Shia Islam (Arabic: شيعةShī‘ah, sometimes Shi'a or Shi'ite), is the second largest denomination of Islam, after Sunni Islam.

Similar to other branches of Islam, Shi'a Islam is based upon the teachings of the islamic holy book, called the Qur'an, and the message of the final prophet of Islam,[1] Muhammad. In contrast to other branches of Islam, Shi'a Islam holds that Muhammad's family, the Ahl al-Bayt (meaning "the people of the house"), and certain individuals among his descendants, who are known as imams, have special spiritual and political rule over the community.[2][3] Shia Muslims further believe that Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, was the first of these imams and was the rightful successor to Muhammad,[4] and thus reject the legitimacy of the first three rashidun caliphs.[5][6] Shī‘ah muslims, though a minority in the muslim world, constitute the majority of the populations in Iran,[7] Azerbaijan,[8] Bahrain,[9] and Iraq. Countries with a significant minority of twelver shias are Lebanon, Kuwait, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.

The Shi'a Islamic faith is vast and inclusive of many different groups.[10] There are various Shi'a theological beliefs, schools of jurisprudence, philosophical beliefs, and spiritual movements. Shi'a Islam embodies a completely independent system of religious interpretation and political authority in the Muslim world. The Shi'a identity emerged during the lifetime of Muhammad,[11] and Shi'a theology was formulated in the second century[12] and the first Shi'a governments and societies were established by the end of the third century (After Hijra).

Shi'a Islam is divided into three branches.[13] The most populous and best-known are the Twelvers (اثنا عشرية iṯnāʿašariyya),[14] named after their adherence to the twelve imams. They form a majority of the population in Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, and Iraq. The term Shi'a often refers to Twelver Shi'a only. Other smaller branches include the Ismaili and Zaidi, who dispute the Twelver lineage of Imams and beliefs.[15]

Shī‘a terms

Etymology and meaning

Shī‘ah, collectively, or Shī‘ī, singularly,[16] means 'follower', 'associate' or 'faction'. It has been used in the Qur'an in singular or plural forms with both positive[Qur'an 37:83] and negative[Qur'an 54:51] connotations.

"Shia" is the short form of the historic phrase Shī‘atu ‘Alī (شيعة علي), meaning "the followers of Ali" or "the faction of Ali".[17]


Succession of Ali

Shī‘ah Muslims believe that just as a prophet is appointed by God alone, only God has the prerogative to appoint the successor to his prophet. They believe that God chose ‘Alī to be the successor, infallible and divinely chosen. Thus they say that Muhammad, before his death, appointed Ali as his successor.

‘Ali was Muhammad's first cousin and closest living male relative, as well as his son-in-law, having married his daughter Fatimah.[18][19][20] ‘Ali would eventually become the fourth Muslim caliph.[21]

Shia Muslims believe that Muhammad had appointed ‘Ali to be his successor.[22] However, others made arrangements that prevented ‘Ali from being recognized as such for thirty-five years.

When Muhammad died, ‘Ali and Muhammad's closest relatives made the funeral arrangements. While they were preparing his body, Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and Abu ‘Ubayda met with the leaders of Medina and elected Abu Bakr as khalifa ("caliph"). ‘Ali and his family were dismayed, but accepted the appointment for the sake of unity in the early Muslim community.[23]

It was not until the murder of the third khalifa, ‘Uthman, that the Muslims in Medina invited ‘Ali to become the fourth khalifa.[24]

While ‘Ali was caliph, his capital was in Kufah, Iraq.[25]

‘Ali's rule over the early Muslim community was often contested. As a result, he had to struggle to maintain his power, waging "increasingly unsuccessful wars." After Ali's murder in 661 CE, his main rival Mu‘awiya claimed the caliphate.[26] Some of the problems came from the very people who had initially supported ‘Ali's claim to rule. While the rebels who accused ‘Uthman of nepotism affirmed ‘Ali's khilafa, they later turned against him and fought him.[27]

‘Ali ruled from 656 CE to 661 CE,[28] when he was assassinated.[29]

The respect that Sunni Muslims show to ‘Ali and his descendants ("sayyids" in the East or "sharifs" in North Africa) is just one of several ways in which Shia Islam has influenced Sunni Islam.[30]

Imamate of the Ahl al-Bayt

The Holy Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Tomb of Muhammad in Madinah, Saudi Arabia.

Early Sunnis traditionally held that the political leader must come from the tribe of Muhammad— namely the Quraysh. The Zaydīs narrowed the political claims of the Ali's supporters, claiming that not just any descendant of 'Alī would be eligible to lead the Muslim community (ummah) but only those males directly descended from Muḥammad through the union of 'Alī and Fāṭimah. But during Abbasid revolts, other Shīas, who came to be known as imāmiyyah (followers of the imams) follow theological school of Ja'far al-Sadiq. They asserted a more exalted religious role for imams and insisted that, at any given time, whether in power or not, a single male descendant of 'Alī and Fāṭimah was the divinely appointed imam and the sole authority, in his time, on all matters of faith and law. To those Shīʿites, love of the imams and of their persecuted cause became as important as belief in God’s oneness and the mission of Muhammad.[31]

Later most of Shia, including Twelver and Ismaili, became Imami. Imamis Shia believe that imams are the spiritual and political successors to Muhammad.[31] Imams are human individual who not only rules over the community with justice, but also is able to keep and interpret the Divine Law and its esoteric meaning. Muhammad and Imams' words and deeds are a guide and model for the community to follow; as a result, they must be free from error and sin, and must be chosen by divine decree, or nass, through Muhammad.[32][33]

