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The Twelve Imams
Ali · Hasan · Husayn
al-Sajjad · al-Baqir · al-Sadiq
al-Kadhim · al-Rida · al-Taqi
al-Naqi · al-Askari · al-Mahdi


Fourteen Infallibles
Occultation (Minor · Major)
Akhbar · Usul · Ijtihad
Taqleed · 'Aql · Irfan


Judgement Day · Justice
Prophethood · Imamate


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Command Justice · Forbid Evil
Love the family of Muhammad
Dissociate from their Enemies

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Nimatullahi · Safaviya
Qizilbash · Alevism · Alawism
Bektashi · Tabarie


Marja · Ayatollah · Allamah
Hojatoleslam · Mujtahid
List of marjas · List of Ayatollahs

Hadith collections

Peak of Eloquence · The Psalms of Islam · Book of Fundamentals · The Book in Scholar's Lieu · Civilization of Laws · The Certainty · Book of Sulaym ibn Qays · Oceans of Light · Wasael ush-Shia · Reality of Certainty · Keys of Paradise

This is a sub-article to Imamah (Shi'a doctrine) and is specifically about the Shi'a twelver conception of the term.

Imāmah (Arabic: اٍمامة‎) means "leadership" and it is a part of the Shi'a theology. The Twelve Imams are the spiritual and political successors to Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, in the Twelver or Ithna Ashariya branch of Shia Islam.[1] According to the theology of Twelvers, the successor of Muhammad is an infallible human individual who not only rules over the community with justice, but also is able to keep and interpret the Divine Law and its esoteric meaning. The Prophet and Imams' words and deeds are a guide and model for the community to follow; as a result, they must be free from error and sin, and must be chosen by divine decree, or nass, through the Prophet.[2][3]

It is believed in Shi'a Islam that Aql, a divine wisdom, was the source of the souls of the Prophets and Imams and gave them esoteric knowledge, called Hikmah, and that their sufferings were a means of divine grace to their devotees.[4][5][1] Although the Imam was not the recipient of a divine revelation, but has close relationship with God, through which God guides him, and the imam in turn guides the people. The Imamat, or belief in the divine guide is a fundamental belief in Shi'i Islam and is baed on the concept that God would not leave humanity without access to divine guidance.[6]

According to Twelvers, there is always an Imam of the Age, who is the divinely appointed authority on all matters of faith and law in the Muslim community. Ali was the first Imam of this line, and in the Twelvers' view, the rightful successor to the Prophet of Islam, followed by male descendants of Muhammad through his daughter Fatimah Zahra. Each Imam was the son of the previous Imam, with the exception of Husayn ibn Ali, who was the brother of Hasan ibn Ali.[1] The twelfth and final Imam is Muhammad al-Mahdi, who is believed by the Twelvers to be currently alive, and in hiding.[6]



Muhammad is reported to have said that the Islamic leadership is in Koreish (i.e. his tribe) and that 12 "Imams" shall succeed him. [7] There is a difference of opinion within Sunni and Shiite sects as to whom Muhammad was referring. It is also important to mention that Muhammad has stated, and this statement has been authenticated by Sunnis and Shiites alike, that "Whoever does not know the Imam of his Lifetime (Hadith of the Current Imam: i.e. recognizes same) has died the death of Ignorance". Again, this statement has different interpretations and consequences with different Sunni and Shiite sects (or Schools of thought). The idea of a prophet appointing a successor is also found in the Old Testament where Joshua son of Nun is declared Moses' successor or manager of his affairs after his death.

Muslims believe that God has appointed certain members of humankind to be the leaders of those who believe in God and practise God's religion. When God's prophet has taught the people the religion, he will then appoint a leader, in accordance with God's orders, to guide believers towards perfection.

Shias believe that just as Moses appointed Aaron as his successor (Hadith of position), in accordance with God's order, Muhammad, the final prophet, appointed Ali ibn Abi Talib to be the leader of the believers.


