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‘Iṣmah or ‘Isma (Arabic: عِصْمَة‎) literally means protection. In Shia doctrine, it means infallibility or "the ability of avoiding acts of disobedience, in spite of having the power to commit them".[citation needed] Ismah is technically defined as God's preservation of the infallible, first, by endowment of pure constitution, which is reserved for them; then by blessing great excellences; then by firm will against opponents; then by sending down upon them tranquility (as-Sakinah); then by the preservation of their hearts and minds; then by making them suitable for the truth;[1] and, finally, through enabling grace (tawfīq).[2][3][awkward]

An infallible (Arabic: معصوم‎ or ma`sūm) is immune from error in practical matters, in inviting people to the religion, and in perceiving the realm of cognition. To perform their critical mission of completing the Divine argument, interpreting the Quran, establishing a wholesome social system, and guarding the religion, the prophets must be immune from any error or sin.

The verse of purification implies the ontological will[further explanation needed] of God to purify only the Ahl al-Bayt from any kind of sin, error, and defilement[4]. Wilferd Madelung regards this verse as a proof of the infallibility of the Ahl al-Bayt.[5] 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.[4][6]


According to Lane, the root of Ismah is `asama (Arabic: عَصَمَ‎), which means protected or defended:`Ismah means prevention or protection.[1]According to Al-Raghib al-Isfahani and Murtada al-Zabidi, the technical meaning of Ismah is God's preservation of the infallible, first, by endowment of pure constitution which is reserved by them; then by blessing great excellences; then by firm will against opponents; then by sending down upon them tranquility (as-Sakina),[a]; then by preserving their hearts and minds,[3]; then by making them suitable to truth; and, finally, by endowing them with "the ability of avoiding acts of disobedience in spite of having the power to disobey".[1][7] Ismah is translated by Wensinck as impeccability, by Miller as immunity to sin, and by W. Ivanow as infallibility.[1]

Tabatabaei states that ismah means protection in religious terminology.[8][further explanation needed]

Concept of Ismah[edit]

For the perspective of Shia theology, al-Shaykh al-Saduq argues Ismah is a positive quality which is specific to the Twelve Imams; it is a state of immunity to sin resulting from their nature, which is a miraculous gift from God.[2][9][10] Nasir al-Din al-Tusi has said that the infallibility of the imam does not deny his capacity to commit sins.[11]

An infallible is preserved from sin because of his or her supreme level of righteousness, consciousness, and love for God and his thorough knowledge about the consequences of sin.[12] An infallible is immune from error in practical matters, in calling people to religion, and in perception in the realm of cognizance -[awkward][13] so that their followers do not fall into error.[14][15][16]

Zayn al-Abidin regards Ismah as "a quality which enables a man to seize firmly the strong lifeline from God that is the Quran". He states that the Fourteen Infallibles are not separated from each other until the Day of Judgment and that every one of them guides to the other[further explanation needed]. He cites the Quran as a proof of his claim.17:9[17]

According to Tabatabaei, Ismah means a presence in a man which protects him from committing any sin or error.[8] He further argues that people differ in their obedience and disobedience to God based on their respective degrees of knowledge and volition. The Islamic prophet's spiritual faculty which protects him from committing sins is based on his knowledge.[18] Tabatabaei regards every characteristic as a kind of knowledge which is deeply rooted in the psyche, creating its own effects,[19]. and as it is clear knowledge does not deprive other practical powers from committing or not committing an action.[20][further explanation needed]

Allamah Majlesi states that through reason and intellect, steadfastness in prayer and fasting, and by God's guidance, a person reaches a state that he or she has no desire by God's desire. He adds that this is because of the infallible's excessive love, shame, and fear before his beloved, God.[21][further explanation needed]

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.[22]

Ismah of prophets[edit]

Tabatabaei states Ismah as two kinds, in the area of revelation; the prophets must be free from sin in the reception of revelation, in its preservation and in its propagation, which are three principles of ontological guidance, so error by Allah in existence is meaningless.And the second, a complementary to the previous, protection from sin, based on their own will and knowledge.[8][23] If the actions of the prophets be in contradiction with their words, they are preaching two contradictory things by their actions and words, while one denies the other, they can not report the truth and it would be against their religious mission. Therefore, Ismah of the prophets in delivering the message of Allah totally depends upon their Ismah from the sins.[24] All the prophets were guided by God, every one who is guided by God never go astray, concerning that every sin is a misguidance, so prophets are free from error and the revelation is protected by God.[25] Moreover When community can be properly flourished which is regulated by an authority, God by His Grace to fulfill this man's need, assigns them infallible leaders.[26]

