Shia 12 Imamia which is the major group of Shia school of thought believes that there are the 12 successors of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) those are 12 Imams or 12 caliphs. The names of 12 Imams are mentioned directly by Prophet Mohammed(pbuh) (Imam Ali, Hassan, Hussain ,Ali bin Hussein, Mohammad Baqir, Jaafar sadiq, Mosa Kazim, Ali Raza, Mohammad Taqi, Ali Naqi, Hassan Eskari, and Imam Mahdi as).
There are lots of narrations from Shia source that Prophet Mohammad(pbuh) mentioned these names. Those narrations are mentioned in Shia books of Ahadith Asool e Kafi, Biharul Anwar, Wasail al Shia. Please check some narrations in Shia source Preface of Kamal al din by Sheikh Sadooq, Shia Source have an authantic Hadith about the names of 12 Imams which is called Hadith e Loah, we can find it in Asool e KAfi Kitabul Hujjah.
We are giving references here from Sunni books where it is mentioned that Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) told his 12 successors names who are mentioned above (Faraidul Sibtain by Allama Ibrahim vol2), Kifayatul Athar, by al-Khazzaz, p53 there is a long narration by Jabir Ibne Abdillah al-Ansari (ra) when Jabir asked the details of verse 4:59 from the Prophet, the Prophet mentioned these names) There is another book Yanabiu’l-Mawadda, ch.76 by Suleiman Balkhi Hanafi, there is a long narration by Ibn e Abbas that the prophet told the details of Islam to a Jew, the prophet also mentioned his 12 successors names who are mentioned above.
We want to mention the verse of Holy Quran (5:12) “Allah did aforetime take a covenant from the Children of Israel, and we appointed twelve captains among them.” In the commentary of this verse Sunni scholar, Ibn e Kathir mentioned those Hadith from the holy Prophet that there are 12 Caliphs (leaders, Wali) for Muslims. Imam Mahdi is one of those 12 caliphs. Ibn e Kathir tried his best to provide the list of those 12 Caliphs of Islam but he could not provide.
We have also such narrations in our books, for example Sheikh e Sadooq (ra) wrote those narrations in his book AL-KHASAL chapter 12. Sheikh e Sadooq mentioned those narrations by Abdullah bin Masood (rz) and Jabir bin samrah (rz) that there will be 12 Caliphs for Muslims after the holy Prophet (pbuh).
Please find the narrations in Sahih Muslim about 12 Caliphs “It has been narrated on the authority of Jabir b. Samura who said:” I joined the company of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) with my father and I heard him say: This Caliphate will not end until there have been twelve Caliphs among them. The narrator said: Then he (the Holy Prophet) said something that I could not follow. I said to my father: What did he say? He said: He has said: All of them will be from the Quraish.”
This Hadith is in sahih Muslim and Sunni scholars claim that this is true narration. But our Sunni brothers failed to provide those 12 names of who are the Caliphs which are mentioned by the holy Prophet. The Sunni brothers say there are 4 righteous caliphs but where are the other 8 caliphs?
Some extremists say that these are 4 (Abu Bakar, Umar,Usman, Ali) righteous caliphs and also other 8 from Umayyad and abbacies including Moawiya Yazid. But the majority of Sunni Muslims do not agree with them. It is hard to count Yazid and other bad people as Caliph of Islam. This is the reason that the Sunni Muslims even do not take Moawiya as righteous caliph. They say that there are 4 righteous caliphs.
This is a very important question for our Sunni brothers and sisters who are looking for those 12 Caliphs. Who are those 12 Caliphs which Prophet Mohammed mentioned?
All our Sunni brothers are agreeing that the 12Th and last caliph is Imam Mahdi (as). Our Sunni Brothers believe that Imam Mahdi will have extra spiritual and miraculous powers that he will rule over the whole world. He will bring justice to the whole world. Prophet Isa will pray behind him. Where are the other 11 caliphs who must have same equal spiritual and miraculous status as Imam Mahdi?
The hadith says “This Caliphate will not end until there have been twelve Caliphs among them.” It means that there is continuation of Caliphate (successorship), there is no gap. Only Shia school of thought has true answer and true interpretation of this hadith. We are living in the time of successorship of the 12th Imam (Imam Mahdi) and we are waiting for his reappearance publicly. (We will discuss in detail about Imam Mahdi in our separate article)
Our Sunni brothers say that the Shia 12 Imams cannot be those 12 Caliphs because Shia Imams did not have govt. This is a misinterpretation by our Sunni brothers.
