Imāmah – Divine Leadership
The major distinction between the Shī’a Ithnā ʿAsharīs and the other Islamic schools of thought revolves around the issue of Imamah, or the early succession to Prophet Muhammad. The school of the Shī’a Ithnā ʿAsharīs maintains that the office of the Imamah is a divine office – meaning, the Imam or leader has to be appointed and the office is given directly by God, for this office holds the same significance as that of prophethood. The people are thus commanded by God to follow specific successors (imams) after the demise of the Prophet Muhammad.
Numerous verses in the Qur’an refer to the idea of God ordaining an Imam (leader) for mankind – some of them are as follows:
O David! Verily We have placed you as a successor on the earth, so judge between men with truth and justice, and follow not your desires, for they will mislead you from the path of Allah.
And remember when the Lord of Abraham tried him with certain commands which he fulfilled. Allah said to him, ‘Verily I am going to make you a leader (imam) for mankind.’ Abraham said, ‘And (what about) my offspring?’ Allah said, ‘My providence (does not) includes the wrongdoers.’
And We made from among them leaders (imams), giving guidance under Our command, when they were patient and believed with certainty in Our proofs and evidence.
In our school of thought, the Ahlul Bayt (a), that is, the Household of the Prophet Muhammad comprising his daughter the Lady of Light Fatima az-Zahrah, her husband (and the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin) Imam Ali, and their two sons Imam Hassan and Hussain, were granted the covenant of Imamah, and so we believe Divine Authority after the Prophet Muhammad passed on from father to son in the following order, such that at no time since the Prophet Muhammad has the world been devoid of an Imam:
1. Imam Ali son of Abu Talib, the Commander of the Faithful
2. Imam Hassan son of Ali, the Chosen
3. Imam Hussain son of Ali, Master of the Martyrs
4. Imam Ali son of Hussain, Ornament of the Worshipers
5. Imam Muhammad son of Ali, The Revealer of Knowledge
6. Imam Ja’far son of Muhammad, The Honest
7. Imam Musa son of Ja’far, The Calm One
8. Imam Ali son of Musa. The Pleasing One
9. Imam Muhammad son of Ali, The Generous
10. Imam Ali son of Muhammad, The Pure One
11. Imam Hassan son of Ali, The One of the Garrison Town
12. Imam Muhammad son of Ali, The Guided One, The Proof, The Saviour, and the One Who Shall Rise
The Shias believe that the Twelfth Imam is in occultation, and that he has been in such a state for over a thousand years, and that he will return along with Christ following the Second Coming and shall fill the Earth with peace and justice in the Last Days just as it will be filled with corruption and injustice.
The Imam acts as the cosmic link between the earthly realm and that of the Divine, the perfect man endowed with all the attributes of perfection, he who guides from darkness to the light, and the one with authority over the affairs of man, and those of creation as a whole.