Who are the Twelve Caliphs? (Shia View)


Unlike the Sunni view, the Twelver Shias are in complete agreement as to who the twelve caliphs are. Ironically, their agreement does not suggest any strength, but rather, implies a stubbornness that goes against logic.

The twelve caliphs according to Twelvers are: Ali, Al-Hasan, Al-Hussain, Ali bin Al-Hussain, Mohammad bin Ali, Ja’afar bin Mohammad, Musa bin Ja’afar, Ali bin Musa, Mohammad bin Ali, Ali bin Mohammad, Al-Hasan bin Ali, and Mohammad bin Al-Hasan Al-Askari, the awaited Mahdi.

There are plenty of problems with this view.

Firstly, out of the twelve men, only two were caliphs. Thus, the Twelvers have immediately gone against the apparent meaning of the Hadith to a metaphorical one from the get go.

Furthermore, even if for the sake of the argument, the narration was about twelve Imams and not twelve caliphs, we would run into another problem. The narration clearly states that Islam will stay in a state of glory until the passing of twelve caliphs. Yet, according to the Shia interpretation, Islam was not in a state of glory during the reigns of Ali or any of his children. They believe it was a time of tyranny and oppression to the extent that the Shiites were in constant hiding to escape the grip of the government and corrupt scholars.

In other words, the Sunni opinion fits in with the Hadith, which suggests that Islam will see glory days until the passing of twelve caliphs. While the Shias hold the view that Islam was disgraced during the reign of Ali, Al-Hasan, Al-Hussain, and then his children, and will continue to be in a state of disgrace until the rise of the 12th Imam. This interpretation totally contradicts the meaning of the Hadith.

However, if we were to discuss this matter with a Shi’ee today, we simply have to ask: Is Islam in a state of glory or disgrace?

If the answer is “disgrace”, then that contradicts the Hadith since it states that Islam will be in a state of glory until the passing of twelve caliphs.

If the answer is “glory”, then that contradicts the Shia view who believes that the world will be filled with injustice before the rise of Al-Mahdi. How can such a world be considered a glorious one?

Why do Shias have such a Hard Time Accepting the Sunni Position?

There are two answers to this question. The first is that Shias cannot stomach any possible praise for the shaikhain and the Umayyad caliphs like Mu’awiyah and Yazeed. However, this should not be an obstacle since the narration does not contain praise for any of these individuals, but rather, only speaks of the state of Islam as one of glory. The justness of a caliph would be a plus, but it is not necessary for a glorious empire and the piety of society.

The second reason to reject the Sunni opinion is because this narration is the only authentic Sunni narration that refers to twelve men in power. The number twelve is extremely significant to Twelvers and this narration, as discussed in the original article, is their ultimately proof against other Shia sects that differed in the number of Imams. If this evidence was deemed as worthless, the claim made by Twelvers would be on equal footing with other Imami sects like the Seveners or Niners.

However, clinging onto this Hadith is ultimately a lost cause in the light of what we have explained above.

…and Allah guides whomever He wills.

discussions Discuss this article at http://forum.twelvershia.net/imamah-ghaybah/who-are-the-12-caliphs/


  1. I cannot digest yazeed the cursed being a caliph. yazeed is human shaitan and shaitan can never rule over Muslims.

    • Yazeed ruling Muslims was a reality in the same was that the Pharaoh ruling the Jews was a reality. You don’t need to like it or digest it.

      Refer to this article: http://twelvershia.net/2015/05/13/who-are-the-twelve-caliphs-sunni-view/

  2. Thanks for replying. I appreciate your response. Your saying yazeed ruling Muslims was reality as pharaoh ruling Jews. If you could please clarify what you mean by this statement. If you say yazeed ruled Muslims is reality, I beg to differ as after Ameer Mauwiya’s death Abdullah ibn Zubayr (ra) became Caliph and he was more entitled to be a ruler over Muslims than yazeed. And if you mean yazeed ruling over Muslims was like Pharaoh ruling over Jews then I would say a Caliph must a Believer (unlike Pharaoh who claimed to be lord) and he must not treat his subjects as slaves. Yazeed was illegitimate ruler. It is more appropriate to say that Abdullah ibn Zubayr (ra) was ruler of Muslims after Ameer Muawiya who was killed by power-hungry infidels.

    • It was a reality that the Pharaoh ruled Egypt, that Yazeed ruled the Islamic Empire, and that Obama rules the United States. You don’t have to like their rule. You don’t have to accept their rule as legitimate. However, these are realities that you just have to accept.

      The narration makes no mention of the legitimacy of one’s rule, the piousness of the rulers, or any conditions about their characters. It simply states that there will be twelve caliphs.

      Please refer to the link that I have directed you to previously.

      • So basically you are saying (correct me if I am wrong) that in these particular hadiths (12 Caliphs/Amees, etc) Prophet Mohammed (s.a.w) was saying that Islam will have glory until 12 Caliphs have passed away?

        If this is so, then I don’t understand what is being said. Does it mean after 12 Caliphs have passed away Islam would lose its glory or this matter (i.e, Islam) will end??? I believe these hadiths to be true but I disagree with your interpretation of these Hadiths. By the Grace of ALLAH (SWT) Islam will always be in the State of Glory. If Islam would had lose its Glory (GOD-Forbid) then Human Beings would lose all Hope for Salvation.

        As everyone can see that after passing of Hadhrat Umar ibn Abdul-Aziz (ra) Islam has never lost its Glory and has spread far and wide and is one of the fastest growing Religion in the World which has put enemies of Islam terrified. As for the deviance which you mentioned is a fact but no matter how much deviance exists as long as We adhere to Prophet’s (s.a.w) Sunnah and be with his Companions (r.a) we are guided as per the popular Hadith (i.e. from 73 sects only one sect attaching itself to Companions is saved). And Majority of Muslims (Ahl-e-Sunnah wal Jamaah) no matter which Fiqh they come within the definition of the one sect which would be saved.

