Who Are The 12 Imams Of Twelver Shia Islam?

Depiction of the Twelve Imams seated together (left) and the Mahdi's triumphant return (right).
Depiction of the Twelve Imams seated together (left) and the Mahdi's triumphant return (right).

The Twelve Imams, together with Prophet Mohammed and his daughter Fatimah al-Zahra, make up the fourteen infallible according to the Shia Islam faith. They are seen as divinely guided leaders and are the holiest people in Islam Religion. They are known as Ahlulbayt meaning the people of the household and the first five of the twelve imams are particularly significant, and they are Prophet Muhammad, Imam Ali, Fatima al-Zahra, Imam Hassan, and Imam Husayn. These holy people helped Prophet Mohammed and guided the Muslim community after the death of the prophet. The other nine Imams continued to guide the community and in particular through scholarship and divine guidance. All Muslims respect the twelve imams because they were divinely ordained and their knowledge and piety are considered exemplary.

The Twelver Imams of Shia

The twelve Imams, and their respective lifespans, are comprised by Ali ibn Abu Talib (600-661 CE), Hasan ibn Ali (625-670 CE), Husayn ibn Ali (626-680 CE), Ali ibn Husayn (658-712 CE), Muhammad Ibn Ali (677-732 CE), Ja’far ibn Muhammad (702-765 CE), Musa ibn Ja’far (744-749 CE), Ali ibn Musa (765-817 CE), Muhammad ibn Ali (810-835 CE), Ali Ibn Muhammad (827-868 CE), Hasan ibn Ali ibn Muhammad (846-874 CE), and Muhammad ibn al-Hassan (Born 869 CE). Many Shia Muslims believe the last of these 12 successors to Muhammad, Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Mahdī, will reappear as the ultimate humankind savior alongside Isa to fulfill their mission to bring peace and justice to the world.

Ali Ibn Abu Talib

Ali was a cousin of Muhammad, and later his son-in-law through Fatima, and the forthrightly guided Caliph. Born to a powerful Sheikh of the Quaraysh, Ali grew to become the most influential and powerful successor of Muhammad. He and Muhammad grew up as brothers, and when the latter received the divine call, he willingly joined him in defending the newly formed faith. Ali fought persecution by the Quaraysh, and when the Muslim migrated to Medina, Ali went with them. In the battle of Badr, Ali took the forefront to fight for what he believed was right and brought victory to Muslim and earned him Muhammad’s favor, approval, and acceptance so as to marry Fatima, Muhammad’s only surviving child. He proved his prowess in the battle and after the death of Muhammad, his right to the caliphate led the historical split in Islam into Sunni and Shia. The Sunni Muslims assassinated him in 661.

Husayn Ibn Ali

Husayn was the son of Ali ibn Abi Ṭalib and a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. He became the head of Shia Islam after the death of his brother Hasan ibn Ali, his older brother. His father’s supporters gave him allegiance. When Muawiya I died and his son Yazid I succeeded him, Husayn regarded the act as a breach of the Hasan-Muawiya treaty. He considered the Umayyad as an oppressive and religiously misguided people. So he insisted on his legitimate legatees as a direct descendant of Muhammad who led to his exile from Medina to Mecca. In Mecca, the people of Kufa pledged allegiance to him, so he traveled from Mecca to Kufa, but the army of Yazid I intercepted his Caravan and massacred Husayn and his followers in the desolate plains of Karbala in Iraq.The most significant radical interpretation of Islam was that of the Martyrdom of Husayn at Karbala. The martyrdom is almost comparable to that Christ in Christian religion. He is regarded as a righteous man sent to open the eyes of people to see how dark their self-induced sea of sin, but he chose to die so that they could be redeemed. Muhammad people mourned the Imam for the purity of his life rewarded by violent punishment. They remember him for his devotion in fighting against moral injustice.

Muhammad Ibn Al-Hasan

Muhammad was born in 869 to Hasan al-Askari and Narcisi. He assumed Imam status at five years of age following the death of his father. In his early regime that lasted 72 years, called the Minor Occultation, Muhammad contacted his followers through the four deputies. After the occultation and a few days before the death of his fourth deputy,history has it that he sent his followers a letter that declared the beginning of a Major Occultation during which he will not be in contact with his people.

Significance of the Twelver Imams

The Shia Muslims believe in the Twelver caliphates and that Muhammad is the Mahdi, the ultimate savior of humankind. They also believe Islam will rule the world and during the reign justice and righteousness will fill the earth. The belief in Mahdi gave Shia Muslims identity.

The Shiites believe that none of the twelve died a natural death. They were either assassinated or poisoned for being a legal threat to the rule of the caliphate. Down the history line, the Shiites fought for recognition, and acceptance by their fellow Muslims. The history of the Twelve is based on revolutionary violence, an art the Shia Muslims had to master to survive. The twelve Imams rebuked assassination or plotting revolution unless they were defending their faith. These Imams make up the foundation rock supporting the Shia faith.

Who Are The Twelve Imams Of Twelver Shia Islam?

RankThe Twelve Imams of Athna‘ashariyyahLifetime
1Ali ibn Abu Talib600-661 CE
2Hasan ibn Ali625-670 CE
3Husayn ibn Ali626-680 CE
4Ali ibn Husayn658-712 CE
5Muhammad ibn Ali677-732 CE
6Ja'far ibn Muhammad702-765 CE
7Musa ibn Ja'far744-749 CE
8Ali ibn Musa765-817 CE
9Muhammad ibn Ali810-835 CE
10Ali ibn Muhammad827-868 CE
11Hasan ibn Ali ibn Muhammad (Al-Askari)846-874 CE
12Muhammad ibn al-HasanBorn 869 CE; Now in Major Occultation as the Mahdi

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