Shi‘as (the adjective in Arabic is شيعى shi‘i; English has traditionally used Shiite) which mean 'follower' in Arabic make up the second largest sect of believers in Islam, constituting about 30%-35% of all Muslim. (The largest sect, the Sunni Muslims, make up about 65%-70% of all Muslims).
Shi‘as around the world
Shi‘a Muslims live in all parts of the world, but some countries have a higher concentration of Shi‘a. Iran has 89% Shi‘a, Iraq has about 70% Shi‘a, Azarbaijan 92% are Shia and Bahrain has 70% Shi'a. The largest religious denomination in Lebanon are also Shia. Large Shi‘a populations are also found in Yemen (50%), Kuwait (30%), Pakistan (20%), Syria (15%-20%), United Arab Emirates (16%), Saudi Arabia (10%-15%), Afghanistan (15%), Tajikistan (5%), Uzbakistan, Kazakhstan, Oman and Brunei, with smaller groups in other parts of the Persian Gulf, Arabic peninsula and African countries.
Twelver Shi‘a Beliefs
The majority of Shi‘as are referred to as Twelver Shi‘as. This is so that they can be distinguished from other variants of Shi‘a Islam. Twelver Shi‘as believe in the imamate (leadership) of the twelve imams following the death of Prophet Muhammad.
Following is a listing of the rightful sucessors of Muhammad, as recognized by mainstream ("Twelver") Shias. Each Imam was the son of the previous Imam, except for Husayn who was the brother of Hasan. It is important to point out that according to the Shi'a each Imam was not chosen because of his ancestory but rather because God had appointed each one because of his merits.
- Ali ibn Abu Talib (600 - 661)
- Hasan ibn Ali (625 - 669)
- Husayn ibn Ali (626 - 680)
- Ali ibn Husayn (658 - 713), also known as Zainul Abideen
- Muhammad al Baqir (676 - 743)
- Jafar as Sadiq (703 - 765)
- Musa al Kadhim (745 - 799)
- Ali ar Ridha (765 - 818)
- Muhammad at Taqi (810 - 835)
- Ali al Hadi (827 - 868)
- Hasan al Askari (846 - 874)
- Muhammad al Mahdi (868 - ))
Shi‘a Muslims believe that Ali, the son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad, was the first of the twelve imams appointed by God to succeed Prophet Muhammad as leader of the Muslim community. Shi‘as regard the three caliphs who succeeded him as illegitimate rulers who usurped power in contravention to God's command and the will of the Prophet Muhammad.
They believe that the twelve descendants of Prophet Muhammad are Imams (political and religious leaders) and have a special status. They are regarded as direct successors (in all matters) of Prophet Muhammad. They are infallible, impeccable, divinely inspired, and chosen directly by God.
Shi'a Contrasted with Sunni
The differences between Shi'a and Sunni are historical, and theological. Theological differences include different beliefs in regards to the main principles of the religion of Islam. Such differences can be found in Tawheed (Oneness and Justice of Allah), Nubuwwa (Prophethood) and Immamate (Leadership and Guidance).
Shi'a believe that there is only one God and that He is not limited in any sense. They believe that God is one in his essence and attributes and therefore is not composed of parts (which means He does not have shape or body nor is His attributes separate to Him), that He has created everything in the world and continues to sustain everything in the world (i.e., the existence of all things are due to Him and continues to be due to Him), that He alone should be worshipped and all harm and benefit comes only from Him. Shi'a also believe that God is Just and therefore he Judges Justly in the hereafter. According to the Shi'a, God rewards the good and punishes the evil and it is impossible for Him to reward evil and punish good. People have been given the choice to choose between good and evil and how they make their choice will determine the outcome of their fate in the hereafter. Sunnis are divided into two main schools in regards to Tawheed, the Mu'tazilites and the Ash'arites. The majority of Sunnis today adhere to the Ash'arite theology in regards to the principles of religion and Mu'tazilites are thought to no longer exist (though traces of their thought can be found in some Sunni expositions of the principles of religion). The Mu'tazilites have similar beliefs to that of the Shi'a, however, the Ash'arites believe that God has a body and therefore shape. They also have different views in some of the other aspects of Tawheed. Ash'arites also have different beliefs in regards to the Judgement of God, believing that it is possible for God to punish the good and reward the evil. According to the Ash'arites human beings are predestined in their actions and their fate in the hereafter.
There are also differences in regards to other principles of Islam. For Shi'a Prophets/Messengers (Prophet Adam being the first and Prophet Muhammad the last) that have been appointed by God are impeccable and infallible in every aspect (i.e., in their beliefs, thoughts, actions, speech, etc). The Mu'tazilites again hold similar views in this respect with that of the Shi'a. However, The Ash'arites believe that Prophets are only infallible in regards to revelation. Both the Mu'tazilites and the Ash'arites differ with the Shi'a in respect to the issue of Immamate (Leadership and Guidance). The Shi'a believe that God at all times appoints an infallible and impeccable individual to be the vicegerent of the Prophet and guardian of Islam. Sunnis however, believe that leadership over the Muslim community can be in other forms as well (such as Monarchy for example). For Shi'a, in the case where the leader appointed by God is superficially absent, then any other form of government which is closest to a Just government is acceptable (for example democracy).
