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"Imam has many interests, Indiana. Priest. Scholar. Astronomer. If anyone can explain the markings, he can."
Sallah el-Kahir[src]

Imam was an old man who lived in Cairo, Egypt.


By the mid-1930s, Imam was a Egyptian scholar[4], astronomer and priest[5] educated in the myth and ritual of the Ark of the Covenant[6] who lived in the the outskirts of Cairo,[3] in the medieval section. He was very knowledgeable about many things - Islamic law, astronomy, the Koran, mathematics and the ancient times. He frequently led the Friday prayers at the small al-Aqmar mosque near his home, and tutored young boys in the Koran and the laws of Islam. In 1936 he lived with his apprentice,[7] Abu, who he was training.[3]

As an acquaintance of Sallah el-Kahir, Sallah believed that Imam would be able to translate the markings on the Headpiece to the Staff of Ra for his friend the American archaeologist Indiana Jones in his search to acquire the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis in 1936 due to Imam's talents as priest, scholar and an astronomer.[3]

It was Imam who revealed the medallion held further instructions on its reverse side, integral to calculating the precise location of the Ark on Tanis' Map Room floor. He also mentioned a warning to not disturb the Ark, which would later prove crucial for Jones.[1]

Five years later, in August 1941, Indiana Jones sought out Imam at his desert abode in the Sinai Peninsula while seeking help in the decryption of an inscription he was using to unravel the mystery of Mount Sinai and discover what the Nazis were looking for there.[8]

Personality and traits[]

Despite his advanced age, Imam moved with an agility of a youth.[8]

Behind the scenes[]

Imam was portrayed by the late Tutte Lemkow in Raiders of the Lost Ark.[1]

A later development to the film's screenplay, Imam's role was originally occupied by Jules Spencer, a Holmesian-like former student of Abner Ravenwood and college roommate of Indiana Jones.[9][10] Much of the Spencer part subsequently got absorbed by Sallah in the second draft[9] but in the third version, an old man called Amir who is friends with Sallah is responsible for translating the headpiece to the Staff of Ra at the house of Sallah.[11]

In Islam, an imam is a leader of a mosque and/or community who leads prayer during gatherings. Indiana Jones sources vary on treating "Imam" as the character's name (as it is in the script) or his position. The Complete Making of Indiana Jones, for example, lists it as his position.[9] J. W. Rinzler's young reader novel Indiana Jones and the Mystery of Mount Sinai would similarly refer to the character as "the Imam" instead of simply "Imam", treating the name as a position.[8]

The scene at Imam's house was the first from Raiders to be shot at Elstree Studios. Kathleen Kennedy recalled that Tutte Lemkow suffered from a bit of stage fright on the day of filming, so couldn't stop his hands from shaking while holding the Headpiece to the Staff of Ra.[9]

In Campbell Black's novelization, Imam explains the warning to not disturb the Ark in further detail: not to touch it with bare hands, open it, nor gaze into it, cautioning that God would show no mercy.[3]



Notes and references[]