Ways to know a true Imam (peace be upon him) from an impostor

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عَنْ اَبِي بَصِيرٍ عَنْ اَبِي الْحَسَنِ الْمَاضِيؑ قَالَ دَخَلْتُ عَلَيْهِ فَقُلْتُ جُعِلْتُ فِدَاكَ بِمَ يُعْرَفُ الْاِمَامُ فَقَالَ بِخِصَالٍ اَمَّا اَوَّلُهُنَّ فَشَيْ‏ءٌ تَقَدَّمَ مِنْ اَبِيهِ فِيهِ وَ عَرَّفَهُ النَّاسَ وَ نَصَبَهُ لَهُمْ عَلَمًا حَتَّى يَكُونَ حُجَّةً عَلَيْهِمْ لِاَنَّ رَسُولَ اللهِ ص نَصَبَ عَلِيًّا وَ عَرَّفَهُ النَّاسَ وَ كَذٰلِكَ الْاَئِمَّةُ يُعَرِّفُونَهُمُ النَّاسَ وَ يَنْصِبُونَهُمْ لَهُمْ حَتَّى يَعْرِفُوهُ وَ يُسْاَلُ فَيُجِيبُ وَ يُسْكَتُ عَنْهُ فَيَبْتَدِئُ وَ يُخْبِرُ النَّاسَ بِمَا فِيْ غَدٍ وَ يُكَلِّمُ النَّاسَ بِكُلِّ لِسَانٍ فَقَالَ لِي يَا اَبَا مُحَمَّدٍ السَّاعَةَ قَبْلَ اَنْ تَقُومَ اُعْطِيكَ عَلَامَةً تَطْمَئِنُّ اِلَيْهَا فَوَ اللهِ مَا لَبِثْتُ اَنْ دَخَلَ عَلَيْنَا رَجُلٌ مِنْ اَهْلِ خُرَاسَانَ فَتَكَلَّمَ الْخُرَاسَانِيُّ بِالْعَرَبِيَّةِ فَاَجَابَهُ هُوَ بِالْفَارِسِيَّةِ فَقَالَ لَهُ الْخُرَاسَانِيُّ اَصْلَحَكَ اللهُ مَا مَنَعَنِي اَنْ اُكَلِّمَكَ بِكَلَامِي اِلَّا اَنِّي ظَنَنْتُ اَنَّكَ لَا تُحْسِنُ فَقَالَ سُبْحَانَ اللهِ اِذَا كُنْتُ لَا اُحْسِنُ اُجِيبُكَ فَمَا فَضْلِي عَلَيْكَ ثُمَّ قَالَ يَا اَبَا مُحَمَّدٍ اِنَّ الْاِمَامَ لَا يَخْفَى عَلَيْهِ كَلَامُ اَحَدٍ مِنَ النَّاسِ وَ لَا طَيْرٍ وَ لَا بَهِيمَةٍ وَ لَا شَيْ‏ءٍ فِيهِ رُوحٌ بِهَذَا يُعْرَفُ الْاِمَامُ فَاِنْ لَمْ تَكُنْ فِيهِ هَذِهِ الْخِصَالُ فَلَيْسَ هُوَ بِاِمَامٍ

Abu Baseer reports, “I went to Imam Kazem (peace be upon him) and asked, ‘May I be held your ransom! How is an Imam recognised?’ He (peace be upon him) replied, ‘With (these) characteristics. The first one is that there should be something (a will) from his father concerning him. He has introduced him to the people and appointed for them as a symbol so that he is a proof upon them because the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) appointed Ali (peace be upon him) and introduced him to the people. Similarly, all the Imams (peace be upon them) introduce them (their successors) to the people and appoint them (the successors) for them (the people) so that they (the people) know them. When he is asked, he answers. When people are silent, he initiates the conversation. He informs the people what will happen the next day. He speaks to them in all languages.

Then, he (peace be upon him) told me, ‘O Aba Muhammad! In a minute, before you get up I will give you a sign by which you will become content’.

(Abu Baseer says) ‘By Allah! While I was there, a person from Khorasan (in Iran) came to us and spoke in Arabic. But Imam (peace be upon him) replied to him in his native language (i.e. Persian). The Khorasani said, ‘May Allah improve your conditions! I did not speak in my native language because I thought you don’t know it.’ He (peace be upon him) retorted, ‘Glory be to Allah! If I am unable to answer you in your language, what is (the proof of) my superiority over you?’ Thereafter, he (peace be upon him) continued, ‘O Aba Muhammad! Nobody’s speech is hidden from the Imam; neither men nor birds nor beasts nor anything in which there is soul. An Imam is recognized through these traits. If these characteristics are not found in him, he is not an Imam’.


The salient features of this tradition is as follows:

a)    Imam should have nass from the previous Prophet or Imam.

b)    His knowledge should be absolute and not limited and restricted to a field. Hence, he answers any question given to him. 

c)    When people are silent, he initiates the conversation.

d)    He should have knowledge of the future (unseen).

e)    He should be able to speak all languages including that of animals, birds, etc.

f)     Imam (peace be upon him) is superior to all in all aspects. No creature can be superior to Imam (peace be upon him) in any aspect. If the mamoom is superior to an Imam in any aspect – whether simple or complicated – the latter will cease to be an Imam.


1.    Behaar al-Anwaar, vol. 25, p. 133, H. 5

2.    Qurb al-Asnaad, p. 146

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