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Shiite Islam – The Partisans of the Ahl al-Bayt. Important Family of the Prophet. Prophet. Hanafi woman. ‘Ali. Fatema. Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya. Hasan (2). Husayn (3). ‘Ali Zayn al-’Abidin (4). Zayd b. ‘Ali. Muhammad al-Baqir (5) Ja’far al-Sadiq (6) Musa al-Kazim (7)

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Shiite Islam – The Partisans of the Ahl al-Bayt

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Important Family of the Prophet


Hanafi woman



Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya

Hasan (2)

Husayn (3)

‘Ali Zayn al-’Abidin (4)

Zayd b. ‘Ali

Muhammad al-Baqir (5)

Ja’far al-Sadiq (6)

Musa al-Kazim (7)

‘Ali al-Rida (8)

Muhammad al-Taqi (9)

‘Ali al-Naqi (10)

Hasan ‘Askari (11)

Muhammad al-Mahdi (12)

Zaydi / Fivers

Isma’il ?


Isma’ili / Sevener Shiites

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Early ‘Shiism’ – Moderates vs. Extremists


From 632 – about 765 ‘Shiite’ means…

  • Belief that ‘Ali was the best and most knowledgeable of the Companions

  • Or… that he have been the first caliph (but not necessarily that the first three were illegitimate).

  • That in general the family of the Prophet had a prominent role in leadership of the umma revolt!

  • Political Conscience: Kerbela Passion in 680

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Early Extremists

Mukhtar b. Abi ‘Ubayd and the Kaysaniyya

  • During the second civil war Mukhtar leads of group of Kufans, mostly non-Arab mawali, to support Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya (‘Ali’s son by a second wife, not Fatema), whom they believed was the mahdi (messianic figure)

  • Rebellion starts in 685 CE, and it is crushed (and Mukhtar killed) in 687 by Ibn al-Zubayr

  • When Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya died in 701, the remaining Kaysaniyya believed that he had merely gone into occultation and would return as the Mahdi

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Legacy of the Extremists

  • Notion of living figure from the family of the Prophet as Mahdi

  • Notion that an imam disappears, not dead but also not with us fully in this world, to reappear at some undetermined time as the Mahdi

     Reoccurring themes in Shiite and even Sunni Islam

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Political Failure – Doctrinal Formation

Rebellion of Zayd b. ‘Ali 740 CE vs. Umayyads… fails (‘ata’ and campaigns)

Shiite Hopes for the ‘Abbasid Revolution 750 CE … crushed.

  • Muhammad the Pure Soul rebels in 762

  • Fakhkh Massacre in 786

    Most of the Kaysaniyya and Rebellious Alids join as followers of the 6th Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (d. 765) in Medina

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The Formation of Doctrinal Twelver or Imami Shiism

874 or 878, 11thImam dies with no known heir… almost…

Prominent Shiites close to the family say he had a son who was hidden away by the ‘Abbasids in Samarra… But, fed up with the world, he went into a cave and disappeared, to return as the Mahdi and fill the world with justice as it was full of injustice

Until 941, a series of 4 ‘Ambassadors’ communicate with the 12th imam.

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Twelver/Imami Shiism

By 950 CE Imami Shiite doctrine had formed:

  • Pending the imam’s return, the Shiite ulama are responsible for guiding the religious lives of his followers: collect tithes etc.

  • The sources for law and doctrine are:

    • The Quran: as interpreted by the imams

    • The Sunna of the Prophet (as understood by Shiites

    • The Sunna of the Imams = infallible

    • In the absence of evidence from these sources, ulama can use analogical reasoning

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Usuli vs. Akhbari Schools of 12er Shiism


Sunna of Prophet and Imams

Principles applied in reasoning

Texts to be followed literally


  • Usuli School:

  • Quran

  • Well-Established Sunna (Prophet and imams)

  • Analogical Reasoning

  • Akhbari School:

  • Quran

  • Sunna (of Prophet and imams) – total reliance on the Shiite hadith collections

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Attitude towards Sunnis

  • A spectrum…

  • In general: Sunnis are ‘Muslims (those who submit to God)’ but not ‘Mu’mins (true believers)’

  • With the exception of the Partisans of Ali, Companions of the Prophet all either aggressively opposed to the truth and Ali’s claim or complicit with injustice (vs. Sunnis who see all the Companions of the Prophet as ‘upright’)

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Shiite Rituals

  • Ashura: tenth day (first ten days) of Muharram… the period of the massacre at Karbala

  • Taziya: majlis, flagellation, passion plays(start in 1700’s in Iran)

  • Husayn’s party (The Pious Ones, Awliya’): traditionally held to be 72 followers, men and women:

  • The Umayyad Enemy sent by the caliph Yazid, led by Shimr and Ibn Sa’d

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Ismaili/Sevener Shiism

Originally those who believed that the 6th imam’s son, Ismail, his chosen successor who died before his father, was in occultation and would return as the Mahdi.

They set up armed camps for their followers in Syria, Southern Iraq and Algeria. All swore allegiance to the awaited imam.

Prophets only gave the external part of the religion - each one had an ‘Inheritor’ who told the inner meaning of the faith (Jesus’ was Peter). Then each was followed by 7 imams. Ismail went into occultation and will return to remove the Shariah so that mankind can follow the original religion of Adam: pure worship of the Creator.

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Zaydi Shiism

  • Basically Pro-Alid, politically active Sunnism

  • Originally developed in Southern Iraq, Daylam (south shore of the Caspian sea) and then the mountains of Yemen

  • Any member of the family of the Prophet who has scholarly expertise and stands up against injustice can be the imam.

  • Ali should have been first caliph, but Prophet’s edicts ambiguous  only the worst Companions are sinful

  • Difference from Sunnism: Alid focus, Mutazilite theology (rationalism)

  • Differences from Imami Shiism: no appointed & exclusive line of imams, no focus on mahdi

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Major Development – Rise of the Fatimids

In 899 CE the head of the movement in Syria declared he was the Mahdi… he was only accepted by the Algerian Ismailis  he flees there and in 909 they declare a caliphal/mahdi state. In 969 they take Egypt and found the city of Cairo.

But the apocalyptic endtime state (with no Shariah!) is “postponed indefinitely”

His family rules Egypt, Syria the Hejaz until 1171 as the Fatimid Caliphate… “The State of Truth (Dawlat al-Haqq)”

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The Nizarli Ismaili ‘Assassins’

In 1094 there is dispute over who should be the next imam/caliph… The Fatimids choose one, but the Ismailis in Syria and Iran believe another one should rule.

These Ismailis take control of mountain castles in Syria and Iran and battle their Sunni enemies by assassinating rulers (and also Crusaders!)

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Modern Ismailis

Dawud Bhoras: generally Indian, followers of Fatimid imams who moved to Yemen, practice close to 12er Shiism

Agha Khanid/Khojas:

  • Persian Shah recognizes an imam from the city of Kirman, he flees to Bombay in 1845 after an attempted rebellion.

  • The Indian Khojas were formed when the Hindu trader caste of Lohanas converted en masse to Ismailism.

  • Almost no link to the medieval tradition and doctrine of Ismailism. They rely on Indian legends, Tantric ideas, such as the idea that the imam is the reincarnation of Vishnu.

  • Prayers have little connection with ‘Muslim’ prayer.

  • The High Court of Bombay’s British judge recognized the Agha Khan’s claim to dispose of his community’s assets in 1866.

  • There are about 20 million Khojas.