Twelve Caliphs = Twelve Shia Imams? A Classical Imamite distortion debunked by Ebn Hussein
The other day I was invited by some good brothers to join their Clubhouse room and answer some questions about Sunni-Shia-related issues. I discussed a variety of topics with a number of Shias (probably by now uploaded on Sunnah Discourse YouTube channel). One individual (who turned out to be one of their learned ‘intellectuals’ called Hajj Hadi Tabrizi) popped up right toward the end of the session after I was exhausted answering questions and discussions for around three hours straight.
I already wrote an article here>> about one of the fallacious arguments he put forward in the debate, arguing (in his ignorance) that the verse about twelve Israelites in the Qur’an is proof for the Shia in twelve ‘infallible imams’. Classical batini nonsense and desperation par excellence.
Anways, I gave him a chance and we had a back and forth and you can watch the unedited discussion here and judge for yourself:
Like all Twelvers, he misused the hadith which speaks about twelve caliphs (in other versions amirs i.e. rulers) by superimposing his Twelver beliefs on it, of course claiming that the hadith speaks about ‘his’ twelve infallible demigod-like Imams. He asked questions such as: “Who are the twelve caliphs then, even your scholars couldn’t agree.”
I confidently replied that we don’t know and don’t need to know who they are and we can’t know for sure who they are simply because the Prophet (ﷺ) himself chose not to mention their names. If they were from the essence of the religion (as the Twelvers claim) their names would be clearly mentioned or at the very least the most eloquent of all Arabs, the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), would have not said they are from Quraysh (Abu Bakr, ‘Ali, ‘Umar, etc. are all from Quraysh), he would they are from Bani Hashim, however, he didn’t even say that as he kept it very generic (to the despair of the Twelvers).
This is why some of the deceptive Twelver ‘scholars’ like al-Tijani (Sufi convert to Shi’ism) shamelessly lied and claimed that ‘from Bani Hashim’ is added in the Bukhari version which is of course nothing but a brazen lie but understandable as the Twelvers need to peddle such lies to their gullible followers to somehow prove the myth of Imamah to be true from ‘Sunni sources’.
It is noteworshty to mention that my opponent, Hadi Tabrizi, due to his ignorance believes that the hadith about twelve caliphs restricts the number of caliphs to twelve in Islam and since I (Ebn Hussein) believe there were more than twelve caliphs in the histpry of Islam I am somehow ‘contradicting’ the prophecy! I know, it’s a quite silly argument, but we are dealing with Imamites who seem to be living on another planet where they have missed that definately more than twelve caliphs existed throughout the history of Islam. The hadith itself nowhere restricts the number of caliphs to twelve, that’s a distortion of the words of the Prophet (ﷺ). The hadith speaks about the glory of Islam under the rule of twelve caliphs (which itself refutes Shi’ism as you shal see, insha’Allah).
A Prophecy From The Unseen (al-Ghayb)
The issue is that the Twelvers don’t understand what a prophecy is. They don’t understand that this hadith conveys a matter of the Unseen (al-Ghayb). Take the following hadith for example:
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “There are two types of people who will be punished in Hell and whom I have not seen: men having whips like the tails of cows and they will be beating people with them, and, women who will be dressed but appear to be naked, inviting to evil; and they themselves will be inclined to it. Their heads will appear like the humps of the Bactrian camel inclined to one side. They will not enter Jannah and they will not smell its fragrance which is perceptible from such and such a distance. [Muslim]
There are many such ahadith I could post.
Now imagine someone asking: “Ok, who exactly are these men and women? Name them! At least the worst among them”
These types of ahadith are from the ‘Akhbar al-Sa’ah‘, narrations that speak about the end of times, they are not ahkam i.e. we don’t derive a hukm from a report that speaks about the Unseen.
So Sunni scholars disagreeing on who the twelve rulers are (although there is agreement that the first rightly guided caliphs are undoubtedly included as Islam was glorious under their rule) is totally fine and causes no issues for Ahl al-Sunnah as it is not required to know them anyway, it’s not a hadith about the fundamentals of our beliefs as the Twelvers want it to be.
