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Imam Ali (a.s.)

Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) was the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Ali was raised and nurtured by the Holy Prophet himself. The first convert to Islam and the closest companion to the Prophet (pbuh), Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) in 622, on the night of Emigration from Mecca to Medina (Laylah al-Mabit), devotedly and self-sacrificingly "spent the night in the prophet's bed in order to trick the assassins who kept watch over his residence," thereby, saving the Holy Prophet's life and also significantly preventing the disbelievers from becoming aware of the emigration to Medina "where the Muslim community reestablished itself" (Phyllis 36). The Shia believe that the Holy Prophet at many points did publicly declare and designate Ali ibn Abi Talib as his true successor, authority, and the Commander of the Muslim community after himself; the most known of these being Ghadir Khumm where the Prophet (pbuh) announced, "For whomever I am the authority (mawla), Ali is his authority" (Esposito 310; EI 707; Fitzpatrick and Walker 22; Shah-Kazemi 21; EIMW 481). However, after the death of the Prophet (pbuh), the majority of the Muslims did not accept Ali's successorship and wilaya and it was only after Uthman ibn Affan's caliphate that they asked him to accept the caliphate. Meanwhile, the Shia Muslims (the followers of Ali's wilaya) consider Ali (a.s.) their first Imam. It is noteworthy that Ali's courage, justice, and outstanding learning of religion are attested both by the Shia and Sunni. Of Imam Ali (a.s.) a precious collection of sermons, letters, and terse sayings (compiled by al-Sharif al-Radi in 10th century) known as Nahj al-Balagha (The Peak of Eloquence) has remained. In terms of style and aesthetics, Nahj al-Balagha is deemed unsurpassable, and in terms of meaning profound. In this regard the well-known Sunni scholar, Ibn Abil Hadid, deems The Peak of Eloquence a work that is "below the speech of the Creator, but above the speech of creatures" (qtd. in Shah-Kazemi 2).

Synonyms: Ali (a.s.)
Imam and Imamate

In Shia belief, the word "Imamate" signifies leadership and guidance and the one possessing it, who is called "Imam," holds the perfect religious leadership and the unchallenged political authority of the Muslim society. Imamate is among the fundamentals of Shia. The centrality and necessity of Imam in Shia is rooted in the Holy Quran saying, "Of those We have created are people who direct (others) with truth. And dispense justice therewith" (7:181), and also in the view stressing that "God would not leave the world without some sort of 'guidance' (huda) for humanity" (EIMW 351), and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) being "the last Prophet who closed the prophetic cycle, the Shia believe that humanity still needs spiritual guidance: the cycle of imamate must succeed the cycle of prophecy" (EIMW 37). In Shia worldview, Imams have the following three qualities: first, they have been divinely designated (nass); second, they are uniquely qualified (afdal) to provide religious guidance and insight for the community; third and most importantly, they are infallible (ma'sum) (EI xxvi). The Twelve-Imam Shia (the largest division of Shia), holds that "all but one of their 12 Imams suffered martyrdom in defense of their faith and that the 12th will return after a period of concealment (ghayba) that began in 872 as a messiah (savior) to inaugurate a reign of universal justice prior to Judgment Day" (EI xxvi). During the time of the 12th Imam, Mahdi (a.s.), the Shia "jurists (mujtahids) have continued the Imam’s function of providing religious guidance and leadership to the community" (EIMW 350).

Synonyms: Imam,Imamate
Imam Hadi (a.s.)

Imam Hadi (a.s) (828-868 CE) is the 10th Shia Imam spent most of his life in the city of Samarra, Iraq under close surveillance of Abbasid Caliphs. He was martyred and enshrined in Samarra.

Imam Hussain (a.s.)

Hussain ibn Ali is the third Shia Imam, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and the son of Ali ibn Abi Talib and Fatima (pbut). Imam Hussain (a.s) together with his elder brother Imam Hassan (a.s) have been famously regarded by the Prophet (pbuh) as the "masters of the youth of Paradise" (Phyllis 350). Moreover, the Holy Prophet's special affection for Hassan and Hussain is evident in both Shia and Sunni literature. After his brother, Hussain (a.s) held the position of the Imam of the Muslims and, acting in accordance with the provisions of Imam Hassan's agreement with Muawiya, maintained peace with the Umayyad caliphate. However, even before the death of Muawiya, the Umayyad side (by appointing his son, Yazid, to succeed him) violated the agreement under the terms of which "after Muawiya's death, the leadership should be restored to Hassan, or, if he was not alive, to his younger brother, Hussain" (Phyllis 350). Along with this breach of the agreement, Yazid forcefully took caliphate while being notorious (also confirmed by the Sunni sources) for being publicly neglectful of fundamentals of Islam and an immoral tyrant devoted to liquor. Yazid attempted to coerce Imam Hussain (a.s) to swear allegiance to him, however, Imam never accepted, finding the oath of allegiance to Yazid would definitely result in the destruction and total deviation of Islam. At this time, a great number of Kufis expressed their support and assistance for Imam Hussain (a.s), inviting him to come to Kufa and become the legitimate caliph. Thus, Hussain (a.s) set for Kufa. However, Yazid's army together with many of the same Kufis (having shifted their allegiance to Yazid) intercepted Imam at the desert of Karbala. At last, on the 10th of Muharram, after having denied Imam Hussain, his family, and companions access to water, Yazid's army, which outnumbered Imam's by thousands, martyred Hussain (a.s) and his seventy-two companions, trampled on their bodies, pillaged the tents, and took the women and children captives. In Shia belief, what happened in Karbala is the saddest point in history, a group of people massacred the son of their prophet and then celebrated. The Shia Muslims, annually commemorate and mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (a.s) and on Arbaeen (the fortieth day after Ashoora), following the example of Ahl al-Bayt (pbut), make a long journey on foot to visit the holy shrine of Imam Hussain (a.s), the epitome of martyrdom, self-sacrifice, and freedom in Shia culture.