According to Imamism, there is always an "Imam of the Age", who is the divinely appointed authority on all matters of faith and law in the Muslim community. ‘Alī was the first Imam of this line, the rightful successor to Muhammad, followed by male descendants of Muhammad through his daughter Fatimah Zahra.[31]

This difference between following either the Ahl al-Bayt (Muhammad's family and descendants) or the Caliph Abu Bakr has shaped Shia and non-Shia interpretations of some of the Qur'an, the Hadith (narrations from Muhammad), and other areas of Islam. For instance, the collection of Hadith venerated by Shia Muslims is centered on narrations by members of the Ahl al-Bayt and their supporters, while some Hadith by narrators not belonging to or supporting the Ahl al-Bayt are not included (those of Abu Huraira, for example). According to the Sunnis, Ali was the third successor to Abu Bakr. However, the Shias maintain that Ali was the first divinely sanctioned "Imam", or successor of Muhammad. The seminal event in Shia history is the martyrdom in 680 CE at the Battle of Karbala of Ali's son Hussein, who led a non-allegiance movement against the defiant caliph (71 of Hussein's followers were killed as well). Hussein came to symbolize resistance to tyranny.

It is believed in Twelver and Ismaili Shī‘ah Islam that ‘aql, divine wisdom, was the source of the souls of the prophets and imams and gave them esoteric knowledge called ḥikmah and that their sufferings were a means of divine grace to their devotees.[34][35][31] Although the imam was not the recipient of a divine revelation, he had a close relationship with God, through which God guides him, and the Imam in turn guides the people. Imamate, or belief in the divine guide is a fundamental belief in the Twelver and Ismaili Shī‘ī branches and is based on the concept that God would not leave humanity without access to divine guidance.[36]


In Islam, the term ‘aql was heavily elucidated by early Shī‘ah thinkers; it came to replace and expand the pre-Islamic concept of ḥilm (Arabic: حلم‎) "serene justice and self-control, dignity" in opposition to the negative notions of savagery (jahl) and stupidity (safah).[37]

The "possessor of ‘aql", or al-‘āqīl (plural al-‘uqqāl) realises a deep connection with God. Imam Ja‘far aṣ-Ṣādiq described this connection as a realization that God loves some (over others), that God's is the Truth and that only ‘ilm "knowledge of the Sacred" and its development can help humanity fulfill its potential.

His son, Imām Mūsá al-Kāżim (d. 799), expanded this exegesis by defining ‘aql as the "faculty for apprehending the divine, a faculty of metaphysical perception, a light in the heart, through which one can discern and recognize signs from God."[37] He further noted that where the A'immah (Imāms) are the ḥujjatu ż-żāhirah "External proof [of God]", ‘aql is the ḥujjatu l-bāṭinah "secret proof".[37]

While in early Islam, ‘aql was opposed to jahl "savagery", the expansion of the concept meant it was now opposed to safah "[deliberate] stupidity" and junūn "lack of sense, indulgence". Under the influence of Mu‘tazilī thought, ‘aql came to mean "dialectical reasoning".[37]


Ismah is the concept of infallibility or "divinely bestowed freedom from error and sin" in Islam.[38] Muslims believe that Muhammad and other prophets in Islam possessed ‘iṣmah. Twelver and Ismaili Shī‘ah Muslims also attribute the quality to Imāms as well as to Fatima Zahra, daughter of Muhammad, in contrast to the Zaidi, who do not attribute ‘ismah to the Imāms.

According to Shī‘ah theologians, infallibility is considered a rational necessary precondition for spiritual and religious guidance. They argue that since God has commanded absolute obedience from these figures they must only order that which is right. The state of infallibility is based on the Shī‘ah interpretation of the verse of purification.[Qur'an 33:33][39] Thus they are, the most pure ones, the only immaculate ones preserved from, and immune to, all uncleanness.[40] It doesn't mean that supernatural powers prevent them from committing a sin, but it is due to the fact that they have an absolute belief in God so that they find themselves in presence of God.[41] They have also complete knowledge about God's will. They are in possession of all the knowledge brought by the angels to the prophets (nabi) and the messengers (Rasul). Their knowledge encompasses the totality of all times. Thus they act without fault in religious matters.[42]


Tawassul (Arabic: توسل‎) is an Islamic religious practice in which a Muslim seeks nearness to God. A rough translation would be: "To draw near to what one seeks after and to approach that which one desires." The exact definition and method of tawassul is a matter of some dispute within the Muslim community.

Muslims who practice tawassul point to the Qur'an, Islam's holy book, as the origin of the practice. Many Muslims believe it is a commandment upon them to "draw near" to God.[43] Among Sufi and Barelwi Muslims within Sunni Islam, as well as Twelver Shi'a Muslims, it refers to the act of supplicating to God through a prophet, imam, or Sufi saint, whether dead or alive.[44] Many Sunni Muslims dispute the practice's usage through the dead.[43]

Types of Tawassul

There are four types of tawassul, according to the meaning of this word, which literally means "seeking a means". Two are permitted and two unlawful.[45]

  1. To call on other than God believing that that being has the power to give benefit or harm. This is not just unlawful, but also shirk.
  2. To call on other than God believing that God has given over some authority to a certain individual to also benefit or harm. This is also in reality a branch of shirk.
  3. To ask a person who one believes to be pious and close to God to do Dua for you. This also comes under the meaning of tawassul mentioned above and is permitted by all the scholars.
  4. To call upon God directly, and at the same time in order to make the Dua more likely to be accepted, to make mention of a good deed one did, the name of a pious person (living or dead) who is close and beloved to God and also beloved to that person. Thus a person would say: "O Allah, fulfill such and such a need for the sake of the messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him." This type of tawassul is also permitted by the majority of scholars.
"There is no objection in making tawassul to God by means of the dignity (jah) and prime position of the prophet(s), whether it is in his lifetime or after his death, since dignity here refers to an attribute which is one of the attributes of Almighty Allah…tawassul by means of dignity of a person other than the prophet(s) is also permissible, provided that the one who is being considered a wasilah has a station and position of dignity in the sight of Allah.

