AskDefine | Define imam

Dictionary Definition

imam n : (Islam) the man who leads prayers in a mosque; for Shiites an imam is a recognized authority on Islamic theology and law and a spiritual guide [syn: imaum]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


From leader


  1. A Shiite Muslim leader.
  2. One who leads the Salat prayers in a Mosque.


  • 1901: Now it chanced that in one of the mosques was an Imam. (footnote: The person specially appointed to lead the prayers of the congregation and paid out of the endowed revenues of the mosque to which he is attached) — John Payne, Alaeddin and the Enchanted Lamp
  • 2001: But then there's a Christian cleric and an imam on each of the country's three regional censorship boards, in Kaduna, Lagos and Onitsha, although more than one producer told me that the brown envelope worked the same magic here as in any other Nigerian Government department. — London Review of Books, 10 May 2001
  • 2004: In the 1980s, roughly six hundred young Algerian men, many of them protégés of Muslim Brothers from Egypt and Wahhabi imams from Saudi Arabia, went to Afghanistan to join the anti-Soviet jihad. — London Review of Books, 7 Oct 2004, p.3


  • Arabic:
  • French: imam
  • Persian: (emâm)

Extensive Definition

An imam (, ) is an Islamic leader, often the leader of a mosque and/or community. Similarly to spiritual leaders, the imam is the person who leads the prayer during Islamic gatherings. More often the community turn to the mosque imam, if they have an Islamic question. In smaller communities an imam could be the community leader based on the community setting.

Clerical imams

Shi'a imams

In the Shi'a context, Imam has a meaning more central to belief, referring to one of twelve historical persons (see list below). The 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. These leaders must be followed since they are appointed by Allah (God).
Here follows a list of the Shi'a Imams:
  1. Ali ibn Abi Talib (600661), also known as Ali, Amir al-Mu'minin
  2. Hasan ibn Ali (625669), also known as Hasan al-Mujtaba
  3. Husayn ibn Ali (626680), also known as Husayn al-Shahid, also known as Sah Hüseyin
  4. Ali ibn Husayn (658713), also known as Ali Zayn al-Abidin
  5. Muhammad ibn Ali (676743), also known as Muhammad al-Baqir
  6. Jafar ibn Muhammad (703765), also known as Jafar al-Sadiq
  7. Musa ibn Jafar (745799), also known as Musa al-Kazim
  8. Ali ibn Musa (765818), also known as Ali al-Raza
  9. Muhammad ibn Ali (810835), also known as Muhammad al-Jawad (Muhammad at-Taqi), also known as Taqi
  10. Ali ibn Muhammad (827868), also known as Ali al-Hadi, also known as Naqi
  11. Hasan ibn Ali (846874), also known as Hasan al-Askari
  12. Muhammad ibn Hasan (868- ), also known as al-Hujjat ibn al-Hasan, also known as Mahdi; believed to be hidden by Allah (see Major Occultation).
Fatimah, also Fatimah al-Zahraa, daughter of Muhammed (615632), is also considered infallible but not an Imam. Many Shi'a believe that the last Imam will one day return.
See Imamah (Shi'a Ismaili doctrine) for Ismaili list of Imams

Sunni imams

The term is also used for a recognized religious leader or teacher in Islam, often for the founding scholars of the four Sunni madhhabs, or schools of religious jurisprudence (fiqh). It may also refer to the imams of the sciences related to Hadith or to the heads of the Prophet's descendants in their times. In other words, Imam Ali is a phrase used by both Shi'a and Sunni Muslims, though with different connotations.
The Sunni sect does not have imams in the same sense as the Shi'a sect. The imam in the Sunni sect of Islam is the leader of prayers; the sermon is most often given by the Sheikh.
However, there are some people whom Sunnis call "Imams" who are not prayer leaders. They are not Imams in the Shi'a sense of the word, but they are those who started the four Sunni Madhabs. List:

Zaidi imams as rulers of Yemen

In the Zaidi Shiite sect, Imams were temporal as well as spiritual leaders who held power in Yemen for more than a thousand years. In 897, a Zaidi ruler, Yahya al-Hadi ila'l Haqq, founded a line of such Imams, a theocratic form of government which survived until the second half of the 20th century. (See details under Zaidi, History of Yemen.)
imam in Arabic: إمام
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imam in Hebrew: אימאם
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imam in Kurdish: Îmam
imam in Lithuanian: Imamas
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imam in Japanese: イマーム
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imam in Telugu: ఇమామ్
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imam in Chinese: 伊玛目
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