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Role of 12 Imams (AS) in Islamic Society reconstruction
Courtesy: Samir Haideri
[Author Late Ayatullah Baqir al-Sadr, Translated by M.A.Ansari]
Allah, who brought prophet hood to an end with Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.), decreed that he should be followed by his vicegerents who would carry out the task of leadership and succession after the termination of Prophethood. These are the twelve Imams, whose number was textually fixed by the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) in a number of authentic traditions* which are unanimously accepted by the Muslims. Their names are in the following order:
Imam Ali bin Abi Talib - al-Murtaza (AS)
* Sahih Bukhari pg 173 Egypt - Sahih Muslim vol 2, pg 191 Egypt - Sahih Abi Dawud vol 2 pg 207 Egypt - Sahih Trimizi vol 2 pg 45 Dehli - Masnad Ahmad bin Hanbal vol 2 pg 106 Egypt.
It appears to be quite natural that we should, with earnest spirit and clear thinking, try to deepen our spiritual relation with the leaders of the mission of Islam and make studies in order to discover more and more about these illustrious leaders of history. With a view to illuminate our way to development we must acquire light from the brilliant history of this great House.
It is for the above reason that we take this opportunity to give some brief account of the life of the imams of the Shiah (May peace be upon them!).
As within the limited space available to us it is not possible to give an account of the life, the movement and the program of each imam separately. We propose to draw the attention of our readers only to the salient features common to the life of all the Imams.
This discussion has been so arranged that the life of the imams may be observed and studied as a composite and coherent phenomenon. We are going to discuss the characteristics of this phenomenon in order to find out its common aims and its true nature and to understand the circumstances in which it worked. Lastly, we will give a brief account of the main features of the movement of the Imams and the role they played in human society. Of course, this does not mean that we think it improper to study the life of each Imam separately. In fact the independent study of the distinguishing features of each Imam is as necessary as to acquire an overall knowledge of the life of each individual Imam and learn the distinctive features of his aims and activities so that this knowledge may become a prelude to the study at which we are aiming at present. We should make an independent study of the life of each Imam to prepare our way to an overall and proper study of the life of all the Imams as coherent and composite phenomena.
When we undertake the study of the Imams' life at these two levels, in the first instance we notice that apparently there is a wide difference in the ways how they conducted themselves in various situations. Imam Hassan (A.S) concluded a peace treaty with Mu'awiya. Whereas Imam Hussain (A.S) rose to fight a battle against Yazid and laid down his life. We find that Imam Sajjad (A.S.) passed his life inclusively in prayer and adoration, whereas Imam Baqir(A.S) devoted all his time to the dissemination of the knowledge of prophetic traditions and theology.
But if we look at the life of the Imams and its characteristics in a coordinated manner, we will find that their life consisted in one single movement, which pervaded their history and had no contradiction or inconsistency. A study such as we are going to undertake reveals one single truth, though its various aspects are capable of being described differently and hence may give divergent impressions.
The reason why apparently there exists so much difference in the actions of various Imams is attributable to the difference of time, the social conditions and the difficulties, which each Imam had to face. Each Imam during his time was continued with the problems and the difficulties entirely different from those with which other Imams were faced.
But if we take a general and total view of the life of our Imams, we may draw results far more outstanding than the effects which may be produced by the study of the individual life of each Imam, for in the course of this general study we will find a deep harmony between all the actions of the Imams. To elucidate this point we give an example:
We see that the `Commander of the Faithful', Imam Ali (A.S.) during his outward caliphate assemble the companions of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) and asked them to give evidence as to what they had heard the Prophet say on Imamate. A large number of them said:
"Yes, we heard the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) say expressly that you were the Imam".
Again we read in the life account of Imam Hussain (A.S) that once on the day of pilgrimage he gathered together the surviving sahabah (Companions) of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) along with a large number of the tabi'in (followers) and asked them to narrate what they had heard the Prophet (S.A.W.) say about Ali (A.S.) and the Holy Family.
Again we see that Imam Baqir (A.S) also repeated this action, and asked the tabi'in and tabi'in al-tabi'in (followers of the followers) to give evidence as to what the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) had said concerning the Imamate of Ali (A.S.) and his descendants.
When we study the life of the Imams and co-ordinate their actions, we observe this kind of activity throughout. These three actions taken consecutively by three generations represent a pre-calculated and coherent plan, and are complementary of each other. The idea of this consecutive actions was to admonish various generations and at the same time to preserve a tradition from oblivion and alteration.
To our belief the existence of a common policy pursued by our Imams is not a hypothetical question. Therefore it is not necessary to try to look for its reason or to discuss as to what historical events led the Imams to pursue such a common policy. Their common role is the natural consequence of the very belief in their Imamate, which is an assignment common to all of them.
Its responsibilities and conditions being the same, the natural consequences of this common assignment should be coherent movement, each part of which in the course of history should complement its other parts. It is only because of the difference of time that the actions taken by the various Imams appear to be different.
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