Who are the Shia? Shia Islam: History and Doctrines

” In The Name of Allah, The Most Beneficent, The Most Merciful”

Shi’ism is the original Islam that the Prophet brought people through divine revelation. Islam and Shi’ism are the two sides of the same coin. Shi’ism is nothing more than the teachings preserved and transmitted by the Prophet’s Household. A cursory glance at Islamic history will reveal that Shi’ism originated in the time of the Prophet when he said certain things about Imam ʿAlī.

Who are the Shia? Shia Islam: History and Doctrines

The Prophet declared ʿAlī as his successor on an occasion that came to called Yawm al-Dār at the beginning of his prophethood. During the expedition to Tābūk, the Prophet revealed that ʿAlī had received all of the Prophetic capacities except for receiving revelation and prophethood. He told him: ‘Are you not pleased to be as to me as Aaron was to Moses?’ The Prophet commended ʿAlī’s knowledge and judgment and announced him as his best possible successor on the Day of the Ghadīr. All of these led a number of people follow ʿAlī after the Prophet’s death.

You will find a detailed treatment of all these debates in this book, which is taken from Ayatollah Jaʿfar Sobhani’s Arabic Buḥūth fī al-Milal wa al-Niḥal (Studies in Sects and Religions). The present book is the sixth in a set of books (all taken from Buḥuth) published under the general title of Encyclopedia of Islamic Sects and Beliefs. I hope to translate another two volumes to complete the Encyclopedia.

I hope God will guide us to His right path and make us firm and strong in it, so that our mind and pen will work at His service.

Imam Sādiq Institute / Qumm /Ali Reza Sobhani

What does the word Shīʿa mean?

The Arabic word, shīʿa, literally denotes ‘a group of people who join together for a particular purpose’ or ‘a follower’, as when the Qur’an says: ‘Verily among those who followed his way was Abraham.’ (Q37: 83). In Islamic parlance, however, the word shīʿa has come to denote three rather different meanings. In one sense, it refers to those who love and support ʿAlī and the descendants of him and Fāṭima who make the Prophet’s Household (Ahl al-Bayt). Loving the Prophet’s Family is an Islamic duty ordained in the Qur’an: ‘Say: “No reward do I ask of you for this except the love of those near of kin”’ (Q42:23). In this sense, ‘shīʿa’ refers to all Muslims, because all of them (except those called nawāṣib, or ‘insulters’) love the Prophet’s Household, even though they may not acknowledge their position leadership. the Imam Shafiʿī – the founder of one of the four Sunnī schools of law – wrote the following famous lines of poetry in praise of the Prophet’s Household:

‘O Household of the Prophet!

Love of you was enjoined upon us by God.

For your dignity it suffices

That prayer will not be accepted without saluting you.’

Another sense of the word ‘shīʿa’ refers to those who believe Imam ʿAlī was greater in knowledge and virtue than the other three caliphs (namely, Abū Bakr, ʿUmar and ʿUthmān) but still consider their reigns to be legitimate. This is especially true of the Baghdad school of Muʿtazila. This meaning of ‘shīʿa’ can be found in Mīzān al-Iʿtidāland Sayr Aʿlam al-Nubalāʾ of Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad al-Dhahabī, who accuses some traditionists (muḥadiththīn) of holding shīʿi sympathies, including al-Hākim al-Nīsābūrī, who enjoys a high reputation for his role in the preservation of aḥādīth.

The third meaning of the word ‘shīʿa’ refers to those who follow Imam ʿAlī and his descendants after the Prophet’s death because they believe that the leadership of Muslims has been granted to ʿAlī and his progeny. These people consider ʿAlī to be the successor (waṣī) of the Prophet, pointing to the fact that ʿAlī was known to possess that capacity and was referred to as the ‘successor’ in poems and speeches even during the Prophet’s own life.

As Hākim reports, when Imam ʿAlī was martyred, his son, Imam Ḥasan, gave a speech, declaring: ‘I am son of the Prophet and son of the Prophet’s successor’ (1/172). Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd has also recorded a few pages of poetry in which the Prophet’s Companions (ṣaḥāba) and successors (tābiʿūn) have referred to ʿAlī as ‘the successor’ (1/143–150). This is the meaning of Shīʿa (henceforth capitalized) intended in the present book.

I would like to explain the beliefs of the Twelver Shīʿa by answering a few questions:

1) Did the situation towards the end of the Prophet’s life necessitate the appointment of his successor by God or by the people?

2) Was the dominant Islamic politics of that time in favour of designating leaders via appointment by God or by the Prophet or through elections and voting by the people?

3) Which of these two options is actually supported by the Qur’an and the Prophet’s tradition?

4) How do the Qur’an and tradition present Imam ʿAlī?

5) Presuming that the Prophet had already declared his decision regarding his successor, why did the Muslims ignore this decision and not let ʿAlī lead them?

6) How and when did the Shīʿa appear at the Prophet’s time and after his death? How do the Twelver Shīʿa designate their leaders?

The following chapters are intended to reveal that the appointment of Imam ʿAlī by God is attested to by the Qur’an and the Sunna.

Chapter 1: The social situation at the time of the Prophet’s death

It is important to have a proper understanding of the situation of the Muslim community in Arabia at the time of the Prophet’s death. By analysing this situation, we aim to answer the first of our aforementioned questions and show that the social conditions of the time necessitated the appointment by God, via the Prophet, of a pious and knowledgeable man as the Prophet’s successor.

The three dangers threatening the Muslim community

The still nascent Muslim community faced three dangers in the Prophet’s final years. The first danger was posed by the Byzantines, who were effectively at war with Muslims. The Prophet had led an army of thirty-thousand fighters to a place called Tābūk to fight the Byzantines in the year 9/630, but they had already withdrawn and no battle took place. In general, however, the Byzantine Empire aimed to capture the Arabian Peninsula and to overthrow the new Muslim nation.

The second potential danger came from the Sassanian Empire. Several years earlier, their king had received the Prophet’s letter calling him to Islam. The king became so angry upon reading this letter that he ordered the Governor of Yemen to either detain the Prophet or cut off his head and send it to him.

The third source of danger were the hypocrites (munāfiqūn), who were always busy conspiring against the Muslims. Led by a man named Abū ʿĀmir, the hypocrites built what came to be called the Mosque of Ḍarār as part of a plot to assassinate the Prophet. Later, Abū ʿĀmir left Medina for Mecca to provoke the Meccan pagans against the Muslims before fleeing to Byzantine lands, but he kept in touch with his contacts within Muslim territory.

Due to these sources of trouble, the Prophet needed to appoint a capable and knowledgeable successor before his death. This would prevent any disagreements concerning the issue of succession, which could pave the way for the enemies of Islam to take advantage of the situation and accomplish their own goals. For example, when Abū Sufyān (who had outwardly converted to Islam but still remained a pagan at heart, and thus should be called a hypocrite), heard about the event of Saqīfa (at which Abū Bakr was appointed the first Caliph after the Prophet), he went to ʿAlī and, namīng him the true successor to the Prophet, hypocritically offered his allegiance. He said to ʿAlī: ‘I am here to pledge my allegiance to you and to tell you that I am ready to fill up Medina with an army of fighters to support your claim.’ Aware of Abū Sufyān’s plot to take advantage of the situation against the unity of Muslims, ʿAlī replied: ‘By God, you intend by this offer of allegiance to me nothing but destroying Islam, for you have been long preparing for this. I do not need your help.’ Disappointed by ʿAlī’s response, he would go around in Medina reciting the following lines of poetry to goad Banū Hāshim tribe (to which the Prophet and ʿAlī belonged) into revolting against the Caliph appointed at Saqīfa:

‘O, Banū Hāshim! Let not other tribes take away your prerogative,

Especially Banū Taym and Banū Uday!

You deserve leadership (of Muslims) and you should have it.

Nobody else deserves to be the leader but ʿAlī.’

(Ibn Athīr 1/325; Ibn ʿAbd Rabbah 2/149)

As attested to by the Qur’an’s frequent references to the hypocrites in sūras 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 29, 47, 48, 57, 58, 59 and 63 (the last of which is actually entitled ‘Munafiqun,’ i.e., the hypocrites), these persons were not a small unimportant group but a powerful underground faction within the community.

Three options for succession

As Muḥammad Bāqir Ṣadr also notes in the introduction to his Tārīkh al-Imāmiyya, we can imagine three options for the Prophet with regards to the future of the Muslims:

First, the Prophet could leave the future of his followers wholly to themselves and worry leading them during his own life only. Ṣadr rejects this possibility because he thinks that it is based on two unacceptable assumptions: First, that the Prophet’s indifference to the future of the Muslims would not be harmful since they were able to solve their own problems and prevent any deviations in religion. For Ṣadr, however, this assumption is unreasonable because the Prophet would be leaving people who, in their new faith, had never experienced an absence of leadership. Therefore, he could not be sure about their success without his own planning for their future. The second assumption that might justify the Prophet’s lack of planning for the future of the Muslims is that the Prophet only cared about the situation of the Muslims in his own life time, and not about their future. But such an assumption is equally wrong, Ṣadr adds, because it is not the kind of attitude expected from prophets – people who dedicate their whole lives to helping human beings for the sake of God.

Secondly, Ṣadr says it could be imagined that the Prophet, caring and worrying about the future, decided that his successor should be chosen by a council of the Helpers (Anṣār) and the Emigrants (Muhājirīn), because they represented the entire Muslim community. But Ṣadr rejects this option too. This is because the Prophet was living amongst people who had an established tribal system of leadership where the leader either inherited his status or obtained it by force. Furthermore, the Prophet had not familiarized the Muslims with, or prepared them for, engaging with and accepting a system of leadership which was based on councils and elections. He had not taught Muslims the rules, regulations, nature and delimitations of such a kind of government. The lack of such teachings could be confirmed by the fact that while the first Caliph, Abū Bakr, was chosen via an agreement of sorts between some Emigrants and Helpers at Saqīfa, the second Caliph, ʿUmar b. Khaṭṭāb, was appointed by the first Caliph, Abū Bakr, and the third Caliph, ʿUthmān, was chosen from a council of six individuals appointed by ʿUmar. In other words, the first three caliphs were appointed in three different ways.

The third and last option thus would be for the Prophet to appoint a knowledgeable and pious man as his successor and, in this way, prevent any possible conflict and confusion in the Muslim society. This is the option which the Shīʿa argue for, based on a study of the Muslim society of the Prophet’s day (Ṣadr, Tārīkh al-Imāmiyya, 5–16).

We will provide more details on this topic in the next chapter.

Chapter 2: The position and responsibilities of the Prophet’s successor

During his lifetime, the Prophet fulfilled a number of key roles and responsibilities that could only be accomplished by a divinely-inspired person such as himself, and not just any ordinary man, no matter how intelligent they might be.

One of these duties was to explain the Qur’an, its implicit and hidden meanings; another was making decisions about legal issues for which laws had not already been laid down in the Qur’an. A third responsibility was to prevent any conflict between the Muslims and prevent any intellectual or religious deviations in the Muslims’ minds. This is why the Prophet’s sunna (meaning his words, deeds and approval) represents a perfect exemplar of conduct for Muslims.

Although prophethood (nubuwwa) and divine revelation (waḥī) ended with the death of the Prophet, the aforementioned roles still needed someone to carry them out in Muslim society; they had to be fulfilled, whether by an individual or a group of people who enjoyed the same spiritual qualities as the Prophet and shared his God-given knowledge, because no amount of ordinary education would be sufficient for them to carry out such important tasks.

With all of this in mind, we will now consider the consequences of not having a divinely-appointed successor to the Prophet. We will begin by looking at the Prophet’s role as an explainer of the Qur’an in the light of two of its verses. The first verse reads: ‘We have sent down the reminder to you so that you may clarify for the people that which has been sent down to them, so that they may reflect’ (Q16:44). Here, God says ‘clarify’ (tubayyin) rather than ‘recite’ (taqraʾ) because the Prophet was not only supposed to recite the Qur’an to people but also to explain its meanings to them. In the second verse, God says to His Prophet: ‘We did not send down the Book to you except (for the purpose) that you may clarify for them what they differ about’ (Q16:64).

Now, even though the Qur’an consists of more than six thousand verses, there are not many authentic traditions attributed to the Prophet on the subject of Qur’anic interpretation. In his ʾItqān, Suyūṭī claims to have collected around 13,000 musnad and mursal traditions in his Tarjumān al-Qurʾān (4/193). However, most of these aḥādīth, technically speaking, lack complete chains of narration going back to the Prophet (i.e. they are mursal), which means they are the words of the Prophet’s Companions or their successors. Only a few of the traditions he records are musnad – with complete chains going back to the Prophet. Suyūṭī adds that the traditions attributed to the Prophet on the subject of Qur’anic interpretation are often unreliable. He also quotes Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal as saying that narrations on the interpretation of the Qur’an, the battles of the Prophet (ghazwa) and his superhuman knowledge of the Unseen are not to be trusted (ʾItqān, 4/180). According to Suyūṭī, the number of traditions reliably attributed to the Prophet on Qur’anic interpretation is not much more than 114, which is the number of chapters in the Qur’an (4/214–57)!

Thus, the duty of explaining the Qur’an should be shouldered by someone with divine and superhuman knowledge just like Moses’s teacher, khidr, who, though not a prophet in the conventional sense, was nonetheless endowed with knowledge by God: ‘…and whom We had taught knowledge from Our own Presence’ (Q18:65).

The history of Islam records many controversies regarding the interpretation of Qur’anic verses. For example, about the proper way to understand the verse instructing Muslims to take ritual ablution (wuḍūʾ>ʾ), which involves washing parts of the body before offering prayers (Q5:6). Another controversy concerns interpretations of the verse on the punishment of thieves, as to which parts of their hand must be cut off (Q5:38). A third instance is the disagreement surrounding the proper interpretation of verses 12 and 176 of Sūrat al-Nisāʾ, which some say contain contradictory injunctions regarding inheritance, and which have thus remained highly contentious.

New issues

In the course of their conquests, Muslims would be confronted with new legal issues and cases whose explanation could not be found in the Qur’an. Since there are a limited number of verses in the Qur’an regarding secondary issues and no more than 500 aḥādīth about religious practices, it is easy to see how problems would accumulate after the Prophet’s death (Muḥammad Rashīd and Khalīlī, 212).

Al-Fakhr al-Rāzī believes that only a small number of legal injunctions could be found in the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunna. One of the unexplained issues, for instance, was the problem of ʿawl, which refers to a situation in which an inheritance is not mathematically divisible between the inheritors; for instance, the inheritors of a deceased man might include his father, mother, wife and two daughters. According to the usual prescriptions, his wife would receive one-eighth, the parents would receive one-third and the daughters two-thirds of the inherited property. However, this amounts to nine-eighths, which cannot be divided amongst the inheritors! This problem occurred during the caliphate of ʿUmar, who swore by God that he did not know what to do with it but ultimately decided to divide the amount equally amongst the inheritors (Muḥammad Rashīd and Khalīlī 212). Another unusual legal case pertains to a man who had twice divorced his wife while being a disbeliever and once after converting to Islam. The question was whether or not he was allowed to marry the woman a fourth time (Al-Hindī, 5/161).

The Muslims were confused as to how they should deal with such problems in the absence of clear scriptural prescriptions and could only guess at the proper solution, which would eventually be endorsed as the right decision in similar situations. Of course, had there been a knowledgeable man endowed with divine wisdom amongst them at that time, he would have solved the problems in the best possible way by following the true tenets and rules of Islam.

The duty to protect the Muslims from deviation

One of the roles An infallible Imam plays in Muslim society is to prevent possible deviations or distortions in the religion by offering the final word on contentious issues. As there have been many disagreements over religious decrees in different situations since the Prophet’s death, a pious leader endowed with divine knowledge could have led the Muslims to a much better situation. After the Prophet’s death, some deceitful Jews and Christians took their chances to disseminate false ideas by fabricating false aḥādīth which came to be called isrāʾīliyyāt, masīḥiyyāt and majuṣiyyāt. The number of aḥādīth fabricated in this manner may have exceeded one million, which is why Bukhārī selected his own collection of out of 600,000 available aḥādīth (al-Fatḥ al-Bārī, Muqaddima, 54) and Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal compiled his out of 750,000 while he had memorized – by some counts – a million (Dhahabi, 9/17).

It is certainly impossible to ascribe so many aḥādīth to the Prophet, who was highly restricted during the first 13 years of his prophethood in Mecca, so much so that he could rarely ever teach the Qur’an, let alone aḥādīth, to the people. Furthermore, he was very busy when he established the community in Medina; amongst other things, he was responsible for organising military campaigns, missionary activity, diplomatic relations, legal arbitration, reciting the Qur’an to the people and explaining it, expounding religious verdicts and answering related questions, debates with the followers of other religions, taking care of the social, political and economic affairs of society, writing to tribal leaders and the kings and governors of other countries, and fighting the hypocrites (who, as we have already seen, were mentioned in a large number of Qur’anic verses). Considering all these duties, it would have been impossible for the Prophet to produce so many aḥādīth about such a diverse range of subjects. However, in such a situation, An infallible Imam would be in a perfect position to prevent any distortions from creeping into the religion and could become a touchstone or criterion for people to distinguish truth from falsehood. A fallible Caliph, even one who was popularly elected, could at the very best declare (as Abū Bakr did after being elected at Saqīfa): ‘I have been elected your leader while I was not the best of you. If I take the right path, help me and if I go astray, take me back to the right path!’ (Ibn Ḥajar al-Ḥaythami, 11). Such a person, to be sure, could not always distinguish between right and wrong, and this would lead to more and more distortions and deviations in the religion.

The Iranian philosopher Avicenna supports the notion of a divinely-appointed successor in the following way:

‘It is not possible to have a prophet at all times because only a few people possess the capability of accomplishing the Prophetic mission. Thus, in order to keep and protect the laws and rules beneficial to the good of the humanity, the Prophet ought to have successors, and if such successors were appointed by the Prophet himself, it would be better for Muslim society and would prevent conflicts, revolts and corruption. (Shifāʾ 2/13 and Ilāhiyyāt, 558–564).’

Therefore, whether or not the Prophet actually appointed a successor, had the Prophet appointed one this would have safeguarded Islam’s wellbeing in a way that the people electing his successor could not.

Conventions of succession in the Prophet’s day

The above discussions show that, as far as the Prophet’s triple-duty is concerned, the best mode of succession was for him to appoint a successor rather than the people electing one through a council. Incidentally, the Prophet’s Companions also suggested appointment through the preceding Caliph rather than a council, which, in fact, happened only once (in the case of Abū Bakr), while other caliphs either were appointed by the previous Caliph or inherited the position.

Let us now attend to some historical facts which show that the leaders of the Prophet’s day did not believe in electing caliphs via councils. The first example here concerns when the Prophet introduced his religion to the Banū ʿĀmir tribe. The tribe’s leader asked the Prophet, ‘Suppose we swear allegiance to you. Would you share the power with us once you were victorious over your enemies?’ The Prophet answered, ‘God will decide about this. He will put this on the shoulders of whosoever he chooses’ (Ibn Hishām, 2/424). If succession were a matter for the people or a council to decide, the Prophet would not have said it was in God’s hands.

The Prophet was clearly not alone in this view of succession because all the following cases of succession were also decided by appointment rather than by election, even though this process was sometimes disguised in the form of a council. ʿUmar b. Khaṭṭāb, for instance, was appointed by Abū Bakr. When he was lying on deathbed, Abū Bakr called ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān and told him to write down his will. ʿUthmān took a pen and wrote: ‘In the Name of God.’ Then Abū Bakr dictated his will in the following way: ‘This is the will of Abū Bakr b. Abī Qaḥḥāfa dictated in the last days of his life in this world and the first days of his life in the Next World. I appoint ʿUmar b. Khaṭṭāb as my successor…’ (Ibn Saʿd 3/200)

The succession of ʿUthmān was similarly a matter of appointment, even though it outwardly took the form of an election because he was chosen by a council of six who were expected to choose nobody else. In fact, of the six people ʿUmar appointed to the council, only two were in favor of ʿAlī. The council consisted of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib, ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān, Ṭalḥa b. ʿAbd Allāh, Zubayr b. ʿAwām, Saʿd b. Abī Waqqāṣ and ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAwf. If they had intended to make a real council, the members would have been elected by the people of both Mecca and Medina or by an adjudicating body, not by the Caliph. Thus, the case of ʿUthmān was one of appointment in spirit rather than election.

When ʿUmar felt the approaching death, he sent his son ʿAbd Allāh to ʿĀʾisha’s house to ask her permission that he be buried next to the Prophet. ʿĀʾisha agreed to that and said to ʿAbd Allāh: ‘Give my regards to your father and tell him not to leave Muḥammad’s flock without a shepherd, or else I fear they will succumb to sedition’ (Ibn Qutayba, 1/32).

According to Abū Naʿīm al-Iṣfahānī, when ʿUmar was in deathbed, his son, ʿAbd Allāh, told him: ‘People say things and I would like to tell you what they say. They think you are not going to appoint any successor. Would you not scold a shepherd who abandoned his flock? Likewise, you should show concern for the people and appoint a leader for them’ (Ḥilyat al-Awliyāʾ, 1/44). In a similar fashion, when Muʿāwiya was criticized for coming to Medina to extract a pledge of allegiance from the people for his son in the year 56/676, he replied: ‘I was worried that I might die and leave Muḥammad’s flock without a shepherd’ (Ibn Qutayba, 1/168). Therefore, it is clear that people in the Prophet’s time and shortly thereafter did not believe in appointing councils or holding elections for matters of succession. The fact that later scholars have resorted to such notions is only in order to provide a theological justification for the de facto way in which the Caliphs obtained power. There was no case of popular appointment to the position of Caliph except in that of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib, otherwise it was appointment or inheritance that determined the issue of succession.

Chapter 3: What the Qur’an and the Prophet’s tradition say about succession

 The Ḥadīth of Badʾ al-Daʿwa

The ḥadīth of Badʾ al-Daʿwa (lit. ‘Beginning of the Preaching’), which is related to the beginning of the Prophet’s mission, is well-known to traditionists, historians and Qur’anic commentators. When God ordered the Prophet to call his close relatives to Islam – ‘Warn the nearest of your kinsfolk’ (Q26:214) – he told ʿAlī to prepare some food for the guests. After the leaders of the Banū ʿAbd al-MutTālib tribe had finished eating, the Prophet began to address them. He said, ‘The guide never lies. I swear by God, who is one and only, that I am His Prophet to you and all people. You will die just as you sleep and you will be resurrected just as you wake up, and you will be judged for all you do. Then there will be everlasting paradise and eternal damnation. O Sons of ʿAbd al-MutTālib! By God, I know of no youth amongst Arabs who can offer something more valuable to people than what I offer to you. I advise you to believe in God, and whoever helps me in this will be my brother, my legatee and my successor amongst you.’ The Prophet repeated his call to Islam three times, and it was ʿAlī who answered every time, ‘God’s Prophet, I am ready to help you in your mission.’ No one else responded. At this point, the Prophet said, ‘I hereby declare that ʿAlī is my brother, my legatee my and successor amongst you. So harken to him and obey!’ (Ibn Ḥanbal 1/111; Ṭabarī, 2/62; Ibn Athīr, 2/40). In this way, the Prophet declared ʿAlī his successor on the very day he declared his mission to his people.

The ḥadīth of Manzila

Scholars of ḥadīth and sīra relate that when the Prophet was setting out on the campaign of Tābūk amongst some thirty thousand men, ʿAlī asked him: ‘Shall I come with you?’ He replied: ‘no. ’ This distressed ʿAlī greatly, so God’s Messenger told him: ‘Are you not pleased to be with me in the same station (manzila) as Aaron was to Moses, except that there will be no prophet after me?’ (Bukhārī, tradition nos. 4706 and 4416). We know that Aaron, according to the Qur’an, was a prophet and, at the same time, Moses’s assistant and successor. Thus, ʿAlī was the Prophet’s assistant and his successor. According to Muslim, the famous Sunnī traditionist, when Muʿāwiya ordered people to insult ʿAlī he saw that Saʿd b. Abī Waqqāṣ did not do so. When he questioned him about the reason for this, Saʿd replied: ‘I do not insult ʿAlī because I remember three things the Prophet told him even one of which would be a great honour to me.’ And then Saʿd reported the above Prophet’s words to ʿAlī at the time of the campaign to Tābūk (Muslim 6/120).

The ḥadīth of Ghadīr

The ḥadīth of Ghadīr is one of the most widely-narrated and authentic traditions in Islam; it is narrated by no fewer than 120 Companions, ninety Successors and 360 Sunnī scholars. Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328), who harboured some enmity towards ʿAlī, rejected the authenticity of the tradition. However, the latter-day representative of his school of thought, Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Albānī (1333–1424/1914–1999), criticised him for rejecting it without a thorough investigation of all of its parts. According to this tradition, after having people bear witness to the unity of God, his own prophethood and the Day of Judgment, the Prophet asked: ‘Oh, People! How will you treat the two weighty things after me?’ A man stood up and asked aloud, ‘What are they?’ The Prophet responded, ‘The greater one is the Book of God, one side of which is in God’s hand and the other is in yours. So hold fast to it lest you go astray. And the lesser one is my progeny (ʿitra). The All-Knowing One has informed me that these two will never be separated until they reach me at the Pool (hawḍ). I have asked Allāh to make this happen. Do not go ahead of them lest you perish, nor fall behind them lest you perish!’ Then, the Prophet held up ʿAlī’s hand so that people could see the whites of their armpits and everyone could recognize him. The Prophet asked people, ‘Who is more entitled (awlā) to the believers than their own selves?’ The people replied, ‘God and His Messenger know best.’ He added, ‘God is my master (mawlā) and I am the master (mawlā) of the believers. I am more entitled (awlā) to the believers than their own selves? And whoever I am the master of, then ʿAlī is his master too!’ The Prophet repeated this sentence for three times (or four times, as Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal relates). Then he added, ‘Oh, God! Be an ally to his allies and an enemy to his enemies, love those who love him and hate those who hate him, help those who help him and forsake those who forsake him. Turn rightness with him wheresoever he turns. And Lo! Let those who are present inform those who are absent!’

We would do well to ask what the purpose of such a large gathering of people was. If we take all of the Prophet’s words at Ghadīr into consideration, we will find several good reasons to believe his only purpose in stopping all those people there in the heat of day was to announce his successor to them:

Firstly, the Prophet began his address by having people bear witness to the unity of God, the truth of Judgment Day and his own prophethood. Then he proceeds to the announce succession of ʿAlī. This implies that ʿAlī’s succession to the Prophet is, in terms of its significance, on a par with those three fundamental principles of Islam. In other words, if he had intended to express his own friendship to ʿAlī or to ask others to befriend him (as some have suggested based on the different means of the word mawla), the Prophet would not have mentioned these fundamental beliefs.

Secondly, the Prophet asks people, ‘Who is more entitled (awlā) to the believers?’ before saying that ‘whoever I am the master of, then ʿAlī is his master too!’ Here, the Prophet clearly uses the word ‘mawlā’ to signify authority over the people in their social and political affairs, and protecting their lives.

Thirdly, the Prophet informs the people of his imminent death: ‘I am soon to be called, and I must respond.’ This suggests that he is thinking of and trying to make provisions for the Muslim society after his demise, particularly that there will be a leading authority for people to follow.

Fourthly, after declaring ‘whoever I am the master of, then ʿAlī is his master too’, the Prophet added, ‘God is greater, for the religion of Islam is perfected and the blessing is completed and God is now satisfied with my prophethood and ʿAlī’s wilāya.’ These sentences show that God’s religion was perfected and His blessing was completed with ʿAlī’s succession to leadership (wilāya) after the Prophet (Amīnī, 1/26, 27, 30, 32, 33, 34, 36, 47 and 176). Most clearly, the Prophet declares that God is now satisfied with his prophethood and ʿAlī’s succession as the leader of Muslims.

Fifthly, after the Prophet had finished his address, Abū Bakr and ʿUmar, along with many other Prophet’s Companions came to ʿAlī and congratulated him on the event, which lasted until sunset. Abū Bakr and ʿUmar said to ʿAlī, ‘Congratulations! Between the morning and evening of today, you have become the mawlā of all Muslim men and women’ (Amīnī, 1/27, 283).

Finally, those who do not dispute the authenticity of the tradition itself but claim that the Prophets words only meant that people should be friends of ʿAlī should pay attention to the fact that it would be incompatible with the Prophet’s wisdom to stop a caravan of about one hundred thousand people in the heat of day only to tell them to be friends of ʿAlī. ʿAlī’s friendship with the believers was not doubted, because as the Qur’an declares, all Muslims are brothers and friends to each other: ‘The believers are but a single brotherhood’ (Q46:10) and ‘The believers, men and women, are protectors of one another’ (Q9:71).

Two objections

Those who have investigated the ḥadīth of Ghadīr accept its authenticity and the fact that its words were indeed uttered by the Prophet. This is why the Companions, the Successors and later scholars have related the ḥadīth and confirmed that the Prophet said on the occasion of Ghadīr: ‘whoever I am the master of, then ʿAlī is his master too.’ However, some have claimed that the Arabic word ‘mawlā’ has never been used in Arabic in the sense of ‘awlā’ (‘more entitled’) while those who employ this ḥadīth, in fact, stress this meaning in order to establish ʿAlī’s leadership after the Prophet.

In response to this objection, we may remind the critics that the word ‘mawlā,’ as many interpreters confirm, has actually been used in the Qur’an in the sense of ‘more entitled or proper.’ An example of this sense can be found in the following verse: ‘So today no ransom shall be taken from you, nor from the faithless. The Fire is your proper abode: it is your refuge and an evil destination.’ (Q57:15).

Chapter 4: What the Qur’an and the Sunna say about ʿAlī’s leadership

The intellectual centrality of the Prophet’s Household

If the ḥadīth of Manzila, ḥadīth of Ghadīr and ḥadīth of Badʾ al-Daʿwa point to the political centrality of the Prophet’s Family, there are other traditions which demonstrate their centrality to Islamic thought after the Prophet. In fact, ʿAlī and some of his descendants (who constitute the major part of the Prophet’s family) enjoyed the same kind of centrality as the Prophet himself did, except for receiving revelation and establishing the religion. What follows is aimed at support the centrality of the Prophet’s family to Islam.

The ḥadīth of Thaqalayn

The first supporting ḥadīth is that of thaqalayn (‘the two weighty things’), which contains some of the Prophet’s important words in the last days of his life:

Oh, people! I am soon to be summoned and I must respond. I have left amongst you two weighty things, one of which is greater than the other; the Book of God and my progeny, so pay attention to how you treat these two after me. They will not part from one another until they return to me at the Pool.’ (Nīsābūrī, 3/103)

The authenticity of this ḥadīth has been so heavily supported that Mīr Hāmid Ḥusayn has compiled a six-volume book, entitled ʿAqabāt al-Anwār, containing the supporting references.

The ḥadīth of the Ark

The second supporting ḥadīth is known as the ḥadīth of the Ark (safīna). In this tradition, the Prophet has compared his family, in terms of their intellectual centrality, to Noah’s ark and has added that whoever travels on board it will be saved and whoever does not will perish: ‘Lo! Verily the likeness of my Household amongst you is that of Noah’s ark; whoever boards it will be saved and whoever holds back from it will drown’ (Nīsābūrī, 3/151). Based on this, Ibn Ḥajar al-Haythamī argues in his Sawa‘iq that whoever loves the Prophet’s Family out of gratitude to God for sending the Prophet to the people and follows their teachings will be saved from darkness, and whoever does not follow them will be drowned in the sea of ingratitude and failure.

The ḥadīth of the Twelve Leaders

Bukhārī’s and Muslim’s ḥadīth collections, which are among the best and most reliable ḥadīth collections of Sunnī Muslims, include a tradition that refers to the rule of twelve leaders (amīr). Bukhārī writes that Jābir b. Samra said: ‘I hear the Prophet say, “There will be twelve leaders.” Then he said something I didn’t hear. I asked my father what he had said and he told me: “They will all be from the Quraysh.”’ (Bukhārī, 9/101, tradition nos. 7222 and 7223).

Meanwhile, Muslim relates from the Prophet: ‘This (Islam) will not be finished until twelve successors come and go after me… they will all be from the Quraysh’ (Muslim 6/3).

Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal narrates that Masrūq, a Successor, said: ‘I was sitting near ʿAbd Allāh b. Masʿūd as he recited the Qur’an, when a man asked him: “Did you ask the Prophet the number of his successors?” ʿAbd Allāh answered: “Nobody has ever asked me this since I entered Iraq. Yes, I asked the Prophet and he replied: ‘They will be twelve, as the leaders of the Israelites were.’”’

Other traditions tell us that the Prophet prefixed his description of the twelve successors with one of the following clauses: ‘Islam will always be mighty so long as…’ ‘Islam will always be victorious so long as…,’ ‘Islam will always be firm so long as…’, and ‘Islam will always be true so long as…’ Thus, the Prophet has connected the greatness, victory, firmness and truth of Islam to the leadership of the Twelve Imams and compared them with the Prophets of the Israelites. These descriptions apply to the Twelve Imams, beginning with Imam ʿAlī, who made many efforts to spread the teachings of Islam and in this way guaranteed the greatness of Islam. Moreover, all Muslims – whether Shīʿī or Sunnī – are in agreement that these the Imams were amongst the most knowledgeable and pious people of their time.

Let us consider this matter from another angle and suppose that the Four Caliphs (i.e. Abū Bakr, ʿUmar, ʿUthmān and ʿAlī. ) were what guaranteed the greatness and victory of Islam. The problem is that their periods of leadership were short and they were only four in number. The Umayyad rulers were tyrants and there were more than twelve of them. The Abbasid rulers were tyrants in a similar fashion, guilty of bloodshed and persecution and, again, there were more than twelve of them.

As far as understanding the Prophet’s words, we should be looking for twelve consecutive leaders whose personalities reflect the descriptions provided by the Prophet. It is very strange that some Sunnī writers have tried prove that the Prophet was actually referring to the four caliphs along with some Umayyad rulers such as Muʿāwiya, Yazīd, ʿAbd al-Malik Marwān and Walīd, some of whom were notorious for murdering the Prophet’s Companions and drinking alcohol in Kaʿba (Suyūṭī, Tārīkh, 250).

The Verse of Wilāya

The Verse of Wilāya is a verse of the Qur’an which the majority interpreters concur was revealed concerning Imam ʿAlī. It reads: ‘Your guardian (walī) is only Allāh, His Messenger, and the faithful who maintain the prayer and give the zakāt while bowing. Whoever takes for his guardians Allāh, His Messenger and the faithful (should know that) the confederates of Allāh are indeed the victorious’ (Q5:55-6).

Imam ʿAlī, Ibn ʿAbbās, ʿAmmār, Jābir, Abū Rāfiʿ, Anas b. Mālik and ʿAbd Allāh b. Salām relate the same story about the context of verse 5:55 (Hindī, tradition no. 6137; al-Fakhr al-Rāzī 12/26 and Nīsābūrī, Tafsīr, 6/154): Namely that on one occasion a beggar came to the mosque and asked for people’s help, but nobody gave him anything. It was at this moment that Imam ʿAlī, who was bowing in prayer, signalled for the beggar to take the ring from his finger. The man took the ring and went away. When the Prophet heard about this, he asked God: ‘Appoint an assistant for me from my Family, just as you did for Moses!’ Gabriel came to reveal the above verse (5/55) to the Prophet as a response to his request.

The renowned poet of the Prophet’s day, Ḥasan b. Thābit, has composed the following lines in praise of Imam ʿAlī:

‘Who gave his ring in charity while bowing / and whose soul is filled with secrets?

Who slept in Muḥammad’s bed while he travelled by night on the Day of the Cave?

Who has been named faithful in nine frequently recited verses?’ (Ibn al-Jawzī, 18)

The word ‘walī’ in the verse denotes ‘guardian’ or ‘someone with authority’ rather than ‘friend’ because describing Imam ʿAlī as a friend of the Muslims would not single him out for mention. The Qur’an calls all Muslims friends of one another: ‘The believers, men and women, are friends (awliyāʾ) of one another’ (Q9/71). Thus, the only reasonable meaning of ‘walī’ in this context would be ‘guardian,’ ‘leader’ or ‘authority.’ The term ‘walī’ in Arabic denotes ‘guardian’ as in the Prophet’s ḥadīth: ‘If a woman marries without the consent of her guardian (walī), her marriage would be invalid’ (Ibn Ḥanbal, 6/66). This is also the meaning intended by the verse, which mentions three guardians for the Muslims: Allāh, His Messenger and ‘the faithful.’ The latter term have been further specified as ‘who maintain the prayer and give the zakāt while bowing ‘(Q5:55). As we can see, the third guardian is none other than Imam ʿAlī, who gave zakāt while bowing in prayer. Furthermore, if the word ‘walī’ meant ‘friend’ or another similar word, it would have been meaningless to restrict its meaning by talking about maintaining prayers and paying zakāt because Muslims are all friends with each other. As we can see, the above verse adds the condition of paying zakāt while bowing in prayer to the condition of belief in God and offering prayers. By doing so, it restricts the possible referents of the verse to the point that, as far as history can show, there will be only one guardian that could be considered as the referent of the verse; Imam ʿAlī.

A question answered

One might ask why the verse says: ‘the faithful’ (plural) not ‘the faithful man’ (singular) if it only refers to ʿAlī. The simple answer is that in Arabic sometimes the plural is used instead of singular to pay special respect to someone or something, as when God says: ‘We have indeed sent it down in the Night of Power’ (Q97:1). Zamakhsharī argues in his Kashshāf that the plural is used here in order to encourage people to act in a similar way, namely, to know the value of such good deeds and to be so generous as to pay zakāt to the poor even before their prayers are finished (1/468).

Responding to Rāzī’s objections

Al-Fakhr al-Rāzī, known as the ‘Leader of the Skeptics’, has raised doubts that the wilāya mentioned in this verse refers to ʿAlī. Fortunately, he wrote his will in 606/1209, two years before his death, explaining his doubts: ‘Know that I loved knowledge and wrote on many subjects while I was not fully aware of their nature and did not care much whether my writings were right or wrong, worthy or worthless’ )Farīd Wajdī, 4/148).

We will now consider some of Rāzī’s comments regarding the Verse of Wilāya and its relationship to Imam ʿAlī. One of Rāzī’s arguments is that ‘walī’ in Arabic means ‘friend,’ as in: ‘the believers are friends (awliyāʾ) of one another’ (Q9:71). The plural form ‘awliyāʾ’ is also used in the verse ‘O you who have faith! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for allies: they are allies of each other. Any of you who allies with them is indeed one of them. Indeed Allāh does not guide the wrongdoing lot’ (Q5:51). Below this verse, God says: ‘O you who have faith! Do not take those who take your religion in derision and play, from among those who were given the Book before you, and the infidels, as friends, and be wary of Allāh, should you be faithful.’ (Q5:57). If we accepted the meaning of ‘friends’ for ‘awliyāʾ’ in Q5:51 and Q5:57, we would have to admit the same meaning for the word in Verse of Wilāya, Rāzī argues.

It seems that owing to his theological bias, Rāzī has, on the basis of a limited sample of verses (Q5:51 and 57), concluded that the words ‘awliyāʾ’ and ‘walī’ imply ‘friendship’ and ‘love,’ and therefore, the Verse of Wilāya speaks about love of God, His Messenger and other believers. But the point is that the friendship between believers and God and His Messenger was obvious and did not need to be stressed in this verse. Therefore, the word ‘walī’ should mean something different here; something that applies to the three distinct entities in the verse. A glance at the other verses of Sūrat al-Māʾida (namely verses 42–70) reveals that the word ‘walī’ signifies people who may rule, and have authority over, the society of Muslims:

‘And how should they make you a judge, while with them is the Torah, in which is Allāh’s judgement? Yet in spite of that they turn their backs (on Him) and they are not believers.’ (Q5:43)

‘Let the people of the Evangel judge by what Allāh has sent down in it. Those who do not judge by what Allāh has sent down – it is they who are the transgressors.’ (Q5:47)

‘Judge between them by what Allāh has sent down, and do not follow their desires. Beware of them lest they should beguile you from part of what Allāh has sent down to you. But if they turn their backs (on you), then know that Allāh desires to punish them for some of their sins, and indeed many of the people are transgressors.’ (Q5:49)

‘Do they seek the judgement of (pagan) ignorance? But who is better than Allāh in judgement for a people who have certainty?’ (5: 50)

After all of these verses, which concern matters of leading the believers and judging between them, the Qur’an presents the verse referred to by Rāzī: ‘O you who have faith! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for allies: they are allies of each other. Any of you who allies with them is indeed one of them. Indeed Allāh does not guide the wrongdoing lot’ (Q5:51). Considering the preceding verses, it is clear that verse 51 cannot be simply talking about friendship with the Jews and Christians, but rejecting the authority of these people over Muslims, an authority which could be the source all evil in the Muslim society. Likewise, it becomes clear that verse 57, is also not speaking about friendly relations with Jews and Christians but warning against accepting their judgments and their authority in issuing religious decrees.

In view of the above points, the content of the Verse of Wilāya could be more clearly understood. God identifies three referents for walī because the groups previously mentioned had not accepted the authority of Allāh and had not implemented his orders. This is why God warns these groups in the previous verses.

There are other verses in the Qur’an which further demonstrate that the word ‘walī’ (or ‘awliyāʾ’) cannot be read as meaning friend (or friends), but ‘authority’ or ‘guardian.’ Q5:51, which forms the basis of Rāzī’s argument is very similar to Q9:23, which reads: ‘O you who have faith! Do not take your fathers and brothers as awliyāʾ if they prefer faithlessness to faith. Those of you who befriend them – it is they who are the wrongdoers.’ What could be the meaning of this verse which warns the believers of taking their parents and brothers as their ‘awliyāʾ’ if they prefer infidelity to faith? Does this refer to the filial love between parents and their children? Clearly not! This is a very natural kind of love which cannot be easily stopped. Rather, the verse refers to a kind of relationship in which someone’s life is controlled and led by another person.

Q5:51 contains the following divine judgment: ‘Any of you who allies with them (i.e. the Jews and the Christians) is indeed one of them.’ Could we conclude that friendship with Jews and Christians makes a Muslim believer into a Jew or Christian? Again, it may be seen that the word ‘walī’ is a reference to accepting someone’s authority. As all the above discussion can show, it is impossible for anyone to claim that the word ‘walī’ or ‘awliyāʾ’ concerns friendship!

Rāzī has a further objection to the Shīʿa interpretation of the Verse of Wilāya, too. Supposing that verse Q5:55 refers to Imam ʿAlī, Rāzī argues, we should also believe that the leadership of ʿAlī is not restricted to the post-Prophet era but is also applicable during the Prophet’s lifetime (Rāzī, Tafsīr 12/28)!

However, Rāzī has not paid due attention to the fact that while ʿAlī’s leadership might apply during the Prophet’s lifetime too, the implementation of such leadership would normally happen in the absence of the Prophet – that is, after his death. Politicians normally appoint an acting deputy who is not in charge of the affairs unless the politician goes away and there is a need for someone to carry out his or her duties.

Studying the verses about Imam ʿAlī, we may see that God actively directs the Muslim community towards the Prophet’s Family. For example, He makes the love of the Prophet’s Household the reward for the Prophet’s mission (Q42:23); He refers to ʿAlī as the self (nafs) of the Prophet, and his sons as the Prophet’s own sons (Q3:61); He says that the houses of the Prophet’s Family (including that of Fāṭima) have been ‘raised to honour’ (Q24:36). Acording to Suyūṭī, when this verse was revealed to the Prophet, Abū Bakr asked him while pointing to ʿAlī and Fāṭima’s house, ‘Is this one of those houses?’ and the Prophet replied, ‘Yes, that is one of the best houses’ (Durr al-Manthūr 5: 50). If we take these verses into consideration, we can easily see that the Prophet has made a decision about his successor and appointed him before his death.

Chapter 5: Why did not ʿAlī’s leadership materialize immediately after the Prophet’s death?

It is sometimes asked why the Prophet’s Companions ignored his clear designation of ʿAlī as his successor and the leader of the believers. After all, it was his Companions who accompanied him on his preaching and military expeditions, and not long had passed between the Prophet’s speech at Ghadīr and his death. In the present Chapter, we will attempt to answer this question by studying history and seeing that the Companions did not always follow the Prophet’s commands; ignoring the proclamation of Ghadīr was only one instance of their disobedience.

The Prophet appointed ʿAlī as his successor because this was God’s command and to prevent any contest for leadership of the community upon his death. In such a situation, one may wonder why the Companions, who had made so many sacrifices for the sake of Islam, ignored the Prophet’s order concerning Imam ʿAlī’s authority and bestowed leadership of the Muslims upon others.

An exAmīnation of the Prophet’s Companions exposes the fact that, in spite of all the praise given them, many of them did not fully submit to Allāh and sometimes would prefer their own personal decisions over God’s orders. Many instances of their disobedience can be found in both the verses of the Qur’an and in the aḥādīth, all of these have been recorded in Sayyid Sharaf al-Dīn’s book, al-Naṣṣ wa al-Ijtihād. And some of the cases will be considered below.

Resistance to the Prophet’s Decisions and Judgments

A verse of Sūrat al-Māʾida shows that some of the Prophet’s Companions did not always accept his judgments fully: ‘But no, by your Lord! They will not believe until they make you a judge in their disputes, then do not find within their hearts any dissent to your verdict and submit in full submission.’ (Q4:65). The Qur’an stresses that acceptance of the Prophet’s judgments is a sign of a person’s belief in God, while rejecting his judgments would make them into disbelievers. This warning assumes a lack of absolute obedience to the Prophet’s decisions and judgments.

Disobedience at the Battle of Badr

During the Battle of Badr, some Muslims took some disbelievers captive in order to ransom them for money, while this should not have been done until after the war was over. God criticized their action by revealing the following verse: ‘Had it not been for a prior decree of Allāh, surely there would have befallen you a great punishment for what you took’ (Q8:68). This verse applies to the Prophet’s Companions who took part in the Battle of Badr, some of whom were amongst Islam’s finest martyrs. If these Companions disobeyed God in this way, what could we say about the lesser Companions?

Disobedience in the battle of Uhud

In the year 3/624, Abū Sufyān was preparing to attack Medina and encamped his forces at mount Uhud. The Prophet assembled an army to fight them and ordered fifty troops, led by ʿAbd Allāh b. Jubayr, to take up positions at a place called Jabal ʿAynayn to protect the Muslim army rear from attack. The Prophet insisted that they stay there no matter whether the Muslims were defeated or victorious. Notwithstanding the Prophet’s insistence, forty of the archers decided that their presence in that location was unnecessary and, seeing that the Muslims were about to defeat the enemy, abandoned their positions, against their commander’s advice, to collect booty. As a result, Khālid b. Walīd, leading the enemy cavalry, took the opportunity to attack the unprotected location and kill the remaining ten soldiers before attacking the Muslims’ army from behind and turning their victory into a defeat (Ibn Hishām, Sīra 3/83).

Objections to the Treaty of Ḥudaybiyya

In the year 6/627, the Prophet set out for Mecca to perform the rites of Ḥajj along with some of his Companions, but they were not equipped for warfare. When they reached a place called Ḥudaybiyya, which was on the edge of Mecca at that time, the disbelievers did not allow them to pass. For this reason, both sides agreed that no Ḥajj should be carried out that year but that the following year the Muslims would be allowed to perform their rituals. ʿUmar b. Khaṭṭāb was displeased with the agreement and furiously asked, ‘Will not this agreement be a disgrace to us in our religion?’ (Ibn Hishām, Sīra 2: 317). ʿUmar and his like-minded friends were persuaded after talking to the Prophet, and the future events revealed that the agreement produced many benefits to the Muslims and Islam. Only two years after the agreement, Mecca was captured by the Muslims and Kaʿba was cleared of idols.

The Army of Usāma

When the Prophet lay on his deathbed, he decided to send an army to fight a Byzantine force which was threatening Medina. He gathered an army, made Usāma b. Zayd their commander and ordered him to leave as soon as possible. He was so insistent about doing this that, in spite of his severe illness, he repeatedly said, ‘Prepare the army of Usāma! God’s curse be upon those who stay behind!’ This event divided the Muslims into two groups: those who insisted on leaving and those who insisted on staying. The latter group argued that the Prophet’s health was worsening and they could not tolerate being away from him. They wanted to stay until the Prophet’s situation became stable (Shahristānī, Milal wa Nihal 1/29–30). Ṭabarī, describing the events of 11/632, reports that some of the Companions did not think Usāma capable of leading the army and therefore refused to accompany him in the war. When the Prophet heard of this disobedience, he said, ‘He is worthy of commanding the army. You used to say the same things before while he was capable of commanding’ (Ṭabarī, Tārīkh, 2/29).

The Calamity on Thursday

There is also another instance of the Companions’ disobedience which concerns the last days of the Prophet’s life. According to Ibn ʿAbbās, when the Prophet’s health was deteriorating in the last few days of his life, he bid those assembled: ‘Bring me ink and paper, so I can write something to prevent you from going astray!’ ʿUmar commented that the Prophet was extremely ill and that the Book of God was enough for them. Thus, a commotion erupted between those who insisted on bringing ink and paper and others who refused. The Prophet who was angry with the commotion and quarrel, ordered, ‘Stand up and go away! How could you quarrel before me? Ibn ʿAbbās adds, ‘All troubles started on this day when they did not let the Prophet write his letter’ (Bukhārī, Kitāb al-ʿIlm, tradition no. 114).

The above cases were a number of the Prophet’s Companions’ clear disobedience of his decisions, orders and judgments, all of which reveal that ignoring the Prophet’s orders was not an uncommon occurrence among his Companions and they could easily disagree with the Prophet’s designation of ʿAlī as his successor. With the length of time separating us from the Prophet’s days, we might wrongly believe that his Companions always submitted to God and the Prophet’s orders while, in fact, they were originally disbelievers who had converted to Islam. Some of them simply submitted to the divine orders and some of them were usually thinking of their own personal gain and interests. At least, we may say that not all those Companions were innocent or infallible.

Distorting Islamic teachings

Another set of instances which demonstrate the lack of complete submission to divine commands on the part of the Companions and show that they would sometimes follow their own interests, or that they accepted divine orders only as long as they were in line with their own benefits is the fact that, after the Prophet’s death, they distorted some of Islamic teachings claiming that the changes were intended to reform those teachings.

Changes to the Call to Prayer for Fajr

One of the innovations they introduced to the religion involved adding something to the call to prayer (adhān). According to Mālik in his Muwaṭṭaʾ, once, when the muezzin came to wake ʿUmar up for fajr prayers, he said to ʿUmar: ‘Prayer is better than sleep,’ and ʿUmar thought that it would be a good idea to add this phrase to the call to prayer (tradition no. 6). Zarqānī, in his annotations on the Muwaṭṭaʾ, reports that ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUmar heard his father say to the muezzin, ‘Whenever you get to the phrase ‘Hasten to success…’ (ḥayy ʿalā al-falāḥ) add ‘Prayer is better than sleep’ (al-salāt khayr min al-nawm) twice!’ (Zarqānī, 1/150).

Depriving the Prophet’s daughter of her inheritance

Another shameful event is when the Companions deprived the Prophet’s daughter, Fāṭima, of her inheritance. The Qur’an stipulates that a dead person’s children inherit their remaining belongings. It also refers to some Prophets’ children inheriting from their fathers. In other verses still, the Qur’an speaks about Solomon inheriting from David: ‘Solomon inherited from David, and he said, “O people! We have been taught the speech of the birds, and we have been given out of everything. Indeed this is a manifest advantage.”’ (Q27:16). In another verse, God reminds us of the fact that Zechariah asked God for a child to inherit from him: ‘Indeed I fear my kinsmen, after me, and my wife is barren. So grant me from Yourself an heir, who may inherit from me and inherit from the House of Jacob, and make him, my Lord, pleasing (to You)!’’ (Q19:5–6). These verses shed light on the fact that the Prophets’ children inherit from their fathers. Of course, these verses refer to the inheritance of material possessions, not knowledge or prophethood, because these are not inheritable. Otherwise, Zakariya’s prayer to God to make his child ‘and make him, my Lord, pleasing (to You)!’ would not make sense because God’s prophets are definitely pure people with whom God is pleased.

Against all of these verses, the First Caliph, Abū Bakr, claimed to have heard the Prophet say, ‘We prophets do not leave inheritance.’ Based on this alleged ḥadīth, Abū Bakr deprived Fāṭima of her inheritance. If this were a true teaching of Islam, the Prophet would certainly have told his children as inheritors about this. It is strange to see that the Prophet’s wives inherited the houses in which they used to live, whereas his daughter was not allowed to receive any inheritance. Even if we admitted the authenticity of the ḥadīth, the Prophet may have meant that the Prophets are not rich worldly people to leave a great fortune behind when they die, while the simple things such as rugs, dishes and clothes, certainly belong to their inheritors after the Prophets die.

Cutting ‘the share of the Prophet’s Family’

According to the Qur’an, when Muslims win booty in wars against the disbelievers, they should give away one fifth of it:

‘Know that whatever thing you may come by, a fifth of it is for Allāh and the Messenger, for the relatives and the orphans, for the needy and the traveller, if you have faith in Allāh and what We sent down to Our servant on the Day of Separation, the day when the two hosts met; and Allāh has power over all things.’ (Q8:41)

After the Prophet’s death, when the booty came to Medina, the Caliph cut this share (Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal 1: 348 and Qurtubi 8:10).

Cutting the ‘share of those whose hearts are to be reconciled’

Another change to the Islamic practices was the cutting of the payment to those who were supposed to be kept from hostility towards Islam. As far as Qur’anic instructions are concerned, zakāt is supposed to be divided between a number of groups: 1) the poor 2) the needy 3) the zakāt collectors 4) those whose hearts are to be reconciled, 5) freeing slaves 6) debtors 7) charities and 8) wayfarers who were without means (Q9:60). After the Prophet’s death, they refused to pay the share of the fourth group, arguing that Muslims no longer needed to reconcile the hearts of those people and that paying them was only acceptable at the time when Islam did not have enough power, but that now the Muslims were powerful this could be dispensed with.

The above cases are only a handful of the Companions’ contraventions of clear divine orders, which prove that ignoring the Prophet’s order concerning Imam ʿAlī’s leadership was not a strange or farfetched affair.

Chapter 6: Baseless theories about the origins of the Shīʿa

For a long time, theories have been developed to explain the appearance of the Shīʿa. Many of the theories were devised by non-Shīʿa scholars, or even anti-Shīʿa polemicists, and as a result are largely baseless. As documented history reveals, the Shīʿa are nothing more or less than Islam as taught by the Prophet and his Household. The Shīʿa, in this sense, have their roots in the Prophet’s lifetime, when he called those who supported ʿAlī his ‘shīʿa’ (lit. ‘followers’). These people, who believed that ʿAlī was the true successor of the Prophet, were some of his Companions. This Chapter is intended to clarify the truth about the appearance of Shīʿa.

There are many theories about the appearance of Shīʿa that are completely baseless. Some believe, for instance, that Shīʿa appeared as a result of political conflicts in the first century hijrī. Others have concluded that Shīʿa appeared as a result of theological debates, as did some other Islamic sects. These claims are made because they believe that Shi’ism is something other than Islam itself that only appeared after the Prophet’s demise. Therefore, they look for its root causes and attempt to devise theories to explain its appearance.

All of these theorists, however, ignore the fact that Shi’ism is nothing other than Islam as taught by the Prophet’s Household and that, in this sense, it appeared during the Prophet’s own lifetime. Even at that time, ʿAlī had some supporters and followers who were called his shīʿa and who followed ʿAlī as a result of the Prophet’s praise of him. Thus, these people loved ʿAlī and took him as their leader and model of good conduct after the Prophet. That is why we may claim that the Prophet was the first person to sow the seeds of Shi’ism, to ask people to follow ʿAlī and to call his followers Shīʿa.

There are forty aḥādīth bearing witness to the fact that the followers of ʿAlī are called his shīʿa. We will consider some of these traditions, which are all taken from Sunnī sources. Jābir b. ʿAbd Allāh reports that once ʿAlī came when Jābir was with the Prophet. On seeing ʿAlī, the Prophet said, pointing to ʿAlī, ‘By Him in whose hand is my soul, this man and his shīʿa will be saved on the Day of Judgment!’ Then he recited the verse: ‘Indeed those who have faith and do righteous deeds – it is they who are the best of creatures.’ (Q98:7). For this reason, whenever ʿAlī came to the Prophet’s Companions, they would say to one another, ‘there comes the best of creatures’ (al-Durr al-Manthūr 6/589). Ibn ʿAbbās reports that when the above verse was revealed to the Prophet, he said to ʿAlī, ‘this verse refers to you and your followers who will be pleased with God and God will be please with you on the Day of Judgment’ (al-Durr al-Manthūr 6/589). Ibn Ḥajar al-Haythamī reports in al-Ṣawāʿiq that Umm Salama said, ‘One night when the Prophet was at my home, his daughter suddenly entered, followed by ʿAlī. The Prophet said: ‘ʿAlī, you and your followers will be in paradise. You and your shīʿa will be in paradise’ (161). Ibn Athīr reports that once the Prophet once said to ʿAlī: ‘You will be received by God while you are pleased with God and He is pleased with you, but your enemies will go before God while they are angry and their hands are chained to their necks’ (4/16). Zamakhsharī reports in Rabīʿ al-Abrār that the Prophet once said to ʿAlī: ‘On the Day of Judgment, I will seek help from Allāh, you from me, your descendants from you and your followers from your descendants’ (808). According to Mughzilī, in Manāqib ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib, the Prophet once asked ʿAlī: ‘Will you not be pleased to be in paradise with me, while Ḥasan, Ḥusayn and our other descendants are standing behind us and our followers are standing on both sides?’ (Sawa‘iq, 161). He also quotes Anas b. Mālik who reports that the Prophet once declared, ‘Seventy thousands of my followers will enter paradise without being questioned’ and then looked at ʿAlī and added, ‘They will be your followers and you will be their the Imam’ (293).

All of these aḥādīth demonstrate that there were some people in the Prophet’s days that were called the shīʿa of ʿAlī and who were promised paradise by the Prophet. They also make it clear that the word ‘shīʿa’ was used by the Prophet himself to describe ʿAlī’s followers who took as their path nothing more or less than the Prophet’s Islam, which they believed could be best followed by following the example ʿAlī. Therefore, we can say with certainty that Shi’ism was neither the fruit of political conflicts at Saqīfah nor a result of theological debates. Rather, they were a group of people who believed that ʿAlī was second to the Prophet in piety and personal conduct and maintained this belief after the Prophet’s death, gradually multiplying into a large sect.

Shi’ism as described by historians

Study the annals of history reveals that the term ‘shīʿa’, both during the Prophet’s life and after that, was used to denote the followers of Imam ʿAlī. Some examples of this usage follow. Masʿūdī (d. 345/956), describing events after the Prophet, writes: ‘When people’s vows of allegiance (bayʿa) to Abū Bakr were completed, ʿAlī and a number of his Shīʿa withdrew to his home’ (121). Nawbakhtī (d. 313/925) similarly notes that ‘the Shīʿa were followers of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib who were known by this name during the Prophet’s life and after. Everybody described the Shīʿa as people who ignored other leaders and would only listen to ʿAlī’ (15). Abū al-Ḥasan Ashʿarī says: ‘The reason why they were called Shi’ism was that they followed ʿAlī and preferred him over other Prophet’s Companions’ (1/65). According to Shahristānī: ‘Shīʿa refers to those who followed ʿAlī exclusively and admitted his Imamate and succession because of the Prophet’s words about him’ (1/131). Ibn Ḥazm argues that ‘whoever believes that ʿAlī is the best Muslim after the Prophet and the best candidate for leading Muslims and that his descendants are also the best leaders of Muslims is called a Shīʿa. Shīʿa may disagree over other matters, but not on this, and if anyone rejects this fundamental belief, they will not be called Shīʿa (2/113). As all these statements show, there was a group of people who were called Shīʿa by the Prophet both in his days and later. People simply followed the model of the Prophet in calling them Shīʿa.

In light of the above, the defining characteristic of Shi’ism is following ʿAlī after the Prophet in terms of religious and political leadership. With all the Prophet’s words regarding Shīʿa and the aḥādīth that demonstrate that the Shīʿa had their origin in the Prophet’s own days, there is no need to contrive baseless theories to account for their existence. We may need to look for the origins of some Islamic sects, such as Sunnism, which was the fruit of following the Caliphs, or such as Muʿtazilism and Ashʿarism, which resulted from theological debates in the 2nd/8th and 3rd/9th centuries. Unlike these sects, Shi’ism was not a new thing that appeared after the Prophet’s death as a result of theological conflicts, such as to require an investigation into its origins. Shi’ism is different from the other sects and is nothing other than the original Islam that was introduced by the Prophet, plus the fact that after him, his Household is the only authority to follow and obey.

As Muḥammad Kurd ʿAlī writes in Khuṭāṭ al-Shām: ‘there were some Companions of the Prophet who were well-known for their close friendship with ʿAlī in the Prophet’s lifetime, such as Salmān al-Fārisī, Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī, ʿAmmār b. Yāsir, Ḥudhayfa b. Yamān, Khuzayma b. Thābit (also known as Dhu al-Shahādatayn), Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī, Khālid b. Saʿīd and Qays b. Saʿd b. ʿUbāda. He quotes Salmān al-Fārisī as saying: ‘We took the pledge of allegiance to Muḥammad for two reasons: the good of the Muslims and following ʿAlī.’ Also Abū Saʿīd al-Khudrī says, again according to Kurd ʿAlī: ‘the Prophet ordered the people to take care of five obligations. They took four and left the fifth. The four things that they took care of were prayer, zakāt, fasting and Ḥajj, and the fifth, which they ignored, was the wilāya of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib.’ Upon asking whether the wilāya of ʿAlī was truly an obligation, Khudrī replied that it was as obligatory as the other four (Kurd ʿAlī, 5/251).

The Forerunners of the Shīʿa in the Time of the Prophet

A number of historians have composed books on the character of some of the Companions and the Successors. What follows is a brief survey of some of these books.

Sayyid ʿAlī Khan Madanī (d. 1120/1708) wrote a book entitled al-Darajāt al-Rāfīʿa fī Ṭaqabāt al-Shīʿa al-Imāmiyya. The first chapter of this book covers the Shīʿa of the Banū Hāshim and the second the non-Banū Hāshim, introducing twenty three and forty six Companions respectively. He then introduces the Shīʿa amongst the Successors.

Muḥammad Ḥusayn Kāshif al-Ghiṭāʾ (1294–1373/1877–1954) introduces some of the close companions of ʿAlī in Aṣl al-Shīʿa wa Uṣūlihā For example, he names Abū Dharr Al-Ghifārī, Miqdād b. Aswad al-Kindī, ʿAmmār b. Yāsir, Khuzayma Dhū al-Shaḥadatayn b. Tayhān, Kḥudhayfa b. Yamān, Zubayr, Faḍl b. ʿAbbās and his brother, ʿAbd Allāh, Hāshim b. ʿUtba al-Mirqāl, Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī, Abān b. Saʿīd b. al-ʿĀṣ, Khālid b. Saʿīd b. al-ʿĀṣ, Ubayy b. Kaʿb, Anas b. al-Ḥirth, and many others.

Sayyid ʿAbd al-Ḥusayn Sharaf al-Dīn identifies 200 persons as the first Shīʿa in Islamic history in his al-Fuṣūl al-Muhimma fī Taʾlīf al-Umma (179-90). In a similar way, Dr. Aḥmad al-Wāʾilī identifies, in Huwiyyat al-Tashayyuʿ, 130 of the Prophet’s Companions who were also the close followers of ʿAlī and concludes that it would have been impossible for such a great number of people to love and follow ʿAlī so intimately without the Prophet’s permission (34). I have likewise introduced some of Shīʿa pioneers and have investigated their lives and reasons for belonging to Shīʿa in a book entitled Islamic Personalities. (For more information, see also al-Istīʿāb fī Maʿrifat al-Aṣḥāb by Ibn ʿAbd al-Birr (d. 456/1063), Usud al-Ghāba fī Maʿrifat al-Ṣaḥāba by Ibn Athīr and al-Iṣāba fī Tamyīz al-Ṣaḥāba by Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī (d. 852/1448). )

Theories about the Origins of Shi’ism

As we have already explained, there are various unsupported theories about the appearance and origin of Shi’ism, all of which take Shi’ism to be something other than Islam, and which therefore look for its origins and causes with this assumption in mind. We have already stressed the point that Shi’ism is nothing other than the original Islam, but we are going to consider some of the theories propounded in more detail below:

Shi’ism originated at Saqīfa

The first theory to be scrutinized here consists in the claim that Shi’ism was the fruit of the gathering at Saqīfa. According to this theory, the Medinans met at Saqīfa after the Prophet’s death to choose a successor from amongst themselves. Abū Bakr, ʿUmar and Abū ʿʿUbayda came to the meeting and things ended up in favour of Abū Bakr. The Medinans were made up of two tribes, the Aws and Khazraj, who could not agree on a Caliph. The Aws feared that Saʿd b. ʿUbada would be chosen and this would give the upper hand to the Khazraj. Thus the Aws took the side of Abū Bakr, who left Saqīfa along with ʿUmar and Abū ʿUbayda for the mosque. There they asked people to support Abū Bakr, and all this was happening while Imam ʿAlī was washing the Prophet’s body to prepare it for burial. ʿAlī’s friends and followers were annoyed with the events of Saqīfa and withdrew to ʿAlī’s home in protest while some others began publicly protesting for the same reason. In view of this, some believe that Shi’ism emerged as the result of the gathering at Saqīfa.

This way of reasoning is thoroughly unacceptable because, as Ṭabarī and others suggest, Shi’ism could not have been formed in the span of a single day, rather the Shīʿa must have held these sort of beliefs and attitudes towards ʿAlī for a long time earlier.

According to Ṭabarī, after the decision at Saqīfa, ʿUmar went to ʿAlī’s home while Ṭalḥa, Zubayr and a number of Meccans were inside. ʿUmar called out, ‘I swear by God I will put this house to fire if you do not come out and give a pledge of allegiance to Abū Bakr.’ Zubayr came out while brandishing his sword but, being very angry, his feet slipped and some people snatched his sword (Tārīkh, 2/443).

According to Yaʿqūbī, a number of Meccans, including ʿAbbās b. ʿAbd al-MutTālib, Faḍl b. ʿAbbās, Zubayr, Khālid b. Saʿīd b. al-ʿĀṣ, Miqdād b. ʿAmr, Salmān al-Fārisī, Abū Dharr, ʿAmmār b. Yāsir, Barāʾ b. ʿĀzib, and Ubayy b. Kaʿb, were with ʿAlī (2/103).

Zubayr b. Bakkār points out in his Muwaffaqiyyāt that most Meccans and leaders of Medinans were certain that ʿAlī was the rightful Caliph so much so that after the allegiance (bayʿa) ceremony was over, some Medinans regretted it, scolded one another and decided to be allied with ʿAlī, but he did not accept their offer.

As Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd writes in his Sharḥ al-Nahj al-Balāgha: On returning to Medina, Abū Dharr (who was out of Medina when Saqīfa happened) reacted to the event by saying to people, ‘Did you follow your own whims and forget about the Prophet’s kin? Had you left the matter to the Prophet’s kin, there would have been no disagreements about allegiance’ (43). Salmān al-Fārisī also commented, ‘You chose the most senior in age but lost the mine of knowledge and perfection; if you had taken the latter, not even two of you would have disagreed on succession and you would have easily picked yourselves the sweet fruit of Caliphate’ (44).

Such objections and protests, only a few of which have been recorded in history, could not have been suddenly created in a single day or as the result of a single meeting. Rather, they imply that the love of ʿAlī was deeply rooted in the hearts of those people who strongly believed in him, and this is the true reason why they protested against the decision of Saqīfa. It was impossible for such people to express their love of ʿAlī at a time when his rival was in power without having kept that love for a while before that. Their support for ʿAlī was based on their view of his personality and built upon the Prophet’s words about him.

ʿAbd Allāh b. Sabaʾ

The second theory regarding the formation of Shi’ism is based on the activities of a Jewish convert to Islam named ʿAbd Allāh b. Sabaʾ. According to this theory, this man, who was converted to Islam in Yemen during the reign of ʿUthmān, travelled to different parts of the Muslim territory of that time, specially Damascus, Kufa, Basra and Egypt and proclaimed that the Prophet would come back as did Jesus and that ʿAlī was the Prophet’s successor since every prophet has a successor. He also claimed that ʿUthmān had usurped ʿAlī’s right to leadership and therefore people should fight against ʿUthmān to make sure justice is done. ʿAbd Allāh managed to attract some Muslims such as Abū Dharr, ʿAmmār, Muḥammad b. Ḥudhayfa, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿUdays, Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr, Ṣaṣaʿ b. Ṣawḥān al-ʿAbdī and Mālik al-ʿĀshtar, with whom he surrounded ʿUthmān’s house. The supporters of this claim about Shi’ism believe that the sect was formed by b. Sabaʾ and his followers after the murder of ʿUthmān.

This claim, which can hardly be called a theory, finds its origin with Sayf b. ʿUmar al-Tamīmī, who was a notorious liar, as recorded by Ṭabarī’s history (3/378). A glance at the reporters of the document created by Tamīmī reveals that the narrators of the alleged ḥadīth are not reliable at all. Ṭabarī, starts his report by referring to a man named al-Sirrī, who reports via Shu‘ayb from Sayf b. ʿUmar. Al-Sirrī was probably either: 1) Al-Sirrī b. Ismāʿīl Hamadānī, who is called a liar by Yaḥyā b. Saʿīd and considered a reporter of baseless aḥādīth by others (Mīzān al-Iʿtidāl, 2/117); or 2) Al-Sirrī b. ʿĀṣim b. Sahl Hamadānī, who has been described as a liar and a forger of ḥadīth (Mīzān al-Iʿtidāl, 2/117; Lisān al-Mīzān, 3/12). Shu‘ayb refers to Shuʿayb b. Ibrāhīm al-Kūfī who, as Dhahabī explains, was the reporter of Sayf b. ʿUmar’s aḥādīth and otherwise an unknown person (Mīzān, 2/275; Lisān, 3/145). Ibn Ḥibbān argues that Sayf b. ʿUmar ascribed fabricated aḥādīth to truthful and honest people. He simply fabricated aḥādīth and was even suspected of disbelief; According to Ibn ʿUdayy, Sayf’s traditions were all unknown and nobody believed him. Ibn Muʿīn designates Sayf’s aḥādīth as weakly supported and of suspect content. Suyūṭī calls Sayf a fabricator (Mīzān, 1/438; Tahdhīb al-Tahdhīb, 4/295).

