Commentary of the Quran (Chapter 2:124, Part-III)
By: Mohammad Sobhanie
Imamat, Pinnacle Honor of Prophet Ibrahim
Meaning of Imam
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
وَإِذِ ابْتَلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ رَبُّهُ بِكَلِمَاتٍ فَأَتَمَّهُنَّ ۖ قَالَ إِنِّي جَاعِلُكَ لِلنَّاسِ إِمَامًا ۖ قَالَ وَمِن ذُرِّيَّتِي ۖ قَالَ لَا يَنَالُ عَهْدِي الظَّالِمِينَ ﴿١٢٤﴾
Translation: 2:104 When his Lord tested Abraham with certain words (commands) and he fulfilled them, He said, ‘I am making you the Imam of mankind.’ Said he, ‘And from among my descendants?’ He said, ‘My pledge does not extend to the unjust.’
Commentary: Allah (SWT) tested Prophet Ibrahim (AS) with a series of difficult and strenuous assignments [كَلِمَاتٍ]. With sincerity and brilliance, Prophet Ibrahim (AS) fulfilled his missions. After that, Allah (SWT) appointed him as the “Imam” for mankind:
…..قَالَ إِنِّي جَاعِلُكَ لِلنَّاسِ إِمَامًا …….﴿١٢٤﴾
In part-II of this essay, it was shown that Prophet Ibrahim received the news of being Imam to mankind at an old age, despite how he had already been a prophet and leader for many decades. This suggests that being an Imam is different than being a prophet, and this is consistent with the present tense of the following sentence:
……. قَالَ إِنِّي جَاعِلُكَ لِلنَّاسِ إِمَامًا ……﴿١٢٤﴾
The word “jaail” [(جَاعِلُ)] is an agent noun [Arabic: (اسم فاعل)] and if it is used in place of a verb, it always gives the meaning of present or future tense. In effect, Allah (SWT) told Prophet Ibrahim (AS) that He was going to make him Imam, a position which he did not have before this news [Al-Mizan, Vol.1, Page 409].
Some commentators suggest that the “Imam” is an individual who governs and executes divine religion on Earth. They argue that there are subtle differences between prophets [Arabic: (نبی)], messengers [Arabic: (رسول)] and Imams [Arabic: (امام)].
A prophet [Arabic: (نبی)] only receives a message and disperses it at the disposal of interested individuals, whereas a messenger [Arabic: (رسول)] receives the message and is obliged to convey the message to mankind. An Imam [Arabic: (امام)] however, governs and executes this divine law on Earth.
An alternative opinion is offered by the grand commentator of contemporary times, the late Allamah Tabataba’I, the author of Al-Mizan. He suggested that being Imam [(امام)] is independent of being prophet. That is, an individual could be either prophet or Imam, or hold both positions. Al-Mizan’s explanation is as follows:
The Quran mentions that amongst the Children of Israel, Allah (SWT) appointed Imams to guide people by His command [(أَئِمَّةً يَهْدُونَ بِأَمْرِنَا)] [Al-Anbiya 21:69-73 & As-Sajda 32:23-24]. What is the meaning to guide by Allah’s command? An answer to this question is essential in understanding Al-Mizan’s view about the difference between a prophet and an Imam. There are three main points in Al-Mizan’s argument:
Point-1: The word “our command” [(أَمْرِنَا)] means the manifestation of the will of Allah (SWT) as stated in many verses of the Quran. For instance, regarding as to how Allah (SWT) created the universe from nothing, the Quran replies: whenever Allah (SWT) decides to do anything [(وَإِذَا قَضَى أَمْرًا)], He just commands it to exist [(فَإِنَّمَا يَقُولُ لَهُ كُن)] and it comes into existence [(فَيَكُونُ)]:
بَدِيعُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَإِذَا قَضَى أَمْرًا فَإِنَّمَا يَقُولُ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ ﴿١١٧﴾
2:117 The Originator of the heavens and the earth. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it: “Be! And it is.
