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‘Iṣmah or ‘Isma (Arabic: عِصْمَة) is the concept of infallibility or "divinely bestowed freedom from error and sin" in Islam. Some Muslims believe that Muhammad and other Prophets possessed ‘iṣmah. Twelver and Ismaili Shi'ite Muslims also attribute the quality to Imāms and Fatima Zahra, daughter of Muhammad. Zaidi Shi`ites however, do not attribute ‘ismah to the Imāms.
The doctrine of ‘iṣmah has been rejected by some, such as the Kharijites, who point to the second ayah in the Surah of Al-Fath, in which the God says to Moḥammad (English translation): "That Allaah may forgive thee thy faults of the past and those to follow". The Qur'an further states that Muhammad's words are only true and infallible insofar as they communicate the Qur'an itself, and that outside the Qur'an, Muhammad's words may be at fault. For more information about whether or not Islam states that Moḥammad and other Messengers or Prophets were always infallible, or unquestionable for any of their acts, see the Qur'an (5: 116) (11: 36 - 37, 40 - 47) (37: 139 - 142) (66: 1).
According to Twelver Shī'ites, the Fourteen Infallibles (Arabic: معصومون Ma‘ṣūmūn) are historical figures who are infallible which means "divinely bestowed freedom from error and sin" in Islam. The Twelver Shī`a believe that Muhammad, his daughter Fatima Zahra, and the Twelve Imams are infallible.
According to Shī'ite theologians, infallibility is considered a rational necessary precondition for spiritual and religious guidance. They argue that since God has commanded absolute obedience from these figures they must only order that which is right. The state of infallibility is based on the Shī'ite interpretation of verse of purification.[Quran 33:33] Thus they are, the most pure ones, the only immaculate ones preserved from, and immune to, all uncleanness. It doesn't mean that supernatural powers prevent them from committing a sin, but it is due to the fact that they have absolute belief in the God so that they find themselves in the presence of the God. They have also complete knowledge about God's will. They are in possession of all the knowledge brought by the angels to the prophets (nabi) and the messengers (Rasul). Their knowledge encompasses the totality of all times. Thus (in some people's belief) they acted without fault in religious matters.
The ascription of infallibility to the Imāms 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 on their part of any sin or inadvertence, either before or after their assumption of office. As for Fāṭimah, her claimed infallibility derives from her being a link between prophethood and Imāmah, the two institutions characterized by infallibility, as well as by her association with the Imams and their attributes in numerous traditions. There is general agreement among Twelver Shī‘ah authorities that all fourteen are superior to the rest of creation, including even some of the major prophets.[dead link]
A more recent and very influential Shī‘ite interpretation of ‘iṣmah by Ruhollah Khomeini holds that truly faithful and pious Muslims — not just Prophets and Imaams — could possess ‘iṣmah because it could be created by "nothing other than perfect faith." He preached that
infallibility is borne by faith. If one has faith in God, and if one sees God 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.
Scholar Hamid Dabashi argues Khomeini's theory of ‘iṣmah 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."
- Dabashi, Hamid; Theology of Discontent: The Ideological Foundation of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, 2006, Publisher:Transaction Publishers, ISBN 1-4128-0516-3
- Encyclopædia Iranica. Center for Iranian Studies, Columbia University. ISBN 1-56859-050-4.
- Corbin, Henry (1993 (original French 1964)). History of Islamic Philosophy, Translated by Liadain Sherrard, Philip Sherrard. London; Kegan Paul International in association with Islamic Publications for The Institute of Ismaili Studies. ISBN 0-7103-0416-1.
- Dabashi, Hamid (2006). Theology of Discontent: The Ideological Foundation of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 1-4128-0516-3.
- Momen, Moojan (1985). TAn Introduction to Shi`i Islam: The History and Doctrines of Twelve. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-03531-4.
- Dabashi, Theology of Discontent, p.463
- Quran 53:1–4
- Baydawi, Abdullah. "Tawali' al- Anwar min Matali' al-Anzar", circa 1300. Translated alongside other texts in the 2001 "Nature, Man and God in Medieval Islam" by Edwin Elliott Calverley and James Wilson Pollock. pp. 1001-1009
- Quran 48:2
- Quran 5:116
- Quran 11:36–47
- Quran 37:139–142
- Quran 66:1
- Dabashi (2006), p.463
- Momen (1985), p.155
- Corbin (1993), pp.48 and 49
- Corbin (1993), p.48
- Algar, Hamid. "Chahardah M'asum". Encyclopedia Iranica. Retrieved 2008-07-18.
- Dabashi, Theology of Discontent, p.463 quoting Khomeini, Jehad-e Akbar (Greater Jihad), pp.44
- Khomeini, Jehad-e Akbar (Greater Jihad), pp.44; Islam and Revolution, p.353
- Dabashi, Theology of Discontent, p.465
- "Ayatollah Khomeini's Gems of Islamism, Lectures on the Supreme Jihad, (1972)". Gemsofislamism.tripod.com. Retrieved 2013-08-08.