So much for this report’s authenticity! Would it be wise to rely solely on an unverified ḥadīth reported by Ṭabarī and believe that Shi’ism was created by such a person as ʿAbd Allāh b. Sabaʾ? Unfortunately, a number of historians have relied on this tradition without scrutinizing its authenticity and have attributed the Siege of ʿUthmān’s Residence and the Battle of the Camel to Ibn Sabaʾ (Ibn Kathīr, 7/246; Dhahabi, 2/139). Recent historians have even made a greater mistake, ascribing the appearance of Shi’ism to Ibn Sabaʾ (Rāshid Riḍā, 4). Aḥmad Amīn, in Fajr al-Islam, has claimed more strongly than anybody else that Ibn Sabaʾ is responsible for the appearance of Shi’ism, a claim that has similarly been mistakenly made by some other Egyptian and Syrian authors.

There are, however, questions that we would do well to ask of this account. Would it be wise to admit that a Jewish convert, who had converted to Islam during the caliphate of ʿUthmān, was able to deceive the leading Meccans and Medinans into revolting against the Caliph and murdering him in his own house and that nobody stopped him? Those who have studied the biography of ʿUthmān know very well that the invasion against his house was the outcome of his thirteen-year reign as Caliph when he dismissed all Meccans and Medinans from their posts, replaced them with members of his own Umayyad clan and unfairly distributed the public treasury’s wealth among his relatives. He also appointed Umayyads and Tulaqāʾ (Ṭulaqāʾ: Lit. ‘those who were freed’ – referring to the Meccans who remained polytheists until the final capture of Mecca by the Muslims in the year 8/629, whereat they were taken prisoner. However, the Prophet granted them a general amnesty with the words: ‘Go! For you are freed (ṭulaqāʾ)!’ Most of them then converted to Islam. Henceforth, these late converts were known by this title and were generally and informally seen as less committed to the Islamic project than earlier converts to the cause) as governors of cities and regions. These included, among others, Walīd b. ʿUqba (Governor of Kufa), Muʿāwiya b. Abī Sufyān (Governor of Syria), ʿAbd Allāh b. Saʿd Abī Sarḥ (Governor of Egypt) and ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿĀmir b. Karīz (Governor of Basra). Even when people heavily complained against ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUqba, ʿUthmān replaced him with Saʿīd b. al-ʿĀṣ, who was yet another member of the Umayyad clan. Thus, all the regions were ruled by Umayyads and Ṭulaqāʾ who were relatives of ʿUthmān. It was due to such misconduct that the Egyptians and Iraqis revolted against and killed him, not because of the propaganda of a new and virtually unknown convert to Islam.

A careful study of the history of the third Caliph’s life reveals that ʿUthmān never tolerated ant objections or protests but rather silenced the protesters by beating or banishing them. For instance, ʿUthmān sent Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī into exile and beat ʿAmmār b. Yāsir so severely that one of his ribs was broken. In view of such a situation, would it be reasonable to think that while ʿUthmān enjoyed such powerful and loyal governors a convert could freely move around in Iraq, Egypt and Syria and encourage people to rise up against the Caliph without the governors reacting to this?

The whole situation would seem even stranger if we believed that claim that some leading Meccan and Medinan figures were tricked into following Ibn Sabaʾ, who was a new convert. This is why some scholars have taken Ibn Sabaʾ, as described by Ṭabarī, to be a fictitious figure created by poets, one like those found in the story of Layla and Majnun.

We do not intend to claim here that there was no such person as ʿAbd Allāh b. Sabaʾ or that he was not without his faults, since he has been condemned and cursed in Shīʿī sources as well (see for instance Kashshī, Rijāl, 48; Ṭūsī, Rijāl, 76; Ḥillī, Khulāṣa, 236). Rather, we would suggest that it is impossible for a Jewish convert to Islam to gather an army of the Prophet’s Companions, deceive them into revolting against ʿUthmān and simply claim to help ʿAlī become Caliph. We might rather conjecture that the whole story was forged by anti-Shīʿa persons during Umayyad and Abbasid reigns as a pretext to persecute the Shīʿa.

Scholars who have investigated the possible fictitious origin of the person named ʿAbd Allāh b. Sabaʾ include Dr. Ṭaha Ḥusayn in his Fitnat al-Kubrā (104) and Amīnī in Al-Ghadīr. Furthermore, from a Sunnī perspective, this would go against the Companions’ infallibility, which is one of their central tenets. How could such great Companions have been deceived by this new convert and goaded into rebelling against the Caliph?

The Persian Connection

While the close followers of ʿAlī were almost all ʿAdnānī and Qaḥṭānī Arabs, some orientalists have suggested that Shi’ism was produced by Persian converts. These orientalists argue that since Persia had a hereditary monarchy before Islam, Persians applied the same principle to Islam after they converted and took ʿAlī and his descendants as the inheritors of the Prophet. Based on this system, every the Imam was the inheritor of the previous the Imam’s leadership.

Responding to this claim, I would firstly like to point to the fact that in previous ages, prophethood was apparently inherited. The Qur’an says: ‘Or do they envy the people for what Allāh has given them out of His grace? We have certainly given the progeny of Abraham the Book and wisdom, and We have given them a great sovereignty’ (Q4:54). When Abraham was made An Imam, he asked God to make his descendants the Imams also, which was accepted by God on condition that they be good and just people. God says: ‘And when his Lord tested Abraham with certain words, and he fulfilled them, He said, “I am making you the Imam of mankind.” Saʿīd he, “And from among my descendants?” He said, “My pledge does not extend to the unjust.”’ (Q2:124). In fact, all the Prophets’ successors were from their descendants. This system was also practiced in the pagan Arab community of the Prophet’s time, where tribes did not disintegrate on the death of their leaders because they were succeeded by strangers. The system of hereditary leadership, therefore, was not peculiar to Persians but similarly applied in other communities. Thus, if this hereditary system had been the cause of Persians’ inclination towards Shīʿa, the same interest would have appeared in other communities.

The second point is that, as mentioned earlier, Shi’ism was born in Medina during the Prophet’s lifetime and before many Persians even converted into Islam. When Imam ʿAlī became Caliph, he had to lead three battles against different groups with an army mostly comprised of Arabs drawn from Yemen and Hijaz. History tells us that the pillars of ʿAlī’s army were from the tribes of Quraysh, Aws, Khazraj and Yemeni tribes such as Madhhij, Hamdān, Ṭayyʾ, Kinda, Tamīm, and Muḍarr. His army commanders were such purely Arab people as ʿAmmār b. Yāsir, Hāshim al-Mirqāl, Mālik al-ʿĀshtar, Ṣaʿṣaʿ b. Ṣawḥān, Zayd b. Ṣawḥān and the like. It was with their assistance that Imam ʿAlī combatted the various rebellions he faced; Persians were never a considerable presence in ʿAlī’s army. Moreover, the Shīʿa are not only Persians: many Arabs are also Shīʿa.

How orientalists reject this theory

Whereas orientalist Reinhart Dozy proposed the idea of a Persian origin for Shi’ism, many other orientalists have rejected this suggestion and stressed its Arab character; Wellhausen notes: ‘all Iraqis, especially the residents of Kufa, were Shīʿa during the reign of Muʿāwiya, and so were their tribal leaders’ (al-Khawārij wa al-Shīʿa, 113). Meanwhile, Goldziher writes: ‘it would be wrong to think that Shi’ism was the brainchild of Persians. This would be a misinterpretation of history because all Alawite movements started in Arabia’ (al-ʿAqīda wa al-Sharīʿa, 204). According to Adam Mitz: ‘Shi’ism was never a Persian reaction against the influence of Islam. Most of Arabia, including Mecca, Sanaa, Oman, Ḥijr and Saʿda, was full of Shīʿa, while Persians, except the residents of Qumm, were mostly Sunnī. Iṣfahānīs even went to the point of considering Muʿāwiya a prophet’ (al-Ḥaḍāra al-Islāmiyya, 102).

In addition to the above orientalists, two Egyptian authors have also supported the fact that Shi’ism was not a Persian phenomenon; Aḥmad Amīn, who is usually hostile to Shi’ism, notes in Fajr al-Islam: ‘Shi’ism started before Persians were converted to Islam, but Shīʿa acquired a new hue by incorporating some Persian elements’ (176). Whereas Amīn’s first sentence is right, his second sentence is not, because the only meaning of Shīʿa is the acceptance of the original Islam and following all teachings of the Prophet. Shaykh Muḥammad Abū Zaḥrāʾ similarly believes that Shi’ism is not a Persian phenomenon but that Persians acquired it from Arabs. Some scholars who supported the Prophet’s Household and were persecuted by the Umayyad and Abbasid rulers fled to the regions of Fars and Khorasan and propagated Shi’ism there, especially before the end of the Umayyad dynasty and after the followers of Zayd b. ʿAlī fled to Persia (al-Jundī, 545).

There are also other clear factors that indicate Shi’ism was not born in Persia. Many of the greatest Sunnī scholars of the early Islamic centuries, such as Bukhārī, Muslim, Tirmidhī, Nasāʾī, Ibn Māja, Hākim Nīsābūri, Bayhaqī and others were ethnically Persian. In fact, Persians were mostly converted to Sunnī Islam at first and, except for some scattered groups, remained staunchly Sunnī for centuries. Shi’ism was introduced into Iran through the migration of the Arab Ashʿarī tribe to Qumm and Kashan around the end of the first/seventh century, while Islam had been introduced in the year 17/636. All of these arguments prove that Shi’ism can be considered as a sect originating not in Persia but Arabia and was never anything more or less than the original and authentic Islam of the Prophet.

The hereditary nature of caliphate

Earlier in this Chapter, we noted that hereditary nature of the Imamate was one of the reasons that led orientalists to argue that Shi’ism was originally a Persian phenomenon, despite that fact that Sunnī Caliphate after the murder of ʿUthmān was also of a hereditary nature for several centuries thereafter. When Muʿāwiya II died in 64/684, the Marwanid Dynasty took over and remained in power until 132/749, with power being transferred along hereditary lines. The Marwanid Umayyads were followed by the Abbasids, who followed a similar logic of hereditary succession until 656/1258, when they were overthrown by the Mongol ruler, Hulagu. The Ottomans, who held sway until the modern era, likewise passed power to their own descendants. Therefore, the hereditary nature of the Imamate does not necessarily imply a Persian origin for Shi’ism. And, if indeed the Persians believed that the Imamate belonged to Imam ʿAlī and his descendants, then this was because of the form of succession that existed in prophethood, where there was a sort of hereditary logic, though not in the conventional sense; for instance, a younger brother would become the Imam while there existed an older brother, as was the case with the Imam Mūsā b. Jaʿfar – he became the Imam after the death of his father, even though he had an older brother named ʿAbd Allāh.

A glance at the human geography of Iran after the spread of Islam

Those who claim that Shi’ism was originally a Persian phenomenon must be unaware of the religious history of Iran before the 10th/16th Century. Before the advent of the Safavid Dynasty, Shi’ism in Iran was prevalent in but a few cities such as Rayy, Qumm, Kashan and Sabzevar. It was only from the early 10th/16th century that Shi’ism spread across Iran. Muqaddasi, in Aḥsan al-Taqāsīm (in the year 375/985), describes the human geography of Iran as follows:

Khorasan belongs to the Muʿtazila and Shīʿa, but the followers of Abū Ḥanīfa make up the majority there, except in Chach, where the majority are Shafiʿī. In Rihab, (Today a region in Azerbaijan, but this name once applied to most of Armenia as well. ) all have a good religion but follow Ibn Ḥanbal. Most residents of Arbeel and western mountains of Iran are also Ḥanbalī. In Rayy, the Ḥanafīs are in the majority, although there are also many Ḥanbalīs. The residents of Qumm are Shīʿa, but those of Dinavar follow Sufyān al-Thawrī. Khuzestan enjoys a multitude of different sects. Most of Ahwaz, Ramhormoz and Dawraq follow Ibn Ḥanbal, but there are also many Ḥanafīs and Mālikīs in Ahwaz. Most residents of Fars follow Muʿāwiya. Most people in Kerman are Shafiʿī and in Sindh there are many followers of the four Sunnī schools. The inhabitants of Multan are Shīʿa, for they recite the words ‘ḥayya ʿalā khayr al-ʿamal’ (‘Hurry to the best of deeds!’) and recite the words of the iqāma before prayers, but there are many Ḥanafī scholars in its villages. (119)

Ibn Baṭṭūṭa, the famous traveller, provides us with an informative anecdote about the religious customs of Iraqis and Persians. Ibn Baṭṭūṭa reports that the ruler of Iraq, Khudābanda (r. 1304–1316), became friends with a rāfiḍīscholar, who encouraged him to convert to Islam. As a result, his army accepted Islam as their religion, too. This rāfiḍī scholar made Shi’ism so attractive that Khudābanda encouraged his subjects to convert to Shi’ism too. While some cities accepted his order, the people of Baghdad answered: ‘We will not hear nor obey,’ and threatened his envoy. The response of the cities of Shiraz and Isfahan was the same as that of Baghdad (219-20).

According to Qāḍī Ayyādh, in his preface to Tartīb al-Madārik, the Imam Mālik’s religious beliefs entered Khorasan and went beyond Iraq through Yaḥyā b. Yaḥyā al-Tamīmī and others, and for several years Mālikī the Imams issued fatwas there. Thereafter, the Mālikī persuasion spread to Qazvin and some mountainous parts of Iran such as Hamadan and Kermanshahr, where most residents were followers of either the Ḥanafī or Shafiʿī schools (1/53). Renowned orientalist Carl Brockelmann goes on to explain that when the Safavid Shah, Ismāʿīl I, captured Tabriz, one-third of this city’s population were Shīʿa and two-thirds were Sunnī (1/140).

Ibn Athīr presents an account in al-Kāmil fī al-Tārīkh that further helps to undermine the alleged Persian origin of Shi’ism. According to him, when Sultan Maḥmūd, contrary to the actions of his father, who had destroyed the mausoleum of Imam al-Riḍā, rebuilt the monument, the residents of Tus persecuted its pilgrims. Maḥmūd apparently dreamt of Imam ʿAlī asking him: ‘how long is this situation going to continue?’ In this way, the Sultan found out that Imam ʿAlī was unhappy with the destruction of his descendant’s tomb (5/139).

Further proof that Sunnī Islam predominated in Iran before the Safavids is the account of what transpired between the Abbasid Caliph Maʾmūn and his chief justice, Yaḥyā b. Aktham. When the former decided to write a book on the vices of Muʿāwiya, Ibn Aktham discouraged him by reminding him that the residents of Khorasan would not tolerate such words about their Caliph (Bayhaqī, 1/108).

By now, it must be clear that the theory of the Persian origins of Shi’ism, like the other two theories, lacks any firm basis and that Shi’ism only became widespread in Iran many centuries after its appearance in Hijaz and Iraq.

The Battle of the Camel

The fourth idea about the appearance of Shi’ism we will consider is the claim that it emerged as a result of the Battle of the Camel. This idea is based on a misinterpretation of Ibn al-Nadīm’s words. He writes in his Fihrist: ‘when ʿAlī prepared to fight against Ṭalḥa and Zubayr in order to return them to the path of Allāh, ʿAlī’s followers were called Shīʿa and the Imam himself called them his ‘partisans’ (shīʿa), ‘elect’ (aṣfiyāʾ),’ ‘allies’ (awliyāʾ), ‘Shurṭat al-Khamīs,’ and sometimes ‘companions’ (aṣḥāb)’ (263). Wellhausen, influenced by this report, claims that Muslims were divided into two parties after the murder of ʿUthmān: the party of ʿAlī and that of Muʿāwiya, and because a party is called ‘shīʿa’ in Arabic, the Party of ʿAlī were arrayed against the Party of Muʿāwiya. Then, when Muʿāwiya’s control covered most of the Islamic territories, the word ‘shīʿa’ came to be solely associated with the followers of ʿAlī.

Criticizing Wellhausen’s theory, it is worth noting here that, most of the four groups mentioned (above) by Ibn al-Nadīm consisted of faithful Companions of the Prophet such as Salmān al-Fārisī, Miqdād al-Kindī, Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī, ʿAmmār b. Yāsir, Abū ʿUmra, Abū Saʿīd al-Khudrī and Jābir b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Anṣārī. Far from having converted to Shi’ism at the Battle of the Camel, these men had followed and obeyed ʿAlī since the early days of Islam; we might say that it was during the Battle of the Camel that the existence of the Shīʿa became clearly visible, whereby the true Shīʿa were fully prepared to sacrifice their own lives and achieve martyrdom fighting for ʿAlī. But not all of ʿAlī’s troops were shared the conviction of those mentioned above: some of them only thought ʿAlī was the Fourth Caliph. In general, the Shīʿa experienced more freedom and less restrictions in the period of ʿAlī’s rule, as they were subject to intense persecution after ʿAlī was martyred.

The Battle of Ṣiffīn

The fifth theory has it that Shi’ism first appeared at the Battle of Ṣiffīn. On one side were ʿAlī and his followers, who supported him according to the teachings of the Qur’an and the Prophet’s tradition and were called his ‘shīʿa’, while on the other side were the rebels who had revolted against ʿAlī and came to be called ‘khawārij’ (Fayyāḍ, 37). This rather tenuous theory is based on a misreading of a few sentences in Ṭabarī’s Tārīkh, which actually demonstrate that the Shīʿa existed before the Battle of Ṣiffīn: ‘When ʿAlī entered Kufa and the Khawārij left him and his Shīʿa joined him, they said: “We owe you a second oath of allegiance: we are friends of your friends and enemies of your enemies”’ (4/46). The clause ‘his Shīʿa joined him’ suggests that Shīʿa denoted ʿAlī’s followers who supported him even prior to the Battle of Ṣiffīn and merely stressed their support during that battle.

There are two other theories about the appearance of Shi’ism which are barely worthy of consideration. One is that Shi’ism was the result of the Buyid Dynasty’s patronage, while the second has it that Shi’ism was the product of the Safavid Dynasty in Iran. The first theory must be rejected since the Buyid dynasty ruled from Baghdad in the 4th/10th and 5th/11th centuries, while Shi’ism is definitely known to have appeared long before that, both in the realms of politics and of religious beliefs. The second theory, too, should be easily refuted because, as everyone knows, the Safavids were helped by Shīʿa, and not the other way round.

Chapter 7: Succession in the Teachings of Shi’ism and Sunnism

After the Prophet passed away, his followers unanimously agreed that there should be a successor to lead and guide Muslims after him. However, they disagreed both about who should succeed him and how a successor was to be chosen. As we will see in the following paragraphs, the early Shīʿa and Sunnīs have fundamentally different views on this issue.

The Shīʿa believe that the Caliphate, like prophethood, is a divinely-chosen position: An Imam must be appointed by God, not the people, in the same manner as the Prophets, because An Imam must fulfil the same functions as a prophet, except for receiving revelation and bringing a new religion. However, aside from these two features, the Imam bears all the other responsibilities of the Prophet and must compensate for the shortcomings that result from his absence. This means that the Imam should interpret the Qur’an, issue religious decrees and behave in a way that his personal conduct may act a criterion for differentiating right from wrong. Such a personality can only be made through divine education. This is not to suggest that An Imam has only a spiritual and religious function and has nothing to do with people’s secular lives, as An Imam is meant to provide political as well as spiritual leadership; he must also implement religious decrees, provide security, act as a judge and the commander-in-chief of Muslims in wars, etc. And it is for this reason that they say ‘the Caliph is the general leader of secular and religious affairs of the people on behalf of the Prophet.’

On the other hand, Sunnīs see the Caliphate as a purely political institution. Mawārdī, for instance, believes that An Imam is supposed to lead the army, protect the borders of the Muslim territory, protect the oppressed against the oppressors, distribute the spoils of war and lead Muslims in Ḥajj (al-Aḥkām al-Ṣultāniyya, 15-16). Since the Caliphate in Sunnī Islam is a political institution dedicated to taking care of people’s secular affairs, it is not necessary for the Caliph to be infallible or have a full awareness of the religion’s doctrines and laws in the same manner as the Prophet. He only needs to lead the nation, and if he makes a mistake he will not be deposed (Ibid., 6).

As you can see, these represent two fundamentally different views about the Caliphate; according to the one, it is a divine affair and the Caliph must be infallible and fully aware of the teachings of the religion. According to the other, however, a Caliph is no more than a secular head of state who must be capable and sufficiently education to lead the country. However, as far as his spiritual abilities are concerned, he only needs to be a Muslim. It is ultimately as a result of the divergence between these two views that two major streams of religious tradition have emerged: Shīʿa and Sunnī. While the first school has it that the Imam is appointed through revelation and that the Prophet appointed his succeeding the Imam in the last few days of his life, the second school holds that people’s choice is sufficient to appoint a leader; there is no need for divine affirmation.

Having said that, we should not forget that Sunnīs do not agree on a single way of choosing the Caliph. Rather than evaluate the previous processes of choosing the Caliph in terms of its agreement with Islamic laws, Sunnīs look to the history of Islam after the Prophet for models of succession. Thus Mawārdī writes that ‘choosing An Imam can be done in two ways: choosing by a council composed of “the People of Loosing and Binding” (ahl al-ḥall wa al-ʿaqd) or by the appointment of the previous the Imam’ (al-Aḥkām al-Ṣultāniyya, 4). Azadī argues, however, that the Imam could be appointed by the Prophet, the previous the Imam or the council of the People of Loosing and Binding (qtd. in Jurjani 3/265). Moreover, Sunnīs widely disagree on the number of the members of the council which is supposed to choose the Imam. Some, for example, hold that the council must consist of at least five people, as was the council which chose Abū Bakr: ʿUmar b. Khaṭṭāb, Abū ʿUbayda b. Jarrāḥ, Asīd b. Haḍīr, Bakr b. Ṣaʿd and Sālim, the mawlā of Abu Ḥudhayfa. Some think that three persons are sufficient: one to give the oath of allegiance and the other two to witness to it. Yet others consider one person to suffice, pointing to the fact that ʿAbbās said to ʿAlī: ‘Hold out your hand that I may grasp it and make the pledge of allegiance to you. For if I do so, the people will say that the Prophet’s cousin has become your ally and not even two people will disagree on your leadership’ (al-Aḥkām al-Ṣultāniyya, 4). Such disagreements over choosing the Caliph suggests that succession to the Prophet had not been left to the people, for if it had, then the Prophet would have described the characteristics of a proper candidate to prevent people from becoming confused about it. This point is conceded by the Egyptian author, al-Khiḍrī, who generally holds a rather negative position towards Shīʿa, in his book Muḥāḍirāt fī Tārīkh al-Umam al-Islāmiyya, wherein he says:

There are no verses in the Qur’an clearly telling us as to how the Prophet’s successor should be determined, although there are verses which generally talk about consultation. Neither does the Prophet’s tradition tell us anything about the way to choose the Caliph, although it advises the people against serious disagreements. If there had been any traditions about caliphate, it would have clearly appeared in the theological works and ḥadīth collections and Muslims would have become familiar with its rules and regulation just as they did with regard to prayers and fasting. (2/161)

Considering the fact that the leadership of Muslims after the Prophet is vital to Sunnī Muslims, and presuming that al-Khiḍrī really believes what he says, there are some questions that must be answered: would it be possible for the Prophet to have said nothing about the Caliphate and the desired characteristics of a Caliph? How could we admit that the Prophet ignored the issue of succession to leadership of the nation which he himself had founded? How could we imagine that the Prophet had uttered so many words about such minor affairs as the proper use of the lavatory, eating and drinking, sleeping and taking baths, and yet said absolutely nothing about Caliphate, leading to much conflict and bloodshed as a result? It is inconceivable that the Prophet, who was the wisest person ever to have lived and guided by divine revelation, would have neglected such an important matter!

If the Caliph was supposed to be chosen by a council of notables, there should have been many aḥādīth and statements about the number of members required to constitute such a council, their qualifications (such as knowledge and piety), how and where they should be chosen, so that their decision would be completely acceptable to all. However, there is no evidence in the Qur’an or the Sunna to explain any of this. At the very least, we would expect the sources to make a few things clear: who can be a member of this council? Should it be made up of religious elites, political leaders, army commanders or a mixture of all of them? Who should choose the members of such a council? And if the members of the council disagreed over a matter or person, who will have the deciding vote? While some theologians have said that the Imam is to be chosen by the council of ahl al-ḥall wa al-ʿaqd, it is not clear as to what this means. Does the council of ‘ahl al-ḥall wa al-ʿaqd’ denote ‘those who open and tie up’? No one knows since there is no prophetic ḥadīth to explain this. Such confusions as well as others imply that the idea of the Imam being chosen by that type of council is basically wrong and the matter of the succession to the Prophet could never be settled by the people. As Ṭaha Ḥusayn rightly suggests: ‘if Muslims had a written system of councils, they would have resorted to it at the time of ʿUthmān and would have known what to do and what not to do.’

The appointment of the caliphs as depicted in the history of Islam

As already mentioned, the election of Caliph through a council of ‘ahl al-ḥall wa al-ʿaqd’ or by the votes of the Helpers (anṣār) and the Emigrants (muhājirūn), was just for the sake of appearance and, in truth, such a process only took place in the case of one person. We will now investigate the mode of election of each of the early Caliphs as depicted in the annals of history.

The story of Saqīfa

Those present at Saqīfa, formed a triangle whose sides each had their own agenda. Saʿd b. ʿUbāda had, with great labor, managed to unite the tribes of Khazraj and Aws under the title of ‘the Helpers’ (anṣār) so as to resist the Emigrants (muhājirūn) who were likely to turn out as winners. However, the unity between the two tribes was largely superficial and they remained distinct in their mentality.

Saʿd b. ʿUbāda, who belonged to the tribe of Khazraj, roused the Helpers with an impassioned speech, when he said: ‘You, the Helpers, always took the weighty burden of responsibility, and due to your efforts and power the headstrong and unyielding Arabs converted to Islam; the Prophet passed away being happy with all of you. Therefore, rise and take the control of power, since no one else deserves this’ (Ṭabarī 3/218).

In response to Sa’d’s stirring speech, Abū Bakr stated: ‘The nobility and high status of you, the Helpers, is as bright as daylight. However, while caliphate may be given to the tribe of Khazraj, but we should note that Aws are as qualified as Khazraj. Similarly, caliphate could be granted to Aws, but we see that that Khazraj are as qualified as Aws. Besides, there has been bloodshed between these two tribes, resulting in unhealable wound’ (al-Bayān wa al-Tābi‘īn 2/86).

Abū Bakr’s speech shattered the sense of unity among the Helpers and caused the two tribes, which were on the same side and fighting for the same goal only moments before, to become rivals. As a result, whenever either of them wanted to deliver a speech, he would dedicate his time to bragging about his own abilities and privileges.

An awkward silence overwhelmed the assembly and the most critical moment in the history of this dispute arrived. Suddenly, Bashīr b. Saʿd, a member of the Khazraj and Saʿd b. ʿUbāda’s cousin, who disliked the status his cousin enjoyed amongst the two tribes, stood up, broke the silence and said: ‘The Prophet belongs to the Quraysh, hence his relatives are worthier than us to become successors.’ At that very moment, Abū Bakr, seeing the Helpers had lost their unity due to Bashīr b. Saʿd’s statement, rose and said: ‘O people, in my opinion, ʿUmar and Abū ʿUbayda are qualified and fit to be successors, so go and give an oath of loyalty to either of them.’ Surely, Abū Bakr’s approval of these two acted as a preliminary condition for ʿUmar and Abū ʿUbayda returning the favour by recommending Abū Bakr. And this is exactly what happened, as both ʿUmar and Abū ʿUbayda approached Abū Bakr to give an oath of loyalty to him. For his part, Abū Bakr offered his hand without delay (Ibn Hishām, 2/599-60).

Asīd b. Haḍīr, the chief of Aws, driven by excessive emotion, said to his people: ‘if Khazraj become caliphs, they will never give you a share of the power. Go and give a pledge of allegiance to Abū Bakr, as soon as possible.’ Those present in the meeting, following the instructions of their chieftain, pledged their loyalty to Abū Bakr. In this situation, a quarrel began, during which Saʿd b. ʿUbāda, who was sitting in the corner of the tent, was treated disrespectfully and even, by some accounts, trampled on. Meanwhile, Abū Bakr, quickly left Saqīfa to announce that he was the people’s chosen successor. Thus, he became Caliph having received the votes of only five persons, namely: Himself, Bashīr b. Saʿd (of Khazraj), Asīd b. Haḍīr (of Aws), and ʿUmar and Abū ʿUbayda (of the Emigrants). Meanwhile, the Khazraj present at the gathering, finding themselves defeated, began to cry out: ‘We will take an oath of loyalty to no one, but ʿAlī’ (Ṭabarī, 3/202).

Such a hasty election, marked by tribal privileges, cannot be an ideal example of the succession council its proponents support. For this reason, ʿUmar Ibn Khaṭṭāb later considered this pledge of allegiance (bayʿa) ‘an error’ and said: ‘By God, the oath to Abū Bakr and his selection as Caliph was an error and an unsound deed, that was undertaken without consultation. But God saved the Muslims from its evil, and anyone who takes an oath of loyalty to someone without consulting with Muslims, his oath will not be valid.’ (Ibn Hishām, 2/658; Ṭabarī, 3/205)

How the Second Caliph was appointed

While the First Caliph was chosen with the votes of just a few people and gained the loyalty of others by offering them special privileges, the Second Caliph was appointed directly by the First. History tells us that when Abū Bakr was on his deathbed, he felt compelled to choose his successor. For this purpose, he called ʿUthmān to write and document whatever he was going to say and then he ordered him to write: ‘This is Abū Bakr’s will to the Muslims…’ Before finishing the sentence, however, Abū Bakr fell unconscious. At this moment, ʿUthmān took advantage of the opportunity and immediately wrote: ‘I hereby appoint ʿUmar as my successor for you.’ When Abū Bakr regained consciousness, ʿUthmān, quite daringly, recited for him the sentence he had just interpolated. Having realized what had happened, Abū Bakr became happy and justified ʿUthmān’s action in the following manner: ‘Fearing that I would die and never regain my consciousness and that Muslims would be divided over determining the next Caliph, ʿUthmān with quite good-intentions decided to write the name of ʿUmar in my will as the next Caliph.’

In spite of the fact that the Caliph’s action was criticized by a number of the Prophet’s Companions, and even though Ṭalḥa reproached Abū Bakr for having appointed a unkind man as the ruler, Abū Bakr’s response to the castigations was: ‘If God himself questioned me for what I have done, I would answer that I have given power to the best of the people’ (Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd, 2/165).

Assuming that the foundation of caliphate was the council of notables (‘the people of loosing and binding’), why did the Caliph disregard this fact and appointed his successor? A number of thinkers who have found Abū Bakr’s actions at odds with their own theological principles maintain that Abū Bakr recommended ʿUmar as a candidate for the Muslims to choose him (ʿAbd al-Karīm Khaṭīb, 288). But their account of the Second Caliph’s appointment makes no sense, especially considering the reaction of some Companions who said upon learning of the news, ‘You have fired such a poisonous and lethal arrow at us!’

The accession of the Third Caliph

ʿUthmān acceded to the caliphate through a council of six members who were appointed by the Second Caliph. The structure of the council was arranged in such a way as to make sure that ʿAlī would not be chosen as his successor. The members of the council were ʿAlī, ʿUthmān, Zubayr, Saʿd b. Abī Waqqāṣ, Ṭalḥa, and ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAwf.

In the first stage, Ṭalḥa and Zubayr (ʿAlī’s cousin) stepped aside in favour of ʿUthmān and ʿAlī, respectively. Saʿd b. Abī Waqqāṣ voted for ʿAbd al-Raḥmān (they were both from Banū Zuhra tribe). Only three people remained with equal votes. However, ʿUmar said that the next Caliph could only be elected on ʿAbd al-Raḥmān’s approval. At his time, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān, knowing ʿAlī very well and being certain that he would never violate (religious) principles for the sake of power, turned to ʿAlī and said: ‘I will take an oath of loyalty to you, if you rule according to the word of God (The Qur’an), the Prophet’s tradition, and the practice of the previous caliphs.’ Imam ʿAlī replied: ‘I will act according to the word of God, the Prophet’s tradition and my own knowledge.’ Having heard ʿAlī’s response, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān turned to ʿUthmān and repeated his condition of approval, to which ʿUthmān agreed. Then ʿAbd al-Raḥmān took an oath of loyalty to him and hailed ʿUthmān as Caliph. The Muslims’ and Islam’s future was endangered by choosing caliphs through a ridiculous council and in this way, their leadership developed into religious belief.

In the following Chapters, We will speak about ʿAlī’s election through the Helpers and Emigrants taking the oath of loyalty. Moreover, we will show the legitimacy of this election and the fact that it was based entirely on the free choice of the voters, while the Umayyads and Abbasids each passed power to their own descendants like a ball.

After the martyrdom of ʿAlī, Ḥasan b. ʿAlī, received oaths of allegiance from his father’s army and became Caliph for a short time. Nevertheless, Muʿāwiya’s machinations and plotting forced Imam Ḥasan to abdicate the caliphate for the greater good of Islamic society. Then, Muʿāwiya, by means of conspiracy, violence and due to the ignorance of the people of Syria (Sham) became Caliph and died in 60/679.

Following the death of Muʿāwiya, Yazīd b. Muʿāwiya, the most vicious and corrupt member of Abū Sufyān’s family, became Caliph and Commander of the Faithful (Amīr al-Muʾminīn). Even though he only reigned for a short period of time, his actions as ruler were so vicious that one would be ashamed to recount them. In the first year of his reign, Yazīd murdered Ḥusayn Ibn ʿAlī. In the second, the Battle of Ḥarra took place in Medina, resulting in the death of some 700 of the eminent Helpers and Emigrants. In the third year, he sent an army to Mecca to fight ʿAbd Allāh b. Zubayr in Mecca. Yazīd’s Army, which was positioned on the mountains above Mecca and dominated the town, launched stones and fire at the Holy Sanctuary and the Ka’ba until it was burnt and its walls collapsed. This event happened on Saturday 3rd of Rabi al-Awwal 64/30th October 683. Eleven days later, Yazīd died.

After Yazīd’s death and the two-month reign of his son, Muʿāwiya II, the Marwanids came to power and, like the tribes of old, passed authority to their own descendants:

  1. Marwān b. al-Ḥakam 2. ʿAbd al-Malik b. Marwān 3. Walīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik 4. Sulaymān b. ʿAbd al-Malik 5. ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz 6. Yazīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik 7. Hishām b. ʿAbd al-Malik and 8. Marwān b. Muḥammad b. Marwān b. al-Ḥakam.

At the reign of the Marwanids ended in 132/750. Their wrongdoing was so widespread and infamous that the Islamic nation, through a series of uprisings, destroyed all the Marwanids, leaving no trace of them save their infamy and disgrace. We shall refrain from discussing the reign of the Abbasids here, but suffice it to say that their caliphate was also hereditary and lasted until 656/1258. It is worth asking now: did the Prophet plan for kings to succeed him, carry out heinous oppression and still be considered by all people to be his true successors?

Chapter 8: Why did Imam ʿAlī remain silent for 25 years?

The validity of the aḥādīth confirming ʿAlī as the Caliph and the Imam is beyond question. But the question remains: Why did ʿAlī, the rightful successor to the Prophet, remain silent after the latter’s death and made no effort to press his rights? Why did he not awaken society from its slumber? The answer is that Imam ʿAlī never hesitated to press for his rights and always reminded people of the rightful place of the Prophet’s Household as successors, but he never attempted to take back his rights by force. We will consider the historical reports about this in the following paragraphs.

How the Imam pressed for his rights in different situations

When the Commander of the Faithful, ʿAlī, was informed of the strife between the Emigrants and the Helpers in Saqīfa, and also of their bragging about themselves, he asked: ‘What was the Helper’s argument?’ They answered: ‘Since, we have sheltered the Prophet, one leader shall be chosen from the Helpers and one from the Emigrants.’ the Imam said: ‘if the leader were supposed to be chosen from the Helpers, why did the Prophet then urge us to be kind to those Helpers who were righteous and upright and merciful towards those of them who were sinful?’ A man asked the Imam: ‘How does this statement indicate that leadership does not belong to the Helpers?’ He responded: ‘If leadership were their due, there would be no need to advise us to treat them kindly, since those in power do not need kindness.’ Then, the Imam asked: ‘What was Quraysh’s argument?’ They reported that the Quraysh members said that they were the Prophet’s tribe. the Imam commented: ‘They took the tree and left the fruit’ (Nahj al-Balāgha, Sermon 67). Sharīf al-Raḍī quotes Imam ʿAlī in Nahj al-Balāgha as composing the following lines of poetry as a reaction to the Quraysh’s stance:

  1. You say you have seized power through a council,
  2. But the council members were all absent.
  3. And if you have resorted to kinship and won power,
  4. Then, there are others closer to the Prophet that you are. (Aphorism 190)

Sometime after Saqīfa, they brought ʿAlī to the Mosque forcefully to make him pledge allegiance, but he resisted their demand and said: ‘I am more entitled to the Caliphate than you. The right thing to do is for you to take an oath of loyalty to me. You snatched the power and caliphate from the hands of the Helpers by claiming to be the relatives of the Prophet but now you are depriving his family from their right to caliphate!’

  1. Surprisingly, in that gathering it was ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb who demanded that ʿAlī pledge allegiance and said: ‘I will not let go of you until you give the oath.’ However the Imam, who by means of divine knowledge knew about this man’s future, revealed ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb’s true motive behind his insistence through a proverb: ‘You only milk a cow if at least half of it is going to be yours!’
  2. Abū ʿUbayda al-Jarrāḥ employed a more moderate tone. He turned to ʿAlī and said: ‘Cousin! You are young, but they are the elders of this community; you are not as experienced as they. That is why I deem Abū Bakr as the fittest for assuming authority over Muslims. Let him be Caliph! In the future, if you are alive, you will be more worthy and qualified than anyone else, since no one doubts your wisdom, virtue, eminence, and your kinship to the Prophet.’ In response to Abū ʿUbayda, the Imam said: ‘The successor of the Prophet must have all the qualities that you have just mentioned, but the Caliph chosen at Saqīfa lacks them:
  • Knowledge of the Qur’an
  • Knowledge of religious laws
  • Good awareness of the Prophet’s tradition (Sunna)
  • Good awareness of social affairs and matters
  • Eagerness to eradicate corruption and wrong-doings from society
  • Fair distribution of public wealth

I do not see these qualities in the present Caliph to take an oath to him; I see them rather in myself’ (al-Imama wa al-Siyāsa, 1/11-12).

Amr b. Wathila says: ‘I was eavesdropping outside the house in which the Council of Six was formed, when I heard ʿAlī saying: “I will provide you with an argument so compelling that neither the Arabs nor non-Arabs can refute it.” Then he said, “Is there anyone among you who believed in Islam earlier than me?” All of them said: “No!” ʿAlī continued, “Is there anyone among you about whom the Prophet said something like this: And whoever I am the master of, then ʿAlī is his master. O God! Love those who love him, and be an enemy to those who are enemies to him.’?” Again, they all answered, “No”’ (al-Ṣawāʿiq, 75(

In the year 35/656, Imam ʿAlī accepted the position of Caliph as a religious duty. On that day, the Imam said, in the presence of the Prophet’s Companions: ‘who amongst you has heard this sentence at Ghadīr Khumm: “And whoever I am the master of, then ʿAlī is his master. O God! Love those who love him, and be an enemy to those who are enemies to him”?’ Some, including Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī, Sahl b. Hanīf, Khuzayma b. Thābit, ʿAbd Allāh b. Thābit al-Anṣārī, stood up and said: ‘We heard what has just been said’ (Usud al-Ghāba, 3/307 and 5/205).

  1. the Imam’s reasoning and arguments regarding his legitimacy are not restricted to the instances just mentioned, rather he would break his silence and proclaim the truth on many occasions.
  2. After Prophet’s death, both his daughter Fāṭima, her sons Ḥasan and Ḥusayn, and even ʿAbd Allāh b. Jaʿfar, and ʿAmmār b. Yāsir confirmed ʿAlī’s rightfulness on the basis of what had transpired at Ghadīr. It is interesting to note that when the relation between Muʿāwiya and ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀs went sour, the latter uttered in an ode extolling many of ʿAlī’s noble characteristics and pointed to his appointment by the Prophet as his successor at Ghadīr Khumm (See al-Ghadīr, 2/159 onwards). In reality, those who form friendships and alliances based on material interests, at times of disagreement, find their ties of friendship and their unity shattered. Accordingly, Amr b. al-ʿĀs in his ode reveals this to be a reality. Therefore, the arguments he deployed (for ʿAlī’s rightfulness) are indicative of the fact that ʿAlī and his descendants never gave up trying to protect the rights of the people and guide them to the right path.

Why did Imam ʿAlī not resort to force?

The second question we might ask is why Imam ʿAlī did not use force to press his rights? He has answered this question himself as follows: because at that time using force would have harmed the Muslim nation and would have resulted in the collapse of the state. The main threat presented by the use of force was that disaffected elements, namely the hypocrites (munāfiqūn), who had been waiting for a chance to start a rebellion and cause disorder and chaos in Muslim lands, would seize the opportunity to advance their own interests. On the other side, the Arabs living far from Medina had already started to revolt, and this posed a genuine threat to the stability of the nation. Moreover, the Prophet had warned against the risk of employing power at such times. In the same vein, we can read in one of Imam ʿAlī’s sermons:

O People! Steer clear through the waves of mischief by boats of deliverance, turn away from the path of dissension and put off the crowns of pride. Prosperous is one who rises with wings (i.e. when he has power) or else he remains peaceful and others enjoy ease. It (i.e. the aspiration for Caliphate) is like turbid water or like a morsel that would suffocate the person who swallows it. One who plucks fruits before ripening is like one who cultivated in another’s field.

If I speak out they would call me greedy towards power but if I keep quiet they would say I was afraid of death. It is a pity that after all the ups and downs (I have been through). By Allāh, the son of Abu Tālib is more familiar with death than an infant with the breast of its mother. I have hidden knowledge, if I disclose it you will start trembling like ropes in deep wells. (Nahj al-Balāgha, Sermon no. 5).

The concluding sentence of the sermon indicates that the Imam, whether through divine guidance or the Prophet’s instructions, was aware that using force at that time would have a disastrous effect on Islamic society.

In a letter written towards the end of his caliphate, Imam ʿAlī sheds more light on the issue:

By Allāh, it never occurred to me, and I never imagined, that after the Prophet the Arabs would snatch away the caliphate from his Household nor that they would take it away from me after him, but I suddenly noticed people surrounding the man to swear him allegiance.

I therefore withheld my hand till I saw that many people were reverting from Islam and trying to destroy the religion of Muhammad (may Allāh bless him and his descendants). I then feared that if I did not protect Islam and its people and there occurred in it a breach or destruction, it would mean a greater blow to me than the loss of power over you which was, in any case, to last for a few days of which everything would pass away as the mirage passes away, or as the cloud scuds away. Therefore, in these happenings I rose till wrong was destroyed and disappeared, and religion attained peace and safety. (Nahj al-Balāgha, letter no. 62)

Abū al-Ḥasan Madāʾinī quotes ʿAbd Allāh b. Junayd as saying: ‘I was performing the rites of ʿUmra when I entered Medina and walked toward the Prophet’s Mosque. Suddenly, I heard the call of Friday Prayer, which caused people to gather. Then, ʿAlī entered carrying his sword. His entry having caught people’s attention, he started to speak. He began by praising God and blessing the Prophet: ‘After the death of the Prophet, we are his descendants, heirs, and close friends; no one can stand equal to us on this ground. And no one can dare to usurp our right. But suddenly, people started to stand against us; they took Prophet’s authority from us, so others took it… I swear to God that if it were not due to my fear of dissension and discord among the Muslims, and also the fear of the return of disbelief to this nation and the debilitation of religion. If it were not because of these, we would have acted otherwise, and those who in doing good to people do not hesitate would have been in the position of power as rulers’ (quoted in Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd, 1/307).

Ibn Isḥāq in his biography has quoted Zubayr b. Bakkār as saying: ‘When people swore the pledge of allegiance to Abū Bakr, the Banū Taym tribe took pride and satisfaction from this pledge, but the majority of the Emigrants and the Helpers were quite certain that after the Prophet it was ʿAlī who was entitled to the caliphate. A number notable persons from the Banū Hāshim composed poems criticizing the selection of the new Caliph. However, when ʿAlī was told about these poems he asked them to desist, and added, ‘the stability and security of religion is the most pleasing for us.’ (Sharḥ Nahj al-Balāgha 6/21; Biḥār al-Anvar 28: 353 )

This shows that the Imam avoided undertaking or endorsing any divisive actions in order to preserve the outward unity and order of the Muslim nation. During this time, the Imam was aware that a group of neighbouring Arabs were on the brink of quitting the faith and that the hypocrites in Medina were waiting for a chance to strike and revive pre-Islamic values. But in spite this, the Imam could not do act alone. He had no choice but to cooperate with the Caliphs, so long as this cooperation brought an advantage for Islam. So he guided the Caliphs in solving thorny issues and also met with delegations coming to Medina; he taught the laws and teachings of the Qur’an to both Emigrants and Helpers, and to their sons as well. In any case, ʿAlī spent twenty five years in this way, until the year 35/656, when ʿUthmān was killed before the eyes of the Emigrants and the Helpers as a result of the distortions he had made in the religion. the Imam had informed the second Caliph of such an ominous fate beforehand.

Accepting the offer of caliphate after twenty five years

the Imam, after twenty five years of exclusion from power, on the Helpers’ and Emigrants’ insistence, reluctantly accepted the offer of the Caliphate. It was a choice that would take its toll on him. Muḥammad b. Ḥanīfa reports: ‘I was with my father when ʿUthmān was killed. The Companions of the Prophet came to ʿAlī’s house and called out altogether: “The man is slain. The people need a leader. And there is no one is better than you; there is none more experienced or learned in Islam than you, and you are the closest to the Prophet.” the Imam demurred and said: “I am better as your advisor than your ruler.” However, they replied: “By God, we will not leave until we pledge allegiance to you.” Seeing that their minds were made up, the Imam stated: “The pledge should be given openly at a mosque and with the consensus of the Muslims.”’

ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAbbās reports: ‘I was so afraid that in the mosque some would turn against ʿAlī and defy him but he would not accept anything but taking the oath at the mosque. In the mosque, when ʿAlī came in, both the Helpers and the Emigrants took the oath to him, then the rest of the people followed them and did the same thing.’ (Ṭabarī, 3/450).

There is another account in Ṭabarī that describes the same events: ‘People surrounded ʿAlī and told him: “We will pledge allegiance to you. Do you not see what they have done to Islam?” ʿAlī replied: “Leave me and go to another person for we are moving towards a future uncertain. Time is pregnant with incidents which would terrorize the hearts and paralyze the minds.” They responded: “By God! Are you not in agreement with us, do you not see the present state of Islam, and the ongoing sedition? Do you not fear God?”

the Imam said: “I have given you my opinion. So beware! For if I accept the Caliphate, I will act based on my knowledge and learning; and if you leave me now, I would continue my life just like you, and would be obedient to the future Caliph’’ (Ṭabarī, 3/456).

That was Ṭabarī’s description of the event. Imam ʿAlī, however, describes people’s rush to his house in the following manner:

‘They leapt upon me as the camels leap upon each other on their arrival for drinking water, having been let loose after unfastening of their four legs till I thought they would either kill me or kill one another in front of me.’

(Nahj al-Balāgha, Sermon 54).

In another sermon, he relates:

‘At that moment, nothing took me by surprise, but the crowd of people rushing to me. It advanced towards me from every side like the mane of the hyena so much so that Ḥasan and Ḥusayn were getting crushed and both the ends of my shoulder garment were torn. They collected around me like a herd of sheep and goats.’ (Nahj al-Balāgha, Sermon 3)

Investigating the history of the election and the pledge of allegiance makes clear that such a large and harmonious mass movement, which faced such minor opposition at the time, was unprecedented. The opponents and disputants who emerged were those who used to benefit from the previous Caliph, for example, Zayd b. Thābit, ʿUthmān’s treasurer, to whom Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī said: ‘The reason behind you being against taking the oath of loyalty to ʿAlī is that you were given substantial amounts of gold and silver by the previous Caliph.’

Totally assured and certain, the Imam started a series of fundamental structural reforms in order to eliminate the causes of peoples’ sufferings. Unfortunately, however, according to the Imam himself, there were three groups who did resist against these reformations:

When I took up the reins of government one party broke away and another turned disobedient while the rest began acting wrongfully… Behold! By Him who split the grain and created living beings! If people had not come to me and supporters had not exhausted the argument and if there had been no pledge of Allāh with the learned to the effect that they should not acquiesce in the gluttony of the oppressor and the hunger of the oppressed I would have cast the rope of Caliphate on its own shoulders, and would have given the last one the same treatment as to the first one. Then you would have seen that in my view this world of yours is no better than the sneezing of a goat. (Nahj al-Balāgha, Sermon 3)

Chapter 9: Major challenges during Imam ʿAlī’s reign

Even though ʿAlī was chosen as Caliph in a massive gathering in the Prophet’s Mosque, this added nothing to his status, since he had already been appointed to this position by God. However, it remains true that without a popular consensus even a divinely appointed Caliph could not be influential in society.

Unfortunately, after ʿAlī’s election, whispers of dissent could be heard from many quarters. These came mostly from those who stood to lose materially from ʿAlī’s accession, whether by being removed from their current posts or, due to not being qualified in terms of faith and moral virtue, saw opportunities being closed to them. During his caliphate, the Imam confronted three groups of opponents, all of whom he overpowered and suppressed. However, in the end, he was assassinated and became a martyr.

In a famous sermon, known as the sermon of al-Shaqshaqiyya, ʿAlī refers to these groups: ‘When I took up the reins of government one party broke away and another turned disobedient while the rest began acting wrongfully as if they had not heard the word of Allah saying: This is the abode of the Hereafter which We shall grant to those who do not desire to domineer in the earth nor to cause corruption, and the outcome will be in favour of the Godwary (Q28:83). Yes, by Allah, they had heard it and understood it but the world appeared glittering in their eyes and its embellishments seduced them’ (Nahj al-Balāgha, Sermon 3).

In the above passage, the Imam describes these three groups. In what follows we refer to their story.

Those who ‘broke away’

Those who ‘broke away’ (nākithīn) are Ṭalḥa, Zubayr and their followers, who after publicly making the pledge of allegiance, because they feared that this pledge would go against them, broke their pledge and claimed that it had not been given in earnest. the Imam said in response to such a claim: ‘He claims that he swore allegiance to me with his hand but did not swear with his heart. So he does admit pledging allegiance! As regards his claiming it otherwise than with his heart he should come forward with a clear argument for it. Otherwise, he should return to wherefrom he has gone out.’ (Nahj al-Balāgha, Sermon 8).

On one occasion they claimed; ‘We are prepared to swear allegiance to you on condition that we have a share with you in this matter,’ but the Imam rejected their claim saying, ‘No, but you will have a share in strengthening it and in affording assistance, and you will both be helping me at the time of need and hardship.’ (Nahj al-Balāgha, Aphorism 198).

In reality, they had assumed that the Imam would appoint Zubayr to govern Iraq and Ṭalḥa to govern Yemen. But what he did instead, with regards to distributing the public wealth (bayt al-mal) and appointing people other than them, added to their opposition and antagonism. Accordingly, they left Medina in secret and went to Mecca. Then, in a public meeting in Quraysh, Zubayr stated: ‘Is this what we deserve? We revolted against ʿUthmān and paved the way for his ruin, while ʿAlī was sitting at home and doing nothing; but now that he is in the position of power and the Caliph, he gives all the executive and administrative jobs to others!’

Ṭalḥa and Zubayr did not enjoy sufficient popularity to gather a large group of people to revolt against ʿAlī, the chosen Caliph of the Muslims. Therefore, inevitably they attempted to use ʿĀʾisha’s popularity and reputation to build up an army.

On her return from Mecca to Medina, ʿĀʾisha stopped at Sarf, a stopping place and met a man called Ibn Umm Kallāb. She asked him about the state of affairs in Medina. He said, ‘The Caliph’s house was besieged for eighty two days, then he was killed and people took oaths of allegiance to ʿAlī.’

Upon hearing this, she became so anxious and disturbed that she exclaimed: ‘May the sky fall down on me!’ then immediately turned back to Mecca.

ʿĀʾisha was among those who were constantly critical of ʿUthmān; she called him Naʿthal (Na‘thal was a long-bearded Jew who resembled Uthman) and used to say: ‘Kill that Na‘thal’ (Amīnī, 9/81). But when she learned that Imam ʿAlī had been elected Caliph, she changed her mind and said: ‘I swear to God that ʿUthmān was killed unjustly and I will avenge him.’ At this moment, the one who gave her news of ʿAlī’s election questioned her: ‘You were the first person to call ʿUthmān a disbeliever! What has become of you now that you have changed your opinion?’ She hastily replied: ‘The murderers of ʿUthmān made him repent and then killed him. Previously, all the people used to talk about ʿUthmān, just as I did, but my recent comment is better than the previous ones.’

Right in front of the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, ʿĀʾisha came out of her litter and went toward the Stone of Ismāʿīl and draped a veil over it. People gathered around and ʿĀʾisha addressed them: ‘People! The murder of ʿUthmān was unfair and I will avenge him’ (Ṭabarī, 3/172).

No doubt the mustering of an army from Mecca to fight against ʿAlī or to take Basra so as to prevent any help from its governor to the Caliph required substantial funding, which was provided by the former governors of ʿUthmān. At last, after a series of secret communications with ʿĀʾisha via ʿAbd Allāh the son of Zubayr, ʿĀʾisha, together with Ṭalḥa and Zubayr, departed for Basra. At the time of their departure from Mecca, they proclaimed:

‘Behold! The Mother of the Believers, Ṭalḥa, and Zubayr are setting off for Basra. Anyone who desires to support Islam, to fight against permit the blood of Muslims to be shed and to revenge the murder of ʿUthmān, come with us and you need not be worried as to the financial requirements of this journey’ (Ṭabarī 3/167).

The army of Ṭalḥa and Zubayr, accompanied with ʿĀʾisha, quickly left Mecca for Iraq. On their way, people were bewildered by ʿĀʾisha’s presence in the army. They criticized Ṭalḥa and Zubayr, and probably her as well. Now we refer to one instance of such criticisms.

When the army stopped at a place which was the territory of Banū Saʿd tribe, a man of the tribe addressed ʿĀʾisha: ‘O, Mother of the Believers! The Killing of ʿUthmān was easier and more endurable for us than your leaving the house and sitting on this cursed camel. Are you not aware that you have been granted the veil of sanctity and respect by God?’ (This alludes to the verse directed to the Prophet’s wives: ‘Stay in your houses and do not display your finery with the display of the former ignorance.’ (Q33:33))

A young man from the same tribe addressed Ṭalḥa and Zubayr and said: ‘Zubayr, you were the Prophet’s disciple, and you Ṭalḥa, who protected the Prophet from dangers, I can see your mother (meaning ʿĀʾisha) is with you. Have you brought your wives with you as well?’ They retorted: ‘no. ’ Then he continued, ‘At this moment, I will leave your camp.’ Then he composed some verses: ‘You have left your wives at your houses, but brought your mother / This is among the most unfair deeds’ (Ṭabarī 3/482 and al-Kamil 3/213-14).

Ultimately they pitched their tents at Basra and besieged the city. After a series of negotiations and conversations, they decided to attack by night and capture the mosque and the governor’s office. This resulted in them killing the guards stationed at the mosque and the office. At first, they had in mind to kill ʿAlī’s governor, ʿUthmān b. Hanīf but they sufficed with torturing him, fearing his brother, Sahl b. Hanīf, who lived in Medina. Afterward, when they broke into the treasury and were surprised by the huge wealth of the city. Zubayr recited the following verse: ‘Allāh has promised you abundant spoils which you will capture. He has expedited this one for you…’ (Q48:20)

Having been informed of the coup, ʿAlī dispatched Muḥammad b. Abū Bakr, Imam Ḥasan, and ʿAmmār to Kufa, and set off for Basra with a well-equipped force. Before the battle began, Imam ʿAlī gave them an ultimatum to the rebels. He told his men: ‘Do not hasten to fight before the ultimatum is delivered.’ Then he gave a copy of the Qur’an to Ibn ʿAbbās and instructed him: ‘With this Qur’an in your hands, go to the leaders of the oath-breakers and invite them to the refer to the Qur’an. Moreover, ask Ṭalḥa and Zubayr: “Have you not taken an oath of loyalty to me? Why did you break it? May the Qur’an be our judge.”’

However, the Imam’s message fell on deaf ears and it had no effect on those blinded by greed and power. At last, a bloody battle began. It culminated in ʿAlī’s victory and the deaths of both Ṭalḥa and Zubayr, the decimation of their army, and needless slaughter of 14,000 people as the result of their ambition and lust for power (al-Jamāl, 223).

After the battle, the Imam decided it was best to make his capital in Kufa since he enjoyed strong support in the city.

‘The wrongdoers’

After establishing the caliphate in Kufa, and appointing new and effective governors while removing the corrupt ones, everywhere people were speaking about ʿAlī’s Caliphate except in one region: Syria. Syria was still under the influence and dominance of Muʿāwiya, who had made his oath of allegiance to the Imam conditional on being given those responsible for ʿUthmān’s murder.

Clearly, this was a mere pretext for refusing to pledge allegiance so that, in the long run, Muʿāwiya would become the ruler of Syria, just as had happened during the reign of the previous two caliphs. However, his scheming stood in opposition to ʿAlī’s virtue, and thus Muʿāwiya had to be dealt with head-on.

In the end, the Imam set off for Ṣiffīn to confront Muʿāwiya’s forces. When he reached the battle ground, he saw that Muʿāwiya had blocked access to the Euphrates in order to deprive ʿAlī’s army of water. the Imam was worried for the thirst and dehydration of his soldiers. He delivered a short sermon then, in a sudden attack broke Muʿāwiya’s lines and took the control of the water source. However, he did not repeat what Muʿāwiya had done and allowed everyone access.

When the battle eventually began in earnest, the two sides engaged in some heavy fighting, but ʿAlī’s soldiers were mainly the winners. In this situation, ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀs, the keenest and most intelligent of Muʿāwiya’s subordinates, devised a plan in order to arouse dissension among the Imam’s army. On dawn of Tuesday 13th of the month Rabīʿ al-Awwal, the Syrian army, under the command of Amr b. al-ʿĀs lifted Qur’ans aloft on their spears, and even the huge Qur’an of Damascus was raised aloft by two soldiers on two spears. Then, all of them began to cry out unanimously that God alone will be the judge between the two armies.

The moving scene of the Qur’ans on the spear-heads, accompanied by the obliging moans and groans of the Sham’s soldiers greatly affected ʿAlī’s army. As a result, the fighting men, who mere hours ago were on the verge of victory, acted as if they were under a spell, while only a few like Mālik al-ʿĀshtar continued fighting. As a result of this ploy, ʿAlī’s soldiers became averse to fighting, a fact which compelled him to reluctantly yield to their demands for peace negotiations. Accordingly, it was decided that two individuals, each from one side of the battle, go in a place far from the battle ground and decide over the confrontation of ʿAlī and Muʿāwiya; however, regrettably, Abū Mūsā al-Ashʿarī, the representative ʿAlī’s soldiers imposed on him, was deceived by Amr b. al-ʿĀs, who had persuaded him that each of them should remove their the Imam and then a new one would be elected by the vote of the Muslims. But, in practice, first, Abū Mūsā removed ʿAlī, then, Amr b. al-ʿĀs, standing atop of the pulpit, announced: ‘Just as Abū Mūsā removed ʿAlī, I appoint Muʿāwiya as the Caliph, just as I wear this ring.’

the Imam had not consented to this arbitration and was determined to continue the battle, yet the majority of the army was insisting on accepting the peace offer. At last, the Imam unwillingly accepted Muʿāwiya’s peace offer. It was now that those very same people who had been so insistent on accepting the peace proposal, thereafter, became the most obstinate opponents of ʿAlī. This group is known as the Khawārij, with whom ʿAlī later engaged in serious battles.

When the Imam was informed of the results of Abū Mūsā’s and Amr b. al-ʿĀs’ arbitration, he became furious and said: ‘Their judgment is unjust; it was supposed that they decide based on the Qur’an and the Prophet’s tradition.’

The ‘disobedient’

The ‘disobedient’ (māriqīn) refers to those who, in the Battle of Ṣiffīn, forced Imam ʿAlī to accept Muʿāwiya’s offer of peace negotiations but, after a short while, changed their minds and demanded that ʿAlī break the peace. However, ʿAlī would not go back on his agreement without adequate reasons. Around Kufa, this group had already begun to cause trouble and attempt robbery. When he was making his preparations to go to Ṣiffīn, Imam ʿAlī heard about their activities and some advised ʿAlī to do away with this group before going to war against Muʿāwiya.

In the aftermath, after sending a series of messages to the Khawārij, the Imam personally went to them and delivered a sermon saying: ‘You were the ones who obliged me to accept that arbitration. And now you are the ones who reject the same arbitration!’

Finally, a battle between them and ʿAlī’s army took place. ʿAlī’s forces surrounded and attacked them. All but nine of the Khawārij were killed; two of whom escaped to Khorasan, two to Oman, two to Yemen, two to the Jazīra of Iraq, and one to Tell Mozan in Syria. It is through these figures that the Khawārij would continue’ (Kashf al-Ghamma, 1/267–70).

The Companions of the Imam thought that Khawārij had been utterly defeated, but Imam ʿAlī told them: ‘By Allāh! No, not yet. They still exist in the loins of men and wombs of women. Whenever a chief would appear from among them, he would be cut down till the last of them would turn thieves and robbers.’ (Nahj al-Balāgha, Sermon 60)

These three events, each of which require a book to be fully explained, mostly occupied the Imam, who was supposed to occupy the position of Caliph in order that his knowledge and teachings could be heard, instead of becoming embroiled in civil wars and and the suppression of rebel factions.

The Events after the Battle of Nahrawān

After the three battles of the Camel, Ṣiffīn, and Nahrawān, the Imam’s army did not respond to his calls to fight against Muʿāwiya. The more he called them to fight, the less interest they showed. This is best illustrated by the occasion on which the Imam addressed them as follows:

Which is the house besides this one to protect? And with which leader would you go fighting after me? By Allāh! Deceived is one whom you have deceived while, by Allāh! He who is successful with you receives only useless arrows! You are like broken arrows thrown over the enemy. (Nahj al-Balāgha, Sermon 29; Al-Ghārāt al-Thaqafī2/416; Ṭabarī, Tārīkh, 4/104; Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd, Sharḥ, 2/111-125)

The indifference of ʿAlī’s army opened the way for Muʿāwiya’s new plot, which was to cause insecurity, chaos and the slaughter of the innocent people within ʿAlī’s domain, especially in Iraq and Yemen. Now we refer to some instances of these attempts:

Muʿāwiya dispatched Ḍaḥḥāk b. Qays al-Fihri with 4000 soldiers to Kufa, raiding those tribes who were loyal and obedient to the Imam. They moved with such speed that if they entered a city in the morning they would be gone by afternoon. When Ḍaḥḥāk arrived at the village of Thaʿlabiyya, which was located on the route of the Ḥajj pilgrims coming from Iraq, he looted whatever they had and killed ʿAmr b. Umays, the nephew of ʿAbd Allāh b. Masʿūd.

He sent Basr b. Arṭāh with 3000 soldiers towards Hijaz. He entered Medina, where he burned many houses to the ground and looted civilian properties on his way to Mecca. Then he went to Ta’if, where he killed a dozen of people for no reason. After Ta‘if, he set off toward Yemen. There, he learned that the two children of ʿUbayd Allāh b. ʿAbbās, the Imam’s governor in Sana’a, were in that land with their mother; so Basr, with extraordinary brutality, murdered the two children. This was but one instance of Basr’s wickedness and savagery, a full account of what he did demands a complete book.

Finally, the Imam made resolved to confront Muʿāwiya militarily, despite his shortage of manpower. In his last days of life, he said: ‘Servants of God! Jihād is your obligation. Today, I will make camp and prepare; anyone who wants to accompany me should make ready to depart.’

The words of the Imam were so inspiring that they roused the Iraqis and almost 40,000 of them gathered to join him for a second campaign to Ṣiffīn. Imam ʿAlī gave his son, Ḥusayn, Qays b. Saʿd, and Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī a banner each, and ordered them to be the commander in chief of groups each consisting of 10,000 soldiers. He gave some other banners to other individuals and appointed them as leaders of other groups. Alas, only a few days later, the Imam is martyred by the blade of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Muljam. This was the Imam who came into this world in the House of God (the Ka’ba), and died in the house of God (the mosque). As the Brilliant poet says: ‘No one is so blessed as ʿAlī / In Kaʿba to be born, in the mosque to be martyred.’

Chapter 10: The Shīʿa under Umayyad and Abbasid Rule

During the reign of ʿAlī, the Shīʿa cause advanced greatly as individuals loyal to ʿAlī occupied the high and critical posts of state. However, after the Imam’s death, they would experience great hardship under the reign of Sufyanid and Marwanid Dynasties.[1] Had it not been for Divine Providence, the Shīʿa would have surely become extinct as a result of the intense persecution and plotting directed against them. We will refer to a number of tragic events that took place during this period:

News of Imam ʿAlī’s assassination in the mosque by the poisoned sword of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Muljam, delighted his enemies and grieved his allies.

When ʿĀʾisha was informed of ʿAlī’s death, she became extremely happy and recited the following verses:

‘She threw her stick as a sign of her stay, and stayed in the west,

Just as a traveller who is happy on his return.’

She asked about his murderer. They answered: ‘A man from the Murād tribe.’ After hearing this she composed the following lines: ‘Whoever brought news of someone’s death is among the most virtuous and shall not die.’ (al-Kāmil fī al-Tārīkh, 3/394)

Zainab b. Abū Salama rebuked ʿĀʾisha and said: ‘How can you speak about ʿAlī in this manner?’ ʿĀʾisha apologized and said: ‘Sometimes I forget.’ Muʿāwiya, likewise, became so delighted upon hearing the news of the Imam’s death that he then read these lines:

Tell the rabbits to roam freely,

And, tell the deer to graze without fear.

the Imam passed away two after being mortally wounded. After the funeral procession in Kufa mosque, Imam Ḥasan said in honour of his father: ‘Last night, a man passed away who had no precedent, and will not have any equal in the times to come. He was the one who, while fighting in the battlegrounds, had Gabriel on his right and Michael on his left, as helpers!’

ʿAlī died on the same night on which Moses (a.s) had died and Jesus (a.s) had ascended to heaven. His death coincides with the revelation of the Qur’an. It should be noted that he did not leave behind any gold or silver in his estate, all he left of worldly matters was 70 dirhams, with which he had the intention of employing a servant for his family (al-Kāmil fī al-Tārīkh, 3/404).

After ʿAlī’s death, people came to pledge allegiance to his son, Ḥasan. Qays b. Saʿd b. Ubada was amongst the first to do so. Then, people came in large crowds and pledged allegiance to him. History has recorded that those 40,000 people who had taken an oath of loyalty to ʿAlī and had prepared for the war against Muʿāwiya, renewed their oath to his son, Imam Ḥasan.

As a result of a new series of machinations and plots, signs of frailty and weakness began to appear in Imam Ḥasan’s army. However, it must be noted that this was partly due to the fact that his army was not homogeneous. Only some were true Shīʿa loyalists, others were members of the Khawārij, whose brethren had been slain in Nahrawān, others still were after wealth or position, and whether this came from ʿAlī or Muʿāwiya did not make any difference. After an abortive campaign, the Imam found no alternative but to make peace with Muʿāwiya. It should be remembered that the peace terms were so arranged in a way that demonstrate the Imam’s spiritual and mental power, and his control over the situation at that time. However, Muʿāwiya was not the one to respect the terms and conditions of the peace treaty. After making peace with Imam Ḥasan, Muʿāwiya, stood atop a pulpit in the central mosque of Kufa and said: ‘By God! I have not battled against you to make you pray, fast, perform the Ḥajj, and pay zakāt, since all of you already do these. I have battled to rule over you, which is my divine right. Beware! I had given words and promises to Ḥasan b. ʿAlī that I have no intention of keeping.’

A government run by such people would not hesitate to kill the Companions of ʿAlī. After Muʿāwiya’s return to Syria, the darkest days for the Shīʿa began; whenever Muʿāwiya’s government located a leader of the Shīʿa, they would either be martyred, or their house would be burned to the ground. The crimes of Muʿāwiya during the twenty years of his government were so many that they compelled Imam Ḥusayn to write a letter rebuking him for his conduct.

Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī’s Letter to Muʿāwiya

‘Are you not the murderer of Ḥujr b. ʿAdī and his pious companions, who opposed injustice and considered innovations to be evil? They did not pay heed to any accusations in the way of Allah. Had you not made promises and oaths to them? Had you not assured them that you will not arrest them? And that you will not trouble them? Despite such oaths and promises, have you not put them to death?

Are you not the killer of the righteous companions of the Prophet of Allah (s.a.w.a), ʿAmr b. Ḥumq? One who had become physically frail and pale in complexion due to incessant worship? Had you not promised them safety? Had such an assurance been given to a bird, it would have come down from the mountain peak. But you did not even care to respect his oath of peace. You trampled upon your oath and did not fear Allah. You had him killed as well.

Are you not the one who certified Ziyād the son of his father to be the off-spring of Abū Sufyān although he was born on the bed of a slave from Banū Thaqīf? You attributed him to your father and opposed the explicit order of Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.a): “A son belongs to his father and the adulterer is to be stoned.” Have you not obeyed your evil desires? After this you imposed him upon the people of Iraq and Khorasan. You amputated their hands and feet, gouged out their eyes and crucified them on date palms. You behaved as if you are not from the Islamic Ummah and have nothing to do with it. (al-Imama wa al-Siyāsa, 1/164; Jumhūr al-Rasāʾil, 2/67; Rijāl al-Kashshi, 68–69)

The content of this letter alone is enough to illustrate the grievous hardships the Shīʿa were forced to endure during the 20 years of Muʿāwiya’s reign.

In a letter to his companions, Imam al-Bāqir describes the terrible condition of the Shīʿa during the reign of the Sufyanids and Marwanids. We will mention some of its contents here:

‘We, the Household of the Prophet, have ever been abused, treated unjustly, and deprived of our rights and security. In addition to this, liars and deceivers have appeared amongst the people who through have colluded with corrupt judges and officials to spread false traditions amongst the people which have never been uttered by us and, as a result, fostered distrust towards us. Almost all of these injustices were perpetrated after the martyrdom of Imam Ḥasan during the reign of Muʿāwiya. Our Shīʿa were killed no matter where they were. Anyone even suspected of being Shīʿa would lose their hands or legs. Even those who sympathised with us and were devoted to us would be imprisoned and their properties taken. These offences continued until the time of Imam Ḥusayn’s martyrdom by ʿUbayd Allāh b. Ziyād.

