The Twelve Imams

The Twelve Imams

The Twelve Imams are the spiritual and political successors to the Islamic prophet Muhammad in the Twelver or Athnā‘ashariyyah branch of Shia Islam and in Alevi Islam.[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, or nass, through the Prophet.[2][3]


  • The belief of Imamah 1
  • List of Imams 2
  • See also 3
  • Footnotes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

The belief of Imamah

It is believed in Twelver Shia Islam that ‘aql, divine wisdom, is the source of the souls of the Prophets and Imams and gives them esoteric knowledge called Hikmah and that their sufferings are a means of divine grace to their devotees.[4][5] Although the Imam is not the recipient of a divine revelation, he has a close relationship with God, through which God guides him, and the Imam in turn guides the people. The Imams are also guided by secret texts in their possession, such as al-Jafr and al-Jamia. Imamate, 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 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 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 Twelve Successors. 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.

The Twelve 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 lead back to one of the Twelve Imams.

List of Imams

Number Modern (Calligraphic) Depiction Name
(Arabic/Turkish)[7] !! Date of
(CE/AH)[8] !! Importance !! Place of birth !! Reason & place of death
and place of burial[9]
1 Ali ibn Abu Talib
علي بن أبي طالب
Abu al-Hasan
أبو الحسن
Amir al-Mu'minin
(Commander of the Faithful)[10]


(The Beloved)

Birinci Ali[11]
23 (before Hijra)–40[12]
The First[13] Imam[14] and the rightful Successor of Muhammad 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.[10] Mecca[10] Assassinated by Abd-al-Rahman ibn Muljam, a Kharijite, in Kufa, who slashed him with a poisoned sword while he was praying.[10][15]
Buried at the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, Iraq.
2 Hasan ibn Ali
حسن بن علي
Abu Muhammad
أبو محمد

(The Chosen)

İkinci Ali[11]
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 peace treaty with Muawiya I, he relinquished control of Iraq following a reign of seven months.[16] Medina[16] Poisoned by his wife in Medina, Saudi Arabia on the orders of the Caliph Muawiya, according to Twelver Shiite belief.[18]
Buried in Jannat al-Baqi, Medina, Saudi Arabia.
3 Husayn ibn Ali
حسین بن علي
Abu Abdillah
أبو عبدالله
Sayyid ash-Shuhada

(Master of the Martyrs)

Üçüncü Ali[11]
He was a grandson of Muhammad and brother of Hasan ibn Ali. 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.[19] Medina[19] Killed and beheaded at the Battle of Karbala.
Buried at the Imam Husayn Shrine in Karbala, Iraq.[19]
4 Ali ibn Husayn
علي بن الحسین
Abu Muhammad
أبو محمد
al-Sajjad, Zayn al-'Abidin

(One who constantly Prostrates, Ornament of the Worshippers)[21]

Dördüncü Ali[11]
658/9[21] – 712[22]
Author of prayers in Sahifa al-Sajjadiyya, which is known as "The Psalm of the Household of the Prophet."[22] Medina[21] According to most Shia scholars, he was poisoned on the order of Caliph al-Walid I in Medina, Saudi Arabia.[22]
Buried in Jannat al-Baqi, Medina, Saudi Arabia.
5 Muhammad ibn Ali
محمد بن علي
Abu Ja'far
أبو جعفر
Baqir al-Ulum

(The Revealer of Knowledge)[23]

Beşinci Ali[11]
Sunni and Shia sources both describe him as one of the early and most eminent legal scholars, teaching many students during his tenure.[23][24] Medina[23] 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.[22]
Buried in Jannat al-Baqi, Medina, Saudi Arabia.
6 Ja'far ibn Muhammad
جعفر بن محمد
Abu Abdillah[25]
أبو عبدالله

(The Honest)

Altıncı Ali[11]
Established the Ja'fari jurisprudence and developed the theology of Twelvers. 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.[26] Medina[26] According to Shia sources, he was poisoned in Medina, Saudi Arabia on the order of Caliph Al-Mansur.[26]
Buried in Jannat al-Baqi, Medina, Saudi Arabia.
7 Musa ibn Ja'far
موسی بن جعفر
Abu al-Hasan I
أبو الحسن الاول[27]

(The Calm One)

Yedinci Ali[11]
Leader of the Shia community during the schism of Ismaili and other branches after the death of the former Imam, Jafar al-Sadiq.[29] 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 in Mahdavia; the members of these orders trace their lineage to Muhammad through him.[30] Medina[28] Imprisoned and poisoned in Baghdad, Iraq on the order of Caliph Harun al-Rashid, according to Shiite belief.
Buried in the Kazimayn shrine in Baghdad, Iraq.[28]

Ali ibn Musa
علي بن موسی
Abu al-Hasan II
أبو الحسن الثانی[27]
ar-Rida, Reza[31]

(The Pleasing One)

Sekizinci Ali[11]
Made crown-prince by Caliph Al-Ma'mun, and famous for his discussions with both Muslim and non-Muslim religious scholars.[31] Medina[31] 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, Iran.[31]
9 Muhammad ibn Ali
محمد بن علي
Abu Ja'far
أبو جعفر
al-Taqi, al-Jawad[32]

