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 1. Amīr al-Muʿminīn Imām ʿAlī ibn Abī-Ṭālib (40, Iraq)
- 2 2. Amīr al-Muʾminīn Imām Ḥasan ibn ʿAlī (49, Madinah)
- 3 3. Imām Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī (61, Iraq)
- 4 4. Imām ʿAlī Zain al-ʿĀbidīn (95, Madinah)
- 5 5. Imām Muḥammad Bāqir (114, Madinah)
- 6 6. Imām Jaʿfar Ṣādiq (148, Madinah)
- 7 7. Imām Mūsā Kāẓim (186, Iraq)
- 8 8. Imām ʿAlī Riḍā (203, Iran)
- 9 9. Imām Muhammad Taqī (220, Iraq)
- 10 10. Imām Alī Naqī Hādī (254, Iraq)
- 11 11. Imām Ḥasan Askarī (260, Iraq)
- 12 12. Imām Muḥammad ibn Ḥasan Askarī (Madinah)
- 13 Ghawth al-Aʿzam Sayyid ʿAbd al-Qādir Jīlānī Baghdādī (Iraq)
- 14 References
1. Amīr al-Muʿminīn Imām ʿAlī ibn Abī-Ṭālib (40, Iraq)
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
آن شیر خداوند جهان جل جلال
کاندر سه محل رسی بفریاد همه
اندر دم نزع و قبر و هنگام 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 قلعه کشائے در خیبر فتحے
در هائے امید بر رخم بسته شده
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 شهسوارے وقت مدد است
پارندۂ هشت و چار وقت مدد است
کارے عجبے فتاده 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 (49, Madinah)
The Commander of the Faithful, Imām Ḥasan ibn ʿAlī ʿalayhi as-salām was the second Imam in the Golden Chain of twelve Imams. He was the fifth caliph of Islam, and one of the five Khulafāʾ ar-Rāshidūn (the rightly guided caliphs) of Islam.
3. Imām Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī (61, Iraq)
His kunya was Abū-Abdullāh. He was grandson of the Prophet, second son of Sayyidinā Imām ʿAlī and Sayyida Fāṭima. He was born in 4 AH, and was martyred in the most cruel way in Karbalā (Iraq).
Sayyidinā Shāh Naqshband al-Bukhārī says :
یا رب بدو نور دیدۂ پیغمبر
یعنی دو چراغ دودمان حیدر
بر حال ما من بعین عنایت بنگر
دارم نظر اینکه من نیفتم ز نظر
“O Lord! by the sake of the two eyes of the Prophet,
by the sake of the two candles of Haider (Imam Ali),
Show your kind grace on my state,
I keep hope that I will not be dropped out of (your) sight.”
Shāh Naqshband possessed extreme love of Imām Ḥusain ʿalaih as-salām. He was anxious to watch the noble face of the great Imam, and for this he prayed like this :
یا رب برساں تو مرا روئے غائب را
فرزند علی ابن ابی طالب را
از دوری او ہمیشه در فریادم
مانند سگے دلم رغد کند صاحب را
“O Lord! take me to the face of the absent,
the son of ʿAlī ibn Abī-Ṭālib (Imām Ḥusain),
I am always crying due to his separation,
Like a dog, my heart awaits the master.”
The great master of the Chishtī Sufi order, Khwāja Muʿīn ad-Dīn Ajmerī quddisa-sirruū says in his renowned verses:
شاه است حسين بادشاه است حسين
دين است حسين دين پناه است حسين
سر داد نه داد دست در دستِ يزيد
حقا که بنائي لا الٰه است حسين
“The king is Ḥusain, the emperor is Ḥusain,
The religion is Ḥusain, the shelter of religion is Ḥusain,
The head he gave, but not his hand in the hand of Yazīd,
Indeed the foundation of ‘Lā Ilāha Illa-Allāh’ is Ḥusain.”
