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Mughal Imams in discourse Govardhan. A Discourse Between Muslim Sages ca. 1630 LACMA.jpg
Mughal Imams in discourse
Prayer in Cairo, painting by Jean-Leon Gerome, 1865. Prayer in Cairo 1865.jpg
Prayer in Cairo , painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1865.

Imam ( /ɪˈmɑːm/ ; Arabic : إمامimām; plural: أئمةaʼimmah) is an Islamic leadership position.


It is most commonly used as the title of a worship leader of a mosque and Muslim community among Sunni Muslims. In this context, imams may lead Islamic worship services, serve as community leaders, and provide religious guidance.

For Shi'a Muslims, the Imams are leaders of the Islamic community or ummah after the Prophet. The term is only applicable to the members of Ahl al-Bayt , the family of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, considered infallibles by Twelver Shia. [1] The title was also used by the Zaidi Shia Imams of Yemen, who eventually founded the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen (1918–1970).

Sunni imams

The Sunni branch of Islam does not have imams in the same sense as the Shi'a, an important distinction often overlooked by those outside of the Islamic religion. In everyday terms, the imam for Sunni Muslims is the one who leads Islamic formal (Fard) prayers, even in locations besides the mosque, whenever prayers are done in a group of two or more with one person leading (imam) and the others following by copying his ritual actions of worship. Friday sermon is most often given by an appointed imam. All mosques have an imam to lead the (congregational) prayers, even though it may sometimes just be a member from the gathered congregation rather than an officially appointed salaried person. The position of women as imams is controversial. The person that should be chosen, according to Hadith, is one who has most knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah (prophetic tradition) and is of good character.

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 Muhammad's family in their generational times. [2]

The position of imams in Turkey

Imams are appointed by the state to work at mosques and they are required to be graduates of an İmam Hatip high school or have a university degree in Theology. This is an official position regulated by the Presidency of Religious Affairs [3] in Turkey and only males are appointed to this position while female officials under the same state organisation work as preachers and Qur'an course tutors, religious services experts. These officials are supposed to belong to the Hanafi school of the Sunni sect.

A central figure in an Islamic movement is also called an imam, like the Imam Nawawi in Syria.

Shi'a imams

In the Shi'a context, an imam is not only presented as the man of God par excellence, but as participating fully in the names, attributes, and acts that theology usually reserves for God alone. [4] Imams have 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, impeccability which is called ismah . These leaders must be followed since they are appointed by God.

In "The Epistle"(Risāla) by Khwāja Muḥammad Riḍā b. Sulṭān Ḥusayn, he writes that the Imam (Haḍrat-i Mawlānā) provides the miracle of knowledge (a trait exclusive to the Imam) only to the proof ( ḥujjat ), and the proof ( ḥujjat ) shares this miracle of knowledge with the community. [5]  


Here follows a list of the Twelvers Shia imams:

(Arabic/Turkish) [6]
(CE/AH) [7]
ImportanceBirthplace (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) [8]
Birinci Ali [9]
600–661 [8]
23 BH–40 [10]
The first imam and successor of Muhammad in Shia Islam; 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. [8] Mecca, Saudi Arabia [8] Assassinated by Abd-al-Rahman ibn Muljam, a Kharijite in Kufa, who slashed him with a poisoned sword. [8] [11] Buried at the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, Iraq.
2 Hassan ibn Ali
الحسن بن علي
Abu Muhammad
أبو محمد
İkinci Ali [9]
624–670 [12]
3–50 [13]
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. [14] Medina, Saudi Arabia [12] Poisoned by his wife in Medina, Saudi Arabia. [15] Buried in Jannat al-Baqi.
3 Husayn ibn Ali
الحسین بن علي
Abu Abdillah
أبو عبدالله
Sayed al-Shuhada
Üçüncü Ali [9]
626–680 [16]
4–61 [17]
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. [16] [18] Medina, Saudi Arabia [16] Killed on Day of Ashura (10 Muharram) and beheaded at the Battle of Karbala. [16] 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 [19]
Dördüncü Ali [9]
658-9 [19] – 712 [20]
38 [19] –95 [20]
Author of prayers in Sahifa al-Sajjadiyya, which is known as "The Psalm of the Household of the Prophet." [20] Medina, Saudi Arabia [19] According to most Shia scholars, he was poisoned on the order of Caliph al-Walid I in Medina, Saudi Arabia. [20] Buried in Jannat al-Baqi.
5 Muhammad ibn Ali
محمد بن علي
Abu Ja'far
أبو جعفر
al-Baqir al-Ulum