Every person, scholar, and non-scholar can speculate who the Twelve rulers are but one thing is for sure: most of the twelve ‘Shia’ imams are definitely not fitting into the description of the hadith, and here is why:
The hadith comes with various wordings (beware, the Shia often quote weak wordings, the sahih ones are here):
Al-Bukhari (#6682) transmitted the report through Shu’ba, from ‘Abdulmalik, from Jabir b. Samura that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “There will be twelve amirs.”
Shu’ba transmitted it in this concise manner. Others, like Sufyan (Sahih Muslim #3394) and Abu ‘Abdilsamad Al-Ami (Musnad Ahmad #20019) transmitted a lengthier redaction from ‘Abdulmalik. Sufyan transmitted the report as follows: “The matters of the people will continue to progress as long as they are led by twelve men.”
Abu ‘Abdilsamad Al-‘Ami transmitted the report as follows: “This religion will stay at a state of glory or the people will be in a good state until the passing of twelve caliphs.”
Muslim (#3393) transmitted this report through Husain b. Abdulrahman, from Jabir b. Samurah, who reported: “This matter will not end until the passing of twelve caliphs.”
Muslim (#3394) narrated this report through Abu ‘Awanah, from Simak in a concise manner. However, he also transmitted (#3395) from Hammad b. Salamah from Simak: Islam will stay in a state of glory until the passing of twelve caliphs.” This redaction is corroborated by Zakariyya b. Abi Za’ida’s redaction in Mustakhraj Abi Awana (#5631), which includes this addition.
Muslim (#3396) transmitted this report through Dawud, from Al-Sha’bi, from Jabir: “This matter will be at a state of glory until twelve caliphs.” He then transmitted (#3397) a very similar report from Ibn ‘Awn which says: “This religion will be at a state of glory, fortified until the passing of twelve caliphs.”
Muslim (#3398) transmitted the report through Hatim b. Isma’il, from Al-Muhajir b. Mismar, from Amer b. Sa’ad b. Abi Waqqas, from Jabir: “This religion will remain upright until the end of time or until the passing of twelve caliphs.”
Sunan Abi Dawud (#4279) transmitted the following report with a sahih chain where the Prophet (ﷺ) said: The religion will continue to be established till there are twelve caliphs over you, and the whole community will agree on each of them. I then heard from the Prophet (ﷺ) some remarks which I could not understand. I asked my father: What is he saying: He said: all of them will belong to Quraysh.
By studying the aforementioned chains of transmission from Sahih Al-Bukhari and Muslim, we can conclude that the most accurate redaction ascribed to Jabir b. Samurah involved phrases/clauses, such as: “twelve, caliphs, and state of glory.” All of the aforementioned traditions also state that these caliphs shall all be from the tribe of Quraish. In the different redactions of the report, the words “matter/religion/Islam” all refer to the same thing. They may have all been used by Jabir b. Samurah since they were all transmitted by his students in various redactions of the report.
It is clear that the sahih wordings alone prove to be a catastrophe for the Twelvers as they do not restrict the number of caliphs to twelve and also make very clear that the Prophet (ﷺ) spoke about actual rulers of the Muslim masses, not house-dwelling and taqiyyah mongering ‘imams’ (as per Shia narrative, of course as per Ahl al-Sunnah the 11 Imams never claimed to be infallible imams and the 12th one is a myth).
Out of the twelve ‘Shia’ imams, only two were caliphs. The Twelvers have immediately gone against the apparent meaning of the Hadith to a metaphorical one from the get-go.
Furthermore, even if for the sake of the argument, the narration was about twelve imams and not twelve caliphs, we would run into another problem. The narration clearly states that Islam will stay in a state of glory until the passing of twelve caliphs. Yet, according to Shia belief, Islam was corrupted since the day of Saqifah. They believe it was a time of tyranny and oppression to the extent that the Shi’ites were in constant hiding to escape the grip of the government and corrupt scholars. So no glory and no argument for the Twelvers.