Shias believe that an imam has several responsibilities. An imam must lead Muslims in all aspects of life. In addition, they believe that because an imam was appointed by God, like prophets and messengers, they are infallible. Shias accept the imams as perfect human beings. Shi'ism teaches that imams must be obeyed. A prophet can also be an imam, but not all prophets are imams. Muhammad is considered by Muslims to be God's final prophet. Shias do not consider that the twelve imams are prophets. They believe that these twelve imams are greater in status than all of God's prophets except Muhammad.

The Shi'a scholar Mohamed Baqer Al-Majlisi, widely considered as the greatest and most influential Shiite scholar of the Safawid era, states:

The Imams are superior to the prophets (except Muhammad) and the entire creation. The Covenant of the Imams was taken from them (the prophets), the angels and the entire creation. The (major prophets called) ulul-‘Azm (Nuh, Ibrahim, Musa and ‘Isa ) attained the status of ulul-‘Azm on account of loving the Imams.[8]


The Shi'a Twelver denomination of Islam consider it to be the highest level of responsibility given by God to a human.


Shi'a believe there are different ranks that people have achieved:

  • Ordinary people
Shi'a believe that people are able to receive revelations/inspiration/guidance (Arabic: Wahy) from God. For a more in-depth understanding of Wahy, pleas refer to the English commentary of the Qur'anic verse 16:68 by Ayat. Pooya Yazdi.[9]
  • Communicating with angels

Part of a series on the Islamic creed:

Five Pillars

Shahādah - Profession of faith
Ṣalāt - Prayers
Ṣawm - Fasting during Ramadan
Zakāh - Paying of alms (giving to the poor)
Hajj - Pilgrimage to Mecca

Six articles of belief (Sunni)

Tawhīd - Oneness
Prophets and Messengers in Islam
Islamic holy books
The Last Judgment

Principles of the Religion (Twelver)

Tawhīd - Oneness
‘Adalah - Justice
Nubuwwah - Prophethood
Imāmah - Leadership
Qiyamah - Day of Judgement

Practices of the Religion (Twelver)

Ṣalāt - Prayers
Ṣawm - Fasting during Ramadan
Hajj - Pilgrimage to Mecca
Zakāh - Tithes
Khums - One-fifth tax
Jihad - Struggle
Commanding what is just
Forbidding what is evil
Tawallā' - Loving the Ahl al-Bayt
Tabarrá - Disassociating Ahl al-Bayt's enemies

Seven Pillars (Ismaili)

Walāyah - Guardianship
Ṭawhid - Oneness of God
Ṣalāt - Prayers
Zakāh - Purifying religious dues
Ṣawm - Fasting during Ramadan
Hajj - Pilgrimage to Mecca
Jihad - Struggle


Kharijite Sixth Pillar of Islam.

Some people raise to the rank of communicating with angels. Shi'a honour Fatima Zahra with a nickname implying this, and some honor her with writing a book after conversations with the Angel Gabriel, and the Qur'an also merits the Virgin Mary with having talked to Angels.
  • Prophets
Prophets (Arabic: Nabi) are considered people having the responsibility of sharing the Divine Law (Arabic Shari'a) that was revealed to the latest Messenger. However, they may also privately receive new laws which they are not responsible for sharing. There are considered to have been exactly 124,000 prophets.
  • Messenger
"Messenger" (Arabic Rasul) are considered people receiving a new set of laws from God, in addition of being a prophet.

Shi'as and Sunnis believe there are different status among nabis and rasuls, supported by this Qur'anic verse:

We have made some of these Messenger (Rasul) to excel the others among them are they to whom Allah spoke, and some of them He exalted by (many degrees of) rank... [2.253]
  • Leader
"Leader" (Arabic: Imam) are considered people having the responsibility of implementing the Divine Law (Arabic Shari'a), by leading a group of people, besides being a Messenger and Prophet.

Shi'a Twelver believe that five Messengers achieved the rank of Leadership:

Shi'as and Sunnis also believe there are different status among these five, Muhammad having the highest.