(splitting open knowledge) [21]

Beşinci Ali [9]
677–732 [21]
57–114 [21]
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] Medina, Saudi Arabia [21] 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. [20] Buried in Jannat al-Baqi.
6 Ja'far ibn Muhammad
جعفر بن محمد
Abu Abdillah
أبو عبدالله
al-Sadiq [23]

(the Trustworthy)

Altıncı Ali [9]
702–765 [23]
83–148 [23]
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. [24] Medina, Saudi Arabia [23] According to Shia sources, he was poisoned in Medina, Saudi Arabia on the order of Caliph Al-Mansur. [23] Buried in Jannat al-Baqi.
7 Musa ibn Ja'far
موسی بن جعفر
Abu al-Hassan I
أبو الحسن الأول [25]
al-Kazim [26]
Yedinci Ali [9]
744–799 [26]
128–183 [26]
Leader of the Shia community during the schism of Ismaili and other branches 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. [28] Medina, Saudi Arabia [26] Imprisoned and poisoned in Baghdad, Iraq on the order of Caliph Harun al-Rashid. Buried in the Kazimayn shrine in Baghdad. [26]
8 Ali ibn Musa
علي بن موسی
al-Rida, Reza [29]
Sekizinci Ali [9]
765–817 [29]
148–203 [29]
Made crown-prince by Caliph Al-Ma'mun, and famous for his discussions with both Muslim and non-Muslim religious scholars. [29] Medina, Saudi Arabia [29] 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. [29]
9 Muhammad ibn Ali
محمد بن علي
Abu Ja'far
أبو جعفر
al-Taqi, al-Jawad [30]
Dokuzuncu Ali [9]
810–835 [30]
195–220 [30]
Famous for his generosity and piety in the face of persecution by the Abbasid caliphate. Medina, Saudi Arabia [30] 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. [30]
10 Ali ibn Muhammad
علي بن محمد
Abu al-Hassan III
أبو الحسن الثالث [31]
al-Hadi, al-Naqi [31]
Onuncu Ali [9]
827–868 [31]
212–254 [31]
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] Surayya, a village near Medina, Saudi Arabia [31] According to Shia sources, he was poisoned in Samarra, Iraq on the order of Caliph Al-Mu'tazz. [32] Buried in the Al Askari Mosque in Samarra.
11 Hassan ibn Ali
الحسن بن علي
Abu Muhammad
أبو محمد
al-Askari [33]
Onbirinci Ali [9]
846–874 [33]
232–260 [33]
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. [34] Medina, Saudi Arabia [33] According to Shia, he was poisoned on the order of Caliph Al-Mu'tamid in Samarra, Iraq. Buried in Al Askari Mosque in Samarra. [35]
12 Muhammad ibn al-Hassan
محمد بن الحسن
Abu al-Qasim
أبو القاسم
al-Mahdi, Hidden Imam, al-Hujjah [36]
Onikinci Ali [9]
868–unknown [37]
255–unknown [37]
According to Twelver doctrine, he is the current imam and the promised Mahdi, a messianic figure who will return with Jesus. He will reestablish the rightful governance of Islam and replete the earth with justice and peace. [38] Samarra, Iraq [37] According to Shia doctrine, he has been living in the Occultation since 872, and will continue as long as God wills it. [37]

Fatimah, also Fatimah al-Zahraa, daughter of Muhammed (615–632), is also considered infallible but not an Imam. The Shi'a believe that the last Imam, the 12th Imam Mahdi will one day emerge on the Day of Resurrection (Qiyamah).


