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Last Updated: 2011/04/20
Summary of question
What is the Solution to the inconsistency between the legislative wilayat (authority) of the Imams and the sealing of Prophethood?
One of the implications and conclusions of khatamiyyah is that tashri’ (legislation) and divine regulation by the Prophet (sa) must inevitably end, resulting in the closure of the doors of the heavens and ruling out any kind of change (naskh or wadh'). Given that the religion introduced by the Seal of Prophets consists of a complete and impeccable legislative doctrine and law system, conceding to whatever sort of legislation or tashri' after the Prophet will be incoherent with the Prophet’s aspect as being the seal, and furthermore we will have agreed to the falsity of the Prophet being incompetent in completely conveying God's message to mankind and that it had to be completed after he passed away. The proponent of this theory says: how is it possible for a group, proceeding the Prophet and claiming to be supported by wahy (revelation) and shuhud (spiritual vision), to state things never witnessed in the Quran or even the Prophet's Sunnah and yet their teachings, legislations, obligations and prohibitions find the status of that of the prophet’s sayings ?
This critic perceives that in light of the great and noble position that Shias hold for their Imams (as), namely the connection they have with the heavens, infallibility and the precision and value of their assertions, they believe that the Imams (as) are endowed with the authority of tashri' allowing them the imposition of unprecedented ahkam and dictation of Islamic teachings exactly like the Prophet. Consequently, by believing in the wilayat of the imams, the Shia doctrine is surely inconsistent with the idea of Prophet Mohammad being the Seal of Prophets.
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Detailed Answer

With a look at the assessments above, it seems as though the critic believes that whoever offers novel teachings with connection to the world above that are not mentioned in the Quran or the Prophet's Sunnah, is definitely a Prophet. In effect, if someone explains religious precepts and teachings that have been previously stated by either wahy or the Prophet of Islam, it does not make him a prophet and refute khatamiyyah (sealing of prophethood). So in short, he believes that it is the novelty of their words that doesn’t conform to khatamiyyah.

In order to give a suitable response to this objection, it is necessary to emphasize that one of the sources of the imams’ knowledge is Ilham (divine inspiration). Inspiration is not a spiritual power restricted to the Prophet; throughout history there have been many individuals who were divinely inspired with the knowledge of ghaib (the unseen). The Quran remarks on Prophet Khizr: “We had granted him with our special mercy and taught him knowledge from the vast source of knowledge in our presence (آتَیناهُ رَحْمَةً مِنْ عِنْدِنا وَ عَلَّمْناهُ مِنْ لَدُنَّا عِلْما)”.[i] Such individuals have not obtained their knowledge by ordinary means, for the Quran states: علمناه من لدنا علما, hence, not being a prophet does not mean that someone is unworthy of divine inspiration.

There is an amazing hadith from Imam Kadhim (as) that says: “Our knowledge entails three categories; past, future and present. The past has been interpreted, the future has been transcribed, and the present is inspired upon the hearts and knocking at our ears. This category is the highest degree of our knowledge and there is no prophet after our Prophet (مَبْلَغُ عِلْمِنَا عَلَى ثَلَاثَةِ وُجُوهٍ مَاضٍ وَ غَابِرٍ وَ حَادِثٍ فَأَمَّا الْمَاضِی فَمُفَسَّرٌ وَ أَمَّا الْغَابِرُ فَمَزْبُورٌ وَ أَمَّا الْحَادِثُ فَقَذْفٌ فِی الْقُلُوبِ وَ نَقْرٌ فِی الْأَسْمَاعِ وَ هُوَ أَفْضَلُ عِلْمِنَا وَ لَا نَبِی بَعْدَ نَبِینَا).”[ii] The message this hadith conveys is that in addition to the reality that Imams acquire their knowledge of the past by interpretation and the future out of transcripts, they attain acquaintance of present events through a connection with the heavens and ghaib. However, the question in this case is “Was the response they received never revealed down onto the Prophet or was it revealed but not disclosed by the Prophet for particular reasons, leaving such a responsibility on the shoulders of the Imams?” What is of great importance is the end of the hadith where it says: “لا نبی بعد نبینا”, as if Imam Kadhim (as) wanted to elude the false presumption – which people like Dr. Soroush suffer from – and say “Be aware that if we are informed of ghaib by divine inspiration it does not imply that we are prophets who are able to legislate new laws; prophethood has been sealed”. Thus, before answering the said objection we must first understand the definition of tashri’ which is: “legislation and regulation” and also realize that it is merely confined to Allah Almighty because he is the only one aware of all the secrets of the body and soul of us humans. Therefore the right to independently dictate laws is God Almighty’s, even the Prophet (sa) does not attain such privilege. If the term tashri’ is ever associated with the Prophet, what is meant is the ahkam and teachings revealed onto him by angels with the purpose of declaring them to the people.

When speaking about the Imams’ (as)right of tashri’, is the term tashri’ used to show that they independently acquire ahkam straight from God and propagate them among the people, or do the Imams (as) only have the authority to transmit the Prophet’s words? Most Islamic thinkers believe that the infallible Imams (as) have not been given the authority to legislate new laws but rather maintain what was revealed onto the Prophet. Here are a few scholars which hold this approach:

1. Allamah Tabatabaei maintains: “What is very important to take into consideration is the great amount of facts suggesting that religion, as a whole, was completed by the end of the Prophet’s lifetime. In effect, the Quran and the Prophet’s Sunnah will essentially contain every Islamic hukm…, and it has also been mentioned and discussed that the Imam’s duty is to explain and elaborate ahkam, nothing other than that.”[iii]

In response to the assumed question that, “why are the Imams sometimes attributed with the term Musharri’ (legislator)?” he states: “All this term proves it that the Imams have narrated exactly what the Prophet (sa) said and simply interpreted what the Prophet brought to the people, nothing extra.”[iv]

2. Regarding this issue, Shahid Sadr (ra) says: “This contradiction between two hadiths is a situation that pertains to the Prophet’s (sa) hadiths only, and has nothing to do with the hadiths from the imams; for it is agreed upon that the period of tashri’ ended with the death of the Prophet and the Imams were only propagators of what the Prophet previously legislated, nothing else.”[v]

We can deduce from the statements of these two great scholars that the time for tashri’ ended with the conclusion of prophethood and that the infallible Imams simply explained and expanded on the words of the Prophet (sa) and never had the right to practice tashri’. If one asks, what is the use of divine inspiration for the Imams when there are no new rulings to become aware of? We can reply: the Prophet gave the complete knowledge of everything to the Imam in one moment as if it were a compressed package, so he could extract all of the ahkam and teachings that were never uttered and said by the Prophet and were revealed and unveiled by divine inspiration. Moreover, there can be a set of secrets and mysteries that have nothing to do with tashri’ that the Imam, as a result of his wilayat bateni (intrinsic authority), possesses the knowledge of. In light of the explanation given above, this type of wilayat is in no contradiction with khatamiyyah and completeness of religion.

[i] Kahf:65.

[ii] Al-Kuleini, Usul al-Kafi, vol. 1, pg. 264, fourth print, Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyyah, Tehran, 1365 (solar calendar).

[iii] Tabatabai, Hashiyah al-Kifayah, pg. 97, published by: Bonyade Elmi Fekriye Allameh Tabatabai

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Sadr, Seyyed Muhammad Baqir, Buhuth fi Ilm al-Usul, pg. 30, published by: Mo’asseseye Da’eratul-Ma’arefe Feqhe Eslami, 1417 (AH).

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