After analyzing Quranic verses, one can conclude that paradise is a definite vow of Allah (swt) and the reward of the pious believers who completely obey the prophet (pbuh). One who possesses these traits will truly reach salvation.
One of the prophet’s commands that must be obeyed, is that we have obey “those vested with authority”, know them and fulfill our responsibilities towards them. Without a doubt, those who don’t obey Allah (swt), the prophet (pbuh) and the Ahlul-Bayt in their words, in their hearts and in their actions aren't true believers and will not be endowed with the blessing of going to paradise, because the Quran says:
“ان الذین آمنوا و عملوا الصالحات لهم جنات تجری من تحتها الانهار”[i]. In reality, heaven and hell are both manifestations of our own beliefs and actions in this world. As the Quran says:
“ان احسنتم احسنتم لانفسکم و ان أساتم فلها” If you do anything good, you have done yourself good, and if you do anything bad, you have worked against yourself”.
Completely obeying the imams (as) doesn’t just mean to claim that one loves them and this isn't something that only the Shia say. It starts from knowing them and what our responsibilities are towards them, why we even need the imams, etc.
Now if by any chance some don’t believe in the imams, if their ignorance is out of negligence despite them being aware of the truth, they will surely not make it to heaven, but if they have tried to find the truth and strived in this way, but haven’t reached it, they will not deserve to go to hell, because hell is a place for the sinners and negligent, and clearly, those who have seriously tried and yet failed don’t fall under that category.
“و من یطع الله و رسوله یدخله جنات تجری من تحتها الانهار”. Those who go to heaven are those who have completely obeyed Allah (swt) and His messenger (pbuh). How is one to obey them? Once again, taking into consideration the verses on this issue, the things that Allah (swt) and His messenger want from us can be summed up into two categories: beliefs and actions. “ان الذین آمنوا و عملوا الصالحات لهم جنات تجری من تحتها الانهار” (Indeed those who have faith and do righteous deeds, for them will be gardens with streams running in them).
- As long as we don’t obey the prophet (pbuh), we aren't considered obedient.
- Obedience is both in action and in belief
- Obeying the prophet (pbuh) in some of what he has asked us to do isn't considered true complete obedience!
What is the outcome of faith and good deeds?
According to the Quran, the fruit of these two is “taqwa” (piety), and those who are pious will enter paradise for sure:
“للذین اتقوا عند ربهم جنات تجری من تحتها الانهار”.
Conclusion of what was said till now:
The essence of salvation is taqwa which means to completely obey all of Allah’s (swt) and His messenger’s (pbuh) commands.
Although taqwa has different degrees, the least needed to possess it is to perform all wajib duties and refrain from all sins. So a prerequisite to taqwa would be to learn about what things are wajib and what things are forbidden and haram in Islam so that we can perform and refrain from them respectfully.
One of the prophet’s (pbuh) most important commands is to know and obey his true successors (imams). Clearly, anyone who doesn’t believe in them verbally, in the heart and in his/her actions, cannot be considered a true believer and righteous person and lacks taqwa, because he hasn’t obeyed the prophet (pbuh) in one of the most important things he has asked us to do.
According to verse 59 of surah Nisa, obeying “those vested with authority” is obligatory, to the extent that obeying them has been considered equal to obeying Allah (swt) and their disobedience, His disobedience. What needs to be mentioned here is that they must be infallible, making them invulnerable to any form of sin and even mistake. It isn't true to say that anyone who becomes ruler of the Muslim nation, falls under the category of “those vested with authority”, because if those vested with authority weren’t to be infallible, there would always be chances of their commands not being in correspondence with Allah’s (swt) and His messenger’s (pbuh), hence the discrepancy between the order of obeying Allah (swt) and obeying those vested with authority [for instance, if the imams were mistakenly to say something isn't mandatory, while Allah (swt) says it is, there is clear contradiction between saying both Allah (swt) and they have to be obeyed; it is impossible!].
Now that we have spoken about how believing in the imams plays a role in our salvation [which was that since it is obedience of one of the prophet’s (pbuh) most important commands, it is part of taqwa], it is good to speak a bit about what role the imams play in the salvation of people and society and in whether one will go to heaven or hell.
The impact of believing in the imam on one’s salvation
Keeping in mind what was said above, here we will speak of the concept of salvation and success; what it is in this world and the next and the role belief in the imam plays in bringing salvation.
a) The concept of salvation
Each and every person has his/her own perception of salvation and happiness, but it seems this variety in views isn't to the benefit of those who are in pursuit of the truth. So it’s better to seek the true meaning from that who is to divide all people into the two groups of those who have reached salvation and those who don’t and are at loss.
When Allah (swt) wants to describe one of His successful servants, Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh), this is how He does it:
“و ان من شیعته لأبراهیم. اذ جاء ربه بقلب سلیم” (And verily, Ibrahim was a true follower Of Nuh; He came towards his Creator and Nurturer With a pure heart). He also quotes him saying:
“Do not disgrace me on the day that they will be resurrected; the day when neither wealth nor children will avail; except him who comes to Allah with a pure heart”.
