I emailed Shaykh Ahmed Amiruddin, a Deputy of Mawlana Shaykh Nazim Adil al-Haqqani an-Naqshbandi, and asked him to clearify what Mawlana Shaykh Nazim transmitted to be the correct position of Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jam'ah on the Twelve Imams. Here is his response:
Q. What is the the correct Sunni position on the Twelve Imams?
A. In light of the Hadith of Jibrail (alaihi salam), also known as the Hadith of Ihsan, the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa aalihi wa sallam) defined his religion as Islam, Iman and Ihsan. Based on the study of this Hadith, it is clear that according to the Holy Prophet (sallallahu alalihi wa aalihi wa sallam) Ihsan is one-third of the faith of Islam.
Unlike the Khwarij, and those who deny Tasawwuf, Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jam'ah, the saved sect, are clear that the vehicle to taste the Maqam al-Ihsan is Tasawwuf, what is termed as Sufism by the people today.
With that established, to answer your question, I say, based on the teachings of the greatest leaders of Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jam'ah throughout history, the Illustrious Twelve Imams (may Allah be well pleased with them all) are THE Qutbul-Aqtaab of Tasawwuf, meaning the highest ranking Saints of Sufism, under whose shelter every Wali attained his Wiliyah, and each Muslim is able to approach or even reach the state of Ihsan. I say to you, that without them, there is no Tasawwuf, and without Tasawwuf, there is no Ihsan. Ihsan is one-third of the faith, and hence, belief in the Twelve Imams is in reality, one-third of the faith!
In his book the Ghadir Declaration, Shaykh al-Islam Dr. Tahir al-Qadiri quotes Imam Rabbani's comments on the status of Hadrat al-Murtada and the Twelve Imams, and the dependence of those who seek guidance directly on them for it, stating,
“And there is another way close to the spiritual sovereignty and this is the way of the Saints and the general friends of Allah, and this way is marked by its characteristic passion and it carries the guarantee of mediation and the leader and chieftain of the Saints of this way is ‘Alī al-Murtada. And this grand office is reserved for him. On this way, the feet of the Holy Prophet are on ‘Alī’s head and Fatima and Hasan and Husayn are included with him. I believe that he enjoyed this position even before his physical birth, as he did after it, and whosoever has received the divine blessing and guidance, has received it through him, because he is closest to the last point on this way and the centre of this spot belongs to him. And when his period ended, the grand office passed on to Hasan and Husayn and then on to each one of the Twelve Imāms, individually and elaborately. And whosoever received guidance in their life and after their death, received it through these Saints. And the refuge and place of shelter of the Saints of high ranks are these Saints, (because they are the centre of all spiritual activity) and the sides tend to converge on the centre” (Maktubat, Volume 9:173#123).
To elaborate further on the topic of the Ummah's dependence on the Twelve Imams in order to obtain Ihsan, the Masterful Khwaja; Imam Rabbani Mujaddid Alf Thani Ahmad al-Faruqi as-Sirhindi (qadas Allahu sirrahul 'aziz) describes the dependence of the Qutb al-Aqtab, who is responsible for the guiding the entire creation, on Hadrat 'Ali' al-Murtada (karram Allahu wajhu), stating in the Maktubat Sharif Vol. 1,
"O Brother! Indeed Imam ‘Ali is the holder of the keys of the Sainthood, Wilayah, of the Prophet Muhammad [s] and the training regime for the status of Aqtab, Awtad and Abdaal, who are from amongst the reserved Awliya, is done under the shelter of his Sainthood. The rank of Qutb al-Aqtab, who is the greatest Qutb and the guide and mentor of others, lays under his (‘Ali’s) feet. His orders are issued under the supervision and support of ‘Ali and he performs his duties under the supervision and support of ‘Ali and fulfills his tasks. Sayyida Fatima and both of her sons, the Imams (Hasan and Husayn) share this rank with ‘Ali.” (Maktubat Imam Rabbani, Volume 1:438#251)
Furthermore, Hadrat Shah Wali Allah Muhaddith al-Dahlawi echoed this belief, that dependence on the Sainthood of the Illustrious Twelve Imams is one-third of the faith, as it is the Twelve Imams who are the Pivots of Guidance in Tasawwuf, and since Tasawwuf leads to Ihsan, and since it is them who are the Pivots of that science, it is clear that it is the Twelve Imams then who lead one to the perfection of faith, Ihsan.
I say to you again, without the Twelve Imams, ones faith cannot be completed, as Ihsan is the completion of faith, and the science of Ihsan; Tasawwuf, depends entirely on them!
The venerable Muhaddith Shah Wali Allah wrote:
"This faqir [referring to himself] has come to know that from all the other relations, the Twelve Imams [ra] have the relation of central pole leadership (Qutb). And the way of Tassawuf (Sufism) had taken birth during their lifetime. But all the orders of Aqaed and Shariah are limited to the ahadeeth of the Prophet (saww). And they have the order (Amr) of inner (Batin) leadership (Qutbiyat), which is free from the problems of Shariah. And in regards to the very leadership (Qutbiyat), each of them had an indication and ‘Nas’ for the next one to come, and the affairs of imamate which they said, actually referred to this kind of central pole leadership (Qutbiyat)." [Maqalaat al Waziyah fi Naseehat al-Wasiyah, page 7 (Lucknow)].
"Glory be to your Lord, the Lord of Honor, above what they describe.
And peace be on the Apostles.
And all praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the worlds" (Qur'an, 37:180)
Sayyid Ahmed Amiruddin
Deputy, Mawlana Shaykh Nazim Adil al-Haqqani, al-Qubrusi