SUCCESSION TO PROPHET MUHAMMAD (IMAMA)

All of the universal messengers of God had successors. God appointed His messengers for the guidance of mankind; and as a matter of necessity, He also appointed successors to the prophets and messengers.

Prophet Abraham was succeeded by two of his sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Prophet Moses after his lifetime, was succeeded by Yusha ibn Noon. Even Prophet Jesus had a successor, Sham’oon ibn Hamoon al-Safa to continue the propagation of his message. Similarly, Prophet Muhammad was succeeded by twelve distinguished successors, one after another. These successors are called imams and were appointed by God, not by the masses.

The right to ordain imams belongs to God alone, and the Quran makes this point in many verses,

“And remember when your Lord said to the angels, ‘Verily I am going to place a successor [khalifa] on the earth.’” (2:30) “And remember when the Lord of Abraham tried him with certain commands which he fulfilled; Allah said to him, ‘Verily I am going to make you a leader [imam] over mankind.’” (2:124)

God addressed Prophet David as such,

“O David! Verily We have placed you as a successor on the earth.” (38:26)

God also attributes the right of appointing leaders to Himself, God says,

“We made from among them leaders, giving guidance under Our command.” (32:24)

During the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad, he specifically mentioned the names of the leaders [imams] that would come after him and said that there would be twelve leaders, and that all of them will be from the descendents of the tribe of the Quraysh.[1]

The imams were the authorities of God among mankind and they all had unique qualities in matters of knowledge, forbearance, morality, and justice.

The twelve successors of Prophet Muhammad are as follows:

Ali ibn Abi Talib

Father’s name: Abu Talib ibn[2] Abd al-Muttalib

Mother’s name: Lady Fatima bint[3] Asad

Birth: Mecca, on the 13th of Rajab, 23 BH[4] (600 CE)

Death: Murdered at the age of sixty-three. While praying in the mosque, he was mortally wounded by a poisoned sword of an assassin on the 21st of Ramadan, 40 AH[5] (661 CE), in Kufa. He is buried in Najaf al-Ashraf (Iraq).

Known as the “Commander of the Faithful” (Amir al-Mumineen), Imam Ali was the Prophet’s first cousin and son-in-law (married to Lady Fatima); he was also the first male to embrace Islam. The Prophet ascribed Imam Ali with historical sayings, such as, “I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate,” and “Whoever considers me his leader, Ali is also his leader.”[6] Imam Ali was recognized for his knowledge, wisdom, bravery, and justice. Many of Imam Ali’s traditions and speeches have been preserved in a book called The Peak of Eloquence (Nahj al-Balagha).

Hasan ibn Ali

Father’s name: Ali ibn Abi Talib

Mother’s name: Lady Fatima bint Muhammad

Birth: Madina, on the 15th Ramadan, 2 AH (625 CE)

Death: Died at the age of forty-six. Poisoned under the direction of Muawiyah, governor of Syria on the 27th of Safar, 49 AH (670 CE). Buried in Al-Baqi cemetery, Madina.

Imam Hasan was the eldest son of Imam Ali and Lady Fatima. He devoted himself to the sacred mission of peacefully propagating of Islam. He excelled all others in knowledge and spiritual perfection. He resembled the Prophet in forbearance and generosity. For example, this Imam shared beneficence towards a man who was verbally abusing him. The Imam approached the man with a smile and remarked, “May peace be with you. I think you have just arrived in this town, if you need food, I can provide food for you. If you need clothing, I can provide you with clothing. If you need shelter, I can provide you with a place to stay. If you need transportation, I can provide you with a ride; and if you need protection, I can protect you.” After hearing this, the man replied, “I testify that you are the vicegerent of God on earth, and God knows better whom to entrust with the Divine message.”

Husayn ibn Ali

Father’s name: Ali ibn Abi Talib

Mother’s name: Lady Fatima bint Muhammad

Birth: Madina, on the 3rd of Shaban, 3 AH (626 CE)

Death: Martyred at the age of fifty-eight in Karbala (Iraq), by the ruling army of Yazid ibn Muawiyah, on the 10th of Muharram, 61 AH (680 CE) and buried there.

