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The Twelve Imams

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The Twelve Imams (Arabic: ٱلَأَئِمَّة ٱلْٱثْنَا عَشَر‎, al-ʾAʾimmah al-ʾIthnā ʿAšar; Persian: دوازده امام‎, Davâzdah Emâm) are the spiritual and political successors to the Islamic prophet Muhammad in the Twelver branch of Shia Islam, including that of the Alawite and Alevi sects.[1]

According to the theology of Twelvers, the Twelve Imams are exemplary human individuals who not only rule over the community with justice, but also are able to keep and interpret sharia and the esoteric meaning of the Quran. Muhammad 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 (known as ismah, or infallibility) and must be chosen by divine decree through the Prophet.[2][3]

Calligraphic representation of the Twelve Imams along with that of the Prophet Muhammad.

The belief of Imam[edit]

It is believed in Twelver Shia Islam that Muhammad and his Ahl al-Bayt are infallible possess Hikmah. Their oppression and suffering served greater purposes and were a means of divine grace to their devotees.[4][5] The Imams are also guided by preserved texts in their possession, such as al-Jafr, al-Jamia, and unaltered past books the Torah and Injeel. Imamat, or belief in the divine guide, is a fundamental belief in the Twelver Shia doctrine and is based on the concept that God would not leave humanity without access to divine guidance.[6]

According to Twelvers, there is at all times an Imam of the era who is the divinely appointed authority on all matters of faith and law in the Muslim community. Ali was the first of the Twelve Imams, and, in the Twelvers view, the rightful successor to Muhammad, followed by male descendants of Muhammad through his daughter Fatimah. Each Imam was the son of the previous Imam, with the exception of Husayn ibn Ali, who was the brother of Hasan ibn Ali. The twelfth and final Imam is Muhammad al-Mahdi, who is believed by the Twelvers to be currently alive, and hidden in the Major Occultation until he returns to bring justice to the world.[6] It is believed by Twelver Shia and Alevi Muslims that the Twelve Imams have been foretold in the Hadith of the 12 accomplishers. All of the Imams met unnatural deaths, with the exception of the last Imam who, according to Twelver and Alevi belief, is living in occultation.

Some of the Imams also have a leading role within some Sufi orders and are seen as the spiritual heads of Islam, because most of the Silsila (spiritual chain) of Sufi orders leads back to the Prophet through one of the Twelve Imams.

List of Imams[edit]

Number Calligraphic Name Depiction Name
Arabic title
Turkish title[7]
Lived (CE)
Lived (AH)[8]
Place of birth
Age when assumed Imamat Age at death Duration of Imamat Importance Reason & place of death
Place of burial[9]
1 Alī.png Ali ibn Abi Talib
ٱلْإِمَام عَلِيّ ٱبْن أَبِي طَالِب عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَام
Abu al-Hasan
أَبُو ٱلْحَسَن
  • ʾAmīr al-Muʾminīn
    (أَمِير ٱلْمُؤْمِنِين)
    (Commander of the Faithful)[10]
  • al-Murtaḍā
    (The Beloved)
  • al-Waṣīy
    (The Successor)
  • al-Walīy
    (The Wali)

Birinci Ali[11]
23 (before Hijra)–40[12]
Makkah, Hijaz[10]
33 61 28 Cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad. According to Twelver Shia belief he was the only person to have been born in the Ka'bah, the holiest site in Islam, and the first male to openly accept Islam. Considered by Shia Islam as the rightful Successor of Muhammad. Sunnis also acknowledge him as the fourth Caliph. 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] Assassinated by Abd al-Rahman ibn Muljam, a Kharijite, in Kufa, who struck his head with a poisoned sword while he was in prostration praying on the Night of Qadr in the month of Ramadan.[10][13]
Buried at the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, Iraq, according to Twelver Shia beliefs.
2 Hassan ibn Ali.jpg Hasan ibn Ali
ٱلْإِمَام ٱلْحَسَن ٱبْن عَلِيّ عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَام
Abu Muhammad
أَبُو مُحَمَّد
  • al-Mujtabā
    (The Chosen)
  • Sibṭ an-Nabīy
    (سِبْط ٱلنَّبِيّ)
    (Tribe of the Prophet)

