Need of Recognition Of The Imam Of The Time

Our discussion on Imam Mahdi (as), his characteristics, his life and times cannot commence without first fully appreciating the need for recognition of the Divine Proof.

One who dies without recognising the Imam of the Time…

There are several verses, traditions and events which point to the need of correct recognition of the correct individual who will serve as a guide for our faith. The Holy Quran says in Surah Bani Israel, verse 71 that, “On that day, we will call forth every person with his Imam.” The Imam therefore becomes and important, rather a critical element of our success in the Hereafter. The verse clearly indicates that every person will be raised along with that leader who he chose in this world. Which makes it imperative that we recognise the true leader from Allah’s side and align ourselves with him.


Imam Sadiq (as) says when this verse was revealed, the Muslims asked, “O Messenger of Allah! Are you not Imam of all the people? The Holy Prophet (sawa) replied, I am the Messenger of Allah for all the people but after me there will be Imams upon the people from Allah who will be from my Ahle Bayt. They will be rejected by the people and the leaders of Kufr and deviation – and their followers – will oppress them. Then those who love them, follow them and verify them are from me and will be with me and will meet me. And alas! The one who oppresses them, rejects them, they are not from me, and not with me and I am free from them.” (Tafseer Noor-us-Saqlain)


Imam Sadiq (as) said, “The earth is not left without an Imam who will establish the permissible (halal) & the forbidden (haram) as per the divine commands. And this is the saying of Allah “On that day, we will call forth every person with his Imam.” Then Imam (as) added, The Holy Prophet (sawa) said, “One who dies without recognising the Imam of the age, dies the death of ignorance.”

The above tradition is one of the most famous on the subject of Imam Mahdi (as). A number of scholars from the Shiah and the Ahle Sunnah have quoted this tradition. In fact 70 scholars from the Ahle Sunnah have quoted this tradition. The above tradition is Sahih and reliable and hase been quoted by more than seven companions of the Holy Prophet (sawa). One of the references is the book of Yanaabiul Mawaddah, volume 39, page 137.

The “ignorance” mentioned in the tradition is not the ignorance (jahl) we commonly understand as the opposite of knowledge (ilm). Rather, it refers to the age of ignorance which was characterised by pagan beliefs, superstitions and immorality. Which means that a person who dies without recognising the true Divinely appointed leader dies the death of disbelief.

Therefore one may acquire all kinds of worldly knowledge, reach the peak of worldly success, but yes if he is negligent in recognising the Imam of the age, then all of his worldly knowledge and success will not help him in the Hereafter.

The recognition of the Imam of the age is important from the perspective that Islam literally means submission to the will of Allah. It means worshipping Allah the way Allah wants to be worshipped and not how we wish to worship Allah. Allah is such a “thing” (shay) who cannot be heard, seen, touch, felt – basically Allah is beyond the realm of the human senses. Now who will guide us to how Allah should be worshipped. Only the one who is “authorised” by Allah can do so.

Allah’s worship can be performed only in the manner specified by Him

The daily prayers are a means of worshipping Allah only if the prayers are performed in line with His edicts and decree. For instance, if a person supplements the morning obligatory prayers with two additional units, then this prayer will be rejected and cannot be a way of attaining nearness to Allah, as it was not performed in accordance to His explicit commands.

The incident of Iblees (Shaitaan) is an important pointer for us in order to understand the importance of worshipping Allah the way He wants to be worshipped and not otherwise.

Imam Jafar Sadiq (as) states, “Allah ordered the angels, prostrate before Adam (as). All prostrated except Iblees, thus manifesting his envy. Allah asked him, what has stopped you from prostrating in front of Adam?” He replied, “I am better than him as You have created me from fire and him from clay.”

Hence the first person to act on act upon his own wisdom (in the matter of worship) was Iblees. He was proud and arrogant. Pride for him acted as a hurdle in Allah’s obedience.

Iblees requested Allah, “O my God, excuse me from prostrating before Adam, and I will worship you in such a way that neither the angels nor prophets would worship you”. Allah replied, “I don’t need your worship. I desire to be worshipped in the manner I like.”