—Alusi al-Baghdadi , Tafsir Ruh al-Ma'ani, vol. 6, p. 128


The Occultation

The Occultation in Shi'a Islam refers to a belief that the messianic figure, the Mahdi, is an Imam who has disappeared and will one day return and fill the world with justice. Some Shi'a, such as the Zaidi and Nizari Ismaili, do not believe in the idea of the Occultation. The groups which do believe in it differ upon which lineage of imamate is correct, and therefore which individual has gone into the Occultation.there will be many sign when the time comes that he shall return.



There are two theories about the emergence of Shi'a Islam. One of them emphasizes the political struggle about the succession of Muhammad after his death and especially during the First Fitna.[46] According to this theory, early in the history of Islam, the Shīa were a political faction (party of 'Alī) that supported caliphate of ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib and, later, of his descendants. Starting as a political faction, this group gradually developed into a religious movement.[31]

The other one emphasizes on different interpretation of Islam which led to different understanding about the role of caliphs and ulamas. Hossein Nasr has quoted:

Shi'ism was not brought into existence only by the question of the political succession to Muhammad as so many Western works claim (although this question was of course of great importance). The problem of political succession may be said to be the element that crystallized the Shi'ites into a distinct group, and political suppression in later periods, especially the martyrdom of Imam Husayn-upon whom be peace-only accentuated this tendency of the Shi'ites to see themselves as a separate community within the Islamic world. The principal cause of the coming into being of Shi'ism, however, lies in the fact that this

possibility existed within the Islamic revelation itself and so had to be realized. Inasmuch as there were exoteric [Zaheri] and esoteric [Bateni] interpretations from the very beginning, from which developed the schools (madhhab) of the Sharia and Sufism in the Sunni world, there also had to be an interpretation of Islam which would combine these elements in a single whole. This possibility was realized in Shi'ism, for which the Imam is the person in whom these two aspects of traditional authority are united and in whom

the religious life is marked by a sense of tragedy and martyrdom... Hence the question which arose was not so much who should be the successor of Muhammad as what the function and qualifications of such a person would be.[47]



Map showing distribution of Shia and Sunni Muslims in Africa, Asia and Europe.

As stated above, an estimate of approximately 15% of the world's Muslims are Shi'a, which corresponds to about 215 million Shi'a Muslims worldwide.[48] Shi'a Muslims, though a minority in the Muslim world, constitute the majority of the populations in Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, and Iraq.

Shi'a Muslims also constitute over 35% of the population in Lebanon,[49] over 45% of the population in Yemen,[50] over 35% of the population in Kuwait,[51][unreliable source?] 20-25% of the population (primarily Alevi[52]) in Turkey,[53][unreliable source?] 20% (primarily Bektashi) of the population in Albania,[54][unreliable source?] 20% of the population in Pakistan, and 18% of population in Afghanistan. They also make up at least 15% of the Muslim populations in India, the UAE, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Serbia/Montenegro & Kosovo.

Significant Shi'a communities exist on the coastal regions of West Sumatra and Aceh in Indonesia (see Tabuik). The Shi'a presence is negligible elsewhere in Southeast Asia, where Muslims are predominantly Shafi'i Sunnis.

A significant syncretic Shi'a minority is present in Nigeria, centered around the state of Kano (see Shia in Nigeria). East Africa holds several populations of Ismaili Shias, primarily descendants of immigrants from South Asia during the colonial period, such as the Khoja.

According to Shi'a Muslim, one of the lingering problems in estimating Shi'a population is that unless Shi'a form a significant minority in a Muslim country, the entire population is often listed as Sunni. The reverse, however, has not held true, which may contribute to imprecise estimates of the size of each sect. For example, the 1926 rise of the House of Saud in Arabia brought official discrimination against Shi'as.[55]

Shia population distribution in Middle East and South Asia
Country Total population Shia population Percent of population that is Shia Ref
Iran 68,700,000 61,800,000 90
Pakistan 165,800,800 33,200,000 20.02
Iraq 26,000,000 17,400,000 66.92
Turkey 71,517,100 15,000,000 20.97 [56],[57]
India 1,009,000,000 11,000,000 1.09
Azerbaijan 8,000,000 6,000,000 75.00
Afghanistan 31,000,000 5,900,000 19.03
Saudi Arabia 27,000,000 4,000,000 14.81
Lebanon 3,900,000 1,700,000 43.59
Kuwait 2,400,000 730,000 30.42
Bahrain 700,000 520,000 74.29
Syria 20,178,485 3,228,557 16.0 [58]
UAE 2,600,000 160,000 6.15
Qatar 890,000 140,000 15.73
Oman 3,100,000 31,000 1.00
Source: Based on data from numerous scholarly references and from governments and NGOs in the Middle East and the West.