Shi'a believe that Allah perfected the Divine Law through Muhammad (Qur'an 5:3), hence making it impossible to improve it further. This belief results in the role of the prophets and messengers becoming obsolete, since there are no further sets of laws to be received. However, Shi'a believe that the need for guidance that Leaders give is still present. Hence, they believe that after Muhammad, there have been non-prophet leaders.

The shi'i scholar 'Allamah Kashif al-Ghita said about the Imamah:

Imamah is a divine station, just like Nubuwwah. Just as Allah chooses whomsoever He wants to for Nubuwwah and Risalah ... similarly, for Imamah too, He selects whomsoever He wishes.[10]

Shi'a believe that those are the rightful successors to Muhammad. They are regarded similar to the Caliph in Sunni Islam only with regards to the aspect of political leadership. In fact, the Shia Imam has many more characteristics and responsibilities than the Sunni concept of Caliph beyond mere political leadership. Unlike the Sunni Caliph, the Imam must be appointed by no one other than God. For details of the position held by a Shia Imam, see Imamah. The majority Shia belief is that the Imams are God appointed. After the prophet Muhammad, were Ali, and eleven of his descendants from his wife, Fatima Zahra. This belief is what led to the split between the Shi'a and Sunni, as the Shi'a felt that the descendants of Ali are the rightful successors to Muhammad, while the Sunni felt that it was any who could take the role of Caliph by the will of God and protect Islam. For details, see Succession to Muhammad.

Shi'a believe that non-prophet Leaders can have the same or even greater status than Leaders that also are prophet. For example, most they believe that Ali held a higher status than Jesus, but lower than Muhammad. They base their conclusion on the Hadith of Jesus praying behind Mahdi.

Shi'as also believe that imams can perform miracles, intercede, and guide the faithful, including speaking in any language and in any accent, that they know about the past, the present and a limited amount of the future[11] and all this knowledge is given to them by Allah.[12] and present narrations as proof. They also believe that it is disbelief to reject the Imamah-doctrine.[13]

Regarding rejecting the Imamah-doctrine, al-Hilli, a 14th century Shi'a Twelver Islamic scholar, writes:

Imamah is a universal grace (lutf ‘amm) while Nubuwwah (prophethood) is a special grace (lutf khass), because it is possible that a specific period in time can be void of a living Nabi, while the same is not true for the Imam. To reject the universal grace is worse than to reject the special grace[14]

See also Teleportation in Islam.



In verse 2.124 of the Qur'an, it describes how Abraham was "promoted" from being a Messenger to a Leader. Shi'a Muslims believe this is a clear proof of the distinct status and responsibility of an Leadership (Arabic imamate).

Day of Judgement

In verse 17.71, the Qur'an describes that on the Day of Judgement, every person will be asked whom their imam is, to be judged as nations. Shi'a Muslims conclude therefore that the status of imamate is very important. They conclude that this proves that everyone does have an imam, whether he recognizes it or not.


Some of the Hadith Shi'a base their arguments on include:


According to the majority of Shi'a, namely the Ithna Ashariya or Twelvers, the following is a listing of the rightful successors to Muhammad. Each Imam was the son of the previous Imam, except for Husayn ibn Ali who was the brother of Hasan ibn Ali.