After Muʿāwiya, came the turn of Ḥajjāj b. Yūsuf, who put people to death on the merest suspicion of being Shīʿa. In those days it was better to be called a heretic than a Shīʿa.’ (Sharḥ Nahj al-Balāgha 11/44–43)

In another one of his letters, Imam al-Bāqir enumerates the crimes of Umayyad dynasty. However, their crimes are so numerous that a single book dedicated to them would hardly suffice. Some of the key passages in this letter are as follows:

Saʿīd b. Sarḥ was one of ʿAlī’s followers. When Ziyād b. Abīh was appointed by Muʿāwiya as governor of Kufa, he asked to bring Saʿīd to him. Saʿīd, fearing the governor, set off for Medina to be with Ḥasan b. ʿAlī and seek sanctuary.

When Ziyād heard that Saʿīd has fled to Medina, he arrested his brother and his family, confiscated his properties and destroyed his house. the Imam was informed of Ziyād’s deed and wrote the following letter to the governor of Kufa:

‘This is a letter from Ḥasan b. ʿAlī to Ziyād. You went after a person who has a share in the fortunes of the Muslims. You destroyed his house, confiscated his properties and imprisoned his family. When you receive this letter, rebuild his house, free his family and grant him safety, for I have interceded for him with you.’

When Ziyād received this letter, in contravention of Islamic laws, brazenly asserted his identity as the son of Abū Sufyān in his response: ‘This is a letter from Ziyād b. Abī Sufyān to Ḥasan, the son of Fāṭima. I received your letter. In that letter you have mentioned your name prior to mine, this is while you are the one in need of me, for I am the ruler and you are a common man. You, as if in power, have ordered me to grant safety to a wrongdoer… If I spare him, it is not because of your intercession; if I decide to kill him, it would be only due to his love and devotion for your wicked father.’

Ziyād b. Abīh gathered the people of Kufa and asked them to curse ʿAlī and revile him. The mosque of Kufa was filled with people and whoever refused to comply with the order would be killed. (Sharḥ Nahj al-Balāgha, 16/194; Murūj al-Dhahab, 3/126)

Ibn al-Jawzī reports: ‘The Kufans pelted Ziyād b. Abīh with stones while he was delivering a sermon from the pulpit. He cut off the hands of eighty people and burnt their houses and date palms. Then he gathered them in a vast place and urged them to curse ʿAlī. He did this, in order to provide a pretext for his previous evil deeds, since he knew he could not persuade people to curse or revile ʿAlī.’ (al-Muntaẓam, 5/263)

Muʿāwiya’s first directive to his administrators

Madāʾinī, in his Aḥdāth, writes: ‘Muʿāwiya in the Year of the Union (ʿĀm al-Jamāʿa) issued a directive to all of his administrators and deputies, stressing: ‘We have no responsibility for the safety of those who speak in praise of Abū Tālib and his family.’

Accordingly, everywhere the preachers would curse ʿAlī and denounce him and his family before starting their sermon. On this point, the officials were extremely strict in Kufa, since this was the city in which the majority of ʿAlī’s supporters and loyalists were based. For this reason, Muʿāwiya appointed Ziyād b. Abīh to Kufa and Basra. Ziyād dwelled among the Shīʿa during Imam ʿAlī’s Caliphate. Therefore, he was very familiar with them and could find their whereabouts and hiding places easily whether to scare them, cut their hands or legs, blind them, or kill them. As a result, he forced away almost all the Shīʿa from Iraq, leaving no notable figure there.

Muʿāwiya’s second directive

Muʿāwiya issued a second directive, in which he stressed: ‘Do not accept the testimony of ʿAlī and his household. Of the people of the yore, look whoever is a supporter of ʿUthmān and exalt them. Befriend those who speak of ʿUthmān’s virtues and merits, and send the name of his family and clan for me.’

This directive had a negative impact. Its impact was due to the fact that those paying homage to and praising ʿUthmān were mostly motivated in forging false traditions to praise ʿUthmān in expectation of material rewards.

Accordingly, people began to develop a sense of distrust and doubt. They thought to themselves: How is it possible that ʿUthmān is considered so virtuous and noble, while we have heard nothing of such virtuosity and nobility before? However, Muʿāwiya cunningly realized that the forging of traditions and narrations must be halted. Then, he issued another directive, stressing that ‘the preachers must relate only the merits and virtues of the first two caliphs and of the Companions of the Prophet. If anyone relates any virtue of Abū Turāb (ʿAlī), bring one of the Companions to negate that relation. Therefore, act in this way because it is more pleasing to me and also negates ʿAlī’s arguments.’

Consequently, extolling fictitious merits and virtues of the Companions began. And in Islamic religious schools, teachers were ordered to teach false accounts of the Companions’s virtues to their students, just as they taught the Qur’an to them.

Muʿāwiya’s third directive

In this directive he wrote to his governors: ‘Anyone known to be a devotee of ʿAlī and a sympathiser of the Prophet’s Household shall have his stipends cut. Moreover, if anyone is alleged to be guilty of harbouring loyalties to ʿAlī, punish him and destroy his house.’

Such directives were most destructive in Iraq where, accordingly, the Shīʿa did not dare to utter a single word, fearing even their servants to report.

Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd writes: ‘After Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī’s death and the rise of the Marwānids, especially ʿAbd al-Malik b. Marwān’s rise to power, the situation became much more severe and difficult as a result of the appointment of Ḥajjāj b. Yūsuf as the governor of Kufa and Basra. By expressing their hatred and animosity for ʿAlī and his Companions, supposedly pious individuals attained high positions in the state. They used to extol the merits and virtues of ʿAlī’s enemies. For instance, Aṣmaʿī’s forefather told Ḥajjāj: ‘O commander! My parents have wronged me by choosing the name of ʿAlī. I am poor and desolate; I am in need of you!’ Ḥajjāj laughed and said: ‘You have offered a good excuse, so I will make you the ruler of your region.’

Ibn ʿArafa, known as Nafṭawayh, an expert in the science of ḥadīth, writes: ‘The majority of the forged traditions in praise of the Companions are the result and product of our own era. The untruthful transmitters of the traditions forged traditions for the sake of material rewards, the possibility of attaining high positions in the Umayyad government and animosity to the Banū Hāshim.’ (Sharḥ Nahj al-Balāgha, 1/46)

Due to these polices, which laid the foundations of the Umayyad system of government, many important figures lost their lives because of their love for ʿAlī and the Prophet’s Household. To name the most notable of these:

  1. Ḥujr b. ʿAdī, a Companion of the Prophet, was arrested by Ziyād and sent to Muʿāwiya with nine men of similar political leanings. Ziyād also sent a letter signed by many, ordering that Ḥujr b. ʿAdī ought to be killed. The prisoners were taken to a place called Marj ʿUdhrā and brutally massacred; a more detailed account can be found in the books of history. (Murūj al-Dhahab, 3/3–4; Sayr Aʿlām al-Nubalāʾ, 3/462–466)
  2. ʿAmr b. Ḥumq was one of the Companions about whom Imam Ḥusayn says: ‘Night prayer has made his face turn pale.’ He was killed by Muʿāwiya, after having been promised safety (Sayr Aʿlām al-Nubalāʾ, 4/34–35)
  3. Mālik al-ʿĀshtar was the commander of ʿAlī’s army. He was poisoned by a miller on the orders of Muʿāwiya. (Shadharāt al-Dhahab, 1/91)
  4. Rashīd al-Hujrī was among the greatest of Imam ʿAlī’s disciples. He disobeyed Ziyād b. Abīh’s order to curse and revile ʿAlī so Ziyād ordered that his hands, legs and tongue should be cut off before having him hung from a palm tree. (Sharḥ Nahj al-Balāgha 2/294-295)
  5. Juwayriyya b. Mushir al-ʿAbdī was another devotee of the Imam. Ziyād had his hands and legs cut off, then hung him from a palm tree.
  6. Qanbar was Imam ʿAlī’s servant. One day Ḥajjāj asked his soldiers to arrest one of the companions of Imam ʿAlī. They said in response that no one had spent more time with ʿAlī than Qanbar. Ḥajjāj summoned Qanbar and asked him: ‘Are you Qanbar?’ he said, ‘Yes.’ Then, he was ordered to curse ʿAlī. Qanbar replied, ‘Show me a better and nobler man than ʿAlī to follow.’ Ziyād realized that Qanbar would never comply and said ‘I will kill you. How do you want to be killed?’ Qanbar answered, ‘ʿAlī has informed me that I would be slaughtered like a sheep.’ Surprisingly, he was slaughtered like a sheep. (Rijāl al-Kashshī, 68-69)
  7. Kumayl b. Ziyād was one the greatest of ʿAlī’s supporters. Ḥajjāj summoned him but he fled the city. Because of this, all the privileges and benefits his tribe used to receive were revoked. When Kumayl heard what had happened, he thought to himself: ‘I am an old man, reaching my twilight. I shall not impose any burden on my kin.’ Then he went to Ḥajjāj. At his sight, Ḥajjāj said, ‘I had intended to arrest you.’ Kumayl bravely retorted, ‘Enough of your threats! I am almost at death’s door, so do whatever you want with me, since we will meet again on the Day of Resurrection. (Sharḥ Nahj al-Balāgha 17/149; al-Shīʿa wa al-Hākimūn, 96)
  8. Saʿīd b. Jubayr was famous for his piety and worship, and he used to join the congregations of Imam Sajjād in prayer. Ḥajjāj had him arrested and said, ‘Are you Shaqī b. Kathīr?’ [the opposite of his actual name] Saʿīd replied, ‘My mother knew better what to name me.’ After an exchange, Ḥajjāj ordered him to be put to death. Saʿīd, while preparing himself for death, recited the following verse: ‘Indeed I have turned my face toward Him who originated the heavens and the earth, as a hanif, and I am not one of the polytheists.’ (Q6:79) This made Ḥajjāj so infuriated that he ordered that Saʿīd be chained facing away from the qiblah. Saʿīd recited another verse: ‘…so whichever way you turn, there is Allāh’s countenance!’ (Q2:115). This time, Ḥajjāj ordered that Saʿīd be tied to the ground. Saʿīd recited his last verse: ‘From it did We create you, into it shall We return you, and from it shall We bring you forth another time.’ (Q20:55). Immediately after this, they beheaded Saʿīd. (Sayr Aʿlām al-Nubalāʾ 4/321–328; al-Jarḥ wa al-Taʿdīl, 4/9)

These eight of people were just a few of those many who were killed unjustly during the reign of Muʿāwiya and his sons’ reigns. A proper account of the crimes of the Umayyad dynasty would require a volume of its own.

Chapter 11: The principal beliefs of Shīʿa

A brief study of the history of religions and sects would reveal that all the sects of Islam were produced as the result of theological debates that took place in the first three centuries of Islam, and that there was no trace of these sects at the time of the Prophet.

  1. The Khawārij appeared as a political movement in the year 37/657, in the course of the Battle of Ṣiffīn when a group of people rejected the arbitration between Muʿāwiya and ʿAlī. However, they were among those people who pressed for negotiations in the first place. This political group, over the course of time developed into a religious sect and began to establish for itself a set of primary and secondary principles.
  2. The Murjiʾa were a group who believed that the profession of faith alone was sufficient to make one a Muslim, regardless of a person’s actions. This sect developed during first/seventh century, after ʿUthmān’s murder and ʿAlī’s accession to the Caliphate. (See Farhang-i ʿAqāʾid-i Islāmī, vol. 3).
  3. The Jahmiyya followed the ideas of Jahm b. Safwān, who was put to death in 128/746.
  4. The Muʿtazila were founded by Wāṣil b. ʿAtā, a pupil of Ḥasan al-Baṣrī. Wāṣil was born in 80/700, established Muʿtazila in 105/723 and died in 131/748.
  5. The Ashāʿira were founded by Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī (260–324/874–936). For many years, he was an adherent of the Muʿtazila, but in 305/917, he abandoned them and became a follower of Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal. However, he made alterations into Ibn Ḥanbal’s school which resulted in a new set of doctrines and therefore a new school. His doctrines were later championed by Abū Bakr al-Bāqillānī, Ibn Fūrak and others and became popular amongst Sunnīs.

As well as the aforementioned sects, other schools were also produced through social and political upheavals in Islamic history. None of these schools originated in the time of the Prophet. It is only the Imāmiyya that has not developed out of later political or social movements; its basic principles are taken from the Qur’an, the Prophet’s Sunna, the teachings of the infallible Imams, and rational deductions. Moreover, Shīʿa theologians only derive their doctrines from the Qur’an and widely-transmitted (mutawātir) traditions; they never obtain these from solitary reports (akhbār āḥād).

There are two prominent tenets that distinguish the Shīʿa school:

  1. Loyalty (wilāya) to ʿAlī and his descendants.
  2. The supremacy of Divine Justice in both creation (takwīn) and legislation (tashrīʿ).

Before fully enumerating and explaining the tenets of Shīʿism, we shall study two documents, one coming from Imam al-Riḍā (a.s) and the other presented to Imam al-Hādī and confirmed by him.

Imam al-Riḍā’s letter to Maʾmūn

The Abbasid Caliph, Maʾmūn, wrote to Imam al-Riḍā asking him to explain the basic tenets of Islam to him. In response, the Imam wrote a short treatise. We will now highlight some sections of it:

‘Islam is to testify that there is no god but Allāh. He has no partner. He is the One, the Single, the Independent, the Self-Subsistent. Allāh is He who sees and hears all things. He is All-Powerful, Eternally Existent, Self-Sufficient, the All-Knowing whom ignorance cannot approach, the All-Powerful whom weakness cannot approach. He is the Independent, the All-Just who does no injustice. He is the Creator of all things. There is nothing like unto Him. He is the only end. He is the recipient of all prayers.

We testify that Muḥammad is God’s servant and prophet, whom He entrusted with His message and chose amongst all human beings. He is the foremost of the messengers sent by God and the Seal of the Prophets (khātam al-anbiyāʾ). There is no prophet after him and his religion will never be subject to change. All that the Prophet of Islam has brought is truth, manifest, and verified.

Besides having faith in the Prophet of Islam, we must believe that the previous prophets were all chosen by God and were His proofs for mankind.

We testify that the Qur’an is God’s true book, which no falsehood can approach; that it is sent by God, the All-Wise and All-Laudable.[2]

The Qur’an is the protector of the previous revealed books. The Qur’an from its first sūra until its last is veracious and consistent; we believe in its clear verses and in its allegorical ones, in its promise and threat, in the abrogating and the abrogated, in its tales and reports, and also we believe that no one can produce a sūra like it.

We believe that after the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a) death, the Proof of God (ḥujjat allāh) for the believers on earth, the one who is supposed to take control of and manage the Muslims’ affairs, and the speaking Qur’an is the brother, successor, legatee and ally of the Prophet, ʿAlī (a.s). ʿAlī was to the Prophet as Aaron was to Moses.

He is the Commander of the Faithful (amīr al-muʾminīn), the leader of the righteous, the guide for the upright, the greatest of the successors and the heir to the wisdom of the Prophets. After him, Ḥasan b. ʿAlī and Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī (a.s) are the leaders of the youths of Paradise; the next successors are as follows:

ʿAlī b. Ḥusayn Zayn al-ʿĀbidīn, Muḥammad b. ʿAlī al-Bāqir, Jaʿfar b. Muḥammad al-Sādiq, Mūsā b. Jaʿfar al-Kāẓim, ʿAlī b. Mūsā al-Riḍā, Muḥammad b. ʿAlī al-Jawād, ʿAlī b. Muḥammad al-Hādī, Ḥasan b. ʿAlī al-ʿAskarī, al-Ḥujjat b. al-Ḥasan al-Mahdī, the Awaited Qāʾim.

We testify that they are the Divine guides and successors, that world would never be empty of a guiding proof of God (ḥujjat), and that He has provided all people of all times with guiding proofs.

the Infallible Imams are the firm pillars raised by God, the leaders of guidance and the proof of God on earth until the Day of Judgment. Whoever defies them misleads himself and others, and has overlooked the truth and guidance.

They alone are the interpreters of Qur’an and the Prophet’s speech. Whoever dies without knowing them has died the death of ignorance.

Of the basic tenets of Islam are righteousness and the comprehension of religion, prayer (ṣalāt) and steadfastness in the path of religion, to honour trusts by returning them to their owners, whether they are virtuous or sinful, to prolong your prostrations in prayer, to fast, to abstain from sins and be vigilant, to patiently expect God’s relief (intiẓār al-faraj), to have a pleasant demeanour in bearing hardships, and displaying good conduct and nice manners with others.

In the same treatise, the Imam refers to a number of secondary principles of Islamic law, and also highlights the differences between the Imāmiyya and other schools. However, the discussion of these issues is beyond the scope of our present discussion. (ʿUyūn Akhbār al-Riḍā, 2/121–122)

ʿAbd al-ʿAẓīm al-Ḥasanī and his statement of beliefs for Imam al-Hādī

ʿAbd al-ʿAẓīm al-Ḥasanī, a descendant of Imam Ḥasan (a.s), was a companion of Imam al-Hādī (a.s) and the compiler of a book containing sermons of the Commander of the Faithful. Because of the threat of persecution by the Abbasid regime, he took refuge in the city of Rayy and maintained a low profile. He usually fasted during the days and spent his nights in worship. However, as time passed the Shīʿa of the city became acquainted with him and developed a relationship with him.

ʿAbd al-ʿAẓīm describes his meeting with Imam al-Hādī in the following manner:

‘When the Imam saw me, he said: “Welcome Abū al-Qāsim! You are indeed our friend and companion.” I was gladdened by the Imam’s kindness. Then I said: “I want to present my beliefs to you, if they are true and correct, you may confirm them so that I may maintain them and hasten to God’s meeting.”

Imam al-Hādī told me: ‘Relate them.’

I said: “I believe that there is only one Blessed and Supreme God. There is nothing like unto Him, and that His attributes are both beyond agnosticism (ibṭāl) and anthropomorphism (tashbīh).[3] God is neither body (jism) nor form (ṣūra) nor accident (ʿaraḍ) nor substance (jawhar); Rather He is the Creator of bodies, forms, accidents and substances. He is the Lord, Sovereign, Creator and Maker of all that is.

I testify that the Imams, Caliphs, and Possessors of Authority (walī al-amr) after ʿAlī are as follows: al-Ḥasan, al-Ḥusayn,ʿAlī b. al-Ḥusayn, Muḥammad b. ʿAlī, Jaʿfar b. Muḥammad, Mūsā b. Jaʿfar, ʿAlī b. Mūsā, Muḥammad b. ʿAlī, and you, Abū al-Ḥasan.”

Then, the Imam said: “After me, my son, Imam Ḥasan would succeed me. Now you tell me, what would people do with him?” I responded: “My master, what do you mean!” the Imam said: “He cannot be seen and shall not be named until God’s command he comes and will spread justice in the world as it is presently filled with injustice and oppression.”

I told the Imam: “I believe in what you have related. Moreover, I believe that their friends are God’s friends and that their enemies are God’s enemies; to obey them is to obey God, and to oppose them to oppose God. In addition, I believe that the Prophet’s Night Ascent (miʿrāj), the questioning in the grave, Heaven and Hell are all true and that the Day of Judgment is sure to come, and that the God of Mercy and Compassion will muster all those laying in their graves.”

Finally, I said: “The obligations and duties after loyalty (wilāya) to ʿAlī are: prayer (ṣalāt), alms (zakāt), fasting (sawm), pilgrimage (ḥajj), struggle (jihād), and enjoining good and forbidding evil (al-amr bi al-maʿrūf wa al-nahī ʿan al-munkar).”’

ʿAbd al-ʿAẓīm Ḥasanī continues: ‘After listening to my statements, Imam al-Hādī told me: ‘O Abū al-Qāsim! What you related is truly God’s religion sent for the people. You must remain firm and steadfast on this religion, so that God, both in this world and in the hereafter, will steady your feet. (al-Tawḥīd, chapter 18, tradition 17)

Doctrinal works of later scholars

In a similar vein to the aforementioned documents, classical Shīʿī scholars have also composed short treatises on the fundamental doctrines of Shīʿism. We will detail some of these below:

Shaykh al-Ṣadūq’s Iʿtiqādāt

Shaykh al-Ṣadūq (d. 381/991) has written a treatise on the doctrines of the Imāmiyya, which has been published numerous times and made the subject of numerous commentaries and annotations by later scholars. In it, he writes:

‘Know that our belief concerning tawhid is that Allah, exalted is He, is one (wāḥid) and absolutely unique (aḥad). There is naught like unto Him; He is Prior (qadīm); He never was non-existent and never will be; He is the Hearing and the Seeing One; the Omniscient (ʿalīm), the Wise; the Living, the Everlasting, the Mighty (ʿazīz), the Holy (quddūs), the Knowing One (ʿālim), the Powerful, the Self-Sufficient (ghanī).

He cannot be described by His Essence (jawhar); His Body (jism); His Form (ṣūra), or by His Accidental Qualities (ʿaraḍ)… He transcends all the attributes of His creatures; He is beyond both the limitations of agnosticism and anthropomorphism.

He is a Thing (shayʾ), but not like other things. He is Unique (aḥad), Self-Subsisting (samad), He begets not, lest He may be inherited; nor is He begotten, lest He may be associated (with others). There is nothing like unto Him; He has no equal (nidd) or opponent (ḍidd), compeer (shibh) or consort (ṣāḥibah). Nothing can be compared with Him (mithl); He has no rival (naẓīr), no partner (sharīk). Human eyes cannot behold Him; while He discerns (the power of) eyes. The thoughts of men cannot compass Him; while He is aware of them. ‘Slumber overtakes Him not, nor sleep.’ (Q2:255).

He is the Gracious (laṭīf) and All-Aware (khabīr), the Creator (khāliq) of all things. There is no deity (ilāh) other than Him; to Him belongs creation (khalq) and command (amr). Blessed is Allāh, the Lord of the worlds. And he who believes in tashbīh is a polytheist (mushrik).

And he who attributes to the Shīʿa beliefs other than those that have been stated concerning Divine Unity (tawḥīd) is a liar. And every report (khabar) contrary to what I have stated concerning tawḥīd is a fabrication. Every tradition which does not accord with the Book of God is void, and if it is to be found in the books of our scholars, it is a forgery.’

In order to differentiate between the Attributes of Essence and Attributes of Action, Ṣadūq defines a standard and then says: ‘In the actions of the people, between determinism (jabr) and delegation (tafwīd), we have taken the middle path.’

Finally, he deals with the concepts of predestination, human nature and free will, which are among the most important issues in theology.

About the Qur’an, he says:

‘Our belief is that the Qur’an, which Allah revealed to His Prophet Muhammad, is (the same as) the one between the two covers (daffatayn). And it is that which is in the hands of the people, and is not greater in extent than that. The number of suras as generally accepted is one hundred and fourteen. And according to us, al-Ḍuḥā (Sūra 93) and al-Inshirāʾ (Sūra 94) together form one sūra; and al-Fil (Sūra 105) and Quraysh (Sūra 106) together form a single sūra. And he who asserts that we say that it is greater in extent than this is a liar. (Ṣadūq, Iʿtiqādāt al-Imāmiyya).

Amongst later scholars who have commented on this work, the annotations of Shaykh al-Mufīd (a student of Ṣadūq’s) are among the most prominent. In his commentary, Shaykh al-Mufīd expressed disagreement with his teacher on a number of issues, criticising him for relying on solitary reports.

Ṣadūq’s Āmālī

The above treatise was written by Shaykh al-Ṣadūq himself. However, this one is a transcription of his lecture by a group who attended it on Friday 12th Sha‘ban 368/979, and requested that he explain the basic principles of Shīʿism to them. He began by defining the principles of the Imāmiyya:

  1. ‘The principles of the Imāmiyya are: to acknowledge that there is no God but Him, to avoid approaching Him through anthropomorphism, and to exalt Him from whatever attribution and qualities which do not befit Him; to testify to the legitimacy and rightfulness of God’s prophets, messengers, proofs on the earth, the angles, and scriptures. Moreover, to believe that Muḥammad is the foremost of the Prophets, he is higher than all the angels and that he is the Seal of the Prophets and that there will be no prophet after him. (Ṣadūq, Amālī, 509 – Session 93)

Murtaḍā’s Jamāl al-ʿIlm wa al-ʿAmal

As we mentioned previously, in the centuries following the advent of Islam, Shīʿa scholars followed the example of God’s authorities and began to write short treatises on the principles and doctrines of the Imāmiyya. We have already described two such treatises by Ṣadūq, now we refer to one written by Sharīf al-Murtaḍā (d. 436/1045). In it, he says:

  1. ‘All the bodies which are originated and preceded by non-existence, must naturally have a creator, since every new phenomenon is in need of a creator, like every artifice or written word…’

This treatise of Sharīf Murtaḍā discusses the doctrines of the Imāmiyya in more detail than that of Ṣadūq’s. This treatise also proposes a theory regarding the inimitability of the Qur’an, known as ‘Ṣarfah’ (the idea that the Qur’an was inimitable because God intervened to prevent anyone from imitating it), which later scholars did not approve of.

Ṭarāblusī’s Bayān ʿan Jumal Iʿtiqād Ahl al-Īmān

This work was written by Abū al-Fatḥ Karājakī al-Ṭarāblusī (d. 449/1057) following the model of his teacher, Sharīf al-Murtaḍā. He begins his book saying:

‘O my brother! God may bestow on you His Grace, and may help you with His blessings. You entreated me to compose a concise treatise on the basic doctrines of the Imāmiyya so that it may act as guidance for others and that you yourself may commit it to your memory and also give it to the followers of the Imāmiyya. I shall expound the basic tenets of Shīʿism in brief, without dealing with their reasons and justifications.’

Abū al-Fatḥ begins with Divine Unity (tawḥīd), and then moves to prophethood (nubuwwah), both in the general and special sense, the Imamate and Caliphate, until he reaches the doctrine of the Twelfth Imam. Finally, he ends the treatise by discussing the issues of repentance (tawba) and the Resurrection and then discussing some doctrines of the Muʿtazila (Kanz al-Fuʾād, 240–252).

Ṭūsī’s al-ʿAqāʾid al-Jaʿfariyya

Shaykh al-Ṭūsī (d. 460/1067) followed the approach of his forebears and wrote a treatise on the doctrines of the Imāmiyya, in which he summarized the whole idea of the book into five topics. This treatise has been published in Qāḍī b. al-Barrāj’s Jawahir al-Fiqh and also in Ṭūsī’s other work, al-Rasāʾil Al-ʿĀshr.


The discussion of these treatises sheds light on three issues:

Firstly, the content of theses treatises indicates that the Imāmiyya drew all of its laws and principles from the Qur’an, Sunna, and the Infallible Imams (a.s). Therefore, all of its principles are clear.

Secondly, even though in the treatises there are certain topics about which there are disagreements, the positions expressed on most of the major topics like God, His attributes and acts, prophethood and Imamate enjoy unanimity among the scholars of the Imāmiyya.

Thirdly, a deeper look upon the contents of these treatises shows that although the Imāmiyya disagreed with other Islamic sects on issues such as the Imamate and Caliphate, in many other areas there was broad agreement amongst the Muslims. This unanimity is reason enough to either overlook the differences or to peacefully discuss them.

Comparing the Imāmiyya to the Muʿtazila

The two most well-known theological sects within Sunnism are the Muʿtazila and Ashāʿira. However, traditionalists (alh al-ḥādīth) and the Ashāʿira do not consider the Muʿtazila within the fold of Sunnism. However, insofar as the Muʿtazila do not believe in the divine selection of the Imam, we regard this school as nominally Sunnī.

The Muʿtazila as a theological school was established in 105/723 by Wāṣil b. ʿAtā. He had previously been a follower of the school of Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, but he broke away and began attracting followers of his own. Wāṣil’s followers, due to their remarkable efforts against foreign heretical doctrines, began to attract attention. During the reign of the Abbasid Caliph, Mutawakkil (d. 240/861), the Muʿtazila lost its favoured position. The last prominent and distinguished figure of this school was Shaykh Maḥmūd Zamaskharī (d. 538/1144) whose Tafsīr al-Kashshāf revived interest in their doctrines.

After the death of its main figures, the teachings of the Muʿtazila were preserved in the Zaydī school of Shīʿism. The Zaydiyya of Yemen and other regions adopted the principles of this school, aside from its rejection of ʿAlī’s successorship to the Prophet. As well as the Zaydiyya, the Māturīdiyya in the East adopted many Muʿtazilite doctrines. The Māturīdiyya were intellectually closer to the rationalists than the traditionalists. However, from another angle, the Māturīdiyya and the Ashāʿira both belonged to Sunnīsm while being opposed to the traditionalist theologians.

Some of the doctrines of Muʿtazila, especially the impossibility of visibly seeing God in the Hereafter, have survived in the Ibāḍiyya sect. (For more on them, see the 3rd vol. of this series) Having briefly outlined the key differences between the Imāmiyya and Muʿtazila, we shall leave its full discussion for the future.


Islamic scholars unanimously believe that shafāʿa (intercession) is an authentic teaching of Islam, and that a sinner will be spared punishment due to the successful intercession of an intercessor. From this respect, intercession is only for those who have committed major sins; the Imāmiyya and Ashāʿira agree on this point. However, the Muʿtazila school holds that intercession is also available for the righteous, in the sense of elevating them to higher statuses in the Hereafter.

Punishment of a major sinner

According to the Imāmiyya and Ashāʿira, a person whose faith and belief in God is theoretically sound but commits a major sin out of his own desire is still a believer, but also a sinner (fāsiq). From the point of view of the Khawārij, he has become an unbeliever, while according to the Muʿtazila, he is neither a disbeliever nor a believer, but in an intermediate position.

Heaven and Hell

The Imāmiyya and Ashāʿira believe that Heaven and Hell have been created and exist now and that God is aware of their condition. However, the Muʿtazila believe that they are not yet created.

Enjoining good and forbidding evil

The majority of the Imāmiyya and all the Ashāʿira believe that enjoining good and forbidding evil is a religious rather than a rational obligation; if no proof in justification of this principle has been explicitly provided, that is only because it is not necessary to do so. This is because some of the Imāmiyya and a great number of the Muʿtazila believe that enjoining good and forbidding evil is a rational duty, and it is our faculty of reason which urges us to it.

How good deeds are invalidated by bad ones

The Imāmiyya and Ashāʿira believe that whatever a person does has its own value independent of other actions; therefore evil deeds cannot invalidate good ones and render them worthless. In other words, good deeds are only eliminated if the committed sin is polytheism (shirk) or disbelief (kufr). In this case, all the previous good deeds to turn to nothing. However, for the Muʿtazila the sphere of invalidation (iḥbāṭ) is wider. They believe that a person who has spent his or her whole life worshipping and obeying God, by virtue of a single lie could become like one who has not worshipped God at all, even for one moment.

The relationship between religion and reason

The Imāmiyya consider reason to be a tool to infer and extract secondary principles,without exaggerating its role or position. The Muʿtazila, on the other hand, use reason to reinterpret those external acts of the Sharīʿa and Sunna which do not conform to their own principles, such as the notion of intercession, which they interpret as a means to elevation in the Hereafter.


The Imāmiyya and Ashāʿira hold that God’s acceptance of repentance is a form of divine grace, as if it were not for God’s kindness, there could be no forgiveness of sins. On the other hand, the Muʿtazila believe that the promise of forgiveness from one’s sins is an essential rational precondition for repentance and turning away from sin.

The Prophets and Angels

The Imāmiyya believe that the Prophets are superior to the angels but the Muʿtazila believe the contrary.

Determinism versus free will

The Imāmiyya maintain that the human being is not subject to predestination and that whatever he does is the result of his own free choice. However, this does not mean that man is completely autonomous or that his actions exist independently of God either. However, the Muʿtazila believe man is autonomous and his actions are independent.

Mankind’s need for revelation

The Imāmiyya say that the human being, in order to fulfil their moral duties, is in need of divine guidance in the form of prophets, without whom he would go astray. On the other hand the Muʿtazila claim that human reason is capable of identifying a person’s moral duties independent of external guidance.

These are the differences between the Imāmiyya and Muʿtazila schools; it is to be noted that many of the Ashāʿira agree with the Imāmiyya on the aforementioned mentioned principles. Furthermore, insofar as these principles are mostly theological rather than doctrinal, it is not necessary for individual Muslims to affirm every last detail of them, and disagreements on these issues should not be a source of strife among the Muslims.

A comparison of the Imāmiyya with Ashāʿira

Abū al-Ḥasan al-ʿĀsh‘arī (d. 324/936) is the founder of the Ashʿarī school. For many years, he subscribed to the doctrines of the Muʿtazila, and was the pupil of one of the Muʿtazila’s greatest figures, Abū ʿAlī al-Jubāʾī. Then, in 305/917, he stood atop a pulpit, renounced his belief in the doctrines of the Muʿtazila and announced that he was turning to the school established by Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal (Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist, 271; Wafāyāt al-Aʿyān, 3/285 ). Even though Abūl al-Ḥasan declared himself as a convert to the doctrines of the traditionalists, he moderated many of their principles on the basis of reason. This was never accepted by the traditionalists and, as a result, the Ashāʿira appeared as a separate school, taking the middle path between the excessive rationalism of the Muʿtazila and the dogmatism of the traditionalists. However, in many cases it is in total disagreement with the Imāmiyya.

The points of disagreement between the Ashāʿira and Imāmiyya are as follows:

The relation of the Divine Attributes to the Divine Essence

According to the Imāmiyya, God’s attributes of essence (ṣifāt al-dhāt) like power, knowledge and life are identical with His essence and not additional to it. In other words, the essence enjoys a such a degree of perfection that it is knowledge, power, and life itself. The Ashāʿira consider God’s attributes of the essence to be additional to His essence, but still coeternal with it. As a result, in addition to God’s essence which is eternal, the Ashāʿira posit seven other eternal entities.

The revealed attributes

Revealed attributes (ṣifāt khabariyya) are those attributes which the Qur’an and Sunna ascribe to God, which we could not otherwise know or rationally ascribe to Him ourselves, for example God having a face or a hand.

The Imāmiyya believe that the literal sense of these words must be distinguish from the sense in which God intends them. Therefore, for example, whenever the Qur’an says: ‘…the Hand of Allāh is over their hands,’ the literal sense of this is that God has a hand which is above their hands; however, further reflection suggest that the phrase is meant to signify that God’s power is greater than theirs.

When it is said that the revealed attributes must be interpreted (ta’wil), this does not mean that the resultant interpretation is in conflict with the apparent one. In this method, the ultimate goal is to arrive at God’s intended meaning through the act of interpretation.

Human agency and human deeds

The Imāmiyya hold that the human being is the real immediate cause of his acts; he is the one who eats, fasts and prays. However, whatever he does is accomplished with the help of the Divine Power. The Ashāʿira, on the other hand, believe that in God is the cause of the human being’s acts, and man is where God’s actions are projected. In other words, whenever man wills and intends to do something, before his will turns into action, it is the Divine power which produces the action.

The above doctrine appears very close to determinism, so Ashʿarī, in order to escape this charge, added a new term which has produced much ambiguity. He claims: ‘God is the cause and creator of man’s actions and man only ‘acquires’ them. However, the meaning of ‘acquisition’ (kasb) as opposed to creation in human actions is not clear. By the same token, Ashʿarī’s doctrine of acquisition has been called as one of the three unsolvable riddles of the world.

The relationship between ability and action

The human being’s ability to act is sometimes concomitant the act itself and sometimes precedes it. If the ability to act is by itself a sufficient cause for an action to occur, it must evidently be concomitant with the act, while if it refers to a contributing cause, then it precedes the action.

God is beyond human sight

According to the Imāmiyya, the Sacred Essence of God both in this world and in the Hereafter is beyond man’s perception. Meanwhile, the Ashāʿira believe that man would be capable of perceiving God’s Essence in the Hereafter. For the Validity of their claim they refer to a tradition cited in Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī.

God’s word is His action

Speech (takallum) is undeniably an attribute of God. For the Imāmiyya, speaking is included with God’s attribute of the Creator. They argue that since all the creatures, through their creation, are making manifest the Power and Beauty of their creator. As Imam ʿAlī says in Nahj al-Balāgha: ‘His speech is an act of His creation. (Sermon 186). But the Ashāʿira considers speech to be one of God’s attributes of essence rather than of action, and justify it by saying that He speaks to Himself.

Good and evil are rational

The rationality of good and evil is amongst the most basic principles of the Imāmiyya. It means that when you observe an action, irrespective of the doer, you understands that action to be innately good or evil. In other words, when a person witnesses an instance of justice and an instance of injustice, immediately he understands the goodness and rightness of the first and the immorality and incorrectness of the second. This kind of judgment and evaluation is not contextual or fluid. Our intellect tells us that we should respond to kindness with kindness and keep our promises, because these are pleasant and beautiful acts. In its judgement, the intellect only considers the act and it pays no attention to the doer or external factors. The Ashāʿira do not believe in this principle; they believe that good and evil can only be known through revelation.

It should be reminded that the rejection of this principle makes all the other religious principles, save the existence of the Creator, impossible to know.

In the above seven points, the Imāmiyya disagree completely with the Ashāʿira and partially agree with the Muʿtazila. A detailed study of these points of conflict and accord demonstrates that Shīʿism is an independent school, with its own individual doctrines and tenets.

Studying the works of theology written between the time of Fazl b. Shazan (d. 260/874) and Shaykh al-Ṭūsī (460/1068) reveals that the Imāmiyya theologians have relied exclusively upon the Qur’an, Sunna, and the traditions of Household (a.s) in constructing their doctrines, and never drawn upon any other resources. The reader can find out this point him/herself by studying the following books, which have been written during Shaykh al-Ṭūsī’s lifetime or after his death:

  1. Taqrīb al-Maʿārif by Abū al-Ṣalaḥ al-Ḥalabī (d. 447/1084)
  2. al-Munqidh min al-Taqlīd by Sayyid al-Dīn al-Ḥimsi (d. 600/1204)
  3. Taqrīb al- Maʿārif by Ibn Maytham Al-Baḥrānī (d. 589/1193)
  4. Many of ʿAllāma al-Ḥillī’s books on doctrines and theology are filled with argumentations derived from Qur’anic verses, traditions and rational discussions.

It is also worth noting that the following two books by Sharīf al-Murtaḍā mostly revolve around rational argumentations:

  1. al-Shāfī fī al-Imāma (a critique of part of Qādī ʿAbd al-Jabbār’s work, al-Mughnī)
  2. al-Dhakhīra

The Imāmiyya have paid special attention to the study of theology, as is evident from the numerous books they have produced in a variety of languages and subjects.

Fortunately, most of the theologians and theological writings of the Imāmiyya have been catalogued and published in a five-volume set by the Imam al-Ṣādiq Institute, Qom.

In spite of the differences between the Imāmiyya, Muʿtazila, and Ashāʿira, there is a vast common ground between them that paves the way for the Muslims to live in unity and to listen to the Qur’an’s call for unity: ‘The believers are indeed brothers…’ (Q49:10).

Since some of the foundational principles as to which the Imāmiyya disagrees with others are not yet fully clarified, we will discuss them in detail now in order to remove any ambiguities or misconceptions that others might have about them.

Chapter 12: Succession to the Prophet

With the exclusion of the ʿAjārida sect of the Khawārij and Ḥatim al-ʿĀsamm of the Muʿtazila, all Muslims agree that after the Prophet there must be a leader manage the affairs of the Umma. They call this process ‘appointing a leader’ (naṣb al-Imam). The Imāmiyya hold that this must be done by God and His Messenger, while those who disagree with the Imāmiyya believe that the leader must be appointed by the selection of the Helpers and Emmigrants.

The common doctrine expressed by Shīʿa theologians that ‘God must choose a leader after the Prophet’s death’ has caused consternation among scholars of other schools, who consider this idea audacious as it appears to them as though these theologians are imposing their dictates upon God. However, the opponents understanding of this doctrine is far from what Shīʿa theologians actually mean, which is that, based on God’s positive attributes, namely that He is the All-Wise, Who does nothing in vain, and the All-Just, who to no one does wrong, it can be rationally concluded that God would appoint a leader for the Muslims. The ultimate goal of man’s creation is his moving toward perfection; this goal is only attainable through the divine-appointment of a qualified and worthy person who, similar to the Prophet, is endowed with divine knowledge.

We can illustrate this point through an example. Everyone knows the sum of the degree of all angles of a triangle must be equal to 180 degrees; the word ‘must’ does not connote any obligation upon the external world because the external world is not under the control of human being such that it must act and operate according to his will. Therefore, this statement merely represents the discovery of a mathematical law. By the same token, whenever the Imāmiyya say: ‘God must…’ they mean that based on God’s attributes of perfection – His Wisdom and Justice – the appointment of a leader by God is a necessary truth.

In accordance to what has been discussed, we consider the opinions of both schools:

The nature of the Imamate in Two Schools

The position of an Imam in the eyes of Sunnī Muslims is roughly equivalent to that of a prime minister or president in modern governments; he has a number of duties including providing security, fulfilling the fundamental needs of his people, waging war etc. Therefore, the election of such a person, since the leader is not supposed to be appointed by God, is not a problem. Today in Islamic nations leaders are appointed in this way.

In this way, Sunnism reduces the position of the Imam to a secular post. As a result, what matters most is efficiency, power, and courage, while ignorance about Islamic laws and principles, and even at times disobeying them, is not considered a determining factor.

On the other hand, according to the Imāmiyya, the institution of the Imamate is a continuation of the functions of the Prophet, although the age of prophecy and the Prophetic mission have come to an end. So the Imam should fill any vacuum left by the Prophet and also should fulfill both the material and spiritual needs of the nation. He must interpret the Qur’an, provide answers and explanations for new issues, and illustrate the primary and secondary principles of religion; his conduct and speech must be the yardstick of truth and the destroyer of falsehood, just as the Prophet’s own conduct and speech once were.

Yet this question arises: Is mankind capable of knowing and identifying such a person to elect him as the Imam independently of God? Certainly, the answer is no. The identification of such a person is only possible through Divine help and inspiration.

The Qur’an speaks of an exalted person who became Moses’ teacher. He, who has received Divine education, is described by God: ‘they found one of Our servants whom We had granted a mercy from Ourselves, and taught him a knowledge from Our own.’ (Q18:65)

This person was not a prophet but he was nevertheless exalted and elevated. The Imams, who are twelve individuals, without being God’s messengers and the receivers of revelation are all exalted and Divinely-educated individuals who, after the death of the Prophet, are able to continue fulfilling his functions and filling any vacuum left by the Prophet’s absence.

Does the Imam need to be just?

Occasionally, in Sunnī’s theological books we read: ‘the Imam who is appointed by the selection of the people cannot be removed for being corrupt or a wrongdoer, for financial corruption, torturing and killing the innocents, abolishing people’s rights, or violating the Divine Laws. No one is allowed to revolt against him; he is only to be advised and admonished. Moreover, people can only disobey him when he commands to sin.’

Sunnī scholars took this view of the Imam as a rule. A rule which emphasizes that, since the Imam is nothing more than a secular president or prime minister, he must always be obeyed and followed – he is not to be removed.

It should not be deemed that such view on the status and nature of the Imam only belongs to Abū Bakr Bāqillānī, who discussed it in his Tamhīd, but that the majority of the books written by Sunnī scholars hold the same view. Some of these books are listed below:

  1. Maqālāt al-Islāmiyyūn by Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī (d. 324/936)
  2. Al-ʿAqāʾid al-Ṭaḥāwiyyah by Abū Jaʿfar al-Ṭaḥāwī (d. 321/933)
  3. Uṣūl al-Dīn by Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Karim Bazdūdī (d. 493/1099)
  4. ʿAqāʾid al-Naṣafī by Amr b. Muḥammad al-Nasafī (d. 573/1142)
  5. Sharḥ ʿAqāʾid al-Naṣṣafī by Saʿd al-Dīn al-Taftāzānī (d. 791/1390)

In all of the above books, the Imam’s indifference towards Islamic laws and principles is not considered a valid reason for his removal. Again, this is because the Sunnī concept of the Imam only treats him responsible for the material welfare of his subjects. Meanwhile, the Imāmiyya define the role and the reality of the Imamate in a very different way. Theey regard the Imam as the one who is able to fulfil the roles of the Prophet (s.a.w.a) in his absence, except for those of receiving prophetic revelation. According to the Imāmiyya, the Imam is supposed to continue fulfilling all the duties and functions of the Prophet. Moreover, they stress that the Imam must be infallible in order to protect the religion of Islm from distortions. Therefore the Imam, as described by the Imāmiyya, would never violate the laws or act against justice.

An Imam must be infallible

Among all Islamic schools of thought, the only school which believes in the infallibility of the Imam are the Imāmiyya. Shaykh al-Mufīd remarks: ‘Our Imams, like the Prophets, are infallible (maʿṣūm) and are protected from sin and error. Neither lapses nor negligence can affect them. In spite of this, they are still free to choose between good and evil and are not compelled to good.’ (Taṣḥīḥ al-Iʿtiqād, 61 ).

The clearest proof for the infallibility of the Imams lies in the concept of the Imamate itself. The successorship of the Imams to the Prophet is not limited to secular responsibilities regarding the material world; they are the Prophet’s successors in all of his duties and obligations, such as: the explaning the Divine Law, interpreting the Qur’an, addressing new issues, responding to the intellectual challenges of opponents, etc. The fulfillment of all these duties is possible only if the Imam is divinely guided.

The reality of the Imam’s infallibility is that he is endowed with qualities that enable him to comitting forbidden acts, slipping into error, and totally comply with his obligations. At the same time, he retains the freedom to sin should he choose to do so. In other words, the Imam reaches such a high level of virtue and wisdom that not only does he not commit any sins, he no longer desires to sin.

Infallibility (ʿiṣma) is not something invented by the Imāmiyya, but which is clearly illustrated by numerous verses of the Qur’an and traditions from the Prophet. We will discuss some of these now:

The Verse of Purification (Ayat al-Taṭhīr)

The Qur’an describes the Prophet’s Household (ahl al-bayt) as free from all kinds of impurity, including polytheism (shirk), hypocrisy (nifāq) and sinfulness (fisq). It says: Indeed Allah desires to repel all impurity from you, O People of the Household, and purify you with a thorough purification.’ (Q33:33)

In reported in numerous traditions that what it is meant by ‘People of the Household’ (ahl al-bayt) has been clearly defined. On one occasion the Prophet drew his cloak over ʿAlī, Fāṭima and their two sons, al-Ḥasan and al-Ḥusayn, and said: ‘O God! These are the People of my Household.’ (al-Durr al-Manthūr, 5/198–199; Ibn Athīr, Jāmiʿ al-Uṣūl, 10/103 )

Imam ʿAlī is the touchstone of Truth

The Prophet said: ‘ʿAlī is with the truth and the truth is with ʿAlī.’ (Tārīkh al-Baghdād, 14/321; Majmaʿ al-Zawāʾid, 7/236) and anyone who is described in such a way must certainly be infallible (ma‘sum).

The Tradition of Two Weighty Things (Ḥadīth al-Thaqalayn)

In a widely-reported tradition, the Prophet’s Household has been equated with the Qur’an. This means that just as the Qur’an is infallible, so too are they. The tradition reads: ‘I am leaving two weighty things (thaqalayn) amongst you: the Book of God and my Household, which, if you hold on to, you will never go astray’ (Aḥmad, Musnad, 2/114).

Obedience to ‘those vested with authority’ (ūlū al-amr)

The Qur’an bids people to obey God, His Prophet, and ‘those vested with authority among you’. Therefore, if unconditional obedience is due to ‘those vested with authority’ in the same manner as God and His Prophet, they must also have been presumed to be infallible. If this were not the case, the Qur’an would have mentioned the proper conditions of such obedience: ‘O you who have faith! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those vested with authority among you.’ (Q4:59)

In other words, the Islamic nation must obey God, the Prophet and those vested with authority. The infallibility of the first two is beyond question. As regards the third, however, God also orders us to obey them unquestioningly and does not make any stipulations, for instance, to obey them as long as they do not command you to commit sins. Consequently, upon God’s clear command to obey those vested with authority (ūlū al-amr), we understand that they are all infallible and protected from sinning or erring.

Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī was aware of this fact. He remarked: ‘Due to the fact that we are ordered to obey those vested with authority, they must be infallible and free from any wrong doing and sins.’ But then, he adds: ‘However, since we do not find such persons in society, the right person can be designated through the consensus of Muslims in each society.’

However, al-Fakhr al-Rāzī would have never interpreted the ‘those vested with authorited’ as being invested with it by the general consensus of the Muslims had he paid attention to the Qur’an and the Prophet’s tradition more closely. Since ʿAlī and the Prophet’s Household are as infallible as to the text of Qur’an, they are granted divine authority. It would be very strange to deem ‘those vested with authority’ as those chosen by the general consensus of the Muslim nation. Had that been thecase, the ruler and the ruled would be the same: the ummahon the one hand, becomes the ruler, and the ruled, on the other.

Imamate does not belong to the unjust

In Q2:124, God says: ‘And when his Lord tested Abraham with certain words, and he fulfilled them, He said, “I am making you the Imam of mankind.” Said he, “And from among my descendants?” He said, “My pledge does not extend to the unjust.”’

This verse raises two issues worthy of discussion: First, the distinction between Imamate and prophethood; and second, the fact that this Imamate does not extend to the unjust.

Regarding the first point: A careful analysis of the Qur’an reveals that God chose Abraham as a prophet, during which time he faced numerous trials and ordeals – for example, he was thrown headlong into a bonfire as a punishment for breaking the idols of his home city, he left his wife and child in the barren desert of Mecca and he obeyed God’s command to sacrifice his son. After all of this, God tells him: ‘I am making you the Imam of mankind.’

We know that these were the tests Abraham faced because elsewhere in the Qur’an, God says: ‘This was indeed a manifest test’ (Q37:106). This verse was revealed when Abraham had been ordered to sacrifice his son for God. Consequently, in the above-mentioned verse, the word ‘Imam’ cannot be taken as connoting prophethood, since at that time Abraham was already a prophet when he was ordered to sacrifice his son, and before being a prophet, he did not have any children. It was when Ishmael grew to maturity that Abraham’s test came. He passed this test and God then told him: ‘I am making you the Imam of mankind.’ This shows that Imamate in the Qur’an cannot be identical with prophethood.

Moreover, the concept of the Imamate has been explained in the following verses; it is the leadership of the society for the sake of implementing the Divine Law:

‘Or do they envy the people for what Allah has given them out of His grace? We have certainly given the progeny of Abraham the Book and wisdom, and We have given them a great sovereignty.’ (Q4:54)

Accordingly, God has given two things to Abraham’s progeny: First, ‘the Book’ (kitāb) and ‘Wisdom’ (ḥikma), which are signs of prophethood (nubuwaa), and its heart is the locus of the divine revelation and heavenly wisdom. Second, ‘great sovereignty’ (mulk ʿaẓīm) which connotes political power and the management of the society in order to make the implementation of the Divine Laws possible.We can see examples of Abraham’s progeny being granted this sovereignty in the Qur’an:

Joseph became the ruler of Egypt: ‘My Lord! You have granted me a share in the kingdom, and taught me the interpretation of dreams…’ (Q12:101)

About David, God says: ‘…and Allah gave him the kingdom and wisdom, and taught him whatever He liked.’ (Q2:251) And: ‘We made his kingdom firm and gave him wisdom and conclusive speech.’ (Q38:20)

Solomon asked God for a kingdom such as none after him would have: ‘…and grant me a kingdom that does not befit anyone except me. Indeed You are the All-munificent.’ (Q38:35)

These verses show that in Q2:124 Abraham had asked God to give his progeny the same as He had granted him. God accepts this request for his descendants who are not unjust, granting Joseph, David and Solomon amongst his descendents, sovereignty and leadership of the people. All three were both prophets and leaders. God gave prophethood to the Prophets but political authority amongst the Israelites belonged to Saul, as the Qur’an says:

‘Their prophet said to them, ‘Allah has appointed Saul as king for you.’ They said, ‘How can he have kingship over us, when we have a greater right to kingship than him, as he has not been given ample wealth?’ He said, ‘Indeed Allah has chosen him over you, and enhanced him vastly in knowledge and physique, and Allah gives His kingdom to whomever He wishes, and Allah is all-bounteous, all-knowing.’’ (Q2:247)

As for the second issue raised by Q2:124, who are the unjust (ẓālimīn) that God excludes from Imamate in this verse?

From the previous point, it became clear that when God granted Abraham the Imamate, Abraham asked Him to confer this upon his progeny (Abraham asks Him: ‘And from among my descendants?’), but God responds that this Imamate belongs only to those descendants who are not unjust (God replies: ‘My pledge does not extend to the unjust’).

The reason why God excludes wrongdoers is obvious when we consider the nature of an Imam; an Imam is someone to whom obedience is due, who is always upon the straight path, who never exceeds the bounds of moderation and protects people’s lives and properties and looks after the needs of society. By definition this excludes someone who breaks God’s covenant and violates the Divine Law, who cannot be trusted to fulfil his moral duties and responsibilities as such a person is inclined towards betrayal and tyranny. Hence a person who oppresses and sins is not qualified for the position of Imamate, even if he later repents and gives up such behaviour. Accordingly, the Imam must remain sinless and be free from error, injustice and wrongdoing throughout his life. Otherwise, he would fall within the category of the unjust and, accordingly, be excluded from God’s pledge in Q2:124.

Answering a question

Abū Bakr Aḥmad b. ʿAlī al-Rāzī, known as al-Jaṣṣāṣ (d. 370/981), was a prominent Ḥanafī theologian. In his Aḥkām al-Qurʾān, which is concerned with the Qur’an’s legal verses, interprets Q2:124 in the following manner:

‘“The unjust” who are excluded from the Imamate are those who persist in wrongdoing, rather than those who were previously wrongdoers but who have repented for their past actions. The point is that whenever a predicate is applied to a subject, the proposition remains true so long as the subject’s identity is unchanged, otherwise the predication is no longer valid. For instance, the proposition ‘wine is forbidden’ means that the intoxicant called wine is forbidden but when that wine turns into vinegar it is no longer forbidden. Consequently, the proposition ‘My pledge does not extend to the unjust’ (Q2:124) is similar to ‘and do not incline toward the wrongdoers’ (Q11:113). So as long as they wrong themselves or sin against God, you should not incline towards them. However, the moment they quit wrongdoing they are no longer wrongdoers and it is no longer forbidden to incline towards them. (Tafsīr Ayāt al-Aḥkām 1/72 )

Al-Jaṣṣāṣ makes some strong points, but he is not correct in all of his assertions here. There are two kinds of propositions; sometimes the proposition is valid so long as long as its subject exists in the external world. This means that when the subject transforms into something else, the proposition becomes invalid. So far, we agree. However, there are propositions which, if they can be applied to their subjects at any time, they remain valid for the subject so long as it exists. Take, for example, the following verses:

‘As for the thief, man or woman, cut off their hands…’ (Q5:38)

‘As for the fornicatress and the fornicator, strike each of them a hundred lashes…’ (Q24:2)

Clearly, a man and woman are only momentarily in the act of theft or fornication, but they are a ‘thief’ or a ‘fornicator’ indefinitely. As a result, if the crime of theft or fornication is proven, they must be punished whether they repent or not. Moreover, if they escape justice for a time, whenever they are caught, they shall be prosecuted, even if by the time they are apprehended they have become the most righteous person on earth!

There are traditions indicating someone who has been punished for a crime, even once, is not qualified for the Imamate or leadership over people, even if he repents for what he did. Now we must determine whether the unjust person who is excluded from the Imamate falls into the first or second category of predication. Does the predication only apply so long as the person is ‘unjust’ right now, or does it continue to apply indefinitely on the basis of a single instance?

In this regard, we can posit four possible scenarios for ‘the unjust’ person amongst Abraham’s descendants in Q2:124:

  1. They are unjust for their entire life
  2. They were righteous before becoming the Imam but became unjust afterwards
  3. They were unjust before becoming the Imam but became virtuous afterwards
  4. They are virtuous and upon the straight path for their entire life

When we consider these possibilities, the question arises: Which of the aforementioned groups did Abraham have in mind when he asked God to grant his progeny the same thing He had granted him? Surely, the first and second groups cannot be what he had in mind, since Abraham would not ask God to bestow the rank of Imam on a person who is either a transgressor for his whole life or will become after attaining the Imamate! Therefore, he must have meant one of the last two groups. However, the Qur’an emphasises the last group and invalidates the third. Both the Imamate and prophethood in Prophet (s.a.w.a) are such high positions that there should be no fault in the Imam’s life and personal conduct, so that all people can freely turn towards him and follow his guidance.


The Imam after the Prophet is the perfect follower of his example, and would fill any vacuum resulting from the Prophet’s death. Certainly, such a person must be endowed with Divine knowledge and infallibility.

The Awaited Imam

All Muslims believe in the prophecy that a reformer will come to usher in an age of global justice. This doctrine cannot be denied by anyone with an understanding of the Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet (s.a.w.a).

Muslim traditionists are unanimous in saying that the Prophet foretold the coming of a global reformer to fill the world with justice, put an end to hostilities and implement the true teachings of Islam on a worldwide scale. Through the advent of this awaited Imam, God fulfils His promise to bring about justice in the world. To that effect, we highlight the following two verses of the Qur’an as the basis for this belief:

‘Allah has promised those of you who have faith and do righteous deeds that He will surely make them successors in the earth, just as He made those who were before them successors, and He will surely establish for them their religion which He has approved for them, and that He will surely change their state to security after their fear, while they worship Me, not ascribing any partners to Me. And whoever is ungrateful after that – it is they who are the transgressors.’ (Q24:55)

‘Certainly We wrote in the Psalms, after the Torah: “Indeed My righteous servants shall inherit the earth.”’ (Q21:105)

Muslims believe that the appearance of this awaited Imam will prepare the way for the establishment of a global Islamic government and the restoration of the dignity of the Muslim world. The only point of difference between Muslims is that while the Shīʿa say the awaited Imam is the son of their Eleventh Imam, al-Ḥasan al-ʿAskarī, born on the 15th of Sha’ban 255/869. According to the Shīʿa, the Imam was raised by his father for six years. During this time, Imam Ḥasan al-ʿAskarī granted many people the honour of seeing his son and said that he would succeed him. The birth of Imam al-Mahdī was discussed by Imam al-Hādī and ʿAbd al-ʿAẓīm Ḥasanī.

Meanwhile, most Sunnī scholars say the Awaited Imam will belong to the progeny of Fāṭima (a.s) but that he has not yet been born. Some Sunnī aḥādīth have identified the Imam’s father as ʿAbd Allāh. However, there are a minority of Sunnī scholars who have acknowledged the Awaited Imam’s birth.

Some Sunnī scholars have authored books about Imam al-Mahdī. Some of them are as follows:

Ṣifāt al-Mahdī, by Abū Naʿīm al-Iṣfahānī

al-Bayān fī Akhbār Ṣaḥib al-Zamān, by al-Kunjī al-Shāfiʿī

al-Burhān fī ʿAlāmāt Mahdī Ākhar al-Zamān, by Mullā ʿAlī Naqī

al-ʿUrf al-Wardī fī Akhbār al-Mahdī, by Jalāl al-Din al-Suyūṭī

al-Qawl al-Mukhtaṣar fī ʿAlāmāt al-Mahdī al-Muntaẓar, by Ibn Hajr

ʿAqd al-Darar fī Akhbār al-Imām al-Muntaẓar, by Shaykh Jamāl al-Dīn Dimishqī

Shīʿa scholars have authored more detailed books about Imam al-Mahdī, his birth and his Imamate. We mention only two of the most important ones here:

Muntakhab al-Āthār fī Akhbār al-Imām al-Thāni ʿAshar, by Grand Ayatollah Luṭf Allāh Ṣafī Gulpaygānī.

al-Mahdī ʿInd Ahl al-Sunna, a collection of quotes from more than 40 Sunnī scholars about the birth of Imam al-Mahdī printed in two volumes in Beirut.

No Sunnī scholar has entirely rejected the traditions about Imam al-Mahdī because they are so many and nobody can call their authenticity into question. Ibn Khaldūn (d. 808/1406) is the only major figure to cast doubt on the issue of Imam al-Mahdī because of his lack of access to Islamic sources. A Moroccan scholar, Muḥammad Ṣiddīq al-Maghribī, has written a book criticizing Ibn Khaldūn’s views on the issue of the Mahdī.

In 1400/1979, extremist Wahhabis led by Juhaymān al-ʿUtaybī staged an armed takeover of the Holy Sanctuary of Mecca. He and his armed men took control of the sanctuary and introduced a man with them as Imam al-Mahdī, calling on worshippers to pay allegiance to him. The occupation and violence lasted for several days until the Saudi government intervened by sending military troops backed by artillery fire and tanks. The insurgents were killed or arrested. In the aftermath of this takeover, Saudi preachers began to deny the existence of Imam al-Mahdī. Some media supported them in this regard, but some knowledgeable Saudi scholars of traditions insisted that belief in Imam al-Mahdī was a pillar of Sunnīsm. They even wrote books on the topic, amongst which Bayn Yadayy al-Sāʿa is the best one.

In this book, we read: ‘The doctrine of the Mahdī is not only mentioned in one or two aḥādīth, or in one or two narrations that can be easily ignored. These narrations have been referred to in different books. There are 80 of them and confirmed by hundreds of scholars.’

So why should we reject these narrations? Are they all unfounded? If that is true, one can easily call into question all the other aḥādīth narrated from the Prophet. I don’t see any disagreement about the advent of Imam al-Mahdī or the world’s need for such a reformer. The difference between Muslims is only over one point: Namely is he already born or will he be born later on? To that effect, many people have claimed to the Mahdī, but their claims could not be taken seriously.

How can anyone reject the aḥādīth pertaining to Imam al-Mahdī while some of them have been mentioned in the Ṣaḥīḥ collections of Bukhārī and Muslim? Muslim quotes Jābir b. ʿAbd Allāh as saying: ‘I heard the Prophet say: “A group of my community will wage jihād on the right path and will remain victorious until the Day of Judgment. Jesus son of Mary will descend and the leader of my community will ask him to lead the world and he will reply: ‘Some of you must lead some others and this is a characteristic of this community.’ (Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ, 1/59, Cairo edition).

Other traditions make clear that this event will occur after the appearance of Imam al-Mahdī and that Jesus will accept the leadership of Imam al-Mahdī.

In another ḥadīth, the Prophet is quoted as saying: ‘What will your condition be when Jesus son of Mary descends and your Imam is amongst you?’ (Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, tradition no. 3449). This is another distinguishing feature of Imam al-Mahdī; a messenger of God accepts him as his leader!

A full discussion of the birth, occultation, longevity and philosophy of Imam al-Mahdī is beyond the scope of the present volume. However, many reliable books have been authored since the time of Shaykh al-Ṣadūq.


The meaning of Taqiyya

Taqiyya (‘dissimulation’) is a concept that appears in the Qur’an and has been highlighted in some verses. The Qur’an permits a believer to observe taqiyya if he believes that his life, family or property are in danger because of his beliefs. In other words, taqiyya is a means to which a defenceless person can resort when confronted by someone who intends to harm him, his family or his property due to a difference in religious belief. In these circumstances, the Qur’an allows the believer to outwardly renounce his faith in a bid to ward off this threat of persecution. This is a fundamental principle that is endorsed by all religions, including Islam. Some people, who are unaware of this Qur’anic concept, wrongly ascribe it to Shīʿa and use it to defame them.

Taqiyya is belongs to the category of the branches of the religion (furūʿ al-dīn) – or its practices – and should not be confused with the roots (uṣūl al-dīn) – or principle beliefs – as it is merely a practical method to avoid harm. Etymologically, taqiyya is derived from the Arabic word ‘waqāya,’ which means to shield or protect oneself. Taqiyya serves as a shield for the weak and defenceless that protects them from the deadly blows of the enemy just as combatants save themselves from enemies behind their shields in a battlefield.

Is taqiyya the same as hypocrisy?

Taqiyya is a shield that protects the believer from someone who is persecuting his faith. Under taqiyya, the believer outwardly renounces his beliefs. Hypocrisy (nifāq), on the other hand, is precisely the opposite of this notion; a hypocrite is an unbeliever who covers up his disbelief and pretends to be a believer. So, how can one consider taqiyya to be a form of hypocrisy?

In clearer terms, taqiyya means to hide one’s faith and pretend to be a disbeliever, whereas hypocrisy is the opposite. The Qur’an describes the hypocrites: ‘When the hypocrites come to you they say, ‘We bear witness that you are indeed the Messenger of Allah.’ Allah knows that you are indeed His Messenger, and Allah bears witness that the hypocrites are indeed liars.’ (Q63:1) The hypocrites had already pretended to believe in Islam and the Prophet while in their hearts they believed exactly the opposite. The boundaries defined for hypocrisy in this verse clearly distinguish it from taqiyya. If taqiyya were a form of hypocrisy, God would not have not allowed it elsewhere in the Qur’an (we will turn to the evidence for taqiyya later on) because God never commands anything evil: ‘When they commit an indecency, they say, ‘We found our fathers practising it, and Allah has enjoined it upon us.’ Say, ‘Indeed Allah does not enjoin indecencies. Do you attribute to Allah what you do not know?’’ (Q7:28)

Why practice taqiyya?

There must be a good reason for anyone to act in a way that goes against his deepest held beliefs; a believer takes pride in worshipping God and matching his behaviour to divine instructions. If such a person reneges on divine instructions, he must have something in mind like protecting his life, family and property from harm. A believer resorts to taqiyya only when all liberties have been trampled upon and no opposing view is tolerated. In that case, a believer has no other option but taqiyya to safeguard his life and properties against tyrants.

What is essential is that the behaviour and morality of people practising taqiyya must be distinguished from underground organisations harbouring malign goals. Those who are forced to practice taqiyya have no intention to sow sedition, only to protect themselves from the persecution of their enemies. In this way, they adapt their behaviour in response the overwhelming power of the tyrants. It would be wrong to draw a parallel between a defenceless person forced to practice taqiyya to safeguard himself and with an underground group gathering arms to seize power. Secret groups such as these follow the ideology of ‘the ends justify the means’ and they resort to any means necessary to reach their goals, but a person practising taqiyya is only seeking to protect himself and his family from harm.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, millions of Muslims were living in Muslim-majority republics. However, the dictatorial Communist government shut down all their mosques and schools, set fire to their libraries, murdered their scholars, and banned prayers and religious ceremonies. Under such circumstances, millions of Muslims chose to practice taqiyya and they feigned apostasy while they worshipped God at home.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Muslims were freed from the shackles of Communism. They came together to reconstruct mosques and teach Islam once again. Had they not practiced taqiyya under those stifling conditions and stuck to their beliefs in public, none of them would have survived to rebuild the mosques.

Having clearly shown the difference between taqiyya and hypocrisy, we will now refer to the Qur’anic verses and Islamic traditions that discuss it.

Four reasons for taqiyya in the Qur’an

As we mentioned above, taqiyya means protecting one’s life, family and property from persecution. It is also a Qur’anic edict and something endorsed by the Prophet. The following verses confirm the validity of taqiyya:

First verse

‘Whoever renounces faith in Allah after [affirming] his faith – barring someone who is compelled while his heart is at rest in faith – but those who open up their breasts to unfaith, upon such shall be Allah’s wrath, and there is a great punishment for them.’ (Q16:106)

This verse begins by discussing those who renounced their faith after believing and forewarns them of God’s punishment. However, it makes an exception for those who renounced their faith under persecution, so long as they remained faithful in their hearts.

This verse’s occasion of revelation makes this fact clear: The polytheists had seized three people; ʿAmmār, his father Yāsir and his mother, Sumayya. Yāsir and Sumayya refused to renounce their faith and were brutally slain. But ʿAmmār renounced his faith and was set free. Word of ʿAmmār’s apostasy reached the Companions of the Prophet and it was an object of criticism. But when the Prophet heard of this, he told them: ‘That is not that case. ʿAmmār is faithful from head to toe. His flesh and blood are twined with faith.’ ʿAmmār wept but the Prophet wiped his tears away. It was then that this verse was revealed to the Prophet.

Zamakhsharī says that prominent Companions such as Ṣuhayb al-Rūmī, Bilāl, and Khubāb were also practicing taqiyya. (Kashshāf, 2/430)

Commentators say that feigning disbelief to ward off a threat is not the same as disbelief, because faith lies in heart. And neither faith nor disbelief in the heart can be compelled just because someone is forced to behave a certain way outwardly. The interpretation of this verse could be of great help to those seeking more clarifications. (Jāmiʿ li Aḥkām al-Qurʾān, 4/57; Tafsīr Khāzin, 1/277; Tafsīr Rūḥ al-Bayān, 5/84)

Second verse

‘The faithful should not take the faithless for allies instead of the faithful, and whoever does that Allah will have nothing to do with him, except when you are wary of them out of caution. Allah warns you to beware of [disobeying] Him, and toward Allah is the return.’ (Q3:28)

This verse includes the exception ‘except when you are wary of them out of caution.’ Initially in this verse, any alliance with the disbelievers is prohibited on pain of having one’s relations severed with God. However, it exempts those who do this out of taqiyya to avoid being harmed by their opponents.

In his commentary, Fakhr al-Rāzī explains this exception as follows: ‘taqiyya has its own instructions; (1) When someone is living with disbelievers and fears for his life and property, and so agrees with them outwardly while saying the contrary in his heart, this verse confirms his behaviour; (2) when a human being protects his life and property by an outward change in his behavior or language, the religion of Islam endorses this behaviour.’ (Mafātīh al-ghayb, 8/13)

Qur’anic commentators regularly refer to this verse to justify disguising oneself. See, for example, al-Kashshāf (1/422); Tafsīr Nasafī (1/277); Tafsīr Rūḥ al-Maʿānī (3/121); Maḥāsn al-Taʾwīl (4/82).

As most commentators agree with our interpretation of this verse, we do not need to quote each and every one of them. However, we will underscore the main points of al-Marāghī’s interpretation:

He says taqiyya is a sanctioned principle for repelling evil. He notes that it would be no problem for an Islamic government to reach agreement with an un-Islamic government as long as losses are avoided and gains are made. (Tafsīr, 3/136)

Third verse

‘Said a man of faith from Pharaoh’s clan, who concealed his faith, ‘Will you kill a man for saying, ”My Lord is Allah,” while he has already brought you manifest proofs from your Lord? Should he be lying, his falsehood will be to his own detriment; but if he is truthful, there shall visit you some of what he promises you. Indeed Allah does not guide someone who is a profligate, a liar.’ (Q40:28)

This verse speaks about concealing one’s faith in reference to someone who firmly believed in God and the Prophet Moses while outwardly cooperating with Pharaoh to make himself appear neutral. Verses 28 to 44 of Sūrat al-Ghāfir underscore the constructive uses of taqiyya as this person managed to save Moses from Pharaoh under the aegis of taqiyya; the Pharaoh’s advisors had decided that Moses should be killed, but he was able to inform Moses of the decision before it was enacted:

‘And there came a man from the city outskirts, hurrying. He said, ‘Moses! The elite are indeed conspiring to kill you. So leave. I am indeed your well-wisher.’’ (Q28:20)

Moses trusted this man and he immediately left the place he was in to seek safety.