The dispute over the right successor to Muhammad resulted in the formation of two main sects, the Sunni, and the Shia. The Sunni, or followers of the way, followed the caliphate and maintained the premise that any devout Muslim could potentially become the successor to Muhammad if accepted by his peers. The Shia however, maintain that only the person selected by God and announced by the Prophet could become his successor, thus Ali became the religious authority for the Shia people. Militarily established and holding control over the Umayyad government, many Sunni rulers perceived the Shia as a threat – both to their political and religious authority.[59][unreliable source?]

The Sunni rulers under the Umayyads sought to marginalize the Shia minority and later the Abbasids turned on their Shia allies and further imprisoned, persecuted, and killed Shias. The persecution of Shias throughout history by Sunni co-religionists has often been characterized by brutal and genocidal acts. Comprising only about 10-15% of the entire Muslim population, to this day, the Shia remain a marginalized community in many Sunni Arab dominant countries without the rights to practice their religion and organize.[60]

At various times many Shi'a groups have faced persecution.[61][62][63][64][65][66]


Shi'a Muslims in Bahrain hitting their chests during the time of Muharram in rememberance of what Imam Hussein went through.

Sunni, and Twelver and Mustaali Shi'a, celebrate the following annual holidays:

The following holidays are observed by Twelver and Mustaali Shi'a only, unless otherwise noted:

  • The Remembrance of Muharram and Ashurah (عاشوراء) for Shia commemorates Imam Husayn ibn Ali's martyrdom. Imam Husayn was grandson of Muhammad, who was killed by Yazid ibn Muawiyah, the Sunnis' 6th Khalif. Ashurah is a day of deep mourning which occurs on the 10th of Muharram. Sunnis also celebrate Ashurah, but give it a different meaning (see Ashurah). On January 19, 2008, 2 million Iraqi Shia pilgrims marched through Karbala city, Iraq to celebrate Ashura. 20,000 Iraqi troops and police guarded the event amid tensions due to clashes between Iraqi troops and the cult which left 263 people dead (in Basra and Nasiriya).[67]
  • Arba'een commemorates the suffering of the women and children of Imam Husayn's household. After Husayn was killed, they were marched over the desert, from Karbala (central Iraq) to Shaam (Damascus, Syria). Many children (some of whom were direct descendants of Muhammad) died of thirst and exposure along the route. Arba'een occurs on the 20th of Safar, 40 days after Ashurah.
  • Milad al-Nabi, Muhammad's birth date, is celebrated by both Sunni (though not all celebrate as there is a dispute on this issue) and Shia on the 17th of Rabi al-Awwal, which coincides with the birth date of the sixth imam, Ja'far al-Sadiq.
  • Mid-Sha'ban is the birth date of the 12th and final imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi. It is celebrated by Shi'a Muslims on the 15th of Shaban. Many Shia fast on this day to show gratitude.
  • Eid al-Ghadeer celebrates Ghadir Khum, the occasion when Muhammad announced Ali's imamate before a multitude of Muslims. Eid al-Ghadeer is held on the 18th of Dhil-Hijjah.
  • Al-Mubahila celebrates a meeting between the household of Muhammad and a Christian deputation from Najran. Al-Mubahila is held on the 24th of Dhil-Hijjah. References to this event in the Holy Quran.

Holy cities

Both Shia and Sunni Muslims share a certain veneration and religious obligations towards certain shrines and holy sites, such as Mecca (Masjid al-Haram), Medina (Al-Masjid al-Nabawi), and Jerusalem (Al-Aqsa Mosque). For a list of some of the holiest uniquely Shia shrines see Shia holy sites.


The Shi'a faith throughout its history split over the issue of imamate, with each branch supporting different imams. The largest branch are the Twelvers, to which over 85% of Shi'a belong. The only other surviving branches are the Zaidi and Ismaili. All three groups follow a different line of Imamate.

Twelver Shi'a believe in the lineage of the Twelve Imams. The Twelver Shi'a faith is predominantly found in Iran (est. 90%) , Azerbaijan (est. 85%), Bahrain (est. 75%), Iraq (est. 65%), Yemen (est. 45%), Lebanon (est. 35%),[68] Kuwait (est. 35%), Turkey (est. 25%), Albania (est. 20%), Pakistan (est. 20%), and Afghanistan (est. 20%).[69][70].

The Zaidi dispute the succession of the fifth Twelver Imam, Muhammad al-Baqir, because he did not stage a revolution against the corrupt government, unlike Zaid ibn Ali. They do not believe in a normal lineage, but rather that any descendant of Hasan ibn Ali or Husayn ibn Ali who stages a revolution against a corrupt government is an imam. The Zaidi are mainly found in Yemen.

The Ismaili dispute the succession of the seventh Twelver Imam, Musa al-Kadhim, believing his older brother Isma'il ibn Jafar actually succeeded their father Ja'far al-Sadiq, and did not predecease him like Twelver Shi'a believe. Ismaili form small communities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, India, Yemen, China, and Saudi Arabia[71] and have several subbranches.


Twelver Imami Shi'ism or the Ithnā‘ashariyyah' (اثنا عشرية) is the largest branch of Shī‘ī Islam. An adherent of Twelver Shī‘ism is most commonly referred to as a Twelver, which is derived from their belief in twelve divinely ordained leaders, known as the Twelve Imams. Approximately 85% of Shi'a are Twelvers, representing the largest branch of the Shī‘ah, and the term Shi'a Muslim usually refers to Twelver Shi'a Muslims only.

The Twelvers are also known by other names, each connoting some aspect of the faith.

