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How many Imams are there?

Mu' meneen Brothers and Sisters,

As Salaam Aleikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.  (May Allah's Peace, Mercy and Blessings be upon all of you)



One of our brothers/sisters has asked this question:

Dear brother in islam. Q1- Some sects believe that there are 12 imams after the prophet, some believe there are only 5-6 and then comes the family.., some believe otherwise. What is your stand on this ? 


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How many Imams are there?

In the name of Allah, We praise Him, seek His help and ask for His forgiveness. Whoever Allah guides none can misguide, and whoever He allows to fall astray, none can guide them aright. We bear witness that there is no one (no idol, no person, no grave, no prophet, no imam, no dai, nobody!) worthy of worship but Allah Alone, and we bear witness that Muhammad (saws) is His slave-servant and the seal of His Messengers.


Imam could mean one of many things in Arabic… a political leader, a religious leader, a guide, or even one who leads the prayers, etc.


Brother, one thing we must understand is that only the Prophets of Allah have a right to come to mankind and declare themselves as the appointed Messengers of Allah Subhanah. No Imam, no leader, no dai, no peer, no other person has a right to come to mankind and declare himself a leader appointed by Allah! All these leaders are chosen and appointed by human beings amongst themselves.


Indeed, there are many sects who believe there are 5 or 6 or 7 or 9 or 11 or 12 or 17 or even 21 imaams! Some like the Islmailis (Aga Khanis) believe that their imam is continuous from the descendants of Hadrat Ali (r.a.), and believe in the present Aga Khan as their Imam! While some sects believe that their imams have gone into ‘purdah’ or hiding and will reveal themselves near the end of time! Some sects believe that the Imams can only be from the ‘ahle-bayt’ of the Prophet (saws); while others do not put any such restrictions on them. There are many many theories, and each sect tries to justify its own story!


The majority of the believers do not have a fixed number of imams; nor do they hold that the imams must be from a particular family. Whoever amongst the leaders and scholars amongst the believers who were leaders in the fields of Islamic knowledge were called imams.


No Imam brings a new religion or a new Shariah… his duty is to lead the believers and call them to obey and follow Allah and His Messenger (saws). If he does that, he is a true leader and Imam, and if he does anything against that, he is a false leader! Allah has not made a duty upon the believers to name, number, and recognize the imams…. Nor will He ask us about their names and numbers on the Day of Judgment. The duty that Allah has laid on the believers is to worship Allah Alone and associate no partners with him; obey and follow Allah, His Message, and His Messenger (saws). That is what He will question us about on the Day of Judgment.


Some sects have made the issue of Imams, their names, their numbers, and their families a big deal in Islam; whereas it holds absolutely no importance from the Quran and the Sunnah of the Messenger (saws). They have broken away from Islam and formed their own sects with their own names and numbers of enlisted Imams, each claiming that they alone are on the Right Path! This is nothing but misguidance and they have absolutely no authority from Allah and His Messenger (saws) to do so.


Allah says in the Holy Quran Chapter 23 Surah Mu’minoon verse 52-54:And you all belong to one and the same ummah, and I(Allah) am your Lord; so fear Me Alone! Yet afterwards the people divided themselves into different sects, and each sect rejoicing in what it has. Well, leave them deeply involved in their heedlessness up to an appointed time.


Whatever written of Truth and benefit is only due to Allah’s Assistance and Guidance, and whatever of error is of me. Allah Alone Knows Best and He is the Only Source of Strength.



Your Brother in Islam,




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