The meaning of the Hadith is apparent: The Prophet is prophesying that Islam shall go through various phases, which span times of glory and times of disgrace. The years of glory for Islam, which were experienced during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), will continue to last until the passing of twelve caliphs from the tribe of Quraish.
The report does not state that glory is exclusively experienced during the reign of twelve caliphs. Rather, it describes a specific uninterrupted era of glory. This prophecy embodied good news and glad tidings for the companions of the Prophet, who experienced oppression and persecution by their enemies in the early stages of the Seerah.
As apparent, nothing is said in this tradition about the nature of these twelve caliphs. They are not positively or negatively described in any of the redactions. Rather, it is only said that Islam will see glory during their reign. This report simply has nothing to do with the later Twelver construct of “the twelve imams”.
Like all fallacious and defective Twelver appeals to authentic reports, the appeal to this hadith ironically backfires on Twelver polemicists. The hadith explicitly states that Islam will remain in a state of glory till the passing of twelve caliphs. The first eleven Imams of the Shia were allegedly granted the Imamate between the years 11 and 260 AH.
Let us evaluate the events that unfolded during the supposed reign of these 11 imams (according to Twelver narrative):
- The caliphate was usurped from ‘Ali by conspiracy after the death of the Prophet (ﷺ).
- The Prophet’s daughter, Fatimah, was attacked and consequently murdered in her own house.
- The entire Ummah was led by apostates for ~ 24 years before leadership was eventually granted to ‘Ali.
- ‘Ali’s rule was challenged by a political opponent in Syria whom ‘Ali was not able to overcome.
- After ‘Ali’s death, al-Hassan conceded leadership of the entire Ummah to this alleged tyrant and enemy of ‘Ali, Mu’awiyah.
- Mu’awiyah’s son, Yazid, eventually assumed the leadership of the entire Ummah and ended up massacring al-Husayn at Karbala, along with various individuals from the Prophet’s (ﷺ) household.
- The Umayyads (a cursed people according to Shi’ism) ruled the vast majority of the Ummah till the year 132.
- The ‘Abbasids (also enemies of the Ahl al-Bayt according to Shi’sim) ruled the vast majority of the Ummah post-132.
- Later Twelver imams were murdered, persecuted, and imprisoned by government authorities.
A brief glimpse into the Twelver narrative on early Islamic history will demonstrate that Islam was anything but glorious during the reign of ‘their’ twelve imams. Rather, this era arguably is the worst and most disgraceful period in Islamic history. Not only is the report irrelevant to the Twelver conception of Imamah, but it also (ironically) disproves it.
The early Shias never used to ’12 Caliphs Hadith’ to prove their religion
It’s easy to apply a prophecy and make the claim to that prophecy after the prophecy is made. Little do the Twelver Shi’ites know that their predecessors, the liars and fabricators of Kufa and Qom were Imamites without believing in any specific set of Imams. None of the early Imamites (before the so-called occultation of the 12th Imam) argued for the validity of their sect based on the Sunni hadith about twelve caliphs.
The Imamites had to concoct the ‘hidden Imam’ story as Imam al-‘Askari (11th imam) had no son. They had to settle on twelve and only then tried to link their obscure esoteric belief in twelve demigod imams to Sunni reports of twelve caliphs. A simple fraud perpetrated by the Shia (who themselves couldn’t agree on their imams and split into dozen+ sects).
The hadith about twelve caliphs does not apply to the imams (except for ‘Ali b. Abi Talib and al-Hasan) that the Rafidah claim as the imams never ruled over nobody and had no authority, they couldn’t enforce capital punishment, they commanded no armies, they had no authority to appoint governors or dictate policies. In fact, they lived in taqiyyah and were too scared to even announce their so-called ‘Imamah’ to some of their own supporters. Most Shia laypeople don’t even know that according to their own (!) sources the imams were constantly scared to announce the most important pillar (‘Wilayah’) of the religion and revealed it to a close circle only, like in a Kabbalistic esoteric cult. That’s the mess called Shi’ism:
So… no, they weren’t caliphs, however, here more in-depth refutations of that Rafidi claim: