Amir al-mu'minln Ali (upon whom be peace) was the son of Abu Talib, the Shaykh of the Banu Hashim. Abu Talib was the uncle and guardian of the Holy Prophet (sawas) and the person who had brought the Prophet (sawas) to his house and raised him like his own son. After the Prophet (sawas) was chosen for his prophetic mission, Abu Talib continued to support him and repelled from him the evil that came from the infidels among the Arabs and especially the Quraysh.
According to well-known traditional accounts Ali was born ten years before the commencement of the prophetic mission of the Prophet (sawas). When six years old, as a result of famine in and around Mecca, he was requested by the Prophet (sawas) to leave his father's house and come to the house of his cousin, the Prophet (sawas). There he was placed directly under the guardianship and custody of the Holy Prophet (sawas).
Hasan ibn Ali al-Mujtaba
The Second Imam
Imam Hasan Mujtaba--upon whom be peace--was the second Imam. He and his brother Imam Husayn were the two sons of Amir al-mu'minin Ali and Hadrat Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet (sawas). Many times the Prophet (sawas) had said, "Hasan and Husayn are my children." Because of these same words Ali would say to his other children, "You are my children and Hasan and Husayn are the children of the Prophet (sawas)."
Imam Hasan was born in the year 3 A.H. in Medina and shared in the life of the Prophet (sawas) for somewhat over seven years, growing up during that time under his loving care. After the death of the Prophet (sawas) which was no more than three, or according to some, six months earlier than the death of Hadrat Fatimah, Hasan was placed directly under the care of his noble father. After the death of his father, through Divine Command and according to the will of his father, Imam Hasan became Imam; he also occupied the outward function of caliph for about six months, during which time he administered the affairs of the MuslimsHussein
ibn Ali al-Shaheed
The Third Imam
Imam Husayn (Sayyid al-Shuhada', "the lord among martyrs"), the second child of Ali and Fatimah, was born in the year 4 A.H. and after the martyrdom of his brother, Imam Hasan Mujtaba, became Imam through Divine Command and his brother's will.
Imam Husayn was Imam for a period of ten years, all but the last six months coinciding with the caliphate of Mu'awiyah. Imam Husayn lived under the most difficult outward conditions of suppression and persecution. This was due to the fact that, first of all, religious laws and regulations had lost much of their weight and credit, and the edicts of the Umayyad government had gained complete authority and power.
Ali ibn Husayn al-Zayn al-'Abedin
The Fourth Imam
Imam Sajjad (Ali ibn Husayn entitled Zayn al-'abedin and Sajjad) was the son of the third Imam and his wife, the queen among women, the daughter of Yazdigird the king of Persia. He was the only son of Imam Husayn to survive, for his other three brothers Ali Akbar, aged twenty-five, five year old Ja'far and Ali Asghar (or 'Abdallah) who was a suckling baby were martyred during the event of Kerbala.
The Imam had also accompanied his father on the journey that terminated fatally in Kerbala, but because of severe illness and the inability to carry arms or participate in fighting he was prevented from taking part in the holy war and being martyred.
Muhammad ibn Ali al-Baqir
The Fifth Imam
Imam Muhammad ibn Ali Baqir (the word Baqir meaning he who cuts and dissects, a title given to him by the Prophet (sawas)) was the son of the fourth Imam and was born in 67/675. He was present at the event of Kerbala when he was four years old. After his father, through Divine Command and the decree of those who went before him, he became Imam.
In the year 114/732 he died, according to some Shi'ite traditions poisoned by Ibrahim ibn Walid ibn 'Abdallah, the nephew of Hisham, the Umayyad caliph. During the Imamate of the fifth Imam, as a result of the injustice of the Umayyads, revolts and wars broke out in some corner of the Islamic world every day
Ja'far ibn Muhammad Al-Sadiq
The Sixth Imam
Imam Ja'far ibn Muhammad Al-Sadiq, the son of the fifth Imam, was born in 83/702. He died in 148/785 according to Shi'ite tradition, poisoned and martyred through the intrigue of the Abbasid caliph Mansur. After the death of his father he became Imam by Divine Command and decree of those who came before him.
During the Imamate of the sixth Imam greater possibilities and a more favourable climate existed for him to propagate religious teachings. This came about as a result of revolts in Islamic lands, especially the uprising of the Muswaddah to overthrow the Umayyad caliphate, and the bloody wars which finally led to the fall and extinction of the Umayyads.
