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The Shia Imam is considered by the Shia sect of Islam to be the rightful successor to Muhammad, and is similar to the Caliph in Sunni Islam. Unlike the Caliph, the Imam must be descended from Muhammad, through his daughter Fatima Zahra and her husband Ali. This belief is what led to the split between the Shia and Sunni, as the Shia felt that Ali was the rightful successor of Muhammad (which Shias believe is indicated by his actions at Ghadir Khom), while the Sunni felt that it was Abu Bakr.
Within Shiism there are various sects that differ over the number of Imams, or path of succession. The issue of who is the rightful Imam has led to the growth of numerous sects within Shiism including: Twelvers (with Shaykhis ), Ismailis (Seveners), Zaidis (Fivers), Alawites, Alevites, Druze, Ahl-e Haqq and others.
According to the majority of Shia, or the Twelvers, the following is a listing of the rightful successors of Muhammad according to their beliefs. Each Imam was the son of the previous Imam, except for Husayn who was the brother of Hasan.
- Ali ibn Abu Talib (600 - 661)
- Hasan ibn Ali (625 - 669)
- Husayn ibn Ali (626 - 680)
- Ali ibn Husayn (658 - 713), also known as Zainul Abideen
- Muhammad al Baqir (676 - 743)
- Jafar as Sadiq (703 - 765)
- Musa al Kazim (745 - 799)
- Ali ar Rida (765 - 818)
- Muhammad at Taqi (810 - 835)
- Ali al Hadi (827 - 868)
- Hasan al Askari (846 - 874)
- Muhammad al Mahdi (868 - ?)
The Ismailis believe that the first six Imams listed above are the rightful successors of Muhammad, but differ beginning with the seventh, believing that Ismail bin Jafar was the rightful successor, and not his brother Musa al Kazim. From Ismail bin Jafar, the Ismaili line of Imams diverges to the descendents of Ismail, from whom the Aga Khans claim descent and their continuity. See .
The Zaidis believe that the first four Imams listed above are the rightful successors of Muhammad, but differ beginning with the fifth. The Zaidis believe that Zayd bin Ali, and not his brother Muhammad al Baqir was the rightful successor to the Imamate. The Imamate for Zaidis is thus transferred from Zayd bin Ali to the other Imams who followed him, they often took the title of caliph. Unusually, the Zaidi caliphate was not hereditary, although the caliph has to be descended from Ali.
Important:: Not All Zaidis believe that Zaid is the true Imam. Zaidis known as Wastis believes in Twelwer Imams. They are part of Shia Ithna Ashiri. Most of them settled in India, Pakistan. The biggest group of Zaidis having their belive on Twelve Shia Imams is known as Saadat-e-Bahra. Saadat means descendents of Imam Husayn bin Ali and Bahra means twelve in Hindi and Urdu Languages.
Saadat-e-Bahra's biggest gathering is in Karachi (Pakistan) and Muzaffarnagar (India).
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