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The most lengthy and authoritative contemporary overview of Shi'ism; a commonly-assigned college textbook. Includes biographies of prominent historical figures. Not yet formatted.
This is an unformatted version of the text from Ocean. A scan of the published version can be partly read online at google books.

See also a 1/4-length summary of this book, momen_introduction_shii_sumary, and a short encyclopedia version, momen_encyclopedia_shii_islam.

An Introduction to Shi'i Islam:
The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shi'ism

by Moojan Momen

Oxford: George Ronald, 1985
start page

All chapters


Foreword by Prof. Alessandro Bausani. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xi
Preface. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  xiii
A Note on Transliteration, Pronunciation, Technical Terms . . . . . . . . . . . . . xv
Glossary. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  xix
1. An Outline of the Life of Muhammad and the Early History of Islam  . . . . . . .  1
2. The Question of the Succession to Muhammad. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
3. The Lives of the Imams and Early Divisions among the Shi'is . . . . . . . . . .  23
4. Early History of Shi'i Islam, AD 632-1000. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
5. Shi'i Islam in the Medieval Period, AD 1000-1500. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  86
6. Shi'i Islam in Modern Times, AD 1500-1900. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  105
7. The Imamate. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  147
8. The Twelfth Imam, His Occultation and Return. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 161
9. Doctrines, Ritual Practices and Social Transactions. . . . . . . . . . . . . .  172
10. Shi'i jurisprudence and the Religious Hierarchy. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 184
11. Sufism, 'Irfan and Hikma. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  208
12. Schools within Twelver Shi'ism. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  220
13. The Popular Religion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  233
14. Contemporary Shi'ism. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  246

   Appendix I. Chronology of Political and Religious Events in Shi'i History. . .  300
   Appendix II. Shi'i Dynasties. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 304
   Appendix III. Biographies of Prominent Ulama. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 310
   Notes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  324
   Select Bibliography. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  345    
   Index. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  363
This book is dedicated to all those who have died for the 
cause of Truth in Iran

[Page viii is intentionally blank.]


                          List of Illustrations

 1 Muhammad and 'Ali destroying idols in the Ka'ba
 2 Muhammad appoints 'Ali as his successor at Ghadir Khumm
 3 Najaf: Shrine of the First Imam, 'Ali
 4 Karbala: panoramic view
 5 Karbala: Sarcophagus of Imam Husayn
 6 Panorama of Qumm
 7 Mashhad: Shrine of the Eighth Imam, 'Ali ar-Rida
 8 Samarra: an aerial view
 9 Karbala: Shrine of the Third Imam, Husayn
10 Kazimayn: Shrine of the Seventh and Ninth Imams
11 Qumm: Shrine of Fatima, the sister of the Eighth Imam

12 Sultaniyya: Tomb of Oljeitu (Khudabanda)
13 Aleppo: capital of the Hamdanid and Mirdasid dynasties
14 Hilla: an aerial view
15 Ardibil Shrine of Shaykh Safi
16 Isfahan: Madrasa Chahar Bagh
17 Isfahan: Maydan-i Shah, 1704
18 Isfahan: Maydan-i Shah, 1881
19 Shah 'Abbas I
20 Mulla Muhammad Baqir Majlisi
21 Tehran, 1809
22 Nadir Shah
23 Fath 'Ali Shah
24 Lucknow, India
25 Juba': an important Shi'i village of the Jabal 'Amil

26 Isfahan: Masjid-i Shah
27 Isfahan: Madrasa Chahar Bagh
28 The Bastinado
29 Shaykh Murtada Ansari
30 A mujtahid and several mullas
31 Mulla preaching to a crowd in a mosque during Muharram
32 Qumm: interior of the Shrine of Fatima
33 Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa'i
34 Sayyid Kazim Rashti


35 'Allama Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i
36 Mahan, near Kirman: Shrine of Shah Ni'matu'llah Wali
37 Kazimayn: Shrine
38 Isfahan: interior of Shaykh Lutfu'llah Mosque

39 Banner depicting scenes from the life of the Imam Husayn
40 Ta'ziya: dramatic representation of the martyrdom of Husayn
41 Rawda-Khani: recital of the sufferings of the Imams
42 Painting over entrance to a Husayniyya
43 Muharram processions, traditional accoutrements
44 Muharram processions in Tehran in early 1900s
45 Muharram processions: a model of the Shrine of Husayn
46 Muharram processions with flagellants
47 Muharram processions, self-mutilation
48 Muharram processions with flagellants
49 Muharram processions
50 Muharram processions: beating of the chest
51 The Imamzada Husayn in Qazvin
52 Mashhad: Sarcophagus of Imam 'Ali ar-Rida
53 Carriage of corpses to Karbala
54 Imam Ruhu'llah Khumayni
55 Three mujtahids of Najaf
56 Cartoon: finding reasons for the Constitution in the Qur'an
57 Shaykh Fadlu'llah Nuri
58 Shaykh Hasan Mudarris
59 Isfahan: Shaykh Lutfu'llah Mosque
60 Bahá'í national headquarters in Tehran being demolished in 1955
61 Isfahan: Maydan-i Shah
62 Sayyid Abu'l-Qasim Kashani
63 Ayatu'llah Sayyid Kazim Shari'atmadari
64 Ayatu'llah Muhammad Rida Gulpaygani
65 Ayatu'llah Shihabu'd-Din Mar'ashi-Najaf
66 Ayatu'llah Hasan 'Ali Muntaziri
67 Ayatu'llah Muhammad Husayni Bihisht
68 Mashhad: Gawhar-Shad Mosque


The Shi'i world during the lifetimes of the Imams and the Lesser 
Occultation, AD 632-950
The Shi'i world in the medieval period, AD 1500-1980
South Lebanon
The Shi'i world in modem times, AD 1500-1980



To introduce such a book is not an easy task. Like most Western
Islamologists, my training and research have been concentrated on
Sunni Islam and so Shi'ism is not my main field. However, this book
has been researched and presented in such a truly scientific manner
that it does not suffer from the biases apparent in many such works.
  There is now much interest in the question of the differences
between Sunni and Shi'i Islam. I used to discuss this matter often
with my students in the Islamic Studies department of the Faculty of
Literature of Rome University. But nowadays the question is also
frequently raised on television and in the newspapers. Indeed, many
are now beginning to be more familiar with the differences between
Shi'i and Sunni Islam. If this is the result of the 'Islamic
Revolution' in Iran, then we have Khomeini to thank for it. However,
unfortunately the presentations of this subject are often ill-informed
and misleading. One frequently finds journalists referring to Shi'i
Islam as the most 'revolutionary' form of Islam. Dr Momen has, in this
book, brought out well the evidence for the fact that the development
of Shi'ism has been evolutionary and he has put into perspective its
so-called 'revolutionary' aspects.
  This book clarifies the reality of Shi'i Islam, and can now be
considered the best available description of the aforementioned
differences between it and Sunni Islam. In spite of the fact that the
author has concentrated on the Ithna-'Ashari (Twelver) Shi'is who form
the majority of the population of Iran today; he also describes other
forms of Shi'ism such as the Isma'ilis and the Ghulat. There is even a
chapter on Sufism and 'Irfan (Gnosis). Some Iranian writers of recent
years have leaned too far towards the notion that, of the two forms of
Islam, Shi'ism is the more favourable environment for Sufism; whereas
the fact is that Sufism, in its earliest years, was more accepted by
the Sunnis and continues to the present to be more widespread among
  To sum up, this book is a major contribution towards a clearer and
more comprehensive definition of Shi'i Islam and its differences from
Sunnism and may be recommended to everyone who wishes to
understand these matters better.

       Prof. Alessandro Bausani
       Director, Department of Islamic
       Studies of the University of Rome

           March 1985

[Page xii is intentionally blank.]


The majority of books written in the West on Islam are concerned with
Sunni Islam and have tended to ignore or minimise the importance of
Shi'i Islam. This is not surprising in view of the fact that Sunni
Islam represents the belief of the majority of Muslims and is the
state religion of most of the countries of the Middle East and North
  However, the Shi'is are the next largest group after the Sunnis in
the Muslim world and are the largest religious community in several
countries: Iran, Bahrain and Lebanon. In Iran Twelver Shi'i Islam is
the state religion. There are important Shi'i communities in several
other countries also: India, Pakistan, the Gulf states and the USSR,
while Shi'ism of the Zaydi sect is prominent in North Yemen and that
of the Isma'ili sect in India, Pakistan and East Africa.
  The rise to economic importance of the Persian Gulf region (where
most of the important oil deposits are in areas with Shi'i
populations) has led in the West to a renewed interest in this area,
while the recent revolution in Iran has caused many to realise the
importance of trying to obtain a deeper understanding of the religious
undercurrents in the area.
  This book is an attempt to present to a Western audience a general
outline of Shi'i Islam. While I have not assumed that the reader
already has a knowledge of Sunni Islam, I have tended to concentrate
on explaining those areas in which Shi'i Islam differs most greatly
from Sunni Islam: such matters as the question of the succession to
Muhammad, the nature of the Imamate, the Twelfth Imam, etc.
Because of this, the reader may form the impression that these two
communities are a long way apart in their view of Islam and this would
be an unfortunate conclusion since in fact the two are much closer to
each other than many Christian sects are. There is no disagreement
between the two in the matter of the station and centrality of the
Prophet Muhammad in the religion, nor on most of the historical
details of his life. There are no major differences in the ritual
observances of daily life and on many doctrinal and theological
matters there is also a broad consensus.
  It is in order to outline and confirm this large area of agreement
between Sunni and Shi'i Islam that the first chapter is included in


book. Any readers who are already well versed in the basic facts of
Islam may wish to omit this chapter, while readers who wish to have
detailed information about those areas covered in the first chapter
will need to refer to other books on Islam.
  The main intention of this book is to present both modern critical
research on Shi'ism and also the traditional way that Shi'is see
themselves. Critical scholarship has produced some interesting
research on Shi'i Islam, particularly concerning its early history,
and this has tended to throw considerable doubt on the traditional
Shi'i accounts. However, this research, interesting as it may be for
the intellectual, has had no impact at all on Shi'i Islam itself,
neither on the Shi'i religious leaders nor on the Shi'i masses. They
care little for what Western scholars may be writing about their
religion and indeed many are deeply suspicions of the motives behind
such research. Therefore, in this book, I have given the outlines of
the results of modern research but also I have tried to present the
orthodox traditional accounts of Shi'i history, since it is this that
is the reality of the religion for the Shi'is themselves and it is
this that raises the passions of the crowds during the great Shi'i
commemorations. Thus for anyone trying to achieve an understanding of
the world of Shi'i Islam, it is these traditional accounts that are
more relevant and important. And so, for example, the reader will find
in Chapter 4 an account of the history of early Shi'ism as it has
emerged from modern critical scholarship. But in Chapter 3, the same
period has already been examined giving the traditional account of the
lives of the Shi'i Imams and, in particular, the Karbala episode that
looms so large in Shi'i history and in the minds of the Shi'is that
its importance can hardly be overestimated.
  Research is, of course, continually throwing up new facts or new
ways of looking at the material presented in this book. The reader
will appreciate that, in order to keep this a readable introductory
book, I have, at times, needed to examine several controversial
viewpoints and present one of them as though this was established
fact. Some readers will also notice that I have tended to present the
evolution of Shi'ism as a history of ideas and I have not gone into
the social and economic factors that may have shaped these
developments. This is partly because to have gone into such matters
would have expanded the book greatly and partly because, for many
periods of Shi'i history, a great deal more work needs to be done in
this field before any reliable statements can be made.
  One of the problems in writing this book has been to decide what to
call the sect of Islam that is being described, since it is known by a
variety of names. It is often referred to by Sunnis by the derogatory
title of Rafidi (the Repudiators, see p. 73). The name Ja'fari is
strictly a designation of the Shi'i school of jurisprudence (see p.
125), but this 


name has also been used for the whole sect, especially by the ulama
and by Sunnis. In Lebanon the Shi'is have traditionally been called
Mutawali (plural: Mutawila), while in Afghanistan and India the name
Qizilbash is used. A name that has found favour among Western scholars
is Imami. Although it is used among Arab Shi'is, it has little
currency among Iranians or Indians and has the further disadvantage of
being often used loosely to include Isma'ilis. Probably the most
accurate and most widely-accepted, although less elegant, designation
is Ithna-'Ashan (Twelver) and this is the usage that has been
preferred in this book. The Shi'a often refer to themselves as al-
Khassa (the Select, as against the Sunnis who are referred to as al-
'Amma, the generality of the people).
  When Shi'i Islam is being referred to in this book, it is the Usuli
school of Ithna-'Ashari (Twelver) Shi'i Islam (i.e. the mainstream of
Twelver Shi'i Islam to which the many of Shi'is belong today) that is
meant unless specifically noted otherwise. The reader will find notes
on some of the other sects of Shi'i Islam in the second half of
Chapter 3, while in Chapter 12 may be found a description of the other
schools within Twelver Shi'ism.
  It will be apparent to the reader that use has been made of a number
of Islamic terms in the text of this book. Among these the reader will
note the use of the phrase 'the Prophet' to refer to Muhammad, while
other frequently-used words such as ulama, mujtahid, etc. are defined
in the Glossary.

A Note on Transliteration, Pronunciation and Technical Terms

Those with sufficient knowledge to care about transliteration will be
able to work out for themselves the system used in this book. The
following are a few notes to assist others with pronunciation and with
technical terms. On the question of pronunciation, the following table
is intended to assist the reader to work out how words are pronounced
in Arabic and Persian:

Letter      Arabic                   Persian

a           bat                      bat
end-a       Coca-Cola                let
a           bar                      bar
b           bat                      bat
ch          not used                 chat
d           dog                      dog
d           stressed, explosive d    zebra
dh          this                     zebra


f           fat                      fat
g           not used                 girl
gh          gargling sound similar   k sound at back of throat
              French r
h           hat                      hat
h           stressed, guttural h     hat
i           hit                      bet
i           heel                     heel
j           jump (girl in Egypt)     jump
k           king                     king
kh          as in Scottish loch or   as in Scottish loch or
              German machen            German machen
l           let                      let
m           man                      man
n           man                      man
p           not used                 put
q           k sound at back of       k sound at back of throat
r           rat                      rat
s           sad                      sad
s           stressed explosive s     sad
sh          shine                    shine
t           tell                     tell
t           stressed explosive s     tell
th          think                    sad
u           bull                     short
u           boot                     boot
v           not used                 very
w           wall; also in diphthong  not used except in diphthong     
              'aw' as in growl       'aw' as in growl
y           yet; also in diphthong   yet; also in diphthong 'ay'      
              'ay' as in main          as in main
z           zebra                    zebra
zh          not used                 treasure or as in French j
'           glottal stop             glottal stop
            (an apostrophe is also used as in English to indicate     
            a dropped letter as in Sayfu'd-Din for Sayfad-Din
            elided together)
'           strong, guttural sound   glottal stop in mid-word or
            with compressed            end-word; not sounded at
              throat                 beginning of word

  I have allowed myself a certain amount of freedom in that, for most
names and titles, where the second word is a noun (i.e. the construct


genitive form), I have elided together component parts of the Arabic
such as: 'Abdu'llah instead of 'Abd Allah; and Sayfu'd-Din instead of
Sayfad-Din. But for the sake of clarity I have not done this for
technical terms and names of books, thus: marja' at-taqlid not
marja'u't-taqlid; and Jawahir al-Kalam not Jawahiru'l-Kalam, nor in
names and titles where the second word is an adjective, e.g. Shaykh
  As for the technical terms themselves, it has been difficult to
decide whether to give them in their Persian or Arabic form since most
of the important books are written in Arabic, but Persian is the
language of the largest and most influential group in the Shi'i world.
To have given both would have cluttered up the text unduly. I have
mostly used the Arabic forms, the only exceptions being those terms
that have predominantly been used in their Persian form, e.g. Vilayat-
i Faqih. However, Arabic terms or names consisting of two words can
usually be converted to their Persian form by use of the following
1. Remove the article al-, at-, as-, ash-
2. Insert -i after the first term (or -yi if last letter of first term
   is a vowel)
3. Change letter w, if it occurs, to v
4. A terminal -a should usually be changed to -ih (although the final
   h is not pronounced)
Thus, for example:
marja' at-taqlid           becomes   marja'-i taqlid
wilayat al-faqih           becomes   vilayat-i faqih
al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya     becomes   Futuhat-i Makkiyyih

  Certain words and names commonly occurring in the book carry no
transliteration marks. These words, with their fully transliterated
form in parentheses, are:

Shi'i (Shi'i)    ulama ('ulama)
Shi'a (Shi'a)    Imam (Imam)
Sunni (Sunni)    Mulla (Mulla)
Sufi (Sufi)

  The names in the following list are treated as being anglicised and
therefore carry no transliteration marks (original transliterated form
in parentheses):
'Abbasid ('Abbasi)    Mirdasid (Mirdasi)
Buyid (Buya)          Safavid (Safavi)
Hamdanid (Hamdani)    Sarbadarid (Sarbadari)
Ilkhanid (Ilkhani)    Timurid (Timuri)
Mazyadid (Mazyadi)    'Uqaylid ('Uqayli)

  The names: Muhammad, 'Ali, Hasan and Husayn have not been
transliterated (Muhammad, 'Ali, Hasan, Husayn) where they refer to the
Prophet himself and the First, Second and Third Imams respectively but
do carry transliteration marks when they occur as part of another


name, e.g. Muhammad Baqir Majlisi. The names of the more well-known
cities such as Tehran, Isfahan and Baghdad have also not been
  Since any single Islamic (Hijri) year overlaps with two Christian
years, where only the Hijri year of an event is known, the equivalent
Christian (Georgian) date is given as the first of the two years
partially covered by that Hijri year.


In preparing a book of this nature one must rely upon the assistance
of many people. In particular, I must thank Prof. Alessandro Bausani
for agreeing to write a Foreword for this book, and Prof. Wilferd
Madelung who kindly agreed to look through the whole manuscript and
gave his valuable suggestions. Others who helped over particular
aspects of the subject (and I must apologize to many whom I have
omitted) are: Prof. Nikki Keddie, University of California, Los
Angeles; Prof. Emrys L. Peters, Manchester University; Todd Lawson,
McGill University Montreal; Dr Juan R. Cole, University of Michigan,
Ann Arbor; Stephen Lambden, Newcastle University; and Dr Peter Smith,
University of Lancaster. It is only the generous lending policy of a
number of libraries that has enabled the research necessary for this
book to be done. In particular, I would like to thank the staff of the
following libraries for their helpfulness: Library of the School of
Oriental and African Studies, London; Cambridge University Library;
Oriental Faculty Library, University of Cambridge; and Sandy Public
Library. I am grateful to Dr Gustav Thaiss for permission to publish
the quotation from his Ph.D. thesis on p. 237 and to Longman for
permission to publish the quotation from Jafri, Origins and Early
Development of Shi'a Islam, on pp. 312. I am also grateful to the
following for permission to use various photographs: Peter Carapetian,
fig, 61; The MacQuitty International Photographic Collection, figs.
11, 27, 32, 38, 52, 68; the Middle East Centre, St. Antony's College,
Oxford, figs. 3, 9, 10, 14; Dr Javad Nurbakhsh, fig. 36. Photographs
were also kindly supplied by the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of
Iran, London; Islamic Republic News Agency, London; the Iraqi Cultural
Centre, London; N. Askew and several other individuals. I must also
thank May Ballerio, Mark Hofman and Russ Busey for their careful work
and useful suggestions, and Dr Wendi Momen for the Index.


'Abbasid ('Abbasi)--descendant of al-'Abbas, uncle of the Prophet
  Muhammad. This family seized the Caliphate in 132/750
akhbar (sing. khabar)--Traditions, sayings attributed to Muhammad and
to the Imams. They are composed of two parts: the names of the
transmitters of the Tradition (isnad) and the text of the Tradition
(matn). In this book where the word 'Tradition' with a capital 'T' 
occurs, a khabar or hadith is meant
akhund--appears to have been originally used to designate high-ranking
  members of the ulama but is now used as an equivalent to mulla to   
  denote any member of the ulama and is often used slightly   
Al-family of. Not to be confused with the Arabic definite article al
  'Alid ('Alawi)--a descendant of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and
  son-in-law of the Prophet and the First Imam of the Shi'is
'Allama--very learned member of the ulama; learned in every branch of
  the Islamic sciences
Amir--commander, chief, leader
Ansar (lit. the helpers)--the Medinan followers of Muhammad
Aqa (lit. lord or master)--used to designate persons in positions of
  power and authority. In modern Persian when prefixed to a name is
  the equivalent of 'Mr'
Ayatu'llah (lit. sign of God)--modern description of mujtahid (see
Bab (pl. abwab, lit. gate)--one of the designations of the four
  representatives of the Hidden Imam
Caliph (Khalifa, pl. khulafa, lit. successor)--title given to those
who held power over the Islamic Empire after Muhammad
faqih (fuqaha-)--an expert in fiqh (see below); used in the Shi'i
  world as equivalent of mujtahid
fiqh--religious jurisprudence, elucidation and application of the
furu' (lit. branches)--subsidiary principles (applied to religious
  law, as opposed to usul), see pp. 175-6
ghayba--occultation or concealment
ghulat (sing. ghalin)--followers of ghuluww, see below
ghuluww, ghaliyya--extremism, holding doctrines that are so heretical


  to put those holding them outside the pale of Islam, see pp. 45,
hadith--as for akhbar
Ha'iri--related to the ha'ir, the sacred enclosure around the Shrine
  of Husayn at Karbala; designation of ulama from Karbala
hajj--the pilgrimage to Mecca undertaken according to the prescribed
  ritual during the month of Dhu'l-Hijja. Hajji or al-Hajj--one who
  has performed the Hajj
Hasanid (Hasani)--descendant of the Imam Hasan
hashiyya--gloss or marginal notes on a book. e. g. Hashiyya al-Kifya
  is a gloss on Akhund Khurasani's Kifyat al-Usul
Hikma (Hikmat-i Ilahi)--Divine Wisdom or Philosophy, Theosophy, see
  pp. 216-19
Husaynid (Husayni)--descendant of the Imam Husayn
ibn--son of
ijaza (lit. permission)--certificate permitting a pupil to transmit
  his master's teaching or testifying to his ability to exercise
ijtihad (lit. exertion)--the process of arriving at judgments on points
of religious law using reason and the principles of jurisprudence (usul
Imam (Imam) (lit. the one who stands in front)--principal meaning for
  Twelver Shi'is is as designation of one of the twelve legitimate
  successors of the Prophet Muhammad. Also used to designate a
  religious leader of the community
Imam-Jum'a--leader at the Friday communal prayer (usually, in Iran,
  the government appoints one main Imam-Jum'a in each city, often a
  hereditary position)
'irfan--gnosis, mystic knowledge
jihad--holy war undertaken to expand the boundaries of Islam or to
  defend it against an attacker
kalam--speculative theology
khums (lit. one-fifth)--religious tax originally paid to the Prophet
  and, by Shi'is, to the Imam from certain categories of goods and
  income. Now paid to the believer's marja' at-taqlid in his capacity
  as na'ib al-Imam
madrasa (Persian madrasih)--religious college (where the Islamic
  sciences are taught)
Mar'ashi--descendant of Abu'l-Hasan 'Ali al-Mar'ashi, a fifth-generation
descendant of the Fourth Imam, Zaynu'l-'Abidin
marja' at-taqlid (plur. maraji'at-taqlid, Persian marja'-i taqlid,
  lit. reference point for emulation)--one who through his learning
  and probity is qualified to be followed in all points of religious
  practice and law by the generality of Shi'is

mawla (plur. mawali)--(1) lord or master; (2) client of one of the
  Arab tribes (in early Islam all converts had to become clients of
  one of the Arab tribes, a socially-inferior position)
Mir (contraction of Amir)--usually means the same as Sayyid, i.e. a
  descendant of Muhammad, but can also be used as equivalent of   
Mirza--(contraction of Amirzada)--originally meant prince, later
  usually indicates an educated man if placed before a name and prince
  if placed after
Muhajirun (lit. emigrants)--those who left Mecca and migrated to
  Medina during the lifetime of the Prophet. Later used to designate  
  those who migrated to the borders of the Islamic Empire in order to 
  participate in jihad
Muhaqqiq--one who conducts research or investigation of religious
mujtahid--one who has studied sufficiently and achieved the level of
  competence necessary to obtain permission (ijaza) to practise
mulla (mulla-, derived from mawla)--usual Persian term for one of the
Musawi (Persian Musavi)--descendant of the Imam Musa al-Kazim
Mu'tazili--adherent of a school of theology (Mu'tazila) that
  emphasised certain key issues: the unity and justice of God, the
  createdness of the Qur'an and the free will of man. It evolved into
  a theology on the basis of rationality
Na'ib--deputy, representative; Na'ib al-Imam (Persian Na'ib-i Imam) - 
  representative of the Imam; Na'ib al-Khass--special or specific   
  representative (of the Hidden Imam); Na'ib al-Amm--general   
  representative (of the Hidden Imam)
nass--specific designation, usually used in relation to the
  designation of 'Ali by Muhammad or of one Imam by his predecessor
qadi -Judge
Radawi--descendant of the Imam 'Ali ar-Rida
rasul (plur. rusul)--apostle or messenger of God (not to be confused
  with the Christian use of the word apostle to denote one of the
  disciples of Christ)
rawda (Persian rawdih, rawdih-khani)--gathering for the recital of the
  sufferings of the Imams; rawdih-khan--reciter of the rawda rijal--
  the study of the biographies of the ulama and the transmitters of
  the hadith
Sahib--used in conjunction with a name of a book to mean 'author of'.
  In this form it is a frequent way of referring to ulama who have
  written important works; thus, for example, Shaykh Muhammad Hasa


an-Najafi (see p. 318) is often referred to as Sahib al-Jawahir, the
  author of the Jawahir (al-Kalam)
Sayyid-in Shi'i areas this is the designation of descendants of the
  Prophet Muhammad, but in the Arab world in general it is now also
  used as an equivalent of 'Mr'. Descendants of the Prophet are
  entitled to wear green turbans, but ulama who are Sayyids usually
  wear black turbans, a practice that is said to have derived from the
Shar', Shari'a--the religious law
sharh (lit. explanation)--commentary or interpretation of another work
shaykh (lit. an elder)--designation sometimes used for leading ulama.
  In the Arab world in general it is more commonly used for tribal
  leaders Shaykh al-Islam--official title given, in Iran, to a member
  of the ulama appointed to preside over the Shari'a court ih each
  major town sura (Persian surih)--chapter of the Qur'an
Tabataba'i--descendant of Ibrahim at-Tabataba, a fourth-generation
  descendant of the Second Imam, Hasan
tafsir--commentary or exegesis of whole or part of the Qur'an
taqiyya--dissimulation about one's religious beliefs in order to
  protect one's self, family or property from harm, see p. 183
taqlid--emulation, imitation or following; denotes the following of 
the dictates of a mujtahid
tullab (sing. talib)--religious student at a madrasa
ulama ('ulama, lit. learned persons)--the religious class. The
  singular of this word, 'alim, can be used of a person learned in any
  branch of knowledge but the plural is restricted to the religiously
usul--principles; usul ad-din principal elements of religion (as
  distinct from furu', see p. 175); usul al-fiqh--principles of
  jurisprudence -principles used for arriving at a judgement in fiqh
vazir (Arabic wazir)--minister (to a king or governor)
vilayat-i faqih (Arabic wilayat al-faqih)--the concept that government
  belongs by right to those who are learned in jurisprudence
wali--(1) guardian, helper or defender, a title used of the Imams; (2)
  saint --a title often used of eminent Sufis
wilaya (Persian vilayat)--a term which can indicate temporal
  government or power (as in vilayat-i faqih) and also spiritual
  guidance and sanctity
zakat--a religious tax payable by believers on certain categories of
  property and wealth and intended to assist the poor and needy,
  travellers and debtors. It is considered that the zakat 'purifies'
  the remaining property and wealth of the one who pays it. It is
  usually paid to the marja' at-taqlid

Chapter 1


         An Outline of the Life of Muhammad and the
                     Early History of Islam

This chapter is intended to set the background for the emergence of
Shi'i Islam. It will consist mostly of a survey of the life of
Muhammad and a brief outline of the early history of Islam as well as
some of the fundamental elements of the teachings contained in the
Qur'an. The outline presented in this introductory chapter is intended
to be a presentation of what is held in common by both Shi'is and
Sunnis. The specifically Shi'i aspects of the history and teachings
will be presented in subsequent chapters.
  The emergence of Muhammad and the religion of Islam must be seen
against the background of the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century
AD. Whether nomads or settled in towns, the people of Arabia were
divided into tribes and the individual's loyalty was first and
foremost to the tribe or the clan within the tribe to which he
belonged. Honour marriage, social status and friendship were all
determined by one's tribe and one's position in the tribe. These
tribes were frequently at war with one another and feuds could go on
for generations with tribal honour demanding that blood revenge or
blood money should be obtained for each death caused by the conflict.
Bearing arms and fighting for one's tribe were the greatest marks of
honour for men. If one did not belong to a powerful tribe, then it was
necessary to obtain the protection of a powerful tribe, otherwise
one's life was at risk. Sometimes one tribe would ally itself with
another against its enemies.
  The majority of the inhabitants of the peninsula were engaged in
pastoral or agricultural pursuits, either as nomads or settled in one
of a small number of towns. The other important economic factor was
the presence of a trade route along the western side of the peninsula
linking India with Syria and Byzantium.
  Most of the tribes had a primitive form of worship and prayed to
deities in the form of idols made of stone and wood. Both Christianity
and Judaism had, however, made some inroads in the peninsula and a


number of Jewish tribes existed.
  Among the Arab tribes there were certain places that were regarded
as shrines and each had a sanctuary around it. Within the sanctuary,
usually at a particular time of the year, the tribes would gather and
put aside their feuding for a time while they celebrated a festival
related to that shrine. These festivals were important occasions for
trade, cultural activities such as poetry reading and for the
settlement of disputes and feuds. The custodians of these shrines thus
became prominent persons and were frequently used to settle blood
feuds by acting as arbitrators.
  One such shrine in Arabia was the Ka'ba in Mecca. The Ka'ba became
the repository for the idols of many of the tribes and a yearly
festival was held at 'Ukaz nearby. Muhammad himself came from the
family of the custodians of the Ka'ba. His ancestor, Qusayy, was said
to have seized the Ka'ba from its previous custodians and established
his tribe, Quraysh, as the most important tribal group in Mecca and
his family as the most important family among Quraysh. In his family
was vested the custodianship of the Ka'ba together with the
responsibility for providing with food and water the pilgrims who came
to the shrines.
  The sons and grandsons of Qusayy extended and increased the
influence of their family and of Mecca. They instituted two great
trade journeys, one in the winter to the Yemen in the south to trade
with the ships coming from India on the Monsoon winds and one in the
summer to the north to trade in Syria with the Byzantines. In order to
do this, they had to establish a number of treaties and alliances with
other tribes through whose territory they needed to pass. This process
greatly increased the importance of Mecca as the focal point of the
trade route.
  By the time of Muhammad's birth, Mecca was a very important centre
and the power of the Quraysh tribe paramount. Muhammad's own family
line, although retaining some of its ancestral privileges, had,
however, lost much of its power and influence to other clans within
Quraysh such as the Umayya and Makhzum families.
  Muhammad was born in AD 570 in Mecca. His father died a few months
before Muhammad was born and his mother died when he was six. He was
placed under the care of his grandfather and two years later, when
this grandfather died, Muhammad entered the household of his uncle Abu
Talib, the father of 'Ali and the head of the Banu Hashim family. Thus
'Ali was not only a cousin but also virtually a foster-brother of
Muhammad (although there was a considerable age difference between the
  As Muhammad grew up, he became known for his honesty and
reflective nature. He assisted his uncle in his trading ventures, but
the family was not a rich one and its fortunes were in decline. Later
a rich widow, Khadija, engaged Muhammad to manage her trading


When he was twenty-five, Muhammad married Khadija, who was
fifteen years his senior, and while she lived he took no other wives.
They had eight children, but only four daughters grew to adulthood.
Also in Muhammad's household lived his cousin, 'Ali, and his adopted
son, a freed slave named Zayd.
  It was when Muhammad was aged forty (i.e. in AD 610) that the first
revelation came to him. Muhammad himself has related that, one day,
while he was meditating on Mount Hira, near Mecca, as was his custom,
the Angel Gabriel appeared to him and instructed him three times to
read. Then the Sura of al-'Alaq was revealed: 'Recite in the name of
thy Lord who created man of congealed blood . . .'
  Muhammad fled in terror at this revelation, but his wife Khadija
comforted him and became the first believer.[1] His cousin 'Ali who
was only nine or ten years old at the time became the second to
believe and Zayd, the other member of his household, was next. That
from outside Muhammad's household to believe was Abu Bakr. A number of
others also gathered around Muhammad at this time although the details
of how these earliest of his followers became believers are not, for
the most part, available.
  Then after about four years came the moment when Muhammad made a
public announcement of his mission. Once at a gathering of his own
clan of the Hashim family alid once at a general meeting of Meccans on
Mount Safa, Muhammad proclaimed his mission and called on the people
to abandon idolatry and to worship the one true God. This public
announcement aroused the fiercest opposition from the Meccan notables,
for any abandonment of idol-worship threatened the position of the
Ka'ba as the foremost centre of idol-worship in Arabia which in turn
meant the destruction of Mecca as a commercial centre. Muhammad's
followers at this stage were mostly young men of no influence in the
community. Some were members of powerful clans but could exert no
influence because of their youth. Others were slaves. All of the
Meccan nobility combined against the new Prophet and only the
protection of Abu Talib (who stood by his nephew on account of kinship
and not because he was a believer) saved Muhammad from death while
several of his followers endured the cruellest tortures and many faced
abuse and insults.
  At this earliest stage, Muhammad appears to have taught a very
simple religious doctrine: that there is only one God who has sent
Muhammad as His messenger to mankind; that idol-worship is prohibited
as are various other practices such as the burying alive of baby
daughters; and that man must purify his thoughts and actions in
preparation for the Day of Judgement.
  So harsh did the persecution become that ordered a


group of his followers to migrate to Ethiopia and seek there the
protection of its Christian king. The Quraysh leaders even sent
emissaries to Ethiopia to try to persuade the king to return the
refugees but the king refused.
  The following year, a deputation of leading members of Quraysh from
the Umayya and Makhzum families called on Abu Ta-lib asking him to
restrain his nephew or alternatively to withdraw his protection but
Abu Talib refused. The Quraysh imposed a boycott on the members of the
Hashim and the related Muttalib families who supported Muhammad,
although the majority of them were not Muslims. The boycott lasted
three years but eventually it collapsed, mainly because it was not
achieving its purpose and Muhammad was continuing to preach his
  Although the boycott ended in 619, two events in that year caused
Muhammad great sorrow and plunged him into great danger. The first was
the death of Khadija who had been his main support and the second was
the death of Abu Talib, his uncle and protector. Leadership in the
house of Hashim now passed to Abu Lahab who was another uncle of
Muhammad but his inveterate enemy. Abu Lahab soon found a pretext for
withdrawing clan protection from Muhammad and this placed the latter
in great peril for he could now be killed with impunity (withdrawal of
clan protection meant that blood revenge or blood money would not be
exacted) and such a person could not expect to survive long. It was
now a priority for Muhammad to find a protector. He travelled to the
nearby town of Ta'if to seek the protection of the leading clan there
but he was ridiculed and rejected. Finally Muhammad was forced to
accept the protection of the chief of the Banu Nawfal and
suffered the humiliation of returning to Mecca under the protection of
a tribe that was not his own and a chief who was an idolator.
  It was just at this time when matters seemed at their bleakest for
the Prophet that an event occurred that was to be the key to his
eventual triumph. In 620, at the yearly pilgrimage season, Muhammad
met some six or seven men from the tribe of Khazraj of the town of
Yathrib and converted them to his teachings. The following year, five
of them returned and together with another seven received instruction
from Muhammad at secret meetings at a pass called 'Aqaba near Mecca.
They pledged that they would refrain from idolatry, murder of their
off-spring, adultery, theft and calumny and would obey the Prophet.
Their pledge did not, however, include a promise to take up arms on
behalf of the Prophet. When it was time for them to return to Yathrib,
Muhammad sent one of his Meccan disciples with them.
  In Yathrib Muhammad's message achieved some measure of success so
that the following year, AD 622, 72 men and 3 women came to Mecca


to pledge their allegiance to Muhammad. Since these represented
prominent members of both Aws and Khazraj, the two major rival tribes
of Yathrib, and they now promised to protect Muhammad with arms if
necessary, Muhammad decided to move to Yathrib. First of all he
instructed his followers to leave for Yathrib until the time came when
only Muhammad, 'Ali, Zayd and Abu Bakr were left in Mecca. The Meccan
leaders were alarmed at the departure of the Muslims, both frightened
at the thought of what Muhammad might do next and dismayed at the
disregard shown by the Muslims for the ties of kinship. Some forty of
the Meccan notables gathered in the council chamber of the town and
decided that Muhammad must be killed. That night, however, Muhammad
slipped away from the town with Abu Bakr and hid in a nearby cave.
'Ali slept that night in the Prophet's bed in order to fool the
assassins who were keeping watch. In the morning, the attackers were
furious when they discovered that their prey had evaded them and for a
time, 'Ali's life was in danger. Despite a thorough search for him and
the placing of a reward upon his head, Muhammad slipped through the
net of the Meccans and reached Yathrib, which was henceforward called
Madinat an-Nabi, the City of the Prophet, or just Medina for short.
This move of the Prophet from Mecca to Medina signalled the turnabout
in his fortunes. That year, AD 622, the year of the Hijra (Hegira) or
Emigration, is the starting point of the Islamic calendar.
  When Muhammad first arrived in Medina, his followers were still a
minority among the inhabitants but Muhammad himself had been invited
there as an arbitrator between the feuding tribes of Aws and Khazraj
and therefore his personal prestige was high. His role in the first
few years of his presence in Medina was mainly a political one. He was
a builder of bridges between the rival factions in the town. In the
first year he set up a confederation of all the groups who lived in
Medina. This alliance involved a commitment to fight together against
outside enemies, not to make a separate peace with the enemy and not
to give refuge to anyone who had committed a crime or an act of
aggression or had stirred up dissension. The treaty of alliance made
the city of Medina a sanctuary and Muhammad the arbitrator in any
disagreements. The Jewish tribes of Medina were included in the
alliance with full rights. In order to strengthen ties between his own
followers, Muhammad caused each of those who had come with him from
Mecca, the Muhajirun (the emigrants), to adopt one of his followers in
Medina, the Ansar (the helpers), as blood-brothers.
  The next few years saw Muhammad engaged in two conflicts, an
external conflict with the Meccans and an internal conflict with his
opponents within Medina. Inside Medina, there was a faction who in
Muslim histories are called the Munafiqun (the dissemblers) who had


entered the Medinan confederation but only reluctantly and were now
working to destroy it and to bring Muhammad's power and influence to
an end. Their leader was 'Abdu'llah ibn Ubayy who had had great
influence in Medina prior to Muhammad's arrival. The Jews of Medina,
who had at first welcomed the arrival of a prophet who taught
monotheism, later began to resent the growth of his power and also the
trading losses that they were incurring due to Meccan enmity. They
were reluctant when asked to contribute to the public purse and urged
others not to do so either for they saw no obligation on their part to
participate in Muhammad's conflict with the Meccans. It has been
suggested that due to the increasing hostility of the Jews, some
sixteen months after his arrival in Medina, Muhammad changed the
direction in which prayer was to be said from Jerusalem to the Ka'ba
in Mecca.
  The war with the Meccans began as a series of skirmishes and raids
upon their caravans. The first real battle was at Badr in 623. The
Meccans came out in force to protect a caravan of theirs led by Abu
Sufyan of the Umayya family. Although the caravan reached Mecca
safely, the Meccans pressed forward aggressively. At Badr, the forces
of the Prophet defeated them decisively and many of the leading men of
Mecca were killed on that day.
  In AD 625, after further raids and hostilities, a Meccan army
marched on Medina. Muhammad's forces advanced to Mount Uhud where they
awaited the Meccans. A measure of the strength of the Munafiqun in
Medina may be made from the fact that, at this critical juncture
'Abdu'llah ibn Ubayy deserted the Medinan army and almost one-third of
the army went with him back to Medina. At first the Battle of Uhud
went well for the Medinans and the Meccans were on the point of defeat
when a portion of the Medinan army broke ranks in search of booty and
this exposed their flank. The flow of the battle was reversed and the
Medinans were forced to retreat although the victors themselves had
been so badly mauled that they were unable to press home their
advantage and withdrew.
  Muhammad's prestige was now at a low ebb; the Munafiqun were
jubilant and openly encouraged the Jews to revolt. One tribe of Jews
had already provoked Muhammad into expelling it from Medina prior to
the Battle of Uhud and now another tribe were encouraged to resist the
order to leave and barricaded themselves into their quarter of the
town. Eventually, the Munafiqun having failed to come to their aid,
this Jewish tribe was forced to capitulate and also left Medina. The
Muhajirun were given their houses.
 In AD 627 there occurred the final effort of the Meccans to break the
growing power of Muhammad. Allying themselves to the Jewish tribes
that had been expelled from Medina and to several other tribes, an


of 10,000 was put into the field. Muhammad could only muster 3,000 men
and, because of the activities of the Munafiqun, he could not even be
sure of all of these. On the advice of Salman, a Persian convert,
however, Muhammad caused a trench to be dug around the town. This
novel form of defence discomfited the attackers and after an
inconclusive siege they withdrew. During the siege, the last major
tribe of Jews left in Medina broke ranks and began negotiations with
the Meccans, exposing one of the flanks of the town. After the siege
was over, Muhammad turned his attention to this treacherous tribe.
They eventually agreed to surrender themselves and Muhammad set as
judge over them the chief of one of the clans of the Aws tribe. They
were expecting to receive leniency from that quarter because in former
days they had been allies of Aws. But the stem chief of the Aws
decreed the death of all male members of the tribe. Their women and
children were sold into slavery.
  Over the next few years, a series of raids and skirmishes increased
Muhammad's prestige among the nomadic tribes of the area. Then in AH 6
(AD 628) Muhammad decided to set out for Mecca on pilgrimage. He
departed from Medina during one of the months set aside for
pilgrimages and each of his companions was armed only with a sword. At
Hudaybiyya the path of the pilgrims was blocked by the Meccans, who
were wary of allowing Muhammad into their town although this was the
traditional month of truce and pilgrimage. Eventually, after
negotiations, a ten-year truce was agreed under which Muhammad would
leave the area but would return the following year and perform the
  Later in the same year, Muhammad launched an attack on a large
settlement of Jews at Khaybar who had been active in opposing him and
were even trying to set up an alliance to attack Medina. The fortified
settlements at this oasis were taken one after another. During that
year a number of other expeditions consolidated Muhammad's position.
In February 629, seven years after the emigration, Muhammad returned
to Mecca in fulfilment of the previous year's treaty. Most of the
Meccans left town, but a few such as his uncle, al-'Abbas, who until
this time had been sitting on the fence neither supporting nor
opposing his nephew, now extended to him a warm welcome.
  An expedition sent by Muhammad to the hr north faced disaster when
it came across a vastly superior Byzantine army. It was saved from
total annihilation by the skilful leadership of Khalid ibn Walid who
in later years was to lead the Muslim armies to important victories.  
In late 629, the truce agreed at Hudaybiyya was broken through an
attack by some of the allies of the Meccans upon some of the allies of
the Medinans in Mecca. The Meccans came to the assistance of their
allies and so Muhammad decided to raise an army and put an end to the


Meccan threat. It was in early 630 that Muhammad arrived before Mecca
with a large army. The Meccans had been unable to raise a significant
force. The chief of the Umayya family came to proffer Muhammad his
allegiance and the rest of the Meccans soon submitted, although a
handful did fight to the bitter end. Muhammad thus entered Mecca in
triumph only eight years after fleeing it in danger of his life. His
first act was to enter the Ka'ba with 'Ali and destroy the idols
therein (see Fig. 1). Shortly afterwards, at Hunayn, Muhammad defeated
two tribes who had united against him.
  The following year, the ninth year of the Hegira, is known as the
'Year of Delegations' for it was in that year that deputations came
from all over Arabia tendering their submission to Muhammad. From
Yemen in the south and Bahrain in the cast they came. It must have
been especially pleasing to Muhammad to see the submission of the town
of Ta'if that had rejected him so contemptuously years before. To each
of these places Muhammad sent one of his close disciples to teach them
Islam. Even the Christian tribes of the north came to acknowledge
Muhammad's suzerainty and to pay the poll-tax which Islam decreed for
non-Muslim subjects.
  That year Muhammad decided not to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca
but entrusted to 'Ali the task of warning those who were still
polytheists that they would 110 longer be allowed access to the Ka'ba.
The following year Muhammad performed what came to be known as the
'Farewell Pilgrimage' to Mecca. This pilgrimage became the model for
all subsequent pilgrimages to Mecca.
  Shortly after his return to Medina, in the summer of 632, Muhammad
fell ill, and after a few weeks of ill-health he died.
  As we have already noted, during the Meccan phase of his ministry,
Muhammad taught a very simple religious ethic centred on the need to
put aside idol-worship and turn to the one true God. Later in Medina
these teachings were expanded. Three fundamental tenets remained at
the core of the religion:

1. Belief in one God and rejection of all idols;
2. Belief in Muhammad as the messenger of God
3. Belief in the Day of Judgement.  But to these were added a number
of obligatory ritual observances: 
1. Obligatory Prayer, five times a day;
2. Fasting for the month of Ramadan;
3. Paying of alms;
4. Pilgrimage to the Ka'ba;
5. Jihad, or Holy War against idolators.
  To these were added a number of laws regulating social transactions
such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc. as well as a moral and


code enjoining chastity, honesty, tolerance, forgiveness, etc. These
in brief were the teachings enshrined in the Qur'an and promulgated by
Muhammad. They were to become the foundations of the Islamic
  The major social achievement of Muhammad's ministry was the welding
together of a hundred or more disparate and feuding tribes into one
nation, a union that overrode the ties of kinship and the enmity of
blood-feuds. So united was this people that the might of neither
Byzantium nor Persia could stand before it. So powerful was the
impetus given to this nation by Islam that within one generation It
had conquered territory stretching from Tunisia to the borders of
India and within a few generations this backward and primitive people
became the centre of civilisation in the Western world and remained
thus for almost four hundred years.
  As to Muhammad's personal life, he led a simple existence. Although
by the end of his life he was a powerful and rich ruler, he contented
himself with plain clothing, simple food and austere surroundings. His
judgement was renowned both in dealing with his adversaries and in
settling disputes between individuals and clans. In his political
dealings he never used force where negotiations would suffice nor did
he initiate aggression but only moved against those who had already
demonstrated their hostile intentions. He was a gentle man, to whom
the sight of human suffering caused sorrow and pain and he would
grieve if ever his followers went beyond what was immediately
necessary in the process of fighting and killing. The few executions
that were carried out on his orders were of men who had continually
striven to undermine his position over a long period of time despite
many warnings or who had professed Islam and then betrayed their
fellow believers. To other enemies he was often magnanimous in victory
to such an extent that his own followers sometimes complained that he
treated his enemies better than he treated his followers.
  The fact that Muhammad took more than a dozen wives has at times
occasioned critical comment in the West. But a number of facts should
be realised in connection with this. Muhammad at first took only one
wife, Khadija, and he was happy with her and took no other wife until
she died after twenty-five years of marriage. Muhammad himself was
fifty years of age by this time. It should not be imagined that
Muhammad's later marriages were out of sexual desire. They were
contracted mostly for political or humanitarian reasons. These later
wives were either widows of followers of his who had been killed in
battle and had been left without a protector, or they belonged to
important families or clans whom it was necessary to honour in order
to strengthen alliances. Many were of advanced years and only one had
not been married previously--'A'isha, the daughter of his close
companion, Abu Bakr, whom the Prophet


wished to honour. Indeed, that his later marriages were not due to a
voluptuous nature is indicated by the fact that although his first
wife, Khadija, bore a total of eight children, only one more child was
born to Muhammad after Khadija's death.
  After the death of the Prophet, an ad hoc assembly of Muslims chose
Abu Bakr to be the leader of the Islamic community, the Khalifa
(Caliph). Abu Bakr's Caliphate only lasted two years (AD 632-4) during
which the most important event was the suppression of a revolt of many
Arab tribes who had apostasised from Islam immediately upon the
Prophet's death.
  Abu Bakr appointed as his successor 'Umar. During 'Umar's Caliphate
(AD 634-44) the Muslim armies achieved the most remarkable victories
against both the Persian and Byzantine Empires. The succession to
'Umar was decided by a council of six appointed by the Caliph. This
council made 'Uthman of the Umayya family Caliph. 'Uthman ruled for
twelve years (Al 644-56) but became very unpopular towards the end of
his life. He was assassinated in 656 and 'Ali was acclaimed Caliph.
But Mu'awiya of the Umayya family rose in revolt. 'Ali's assassination
in 661 paved the way for Mu'awiya to become Caliph.
  Mu'awiya moved the capital of the Islamic Empire to Damascus and
instituted the Umayyad dynasty. This dynasty held sway until AH 132/AD
750[*] with a total of fourteen rulers. They are generally considered
by many Muslim historians to have been corrupt, irreligious and
treacherous. Only 'Umar II (AD 717-20) is generally regarded in a
favourable light.
  The revolt of Abu Muslim in Khurasan overturned the Umayyad dynasty
and put into power the 'Abbasid Caliphs, who were descended from the
Prophet's uncle al-'Abbas (Spain remained in the hands of the
Umayyads, however). The 'Abbasids made Kufa in Iraq their capital, but
later in 763 they began the construction of a new capital, Baghdad.
The 'Abbasids wielded real power for about 150 years but thereafter
came increasingly under the control of their Turkish mercenaries and
then under the power of a succession of dynasties that controlled
Baghdad, the seat of the Caliphate.
  The Islamic lands were split up with different dynasties controlling
the various parts. For a brief period, one ruler might control a large
part of the Islamic lands but only with the rise of the Ottoman Empire
and the conquests of Selim the Grim in the early 16th century did most
of the Islamic lands (excluding Iran, India and Central Asia) come
under a lengthy period of stable unified rule. The Ottoman Empire was
broken up at the end of the First World War and the Ottoman Caliphate
terminated in 1924.
  * Henceforth dates will be given as Hijri dates first, followed by
Gregorian dates, thus: 132/750.