Synonyms: Imam Hussain,Hussain
Imam Khomeini

Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic Revolution of Iran and the founder of the Islamic Republic, was born in Khomein (a city in Markazi province) into a family of Shia scholars. While still in his youth, he completed his theological studies to an advanced level and gained mastery over philosophy, ethics, and jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh). It was then that Ruhollah Khomeini wrote his first book, Kashf al-Asrar (The Unveiling of Secrets), in which he significantly stressed that according to Islam, religion is not to be separated from the political, social, and public life. After the death of grand Ayatollah Borujerdi, marja e taqlid (model for emulation) of the Shia world, Imam Khomeini came to be realized as one of the maraja e taqlid. In 1963 and in a rousing speech, delivered at Feyziah school, Imam Khomeini publicly denounced and reproached the Pahlavi regime for its thorough dependence on and subordination to the Western powers (especially America) and its anti-Islam policies. Imam's widespread condemnation of Muhammad Reza Shah and Pahlavi dynasty immediately resulted in his arrest and imprisonment. Imam's imprisonment led to a massive public demonstration against the Shah on 15th of Khordad (June 5) of the same year. The demonstrators were harshly suppressed and crushed by the Shah's military forces, hence the name "bloody uprising of Khordad 15th"; the uprising served as an important starting point in the cause of the revolution. In 1964, one year after his release from prison, Ruhollah Khomeini outspokenly protested against the legal immunities that the shah had granted American citizens in Iran (known as "capitulation privilege"), leading to him being re-arrested and exiled. While in exile, Imam Khomeini supported and guided the revolutionary forces in Iran, then grown bigger and more developed due to the growing dissatisfaction and anger with the Shah's regime. It was during the same years that Imam Khomeini developed the concept of wilayat e faqih (literally the "the governance of a jurist") which emphasizes that a jurist who is sufficiently outstanding in learning and justice must assume the leadership of the government. In 1977, Mustafa, his elder son and a gifted Islamic scholar, mysteriously died. The sudden suspicious death of Mustafa together with the publication of an insulting article by an official newspaper against the character of Imam Khomeini (January 1978) created public demonstrations and uproar against the Pahlavi regime in numerous parts of the country, thereby adding fuel to the revolutionary movement more than before. The next year, January 1979, Muhammad Reza Shah fled Iran. Two weeks later, in February 1979, Imam Khomeini returned after fourteen years of exile (the final period of which spent in France) to Iran, welcomed by millions of Iranian people. After holding a referendum on the question of an Islamic Republic, the result of which being almost unanimous (98.2 %) in favor of the formation of the Islamic Republic, then, the Islamic Republic of Iran was formally declared and organized. For ten years, Imam Khomeini acted as the spiritual and political leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Central to Imam Khomeini's views are: the inevitability of political and social involvement in Islam, wilayat e faqih, helping the oppressed, the significance of the unity of the Muslim world by leaving behind the sectarian differences, and the essential importance of the freedom of the Palestinians.

Synonyms: Khomeini
Imam of prayer

The person who leads the congregational prayer and must be just.

Imam Reza (a.s.)

Ali b. Musa al-Reza, 8th Imam of Shia known for his great kindness and knowledge, is the only Shia Imam buried in Iran. His holy shrine attracts millions of Muslims globally. Imam Reza (a.s) is also known for his intellectual and scientific debates with non-Muslim scholars.


Imamzadah, literally “one borne of an imam,” refers to a descendant of a Shia Imam and, by extension, to a shrine where such a descendant is buried. It is worth noting that imamzadahs are appealed to as intercessors. (EIMW 351)


A Quranic formula meaning "if God will." It is used by Muslims when speaking of a future event or task. Its use signifies a firm belief in God and His active role in the world.


The saints' intercession for other people before God. According to Shia, the permission for intercession is granted only by God.

Islamic Government

Islamic Government: Islamic government is the government which acts according to the Islamic laws and rules. In Shia belief, establishing an Islamic government is of the most important political and social factors.

Islamic Jurist

Islamic Jurist is the religious authority and judge leading the religious issues of the society; as a result, managing some of the public issues of the community lies within the scope of powers of the Islamic jurist. For example, while in Islam generally the marriage of maidens is bound to the permission of the father, in special cases (in which the father's refusal to give permission does not have sound basis) the jurist of the Muslim community may allow the marriage.

Islamic Revolution

Iran's Revolution in 1979 led by Imam Khomeini against US backed monarchy of Pahlavi to form a Shia-Islamic government based on justice, progress, and divine law. Their slogans were: “Independence, Freedom, Islamic Republic” and “Equality, Brotherhood, The Just Rule of Imam Ali.”

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