Shi'a Islam

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Shi'a Islam (from the Arabic word شيعة, short for the phrase shi`at `Ali شيعة علي, meaning "the followers or party of Ali") is the second-largest Islamic denomination. The singular/adjective form of this name is Arabic shi`i شيعي, traditionally translated into English as "Shiite" or "Shi'ite". This is used to refer to a follower of the Ahlul Bayt and in particular a follower of Ali ibn Abi Talib, who was the Islamic prophet Muhammad's cousin, his son-in-law, and the father of Muhammad's only descendants. He was the male head of the Ahlul Bayt (Muhammad's household)

Hadithl Qadeer

Shia Muslims hold the opinion that the Ahlul Bayt are the best qualified teachers for the Prophet Mohammad's Sunna and the best source of knowledge regarding Quran and Islam in general after the Prophet himself. Shia's believe that Ali, the male head of the Ahlul Bayt should have followed Muhammad as the direct successor and leader of the Muslims and that he was directly appointed by the Prophet Muhammad on several occassions during the Prophets life. This is in contrast to Sunni theology, who believe that the Prophet Muhammed did not choose any successor and thereby a democratic election, or Shura took place where Abu Bakr, eventually becoming the first Caliph, was chosen. Sunni's stand by Abu Bakr's Caliphate and are of the oppinion he held his office legitimately. This difference between following the Ahlul Bayt (The Prophet's Household/Family) and Sahaba (The Prophet's Companions) may seem small, nonetheless has shaped both parties on how they interpret some of the Quranic text, accept Hadith, regard personalities in Islamic history and more.


Demographics of Shi'a Islam

See Demographics of Islam. Present calculations indicate that some 89% of the world's Muslims are Sunni and approximately 10% are Shi'a, but the Shi'a are certainly undercounted (due primarily to political and religious discrimination). Further work is needed before these statistics can be regarded as defensible.

As can be seen from the table in that article, the majority of the world's Shi'a live in Iran and Iraq. Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Yemen, Bahrain and other Persian Gulf states also have significant Shi'a minorities.

Shi'a beliefs: Roots of Religion (Usūl al-Dīn)

  • Tawhīd (Oneness): The Oneness of God
  • Adalah (Justice): The Justice of God
  • Nubuwwah (Prophethood): God has appointed perfect and infallible prophets and messengers to teach mankind the religion (i.e. a perfect system on how to live in "peace".)
  • Imamah (Leadership): God has appointed specific leaders to lead and guide mankind — a prophet appoints a custodian of the religion before his demise.
  • Qiyamah (The Day of Judgment): God will raise mankind for Judgment

Shi'a practices: Branches of Religion (Furū al-Dīn)

  • Salat- called "Namaaz" in Persian (Prayer) - performing the five daily prayers
  • Sawm (Fast) - fasting during the holy month of Ramadhan
  • Hajj (Pilgrimage) - performing the pilgrimage to Mecca
  • Zakat (Poor-rate) - paying the poor-tax
  • Khums (One-fifth) - another tax
  • Jihad (Struggle) - struggling to please God. The greater, or internal Jihad is the struggle against the evil within one's own soul in every aspect of life. The lesser, or external, Jihad is the struggle against the evil of one's environment in every aspect of life.
  • Amr-Bil-Ma'rūf (Enjoin what is good)
  • Nahi-Anil-Munkar (Forbid what is evil)
  • Tawalla (To love the Ahl al-Bayt and their followers)
  • Tabarra (To disassociate oneself from the enemies of the Ahl al-Bayt)

Other practices


The doctrine of taqiyya, or dissimulation, states that it is permissible to hide one's true religious convictions if under the threat of death or injury. Shi'a say that this is condoned by the Qur'an in verses 16:106 and 3:28.