Imam Husayn devoted his life to following the footsteps of his father and grandfather. During the time of the Umayyad Dynasty, corruption and mischief prevailed. Imam Husayn took it upon himself to oppose the authoritative regime of Yazid. By the invitation of the people of Iraq, Imam Husayn left his home in Madina and journeyed to Kufa with his
family and companions. Before reaching Kufa, about sixty miles south of Baghdad, on the plains of Karbala, Imam Husayn was unfairly surrounded by Yazid’s mass army and ultimately, on the 10th of Muharram, Imam Husayn, his family, and companions were massacred in an unequal and ruthless battle. This day is known in the Islamic history as
the “Day of Ashura.” The battle of Karbala represents a battle between truth and falsehood, good and evil, justice and injustice, and freedom and oppression. Consequentially, the Imam became the beacon of light for the freedom of all of humanity. His martyrdom shook the foundations of the Muslim nation and stirred the consciousness of the people. Numerous revolutions and revolts followed Imam Husayn’s martyrdom until the empire of Bani Umayyad collapsed. Ashura still plays a very significant role in the life of Muslims today, in that the sacrifices of the martyrs symbolize the endeavor to fight injustice and deviation for all times and societies.

Ali ibn al-Husayn

Father’s name: Husayn ibn Ali

Mother’s name: Lady Shah-Zanan, daughter of Yazdeger III, King of Persia

Birth: Madina, on the 15th of Jamadi al-Awwal, 36 AH (659 CE)

Death: Died at the age of fifty-eight. Poisoned by Walid ibn Abdil Malik ibn Marwan on the 25th of Muharram, 95 AH (713 CE). Buried in Al-Baqi cemetery, Madina.

He was known for his consistent worshipping and spiritual perfection in helping the needy. He used to carry bags of flour and bread on his back to take to the poor and needy families in Madina. He left behind many legacies of spiritual guidance, prayers, and supplications. A collection of his devotions and prayers are known as “Az-Zabur Aale Muhammad” (The Psalms of the Family of Muhammad – As- Sahifatul Kamilatul Sajjadiyah). Whenever a needy person approached him for help the Imam would say, “Welcome to those who carry my supplies to the next life.”

Muhammad al-Baqir

Father’s name: Ali Zaynul Abidin

Mother’s name: Lady Fatima bint Hassan

Birth: Madina, on the 3rd of Safar 57 AH (676 CE)

Death: Died at the age of fifty-seven. Poisoned by the ruler Hisham ibn Abdel Malik ibn Marwan, on the 7th of Dhul al- Hijjah, 124 AH (733 CE). Buried in Al-Baqi cemetery, Madina.

A man of great virtue and extensive knowledge, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir established the foundation of a grand university for Islamic studies in Madina. His pupils compiled books on different branches of science, jurisprudence, and arts under his instruction and guidance. A distinguished scholar from Mecca, Ibn Ata once described him by saying, “I never saw other scholars look as small as they did in the presence of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir.” One of his students, Muhammad ibn Muslim said, “I asked al-Baqir all the questions that came to my mind (30,000 questions over a period of time), and he competently answered them all.”

Jafar as-Sadiq

Father’s name: Muhammad al-Baqir

Mother’s name: Lady Fatima bint al-Qasim

Birth: Madina, on the 17th of Rabi al-Awwal, 83 AH (702 CE)

Death: Died at the age of sixty-five. Poisoned by Abu Jafar al-Mansur, the Abbasid caliph on the 25th of Shawwal, 148 AH (765 CE). Buried in Al-Baqi cemetery, Madina.

