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Bibi Heybat Mosque in Baku, Azerbaijan. Fatima al-Sughra well-known as Bibi Heybat is one of the daughters of Imam al-Kazim (a) who migrated to modern day Azerbaijan due to the pressures by Abbassid caliphs.

Imāmzāda (Persian: اِمامزاده) is a term used by Iranian Shi'as to refer to the children or the progeny of the children of the Imams (a). The term is sometimes used to refer to their mausoleums or burial places. The term has been used in this way since the 6th/12th century or even before that, but it was commonly used since the 9th/15th century. There are accounts of the construction of mausoleums over the Imamzadas' graves since the 1st/7th century, and there are some hadiths according to which a person who builds such mausoleums will be rewarded by God. Some Imamzadas are globally known while some others are only known locally. There are mausoleums for Imamzadas both in Iran and in other Islamic countries. The mausoleums in which Imamzadas are buried have been very influential in popular culture such that some cities or villages are named after the Imamzadas.

The Notion

The term, "Imamzada", refers to the child or progeny of one of the Twelve Imams (a). According to Dehkhoda, an immediate child of an Imam or a person whose lineage goes back to an Imam with few ancestors in between is called "Imamzada". According to him, in popular culture, the grave or burial place of an Imamzada is also referred to as "Imamzada". Some people believe that the term originally means the person who is buried in the place, and thus, the latter use is a metaphorical usage in which a word literally denotes a person, but is intended to refer to the place in which that person is located.

Sometimes, the building of the Imamzada's mausoleum is called "Astana", "Maqam", "Maqbara", "Buq'a", "Marqad", and "Mashhad".

The Origins of the Term

There is no decisive information about exactly when the word, "Imamzada", was first used in the Shiite culture. However, since the word was used by al-Qazwini in his al-Naqd it can be said that the term was common in the 6th/12th century and perhaps before that, because the book points to a proverb in which the term, "Imamzada", is used which is evidence that the term was commonly used at least in that period.

The word was also used in early centuries, though in a different meaning. It was sometimes used as a proper name, such as Imamzada Rukn al-Din. Hamd Allah Mustawfi who lived in the 8th/14th century has frequently used the word, "Imamzada", in his Nuzhat al-qulub to refer to the children of the Imams (a). Since the 9th/15th century, the word frequently occurs in different books to mean the children and the progeny of the Imams (a). In the 10th/16th century, which is coincident with the Safavid period, the term became very popular.

Distant Imamzada

The phrase, "Imamzada", is a combination of "Imam" and "zada" (born), which literally means a person who is born from an Imam. Thus, it might imply that a person counts as Imamzada only if they are immediately born from Imams. However, in the popular culture, "Imamzada" is also used to refer to distant progeny of Imams, even when there are many generations in between. This is compatible with religious teachings as well, because all the Twelve Imams (a) are referred to as "Ibn Rasul Allah" (the Son of the Messenger of Allah, that is, the son of the Prophet (s)). According to a hadith, Imam Musa al-Kazim (a) defended the application of such a title to Imams in a debate with Harun al-Rashid.

In another case, grandchildren and great grandchildren of Imam al-Rida (a) are called "Ibn al-Rida" (the son of al-Rida). For example, Imam al-Jawad (a), Imam al-Hadi (a), and Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a) are referred to as sons of Imam al-Rida (a) while the latter two are, respectively, the grandson and the great grandson of Imam al-Rida (a). Thus, it seems natural to use the word, "Imamzada", to refer to rather distant progeny of Imams (a).

Construction and Renovation of Mausoleums

In the Shiite culture, it is of high significance to construct and reconstruct the mausoleums of Imamzadas. Since very old times, there have been many mausoleums in different areas, especially in Iran, attributed to Imamzadas. They are honored by people of these areas. They bury their deceased relatives and loved ones near such mausoleums in order for the deceased to enjoy the spiritual blessings of the Imamzada. Most of these cemeteries were built after the constructions of Imamzadas because of their sanctity.

Divine Reward for the Construction or Reconstruction

In collections and sources of hadiths, there are some hadiths concerning the significance of the mausoleums of Imamzadas and divine rewards for their construction or renovation. For example, according to a hadith from the Prophet Muhammad (a): "O 'Ali (a)! God has made your grave and your progeny's graves houses and squares of the Heaven".

