Citation for Imam

Citation styles are based on the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Ed., and the MLA Style Manual, 2nd Ed..


"Imam." In The Islamic World: Past and Present. Ed. John L. Esposito. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. May 19, 2022. <>.


"Imam." In The Islamic World: Past and Present. , edited by John L. Esposito. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, (accessed May 19, 2022).


The Arabic term imam, literally “one who stands in front,” generally refers to the religious and political leader of a Muslim community. The specific meaning of the word differs for Sunnis and Shi'is and also depends on the context in which it is used.

In Sunni Islam, the title imam is typically given to the person chosen by the Muslim community to lead the congregation in prayers in a mosque. Although this individual usually has training in religious studies, any respected Muslim may lead the prayers. Sunni Muslims also apply the title to caliphs and prominent jurists (experts in Islamic law).

Shi'i Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad chose his son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib , and Ali's descendants as the imams of the Muslim community. Divinely appointed and protected from sin, the imams were infallible and, therefore, had supreme authority in all religious and legal matters. Although the last of the twelve imams disappeared in 872 , Shi'i Muslims preserve their memories by reciting the prayers some of the imams composed and by making pilgrimages to their shrines and the tombs of their descendants. They also anticipate the return of the twelfth imam at a time when God will establish justice throughout the world.

In 1979 Shi'i religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini led a successful Islamic revolution in Iran. He was given the title of imam, which led some to say that the use of this designation was intended to suggest the approach of the time of the return of the twelfth imam. Most Iranians, however, viewed the title as recognition of his role as leader of the country. To prevent confusion, one conservative group referred to Khomeini as the deputy of the twelfth imam. See also Ali ibn Abi Talib ; Shi'i Islam; Sunni Islam.

© Oxford University Press 2007-2008. All Rights Reserved