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Amir al-Mu'minin

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This article is about a religious title. For Imam 'Ali (a), see Imam 'Ali (a).
'Ali b. Abi Talib
1st Shi'a Imam
Amir al-Mu'minin
Imam Ali (a)-2.jpg
Born (599-10-11)11 October 599 CE
(Rajab 13, 23 BH)
Birthplace Mecca, Arabia
Beginning of Imamate From Safar 28, 11/May 28, 632
Duration of Imamate 29 years
Reign 656 – 661
Martyrdom 31 January 661(661-01-31) (aged 61)
(Ramadan 21, 40 AH)
Deathplace Kufa, Iraq
Place of Burial Najaf, Iraq, 31°59′45″N 44°18′52.7″E / 31.99583°N 44.314639°E / 31.99583; 44.314639
Successor Al-Hasan (a)
(As the Second Shia Imam and Caliph, and As the Fifth of Rashidun Caliphate)
Father Abu Talib b. 'Abd al-Muttalib
Mother Fatima bt. Asad
Brother(s) Ja'far, 'Aqil, Talib
Spouse(s) Fatima, Umama, Umm al-Banin, Layla, Asma', Sahba', Khawla
Son(s) Al-Hasan, al-Husayn, Muhsin, 'Abbas, 'Abd Allah, Ja'far, 'Uthman, 'Ubayd Allah, Abu Bakr, Muhammad, 'Umar, ...
Daughter(s) Zaynab, Umm Kulthum, Ruqayya, ...
Descendants Sayyid, 'Alawi

Amir al-Mu'minin (ruler of believers) Bab Madinat al-Ilm (door to the city of knowledge")
Abu Turab (father of the soil)
Murtada (one who is chosen and contented)
Asad Allah (lion of god)

Haydar (lion)
The Twelve Imams
'Ali, al-Hasan, al-Husayn, al-Sajjad, al-Baqir, al-Sadiq, al-Kazim, al-Rida, al-Taqi, al-Hadi, al-'Askari, al-Mahdi

ʾAmīr al-Muʾminīn (Arabic: أمیرالمؤمنین) literally means the ruler or governor of Muslim believers. It is a title that Shiites take to be specific to Imam 'Ali (a). According to hadiths, the title was used for 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a) at the time of the Prophet (s). Shiites maintain that it is not permissible to use this title for Rashidun Caliphs and others. What is more, they even hold that it is not permissible to use the title for other Twelve Imams (a) either. The title has, however, been commonly used by other Muslims with a political and religious connotation. Sunni Muslims use "Amir al-Mu'minin" for all Rashidun Caliphs, Umayyad Caliphs and Abbasid Caliphs.

Literal Meaning

The word "Amir al-Mu'minin" literally means the ruler, governor or leader of Muslim believers.

On its literal meaning, the phrase applies to the Prophet (s), since he was the leader of all Muslims. With the same literal connotation, the word has been used for Rashidun Caliphs as well as Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphs. In Islamic sources the title was commonly used among Muslims with political and religious implications.

Historical Background

Shiites believe that the title was used for 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a) in the period of the Prophet (s) too, appealing to hadiths cited in Shiite and Sunni sources. For example, Ibn 'Asakir is quoted Abu Burayda al-Aslami as saying that

"the Prophet (s) ordered that we greet 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a) as Amir al-Mu'minin".

In another hadith, Abu Burayda is also quoted as saying that

"Abu Bakr came to the Prophet (s). The Prophet told him: 'Go and greet Amir al-Mu'minin.' Abu Bakr said: 'even now that you are still alive?' The Prophet (s) said: 'Yes.' Then 'Umar b. al-Khattab came and the Prophet (s) said the same to him."

However, Sunni Muslims believe that after the demise of the Prophet (s), 'Umar was the first Caliph who used the title of "Amir al-Mu'minin" for himself. Ibn Khaldun took 'Abd Allah b. Jahsh to be the first person who gave the title to 'Umar, but some others took 'Amr b. al-'As or Mughira b. Shu'ba to be the first people who gave the title to 'Umar. However, 'Abd Allah b. Jahsh died before the caliphate of 'Umar, and so he cannot be the one who gave the title to 'Umar.

For Shiites and Sunnis

In accordance with its literal meaning, Sunni Muslims have used the word "Amir al-Mu'minin" for all Rashidun, Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphs.

According to Shiite hadiths, however, "Amir al-Mu'minin" is considered as a privileged, specific title of Imam 'Ali (a). In these hadiths, the word has a particular meaning that implies an immediate succession or Khilafa of the Prophet (s), and such a position is specific to Imam 'Ali (a), since according to Shiites, he was the only one who truly deserved the position. According to some hadiths, even at the time of the Prophet (s), the title was used for 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a). The specification of the title to Imam 'Ali (a) can only be grounded in the idea that the title implies the immediate succession of the Prophet (s), that is, the idea that he should have been the ruler of Muslims immediately after the demise of the Prophet (s). This is perhaps why the Prophet (s) is quoted as saying that:

If people knew when 'Ali was given this title, they would not deny his virtues; he was given the title when Adam (a) was between the soul and the body, when God said: "Am I not your Lord?" And people said: "Yes". He said: "I am your Lord, Muhammad is your prophet, and 'Ali is your Amir."

However, Isma'ilyya Shiites use the title for Fatimi Caliphs and Zaydiyya Shiites use it for any 'Alawi Imam who established his imamate on the basis of war.