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The Shia shahadah (declaration of faith) states:

“There is no god but Alláh, Muhammad is the Messenger of Alláh, Alí is the Friend of Alláh. The Successor of the Messenger of Alláh And his first Caliph.”

If you are already familiar with standard Sunni beliefs, you will immediately notice the addition to the shahadah regarding Imam Ali (ra), cousin of the Prophet (pbuh), husband of his daughter Fatima, father of Hassan and Hussein and the second person ever to embrace Islam. The term Shia or Shi’ite derives from a shortening of Shiat Ali or partisans of Ali.


Ali is the central figure at the origin of the Shia / Sunni split which occurred in the decades immediately following the death of the Prophet in 632. Sunnis regard Ali as the fourth and last of the “rightly guided caliphs” (successors to Mohammed (pbuh) as leader of the Muslims) following on from Abu Bakr 632-634, Umar 634-644 and Uthman 644-656. Shias feel that Ali should have been the first caliph and that the caliphate should pass down only to direct descendants of Mohammed (pbuh) via Ali and Fatima, They often refer to themselves as ahl al bayt or “people of the house” [of the prophet].

When Uthman was murdered while at prayer, Ali finally succeeded to the caliphate. Ali was, however, opposed by Aisha, wife of the Prophet (pbuh) and daughter of Abu Bakr, who accused him of being lax in bringing Uthman’s killers to justice. After Ali’s army defeated Aisha’s forces at the Battle of the Camel in 656, she apologized to Ali and was allowed to return to her home in Madinah where she withdrew from public life.

However, Ali was not able to overcome the forces of Mu’awiya Ummayad, Uthman’s cousin and governor of Damascus, who also refused to recognize him until Uthman’s killers had been apprehended. At the Battle of Suffin Mu’awiya’s soldiers stuck verses of the Quran onto the ends of their spears with the result that Ali’s pious supporters refused to fight them. Ali was forced to seek a compromise with Mu’awiya, but this so shocked some of his die-hard supporters who regarded it as a betrayal that he was struck down by one of his own men in 661.

Mu’awiya declared himself caliph. Ali’s elder son Hassan accepted a pension in return for not pursuing his claim to the caliphate. He died within a year, allegedly poisoned. Ali’s younger son Hussein agreed to put his claim to the caliphate on hold until Mu’awiya’s death. However, when Mu’awiya finally died in 680, his son Yazid usurped the caliphate. Hussein led an army against Yazid but, hopelessly outnumbered, he and his men were slaughtered at the Battle of Karbala (in modern day Iraq). Hussein’s infant son, Ali, survived so the line continued. Yazid formed the hereditary Ummayad dynasty. The division between the Shia and what came to be known as the Sunni was set.

An opportunity for Muslim unity arose in the 750’s CE. In 750 except for a few who managed to flee to Spain, almost the entire Ummayad aristocracy was wiped out following the Battle of Zab in Egypt in a revolt led by Abu Al Abbass al-Saffah and aided by considerable Shia support. It was envisaged that the Shia spiritual leader Jafar As-Siddiq, great-grandson of Hussein be installed as Caliph. But when Abbass died in 754, this arrangement had not yet been finalised and Abbas’ son Al Mansur murdered Jafar, seized the caliphate for himself and founded the Baghdad-based Abbassid dynasty which prevailed until the sack of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258.

The Number of the Shi‘a Imams

QUESTION: As we know, the true Twelver Imami sect is called “twelver” (ithna `ashariyya) since its followers believe that after the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his family), his successors were twelve people. And among all of his ‘ummah (community), they are the sole group who hold this belief; thus, the traditions about the twelve Imams which both Shi‘a and Sunnis have narrated – and whose origin from the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) is undeniable – can only be applied to the Shi‘a sect among all Muslims. Naturally, the true sect will be limited to this group. In spite of all this, it is said that from some traditions – a few of which have been narrated in the book of Sulaim – it is possible to understand that the number of the Imams is thirteen, and this view has also been attributed to Ibn Sahl al-Nawbakhti. If, as it is said, a tradition with this content exists (or if Nawbakhti himself held this view, though this appears unlikely), how can it be explained and affirmed?