Chapter 2


       The Question of the Succession to Muhammad

The succession to Muhammad is clearly the key question in Shi'i Islam
and the principal factor separating Shi'is from the Sunni majority.
The question is not only who was the successor of Muhammad but also
the nature of the role of this successor, for it is on both these
points that Shi'is and Sunnis disagree.
  On the death of Muhammad, an ad hoc assemblage of a number of the
notables in Islam elected, by general consensus, Abu Bakr to be the
Caliph or successor to Muhammad. This was envisaged as being a
temporal appointment designed to continue the position of Muhammad as
the head of the city of Medina and of a confederacy of tribes, which
was the emerging Muslim state. A conspicuous absentee at this meeting
of election was 'Ali. the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law. There were
a number of persons who considered that in view of a number of
statements made by Muhammad in his lifetime, 'Ali should have occupied
the leading position--not only as temporal head (Caliph) but also as
spiritual head (Imam).
  In order to understand the personality of 'Ali and his position it
is necessary to return to the very beginning of Islamic history and
trace, firstly, 'Ali's part in it and, secondly, the close
relationship between the Prophet and 'Ali. Thirdly, it is also
necessary to examine those Traditions, many accepted by both Sunnis
and Shi'is, that are considered by Shi'is to mean that 'Ali was the
rightful successor of Muhammad.
  The Prophet was brought up in the house of Abu Talib, 'Ali's father
and thus Muhammad was very close to his young cousin from the time of
the latter's birth. Indeed, the two may be regarded as foster-
brothers, despite the difference in age between them.
  'Ali was only nine years old[1] when Muhammad first became aware of
his prophetic mission. After Khadija, the Prophet's wife, 'Ali was the
first person to acknowledge the Prophet's mission and become a
believer. After 'Ali's conversion Zayd became a Muslim and then Abu
Bakr and others.
  It was three years after the onset of Muhammad's mission that he 


decided to make a public announcement of it. The occasion he chose was
a gathering of his own clan. For Shi'is this meeting has a further
significance, for, according to both Sunni and Shi'i sources, at this
meeting Muhammad made a significant statement regarding 'Ali's
relationship to himself. The following is an account of that episode
according to the history of Tabari, who is regarded by both Sunnis and
Shi'is as one of the most reliable of the chroniclers of the life of
the Prophet. Tabari describes how, after the revelation of the
Qur'anic verse: 'Warn your closest relatives',[3] Muhammad prepared a
meal and invited some forty members of the clan of 'Abdu'l-Muttalib
(i.e. the Banu Hashim). After the meal Muhammad was about to address
the company when Abu Lahab made a jest and dispersed the gathering.
And so Muhammad invited them again the following evening to a meal.
The following is a description of what occurred after the meal in the
words of 'Ali as recorded by Tabari: 

  Then the Apostle of God addressed them saying: 'O family of 
  'Abdu'l-Muttalib, by God, I do not know of anyone among  the Arabs
  who has brought his people anything better than  what I have
  brought you. I have brought you the best of  this world and the
  next. God Almighty has ordered me to  call you to Him. And which
  of you will assist me in this  Cause and become my brother, my
  trustee and my successor  among you.' And they all held back from
  this while I ['Ali], although I was the youngest of them in age,
  the most diseased in eyesight, the most corpulent in body and
  thinnest in the legs, said: 'I, O Prophet of God, will be your
  helper in this matter. ' And he put his arm around my neck and
  said: 'This is my brother, my trustee and my successor among you,
  so listen to him and obey.' And so the people arose and they were
  joking, saying to Abu Talib ['Ali's father]: 'He has ordered you
  to listen to your son and obey him.'[4]
This passage is interpreted by Shi'is as indicating that from this
early stage in Muhammad's career and at a time when 'Ali was only
about thirteen years old, Muhammad had already picked 'Ali out as his
  Over the ensuing years 'Ali was constantly at Muhammad's side. When
the night came for the flight from Mecca to Medina, it was 'Ali who
took on the dangerous task of sleeping in the Prophet's bed and thus
fooling the assassins that had been sent to murder the Prophet. After
Muhammad's successful escape, 'Ali remained in Mecca long enough to
settle the Prophet's debts and then together with some of the Muslim
women he too slipped away to Medina.
  A short while after the arrival of the exiles in Medina another
significant event occurred. Muhammad decreed that each Muslim should
become the brother of another Muslim. Thus Abu Bakr and 'Umar became
brothers, as did Talha and Zubayr, and 'Uthman and 'Abdu'r-Rahman ibn
Awf. All authorities, whether Sunni or Shi'i, are agreed that Muhammad
singled out 'Ali to be his own brother. The


following is the account as given in the Sahih of at-Tirmidhi, a
collection of Traditions accepted as authoritative by the Sunnis:

The Apostle of God made brothers between his companions, and 'Ali came
to him with tears in his eyes crying: 'O Apostle of God! You have made
brethren among your companions but you have not made anyone my
brother.' And the Apostle of God said to him: 'You are my brother in
this world and the next.'[5]

During the Medinan period 'Ali acted as Muhammad's secretary and
deputy. Whenever there were important documents to be written, such as
the treaty of Hudaybiyya, it was 'Ali who wrote them. The Prophet's
daughter, Fatima, was given in marriage to 'Ali and the children of
this marriage, Hasan and Husayn, were the only grandchildren of the
Prophet to survive into adult life.
  'Ali was one of the most courageous and able men in the Muslim army.
He was appointed the standard-bearer at the battles of both Badr and
Khaybar. At Khaybar (AH 7) the following Tradition is related by
several Sunni and Shi'i histories. This is the version found in a
Sunni collection of Traditions, the Sahih of Muslim:

  The Apostle of God said on the day of Khaybar: 'I shall  certainly
  give this banner to a man who loves God and his Apostle and
  through whom God will give victory.' 'Umar ibn al-Khattab said: 'I
  never wished for leadership except on that day.' And he also said:
  'And so I leapt up towards it hoping to claim it as a right.' And
  the Apostle of God summoned 'Ali, the son of Abu Talib, and gave
  it to him and said: 'Go! And do not turn aside until God gives you

  When the Prophet left to go on his longest expedition, to Tabuk,
'Ali was left in charge at Medina. According to some accounts, 'Ali
felt insulted to be left with the women and children while, according
to others, rumours were spread that 'Ali had been left behind because
it was feared he would bring misfortune to the expedition. In any
case, 'Ali went to the Prophet voicing his discontent at being left
behind. It was at this time, according to numerous Sunni and Shi'i
Traditionists, that the famous Hadith of Manzilat Harun (position of
Aaron) was revealed. According to this Tradition, Muhammad said to
'Ali: 'Are you not content to be with respect to me as Aaron was to
Moses, except that after me there shall be no other Prophet.'[7] The
implication was that 'Ali was to be Muhammad's chief assistant in his
lifetime and his successor after him.
  An episode that has been given great prominence in Shi'i works is
called the episode of the Mubahala. The usual Shi'i accounts of this
episode are as follows: Muhammad in the ninth year of the Hegira sent
out a series of letters to nearby rulers, summoning them to accept
Islam. At Najran, which was a Christian town on the route between
Medina and the Yemen, the leaders assembled to decide what they should


After some discussion it was pointed out that  Jesus had prophesied
the Paraclete or Comforter, whose son would conquer the Earth.
However, it was felt this could not refer to Muhammad who had no son.
Then a great book called al-Jami' was consulted which contained the
writings and traditions of all the prophets. In this book reference
was found to how Adam had seen a vision of one brilliant light
surrounded by four other lights and was told by God that these were
five of his descendants. Similar things were found in the writings of
Abraham, Moses and Jesus. And so it was decided to send a deputation
of their learned men to Medina to ascertain the truth. At Medina,
after a great debate, it was decided to engage in Mubahala (mutual
cursing), referring the matter to God and calling down God's curse on
whomever was the liar. It was at this time that the verse of Mubahala
(Qur'an 3:61) was revealed. The contest was set for the next day and
all the people of Medina came out to witness it. Muhammad came out
with only 'Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husayn and they stood under a cloak.
The Christians asked Muhammad why he had not brought the leaders of
his religion and Muhammad replied that God had commanded this. Then
the Christians remembered what they had read in al-Jami' and became
convinced that Muhammad was the figure prophesied by Jesus. The
Christians withdrew from the contest and agreed to pay tribute. From
this episode, Muhammad, 'Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husayn became known as
Ahl al-Kisa (the people of the cloak).
  When the Qur'anic Sura of Bara'a was revealed towards the end of the
year AH 9 and Abu Bakr was sent to read it to the people of Mecca,
Muhammad sent 'Ali out after him and caused him to return. Then the
Sura was given to 'Ali to take to Mecca to read. When questioned
regarding this, the Prophet is reported, in both Sunni and Shi'i
sources, to have said: 'Gabriel came to me and said: "Do not let it
[the reading of the Sural be performed by anyone other than yourself
or someone from you [i. e. your family] on your behalf."'[8]
  'Ali's many personal qualities are amply attested to in various
histories and collections of Traditions. Among the statements
regarding 'Ali and his family made by the Prophet and accepted as
authentic by both Sunnis and Shi'is are the following: 

 1. There is no youth braver than 'Ali.[9]
 2. No-one but a believer loves 'Ali and no-one but a hypocrite
    (munafiq) hates 'Ali.[10]
 3. I am from 'Ali and 'Ali is from me.[11]
 4. The truth circulates with him ('Ali) wherever he goes.[12]
 5. I am the City of Knowledge and 'Ali is its Gate (Bab).[13]
 6. On one occasion the Prophet was about to eat some poultry and he
    said: 'O God! Send me the man you love most among mankind to eat


    bird with me. ' And 'Ali came and ate with him.[14]
 7. The Prophet said in reply to someone who had complained about    
'Ali: 'What do you think of one who loves God and his Prophet and who
in turn is loved by God and his Prophet?' Also: 'The most loved of
women to the Prophet of God is Fatima and the most loved of mell is
 8. On one occasion, the Prophet called 'Ali and began whispering to
him. After a time those present began saying: 'He has been a long time
whispering to his cousin.' Later, the Prophet said: 'It was not I that
was whispering to him but God.'[16]
 9. The Prophet took the hand of Hasan and Husayn and said: 'Whoever
loves me and loves these two and loves their mother and father, will
be with me in my station on the Day of Resurrection.'[17]
10. The Prophet said: 'Hasan and Husayn are the chiefs of the youths
of paradise.'[18]
  It was during the last year of the Prophet's life that, according to
Shi'is, he confirmed 'Ali's position as his successor. The occasion
was the Farewell Pilgrimage when the Prophet performed the pilgrimage
to Mecca for the last time. Having completed the rites of the
Pilgrimage, the Prophet set out on the return journey to Medina,
accompanied by a large concourse of the Muslims, including all of his
leading disciples. At a place called Ghadir Khumm, Muhammad caused the
caravan to be stopped and from an improvised pulpit delivered an
address. Once again, the principal Sunni and Shi'i sources show no
disagreement over the facts of the episode. The following is the
account given in Ibn Hanbal, a Sunni collection of Hadith:

  We were with the Apostle of God in his journey and we stopped at
  Ghadir Khumm. We performed the obligatory prayer together and a
  place was swept for the Apostle under two trees and he performed
  the mid-day prayer. And then he took 'Ali by the hand and said to
  the people: 'Do you not acknowledge that I have a greater claim on
  each of the believers than they have on themselves?' And they
  replied: 'Yes!' And he took 'Ali's hand and said: 'Of whomsoever I
  am Lord [Mawla], then 'Ali is also his Lord. O God! Be Thou the
  supporter of whoever supports 'Ali and the enemy of whoever
  opposes him.' And 'Umar met him ['Ali] after this and said to him:
  'Congratulations, O son of Abu Talib! Now morning and evening
  [i.e. forever] you are the master of every believing man and

  Finally there is the highly controversial episode in the last days
of Muhammad's life which is usually called the Episode of Pen and
Paper. Muhammad, while in his terminal illness and only days before
his death called for pen and paper. The following is the account
related by al-Bukhari, the Sunni Traditionist, on the authority of Ibn

  When the Prophet's illness became serious, he said: 'Bring me
writing materials


  that I may write for you something, after which you will not be led
into error.' 'Umar said: 'The illness has overwhelmed the Prophet. We
have the Book  God and that is enough for us.' Then the people
differed about this and spoke many words. And he [the Prophet] said:
'Leave me! There ought not to be quarrelling in my presence.' And Ibn
'Abbas went out saying: 'The greatest of all calamities is what
intervened between the Apostle and his writing.'[20]

  Shi'is claim that what Muhammad wished to write down was the
confirmation of 'Ali's successorship. Sunnis have advanced various
alternative explanations. Shi'is also claim that the Prophet died with
his head in 'Ali's lap. Some Sunni Traditions support this while
others state that the Prophet's head was on the lap of his wife,
  To 'Ali was given a number of privileges not accorded to the other
companions of the Prophet. Apart from the fact that the Prophet's
daughter was given to 'Ali in marriage, when many others including Abu
Bakr and 'Umar had been suitors, 'Ali was the only man allowed to come
and go as he pleased in the Prophet's house. At one stage the Prophet
ordered all the doors of the various houses opening onto the Mosque of
the Prophet in Medina to be blocked off, except for the doors from his
own house and from that of 'Ali.[21]
  There are also a number of other statements which both Sunni and
Shi'i sources agree were made by Muhammad and to which Shi'is point as
evidence of the position of 'Ali and his family and the fact that 'Ali
was Muhammad's successor:
 1. Hadith of the Two Weighty Matters (ath-Thaqalayn)
This is a very widely reported statement of Muhammad. The following is
the version in the Sunni collection of Hadith by Ibn Hanbal: 'The
Apostle of God said: "I have left among you two weighty matters which
if you cling to them you shall not be led into error after me. One of
them is greater than the other: The Book of God which is a rope
stretched from Heaven to Earth and my progeny, the people of my house.
These two shall not be parted until they return to the pool [of
  This Hadith, which is repeated in many slightly variant forms, is
reported by some Traditionists to have been uttered by Muhammad on the
road between Mecca and Medina. There has been some disagreement as to
exactly who is meant by the phrase 'the people of my house' (Ahl al-
Bayt). Some Sunni sources state that Muhammad's wives should be
included. But Shi'i writers point to several Traditions that can be
found in Sunni as well as Shi'i sources that confine the meaning of
this phrase to 'Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husayn. For example, when the
verse of al-Mubahala was revealed (see above), several Sunni sources
record that the Prophet then defined the people of his house as being
the four persons under his cloak.[23] Similarly, when the verse of
purification (Qur'an 33:33, see p. 155) was revealed, according to the


Traditionist, at-Tirmidhi, its meaning was confined to these four
 2. The hadith of the Safina (Noah's Ark) Once again many Sunni
sources have reported this Tradition in various forms: 'My family
among you are like Noah's Ark. He who sails on it will be safe, but he
who holds back from it will perish.'[25]
 3. On one occasion when four of the Muslims complained to the Prophet
concerning something that 'Ali had done, the Prophet grew angry and
said: 'What do you want from 'Ali? 'Ali is from me and I am from 'Ali.
He is the guardian [wali] of every believer after me.'[26] And in
another context: 'You are my successor [i.e. guardian of the religion,
wali] in this world and the next.'[27]
 4. The Prophet is reported to have said: 'No one may execute my
affairs except myself and 'Ali.'[28]
 5. The Prophet said: 'As for 'Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husayn, I am at
war with whoever fights against these and at peace with whoever is at
peace with these.'[29]
  Apart from these and the previously-quoted Traditions which are
accepted by both Sunnis and Shi'is, the Shi'is have numerous other
Traditions extolling 'Ali:
 1. The Fourth Imam is reported to have said: 'The Apostle of God
taught 'Ali a matter [harf] which opened up one thousand matters each
of which in turn opened up a thousand matters.'[30]
 2. 'Ali said: 'I am Muhammad and Muhammad is I.'[31]
 3. 'Ali said in the Hadith an-Nuraniyya: 'Muhammad is the Seal of the
Prophets [khatim al-anbiya] and I am the Seal of the Successors
[khatim al-wasiyyin].'[32]
  In addition to these hadith, certain verses of the Qur'an are held
to relate to 'Ali and his succession to Muhammad:
 1. 'You are a warner and to every people there is a guide.'[33] Many
sources, including even Sunni ones such as as-Suyuti, acknowledge that
when this verse was revealed, Muhammad said: 'I am the warner and you,
O 'Ali, are the guide and through you will be guided those who are to
be guided.'[34]
 2. 'Your guardian [wali] can only be God, His apostle and those who
say their prayers, pay alms [zakat] and bow down before God'[35] The
word wali can mean either friend, helper or master. Many of the
commentators both Sunni and Shi'i are agreed that this verse refers to
'Ali and was revealed after 'Ali had given his ring away to someone in
need who had entered the mosque while prayers were in progress.[36]
The verse itself can be translated: 'Those who pay alms while bowing
down before God,' thus referring more closely to this episode.


The Events at the Saqifa

If, as the Shi'is assert, Muhammad had clearly indicated his desire
that 'Ali should be his successor, how did it come about that Abu Bakr
was elected the first Caliph? This is a very complex matter and
central to the whole issue is what occurred at the Saqifa (Portico) of
the Banu Sa'ida, a branch of Khazraj tribe of Medina. The facts of
what happened are, in broad terms, agreed by the most reliable of both
Sunni and Shi'i writers.[37] When Muhammad died, his daughter, Fatima,
her husband, 'Ali, and the rest of the family of Hashim, gathered
around the body preparing it for burial. Unbeknown to them, two other
groups were gathering in the city. One group consisted of Abu Bakr,
'Umar, Abu 'Ubayda and other prominent Meccans (the Muhajirun) and the
second of the most important of the Medinans (the Ansar). The second
group was gathering in the portico of the Banu Sa'ida. It was reported
to Abu Bakr that the Ansar were contemplating pledging their loyalty
to Sa'd ibn 'Ubada, chief of the Khazraj. And so Abu Bakr and his
group hurried to the Saqifa. One of the Ansar spoke first saying that
as the Ansar had been the ones who supported and gave victory to Islam
and since the Meccans were only guests in Medina, the leader of the
community should be from the Ansar. Abu Bakr replied to this very
diplomatically. He began by praising the virtues of the Ansar, but
then he went on to point out that the Muhajirun (the Meccans) were the
first people in Islam and were closer in kinship to the Prophet. The
Arabs would accept leadership only from Quraysh and so Quraysh should
be the rulers and the Ansar their ministers. One of the Ansar
proposed: 'Let there be one ruler from us and one ruler from you. For
we do not begrudge you this matter but we fear to have ruling over us
a people whose fathers and brothers we have killed (in fighting
between Mecca and Medina before the conquest of Mecca by
Muhammad).'[38] And so the argument went back and forth until Abu Bakr
proposed: 'Give your allegiance to one of these two men: Abu 'Ubayda
or 'Umar. ' And 'Umar replied: 'While you are still alive? No! It is
not for anyone to hold you back from the position in which the Apostle
placed you. So stretch out your hand.' And Abu Bakr stretched out his
hand and 'Umar gave him his allegiance. One by one, slowly at first,
and then rushing forward in a mass, the others did likewise.
  A pro-Shi'i historian, Ya'qubi, has recorded that one of the Ansar
did briefly advance the claim of 'Ali during the discussions at the
Saqifa but even from Ya'qubi's account it is clear that there was no
real discussion of this claim.[39]
  It is possible to speculate as to the reasons why Abu Bakr was
elected to the leadership. Certainly clan rivalry played a great part.


Quraysh there was a certain amount of envy and enmity towards the
prestige enjoyed by the house of Hashim. Thus 'Umar is reported to
have said to 'Ali's cousin at a later date: 'The people did not like
having the Prophethood and Caliphate joined together in your
house.'[40] Abu Bakr, however, came from a relatively insignificant
clan which had no pretensions to power. The Ansar had been
contemplating choosing the chief of Khazraj as their leader and so
when Abu Bakr came forward as a candidate, the Aws tribe who had been
the great rival of Khazraj in Medina were only too eager to have this
alternative. Khazraj themselves were not totally united and several
leading men of that tribe were among the first to pay obedience to Abu
Bakr, presumably having some grudge against their chief. And so, all
in all, Abu Bakr was an expedient choice for the majority, although it
cannot be denied that he enjoyed considerable prestige in the
community anyway.
  With respect to the above speech by Abu Bakr at the Saqifa, in which
he refuted the claims of the Ansar to the leadership and advanced the
claims of Quraysh, Shi'i historians have pointed out that with respect
to each of the points which Abu Bakr mentioned, 'Ali was superior to
Abu Bakr. Thus if Quraysh were closer in kinship to the Prophet than
the Ansar, then 'Ali was closer than Abu Bakr. If Quraysh were first
to accept Islam, then 'Ali was the first of them to do this. If
Quraysh were more entitled to leadership among the Arabs than the
Ansar on account of their nobility, then 'Ali and the house of Hashim
were the most noble clan within Quraysh. And 'Ali's services to Islam
and his close personal companionship with the Prophet, were at least
equal, if not superior, to Abu Bakr's. Moreover, if selection of the
leader was to have been by consensus, then why was the house of
Hashim, the house of the Prophet, not consulted? The best that can be
said of the affair at the Saqifa is that, in the words of 'Umar, it
was a falta, which means an affair concluded in haste and without
  Both Sunni and Shi'i sources are agreed that after allegiance had
been given to Abu Bakr at the Saqifa and at the mosque, 'Umar with a
crowd of armed men marched to 'Ali's house demanding that he also
pledge his allegiance to Abu Bakr. It is even indicated that a threat
was made to bum down 'Ali's house if he refused. Words were exchanged,
and according to some accounts, even blows, until Fatima, 'Ali's wife
and the daughter of the Prophet, appeared and put the attackers to
shame by threatening to make a personal public appeal.
  Both Sunni and Shi'i sources agree that 'Ali was urged by such
persons as his uncle al-'Abbas, and even Abu Sufyan of the house of
Umayya, to set himself up as an alternative leader and to have
allegiance paid to him. Abu Sufyan even offered to fill Medina with
armed men to enforce 'Ali's leadership.[42] It is impossible to
assess, however, how strong the party


that looked to 'Ali at this time was. But 'Ali refused to split the
community, particularly when, shortly after Abu Bakr assumed the
Caliphate, a large number of the Arabs apostatised from Islam and a
campaign had to be waged against them. Under the Caliphates of 'Umar
and of 'Uthman also, 'Ali did not advance his claim.
  There is disagreement between Sunni and Shi'i historians as to
'Ali's attitude to the Caliphate of Abu Bakr and later to those of
'Umar and 'Uthman. Sunni historians are anxious to portray 'Ali as
having been loyal to the leadership of the first three Caliphates and
indeed a trusted adviser in their councils. Some of these sources even
state that 'Ali gave his allegiance to Abu Bakr on the day of the
Saqifa. The Shi'i historians, of course, completely reject this view.
They portray 'Ali as feeling deeply hurt that his rights had been
usurped in this underhand manner and only refraining from open
rejection of Abu Bakr in order to avoid dissension and strife at a
critical time. Shi'i sources maintain that 'Ali did not in fact give
his allegiance to the new Caliph until after Fatima's death, which
occurred six months after the death of the Prophet.
  Conflict between the Prophet's family and the new Caliph began from
the day after the death of the Prophet. Fatima laid claim to the
estate of Fadak, which had been the personal property of the Prophet
and had come to him out of the booty of the expedition to Khaybar. Abu
Bakr refused this claim, stating that the property belonged to the
whole community, the Prophet having said: 'No one shall inherit from
me, but what I leave is for alms.'
  During the brief two-year period of Abu Bakr's Caliphate, whatever
initial support there may have been for 'Ali's candidature melted away
in the face of 'Ali's own refusal to advance a claim. However, despite
this, there was a handful of men who steadfastly refused to give their
allegiance to Abu Bakr or to anyone other than 'Ali. Four of these
men, 'Ammar, Miqdad, Abu Dharr and Salman were acclaimed by Shi'is as
the first four of their number and, according to many Traditions,
these four were shortly joined by another three.
  Shi'i historians scornfully point out that whereas the theoretical
justification for the choice of Abu Bakr as Caliph was that this was
the consensus of the Muslims, even this claim cannot be made for
'Umar's succession to Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr, on his death-bed, appointed
'Umar as his successor and secured his succession by obtaining pledges
of support for 'Umar from several prominent persons. Once again, 'Ali
was passed over and was not even consulted.
  Under 'Umar's Caliphate, 'Ali remained withdrawn from public affairs
but still refusing to encourage sedition by advancing an alterative
claim. The Sunni historians once again minimise the disagreements,[43]
whereas the Shi'is show 'Ali openly disagreeing with


some of`'Umar's decisions and publicly showing his contempt for the
Caliph on several occasions.[44]
  'Umar appointed a council of six men to decide the leadership after
him. Although the council included 'Ali, it was weighted in such a way
as to make it unlikely that he would be elected. Two of the members of
the council, Sa'd and 'Abdu'r-Rahman who were cousins, were naturally
inclined to support 'Uthman, who was 'Abdu'r-Rahman's brother-in-law,
and moreover, under 'Umar's terms for setting up a council, the
casting vote was to be given to 'Abdu'r-Rahman.
  The most commonly quoted Traditions state that the result of the
deliberations of the council in 644 was that 'Abdu'r-Rahman offered
the Caliphate to 'Ali on the condition that he should rule in
accordance with the Qur'an, the example of the Prophet and the
precedents established by the first two Caliphs. 'Abdu'r-Rahman must
have known of 'Ali's disagreement with some of the policies of the
first two Caliphs and so it was inevitable that 'Ali would refuse to
bind himself to follow their precedents. 'Abdu'r-Rahman then offered
the Caliphate to 'Uthman on the same condition and he accepted.
  Even those historians who are staunchly Sunni can scarcely disguise
the fact that 'Uthman's Caliphate was something of a disaster for
Islam. in place of the strict piety, simplicity and probity that had
characterised the leadership of the community under Muhammad and the
first two Caliphs, 'Uthman's leadership was marked by nepotism and a
love of wealth and luxury. He was a weak-minded man who allowed his
relative, Marwan, to dominate him and to run the affairs of the
community. 'Uthman was of the house of Umayya and soon members of this
family were placed in the highest positions in the community, despite
the fact that, in former days, this family had been the most
implacable and the most powerful of the enemies of the Prophet in
Mecca and had led the Meccans against the Prophet once he was
established in Medina.
  Soon there was disaffection in the provinces of the rapidly
expanding Muslim empire. ln Egypt there was a rising against their
Governor, a foster-brother of 'Uthman, who was one of the few people
that the Prophet himself had condemned to death at the conquest of
Mecca for the crime of interpolating the Qur'an and apostatising (he
had been saved by 'Uthman's intervention). In Kufa (Iraq), the
Governor, 'Uthman's half-brother, was disgracing himself by appearing
drunk in public. Delegations from Egypt and Iraq arrived in Medina in
656 voicing strong protests to the Caliph. They found support among
many of the prominent citizens of Medina such as Zubayr and Talha, who
each had aspirations for the Caliphate, and 'A'isha, the wife of the
Prophet, who supported Talha.


  'Ali was placed in a difficult position. The rebel delegations
appealed to him to support their protests and he certainly sympathised
with their grievances. But 'Ali, also, was not one to foment discord
or to support rebellion. 'Uthman appealed to him to placate the rebels
and 'Ali did his best to mediate, urging the Caliph, at the same time,
to alter his policies. However, in the end, after the rebels found
themselves betrayed by the Caliph, 'Uthman's house was attacked and he
was killed.
  Immediately after the murder of 'Uthman, a crowd surrounded 'Ali
urging him to accept the Caliphate. 'Ali was at first reluctant to
accept, given the circumstances, but he was urged to do so from all
sides. The Muhajirun, the Ansar and the delegations from the provinces
were all urging acceptance upon him. So eventually he consented. The
year was 656; it was 24 years since the death of the Prophet of Islam;
after almost a quarter of a century in the wilderness, 'Ali had come
to the position that he had considered rightfully his all along.

Chapter 3

      The Lives of the Imams and Early Divisions
          among the Shi'is

In considering Shi'i history, especially in the early period, it is
necessary to differentiate between the traditional history as recorded
by the Shi'i writers and the results of modern critical scholarship.
In this chapter the traditional view will be examined and the results
of the research of modern scholars will be found in the next chapter.
The first part of the life of 'Ali has already been dealt with in the
previous chapter and what historical information is available
regarding the Twelfth Imam will be found in Chapter 8.
  Although a great number of histories of the Imams have been written
by the Shi'is of every generation, many of them are of little use in
constructing biographies of the Imams for they were written with a
different purpose than the conveying of biographical information. They
are largely anecdotal and apologetic in nature, seeking to prove
certain points about the Imams. Among the specific points that Shi'i
writers sought to prove about each Imam were: that their births were
miraculous, the baby Imam being born already circumcised and with his
umbilical cord already severed; that the spoke immediately on birth
(and sometimes from within their mother's womb) praising God; that
each was specifically designated by the preceding Imam (or in the case
of 'Ali by Muhammad); and that each performed miracles and was
possessed of supernatural knowledge. Most Shi'i writers consider that
the Imams were all martyred but this is evidently a late view since
some of the earliest works specifically refute this with regard to
some of the Imams.[1] Since most of the Imams do not appear in the
standard non-Shi'i histories either, the Imams have tended to become
quasi-legendary rather than historical figures.

The Imamate of 'Ali

The early life of the fourth Caliph and first Shi'i Imam, Abu'l-Hasan


'Ali ibn Abi Talib, known as Amiru'l-Mu'minin, and his actions under
the first three Caliphs have been recorded in the previous chapter.
The turbulent years of his brief ministry as Caliph will be considered
in this chapter.
  It can be said that 'Ali's succession to the Caliphate was approved
of and accepted by the vast majority of Muslims in Medina and also in
most of the provinces of the Empire. He was truly a Caliph chosen by a
consensus of all the Muslims. After the initial euphoria wore off,
however, it became clear that he was faced with grave internal
problems. During 'Uthman's Caliphate, all the important governorships
of the Muslim Empire had gone to members of the Umayyad family, and
now this family, led by its most able member, Mu'awiya, the Governor
of Syria, refused to accept 'Ali's Caliphate, urging vengeance for
'Uthman and implying that 'Ali was giving shelter to the murderers and
was therefore guilty of complicity. In another direction, Talha and
Zubayr, two of the most prominent companions of the Prophet, were
galled at the accession to the Caliphate of a younger man, and
realising that they would now never have a chance to accede to that
position withdrew to Mecca and linked up with 'A'isha, the daughter of
Abu Bakr and widow of the Prophet, who had a long-standing grudge
against 'Ali. These three proceeded to Basra and raised a rebellion,
again in the name of vengeance for 'Uthman, although all three were as
much responsible for the murder as anyone.
  At first, all went well for 'Ali. He was, after all, a great
military leader and was able to defeat the Basran rebels at the Battle
of al-Jamal (the camel). Zubayr and Talha were killed in the fighting
and 'A'isha captured and sent back to Medina with the honour due to
the widow of the Prophet.
  However, soon the tide of events began to turn against 'Ali. One of
the problems that beset him was his own forthright nature. He refused
to allow political expediency to dictate to him where he felt a matter
of principle was at stake. He set about immediately trying to put
right every aspect of the life of the community that he felt had
deviated from the intention of the Prophet. He pressed ahead with this
regardless of the fact he was making powerful and influential enemies
among many who had benefited under the previous Caliphs. These persons
went over to Mu'awiya who now came out in open revolt in Syria.
  It was at this point, in 36/656, after the Battle of the Camel, that
'Ali moved his headquarters from Medina to Kufa in Iraq. From this
time until the middle of the second Islamic century (mid-8th century
An) when Baghdad was built, Kufa was to remain the main centre of
Shi'ism in the Islamic world. However, Kufa's support for the Shi'i
cause was to prove a mixed blessing. The vacillating nature of the
Kufans was to cause


Shi'ism as many problems as it was to bring benefits.
  In 37/657 Mu'awiya marched towards Kufa. Reluctantly, 'Ali came
forward to meet him and battle was joined at Siffin. Of the two
armies, 'Ali's was filled with veteran companions of the Prophet,
particularly the Medinan Ansar, and pious readers of the Qur'an, while
Mu'awiya's side could only boast a handful of companions of the
Prophet and consisted for the most part of Arab tribes who had joined
Islam late and had been drawn to the frontier provinces by the
prospect of rich booty. Also, Mu'awiya was an expert intriguer and
gladly paved the way for a defection to his side with promises of
  The Battle of Siffin was prolonged, bloody and inconclusive. It
ended in a call for arbitration. But 'Ali, hampered by the fickle
nature of the Kufans, was unable to have the man of his choice
represent him, and, although accounts of the arbitration are confused,
it seems clear that 'Ali did not come out of it well. In the meantime,
a perverse fate dictated that 'Ali, who had been most reluctant to
submit to arbitration was now being blamed by part of his Kufan army
for having done so, 'judgement is God's alone', they chanted and
separated themselves from 'Ali's army, thus becoming known as the
Khawarij (Kharijites) or 'Seceders'.
  'Ali found himself hard pressed on all sides. The arbitration
process was clearly providing Mu'awiya with an opportunity to regroup
and strengthen his position. In Egypt 'Ali's governor was overthrown
through Mu'awiya's machinations and the province came under Syrian
control. Finally the Khawarij were committing atrocities close to
'Ali's capital and posed a serious threat.
  'Ali was forced to put aside plans for attacking Syria and advanced
against the Khawarij. They were routed at the Battle of Nahrawan. But
they had their revenge in that it is said to have been one of their
number, 'Abdu'r-Rahman ibn Muljam, who assassinated 'Ali, wounding him
in Kufa on 19 Ramadan 40/27 January 661. 'Ali died two days later.
To attempt to draw a portrait of the personal qualities of 'Ali is
indeed a difficult task, for he has assumed, even in the eyes of Sunni
Muslims, an almost legendary dimension as a paragon of virtues and a
fount of knowledge. His courage in battle, his magnanimity towards his
defeated opponents, his sincerity and straightforwardness, his
eloquence and his profound knowledge of the roots of Islam cannot be
questioned, for they are matters of historical record. He is also
attributed with having been the founder of the study of Arabic grammar
through his disciple, Abu'l-Aswad al-Du'ali, and the originator of the
correct method of reciting the Qur'an. His discourses and letters
(especially as compiled in the Nahj al-Balagha, which is considered by
many Muslims as second only to the Qur'an in importance) are
considered the earliest examples of Muslim writings on philosophy,
theology and ethics, while through disciples


such as Hasan al-Basri and Rabi' ibn Khaytham he is considered to have
given the initiative to Sufism in Islam. He was regarded even by such
persons as the second Caliph, 'Umar, as the 'best of judges' and his
judicial decisions are highly regarded both by Sunni and Shi'i experts
in jurisprudence. For Shi'is the brief period of his Caliphate is
looked upon as a Golden Age when the Muslim community was directed as
it always should be directed, by the divinely-chosen Imam.
  Although Najaf is the place where the Shrine of 'Ali is located,
there must remain some doubt as--to whether the remains of 'Ali are in
fact there, for some Traditions state that he was buried in Kufa and
others that he was buried in Medina, or that his burial-place is
unknown. However, the vast majority of Shi'is accept Najaf as the
place of 'Ali's burial, and in consequence a large town has grown
around this spot. The first building to have been erected over this
location was commissioned by the 'Abbasid Caliph Harun ar-Rashid.
Several further buildings were built and destroyed, at least one of
which was destroyed on the orders of the anti-Shi'i Caliph Mutawakkil.
The Buyid ruler 'Adudu'd-Dawla built a shrine in the 4th/10th century
that lasted until 755/1354 but the main part of the present structure
was built by the Safavid monarch, Shah Safi in about 1045/1635 and the
dome was gilded by Nadir Shah. In the course of the last 400 years,
Najaf has become the residence of some of the most eminent ulama of
the Shi'i world and the site of some of the most important religious

Hasan, The Second Imam

Abu Muhammad Hasan ibn 'Ali, known as al-Mujtaba (the chosen) is
considered by Shi'is to have become the Imam after the death of 'Ali.
Hasan was born in the year AH 3 in Medina and was brought up in the
household of the Prophet himself until the latter's death when Hasan
was aged about 7. There can be no doubt that the Prophet had a
fondness for his two grandchildren, Hasan and Husayn, whom he referred
to as the 'chiefs of youths of paradise'[2] and about whom he had been
widely quoted as saying 'he who-has-loved Hasan and Husayn has loved
me and he who has hated them has hated me'.[3] Most of the companions
of the Prophet still alive could remember how the Prophet used to
caress and kiss these two grandchildren of his and how he had even
interrupted his sermon on one occasion because Hasan had tripped and
  Hasan was thirty-seven years old when his father fell at the hands
of the assassin at Kufa. It is known that many of the surviving
companions of the Prophet, both of the Medinan Ansar and the Meccan
Muhajirun, were in 'Ali's army. So they must have been in Kufa at the
time of 'Ali's


assassination and therefore must have assented to Hasan being
acclaimed Caliph in succession to his father a few days later, for
there is no record of any dissent to this in Kufa, nor indeed of any
dissent in Mecca and Medina.
  Of all the twelve Shi'i Imams, Hasan is the one who has been
disparaged most harshly by Western historians. He has been derided for
having given up the Caliphate to Mu'awiya without a fight. He has been
described as uxorious, unintelligent, incapable and a lover of luxury.
This harsh criticism is rejected by Shi'i historians. They point out
that Hasan's abdication was not an act of feeble cowardice but a
realistic and compassionate act. Following the assassination of 'Ali,
the Kufan army had rallied around Hasan to face the advancing Syrian
army led by Mu'awiya. But Mu'awiya's spreading of false reports, his
secret agents and liberal bribes had wreaked such havoc among Kufans
that Hasan had seen his army melt away. In this situation abdication
was the only realistic course of action open to Hasan and avoided
pointless bloodshed.
  In the correspondence between Mu'awiya and Hasan that led to the
abdication, it is interesting to note that Mu'awiya brushed aside
Hasan's objections that Mu'awiya had no precedence in Islam and indeed
was the son of the most prominent opponent of Islam by asserting that
the situation between him and Hasan now was the same as that between
Abu Bakr and 'Ali after the death of the Prophet, that Mu'awiya's
military strength, political abilities and age were of more importance
than Hasan's claim to religious precedence. In other words, as Shi'i
historians point out, political power was to become the arbitrator of
leadership in Islam rather than religious considerations.
  The Kufans, by their wavering, their disunity and their fickleness,
had let Hasan down badly, as they had his father 'Ali, and as they
were going to do with his brother Husayn some twelve years later. Part
of the Kufan army rebelled against Hasan, part of it went over to the
Syrians and the rest melted away. Even Hasan's own tent was plundered,
he himself wounded. Small wonder then that he felt he had no choice
but to abdicate.
  Mu'awiya needed Hasan's abdication to lend some plausibility and
justification to his own seizure of power; a mere military victory
would not have been enough. Therefore, he was happy to offer Hasan
generous terms including general amnesty for Hasan's followers, a
large financial settlement for Hasan himself, and, according to some
accounts, a further condition that the Caliphate would revert to Hasan
on Mu'awiya's death.
 Hasan, after his abdication in 41/661, retired to Medina and led a
quiet life. He refused to involve himself in any political activity--
which was a very pragmatic action, in that although delegations came
to him to offer


him their support if he would rise up, Mu'awiya had such a firm grip
on the Empire that any uprising would have been doomed to failure.
And, in any case, Hasan had given his word and signed an agreement.
  Hasan died in 49/669 at the early age of forty-six. It is stated by
the Shi'i historians and confirmed in some of the Sunni histories that
he was poisoned by his wife at the instigation of Mu'awiya. Certainly
nothing could have suited Mu'awiya's purposes more since it paved the
way for his plan to ensure the succession of his son, Yazid.
  Hasan was buried in Medina in al-Baqi' cemetery next to his mother,

Husayn, the Third Imam

After Hasan, his younger brother Husayn became the head of the House
of 'Ali and according to the Shi'is, the Third Imam. Abu 'Abdu'llah
Husayn ibn 'Ali, who is given by Shi'is the title Sayyid ash-Shuhada
(Prince of Martyrs), was born in Medina in 4626. The great love of the
Prophet for his two grandsons has been referred to in the previous
section and, according to some reports, 'Ali preferred Husayn to
  While his brother Hasan was alive Husayn played a secondary role,
but after the death of his brother he became the head of the family
and the focus of the aspirations of the Kufans, who were growing
increasingly restive under the stern Syrian rule. While Mu'awiya
ruled, however, Husayn made no move, considering himself bound, it is
said, by the terms of Hasan's treaty with Mu'awiya.
  The Umayyads had instituted the public cursing of 'Ali from the
pulpit, motivated, it is said, by a desire to provoke staunch Shi'i
elements into open revolt. The first to fall foul of this policy was
Hujr ibn 'Adi al-Kindi. He raised a revolt in Kufa in 51/671. The
revolt was easily overcome and Hujr with six of his companions were
executed in Damascus by Mu'awiya. These seven are regarded by Shi'is
as the first of their martyrs.
  Mu'awiya died in 60/680, but prior to his death he had arranged for
his son, Yazid, to succeed him. If the rule of Mu'awiya, the son of
the Prophet Muhammad's most powerful enemy in Mecca, had been
offensive to some pious Muslims, the accession of Yazid, a drunkard
who openly ridiculed and flouted the laws of Islam, was an outrage. In
Kufa the people began to stir once more and soon letters and
messengers were arriving in Medina urging Husayn to come to Kufa and
assume leadership there.
  Because of pressure from the Governor of Medina to declare
allegiance to Yazid, Husayn had moved from Medina to Mecca and it was
from there that he sent an emissary, his cousin Muslim ibn 'Aqil, to


Kufa to assess the situation. On Muslim's arrival in Kufa, large
meetings were held at which thousands pledged their support for
  Despite the enthusiastic reports sent by Muslim, Husayn was warned
by several persons against going to Kufa whose inhabitants had proved
so fickle in their support of his father and brother, but Husayn
decided to press on and left Mecca in the company of some fifty armed
men and a number of women and children.
  But the situation was changing rapidly in Kufa. Yazid, fully aware
of the situation, had instructed the energetic 'Ubaydu'llah ibn Ziyad
to take control of Kufa. 'Ubaydu'llah had instigated a reign of
terror, dealing harshly with any manifestations of revolt. He had
reinforced these measures by threatening the tribal leaders with death
if their tribes were found to be fomenting rebellion. These measures
had already resulted in Muslim being captured and executed and now
'Ubaydu'llah assigned military units to all the routes to Kufa from
the south in order to intercept Husayn.
  Although Husayn received warnings of the state of affairs in Kufa,
he pressed ahead, declining alternative proposals that would have
ensured his safety. A few of his supporters succeeded in slipping out
of Ku& and joining up with his forces but others were arrested and the
vast majority of Kufans were overtaken with either terror of
'Ubaydu'llah's sword or greed for 'Ubaydu'llah's money and forgot
their pledges of support for Husayn.
  It fell to al-Hurr at-Tamimi, the young commander of a military
detachment numbering one thousand, to intercept Husayn's party as it
approached Kufa. Al-Hurr's instructions were to prevent Husayn
approaching any town or village in Iraq and he explained this to
Husayn. The latter replied by showing him the sackful of letters from
the people of Kufa that he had received. Seeing that al-Hurr's men
were overcome with thirst, Husayn magnanimously offered them water
from his party's supplies and later al-Hurr and his men lined up
behind Husayn as he led them In prayer.
  Eventually after negotiations Husayn agreed to proceed in a
direction away from Kufa while al-Hurr sent for further instructions.
Husayn's party travelled on, shadowed by al-Hurr's detachment until
they reached the plain of Karbala. It was the second day of Muharram
in the year AH 61 (2 October 680). On the following day some four
thousand men under 'Umar ibn Sa'd arrived with instructions from
'Ubaydu'llah that they should not allow Husayn to leave until he had
signed a pledge of allegiance to Yazid. Ibn Sa'd's men surrounded
Husayn's party and even cut them off from the river which was their
only source of water.
  Husayn began negotiations with Ibn Sa'd pointing out that he had no
desire to initiate bloodshed and asking to be allowed to withdraw to 


Arabia. But ibn Sa'd refused to relent, having been promised by
'Ubaydu'llah the governorship of Rayy if he accomplished his mission.
Meanwhile the situation in Husayn's camp was becoming desperate due to
shortage of water.
  Then 'Ubaydu'llah sent his final orders through Shimr (or Shamir).
ibn Sa'd was either to attack Husayn immediately or hand over command
to Shimr. On the evening of 9 Muharram, ibn Sa'd drew up his forces
and advanced them towards Husayn's camp, ready for battle the next
day. That night, Husayn addressed his companions, asking them to
withdraw and leave him to face the enemy. They refused to desert him.
  And so there dawned the fateful day of 10 Muharram AD 61 (10 October
680), which is known as 'Ashura.[4] At dawn Husayn once more
approached the camp of the Umayyads and addressed them with such
emotive words that several were visibly moved and al-Hurr at-Tamimi,
who had first intercepted Husayn, threw in his lot with Husayn's tiny
band and was one of the first to fall when the fighting began.[5]
  Husayn's companions on that day are traditionally said to have
numbered 72 armed men (18 of the family of 'Ali and 54 supporters) and
the women and children. The fighting appears to have been of a
sporadic nature consisting of single combat and brief forays. The
steady fire maintained by the Umayyad archers on Husayn's camp took
its own toll. One by one Husayn's supporters fell and then the members
of his family until only he and his half-brother 'Abbas, the standard-
bearer on that day, were left of the fighting men. 'Abbas was killed
trying to obtain water for the thirsty women and children and the army
converged on the lone figure of Husayn.
  Carrying his infant son in his arms, Husayn pleaded for water for
the babe but an arrow lodged in the baby's throat killing him. As the
troops closed around him, Husayn fought valiantly until at last he was
struck a severe blow that caused him to fall face down on the ground.
Even then the soldiers hesitated to deal the final blow to the
grandson of the Prophet until Shimr ordered them on, and, according to
some accounts himself came forward and struck the blow that ended
Husayn's life.
  The Umayyad army looted the tents, decapitated the bodies of all
Husayn's companions and raised these on spears to lead their
procession back to Kufa. The women and children who had been taken
prisoner included 'Ali, the only surviving son of Husayn, who had been
too ill to participate in the fighting.
  At Kufa 'Ubaydu'llah convened a great assembly and ordered the head
of Husayn to be brought to him on a tray and also the captives. When
the head was placed before him, 'Ubaydu'llah struck the lips with his
cane and taunted the captives. Some of those witnessing this scene


were intensely moved and one of them spoke up saying: 'Remove your
cane from those lips, for, by God, many a time have I seen the lips of
the Prophet of God on those lips.'[6]
  Zaynab, the sister of Husayn, bore herself with dignity and answered
'Ubaydu'llah firmly and fearlessly. At first, 'Ubaydu'llah wanted to
put 'Ali to death also, but Zaynab protested, saying: 'O ibn Ziyad!
You have spilt enough of our blood', and then she put her arms around
'Ali's neck and said: 'By God! I will not be parted from him, and so
if you are going to kill him, then kill me with him.'[7] And so
'Ubaydu'llah imprisoned the captives and after a while sent them on to
Damascus with the head of Husayn.
  At Damascus Yazid gloated over the head of Husayn and insulted 'Ali
and Zaynab. Later, however, no doubt fearing that a popular outcry
night threaten his throne, Yazid sought to appease the captives and
released them, allowing them to return to Medina.
  Thus ended the tragedy of Karbala. It has been given here in detail,
because, of all the episodes of Islamic history, it has had a greater
impact than any on the Shi'a down the ages. A brief consideration must
be given to the question of Husayn's intentions and ambitions in
setting out for Kufa. Some historians have dismissed it as mere
political adventuring that went wrong, but, of course, Shi'i
historians disagree.
  Husayn had received plenty of warning of the collapse of the Shi'i
revolt in Kufa as he approached Iraq. Indeed, the Shi'i histories
record that at one of the staging-posts on the journey, after
receiving grim news from Kufa, Husayn addressed his companions and
told them of the death and destruction that awaited them ahead. Husayn
could, at this point, have retired to Medina or even have accepted the
offer which was made to him of refuge in the mountain strongholds of
the Tayy tribe. However, he refused these courses of action and even
addressed his companions urging them to leave him as he pressed on
towards Kufa and certain destruction.
  S. H. M. Jafri, a modern Shi'i historian, has written:

  . . . it is clear that Husayn was fully aware of the dangers he
  would encounter and that he had a certain strategy and plan in
  mind to bring about a revolution in the consciousness of the
  Muslim community. Furthermore, it is also very clear from the
  sources, as has been stated before, that Husayn did not try to
  organise or mobilise military support, which he easily could have
  done in the Hijaz, nor did he even try to exploit whatever
  physical strength was available to him . . . Is it conceivable
  that anyone striving for power would ask his supporters to abandon
  him? . . . What then did Husayn have in mind? Why was he still
  heading for Kufa?
    It is rather disappointing to note that Western scholarship on
  Islam, given too much to historicism, has placed all its attention
  on the discrete external aspects of the event of Karbala and has
  never tried to analyse the inner history and agonising conflict in
  Husayn's mind . . . A careful study and analysis of the


  events of Karbala as a whole reveals the fact that from the very
  beginning Husayn was planning for a complete evolution in the
  religions consciousness of the Muslims. All of his actions show
  that he was aware of the fact that a victory achieved through
  military strength and might is always temporal [sic], because
  another stronger power can in course of time bring it down in
  ruins. But a victory achieved through suffering and sacrifice is
  everlasting and leaves permanent imprints on man's consciousness .
  . . The natural process of conflict and struggle between action
  and reaction was now at work. That is, Muhammad's progressive
  Islamic action had succeeded in suppressing Arab conservatism,
  embodied in heathen pre-Islamic practices and ways of thinking.
  But in less than thirty years' time this Arab conservatism
  revitalised itself as a forceful reaction to challenge Muhammad's
  action once again . . . The strength of this reaction, embodied in
  Yazid's character, was powerful enough to suppress or at least
  deface Muhammad's action. Islam was now, in the thinking of
  Husayn, in dire need of reactivation of Muhammad's action against
  the old Arabian reaction and thus required a complete shake-up . . 
   . . . . Husayn's acceptance of Yazid, with the latter's openly
  reactionary attitude against Islamic norms, would not have meant
  merely a political arrangement, as had been the case with Hasan
  and Mu'awiya, but an endorsement of Yazid's character and way of
  life as well . . . 
    . . . Husayn prepared his strategy . . . He realised that mere
  force of arms would not have saved Islamic action and
  consciousness. To him it needed a shaking and jolting of hearts
  and feelings. This, he decided, could only be achieved through
  sacrifice and sufferings. This should not be difficult to
  understand, especially for those who fully appreciate the heroic
  deeds and sacrifices of, for example, Socrates and Joan of Arc,
  both of whom embraced death for their ideals, and above all of the
  great sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the redemption of mankind.
    It is in this light that we should read Husayn's replies to
  those well-wishers who advised him not to go to Iraq. It also
  explains why Husayn took with him his women and children, though
  advised by ibn 'Abbas [his father's cousin] that should he insist
  on his project, at least he should not take his family with him.
  Aware of the extent of the brutal nature of the reactionary
  forces, Husayn knew that after killing him, the Umayyads would
  make his women and children captives and take them all the way
  from Kufa to Damascus. This caravan of captives of Muhammad's
  immediate family would publicise Husayn's message and would force
  the Muslims' hearts to ponder on the tragedy. It would make the
  Muslims think of the whole affair and would awaken their
  consciousness. This is exactly what happened. Husayn succeeded in
  his purpose. It is difficult today to evaluate exactly the impact
  of Husayn's action on Islamic morality and way of thinking,
  because it prevailed. Had Husayn not shaken and awakened Muslim
  consciousness by this method, who knows whether Yazid's way of
  life would have become standard behaviour in the Muslim community
  endorsed and accepted by the grandson of the Prophet. No doubt,
  even after Yazid kingship did prevail in Islam, and the character
  and behaviour personal lives of these kings was not very different
  from that of Yazid, but the change of thinking which prevailed
  after the sacrifice of Husayn always served as a line of
  distinction between Islamic norms and the personal character of
  the rulers.[8]

  It would be difficult to exaggerate the impact and importance of the
martyrdom of Husayn for Shi'is. Although it was the usurpation of


'Ali's rights that is looked upon by Shi'is as the event initiating
their movement and giving it intellectual justification, it was
Husayn's martyrdom that gave it its impetus and implanted its ideas
deep in the heart of the people. To this day it is the martyrdom of
Husayn that is the most fervently celebrated event in the Shi'i
calendar. During the first ten days of Muharram, the whole Shi'i world
is plunged into mourning. For details of the observances during this
time see pp. 240-43.
  Above all, the martyrdom of Husayn has given to Shi'i Islam a whole
ethos of sanctification through martyrdom. Although the Shi'is were
persecuted all through their early history and, according to their
traditions, every single one of the Imams suffered martyrdom, it is
above all the martyrdom of Husayn that has given this characteristic
to Shi'i Islam; a characteristic that recent events in Iran have
demonstrated to be as strong as ever.
  In his physical appearance, Husayn is said to have been very
handsome and strikingly like the Prophet himself. He was of medium
height with olive-brown skin and is said to have possessed great
serenity and charm.
  His body had more than thirty wounds from swords, lances and arrows
upon it and was then trampled under the hooves of the horses of ibn
Sa'd's troops. After the troops had left, some of the tribesmen from a
nearby village came and buried the bodies.
  In later years a shrine was built over this spot. The first shrine
was destroyed by the 'Abbasid Caliph Mutawakkil in 235/850 and the
site ploughed over. After the death of this Caliph, a shrine of some
sort was again erected but the bulk of the present shrine probably
dates from the time of 'Adudu'd-Dawla, the Buyid prince, 369/979. The
building was subjected to several further depredations including
having the dome burnt down in the 11th century and the whole town of
Karbala was sacked by the Wahhabis in 1801 and by the Ottoman army
under Najib Pasha in 1843. The last important restoration of the
shrine was carried out at the behest of Nasiru'd-Din Shah in the 1850s
when the dome was gilded and other important structural work carried
out. The enclosed are around the shrine is ca]led the Ha'ir and is
forbidden to non-believers.
  Apart from the Shrine of Husayn, Karbala contains the equally-
imposing Shrine of 'Abbas, the half-brother of Husayn, where 'Abbas
and the other members of the family of 'Ali are said to be buried. The
town of Karbala has, of course, become an important religious centre,
being both a point of pilgrimage and also a seat of learning with
numerous theological colleges.
  Until recent political changes made this impossible, it was
customary for important men in Iran to have their bodies brought to
Karbala to be buried there and enormous graveyards around the town
attest to this custom.

[Page 34 contains a chart.]


'Ali, Zaynu'l-'Abidin, the Fourth Imam

Abu Muhammad 'Ali ibn Husayn, known as Zaynu'l-'Abidin (the ornament
of the worshippers) and also by the titles as-Sajjad (the prostrator)
and az-Zaki (the pure), is regarded as the Fourth Imam by Twelver
Shi'is. He had been born in the year 38/658[9] in Medina. His father
was the Third Imam, Husayn, and, according to Shi'i tradition, his
mother was Shahrbanu, the daughter of Yazdigird, the last Sassanian
king of Iran.
  In the previous section it has already been related that 'Ali was
the only son of Husayn to survive the slaughter at Karbala because he
had been too weak and sick to fight. It has also been related that he
was sent a captive to Damascus and then freed by Yazid and allowed to
retire to Medina.
  Husayn's martyrdom in 61/680 had a profound effect on the Shi'a. In
Kufa, towards the end of the same year, a group of Shi'a began to meet
in order to discuss what they could do to atone for their failure to
come to Husayn's assistance. They elected as their leader Sulayman ibn
Surad to whom they gave the title Shaykhu'sh-Shi'a (the leader of the
Shi'a). Their movement, which became known as the Tawwabun (the
penitents) remained underground for four years. Then in 65/684 the
Tawwabun came into the open and 3,000 of them marched against an
Umayyad army of 30,000 and were killed.
  In 64/683, shortly before the Tawwabun uprising, Yazid the Umayyad
Caliph died. There followed the brief six-month reign of his sickly
son and then the Umayyads fell into disarray with factional fighting.
This created a chance for all those factions that had been opposed to
the Umayyads. In Kufa, the leaders of the different tribal factions
met and decided to invite 'Abdu'llah ibn Zubayr, who had already in
61/680 proclaimed his Caliphate in the Hijaz, to send his
representative to govern the city. Thus Iraq came under the rule of
ibn Zubayr. However, there also arrived in Kufa at this time Mukhtar
ath-Thaqafi who was advancing a propaganda among the Shi'is in favour
of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya, the First Imam 'Ali's third 5011 by a
woman of the tribe of Hanifa (i.e. not by Fatima, the daughter of the
Prophet). The Tawwabun who were about to set off on the road to
martyrdom refused to ally themselves with Mukhtar, but after their
defeat Mukhtar's cause grew as there was no alternative leadership
among the Shi'a of Kufa. Eventually, in 66/686, Mukhtar was strong
enough to seize possession of Kufa.
  Whereas the Tawwabun and indeed Shi'ism itself had been primarily an
Arab movement up to this time, Mukhtar was the first to mobilise for
the Shi'i cause the large numbers of Iranians who, in the social


of the Islamic Empire, held an inferior status as Mawali (clients of
the Arab tribes). Mukhtar in his propaganda emphasised the role of ibn
al-Hanafiyya as the Mahdi (the rightly-guided one) who would deliver
the Muslims from oppression and restore justice. Mukhtar's uprising
was put down in 67/686 or 68/687 and Mukhtar himself killed, but the
propaganda on behalf of ibn al-Hanafiyya continued, and when the
latter died in 81/700 a group of his followers considered that he had
not died at all but had gone into occultation and would return.
Mukhtar and the supporters of ibn al-Hanafiyya were thus the first to
bring into prominence two key ideas that were' henceforth to be of
great importance in the development of Shi'i thought; the idea of
Mahdi and the concept of occultation and return.
  During these turbulent years, the Fourth Imam Zaynu'l-'Abidin kept
very much in the background, not involving himself in the politics and
upheavals of the period. So completely did he set himself apart from
an active role that neither 'Abdu'llah ibn Zubayr nor later al-Hajjaj,
when he defeated 'Abdu'llah, felt it necessary to place any
restriction on Zaynu'l-'Abidin's movements nor to extract from him any
pledge of obedience.
  From what is recorded of Zaynu'l-'Abidin's life, it would appear
that he led a very secluded pious life with only a handful of close
associates. It is recorded that he spent a great deal of time weeping
over the martyrs of Karbala. His name as-Sajjad (the prostrator) bore
witness to the numerous times that he prostrated himself before God
and it is said that the resulting calluses on his forehead needed to
be shaved down twice a year.
  Although he kept himself apart from the people and although much of
the support of the Shi'is was diverted to Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya,
there is no doubt that Zaynu'l-'Abidin was held in great respect by
all. Several leading jurists of the time, such as az-Zuhri and Sa'id
ibn al-Musayyib, were counted among his close associates. As for
followers and disciples, it is difficult to be sure of their number.
It seems fairly certain that there were hardly any until the collapse
of Mukhtar's revolt and the end of ibn Zubayr's Caliphate in 73/692.
There is, however, the famous story told that when Hisham, the son of
the Caliph 'Abdu'l-Malik came on pilgrimage to Mecca, he found that
because of the crowds, he was unable to approach the Ka'ba but, to his
annoyance, the crowd parted allowing another to approach with ease.
When he asked who it was for whom the crowd parted so respectfully
while he, the son of the Caliph, was ignored, he was told it was
Zaynu'l-'Abidin. It is also reported that the Caliph 'Abdu'l-Malik
brought Zaynu'l-'Abidin to Damascus and held him in prison briefly.
 According to various sources, Zaynu'l-'Abidin died in 94/712 or 95/


713 aged either fifty-seven or fifty-eight. He was buried in al-Baqi'
cemetery. According to Shi'i historians he was poisoned on the orders
of the reigning Caliph, Walid, or his brother Hisham.

Muhammad al-Baqir, the Fifth Imam

Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn 'Ali, known as al-Baqir ('the splitter-open'
i.e. of knowledge; also said to mean 'the ample' in knowledge) was
born in 57/676. His mother, Fatima, was a daughter of the Second Imam
Hasan. Thus, al-Baqir joined in himself the two lines of descent from
Fatima and 'Ali. He was about thirty-seven years of age when his
father died.
  Like his father, Muhammad al-Baqir was politically quiescent and
refrained from openly putting forward any claim. As during his
father's time with ibn al-Hanafiyya, there was a rival claimant for
the allegiance of the Shi'is during al-Baqir's time. This was al-
Baqir's half-brother Zayd, who advocated a more politically active
role for the Imam and was prepared to accommodate to a certain extent
the view-point of the majority of Muslims by acknowledging the
Caliphates of Abu Bakr and 'Umar and by accepting their legal
  It is reported that the Caliph Hisham summoned al-Baqir and his son
Ja'far to Damascus and debated with them concerning the question of
whether 'Ali, the First Imam, possessed knowledge of the unseen ('ilm
al-ghayb). Hisham is said to have been defeated in argument and to
have sent al-Baqir home.
 Pressed by the rival claim of Zayd, al-Baqir emphasised the doctrine
of nass (specific designation of an Imam by the preceding Imam, see p.
153). However, al-Baqir's supporters and disciples were in a minority
compared with those of Zayd and of Abu Hashim, the son of ibn al-
Hanafiyya.  A further important development during this period, as
seen in the Shi'i sources, was the beginning of an independent stance
by the Shi'is on matters of law and ritual practices. The Shi'is began
to rely only on the guidance of their Imams on these matters and to
reject the rulings of 'Umar and other Traditionists on whom the rest
of the Muslim world was becoming dependent.
  As with the other Imams, Shi'is claim al-Baqir as a martyr but there
is no concurrence as to the manner of his death, some saying he was
poisoned by Hisham, others that it was Ibrahim ibn Walid who arranged
his death. There is also a wide discrepancy regarding the date of
death with variations from 114/732 to 126/743. Most sources appear to
settle for 117/735 but this would preclude one historian's account of
how al-Baqir warned Zayd against his open revolt which occurred in


He was about fifty-seven years old at the time of his death and lies
buried at al-Baqi' cemetery in Medina.

