Shīʿa Islam: History and Doctrines / Ayatullāh Jaʿfar Subḥānī
The Sealing of Prophethood and the Book of Fāṭima
Like other Islamic sects, the Imāmiyya believe that the Messenger of Islam is the last prophet to be ordained by God and that his book is the final scripture. After his departure, no more divine revelation has taken place. His prophethood brought an end to legislation. While performing ritual ablutions on the body of the Prophet, Imam ʿAlī said: ‘May my father and my mother shed their lives for you. O Messenger of Allah! With your death the process of prophethood, revelation and heavenly messages has stopped, which had not stopped at the death of others prophets.’ (Nahj al-Balāgha, Sermon 234)
The finality of the Prophet of Islam is a principle in Islam. Anyone denying this principle will be considered an apostate. Some questions have been raised to that effect:
If the Prophet is the last messenger of God, why do the Prophet’s Household still refer to the Book of ʿAlī for instructions?
If Fāṭima, the daughter of the Prophet, received a scroll (muṣḥaf), then divine revelation has not ended.
The Imāmiyya follow traditions attributed to the their Imams without these being connected to the Prophet.
Now, we answer these questions.
The Book of ʿAlī
In response to the first question, it is important to note that the Book of ʿAlī is nothing more than a collection of the sayings of the Prophet. The Prophet dictated them to Imam ʿAlī, who wrote them down. That is why it is called ʿAlī’s Book.
The Sunnīs view the aḥādīth narrated in the Ṣaḥīḥ of Bukhārī as reliable even they have been recorded more than two centuries after the death of the Prophet and they are likely to have been distorted. On the other hand, Imam ʿAlī took the aḥādīth directly from the Prophet without any change. Imam ʿAlī was born in the Prophet’s house and was in his company until his passing away. He describes his upbringing as follows:
‘I used to follow him like a young camel following in the footprints of its mother. Every day he would show me in the form of a banner some of his high traits and commanded me to follow it. Every year he used to go in seclusion to the cave of Hira, where I saw him but no one else saw him. In those days Islam did not exist in any house except that of the Prophet of God and Khadīja, while I was the third after these two. I used to see and watch the effulgence of divine revelation and message, and breathed the scent of Prophethood.’ (Nahj al-Balāgha, sermon no. 192)
Imam ʿAlī was always in the company of the Prophet. It was only during the campaign to Tabuk, when the Prophet assigned him the task of protecting Medina from the hypocrites, that they were apart. Indeed, the close relationship between the Prophet and the Imam continued until the former’s death. ʿAlī recounts the story of the Prophet’s departure as follows:
‘The Messenger of God died while his head was on my chest. I performed ablutions on his body with the help of the angels. The angels used to come in groups to mourn his passing and I heard nothing from them but salutations upon the Prophet.’
This episode in the history shows that the Imam was firmly linked to the Prophet and he never separated from him. It was a characteristic of ʿAlī. Anyone reading history with open eyes will perceive this unique quality of the Imam.
It was due to this close affinity and familial connection that ʿAlī was always ready to learn from the Prophet. To that effect, he says: ‘Whenever I asked a question, he answered me and anytime I was silent he opened the conversation.’ (Tārīkh al-Kulafāʾ)
The prophet ordered ʿAlī to write down whatever he told him. Once ʿAlī asked him: ‘Are you worried that I will forget them?’ The prophet replied: ‘No, I don’t worry because I have asked God to give you a good memory, but you should write them down for your partners.’
‘What do you mean by my partners?’ ʿAlī asked.
‘The children who will be born in your family.’ He replied.
Therefore, the Book of ʿAlī referred to by Shīʿa and Sunnī scholars is in fact a collection of the Prophet’s words dictated to ʿAlī. This book will be of use to the believers until Judgment Day. The infallible successors to the Prophet have regularly referred to this book to answer people’s questions. (Wasāʾil al-shīʿa)
This book has fortunately been spared any harm. But other Companions of the Prophet saw their writings burnt and destroyed (Khaṭīb Baghdādī, Taqyīd al-ʿIlm; Aḥmad, Musnad). The burning of the writings was never compensated and it played well into the hands of liars who falsely quoted traditions from the Prophet. However, the Book of ʿAlī remained intact.
Some quotes about the Book of ʿAlī :
Imam al-Sādiq says: ‘We possess a book dictated by the Prophet and written by ʿAlī. It contains everything about the permissible and the prohibited.’ (al-Kāfī)
Imam al-Bāqir says: ‘We possess the Book of ʿAlī, whose length is seventy cubits and which contains any knowledge mankind may need, even the compensation for a scratch!’
