Arabic: اثنا عشرية, Athnā‘ashariyyah or Ithnā‘ashariyyah;
Persian: شیعه دوازده امامی, pronounced
[ʃiːʔe-je dævɑzdæh emɑmiː]) or Imamiyyah (
Arabic: إمامية) is the largest branch of
Islam. The term Twelver refers to its adherents' belief in twelve divinely ordained leaders, known as
the Twelve Imams, and their belief that the last Imam,
Muhammad al-Mahdi, lives in
occultation and will reappear as the promised
Mahdi. According to Shia tradition, the Mahdi's tenure will coincide with the
Second Coming of Jesus Christ (Isa), who is to assist the Mahdi against the
Masih ad-Dajjal (literally, the "false Messiah" or Antichrist).
Twelvers believe that the Twelve Imams are the spiritual and political
successors to the
Muhammad. According to the
theology of Twelvers, the Twelve Imams are exemplary human individuals who not only rule over the community with justice, but are also able to preserve and interpret
sharia and the
esoteric meaning of the Quran. The words and deeds (
Sunnah) of Muhammad and the Imams are a guide and model for the community to follow; as a result, Muhammad and the Imams must be free from error and sin, a doctrine known as
Ismah or infallibility, and must be chosen by divine decree, or
nass, through Muhammad.
The largest branch of Shia Islam is the Twelver Shia, with about 85% of all Shias that can be estimated approximately between 148 and 296 million Twelver Shias.
Twelvers make majorities among Muslims in
Lebanon. Also, they make significant minorities in
Iran is the only country with state religion as (Twelver)
Twelvers share many tenets of Shia with related sects, such as the belief in
Imams, but the
Ismaili Shias believe in a different number of Imams and, for the most part, a different path of succession regarding the
Imamate. They also differ in the role and overall definition of an Imam. Twelvers are also distinguished from Ismailis by their belief in Muhammad's status as the "Seal of the Prophets" (
Khatam an-Nabiyyin), in rejecting the possibility of
abrogation of Sharia laws, and in considering both esoteric and exoteric aspects of the Quran.
Syria share belief in the Twelve Imams with Twelvers, but their theological doctrines are remarkably different.