ANSWER: We have given sufficient explanation about the tradition or traditions that indicate that the number of Imams (peace be upon them) is thirteen in the treatise “Clarity of Vision for One Who Follows the Twelve Imams.” There, we have clarified that the a tradition with this meaning does not exist; moreover, even if such a tradition were to exist, it is a tradition with a single narrator and with regard to principles of religion, beliefs, and issues in which attaining certainty is essential, traditions with single narrators are not relied upon.
In such an instance, only a firm rational argument or a tradition that is consecutively narrated (mutawatir) and certain to have originated from an infallible can be relied upon.
Furthermore, traditions that are mutawatir and have even passed the limits of tawatur (consecutive narration) indicate that the number of the Imams is twelve. In such a situation, if a single non-certain tradition is found in opposition to all these traditions, what creditability can it have, and how can a researcher rely on it? In addition, in the Musnad of Ahmad alone, it has been narrated through thirty-odd chains of narrators from the Noble Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) that the number of Imams (peace be upon them) is twelve, and in the Sahih of Muslim this point has been narrated through eight chains, and likewise in the remaining collections, Sahihs, Sunans (books of the sunnah), and books of the Ahl al-Sunnat, this topic has been referred to numerous times.
In Shi‘a books as well traditions have been narrated with hundreds of chains that the Imams will be twelve, all of which were narrated by well-known companions and followers (tabi`in) up to two centuries before the birth of the twelfth Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return) (peace be upon him), and in reality this is counted as a type of prediction and information about the future.
In spite of all this, it was said that a tradition has been narrated from Sulaim that the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) said to Amir al-Mu’minin (peace be upon him): “You and twelve people from your progeny are the true Imams.”
The reality is that in the present text and the reliable texts that before our time were in the possession of the scholars, this tradition did not exist. Moreover, there are many traditions in the book of Sulaim ibn Qays itself that explicitly mention the Imams and their names as twelve people, and have specified the names of those twelve personages from Amir al-Mu’minin (peace be upon him) to Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return) (peace be upon him) in the same order in which the Shi‘a believe.
This book, written in the first century after the Hijra, is reliable and the sum of its material clearly establishes the truth of the Imami school, since it contains news about Imams who were not even born in that time. Firm signs and evidence indicates the correctness of this book.
Now, if we suppose the book contains such a tradition, that tradition can be interpreted in light of other books of traditions. That is, the intent of the tradition is to indicate the number of the Imams and that they are from the progeny of ‘Ali (peace be upon him), and since the majority – eleven out of twelve – of the Imams are from his progeny, it was explained in these words – which, it is likely, have not even been narrated in entirety.
Ibn Nadim attributed this view opposing the traditions regarding twelve Imams to Abu Sahl Nawbakhti, which appears not to be correct, since Abu Sahl Nawbakhti is not a person to express such an opinion, which has no evidence worthy of consideration. In Shi‘a books of biographies and rijal (biographies of the narrators of hadith), in which the Nawbakhti family has been mentioned in detail, such a view has not been related regarding Abu Sahl in the section pertaining to him or to others, all have praised his school of thought, belief, and action. It appears these are the same types of mistakes that occur in the books of biographies and sects, and the writers of which have passed over them out of carelessness.
Attributing such baseless beliefs to well-known individuals has no result other than to mislead uninformed or ill-informed people.
In any case, the issue of Mahdawiyyah (messianism) and concealment and the remaining issues exclusive to the twelfth Imam (peace be upon him) have been in discussion since the beginning of Islam. Rather, in accordance to what is in the extant Torah and Bible, the precedent of this belief has roots in Divine religions previous to Islam and in the Old and New Testaments.

Principality of Reason or Narration in Specifying the Imam (peace be upon him)
QUESTION: In the issue of Imamah, between reason and narration, which is given precedence? In other words, are the issues pertaining to the topic of Imamah primarily provable through intellectual proofs or narrated proofs?
ANSWER: As can be understood from the question itself, issues are of two types. One type are the issues that are ascertained through reason and are accepted through application of logical procedures and intellectual proofs, such as proving the existence of Allah, His essential attributes of perfection, and the necessity of prophecy, i.e. the proof of prophecy in general. The other type are those issues that are proved solely through narration, meaning that there is no way of proving them except revelation and relation by a truthful relater, that is, a prophet or Imam whose prophecy or Imamah is already established. Among these issues, there are also some issues that can be established in both ways. Of course, in this case the narrated proofs are a form of guidance towards the intellectual proofs.
The researcher must be well attentive to this aspect of issues and must see which discussion can be established through reason, which through narration alone, and which through both methods. And in each case, he should commence according to the method peculiar to that issue so that he can reach an appropriate conclusion. Otherwise, if he wishes to enter into an exclusively narrational issue through reason, it is natural that he will not reach a valid conclusion.
It is possible that some may raise a question regarding whether the principality of reason takes precedence in the issue of Imamah over the principality of narration or not.
The answer is that that in the issue of Imamah, like the issue of prophecy and the conditions of a prophet, proving the principle of general Imamah, i.e. proving the principle of a need for the existence of the Imam and the conditions of the Imam, is accomplished through reasoning. Of course, if the issue of Imamah were among the issues that are outside the limits of understanding of human reason and reasoning did not understand it independently, it could be proved by narrational evidence alone, i.e. the guidance of the Prophet. This is because reliance on narrational evidence with regard to the principle of Imamah, as opposed to the principle of prophecy, does not involve circular reasoning, though in the issue of prophecy it involves circular reasoning.
Thus, the narrational proofs of Imamah can also be regarded, similar to the narrational proofs of the principle of prophecy, as guidance to the decree of reason.
Issues such as the necessity of infallibility, how the Imam is appointed, and the fact that this affair has not been delegated to the people are principles pertaining to reason. And existing narrational proofs affirm this decree of reason.
It is obvious that with groups who, like the Asha’ira, do not believe in rational good and evil, discussion can only be held through those narrational proofs. Some of the effects and benefits of the existence of the Imam and his distinctions can only be proved through narrational proofs, just as these effects and unique traits are proved for the Prophet through narrational proofs.
In the issue of the specific Imamah (the Imamah of a particular person) as well, like the specific prophecy in which explicit declaration by the previous prophet is a proof of the prophecy of the following prophet, the prophet’s declaration of the Imam’s Imamah and likewise the declaration by the previous Imam of the Imamah of the following Imam is a proof of his Imamah. There is this difference that the principle way of establishing prophecy is a miracle, since the only true way to establish the prophecy of the first prophet is through a miracle and this is the only reliable evidence of the claim of prophecy, though the prophets after his prophecy can be established both by declaration of the previous prophets and by miracle, and the Divine way has also been to send prophets along with miracles, since the establishment of prophecy through a miracle is comprehensible by all.
However, the method of declaration by the previous prophet is only an authoritative proof for believers in that previous prophet. It is for this reason that we say that the method of establishment by miracle is a general way, which is an authoritative proof for all. Still, establishing the occurrence of a miracle at the hands of a prophet is limited to narrational methods for one who is absent from the time and place of occurrence of the miracle. Certainly, the Glorious Qur’an is the only miracle whose establishment has no need of narrational proofs, since it is existent, just as the explicit declaration of the Qur’an that it is impossible to bring its like indicates that it is a miracle.
In the issue of Imamah, the Imamah of the first Imam is established solely by the Prophet’s (peace be upon him and his family) declaration, and since it has been proven in the discussion of general Imamah that the Imamah of the Imam is through specification by the Prophet by command of Allah, the miracle that is manifested by the Imam, just as it is an independent proof of the truth of claim of Imamah, is also a proof of the declaration of the prophet, if such a declaration by the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) is not in our hands. Reliance on rational proofs in the issue of specific Imamah is in order to establish the existence of a specific declaration.
For example: it can be said that it is obligatory for the prophet, in that Allah, in his absolute wisdom, has commanded the prophet to explicitly declare the Imamah, to specify and introduce the Imam after himself, even if that declaration is no longer accessible by us or has become ambiguous or its purport has become subject to doubt. Since the claim of a declaration has not been made except with regard to a specific personality – Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be upon him) – rationally, the person specified by Allah and the Prophet is not other than ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be upon him).
Or it can be said that since the condition of the Imam – who is appointed by Allah and the prophet to lead humankind in religious and worldly affairs – is infallibility, and the claim of infallibility has not been made for anyone except ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be upon him), rationally ‘Ali ibn Abi Taib (peace be upon him) is the appointed and infallible Imam.
Similarly, with regard to the twelfth Imam it is said that according to narrational proofs, the world is never without an Imam and Proof (hujjat) of Allah – apparent or hidden – and in this long period of over a thousand years, the chain of Imamah is not to be severed. And since the claim of Imamah has not been forwarded for anyone other than that personage, or if it has been made its invalidity has been proved, aside from him, who is in concealment, no one else is the Imam and he is the Imam. And if he is not the Imam, other objections discussed previously in the issue of the general Imamah will once again arise.
This is though there is no justification for raising them, since the result of such discussions leads to matters such as the performance of evil by Allah, the Wise, and so forth, from the like of which Allah’s essence is pure and free.



