Based on the reasons for general prophethood, God chose a group of individuals from the human race as paradigms and representatives to guide mankind.
Even though the innate potential to be God’s representative has been instilled in every human, it does not actualize in every case; only a few people have the privilege of receiving this honor through practice of absolute obedience and freely abstaining from sin. It is because of this difference that God, which is at all times aware of what will follow in the future including the good decisions and actions of this group, honors them by appointing them as His representatives and acknowledges them with the authority of guiding society as a result of the good deeds they will subsequently perform. Therefore the philosophy of this selection is based on two propositions:
1. Absolute obedience of the apostles of God (Awlia Allah) of Allah.
2. Allah’s blessing and mercy towards these apostles.
Consequently God’s distinction of those chosen as Prophets and Imams from others is a wise and just act, due to the fact that first of all this selection is contingent upon their own competence and endeavor and second of all, it is a blessing in favor of all mankind, meant for their guidance.
Based on the reasons that prove general prophethood, God chose a group of individuals from the human race as paradigms and representatives to guide mankind and assisted them with knowledge and infallibility. Hence, there’s definitely no doubt that Prophets and Imams are blessed by Allah in particular. However this blessing is a result of their potential and high capacity of will, meaning that God, with his impeccable and infinite knowledge, was aware that a group of his servants will exercise their abilities not only more than everyone else but to the full extent, essentially to the point where they would be God’s absolute servants. So they were chosen for this divine gift as well as a standard of knowledge and unflinching will that assured infallibility with the aim to give mankind perfect and reliable guidance.
There is a great number of hadith and ayahs implying this reality that which we will briefly mention. In the Quran, Allah Almighty states: And we made from among them, leaders, giving guidance under Our Command, when they were patient and used to believe with certainty in Our Ayat (proofs, signs).
Concerning this issue Imam Sadeq (A.S.) says: Definitely God Almighty has chosen men from Adam’s progeny, granted them pure births and cleansed their bodies, sheltered them in the loin of men and when in the womb of women, not for a debt upon God but because Allah was aware at the time of their creation of the absolute obedience and impeccable worship that they would portray throughout their lives, without showing the least bit of shirk (polytheism) – even hidden shirk. Thus they achieved this high and noble position.
In the opening segments of Dua Nudba we read: O my Lord! (All) praise is due to you for that which you decided upon and in the matter of Thy friends to be free from the vain positions and false enjoyments of this crooked world and to solely pursue piety and righteousness, so they gave consent. And with your encompassing knowledge you knew their faithfulness in the future and therefore sent the angels unto them, chose them to reveal your words and gave them wisdom as a gift.
Therefore, divine khilafah (representation) is a position potentially instilled in every human but in most cases remains uncultivated; the selection of prophets and Imams (A.S.) was the result of adequate and whole use of divinely endowed abilities to worship and obey God. Consequently, considering God’s eternal knowledge - that he was aware of this elite group’s loyalty to offer their impeccable servitude out of free will - He granted them distinct endowments such as risalah (prophethood) and Imamate.
In any case, divine endowments of any kind are contingent upon one’s merits, therefore those who are deprived of such endowments and blessings are simply deprived because they don’t bear the required merits, for they will certainly take it for granted.
A few relevant examples have been stated in the Quran by Allah for us to understand that individuals in the past have been granted things that were taken advantage of and resulted in nothing but anguish, shame and resentment for their owners. Divine endowments to certain people surely have their reasons and purposes, because God knows where to place his prophecy (و الله اعلم حیث یجعل رسالته).
Regarding an individual who lived at the time of Prophet Moses (A.S.) – which is referred to in ahadith as Bala’m Ba’uri – God states: We granted some with great blessings and confined them to special endowments and honors [however, not prophecy]…but unfortunately they consumed those divine gifts in the service of their nafs (sinister interests) and took advantage of them and for this he not only did not go higher, he degraded himself to the pitiful level of a dog.
In light of the explanation given above, the answer to the question “Does this selection depend on what takes place before entering this world?” is clearly that the primary measure is our actions and deeds in this world. Accordingly, the accurate interpretation of ahadith like the hadith of Imam Sadeq (A.S.): “God demanded the As’hab Yamin (the followers of truth) to enter the fire so they accepted and entered the fire but the As’hab Yasaar (the followers of falsity) disobeyed and refrained from entering the fire”, is that those who will later freely choose to be from the Yamin followers or the Yasaar in this world while their true essence is portrayed accordingly before coming to this world.
In any case the position of Prophets and Imams are evidently higher than the rest; Imam Sadeq (A.S.) says: “When God created everything he brought them together in His presence and asked ‘Who is your lord?’ The first person to answer that you are our Lord was the holy Prophet of Islam (S.A.), Amir al-Mu’minin and the Imams (A.S.), thus God chose them as the bearers of knowledge and religion”.
Or in another hadith the Prophet (S.A.) states: “God created me, Ali, Fatimah, Hassan and Hussein seven thousand years before the creation of the world.” What the Prophet is intending by creation is the malakuti (spiritual) facet of creation as opposed to material and bodily creation which inevitably takes place within the framework of time. Consequently God’s distinction of those chosen as Prophets and Imams from others is a wise and just act, due to the fact that first of all this selection is dependent upon their very competence and endeavor and second of all, it is a blessing in favor of all mankind, meant for their guidance.