Imamah (Shi'a twelver doctrine)

Imamah (Shi'a twelver doctrine)

:"This is a sub-article to Imamah (Shi'a doctrine) and is specifically about the Shi'a twelver conception of the term.

Imāmah ( _ar. اٍمامة) means "leadership" and it is a part of the Shi'a theology. The Twelve Imams are the spiritual and political successors to Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, in the Twelver or "Ithna Ashariya" branch of Shia Islam.cite encyclopedia| title=Shi'ite |year=2007| encyclopedia=Encyclopedia Britannica Online | accessdate=2007-11-06 |location=|publisher= |url=] According to the theology of Twelvers, the successor of Muhammad is an infallible human individual who not only rules over the community with justice, but also is able to keep and interpret the Divine Law and its esoteric meaning. The Prophet 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, and must be chosen by divine decree, or "nass", through the Prophet. [Nasr (1979), p.10] [Momen (1985), p.174]

It is believed in Shi'a Islam that Aql, a divine wisdom, was the source of the souls of the Prophets and Imams and gave them esoteric knowledge, called Hikmah, and that their sufferings were a means of divine grace to their devotees. [Nasr (1979), p.15] [Corbin (1993), pp.45-51] Although the Imam was not the recipient of a divine revelation, but has close relationship with God, through which God guides him, and the imam in turn guides the people. The Imamat, or belief in the divine guide is a fundamental belief in Shi'i Islam and is baed on the concept that God would not leave humanity without access to divine guidance.cite encyclopedia | encyclopedia = Encyclopaedia of Islam and the Muslim world; vol.1 | last = Gleave | first = Robert | title=Imamate | publisher = MacMillan | id = ISBN 0028656040]

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 Imam of this line, and in the Twelvers' view, the rightful successor to the Prophet of Islam, followed by male descendants of Muhammad through his daughter Fatimah Zahra. 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 in hiding.


Muhammad is reported to have said that the Islamic leadership is in Koreish (i.e. his tribe) and that 12 "Imams" shall succeed him. [Refer to Sahih Al-Bukari , Sahih Muslim (Books of Hadiths (or sayings of the prophet of Islam) of the Sunnis) etc.] There is a difference of opinion within Sunni and Shiite sects as to whom Muhammad was referring. It is also important to mention that Muhammad has stated, and this statement has been authenticated by Sunnis and Shiites alike, that "Whoever does not know the Imam of his Lifetime (Hadith of the Current Imam: i.e. recognizes same) has died the death of Ignorance". Again, this statement has different interpretations and consequences with different Sunni and Shiite sects (or Schools of thought). The idea of a prophet appointing a successor is also found in the Old Testament where Joshua son of Nun is declared Moses' successor or manager of his affairs after his death.

Muslims believe that God has appointed certain members of humankind to be the leaders of those who believe in God and practise God's religion. When God's prophet has taught the people the religion, he will then appoint a leader, in accordance with God's orders, to guide believers towards perfection.

Muslims believe that just as Moses appointed Aaron as his successor (Hadith of position), in accordance with God's order, Muhammad, the final prophet, appointed Ali ibn Abi Talib to be the leader of the believers.


Shias believe that an imam has several responsibilities. An imam must lead Muslims in all aspects of life. In addition, they believe that because an imam was appointed by God, like prophets and messengers, they are infallible. Shias accept the imams as perfect human beings. Shi'ism teaches that imams must be obeyed. A prophet can also be an imam, but not all prophets are imams. Muhammad is considered by Muslims to be God's final prophet. Shias do not consider that the twelve imams are prophets. They believe that these twelve imams are greater in status than all of God's prophets except Muhammad.

The Shi'a scholar Mohamed Baqer Al-Majlisi, widely considered as the greatest and most influential Shiite scholar of the Safawid era, states:


The Shi'a Twelver denomination of Islam consider it to be the highest level of responsibility given by God to a human.


Shi'a believe there are different ranks that people have achieved:

*Ordinary people:Shi'a believe that people are able to receive revelations/inspiration/guidance (Arabic: "Wahy") from God. In support of this, they quote verse 16: 68 of the Qur'an where even bees are said to receive "Wahy".

*Communicating with angels:Some people raise to the rank of communicating with angels. Shi'a honour Fatima Zahra with a nickname implying this, and some honor her with writing a book after conversations with the Angel Gabriel, and the Qur'an also merits the Virgin Mary with having talked to Angels.