Ulama and the Validity of Our Beliefs

There is many times in which we long for the opportunity to set time aside and ponder, an act we hardly have time to approach in this day and age. Thinking gives us a broader view, and usually when we find a view toward something, we follow it. Delving further into the matter helps us to become knowledgeable about it, and if we become satisfied we become a believer.
Has it ever occurred to you to ask what extent the beliefs and views you hold are valid? Can you really rely on them? What should you do if you become doubtful? And in general how can you become certain about your beliefs?
One of the ways we Muslims can become sure about the validity of our beliefs and their congruity with revelation, the Holy Quran, and the teachings of the Greatest Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) and those of his progeny is to double check them with trusted and knowledgeable religious scholars. The issue of gaining reassurance in this matter has been a topic of discussion since the time of Greatest Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) and his progeny. People of those times were able to receive direct feedback and answers from the Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.) and or from religious scholars of the time. (1)
The following is an example of how this matter took place:
Sayyid Abd al-Azim Hasani (2), a companion of Imam Hadi (A.S.), narrates:
‘I entered upon my Imam, Imam Hadi (A.S.). When his gaze fell upon me he said, “Praise be upon you for indeed you are our true companion.”
I said, “O grandson of the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) I want to utter my beliefs for you to make sure they are correct to hold on to until the day I meet my Lord.”
The Imam accepted my request, and I began talking about my belief in Allah (SWT) and His oneness. I then expressed my belief in the Prophet of Islam (S.A.W.) and in his successors Amir al-Mu’minin Ali (A.S.) and his Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.), of which I named them one by one until I reached Imam Hadi(A.S.). I referred to him as my Imam and leader.
At this point the Imam said: “After me my son Hassan will be the Imam and successor. Are you aware of how the people will be during my son’s successor?” Upon the question the Imam gave a short explanation about the occultation of the twelfth Imam.
I then said, “I confess that one who befriends you is Allah’s friend, and your enemy is Allah’s enemy. I confess in the Day of Judgment and in the obligatory acts after Wilayat (Mastership), which are Salat (daily prayers), Zakat (Alms), fasting, Hajj, Jihad (holy battle), enjoining good, and forbidding evil. (3)
Once I was through expressing my beliefs, the Imam confirmed my beliefs and commanded me to stay faithful to them. The Imam then prayed that I remain steadfast in my religion.’
The question for us however still remains on whether we too have the opportunity to confirm our beliefs?
As a matter of fact in this day and age the need to confirm our beliefs in a similar fashion is more than ever. Just as the supplication of Ale Yasin teaches us this matter, if we want to protect our beliefs from the many different alterations and commentaries, we must refer to Ulama (religious scholars) who study religion based on the Quran and the Sayings of the Prophet (S.A.W.) and his Progeny (A.S.).(4)
Selection taken from Ayatullah Safi Golpayegani’s “Commentary on the Hadith of Expressing Beliefs”
1. The issue of confirming your faith is so important that it has been mentioned in several of the supplications given to us by the Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.). For example the supplication of Ale Yasin located in Mafatih al-Jinan is a supplication by Imam Mahdi (May Allah Hasten his Reappearance).
2. He is of the grandchildren of Imam Hassan Mujtaba (A.S.) who is now buried in the city of Ray near Tehran.
3. These are the branches of religion