The Book of ʿAlī was often referred to as ‘Jami‘a’ (comprehensive). Imam al-Bāqir says: ‘We hold the Jāmiʿa. But what do people know about Jāmiʿa?’
‘What’s Jāmiʿa?’ the Imam was asked.
Imam al-Bāqir explained that Jāmiʿa is a book whose length is seventy cubits – measured by the cubit of the Messenger of God – written by Imam ʿAlī directly from the mouth of the Prophet.’ (Baṣāʾir al-darajāt)
Therefore, ʿAlī was the first person who wrote down the Prophet’s words. The writing of the book indicates that Imam ʿAlī attached importance to the preservation of traditions.
At that time, the School of Caliphs sought to undermine the views of the Prophet. ʿUmar b. Khaṭṭāb had ordered his governors to promote only the Qur’an only and prevent any traditions being narrated from the Prophet (Ṭabarī, Tārīkh). ʿUmar even punished anyone repeating the Prophet’s quotes. He regularly asked Abū Dharr and ʿAbd Allāh b. Masʿūd: ‘Why are you always spreading the words of Muḥammad?’ (Kanz al-ʿUmmāl)
At a time when narrating aḥādīth amounted to a major offense, Imam ʿAlī and his children protected this book regardless of the Caliph’s directives. Here is evidence:
Abū Basīr says: ‘I was with Imam al-Bāqir. He asked for Jāmiʿa, looked at it and read us this tradition: “After a woman dies, her husband will inherit everything from here unless she has other inheritors.”’ (Baṣāʾir al-Darajāt)
Abū Basīr says: ‘I asked Imam al-Sādiq a question about inheritance. He said if I was interested in the Book of ʿAlī. Then he opened the book to this page: “A man dies, leaving his maternal uncle and paternal uncle; the paternal uncle inherits two-thirds and the maternal uncle inherits one.”’ (al-Kāfī)
ʿAbd al-Malik b. Aʿyan says: ‘I was with Imam al-Bāqir. He asked for the Book of ʿAlī. His son, Jaʿfar, brought it to him. It was a thick scroll as thick as a human knee. The following ḥadīth was inside: “Women have no share in their husband’s residence when he dies.” Imam al-Bāqir vowed that it was the dictation of the Messenger of God and the handwriting of ʿAlī.’ (Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa)
Ṣayrafī remembers a difference of view between Imam al-Bāqir and Ḥakam b. ʿUtayba: ‘Imam al-Bāqir asked his son to bring him the Book of ʿAlī. He brought a massive book whose leaves were rolled up. He opened the book. The Imam was looking for an answer to Ḥakam b. ʿUtayba’s question. He said: ‘This is ʿAlī’s handwriting and the Messenger of God’s dictation.’ (Najāshī, Rijāl)
Ibn Bakīr says: ‘Zurāra asked Imam al-Sādiq about performing prayers while dressed in the skin of animals whose meat is forbidden to eat. The Imam opened a book whose words he said were from the Messenger of God. The following ḥadīth was there: “Prayers performed on the body of animals with forbidden meat are invalid. There is no exception for the skin, fleece, urine, excrement and milk of these animals. God will not accept such prayers. The animal’s meat needs to be unforbidden.” Then he said: ‘Zurāra! This ḥadīth is from the Messenger of God.’ (Kāfī)
They were just five quotes from the Book of ʿAlī. We don’t have the book, but senior Shīʿa scholars have quoted aḥādīth from the book. The adept researcher Mirza ʿAlī Aḥmadī Miyānjī has collected them in his work, Makātib al-Rasūl.
Question: Sunnī scholars have said that Imam ʿAlī always held a book in his sword sheath. Was this the Book of ʿAlī? According to Aḥmad’s Musnad, Abū Ḥajīfa had asked ʿAlī if he had any other book than the Qur’an. In response, the Imam had said that he held only a scroll which enjoined wisdom, called for the liberation of slaves and said that believers will not be defeated by unbelievers.
Answer: This narration could not be correct because it implies that Imam ʿAlī had only learnt these three things from the Prophet. This ḥadīth does not conform with the real level of Imam ʿAlī’s knowledge. This quote of him has been mentioned differently in different books. (Aḥmad, Musnad; Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ; al-Bidāya wa al-Nihāya)
The best proof to the falsity of such accounts is the following ḥadīth from the Prophet:
‘I am the city of knowledge and ʿAlī is the gate.’
