A Brief Introduction to
Ithna 'Ashari (Twelver)
Shi'ismThe name "Shi'ism" is derived
from the Arabic phrase "shi'at 'Ali," which literally means the partisans
or party of 'Ali (d. 661). The cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, 'Ali
was believed by most Muslim historians (but not all) to be the first male
to embrace the Prophet's message of Islam. His partisans were those who
believed that 'Ali was the rightful successor of the Prophet and that 'Ali
had been chosen by the Prophet to succeed him in his role as the political
and spiritual leader of the Muslims. This was in contrast to the belief of
the Sunnis, who did not believe the Prophet had selected 'Ali to serve in
that role. The vast majority of Shi'ites are the twelve imam or twelver
shi'ites (ithna 'ashari) and live today primarily in Iran, Iraq, and
an article by Bulend Shanay of Lancaster University briefly surveys some
of the beliefs and history of the Ithna 'Ashari (twelve imam) Shi'ites.
of Differences between Shi'is and Sunnis from the viewpoint of
Shi'ism. This was written by the scholars who have compiled the Shi'ite
Encyclopedia, noted below.
This is an on-line book by the famous Shi'ite scholar Tabataba'i and
translated by Prof. Seyyed Hossein Nasr.
Encyclopedia Developed by Shi'ites, this encyclopedia covers the main
lines of Shi'i thought. It can be browsed by topic or searched with its
own search engine.
Al-Islam: Subject Index
This is the topical index to the Al-Islam website, a massive site
on Islam as viewed from a Shi'ite perspective. It contains many articles
useful to students of Islam. This site was developed by Ahlul Bayt Digital
Islamic Library Project.
the Beliefs of the Shi'a Imamiya is a translation of a primary text by
one of the most important medieval Twelver Shi'ite scholars, Ibn Babawayh,
also known as Shaykh al-Saduq.
Sermons, Letters, and
Sayings of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the first Shi'i Imam and the fourth of
the "Rightly-Guided Caliphs"(al-khulafa' al-rashidun)
by al-Kulayni is a scholarly article concerning the first of the four
major works of Shi'i hadith. The article, written by Dr. I.K.A. Howard,
discusses al-Kafi and its author, Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Ya'qub
al-Kulayni (d. 328 or 329 / 939 or 940). Unlike hadith in Sunni Islam,
hadith collections in Shi'i Islam include the sayings of the Shi'i imams.
Yahduruh al-Faqih by al-Saduq is a scholarly article concerning
the second of the four major collections of Shi'i hadith. Written by Dr.
I.K.A. Howard, this article also includes a discussion of al-Shaykh
al-Saduq, Ibn Babawaih al-Qummi (d. 381).
al-ahkam and Al-Istibsar by al-Tusi is the title of an
article by Dr. I.K.A. Howard concerning the third and fourth of the four
major works of Shi'i hadith. Both of these works were written by Abu
Ja'far Muhammad b. al-Hasan, known as al-Shaykh al-Tusi (d. 460).
Origin and Growth of the Shia (link fixed October 24, 2002). This
useful summary is presented at the website of the World Federation of the Khoja Shia
Ithna-Asheri (sic) Muslim Communities (KSIMC). See their list of
Islamic Resources. Currently the best description of this organization
is to be found in the Constitution
of the World Federation.
Website of Ayatullah Muhammad
Shirazi, who is one of the more important Shi'ite religious leaders
alive today. Based in Qum, Ayatullah Shirazi is a marja'-i taqlid
(model whose guidance is to be followed). His website includes a variety
of materials, among them being some of his articles and a short biography
the Imam Husayn in Persian and Indo-Muslim literature This article, by
Annemarie Schimmel, emeritus professor at Harvard, surveys the literary
use of the image of the martyed Imam Husayn (the third Shi'i Imam).
The Shrine of
the Hidden Imam "Twelver" (Ithna 'ashari) Shi'ites believe that
including 'Ali there were twelve rightful descendants of the Prophet in
his role as political and spiritual leader of the Muslims. They believe
that the twelfth of these, the Hidden Imam, never died but rather
"occulted," which is to say that he left this material plane of being and
went to a metaphysical plane of being, from where he will return to the
material plane near the end of time in order to inaugurate a new era for
humankind. Through this link you can view a good quality image of the
shrine of the Hidden Imam in Samarra, Iraq.
The Silencing of
Professor Abdulaziz Sachedina Ayatollah Sistani, the chief Shi'ite
religious authority (marja' al-taqlid) of the majority of the 12
Imam Khoja Shi'ites, recently recommended the silencing of Professor
Sachedina, a 12ver Shi'ite, who is also a professor of Islamic Studies at
the University of Virginia. Among the issues for which he was criticized
are his views on religious pluralism.