The Shi’ite Doctrines and Beliefs


WE BELIEVE that human wisdom can appreciate many good things to distinct from the bad ones, and the right from wrong; by his blessful power of distinction, which God has given him. Even before coming of the prophets with the LAW, Man could rationally distinguish many good and bad. For instance he could easily understand that justice is good and oppression is bad. Man could know that some ethics like: truthfulness, honesty, bravery and generosity are good deeds; and that, lying; betrayal and jealousy are bad morals. But as the wisdom is not able to comprehend all that is good or bad, and his knowledge, whatever, is limited, The prophets were sent with book for guidance and the LAW to improve man’s faculty and morals, helping his wisdom in that.

Of course we deny not the value of the independent WISDOM which comprehends the facts. If so; the Monotheism, the prophetic missions, and the Divine religion, will all be futile! For all these important tenets are basically proved by the reasoning of the wisdom. It is evident that the LAW and the commandments are only acceptable when the principles which are Monotheism and prophethood have been proved to us through wisdom, and by the religion itself.


So do we believe in God’s JUSTICE, and we say it is impossible for God to oppress any creature of His at the least amount, or to punish His servants without any reason or to forgive them without a reason. It is also Impossible that God may leave His promises unfulfilled.

We also know it to be impossible that God may abandon His servants without giving them necessary guidance.

All these are ugly and indecent, of which the Omnipotent God is far and clear.


So do we believe that God has created Man free? He has given us FREE WILL, and we have options to do what we may do. If not so, why should He punish a sinner who is supposed to be compelled to do so.?


To make it short, rational good and bad as mentioned above, and independent wisdom are bases for the acceptance of divine Religion, Scriptures, and the prophets, but not enough, because we have a limited wisdom, by which we can not grasp all that we need. So we have to have divine guidance for improving our WISDOM and understanding.


Following what we mentioned above, one of the principle references in Islam is wisdom’s reasoning. The wisdom comprehends something definitely and then judges. For instance; if we find no reason or proof in the book or in the prophet’s methodical way, (SUNNAT) to show us that OPPRESSION, BETRAYAL, LYING and committing MURDER, are too bad and unlawful deeds, We would certainly reject them by the reasoning of our wisdom, and we make sure that God never likes us to do such things. This is why we conclude that the wisdom too, is a DIVINE BASE of our religious judgements.

The Holy QURØN is full of verses showing the importance of the wisdom as abase or reference for the judgements in religious researches.-

“In the creation of the heavens, and the earth, and the alternation of DAY and night, there are indeed SIGNS for men of wisdom and understanding.”


Some reveal the aim of sending the scriptures to improve the power of wisdom and understanding of Man:_

“See how we have explained our SIGNS variously so that they may understand.”


“We have sent it down as an Arabic QURAN, in order that you may use your wisdom.”



WE BELIEVE that the painful accidents that sometimes occur, such as the earthquakes, calamities, and misfortunes, might be that of God’s punishment, as it was with the case of the people of LOT:_

“When our decree was issued, we turned (THEIR CITIES) upside down, and rained down on them brimstones, hard as baked clay, spread layer on layer.”


And about the ungrateful and rebellious people of SABA, GOD says:_

“But they turned away (FROM THEIR LORD) and we sent against them the flood from the DAMS.”


Some other painful incident are to admonish people and to teach them lessons:_

“Mischief has appeared on land and sea by what the hands of MAN have earned, that Allah may give them a taste of some of their deeds, in order that they may return back from evil.


Other pains are what our hands make it and are due to our ignorance and carelessness:_

“Whatever good (O Man) Happens to you is from Allah: but whatever evil happens to you; is from yourself.”




The Origins of the Shi’ahs

In az-Zamakhshari’s “Rabi’ al-Abrar” the following statement of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) has been recorded:
“Oh ‘Ali, On the Day of Judgement the skirt of God’s mercy will be in my hand and my skirt will be in your hand and your skirt will beheld by your descendants and the Shi’as of your descendants will be hanging on to their skirt. Then you will see where we will be taken (i.e. Paradise).” For further satisfaction, it will be useful to study Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s “al-Musnad” and an-NaSa’i’s “Khasa’is” etc., which contain a number of such traditions.

These traditions show that the Prophet of Islam (s.a.w.) spoke a number of times about the Shi’as of ‘Ali (a.s.) and pointed out that on the Day of Judgement they, in particular, shall be safe and successful, God being pleased with them and they with Him.


Everyone who believes that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) was the embodiment of truthfulness and that the verse which begins “ma yantiqu ‘an il-hawa . . . ” (He does not speak of himself unless ‘why’ is revealed to him) refers to the Prophet himself, realise that these hadith must be true. Those people however who understand the above hadith as referring to all the companions of the prophet, have failed to recognise their real inner meaning.

