Month 12: Ma’rifah of the Imam (af)

12. Ma’rifah of the Imam (af)

A hadith of the Prophet (s) states: Whoever dies not knowing/recognizing (having maʿrifah) of the Imam of his time dies a death of ignorance.1

The word used here is ‘maʿrifah’ which is different to ‘ʿilm’. ʿIlm of the Imam (af) may be superficial knowledge about him, for example: his name, his father, mother, or where he was born. 

Maʿrifah on the other hand, is a much deeper knowledge. It is a knowledge of his character, of his behaviour, and of his ability. It is to know him so well that I know how he would behave in every situation. It is to bring the Imam (af) into my life. If I know how he would act in a given situation, then I can truly emulate him and use him as a role model. 

ʿIlm is the first stage of knowing the Imam (af), after which, we can gain his maʿrifah.

How does Maʿrifah of the Imam (af) move one away from Ignorance?

A narration from Imam al-Husain (a) states: O People! Allah has not created His servants for any other purpose except that they may know Him (gain His maʿrifah). When they know Him they will worship Him and when they worship Him, it will make them needless of worshipping others. 

Imam (a) was asked, “What does the Maʿrifah of Allah mean?” 

He (a) replied: It means knowing the Imam of every time whose obedience is compulsory for the people.2

The reason for the above statement is made clear in the hadith given by Imam Baqir (A): “Through us God is served/worshipped, and through us God is known.”3 In other words, it is only through the teachings of the Imams (a) that mankind can fulfil their servanthood toward God and come to know Allah.

How do we gain Marifah of our Imam (af)?

Verse 5:55 in Surah Maida  in the Holy Qur’an tell us:

إِنَّمَا وَلِيُّكُمْ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا الَّذِينَ يُقِيمُونَ الصَّلَاةَ وَيُؤْتُونَ الزَّكَاةَ وَهُمْ رَاكِعُونَ.

Your Guardian is only Allah and His Messenger and those who establish Prayer and who pay Zakat while they are bowing. 

The exegetes amongst the Shias and Sunnis are in agreement that no one except Amir al-Mumineen (a) has ever paid zakat (sadaqah) while bowing in prayer. But the verse mentions it in the plural form ‘while they are bowing’ because it is in reference to all the holy Imams (a) as they all would have done the same thing. This is made clear in the hadith of the Holy Prophet (s) where he tells Imam Ali (a) that there are three things which he can say on oath are absolutely true, the first of which is: ‘The knowledge of Allah (maʿrifah) cannot be obtained except through you and through your inheritors who know Allah truly’.4

Each Imam (a) was given opportunities to show specific attributes through his life situation and hence he was given specific titles, for example: Zain al-ʿAbideen (Ornament of worshippers); Al-Sajjad (the one who constantly prostrates); Al-Sadiq (the truthful one); Al-Kazim (the one who swallows his anger)… 

We know that no matter which of the Imams (a) was in a particular situation, each would have acted in exactly the same way. They all possess perfect attributes but were not given the opportunity to manifest them all in their lifetime.

In essence therefore, what this means is that my love of Imam Husain (a) is my love of my Imam (af) as he is also Husain; my love of Imam Ali (a) is my love of my Imam (af) as he is also Ali (a)… In this way I can build a stronger connection and maʿrifah with my Imam (af) through my connection to all the holy Imams (a). I do not have to transfer the love and connection that I have with other Imams,  but I can recognize that it is one in the same.

Let us look at how we can gain the maʿrifah of our Imam (af) by using the easy-to-remember acronym IMAM!

I – Ilm of all the Imams (a)

I need to gain ʿilm of all the other Imams (a) as without ʿilm, I cannot move to maʿrifah.

M – Maʿrifah of all the Imams (a)

It is only through gaining maʿrifah of all our Imams (a) that I can truly gain maʿrifah of my Imam (af) as the following hadith outlines clearly: 

Someone said to Imam Sadiq (a) that a Yemeni says that if you know the last Imam of the time (your time) it is enough and that there is no harm if you do not recognize the prior (earlier) Imams (a). The Imam (a) said: The curse of Allah be on him. I consider him an enemy even though I neither know him nor would I recognize him. He cannot know the last Imam but through the earlier Imam.5

A – Actions

Once I have the maʿrifah of my Imam (af), I need to take action. I need to emulate him, behave in the way he would behave, and use him as a role model in my life.

M – Maʿrifah of Allah

I need to keep the end goal in sight always: It is through the maʿrifah of the Imam (af) that I will gain the maʿrifah of Allah. He is the bridge between the physical and the spiritual world.

1. Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, 8/368.

2. Saduq, ʿIlal al-Sharayaʿ, 1/9.

3. Kulayni, al-Kafi, 1/145.

4. Kulayni, al-Kafi, 1/373.

5. Ibid


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