The New International Encyclopædia/Imam
IMAM, ḗ-mäm' (Ar. ’imām, leader, from ’amma, to lead, set an example). The appellation given in general to teachers among the Mohammedans, as leaders whose example is to be followed. It is commonly employed to designate any of the persons belonging to the Mohammedan ulema (q.v.) or ‘learned’ body. They are distinguished from the laity by a turban somewhat higher than usual, and are held in great reverence by the people. Besides this general use, there are also certain specific applications of the term. Among the Shiites (i.e. the followers of Ali) the term imam is applied to the twelve legitimate successors of Ali. Among the orthodox Mohammedans the imam is properly the caliph, or leader of the entire body of Mohammedans, but the name is also extended to any authority whose views on theology and law are followed. In the course of time every Mohammedan community came to have its imam, whose chief function it was to lead the congregation in prayer. He takes his stand in front of the group of worshipers, who take up a position behind him arranged in fixed rows and imitate the genuflections and attitudes assumed by the leader in the course of the prescribed prayers.