Nikah Mut'ah

Shi'as conclude that Nikah Mut'ah, temporary marriage or marriage for a time fixed by the initial contract, was forbidden only by the Sunni caliph Umar and not by Muhammad. Shi'a say that the Quran itself declares the arbitration of Muhammad final, decisive, and unquestionable. They argue that neither Umar, nor any other caliph, had the authority to ban what Muhammad permitted. Shi'a continue the practice of temporary marriage. However, non-Shi'a Muslims say that nikah mut'ah had been disallowed even before Umar became caliph.

The Shi'a sects

The Shi'a of the present day are divided into sects based on their beliefs regarding the sequence of the imams.

  • Most Shi'a are Twelvers; they recognize twelve imams, of whom the twelfth, the Mahdi, has been occluded, or removed from human view, and will return at some time in the future.
  1. Ali ibn Abu Talib (600661)
  2. Hasan ibn Ali (625669)
  3. Husayn ibn Ali (626680)
  4. Ali ibn Husayn (658713), also known as Zainul Abideen
  5. Muhammad al Baqir (676743)
  6. Jafar as Sadiq (703765)
  7. Musa al Kazim (745799)
  8. Ali ar Ridha (765818)
  9. Muhammad at Taqi (810835)
  10. Ali al Hadi (827868)
  11. Hasan al Askari (846874)
  12. Muhammad al Mahdi (868—)
  • There are several groups of Sevener Shi'as. The largest is a subgroup of the Ismailis.
  • Fiver Shi'as are also called Zaidis. They are found mostly in Yemen. They accept as imams:
  1. Ali ibn Abi Talib
  2. Hasan ibn Ali
  3. Husayn ibn Ali
  4. Ali ibn Husayn
  5. Zayd ibn Ali rather than Muhammad al Baqir

Zaidis also reject the notion of divinely appointed Imams.

Twelver Shi'a believe that the last imam has been occulted (in Ghaibah), or "hidden away" by God. He is still alive, and will return. Beliefs vary as to what will happen when the last imam, called the Mahdi ("the guided one"), returns. It is generally believed that he will be accompanied by Jesus and will affirm Muhammad's message to mankind from God.

Status of a Shia Imam

see main article: Status of a Shia Imam.

Shia belive that the Imams, starting with Ali, had a higher rank than the prophets before Muhammad, and also that it is obligatory on all Muslims to know their Imam.

The role of religious scholars

Most Sunni scholars, preachers, and judges (collectively known as the ulema) traditionally believe that the door of ijtihad, or private judgment, closed some four hundred years after the death of Muhammad. Muslim scholars had been studying Qur'an and hadith for centuries; four schools of law (madhhab) had been developed; there was nothing more to be added to the four schools.

Shi'a scholars believe that the door to ijtihad has never closed. They believe that they can interpret the Qur'an and the Shi'a traditions with the same authority as their predecessors. Generally, the Shi'a clergy have exerted much more authority in the Shi'a community than have the Sunni ulema.

Shi'a and Sunni traditions

While the Shi'a and the Sunni accept the same sacred text, the Qur'an, they differ somewhat in their approach to recorded oral tradition, or hadith. Shi'a believe that the split between the Shi'a and Sunni extends back to the time of Muhammad's death, when a small number of the faithful clung to Ali and the rest of the Muslims followed Abu Bakr, then Umar and Uthman. Shia believe that testimony that can be traced back to the faithful is to be trusted, and traditions passed through the other Muslims are suspect. While the Sunni generally accept the hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim as sahih, or trustworthy, the Shi'a privilege different narrators and different hadith.

Because Islamic law is based upon the hadith, rejection of some Sunni hadith means that the Shi'a version of the law differs somewhat from the Sunni version. For example, Shiites permit temporary marriages, or mut’a, which can be contracted for months or even days, and follow different inheritance laws.

Famous Hadith used by the Shi'a

Religious calendar

All Muslims, Sunni or Shi'a, celebrate the following annual holidays:

  • Eid ul-Fitr (عيد الفطر), which falls on the first day of Shawwal, marks the end of fasting during the month of Ramadan.
  • Eid ul-Adha, which marks the end of the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca, starts on the 10th day of Dhul Hijja.

