The Shi‘ah subscribe to the doctrine of ‘Imaamah’. They believe that there were twelve Imaams who came into the world after Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam), and these twelve Imaams (Allah forbid!) are even greater than the Ambiyaa (‘alaihimus salaam) and equal in status to Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam). (Anwaar-un-Najaf fi-Asraar-il-Mushaf pg. 19)
It is the belief of the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaa’ah that the greatest of Allah’s creation are the Ambiyaa (‘alaihimus salaam), and from among them, Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) ranked the highest.
The Shi‘ah scholar, Ni’matullah Jazaa’iri, has written:
الإمامة العامة التي هي فوق درجة النبوة والرسالة
Imaamah is a rank even higher than the rank of a Nabi and a Rasul (Zahr-ur-Rabi pg. 12)
Similarly, the Shi‘ah believe that the twelve Imaams were ma’soom and never committed any minor or major sin throughout their lives, whereas it is the belief of the Ahlus Sunnah that only the Ambiyaa (‘alaihimus salaam) were ma’soom (divinely protected by Allah Ta‘ala from committing any sin, minor or major, whether before or after nubuwwah).
The Sheikh of the Shi‘ah in his time, Mulla Majlisi, has written in Bihaar-ul-Anwaar:
اعلم أن الإمامية اتفقوا علي عصمة الأئمة عليه السلام من الذنوب صغيرها وكبيرها فلا يقع منهم ذنب أصلا لا عمدا ولا نسيانا ولا لخطأ في التأويل ولا للإسهاء من الله سبحانه
Know well that the Shi‘as are unanimous regarding the Imaams being ma’soom from all sins, whether minor or major. Hence, not a single sin was ever committed by them, neither intentionally nor forgetfully, nor due to an error in judgment and nor due to Allah Ta‘ala causing them to forget. (Bihaar-ul-Anwaar 25/211)
From all the differences that exist between the Ahlus Sunnah and the Shi‘ah, the issue of Imaamah is by and large the most serious difference. In fact, if it is said that the issue of Imaamah is the root difference between the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaa‘ah and the Shi‘ah, it would not be an exaggeration, as all the other differences stem from this root.
As Muslims, we believe that we refer to Allah and His Rasul (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) in all matters, and that the Nabi guides the ummah through wahi (divine revelation). At the point where the human intellect ceases and the ummah is in need of divine intervention, Allah Ta‘ala guides the ummah via the Ambiyaa (‘alaihimus salaam). However, the doctrine of Imaamah held by the Shi‘ah explains that the twelve Imaams were the greatest of Allah’s creation. Their ranks were even higher than the Ambiyaa (may Allah Ta‘ala forbid!) and wahi descended upon them. They were referred to for the laws of deen and had the power to make changes in deen. (Usool-ul-Kaafi 1/145, 1/248)
(To be continued insha Allah)