Ja'far as-Sadiq, the Sixth Imam

Abu 'Abdu'llah Ja'far ibn Muhammad known by the title as-Sadiq (the
truthful) was the eldest son of Muhammad al-Baqir, while his mother
was a great-granddaughter of the first Caliph, Abu Bakr. His date of
birth is variously given as 80/699, 83/702 or 86/705. He was therefore
about thirty-seven years old when his father died.
 Apart from the First Imam 'Ali, no other Imam of the Twelver line
achieved as great a renown in the Muslim world for piety and learning
as Ja'far as-Sadiq did in his own lifetime. Many of those who sat in
as-Sadiq's circle of students later went on to become renowned
scholars and jurists. Abu Hanifa, the founder of the Hanafi School of
Law in Sunni Islam, is said to have been one of his students, and
Malik ibn Anas, the founder of the Maliki School of Law, was also
evidently closely associated with as-Sadiq and transmitted Traditions
from him. However, it must not be imagined that more than a few of the
thousands of students who are reported to have studied under as-Sadiq
were Shi'is or accepted his claim to the Imamate. Indeed, it cannot be
certain that he openly advanced such a claim.
  During as-Sadiq's Imamate there were stirring events throughout the
Muslim world. The Shi'a of this time appear to have been desperately
looking for any 'Alid (descendant of 'Ali--see Glossary) who could
establish his authority and take over the Caliphate. Thus they
supported, in turn: Zayd's revolt in 122/740; the rebellion of
'Abdu'llah ibn Mu'awiya (a descendant of Ja'far, 'Ali's brother) in
127/744; the 'Abbasid rising beginning in 129/747, which received a
great deal of Shi'i support, at least while the real purpose of the
rising was concealed under the claim to be acting for 'one who shall
be chosen from the family of the Prophet'; and the revolt of Muhammad
an-Nafs az-Zakiyya (the pure soul) in 145/762 against the 'Abbasids.
Throughout all these turbulent events, as-Sadiq followed the policy of
his father and grandfather and remained politically quietist. Even
when Abu Salama, the political leader of the 'Abbasid revolt,
reportedly offered him the Caliphate, as-Sadiq declined it.
  The Imamate of as-Sadiq may be said to consist of two parts. During
the first part, while the Umayyads were in power, as-Sadiq taught
quietly in Medina and succeeded in establishing his considerable
reputation during this phase he was relatively free from molestation
by the authorities. Once the 'Abbasids came to power, and particularly
during the reign of the second 'Abbasid Caliph, al-Mansur, as-Sadiq


began to be harassed. On several occasions he was summoned to Kufa and
held in prison, and Shi'i histories describe several attempts by al-
Mansur to kill him. Husain Jafri has suggested that it was under as-
Sadiq that the doctrine of nass (designation of the Imam by the
preceding Imam, see p. 153) as an essential pre-requisite for the
Imamate, and the doctrine of 'ilm (the special knowledge of the Imam,
see p. 153) were fully developed.[11] This may well have been so, for
there was certainly a profusion of claims and counter-claims at this
time and it was the doctrine of nass that both distinguished the
Twelver line from other 'Alid claimants and also provided the
justification for the quietist line taken by these Imams. The doctrine
of taqiyya (religious dissimulation) was also developed at this time.
It served to protect the followers of as-Sadiq at a time when al-
Mansur was conducting a brutally repressive campaign against 'Alids
and their supporters. Most authorities agree that as-Sadiq died in
148/765. As usual, Shi'i historians have attributed his death to
poisoning, on this occasion by the Caliph al-Mansur.

Musa al-Kazim, the Seventh Imam

The Seventh Imam of the Twelver Shi'is was Abu'l-Hasan Musa ibn Ja'far
known as al-Kazim (the forbearing). He was born in 128/745 (or
according to other accounts 120/737 or 129/746) on the road between
Mecca and Medina. His mother was a Berber slave called Hamida. He was
about twenty years of age at the time of his father's death.
  The first years of his Imamate were concerned with a dispute over
the succession to the Imamate. It appears that most of the followers
of as-Sadiq were expecting the latter's eldest son, Isma'il, whose
mother was a granddaughter of Zaynu'l-'Abidin, the Fourth Imam, to
succeed to the Imamate. Then Isma'il died during his father's lifetime
and Musa's followers claimed that as-Sadiq had then designated Musa,
but there was some confusion among the ranks of Shi'a. Although for
later generations, the most important group that split off at this
time were those who considered the Imamate transferred from Isma'il to
Muhammad, Isma'il's son (i.e. the Isma'ilis), it would appear from the
reports that Musa was most strongly challenged by the claim of
'Abdu'llah al-Aftah, the oldest surviving son of as-Sadiq. A number of
influential followers of as-Sadiq are recorded to have at first
followed 'Abdu'llah and then later changed their allegiance to Musa.
  Throughout the whole of his life, Musa was faced with hostility and
harassment from the 'Abbasid Caliphs. During the Caliphate of al-
Mansur which overlapped with the first ten years of Musa's Imamate,
the opposition was not so intense, but then came the ten years of the


Caliphate of al-Mahdi. Spies were planted in Medina to watch for any
sign of disloyalty emanating from Musa, and at least once during this
period he was arrested, brought to Baghdad and imprisoned for a while.
It was, however, during the Caliphate of Harun ar-Rashid that the
persecution of 'Alids reached a climax. This Caliph is reported to
have had hundreds of 'Alids killed. On one occasion Musa was arrested
and brought to Baghdad. The Caliph was determined on his execution but
then set him free as a result, it is said, of a dream.
  In the last half of Musa's lifetime, many of the Shi'is who had
split off from him at the beginning of his ministry returned their
allegiance to him. New followers were gained and important new centres
established in Egypt and north-west Africa.
  The cause of Musa's final arrest and murder is said to have been the
result of the plotting of Harun ar-Rashid's vizier Yahya ibn Khalid of
the Barmaki family. When Harun put his son and heir Amin into the
charge of Ja'far ibn Muhammad of the al-Ash'ath family, Yahya grew
fearful that when Harun died, the influence of the Barmaki family
would come to an end, and so he began to plot against Ja'far ibn
Muhammad. Ja'far was secretly a Shi'i and a believer in the Imamate of
Musa and so Yahya began to feed information to Harun about the fact
that Ja'far considered Musa to be the real sovereign and sent him the
khums (see p. 179). These reports were designed to raise the wrath of
the jealous and easily-influenced Caliph and to that end a relative of
Musa's was suborned into giving further evidence about the influence
of Musa and how money came to him from all parts of the Empire.
  That year, 177/793, when Rashid went on pilgrimage, he caused Musa
to be arrested and sent him to Basra and then to Baghdad. There, Musa
was kept in prison and eventually killed by poisoning. This occurred
in the year 183/799.
  Since there were rumours among the Shi'a that Musa, the Seventh
Imam, would also be the last Imam and would not die but would be the
Mahdi, Harun made a public display of Musa's body in Baghdad (this was
also to show people there were no marks on his body and that he had
not met a violent death). Musa al-Kazim was buried in the cemetery of
the Quraysh.
  In later years the Shrine of Musa al-Kazim and of his grandson, the
Ninth Imam Muhammad at-Taqi, became the centre of a separate suburb of
Baghdad called Kazimayn (the two Kazims) and a shrine has stood over
the site of these graves since the time of the Buyid dynasty. The
present magnificent shrine dates from the early 16th century when it
was built by Shah Isma'il, the Safavid ruler of Iran. The domes were
tiled with gold in 1796 by Agha Muhammad Shah, the first of the Qajar
dynasty of Iran. They were later retiled by Nasiru'd-Din


Shah in the 1850s and most recently in the last decade by the Iraqi

'Ali ar-Rida, the Eighth Imam

Abu'l-Hasan 'Ali ibn Musa, known as ar-Rida (the approved or
acceptable) was born in Medina in 148/765. Various names are given to
his mother in the historical sources but what is certain is that she
was a slave. He was thirty-five years old when his father died.
  It was during the Imamate of ar-Rida that the Caliph Harun ar-Rashid
died and the Empire was split between his two sons: Amin, who was born
of an Arab mother and controlled Iraq and the West with his Arab
vizier al-Fadl ibn Rabi'; and Ma'mun, who was born of a Persian mother
and controlled Iran and the East with his Iranian vizier, al-Fadl ibn
Sahl. Amin attempted to interfere with the arrangements for the
succession that had been agreed upon and soon there was a civil war in
which Amin was defeated and Ma'mun's army under the Iranian General,
Tahir occupied Baghdad. Ma'mun, however, remained for the time being
in Marv in Khurasan.
  It was at this point that Ma'mun suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly
summoned 'Ali ar-Rida from Medina to join him at Marv. On ar-Rida's
arrival he was appointed, somewhat reluctantly it is said, to be
Ma'mun's heir-apparent.
  There has been much conjecture as to what caused Ma'mun to adopt
this course of action. Some have suggested that the revolts in the
West of the Empire some of them under a Shi'i banner led by Zaydi
Imams--were becoming serious and this was a political move designed to
give Ma'mun the support of a body of the Shi'a and a respite. Some
have suggested that it was the work of his powerful vizier, al-Fadl
ibn Sahl, who had Shi'i proclivities.
  It was while ar-Rida was in Marv that his sister, Fatima, known as
Ma'suma (the immaculate) set out from Medina to see him. She died at
Qumm en route and it is her shrine which is the religious focus of the
city of Qumm. Qumm had been founded as a Shi'i town when, in 94/712,
Ahwas ibn Sa'd al-Ash'ari had fled from Kufa as a result of the
persecutions of Shi'is being carried out by the Umayyad Governor, al-
Hajjaj. The present imposing shrine was constructed mainly by Shah
Bigum, the daughter of Shah Isma'il, in 925/1519 and additions were
made throughout the Safavid and Qajar eras. Gold tiles were placed on
the roof by the Qajar monarch Fath 'Ali Shah. A number of the most
important theological colleges in the Shi'i world have grown up around
this shrine.
  Whatever may have been the cause of Ma'mun's nomination of ar-Rida


(which occurred in the year 201/816 there can be no doubt that it
caused a great stir. Everywhere the black standards and uniforms of
the 'Abbasids were changed to the green of the 'Alids. In Iraq, the
'Abbasid family rebelled and set up a rival Caliph.
  In order to quell these rebellions, Ma'mun set out with his court
and army towards Iraq. At Tus, on the way to Iraq, 'Ali ar-Rida
suddenly took sick and died. The year was 203/818. The suddenness of
his death has caused most writers to state that he was poisoned and
the Shi'i writers accuse the Caliph Ma'mun of doing this out of
jealousy for the affection with which the people held ar-Ri,da, but
there were other parties, especially the deposed 'Abbasids, who had
reason to hate ar-Rida.
 'Ali ar-Rida was buried near the tomb of Harun ar-Rashid near Tus. A
tomb was built over the grave but this was destroyed and the present
building dates from the early 14th century AD when the Mongol Sultan
Muhammad Oljeitu converted to Shi'ism and rebuilt the shrine. Most of
the elaborate decorative work dates from Safavid and Qajar times and
gold tiles were placed on the roof by Shah 'Abbas I (completed in
1016/1607). In AD 1673 an earthquake destroyed the dome of the
building and this was repaired by the Safavid Shah Sulayman. The city
of Tus was forgotten and a new city called Mashhad (place of
martyrdom) grew around the shrine. Shi'i pilgrims flock to this site
and there is a prescribed ritual for the pilgrimage. Adjacent to the
shrine itself is another magnificent building which is the Mosque of
Gawhar-Shad, the wife of Shah-Rukh (see p. 98). This building,
completed in 797/1394, is one of the finest in Iran. A number of
theological colleges have been built around the shrine, the most
famous of which is that of Mirza Ja'far Khan.

Muhammad at-Taqi, the Ninth Imam

Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn 'Ali, known by the titles at-Taqi (the God-
fearing) and al-Jawad (the generous), was born in 195/810. There are
differences as to the identity of his mother but most sources seem to
state that she was a Nubian slave. Muhammad at-Taqi's father 'Ali ar-
Rida had been married to Ma'mun's daughter but no children resulted
from that marriage.
  Muhammad at-Taqi was born in Medina and remained there when his
father went to join Ma'mun in far-off Marv. He was only seven years
old when his father died and he succeeded to the Imamate. His youth
became a cause of controversy among the Shi'a, some asking how such a
boy could have the necessary knowledge to be the Imam. Shi'i writers
have countered such suggestions by relating numerous stories about his
extraordinary knowledge at a young age and by referring to the fact


the Qur'an states that Jesus was given his mission while still a
child.  The Caliph Ma'mun had changed his colour from the 'Alid green
back to the 'Abbasid black shortly after arriving in Baghdad but he
maintained his friendly attitude towards the Shi'is and the 'Alids and
Muhammad at-Taqi was to benefit greatly from this.
  Muhammad at-Taqi had apparently come to Baghdad shortly after his
father's death and had been warmly received by Ma'mun who was greatly
impressed with the boy. Ma'mun decided to give his daughter Umm al-
Fadl in marriage to at-Taqi Members of the 'Abbasid family were
opposed to this but it is related that Muhammad at-Taqi proved his
worth in public debate with one of the leading scholars of Baghdad. A
magnificent wedding was arranged. It has been suggested that a revolt
in the important Shi'i centre of Qumm, which began in 210/825 and
flared up again in 214/829 and 216/831, caused Ma'mun to arrange this
wedding in order to placate Shi'i sentiment.[12] But it would appear
that Ma'mun had little to fear from this revolt.
  After eight years in Baghdad, Muhammad at-Taqi and his bride retired
to Medina. Some of the histories report that Umm al-Fadl was not
altogether happy as at-Taqi's wife and wrote to her father complaining
but the Caliph defended at-Taqi.
  Ma'mun died in 218/833 and was succeeded by his brother, Mu'tasim.
Muhammad at-Taqi was summoned back to Baghdad in 220/835 and he died
there in that same year. Since most Shi'i writers have felt it
necessary to demonstrate that all the Imams were martyred, they have
attributed at-Taqi's death to poisoning by his wife, Umm al-Fadl, on
the instigation of Mu'tasim. However, there is little evidence of this
and Shi'i writers differ among themselves as to how the poisoning was
accomplished. Moreover, early Shi'i writers, such as Shaykh al-Mufid
have declined to give credence to the story of the poisoning.[13]
  Muhammad at-Taqi was buried in the cemetery of the Quraysh at
Baghdad, close to his grandfather. The grave is now contained in the
double shrine of Kazimayn.

'Ali al-Hadi, the Tenth Imam

Abu'l-Hasan 'Alii ibn Muhammad, who is known by the titles al-Hadi
(the guided) and an-Naqi (the distinguished), was born in 212/827 or
214/829 in Medina. His mother was a Moroccan slave called Samana. He
was seven years old when his father died. Once again the Shi'is were
faced with the problem of a child Imam.
  During the remaining years of the Caliphate of Mu'tasim and the
five-year Caliphate of Wathiq, al-Hadi and the Shi'is were relatively
free and unmolested. All this was to change, however, with the
Caliphate of


Mutawakkil which began in 232/847. During this reign, both Shi'is and
Mu'tazilis (see Glossary) came under an intense persecution.  In
233/848 Mutawakkil summoned al-Hadi to Samarra, the new 'Abbasid
capital north of Baghdad. Although received hospitably and given a
house in which to live, al-Hadi was in reality a prisoner of the
Caliph. The quarter of the city where al-Hadi lived was known as al-
'Askar since it was chiefly occupied by the army ('askar) and,
therefore al-Hadi and his son Hasan are both referred to as 'Askari or
together as 'Askariyayn (the two 'Askaris). Al-Hadi lived in Samarra
for twenty years, always under the observation of the Caliph's spies.
It is reported that at least once Mutawakkil attempted to kill al-Hadi
but was frustrated by a miracle. Al-Hadi continued to live in Samarra
after the death of Mutawakkil in 247/861 and during the brief reign of
Muntasir and the four-year reign of Musta'in until his death in
254/868 during the Caliphate of Mu'tazz. Real power was, by this time,
in the hands of the Turkish Generals of the Caliphs and so it is
difficult to see what advantage there would have been to the Caliph in
poisoning the Imam as most Shi'i histories claim. Shaykh al-Mufid,
among the early Shi'i writers, does not state that the Imam was
  'Ali al-Hadi and his son Hasan al-'Askari are buried in the twin
shrines called 'Askariyayn in Samarra. The first substantial building
over this site was constructed by Nasiru'd-Dawla the Hamdanid ruler of
Mosul in 333/944. The building was enlarged and ornamentation added by
the Buyids and Safavids and the dome was gilded by Nasiru'd-Din Shah
Qajar in about 1868.

Hasan al-'Askari, the Eleventh Imam

The Eleventh Imam was Abu Muhammad Hasan ibn 'Ali, known as al-'Askari
on account of his almost life-long detention in Samarra. He was born
in 232/846 (or 230/844 or 231/845) in Medina and was therefore only
two years of age when his father was summoned to Samarra. His mother
was a slave who is named as Hadith.
  Hasan al-'Askari was twenty-two years old when his father gave him a
slave-girl who is usually called Narjis or Saqil and who is named as
the mother of Muhammad, the Twelfth Imam.
  The period of Hasan's Imamate was brief, only six years. During this
time he was under intense pressure from the 'Abbasids and access to
him for his followers was restricted. He therefore tended to use
agents to communicate with the Shi'is who followed him.
  Hasan al-'Askari died on either 1 or 8 Rabi' al-Awwal 260 (25
December 873 or 1 January 874). The Shi'i histories maintain that he
was poisoned by the Caliph Mu'tamid.


Muhammad al-Mahdi, the Twelfth Imam

Abu'l-Qasim Muhammad ibn Hasan, known as al-Mahdi (the guided), al-
Muntazar (the awaited), al-Hujja (the proof), al-Qa'im (the one who
will arise), Baqiyatu'llah (the remnant of God), is identified as the
Twelfth Imam. After the death of Hasan al-'Askari there was a great
deal of confusion among the Shi'a, with some saying that al-'Askari
had had no son and others asserting that he had (see pp. 59-60). Those
who were to go on to become the main body of the Twelver Shi'a
believed that Hasan's son Muhammad had gone into occultation. Further
details of the Twelfth Imam can be found in Chapter 8.


The traditional accounts of the history of the Shi'a are mostly a
recital of the various sects that split off from the main body of the
Shi'a at different times, starting from the time of 'Ali. It is
difficult to determine how many of these sects really existed as
historical entities and how many are inventions of later writers. What
is certain is that even if these sects did exist, the majority died
out within a century. A few have survived to the present day and a
brief description of the later developments of these sects is given
  In considering the traditional account of these sects, it would be
useful to examine briefly a number of general terms used about them as
these terms crop up frequently in the following accounts:
a. Ghulat (the extremists) and Ghuluww (extremism): those sects which
hold either the opinion that any particular person is God or that any
person is a prophet after Muhammad, are called by this title. Certain
other doctrines such as tanasukh (transmigration of souls), hulul
(descent of God or the Spirit of God into a person) and tashbih
(anthropomorphism with respect to God) are also usually ascribed to
these groups. They are generally considered to be outside the pale of
b. Waqifa or Waqifiyya (those who hesitate or stop). This term is
applied to any group who deny or hesitate over the death of a
particular Imam and, therefore, stop at that Imam and refuse to
recognise any further Imams. Most often it refers specifically to the
group considering Musa al-Kazim to be the last Imam.
c. Qat'iyya (those who are certain). This term applies to those who
are certain of a death of a particular Imam and therefore go on to the
next Imam.


During the Caliphate of 'Ali

1. The Saba'iyya

'Abdu'llah ibn Saba al-Himyari, a semi-legendary figure known as ibn
as-Sawda, is generally considered to have started the tendency to
ghuluww (extremism in matters of doctrine). He is said to have been a
Jew converted to Islam. He is described as a devoted follower of 'Ali
and during 'Uthman's Caliphate travelled from place to place agitating
in 'Ali's favour. Indeed, he is considered by some Sunni writers as
the originator of Shi'ism itself, although on account of his extremism
this is considered by Shi'is as a mere During 'Ali's
Caliphate, however, he was banished by 'Ali to Mada'in on account of
his saying to 'Ali: 'Thou art God.' According to manly accounts
moreover, 'Ali even caused some of the followers of ibn Saba to be
  After the assassination of 'Ali, 'Abdu'llah ibn Saba is said to have
stated that he had not died at all. He was alive in the clouds and
would return to fill the earth with justice.[17] If these reports are
true, the Saba'iyya would be, within the traditional schema, the first
group of Waqifiyya[18] and the first to have introduced the doctrines
of ghayba (occultation or concealment) and raj'a (return).[19]
However, the doctrine for which Ibn-Saba is best remembered and which
caused Muslim writers to account him as one of the ghulat is his
attribution of divinity to Ali (and according to some sources, his own
claim to be the prophet of  Groups who were active at a later period
but who are considered to have been derived from the Saba'iyya are:
a. 'Ulyaniyya or 'Alya'iyya named after 'Ulyan (or 'Alya) ibn Dhira'
as-Sadusi (or ad-Dawsi or al-Asdi) who appear to have been active
around AD 800 and are also called adh-Dhammiyya (the blamers) because
they stated that 'Ali was God with Muhammad as his Apostle and that
Muhammad was to be blamed in that he was sent to call the people to
'Ali but called them to himself. Others of this group assigned
divinity to both Muhammad and 'Ali.
b. Ishaqiyya or Hamrawiyya named after Ishaq ibn Muhammad an-Nakha'i
al-Ahmar of Kufa, who died in 186/802. This group evidently had close
links with the previous group as Ishaq is named as the leading
dogmatist of the previous group by some writers.[20] They stressed
that both Muhammad and 'Ali were divine and shared in the prophethood.
c. Muhammadiyya or Mimiyya. This sect are a counterpart to the
'Ulyaniyya and stressed the divinity of Muhammad. Their leading
champion was al-Fayyad. d. Ahl-i Haqq ('Ali Ilahis, 'Aliyu'llahis).
The 'Ulyaniyya are


traditionally linked to a Shi'i sect that has survived to the present
day, the 'Aliyu'llahis as the Ahl-i Haqq are often erroneously called.
The historical connection is however tenuous and the Ahl-i Haqq sect
appear to have originated among the tribes in the Qara-Quyunlu Empire
in the 15th century. There is no uniform set of beliefs among the Ahl-
i Haqq. Rather they form a loose network of groups each with its own
beliefs. The twelve Imams of the Twelver line are revered but are not
central to their beliefs. Their organisation and rituals are not
unlike those of the Sufi orders. They are most numerous among the
Kurds in west Iran and among the Turkomans and Kurds in north Iraq
(especially around Sulaymaniyya and Kirkuk) and south-east Turkey.

    After the Martyrdom of Husayn

    2. The Kaysaniyya

The Kaysaniyya began (see p. 35) as a movement started by Mukhtar ibn
Abu 'Ubayd ath-Thaqafi claiming to represent Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya
(the son of 'Ali by a Hanafi woman). The name is thought to be derived
from Kaysan, the leader of th Mawali under Mukhtar.
  Mukhtar himself is said to have taught that the Imamate was
transferred to Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya after Husayn. Doctrinally the
Kaysaniyya stood halfway between the later Zaydi and Twelver positions
concerning the nature of the Imamate in that while denying nass
(designation) and emphasising that the Imam's claim is based on his
personal qualifications, they also stressed the innate supernatural
knowledge of the Imam. Mukhtar is said to have introduced the doctrine
of bada (changeability of God's will) when he was defeated in a battle
that he had prophesied he would win.
The Kaysaniyya survived the defeat and death of Mukhtar but after the
death of ibn al-Hanafiyya himself they split up into a number of

a. Karibiyya, named after Abu Karib ad-Darir; this group held to the
doctrines of ghayba (concealment) and raj'a (return). They considered
that ibn al-Hanafiyya had not died but was concealed on Mount Rawda
(some seven days' journey from Medina) and would return to fill the
earth with justice. Because they believed that prior
to the return of the Imam, the drawing of swords was forbidden, they
fought with sticks and were therefore called the Khashabiyya. Two of
the most famous of Arab poets belonged to this sect, Sayyid al-Himyari
and Kuthayyir.

b. Hashimiyya, who held that ibn al-Hanafiyya did die and that he
taught all of his knowledge to his son, Abu Hashim, to whom the
Imamate passed. This sect is said to have introduced the allegorical


interpretation of the Qur'an and the idea that beneath the zahir
(exoteric) there is a batin (esoteric meaning).
Abu Hashim died in Humayma (Palestine) in about 98/717. Upon his death
several further factions arose.

c. 'Abbasiyya. The 'Abbasids originally claimed that Abu Hashim passed
the Imamate on to Muhammad ibn 'Ali (the great-grandson of 'Abbas, the
uncle of the Prophet) at his death-bed in Humayma and that the Imamate
was transferred to the descendants of 'Abbas. Thus initially the
'Abbasid propaganda was in reality a branch of the Hashimiyya. Later,
once the 'Abbasids had overthrown the Umayyads and assumed the
Caliphate, they changed the basis of their claim to the Caliphate
by stating that 'Abbas was the rightful successor to the Prophet.

d. Rawandiyya. Despite this change of emphasis by the 'Abbasids
following their overthrow of the Umayyads, there remained a sect
called the Rawandiyya who believed in the Imamate of the 'Abbasids and
it is even said that some of them believed in the divinity of al-
Mansur, the second 'Abbasid Caliph. However, the 'Abbasids, wishing to
secure a more orthodox basis for their Caliphate, found such
a heterodox movement extremely embarrassing and al-Mansur is even
reported to have had some of the sect killed.

e. Rizamiyya or Muslimiyya. There is also recorded a group called in
one source the Rizamiyya after Rizam ibn Razm.[21] What appears to
have been an almost identical sect is called Muslimiyya in another
source.[22] This sect considered Abu Muslim, the 'Abbasid General, as
having inherited the Imamate from 'Abdu'llah as-Saffah, the first
'Abbasid Caliph, and some of the heresiographers include this
group among the ghulat on account of their believing in Abu Muslim's
divinity or claiming that he was greater in rank than Gabriel. In any
case, this sect did not believe Abu Muslim had died but rather that he
was in concealment and would return to fill the earth with justice.
One writer calls the sect Barkukiyya and asserts that they were to be
found in Herat and Marv and that they believed that the man who was
killed by al-Mansur was not Abu Muslim but a devil who took on his
shape.[23] What appears to be the same sect is called in other sources
the Khurramiyya, Khurramdiniyya and Ishaqiyya. They were active in
Khurasan and Transoxania and are linked in several sources with
Zoroastrianism and Mazdakism (the Ishaqiyya, for example, were held to
believe that Abu Muslim was in fact a prophet sent by Zoroaster to
revive his religion).

A group of this sect under the leadership of Hashim ibn Hakim al-
Muqanna' (the veiled one) arose in revolt in 159/775 during the reign
of the Caliph al-Mahdi. They believed that God had existed in the form
of all the prophets from Adam to Muhammad and then in 'Ali and his
sons and finally in Abu Muslim from whom it had
passed to al-Muqanna'.[24]


This group were called Muqanniyya or Mubayyada and are considered part
of a wider belief in the descent of the spirit of God into the form of
a man which is called Hululiyya.

f. Al-Kaysaniyya al-Khullas or Mukhtariyya. This group considered the
Imamate to be passed down among Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya's
descendants: from Abu Hashim to his brother, 'Ali, and to 'Ali's son,
Hasan, and to Hasan's son, 'Ali. The mothers of this succession of
Imams were also descendants of ibn al-Hanafiyya.

g. Bayaniyya. The followers of Bayan ibn Sam'an at-Tamimi who
maintained that the divinity passed from 'Ali to his sons and then
through Abu Hashim to Bayan. Among the beliefs attributed to this
group are anthropomorphism with respect to God. Bayan's relationship
with the Fifth Imam, Muhammad al-Baqir, appears to have varied quite
markedly. At one time he is reported to have been advancing claims of
a ghuluww nature with respect to al-Baqir; at another time he is
reported to have sent a message summoning al-Baqir to accept his
prophethood. Bayan was put to death by Khalid ibn 'Abdu'llah al-Qasri,
Hisham's governor in Iraq.

After the Imamate of Zaynu'l-'Abidin

3. The Zaydiyya

Zayd, the son of the Fourth Imam, Zaynu'l-'Abidin, asserted a claim to
the Imamate on the basis that it belonged to any descendant of 'Ali
and Fatima who is learned, pious and comes forward openly to claim the
Imamate (i.e. raises a revolt). Zayd is said to have studied under
Wasil ibn 'Ata, the reputed founder of the Mu'tazila (see p. 77ff.),
and so the Zaydiyya came to incorporate Mu'tazili theology and a large
number of this school joined the movement. In order to widen the basis
of his support yet further, some Zaydis propounded the doctrine of
Imamat al-Mafdul--that it was possible for a man of lesser excellence
to be appointed Imam during the lifetime of a man of greater
excellence. Through this doctrine, they justified the Caliphates of
Abu Bakr and 'Umar stating that these were matters of expediency
while 'Ali was of greater excellence. A corollary of this was the
acceptance that the companions of the Prophet were not blame-worthy or
sinful in rejecting 'Ali (an important point for the Traditionists who
depended on the authority of these companions for the transmission of
the Traditions).
  Zayd and his half-brother, the Fifth Imam Muhammad al-Baqir, came to
open disagreement over several points of doctrine. Initially, Zayd's
activist approach attracted many of the Shi'is, but later as Zayd
compromised more and more with the Traditionists many of the Shi'a
turned their backs on him and returned to al-Baqir.


 Zayd raised his revolt in Safar 122/January 740 but was unsuccessful
and was killed in Kufa by the Caliph Hisham. Zayd's son, Yahya, then
fled to Khurasan and started a revolt there but was overcome and
killed in 125/743.
  Since the Zaydis recognised no designation for the Imamate nor any
strict hereditary principle (beyond the fact that the Imam must be of
the descendants of Hasan and Husayn), a number of other revolts are
held to be Zaydi rebellions. The first of these was that of Muhammad
ibn 'Abdu'llah, An-Nafs az-Zakiyya (the pure soul) who was descended
from Hasan. He claimed the Imamate and rose in rebellion against the
'Abbasid Caliphal-Mansur. He was killed in 145/762. After his death, a
number of his followers, called the Muhammadiyya, said that he had not
been killed but was in concealment and would return to fill the earth
with justice. Those who accepted the death of an-Nafs az-Zakiyya
transferred the Imamate to Muhammad ibn al-Qasim, one of the
descendants of the Imam Husayn, who lived in Talaqan. He was arrested
on the orders of the Caliph Mu'tasim in 219/834 and died in prison,
although some of his followers in Daylam and Tabaristan (north Iran)
continued to await his return. An even later revolt which is
considered to be in the line of Zaydiyya is that of Yahya ibn 'Umar
who was of Husaynid descent. He arose in rebellion during the
Caliphate of Musta'in and was killed in 250/864. The same year, Hasan
ibn Zayd succeeded in founding a Zaydi state in Tabaristan in north
Iran. A few decades later in 301/913, Hasan ibn 'Ali al-Utrush, Nasir
al-Haqq, a Zaydi Imam, made his way to Daylam and Gilan in north Iran
where the people had resisted the adoption of Islam. Here he was
successful in converting the people to Zaydi Shi'ism and a succession
of 'Alid Zayd rulers ruled over them until about 424/1032. In 288/901
another Zaydi state was established in Yemen, centred on Sa'da and, in
more modern times, in San'a. This state, although over-run on numerous
occasions during its history, managed to retain its Zaydi identity and
on the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War,
the Zaydi Imam, Yahya al-Mutawakkil, succeeded in bringing the area
under his control and establishing a Zaydi state which survived until
a revolution in 1962. Thus this sect has survived to the present day.
In its early history it was, however, recorded as having divided into
a number of sub-groups:
a. Jarudiyya. This group of the Zaydiyya named after Abu'l-Jarud Ziyad
ibn Abi Ziyad, was opposed to the approval of the companions of the
Prophet. They held that although there was no specific designation of
'Ali by the Prophet, there was
a sufficient description given so that all should have recognised him.
They therefore considered the companions sinful in failing to
recognise 'Ali. They also denied the


legitimacy of Abu Bakr and 'Umar. This sect was active during the late
Umayyad and early 'Abbasid period and its views predominated among the
later Zaydis.
b. Sulaymaniyya or Jarriyya. This group, led by Sulayman ibn Jarir,
held that the Imamate should be a matter to be decided by
consultation. They felt that the companions, including Abu Bakr and
'Umar, had been in error in failing to follow 'Ali but this did not
amount to sin. 'Uthman, however, was attacked for the innovations that
he introduced.
c. Butriyya or Salihiyya. These two groups, named respectively after
Kathir an-Nawa al-Abtar and Hasan ibn Salih, seem to have held
identical doctrines. They agreed with the Jaririyya on the matter of
Abu Bakr and 'Umar and suspended judgement with respect to 'Uthman. It
is stated by one author that they followed the Mu'tazila in theology
and the Hanafi school in most questions of law, though in some matters
they agreed with ash-Shafi'i and the Shi'is.

During the Imamates of Muhammad al-Baqir and Ja'far as-Sadiq

This period was a very turbulent one both in the Islamic world in
general, with the overthrow of the Umayyads and establishment of the
'Abbasid Caliphate, and in the Shi'i community. We have already noted
the 'Abbasid movement which grew out of the Kaysaniyya during this
time and the rebellions of Zayd and an-Nafs az-Zakiyya. A number of
other groups were also active during this period.

4. The Janahiyya

In 127/744 'Abdu'llah ibn Mu'awiya rose in revolt against the last
Umayyad Caliph. 'Abdu'llah was a descendant of Ja'far ibn Abu Talib,
the brother of the Imam 'Ali. Ja'far was known as Dhu'l-Janahayn (the
possessor of two wings). 'Abdu'llah is accused of holding a number of
extreme opinions: the incarnation of God in a succession of Prophets
and Imams passing eventually through Muhammad ibn Hanafiyya
and Abu Hashim to 'Abdu'llah ibn Mu'awiya; transmigration of souls;
and the allegorical interpretation of the Qur'an. 'Abdu'llah was
forced to flee from Kufa and established his rule over the province of
Fars until defeated by Abu Muslim. Some of his followers asserted that
he had not died but was concealed in the mountains of Isfahan and
would appear again.

5. The Mughiriyya

The followers of Mughira ibn Sa'id al-'Ijli are sometimes accounted


among the ghulat of the Imamiyya and sometimes among the Zaydiyya. In
fact it would appear that Mughira changed his allegiance over the
years several times. Initially he was a follower of Muhammad al-Baqir
but the latter repudiated him and anathematised him on account of his
assertion of al-Baqir's divinity. Mughira believed in anthropomorphism
with respect to God. After al-Baqir's death, Mughira claimed the
Imamate and even prophethood for himself. However, he told his
followers to await the return of al-Baqir who would raise the dead.
Mughira was put to death in 119/737 by Khalid ibn 'Abdu'llah al-Qasri,
on the same day as Bayan ibn Sam'an (see above) according to some
writers.[25] Indeed, Bayan and Mughira were closely linked in many
ways including their ghuluww tendencies with respect to al-Baqir.
After Mughira's death his followers attached themselves to Muhammad
an-Nafs az-Zakiyya.

6. The Mansuriyya or Kisfiyya

A third group linked to the Bayaniyya and the Mughiriyya were the
followers of Abu Mansur al-'Ijli. Abu Mansur also initially claimed to
be a follower of al-Baqir but was repudiated by the latter on account
of ghuluww tendencies. Later Abu Mansur claimed the Imamate had passed
to him. The name Kisfiyya arose because Abu Mansur believed himself to
be the piece (kisf) of heaven falling down which is mentioned in
Qur'an (52:44). He maintained that the first thing created by God was
Jesus and then after him 'Ali. He held to an allegorical
interpretation of the Qur'an which among other things meant that those
things forbidden in the Qur'an were nothing but allegory for the names
of certain evil men. Thus his followers are accused of all manner of
immorality and sin. It is also said that they killed their enemies by
strangling or breaking the skull with wooden clubs.
  After Abu Mansur's death, leadership of the group passed to his son,
Husayn, although some of the Mansuriyya went over to the supporters of
an-Nafs az-Zakiyya.

7. The Khattabiyya

Abu'l-Khattab Muhammad ibn Abu Zaynab al-Asadi al-Ajda' was yet
another figure who was at first connected with the main line of
Twelver Imams. At first he claimed to be the representative of Imam
Ja'far as Sadiq and to have been taught by him knowledge of the
Greatest Name of God. But he was repudiated and anathematised by as-
Sadiq. Then Abu'l-Khattab claimed the Imamate for himself while
elevating as-Sadiq to the level of prophethood and divinity. Central
to Abdu'l-Khattab's


Khattab's doctrines appears to have been an allegorical interpretation
of the Qur'an. His followers also believed that they would not die but
would be lifted up to heaven. They are accused of having disregarded
all religious observances and regarded everything as lawful. Abu'l-
Khattab was executed in Kufa in 138/755. His followers, who appear to
have been numerous, split among several leaders: 
a. Bazighiyya. The followers of Bazigh ibn Musa, the weaver, who
followed Abu'l-Khattab's doctrines and claimed that a man who had
reached perfection should not be said to have died and that the best
of his followers were superior to the angels.
b. Mu'ammariyya. The followers of Mu'ammar ibn Khaytham, the corn
dealer, who claimed prophethood in succession to Abu'l-Khattab and
asserted that the present world would never come to an end but that
both paradise and hell were to be experienced here.
c. 'Umayriyya or 'Ijliyya. The followers of 'Umayr ibn Bayan al-'Ijli,
the straw dealer of Kufa.
d. Mufaddaliyya. The followers of Mufaddal as-Sayrafi who is said to
have believed in the lordship of as-Sadiq but repudiated the
apostleship or prophethood of Abu'l-Khattab.
e. Ghurabiyya. The followers of this group, who in one source are
accounted as part of the Khattabiyya, are said to have held that since
Muhammad and 'Ali were as indistinguishable from each other as one
raven (ghurab) is from another, when the angel Gabriel was sent with
the divine revelation from God for 'Ali, he gave it by mistake to
Muhammad. One Muslim writer has commented on the beliefs of this sect
that even were it to be accepted that Gabriel could not distinguish
between an eleven-year-old boy and a forty-year-old man, can it really
be accepted that God would not have corrected the error?[26]
  In many of the sources, the Khattabiyya are closely linked with the
emergence of the Isma'ilis. Mufaddal ibn 'Umar al-Ju'fi, a member of
this sect, is said to have been closely associated with and perhaps
even a teacher of Isma'il ibn Ja'far and is accused of having led
Isma'il astray in several Traditions attributed to the Imam Ja'far as-
Sadiq.[27] Some Isma'ili doctrines are said to have been derived from
the Khattabiyya. A group of the Khattabiyya are said to have
transferred their allegiance directly to Muhammad ibn Isma'ili after
the death of Abu'l-Khattab. Even in some Isma'ili books, Abu'l-Khattab
is accounted as one of the founders of the Isma'iliyya.[28] In other
Isma'ili books, however, Abu'l-Khattab is condemned as a heretic.

8. The Baqiriyya

This is one of the sects known under the more general name Waqifiyya


--those who hesitate over the death of a particular Imam in
contradistinction to the Qat'iyya--those who are certain about the
death of the Imam. In the case of the Baqiriyya, they believed the
Imamate ceased with al-Baqir and that he was in concealment and would

After the Imamate of Ja'far as-Sadiq

The death of Ja'far as-Sadiq marks an important turning-point in the
history of the Shi'a, for it is at this point that one of the most
important fragmentations of the Shi'i community occurred according to
the traditional histories. Apart from the line of what would become
the Ithna-'Ashariyya or Twelver sect (who appear at this time to have
been called the Qat'iyya or the ones who were certain about the
death of the previous Imam and went on to the next Imam) and the
ghulat sects of the Khattabiyya, Mughiriyya, etc. mentioned in the
previous section, the following sects must also be noted:

9. The Ja'fariyya or Nawusiyya

These are the Waqifiyya with respect to as-Sadiq, believing that the
latter did not die but is concealed and will return as the Mahdi.
Nawus of Basra was a prominent exponent of this idea. There was also a
group to whom no particular name
appears to have been assigned who believed that after as-Sadiq the
Imamate ceased.

10. The Aftahiyya or Fatahiyya

These maintained that after the Third Imam, Husayn, the succession
should always be through the eldest surviving son of the previous
Imam. The eldest surviving son of as-Sadiq was 'Abdu'llah al-Aftah
(the flat-footed or flat-headed). It is claimed that al-Aftah
disagreed with his father during his lifetime over matters of doctrine
and was inclined to the opinion of the Murji'ites.[29] However,
according to one tradition, al-Aftah survived his father by only
seventy days leaving no sons and according to another tradition he was
found to be lacking in knowledge by the learned ones among the Shi'a.
Therefore, although there was a great deal of support for his claim to
the Imamate initially, it fell away rapidly. Some of his followers
felt that the Imamate finished with him, while others believed that he
had a son who was living in concealment but who was the Mahdi. Most of
them turned to the Imam Musa al Kazim; but some, however, continued
to regard al-Aftah as the rightful Imam before Musa.


11. The Shumaytiyya or Sumaytiyya

The followers of Yahya ibn Abi Shumayt (or Sumayt) who asserted the
Imamate of as-Sadiq's fourth son, Muhammad, known as ad-Dibaj (the
handsome). According to at least one account this Muhammad believed in
a Zaydi type of Imamate and came forward against the Caliph Ma'mun in
199/814. He was defeated but Ma'mun treated him considerately and made
him part of his court in Khurasan.[30] This sect believed in the
Imamate remaining in the family of Muhammad ad-Dibaj and that the
Mahdi would come from among them.

12. The Isma'iliyya or Sab'iyya

There seems general agreement among the Shi'i sources that, at first,
as-Sadiq had intended his eldest son Isma'il to succeed him. But then
Isma'il died and this had disturbing implications for both the
question of the nature of the Imamate and for the doctrine of
designation (nass). Apart from the groups mentioned above who believed
that Isma'il's death annulled his Imamate and who therefore
transferred their allegiance to other members of as-Sadiq's family,
there were a number who denied that it was possible to annul
designation. These split into several groups:

a. Pure Isma'iliyya. These held that Isma'il did not in fact die but
was concealed by as-Sadiq out of fear for his safety and that he will
return as the Mahdi.

b. Mubarakiyya. The followers of Mubarak, a servant or mawla of
Muhammad ibn Isma'il, who maintained that since the Imamate was
designated to Isma'il and since after Hasan and Husayn the Imamate
could not pass between brothers but only to sons, the Imam after as-
Sadiq should be Muhammad, the son of Isma'il, but these then stop with
Muhammad's Imamate.

c. Fatimid Isma'ilis, Qaramita (Carmathians), Batiniyya and
Ta'limiyya. The Fatimid Isma'ilis believed that following on from
Muhammad ibn Isma'il there were several hidden Imams and that from
these came the Fatimid dynasty in Egypt (297/909--567/1171).
Simultaneous to the rise of the Fatimid dynasty, there were groups of
Isma'ilis active along the southern shores of the Persian Gulf who did
not recognise the Fatimids as their Imams. These were called Qaramita
(Carmathians). Because of their belief that there is a hidden meaning
(ba-tin) behind every literal or external meaning (zahir) of all
revealed scripture, the Isma'ilis were often called Batiniyya. Another
sub-group of the Isma'ilis were the Druse, who had deified the Fatimid
Caliph al-Hakim and broken off from the main body of the Isma'ilis
forming a distinct group in Syria that has survived to the present


  The Fatimid Isma'ilis split in 487/1094 into two major divisions,
the Nizari and the Musta'lian in favour of two opposing claimants to
the Imamate. The majority of the Musta'lian branch continued to
recognise the Caliphs in Egypt until 526/1132 and then their Imam and
Caliph Abu'l-Qasim Tayyib went into occultation and this branch has
had no revealed Imam ever since. Leadership of the movement was
transferred to the Yemen under a series of Da'i Mutlaqs (missionaries
in charge of the movement). There was a further split in 999/1590 with
one line of da'is, the Sulaymani, remaining in Yemen with a few
followers in India, and another line, the Da'udi, resident in India
claiming the majority of Indian Musta'lian followers who are called
Bohras. Musta'lian Isma'ilis are predominantly to be found in the
Indian province of Gujarat but also in south Arabia, the Persian Gulf,
East Africa and Burma, numbering several hundred thousand in all.
  The other main division of the Isma'ilis, the Nizaris, became
centred on Alamut in Iran under Hasan as-Sabbah. Initially Hasan's
successors regarded themselves as da'is of an occulted Imam, but the
fourth da'i proclaimed himself Imam, claiming to be in fact a
descendant of Nizar who had been ousted from the Fatimid Caliphate in
487/1094. The Nizaris became famous in history as the Assassins. They
are also called Ta'limis because of their doctrine that the Imam is
the dispenser of divinely-ordained teaching (ta'lim). Their centre at
Alamut was destroyed by Hulagu Khan in 654/1256 and after this the
Nizari Imams went into hiding, changing their residence from place to
place in Iran. It is only in the 19th century that the Nizari Imams
re-emerge as historical figures in the form of the first Agha Khan
who in 1840 fled from Iran to India where Nizari missionary efforts
over many centuries had created a large community. The Agha Khan
established himself in Bombay, which has remained the centre of the
Nizaris in India. The Agha Khan's successors have become international
figures. The community is most numerous in India (where they are
called Khojas) but there are also important communities in East
Africa, Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia, numbering
several millions in all.

After the Death of Musa al-Kazim

After Musa the main line of Shi'is who eventually went on to become
the Twelvers turned to Musa's son, 'Ali ar-Rida, and were again called
the Qat'iyya (those who were certain of the death of Musa). But a
number of other groups arose:

13. The Musawiyya or Mamtura
These denied or were uncertain of the death of Musa and therefore did


not accept the continuation of the Imamate beyond Musa, and are again
called by the general name of Waqifiyya. Some of them believed that he
had not died but escaped from prison and was now in concealment;
others considered he had died and was raised again to life and is in
concealment; yet others believed he was raised to heaven like Jesus
and will return. All these groups believe in the return of Musa as the
Imam Mahdi to fill the earth with justice. By their enemies these
people were called the Mamtura (the rained-upon).[3]

14. The Bajaliyya

Ibn Warsand al-Bajali took the Musawiyya doctrine to Morocco and Spain
in the first part of the 3rd/9th century. He and his descendants had
some success in propagating this doctrine among the people of this
area and some of the Idrisid amirs were also converted. The sect
probably eventually died out in the 6th/12th century with the advent
of the Almohad movement.

15. The Bashiriyya

The followers of Muhammad ibn Bashir of Kufa maintained that Musa was
not imprisoned and did not die. He was in concealment and had
appointed ibn Bashir as his representative and given him his seal.
Therefore, all the followers of Musa had now to obey ibn Bashir for he
was the Imam and the Imamate would remain with him and his successors
until the return of Musa as the Mahdi. 'Ali ar-Rida and others who
claimed the Imamate after Musa were of base birth and were falsely
claiming descent from Musa. Only the five daily prayers and fasting
were obligatory and the validity of all other religious laws were
denied. The Bashiriyya were said to have believed in the
transmigration of souls, holding that there has only ever
been one Imam whose soul goes from one body to the next. They also
held to the doctrine of tafwid (see p. 66). They believed in holding
all goods in common. After ibn Bashir, leadership of this group fell
to his son, Sami'.

After the Imamate of 'Ali ar-Rida

The main line of Twelver Shi'ism continued after 'Ali ar-Rida with his
son, Muhammad at-Taqi, but as the latter was only seven years old
there were groups who dissented from this:

16. The Ahmadiyya

This group believed that 'Ali's father, Musa, had decreed that after


the Imamate should go to Musa's next son, Ahmad (it is he who is said
to be buried in the shrine of Shah Chiragh in Shiraz).

17. The Mu'allifa

This group adopted a position of being Waqifiyya over the death of
Musa and awaiting his return.

18. The Muhadditha

These are stated to have been a group of Murj'ites and others from the
main stream of Islam who came to believe in the Imamate of Musa and
'Ali (in the hope of political favour it is said) but after 'Ali's
death returned to their former belief. Similarly some of the Zaydiyya
are said to have attached themselves to 'Ali but returned to their
former beliefs when he died.

After the Imamate of 'Ali al-Hadi

19. The Namiriyya, Nusayriyya, 'Alawiyya

This group began as followers of Muhammad ibn Nusayr an-Namiri. There
is considerable variation in the sources regarding the teachings of
this man. Some state that he was a follower of the teachings of Abu'l-
Khattab; some say that he considered 'Ali al-Hadi, the Tenth Imam, to
be God and that he, ibn Nusayr was his prophet; some state that he
considered 'Ali al-Hadi to be the Imam and 'Ali's son
Muhammad who died in 249/863 was the Mahdi while he proclaimed himself
in 245/859 to be the Bab (Gate) to 'Ali al-Hadi. The later writers of
the sect relate his claims regarding the Mahdi to the son of Hasan al-
'Askari, the Eleventh Imam, and thus acknowledge all twelve Imams of
the Twelver line. The man who is mostly responsible for the
establishment of the sect was Husayn ibn Hamdan al-Khasibi (d. 346/957
or 358/968). Under the patronage of the Hamdanid dynasty, he greatly
extended the influence of the sect at Aleppo. After the fall of the
Shi'i dynasties of Aleppo, the sect faced great persecution over the
centuries at the hands successively of the Crusaders, the Mamluks and
the Ottomans. They were also rent by civil wars between their various
clans. After the First World War the French attempted to set up a
separate 'Alawi state centred on Lattakia but later this was
abandoned. At present the 'Alawis are politically dominant in Syria
under President Hafiz al-Assad. The 'Alawi community now numbers
several millions living in a band of land stretching from Lattakia in
Syria to Antakya (Antioch) in Turkey.


20. The Muhammadiyya

During the lifetime of 'Ali al-Hadi, one of his sons, Muhammad, died.
However, a group of 'Ali's followers maintained that 'Ali had
designated Muhammad as the next Imam and that the latter had not died
but this had been a ruse to put off their enemies. Muhammad was now
concealed and would return as the Mahdi.

21. The Pure Jafariyya

These maintained that 'Ali al-Hadi had in fact nominated his son,
Ja'far, as the next Imam.

After the Death of Hasan al-'Askari

After the death of Hasan al-'Askari, the Shi'is were thrown into
confusion and fragmented into a large number of groups. According to
al-Mas'udi, the Shi'i broke up into twenty sects at this time,[32]
Sa'd al Qummi describes fifteen sects;33 and an-Nawbakhti, fourteen
sects.[34] These sects may be divided into the following broad

a. The Waqifiyya at Hasan al-'Askari

These stopped at the Imamate at Hasan al-'Askari who was considered
the Mahdi. Some of these thought that he had not died but had gone
into occultation while another group thought he had died but had been
raised to life again. Both of these groups considered that al-'Askari
had left no son. A third group stopped at al-'Askari because although
they acknowledged his death and recognised that the earth could not be
without an Imam, they could not be sure who was al-'Askari's

b. The Cessation of the Imamate

These considered that just as prophecy had ceased with Muhammad, so it
was possible for the Imamate to have ceased with al-'Askari who had
neither son nor successor. One group maintained that there could be no
Mahdi, while another held that the Mahdi would arise from among the
descendants of the Imams in the last days.

c. The Muhammadiyya

These maintained that al-Hadi had designated his son Muhammad, who
predeceased him, as the Imam (since neither Hasan al-'Askari, because


of his childlessness, nor Ja'far, because of his immorality, fulfilled
the conditions required for the Imamate). One group maintained
Muhammad had not died but was the Mahdi in concealment.

d. The Ja'fariyya

These considered that al-'Askari had died without a son and that the
Imamate belonged to his brother Ja'far. One group of this faction
considered that since al-Askari died without issue, the Imamate must
belong to Ja'far; another group held that al-'Askari had formally
designated Ja'far; another group that as al-Askari had died without
issue, he had not fulfilled the condition for the Imamate and thus the
true Imam after al-Hadi was Ja'far (see number 21 above); yet another
group claimed that the Tenth Imam had designated his son Muhammad as
Imam but as Muhammad predeceased him, the Imamate was transferred to
Ja'far through an intermediary, a slave called Nafis (this group is
called the Nafisiyya).

e. The Qat'iyya

This is the group who as with the previous Imams was certain of the
death of the previous Imam, al-'Askari, and went on to al-'Askari's
son as the next Imam. One group considered that his name was Muhammad
and that he was of mature years at the death of al-'Askari; another
that his name was 'Ali; another that his name was Muhammad but that he
had been born eight months after the Imam's death; and finally there
was the group who held that al-'Askari had had a son, he was four
years of age at the time of the death of his father, he had gone into
occultation until the last days and it was forbidden to seek him out.
  This last-described group, the fifteenth sect described by Sa'd al-
Qummi, was, of course, the one that went on to become the orthodox
Ithna-'Ashari (Twelver) or Imami sect of Shi'i Islam. The other
groupings died out within one hundred years or so. The reason that a
fairly lengthy description of all these various Shi'i groupings
(most of which became rapidly extinct) has been given is that this was
the milieu out of which Twelver Shi'ism emerged in the early 4th/10th
century. Many of the doctrines and concepts first used by these groups
were to become incorporated into Twelver Shi'ism (e.g. the Mahdi,
occultation and return, esoteric exegesis, etc.; see next chapter).

Chapter 4

         Early History of Shi'i Islam, AD 632-1000

In the whole field of Islamic studies, Shi'i Islam has probably
received less than its fair share of attention and effort from Western
orientalists. However, in recent years, there have been some studies
in this very important field and the 1979 revolution in Iran has
undoubtedly focused attention on Shi'i Islam. In surveying the whole
of Shi'i history, it is without doubt the early period in which
modern, mainly Western, critical scholarship has presented a picture
which differs most markedly from that found in the books of the
traditional Muslim historians, whether Shi'i or Sunni.

   At the start, one problem that is conceived by modern scholars to
beset the study of Islam (whether Sunni or Shi'i) is the problem of
the historicity of the sources. For Muslims the ideal society was the
one in which the Prophet ruled over men with infallible wisdom and
judgement. For Shi'is this period is extended to the period of the
Imam 'Ali. This was an ideal 'Golden Age' which each generation
of Muslims tries to recreate. Therefore there is little concept of
change and development having occurred in Islamic theology,
jurisprudence or constitutional theory. If most Muslims in any age
were to have been asked in what way their theology differed from that
of the orthodox of an earlier period, their answer would be that there
is no difference. This, of course, is a fundamental difference
from Western insistence that all such matters are continuously in a
state of change and development. However, the result of this Muslim
conceptualisation of a static, unchanging Islam is that when later
Shi'i writers write of early periods and especially of the period of
the Prophet and the Imams, they unconsciously and retrospectively
impose their own views and formulations onto that earlier period.
Thus works that purport to examine the history or teachings of an
earlier period are in reality more a reflection of the period in which
they are written than true expositions of that earlier period. Also,
since we have very few Shi'i works surviving from much before the
4th/10th century, it is very difficult to examine the earliest period
and, to a great extent, reliance has been placed on the


works of opponents of Shi'ism from that early period.
  Modern historians have rejected much of the picture that the Muslim
historical works attempt to create. These early historical works,
whether written from the point of view of Twelver Shi'is, Isma'ilis,
Mu'tazilites or orthodox Sunnis, all present a picture of the Shi'is
as a single main body following a line of Imams from which, at
different times, groups have split off over the question of the
succession to the Imamate. This picture is thought by modern scholars
to have been retrospectively imposed over the facts of the history of
the early period by historians of the 3rd and 4th Islamic centuries
for doctrinal reasons. I Because of this it is very difficult to go
through the sources back to what the Imams and their followers
actually said and did.
  One writer has suggested that the traditional account of the
differences between the various Shi'i sects was, in fact, a
surreptitious method of conducting political debate during the later
'Abbasid period. By referring their arguments to events that allegedly
occurred in the past, those conducting this debate avoided the wrath
of the autocratic 'Abbasid government.[2]
  Having discarded the traditional account of early Shi'i history, it
is, of course, difficult to replace this with a complete alternative
picture. But by a close analysis of the earliest sources, some idea
has been built up by modern critical scholarship of the circumstances
in which Shi'ism arose.

The First Four Caliphs and the Umayyad Dynasty (AD 632-750)

Even the standard Shi'i sources admit that as a religious group the
Shi'a of 'Ali were an extremely small group. They were limited to four
persons initially and Western scholars have even cast doubt on this
number. However, it would be difficult to deny, on an objective
assessment of the source material, that 'Ali evidently felt that he
had some claim to the leadership on the death of the Prophet and had
been unfairly passed over in the election of Abu Bakr. Why else would
a man who had been in the forefront of the military and political
affairs of the Muslim community suddenly retire from all participation
in the affairs of the community? In a straight-forward election by
consensus, as would have occurred after the death of a tribal leader,
'Ali's youth would have precluded any realistic expectation of
election, while by Arab customs of inheritance, Muhammad's uncle, al-
'Abbas, would have inherited his position. Therefore 'Ali's retirement
from active public life seems to support the idea that he felt that he
had received some specific designation by Muhammad. This is all that
can be gleaned from the sources. Beyond that, it is a matter of
opinion whether one chooses to believe that 'Ali claimed for himself
the type of religio-political


leadership implied in the Shi'i concept of the Imamate or to believe
that this is a retrospective imposition by Shi'i historians. Probably
the vast majority of those who later flocked to 'Ali's side after he
had assumed the Caliphate were Shi'a of 'Ali only in the political
sense and not in the religious sense.
  Much confusion has arisen due to the use of the word Shi'i to
describe persons of very widely differing opinions. There has been a
tendency to imagine that when someone from the early period is
described as Shi'i this means that he held the same opinions as a
modern Shi'i. To demonstrate this more clearly, two terms should be
defined. Firstly, political Shi'ism: this indicates a belief that the
members of the house of Hashim are the people most worthy of holding
political authority in the Islamic community, but no belief in any
particular religious station for this family. Secondly, religious
Shi'ism: this indicates a belief that particular members of the house
of Hashim are in receipt of divine inspiration and are thus the
channel of God's guidance to men whether or not they hold defacto
political authority.

