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Imam

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The Oxford Dictionary of Islam What is This? Covers the religious, political, and social spheres of global Islam in the modern world

    Imam

    One who stands in front; a role model for the Muslim community in all its spiritual and secular undertakings. The title is used interchangeably with the word khalifah for the political head of the Sunni Muslim state. In legal writings the term is applied to the leader of the congregational prayers in the mosque. Historically, Muslim rulers used to appoint the imam for the official function of leading the Friday services in the main mosque of capital cities. Sunni Muslims use the title for their prominent jurists, who are also regarded as the founders of their legal schools, such as Abu Hanifah and Shafii. In Shii Islam the imam is the divinely appointed successor of Muhammad and is regarded as infallible, with the ability to make binding decisions in all areas of human activity. In Twelver Shiism, following the disappearance of the twelfth and last imam, the jurists (fuqaha) have assumed the title imam. Hence, Khomeini after the Iranian revolution in 1979 was given the title imam, following the practice of the Arab Shiis, who have always called their religious authorities imams. In North America, in the absence of official ordainment, religious leaders connected with different Islamic centers often use the title to indicate their religious standing in the community.

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