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Shia doctrine: Does the Imam need to be just?

SHAFAQNA– Occasionally, in Sunni’s theological books we read: ‘the Imam who is appointed by the selection of the people cannot be removed for being corrupt or a wrongdoer, for financial corruption, torturing and killing the innocents, abolishing people’s rights, or violating the Divine Laws. No one is allowed to revolt against him; he is only to be advised and admonished. Moreover, people can only disobey him when he commands to sin.’

Sunni scholars took this view of the Imam as a rule. A rule which emphasizes that, since the Imam is nothing more than a secular president or prime minister, he must always be obeyed and followed – he is not to be removed.

It should not be deemed that such view on the status and nature of the Imam only belongs to Abu Bakr Bāqillānī, who discussed it in his Tamhid, but that the majority of the books written by Sunni scholars hold the same view. Some of these books are listed below:

  1. Maqalat Al-Islamiyyun by Abul-Ḥasan Al-Ashari (d. 324/936)
  2. Al-Aqaid Al-Ṭaḥawiyyah by Abu Jafar Al-Ṭaḥawi (d. 321/933)
  3. Uṣul Ad-Din by Muḥammad b. Abd Al-Karim Bazdudi (d. 493/1099)
  4. ʿAqaid Al-Naṣafi by Amr b. Muḥammad Al-Nasafi (d. 573/1142)
  5. Sharḥ Aqaid Al-Naṣṣafi by Sad Al-Din Al-Taftazani (d. 791/1390)

In all of the above books, the Imam’s indifference towards Islamic laws and principles is not considered a valid reason for his removal. Again, this is because the Sunni concept of the Imam only treats him responsible for the material welfare of his subjects. Meanwhile, the Imamiyya define the role and the reality of the Imamate in a very different way. They regard the Imam as the one who is able to fulfil the roles of the Prophet (PBUH) in his absence, except for those of receiving prophetic revelation.

According to the Imamiyya, the Imam is supposed to continue fulfilling all the duties and functions of the Prophet. Moreover, they stress that the Imam must be infallible in order to protect the religion of Islam from distortions. Therefore the Imam, as described by the Imamiyya, would never violate the laws or act against justice.

Source: Shia Islam: History and Doctrines, Ayatollah Jafar Subhani, Chapter 12

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