Are there Muslim saints?

muslim saintsAre there saints in the Muslim tradition? Reader John Hoh sent us a note regarding a photo caption accompanying this Associated Press article. It describes snipers killing 20 people in Baghdad who were on their way to commemorate Imam Moussa Kadhim at his golden-domed shrine.

Here is a link to the photo, and this is the caption:

An Iraqi mother along with her children mourn the death of her son Wisam Ali, 13, who was killed on the way to the Imam Moussa Kadhim shrine, for the annual commemoration of the saint's death, at a hospital, in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday Aug. 20, 2006.

In using the word saint, the caption leaves a lot of questions unanswered. First, Imam Moussa Kadhim is a saint to whom? To the world? Muslims? Shiite Muslims? The article provides a bit more context:

Still, the day's main ceremonies went off peacefully at the golden-domed shrine to Imam Moussa Kadhim, one of 12 Shiite Muslim saints.

As typical with stories involving Islam, spelling becomes an issue. As best I can tell, with the assistance of Google, we are talking about the Imam Musa Kadhim referenced here on Wikipedia.

Musa was indeed one of the 12 Imams and is revered by Shiite Muslims, but does that make him a saint? In the generic sense, if there is one, I guess he is a revered as a saint, but as explained here, it's not quite the same in Islam as it is in Christianity.

In the Protestant tradition, anyone who displays the qualities of a good follower of the faith can be considered a saint. While it's fine to consider one's grandmother a saint, in that generic sense, one would have difficulty tagging John Calvin or John Knox with the title.

In the same sense it is wrong to tag a Muslim Imam with the term in a journalistic setting because there are more accurate ways to refer to him and it places him in a category that doesn't even officially exist in Islam.

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