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Imam (/ɪˈmɑːm/; Arabic: إمام ‎ imām; plural: أئمة aʼimmah) is an Islamic leadership position. It is most commonly used as the title of a worship leader of a mosque and Muslim community among Sunni Muslims. In this context, imams may lead Islamic worship services, serve as community leaders, and provide religious guidance.

For Shi'a Muslims, the imam has a more central meaning and role in Islam through the concept of imamah; the term is only applicable to those members of Ahl al-Bayt, the house of the prophet Muhammad, designated as infallibles.

Sunni imams

The Sunni branch of Islam does not have imams in the same sense as the Shi'a, an important distinction often overlooked by those outside of the Islamic faith. In everyday terms, the imam for Sunni Muslims is the one who leads Islamic formal (Fard) prayers, even in locations besides the mosque, whenever prayers are done in a group of two or more with one person leading (imam) and the others following by copying his ritual actions of worship. Friday sermon is most often given by an appointed imam. All mosques have an imam to lead the (congregational) prayers, even though it may sometimes just be a member from the gathered congregation rather than an officially appointed salaried person. The position of women as imams is controversial. The person that should be chosen, according to Hadith, is one who has most knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah (prophetic tradition) and is of good character; the age being irrelevant.

The term is also used for a recognized religious scholar or authority in Islam, often for the founding scholars of the four Sunni madhhabs, or schools of jurisprudence (fiqh). It may also refer to the Muslim scholars who created the analytical sciences related to Hadith or it may refer to the heads of the Prophet Muhammad's family in their generational times.

The following table shows the considered imams in the context of scholarly authority by Sunni Muslims:

Madhhab (Schools of Jurisprudence) Aqidah (Schools of Theology) Science of Hadith
Imam Abu Hanifa Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (Athari) Imam Bukhari
Imam Malik Imam al-Ashari (Ash'ari) Imam Abu Dawood
Imam Shafi'i Imam Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (Maturidi) Imam Muslim
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal Wasil ibn Ata (Mu'tazili) Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal

The Position of Imams In Turkey

Imams are appointed by the state to work at mosques and they are required to be graduates of an İmam Hatip high school or have a university degree in Theology. This is an official position regulated by the Presidency of Religious Affairs [9] in Turkey and only males are appointed to this position while female officials under the same state organisation work as preachers and Qur'an course tutors, religious services experts. These officials are supposedly belong to the Hanafi school of the Sunni sect.

Central figure in an Islamic movement are also called as Imam like the Imam Nabahwi in Syria and Ahmad Raza Khan in India called as the Imam of Sunni Muslims.

Shi'a imams

In the Shi'a context, an imam is not only presented as the man of God par excellence, but as participating fully in the names, attributes, and acts that theology usually reserves for God alone. Imams have a meaning more central to belief, referring to leaders of the community. Twelver and Ismaili Shi'a believe that these imams are chosen by God to be perfect examples for the faithful and to lead all humanity in all aspects of life. They also believe that all the imams chosen are free from committing any sin, impeccability which is called ismah. These leaders must be followed since they are appointed by God.


Here follows a list of the Twelvers imams:

Number Name (Full/ Kunya) Title (Arabic / Turkish) Birth–Death (CE / AH) Importance Birthplace (present day country) Place of death and burial
1 Ali ibn Abu Talib علي بن أبي طالب
Abu al-Hassan or Abu al-Husayn أبو الحسین or أبو الحسن
Amir al-Mu'minin (Commander of the Faithful) [10]
Birinci Ali
600–661 [10]
The first imam and successor of Muhammad in Shia Islam; 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. [10] Mecca, Saudi Arabia [10] Assassinated by Abd-al-Rahman ibn Muljam, a Kharijite in Kufa, who slashed him with a poisoned sword. [10] Buried at the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, Iraq.
2 Hassan ibn Ali الحسن بن علي
Abu Muhammad أبو محمد
İkinci Ali
624–670 [11]
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. [12] Medina, Saudi Arabia [11] Poisoned by his wife in Medina, Saudi Arabia on the orders of the Caliph Muawiya. Buried in Jannat al-Baqi.
3 Husayn ibn Ali الحسین بن علي
Abu Abdillah أبو عبدالله
Sayed al-Shuhada
Üçüncü Ali
626–680 [13]
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. [13] [14] Medina, Saudi Arabia [13] Killed on Day of Ashura (10 Muharram) and beheaded at the Battle of Karbala. [13] 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 [15]
Dördüncü Ali
658-9 [15] – 712
38 [15] –95
Author of prayers in Sahifa al-Sajjadiyya, which is known as "The Psalm of the Household of the Prophet." Medina, Saudi Arabia [15] According to most Shia scholars, he was poisoned on the order of Caliph al-Walid I in Medina, Saudi Arabia. Buried in Jannat al-Baqi.
5 Muhammad ibn Ali محمد بن علي
Abu Ja'far أبو جعفر
al-Baqir al-Ulum

(splitting open knowledge) [16]

Beşinci Ali
677–732 [16]
57–114 [16]
Sunni and Shia sources both describe him as one of the early and most eminent legal scholars, teaching many students during his tenure. [16] [9] Medina, Saudi Arabia [16] 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. Buried in Jannat al-Baqi.
6 Ja'far ibn Muhammad جعفر بن محمد
Abu Abdillah أبو عبدالله

(the Trustworthy)