Imam Jafar as-Sadiq’s father taught him the science of religion and the teachings of Islam. He became an authority for scholars and preachers and an expert in jurisprudence. After the martyrdom of his father, Imam as-Sadiq transformed the Prophet’s mosque in Madina into a university from which to teach and expand upon Islamic theology. Imam Jafar as-Sadiq graduated hundreds of scholars who were versed in Islamic science and traditions of the Prophet. He also taught some of the founders of the various Islamic schools of jurisprudence. Scholars and preachers gave testimony, acknowledging Imam as-Sadiq’s great knowledge of Islam. One scholar, Sibt ibn al-Jawzi said, “Never have I seen scholars less knowledgeable in the presence of a man like Jafar as-Sadiq.” Men of knowledge and piety
recognized the characteristics of Imam as-Sadiq in leadership, scholarship, and as an unprecedented educator. The Imam was also a great social personality and an effective political force.

Imam as-Sadiq narrated thousands of traditions (hadiths), regarding every facet of life. He extensively discussed Islamic ethics, mannerism, integrity, goodness of character, and acts of worship. Additionally, he discussed jurisprudence and debated with leaders from various Islamic schools of thought.

Musa al-Kadhim

Father’s name: Imam Jafar as-Sadiq

Mother’s name: Lady Um-Hamida

Birth: Abwa (an area between Mecca and Madina) on the 7th of Safar, 128 AH (746 CE)

Death: Poisoned at the age of fifty-five on the 25th of Rajab, 183 AH (799 CE), and is buried in Baghdad, Iraq.

Imam al-Kadhim was the most knowledgeable person of Islam during his time, and he was mainly known for his long prostrations to God. He was known as “al-Kadhim” which means “one who swallows his anger,” for showing his extreme patience and forbearance, due to his resistance against the tyranny of the Abbasid Caliph, Harun. He was imprisoned for fourteen years in a hostile environment in Basra and Baghdad, and eventually murdered.

Ali ar-Rida

Father’s name: Imam Musa al-Kadhim

Mother’s name: Lady Najma

Birth: Madina on 11th of Dhul Qadah, 148 AH (765 CE)

Death: Poisoned by the Abbassid Caliph on the last day of Safar, 203 AH (818 CE). Died at the age of fifty-three and is buried in Mashad, Iran.

Imam ar-Rida was summoned by the Abbassid Caliph, Mamoon, to the province of Khorasan, Iran to be crowned a prince as an attempt to quell the resistance of the caliph’s dynasty. The Imam initially refused; but, he was then threatened with death. The Imam accepted conditionally, and proceeded to Iran and was eventually murdered there.

Muhammad al-Jawad

Father’s name: Imam Ali ar-Rida

Mother’s name: Lady Sabeeka

Birth: Madina, on the 10th of Rajab, 195 AH (811 CE)

Death: Poisoned by the Caliph, Al-Mutasim, at the age of twenty-four in the city of Baghdad on the last day of Dhul Qadah, 220 AH (835 CE).

At a very young age Imam al-Jawad was engaged in interfaith dialogue with the scholars of his time. Consequently, he became known among the people for his vast knowledge of Islam.

Ali al-Hadi

Father’s name: Imam Muhammad al-Jawad

Mother’s name: Lady Samanah

Birth: Madina on the 15th of Dhul Hijah, 202 AH (827 CE)

Death: Poisoned on the 3rd of Rajab, 254 AH (868 CE) at the age of forty-one and is buried in Samarra, Iraq.

During his time, Imam Ali al-Hadi remarkably surpassed others in human perfection, moral qualities, and generosity. He was summoned by the Abbasid Caliph, Al-Mutawakil to the city of Samarra which housed the military barricade of the Abbasid Dynasty. There, Imam al-Hadi was placed under house arrest and was later murdered.

Hasan al-Askari

Father’s name: Imam Ali al-Hadi

Mother’s name: Lady Jiddh

Birth: The 10th of Rabiul Thani, 232 AH (846 CE)

Death: Poisoned by the caliph of his time on the 8th of Rabiul Awal, 260 AH (874 CE), at the age of twenty-one in the city of Samarra, Iraq.

Imam al-Askari physically and spiritually resembled his great grandfather, the Prophet. The Christians of the time looked upon him as sharing the same qualities as Prophet Jesus.

