Imamah can be translated as “leadership”, it comes from the verb amma which means “to lead the way, lead by one’s example”. However, in our theology, Imamah means specifically the leadership of the Ummah. Every single islamic sect believes in Imamah, although they do not agree on its specifics. For example: sunnis believe in Imamah even though they disagree with us – twelvers – in regards of infallibility or divine designation. They believe it is necessary for the Imâm/Caliph to be from Quraysh, however, ibadis disagree and say that, rather, the Imām can be from any tribe. Thus, it is evident that every single islamic sect believes someway in the concept of Imamah, which merely means “obligatory obedience”.Khomeini is famous (or rather, infamous) for developing a religious-political theory fully based on the concept of some kind of obligatory obedience to the jurist (faqih). According to Khomeini, such authority has been given by Ahl al-Bayt themselves.
Khomeini writes: ,,The matter of the authority of the jurist is not established by the council of experts, [rather] the authority of the jurist is a matter established by Allah, and it is the same as the authority of the Messenger of Allah.” [Şahifa Imam Khumainī (farsī), vol. 15, pg. 358]
He says: ,,If a knowledgeable and just jurist takes the issue of forming a government in his hands, and he takes care of the social affairs which the Prophet – peace be upon him – takes on, then people are obliged to listen to him and obey him.” [Al-Hukūmah al-Islāmiyyah, pg. 49]
He also says: ,,Just as the Most Noble Messenger was entrusted with the implementation of divine ordinances and the establishment of the institutions of Islam, and just as Allah Almighty set him (the jurist) up over the Muslims as their leader and ruler, making obedience to him obligatory, so, too, the just jurists must be leaders and rulers, implementing divine ordinances and establishing the institutions of Islam.” [Islamic Government (english). Al-Islam: translation by Hamid Algar.]
It is explicit in Khomeini’s words that in his theory, obedience to the jurist is obligatory. However such claim brings serious consequences for Khomeini’s Islam, as we shall see.
Sawrah b. Kulayb asked Abu Ja’far, peace be upon him, regarding the words of Allah: ,,And on the Day of Resurrection you will see those who lied about Allah with their faces blackened. He said: “[This verse refers to] whoever says: ,,I am an Imam”, when in fact he is not an Imam.” I said: ,,Even if he is an ‘alawi?” He said: ,,Even if he is an ‘alawi.” I said: ,,Even if he is from the children of ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, peace be upon him?” He said: ,,Even then.” [Kulayni: al-Kafi, vol. 1, pg. 372]
مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ يَحْيَى عَنْ أَحْمَدَ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ سِنَانٍ عَنْ أَبِي سَلامٍ عَنْ سَوْرَةَ بْنِ كُلَيْبٍ عَنْ ابي جعفر (عَلَيْهِ السَّلام) قَالَ قُلْتُ لَهُ قَوْلُ الله عَزَّ وَجَلَّ وَيَوْمَ الْقِيامَةِ تَرَى الَّذِينَ كَذَبُوا عَلَى الله وُجُوهُهُمْ مُسْوَدَّةٌ قَالَ مَنْ قَالَ إِنِّي إِمَامٌ وَلَيْسَ بِإِمَامٍ قَالَ قُلْتُ وَإِنْ كَانَ عَلَوِيّاً قَالَ وَإِنْ كَانَ عَلَوِيّاً قُلْتُ وَإِنْ كَانَ مِنْ وُلْدِ عَلِيِّ ابْنِ أَبِي طَالِبٍ (عَلَيْهِ السَّلام) قَالَ وَإِنْ كَانَ.
It is narrated that Abu ‘Abdillah, peace be upon him, said: ,,Whoever claims Imamah when in fact he is not from its people, [such person] is a disbeliever.” [Kulaynī: al-Kafi, vol. 1, pg. 372.]
مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ يَحْيَى عَنْ عَبْدِ الله بْنِ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ عِيسَى عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ الْحَكَمِ عَنْ أَبَانٍ عَنِ الْفُضَيْلِ عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ الله (عَلَيْهِ السَّلام) قَالَ مَنِ ادَّعَى الامَامَةَ وَلَيْسَ مِنْ أَهْلِهَا فَهُوَ كَافِرٌ.
Ibn Abi Ya’für heard Abu ‘Abdillah, peace be upon him, saying: ,,On the Day of Judgement, there are three people whom Allāh will not talk to, nor purify, and they will have a painful punishment: Whoever claims Imamah from Allah when [in fact] it is not for him; whoever fights an Imām from Allah; and whoever thinks that these two have a share in Islām.” [Kulayni: al-Kafi, vol. 1, pg. 373]
عِدَّةٌ مِنْ أَصْحَابِنَا عَنْ أَحْمَدَ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنِ الْوَشَّاءِ عَنْ دَاوُدَ الْحَمَّارِ عَنِ ابْنِ أَبِي يَعْفُورٍ عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ الله (عَلَيْهِ السَّلام) قَالَ سَمِعْتُهُ يَقُولُ ثَلاثَةٌ لا يُكَلِّمُهُمُ الله يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ وَلا يُزَكِّيهِمْ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ مَنِ ادَّعَى إِمَامَةً مِنَ الله لَيْسَتْ لَهُ وَمَنْ جَحَدَ إِمَاماً مِنَ الله وَمَنْ زَعَمَ أَنَّ لَهُمَا فِي الاسْلامِ نَصِيباً.
Abu ‘Abdillah, peace be upon him, said: ,,Whoever associates in Imamah a false imām with the Imam of Allah, [such person] is a polytheist.” [Kulayni: al-Kafi, vol. 1, pg. 373]
مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ يَحْيَى عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ الْحُسَيْنِ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ سِنَانٍ عَنْ طَلْحَةَ بْنِ زَيْدٍ عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ الله (عَلَيْهِ السَّلام) قَالَ مَنْ أَشْرَكَ مَعَ إِمَامٍ إِمَامَتُهُ مِنْ عِنْدِ الله مَنْ لَيْسَتْ إِمَامَتُهُ مِنَ الله كَانَ مُشْرِكاً بِالله.
Regarding the words of Allah: ,,And most of them believe not in Allāh except while they associate others with him.” Abū ‘Abdillah, peace be upon him, said: “[This refers to] associating partners [with Him] in obedience, not in worship.” [Al-Hurr al-Amili: Wasā’il al-Shiah, vol. 18, pg. 91. Qom: Ahl al-Bayt Foundation.]
عن ضريس، عن أبي عبد الله (عليه السلام) في قول الله عز وجل: ” وما يؤمن أكثرهم بالله إلا وهم مشركون ” قال: شرك طاعة وليس شرك عبادة
Hence we can conclude that claiming leadership over the Ummah – i.e obligatory obedience is disbelief in Allāh. Khomeini, perhaps, did not claim infallibility and divine designation (although some argue he did), just like Zaydi imāms did not, yet they were disbelievers.
Khomeini stated that the “Wali al-Faqih” should be chosen by a council of experts; similarly, Sunnis claim that the imam/caliph should be selected by a council.
Again, it is important to note the difference between the general aṣl of Imamah and the specific characteristics of the Twelver Imamah; all the sects agree regarding general Imamah, however they disagree regarding the specifics, such as: being from Quraysh for Sunnis; being from the Fatimid lineage for Zaydis; being infallible and appointed by the previous Imām for Twelvers. However, the narrations prove that claiming general Imāmah is disbelief, whether you claim the specifics or not.