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As is known, the term "Imam" can mean very different things, depending on the context. It can refer to the leader of a prayer, the selected leader of a masjid or religious community, or even just a general term of respect for particular Islamic scholars. And under Shi'ite Imamah, it also refers to the divinely appointed leader of the Islamic state. And questions that relate strongly to any one such interpretation have little to no actual overlap with the others.

According to the tag wiki for ,

The Imam is the religious leader of the community/mosque.

This is clearly in line with the general Sunni sense of the term. However, the earliest questions which still use this tag are using it in the Shi'ite sense. And by cursory examination, its usage seems to be roughly split half and half between the Sunni and Shi'ite usage.

From the perspective of providing useful categorization of topics, this tag has clearly failed.

For the general Sunni usage as per the existing tag wiki, I would suggest creating and using instead a more specific tag, namely (see Wikipedia: Imam Khatib).

For the leader of the prayer, the existing is probably sufficient. There are many cases where and would refer to the same person, but seems to be valuable on its own, and not unique to either Shi'ites or Sunnis.

For the Shi'ite-exclusive use of the term, either re-tagging it to or creating a new seem to be the most feasible options (I lack domain expertise to know how viable either of those actually are, or especially whether there would be a far better option, feedback is welcome).

However, this would not actually prevent the confusion of the existing ; leaving the extant tag around will inevitably result in people just using it as they have been, based on their own understanding of what the term "Imam" entails. Even if synonyming it to any of the alternatives would prevent future users from misusing it, given how strongly and popularly the term maps to very different things it would be more trouble than its worth to decide (and enforce) which alternative actually "deserves" the synonym.

As such, I feel that removing the tag entirely is in the site's best interest. Every question tagged (current and future) needs to be actively re-tagged according to the actual usage of the term.

tl;dr

"Imam" is confusing. Please use a more precise tag based on what you actually mean:

  • : The selected/appointed leader of the religious community/mosque
  • : The person who is leading a congregational prayer
  • : the divinely appointed successor to leadership of the Islamic state à la Shi'ite Imamah

Update: This has been completed. The three new tags have been created and wikied, and all existing questions (when relevant) have been re-tagged into one of the three. For all intents and purposes, the original should now be considered deprecated.

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    Seems like a fair solution. As for the Shiite sense, I recommend 'shia-imam'.
    – infatuated
    Oct 31 '14 at 9:58
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    I am not sure. Imam is a Quranic concept and has a meaning independent of its usage in various communities.
    – Kaveh
    Nov 3 '14 at 1:10
  • @Kaveh But if people in various communities consistently use it to mean very different things, it's pretty much useless as a tag.
    – goldPseudo Mod
    Nov 3 '14 at 1:24
  • I don't think multiple possible uses makes a tag useless. Let me give an example from CS: circuits can refer to digital circuits, logical circuits, arithmetic circuits, Boolean circuits, etc. If one of them is a common usage we can have a more specific tag for it, e.g. shia-imam.
    – Kaveh
    Nov 3 '14 at 1:52
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    -1 for bad usage of your moderator powers: I think you shouldn't have gone ahead with your suggestion in lack of support for it from the community. It was essentially a personal preference of yours, you should not make such decision just because it seems right to you and you have the power to implement them.
    – Kaveh
    Nov 12 '14 at 8:28
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    @kaveh How long am I supposed to wait for "support from the community"? Not only did I have this discussion up on meta for two weeks , but retagging posts hardly even counts as a moderator power.
    – goldPseudo Mod
    Nov 12 '14 at 15:08
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    Whenever you do something that you cannot do as a normal user you are using mod privileges, and you should ask yourself: what gives me the right to do it if I couldn't do it if I were a a normal user? Starting the discussion was the right first step. But it doesn't mean you can go ahead after sometime and do what you suggested, if people are not supporting it (e.g. by their up-votes) it means they don't think it is a good idea or they don't think it is required.
    – Kaveh
    Nov 13 '14 at 8:11
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    What I think is wrong with your action is that you have used your mod privileges to apply your personal preference in a way that other users cannot do. Keep in mind that those mod powers are given to you to deal with exceptional really problematic situations that community cannot handle, not to shape the site according to your personal preferences without obtaining the support of the community.
    – Kaveh
    Nov 13 '14 at 8:12
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    @Kaveh Retagging is not a moderator ability, anyone with the ability to edit can do that.
    – user237
    Nov 13 '14 at 13:33
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As you can see in the comment section on the original post, I did find merit in your suggestion, for different uses of "Imam" does pose problems for viewers who may be looking for specific notions of the concept. However as Kaveh has also suggested, I don't think destroying the general tag "imam" was right. We should've preserved the generic tag because that's the original Quranic concept and many people will be looking it up coming from that basic level.

It is important to note that all specific notions of Imam such as (Shia-Imam, Sufi-Imam, Prayer-Imam etc) all drive from a common Quranic origin (even if that's what proponents of these specific notions claim). These differences result either from different theological interpretations of the concept, or from different functions associated with it, not from originally unique or mutually exclusive concepts.

In other words, "imam" should be viewed as a concept that is in and of itself of genuine value and use, and for that very vital original Quranic status, its full essence or functions have become subject of difference and controversy among Muslims.

So my suggestion is that we restore the generic tag, and allow users to use it to tag all the questions that concern specific interpretations or functions of "Imam" in Islam.

Post-script: This point I think is already implied in what I wrote above but to make it explicitly clear, the general tag "imam" should only be used when the question is directly related to the concept of "imam" according to a specific interpretation or function. This evidently doesn't hold for cases when the subject of question is about accidental things, such as the birth or life events of a specific "imam" which are unrelated to the concept or function of Imams.

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  • What kind of question should be tagged with imam?
    – Daniel
    Jun 22 '15 at 19:02
  • @Daniel, Imagine the hypothetical question which asks "how does sect X interprets/defines the concept of "imam" in Quran?" Such a question could be reasonably tagged both by imam and x-sect-imam.
    – infatuated
    Jun 22 '15 at 19:38

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