Number Name
Importance Birthplace (present day country) Place of death and burial
1 Ali ibn Abu Talib
علي بن أبي طالب
Abu al-Hassan
أبو الحسن
Amir al-Mu'minin
(Commander of the Faithful)[17]
Birinci Ali[18]
The first Imam and the rightful successor of the Prophet of all Shia; however, the Sunnis acknowledge him as the fourth Caliph as well. He holds a high position in almost all Sufi Muslim orders (Turuq); the members of these orders trace their lineage to Muhammad through him.[17] Mecca, Saudi Arabia[17] Assassinated by Abd-al-Rahman ibn Muljam, a Kharijite in Kufa, who slashed him with a poisoned sword.[17][20] Buried at the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, Iraq.
2 Hassan ibn Ali
الحسن بن علي
Abu Muhammad
أبو محمد
Ikinci Ali[18]
He was the eldest surviving grandson of Muhammad through Muhammad's daughter, Fatimah Zahra. Hasan succeeded his father as the caliph in Kufa, and on the basis of peace treaty with Muawiya I, he relinquished control of Iraq following a reign of seven months.[23] Medina, Saudi Arabia[21] Poisoned by his wife in Medina, Saudi Arabia on the orders of the Caliph Muawiya.[24] Buried in Jannat al-Baqi.
3 Husayn ibn Ali
الحسین بن علي
Abu Abdillah
أبو عبدالله
Sayed al-Shuhada
Ūçüncü Ali[18]
He was a grandson of Muhammad. Husayn opposed the validity of Caliph Yazid I. As a result, he and his family were later killed in the Battle of Karbala by Yazid's forces. After this incident, the commemoration of Husayn ibn Ali has become a central ritual in Shia identity.[25][27] Medina, Saudi Arabia[25] Killed and beheaded at the Battle of Karbala.[25] Buried at the Imam Husayn Shrine in Karbala, Iraq.
4 Ali ibn al-Hussein
علي بن الحسین
Abu Muhammad
أبو محمد
al-Sajjad, Zain al-Abedin

[28 ]

Dorduncu Ali[18]
658-9[28 ] – 712[29]
38[28 ]–95[29]
Author of prayers in Sahifa al-Sajjadiyya, which is known as "The Psalm of the Household of the Prophet." [29] Medina, Saudi Arabia[28 ] According to most Shia scholars, he was poisoned on the order of Caliph al-Walid I in Medina, Saudi Arabia.[29] Buried in Jannat al-Baqi.
5 Muhammad ibn Ali
محمد بن علي
Abu Ja'far
أبو جعفر
al-Baqir al-Ulum

(splitting open knowledge) [30 ]

Besinci Ali[18]
677–732[30 ]
57–114[30 ]
Sunni and Shia sources both describe him as one of the early and most eminent legal scholars, teaching many students during his tenure.[30 ][31] Medina, Saudi Arabia[30 ] According to some Shia scholars, he was poisoned by Ibrahim ibn Walid ibn 'Abdallah in Medina, Saudi Arabia on the order of Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik.[29]. Buried in Jannat al-Baqi.
6 Ja'far ibn Muhammad
جعفر بن محمد
Abu Abdillah
أبو عبدالله

(the Trustworthy)