Fourth verse

‘When you have dissociated yourselves from them and from what they worship except Allah, then take refuge in the Cave. Your Lord will unfold His mercy for you, and He will help you on to ease in your affair.’’ (Q18:16)

‘The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus’ is a famous legend. It recounts how a group of people hid inside a cave outside the city of Ephesus to escape the persecution of Christians conducted during the reign of the Roman emperor Decius. The fact that they were able to escape was almost certainly because they observed taqiyya; otherwise, they would have been killed.

‘And We made firm their hearts when they stood up and said, ‘Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth. Never will we invoke besides Him any deity. We would have certainly spoken, then, an excessive transgression. (Q18:14)

The Qur’an then goes into the details of their story, which shows that this was something practiced during the time of prophets past. Moreover, it shows that taqiyya, in the sense of making an outward show of disbelief for disbelievers is something acceptable to all Muslim groups. The point of contention then, is not this, but that the Shi’a do not practice taqiyya vis-à-vis disbelievers, but rather vis-à-vis other Muslims. Is there any reason for practicing it in this fashion? This is what we will discuss below.

Muslims practicing taqiyya amongst Muslims

The above verses and traditions are about a believer practicing taqiyya vis-à-vis disbelievers, which is allowed because it is intended to protect the life, property and family of the believer. But what about in a situation where the ruler is a Muslim whose doctrinal views are in conflict with those of certain sects and schools of thought? And what if a person’s life and property will be at risk if someone refuses to agree with him?

Obviously, there is no need for taqiyya in an Islamic society where all schools of thought are tolerated. In that case, everyone enjoys freedom of belief and no one would have a reason to conceal their faith from others. On the other hand, if freedom is restricted in a country and only the ruler’s views are recognized, other groups will have to outwardly conform to these. However, this is nothing new because scholars have expanded the concept of taqiyya to include a Muslim’s taqiyya vis-à-vis fellow Muslims in such situations.

In his interpretation of the Qur’anic verse: ‘The faithful should not take the faithless for allies instead of the faithful, and whoever does that Allah will have nothing to do with him, except when you are wary of them out of caution. Allah warns you to beware of [disobeying] Him, and toward Allah is the return.’ (Q3:28) Fakhr al-Rāzī writes: ‘In its apparent sense, the verse refers to about a believer’s taqiyya vis-à-vis powerful disbelievers, but the Shāfiʿī school expands its scope; anytime a Muslim faces similar conditions vis-à-vis another Muslim, taqiyya will be authorized for the protection of his life.’ But is taqiyya also authorized for the protection of property? Rāzī replies that it might be authorized because the Prophet (s.a.w.a) has said that a Muslim’s property is as sanctified as his blood. The prophet also says anyone dying to defend his property is a martyr. (Mafātīḥ al-Ghayb, 8/13)

Jamāl al-Dīn al-Qāsimī, a Syrian writer of the previous century, has quoted Muḥammad b. Murtaḍā al-Yamānī, better known as Ibn al-Wazīr, as saying: ‘Genuine mystics are few in number and they are always in fear of cruel kings, devilish human beings and unjust rulers. Based on Qur’anic verses and the consensus of Muslim scholars, they are allowed to practice taqiyya. The fear of mystics has always concealed truth. Abū Hurayra says: ‘I have two collections of aḥādīth from the Prophet. I have spread one of them and held another one. Had I revealed the second collection, I would have had my neck vessels slit.’ (Maḥāsin al-Taʾwīl, 4/89)

Marāghī interprets the verse ‘Whoever renounces faith in Allah after [affirming] his faith – barring someone who is compelled while his heart is at rest in faith – but those who open up their breasts to unfaith, upon such shall be Allah’s wrath, and there is a great punishment for them’ (Q16:106) as follows: ‘taqiyya involves any sort of affability with disbelievers, tyrants and corrupt rulers, though it may be in the form of flexibility in words, smile on the face or payment of gifts in order to ward off their harm. Such deeds are allowed under Islam because the Prophet has said that any payment for the protection of a believer’s dignity is counted as an act of charity.’ (Tafsīr Marāghī, 3/136).

Therefore, these three great scholars and perhaps others too have confirmed that taqiyya is not limited to interactions between a believer and disbeliever. The scope of taqiyya is much broader and it also includes interactions between Muslims. Anytime a self-proclaimed Muslim ruler restricts freedoms and threatens to kill or plunder others, a believer must exercise taqiyya.

Islamic history testifies to the fact that leading scholars and have, on certain occasions, spoken contrary to their real beliefs in a bid to protect their life and property. The story of Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal and other tradition narrators regarding the theological doctrine of the createdness of the Qur’an is a famous one. The ruler of the time forcedḥadīth collectors to confess to the createdness of the Qur’an or face prison and torture. Some of them made confessions and were freed. Three refused to confess and stuck to their views. They were sent to Maʾmūn to face punishment. On the way, they died. The story has been recounted in detail in Ṭabarī’s Tārīkh (7/195–206).

Earlier, we studied the life of some Shīʿa under the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties. We noted that Muʿāwiya and others had enacted policies to root out Shi’ism. A group stood against them and they embraced martyrdom, but the group that practiced taqiyya were spared.

Sayyid Hibat al-Dīn al-Shahristānī, a famous Iraqi scientist in the previous century, has authored an article about taqiyya in al-Murshid magazine. Excerpts are as follows:

‘…taqiyya is a tool in the hands of any weak man who has been denied freedom. The Shīʿa are better-known than other sects for the exercise of taqiyya. The reason for this is clear. This Islamic sect has faced much more pressure than other sects. The Shīʿa have been exposed to torture and murder under the Umayyads, Abbasids and the Ottomans. They were never granted freedom in Islamic lands and they had to practice taqiyyaconstantly. That is why the word taqiyya reminds one of Shi’ism.

Shi’ism differs from other Islamic sects in some beliefs and practices. Due to this difference, many have been intolerant of the Shīʿa. That is why the followers of the Shīʿa Imams have had to conceal their beliefs, customs and books in order to protect their life and properties and not be accused of disobedience. The Muslims have had to close their ranks in a bid to keep the disbelievers from benefitting from their division.

It is for these reasons that the Shīʿa have always practiced taqiyya and their the Imams have ordered them to do so under certain circumstances, because as long as freedoms are restricted, taqiyya is the only possible lifestyle.’

(al-Murshid, 3/252–253; see also Mufīd, Awāʾil al-Maqālāt, 96 footnotes)

Taqiyya as a personal affair

The Shīʿa have practiced taqiyya at most times and outwardly acted in harmony with the majority, but the fact is that taqiyya is an individual matter. Taqiyya does by no means mean that a scholar can write a book to suit the tastes of rulers and undermine fundamental Islamic principles. Such a thing has never been done and could never be done. An individual practicing taqiyya cannot go out of his personal scope and start deciding for others.

Eḥsān Ilāhī Ẓahīr has long been critical of the Shīʿa, saying that their books are not authentic because they have been written based on the principle of taqiyya. It is important to know that this writer has fabricated these lies without conducting any investigation. Taqiyya is totally personal and not a collective issue. Someone is allowed to conceal his beliefs in order to save his own life, but nobody is allowed to write a book under the guise of taqiyyaand publish it in the name of Shi’ism. When the Shīʿa were living under the cloak of taqiyya, this was because there was no government to support them. Today, however, there are two Shīʿa governments are ruling in Iraq and Iran and therefore the Shīʿa no longer need to practice taqiyya.

Forbidden forms of Taqiyya

Like all other practices, Shīʿa scholars say taqiyya falls within the five categories of action (obligatory, recommended, permitted, discouraged and forbidden). When life and properties are in danger, taqiyya is obligatory. But in two cases, taqiyya is forbidden:

1-      When Islam is threatened

If Islam or Shi’ism is under threat and the practice of taqiyya by a scholar is likely to harm or allow irreparable damage to be done to the religion, taqiyya is forbidden. For instance, if someone is ordered to destroy the Kaʿbaand its surroundings, or to write a book against Islam and the Qur’an, or offer an incorrect interpretation of it, then he is not allowed to practice taqiyya even if he is threatened with death. He has to give his life so that the holy book will be protected.

If a prominent scholar is threatened with death for refusing to drink in public or remove the scarf of his wife, he will have to choose to die rather than to do an act which will arouse doubts about Islamic beliefs. This is because taqiyya is intended to protect the religion; whenever taqiyya causes people to lose their religion, it will be considered forbidden.

The following quote is from late the Imam Khomeini: ‘Taqiyya is forbidden for certain obligatory or forbidden practices that are religiously significant. For example, destruction of Kaʿba and the holy sites, writing book against Islam, the Qur’an and or its interpretation, or a blasphemous interpretation of Qur’an – these are all great forbidden acts which are not subject to taqiyya.’

Musʿada b. Sadaqa narrates from the Imam: ‘If a believer practices taqiyya in his life, there is no problem so long as the religion is not harmed as a result.’ (Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, 11/ ch. 25, tradition no. 6)

Drinking alcohol is a secondary issue. Anytime an ordinary person is threatened, he can commit this forbidden act to protect his life and properties. But if a religious scholar is threatened to do so, he should accept by no means even at the price of his life. Instructions for inheritance, divorce, prayers and Ḥajj are also secondary. If a religious scholar is told to write a book distorting these instructions or face threats he must not accept to write such a book.

2-       When taqiyya may lead to bloodshed

If someone is ordered to kill an innocent on pain of death or injury, taqiyya will be forbidden because taqiyya has been instituted in order to protect the blood of Muslims. If someone’s taqiyya in favor of a tyrant causes bloodshed, it will definitely be forbidden. Imam al-Bāqir says: ‘We instructed taqiyya in order to protect blood. If blood is to be spilt, taqiyya is not allowed.’ (Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, 1/ ch. 31, tradition no. 1)


Taqiyya is based upon the Qur’an and the Sunna. Moreover, taqiyya was practiced during the Prophet’s lifetime.

Taqiyya is a means in the hand of the weak to protect their life and properties from those in power. It does mean a secret and underground organization to threaten other Islamic sects, because such an act is strictly forbidden by Islam.

Certain exegetes have concluded that the Shīʿa practice of taqiyya is correct.

Taqiyya is not restricted to repelling the harm of disbelievers, but also it can also be used to repel the harm of Muslim tyrants too.

Taqiyya is a personal and individual affair. As long as a person is overcome by fear he has to practice taqiyya; it is only after the threat is dispelled he will revert to his normal religious practice.

Like every other religious subject, taqiyya falls within the framework of the five categories of action, meaning in some situations it can be obligatory while in others it is forbidden.

In conclusion, we ask all Muslim rulers, scholars and muftis to maintain a free, brotherly and tolerant atmosphere in which all sects can coexist, and that differences over secondary issues will not restrict anyone’s freedom or cause murder and in that way taqiyya will leave the Muslim community for good.


Badāʾ (lit. ‘appearance’) is a Shīʿa doctrine rooted in the Qur’an and the tradtions of the Prophet. It is similar abrogation (naskh) and both stem from the same source. However, the difference is that abrogation pertains to legislation, meaning that a divine command is issued at one time and nullified at another. Such an instruction was temporary at its inception and not eternal, although it may appear so. God, the Creator of the world, restricts such laws from the very beginning. On the other hand, Badāʾ is related to creation. For instance, someone is destined to die on a specific day but he is spared after giving alms to the poor. This person was initially destined to die, but his fate changes after his act of alms-giving. However, this should not be understood as a change in the divine knowledge.

According to the Shīʿa, badāʾ means that a person’s destiny can change according to God’s will; a bad outcome can be averted by a good deed, while a good outcome can be altered as the result of a bad one. This doctrine means that mankind is not held hostage to fate – rather every human being can change his destiny. Consider the example of a foolish young man who is drug addict and drinker of alcohol; everyone knows what his future will be if he continues on this path. But he can change his future through piety and prayer. Equally, someone otherwise destined to end up in Hell because of his sins can repent and benefit from God’s mercy. Something bad might have been destined to befall someone, but a simple donation changes the conditions and thus changes their fate. The term badāʾ could be interpreted as transforming one fate and one possible future into another different one.

Islamic exegetes have interpreted the Qur’anic verse ‘Allah effaces and confirms whatever He wishes and with Him is the Mother Book’ (Q13:39) differently. To that effect, the Prophet says: ‘Donations and good deeds change the fate of mankind because their primary fate is not their final one; it is contingent on their deeds. This means mankind can change their first fate into a second one.’

The fact is that badāʾ is highlighted in the Qur’an and traditions. Now let us consider the meaning badāʾ: A former member of the Assembly of Experts wrote: ‘In 1980 we were drafting the Constitution of the Islamic Republic. A Sunnī scholar from southeast Iran was present there. From time to time, we discussed religious issues. He called into question the Shīʿa belief in badāʾ. I asked him: ‘Doesn’t badāʾ mean that a person can change his fate through good deeds and charity?’ He thought this was my personal view and asked to see a book written by Shīʿa where they have interpreted it thus. I had to borrow Awāʾil al-Maqalāt and Taṣḥīḥ al-ʿItiqād, both authored by Shaykh al-Mufīd, and from the library of Chihilsutūn Mosque and give it him to study. Several days later, having studied the book, he told me: ‘If badāʾ is what is mentioned in these two books then all Sunnī scholars believe in it too!’

Differences on this issue mainly stem from differing interpretations of particular terms; if scholars came together and discussed these issues, they would see that the differences are minor and Islamic unity could be manifested in a better way.

To further familiarize ourselves with the concept of badāʾ, we will review some Qur’anic verses and prophetic traditions.

God’s knowledge of events

Philosophical arguments and Qur’anic verses testify to the fact that God is eternally aware of everything happening in this world and that nothing remains hidden from Him. ‘Nothing is indeed hidden from Allah in the heavens or the earth.’ (Q3:5) Therefore, any unexpected event that occurs is interpreted as a case of badāʾ for human beings. But for God, there is nothing unexpected because there is nothing unknown. ‘Our Lord! Indeed You know whatever we hide and whatever we disclose, and nothing is hidden from Allah in the heavens or the earth.’ (Q14:38) God is cognizant of everything in the minds and spirits of mankind, no matter if they reveal it or hide it. ‘Whether you disclose anything or hide it, Allah indeed knows all things.’ (Q33:54) Hiding and concealing only apply to finite beings but God is infinite and nothing can be concealed from him. In other words, every phenomenon owes its existence to the existence of God; a single moment of disconnection between a phenomenon and God will result in its non-existence. Imam al-Kāẓim says: ‘God knew all things before their creation exactly as He knew them after their creation.’ (Kulaynī, Kāfī, 1/107)

The verses and traditions about the extent of God’s knowledge and His omniscience are far too numerous to be exhaustively presented here. However, what is clear is that those who interpret badāʾ as something hidden becoming apparent to God are totally mistaken and are defaming the Shīʿa. It is surprising to hear al-Fakhr al-Rāzī, who lived in Rayy, a city of numerous Shīʿa scholars, offer his own misinterpretation of badāʾ! He claims: ‘the Shīʿa believe that God changes his mind from time to time’ and then rejects this concept on the grounds that change in the knowledge of God are impossible as God is endowed with omniscience. (Fakhr al-Rāzī, Tafsīr, 4/216)

Rāzī most probably received his views from the interpretations of anti-Shīʿa figures. In particular, Balkhī is a likely source for Rāzī’s misconception. (Ṭūsī, Tibyān, 1/13) After Balkhī, Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī himself also insisted on this misinterpretation (Maqālāt al-Islāmiyyīn, 107). However, the Shīʿa have never held such an understanding and have historically been stringent in their conception of God as utterly transcendent and without flaw (tanzīh). On the other hand, as an Ash’arite, Rāzī treats God’s knowledge as a separate entity to God himself, declaring it unchanging, while Shīʿa theologians identify God’s knowledge with His essence and say that any change to God’s essence is impossible.

Continuous Creation

Qur’anic verses and prophetic traditions indicate that God has never abandoned creation and the entire universe is under His control in each passing moment. This is unlike those who imagine that the act of creation is finished – the Qur’an notes that creation is still under way: ‘The Jews say, ‘Allah’s hand is tied up.’ Tied up be their hands, and cursed be they for what they say! Rather, His hands are wide open: He bestows as He wishes.’ (Q5:64)

For those like the Jews described in this verse, a person’s fate is unalterable and a single fate is imposed on each person at his birth. They believe that mankind can never change his fate no matter what he does. They mean that even God Himself could not change the fate for his creatures. On the other hand, Islam says mankind can change his fate through their deeds and there are numerous verses to that effect:

‘He has guardian angels, to his front and his rear, who guard him by Allah’s command. Indeed Allah does not change a people’s lot, unless they change what is in their souls. And when Allah wishes to visit ill on a people, there is nothing that can avert it, and they have no protector besides Him.’ (Q13:11)

‘That is because Allah never changes a blessing that He has bestowed on a people unless they change what is in their own souls, and Allah is all-hearing, all-knowing’ (Q8:53)

‘If the people of the towns had been faithful and Godwary, We would have opened to them blessings from the heaven and the earth. But they denied; so We seized them because of what they used to earn.’ (Q7:96)

‘And had he not been one of those who celebrate Allah’s glory, he would have surely remained in its belly till the day they will be resurrected. Then We cast him on a bare shore, and he was sick. So We made a gourd plant grow above him.’ (Q37:143-146)

Jonah had been destined to remain in the stomach of the fish until the Day of Judgment, but he changed his own fate through good deeds; he praised God and as a result he was freed. This verse and other verses in the Qur’an show that mankind can change their fate from good to bad and vice versa. The verses on this subject are too many to be discussed here. Those who like to go further into details can refer to these verses: Q65:3, Q14:7, Q21:76, 83, Q10:98)

Changing one’s fate through deeds

There are narrations showing that mankind can change their destiny. There are too many traditions on this subject to fully discuss all their details here, so we will restrict ourselves to only the most significant ones.

Giving charity, maintaining ties with relatives, kindness to one’s parents, repentance, forgiveness and thanksgiving are amongst the good deeds that could change someone’s fate for the better and save them from danger or grief; they also grant longevity and wealth, and invite rainfall. In the meantime, bad deeds that will have negative impacts on one’s fate include jealousy, bad temper, cutting off relatives, mistreatment of parents and ungratefulness. Therefore, no fixed destiny has been defined for anyone and a person’s fate can always change as a result of his or her deeds.

The effect of giving charity

Imam al-Riḍā, the eighth Imam, quotes his forefathers as saying: ‘Start your day with giving alms because calamities could never cross the wall of charity.’

The effect of praying for God’s forgiveness

Imam ʿAlī, the first Shīʿa Imam, says: ‘Repent a lot so that your wealth will increase.’

The effect of prayers

Imam al-Sādiq says: ‘Prayers repel destiny and if a believer commits a sin he will be deprived of his sustenance.’

The Shīʿa are not the only one to have such narrations. Sunnī traditionists have narrated similar phrases. Jalāl al-Dīn Suyūṭī has collected these narrations in his Durr al-Manthūr. (Durr al-Manthūr, 4/66)

Jalāl al-Dīn Suyūṭī quotes Ibn Masʿūd as saying that everyone reciting the following prayers will see his sustenance increase:

‘O God to whom everyone is indebted and who is indebted to no one. O God, master of greatness and generosity, O master of benediction. There is not god but You. You provide sanctuary to those who seek refuge in you and you allay fears. If You have written wretchedness for me in the Mother Book then erase it and write for me felicity. And if you have written poverty for me, then erase my deprivation and make easy my sustenance, and write my name among the happy and successful ones. For you have said in your Book revealed: ‘Allah effaces and confirms whatever He wishes and with Him is the Mother Book.’’ (Ibid)

Now we have seen that badāʾ is a warning to sinners that they should never think that their fate will not change because of having committed a sin, and understood the Qur’anic notion of badāʾ that good deeds particularly repentance can change our fate, we can appreciate the value of this saying from Imam Bāqir and Imam al-Sādiq: ‘God, the Almighty, has not been worshipped by anything like He has through badāʾ.’ (Majlisī>, Biḥār, 4/107)

The doctrine of badāʾ demonstrates the power and greatness of God. If a sinner changes the conditions of his life, then his fate will change to be harmonious with those conditions; to deny badāʾ is to underestimate the power of God.

Hishām b. Sālim narrates from Imam al-Sādiq: ‘God has not been magnified by the likeness of badāʾ.’ (Ibid)

Again, Imam al-Sādiq says: ‘If people knew how they will be recompensed for belief in badāʾ, they would never be fed up with talking about it.’ (Ṣadūq, Tawḥīd)

Now we are fully acquainted with the reality of badāʾ, we can focus on proofs for it and how the Prophets and the Imams have used this concept.

Positively affirming badāʾ

God is aware of everything that happens – past, present and future – in the world. Besides His intrinsic knowledge which forms His identity, there are two other manifestations of this divine knowledge:

First is the Guarded Tablet (lawḥ maḥfūẓ). The Qur’an describes it as follows: ‘Rather it is a glorious Qur’an, in a preserved tablet.’ (Q85:21-22) In another verse, God says: ‘No affliction visits the earth or yourselves but it is in a Book before We bring it about – that is indeed easy for Allah’ (Q57:22) Everything that happens in this world is reflected in the Guarded Tablet and it only happens as it has been described therein. In other words, the Guarded Tablet is identical with the entified reality of the world.

The second manifestation of the divine knowledge is the Tablet of Erasure and Confirmation (lawḥ maḥw wa ithbāt); every destiny is reflected on this slate before being materialized and sometimes another fate replaces the first one. In any case, both are instructed by God. The first fate belongs to the period of inaction when mankind does not repent or give donations but when he gives donation and repents he will meet a different fate which will replace the first one on the slate.

In other words, any phenomenon in this world occurs due to a series of events and causes which may number in the thousands. If we attribute a phenomenon to questionable causes, nothing will be definite then. In that event, the Prophets and the Imams who are worthy of reading the Tablet of Erasure and Confirmation understand the objective of each phenomenon and they report it. But when their reports contradict reality, we say badāʾ has occurred, which means that the Prophet or Imam has seen the original fate without being aware of the second one. However, the Prophet has still been honest in his reporting. Now we can provide some examples of such reports, mentioned in the Qur’an, which did not materialize.

Badāʾ in the sacrifice of Ishmael

The Qur’an recounts the story of Ishmael as follows:

‘So We gave him the good news of a forbearing son. When he was old enough to assist in his endeavour, he said, ‘My son! I see in a dream that I am sacrificing you. See what you think.’ He said, ‘Father! Do whatever you have been commanded. If Allah wishes, you will find me to be patient.’ So when they had both submitted [to Allah’s will], and he had laid him down on his forehead, We called out to him, ‘O Abraham! You have indeed fulfilled the vision! Thus indeed do We reward the virtuous! This was indeed a manifest test.’’ (Q37:101-106)

The phrase ‘I am sacrificing you’ indicates that Abraham had been ordered to slaughter his own son in his dream and that this order had come from God. But just before Ishmael was to be sacrificed, the conditions changed and another order given to Abraham. In the same part of the sūra, we read: ‘Then We ransomed him with a great sacrifice.’ (Q37:107) In his dream, Abraham had seen the instructions on the Tablet of Erasure and reported them faithfully, but he was not aware of the change of fate for his son. The slaughter of Ishmael was cancelled and another replaced it.

Jonah’s Tale

The Prophet Jonah invited his kin to monotheism for a long time without success. Finally, he warned them of a divine punishment should they reject him. Three days passed and nothing happened. Exegetes say that badāʾoccurred in that context, but not in the sense that God changed his mind. It happened because Jonah was aware of what was inscribed on the Tablet of Erasure, but this divine punishment was contingent on the refusal of people to obey to him and their refusal to repent. To that effect, the Qur’an says:

‘Why has there not been any town that might believe, so that its belief might benefit it, except the people of Jonah? When they believed, We removed from them the punishment of disgrace in the life of this world, and We provided for them for a while.’ (Q10:98)

The question here is why were Jonah’s people were spared punishment while others were not? One significant reason might be the sincerity of their repentance; other peoples might have repented only out of fear of punishment without any real intention to change their ways. But Jonah’s people were sincere in their repentance, their belief in Jonah was true and they changed their ways for the better.

Therefore, Jonah’s warning of punishment was completely true. People rushed to the desert when they saw the signs of punishment and took their children and cattle away. They even separated mothers from children and dressed threadbare clothes in a bid to show their humility before God. Divine blessing was bestowed upon them. In this case, badāʾ occurred because the punishment was lifted before its completion, which was conditioned on their continued refusal and disbelief. However, when the conditions were no longer met, the punishment was halted.

Moses’ Thirty Nights

Moses told his tribe: ‘I will be away from you for thirty nights because my God has summoned me to a meeting and instructed me to name Aaron as my deputy.’ But then, after thirty nights, God added ten more. Two issues are at stake here; either Moses stayed at this meeting for only for thirty nights or Moses remained there for forty. Due to his connection with the Tablet of Erasure and Confirmation, Moses was aware of his 30-night nocturnal stay and he announced it. But he did not know that his stay will be extended by another ten nights. This fact has been highlighted in the Qur’an as follows:

‘And We made an appointment with Moses for thirty nights, and completed them with ten [more]; thus the tryst of his Lord was completed in forty nights. And Moses said to Aaron, his brother, ‘Be my successor among my people, and set things right and do not follow the way of the agents of corruption.’’ (Q7:142)

Therefore, we can use the term badāʾ for when the thirty nights were extended to forty. Moses initial report was apparently correct but the conditions had not been fulfilled and therefore it changed into 40.

Based on the above Qur’anic verses, it becomes clear that any destiny could be altered, and that sometimes what the messengers of God report to people does not materialize because of a change in circumstances. In that case, the concept of badāʾ is a good explanation for why this happens. God is well aware that the initial destiny would come to pass and that another would replace it, but from the point of view of ordinary people, this is badāʾ.

‘When the faithless plotted against you to take you captive, or to kill or expel you. They plotted and Allah devised, and Allah is the best of devisers.’ (Q8:30)

God refers to His job of neutralizing their conspiracies as ‘devising’.

Badāʾ in the Traditions

Islamic narrations are filled with accounts of Badāʾ similar to those mentioned in the Qur’an. Here are some examples:

The Prophet Jesus encountered a procession taking a bride to her new husband’s home. He asked what the convoy was doing. He was told that a girl was being carried to her husband’s house. The prophet said: ‘Today, she is getting married, but tomorrow she will be mourned.’ Someone asked how come. Jesus said the bride would die that night. However, the following day, the bride was reported to be still alive. Jesus was asked to explain. He went straight to the bride’s house and asked her what good deed she had done. ‘I did nothing but donating food to a poor man who used to knock at our door every Thursday night. I did the same last night.’ Jesus asked her to stand up. A snake was sleeping beneath the mattress of the bride. ‘Due to your good deed, you were spared this scourge.’ (Biḥār al-Anwār, 4/94)

Kulaynī narrates from Imam al-Sādiq (a.s) that the Prophet (s.a.w.a) was sitting somewhere. A Jew from Medina passed him by. Instead of saying the usual greeting of: ‘Peace be upon you’, he spoke in a dialect in which the words also meant ‘Death to you.’ In response, the Prophet said: ‘Upon you.’ The Prophet and his Companions then spoke and the Prophet said a black snake would bite this man on the neck and he will die. The man went away and collected firewood to carry on his back. The Prophet told him to lay down the firewood and a black snake could be seen holding a piece of wood with its teeth. The Prophet asked the Jew what good deed he had done and the Jew replied that he had done nothing important but giving a loaf of bread as charity. The prophet said God spared him death because of his charity. Then the Prophet said charity repels away ill-fated deaths.

Whatever we read in these two narrations is a reflection of the same principle that was operating in the verses. The reports the Prophet and Jesus gave were totally accurate because they had observed everything inscribed on the Tablet. But they were unaware of the acts of charity which changed the circumstances. In such cases, badāʾ is the best description and has two senses: Mankind interprets God’s will from their own viewpoint or this term is used because of harmony with other cases.

Ṣadūq has quoted Imam al-Sādiq as saying: ‘God gave the Prophet Adam the names of his successors and their longevities. David’s longevity was 40 years old. Adam asked God why David’s lifetime was so short while his was long. He offered to give 30 years of his age to David. God accepted. Adam said: I donate 30 years of my life to David. God added 30 years to David’s lifetime. (Biḥār al-Anwār, 4/102)

In the first report, David’s lifetime was 40 years and that was accurate. But it could vary due to his own actions or those of others. Adam made a sacrifice and so a second destiny took shape.

Now, it becomes easier to understand the meaning of the following verse: ‘Allah effaces and confirms whatever He wishes and with Him is the Mother Book.’ (Q13:39)

God tasked one of his messengers with telling a king of his time that on a specific date he will die. After hearing this news, the king raised his hands and asked God to give him a reprieve so that he could raise his child. This prophet was then told that 15 years had been added to the king’s lifetime. (Biḥār al-Anwār, 4/121)

ʿAmr b. Ḥumq, a faithful disciple of Imam ʿAlī, went to visit the Imam after he was injured. The Imam said: ‘I will leave you soon.’ And then he repeated thrice that that year will be the year of catastrophes. ʿAmr asked the Imam if there was any hope of averting this, but the Imam did not reply. When Umm Kulthūm cried loudly the Imam regained consciousness. ʿAmr repeated his question and the Imam replied: ‘God will erase whatever He wants and confirm whatever he wants.’ (Biḥār al-Anwār, 4/119)

In all these cases, the Prophets and the Imams spoke and acted according to the principle of badāʾ. Now figures like Rāzī and Balkhī should be asked why they level accusations against Shi’ism. Why do they claim that the Prophets and the Imams used to justify their wrong predictions? We have narrated five accounts. Is there any sign of doubt? When did the Prophets and the Imams make promises and then justify their wrong projections? In the story of ʿAmr, the Imam said an opening would be possible in seventy years. The Imam recited the verse ‘God eliminates whatever he wants’ and then mentions the number. It meant that pressure might be relaxed.

The conclusion is that badāʾ is nothing more than the fact that fate can change as a consequence of a single good or bad deed. In its most technical sense, it means that a Prophet or Imam might foretell an event, but then it does not happen for the reasons explained in the narrations. Badāʾ has never been a tool in the hands of the Prophets and the Imams to justify wrong or false reports. But in the meantime, badāʾ has rarely been used as evidence.

Some important points

When an instance of badāʾ occurs, the initial prediction does not materialize, just as when the Jonah’s people were spared punishment, the bride did not die the night of her marriage, and the Jew was not bitten by the snake. However, the second report does not deny the first report and does not imply that the first report has been wrong. The second report makes clear that the first report would have materialized had certain conditions not been met. Jonah’s people observed signs of punishment, and the Jew and the bride both saw a snake in their proximity.

Badāʾ mainly applies to individual issues and cases – it never targets general instructions. For instance, the Prophethood of the Prophet and his foretelling of future events were amongst miracles to which badāʾ did not apply. The advent of Imam al-Mahdī (a.f) and the signs of his reappearance are fixed realities that will never change. Therefore, if Jesus had announced the coming of a prophet named Aḥmad, it would come to pass without any change. Badāʾ does not apply to fundamental issues of the religion. That is why we mentioned that badāʾ is limited to personal issues.

As we mentioned earlier, badāʾ is attributed to God only metaphorically and is justified by the figurative application of words like ‘devising’ to God in the Qur’an, and because we are speaking about God’s will from the perspective of a human being. Otherwise, one should not say that God has caused badāʾ (i.e. ‘changed his mind’), rather they should instead say that God has caused badāʾ to occur for people.

This is not a merely semantic discussion. If you accept the reality of badāʾ, you are free to interpret it as you wish. But if our Imams use the formula ‘God caused badāʾ’ then this is because of their adherence and obedience to the Prophet. The irony is that those who deny badāʾ and are afraid of the phrase ‘God caused Badāʾ’ have quoted aḥādīth to this effect from the Prophet in their own books. Now, we present the summary of a story narrated in Bukhārī’s Ṣaḥīḥ book.

Three Israelites were suffering from three different rare diseases; one was suffering from leprosy, one from baldness and the third one was blind. God decided to test them. He sent an angel to the one suffering from leprosy, who asked him: ‘What do you like the most?’ He replied: ‘Good colour and healthy skin. People consider me unclean and keep away from me.’ The angel rubbed him and his wish came true. Then he asked him: ‘What wealth do you like the most?’ The man said: ‘A camel or a cow.’ The angel granted him a she-camel that was ready to give birth and said: ‘God will bestow wealth upon you.’

Then the angel went to bald man and asked him the same questions. He said he wanted thick hair to become handsome again. The angel rubbed his head and his hair grew. Regarding wealth, he asked for a cow and a pregnant cow was given to him to become rich.

The angel then went to the blind man and asked him what he liked the most. He asked for sight. The angel touched his eyes and he could see again. He was asked what wealth he preferred to have. He asked for a sheep. The angel gave him a pregnant sheep and left. The trio soon saw their lands filled with camels, cows and sheep.

After some time, the angel, disguised as a pleasant man, went to the former leper and said: ‘I’m a poor man who has nothing in the world. After God, only you can help me. I adjure you by God, who has given you your health and your wealth, to help me.’ But the former leper told him: ‘I’m heavily indebted and cannot help you.’

The angel said: ‘I know you quite well. You were suffering from leprosy and you were poor. God gave you health and wealth. If you are lying you will return to your previous conditions.’ Suddenly, his leprosy returned.

The angel then went to the formerly bald man and repeated the same conversation with him. He too resorted to lying and so the angel cursed him and his disease returned.

But when the angel went to the former blind man and expressed his request, the man thanked God and said: ‘I was blind and God healed me. I was poor and God enriched me. You can take whatever you want.’ The angel said: ‘This is all yours. I only came to test you. God is happy with you, but he was displeased with the other two.’ (Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī, 4/208)

This story is a perfect example of badāʾ and allows one to say that ‘God caused badāʾ’.

The first instance indicating that the former patients would live in a blessed state forever more, but there was a condition set for them. They were required to help the poor. Two did not meet the condition and they got ill again. But the third person fulfilled the required condition and more blessings were granted to him.

The Rajʿa as depicted in the Qur’an and traditions

The Shīʿa are often criticized for believing in the Rajʿa, which is mentioned in some Qur’anic verses and narrations. Anyone speaking about this concept is often accused of heresy while these critics may not realise that the first one who promoted this idea in the Muslim community was none other than ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb.

After the news of death of the Prophet spread among people, everyone rushed to the Prophet’s house to attend the funeral. ʿUmar swore by God, saying: ‘Muḥammad has not died. He is absent from people’s eye and he will return to cut the hands and feet of a group of people.’ (Sīra Ibn Hishām, 4/305). The serious nature of ʿUmar’s statement shows he actually believed in this. His statement essentially means that the Prophet is not permanently deceased but will return from this death to punish his enemies, with his final death coming later. This is the concept of Rajʿa (lit. ‘Repeat’), which says that some people will return to the world after they have died.

The Qur’an has also recounted instances where people have come back to life in this world after their death and scholarly exegetes have explained the verses accordingly. Here, we will list those groups which the Qur’an says were brought back to life in this world for readers to study them:

  1. A group of Israelites (Q2:44-45)
  2. An Israelite who had been murdered (Q2:72-73)
  3. A group of people who died and were brought back to life (Q2:243)
  4. Ezra being brought back to life one hundred years after his death (Q2:259)
  5. Resurrection of the dead in this world following Jesus ’prayers (Q3:49)

If coming back to life in this world after death is impossible, how can one explain these cases in the Qur’an? Such reports clearly show that returning to this world after death is not only possible but has actually happened and has nothing to do with the transmigration of souls, which is when a person dies at seventy years of age and enters another world only for his spirit to once again enter this world through the process of gestation and rebirth in the body of a child, which proceeds to grow up again and die. This is also known as reincarnation.

Reincarnation has other meanings too. A man’s spirit enters the body of another individual or animal while there is no harmony between this single spirit and the two bodies. Shīʿa scholars and scientists have written numerous books and exegeses in rejecting this notion of reincarnation as well. They say the doctrine of reincarnation leads to apostasy and polytheism. In their view, reincarnation is a pretext to deny the afterlife and final judgment. They say every man will return to this world after death in one of the following ways to face punishment or be recompensed.

However, Rajʿa is completely different. Here, the human soul re-enters its own body as if it had never left. Having discussed the possibility of Rajʿa and distinguished it from Reincarnation, it is now time to look at the evidence for this belief:

Qur’anic proofs for Raj‘a

A Qur’anic verse says a group of the dead will be brought back to life by divine command in this world: ‘The day We shall resurrect from every nation a group of those who denied Our signs, and they shall be held in check.’ (Q27:83)

In this verse, the Qur’an announces the that a group from each nation will be brought back. This does not refer to Judgment Day, as that is when everyone will be brought back to life. The Qur’an describes Judgment Day as follows:

‘There is indeed a sign in that for him who fears the punishment of the Hereafter. That is a day on which all mankind will be gathered, and it is a day witnessed.’ (Q11:103)

Another verse reads: ‘The day We shall set the mountains moving and you will see the earth in full view, We shall muster them, and We will not leave out anyone of them.’ (Q18:47)

The first verse speaks about the return of a specific group of people to this world while these speak about all people being brought back without exception.

The ʿAbbāsid Caliph, Maʾmūn, asked Imam al-Riḍā about the Rajʿa. The Imam told him: ‘It has already occurred for people and the Qur’an has discussed it. The Prophet has said that whatever happened to the previous communities will also befall the Muslim community. (Biḥār al-Anwār, 53/59)

So far we have discussed the possibility of the Rajʿa and the evidence for it in the Qur’an, but we have yet to understand how people will be selected for this and for what purpose will they be brought back. This is the most fundamental question we must address.

Regarding the first question, Shaykh al-Mufīd has said that when Imam al-Mahdī appears, only two groups will return: pure believers and the pure disbelievers. Anyone others than these two groups will remain dead until Judgment Day. (Taṣḥīḥ al-Iʿtiqād, 40/45)

The reason the believers will return to this world is so they can help Imam al-Mahdī and earn greater rewards. Meanwhile the disbelievers will face justice in this world before going to the punishment of the Hereafter.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can these believers and tyrants return to this world while God has forbidden their return? The Qur’an says: ‘It is forbidden for [the people of] any town that We have destroyed [to return to the world]: they shall not return.’ (Q21:95)

The answer to this question is clear: The ban is only for those disbelievers who have died as a result of divine punishment befalling their town and not anyone dying of natural death.

Some verses show that return to this world is highly desired, but not possible for everyone:

When death comes to one of them, he says, ‘My Lord! Take me back, that I may act righteously in what I have left behind.’ ‘By no means! These are mere words that he says.’ And ahead of them is a barrier until the day they will be resurrected.’ (Q23:99– 100)

This verse expresses a divine habit (sunna ilāhiyya), namely that as a general rule there no life in this world after death. This group intends to return to this world to correct its past faults. Such a return is not possible. However this does not rule out other exceptions to the divine habit. So this verse has no connection with the return of believers and disbelievers in the Rajʿa.

Temporary marriage

Our discussions here are mainly focused on Shīʿa doctrines and beliefs rather than legal and practical issues. However, some Shi’a practices are occasionally subjected to criticism and therefore it is important to clarify them and remove ambiguities. One such issue is that of temporary marriage.

What is ‘temporary marriage’?

Temporary marriage is defined as a man marrying a consenting woman who is without impediments to marriage for a specific duration in return for a specific marriage gift. After this duration expires, the man and woman are separated without any need to file divorce. If any sexual intercourse happens and the woman has not yet reached menopause, she must observe a waiting period before marrying anyone else. In case any offspring result from this union, they will be legitimate and he will enjoy inheritance rights.

Temporary and permanent marriages are like two branches of a same principle. Their differences are minor and some of them are as follows:

In permanent marriage, separation requires filing divorce, but in temporary marriage, after the end of the period it expires automatically.

In permanent marriage, woman enjoys a share in inheritance, but in temporary marriage, the woman does not enjoy this.

In permanent marriage, the husband is tasked with providing for the wife, while this is not the case in temporary marriage.

In permanent marriage, the woman is entitled (should she wish) to have sex with her husband once every four nights, but in temporary marriage, such a right does not exist.

Regarding the period for woman to remain single after separation, it equals two menstruations in temporary marriages and three menstruations in permanent marriage.

These differences are minor and they do not entail contradiction. The fact is that both are matrimonial bonds permitted by Islam.

Like in permanent marriage, a woman in temporary marriage is not allowed to marry anyone else. If she falls pregnant she is not allowed to marry anyone else before she has borne the child. Both are marriage, but one is temporary and the other one is permanent. Married either temporarily or permanently, they are husband and wife and have to meet certain obligations with regards to one another.

Temporary marriage is by no means similar to prostitution. Those who draw a parallel between temporary marriage and prostitution are distorting the facts, as prostitutes do not observe any boundaries for themselves and or respect any ethical obligations. That is exactly the contrary for women in temporary marriage.

Temporary marriage in the Qur’an

Temporary marriage is said to have been customary in Medina and other cities before Islam was revealed, especially for those that remained in Medina for only a brief time before returning to their home cities. However the exact nature of this was not clear, so Islam – like everything else – clarified the legal nature of this relationship:

‘…and [prohibited to you are] married women excepting your slave-women. This is Allah’s ordinance for you. As to others than these, it is lawful for you to seek [union with them] with your wealth, in wedlock, not in license. For the enjoyment you have had from them thereby, give them their dowries, by way of settlement, and there is no sin upon you in what you may agree upon after the settlement. Indeed Allah is all-knowing, all-wise.’ (Q4:24)

We will now elucidate the following points about this verse:

  1. This verse specifies ‘married women’ as those who a man cannot consider for marriage.
  2. It also exempts slave women, indicating that it is possible to marry slave women who were married before being taken as slaves, as their capture is considered to have automatically enacted a divorce from their husbands. So long as they are not with child it is possible to marry them, as also indicated in the verse: ‘…except from their spouses or their slave women, for then they are not blameworthy.’ (Q23:6)
  3. ‘As to others than these, it is lawful for you…’ This indicates that it is licit to seek marriage with all other women except those forbidden in the previous line, on the condition that the husband is able to support them financially. This is indicated by the phrase: ‘you to seek [union with them] with your wealth, in wedlock, not in license.’
  4. ‘For the enjoyment you have had from them thereby, give them their dowries, by way of settlement’ – this sentence indicates that whoever has enjoyment with them must pay them their dowries, which in turn shows that this verse cannot be referring to permanent marriage as previous verses have already discussed the permanent contract and the rules pertaining to its dowry. For instance, on permanent marriage, the Qur’an says: ‘…then marry [other] women that you like, two, three, or four …’ (Q4:3) and with regards to dowry, it says: ‘Give women their dowries as an obligation’ (Q4:4). The verse under discussion is also not connected to marrying slave girls, as this is discussed in the verse that follows: ‘As for those of you who cannot afford to marry faithful free women, then [let them marry] from what you own, from among your faithful slave-women.’ (Q4:25) And marriage to slave women has also been mentioned at the beginning of the same verse.

With this analysis in mind, there is no need to repeat what has already been said about permanent marriage and its dowry. This verse is not be speaking about permanent marriage otherwise it would be a case of unnecessary repetition as the preceding verses have already explained the rules relating to permanent marriage. Another point we notice in interpreting this verse is that the man is required to give his wife – whether permanent or temporary – the promised dowry before any enjoyment takes place. This is because the phrase ‘what you have enjoyed’, using the Arabic word ‘istimtāʿ’, does not refer to mere sexual enjoyment but to the contract of temporary marriage, as we can see from how this term was used at that time of the Prophet.

Jābir narrates that in the time of the Prophet they used to practice ‘istimtāʿ’ in return for a measure of dates or flour (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 4/131). This must mean temporary marriage, rather than sexual enjoyment in return for payment as that would be fornication..

Mālik quotes ʿUrwa b. Zubayr as saying: ‘Khawla bt. Hakīm went to ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb and said: ‘Rabīʿa b. Ummaya has practiced ‘istimtāʿ’ with a mature woman who became pregnant by him.’ This woman was a former slave released after she gave birth to Mālik’s son. Now she has a child from another marriage. At that time ʿUmar arrived home. He was so angry and threatened to order stoning for temporary marriage.’ (Muwaṭṭaʾ, 30; Sunan Bayhaqī, 7/206)

Based on the above accounts from Sunni sources, we can clearly see that istimtāʿ refers to temporary marriage, not merely sexual intercourse.

Objection: The purpose of marriage is starting a family

Some might object to the institution of temporary marriage by saying that the purpose of marriage in general is to start a family and raise the next generation. This goal is met in permanent marriage but not in temporary marriage, in which only sexual intercourse takes place.

Here we must distinguish between the wisdom behind a ruling (ḥikma) and the reason (ʿilla) for it. Wherever there is a wisdom for a ruling, the scope of the ruling will be broader than its wisdom, whereas the reason for a ruling is the axis around which its very existence turns – if the reason for the ruling is present, the ruling is in effect, if it is absent, then the ruling is null. For example, wine is banned because it is an intoxicant. So when grapes are made into wine, the result is prohibited but when they are made into vinegar, the result is permitted. With regards to the wisdom of the ruling, there is no such relationship. For example, when a married couple divorce the woman must observe a waiting period (ʿidda) before remarrying. A wisdom for this is to ensure that she is not pregnant from her former husband. However, even if she is certain that she is not pregnant, she still has to observe this waiting period.

As for the purpose of marriage being to start a family and raise children, this is not the reason for the ruling of marriage but a wisdom behind it, as marriage is still permitted in the absence of such a cause. For example, it is permitted to marry a woman who is sterile, past menopause or otherwise unable to conceive a child.

When a young man and woman marry they do so in response to the force of their sexual desires, not for the purpose of reproduction. Moreover, it is still perfectly possible to form a family and raise children within the framework of temporary marriage. There are still other reasons why marriage takes place where the focus is neither starting a family or fulfilling one’s sexual desires.

Now we ask those who oppose temporary marriage: ‘If a young man and woman who are studying abroad get married but decide to divorce one another once their studies are finished, is this marriage valid?’ They will definitely say yes because the couple have married on a permanent basis, even though they know they will divorce in future. In that case, they must explain what the difference is between this and temporary marriage!

The Sunni scholar, Rashīd Riḍā says: ‘Theologians who insist on the illegality of temporary marriage must also ban a permanent marriage with intention of divorce. In this case, the only difference is that no period of time is specified while the intensions are the same.’ (al-Manār, 5/17)

Objection: There is no evidence in the Qur’an for temporary marriage

Some might argue that the Qur’an has prohibited men to have sexual intercourse with any woman, except in two cases: with their wives and with their slave girls. Where does temporary marriage fit in with this?

We would respond that neither case excludes temporary marriage. Those who cast doubt on the legality of temporary marriage are in fact providing reasons to disclaim themselves. How do they claim that temporary marriage is not included in the Qur’anic verse saying ‘except for their wives’? Temporary marriage also involves choosing a wife.

They might say: Yes, but a wife and husband have the right to expect intercourse from one another once every four nights and a husband must provide for his wife, while this is not the case in temporary marriage.

However, even in permanent marriage there are cases where a wife is exempted from satisfying her husband sexually or where a husband is exempted from giving financial support to his wife. Therefore just because temporary marriage does not include these stipulations, this is not enough to deny its validity as a form of marriage.

Objection: temporary marriage is there for the sake of fulfilling lusts

Marriage is aimed at protecting human dignity and chastity. To that effect, the Qur’an calls on people to seek dignity and stay away from illicit sex. In temporary marriage, this objective is not pursued because it is basically a way of satisfying one’s lusts. If it is said that a couple in temporary marriage are not engaging in prostitution, the question will remain: how do such women protect their chastity while they give their bodies to different men from time to time? (al-Manār, 5/13)

Those who call into question temporary marriage in this way are actually drawing a parallel between lust and marriage. Under temporary marriage, there are conjugal obligations. The wife is not allowed to get married to anyone else and even after the end of union she must observe a waiting period. So how do they claim that such a woman offers her body to men from time to time for pleasure?

There are three options for men and women to deal with their sexual desire: permanent marriage, temporary marriage, suppression of sexual desire.

The first option is not possible for everyone, like a young student living in another city for a specific period of time. The last option is reserved for the awliyāʾ who can suppress their desires out of fear of God. The only remaining option in this context will be temporary marriage which may even last for years.

The irony is that the author of al-Manār, who holds specific view vis-à-vis the Shīʿa, constantly repeats the famous poem composed to slander Ibn ʿAbbās. The poem’s translation is as follows: ‘A woman is like a ball in a polo game and players pass it to one another.’

According to this logic, the author does not make any distinction between chaste women and unchaste ones.

Objection: the verse of temporary marriage has been abrogated

There are theologians who accept the basic legitimacy of temporary marriage but say that the verse has been abrogated. However, they differ as to when this occurred:

It was permissible, but banned during the Battle of Khaybr.

It was permissible, but only during the ʿUmrat al-Qaḍāʾ.

It was tolerated, but prohibited in the eighth year after Hijra.

It was permitted during the Campaign of Awṭās but was later abrogated (Masāʾil Fiqhiyya, 63–63)

In response to them, we mention the following:

First, the Qur’an is a certain evidence (dalīl qaṭʿī) and, as such, could not be abrogated by a solitary narration, which is a probable form of evidence (dalīl ẓannī).

Second, a large number of Companions of the Prophet permitted temporary marriage even after the Prophet passed away. They said: ‘God sent down temporary marriage in the Qur’an and did not abrogate it with another verse, and God’s Messenger enjoined it upon us and did not prohibit us from engaging in it, but then [after the Prophet] a man spoke his own opinions.’ (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 4/130)

Third, if the Qur’anic verse was abrogated while the Prophet was still alive, why did the second Caliph have to speak about it so overtly? He had threatened to punish those resorting to temporary marriage. (Mafātīḥ al-Ghayb, 10/52)

The Ashʿarī theologian, al-Qūshjī says that ʿUmar prohibited three things, the last of which was saying ‘Rush to the Good Deed’ in the call for prayers. (Sharḥ Tajrīd, 474)

Now we refer to those who had permitted temporary marriage even after the Prophet:

Imam ʿAlī, the first infallible heir to the Prophet, regularly said: ‘Had ʿUmar not banned temporary marriage, nobody but the wretched would have fornicated.’

ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUmar had said that he preferred to follow the Prophet of God rather his own father regarding the legitimacy of temporary marriage.

From ʿAbd Allāh b. Masʿūd Bukhārī (Ṣaḥīḥ, 7/4) narrates: ‘Along with the Messenger of God, we were at war while our wives were not with us. I said if we had better castrate ourselves. The prophet did not let us do so and allowed us to get married on a temporary basis and then recited this Qur’anic verse: ‘O you who have believed, do not prohibit the good things which Allāh has made lawful to you and do not transgress. Indeed, Allāh does not like transgressors.’ (Q5:87)

And from ʿImrān b. Ḥaṣīn, Bukhārī narrates that the Qur’anic verse on temporary marriage was revealed and that everyone obeyed. He also notes that no other verse was revealed to abrogate it. (Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī, 6/27)

Muslim says in his Ṣaḥīḥ that Ibn ʿAbbās had issued a fatwa in favour of temporary marriage, but ʿAbd Allāh b. Zubayr opposed it. Jābir b.ʿAbd Allāh Anṣārī learned of their differences and said temporary marriage was customary during the lifetime of the Prophet until the day ʿUmar said God may authorize something only for His own messenger. ʿUmar called on Muslims to conclude their Ḥajj pilgrimage and get married permanently. He had threatened to order stoning against any man who practiced temporary marriage. (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 4/130)

These aḥādīth show that temporary marriage was a legitimate act and it was never abrogated by God.

Wiping the feet in wuḍūʾ

Islamic jurists are divided about whether the believer must wash or wipe his feet when performing wuḍūʾ. Some of them say it is obligatory to wash the feet; the Imāmiyya say that wiping is correct. Dāwūd b. ʿAlī, the leader of the Zāhiriyya and Nāṣir al-Kabīr, a leader of the Zaydiyya, advocate a combination of wiping and washing. Ḥasan al-Baṣrī says the wuḍūʾ maker is free to choose between the two.

Muslims used to observe how the Prophet made wuḍūʾ day and night, at home and on journeys, so why is there any disagreement? This shows that jurisprudence (ijtihād) can take the most straightforward issue and turn it into the most contentious one.

There is a Qur’anic verse which explains in clear terms how to perform wuḍūʾ. If there is any ambiguity, it must have occurred in the minds of the Muslims in the following years, because the verse is exceedingly clear:

‘O you who have faith! When you stand up for prayer, wash your faces and your hands up to the elbows, and wipe a part of your heads and your feet, up to the ankles. If you are junub, purify yourselves. But if you are sick, or on a journey, or any of you has come from the toilet, or you have touched women, and you cannot find water, then make tayammum with clean ground and wipe a part of your faces and your hands with it. Allah does not desire to put you to hardship, but He desires to purify you, and to complete His blessing upon you so that you may give thanks.’ (Q5:6)

Exegetes differ about the declension of the word ‘your feet’ (arjulakum) in the first part of the verse. According to the seven different major recitations it can be read with either a kasra or fatḥa, which alters its grammatical position in the sentence. The reciters Ibn Kathīr, Ḥamza, Abū ʿAmr and ʿĀṣim based on the recitation of Abū Bakr, recite with kasra – arjul-i-kum. Meanwhile, Nāfiʿ, Ibn ʿĀmir and ʿĀsim based on the recitation of Ḥafṣ recite it with a fatḥa – arjul–a–kum. (Majmaʿ al-Bayān, 2/163)

It is fundamentally unlikely that the Prophet recited the same verse in two completely different ways, as this would introduce ambiguity to the Qur’an on an issue that the divine revelation should be speaking clearly about; the Qur’an sets instructions for everyday life and ambiguity has no place there.

The Imāmiyya say the verse recommends wiping no matter how it is pronounced. If both ‘your heads’ and ‘your feet’ take kasra, then they are in conjunction (ʿaṭf), which makes them both objects of the same verb – ‘wipe’. On the other hand, if ‘your feet’ takes fatḥa then it is still in conjunction with ‘your heads’ as an object of the verb, but it does not take the Arabic preposition bi, which makes ‘your heads’ take kasra – ‘bi ruʾūs–i–kum.’ Therefore it takes fatḥa because it is the direct object of a verb. To better illustrate this, we can look at the following verse:

‘…an announcement from Allah and His Messenger to all the people on the day of the greater hajj: that Allah repudiates the polytheists and His Messenger…’ (Q9:3)

The second occurrence of ‘His Messenger’ in this verse at first appears to be the object of ‘repudiates’ (i.e. God repudiates His own Messenger!), however this is not the case as when we look at the declension of the Arabic word ‘His Messenger’, we notice it has taken ḍamma – ‘wa rasūl–u–hu’, which means it cannot be the object of repudiates, but rather is the subject of the sentence, like ‘Allah.’ So this renders the meaning ‘Allah repudiates the polytheists, as does His Messenger.’

The original text of this verse in Arabic is the best indication that the previous verse calls for wiping the feet during wuḍūʾ. Those who advocate washing the feet are frustrated by the grammar of the verse and they try to justify their reading based on torturous interpretations Arabic grammar. They say that the word ‘washing’ in the verse also involves the feet, as ‘your feet’ is actually in conjunction with ‘your faces’, which also has a fatḥa, hence the two are both objects of the same verse.

However, this is patently incorrect because this involves a completely unrelated sentence about wiping the feet interposing between the two sides of a grammatical conjunction – something which is not allowed in Arabic grammar!

It is clear to every reader that every Muslim, making wuḍūʾ, has to wipe over his head and feet. But unfortunately, interpretations have given an ambiguous form to this religious practice. One of them is definitely unreal and you must have noted that those who call for washing the feet fail to justify their interpretation. Some others are used to making philosophies saying washing also includes wiping. But religious instructions could not be changed as we wish. A large number of Companions of the Prophet have said that the feet must be wiped over during wuḍūʾ. Here are some quotes:

Ibn ʿAbbās says: wuḍūʾ includes two washings and two wipings.

Anas b. Mālik used to wet his feet when he wiped over them. One day he heard Ḥajjāj b. Yūsuf calling on worshippers to wash their feet. Anas interrupted him saying: ‘God has said the truth and Ḥajjāj b. Yūsuf is lying.’ Then he recited this Qur’anic phrase: ‘wipe over your heads and your feet to the ankles.’

ʿIkrama, a disciple of Ibn ʿAbbās, said: ‘Feet must be wiped over and not washed.’

Shaʿbī sayid: ‘Gabriel has ordered the Prophet to wipe over his feet in wuḍūʾ. But in tayammum, the face and the hands are wiped over while it is not necessary to wipe the head and feet. Therefore, if the feet were to be washed in wuḍūʾ, they would have to be wiped over in tayammum.’

Qatāda interprets the verse as follows: ‘God has ordered two washings and two wipings. But some groups keep reading the verse differently to justify their recommended washing for the feet.’ (Tafsīr Ṭabarī, 6/82–83)

The practice of the Infallible Imams

The infallible Shīʿa Imams, who are all heirs to the Prophet, and who have been described by the Prophet to be on the same level as the Qur’an say the Prophet used to wipe over his head and feet. To that effect, Imam al-Bāqir says: ‘I explain to you how the Prophet performed his wuḍūʾ. He filled his hands with water, washed his face and finally he wiped over his head and feet.’ (Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, 1/ch. 15)

Attempts to prove that washing is compulsory

Those who say the feet must be washed interpret the Qur’anic verse as recommending wiping. But at the same time, they try to justify their opinion that the feet must be washed in wuḍūʾ by claiming that some aḥādīth refer to washing feet. Thus, if we wash our feet we will be doing both (washing and wiping), as wiping is included in washing but washing is not included in wiping.

If they refer to aḥādīth from Sunnī sources about washing, they must know that the same Sunnī scholars have also narrated accounts of wiping. Due to such contradictions, the view that is in agreement with that of the Qur’an should be taken as correct.

They claim that Imam ʿAlī once told a man that there has been a different arrangement in the verse of wuḍūʾ and that God has ordered the feet to be washed while the head is wiped over. Had Imam ʿAlī mentioned such a thing, his close associates would have recorded and recounted it. Imam al-Bāqir has narrated the way the Prophet used to make wuḍūʾ and Qur’anic verses are clear because they give instructions to people.

Ibn ʿUmar says: ‘The Prophet was lagging behind us on a trip. We returned to look for him and, at the time of ʿaṣr pryaers, when we were very tired, we found him. We made wuḍūʾ and wiped over our feet. At that time, the Prophet said loudly: ‘Woe to the heels of fire!’ and repeated this three times in total. (Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī, 1/18)

For more details on this issue, readers can refer to our book, al-Inṣāf fī Masāʾil Dām fīhā al-Khilāf.

The Righteousness of the Prophet’s Companions

The Companions of the Prophet, known in Arabic as the Ṣaḥāba, are those people who were with the Prophet, some of whom sacrificed their lives and wealth for the sake of Islam. They strengthened the pillars of Islam through their jihād and endured hardships to promote the religion. Without their courage and determination, Islam could not have made any headway. And had they not risked their lives, Islam would not have existed like today.

The Qur’an and the Prophet’s words are two main sources to learn about religious issues. No Muslim should make judgment about religion without referring to these sources. If not, he is a hypocrite trading under the guise of religion.

The Qur’an and the Prophet’s tradition have heaped praise on the Prophet’s Companions for following him. Everyone wishes to have been one of them to experience their contacts with the Prophet. Anyone studying Qur’anic verses related to those who vowed allegiance to the Prophet in Ḥudaybiyya could not contain his tears welling up his cheeks. Three of these verses are as follows:

‘The early vanguard of the Emigrants and the Helpers and those who followed them in virtue, – Allah is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him, and He has prepared for them gardens with streams running in them, to remain in them forever. That is the great success.’ (Q9:100)

‘Allah was certainly pleased with the faithful when they swore allegiance to you under the tree. He knew what was in their hearts, so He sent down composure on them, and requited them with a victory near at hand.’ (Q48:18)

‘Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, and those who are with him are hard against the faithless and merciful amongst themselves. You see them bowing and prostrating [in worship], seeking Allah’s grace and [His] pleasure. Their mark is [visible] on their faces, from the effect of prostration. Such is their description in the Torah and their description in the Evangel. Like a tillage that sends out its shoots and builds them up, and they grow stout and settle on their stalks, impressing the sowers, so that He may enrage the faithless by them. Allah has promised those of them who have faith and do righteous deeds forgiveness and a great reward.’ (Q48:29)

After reviewing these verses from the Qur’an, how could anyone describe the Companions as hypocrites or unbelievers? Such a description would mean that the Prophet had failed to train Companions during his 23 years of Prophethood. Those who promote these views and attribute them to the Imāmiyya are either unaware of the history of Islam or are levelling biased accusations against the Shīʿa. Promotion of these thoughts and attributing them to the Shīʿa will have no other result than fanning the flames of enmity in the Muslim community. In that event, enemies will also fish in muddy waters.

Therefore, I am surprised that the writer Abū al-Ḥasan Nadawī accuses Shīʿa of these false beliefs in his book Suratān Mutaʿāriḍatān.

In responding, however, we don’t need to go far. We can look at the Banū Hāshim family. The majority of them had accepted Islam and remained firm in their convictions even after the departure of the Prophet. Among them were Abū Tālib, the Prophet’s uncle, Ṣafiyya, the Prophet’s aunt, Fāṭima bt. Assad, Ḥamza and ʿAbbās, both uncles of the Prophet, not to mention Jaʿfar, ʿAqīl and Tālib, the Prophet’s cousins; ʿUbayda b. Ḥārith, the martyr of Badr, Abū Sufyān b. Ḥārith, Nawfal b. Ḥārith and Jaʿda. In addition to them, a large number of prominent figures embraced martyrdom in the Badr and Uḥud wars. Other renowned figures were killed in the Battle of the Trench. The following verse is in praise of those who stuck to their beliefs and never deviated from the right path:

‘Among the faithful are men who fulfil what they have pledged to Allah. Of them are some who have fulfilled their pledge, and of them are some who still wait, and they have not changed in the least.’ (Q33:23)

The verses Q3:173 and Q59:9 testify that the Prophet had succeeded in his invitation of people to Islam and he managed to cleanse the Arabian Peninsula of idolatry and polytheism.

In addition to these verses, the remarks by Imam ʿAlī and his sons, Ḥasan and Ḥusayn, in praise of Companions provide the best reasons in favour of Shi’ism. To know the clear position of Imam ʿAlī about the Companions of the Prophet, we review his remarks here:

After Imam ʿAlī invited the Iraqi people to jihād he found them half-hearted and lax. In a sermon, he said:

‘Where are my brethren who took the (right) path and trod in rightness. Where is ʿAmmār? Where is Ibn at-Tayyihān? Where is Dhū al-Shahādatayn? And where are others like them from among their comrades who had pledged themselves to death and whose (severed) heads were taken to the wicked enemy? Oh my brothers, who recited the Qur’an and strengthened it, thought over their obligation and fulfilled it, revived the sunna and destroyed innovation! When they were called to jihad they responded and trusted in their leader then followed him.’ (Nahj al-Balāgha, Sermon no. 182)

Imam Sajjād used to recite prayers in praise of the Companions of the Prophet. His prayers started with the following phrases:

‘O God, and as for the Companions of Muhammad specifically, those who did well in companionship, who stood the good test in helping him, responded to him when he made them hear his messages’ argument, separated from mates and children in manifesting his word, fought against fathers and sons in strengthening his prophecy, and through him gained victory; those who were wrapped in affection for him, hoping for a expect a commerce that will never go bankrupt (Q35:29) in love for him;’ (Ṣaḥīfa Sajjādiyya)

Taking these verses and references into account, nobody can accuse the Shīʿa of insulting the companions.

The difference between Shīʿa and Sunnī

The sticking point between the Imāmiyya and Sunnī Muslims revolves on this question: Do all of those who went to the Prophet and stayed with him for several days gain this status? Did they commit no other offense until the end of their life? Or did the people around the Prophet also include unjust and hypocritical people? How is it possible that a nation, plunged in polytheism, hypocrisy, sin and corruption before the arrival of the Prophet, would change so that not a single member would commit any sins for the rest of his life? Should we not conduct research on them to see if they were considered as infallible until the end?

Sociology and human experience say the Prophet’s influence on his society has not been due to any miracle, and has been achieved through enjoining good and forbidding evil. The prophet can guide a large group of his companions and such that they will remain just and pious until the end. But at the same time, it is been impossible to lead a nation so deep in sin and corruption. To that effect, two opposing standpoints are raised:

Those who say that the Companions of the Prophet number around a hundred thousand individuals, including fifteen thousand who are well-known as just and promoters of justice. Any possibility of committing sins is ruled out for them.

On the other hand are those who say that, while they respect those who have been with the Prophet, there is no reason to suppose that they are infallible. Therefore, they say, the Companions must be divided into two groups: just and unjust ones.

Now, we have to see which view is confirmed by the Qur’an, the traditions of the Prophet and history. Are all of them eternally righteous, such that being in company of the Prophet acted like a magical elixir which converted copper into gold immediately and just being in his company is enough to receive complete guidance? Now we seek answers from the Qur’an.

The Qur’an’s view of the Prophet’s Companions

To grasp the Qur’an’s judgment about the Companions of the Prophet we must study all verses related to this subject. It would be inappropriate to content ourselves only with the verses that praise them. All aspects must be first be studied before making any decision. In the beginning of the discussion, we referred to the verses which praise the Companions of the Prophet. Now let’s see what other verses say in this regard. In different sections, the Qur’an divides the Companions of the Prophet, in addition to the righteous ones, into the following categories:

Known hypocrites (Q63:1)

Hypocrites unknown to even the Prophet (Q9:101)

Insincere ones (Q33:11)

The Naive influenced by those who spread sedition (Q9:47)

Those mixing good and bad deeds (Q9:102)

Those who risk losing their belief in difficult conditions (Q3:154)

Sinners whose testimony is not accepted (49:6)

Those who pretend to be believers while their hearts are empty of faith (Q49:14)

Those whose hearts could be won through alms in order to remain allied with Muslims. (Q9:60)

Those who evade confrontation with apostates (Q8:15)

The reference to these ten groups indicates that the Companions of the Prophet were not all on the same wavelength. Even though there were righteous figures among the Companions of the Prophet, there were also these groups of people who, at the very least, were not firm in their convictions. These ten well-defined groups cannot be ignored.

Ibn Hishām says during the Battle of Uhud, ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUbayy and 700 of his followers withdrew from the battlefield after his views about the war were rejected. (Ibn Hisham, Sīra, 2/64) Therefore, how can anyone consider all Companions of the Prophet as just and honest without exception?

These verses encourage us to study the Companions of the Prophet and not consider merely having been in the company of the Prophet as an indication of their righteousness. Even the verses we initially mentioned in praise of the Companions of them do apply to them collectively. If we find evidence that some of them deviated, then we have grounds to reconsider our praise for some of them and do not consider these individuals as having been righteous forever.

A chapter in Bukhārī’s Ṣaḥīḥ can prove the truthfulness of what we say (Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī, tradition no. 6606). There must have been impious people who had finally repented and became firm believers. But the contrary is also correct. There might have been pious people who had deviated from the right path later on.

Now, we will take a look at the verses of Sūrat al-Fatḥ to know the context in which the Companions were praised and see if this applies to them forever more. In verse 18 of the sūra, ‘Allah was certainly pleased with the faithful when they swore allegiance to you under the tree. He knew what was in their hearts, so He sent down composure on them, and requited them with a victory near at hand.’ The Arabic text of this verse makes clear that God has been satisfied with them during a specific period of time. But does this mean they remained as pious as they were until the end? Each individual case must be studied and every possible fault has to be taken into account. Verse 29 of the same sūra reads:

‘Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, and those who are with him are hard against the faithless and merciful amongst themselves. You see them bowing and prostrating [in worship], seeking Allah’s grace and [His] pleasure. Their mark is [visible] on their faces, from the effect of prostration. Such is their description in the Torah and their description in the Evangel. Like a tillage that sends out its shoots and builds them up, and they grow stout and settle on their stalks, impressing the sowers, so that He may enrage the faithless by them. Allah has promised those of them who have faith and do righteous deeds forgiveness and a great reward.’ (Q48:29)

So it is clear that not everyone was promised such recompense and it only applied to a limited group of the Companions. Therefore, there are some individuals whom we do not know if they remained as pious as they were until the last days of the Prophet’s lifetime.

The following verse applies to all Companions: ‘And (there is a share for) those who came after them, saying, ‘And [also for] those who came in after them, who say, ‘Our Lord, forgive us and our brethren who were our forerunners in the faith, and do not put any rancour in our hearts toward the faithful. Our Lord, You are indeed most kind and merciful.’’ (Q59:10)

But those whose deviation has been proven based on verses and other strong evidence could not be considered just and righteous. Therefore, the Imāmiyya neither rejects the Companions nor accuses them of sinflness. It only studies their history based on the Qur’anic verses; those who remained faithful to the Prophet until the end are praised and the Imāmiyya ask God to bless those whose life is unknown, without following their aḥādīth. However, the third group whose deviation has been proven is ostracized and their words are of no value.

How some historical facts were concealed

After misdeeds of some Companions were unveiled, a group of Umayyad caliphs and their followers indulged in falsifications and said: ‘Now that God has cleansed our sword of their blood we had better keep our tongue from heaping scorn on them.’

They meant that nobody could speak ill of Muʿāwiya b. Abī Sufyān, Ṭalḥa, Zubayr, ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀs, Mughīra b. Shuʿba, Ziyād b. Abīh or tens of other criminals. These words – attributed to ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-aziz or Ḥasan Al-Baṣrī – imply that no blood should have been spilt at the battles of Jamal, Ṣiffīn or Nahrawan, which were prosecuted by the divinely-appointed Imam. This equals a flagrant denial of the caliphate of Imam ʿAlī and his leadership. Killing these criminals and sinners who were in open rebellion and destroying Islam was essential.