Shia and some Sunni scholars believe in the Ismah of prophets even before their assignment (Ismah in every aspect of their life including emotional, behavioral, personal, social, intentional and unintentional).[7]

Ismah of imams[edit]

By the verse 2:124 of Quran which proves the necessity of believing in the Ismah of Imams,[27] Shia believe that the Imam must be appointed by God because Ismah is a hidden virtue.[28] As a guardian for the religion against any deviation and the people not having any plea in the resurrection day,[b][c] Allah must assign someone similar to prophet in his attributes and Ismah as his successor to guide the people and to interpret Quran,[29][30] that is the reason that necessitates the assigning of prophets is used for its generalization ( for all times).[31]

Shia believe that the prophets are free from all sins, major or minor, intentionally or unintentionally, before or after their assignment,[32] whether in matters relevant to their mission on not; their command is the command of Allah and their prohibition is the prohibition of Allah"[33] They have also complete knowledge about Allah's will, given to them by the First Infallible, Muhammad which is beyond the time, causing to act perfectly in religious matters.[34]

According to Twelver Shia, The Fourteen Infallible (Arabic: معصومونMa‘ṣūmūn) "divinely bestowed free from error and sin" include Muhammad, his daughter Fatimah, and the Twelve Imams.[35] As for Fatimah, her infallibility derives from her being a link between prophethood and imamah, the two institutions characterized by infallibility, as well as by her association with the imams and their attributes in numerous Hadiths.[36]

Ismah of angels[edit]

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 Quran.[37] and every one who denies the infallibility of messengers, prophets, Imams and angels is kafir.[d][38] By the verses 15:30 and 2:33 of Quran, Shia believe that the prophets and apostles and Imams are more excellent than angels.[39] 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. Beside Almighty Allah and His commandment, no any other factors out of pity and compassionaffect 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 some commentators who claim that the second statement is a repetition of the first statement. This is incorrect, the first statement implies they do not abandon their assignment and second statement means they carry out the instruction..[40]


Argument from Quran and Hadith[edit]

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 and not including the prophet's wives.[4][6] In fact, scholars such as Wilferd Madelung, Momen and Kardan claim The verse of purification as the proof of purification of Ahl al-Bayt.[4][5][6] 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.[41] In fact, the status of Imams as "proof of Allah to mankind" serves as an argument for their infallibility.[42]

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 [43]

By the verse 5:67 of Quran[h] the prophet is Ma'sum because Allah is the Asim and His protection is guaranteed. Ismah means a kind of protection, Y'asim (Arabic: یعصم‎) means the act of protecting and Asim (Arabic: عاصم‎) means the one (person or thing) that protects. Ma'sum is the person who is protected by the Asim, whose efficiency is perfectly guaranteed.But if a person is seeking Ismah but whose Ismah is not guaranteed by the Asim, he is called Mu'tasim (Arabic: معتصم‎) not Ma'sum.[44] According to 11:43,[i] the mountain is the Asim and the son of Noah is the Mu'tasim, because the ability of mountain to protect him is not assured.[44]

Many verses in Quran 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." ,[j] Allah orders the believers to follow the apostle and the Ulu'l-amr, [k] even joins their obedience to his own obedience. When their obedience is compulsory, it may be concluded that they are sinless.[45] 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.[46]

The verse 4:64 of Quran[l] expresses an absolute order to follow the messengers, so they must be infallible,[10] and the verse 4:59 of Quran[m] 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:[n] So if the prophet be not Infallible, it is a contradictory order.To follow which of them: Allah or His messenger?[47] Also, In other verses He orders: Then do not obey the deniers:(68:8),And do not obey every worthless habitual swearer (68:10), 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.[48]

Philosophical and theological Arguments[edit]

By rational proofs people know that they are possessed by Allah, and acting in His possession without His permissin is evil, so they are to gain His favor, but they do not know the goodness of their actions, so there must be a prophet to remove this fear [49] and to inform of the rewards of obedience and the punishments of disobedience.[50] Many things are useful or harmful for the people, but they do not know those by the reason, there must be a prophet to inform the people of those.[49] The prophets teach the knowledge of different techniques which is needed to continue an easy life.[50] According to Shia philosophical and theological doctrines, on the base of the rule of Grace and the completion of the Divine argument,[o] Allah to guide the people, to establish a social system and to put an end to intellectual and social disputes, has sent them some selected individuals as prophets. 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 can not 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.[51]