  Although during the lifetimes of 'Ali and Hasan, there were many who
could be numbered as political Shi'i, few can confidently be counted
as religious Shi'i. Even in the celebrated case of Hujr ibn 'Ad, al-
Kindi and his thirteen companions whom Shi'is count as the first of
their martyrs, it is difficult to see in the charges drawn up against
them any firm indication that they were partisans of 'Ali
in any but a political sense.
  The next indication of a religious aspect to the movement that is
described as Shi'i in the historical sources comes with the martyrdom
of Husayn. His action has been interpreted by Shi'i writers as an act
of self-sacrifice resulting from a desire to jolt the consciences of
the Muslims and to reactivate the ethos of the Islamic community as
created by Muhammad, an ethos which was in danger of being submerged
by the worldliness of the Umayyads.[4] Some Western writers, however,
have tended to look upon Husayn as an ill-fated adventurer who
misjudged the reliability of Kufan promises and over-estimated his own
inviolability as the grandson of the Prophet. But this rather cynical
view of Husayn belies some of the historical evidence such as Husayn's
refusal to take the safe option of turning back or turning aside to
the hills held by his supporters when apprised of the hopelessness of
his situation, and his refusal to compromise even when certain death
was the alternative.
  It is, however, with the advent of the Tawwabun (the penitents)
following the martyrdom of Husayn that the first unequivocally
religious manifestation of the Shi'i movement appeared. There can be
little doubt that the self-sacrifice of this band of men must be
ascribed to religious zeal for the house of 'Ali rather than any
political considerations.


  Although almost all Shi'i groups were agreed on the succession
passing from 'Ali to Hasan and thence to Husayn, 5 after the last-
named, there appears to have been something of a split. Certainly the
vast majority of those who have been referred to above as political
Shi'a went on to support Mukhtar who arose in the name of Muhammad ibn
al-Hanafiyya. The mass of the Shi'a of Kufa followed Mukhtar and,
indeed, it is doubtful whether Zaynu'l-'Abidin, the Imam of the
Twelver line, had any followers at all, at least until the collapse of
Mukhtar's revolt in Iraq and perhaps not until after the end of ibn
az-Zubayr's Caliphate in the Hijaz in 73/692.[6] Some Western
historians even doubt whether Zaynu'l-'Abidin put forward any claim to
religious leadership (i. e. the Imamate) at all.
  In the same way, Muhammad al-Baqir, the Fifth Imam of the Twelver
line, who was during his lifetime eclipsed by the support among the
Shi'a for Abu Hashim, the son of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya, and the
increasing support for his own half-brother, Zayd, is represented by
some Western writers as having made no claims at all but rather as
having had claims retrospectively imposed upon him by later Shi'i
  The fact that Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya, who was a son of 'Ali by a
HanafI woman (i.e. not by Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet);
Muhammad an-Nafs az-Zakiyya, who was a descendant of Hasan; 'Abdu'llah
ibn Mu'awiya, who was not a descendant of 'Ali at all but of 'Ali's
brother, Ja'far; and the 'Abbasids, who were descendants of the uncle
of both Muhammad and 'Ali; were all able to lay claim to
Shi'i sympathy and to obtain considerable Shi'i support shows that
some at least of the Shi'is of that time placed no particular emphasis
on either descent from the Prophet through Fatima or even descent from
'Ali--any claimant from the house of Hashim would do. This is a clear
indication that political considerations such as the overthrow of
Umayyad-Syrian domination and the status of the mawali were dominant
over the religious issue of the station and identity of the Imam and
the rights of the house of 'Ali. Therefore any claimant who looked as
though he could be successful was able to obtain support. However,
despite the above evidence, there is equally no proof that a small
number of persons did not exist who may be considered as proto-
Twelvers and who looked to those who were to become
identified as the Twelver line of Imams for religious guidance.
  It is only with the Sixth Imam,Ja'far as-Sadiq (d. 148/765), that
there is any firm evidence that any form of religious leadership was
   * During this period, when non-Arabs wished to become Muslims, they
were made to become clients (mawla, plural mawali) of one of the Arab
tribes. This gave them an inferior social status and in some cases
made them liable to exploitation in direct contradiction of the Qur'an
and Sunna.


claimed by the Twelver Imams. As-Sadiq was a well-known and
influential figure in the Islamic world. His circle of students
included several who were later to go on to become prominent jurists
and Traditionists in their own right among non-Shi'i Muslims. It is
almost certain that as-Sadiq did not make an open claim to religious
leadership among his circle of students, but the existence of a number
of prominent religious figures such as Hisham ibn al-Hakam, 'Ali al-
Maythami and Muhammad ibn Nu'man, Mu'min at-Taq, who evidently looked
to as-Sadiq as Imam, as well as several other leading figures such as
Abu'l-Khattab, who held beliefs of a ghuluww (extremist)* nature
regarding him; all tends to indicate that as.-Sadiq
was a focus of religious speculation and leadership in his own time.
  The names of ghulat groups, especially in Kufa, increase
dramatically in number during as-Sadiq's lifetime. Indeed, from the
sources it would appear that a sizeable proportion of the population
of Iraq was involved in speculation of a ghuluww nature at this time.
It is therefore necessary to digress for a moment to consider the
origin of the ghulat.

The Ghulat

When the Arabs invaded the Fertile Crescent in the years following the
death of the Prophet, they encountered ancient civilisations with
sophisticated religious systems. The religion of Islam by comparison
was as yet simple and undeveloped. The Prophet himself was already
dead and so there was no one to whom the Muslims could turn for a
binding answer to the sophisticated religious questions being posed by
these ancient civilisations. There thus arose a ferment of discussion
around some of the concepts introduced by these older religious
  Initially the Arabs in their camp cities managed to avoid much
disturbing religious speculation but as assimilation increased and
more of the native population embraced Islam, more and more discussion
arose. This was probably particularly true of Iraq which was already
the seat of intense religious ferment
even before the Arab invasion. In Iraq the ancient Babylonian
religious systems, Zoroastrianism, Mazdakism, Manichaeism, Judaism and
various forms of Christianity
all contributed to a kaleidoscope of religious debate and speculation
probably unequalled in the ancient world. From this variegated
background ideas were injected into the Muslim community and
intensively discussed by groups of people interested in such matters.
These groups of people, discussing what the majority of Muslims would
consider heterodox concepts which they had imbibed from the religious
milieu of Iraq,
   For a fuller explanation of this term see Glossary and the
following pages.


became known to later generations of Muslims by the name ghulat or
extremists. Among the ideas that were injected into the debate were
such concepts as tanasukh (transmigration of souls), ghayba
(occultation), raj'a (return), hulul (descent of the Spirit of God
into man), imama (Imamate, divinely-inspired leadership and guidance),
tashbih (anthropomorphism with respect to God), tafwid (delegation of
God's powers to other than God), and bada--(alteration in God's will).
The ghulat were, however, in need of a priest-god figure onto which to
project their ideas of hulul, ghayba, etc., a role admirably suited to
the figure of 'Ali. In the rest of the discussion in this chapter the
term ghuluww will be used as a convenient label for theological
speculation based on the above doctrines.[*]
  The linking of ghuluww speculation to the Shi'a or party of 'Ali was
probably a historical and geographical accident. Syria and Iraq had
been rivals and antagonists from long before the Arab invasion. In the
period immediately before the Muslim onslaught, Syria representing
Byzantine Christianity gazed across a hostile frontier at Iraq
representing Zoroastrian Iran. Following the Arab invasion it did not
take long before the old rivalry resurfaced. When Mu'awiya made Syria
his base for a bid for the Caliphate, it was only natural for 'Ali to
go to Iraq and set up his headquarters there. When Mu'awiya,
representing the party (Shi'a) of 'Uthman (or 'Uthmaniyya), overcame
Hasan, representing the party (Shi'a) of 'Ali and Syria came to
dominate Iraq, it was only natural for the party of 'Ali to come to
represent Iraq's political aspirations and its desire to overthrow
eventually Syrian domination.
  Thus fortuitously there came together in Iraq the ghulat and the
Shi'a of 'Ali. The ghulat adopted the family of 'Ali as the embodiment
of their religious speculation but the Shi'a of 'Ali always looked on
the ghulat with a certain amount of suspicion and distaste. However,
one event above all others probably served as a catalyst to fuse
together the ghulat and the political Shi'a of 'Ali so that later
historians came to look upon them as one. This event was the martyrdom
of Husayn. The pathos of this event gave the family of 'Ali a cultic
significance and thus gave the Shi'a of 'Ali, which had previously
been primarily a political party, a thrust into a religious
orientation directing it firmly in the direction of the ghulat, while
at the same time giving those engaged in ghuluww speculation a hero-
martyr and a priestly family with which they could associate much of
their speculation. That the ghulat were only loosely attached to the
family of 'Ali is proved by the ease with which such figures as Abu
Mansur and Abu'l-Khattab felt they could transfer the Imamate from the
family of 'Ali onto themselves and their descendants.
   Although this type of speculation is now called ghuluww, i.e.
   * A number of Western scholars have attempted to attribute the
origin of these Shi'i-ghuluww ideas to Yemeni (South Arabian)
religious traditions.


extremism, this is only really a statement by later Muslim writers who
compared this speculation with the fully-evolved orthodox position. It
does not necessarily follow that the holding of these opinions was
considered extreme at that time. As one writer has put it:

  . . . there is no reason to be shocked when the Ghulat looked to
  others than Muhammad's descendants as messianic figures--one might
  equally say the extremist is the one who exalts persons purely on
  account of their birth. Nor is there anything more extreme in
  expecting a man to return whom others regard as dead-as some of
  the early Ghulat did-than in the expectation of the so-called
  moderate Shi'a that a man will return whom others doubt was ever
  born [i.e.  the Twelfth Imam].[7]

The major factor that caused groups to be labelled as ghulat by later
writers was their attribution of either divinity to anyone other than
God or prophethood to anyone after Muhammad.[8] However, as the same
writer has pointed out, the idea that Muhammad was the last prophet
from God is not explicitly stated in the Qur'an and was almost
certainly a doctrine developed quite late in the evolution of orthodox
Muslim theology.[9] Thus there is nothing to indicate that ghulat
speculation was considered extremist or immoderate by the Muslims in
the 2nd century (AD 718-815). One indication of the widespread
acceptability of ghuluww views is the fact that it is embarrassingly
difficult for Shi'i writers to find eminent religious figures of this
period who can be claimed to be Shi'i but who are not tainted by some
degree of ghuluww heterodoxy. For example, of Hisham ibn al-Hakam, and
Muhammad ibn Nu'man, Mu'min at-Taq, the two leading Shi'i theologians
of as-Sadiq's time, the first is credited with believing that God has
a finite three-dimensional body, that He does not know things before
they come into being, that He does change His decisions (bada-) and
that parts of the Qur'an have been suppressed and corrupted, while the
latter is accused of anthropomorphism towards God--all of these
opinions being contrary to the positions later adopted by the Twelver
Shi'i theologians. It would seem, therefore, that the ghuluww
doctrines were in fact the doctrine of the majority of the Shi'a at
this time, including the followers of as-Sadiq. The many Traditions
ascribed to as-Sadiq specifically refuting ghuluww views may well be
later inventions, for it is doubtful whether men such as Hisham ibn
al-Hakam would go against the explicit teachings of their Imam.
  If Ja'far as-Sadiq did try to make any doctrinal modifications to
what the Shi'a were thinking at this time, it was probably in the
sphere of belief in the Imams as incarnations of the Divinity that he
exerted his efforts. Both the fact that he expelled Abu'l-Khattab who
made this claim about him from among his supporters
and also the fact that this particular belief, characteristic of the
ghulat, appears to have died out among the


Shi'a in the generations succeeding as-Sadiq (so that it is not in the
list of Shi'i beliefs compiled by al-Khayyat and al-Ash'ari in the
3rd/9th-10th century) indicate that this may have been one area in
which as-Sadiq and perhaps his son Musa al-Kazim exerted their
influence and succeeded in having this doctrine put aside by their
followers. Indeed, it is probable that the very appellation ghulat
dates from after as-Sadiq. For before that time belief in the descent
and incarnation of the Divinity was in the mainstream of ideological
speculation, but from the time of as-Sadiq this particular belief was
gradually classed as being extreme and hence labelled ghuluww, a label
which was then retrospectively applied to earlier generations because,
of course, no one would admit that in those earlier generations such
belief had been well accepted and mainstream. The other beliefs
characteristic of the ghulat, however, remained within the mainstream
of Shi'ism for the time being. It must be noted that Shi'i scholars
would maintain that modem critical scholarship has produced very
little evidence that, regardless of what their followers may have been
thinking, the Imams themselves said and thought anything different to
what is ascribed to them by present-day Shi'is.

Other Shi'i Groups

While the ghulat were having a significant influence on the
development of Shi'ism from one direction during the lifetime of as-
Sadiq, another important influence was the political developments of
the period. The 'Abbasid revolution had profound implications for the
Shi'i movement. The 'Abbasid movement arose from a Shi'i base. Whether
true or not the 'Abbasids claimed that Abu Hashim, the son of Muhammad
ibn al-Hanafiyya, had transferred his Imamate to the 'Abbasid family.
The followers of ibn al-Hanafiyya, the Kaysaniyya, were apparently the
first of the Shi'a to set up an organised propaganda and the 'Abbasids
were able to take over their network of missionaries and agents. The
propaganda of the 'Abbasids was skilfully worked so as to attract the
widest possible Shi'i support. The call of the 'Abbasid agents was for
the people to rise in the name of 'ar-Rida min Ahl al-Bayt'--one who
shall be chosen from the family of the Prophet. To the masses this, of
course implied an 'Alid and the deception no doubt contributed to the
success of the 'Abbasid uprising. For many of the Kaysaniyya and the
Zaydiyya, the success of the 'Abbasid revolt was the fulfilment of
their aspirations. The overthrow of the Umayyads, the shift of the
centre of power from Syria to Iraq, and the improvement in the social
position of the mawali, were sufficient to satisfy many
of the political Shi'a even if the 'Abbasid family were not exactly
what they had in mind as 'ar-Rida min Ahl al-Bayt'.

While ghuluww doctrines may have been the main source of theology for
the Shi'a in this period, the 'Abbasid revolution was probably the
factor that gave the impetus to the creation of the most fundamental
and distinctive doctrine of the religious Shi'is, the doctrine of the
Imamate. For the 'Abbasids also, initially at least, claimed a
religious type of Imamate. At first they claimed it on the basis of
their designation by Abu Hashim, the son of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya.
This ensured the support of large sections of the Shi'a who were
inclined to the Zaydi-Kaysani concept of the Imamate. Later, during
the Caliphate of al Mahdi when the 'Abbasids wanted to widen the basis
of their support, they began to assert that their ancestor al-'Abbas,
the uncle of the Prophet, should in fact have been regarded as the
true successor to the Prophet and they therefore based their claims on
that. The presence of a rival branch of the Hashimite clan claiming
both Caliphate and Imamate and being successful in establishing their
authority must have caused a considerable crisis in the Shi'i
community and presented it with a formidable challenge.
  It is clear that large numbers of those who had previously been
Shi'i (particularly those in the Zaydi and Kaysani camps) rejoined the
mainstream of Islam after the 'Abbasid revolution. Iraq, the
population of which had previously been predominantly Shi'i (at least
in the political sense), now became a bastion of orthodoxy. Nowhere is
this made more clear than in considering the lives of such persons as
Abu Hanifa, the founder of one of the four main schools of Sunni law,
and Sufyan ath-Thawri, a prominent jurist. These two citizens of Kufa
had very clear Shi'i leanings in their early life. They are both
reported to have studied under as-Sadiq; they supported Zayd ibn
'Ali's revolt against the Umayyads; and later, in the period
immediately after the 'Abbasid revolt, they are reported to have been
against the 'Abbasids and to have supported the revolt of Muhammad an-
Nafs az-Zakiyya, the Hasanid claimant. And yet despite these clear
early manifestations of Shi'i leanings, these men went on to become
leading members of the Ahl al-hadith (the Traditionists), the group
out of which Sunni orthodoxy evolved.[*] The Hijaz is reported to have
been predominantly Shi'i before the 'Abbasid revolution and yet one
hundred years later there is little Shi'i activity
there. This drawing away of support to rival claimants no
   * The entrance of large numbers of Shi'is into the ranks of the'
orthodox 'Ahl al-hadith at this crucial stage in the development of
Sunni doctrine no doubt
accounts for the fact, observed by Hodgson ('How did the early Shi'a .
. .', p. 4), that Sunni Islam came more than half-way towards
accommodating the Shi'i viewpoint. This can clearly be seen in the
'canonical' collections of hadith that
were made at this time. The other time that Shi'i thought came to have
a great influence on Sunni Islam was in the 8th/14th century through
the vehicle of Sufism. It may be argued that at the present time,
through the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the ideology of Ayatu'llah
Khumayni, Shi'ism is once more having a major impact on the Sunni


doubt gave impetus to the remaining Shi'is to formulate and
consolidate some of their doctrines, especially with regard to the
Imamate. It was undoubtedly a critical time for the Shi'a and this may
be why so many of the most important Shi'i hadith are referred back to
as-Sadiq who was the Imam during this period.
  The first steps towards the separation of the Shi'is into a
distinctive sect within Islam appears to have occurred under Muhammad
al-Baqir and Ja'far as-Sadiq, the Fifth and Sixth Imams. The former is
credited with initiating a distinctively Shi'i system of jurisprudence
and developments under the latter were even more far-reaching. As-
Sadiq came to prominence in a generation that had seen a plethora
of Shi'i revolts under a number of 'Alid-Shi'i claimants to the
Imamate and Caliphate. The increasing unrest against Umayyad rule made
it relatively easy for an 'Alid to put forward a claim and gather
followers. As-Sadiq appears to have wished to set himself and his
party apart from this trend. He did this by effectively depoliticising
the institution of the Imamate through the doctrines of designation
(nass) and knowledge ('ilm). By making the Imamate dependent only on
designation by the previous Imam and by making the Imam the recipient
of an esoteric, all-encompassing knowledge, the question of whether
the Imam held political power became irrelevant and so there was no
need to initiate an armed struggle to bring it about. The process of
depoliticising the Imamate was, of course, taken even further one
century later when the Imam was occulted. Then the Imamate became a
matter for theological debate rather than being of any political
or even juridical significance.
  In summary, then, Shi'ism during the first one hundred and fifty
years of Islam started as a principally political movement focused on
the house of 'Ali, centred in Iraq, and antagonistic to Umayyad-Syrian
domination. It was neither an organised nor a uniform movement and
would perhaps be better described as a sentiment than a movement. From
time to time this mist of sentiment would condense around a central
figure who laid claim to leadership but most of the time it remained
rather vague in its aims and varied from group to group and locality
to locality. Towards the end of this period Shi'ism as a mainly
political movement became attached to the type of theological
speculation known under the label of ghuluww, which thus formed a
religious wing to the movement. Individual Shi'is would be attracted
either in the direction of political involvement (the Zaydi-Kaysani
group who apparently were the most organised and carried out an active
propaganda) or of religious speculation (the ghulat). Many of the
numerous sects recorded by the Muslim heresiographers were probably
more akin to schools of thought centred on the opinions of prominent
individuals. The numbers of these sects may have been increased by a
desire on the part of the


heresiographers to make the facts fit a purported saying of Muhammad
that there would be seventy-three sects in Islam,
  As to the religious doctrines held by these early Shi'a, it would
seem that, apart from those who were only political Shi'a, the
majority subscribe to such doctrines as anthropomorphism,
transmigration of souls, descent of the divine spirit into men,
occultation and return, alteration of the Divine will, etc., i.e.
those beliefs typifying the ghulat, together with an emerging concept
of the Imamate, although there were varying opinions about the
identity of the Imam. Most of these doctrines are of course held to be
heretical by the final fully-developed Twelver theology and so it is
of great interest to follow how such a revolution in thinking occurred
in this group. Whether there existed up to the time of as-Sadiq any
Shi'is who could be truly held to be proto-Twelvers * (in the sense
that they accepted each in turn of the Twelver line of Imams and did
not subscribe to ghuluww doctrines) is open to serious doubt. If they
existed at all (which presupposes that the Twelver line of Imams did
in fact lay claim to being Imams), they were only a tiny handful among
the large numbers who had Shi'i sympathies and there is almost no
objective evidence that they existed at all.

The 'Abbasid Period (132/750-334/945)

Although, as noted above, the 'Abbasid Revolution began as a
manifestation of Shi'ism, it quickly took an anti-Shi'i turn. Once in
power, the 'Abbasids realised that many of the Shi'a would not accept
them as legitimate rulers and so they turned towards the Ahl al-hadith
(the proto-Sunnis) for their religious support and began to persecute
the Shi'is. The series of Zaydi revolts, particularly by 'Alids of the
Hasanid line, which had begun towards the end of the Umayyad era,
continued into the 'Abbasid period with the revolt of Yahya al-Mahd in
175/791 in Daylam (north Iran) and the more successful rebellion of
his brother, Idris, who succeeded in setting up a Shi'i state in the
Maghrib (northwest Africa) in 172/788.
  The Husaynid (Twelver) line also achieved some political importance
during as-Sadiq's lifetime although disputes about the succession
after his death weakened them once more.
  During the civil war between Harun ar-Rashid's two sons, al-Amm and
al-Ma'mun, several Shi'i factions took advantage of the 'Abbasid
weakness to come out in open revolt. Most of these Shi'i revolts were
Hasanid-Zaydi rebellions but a number of Husaynids also joined and
soon a large area of Hijaz, Yemen and Iraq was under Shi'i control.
  * True Twelvers could not of course exist until 260/874 when the
Twelfth Imam went into occultation.

[Page 72 contains a map.]


fact that al-Ma'mun chose 'Ali ar-Rida to marry his daughter and
become the heir-apparent to the Caliphate has been taken by some to
indicate that, at his time, the Husaynid line of Imams was considered
the leading line among the 'Alid. It might equally well imply,
however, that al-Ma'mun considered them the most moderate, pliable and
quietist group and therefore the most likely to be won over
to an alliance with the 'Abbasids and thus split the Shi'i rebellion
that was gaining ground in the west of the Empire.
  'Ali ar-Rida died or was poisoned in 203/818 leaving only a young
son, Muhammad at-Taqi. With this, the Twelver line of Imams plunges
back into obscurity and henceforth until the time of the Twelfth Imam
plays little role in the wider Muslim community.
  What then can be said about their followers--the proto-Twelvers?
Although it is clear that there was a group of persons, successors to
Hisham ibn al-Hakam and his generation, who followed these Imams,
their numbers cannot have been substantial as there is almost no
mention of them (as distinct from other groups of Shi'a) in
contemporary sources. It is only from about AD 880 onwards, i.e. after
the Occultation of the Twelfth Imam, that contemporary references to
them begin to occur. It is also to this later period that the earliest
surviving Twelver Shi'i works are dated.
  Only a very tentative picture can be built up of the Twelver
community in about the year 880. It appears that they referred to
themselves at this time as the Imamiyya while their opponents called
them the Rafida (the Rejectors). The term Rafida is said to relate to
those who rejected Zayd ibn 'Ali when be began to compromise Shi'i
tenets (in an effort to win support from non-Shi'i Muslims). More
probably it refers to the rejection by these Shi'is of Abu Bakr, 'Umar
and most of the companions of the Prophet. This latter rejection was
of fundamental importance since it implied a rejection of the whole
body of hadith, transmitted by these companions, on which the
structure of what was gradually evolving to be Sunni Islam was based.
It was probably this point which was decisive in causing the Twelver
Shi'is to separate into a distinct sect set apart from what was
evolving into the Sunni community.
  The Imamiyya were strong in Iraq and especially in Kufa and the
Karkh or West Bank quarter of Baghdad. Other important communities
included Qumm, which by 300/912 had overtaken even Kufa as the centre
of Imami scholarship, Rayy, Kashan and Khurasan. During the lifetimes
of the last few Imams, it would appear that the proto-Twelvers had
developed an elaborate network of agents (wakil, plural wukala). This
system of agents, the Wikala, was not, as with other similar Shi'i
networks, principally for the purpose of fomenting


revolt but rather to facilitate communication and to collect the khums
and zakat (see p. 179). It has been suggested, however, that some of
the Shi'i revolts that occurred in 250-1/864-5 in Kufa, Rayy and
Tabaristan were linked to the Tenth Imam, 'Ali al-Hadi. It is not
clear to what extent these communities were in contact with the
communities of other Shi'i sects such as the Zaydiyya, who became
established in northern Iran and Yemen at the end of the third
century, and the Idrisids in Morocco.

Beliefs of the Shi'a

As may be expected, Shi'i writers present the Shi'is of this period as
believing in the same doctrines as later Shi'is, but the objective
evidence belies this. The opponents of the Shi'is, such writers as the
Mu'tazili al-Kayyat and al-Ashari, writing in the period
269-300/882-912, state that the majority of the Shi'a at that time
held to such doctrines as anthropomorphism with respect to God, bada-
(alteration in the Will of God), that God wills every act of sin and
disobedience, and that the Qur'an has been altered. 10 These two
writers do mention a small number of Imami Shi'a who were by this time
adhering to doctrines derived from the Mu'tazila (i.e. close to the
final Shi'i position) but from their statements it is clear that the
majority held the same views as the ghulat of the previous century
(with the exception that belief in divine incarnation had now been
  Indeed, it may be surmised from the paucity of Shi'i books of any
description surviving from before about 330/941 that the large number
of books that are known (from bibliographical works such as Shaykhu't-
Ta'ifa's Fihrist) to have been written by Shi'is all revealed such
glaring differences in matters of doctrine (matters such as the
ghuluww beliefs discussed above and the Occultation of the Twelfth
Imam) from later Shi'i orthodoxy that they were considered unsuitable
for onward transmission and thus became lost, whereas numerous Sunni
works exist from the mid-md century/8th century onwards.
  Thus the community that was eventually to become the Twelver Shi'is
was at this time holding views almost diametrically opposed to their
eventual position. These proto-Twelver Shi'is do not even appear to
have agreed as yet on the number and identity of the Imams or on the
fact of the Occultation. As late as 342/953 Muhammad an-Nu'mani states
that most of the Shi'is of his generation were uncertain as to the
identity of the Imam and had doubts as to his occultation.[11] And a
few years later ibn Babuya writes that he found the Shi'is of Naysabur
(Nishapur in Khurasan) perplexed about the Occultation of the Twelfth
Imam.[12] In the earliest extant Shi'i works, which date from this


there is no reference to the Imams being twelve in number or to the
  The crystallisation of the doctrine of Ghayba (Occultation) occurred
in about 300/912. Prior to that date Shi'i books make no reference to
this doctrine. A short while later, however, books appear with all
twelve Imams listed and the Occultation stated as a fact. As late as
342/953 thirteen years after the start of the Greater Occultation, an-
Nu'mani is undecided as to whether the first Ghayba
or the second (i.e. Lesser or Greater Occultation, see p. 165) will be
the longer.[15]
  The exact significance of the Occultation of the Twelfth Imam is not
hard to discern. By the 4th/10th century the Islamic world had seen
numerous Shi'i revolts headed by various 'Alids (or persons claiming
to represent 'Alids) who laid claim to the Imamate. Most important of
all was the Isma'ili Fatimid movement that had succeeded in
establishing a state in Egypt under a person who was claimed to be a
living Imam and whose missionaries were penetrating the 'Abbasid
realms. Any living Imam was bound to be the centre of Messianic
fervour and therefore a potential political rival to the temporal
authorities under which the Twelvers lived. On the other hand, the
Twelver tradition had already, under the Imam Ja'far
as-Sadiq, established its theory of the Imamate which included the
necessity of the perpetual existence of a living Imam to guide
mankind. The problem was neatly resolved by occulting the Imam and
thus effectively depoliticising him while not violating the principle
that the Imam must always exist.

The Buyid Period (334/945-447/1055)

Political Developments

In 334/945 the Buyid (or Buwayhid) dynasty overcame Baghdad and the
'Abbasid Caliphate came under a Shi'i overlord. Although Buyids were
clearly Shi'i and have been called Twelver, it is probable that they
were Shi'is of the Zaydi sect initially. The fact that they came from
Daylam, an Iranian province along the southern coast of the Caspian,
makes it all the more likely that they began as Zaydis, for that area
of Iran had resisted the advances of Islam until finally converted by
the Zaydi missionary Hasan an-Nasir al-Utrush in the late 3rd/9th
century. There is also evidence, however, that the Buyids had Twelver
sympathies; thus, for example, under the Buyids, extensive building
was carried out in Kazimayn at the shrines of the Seventh and Ninth
Imams (these two Imams are not accepted by the Zaydis). Since the
Buyids were not descendants of 'Ali, Zaydi Shi'ism would have required
the Buyids, once in power, to install an 'Alid as Imam
and for all to obey him. It may


be for this reason that after they came to power the Buyids tended
towards Twelver Shi'ism which with its occulted Imam was more
attractive to them politically. The Buyids did not terminate the
'Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad, probably because there was no one
available who could command the same respect, and they found it useful
politically to have a Caliph in Baghdad whom they could manipulate and
through whom they could control their subjects.
  Almost simultaneous with the rise of the Buyids was the growth in
power of another Shi'i dynasty, the Hamdanids. The Hamdanids began as
amirs of Mosul and northern Iraq under the 'Abbasids in 293/905-6.
From this base they gradually extended their power and in 333/944
(i.e. only one year before the Buyid capture of Baghdad), they moved
into northern Syria capturing Aleppo, Antakya and Hums. The head of
the western branch of the dynasty at this time was 'Ali ibn
'Abdu'llah, Sayfu'd-Dawla, who made Aleppo his capital. In view of the
fact that most of Sayfu'd-Dawla's reign was occupied in campaigning
against the Byzantines, it is remarkable that he was able to gather
around himself, at his court, some of the most famous names of Islamic
culture, the philosopher al-Farabi, the poet al-Mutanabbi and Abu'l-
Faraj al-Isbahani, the compiler of a vast treasury of Arab verse
and stories. After Sayfu'd-Dawla's death in 356/967, the dynasty went
into decline with internal strife and external attacks from the
Byzantines until it finally ended in 394/1003. The exact nature of the
Shi'ism of the Hamdanids is not entirely clear. It would appear most
probable that they were Nusayris (see p. 58). But since this sect also
acknowledges all twelve Imams of the Twelver line, Twelver Shi'is seem
to have found the Hamdanid areas congenial and Aleppo soon became an
important Twelver centre.
  To Shi'is in the mid-4th/10th century it must have seemed that
everything was going their way. Almost the whole of the Muslim world
was under the control of Shi'is of one sect or another. In Iraq and
Iran the Buyids held sway. The Shi'i Hamdanid dynasty controlled
Syria. In Egypt and much of north Africa, Shi'is of the Isma'ili
branch, the Fatimids, were extending their influence, while in north-
west Africa the Idrisids maintained an 'Alid state of sorts until
overcome by the
Fatimids. Zaydi Shi'is controlled parts of northern Iran and the

Doctrinal Developments and the Ulama

It has already been briefly stated that the doctrines held by the
majority of the Shi'a up to the beginning of the third century were
almost diametrically opposed to the final doctrinal position of
Twelver Shi'ism. It was at this time, when great changes were
occurring in the political


fortunes of the Shi'a, that a correspondingly great change appears to
have occurred among them in the matter of doctrine.
  This great change, when it came, seems to have been very sudden and
abrupt -indeed, almost within one lifetime. Its seeds had, however
undoubtedly been sown long before. Even among the band of as-Sadiq's
followers there is reported to have been a theologian with Mu'tazili
leanings, Abu'l-Hasan ibn A'yan known as Zurara. This small stream of
Mu'tazili thinking survived among the Imami Shi'a side-by-side with
the mainstream theology which, as has been argued earlier, was based
on the earlier ghuluww speculation. One hundred and fifty years later
(c. 269-300/882-912), al-Khayyat and al-Ash'ari were able to report a
Mu'tazili-based school among the Imami (i.e. Twelver) Shi'is but still
in a minority, while the majority, as these writers state, still
adhered to the ghuluww-based doctrines. This Mu'tazili-based school
was undoubtedly the group centred on the Nawbakhti family in Baghdad.
It was among this group that the new ideas were formulated and
developed. These two groups (the ghulat and non-ghulat followers of
the Imams) were, however, even at this stage showing signs of
separating into distinct sects in that they appear to have been paying
their khums and zakat to two different sets of agents both claiming to
represent the Hidden Imam. 16 (For a further consideration of the
period of the Lesser Occultation see pp. 162--5.)
  The change of doctrine that occurred among the Imami Shi'a involved
an almost complete volte-face on most issues. From believing in
anthropomorphism with respect to God, the Imamiyya came to accept the
Mu'tazili view that all those verses in the Qur'an which seem to imply
that God has a physical body should be interpreted figuratively. From
believing that God does change His mind over matters that He has
decreed (the classic case quoted being that Isma'ili was at first
designated as-Sadiq's successor and this was changed to Musa al-
Kazim), the Imami theologians came to re-interpret the term bada--so
as to render it virtually identical to the concept of abrogation of
one verse of the Qur'an by a later verse (naskh), which is accepted by
all Muslims. From believing that God creates and determines all men's
actions, even acts of sin and disobedience, the Twelvers came
to accept that men determine and are responsible for their own
actions. From believing that the Qur'an has been tampered with and
altered so as to exclude evidence of 'Ali's succession, they came to
believe that the present version of the Qur'an is complete and
unaltered. From a belief that God has delegated certain
of his functions such as creation to intermediaries such as the Imams,
they came to believe that only God performs these functions. In only
two key areas did the Twelvers, after this great revolution in their
thinking, differ from the fundamental tenets of the Mu'tazilites:
firstly in their


conception of the Imamate and secondly in their rejection of both
wa'id, the unconditional and permanent punishment of the believing
sinner, and its associated doctrine of the intermediate position
(between belief and unbelief) of the believing sinner. Their rejection
of wa'id was in reality a consequence of the doctrine of the Imamate.
So important did the Imamate appear that it seemed inconceivable that
a true believer in the Imam would suffer eternal punishment no matter
what his sin had been.
  The change in Twelver theology from the ghuluww-based views to
Mu'tazili-based doctrines appears to have occurred in two stages. The
first and more important stage consisted of the rejection of the
ghuluww doctrines and will be considered here. This stage undoubtedly
occurred under the influence of Mu'tazili thought but
it was in the second stage that Mu'tazili kalam (speculative theology)
became the basis of Shi'i theology and this will be considered later
in this chapter.
  The first stage in the change in doctrine seems to have begun in
Qumm in the last half of the 3rd/9th century. Qumm had been a Shi'i
town from the 2nd/8th century. It was under the rule of the Shi'i
family of Sa'd ibn Malik al-Ash'ari from 125/742 to 278/891 and a
growing number of Shi'i ulama took up residence there. Here Ahmad ibn
Muhammad ibn 'Isa al Ash'ari, who is described as the Shaykh
of Qumm, took the lead in opposing the views of the ghulat. From about
255/869 he succeeded in expelling from Qumm a number of Shi'is who are
said to have held ghuluww views.[17] Up to this time Baghdad had been
the centre of Twelver scholarship with the residence there of the
deputies of the Imams. But with this, Qumm increased in importance
until eventually it overtook Baghdad with such figures as Sa'd ibn
'Abdu'llah al-Ash'ari (d. 300/912), Ja'far ibn Quluya (d. 369/979) and
Muhammad ibn Babuya (d. 381/991) being the most significant figures in
Shi'i Islam in their own time and being regarded as the exponents of
what the rest of the Shi'i world gradually came to accept as
  The life of ibn Babuya (ibn Babawayh) probably marks the end of this
first stage of change. ibn Babuya was a noted Traditionist of Qumm who
in his writings was very antagonistic to the discipline of kala-m,
speculative theology, which was the main tool of the Mu'tazilites.
From ibn Babuya's writings, it is clear that the first stage of the
great change was coming to an end during his lifetime. Large parts of
his works are devoted to refuting anthropomorphism in a vigorous and
thorough manner, 18 thus indicating that the argument was still fresh
in his day. His own views regarding determinism (that God determines
all men's actions) varied from his early works to his later writings.
In his early works he denies that man has the power to choose his own
acts and asserts that these are predetermined through God's
foreknowledge of


them.[19] In his later works, however, ibn Babuya has shifted his
ground and writes of God's will as His commanding and forbidding
rather than predestination.[20] Apart from his early determinist
views, ibn Babuya has clearly accepted all the other main Mu'tazili-
based doctrines and only differs in his methodology from later writers
such as Shaykh al-Mufid in that he prefers to base his theology on
Traditions rather than reason.
  From the date of the expulsions in Qumm, the statements of al-
Khayyat and al-Ash'ari and a study of ibn Babuya's works, it would
appear that the first stage of the great change in thinking in Qumm
occurred between 260/873 and 360/970, but probably at different times
and at different rates in other centres.
  After ibn Babuya there came the second stage in the great change in
Shi'i theology that occurred during this period: the adoption of
Mu'tazili kalam. This occurred in Baghdad under the influence of three
notable figures who were each both jurists and theologians and who
were so prominent that each became considered the leader of the
Twelver Shi'is in his own day.

   The first of these was Abu 'Abdu'llah Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn an-
Nu'man known as ibn al-Mu'allim or more commonly as al-Shaykh al-Mufid
(d. 413/1022). He moved the doctrine of Twelver Shi'ism more towards
the camp of Mu'tazili theology by rejecting ibn Babuya's insistence
that Traditions should be the basis of doctrine and maintaining that
theology should be based on reason and revelation jointly. In his
writings al-Mufid tends to argue from reason and then uses a Tradition
or Qur'anic reference as additional evidence. He set forth his
doctrinal differences with ibn Babuya in Tashih al-I'tiqad, a
correction to the latter's best-known dogmatic work.
  After al-Mufid came Abu'l-Qasim 'Ali ibn al-Husayn al-Musawi known
as ash-Sharif al-Murtada or 'Alamu'l-Huda (d. 436/1044). Whereas al-
Mufid's ideas had been closer to the moderate Baghdadi school of
Mu'tazili thought, 'Alamu'l-Huda took Shi'i thought closer to the more
radically rationalist Basran school of Mu'tazilism. Thus while al-
Mufid used reason to defend and justify doctrine, for 'Alamu'l-Huda
reason was itself the starting point of theology. For example, while
al-Mufid restricted God's attributes only to those found in the Qur'an
and the Traditions, 'Alamu'l-Huda allowed other attributes derived
from reason It was to be 'Alamu'l-Huda's formulation of theology,
based on the Basran school of Mu'tazilism, that would become the basis
of Shi'i theology during the following centuries.[21]
  The third of this trio of prominent figures of the 4th-5th Islamic
centuries was Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ibn 'Ali at-Tusi, known
as Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa (d. 460/1067). Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa is best


known for his fundamental contributions to Shi'i law. So authoritative
was he in this field that for a hundred years his works were
considered definitive. In theology he followed closely the approach of
his teacher 'Alamu'l-Huda.
  It is not at all clear what factors caused this rapid and far-
reaching change in doctrine among the Twelver Shi'is. Several events
that occurred during this period may have had an influence in
precipitating it. Firstly, with the rise to power and influence of the
Nawbakhti family in the court of the 'Abbasids, opportunities arose
for Shi'is to be appointed to influential positions in the government.
This process reached its peak under the Caliph al-Muqtadir
(295/908-320/932). To the Shi'is who were thus achieving status and
influence in society, ghulat-based views, such as anthropomorphism,
etc. would have been something of an embarrassment, and they
undoubtedly would have encouraged any movement that brought the ideas
of the Shi'a more into line with the mainstream of Islam.
  Secondly, to the emerging Twelver Shi'is, the advent of the Shi'i
Buyid dynasty meant a great change in their circumstances. For the
first time they could come out into the open and debate their
doctrines publicly without resorting to dissimulation. This
circumstance must have caused the Twelvers to examine carefully their
doctrines before having them exposed to public scrutiny and may well
have contributed to the change in doctrine. Since, up to this time,
the Shi'is had kept their opinions secret, it is probable that there
grew up over time a great deal of local variation in doctrine and
practice. The bringing out of their doctrine into the open no doubt
led to an eradication of these local variations as well as creating
pressure to bring their doctrines more closely into line with the
Sunni majority.
  One further factor that may have influenced the Twelver Shi'is
greatly in this period was the emergence of Isma'ili Shi'ism and, in
particular, the establishment of the Fatimid state in Egypt. It is
known that the Isma'ili propagandists were active throughout the
Muslim world at this time and the emergence of an Isma'ili doctrine
together with its own state may well have pushed the Twelvers into
reformulating their own doctrines.
  At the same time that most aspects of Twelver theology, under the
Shi'i scholars of the Buyid period, were evolving from a Traditionist
basis to a rationalist one, the doctrine of the Imamate was moving in
the opposite direction. The Nawbakhtis had, while affirming the
sinlessness of the Imams, denied that they could perform
miracles. ibn Babuya and the Traditionists of Qumm rejected the
Nawbakhti's argument on this point but had allowed that it was
possible for the Prophet and the Imams to err through distraction in
matters of performing religious ritual.


Indeed, ibn Babuya accuses his opponents on this point of being
ghulat. Al-Mufid in turn accuses the Traditionists of Qumm of taqsir
(falling short, i.e. failing to give the Imams and the Prophet their
due). All subsequent Shi'i writers have agreed with al-MufId on this
point and have denied the possibility of any error in the words and
actions of the Prophet and the Imams.
  With regard to the question of the text of the Qur'an, it has
already been noted that the early Shi'is believed that the Qur'an had
been altered and parts of it had been suppressed. The Nawbakhtis are
said to have adhered to this view although it went against their usual
position of agreeing with Mu'tazili thought. The compiler of the
earliest, authoritative collection of Twelver Traditions, al-Kulayni,
seems to have given some substance to this view in several of the
Traditions that he relates.[22] ibn Babuya, however, takes the
position that the text of the Qur'an is complete and unaltered. Al-
Mufid appears to have wavered somewhat on this point during his
lifetime. He seems to have accepted the fact that parts of the Qur'an
had been excised by the enemies of the Imams in some of his early
writings, although he refused even then to state that anything had
been added. In his later writings, however, al-Mufid has reinterpreted
the concept of omissions from the text of the Qur'an to mean that the
text of the Qur'an is complete (although he does allow that the order
needs to be changed) but that what has been omitted is the
authoritative interpretation of the text by 'Ali. In this
manner, al-Mufid and most subsequent Shi'i writers were able to fall
into line with the rest of the Islamic world in accepting the text of
the Qur'an as contained in the recension of 'Uthman.
  Apart from the field of doctrinal theology, the trio of al-Mufid,
'Alamu'l-Huda and Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa also initiated important
developments in defining the principles of Shi'i jurisprudence and
establishing the theoretical basis for the status and functioning of
the doctors of law (the fuqaha). However, the steps taken
by them were only preliminary and the full development of these fields
was left to later generations (see Chapter 10).
  The state of the Muslim world differed markedly during the lifetime
of Shayku't-Ta'ifa from what has been described above for the middle
of the 4th/10th century. By the middle of the 5th/11th century the
power of the Shi'i dynasties was on the wane. The staunchly Sunni
Seljuq Turks were advancing from the east and by 1055 had overcome the
Buyids and occupied Baghdad. The Hamdanid dynasty in Syria had fallen
and the Fatimids in Egypt were losing influence. Sunni Islam was
slowly but surely re-establishing its control over the
Muslim world.
  The intellectual centre of Twelver Shi'ism moved from place to place
during the period under consideration in this chapter. From the middle


of the 3rd/9th century, Baghdad was undoubtedly the centre of Twelver
Shi'ism, being both the residence of the four ambassadors of the
Hidden Imam (see pp. 162ff.) and the seat of the influential Nawbakhti
family. By the early part of the 4th/10th century the centre of Shi'i
activities had shifted to the Traditionist school of Qumm. After the
death of ibn Babuya, Baghdad once again became the centre of Twelver
scholarship. This continued until the close of the period when shortly
after the Seljuq capture of Baghdad Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa was forced to
leave that city. He settled in Najaf thus establishing it as the
centre of the Shi'i world.

The Popular Religion

During the Buyid era there were some important developments in popular
religion for Shi'ism. Under the Buyid Mu'izzu'd-Dawla two great Shi'i
commemorations were instituted in 351/962 in Baghdad: firstly the
martyrdom of the Imam Husayn on 10 Muharram and secondly the festival
of Ghadir Khumm commemorating the Prophet's nomination of 'Ali as his
successor at Ghadir Khumm (see p. 15) on 18 Dhu'l-Hijja.[*] It was
also during this period that public mourning ceremonies for the Imam
Husayn were initiated, shrines were built for the Imams and the custom
of pilgrimages to these shrines established. Shi'i propaganda was
carried out by manaqib-khans, poets who would recite in praise of 'Ali
and his family. These recitations would introduce such Shi'i concepts
as the succession of 'Ali, the necessity for an Imam, the
infallibility of the Imam, the miracles of the Imams and the justice
of God.
  The hundred-year period during which the Buyids were in control of
Baghdad and Iran, the Hamdanids ruled over Northern Syria and the
Fatimids controlled Egypt, Southern Syria and the Hijaz, has been
called 'the Shi'i century'. However, Shi'i domination was only
political during this time and Shi'ism, despite being given a free
hand, was unable to make any substantial inroads on the Muslim masses.
This is particularly true of the Islamic cities that were increasingly
the focus of life. At no time during this period was the majority of
any important city of the Muslim world Shi'i with the exception of
Kufa and possibly of Rayy. Shi'ism was somewhat more successful among
the rural population but even this was mostly true of the inaccessible
areas or fringes of the Muslim world--such areas as Daylam in
northern Iran, the tribes on the fringes of the Arabian desert in Iraq
and Syria and the more remote areas in western Iran. The ruling Shi'i
dynasties also reflected this tendency,
   * In retaliation the Sunnis instituted two commemorations--that of
Abu Bakr's stay in the cave with the Prophet, and the death of Mus'ab
ibn az-Zubayr who had defeated Mukhtar. These four festivals became
the usual occasions for Sunni-Shi'i conflict.


being originally from those fringe areas. Thus Shi'i domination was
only superficial in the Islamic heartlands and easily brushed aside at
the end of this

Geographical Spread

It is difficult to assess the exact strength of Shi'ism at the close
of the Buyid period or even its geographical spread. A number of towns
and cities may be named as important Shi'i centres but, with the
exception of Qumm, Kufa and possibly Kashan and Rayy, Shi'is were only
a minority in these places. In general terms, in Iran, Khurasan was
predominantly and staunchly Sunni although with important Shi'i
centres in the east of the area in such places as Nishapur and
Sabzivar; Shiraz, Isfahan and south-eastern Iran were also Sunni;
however, an area resembling an inverted triangle with its base on the
south Caspian littoral and its apex at Kashan and including Qumm, Rayy
and all of Daylam (modern Gilan), Tabaristan (modern Mazandaran) and
Gurgan was predominantly Shi'i. Western Iran was a mixture
of Sunni cities such as Hamadan with many of the tribes in the
mountains being extremist Shi'is (ghulat). Northern Iraq and
Adharbayjan were Sunni while much of southern Iraq with the exception
of the city of Basra was Shi'i. Baghdad was divided into Karkh, the
quarter on the West Bank of the Tigris which was Shi'i and
the larger East Bank city which was Sunni. In Syria most of the tribal
groups on the fringes of the desert were Shi'i with Isma'ilis and
extremist Shi'is being most numerous among them. The cities such as
Damascus, however, remained Sunni. In Egypt, despite its long period
of Isma'ili government, the people remained Sunni and Twelver Shi'ism
was limited to a very small number. In the Hijaz and Yemen Shi'ism was
still important although in the Hijaz it was being absorbed into
orthodox Sunnism. In the Gulf area Isma'ili Qarmatis were strong but
Twelver Shi'is were also to be found in some numbers.
  One approach to discovering which were the important Twelver Shi'i
areas of this time is to study the place of origin of the Twelver
Shi'i ulama of that period--the premiss being that the stronger and
more important the Shi'i community, the greater number of ulama it
produced. Table I, which is derived from the Fihrist of Shaykhu't-
Ta'ifa[23] represents the Twelver Shi'i ulama of the first four
centuries of the Islamic era.
  The situation in the lifetime of Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa himself had
changed somewhat. Table 2, which is derived from the biographical
dictionary of Agha Buzurg Tihrani,[24] one of the most meticulous of
modern Shi'i scholars, relates to ulama who died during the fifth
Islamic century (AD 1009-1105). It can be seen from this table that
Kufa had declined markedly in importance by the time of Shaykhu't-
Ta'ifa while the


Iranian cities had increased in importance. This table confirms that
Khurasan, which is usually regarded as having been staunchly Sunni,
did nevertheless have a significant Shi'i community.

       Table 1: Geographical origins of Twelver Shi'i ulama
       of the first four Islamic centuries (to AD 1008)

Kufa                       147 Ahvaz                               6
Qumm (and Barqrud)          43 Qazvin                              4
Basra                       22 Daylam and Tabaristan (north Iran)  4
Baghdad                     18 Isfahan                             4
Rayy (and Kulayn, Iran)     15 Sijistan (South Afghanistan)        3
Wasit (Iraq)                12 Aleppo                              3
Mada'in (Iraq)               8 Damascus                            3
Khurasan                     7 Gurgan                              3

     Table 2: Geographical origins of Twelver Shi'i ulama who died    
   during the fifth Islamic century (AD 1009-1105)

Nishapur (Khurasan)         21 Basra                               8
Qumm                        16 Tripoli (Syria)                     7
Khurasan (except Nishapur)  14 Isfahan                             6
Qazvin                      14 Damascus                            4
Rayy (Iran)                 13 Kufa                                3
Baghdad                     12 Egypt                               2
Daylam & Tabaristan (north
  Iran)                     11 Hamadan                             2
Gurgan (north Iran)         11 Kashan                              2
Aleppo                       9 Egypt                               2

[Page 85 contains a map.]

Chapter 5


               Shi'i Islam in the Medieval Period

                        AD 1000-1500

The Seljuq Period (5th/11th-6th/12th Centuries)

Political Developments

Following the decline of the 'Abbasids, Iran and Iraq were for a time
under the sway of an Iranian dynasty of Shi'i persuasion, the Buyids.
However, at the beginning of the 5th/11th century the empire of this
dynasty was gradually seized by waves of Turkish tribes emanating from
Central Asia. These Turkish tribes adopted Sunnism in its severest
form under the Hanafi School. The first of these Turkish dynasties was
the Ghaznavids who took over most of Iran, reaching their greatest
extent in about 421/1030. They were followed by the Seljuqs who
conquered the Ghaznavids in Iran and pressed on into Iraq, finally
overthrowing the Buyid control of Baghdad in 447/1055.
  The Seljuqs were to remain in power in Iraq and much of Iran until
the last years of the 6th/12th century, vanishing from the scene only
a few years before the advent of the Mongols.
The coming of the Seljuqs was at first a great blow to the Shi'is. In
the previous chapter it was noted that the great Shi'i jurist
Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa had his house in the Karkh quarter of Baghdad
attacked and his library burned and was forced to flee to Najaf
Shi'ism was publicly cursed from the pulpit in the mosques of
Khurasan,[1] and the Shrine of Husayn at Karbala was damaged in
489/1095.[2] The powerful minister of the Seljuq Sultans, Nizamu'l-
Mulk, was the principal opponent of the Shi'is but after his
assassination in 485/1092 the pressure on the Shi'is began to lift.
The death of Nizamu'l-Mulk marks the beginning of the decline of the
Seljuqs and from this time on rival factions within the dynasty fought
one another. During this period a number of Shi'is achieved prominent
positions. Majdu'l-Mulk, a secret Shi'i from Qumm, was minister to the
Seljuq Sultan, Berk-Yaruk. At-Tughra'i of Isfahan was minister to


Sultan Mas'ud but he was charged with being an Isma'ili and executed
in about 514/1120 after Mas'ud's defeat at the hands of his brother
Sultan Mahmud. Sultan Mahmud's minister Anushirvan ibn Khalid of
Kashan, who wrote a famous history of the Seljuq period, is reported
in several sources to have been a Shi'i.
  Also after the death of Nizamu'l-Mulk, there was a resurgence of the
power of the Abbasid Caliphate. This reached its peak under the
Caliphate of an-Nasir (576/1180-622/1225). During this period, Shi'i
influence at the Abbasid Court also grew. Several ministers to the
Caliphs were Shi'is and an-Nasir himself was very sympathetic and
reconciliatory to the Shi'i. He chose as his minister for a time,
Sayyid Nasiru'd-Din ibn Mahdi, an 'Alid and a Shi'i of Rayy.
  The Seljuqs were in control of most of Iran and had Baghdad under
their sway for much of this period. But the situation in the rest of
Iraq and in Syria was different. Even when the Seljuqs were at their
strongest, a number of semi-independent tribal amirates existed in
Iraq. The most powerful of these were the Mazyadids, a dynasty of
Shi'i amirs who made their capital at Hilla on the banks of the
Euphrates between Karbala and Najaf. It was the Buyids who first
recognized the Mazyadids as amirs in this area in 403/1012. But it was
not until Seljuq times that the Mazyadids came into their own. Hilla,
their capital, was built in 495/1101 by the greatest of the dynasty,
Sayfu'd-Dawla Sadaqa (479/1086-501/1108), at a time when most of
southern Iraq was under his control and his influence was great even
in Baghdad. From the first, Hilla was a Shi'i centre of learning.
Sayfu'd-Dawla, who is praised in history for his generosity and
hospitality, was killed in a battle against the Seljuq Sultan
Muhammad, but Dubays, his son and successor, continued to be a
powerful factor in the affairs of southern Iraq and Baghdad. The
dynasty continued in power until the death of 'Ali, the son and
successor of Dubays in 545/1150.
  In northern Iraq, the Hamdanid rule was ended by another Shi'i
dynasty called the 'Uqaylids who held power in Mosul from 380/990
until about 489/1096.
  In Syria also, dynasties of Shi'i amirs held sway for long periods
of time. In the previous chapter, the Shi'i Hamdanid dynasty has been
noted. Following their collapse another Shi'i dynasty of amirs arose
in Aleppo called the Mirdasids. They remained in power until overcome
by the 'Uqaylids of Mosul in 472/1079. The 'Uqaylid occupation of
Aleppo lasted only until 478/1085 when this region came under the
control of the Sunni Seljuqs.
  Further south in Syria, at Tripoli (Tarablus), another Shi'i dynasty
of amirs, the Banu 'Ammar, held power until overthrown by the
crusaders in 503/1109.


   Several of those who travelled through Syria in the 5th/11th
century commented on the large numbers of Shi'is there although it is
not always clear to which sect of Shi'ism they are referring. Most of
the cities near the Syrian coast had a majority of Shi'is: Aleppo,
Tripoli, Ba'albakk, Sidon, Tyre and Tiberius, while even the cities
further inland had large Shi'i populations: Hums, Hama and Damascus.3
One writer estimated the Shi'is to outnumber the Sunnis throughout
  The declining power of the Fatimids in Egypt resulted in a gradual
shrinking of their empire. In Syria, their region of control was
steadily decreasing while in north Africa independent states came into
being. The setting up of the Zirid state in Tunis by Mu'izz ibn Badis
resulted in a general massacre of Isma'ili Shi'is in 407/1016 and
Shi'ism never recovered in that area. The Ulama

Although Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa (Shaykh Muhammad at-Tusi) lived on into the
early Seljuq period and by transferring his residence from Baghdad to
Najaf was responsible for the transfer of the centre of Shi'ism to
that city, he himself more properly belonged to the previous Buyid era
and should be regarded as the culmination of that period.
  The century after Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa has usually been regarded as
somewhat sterile in terms of intellectual and religious development
within Shi'ism In the same way that Muhammad Baqir Majlisi's
overwhelming influence in a later age was to be succeeded by a century
in which no-one could emerge from the shadow of his influence, so also
Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa's towering achievements (probably in combination with
the changed political circumstances) led to a century in which there
was little creative development. It has been called in some sources
the period of taqlid (imitation, i.e. unquestioned following of
Shaykhu't Taifa's lead).
  However, the century after Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa's death must not be
totally written off. There were a number of important works written
during this period by ulama who, although not of the stature of
Shaykhu't Ta'ifa, were nevertheless of some importance. His son and
grandson remained in Najaf maintaining the primacy of that town.
However, by the time of the passing of Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa's grandson,
Muhammad ibn Hasan ibn Muhammad at-Tusi, in 540/1145, Aleppo was
becoming increasingly important as a Shi'i centre with the presence
there of such figures as Abu'l-Makarim Hamza ibn 'Ali al-Halabi known
as ibn Zuhra (d. 585/1189) and Muhammad ibn 'Ali as-Sarawi al-
Mazandarani known as ibn Shahrashub (d. 588/1192).
Aleppo was the centre of Shi'i learning for about half a century from
540/1145 to 590/1193.