It is important to know that for Shi'a the narrations and traditions of the Prophet are very important. Shi'a differ with the Sunnis in this regards only in the sense that the Shi'a distinguish between the trustworthy companions of Prophet Muhammad and others who had claim to companionship but where known to have had enmity towards the Prophet and were famous for fabricating narrations and historical events. As a result, the Shi'a believe that narrations from the Prophet has to be rationally analyzed and categorized taking into consideration not only its narrative accuracy but also whom the narrations had originally come from (i.e., was the person a fabricator of narrations or not).
There is a wide misconception that the Shi'a 'separated' from the main stream Muslims in the early Islamic era, which is an inaccurate belief. There are many historical records (both among the Shi'a and among the Sunni) that Prophet Muhammad had distinguished between those who were followers (Shi'a in Arabic means follower) of Imam Ali and those who were not. Both Sunni historical and narrative records as well as those of the Shi'a also indicate that after the death of Prophet Muhammad, Imam Ali objected to the usurping of Power by Abu Bakr and Omar. However, Sunni records show that the name Sunni or as it is known in its full terminology Ahl Sunna Wal Jamaa'a was first used under the Umayyad leadership by Mu'awiya Ibn Abi Sufyaan.
Marks the end of fasting the month of Ramadan.
Marks the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca.
This is the 10th of Muharram, which is the first month of the Islamic year. This day marks the commemoration of Imam Husayn bin Ali's martyrdom. It is a day of deep mourning. Husayn was the third imam, a grandson of Prophet Muhammad (the son of Prophet Muhammad's daughter- Fatima) and a son of Ali. He is a symbol of martyrdom, and standing up against oppression for Shi‘a Muslims.
Arba'een is commemorated on the 20th of Safar, 40 days after Ashurah. Shias also remember the terrible treatment of the women of Imam Hussein's household - they were dragged from Karbala (central Iraq) to Shaam (Damascus, Syria) - with many young children dying of thirst and exposure along the route.
A celebration held on the 18th of Dhil-Hijjah marking the event of Ghadeer Khumm in 10 AH. The day on which God stated the completion of Islam. Laylatul Qadr is the biggest night, and Eid al-Ghadeer is the biggest day.
A celebration held on the 24th of Dhil-Hijjah marking the event of al-Mubahila between the Household of the Prophet and a Christian deputation from Najran, in 10 AH.
A celebration to mark the Prophet Muhammad's birth date, 17th Rabbi al-Awwal. Coincides with the birth date of the 6th Shi'a Imam, Ja'far al-Sadiq (see Shia Imams). (The Sunnis mark the occasion on 12th Rabbi al-Awwal.)
Mid of Shaban
Significant to all Muslims but specifically to Shi'as as it also marks the birth date of their 12th and final Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi.
Variants of Shi‘a Islam
The variants of Shi‘a Islam differ regarding the rights of succession after the death of Prophet Muhammad, but they agree that the Imams were usurped from their rightful position.
Sevener Shi‘as: The Ismailis are the largest group among Sevener Shi‘as.
Fiver Shi‘as or Zaidis: A minor group that believes in the same first four imams as the Twelvers and Seveners, but differ on the fifth. They are thus known as Fivers.
Both major Shi‘a sects (as do some Sunni Muslims) believe that the last Imam (either the seventh or the twelfth) has been hidden alive by God. This hidden (occulted) imam is capable of communicating with the faithful. Beliefs vary as to what will happen when the last Imam, called the Mahdi ("the guided one"). It is generally believed that the last Imam will be accompanied by Jesus and will affirm Muhammad's message to mankind from God.
Karbala, Jafari, Imam, Fatimids, Ismailis, Sunni Islam, Iraqi opposition, Shia Imams, Zaidi, Dawoodi Bohras
- Al-Shirazi Website (http://www.shirazi.org.uk)
- Al-Shia Website (http://www.al-shia.com)
- Al-Islam.org Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project (http://www.al-islam.org/)
- Shi'ite Encyclopedia (http://http://www.al-islam.org/encyclopedia)
- Answering-Ansar.org (http://www.answering-ansar.org/)
- Imam AL-KHOEI islamic center, Jamica, New York (http://www.al-khoei.org/)
- Links to Sites with Opposing Views (http://http://www.sultan.org/shia.html)
- A Refutation of Answering-Ansar.org (http://www.ic.sunysb.edu/Stu/azarinni/)
- The Difference Between Shiah's & Sunni's (http://www.muslimworld.co.uk/refutations/sheeah.html)