This tradition has been narrated by more than 143 scholars and there are 70 documents for it. (See Sharīf, Ghādīr)
Is it really reasonable to suppose that Imam ʿAlī had learnt only these three things? He was the one to whom all Caliphs and Companions referred to when they were ignorant of something. He must have been a knowledgeable man. Faḍl b. Rūzbihān says Imam ʿAlī was doubtlessly a scholar whom people desperately needed. He used to carry the Prophet’s message to people. (Dalāʾil al-Ṣidq)
Therefore, nobody can question the authenticity of these two aḥādīth. Otherwise, there have been some attempts to underestimate the knowledge of Imam ʿAlī.
The Book of Fāṭima
The second question pertains to the Book of Fāṭima (Muṣḥaf Fāṭima). Some wrongly imagine that this book is the same as the Qur’an, but such a view is in stark contrast with the end of prophecy. In Arabic, ‘muṣḥaf’ means a ‘scroll’, not the Qur’an. The Qur’an says: ‘And when the scrolls (suḥuf) are unrolled.’ (Q81:10)
In some traditions, the word muṣḥaf might have be used for the Qur’an because during the time of the Prophet, the Qur’an was the only important book of the time. For example, Imam al-Sādiq says: ‘Whoever recites the Qur’an upon the page (muṣḥaf) makes use of his sight’. (al-Kāfī)
Another tradition refers to the word ‘muṣḥaf’ is as follows: ‘Reciting the Qur’an upon the page will reduce punishment for one’s parents.’ (al-Kāfī)
Given these traditions and many other quotations from scholars, muṣḥaf does not mean Qur’an: it is a bound book in which its owner recorded their knowledge. If Qur’an has been referred to as muṣḥaf later it has been due to the fact that it was no longer oral and it had become a written work.
It has been no surprise to hear that Fāṭima, the daughter of the Prophet has had a notebook to record what she learnt from her father. Fāṭima’s children have mentioned in their traditions and narrations that they took note of what they learnt from their parents.
Imam Ḥasan says: ‘We have a comprehensive book (jāmiʿa) defining everything permitted and prohibited. There is also the Book of Fāṭima – which is not the Qur’an – dictated by the Prophet and written by Imam ʿAlī. We possess all of them.’ (Baṣāʾir al-Darajāt)
The Imam has noted that the muṣḥaf is totally different from Qur’an. In another tradition, Imam al-Sādiq says: ‘I swear by God that there is not a single word from the Qur’an in this. When asked if it contained knowledge, the Imam replied: ‘Yes, but not ordinary knowledge.’ (al-Kāfī)
The Book of Fāṭima is different from the Qur’an and some individuals are spitefully or ignorantly speaking about it in a bid to accuse Shīʿa of deviation.
‘Muḥaddath’ persons in Islam
In the Islamic tradition, a muḥaddath refers to a person who, while not a prophet and not receiving in revelation, nevertheless is spoken to by angels. This is why the title is the passive participle (ism mafʿūl) of taḥdīth, i.e. ‘one spoken to.’ The Prophet is quoted, by Bukhārī, as saying: ‘Among those who lived before Israelites, there were men who had been addressed from heaven without having been prophets. In my community, ʿUmar b. Khaṭṭāb is such a person.’ (Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī)
There are so many narrations about muḥaddaths in the Islamic community. Commentators on Bukhārī’s Ṣaḥīḥ have provided sufficient explanation to that effect (e.g. see Irshād al-Sārī). Kulaynī has noted in his book Kāfī that a muḥaddath hears the voice of angel without seeing it. He also mentions that the Shīʿī Imams are all muḥaddaths. (al-Kāfī)
Therefore, the daughter of the Prophet is a muḥaddath due to her qualifications. She used to hear the voice of angels but she did not see them. This happened after the departure of his father when Gabriel came to her and told her about the future in a bid to console her for her loss.
Imam al-Sādiq says: ‘After God took back His Messenger, Fāṭima plunged into a deep sorrow. God sent an angel to offer condolences to her. Fāṭima told this to Imam ʿAlī. ʿAlī said: ‘Anytime you hear the voice of the angles let me know so that I will write whatever they say.’ Fāṭima told ʿAlī everything she heard from the angels and all these words were collected in a book known as the muṣḥaf. The book does not talk about permissible and prohibited – it only contains reports about the future.’ (al-Kāfī)