  • "The Shī‘ah" is commonly used as a synonym for "Twelvers" since this branch comprises the majority group of Shī‘ī Islam.
  • Ja‘farī refers to Twelvers to the exclusion of the Ismā‘īlī and Zaydī ("Fivers"). This term refers to the majority Twelver school of jurisprudence (a minority school, the Akhbarī, also exists). It is attributed to Ja‘far aṣ-Ṣādiq, who the Twelvers consider to be their Sixth Imām. The founders of the Sunni Hanafi and Maliki schools of jurisprudence narrated hadith from Ja‘far.
  • Imāmī is a reference to the Twelver belief in the infallibility of the Imāms. Though the Ismā‘īlī also accept the concept of Imāms, this term is used specifically for the Twelvers.

The Twelver faith is predominantly found in Iran (90%), Iraq (65%), Azerbaijan (85%), Lebanon (35%), Kuwait (35%), Turkey (25%), Saudi Arabia (10-15%),[72] Bahrain (80%) and forms a large minority in Pakistan (20%) and Afghanistan (18%).

Twelvers believe that the descendants of Muḥammad through his daughter Fatima Zahra and his son-in-law ‘Alī are the best source of knowledge about the Qur'an and Islam, the most trusted carriers and protectors of Muḥammad's traditions and the most worthy of emulation.

In particular, Twelvers recognize the succession of ‘Alī, Muḥammad's cousin, son-in-law and the first man to accept Islam (second only to Muḥammad's wife Khadījah), the male head of the Ahl al-Bayt or "people of the [Muhammad's] house" and the father of Muḥammad's only bloodline) as opposed to that of the caliphate recognized by Sunni Muslims. Twelvers also believe that ‘Alī was appointed successor by Muḥammad's direct order on many occasions, and that he is therefore the rightful leader of the Muslim faith.

‘Alī was the third successor to Abu Bakr and, for the Shī‘ah, the first divinely sanctioned "Imām," or male descendant of Muḥammad. The seminal event in Shī‘ah history is the martyrdom in 680 CE of ‘Alī's son Husayn, who led an uprising against the "illegitimate" caliph. For the Shī‘ah, Husayn came to symbolize resistance to tyranny.

Regardless of the dispute about the caliphate, Twelvers recognize the religious authority of the Twelve Imams, also called Khalīfah Ilāhi.

The Twelve Imams

The Twelve Imams are the spiritual and political successors to Muhammad for Twelvers.[31]

According to the theology of Twelvers, the successor of Muhammad is an infallible human individual who not only rules over the community with justice, but also is able to keep and interpret the Divine Law and its esoteric meaning. Muhammad and imams' words and deeds are a guide and model for the community to follow; as a result, they must be free from error and sin, and must be chosen by divine decree, or nass, through Muhammad.[73][74] Each Imam was the son of the previous Imam, with the exception of Husayn ibn Ali, who was the brother of Hasan ibn Ali.[31] The twelfth and final Imam is Muhammad al-Mahdi, who is believed by the Twelvers to be currently alive, and in hiding.[36]

  1. ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (600–661), also known as Amīru l-Mu'minīn "Commander of the Faithful" in Arabic and in Persian as Shāh-e Mardan "King of the People"
  2. Ḥasan ibn ‘Alī (625–669), also known as Al-Hasan al-Mujtaba
  3. Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī (626–680), also known as Al-Husayn ash-Shaheed
  4. ‘Alī ibn Ḥusayn (658–713), also known as Ali Zayn-ul-'Abideen
  5. Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī (676–743), also known as Muhammad al-Bāqir
  6. Ja‘far ibn Muḥammad (703–765), also known as Ja'far aṣ-Ṣādiq
  7. Mūsá ibn Ja‘far (745–799), also known as Mūsá al-Kāżim
  8. ‘Alī ibn Mūsá (765–818), also known as Ali ar-Riża
  9. Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī (810–835), also known as Muḥammad al-Jawad and Muḥammad at-Taqi
  10. ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad (827–868), also known as ‘Alī al-Ḥādī and ‘Alī an-Naqī
  11. Ḥasan ibn ‘Alī (846–874), also known as Hasan al Askari
  12. Muḥammad ibn Ḥasan (868–?), also known as al-Hujjat ibn al-Ḥasan, Mahdī, Imāmu l-Aṣr

Principles of the Religion (Usūl al-Dīn)

In Twelver Shi'a Islam, the Principles of the Religion (Usūl al-Dīn) are the five main theological beliefs that Shi'a Muslims must possess. The Shi'a Roots of Religion are a set of theoretical theological beliefs, in contrast to the ten practices prescribed in the Shi'a Branches of Religion. It is from these articles that the Branches of Religion are derived.

All books of Resalah start with an explicit disclaimer stating that no proof shall be given for any of the points in the Roots of Religion. The Marja argue that it is permissible to imitate in matters of practical Islam, for example, how one is supposed to do Salat, without being familiar with evidence and arguments for the conclusions. However, they argue that the matters in the Roots of Religion are much too important to be merely imitated, and it is the responsibility of each individual to make themselves personally familiar with the arguments and evidence for each article of faith.

