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‘Iṣmah or ‘Isma (Arabic: عِصْمَة; literally, "protection") is a concept in Islamic theology that is more prominently discussed in Shia theology. It is alternately translated as "impeccability," "immunity to sin" and "infallibility." In Shia theology, Ismah characterizes Prophets, Imams and angels. When attributed to human beings, the concept means "the ability of avoiding acts of disobedience, in spite of having the power to commit them." As in Prophets and Imams, Ismah is a Divine grace realized by God's preservation of the infallible, first by endowing them with pure constitution then, following in order, by blessing them with great excellences, giving them firm will against opponents, sending tranquility down upon them (as-Sakinah), and preserving their hearts and minds from sin.
An infallible (Arabic: معصوم or ma`sūm) is regarded as being immune from error in practical matters, in inviting people to the religion and in perceiving the divine knowledge. The prophets must be immune from all errors and sins in order to perform their mission of completing the divine religion, interpreting the Qur'an, establishing a wholesome social system and upholding the religion. The Qur'an's verse of purification implies that God purifies only the Ahl al-Bayt from any kind of sin, error, and defilement in their creation. Both Shia and Sunni hadith sources state that Ahl al-Bayt refers only to the People of the Cloak and does not include the wives of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad.
According to Twelver Shia, The Fourteen Infallible (Arabic: معصومون Ma‘ṣūmūn) "divinely bestowed free from error and sin" include Muhammad, his daughter Fatimah, and the Twelve Imams. Ismaili also attribute Ismah to Ismaili Imāms and Fatima Zahra, daughter of Muhammad, while Zaidi do not attribute the quality to the Zaidi Imams. The doctrine of 'ismah has been rejected by some non-Shia Muslims, such as the Kharijites who cited chapter 48: 2 of the holy Qur'an as evidence for the rejection. Sunnis in their own interpretation of Ismah of prophets believed that prophets are immune from telling lies (intentionally or unintentionally), becoming Kafir (infidel) before or after their assignment and also committing other sins intentionally. In some aspects of Ismah, opinions diverge. One such divergence is evidenced in the majority's belief that it is acceptable for the prophets to commit major sins (unintentionally) while the minority's belief is that it is not acceptable. On committing minor sins (unintentionally), most believe that the prophets could commit them, although not of the kind that would bring public disgrace.
From an historical viewpoint, Wilferd Madelung claims that the purification of Ahl al-Bayt—the family of the Prophet Muhammad—is guaranteed by the verse of purification in the Qur'an. Donaldson in his argument believed that the development of the Shi'ite theology in the period between the death of Muhammad and the disappearance of the Twelfth Imam originates the concept of Ismah which adds to its importance. Ann Lambton claims that neither the term nor the concept of Ismah is in the Qur'an or in canonical Sunni hadith. It was apparently first used by the Imamiyyah, perhaps during the beginning of the second century of the Islamic calendar in which they maintained that the Imam must be immune from sin (ma'sum). According to Hamid Algar, the concept Ismah is encountered as early as the first half of the second century of the Islamic calendar. The Shia scholars of the fourth and the fifth centuries of the Islamic calendar defined the infallibility of the Prophet Muḥammad and the Twelve Imams in an increasingly stringent form until the doctrine came to exclude their commission of any sin or inadvertent error, either before or after they assumed office.
- 1 Terminology
- 2 Concept of Ismah
- 3 Ismah and the Free Will
- 4 Arguments
- 5 History of Ismah concept
- 6 Other viewpoints
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 Footnotes
- 10 References
According to Lane, the root of Ismah is `asama (Arabic: عَصَمَ), which means protected or defended: `Ismah means prevention or protection. According to Al-Raghib al-Isfahani and Murtada al-Zabidi, the technical meaning of Ismah is God's preservation of the infallibles which is stagical in nature. The first stage is endowment of well-deserved constitution which is followed by bestowment of great excellences. Next is a firm will against opponents and enemies followed by the sending of tranquility (as-Sakina) down upon them [a] which is followed by preservation of their hearts and minds and [original research?] preparing their hearts to accept the truth. The final stage is endowing them with "the ability to avoid acts of disobedience in spite of having the power to disobey". Ismah is translated by Wensinck as impeccability, by Miller as immunity to sin, and by W. Ivanow as infallibility. Tabatabaei claims that Ismah is the presence of a quality in man which protects him from error.
Concept of Ismah
According to Donaldson, Shia's fourth imam Zayn al-Abidin regards Ismah as "a quality which enables a man to seize firmly to the Qur'an". He said the Qur'an and the Fourteen Infallibles will not be separated from each other until the Day of Judgment, and that each one of them guides the other. He cites the Qur'an 17: 9 to support his claim.