Another important Shi'i centre of that time was northern Iran,
Tabaristan (now known as Mazandaran) and the region extending as far
south as Qumm. This area also produced some significant scholars
during the Seljuq era. The most important of these were Abu Ja'far
Muhammad ibn 'Ali at-Tabari of Amul (d. 514/1120), who wrote
the Bisharat al-Mustafa, and Diya'u'd-Din Fadlu'llah ibn 'Ali al-
Husayni ar-Rawandi (d. after 548/1153) and Qutbu'd-Din Sa'id ibn
Hibatu'llah ar-Rawandi (d. 573/1178) in Kashan. In Khurasan there
lived Fadl ibn Hasan at-Tabarsi (at-Tabrisi, d. 548/1153), who wrote
one of the most important Shi'i commentaries on the Qur'an, the Majma'
  This period marks an important watershed in Shi'i history. From
about the beginning of the 4th/10th century until the middle of the
6th/12th century, the most important ulama of the Shi'i world had been
Iranians. There was now a shift and for the next four hundred and
fifty years until the late Safavid period, the most important ulama
were to be Arabs (with a few notable exceptions such as Khwaja
Nasiru'd-Din Tusi).
  The Mazyadid capital, Hilla, had been established in 495/1101 and
was immediately an important Shi'i centre. But it was not until about
a century later that it rose to pre-eminence in the Shi'i world,
overtaking Aleppo. It was to remain thus for about three hundred
years. The scholar responsible for establishing Hilla's importance and
also for ending the century of taqlid to Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa was Muhammad
ibn Ahmad, known as ibn Idris al-Hilli (d. 598/1202). Ibn Idris was
the first to dare to express views that were different to those of
Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa whom he regarded as having introduced into Twelver
Shi'ism a number of innovations which had no basis in the Traditions
of the Imams. He was followed by Muhammad ibn Ja'far (d. 636/1239 or
645/1248) and his son Ja'far ibn Muhammad (d. 680/1281), both known by
the name ibn Nima.
  The Shi'i ulama of this period directed most of their energies
towards polemical works defending their beliefs against Sunni attacks.
However, in doing so, they succeeded in defining more clearly many of
the theological issues and set the stage for the developments of the
Mongol period.

The Popular Religion

In the field of popular religion, the manaqib-khans started in Buyid
times continued, but more covertly, to avoid clashes with the Sunni
authorities. To counter them and their praise of 'Ali and his family,
the Sunnis brought into being fada'il-khans who exalted Abu Bakr,
'Umar and the other companions of the Prophet.


   It was during this period that Sufism first began to become a
medium of religious expression for the masses. Although a great
expansion in Sufi orders began during this period, it was principally
a phenomenon in Sunni Islam and frowned upon by Shi'is. Indeed, it has
been suggested that the growth of Sufism at this time was a direct
result of the suppression of Shi'ism by the Seljuqs. Sufism grew, it
is postulated, to fill the gap in the field of the esoteric side of
Islam left vacant by Shi'ism. But a more powerful stimulus towards the
growth of Sufism at this time was probably that Muslims were beginning
to despair of ever creating the perfect society through the leadership
of the Caliph and began to look to individual morality and the
spiritual advancement of the individual. It was not until the Mongol
era, however, that Sufism began to make a significant impact on
  One further important development was the espousal by the Caliph an-
Nasir (who, as has been noted above, was markedly pro-Shi'i) of
brotherhoods with chivalrous ideals. These brotherhoods were called
futuwwa (youths) and were usually modelled on 'Ali as the ideal of
Islamic chivalry: 'There is no youth (fata) braver than 'Ali.' The
futuwwa was to become an important instrument for the development of
pro-Shi'i sympathy among the Sunni masses in later centuries.

Geographical Spread

The 5th/11th century saw the ebbing of the tide of Isma'ili Shi'ism
that, in the previous century, had threatened to engulf Islam. In the
Gulf area, the Qarmati state, which had declined since the late
4th/10th century, was destroyed by local tribes in 470/1077 and
Isma'ili control was never re-established in that region. In Syria,
also, the Fatimids were gradually pushed back, starting with the
Mirdasid capture of Aleppo in 1023 and later the Seljuq advance to
Jerusalem in 1070. In these areas where Isma'ili power was ebbing,
there suddenly appear large communities of Twelver Shi'is (in Bahrain,
al-Ahsa and the Jabal 'Amil in Lebanon) where there are no reports of
large communities of Twelvers having been before. Although this is a
point that requires further investigation, it can tentatively be
postulated that the ebbing tide of Isma'ili power left behind these
large Twelver Shi'i communities as converts from Isma'ili Shi'ism. The
reasons for such conversions are not hard to discern. The Isma'ilis
had become feared and hated by the rest of the Muslim world and large
numbers were killed wherever the orthodox community could lay its
hands on them. This was particularly true of the Qarmatis
of the Gulf area, who had committed the sacrilegious act of removing
the Black Stone of the Ka'ba. Thus it seems plausible that as the tide
of Isma'ili power ebbed, large numbers of Isma'ilis should convert to


much more acceptable Twelver form of Shi'ism, thus forming the basis
of the present-day Twelver communities in Bahrain, al-Ahsa and the
Jabal 'Amil.
  With regard to the distribution of Shi'is in the Muslim world during
this period, it was substantially the same as has already been
described in the previous chapter for the Buyid period. An analysis of
the geographical origins of Shi'i ulama dying in the 6th Islamic
century (AD 1106-1202) can be found in Table 3.[5]

     Table 3: Geographical origins of Twelver Shi'i ulama who died    
              in the sixth Islamic century (AD 1106-1202)

Rayy (and Varmin)          59 Isfahan               9
Qumm (and Awa)             43 Kufa                  8
Sabzivar                   34 Karbala               8
Qazvin                     32 Daylam (Gilan)        7
Kashan (and Rawand)        32 Tafrish (near Qumm)   7
Tabaristan (Mazandaran)    27 Basra                 5
Nishapur                   26 Qa'in                 4
Mashhad (and Tus)          21 Tarablus (Tripoli)    3
Aleppo                     20 Bahrain               3
Hilla                      16 Shiraz                2
Baghdad                    14 Egypt                 1
Gurgan                     13 Mosul                 1

The Ilkhanid Period (7th/13th-8th/14th Centuries)

Political Developments

The Mongol invasions of the Islamic world which began in 627/1220 were
a great blow to the civilisation of Islam in that the great cities of
the eastern Islamic world were devastated to an extent from which they
never fully recovered. These invasions were also a blow to the Sunni
orthodoxy in that the fall of Baghdad and the subsequent killing of
the 'Abbasid Caliph, Musta'sim, in 656/1258 removed one
of the pillars on which the constitutional theory of Sunnism had been
  The Mongol invasions were not, however, such a blow to Shi'ism. The
rule of the non-Muslim Mongols, who were at this time Shamanists and
Buddhists and who treated the Shi'is and Sunnis alike, was a
considerable improvement on their former position as an oppressed
minority under the Seljuqs. While Baghdad, the centre of
Sunni orthodoxy, had been devastated, Hilla, the main centre of


submitted to the Mongols and was spared. The killing of the 'Abbasid
Caliph threw Sunni theology and constitutional theory (which had over
the years built up the theoretical position of the Caliph even as his
defacto powers were weakening) into some disorder, while the occulted
Imam of the Shi'is had not been affected. Thus the weakening of
Sunnism led to a relative strengthening of Shi'ism. The presence of
the Shi'i scholar Khwaja Nasiru'd-Din Tusi among the chief advisers of
the Mongol leader, Hulagu Khan, must also have given comfort to the
Shi'is in the midst of the holocaust caused by the Mongols.
  Sunni historians have frequently accused Shi'is of having urged and
brought about the fall of Baghdad and the murder of the Caliph. This
accusation has only very slight justification. Baghdad's fate was
sealed by the Caliph's own refusal to submit to the advancing Mongol
army. Although it is true that ibn al-'Alqami (d. 656/1258), the Shi'i
minister to the Caliph, did ask the Mongol force to attack Baghdad, he
did this after he had been dismissed as minister and as a consequence
of Sunni attacks upon the Shi'is in Baghdad. Nor was Khwaja Nasiru'd-
Dim's role in the fall of Baghdad anything more than the execution of
his duties as astrologer to the Mongol army. Moreover, it is doubtful
whether any Shi'i action against an oppressive Sunni regime and in
favour of an advancing Mongol army that
had Nasiru'd-Din as one of its advisers and could therefore, be
presumed to be sympathetic, can be classed as treachery. In the event
Hulagu Khan showed no particular favour to the Shi'is on the capture
of Baghdad and several prominent Shi'is, including Sharafu'd-Din
Muhammad ibn Tawus, the naqib (leader) of the 'Alids in the city, were
  As conditions settled in the Middle East under the Mongol Ilkhanid
dynasty which controlled most of Iran and Iraq, the Shi'is found the
Ilkhanids to be tolerant rulers and even sympathetic to Shi'ism. The
first of this dynasty to convert to Islam and enforce Islam in his
court was Ghazan (reigned AD 1295-1304). He turned out the Buddhist
priests and built many mosques. He also showed leanings towards
Shi'ism in that he frequently visited the Shi'i shrines in Iraq and
built hostels called dar assiyadas, for descendants of the Prophet.
  The brother and successor of Ghazan, Oljeitu (reigned AD 1304-1316),
took the name Khudabanda when he became a Muslim. His minister,
Sa'du'd-Din Sawi, was an ally of the Shi'is and introduced the Shi'i
theologian, Taju'd-Din Muhammad ibn 'Ali Awl, to the court. The
efforts of the latter and 'Allama al-Hilli resulted in Khudabanda's
conversion to Shi'ism in 709/1309,[6] Shi'ism became the official
religion of the state and even when, in 711/1311, Sa'du'd-Din was
executed and Taju'd-Din murdered, 'Allama al-Hilli was brought from
Hilla to help consolidate the Shi'i position.[7] However, the Shi'i
advantage was


cancelled after Khudabanda's death as his son, Abu Sa'id, was a
staunch Sunni.
  From AD 1335 onwards the Ilkhanid dynasty gradually crumbled with a
succession of feeble aspirants to the throne and much factional
fighting. During this period a number of Shi'i states were
established. At Sabzivar in Khurasan, Hasan Juri, the head of the
Shaykhiyya-Juriyya, a Shi'i-Sufi order, helped the Sarbadarids to
establish a small Shi'i state which existed from 1337 to 1386. The
Sarbadarids were a series of rulers who maintained a Shi'i republic
with a strong emphasis on expectation of the Hidden Imam. The first of
them, Amir 'Abdu'r-Razzaq, was killed by his brother, Amir Vajihu'd-
Din Mas'ud, in 738/1337 and it was the latter who really founded the
state. Mir Qavamu'd-Din Mar'ashi (d. 781/1379), known as Mirza
Buzurg, the head of another branch of the Shaykhiyya order, founded a
Shi'i state based on Amul in Mazandaran in 760/1359. His son, Sayyid
Kamalu'd-Din (d. 820/1417), was defeated by Timur in 794/1391 but
confirmed in his governorship and the line continued as semi-
independent rulers until the Safavid era. These two small Shi'i
states were interesting principally because they were based on Sufi
orders, combining a commitment to Shi'ism with military
characteristics; the same combination found in the Safavid order that
was, two centuries later, to sweep to power and have such a decisive
influence on the fortunes of Shi'ism in Iran.
  Several of the minor local dynasties that replaced the Ilkhanids are
stated to have been Shi'i or sympathetic to Shi'ism. But it is not at
all clear whether these dynasties or the Sarbadarids referred to above
were Twelver or tended to extremist (ghuluww) views. In all
probability they were similar to the Safavids in the earliest days of
their dynasty, mixing orthodox Twelver views and ghuluww ideas. The
Jalayir dynasty in Adharbayjan and Iraq, and the Chupanids in
Adharbayjan were among those dynasties sometimes thought to have Shi'i
leanings though the evidence for this is weak.
  In Syria, the last Shi'i state, the 'Uqaylids, had fallen before the
Seljuqs in AD 1085 and Shi'ism itself was actively suppressed by
'Imadu'd-Din Zangi who took Aleppo in 1128. During the next two
centuries the area became an arena of constant
conflict between the forces of Islam and the crusaders. Throughout
this period Shi'is of all sects, especially the Isma'ilis and the
Nusayris ('Alawis), often sided with the crusaders against the forces
of Sunni Islam. The Shi'is in Syria received two great blows in the
last half of the 13th century. The first was the capture of Aleppo by
the Mongols in AD 1260 when many thousands of Shi'is were slaughtered.
The second was the massacre of Shi'is that occurred at the end of the
13th century when the crusaders were driven from Syria by the Mamluks
of Egypt. The Mamluk Sultan, al-Ashraf, in particular


was severe on the Shi'is. The Druse and Nusayris were forced to
conform to the outward forms of Sunni Islam. The Isma'ili fortresses
were reduced one by one, and the Twelvers were driven out of Kisrawan
in 1305 and sought refuge in the Biqa' valley of central Lebanon where
they remain to this day.
  This was a period in which Islam was beginning to spread rapidly in
India. At least one dynasty of this period, the Bahmani Kings of the
Deccan, showed Shi'i proclivities but made no attempt to enforce
Shi'ism on the populace.

The Ulama

The main trend in Shi'i intellectual life during this period can be
summarised as consisting of the integration of philosophy and
mysticism (Sufism) into the mainstream of Shi'i thought. The Shi'i
theology evolved in this period remains predominant to the present
day. There were also important developments during this
period in the field of jurisprudence and in the development of the
role of the ulama.
  The leading Shi'i scholar at the beginning of this period was Abu
Ja'far Muhammad ibn Muhammad, Khwaja Nasiru'd-Din Tusi (d. 672/1271).
It is difficult to say which were his most important intellectual
achievements because he made so many major contributions in such a
wide variety of fields. He was an important astronomer and
mathematician as well as writing on medicine, ethics, history and
geography. From the point of view of Shi'ism his most important
achievement was to incorporate philosophical concepts, from his study
of Avicenna and other philosophers, into Shi'i theology. Until this
time philosophy had been viewed with suspicion as it was closely
associated with Isma'ili thought. But Nasiru'd-Din, who had spent many
years in the Isma'ili stronghold of Alamut, revolutionised Twelver
Shi'i theology (kala-m) by expressing it in terms of concepts
introduced from philosophy.
  At Hilla, which was still the main centre of Shi'ism at this time,
the ibn Tawus family dominated the city for several generations. One
of their number, Majdu'd-Din Muhammad, succeeded in negotiating
Hilla's surrender to the Mongol army without any bloodshed. Another
representative of the family, Radiyu'd-Din 'Ali ibn Musa (d.
664/1266), was the leading Shi'i scholar of his time. He was not much
interested in legal matters but was rather orientated towards
mysticism and asceticism and is credited with performing many miracles
(karamat). He claimed to be in contact with the Imams through dream
and vision and also claimed to have
met the Hidden Imam.
  After ibn Tawus, the next important Shi'i scholar at Hilla was


ibn  Hasan, Muhaqqiq al-Hilli or Muhaqqiq al-Awwal (d. 676/1277). He
was the author of the Shara'i' al-Islam which has remained to this day
one of the foremost works in Shi'i jurisprudence. He, together with
his nephew, Hasan ibn Yusuf, 'Allama al-Hilli (d. 726/1325) were the
most important Shi'i scholars of this period. They introduced
important developments in the role of the ulama (see pp. 185-
6).'Allama al-Hilli was responsible for establishing ijtihad as the
central methodology of Shi'i jurisprudence and for introducing methods
of criticism of the hadith.
  'Allama al-Hilli was succeeded by his son Muhammad ibn Hasan,
Fakhru'l-Muhaqqiqin (d. 771/1370), who in turn was the teacher of the
first of great Shi'i scholars from the Jabal 'Amil region of Lebanon,
Muhammad ibn Makki al-'Amili, known as Shahid al-Awwal (the First
Martyr). Having studied in Hilla, Shahid al-Awwal returned to Syria
where because of the strongly anti-Shi'i climate maintained by the
Mamluks, he was forced to maintain dissimulation (taqiyya). Shahid al-
Awwal succeeded in establishing the Jabal 'Amil as an important centre
of Shi'i studies, although it did not yet equal Hilla in importance.
He was arrested and kept in prison in Damascus for one year before
being executed on the orders of the Mamluk
Sultan Barquq in 786/1384.
  During this period, with the tolerance of the Ilkhanid government
and the removal of the 'Abbasid Caliphate, tensions between Sunnis and
Shi'is decreased markedly especially in the eastern Muslim world. No
longer was the polemic between the two an important part of the
writings of the scholars. That is not to say that there was no dispute
between the two sects. But even though the great Sunni scholar, ibn 
Taymiyya, wrote a refutation of one of 'Allama al-Hilli's works, this
was combined with respect for his opponent.8 The majority of Sunni
scholars, represented by such figures as Baydawi, refused to enter
into the controversy at all.
  This easing of the hostility between the Sunnis and the Shi'is
allowed each side to adopt a great deal of the thought of the other.
Shi'i ulama such as 'Allama al-Hilli borrowed freely from Sunni
methods of dealing with the hadith literature. But the most important
results of this rapprochement were the attempts by several
Shi'is to bring Sufism into Shi'ism. Ibn Maytham al-Bahrani (d.
679/1280) wrote a commentary on the collection of 'Ali's speeches
known as the Nahj al-Balagha (the Path of Eloquence) which interpreted
much of the material in a Sufi manner.
  Even more important in this respect than ibn Maytham was Sayyid
Haydar ibn 'Ali Amuli who lived until the closing years of the
8th/14th century in Baghdad. He attempted to bring together Shi'ism
and Sufism by stating that Sufis were in reality only Shi'is who were
more concerned about the esoteric aspects of religion, while other
Shi'is concentrated on the external aspects such as doctrine
and religious law. In his principal


work on this theme, Jami' al-Asrar (The Compilation of Mysteries),
Sayyid Haydar links the names of the prominent early Sufis with the
Twelver Imams. He stresses everything in Sufi writings that indicates
that divine knowledge was purveyed to the lines of Sufi Shaykhs
through the Imam 'Ali, while at the same time emphasising everything
in the writings of previous Shi'i ulama in favour of Sufism.

The Sufi Orders

The rapprochement between Shi'ism and Sunnism was to have an even
greater impact on Sunni Islam. Firstly, among Sunnis there developed a
tendency to what is called tashayyu' hasan (good or moderate leaning
towards Shi'ism). This meant extolling the virtues of 'Ali and
condemning Mu'awiya and Yazid but without going to what was considered
the extreme of Twelver Shi'ism and rejecting the first three Caliphs
and exaggerating the position of 'Ali and the Imams. But, even more
importantly, the Sufi orders, which were in the process of being
formed into organised schools with chains of successive leaders during
this period, also took a pronounced pro-Shi'i turn in their mode of
thought and expression. It was an era when the majority of the great
Sufi Shaykhs claimed to be descendants of 'Ali--such figures as ar-
Rifa'i (d. 578/1182), al-Badawi (d. 675/1276), and ad-Dasuqi (d.
676/1277). Simultaneously, the Sufi concept of the position of the
Shaykh came to parallel increasingly the Shi'i Imamate while 'Ali came
to occupy almost as important a position in Sufism as he did in
Shi'ism. These changes resulted in several Sufi orders gradually
evolving from Sunnism to Shi'ism.
  In Khurasan the Kubrawiyya order, which had started as an orthodox
Sunni order in the early 7th/13th century, gradually adopted an
increasingly Shi'i orientation. As-Simnani (d. 736/1336), a Shaykh of
the major line in the order, although still regarding himself a Sunni,
regarded 'Ali as superior to the first three Caliphs and the qutb
(axis) of his time. Another prominent Shaykh of the Kubrawiyya, 'Ali
Hamadani (d. 786/1385), although described as a Sunni, greatly
venerated 'Ali and the House of the Prophet. He played an important
part in taking this Sufi-Shi'i admixture to India. Later several lines
in this order became openly Shi'i. The Shaykhiyya-Juriyya order of
Shi'is has previously been referred to (see p. 93).
  In Anatolia the futuwwa orders, modelled on 'Ali (see p. 90), were
very prominent among the Sunni Seljuq Turks and more particularly
among the Turkomans, among whom they were called akhis. The
Khalwatiyya, one of the principal Sufi orders in Anatolia, had strong
pro-Shi'i roots as indicated by the institution of
a twelve-day fast for the


Twelver Shi'i Imams. The Baba'i order on the other hand showed ghuluww
influence. The Baba'is are of interest also in that they were another
example of a Sufi order that became military and eventually in
638/1240 arose against Kaykhusraw, the Seljuq Sultan of Qonya.

Geographical Spread

These developments in Sufism and popular religion, important as they
may have been for the later evolution in Twelver Shi'ism, were at this
stage separate from the mainstream of Twelver Shi'i Islam. Some idea
of the geographical spread of Twelver Shi'ism can be obtained from
analysis of the geographical origins of the ulama of the period. Table
4 relates to ulama whose deaths occurred during the 7th (1203-1299)
and 8th (1300-1396) Islamic centuries.[9]

  Table 4: Geographical origins of Twelver Shi'i ulama who died in the 
 seventh (AH 1203-1299) and eighth (AH 1300-1396) Islamic centuries
                      7th Century    8th Century    Total

Hilla                      34             47        81
Mazandaran                 18             12        30
Aleppo                     13             15        28
Jabal 'Amil                 4             17        21
Khurasan                   14              6        20
Qumm (and Awa)              6             12        18
Bahrain                     9              6        15
Kufa                       13              3        15
Wasit (Iraq)                8              7        15
Baghdad                     9              5        14
Karbala                     4              6        10
Damascus                    0             10        10
Shiraz                      2              7         9
Hamadan                     4              4         8
Rayy                        5              3         8
Irbil (near Mosul)          4              4         8
Kashan                      1              6         7
Yazd                        3              4         7
Isfahan                     5              2         7
Qazvin                      5              1         6
Najaf                       1              5         6
Mosul                       3              3         6
Egypt                       5              0         5


The Timurid Period (8th/14th-9th/15th Centuries)

Political Developments

Timur, who is known to Europeans as Tamerlane, led the second wave of
Mongols that devastated Iran. This second wave was not as destructive
as the first but even so some seventy thousand lost their lives in
Isfahan alone, for example.
  Having conquered Transoxania, Timur advanced into Iran in 782/1380.
By 795/1393 the conquest of Iran and Iraq was complete and Timur
turned his attentions to Russia and India. By 803-4/1400-01. Timur had
advanced to Syria and Turkey.
  Timur was himself a Sunni, but was not unsympathetic to Shi'is.
Thus, for example, he allowed the Shi'i Sarbadarids in Sabzivar to
continue as his vassals. In particular he favoured 'Alids, descendants
of 'Ali, and was lenient towards them even when they rebelled against
him. In the massacre at Isfahan, for example, the
'Alids were spared.
  Timur died in 807/1405 and after some factional fighting his fourth
son, Shah-Rukh, came to power and reigned until 850/1446. Shah-Rukh
ruled over Khurasan and much of Iran. He was also sympathetic to
Shi'ism, and his wife, Gawhar-Shad, built a magnificent mosque at
Mashhad adjacent to the Shrine of the Imam Rida. The last
of the Timurid rulers, Sultan Husayn ibn Bayqara (reigned
875/1470--911/1506), maintained a culturally brilliant court at Herat.
For a time, early in his reign, he was disposed to making Shi'ism the
religion of the state but was dissuaded from this.
  To the west of Shah-Rukh's domain there lay lands controlled by
Turkoman tribes, the Qara-Quyunlu based around Lake Van and the Aq-
Quyunlu centred on Diyarbakr. Initially it was the Qara-Quyunlu who
were triumphant when their chief Qara Yusuf overcame Sultan Ahmad
Jalayir and conquered Adharbayjan in 813/1410. Under Jahan Shah the
Qara-Quyunlu spread eastwards to occupy western Iran, Fars and Kirman
although they failed to overcome Shah-Rukh's son and successor, Abu
Sa'id, in Khurasan. Later, however, the fortunes of the two tribes
were reversed and the Aq-Quyunlu came into prominence under Uzun
Hasan, overcoming Jahan Shah in 873/1468. Uzun Hasan was ruler of all
of Iran and Iraq until his death in 882/1477.
  While the Aq-Quyunlu were undoubtedly orthodox Sunni, there remains
considerable doubt concerning the Qara-Quyunlu. A study of the poetry
of Jahan Shah has revealed that the Qara-Quyunlu had a pro-Shi'i
tendency, albeit Shi'ism of an extremist (ghuluww) nature.[10] Ispand,
son of Qara Yusuf and brother of Jahan Shah, who was Governor of
Baghdad from 836/1432 to 848/1444, is reported to have been converted


to Twelver Shi'ism after a religious debate between Sunni ulama and
the Shi'i scholar, ibn Fahd. what is not clear, however, is to what
extent the Qara-Quyunlu and the other preceding dynasties that showed
a pro-Shi'i tendency, such as the Jalayirs and Chupanids, were
genuinely Shi'i in sympathy and to what extent they were using Shi'ism
as a political tool to gam the obedience of their subjects.

The Ulama

While Hilla remained the most important Shi'i centre of learning
during this period, its importance declined so that when at the close
of this era the Safavid state was set up, its most prominent ulama
were to come from the Jabal 'Amil in Lebanon and not from Hilla. The
reason for this decline is almost certainly connected with the harshly
intolerant extremist Musha'sha' regime that came to control the area.
In 857/1453 Hilla was taken by 'Ali, the son of Muhammad ibn Falah,
and was looted, laid waste and burned to the ground. The town remained
under the control of the Musha'sha' until 872/1467.
  The eminent mujtahid Shahid al-Awwal lived on into the first few
years after Timur's conquest and was invited by the Sarbadarid ruler,
'Ali Mu'ayyad, to go to Khurasan and establish Twelver Shi'ism there.
But the invitation arrived too late for Shahid al-Awwal; he was
already in prison and soon to be executed. However, he wrote his
important work, al-Luma'a ad-Dimashqiyya for the Khurasani ruler.
  Under the shadow of Shahid al-Awwal, the Jabal 'Amil and especially
the village of Karak-Nuh became increasingly important while Bahrain
was also rising in importance. But, in general, the century following
Timur's conquests was devoid of any ulama of the importance of 'Allama
al-Hilli and Shahid al-Awwal of the previous century. The only ulama
worth mentioning are al-Miqdad ibn 'Abdu'llah al-Hilli (d. 826/1422)
and Ahmad ibn Muhammad, known as ibn Fahd al-Hilli (d. 841/1437).

Sufism and the Popular Religion

Perhaps more important for the further development of Shi'ism than the
works of scholars in the field of jurisprudence and theology was the
further effort to integrate Sufi thought into Shi'ism. Even the
eminent scholar of this period, ibn Fahd, was sympathetic to Sufism
and several of his works demonstrate this. But the true successor to
Haydar Amuli of the previous century was Muhammad ibn 'Ali al-Ahsa'i
known as ibn Abi Jumhur, who died in the opening years of the
10th/16th century. ibn Abi Jumhur was an orthodox Shi'i scholar who
studied at Najaf and for a


time at Karak-Nuh, the Shi'i centre in the Jabal 'Amil. He continued
Amuli's work in integrating Sufism and Shi'ism. But he widened the
scope of his endeavours by also attempting to unite and integrate
philosophy and Mu'tazili and Ash'ari theology. He tried to show that
all of these led to the Sufi concept of existential monism (wahdat al-
  Among some Sunni scholars of this period there was also a leaning
towards Shi'ism. Husayn Wa'iz al-Kashifi, who was a Sunni Traditionist
and Qur'an commentator, wrote a book called the Rawdat ash-shuhada
(The Paradise of the Martyrs) eulogising the martyrdom of the Imam
Husayn in such moving terms that the book was enthusiastically adopted
by Shi'is. He also wrote a work on the futuwwa which was another
important pro-Shi'i manifestation in Sunnism (see p. 90).
   While there may not have been much of importance occurring among
the ulama of Twelver Shi'ism during this period, this was by no means
true of Shi'ism among the people. Although it is difficult to
distinguish between extreme Shi'ism (ghuluww), Twelver Shi'ism and the
pro-Shi'i tendency within Sunni Islam, it is clear that there was a
great Shi'i ferment occurring among the people in western Iran,
northern Iraq, eastern Anatolia and northern Syria. Into this Shi'i
cauldron went the ideas of the Isma'ilis, the Hurufis, the ghulat, as
well as the Twelvers. Out of this came a wide variety of movements
some of which remained within the mainstream of Islam and some of
which moved beyond it. The 'Alawis (Nusayris) in northern Syria and
the Ahl-i Haqq in western Iran became separate sects (see pp. 46-7,
58). The Bektashis were accommodated within the Ottoman Empire as a
Sufi order. The Musha'sha' set up as a state in south-east Iran. The
Safavids began as a Sufi order but after achieving political power
became absorbed into Twelver Shi'ism. All these groups show marked
Twelver Shi'i features and, in particular, most of them emphasise
devotion to the Twelve Imams.
  The Hurufis were a sect started by Fadlu'llah Astarabadi (740/1339-
804/1401) who claimed to be a prophet. Much of their doctrine
resembles the Isma'ili or the early ghuluww views, in that Fadlu'llah
claimed to be able to reveal the true inner meaning of the Qur'an and
the religious observances of Islam. This interpretation (ta'wil)
involves an elaboration of the mystical significance of numbers,
letters and the parts of the body. Although the number seven occurs
frequently, there is also a clearly Twelver aspect to these teachings
with praise of the Twelve Imams and Fadlu'llah even claimed to be the
return of the Twelfth Imam.

   Fadlu'llah began preaching his doctrine in 786/1384 and was
executed in 796/1403 on the orders of Timur. But his doctrines
continued under


his first successor (Khalifa), 'Ali al-A'la, who, persecuted by Timur
and his successors, fled into Anatolia where he had a profound
influence on the evolution of the Bektashi order.
  Throughout Iran several of the most prominent Sufi orders were
evolving in a more Shi'i-orientated direction. The most important of
these, from the point of view of the future history of Iran, was the
Safavid order of Sufis. This order was founded by Shaykh Safiyu'd-Din
(650/1252--735/1334) in Ardibil in north-west Iran during the Ilkhanid
period. He was a Sunni and during his lifetime became sufficiently
influential to include most of the inhabitants of Ardibil among his
disciples. He was probably of Kurdish or Turkoman origin but the later
Safavid kings concealed their ancestry so as to claim descent from the
Seventh Imam, Musa al-Kazim. Shaykh Safiyu'd-Din was succeeded by his
son, grandson and great-grandson who each maintained this Sufi order
in much the same orientation and were highly respected by the Jalayir
and Timurid rulers. By the end of this period the order had greatly
extended its influence, having disciples in most parts of Iran, Iraq,
Anatolia and even in some parts of Syria. It was still at this time an
orthodox Sunni order.
   With the accession of Junayd (the fourth Shaykh after Safiyu'd-Din)
to the leadership of the order in 851/1447, a new phase of the order's
development began. This hitherto peaceful order suddenly became a
military one and launched a series of campaigns against neighbouring
Christian states. Junayd became the effective ruler of a small state
centred on Ardibil (albeit as a vassal of the Aq-Quyunlu) and thus
came to combine spiritual with temporal authority. Also during
Junayd's leadership, the Shaykh of the order became regarded as a
manifestation of the divinity and thus the order became identified
with extremist Shi'i (ghulat) views. It is not clear at what point the
order became openly Shi'i but it was almost certainly at about this
time. Although Junayd claimed to be conducting a religious war (jihad)
against the Georgians of the Caucasus, he could not resist a strike
against the Shirvanid territory which bordered on Georgia. He was
killed in battle against the Shirvanids in 865/1460. His son Haydar
continued his father's aggressive policies and eventually also met the
same fate in 893/1488 at the hands of Sultan Ya'qub of the Aq-Quyunlu
who had become alarmed at Haydar's aggression. It was Haydar who
organised the movement's followers into a body of troops called
Qizilbash (redheads: on account of their wearing red hats with twelve
points indicating their adherence to the Twelve Imams). It is clear,
however, that the Shi'ism of the Qizilbash at this period had little
resemblance to orthodox Twelver Shi'ism. They regarded their leader as
a divine figure and would thus have been classed by Twelver Shi'is as
extremists (ghulat). Haydar's sons


were exiled to Fars, but in the increasing anarchy that accompanied
the collapse of the Aq-Quyunlu dynasty, they were able to return to
Ardibil. Haydar's first son 'Ali was killed in 900/1494 by one of the
Aq-Quyunlu, Rustam, leaving the leadership of the order to the
youngest son Isma'il who was to found the Safavid dynasty.
  A movement that in many ways paralleled the Safavids in its early
stages was the Musha'sha'. The movement was started by Muhammad ibn
Falah, the foster son of the eminent Twelver scholar, ibn Fahd. In
840/1436, despite the opposition of ibn Fahd, ibn Falah proclaimed
himself to be the Mahdi. Later he centred himself at Huwayza in
Khuzistan in south-west Iran and managed to obtain the allegiance of
several of the Shi'i tribes of the area on the basis of his messianic
claims. With the help of his son he was soon in control of the whole
area from Ahwaz to the Tigris. All who were not his followers were
considered as infidels and therefore there was extensive looting and
killing. Najaf and Hilla were attacked in 857/1453 and even Baghdad in
860/1456. But then a Qara-Quyunlu army was sent against the Musha'sha'
which defeated them, killing 'Ali, ibn Falah's son. ibn Falah himself
died in 866/1461. Ibn Falah's descendants ruled the area with similar
extremist (ghuluww) doctrines until overcome by the Safavids in
914/1508. The descendants of ibn Falah remained, however, as Safavid
governors of the province. As time went by the Musha'sha' became less
and less extremist (much as the Safavids themselves did), until
eventually they became orthodox Shi'is. Huwayza became by the
11th/17th century a centre of Twelver Shi'i teaching and ibn Falah's
great-great-grandson was a respected Twelver Shi'i scholar.
   The drift towards Shi'ism in several lines of the Kubrawiyya order
has been mentioned in the preceding section. 'Ali Hamadani's
successor, Khwaja Ishaq, plotted a revolt against Shah-Rukh. Part of
his plan was to put forward one of his disciples, Muhammad ibn
'Abdu'llah, who became known as Nurbakhsh, as the Mahdi. This revolt
in 826/1423 failed and Khwaja Ishaq was executed. Due to the respect
for the family of the Prophet which Shah-Rukh shared with his father,
Timur, Nurbakhsh himself was spared. He attempted a second uprising in
Kurdistan and was again defeated and this time detained in Herat until
the death of Shah-Rukh in 851/1447. Nurbakhsh was then allowed to go
to Shahriyar where he established the headquarters of his order and
where he lived until his death in 869/1464.
  Nurbakhsh remained a Sunni but with strong Shi'i leanings. He
emphasised his own 'Alid lineage, quoted from Shi'i works, visited
Shi'i shrines in Iraq and is even said to have studied under ibn Fahd
in Hilla. But he also considered the first three Caliphs as Sufi
Saints. His Shi'i leanings were essentially an expression of his
Sufism. In later years,


however, his order became increasingly Shi'i and was to exert a strong
influence on many of the Shi'i ulama of the Safavid period as well as
playing a major role in the spread of Shi'ism in India.
  From the Kubrawiyya there was also derived the Dhahabiyya which
later became openly Shi'i. The Khalwati orders in Anatolia, which were
linked to the Safavid order, also had Shi'i leanings.
  In Anatolia the Baba'i order, mentioned in the preceding section,
gave rise to the Bektashi order which was to become the order of the
Ottoman Janissary troops. This Sufi order contains very strong threads
of Shi'ism, albeit of an extremist type in that 'Ali is elevated to a
divine trinity of God, Muhammad and 'Ali. It also venerates the Twelve
  Shah Ni'matu'llah Wali, who in 762/1360 had gained many disciples at
the court of Timur in Herat, settled in Mahan in south-east Iran and
made that the centre of his Sufi order, the Ni'matu'llahis. Although a
Sunni as far as religious observances are concerned, his writings show
a great devotion to 'Ali (he himself was from an 'Alid family of
Aleppo). He died in 834/1430 and his successors continued his pro-
Shi'i line until, during the Safavid era, the order became openly
  It is not clear exactly when and how Twelver Shi'ism spread to
India. It may well have been that, as a result of the devastation
caused by the Mongol invasions, Twelver Shi'is migrated there. The
first monarch to have given Twelver Shi'ism support in India is
reputed to have been Sultan Muhammad ibn Tughluq (reigned AD 1325-51),
but his successors adopted an anti-Shi'i policy. In the Deccan, the
Bahmani kings who ruled from the mid-14th to the early 16th centuries
showed some pro-Shi'i inclinations. One of the most important of their
ministers, Mahmud Gawan, was a Shi'i. Shah Ni'matu'llah Wali (see
above) had a strong influence on this dynasty while another major pro-
Shi'i Sufi shaykh, 'Ali Hamadani (see p.196), travelled in India and
Kashmir in 1380.
  Nineteenth-century orientalists used to assert that Shi'ism was an
Iranian innovation within Islam. As a reaction to this, more recent
writers have emphasised the fact that the early Shi'a were Arabs and
that the majority of the Iranians were Sunnis until the advent of the
Safavid dynasty. However, this later trend has tended to belittle the
significance of Iranian Shi'i centres such as Qumm, which were
important from the beginning of the emergence of Shi'ism, and also the
importance of such early Iranian scholars as ibn Babuya and Shaykhu't-
Ta'ifa. Moreover, although it is true that the majority of Iranians
were Sunnis until the advent of the Safavids, this fact conceals the
large number of Shi'is in Qumm, Rayy, Kashan and much of Khurasan. It
also conceals the important pro-Shi'i influence of Sufi orders such as
the Kubrawiyya, who were predominant in east Iran, and the craft-
guilds in the cities,


which were modelled on the futuwwa. These must have played a key role
in preparing the populace for the acceptance of Shi'ism under the
  Although much of what has been written in this chapter may appear to
be the history of extremist (ghuluww) Shi'ism rather than Twelver
Shi'ism, its relevance will become evident in the next chapter when
the fusion of extremist Shi'ism and Twelver Shi'is under the Safavids
is described.

Chapter 6


                      Shi'i Islam in Modern Times

                              AD 1500-1900

The Safavid Period (10th/16th-12th/18th Centuries)

Political Developments under Shah Isma'il

The early history of the Safavids has already been described in the
previous chapter. When Isma'il became the leader of the Safavid order
of Sufis in 900/1494, the Aq-Quyunlu Empire was being seriously
weakened by civil war between rival claimants. Rustam, the Aq-Quyunlu
claimant who had killed Isma'il's brother, 'Ali, for a time pursued
Isma'il and the latter went into hiding in Ardibil and later in
Lahijan. But soon Rustam was embroiled in fighting other claimants and
was killed in 1497 leaving Isma'il free to organise his followers.
  It is clear that Isma'il was representing himself to his Turkoman
Qizilbash followers at this time as not merely the representative of
the Hidden Imam, but the Hidden Imam himself and beyond that even
claiming divinity for himself. Isma'ili's followers are said to have
gone into battle without armour, confident that no harm would befall
them, saying: 'La ilaha ila Allah, Isma'il waliyu'llah (there is no
god but God and Isma'il is the Friend of God)', thus equating Isma'il
with the Imam 'Ali.
  Gathering all his men from Anatolia and Syria, Isma'il (only twelve
years old at this time), set out in 1499 to carve out an empire for
himself. The initial campaign was not very successful, but after
wintering his troops in Gilan, Isma'ili in 1500 attacked the kingdom
of Shirvan whose rulers had killed his grandfather. The king of
Shirvan was defeated and killed and Baku captured. Then one of the Aq-
Quyunlu marched against him with four times as many troops as Isma'ili
had. But Isma'ili defeated this army and the whole of Adharbayjan fell
into his hands. In the summer of 1501 Isma'ili was crowned king in
Tabriz. He proclaimed that the official religion of the new state
would be Ithna-'Ashariyya (Twelver) Shi'ism.


   It took Isma'il another ten years to conquer all of Iran as far
east as Herat as well as Diyarbakr and Baghdad in Iraq. During this
time his Qizilbash troops served him with fanatical devotion and
Isma'il incorporated within himself the military, administrative and
religious leadership of the country. He instituted the post of Sadr
whose function it was to co-ordinate the propagation of Shi'ism in
Iran while the Safavid agents called Khalifas were also busy in Syria
and Anatolia.
  It is probably insufficiently appreciated how close Isma'il came to
winning over the Islamic heartlands ideologically. For even while he
was conquering Iran, his emissaries were preparing the ground for an
extension of his empire westwards. For several generations large
numbers of the Turkoman tribes occupying west and central Anatolia had
been devotees of the Safavid order and had assisted in the conquest of
Iran. The rising Ottoman Empire claimed sovereignty over this area but
it was obvious that its hold was shaky with the loyalty of many of the
tribesmen leaning towards the newly-emerging Safavid state in Iran.
Even the loyalty of the Janissaries, the pre-eminent corps of the
Ottoman army, was in doubt since they were followers of the Bektashi
Sufi order and were thus outgrowths of the same religious roots as the
Safavid order. Isma'il's religious poetry enjoyed wide circulation
among the Bektashis. In Syria also there were large numbers of
followers of the Safavid order and contemporary accounts of Aleppo,
for example, speak of a 'party of Ardibil' within the city[1] while
the Mamluk state in Egypt was inclined to an alliance with the
Safavids against the Ottomans. Thus Isma'il was poised to add eastern
Anatolia, Syria and perhaps even Egypt to his domains after completing
his conquest of Iran.[2]
  So worried were the Ottomans that Sultan Bayazid II ordered large-
scale deportations of Shi'is from eastern Anatolia to Morea in AD
1502. In 1511 Baba Shah-Quli began a pro-Safavid revolt among
tribesmen in the province of Tekke on the Mediterranean coast of
Anatolia. The rebels advanced as far as Brusa before being defeated
and driven back. The following year, 1512, Sultan Selim I acceded to
the Ottoman throne and determined to act decisively against the danger
of the whole of eastern Anatolia seceding to the Safavids. He drew up
a list of every known Shi'i in his dominions and massacred them to the
reported number of 40,000, deporting and imprisoning large numbers of
others. In the same year one of Isma'il's close aides raised a force
from among the Sufis of the Safavid order in eastern Anatolia and
raided the Ottoman domains.
  In 1514 Sultan Selim decided to march against Shah Isma'il and
reached the plain of Chaldiran in Adharbayjan with an army of over
1,000,000 men against which Isma'il could only muster 40,000. Although
the Safavid forces had the advantage in the hand-to-hand fighting, the


deployment of artillery and hand-guns by the Ottomans (when the
Safavids had had no experience of these) decided the day. The Ottomans
won and occupied Tabriz. At this stage, instead of pressing home the
advantage and overthrowing the Safavid state completely, Selim
withdrew. This withdrawal has been attributed to the difficulties of
the extended Ottoman lines of communication but may also have had
something to do with fears of the effects that a prolonged campaign in
Iran might have had on Selim's Janissary troops whose loyalty was
under question because of their religious affinities with the Safavids
through the Bektashi Sufi order.
  Had Isma'ili won the day there was probably no other force in the
Middle East that could have withstood him, and Anatolia, Syria and
perhaps Egypt would have fallen easily to him. Whether Isma'il could
have imposed Shi'ism on the population of such a large area in the
same way as he did in Iran is a question that is as fascinating as it
is impossible to answer.
  Isma'il was a broken man after Chaldiran. He retired to his palace
and withdrew from active participation in the affairs of the state,
leaving these to his minister, Mirza Shah-Husayn, an Iranian, whose
power grew so great that he was eventually assassinated in 1523 by
Turkoman Qizilbash. In the following year, on 23 May 1524, Shah
Isma'il himself died.

Shah Isma'ili's Religious Policy

Although Isma'il had proclaimed Twelver Shi'ism to be the religion of
the state, there were anomalies in his position. The Safavids as a
dynasty were greatly concerned by the question of legitimacy. Although
in Sunni Islam the legitimacy of the defacto ruler had been
established by Sunni scholars in the early medieval period, there had
been no similar work done in Shi'ism and indeed no comparable
circumstance had arisen in Shi'i history. Isma'il's own position
rested on three bases: firstly, the ancient Persian concept of
kingship which was expressed in the concept of the king being the
'Shadow of God on Earth'; secondly, on his position as head of the
Safavid order of Sufis thus commanding the absolute obedience of his
followers, the Qizilbash; thirdly, on the basis of an alleged descent
from the Seventh Imam, he and the succeeding Safavids claimed to be
the representative of the Hidden Imam, and, as such, to be imbued with
infallibility ('isma).
  It is this last claim which is the most interesting for it runs
clearly counter to some of the most fundamental tenets of Twelver
Shi'ism. Even if the Safavid claim to 'Alid descent is accepted (and
most modern scholars consider it to have been a forgery), mere descent
from the


Imams confers no spiritual or temporal authority. Twelver Shi'ism is
quite clear that in the case of the Imamate, both heredity and
designation (nass) are necessary, neither being acceptable without the
other. Indeed, in the case of the four representatives of the Hidden
Imam that existed during the Lesser Occultation (see pp. 162-5),
designation was the only important basis of their authority for none
of them was descended from the Imams. Moreover, the doctrines of
Twelver Shi'ism are also very clear in stating that after the death of
the fourth of these representatives and the start of the Greater
Occultation, no-one can claim to be the special representative (na-'ib
al-khass) of the Hidden Imam until the return of the Imam occurs. It
was clearly impossible for the Safavids to claim designation (except
in visions of the Hidden Imam) and the great stress in their
propaganda on their descent from the Imams can only be seen as a smoke
screen to hide the fact that this was an irrelevance. In fact, the
Safavids were claiming power on the basis of a Zaydi-style Imamate
(see pp. 49-50) while claiming to be Twelver Shi'is.
  Why then was there no protest at this irreligious claim by Isma'il?
There appear to be two factors involved in the lack of response by the
ulama to his claim. Firstly, there were, by this time, very few
prominent native Iranian Twelver ulama. The old Shi'i centres in Iran,
such as Qumm, Nishapur, Tus, Kashan and Rayy were no longer important
centres of scholarship and were producing very few ulama and none of
any prominence. Among Isma'ili's own Qizilbash forces there appears to
have been a profound ignorance of Twelver Shi'ism. When Tabriz was
taken and Twelver Shi'ism proclaimed the religion of the state, for
example, there was not a single book on Twelver Shi'ism to be found in
Isma'il's army and eventually a copy of a book by 'Allama al-Hilli was
located in the library of a qadi of Tabriz to provide guidance on the
new religion of the state. None of those appointed to the office of
Sadr (in charge of the propagation of Shi'ism) in the early period had
received formal training as Twelver ulama, and the Shi'ism of one of
them was even in doubt.3 The Arab Twelver ulama resident in Iraq,
Syria and Bahrain were the only ones that could have provided informed
authoritative opposition to the Safavid claim. These were brought to
Iran in increasing numbers, especially during the reigns of Isma'il's
successors, but they probably felt their position, as immigrants
dependent on the largesse of the state, too vulnerable to take on the
Shah and, in any case, it is doubtful if they would have wanted to
undermine the newly-emergent state that was propagating Shi'ism and
was under attack from Sunni powers. Thus in the early period of the
Safavid dynasty there appears to have been an uneasy alliance between
the state and the ulama with the state supporting the ulama by
enforcing Shi'ism on the populace while the ulama supported the state
and kept quiet about


the inconsistencies in the religious stance of the monarch.
  It is clear that the Shi'ism that Isma'il was enforcing throughout
his domain at this stage consisted of no more than the Shi'i form of
the call to prayer (adhan), the acknowledgement of 'Ali's position
during the address in the mosque (the khutba) and the public cursing
of 'Ali's enemies. For the majority of the people, it involved no more
than exalting 'Ali and cursing his enemies. The tombs of Sunni saints
and scholars were desecrated and here and there a few Sunni ulama
resisted the change and were dealt with harshly. But there does not
appear to have been the major upheaval and opposition that might have
been expected in a predominantly Sunni country. This is undoubtedly
due to the activities of the Sufi orders and the futuwwa brotherhoods
who had been inculcating a love of 'Ali and the family of the Prophet
among the people for the past two centuries. The religious toleration
of the Ilkhanid and Timurid rulers had also served to diffuse much of
the old Sunni-Shi'i hatred.

Conscious of the fact that another Sufi order could emulate what the
Safavids had done, Isma'ili set about destroying the organised Sufi
orders. The Sunni Naqshbandi and Khalwati orders were extirpated. The
Nurbakhshi and Dhahabi orders that were pro-Shi'i were initially
tolerated but gradually emasculated and lost their influence. Only the
Ni'matu'llahi order, which proclaimed itself Shi'i on the
establishment of the Safavid state and allied itself closely to the
Safavids, was allowed to continue its activities without opposition.

Shah Tahmasp

At the time of Isma'il's death, his son Tahmasp was only ten years
old. There followed a decade of disorder when the various Qizilbash
factions fought each other for supremacy until in AD 1533 Tahmasp was
able to assert his authority. But he was in a perilous position with
the state severely weakened and serious incursions being made by the
Uzbegs in the East and the Ottomans in the West. Between 1524 and 1538
there were five major Uzbeg attacks and between 1533 and 1553 there
were four major Ottoman invasions.
  In 1555 Tahmasp signed a peace treaty with the Ottomans and at about
the same time moved his capital from Tabriz to Qazvin. The rest of his
reign was comparatively tranquil.
  On the religious side, Tahmasp was still considered a divine figure
by his Sufi followers but he had no inclination to assume this role
and took steps to suppress the tendency to extremist Shi'ism (ghuluww)
among his followers. He crushed one Turkoman tribe in 938/1531 for
irreligion (ilhad) and another group of Sufis who proclaimed him Mahdi
in 1554


Other manifestations of extremism such as the Nuqtavi movement
(derived from the Hurufis of the previous century) were also
suppressed and a community of them in Kashan massacred in 983/1575
  On the other side of the coin, Tahmasp did much to encourage the
spread of orthodox Twelver Shi'ism. The leading Shi'i scholar of the
day, Shaykh 'Ali ibn 'Abdu'l-'Ali al-'Amili, known as Muhaqqiq ath-
Thani or Muhaqqiq al-Karaki (d. 940/1533), who had visited Iran in
Shah Isma'il's time, was now encouraged to settle in Iran. He
travelled about the country propagating orthodox Shi'ism, appointing
prayer-leaders in each town and village who could teach the people
Shi'ism, and openly attacking Sunnism. It is reported that his open
cursing of Abu Bakr and 'Umar had repercussions in Mecca and Medina
where the Shi'i ulama were persecuted in retaliation.4
  Tahmasp died in AD 1576 and was succeeded by his son Isma'il II. The
latter was sympathetic to Sunnism and the fact that he thought it
feasible to try to reverse Safavid religious policies and found
support for doing so even in the capital city of Qazvin, shows how
superficial conversion to Shi'ism had been in Iran up to this time.
But the Qizilbash would not tolerate this and Isma'il II was
assassinated after a reign of only one year. His successor, Sultan-
Muhammad Shah, was a weak and ineffectual ruler who reigned from 1578
until 1588 when he was forced to abdicate in favour of his son, Shah
'Abbas I.

Shah 'Abbas I

'Abbas I came to the throne at a critical time in the fortunes of the
Safavid Dynasty. The Qizilbash chiefs, under his father's weak rule,
had lapsed into internecine warfare. The Ottomans and Uzbegs, taking
advantage of the situation, had seized Adharbayjan and Herat
  'Abbas I, realising that he could no longer rely on the Qizilbash,
raised a standing army from the ghulams, the Georgian and Circassian
slaves which Tahmasp had brought back from his campaigns. Using these,
he launched a campaign in 1598 which drove the Uzbegs out of Khurasan.
In 1603 he started a campaign which lasted until 1607 and cleared the
Ottomans from Adharbayjan. Finally in 1624 Baghdad and the whole of
Iraq fell to the Safavid forces. This final victory was of great
symbolic importance because of the existence in Iraq of the great
Shi'i shrines. In 1597 'Abbas I transferred his capital to Isfahan.
 In the field of religion, the policies of Isma'il I in suppressing
the organised Sufi orders and that of Tahmasp in suppressing
expressions of Shi'i extremism (ghuluww) while encouraging the growth
of orthodox Twelver Shi'ism were continued by 'Abbas I. The
Ni'matu'llahi order of Sufis that had allied itself to the Safavids
and had been allowed to


continue under the early Safavids was now subjected to pressure and
eventually withdrew to India.
  The old Sufi organisation of the Safavid order had, by the reign of
'Abbas I, become an empty form. 'Abbas, having seen in his early years
how fickle and unreliable was the loyalty of the Qizilbash, took every
opportunity to undermine and diminish the importance of this aspect of
his power base. In 1592 and again in 1614 a number of Sufis of
Qarajadagh, who were among the oldest adherents of the Safavid order,
were executed on the charge of collaborating with the Ottomans, thus
demonstrating how little was left of the old loyalty. Among the
Georgian and Circassian slaves (ghulams) who replaced the Qizilbash,
the former appeal to Sufgari (Sufi probity and obedience to the
Shaykh) as the basis of loyalty to the Shah was replaced by Shahi-
sivani (love of the Shah).
  At the beginning of his reign 'Abbas I was attracted by the Nuqtavi
doctrine which was based on the old Hurufi ideas. But in 1593 he
turned on this group and had large numbers of them killed in Kashan
and Isfahan. From this date on 'Abbas I surrounded himself with
orthodox Twelver ulama and worked towards the propagation of that
  During the reigns of his predecessors Iranians had been sent to
Jabal 'Amil to study Shi'ism. After 'Abbas moved his capital to
Isfahan in 1597, he built there a number of theological colleges
(madrasas) and encouraged ulama from Jabal 'Amil and Bahrain to come
to Iran and particularly to Isfahan. This heralded a major change in
the education of Shi'i ulama at the beginning of the 11th/17th
century. Whereas Sunnis had since Seljuq times built up a system of
education at religious colleges, Shi'i religious students had tended
to gather around individual prominent scholars, often being taught in
the home of that scholar in the villages of the Jabal 'Amil or Bahrain
or even in the town of Hilla. Now with the advent of a Shi'i state
that was able to fund such enterprises, the system of religious
colleges was started in Iran and particularly in Isfahan. These were
the precursors of the religious colleges that were built in Qajar
times at Najaf, Qumm and Mashhad and are now the most important such
institutions in the Shi'i world.[5]
  The principal centre of Shi'i scholarship was thus transferred to
Isfahan during the reign of 'Abbas I. A prominent role in this build-
up of the importance of Isfahan as a religious centre was played by
Mulla 'Abdu'llah Shushtari (d. 1021/1612). After spending thirty years
studying in Najaf and Karbala, particularly under Muqaddas Ardibili,
Shushtari arrived in Isfahan about one year after Shah 'Abbas
transferred his capital there. He became the principal religious
teacher in the town and it is stated that, whereas when he arrived
there were only 50 students in Isfahan, by the time of his death,
fourteen years later, there were over


1,000. The leading Shi'i scholar of the time was Shaykh Baha'u'd-Din
Muhammad ibn Husayn al-'Amili al-Juba'i, known as Shaykh Baha' (d.
1031/1622). Shaykh Bahá'í, in the breadth of his knowledge and his
achievements in many fields, resembled Khwaja Nasiru'd-Din Tusi. He
was an eminent theologian, jurist, philosopher, mystic, astronomer and
poet as well as playing a major role in the planning and construction
of Isfahan.
  By the reign of Shah 'Abbas I, the claim by the Safavid kings to a
semi-divine nature or to being the representative of the Hidden Imam
was fading rapidly. 'Abbas I appears himself to have been a pious man.
He greatly embellished the holy shrines at Qumm and Mashhad and
performed several pilgrimages, on one occasion walking the entire
distance from Isfahan to Mashhad on foot. Nevertheless, a few remnants
of the old extremist trend remained, such as the custom of prostrating
before the monarch (in Islam prostration should only be to God). The
role of Sadr, which was a political appointment, was decreasing in
importance, and a new position of Shaykh al-Islam was created to which
recognised members of the ulama were appointed. This began the process
of a separation between the church and the state, but during the days
of 'Abbas I the position of the ulama, as newly arrived migrants, was
too insecure and the position of the king too strong to allow any real
independence to the ulama. For the time being, the state remained in
firm control of the ulama.
  Shah 'Abbas died in AD 1629 and was succeeded by his grandson Shah
Safi. This monarch appears to have been addicted to opium and alcohol
and to have had little interest in the affairs of state. Under his
rule Baghdad was lost to the Ottomans in 1638 and Qandahar to the
Moguls of India in the same year. He died in 1642 and was succeeded by
his son, 'Abbas II, who was eight-and-half years of age.
  'Abbas II had some of the character of his great-grandfather and
succeeded in reviving the fortunes of the dynasty to an extent.
Qandahar was recaptured in 1648 and the frontiers were maintained
intact. Although also addicted to wine, 'Abbas I did not allow affairs
to slip from his grasp and was for the most part just and tolerant as
a ruler.

