Imamah (Shi'a doctrine)

Imamah (Shi'a doctrine)

Imāmah ( _ar. إمامة) is the Shī‘ah doctrine of religious, spiritual and political leadership of the Ummah. The Shī‘ah believe that the A'immah ("Imams") are the true Caliphs or rightful successors of Muḥammad, and Twelver and Ismā‘īlī Shī‘ah further that the A'immah are possessed of supernatural knowledge, authority, and freedom from any error and sin ("ma‘sūm") as well as being part of the "Ahl al-Bayt", the family of Muḥammad. Citation
last =Nasr
first =Seyyed Vali Reza
author-link =
last2 =
first2 =
author2-link =
publication-date =
date =2006
year =
title =The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future
edition =1st
volume =
series =
publication-place =New York
place =
publisher =Norton
pages =
page =38
id =
isbn =0393062112
doi =
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url =
accessdate =
] Both beliefs distinguish the Shī‘ah from Sunnis.


Islam holds that Muḥammad was the last Prophet of God. The Shī‘ah believe that humanity is in need of sustained spiritual guidance, provided by the "Imām of the Time", who is the Guardian and guide of all Muslims politically and spiritually. They hold that Muḥammad explicitly designated his cousin and son-in-law ‘Alī as his "Khalīfah" "Successor". Thus the Shī‘ah believe Muḥammad designated ‘Alī and his direct descendants to serve as the "Imām"s (leaders) of the Muslim community. This assertion implies that, while the cycle of "Nubuwwah" (Prophethood) ended with Muḥammad, the cycle of "Imāmah" began with ‘Alī and continues amongs his direct descendants. For Shī‘ah Muslims, an "Imām" is a leader whose guidance extends to spiritual and temporal matters. In other words, an Imām can sanction new laws because he has direct contact with God. This direct contact makes an Imām infallible and invests in him the prerogative of interpreting the Qur'an, thereby gradually revealing its esoteric meaning. Sunnis reject this doctrine of infallibility.

The Shī‘ah further believe only these A'immah have the right to be Caliphs, meaning that all other caliphs, whether elected by consensus Ijma or not, are usurpers of the Caliphate.

As evidence of ‘Alī's Imamate, Muḥammad declared (as is verified by both Sunni and Shī‘ah sources) at Ghadir Khumm,:To whomsoever I am Mawla, ‘Alī is his Mawla"Fact|date=November 2007Following the same principle is the Shī‘ah practice that asserts that ‘Alī is the first Imām to teach the correct interpretation of Islam, the successor of Muḥammad. The definition of "Mawla" in the context of the above narration is disputed among Sunnis and the Shī‘ah.


Within Shi'ism, there are various sects that differ over the number of Imams, and the path of their succession; the majority sect among these are the Twelvers, then the Ismailis, and then the smallest Zaidi sect. There are major doctrinal differences between the Twelvers, and the Ismailis. After the claimed occultation of the twelfth Imam, for the twelvers there was a long period of waiting for new authority until the Mahdi arrives, and in his absence was left a vacuum of leadership, dealt with by traditional twelvers with Quietism. However an alternative theory developed to fill the need, called Wilayat al-Faqih or the absolute guardianship of the jurists, popularised by Ayatollah Khomeini. According to it, those most knowledgeable about Islamic law (Shari'ah) should assume a political role in society, governing the Wilayah in which the Shī‘ah live. This led to the 1979 Iranian Revolution.


Twelver view

According to the majority of Shī'a, namely the Twelvers ("Ithnā'ashariyya"), the following is a listing of the rightful successors to Muḥammad. Each Imam was the son of the previous Imam except for Hussayn ibn 'Alī, who was the brother of Hassan ibn 'Alī.The belief in this succession to Muḥammad stems from various Quranic ayaths which include: 75:36, 13:7, 35:24, 2:30, 2:124, 36:26, 7:142, 42:23. They support their discussion by putting facts from Genesis verse 17,19–20 and sunni hadeeth:Sahih Muslim, Hadith number 4478, English translation by Abdul Hamid Siddiqui. [cite book | author=Imam Muslim (translated by Aftab Shahryar) | title=Sahih Muslim Abridged | publisher=Islamic Book Service | year=2004 | id=ISBN 81-7231-592-9]

Ismaili view

The Ismailis differ from the Twelvers in that, they accept Ismail bin Jafar, elder brother of Musa al-Kazim, as the rightful Imam [Rise of The Fatimids, by W.Ivanow. Page 81, 275] after his father Jafar al-Sadiq. He died, however, before his father. They therefore accept Muḥammad bin Ismail bin Jafar as their 7th Imam. Thus their line of Imams is as follows (note: figures in brackets indicate the years during which they were Imams):

# Ali ibn Abi Talib (632–661)
# Husayn ibn Ali (669–680)
# Ali ibn Husayn (Zayn al-Abidin) (680–713)
# Muhammad al-Baqir (713–733)
# Jafar al-Sadiq (733–765)
# Ismail bin Jafar
# Muhammad ibn Ismail (765-?)