Here, we shall introduce some of criminals of that time. No researcher can conceal their crimes and sins:

  1. Muʿāwiya b. Abī Sufyān

It is not an easy task to enumerate the crimes committed by Muʿāwiya b. Abī Sufyān. However, the scholar Jāḥiẓ has an interesting description of him. He speaks about the Umayyad and the sins they have committed. Regarding Muʿāwiya, he says:

‘Muʿāwiya took maintained a monopoly on power and refused to consult the Muslims. He ignored the objections of Emigrants and Helpers. The irony is that he named the year he took power as the ‘Year of Union’ while it was a year marked with division, tyranny and bloodshed. The consultative institution of the Imamate became a monarchy, and the Islamic caliphate became an empire. In the end, Muʿāwiya even stood against the Messenger of God; the Prophet had said: ‘The child born to an adulterous woman belongs to her husband.’ Therefore, Ziyād b. Abīh must be attributed to her mother’s husband but Muʿāwiya recognized him as his own brother in a bid to push ahead with his ambitious policies. Muʿāwiya’s father had had an affair with Ziyād’s mother. He killed Hujr b. ʿAdī, who was a faithful companion of the Prophet, gave control of Egypt to ʿAmr b.ʿĀs. As for his son, Yazīd, who lacked any qualifications, he named his successor-in-waiting and people were forced to pay allegiance to him him. He sacrificed divine instructions for nepotism.’ (Rasāʾil al-Jāḥiẓ, 294)

Moreover, his son Yazīd, whom he appointed as his successor, committed at least three terrible atrocities in as many years he served as the Caliph:

  1. In the first year of his reign, he killed Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī.
  2. In the second year, he sacked the city of Medina, killed a large number of the Prophet’s followers and authorized his troops to rape women and girls.
  3. In the third year, he demolished the House of God by catapult, set fire to its curtains and killed a number of pilgrims. (Taṭhīr al-Jinān, 102)

Yazīd’s impudence reached a stage he recited a poem composed by Ibn Zabʿarī against the Muslims during the Battle of Uhud. It reads: : ‘The Hashemites toyed with monarchy; They seized it under cover of prophecy while there was no revelation from God.’ (Ibid)

  1. ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀs

He once pitted people against ʿUthmān: ‘I used to provoke any shepherd I met on my way against ʿUthmān,’ he said. But after the murder of ʿUthmān, he joined forces with Muʿāwiya. (Ansāb al-Ashrāf) His volte-face vis-à-vis ʿUthmān was due to Muʿāwiya’s promise to make him governor of Egypt.

  1. Marwān b. Ḥakam

He was a professed enemy of the Prophet’s Household. ‘The worst of men and the most hostile enemy to the Prophet’s Household was Marwān b. Ḥakam,’ says Ibn Ḥajar. (al-Ghadīr, 8/384)

Hākim Nīsābūrī quotes ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAwf as saying: ‘Any child born to the Companions of the Prophet was brought to the Prophet to be beatified. But when Marwān b. Ḥakam was taken there, the Prophet said: ‘This lizard is the son of another lizard and a cursed son from a cursed man.’

  1. Walīd b. ʿUqba

He is a man who got drunk before performing his prayers. At that time he was governor of Kufa. He made mistake in his prayers and vomited violently in the prayer niche. (Ansāb al-Ashrāf, 5/33; Aḥmad, Musnad, 1/144).

Marwān and his children ruled the same way. One of Marwān’s sons was Walīd b. Yazīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik b. Marwān. He was reciting the Qur’an in the mosque when he heard his appointment as Caliph. He consulted the Qur’an for his new post and fell on this verse: ‘They prayed for victory, and every obdurate tyrant has failed…’ (Q14:15)

He was infuriated and pierced the holy book with arrows before saying: ‘Are you threatening me with such words as obstinate and tyrant? Yes! I am the same obstinate tyrant. When you met your God on Judgment Day tell Him that Walīd has torn you apart.’ (Ibn Athīr, al-Kāmil fī al-Tārīkh, 5/107)

Suyūṭī says: ‘Walīd b. Yazīd was a rebel. He was always drunk and practiced homosexuality. He even invited his brother Sulaymān to this act. He married his father’s wives.’ (Suyūṭī, Tārīkh al-Kulafāʾ)

Are such people – a number of whom are among the followers and Companions of the Prophet – suitable candidates to learn the religion from?

The Sealing of Prophethood and the Book of Fāṭima

Like other Islamic sects, the Imāmiyya believe that the Messenger of Islam is the last prophet to be ordained by God and that his book is the final scripture. After his departure, no more divine revelation has taken place. His prophethood brought an end to legislation. While performing ritual ablutions on the body of the Prophet, Imam ʿAlī said: ‘May my father and my mother shed their lives for you. O Messenger of Allah! With your death the process of prophethood, revelation and heavenly messages has stopped, which had not stopped at the death of others prophets.’ (Nahj al-Balāgha, Sermon 234)

The finality of the Prophet of Islam is a principle in Islam. Anyone denying this principle will be considered an apostate. Some questions have been raised to that effect:

If the Prophet is the last messenger of God, why do the Prophet’s Household still refer to the Book of ʿAlī for instructions?

If Fāṭima, the daughter of the Prophet, received a scroll (muṣḥaf), then divine revelation has not ended.

The Imāmiyya follow traditions attributed to the their Imams without these being connected to the Prophet.

Now, we answer these questions.

The Book of ʿAlī

In response to the first question, it is important to note that the Book of ʿAlī is nothing more than a collection of the sayings of the Prophet. The Prophet dictated them to Imam ʿAlī, who wrote them down. That is why it is called ʿAlī’s Book.

The Sunnīs view the aḥādīth narrated in the Ṣaḥīḥ of Bukhārī as reliable even they have been recorded more than two centuries after the death of the Prophet and they are likely to have been distorted. On the other hand, Imam ʿAlī took the aḥādīth directly from the Prophet without any change. Imam ʿAlī was born in the Prophet’s house and was in his company until his passing away. He describes his upbringing as follows:

‘I used to follow him like a young camel following in the footprints of its mother. Every day he would show me in the form of a banner some of his high traits and commanded me to follow it. Every year he used to go in seclusion to the cave of Hira, where I saw him but no one else saw him. In those days Islam did not exist in any house except that of the Prophet of God and Khadīja, while I was the third after these two. I used to see and watch the effulgence of divine revelation and message, and breathed the scent of Prophethood.’ (Nahj al-Balāgha, sermon no. 192)

Imam ʿAlī was always in the company of the Prophet. It was only during the campaign to Tabuk, when the Prophet assigned him the task of protecting Medina from the hypocrites, that they were apart. Indeed, the close relationship between the Prophet and the Imam continued until the former’s death. ʿAlī recounts the story of the Prophet’s departure as follows:

‘The Messenger of God died while his head was on my chest. I performed ablutions on his body with the help of the angels. The angels used to come in groups to mourn his passing and I heard nothing from them but salutations upon the Prophet.’

This episode in the history shows that the Imam was firmly linked to the Prophet and he never separated from him. It was a characteristic of ʿAlī. Anyone reading history with open eyes will perceive this unique quality of the Imam.

It was due to this close affinity and familial connection that ʿAlī was always ready to learn from the Prophet. To that effect, he says: ‘Whenever I asked a question, he answered me and anytime I was silent he opened the conversation.’ (Tārīkh al-Kulafāʾ)

The prophet ordered ʿAlī to write down whatever he told him. Once ʿAlī asked him: ‘Are you worried that I will forget them?’ The prophet replied: ‘No, I don’t worry because I have asked God to give you a good memory, but you should write them down for your partners.’

‘What do you mean by my partners?’ ʿAlī asked.

‘The children who will be born in your family.’ He replied.

Therefore, the Book of ʿAlī referred to by Shīʿa and Sunnī scholars is in fact a collection of the Prophet’s words dictated to ʿAlī. This book will be of use to the believers until Judgment Day. The infallible successors to the Prophet have regularly referred to this book to answer people’s questions. (Wasāʾil al-shīʿa)

This book has fortunately been spared any harm. But other Companions of the Prophet saw their writings burnt and destroyed (Khaṭīb Baghdādī, Taqyīd al-ʿIlm; Aḥmad, Musnad). The burning of the writings was never compensated and it played well into the hands of liars who falsely quoted traditions from the Prophet. However, the Book of ʿAlī remained intact.

Some quotes about the Book of ʿAlī :

Imam al-Sādiq says: ‘We possess a book dictated by the Prophet and written by ʿAlī. It contains everything about the permissible and the prohibited.’ (al-Kāfī)

Imam al-Bāqir says: ‘We possess the Book of ʿAlī, whose length is seventy cubits and which contains any knowledge mankind may need, even the compensation for a scratch!’

The Book of ʿAlī was often referred to as ‘Jami‘a’ (comprehensive). Imam al-Bāqir says: ‘We hold the Jāmiʿa. But what do people know about Jāmiʿa?’

‘What’s Jāmiʿa?’ the Imam was asked.

Imam al-Bāqir explained that Jāmiʿa is a book whose length is seventy cubits – measured by the cubit of the Messenger of God – written by Imam ʿAlī directly from the mouth of the Prophet.’ (Baṣāʾir al-darajāt)

Therefore, ʿAlī was the first person who wrote down the Prophet’s words. The writing of the book indicates that Imam ʿAlī attached importance to the preservation of traditions.

At that time, the School of Caliphs sought to undermine the views of the Prophet. ʿUmar b. Khaṭṭāb had ordered his governors to promote only the Qur’an only and prevent any traditions being narrated from the Prophet (Ṭabarī, Tārīkh). ʿUmar even punished anyone repeating the Prophet’s quotes. He regularly asked Abū Dharr and ʿAbd Allāh b. Masʿūd: ‘Why are you always spreading the words of Muḥammad?’ (Kanz al-ʿUmmāl)

At a time when narrating aḥādīth amounted to a major offense, Imam ʿAlī and his children protected this book regardless of the Caliph’s directives. Here is evidence:

  1. Abū Basīr says: ‘I was with Imam al-Bāqir. He asked for Jāmiʿa, looked at it and read us this tradition: “After a woman dies, her husband will inherit everything from here unless she has other inheritors.”’ (Baṣāʾir al-Darajāt)
  2. Abū Basīr says: ‘I asked Imam al-Sādiq a question about inheritance. He said if I was interested in the Book of ʿAlī. Then he opened the book to this page: “A man dies, leaving his maternal uncle and paternal uncle; the paternal uncle inherits two-thirds and the maternal uncle inherits one.”’ (al-Kāfī)
  3. ʿAbd al-Malik b. Aʿyan says: ‘I was with Imam al-Bāqir. He asked for the Book of ʿAlī. His son, Jaʿfar, brought it to him. It was a thick scroll as thick as a human knee. The following ḥadīth was inside: “Women have no share in their husband’s residence when he dies.” Imam al-Bāqir vowed that it was the dictation of the Messenger of God and the handwriting of ʿAlī.’ (Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa)
  4. Ṣayrafī remembers a difference of view between Imam al-Bāqir and Ḥakam b. ʿUtayba: ‘Imam al-Bāqir asked his son to bring him the Book of ʿAlī. He brought a massive book whose leaves were rolled up. He opened the book. The Imam was looking for an answer to Ḥakam b. ʿUtayba’s question. He said: ‘This is ʿAlī’s handwriting and the Messenger of God’s dictation.’ (Najāshī, Rijāl)
  5. Ibn Bakīr says: ‘Zurāra asked Imam al-Sādiq about performing prayers while dressed in the skin of animals whose meat is forbidden to eat. The Imam opened a book whose words he said were from the Messenger of God. The following ḥadīth was there: “Prayers performed on the body of animals with forbidden meat are invalid. There is no exception for the skin, fleece, urine, excrement and milk of these animals. God will not accept such prayers. The animal’s meat needs to be unforbidden.” Then he said: ‘Zurāra! This ḥadīth is from the Messenger of God.’ (Kāfī)

They were just five quotes from the Book of ʿAlī. We don’t have the book, but senior Shīʿa scholars have quoted aḥādīth from the book. The adept researcher Mirza ʿAlī Aḥmadī Miyānjī has collected them in his work, Makātib al-Rasūl.

Question: Sunnī scholars have said that Imam ʿAlī always held a book in his sword sheath. Was this the Book of ʿAlī? According to Aḥmad’s Musnad, Abū Ḥajīfa had asked ʿAlī if he had any other book than the Qur’an. In response, the Imam had said that he held only a scroll which enjoined wisdom, called for the liberation of slaves and said that believers will not be defeated by unbelievers.

Answer: This narration could not be correct because it implies that Imam ʿAlī had only learnt these three things from the Prophet. This ḥadīth does not conform with the real level of Imam ʿAlī’s knowledge. This quote of him has been mentioned differently in different books. (Aḥmad, Musnad; Muslim, Ṣaḥīḥ; al-Bidāya wa al-Nihāya)

The best proof to the falsity of such accounts is the following ḥadīth from the Prophet:

‘I am the city of knowledge and ʿAlī is the gate.’

This tradition has been narrated by more than 143 scholars and there are 70 documents for it. (See Sharīf, Ghādīr)

Is it really reasonable to suppose that Imam ʿAlī had learnt only these three things? He was the one to whom all Caliphs and Companions referred to when they were ignorant of something. He must have been a knowledgeable man. Faḍl b. Rūzbihān says Imam ʿAlī was doubtlessly a scholar whom people desperately needed. He used to carry the Prophet’s message to people. (Dalāʾil al-Ṣidq)

Therefore, nobody can question the authenticity of these two aḥādīth. Otherwise, there have been some attempts to underestimate the knowledge of Imam ʿAlī.

The Book of Fāṭima

The second question pertains to the Book of Fāṭima (Muṣḥaf Fāṭima). Some wrongly imagine that this book is the same as the Qur’an, but such a view is in stark contrast with the end of prophecy. In Arabic, ‘muṣḥaf’ means a ‘scroll’, not the Qur’an. The Qur’an says: ‘And when the scrolls (suḥuf) are unrolled.’ (Q81:10)

In some traditions, the word muṣḥaf might have be used for the Qur’an because during the time of the Prophet, the Qur’an was the only important book of the time. For example, Imam al-Sādiq says: ‘Whoever recites the Qur’an upon the page (muṣḥaf) makes use of his sight’. (al-Kāfī)

Another tradition refers to the word ‘muṣḥaf’ is as follows: ‘Reciting the Qur’an upon the page will reduce punishment for one’s parents.’ (al-Kāfī)

Given these traditions and many other quotations from scholars, muṣḥaf does not mean Qur’an: it is a bound book in which its owner recorded their knowledge. If Qur’an has been referred to as muṣḥaf later it has been due to the fact that it was no longer oral and it had become a written work.

It has been no surprise to hear that Fāṭima, the daughter of the Prophet has had a notebook to record what she learnt from her father. Fāṭima’s children have mentioned in their traditions and narrations that they took note of what they learnt from their parents.

Imam Ḥasan says: ‘We have a comprehensive book (jāmiʿa) defining everything permitted and prohibited. There is also the Book of Fāṭima – which is not the Qur’an – dictated by the Prophet and written by Imam ʿAlī. We possess all of them.’ (Baṣāʾir al-Darajāt)

The Imam has noted that the muṣḥaf is totally different from Qur’an. In another tradition, Imam al-Sādiq says: ‘I swear by God that there is not a single word from the Qur’an in this. When asked if it contained knowledge, the Imam replied: ‘Yes, but not ordinary knowledge.’ (al-Kāfī)

The Book of Fāṭima is different from the Qur’an and some individuals are spitefully or ignorantly speaking about it in a bid to accuse Shīʿa of deviation.

‘Muḥaddath’ persons in Islam

In the Islamic tradition, a muḥaddath refers to a person who, while not a prophet and not receiving in revelation, nevertheless is spoken to by angels. This is why the title is the passive participle (ism mafʿūl) of taḥdīth, i.e. ‘one spoken to.’ The Prophet is quoted, by Bukhārī, as saying: ‘Among those who lived before Israelites, there were men who had been addressed from heaven without having been prophets. In my community, ʿUmar b. Khaṭṭāb is such a person.’ (Ṣaḥīḥ Bukhārī)

There are so many narrations about muḥaddaths in the Islamic community. Commentators on Bukhārī’s Ṣaḥīḥhave provided sufficient explanation to that effect (e.g. see Irshād al-Sārī). Kulaynī has noted in his book Kāfī that a muḥaddath hears the voice of angel without seeing it. He also mentions that the Shīʿī Imams are all muḥaddaths. (al-Kāfī)

Therefore, the daughter of the Prophet is a muḥaddath due to her qualifications. She used to hear the voice of angels but she did not see them. This happened after the departure of his father when Gabriel came to her and told her about the future in a bid to console her for her loss.

Imam al-Sādiq says: ‘After God took back His Messenger, Fāṭima plunged into a deep sorrow. God sent an angel to offer condolences to her. Fāṭima told this to Imam ʿAlī. ʿAlī said: ‘Anytime you hear the voice of the angles let me know so that I will write whatever they say.’ Fāṭima told ʿAlī everything she heard from the angels and all these words were collected in a book known as the muṣḥaf. The book does not talk about permissible and prohibited – it only contains reports about the future.’ (al-Kāfī)

Twelve Imams

Adherents of Twelver Shi’ism, the largest branch of Shi’ism, are commonly referred to as Twelvers, derived from their belief in twelve divinely-ordained leaders, known as the Twelve Imams. There are traditions narrated from the Prophet about them. Some of these are as follows:

  1. Bukhārī narrates from Jābir b. Samra: ‘I heard the Prophet say that there will be twelve leaders (amīr). Then he said something I could not hear. I asked my father and he said all of them are from Quraysh.’
  2. Muslim has quoted Jābir as saying: ‘I went to see the Prophet with my father. I heard him saying that this matter will until there pass twelve caliphs amongst them. Then I could not hear some words. I asked my father and he said: they are all from Quraysh.’
  3. Muslim also quotes him saying: ‘I heard the Prophet say that the affair of the people will continue so long as twelve men will rule them. Then the Prophet said something which I could not hear. I asked my father who quoted the Prophet as saying that all are from Quraysh.’
  4. Muslim says: ‘I heard the Prophet say the affair of Islam will remain strong until twelve caliphs have ruled… I didn’t hear what he said. I asked my father and he said all will be from Quraysh.’
  5. Muslim says: ‘I went with my father to hear the Prophet speak. He said this religion will remain mighty and strong until twelve caliphs have ruled… and then he said something I could not hear above the people’s clamour. I asked my father and he said all will be from Quraysh.’
  6. Muslim says: one Friday someone was stoned to death, the Prophet said: ‘This religion will be in force until the Judgment Day. Twelve caliphs will rule and all of them will be from Quraysh.’

All these aḥādīth have won the approval of Sunnī scholars. Now we refer to traditions from other books:

  1. Abū Dāwūd narrates from Jābir b. Samra that the Prophet said: ‘I heard the Messenger of God say that this religion will be mighty as long as twelve caliphs rule. Then, people shouted God is great. Then the Prophet said something which I could not hear. I asked my father to tell me what he said. My father said all of them are from Banū Hāshim.
  2. Tirmidhī narrates from Jābir: ‘The Messenger of God said twelve leaders will come after him. Then he said something which I could not hear. I asked someone close to me and he said all of them are from Quraysh.’

Tirmidhī says this ḥadīth, quoted from Jābir, is authentic.

  1. Aḥmad records in his Musnad: ‘The tradition: “I heard the Prophet saying that twelve caliphs will rule this community.” is narrated in thirty-four different variants.’
  2. Hakīm has also recounted the tradition in his Mustadrak from ʿAwn b. Juḥayfa from his father. He says he was in the company of his uncle when they heard the Prophet say: ‘My community will remain righteous until as twelve caliphs rule.’ Then the Prophet said something He could not hear. He asked his uncle what the Prophet said and he said: ‘They are all from Quraysh.’
  3. He also narrates from Jābir b. Samra: ‘I heard the Prophet say: @My community will be victorious as long as twelve caliphs rule.” Then he said something he could not hear. I asked my father what the Prophet had said. He told me: “All of them will be from the Quraysh.”’
  4. Ibn Ḥajar narrates in Sawāʿiq from Jābir b. Samara that the Prophet said: ‘I will be succeeded by twelve leaders who will all be from Quraysh.’
  5. Aḥmad narrates from Masrūq that he was with ʿAbd Allāh b. Masʿūd, who was teaching him the Qur’an. Someone asked him: ‘Did you ask the Prophet how many caliphs will rule this community?’ ʿAbd Allāh b. Masʿūd replied: ‘Since I arrived in Iraq, nobody has asked me this question. Of course I asked him! (The prophet) said: ‘Twelve caliphs like the chieftains of Israel.’
  6. The same tradition is narrated by Khaṭīb Baghdādī in his Tarīkh al-Baghdād.
  7. Hindī, Ṭabarānī and Hakīm have quoted the same ḥadīth in Kanz al-ʿUmmāl, Muʿjam al-Kabīr and Mustadrak
  8. In Tārīkh al-Khulafāʾ, Suyūṭī quotes Ibn Masʿūd as saying that the Prophet had said that twelve successors ‘like the Chieftans of Israel’ will rule the community.

They were all examples of quotes about the rule of the Twelve Imams. Now, the point is to explore the attributes of the twelve caliphs whose rule has been promised in different aḥādīth quoting the Prophet.

Specifications of the caliphs could be summarized in the following eight points:

  1. Dignity of Islam
  2. Dignity of the religion
  3. Survival of the religion
  4. Righteousness of the community
  5. Victory of the community
  6. These honours are tied to the rule of twelve leaders from Quraysh.
  7. These signs are tied to the sovereignty of twelve caliphs from Quraysh
  8. They are the same number as the Chieftains of the Israelites.

These signs and advantages are among the miracles of the Prophet particularly when other authentic traditions are considered alongside them. For example:

  1. The tradition of Thaqalayn (A famous tradition narrated by more than 20 companions. It has been recorded in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, Mustadrak al-Ḥākim and Musnad Aḥmad).
  2. The tradition of Saqīfa (narrated in Mustadrak al-Ḥākim)
  3. A tradition which names the Prophet’s Household as the source of security and guidance. (Mustadrak al-Ḥākim)

The Twelve Imams, well-known amongst Muslims, are credited with these attributes. They are the Shīʿī Imams beginning with Imam ʿAlī and ending with the Awaited Imam Mahdī. Anyone familiar with the social and political life of these the Imams will recognise them as infallible individuals with the highest degree of piety. God has preserved His religion under the care of these Imams.

If we consider these Twelve Imams as the ones referred to by these traditions we will find no contradiction. There are no other twelve caliphs beside them who have dignified Islam who this tradition could possibly refer to.

Unacceptable interpretations

One group says the twelve caliphs are the Umayyad Caliphs beginning with Yazīd b. Muʿāwiya and ending with Marwān III. This group has omitted three Caliphs from the era – Muʿāwiya, ʿAbd Allāh b. Zubayr and Marwān b. Ḥakam – in a bid to list twelve caliphs: Yazīd b. Muʿāwiya, Muʿāwiya II, ʿAbd Allāh b. Marwān, Walīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik, Sulaymān b. ʿAbd al-Malik, ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, Yazīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik, Hishām b. ʿAbd al-Malik, Walīd b. Yazīd, Yazīd b. Walīd, Ibrāhīm b. Walīd and Marwān b. Muḥammad. (Fatḥ ul-Bārī)

The individuals whose names are mentioned here have a dark background of corruption, murder and plunder. However, some scholars have claimed that they enjoyed public support. It is surprising to see Ibn Ḥajar, this great scholar, confirm such interpretationswithout any research.

  1. How does he say that they were popular without having been pure? The tradition says all twelve caliphs must have been at the peak of piety so that Islam will be glorified in the shadow of their spiritual perfections. Therefore, the yardstick is their intellectual, scientific and religious greatness and not public support for them.
  2. If the criterion is public support how is Yazīd, who ruled only for three years, is among them? In the first year, he killed Imam Ḥusayn. In the second year of is rule, people in Mecca and Medina rose up against him. Yazīd quashed the uprising with bloodshed. In the last year in power, he bombarded the Kaʿba in a bid to defeat ʿAbd Allāh b. Zubayr.

Another group says that the twelve caliphs who are source of dignity for Islam will rule after the advent of the Mahdī. (Fatḥ al-Bārī) This interpretation is unacceptable because the Prophet has always spoken about what would happen after his own death.

Still another group says this refers to those caliphs whom the people accepted: Abū Bakr, ʿUmar, ʿUthmān, ʿAlī, Muʿāwiya, Yazīd b. Muʿāwiya, Walīd, Sulaymān, Yazīd II, Hishām and Walīd b. Yazīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik. It is not clear why ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz is not listed between Sulaymān and Yazīd.

In this interpretation, Yazīd b. Muʿāwiya is considered a source of dignity for Islam and his crimes are simply ignored. Walīd b. Yazdi was an enemy of Qur’an. The point is that the twelve caliphs who were competent to succeed the Prophet are nobody else but the Twelve Imams. Others lack the required qualifications. Muḥammad Taqī al-Hakīm has an interesting view on this issue:

  1. The number of these leaders and caliphs should not exceed twelve and they are all from Quraysh.
  2. If a parallel drawn between the twelve caliphs and the twelve Chieftains of Israel is that Moses chose his delegates himself, and so did the Prophet with regards to his successors; ‘And Allāh had already taken a covenant from the Children of Israel, and We delegated from among them twelve leaders.’ (Q5:12)
  3. These narrations openly link the survival and dignity of Islam to the twelve caliphs until Judgment Day. Succession to the Prophet will continue until only two people will be remaining on Earth.

Therefore, the signs promised for the twelve caliphs only match the Twelve Imams. Moreover, the tradition of Thaqalayn confirms this. The important point is that the Imamate and Caliphate has been granted to these twelve persons due to their qualifications; it is not political power that has been seized by force. A true caliph is a divinely-appointed leader and such only people chosen by God are worthy of such an appointment; popularity does not have any impact on their position. An infallible Imam is always to be accepted, regardless of people’s view.

Another important point is that the traditions are narrated by those who lived at a time the era of these Twelve Caliphs had not yet ended. Now, we will h1ave a brief introduction to the Shīʿa Imams:

Imam ʿAlī and his battles against three groups of opponents

ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib is the first infallible successor to the Prophet, who appointed him to lead Muslims on the Day of Ghadīr. After the Prophet passed away, Imam ʿAlī was to become the leader of Muslims.

Imam ʿAlī’s life can be divided into five periods:

  1. From birth to the beginning of the Prophet’s mission
  2. From the beginning of the Prophet’s mission to the Emigration to Medina
  3. From the Emigration to the Prophet’s passing away
  4. From the Prophet’s passing away to Imam ʿAlī‘s caliphate
  5. From Imam ʿAlī‘s caliphate to his martyrdom

Now we will briefly review the five periods.

  1. Imam ʿAlī was born in the Kaʿba, thirty years after the Year of Elephant (the failed invasion of the Mecca) and ten years before the Prophet’s mission began. ʿAlī was five when the Prophet started taking care of him (Sīra Ibn Hishām). ʿAlī spent his childhood with the Prophet and was always in his company. (Nahj al-Balāgha)
  2. ʿAlī was the first person who announced his belief in Islam (Tārīkh Ṭabarī) and wrote down the revelations of the Prophet in Mecca for thirteen years.
  3. The night the Prophet emigrated to Medina, ʿAlī slept in his bed as a decoy.
  4. During this ten-year period, he participated in all the Prophet’s battles, except for Tābūk, and played an instrumental role in the victory of the Muslims over the polytheists.
  5. The period after the Prophet but before he became Caliph lasted twenty-five years. He protested to the ruling regime as he believed that he was entitled to be the Caliph. He never shied away from protecting the teachings of Islam and looking after the needs of the Muslims.
  6. After the murder of ʿUthmān, ʿAlī was named Caliph on consensus. Initially, he refused to accept the post, but he finally agreed upon insistence from the Emigrants and the Helpers.

During his caliphate, Imam ʿAlī fought for justice and revival of the Prophet’s tradition. Opposition to Imam ʿAlī led to three uprisings against his rule, which he would refer to as the ‘Those who broke their pledges’ (nākithīn), ‘the wrongdoers’ (qāṣiṭīn) and ‘the disobedient’ (māriqīn).

‘Those who broke their pledges’

‘Those who broke their pledges’ refers to those who broke their pledge of allegiance. This battle, known as the Battle of the Camel, broke out after Ṭalḥa and Zubayr, who had pledged allegiance to Imam ʿAlī, demanded to be named governors of Basra and Kufa but Imam ʿAlī turned down their request. In response, Ṭalḥa and Zubayr left Medina secretly for Mecca, where they established an army paid for by Umayyad wealth and went on to seize Basra. ʿAlī left Medina in order to liberate the city. Near Basra, a bloody battle broke out between the two sides, with ʿAlī ultimately claiming victory.

‘The wrongdoers’

Before Imam ʿAlī was named Caliph, Muʿāwiya had made the preparations to continue his rule in Syria. When Imam ʿAlī became Caliph, he immediately dismissed Muʿāwiya. In response, the latter assembled an army to meet ʿAlī at the Battle of Ṣiffīn. Imam ʿAlī’s forces were close to victory but Muʿāwiya appealed for arbitration. Upon insistence of his followers, Imam ʿAlī agreed to take the case to arbitration between Abū Mūsā al-Ashʿarī and ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀs – representing ʿAlī and Muʿāwiya, respectively. Imam ʿAlī had no option but to agree to arbitration because otherwise the Muslims would have faced a serious crisis. On the day the arbitrators were expected to express themselves, ʿAmr tricked Abū Mūsā into nullifying ʿAlī’s claim to the caliphate, and a group of the latter’s supporters rose up against him.

‘The disobedient’

‘The disobedient’ are those who forced Imam ʿAlī to submit to arbitration. They later regretted their actions and wanted the Imam to reject its results. However, ʿAlī was not a man to break his agreement and so they rose up against him, culminating in the Battle of Nahrawān in which ʿAlī scored a decisive victory. However, some of the survivors of this battle harboured a grudge against ʿAlī and one of them by the name of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Muljam, assassinated him on a Ramaḍān night.

Imam ʿAlī enjoyed a high status throughout his life. The second Caliph, ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb, said: ‘Women no longer gave birth to a man like ʿAlī.’ Lebanese scholar Shabīl Shāmil describes Imam ʿAlī as: ‘The greatest of the great and a living copy of the Prophet. Neither East or West has ever seen someone like ʿAlī since.’ (Sawt al-Nahḍat al-Insāniyya) Lebanese writer George Jordac says: ‘What if the nature mobilized its power and forces to deliver someone as brave, strong, wise and knowledgeable as ʿAlī to human society in every period of time?’ (Ibid)

Fāṭima, daughter of the Prophet

Fāṭima may not be an Imam but she is the mother of eleven infallible Imams and, without a doubt, the Imams owe their infallible characteristics to their mother. Her distinctions are numerous, one of the most outstanding of which are her parents – the Prophet and Khadīja. Parents have a huge influence on their children; we already know who her father was, but we should acquaint ourselves with her mother too.

Khadīja was the first woman to accept Islam as her religion. Even before becoming a Muslim, she used to perform prayers led by the Prophet or ʿAlī. (Ibn Athīr)

ʿAfīf al-Kindī says: ‘I arrived in Mecca on business. I came across a man who was performing prayers at the Kaʿba. After some time, a woman joined her. Later on, an adolescent joined them. I asked ʿAbbās, the Prophet’s uncle, about these three and what they are doing. ‘He is Muḥammad, the son of my brother ʿAbd Allāh. He says he is the Messenger of God. The woman is his wife Khadīja and the young man is my nephew who has accepted Islam. I swear by God that this man has no other followers but these two.’ (Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd, Sharḥ Nahj al-Balāgha ) Now let us review some narrations about Khadīja.

Abū Hurayra says: ‘The Prophet said Gabriel came to him and announced the arrival of Khadīja carrying drinks and food: “Give her God’s regards and mine to her and promise her that God has built her a tranquil house in Heaven.”’ (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim)

ʿĀʾisha says: ‘I was not jealous of any of the Prophet’s other wives except for Khadīja. I was not [with the Prophet] during Khadīja’s lifetime but whenever he slaughtered a sheep he would send meat to Khadīja’s friends. I was infuriated with such shows of affection. The prophet always said that he loved her.’ (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim)

One day, I saw the Prophet saluting an old woman. When I asked him about her, he replied: ‘She is Wafāʾ…She used to visit us during Khadīja’s lifetime.’ (Sharḥ Nahj al-Balāgha)

Anas says: ‘Whenever a gift was brought to the Prophet, he ordered it to be taken to Khadīja. He loved Khadīja very deeply.’ (Safīnat al-Biḥār)

ʿĀʾisha says: ‘One day, the Prophet spoke about Khadīja. I felt jealous and said: ‘She was an old woman and God has given you a better one!’ The prophet became angry… and said: ‘I swear by God that’s not true. God has never given me a better one. At a time when people rejected me she announced her faith in Islam. When people used to deny me, she believed in me. When people deprived me of their wealth, she gave her wealth to me. She is the mother of my children…’’ ʿĀʾisha says she decided not to speak ill of Khadīja again after that. (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim)

Ibn ʿAbbās says: ‘The Prophet said four women are the best in Heaven: Khadīja, Fāṭima, Mary and Asiya, the wife of Pharaoh (Khiṣāl)

These aḥādīth and many others make it clear that Fāṭima’s mother was highly respected. The Prophet did not take a second wife as long as she lived. When she died, the Prophet named that year ‘Year of Sadness’ and he personally buried Khadīja. (Sīrat al-Ḥalabī)

Fāṭima’s birth

The Prophet’s daughter was born c. 605. She lived with her father for eight years in Mecca and ten years in Medina. After the demise of the Prophet, she lived only between 75 and 95 days before she too passed way. (Kashf al-Ghamma) She lost her mother when she was five years old. Her father’s main supporter, Abū Ṭālib, died a few years later. These two sad events distressed her greatly. At home, she had much work to do, but she became experienced. Fāṭima was eight when her father left Mecca for Medina. She arrived in Medina along with a group of Muslim women known as the Fawāṭim. A new chapter opened in her life.

The spread of Islam and the improvement of the Prophet’s position prompted Arab tribal chiefs to ask Fāṭima’s hand for marriage. Not a week passed without a new suitor for the Prophet’s only daughter. But Fāṭima turned all of them down because she believed that marriage is a connection of two souls. When the Prophet told her daughter of ʿAlī’s proposal, Fāṭima remained silent. This silence was an indication of an affirmative response. Assured of her daughter’s response, the Prophet cried. ‘God is great! May her father be her ransom! Her silence shows her agreement!’ the Prophet said.

When ʿAlī was told of Fāṭima’s consent, he decided to make the necessary preparations for marriage. ʿAlī owned nothing but a sword and an armour so he sold his armour and gave the money to the Prophet who, in turn, distributed it between Bilāl, Abū Bakr and ʿAmmār to purchase perfume, clothing and furnishings. Fāṭima’s dowry included the following items:

A garment bought for seven dirhams

A headscarf bought for one dirham

A long dress

A bed made from palm trees

Two mattresses made from Egyptian cotton

Four pillows made from wool and palm fibre

A curtain

A straw mat

A grinder

A water container made of animal skin

A wooden bowl for milk

A green pot

Other pots

Two silver armbands

A copper vessel

Having seen the material, the Prophet said: ‘May God bestow happiness on those whose living stuff is mostly pottery.’ (Biḥār al-Anwār)

The marriage gift for Fāṭima amounted to 500 dirhams. (Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa) This marriage set an example for others to follow, as there are always young men who avoid marriage because they think they cannot afford it and there are young women who demand too much expense. Married life should be made pleasant by kindness and faithfulness; expensive dowries and lavish gifts do not guarantee a happy life. It is unfortunate to see in the present time that the bride’s parents sometimes impose heavy demands on their future son-in-law in a bid to guarantee their daughter’s stability and keep her husband from straying. But that is no remedy; the real solution is to ensure that our youths are morally virtuous and, for this, certain cultural and social practices should be supported.

Fāṭima’s wedding ceremony

A group of guests were invited by the families of groom and bride. The guests were served lunch. After lunch, the Prophet invited her daughter to the gathering. Fāṭima was humble. As she was approaching, she was close to falling. The Prophet held her hand and said: ‘May God protect you from all deviations. Then, he unveiled Fāṭima’s face and put her hand in ʿAlī’s and told ʿAlī : ‘May God bless you with the daughter of His prophet. ʿAlī! Fāṭima is the best wife. Then he turned to Fāṭima and said: Fāṭima! ʿAlī is the best husband.’ (Biḥār al-Anwār)

On that night, the Prophet demonstrated sincerity and piety which do not still exist in our society, heaping praise on both his own daughter and his son-in-law. He also divided housework between them; tasks inside house were up ton Fāṭima while ʿAlī had to take care of tasks outside. The prophet then ordered a group of Muslim women to lead the camel carrying Fāṭima to ʿAlī’s house. In some aḥādīth, the Prophet is said to have appointed an important person such as Salmān to hold the camel’s leash out of respect for his daughter.

The most pleasant moment was the nuptial night. Both ʿAlī and Fāṭima felt shy. The prophet arrived, held a bowl of water, sprinkled her daughter and said: ‘O God! This is my daughter and the most beloved of people to me. O God! This is my brother in faith and the most beloved of people to me. O God! Strengthen their affection. (Biḥār al-Anwār)

Anas b. Malik says: ‘The prophet used to leave home at dawn for mosque. For six months, he used to stand in front of Fāṭima’s house and say: ‘My household! Always offer your prayers. God wants to keep my household from any evil.’ (Musnad Aḥmad)

Fāṭima in the Qur’an

The Qur’an’s description of people is never flawed because the book speaks for God, the creator of all mankind, and God knows human beings better than they know themselves! ‘Would He who has created not know? And He is the All-attentive, the All-aware.’ (Q67:14)

The Qur’an may not have mentioned Fāṭima by name, but it has spoken implicitly about people whose characteristics match those of Fāṭima.

The verse of purification

This famous verse was revealed about the Prophet’s household, describing them as pure and pious people; Fāṭima is a member of the Prophet’s Household, as many aḥādīth confirm (Dhakhāʾir al-ʿUqbā).

‘Indeed Allah desires to repel all impurity from you, O People of the Household, and purify you with a thorough purification.’ (Q33:33)

The prophet describes his daughter as follows:

‘God will become angry for the sake of Fāṭima’s anger and He will be pleased on account of her happiness.’ (Farāʾid al-Samṭayn)

This tradition, narrated by Muslim traditionists with minor variations, indicates that Fāṭima is infallible, or else her feelings could not have influenced God’s: ‘Say, ‘Indeed Allah does not enjoin indecencies. Do you attribute to Allah what you do not know?’’ (Q7:28)

The Verse of Mubāhila

Mubāhila literally means to curse one another, but in Islamic tradition it refers to a form of resolving religious disputes. The event of Mubāhila involved a debate between the Prophet and the Christians of Najrān, in which he summoned the members of his household. The event is recorded in several ḥadīth collections and is referred to in Sūra Āl ʿImrān:

‘Should anyone argue with you concerning him, after the knowledge that has come to you, say, ‘Come! Let us call our sons and your sons, our women and your women, our souls and your souls, then let us pray earnestly and call down Allah’s curse upon the liars.’’ (Q3:61)

Exegetes of the Qur’an say the only woman present in the Mubāhila was Fāṭima, as no other woman from the Emigrants or Helpers was qualified to be included in the above supplication by the Prophet.

The Verse of Mawadda

It is well-known that the Prophets have endured great difficulties and hardships all for the sake of God and their reward lies with him Him. However, God has obliged mankind to love the close associates of the Final Messenger: ‘Say, ‘I do not ask you any reward for it except love of [my] relatives.’’ (Q42:23) The prophet’s daughter, Fāṭima, is the closest person to him and therefore it is incumbent upon all Muslims in the world to love and respect her.

It‘am verse

ʿAlī, Fāṭima and their sons, Ḥasan and Ḥusayn, as well as their servant Fiḍḍa had decided to fast for three days as part of a vow for the health of Ḥasan and Ḥusayn. On the first night, a poor came and asked for food so they gave him their food and broke their fast with water. On the second night, an orphan came and asked and the Prophet’s household repeated their sacrifice. On the third night, the same happened for a slave. Out of respect for the sacrifices of these four people, fifteen verses were revealed to the Prophet. Two of these verses read: ‘And they give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive… (Saying), They give food, for the love of Him, to the needy, the orphan and the prisoner, [saying,] ‘We feed you only for the sake of Allah. We do not want any reward from you nor any thanks.’ (Q76:8–9)

Sūrat al-Kawthar

‘Indeed We have given you abundance. So pray to your Lord, and sacrifice. Indeed it is your enemy who is without posterity.’ (Q108:1–3)

Enemies of the Prophet such as ʿĀs b. Wāʾil taunted the Prophet for not having any male descendants but God dismissed this view and revealed these verses to tell him that he will have progeny through Fāṭima, his only surviving offspring. Fāṭima’s children were killed one after another by Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs, but today the entire world feels the presence of the progeny of the Prophet.

In his interpretation of this sūra, Fakhr al-Rāzī says God means He will protect the Prophet’s progeny for the rest of time: ‘Look how many of the Prophet’s household have been killed, but still the world is replete with them. But there is no one important from the Umayyad family. Then look at the scholars in the Prophet’s family like al-Bāqir, al-Ṣādiq, al-Kāẓim and al-Riḍā…’ (Mafātīh al-Ghayb)

Fāṭima, a paragon of virtue

Fāṭima is an example for all women to follow in their lives. The Qur’an refers to two women as examples of piety and prosperity and two others as signs of misery. The latter are wives of the Prophets Noah and Lot. These two women betrayed their husbands who were messengers of God. To that effect, the Qur’an says: ‘Allah draws an example for the faithless: the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot. They were under two of our righteous servants, yet they betrayed them. So they did not avail them in any way against Allah, and it was said [to them], ‘Enter the Fire, along with those who enter [it].’’ (Q66:10)

The two examples of prosperity are Asia, the wife of Pharaoh, and Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. Asia was the Queen of Egypt. She was unique, but she accepted the invitation of Moses, regardless of all risks. Pharaoh was infuriated when he discovered his wife’s inclination towards his enemy. Despite his love for her, he crucified her, little knowing that he only served her realize her dream. The Qur’an says: ‘Allah draws an[other] example for those who have faith: the wife of Pharaoh, when she said, ‘My Lord! Build me a home near You in paradise, and deliver me from Pharaoh and his conduct, and deliver me from the wrongdoing lot.’’ (Q66:11)

The second woman was Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Qur’an describes how she reacted to Gabriel: ‘Thus did she seclude herself from them, whereupon We sent to her Our Spirit and he became incarnate for her as a well-proportioned human. She said, ‘I seek the protection of the All-beneficent from you, should you be Godwary!’ He said, ‘I am only a messenger of your Lord that I may give you a pure son.’’ (Q19:17–19) The Qur’an describes Mary as follows: ‘And Mary, daughter of Imran, who guarded the chastity of her womb, so We breathed into it of Our spirit. She confirmed the words of her Lord and His Books, and she was one of the obedient.’ (Q66:12)

Fāṭima as the best woman of the world

The third example for women to follow is Fāṭima. The prophet has said that four women, including his daughter, will be the best women in Heaven. ʿĀʾisha says: ‘I found nobody much virtuous than Fāṭima except her father…’ (Sīrat al-Ḥalabī)

Ḥusayn b. Ziyād ʿAttār says: ‘I asked Imam al-Sādiq if the Prophet meant that Fāṭima, who will be the best of women in Heaven, is the best of her own time too. The Imam said: ‘Maryam was so, but Fāṭima will be the best in Heaven.’

Fāṭima’s martyrdom

Fāṭima, the daughter of the Prophet, passed away at the age of 18. It happened three months after her father’s death. Fāṭima was killed as a mob invaded her home. Imam al-Sādiq says she drank the chalice of martyrdom. Nobody is able to cover up the injustice perpetrated against the daughter of the Prophet. The Eighth Imam says she was buried in her own home. (al-Kāfī)

Imam Ḥasan

Ḥasan, the first child of ʿAlī and Fāṭima, was born on March 4, 625 AD in Medina. His birth happened in the fasting month of Ramadan. The name Ḥasan was chosen by the Prophet. This name was not famous among Arabs of that time. (Mufīd, Irshād) Imam Ḥasan was seven when his grandfather passed away. Shortly after, he lost his mother. Ḥasan and his younger brother Ḥusayn consoled themselves in the arms of their father, ʿAlī. From his youth, Imam Ḥasan was full of knowledge and he used to answer people’s questions. (al-Kāfī) ‘Ḥasan b. ʿAlī had unique virtues and moral qualities. He was patient, great, humble and kind,’ writes Suyūṭī. (Tārīkh al-Kulafāʾ)

During his life time, Imam Ḥasan donated all his properties for the sake of God twice. Moreover, he divided his properties three times into two parts, keeping one for himself and donating the rest for the sake of God. (Tārīkh Yaʿqūbī)

Imam Ḥasan and battles

Imam Ḥasan was brave and valiant. He did not know fear. At the Battle of the Camel, his father gave him the mission to go to Kufa and call people to take up arms. The governor of Kufa refused Imam Ḥasan’s invitation. In spite of this, Imam Ḥasan managed to mobilize 9,000 people from Kufa to participate in the war. (Akhbār Ṭiwal) Imam Ḥasan fought alongside his father in the war and dealt devastating blows to the enemy.

He was on the frontline not only in the Battle of the Camel, but also in the Battle of Ṣiffīn for which he called on people of Iraq to combat the Syrian forces. Ḥasan and Ḥusayn were in the midst of the battle, but their father asked other soldiers to prevent them from launching further forays in order to protect the bloodline of the Prophet. (Nahj al-Balāgha)

After the martyrdom of Imam ʿAlī in 661 AD, Imam Ḥasan took the podium and delivered a sermon about his father’s virtues. People of Kufa pledged allegiance to Ḥasan as the successor to his father. This was how Imam Ḥasan took the reigns of power. He administered their affairs for six months and issued directives to governors. With the announcement of the martyrdom of ʿAlī in Syria, Muʿāwiya led an army against Kufa to try and overthrow Ḥasan.

The question here is to know why Imam Ḥasan opted for a negotiated settlement with the enemy while his brother, Ḥusayn, chose to fight. Numerous books have been written on this subject. It is important to know that Imam Ḥasan never accepted peace. In fact, peace was imposed on him. The circumstances of that time obliged the Imam to accept peace. Anyone in his place would have agreed to peace too. Had the Imam chose to fight, Islam and Shi’ism would have been harmed.

The Roman Empire, which had suffered crushing blows from Muslims, was seeking an opportunity to invade the Islamic territory. As soon as Rome learnt about military deployments by Imam Ḥasan and Muʿāwiya, it decided to lead a strong army into the Islamic country. In the face of such sensitive conditions, Imam Ḥasan – whose duty was to safeguard Islam – had no option but to agree to peace in a bid to protect Islam from this threat.

Yaʿqūbī writes: ‘Muʿāwiya returned to Syria after signing a treaty with Imam Ḥasan. He received a report about the Roman Empire’s intention to invade the Islamic country. At that time, the Islamic government was not able to counter the Roman Army. Muʿāwiya had to pay 100,000 dinars a year to the Romans.’ (Tārīkh Yaʿqūbī) This historical document shows that in case of any confrontation between Imam Ḥusayn and Muʿāwiya, the Roman Empire would have emerged winner. This threat was dispelled thanks to Imam Ḥasan’s foresight. To that effect, Imam al-Bāqir says: ‘Had the Imam Ḥasan not accepted peace, Islam would have faced a tremendous danger.’ (Biḥār al-Anwār)

Imam Ḥasan had other reasons for accepting peace with Muʿāwiya. Firstly, the followers of Imam Ḥasan – who had been his father’s followers – had had no respite from fighting. They were always on a war footing. Therefore, the Imam’s troops was exhausted. Upon hearing news of Muʿāwiya Army’s move towards Kufa, Imam Ḥasan called on his followers to be steadfast and prepared to sacrifice in the face of the enemy. But after the Imam concluded his sermon, everyone was silent and nobody agreed. Some followers of the Imam described people of Iraq as fearful and fake heroes. (Maqātil al-Ṭālibiyyīn)

The allies of Imam Ḥasan finally managed to bring together several thousand people in Nukhayla. The Imam had to deliver a new speech to encourage some others to join him. One can easily see that fatigue and low morale dominated his soldiers and such an army could never win a war. The second point is that Imam Ḥasan’s men were poorly mobilized and organized and there were divisions among them. The main elements of the Imam’s forces were as follows:

The faithful followers of Imam ʿAlī and Imam Ḥasan ; They were ready to give their lives in the battle.

Khawārij; They had joined Imam Ḥasan not for his own sake, but due to their enmity with Muʿāwiya. They were really hostile to both sides.

Opportunists; They were seeking their material benefits and they were ready to defect and rise up against Imam Ḥasan if it served their personal interests.

Capricious individuals who were still undecided about their cooperation with Imam Ḥasan.

Tribal elements who had to joined Imam Ḥasan’s side because their tribal chiefs had done so. They were in fact following their tribal chiefs.

The important question here is if such a divided army could fight in the battle. Certainly not! Such a war would have no other result but defeat and death for the faithful followers of Imam Ḥasan. The Imam preferred battle with Muʿāwiya but he had to accept peace. In his last speech, Imam Ḥasan told people that Muʿāwiya had offered an unfair proposal to him. ‘If you are ready to die for God we have to battle him with our swords but if you want a life of ease then we have to accept his proposal,’ the Imam said. The troops shouted. ‘Life! Life!’ In this way, they revealed their true intentions. Suppose that Imam Ḥasan was commander of Syrian army and Muʿāwiya was Iraq’s. Could Muʿāwiya do anything other than what Imam Ḥasan did? Had Muʿāwiya killed Imam Ḥasan, a wave of fury would have grown against the Umayyad rule. Imam Ḥasan’s agreement to peace let people know rebels as they were. It was known to people during the reign of Muʿāwiya that the Umayyad rulers wanted the government for their own interests and not for promoting Islam.

After the Umayyad’s intentions were revealed for all to see, Imam Ḥasan’s brother – Ḥusayn – managed to lead a revolution. Ḥusayn lost his life in the battle to show people the true character of their Umayyad rulers.

The text of Imam Ḥasan’s peace agreement with Muʿāwiya

The peace agreement signed between Imam Ḥasan and Muʿāwiya is an example of the Imam’s endeavours for realizing the sacred ideals of Islam. The articles contained within the treaty show that the Imam sincerely wanted to safeguard the ideals of Islam. The peace treaty is as follows:

‘Authority shall be handed over to Muʿāwiya provided that he acts according to the Book of God, the Prophet’s tradition and the tradition of the righteous Caliphs.

Authority shall be for Imam Ḥasan after Muʿāwiya. If something were to befall him, authority should be for his brother Ḥusayn. Muʿāwiya has no right to entrust it to anybody else.

Muʿāwiya shall abandon cursing Imam ʿAlī, both in prayers and in other settings, and shall not mention ʿAlī except in a good manner.

Muʿāwiya shall see to it that the five million dirhams of the treasury of Kufa is spent in the way Imam Ḥasan deems right. Muʿāwiya shall distribute one million dirhams among the sons of those who were killed while fighting for ʿAlī in the Battle of Camel and the Battle of Ṣiffīn, and should spend that money from the taxes of Darabgard.

People shall be safe wherever they are: in Syria, Iraq, Hijaz, Yemen, etc. Muʿāwiya shall give security to the people of all races. He must bear their slips, should not seek revenge for past deeds, nor should he punish the Iraqis for their past hostility. The Companions of ʿAlī shall be given security wherever they are, Muʿāwiya shall not expose the Shīʿa of ʿAlī to any harm. The Companions and the Shīʿa of ʿAlī shall be given security over their lives, their properties, their women, and their children. Nor shall Muʿāwiya pursue them for a certain thing, nor should he expose them to any evil.

And then, at the end of the agreement, Muʿāwiya solemnly pledges that he will accomplish all the contents of the agreement and takes God as witness to the treaty, which was also confirmed by the dignitaries of Syria.’ (Ṣulḥ al-Ḥasan, Shaykh Rāḍī Āl-Yāsīn)

A trick used by both the Umayyads and the Abbasids who succeed them was to spread false news in a bid to change public mood vis-à-vis the family of Imam ʿAlī. That is why rumours are heard against Imam Ḥasan who had been to Ḥajj pilgrimage on foot for 25 times. The Imam was rumoured to have married and divorced a large number of women; these rumours were mainly spread by courtiers in the Umayyad dynasty.

Muʿāwiya tricked Imam Ḥasan’s wife Judaʿ into poisoning to death her husband in exchange for marrying her to his son Yazīd. The wife was easily tricked by Muʿāwiya and poisoned the Imam. Muʿāwiya was happy with the martyrdom of Imam Ḥasan who was the biggest obstacle to his plans. (ʿAqd al-Farīd)

Imam Ḥusayn

The third Shīʿa Imam, Ḥusayn, was the second son of ʿAlī and Fāṭima. He was born in 626 AD. He was named in a ceremony similar to the one held for his elder brother Ḥasan in the presence of the Prophet.

‘My two children – Ḥasan and Ḥusayn – are leaders of Umma (the Muslim comunity) whether they rise or they sit,’ the Prophet had said. The most important event pertaining to Imam Ḥusayn’s life was his sacrifice and martyrdom in Karbala. The Ashura uprising remains engraved on people’s memories.

Even significant events in the world are sometimes forgotten and may be marked only in history books. However, there are exceptional events that are not forgotten easily. Examples of such events are the sacrifice of God’s messengers and revolutions led by divine leaders. Because these events touch something deep in the human psyche.

Imam Ḥusayn’s movement and the tragedy of Ashura are lasting events and they have not been overshadowed by the passage of time. The Ashura uprising has three outstanding features that must be discussed: 1) the reason for Imam Ḥusayn’s uprising; 2) the features of Imam Ḥusayn’s movement and 3) the ramifications of the movement.

Why did Imam Ḥusayn rise up up against Yazīd?

The central reason for Imam Ḥusayn’s uprising was the deviation of the government from Islamic rule. These deviations were visible in the way the Umayyad men were ruling; the Umayyad party – led by Abū Sufyān – had pretended to accept Islam as their religion when Mecca was conquered, while nurturing disbelief and hypocrisy in his heart. When ʿUthmān was in power, Muʿāwiya told a private meeting of Umayyad seniors: ‘Now that we are in power, we must seize the caliphate and pass it to one another, and try to avoid any extinction of the Umayyad dynasty…I swear that there is no Heaven or Hell.’ (Istīʿāb)

The Umayyad party openly campaigned against Islam. After the capture of Mecca, this party continued its activities clandestinely. Under cover of Islam, it was trying to eradicate the religion itself. Imam ʿAlī’s five-year rule undermined Umayyad power but failed to fully root it out and, after Imam ʿAlī’s martyrdom, Abū Sufyān’s son Muʿāwiya took power in the Muslim world and appointed his cruel agents like Ziyād, Amru As and Marwān to handle Muslims’ affairs. A large number of resisters like Hujr b. ʿAdī, Rushayd al-Hajrarī and Maytham al-Tammār were brutally killed for their protest against this tyranny.

During his 20-year rule, Muʿāwiya strengthened the basis of his son Yazīd’s rule. Yazīd, a symbol of corruption, came to power after his father’s death. He was fiercely opposed to Islam.

A government which was supposed to represent Muslims was taken over by a corrupt man who openly denied the prophecy of Muḥammad and shared his grandfather Abū Sufyān’s view that Islam was just an illusion. (al-Bidāya wa al-Nihāya) In fact, Yazīd was inclined to Christianity. He was also a decadent hedonist who lacked foresight. (Murūj al-Dhahab)

The difference between Yazīd and Muʿāwiya was that the father paid lip-service to Islam, but the son did not even feign piety. He openly ignored Islamic teachings and did not steer clear of any revelry. He used to organize parties and get drunk. The self-declared poet recited the following sentences: ‘My friends in drinking! Stand up! Listen to singers and get drunk. These beautiful songs make me forget the call for prayers. I am ready to exchange heavenly angels with my drink.’ (Ibn Jawzī, Tadhkirat al-Khawāṣṣ) He openly insulted Islamic sanctities and never covered his inclination for Christianity; ‘Drinking may be forbidden in the religion of Aḥmad, but you can drink under the religion of Jesus.’ (Tatimmat al-Muntahā) Yazīd’s court was the centre of corruption and sin. He did not even keep Mecca and Medina safe from his mischievous acts. (Murūj al-Dhahab)

At that time, Ḥusayn saw the conditions conducive to a revolution because the Umayyad rulers could no longer paint a misleading image of Ḥusayn’s objectives in the public sphere and describe it as a struggle for power. Ordinary people could see clearly that the ruling government was flouting Islamic teachings. That prompted Ḥusayn to call on his follower across the world to rise up. This uprising was designed to revive Islam and Islamic traditions and not seizing power and caliphate.

After the martyrdom of Imam Ḥasan in 670 AD, the Iraqi Shīʿa started writing letters to Ḥusayn asking him to unseat Muʿāwiya. Imam Ḥusayn noted in response that he could not renege on the treaty with Muʿāwiya. However, after the death of Muʿāwiya in 680 AD, Imam Ḥusayn found the conditions ripe for an uprising. He described the attributes the governor of Muslims is required to have: ‘the Imam and ruler of people is he who makes judgments based on Qur’an, who promotes justice, follows divine religion and exercises patients on the divine path.’ (Mufīd, Irshād) In one of his speeches near Karbala, the Imam explained his revolutionary motives as follows:

O people! The prophet of God said: ‘Anyone who sees a tyrannical governor who breaks his pledges to God, opposes the traditions of His messenger, and rules with force on people, is obliged to oppose him with words and deeds. If not, God will send him along with the governor to Hell.’ O people! Yazīd and his followers have chosen to obey to Satan. They do no longer obey God and they promote corruption and flout Islamic rules. They have seized public wealth…I am the most qualified to oppose this government. (Tārīkh Ṭabarī)

Imam Ḥusayn’s conscious uprising

The important issue in the Ḥusayn revolution is to know if it was an uprising or an explosion. Those who always want to underestimate all sacred events describe the Ḥusayn uprising as an explosion. They apply the law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa. Probably the most commonly cited example of this is the change of water from a liquid to a gas, by increasing its temperature. There has also been an effort to apply this mechanism to social phenomena, whereby population increases result in changes in social structure. The society can tolerate oppression up to a certain extent. After the martyrdom of Imam ʿAlī, the Umayyad rulers stepped up their tyranny against Muslims until the society reach the point of explosion. This group of exegetes says Ḥusayn’s uprising was the symbol of this forceful explosion.

Such a judgment about the movement of Ḥusayn is inaccurate and originates from the views of materialists. Had these exegetes studied the history of Imam Ḥusayn’s uprising and had they been a bit more realistic, they could not have make such baseless judgment about the movement of Imam Ḥusayn. These exegetes have accepted the principle of ‘transition from quantity to quality’ for all natural phenomena and they have had to explain the uprising of Ḥusayn within this worldview. Had they not applied this principle to all world phenomena they would not have named Ḥusayn-led revolution an involuntary explosion in order to disparage the event. The problem with this group is that they interpret every movement on the basis of materialist concerns. Every time they see an uprising that does not meet their standards they prefer their own thesis.

In materialist logic, the explosion of a society is like the explosion of a boiler whose safety valves are fully blocked. In that case the explosion will definitely happen. An example of explosive uprising is a man filled with inferiority complexes. He will vent his frustration involuntarily and he will regret it later. In that event, an uprising lacks any moral value and the hero of such a revolution does not merit any praise because all participants in the uprising are really at the mercy of blind material forces and not active participants in their own right.

Materialist exegetes believe that conflicts in the society need to be increased so that the boiler of the society will explode much sooner and overthrow the government in power.

But there are two questions to be raised here:

  1. Are explosive battles of any moral value?
  2. Was Imam Ḥusayn’s uprising a conscious one or an explosive one?

In response to the first question, it would be enough to know that anything outside our control as human beings will lack any moral value, no matter how useful it may be. Consider a wild animal preparing to attack a man to maul him. At the same time, someone else who is not aware of the presence of that man kills the animal. The shooter could not be praised in this context because he was not aware of the result of his act. As far as social unrest is concerned, revolutionaries who lack any control or freedom are driven to rise up against the ruling government by blind material forces. Such a revolution lacks any moral value.

When the Muslims conquered Spain, the commander-in-chief of the corps ordered all ships to be burnt and their foodstuff to be thrown away. Then the commander told the troops that they had no option but to fight because they were surrounded by sea and enemy forces. Staying in that point had no result but death. Everyone decided to combat and they triumphed over enemy. This action of the commander drew praise worldwide as he went to the heart of the enemy, but it lacks moral value because mankind should always have two options – good and bad – and choose the virtuous one freely.

Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī and his conscious uprising

After the departure of Imam Ḥasan, the grounds were gradually prepared for his brother Ḥusayn and his followers to rise up. Imam Ḥasan used to object to Muʿāwiya for his crimes against the Muslim nation. From time to time, Muʿāwiya wrote letters to the Imam, trying to dissuade him from rising up or making any move against him with threats. When Muʿāwiya died and his corrupt son succeeded him, the core of Ḥusayn’s movement began to take shape. The Imam invited Muslims to revolution in different ways.

Imam Ḥusayn had worked out all necessary mechanisms before inviting his followers to rise up. How can one describe this uprising as an involuntary explosion and compare it with valueless revolutions? There is also historical evidence that Imam Ḥusayn’s uprising was voluntary.

  1. Imam Ḥusayn’s speech delivered when Muʿāwiya was trying to seek people’s allegiance for Yazīd

After having killed Imam Ḥasan, Muʿāwiya convinced a group of influential people to endorse his son Yazīd as his successor. But Imam Ḥusayn told him: ‘I’ve heard a description of perfection and skillfulness of your son Yazīd. Are you going to mislead people? Apparently you do not know your son. Or maybe you have information which we don’t about him. Yazīd has already proven his incompetence for this post. He plays with dogs and pigeons. He is passing his time with women and playing music. You had better reconsider your decision so that your sins will not become heavier…’ (al-Imāma wa al-Siyāsa)

  1. Imam Ḥusayn’s letter to Muʿāwiya

Imam Ḥusayn wrote a letter to Muʿāwiya detailing his crimes, above all the murder of senior Companions and pious people. ‘I regret I have not risen up against you due to some shortcomings. It is possible that my excuses would not be acceptable to God,’ he wrote. The Imam noted in his letter that Muʿāwiya’s biggest mistake was that he won endorsement for his son who gets drunk and plays with dogs. (Al-Imāma wa al-Siyāsa)

  1. Imam Ḥusayn’s address in Mena

In the last days of Muʿāwiya’s reign, Imam Ḥusayn gathered nearly a thousand people, including senior Hashemite figures, in Mina and delivered a speech about the formation of an Islamic government. He highlighted the crimes committed by Muʿāwiya against the Islamic community, particularly the Shīʿa.

In his speech, Imam Ḥusayn recited Qur’anic verses about the Prophet’s household and asked the influential figures in Mecca, Medina and other cities to endorse him. (Kitāb Sulaym b. Qays) The Imam preformed his Ḥajj pilgrimage individually and left for Iraq. ‘My death approaches and I look forward to meeting my ancestors… From here, I can see the place in which I will be martyred and where the wolves will maul my body,’ he said. ‘Those who are ready to give their blood in this way and join their Creator can accompany me. I am leaving early in the morning.’ (Luḥūf) Is it still correct to interpret Imam Ḥusayn’s movement as an involuntary explosion while he let his followers decide to come with him or stay behind?

The Ramifications of Imam Ḥusayn’s uprising

The effects of Imam Ḥusayn’s uprising and its consequences are innumerable. Here, we will briefly mention the most significant of them.

  1. Exposing the corruption of the Umayyad regime

We mentioned earlier that Imam Ḥusayn decided to rise up against the ruling government because he openly flouted Islamic teachings, got drunk in public and played with animals. Religion had become a plaything in the hands of Yazīd and his followers. The martyrdom of Imam Ḥusayn at that time gave an important lesson to people that Islam is preferred to life and family. Muslims are obliged to sacrifice everything in the face of corrupt governments. Ḥusayn sacrificed his life for Islam and Qur’an. Moreover, the martyrdom of Imam Ḥusayn shed light on the corrupt nature of the Umayyad dynasty. The famous Indian poet, Muʿīn al-Dīn Kashmīrī has described Ḥusayn as the second promoter of monotheism after the Prophet.

  1. Revolutions and Riots

After the martyrdom of Imam Ḥusayn, the spirit of revolution was revived in the Islamic community and revolutions happened in rapid succession. It was indicative of a deep hatred of Umayyad rule.

The first uprising following the martyrdom of Ḥusayn was launched by the Tawwābūn (‘Penitents’) led by Sulaymān b. Ṣurad, a Companion of the Prophet. A group of senior Shīʿa figures participated in this uprising under the slogan of ‘Revenge for Ḥusayn!’ They first went to the tomb of Imam Ḥusayn and stayed there one full day, lamenting that they had not assisted Ḥusayn and repenting to God.

The uprising of Mukhtar came later. More uprisings and revolutions happened until the Umayyad dynasty was fully unseated.

  1. The School of Martyrdom

The school of martyrdom was founded by the teachings of the Qur’an and the Prophet. But after his death and the ensuing development of Islamic countries, some incompetent governments took power. Even ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUmar justified his cooperation with Ḥajjāj on the grounds that opposition to the ruling government will cause division and trigger sedition and bloodletting. Such an attitude will push the society to be obedient to any tyrannical regime.

With his martyrdom, Imam Ḥusayn changed the rules of this game and revived the school of martyrdom in the Islamic community; he taught Muslims the lesson of resistance, courage and uprising. To that effect, Musʿab b. Zubayr told his wife Sakīna, who was the daughter of Ḥusayn: ‘Your father stripped all free people of any pretext and taught the Muslim world that a violent death is much better than a shameful life.’

Imam Sajjād

The fourth Shīʿa Imam is Sajjād, the son of Imam Ḥusayn. He was born in 657 AD and passed away in 713 AD. Imam Sajjād was born at a time when his grandfather Imam ʿAlī was still Caliph and grew up when Muʿāwiya was in power.

After the martyrdom of Imam Ḥusayn in the Ashura uprising in 680 AD, God assigned Sajjād the mission to lead Muslims. He had to endure the reigns of Yazīd b. Muʿāwiya, ʿAbd Allāh b. Zubayr, Muʿāwiya b. Yazīd, Marwān b. Ḥakam, ʿAbd al-Malik b. Marwān b. Ḥakam and Walīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik.

Upon the ascension of Yazīd, ʿAbd Allāh b. Zubayr refused to swear allegiance to the new Caliph and fled to Mecca. After Imam Ḥusayn was martyred in Karbala, ʿAbd Allāh collected the people of Mecca and made a speech to them. After his speech, the people of Mecca declared that no one deserved the caliphate more than him and pledged allegiance to him. When he heard about this, Yazīd had a silver chain made and sent to Mecca with the intention of having Walīd b.ʿUtbah arrest ʿAbd Allāh b. Zubayr. But it was only many years of bloody warfare that his uprising was ended.

Imam Sajjād miraculously survived the events of Karbala. He was among the other prisoners of war taken to Kufa and then Syria. On the way to Sham, Sajjād delivered speeches in support of the Ashura uprising. Following a debate, ʿUbayd b. ʿAbd Allāh b. Ziyād got angry and threatened to kill the Imam. In response, Imam Sajjād said: ‘Are you threatening to kill me? Do you not know that death is something we are acquainted with and martyrdom is a dignity and virtue for us?’ (Maqtal Khwarazmī) The Imam was also threatened to death by Yazīd following a debate; the Imam said in response: ‘Never could freed-slaves like the Umayyads order the murder of the Prophets and their successors unless they abandoned Islam first. But if you are firm on your decision, bring me someone reliable so that I could delegate him the administration of affairs.’ (Dharīʿat al-Najāt) Imam Sajjād never asked for mercy from Yazīd and he only asked him to appoint someone reliable to lead the prisoners to Medina.

His speech in the Mosque of Damascus

It was not the only case the Imam heaped scorn on Yazīd. In a general assembly, he exposed the corrupt nature of the Umayyads for all to see. He delivered a fiery sermon in the Mosque of Damascus and called on the people of Syria to overthrow Yazīd. The sermon by Imam Sajjād followed a Friday Prayers sermon of praise for Yazīd and his followers. Imam Sajjād said: ‘You mercenary! You sold out people’s happiness and you won God’s fury. Your place is in the Fire!’

The Imam asked Yazīd to take the podium and speak in a way that would please God. Yazīd refused to do so. And when the Syrians asked Imam Sajjād to speak out, Yazīd said: ‘They have sucked knowledge with milk since childhood. If they sit on the pulpit they will stay there until they humiliate me and Abū Sufyān’s family.’ The Imam finally agreed to deliver a speech. He began his speech by praising God and invoking blessings upon the Prophet. Then he started talking about himself and his family in a way he neutralized twenty-five years Umayyad propaganda: ‘I am the son of he who submerged in his own blood and was killed with thirsty lips,’ the Imam said. Having heard this sentence, all listeners cried loudly. Yazīd was scared and ordered a call for prayers in order to cut the Imam’s words. The Imam interrupted his speech in respect for the call for prayers. When the muezzin was saying ‘I testify that Muḥammad is the messenger of God’, the Imam struck a coup de grace to the Umayyad. He turned to the muezzin and said: ‘Please wait a little in respect for Muḥammad.’ Then he turned to Yazīd and asked: ‘Yazīd! Is the Prophet your grandfather or mine? If you say he’s yours you would be lying and if he’s mine why did you kill his children and take his daughters prisoners? Why? Why?’ Frustrated with the Imam’s words, Yazīd left the mosque. (Bahāʾi, Kāmil)

After his return from Medina, the Imam was facing tough restrictions imposed by the regime. He only contacted his close associates but still managed to train one hundred and seventy Companions. (Ṭūsī, Rijāl) The most prominent of these companions were Saʿīd b. Mūsāyyib, Saʿīd b. Jubayr, Muḥammad b. Jubayr, Yaḥyā b. Umm Ṭawīl, Abū Khālid Kābūli and Abū Ḥamza Thumālī.

