Debate on whether the Quran, without the Imam, is a sufficient guide for the Muslims

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It is the belief of Muslims that the Islamic nation does not need a guide or Imam. The Prophet (s.a.w.a.) delivered the message and he (s.a.w.a.) left the Quran amidst the Muslims. The Muslims do not need anything other than the Quran. In fact this view prevailed in the time of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) himself. When the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was about to appoint a successor on his deathbed, some companions including future caliphs sensed what was about to come and prevented the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) from carrying out his wishes. Instead they claimed – The Quran is sufficient for us (Sahih-e-Bukhari trad 9,468, 7,573; Sahih-e-Muslim trad 1,637)

There is an interesting debate on the subject of guidance after the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) demise between a Syrian and Hesham b. Hakam, a proficient companion of Imam Sadiq (a.s.). The debate proves that the companions were wrong in their claim about the Quran being a sufficient guide for the Muslims.

It was in the period of Imam Sadiq (a.s.) when a Syrian of Sunni disposition, came to Mecca.

Syrian: I am a scholar of theology (kalaam) and jurisprudence (fiqh) and have come to debate with your companions and students.

Imam (a.s.): Is your discussion based on the conclusions derived from the traditions of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) or based on your own opinion?

Syrian: My discussion is based on my opinion as well as the sayings of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.).

Imam (a.s.): Then you are a partner with the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.).

Syrian: No, I am not his partner.

Imam (a.s.): Do you receive revelation.

Syrian: No.

Imam (a.s.): Is obedience to you obligatory like obedience to the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) is obligatory?

Syrian: No, I do not consider obedience to me obligatory.

After this Imam (a.s.) peeped out of the tent which was pitched at the top of the mountain on the edge of the sanctuary of Mecca. Imam’s (a.s.) gaze rested on a camel trotting along. He (a.s.) cried out – By the Lord of Kaaba, this is none other than Hesham.

Those present thought that it was Hesham, one of the sons of Aqeel whom Imam (a.s.) loved very much. But as the camel drew closer they saw it was Hesham b. Hakam who had barely entered his youth with traces of hair appearing on his face. The others present there were much older than him.

As soon as Imam’s (a.s.) eyes fell on Hesham, he (a.s.) welcomed him and made room for him next to himself and said – Here is the one who helps us with his heart, his tongue and his hand.

Imam (a.s.) then turned towards the Syrian and said: You debate with this young man.

The Syrian agreed to debate with Hesham and the discussion started thus:

Syrian: O lad, ask me about the Imamate of this man (Imam Sadiq (a.s.), I desire to discuss with you on this topic only.

Hesham was so enraged at this rude comment that he started trembling with anger. He turned towards the Syrian and asked him: Does God desire more goodness and happiness for His creatures than man himself?

Syrian: Indeed God desires more goodness and happiness for man than he himself.

Hesham: What has Allah done for man’s guidance on account of His Mercy?

Syrian: He has established His Proof (Hujjat) on His servants and appointed for them an Imam and a leader, so that they do not fall prey to doubt and dissent. The Imam regulates their affairs and makes them aware of their obligations towards Allah.

Hesham: Who is that Imam?

Syrian: The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.)

Hesham: And after him?

Syrian: Book of Allah – Quran and the Sunnah.

Hesham: Do the Quran and the Sunnah benefit us today in our differences so that the differences are resolved and we can agree on a matter?

Syrian: Certainly.

Hesham: Then why do we differ with each other so much so that you have undertaken a journey from Syria to Mecca to dispute with us.

Upon hearing this, the Syrian fell silent and was at a loss for words.

On this Imam (a.s.) asked the Syrian as to why had he become silent and was not answering?

Syrian: If I say that there is no difference between us then it would be a lie. On the other hand, if I say that by referring to the Quran and Sunnah our differences are resolved, I would be wrong because there are many differences and every Muslim interprets Quran and Sunnah to suit his desires and inclination. If I say that there are differences and yet both of us are on the truth, it means that the Quran and the Sunnah are not beneficial in removing the differences. . However I could use the same argument against him (Hesham).

Imam (a.s.): You can go ahead and ask him so that you may get your answer.

The Syrian turned towards Hesham and asked the same question: Is God more Merciful towards His creatures than man himself?

Hesham: God is more Merciful.

Syrian: Has He established for them someone who will harmonize their religion, remove their differences and separate the truth from falsehood?

Hesham: Are you asking regarding the era of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) or about today’s era?

Syrian: The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) was present in his (s.a.w.a.) own era, but what about today?

Hesham: This man (referring to Imam Sadiq (a.s.)) is from Allah the All-Knowing who tells us the news about heavens and the earth which is his inheritance from his father (a.s.) and forefathers (a.s.).

Syrian: How am I to believe that this man has inherited (the knowledge) from prophethood?

Hesham: You can ask him whatever you desire.

Syrian: Now you have left no excuse for me except that I question him.

Imam (a.s.): O Syrian, should I inform you about your journey and what transpired along the way?

As soon as Imam (a.s.) related the details of the entire journey the Syrian confessed: You are right. I testify in you and have faith on your Imamat.

Imam (a.s.): Now you have acknowledged true faith, earlier you were only a Muslim through the Shahaadatain (dual testimony in Tauheed and Prophethood). Islam precedes faith (imaan). It is on the basis of Islam that one inherits and marries. And it is on basis of faith that one gains divine rewards. And till one does not accept Imamat, he does not become eligible for Paradise.

Syrian: You have spoken the truth, I bear witness that Allah is One and Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) is His Messenger (s.a.w.a.) and you are his Wasi (successor).

  • Al-Kafi v 1 p 171
  • Al-Irshad v 2 p 194
  • Al-Ehtejaaj v 2 p 122
  • Al-Manaqib of Ibn Shahr Aashob v 3 p 368
  • Madinah al-Maajiz v 5 p 265
  • Behar al-Anwar v 23 p 9, v 8 p 203
  • Aa’laam al-Waraa v 1 p 530
  • Kashf al-Ghummah v 2 p 387

Evident from this debate is the reality that the Muslim nation always needs a guide. In fact this is the declaration of the Holy Quran – ‘You are only a warner and (there is) a guide for every people.’ Earlier it was the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), then he (s.a.w.a.) designated the Imams (a.s.) on divine command to guide the nation in every era, so that no single era of Islam was without an Imam. The Holy Quran is a perfect guide only in the company of the Imam, else it is insufficient. By itself the Holy Quran can lead to differences. as in Siffeen for instance, when raising the Quran led to even more tumult in an already heated battle.

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