Iraq a section of my Muslims, Islam, and Iraq
website, contains information on the history of Shi'ism in Iraq as well as
various news articles and other related links.
Papers on Shaykhism, also known as the Shaykhi school of Shi'ism,
written by Juan R. I. Cole, a professor at the University of Michigan.
These papers all concern Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i, the central figure of the
Shaykhi school, which developed in 19th century Iran.
Isma'ili Shi'ismThe Isma'ili Shi'ites (or
7-Imam Shi'ites), diverged from the majority Ja'fari or 12-Imam Shi'ites
since they regarded the seventh and last Imam to be Isma'il, the eldest
son of Ja'far al-Sadiq. In contrast, the 12-Imam Shi'ites do not accept
Isma'il, who predeceased his father, as their seventh imam. Instead, after
the death of Ja'far al-Sadiq (d. 765 CE), they followed his still living
son, Musa al-Kazim (d. 799 CE) and, after him, his descendants.
Not following Musa al-Kazim and his descendants, the Isma'ilis followed
Muhammad the son of Imam Ismail and his descendants up to the present day.
An important Isma'ili movement was the 9th century Qarmati movement in
'Iraq, comprised of followers of Hamdan Qarmat. See the brief summary of
the movement, Qarmatiyyah,
written by Bulend Shanay of Lancaster University (UK).
More significant was the Ismaili Fatimid dynasty, which ruled in North
Africa from the 10th to the 12th centuries. Another significant Ismaili
movement of 12th century Iran is commonly known as that of the
"Assassins." The following linked article Assassins
, written by the eminent scholar Philip Hitti, although dated is still
informative. On the other hand, the contemporary scholar Farhad Daftary
seems to have overturned many of the assertions of the previous generation
of scholars such as Hitti. See the following review of Daftary's The Assassin Legends: Myths
of the Isma'ilis. The Ismailis underwent the following sub-divisions:
Druze-- A minority of Ismailis who, after the death of the Fatimid,
Imam Al-Hakim bi-Amrillah, believed that Imam al-Hakim was divine and did
not in fact die. Today this group is found in Lebanon, Syria, and
Palestine. See a brief summary of this sect, titled Druzes,
written by Bulend Shanay of Lancaster University.
The majority, however, followed Imam al-Hakim's son, al-Zahir and his
descendants until Imam Mustansir Billah. At his death, another split
Buhras or Bohras (originally known as Musta'lians)-- Ismailis who
followed Imam Musta'li, a son of Imam Mustansir billah, instead of Imam
Nizar, who was another son of Imam Mustansir. The Bohras today live
primarily in Yemen, India, and East Africa. See the scholarly article Bohras
by Mustafa Abdulhussein, from the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern
Islamic World, and the Dawoodi
Nizaris, Khoja Ismailis, or Agakhanis-- followed Imam Nizar, the other
son of Imam Mustansir, who escaped from prison (after being deposed by the
supporters of Imam Musta'li) and made his way from Cairo to Syria and from
there to Iran. Today the Nizaris are followers of Imam Karim Agha Khan.
History of the Ismaili Community based on material from Prof. Farhad
Daftary, the leading scholarly authority on Ismaili history.
Ismailism by Dr. Sheikh Khodr Hamawi
constructed by Ismailis, is a useful resource containing among other
things a number of scholarly articles.
The Importance of
Studying Ismailism is a short essay by the famous "White Russian"
scholar of Ismaili history and thought, Professor W. Ivanov.
(d. 481 AH) was an important Persian poet, philosopher, traveller, and
Ismaili propagandist (da'i).
and Authority in Medieval Ismailism by Prof. Simonetta Calderini,
lecturer at the Roehampton Institute in London, is a scholarly article on
the web addition of Diskus, but it was originally published there
in Vol.4, No.1 (1996) pp.11-22. (Linked fixed, October 13, 2001.)
The Institute of Ismaili
The Zaydi or five imam Shi'ites are
those who follow Zayd ibn 'Ali, the grandson of the third Shi'ite imam,
Imam Husayn, who was in turn a grandson of the Prophet. Zayd's father was
'Ali, the fourth Shi'ite imam. Yemen became a Zaydi country toward the end
of the ninth century CE and has continued to be Zaydi until today. See the
brief article Zaydiyyah
by Bulend Shanay of Lancaster University (UK).
who are generally regarded by Muslims as being outside the limits of
Islam, regard themselves as originating with the eleventh Shi'a Imam
al-Hasan al-Askari (d.873) and his student Ibn Nusayr (d.868). They are
particularly important in Syria even though they are only about 11% of the
population. The reason for their importance in Syria is because Hafez
al-Asad, the former Syrian president, was a Nusayri.