The Ismaili line of Imams continues undivided till Mustansir Billah (d. 1094), after which it divides into the Nizari and Mustali sects.

The Aga Khan is the 49th hereditary Imam of the Nizari Ismaili Muslims - which remains the only Shia community today led by a present and living (hadir wa mawjud) Imam.

Zaidī view

See ZaidiZaidiyya, Zaidism or Zaydism (Arabic: الزيدية "az-zaydiyya", adjective form Zaidi or Zaydi) is a Shī‘ah maðhab (sect, school) named after the Imām Zayd ibn ˤAlī. Followers of the Zaidi fiqh are called Zaidis (or are occasionally called Fivers in the West). However, there is also a group called the Zaidi "Wasītī"s who are Twelvers.


See also

* Imamzadeh
* Ismah
* Succession to Muhammad


* cite book | last=Tabatabaei | first=Sayyid Mohammad Hosayn | coauthors=Seyyed Hossein Nasr (translator) | authorlink=Allameh Tabatabaei | title= Shi'ite Islam
publisher=Suny press| year=1979 | id=ISBN 0-87395-272-3


Further reading

*cite book | last = Rizvi | first = Sa'id Akhtar | title = Imamate: The Vicegerency of the Prophet| publisher = | year = 1956 | id =


*cite encyclopedia | encyclopedia = Encyclopaedia Britannica Online | publisher = Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.
*cite encyclopedia | encyclopedia=Encyclopædia Iranica | publisher=Center for Iranian Studies, Columbia University| id= ISBN 1568590504
*cite encyclopedia | encyclopedia = Encyclopaedia of Islam and the Muslim world; vol.1 | last = Martin | first = Richard C. | publisher = MacMillan | id = ISBN 0028656040
*cite encyclopedia | encyclopedia = Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa | last = | first = | year = 2004 | publisher = Gale Group | id = ISBN 9780028657691
*cite book|last = Corbin|first = Henry|authorlink = Henry Corbin|coauthors = |title = History of Islamic Philosophy, Translated by Liadain Sherrard, Philip Sherrard|publisher = London; Kegan Paul International in association with Islamic Publications for The Institute of Ismaili Studies |year = 1993 (original French 1964)|id = ISBN 0710304161
*cite book | last=Momen | first=Moojan | authorlink= | title= TAn Introduction to Shi`i Islam: The History and Doctrines of Twelve| publisher=Yale University Press | year=1985 | id=ISBN 0300035314
*cite book | last=Sachedina | first=Abdulaziz Abdulhussein | authorlink=Abdulaziz Sachedina | title= The Just Ruler (al-sultān Al-ʻādil) in Shīʻite Islam: The Comprehensive Authority of the Jurist in Imamite Jurisprudence| publisher=Oxford University Press US | year=1988 | id=ISBN 0195119150
*cite book | last=Tabatabae | first=Sayyid Mohammad Hosayn | coauthors=Seyyed Hossein Nasr (translator) | authorlink=Allameh Tabatabaei | title= Shi'ite Islam
publisher=SUNY press| year=1979 | id=ISBN 0-87395-272-3

External links

* [ A brief introduction of Twelve Imams]
* [ A Brief History Of The Lives Of The Twelve Imams] a chapter of Shi'a Islam (book) by Allameh Tabatabaei
* [ The Twelve Imams] Taken From "A Shi'ite Anthology" By Allameh Tabatabaei
* [ A Short History of the Lives of The Twelve Imams]
* [ Imamah in the Qur'an]
* [ Imam] An article by Encyclopedia Britannica Online
* [ Hojjat] by Maria Dakake, an article of Encyclopedia Iranica
* [ Shia Islam - Ask Imam]
* [ Shia Network Ahlulbayt Discussion Fourms]
* [ Twelve Successors]
* [ Bay Area Shiite-Muslims Association] (
* [ Imamia Mission Bury]
* [ Graphical illustration of the Shia sects]
* [ The Shia Islamic Guide] (
* [ Imamah in Sunni Islam]
* [ Imamah according to Sunnis]

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