        • Our disagreement is a linguistic one it seems.

          I am not talking about Islam itself, but the state of the Muslims. When the Muslims were getting attacked in Makkah, they were not in a state of glory. When they were being ruled by Mongols, they were not in a state of glory. Shias believe that their Imam is hidden out of fear. This is also not a state of glory.

          Inshallah this makes it clear.

  3. Thanks for your reply. I think you are mixing two things. The hadiths mentioning about 12 Caliphs is referring to Islam the religion and not the state of Muslims.

    I apologize if it seems like I am arguing your every point but I feel interpreting hadiths of 12 Caliphs should be avoided as this is matter of Ghaib and we should accept the hadith the way it is without guessing who the 12 Caliphs are. If the Prophet (s.a.w) had deemed it important for the 12 Caliphs to be known he (s.a.w) would had told their names also.

    As for the State of Muslims being not in glory then I say the Worst State of Muslims was the death of Hadhrat Uthman bin Affan (ra) the Third Caliph who was Matryed which caused the Beginning of Great Fitnas (emergence of ibn Saba the accursed, Wars of Muslims between themselves such as Jamal, Siffen, Karbala and the emergence of Kharjities). After this second worst state of Muslims came during the rule of Hadhrat Abdullah ibn Zubayr (ra) when Holy Kaaba was attacked and Caliph of Muslims Hadhrat Abdullah ibn Zubayr matryed.

    Muslims facing worst times does not mean Islam lost its glory. If I would go by your interpretation then Three Caliphs were martyred (Hadhrat Uthman, Hadhrat Ali and Hadhrat Abdullah ibn Zubayr) during their period of Caliphate and yet Islam was in the State of Glory? I believe these times to be worst times faced by the Muslims as they were so weak that they were not even able to save the lives of their Leaders.

    I believe Islam being glorious to be different from Muslims facing worst times. In my view Islam losing its glory would no one on the face of earth following Islam and Islam becoming dead reilgion (GOD Forbid). As one can see Islam is Living Religion and its followers are increasing day by day and this is the sign of its Glory.

    • Politics aside, even as a religious condition, Islam and its role in people’s lives and its purity during the rule of the first couple of rulers was much better than those that came after them. I refer you to the narration which states: “The best of generations is mine, then those after them, then those after them…” They are “best” in their faith and its purity and sincerity, the more time passes the more innovations appear and the weaker it becomes in people’s hearts until they become like the foam on the surface of the sea. In other words, Islam will be strongest when it is strong in people’s hearts and this is what makes it in a state of glory. I add, the narration doesn’t state that Islam will never be glorious ever again after the 12, it can attain an ephemeral state of glory at certain times in certain parts of the world but never as before.

  4. True. The best generation of Muslim Ummah will always be the time period of Sahabas (ra) after them Tabi’een and after them Taba Tabi’een. Muslim Ummah can never experience that time period ever again.

    But what I am trying to say is Islam will always be glorious no matter what the time period be. If this wouldn’t had been the case then there would be no follower of Islam in today’s world as one can see the forces of kuffar are working day and night through media propoganda and by murdering innocent Muslims all over the world to somehow exterminate Islam but are always getting disappointed as their efforts become futile. No matter what they do Islam is getting stronger day by day and number of Muslims are increasing. I don’t think Muslims living nowadays have weak Islam in their hearts. If this was the case then one would see millions of Muslims renouncing Islam for fear of them being killed because of their religion. But by the Grace of ALLAH (SWT) this isn’t happening as many Muslims in many part of the world living under the kuffar rule are preferring death over apostasy. Islam is strongest in their hearts.
    Muslims would also experience a time in which they would become invincible and that is the time when Hadhrat Messiah Isa ibn Maryam (a.s) would descend and would destroy all forces of evil. At that time Muslims would live as very powerful nation on earth.
    I believe to accept the hadith as it is without going into details as to identify who the 12 Caliphs or Ameers of Qurayshi descent are. If identifying them was necessary then Prophet (s.a.w) would had surely mentioned their names. However, I do believe Hadhrat Abu Bakr (ra), Hadhrat Umar (ra), Hadhrat Uthman (ra), Hadhrat Ali (ra), Ameer Mauwiya (ra), Hadhrat Abdullah ibn Zubayr (ra) and Hadhrat Umar bin Abdul Aziz to be among above mentioned 12 Caliphs. About remaining 5 Caliphs I say ALLAHU ALAM. I don’t know who they are nor am I interested in finding their identities as it would not have any effect on my Imaan neither would I be questioned on the Day of Judgement regarding their identification.

    • Hazrat muawiah R.A isn’t a righteous caliph because he formed his empire with force not like the other caliphs who were appointed by shura. Correct sequence would be. 1) abu bakr R.A 2) umar R.A 3) usman R.A 4) Ali R.A 5)hassan R.A 6)abdullah ibne zubair R.A 7) omar bin abdul aziz R.A 8)ibne hajar al asqalani and there is an argument about 9th and 10 in my opinion 9th was harun al rashid. And i have no idea about the 10th.

  5. Brother kashif,

    You dont seem to understand what he is saying, being in state of shame does not mean ISLAM ITSELF WILL BE IN SHAME but how powerful Muslims are, ok , let me ask you, do you think Muslims are in glory the way we are persecuted wherever we go? We are called things like terrorists, rapists and so on, yet we cant do anything about this, are we in days of glory or in disgrace?

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