Caliphate is not always in the meanings of ruler ship. The word khalifa is from khalaf which means after. The word Khalifa (caliph) has also meaning of successor who comes after somebody. It is true that the successors of Prophet Mohammad(pbuh) had right to rule over the people. But if the people did not give them this right and did not make them their ruler. It does not take away their designation as the successor (caliph) of the holy Prophet.
As all the prophets, were the most deserving personalities to rule over the people. But the people did not give them this right to rule upon them. It does not take away the designation of prophet hood which is given to them by Allah (saw).
If our Sunni brothers still insist that the caliph means only the ruler then they need to show the list of 11 caliphs who are equal status to their 12th caliph Imam Mahdi? Our Sunni brothers have to show the Islamic govt of 11th caliph which will be the continuation of 12th caliph Imam Mahdi. Our Sunni brothers have to declare that we are living under the time of which number of Caliph? (Islamic govt) because the hadith says “This Caliphate will not end until there have been twelve Caliphs among them.”
We believe that if our Sunni brothers and sisters will try to find the right answers of our questions. They will not have any other option, other than accepting 12 Shia Imams who are the true caliphs and successors of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh). These personalities are the most pious, most knowledge full and miraculous personalities of their time. These are the only personalities who claimed about themselves that they are the successors of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh).
Some people may have a question on why Shia Imams are son of each other. It seems like something materialistic as kings make their sons after each other?
We would like to mention the verses of holy Quran here Surah Aale Imran (3:33-34) verse 33 and 34”Indeed, Allah chose Adam and Noah and the family of Abraham and the family of ‘Imran over the worlds -Descendants, some of them from others. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.”
Please also read the verses of surah al Anaam from 83-87
“And we gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – all [of them] we guided. And Noah, We guided before; and among his descendants, David and Solomon and Job and Joseph and Moses and Aaron. Thus do we reward the doers of good. And Zechariah and John and Jesus and Elias – and all were of the righteous and Ishmael and Elisha and Jonah and Lot – and all [of them] we preferred over the worlds. And [some] among their fathers and their descendants and their brothers – and we chose them and we guided them to a straight path.”
We hope this makes clear for our brothers and sisters that Allah(swt) gave this spiritual designation of prophethood to the special families. All prominent prophets mentioned in Quran are the decedents of each other.
In the verses of surah Al Anaam we can see that Allah counted Jesus (as) as the decedent of prophet Ibrahim (as). We know that Jesus has no father. But from Mariam (as) mother blood relation, Jesus is the decedent of Ibrahim (as). Same thing Shia Imams are the progeny of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) from his daughter Syeda Fatima (as). Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) is the decedent of Prophet Ismail (as) through his son Ismail (as).
We can read in Quran (2:124) that prophet Ibrahim (as) asked Allah to keep the spiritual designation among his decedents. Allah answered the request Prophet Ibrahim (as). We like to mention here an interesting thing from Bible Old Testament (Torah): Genesis Chapter 17, verse20” And as for Ismael I have also heard thee. Behold, I will bless him, and increase, and multiply him exceedingly: he shall beget twelve chiefs, and I will make him a great nation. “
We can see that this promise of Allah(swt) with Ibrahim (as) regarding Ismael (as) is fulfilled through Prophet Mohammad(pbuh). Allah(swt) blessed Ismael with prophethood kept his last promised prophet from his decedents. Allah increased and multiplied the decedents of Ismael; we can see that Syeds (children of Syeda Fatima, daughter the Prophet) are all over the world. Allah made a great nation which is Muslim Ummah; actually this is the nation of Ibrahim and Ismael (as). Allah fulfilled his promise with Ibrahim (as) that he made those 12 chiefs (12 Imams) from the decedents of Ismael (as).
Tafseer Ibn e Kathir confirms that the above verse of Torah is about those 12 Caliphs which Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) mentioned in his hadith. Please check the commentary of Ibn e Kathir under the verse (5:12) “Allah did aforetime take a covenant from the Children of Israel, and we appointed twelve captains among them.”
We would like to share some words of Imam Ali the middle part of sermon 143 from Nahjul Balagha” Where are those who falsely and unjustly claimed that they are deeply versed in knowledge, as against us, although Allah raised us in position and kept them down, bestowed upon us knowledge but deprived them, and entered us (in the fortress of knowledge) but kept them out. With us guidance is to be sought and blindness (of misguidance) is to be changed into brightness. Surely Imams (divine leaders) will be from the Quraysh. They have been planted in this line through Hashim. It would not suit others nor would others be suitable as heads of affairs.”
In our next article we will mention some more proofs from Quran and Hadiths from Sunni source about the Shia point of view on Caliphate o Imamate.
May Allah (swt) guide those who seek for truth and send your blessings to Holy Prophet Mohammad(pbuh) and his Ahlalbait.