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Dec 5, 2014, 10:39 AM | Article By: Alhaji Ousman M Jah

It is true that knowledge of the evil consequences of sin does not in itself provide immunity against it. However, the inerrancy of the Messengers of God arises from so powerful and realistic a form of knowledge that they are able clearly to see with the eye of their heart the requital that sin brings. It is this that makes it quite impossible for them to commit any sin. A doctor will never drink from a vessel that is contaminated by a microbe because he knows the dangerous consequences this would entail. Mountaineers spend a whole life climbing mountains, but their intelligence and awareness never allow them even to conceive of the possibility of deliberately falling vertically, let alone undertaking such an act. Do the doctor and the mountaineer in these two examples have some kind of built-in and involuntary immunity against these irrational acts? Do they avoid these fatal acts without exercising free choice? To drink from the contaminated vessel or not to drink, to fall or not to fall-both alternatives are possible for them, but their conceptualizing of the results and consequences of the fatal acts reduce to near zero the likelihood of their undertaking them.

Here we can grasp clearly the link between knowledge, which is the very kernel of awareness, and action which is the external manifestation of awareness. We can see how profound and exact mental awareness objectifies itself, and how the human being is situated between cause and effect, between subjective and objective action and reaction. Similarly, inerrancy in the Prophets proceeds from their profound awareness of the effects of sin, of Divine anger and punishment. Their awareness of these is so clear and complete that the abolition of spatial and temporal distance would not have the slightest effect on their profound and categorical faith. Furthermore, the Prophets acquire a steely determination as a result of their strivings and unstinting self-sacrifice and their continuous orientation to the origin of being; they have no fear of the problems and difficulties that confront them on the road to establishing justice and truth, and they devote their entire beings to winning the satisfaction of God. This too is a powerful factor in bestowing inerrancy on those men of God and protecting them from making use of their ability to sin and even from allowing the idea of sin to enter the pure sanctuary of their minds.

This comprehensive protection against sin is, then the direct result off their encompassing knowledge of the requital that evil deeds earn and their perfect awareness of the exalted station of the lord. It is, too an indication of their lofty, proud spirituality which harnesses all the rebellious inclinations of their being as that they never step beyond the bounds that have been set. Let us set aside for the moment the case of the Prophets. In every age there have been persons of pure heart who as a result of a fundamental change in their manner of thought and constant struggle against various forms of captivity, have torn apart the chains of attachment and liberated their thoughts and their deeds from the entrammeling prison of enslavement to the world. For human beings such as these, the only source of value in life has been their love for God, their determination to do His will and to advance towards Him. Their burning love, arising from their purity of mind and their belief in the primacy and authenticity of religion, gives them a certain kind of protection against many forms of sin and moral corruption. In many cases, they may not be fully aware of the harmful consequences of sin, but their sense of obedience to God creates such a transformation in their consciousness that it functions like an impenetrable barrier interposed between them and sin. So firm and unbreakable is that barrier that instinctual desire and arbitrary inclination are unable to breach it.

Muhammad b. Umary relates the following: “I asked Hisham, the outstanding student of Imam Sadiq, peace be upon him, whether the Imams have the station of inerrancy. He answered that they do. I then asked him to explain for me the nature of their inerrancy. He replied as follows: ‘There are several qualities that give rise to sin and vice: greed, envy, lust and anger, and none of these can penetrate the beings of Imams. How might they experience greed, considering the abundant resources they have at their disposal, including the public treasury of the Muslims? Similarly, why should the Imam be envious? The envious person is the one who cannot endure the thought of someone being higher than him, and the imamate is assuredly the highest of all stations. “As far as worldly matters are concerned, it is impossible for the Imam to be angry because he has been entrusted with the implementation of the penalties God has decreed. As for anger in matters touching on the hereafter, which is a praiseworthy form of anger, it is impossible for the Imam to fall prey to lust and desire, for he is well aware that the pleasures and desirable things of this world are transitory and totally insignificant when compared to the Divine reward and bounty which are reserved on the Day of Judgment for the pure and the worshippers of God”.

There are then two basic sources for the commission of sin: a failure to recognize the ugliness of sin, and a defeat of the intelligence when confronted by the power and pressure of lusts. So if a person is fully aware of the corrupt and ugly nature of all sin and if he can bring his desires fully under control, it is impossible that he should pollute his hands with the commission of sin. Imam Sadiq, upon whom be peace, says: “God extends His aid and assistance to human beings in proportion to their will, determination and choice, so that whoever makes a correct choice and a firm determination will receive the full aid of God, and he who falls short in his choices will find God’s aid withheld from him in due proportion.” But as for total protection from error and sin, this is possible only through the special favor of God. The Quran says: “Were God’s mercy and favor not to embrace you, a group of enemies would have attempted to turn you aside from the right path. But through God’s favor, they were able only to turn themselves aside from the right path, and they could not harm you in any way. God has bestowed on you this book and the station of wisdom and prophethood and taught you what you knew not, because God’s favor and grace toward you are infinite.” (4:113)

In addition, it can perhaps be said that the Prophets participated directly in the unfolding of realities and when the human being confronts objective realities and when the human being confronts objective realities in accordance with a certain particular sense, error and sin can have no meaning for that person. It is only when the human being attempts to transpose mental forms into objective reality that error can arise, not when the person is inwardly linked with the reality of being, a condition which makes it impossible for mistakes to occur. Thus it is that the Prophet is immune against error when guiding human beings and summoning them to God.

Were it to be otherwise, you would look with doubt and hesitation on whatever the Prophets said in promulgating the commandments of God and you would not regard yourself as obliged to obey them. Inerrancy applies to the receipt of revelation, the preservation of revelation, and the promulgation of the message. All three aspects are contained in this verse of the Noble Quran: “In order that God might know that the Messengers have fully conveyed to mankind the messages of their Lord, that He fully be aware of what the Messengers possess and that He know full well the numbering of all things in this world..” (38:28)

To be continued