4. Imām ʿAlī Zain al-ʿĀbidīn (95, Madinah)
He was the only son of Imām Ḥusain who survived the massacre of Karbalā. His name is ʿAlī and titles are Sajjād and Zain al-ʿĀbidīn. Many Sunni scholars consider him greatest among the Tābiʿīn due to his noble ancestry. He passed away on Monday 12 Muḥarram.
He was the forth Imām among the twelve great Imams of Ahl al-Bayt.
Among his sons are Imām Muḥammad al-Bāqir, Imām Zaid ibn ʿAlī, and ʿUmar ibn ʿAlī.
5. Imām Muḥammad Bāqir (114, Madinah)
The fifth Imām, the leader of Sufis and saints, Imām Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī ibn Ḥusain was known as al-Bāqir. He used to spend whole nights in praying and crying. Shaikh ʿAlī Hujwerī reports in Kashf al-Maḥjūb that someone asked him why do you cry so much? He said, when Prophet Yaʿqūb lost his one son, he cried so much that he lost his eyesight. I have lost 18 of my parental family members in Karbalā along with al-Ḥusain. Why shouldn’t I cry and weep?
6. Imām Jaʿfar Ṣādiq (148, Madinah)
Imām Jaʿfar Ṣādiq ʿalaihi as-salām was the sixth Imam in the Golden Chain. He was born in Madīnah in 80 AH and passed away in Madīnah on 15 Rajab 148 AH, and is buried in Jannat al-Baqīʿ in Madīnah. He was the teacher of the greatest Imams of Ahl as-Sunnah including Imām Abū Ḥanīfa and Imām Mālik, and the famous Muslim scientist Jābir Ibn Hayyān. He was the spiritual guide of the greatest Sufis like Bāyazīd al-Bastāmī and Imām Sufyān al-Thawrī. In fact, every Sufi order establishes its connection to him, specially he is the Imam of the Naqshbandī Sufi order.
His maternal grandfather was Imām Qāsim ibn Muḥammad ibn Abū-Bakr, from whom he also received spiritual connection to Sayyidunā Abū-Bakr. He also had spiritual Nisbat (reference or connection) to Imām ʿAlī ibn Abī-Ṭālib through his father. Thus he was the ultimate heir to both these spiritual dynasties.
He said “Abu Bakr has born me twice”, referring to the fact that he had spiritual as well as parental ancestry to him.
He said, “one who knows Allah withdraws from all else.”
He had five sons: (1) Ismāʿīl, (2) ʿAlī al-ʿArīḍī, (3) Muḥammad al-Māmūn, (4) Ishāq, (5) Mūsā al-Kāẓim.
Among his students were the greatest dignitaries of his time. The great Sufi shaykh Dāwūd Tāī also benefited from his company and advice. Imām Abū Ḥanīfa remained as his student for two years, and has said: “Nuʿmān would have been destroyed were it not for those two years (that saved him)”. Imām Mālik also benefited from him. The great scholar and Sufi Sufyān Thawrī has also narrated Ḥadīth from him.
7. Imām Mūsā Kāẓim (186, Iraq)
Imām Mūsā Kāẓim ʿalaihi as-salām was the seventh Imām. His kunya was Abul-Ḥasan and Abū-Ibrāhīm, and title was al-Kāzim. He was born at a place between Makkah and Madīah, on 9 Safar 128 AH. He passed away in Baghdād in 186 AH while imprisoned by the caliph Hārūn ar-Rashīd. His tomb lies in al-Kāzimiya masjid, Kāzimain, Baghdād (Iraq), and is a place of pilgrimage for Muslims.
8. Imām ʿAlī Riḍā (203, Iran)
Imām ʿAlī Riḍā ʿalaihi as-salām was the eighth Imām in the Golden Chain of twelve Imams. His kunya was Abu’l-Ḥasan and title was Riḍā. He was born in Madīnah on Thursday 11 Rabīʿ al-Awwal 153 AH, and died in 202 or 203 AH in Mashhad, Iran.