İkinci Ali[11]
Madinah, Hijaz[14]
39 47 8 He was the eldest surviving grandson of Muhammad through Muhammad's daughter, Fatimah az-Zahra. Hasan succeeded his father as the caliph in Kufa, and on the basis of a peace treaty with Muawiyah, he relinquished control of Iraq following a Caliphate of seven months.[14] Poisoned by his wife in Madinah on the orders of the Caliph Muawiyah.[16]
Buried in Jannat al-Baqi, Medina, Saudi Arabia.
3 Hhussain ibn ali.jpg Husayn ibn Ali
ٱلْإِمَام ٱلْحُسَيْن ٱبْن عَلِيّ عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَام
Abu Abdillah
أَبُو عَبْد ٱللَّٰه
  • Sayyid ash-Shuhadāʾ
    (سَيِّد ٱلشُّهَدَاء)
    (Master of the Martyrs)
  • al-Maẓlūm
    (The Tyrannized)
  • Sibṭ an-Nabīy
    (سِبْط ٱلنَّبِيّ)
    (Tribe of the Prophet)

Üçüncü Ali[11]
Madinah, Hijaz[17]
46 57 11 He was a grandson of Muhammad and brother of Hasan ibn Ali. Husayn opposed the validity of Yazid ibn Muawiyah. As a result, he, his family and his companions were later killed in the Battle of Karbala by Yazid's forces. After this incident, the commemoration of Husayn ibn Ali has become central to Shia identity.[17] Killed and beheaded at the Battle of Karbala.
Buried at the Imam Husayn Mosque in Karbala, Iraq.[17]
4 Imam sajjad.jpg Ali ibn Husayn
ٱلْإِمَام عَلِيّ ٱبْن ٱلْحُسَيْن ٱلسَّجَّاد عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَام
Abu Muhammad
أَبُو مُحَمَّد
  • as-Sajjād
    (The Consistently Prostrating)
  • Zayn al-ʿĀbidīn
    (زَيْن ٱلْعَابِدِين)
    (Ornament of the Worshippers)[19]

Dördüncü Ali[11]
658/9[19] – 712[20]
Madinah, Hijaz[19]
23 57 34 Author of prayers in Sahifa al-Sajjadiyya, which is known as "The Psalm of the Household of the Prophet."[20] He survived the Battle of Karbala because he was told not to participate due to a debilitating illness. He was poisoned on the order of Caliph al-Walid I in Madinah.[20]
Buried in Jannat al-Baqi, Medina, Saudi Arabia.
5 Baqir ibn sajjad.jpg Muhammad ibn Ali
ٱلْإِمَام مُحَمَّد ٱبْن عَلِيّ ٱلْبَاقِر عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَام
Abu Ja'far
أَبُو جَعْفَر
  • Bāqir al-ʿUlūm
    (بَاقِر ٱلْعُلُوم)
    (The Opener of Knowledge)[21]

Beşinci Ali[11]
Madinah, Hijaz[21]
38 57 19 Sunni and Shia sources both describe him as one of the early and most eminent legal scholars, teaching many students during his tenure.[21][22] He was poisoned by Ibrahim ibn Walid ibn 'Abdallah in Madinah on the order of Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik.[20]
Buried in Jannat al-Baqi, Medina, Saudi Arabia.
6 Jaffer-e-Sadiq.jpg Ja'far ibn Muhammad
ٱلْإِمَام جَعْفَر ٱبْن مُحَمَّد ٱلصَّادِق عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَام
Abu Abdillah[23]
أَبُو عَبْد ٱللَّٰه
  • aṣ-Ṣādiq[24]
    (The Honest)

