“God created my spirit and spirit of ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib two thousand years before He created humankind. He sent ‘Alī secretly with every prophet and openly with me.”
– Prophet Muhammad
The Imāmat is the office of spiritual and religious leadership recognized in Shī‘ī Islam according to which the Imām is the spiritual and religious successor (waṣī) of the Prophet Muḥammad. While prophetic revelation ended with the Prophet Muḥammad, divine inspiration, spiritual authority, religious guidance, and mystical gnosis continued in the institution of Imāmat.
Today, the Shī‘ī Ismā‘īlī Muslims recognize 49 designated hereditary Imāms from the progeny and family (Ahl al-Bayt) of the Prophet Muḥammad in direct lineal descent from Imām ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib who was designated by the Prophet.
Click here to read at the source: From Ādam to Āga Khān: The Universal Imāmat – ismailignosis.com.