From a Shia theological perspective, ash-Shaykh al-Saduq argues Ismah is a positive quality specifically for the Twelve Imams; it is a natural state of immunity from sin which is seen as a miraculous gift from God. An infallible is regarded to be preserved from sin because of his or her supreme level of righteousness, consciousness, love of God and thorough knowledge of the consequence of sin. An infallible is considered immune from error in practical affairs, in calling people to religion, and in perception of the divine knowledge. so that their followers do not fall into error.
Nasir al-Din al-Tusi has said that the infallibility of the imam does not deny the capacity to commit sins. Allamah Majlesi says that through reason and intellect, steadfastness in prayer and fasting, and by God's guidance, a person can reach a state in which he/she has no desire except God's desire, and that because of excessive love of the Beloved (God) of the infallible he is ashamed of committing sin.
According to Tabatabaei, Ismah means presence of a quality in man which protects him from committing sin or error. He identifies this quality with knowledge. Likewise all virtues such as bravery, chastity and generosity are forms of knowledge deeply rooted in human psyche enabling the person to abstain from indulging in their respective two opposite extremes, i.e. as cowardice vs. recklessness, austerity vs. dissipation and miserliness vs. extravagance. The degree of knowledge and will brings forth differences in the level of obedience and disobedience to God. However, contrary to ordinary people with imperfect knowledge, the virtues can be occasionally overpowered and tainted by desires and vices. Prophets are bestowed with a supreme knowledge and spiritual faculty that always remain unaffected with whims and vices. This unique merit in Prophets is called Ismah. Thus, Ismah does not nullify the Prophets' free will to choose whether to commit sin or not.
Ismah and the Free Will
The attribute of Ismah is regarded as being bestowed as a blessing from God upon the infallible, taking into consideration their potential attributes. The bestowment is in two ways a voluntary and involuntary one. The voluntary aspect focuses on the efforts of the infallible to act accordingly to God's orders. The involuntary one includes the inheritance and training of one who has no role in acquiring them but is deemed to be a special favour from God for the infallible. Al-Mofid says that Ismah is God's gift to someone He knows will cling to this impeccability while knowing he will not choose disobedience. This blessing originates from God’s knowledge about the future of infallibles, knowing they will prevent themselves from sins and the errors. The infallibles abstain from committing sins because of their knowledge of the consequence of sin which is the basis for Ismah as an optional matter. The verse 5: 67 confirms this notion by explaining the role of the prophet's will in deciding whether to perform or reject an action.
Ismah of prophets
Among the doctrines that arose from the mid-2nd/8th century onwards is that "Ismat al-anbiya" (the protection of the Prophets) means protection of the prophets from sins and errors by God. This idea seems to have originated from among the Shiah. Of course this doctrine embraced in one way or the other by almost all Muslim sects and theological/legal schools.Annemarie Schimmel on infallibility of prophet Muhammad believes that "The absolute obedience owed to the Prophet is meaningful only if Muhammad is free from any faults and could thus constitute an immaculate model for even the most insignificant part of life"; And Muhammad is His Messenger. Shia and some[who?] Sunni scholars believe the prophets were given Ismah even before their assignment to the prophecy, and that it covered every aspect of their life including the emotional, behavioral, personal, social, intentional and unintentional.
According to Tabatabaei Ismah takes two forms with regards to revelation: firstly, it stipulates that the prophets are necessarily free from sin in the reception of revelation, in its preservation and in its propagation, due to the principle of ontological guidance, which states that God does not err in guiding those he desires to guide, because of his omnipotence and omniscience; secondly, in addition to the previous point, the Ismah implies protection from sin based on the prophets' will and knowledge.
Also Tabatabaei says if the actions of the prophets are in contradiction with their words, they are preaching one thing by their actions and another by their words, with one denying the other; this would obscure the truth and that would be against the religious mission of the prophets. Therefore, the Ismah of the prophets in delivering the message of Allah depends upon their Ismah from the sins. Another Tabatabaei argument is that all the prophets were guided by God, and that every one who is guided by God never sins, and that the prophets therefore are free from error and this implies that the revelation is protected by God.
Ashari theologian, Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi, is one of the supporters of the idea of the Ismah of the prophets. He mentioned his viewpoint about the ismah of prophets as follows: "According to us the best view is that, owing to their prophethood, there is neither a grave nor a small sin or error (dhanb)."  Besides investigating the subject in his Commentary on the Qur'an, he wrote a separate book titled "lsmatu'l-Anbiya" (The sinlessness of the Prophets) and championed the entrance of this dogma into the Sunnite theology. Also, Abū Hayyān al-Tawhīdī who was a Sunni Philosopher rejected the doctrine of Ismah.
