What is the meaning of the infallibility of the Prophet (s)

Within the Muslim Ummah there are varying conclusions as to the infallibility of the Holy Prophet (s). There are some schools that believe that the Prophet (s) was affected by worldly desires and sins. Others believe that he was an infallible, like the Prophets before him, and therefore would not ever sin. In this essay, we are taking the Twelver Shi’i position – that the Holy Prophet (s) was an infallible being, as perfected by, and in accordance with, Allah (swt)’s command. 

Before discussing the infallibility of the Holy Prophet (s), one should identify what this term means. Al-Fadil al-Miqdad, a ranking Shi’i theologian, presents a thorough definition when he says,  

“Infallibility is a trait bestowed by Allah to a legally accountable individual (mukallaf) in such a way that the presence of this trait negates in this individual any motive to disobey or commit a sin while he remains capable of doing so. This bestowal is a consequence of the person’s acquisition of a moral habit (malakah) of refraining from sin. In addition, this person is aware of the reward earned through obedience, and the punishment incurred through disobedience, and is apprehensive of forgetfulness and failing to perform the better of two praiseworthy acts.” (Tehrani, 2020) 

Given this definition, we can understand that the Prophet (s) was human, but his connection to Allah (swt), and his conviction in the Hereafter was such that he did not desire to sin. If the Prophet (s) was fallible there could be the following results; 

1)  His mistakes would lead others to sin as they would see that their guide himself did not refrain from sinning.  

2) He would lose people’s trust. By seeing him sin people would not be able to trust him completely. This would affect their acceptance of his message of Islam, and essentially, his claim to prophethood. 

In the first case, prophethood would become a cause for the misguidance of people. In the second case, prophethood would be without much purpose. Far be it from Allah (swt) to either misguide or act without purpose (Tehrani, 2020).  

Infallibility is essential for the prophets and messengers because their job is not only to convey the divine scriptures of Allah but to also lead and guide humanity towards the right path. Therefore, they must be role models and perfect examples for all of mankind (Qazwini, IECOC, 2000) 

Many verses of the Quran praise the Prophet (s) and command believers to follow and obey him. No exceptions are made to state that Muslims should not follow him on occasions when he is wrong. These verses include; 

  • Whoever obeys the Messenger has obeyed Allah (Surah Nisa, no.4, verse 80)  
  • We did not send any Messenger but to be obeyed by Allah’s permission (Surah Nisa, no.4, verse 64)
  • your companion has neither gone astray, nor is amiss (Surah Najm, no.53, verse 2)
  • Indeed, you [Prophet Muhammad] guide to a straight path (Surah Shura, no.42, verse 52)

The Quran also says; 

  • There is certainly an excellent example for you in the Apostle of Allah (Surah Ahzab, no.33, verse 21) 

God would not give humans an example of a person who sins. Rather, Prophet Muhammad’s perfect examples give people guidelines of how to stay away from sinning.  

Therefore, given the guidance from the Qur’an, one can conclude that the Prophet was sent to be obeyed and is the best example for mankind. He would have to be free of sins to fulfill that role rightfully.


Hadavi Tehrani, A. (2020, February 04). Faith and Reason: Retrieved from https://www.al-islam.org/faith-and-reason

Qazwini, Sayyid Mustafa. Inquiries about Shia Islam. IECOC, 2000https://www.al-islam.org/inquiries-about-shia-islam-sayyid-moustafa-al-qazwini/infallibility 

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