*Prophets:Prophets (Arabic: "Nabi") are considered people having the responsibility of sharing the Divine Law (Arabic "Shari'a") that was revealed to the latest Messenger. However, they may also privately receive new laws which they are not responsible for sharing. There are considered to have been exactly 124,000 prophets.

*Messenger:"Messenger" (Arabic "Rasul") are considered people receiving a new set of laws from God, in addition of being a prophet.

Shi'as and Sunnis believe there are different status among nabis and rasuls, supported by this Qur'anic verse::"We have made some of these Messenger ("Rasul") to excel the others among them are they to whom Allah spoke, and some of them He exalted by (many degrees of) rank... " [2.253]

*Leader:"Leader" (Arabic: "Imam") are considered people having the responsibility of implementing the Divine Law (Arabic "Shari'a"), by leading a group of people, besides being a Messenger and Prophet.

Shi'a Twelver believe that five "Messengers" achieved the rank of Leadership:

Shi'as and Sunnis also believe there are different status among these five, Muhammad having the highest.


Shi'a believe that Allah perfected the Divine Law through Muhammad (Qur'an 5:3), hence making it impossible to improve it further. This belief results in the role of the prophets and messengers becoming obsolete, since there are no further sets of laws to be received. However, Shi'a believe that the need for guidance that Leaders give is still present. Hence, they believe that after Muhammad, there have been non-prophet leaders.

The shi'i scholar 'Allamah Kashif al-Ghita said about the Imamah:

Shi'a believe that those are the rightful successors to Muhammad. They are regarded similar to the Caliph in Sunni Islam only with regards to the aspect of political leadership. In fact, the Shia Imam has many more characteristics and responsibilities than the Sunni concept of Caliph beyond mere political leadership. Unlike the Sunni Caliph, the Imam must be appointed by no one other than God. For details of the position held by a Shia Imam, see Imamah. The majority Shia belief is that the Imams are God appointed. After the prophet Muhammad, were Ali, and eleven of his descendants from his wife, Fatima Zahra. This belief is what led to the split between the Shi'a and Sunni, as the Shi'a felt that the descendants of Ali are the rightful successors to Muhammad, while the Sunni felt that it was any who could take the role of Caliph by the will of God and protect Islam. For details, see Succession to Muhammad.

Shi'a believe that non-prophet Leaders can have the same or even greater status than Leaders that also are prophet. For example, most they believe that Ali held a higher status than Jesus, but lower than Muhammad. They base their conclusion on the Hadith of Jesus praying behind Mahdi.

Shi'as also believe that imams can perform miracles, intercede, and guide the faithful, including speaking in any language and in any accent, that they know about the past, the present and a limited amount of the future [Usul al-Kafi by Muhammad Yaqoub Al-Kulayni vol. 1:260] and all this knowledge is given to them by Allah. [Usul al-Kafi by Muhammad Yaqoub Al-Kulayni vol. 1:260] and present narrations as proof. They also believe that it is disbelief to reject the Imamah-doctrine. [Talkhis ash-Shafi by Abu Jaafar Al-Tusi vol. 4 p. 131 (Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyyah, Qum, 3rd ed.)]

Regarding rejecting the Imamah-doctrine, PresentScholar|al-Hilli|14th|Shi'a|Twelver, writes:

See also Teleportation in Islam.



In verse 2.124 of the Qur'an, it describes how Abraham was "promoted" from being a Messenger to a Leader. Shi'a Muslims believe this is a clear proof of the distinct status and responsibility of an Leadership (Arabic "imamate").

Day of Judgement

In verse 17.71, the Qur'an describes that on the Day of Judgement, every person will be asked whom their imam is, to be judged as nations. Shi'a Muslims conclude therefore that the status of imamate is very important. They conclude that this proves that everyone does have an imam, whether he recognizes it or not.


Some of the Hadith Shi'a base their arguments on include:

*Hadith of the Twelve Successors
*Hadith of the Current Imam

*Hadith of the pond of Khumm
*Hadith of position

*Hadith of Mubahela


According to the majority of Shi'a, namely the Ithna Ashariya or Twelvers, the following is a listing of the rightful successors to Muhammad. Each Imam was the son of the previous Imam, except for Husayn ibn Ali who was the brother of Hasan ibn Ali.

See also

*Islamic leadership



*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

* [ Shi'ite Doctorine] by MOHAMMAD ALI AMIR-MOEZZI an article in Encyclopedia Iranica
* [ Imamah in the Qur'an]
* [ Hujjat] by Maria Dakake an article in Encyclopedia Iranica
* [ 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]
* [ The Shi'a concept of Imamate]
* [ Imamat vs. Prophethood (Part II)]

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