Creation of the universe, the birth of Isa (AS) without a father [Al-i-Imran 3:47], Prophet Ibrahim’s ability to have children at an old age [Hud, 12:73], the birth and death of people [Gafir 40:68] are all manifestations of the will of Allah (SWT). The will of Allah (SWT) come to existence by His command.
Point-2: Allah (SWT) has sent general guidance to public through His messengers, scriptures and by many other means. Today, the Quran, the divine book of guidance, is available in many languages throughout the world to all of mankind.
Allah (SWT) also sends special guidance to His devoted servants. An instance of a special guidance is mentioned in Chapter Al-Ankabut 29:69, where Allah (SWT) says that He surely guides those who strive towards Him:
وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا ۚ وَإِنَّ اللَّـهَ لَمَعَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ ﴿٦٩﴾
29:69 As for those who strive in Us, We shall surely guide them in Our ways, and Allah is indeed with the virtuous.
The aforementioned guidance [(لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا)] is available only for those who strive towards Allah (SWT) [(جَاهَدُوا فِينَا)]. This guidance is not available to those who are not pursuing the divine path, whereas general guidance is available to devoted and non-devoted servants alike.
Point-3: The phrase [(يَهْدُونَ بِأَمْرِنَا)], “to guide by our command” refers to the guidance that stems from the will of Allah (SWT). As mentioned in Point-1, whenever Allah (SWT) decides on anything [(إِذَا أَرَادَ شَيْئًا)], He just commands it to exist [(فَإِنَّمَا يَقُولُ لَهُ كُن)] and it comes into existence [(فَيَكُونُ)] without any reservation:
إِنَّمَا أَمْرُهُ إِذَا أَرَادَ شَيْئًا أَن يَقُولَ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ ﴿٨٢﴾
36:82 Verily, His command, when He intends a thing, is only that He says to it, “Be!” — and it is!
The phrase “Imams to guide by our command” [(أَئِمَّةً يَهْدُونَ بِأَمْرِنَا)] implies that the will of Allah (SWT) is to guide a group of people through the Imams. Since the will of Allah (SWT) manifests itself without any reservation, one could therefore assert that the aforementioned guidance is a special guidance, where the effects would surely emerge on those who received them.
Al-Mizan concludes that an Imam is empowered to deliver the divine grace, mercy and special guidance, which emanates from the will of Allah [(يَهْدُونَ بِأَمْرِنَا)] to His devoted servants.
Since the will of Allah (SWT) manifest itself with no ifs, ands, or buts, an Imam’s guidance can surely take devoted servants to the land of prosperity. Al-Mizan gives an analogy that there is a difference between the one who can direct you versus the one can take you to your destiny. An imam not only knows how to direct individuals to their destiny, he is also empowered to give them a direct ride to their destiny. Within this context, many divine messengers were Imams as well.
Within this view, an Imam is analogous to the sun. The sun, with its radiant energy, fosters plants and sustains the life of living beings on Earth. Similarly, an Imam’s divine power, used at his discretion, fosters the hearts and minds of mankind on their journeys to prosperity
وَوَهَبْنَا لَهُ إِسْحَاقَ وَيَعْقُوبَ نَافِلَةً ۖ وَكُلًّا جَعَلْنَا صَالِحِينَ ﴿٧٢﴾ وَجَعَلْنَاهُمْ أَئِمَّةً يَهْدُونَ بِأَمْرِنَا وَأَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْهِمْ فِعْلَ الْخَيْرَاتِ ….. ﴿٧٣﴾
21:69-73 “And We (Allah) gave him (Ibrahim) Ishaq (Isaac), and Yaqoub (Jacob) as a further gift (grandson), and We made them all righteous ones. And We made them Imams to guide (people) by Our command, and We inspired them to do good deeds”.
وَجَعَلْنَا مِنْهُمْ أَئِمَّةً يَهْدُونَ بِأَمْرِنَا لَمَّا صَبَرُوا ۖ وَكَانُوا بِآيَاتِنَا يُوقِنُونَ ﴿٢٤﴾
32:24 We appointed amongst them (the Children of Israel) Imams to guide [the people] by Our command. As they were patient, and they were certain of Our signs,