In Shia theology, Allah does not guide via authoritative texts (i.e. Quran and Hadith) only but also guide through some specially equipped individuals known as Imams.[52] The status and the authority attributed to these Imams will be senseless if these Imams prone to the same weakness found in general people.[52] In fact the prophets must be Ma'sum for the same reason which they are sent for.[12] In other words, the ismah of the messengers is the proof of the authenticity of the message.[44] 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.[53][54] Moreover to follow the prophet is necessary, while if he commit a sin, either to follow him or not, both of them is necessary and it is a contradiction.[54]

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.[11]

According to Shia, to identify and perform their true duties, human being should have a true vision of the real nature of the man and the world and then there should be a religious government to execute the Islamic orders till the people could only worship Allah and enjoy personal and social justice; this goal is achieved only by an infallible person who is protected against faults by Allah.[55] Al-Hilli argues : man is naturally urban and he can not be satisfied out of society. Conflict would thus be unceasingly arise unless there would be 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, Quran 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.[16]

Mulla Sadra's view[edit]

Mulla Sadra mentioned both rational and theological argument in defense of infallibility of angels:

Rational argument[edit]

The sense of sin and fallibility is to contrast between lowly faculties with sublime faculties where soul want to acquire to superlative motives while motives and inner purposes contradict with each other. This contradicts and contrasts lies in beings which are composite. in other word, These beings are composed of contradict and contrast faculties . but rather, angels are simple and at the same time are not composed of anything.[56]

Theological argument[edit]

According to Sadra, the verse 50:Tahrim refers to infallibility of angels generally. He also tried to response to every problem around the subject.[57]

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 be imperfect, he can not be the leader to the Truth.[58] Prophet is immune to sin from the first day of his life until the last day, because people do not like and trust to somebody who has perpetrated an immoral deed even in the past and it is clear that every one likes to follow a sinless one rather than a sinful.[58] 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, crudeness his own condition (ahwal) like association with corrupt people 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 and his coming will be nonsense and the guidance will not be fulfilled.[59][60]

History of Ismah concept[edit]

Historically considering, Wilferd Madelung claims that the purification of Ahl al-Bayt has been guaranteed in The verse of purification in Quran.[61] Donaldson regards the origin and the importance of the concept of Ismah owes 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.[62]Ann Lambton claims that neither the term nor the concept of Ismah is in Qur'an or in canonical Sunni hadith. It was apparently first used by the Imamiyyah, perhaps about the beginning of the second century of the Islamic calendar, maintaining that the Imam must be immune from sin (ma'sum).[7] 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 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.[63]

Regarding the conception of Ismah in Shi'a doctrine, Imam has a more central role comparing caliph in Sunni political theory.[64] 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.[7] Though Shi'ism initially began as a movement of political opposition to the Caliphs, eventually the belief developed that the Imams possessed superhuman qualities of sinlessness and infallibility.[65]

Other viewpoints[edit]


The eminent writer Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi, one the supporters of the idea of the Ismah of the prophets, besides investigating the subject in his Commentary on the Quran, he wrote a separate book, entitled lsmatu'l-Anbiya or the' Sinlessness of the Prophets and he entered this dogma to the Sunnite theologians.[66] FakhrRazi in his book (TafseerulKabeer) under a verse[1] said: In this verse, there is an indication that in the hereafter the angels are bound with obligations (like human beings in this world). They are under obligation, commands and prohibitions in hereafter. The disobedience of angels lies in their opposition to Allah’s commandment and prohibition [67] But 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, majority believe that the prophets could commit such sins;however, a minority say that this is impossible. Regarding minor unintentional sins, most of them believe that the prophets could commit, though not such minor sins which would disgrace them in public.[68] Also Abu Hayyan Tawhidi rejected the doctrine of Ismah as a Sunni Philosopher.[69]


Ismaili also attribute Ismah to Imāms and Fatima Zahra, daughter of Muhammad, while Zaidi do not attribute the quality to the Imams.[70] 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 Quran in which Allah says to Moḥammad:[71]

"That Allah may forgive thee thy faults of the past and those to follow".[p]

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."[72] 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.[73][74]

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."[75]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Quran, 9:26
  2. ^ itmam al-hujjah
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ unbeliever
  5. ^ Quran,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
  6. ^ یرید الله
  7. ^ expressed by the word "انّما"
  8. ^ And Allah will protect you from the people
  9. ^ [But] he said, "I will take refuge on a mountain to protect me from the water."
  10. ^ Quran, 4:59
  11. ^ those vested with authority
  12. ^ And We did not send any messenger except to be obeyed by permission of Allah...
  13. ^ O you who have believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you...
  14. ^ He who obeys the Messenger has obeyed Allah....
  15. ^ itmam al-hujjah
  16. ^ 48:2