According to another hadith, "O 'Ali! If a person visits me or my progeny, I will visit them on the Day of Resurrection and protect them against the horrors of the Resurrection." He added: "a person who reconstructs your graves is like someone who has helped Sulayman b. Dawud (Solomon) in the construction of the Jerusalem".

The History of Constructing Mausoleums

The first reports about the construction of mausoleums over graves trace it back to the period of the Prophet (s). Thus, Abu Jandal b. Suhayl from the clan of Banu 'Amir b. Lu'ayy built a mosque over the grave of Abu Basir 'Utba b. Asid al-Thaqafi (born before 8/629), and the Prophet (s) was aware of this and did not prohibit him from doing so.

When the Prophet (s) passed away and was buried in his own house, the construction and reconstruction of his burial place was seriously undertaken by the Muslims and the Caliphs since the very early years. 'Umar b. al-Khattab (reign: 13/634-23/644) constructed a wall over the Prophet's (s) burial place.

However, the construction of mausoleums over the graves of Imamzadas dates back to the 2nd/8th century. There is a hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari according to which Fatima bt. al-Husayn (a), the wife of al-Hasan al-Muthanna, builds a mausoleum over her husband's grave.

In his Tarikh Qom, al-Qummi reports about a mausoleum over Fatima al-Ma'suma (a)'s burial place before the 4th/10th century. According to al-Qummi, the first mausoleum over her burial place was constructed by Zaynab bt. al-Jawad (a) who lived in the 3rd/9th century.

According to al-Hakim al-Nishaburi, when Imam al-Rida (a) travelled to Iran, Imamzada Mahruq had a mausoleum over his resting place, and the Imam (a) visited his mausoleum. And even if the mausoleum did not exist in the period of Imam al-Rida (a), at least it was there when al-Hakim al-Nishaburi wrote his book, that is, early in the 5th/11th century.

According to the book, al-Naqd, there were mausoleums attributed to Imamzadas in many areas of Iran in the 6th/12th century, which were honored and respected by people. According to al-Qazwini, the author of al-Nad, even Sunni Muslims visited such places. Here are the mausoleums referred to by al-Qazwini:

  • In Qom, the mausoleum of Fatima al-Ma'suma (a).

Al-Mustawfi points to the mausoleum of Imamzada Hasan in Tehran, Imamzada Ishaq b. Musa b. Ja'far (a) in Saveh, Imamzada Husayn in Qazvin, Imamzada Ahmad b. Musa and Imamzada Muhammad b. Musa in Shiraz, and Imamzada Isma'il b. Musa al-Kazim (a) in Main.

Rankings of Imamzadas

The Imamzadas are classified in accordance with the reliability or authenticity of their identity and burial places into five categories:

  • The second category: the lineage and the resting place are both known and there are hadiths from the Imams (a) recommending the Shi'as to visit their graves, but no specific Ziyaratnama is transmitted for them, such as 'Abd al-'Azim al-Hasani (a).
  • The fourth category: the Imamzadas whose lineage is known, but there is no certainty about their burial place. One such example is 'Ali b. Ja'far (a prominent muhaddith). There are three burial places attributed to him and it is not known which one is more accurate: the village, 'Arid, in Medina, Qom, and Semnan.
  • The fifth category: the mausoleums which are known by people as "Imamzadas" with certain names, but there is no information, or even speculation, about the person buried in those places. Such places are unknown mausoleums.

Well-Known Imamzadas

Imamzadas can also be categorized with respect to how well-known they are. A few of them are globally known, and some of them are known throughout the country, and some of them are only known within a province.

Globally Known Imamzadas

Sayyida Nafisa in Cairo, Egypt. She is a granddaughter of Imam al-Hasan b. 'Ali al-Mujtaba (a) who married Ishaq al-Mu'tamin, son of Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (a) and migrated to Egypt with her husband.