We find that during the days of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) a group of outstanding companions was attached to Hadrat ‘Ali (a.s.). Not only did every man in this group acknowledge the Holy Imam (a.s.) to be his spiritual leader, the real transmitter of the Holy Prophet’s teachings, but they also acknowledged him as the true interpreter and commentator of the orders and secrets of the Prophet (s.a.w.). It is this group which is popularly known as the Shi’a. Even the lexicographers support this truth. If you refer to the famous dictionaries “an-Nihayah” and “Lisan ul-‘Arab”, you will find the meaning of “shi’a” as “one who loves and follows ‘Ali (a.s.) and his descendants.”

If however we are to understand that “shi’a” means any person who loves ‘Ali (a.s.) or is not his enemy, then the use of this word would be inappropriate, because only loving, or at least, not being an enemy of him, does not mean that a person is a Shi’a; if however, he has the characteristic of persistent following and obedience then the word Shi’a would apply; this is crystal clear to those who have an understanding of Arabic and a notion of the relationship between word, meaning and context.

In view of these realities, it is unlikely that any sensible man, after studying the appropriate traditions, could draw the conclusion that the word shi’a means the Muslims in general, but will understand that it refers to a particular class which has a special attachment to ‘Ali (a.s.).

Hopefully, after this explanation, no fair-minded man will try to conclude that the above quoted traditions do not prove the existence of a group who, because of their special relation with the master of the pious, ‘Ali (a.s.) were superior to all the Muslims of that time, and who all expressed their love for him.

Personally, I do not agree with the assumption that the Caliphs, who could not accept this fact, consciously violated the words of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.). It is possible many of them did not hear his edicts, or that those who heard them were unable to follow his directions.

Moreover, if the Statements of the Prophet (s.a.w.) in which he announced the rank and high position of Amiru ‘l-Mu’minin (a.s.) and the Ahlu ‘l-bayt (a.s.) are studied with an open mind, it will be seen that these reports do not only show merits of a general nature, but also contain clear indications of how to recognise the status and capability of the Leader of Shi’ism, and of how to contribute to the establishment and justness of that school of thought. The following traditions may be cited as examples.

“‘Ali (a.s.) bears the same relationship to me as Harun (Aaron) had to Musa (Moses)”.

“Oh ‘Ali, only those with faith (iman) are your friends, and only the hypocrites (munafiqin) are your enemies.”

“Oh people of my ummah. I leave behind two things worthy of great esteem – the Book of God and my progeny, my Ahlu ‘l-bayt.”

“According to the tradition of at-Tayr, the prophet made the following prayer: “Oh God. Send to me your most beloved slave”, and immediately Ali entered his presence.

“Tomorrow I will give this standard to the man who loves God and His Prophet (s.a.w.) and whom God and His Prophet (s.a.w.) also love.”

“‘Ali is with the Truth and the Truth is with ‘Ali.”

These traditions are mostly taken from “Sahih al-Bukhari” and “Sahi’h al-Muslim”, and there are thousands of such authentic reports. This small booklet cannot accommodate details of them. Those who are fond of research work can study the famous book “Abiqat al-Anwar” by Allama’ Sayyid Hamid Husayn, which is ten times as voluminous as “Sahih al-Bukhari” and is a master-piece of research in the field of hadiths.

When the light of prophethood was extinguished, a group of the “sahaba” started to act to prevent the Caliphate from passing to ‘Ali.

The cause of this opposition might have been the young age of the holy Imam, or the feeling among the Quraysh that the prophethood and the imamate should not be combined in the house of Banu Hashim; there might have been other causes, we do not have the space to discuss them here.

Both the Sunni and the Shi’a sects Wee however that, when allegiance was being taken from the Muslims, ‘Ali (a.s.) did not accept the authority of Abu Bakr, and, according to the learned al-Bukhari (“Sahih”‘, see the chapter on the victory at Khaybar), he did not pay allegiance until six months had passed. Some of the eminent companions, like az-Zubayr, ‘Ammar and Miqdad and others, also refused to pay homage to Abu Bakr.

The fact is that ‘Ali (a.s.) had no craving for political power, nor desire to rule, other than in his capacity as Imam.

The talk that he had with ibn , Abbas at Dhiqar clearly proves which way the son of Abu Talib (a.s.) was going. Amiru ‘l-Mu’minin (a.s.) had only one purpose in view, and it was that “religion” might remain safe, “right” might prevail and “wrong” might be exterminated. Imbued with these high feelings, ‘Ali (a.s.) resorted to protest only. He did not adopt any plans to overthrow the caliphs. Rather, in order to lead and guide the people to the right path he always cooperated with the government; his wise suggestions enabled Islam to flourish and meant that religious commands were made known to all. If Ali (a.s.) had not adopted this course of action, not only would Islamic unity have been shattered, but the people also would have been lost in the labyrinth of ignorance.

The Shi’as too continued to follow their leader; the spirit of the time demanded that differences should be ignored. For this very reason, they did not try to establish themselves as a sect during the regime of the first caliphs. Of course Ali’s friends silently observed the modus operandi of every ruler and the changing conditions till at last the nation itself selected Ali (a.s.) as its leader. When Amiru ‘l-Mu’minin (a.s.) took the seat of the caliphate, Mu’awiyah revolted and sent out a large number of forces to Siffin.