  1. ^ a b c d al-Shaykh al-Saduq 1982, p. 151
  2. ^ a b al-Shaykh al-Saduq 1982, p. 151,152
  3. ^ a b Tabatabaei 2002, p. 58
  4. ^ a b c d Kardan 2014, pp. 82,83,89
  5. ^ a b Madelung 1998, p. 51
  6. ^ a b c Momen 1985, p. 155
  7. ^ a b c d Nasr, Dabashi & Nasr 1989, p. 99
  8. ^ a b c Tabatabaei 1982, p. 173,180,181
  9. ^ Nasr, Dabashi & Nasr 1989, p. 98
  10. ^ a b Rizvi 2001, p. 14
  11. ^ a b Nasr, Dabashi & Nasr 1988, p. 299
  12. ^ a b Rizvi 2001
  13. ^ Ansariyan 2007, p. 89
  14. ^ Tabatabaei 1997, p. 156
  15. ^ Tabatabaei 1997, p. 11
  16. ^ a b Nasr, Dabashi & Nasr 1989, p. 102,103
  17. ^ Donaldson 1933, p. 323,324
  18. ^ Tabatabaei 1982, p. 180,181
  19. ^ Tabatabaei 2000, p. 107
  20. ^ Tabatabaei 2001, p. 199
  21. ^ Donaldson 1933, p. 325,326
  22. ^ Motahhari 1982, p. 62
  23. ^ Tabatabaei 1977, p. 127
  24. ^ Tabatabaei 1982, p. 175
  25. ^ Tabatabaei 1982, p. 176
  26. ^ Nasr, Dabashi & Nasr 1988, p. 298,299
  27. ^ Donadson 1933, p. 322
  28. ^ Donadson 1933, p. 323
  29. ^ Nasr, Dabashi & Nasr 1989, pp. 103,104
  30. ^ Tabatabaei 2008
  31. ^ Nasr, Dabashi & Nasr 1988, p. 146
  32. ^ Shomali 2003, p. 97
  33. ^ Nasr, Dabashi & Nasr 1989, p. 100
  34. ^ Corbin 1993, p. 48
  35. ^ Dabashi 2006, p. 463
  36. ^ Algar 1990
  37. ^ Ayoub 1994, p. 132
  38. ^ al-Shaykh al-Saduq 1982, p. 87
  39. ^ al-Shaykh al-Saduq 1982, p. 81,82
  40. ^ Tabatabaei 1997, p. 334
  41. ^ Kardan 2014, p. 90
  42. ^ Dakake 2007, pp. 167,168
  43. ^ Tabatabaei 1975, p. 34,35
  44. ^ a b c Abu Shahba
  45. ^ Tabatabaei 1992, p. 279
  46. ^ Tabatabaei 1975, p. 83
  47. ^ Rizvi 2001, p. 15
  48. ^ Rizvi 2001, p. 16
  49. ^ a b Nasr, Dabashi & Nasr 1988, p. 138
  50. ^ a b Nasr, Dabashi & Nasr 1988, p. 139
  51. ^ Nasiri 2013, pp. 37,38
  52. ^ a b Brown 1999, p. 60
  53. ^ Tabatabaei 1977, p. 126
  54. ^ a b Nasr, Dabashi & Nasr 1988, p. 141
  55. ^ Tabatabaei 1975, p. 37
  56. ^ Mulla Sadra 2007, p. 574-580
  57. ^ Mulla Sadra 2007, p. 574-580
  58. ^ a b Mashita 2002, p. 59
  59. ^ Mashita 2002, p. 60
  60. ^ Nasr, Dabashi & Nasr 1988, p. 141,142
  61. ^ Madelung 1998, p. 15 and 51
  62. ^ Donaldson 1933, pp. 334,335
  63. ^ Algar 2008
  64. ^ Gleave 2004, p. 351
  65. ^ Robinson 1982, p. 46
  66. ^ Donaldson 1933, pp. 337
  67. ^ Tabatabaei 1997, p. 334
  68. ^ Rizvi 2009, p. 12
  69. ^ Madelung, Daftary & Meri 2003, p. 142
  70. ^ Robinson 1982, p. 47
  71. ^ Baydawi 1300, pp. 1001,1009
  72. ^ Dabashi 2006, p. 44
  73. ^ Khomeini 1995
  74. ^ Khomeini 1981
  75. ^ Dabashi 2006, p. 465


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