Ismah of imams
By the verse 2: 124 of the Qur'an which proves appointment of Imam by God and the necessity of their Ismah, Shia believes that the Imam must be appointed by God because Ismah is a hidden virtue. In order to guide the religion from any deviation so that people will not have any plea on the Day of Resurrection, [b][c] Allah must assign someone similar to prophet in his attributes and Ismah as his successor to guide the people and to interpret the Qur'an. That is why the word "prophets" is used in general terms ( for all times).
Shia believes that the prophets are free from all sins, major or minor, intentionally or unintentionally, before or after their assignment whether in matters relevant to their mission or not; their command is the command of Allah and their prohibition is the prohibition of Allah". Also,they have complete knowledge about Allah's will given to them by the First Infallible Muhammad which is beyond the time causing them to act perfectly in religious matters. Nasr argues that "as a result of the presence of Muhammadan Light, the Imam possesses the quality of inerrancy (Ismah), in spiritual and religious matters...and this Light is the source of knowledge and revelation" According to Twelver Shia, The Fourteen Infallible (Arabic: معصومون Ma‘ṣūmūn) "divinely bestowed free from error and sin" include Muhammad, his daughter Fatimah, and the Twelve Imams. As for Fatimah, her infallibility derives from her being a link between prophethood and imamah, the two institutions characterized by infallibility, as well as her association with the imams and their attributes in numerous Hadiths.
Ismah of angels
According to Al-Shaykh al-Saduq angels never disobey Allah and they are free from sins and impurities based on verses 16: 50 and 21: 27 of the Qur'an, and every one who denies the infallibility of messengers, prophets, Imams and angels is kafir. [d] By the verses 15: 30 and 2: 33 of the Qur'an, Shia believes that the prophets and apostles and Imams are more excellent than angels. According to Tabatabaei:The statement "they do not disobey Allah in what He commands them, and only act as they are bidden" is an explanation to the statement "stern and strong". He said: The meaning of "stern and strong" is that the angels are committed to the assignment given to them by Allah. Besides Almighty Allah and His commandment, no any other factors out of pity and compassion affect their activities. They do not disobey Allah by rejecting or opposing His order and whatever He commands, they carry it out meticulously. It is clear from this explanation that the statement "they do not disobey Allah in what He commands them" means that the angels are committed to their assignment while the statement, "they act as they are bidden", means they accomplish their work according to instruction. Hence, the respected reader should not think the second statement is a repetition of the first statement if so claimed by commentators because it would not be correct. The first statement implies they do not abandon their assignment and the second statement means they carry out the instruction.
Mulla Sadra, a Shia philosopher, brings both rational and theological argument in defense of the infallibility of angels; i.e. the sense of sin and fallibility is to contrast between lowly faculties and sublime faculties whereas the soul wants superlative motives but motives and inner purposes contradict them. These contradictions and contrasts lie in beings which are composite. In other words, beings composed of contradictions and contrasting faculties in contrast to angels who are simple and not composed of anything. According to Sadra, the verse 16: 50 refers to infallibility of angels generally. He also tried to respond to all the problems around the subject. Ashari theologian, Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi, in his book (Tafseer ulKabeer) under the verse  said: "there is an indication in this verse that in the hereafter the angels are bound with obligations (like human beings in this world). They are under obligation, commands and prohibitions in the hereafter. The disobedience of angels lies in their opposition to Allah’s commandment and prohibition." 
Argument from the Qur'an and Hadith
The verse of purification[e] implies the ontological (takweeni) will of Allah [f] to purify only [g] the ahl al-Bayt from any kind of sin, error and defilement. Abundant traditions in Shia and Sunni hadith sources state that by the Ahl al-Bayt it means the Five Pure People, not including the prophet's wives. In fact, scholars such as Wilferd Madelung, Momen and Kardan claim The verse of purification as the proof of purification of Ahl al-Bayt. Shia argue this verse was revealed in relation to the incident of Ahl al-Kisa which involved only specific members of the Prophet's family. In fact, the status of Imams as "proof of Allah to mankind" serves as an argument for their infallibility. Furthermore, according to several authentic hadiths from both Shia and Sunni sources, Muhammad clearly stated that Ali was protected against sin and error, and that his sayings and deeds were consistent with teachings of Islam 
Many verses in the Qur'an order men not to obey the unjust and tyrants, while in the verse "O you who have believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is the best [way] and best in result. ", [h] Allah orders the believers to follow the apostle and the Ulu'l-amr, [i] even joins their obedience to his own obedience. When their obedience is compulsory, it may be concluded that they are sinless. According to several hadiths, the words of the Household of the Prophet is complementary to the religious sciences and are authoritative and inerrant in the teachings of Islam.
