Glossary: imam

In general use, means the leader of congregational prayers, implying no ordination or special spiritual powers beyond sufficient education to carry out this function. The word is also used figuratively by many Sunni Muslims to mean the leader of the Islamic community. Among Shia Muslims, it indicates the particular descendant of the House of Ali who is believed to have been Gods designated repository of the spiritual authority inherent in that line. The identity of this individual and the means of ascertaining his identity have been the major issues causing divisions among the Shias (q.v.).

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