Altıncı Ali
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 Jābir ibn Hayyān in science and alchemy. [9] Medina, Saudi Arabia According to Shia sources, he was poisoned in Medina, Saudi Arabia on the order of Caliph Al-Mansur. Buried in Jannat al-Baqi.
7 Musa ibn Ja'far موسی بن جعفر
Abu al-Hassan I أبو الحسن الأول [18]
Yedinci Ali
Leader of the Shia community during the schism of Ismaili and other branches after the death of the former imam, Jafar al-Sadiq. [9] He established the network of agents who collected khums in the Shia community of the Middle East and the Greater Khorasan. [9] Medina, Saudi Arabia Imprisoned and poisoned in Baghdad, Iraq on the order of Caliph Harun al-Rashid. Buried in the Kazimayn shrine in Baghdad.
8 Ali ibn Musa علي بن موسی
al-Rida, Reza
Sekizinci Ali
Made crown-prince by Caliph Al-Ma'mun, and famous for his discussions with both Muslim and non-Muslim religious scholars. Medina, Saudi Arabia 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.
9 Muhammad ibn Ali محمد بن علي
Abu Ja'far أبو جعفر
al-Taqi, al-Jawad
Dokuzuncu Ali
Famous for his generosity and piety in the face of persecution by the Abbasid caliphate. Medina, Saudi Arabia 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.
10 Ali ibn Muhammad علي بن محمد
Abu al-Hassan III أبو الحسن الثالث [19]
al-Hadi, al-Naqi [19]
Onuncu Ali
827–868 [19]
212–254 [19]
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. [19] Surayya, a village near Medina, Saudi Arabia [19] According to Shia sources, he was poisoned in Samarra, Iraq on the order of Caliph Al-Mu'tazz. Buried in the Al Askari Mosque in Samarra.
11 Hassan ibn Ali الحسن بن علي
Abu Muhammad أبو محمد
al-Askari [20]
Onbirinci Ali
846–874 [20]
232–260 [20]
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. Medina, Saudi Arabia [20] According to Shia, he was poisoned on the order of Caliph Al-Mu'tamid in Samarra, Iraq. Buried in Al Askari Mosque in Samarra.
12 Muhammad ibn al-Hassan محمد بن الحسن
Abu al-Qasim أبو القاسم
al-Mahdi, Hidden Imam, al-Hujjah [21]
Onikinci Ali
According to Twelver doctrine, he is the current imam and the promised Mahdi, a messianic figure who will return with Jesus. He will reestablish the rightful governance of Islam and replete the earth with justice and peace. Samarra, Iraq According to Shia doctrine, he has been living in the Occultation since 872, and will continue as long as God wills it.

Fatimah, also Fatimah al-Zahraa, daughter of Muhammed (615–632), is also considered infallible but not an Imam. Shi'a believe that the last Imam [the Mahdi (as)] will one day emerge.


See Imamah (Ismaili doctrine) and List of Ismaili imams for Ismaili imams.

Imams as secular rulers

At times, imams have held both secular and religious authority. This was the case in Oman among the Kharijite or Ibadi sects. At times, the imams were elected. At other times the position was inherited, as with the Yaruba dynasty from 1624 and 1742. [22] The Imamate of Futa Jallon (1727-1896) was a Fulani state in West Africa where secular power alternated between two lines of hereditary Imams, or almami. [23] In the Zaidi Shiite sect, imams were secular as well as spiritual leaders who held power in Yemen for more than a thousand years. In 897, a Zaidi ruler, al-Hadi ila'l-Haqq Yahya, founded a line of such imams, a theocratic form of government which survived until the second half of the 20th century. (See details under Zaidiyyah, History of Yemen, Imams of Yemen.)

Ruhollah Khomeini is officially referred to as Imam in Iran. Several Iranian places and institutions are named "Imam Khomeini", including a city, an international airport, a hospital, and a university.




See also


  1. , p. 30
  2. .
  3. Amir-Moezzi, Ali (2008). Spirituality and Islam. London: Tauris. p. 103. ISBN 9781845117382.
  4. 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 978-0-02-865769-1.
  5. The abbreviation CE refers to the Common Erasolar calendar, while AH refers to the Islamic Hijrilunar calendar.
  6. Nasr, Seyyed Hossein.. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-10-12 .
  7. Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. Gale Group. 2004. ISBN 978-0-02-865769-1.
  8. Tabatabae (1979), pp.190-192
  9. Tabatabae (1979), p.192
  10. . Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-11-08 .
  11. Tabatabae (1979), pp.194-195
  12. Madelung, Wilferd.. Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2008-03-23 .
  13. Tabatabae (1979), p.195
  14. . Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-11-08 .
  15. Tabatabae (1979), pp.196-199
  16. Calmard, Jean.. Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2008-03-23 .
  17. Madelung, Wilferd.. Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-11-08 .
  18. Tabatabae (1979), p.202
  19. Madelung, Wilferd.. Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-11-08 .
  20. Tabatabae (1979), p.203
  21. Tabatabae (1979), p.203-204
  22. . Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-11-08 .
  23. Madelung, Wilferd.. Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-11-09 .
  24. Tabatabae (1979), p.205
  25. Tabatabae (1979) p. 78
  26. Sachedina (1988), pp.53-54
  27. Tabatabae (1979), pp.205-207
  28. Tabatabae (1979), p. 207
  29. Madelung, Wilferd.. Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-11-08 .
  30. Tabatabae (1979), pp.208-209
  31. Halm, H.. Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-11-08 .
  32. Tabatabae (1979) pp. 209-210
  33. Tabatabae (1979), pp.209-210
  34. . Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-11-08 .
  35. Tabatabae (1979), pp.210-211
  36. Tabatabae (1979), pp. 211-214
  37. Miles, Samuel Barrett (1919).. Garnet Pub. pp. 50, 437. ISBN 978-1-873938-56-0. Retrieved 2013-11-15 .
  38. Holt, P. M.; Holt, Peter Malcolm; Lambton, Ann K. S.; Bernard Lewis (1977-04-21).. Cambridge University Press. p. 365. ISBN 978-0-521-29137-8.
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