A group of the “sahaba” (companions) remained from the very beginning with ‘Ali (a.s.). The rest of the companions also sided with the Holy Imam. Eighty prominent companions, like ‘Ammar ibn Yasir, Khuzaymah Dhu ‘sh Shahadatayn and Abu Ayub al-Ansari, nearly all of whom were either Badri (from the battle of Badr) or ‘Aqb (Bay’atu ‘l-‘Aqbi – the pledge of ‘Aqbi), joined ‘Ali’s party. Most of them sacrificed their lives for the Holy Imam (a.s.).

The fighting continued however, and Mu’awiyah’s intriguings also increased. When Hadrat , Ali (a.s.) was martyred, the ruler of Damascus gave a sight of relief Islam disappeared from Mu’awiyah’s royal courts and he began to revive all the tyrannical traditions of the past kings.

‘Ali’s (a.s.) pious way of life, devout manners and exalted character contrasted sharply with Mu’awiy ah’s corrupt morals and his dealings with ‘Amr b. al-‘As, with the Governorship of Egypt, Yazid and his despotic caliphate, and Ziyad ibn Abih and his activity against Islam. Mu’awiyah’s notorious over-indulgence and passion for revelry clearly demonstrated the depraved condition of his mind and of the court surrounding him. We have thus before us the simple way of living taught by Islam, and on the other side the pomp and vanity of the son of Abu Sufyan. Mu’awiyah’s kingly aspirations were fulfilled with the hard-earned money of the Muslims.

The dining cloth of the Amawi palace was always laid with the daintiest of foods. The vizier, Abu Sa’id al-Mansur ibn al-Husayn al-Abi (died 422 A-H.) recorded an event in his work “Nathr ad-Dur”. He writes: “Ahnaf ibn Qays used to say that one day when he went to Mu’awiyah, the latter put before him such a large variety of food that it was difficult to count the different dishes. He was bewildered when Mu’awiyah extended towards him one of the dishes which he did not recognise. He asked what it was. The answer was . . . the stomach of duck filled with sheep’s brain, fried in pistachio oil and sprinkled with spices.” Ahnaf said that on hearing this he began to weep. Mu’awiyah said: “Why do you weep?” He replied: “At this time ‘Ali (a.s.) has come to my mind. One day I was sitting with the Holy Imam (a.s.); the time for breaking the fast approached. The Imam (a.s.) ordered me to stay. Meanwhile a sealed bag was brought. I asked: “O Imam, what does it contain?” The Imam (a.s) said: “Powdered barley”. I said: “Was there any fear of theft, O Amiru l-Mu’minin, or is it because of financial stringency that it has been sealed?” “It is for none of these reasons,” he said, “the reason for this care is only the thought that my sons al-Hasan (a.s.) and al-Husayn (a.s.) might mix this powdered barley with butter or olive oil.” Again I asked: “Is butter or olive oil unlawful?” The Holy Imam said: “It is not unlawful, but for the true Imams it is necessary that they remain attached to the ranks of the poor, so that indigence and want may not make the poverty stricken rebellious.” Mu’awiyah said: “Ahnaf, you have reminded me of a person whose supreme merits are difficult to be denied.”In az-Zamakshari’s “Rabi’ al-Abrar”, and in other compilations, many such events are related.

Mu’awiyah’s bad nature was inextricably linked with these unlawful actions; he had an inner desire to reach the height of wickedness. So he broke all the promises that he had made to Imam al-Hasan (a.s.) and in the end had the Prophet’s grandson poisoned. As a result of this state of affairs and these events, the Muslims began to look at Syria’s politics with scorn and contempt; the true believers realised that Mu’awiyah was only a man of this world, and he himself acknowledged this truth. In az-Zamakhshari’s “Rabi’ al-Abrar”, the following statement is narrated from the ruler of Syria: “Abu Bakr wanted to keep aloof from the world and the world kept aloof from him. ‘Umar tested the world and the world tested him. As to ‘Uthman, he took hold of the world and the world also madly pursued him; and I at every step tried with my heart and soul to make it a bed of roses- The result was that I became of the world and the world became mine.”

Gradually, the people’s opinion was changing; the close companions of the Prophet (s.a.w.) were letting the ordinary Muslims know about the superior merits, virtues and character of ‘Ali (a.s.) and his descendants, which they had seen with their own eyes. Who cannot be moved when he recalls the sight of the Prophet of God (s.a.w.) lifting his loving grandsons onto his back and saying: “What do you think of your mount, it is not the best mount; and as for you, you are the best rifers.” And do not these words, full of the purity of revelation, “al-Hasan and al-Husayn (a.s.) are the leaders of the youth of Paradise”, demand to be known by all. Truth has a right to spread, and those who have a sense of truth in them are desirous of spreading it. The result of this desire for truth was that the common Muslims began inclining towards Shi’ism and opportunities were created for the advancement of this sect.