Altinci Ali[18]
83–148 [32]
Established the Ja'fari jurisprudence and developed the Theology of Shia. He instructed many scholars in different fields, including Abu Hanifah and Malik ibn Anas in fiqh, Wasil ibn Ata and Hisham ibn Hakam in Islamic theology, and Geber in science and alchemy.[32][33][34] Medina, Saudi Arabia[32] According to Shia sources, he was poisoned in Medina, Saudi Arabia on the order of Caliph Al-Mansur.[32]. Buried in Jannat al-Baqi.
7 Musa ibn Ja'far
موسی بن جعفر
Abu al-Hassan I
أبو الحسن الاول [35]
Yedinci Ali[18]
Leader of the Shia community during the schism of Ismaili and other branches after the death of the former Imam, Jafar al-Sadiq.[37] He established the network of agents who collected khums in the Shia community of the Middle East and the Greater Khorasan.[38] Medina, Saudi Arabia[36] Imprisoned and poisoned in Baghdad, Iraq on the order of Caliph Harun al-Rashid. Buried in the Kazimayn shrine in Baghdad.[36]
8 Ali ibn Musa
علي بن موسی
Abu al-Hassan II
أبو الحسن الثانی[35]
al-Rida, Reza[39]
Sekizinci Ali[18]
Made crown-prince by Caliph Al-Ma'mun, and famous for his discussions with both Muslim and non-Muslim religious scholars.[39] Medina, Saudi Arabia[39] According to Shia sources, he was poisoned in Mashad, Iran on the order of Caliph Al-Ma'mun. Buried in the Imam Reza shrine in Mashad.[39]
9 Muhammad ibn Ali
محمد بن علي
Abu Ja'far
أبو جعفر
al-Taqi, al-Jawad[40]
Dokuzuncu Ali[18]
Famous for his generosity and piety in the face of persecution by the Abbasid caliphate. Medina, Saudi Arabia[40] Poisoned by his wife, Al-Ma'mun's daughter, in Baghdad, Iraq on the order of Caliph Al-Mu'tasim. Buried in the Kazmain shrine in Baghdad.[40]
10 Ali ibn Muhammad
علي بن محمد
Abu al-Hassan III
أبو الحسن الثالث[41]
al-Hadi, al-Naqi[41]
Onuncu Ali[18]
Strengthened the network of deputies in the Shia community. He sent them instructions, and received in turn financial contributions of the faithful from the khums and religious vows.[41] Surayya, a village near Medina, Saudi Arabia[41] According to Shia sources, he was poisoned in Samarra, Iraq on the order of Caliph Al-Mu'tazz.[42] Buried in the Al Askari Mosque in Samarra.
11 Hassan ibn Ali
الحسن بن علي
Abu Muhammad
أبو محمد
Onbirinci Ali[18]
For most of his life, the Abbasid Caliph, Al-Mu'tamid, placed restrictions on him after the death of his father. Repression of the Shi'ite population was particularly high at the time due to their large size and growing power.[44] Medina, Saudi Arabia[43] According to Shia, he was poisoned on the order of Caliph Al-Mu'tamid in Samarra, Iraq. Buried in Al Askari Mosque in Samarra.[45]
12 Muhammad ibn al-Hassan
محمد بن الحسن
Abu al-Qasim
أبو القاسم
al-Mahdi, Hidden Imam, al-Hujjah [46]
Onikinci Ali[18]
According to Twelver doctrine, he is the current Imam and the promised Mahdi, a messianic figure who will return with Christ. He will reestablish the rightful governance of Islam and replete the earth with justice and peace.[48] Samarra, Iraq[47] According to Shia doctrine, he has been living in the Occultation since 872, and will continue as long as God wills it.[47]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Shi'ite". Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-06.  
  2. ^ Nasr (1979), p.10
  3. ^ Momen (1985), p.174
  4. ^ Nasr (1979), p.15
  5. ^ Corbin (1993), pp.45-51
  6. ^ a b Gleave, Robert. "Imamate". Encyclopaedia of Islam and the Muslim world; vol.1. MacMillan. ISBN 0028656040.  
  7. ^ Refer to Sahih Al-Bukari , Sahih Muslim (Books of Hadiths (or sayings of the prophet of Islam) of the Sunnis) etc.
  8. ^ Bihar al-Anwar by Allamah Mohammad Baqer Al-Majlisi vol. 26 pp. 267-318 - 88 narrations
  9. ^ Pooya-Yazdi, H.M.M. The Holy Qur'an : Text, Translation and Commentary. Commentary for 1:7-8, 16:68.
  10. ^ Asl ash-Shi'a wa Usuluha p.58 by Allamah Muhammad Hussayn Kashif al-Ghita (Mu'ssasat al-A'lami, Beirut)
  11. ^ Usul al-Kafi by Muhammad Yaqoub Al-Kulayni vol. 1:260
  12. ^ Usul al-Kafi by Muhammad Yaqoub Al-Kulayni vol. 1:260
  13. ^ Talkhis ash-Shafi by Abu Jaafar Al-Tusi vol. 4 p. 131 (Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyyah, Qum, 3rd ed.)