The verse 4: 64 of the Qur'an[j] expresses an absolute order to follow the messengers so they must be infallible, and the verse 4: 59 of the Qur'an[k] and other such verses express the virtues of obedience and the terrible results of disobedience. Allah orders the servants to obey Him and His messengers. In fact, these two are equivalent according to the verse 4: 80: [l] So if the prophet be not Infallible, it is a contradictory order. To follow which of them: Allah or His messenger? Also, In other verses He orders: Then do not obey the deniers: (68: 8), And do not obey every worthless habitual swearer (68: 10), ...do not obey from among them a sinner or ungrateful [disbeliever](76: 24). So the messengers are to be obeyed, the sinners are not to be obeyed, the result is that the messengers are not sinful.
Philosophical and theological Arguments
By rational proofs people know that they are possessed by Allah. Acting in His possession without His permissin is evil. They are to gain His favor but do not know the goodness of their actions so there must be a prophet to remove this fear, and inform them of that which they do not know and of the rewards of obedience and punishments of disobedience. The prophets teach the knowledge of different techniques which is needed to continue an easy life. According to Shia philosophical and theological doctrines, on the base of the rule of Grace and the completion of the Divine argument, [m] Allah sent selected individuals as prophets to guide the people, to establish a social system and to put an end to intellectual and social disputes. On the other hand, discharging of such heavy responsibilities is only possible if the prophet be immune from any error and that they just reflect all aspects of the truth and the Divine Will; for it is only in this way that people are guided and they can form a wholesome social system. Otherwise, they cannot lead the people from the darkness into the light. So the philosophy behind the sending of the prophets necessitates their infallibility and infallibility means their thoughts, actions, and sayings reflect Divine Will.
In Shia theology, Allah does not guide via authoritative texts (i.e. the Qur'an and Hadith) only but also guides through some specially equipped individuals known as Imams. The status and authority attributed to Imams will be senseless if they are prone to the same weakness found in general people. In fact, the prophets must be Ma'sum for the same reason for which they were sent. In other words, the ismah of the messengers proves the authenticity of the message. Allah has perfected His guidance by assigning the prophets, and the purpose of the prophetic mission can only be achieved by their infallibility: that is why they must be infallibe (ma'sum), otherwise the mission is not attained. Moreover, to follow the prophet is necessary, whereas if he commits a sin, whether to follow him or not, both are necessary and a contradiction.
The Shia scholar, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, regards infallibility as fundamental for Imams in order to avoid ad infinitum, to preserve the revealed divine law and to disclaim him if he committed any sin.
According to Shia, human beings should have a true vision of the real nature of man and the world in order to identify and perform their true duties, and there should be a religious government to execute the Islamic orders till the people can worship only Allah and enjoy personal and social justice. This goal is achieved only by an infallible person who is protected against faults by Allah. Al-Hilli argues that man is naturally urban and cannot be satisfied out of society. Thus, conflict would unceasingly arise without an infallible to judge between them. In al-Alfayn, he emphasizes the need for a Ruler (ra'is) to preserve the shari'a, to prevent men from committing aggression against each other, to restrain tyrants and to help the oppressed. Without a leader, the Qur'an and Sunnah would not be observed. Inevitably there must be an Imam, immune from error and sin, appointed by Allah to specify the dimensions (ahkam) of shari'a. It is necessary for the prophet to be the best of his own age because Allah orders the human kind to follow the one who guides them to the Truth and straight path. If he is imperfect, he cannot be the leader to the Truth.
al-Hilli argues that a prophet is immune to sin from the first day of his life until the last day because people do not like and trust someone who has perpetrated an immoral deed, even in the past, and it is clear that every one likes to follow the sinless rather than the sinful. A prophet must be free from any kind of imperfection out of himself like baseness of his father and debauchery of his mother or something faulty relating to himself such as (1) in his own character (akhlaq) like harshness or crudeness, (2) in his own condition (ahwal) like association with corrupt people, and (3) in his nature (tabi'a) like insanity, dumbness or out of himself. Otherwise, the prophet will lose his position in the hearts of the people, his coming will be nonsense and the guidance will not be fulfilled.
Motahhari regards Ismah as necessary for the supreme authority in the religion: he must be followed, and his words and actions are as an example and proof for others. Some believe that physical descent from the Prophet has never been enough to make an imam but we need Ismah and impeccability. Therefore, ismah is counted as vital criteria for an imam.
