Have the Shi’a Forgotten the Prophet (p)?

Reflections & Thoughts | For those interested in this new format called “Reflections & Thoughts”, please read the first two paragraphs in this post.

There is a sentiment against the Shī‘ī community that they do not concern themselves with the Prophet (p) as they do not make much mention of him (p) in their gatherings, nor are they concerned with any real study of his (p) life. The intent of this accusation is to demonstrate that there is a fundamental issue within Shī‘ī theology, where the subsequent events after the Prophet (p), particularly that of the lives of some of the Imams (a), are far more important and that the belief of the Shī‘a is that these divine personalities themselves were far more significant than the Prophet (p).

To briefly address this sentiment, it seems three matters need to be differentiated:

1) What Shī‘ī theology actually dictates regarding this matter

2) What is popularly observed in Shī‘ī communities around the world

3) What has been the historical context of the Shī‘a which may have led them to produce little literature on the life of the Prophet (p)

Theologically speaking, the Shī‘a believe the Prophet (p) was the final Messenger of Allah (swt), and with him (p) the religion was completed and perfected. The primary function of an Imam (a) after the Prophet (p) is a political and spiritual one, who continues to guide based upon the teachings of the Prophet (p). An Imam (a) is by no means on the status of the Prophet (p), he does not receive revelation, nor new divine legislation, rather, on the contrary, the Imam (a) embodies the teachings of the Prophet (p). I wrote some thoughts about this in my article: Completion of Religion & Teachings of the Imams.

It is famously attested that Ayatullah Borujerdi believed it was necessary to study the jurisprudential ḥadīth literature of the Ahl al-Sunnah in order to do ijtihād, since the Shī‘ī jurisprudential ḥadīth tradition of the Imams (a) was similar to marginal notes on a book. Although Sayyid Sīstānī and Sayyid Aḥmad Madadī have suggested that a better phrase would be that the Shī‘ī ḥadīth tradition is overlooking the ḥadīth tradition of the Ahl al-Sunnah, instead of using the phrase marginal notes.1

In the same vein, it is important to recognize that the lives and teachings of the Imams (a) are a commentary on the life and conduct of the Prophet (p) and this makes it even more important to study his (p) life. Since the Imam (a) is vested in this epistemic authority, one of the sources for the study and explanation of the Prophet’s (p) life will be the Imams (a) themselves. That being said, the sources on his (p) life are not restricted to the narrations of the Imams (a), which are often limited to the legislative aspects of his (p) life and teachings.

Other key sources for the study of the Prophet’s (p) life are (1) the Qurān itself; (2) epigraphic, documentary, and archaeological evidence; (3) contemporary and near-contemporary non-Muslim accounts, written primarily in Armenian, Greek, and Syriac and (4) Arabic literary sources that are mostly, but not exclusively, preserved in the sīrah-maghāzī literature.2

Unfortunately, despite this clear theological position, the pressures on the Shī‘ī community to defend its belief in Imamate since its inception appear to have dragged them into having to focus their attention on this matter. For this reason, we find thousands and thousands of works written on the lives of the Imams (a), theological works focusing on establishing the doctrine of Imamate, works elaborating on their merits, debates often revolving around the same matter, year long lectures and speeches focusing on the various aspects of the lives of the Imams (a), but close to no analysis of the sīrah. This phenomenon is often justified with cliches such as, ‘discussing the Imams (a) is like discussing the Prophet (p)’, ‘the Imams (a) would say whatever the Prophet (p) would have said and so it makes no difference’, and various other typical responses.

Such responses may help suppress some misconceptions in a very shallow way, but the fact of the matter is, discussing the lives of the Imams (a) is not the same thing as discussing the life of the Prophet (p). One does not just suffice with the life of one Imam and ignore the rest of the Imams by saying they were all the same, because very evidently their lives were not all the same. They engaged with different issues and challenges. Yet the key difference here is that the lives of the Imams (a) cannot be understood completely if there is no backdrop to it, the backdrop being the life of the Prophet (p).

An additional point to be made is in the global context we are living in today, Islam at its core is under attack – its core being the belief in Allah and the Prophethood of Muhammad (p). While much money and time are invested throughout the year promoting and prioritizing some aspect of the Shī‘ī religion with the intent to attract non-Muslims, it is often forgotten that other aspects only have value and significance if the Messenger (p) is seen as significant. If the very Messenger (p) of these teachings is under attack, prioritizing our efforts on matters that are meant to be subsequent is poor judgment on part of the community.

In a case study I did recently, one can get a feel of how the study of the sīrah allows us to recognize the precedent for the importance and prioritization of the congregational Ṣalāt in the set-up of a Muslim community.3 Such case studies and analysis of the sīrah allow us to see further elaborations on the Ṣalāt in the ḥadīth tradition of the Imams (a) in a very different light, rather than them commenting and explaining an arbitrary act of worship that had no significance or function in the Prophetic community.


  1. Reference: http://dorous.ir/persian/article/13117/
  2. Muhammad and the Empires of Faith – The Making of the Prophet of Islam, by Sean W. Anthony, pg. 15-16.
  3. See: https://iqraonline.net/congregational-prayers-and-the-community-in-the-prophets-sirah/