Globally known Imamzadas include: 'Abbas b. 'Ali (a), Zaynab (a), Fatima al-Ma'suma (a), Ruqayya (a), 'Abd al-'Azim al-Hasani, Ahmad b. Musa (a), known as Shahchiragh, Sayyid Muhammad, and Sayyida Nafisa. These are the Imamzadas with independent mausoleums. There are other globally known Imamzadas who do not have an independent mausoleum or no mausoleums at all, such as 'Ali al-Akbar (a), 'Ali al-Asghar (a), Muhammad b. Hanafiyya, Umm Kulthum, Sukayna bt. al-Imam al-Husayn (a), and Hakima bt. Imam al-Jawad (a).

Locally Known Imamzadas

Some Imamzadas are not globally known, but they are well-known in the country or the city in which they were buried. It is not possible to mention all of them.

Some Imamzadas are well-known in Iran. Most of the wardens of their mausoleums take the Imamzada in question to be an immediate child of the Imam (a). Thus, different mausoleums have sometimes been attributed to one and the same Imamzada, while only one of them is the real child of the Imam (a). In many cases, the generations between the Imamzada and the Imam (a) are not mentioned for the sake of brevity. Today, there are many Imamzadas who are introduced as immediate children of Imam Musa al-Kazim (a), while the Imam (a) did not have so many children. They are grandchildren, great grandchildren, and the progeny of the Imam (a). However, since the ancestors between them and the Imam (a) are not mentioned, it led to the thought that they were immediate children of the Imam (a). Two such examples are Imamzada Hamza b. Musa b. Ja'far (a) and Ishaq b. Musa b. Ja'far (a).

Other Imamzadas

There are many mausoleums throughout Iran which are attributed to Imamzadas. The distribution of such mausoleums in different areas of Iran is not equal. There are many Imamzadas in areas which were safer to live, such as the mountains of Rey, Tabaristan, and central regions.

Statistics of Imamzadas in Iran

According to a statistic by the Endowment Organization in the Pahlavi period, which was published in Kayhan newspaper in 1352Sh/1973, there were 1059 Imamzadas throughout Iran. The province with the greatest number of Imamzadas was Markazi province, and the only province without any reports about its Imamzadas was Sistan and Baluchestan.

However, after the Islamic Revolution of Iran, a greater number was reported in accordance with new field researches. The Institute for the Encyclopedia of the Blessed Mausoleums (Mu'assisa Da'irat al-Ma'arif-i Biqa'-i Mutabarrika) claimed that it has so far identified 8186 mausoleums throughout Iran. Of these, 1069 mausoleums are the ones in which Imamzadas and prophets are allegedly buried; 1483 mausoleums are both pilgrimage and tourist destinations because they are located in certain geographical locations with natural and historical attractions, and about 500 mausoleums are located on the main roads and highways of the country.

Why Are There So Many Imamzadas in Iran?

Different factors have been mentioned for why there are many Imamzadas in Iran. The most fundamental factors are said to be the two following:

  • The love of Iranians for the household of the Prophet (s) led them to respect and honor the progeny of the Imams (a). Thus, the Imamzadas found Iran a safe place. As a result of the unjust treatments of Umayyad and Abbasid rulers, a group of sadat, who attended uprisings against the governments, started their uprisings in Iran.
  • The migration of Imam al-Rida (a) to Iran: after Imam al-Rida's (a) travel to Iran and his acceptance of the position of the successor of al-Ma'mun, the progeny of the Imams (a) and the Shi'as felt safe. They tried to go to Iran in order to join Imam al-Rida (a) and to have a safer home. One such example is the travel of Fatima al-Ma'suma (a) and her companions to Iran in 201/816.

The Influence of the Imamzadas on the Iranian Popular Culture

The Imamzadas were so influential that some cities or parts of cities are named after the Imamzadas who are buried there, for example, Torbat-e Heydarieh, Astaneh-ye Ashrafiyeh in Gilan, Astaneh near Arak, and Shahreza. Moreover, there are many villages which are named after Imamzadas buried there, such as Emamzadeh Bazm, Ziarat, and Imamzada Khadija (near Qom).


There are many proverbs in Farsi in which the word, "Imamzada", occurs.


  • The material for this article is mainly taken from امامزاده in Farsi WikiShia.