The greatest cause of the advancement of Shi’ism, however, was that bloody event which revolutionzed the Islamic world. This painful event of 61 A.H. which is known as the tragedy of Karbala’ was the most momentous of its kind. The effects of the martyrdom of al-Husayn (a.s.) were felt by all, even those living in the most distant regions of the Muslim territory. Companions like Zayd ibn Arqam, Jabir ibn ‘Abdillah al-Ansari, Sahl ibn Sa’d as-Sa’idi and Anas ibn Malik survived Karbala’. The pain they felt had no bounds, and, remembering their duty towards, and love for, the Prophet and his progeny, they intensified their efforts to make known the superior merits of Ahlu ‘l-bayt (a.s.). The Umayyad tyrants pursued them and these remaining sahaba were finally also victims of the sword and poison. But the cry of the oppressed is not made in vain. These events were not such that the nation of the Muslims were unaware of them. Indeed, they keenly observed them, with the result that a great many groups of people began to declare their love for ‘Ali (a.s.). and his descendants; the numerical strength of the Shi’as increased dramatically. With the same rapidity with which the tyranny of Banu Umayyah was increasing, the love for Ahlu ‘l-bayt was also increasing in the hearts of the common people. The descendants of the Umayyids tortured and tyrannized to the extreme, but every action has its reaction. It is related that Shu’abi said to his son: “Oh my son, the world cannot harm the values which religion has brought, but those things which were made and adorned by the world can all be destroyed by religion. Just reflect upon ‘Ali (a.s.) and his affairs. Did the descendants of the Umayyids ever relinquish their oppression? They concealed the merits of Ahlu ‘l-bayt. They tried to hide the realities of the situation and never left off singing the praises of their ancestors.
But all their plans were reversed: the Umayyids were humbled to dust and the name of Al Muhammad grew brighter and brighter”. Though Shu’abi was known as an enemy of ‘Ali (a.s.), these words of truth came from his tongue and have been preserved in history.

az-Zamakhshari in his ‘Rabi’ al-Abrar” reports this statement of Shu’abi: “Our condition was very perplexing if we loved ‘Ali (a.s.) there was fear of murder, and if we became enemies to him, our ruin was certain.”

The troubles and worries for the Ahlu ‘l-bayt did not cease when the Sufyani throne came under the control of the Marwanid ruIer ‘Abdu ‘l-Malik. ‘Abdu ‘l-Malik Was a monster of a man by whose order Hajjaj razed the Holy House of the Ka’ba to the ground and mercilessly put the residents of that sacred place to the sword; having killed ‘Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr in the Mosque of al-Haram, he desecrated the holy place and finally killed his cousin Sa’id ibn Ashdaq, who had been his former ally.

We must ask ourselves whether the perpetrator of such heinous crimes be called a Muslim. What should we think of his being called “Khalifatu ‘l-Muslimin” (the Caliph of the Muslims)?


In truth, the entire government of the Marwanids Was run on the same lines, and, with the exception of. Umar ibn ‘Abdu ‘l-‘Aziz, every ruler showed the same Outrageous tendencies. Thereafter followed the rule of the ‘Abbasids.
During their period the height of tyranny far exceeded that of the Marwanids. A poet of that time said: We would have preferred to suffer the Marwanids oppression forever. May the justice and equity of the ‘Abbasids go to hell.”

How mercilessly the blood of the descendants of the Prophet (s.a.w.) was spilled, what strange ways were adopted to annihilate them! The literature of that time presents us with a picture of life at that time. The poets have, in different ways, described the tyrannical acts of these people. How true indeed is the picture drawn by a poet of al-Mutawakkil’s age who says: “God be my witness that, if the descendants of the Umayyids have so cruelly martyred the grandson of the Prophet (s.a.w.), these ‘Abbasids, who call themselves the descendants of the Prophet’s uncle, in no way lag behind the Umayyid family in oppression and tyranny. Just see, these tyrants have even demolished the grave of al-Imam al-Husayn. The Banu ‘Abbas are repentant, however, for they feel regret over one thing, that they did not take part in spilling the spotless blood of al-Imam al-Husayn (a.s.) along with Banu Umayyah; they have tried to make amends by pulling down the grave of the Imam (a.s.).” These are just a few examples of the character of Banu Umayyah and the Marwanid and ‘Abbasid kings.

Now, on the other hand, if you reflect upon the life of Ali (a.s.) and his descendants, you will come to know why Shi’ism spread and how it spread; moreover the truth will be revealed as to whether Shi’ism was the innovation of the Iranians, or the ingenuity of the Sabeans, or whether it was the simple and straight way of Islam as shown by Muhammad (s.a.w.).

After the martyrdom of Sayyid ash-Shuhadah (the Leader of the Martyrs) Imam al-Husayn (a.s.), Imam Zayb al-‘Abidin (a.s.) became the head of the ‘Alawi family After the tragedy of Karbala’, the Holy Imam lived a secluded life, mostly spent either in worship of God or in giving moral teachings and spiritual guidance to the people.
Highly pious and devout persons like Hasan al-Basri, Tawus al-Yamani, ibn Sirin and Amr ibn al-‘Ubayd were products of this very school.

The Muslims received great instruction and knowledge from the Sayyid as-Sajjad (a.s.) at a time when the common people had been driven far off the paths of reality.

Imam Zayn ul-‘Abidin (a.s.) was succeeded by Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) who was also a shining example of the same noble character. His legacy was handed down to Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.).

The age of Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.) was comparatively more favourable to the Shi’as because the Umayyid and ‘Abbasid powers had been exhausted; open tyranny and oppression became rare. Accordingly the previously Suppressed truths and hidden realities rose like the sun and diffused like the light. Those who had been living in ‘taqiyyah’, hiding their beliefs on account of fear and danger to their lives, also disclosed their identity. The atmosphere was well-disposed to the expansion of Shi’ism. The Holy Imam (a.s.) spent day and night preaching; his sermons explained the teachings of Muhammad and Al Muhammad (s.a.w.). The teachings of the truth were now within the reach of every common man; larger and larger groups of people began to accept the ‘Ja’fari’ religion. This age was called the golden age for the propagation of Shi’ism, because before this the Muslims could not openly profess Shi’ism, nor even find out about its teachings.

