The Twelve Imams of Ahl al-Bayt, also called the Silsilat al-Dhahab (the golden chain), are the great Imams of Islam and Sufism from the Ahl al-Bayt (household) of the Holy Prophet Sayyidina Muḥammad ṣall-allāhu ʿalaihi wa-sallam.
Though commonly claimed by Shia to be their Imāms, they all were anti-Shia and are regarded Imams of Sufism by many great Sufi masters, who consider them the sources of divine inspiration (faiḍ) that reaches the Awliyā (saints) of Allah.
The great Mujaddid, Imām-i Rabbānī, Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī Fārūqī quddisa-sirruhū has written in his Maktūbāt that the path of sainthood can only be traversed through the aid (Tawassuṭ) of Sayyidinā Imām ʿAlī, Sayyida Fāṭima, Imām Ḥasan, Imām Ḥusain and the rest of the twelve Imams (ʿalaihim as-salām). Even after their lifetimes, anyone who got sainthood received it through them, even if they were Quṭb or Abdāl. (Volume 3, letter 123)
The Imam and founder of the Naqshbandī Sufi order, Khwāja Bahā ad-Dīn Naqshband al-Bukhārī was a true lover of Ahl al-Bayt and the twelve Imams. He says in a Persian verse:
یا رب بمحمد و علي و زهرا
یا رب بحسين و حسن و آل عبا
از لطف بر آر حاجتم در دو سرا
بے منت مخلوق ما علی الاعلی
“O Lord! by the sake of Muhammad and Ali and Zahra,
O Lord! by the sake of Hussain and Hasan and the family of Zain al-Abideen,With (your) grace, fulfill my needs in the two worlds,
Without the grace of creation, (provide me) the best of the best.”
1. Amīr al-Muʿminīn Imām ʿAlī ibn Abī-Ṭālib ʿalaihi as-salām
He was the forth caliph of Islam after the Prophet, the commander of the believers, the leader of the Arabs, and first cousin of the Prophet ṣall-Allāhu ʿalaihi wa-sallam.
He is the master (Mawlā) of every believer, as declared by the Prophet peace be upon him.
He said: the greatest among this Ummah is Abu Bakr then Umar then a third person. His son Muhammad Ibn Hanfia asked him “then you?”, meaning the third person. He said no, I am but a humble servant. This Hadith has been narrated by more than seventy persons.
He is the founder of Sufism and the initiator of all Sufi paths. He is the emperor of the spiritual world and the nucleus of sainthood (wilāyah). All the awliyā get their wilāyah (sainthood) through him. And this sublime post was held by him even before his physical birth, as stated by Imām Rabbānī Mujaddid Alf-i Sānī Shaykh Aḥmad Sirhindī in his Maktūbāt (volume 3, letter 123).
He is the helper of believers in times of need (mushkil-kushā in Farsi).
According to the famous Hadith, he is the door to the city of knowledge. Thus no one can receive knowledge except through him.
He is the lion of Allah (Asad-Allāh). He is the first Imam among the twelve Imams of Ahl al-Bayt.
Haḍrat Shāh Bahāʾ ad-Dīn Naqshband al-Bukhārī, who was a true lover of Ahl al-Bayt, says:
یا رب بعلی ابن ابی طالب و آل
آں شیر خداوند جہاں جل جلال
کاندر سہ محل رسی بفریاد ھمہ
اندر دم نزع و قبر و ھنگام سوال
“O Lord! By the sake of ʿAlī ibn Abī-Ṭālib and his family!
That lion of the Almighty God of the universe,
Come to my rescue in the three situations,
In the moment of death, and in the grave, and during the Questioning [Sawāl].”
In another verse, Shāh Naqshband pleads Sayyidinā ʿAlī in the following beautiful words:
اے شیرِ خدا امیر حیدر فتحے
وے قلعہ کشائے در خیبر فتحے
در ھائے امید بر رخم بستہ شدہ
اے صاحبِ ذوالفقار و قمبر فتحے
“O lion of God! O lord Haider the Opener!
And O castle-opener and the door opener of Khyber!
The doors of hope have been closed unto me,
O master of Zulfiqār (the sword) and Qambar (the slave), the Opener!”
Similarly, Shāh Naqshband pleads for help from Imām ʿAlī, who is the helper of believers in times of difficulty, with the following beautiful words:
یا حیدر شہسوارے وقت مدد است
پارندۂ ہشت و چار وقت مدد است
کارے عجبے فتادہ درپیش مرا
یا صاحب ذوالفقار وقت مدد است
“O Haider! the great rider! it is time for help!
O shatterer of eight and four, it is time for help!
A strange task is posed to me,
O master of Zulfiqār (the sword), it is time for help!”
2. Amīr al-Muʾminīn Imām Ḥasan ibn ʿAlī ibn Abī-Ṭālib ʿalaihi as-salām
His kunya was Abū-Muḥammad. He was the fifth caliph of Islam, and one of the five Khulafāʾ ar-Rāshidūn (the rightly guided caliphs) of Islam.
He was the greatest prince of Islam, the grandson of the Prophet, son of Sayyidinā Imām ʿAlī and Sayyida Fāṭima, brother of Imām Ḥusain ʿalaihim as-salām.
He is the light and source of sainthood and Sufism. All Sufi masters are his slaves and servants. He is the master of all believers.
He resembled the Messenger of Allah ṣall-Allāhu ʿalaihi wa-sallam from head to chest.
From his progeny are some of the greatest personalities of Islam, such as the following:
- Shaykh ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī, Baghdād
- Sayyid ʿAlī ibn ʿUthmān al-Hujwerī (Dātā Ganj Bakhsh), Lahore
Haḍrat Shāh Naqshband shows his extreme love for the great Imam in the following words:
یا رب برسالت رسول الثقلین
یا رب بخزا کنندۂ بدر و حنین
عصیانِ مرا دو حصہ کن در عرصات
نیمے بحسن بخش و نیمے بحسین
“O Lord! By the sake of the prophethood of Prophet of all the worlds!
O Lord! By the sake of the victorious leader of Badr and Hunain!
Divide my sins in two halves on the day of Judgement,
Forgive half by the sake of Hasan and other half by the sake of Husain!”