The School of Isfahan

The major intellectual development in Islam during this period began
during the reign of Shah 'Abbas I but reached its full flowering in
the reigns of his successors. This was the development of Hikmat-i
Ilahi (al-Hikma al-Ilahiyya), divine philosophy or theosophy, under
what has come to be called the Ishraqi (Illuminationist) school of
philosophy or the so-called 'School of Isfahan' (see pp. 217-19). The
origins of this


school within an Islamic context go back to Shihabu'd-Din Yahya
Suhrawardi (killed in Aleppo in 1191) who believed that to obtain true
wisdom it was necessary to develop both the rational and the intuitive
aspects of the mind. While the former could be achieved through the
philosophy of Aristotle and ibn Sina (Avicenna), the latter required
the purification of the soul which could best be achieved through
asceticism, mysticism and gnosis. The School of Isfahan also drew on
the works of Sayyid Haydar Amuli and ibn Abi Jumhur in bringing
together Sufism and the esoteric aspects of Shi'ism.
  The founder of the School of Isfahan was Muhammad Baqir Astarabadi,
known as Mir Damad (d. 1040/1631). The greatest figure in this school
was Sadru'd-Din Muhammad ibn Ibrahim Shirazi, known as Mulla Sadra (d.
1050/1640). Other prominent names in the movement include Abu'l-Qasim
Astarabadi, known as Mir Findiriski (d. 1050/1640), and Mulla Rajab
'Ali Tabrizi (d. 1080/1669). Mulla Sadra retired at one stage of his
life to Kahak, a village near Qumm. Subsequently, an important branch
of this movement was centred in Qumm with the presence there of Mulla
'Abdu'r-Razzaq Lahiji (d. 1072/1661), Mulla Muhsin-i Fayd of Kashan
(d. 1091/1680) and Qadi Sa'id Qummi (d. 1103/1691). Mulla Muhsin-i
Fayd is of great importance also as a scholar of Shi'i hadith. His
book, al-Wafi, which is a synthesis and commentary on the four early
canonical books of Shi'i hadith, is considered one of the most
important works on this subject.
  So influential became the Hikmat-i Ilahi movement that it embraced
several prominent individuals from both the state and the orthodox
Shi'i ulama. The Grand Vazir of 'Abbas II, Sayyid Husayn, Sultanu'l-
'Ulama (d. 1064/1654), was a patron of this circle as indeed was
'Abbas II himself. Mulla Muhammad Taqi Majlisi (d. 1070/1659), a noted
jurist and father of the even more famous Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, was
connected with this circle, as was Mulla Muhammad Baqir Sabzivari (d.
1090/1679) who was appointed Shaykh al-Islam of Isfahan.
Shah Sulayman
  'Abbas II died in 1666 and under his successor Shah Sulayman the
decline of the Safavids resumed. Sulayman abandoned himself to the
pleasure of wine and the harem and took no interest in the affairs of
state. His successor Sultan-Husayn Shah began his reign in 1694 as a
pious and austere man but soon declined into drunkenness and
debauchery. He too refused to involve himself in the business of
governing the country, leaving this to ministers and the eunuchs of
the Court as well as to the increasingly powerful mujtahids.
  The only reason that the Safavids remained in power for as long as


they did was the fortunate circumstance that the powers on their
borders were not in a position to attack them. The Ottoman Empire was
embroiled in Europe, the Mogul Empire was in decline and the Uzbegs
had disappeared from the scene. When the end came for the Safavids, it
was the result of a revolt from within their own borders. The Ghilzay
Afghans rose in rebellion. At first it would appear that they, being
Sunnis, only wished to throw off the Shi'i Safavid yoke, but when they
saw the Safavid forces collapse before them, they pushed on in
anticipation of booty. With an army of only twenty thousand, they
penetrated to the heart of the Safavid realm and took Isfahan in
October 1722, terminating effective Safavid rule.

The Ulama of the Late Safavid Period

In the religious sphere, the ulama of the late Safavid period, who
were mostly Iranians, had a much firmer power base within the country
and thus felt secure enough to take an increasingly independent stand
vis-a-vis the Safavid state. Already by the reign of Shah Sulayman,
foreign observers such as Chardin noted that the ulama were saying
that these immoral Safavid kinds were not worthy of kingship and that
the mujtahid is the real ruler as representative of the Imam.[6] This
must, however, have remained a minority view among the ulama for
although the na'ib al-'amm concept (see p. 190) was developed in this
period, there is nothing in the important Shi'i works of this time to
indicate that they considered the concept to include political rule.
This idea of the mujtahid as the ideal Shi'i ruler had to await
Ayatu'llah Khumayni in the twentieth century for its full development
(see pp. 195-6).
  It cannot, however, be denied that the ulama were taking an
increasingly prominent role in the affairs of the country and were
becoming more assertive with respect to their demands. This process
came to a head in the time of Muhammad Baqir Majlisi (who became
Shaykh al-Islam of Isfahan in 1687 and Mullabashi--Head Mulla--in
1694) and particularly during the reign of Shah Sultan-Husayn, which
began in 1694.
  It is necessary to take a close look at the activity of Muhammad
Baqir Majlisi (d. 1110/1699) since he was one of the most powerful and
influential Shi'i ulama of all time and since his policies and actions
reorientated Twelver Shi'ism in the direction that it was to develop
from his day on. Majlisi was an important scholar in his own right.
His encyclopaedic collection of hadith, the Bihar al-Anwar, would
alone have established his reputation but he was one of the most
prolific writers and produced numerous other works that have continued
to be important. It is, however, in the social and political role that
he played rather than in his scholarly work that his importance lies.


  The first point that must be noted is that Majlisi was all-powerful
in whatever field he chose to initiate his policies. The government of
Sultan-Husayn Shah made almost no effort to control his activities.
The three inter-related areas in which Majlisi exerted his efforts
were: the suppression of Sufism and philosophy, the propagation of a
dogmatic legalistic form of Twelver Shi'ism and the suppression of
Sunnism and other religious groups.
  Sultan-Husayn Shah made almost no effort to control his activities.
The three inter-related areas in which Majlisi exerted his efforts
were: the suppression of Sufism and philosophy, the propagation of a
dogmatic legalistic form of Twelver Shi'ism and the suppression of
Sunnism and other religious groups.
  Sultan-Husayn Shah had come under Majlisi's influence whilst still
in the harem. When it came to the coronation ceremony, Sultan-Husayn
insisted that it be Majlisi who invested him with the symbols of
state. He then asked Majlisi what he desired by way of recompense.
Majlisi requested royal decrees forbidding the drinking of wine, the
practice of faction-fighting and the sport of pigeon-flying. In
addition, he asked for the expulsion of all Sufis from Isfahan. The
decree forbidding the drinking of wine had later to be revoked when
the Shah himself became addicted to alcohol, but the attack on Sufism
  In the preceding chapter and this chapter, it has been seen that up
to the time of Majlisi, Shi'ism and Sufism were closely linked and
indeed Sufism had been a vehicle for pro-Shi'i sentiment among the
Sunnis. Even the most eminent members of the Shi'i ulama in the
preceding centuries had come under the influence of Sufism and such
persons as ibn Tawus, 'Allama al-Hilli, Shahid al-Awwal, ibn Fahd al-
Hilli, Shahid ath-Thani and Shaykh Bahá'í were either sympathetic to
Sufism or considered themselves practising Sufis. Even Majlisi's own
father, Muhammad Taqi Majlisi, was a member of the Dhahabiyya Sufi
order. In addition, the development of the School of Isfahan could be
considered (and was considered by Majlisi) as a form of philosophical
or 'high' Sufism.
  Majlisi set out to counter and reverse this trend of Sufism and
philosophy in Twelver Shi'ism. Sufis, whether they were the wandering
dervishes of 'low' Sufism or the philosopher-ulama of 'high' Sufism
came under relentless pressure from Majlisi and his Shari'a-minded
colleagues. The Sufi teachings of the mystical union with God and its
connotations were stated to be heresy (that 'foul and hellish growth')
while the philosophers of the School of Isfahan were considered
'followers of an infidel Greek'.[7]
  The process of suppressing Sufism pursued vigorously by Majlisi and
his contemporary Shaykh Muhammad al-Hurr al-'Amili (d. 1104/1693) was,
in fact, an intensification of a trend that had begun in the previous
generation of ulama. One of the teachers of both Majlisi and al-Hurr
al-'Amili, Muhammad Tahir ibn Muhammad Husayn Shirazi (d. 1098/1686)
had been active in preaching against Sufis and had written a treatise
in refutation of Sufism. This process continued among the succeeding


generations of ulama, several of whom distinguished themselves as
persecutors and even slayers of Sufis. The ultimate result of this was
that Sufism was divorced from Shi'ism and ceased to influence the main
stream of Shi'i development. Philosophy was also down-graded and
ceased to be an important part of studies at the religious colleges
There was some degree of rehabilitation of these subjects in later
years (see p. 218), but for the most part the distrust of and distaste
for these subjects engendered by Majlisi has remained the attitude of
the majority of the ulama to the present day.
  The second area in which Majlisi exerted himself was in the
propagation of the 'dry', formal, dogmatic, legalistic style of
Shi'ism that he considered to be the true Shi'ism. Up to this time, it
would be true to say that Shi'ism had sat lightly on the population of
Iran, consisting mostly of mere expressions of love for 'Ali and
hatred of the first three Caliphs. Majlisi sought to establish Shi'ism
firmly in the minds and hearts of the people. This he did in three
main ways. Firstly, he encouraged many specifically Shi'i rituals such
as mourning for the Imam Husayn and visitation (ziyarat) of the tombs
of the Imams and Imamzadas (descendants of the Imams). This last
activity he invested with unprecedented importance and was largely
responsible for a great elaboration of the rituals involved. Secondly,
he emphasised the soteriological aspects of Shi'ism, stressing the
concept of the Imams as mediators and intercessors for man with God.
Thirdly, he wrote a large number of books on theology, history and
manuals of ritual in Persian, thus bringing this knowledge to the
level of understanding of ordinary Iranians. Although the writing of
books of Shi'i doctrine and law in Persian was begun as early as the
reign of Shah Isma'il by Kamalu'd-Din Husayn Ardibili,[9] Majlisi was
the first to write in Persian so much, on such a wide range of
subjects and in a manner that could be understood by the ordinary
  The third direction in which Majlisi exerted his efforts, and which
was in obvious parallel to his goal of propagating Shi'ism, was in
suppressing Sunnism. Although much of western and central Iran was now
Shi'i, the Afghans in Khurasan remained for the most part obstinately
Sunni. Other Sunni strongholds included the Kurds in the west and the
Muslims of the Caucasus. Majlisi waged a relentless campaign of
persecution wherever he found any Sunnis. But in this aspect of his
policies Majlisi failed. Not only did he fail in converting these
remaining pockets of Sunnism but he aroused such resentment and
hostility that he sparked off the Afghan revolt that toppled the
Safavid dynasty and brought Iran back under Sunni rule.
  Paradoxically, then, Majlisi's activities both partially caused the
revolt that replaced a Shi'i dynasty with Sunni rule and also


Shi'ism sufficiently firmly within the hearts of the Iranian people to
ensure that the efforts made in the post-Safavid period to return Iran
to Sunnism would fail. Apart from the two Majlisis, father and son,
the prominent ulama of the late Safavid period were: Mulla Muhammad
Salih ibn Ahmad Mazandarani (d. 1081/1670); Mulla Muhammad Baqir ibn
Muhammad Mu'min, known as Muhaqqiq Sabzivari (d. 1090/1679); Aqa
Husayn ibn Muhammad, known as Muhaqqiq Khwansari (d. 1098/1686);
Shaykh Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Hurr al-'Amili (d. 1104/1693); Sayyid
Ni'matu'llah Jaza'iri (d. 1112/1700); Sayyid Mir Muhammad Salih
Khatunabadi (d. 1116/1704), who succeeded Muhammad Baqir Majlisi to
the position of Shaykh al-Islam of Isfahan; and Shaykh Sulayman ibn
'Abdu'llah, known as Muhaqqiq al-Bahram (d. 1120/1708).

The Usuli-Akhbari Division

It was during the 11th/17th century that another issue came to the
fore among the Twelver Shi'i ulama and this was the controversy
between the Usuli and Akhbari Schools. Since it was the Usulis who
eventually won this debate two hundred years later at the end of the
12th/18th century, Shi'i historians have tended to view the struggle
from the Usul point of view which seeks to represent the Akhbari
position as an innovation started by Mulla Muhammad Amm Astarabadi (d.
1033/1623) at the beginning of the 11th/17th century. It is clear,
however, from the writings of the Akhbaris themselves (and is probably
a closer approximation to the true position) that the Akhbaris
represented a stream of thought that had been present among Shi'i
ulama from the earliest days of Twelver Shi'ism and that the
controversy only occurred because of the increasing predominance of
the mujtahids. The nature of the Akhbari position is detailed
elsewhere in this book (see pp. 222ff.) but can be briefly described
here as being against ijtihad and the increasingly dominant position
of the mujtahids in Twelver Shi'ism. It sought to establish Shi'i
jurisprudence on the basis of the Traditions (Akhbar) rather than on
the rationalist principles (Usul) of jurisprudence used in ijtihad.
  It is probable that there had always existed within Twelver Shi'ism
a school of thought that rejected the rationalist ideas of the
majority and decried the increasing use of reason rather than
Traditions as a source of law. The Akhbaris themselves pointed to such
figures as Kulayni, ibn Babuya, and other eminent Shi'i ulama of
previous generations as having been basically in line with their mode
of thinking."
  The advent of the Safavid dynasty had presented a large number of
questions of jurisprudence to the ulama and it may be that too free a
use of


the licence granted them by the practice of ijtihad provoked the
Akhbari reaction. Certainly Muhaqqiq al-Karaki had been criticised on
this score.
  Thus rather than being an innovator, it may be that Muhammad Amm
Astarabadi was merely vocalising a sentiment that had been current
among the ulama. Certainly there was no immediate outcry against
Astarabadi's attack on ijtihad and mujtahids, while several ulama of
the first rank either adopted this position or were at least
favourably disposed towards it. Thus, for example, of the 'three
Muhammads' of modern times in the field of the study of hadith (see p.
174), two (Mulla Muhsin-i Fayd and al-Hurr al-'Amil-l) were outright
Akhbaris, while the third, the formidable Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, was
by no means against the Akhbari position and even praised Astarabadi
in his major work, Bihar al-Anwar.[12] Other prominent ulama who were
either Akhbari or favourable to the Akhbari position were Sayyid
Ni'matu'llah Jaza'iri (d. 1112/1700), Muhammad Taqi Majlisi, the
father of Muhammad Baqir Majlisi (d. 1070/1659), Mulla 'Abdu'llah Tuni
(d. 1071/1660) and Shaykh Yusuf al-Bahram (d. 1186/1772).[13] At
Bahrain, the leading Shi'i scholar Shaykh 'Ali ibn Sulayman al-Bahram
al-Qadami (d. 1064/1653), known as Umm al-Hadith, adopted the Akhbari
school and Bahrain became predominantly Akhbari. The small group of
Shi'i ulama at Mecca and Medina which included Mulla Muhammad Amm
Astarabadi himself were Akhbari. The Akhbari doctrines were also well
received in Jaza'ir (Shatt al-'Arab region of southern Iraq), 14 Najaf
and Karbala[15] and, indeed, it is reported that by the end of the
Safavid period the Akhbaris were predominant in the shrine cities of

The Popular Religion

With the advent of a Shi'i state under the Safavids and the gradual
conversion of most Iranians to Shi'ism, there were, of course, many
major developments in the popular religion in Safavid times. Most of
these developments occurred towards the end of the Safavid era. The
role of Muhammad Baqir Majlisi in promoting Shi'ism at the popular
level has been noted above.
  The main trends in the evolution of the popular religion in this
period was the increased importance of pilgrimages made to the shrines
of the Imams (in Iraq and at Mashhad) and the descendants of the Imams
(called Imamzadas). There was also an increased popular involvement
with Muharram ritual commemorating the martyrdom of the Imam Husayn at
Karbala (see pp. 240ff.). As mentioned in the previous chapter
Kamalu'd-Din Husayn, known as Wa'iz Kashifi (d. 910/1504), although


a Sunni, had written a work called Rawdat ash-Shuhada--which portrays
the events of Karbala in an emotive manner in the Persian language.
During the Safavid period it became popular to organise meetings at
which this book was recited to the accompaniment of much weeping and
wailing. These meetings became known as Rawda-khani (recital of the
Rawdat ash-Shuhada and the reciters became known as Rawda-khans, which
soon became a profession in its own right. The Safavids were, of
course, not averse to this development since not only did it
strengthen the hold of Shi'ism upon the population but increased
enmity of the people towards the Ottoman Turks who as Sunnis were
identified with Husayn's enemies at Karbala.
  For the ordinary people, the late Safavid period marked an important
watershed during which the influence of the Sufi orders and their
spiritual leaders, the murshids, declined under attack from the ulama.
The latter, and especially Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, were able to assume
some of the aura left vacant by the Sufi murshids, but, to a far
greater extent, the devotion of the common people was transferred to
the persons of the Imams, who now became the spiritual intermediaries
and intercessors of the masses. Pilgrimages to their shrines, and the
Karbala mourning ceremonies, of course, greatly facilitated this

Shi'ism in the Arab World

To the west of Iran, Shi'ism was on the defensive. In Iraq, Hilla,
which had been the most important centre of Shi'ism in the pre-Safavid
era, declined markedly and there is not one important scholar of this
period named as being from that city, although it remained
predominantly Shi'i. Similarly, by the early part of this period Mosul
in north Iraq and Aleppo in north Syria had ceased to be important
Shi'i centres and lost most of their Twelver Shi'i population. Najaf
and Karbala were, however, growing in importance during this period.
The residence in Najaf of Muqaddas Ardibili (d. 993/1585), one of the
foremost Shi'i ulama of his age, drew to that town numerous students
from Iran and the Jabal 'Amil. Although Najaf had been a centre of
Shi'i studies since the time of Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa, the building of
religious colleges there, as in Iran, dates from this period. Two
brief periods of Safavid rule over Iraq resulted in some repair and
construction around the holy shrines.
  During this period Lebanon, although nominally part of the Ottoman
Empire, was effectively controlled by feudal overlords. In 1517, after
he overcame the Mamluks, the Ottoman Selim I placed a Turkoman, Amir
'Assaf, in control of the region of Kisrawan (the coastal strip north
of Beirut). With their seat in the village of Ghazir, the 'Assaf
family ruled over this area for most of the sixteenth century until
the last of them was


killed in AD 1590. They are reported to have been Shi'i and under
their rule the area prospered and a number of Shi'is from other parts
of Syria moved into this region although it remained predominantly
Maronite Christian. In the last part of the sixteenth century the
coastal strip north of Kisrawan (also predominantly Maronite)
gradually came into the control of the Twelver Shi'i Hamada family who
are reported to have been Iranian in origin and who also controlled
the area around Hirmal in the Biqa' valley. The Shi'i area around
Ba'albakk in the Biqa' valley was dominated by the Twelver Shi'i
Harfush family. The first of this family to be appointed as Amir of
the Ba'albakk region by the Ottomans was 'Ali ibn Musa in 1001/1592.
The family remained in power in the region, occasionally extending
their power as far as Tripoli and Sidon, until the nineteenth century.
The Jabal mil area, for most of the sixteenth century, was, however,
controlled by the Druse Ma'n family.
  The last third of the 9th/15th century had seen the transfer of the
main centre of Shi'i scholarship from Hilla to the Jabal 'Amil in
Lebanon. Although the foremost scholar of the early Safavid period,
Muhaqqiq al-Karaki, left the Jabal 'Amil and took up residence in
Iran, the most important teaching was still being done in the villages
of the Jabal 'Amil area such as Juba', Mays and Karak-Nuh and students
were sent there from Iran. Shaykh Zaynu'd-Din ibn 'Ali al-Juba'i,
known as Shahid ath-Thani (the Second Martyr, killed 966/1558), was a
pupil of Muhaqqiq al-Karaki and became the most prominent Shi'i
scholar after him. Both he and his son, Abu Mansur Hasan Sahibu'l-
Ma'alim (the author of the Ma'alim ad-Din, d. 1011/1602) remained in
Syria and maintained the tradition of learning there despite the
relentless pressure against Shi'ism from the Ottoman authorities.
There are varying accounts of how Shahid ath-Thani was killed and his
head presented to the Ottoman court. But after 'Abbas I transferred
his court to Isfahan, many of the ulama of this region migrated to
Iran and it declined in importance as a centre of scholarship.
  The capture of Bahrain by the forces of Shah 'Abbas I of Iran in
1602 was an important turning-point for the Twelver Shi'is of this
island. It allowed them the freedom to establish their religion and to
build up centres of scholarship on the island. Shaykh Muhammad ibn
Hasan al-Maqabi (d. 1050/1640) was the first to perform the public
Jum'a prayers according to the Shi'i formula after the Safavid

Shi'ism in India

Contemporary to the Safavid dynasty in Iran, there was a great
flowering of Shi'ism in India. Out of the disintegrating Bahman
kingdom several independent Shi'i states arose.


  Yusuf 'Adil Shah, probably a Persian or Turkoman from Savih and
adopted son of Mahmud Gawan, the Shi'i chief minister of the Bahmani
kingdom was made Governor of Bijapur district. After Mahmud Gawan's
execution, Yusuf proclaimed his independence in 1489. In 908/1503 he
followed the Safavid precedent and made Shi'ism the official religion
of his state. Yusuf's son Isma'il established links with the Safavid
dynasty and for a time his troops wore the red, twelve-pointed cap of
the Qizilbash. The 'Adil Shah dynasty lasted until 1686 when it was
overrun by the Moguls under Aurangzeb.
  Hasan, a converted Brahmin prisoner of the Bahmani kings, seized the
opportunity presented by the collapse of the Bahmani kingdom to set up
a Shi'i kingdom of his own centred on Ahmadnagar in 1490. He took the
name Ahmad Nizam Shah. The Nizam Shah dynasty ruled until overrun by
the Mogul Empire in 1633.
  Sultan Quli was an Iranian who established his independence of the
Bahmani kingdom in 1512 with Golconda, near Hyderabad, as the seat of
his government. This Shi'i dynasty, the Qutb Shahs, continued until
overrun by the Moguls under Aurangzeb in 1687.
  During this period a number of Iranian Twelver Shi'i ulama migrated
to India and helped to establish Shi'ism there. Among the most
important of these was Shah Tahir of Qazvin (d. 1549) who is reported
to have converted Burhan Nizam Shah to Shi'ism in about 1522, and Qadi
Nuru'llah Mar'ashi Shushtari (1542-1610) who reached India in 1585 and
was executed for his Shi'ism by the Mogul Emperor Jahangir.
  Further north in Kashmir there arrived at Srinagar in AD 1492 Mir
Shamsu'd-Din 'Iraqi from Gilan in Iran. He was a follower of Muhammad
Nurbakhsh (see p. 102) and propagated a strongly pro-Shi'i doctrine.
He succeeded in converting a number of the notables of Kashmir and in
particular the Chak family (who had arrived in Kashmir at the
beginning of the fourteenth century and had gradually been extending
their influence) and Musa Rayna, a member of the powerful Rayna
family. The king, Sultan Muhammad Shah, became worried at 'Iraqi's
success and the ensuing reaction among the Sunnis and so exiled him to
Skardo in Baltistan, where 'Iraqi also had success in converting many
to his Shi'i-Nurbakhshi doctrines.
  But the Chak family under Shams Chak and Musa Rayna conspired to
overthrow Sultan Muhammad Shah in 1505 and for the next thirty-five
years there was a constant see-sawing of power with the Chak family
sometimes in power, with a puppet king, and sometimes out of power.
Then in 1540 Mirza Haydar Dughlat with a Mogul army occupied Kashmir.
He suppressed Shi'ism and ruled firmly until defeated and killed in
battle in 1551 by Ghazi Chak. After a series of puppet kings, Ghazi
Chak eventually proclaimed himself king in 1561.


There followed a succession of Shi'i Chak kings until 1586 when the
Mogul Emperor Akbar overran Kashmir and terminated the dynasty.  
During the period of the Chak dynasty and after the Mogul conquest,
there were often major episodes of Sunni-Shi'i conflict in Kashmir.
Some of the Chak rulers aggressively promoted Shi'ism and during this
time a considerable proportion of the peasantry of the area became
Shi'i. The Moguls maintained a neutral religious policy. The Afghans,
however, who succeeded the Moguls and ruled from 1751 to 1819 were
severe on the whole population but particularly on the Shi'is.
  The Mogul dynasty itself, although posing for the most part as
champions of Sunni Islam, were not without Shi'i influences. Babur,
the first Mogul Emperor, was assisted by the first Safavid monarch,
Isma'il I, on the condition that he accepted Shi'ism. His troops wore
the red, twelve-pointed cap of the Qizilbash for a time. Humayun, the
second of the Mogul dynasty, was at one time driven from India and
sought refuge in Iran, where Shah Tahmasp gave him assistance in
recapturing his throne on the condition of his accepting Shi'ism and
of his troops wearing the Qizilbash cap which was, in those days, a
symbol of being Shi'i.
  Shi'ism continued to have a marked influence on the Mogul dynasty
over the succeeding generations with several princes being either
Shi'i or having Shi'i leanings and also with many Shi'is among the
ministers and close companions of the Royal Family. The Barah Sayyids,
a Shi'i family, became so powerful that on the death of Aurangzeb in
1118/1707 they were able to place Bahadur Shah, a Shi'i, on the Mogul
throne and dominated the affairs of state until their overthrow in
1737. During the whole of the Mogul period, the court was divided into
two factions, Iran, which was in effect the Shi'i faction, and Turani,
which was the Sunni faction.

Geographical Spread

A noticeable change occurred among the ulama in the late Safavid
period. After five centuries when the most prominent of the ulama had
been Arabs, there arose the first of a stream of prominent Iranian
ulama that has continued to the present day. This change can most
clearly be seen by comparing the places of origin of the most
prominent ulama who died during the 11th/17th century and the 12/18th
century as contained in the biographical work of Mirza Muhammad 'Ali
Kashmiri, Nujum as-Sama (see Table 5).
  From this table it can also be seen that apart from those places
already mentioned, the region extending from Huwayza and Shushtar in
southwest Iran to the Shatt al-'Arab (Jaza'ir) in south Iraq had by
this time become one of the most important centres of Shi'i


Table 5: Geographical origins of Twelver Shi'i ulama dying in the
eleventh (AD 1591-1687) and twelfth (AD 1688-1784) Islamic centuries

    11th/17th Century                12th/18th Century

Jabal 'Amil           100       Isfahan                  22
Bahrain                33       Jaza'ir (S. Iraq)        16
Astarabad              15       Bahrain                  15
Jaza'ir (S. Iraq)      11       Mazandaran               13
Khurasan               10       Gilan                    12
Shiraz                  8       Shiraz                   12
Najaf                   8       Qazvin                    9
Huwayza (S.E. Iran)     8       Khurasan                  8
Qazvin                  6       Jabal 'Amil                    6
Mazandaran and Gilan    6       Khatunabad (near Yazd)    5
Shushtar (S.E. Iran)    6       India                     5
Isfahan                 5       Hamadan                   4
Kazimayn                4       Khwansar                  4
Yazd                    3       Burujird                  2
Damascus                3       Qa'in                     2
Qumm                    2       Kashan                    2
Tafrish (near Qumm)     2       Najaf                     1
Hamadan                 2       Huwayza                   1
Hilla                   1
Karbala                 1
Tabriz                  1
Kashan                  1

In surveying the Safavid period of Shi'i history, the following appear
to be the major developments:

I. The ending of the relative mutual tolerance between Sunnis and
Shi'is that existed from the time of the Mongol conquests onwards and
the resurgence of hatred and hostility between the two sects.

2. The change from a broad inclusive church to a narrow outlook
concentrating on law and the external observances of the religion,
rejecting Sufism and philosophy and minimising the esoteric aspects of
the religion.

3. The beginning of a separation between church and state and the
emergence of an independent body of ulama capable of taking a
political stand different from the policies of the state.

4. The change from Twelver Shi'ism being a predominantly Arab
phenomenon with its principal centres of learning in the Arab world to
a preponderance of Iranians and the centre of learning moved to Iran.


The Eighteenth Century

Political Developments

For a time after the Afghan capture of Isfahan it seemed as though the
country of Iran as a separate entity might cease to exist. Seizing
their opportunity, the Russians attacked from the north, the Ottoman
Turks from the west, while the Afghans consolidated their position in
the south and east. The country was being dismembered.
  Tahmasp, the third son of Sultan-Husayn Shah, had broken out of
Isfahan during its siege by the Afghans and proclaimed himself Shah in
Qazvin after the fall of Isfahan. He managed to maintain a nebulous
degree of authority in the central and Caspian regions with the
assistance of Fath 'Ali Khan, the Qajar chief.
  Tahmasp II, who was an ineffectual leader, was saved from being
completely overwhelmed by a number of fortunate circumstances. Alarmed
at the increasing derangement of the mind of Mahmud Khan, the Afghan
leader, the Afghans rose and killed him in 1725. This action led to a
split between the Afghans in Isfahan and those in Qandahar. As a
result of this, Ashraf, the Afghan leader in Isfahan, was left with
too few men to pursue an aggressive policy towards Tahmasp. The enmity
between Russia and Turkey kept these two powers preoccupied in other
places. The death of Peter the Great muted Russia's desire to expand
while the Turks did advance into Iran but were defeated by Ashraf in
  It was at this juncture in 1726 that Nadir Khan of the Afshar tribe
joined the army of Tahmasp Il. Having risen from humble origins to
command a small tribal force, Nadir attracted the attention of Tahmasp
by his military abilities. Nadir succeeded in ousting Fath 'Ali Khan,
the Qajar leader, from his eminent position in the court and indeed in
having him executed.
  Nadir Khan was made commander-in-chief of the army and proceeded
immediately to capture Mashhad and reassert Tahmasp's authority over
the rest of Khurasan. Then in 1729 he took Herat in the east before
proceeding against Ashraf in Isfahan. He inflicted several defeats on
the Afghans and drove them out of Isfahan and Shiraz. The following
year he drove the Turks out of western Iran and subdued an Afghan
uprising in Herat.
  In 1731 Tahmasp sought to stem Nadir's rising fortunes by himself
taking the field against the Turks. He was soundly defeated. Nadir
took advantage of this to depose Tahmasp in 1732 and placed Tahmasp's
infant son on the throne as 'Abbas III. Nadir himself, of course, took
the position of regent.


  Between 1733 and 1735 Nadir succeeded in driving the Turks out of
the territory they had occupied in northwest Iran and the Caucasus
while the Russians withdrew by agreement from the Iranian provinces
they had occupied under Peter the Great.
  Then in 1736 Nadir assembled a great conference of the notables of
Iran on the plain of Mughan in northwest Iran for the purpose of
choosing a monarch. None, of course, dared to oppose him and Nadir was
duly crowned as Shah of Iran. However, one of the conditions that he
laid down for accepting the crown was that Iran should abandon Shi'ism
and return to the Sunni fold.
  It is clear that Nadir was originally a Shi'i. His tribe, the
Afshars, were one of the six Turkoman tribes that had originally
enabled the Safavids to come to power and thus establish Shi'ism in
Iran. The names of the members of Nadir's family also clearly indicate
a Shi'i background. Moreover, so closely was the Safavid dynasty
associated with Shi'ism that it is unlikely that Nadir could have
risen to the prominent position he held if he had not outwardly, at
least, been Shi'i. Nadir is recorded as having worshipped in the Shi'i
shrines at Mashhad after he had captured that city and at Karbala and
Najaf after his campaigns against the Turks. Furthermore, one of
Nadir's letters written after Tahmasp's defeat by the Turks in 1731
has been preserved in which he writes of his own victories as being to
the glory of Shi'ism.[16]
  Therefore the question must be asked: why did Nadir, at his
coronation, choose to espouse Sunnism and then try to force it upon
Iran? The theory that he was trying to appease Turkey by this move is
scarcely credible as he had just inflicted several heavy defeats on
Turkey and had nothing to fear from that quarter. Much more likely are
the following three reasons: firstly, that Shi'ism was firmly linked
in people's minds to the Safavid dynasty and Nadir felt that his own
position and that of his dynasty would remain under threat as long as
Shi'ism remained the religion of the country; secondly, the majority
of Nadir's army were Sunni Afghans and this move could have been
calculated to ensure loyalty of his troops; thirdly, there is some
evidence that Nadir already saw himself as a great Asiatic conqueror
and his conversion to Sunnism would, of course, facilitate his rule
over the Sunni majority of Muslims as well as the eventual takeover of
the Caliphate from the Ottoman Sultans.
  From the plain of Mughan, Nadir sent a peace offer to the Turks
which included the proposal that Iranians, having given up Shi'ism,
should be accepted as a fifth school of Sunni law under the name of
Ja'fari. In addition, there was to be a fifth column in the Ka'ba in
Mecca for this school of law and an Iranian leader of the Hajj in
addition to the Egyptian and Syrian ones.


  Nadir Shah made an attempt to impose Sunnism on the people of Iran
but Shi'ism was so deeply rooted by this time that he had but limited
success, particularly as he himself spent most of his time absent from
Iran on military campaigns. He did, however, confiscate much of the
waqf (pious endowments) properties controlled by the Shi'i ulama, and
prohibited the referral of cases to the shar' (religious) courts,
limiting all legal decision to the 'urf courts (courts using customary
law). Nadir's Indian campaign in 1730-40 resulted in the capture of
Delhi and the obtaining of a large amount of treasure as booty.
Following this, Bokhara and Khiva were captured and Iran's eastern
boundary now reached to the Oxus and Indus rivers.
  Nadir Shah was now at the height of his achievements. Thereafter his
reign degenerated into savage executions and fruitless military
campaigns. A campaign in Daghistan in the Caucasus in 1741-2 produced
no result. Then after suppressing several revolts, Nadir pursued a
further campaign against Turkey in an effort to force upon the Sultan
his plan for recognising the Ja'fari School within the fold of Sunni
Islam. Although the Turks were defeated, Nadir's object was not
gained. Massacres and executions followed wherever Nadir went. He even
blinded his own son, Rida Quli. At last, in 1747, Nadir was
assassinated by two of his own courtiers whom he had threatened to put
to death on the following day.
  After the death of Nadir Shah the whole kingdom degenerated into
anarchy. There was factional fighting among Nadir's relatives. After
'Ali Quli, Nadir's nephew, and Ibrahim, 'Ali Quli's brother, had held
power briefly, Shah-Rukh (who was a grandson of both Nadir Shah and
Sultan-Husayn Shah, the last Safavid) attempted to unite the opposing
factions under his rule. But he was defeated and blinded by Mirza
Sayyid Muhammad (the son of a mujtahid of Mashhad and related through
his mother to the Safavids) who claimed that Shah-Rukh wished to
revert to his grandfather's policy of suppressing Shi'ism and
promoting Sunnism. After this, there was anarchy until the factional
fighting resolved itself into a contest between Muhammad Husayn Khan,
the head of the Qajar tribe in the north, and Karim Khan of the Zand
tribe in the south.
  At first Karim Khan was victorious and ruled from his capital at
Shiraz for twenty-nine years from 1750 to 1779. Karim Khan was a
devout Shi'i and his reign marks the termination of Nadir Shah's
abortive attempt to reimpose Sunnism on Iran. Under Karim Khan's wise
rule, all the areas under his command prospered. But after his death,
his family fought among themselves and allowed the Qajars to gain the
upper hand. In 1794 Agha Muhammad, the Qajar leader, killed the last
of the Zand dynasty, the valiant Lutf 'Ali Khan, and in 1796 took the
throne as the first of the Qajar dynasty.


The Ulama

The ulama of this period were overshadowed by the towering figure of
the recently-deceased Muhammad Baqir Majlisi. Perhaps because of his
overwhelming influence or because of the unsettled condition of the
time, there was an interlude of some sixty years when there were no
Shi'i scholars of the first rank.
  Initially those scholars of any eminence that there were (mostly the
pupils of Majlisi) continued to live in Isfahan. In particular, there
were Baha'u'd-Din Muhammad Isfahan, known as Fadil-i Hindi, who died
in 1137/1725 shortly after the fall of Isfahan, and Mulla Isma'ili ibn
Muhammad Husayn Khaju'i (d. 1173/1760). However, the quarter century
between the fall of the Safavids and the establishment of Karim Khan
Zand was a troublesome and turbulent period. The occupation of Isfahan
by Sunni Afghans and the attempt by Nadir Shah to impose Sunnism on
Iran, although not causing any large-scale conversions to Sunnism, did
bring a great deal of pressure to bear on the ulama, some of whom were
executed by Nadir Shah. This hostile atmosphere caused the ulama to
flee Iran in increasing numbers and the centre of Shi'i scholarship
moved from Isfahan to the shrine cities of Iraq: Kazimayn, Najaf and,
particularly, Karbala which now became the focal point of Shi'i
scholarship. Among the first to move to Karbala was Shaykh Yusuf ibn
Ahmad al-Bahram (d. 1186/1772) but it was undoubtedly the presence
there of Aqa Muhammad Baqir ibn Muhammad Akmal, known as Vahid
Bihbahani (d. circa 1207/1792), the first major scholar to emerge
after Majlisi, that established Karbala as the foremost centre of
Shi'i scholarship of that time.
  The period from the middle of the Safavids to the time of Vahid
Bihbahani was the period of the dominance of the Akhbari School in
Twelver Shi'i Islam. The doctrines of this school are described
elsewhere in this book (see pp. 222ff.). Although this controversy had
begun as a comparatively minor disagreement on a few points, it grew
eventually into a bitter and vituperative dispute culminating in
Bihbahani's declaration that the Akhbaris were infidels (Kuffar).
  At first, the Akhbaris predominated at the shrine cities of Iraq but
it was Bihbahani who, at the end of the 18th century, reversed this
and, indeed, completely routed the Akhbaris at Karbala and Najaf.
South Iraq, Bahrain and a few cities in Iran such as Kirman remained
Akhbar strongholds for a few more decades but eventually the Usuli
triumph was complete and only a handful of Shi'i ulama have remained
Akhbar to the present day.
  The results of Bihbahani's victory for Twelver Shi'ism were to be
far-reaching. By his takfir (declaration of infidelity) against the


Bihbahani continued the work of Majlisi in narrowing the field of
orthodoxy in Twelver Shi'ism. But where Majlisi had acted to exclude
Sufism and philosophy which were at the periphery of the concerns of
most of the ulama, Bihbahani brought the threat of takfir into the
central field of theology and jurisprudence, where previously only
ikhtilaf (agreement to hold differing opinions) had existed. Bihbahani
was now to exclude by takfir all who disagreed with the principles of
reasoning ('aql) and ijtihad as sources of law. This paved the way for
a great increase in the power and influence of the mujtahids in Qajar
times and for the evolution of the concept of the marja' at-taqlid
(see p. 204). Bihbahani's importance was acknowledged by later
generations of Shi'i ulama who referred to him as Mu'assis (founder of
the Usuli School), Ustad-i Kull (Universal Teacher), Murawwij
(Propagator) and the Mujaddid (Renewer) of the 13th Islamic century.
His achievement was to set the tone and direction of Shi'i development
up to the present time.
  Another development which characterised Bihbahani's period of
primacy among the ulama was his insistence on the right of enforcing
his own judgements. Previously, the ulama had been dependent on the
secular authorities for carrying out their judgements. Bihbahani,
however, surrounded himself with a corps of mirghadabs, servants who
would carry out either corporal or capital punishment, and had his
judgements carried out immediately and usually in his presence.
  During the eighteenth century there was a return to Iran of some of
the Sufi groups who had been driven to India by Majlisi in the
previous century. They again began to pose a threat to the ulama's
dominance in the religious sphere. At Kirman it is reported that
thousands flocked to the meetings of Nur 'Ali Shah and Mushtaq 'Ali
Shah, two Sufi Shaykhs of the Ni'matu'llahi order. The people appeared
to prefer the ecstatic esotericism of the Sufis to the intellectual
hair-splitting of the ulama. Against this threat, the ulama, with
Bihbahani at their head, acted vigorously, writing anti-Sufi tracts
rejecting the claim that Sufism is compatible with Shi'ism. In 1792
Mulla 'Abdu'llah, a mujtahid of Kirman, had Mushtaq 'Ali Shah put to
death and forced Nur 'Ali Shah to flee, thus breaking up the Kirman
Sufi group.

Shi'ism in other lands

During much of the eighteenth century the Shi'i overlords of
Ba'albakk, the Harfush family, were overshadowed by the Druse. The
Shi'i Hamada family were driven out of the western side of Mount
Lebanon by the Maronites in 1773 and retreated to Hirmal in the Biqa'
Valley where they have remained an influential family to the present
day. Further south in the Jabal 'Amil, the 'Ali as-Saghir family, who
had been


local chiefs of the Bishara (the area south of the Litani River) since
about the 14th century, rose in the 18th century to become overlords
of the whole area and had control of Tyre for a time. But their chief,
Nasif an-Nassar was defeated and killed by Ahmad al-Jazzar, Pasha of
'Akka, in 1781.
  Bahrain and al-Ahsa during this period were overshadowed by the
growing power of the puritanical Sunni Wahhabis in central Arabia. The
first Wahhabi attack on al-Ahsa was in 1788. A further attack in 1789
overthrew the ruling Shi'i Banu Khalid tribe and in 1792 al-Ahsa
submitted, leading to a ruthless suppression of Shi'ism and the
destruction of Shi'i shrines. A revolt of the people of Hufuf in 1793
was crushed and the province laid waste.
  Iran had conquered Bahrain during the Safavid period, but in 1717 it
was attacked by the Imam of Masqat and, in 1736, the local ruler,
Shaykh Jabbara, refused to acknowledge Nadir Shah's sovereignty over
the island. Nadir Shah sent an expedition which re-established his
control, but in 1782 it was conquered by the Sunni al-Khalifa tribe
from Qatar. This tribe has remained in power to this day although they
were defeated on several occasions by the Imam of Masqat and the
  With the deteriorating conditions, many of the Shi'i ulama of
Bahrain and al-Ahsa fled to Iraq and Iran and consolidated the
importance of Karbala and Najaf as the centres of Shi'i scholarship in
this period.
  In India the suppression of the Shi'i kingdoms in the south by the
Mogul Empire towards the end of the 17th century was followed by the
setting up of the Shi'i kingdom of Oudh (Awadh) with its capital in
Lucknow, early in the 18th century.
  Mir Muhammad Amm Musawi (d. 1145/1732) was descended from the
Seventh Imam Musa and was given the governorship of Oudh in 1722 by
the Mogul Emperor, Muhammad Shah. He became known as Sa'adat Khan and
was an intermediary between Nadir Shah and Muhammad Shah when the
former invaded India in 1738. Sa'adat Khan's three successors, Safdar
Jang (d. 1152/1739), Shuja'u'd-Dawla (d. 1166/1753) and Asafu'd-Dawla
(d. 1212/1797), each held the post of minister (Wazir) to the Mogul
Emperor as well as being initially Subahdars and then Nawwabs of Oudh.
During this period the Mogul court was split into a Shi'i 'Irani'
faction headed by the Nawwabs of Oudh and a Sunni 'Turani' faction.
Safdar Jang built a new capital at Fyzabad but Asafu'd-Dawla returned
the capital to Lucknow. Both at Fyzabad and Lucknow a large number of
magnificent buildings were erected during this period, many of them
for religious purposes. These include several Imambaras (buildings
where mourning assemblies for the Imam Husayn were held).


In summary, then, the period between the fall of the Safavids and the
rise of the Qajars saw some important developments:
a. The fall of the Safavids brought about a cutting of the ties
between the ulama and the state (especially during the reign of Nadir
Shah). This allowed the ulama (in a period of great uncertainty and
confusion) to increase their power and independence; features that
would come into the fore in the Qajar era.

b. It was probably also the period of uncertainty and weak government
during this time that increased the attractiveness of the Usuli School
with its stronger claims of leadership and authority for the ulama and
thus brought about the Usuli victory over the Akhbaris.

c. The main centre of Shi'i scholarship moved from Iran to the shrine
cities of Iraq, where it was effectively removed from the control of
the Iranian government--another development that was to have important
consequences in the Qajar era.

The Nineteenth Century

Political Developments under Fath 'Ali Shah and Muhammad Shah

The Qajars were one of the Turkoman tribes who supported Isma'il, the
first Safavid monarch, in his conquest of Iran. They were rewarded by
being given extensive fiefdoms and, on this basis, became one of the
most important elements in Iran until, in 1794, Agha Muhammad defeated
the last of the Zand dynasty and two years later was crowned as Shah.
His reign was only to last for one further year before he was
assassinated by two of his servants whom he had condemned to death on
the following day. He had by that time, however, consolidated his rule
over all Iran and had recaptured Georgia. The reign of his nephew and
successor, Fath 'Ali Shah (d. 1834), was marked by two disastrous
campaigns against Russia in 1804-13 and 1828 in which Iran lost all
its Caucasian provinces. Apart from Russia, Iran also came into close
contact during this period with other European powers such as England
and France.

   Fath 'Ali Shah deferred greatly to the Shi'i ulama. This was
probably partly due to genuine piety and partly due to the Qajar
dynasty's need to establish its own legitimacy (see p. 194). Fath 'Ali
Shah, apart from numerous pilgrimages to Qumm and Mashhad, spent much
money on the repair and embellishment of these shrines as well as
those in Iraq. As well as making large disbursements to the ulama, he
built a number of mosques and religious colleges (madrasas) and, in
particular, he rebuilt the Madrasa Faydiyya, the foremost college at
Qumm. The Qajars had made Tehran their capital and Fath 'Ali Shah
tried to induce some of the


prominent ulama to come and take up residence there in order to give
the new capital prestige. However, Tehran never became an important
religious centre in the way that Isfahan had been in Safavid times.
This fact is probably a reflection of the changed relationship between
the government and the ulama (see below).

   Fath 'Ali Shah, the progenitor of a record number of offspring, was
succeeded by his grandson, Muhammad Shah (reigned 1834-1848). After
suppressing a number of contenders for the throne, Muhammad Shah had
an unremarkable reign during which he was dominated by his Prime
Minister, Hajji Mirza Aqasi. Muhammad--Shah was much attracted to
Sufism and Hajji Mirza Aqasi was his Sufi guide. There was a sharp
reversal of policy during this reign in that Muhammad Shah favoured
Sufis and expended money on their shrines, neglecting the ulama.

The Ulama during the Reigns of Fath 'Ali Shah and Muhammad Shah

The ulama of the early Qajar period were dominated by the pupils of
Vahid Bihbahani. The most prominent of these was Sayyid Muhammad Mahdi
Tabataba'i Burujirdi, known as Bahru'l-'Ulum (d. 1212/1797). This man
was held in extraordinary awe and deference by his contemporaries and
many miracles are related of him. Indeed, one may even surmise that
some of his contemporaries regarded him to be the Hidden Imam himself
in the state of occultation. Thus, for example, in one of the
biographical works, it is written that one of his contemporaries
stated that had he claimed infallibility ('isma, an attribute
particular to the Prophets and Imams only), none would have been able
to refute it.[17] Bahru'l-'Ulum had been born in Karbala and had
studied under Vahid Bihbahani and the other prominent ulama there but
had transferred his residence to Najaf. Thus when Bihbahani died and
leadership among the ulama fell to Bahru'l-'Ulum, the centre of Shi'i
scholarship shifted from Karbala to Najaf, where it was to remain
until the twentieth century.

   The consolidation of Najaf as the centre of Shi'i scholarship was
achieved by Bahru'l-'Ulum's successor, Shaykh Ja'far ibn Khidr an
Najaf (d. 1227/1812), known as Kashif al-Ghita on account of his
authorship of the Kashf al-Ghita, a popular legal work.

After the death of Kashifu'l-Ghita there was no clear successor to
pre-eminence among the ulama. Among the contenders were: Mirza Abu'l-
Qasim ibn Muhammad Hasan, known as Mirza-yi Qummi or Fadil-i Qummi (d.
1231/1816) at Qumm; Mulla Ahmad ibn Mahdi Naraqi (d. 1245/1829) at
Kashan; Shaykh Musa, son of Kashifu'l-Ghita, (d. 1243/827)and Shaykh
Muhammad Hasan ibn Baqiran-Najafi (d 1266/1850)

[Pages 132; 133; 134 contain a chart.]


at Najaf; Sayyid 'Ali ibn Muhammad 'Ali Tabataba'i (d. 1231/1815) and
Sayyid Ibrahim ibn Muhammad Baqir Qazvini (d. 1262/1846) in Karbala;
while Isfahan made, during this period, a strong bid to regain its
pre-eminence as the centre of Shi'i scholarship with the presence
there of Mulla 'Ali ibn Jamshid Nuri (d. 1246/1830-1), Hajji Muhammad
Ibrahim ibn Muhammad Hasan Kalbasi (or Karbasi, d. 1261/1845) and Haji
Sayyid Muhammad Baqir ibn Muhammad Taqi Shafti Rashti, known as
Hujjatu'l-Islam (d. 1260/1844) who was Shaykh al-Islam of Isfahan. The
last two, in particular, had extensive influence over a wide area of
Iran, Iraq and India and in their prestige appears to be the
beginnings of the emergence of maraji' at-taqlid with influence over a
wide area. However,
this brief resurgence of Isfahan as the centre of Shi'i scholarship
was not to last
and, following the death of Kalbasi, Najaf regained its primacy
although Isfahan remained the most important Iranian centre until the
rise of Qumm in the twentieth century. At Najaf, Shaykh Muhammad Hasan
ibn Baqir Najafi the author of an important work in Shi'i law, the
Jawahir al-Kalam, carried forward the process of consolidating the
authority of marja' at-taqlid within one individual. Indeed, with the
death of both Kalbasi and Shaykh Hasan, the son of Kashifu'l-Ghita, in
1846, he may have succeeded in doing this for the last four years of
his life. In some sources he is called Ra'isu'l-'ulama (leader of the
ulama) and even Na'ib-i Imam (deputy of the Imam). One feature of the
ulama of the 18th century down to the present day is the degree to
which they are inter-related (see chart).

   The major concerns of the ulama during this period were the
conclusion of the Usuli-Akhbari conflict, the appearance of the
Shaykhi and Babi movements, a renewed conflict with the Sufis and the
emergence of the ulama into the political arena.

Although the Akhbaris had been decisively defeated in the time of
Vahid Bihbahani, they were not as yet finished, and, during the reign
of Fath 'Ali Shah, the 'episode of the inspector's head' brought them
a temporary surge of fame and prestige. Mirza Muhammad Nishapuri
Akhbari promised Fath 'Ali Shah the death by supernatural means of
Tsitianov, the Russian General then besieging Baku, in return for the
Akhbari doctrine being made the official creed of Iran. After forty
days, Tsitianov's head was presented to Fath 'Ali Shah. But the Shah
realised that it was beyond his ability to reverse the Usuli triumph
and did not keep his end of the bargain. Fearing that Mirza Muhammad's
extraordinary powers would be turned against him, Fath 'Ali Shah
exiled him to Iraq where he was set upon by Usulis in Kazimayn in 1816
killed, and so bitter had become the animosity between the two parties
that his body was fed to the dogs. After this Akhbari doctrine never
again achieved any prominence.


   Much more important during the Qajar era was the emergence of the
Shaykhi movement. Shaykh Ahmad ibn Zaynu'd-Din al-Ahsa'i (1753-1826),
the founder of the Shaykhi movement, was a prominent Shi'i scholar of
al-Ahsa, who had studied under Bahru'l-'Ulum, Kashifu'l Ghita and the
other prominent ulama of Iraq. In the second decade of the 19th
century, Shaykh Ahmad looked set to become the leading Shi'i scholar
of his generation, and as he travelled around Iran he was accorded the
highest honours by princes, ulama and even the Shah.
Shaykh Ahmad, however, had a number of views which were considered
heterodox by some of the ulama. A fuller description of Shaykhi
doctrine is given elsewhere in this book (see pp. 225ff.), but for the
purposes of this chapter it will suffice to describe Shaykh Ahmad's
views as being in the tradition of the Hikmat-i Ilahi of the School of
Isfahan (see pp. 2 1719). Had Shaykh Ahmad lived two centuries
earlier, his ideas would have been included in the corpus of that
school and no movement separate from the main body of Twelver Shi'ism
would have resulted. However, in the intervening period, figures such
as Majlisi and Bihbahani had considerably narrowed the field of Shi'i
orthodoxy. And so, when Shaykh Ahmad came into conflict with some of
the ulama, they responded as Bihbahani had done with the Akhbaris, by
pronouncing takfir (declaration of being an unbeliever) against him.
This takfir was first pronounced in 1822 by Mulla Muhammad Taq
Baraghani of Qazvin (he was later killed by a Shaykhi in 1847). After
this other ulama confirmed the pronouncement but it is interesting to
note that none of the contemporary ulama of the first rank such as
Mulla Ahmad Naraqi, Shaykh Musa the son of Kashifu'l-Ghita, Mulla 'Ali
Nuri, Haul Muhammad Ibrahim Kalbasi and Haul Sayyid Muhammad Baqir
Shafti supported the takfir. 18 Indeed, it was not until after Shaykh
Ahmad's death in 1826, under his successor, Sayyid Kazim ibn Qasim
Rashti (d. 1259/1843), that any real separation can be said to have
occurred between the Shaykhis and the main body of Twelver Shi'is.
Certainly it was not the wish of Shaykh Ahmad or Sayyid Kazim to
create a separate movement, but Twelver Shi'ism was no longer a
sufficiently broad church to retain them. Indeed, the ulama used the
Shaykhi controversy to further refine and narrow the orthodox

The reign of Muhammad Shah saw the start of the Babi movement. In 1844
Sayyid 'Ali Muhammad of Shiraz, who took the title of Bab (Gate, 1819-
1850), began to put forward his claims (see p. 231). At first he
commanded his followers to observe the Muslim Shari'a and there was
little conflict with orthodox Islam. But in 1848, shortly before
Muhammad Shah's death, the Bab declared that the Qur'an and Muslim
Shari'a were abrogated and a new religious dispensation with a new


book and a new Shari'a had begun. This was to result in conflict
between his followers and the ulama and government during the next

   Throughout the course of the 18th century, Sufism had reasserted
itself in Iran and remained a major preoccupation of the ulama for the
first few decades of the 19th century. The thrust against Sufism begun
by Bihbahani at the close of the 18th century was continued
vigorously. Bihbahani's son, Aqa Muhammad 'Ali, even became known as
Su-S-kush (Sufi-slayer) on account of the number of Sufis he caused to
be killed; these included Ma'sum 'Ali Shah and Muzaffar 'Ali Shah, two
of the leading Ni'matu'llahi Sufi Shaykhs.

There was a marked change in the relations between the ulama and the
state during the reign of Muhammad Shah who, as noted above, had a
predilection for Sufism. Indeed, the revolt of Husayn 'Ali Mirza,
Farman-Farma, in Isfahan at the start of this reign received the
support of Hajji Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Shafti, probably because
Farman-Farma had no such pro-Sufi proclivities and supported the
ulama.9 During this reign, it was no longer possible for the ulama to
persecute the Sufis as they had during the previous reign. But
although Sufism made progress among the royal family and government
circles, it failed to make any significant headway among the people.

The most important development of this period was, however, the
emergence of the ulama into the political sphere. Although prominent
members of the ulama had been influential at the local level since
Safavid times and had, on occasions, even caused the dismissal of a
Governor, and although the ulama of the late Safavid period exercised
a remarkable degree of independence and even defiance of the
government, it was not until the reign of Fath 'Ali Shah that the
ulama entered the field of politics at the national level. Fath 'Ali
Shah's marked deference to the ulama and his need of them to underpin
the legitimacy of his dynasty no doubt contributed to this.

There was a marked change in the relations between the state and the
ulama in the Qajar period compared with the Safavid era. The Safavids
had claimed authority on the basis of being both the 'Shadow of God on
Earth' (the ancient Iranian concept of kingship, i. e. temporal
authority) and the 'representative of the Hidden Imam' (i.e. spiritual
authority), while the leading ulama of the Safavid period had all been
incorporated into the state apparatus. The Qajars, however, only
claimed the title of 'Shadow of God on Earth' and left the claim of
being the 'representative of the Hidden Imam' to the ulama. The major
ulama of this period were not only outside the state apparatus, but
also most of them resided in Iraq outside the state's jurisdiction.
Even when the ulama were appointed to state positions, such as Hajji
Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Shafti who was Shaykh al-Islam of Isfahan, they
acted independently and often in


defiance of the government.
   The most marked instance of the political involvement of the ulama
during this period was in the case of the Russo-Iranian Wars. During
the first war, 1804-13, Mirza Buzurg, Qa'im-Maqam, the Minister of
'Abbas Mirza, the crown Prince, who was conducting the war, wrote to
the ulama of Iraq and Isfahan to obtain fatwas declaring the war
against Russia to be jihad (holy war). Many of the prominent ulama,
such as Shaykh Ja'far Kashifu'l-Ghita and Mulla Ahmad Naraqi,
responded to this request and issued such fatwas. This first Russo-
Iranian War ended in defeat for Iran and the Treaty of Gulistan in 18
13 stripped her of all her Caucasian provinces.
In the years after the war, reports began to reach the ulama of ill-
treatment by the Russians of their newly-conquered Muslim subjects.
The ulama began to agitate for jihad. Fath 'Ali Shah was reluctant but
when, in 1826, he set out for his summer residence in Sultaniyya he
was followed there by Aqa Sayyid Muhammad Tabataba'i of Karbala (a son
of Sayyid 'Ali Tabataba'i), Mulla Ahmad Naraqi, Mulla Muhammad Taqi
Baraghani of Qazvin and a number of other prominent ulama, who
demanded that Fath 'Ali Shah declare war on Russia. The ulama were in
fact threatening to take control of the affairs of government and
launch the jihad themselves if Fath 'Ali Shah would not do this. They
issued fatwas declaring the jihad to be obligatory and opposition to
it a sign of unbelief (kufr). Fath 'Ali Shah was pressured into
acquiescing. The outcome of the second Russo-Iranian War was as
disastrous as the first. Although the ulama supported the troops in
battle initially, after the first reverses they withdrew and it was
indeed one of their number, Mir Fattah, who betrayed Tabriz into the
hands of the Russians.[20] As the result of the treaty of
Turkomanchay, 1828, further territory and a large indemnity were ceded
by Iran.

