The previous argument about the reception of Divine injunctions and laws by the prophets only proves the basis of prophecy, namely the receiving of Divine injunctions. The argument does not prove the persistence and continuity of prophecy, even though the very fact that these prophetic injunctions have been preserved naturally raises the idea of persistence and continuity. That is why it is not necessary for a prophet (nabs) always to be present among mankind, but the existence of the Imam, who is the guard ian of Divine religion, is on the contrary a continuous necessity for human society. Human society can never be without the figure whom Shi’ism calls the Imam whether or not he is recognized and known. God, the Most Exalted, has said in His Book: “So if these disbelieve in it, We have already entrusted it to a people [i.e., the Imams] who do not disbelieve in it” (Qur’an, VI, 90). 1
As mentioned above, the functions of prophecy and Imamate may be joined in one person who is then appointed to the functions of both prophet and Imam, or to both the reception of the Divine law and its preservation and explanation. And sometimes they can be separated, such as in periods during which there is no prophet living but when there is a true Imam living among men. It is obvious that the number of God’s prophets is limited and the prophets have not been present in every period and age.
It is also of significance to note that in God’s Book, some of the prophets have been introduced as Imams such as the Prophet Abraham, about whom is said, “And (remember) when his Lord tried Abraham with (His) commands, and he fulfilled them, He said. Lo! I have appointed thee a leader [Imam] for mankind. (Abraham) said: And of my offspring (will there be leaders)? He said: My covenant includeth not wrongdoers” (Qur’an, 11, 124). And God has also said, “And We made them chiefs [imams] who guide by Our command…” (Qur’an, XXI, 73).
1 Editor’s note: The translation of this Qur’anic verse is that of A. J. Arberry, The Qur’an Interpreted, London, 1964, which corresponds more closely to the Arabic original than Pickthall’s which is as follows “But if these disbelieve therein, then indeed We shall entrust it to a people who will not be disbelievers therein.”
Adapted from: “Shi’ah” by: “Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba’i”
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