Altıncı Ali[11]
Madinah, Hijaz[24]
31 65 34 Established the Ja'fari jurisprudence and developed the theology of Twelvers. He instructed many scholars in different fields, including Imams Abu Hanifah and Malik ibn Anas in fiqh, Wasil ibn Ata and Hisham ibn Hakam in Islamic theology, and Jabir ibn Hayyan in science and alchemy.[24] He was poisoned in Madinah on the order of Caliph Al-Mansur.[24]
Buried in Jannat al-Baqi, Medina, Saudi Arabia.
7 Al-Kazim.jpg Musa ibn Ja'far
ٱلْإِمَام مُوسَىٰ ٱبْن جَعْفَر ٱلْكَاظِم عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَام
Abu al-Hasan I
أَبُو ٱلْحَسَن ٱلْأَوَّل[25]
  • al-Kāẓim[26]
    (The Confined)

Yedinci Ali[11]
Al-Abwa', Hijaz[26]
20 55 35 Leader of the Shia community during the schism of Ismailis, and other branches such as Waqifis, after the death of the former Imam, Jafar al-Sadiq.[27] He established the network of agents who collected khums in the Shia community of the Middle East and the Greater Khorasan. He holds a high position with the Mahdavia; the members of these orders trace their lineage to Muhammad the Prophet if Islam through him.[28] Imprisoned and poisoned in Baghdad, Iraq on the order of Caliph Harun al-Rashid, according to Shia belief.
Buried in the Al-Kazimiyah Mosque in Baghdad, Iraq.[26]

Al redah.jpg

Ali ibn Musa
ٱلْإِمَام عَلِيّ ٱبْن مُوسَىٰ ٱلرِّضَا عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَام
Abu al-Hasan II
أَبُو ٱلْحَسَن ٱلثَّانِي[25]
  • ar-Riḍā[29]
    (The Pleasing)

Sekizinci Ali[11]
Madinah, Hijaz[29]
35 55 20 Made crown-prince by Caliph Al-Ma'mun, and famous for his discussions with both Muslim and non-Muslim religious scholars.[29] According to Shia sources, he was poisoned in Mashad, Iran on the order of Caliph Al-Ma'mun.
Buried in the Imam Rida Mosque in Mashad, Iran.[29]
9 Imam Taqi.jpg Muhammad ibn Ali
ٱلْإِمَام مُحَمَّد ٱبْن عَلِيّ ٱلْجَوَّاد عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَام
Abu Ja'far
أَبُو جَعْفَر
  • al-Jawwād[30]
    (The Generous)
  • at-Taqīy[30]
    (The God-Fearing)

Dokuzuncu Ali[11]
Madinah, Hijaz[30]
8 25 17 Famous for his generosity and piety in the face of persecution by the Abbasid caliphate. Poisoned by his wife, Al-Ma'mun's daughter, in Baghdad, Iraq on the order of Caliph Al-Mu'tasim.
Buried in the Al-Kazimiyah Mosque in Baghdad, Iraq.[30]
10 Imam naqi.jpg Ali ibn Muhammad
ٱلْإِمَام عَلِيّ ٱبْن مُحَمَّد ٱلْهَادِي عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَام
Abu al-Hasan III
أَبُو ٱلْحَسَن ٱلثَّالِث[31]
  • al-Hādī[31]
    (The Guide)
  • an-Naqīy[31]
    (The Pure)

Onuncu Ali[11]
Surayya, a village near Madinah, Hijaz[31]
8 42 34 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.[31] He was poisoned in Samarra, Iraq on the order of Caliph Al-Mu'tazz.[32]
Buried in the Al Askari Mosque in Samarra, Iraq.
11 Al-askari.svg Hasan ibn Ali
ٱلْإِمَام ٱلْحَسَن ٱبْن عَلِيّ ٱلْعَسْكَرِيّ عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَام
Abu al-Mahdi
أَبُو ٱلْمَهْدِيّ
  • al-ʿAskarīy[33]
    (The Garrison Town One)

