Only an Imam can conduct funeral of another Imam

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When an infallible Imam (a.s.) passes away, it is the responsibility of his successor, also an Imam, to conduct his funeral. None other can perform this duty giving Muslims a clear picture of who is the rightful successor of the Imam who has just passed away.

Debate on Imamat

An interesting debate between Imam Ali Reza (a.s.) and a Waqifi (denier of Imam Reza’s a.s. Imamat) on the subject throws light on how only an Imam can bury another Imam. And this serves as proof of both the Imams. Even enemies of Aal Muhammad (a.s.) used this point to verify Imamat of various Imams (a.s.).

Ali Ibn Abi Hamzah, the famous Waqifi, was among the foremost skeptics of Imamat of Imam Ali Reza (a.s.). Evidently among his arguments against Imam Ali Reza (a.s.) revolved around burial of his father, Imam Moosa Kazim (a.s.) – since Imam Moosa Kazim (a.s.) was martyred in Baghdad and Imam Ali Reza (a.s.) at the time was in Medina and to cover that large a distance for burial was not possible under ordinary circumstances.

Ali Ibn Abi Hamzah: We have been informed by your forefathers (a.s.) that the Imamat of an Imam on his death passes on to another Imam like him (who conducts his burial).

Imam Reza (a.s.): Tell me about Husain Ibn Ali (a.s.) – was he or wasn’t he an Imam? If he was Imam who was his successor?

Ali Ibn Abi Hamzah: Ali Ibn Husain (a.s.)

Imam (a.s.): And where was Ali Ibn Husain (a.s.) at time of Husain’s (a.s.) burial

Ali Ibn Hamzah: He was a prisoner of Ubaidullah Ibn Ziyad in Kufa

Imam (a.s.): How was he the successor of his father while he was imprisoned?

Ali Ibn Hamzah: We have been informed that he departed from Kufa without their knowledge, conducted funeral of his father, and returned to Kufa.

Imam (a.s.): When this is possible for Ali Ibn Husain (a.s.) while he was imprisoned, then it is possible for the Imam of this era while he is free man that he comes to Baghdad (from Medina) for his father’s (a.s.) burial and returns to his original location – while he is neither imprisoned nor detained.

  • Rejal al-Kashi p 464-465
  • Ithbaat al-Wasiyyah p 207-208
  • Maqtal al-Husain (a.s.) p 319-320 of Sayyid Abdul Razzaq al-Muqarram
  • Behar al-Anwar v 45 p 169, v 48 p 270

The principle of only an Imam / infallible burying another Imam / infallible has proved to be a guiding light in many a confusing moment in the history of Islam – two instances that come to mind are the martyrdom of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.).

Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) given the funeral bath by his successor

A widely documented narration highlights that only Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) was the successor of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) based on the principle of funeral bath.

Abdullah Ibn Masood narrates: I asked the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) – O Messenger of Allah! Who will perform your ghusl after your demise?

He (s.a.w.a.) replied – Every prophet is given ghusl by his successor.

I asked – Who is your successor O Prophet of Allah?

He (s.a.w.a.) replied – Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.).

I asked – How long will he live after you, O Prophet of Allah?

He (s.a.w.a.) said: He will live for thirty years. The successor of Prophet Moosa (a.s.) lived for thirty years after him and he was opposed by Safra bint Shoaib – the wife of Moosa (a.s.). She said – I am worthier than you in the matter (of leadership).  Then he battled her and killed her warriors and imprisoned her in the best manner. Then the daughter of Abu Bakr will soon rebel against Ali (a.s.) in such and such place with a thousand Muslims. Then she will battle him, and then he will slay her warriors and imprison her with the best etiquette. And it is regarding her that Allah has revealed – And stay in your houses and do not display your finery like the displaying of the ignorance of yore (Surah Ahzab (33): 33) i.e. ignorance of yore of Safra bint Shoaib.

  • Kamal al-Deen v 1 p 27
  • Nahj al-Haqq p 368
  • Tafseer al-Safi v 4 p 168 under (Surah Ahzab (33): 33)
  • Tafseer al-Burhan v 4 p 442 (Surah Ahzab (33): 33)

The claims of all usurpers to caliphate are null and void based on the principle of funeral bath. Saqifah which was established to select a caliph, was an exercise in futility apart from disobedience of Allah, since caliphate of the real caliph – Ali (a.s.) was already established by virtue of offering the funeral bath to the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.).

Imamat of Imam Moosa Kazim (a.s.)

When Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) was killed by Mansoor al-Dawaniqi, it was Imam Moosa Kazim (a.s.) who performed the funeral rites. This was a clear sign for the Muslims that he alone was the rightful successor of his father (a.s.).

Imam Moosa Kazim (a.s.) narrates how he performed the funeral rites of his father (a.s.):
I shrouded my father’s body with two Egyptian garments with which he used to perform Hajj, in addition to one of his shirts and a turban, which belonged to his grandfather, Imam Ali Ibn Husain (a.s.) and a cloth that he purchased for forty dinars.

  • Al-Kafi v 1 p 476

It is clear from such reports that only Imam Moosa Kazim (a.s.) is the successor of Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) and if there is any other claimant then his followers must prove that he appeared at the funeral and replaced Imam Moosa Kazim (a.s.) in the manner Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.) replaced his uncle Jafar to prove he and not Jafar was the true successor, even though Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.) was in semi-occultation until then and coming out in the open was dangerous at that stage.

The principle of an Imam organizing the funeral of the preceding Imam, proved equally useful at different points of time, like when the Muslims were confused about the Imamat of Imam Ali Reza (a.s.) and Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.).

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