Imam in Prophet Ibrahim's Progeny
The verse which we now would like to quote clearly denotes the concept of Imamat in which the Shi'ah believe. The Shi'ah maintain that this verse shows that there does exist a truth called Imamat, and that it has existed not only during the period following the death of the Prophet of Islam, but has been existing since the first appearance of the Prophets and will continue to exist in Prophet Ibrahim's progeny up to the Day of Resurrection. The Holy Qur'an says: "And (remember) when his Lord tried Ibrahim with His commands, and he fulfilled them, He said: I have appointed you an Imam for mankind. Ibrahim said: And of my offspring? He said: My covenant includes not the unjust." (Surah al Baqarah, 11:124)
Prophet Ibrahim's Trials - Command to Migrate to Hijaz
The Qur'an itself has mentioned a number of trials which Prophet Ibrahim had to face. They included his struggle against Namrud and his henchmen who threw him into a burning fire as well as several subsequent events. One of these events was that Ibrahim received an astonishing command which could not be implemented by anybody not fully devoted to Allah. The old man had no children. For the first time his wife, Hagar gave birth to a child at the age of seventy eight. Prophet Ibrahim receives a Divine command to go from Syria to Hijaz, take his wife and that child on the spot where at present Masjidul Haram is located and keep them there and then leave the place. This command was not in keeping with any logic except that of complete self-submission and total devotion. As he was sure that it was a Divine command which he had received through revelation, he carried it out. He said: "Our Lord: I have settled some of my posterity in an uncultivable valley near Your Holy House so that they may establish prayers." (Surah Ibrahim, 14:37)
Command to Slaughter His Son
More astonishing than these events is the story of Prophet Ibrahim's slaughtering his son at Mina. It is in memory of this extraordinary self-surrender that we now sacrifice goats and sheep. (As we perform what we have been told by Allah, there can be no question of why and what for in this connection.) After seeing two or three times in dream as if he was sacrificing his son, Ibrahim was convinced that it was Allah's Command to him to do so. He told his son about it. His son readily agreed and said: Father, do that which you are commanded. Allah willing you will find me of the steadfast. The Qur'an depicts a wonderful picture. When they had both surrendered (to Allah) and he had flung him down upon his face. (At last when Ibrahim was absolutely sure that he would cut off the head of his son, and Isma'il had no doubt in his mind that his head would be severed, We called to him: Ibrahim, you have already fulfilled the vision. (Surah as-Saffat, 37:102-105). What Allah says is that He did not actually want Isma'ils head to be cut off. He only wanted to see that Ibrahim and Isma'il showed their complete submission to His will, which they did.
The Quran expressly says that Allah gave a son to Prophet Ibrahim in his old age. It says when the angels came to him and told him that he would be granted a son by Allah, his wife said:
"Shall I bear a child when I am an old woman and this my husband is an old man? The angels said to her: Do you wonder at the commandment of Allah? The mercy of Allah and His blessings be upon you, people of the house." (Surah Hud, 11:72-73) According to this verse Allah gave a child to Ibrahim when he was an old man. So long as he was young, he did not have any child. When he got a child, he was already a Prophet. In the Qur'an there are fairly a large number of verses about Ibrahim. They show that he got a child towards the end of his life when he was seventy or eighty years old. After that also he lived for ten or twenty years more, Ishaq and Isma'il both grew up during his lifetime. Isma'il becomes so mature to help his father build the Ka'bah.
The Qur'an says: "And (remember) when his Lord tried Ibrahim with his commands, and he fulfilled them. He said: I have appointed you an Imam for mankind. Ibrahim said: And of my offspring? He said: My covenant includes not wrong-doers." (Surah al-Baqarah, 2:124)
What period of Ibrahim's life do these verses refer to? Do they pertain to his early age?
There is no doubt that they refer to that period of his life when he was already a Prophet, for they speak of a revelation. Further, they pertain to the concluding period of his Prophethood, for they speak of the trials through which Prophet Ibrahim had passed. These trials covered his whole life, most important of them having taken place during the declining period of his age. Furthermore in these verses there is a mention of his offspring. That shows that when this conversation took place, he already had at least one child.
In fact according to this verse Prophet Ibrahim was told toward the end of his lifetime: I have made you an Imam for mankind. Thus he was given a fresh assignment. That shows that he was already a Prophet and a Messenger of Allah. But there was still a stage which he had not reached so far. He reached it only after successfully passing through all the trials. Does it not show that according to the Quran there is one more reality the name of which is Imamat? Now what is the meaning of it?
Imamate Is a Divine Covenant
Imamat means the stage of becoming a perfect man and a perfect leader of all others. When Ibrahim was appointed an Imam, he at once thought of his progeny and offspring and said: 'What about my offspring? How about my descendants? He was told: My covenant includes not the wrong doers.
Here Imamat has been described as Allah's covenant. That is why the Shi'ah say that the Imamat in which they believe is Divine. The Qur'an also describes it as "My covenant". It is Allah's covenant, not of the people. If we take into consideration the fact that Imamat is different from the guardianship of the Muslim community, we will not find it surprising that Imamat is a Divine assignment. People ask who is to set up the
government, Allah or people? We say that the question of government is different from that of Imamat. Allah says to Ibrahim: Imamat is My covenant and it will not include the
wrong doers among your children. In reply to Prophet Ibrahim's question Allah neither says 'no', nor 'yes' to him. He makes a discrimination and excludes wrongdoers from the scope of Imamat. Thereafter only the non-wrongdoers of Ibrahim's progeny remained. This verse shows that among them Imamat will always be existing.
In this respect there is one more verse in the Qur'an: "And He made it a word enduring in his descendants." (Surah az-Zukhruf, 43:28)
Now the question is what is meant by a wrongdoer. The Imams (Peace be on them) have based their arguments on the use of this term in this verse. From the point of view of the Qur'an everybody who is unjust to himself or others is a wrongdoer. In common parlance, a wrongdoer is only he who violates the rights of others. But according to the Qur'anic terminology he is also a wrongdoer who is unjust to himself. There are many Qur'anic verses in which those who were guilty of transgression against themselves, have been called wrongdoers.
In connection with Prophet Ibrahim's question about his offspring Allamah Tabataba'i quotes one of his teachers as having said that Prophet Ibrahim's descendants from the point of view of being good or bad can be divided into four categories:
(i) Those who throughout their life have been wrongdoers;
(ii) those who were wrongdoers in the beginning, but became virtuous later;
(iii) those who were virtuous in the beginning but became wrongdoers subsequently; and
(iv) those who were not wrongdoers at any time.
Prophet Ibrahim fully realized the importance of the high office of Imamat which was granted to him after he had been a Prophet for a fairly long time. As such it is impossible that he would ask this position for those of his descendants who were bad throughout their life or who were good at first but turned wrongdoers later. Prophet Ibrahim must have asked this position only for those who were good. Hence his good descendants included: those who had been good throughout their life and those who were bad in the beginning but became good later. It is certain that he could not have asked this position for those who were not included in these two categories. Now we see that the Holy Qur'an says: "My covenant does not include those who have been wrongdoers." It is evident that Ibrahim's question did not include those who had been wrongdoers throughout their life or those who had been good in the beginning, but turned wrongdoers in the later part of their life. Therefore what the Qur'an says amounts to saying that those whose past has not been above reproach, will not get Imamat.
It is on this basis that the Shi'ah argue that those who have been polytheists in any part of their life, are not fit for holding Imamat.