When I want to relax, I watch movies. Since I just want to relax, my favorite movies tend to be the senseless ones, especially starred by Clint Eastwood. I especially like Clint Eastwood because he is the type who would shoot first, asks later.
One of Clint Eastwood’s movies that I like is “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.” If you're used to watch this movie, then you would probably agree that this is quite a senseless movie. But I like it because the movie is full of intrigues, betrayals and violence.
In many ways, the history of Shia and Shiism is pretty much like this movie. It is full of intrigues, betrayals and violence. Furthermore, some of the ideas being promoted are quite senseless. Like the title of this movie, one would see that among the Shias, there are The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
Let’s see which one is which.
There are many variations among the Shias, but we can simply categorize them into three main categories: Zaydiyah, Imamiyah and Ismailiyah.
Shia Zaydiyah gets their name from Zayd bin Ali Zaynal Abidin, the grandson of Al-Husayn. As Zayd is considered as their fifth and last Imam, this Shia sect is also known as the Fivers. Shia Imamiyah is the term given to those who believe in the twelve rightful Imams. For that reason, they are also known as the Twelvers. Shia Ismailiyah is also known as the Seveners, because their last Imam, Ismail bin Jaafar Sadiq, was the seventh.
All Shia groups, including these three which have survived until our times, formulate the concept of Imamate as their central doctrine. Imamate is the concept of rightful Imams or successors to the Prophet. In other words, they believe that after the death of the Prophets, the Muslim Ummah should be ruled by these respective Imams.
These three groups agree on the first four Imams, but after that they diverge. The first four are Ali bin Abu Talib, Al-Hassan and Al-Husayn (both the sons of Ali), and Ali Zaynal Abidin, the son of Al-Husayn.
Although all of them are known as Shias, they are quite a pole apart in their outlooks.
Zaydiyah is the closest to the Sunnis in every aspect. They differ only with the Sunnis in the matter of leadership. While the Sunnis believe that any pious, knowledgeable and capable Muslim can be the leader or the caliph, the Shia Zaydiyah believe that he has to come from Ahl al Bayt (The Household of the Prophet), especially from the House of Ali. They, however, do not revile the caliphs who came before Ali, such as Abu Bakar, Umar and Uthman. They do not even consider these three caliphs as usurpers, but instead hold them in highest regard.
As we have seen in the last entry, Zayd had led the revolt against the House of Umayyah. Many of his followers, however, were either cowards or extremists. The cowards left him and joined the House of Umayyah. The extremists, on the other hand, had demanded him to renounce and curse the companions whom they claimed had denied Ali from his Imamate, especially Abu Bakar and Umar.
Zayd, however, had refused to curse the Two Chiefs (Abu Bakar and Umar) as well as other companions, because he held all of them in high regard. They betrayed and rejected him for his refusal. In return, he called them Rafidis, or the Rejecters. Zayd called them Rafidis not so much because they had rejected him, but because they had rejected the majority of the Companions.
It should also be mentioned that the revolt led by Zayd was supported by many leading personalities at that time, including the celebrated Abu Hanifah, the founder of Hanafi’s School of Thought (Mazhab). Abu Hanifah was jailed for that support.
After Zayd was killed in 740 CE, his followers, known as the Shias, continued their opposition until the House of Umayyah was finally toppled in 750 CE. The seat of power, however, was snatched by their cousins from the House of Abbas (Abbasiyah). They continued the struggle and often gained sympathy and support from the leading personalities of those times, including As-Shafie, the founder of Shafie’s Mazhab and the first to develop the Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence (Usul Fiqh).
Many other scholars in those days also had a Shi’ite tendency, supporting the struggle of the Shias and giving prominent to Ali as compared to other companions. Many of their views have reached us, giving the impression that the Shias are the good guys.
The fact of the matter is that these Shias were the good guys. They had the tendency to uphold justice and fight against tyranny. While others in their days went with the motto that the leader has the right to be obeyed, even if he is a tyrant, these Shias considered a tyrannical leader is to be opposed and ousted.
In other aspects, they were pretty much like the Sunnis. They essentially believe in what the Sunnis believe, and adopt the Sunni’s School of Thoughts for their Sharia (Islamic Law), although most of them nowadays belong to Hanafi’s Mazhab. Due to their similarity with the Sunnis, they constitute only the small minority among those we call Shias, numbering perhaps not more than five percent of the total Shias. They are not even considered as Shias by the majority of the Shias, but a branch of Sunni.
For the reasons enumerated above, the Zaydiyah are considered as the acceptable Shias. They are The Good.