9. Imām Muhammad Taqī (220, Iraq)
Imām Muḥammad Taqī ʿalaihi as-salām was the ninth Imām in the Golden Chain of twelve Imams. His kunya was Abū-Jaʿfar and title was al-Taqī and al-Jawwād. He was born in Madinah in Rajab 195 AH, and died in Baghdād in 220 AH.
10. Imām Alī Naqī Hādī (254, Iraq)
The tenth Imam was Imām ʿAlī Hādī, also called ʿAlī Naqī. His kunya was Abul-Hasan, and was also called Hādī and ʿAskarī. He was born in Madīnah on 13 Rajab 214 AH, and died in 254 AH. He is buried in Iraq
11. Imām Ḥasan Askarī (260, Iraq)
The eleventh Imam was Imām Ḥasan ʿAskarī ʿalaihi as-salām. His first name was Ḥasan and his kunya was Abū-Muḥammad. His titles include Zakī and al-Khālis. He was born in 231 or 232 AH and died in 260 AH, and is buried in Iraq.
12. Imām Muḥammad ibn Ḥasan Askarī (Madinah)
The twelfth Imām was Imām Muḥammad bin Ḥasan. His kunya was Abul Qāsim. He was born in the month of Sha’ban 255/256 AH and died in Madīnah.
Ghawth al-Aʿzam Sayyid ʿAbd al-Qādir Jīlānī Baghdādī (Iraq)
During the times of the twelve Imāms, the divine inspiration (faiḍ) was distributed to the awliyā of the Ummah through them. Later, this divine duty was awarded to the greatest Ghawth, the highest saint, Sayyid ʿAbd al-Qādir Jīlānī, and this continues to this day. Until the time of the promised Imām Muḥammad al-Mahdī in the end of times, every saint of this Ummah receives sainthood through the intermediary of this great sun of sainthood.
أَفَلَت شُمُوسُ الْأَوَّلِينَ وَشَمْسُنَا
أَبَدًا عَلَى أُفُقِ العُلَىٰ لَا تَغْرُبُ
“The suns of the earlier ones are set, but our sun will remain on the high skies without setting.”
Shaikh Aḥmad Sirhindī explains the above verse as follows:
“By sun is meant the sun of the flux of guidance and instruction, and by setting is meant the absence of the mentioned flux. And since the matter that belonged to the earlier excellencies, was entrusted to his excellency the Shaikh and he became the medium of arrival of instruction and guidance, as were the excellencies before him, and also that until the matter of mediation exists, it is by his mediation, thus it must be correct that ‘the suns of the earlier ones have set…’.”
Then he writes:
“We say that the Mujaddid of the second millennium (himself) is vicarious to his excellency the Shaikh in this station, and this matter is delegated to him by the Shaikh himself. As it is said: ‘The light of the moon comes from the light of the sun’.” [5, vol 3, letter 123]
 Al-Aʿimmat al-Ithnā ʿAshr (Arabic), by Shams ad-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Tauloon al-Hanafī (d.953H), published from Beirut, 1958.
 Bārā Imām (Urdu). Fifth volume of the book Ḥasab wa Nasab, by Muftī Ghulām Rasūl Jamāʿtī Naqshbandī. Zaviya Publishers, Lahore, 2014.
 Shawāhid an-Nubuwwat (Farsi), by Mawlānā ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān Jāmī Naqshbandī
 Sunan Ibn Mājah (Arabic), by Imām Muḥammad ibn Yazīd Ibn Mājah al-Qazwīnī.
 Maktūbāt Imām Rabbānī (Farsi), by Shaikh Aḥmad Sirhindī
 Ruʿbāyāt-i Naqshband (Urdu), (collected verses of Shāh Naqshband), by Muḥammad Ṣādiq Quṣūrī, Al-Madīnah Publications, Lahore, June 1997.