The beliefs of the Imamiyyah

To begin with, the lmamiyyah distinguish themselves from other Muslim groups by their doctrine of the divine Imamate, from which they take their name. Thus Muslims are split into two sects on the basis of their different positions on the question of who should succeed the Prophet, may Allah bless him and his family and grant them salvation. (The history of this division, when and why the schism occurred, is not our concern at this point.)

First there are those who maintain that the Prophet of Allah designated an imam after him in a way which was unequivocal and did not require interpretation, that this was done through a revelation from Allah and was not a result of his personal desire for which there was absolutely no divine command, and that he named them individually and said how many there would be, especially the first of them, he being ‘Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, peace be upon him; that the Imams possess knowledge of the shari‘ah, infallibility, perfection, and the power to work miracles such as the Prophet possessed, and that they must be obeyed and revered as he must be; the only difference lies in Prophethood and the revelation of the Divine Law, which are peculiar to him there is no prophet after him.
Secondly, there are those who do not believe in the Imamate in this sense, and who maintain instead that the matter of succession was either neglected, as the Prophet did not say anything definite about it, or that it was left to the Muslims themselves to choose whom they wished to rule over them, although they differed about how they should choose him, what his qualities should be, and the characteristics of the electors.
However, the differences between the Imamiyyah and other Muslim sects concerning the Imamate carries over to disagreements in many other matters, some of which pertain to basic dogma, and some to law and jurisprudence. The most important points of dogma in which the Imamiyyah differed from other Muslim sects are as follows:
a) Regarding Unicity, they believe in the complete and total rejection of any belief in the corporeality of Allah or in anthropo- morphism, either in a literal or an interpreted sense. On this basis, they catagorically deny that Allah is visible, either in this world or in the Hereafter, in wakefulness or in dreams. They also reject the attribution of spatio-temporal movement and translocation to Him, because they deny that time and place can be ascribed to Him.
b) They believe that the attributes of Allah divide themselves into attributes of essence and attributes of action, and that the former exist in the very existence of His essence, and are absolutely one with Him, eternally preexistent in, not with, the preexistence of His essence itself. On the other hand, attributes of action are, in reality, actions of Allah, which come into exist- ence. On this basis, they distinguish between the All-Knowing (al-‘Alim) and the Living (al-Hayy), and the Creator (al-Khaliq), the Provider (ar-Raziq), and the Speaker (al-Mutakallim); (these examples are merely cited by way of illustration, and are by no means exhaustive). They also maintain that the second group of attributes derive from the actions of Allah, and come into existence with the coming into existence of the act. For this reason, they do not believe that the Qur’an is eternally uncreated, although some of them avoided saying that it was created.
c) With respect to Justice (‘adl), whereby they counted themselves among the ‘Adliyyah, their belief contains both elaborations and consequence:
(i) the impossibility of demanding that a legally responsible individual do that which he is unable to do;
(ii) the impossibility of punishing an individual for that which he could not avoid doing, or was unable to do, except when his inability sprang from his own choice;
(iii) the evil of punishment without clear notification; and (iv) the necessity for Allah to establish a Proof (hujjah) for creatures by way of mercy (lutf) – part of this is the sending of the Messenger.
The relationship between the Imamiyyah and the Mu‘Tazilah
However, the picture of the Imamiyyah and their beliefs which emerges among historians of the sect and I am referring to those who were not themselves Imami differs from the afore said in several respects. Even if these writers did not distinguish between Imami ideas and opinions and the kind of demonstration used, it is nevertheless a picture, which gives us reason to pause.
There exists a prevailing opinion among them that these ideas and opinions were passed on to Imami scholars at a time somewhat after the formation of the sect, through their being influenced by the thinking of the Mu‘tazilah and following their teachers.
This is the approach that Professor ‘Irfan adopts in his introduction generally, and specifically in the third part, in which he comments upon the sections of the book in more detail; and this is one of the reasons we have not published it. This third part investigates the relationship between Shi‘i and Mu‘tazili theology at the time of the Buyids. He states:1
A critical examination reveals that the shift in Shi‘i theology from its form based on hadith to its rationalist, interpretative form was in the beginning inspired by the critical and rationalist positions of the Mu‘tazilah . . .al-Mufid exemplifies the novel rationalist direction in Shi‘i thought, which was responsible for the rejection of a literal interpretation of the divine shari‘ah, and which introduced rationalist and interpretative explanations of it into the teachings of the Imamiyyah . . .
A critical, comparative examination of the differences between Tashihu ‘l-i‘tiqad and its precursors must centre itself upon the influence of the Mu‘tazilah upon the Imamiyyah.In addition to these statements, in which he fails to distinguish between differences in belief and differences in the methods of proof or ways of demonstration, Professor ‘Irfan also makes the following points:
i) That the Imamiyyah were, at the beginning of their history, transmitters of hadith and partisans of doctrines based solely upon the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah, without recourse to reason (‘aql) and the sort of demonstration resting upon its use, which they rejected.
ii) That the shift in Shi‘i theology from its early form to a subsequent variant one was a result of the contact of the Imamiyyah with Mu‘tazili ideas, by way of the instruction they received from Mu‘tazili shaykhs and the influence of their views.
iii) That al-Mufid was the first to complete this shift.
iv) That this judgement is based upon a comparison between the theological views of al-Mufid and those of his predecessor as- Saduq.
v) That the ‘rationalist school of theology’, with which al-Mufid is associated, is defined as ‘the rational and metaphorical, or interpretative, explanation of the Muslim shari‘ah.’

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