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An Ottoman Imam in Istanbul.

An imam (Arabic: إمام‎, plural: أئمة A’immah; Persian: امام) is an Islamic leadership position, often the worship leader of a mosque and the Muslim community. Similar to spiritual leaders, the imam is the one who leads Islamic worship services. More often, the community turns to the mosque imam if they have a religious question. In smaller communities, an imam could also be the community leader.

The Sunni branch of Islam, whereto approximately 90% of Muslims adhere, does not have a clergy and therefore an imam is not a cleric like that of a Catholic Christian priest. In the Shi’a branch of Islam, the concept of an imam occupies a much more central religious position.



[edit] Sunni Imams

Part of a series on Islam
Usul al-fiqh
(The Roots of Jurisprudence)
Scholarly titles
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An Imam leading prayers in Cairo, Egypt, in 1865.

Main article: Imam khatib (Sunni Islam)

The Sunni branch of Islam does not have imams in the same sense as the Shi’a. In every day terms, the imam for Sunni Muslims is the one who leads congregational Islamic worship and prayers, and the Friday sermon is most often given by an appointed imam.

An Imam in Omdurman, Sudan.

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.

Those who are 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 Imam Wasil ibn Ata (Mu’tazili) Imam Fakhr al-Razi

[edit] Shi’a imams

Main article: Imamah (Shi’a doctrine)

In the Shi’a context, imam has 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, infallibility which is called ismah. These leaders must be followed since they are appointed by God.

[edit] Twelver

Here follows a list of the Twelvers imams:

Number Name
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)[3]

Birinci Ali[4]



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.[3] Mecca, Saudi Arabia[3] Assassinated by Abd-al-Rahman ibn Muljam, a Kharijite in Kufa, who slashed him with a poisoned sword.[3][6] Buried at the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, Iraq.
2 Hassan ibn Ali
الحسن بن علي

Abu Muhammad
أبو محمد


Ikinci Ali[4]



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.[9] Medina, Saudi Arabia[7] Poisoned by his wife in Medina, Saudi Arabia on the orders of the Caliph Muawiya.[10] Buried in Jannat al-Baqi.
3 Husayn ibn Ali
الحسین بن علي

Abu Abdillah
أبو عبدالله

Sayed al-Shuhada

Ūçüncü Ali[4]



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.[11][13] Medina, Saudi Arabia[11] Killed on Day of Ashura (10 Muharram) and beheaded at the Battle of Karbala.[11] 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[14]

Dorduncu Ali[4]

658-9[14] – 712[15]


Author of prayers in Sahifa al-Sajjadiyya, which is known as “The Psalm of the Household of the Prophet.” [15] Medina, Saudi Arabia[14] According to most Shia scholars, he was poisoned on the order of Caliph al-Walid I in Medina, Saudi Arabia.[15] 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]

Besinci Ali[4]



Sunni and Shia sources both describe him as one of the early and most eminent legal scholars, teaching many students during his tenure.[16][17] 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.[15] Buried in Jannat al-Baqi.
6 Ja’far ibn Muhammad
جعفر بن محمد

Abu Abdillah
أبو عبدالله

(the Trustworthy)

Altinci Ali[4]


83–148 [18]

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.[19] Medina, Saudi Arabia[18] According to Shia sources, he was poisoned in Medina, Saudi Arabia on the order of Caliph Al-Mansur.[18] Buried in Jannat al-Baqi.
7 Musa ibn Ja’far
موسی بن جعفر

Abu al-Hassan I
أبو الحسن الأول [20]


Yedinci Ali[4]



Leader of the Shia community during the schism of Ismaili and other branches after the death of the former imam, Jafar al-Sadiq.[22] He established the network of agents who collected khums in the Shia community of the Middle East and the Greater Khorasan.[23] Medina, Saudi Arabia[21] Imprisoned and poisoned in Baghdad, Iraq on the order of Caliph Harun al-Rashid. Buried in the Kazimayn shrine in Baghdad.[21]
8 Ali ibn Musa
علي بن موسی


al-Rida, Reza[24]

Sekizinci Ali[4]



Made crown-prince by Caliph Al-Ma’mun, and famous for his discussions with both Muslim and non-Muslim religious scholars.[24] Medina, Saudi Arabia[24] 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.[24]
9 Muhammad ibn Ali
محمد بن علي

Abu Ja’far
أبو جعفر

al-Taqi, al-Jawad[25]

Dokuzuncu Ali[4]



Famous for his generosity and piety in the face of persecution by the Abbasid caliphate. Medina, Saudi Arabia[25] 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.[25]
10 Ali ibn Muhammad
علي بن محمد

Abu al-Hassan III
أبو الحسن الثالث[26]

al-Hadi, al-Naqi[26]

Onuncu Ali[4]



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.[26] Surayya, a village near Medina, Saudi Arabia[26] According to Shia sources, he was poisoned in Samarra, Iraq on the order of Caliph Al-Mu’tazz.[27] Buried in the Al Askari Mosque in Samarra.
11 Hassan ibn Ali
الحسن بن علي

Abu Muhammad
أبو محمد


Onbirinci Ali[4]



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.[29] Medina, Saudi Arabia[28] According to Shia, he was poisoned on the order of Caliph Al-Mu’tamid in Samarra, Iraq. Buried in Al Askari Mosque in Samarra.[30]
12 Muhammad ibn al-Hassan
محمد بن الحسن

Abu al-Qasim
أبو القاسم

al-Mahdi, Hidden Imam, al-Hujjah [31]

Onikinci Ali[4]



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.[33] Samarra, Iraq[32] According to Shia doctrine, he has been living in the Occultation since 872, and will continue as long as God wills it.[32]

Fatimah, also Fatimah al-Zahraa, daughter of Muhammed (615–632), is also considered infallible but not an imam. Many Shi’a believe that the last imam will one day return.

[edit] Ismaili

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

[edit] Zaidi imams as rulers of Yemen

In the Zaidi Shiite sect, imams were temporal 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.)

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[edit] See also

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