Shi'a Islam

From Academic Kids


Template:Islam Shi'a Islam (Template:Lang-ar follower; English has traditionally used Shiite or Shi'ite) is the second largest Islamic denomination; some 10-15% of all Muslims are said to follow a Shi'a tradition.

Shi'a is short for Shi'at Ali, a follower of Ali ibn Abi Talib, who was the prophet Muhammad's relative and cousin. Shi'as believe that Ali should have followed Muhammad as the leader of the Muslims. Sunni Muslims believe that Abu Bakr, the first caliph to hold power after Muhammad, held his office legitimately. This difference of opinion regarding an event in 632 CE may seem like a minor matter to some, but this schism shaped two Muslim traditions which differ sharply in many of their beliefs and practices.


Shi'as around the world

Missing image
An approximate map of Shi'a distribution. Shi'a regions are marked by dark green.

Shi'as live in many parts of the world, but some countries have a higher concentration of Shi'a than others, as can be seen from the map.

Shi'a beliefs: Usool-ad-Deen (Roots of the Religion)

  • Tawheed (The Oneness of God)
  • Adalah (The Justice of God)
  • Nubuwwah (Prophethood)
  • Imamah (Leadership of Mankind)
  • Qiyamat (The Day of Judgement)

The Oneness of God

For Muslims, the oneness of God is the fundamental foundation of absolutely every belief and practice. It is a belief that is far more advanced than merely believing in the existence of one supreme Creator. The belief includes with it the belief that no thought, word or action should be committed for any reason other than to seek God's approval. The belief in the oneness of God is not valid unless the believer absolutely accepts the ninety-nine attributes describing God. Muslims believe that God has provided humankind with these descriptions so that His creatures can know Him. Only an analysis of these ninety-nine attributes will enable at least a basic understanding of the Oneness of God.

Generally, Shias and Sunnis agree on God's omnipotence. They believe that nothing happens unless God wills it to happen. Non-believers argue that God's omnipotence cannot be reconciled with the free will given to humankind. Mutazilites (a Sunni sect) emphasise free will; while the Asharis (the dominant Sunni theological school) emphasise God's omnipotence. The Shi'a belief, however, is that both the free will of humans and the omnipotence of God exist; the reconciliation of both being known only by God.

The Justice of God

Shi'a and Sunni views do not differ.

Leadership of Mankind

The greatest difference between Shi'a and Sunni Islam is the Shi'a belief in the Imamate (God-appointed Leadership of humankind), which not only has far-reaching political implications, but defines the very concept of submission to God. The Shi'as believe that the leader of humankind in all aspects of life, including all religious affairs and politics, is the divinely appointed Imam. This leader, or Imam (امام), is infallible, impeccable, divinely inspired, and chosen directly by God. Those who do not recognize the authority of the Imam, are resisting God's appointment, and are therefore resisting God's supreme authority. The Shi'a belief is that Prophet Muhammad, appointed his cousin Ali as the first Imam, according to God's command; Ali then appointed his eldest son by Fatima Zahra, Hasan ibn Ali, as the second Imam. Hassan then appointed his brother Husayn as the third Imam; Husayn appointed his son, etc. The Shi'as believe that the sequence is hereditary only because it has been so decreed by God, who is the ultimate source of the authority of the Imam.


Shi'a believe that the prophets and messengers (Adam being the first prophet and Muhammad the last) appointed by God are impeccable and infallible in every aspect (i.e., in their beliefs, thoughts, actions, speech, etc). Current Sunni belief (Ash'ari) is that prophets are only infallible in regards to revelation.

The Day of Judgment

Twelver Shi'a believe that when the Day of Judgment arrives, both Jesus and the hidden or occulted imam, the Mahdi, will return to earth to judge humanity.

