Who are the Twelve Imaams?
Fatwa No: 6305

Question

The Shiites say that succession of the caliphate should have been according to the script, while the Sunnis maintain that it should have been by consultation. Which opinion is correct? Who are the Twelve Imams?

Answer

All perfect praise be to Allaah, The Lord of the Worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allaah, and that Muhammad  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) is His slave and Messenger.

 

Sunnis hold different opinions about whether Abu Bakr  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him should have been given the caliphate by virtue of the Sharee'ah texts, or by consultation. However, their views are relatively similar because they all agree that Abu Bakr  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him should have received the caliphate regardless, unlike the Shiites who reject this and consider it  usurpation. The Shiites, moreover, claim that the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam , stated that  ‘Ali  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him had to take over the caliphate. The texts they adopt as evidence to support their view are either inauthentic or contradict sound reason.

On the other hand, it is not true that the Sunnis cannot specify the Twelve Imaams who are mentioned in Saheeh Al-Bukhari, as claimed by the Shiites. The Sunnis have an explanation for the Hadeeth in question and other relevant Hadeeths and can reconcile them, as we will discuss below. However, it should be noted that no relationship exists between the Twelve Imaams in the Hadeeth and the Shiites’ creed.

This is the explanation:

Jaabir ibn Samurah  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him narrated on the authority of the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, that he had said that there would be twelve ‘princes’, all of whom would be from Quraysh. [Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Daawood and At-Tirmithi]

The wording of Muslim states that there will, inevitably, be twelve caliphs.

Another version in Muslim states that Islam will continue to be powerful until Twelve Imams have ruled.

A narration in Abu Daawood states that these Twelve Imaams will be agreed upon by the Muslim nation.

These texts have no relationship to the Shiites’ claims about the caliphate because the Muslim nation never agreed on the persons whom the Shiites regarded as caliphs, and there were no caliphs among them except ‘Ali  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him and Al-Hasan  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him.

Their statement suggests that Islam was not powerful during the reign of Abu Bakr  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him ‘Umar  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him and ‘Uthmaan  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him. This is totally contradictory to reason, reality and the Sharee‘ah, in which it is stated that the best age was that of the Companions and then the Taabi‘is’, according to the Hadeeth narrated in Al-Bukhari and Muslim on the authority of ‘Abdullaah ibn Mas‘ood  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him.

Scholars maintain different opinions as to who were the Twelve Imaams. The predominant opinion is that which is preferred by Al-Qaadhi ‘Iyaadh  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him and Al-Haafith Ibn Hajar  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him.  According to them, the Twelve Imaams reigned when Islam was powerful, because the Hadeeth indicated that the Muslim nation would agree upon them. 

Depending on historical background, Ibn Hajar  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him gave evidence for the abovementioned opinion. According to him, the Muslims’ agreement refers to the Bay‘ah (pledge of loyalty). The truth is that people agreed upon Abu Bakr  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him then upon ‘Umar  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him then upon ‘Uthmaan  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him then upon ‘Ali  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him until Mu‘aawiyah,  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him was nominated for the caliphate by virtue of the  decision issued by the "Two arbiters"  after the battle of Siffeen but he was unanimously agreed upon only after his reconciliation with Al-Hasan  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him. Afterwards, people agreed on Yazeed ibn Mu‘aawiyah  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him and  Al-Husayn  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him did not assume the post of the Caliph because he had already been killed. Disagreement began after Yazeed  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him died. After that, people agreed on ‘Abdul-Malik ibn Marwaan  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him   since Ibn Az-Zubayr  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him had been killed.

The pledge was given later to ‘Abdul-Malik’s four sons: Al-Waleed  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him Sulaymaan  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him Yazeed  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him and Hishaam  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him. ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul-‘Azeez  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him reigned during the interval between Sulaymaan  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him and Yazeed  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him. Apart from the four rightly guided caliphs, another seven were numerated. The twelfth was Al-Waleed ibn Yazeed ibn ‘Abdul-Malik  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him who received the pledge after the death of his uncle Hishaam  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him. Al-Waleed  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him ruled for four years and then was killed. After his death, turmoil spread and fierce controversies arose, conditions changed and afterwards it was reported that people did not unanimously agree on a caliph after that. 

Allaah Knows best.

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