Muhammad al-Mahdi

Father: Imam Hasan al-Askari

Mother: Lady Nargis

Birth: Samarra on 15th of Shaban, 255 AH (869 CE) and is still alive up to the present day.

Imam al-Mahdi is the last of the imams, and it is with him that the line of succession to Prophet Muhammad ends. All Islamic schools of thought agree that at the end of time, Imam al-Mahdi will come to make justice prevail on earth after it is overwhelmed with injustice and tyranny.

The idea that humanity will be saved is not peculiar to the Islamic faith. It is also shared by other religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism.

Although the concept of Imam al-Mahdi being alive after nearly thirteen centuries seems unconceivable by some, the Quran sets several examples of prophets who are still living, such as Jesus and Elijah.[7] The Quran also gives two other examples in the story of the “companions of the cave”[8] and Uzayr.[9] The continuous existence of Imam al-Mahdi is considered one of the miracles of God, and Muslims believe in it as part of the unseen world.[10] Imam al-Mahdi, still lives in this world by the will of God, but he does not live in public view. However, toward the end of human civilization, when the world is filled with evil and injustice, Imam al-Mahdi will re-appear to restore order and allow justice to prevail.

Fatima al-Zahra

Father’s name: Prophet Muhammad ibn Abdullah

Mother’s name: Lady Khadijah bint Khuwaylid

Birth: Mecca on the 20th day of Jumaadi al-Thani[11], 7 BH (614 CE) forty-five years after the birth of the Prophet.

Death: On the 3rd of Jumaadi al-Thaani, 11 AH (632 CE), at the age of eighteen, and buried in Medina.

Although Lady Fatima al-Zahra is not considered as an imam, she is however, included in this list because of her high status and importance.

Lady Fatima was five years old upon the advent of Islam. Although the Prophet had several children, Fatima was his favorite. Fatima and her father, Prophet Muhammad had a unique bond. Aisha,[12] one of the wives of the Prophet said, “I never saw a person who so resembled her father in speech, movements, and gestures more than Fatima, and when she went to visit her father, he would stand, take her hand, kiss it, and place her in his own seat.”[13] Lady Fatima was very loving and spiritually close to her father. The Prophet once said this about his daughter, “Fatima is a part of me. Whoever angers her, angers me; and she is the mother of her father.”[14]

Lady Fatima carried the light of the message of the Prophet to the generations that were to come through her offspring [imams].

A chapter in the Quran was revealed about her in which God has said,

“Verily, We have granted you [Prophet Muhammad] al-Kawthar.[15] Therefore, turn in prayer to your Lord and sacrifice for Him. And he who makes you angry – he will be cut off from offspring.”

Lady Fatima was married to Imam Ali and had four children: Hasan, Husayn, Zaynab, and Um Kulthoom.

Lady Fatima was the perfect example of virtue and righteousness; an exemplary woman in Islam. She set many examples in her social and political life.

A few days after the demise of the Prophet, Lady Fatima died at the young age of eighteen.


[1] Sahih Bukhari, The Book of Ahkam (Laws), v.1 p.101; Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Imaara (The Book of Leadership), v.1 narrations 4-6.
[2] Ibn means “son of.”
[3] Bint means “daughter of.”
[4] BH stands for “before Hijrah” – before migration to Madina.
[5] AH stands for “after Hijrah” – after migration to Madina.
[6] Ahmad ibn Hanbal, 4: 281; Al-Tabari, 2:169.
[7] See Quran 18:60-82.
[8] See Quran 18:25.
[9] See Quran 2:259.
[10] See Quran 2:3.
[11] Jumaadi al-Thaani is the sixth month of the Islamic calendar.
[12] Aisha, daughter of Abu Bakr (the first caliph), and one of the wives of the Prophet.
[13] Feiruz Abadi, Fadhaail al-Khamsa, v.3 p.127.
[14] Sahih Bukhari, v.2 p.185; Usud al-Ghaaba, v.5 p.520.
[15] Kawthar is one of the names of Lady Fatima, as well as the name of a river in Paradise.


Discovering Islam by Sayed Moustafa Al-Qazwini