Shi'a practices: Furoo-ad-Deen (Branches of the Religion)

  • Salah ("Prayer" - performing the five daily prayers)
  • Sawm ("Fast" - fasting during the holy month of Ramadhan)
  • Hajj ("Pilgrimage" - performing the pilgrimage to Mecca)
  • Zakat ("Poor-rate" - paying the poor-rate)
  • Khums ("One-fifth" - paying tax on one-fifth of financial gain)
  • Jihad ("Struggle" - struggling to please God)
  • Amr-Bil-Ma'roof ("Enjoin what is good")
  • Nahi-Anil-Munkar ("Forbid what is wrong")
  • Tawalla (To love the Ahl-ul-Bayt and their followers)
  • Tabarra (To hate the enemies of the Ahl-ul-Bayt)

Salah ("Prayer" - performing the five daily prayers)

Sawm ("Fast" - fasting during the holy month of Ramadhan)

Hajj ("Pilgrimage" - performing the pilgrimage to Mecca)

Zakat ("Poor-rate" - paying the poor-rate)

Khums ("One-fifth" - paying tax on one-fifth of financial gain)

Jihad ("Struggle" - struggling to please God)

Amr-Bil-Ma'roof ("Enjoin what is good")

Nahi-Anil-Munkar ("Forbid what is wrong")

Tawalla (To love the Ahl-ul-Bayt and their followers)

Tabarra (To hate the enemies of the Ahl-ul-Bayt)

The Shi'a sects

The Shi'a of the present day are divided into sects based on their beliefs regarding the sequence of the imams.

  • Most Shi'a are Twelvers; they recognize twelve imams, of whom the twelfth, the Mahdi, has been occluded, or removed from human view, and will return at some time in the future.
  1. Ali ibn Abu Talib (600661)
  2. Hasan ibn Ali (625669)
  3. Husayn ibn Ali (626680)
  4. Ali ibn Husayn (658713), also known as Zainul Abideen
  5. Muhammad al Baqir (676743)
  6. Jafar as Sadiq (703765)
  7. Musa al Kazim (745799)
  8. Ali ar Ridha (765818)
  9. Muhammad at Taqi (810835)
  10. Ali al Hadi (827868)
  11. Hasan al Askari (846874)
  12. Muhammad al Mahdi (868—)
  • There are several groups of Sevener Shi'as. The largest is a subgroup of the Ismailis.
  • Fiver Shi'as are also called Zaidis. They are found mostly in Yemen. They accept as imams:
  1. Ali ibn Abi Talib
  2. Hasan ibn Ali
  3. Husayn ibn Ali
  4. Ali ibn Husayn
  5. Zayd bin Ali bin Hussayn rather than Muhammad al Baqir

Zaidis also reject the notion of divinely appointed Imams.

Twelver Shi'a believe that the last imam has been occulted (in Ghaibah), or "hidden away" by God. He is still alive, and will return. Beliefs vary as to what will happen when the last imam, called the Mahdi ("the guided one"), returns. It is generally believed that he will be accompanied by Jesus and will affirm Muhammad's message to mankind from God.

Shi'a and Sunni traditions

While the Shi'a and the Sunni accept the same sacred text, the Qur'an, they differ somewhat in their approach to recorded oral tradition, or hadith. Shi'a believe that the split between the Shi'a and Sunni extends back to the time of Muhammad's death, when a small number of the faithful clung to Ali and the rest of the Muslims followed Abu Bakr, then Umar and Uthman. Traditions that can be traced back to the testimony of the faithful are to be trusted, and traditions passed through the other Muslims are suspect. While the Sunni generally accept the hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim as sahih, or trustworthy, the Shi'a privilege different narrators and different hadith.

Because Islamic law is based upon the hadith, rejection of some Sunni hadith means that the Shi'a version of the law differs somewhat from the Sunni version. For example, Shiites permit temporary marriages, or mut’a, which can be contracted for months or even days, and follow different inheritance laws.

The role of religious scholars

Most Sunni scholars, preachers, and judges (collectively known as the ulema) traditionally believe that the door of ijtihad, or private judgment, closed some four hundred years after the death of Muhammad. Muslim scholars had been studying Qur'an and hadith for centuries; four schools of law (madhhab) had been developed; there was nothing more to be added to the four schools.