History of Ismah concept
Ja'far Sobhani, a shia scholar, claims that the concept of Ismah originates from the Qur'an wherein it expresses the Ismah of the prophet (53: 3, 4), angels (66: 6) and the Qur'an itself (41: 42)  Historically considering, Wilferd Madelung claims that the purification of Ahl al-Bayt has been guaranteed in The verse of purification in the Qur'an. Donaldson regards the origin and importance of the concept of Ismah owed to the development of the theology of the Shi'ites in the period between the death of Muhammad and the disappearance of the Twelfth Imam.Ann Lambton claims that neither the term nor the concept of Ismah is found in either the Qur'an or in the canonical Sunni hadith. It was apparently first used by the Imamiyyah, perhaps around the beginning of the second century of the Islamic calendar, maintaining that the Imam must be immune from sin (ma'sum). Algar states that the ascription of infallibility to the Imams is encountered as early as the first half of the 8th century, second century of the Islamic calendar, and it was soon extended to the prophets. The doctrine came to exclude the commission of any sin or inadvertence on their part, either before or after their assumption of office.
Regarding the conception of Ismah in Shi'a doctrine, Imams have a more central role comparing caliph in Sunni political theory. Perhaps the evolution of this doctrine, as Donaldson suggests, caused Shia scholars to establish the claims of the Imamah against the claims of Sunni caliphs so the doctrine was expanded and elaborated upon.
Though Shi'ism initially began as a movement of political opposition to the Caliphs, the belief that eventually developed was that the Imams possessed superhuman qualities of sinlessness and infallibility. In contrast, Henry Corbin believes that historical criticism would be quiet, particularly about ismah. According to Henry Corbin what has been described altogether is hierohistory. He emphasized a phenomenogically approach in that we must discover the aims of Shiite awareness in order to share its vision; a vision which it has been acquiring ever since it began.
Ismaili also attribute Ismah to Imāms and Fatima Zahra, daughter of Muhammad, while Zaidi do not attribute the quality to the Imams. Among non-Shia Muslims, the doctrine of ismah has been rejected by some, such as the Kharijites, who point to the verse 48: 2 of the Qur'an in which Allah says to Moḥammad:"That Allah may forgive thee thy faults of the past and those to follow".[n]
Sunnis have different opinions regarding Ismah: on lying and infidelity, all Sunnis believe that prophets could not tell a lie, intentionally or unintentionally; they could not be Kafir before or after their assignment and also they do not commit other sins intentionally. Concerning major unintentional sins, the majority believes that the prophets could commit such sins; however, a minority says it is impossible. Regarding minor unintentional sins, most of them believe that the prophets could commit sin, though not such minor sins which would disgrace them in public.
New interpretations among Shias
A more recent and very influential Shiite interpretation of ismah by Ruhollah Khomeini holds that truly faithful and pious Muslims—not just Prophets and Imams—could possess ismah because it could be created by "nothing other than perfect faith." He preached that "infallibility is borne by faith. If one has faith in Allah, and if one sees Allah with the eyes of his heart, like the sun, it would be impossible for him to commit a sin. In front of an armed powerful [master], infallibility is attained."
Dabashi argues Khomeini's theory of ismah from faith was connected to his theory of Islamic government by guardianship of the jurist. If the truly faithful possessed Ismah, and if Khomeini and the most learned and pious Islamic jurists were truly faithful, than this would reassure Shi'ites hesitant about granting the same ruling authority to Khomeini and his successors that Shi'ites traditionally believed was reserved for the 12th Imam (Mahdi) on his return. According to Dabashi, Khomeini's theory helped "to secure the all-important attribute of infallibility for himself as a member of the awliyah 'friends of God' by eliminating the simultaneous theological and Imamological problems of violating the immanent expectation of the Mahdi. "
According to Mesbah-Yazdi, there is an intellectual argument that if getting to the ideal is impossible or difficult, then get satisfied with the less ideal concerning a matter. This intellectual argument is named gradual degradation .[o]
- Qur'an, 9: 26
- itmam al-hujjah
- As expressed in the verse 4: 165 of Qur'an[We sent] messengers as bringers of good tidings and warners so that mankind will have no argument against Allah after the messengers. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise.
- Qur'an, 33: 33...Allah intends only to remove from you the impurity [of sin], O people of the [Prophet's] household, and to purify you with [extensive] purification
- یرید الله
- expressed by the word "انّما"
- Qur'an, 4: 59
- those vested with authority
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- itmam al-hujjah
- 48: 2
- تنزل تدریجی
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