Iblees remained obstinate in his refusal to prostrate. Allah then said, “Get out from here! Surely My curse is on you till resurrection!” (Beharul Anwar, volume 11, page 141)

The understanding of how Allah desires that He should be worshipped can only be acquired through the rightful representative of Allah. Let us understand this by an example. In this world, if we were granted an opportunity to meet with the President of a country, how many questions would go through our mind – what clothes we should wear, how should we address him, should we call him Sir, or Mr. President, should we shake hands with him etc. For answers to these questions, we will turn to the personal secretary of the President who knows the President well enough to give us the correct answers to our queries.

Now these are questions which come in our mind for a mortal individual. What can be said when we have to approach Allah, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the Sustainer, the All-Powerful? For our questions regarding which actions will please Allah, how to address Him, how to call him – will we turn towards those who know Allah intimately, who are “authorised” to speak on His behalf or will we turn to any ordinary person who only claims to know Allah? Or will we rely upon our own wisdom? Nay, it is clear that we should turn towards the one who is appointed by Allah as a means to approach Him and worship Him as He desires.

Relying upon one’s own wisdom has its own pitfalls

Allah has created man for His worship. Obedience to Him is the best way of thanking Him for His bounties. However, wisdom on its own is unable to establish the method of worship, as this is beyond its limit of human capacity. Those who relied on their wisdom in determining the methods of worship were deviated. They ended up worshipping someone other than Allah.

The above point comes out of an incident in which Imam Husain (as) quoting the verse of Quran – “We did not create the jinn and humans, except that they should worship Me” (Surah Zariyaat, verse 56), said – Worshipping Allah without the correct recognition is worthless. The companions asked the Imam (as), what is the recognition of Allah. Imam Husain (as) said, In every era, recognition of the Imam of the Time is equivalent to the recognition of Allah.

The above incident subtly highlights an important point – Since worship without recognition is of no use, therefore worship without the correct recognition of the Imam of the Time will not be acceptable before Allah (swt). A person may fast, pray and do all kinds of good actions. However if all of these actions are not accompanied with the recognition of the Imam of the time, then these acts, though apparently good, will be of no value before Allah.

Imam Baqir (as) said,   “And if a person stands for prayer in the nights, fasts during the days, gives away all his property in Sadaqah and goes for the Hajj every year of his life but does not have recognition of the Wali of Allah so that he may follow him and perform all his deeds under his guidance, he is not eligible to receive any rewards from Allah and he is not from the believers.” (Usul al-Kafi, volume 1, page 185)


Hassan bin Saabit was an extremely gifted poet who lived during the time of Holy Prophet (sawa). He used to recite poems and verses in favour of Holy Prophet (sawa) and his family. His position was very high and prior to Holy Prophet (sawa), Hassan would ascend the pulpit for reciting some verses and poems and praise of Holy Prophet (sawa). At the event of Ghadeer, Hassan recited a 14-verse poem in the praise of Ameerul Momeneen Ali Ibne Abi Talib (as). These verses are recorded in the book al-Ghadeer of Allamah Amini.

At that event Holy Prophet (sawa) remarked: “O Hassan, when you recite verses in our praise, it is not you but Jibraeel who speaks from your tongue.” But this was the same Hassan ibne Saabit who lived till the time of third Caliph and on being questioned by the people about the right of Imam Ali (as) he replied: “I don’t know”. At that time Allah snatched away the power and bounty of reciting verses and poems from him.

Thereafter, when the people approached him with the first couplets of any of his poems and asked him to complete it for them, Hassan would reply, “You can atleast remember the first couplet, I can not remember even that much.”

Hassan ibne Saabit died during the period of third caliph. During the caliphate of Imam Ali (as), some people came to Imam Ali (as) and asked, “Did Hassan die as your Shiah?” Ameerul Momeneen (as) replied “One who dies without recognising the Imam of the age, dies the death of ignorance.”


Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) says, “If someone feels that he can deem the permissible as permissible and the prohibited as prohibited, without the recognition of Holy Prophet (sawa), then he has in fact not reckoned the permitted of Allah as permitted and prohibited of Allah as prohibited. If a person performs prayers, pays the poor-due, performs Hajj and Umrah without the recognition of that personality whose obedience has been made obligatory by Allah, then in reality he has not performed anything! Neither he has prayed nor fasted nor paid the poor-due nor performed Hajj and Umrah nor has taken the ritual obligatory bath nor observed purity nor considered prohibited of Allah as prohibited nor permitted of Allah as permitted.