Through training such companions, the Imam became popular in the Islamic community and in the eyes of Umayyad rulers. During a Ḥajj pilgrimage, the Imam refused to salute ʿAbd al-Malik b. Marwān and even frowned at him. Infuriated with this gesture, Adul-Malik held the Imam’s hand and said: ‘Look at me! I’m ʿAbd al-Malik and not the murderer of your father.’ The Imam replied: ‘The murderer of my father destroyed his afterlife. Do you want to follow in the footsteps of the murderer of my father? That’s ok!’ ‘I would never want to do such a thing! But I expect you to be in touch with us and to benefit from generosity,’ said ʿAbd al-Malik. The Imam said: ‘I don’t need your world or your properties.’ (Biḥār al-Anwār)

The Umayyad party’s heinous treatment of the Household of the Prophet furthered added to the latter’s dignity and elevated their status. During one Ḥajj pilgrimage, Hishām b. ʿAbd al-Malik wanted to touch the Kaʿba’s Black Stone but the throng of the pilgrims meant he could not reach it. So he sat down in a corner and watched. In the meantime, a handsome and slender man was stepping slowly towards the stone and everyone was stepping aside to let him advance. The people of Syria, who were around Hishām, asked him who the man was. Hishām knew Sajjād well, but he claimed: ‘I don’t know him!’

At this point, the famous Arab poet Farazdaq, who was present with the entourage, extemporised the following words in praise of Imam Sajjād:

‘This man is he whose footsteps the desert soil knows. Kaʿba and its surroundings are familiar with him. He is pious, clean and famous. The Black Stone would have fallen on earth to kiss his feet would it know who was going to touch it. Hishām! It is not significant at all when you claim you don’t know him. Arab and non-Arabs know him well.’ (Kitāb al-Aghānī)

Farazdaq’s poem was so powerful that Hishām became angry and ordered his arrest. The Imam then sent a message of sympathy to the poet.

Although he detested the Umayyad rulers, Imam Sajjād never missed an opportunity to guide them. During the reign of ʿAbd al-Malik, the Christian Trinity was visible everywhere; the Trinity was pressed even on fabrics woven in Egypt, a Muslim territory. The Muslims objected to this practice and asked ʿAbd al-Malik to replace the Trinity with symbols of monotheism. The Roman Empire heard about the request and demanded that ʿAbd al-Malik not allow any change in the Egypt-woven fabric. The empire threatened to mint coins emblazoned with insults to the Prophet if they did so. At that time, Roman-minted coins were used throughout the Islamic world. ʿAbd al-Malik sought assistance from Imam al-Sajjād and the Imam suggested that they mint their own coins bearing the Islamic slogans; ‘I testify that there is no god but God’ and ‘Muḥammad is the messenger of God’ engraved on each side. Islamic coins were minted and the economic clout of the Roman Empire was diminished. (Aʿyān al-Shīʿa)

The Imam’s prayers and supplications

Ṣaḥīfa Sajjādiyya contains fifty-four prayers – all narrated from the Fourth Imam. This book also contains a comprehensive set of beliefs as, due to restricted freedom of expression, Imam Sajjād had to express his views about socio-political lifestyle in the form of prayers. Renowned Egyptian exegete Tantāwī says: ‘Ṣaḥīfa Sajjādiyyais the book with unique tips and teachings which are not found in other books. The Egyptians did not understand the value of this priceless manual…’

‘O God, bless Muḥammad and his Household, appoint for me a hand against him who wrongs me, a tongue against him who disputes with me, and a victory over him who stubbornly resists me!’ (Ṣaḥīfa Sajjadiyah, 20)

The ṣaḥīfa also contains some scientific findings which the world was unaware of: ‘Lord! You know the weight of darkness and light. You are aware of the weight of shadow and air.’ (Ṣaḥīfa Sajjadiyah, 51)

In the twenty-seventh prayer, the Imam curses the enemies of God:

‘O God! Mix their waters with pestilence and their foods with maladies, hurl down their cities, harass them with pelting, hinder them through drought, place their supplies in the most ill-omened part of Thy earth and the farthest from them, bar them from its fortresses, and strike them with constant hunger and painful illness!’

Imam al-Bāqir

Imam al-Bāqir, the son of Imam al-Sajjād, was born in Medina 676 AD and died in 743 in the same city. He was 36 when his father passed away. His mother was the daughter of Imam Ḥasan. He was the first of the Imams to have parents who were both descendants of Imam ʿAlī and Fāṭima.

His virtuous mother breast-fed him, a mother whom Imam al-Sādiq heaps praise on for her virtues. (Kāfī) From the time of his adolescence, Imam al-Bāqir was famous for being knowledgeable, pious and virtuous. He regularly found solutions to the intellectual problems of Muslims. During his eighteen years of Imamate, the following Umayyad rulers were in power: Walīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik, Sulaymān b. ʿAbd al-Malik, ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, Yazīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik and Hishām b. ʿAbd al-Malik.

Aside from ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, all were dreaded dictators and always caused problems for Imam al-Bāqir.

Walīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik took power in 86 AH and died ten years later. He expanded his territories, but he owed these conquests to the concept of jihād which the Prophet had introduced to the Muslim community. Walīd had named corrupt figures as governors to rule over the Muslims and these governors had tightened the noose around people’s necks. One of these governors was Ḥajjāj b. Yūsuf al-Thaqafī, a butcher and a tyrant. He was appointed governor of Iraq where he massacred innocent people and tortured many others harshly.

Sulaymān b. ʿAbd al-Malik took over from his brother. He died in 99 AH. During his reign, Muslims conquered some other territories. In the beginning of his rule, he showed some flexibility and released some innocent prisoners. But he was not unfamiliar with oppression and he purged some of his governors. (Tārīkh Siyāsī-i Islām) He was also a self-indulgent hedonist who promoted decadence; he used to pass most of his time with his harem of wives. This attitude spread to his governors and the state gradually slid into decadence. (Ibid)

ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz succeeded Sulaymān. He managed to fight the corruption and discrimination of his predecessors to some extent. He banned the shameful custom of cursing the Shīʿī Imams from the pulpit. This practice dated back to the time of Muʿāwiya. He died in 101 AH. After his death, Yazīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik came to power. This man openly flouted religious and moral principles, and had no other goal but personal enjoyment. The reign of Yazīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik marks one of the darkest periods of Umayyad rule in history; his predecessors used to recount ancient stories of Arabs to pass their leisure time, but Yazīd institutionalized singing and dancing. He invited singers and entertainers from remote regions to Damascus. He also promoted gambling and games of chance in the Arab society. (Ibid)

Stories of Yazīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik and his two favourite wives, Sallāma and Habbāba, are famous (Ibid). He finally died in 105 AH. He was succeeded by Hishām b. ʿAbd al-Malik who was greedy, violent and utterly ruthless. He was an extremely unpopular ruler and faced uprisings against his rule. He quelled Zayd b. ʿAlī’s uprising and had him hanged. He died in 125 AH.

Despite the cruel rule of these caliphs, Imam al-Bāqir pursued an intellectual path and laid the groundwork for the establishment of an Islamic school. His efforts came to fruition during the Imamate of his son, Jaʿfar Sādiq.

The Shīʿī Imams have all safeguarded Islam through guiding the ordinary people. Every Imam had his own method for this depending on the conditions in which he lived. The difficult conditions which Imam al-Bāqir faced did allow him to do more than spread Islamic teachings. Imam Sajjād and Imam al-Bāqir were mostly active underground because government repression was so harsh. The caliphs were outraged to hear that the Imam was secretly active, so Imam al-Bāqir and his son were summoned by the caliph of their time to be questioned about their activities.

At a time the Prophet’s aḥādīth were banned, the Imam familiarized Muslims with Islamic teachings. He nurtured Companions who went on to become ḥadīth collectors or jurists; Muḥammad b. Muslim, Zurara b. Aʿyan, Abū Basīr and Barīd b. Muʿāwiya amongst them.

Imam al-Sādiq has praised these four individuals, saying: ‘Four people revived the school and traditions of my father.’ (Rijāl Kashshī)

Muḥammad b. Muslim, a jurist, learnt 30,000 traditions from Imam al-Bāqir and 16,000 traditions from Imam al-Sādiq.

Another disciple of Imam al-Bāqir was Jābir al-Juʿfi who recorded 70,000 traditions from the Imam. (Aʿyān al-Shīʿa)

Hishām feared the popularity of Imam al-Bāqir and his son, Imam al-Sādiq. He ordered the governor of Medina to invite them both to come to Syria. Hishām sought a lot to humiliate them, but a debate between Imam al-Bāqir and a Christian archbishop ended in success for the Shīʿa Imam. The people of Syria became aware of the event and Hishām had no option but to let both return to Medina. (Biḥār al-Anwār)

Imam al-Bāqir was poisoned by agents of Hishām b. ʿAbd al-Malik and died in 743 AD. He was laid to rest near his father in the Baqīʿ Cemetery in Medina.

Imam al-Sādiq

Imam al-Sādiq, the sixth the Imam, was born in 702 AD in Medina. He passed away in 765 AD there and buried in Baqīʿ Cemetry. His mother was Umm Farwa bint al-Qāsim b. Muḥammad b. Abū Bakr. Al-Sādiq’s Imamate lasted 34 years. (Irshād) His Imamate coincided with the reigns of rulers from both the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties. The Umayyad caliphs of his time were as follows: Hishām b. ʿAbd al-Malik b. Marwān, Walīd b. Yazīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik, Yazīd b. Walīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik, Ibrāhīm b. Walīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik and Marwān b. Muḥammad. The Abbasid caliphs were ʿAbd Allāh b. Muḥammad, known as Saffāḥ and Abū Jaʿfar, known as Manṣūr.

As far as the greatness and character of Imam al-Sādiq is concerned it would be enough to know that even his sworn enemy Manṣūr shed tears when he learnt of the Imam’s martyrdom.

It was midnight. Silence and darkness dominated everywhere. Manṣūr summoned his special secretary Abū Ayyūb Khawzī to his palace. When he entered the room he saw Manṣūr sitting on a chair with a candle lit in front of him. He held a letter in his hand. He wept as he read it. Manṣūr’s secretary says he threw him the letter and said: ‘This letter has been sent to me by Muḥammad b. Sulaymān, the governor of Medina, reporting that Jaʿfar b. Muḥammad has passed away. Can anyone like Jaʿfar b. Muḥammad be found?’ (Biḥār al-Anwār)

Malik b. Anas, one of the Four Sunnī Imams, says every time he met Imam al-Sādiq, he was either praying, fasting or reciting the Qur’an. ‘The eye has not seen… anyone like him.’ (al-Tahdhīb)

Another of the Four Sunnī Imams, Abū Ḥanīfa, says: ‘When Manṣūr took Imam al-Sādiq to Iraq, I was invited by Manṣūr to debate with him. I prepared forty questions to ask him. When I entered Jaʿfar b. Muḥammad was sitting on the right. I saluted him and sat down. Manṣūr introduced me. Then upon Manṣūr’s order, I asked questions one by one and he answered all of them. In response to every question, he expressed the views of Medinans and Iraqis before expressing his own. He confirmed some views and rejected some others. He was the most cognizant…’ (Tadhkirat al-Ḥuffāẓ) During his time the Imam, al-Ṣādiq managed to train 4,000 scholars.

The ḥadīth scholar, Ḥasan b. ʿAlī Washāʿ says: ‘In the Mosque of Kufa, I met nine hundred ḥadīth collectors who quoted traditions from Jaʿfar b. Muḥammad.’ (Rijāl Najāshī)

Seven Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs ruled during the 34-year the Imamate of Imam al-Sādiq. Islamic society was unstable at that time and this instability led to the overthrow of the Umayyad Dynasty in 132 AH. The Abbasids who succeeded them were even worse.

Imam al-Sādiq who passed nearly 50 years of his life under the reign of the Umayyad dynasty was well aware of their crimes. The Umayyad rulers had executed his uncle Zayd b. ʿAlī in Kufa in 122 AH and publicly displayed his body for five years before burning it and throw his ashes into the sea. The Umayyad rulers also killed his cousin, Yaḥyā b. Zayd, in a gruesome manner.

The Imam spent the rest of his life under the reign of the Abbasids. The Abbasid rulers were so ruthless that a poet had sarcastically said: ‘I wish the Banū Marwān had continued with their tyranny to save us from the justice of Banū ʿAbbās!’

Reasons for the Overthrow of the Umayyad Dynasty

Two factors are cited as the main reasons behind anti-Umayyad uprisings in Iran and Iraq:

  1. Heavy Taxes: Instead of focusing on increasing production to gain more revenues, the Umayyad government levied heavy taxes on the people. Each Caliph would impose heavier taxes than his predecessor. Farmers were forced to pay, in addition to official tax, the so-called ‘New Year gift’. Muʿāwiya was the first one who promoted this Sassanid practice. The annual New Year gifts amounted to 13 million dirhams in Iraq. The figure was much higher in Herat, Khorasan, Yemen and other Islamic territories. Taxes were increasing sharply under the reign of Umayyad caliphs except for ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz who lifted many of these taxes (Ibn Athīr, al-Kāmil). After his reign, however, the taxes were reinstated and people were facing more economic woes.
  2. The challenge of the mawālī: The Umayyad dynasty was entirely Arab and it was founded on an ideology of Arab supremacism. Its caliphs appointed only Arab governors and exercised discrimination against non-Arabs in Islamic territories who were known as ‘mawālī’ (clients). In the face of this discriminatory attitude, the people in Iran and Iraq rose up and toppled the Umayyad dynasty under the slogan of setting up an Islamic government led by Prophet’s descendants.

At that time, the Prophet’ family was extremely popular in Islamic society; they symbolized justice and piety. An uprising started under the slogan of ‘The Family of Muḥammad’ and the revolutionaries made their rallying-cry ‘We demand one agreed upon from the Family of Muḥammad’ (al-riḍā min āl muḥammad) and managed to unseat the Umayyad dynasty after nine decades in power.

In the beginning, it was expected that Imam al-Sādiq would lead the revolution, but he did lend his support because he was well aware of what was going on behind the scenes. The architects of this revolution were trying to take advantage of the Family of the Prophet before changing the direction of the revolution to serve their own ends.

When ʿAbd Allāh b. Ḥasan negotiated with Imam al-Sādiq, asking him to join Saffāḥ and Manṣūr, the Imam said he could not trust the duo, predicting that they will seize power for themselves.

‘I see no purity in them,’ Imam al-Sādiq had said. (al-Kāfī)

While the conditions did not let Imam al-Sādiq establish a genuinely Islamic government, he did not miss any chance to protest the rulers. When Manṣūr wrote a letter to Imam al-Sādiq asking for some words of advice, the Imam said: ‘He who wants the world will not advise you sincerely, and he who wants the Hereafter will not support you.’ When Manṣūr received the Imam’s response, he said with surprise: ‘Imam al-Sādiq has distinguished admirers of this world and the Hereafter. Those who are around me love this world and those who are away from me want the Hereafter.’

Imam al-Sādiq’s School

The socio-political conditions allowed Imam al-Sādiq to spread Islamic teachings through training companions and writing books. In this way, he established the school his father had laid the foundations for. Imam al-Sādiq trained 4,000 students to enlighten the Islamic society. However, his intellectual contributions are not limited to matters of Qur’an interpretation, traditions and jurisprudence. He also managed to train important figures in philosophy and theology. Hishām b. Ḥakam, the author of twenty-five books, is just one of these. (Ibn al-Nadīm,Fihrist)

Imam al-Sādiq revealed elements of natural science to the surprise of scientists. In Tawḥīd al-Mufaḍḍal, which was dictated by the Imam, monotheism is demonstrated to be true based on the laws of nature. Jābir b. Hayyan, the famous alchemist, was also a disciple of Imam al-Sādiq. He was the first one having learnt chemistry from Imam al-Sādiq.

Imam al-Kāẓim

Imam Mūsā b. Jaʿfar, the seventh Shīʿa Imam, was born in 745 AD in Medina. He died in Baghdad in 799 AD. Yazīd b. Walīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik, Ibrāhīm b. Walīd b. ʿAbd al-Malik and Marwān b. Muḥammad of the Umayyad dynasty were in power during the Imam’s childhood.

After the death of Imam al-Sādiq, Imam al-Kāẓim succeeded him. The Abbasids had taken over from Umayyads. The Abbasids Ṣaffāh, Manṣūr, his son Mahdī and his grandsons, Hādī and Hārūn al-Rashīd also ruled during his lifetime.

Imam al-Kāẓim first assessed the social conditions and the power of rulers before taking any action. Each the Imam had his own policy depending on the conditions, but the objective was to safeguard Islam.

Manṣūr, the bloodthirsty Abbasid Caliph, could not tolerate the presence of Imam al-Sādiq in Medina and had him poisoned. When he found that Imam al-Sādiq had died, he saw the conditions ripe to quash any opposition to his rule. He wrote a letter to the governor of Medina, Muḥammad b. Sulaymān, ordering him to decapitate any successor named to Imam al-Sādiq. In response, the governor noted that Imam al-Sādiq has recommended five people to succeed him:

  1. Manṣūr
  2. Muḥammad b. Sulaymān, governor of Medina
  3. ʿAbd Allāh b. Jaʿfar
  4. Mūsā b. Jaʿfar
  5. His wife, Ḥamīda

The governor asked in the letter who he must behead! Manṣūr was infuriated and said: ‘Forget about their killing.’

By writing such a will, Imam al-Sādiq managed to prevent the death of Imam al-Kāẓim. Otherwise, he would have been murdered. Imam al-Kāẓim was 20 when he succeeded his father and Manṣūr’s letter to the governor of Medina describes how precarious the conditions were at this time. After evaluating the conditions, the Imam found that the best solution was to follow the intellectual revolution initiated by his father. To that end, he decided to train companions; the Imam had to be prudent because Manṣūr had hired many spies to find and kill anyone attaining prominence among Shīʿa. (Rijāl Kashshī)

The Imam had no option but to push ahead with his mission through spreading Islamic teachings. Those who attended his courses wrote down whatever the Imam said. ‘In 148 after Hegira, the Imam Jaʿfar Sādiq passed away in Medina, but his school never closed and it preserved its blossoming under the leadership of his son, Mūsā al-Kāẓim.’ (Mukhtaṣar Tārīkh al-ʿArab)

However, the Abbasid rulers used scholars in their employ to counter the views of Imam al-Kāẓim, whose companions did not even dare to mention the name of the Imam in public. They used to refer to him as Abū Ibrāhīm, ʿAbd Salih, al-ʿĀlim (‘The Learned One’), al-Sabir (‘The Patient One’) and al-Amīn (‘The Trusted One’).

Despite all these problems, the Imam never abandoned his struggles and took great strides in training hundreds of scholars, some of whom are as follows:

  1. ʿAlī b. Yaqtin
  2. Muḥammad b. Abī ʿUmayr
  3. Hishām b. Ḥakam
  4. Hishām b. Sālim
  5. Yunis b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān

Muḥammad b. Abī ʿUmayr authored 49 books based on the teachings of Imam al-Kāẓim. The ruler of the time, Hārūn al-Rashīd, was sure that the secrets political activities of Shīʿa and their connections with the seventh Shīʿa Imam were all under the control of Muḥammad b. Abī ʿUmayr. He hired spies to keep tabs on him. The spies finally reported to Hārūn that Muḥammad b. Abī ʿUmayr knew the names of all the leaders of the Iraqi Shīʿa. He was arrested and tortured to disclose the names. He refused to reveal the names. He was stripped and received 100 lashes of the whip. (Rijāl Najāshī)

By adopting the correct policies, Imam al-Kāẓim managed to survive the reigns of Manṣūr, Mahdī and Hādī. The Imam was jailed under Hārūn, who was convinced that his efforts would fail as long as the leader of the Shīʿa remained at large. After deciding to order the arrest of Imam al-Kāẓim, Hārūn went to the Prophet’s Mosque and said: ‘O prophet! I apologize for the decision I have taken. I intend to arrest and imprison Mūsā b. Jaʿfar and I fear that it may cause rift in the Muslim community and trigger bloodshed.’

The following day, Hārūn’s agents arrested the Imam while he was praying in the mosque. In order to keep the Imam’s imprisonment secret, Hārūn ordered two howdahs to travel to Kufa and Basra. In this way, people did not know which howdah was carrying the Imam to prison. The Shīʿa Imam served one year in the prison of Basra. Hārūn ordered the governor Issa b. Jaʿfar to kill the Imam. The governor refused and said he will set him free if Hārūn did not send anyone to take the Imam from there. Hārūn sent one of his agents to take the Imam from Basra to Baghdad. The Imam was jailed for four years before being poisoned in prison in Baghdad.

Imam al-Riḍā

The eighth Shīʿa Imam, ʿAlī b. Mūsā al-Riḍā, was born in Medina in 765 AD. His parents were Imam Mūsā al-Kāẓim and Ṭāhira. He was given the epithet al-Riḍā (‘the one agreed upon’) and his teknonym was Abū al-Ḥasan. After the martyrdom of his father in Baghdad, Riḍā became the leader of Shīʿa for twenty years; ten years under the reign of Hārūn al-Rashīd, five years under Amīn and five years under Maʾmūn. The Imam was martyred in 818 AD.

The tyranny imposed on the society by Umayyad and Abbasid rulers had given rise to popular sentiments that demanded the creation of a genuinely Islamic government under the leadership of someone from the Prophet’s household. The lofty position and high popularity of the Shīʿa Imams had always made the Umayyad and Abbasid rulers incarcerate them so that people could not learn anything from them. The rulers feared that any connection between the Imams and people, as this threatened their grip on power.

After killing his own brother Amīn, Maʾmūn decided to bring the Shīʿa Imam from Medina to his capital in Marv to better control him.

Imam al-Riḍā was “invited” to Marv, but this was merely a pretence for imposing further restrictions on his activities. In a bid to demonstrate to Muslims that this invitation was actually a form of exile, he went to Marv alone without any family members. In order to thwart Imam al-Riḍā’s efforts, Hārūn ordered a group of people, including the governor of Medina, to accompany him during his travel which took him from Medina to Basra, Khorramshahr, Ahvaz, Rey, Nishapur and, finally, Marv. The Imam arrived in Marv in 201 AH. In Nishapur, Imam al-Riḍā was warmly welcomed by people. He was entreated to narrate ḥadīth to them. He related a ḥadīth qudsi which he said dated back to the Prophet: ‘The formula “La ilāha ill allāh” is My fortress. Anyone who repeats it enters My fortress. Whoever is inside My fortress will be protected from punishment.’

The traditionists who were present took a note of the ḥadīth expressed by the Imam being carried in howdah. Minutes after, the Imam pushed the howdah’s curtain aside and added ‘it has conditions and I am one of these conditions’. He meant that monotheism will save people if they accept the governance of the Shīʿī Imams.

Two important issues in the Imam’s life

In Marv, Maʾmūn and his courtiers made a show of respecting the Imam. The Caliph offered him two options; Maʾmūn first insisted that Imam al-Riḍā should accept to become Caliph but the Imam refused. Then Maʾmūn offered him to become successor-in-waiting, which the Imam accepted conditionally.

Had the Imam accepted to become Caliph, Maʾmūn would have recruited spies to keep an eye on him to prevent him from taking any reforming steps. In that case, the Imam could not undertake any action to awaken the people and he would have met the same fate as Imam ʿAlī whose caliphate was consumed by unrest and civil war. In that case, the Imam would have been forced to surrender authority to Maʾmūn who could then claim that his caliphate is legitimate.

Why did the Imam accept to become successor-in-waiting to Maʾmūn?
  1. Imam al-Riḍā accepted the post on condition that he would not be responsible for anything and that he would not appoint or dismiss anyone. In this way, the Imam wanted to show everyone that this post is just a formality.
  2. Had the Imam not accepted the offer, he would have been threatened with death. In the case, the Imam would have been murdered without triggering any awakening in society. When the Imam first refused to become the successor-in-waiting, Maʾmūn told him in clear terms that he had no option but to accept. (Irshād)

Imam al-Riḍā had told people that he was following Imam ʿAlī who had accepted to be a part of ʿUmar b. Khaṭṭāb’s succession committee. (ʿUyūn Akhbār al-Riḍā)

When Rayyān b. al-Ṣalāt asked the Imam about his reasons for accepting the post, he said: ‘God is well aware that I did not want it. But I was facing two options of accepting to become his appointed successor or to be killed. I had to accept it.’ (ʿUyūn Akhbār al-Riḍā)

Imam al-Riḍā’s martyrdom

Even with him as his appointed successor, Maʾmūn remained afraid of Imam al-Riḍā’s growing popularity. His fear increased when he saw the masses of people who attended the congregational prayers led by him. He poisoned the Imam but wanted to cover his plot up. After the news of the Imam’s death spread, he went quickly to the Imam’s house and started crying.

Maʾmūn heard from people there that he was one of suspects in the killing of Imam al-Riḍā. Maʾmūn, who feared incidents, ordered the funeral be postponed to the following day. When the crowds went away, religious ablutions were performed on the Imam before he was buried next to Hārūn al-Rashīd. (ʿUyūn Akhbār al-Riḍā)

Imam Jawād

Imam Muḥammad Taqī, better known as al-Al-Jawād (‘The Generous’), was born in Medina in 811 AD. He was killed by the Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad in 835 AD. He was the Imam for 17 years. (Irshād) He was born at a time Maʾmūn and his half-brother, Amīn, were locked in a bitter war of succession. Maʾmūn finally won in 298 AH and brought all the Abbasid territories under control. (Tārīkh al-Kulafāʾ)

The Imam’s life coincided with the caliphates of Maʾmūn and Muʿtaṣim of the Abbasid dynasty. Both summoned him from Medina to Baghdad. Imam Muḥammad Taqī was a great figure from the time of his childhood.

When Maʾmūn invited Imam al-Riḍā to Khorasan, he performed the Ḥajj pilgrimage first and took his son, Jawād, who was six at that time, with him. In Mecca, Al-Jawād saw that his father was bidding farewell to God’s house in a way that he was sure he would never return. Al-Jawād went and sat down somewhere. His father performed his pilgrimage and called on Al-Jawād to prepare for the departure but Al-Jawād refused. Imam al-Riḍā asked his son why he was sitting there. Jawād, tears in eyes, said: ‘How do you want me to stand up while you were bidding farewell as if you would never return?’ Then, he stood up. (Kashf al-Ghamma)

Following the martyrdom of Imam al-Riḍā in 204 AH, Maʾmūn left Marv for Baghdad and repeated his duplicitous policy vis-à-vis the Imam’s son. He wanted to have him under control and so the Ninth Imam was compelled to leave Medina for Baghdad. The Imam’s arrival in Baghdad coincided with the convoy of Maʾmūn travelling in a Baghdad street. All the children who were playing in the street fled as Maʾmūn’s convoy approached, but someone was still there. Maʾmūn was surprised. He got off his howdah and went to the child.

Maʾmūn asked the child: Why didn’t you run away like others?

The child replied: Your way was not narrow and I have done no wrongdoing.

Maʾmūn: What’s your name?

The child: I am the son of ʿAlī b. Mūsā al-Riḍā

Maʾmūn: You are worthy of being his son. (Biḥār al-Anwār)

After the martyrdom of the eighth the Imam in 203 AH, the Imam Muḥammad Taqī was named his successor. He was nine at the time, so his Imamate was reminiscent of the stories of John the Baptist and Jesus, both of whom were given wisdom at a young age. (Q19:12)

The appointees of God had all been educated for special purposes and therefore they were infallible from the time of their childhood. Everyone could see the connection between Imam Al-Jawād and God when he was discussing with scholars in Baghdad in the presence of Maʾmūn.

Maʾmūn’s Plot

Among Abbasid caliphs, Maʾmūn was famous for his intelligence and foresight. He was fond of learning and culture but he was also aware that the Abbasids lacked popular support and that the Muslims loved the family of the Prophet. Maʾmūn knew very well that revolutionaries throughout the Muslim world all sought the leadership of God’s genuine representatives. But, instead of using force and intimidation, Maʾmūn decided to align himself with revolutions and movements in a bid to bring them under control. To that effect, he invited the eighth the Imam to Khorasan, but he finally decided to kill him for fear of his growing popularity.

The martyrdom of the eighth the Imam did not spare Maʾmūn the threat of overthrow because Imam al-Riḍā’s son could still lead an uprising against him. So Maʾmūn invited Imam Al-Jawād to Baghdad and married him to his daughter Umm al-Faḍl in an attempt to win over the hearts and minds of his followers.

The Abbasids were not happy with this marriage but Maʾmūn knew it was necessary to keep the Shīʿa placated. In order to allay the Abbasids’ concerns, Maʾmūn organized an event so that the Abbasids would see Imam Jawād’s level of knowledge and stop criticizing the marriage. In the meeting, the then chief-justice, Yaḥyā b. Aktham (see Tārīkh Baghdād for more information) posed questions to the ninth the Imam. His first question was as follows: ‘What’s your judgment of someone who has hunted an animal while having been in a state of sanctification for the pilgrimage to Mecca?’

In response to this question, Imam al-Jawād asked the following ten questions:

  1. Where has the animal been killed?
  2. Has it been killed inside the sanctuary or outside of it?
  3. Was the hunter aware of the ruling for this act?
  4. Has it been done on purpose or by accident?
  5. Was it the first time he did so?
  6. Was the prey a bird or not?
  7. Was the prey small or big?
  8. Did he regret his act?
  9. Was hunting done in the day or in the night?
  10. Was the hunting done during the major or minor pilgrimage?
  11. Was the hunter a slave or not?

The Imam said these questions must be answered before he gave any ruling. Yaḥyā was astonished and did not know how to respond, so he ended the discussion. (Kashf al-Ghamma)

Maʾmūn had decided to blame the Imam for the government’s ineptitude in a bid to humiliate him in the eyes of Muslims. Imam Al-Jawād was aware of this trap so he sought a pretext to distance himself from the Abbasid Caliph. He convinced Maʾmūn to let him go to the Ḥajj pilgrimage with his wife. After the end of pilgrimage, the Imam settled in Media and never returned to Baghdad.

There is no precise date given for the Imam’s marriage and his departure for Mecca. However, Ṭabarī says the Imam left Baghdad in the same year he got married. (Tārīkh Ṭabarī) What is clear is that the Imam settled in Medina and trained companions. Maʾmūn died in 218 AH and was succeeded by Muʿtaṣim who followed in his footsteps. Muʿtaṣim once again forced Imam al-Jawād to come to Baghdad; the Imam arrived in 220 AH and was poisoned in the same year. He was buried next to his father. (Kashf al-Ghamma)

Some of the companions of Imam Al-Jawād are as follows: 1. Faḍl b. Shādhān 2. ʿAbd al-Azim Ḥasanī 3. Abū al-Tammām 4. ʿAlī b. Mahziyār 5. Muḥammad b. Abī ʿUmayr 6. Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Abī Naṣr.

Imam al-Hādī

Imam ʿAlī al-Naqi, the tenth Shīʿa Imam, was born in 827 AD (Mufīd, Irshād; Kashf al-Ghamma) and died in 868 AD. His teknonym was Abū al-Ḥasan, and his epithet, al-Hādī (‘The Guide’). He served as the Imam for 33 years in which he faced six Abbasid caliphs:

  1. Muʿtaṣim
  2. Wāthiq
  3. Mutawakkil
  4. Muntaṣir
  5. Mustaʿīn
  6. Muʿtazz

Imam al-Hādī was poisoned on the orders of Muʿtazz and buried in his own home.

Due to historical crises and the destruction of evidence by unjust persons, there is scan information about the political life of the later Imams. In particular, the political activities of the tenth and eleventh Imams are vaguer than others due to this lack of evidence. What evidence we have suggests that they were both kept under house arrest in the new Abbasid capital and military encampment in Samarra.

When Muʿtaṣim was in power, slaves, Turks, Berbers and Byzantines caused problems for the people of Baghdad. The Caliph had to move its army to another point and he constructed Samarra as the new base of caliphate in 220 AH (Tārīkh al-Kulafāʾ).

The people were relieved that the caliphate had shifted from Baghdad to Samarra, but the Caliphs were undermined their generals who were no longer obedient to them. These had become so powerful that they could easily dismiss any Caliph and install another one. They were even ready to kill any Caliph. As well as the six aforementioned caliphs, two other caliphs – Muhtadī and Muʿtamid – also ruled in Samarra. But in the face of Berbers, Turks and Byzantines, they had to move back to Baghdad. Samarra was a sprawl of some 50 kilometres when it served as the capital and it was one of the most beautiful cities in the world. However, after the capital shifted back to Baghdad, Samarra fell into ruin and disrepair. (Tārīkh Samarrāʾ)

Features of Imam al-Hādī’s era

During this period, the Abbasid caliphate is distinguished by the following features:

  1. Degradation of the caliphate: The caliphate, both under Umayyad and Abbasid reign, had built itself a glorious image. But it lost its status following the dominance of Turks, slaves and Byzantines over the caliphate. The Caliph had become a decorative post as he exercised little or no authority.
  2. Revelry: The Abbasid caliphs organized soirées in which they frequently got drunk. The court had plunged into corruption. History books have recorded details of these night parties. The Caliph Mutawakkil invited Imam al-Hādī to a party and offered him wine. But the Imam recited poems for the revellers that made them cry and leave the event.
  3. Emergence of Alid Movements: The Abbasid caliphate had embarked on a smear campaign against the Prophet’s Household in order to incite hatred against them and it did not miss an opportunity to suppress pro-Alid sentiments. The caliphate was vulnerable and afraid of these movements.

These movements did not mention the name of any leader in particular, but rather raised the slogan of the Prophet’s Household in general. The Shīʿī Imams were held in a military base in Samarra and any mention of their names would have ended in their death.

The following movements had gathered under the umbrella of the Prophet’s Household:

  1. Muḥammad b. Qāsim ʿAlawī: He rose up in Taliqan against Muʿtaṣim. He was arrested in 219 AH by ʿAbd Allāh Ṭāhir.
  2. Yaḥyā b. ʿUmar ʿAlawī: He rose up from Kufa in 250 AH. He seized the public treasury and released prisoners, but his movement was defeated and he was hanged.
  3. Ḥasan b. Zayd ʿAlawī: He launched his revolt in 250 AH in Tabaristan and brought Tabaristan and Gurgan under his control. He died in 270 AH.
  4. Muḥammad b. Jaʿfar ʿAlawī: He revolted in Khorasan in 251 AH.

These movements along with nearly 14 others are specific to that period of caliphate. The movement leaders rose up against the caliphs and many of them paid for this with their lives. The number of detainees and those who were sent into exile is much more than in previous eras. The historian Masʿūdi has mentioned more details in his book, Murūj al-Dhahab.

These movements reveal the tough pressure on the Islamic community of that time.

The politics of the Tenth Imam’s time

Imam al-Hādī’s life coincided with the reign of six Abbasid caliphs. Two of them in particular were much more ruthless than others in their repression of supporters of the Prophet’s Household. They were Mutawakkil and Muʿtazz.

Mutawakkil came to power in 232 AH. (Tārīkh al-Kulafāʾ) He feared the Alids and was convinced that their movements were in support of Imam al-Hādī. The Caliph decided to follow the example of his predecessors and summoned Imam al-Hādī from Medina to Samarra. In that way, he could exercise control over the Imam. The presence of the Imam in Media posed a great threat to the security of the Abbasid caliphate.

Mutawakkil wrote a letter to Imam al-Hādī in 234 AH and ordered one of his associates, Yaḥyā b. Harthama, to take the Imam to Samarra. (Manāqib)

‘When I arrived in Medina, people started protesting because they knew I was there to do something against the Imam. I swore to them I will do nothing to harm him. I searched the Imam’s home and I found nothing but Qur’an and prayers manuals,’ Yaḥyā says.

These remarks show the extent to which people cared for the Imam, who finally made the journey to Samarra with his son.

Yaḥyā never disrespected the Imam on his way to the caliphal capital. When the Imam arrived in Samarra, Caliph Mutawakkil refused to receive him and ordered that he stay in a caravanserai of the poor.

Inviting the Imam to Samarra and accommodating him near a military base provided Mutawakkil with a chance to destroy the tomb of Imam Ḥusayn and the surrounding houses and make them into farmlands. People in Baghdad got very angry and they scrawled strongly-worded and abusive slogans against the caliph on the walls of the city. Poems were also recited on that issue. One of them was as follows: ‘The Umayyad family killed the Prophet’s grandchild; the Prophet’s cousins destroyed his tomb. They regretted they had not been involved in his murder so they ruined his memory instead.’ (Tārīkh al-Kulafāʾ)

Mutawakkil was afraid of the personality of the Imam. Imam al-Hādī was held near his military base, but he still could not tolerate his continued existence. The Caliph ordered his agents one night to ransack the Imam’s house and take him to the court. When the agents entered the Imam’s residence they found him praying. The agents took the Imam in the middle of his prayers to the Caliph who was drinking. The Caliph offered the Imam to drink. The Imam said: ‘My flesh and blood have never been contaminated with wine.’ Then Mutawakkil asked him to recite poems. The Imam said: ‘I don’t remember too many.’ The Caliph insisted the Imam recited the following verses:

‘They settled upon the mountains protected by armed men, but none of this spared them death,

They were taken down from the summits of dignity to the depths of their graves,

Those who descended into this dark house were asked where their crowns and adornments had gone.

Where are those faces that did not see any searing sun and were always in safety?

Their tomb said: These faces have become the home of insects and worms.

They ate and drank for a long time, but now they are food for insects and worms.

They built houses to live in protection, but they left these houses and families.

They stocked treasures which fell into hands of enemies after their death.

Their houses and palaces were reduced to rubble and their residents were put in graves.’

When the Imam finished these lines, Mutawakkil wept, and so did other guests. Wine was removed and Mutawakkil returned the Imam to his residence. (Murūj al-Dhahab)

Imam al-Hādī used to show deference to Mutawakkil in all their encounters and always supported the righteousness of the path of his ancestors. That explained Mutawakkil’s determination to hold him in Samarra. Mutawakkil’s enmity with the family of the Prophet can be seen in Mutawakkil’s killing of the scholar Ibn al-Sākit for his love for Ḥasan and Ḥusayn. The scholar used to teach Arabic to Mutawakkil’s two children. One day, he asked him: ‘Who do you love more: My two children or Ḥasan and Ḥusayn?’

Al-Sākīt replied frankly: ‘I even love Qanbar, ʿAlī’s servant, more than your two children, not to mention the two grandchildren of the messenger of God.’ Mutawakkil was infuriated and ordered his agents to pummel him to death. There were even reports that his tongue had been cut out. (Al-Kulafāʾ)

Mutawakkil was killed in 247 AH at a night party in a plot designed by his own son Muntaṣir. His minister Fatḥ b. Khāqān was killed at the same time.

Mutawakkil was succeeded by Muntaṣir and Mustaʿīn. Both were more reasonable to some extent. However, when Muʿtazz, who was Mutawakkil’s son, came to power in 252 AH, he poisoned Imam al-Hādī. The Imam was buried in his own residence in Samarra.

Imam Ḥasan ‘al-ʿAskarī

Imam Ḥasan al-ʿAskarī, the son of Imam al-Hādī, was the eleventh Shīʿa Imam. He was born in Medina in 846 AD and died in Samarra in 874 AD. He was buried in his home. He was 22 when his father died and he became the Imam. The Abbasid caliphs of his time were Muʿtazz, Muhtadi and Mu‘tamid.

The Abbasids followed the same policy with him as they had vis-à-vis his predecessors; Maʾmūn had placed the eighth the Imam under surveillance, Muʿtaṣim controlled access to Imam al-Jawād and Mutawakkil had put Imam al-Hādī under house arrest. Mutawakkil’s successors did the same to Imam al-Hādī and his son Imam Ḥasan al-ʿAskarī. The caliphs wanted to know what the Imams were doing. Imam al-ʿAskarī was under surveillance in Samarra and he was made to attend the Caliph’s audiences on Mondays and Thursdays.

The caliphs who came after Maʾmūn poisoned three Shīʿa Imams. (Imam al-Jawād was 25, Imam al-Hādī was 41 and Imam al-ʿAskari was 28 when they were murdered)

The Abbasid caliphs imposed more restrictions on Imam Ḥasan al-ʿAskarī because:

  1. Under the guidance of Imam Ḥasan al-ʿAskarī, the Shīʿa formed a powerful bloc in Iraq and everyone knew that this group did not recognize the legality or legitimacy of any Abbasid Caliph. The Shīʿa believed that the children of Imam ʿAlī deserved to be the Imam and Imam Ḥasan al-ʿAskarī was the rightful leader of the Muslims.
  2. According to many traditions, the Abbasid dynasty and their followers were certain that the Awaited Mahdī, who was prophesised to overthrow all tyrants and establish a government of justice, was the son of Imam al-ʿAskarī. That is why they placed him under tight control.

When Mu‘tamid heard about the Imam’s illness, he sent ʿUbayd Allāh Khāqān and five others to look after him. Even after the Imam’s martyrdom, his house was searched and his properties were sealed. The Imam’s children were also questioned; midwives were ordered to examine the women of his household and report any pregnancy. (Kamāl al-Dīn)

In spite of these tough restrictions, the Imam pushed ahead with his political, social and intellectual activities; the Imam’s struggles could be summarized in the following four points:

  1. Intellectual debates with those who did not believe in his Imamate
  2. Intellectual endeavours about Islamic teachings and dispelling doubts
  3. Giving guidance to his companions to keep them from falling into Abbasid traps
  4. Preparing the ground for people’s belief in the occultation of his son, Imam al-Mahdī.

Imam al-Mahdī

The twelfth Imam is the Mahdī. He was born in 868 AD in Samarra. His real name is Muḥammad and his tektonym is Abū al-Qāsim. The tyrannical regime of that time felt threatened by the very possibility of his existence. To that effect, they kept watch over all births so that any new born could be killed. To be safe from threats, he went into hiding following the martyrdom of his father, Imam Ḥasan al-ʿAskarī. He contacted his close aides only. Imam al-Mahdī had two periods of occultation: a lesser one and a greater one. The Lesser Occultation started in 260 AH and lasted up to 329 AH when the Greater Occultation began. The Imam will reappear whenever God deems fit to usher in an era of divine governance and fulfil the ultimate missions of all the Prophets.

During the Lesser Occultation, the Shīʿa could contact the Imam via four deputies: ʿUthmān b. Saʿīd al-ʿAmrī, Muḥammad b. ʿUthmān b. Saʿīd al-ʿAmrī, Abū al-Qāsim Ḥusayn b. Rūḥ Nawbakhtī and ʿAlī b. Muḥammad Samarī.

The last deputy died in 329, which is when the Greater Occultation began. During this time, the Imam could no longer be contacted and he is only represented by the jurists in a general sense.

Imam al-Mahdī’s characteristics

Based on some of our traditions, the characteristics of Imam al-Mahdī could be listed as follows:

  1. He belongs to the family of the Messenger of God.
  2. He is a descendant of Imam Ḥusayn.
  3. He is the twelfth successor to the Prophet.
  4. He is the son of Imam Ḥasan al-ʿAskarī.
  5. He will usher in justice in the world.
  6. He will establish a global government.
  7. He will bring relief to the oppressed.
  8. He will end all wars and establish peace and stability. (Muntakhab al-Āthār)
Imam al-Mahdī and his global government

Thinkers and policymakers hold out the possibility of the United Nations turning into a central governing body for the entire world to bring together all human nations. The formation of an international body like UN shows that the possibility of a single united world government cannot be discounted. A group of thinkers announced in a declaration (Tokyo Congress, 1963) that they favour a global government based on the following bodies:

  1. Global Parliament
  2. Supreme Executive Council
  3. Global Army
  4. International Court of Justice

These attitudes show that the divine plan the Prophets and the Imams had reported is taking roots and the ideal enshrined in the Mahdī is slowly becoming a reality. Efforts under way to unite cultures and civilizations could easily be seen as portents of the Imam’s return.

Peace and friendship to replace war and bloodshed

Human history is marked by wars, occupations and injustices perpetrated by tyrants, dictators and oppressive regimes. Everyone wonders if one day such bloodshed will finally come to an end; will a day come in which people can live together in fraternity? Philosophical and social calculations make clear that the human being is moving towards a higher degree of perfection. However, mankind can only reach the highest degree of perfection if its orientation is not restricted to material considerations and they incorporate spirituality too. Scientifically speaking, the material growth of humanity is undeniable and the expansion of his power on sea and land is clear to all. But can this material perfection guarantee his happiness and prosperity? Definitely not! Genuine perfection will only be realized when spiritual achievements such as kindness, affection, morality and humanity match humanity’s scientific and industrial achievements like spaceships, rockets, submarines, skyscrapers and industry. If not, the society will be like a bird with only one wing that will fall before flying.

Recognition of mankind’s potential for perfection leads us to anticipate the coming of a day when there will be no injustice left on the earth. ʿAllāma Ṭabāṭabāʾī says: ‘Due to his God-given nature, mankind always searches for true happiness; true happiness depends on meeting both his physical and spiritual needs, in which both this world and the Hereafter are considered. When we see mankind deviate from the path of happiness, it is not because he has not heard the call of humanity but because he is searching in the wrong places for it. Mankind is looking for happiness and perfection, but they imagine that their deviation will bring them this….’

The Qur’an and the future of human society

The Qur’an has spoken about the future of human societies in clear terms:

The good will inherit the Earth

It is only prudent that human beings should seek news about the future of the world. As God says in the Qur’an: ‘And We alternate these days of varying conditions among the people.’ (Q3:140)

According to the Qur’an, the divine habit (sunna ilāhiyya) decrees that only worthy persons will inherit administration of world affairs in the future. Then, a unified world will be formed under a single flag: ‘Certainly We wrote in the Psalms, after the Torah: ‘Indeed My righteous servants shall inherit the earth.’’ (Q21:105) Also, ‘Allah has promised those of you who have faith and do righteous deeds that He will surely make them successors in the earth, just as He made those who were before them successors, and He will surely establish for them their religion which He has approved for them, and that He will surely change their state to security after their fear…’ (Q24:55) Moreover, ‘It is We who provide for you, and the outcome will be in favour of Godwariness.’ (Q20:132)

The establishment of Islam and global peace

The Qur’an says that God will finally establish the religion He desires for His servants. This religion disavows any form of idolatry. The day this religion will be established will be marked by peace and safety across the world. Then, believers will worship God without any fear as no evil group will be left: ‘…He will surely establish for them their religion which He has approved for them, and that He will surely change their state to security after their fear, while they worship Me, not ascribing any partners to Me…’ (Q24:55)

Islam will spread across the world

The Qur’an has on two occasions predicted about the establishment of Islam world and its triumph over all other religions. It will happen after the advent of Imam al-Mahdī, who will spread the true teachings of Islam throughout the world:

‘They desire to put out the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah shall perfect His light though the faithless should be averse. It is He who has sent His Messenger with the guidance and the religion of truth that He may make it prevail over all religions though the polytheists should be averse.’ (Q61:8–9)

The success of the mission of the Prophets

Throughout history, the Prophets strove to spread their teachings, but they were never able to fully institute them due to opposition from certain groups that opposed their efforts. However, the Qur’an says that this situation is temporary and their teachings will indeed spread throughout the world: ‘Indeed We shall help Our Messengers and those who have faith in the life of the world and on the day when the witnesses rise up.’ (Q40:51) Also: ‘Certainly Our decree has gone beforehand in favour of Our servants, the Messengers, that they will indeed receive [Allah’s] help, and indeed Our hosts will be the victors.’ (Q37:171-173) And: ‘Allah has ordained: ‘I shall surely prevail, I and My Messengers.’ Indeed Allah is all-strong, all-mighty.’ (Q58:21)

Good will triumph over evil.

The Qur’anic verses maintain that good will eventually triumph over evil and polytheism will be replaced by monotheism:

‘Rather We hurl the truth against falsehood, and it crushes its head, and behold, falsehood vanishes!’ (Q21:18) In another verse, the Qur’an draws a parallel between good and evil and water and foam: ‘He sends down water from the sky whereat the valleys are flooded to [the extent of] their capacity, and the flood carries along a swelling scum. And from what they smelt in the fire for the purpose of [making] ornaments or wares, [there arises] a similar scum. That is how Allah compares the truth and falsehood. As for the scum, it leaves as dross, and that which profits the people remains in the earth. That is how Allah draws comparisons.’ (Q13:17)

The role of hidden divine help in the future of human societies

The Qur’an maintains that in every society, courageous people will emerge to sacrifice their lives for the dignity of Islam. And it warns that any deviation from monotheism will have no other result than annihilation. Throughout history, there are people whom God loves. These people are humble in front of believers, but stern in the face of unbelievers:

‘O you who have faith! Should any of you desert his religion, Allah will soon bring a people whom He loves and who love Him, [who will be] humble towards the faithful, stern towards the faithless, waging jihad in the way of Allah, not fearing the blame of any blamer. That is Allah’s grace which He grants to whomever He wishes, and Allah is all-bounteous, all-knowing.’ (Q5:54)

The future of human societies as depicted in Prophetic traditions

Now, it is important to see how these promises made in Qur’an will be realized. The answer to this question lies in Prophetic traditions which foretell the realization of these promises with the reappearance of Imam al-Mahdī. The aḥādīth speak about the development of wisdom and technology. They also predict the establishment of justice and monotheism.

The perfection of human intellects

The passage of time and its vicissitudes bring spur developments in human consciousness. Mankind will understand that human organizations are no longer capable of resolving conflicts and problems without divine assistance. Hence, they will immediately respond positively to Imam al-Mahdī’s call and every human being will join his revolution. Imam al-Bāqir says: ‘When Imam al-Mahdī rises up God will put His hand of grace and compassion on the head of His servants to unite their intellects.’ (Muntakhab al-Āthār)

The perfection of technology

A global revolution could not happen without a technological revolution. A revolutionary leader who intends to have his voice heard across the globe will need advanced technical facilities. Prophetic traditions say after the advent of Imam al-Mahdī, technological progress will reach a point that the world will be like a single city and those living in the East will see those living in the West.

Imam al-Bāqir says: ‘During the time of Imam al-Mahdī, a believer living in the East will see his brother living in the West.’ (Muntakhab al-Āthār) Another ḥadīth is clearer to that effect: ‘When Mahdī rises up God will empower his followers to see and hear their leader without moving from their places.’ (Muntakhab al-Āthār)

Islam will spread across the globe

The Prophetic traditions attribute Qur’anic promises to the reappearance of Imam al-Mahdī. Imam al-Bāqir says: ‘His power and dominance will expand on the East and the West and God will complete His religion through him although polytheists may be averse.’ (Muntakhab al-Āthār)

Moral perfection

As we mentioned earlier, genuine human evolution must have both material and spiritual aspects. According to Prophetic traditions, a characteristic of Imam al-Mahdī will be his promotion of justice and destruction of tyranny. This perfection is epitomised in the tradition: ‘He will fill the earth with justice’.

Righting wrongs

The Prophetic traditions all herald development of the world and mankind’s discovery of hidden treasures after the advent of Imam al-Mahdī: ‘The treasures hidden deep underground will be in possession of the Imam who will use his material and spiritual influence and strength to develop ruins inherited from periods of tyranny.’ All intellectual calculations about the future of societies are confirmed by the Qur’an and the Prophetic traditions which attribute them to the reappearance of Imam al-Mahdī.

The benefits of Imam al-Mahdī’s occultation and the duty of awaiting him

In this section, we will discuss the benefits of awaiting the return of Imam al-Mahdī and how awaiting his appearance contributes to the reconstruction of the Islamic society.

Since Imam al-Mahdī went into Occultation, numerous questions have occupied minds of curious people. These questions are not new, as they were raised as early as the 4th and 5th century AH and they have been answered accurately at even that time. Shaykh al-Ṣadūq (306-381 AH) is a senior Shīʿa ḥadīth collector. In his book, Kamal al-Dīn, he speaks about the Occultation, as does Nuʿmānī (410 AH) and Shaykh al-Ṭusi (385-460 AH).

One such question pertains to the benefits of the existence of Imam al-Mahdī while he is in occultation. We all know that the Imam is a leader and guide. But how can a hidden Imam handle this task? The Qur’an says: ‘We made them imams, guiding by Our command…’ Q21:73) How can a hidden the Imam be expected to guide people? A leader can be helpful only if he is in contact with his followers. So how can Imam al-Mahdī be of help to his? As long as the Imam is in hiding, his presence is unseen while a leader needs a social presence. So someone might legitimately ask what advantage this divine guide can have for people while he is in this state?

Imam al-Mahdī is like a pure spring of life. Does the Imam’s Hiding mean that his existence is less than that of an invisible spirit or waves and rays? Is it compatible with scientific findings? This is an important question which has been answered by our scholars.

First and foremost, the occultation of Imam al-Mahdī does not mean his existence is invisible or imaginary. Imam al-Mahdī is living a natural life like others, the key difference being his longevity. However, he lives in different places and exists amongst the people, in human society as an unknown figure. There is a big difference between ‘unknown’ and ‘invisible.’

However, one could still ask how such an existence is justified for a divine guide?

The Sun behind the clouds

The advantages of Imam al-Mahdī’s existence while he is in occultation could be summarized in a single sentence: ‘Like the Sun behind the clouds.’ Different aḥādīth have underscored the advantage of existence of the Awaited Imam. These traditions could be key to understanding how Imam al-Mahdī continues to benefit the world even while in occultation.

Asked how Imam al-Mahdī will be of help during his occultation, the Prophet said: ‘I swear by the God who sent me that people will benefit from the light of his leadership while he is absent. It will be like the Sun covered by clouds.’ (Biḥār al-Anwār)

Protecting the religion

With the passage of time, religious issues have become mixed up with personal views and sometimes religious teachings have been distorted by schools of thought that have gone astray. In that case, some teachings will lose their basis. The narrow-mindedness of certain individuals will cover up the facts and then it will be then difficult, if not impossible, for people to know the true teachings of the faith. In this regard, a poet has recited the following verses for the Prophet: ‘They are trimming your religion, they are trying to eradicate your religion’ and ‘They have distorted it to the point that even you cannot recognize it.’

Is it not necessary for Muslims to have someone among them to preserve the original teachings of Islam? This person is the Imam, who is aware of all of these teachings in totality which means that God’s authority over His creation will never be invalidated.

Training particular outstanding individuals

Despite popular belief, the Imam is not entirely incommunicado during his occultation. According to Prophetic traditions, a small group of pious and pure people are in touch with him at any given time and working under his guidance to reform the world. The Imam’s absence does not mean that he is an invisible spirit or force. The Imam is living his natural life and is communicating with people he has chosen to prepare the world for his return. Some people have the chance to be in touch with him for a few moments, others for days and some for years. It would be wrong to think that in order to see the Sun we must remove the clouds; we need to fly above the clouds if we want to see the Sun.

Spiritual influence

We know the Sun has visible rays which together create seven colours as well as ultraviolet and infrared radiation. A divine leader, whether he is a prophet or the Imam, has automatically received a sort of spiritual station known as ‘cosmic guardianship’ (wilāya takwīniyya) which gives them the ability to influence the world.

Stories of prophets and Imams recount cases in which some corrupt people have changed direction in their life under the influence of divine messengers. Such quick transformations and revolutions of character under the influence such persons are the result of their innate charisma. Many people have experienced such a change in their lives; they might have been influenced by certain individuals due to certain energies emitting from their spirits.

Throughout history, there have been a large number of these cases for which there is no other justification.

Asʿad b. Zurāra was an idol-worshipper in Mecca who changed completely after a chance meeting with the Prophet in the vicinity Kaʿba. The enemies of the Prophet spoke about the Prophet’s charisma, called it sorcery and warned people not to approach him.

Imam Ḥusayn influenced Zuhayr b. al-Qayn on the road to Karbala. As he heard the Imam’s message, he did not even eat the morsel he held in his hand. Hurr b. Yazīd Riyahi also inclined to Imam Ḥusayn, despite being on the opposite side. He ultimately joined Ḥusayn’s camp and gave his life to protect him.

A wealthy young man lived in Abū Basīr’s neighborhood. He spent his wealth in the service of the Umayyad dynasty by organizing parties. His life changed when Imam al-Sādiq sent him a message. He returned whatever property he had taken unjustly to its rightful owners and even spent his own money for religious purposes.

Harūn al-Rashīd sent a beautiful songstress to the prison where Imam al-Kāẓim was held in a bid to corrupt him. However, after some time, the woman was influenced by the Imam and her attitude and way of speaking frightened Harūn.

These are all signs of the ‘cosmic guardianship’ that has been granted to the Prophet and Imams. What is important here is not only words and sentences, but the spiritual influence and charisma they possess. But this charisma and influence is not limited to the Prophets and Imams. There have also been pious people who have been given this gift. However, the influence of ordinary people cannot be compared with the influence enjoyed by the Prophet and the Imams. The presence of Imam al-Mahdī, even when he is in occultation, will still influence people’s hearts and help them become ready under his guidance. We cannot see the magnetic poles of the earth but we see their influence on compasses, in the planes, in the skies, in the deserts and everywhere. Thanks to these magnetic waves, millions of people travel around the world without getting lost.

Is it really so surprising if Imam al-Mahdī guides people through waves of his spiritual influence during his occultation? However, it is important to keep in mind that magnetic waves of the earth do not influence any material and they are effective only on magnetic ones. Therefore, the Imam will be influential only on people whose hearts are receptive to his guidance.

Revealing the purpose of creation

No wise man will take steps aimlessly and any wise movement will be directed towards a specific goal or outcome. The difference is that while human beings seek to meet their own needs God’s objective is to meet the needs of others.

Suppose that we are planting an orchard on fertile ground. Weeds will definitely grow in the midst of trees and flowers. When we water the trees, the weeds will also benefit. In this case, we are actually meeting two goals: The primary goal is to water fruit trees and flowers, but the subsequent goal is that the useless weeds are watered. But the subsequent goal is not the primary motivation.

Now if all the trees die except for a single one we must still water it, even though many weeds might have grown and benefit as a result. But if that single tree is felled, we will stop watering the garden even if all the weeds will die.

Those people who are moving towards perfection are fruit trees and the corrupt people are like weeds in the garden. Therefore, the goal of creation cannot be the spread of tyranny, ignorance and corruption by a group of corrupt people. The sky and the earth have not been created to serve these people. This world and all its blessings are supposed to be for the benefit of pure and pious persons. One day, this world will be seized from usurpers: ‘Indeed My righteous servants shall inherit the earth.’ (Q21:105)

The Creator of this world will continue to bestow blessings upon all human beings just for the sake of this group of pure people. Weeds are also likely to be watered, but they are not the primary goal. However, if one day the last group of competent people are wiped off the surface of the earth, there will be no reason for continuing to continue the flow of blessings. On that day, the earth will withhold human beings any benefit and Heaven will stop sending down God’s mercy.

The Prophet and the Imam represent the perfect human being, the same target group of creation. Therefore, the presence of the Prophet or an Imam, whether on his own or at the head of righteous people, will justify the creation’s continued existence.

All other good persons are also the goal of creation, but they are only part of the main objective and they benefit from heavenly blessings thanks to the presence of the last Imam.

To that effect, a tradition says: ‘Thanks to his existence, people are bestowed with blessings. The sky and the earth remain only for his sake’.

In one qudsi tradition, God tells the Prophet that ‘We would not have created the skies had you not existed.’

The point of this is that the Prophet is the ultimate goal of creation and others are part of this goal. Those who have closed their eyes to higher truths and think the existence of the hidden the Imam has no purpose are mistaken. There are many signs showing the effectiveness of the Awaited Imam.

God’s representatives depicted in the Qur’an and Nahj al-Balāgha

Imam ʿAlī says God’s representatives are either visible or hidden. ‘My Lord! The Earth will not be without a representative (ḥujjah) who establishes Allah’s proof for Him, whether visible and known, or fearful and hidden, lest Allah’s proofs and authority be invalidated’ (Nahj al-Balāgha, sermon no. 147)

In this saying, Imam ʿAlī can only be talking about the Final Imam who has gone into occultation due to the unfavourable conditions. He will return when the world is ready for his movement. We can refer to at least three cases of occultation before that of Imam al-Mahdī. These involved Khidr, who was the teacher of Moses, Moses himself and Jonah.


The Qur’an refers to a guide whom people, even the messenger of God at that time, did not know. God describes him as follows:

‘They found one of Our servants whom We had granted a mercy from Ourselves, and taught him a knowledge from Our own. Moses said to him, ‘May I follow you for the purpose that you teach me some of the probity you have been taught?’ He said, ‘Indeed you cannot have patience with me! And how can you have patience about something you are not in the know of?’’ (Q18:65–68)

The prophet Moses has asked permission to follow him and, therefore. he must have been a man of great learning and a pure servant of God.

The presence of this man, identified as Khidr, reminds us of the following points:

  1. Nobody knew this man and had God not introduced him nobody would have known him. Therefore, there is no condition requiring people to know the divine guides.
  2. This divine guide, even when he is hidden from public view, never neglects societal conditions. God had granted him authority to intervene based on certain principles. He was so strict in his mission that he did not let a tyrannical governor seize the ship of a group of poor people. His authority was even expanded that he was allowed to kill a human being and erect a wall to protect orphans. (Q18:71-82)
  3. The interesting point is that not only was he hidden, but even his actions were hidden. Had people seen him they would never allowed him to damage the ship because they were not aware of his goal in doing so. Had people seen him kill someone they would not have let him escape. He did all these things in the society without anyone having knowledge of them. People saw neither him nor what he did.
  4. Most important, however, is his role as a guide and a leader. He was a guide and he accomplished this function both on the theoretical and practical level.

Taking into account the striking parable of this divine guide, one can easily understand that whether God’s representatives are hidden or visible depends on the conditions at the time.

The main task of the Twelve Imams is guidance and leadership. This can be achieved in more ways than one; it is not necessary that the Imam be famous as he can even perform this function in secret. Perhaps God’s representative needs to guide a single person or perhaps a whole society. It depends on the conditions at the time.

A hidden Imam can do whatever Khidr did; the Imam watches-over the mundane and religious affairs of people, contacts worthy individuals and educates them. Is it still possible to question the usefulness of the existence of the hidden the Imam? The Qur’anic verse ‘guiding by Our command’ shows that all God’s representatives guide people based on His command. God may decide for them to lead people overtly or covertly depending on the circumstances. Either way, the point is that any guidance undertaken by the Imam is in accordance with God’s commands.

At the beginning of his mission, the Prophet used to guide people individually. After three years of covert preaching, God ordered him to announce his mission publicly. Our Prophet is not the only figure to have adopted this method of guidance. It is a divine tradition which is enacted depending on the circumstances a prophet finds himself in: ‘Again I summoned them aloud, and again appealed to them publicly and confided with them privately.’ (Q71:8–9)

So with this in mind, why should it be necessary for the Imam to guide everyone openly? The significant point is that the Imam should guide people in accordance with God’s command. The prophets Noah and Muḥammad have already guided people in secret. So why can Imam al-Mahdī not do likewise? We must always keep in mind the verse ‘guiding by Our command.’ This verse does not say that the representatives of God are always leading people openly, rather they are guiding them by whatever means is suitable at the time.

Moses absence for forty days

If we imagine that the Imam’s occultation contradicts his role as a guide, what shall we say about Moses? The Qur’an clearly says that this prophet was absent for forty days. (Q7:142) Was he still fulfilling his purpose as a prophet during this time or not? Was he a guide or not? If we accept that he was still a guide, one may ask what benefit there was to his existence. If we say he was no longer a guide then we will be speaking baselessly because we all know that he underwent this retreat to receive the Torah from God. Someone might argue that the absence of Moses is different from the Occultation; Moses went into hiding while there was another guide present among people. But it should be remembered that, as we mentioned above, the Imam also has representatives who lead the people on his behalf.

Jonah’s confinement

The Qur’an has also mentioned the story of Jonah, who was in the whale’s stomach for some time. Jonah was a divine guide, but he was away from his own nation. How can we justify his absence? The Qur’an is clear in this regard: ‘We sent him to a [community of] hundred thousand or more.’ (Q37:147) This verse makes it clear that he was sent as a prophet before his confinement. But he was there for specific reasons. We must first know what exactly the ‘hundred thousand’ refers to. Does it refer to the entire population who lived before Jonah or only to those who had repented to God when faced with punishment?


The Qur’an also speaks about a prophet who was appointed as a guide while he was but an infant: ‘He said, ‘Indeed I am a servant of Allah! He has given me the Book and made me a prophet. He has made me blessed, wherever I may be, and He has enjoined me to [maintain] the prayer and to [pay] the zakat as long as I live,’ (Q19:30-31) The prophet made this remark in the first days of his life, while still a baby in his mother’s arms, but his mission began when he was thirty. The parallel between the prophets Noah, Jesus, Moses, Khidr and Imam al-Mahdī is clear for all to see.

Shīʿa contributions to Islamic civilization

The history of human civilization is such a vast topic that we cannot even offer a summary discussion of it in these pages. However, we will mention a few salient points: In the course of human history, Man has established various civilizations, each with their own particular features. Some of the most influential of these have been the Chinese, Egyptian, Babylonian, Roman, Iranian and finally Western civilizations.

Islamic civilization, which filled the gap between the ancient civilizations and modern Western civilization, is one of the most developed civilizations with regards to attention it has shown to science, philosophy and literature, and ultimately served as a foundation for much of Western civilization’s later achievements.

Both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars have written numerous books and encyclopedias on the subject of the Islamic civilization and detailed what this civilization’s contributions to humanities. Islamic civilization is not an Arabic civilization established by Arabs, rather, it is a civilization created by various peoples including Arabs, Turks, Persians and others. As these nations integrated within Islam, they put aside their ethnicity and focused only on Islam. Whenever scholars speak about Islamic civilization, they mean a civilization whose most remarkable feature is Islam, which has been created and strengthened by Muslims and all have lived under the auspices of monotheism and the Prophetic mission. Muslims in the first centuries of Islam carried their religion to different parts of the world. Ultimately, Islamic civilization spanned from China from the east to the Atlantic Ocean, the coasts of Africa, and Europe in the West. In his book, The Story of Civilization, Will Durant considers four constituent elements for any civilization:

  1. Economic elements
  2. Political structure
  3. Culture
  4. Science and technology

He says that this applies to all civilizations, both religious and secular. However, Islamic civilization and religious civilizations are based on Man’s awareness of, and belief in God and Resurrection, to the extent that this belief is considered as the foundation for his commitment to ethics principles and Islamic teachings. Therefore, any civilization not rooted in belief in God and spirituality is a secular rather than a religious one.

The founder of the Islamic civilization was the Prophet himself, who introduced a complete program for Muslims’ individual and social lives. At the same time, he encouraged Muslims to explore nature’s mysteries and learn how to benefit from them. Thus, he ultimately organized a society on the basis of ethical and political principles, as a close study of the history of Islam and the life of the Prophet will confirm. Muslims, following the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunna, were able to build a civilization and gain political, economic, and cultural ascendency. In addition, they developed an advanced system of ethics. They also sought to develop the material sciences of their time. As a result, famous scientists and scholars appeared whose efforts contributed to the development of both religious and secular learning. The works of these scientists are still considered important contributions to human development. In fact, non-Muslim nations, in order to catch up with the Islamic civilization, translated their books and thus benefited from Islamic learning.

However, Islamic civilization was not one-dimensional, such that it prioritized the economic aspects of civilization while overlooking the human ones. Rather, it considered and devoted attention to all possible aspects of human life to the extent that it was able.

Here, we wish to study the participation of Shīʿa scientists and scholars in the development of the Islamic civilization and the particular contributions they made to its fourth essential element of it, namely science and technology. Since science and technology are the ultimate fruits of civilization and, as such, help to distinguish a civilization from those coming before and after it. The other three essential elements mentioned by Durant, namely the economic, political and cultural, are not the part of our discussion. We are focusing on the Shīʿa participation in the development of Islamic sciences and technology in order to show that they have served the cause of Islamic learning science and service to the Qur’an and religious tradition as much, if not more, than scholars from other sects. We shall leave the discussion of the three other elements to another time, as these do not fall within the scope of the present work.

Arabic literature

As the sacred scripture of Islam is in Arabic, Muslims had to clearly determine the rules of Arabic both to preserve their book and to make it understandable to future generations. Before the Arabs mixed extensively with other nations, they spoke Arabic correctly. However, as the number of non-Arab Muslim increased, the Arabic language began to change, as is natural with all languages. Thus, it was necessary for scholars to record the rules of this language to be used by both native and non­-native speakers (Tārīkh Adab al-Lugha al-ʿArabiyya, 1/219).

We shall now briefly introduce some of these scholars:

Abū al-ʿĀswad al-Duʾalī

Who was it that first began recording the grammar of the Arabic language and what motivated him to do this? This figure was none other than Abū al-ʿĀswad al-Duʾalī who laid down the first grammatical rules for the Arabic language. The person who directed and supported him in this task was Imam ʿAlī. Thus, Abū al-ʿĀswad al-Duʾalī is the founder of grammar or the first collector of its rules. This person did not see the Prophet and therefore is considered to belong to the generation of the Successors (Tābiʿīn). These were Muslims who were born after the death of the Prophet Muhammad but who were contemporaries of the Prophet’s Companions. He was among the Companions of Imam ʿAlī, and took part in the Battle of Ṣiffīn before finally settling in Basra. The Syrian grammarian, Shaykh Abū al-Ḥasan Salama, writes: ‘Once Abū al-ʿĀswad visited ʿAlī and found him grieved. ‘What troubles you?’ he asked. The Commander of the Faithful replied: ‘I have noticed that some people speak incorrectly, so I have decided to write a book and collect the grammatical rules of the Arabic language in it.’ I told him if he does so he will save Arabic language from destruction. Then he gave me some sheets of paper on which the following sentences were written:

“Speech is made of nouns, verbs and particles. Nouns are names of things, verbs provide information, and particles complete the meaning. He says the Imam then elaborated more upon the subject.”

I asked, ‘May I complete what you said?’ Afterwards I offered him what I had written and the Imam added and omitted some points. (Taʾsīs al-Shīʿa, 51)

Needless to say, these rules do represent the grammar of the Arabic language in its entirety; nonetheless, they constitute the first ever foray into the field of Arabic grammar. Abū al-ʿĀswad, inspired by the Imam’s words, persevered and presented what he had written to his teacher. Therefore the inventor of Arabic grammar is Imam ʿAlī and its compilation was done by Abū al-ʿĀswad al-Duʾalī, one of his students.

In his Fihrist, Ibn al-Nadīm writes that most scholars agree that the study of Arabic grammar was initiated by Abū al-ʿĀswad al-Duʾalī, and that he took it from the Commander of the Faithful, ʿAlī. He then quotes Ṭabarī, who says that the reason this science was named ‘naḥw’ was that when Imam ʿAlī wrote the basics of this science in some pages and gave them to Abū al-ʿĀswad, he asked permission to ‘produce something in the manner (naḥw) you did,’ that is why this science was named ‘nahw.’ (Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist, 66)

Although Abū al-ʿĀswad al-Duʾalī was the founder of grammar, it was Khalīl b. Aḥmad al-Farāhīdī, a student of Imam al-Sādiq, who developed this science further. Abū Bakr Muḥammad b. Ḥasan Zubaydi> writes that Khalīl b. Aḥmad was unrivalled in his time as an outstanding scholar of his nation, and was a great teacher with many students. He is the one who developed grammar, strengthened its foundations, removed its weaknesses, explained its meaning and brought it to the highest point of perfection. These two Shīʿa scholars surely played key roles in invention and development of Arabic grammar.