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


See details under Zaidiyyah, Islamic history of Yemen and Imams of Yemen.

Imams as secular rulers

At times, imams have held both secular and religious authority. This was the case in Oman among the Kharijite or Ibadi sects. At times, the imams were elected. At other times the position was inherited, as with the Yaruba dynasty from 1624 and 1742. See List of rulers of Oman, the Rustamid dynasty: 776–909, Nabhani dynasty: 1154–1624, the Yaruba dynasty: 1624–1742, the Al Said: 1744–present for further information. [39] The Imamate of Futa Jallon (1727-1896) was a Fulani state in West Africa where secular power alternated between two lines of hereditary Imams, or almami. [40] In the Zaidi Shiite sect, imams were secular 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.)

Ruhollah Khomeini is officially referred to as Imam in Iran. Several Iranian places and institutions are named "Imam Khomeini", including a city, an international airport, a hospital, and a university.




See also


  1. Corbin 1993 , p. 30
  2. Dhami, Sangeeta; Sheikh, Aziz (November 2000). "The Muslim family". Western Journal of Medicine. 173 (5): 352–356. doi:10.1136/ewjm.173.5.352. ISSN   0093-0415. PMC   1071164 . PMID   11069879.
  3. "Presidency of Religious Affairs".
  4. Amir-Moezzi, Ali (2008). Spirituality and Islam. London: Tauris. p. 103. ISBN   9781845117382.
  5. Virani, Shafique. "Khayrkhvāh-i Harātī". Encyclopaedia of Islam.
  6. 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)
  7. The abbreviation CE refers to the Common Era solar calendar, while AH refers to the Islamic Hijri lunar calendar.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. "Ali". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-10-12.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. Gale Group. 2004. ISBN   978-0-02-865769-1.Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. Tabatabae (1979), pp.190-192
  11. Tabatabae (1979), p.192
  12. 1 2 "Hasan". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-11-08.
  13. Tabatabae (1979), pp.194–195
  14. Madelung, Wilferd. "Hasan ibn Ali". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2008-03-23.
  15. Tabatabae (1979), p.195
  16. 1 2 3 4 "al-Husayn". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-11-08.
  17. Tabatabae (1979), pp.196–199
  18. Calmard, Jean. "Husayn ibn Ali". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2008-03-23.
  19. 1 2 3 4 Madelung, Wilferd. "'ALĪ B. AL-ḤOSAYN". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-11-08.
  20. 1 2 3 4 5 Tabatabae (1979), p.202
  21. 1 2 3 4 5 Madelung, Wilferd. "AL-BAQER, ABU JAFAR MOHAMMAD". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-11-08.
  22. Tabatabae (1979), p.203
  23. 1 2 3 4 5 Tabatabae (1979), p.203-204
  24. "Wāṣil ibn ʿAṭāʾ". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 1 January 2019.
  25. 1 2 Madelung, Wilferd. "'ALĪ AL-HĀDĪ". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
  26. 1 2 3 4 5 Tabatabae (1979), p.205
  27. Tabatabae (1979) p. 78
  28. Sachedina (1988), pp.53–54
  29. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Tabatabae (1979), pp.205–207
  30. 1 2 3 4 5 Tabatabae (1979), p. 207
  31. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Madelung, Wilferd. "'ALĪ AL-HĀDĪ". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-11-08.
  32. Tabatabae (1979), pp.208–209
  33. 1 2 3 4 Halm, H. "'ASKARĪ". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2007-11-08.
  34. Tabatabae (1979) pp. 209–210
  35. Tabatabae (1979), pp.209–210
  36. "Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Hujjah". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2007-11-08.
  37. 1 2 3 4 Tabatabae (1979), pp.210–211
  38. Tabatabae (1979), pp. 211–214
  39. Miles, Samuel Barrett (1919). The Countries and Tribes of the Persian Gulf. Garnet Pub. pp. 50, 437. ISBN   978-1-873938-56-0 . Retrieved 2013-11-15.
  40. Holt, P. M.; Holt, Peter Malcolm; Lambton, Ann K. S.; Bernard Lewis (1977-04-21). The Cambridge History of Islam. Cambridge University Press. p. 365. ISBN   978-0-521-29137-8.