This academy of learning was Iike a flowing river where people in quest of knowledge came to quench their thirst and later quenched the thirst of others. According to Abu ‘l-Hasan al-Washsha’. “I personally saw a crowd of four thousand ‘Ulama’ (scholars) in the Mosque of Kufah and heard all of them saying: ‘This tradition was related to us by Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.).'”

Banu Umayyah and Banu ‘Abbas’s wanton love for power, their stormy violence, extreme worldliness and unlimited indulgence in luxuries, contrasted sharply with the love for knowledge of the descendants of ‘Ali (a.s.), their devotion to God, their truthfulness and their abstention from corrupt politics, and it was this obvious contrast which showed people the truth of Shi’ism and led to the rapid expansion of this sect.

It goes without saying that many people’s spiritual lives are ruined by their attachment to the world. Nevertheless they too have a natural feeling for the different branches of learning and the validity of religious matters.
The period about which we are talking was not only close to the period of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.), but also the mind of the common Muslims were imbued with the conviction that the Islamic way of life was endowed with countless blessings. The Quranic teachings gave them rights which they had never imagined existed. It was Islam which conquered the Caesars of Rome and the Emperors of Iran; it was in the name of Islam alone that they were the rulers of the east and the west; they also knew that there was sufficient liberality within the laws of this religion to enable all to accept it without hardship. If the modus operandi is lawful, it does not restrain anybody from gaining worldly wealth. This religion is, in fact, pure mercy.

These inner feelings were the hidden motives which made the masses incline towards a religious way of life.

There always exist men who know that they should mould their social life according to the light of religious commandment. There are always men who desire that their entire culture be completely Islamic. But where could they pin the necessary learning from? Could they get it from the despots, who claimed to be “khulafa’u ‘l-muslimin” (Caliphs of the Muslims) but did not live accordingly?

Of course, the desire for knowledge was fulfilled by the descendants of Muhammad (s.a.w.) who were the treasure houses of the Quran and the repositories of knowledge, and a vivid impression of their superiority was stamped on the minds of the common people; gradually the Muslims began to believe that it was these persons who were the true heirs to the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.), and that the right of the Imamate must be theirs alone.

The Shi’as grew so firm that they were ready to undergo anything to protect their faith. Most of the Shi’as proved to be immeasurably brave, valiant and inspired with the spirit of sacrifice; Hajar ibn ‘Adi al-Kindi, ‘Amr ibn Himq al-Khuza’i, Rushayd al-Hajari and ‘Abdullah ibn Afif al-Azdi to name but a few, were stalwart Shi’as who, on various occasions, confronted the antagonists; they triumphed despite the fact that the opposite group was always materially more powerful. The moral strength of these people showed the weakness of the apparently strong armies of the enemy; their sacrifices, on the one hand, shook the governments of the oppressors to their foundations, and, on the other, awakened the intellect of the elite and changed the way of thinking of the masses.

We must ask why these chivalrous men played with death in this way. Did they expect any worldly gain from the descendants of Muhammad (s.a.w.)? Were they afraid of loss of life and property? History has answered both these questions in the negative; the sons of ‘Ali (a.s.), it is true, were bereft of material means, but they had no interest in this world. What had they to give? They gave Islam to those thirsty for the truth; the luminous hearts of these fighters were filled with strong faith and perfect sincerity and it was these very sentiments which drove them to do battle against tyranny and corruption.

If one considers the literary men of the first and second century of the hijrah, we will find that, in spite of the atmosphere of fear and despair, the poets of the time expressed their aversion towards the kings of their age and their misdeeds and praised the Ahlu ‘l-bayt of Muhammad al-Mustafa (s.a.w.).

Numerous men of letters have testified against the ruling Caliphs and in favour of the true Imams (a.s.) in their works. Farazdaq, Kumayt, Sayyid al-Humayri, Du’bil, Diku’l-Jin, Abu Tamam al-Balarri’and Abu Faras al-Hamdani are full of praise for the holy progeny. The following couplet of Abu Faras clearly shows how the poets of that age felt at that time.

“Religion has been shattered to pieces. Truth has be come the victim of oppression and the share of the descendants of the Prophet of God has been usurped.”

Du’bil says: “I have been courting death for forty years, but no one has yet accepted to be the killer.” Du’bil railed at Harun ar-Rashid, al-Ma’mun and al-Mu’tasim, and yet composed a great many famous panegyrics in praise of Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.), Imam Musa al-Kazim (a.s.) and Imam ar-Rida (a.s.) in the most colourful verse.

We must ask whether the Shi’as endangered their lives in vain? Did they give up their ease and comfort without any rhyme or reason? When we examine the causes and motives for their sacrifices, we find that it was only the truthfulness of the descendants of the Prophet (s.a.w.) which made them despise the sky-high golden palaces and attracted their attention towards the miracle of the Quran.

We could pursue this discussion further but the aim of the introduction was merely to outline the origin and rise of Shi’ism. We hope nothing has been left ambiguous despite the brevity of this account. We can only emphasize that Shi’ism was started by the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) himself, and its spread and propagation is a historical fact. We may observe the series of causes and motives, connected in a regular sequence, which gave rise to the separation of Shi’a Islam from the Islam of the rest of the community.


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