  14. ^ al-Alfayn pp.3 by Ibn Mutahhar al-Hilli (al-Maktabah al-Haydariyyah, Najaf, 3rd ed. 1388)
  15. ^ The Imam's Arabic titles are used by the majority of Twelver Shia who use Arabic as a liturgical language, including the Usooli, Akhbari, Shaykhi, and to a lesser extent Alawi. Turkish titles are generally used by Alevi, a fringe Twelver group, who make up around 10% of the world Shia population. The titles for each Imam literally translate as "First Ali", "Second Ali", and so forth. Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. Gale Group. 2004. ISBN 9780028657691.  
  16. ^ The abbreviation CE refers to the Common Era solar calendar, while AH refers to the Islamic Hijri lunar calendar.
  17. ^ a b c d e Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. "Ali". Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-10-12.  
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. Gale Group. 2004. ISBN 9780028657691.  
  19. ^ Tabatabae (1979), pp.190-192
  20. ^ Tabatabae (1979), p.192
  21. ^ a b "Hasan". Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-11-08.  
  22. ^ Tabatabae (1979), pp.194-195
  23. ^ Madelung, Wilferd. "Hasan ibn Ali". Encyclopedia Iranica. Retrieved 2008-03-23.  
  24. ^ Tabatabae (1979), p.195
  25. ^ a b c d "al-Husayn". Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-11-08.  
  26. ^ Tabatabae (1979), pp.196-199
  27. ^ Calmard, Jean. "Husayn ibn Ali". Encyclopedia Iranica. Retrieved 2008-03-23.  
  28. ^ a b c d Madelung, Wilferd. "'ALÈ B. AL-HUOSAYN". Encyclopedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-11-08.  
  29. ^ a b c d e Tabatabae (1979), p.202
  30. ^ a b c d e Madelung, Wilferd. "AL-BAQER, ABU JAFAR MOHAMMAD". Encyclopedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-11-08.  
  31. ^ Tabatabae (1979), p.203
  32. ^ a b c d e f Tabatabae (1979), p.203-204
  33. ^ Reseach Committee of Strasburg University, Imam Jafar Ibn Muhammad As-Sadiq A.S. The Great Muslim Scientist and Philosopher, translated by Kaukab Ali Mirza, 2000. Willowdale Ont. ISBN 0969949014.
  34. ^ "Wasil ibn Ata". Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-11-08.  
  35. ^ a b Madelung, Wilferd. "'ALÈ AL-HAÚDÈ". Encyclopedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-11-09.  
  36. ^ a b c d e Tabatabae (1979), p.205
  37. ^ Tabatabae (1979) p. 78
  38. ^ Sachedina (1988), pp.53-54
  39. ^ a b c d e f Tabatabae (1979), pp.205-207
  40. ^ a b c d e Tabatabae (1979), p. 207
  41. ^ a b c d e f Madelung, Wilferd. "'ALÈ AL-HAÚDÈ". Encyclopedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-11-08.  
  42. ^ Tabatabae (1979), pp.208-209
  43. ^ a b c d Halm, H. "'ASKARÈ". Encyclopedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-11-08.  
  44. ^ Tabatabae (1979) pp. 209-210
  45. ^ Tabatabae (1979), pp.209-210
  46. ^ "Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Hujjah". Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-11-08.  
  47. ^ a b c d Tabatabae (1979), pp.210-211
  48. ^ Tabatabae (1979), pp. 211-214


  • Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc..  
  • Encyclopædia Iranica. Center for Iranian Studies, Columbia University. ISBN 1568590504.  
  • Martin, Richard C.. Encyclopaedia of Islam and the Muslim world; vol.1. MacMillan. ISBN 0028656040.  
  • Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. Gale Group. 2004. ISBN 9780028657691.  
  • Corbin, Henry (1993 (original French 1964)). History of Islamic Philosophy, Translated by Liadain Sherrard, Philip Sherrard. London; Kegan Paul International in association with Islamic Publications for The Institute of Ismaili Studies. ISBN 0710304161.  
  • Momen, Moojan (1985). TAn Introduction to Shi`i Islam: The History and Doctrines of Twelve. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300035314.  
  • Sachedina, Abdulaziz Abdulhussein (1988). The Just Ruler (al-sultān Al-ʻādil) in Shīʻite Islam: The Comprehensive Authority of the Jurist in Imamite Jurisprudence. Oxford University Press US. ISBN 0195119150.  
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