The importance of the second Russo-Iranian War from the point of view
of the ulama, however, was their emergence as a force capable of
shaping national policy. This was, indeed, the first of a chain of
episodes where the ulama were to have a marked influence on the course
of Iranian history. The subsequent links in this chain were to include
agitation against Husayn Khan Sipahsalar in 1873, the opposition to
the Tobacco Regie in 1891-2, the involvement of the ulama in the
Constitutional Movement 1905-9, and culminating in the Iranian
Revolution of 1979.

Political Developments under Nasiru'd-Din and Muzaffaru'd-Din Shahs

The long reign of Nasiru'd-Din Shah, from 1848 to 1896, was marked by
several important events. It began with a bloody suppression of the
Babi movement in the years 1848-52 under Nasiru'd-Din Shah's first


Minister, Mirza Taqi Khan (executed 1852). There were a number of
attempts at reforming and modernising Iran, the most notable of which
were undertaken by Mirza Taqi Khan until his downfall in 1851 and
Husayn Khan Sipahsalar in 1871-3. Hand-in-hand with modernisation came
increasing penetration of Iran by Europeans. The Shah, desperate for
revenue, farmed out many of the resources of the country in the form
of concessions to European consortiums. The most extensive of these
was the Reuter concession of 1872 which granted the monopoly of the
working of the nation's mines, construction of railways and the
national bank to Julius de Reuter, a naturalised British subject. This
concession, which became an embarrassment to the British government,
was eventually annulled over a minor technicality, but another
concession, the monopoly of tobacco production and sale in 1890-52,
aroused great public indignation and will be dealt with later in this
chapter. The last years of Nasiru'd-Din Shah's reign saw an increasing
political ferment among Iranians with many issues such as nationalism,
Pan-Islamism and modernisation being the focus of attention. It was an
adherent of Sayyid Jamalu'd-Din Afghani's Pan-Islamism who ended
Nasiru'd-Din Shah's reign with an assassin's bullet in 1896.  
Nasiru'd-Din Shah does not appear to have inherited his father's Sufi
proclivities and showed himself to be religiously devout in an
orthodox way although somewhat fond of an excessive display of
ceremony and ostentation in respect to religious occasions, which was
frowned upon by the ulama. He went on pilgrimages to Mashhad and the
shrines in Iraq and paid for the gilding of the domes of the shrines
at Qumm, Shah 'Abdu'l-'Azim, Karbala and Samarra. He was not, however,
subservient to the ulama in the way Fath 'Ali Shah had been but rather
pursued an independent line that on occasions brought him into
conflict with the ulama.

Nasiru'd-Din Shah was succeeded by his son, the mild and inoffensive
Muzaffaru'd-Din Shah. Muzaffru'd-Din, while Crown Prince in Tabriz,
had been suspected of being under the influence of the Shaykhis but
once on the throne he does not appear to have shown any outward
heterodoxy. The principal event of his reign was the build-up of
increasing pressure for a constitutional government. The ulama became
leading voices in this movement.

The Ulama during the Reigns of Nasiru'd-Din and Muzaffaru'd-Din Shahs

The years of Nasiru'd-Din Shah's reign saw important hierarchical
developments among the ulama. Najaf remained at first the undisputed
centre of the Shi'i world and it has already been noted that Shaykh
Muhammad Hasan NajafI had almost succeeded before his death in 18 50

in concentrating in himself the authority of marja' at-taqlid for the
entire Shi'i world.
   After the death of Shaykh Muhammad Hasan, a number of prominent
mujtahids were recognized as maraji' until, by the mid 1850s, with the
death of other contenders Shaykh Murtada ibn Muhammad Amm Ansari,
originally of Dizful in south-west Iran but resident in Najaf, emerged
as the sole marja' at-taqlid.[21] Interestingly, Shaykh Muhammad Hasan
had tried to determine the succession by specifically appointing
Ansari on his death-bed; this attempt to institutionalize the
succession was not, however, continued by later maraji'.

This emergence of a sole marja' at-taqlid in the Shi'i world and the
frequent references to him as the Na-'ib al-Imam (deputy of the Imam)
concentrated enormous power and, since the zakat and khums were also
paid to him by all Shi'is, enormous wealth in the hands of one person.

Shaykh Murtada was responsible for important developments in the field
of jurisprudence (see pp. 186-7). He steadfastly refrained, however,
despite his extensive influence, from any political involvement. His
biographers present him as an extremely pious, austere man who was so
obsessed with the fear of displeasing God that he refrained from
issuing judgements and ijazas until he was convinced of there being no
possibility of having made an error.

Shaykh Murtada Ansari died in 1864 and by about 1872 his pupil Hajji
Mirza Sayyid Muhammad Hasan ibn Mahmud, known as Mirza-yi Shirazi, had
become acknowledged as sole marja'.22 In 1874 he transferred his
residence from Najaf to Samarra, where the Shrines of the Tenth and
Eleventh Imams are situated and where the Twelfth Imam is said to have
gone into occultation. He built a madrasa and other buildings and
attracted a large number of students there, so that this town became
for a short while the centre of Shi'i scholarship. He died in 1895 and
leadership of the Shi'i world passed to a group of mujtahids in Najaf.

It was also during this period that a number of the ulama of Iran
became extremely wealthy. Apart from their income from donations and
pious benefactions, some of these ulama were not averse to such
practices as hoarding grain during famines and then selling them at
vastly inflated prices to a starving populace. In these ways, such
figures as Mulla 'Ali Kani of Tehran and Aqa Najafi of Isfahan became
very rich.[23]

The second half of the 19th century saw the ulama coming more and more
into political issues. Their principal concerns now became identified
with national issues. These included the response to the Babi
movements and Shaykhism, increasing involvement in criticising the
running of the government, increasing concern with the penetration of
Iran by Europeans, and the issues of Pan-Islamism, modernisation and
the Constitutional Movement.


   Although both Shaykhism and the Babi movement began in previous
reigns, the most violent opposition to these movements began in
Nasiru'd-Din Shah's reign and continued on into the 20th century. It
was the ulama who took the lead in condemning the Bab and his
followers. In Baghdad in 1845 the Governor, Najib Pasha, convened a
court of some of the most prominent Sunni and Shi'i ulama who issued a
joint fatwa declaring the Bab's writings to constitute unbelief
(kufr). In Kirman, Hajji Muhammad Karim Khan Kirmani, the Shaykhi
leader, was one of the first to voice his opposition to the Bab and,
in Qazvin, Mulla Muhammad Taqi Baraghani, who had been the first to
condemn the Shaykhis, now also preached against the Babis.

In two of the major armed conflicts between Babis and the government
troops (at Shaykh Tabarsi in Mazandaran in 1848-9 and at Zanjan in
1850), it was the ulama who initiated the conflict by preaching
against the Babis and rousing the population against them. However, it
was the government who undertook the responsibility of carrying out
the attempt to suppress the new religion. Following an attempted
assassination of the Shah in 1852 there was a particularly brutal
suppression of the Babis. The movement was driven underground but was
to re-emerge decades later as the Bahá'í religion under the leadership
of Bahá'u'lláh (1817-92). Throughout the rest of the 19th century the
ulama, in particular, initiated sporadic outbursts of persecution
against the Bahá'ís. Particularly active in this respect were Shaykh
Muhammad Baqir, a mujtahid of Isfahan (d. 1883) and his son Shaykh
Muhammad Taqi, known as Aqa Najafi (d. 1914). Thus in Isfahan between
1864 and 1914 there were thirteen violent episodes of persecution.
Adharbayjan, Tehran, Khurasan, Fars and Yazd saw other major
persecutions against the Bahá'ís. It was principally due to Aqa
Najafi, but instigated by the Imam-Jum'a of Yazd, that a particularly
violent outbreak of persecution of the Bahá'ís occurred in Yazd in
1903, leaving over a hundred Bahá'ís dead. These persecutions
continued into the 20th century and have intensified since the 1979

   The Shaykhis too were subjected to persecution at the instigation
of the ulama during this period. The major disturbances occurred in
Kirman in 1878 and 1904-5, in Hamadan in 1897 and in Tabriz in 1848,
1868 and 1903.

   Nasiru'd-Din Shah's first Prime Minister, Mirza Taqi Khan, was too
strong and single-minded to allow the ulama to interfere too much in
the processes of government, but under his successors the ulama
resumed their gradual encroachment onto the field of national
politics. In 1873 the ulama played a leading role in overthrowing the
Prime Minister, Mirza Husayn Khan, whose European-inspired
modernisation they both feared and resented.


   The most important example of the ulama's involvement in the
political sphere during Nasiru'd-Din's reign was in the agitation
leading up to the repeal of the Tobacco Concession in 1891. Whereas
in previous confrontations between the ulama and the state, the nation
as a whole had been largely uninvolved, in this episode the ulama
became the leaders of the people in a protest that involved the entire
nation. A tobacco monopoly concession was granted to a British
syndicate in 1890 and the company began its work in 1891. Almost
immediately there was an outcry against the company. The ulama led the
protests but the people themselves bitterly resented the concession
and rioted in support of the ulama's demands for its abrogation. Then
in December 1891 a fatwa was distributed purporting to be from Mirza-
yi Shirazi, the marja' at-taqlid the entire Shi'i world. This fatwa
forbade the use of tobacco and was universally obeyed throughout the
country. The concession thus became valueless and was eventually
withdrawn by the Shah in order to quell the general agitation. The
ulama had won this major confrontation with the Shah and now realized
the full extent of their political power. The episode itself was to be
but a prelude to the ulama's involvement in the Constitutional
Revolution of 1905-9.
   One other political issue that concerned the ulama during this
period was the Pan-Islamic Movement. This was the proposal put forward
most vigorously by Sayyid Jamalu'd-Din Afghani (Asadabadi, 1838-97)
that the entire Muslim world unite under the Caliphate of the Ottoman
Sultan and thus resist more effectively the encroachment of the West.
Although this proposal occasioned lively debate, Afghani does not
appear to have been successful in obtaining the support of any of the
prominent Shi'i ulama and the whole question gradually subsided
following Afghani's own death in 1897.

With the increasing contacts with Europe during this period, the ulama
became very concerned at the rate and degree to which Western ideas
and technology were being introduced into Iran. Some of these ideas,
such as the notion of a constitutional government, were in parallel
with the ulama's aims and were pronounced to be compatible with (and
even derived from) Islam. Even some of the new technology such as the
telegraph which gave better access to the mujtahids in the shrine
cities to Iraq, came to be accepted. But, for the most part, the ulama
were against change and particularly Western ideas and technology.
They resisted and resented the increasing European penetration of the
country with respect to trade and with respect even to the
administration of the country. They attributed this to the corruption
and venality of the Qajars and therefore put their influence behind
the movement to limit the Shah's authority by means of a constitution.


The Popular Religion

The 19th century saw important changes in the popular religion for the
generality of the Shi'a. It saw the ulama and particularly the
mujtahids pushing their way more forcefully into the lives of the
ordinary Shi'i through the doctrine of taqlid and the rise of the
marja' at-taqlid. From being at the periphery of the life of the
believer and only involved in such social transactions as marriage,
death and inheritance, the ulama were able to thrust themselves into
the centre of the life of the believer, insisting that even in the
ordinary actions of everyday life it is necessary for a devout
believer to turn to the marja' at-taqlid for advice and guidance and
as a model to be imitated.
  In parallel with this development, the people began increasingly to
look to the ulama as their leaders and their voice vis-d-vis the
government. This role of the ulama, which had begun during the Safavid
period, was greatly expanded in the Qajar era. The home of the
mujtahid became a frequent place of sanctuary (bast) for persons being
pursued by the authorities. When the populace wished to protest
against an oppressive Governor or an unpopular government policy, it
was to the ulama that they turned to voice their dissatisfaction. The
ulama, being financially independent of the government and relatively
immune from its pressure, were able to criticise it with impunity.
This role of the ulama reached its climax in the opening years of the
20th century in the Constitutional Revolution.

The religious fervour of the masses was fanned by the increasing use
of Rawda-khani, the recital of Husayn's sufferings, and by the
introduction of the ta'ziya, a highly-stylised enactment of the
Karbala tragedy. The Qajars encouraged this development by the
erection of buildings (takiyyas) for the performance of these plays
which were put on during Muharram (see pp. 240-42). Several of the
Shi'i Holy Days such as the birth of the Imam 'Ali, Imam Husayn and
the Twelfth Imam as well as the commemoration of the day of Ghadir
were declared as public holidays by Nasiru'd-Din Shah.

Shi'ism in Arab Lands

For the Shi'is of Iraq the start of the 19th century saw the emergence
of a frightening spectre from the south in the shape of the Wahhabis,
whose attack on the Shi'is of al-Ahsa has already been mentioned. In
180 I they sacked Karbala. The Wahhabi creed held all shrines to be
contrary to the monotheistic teachings of Islam and so the Shrines of
the Imam Husayn and 'Abbas, his brother, at Karbala, were stripped of
all their gold and precious ornaments. In 1803 and 1806 they attacked
Najaf but were repulsed. Up to about 1811 there were regular Wahhabi
raids upon the


Shi'i tribes and villages in southern Iraq but after this the
Wahhabis, under attack from the Egyptians in the west of their
territories, became less of a threat to Iraq.

   The line of semi-independent Mamluk Pashas that had ruled Iraq from
1747 ended in 1831 with the Ottoman government reasserting its
authority over that province. There now came a series of Governors
appointed by the Ottoman government. It was one of these, Najib Pasha,
who decided to end the semi-autonomous state that had prevailed in
Karbala and Najaf for a number of years due to the activities of gangs
of ruffians. Several previous Governors had been refused permission to
enter and no taxes were forthcoming. In 1843 Najib Pasha invested
Karbala and after negotiations had failed stormed it, causing great
loss of life. The killing even occurred in the Shrine of 'Abbas and
the two Shrines of Husayn and 'Abbas were desecrated by being used as
stables. In 1852 Najaf suffered a similar, if less severe, fate at the
hands of another Governor, Namiq Pasha. But from this date onwards,
the shrine cities of Iraq were left in peace. The extension of the
telegraph to Najaf and Karbala in the 1860s allowed the great
mujtahids of Iraq even closer contact with the ulama of Iran and other
parts of the Muslim world and strengthened the position of the marja'

The period from 1788 to 1840 saw Lebanon comparatively peaceful and
prosperous under its semi-independent Amir Bashir II. There was then a
period of twenty years of intense fighting between the Christians and
Druse until 1860 when, under foreign pressure, a new administration
was set up for the Christian areas under a Christian Pasha who was
directly responsible to Istanbul. Under the new system the area
prospered greatly although, despite this, great numbers emigrated to
Egypt and the Americas. Politically, the region became dominated by
the Christian Maronites and Druse. The Twelver Shi'is, in the main,
remained apart from the factional fighting, nor did they participate
as much in the emigration as the Christians of Mount Lebanon. The
community turned very much in upon itself, practically its only
outside contacts being the ulama who were sent for the final stages of
their education to the shrine cities of Iraq.

For much of the late 18th and the 19th centuries there was a process
of migration whereby the Shi'is on the west side of Mount Lebanon
moved to the Biqa' Valley and Maronites moved in the opposite
direction. The Shi'i Harfush family which had controlled the Ba'albakk
area was overthrown in 1282/1865. In the other main Shi'i area of
Lebanon, the Jabal 'Amil, the 'Ali as-Saghir family was finally
overthrown in 1865. The Shi'i residents in Jizzin came under intense
pressure during this period and left this town which had formerly been
an important Shi'i centre.

   In Bahrain, the rule of the Sunni al-Khalifa tribe resulted in a
gradual attrition in the position of the Shi'i community. Sunni Arabs
were brought in from other parts of Arabia and soon formed the urban
population including the ruling class, the military and many of the
traders. The Shi'is were relegated to the villages. There they
gradually lost ownership of the land through a system of heavy taxes
and other extortions and were reduced to cultivating the palm groves
as feudal peasants of their Sunni overlords.
The beginning of the 19th century saw the Shi'is of al-Ahsa suffering
under the fiercely anti-Shi'i Wahhabis. In 1871, however, after a
split in the Sa'udi dynasty the Ottoman Governor of Iraq, Midhat
Pasha, was able to annexe al-Ahsa and this gave some relief to the
Shi'a there.

Shi'ism In India

In India the principal Shi'i power continued to be the Nawwabs of
Oudh. In 1819 Ghaziyu'd-Din Haydar (d. 1827) had himself crowned King
of Oudh, thus effectively throwing off the Mogul suzerainty. The next
King, Nasiru'd-Din (d. 1837), had coins struck with the inscription:
'the Na'ib of the Mahdi, Nasiru'd-Din Haydar, the King'. He was
succeeded by his uncle, Muhammad 'Ali Shah (d. 1842). During the
reign of the next sovereign 'Amjad 'Ali Shah (d. 1847), the law of the
kingdom which had been Sunni (in accordance with the custom of the
Mogul Empire) was changed to Shi'i law and a Shi'i mufti appointed.
The last King of Oudh was Wajid 'Ali Shah who was forced by the
British to abdicate in 1856.

   Ghaziyu'd-Din Haydar left a very considerable sum of money as a
pious bequest. The income from this endowment was at first sent to the
leading mujtahids in each of the cities of Najaf and Karbala. Later,
after the British annexation, the British government became
responsible for the dispersement of the money and in 1900 it was
decided to increase the number of recipients of the bequest to ten
mujtahids in Najaf and Karbala. The British attempted to use the
bequest to influence the mujtahids politically but with only limited

One of the most important figures of this period is Sayyid Dildar 'Ali
ibn Muhammad Mu'ayyan Nasirabadi (1166/1752-1235/1820). In 1200/1785
he became the first Indian to return to India as a recognised
mujtahid, having studied under Bihbahani in Karbala. He was
instrumental in establishing the Usuli School in Oudh and also for a
campaign against Sufism.

In western India the Khoja community had consisted of a mixture of
Isma'ilis and Twelvers. When, however, in 1842, the Agha Khan fled
Iran and settled in India, he enforced a separation between the two


religious groups. Some Isma'ili Khojas became Twelvers in 1901 in
protest at the leadership of the third Agha Khan. In the 1870s the
Twelvers petitioned Shaykh Zaynu'l-'Abidin Mazandarani of Karbala (d.
1892) whom they regarded as their spiritual leader to send them
someone who could instruct them in religious matters. In 1873 Mulla
Qadir Husayn was sent and he remained in Bombay until 1900 instructing
the Twelver Khojas and establishing the community there on an
independent footing.

   Twelver Shi'ism was spread during this period by Indians and
Iranians, mainly as a result of settlement for trading purposes, into
Nepal, Tibet, Burma, Thailand, Java and East Africa.

Chapter 7


           The Imamate

The Sunni concept of leadership of the Muslim community after the
death of the Prophet, the Caliphate, is essentially a temporal
leadership. The Caliph is a first among equals, elected ideally by
consensus, although later the hereditary principle became the norm. To
others, the theologians and experts in jurisprudence, is given the
task of expounding upon religious questions.
   To the Shi'is, however, the succession to the Prophet is a matter
of the designation by the Prophet of an individual ('Ali) as Imam.
Each Imam designates his successor during his lifetime. The authority
of the Imam derives from his designation by his predecessor to a
spiritual station and is independent of his temporal standing, i.e. it
makes no difference to the Imam's station whether he is acknowledged
by the generality of Muslims or not, whereas this quite clearly does
not apply to a Sunni Caliph whose station is totally dependent on such

The Sunnis and Shi'is are basically in agreement with each other over
the nature and function of prophethood. The two main functions of the
Prophet are to reveal God's law to men and to guide men towards God.
Of these two functions, the Sunnis believe that both ended with the
death of Muhammad, while the Shi'is believe that whereas legislation
ended, the function of guiding men and preserving and explaining the
Divine Law continued through the line of Imams.

The Continuity of the Imamate

As can be seen from the above, the Imamate, as conceived in Shi'i
theology, is not an institution confined to Islam. From the time of
the first prophet Adam, there has been a continuous succession of
Imams. Some figures, such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad
have combined in themselves the function of prophethood and the
Imamate but at no time is the earth left without an Imam who is the
Guide (Hadi and Proof (Hujja) of God. Thus the Fifth Imam Muhammad
al-Baqir, is reported as having said: 'By God! God has not


left the earth, since the death of Adam, without there being on it an
Imam guiding (the people) to God. He is the Proof of God to His
servants and the earth will not remain without the Proof of God to his
servants.[1] The Sixth Imam, Ja'far as-Sadiq, is reported as having
said: 'Were there to remain on the earth but two men, one of them
would be the Proof of God.[2]

   A much longer saying attributed to the Fifth Imam, Muhammad al-
Baqir, states that Jabir asked him: 'Why is the Prophet and the Imam
necessary?' He answered:

So that the World may remain in righteousness. Thus God withholds
chastisement from the World while a Prophet or Imam is upon it, for
God has said: 'God will not chastise them while you are among them'
(Qur'an 8:33) and the Prophet has said: 'The stars are safety for the
people of heaven and the members of my family are safety for the
people of the earth. If the stars went there would come to the people
of heaven, something hateful to them. And if the members of my family
went, there would come to the people of earth, something hateful to
them.' By 'members of my family' is meant the Imams. And God has
linked obedience to them to obedience to Him and He has said 'O
believers, obey God and the Apostle and those possessed of authority
among you' (Qur'an 4:59). And they are the sinless, the pure ones who
do no wrong and do not rebel and they are the ones who give help and
success and right guidance. Through them God gives sustenance (rizq)
to his servants and through them his lands prosper, and the rain falls
from heaven and the earth gives out its blessing and the rebellious
people are granted a respite and their penalty and chastisement does
not speedily come to them. The Holy Spirit does not leave them (the
Imams) and they do not leave it, nor does the Qur'an leave them and
they do not leave it. May the blessing of God be upon them all.[3]
  Some Shi'i Traditions even give the names of all the Imams going back
from Muhammad to Adam.

The Station of the Imams

Muhammad, Fatima and the Imams are conceived in their mystical
dimension as being a light that God created before the creation of the
material world. This light then became the cause and instrument of all
the rest of creation. The following Tradition is attributed to the
Prophet: 'God created 'Ali and me from one light before the creation
of Adam . . . then He split (the light) into two halves, then He
created (all) things from my light and 'Ali's light.'[5]

  The First Imam, 'Ali, is reported to have said: 'God is one; He was
alone in His singleness and so He spoke one word and it became a light
and He created from that light Muhammad and He created me and my
descendants (i.e. the other Imams), then He spoke another word and it
became a Spirit and He caused it to settle upon that light and He
caused it to settle on our bodies. And so we are the Spirit of God and
His Word. . .


and this was before He created the creation.[6]
   And the Sixth Imam, Ja'far as-Sadiq, is reported to have said: 'Our
light separates from our Lord like the rays of the sun from the sun.'[7]
In the Khutba at-Tutunjiyya, 'Ali is reported to have said: 'I am
the First and I am the Last; I am the Hidden and I am the Manifest; I
was with the Universal Cycle before it began; I was with the Pen and
the Tablet before they were created; I am the Lord of Pre-eternity.[8]

This light, created by God, which is the inner essence of the Imams,
descended in turn upon Adam and then upon each of the Prophets and
Imams until it became embodied in Muhammad, Fatima and the twelve

Muhammad, Fatima and the Imams are created out of the substance of
'Illiyyun.[9] There is some difference of opinion among the commentators
as to what exactly is meant by 'Illiyyun (see Qur'an 83:19) but Shi'is
generally consider that it is a synonym for an elevated station, the
Seventh Heaven, or the Farthest Tree (Sadrat al-Muntaha.[10] The word
itself is almost certainly derived from the Hebrew 'elyon meaning the

The Imams are assisted by God through the Holy Spirit. The Third Imam,
Husayn, was asked: 'From what stems your authority?' He replied: 'le
rule by the authority of the House of David, and if we lack anything
then the Holy Spirit sends it to us.[11]

Although the consensus of the Shi'is is that the full prophetic
revelation (wahy) that came to Muhammad and the other apostles of God
(such as Moses and Jesus) did not come to the Imams, nevertheless some
of the Shi'i scholars have allowed that a lesser form of wahy did come
to the Imams. This type of wahy is explained in a Tradition ascribed
to Muhammad al-Baqir, the Fifth Imam: 'It is not the wahy of
prophethood but, rather, like that which came to Mary, daughter of
'Imran (see Qur'an 3:45) and to the mother of Moses (Qur'an 28:7) and
to the bee' (Qur'an 16:68).[12] In any case, if there is disagreement
among the Shi'i scholars on the question of wahy, there is no
disagreement on the fact that the Imam received inspiration (ilham)
from God. The following is attributed to Muhammad al-Baqir, the Fifth
Imam: "Ali used to act in accordance with the book of God, i.e. the
Qur'an, and the Sunna [example or Tradition] of His Apostle [i.e.
Muhammad] and if something came to him and it was new and without
precedent in the book or the Sunna, God would inspire him.[13]

In some of the Traditions the link between God and the Imams is
visualised as being a pillar of light descending from heaven upon the

The difference between the apostles, the prophets and the Imams is

  * Apostle (Rasul) is here used to mein Messenger of God or major
prophet. This should not be confused with its Christian usage.


summarised thus in a saying attributed to the Sixth Imam, Ja'far as-

An apostle is one who sees the Angel who comes to him with the message
from his Lord. He speaks with him just as one of you would speak with
your companion. And the prophet does not see the Angel but revelation
(wahy) descends upon him and he sees (the Angel) in a vision . . . and
the speaker (al-muhaddith, i. e. the Imam[14]) hears the voice but
does not see anything.[15]

   The Imam is the Proof of God (Hujjat Allah) to mankind and the Sign
of God (Ayat Allah) on Earth. Indeed, 'Ali is reported to have said:
'God has no greater sign than me.16 The Imam is the successor of the
Prophet and the Vicar of God on Earth. All political authority and
sovereignty is his. Obedience to him is obligatory to all on Earth.
The Sixth Imam, Ja'far as-Sadiq, is reported to have said:

We are the ones to whom God has made obedience obligatory. The people
will not prosper unless they recognise us and the people will not be
excused if they are ignorant of us. He who has recognised us is a
believer (mu'min) and he who has denied us is an unbeliever (kafir)
and he who has neither recognised nor denied us is in error unless he
returns to the right guidance which God has made obligatory for him.
And if he dies in a state of error, God will do with him what He

The Imam has, according to tradition, certain books in his possession.
These include certain books of the Prophet: Al-Jafr (The Divination),
As-Sahifa (The Book); Al-Ja-mi' (The Compilation); another is the Book
of Fatima (Mashaf Fatima), a book revealed by Gabriel to Fatima to
console her on the death of her father, the Prophet. Also with the
Imams is a copy of the Qur'an written by 'Ali and containing 'Ali's

   The Imam has knowledge of one of the great mysteries in Islam, the
Greatest Name of God. Indeed, it is through his knowledge of this that
he has been given his powers:

Our Lord has given to us knowledge of the Greatest Name, through which
were we to want to, we would rend asunder the heavens and the earth
and paradise and hell; through it we ascend to heaven and descend to
earth and we travel to the east and to the west until we reach the
Throne (of God) and sit upon it before God and He gives us all things,
even the heavens, the earth, the sun moon and stars, the mountains,
the trees, the paths, the seas, heaven and hell.18

   There was no straightforward statement in the Qur'an designating
'Ali and his descendants as Imams. However, the Qur'an is divided by
scholars into clear verses (i.e. those whose meaning is clear) and
ambiguous verses (see Qur'an 3 :7). Since Imams are the sole
authorised interpreters of the Qur'an, they are the ones to whom it is
obligatory to turn in the case of the ambiguous verses. In carrying
out this function, Imams have interpreted many of these verses as
referring to the Imamate


and its station. Indeed, 'Ali is reported to have said that one
quarter of the Qur'an is about the Imams. 19 Among the verses of the
Qur'an which are interpreted in this way are the following:

1. The Signs of God: 'Only the unbelievers would deny our signs'
(Qur'an 29:49). The Imams are the Signs of God (Ayat Allah) on Earth.
Many other references to 'sign' or 'sins' are also references to the
Imams (e.g. 7:9; 10:7 and 101; 22:57; 38:29).[20]
2. The Straight Path. 'Guide us to the Straight Path' (1:6). The Imams
are the 'Straight Path' (as-Sirat al-Mustaqim) referred to in this
opening chapter of Qur'an (and also in 6:153; 15:41; 16:76; 20:135;

3. The Way. The Imams are the Way (as-Sabil) referred to in several
verses (25:827; 6:153; 29 69; 31:15)22

4. The Bounty of God. 'Do you not see those who exchange the Bounty of
God for disbelief' (14:28,29). The Imams are the Bounty of God and the
people referred to in this verse are their opponents and especially
the Umayyads (see also 16:83).23 The Imams are also 'the favours of
God' (7:69; 55:13)[24]
5. The Firmest Handle. 'He who disbelieves in idols and believes in
God has grasped hold of the firmest handle (al-'Urwa al-Wuthqa which
will not break' (2:256) The 'firmest handle' is love for the house of
the Prophet, i. e. the Imams. 25

6. The Cord of God. 'Hold fast to the cord of God (Habl Allah)' (3:
102). The (cord) or rope of God can mean the Qur'an or the religion of
Islam, but it is also interpreted as referring to the Imamate.26

7. The Light of God. 'Therefore believe in God and His Apostle and the
Light which we have sent down' (64:8). The light of God is within the
Imams (see p. 148). Several other verses mentioning light are stated
to refer to this light (e. g. 4:174; 6:122; 7:1577; 9:32; 24:36;
57:28; 66:8). 27

8. The Trust. 'We offered the Trust to the Heavens and to the Earth
and to the mountains, but they refused to undertake it and were afraid
of it; but man undertook it; surely he is sinful and ignorant'
(33:72). The trust referred to is stated to be the Walaya or Imamate
of 'Ali and the sinful and ignorant men are those who took the
rightful place of the Imams. -
   'God has ordered you to make over the trusts to those who are
entitled to them' (4:58). This is stated to refer to the designation
by each Imam of the one who is to follow him. 2')

9. The Guides of Men. 'Among those whom We have created are people who
guide (men) to the truth and through it they act with justice'
(7:181). These are, of course, the Imams.3"

10. The Possessors of Knowledge. 'No-one knows the interpretation of
it (the Qur'an) except God and those who are deeply rooted in


knowledge' (3 :7). 'Those who are deeply rooted in knowledge' is held
to refer to the family of Muhammad (i. e. the Imams).[31]

   God is sufficient as a witness between you and me and so also are
those who possess knowledge of the book' (13:43). 'Those who possess
knowledge of the book' refers to the Imams.32 This phrase occurs in
several other places (e.g. 16:27; 29:49; 34:6).33

11. The Inheritors of the Book. 'We have caused those of our servants
whom We chose to inherit the Book . . . ' (35:32). This is stated to
refer to the Imams, although there is some difference of opinion as to
whom the rest of the verse is referring.[34]

   'Those to whom We have given this book and who recite it as it
should be recited, they believe in it' (2:121). This whole passage
refers to the Imams.

12. The Possessors of Authority. 'O believers! Obey God and obey the
Apostle and those who have been given authority among you' (4:59)

'Those who have been given authority' are the Imams and thus this
verse makes obeying them obligatory.[36]

13. The Truthful Ones. 'O ye who believe! Fear God and be with the
truthful ones' (9:119). The Imams are the 'truthful ones'. But the
phrase 'truthful ones' is also held to refer to Hamza, Muhammad's
uncle and Ja'far, 'Ali's brother (see also 33:23).[37]

14. The Family of Ya Sin.'Peace be upon the family of Ya Sin (37:130).
Ya Sin is interpreted as Muhammad and thus his family refers to Imams.[38]

15. The People of the Remembrance. 'Then question the people (or
family) of the Remembrance if you do not know' (16:43-4). The
Remembrance is held to be Muhammad and thus his family refers to the
Imams whom it is obligatory to question regarding any points in the
Qur'an that are not understood.[39]

16. The Family of Abraham. 'God has chosen . . . the family of
Abraham' (3:33) . This is stated to refer to the family of Muhammad
(i. e. the Imams, but see also page 172).[40] In other places the seed
of Abraham is stated to refer to the Imams (e.g. 19:58; 14:38).

17. The Family of the Prophet. 'Say: I ask of you no recompense for it
except love among kindred' (42:23). Shi'i commentators have
interpreted the last phrase as 'love for my kindred' (i. e. the
Imams), 41 and even Sunni commentators like Baydawi and Razi agree
that this phrase refers to 'Ali and Fatima and their sons.42

   'And the blood relatives (of the Prophet), some of them are nearer
to one another in the book of God than the believers and the
emigrants' (33:6). This is held to refer to the authority vested in
the Imams. 43

18. The People of the Right Hand. Concerning the time of the End, the
'people of the right hand' who are to be greeted in Heaven are the

and the 'people of the left hand' who are to go to Hell are their
enemies. The 'predecessors' who are 'the near ones' refers to
Muhammad, Fatima and the Imams (56:8-11, 88-91).[44]
19. The Sun and Moon. 'By the Sun and its brightness and the moon when
it follows it and the day when it reveals its glory and the night when
it covers it' (91:1-4). The Prophet is the sun and the moon is 'Ali.
The day is the Imam (or in some Traditions, specifically the Imam
Mahdi) and the night represents the enemies of the Imams and in
particular Abu Bakr whose caliphate 'covered' 'Ali.[45]

20. The Two Seas. 'He has set the two seas in motion that they may
meet one another, and between them is a barrier that they overpass
not, . . . and from the two of them come forth pearls and coral'
(55:22). The 'two seas' are 'Ali and Fatima, neither of whom is
superior to the other and the Imams Hasan and Husayn are the 'pearls
and coral' that come out of the two seas.[46]

21. The Party of God. 'Those who take God and his Apostle as their
masters and those who believe, surely the Party of God will triumph'
(5:56). The Imams and the Shi'is are the Party of God.[47]

22. The Servants of the All-Merciful. The whole of the lengthy passage
that begins: 'The servants of the all-merciful are those who walk upon
the Earth with humility . . . ' (25:63) refers to the Imams.[48]

23. The Men on the Battlements (al-A'raf). Regarding entry to
Heaven or Hell, it is written: 'And on the battlements are men who
recognise all by their signs . . .' (7:46). The men on the battlements
are the Imams who, on the Day of Judgement, decide who will enter
Heaven and who will enter Hell.[49]

There are many other verses of the Qur'an that are similarly
interpreted but the above is sufficient to give the reader some idea
of the manner of Shi'i commentary upon the Qur'an on this subject.

Necessary Attributes of the Imams

There are several attributes considered by Shi'is to be necessary for
the Imams and these conditions are held to be proved both by
Traditions and by logical necessity. Thus the Imams are considered to
be mansus (designated), ma'sum (sinless or infallible) and afdal an-
nas (the best of the people).

A. The Conferment of the Imamate by Designation or Covenant

One of the important principles of Shi'i Islam is that the Imamate can
only be passed on from one Imam to the next by divinely-inspired
designation (nass). This process is sometimes referred to as a


('ahd) from one to the next. The following Tradition is from the Sixth
Imam, Ja'far as-Sadiq: 'Each Imam knows the Imam who is to come after
him and so he appoints him as his successor.'[50]

   This succession is not a matter of the personal choice of the Imam,
as these two Traditions from the same Imam show:

Do you imagine that we place this Cause of ours (i.e. the Imamate)
with whomsoever we wish? No! Not at all! By God! It is a covenant of
the Apostle of God with 'Ali, the son of Abu Talib, and then one man
after another until finally it comes to the Lord of this Cause (i.e.
the Mahdi).


None of us (the Imams) die until God has informed us of the one who is
to succeed us. 52

   At any one time there is only one Imam, but his successor, if
alive, is called the Silent Imam (al-Imam as-Samit). The following
Tradition from the Sixth Imam illustrates this point:

The Sixth Imam said: "Ali, the son of Abu Talib, was the possessor of
knowledge in this community, and his knowledge became an inheritance,
and not one of us die until he has passed on the knowledge that he
learned from his father. And the earth will not remain one day without
an Imam from us with whom the community can take refuge.' And I asked
him: 'May there be two Imams?' He said: 'No! Unless one of them be the
Silent one who does not speak until the first one has died.'53

   Thus each prophet sets up two covenants, one regarding the next
prophet who will eventually come and one regarding his immediate
successor, the Imam. This is most clearly expressed in a Tradition
attributed to the Sixth Imam, Ja'far as-Sadiq:

Noah lived for five hundred years after his disembarkation from the
Ark. Then Gabriel came to him and said: 'The period of your
prophethood has ended, O Noah! And the days of your life are drawing
to a close and God says: 'Pass on the inheritance of your knowledge
and the signs of your prophethood to your son Sam. For I do not leave
the earth without there being on it someone who knows obedience to Me
and is a source of salvation between the death of one prophet and the
sending out of the next. And I do not leave the people without a Proof
and someone who will summon them to Me, and guide them to My path
someone who knows My Cause. And I have decreed that I will place for
each people a Guide who will guide fortunate ones and who will be a
Proof to the wretched ones.' And so Noah handed all this over to his
son, Sam [who thus became the Imam. And as for Ham and Yafith, they
did not have a knowledge which would benefit them. And Noah also gave
the good news of the coming of Hud [i. e. the next prophet] and
ordered them to follow him.[54]

   The conferment of the Imamate by designation is also considered a
logical necessity since the Imam must be immune from sin and error
(see next section) and only God can know who is thus immune and can


therefore designate the Imam. This designation can similarly only be
conveyed to mankind by one who is himself immune from error, the
previous prophet or Imam.

B. Immunity from Sin and Error

'Isma (sinlessness and infallibility) is considered a necessary pre-
condition for the Imamate. This is proved from logic by Shi'i writers
in that, since God has commanded obedience to the Imam, the Imam can
only order what is right, or otherwise God would be commanding man to
follow the pathway of error and this would be contrary to God's

   The sinlessness of Muhammad, Fatima and the twelve Imams is also
considered proven by Tradition. According to the Qur'an (33:33): 'God
desires to remove all uncleanliness from you, O members of his family,
and to purify you completely.' Shi'i Traditions relate this verse to
the Imam. One Tradition reports the Prophet as saying: 'I, 'Ali,
Hasan, Husayn and nine of the descendants of Husayn are pure and

The concept of 'Isma'il includes sinlessness or impeccability and
also, because of being protected from error, infallibility. The Sixth
Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq, is reported as having said:

The one who is sinless (ma'sum) is the one who is prevented by God
from doing anything that God has forbidden. For God has said: 'He who
cleaves to God is guided to the Straight Path.'[56]

C. He is the Best of Men

The Imam is the most excellent of men in all attributes vital in
religion. This is considered to be a logical necessity of the fact
that he is immune from sin. Also it is considered that if there were
any man better than he, God would choose that man to be His Proof on
Earth and His Guide to the people.

Other Attributes of the Imams

Apart from the above necessary attributes of the Imams, there are a
large number of other qualities attributed to them. These include:

A. Knowledge ('Ilm)

This refers to both general and religious knowledge. Religious
knowledge may also be divided into knowledge concerning the externals
of the religion (such as the Qur'an, hadith, principles of


jurisprudence, etc.) and esoteric knowledge which includes the
allegorical interpretation of the Qur'an and mystical knowledge. The
following Tradition illustrates this point:

I was with Abu'l-Hasan in Mecca when a man said to him: 'You are
commenting from the Book of God some matters which you did not hear. '
And he said: 'It was revealed to us before it was revealed to the
people and we commented upon it before it was commented upon by
others. We know what is permitted and forbidden in it, we know which
verse abrogates and which verse is abrogated in it, and how many
verses were revealed on which night, and concerning what and whom they
were revealed. We are the judges of God on His Earth and His witnesses
for His creation.'[57]

   And concerning the Qur'anic verse: 'He is it who has sent down the
Book . . . and none know its explanation except God and those who are
deeply-rooted in knowledge' (3:7), the Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq said: 'We
are the ones who are deeply-rooted in knowledge and we know its
explanation. 58

The channel by which the knowledge reaches the Imams is a Spirit from
God. Thus in the following Tradition Ja'far as-Sadiq is questioned:

'Inform me about the knowledge that you have. Is it something that you
learnt from the mouths of men . . . or something written that you
possess from the Apostle of God?' And he said: 'The matter is greater
than that. Have you not heard the words of God in His Book: "Thus we
have revealed to you a Spirit by Our command. You did not know what
the Book was nor Belief." and when God gives this Spirit, knowledge is
with it. And thus when it comes to a servant (of God), knowledge and
understanding are with it. '59

There is also the following Tradition, attributed to the same Imam,
that defines two types of knowledge and indicates that the Imam's
knowledge is co-extensive with that of the prophets and apostles:

God has two types of knowledge: A knowledge that He manifests to His
angels, prophets and apostles and what he has manifested to these, we
also know; and a knowledge which is confined to Himself. And when He
spread some of this [second type of knowledge], he caused us to learn
it and he showed it to those Imams who were before us.

   However, the exact extent of the knowledge of the Imams has been a
subject of some controversy among the Shi'is. Most Shi'i theologians
have agreed, however, that the Imams do not inherently possess
knowledge of the unseen ( 'ilm al-ghayb), that is to say what is in
the future and what is in men's minds, although glimpses of this
knowledge are occasionally given to them by God out of His bounty.61

Thus the Imam as a result of his knowledge is perfectly able to give
judgement on all matters of religious law and his judgement is always
legally correct. He is the Guardian of the Law. The Imam is also a
supreme educator of mankind.


   Concerning the time and manner of the transfer of this knowledge
from Imam to Imam there is some disagreement. For with respect to
'Ali, there are numerous Traditions attesting to how assiduous 'Ali
was in collecting knowledge concerning the Revelation and how he would
not go to sleep each evening until he had ascertained what Revelations
had been vouchsafed to Muhammad that day and the circumstances of the
Revelation. However, with respect to some of the later Imams, and in
particular the Ninth and Tenth Imams, Muhammad at-Taqi and 'Ali al-
Hadi, who became Imams while they were mere children, the emphasis is
on a miraculous transfer of knowledge at the moment of death of the
previous Imam.62

B. Spiritual Guidance (Walaya)

The concept of Walaya or Wilaya is one of the most difficult Islamic
terms to translate, particularly since in different contexts its
meaning varies. The word is derived from the same root as wall which
has already been discussed, and can mean master or friend (see p. 17).
The Imam is seen as the spiritual friend or supporter who guides and
initiates mankind into the mystical or inner truth of religion. It is
through him that God's grace reaches the Earth. As the apostles or
prophets are concerned with the external aspects of the religion, in
particular with the legislation of religious laws and ordinances, the
Imam (and this also, of course, applies to the apostle in his function
as an Imam) is concerned primarily with the inner or esoteric aspects
of religion, guiding mankind onto the path of spiritual enlightenment
and progress. The Imam is therefore, at one and the same time, master
and friend in the journey of the spirit. This theme is, of course,
very close to the Sufi idea of the Wilaya possessed by a Sufi Shaykh
(see p. 208).

The Necessity of Recognising the Imam

God and the Prophet have made a covenant (mlthaq) with the whole of
creation regarding the Imams. Thus the Sixth Imam, Ja'far as-Sadiq,
relates the following words of 'Ali:

The Apostle of God said: 'God does not cause a prophet to die until he
has ordered him to appoint a successor someone from his close family',
and He ordered me to appoint a successor. And so I asked Him: 'Who? O
Lord. ' And He replied: 'Appoint your cousin 'Ali, the son of Abu
Talib, as your successor, O Muhammad! For I have established this in
the former books and have written that he is your successor and have
made a covenant with all created things and with My prophets and
apostles. I have made covenants with them all concerning My Lordship
and your prophethood, O Muhammad, and the successorship of 'Ali, the
son of Abu Talib.63


  Thus it is necessary for everyone to recognise and obey the
Imam. One of the most famous sayings attributed to the Apostle
is as follows: 'He who dies not knowing his Imam dies the
death of the Jahiliyya [the period of ignorance before Islam
arose].'[64] 'By the death of the Jahiliyya is meant in the
condition of idol-worship and ignorance of the principles of
Islam, the condition of the people before Islam came.'[65]
  Thus knowledge of the Imam of his age is an essential part
of Islam for every believer. The Sixth Imam, Ja'far as-Sadiq,
is reported as having said:

     Husayn, the son of 'Ali, came one day to his
     companion and, after praising God and wishing peace
     upon the Apostle of God, he said: 'By God! God
     created mankind in order that they might know Him
     and in knowing Him they might worship Him, and, in
     worshipping Him, might free themselves from the
     worship of anything other than Him.' and a man said
     to him: 'O descendant of the Apostle of God! What is
     knowing God?' He replied: 'It is that the people of
     each age know their Imam, for obedience to him is
     obligatory for them.'[66]

  And concerning one who opposes the Imam, when the Prophet
was asked: 'Who is the Imam?' he is reported to have replied:

     They are my successors. Whosoever of my community
     dies and does not have an Imam from among them, has
     died the death of the Jahiliyya. If he has not
     recognised him [i.e. the Imam] and has been at
     enmity with him, he is a polytheist (mushrik) and if
     he has not recognised him but has not been an enemy
     nor assisted his enemies, then he is merely
     accounted as being of the ignorant and is not a

  The judgement of the Fifth Imam, Muhammad al-Baqir, is
equally severe:

     He who has repudiated an Imam from God and has cut
     himself off from him and his religion is an
     unbeliever, an apostate from Islam. For the Imam is
     from God and his religion is the religion of God,
     and he who cuts himself off from the religion of
     God, his blood, while he is in this state, may be
     spilt with impunity unless he returns and repents to
     God all that he has said.[68]

  Moreover, it is necessary for the believer to recognise
the living Imam of his age. It is not enough to have
recognised past Imams. When asked: 'Is one who has
recognised the Imams, but does not recognise the Imam of his
age, a believer (mu'min)?', Ja'far as-Sadiq replied: 'No!'
When then asked: 'Is he a Muslim?', he replied: 'Yes!'[69]
The Shi'i scholar, ibn Babuya, has explained the difference
between one who has Islam (a Muslim) and one who has Imam
(belief, i.e. a mu'min):

Islam is acknowledgement of the Shahadatayn [the declaration
that there is no God but God and that Muhammad is His
Apostle], and whoever does this may retain his life and
possessions. But recompense is for belief (Imam).[70]
   The Eighth Imam, 'Ali ar-Rida, is reported to have said
that the Prophet told 'Ali:


You and the Imam from among your descendants, O 'Ali, are
the Proof of God to His creation after me, and the people of
knowledge among His creation. He who denies any one of you,
has denied me; he who has opposed any one of you has opposed
me; he who has treated any one of you harshly, has treated
me harshly; he who has reached you, has reached me; he who
has obeyed you, has obeyed me; he who has befriended you,
has befriended me; and he who is an enemy to you, is an
enemy, to me. For you are of me, you are created of my
substance, and I am of you. '

   Moreover, there is no entry to Heaven without
acknowledgement of the Imam. The Apostle is reported to have

O 'Ali! When the Day of Judgement comes, we will be seated
on the Path, you, Gabriel and I, and we will not permit
anyone to pass who does not possess a writ of being
guiltless with respect to your authority.[72]

Rational Proofs for the Imamate
In the eyes of the Shi'i ulama, the rational proofs of the
necessity of the Imamate are equally as if not more
important than the proofs derived from the Traditions. Since
these rational proofs are so important in Shi'i eyes, a
brief resume of the main lines of reasoning used are given
i. Since there are verses in the Qur'an that are not clear
and guidance is needed to understand these passages, God
could not have caused the Qur'an to be revealed without also
providing someone to explain it.
ii. Since there are many possible interpretations of the
sacred law (the Shari'a), the Imam is needed to give
authoritative guidance on the application of the law.
Otherwise the people would err in applying the sacred law
and a just God could not hold a people responsible for their
breaking the law if they had not been properly guided in it.
iii. Since a perfectly just ruler is necessary to maintain
order in the world, God, who is beneficent and does not wish
to see tyranny and anarchy in the world, must of necessity
provide such a ruler--the Imam. The analogy is made with the
human body: the mind is needed to control and co-ordinate
the body as well as to make sense of the incoming sensory
data. In human society, the Imam fulfils the same role.

iv. It is proved from the above that a leader is needed for
the Muslims to rule and guide them. If God had left it to
the choice of the people, then they might have chosen
someone who was not adequate for the task and this would
have made God's favour to mankind incomplete. Since the best
course then is for God to choose and designate the leader,
and since God is beneficent and all-wise and would always
choose the best and most expedient course, this must result
in God's provision of an Imam.

   Many of the most important Shi'i books of the early and
medieval period (and particularly from the 10th to the 13th
Christian centuries)


contain both rational proofs (from Mu'tazili-based kalam)
and traditional proofs (from the Traditions of the Prophet
and the Imams) on the Imamate as well as on a mixture of
other subjects such as the legitimacy of 'Ali's succession
to the Prophet, the lives and miracles of the Imams and the
Occultation of the Twelfth Imam. This admixture often makes
it difficult to assign a classification of subject matter to
these books. They were usually written to counter Sunni
polemics. The following is a list of the most important of
such works, indicating the main subjects that they deal with
(the following abbreviations are used: I - the Imamate; AS -
 'Ali's succession; LI - Lives of the Imams; O - Occultation
of the Twelfth Imam):
Muhammad an-Nu'mani, Kitab al-Ghayba (Book of the
Occultation; composed 342/953) - O
Ibn Babuya, al-Amali (Dictated Notes) - AS, LI
Ibn Babuya, Kamal ad-Din wa Tamam an-Ni'ma (The Completion
    Religion and the Perfection of Beneficence)--I, O
Shaykh al-Mufid, al-Ikhtisas (Distinction) - I, LI, O
Shaykh al-Mufid, Kitab al-Irshad (Book of Guidance) - LI
Shaykh al-Mufid, Awa'il al-Maqalat (The Foremost of
Treatises) - I
Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa at-Tusi, Kitab al-Ghayba (Book of
Occultation) - O
Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa, as-Shafi fi'l-Imama (The Salutory Book
about the Imamate) - I
al-Fadl ibn Hasan at-Tabarsi, al-Ihtijaj (Argumentation) -
Ibn Shahrashub, Manaqib Al-Abi Talib (The Virtuous Deeds of
the Family of Abu Talib, i.e. the 'Alids) - I, LI
'Ali ibn Musa, ibn Tawus, al-Yaqin fi Imara Amir al-Mu'minin
(Certainty regarding the Authority of the Commander of the
Faithful) - I, AS
'Ali ibn 'Isa al-Irbili, Kashf al-Ghumma fi ma'arifat al-
A'imma (The Disclosure of Affliction; concerning knowledge
of the Imams)--1, LI, O

Chapter 8


      The Twelfth Imam, His Occultation and Return

Perhaps no aspect of the history of Shi'i Islam is as
confused as the stories relating to the Twelfth Imam and
this is not surprising as this is the point in Shi'i history
where the events related become of a miraculous,
extraordinary nature and the non-believer may be unwilling
to go along with the facts as related by Shi'is. But even
for the committed believer, it is difficult to decide which
of the many and often contradictory versions presented in
the Traditions to follow. The following version is the one
that is usually presented in the books published for popular
   The mother of the Twelfth Imam was a Byzantine slave-girl
named Narjis Khatun (or Saqil or Sawsan or Rayhana). In the
more fully elaborated versions of the story she becomes the
Byzantine Emperor's daughter who was informed in a vision
that she would be the mother of the Mahdi. She was bought by
the Tenth Imam, 'Ali al-Hadi, for his son the Eleventh Imam,
Hasan al-'Askari.

The Twelfth Imam was born in 255/868 (some sources vary by
as much as five years from this date) in Samarra. He was
given the same name as the Prophet, Abu'l-Qasim Muhammad.

The usual miraculous accounts of his talking from the womb,
etc. (see p. 23) may be passed over to the only occasion on
which he is said to have made a public appearance. This was
in 260/874 when the Eleventh Imam died. It appears that none
of the Shi'i notables knew of the birth of Muhammad and so
they went to the Eleventh Imam's brother, Ja'far, assuming
that he was now the Imam. Ja'far seemed prepared to take on
this mantle and entered the house of the deceased Imam in
order to lead the funeral prayers. At this juncture a young
boy came forward and said: 'Uncle, stand back! For it is
more fitting for me to lead the prayers for my father than
for you. ' After the funeral,Ja'far was asked about the boy
and said that he did not know who the boy was. For this
reason, Ja'far has been vilified by generations of Shi'is as
Kadhdhab, the liar.

The boy was seen no more and Shi'i tradition states that
from that year he went into occultation. At Samarra, beside
the gold-domed Shrine of the Imams 'Ali al-Hadi and Hasan
al-'Askari is a mosque under which


there is a cave. The end of one of the rooms of the cave is
partitioned off by a gate which is called Bab al-Ghayba
(Gate of the Occultation) and was built on the instructions
of the Caliph an-Nasir in 606/1209. The area behind the gate
is called Hujrat al-Ghayba (Chamber of the Occultation) and
in the corner of this is a well, the Bi'r al-Ghayba (Well of
the Occultation) down which the Imam Mahdi is said to have
disappeared. Shi'is gather in the rooms of the cave and pray
for his return.

The Lesser Occultation

Those Shi'is who followed the line of the Imams were thrown
into confusion by the death of Hasan al-'Askari. Ja'far
remained unshakeable in his assertion that his brother had
no progeny and some gathered around him as the Imam. Others
asSerted that the Twelfth Imam had not yet been born but
would be born in the Last Days just before the Day of
Judgement. Others asserted that it was the Eleventh Imam,
Hasan al-'Askari, who had gone into occultation. Thus the
Shi'a were fragmented into several factions (for a fuller
account of these sects see pp. 59 60). It is difficult to
assess at this distance in history and with the bias of the
sources available what proportion of the Twelver Shi'is of
the time accepted the position of 'Uthman al-'Amri which was
to become the orthodox Twelver position. Al-'Amri claimed
that Muhammad, the son of Hasan al-'Askari, did exist and
was in occultation and that he, 'Uthman, was the
intermediary between the Hidden Imam and the Shi'a.

   But it should not necessarily be assumed that 'Uthman al-
'Amri's assertion was perceived by the Shi'is of the time as
being a radical change. For, after all, the Tenth and
Eleventh Imams, as far as the generality of their followers
were concerned, had also been in effective occultation.
Because of the vigilant and hostile surveillance of the
'Abbasids, they had rarely showed themselves to their
followers and are even said to have spoken to some of those
who met them from behind a curtain. Their contact with their
followers was through a network of Shi'i agents called the
Wikala which had been responsible for communicating the
messages of the Imams and collecting the monies offered by
the Shi'a. This network of agents was in contact with one or
two special agents of the Tenth and Eleventh Imam who in
turn were in direct contact with the Imam. 'Uthman al-'Amri
had been the secretary and special agent of the Tenth and
Eleventh Imams and thus effectively controlled the Wikala.
With the death of the Eleventh Imam, all that al-'Amri was
saying was that the Twelfth Imam was also in hiding due to
the threat against his life from the 'Abbasids and that he,
'Uthman, had been appointed to


continue the position that he had held under the previous
Imams. For the majority of the Shi'a it must have seemed
that nothing much had changed. It is probably only after
about seventy years (i.e. the normal life-span of a man) had
passed that the question of the Occultation became
problematical (see pp. 74-5) and began to require doctrinal
exposition. Thus al-Kulayni, who completed his book (see p.
174) less than seventy years after the start of the
Occultation has little or no discussion of the Occultation
itself or of the position of al-'Amri and his successors as
intermediaries and neither do any of the extant Shi'i books
preceding it. A few decades later, however, it is a topic of
major importance to most Shi'i writers and whole books are
devoted to the issue.
   'Uthman nominated his son, Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn
'Uthman, as his successor. For forty-five years these two
laid claim to the position of being the agents of the Hidden
Imam. They would take messages and questions from the Shi'a
to the Hidden Imam and would return with answers, usually
verbal but sometimes written. They would also receive the
monies offered by the Shi'a to the Imam as khums and zakat
(see p. 179). They were involved in bitter disputes with
Ja'far and his followers who denied the existence of the
Eleventh Imam's son and laid claim to his brother's estate--
a legal battle that took seven years and was finally decided
by the Caliph al-Mu'tamid. Narjis, the supposed mother of
the Twelfth Imam, was also the subject of much wrangling
that went on over twenty years.