Musa ibn Ja'far Kazim
The Seventh Imam
Imam Musa ibn Ja'far Kazim, the son of the sixth Imam, was born in 128/744 and was poisoned and martyred in prison in 183/799. He became Imam after the death of his father, through Divine Command and the decree of his forefathers.
The seventh Imam was a contemporary of the Abbasid caliphs, Mansur, Hadi, Mahdi and Harun. He lived in very difficult times and in hiding, until finally Harun went on the Hajj. In Medina, he had the Imam arrested while praying in the Mosque of the Prophet (sawas).
Ali ibn Musa al-Ridha
The Eight Imam
Imam Rida (Ali ibn Musa) was the son of the seventh Imam and according to well known accounts was born in 148/765 and died in 203/817.
The eighth Imam reached the Imamate, after the death of his father, through Divine Command and the decree of his forefathers. The period of his Imamate coincided with the caliphate of Harun and then his sons Amin and Ma'mun. After the death of his father, Ma'mun fell into conflict with his brother Amin which led to bloody wars and finally the assassination of Amin, after which Ma'mun became caliph. Until that day the policy of the Abbasid caliphate toward the Shi'ites had been increasingly harsh and cruel.
Muhammad ibn Ali Taqi
The Ninth Imam
Imam Muhammad (ibn Ali) Taqi (sometimes called Jawad and Ibn al-Rida) was the son of the eighth Imam. He was born in 196/809 in Medina and according to Shi'ite traditions was martyred in 220/835, poisoned by his wife, the daughter of Ma'mun, at the instigation of the Abbasid caliph Mu'tasim. He was buried next to his grandfather, the seventh Imam, in Kazimayn. He became Imam after the death of his father through Divine Command and by the decree of his forefathers.
At the time of the death of his father he was in Medina. Ma'mun called him to Baghdad which was then the capital of the caliphate and outwardly showed him much kindness.
Ali ibn Muhammad Naqi
The Tenth Imam
Imam Ali ibn Muhammad Naqi (sometimes referred to by the title of Hadi), was the son of the ninth Imam. He was born in 212/ 827 in Medina and according to Shi'ite accounts was martyred through poisoning by Mu'tazz the Abbasid caliph, in 254/868.
The tenth Imam was a contemporary of seven of the Abbasid caliphs: Ma'mun, Mu'tasim, Wathiq, Mutawakkil, Muntasir, Musta'm and Mu'tazz. It was during the rule of Mu'tasim in 220/835 that his noble father died through poisoning in Baghdad. At that time Ali ibn Muhammad Naqi was in Medina. There he became the Imam through Divine Command and the decree of the Imams before him. He stayed in Medina teaching religious sciences until the time of Mutawakkil
Hasan ibn Ali 'Askari
The Eleventh Imam
Imam Hasan ibn Ali 'Askari, the son of the tenth Imam, was born in 232/845 and according to some Shi'ite sources was poioned and killed in 260/872 through the instigation of the Abbasid caliph Mu'tamid. The eleventh Imam gained the Imamate, after the death of his noble father, through Divine Command and through the decree of the previous Imams.
During the seven years of his Imamate, due to untold restrictions placed upon him by the caliphate, he lived in hiding and dissimulation (taqiyah). He did not have any social contact with even the common people among the Shi'ite population. Only the elite of the Shi'ah were able to see him. Even so, he spent most of his time in prison.
Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Mahdi
The Twelfth Imam
The promised Mahdi, who is usually mentioned by his title of Imam-i 'Asr (the Imam of the "Period") and Sahib al-Zaman (the Lord of the Age), is the son of the eleventh Imam. His name is the same as that of the Holy Prophet (sawas). He was born in Samarrah in 256/868 and until 260/872 when his father was martyred, lived under his father's care and tutelage. He was hidden from public view and only a few of the elite among the Shi'ah were able to meet him. After the martyrdom of his father he became Imam and by Divine Command went into occultation (ghaybat). Thereafter he appeared only to his deputies (na'ib) and even then only in exceptional circumstances.
The Imam chose as a special deputy for a time Uthman ibn Sa'id 'Umari, one of the companions of his father and grandfather who was his confidant and trusted friend. Through his deputy the Imam would answer the demands and questions of the Shi'ah. After Uthman ibn Sa'id, his son Muhammad ibn Uthman Umari was appointed the deputy of the Imam. After the death of Muhammad ibn Uthman, Abu'l Qasim Husayn ibn Ruh Nawbakhti was the special deputy, and after his death Ali ibn Muhammad Simmari was chosen for this task.