The five articles of faith in the Shi'a Roots of Religion are:

  1. Tawhīd (Oneness)
  2. Adl (Justice)
  3. Nubuwwah (Prophethood)
  4. Imāmah (Leadership)
  5. Yawm al Qiyyamah (The Day of Resurrection)

Practices of the Religion (Furū al-Dīn)

According to Twelver doctrine, what is referred to as pillars by Sunni Islam are called the practices or secondary principles. There are three additional practices. The first is jihad, which is also important to the Sunni, but not considered a pillar. The second is Commanding what is just (Arabic: امر بالمعروف‎), which calls for every Muslim to live a virtuous life and to encourage others to do the same. The third is Forbidding what is evil (Arabic: النهي عن المنكر‎), which tells Muslims to refrain from vice and from evil actions and to encourage others to do the same.[75][76][77] Twelvers have five Principles of the Religion which relates to Aqidah.[78]

  1. Salah (Prayer)
  2. Sawm (Fast)
  3. Hajj (Pilgrimage)
  4. Zakāh (Poor-rate)
  5. Khums (One-fifth of savings)
  6. Jihād (Struggle)
  7. Amr-Bil-Ma'rūf (Enjoining what is good)
  8. Nahi-Anil-Munkar (Forbid what is evil)
  9. Tawallá (To love the Ahl al-Bayt and their followers )
  10. Tabarrā' (To disassociate from the enemies of the Ahl al-Bayt)

Ja'fari jurispudence

Ja'fari jurisprudence or Ja'fari Fiqh is the name of the jurisprudence of the Twelver Muslims, derived from the name of Ja'far al-Sadiq, the 6th Shia Imam.

The Ja'fari Shia consider Sunnah to be the oral traditions of Muhammad and their implementation and interpretation by the Imams who were all scholars and descendants of Muhammad through his daughter Fatima and her husband, the first Imam, Ali. There are three schools of Ja'fari jurispudence: Usuli, Akhbari, and Shaykhi. The Usuli school is by far the largest of the three. Twelver groups that do not follow Ja'fari jurisprudence include the Alawi, Alevi, Bektashi, and Ahl-e Haqq.

Role of religious scholars

Usooli and Akhbari Shia Twelver Muslims believe that the study of Islamic literature is a continual process, and is necessary for identifying all of God's laws. Twelver Shia Muslims believe that the process of finding God's laws from the available Islamic literature will facilitate in dealing with any circumstance. They believe that they can interpret the Qur'an and the Twelver Shi'a traditions with the same authority as their predecessors. This process of ijtihad has provided a means to deal with current issues from an islamic perspective. Generally, the Twelver Shi'a clergy have exerted much more authority in the Twelver Shi'a community than have the Sunni ulema.

Marja (Arabic: مرجع‎), also appearing as Marja Taqlid (Arabic: مرجع تقليد‎) or Marja Dini (Arabic: مرجع ديني‎), literally means "Source to Imitate/Follow" or "Religious Reference". It is the label provided to Shia authority, a Grand Ayatollah with the authority to make legal decisions within the confines of Islamic law for followers and less-credentialed clerics. After the Qur'an and the Prophets and Imams, marjas are the highest authority on religious laws in Usuli Twelver Shia Islam.

Currently, marjas are accorded the title Grand Ayatollah (Arabic: آية ‌الله العظمی Ayatollah al-Uzma‎), however when referring to one, the use of Ayatollah is acceptable. Previously, the titles of Allamah[79] and Imam[80] have also been used.

Guardianship of the Jurisprudent

Traditionally Twelver Shi'a Muslims consider ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib and the subsequent further eleven Imams not only religious guides but political leaders, based on a crucial hadith where Muhammad passes on his power to command Muslims to Ali. Since the last Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, went into "occultation" in 939 AD and is not expected back until end times, this left Shi'a without religiously sanctioned governance. In contrast, the Ismaili Imams did successfully gain political power with the shortly lived Fatimid Empire. After the fall of the Fatimid Empire Ismaili Shi'asm started to lean towards secular thought.

The first Shi'a regime, the Safavid dynasty in Iran, propagated the Twelver faith, made Twelver law the law of the land, and patronized Twelver scholarship. For this, Twelver ulama "crafted a new theory of government" which held that while "not truly legitimate", the Safavid monarchy would be "blessed as the most desirable form of government during the period of awaiting" for the twelfth imam.[81]

In general, the Shi'a adhere to one of three approaches towards the state: either full participation in government, i.e. attempting to influence policies by becoming active in politics, or passive cooperation with it, i.e. minimal participation, or else most commonly, mere toleration of it, i.e. remaining aloof from it.[82] Historically, Zaidi and Ismaili Shi'a imams functioned as both religious and political leaders, but later after the fall of the Fatimid Empire the Ismaili imamate became a secular institution. In general, Twelver Shi'a historically remained secular.

This changed with Iranian Revolution where the Twelver Ayatollah Khomeini and his supporters established a new theory of governance for the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is based on Khomeini's theory of guardianship of the Islamic jurist as rule of the Islamic jurist, and jurists as "legatees" of Muhammad.

While not all Twelver Shi'a accept this theory, it is uniquely Twelver and the basis of the constitution of Iran, the largest Shi'a Muslim country, where the Supreme Leader must be an Islamic jurist.



The Ismā‘īlī (Arabic: الإسماعيليونal-Ismāʿīliyyūn; Urdu: إسماعیلی Ismāʿīlī, Persian: إسماعیلیان Esmāʿiliyān) branch of Islam is the second largest part of the Shī‘ah community after the Twelvers. The Ismā‘īlī get their name from their acceptance of Ismā‘īl ibn Ja‘far as the divinely-appointed spiritual successor (Imām) to Ja‘far aṣ-Ṣādiq, wherein they differ from the Twelvers, who accept Mūsà al-Kāzim, younger brother of Ismā‘īl, as the true Imām. The Ismā‘īlī and the Twelvers both accept the same initial A'immah from the descendants of Muhammad through his daughter Fāṭimah az-Zahra and therefore share much of their early history.

