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Mawla and Imam

imam ali (a.s)

The Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in his famous sermon on the occasion of Al-Ghadir Khumm used the word Mawla not Imam in his reference to Ali bin Abi Talib as his successor. In the present writing, attempts have been made to discuss the two words of ‘Imam’ and ‘Mawla’ to see what they mean and what their differences are.

The common title which we use for the successors of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is ‘Imam’. For instance, we say Imam Hassan (A.S), Imam Sajjad (A.S), Imam Hadi (A.S) and Imam Mahdi and we are less likely to use other titles for these holy figures such as ‘Mawla’, ‘Wali of Allah’, 'Hojjat of Allah’ on earth, Prophet Muhammad's successor, offspring, or the owner of divine authority.

On the other hand, we’ve heard that the holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself appointed Imam Ali (A.S) as ‘Mawla’ and he didn’t say: “For whosoever I am Imam, Ali is his Imam.” Therefore, it is pertinent to think about the meaning of the word ‘Imam’ and compare it with that of the word ‘Mawla’.

Imam means a leader who leads others and people follow him. In the Qur’an, the words ‘Imam’ and ‘Imams’ have been repeated ten times. For example, the title of Imamate was awarded to Abraham (PBUH) by God after he cleared all difficult divine tests and proved his honesty in submission to the Will of God. The Qur’an also points out to other holy prophets who were divine Imams and mentions some of the righteous servants’ prayers who beseeched God to appoint them as Imam of God-Fearing ones. Even the Moses’ Book is Imam. Moreover, the Qur’an also mentions that even the pagans have Imams who lead them toward fire and hell.

The word ‘Mawla’ in Arabic language is derived from the same word as the word “Authority” and it also refers to friendship as well. According to the Qur’an, God is believers’ ‘Mawla’ and He is the best ‘Mawla’, which implies both the meanings; that is, believers love God and follow Him as well. Hence, Imam Ali is the leader who is loved and followed by his followers.

Translated by: Sadroddin Musawi


Other links:

Prophetic Texts Relating to Imamate of Imam Ali (A. S)

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