(The God-Fearing, The Generous)

Dokuzuncu Ali[11]
Famous for his generosity and piety in the face of persecution by the Abbasid caliphate. Medina[32] Poisoned by his wife, Al-Ma'mun's daughter, in Baghdad, Iraq on the order of Caliph Al-Mu'tasim, according to Shiite sources.
Buried in the Kazmain shrine in Baghdad, Iraq.[32]
10 Ali ibn Muhammad
علي بن محمد
Abu al-Hasan III
أبو الحسن الثالث[33]
al-Hadi, al-Naqi[33]

(The Guide, The Pure One)

Onuncu Ali[11]
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.[33] Surayya, a village near Medina[33] According to Shia sources, he was poisoned in Samarra, Iraq on the order of Caliph Al-Mu'tazz.[34]
Buried in the Al Askari Mosque in Samarra, Iraq.
11 Hasan ibn Ali
الحسن بن علي
Abu Muhammad
أبو محمد

(The Citizen of a Garrison Town)

Onbirinci Ali[11]
For most of his life, the Abbasid Caliph, Al-Mu'tamid, placed restrictions on him after the death of his father. Repression of the Shiite population was particularly high at the time due to their large size and growing power.[36] Medina[35] According to Shia, he was poisoned on the order of Caliph Al-Mu'tamid in Samarra, Iraq.
Buried in Al Askari Mosque in Samarra, Iraq.[37]
12 Muhammad ibn al-Hasan
محمد بن الحسن
Abu al-Qasim
أبو القاسم
Hidden Imam,[39]

(The Guided One, The Proof)

Onikinci Ali[11]
According to Twelver Shiite doctrine, he is an actual historical personality and 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.[42] Samarra, Iraq[41] According to Shia doctrine, he has been living in the Occultation since 872, and will continue as long as God wills it.[41]

See also


  1. ^ Olsson 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.  
  7. ^ The Imam's Arabic titles are used by the majority of Twelver Shia who use  
  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  
  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.  
  12. ^ Tabatabae (1979), pp.190–192
  13. ^ Kohlberg, E.; Poonawala, I. K. "ʿALI B. ABI ṬĀLEB". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2014-07-07. 
  14. ^ Amir-Moezzi, Mohammad Ali. "SHIʿITE DOCTRINE". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2014-07-07. 
  15. ^ Tabatabae (1979), p.192
  16. ^ a b c  
  17. ^ Tabatabae (1979), pp.194–195
  18. ^ Tabatabae (1979), p.195
  19. ^ a b c d Madelung, Wilferd. "ḤOSAYN B. ʿALI". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2008-03-23. 
  20. ^ Tabatabae (1979), pp.196–199
  21. ^ a b c d  
  22. ^ a b c d e Tabatabae (1979), p.202
  23. ^ a b c d e  
  24. ^ Tabatabae (1979), p.203
  25. ^ "JAʿFAR AL-ṢĀDEQ, ABU ʿABD-ALLĀH". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2014-07-07. 
  26. ^ a b c d e f Tabatabae (1979), p.203–204
  27. ^ a b  
  28. ^ a b c d e Tabatabae (1979), p.205
  29. ^ Tabatabae (1979) p. 78
  30. ^ Sachedina 1988, pp. 53–54
  31. ^ a b c d e f Tabatabae (1979), pp.205–207
  32. ^ a b c d e Tabatabae (1979), p. 207
  33. ^ a b c d e f  
  34. ^ Tabatabae (1979), pp.208–209
  35. ^ a b c d Halm, H. "ʿASKARĪ". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  36. ^ Tabatabae (1979) pp. 209–210
  37. ^ Tabatabae (1979), pp.209–210
  38. ^ "THE CONCEPT OF MAHDI IN TWELVER SHIʿISM". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2014-07-07. 
  39. ^ "ḠAYBA". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2014-07-07. 
  40. ^ "Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Hujjah". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  41. ^ a b c d Tabatabae (1979), pp.210–211
  42. ^ Tabatabae (1979), pp. 211–214


  • Musavi Isfahani, Muhammad Taqi; Haeri Qazvini (2006). Mekyal al-Makarim. Qom: Intisharat Masjed Moqaddas Jamkaran. 
  • Martin, Richard C. Encyclopaedia of Islam and the Muslim world; vol.1. MacMillan.  
  • Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. Gale Group. 2004.  
  • Momen, Moojan (1985). An Introduction to Shi`i Islam: The History and Doctrines of Twelve. Yale University Press.  
  • Olsson, Tord; Elisabeth Ozdalga, Catharina Raudvere (2005). Alevi Identity: Cultural, Religious and Social Perspectives. Routledge.  

External links

  • A brief introduction of Twelve Imams
  • A Brief History Of The Lives Of The Twelve Imams a chapter of Shi'ite Islam 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
  • Hazreti Ali & the Twelve Imams - The Bektashi Order of Dervishes