As you can see, a pure heart has been emphasized in these verses. What can be deduced is that one reaches salvation when he/she lives in a way that when the time to part this world and meet Allah (swt) arrives, he/she has a pure heart.
What is interesting is that after verse 89 of surah Shu’ara [that says “except him who comes to Allah (swt) with a pure heart], the verse “و ازلفت الجنة للمتقین” comes, which means: “[And on the Day of Judgement]
Conclusion: Happiness and salvation are contingent upon having a pure heart, and a sign if having it is taqwa. The person who has truly reached salvation is one who possesses a pure heart.
b) The role believing in an imam plays in one reaching salvation
Many Sunni and Shia scholars have narrated the following hadith; a portion of it will be narrated here:
The prophet (pbuh) told Ali (as):
“Prophet Musa’s (pbuh) nation was split into seventy-one sects in which only one of those sects was delivered while all the others would go to Hell; Prophet Isa’s (pbuh) nation was split into seventy-two groups in which only one of them was delivered and the rest all companions of the Hellfire; my nation will also be split into seventy-three groups in which only one of them will be delivered, while the rest will all go to Hell. Imam Ali (as) asked: “O Messenger of Allah (swt)! Which of them is to be delivered?” He answered: “Those who go your way and the way of your followers and embrace it.”
Baridah Aslami [whom the Sunnis believe to be one of the prophet’s (pbuh) companions] quotes the prophet (pbuh) saying that what is meant by “the straight path” in surah Fatihah that says “guide us to the straight path” is Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his progeny.
The prophet (pbuh) has said: “Whoever wishes to swiftly pass “the bridge of sirat” [on the Day of Judgment] like a typhoon and enter paradise without any reckoning, has to accept my friend, successor, companion and the one to take my place after me over my progeny, Ali ibn AbiTaleb.” If anyone desires to go to Hell, then he should: “disregard his [Ali’s (as)] authority, for by my lord’s glory and magnificence, he [Ali (as)] is the only door to Allah (swt) and the straight path and the one whose authority and imamate will be asked of on the Day of Judgement [from the rest of the people].”
Whose good deeds are accepted?
Once again, according to numerous hadiths that Sunnis have narrated, the condition for the acceptance of good deeds by Allah (swt), is the acceptance of the succession and imamate of Imam Ali (as).
The prophet of Islam (pbuh) has said: “Looking at the face of Ali ibn AbiTaleb is worship, remembering him is worship, and no one’s faith is accepted without loving him and hating his enemies.” What this hadith is saying is that if one’s faith is to be accepted, its condition is Imam Ali (as). True faith circles around him.
Sunni scholars have also narrated the prophet (pbuh) saying:
“O Ali! If anyone spends a course of time the length of Prophet Nuh’s (pbuh) lifetime in worship, and has gold the size of the mountain of Uhud and gives it all away in charity, and has a long life that allows him to perform Hajj a thousand times by foot, and is then wrongfully and innocently killed between Safa and Marwah, yet doesn’t believe in your imamate and succession O Ali! Will never smell the scent of heaven and will never enter it.”
Does all of this mean that no one other than the Shia will go to heaven?
Those who weren’t Muslim can be divided into two categories:
1- The infidels and rejecters of faith: Those who knew Islam was the true religion, yet refused to accept it out of negligence and other personal reasons. This group deserve to go to Hell and remain there forever.
2- Those who never heard of Islam or what they heard of was a small part of it, making it resemble other religions that they knew were false. Such people will be saved given they were sincere in their own religions.
Islam says these people will have a chance if they had followed their own religions; religions that were in harmony with their human nature.
The same things that were said go for those who were Muslim, but didn’t hear about Imam Ali (as) or heard very little.
In a nutshell, all of those whom the truth hasn’t reached not as a result of shortcoming and not striving for the truth, don’t deserve to go to Hell, because it is the place for the sinners, and those who tried but never found the truth aren't considered sinners and negligent.
For further information, see:
1- Hell and Non-Muslims, Question 47 (site: 283)
2- Attentive ignorant individuals and deliverance from the hellfire, Question 323 (site: 1751)
 “مثل الجنة التی وعد المتقون” Muhammad:47.
 Nisa’:59; Shura:23; Al-Mustadrak alal-Sahihain, vol. 3, pg. 109.
 Of course, the subject of the need of people for an imam is one that calls for an extensive discussion, in which isn't the theme of this article.
 Asqalani, Al-Isabah fi Tamyeezil-Sahabah, vol. 2, pg. 174.
 Seyyid Shahabuddin Shafe’I, Rashfatul-Sadi, pg. 25; Sheikh Salman Hanafi, Yanabi’ul-Mawaddah, pg. 114.
 Haskani, Shawahidul-Tanzil, vol. 1, pp. 51 and 90.
 Kharazmi, Manaqib, pg. 19 and 212; Ganji Shafe’i, Kifayatul-Taleb, pg. 214.
 “ثم لم یوالیک یا علی لم یشم رائحة الجنة ولم یدخلها…” Kharazmi, Manaqib, Maqtalul-Husain, Kharazmi, vol. 1, pg. 37.