His prayers in reality are not prayers, though he bows and prostates. His poor-due in reality is not poor-due. Nor is his Hajj accounted as Hajj. All these are deemed legitimate only if they are performed with the recognition and guidance of those personalities whose obedience has been made obligatory by Allah upon the people. One who has the recognition of the representative of Allah and acquires the religion and its laws from him alone, only then has he obeyed Allah.” (Beharul Anwar, volume 27, page 176)


Indeed Imam Sadiq’s tradition in this regard is most amazing. Imam (as) narrates, “A worshipper from Bani Israel worshipped Allah and dried up like a toothpick. However, Allah revealed to the prophet of that era to inform him, that Allah will not accept his worship even if his worship makes him disintegrate like the flesh of the sheep when cooked, until (of course) he gains proximity to Allah from the door from which He has ordered to approach Him”. (Beharul Anwar, volume 27, page 176)

The above mentioned traditions make it amply clear that the recognition of the representative of Allah is an important criterion for His worship and obedience.

Belief in the Imamat of Imam Mahdi (as)
is a necessary condition for Allah’s worship

In fact, belief in the Imamat of Imam Mahdi (may our lives be sacrificed for him) is the foundation of the entire edifice of our belief and worship. A doubt (about his Imamat) equal to the measure of a grain will take us away from religion and render our actions void. In this context the following incident establishes the necessity and importance of recognizing the proof of Allah.

There was a family in Bani Israel. Any member of this family who worshipped Allah for forty nights would have his prayers accepted. Their entreaties were never rejected by Allah. One person from this family worshipped Allah for forty nights. Thereafter, he beseeched Allah for fulfillment of his desire. But his prayers were rejected. He presented himself before Hazrat Isa (as) and briefed him about his condition. He requested Hazrat Isa (as) to implore Allah on his behalf. Hazrat Isa (as) performed ablution and prayed. Allah replied to him thus, “O Isa! This servant of mine has not approached Me through the door from which I should be approached. While he is calling Me, he still has some doubts regarding you. Hence, I will not accept his entreaties even if he calls Me in such a way that his neck is broken and his fingers fall apart.” (Usul al-Kafi, volume 2, page 400, “The Chapter of Doubt”)

One can well imagine what will be the consequence of disobeying Allah’s appointed leader, or worse still, not recognising the correct Imam, when the person from Bani Israel only doubting about him. (Allah’s proof). When a person beseeches Allah by disregarding His proof, then he has rejected the means of approach appointed by Allah. That is, he has chosen another mode of approaching Allah in grave disregard of the mode endorsed by Him.


The Holy Prophet (sawa) narrated the following Hadees Qudsi from Jibrael (as) who in turn narrated it from the Allah, the Almighty who declares, “The one who considers Me worthy of worship, considers Mohammed to be My worshipper and messenger, reckons Ali ibne Abi Talib to be My caliph, deems the Imams in his lineage to be My proof then out of My mercy I will make him enter Paradise. On the basis of My forgiveness I will deliver him from Hell and give him a place in My neighbourhood. I will ordain My mercy and grace a must for him. I will fulfill My bounties over him. I will enumerate him among my special and sincere friends.

If he calls Me, I will reply to him. If he entreats before Me, I will accept his entreaties. If he asks Me, I will grant him. If he is silent, I will initiate. If he does evil, I will give him a place in My benevolence. If he runs, I will call him towards Me. If he returns, I will accept him. If he knocks on My door, I will open My doors for him.

But one who does not attest to My unity or testifies to it but does not witness the prophethood of My servant and Apostle Mohammed (sawa) or acknowledges his prophethood but does not accede to the Caliphate of Ali ibne Abi Talib or accedes to the Caliphate of Ali but does not accept the Imamate and Wilayat of Imams in his lineage, then indeed he has rejected My bounties. He has deemed My greatness to be of little value. He has rejected My signs and My book. If he turns towards Me, I will hide Myself from him. If he asks Me, I will not listen to him. If he hopes from Me, I will disappoint him. This is his punishment from My side and I am never unjust to My servants.” (Kamaluddin, chapter 27, tradition, page 258)

The last few words underline how important is the recognition of Allah’s proof in reaching Allah. Without the recognition of Allah’s proof, deliverance from His punishment is inconceivable. Man may do any number of good deeds on account of his knowledge, but if he does not possess the recognition of the “the True Imam”, then his deliverance is impossible.


