religion will continue until it passes by twelve rulers, whom whole ummah will agree upon’
Sunan Abu Daud, Volume 4 page 170

It is quite evident that the latter part of the hadith “whom whole ummah will agree upon” is an addition by the narrator himself as is clear by a clearer version of this same tradition which we can read in Imam Tabarani’s Maujam al-Kabir, Volume 2 page 207 Hadith 1849:

عن ابن أبي خالد ، عن أبيه ، عن جابر بن سمرة ، قال : قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : ” لا يزال هذا الدين قائما حتى يقوم اثنا عشر خليفة ” ، قال إسماعيل : أظن ظنا أن أبي ، قال : كلهم تجتمع عليه الأمة

Ibrahim bin Hameed – Ismaeel bin Abi Khalid – from his father – Jabir bin Samrah who narrated that Holy Prophet said: ‘This religion will remain until there comes twelve caliphs’. Ismaeel said: ‘It is my conjecture that my father said that whole ummah will agree upon them’

So we come to know that Ismaeel said: ‘It is my conjecture” while we have been clearly instructed in the Holy Quran: “and conjecture avails nothing against Truth.” (53:28). This same ‘conjecture’ of Ismaeel was then recorded through Marwan bin Muawiyah in the manner of a ‘confirmed’ report. Marwan bin Muawiyah is a narrator about whom Ibn Mueen said: ‘I have never seen a greater cheater in corruption (tadlis) than him’ while Al-Ajuri narrated from Abi Daud that: ‘He used to commit dishonesty in names’ (see Tahdeeb al Tahdeeb). Ibn Hajar in his other book ‘Merateb Al-Mudalaseen’ wrote about Marwan bin Muawiyah: “He was known for corruption (Tadlis), he used to distort the names of the Sheikhs as well, Al-Darqutni described him the same” .

It is hence evident that the mistake that appeared in the chain of that tradition then also appeared in the text [matan].

Moreover Ismaeel bin Abi Khalid was an illiterate and a perpetrator of various grave mistakes. His father who is also present in the chain of the above cited hadith is considered ‘Majhul’ by many of the esteemed scholars (Tahdheeb al Tahdheeb).

Worthy of note is the fact that the first five khalifas of the Ahl’ul Sunnah are included among those 12 caliphs mentioned in this tradition and this includes Ali (as) and Imam Hasan (as) yet we see that not all the Ummah agreed upon them, rather they were subjected to all manner of torment from the Ummah’s notable trouble makers.

Even if for arguments sake we overlook these strong objections about this version of the hadith and deem it to have been narrated by the Holy Prophet [s], the words ‘tuhatma aleh umah’ (ummah will agree upon them) must mean that ‘All people of ummah should agree upon them’ or it must mean like what has been said by Shaykh Suleman Qandozi that among these caliphs Mahdi will be the last one and the entire Ummah will agree upon him on his appearance.


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