Chahardah Maʿsum

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Chahardah Maʿsum, the fourteen inerrant or immaculate personages venerated by Twelver Shiʿites include the Prophet Muhammad, his daughter Fatima, and the twelve imams. Under the theological concept of 'isma, all are considered to be infallible. ʿIsma is commonly defined as a kindness (lutf) bestowed by God which does not cause incapacity to commit acts of disobedience.

‘Isma[edit | edit source]

The ascription of inerrancy (ʿisma) to the imams is encountered as early as the first half of the 2nd/18th century, and it was soon extended to the prophets. Ebn Babuya (d. 381/992), Shaykh Mofid (d. 413/1022), and Sharif Mortaza (d. 436/1049) successively defined the inerrancy of the Prophet Muhammad and the imams in increasingly stringent form, until 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 Fatima, her inerrancy derives from her being a link between prophethood and imamate, the two institutions characterized by inerrancy (she is sometimes termed the confluence of two lights [majmaʿ al-nurayn]), as well as by her association with the imams and their attributes in numerous traditions. The chief Quranic proofs of the inerrancy of the Chahardah Maʿsum are taken to be 33:33 (the verse of purification—ayat al-tathir and 2:124 (“My covenant does not embrace the wrongdoers”).

The Number of Fourteen[edit | edit source]

It might be thought that the numbering of the inerrant ones as fourteen was retrospective and subsequent to the occultation of the Twelfth Imam, and it is certainly true that some time elapsed between the death of the eleventh Imam, Hasan al-ʿAskari, in 260/873 and the emergence of a consensus that the Imamite line had been completed with the occultation of his infant son, the Twelfth Imam.[1] However, materials already existed in Shiʿite tradition that spoke of Twelve Imam only, so that the crystallization of belief in a line of twelve was not excessively problematic.[2] The inerrancy of the Prophet, ʿAli, Hasan, and Hussain, together with nine unnamed descendants of Hussain, is attested in a tradition attributed to the Prophet.[3] In another tradition, which has the Prophet addressing Salman, the nine are named explicitly, and mention of Fatima is, also included.[4] The same tradition states that the Prophet, Fatima, and the Twelve Imams were created out of light, “before the creation of creation.” Related to this luminous origin of the Chahardah Maʿsum is the interpretation of the Light Verse (24:35) and, indeed, of almost every Quranic reference to light, as alluding to them.[5] According to Jaʿfar al-Sadiq, the creation of the Chahardah Maʿsum from light preceded that of all other beings by fourteen thousand years.[6] Other traditions speak of the Chahardah Maʿsum being fashioned from “celestial clay,” “white clay,” “clay beneath the Throne,” and “the clay of the Throne”.[7] The succession of the Chahardah Maʿsum on earth is held to mirror the order in which they responded, in pre-eternity, to the divine question, “Am I not your Lord?” [8], and the line of descent connecting them is taken to be a visible sign of their joint origin as a single luminous substance.[9] Even the sperm from which they grew was of ultimately heavenly origin.[10]

Cosmology and Significance[edit | edit source]

There was evidently a tendency to believe in God’s delegation (tafwiz) of the task of creation to the Chahardah Maʿsum, since Majlesi finds it necessary to denounce this belief.[11] However, the Fourteen Inerrant Ones are said to have witnessed creation[12], and a tradition attributed to Muhammad al-Baqir, the Fifth Imam, proclaims, “We [the Imams or the Chahardah Maʿsum] are the means (sabab) for the creation of creation”.[13] There is general agreement among Shiʿite authorities that all fourteen are superior to the rest of creation, including even the major prophets.[14] The cosmic functions of the Chahardah Maʿsum were much elaborated by the theosophers of the Safavid period. Molla Sadra (d. 1050the 1640) integrated the Chahardah Maʿsum into Avicennan cosmology, enabling them to replace the Active Intelligences (al-ʿaql al-faʿʿal) as the ontological causes of existence.[15] Qazi Saʿid Qomi (d. 1103/1691) designated them as a “supernal humanity” (bashar al-ʿawali), eternally gathered around the Throne in their essential beings.[16] It can be said that the French scholar Henry Corbin has both reflected and continued this Safavid tradition, with his frequent evocation of “the pleroma of the Fourteen Immaculate Ones” as divine epiphanies manifest at every level of being (numerous references in En Islam iranien and other works).

In Popular Piety[edit | edit source]

The Chahardah Maʿsum are collectively present at the level of popular piety in the formula that invoke divine blessings on all of them by name and that are known generically as ziarat-e jameʿa.[17] Dreams and visions of the Chahardah Maʿsum are sometimes encountered in Shiʿite biographies; particularly remarkable, perhaps, was the vision seen by Haydar Amoli in the sky over Baghdad, with the fourteen figures arranged diagrammatically around a square.[18] It remains to add that the Chahardah Maʿsum are venerated by the nominally Shiʿite Bektashi order of dervishes (q.v.), who add a second series of fourteen, consisting of various offspring of the Imams, to yield the numerologically significant total of twenty-eight.[19]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Sachedina, pp. 42ff
  2. Kohlberg, pp. 529-33
  3. Majlesi, 1384, XXV, p. 201
  4. ibid., pp. 6-7
  5. ibid., XXIII, pp. 304-48, XXVI, pp. 242-43; Shirazi, pp. 209-11
  6. Majlesi, 1384, XX, pp. 15-16
  7. ibid., XX, pp. 15-16, XXV, pp. 8-12
  8. Koran 7:172
  9. Corbin, 1971-72, I, p. 68
  10. Majlesi, 1384, XX, p. 38
  11. ibid., XXV, pp. 328ff.
  12. ibid., XXV, pp. 339-41
  13. ibid., XX. p. 20
  14. ibid., XXVI, pp. 267-319
  15. Nasr, p. 58
  16. Corbin, I, p. 98
  17. for examples, see Qomi, 1340, and Corbin, I, pp. 71-73
  18. Corbin, III, pp. 200-08
  19. Birge, pp. 147-48

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • J. K. Birge, The Bektashi Order of Dervishes, London, 1937.
  • H. Corbin, En Islam iranien, 4 vols., Paris, 1971-72.
  • Idem, Corps spirituel et Terre céleste, new ed., Paris, 1979 (s.v. index “Quatorze Immaculés”).
  • E. Kohlberg, “From Imāmiyya to Ithnā-ʿAshariyya,” BSOAS 39, 1976, pp. 521-34.
  • W. Madelung and E. Tyan, “ʿIṣma,” in EI2. Muhammad-Baqir Majlesi, ʿAyn al-ḥayāt, Tehran, 1347 Š./1968, pp. 101-02.
  • Idem, Jalāʾ al-ʿoyūn dar zendagī wa maṣāʾeb-e Chahardah Maʿsum, Tehran, n.d.
  • Idem, Beḥār al-anwār, 102 vols., Tehran, 1384/1964.
  • M. Mossa, Extremist Shiʿites. The Ghulat Sects, Syracuse, N.Y., 1988, p. 108.
  • Shaikh ʿAbbās Qomī, Mafātīḥ al-jenān, Tehran, 1340 Š./1961.
  • Idem, Safīnāt al-beḥār, Tehran, 1355 Š./1963; II, pp. 201-02.
  • S. H. Nasr, Sadr al-Din Shirazi and His Transcendent Theosophy, Tehran, 1978.
  • A. A. Sachedina, Islamic Messianism. The Idea of the Mahdi in Twelver Shi’ism, Albany, N.Y., 1981.
  • Ṣ. Šīrāzī, Ahl al-Bayt fi’l-Qorʾan, Beirut, 1400/1979.

Source[edit | edit source]