Those who had rejected Zayd and the majority of the Companions, the Rafidis, as we have narrated, went looking for other descendants of Ali to be their Imams. Since they carried with them the concept of Imamate, and since the Imam can only come from the House of Ali, many Rafidi groups were then created, based on which descendants of Ali they chose as their Imams. The most important and the lasting ones are the Twelvers and the Seveners, or Imamiyah and Ismailiyah, respectively.
It should be mentioned that Zayd and those who had supported him simply said that the Imamate or Caliphate should be from the House of Ali, but they did not denounce the Rightly Guided Caliphs, nor the Companions. The Rafidis, however, had gone to the extreme.
The Imamiyah, or the Twelvers, claimed that the Imams were divinely appointed by God, as told in the Quran, according to their warp interpretation. They claimed that the names of these Imams had been communicated by the Prophet to Ali privately. This succession of Imamate, starting from Ali to the Twelfth Imam, had occurred continuously, one after another.
It may be pointed out that their Twelfth Imam, Muhammad Al-Mahdi, the son of Hassan Al-Askari, had died young; or according to them, Al-Mahdi had disappeared. Because he died or disappeared during his youth, he had no progeny, being unmarried while he was alive. From this, we can see why the number of their Imams had to be twelve. If Muhammad Al-Mahdi had left a son, the number of their Imams would have been more.
Since Al-Mahdi had died young, these Rafidis had to develop the theory of his disappearance. They said he did not die, but lived in occultation (ghayb), pretty much like Jesus Christ. He would come back and rule the world as the much awaited Imam Mahdi. In the meantime, in his occultation, he deputized the Imamate to whoever was leading the group at that moment in time (including our time, since he does not yet appear).
Furthermore, since they rejected the majority of the Companions, they likewise had to reject most of the ahadith (Prophetic Traditions) that came to us. This is only logical, because those ahadith came to us through the Companions. Since the details of Sharia came from ahadith or the Sunnah of the Prophet, they had to make one to replace what they had rejected. Thus they concocted a list of ahadith and attributed these to the Imams of their choice especially Imam Jaafar Sadiq. Imam Jaafar Sadiq was the son of Muhammad Al-Baqir. He was the great grandson of Al-Husayn as well as the nephew of Zayd bin Zaynal Abidin, the founder of Shia Zaydiyah.
Thus, while Zaydiyah can hardly be distinguished from the Sunnis, the Imamiyah tend to have their own somewhat distinct feature. While outwardly they still retain most of Islamic beliefs and rituals, the Imamiyah mix these with their own peculiar set of beliefs and rituals, which make them problematic.
All in all, they are The Bad.
Another group of Shia that lasted until our time is the Ismailiyah. This group gets their name from Ismail, the son of Jaafar Sadiq. They are noted for their peculiar belief in Ali’s divinity, esoteric interpretation of the Quran, and the mystical outlook on just about everything. They branched off into many sects and denominations, among the prominent ones that lasted until our times are the Alawid, the Druze and the Nizari.
Their beliefs are mystical and strange. It is difficult to consider them Muslims at all. For instance, their belief in Ali’s Divinity is pretty much the way the Christians believe about Jesus. Most of them also believe in reincarnation like the Hindus. They also have traces of Zoroaster’s beliefs, in addition to the mythical Greek or European belief in demigod. In general, their ideas are so heretical that they would probably not constitute much of a threat to the Muslims at large, except to those with heretical leaning.
In short, they are The Ugly.
To recap, we have among the Shias those who are acceptable, problematic and heretical. Borrowing the Clint Eastwood’s movie, there are The Good, The Bad and The Ugly among them.
Shia Zaydiyah are largely acceptable; they are The Good. Shia Imamiyah are more problematic; they are The Bad. Shia Ismailiyah meanwhile border on heresy; they are the Ugly.
Nowadays, when we talk about Shia and Shiism, we generally refer to Imamiyah, for they constitute the majority, about 80 percent or more of them. Ismailiyah come a far second while Zaydiyah constitute only a tiny minority.
In the beginning, the Zaydiyah actually constituted the majority among the Shias. It is not difficult to see why they are the tiny minority now. Being largely indistinguishable from the majority of the Ummah who followed the Sunnah of the Prophet and his Companions, most of them returned to the fold of Ahl al Sunnah (Sunnis). Some of them were forced to follow the Imamiyah while the few who still feel nostalgic about the right of Ali and his descendants continue to remain as Shias.
Being the dominant group, and due to their missionary nature, the threat of Shiism largely comes from Shia Imamiyah. They make it their habit to actively propagate their ideas to unsuspecting but ignorant Muslims all over the world. For that reason, there is a need to know who and what their teachings are. Without knowing who they are and what are their teachings, one could fall into their propaganda, as many already do.
In the next few installments, I shall try to highlight some of their teachings, insyaAllah.