After the death or occultation of Imām Muḥammad ibn Ismā‘īl in the 8th century, the teachings of Ismailism further transformed into the belief system as it is known today, with an explicit concentration on the deeper, esoteric meaning (bāṭin) of the faith. With the eventual development of Twelverism into the more literalistic (zahir) oriented Akhbari and later Uṣūlī schools of thought, Shī‘ism developed in two separate directions: the metaphorical Ismā‘īlī group focusing on the mystical path and nature of God and the divine manifestation in the personage of the "Imam of the Time" as the "Face of God", while the more literalistic Twelver group focusing on divine law (sharī‘ah) and the deeds and sayings (sunnah) of Muḥammad and his successors (the Ahlu l-Bayt), who as A'immah were guides and a light to God.[83]

Though there are several sub-groupings within the Ismā‘īlīs, the term in today's vernacular generally refers to the Nizārī community who are followers of the Aga Khan and the largest group among the Ismā‘īliyyah. While many of the branches have extremely differing exterior practices, much of the spiritual theology has remained the same since the days of the faith's early Imāms. In recent centuries Ismā‘īlīs have largely been an Indo-Iranian community,[84] but they are found in India, Pakistan, Syria, Palestine, Saudi Arabia,[85] Yemen, China,[86] Jordan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, East Africa, and South Africa, and have in recent years emigrated to Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and North America.[87]

Ismā‘īlī Imāms

After the death of Ismā‘īlī ibn Ja‘far, many Ismā‘īlī believed the line of Imāmate ended and that one day the messianic Mahdi, whom they believed to be Muḥammad ibn Ismā‘īl, would return and establish an age of justice. One group included the violent Qarmatians, who had a stronghold in Bahrain. In contrast, some Ismā‘īlīs believed the Imāmate did continue, and that the Imāms were in hiding and still communicated and taught their followers through a network of du‘āt "Missionaries".

In 909, ‘Ubaydallāh al-Mahdi bil-Lāh, a claimant to the Ismā‘īlī Imāmate, established the Fatimid Empire, a political power where Ismā‘īlī Imāms would rule for centuries. Egypt became the center of an empire that included at its peak North Africa, Sicily, Palestine, Syria, the Red Sea coast of Africa, Yemen, and the Hejaz. Under the Fatimids, Egypt flourished and developed an extensive trade network in both the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, which eventually determined the economic course of Egypt during the High Middle Ages.

During this period, three lineages of Imāms formed. The first branch, known today as the Druze, occurred with the Imām al-Hākim bi-Amrallāh. Born in 386 AH (985), he ascended as ruler at the age of eleven and was feared for his eccentricity and believed insanity. The typical religiously tolerant Fatimid Empire saw much persecution under his reign. When in 411 AH (1021) his mule returned without him, soaked in blood, a religious group that was even forming in his lifetime broke off from mainstream Ismā‘īlism and refused to acknowledge his successor. Later to be known as the Druze, they believe al-Hākim to be the incarnation of God and the prophecized Mahdi, who would one day return and bring justice to the world.[88] The faith further split from Ismā‘īlism as it developed very unique doctrines which often classes it separately from both Ismā‘īliyyah and Islam.

The second split occurred following the death of Ma'ad al-Mustansir Billah in 487 AH (1094). His rule was the longest of any Caliph in any Islamic empires. Upon his passing away his sons, the older Nizār and the younger al-Musta‘lī fought for political and spiritual control of the dynasty. Nizār was defeated and jailed, but according to Nizāri tradition, his son to escaped to Alamut where the Iranian Ismā‘īlī had accepted his claim.[89]

The Musta‘lī line split again between the Ṭayyibī and the Ḥāfizī, the former claiming that the 21st Imām and son of al-Amīr went into occultation and appointed a Dā‘ī al-Muṭlaq to guide the community, in a similar manner as the Ismā‘īlī had lived after the death of Muḥammad ibn Ismā‘īl. The latter claimed that the ruling Fatimid Caliph was the Imām, and they died out with the fall of the Fatimid Empire.

The Pillars of the Ismā‘īlī

The Ismā‘īlī Seven Pillars of Islam, including the Nizārī, Druze and Bohra (Musta‘lī) have three doctrines that are not included in the Five Pillars of Islam: Walayah, Taharah, and Jihad. This would raise the total to eight, but the Bohra do not include shahādah, lowering it to seven. The shahādah is a prominent part of other Ismā‘īlī traditions, with the added inclusion of ‘Aliyun Amīru l-Mu'minīn Walī Allāh Arabic: علي ولي الله‎ "‘Alī, the Master of the Believers, is the walī of God", at the end of the standard shahādah as recited by the rest of the Muslim Ummah.[90]

  • Walayah (Guardianship)
  • Taharah (Purity)
  • Shahādah (Profession of Faith)
  • Salah (Prayer)
  • Zakah (Charity)
  • Sawm (Fasting)
  • Hajj (Pilgrimage)
  • Jihad (Struggle)

Contemporary leadership

For Nizārīs, there has been less of a scholarly institution because of the existence of a present Imām. The Imām of the Age defines the jurisprudence, and may differ with Imāms previous to him because of different times and circumstances.