General references

Related Research Articles

Shia Islam or Shi'ism is one of the two main branches of Islam. It holds that the Islamic prophet Muhammad designated Ali ibn Abi Talib as his successor and the Imam after him, most notably at the event of Ghadir Khumm, but was prevented from succeeding Muhammad as the leader of all Muslims as a result of the choice made by Muhammad's other companions at Saqifah. This view primarily contrasts with that of Sunni Islam, whose adherents believe that Muhammad did not appoint a successor before his death and consider Abu Bakr, who was appointed caliph by a group of senior Muslims at Saqifah, to be the first rightful caliph after Muhammad. A person observing Shia Islam is called a Shi'ite or Shi'i.

Husayn ibn Ali Grandson of Muhammad and 3rd Shia Imam (626–680)

Husayn ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib was a grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and a son of Ali ibn Abi Talib and Muhammad's daughter Fatimah. He is an important figure in Islam as he was a member of the Household of Muhammad and the People of the Cloak, as well as the third Shia Imam.

Ali Member of Muhammads Household, first of the Shia Imams, and fourth Sunni Caliph (601-661)

Ali ibn Abi Talib was a cousin, son-in-law and companion of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, who ruled as the fourth caliph from 656 until his assassination in 661. He is one of the central figures in Shia Islam and is regarded as the rightful immediate successor to Muhammad as an Imam by Shia Muslims.

Jafar al-Sadiq 8th-century Muslim scholar and scientist

Jaʿfar ibn Muḥammad aṣ-Ṣādiq, commonly known as Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq or simply as-Sadiq, was an 8th-century Muslim scholar. He was the 6th Imam and founder of the Ja'fari school of jurisprudence according to Twelver and Isma'ili Shi'ites. To Sunnis, he is a major figure in the Hanafi and Maliki schools of Sunni jurisprudence and was a teacher of the Sunni scholars Abu Hanifah and Malik ibn Anas, a transmitter of hadiths, therefore a prominent jurist for Sunnis, and a mystic to Sufis. Despite his wide-ranging attributions in a number religious disciplines, no works penned by Ja'far himself remain extant.

Imamate in Shia doctrine Doctrine of Shia Islam

In Shia Islam, the Imamah is a doctrine which asserts that certain individuals from the lineage of the Islamic prophet Muhammad are to be accepted as leaders and guides of the ummah after the death of Muhammad. Imamah further says that Imams possess divine knowledge and authority (Ismah) as well as being part of the Ahl al-Bayt, the family of Muhammad. These Imams have the role of providing commentary and interpretation of the Quran as well as guidance.

Zaidiyyah, Zaidism, or Zaidi Shi'ism (Arabic: الزيدية‎ az-zaydiyya, adjective form Zaidi or Zaydi is one of the Shia sects closest in terms of theology to the Ibadi and Mutazila schools. Zaidiyyah emerged in the eighth century from Shi'a Islam. Zaidis are named after Zayd ibn ʻAlī, the grandson of Husayn ibn ʻAlī and the son of the fourth Imam Ali ibn 'Husain. Followers of the Zaydi Islamic jurisprudence are called Zaydi Shia and make up about 35% of Muslims in Yemen, with the greatest majority of Shia Muslims in that country being of the Zaydi school of thought.

