According to some Muslims, Imamate is divided in two parts. There is Imamate in spiritual meaning and matters and esoteric affairs, and Ali (a.s.) is the Imam of the Muslims and the undisputed Caliph of Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.a.) in esoteric matters. And the first three rulers are the apparent ‘caliphs’ over the Muslims and they have the right to rule, command and forbid that the nation must obey unconditionally.
It is as if these Muslims have a special arrangement with Allah so that Imamate and public leadership over the nation is at their discretion and they can divide into two categories. In this way they grant a portion to whoever they like – they give a part to Imam Ali (a.s.) and his sons (a.s.) and another part to the three rulers, then to Muawiyah and Yazid and Marwan and his sons, then to Mutawakkil and so on. They instruct the various Imams – you are the Imam in this domain, and you are the Imam in this domain.
Perhaps Allah and His Prophet (s.a.w.a.) already knew that Muslims would raise such baseless objections against Imamate of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.). Hence, the Quran already establishes the guideline for prophethood and (Imamate) with verses like this:
النَّبِيُّ أَوْلَى بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ مِنْ أَنفُسِهِمْ
The Prophet has a greater claim on the faithful than they have on themselves… (Surah Ahzab (33): 6)
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) also invoked this Quranic verse in the Ghadeer sermon before making the historical declaration:
Of whomsoever I am the Master (Mawla), Ali (a.s.) is his Master.
Now the question Muslims must answer is:
Is the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) the leader of the Muslims only in spiritual / esoteric matters?
Or in all matters?
The answer will equally apply to Ali (a.s.), his successor.
Or was Prophet Haroon (a.s.) a successor of Prophet Moosa (a.s.) only in spiritual and esoteric matters? Because if Haroon’s (a.s.) leadership and guidance was only in spiritual and esoteric context, then why was Moosa (a.s.) so furious at the calf-worship so much so that he pulled Haroon (a.s.) by his beard, holding him accountable for the deviation of the nation in his absence?
The answer is obvious. Moosa (a.s.) appointed Haroon (a.s.) as his absolute successor and not just in the spiritual context.
On the same lines, Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) appointed Ali (a.s.) as his absolute successor and not just a spiritual successor as evidenced in Hadith al-Manzelah – You are to me as Haroon was to Moosa, except there is no prophet after me.
As the Muslim community has chosen leaders in contravention of the Ghadeer announcement, they are forced to advance a dual leadership arrangement – one leader for ruling and administration and one leader for spiritual and esoteric matters. Remember, a similar arrangement was suggested in Saqifah – one leader from the Muhajireen and one leader from the Ansar. This suggestion was promptly dismissed in favour of one leader for all Muslims. So how come Muslims are now proposing two leaders – one for administration and one for spiritual guidance.
Clearly, the skeptics have not paid attention to verses like this:
وَرَبُّكَ يَخْلُقُ مَا يَشَاءُ وَيَخْتَارُ مَا كَانَ لَهُمُ الْخِيَرَةُ سُبْحَانَ اللّه وَتَعَالَى عَمَّا يُشْرِكُونَ
And your Lord creates and chooses whom He pleases; to choose is not theirs; glory be to Allah, and exalted be He above what they associate (with Him). (Surah Qasas (28): 68)
The Noble Quran clearly points out that it is for Allah and not the Muslims to choose (a leader).
There cannot be any argument or debate or even the slightest objection to Ali’s (a.s.) Imamate just like the Noble Quran warns the Muslims from entertaining the slightest doubt or objection against the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.):
فَلاَ وَرَبِّكَ لاَ يُؤْمِنُونَ حَتَّىَ يُحَكِّمُوكَ فِيمَا شَجَرَ بَيْنَهُمْ ثُمَّ لاَ يَجِدُواْ فِي أَنفُسِهِمْ حَرَجًا مِّمَّا قَضَيْتَ وَيُسَلِّمُواْ تَسْلِيمًا
But no! By your Lord! They do not believe (in reality) until they make you a judge of that which has become a matter of disagreement among them, and then do not find any straightness in their hearts as to what you have decided and submit with entire submission. (Surah Nisa (4): 65)
Muslims must submit to the Imamate announcement in Ghadeer with complete submission just like they are commanded to submit to prophethood. There can be no compartmentalizing of Imamate into roles like spiritual Imamate and administration Imamate. Just like there is one Prophet for all affairs, there is one successor of Prophet for all affairs.