Obviously we can’t deny the roles of other Muslims in the development of Arabic grammar; however, as our subject is the Shīʿa contribution to the invention and development of sciences, we only mention the Shīʿa scholars who played pivotal roles in the development of these sciences.

 ‘ʿAtāʾ b. Abī al-ʿĀswad

In his Rijāl, Shaykh al-Ṭūsī mentions him in the chapter on the Companions of Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī. In his Suyūṭī in his Ṭabaqāt describes ʿAtā as the teacher of al-Aṣmaʿī and Abū ʿUbayda. (Taʾsīs al-Shīʿa, 65)

Abū Ja’far Muḥammad b. Abī Sara al-Rawāsī al-Kūfī

Suyūṭī says that he is the first among Kufans to write a book on grammar and called it al-Faysal. He is the teacher of al-Kisāʾī and Farrāʾ. (ibid., 67)

Najāshī says that Abū Ja’far and his father narrated traditions from Imams al-Bāqir and Sādiq and he himself is the author of several books such as Kitāb al-Waqf wa al-Ibtida>ʾ, Kitāb al-Humaz and Kitāb Iʿrāb al-Qurʾān.

Ḥumrān b. Aʿyān

He is the brother of Zurāra b. Aʿyan and he is known as a preeminent authority in the science of grammar. Ḥumrān learned the knowledge of grammar and recitation from Abū al-ʿĀswad’s sons, and Farrāʾ also studied under him. He was assiduous in learning traditions, grammar and the Qur’an; he took aḥādīth from the Imams Sajjād, al-Bāqir, and al-Sādiq. The family of al-Aʿyan was, in fact, one of the most important Shīʿa families in Kufa. to the extent that Abū Ghālib Zurārī (d. 286 AH) wrote a book about them. He writes in his book that Ḥumrān was among the elders of Shīʿa and had expertise in grammar and lexicography. (Risālat Āl Aʿyan, 3)

Abū ʿUthmān Māzinī

His name is Bakr b. Muḥammad. Najāshī says that he was the leader of scholars in grammar and his Muqaddimais quite well-known amongst scholars. He was a scholar of the Imāmiyya who was trained by Ismāʿīl b. Maytham. He wrote a book on Arabic literature entitled al-Taṣrīf and another book under the title of Ma Yulhan fīhi al-ʿĀmma. He died in 248 AH. (Najāshī, 277; Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist, 90; Tārīkh Baghdād, 93, no. 3529)

Ibn al-Sikkīt

His name was Yaʿqūb b. Isḥāq and he was a close companion of the Imams al-Jawād and al-Hādī. He has narrated from Imam al-Jawād and has asked some questions from him. Mutawakkil had him killed in 242 AH because of his commitment to Shi’ism. He was a leading scholar in Arabic language and literature in his time. His books include: (1). Iṣlāḥ al-Manṭiq (2) Kitāb al-Alfāẓ   (3) Ma Ittafaqa Lafẓahu wa Ikhtalafa Maʿnāhu (4) Kitāb al-Aḍdād (5) Kitāb al-Mudhakkar wa al-Muʾannath (6) Kitāb al-Maqṣūr wa al-Mamdūd. (Najāshī, no. 1215)

He suffered a gruesome martyrdom because of his love for ʿAlī and the Prophet’s Household; before this, he had been the teacher of Mutawakkil’s sons. One day, Mutawakkil asked him are these two sons of mine dearer to you or Ḥasan and Ḥusayn? Ibn Sikkīt replied, ‘to me, Qanbar, the servant of ʿAlī, is superior to you and your sons.’ Hearing this, Mutawakkil became enraged and ordered his tongue to be torn out. He wrote more than 20 books on poetry and vocabulary. (Tārīkh Adab al-Lugha al-ʿArabiyya, 1/224)

Ibn Ḥamdūn

He was known as Aḥmad b. Ismāʿīl b. Dāwūd b. Ḥamdūn and was considered a master of Arabic grammar. Najāshī introduces him saying, ‘He is the master of grammarians, and their foremost figure, Abūl ʿAbbās (Thaʿlaba), learned grammar from him. He was among the close companions of Imam al-Hādī and Imam al-ʿAskarī and wrote many books,’ before listing Ibn Ḥamdūn’s works. (Najāshī, nos. 1215, 228)

Abū Isḥāq Naḥwī

His name is Thaʿlaba b. Maymūn. Najāshī says: ‘He was a linguist, the master of recitation, the jurist of his time, and an expert in grammar. He narrated aḥādīth from Imam al-Sādiq and Imam al-Kāẓim.’ (Najāshī, no. 300; Lisān al-Mīzān, 1/332)

Qutayba Naḥwī

Qutayba Juʿfī is from Kufa. Najāshī says about him, ‘he is the master of recitation and a man of letters.’ (Najāshī, no. 867)

Ibrāhīm b. Abī al-Bilad

Najāshī says about him: ‘He is a reliable narrator, a reciter of the Qur’an, a literary scholar who has narratedḥadīth from Imam al-Sādiq and Kāẓim.

Muḥammad b. Salama Yashakrī

Najāshī says, ‘He is a great man among our Kufan Companions. He is held in high esteem is a reciter, a jurist and a grammarian. He lived for a while among Bedouins and learned the pure Arabic language from them. Yaʿqūb b. Sikkīt enjoyed his erudite company.’

Abū ʿAbd Allāh Naḥwī

His name is Ḥusayn b. Aḥmad b. Khāluwayh. He resided in Aleppo and was a Shīʿa, knowledgeable in the sciences of Arabic language and poetry. His works include Mustaḥsan al-Qirāʾāt, al-Shawadhdh and Kitāb fī al-Lugha. (Najāshī, no. 159)

As Suyūṭī writes in his Ṭabaqāt: ‘He was the leading scholar in linguistics and Arabic sciences. He died in 314 AH in Baghdad.’ (1/529, no. 1099)

Abū al-Qāsim Tanūkhī

Ibn Shahrʾāshūb says: ‘He is among the poets who praised the Prophet’s Family in their poems.’ (Maʿālim al-ʿUlamāʾ, p. 149) Yāqūt writes: ‘He was a leading scholar in linguistics, astronomy, and prosody. He knew many poems by heart.’ (Taʾsīs al-Shīʿa, 139)

Here, we have mentioned some of the leading scholars of grammar and prominent figures of this science. The majority of these scholars lived in the first four centuries of the Islamic history – If we were to mention all great Shīʿa scholars of grammar we would need to write a separate book on them! The late Ḥasan Ṣadr has listed in his book as many as 140 Shīʿa grammarians active up until the 7th century AH.

It suffices to know that Sharīf al-Raḍī, Sharīf Murtaḍā, Ibn Shajarī, and Najm al-Āʾimma were also remarkable Shīʿa scholars in this field of knowledge. Once again, we are not overlooking the contribution other scholars made to the development of this science. However, we aim to introduce a group scholars efforts have remained unknown, often for sectarian reasons.

Morphology (ʿIlm al-Ṣarf)

Before the time of Abū ʿUthmān Māzinī (d. 248 AH), morphology was part of grammar. The first person who differentiated it from grammar and wrote a separate book on it was Abū ʿUthmān Māzinī. (Kashf al-Ẓunūn, 1/249) Abū al-Fatḥ ʿUthmān b. Jinnī (d. 392 AH) wrote a commentary on it, however this science was not warmly welcomed until the time of Najm al-Āʾimma, Muḥammad b. Raḍī Astarʾābādī Gharawī, wrote a complete commentary on Ibn Ḥājib’s Shāfiya in morphology, he also wrote a commentary on his Kāfiya in grammar.

The author of Kashf al-Ẓunūn states that that there are various commentaries on Ibn Ḥājib’s Kāfiya. The most comprehensive of them is the commentary of Raḍī. Suyūṭī believes nothing like this has been ever written and that in all the works of grammar there is no book as complete as this. Thus, people have welcomed and trusted this book. Raḍī has put forward certain ideas in this book that are different from those of other grammarians. He completed this book in 683 AH in the holy city of Najaf.

 Semantics (Ilm al-Lugha)

By semantics, we mean the study of the meaning of Arabic words in light of heir etymology and derivation, in order to determine their precise sense. The fruit of this endeavour is the production of dictionaries and lexicons; some dictionaries are on a specific category such as animals, humans, bears, horses, and camels. This kind contains the species’s members and that of their body parts. For example, Kitāb al-Ḥaywān by al-Jāḥiẓ and Ḥayāt al-Ḥaywān by Damīrī and Thaʿlabī. These books are known as ‘technical lexicons.’

Other dictionaries aim to include the totality of words in the Arabic language regardless of a particular topic. The first to writing such a dictionary was Abū ʿAbd Allāh Khalīl b. Aḥmad al-Farāhīdī. He is the first to record Arabic vocabuly and he is the founder of Arabic prosody (ʿilm al-ʿurūḍ). His dictionary follows a special method which is no longer common these days; he arranged the Arabic alphabet according to their place of articulation from the pharynx to the lips. He entitled this book Kitāb al-ʿAyn. This book is recently published and some have organized the book, following the model of modern dictionaries, alphabetically.

Khalīl b. Aḥmad

There is no doubt that Khalīl b. Aḥmad was a Shīʿa. He was born in the year 100 AH and passed away in 170 or 175 AH. In addition to his dictionary, he wrote a book about the Imamate. Muḥammad b. Ja’far Marāghī has mentioned all of Khalīl’s works in his book, entitled al-Khalīlī.

Najāshī says that Muḥammad b. Ja’far was also active in the area of theology and wrote the books Mukhtār al-Akhbār and Khalīlī on the Imamate and the metaphors in the Qur’an and another book on figures of speech in the Qur’an. (Najāshī, no. 1052)

ʿAllāma al-Ḥillī writes in his Khulāṣa: ‘He was superior to all others in Arabic literature and his authority in language is beyond dispute. He invented prosody. His knowledge is so profound that it can’t be described. He was an Imāmī Shīʿa.’ (Khulāṣa, Part 1, no. 67)

Ibn Dāwūd says Khalīl b. Aḥmad was the leading scholar in the literary arts. His knowledge and piety are too great to be denied. He was a Twelver. (Rijāl, Part 1, p. 574)

Abān b. Taghlib

He was a close companion of the Imams Bāqir and Sādiq. Najāshī says, ‘He was among the well-known reciters, a jurist and linguist. He heard the language from the Bedouins and quoted it.’ (Najāshī, no. 6)

Yāqūt says that he was a reliable narrator, a scholar of great standing, a Qur’an reciter, a jurist and a linguist.

Ibn Ḥamdūn

Shaykh al-Ṭūsī says in his Fihrist that Ibn Ḥamdūn was a leading linguist and a well-known scholar. (no. 56.) He was the teacher of Abūl ʿAbbās.

Abū Bakr Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan b. Durayd al-Azadi

Khaṭīb Baghdādī says that Abū Bakr was a man of letters and a great linguist. He is the writer of a dictionary entitled al-Jamhara fī al-Lugha. Coincidently, he and Abū al-Hāshim Jubāʾī passed away on the same day, and people said most regretfully that with the death of Ibn Durayd and Hashem, semantics and theology had died as well.

He wrote al-Jamhara fī al-Lughah in the manner of Khalīl’s al-ʿAyn. Ṣāḥib b. ʿAbbād abridged and entitled it Jawharat al-Jamhara.

Ṣāḥib b. ʿAbbād

An outstanding figure in knowledge and literature; Ṣadūq (306-381 AH) dedicated the book ‘Uyun Akhbār al-Riḍāto him. Among his works is the 7-volume work on lexicography entitled al-Muḥīṭ. His being a Shīʿa is beyond doubt; it suffices to consider two lines of one of his odes to establish this:

Don’t you know the guardian is one / who gave alms when he was in the prayers?

Don’t you know the guardian is one / whom Ghadīr judged superior to the Companions?

Obviously the number of Shīʿa scholars who contributed to the development of Arabic grammar is greater than those mentioned here. The late Sayyid Ṣadr in his book, Taʾsīs al-Shīʿa included the biography of 24 such figures. However, since we aim to keep this discussion brief, we will not elaborate further.

Prosody (ʿIlm al-ʿUrūḍ)

Not only did Shīʿa formulated the rules of grammar under the direction of the Gate to Prophetic Knowledge, ʿAlī, but they also invented the science of prosody. We will only mention the inventor of this science and name two prominent authors in this field.

Khalīl b. Aḥmad al-Farāhīdī

Ibn Khallikān says that Farāhīdī discovered the science of prosody and created it from scratch. He limited its types to five circles from which fifteen meters are inferred. (Wafāyāt al-Aʿyān, 1/244, no. 225).

Ṣāḥib b. ‘ʿAbbād

Ṣāḥib b. ‘ʿAbbād, usually Known as Kāfī al-Kufāt, is a famous man of letters. He has a book entitled al-Iqnāʿ fī al-Urūḍ. (Kashf al-Ẓunūn, 1/132)

After him a number of other great Shīʿa scholars wrote in the field of prosody, two of whom are mentioned below:

  1. Sayyid Hibat al-Dīn Shahristani

He wrote a book entitled Rawāshih al-Fuyūḍ fī ʿIlm al-Urūḍ, published in 1364 AH in Tehran.

  1. Shaykh Mustafa Tabrizi (1298-1338 AH)

He is the writer of a most beautiful and pleasant ode. His dear friend Abū al-Majd Shaykh Muḥammad Riḍā Iṣfahānī has commented on the poem and named it Adāʾ al-Mafrūḍ fī Sharḥ Arjūzat al-Urūḍ. A few lines of this poem are quoted below:

الحمدلله على اسباغ ما ʿʿʿ أولى لنا من فضله وأنعما

Praise be to Allāh for conferring upon us all His blessing

Giving to us the best of His bounty and blessing

وخصّنا منه بواف وافر ʿʿʿ من بحر جوده المديد الزاخر

Allocated to us abounding sufficiently

From His endless generosity constantly yielding

صلى على نبينا المختار ʿʿʿ ما عاقب الليل على النهار

Be Allāh’s blessing on our chosen Prophet

Continually day and night

وآله معادن الرسالة ʿʿʿ بهم يداوى علل الجهالة

And his family, the treasuries of his message

Through them the causes of ignorance are removed

خذها ودع عنك رموز الزامرة ʿʿʿ كعادة تجلى عليك بارزة

تجمع كل ظاهر وخاف ʿʿʿ فى علمى العروض والقوافى(() )

Accumulated herein all hidden and shown are two sciences of prosody and rhyme.

This ode has been recently published along with a comprehensive study in Esfahan.

We content ourselves with this brief mentioning of Shīʿa contribution to the development of the science of prosody.

Shīʿa and the poetic arts

What we mean by poetry is not composing utterances in verse and arranging them in certain poetic forms. Rather, it is the creation of poetic expressions with excellent meaning that reinforce ethics and inspire man to perservere. A concept of poetry as such serves as the pillar of civilization, and progress in this area provides the foundation for a nation’s culture and facilitates its development. The type of poetry marked by commonplace and immoral content is not our concern and surely can’t serve as the foundation for human civilization. When the Qur’an criticizes poetry and poets, its targets are the “professional” poets who make a business out of their poetry, praising injustice and portraying the oppressed as the oppressor. therefore the Qur’an identifies them with certain characteristics, saying: ‘As for the poets, [only] the perverse follow them. Have you not regarded that they rove in every valley, and that they say what they do not do?’ (Q26:224-226)

When speaking about poetry in the sense of virtuous poets, the Shīʿa are surely pioneers in this field. The poets of the first centuries, in particular, excelled against others by composing poems in praise of the Prophet’s Family and inviting their readers to intellectual and cultural struggle. To prove this point, it suffices for the reader to consider the works of Shīʿa poets such as Kumayt’s ode, Hāshimayyat, Sayyid Ismāʿīl Ḥimayrī’s ʿAyniyya, Diʿbal’s Tāʾiyya, and the like. That is why the Shīʿa have always appreciated these faithful poets who dedicated their poetry to the promotion of justice and virtue. Some of these figures are as follows:

Qays b. Saʿd b. ʿUbāda

Saʿd b. ʿUbāda, the great Companion of the Prophet was the leader of Khazraj tribe. His son Qays b. Saʿd was an esteemed leader among his people. He was a follower of Imam ʿAlī, who appointed him to govern Egypt. During the events of Saqīfa, he and the tribe of Khazraj chanted: ‘We swear allegiance to no one but ʿAlī.’ (Ṭabarī has reported the event in the second volume of his Tārīkh in the chapter on the events of Saqīfa)

Kumayt b. Zayd (d. 160 AH)

He was a leading poet, a knowledgeable scholar of Arabic language and history, and held the foremost position among the poets of the tribe of Muḍar. He was a follower of ʿAlī and always took pride in his loyalty to the Prophet’s Household. His Hāshimayyat, an ode composed of about 587 lines, eulogizes the Prophet’s Family. His praise is based on the Qur’an and Sunna and this has made his name and his odes everlasting. The odes in Hāshimayyat are not all of the same rhyme. Some are mīmiyya, some others bāʾiyya, rāʾiyya and so on.

The complete works of Kumayt have been repeatedly published and Muḥammad Shākir Khayyāṭ and Rāfiʿī have commented on his poems.

Sayyid Ḥimyarī(d. 173 AH)

Ismāʿīl b. Muḥammad, nicknamed Sayyid, is a famous poet. He is among those poets who while prolific in producing uniquely beautiful poems. He, along with Bashshār and Abū al-ʿAtāhiya, are the three poets who have composed the greatest number of poems. Sayyid, however, differs from the other two in his being immersed in the love of the Prophet’s Household and in openly expressing their virtues. He never praised the enemies of the Prophet’s Household and at suitable times sharply criticized them. Among his famous odes are the ʿAyniyya and the Bāʾiyya.

Diʿbal Khuzāʾī (d. 246 AH)

Abū ʿAlī, Diʿbal b. ʿUthmān b. ʿAlī Khuzāʾī was born into a family known for their knowledge, piety and literary talent. He was a descendant of Badīl b. Warqāʾ Khuzāʾī, the man whom the Prophet had prayed for. Najāshī says that Diʿbal wrote a book entitled Ṭabaqāt al-Shuʿarāʾ (‘The Classes of Poets’), which indicated his comprehensive knowledge of contemporary and past poets. If one is to have a thorough understanding of him, they must look at him from four angles:

  1. His pre-eminence in poetry, history and letters.
  2. His contribution to the narration of ḥadīth, either by quoting ḥadīth from others or others quoting from him.
  3. His loyalty to the Prophet’s Family which motivated him to compose the majority of his poems for them.
  4. His interaction with the Caliphs of his time.

Luckily, the late Amīnī has thoroughly discussed these four categories. (see Ghadīr, 2/369-86.)

Abū Firās al-Hamadānī (320-357 AH)

His name is Hārith b. Abī al-ʿAlāʾ. Thaʿlabī describes him as ‘peerless in his time, a shining example of courtesy, generosity, bravery, eloquence, and poetry. His poems had beauty, ease, eloquence, sweetness, and magnificence.

As well as these poets we have mentioned above, notable Shīʿa poets include Ibn Ḥajjāj Baghdādī (d. 321), Sharīf al-Raḍī (d. 406), Sharīf al-Murtaḍā (d. 436) and Mahyār Daylamī (d. 448). Interested readers can refer to the following books for more information:

Al-Adab fī Ẓill al-Tashayyuʿ  by Shaykh ʿAbd Allāh Niʿma

Taʾsis al-Shīʿa by Sayyid Ḥasan al-Ṣadr, Chapter 6.

Al-Ghadīr by ʿAllāma Amīnī, in 11 volumes.

Qur’anic exegesis

The Qur’an is simultaneously the primary source for Islamic beliefs and practices and the miracle of the Final Prophet. Muslim scholars from the very early days of Islam devoted themselves to understanding this scripture with a dedication that had no equal in previous religions.

ʿAlī and his descendents were the foremost exegetes of the Qur’an. They interpreted the the Qur’an according to the teachings of the Prophet and provided Muslims with a vast treasure of knowledge.

It is a wonder that some historians consider the Companions and Successors as exegetes while they are silent about the Imams of The Prophet’s Household. Worse still, some scholars such as Dr. Muḥammad Ḥusayn Dhahabī have placed Imam ʿAlī in the third rank of the interpreters while placing his student Ibn ʿAbbās in the first. In this regard, he has not mentioned other the Imams of The Prophet’s Family at all.

Gharīb al-Qurʾān

As soon as the Prophet passed away, Muslims began to interpret the Qur’an and discuss the meanings of its verses; each school of thought approached it in one way or another. Some focused on defining the words of the Qur’an, especially those common among Quraysh and less familiar to other tribes. This genre of writing was known as Gharīb al-Qurʾān. Ibn al-Azraq who is one of the chiefs of Khawārij asked b. ʿAbbās several questions about Gharīb al-Qurʾān. Ibn ʿAbbās answered all of the questions by reciting some Arabic poems. Al-Suyūṭī has collected these questions and answers in a book. (al-Itqān, 4/8855; Najāshī, no. 6)

Now we list some of the Shīʿa scholars who compiled works in the this field:

  1. Gharīb al-Qurʾān by Abān b. Taghlib al-Kindī (d. 141 AH)
  2. Gharīb al-Qurʾān by Muḥammad b. Ṣāḥib al-Kalbī, a companion of Imam al-Sādiq (Najāshī, in the same section as Abān, no. 6)
  3. Gharīb al-Qurʾān by ʿAtiya b. Ḥārith al-Hamadānī al- Kūfī. Ibn ʿUqda says that he was well-known in his support for the Prophet’s Household. (Ibid)
  4. Gharīb al-Qurʾān by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Muḥammad al-Azdī al-Kūfī. He has compiled a book from contents the three above books.
  5. Gharīb al-Qurʾān by Abū Jaʿfar Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Ṭabarī, the Shīʿa minister (wazīr), who died in (d. 313 AH)

In this manner, Shīʿa scholars endeavored to compile works on Gharīb al-Qurʾān in the following centuries. The last attempt was Gharīb al-Qurʾān by Sayyid Muḥammad Mahdī Khurasān, which was published in two parts. (al-Dharīʿa ilā Taṣanīf al-Shīʿa, 16/50, no. 208)

Majāz  al-Qurʾān

In addition to writing works on gharīb al-qurʾān, Shīʿa scholars have also undertaken to explain the Qur’an’s figurative language (majāzāt). This includes all figurative forms such as metonymy, metaphor and synecdoche. Since the Arabic language abounds in these figures, the Qur’an, written in Arabic, has fully exploited such rhetorical figures as these for rhetorical purposes. A fuller elaboration of these forms can be found in the works of rhetoric (balāgha).

The works written by Shīʿa scholars on this issue are as follows:

  1. Majāz al-Qurʾān by Yaḥyā b. Ziyād al-Kūfī, known as Farrāʾ (d. 207 AH), recently published in two volumes. (al-Dharīʿa, 19/351, no. 1567)
  2. Majāz al-Qurʾān by Muḥammad b. Ja’far, popularly known as Abū al-Fatḥ al-Hamadanī. Najāshī says that he had a book entitled Dhikr al-Majāz min al-Qurʾān. (Najāshī, no. 1054)
  3. Majāzāt al- Qurʾān by Sharīf al-Raḍī, popularly known as Talkhīṣ al-Bayān fī Majāzāt al-Qurʾān. This book is the most excellent work done on the figures of speech in Qur’an.
School of Exegesis

Exegetes have followed different approaches in composing their interpretations of the Qur’an. Some, for example, have written books about decisive (muhkam) and ambiguous (mutashabih) verses; others have dealt with the abrogating (nasikh) and abrogated (mansookh) passages; there are those who focus on legal verses (ayāt al-aḥkām); books are written on the Stories of the Prophets (qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ); others on oaths and proverbs in the Qur’an; others, due to their love for the Prophet’s Household, attempted to comment on verses pertaining to the The Prophet’s Family. Shīʿa scholars have contributed to all of the above-mentioned genres and enriched Islamic sciences with their writings. The reader can refer to the book al-Dharīʿa ilā Taṣānīf al-Shīʿa and look under the heading of Tafsīr in order to see the sheer number of Shīʿa commentaries.

Now we will briefly explain two different approaches to exegesis; the sequential approach and the thematic approach.

The reader should recall that the sequential approach is the most common method to interpret the Qur’an amongst both traditional and modern exegetes. In this approach, the exegete interprets the verses in order, one after another. Some exegetes have written complete commentaries in this format, while others have written partial or incomplete ones. In the first three centuries of Islam, this method of interpretation was largely based on aḥādīth; after mentioning the given verse they would narrate the ḥadīth pertaining to the interpretation of that verse. However, from the fourth century onwards, the sequential approach underwent a significant change and became more analytical. Then, in addition to narrating traditions, interpreters also discussed the appropriate recitation of the verse, the evidence for this, the meanings of its words and their analysis of its content. Possibly, the first scholar who revolutionized Shīʿa interpretation was the preeminent scholar of his time, Sharīf al-Raḍī (359-406 AH). He introduced this new approach by writing a book entitled Ḥaqāʾiq al-Ṭaʾwīl in twenty volumes. Other interpreters followed this approach after he passed away. His elder brother, Sharīf al-Murtaḍā, followed the same approach in his Amālī, popularly known as al-Durar wa al-Ghurar. Moreover, Shaykh al-Ṭūsī, the author of al-Tibyān fī Tafsīr al-Qurʾān, a comprehensive interpretation in ten substantial volumes, further developed and reinforced this approach.

Unfortunately, of the twenty volumes of al-Raḍī’s interpretation, only the fifth part is extant. Destructive sectarian conflicts probably led to the loss of these books. In the following centuries, Shīʿa scholars wrote many hundreds of commentaries on the Qur’an following this approach. Some of these have been published individually or are available as part of other books.

In the thematic approach, a scholar selects a verses from various parts of the Qur’an that are related to a single theme and, by considering the totality of the verses on this subject, attempts to discern God’s viewpoint on it. The Qur’an deals with various issues such as knowledge, stories, history, precepts, customs, sciences, ontology, cosmology, geology and so forth. But the verses pertaining to a particular issue are not grouped together in a single chapter; rather, due to certain reasons, they are scattered throughout various chapters.

A researcher gathers the relevant verses for a particular issue using a concordance and his own familiarity with the Qur’an. Then, he studies them as a whole so that he can discover the Qur’anic viewpoint on that matter. Let’s consider an example; the Qur’an has considered human actions in its various chapters. Perhaps a cursory glance would suggest that some verses support predestination while others support free-will. Sometimes a middle way is also suggested. Undoubtedly, the Qur’an has a single unified view concerning human actions and, if it has expressed the same idea in different ways, this is because it has been uttered in arguing with different people and is meant to refute vain ideas. Therefore in order to know the real Qur’anic viewpoint there is no other way but gathering all the verses pertaining to a single issue in one place. Shīʿa exegetes have been the main innovators of the thematic approach.

We should explain that some Sunnī scholars of jurisprudence have interpreted the verses pertaining to the Islamic laws according to the order of the chapters. Ayāt al-Aḥkām by Jaṣṣāṣ is the most important legal interpretation (Tafsīr) to follow this approach. The verses in Sūrat al-Baqara are mentioned, followed by the verses in the Sūrat Āl ʿImrān. On the other hand Shīʿa jurists have adopted the thematic approach; first, they have gathered, for example, the verses about ritual purity from different chapters and then they have interpreted them as a whole. They have also dealt thematically with various issues related to prayer. We can mention the following books in this regard:

  1. Ayāt al-Aḥkām by Fāḍil Miqdād Sayūrī (d. 879 A.H)
  2. Zubdat al-Bayān by Aḥmad b. Muḥammad Ardabīlī (also known as Muḥaqqiq Ardabīlī) (d. 993 AH)
  3. Mafāhīm al-Qurʾān by Jaʿfar Subḥānī in ten volumes
  4. Manshūr-i Jāvīd, also by Jaʿfar Subḥānī, in fourteen volumes.

In fact, it was Muḥammad Bāqir Majlisī, also known as ʿAllāma Majlisī, who innovated the thematic interpretation for the first time.

In his multivolume encyclopedia of tradtions, Biḥār al-Anwār, he quotes verses connected to a certain subject and then offers a brief interpretation. Afterwards, he proceeds to other subjects. If a researcher gathered the existing verses and their interpretation in Biḥār al-Anwār, he would add a collection of brief thematic interpretation to the books already written in the field of exegesis.

Ḥadīth Sciences

Accounts of the Prophet’s words and deeds, known as aḥādīth, serve as the second source of Islamic laws and Islamic knowledge. After collecting the verses of the Qur’an, one of the necessary tasks was to collect the sayings of the Prophet’s that were uttered in the course of his mission on different occasions. Occasionally, the Prophet himself would order his Companions to record his sayings. ʿAmr b. Shuʿayb narrates from his father who narrates from his grandfather: I asked the Prophet: ‘Am I to write everything I hear from you?’ The Prophet stated, ‘Do so.’ I said: ‘Even the words you say when you are angry?’ He told me: ‘Yes, in all states I speak nothing but the truth.’ (Musnad Aḥmad, 2/207)

God tells Muslims that if they take a loan from someone, they should write down the amount lest they should forget it. (Q2:282) When a worldly thing is deemed so important, it seems obvious that the sayings of the Final Prophet, which are the means of salvation and the guidance for the Islamic community, are more worthy of being recorded. (Baghdādī, Taqyīd al-ʿIlm, 700)

Since the Prophet does not speak out of his own desires but rather out of divine inspiration – your companion has neither gone astray, nor gone amiss. Nor does he speak out of [his own] desire: it is just a revelation that is revealed [to him] (Q53:2–4) – his speech and actions must be carefully recorded to prevent the Islamic community going astray when they confront new issues. In spite of the importance of writing traditions, unfortunately the first three caliphs prevented the writing and propagation of them; to the extent that the Second Caliph told the three great Companions of the Prophet, Abū Dharr, ʿAbd Allāh b. Masʿūd, and Abū al-Dardāʾ: ‘What is this talk that you spread about Muḥammad?’ (Kanz al-ʿUmmāl, 10/293, no. 29479)

Finally, the ban on writing aḥādīth became a practice that the Third Caliph also followed. After him, Muʿāwiya b. Abī Sufyān prohibited writing aḥādīth to the extent that writing aḥādīth became an evil act. It is deeply saddening to see that narrating and writing the Prophet’s words were forbidden, while Jewish and Christian storytellers who had apparently embraced Islam were given the green light to spread whatever they wished. (Ibid., 281) Consequently, the Jew Kaʿb al-Aḥbār and the Christian, Tamīm al-Dārī, who had freshly converted to Islam, began spreading Judeo-Christian fables which resulted in the mixture of truth and falsehood and made the separation of them difficult. ʿUmar b.ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, a moderate man, when became the Caliph thought that ḥadīth should be written. So he wrote to Abū Bakr b. Ḥazm to write down the ḥadīth of the Messenger because when a knowledge becomes a secret, it will be lost. (Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, Vol. 1, p. 27)

In spite of the then Caliph’s emphasis on writing traditions, this scholar from Medina, failed to comply because the prohibition of writing ḥadīth was still in effect. Therefore no one dared to write ḥadīth save those who did it in secret until 143 AH when in the reign of the Abbasid Caliph, Manṣūr, a general movement of writing ḥadīth started. Actually, it was nearly after 150 years since the Messenger of Allāh had passed away that the narrators of ḥadīth engaged in writing ḥadīth, at a time when all of the Companions and followers had passed away.

Shīʿa initiatives in writing aḥādīth

Although the supporters of the Caliphs were negligent in writing ḥadīth and only began to record them more than a century after the Prophet, the Shīʿa Imams, including ʿAlī, not only wrote ḥadīth themselves but also encouraged others to do so. The leading figure in undertaking this task was ʿAlī. who collected the ḥadīth of the messenger of Allāh in a book which came to be known as ‘Kitāb ʿAlī’ and was kept by his successors, who showed it to their Companions. (Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, 3/250)

After ʿAlī (ʿAlī), other Companions of the Prophet who followed ʿAlī engaged in writing aḥādīth, including:

  1. Abū Rāfiʿ, the Prophet’s companion and the writer of a book entitled al-Sunan wa al-Aḥkām wa al-Qaḍāyā. (Najāshī, no. 1. )
  2. Salmān al-Fārsī (d. 34 AH)

He wrote a book about the Roman Primate (jathlīq), who was sent after the death of the Prophet to Medina by the Roman Emperor to make a report for him on the nature of Islam. (Tusi, Fihrist, 8)

  1. Abū Dharr Al-Ghifārī (d. 32 AH)

He has a book entitled al-Khuṭba, in which he has recorded the events following the death of the Prophet. (Ibid., 54)

These Shīʿa were the Companions of the Prophet and at the same time followed the ʿAlī. Now we mention the writers of the aḥādīth following these Shīʿa. They belong to several generations.

The first generation

Asbagh b. Nabāta Mujāshīʿī

He is the narrator of the instructions that ʿAlī wrote to Malik al-ʿĀshtar, he is also the narrator of the Imam’s will to his son Muḥammad b. Ḥanafīya. (Najāshī, no. 4)

ʿUbayd Allāh b. Abī Rāfiʿ

He served as the scribe of ʿAlī. He has several works, including: (a) Qaḍāyā Amīr al-Muʾminīn containing ʿAlī’s judgments on various occasions, and (b) a book about the martyrs of the battles of Jamāl, Ṣiffīn and Nahrawān who fought for ʿAlī.

  1. Rabīʿa b. Samīʿ

He is the author of a book about Zakāt levied upon beasts of burden. He narrates from ʿAlī. (Najāshī, no. 28)

  1. Sulaym b. Qays al-Hilālī

His teknonym is Abū Sādiq. He is the author of a famous book entitled Kitāb al-Saqīfa. (Ibid., no. 2)

  1. ʿAlī b. Abī Rāfiʿ

He is the son of Abū Rāfiʿ, who was a scribe to ʿAlī. He has a book about ritual ablution and prayers. His other book is about Islamic Jurisprudence. (Ibid., no. 1)

  1. ʿUbayd Allāh b. Ḥurr al-Juʿfī

He is a famous champion and poet. He has a book in which he narrates from ʿAlī.

  1. Zayd b. Wahb al-Jahnī

He is the collector of sermons delivered by ʿAlī during Friday Prayers and on Eid days.

The second class of narrators

  1. The fourth leader of the Shīʿa, ʿAlī b. Ḥusayn, is the writer of the Ṣaḥīfa Sajjādiyya, a collection of deeply profound prayers and supplications. He has also written a treatise on rights including 51 chapters. Both works have been deemed important by scholars and extensive commentaries have been written on them. The author of Tuḥaf al-ʿUqūl has included the Imam’s treatise on rights in his book and Shaykh al-Ṣadūq has quoted it in his Faqīh and Khiṣāl.
  2. Jābir b. Yazīd al-Juʿfī (d. 128 AH) has authored some books. (Najāshī, no. 330)
  3. Ziyād b. Mundhir had true faith in the beginning but was mislead later. Some of his writings are included in the Tafsīrof ʿAlī b. Ibrāhīm al-Qummī.
  4. Lūṭ b. Yaḥyā b. Saʿīd

He was among the notables of Kufa. He wrote many books that Shaykh al-Ṭūsī has listed in his Rijāl. (no. 279)

  1. Jarūd b. Mundhir

He was a companions of the Imams al-Bāqir and al-Sādiq. He has authored a series of books. (Ṭūsī, Rijāl, no. 112)

The third class of narrators

This class consists of a group of the students of Imam al-Sajjād, Imam al-Bāqir and al-Sādiq. They are all literary men and narrators of ḥadīth.

  1. Bard al-Iskāf

One of the companions of Imam al-Bāqir and al-Sādiq. Najāshī says that he has written some books. (Najāshī, no. 289)

  1. Thābit Dīnār

He is popularly known as Abū Ḥamza al-Thumālī, a reliable jurist who died in 150 AH. He wrote a book entitled al-Nawadir wa al-Zuhd and an exegesis of the Qur’an. (Ibid., no. 294)

  1. Thābit b. Hurmuz

He is popularly known as Abū al-Muqaddam al-ʿAjali al-Kūfī. He quotes a book from Imam al-Sajjād. (Ibid., no. 269)

  1. Bassām b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Ṣayrafī

He has a book and has narrated ḥadīth from Imam al-Bāqir and al-Sādiq. (Ibid., no. 286)

  1. Muḥammad b. Qays Bajalī

He is the collector of the judgments of ʿAlī. (Fihrist, no. 131) Although this book is extinct, the Shīʿa scholars in the Four Books and other sources have quoted Imam ʿAlī’s judgments from this source. Recently, Bashīr Muḥammadi has collected these traditions and published the collection with a preface by Jaʿfar Subḥānī.

  1. Hujr b. Zāʾida al-Haḍramī

He has authored a book and narrates ḥadīth from Imams al-Bāqir and al-Ṣādiq. (Najāshī, no. 382)

  1. Zakariyā b. ʿAbd Allāh Fayyāḍ wrote a book. (Ibid., no. 452)
  2. Ḥusayn b. Thawr b. Abī Fākhta has a book entitled Nawadir. (Ibid., no. 124)
  3. ʿAbd al-Muʾmin b. Qāsim b. Qays (d. 147 AH); in his Rijāl, Ṭūsī counts him among the companions of the Imams al-Sajjād, al-Bāqir and al-Ṣādiq and says that he has a book. (Ibid. no. 653)

We content ourselves with this brief explanation and refer the interested reader to books of Rijāl to discover for themselves the extent to which Shīʿa have contributed to the science of ḥadīth.

The most comprehensive book written in this regard is the one written by Ayatollah Burūjurdī entitled Ṭabaqāt. He has categorized Shīʿa scholars and narrators who have books of aḥādīth into 34 generations and has offered a brief biography for each writer. We conclude our discussion here and leave tracing the narrators and writers ofḥadīth from the time of Imam al-Kāẓim to the Greater Occultation for another occasion.

Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh)

Islamic Jurisprudence, which is distilled from the traditions of the Prophet and Infallible Imams, has existed from the first years of the Prophet’s mission. After the Prophet, it has been present among the Companions and the followers and has gradually reached perfection. Shīʿa scholars rely on the Qur’an and the authentic traditions of the Prophet and Infallible Imams in their jurisprudence. Furthermore, in some cases they make use of the judgments of reason (ʿaql), and they accept scholarly consensus (ijmāʿ) when there is a basis for the agreement, or a reason clear to those who came to an agreement in the past which we no longer have access to.

The Shīʿa believe that the ‘gate of ijtihād’ opened at the time of the Prophet’s mission and has never been closed to the Muslims since. They believe that God has obliged no individual to follow a particular jurist, rather people can refer to any qualified jurist they choose, provided that he is alive today.

Mentioning all the prominent Shīʿa jurists during the time of the Imams would require the writing of a separate book; however, we briefly mention some here.

The first generation consists of the jurists such as Muḥammad b. Muslim, Zurāra b. Aʿyan, Barīd b. Muʿāwiya, and Fuḍayl b. Yasār, who were trained by Imams al-Bāqir and al-Sādiq and reached the level of ijtihād (the ability to independently derive laws from their sources). They are some of the outstanding jurists amongst the companions of these two Imams.

The second generation is made up of, as it were, the graduates of the school that was founded by these two Imam. For example, we can name Jamīl b. Durrāj, ʿAbd Allāh b. Maskan, ʿAbd Allāh b. Bakīr, Ḥamād b. ʿUthmān, and Ḥamād b. ʿĪsā, and Abān b. ʿUthmān.

The third generation includes jurists like Yunus b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān, Muḥammad b. Abī ʿUmayr, ʿAbd Allāh b. Mughīra, Ḥasan b. Maḥbūb, and Ḥasan b. ʿAlī b. Faḍḍāl who were trained by Mūsā al-Kāẓim and his son, Imam al-Riḍā.

All three of these generations of jurists proved invaluable. After them, the field of ijtihād has been always open to Shīʿa scholars and this has continued until the present day. There were also Shīʿa Jurists before the time of Imam al-Bāqir and al-Sādiq. They were the students of ʿAlī and subsequent the Imams.

The best books covering the biographies of these early scholars are the Rijāl of Kashshī and the Rijāl of Najāshī.

In the third and fourth centuries a group of scholars endeavored to compile encyclopedias in Islamic jurisprudence which are referred to as the first jawāmiʿ (‘collections’). These scholars are:

  1. Yunus b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān

Ibn al-Nadīm says in al-Fihrist that he was a great scholar of his time and authored books such as (1) Jawāmiʿ al-Āthār, (2) al-Jāmiʿ al-Kabīr, and (3) Kitāb al-Sharāʾiʿ.

  1. Safwān b. Yaḥyā Bajalī

He was a distinguished scholar of his time and wrote as many as thirty books.

3 and 4. Ḥasan and Ḥusayn, the sons of Saʿīd Ahwāzī. Each of them also wrote as many as thirty books.

  1. Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Khālid al-Barqī (d. 274 AH)

He is the author of al-Maḥāsin, which has fortunately survived and been published.

  1. Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. Yaḥyā Ashaʿrī Qummī (ca. 293 AH)

He is the author of Nawādir al-Ḥikmah.

  1. Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Abī Naṣr Bazanṭī (d. 221 AH), the author of al-Jāmiʿ.

These figures belong to Shīʿa jurists of the Third Century.

Now we will introduce the prominent Shīʿa jurists who lived in the Fourth Century:

Due to the practice of ijtihād, many great Shīʿa jurists were trained, some of them are as follows:

  1. Ḥasan b. ʿAlī b. Abī ʿAqīl, one of the leading scholars of the Shīʿa and the author of al-Mutamassik bi Ḥabl Āl Rasūl.
  2. ʿAlī b. Ḥusayn b. Bābuwayh (d. 329 AH): He is the father of Ṣadūq and the author of al-Sharāʾiʿ.
  3. Muḥammad b. Ḥasan b. Walīd Qummī: He enjoyed a very high status and was regarded as the leader of the Qummī school, to the extent that Shaykh al-Ṣadūq relied on his positions and accepted all of his comments on the authenticity of narrators.
  4. Jaʿfar b. Muḥammad b. Qūluwayh, (d. 369 AH): He is the teacher of Shaykh al-Ṣadūq, and the author of Kāmil al-Ziyārāt. Najāshī says that he was a reliable scholar and a master in Islamic jurisprudence and traditions.
  5. Muḥammad b. ʿAlī b. al-Ḥusayn (306-381 AH): Popularly known as Ṣadūq, and the author of numerous legal works such as al-Faqīh, al-Muqniʿ and al-Hidāya.
  6. Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. Junayd (d. 385 AH): He is the author of numerous books, most importantly Tahdhīb al-Shīʿa li-Aḥkām al-Sharīʿa and al-Aḥmadi fī al-Fiqh al-Muḥammadī.

In the 5th century a group of eminent Shīʿa scholars emerged in the realm of Islamic jurisprudence. Their ideas would be held in esteem by subsequent jurists for a long time. Among them, we can mention the following figures:

  1. al-Shaykh al-Mufīd (336-413 AH)
  2. Sharīf al-Murtaḍā (355-436 AH)
  3. 3. Shaykh Abū al-Fatḥ Karajakī (d. 449 AH)
  4. Shaykh al-Ṭūsī (385-460 AH).
  5. Sallār Daylamī (d. 463 AH)
  6. Ibn al-Barrāj (401-489 AH)

There are other scholars whose names, titles, and ideas have been detailed in biographical and historical works.

This provides a brief list of notable Shīʿa jurists up to the 5th century. Some of these scholars lived at a time when they suffered severe persecution under hostile regimes. The oppressors, under various pretexts, would sometimes burn the scholars’ libraries, and occasionally even kill them; Shaykh al-Ṭūsī wrote a book about jurisprudence entitled Al-Mabsūt, which is recently printed in 8 volumes. In Baghdad, the Shīʿa were frequently in conflict with followers of the Ḥanbalī school; in one such conflict, the Shaykh’s library was burned and he had to take refuge in Najaf. He had to leave the city where he had lived for half a century. In Najaf, he established a seminary which has been training brilliant jurists and spreading knowledge for nearly 10 centuries.

Principles of Jurisprudence (Uṣūl al-Fiqh)

It is quite obvious that deriving laws from the Qur’an, traditions, the Prophet’s biography, consensus and reason depends on establishing general principles to serve as the basis for inferring laws, and practical laws in particular. This need is even more pronounced when dealing with issues that are not explicitly dealt with in the Qur’an and Sunnah.

Since the Caliphs prevented the collection of the Prophet’s traditions, the number of authentic narrations from the Prophet on legal issues are no more than five hundred. The writer of al-Manār says that the number of authentic traditions concerning laws do not exceed five hundred; at the same time, there is a collection of four thousand with incomplete chains of narration, which are of great help to jurists. (al-Waḥī al-Muḥammadī, 6th Ed., 212. )

In his commentary, he says that the source of laws should be the opinions of the people, unless these run contrary to the Qur’an and the Sunnah. However, there are very few explicit cases of contradiction. (Al-Manar, Vol. 5, p. 189)

While he considers the number of legal traditions to be no more than five hundred, Ibn Ḥajar Asqalānī in his book Bulūgh al-Murām extends their number to 1596. However, many of these are actually ethical and do not entail religious laws.

Because Sunni scholars lacked traditions to deal new issues, they had to resort to conjectural evidence such as analogy (qiyās), inductive reasoning, jurisprudential preference (istiḥsān), public interest, the practice of the Caliphs, the practice of the Companions, or the opinions of the scholars of Medina. But all of these kinds of evidence are speculative in nature, which means they cannot be attributed to God and the Prophet. Nevertheless, in order to discuss these conjectural rules they built a body of knowledge known as Uṣūl al-Fiqh (legal theory or Principles of Jurisprudence).

However, since Shīʿa scholars consider the traditions of the Prophet’s Household to be as decisive as those of the Prophet and that their teachings are identical with the Prophet’s Sunnah, they have not followed the same approach as their Sunni brethren. Yet, they also had to build a body of knowledge like Uṣūl al-Fiqh because it is only on the basis of a series of rules that we can act upon a Sunnah that is proved by solitary narration (khabar al-wāḥid) and consider it as part of the divine law. Shīʿa scholars, while rejecting conjectural approaches, formulated principles on the basis of the Qur’an, Sunnah, consensus and reason and thus established the foundation for the knowledge of Uṣūl al-Fiqh. Now, we will introduce the founders of Shīʿa Uṣūl al-Fiqh:

  1. Hishām b. Ḥakam (d.199 AH): He is the author of a book entitled al-Alfāẓ. (Najāshī, no. 1165) It is not clear if this was a dictionary, a literary work, or a grammar book about the grammatical moods such as imperatives and negatives. In the latter case it would include some issues of Uṣūl al-Fiqh.
  2. Yunus b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān (d. 360 A. H): He is the author of a working on how to deal with contradictory legal evidences. (Ibid., no. 420)
  3. Ismāʿīl b. ʿAlī b. Isḥāq b. Abī Sahl b. Nawbakht (237-310 A.H): He is the author of al- Khuṣūṣ wa al-ʿUmūm (Ibid., no. 67). Ibn al-Nadīm has mentioned his works, including the above work and others such as Ibṭāl al-Qiyās, and the other as Naqḍ Ijtihād al-Raʾī ʿalā Ibn Rāwandī. (Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist, 225)
  4. Abū Muḥammad al-Ḥasan b. Mūsā al-Nawbakthī: He is a scholar of the Third Century. He has a book entitled al- Khuṣūṣ wa al-ʿUmūm and another one named al-Khabar al-Wāḥid wa al-ʿAmal bih. (Najāshī, no. 146)
  5. Abū Manṣūr Ṣarrām Nīshābūrī: A scholar of the Third and Fourth Century. He wrote a book entitled Ibṭāl al-Qiyas.(Ṭūsī, Fihrist, no. 588)
  6. Muḥammad b. Dāwūd b. ʿAlī (d. 368 AH): Najāshī says that he is a leader of the Imami school. He has a book entitled al-Ḥadīthayn al-Mukhtalifayn. (Rijāl An-Najāshī, no. 246)
  7. Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. Junayd (d. 381AH): He was a well-known Shīʿa scholar who held some unique opinions in jurisprudence. He authored a book entitled Kashf al-Tamwiyya wa al-Iltibās fī Ibṭāl al-Qiyās. (Ibid., no. 1048)

Shīʿa jurists in this stage of jurisprudence’s development focused only on particular issues and not on the principles of jurisprudence as a whole. However, in the second stage a radical change occurred in writing works on the principles of juridprudence, namely that the entirety of the issues were brought forth for discussion. We can mention the following scholars who were instrumental in this development:

  1. Shaykh al-Mufīd (336-413): He has a book entitled al-Tadhkira fi Uṣūl al-Fiqh. The original book is not available but his famous student, Muḥammad b. ʿAlī Karajakī has included a summary of it in his book Kanz al-Fawāʾid.
  2. Sharīf al-Murtaḍā (355-436): He is the distinguished student of al-Shaykh al-Mufīd. He wrote the comprehensive work, al-Dharīʿa ilā Uṣūl al-Sharīʿa, which has already been published twice. The recent edition has been published along with a detailed study by the Imam Sādiq Institute. The writer mentions in the epilogue that he completed the book in 430 AH.
  3. Shaykh al-Ṭūsī, Muḥammad Ibn Ḥasan (385-460): He is the author of ʿUddat al-Uṣūl printed many times in Iran and India. In writing his book, he has closely followed his teacher, al-Murtaḍā’s, book and has clearly benefited from it.
  4. Abū Laylā: He is popularly known as Sallār b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Daylamī (d. 448 AH). He is the author of al-Taqrīb, which is unfortunately extinct.
  5. Abū al-Makārim Ḥamza b. ʿAlī b. Zuhra (d. 585 AH): Popularly known as Ibn Zuhra, he has a book entitled Ghanyat al-Nuzūʿ ilā ʿIlmay al-Uṣūl wa al-Furūʿ which has been published alongside a detailed study by the Imam Sādiq Institute. The book is in fact in two parts; one part includes theology (ʿilm al-kalām) and uṣūl al-fiqh, and the other covers Islamic jurisprudence.
  6. Sadīd al-Dīn Mahmūd b. ʿAlī al-Ḥumṣī (d. c. 600 AH), the author of al-Maṣādir.

After the second stage, the third stage of writing uṣūl begins and other stages proceed thereafter. In each stage, uṣūl develops further finally arriving at its present form. Jaʿfar Subḥānī has also authored books in this field, namely al-Mūjaz, al-Wasīṭ and al-Mabsūṭ. Two of the most important recent authorities in this field are:

  1. Shaykh Murtaḍā Anṣārī (1214-1281)
  2. Muḥaqqiq Khuraṣānī (1255-1329)

These two exemplary figures laid the foundations for the present form of uṣūl.

Sīra and History

Recording the details of the Prophet’s life from birth until death provides a valuable source of knowledge known as the Prophet’s Sīra. However, there are few scholars who have extensively investigted this subject. What we have in mind here, in addition to writing the biography of the Prophet, is recording the events that took place in the first centuries of Islam. Islamic historians have mostly dealt with specific aspects of the Sīra, such as Wāqidī who only recorded the battles of the Prophet and his wars against the idolaters. Nevertheless, some writers have attempted to set down a complete biography of the Prophet. For example:

  1. Ibn Isḥāq: He died in 121 AH and was a contemporary of Imam al-Sādiq. He wrote a biography of the Prophet which was condensed by Ibn Hishām (d. 212 AH). Ibn Ishāq is reputed to have been a a Shīʿa and supporter of ʿAlī. Ibn Ḥajar says that he is truthful but accused of Shi’ism and having Qādirī tendencies. Unfortunately, his work is not available but we can identify its material in later works such as Majmaʿ al-Bayān, which has refered to this book for its commentary on the verses about the Prophet’s battles, the writings of Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 595. AH), and those of Ibn Kathīr (d. 775 AH).

One could potentially recreate much of Ibn Isḥāq’s original work using these books along with that of Ibn Hishām, because it seems likely that Ibn Hishām omitted those parts pertaining to ʿAlī’s virtutes due to the regime of that time.

  1. ʿUbayd Allāh b. Abū Rāfiʿ: He wrote biographies before Ibn Ishaq. However, he did not collect the biography of the Prophet himself but that of his companons who took part in the battles of Jamal, Ṣiffīn, and Nahrawān. (Ṭūsī, Fihrist, 202)
  2. Jābir b. Yazīd al-Juʿfī (d.128 AH): He has books entitled al-Jamal, Ṣiffīn, al-Nahrawān, Maqtal Amir al-Muʾminīn, and Maqtal al-Ḥusayn. (Najāshī, no. 330)
  3. Abān b. ʿUthmān al-Kūfī (d. 209 AH): He is the teacher of Abū ʿUbayda Muʿammar b. Muthannā (d. 209 AH) and Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Salām (157-224 AH). He has a comprehensive book which includes the following parts: (1) A book entitled al-Mubtadaʾ which may possibly contain the events of the beginning of the Prophetic mission; (2) the battles that the Prophet ordered and personally took part in; (3) the death of the Prophet; and (4) the Wars of Apostasy (Najāshī, no. 7).
  4. Abū Mikhnaf: He is a companion of Imam al-Sādiq and one of the earliest historians to write a biography of the Prophet. He has authored books such as: al-Maghāzī, al-Saqīfa, al-Radda, and Futūḥ al-Islām. (Ibid., no. 1149)
  5. Naṣr b. Muzaḥim (d. 212 AH): He is the author of Waqʿat al-Ṣiffīn.
  6. Hishām b. Muḥammad Sāʾib al-Kalbī: He was the prominent genealogist of his time, knowledgable about biographies and histories. Najāshī says that Kalbī was a schoar well-aware of history and was famed for his knowledge and virtues.

Here we have offered a brief summary of books about the biography and battles of the Prophet and early histories of Islam, for further information one can refer to Rawḍāt al-Jannāt and Aʿyān al-Shīʿa.

Study of narrators (ʿIlm al-Rijāl)

ʿIlm al-rijāl is a branch of learning that deals with the biographies of the narrators of ḥadīth, particularly with regards to their reliability as sources. A working knowledge of rijāl is generally expected from every jurist as if he wants to give legal edicts on the basis of a tradition he must first determine its authenticity and reliability. Therefore, Shīʿa Jurists endeavored to expand this knowledge. Some of the founders of this science are as follows:

  1. ʿAbd Allāh b. Jabala Kinānī (d. 219 AH): Najāshī says that the family of Jabala is well-known in Kufa and he is a reliable and famous jurist. He has a book entitled al-Rijāl (Najāshī, no. 561).
  2. ʿAlī b. Ḥasan b. Faḍḍāl: He is a famous jurist from Kufa, a reliable narrator and knowledgable in the science of ḥadīth. He is a companion of the Imams al-Hādī and al-ʿAskarī and the author of several books. One of his books is al-Rijāl. (Ibid., 674)

Whenever historians mention Ibn Faḍḍāl the junior, they mean ʿAlī b. Ḥasan and by Ibn Faḍḍāl the senior, they mean his father Ḥasan b. Faḍḍāl.

  1. Ḥasan b. Maḥbūb al-Sarrād (150-224) was a master of ḥadīth and narrated from sixty other masters of ḥadīth. He was a companion of Imam al-Sādiq and has two books on rijāl, namely Maʿrifat Ruwāt al-Akhbār and al-Mashyakha.
  2. Muḥammad b. ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Kashshī: He was a famous biographer, trined in the school al-ʿAyyāshī. He has a book entitled Maʿrifat al-Rijāl, which discusses the identity of the narrators who have narrated ḥadīth from the Imams. The original book is no longer extant but al-Ṭūsī has condensed it into his Ikhtiyār Maʿrifat al-Rijāl. (Ibid., no. 1018)
  3. Aḥmad b. ʿAlī al-Najāshī (372-450): He is considered a prominent Shīʿa scholar in the science of rijāl and in this science is second to none. His book of Rijāl is actually a comprehensive bibliography of Shīʿa books and is at the same time one of the most seminal records of Shīʿa scholars. The book is recently published by the Imam Sādiq Institute in two elegant volumes.
  4. Shaykh al-Ṭūsī (385-460): His intellectual stature is so great that it cannot be described in this short space. He was an authority in numerous Islamic sciences and contributed to almost every field of learning. His two biographical books, al-Rijāl and al-Fihrist, are among the most relied-upon documents for identifying narrators of ḥadīth, each of which written in a particular way: In his Rijāl, Ṭūsī lists the narrators of ḥadīth from the time of the Prophet until after the Lesser Occultation in alphabetical order in 14 generations.

On the other hand, his Fihrist is practically a bibliography of Islamic sciences arranged according to the authors and in many cases the author presents his evidence on a given title helping us to determine the reliability of the narrtors and whether or not to act according to that saying.

These are just some of the books written on rijāl. It is noteworthy that those who are against the Household of the Prophet but cannot direct their enmity towards them on them instead direct it to the followers of the Prophet’s Household. In doing so, they constanly resort to lies and false-accusations; Ibn Taymiyyah is the first who accused Shīʿa of having few works on ḥadīth and rijāl. Following him, another writer by the name of Marʿashī essentially denied the existence of the sciences of ḥadīth and rijāl in the Shīʿa tradition. Recently, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Sāliḥī, in the preface to a book entitled Masādir al-Talaqqī, has asserted that the Shīʿa in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries have fabricated the collections of their traditions. It sounds as though Shīʿa were an obscure community who could have fabricated thousands of aḥadīth without anyone noticing!

Ayatullāh Jaʿfar Subḥānī responded to this by writing a letter to the author saying that we have access to books written in the Second and Third Centuries. Is it really possible to say that these books were fabricated in the following centuries? Furthermore, in order to remove doubt and to prevent the repetition of this accusation he wrote a book entitled Dawr al-Shīʿa fī al-Ḥadīth Nashaʾtan wa Tatawwuran and sent it with a letter through the Ambassador of Iran in Riyadh to ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Ṣāliḥī. From this experience we have learnt that everything comes to an end except the fabrication of lies about Shīʿa and everything has a cause behind it except for people’s enmity towards the Shīʿa!

The Rational Sciences

One of the highest goals of Islam is to free people’s minds from baseless ideas and to encourage them to use their reason. This is why the word ʿaql (reason) and its derivatives appears forty-seven times in the Qurʾān, the word tafakkur (to think) eighteen times, the word lubb (intellect) sixteen, and the word  tadabbur (contemplation) four. Islam invites man to study the created world and, when reasoning for the existence of God, provides the best argument with these short sentences:

‘Were they created from nothing? Or are they [their own] creators? Did they create the heavens and the earth? Rather they have no certainty!’(Q52:35-36)

Although the approach of Islam is to invite people to rational thinking, unfortunately a group of Muslims, instead of contemplating about the great knowledge inherent in the Qur’an and ḥadīth, allowed themselves to be deceived by Judeo-Christian interpolations and followed the method of anthropomorphism when it came to God and thus deprived themselves of rational thinking. Shahristānī says that some of these shallow people believe God to possess all human body parts except the beard and the private parts, saying: ‘Please don’t ask me about the beard and the private parts – ask about other things!’ (al-Milal wa al-Niḥal, 1/105)

The influx of Judeo-Christian ideas led a great number of narrators in the Second and Third Centuries to resort to anthropomorphism in their ideas about God. Others who were unwilling to follow this approach found an alternative by claiming that man cannot comprehend metaphysical issues.

However, this is clearly not true. We can discuss metaphysical realities and access their realm. Of course, this is not done intuitevely but rationally. It is possible via two approaches:

First, a deep and careful investigation of nature, whose secrets and laws lead us to the glory and perfection of the Creator.

Syllogistic reasoning, that is when the minor and major premises are absolute, they will inevitably lead us to absolute conclusions. This is the method ʿAlī and other the Imams adopted. To illustrate this point, we content ourselves with an example:

Someone asked Imam ʿAlī, ‘Can God put the whole world into an egg, without making the world smaller or making the egg larger?’ the Imam answered: ‘Weakness or inability are not characteristics which can be attributed to God, but what you have asked is something which is not possible to come into existence.’

Pondering over the above question and answer help us to see the point that the the Imam has reasoned by using the proper syllogism for this question; namely the principle of non-contradiction means that the container must always be larger than what it contains. If the whole world can be put in an egg without the world becoming smaller or the egg bigger, we will conclude that the contents are larger than the container. This is impossible because the first premise (‘a continer must always be larger than its contents’) is absolute, and so surely its opposite (‘the contents can be larger than the container’) is definitely nullified.

The sermons of ʿAlī in The Nahj al-Balāgha serve as the foundation for Shīʿa theology and philosophy. These sermons have shaped Shīʿa ideas over many centuries. Thus, in the school of The Prophet’s Family, many eminent theologians were trained. Some of these are as follows:

Shīʿa Theologians in the Second Century
  1. Zurara b. Aʿyan: An outstanding scholar of his time, an expert theologian and a great poet. God blessed him with a number of virtues: knowledge, faith and truthfulness in speech. Shaykh al-Ṣadūq says he has seen a book by him entitled al-Istiṭāʿa wa al- Jabr. (Najāshī, 397; Ṭūsī, Fihrist, 314; Mizān al-Iʿtidāl, 2/2853) Ibn al-Nadīm says that he was one of the greatest Shīʿa scholars in Islamic jurisprudence, science of ḥadīth, and theology. (Fihrist, 323)
  2. Muḥammad b. ʿAlī b. Nu’man: He was a distinguished theologian whose opponents, because of his fierce debates, called him Shayṭān al-Ṭāq (‘the Unique Devil’). He was matchless theology and eloquence. Najāshī says that he had a book entitled Afʿal wa la Tafʿal that he saw in the possession of Aḥmad b. Ḥusayn b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Ghaḍāʾirī, which was a substantial work. He has another book entitled al-Iḥtijāj on the proofs for the Imamate of ʿAlī, and a third one about his debates with Abū Ḥanīfa and the Murjiʾa. The year of his death is unknown but as Imam al-Sādiq passed away in 148 AH and Abū Ḥanīfa died in 150 AH, we can conclude that he lived in the same era as they did. Ibn al-Nadīm is familiar with him and says he was an expert theologian and has the following books to his name: Kitāb al-Imāma, Kitāb al-Maʿrifa, Kitāb al-Radd ʿalā al-Muʿtazila fī Imāmat al-Mafḍūl, Kitāb fī Amr Ṭalḥa wa al-Zubayr wa ʿĀʾisha. (Ibn al-Nadīm, Fihrist, p. 257; Ṭūsī, Fihrist, 258, 264)
  3. Hishām b. Ḥakam: Ibn al-Nadīm says that he was an outstanding Shīʿa theologian. He is the one Imam al-Sādiq prayed for and said to him the very sentence that The Messenger of God said about Ḥasan b. Thābit: ‘May the Holy Spirit help you as long as you support us with your tongue.’ He was the first to analyze the issue of the Imamate in theology and paved the way for rationalization. He was an ingenious and witty debator.

Shahrastānī says: ‘ Hishām b. Ḥakam was an adept scholar in theology and his debates against the Muʿtazila are not to be overlooked. (al-Milal wa al-Niḥal, 1/185)

Najāshī says that in his last days Hishām moved from Kufa to Baghdad and died in 199 AH then he mentions the titles of his books and counts up to 30 titles, most of them in theology. (Najāshī, no. 1165)

Aḥmad Amīn says that Hishām was one of the prominent Shīʿa theologians, was vigorous in debates and had some debates with the Muʿtazila. Numerous debates of his are quoted in literature books and these demonstrate his presence of mind when answering questions.

In his youth, Hishām b. Ḥakam followed Abū Shākir al-Daysānī who held mistaken ideas in religion. Then he left him and joined Jahm b. Ṣafwān, who was killed in Tirmidh in 128 AH. Then fate led him to Imam al-Sādiq and he embraced Imamī doctrines and studied the teachings of the Prophet’s Household. If false ideas are quoted from Hishām, they have to do with his youth when he was associating with Abū Shākir and Jahm b. Ṣafwān. However, after joining Imam al-Sādiq his ideas changed and he became a stalwart defender of the latter’s teachings. The late Shaykh ʿAbd Allāh Niʿma, one of Lebanon’s preeminent scholars, has written a book on the life of Hishām b. Ḥakam and saved us from further elaborations.

Nowadays there are people in our community who, due to a number of misconceptions, prevent people from rational, philosophical and even theological reasoning and suppose that the right path is to consult verses and traditions and not to make use of rational sciences. This is wrong from several points of view. We content ourselves to quote a ḥadīth to make it clear that our infallible leaders trained theologians in their circles. Kulayni narrates that a man came from Syria to see Imam al-Sādiq and debate with his students. The Imam orderd Yūnis b. Yaʿqūb to see if any of his distinguished students in theology were nearby. Yūnis said, ‘I went out and visited their homes, first I brought Zurāra who was an expert in theology, then I fetched Muʾmin al-Ṭāq who also had a comprehensive knowledge of this science, then Hishām b. Ḥakam, then Qays b. Māṣir, who I personally regarded as the most learned of Imam al-Sādiq’s Companions in theology who had studied under ʿAlī b. Ḥusayn. I brought them all to the presence of the Imam. (Kāfī, 1/171; Najāshī, no. 794)

  1. Qays al-Māṣir: A great scholar of theology whose principles he learned from Imam ʿAlī b. al-Ḥusayn. We have already quoted what Yūnis b. Yaʿqūb said about him.
  2. ʿĪsā b. Rawḍa: He was Manṣūr’s chamberlain, an expert theologian, and an eloquent speaker. Aḥmad b. Abī Ṭāhir in his book, Baghdād, says that he had seen a book of his on the Imamate. Najāshī says that some of our scholars have also seen that book and I have read: ‘when Manṣūr arrived in Kufa, he secretly attended his classes as he was talking about the Imamate and he approved of his ideas. The year of his death is unknown, however, Manṣūr passed away in 158 AH, so he must certainly belong to the theologians of the second century.
  3. Abū Mālik Ḍaḥḥāk al-Ḥaḍramī: He was from Kufa and lived during the time of Imam al-Sādiq. Some say that he has narrated from that the Imam, however it is certain that he has at the very least narrated from Imam Mūsā al-Kāẓim. Najāshī says: ‘he was a theologian and a reliable narrator of traditions. He has a book on tawḥīd that ʿAlī b. Ḥasan Ṭaṭarī narrates from.’ For that reason, he belongs to the theologians of the second century. (Najāshī, no. 544) Ibn al-Nadīm regards him as a Shīʿa theologian and says: ‘he debated in one meeting with Abū ʿAlī Jubbāʾī about the Imamate and proved his ideas in support of the Imamate in presence of Abū Muḥammad Qāsim b. Muḥammad al-Kūfī. He has a book on the Imamate and another unfinished book in which he responds to Abū ʿAlī Jubbāʾī’s own book on the Imamate, refuting his ideas on that issue. (Fihrist, 266)
  4. ʿAlī b. Ḥasan b. Muḥammad al-Ṭāʾī, popularly known as Ṭāṭarī: He is a reliable jurist, scholar of ḥadīth, and author of books about tawḥīd, Imamate, human nature (fiṭra), knowledge and guardianship (wilāya). (Najāshī, no. 655) Ibn al-Nadīm considers him An Imāmī theologian and says, ‘Tāṭarī is a Shīʿa theologian. He has a book about the Imamate that is very fine.’ As one of the companions of Imam al-Kāẓim, he certainly belongs to the theologians of the second century.
  5. Ḥasan b. ʿAlī b. Yaqtin b. Mūsā: He is a theologian and a jurist who has narrated traditions from the two Imams al-Kāẓim and al-Riḍā. He has a book entitled Masāʾil Abī al-Ḥasan Mūsā. (Ibid., no. 9)

Since Imam al-Kāẓim passed away in the year 183 AH and Imam al-Riḍā in the year 203 AH, he certainly belongs to the theologians of the second and early third century. Even Shaykh in his Rijāl has counted him among the companions of Imam al-Riḍā. (Rijāl, no. 7)

Once he asked the eighth the Imam (A.S), ‘I cannot enjoy your presence all the time, from whom can I learn my creed?’ ‘From Yūnus b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān,’said the Imam. (Najāshī, no. 1209)

  1. Hādīd b. Hakīm, known as Abū ʿAlī al-Azadī al-Madāʾinī: He is a reliable narrator and a well-known theologian. He has narrated traditions from Imams al-Sādiq and al-Kāẓim, and Muḥammad b. Khālid has narrated from him. (Ibid., no. 383; Khaṭīb has mentioned him in Tārīkh Baghdād, no. 4377) Therefore he belongs to the theologians of the second century.
  2. Faḍḍāl b. Ḥasan b. Faḍḍāl: He was a theologian of Imam al-Sādiq’s time. Ṭabarsī has quoted his debate with Abū Ḥanīfa in his book al-Iḥtijāj.

The theologians we have mentioned here are of the time of Imam al-Sādiq and al-Kāẓim. These figures had debates with their opponents which are recorded in history books. Other names that belong to this list are Ḥumrān b. Aʿyān al-Shaybānī, Hishām b. Sālim al-Jawlaqī, Sayyid Ḥimyarī and Kumayt al-Asadī. (Aʿyān al-Shīʿa.,Vol.1, pp. 134-35)

Shīʿa theologians of the Third Century

In the Third Century, ingenious theologians who were mostly the students of Imam al-Hādī and al-ʿAskarī appeared amongst the Shīʿa. Now we shall enumerate some of these:

  1. al-Faḍl b. Shādhān: He is AbūMuḥammad al-Faḍl b. Shādhān b. Khalīl al-Azadī al-Nīshābūrī. His father was among the companions of Yūnis b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān. He himself has narrated from Imam al-Jawād. It is believed that he has even narrated some ḥadīth from Imam al-Riḍā.

Faḍl b. Shādhān was an eminent Islamic jurist and theologian of his time whose greatness is beyond description. Ganjī Shāfiʿī says that he wrote as many as one hundred and eighty books. Ṭūsī in his Rijāl considers him among the Companions of Imam al-Hādī and al-ʿAskarī and believes he died in 260 AH. Najāshī, Ṭūsī and Kashshī have given us some titles of these books. (see Najāshī, no. 838 ; Ṭūsī, Rijāl, no. 1 & 2 ; and Kashshī, Rijāl, no. 416).

Merely the titles that Najāshī names reveal that Faḍl b. Shādhān had been actively involved in debates defending Shi’ism and Islam, therefore the majority of his books consist of rebuttals.

