I'd like to know what the potential meaning(s) of this word "Imam"? Or are this ones described by Mustafa Khattab (in the *) possible and enough.

For example in the aya 17:71 we have:

˹Beware of˺ the Day We will summon every people with their leader. * So whoever will be given their record in their right hand will read it ˹happily˺ and will not be wronged ˹even by the width of˺ the thread of a date stone.

  • Other meanings include: with their record of deeds, or their prophet, or their scripture.


Edit: Its not a duplicate since the question its about the used Arabic manuscript and its potential meanings according to the Islamic perspective.

  • Possible duplicate of What is an Imam, is he simply the leader of the jamaat?
    – Sassir
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 8:17
  • The questions are clearly different even the answers.
    – AnteDeum
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 13:50
  • I edited to explained why it was not duplicate (since I had a request to do that).
    – AnteDeum
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 15:07
  • If you ask about the literal meaning of the word Imam then this question is off-topic as Arabic language in general is off-topic especially with the chosen tag and IMO this is well answered in the duplicate question. But If you ask about it in context of this verse then it is a question on tafseer in first place.as translations are interpretations so the translater has chosen an interpretation out of many in his translation.
    – Medi1Saif
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 9:57
  • I didn't know. But I updated the question for avoiding being classified as Off-Topic. Thanks.
    – AnteDeum
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 19:13

2 Answers 2


On the meaning of the word Iman in Arabic

The word Imam إمام (singular of 'A'immah أئمة) in Arabic is a noun that refers to

  • a leader, be it a religious leader or a political one,
  • be it a leader for a simple act or a general leader.
  • as leading also means giving guidance, a guide or anything (or anybody) that includes or is related to guidance could be referred to as Imam.
  • leading also may mean correcting or repairing things so anything that corrects may be referred to as Imam.
  • Also we refer to a reference or highest instance as Imam as it is giving the directions and orders.
    The corresponding verb is the verb amma أَمَّ.

On the occurrence of the word Imam in the Qur'an and the related interpretations

This word appears in the Qur'an in three verses in its singular form :

  • So We took retribution from them, and indeed, both [cities] are on a clear highway. (15:79)
    فَانْتَقَمْنَا مِنْهُمْ وَإِنَّهُمَا لَبِإِمَامٍ مُبِينٍ

Here most of the scholars interpreted "Imam" as a clear (guiding) path or highway.

  • Sahih International [Mention, O Muhammad], the Day We will call forth every people with their record [of deeds]. Then whoever is given his record in his right hand - those will read their records, and injustice will not be done to them, [even] as much as a thread [inside the date seed (17:71)
    يَوْمَ نَدْعُو كُلَّ أُنَاسٍ بِإِمَامِهِمْ

On this verse we find many interpretations some say that Imam here reefer's to record or book and take (36:12: "and all things We have enumerated in a clear register.") and (45:28) as an evidence for that this was the choice of ibn Kathir for example. While Qataadh and Mujahid said it refers to their Messenger or Prophet and take the verses (4:41), (10:47), (16:84) and (39:69) as evidences to support their claim.
And some scholars said Imam refers here to the book or scripture that was revealed to them and among those who chose this was ibn Jarir at-Tabari.
And some scholars said: this means that each of the people would be called forth with their Imams: this means for the believers their prophets() and for the disbelievers their tyrants and leaders they were following as Allah says: "And We made them leaders inviting to the Fire" (28:41)

My main source for the above is the tafsir of Sheikh Muhammad al-Ameen a-Shinqiti محمد الأمين الشنقيطي called Adwa' al-Bayan fi Eedahi al-Qur'an bil Qur'an أضواء البيان في إيضاح القرآن بالقرآن, which is a tafsir which tries to interpret Qur'an by Qur'an. Who considered the later opinion as the closest to truth.

So when Dr. Mustafa Khattab points at three possible meanings he is just pointing at the three (first) given interpretations. Note that guidance or leadership by a Prophet is not much different from that of a revealed book, as it is the duty of prophets to transmit the message (the revelation). And the interpretation that Imam here is equal to record, even if it sounds a bit far fetched, as their record is in first place a result of their deeds, but these deeds have been committed while or after they have got a guidance be it a good one or bad one. So IMO all these views can be brought together as on one hand every people had guidance by Allah trough his revelations and prophets or and on the other hand "misguidance" by the leaders of disbelief and based on their own strength of faith they have committed good or bad deeds which have been recorded and these deeds may later lead them either to jannah (paradise) or jahannam (hell).

  • ... and all things We have enumerated in a clear register.(36:12)
    وَكُلَّ شَيْءٍ أَحْصَيْنَاهُ فِي إِمَامٍ مُبِينٍ

Here most of the scholars say Imam refers to Umm al-Kitab the clear register. Which is a guiding or leading book as any other one is wrong!

The plural form 'A'immah أئمة is quoted in five verses in the Qur'an and always refers to leaders of both kinds good or guiding ones or bad or misguiding ones (these verses are: (9:12), (21:73), (28:5), (28:41) and (32:24)).


An imam is a Muslim religious leader. If you're curious about a mosque, go talk to the imam, the person who leads the prayers. ... The literal meaning of imam in Arabic is "one who proceeds," from amma, "to go before."

  • This is also a good answer. If I could I would choose them both as right.
    – AnteDeum
    Commented Mar 27, 2020 at 9:39

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