Onbirinci Ali[11]
Madinah, Hijaz[33]
22 28 6 For most of his life, the Abbasid Caliph, Al-Mu'tamid, placed restrictions on him after the death of his father. Repression of the Shia population was particularly high at the time due to their large size and growing power.[34] He was poisoned on the order of Caliph Al-Mu'tamid in Samarra, Iraq.
Buried in Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra, Iraq.[35]
12 Imam Mahdi.png Hujjat Allah ibn al-Hasan
ٱلْإِمَام حُجَّة ٱللَّٰه ٱبْن ٱلْحَسَن ٱلْمَهْدِيّ عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَام
Abu al-Qasim
أَبُو ٱلْقَاسِم

Onikinci Ali[11]
Samarra, Iraq[39]
5 living ongoing According to Twelver Shia doctrine, he is the current Imam and the promised Mahdi, a messianic figure who will return with the prophet Isa (Jesus). He will reestablish the rightful governance of Islam and establish justice and peace in the whole earth.[40] According to Twelver Shia doctrine, he has been living in the Occultation since 874, and will continue as long as God wills.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Olsson, Ozdalga & Raudvere 2005, p. 65
  2. ^ Tabataba'i 1977, p. 10
  3. ^ Momen 1985, p. 174
  4. ^ Tabataba'i 1977, p. 15
  5. ^ Corbin 2014, pp. 45–51
  6. ^ a b Gleave, Robert. "Imamate". Encyclopaedia of Islam and the Muslim world; vol.1. MacMillan. ISBN 0-02-865604-0.
  7. ^ 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. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ The abbreviation CE refers to the Common Era solar calendar, while AH refers to the Islamic Hijri lunar calendar.
  9. ^ Except Twelfth Imam
  10. ^ a b c d e Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. "Ali". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-10-12.
  11. ^ 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 978-0-02-865769-1. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ Tabatabae (1979), pp.190–192
  13. ^ Tabatabae (1979), p.192
  14. ^ a b c Madelung, Wilferd. "ḤASAN B. ʿALI B. ABI ṬĀLEB". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2012-07-06.
  15. ^ Tabatabae (1979), pp.194–195
  16. ^ Tabatabae (1979), p.195
  17. ^ a b c d Madelung, Wilferd. "ḤOSAYN B. ʿALI". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2008-03-23.
  18. ^ Tabatabae (1979), pp.196–199
  19. ^ a b c d Madelung, Wilferd. "ʿALĪ B. ḤOSAYN B. ʿALĪ B. ABĪ ṬĀLEB, ZAYN-AL-ʿĀBEDĪN". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-11-08.
  20. ^ a b c d e Tabatabae (1979), p.202
  21. ^ a b c d e Madelung, Wilferd. "BĀQER, ABŪ JAʿFAR MOḤAMMAD". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-11-08.
  22. ^ Tabatabae (1979), p.203
  23. ^ "JAʿFAR AL-ṢĀDEQ, ABU ʿABD-ALLĀH". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2014-07-07.
  24. ^ a b c d e f Tabatabae (1979), p.203–204
  25. ^ a b Madelung, Wilferd. "ʿALĪ AL-REŻĀ". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
  26. ^ a b c d e Tabatabae (1979), p.205
  27. ^ Tabatabae (1979) p. 78
  28. ^ Sachedina 1988, pp. 53–54
  29. ^ a b c d e f Tabatabae (1979), pp.205–207
  30. ^ a b c d e f Tabatabae (1979), p. 207
  31. ^ a b c d e f g Madelung, Wilferd. "ʿALĪ AL-HĀDĪ". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-11-08.
  32. ^ Tabatabae (1979), pp.208–209
  33. ^ a b c d Halm, H. "ʿASKARĪ". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-11-08.
  34. ^ Tabatabae (1979) pp. 209–210
  35. ^ Tabatabae (1979), pp.209–210
  36. ^ "THE CONCEPT OF MAHDI IN TWELVER SHIʿISM". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2014-07-07.
  37. ^ "ḠAYBA". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2014-07-07.
  38. ^ "Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Hujjah". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-11-08.
  39. ^ a b c d Tabatabae (1979), pp.210–211
  40. ^ Tabatabae (1979), pp. 211–214


External links[edit]