Imam Jafar Sadiq (as) declares, “Allah does not feel shy from punishing those who accept an Imam whom Allah has not appointed, though they may be from among the virtuous. And Allah shies from chastising those who believe in an Imam appointed by Him, though they may be from among the sinners.” (Usul al-Kafi, Kitabul Hujjah, volume 1, page 376)

It should be noted that shyness for Allah is not the same as it is for humans. This only connotes Allah’s ways and methods. Definitely, this tradition does not mean that committing sins is excusable for those who acknowledge the “True Imam”. On the contrary after gaining the recognition of the “True Imam”, one should distance oneself from sins and transgression, so that it can be established that the followers of the rightful Imam are well aware of the criteria for his belief.


In an authentic report from Muawiyah Ibne Ammar it is related that: When Imam Jafar Sadiq (as) was asked regarding the verse:  “And Allah’s are the beautiful names, therefore call on Him thereby.” (Suran Aaraf, verse 180), he (as) said: “By Allah! We are those beautiful names as the Almighty Allah does not accept any deed of the people except through our identification and recognition. (Usul al-Kafi, volume 2, page 249)

Recognition of all Imams is important

Imam Mohammed Baqir (as) or Imam Jafar Sadiq (as) that he said: “No one can be a believer until he knows Allah, His Messenger (sawa) and all the Imams (including) the Imam of his time, and refers (everything) to him and submits to him.” Then he said: “How can someone know the last one when he is ignorant of the first?” (Usul al-Kafi, volume 1, page 180)

The above tradition is important from the perspective of recognising all the Aimmah (as) from the first to the last.

Importance of recognising and believing in Imam Mahdi (as)

The Holy Prophet (sawa) said, “One who disbelieves in the Qaem from my sons, disbelieves in me.” (Kamaluddin volume 2 page 412)


The Holy Prophet (sawa) said, “The Qaem is from my Progeny (sons). His name is my name. And his kunniyat (agnomen) is my kunniyat. And his appearance is (like) my appearance. And his behaviour is (like) my behaviour. He will establish among the people my practice and my shariat. And he will call them towards the book of his Lord, the High and the Mighty. One who obeys him has obeyed me. And one who denies his ‘ghaibat’ has denied me.” (Kamaluddin volume 2 page 411)


Imam Jafar as Sadiq (as) said: “One who believes in all Imams (as) from my forefathers and my sons, but denies Al Mahdi from my sons. He is like the one who believes in all the Prophets and denies Mohammed (sawa).” (Kamaluddin volume 2 pages 338 and 411)

A person without an Imam is like a lost sheep

Imam Muhammad Baqir (as) said to Mohammed Ibne Muslim, “Everyone who is obedient to Allah, to Whom belong Might and Majesty, by worship in which he exerts effort but who does not have an Imam (appointed) from Allah, his strivings are unacceptable, and he is astray and bewildered. Allah detests his actions.

Such a person is like a sheep which has strayed away from its flock and its shepherd, and which runs in this and that direction the whole day. When the night descends on it, it sees some flock of sheep with a shepherd. It goes towards it and is deceived. It passes that night with that flock in their resting- place. And when the shepherd herds the flock, that sheep refuses to recognize the flock and the shepherd. It runs in bewilderment seeking its shepherd and its flock.

Then it sees another flock of sheep with its shepherd. Again the sheep turns towards it and is deceived by the second flock. The shepherd shouts: “Join your shepherd and your flock. You are lost from, and bewildered over, your shepherd and your flock.” So the sheep runs away in fear, bewilderment and loss, having no shepherd to guide it to a pasture or back to its own place. Being like this, a wolf takes advantage of its being lost, and eats it.

Thus is it, by Allah, O Mohammed! He who wakes up in this community without having an Imam (appointed) from Allah, to Whom belong Might and Majesty, who is manifest (Zaahir) and just, wakes up astray and lost. If such a person dies in this condition, he dies the death of unbelief and hypocrisy.
Know, O Mohammed! Unjust Imams and their followers have been expelled from the religion of Allah. They are misguided and they misguide. “The example of those who disbelieve in their Lord is [that] their deeds are like ashes which the wind blows forcefully on a stormy day; they are unable [to keep] from what they earned a [single] thing. That is what is extreme error.” (Surah Ibrahim, verse 8).” (Usul al-Kafi, volume 1, page 374)

May Allah guide us to the correct recognition of the Imam of the age and to worship Allah the way He desires that should be worshipped. Ameen!

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