The following days are celebrated by Shi'a only, unless otherwise noted:

  • The Festival of Muharram and Ashurah (عاشوراء). For Shiites, this commemorates Imam Husayn bin Ali's martyrdom. It is a day of deep mourning. Sunnis do not ascribe religious significance to Hussayn's martyrdom, however it is a day of voluntary fasting with a day either preceding it or following it, in remembrance of Moses and his followers' salvation from the Pharoah and his army. Ashurah occurs on the 10th of Muharram.
  • Arba'een, which 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 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 Shi'a on the 17th of Rabbi al-Awwal, which also coincides with the birth date of the sixth imam, Ja'far al-Sadiq. Sunni Muslims consider Muhammad's birth date to be on the 12th of Rabbi al-Awwal, however many Sunnis do not consider this day religiously significant.
  • Mid of Shaban, the birth date of the twelfth and final imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi. This is celebrated by Twelvers on the 15th of Shaban. Many Shi'a take it upon themselves to fast on this day to show gratitude on the auspicious occasion of the twelfth Imam's birth.
  • Eid al-Ghadeer, which celebrates Ghadir Khum, the occasion upon which Shi'a believe Muhammad announced Ali's imamate before a multitude of Muslims. Eid al-Ghadeer is held on the 18th of Dhil-Hijjah.

History of the Shi'a

Depicted: An approximate map estimation of Shi'a Muslims in the Middle East and West Asia from 1989-91. Shi'ites live in many parts of the world, however they have a significant concentration of population in this particular region.
Depicted: An approximate map estimation of Shi'a Muslims in the Middle East and West Asia from 1989-91. Shi'ites live in many parts of the world, however they have a significant concentration of population in this particular region.

Historical Shi'a-Sunni relations

See main article: Historical Shi'a-Sunni relations

Shia and Sunni historians record that many Shia's have been persecuted, intimidated, and killed, starting with the usurping of Alis caliphate. In the past, most leading Sunni scholars are known to have openly considered the Shi'a as "Kafir", this was mainly fueled by misunderstood concepts such as Taqiyya, Muta, and the Shiite point of view regarding Ali, Umar, and other companions.

However, many scholars of recent history have become more tolerant towards Shi'a and some have promoted unity. Scholars such as Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, Allamah Mawdudi, Shaikh Muhammed Kashak, Allamah Sheikh Muhammed al Ghazali, Sheikh Muhmud Shaltut, Professor al Bahansawi, Altalmasani, Anwar al Jundi, Hassan Ayyub, Said Hawi, Fathi Yakun, Abu Zuhrah, Yusuf al Azm, Professor Rashid al Ghannachi among others have encouraged Sunni and Shiite unity. Others have not. Yet within Shiism, it has always been stressed to seek unity among the majority. Organizations such as the Shiite Lebanese Hezbollah have increased popularity of Shiism among Sunnis and are seen as a credible organization and in many cases praised by both ideological parties.

Modern mainstream Sunni have also become less confrontational. The renowned al-Azhar Theological school in Egypt, for example, one of the main centers of Sunni scholarship in the world, announced the al-Azhar Shia Fatwa on July 6, 1959:

"The Shi'a is a school of thought that is religiously correct to follow in worship as are other Sunni schools of thought."

Today, both Shi'a and Sunni students graduate and study at the Al-Azhar university.

Some extremist Sunni groups, however, such as the Taliban or Al Qaeda, have continued to persecute Shi'a as heretics. Salafis still consider Shias as apostates and openly advocate their killing.[1]

Major centers of Shi'a scholarship

Qom | Najaf | Mashad | Ray | Tabriz | Isfahan | Tehran | Sur (Lebanon) | Saida | Jabal Amil Hawzah (Lebanon) | Halab | Damascus | Qatif | Kufa | Samarra | Karbala | al-Mada'in (Iraq) | Hillah | Lucknow

Shi'a texts

Online Shi'a references:

Academic sources:

See also

External links

General Shi'a resource websites

Websites commemorating Shi'a Imams

Shia Islam directories and encyclopedias

Personal tools