How Does the Current Imam Lead the Shia?


After the death of Prophet Muhammad, Abu Bakr was elected by Shurah (mutual consultation) as Caliph of the Ummah. The Shia reject Abu Bakr’s election, and say that only Allah can decide the leadership of the Ummah. The Shia further argue–and this they do emphatically–that it is not justice from God to leave us without any divine leadership, and that this divine leader is the Infallible Imam. To further emphacize this argument, the Shia ask the Ahlus Sunnah pointedly: “How is it possible that Allah would leave his Ummah without a leader?” And they categorically state that it would indeed not be possible for Allah to leave his Ummah leaderless after the death of the Prophet.

On the surface, these seem like valid arguments. Let us assume for the time being that the Ahlus Sunnah accepted the fallacious assumption that we need an Infallible Imam to lead us, and that it would not be justice from God to leave us without divine leadership. If the Ahlus Sunnah accepts this, then would it not be fair to ask the next relevant question, which is: “Where is this divine leader now?” Where is the Infallible Imam today? To this, the Shia will respond: “Oh, he has been hidden for more than 1,000 years and will come out near the end of the world.” Nice!

This means that the theory of Justice of God in terms of guidance worked only for about three hundred years (before the occultation)! Indeed, if the Shia want to argue that there is no way that the Ummah could be left leaderless after the death of Prophet Muhammad, then why would Allah leave his Ummah leaderless after the death of the eleventh Imam and the sudden disappearance of the twelvth Imam?

Imam means “leader;” how can a person be led when the leader is not contactable and accessible? Nobody has had direct contact with the Imam Mahdi during his Greater Occcultation which has lasted over 1,000 years. So what is the point of all this debate?

The Shia believe in Imamah and accuse the Ahlus Sunnah of not having a leadership system; well, at the end of the day, we all ended up at the same point, didn’t we? The Shia had no leadership system up until the Iranian Revolution, and the Irani system of “Wilayat ul-Faqih” (the current leadership system in Iran) is nothing but a man-made system in certain scholars do Shurah (mutual consultation) in order to elect a leader for them. Well, this is exactly what happened at Saqifah when people elected Abu Bakr, so what is all the fuss about? If the Shia are willing to accept Ayatollah Khomeini as the leader of the Ummah, then why not Abu Bakr? Why do the Shia find it OK for Khomeini to be the elected representative of the Hidden Imam, but they do not find it OK for Abu Bakr to be the elected representative of the Prophet?

The main pillar of Shi’ism is that we need a divinely appointed Imam and the leadership of the Muslims is divinely appointed. Without this pillar and buttress, the entire faith of Shi’ism collapses on itself. We again ask the Shia why they can follow Khomeini but not Abu Bakr? The truth is that Ayatollah Khomeini was elected by man, and so dies the entire argument of the Shia regarding how it would not be justice for God to leave us without divine leadership. Khomeini is certainly not divinely appointed, and most Shia agree upon this. Some of the Muslims have elected Usamah Bin Laden to be their leader; does Khomeini (the leader of the Shia) have any divine advantages to Usamah?

The point is that if the Shia had a live Imam who was supposedly infallible and had access to extraordinary knowledge, then we did not need this dialogue. Instead of all these debates, we would have asked a Shia to take us to his Infallible Imam and there surely the Imam could prove us his right by his extraordinary knowledge, character, and attitude. This is not the case now. If someone becomes a Shia these days, nothing will be changed for him in terms of guidance. He will combine the prayers and attend ceremonies for Hussain and pay Khums to scholars…but nothing in terms of being directed by a divine Imam.

So what exactly is all the fuss about? The Shia says it is obligatory to know the Imam of one’s time, but from the so-called Imam of their time what do they know? Anything more than his name and the fact that he will not come out till near the end of the world? So is it all about knowing a name rather than actual guidance?

We are fighting over a non-issue: The Infallible Imam doesn’t even exist.

The occultation of the Imam is 100% in variance with the very basis of the reason the Shia claim we need an Imam. The Shia belief is in fact not self consistent.

On the one hand, the very reason we need an Imam is to lead, but now the Imam has been in occultation, so what benefit does the Imam give now?

The whole foundation of Shi’ism is that the Shia needed an Imam after the demise of the Prophet and that it did not make sense for Allah not to divinely appoint a successor to the Prophet. Then what about today? Why have the Shia been living without any Imam for over 1,000 years? Why has Allah left the Ummah without a divinely appointed leader for over a thousand years?

To respond to this question, the Shia will say that the Hidden Imam still guides them while he is in occultation, but our question is: if the Hidden Imam (Mahdi) can guide the Shia without being alive with them physically, why couldn’t our Prophet Muhammad guide us without being alive with us physically? Thus, the Shia simply prove by their Aqeedah that their Twelvth Imam is higher and more superior than our Muhammad in everything.

So again, we ask the Shia point-blank: How does the Imam lead the Shia? There have been no substantial replies to this question, but we shall address the semi-replies that we sometimes get to this question.

Shia Response #1

The guidance of the Imam is not restricted to direct guidance. There are other functions of Imamah that we cannot fully understand except that his existence is a must for the universe.

Refutation #1

This is just a philosophical argument (being affected by pre-Islamic belief) that has absolutely no support from the Quran and Hadith. We have been told that certain angels are arranging certain things for the universe but we have heard nothing about such an extraordinary claim that Imams are needed for the existence of the Earth. If the existence of the universe was really linked to the Imam, then where is this mentioned in the Quran?