Muhammad al-Mahdi Twelfth and last Imam in Shia Twelver of Islam

Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Mahdi is believed by the Twelver Shia to be the Mahdi, an eschatological redeemer of Islam and the final Imam of the Twelve Imams who will emerge with Isa (Jesus) in order to fulfil their mission of bringing peace and justice to the world. Twelver Shias believe that al-Mahdi was born on the 15th Sha'ban 870 CE/ 256 AH and assumed Imamate at nearly four years of age following the killing of his father Hasan al-Askari. In the early years of his Imamah, he is believed to have had contact with his followers only through The Four Deputies. This period was known as the Minor Occultation and lasted from 873 to 941 CE. A few days before the death of his fourth deputy Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Muhammad al-Samarri in 941, he is believed to have sent his followers a letter. In that letter, which was transmitted by al-Samarri, he declared the beginning of Major Occultation, during which Mahdi was not to be in contact with his followers directly, but had instructed them to follow the pious high clerics for whom he has mentioned some distinguishing merits.

Qarmatians Syncretic branch of Sevener Ismaili Shia Islam

The Qarmatians were a syncretic branch of Sevener Ismaili Shia Islam. They were centred in al-Hasa, where they established a religious-utopian republic in 899 CE. They are most known for their revolt against the Abbasid Caliphate.

Succession to Muhammad Overview and history of the succession to Muhammad, the original split between Shias and Sunnis

The succession to Muhammad is the central issue that split the Muslim community into several divisions in the first century of Islamic history, with the most prominent among these sects being the Shia and Sunni branches of Islam. Shia Islam holds that Ali ibn Abi Talib was the appointed successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad as head of the community. Sunni Islam maintains Abu Bakr to be the first leader after Muhammad on the basis of election.

Ahl al-Bayt Term referring to the family of Muhammad

In Islamic tradition, Ahl al Bayt primarily refers to the family of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and, to a lesser extent, his ancestor Abraham. In Shia Islam, the Ahl al-Bayt are central to Islam and interpreters of the Quran. Shiites believe that they consist of Muhammad; his daughter, Fatimah; his son-in-law, Ali; and their children, Hasan and Husayn, known collectively as the Ahl al-Kisa. Twelvers also emphasize the Twelve Imams as Muhammad's descendants; other Shi'ites sects emphasize other descendants, such as Zayd ibn Ali and Isma'il ibn Ja'far.

The Twelve Imams Group of successors to Muhammad

The Twelve Imams 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.

The Fourteen Infallibles Muhammad, Fatima, and the Twelve Imams in Twelver Shia Islam

The Fourteen Infallibles in Twelver Shia Islam are the Islamic prophet Muhammad, his daughter Fatima Zahra, and the Twelve Imams. All are considered to be infallible under the theological concept of Ismah. Accordingly, they have the power to commit sin but by their nature are able to avoid doing so, which is regarded as a miraculous gift from God. The Infallibles are believed to follow only God's desire in their actions because of their supreme righteousness, consciousness, and love for God. They are also regarded as being immune to error in practical matters, in calling people to religion, and in the perception of divine knowledge. Shias believe the Fourteen Infallibles are superior to the rest of creation and to the other major prophets.

Mahdi Prophesied Islamic eschatological figure

The Mahdi, meaning "the Rightly Guided One", is an eschatological Messianic figure who, according to Islamic belief, will appear at the end of times to rid the world of evil and injustice. In Muslim traditions, it is said that he will appear alongside Jesus Christ and establish the Divine kingdom of God. According to the hadith of Ja'far al-Sadiq, the shining face of the Mahdi will become visible on the face of the moon to herald his coming and, once among men, the Mahdi will help humanity to cleanse their hearts of all evil by means of the name of God.

