Of all the groups of people who believe in God’s prophets (Jews, Christians, Sabeans, Muslims, and more), Shia Muslims are the only ones who contend that all prophets of God (starting with Adam) were infallible in everything they said and did. This belief is the core belief that distinguishes a Shia from any other kind of Muslim and from any other adherent to an Abrahamic faith.
All prophets (and God-appointed interpreters of Scripture who came between prophets) are and were infallible in everything they said and did.
Sounds like a nice thing to say doesn’t it? How can we know it’s true?
Through logic. God gave humans the capacity to reason for a reason. You think science has the monopoly on reason and logic and proofs? Nothing in Islam is said to be true except through reason and logic and proofs. (Which is, incidentally, why a lot of converts to Islam cite Islam’s ability to answer their tough questions using logic as a factor in their conversion.)
Let’s start with the premise that God is absolutely just in every aspect and that God HAS to be absolutely just—he is incapable of being unjust. (This can be proven too, but I’m not going to cover that proof here since I’m writing for an audience who would agree that God is absolutely just.)
God created creatures of choice (e.g., humans for just one example—there are others) and creatures of no choice (e.g., animals, vegetation).
Because of God’s absolute justice, creatures of choice need to be put to the test in order to manifest their capacity of having choice. It would not be fair of God to put humans to the test without telling us what the test is and how to pass it, so he has sent Scripture to humankind to tell us what the test is and how to pass it.
The manual for humankind (Scripture) has to come from the absolute just being himself–if we were to rely on human ideologies as our source for what the truth is and how to pass the test, we would be led astray because humans are not all-knowing and are subject to being led astray.
God communicated to us what we need to know about the test (life on earth) through prophets. There have been 124,000 prophets to humankind counting Adam. In Islam, the prophets who were given the special task of communicating God’s laws to us are called messengers. All messengers were prophets, but not all prophets were messengers. Prophets call people to God’s right path in accordance with the previously revealed Scripture.
If God’s manual for this life were to land in our hands and we were to receive no correct interpretation of the manual, our own fallibility would lead us astray. We can see this from our own human history. Left to fallible human interpretation of Scripture, how many sects of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have formed? It would be unjust of God to make us rely on interpretations of other humans; absolute justice dictates Scripture be interpreted for us by an infallible person whose knowledge of the Scripture comes directly from God; absolute justice dictates that that person be infallible in everything they say and do.
What about people whose lifespans did not intersect the lifespans of prophets and messengers? It would be unjust for them to be left without an infallible interpreter of Scripture (infallible in interpretation and infallible in word and deed)…and, indeed, they were not so left. Between each prophet or messenger and the next prophet or messenger, a God-appointed infallible interpreter of Scripture existed. A chain of infallible interpreters of Scripture connect each prophet, and each one is announced publicly by the existing prophet or messenger or interpreter before his death.
Before Jesus departed from earth, he appointed, by God’s command, the infallible interpreter who was to carry on the true message after him. It was Simon Peter. Shia Muslims contend that had the church stayed with his teachings (and with his God-appointed successors’ teachings) instead of being led astray by Saul/Paul, who was not an infallible interpreter, Christianity would have stayed in line with God’s right path and Jesus’ true teachings.
An infallible prophet, messenger, or interpreter has existed and will exist at every second of time for as long as humankind exists in this test (life on earth). Their existence is necessary in order for our test on this earth to be just.
The infallible interpreter of Scripture appointed by God and announced publicly by Prophet Muhammad at Ghadeer Khum (the pond of Ghadeer) was Ali, given the title of Imam indicating his mandate from God to guide humankind until the next Imam’s appointed time. Shia Muslims are possibly the only people left on earth who know of and keep track of the chain of infallible interpreters (Imams) that existed between the last messenger’s death and the Day of Judgment when all humans’ tests culminate in a perfectly just judgment. And, yes, of course there is an infallible Imam (interpreter) alive today on earth. He is the last one; the one who will be alive on earth when Prophet Jesus returns to finish establishing the kingdom of God on earth.