If we were to believe that the Earth needs an Imam to exist, then who was the Imam immediately before the Prophet? Did the Prophet ever meet him? And why do we need someone being alive on the earth to do the job? Imam Reza, the 8th Imam of the Shia, made a very interesting point: “If Allah wanted to extend the life of any of his servants for the need of people to him, he would have extended the life of his Prophet.” (Kashi, Marifah al-Rijal, p.379)

Furthermore, by the above reply in fact the Shia are stepping down and surrendering their main argument that says in every time there is a need for an Imam to direct and lead people (i.e. tangible direction and leading, not philosophical direction).

Indeed, the classical Shia scholars of old used to say that there is no need to even prove that we need a divinely appointed Imam since it is “self-evident” that Allah would bestow each people with such a leader. It was only logical, they reasoned. And they would scoff at the Ahlus Sunnah, taunting them for their lack of a tangible leader. Let us examine one of the arguments for the existence of Imamah; Shaykh Mufid, one of the classical Shia scholars, said:

“… Rationality tells us that surely there should be an infallible leader at every time who is not relying on people in matters…of religion because it is impossible that people live in a time when there are no leaders to bring them closer to good and farther from bad; and every incomplete human needs someone to advise him and every oppressor needs someone to control him…and there should be someone who teaches those who don’t know and wakes up the ignorant, advises the misguided and performs the Hadood (Punishments of Shariah) …and solves the differences of opinion and appoints governors and defends the borders and protects properties…and gather people for Eids and collective prayers.” (Al-Irshad by Shaykh Mufid, Section 36)

As it can be seen, this Shia scholar (who was one of the forefathers of Shia theology and who established Shia doctrine) clearly says that there always needs to be an Infallible Imam at all times who could practically (and in a tangible way) direct and guide people. For many generations after the Prophet’s death, the Shia berrated the Ahlus Sunnah for not having a divine leader present, and the classical Shia literature is replete with arguments about how it is not possible for Allah to leave the Ummah without a divinely appointed leader.

This of course was before the Imam suddenly went into occultation and dissapeared for one thousand years, completely obliterating the entire theory that Allah would always bestow a physical leader since of course that is “self-evident” as mentioned by the classical Shia scholars. How can we reconcile the classical Shia position to the current one?

Shia Response #2

The benefit of the Imam in occultation is like the benefit of the sun when it is behind a cloud.

Refutation #2

This is nothing but a poetic justification of the problem. What is exactly meant by the sun behind clouds? The sun behind the clouds has many benefits; in fact, there are too many to list. The sun still provides a lot of sunlight even when it is behind a cloud, thereby giving light to human beings, aiding in photosynthesis for plants, and warming the planet. These are just some of the many functions of the sun behind the clouds. What then are the benefits of the Imam in occultation?

How has the Imam Mahdi been of any benefit while he is in hiding? Did he help in any way in the leadership and ruling of Iran? There are a lot of controversial issues in Iran nowadays, and the Shia scholars are at loggerheads over them. Some of these controversial issues include the extent of Wilayat ul-Faqih, modernism and Islam, television, freedom of speech, and many other pressing concerns. There are even certain Shia scholars (Mujtahids) that are under house arrest because they do not agree with the current policies and leader. Were there any letters, voices, or emails from Imam Mahdi to clear up a bit of these difficulties? Which one of these Mujtahids who are in severe disagreement with each other are directed and led by the Imam Mahdi and how are the Shia people expected to realize this? Where is the benefit from the “sun behind the clouds?”

As can be seen, there is a difference between a fairy-tale and reality, and we sincerely hope that the Shia realize this. The answer that the Imam is like the “sun behind the clouds” is fit only for youngsters who are sufficed with poetic and fluff-filled answers. But for the people who want substance and meaning, this answer does nothing. Of course, if a person wants to be fooled, then perhaps any explanation will do. Perhaps even the silly and childish hoo-haa that the Imam is like the sun behind the coulds will do for those who do not like to think for themselves, or rather, for those who want to cling onto their belief no matter what.

Shia Response #3

Here is an excerpt from the Shia website,

“The following hadith corroborates the point we are trying to make, namely, that the actual reason for occultation was not explained for the people, and except for the Imams themselves no one knew anything about it.”

Imam Sadiq said: “The one entrusted with the command will necessarily live an invisible life…” I asked the Imam the reason. He said: “I am not permitted to reveal the reason.” (Shia Hadith, reported by ‘Abd Allah b. Fadl Hashimi)

Refutation #3

Finally, the Shia will admit that they do not know the reason their Imam went into hiding or what benefit the Imam gives in occultation. Of course, this is not an answer but rather the lack of an answer.

The Shia repeatedly declare the importance of the Hidden Imam, but when the Ahlus Sunnah asks “why do we need him and what benefit does he give you right now”, then the Shia will say: “We don’t know!”

This is the mentality of a school child who pretends to know something, and when another child asks what it is, then he will say “I am not telling!” The reality is that the child could not say anything because he knew nothing to begin with. Likewise, the reality is that the Shia Imams could not give a reply to the question of why we need an Imam if he is in hiding, so they simply said “I am not telling!”

Why would the Shia Imams hide such a thing? What purpose does this serve? Does this make any sense? It is an obvious cop-out. But of course, those minions who want to be fooled don’t really need good cover-ups to be convinced. Any explanation will do, even the school child response of “I’m not telling!”

Every faith should have a logic behind it, or else the entire faith is baseless. We can find no reason for the necessity of this Hidden Imam, and we openly challenge the Shia to produce a response to the question: How does the current Imam lead the Shia?

Article Written By: Owais Muhammad
Edited By: Ibn al-Hashimi, | Email : ahlelbayt[a] | English Version