However, divine leadership has continued in the Bohra branch through the institution of the "Unrestricted Missionary". According to Bohra tradition, before the last Imām, Ṭayyib Abi l-Qāṣim, went into seclusion, his father, the 20th Imām Mansur al-Amir Bi-Ahkamillah had instructed Queen Al-Hurra Al-Malika in Yemen to appoint a vicegerent after the seclusion - the Unrestricted Missionary, who as the Imām's vicegerent has full authority to govern the community in all matters both spiritual and temporal while he is in the occultation. The three branches of the Musta‘lī, the Alavi Bohra, Sulaimani Bohra, and Dawoodi Bohra, differ on who the current Unrestricted Missionary is.


The Zaidi are a branch of Shi'a Islam named after the Imām Zayd ibn ˤAlī. Followers of the Zaidi fiqh are called Zaidis (or occasionally, Fivers by Sunnis). However, there is also a group called the Zaidi Wasītīs who are Twelvers (see below).

Since the earliest form of Zaidism was of the Jarudiyya group,[91] many of the first Zaidi states, like those of the Alavids, Buyids, Ukhaidhirids, and Rassids, were inclined to the Jarudiyya group.

The first Zaidi state was established in Daylaman and Tabaristan (northern Iran) in 864 CE by the Alavids;[92] it lasted until the death of its leader at the hand of the Samanids in 928 CE. Roughly forty years later the state was revived in Gilan (north-western Iran) and survived under Hasanid leaders until 1126 CE After which from the 12th-13th centuries, the Zaidis of Daylaman, Gilan, and Tabaristan then acknowledge the Zaidi Imams of Yemen or rival Zaidi Imams within Iran.[93]

The Buyids were reported to have been Zaidi, as well as the Ukhaidhirite rulers of al-Yamama in the 9th and 10th centuries.[94]

The leader of the Zaidi community took the title of Caliph. As such, the ruler of Yemen was known as the Caliph, al-Hadi Yahya bin al-Hussain bin al-Qasim ar-Rassi (a descendant of Imam al-Hasan) who, at Sa'da, in 893-7 CE, founded the Zaidi Imamate and this system continued until the middle of the 20th century, until the revolution of 1962 E. that deposed the Zaidi Imam. The founding Zaidism of Yemen was of the Jarudiyya group, however with the increasing interaction with Hanafi and Shafi'i Sunni Islam, there was a shift from the Jarudiyya group to the Sulaimaniyya, Tabiriyya, Butriyya, or Salihiyya groups.[95]

Zaidis form the dominant religious group in Yemen. Currently, they constitute about 40-45% of the population in Yemen. Ja'faris and Isma'ilis are 2-5%.[96][97] In Saudi Arabia, it is estimated that there are over 1 million Zaidis (primarily in the western provinces).

Currently the most prominent Zaidi movement is Husayn al-Huthi's Shabab al-Mu'mineen, who have been the subject of an ongoing campaign against them by the Yemeni Government in which the Army has lost 743 men and thousands of innocent civilians have been killed or displaced by government forces, causing a grave humanitarian crisis in north Yemen. Shia Population of the Middle East[98]


Ghali or Exaggerator is the adjectival form of Ghuluww means Exaggeration, a technical term mainstream Muslims use to describe the beliefs of minority Muslim groups who ascribe divine characteristics to a member of Muhammad's family, especially Ali) or the early companions of Muhammad such as Salman al-Farisi. The assumption is that the groups thus described have gone too far and have come to associate them with God (shirk). Some groups are commonly alleged to be exaggerator by Twelver scholars are:

  • Alawites (an-Nusayriyyah)
  • Druzes (This group is Ismaili and is accepted by the mainstream Nizari as a proper group)
  • Ahl-e Haqq

Most of these groups have some similarity with Shi'a such as belief that Ali is the rightful successor of Muhammad. In addition, most of them have accepted The Twelve Imams (hence falling under the Twelver category), but attribute some god-like attribution to them. Thus, most of the Twelvers have a negative opinion of them, and see them as heretics. Nowadays, they live in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Syria.

See also


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  51. Demographics of Kuwait
  53. Demographics of Turkey
  54. Demographics of Albania
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  79. such as Allameh Tabatabaei, Allameh Majlesi, Allameh Hilli
  80. such as Imam Khomeini, Imam Rohani, Imam Shirazi and Imam Sadr
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Further reading

  • Corbin, Henry (1993). History of Islamic Philosophy, translated by Liadain Sherrard and Philip Sherrard. Kegan Paul International in association with Islamic Publications for The Institute of Ismaili Studies. ISBN 0710304161. 
  • Halm, Heinz (2004). Shi'ism. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0748618880. 
  • Halm, Heinz (2007). The Shi'ites: A Short History. Markus Wiener Pub. ISBN 1558764372. 
  • Lalani, Arzina R. (2000). Early Shi'i Thought: The Teachings of Imam Muhammad Al-Baqir. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 1860644341. 
  • Momen, Moojan (1985). An Introduction to Shi'i Islam: The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shi'ism. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300034997. 
  • Moosa, Matti (1988). Extremist Shiites: The Ghulat Sects. Syracuse University Press. ISBN 0815624115. 
  • Nasr, Seyyed Hossein; Hamid Dabashi (1989). Expectation of the Millennium: Shiʻism in History. SUNY Press. ISBN 088706843X. 
  • Rogerson, Barnaby (2007). The Heirs of Muhammad: Islam's First Century and the Origins of the Sunni Shia split. Overlook Press. ISBN 1585678961. 
  • Wollaston, Arthur N. (2005). The Sunnis and Shias. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 1425479162. 

External links

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