  1. Ḥakam b. Hishām b. Ḥakam: He was the son of famous Hishām mentioned above, a resident of Basra, and an expert in theology. Najāshī says that some of our scholars have seen his book on the Imamate. (Najāshī, no. 349) As his father died in the year 199 AH or 200 AH, he is to belong to the theologians of the early Third Century.
  2. Dāwūd b. Asad b. Aʿfar, popularly known as Abū al-Aḥwaṣ al-Miṣrī, was a great teacher, jurist, theologian and a reliable narrator. His father was among the narrators of ḥadīth and a reliable narrator himself. Dāwūd b. Asad compiled several books, one of which is on the Imamate. (Ibid., no. 412) Shaykh al-Ṭūsī mentions in the Fihrist that he is of the Imāmiyya theologians and Ḥasan b. Mūsā al-Nawbakhtī has attended his discussions and studied under him. As Ḥasan b. Mūsā al-Nawbakhtī is a contemporary of Jubbāʾī (d. 303 AH), we may conclude that Dāwūdb. Aasd belongs to the theologians of the Third Century.
  3. Muḥammad b. ʿAbd Allāh b. Mumallik al-Iṣfahānī: He was originally from Jurjan but settled in Isfahan. He was a great scholar of his day; he initially followed the Muʿtazila for a while before coming to Shi’ism under the guidance of the Shīʿa scholar, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Ahmad Jabrawayh. He has several books in theology such as al-Jamiʿ fī Sāʾir Abwāb al-Kalām, al-Masāʾil wa Jawābāt fī al-Imāma, Mawalīd al-Aʾimma and records of his debates with Abū ʿAlī Jubbāʾī. (Najāshī, no. 1034)
  4. Thābit b. Muḥammad, known as AbūMuḥammad al-ʿAskarī: He was a colleague of Abū ʿĪsā Warrāq, an expert theologian, and a companion of Imam al-Hādī. He had a vast knowledge of ḥadīth and Jurisprudence. Among his theological works we can name Naqḍ al-ʿUthmāniyyah and Dalāʾil al-Āʾimma. Since Abū ʿĪsā passed away in 247 AH Thābit b. Muḥammad must belong to the theologians of the Third Century.
  5. Ismāʿīl b. Muḥammad b. Ismāʿīl b. Hilāl al-Makhzūmī: A scholar of the Imāmiyya, Ayūb b. Nūḥ, Ḥasan b. Muʿāwiya, Muḥammad b. Ḥusayn and ʿAlī b. Ḥasan b. Faḍḍāl narrated traditions from him. He has a book on tawḥīd, another on knowledge and a third one on the Imamate. As his student, Ḥasan b. ʿAlī b. Faḍḍāl was a companion of Imam al-Hādī and al-ʿAskarī, he too must belong to the theologians of the Third Century.
  6. Muḥammad b. Harūn: Popularly known as Abū ʿIsā Warrāq, he is the author of books such as al-Imāma, al-Saqīfa, Ikhtilāf al-Shīʿa and al-Maqālāt. Ibn Ḥajar reports that he wrote works based on Muʿtazilī doctrines but Masʿūdī says that he has written some fine books on the Imamate and other issues. He passed away in 247 AH. (Najāshī, no. 1017; Lisān al-Mīzān vol. 5, no. 1360; Rawāshīh Samāwiyya, p. 55) Ibn Ḥajar includes him among the Muʿtazila because he often confuses them with Twelvers and has included some Twelver scholars among the Muʿtazila.
  7. Ibrāhīm b. Sulaymān b. Abī Dāḥa al-Mazanī: One of the foremost scholars of Basra, their leader in matters of jurisprudence, theology, and poetry, to the extent that Jāḥiẓ (d. 255 AH) narrates from him. He says: Ibrāhīm b. Abī Dāḥa narrated for that Muḥammad b. Abī ʿUmayr passed away in 217 AH. (Bayān, 1/61) Based on this fact, and the fact that Jāḥiẓ narrates from him, he definitely belongs to the theologians of the Third Century.
  8. Shakkāl: Ibn al-Nadīm says that he was a close friend of Hishām b. Ḥakam and while they disagreed over some issues, they were of the same mind regarding the issue of the Imamate. Some of his books include (1) Kitāb al-Maʿrifa, (2) Kitāb fī al-Istitāʿa, (3) Kitāb al-Imāma, (4) Kitāb ʿalā Man Abā Wujūb al-Imāma Bi al-Naṣṣ. (Ibn al-Nadīm, Al-Fihrist, p. 264) As Hishām b. Ḥakam passed away at the end of the second century, Shakkāl mush have died at the end of the second or the beginning of the third century.
  9. Ḥusayn b. Ashkīb: In his Rijāl, Kashshī includes him amongst the companions of Imam al-Hādī and says that he was a theologian, who authored some books and resided in Samarkand and Kashsh. One of his books refutes the idea that the Prophet believed in the religion of the Quraysh before he began his mission. He has also refuted the beliefs of Zaydiyya in another. As he is a companion of Imam al-Hādī who passed away in 254 AH, he belongs to the theologians of the Third Century. (Najāshī, no. 87) Shaykh al-Ṭūsī also included him among the Companions of Imam al-Hādī. (Ibid., 623)
  10. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Aḥmad b. Jabrawayh: An expert theologian, a skillful author and an eloquent speaker. It was through contact with him that Muḥammad b. ʿAbd Allāh b. Mumallik al-Iṣfahānī gave up the creed of the Muʿtazila and embraced that of the Imāmiyya. He had a debate with ʿAbād b. Sulaymān. Najāshī reports that his al-Kāmil fī al-Imāma is his only book available to us. Because Ibn Mumallik is contemporary with Jubāʾī, who died in 303AH, he should naturally belong to the theologians of the Third and the early Fourth Century.
  11. ʿAlī b. Manṣūr: He lived in Baghdad and was among the followers of Hishām b. Ḥakam. He wrote several books in theology. Some of them, like al-Tadbīr fī al-Tawḥīd and al-Imāma are well-known. (Najāshī, no. 656) As Hishām b. Ḥakam passed away at the end of the Second Century, his student ʿAlī b. Manṣūr would belong to the Third Century.
  12. ʿAlī b. Ismāʿīl b. Shuʿayb b. Maytham: He lived in Basra and was among the leading Shīʿa theologians. He had some debates and scholarly exchanges with the Muʿtazilī Abū Hudhayl Allāf (135-235 A.H) and Naẓẓām (160-201). Among his books we can name al-Imāma, Majālis Hishām b. Ḥakam (probably containing the debates of Hishām) and a work on temporary marriage.

Ibn al-Nadīm says that the first person who spoke about the Imamate was ʿAlī b. Ismāʿīl whose grandfather was Maytham al-Tammār, one of the companions of ʿAlī. ʿAlī b. Ismāʿīl has a book about the Imamate entitled al-Imāma and another book under the title of al-Istiḥqāq.

Shīʿa Theologians of the Fourth Century
  1. Ḥasan b. ʿAlī b. Abī ʿAqīl, also known as Abū Muḥammad, was a prominent Islamic jurist and a trusted theologian who wrote a few works, the most famous of which is al-Mutamassik bi ḥabl Āl al-Rasūl. (Najāshī)
  2. Ismāʿīl b. Abī Sahl b. Nawbakht was a masterful theologian of his own time who wrote a few works, including al-Istīfāʾ fī al-Imāma and al-Tanbīh fī al-Imāma. According to Ibn Nadīm, Ismāʿīl was a renowned Shīʿa scholar and Abū al-Ḥasan al-Nāshī refers to him as his teacher and as a very knowledgeable and prominent theologian. Nāshī gives a list of Ismāʿīl’s works and reports that he had discussions with some other theologians.
  3. Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī b. Babwayh is Shaykh al-Ṣadūq’s brother who acquired the permission to narrate aḥādīth from their father. It is said that Ḥusayn and his brother were born as a result of Imam al-Mahdī’s supplication. Ibn Ḥajar has provided a biography of Ḥusayn in Lisān al-Mīzān. (Najāshī, Ibn al-Nadīm, Lisān al-Mīzān)
  4. Muḥammad b. Bishr al-Ḥamdūnī, typically known as Abū al-Ḥasan al-Sūsanjurdī, was devoted follower of the Prophet’s Household who composed a few works, including al-Muqniʿ fī al-Imāma and al-Munqidh fī al-Imāma. (Najāshī) According to Ibn al-Nadīm, Susanjurdī was a pupil of Abū Sahl al-Nawbakhtī, and was sometimes referred to as Ḥamdūni because of his association with the Ḥamdūn tribe. He wrote a book entitled al-Inqādh fī al-Imāma. Ibn Ḥajar describes him as a pious and austere Shīʿa theologian who has written works confirming his Shīʿa beliefs. (Ibn al-Nadīm)
  5. Abū Muḥammad Yaḥyā al-ʿAlawī, a member of the Banū Zubara, was a theologian and jurist of Nīshābūr. In his Fihrist, Shaykh al-Ṭūsī describes him as a capable theologian and pious believer. He authored Ibṭāl al-Qiyās and al-Tawḥīd. (Najāshī; Ṭūsī, Fihrist)
  6. Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān (Abū Jaʿfar), also known as Ibn Qiba al-Rāzī, was a masterful theologian who wrote a book on theology. In his Fihrist, Ibn Baṭṭa reports to have studied traditions under Ibn Qiba. According to Ibn al-Nadīm, Abū Jaʿfar was an erudite Shīʿa theologian who wrote, among other books, al-Inṣāf fī al-Imāma and Kitāb al-Imāma. (Fihrist) ʿAllāmah, in his Khulāṣah, refers to Ibn Qiba as a skillful Shīʿa scholar of his own day.
  7. Abū al-Ḥasan Nāshī (271-365 AH), whose real name is ʿAlī b. Waṣīf, has been introduced by Najāshī as a poet and a theologian. According to Mufīd, as Najāshī reports, Nāshī has a book on the Imamate. Shaykh al-Ṭūsī refers to him as capable poet and a skillful theologian with a few books. (Fihrist)

According to Ibn Khalikān, ‘Nāshī was as an adherent of the Shīʿī Imams who composed some poems in praise of these the Imams. He learned theology from Abū Sahl Ismāʿīl b. ʿAlī b. Nawbakht and is considered a great Shīʿa thinker with some works.’ Ibn Kathīr says, ‘Nashi is a preeminent Shīʿa thinker.’ Therefore, he is a Fourth Century theologian. (Tanqīḥ al-Maqāl)

  1. Ḥasan b. Mūsā, known as Abū Muḥammad Nawbakhtī, was an eminent scholar who flourished at around the turn of the Fourth Century. He wrote a few works refuting some ideas of the previous philosophers and theologians, including: 1) al-Arāʾ wa al-Diyānāt, about which Najāshī says, ‘It is a great work containing excellent knowledge of various sorts. I studied the book with my teacher Shaykh al-Mufīd’; 2) Firaq al-Shīʿa; 3) al-Radd ʿalā Firaq al-Shīʿa mā Khalā al-Imāmiyya and 4) al-Jāmiʿ fī al-Imāmiyya. Ibn Nadīm speaks very well of Ḥasan b. Mūsā, which shows that he was a prominent theologian of the Fourth Century and a contemporary of Jubāʾī (d. 303 AH) and Balkhī (d. 319 AH).
  2. Shaykh al-Mufīd (336-413 AH) was the greatest theologian of the Fourth Century who was widely known in the world of that age and has left us a good number of valuable works. Ibn Nadīm, a contemporary of Mufīd, says of him, ‘Ibn al-Muʿallim, the leading theologian of our age, is most skillful in theology and very intelligent with a strong memory. I have seen him myself: he is an able theologian.’ (Fihrist)

Ibn al-Jawzī writes, ‘He is a leader of the Shīʿa and a leading theologian who has several works on the Shīʿa. Murtaḍā is one of his followers. Ibn al-Muʿallim used to hold courses at his residence in Darb Rabāḥ where all scholars used to gather. The Buyid rulers liked him very much because they were his followers. (al-Muntaẓam)

Yāfiʿī (768 AH) writes: ‘In 413 AH, the senior Shīʿa scholar and author of a large number of books, Shaykh al-Mufīd, passed away. He was also known as Ibn al-Muʿallim. He was a prominent figure in theology, scholarly debate and jurisprudence. He used to have discussions with followers of all faiths. He was highly respected by the Buyid government. Ibn Abī Tayy says: ‘He used to donate frequently. He was very humble. He never missed his prayers or fasting. He was attired in casual and coarse dress.’ Another one days: ‘ʿAḍd ad-Dawla Daylamī used to visit Shaykh al-Mufīd on many occasions. The Shaykh was someone of medium stature, thin and with a light complexion. He lived for 76 years and authored more than 200 books. Some 80,000 Shīʿa and Rāfiḍa were reported to have attended his funeral.’ (Mirʾāt al-Jinān)

Abū al-Fidāʾ b. Kathīr (d. 774 AH), praises him as follows: ‘He was the leader of the Imāmiyya and Shīʿa, a prominent author of theirs and the guardian of their territory. A large number of scholars of different faiths used to attend his courses.’ (al-Bidāya wa al-Nihāya)

Dhahabī (d. 748 AH) says: ‘He was a Shīʿa scholar and the leader of the Rāfiḍa. He authored many books. Ibn Abī Tayy mentions in his Tārīkh al-Imāmiyya that he was the teacher all Shīʿa scholars and their spokesperson. . He was a prominent figure in theology, scholarly debate and jurisprudence. He used to have discussions with followers of all faiths. He was highly respected by the Buyid government.’ (al-ʿIbra)

Ibn Ḥajar writes: ‘He was humble and he used to extend his prayers. He was always looking into scholarly issues. A large number of people learned from him. In the eyes of the Imāmiyya, he was very capable. The Shīʿa owe much to him. His father was a teacher in Wasit. Mufīd used to sleep for a few hours before getting up and resuming his studies, prayers and recitation of the Qurʾān.’ (Lisān al-Mīzān)

Now, let us hear what two students of Shaykh al-Mufīd have to say; Shaykh al-Ṭūsī (385-460 AH) writes in his Fihrist: Shaykh al-Mufīd, better known as Ibn al-Muʿallim, is a theologian of the Imāmiyya. He became the head of the sect and was a prominent theologian. He was a high-ranking and assiduous scholar who had good memory and was always ready to respond. He wrote 200 books of varying size the list of his works is well known. He was born in 338 AH and passed way in 413 AH. The day of his departure was a historic occasion. Never had Baghdad seen such a mournful day.’ Najāshī (372-450 AH), says: ‘The position of Shaykh al-Mufīd, the great scholar, is beyond description in words.’

We have briefly reviewed the most prominent Shīʿa theologians of the Fourth Century. Those who would like to learn more about Shīʿa scholars throughout 14 centuries can refer to Ṭabaqāt al-Mutakallimīn, printed in five volumes by the Imam Sādiq Institute.

Now we will review some of the prominent philosophers from the Fourth Century onwards:

  1. Fārābī (260-339 AH): Muḥammad b. Ṭarakhān, or Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. Ṭarakhān, carried the teknonym Abū Nasr but is better known as al-Fārābī. He lived in the Fourth Century when the Buyids ruled. He was well versed in Greek philosophy and His mastery of this discipline won him the title of ‘Second Teacher’, versus the First Teacher title attributed to Aristotle. Avicenna read many of Fārābī’s books.

Fārābī began his studies in Faryāb, where he was born. In Iran, he learned Persian and other languages. He then moved to Baghdad where he perfected his Arabic. He learnt logic from Abū Bishr, who was the only one to know this branch of science. He used to communicate with Ṣāḥib b. ʿAbād and the Shīʿa in Baghdad. He then went to Harrān to attend the lessons of Yuḥannā Khayrān. He returned to Baghdad and learnt mathematics and techniques of philosophy. He reviewed the books of Aristotle meticulously and was adroit at interpreting the latter’s views. Fārābī is the author of 44 books, two of the most important of which are as follows:

Arāʾ Ahl al-Madīna al-Fāḍila: This book has been printed in Egypt and Leiden. The late Aqā Buzurg Ṭihrānī has deduced from the contents of this book that Fārābī was Shīʿa.

Al-Ibāna ʿan Gharaḍ al-Arisṭātālīs fī Kitāb Ma Baʿd al-Tabīʿa – ‘On the goals of Aristotle in his book, the Metaphysics.’

His books mainly focus on logic, philosophy and natural science. For more information, Rayḥanat al-Adab, authored by ʿAllāma Muḥammad ʿAlī Mudarris, is highly recommended.

  1. Avicenna (370-428 AH): Following Fārābī, Avicenna is the most prominent Muslim philosopher. He emerged in the Islamic East and made great contributions to science. He is well known in the East and the West. Muslims and Orientalists have written a great deal about him. It would not be needed to list all of his works or students but we will highlight two of his most important books of philosophy:

Al-Shifāʾ: A major book about logic, theology, mathematics, physics and philosophy. This book has been printed in Iran and Egypt. One phrase in this book suggests Avicenna is Shīʿa: ‘It would be more realistic to choose a leader based on Sīra as a successor to the Prophet, because the Prophet’s view puts an end to any dispute and discrepancy.’

Al-Ishārāt: This book speaks about logic, physics and theology and is an important textbook of classical philosophy in intellectual centres. Fakhr al-Rāzī (546-606 AH) and Nasīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī (597-672 AH) have written commentarties on this book.

  1. Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī (597-672 AH): one of the leading theologians, philosophers and scientists of his day. His intellectual stature is beyond description. He made contributions to the all theoretical sciences and was a prominent teacher of logic. Both his followers and his oppnents acknowledge his erudition.
  2. Kamāl al-Dīn Maytham al-Baḥrānī (636-699 AH): A scientist, philosopher and theologian. His command of logic is seen in his commentary on Nahj al-Balāgha. He has also a book under the title of Qawa’id al-Maram fī Ilm al-Kalam.
  3. ʿAllāma al-Ḥillī: A Shīʿa theologian who rose to prominence due to his high level of knowledge in Islamic sciences. Some of his works are as follows:

al-Jawhar al-Naḍīd fī Sharḥ Manṭiq al-Tajrīd

Kashf al-Murād fī Sharḥ Tajrīd al-Iʿtiqād

He has more than twenty books on the rational disciplines.

  1. Quṭb al-Dīn al-Rāzī (766 AH): The student of ʿAllāma al-Ḥillī and teacher of Shahīd al-Awwal, and the author of works on logic and a recorder of the debates between Fakhr al-Rāzī and Ṭūsī.

Now we turn our attention to the Shi’a theologians of the later centuries:

  1. Fāḍil Miqdād (808 AH): The author of Nahj al-Mustarshidīn fī al-Kalām.
  2. Bahāʾ al-Dīn al-ʿĀmilī (953-1030), Shaykh Bahāʾī
  3. Sayyid Muḥammad Bāqir, known as Mīr Dāmād, the author of the Qabasāt.
  4. Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī (971-1050), also known as Mullā Sadrā, he was the student of Shaykh Bahāʾī and Mīr Damād. Recently, Shaykh ʿAbd Allāh Niʿma has written a book on Shīʿa philosophy in which he names most Shīʿa philosophers; Shīʿa scholars were always interested in the science of logic and this state of affairs has continued until the present day. During the past fourteen centuries, remarkable works on the science of logic have been authored. Whatever we said here rebuts the views of the Orientalist Adam Metz about Shīʿa, namely that they were merely the inheritors of the thought of the Muʿtazila rather than distinct sect with their own ideas. (The Renaissance of Islam)

The Imam Sādiq Institute recently published a five-volume book under the title of Mawsūʿat al-Kutub al-Kalāmiyya, which lists the names of the theologians and their works. Some 13,000 Kalam books are authored by Shīʿa scholars; these figures were for the period ending in 1378 AH.

From the very beginning, the Shīʿa were followers of Imam ʿAlī and his successors. In some cases, the Muʿtazila school might seen as sharing certain commonalities with Shi’ism, but this does not in any way lessen the intellectual stature of Shi’ism. Moreover, during the first four centuries, the Shīʿa wrote many books against Muʿtazila. More information can be found in Shaykh al-Mufīd’s writings.

Mathematics and Natural Sciences

The Shīʿa were not only interested in metaphysics, they also participated in discussions on science and mathematics. We can detect this interest even in their earliest writings:

Hishām b. Ḥakam (199 AH) gave views on phenomena such as color, taste and smell. His views influenced those of Naẓẓām. He describes smell as follows: ‘Smell results from the particles rising from an object and evaporating. These particles affect the nose glands. Taste is also comprised of particles separated from an object.’ (Falasafatal-Shīʿa)

The Nawbakhtī family produced some of the most famous Shīʿa scholars and scientists of their day; they translated books on science and astronomy from Persian into Arabic.

Ibn al-Nadīm says that the Nawbakhtī family were followers of Imam ʿAlī and his successors, and that they were well-known in their time. Some of the most important members of this family are as follows:

Abū al-Faḍl b. Nawbakht: Ibn al-Nadīm says he was employed in the court of Hārūn al-Rashīd. Ibn al-Qiftī says Abū al-Faḍl b. Nawbakht was one of the expert theologians of his day and he lived in the same period as Hārūn al-Rashīd. Ibn Nawbakht was in charge of the court’s library and he was a scholar of the second century.

Isḥāq b. Nawbakht: He was the son of Abū al-Faḍl b. Nawbakht. He lived in the Third Century.

Yaʿqūb b. Isḥāq b. Nawbakht  expert in philosophy, theology and astronomy. (Rawḍāt al-Jannāt)

Abū ʿAlī Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Yaʿqūb, Ibn Miskawayh: He was a great Shīʿa philosopher. He has books on philosophy and mathematics. (Ibid.)

Jābir b. Hayyān: He was a great Shīʿa alchemist and scientist. He was the first one to discover the layers of human’s eye and he was the first to believe that the least valuable metals could be converted into gold and silver. He developed certain chemical concepts like special weight for metals and non-metals (Falasafat al-Shīʿa). Numerous books have been written on his life and it is well-known that he was a disciple of Imam al-Sādiq.

Abūl-Qāsim ʿAlī b. Qāsim al-Qaṣrī: This Shīʿa astronomer lived in the 4th century. His mastery of astronomy is highlighted in the Faraj al-Mahmūm of Ibn Ṭāwūs.

As we mentioned earlier, the respected author Shaykh ʿAbd Allāh Niʿma has detailed the biography of Shīʿa theologians and philosophers in his book Falasafat al-Shīʿa. However, before moving on we must mention the name of an internationally acclaimed figure in Islamic learning:

Nasir al-Dīn Ṭūsī convinced the Mongol ruler, Hulagu, to focus on science and astronomy. Then, he set up an observatory in Maragha and established a library with over 400,000 books. Scientists from Spain, Syria, Caucasus and Iraq were brought there to study the heavenly bodies.

These were examples of Shīʿa scholars who specialized in physics and experimental sciences who lived in the first centuries. If we intend to review the Shīʿa scholars of the later centuries, a separate book would be needed to do them justice.


Briefly, we will mention two valuable Shīʿa figures in geography:

  1. Yaʿqūbī (d. c. 292 AH), author of al-Buldān: He is the first geographer to have authored accounts of his travels. He begins his Buldān as follows:

‘When I was young, I was interested in learning about other lands and the distances between territories. I made huge efforts to that effect. I was young when I started travelling. My travels lasted long and I was away from my hometown. Anytime I ran across someone from another country I used to ask about his city. Then I asked about his country. I took note of the names of countries, provinces and cities and I also noted climatic conditions as well as tribal groups. I also noted the distance between cities and countries and also which commander of the Islamic armies had conquered there. I also took note of water sources and temperature in different countries.’ (al-Buldān)

  1. Abu al-Ḥasan Masʿūdi, author of Murūj al-Dhahab. He has many valuable works including: Murūj al-Dhahab, al-Tārīkh fī Akhbār al-Umam, al-Tanbīh wa al-Ishrāf. In order to get familiar with the geography of the world, he travelled a lot so that he could gather the specifications of all countries.

The Human Geography of Shi’ism

The Shīʿa constitute a major group within the Muslim community. They have settled in different parts of the world. Due to their contribution to the establishment of Islamic civilization, they have closely cooperated with their Muslim brethren of other sects. The Shīʿa are the majority in some Muslim countries and minorities in others. Here we mention the names of countries where Shīʿa live: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Yemen, Egypt, United Arab Leaderates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Muscat, Oman, Tibet, China, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and other former republics of the Soviet Union, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Singapore, North Africa, Somalia, Argentina, Britain, Italy, Germany, France, Albania, United States and Canada.

In these countries, the Shīʿa have their mosques and religious centres. What we need to know is where Shi’ism was born before spreading to other parts of the world.

Hejaz, Birthplace of Shi’ism

Hejaz, what we known today as Mecca and Medina, is the birthplace of Shi’ism. From here, this school of thought grew like a tree with branches reaching across the globe.

The Prophet named followers of Imam ʿAlī as his shīʿa (lit. ‘followers’) and officially appointed him as his successor when he was returning from his last pilgrimage to Mecca.

On his way back from Mecca, the Prophet stood atop a stockpile of camel saddles and said in clear terms: ‘He of whomever I am The Master, ʿAlī is his Master’.

Khuṭaṭ al-Shām writes: ‘The Prophet spoke very highly of ʿAlī and his household for their affection and kindness. He was the first one to refer to followers of ʿAlī as shīʿa. Shi’ism was born in the Prophet’s lifetime and a group was called Shīʿa.’

After the passing of the Prophet, opportunists ignored his appointment of ʿAlī as his successor and drove a wedge between the Prophet and his ideals. These persons monopolised the Caliphate while Imam ʿAlī used to guide people with his words and writings.

What caused Imam ʿAlī to remain silent instead of contesting their actions was the apostasy of some tribes. These apostates were led by the false-prophet Musaylama and Ṭalīḥa b. Khulayd, and others. Some people followed them blindly and Islam was close to vanishing forever. In one of his letters, Imam ʿAlī highlights this issue as follows:

‘I swear by God that I never thought that after the the Prophet the Arabs would have seized his leadership. I could never believe that they would keep the people away from me. The only thing which annoyed me was the gathering of people around that… to whom people vowed allegiance. I did stay put. But I saw with my own eyes that a group of apostates were determined to destroy the religion of Muḥammad. That was when I feared that I would soon witness the annihilation of Islam should I not help Islam and its followers. Such tragic fate would have been much more difficult for me than liberating the caliphate because this world is short-lived just like a mirage which ends or clouds which disperse. Therefore, I rose up to find a solution for destroying evil and strengthening the foothold of religion.’ (Nahj al-Balāgha)

The Imam believed that safeguarding Islam and the defeat of its enemies required him to temporarily put aside the dispute about the Caliphate. The Imam opted for silence for a quarter of a century in a bid to spare Islam any threat. Suddenly, after ʿUthmān’s murder, the followers of the Prophet went to ʿAlī’s house and demanded that he lead them. They said that would not go unless he accepted their request.

The Imam felt obliged to counter the disintegration of Islamic nation. He said: ‘If any allegiance is to be made, it must be done openly in the presence of all people of Media at the Prophet’s mosque.’

History testifies that only few people refused to join ʿAlī who said: ‘Abandon them to their own fate.’

A Rift Amongst those who Pledged Allegiance

The first rift occurred when Ṭalḥa and Zubayr broke their promises. They led a division, financed by the Umayyads, to Basra. The Imam set out for Iraq to stop them. They were suppressed in Basra and the Imam settled in Kufa. Muslims from different Arab tribes gathered around Imam ʿAlī and were promoting his views. In those days, almost all the Shīʿa were Arabs except for Salmān. Shi’ism had not yet reached Iran. Furthermore, the enemies of the Arabs were not amongst the Shīʿa.

Traces of Shi’ism still exist in Hejaz and Shīʿa are living in Mecca, Medina, Hadramut, Najran, Ahsa, Qatif and Damam. In Iraq, the Shīʿa form the majority of population, although they have historically been denied their rights because of ruthless rulers.

Shi’ism in Iraq

The Umayyad regime sought to drive the Shīʿa out of Iraq and, to that end, they resorted to all manner of repression. However, the outcome was exactly the opposite to what they had intended: Iraq became the center of Shi’ism.

The martyrdom of Imam Ḥusayn and the burial of some of the Imams in this country attracted large numbers of Shīʿa from other paerts of the Muslim world. Thanks to the presence of these shrines, religious schools and seminaries were established and the Iraqi cities of Baghdad, Kufa and Najaf, where the presence of Shīʿa was most concentrated.

Moreover, the rise of sympathetic governments and emirates in Iraq at various points in history also helped to promote Shi’ism. The Buyids in Baghdad, the Banū Mazīd in Hilla, the Hamdanids in Mosul, and the governance of Khudābanda and his son, Abū Saʿīd, all contributed to the recognition of Iraq as the center of Shīʿa faith.

The Abbasid caliphs did not maintain good relations with the Shīʿī Imams and they killed most of them by poisoning. But even then, Shīʿa scholars rose to high positions in the Abbasid Court under the cover of taqiyya(religious dissimulation). The Abbasid rulers were well aware of the faithfulness of the Shīʿa to their the Imams but they gave them posts because of their intelligence and skills.

Some of Shīʿa ministers are as follows:

  1. Abū Salama al-Hamadānī, a minister under the Caliph al-Saffāḥ.
  2. Muḥammad b. Ashʿath al-Khuzāʾī, a minister under al-Manṣūr.
  3. Jaʿfar b. Ashʿath Khuzāʾī, a minister under al-Mahdī.
  4. ʿAlī b. Yaqṭīn, a minister under Hārūn al-Rashīd.
  5. Faḍl b. Sahl, a minister under Maʾmun.
  6. Ḥasan b. Sahl, a minister under Maʾmun.
  7. Abū al-Faḍl Jaʿfar b. Maḥmūd, a minister under Muʿtazz and Muhtadī
  8. Abū Shujāʿ Ẓahīr al-Dīn Muḥammad b. al-Ḥusayn al-Hamadānī, a minister under Muhtadī.
  9. Abū al-Maʿālī Hibat al-Dīn b. Muḥammad b. al-Muṭṭalib, minister under al-Mustaẓhar.
  10. Muʾayyid al-Dīn Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Karim al-Qummī, minister under al-Nāṣir, al-al-Ẓahir and al-Mustanṣir.
  11. Abū Tālib Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Aqlamī al-Asadī, a minister under al-Mustaʿṣim; he was so competent in his post that he was reinstated after Hulagu sacked Baghdad and put an end to the Abbasid Caliphate, his son Abūl-Faḍl ʿIzz al-Dīn became minister after him.

Under the Abbasid rule, the Shīʿa held key posts in government as viziers, treasurers and court secretaries. In the Fourth and Fifth Centuries, the Shīʿa had become so powerful that Sharīf al-Raḍī and Sharīf al-Murtaḍā were given responsibility for the Talibids (descendents of Abū Ṭālib) in Baghdad. Moreover, Sharīf al-Murtaḍā was named chief justice. Sharīf al-Raḍī and his father served as the coordinator of Ḥajj affairs. This post was later given to Ḥisām al-Dīn Jaʿfar b. Abī Firās al-Shaybānī. The post of administration of Talibid affairs was later given to Tāwūs family. Sayyid Radī al-Dīn and Ghiyāth al-Dīn held this post for some time.

After Hulagu’s triumph, the management of Islamic endowments was turned over to Nasīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī. He was succeeded by his son Fakhr al-Dīn. He stopped allocating any share of endowment to the ruling establishment.

Currently, the majority of residents in southern Iraq are Shīʿa. The central cities of Najaf, Karbala, Babel, Samawah and Diwaniyah are all populated by Shīʿa. Only the north of Iraq is dominated by Sunnīs. Shīʿa also live in Mosul and Kirkuk. (Muẓaffar, Tārīkh al-Shīʿa)

Shi’ism in Yemen

The Prophet first dispatched Khālid b. Walīd to Yemen, but to no avail. Then, he sent ʿAlī there and recalled the first delegation.

Barāʾ b. ʿĀzib says: ‘When we arrived in Yemen, we first came across the Hamdān tribe. ʿAlī read the Prophet’s letter to them and all of them converted to Islam. ʿAlī notified the Prophet of the conversion to Islam of this large tribe. After the letter was read out, the Prophet prostrated and said: ‘Peace be upon Hamdan! Then the Yemenis converted to Islam in larger groups. Since the Yemenis converted to Islam as a result of Imam ʿAlī’s preaching, the Yemenis and particularly the Hamdān tribe were very fond of him. Imam ʿAlī’s kindness had penetrated into their flesh and soul. When people asked the Prophet to appoint someone to teach them Islamic instructions, he sent ʿAlī to them and said: ‘May God guide his heart and protect his tongue.’’ (Kanz al-ʿUmmāl)

The Imam stayed in Yemen for a long time and taught the people there the principles of Islam. He explained legal issues to them, to the surprise of every Yemeni scholar. That was when ʿAlī managed to conquer the hearts of Yemenis. Due to the Yemenis’ devotion to Imam ʿAlī, the Umayyad regimes embarked on a ruthless campaign against the Imamate of the Prophet’s household in Yemen. For example, when Busr Ibn Arṭaʾa was dispatched by Muʿāwiya to suppress the Yemenis, he did not even spare their children.

Imam ʿAlī himself also had special affection for the Hamdān tribe, as demonstrated by this rhyming couplet:

‘Were I the gatekeeper of Heaven, I would told the Hamdān: “Enter in peace!”’

Zaydism in Yemen

From the beginning of the Third Century, Yaḥyā b. Ḥusayn al-ʿAlawī moved from Iraq to Yemen and invited everyone to follow Zayd b. ʿAlī’s school of thought. They accepted and, until recently, the official religion of Yemen was Zaydism.

The rule of the Zaydiyya began with the arrival Yaḥyā b. Ḥusayn and lasted for many years. The last the Imam who ruled in Yemen was Ḥamīd al-Dīn Yaḥyā al-Mutawakkil ʿAlā Allāh. He was killed along with his two sons – Ḥasan and Muḥsin – as well as his grandson, Ḥusayn b. Ḥasan in 1948, following a conspiracy by some unfaithful ministers. The Imam Badr al-Dīn replaced his father, but he was unseated in a military coup shortly thereafter. That was when the reign of Zaydiyya reached its end and the miseries of the Yemenis started. The Zaydiyaa followers, some of whom are known as Houthis, are still in conflict with the central government today.

Shi’ism in Syria and Lebanon

In the first century of Islam, Shi’ism expanded to Syria and Lebanon, more precisely in Aleppo, Baalbek and Jamal. Abū Dharr, a companion of the Prophet, was the first to spread Shi’ism in these regions. It happened exactly when ʿUthmān sent him to exile from Medina to Syria. Abū Dharr began preaching in the Syrian cities without any fear and remained faithful to Imam ʿAlī until the last.

Damascus was the capital of the Umayyad dynasty for many years, but Shi’ism even found its way into there. The names of ʿAlī and Ḥusayn have been inscribed in the mosque where also stands a symbol of Ḥusayn. In different parts of the city, there are shrines belonging to Zaynab, the daughter of Imam ʿAlī and Ruqayya, the daughter of Imam Ḥusayn. Shīʿa pilgrims regularly visit these mausoleums and pay homage to them. That is the case while there is no trace of the Umayyads, but the grave of Muʿāwiya in an extremely poor state.

Shi’ism reached its apogee in Syria when the Hamdanid dynasty ruled in Syria and Iraq. Sayf al-Dawla rendered valuable services to Shi’ism and Abu Nawwāṣ has poems praising the Prophet’s Household. A selected couplet from his poems:

The right has been trampled and God’s religion has been harmed, for the share of the Prophet’s household is in the hands of others.

Scholars of Jabal ʿĀmil
  1. Muḥammad b. Makki (734-786), Known as Shahīd al-Awwal (‘The First Martyr’): He is a prominent figure in Shīʿa jurisprudence. He has authored many valuable books in this field, including al-Lumʿa al-Dimasqiyya, which is still studied to this day. This scholar is said to have written this book in a single week while he was imprisoned. The only source of reference available to him was al-Ḥillī’s Mukhtaṣar al-Nāfiʿ. This great figure was ultimately executed for his faithfulness to the Prophet’s household. He was stoned before being burnt and his ashes were thrown away into sea.

Zayn al-Dīn b. ʿAlī (911-966), Known as Shahīd al-Thānī (‘The Second Martyr’): He wrote al-Rawḍa al-Bahiyya, a commentary on the Lumʿa of Shahīd al-Awwal, and Masālik al-Afhām, a commentary on al-Ḥillī’s Sharāʾiʿ al-Islām. Like Shahīd al-Awwal, he was arrested for his beliefs. He was supposed to be taken alive to the Ottoman Sultan but his captor killed him and took his head instead, whereat the Sultan had the captor put to death as well.

Such crimes are not a rare occurrence; throughout history, the Shīʿa have faced similar acts of oppression. Many Shīʿa scholars have been killed merely for being Shīʿa. The book Shuhadāʾ al-Faḍīla of Amīnī provides details about the Shīʿa scholars who gave their lives in the service of Islam and Shi’ism.

In spite of this spate of killings, some still criticize Shīʿa for taqiyya. Without taqiyya as their shield, the Shīʿa would have wiped out completely. Nonetheless, despite all problems created by the Ottoman rulers and their representatives for Shīʿa in Syria, specifically under Aḥmad Pāshā Jazzār (the Ottoman governor in Damascus between 1195–1198), Jabal ʿĀmil remained the birthplace of Shi’ism and the flag-bearer of Shīʿa learning.

Shaykh Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī has written a two-volume book entitled Amal al-Āmal fī ʿUlamāʾ Jabal ʿĀmil. In Lebanon, Baalbek is a city where Shi’ism took root as soon as Islam arrived there. Shi’ism grew in Lebanon under Hamdanid government.

Shi’ism in Egypt

Shi’ism was brought to Egypt along with Islam by a group of the Prophet’s Companions, including Miqdād, Abū Dharr, Abū Ayūb Anṣārī, Abū Rāfiʿ and ʿAmmār b. Yāsir (Khuṭaṭ al-Maqrīzī). These faithful allies of the Prophet had not forgotten about his household and they continued promoting Islam and teaching people about the Prophet’s household. When the Egyptians were fed up with the third Caliph’s ruthlessness and injustice, they went to Medina and killed ʿUthmān. Then they went to ʿAlī’s house to pledge allegiance to him. It shows that they knew who ʿAlī was.

When ʿAlī was in power, Qays b. Saʿd was appointed as the leader of Egypt. All Egyptians, except residents of a village called ‘Khurbatā’, pledged allegiance to him. (Ibn Athīr; Maqrīzī) This was the beginning of Shi’ism in Egypt. The Umayyad rulers tried to stem its growth, so when ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀs was assigned by Muʿāwiya the task of conquering Egypt, he arrested Muḥammad b. Abū Bakr, who represented Imam ʿAlī there, covered his body with donkey’s skin and set it afire in public. This heinous and brutal act caused outrage at the time. How can someone become so ruthless to commit such a crime?

However, despite the Umayyad’s best efforts, Shi’ism penetrated the hearts of the Egyptians and when the Ismaili Fatimid movement took power in Egypt in the Third Century, many people pledged alliance to them. Under this government, Shi’ism expanded across North Africa from Egypt to Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya.

The following traditions became customary under Fatimid rule:

  • Saying ‘Hayy ʿalā khayr al-ʿamal’ in the call to prayer.
  • Preference of ʿAlī above all other caliphs.
  • Sending salutations to the Prophet upon hearing his name.
  • Holding ʿĀshūrāʾ ceremonies to commemorate Imam Ḥusayn.
  • Celebrating ʿĪd al-Ghadīr marking the appointment of Imam ʿAlī as successor to the Prophet.

All these traditions spread across Egypt and its surrounding territories. However, Saladin sought to undermine the spread of Shi’ism. He committed crimes which could not be easily expressed here. He gained fame for recapturing Jersalem from the crusaders and this fame has covered-up his some of his crimes.

Imam Ḥusayn’s body and the mausoleum of his sister Zaynab are among highly visited places in Egypt.

Shi’ism in Iran

From 905 AH onwards, Shi’ism has been the official religion of Iran. However, it should be noted that Shi’ism entered Iran before the Safavid dynasty came to power. The important point is to know why the Persians so readily embraced Islam and the Prophet’s Household since the very beginning. In this regard, Orientalists have made some baseless allegations.

Persian Devotion to Shi’ism

The main reason for the Persians’ inclination to Shi’ism was Islam’s insistence on justice, equality, piety and moral values, and its condemnation of racism. These characteristics have attracted Persians and all other nations.

Persians’ Affection for the Prophet’s Household

Persians showed affection for the Prophet’s Household in reaction to the behaviour of the caliphs. When ʿAlī was Caliph, the Persians saw that any racist or discriminatory policy was repudiated. That is how he conquered their hearts and minds.

Here we list reasons which made Imam ʿAlī so attractive to them:

Fadl> b. Abī Qurra narrates from Imam al-Sādiq: ‘When the three caliphs were ruling, non-Arab Muslims met Imam ʿAlī and said: ‘We are unhappy with Arab governors. The prophet of Islam granted us equal rights and distributed state wealth equally. He even authorized non-Arabs like Salmān, Bilāl and Ṣuhayb to marry Arab women, but this group prevents everything’. Imam ʿAlī went into a meeting with Arab governors. The latter said they will never accept equality between Arabs and non-Arabs. Imam ʿAlī left the meeting angrily said: ‘They put you non-Arabs on equal footing with Jews and Christians. They let their sons marry your daughters, but they do not let their daughters marry your sons. They don’t give you anything in return for what they receive from you. Go for trade and commerce. I hear the Prophet saying: ‘Daily income is comprised of ten sections, nine of which are in trade.’ (Kāfī)

In his Ghārāt, Abū Isḥāq al-Thaqafī narrates from ʿAbbād b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Asadī, saying: ‘One Friday, I was listening to ʿAlī’s sermon. Ibn Ṣawḥān was sitting next to the pulpit. Ashʿath b. Qays arrived. He forced his way towards Imam ʿAlī, saying: ‘You hold these non-Arabs in high respect!’ Imam ʿAlī replied: ‘What can prevent me from doing so? They are worshipping God while others are reveling in this worldly life. Would you advise me forsake them and join the wrongdoers? I swear by He who created mankind I heard the Prophet saying that non-Arabs will bring you you back to Islam just as you beat them in the cave to accept Islam.’ Mughīra b. Shuʿba says Imam ʿAlī was kinder to non-Arabs than to Arabs while ʿUmar was severe with them.

Ibn Shahr Āshūb says: ‘When Iranian prisoners were taken to Medina, the second Caliph wanted them to become slaves for Arabs and their wives to be sold. Imam ʿAlī quoted the Prophet as saying that ‘cultural sensibilities must be respected even though they may not share your views. Persians are to be respected. They have surrendered to us and agreed to convert to Islam.’ Then Imam ʿAlī said: ‘O God! You see that they pardoned and I pardoned also.’ ʿUmar was left alone and he said his decision about Persians was to be undone. (Manāqib)

Ṣadūq narrates that one day Imam al-Sādiq was told that people say non-Arabs lack any dignity. The Imam dismissed such a view and said: ‘Converting to Islam voluntarily is much better than pretending to be Muslim just out of fear. Hypocrites pretended to follow Islam for fear, but non-Arabs accepted it voluntarily.’ (Maʿānī al-Akhbār)

Faḍl b. Shādhān (260 AH) says that ʿUmar never let Arabs marry non-Arab women. (Īḍāḥ)

Shaykh al-Mufīd says Salmān al-Fārsī once entered a gathering that the Prophet was addressing. Everyone respected him because of his age and his devotion to the Prophet. ʿUmar entered and saw Salmān there. He asked: ‘Why have you let him sit there?’ This question infuriated the Prophet. He took the podium and said: ‘All human beings, from Adam until now, are like the teeth of a comb. Arabs are not superior to non-Arabs. Nor are whites to blacks. The only point is piety. Salmān is an ocean of virtue and an enduring treasure. Salmān is one of us. He is a source of wisdom, reason and logic.’ (Ikhtiṣāṣ)

Thaqafī has recounted in his Ghārāt that an Arab and a non-Arab woman went to Imam ʿAlī when wealth was being distributed. The Imam gave each 25 dirhams each plus an equal amount of wheat. The Arab woman objected, saying she is Arab and deserved more. The Imam replied: ‘I see no superiority for the children of Ismāʿīl to the children of Isḥāq.’

Shaykh al-Mufīd has quoted prominent persons like Rabīʿa and ʿAmmāra saying: ‘When a group of aristocrats stopped supporting the Imam and turned to Muʿāwiya in the hope of getting more share of wealth, someone told the Imam: ‘Give this group a bigger share to dissuade them from allying with Muʿāwiya.’. The Imam replied: ‘Are you ordering me to resort to injustice in order to triumph over others?! I swear by God I will never do so as long as I am alive, the nights and days follow each other and the stars in the sky rise and set. Even if it was my own wealth I would distribute equally, not to mention God’s wealth.’ (Amālī)

These were just examples of how the Imam treated non-Arabs. Such philanthropic behaviors have attracted non-Arabs and that is why they stood with the Prophet’s Household.

Two incorrect analyses of the Persians’ tendency to Shi’ism

Zamkhashri writes in Rabīʿ al-Abrār: ‘Iranian prisoners were taken to Medina. Among them were three daughters of Yazdegerd. The prisoners were sold. The second Caliph intended to sell Yazdegerd’s daughters. The Imam said: ‘The king’s daughters should not be meted out the same treatment as others.’ The Caliph said: ‘What should be done then? We have to set prices on them and sell them to anyone who can afford it. After pricing, the Imam bought all three of them. He gave one to ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUmar, one to his own son Imam Ḥusayn and the third one to Muḥammad b. Abū Bakr. After some time, all three of them had children. ʿAbd Allāh’s son was Sālim. Ḥusayn’s was Zayn al-ʿĀbidīn and Muḥammad’s was al-Qāsim. All three were cousins.’

Some may imagine that the Persians show devotion for the Prophet’s household just due to Ḥusayn’s marriage with the daughter of Iran’s former King, Yazdegerd. I do not think that a researcher could offer such an analysis because:

First, this story is not authentic and some researchers have cast doubt on its veracity. In his book on Imam ʿAlī b. al-Ḥusayn, Jaʿfar Shahīdī lists reasons to discount such a story.

Second, if Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī was the only one to have married the daughter of Iran’s king such an analysis could have been acceptable, but the sons of the Caliph are also reported to have married the Iranian king’s daughters. So why don’t the Persians show any devotion to them?

Still more unfounded is Aḥmad Amīn’s theory, which he presents in Fajr al-Islām. He says: ‘Since the Arab combatants plundered the Iranian throne and put an end to its rule, the Persians decided to take their revenge under cover of devotion to the Prophet’s household. Therefore, they incorporated Jewish, Christian and Zoroastrian beliefs into Islam. The Persians also took advantage of devotion to the Prophet’s household for their country’s independence and therefore they were not obedient to the central government.’

This baseless theory has been spread by American writer Theodore Lothrop Stoddard in The New World of Islam, which has been translated into Arabic by Shakīb Arsalān. Rāshid Riḍa and Muḥib al-Dīn al-Khaṭīb have also promoted this idea.

Since their conversion to Islam, the Persians have been at the forefront of service to this religion. Moreover, many of the most prominent ḥadīth collectors, historians and scholars were all Persians and there is no difference between Iranian Shīʿa and Sunnīs in this regard. Across many centuries, Persians have served Islam and Muslims. Let’s keep in mind that the compilers of the six main books of Sunnī traditions and four main books of Shīʿa ones all had Persian backgrounds.

Shīʿa Governments

The Umayyad rulers did their utmost to eclipse Shi’ism. The Abbasid caliphs also sought to stop its spread. But in spite of this opposition, Shi’ism made headway over the centuries and Shīʿa governments of various kinds appeared across the globe. Some of them are as follows:

  1. The Idrisids in Morocco (194-305 AH)
  2. The Alids in Daylam (205-304 AH)
  3. The Buyids in Iraq and Persia (321-447 AH)
  4. The Hamdanids in Syria and Iraq (293-392 AH)
  5. The Fatimids in Egypt (296-567)
  6. The Safawids in Iran (905-1133 AH)
  7. The Zands in Iran (1148-1193 AH)
  8. The Qajars in Iran (1200-1344 AH)

There were also Shīʿa governments and principalities in India as well. A separate book will be needed to speak about the founders of these kingdoms. Muḥammad Al-Jawād Mughniyya’s al-Shīʿa wa al-Tashayyuʿ has more details about Shīʿa governments.

Shīʿa Centres of Learning

Islam is a religion of science and learning. It always seeks to promote mankind from ignorance to the highest level of enlightenment and perfection. That is why Islam has always encouraged people to learn to read and write. Islam seeks to persuade mankind to study nature. It is hardly surprising then, that the Shīʿa set up schools and universities, some of which are as follows:

The School of Medina

Medina was the first center of Shīʿa learning. A group of Companions who were faithful to Imam ʿAlī, including Ibn ʿAbbās, Salmān, Abū Dharr and Abū Rāfiʿ managed to spread his teachings. Then came the companions of Imam Sajjād like Saʿīd b. Musayyib, Qāsim b. Muḥammad b. Abū Bakr and Abū Khālid Kābūli. They established the School of Medina during the lifetime of Imam al-Bāqir and Imam al-Sādiq. People from everywhere came to this school for learning. The school of Imam al-Bāqir and Imam al-Sādiq was a big educational center where many people studied.

The School of Kufa

As we mentioned earlier, Imam ʿAlī made Kufa as his capital after he left Medina. A group of individuals thirsty for knowledge were taught by him in Kufa.

In his Ṭabaqāt al-Kubrā, Ibn Saʿd names some of Imam ʿAlī’s students who settled in Kufa and promoted his teachings there. In the face of the insistence of Abū al-ʿAbbās al-Saffāḥ, Imam al-Sādiq even left Medina and spent two years living in Kufa.

Imam al-Sādiq found the political conditions appropriate for promoting the teachings of the Prophet’s Household. The Umayyad government has just been overthrown and the Abbasids had not yet consolidated their grip on the Muslim world. The Imam had a good chance to render this service.

Ḥasan b. ʿAlī describes Kufa University as follows: ‘I saw 900 ḥadīth narrators in the Mosque of Kufa. All of them narrate from Jaʿfar b. Muḥammad.’ Najāshī describes the narrator himself as a prominent author with many books (Najāshī). The School of Kufa also trained prominent jurists like Abān b. Taghlib (d. 141AH), Muḥammad b. Muslim al-Ṭaʾifī (d. 150 AH) and Zurāra b. Aʿyyan (d. 150 AH). Shīʿa jurists authored as many as 6,600 books in Kufa, 400 of which are about principles of aḥādīth. (Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa)

The School of Kufa was not limited to ḥadīth, exegesis and jurisprudence though. Other branches of Islamic science were also taught there. Prominent authors like Hishām b. Muḥammad al-Kalbī, who has authored more than 200 books, Ibn Abī ʿUmayr, who penned 194 books, Ibn Duʾāl, with 100 books, and the alchemist Jābir b. Hayyān and Ibn Shadhān with 280 books are all graduates of this school.

The School of Qumm and Rayy

When the Persians embraced Islam most of them became Sunnīs. However, certain spots in Iran had a strong Shīʿa presence. Qumm, Rayy, Kāshān and parts of Khurasan were populated by Ashʿarīs who had left Yemen and Kufa to settle in Qumm and were all Shīʿa. That was how Shi’ism spread in Iran. The School of Kufa was also blossoming and even though the Abbasid caliphs did not stop persecuting the Shīʿa, its teaching still made headway. After Ibrāhīm b. Hāshim al-Kūfī, a student of Yūnus b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān, himself a disciple of Imam al-Riḍā, moved to Qumm, this center gradually became more prominent because those studying there heard aḥādīth from both Qumm and Kufa. The sympathetic Buyid government also aided this blossoming and the first group of ḥadīth compilers graduated from these schools. Some of them are:

  • ʿAlī b. Ibrāhīm al-Qummī (d. 307 AH).
  • Muḥammad b. Yaʿqūb al-Kulaynī (d. 329 AH), the compuler of al-Kāfī.
  • ʿAlī b. Ḥusayn b. Bābuwayh (d. 329 AH), the father of Shaykh al-Ṣadūq.
  • Jaʿfar b. Muḥammad b. Qūlawayh (285-368), a student of Kulaynī and Mufīd.
  • Muḥammad b. ʿAlī b. Bābuwayh, known as Shaykh al-Ṣadūq (306-381), the author of many books of traditions, law and theology.

These prominent figures were all graduates of the School of Qumm and Rayy. Ḥusayn b. Rūh, one of the Four Representatives of Imam al-Mahdī during the Lesser Occultation, sent his Taʾdīb to jurists in Qumm and said: ‘Please give your opinions on this book. If anything is wrong, please inform us.’ In response, they said: ‘This book is fully authentic.’ (Shaykh al-Ṭūsī, Ghayba) This report and others reveal the importance of this school at the time.

The School of Baghdad

When the Buyids ruled Baghdad and the surrounding regions, a fourth school was established for the Shīʿa in Baghdad. Some of the great personalities to graduate from this school are:

Shaykh al-Mufīd (336-413): He was a great Shīʿa figure of his own time. Both friends and opponents have both acknowledged his level of knowledge, sagacity and piety. He was the most prominent teacher of theology in his age. He used to debate with theologians of all schools. He taught at the Barāthā Mosque and authored nearly 200 books.

Sharīf al-Murtaḍā (355-436): He was the second major Shīʿa figure in the Fifth Century. Thaʿālabī describes him as follows: ‘He is the foremost in learning, courtesy, knowledge, greatness and politeness.’ Ibn Khalikān says: ‘He was a without peer in theology, literature and poetry.’ Najāshī, one of his students, says: ‘He had such a mastery of Islamic sicence that nobody could beat him.’ He studied under Shaykh al-Mufīd and his books include al-Intiṣār, Tanzīh al-Anbiyāʾ and Jamāl al-ʿIlm wa al-ʿAmal.

Sharīf al-Raḍī (359-406) was another prominent scholar of this time in multiple fields of learning. Like his brother, Sharīf al-Murtaḍā, he studied under Shaykh al-Mufīd. His books include Khaṣāʾiṣ al-Aʾimma, Maʿānī al-Qurʾānand Ḥaqāʾiq al-Taʾwīl.

Shaykh al-Ṭūsī (385-460): He was the head of the sect and a seminal figure. He studied under both Shaykh al-Mufīd and Sharīf al-Murtaḍā. His books, including Tahdhīb and Istibsār, are references for scholars and jurists even today.

They are more than a few graduates from the School of Baghdad. Tens of theologians studied at this university. This school reached its apogee under the Buyids. However, the arrival of the Seljuks in Baghdad fanned the flames of division between Shīʿas and Sunnīs. The houses of Shīʿas in the Karkh quarter of Baghdad were set ablaze; Shaykh al-Ṭūsī’s residence was invaded and his books were burnt. Even the Shaykh’s chair was set ablaze.

The School of Najaf

The Seljuk invasion of Baghdad and the attacks against the Shīʿa, including Shaykh al-Ṭūsī, left innocents dead and books destroyed. After that, the Shaykh left Baghdad for Najaf where he established another school near a cemetery. Before Shaykh al-Ṭūsī’s departure from Baghdad, there was some Islamic learning taking place in Najaf, but on a much more basic level. Najāshī says: ‘He has a book titled ʿAmal al-Ṣulṭān. He authorized me to unveil it in Najaf in 400 AH.’ (Najāshī)

Shaykh al-Ṭūsī founded the School of Najaf. Over the past ten centuries, this school has been a center for training theologians, ḥadīth scholars, exegetes, philosophers and belletrists. To learn more about this school, Māḍī al-Najaf wa Hāḍirhā by Shaykh Jaʿfar Āl Būya is the best reference work.

The School of Hilla

Although Najaf was the center of learning and shone like a star in the firmament of knowledge and literature, the nearby city of Hilla was another important intellectual centre for the Shīʿa. Its prominent graduates include:

Muḥaqqiq al-Ḥillī: Najm al-Dīn Abū al-Qāsim Jaʿfar b. Saʿīd. His student, Ibn Dāwūd describes him as follows: ‘He was a great scholar and without equal, an expert in expression and argument.’ He died in 676 AH. (Ibn Dāwūd, Rijāl). One of his memorable works is Sharāʾiʿ al-Islām, which has been printed in four volumes. He summarized this work into al-Mukhtaṣar al-Nāfiʿ. His commentary on this work is unique.

ʿAllāma al-Ḥillī: His name was Jamāl al-Dīn Ḥasan b. Yūsuf b. Muṭahhar (648-726). He learnt jurisprudence from Muḥaqqiq al-Ḥillī, and philosophy and mathematics from Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī. He was famous for his intelligence as was recognized as a theologian even while he was still young. The most important two of his books are as follows:

  • Tadhkirat al-Fuqahāʾ: Eighteen volumes of this book have already been printed and the rest are being prepared.
  • Muntahā al-Matlab fī Taḥqīq al-Madhhab: It is a fourteen-volume book of jurisprudence which deals with all the chapters of law until that of Jihād.

Fakhr al-Muhaqqiqīn: His name is Muḥammad b. Ḥasan b. Yūsuf (682-771). He is ʿAllāma al-Ḥillī’s son and student. ʿAllāma al-Ḥillī clearly felt a great deal of affection for him as he mentions him in his books and has left a testament to his son at the end of his Qawāʿid. His students include Muḥammad b. Makkī known as Shahīd al-Awwal. Other prominent graduates of this school are Ibn Ṭāwūs, Ibn Warrām, Ibn Namā and Ibn Abī al-Fawāris.


The Fatimid dynasty was founded in the Second Century and grew to encompass the lands between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea. There was a persistent rivalry between the Fatimids of North Africa and the Abbasids of Baghdad.

Muʿizz al-Dīn, the Fatimid Caliph, was a enlightened ruler who was very fond of knowledge and literature. He made Cairo his capital and established al-Azhar University there. He encouraged the spread of Shi’ism in his domain; all mosques were obliged to add the formula ‘ḥayy ʿalā khayr al-ʿamal’ (‘hasten to the best of deeds’ – which was not used by Sunni Muslims) in their calls to prayer. Black clothing, the colour of the Abbasids, was prohibited. Muslims in general, and Egyptians in particular, owe a great deal of their culture and learning to the Fatimids. It was, after all, the Fatimids who founded al-Azhar University. Sadly, its role was undermined when Saladin toppled the Fatimids. However, it is worthwhile studying the history of the Fatimids to learn about their contributions to science and learning.

The author of Mukhtaṣar Tārīkh al-ʿArab writes: ‘The Fatimid government was always supportive of intellectual development and afforded respect for its scholars. Under the Fatimid rule, faculties and libraries were established and many books on science, technique and astronomy were transferred there. Students were provided with generous facilities for education. The Fatimid caliphs held debates on mathematics, logic, jurisprudence and medicine. Teachers of these disciplines, attired specially, were received by the Caliphs.’ According to history, ‘The Caliph used to spend forty-three million dirhams every year on the faculties of education and even invited teachers from Asia and Spain to address the House of Knowledge to promote the reputation of the university.’


During the Umayyad period, Syria was their base of operations. After their overthrow by the Abbasids and the rise of the Buyids in Iraq and the Hamadanids in Mosul and Aleppo, the Shīʿa also managed to centres of learning in Jabal Amil and Aleppo to train students. Among the graduates of Aleppo scientific center are the family of Ibn Zuhra, who have left numerous intellectual and jurisprudential works. Jabal Amil experienced many turns of fortune throughout history. Under the rule of the Ottoman governor Jazzār Pāshā, it suffered a serious blow.

Other Centres of Learning

Shīʿa intellectual centres are not limited to what we mentioned above. Numerous centres were opened in what are today Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, particularly in the cities of Herat and Mumbai. A sort of intellectual enthusiasm spread over Southeast Asia in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Those willing to learn more can read books on these countries as well as Yemen and Oman.

From the advent of the Safavids in Iran (905 AH), many Iranian cities saw the establishment of intellectual centres. The main cities for such centres were Isfahan, Tehran, Tabriz, Qazvin, Zanjan, Shiraz, Ahvaz and Khorasan. In 1340 AH, the senior cleric Ayat Allāh ʿAbd al-Karīm Yazdī Hāʾirī (1274-1355) established a center of learning in Qumm and managed to attract students from both inside and outside of Iran. Over the past ninety years, hundreds of theologians, ḥadīth collectors and exegetes have been trained in this school. At present, more than 40,000 students of different nationalities are studying there. Following Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, its progress picked up speed and is currently a unique Shīʿa school in the world.

Statistics About Shi’ism

Since many statistics centres are controlled by people who are unsympathetic to Islam or Shi’ism, many of the figures released about Islamic sects are unreliable and they could not be considered as official data. What could be said for certain is that Shi’ism has fifty-one sub-sects, including the Zaydī and Ismāʿīlī branches. However, the majority of Shīʿa are Twelvers.

Sources on Shīʿa Jurisprudence and Theology

Like other Islamic schools of thought, the Shīʿa depend on the Qur’an and the Sunna of the Prophet. In addition to this, the Shīʿa rely on the traditions narrated by the Imams who were the keepers of the Prophet’s knowledge. Moreover, one need not be a prophet to be divinely educated. A similar case is that of Khidr, whom God describes as follows: ‘They found one of Our servants whom We had granted a mercy from Ourselves, and taught him a knowledge from Our own.’ (Q18:65)

Khidr was not a prophet, but he possessed divinely-inspited knowledge. The prophet Moses depended on Khidr’s knowledge and was divinely commanded to learn from him. So why can the infallible Shīʿa Imams, who succeeded the Prophet, not be like Khidr?

Therefore, scholars, jurists and theologians enjoy four categories of knowledge: the Qur’an, the Prophet’s Sunna, traditions from the Shīʿa Imams, and wisdom. They also trust any issue upon which Muslim scholars, particularly Shīʿa, have reached a consensus.

Undoubtedly, the Qur’an has many details which need to be explained. Since the Prophet did not live long enough to interpret everything, he assigned the task to his Household. Not just anyone can interpret the Qur’an – they must have a sufficient level of knowledge first. Throughout their life, the infallible Shīʿa Imams trained jurists and theologians who have, in turn, written books for the future generations. Here are the most important of them:

  1. Uṣūl Arbami’a: notebooks of traditions compiled by 400 companions of Imam al-Bāqir, Imam al-Sādiq, Imam al-Kāẓim and Imam al-Riḍā.
  2. Al-Maḥāsin: compiled by Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Khālid al-Barqī, (d. 272 AH).
  3. Al-Jāmiʿ: compiled by Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Abī Naṣr Bazanṭī, (d. 221 AH).
  4. Nawādir al-Ḥikma: compiled by Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. Yaḥyā b. ʿImrān al-Ashʿarī (d. c. 293 AH).

There is also a second category of companions of the Shīʿī Imams who have compiled traditions:

  1. Kulaynī, author of al-Kāfī, (d. 329 AH). This book was written over the course of 20 years (Najāshī) and contains some 16,200 narrations. ‘The narrations in Kāfī are more numerous than those in the six major works compiled by Sunnīs.’ says Shahīd. (Luʾluʾ al-Baḥrayn)
  2. Muḥammad b. ʿAlī b. al-Ḥusayn, known as Ṣadūq (306-381 AH). He is the author of al-Faqīh which contains 5,963 aḥādīth.
  3. Muḥammad b. Ḥasan Ṭūsī (385-460 AH), author of Tahdhīb al-Aḥkām, and al-Istibṣār with 13,590 aḥādīth and 5,511 aḥādīth respectively. (Mustadrak)

These aḥādīth were compiled throughout the fourth and fifth centuries. There also collections of aḥādīth after the tenth century.

  1. Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, compiled by Muḥammad b. Ḥasan Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī (d. 1104 AH): This book has been printed in 30 volumes. It has previous editions too.
  2. al-Wāfī, compiled by Muḥammad b. Murtaḍā Fayḍ al-Kāshānī (1007-1091 AH); It has been published in 26 volumes.
  3. Biḥār al-Anwār, authored by Muḥammad Bāqir al-Majlisī (1038-1110 AH), printed in 110 sections: It is one of the most comprehensive collections of aḥādīth.

These three authors have rendered valuable services to the Shīʿa tradition. However, compilation of aḥādīthreached its peak in the Fourteenth Century:

  1. al-Mustadarak ʿalā Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, compiled by traditionist Nūrī (1254-1320 AH): This book has collected aḥādīthwhich Shaykh Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī did not include in Wasāʾil. However, like other books of aḥādīth, this one also needs to be scrutinized for authenticity.
  2. Jāmiʿ Aḥadīth al-Shīʿa, compiled under supervision of the late Ayat Allāh Burujurdī (1292-1380 AH), this book collects more than 50,000 aḥādīth and is a valuable book of Shīʿa traditions.

We have briefly reviewed the history of Shi’ism, its major figures and their geographical distribution. Now, one can see that Shīʿa is no minor or underground movement. In fact, the Shīʿa are present in almost all countries of the world and they have served the cause of Islam and Muslims greatly over the past fourteen centuries.

Methodological Notes for Writing on Shīʿa Faith and History

We have recommendations for non-Shīʿa authors who intend to write about Shi’ism.

  1. Shi’ism is not born out of temporary policies formulated following the departure of the Prophet. It is as pure as Islam and is no different from it. Islam and Shi’ism are like both sides of the same coin. Shi’ism is enshrined in Islam and lies within the framework of following the Prophet’s household.
  2. There are certainly issues in the School of Shi’ism which may look inaccurate and new for the Sunnīs. Badāʾ, the infallibility of the Imams, the birth of Imam al-Mahdī and his longevity are cases in point. In these cases, authors should study Shīʿa reasoning without any prejudice they will see that whatever the Shīʿa say has the backing of the Qur’an and Prophetic traditions.
  3. Shi’ism is not merely a historical phenomenon. To this day it is a lively, vibrant tradition with its own followers, universities and libraries. Anyone who intends to write any book on Shi’ism will have to communicate with Shīʿa scholars and benefit from their guidelines. The books written by Orientalists are often unreliable because they take a hypercritical approach to Islam.

However, there are extremist figures in every Islamic sect. These extremists habitually misinterpret everything and therefore their books and attitudes should not set any criteria for judgment. We see some contemporary authors accusing the Shīʿa of having distorting the Qur’an and they refer to Faṣl al-Khiṭāb written by the traditionist Nūrī. However, this book is a collection of undocumented aḥādīth mainly extracted from the Sunnī books. Shīʿa scholars have already discredited it.

A Sunnī graduate of al-Azhar, al-Furqān, has written a book distorting the Qur’an. Even al-Azhar scholars have rejected the authenticity of this book whose copies are still available everywhere. Basically, we clear all Islamic acts of such charges and consider such moves as a conspiracy by enemies of Islam to cause division amongst Muslims.

  1. Instead, to become familiar with the genuine beliefs of the Shīʿa, an author must refer to their books. However, nothing could be achieved by referring collections of aḥādīth, some of which are unreliable and undocumented, in insolation. The authenticity of a book does not mean the accuracy of each and every ḥadīth in the book. Unfortunately, this principle has been ignored by most authors.
  2. Authors must take into account the fact that the collections of Shīʿa aḥādīth are totally different from the books of narrations of Sunnī scholars. The Sunnīs consider Bukhārī and Muslim the most reliable sources of traditions while the only truly one-hundred-percent reliable source for Shīʿa Muslims is the Qur’an. Whatever one may see in the books of aḥādīth does not necessarily reflect the Shīʿa faith.
  3. There is clear difference between faith and practices. Faith is unchangeable and followers accept it intrinsically because they rule out any possibility of diversion. But as far as the practices are concerned, followers may accept them on the basis of a practical consensus. Faith can only be derived from the Qur’an and the authentic, successively-transmitted traditions (i.e. traditions that are so widely narrated byt so many reliable sources that they could not have possibly been fabricated).
  4. We mentioned earlier that taqiyya is an Islamic principle, but this issue is sometimes twisted by those who say that Shīʿa books could not be relied upon because they might be hiding their true beliefs. These doubts have been cast by Pakistani author Iḥsān Ilāhī Ẓāhir and it shows that they have not properly understood the practice of taqiyyabecause taqiyya is a personal issue and it is applied anytime the life and properties of humans are in danger. This principle never allows Shīʿa scholars to write their books based on the principle of taqiyya in a bid to protect their life and properties. I assure all authors that no Shīʿa scholar has every authored any book based on taqiyya. All books written by the Shīʿa scholars are authentic representations of their own views.
  5. Sunnī scholars regard Bukhārī and Muslim’s books as the most authentic after the Qur’an. However, scholars should consult aḥādīth from these so-called authentic books and make their own judgments.
  6. Abū Zaḥrāʾ, a senior scholar in al-Azhar, enumerates the reasons for the spread of Shi’ism as follows:
  • They do not believe in closing the gate of ijtihād. That is why all social, economic and psychological problems are studied very closely before fatwas are passed in line with Islamic principles.
  • There are lots of quotes on Shīʿa jurisprudence. Theologians will have the chance to express themselves as long as they do not go far from the principles of ijtihād.
  • Twelvers are seen across the globe, stretching from China to Europe. It is like a stream running across different lands. It gets the color of any territory it flows into without losing its freshness.
  • There are lots of Shīʿa jurists who are determined to resolve the problems. It is a God-given benediction for the Shīʿa to have such responsible scholars. (al-Shīʿa wa al-Tashayyuʿ)
  1. Some opportunists accuse Shīʿa of trying to alter the words of the Qur’an while they have never read the history of Shi’ism; they do not know any statements from the Shīʿī Imams, nor do they know about the Book of Fāṭima, which they mistake for the Qur’an. These opportunists even do not know the meaning of muṣḥaf. God says in the Qur’an: ‘When the scrolls are unrolled.’ (Q81:10) The Book of Fāṭima is just a collection of what has been dictated by her father and written down by her husband ʿAlī. Some aḥādīth say the Book of Fāṭima is about future events. Imam al-Sādiq describes the Book of Fāṭima as follows: ‘There is not even a single word from the Qur’an in it. They are all the Prophet’s narrations dictated by him’. Kulaynī says: ‘Manṣūr asked the jurists of Medina a question about Zakāt and Imam al-Sādiq was the only one to respond. When asked to explain what his reference was, he said Fāṭima’s book.’ (Kāfī)

The Imam always refers to the Book of Fāṭima as book to avoid any mistake. There is nothing ambiguous and opportunists may be only trying to take advantage of muṣḥaf as a pretext. In that case, the Shīʿa should also say the Sunnīs refer to the Book of ʿĀʾisha. Suyūṭī quotes Hamīda bt. Abī Yūnus as saying: ‘My father was eighty when he read in the Book of ʿĀʾisha that God and His angels send their salutations to the Prophet and believers must always send blessings upon the Prophet.’ (al-Itqān)

With these points, we finish review of the origins of Shi’ism and the contributions of its followers to Islamic civilization. We accomplished our task and it is now up to the reader to draw their own conclusions.

We ask God to bestow practical unity on the Islamic society as He has granted them belief in Dvine Unity. He has the best answers. Peace be upon the Prophet and his pure progeny.


Source: Shafaqna

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