Shia–Sunni relations Shia–Sunni relations

Shia and Sunni Islam are the two major denominations of Islam. They chose sides following the death of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in AD 632. A dispute over succession to Islamic prophet Muhammad as a caliph of the Islamic community spread across various parts of the world, which led to the Battle of Jamal and Battle of Siffin. After the death of Prophet Muhammad, Muslims had a disagreement. Sunnis believed that Muhammad's successor should be Abu Bakr and Omar, and the Shias believed that his successor should be Ali. The dispute intensified greatly after the Battle of Karbala, in which Hussein ibn Ali and his household were killed by the ruling Umayyad Caliph Yazid I, and the outcry for revenge divided the early Islamic community, which is known today as Islamic schism to differ from Christian schism that happened later.

Shi‘a Islam, also known as Shi‘ite Islam or Shi‘ism, is the second largest branch of Islam after Sunni Islam. Shias adhere to the teachings of Muhammad and the religious guidance of his family or his descendants known as Shia Imams. Muhammad's bloodline continues only through his daughter Fatima Zahra and cousin Ali who alongside Muhammad's grandsons comprise the Ahl al-Bayt. Thus, Shias consider Muhammad's descendants as the true source of guidance. Shia Islam, like Sunni Islam, has at times been divided into many branches; however, only three of these currently have a significant number of followers, and each of them has a separate trajectory.

Fatimah Daughter of Muhammad

Fatimah bint Muhammad, commonly known as Fatimah al-Zahra, was the daughter of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and Khadijah and therefore part of Muhammad's household. According to Sunni Muslims, Fatimah was the youngest of their daughters; according to Shia Muslims, she was their only biological child who lived to adulthood. Her husband was Ali, the last of the Rightly Guided Caliphs and the first Shia Imam, and her children include Hasan and Husayn, the second and third Imams, respectively. She is respected and venerated by Muslims, as she was the child closest to her father and supported him in his difficulties, was the supporter and caretaker of her own husband and children, and was the only child of Muhammad to have male children live beyond childhood, whose descendants are spread throughout the Islamic world and are known as Sayyids.

The Major Occultation, according to Shia, is Hujjat-Allah al-Mahdi's second occultation after the Minor Occultation. According to Twelvers, the Major Occultation which came around the year 329AH/941CE is still in effect, and will not end until the end of time when the Mahdi returns to reestablish justice on earth.

Twelver Branch of Shia Islam

Twelver, also known as Imamiyyah, is the largest branch of Shia Islam, with about 85% of all Shias. The term Twelver refers to its adherents' belief in twelve divinely ordained leaders, known as the Twelve Imams, and their belief that the last Imam, Imam al-Mahdi, lives in occultation and will reappear as the promised Mahdi. According to Shia tradition, the Mahdi's tenure will coincide with the Second Coming of Jesus, who is to assist the Mahdi against the Dajjal.

Criticism of Twelver Shia Islam dates from the initial rift between the two primary denominations of Islam, the Sunnis and the Zaidi Shias. The question of succession to Muhammad in Islam, the nature of the Imamate, the status of the twelfth Shia Imam, and other areas in which Shia Islam differ from Sunni Islam have been criticized by Sunni scholars, even though there is no disagreement between the two regarding the centrality of the Quran, Muhammad, and many other doctrinal, theological and ritual matters. Shia commentators such as Musa al-Musawi and Ali Shariati have themselves, in their attempts to reform the faith, criticized practices and beliefs which have become prevalent in the Shia community.

Hamdan Qarmat ibn al-Ash'ath or Hamdan Ahvazi was the eponymous founder of the Qarmatian sect of Isma'ilism. Originally the chief Isma'ili missionary in lower Iraq, in 899 he quarreled with the movement's leadership at Salamiya after it was taken over by Sa'id ibn al-Husayn, and with his followers broke off from them. Hamdan then disappeared, but his followers continued in existence in the Syrian Desert and al-Bahrayn for several decades.