Shi'a scholars believe that the door to ijtihad has never closed. They believe that they can interpret the Qur'an and the Shi'a traditions with the same authority as their predecessors. Generally, the Shi'a clergy have exerted much more authority in the Shi'a community than have the Sunni ulema.

Religious calendar

All Muslims, Sunni or Shi'a, celebrate the following annual holidays:

Both Sunni and Shi'a celebrate:

  • Milad al-Nabi, Muhammad's birth date. However, the Sunni celebrate on the 12th of Rabbi al-Awwal and the Shi'a celebrate on the 17th of Rabbi al-Awwal. The Shi'a celebration coincides with the birth date of the sixth imam, Ja'far al-Sadiq.
  • Ashurah (عاشوراء). For Shiites, this commemorates Imam Husayn bin Ali's martyrdom. It is a day of deep mourning. For Sunnis, it is a day of fasting(rewarded by God by forgiving the past year's sins)with a day either preceding it or following it, as fasted & recommended by God's Messenger(SAAW) being the anniversary at which Moses(ASWS) & his followers fasted to God for rescuing them by allowing them to cross the sea by miracle & drowning the Pharaoh & his army. Ashurah occurs on the 10th of Muharram.

Shi'a alone observe these occasions:

  • Arba'een, which commemorates the suffering of the women and children of Imam Husayn's household. After Husayn was killed, they were marched over the desert, from Karbala (central Iraq) to Shaam (Damascus, Syria). Many children died of thirst and exposure along the route. Arba'een occurs on the 20th of Safar, 40 days after Ashurah.
  • Eid al-Ghadeer, which celebrates Ghadir Khum, the occasion upon which Shi'a believe Muhammad announced Ali's imamate before a multitude of Muslims. Eid al-Ghadeer is held on the 18th of Dhil-Hijjah.
  • Al-Mubahila celebrates a meeting between the household of the prophet Muhammad and a Christian deputation from Najran. Al-Mubahila is held on the 24th of Dhil-Hijjah.

Twelvers celebrate the

  • Mid of Shaban, the birth date of the twelfth and final imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi. This is celebrated on the 15th of Shaban. Many Shi'a take it upon themselves to fast on this day to show gratitude on the auspicious occasion of the twelfth Imam's birth.

History of the Shi'a

Modern Shi'a-Sunni relations

Many Sunnis refuse to accept the Shi'a as fellow Muslims, calling them "bringers of bid'a" -- bid'a, or innovation, being regarded as necessarily wrong. The Shi'a in turn believe that the Sunni have yielded to power and the temptations of ease and wealth, and that only the Shi'a have kept faith with Muhammad's original intentions. The communities have remained separate, mingling only during the Hajj.

Modern Shi'a have generally been tolerant towards the Sunni, tolerating them even when the state religion is Shi'a, as in Iran. However, when attacked (as in Pakistan) they have retaliated violently.

Modern mainstream Sunni have also become less confrontational. The renowned al-Azhar Theological school in Egypt, one of the main centers of Sunni scholarship in the world, announced the following on July 6, 1959:

"The Shi'a is a school of thought that is religiously correct to follow in worship as are other Sunni schools of thought."

Al-Azhar's official position in this regard remains unchanged to this day. However, Muslims like the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and the Pakistani Islamist parties still regard Shi'a as heretics, and have been responsible for many attacks on Shi'a gatherings at mosques and shrines.

Major Centers of Shi'a Scholarship

See also


Shi'a texts:

  • Qur'an
  • Nahj al Balagha; the sermons and letters of Ali, compiled by Seyyed Razi
  • Mafatih al-janan; a collection of prayers.
  • Usul i Kafi; a collection of hadiths.

Academic sources:

External links

General Shi'a resource websites

Websites commemorating Shi'a Imams

Shia Islam directories and encyclopedias

da:Shiisme de:Schiiten et:Šiiidid es:Chismo eo:Ŝijaismo fr:Chiisme he:שיעה lt:Šiizmas nl:Sjiisme ja:シーア派 no:Sjiaislam pl:Szyizm pt:Islo Xiita ru:Шииты fi:Šiialaisuus sv:Shia zh:什叶派


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