The third person to be nominated as the agent of the Hidden
Imam was Abu'l-Qasim Husayn ibn Ruh an-Nawbakhti. He came to
this position in 305/917, after the death of Muhammad al-
'Amri. Conditions had changed considerably by this time. The
Caliph Muqtadir (reigned AD 907-932) was favourable to the
Shi'a and the Nawbakhti family, who were Shi'is, wielded
considerable power at his court as ministers. However, even
at this late date there were disputes among the Shi'a over
the question of the Occultation. Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn
'Ali ash-Shalmaghani (executed in 322/933), who had been a
close confidant of Husayn ibn Ruh and his agent in Baghdad,
suddenly turned against the latter and at first laid claim
to the position of being the rightful agent of the Imam and
later denounced the whole concept of the Occultation as a
lie. Another who fell out with what was rapidly by now
becoming the Twelver Shi'i orthodoxy was Husayn ibn Mansur
al-Hallaj (c. 244/8 5 8 executed 309/922). Exactly what it
was that Shalmaghani and Hallaj said or did which brought
upon them the anger of the Shi'is and eventually, through
the power of the Nawbakhti family, death at the hands of the
state cannot now easily be discerned among the mass of
gratuitous accusations and disinformation piled upon them by
later writers. It has


been suggested, however, that their open avocation of
extremist claims (ghuluww) was threatening the delicate
balance which allowed Shi'i families such as the Nawbakhtis
and the Al al-Furat to hold power and authority in a Sunni
state and thus allowed Shi'is to enjoy unprecedented
freedom. It is clear that whatever differences there may
have been among the Shi'a following the death of the
Eleventh Imam in 874, by the third and fourth decades of the
10th century (i.e. the closing years of the Lesser
Occultation), the majority of the Shi'is were agreed about
the line of Twelve Imams. There was still confusion and
doubt over the question of the Occultation and this was to
continue for a further hundred years. It was also during
this period that the first of the four 'canonical'
collections of hadith, al-Kafi fi 'Ilm ad-Din, was being
completed by al-Kulayni thus helping to bring about a
convergence and consolidation of views among the Twelver

   The fourth and last agent of the Hidden Imam was Abu'l-
Husayn 'Ali ibn Muhammad as-Samarri. He held office for only
three years and died in 329/941. These four successive
agents of the Hidden Imam are each called by the Shi'is the
Bab (Gate, plural Abwab), the Safir (Ambassador, plural
Sufara) or Na'ib (Deputy, plural Nuwwab) of the Twelfth

At the time of his death, as-Samarri brought the following
written message from the Hidden Imam:

In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate! O 'Ali
ibn Muhammad as-Samarri, may God magnify the reward of your
brethren upon you! There are but six days separating you
from death. So therefore arrange your affairs but do not
appoint anyone to your position after you. For the second
occultation has come and there will not now be a
manifestation except by the permission of God and that after
a long time has passed, and hearts have hardened and the
earth become filled with tyranny. And there will come to my
Shi'a those who claim to have seen me, but he who claims to
have seen me before the emergence of the Sufyani and the cry
(from the heavens) is assuredly a lying imposter. And there
is no power nor strength save in God the Almighty, the All-
High. '

   And so the Shi'is passed, in 329/941,into what is known
as the Greater Occultation, the period of time when there is
no agent of the Hidden Imam on earth.

One final historical point is that although the history of
the four agents of the Hidden Imam has been given above as
it is to be found in the Shi'i histories, there is some
considerable evidence that this was a later superimposition
of interpretation On the facts of history. In the early
works there is no indication that the number of agents was
limited to four and several others are mentioned.2 It seems
likely, then, that after the death of the Eleventh Imam, for
the duration of a natural lifespan (i.e. seventy years), the
former system of the Wikala had continued to operate. But
then the Shi'is began to be thrown into confusion and doubt


over the matter of the Occultation.3 And so the scholars of
the early Buyid period spent a great deal of time in writing
books explaining and proving the doctrine of the Occultation
of the Twelfth Imam. It was probably also at about the end
of the Lesser Occultation that the Twelfth Imam came to be
identified with the figure of the Mahdi.

The Doctrine of Occultation

In its simplest form, the doctrine of the Occultation
(Ghayba) declares that Muhammad ibn Hasan, the Twelfth Imam,
did not die but has been concealed by God from the eyes of
men. His life has been miraculously prolonged until the day
when he will manifest himself again by God's permission.
During his Lesser Occultation, he remained in contact with
his followers through the four Ba-bs (al-Abwa-b al-Arba'a).
During the Greater Occultation, which extends to the present
day, he is still in control of the affairs of men and is the
Lord of the Age (Sahib az-Zaman) but there is no longer a
direct route of communication. However, it is popularly
believed that the Hidden Imam does still occasionally
manifest himself to the pious either when awake or more
commonly in dreams and visions. It is believed that written
messages left at the tombs of the Imams can reach him. The
Hidden Imam was popularly supposed to be resident in the
far-off cities of Jabulsa and Jabulqa and in former times
books were written about persons who had succeeded in
travelling to these places. Less has been made of this
particular tradition in recent times when modern
geographical knowledge permeated the Shi'i masses and it
became generally realised that no such places existed. There
are also accounts of persons who have seen the Imam in
person, in visions or dreams.[4]
  The occurrence of the Occultation is considered to have
been due to the hostility of the Imam's enemies and the
danger to his life. He remains in occultation because of the
continuance of this threat. The severance of communication
with the Hidden Imam is not considered to contradict the
dictum that 'the earth is not left without an Imam', for,
say the Shi'i writers, the sun still gives light and warmth
to the earth even when hidden behind a cloud.
  The Hidden Imam has a large number of titles including the
following: Sahib az-Zaman (Lord of the Age), Sahib al-Amr
(Lord of Command), al-Mahdi (the Rightly-Guided One), al-
Qa'im (He who will arise), al-Imam al-Muntazar (the Awaited
Imam) and the Baqiyyat Allah (Remnant of God).


The Doctrine of Return (Raj'a)

The Hidden Imam, the Imam Mahdi, is in occultation awaiting
the time that God has decreed for his return. This return is
envisaged as occurring shortly before the final Day of
Judgement. The Hidden Imam will then return as the Mahdi
with a company of his chosen ones and there will also return
his enemies led by the one-eyed Dajjal and the Sufyani. The
Imam Mahdi will lead the forces of righteousness against the
forces of evil in one final apocalyptic battle in which the
enemies of the Imam will be defeated.
  The Imam Mahdi will rule for a number of years and after
him will come the return of Christ, the Imam Husayn and also
the other Imams, prophets and saints. Strictly speaking, the
term raj'a only applies to the return to life of figures who
have died such as the Imam Husayn. It is more correct to
refer to the zuhur (appearance) or qiyam (arising) of the
Twelfth Imam who did not die and is in occultation. Return
is envisaged by Shi'is as involving only the Imams, their
supporters and their enemies. Those who were neutral in or
unaffected by the struggle will remain in their graves until
the Day of Resurrection. 5

Signs of the Return of the Imam Mahdi

Eschatological expectation in relation to the Twelfth Imam
plays a very important part in the popular religion of
Twelver Shi'is. In the Traditions relating to the advent of
the Mahdi, there are numerous signs that are held to herald
his advent. Some of these are related to the general
condition of the world when the Mahdi will appear while
others give specific signs of his return.
  Perhaps the best known of the general signs, a Tradition
that is related in both Shi'i and Sunni sources, states that
the Mahdi will fill the earth with justice after it has been
filled with injustice and tyranny.[6]
  Some modern Shi'is, such as the scholar az-Zanjani, claim
that some of the conditions of the world that have been
related as accompanying the advent of the Mahdi appear to
have been fulfilled by modern scientific inventions. Thus
one of these Traditions seems to be referring to television:

     'I heard Abu 'Abdu'llah [the Sixth Imam] saying:
     the believer, in the time of the Qa'im, while in
     the east, will be able to see his brother in the
     west and he who is in the west will be able to see
     his brother in the east.'[7]

Other prophecies are seen as referring to the radio and
aeroplane. 8 The following is a lengthy Tradition quoted
from the Sixth Imam, Ja'far as-Sadiq, by Kulayni which
describes the moral degradation at the time of the coming of
the Mahdi and is seen as referring to several modem


phenomena such as the secularisation of society, the
appearance of women in national parliaments and other
consultative assemblies and the advent of the 'permissive

     When you see that truth has died and people of
     truth have disappeared, and you see that injustice
     prevails through the land; and the Qur'an has
     become despised and things are introduced into it
     that are not in it and it is turned towards men's
     desires; and you see the people of error having
     mastery over the people of truth; and you see evil
     out in the open and the doers of evil are not
     prevented nor do they excuse themselves; and you
     see moral depravity openly manifest and men being
     content with men and women satisfied by women, and
     you see the believer silent, his word not being
     accepted; and you see the sinful lying and he is
     not refuted nor does his deceit redound upon him,
     and you see the lowly despising the great, and you
     see the wombs cut open, and you see he who boasts
     of moral depravity is laughed at and is not
     spurned; and you see young men being handed over
     like women and women co-habiting with women and
     their numbers increasing; and you see men spending
     their wealth on things other than pious deeds and
     no-one opposes or hinders them; and you see the
     onlooker turn his back on the efforts of the
     believer, and you see one person molesting his
     neighbour and no-one prevents it; and you see the
     unbeliever joyful because he does not see gladness
     in the believer when he sees corruption in the
     world, and you see alcoholic drinks being drunk
     openly . . . and you see women occupying places in
     the assemblies just as men do and:usury is carried
     out openly and adultery is praised . . . and you
     see the forbidden thing made legal and the legal
     thine forbidden, and you see that religion becomes
     a matter of opinion and the Book and its laws fall
     into disuse; and you see the leaders drawing close
     to the unbelievers and away from good people; and
     you see the leaders corrupt in their rule; . . .
     and you see men eating what their wives have
     obtained as a result of their immorality and
     knowing this and persisting in it; . . . and you
     see places of entertainment appearing which no-one
     who passes them forbids them and none is bold
     enough to put an end to them; and you see a
     worshipper only praying in order that the people
     may see him; and you see the experts in religious
     law devoting themselves to things other than
     religion, seeking the world and leadership, and
     you see the people living together like animals,
     and you see the pulpit from which fear of God is
     enjoined but the speaker does not act in the
     manner he has enjoined others to act; . . . and
     when you see the tokens of truth that I have
     taught, then be aware [of the advent of the Mahdi]
     and seek salvation from God.[9]

   There are several similar prophecies such as the
following Tradition from the Imam 'Ali concerning the coming
of the Imam Mahdi:

     I do not know when it will be any more than you do
     but some signs and conditions will follow one
     another, and the signs are these: When the people
     allow the saying of prayers to die out; and they
     destroy trust, and they regard lying as
     permissible; and they take usurious interest, and
     they sell religion in exchange for the world, and
     they employ fools-and they consult women, and they
     cut open the wombs, and they follow th›ir lusts,
     and they take the spilling of blood lightly; and
     their discernment is weak; and tyranny becomes a
     source of pride; and the leaders become
     profligate, the ministers oppressors, the ulama
     faithless and the poor depraved; and false
     testimony is made; immorality, lies, crime, and
     repression are carried out openly; and books are
     embellished, the


     mosques adorned and the minarets made tall; . . .
     and women assist their husbands in trade out of
     greed for the things of this world; and sinners
     are extolled and listened to; and the leader of
     the people is the most despicable of them and he
     is wary of the libertine, fearing his evil, and he
     gives credence to the liar and has faith in the
     traitor, and he imitates young girls; and men
     appear like women and women appear like men; . . .
     the best place to live on that day will be
     Jerusalem, for there will certainly come a day for
     the people when each of them will eagerly desire
     to be one of its inhabitants.[10]

  Islam itself will be in a degraded state at the time of
the advent of the Mahdi:

     The Apostle of God said: 'There will come a time
     for my people when there will remain nothing of
     the Qur'an except its outward form and nothing of
     Islam except itS name and they will call
     themselves by this name even though they are the
     people furthest from it. Their mosques will be
     full of people but they will be empty of right
     guidance. The religious leaders (fuqaha) of that
     day will be the most evil religious leaders under
     the heavens; sedition and dissension will go out
     from them and to them will it return.'[11]

  With respect to specific signs of the coming of the Mahdi,
there are some signs that the Sunnis and Shi'is are agreed
upon (for Shi'is, of course, the Mahdi is the Twelfth Imam):

1.. That the Mahdi will be a descendant of the Prophet
Muhammad of the line of Fatima.[12]
2. That he will bear the name Muhammad.[13]
3. He will rule for either seven, nine or nineteen
4. His coming will be accompanied by the raising of a Black
Standard in Khurasan. These Traditions state: 'If you see it
[the Black Standard] then go to it even if you have to crawl
over the snow, for with it is the Mahdi, the vicegerent of
5. His coming will be accompanied by the appearance of
Dajjal (the Anti-Christ) in the East.[16]
  The Shi'i sources are very prolific in their descriptions
of what will occur at the time of the coming of the Mahdi.
Among these numerous, sometimes contradictory, Traditions,
the following are the most commonly reported regarding the
specific signs presaging the advent of the Mahdi:[17]
1. Before his coming will come the red death and the white
death. The red death is the sword and the white death is the
2. Several figures will appear: the one-eyed Dajjal, the
Sufyani and the Yamani. Another figure, the Pure Soul (an-
Nafs az-Zakiyya), will be assassinated.
3. The sun will rise from the West and a star will appear in
the East giving out as much light as the moon.[19]
4. The Arabs will throw off the reins and take possession of
their land, throwing out the authority of the


5. A caller will call out from heaven.[21]
6. There will be a great conflict in the land of Syria until
it is destroyed.[22]
7. Death and fear will afflict the people of Baghdad and
Iraq. A fire will appear in the sky and a redness will cover
them.[23] About the Mahdi himself, the following Traditions
are recorded:
1. He will not come in an odd year.[24]
2. He will announce himself in Mecca between the Corner (of
the Ka'ba) and the Station (of Abraham) and will summon the
people to pay allegiance to him.[25]
3. He will go from Mecca to Kufa.[26]
4. As for his appearance, he is a young man of medium
stature with a handsome face and beautiful hair which flows
onto his shoulders. A light dawns from his face. Black is
the colour of the hair of his beard and of his head. He is
the son of the best of mothers.[27]
5. The Mahdi will do what the Prophet did. He will demolish
whatever precedes him just as the Prophet demolished the
structure of the Time of Ignorance (al-Jahiliyya--the period
before Islam).[28]
6. He will come with a new Cause--just as Muhammad, at the
beginning of Islam, summoned the people to a new Cause--and
with a new book and a new religious law (Shari'a), which
will be a severe test for the Arabs.[29]
7. Between the Mahdi and the Arabs (the Quraysh), there will
only be the sword.[30]
8. The Qa'im when he arises will experience as a result of
the ignorance of the people worse than what the Apostle of
God experienced at the hands of the ignorant people of the
Time of Ignorance because the Apostle of God came to a
people who worshipped stones and wood but the Qa'im will
come to a people who will interpret the Book of God against
him and will bring forward proofs from it against him. When
the flag of the Qa'im is raised, the people of both East and
West will curse it.[31]
9. When the Qa'im arises, he will rule with justice and will
remove injustice in his days. The roads will be safe and the
earth will show forth its bounties. Everything due will be
returned to its rightful owner. And no people of religion
will remain who do not show forth submission (Islam) and
acknowledge belief (Imam), . . . And he will judge among the
people with the judgement of David and of Muhammad . . . At
that time men will not find anywhere to give their alms or
to be generous because riches will encompass all.[32]
10. All knowledge is encompassed in 27 letters and all that
the messengers of God have brought is two of these letters,
and so the people only know these two letters. But when the
Qa'im will arise, he will bring forth the other 25 letters
and will spread them among the people.[33]


  With the coming of the Mahdi, there will occur the return
(raj'a) of other figures of the past:
1. The first to return will be the Imam Husayn who will come
with the 72 companions that were killed with him at
2. There will also occur the return of Jesus which is also
anticipated in the Sunni traditions.[35]
3. The 313 who fought with the Prophet at the Battle of Badr
will also return.[36]
4. The other Imams and prophets of former ages will also

Consequences of the Occultation of the Twelfth Imam

The Occultation of the Twelfth Imam left a considerable gap
in Shi'i theory. The Imam was both the spiritual and
political head of the community. He interpreted the law and
was theoretically responsible for its execution. The Lesser
Occultation in which the four agents each successively
claimed to be the mouthpiece of the Hidden Imam was followed
by the Greater Occultation in which there was no
communication. And yet the Imam had left no specific
instructions as to how the community was to be organised in
his absence. In particular, the Imam's role as the head of
the community was left vacant and a number of functions
invested in him as head of the community thus theoretically
lapsed. Initially this did not matter too much since the
Shi'is had no political power and therefore such theoretical
functions of the Imam as leading the jihad and the Friday
prayer could easily be dispensed with.

  In later centuries, however, as Shi'i states arose, a
tension arose between the theoretical consequences of the
Occultation and political realities. Since the Twelfth Imam,
though hidden, still lives and is the Lord of the Age and
the leader of the community, there can be no theoretical
justification for taking his place. And yet the political
reality was that the Shi'i states that arose in later
centuries had at their head either a king or an amir who had
arrogated to himself some of the functions of the Hidden
  The political consequences of this divergence between
theoretical consideration and political realities have
caused continuing tension between government and religion
throughout the ages. No-one has seriously questioned the
ulama's arrogation of certain functions of the Hidden Imam
(see Chapter 10 for a fuller description of the ulama's
gradual assumption of these functions). But the ulama have
often expressed doubt and antagonism to the assumption of
political power by temporal rulers on the grounds that this
was usurpation of the prerogatives of the Hidden Imam. Over
the years, whenever the temporal rulers were strong and
acted with justice, many of the ulama


would co-operate with the government and in their writings
find justifications for the temporal state while others
would be muted in their opposition or more commonly
indifferent to politicaL matters. But when rulers became
weak or tyrannical, the ulama would re-emerge with their
claim to represent the Hidden Imam and would voice their
opposition to the temporal authorities. This was to be the
pattern of historical events, particularly in Iran after the
emergence of the Safavid dynasty.

Chapter 9


          Doctrines, Ritual Practices and Social

The main sources for all rituals and legal practices in
Islam are the Qur'an and the Traditions (hadith). In the
matter of basic theological principles, however, Shi'is hold
that reason is the primary source.

The Qur'an

The Qur'an is considered to be the Word of God revealed
through Muhammad acting as God's mouthpiece. The text of the
Qur'an in the recension compiled under the direction of the
third Caliph, 'Uthman, is accepted by both Sunnis and
  There is, however, considerable evidence that the early
Shi'a did not accept the standard text of the Qur'an. Even
as late as the time of Shaykh al-Mufid, there was
considerable discussion among the Shi'a as to what had been
omitted from the Qur'an by the enemies of 'Ali, although by
that time there was a consensus that nothing had been added.
In other words, it was felt that although the standard text
of the Qur'an represented God's word with no human
additions, part of the text extolling 'Ali and pointing to
his Imamate had been excised by his

   Although most Shi'is eventually took the view that
nothing had been omitted or added to the Qur'an, traces of
the earlier view are enshrined among some of the hadith and
are even reproduced in some of the later books. The
following are some examples taken from the Bihar al-Anwar,
the important collection of hadith made by the seventeenth-
century scholar, Muhammad Baqir Majlisi:

1. In the verse: 'God has chosen Adam, Noah, the family of
Abraham and the family of 'Imran above all beings' (Qur'an
3:33), the phrase 'and the family of Muhammad' is considered
to have originally been present after the phrase 'family of

2. In commentary upon the verse: 'O would that I had not
chosen such-


and-such as a friend' (Qur'an 25:28), the sixth Imam, Ja'far
as-Sadiq, said: 'In 'Ali's copy is: "O would that I have not
chosen the second as a friend," and this will appear one
day.'[2] This is a clear reference to Abu Bakr who is known
as ath-Thani (the second) because he was the second in the
cave during Muhammad's flight from Mecca.
3. The phrase: 'You are the best of people' (khayr al-umma,
Qur'an 3:110), should read: 'You are the best of Imams'
(khayr al-a'imma).

4. The Qur'an has been altered so that it has dropped the
names of the successors (awsiya, i. e. the Imams) and the
hypocrites (munafiqun, i. e. the enemies of the Imams).[4]
  A small minority of Shi'is have attempted to get much
larger passages (and even whole suras) accepted as being
missing portions of the Qur'an but without success.[5]

Commentary (tafsir) on the Qur'an has become an important
branch of the religious sciences in Shi'ism as in Sunnism.
Shi'is, however, have tended to emphasise the esoteric
interpretation (ta'wil) of Qur'anic verses by the Imams. An
example of Shi'i commentary can be found in the
interpretations of verses in relation to the Imamate in
Chapter 7.
  The best known of the Shi'i commentaries on the Qur'an are
two very early tafsirs by 'Ali ibn Ibrahim al-Qummi and
Muhammad al-'Ayyashi and two later works, At-Tibyan (The
Exposition) by Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa Muhammad at-Tusi and the
Majma' al-Bayan (Collection of Elucidation) by al-Fadl ibn
al-Hasan at-Tabarsi. A recent work, al-Mizan (The Balance)
by 'Allama Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i, may well come to be
regarded as the equal of these in importance.

The Traditions (Hadith)

Since the Prophet and, for Shi'is, the Imams were sinless
and infallible, their words and deeds are a guide and model
for all to follow. These were eventually written down after
being transmitted orally for several generations. Thus each
hadith consists of the names of the chain of transmitters
(isnad) followed by the text (matn) of the Tradition being
transmitted. The hadith constitute the Sunna (practice) of
the Prophet and Imams. They are also frequently called
khabar (information, plural akhbar) by Shi'is.
  In Sunni Islam there are six collections of Traditions
relating to the Prophet and passed on by his companions
which are regarded as canonical. In Shi'i Islam, however,
the majority of the companions, in accepting the Caliphate
of Abu Bakr, 'Umar and 'Uthman in preference to 'Ali, are
considered to have erred and, therefore, cannot be regarded
as reliable transmitters of Traditions. The Shi'i Traditions
usually rely on the words or actions of one of the Imams and
even those that go back to


the Prophet are usually transmitted through one of the
Imams. It was clear to Muslim scholars that large-scale
forgery of Traditions was occurring in order to support
factional and political opinions. The Muslim answer to this
problem was to develop a whole branch of the of the
religious sciences which consisted of examining the chains
of transmitters in order to assess the reliability of
Traditions. These were
then classed according to their reliability into one of four
sahih (correct), hasan (good), muwaththaq (trustworthy) and
da'if (weak). The exact definitions of these categories are
not, however, very clear and different authorities will
place the same Tradition in different categories. In
addition, the Traditions were classified as mutawatir
(successive) meaning Traditions handed down through several
chains of reliable authorities and considered as genuine in
every generation from the time of Muhammad and the Imams;
and khabar al-wahid (plural ahad) meaning Traditions which
are only known through one chain of transmitters. The former
are regarded as binding while the latter may be used as a
  There are four early collections of the hadith that have
become regarded by Shi'is as canonical. These were written
by three authors who are known as the 'Three Muhammads':
a. Al-Kafi 'Ilm ad-DIn (The Sufficient in the Science of
Religion) by Muhammad al-Kulayni (d. 328/939). This is the
only one of these four to contain a section on the
fundamentals of the religion (usul ad-din, see
below in this chapter).
b. Man la yaduruhu al-Faqih (He who has no Jurist present)
by Muhammad ibn Babuya (d. 381/991).
c. Tahdhib al-Ahkam (The Rectification of Judgements) by
Shaykh Muhammad at-Tusi, Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa (d. 460/1067).
d. Al-Istibsar (The Perspicacious) by the same author.
  In addition to these four, there are three other books
which belong to more modern times and which are highly
regarded in this field. Their authors have also been named
as modern 'Three Muhammads'.
a. Al-Wafi (The Complete) by Muhammad ibn Murtada, known as
Mulla Muhshin-i Fayd (d. 1091/1680).
b. Wasa'il ash-Shi'a (The Means of the Shi'a) by Muhammad
ibn Hasan, known as al-Hurr al-'Amili (d. 1104/1692).
c. Bihar al-Anwar (Oceans of Lights) by Muhammad Baqir
Majlisi (d. 1110/1699).
  Even more modern is the collection Mustadrak al-Wasa'il
(The Rectification of al-Wasa'il) by Husayn an-Nuri at-
Tabarsi (d. 1320/ 1902).
  The need for information regarding the transmitters of the
Traditions in order to be able to assess their reliability
led to a large number of


biographical dictionaries. The most important of these are
the three on Rijal by Ahmad ibn 'Ali an-Najashi, Muhammad
ibn 'Umar al-Kashshi and Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa, and the bio-
bibliographical work, the Fihrist, also by Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa.
  Each generation of the ulama is regarded as transmitters
of the Traditions and so biographical works on the later
ulama are also an important part of the Shi'i literature.
Among the most well-known of these are:

a. Ma'alim al-'Ulama (Guide-posts of the Ulama) by ibn
b. Amal al-'Amil (The Hope of the [Jabal] 'Amil) by al-Hurr
c. Lu'lu'at al-Bahrayn (The Pearls of Bahrain) by Yusuf al-
d. Nujum as-Sama (The Stars of the Firmament) by Muhammad
'Ali Kashmiri
e. Rawdat al-Jannat (The Garden of Paradise) by Muhammad
Baqir al-Khwansari
f. Qisas al-'Ulama (Stories of the Ulama) by Muhammad
Tunukabuni g. Tabaqat A'lam ash-Shi'a (The Generations of
the Eminent Persons of the Shi'a) by Agha Buzurg Tihrani
h. A'yan ash-Shi'a (The Notables of the Shi'a) by Muhsin al-

Independent Investigation and Blind Imitation

There are several verses in the Qur'an which forbid the
blind imitation (taqid) of others in matters of religion
(Qur'an 5:104-5; 17:36; 21:52-4; 43:22-4). However, this
prohibition is interpreted to refer only to the fundamentals
of religion (usul ad-din. As far as the details of law and
ritual practices are concerned, knowledge of these, although
incumbent upon the believers, is what is called wajib
kifa'i. This means an obligation which if undertaken by a
sufficient number of the community need not be undertaken by
the rest. In other words, provided a sufficient number of
persons undertake the detailed study of religious law and
ritual (i.e. the ulama and, especially, the mujtahids or
fuqaha), it is not obligatory for the ordinary believer. It
is obligatory, however, for all to follow the provisions of
the religious law, the Shari'a. Therefore it is necessary
for every believer who has not made a special study of the
Shari'a to seek out the person who is known to him as the
most learned in the religious law and to follow that person.
This following of a mujtahid is called taqlid (imitation)
and the person doing it is called a muqallid while the
mujtahid becomes marja' at-taqlid (reference point for
  Thus, in summary, belief in the fundamentals of the
religion must be the result of each individual's own
independent investigation and must not be the result of
merely following one's parents or religious leaders.
However, with respect to the subsidiary elements of the
religion (furu'


ad-din), religious law and rituals, these can only be
learned through extensive study and anyone who has not
carried out this study follows the guidance of those who

The Fundamental Elements of the Religion (Usul ad-Din)

Both Sunni and Shi'i Islam agree on three fundamental
elements of religion: Tawhid (the unity of God), Nubuwwa
(prophethood) and Ma'ad (the resurrection). However, to this
the Shi'is add two further fundamentals: Imama (the Imamate)
'Adl (Justice of God). 

I. Tawhid (Divine Unity)

At its simplest level, this is the assertion in the first
half of the Shahada (declaration of faith) which says:
'There is no god but God' (la-ilaha-ila Allah). Over the
centuries, Sunnis have accused Shi'is of violating this
fundamental doctrine by elevating the station of the Imams
and venerating them to a point where they become partners
with God in the people's hearts. Shi'is, of course, reject
this accusation, stating that it has originated from the
early heresiographers lumping the Twelver Shi'a with the
ghulat or extremists.
  In the dispute between the Mu'tazili and Ash'ari
theological positions that concerned Islam a great deal in
its early days, Shi'is took the Mu'tazili viewpoint. One
consequence of this is that they hold the names and
attributes of God to have no independent or hypostatic
existence apart from the Being and Essence of God. Any
suggestion of these names and attributes being conceived of
as separate is thought to entail polytheism. It would even
be incorrect, for example, to say that God knows by His
Knowledge which is in His Essence. The correct statement is:
God knows by His Knowledge which is His Essence. Similarly
the viewpoint held by Sunni theologians, that the Qur'an is
the uncreated, eternal Word of God, is considered to set up
two eternal entities (God and the Qur'an) which is
polytheism. Thus the Shi'is consider the Qur'an to have been
created in time.

Also related to the Mu'tazili position adopted by Shi'ism is
the assertion that God has no physical form and that such
Qur'anic verses as seem to imply that the believer shall
achieve a beatific vision of God should be understood
metaphorically and not literally as should those verses that
appear to attribute to God physical organs such as a face or
hands, etc.

More philosophically-minded Shi'i writers have expanded the
concept of tawhid to include such concepts as the unity of
the heart and mind and the integration of the individual in
society. This sort of


interpretation of tawhid is particularly prominent in the
writings of 'Ali Shari'ati (see pp. 258-9).

2. Nabuwwa (Prophethood)

Each prophet is an intermediary between God and man. The
mission of the prophet is to bring God's revelation in its
pure form to man. This revelation, the word of God, is in
the form of teachings and laws to guide mankind. In
addition, the prophet also leads mankind and interprets the
word of God. In order to carry out his mission, God bestows
sinlessness or infallibility upon the prophet and thus the
prophet is also the perfect model of the teaching that he
  Throughout the ages God has sent many prophets to mankind
in different parts of the world. According to the Traditions
these have numbered 124,000 or 144,000. Certain of the more
important prophets are called Ulu al-'azm, prophets endowed
with constancy. These are those prophets that brought a book
and a new religious law and in the Qur'an they are also
called rusul, apostles (from God). Among those recognised to
be such prophets are Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, until in
the succession of the prophets, Muhammad is reached.
  Muhammad is not considered to be just a prophet for the
Arabs or for the limited area in which he lived, but a
prophet with teachings from God for the whole world.

3. Ma'ad (the Resurrection)

In the Qur'an there are numerous verses about the Day of
Resurrection and the Day of Judgement. Indeed, most of those
suras revealed during the Meccan period of the Prophet's
life have a large eschatalogical content. The occurrence of
the resurrection is considered a logical necessity of divine
justice, since only with the resurrection can each man's
full reward and punishment be given.

4. Imama (The Imamate)

This subject, which is distinctive to Shi'ism as compared to
Sunnism, is fully discussed in Chapter 7.

5. 'Adl (Divine Justice)

It may, at first sight, seem strange that just one of God's
attributes, His justice, has been picked out by Shi'is as
one of the fundamental elements of their faith. But in fact
this is another historical remnant of the Mu'tazili-Ash'ari
debate in the period when Shi'i doctrine was being


crystallised in the 4th-5th/10th-11th centuries. The
Mu'tazili position, which was eventually adopted by Shi'is,
stressed the individual's own responsibility for his own
action and God's subsequent judgement of these actions
according to His justice. Ash'arism, which was adopted by
many of the Sunnis, stressed much more that God created
man's acts and thus there is little room for a man's own
volition in this doctrine. It was because of the fierce
debate that raged at this time that the Mu'tazili concept of
divine justice became enshrined as one of the fundamental
principles of Shi'ism.

Ritual Practice ('Ibadat)

Ritual practices are traditionally divided into eight
elements. One factor that has been given a great deal of
importance in the works of some Shi'i writers is the
intention (niyya) in the mind of the believer when
performing the ritual. The intention must be pure; the
ritual is performed for the love of God -not for the sake of
social standing or even the reward of paradise. In the
following sections, the various ritual practices will not be
described in detail as this would take a great deal of space
but rather the differences from Sunni practice will be
briefly described:

1. Obligatory Prayer (Salat or Namaz)

The word salat, or in Persian namaz, has been translated as
obligatory prayer to distinguish it from other forms of
prayer which are dealt with later in this chapter. The
obligatory prayers are to be said five times a day by all
Muslims; sunrise, noon, afternoon, evening and night.
However Shi'is consider it permissible to run together the
noon and afternoon and the evening and night prayers so that
the prayers are only said on three separate occasions during
the day. The Prophet is said to have considered this an
allowable practice and there is some support for this view
even in the Sunni collections of hadith.[6]
  The call to prayer (adhan) has three slight differences
in Shi'ism as compared to Sunnism. The phrase 'Come to the
best of actions' is added. It is considered that this phrase
was in the original adhan but was omitted on the orders of
the Caliph 'Umar. 'Umar is also considered to have added the
phrase 'Prayer is better than sleep' to the dawn adhan and
so this is omitted by Shi'is. The addition of the phrase 'I
bear witness that 'Ali is the Wali Allah' (literally: the
friend of God, but here meaning the guardian of the religion
of God) after the declaration that Muhammad is the Apostle
of God is considered to be commendable but not obligatory.

Preparatory to the prayers themselves are the ablutions
(wudu). Here


again there are minor differences between Sunni and Shi'i
practice. In Shi'ism, for example, the water is allow,ed to
run from the elbow to the palm, while Sunnism decrees the
opposite direction.
  The content of the obligatory prayer itself contains no
more variations from the Sunni formula than the variation
among the four Sunni schools themselves. The only
distinctively Shi'i feature is the insistence that the
forehead be placed on dust or the earth (and preferably a
block of baked mud from the earth of Karbala) during the
prostration phase of the prayers, whereas the Sunnis place
their foreheads directly onto their prayer-mats.

2. Fasting (Siyam, Sawm)

During the whole of the month of Ramadan, food, drink,
smoking and sexual intercourse are forbidden from dawn to
sunset. The physical abstentions are only symbolic of an
inner purification of the character. The fast of the Shi'is
is a little longer than the Sunni fast in that they wait
until the sun has completely set.

3. Alms (Zakat)

The alms or poor-rate is levied on crops, livestock, gold,
silver and cash. It is not payable by anyone whose debts
exceed his assets. The formula for deriving how much is
levied is complicated in the case of livestock and grain.
With respect to gold, silver and cash, it is approximately
two and one half percent once a minimum threshold of assets
is exceeded.
  This tax is, according to the text of the Qur'an (9:60),
intended to assist the poor and needy, those in debt and
travellers. It is also used for ransoming captives of war
and the expenses of collecting and administering the tax.
  The principal difference between Shi'ism and Sunnism is
that whereas in Sunnism this tax is paid to the state which
is responsible for supervising its disbursement according to
the provisions of the Qur'an, in Shi'ism it is paid by the
believers to their marja' at-taqlid for disbursement (see
pp. 206-7).

4. The One-Fifth Tax (Khums)

Also in the Qur'an (8:41) is a provision,for an annual tax
of one-fifth. This is levied by Shi'is on net income (after
paying all expenses), net increase in land holdings, stored
gold, silver and jewellery, mined products, items taken from
the sea and war booty. This tax is to be spent on the
Prophet, his family, orphans, the needy and travellers.


  Among Shi'is, half of the khums (i.e. a one-tenth tax or a
tithe) is considered to be the share of the Imam (sahm al-Imam),
being the Imam's inheritance from the Prophet. This
share of the Imam is paid by the believers to their marja '
at-taqlid in his capacity as the representative (na'ib al-'amm)
of the Imam.

5. Pilgrimage (Hajj)

Once in a lifetime, pilgrimage to Mecca is enjoined for
those who can afford it. There is an extensive ritual for
the performance of the pilgrimage covering every aspect of
the five key days, the sixth to the tenth days of the month
of Dhu'l-Hijja. The details of this are much the same for
Sunnis and Shi'is. Shi'is are highly recommended to complete
their pilgrimage by travelling to Medina and visiting the
tomb of the Prophet and of Fatima and the Second, Fourth,
Fifth and Sixth Imams at al-Baqi' cemetery.

6. Religious War (Jihad)

Participation in the jihad is obligatory for all able-bodied
male Muslims. However, since it is only the Imam who can
call for offensive jihad against the non-Muslim world, this
obligation has effectively lapsed with the occultation of
the Imam though defensive jihad is still obligatory.
However, jihad in its metaphorical meaning, the war against
one's own corrupt desires and inclinations, is an ever-
present battle. Some forms of missionary endeavour in the
non-Muslim world have also been referred to as jihad.

7. Enjoining to Do Good (Amr bi'l-Ma'ruf)

This is an injunction that every Muslim should lead a
virtuous life perform all the religious obligations and act
in accordance with the religious law (Shari'a). In addition,
he should enjoin all other Muslims to do the same (see
Qur'an 16:125).

8. Exhortation to Desist from Evil (Nahy 'an al-Munkar)

It is obligatory for every Muslim to avoid all vices and
other evil actions prohibited in religious law. It is also
obligatory to enjoin this on others and to act to prevent
evil being committed (see Qur'an 3:103, 109).

These last two injunctions have become the focus of a great
deal of debate in the writings of 'Ali Shari'ati and in
post-revolutionary Iran.


Doctrines and Practices Specific to Shi'ism

In the field of doctrines, Shi'is have placed doctrines
specific to themselves in parallel with those accepted by
  The field of jurisprudence may be divided into ritual
observances ('ibadat) and social transactions (mu'amalat).
As far as the former are concerned, Shi'ism does not differ
much from the four schools of Sunnism. But with respect to
social transactions (e. g. marriage, inheritance, etc.)
there are more marked divergences. Shi'is have, however,
tended to highlight their differences from Sunnis, even in
the field of ritual observances, by emphasising parallel
rituals that are specific to Shi'ism.

1. Shi'i Doctrines

In the matter of doctrines, as has already,been
demonstrated, Shi'is place along side the unity of God,
God's justice which they define in such a way as to set it
apart from the same Sunni concept. Parallel to the doctrine
of prophethood, Shi'is place the Imamate, while even with
such a powerful concept as the Day of Resurrection, Shi'is
displace its importance by emphasising the Return of the
Twelfth Imam and focusing the attention of the believers on
this event (see Chapter 8).

2. Prayers

The Friday prayer has never held the same importance among
Shi'is as it has among Sunnis. With the Occultation of the
Twelfth Imam who is the true leader of the Friday prayer,
the significance of this observance is diminished. In most
Shi'i centres, although the Friday prayer is performed, it
does not attract the large numbers seen in other Muslim
communities. But this situation has ›hanged in Iran since
the 1979 Revolution (see p. 298).
  In addition to the obligatory prayerS, Shi'is have a large
number of prayers, revealed by the Imams, which are for use
either on special occasions such as the Ramadan fast or are
purely devotional in nature. This type of prayer is known as
du'a or munajat.

3. Visiting Shi'i Shrines (Ziyarat)

The pilgrimage to Mecca was, until reCent times, beyond the
means of the majority of Shi'is resident in Iran and Iraq.
It was an expensive and often hazardous journey. Therefore,
the custom of visiting the shrines of the Imams was built up
as an alternative parallel activity given an importance
which in the eyes of the ordinary believer often appeared to


exceed that of the pilgrimage to Mecca. Visiting the Shrines
of 'Ali at Najaf, Husayn at Karbala, the Seventh and Ninth
Imams at Kazimayn, of Imam Rida at Mashhad and of Fatima
Ma'suma, the sister of the Imam Rida, at Qumm, became an
important activity in Shi'i religious life and one in which
comparatively humble persons could participate. In the 19th
century (and to a lesser extent among the older generation
today), it became customary to designate persons who had
visited the Shrines at Karbala and Mashhad by such prefixed
titles as Karbila'i and Mashhadi, in parallel to the
designation of Haul given to those who had performed the
pilgrimage to Mecca (the Hajj). The conferring of these
designations appears to vary from area to area depending on
the distance to the shrines. Among the Shi'is of southern
Iraq, for example, there is no particular designation for
visiting the shrines at nearby Karbala and Najaf but a visit
to distant Mashhad confers upon the pilgrim the designation
Za'ir (visitor). Similarly, in Khurasan and Afghanistan,
visiting Mashhad does not confer a title, but the visitor to
Karbala becomes Karbila'i.
  Elaborate rituals were drawn up for the performance of the
visitation of the shrines, again in parallel to the ritual
of the pilgrimage to Mecca. Part of this ritual includes
recitation of the prayer of visitation (Ziyarat-Nama).
Popular manuals, in particular those written by Muhammad
Baqir Majlisi, helped to spread this practice among the

Visiting the shrines of minor Shi'i saints and, in
particular, the descendants of the Imams, also became an
important activity with each shrine having its own prayer of
visitation. These shrines (called Imamzadas) are to be found
in large numbers in Iran, especially in the areas around
Qumm, Tehran, Kashan and Mazandaran which have been Shi'i
from the earliest times and therefore tended to be a refuge
for 'Alids who were often being persecuted in other parts of
the Muslim world. Visiting these minor shrines has become an
activity for a day out.

4. Temporary Marriage (Mut'a)

Marriage for a fixed term and usually for a pre-determined
financial arrangement is considered allowable by Shi'is. The
marriage may be for any length of time, even for a matter of
hours. There is also a period of time after the marriage
during which the woman is not supposed to marry again,
although there are ways of getting around this latter law.
Sunnis do not hold temporary marriage to be allowable and
indeed consider it to be mere prostitution but Shi'is
maintain it was a practice that was allowed during the
Prophet's lifetime and only later prohibited by the second
Caliph, 'Umar. There are indeed some hadith in the Sunni
literature that tend to confirm this.[7] In Persian, this
practice is called sigha


and it is also sometimes called nikah al-muwaqqat (temporary
marriage). Shi'is consider that the Qur'an refers to this
practice (see Qur'an 4:24).

5. Religious Dissimulation (Taqiyya)

Religious dissimulation while maintaining mental reservation
is considered lawful in Shi'ism in situations where there is
overwhelming danger of loss of life or property and where no
danger to religion would occur thereby. The following
Qur'anic verse (16:106) is held to justify this belief:
'Whoever disbelieves in God after believing--except for
those who are compelled while their hearts are firm in
faith--and then finds ease in his disbelief, upon him will
be the wrath of God.' (The section of this verse in italics
is held to refer to taqiyya.) Living as a minority among a
frequently-hostile Sunni majority, the condition of most
Shi'is until the rise of the Safavid dynasty, made such a
doctrine important to Shi'is.

6. Divorce (Talaq)

In general terms, divorce is made more difficult under Shi'i
law than under Sunni. Only the stricter divorce according to
the Sunna (talaq as-sunna) and not the easier innovated
divorce (talaq al-bida') is allowed. As distinct from the
Sunni schools, Shi'i law holds that the statement of the
divorce formula must be made explicitly, in the presence of
two witnesses and is not allowable if made in the state of
intoxication or rage. Both Shi'is and Sunnis agree that if a
man divorces his wife three times, he cannot marry her again
unless she is first married to another. Shi'is, however, do
not allow the three statements of divorce to be made on one

7. Inheritance

Under Sunni law, where there are males and females equally
close in kinship to the deceased, then the inheritance
passes to the male in preference to the female. In Shi'i
law, however. the presence of male heirs does not exclude
the female, although the share of the male is, in accordance
with a Qur'anic rule, double that of the female.
  The more accommodating attitude to women expressed in
Shi'i law over divorce and inheritance has been attributed
to the important position held by Fatima among Shi'is.
Fatima's position is crucial for the line of Imams after
'Ali since it is through her that they inherit their link
with the Prophet. But for a further analysis of why Shi'i
law differs from Sunni law, see p. 184.

Chapter 10


    Shi'i Jurisprudence and the Religious Hierarchy

Shi'i Islam can be said to have three facets in its
religious expression: the popular religion of the masses,
the mystical religion of the Sufis and the scholarly
legalistic religion of the clerical classes (the ulama). Of
these three, it is undoubtedly the last which has dominated
the others in terms of the respect and influence it enjoys.
Although there are other schools of jurisprudence in Shi'i
Islam (see Chapter 12), it is the Usuli School which
predominates and which will be considered in this chapter.
  When Twelver Shi'i Islam first emerged as a distinct
entity separate from other Shi'i groups at the turn of the
2nd-3rd Islamic centuries (8th/9th centuries AD), it was
principally the ulama who took the lead in defining its
doctrines and evolving its polemics. In Sunni Islam the
Caliph was looked upon as the symbolic head of the community
even when he had ceased to exercise any political power. But
in Shi'i Islam, during the Occultation of the Imam, the
Shi'is tended to look to the most learned of their ulama,
such figures as Shaykh al-Mufid and Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa, as the
heads of the community.

In most of its legal and juristic forms and practices,
Twelver Shi'ism was two centuries or more behind Sunni Islam
and tended to follow the latter very closely. Thus the
canonical books of Traditions (hadith) were written towards
the end of the 4th/10th and during the 5th/11th centuries by
Kulayni, ibn Babuya and Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa (see p. 174) and it
was not until the 8th/14th century that 'Allama al-Hilli
systematised the methods for organising and evaluating the
hadith literature.

It used to be stated that Shi'i Islam came to follow Sunni
Islam so closely in legal matters that its jurisprudence
does not differ more from the four schools of Sunni
jurisprudence than they differ among themselves. But a
recent writer has postulated that, although they use the
same methods and terminology, Sunni and Shi'i law are
fundamentally different in that Sunni law is based on the
assumption that the Islamic revelation only modified the
existing customary tribal law while Shi'i law assumes that
Islam represents a fundamental break and a new legal system
based on the 'nuclear family'.[1]


The Development of the Principles of Jurisprudence (Usul al-

The mainstream of Twelver Shi'i Islam is called the Usuli
School because it adheres to certain principles (usul) of
jurisprudence (see pp. 223-4). Historically, it would appear
that among the earliest Shi'i ulama, such as Kulayni and ibn
Babuya, the most important activity was transmission of
hadith. Thus the Traditions related by these scholars often
praised the transmitters of hadith (see the Maqbula of ibn
Hanzala and other Traditions cited in the section 'The
Theoretical Basis to the Ulama's Authority' later in this
chapter). The proud boast of the Shi'a at this time was
that whilst Sunni law had to rely on such fallible methods
as qiyas (analogical reasoning) and ijtihad (innovative
exegesis using independent judgement), Shi'is were able to
obtain knowledge directly from the Traditions of the Imams.
  However, as time progressed and the complexities of life
threw up problems that could not be solved in such a simple
manner, the discipline of fiqh or jurisprudence grew up to
cover that part of the Shari'a (religious law) for which
there were no certain answers. Simultaneously as the
Mu'tazilite School began to influence Shi'ism during the
lifetime of Shaykh al-Mufid and his successors and the use
of reason became increasingly important in the development
of theology, so this had an effect in the sphere of
jurisprudence. The use of deductive reasoning based on the
Qur'an and the Traditions became increasingly important.
Eventually Shi'i jurisprudence came to be based on four
pillars; the Qur'an, the hadith, ijma' (consensus) and 'aql
(reasoning or intelligence).
  As for the hadith, initially the Shi'is collected all
Traditions uncritically. It was 'Allama al-Hilli who
established the methodology and terminology of the critical
study of the hadith literature (diraya) closely modelled on
the Sunni methods. It is interesting to note that the two
Shi'i scholars who made the greatest contribution to
starting the systematic study of hadith in Shi'ism, 'Allama
al-Hilli and Shahid ath-Thani, were also almost the only two
ulama of this period who are specifically recorded as having
studied, under Sunni as well as Shi'i teachers.[2] Further
confirmation that there was no real analytical study of the
hadith in Shi'ism prior to this time comes from the
statement that Shaykh 'Ali ibn Sulayman al-Bahrani (d.
1064/1653), a contemporary of Shahid ath-Thani, was the
first to introduce the study of the hadith in Bahrain.[3]

Having demonstrated the unreliability and uncertainty of
much of the hadith, 4 'Allama al-Hilli reorganised Shi'i
jurisprudence so as to make reasoning ('aql) its central
feature. Thus the Shi'i jurist uses 'aql, usually supported
by the other three sources of law (the Qur'an, the Hadith

consensus), to arrive at legal decisions and this process is
called ijtihad. Thus ijtihad may be defined as the process
of arriving at judgements on points of religious law using
reason and the principles of jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh).
The aim of ijtihad may be thought of as uncovering (through
knowing transmitted sources as well as through rational
processes) knowledge of what the Imams would have decided in
any particular legal case. Although theoretically the
process of ijtihad may appear to give mujtahids a great deal
of latitude for innovative thinking, in practice the
concurrent attitude of ihtiyat (prudence and caution, lest
one stray from the path of the Imams) has severely limited
any initiatives outside traditional avenues of thought and
  The question of differences of opinion (ikhtilaf) among
the ulama poses something of a problem since it would
obviously be difficult for the ulama to be impugning the
views of each other and still consider themselves to be
collectively the Na'ib al-'Amm (see next section of this
chapter) of the Hidden Imam and the purveyors of the Imams'
traditions. This difficulty was overcome by arguing that if
the truth lay in only one of two opposing views and this
could not be discerned through the techniques of usul al-
fiqh, then it would be obligatory for the Hidden Imam to
manifest himself and give a decision. If he does not
manifest himself, the truth must lie with both parties and,
indeed, as long as the Hidden Imam remains in occultation,
the Shi'i community can be sure it has produced no ruling
that is in error.
  In addition, any decision agreed upon by a consensus
(ijma') of the whole community must include the opinion of
the Hidden Imam and thus also be correct. Thus for any major
point of law or doctrine, individual Shi'i mujtahids come to
various differing opinions (ikhtilaf) through use of
ijtihad. From considering these varying opinions, the
community finally arrives at a consensus (ijma') which is
the truth.
  Although much of the theoretical basis of Shi'i
jurisprudence had been laid by such figures as 'Allama al-
Hilli, Shahid al-Awwal and Shahid ath-Thani in the 14th-16th
centuries AD there was then a hiatus while the Usuli-Akhbari
controversy was debated. It was not until Bihbahani, at the
end of the 18th century, completed the Usuli victory that
much of this theory was put into practice. It was from this
time on that the term mujtahid, one who exercises ijtihad,
became synonymous with the term faqih, one who is an expert
in jurisprudence, and the importance of the Shari'a
(religious) courts began to increase greatly at the expense
of the Urfi (common law) courts. Indeed, Bihbahani has been
named in some sources as the founder (mu'assis) of the Usuli

The next major development in the principles of
jurisprudence was brought about by Shaykh Murtada Ansari and
this also represents the formulation of this branch of the
religious sciences that remains current


to the present day. Shaykh Murtada Ansari's most important
contribution was in deriving a set of principles to be used
in formulating decisions in cases where there was doubt.
Shaykh Murtada Ansari and his successors who developed this
school of law divided legal decisions into four categories:
a. Certainty (qat'). This represents cases where clear
decisions can be obtained unambiguously from the Qur'an or
reliable Traditions and there is no need to involve
reasoning (although, since the laws embodied in the Qur'an
and reliable hadith are derivable from reason, this method
could be used).

b. Valid Conjecture (zann). This represents cases where the
probability of correctness can be created by using certain
rational principles to arrive at individual binding norms.

c. Doubt (shakk). This refers to cases where there is no
guidance obtainable from the sources and nothing to indicate
the probability of what is the correct answer. It is in
relation to these cases that Shaykh Murtada Ansari
formulated four guiding principles which he called usul al-
'amaliyya (practical principles); most of Shaykh Murtada's
important work ar-Rasa'il is taken up with expounding these.
They consist of: al-bara-'a (allowing the maximum possible
freedom of action); at-takhyir (freedom to select the
opinions of other jurists or even other schools of law if
these seem more suitable); al-istishab (the continuation of
any state of affairs in existence or legal decisions already
accepted unless the contrary can be proved); and al-ihtiyat
(prudent caution whenever in doubt).

d. Erroneous Conjecture (wahm). This refers to decisions
where there is a probability of error; such decisions are of
no legal standing.
  The effect of the development instituted by Shaykh Murtada
al-Ansari was far-reaching. Whereas previously the mujtahids
had restricted themselves to ruling on points where there
was the probability or certainty of being in accordance with
the guidance of the Imams, the rules developed by Ansari
allowed them to extend the area of their jurisdiction to any
matter where there was even a possibility of being in
accordance with the Imam's guidance. This effectively meant
that they could issue edicts on virtually any subject.
Ansari's own strict exercise of ihtiyat (prudent caution)
severely restricted this freedom but other mujtahids allowed
themselves a freer hand.

Thus, in summary, although God is, of course, the ultimate
source of law, he has created reason ('aql) as the means of
divining the law. The authority of the Shari'a derives from
its consistency with 'aql. Only decisions that are in
conformity with 'aql, as derived through the process of
ijtihad, are legally valid. Once an individual mujtahid has
arrived at a conclusion, he must act according to his own
conviction even if other


mujtahids have reached different conclusions about the same
problem. Therefore, originally it was considered
theoretically not permissible for one mujtahid to follow the
opinions of another whether living or dead (i.e. taqlid
between mujtahids was not permissible). But during the 18th
and 19th centuries it became increasingly common for
mujtahids to defer to the decision of whomever was
considered the most knowledgeable among them and so the
concept of the marja' at-taqlid evolved.
  It should be kept in mind, however, that despite very
considerable differences in the principles of jurisprudence
between Shi'ism and all four of the Sunni schools of law,
there are fewer differences in the practical application of
jurisprudence to ritual observances and social transactions.

Each age has had its own important works on fiqh
(jurisprudence) and usul al-fiqh (principles of
jurisprudence). The following is a list of a selection of
the most important works from each period of history:

Period              Fiqh (jurisprudence)     Usul al-Fiqh
(principles of jurisprudence

Buyid and      Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa,        Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa,
'Uddat al-Usul
and Seljuq     an-Nihaya (The                (The Instrument
of Usul)

Mongol    Muhaqqiq al-Hilli,       'Allama al-Hilli, Tahdhib
and       Shara'i al-Islam (The    (The Rectification of
Timurid        Laws of Islam);
               Shahid al-Awwal,
               al-Lum'a ad-Dimashqiyya
               (The Gleam from Damascus)

Safavid   Shahid ath-Thani              Shaykh Hasan
               Rawdat al-Bahiyya (The   al-Ma'alim fi'l Usul
(The Guide-
               Glorious Paradise);           posts on Usul)
               Mahaqqiq al-Karaki,
               Jami' al-Maqasid (The
               Compilation of
               Intentions); Shaykh Bahá'í,
               al-Jami' al-'Abbasi (The
                    Compilation of [Shah] Abbas)

Qajar          Shaykh Muhammad          Mirza-yi Qummi
Qawanun al-
               Hasan an-Najafi,         Usul (Rules of
Usul); Shaykh
               Jawahir al-Kalam (The    Murtada al-Ansari,


               Jewels of Utterance);    (The Epistles);
               Shaykh Murtada al-       Khurasani, al-Kifaya
fi'l Usul
               Ansari, al-Makasib            (The
Sufficiency of Usul)

Twentieth      Sayyid Muhammad          Shaykh Muhammad
Century        Kazim Yazdi,             Na'ini, Taqirat (The
               'Urwa al-Wuthqa          Stipulations);
Ayatu'llah Khu'i,
               (The Firmest Handle)     Ajwad at-Taqrirat
(The Best of

The Evolution of the Role of the Ulama

Initially during the Buyid period it was considered by the
Twelver ulama that since the Imam had gone into occultation
and there was no longer present his special representative
(Na'ib al-Khass), the four Babs during the Lesser
Occultation (see p. 164), all the functions invested in the
Imam had lapsed (saqit). The principal functions of the Imam
were considered to be:

a. Leading the Holy War (jihad)
b. Division of the booty (qismat al-fay)
c. Leading the Friday Prayer (salat al jum'a)
d. Putting judicial decisions into effect (tanfidh al-ahkam)
e. Imposing legal penalties (iqamat al-hudud)
f. Receiving the religious taxes of zakat and khums.
  This doctrine of lapse of the functions of the occulted
Imam was almost 
certainly very convenient politically at first, since it
established the Twelvers as being non-revolutionary in sharp
contrast with the Isma'ilis who, with their Imam-Caliph
present in Cairo and their active propaganda, were
threatening to destabilise and overthrow the Buyids. Indeed,
this consideration may have been one of the principal
reasons for the evolution of the doctrine of Ghayba, the
Occultation of the Twelfth Imam.[5]
  However, it soon became apparent that the situation caused
by the concept of the lapse of functions of the Hidden Imam
was extremely impractical and left the Twelver community at
a great disadvantage with no leadership, no organisation and
no financial structure. Therefore, as early as the 5th/11th
century, Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa was reinterpreting the doctrine so
as to allow delegation of the Imam's judicial authority to
those who had studied fiqh (jurisprudence, these are called
the fuqaha), although he implies in his writings that this
function should only be undertaken by the ulama if there is
no-one else to do it (i.e. that it was a somewhat
distasteful task). Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa considered the ulama as
the best people to act as agents of the donor in
distributing the religious


taxes since they knew to whom it should be distributed; but
nevertheless individuals were free to do this themselves if
they wished. He allowed the fuqaha to organise the Friday
prayers in the absence of the Imam or his special
representative.6 This last point remained controversial with
such figures as 'Alamu'l-Huda, ibn Idris and 'Allama al-
Hilli disagreeing.
  By the 7th/13th century, Muhaqqiq al-Hilli (d. 676/1277)
was able to advance these concepts very considerably. He
extended the judicial role of the ulama to iqamat al-hudud
(the imposition of penalties, i. e. by the ulama themselves
rather than the temporal authorities). In his writings it
is possible to see the evolution in his thinking whereby the
fuqaha-develop from being deputies of the donor for the
distribution of religious taxes in his early writings to
being the deputies of the Hidden Imam for the collection and
distribution of the taxes in his later works.[7]
  Muhaqqiq al-Karaki (d. 940/1533) was the first to suggest,
arguing from the hadith of 'Umar ibn Hanzala (see below),
that the ulama were the Na'ib al-'Amm (general
representative--as distinct from the four Babs who were each
the Na'ib al-Khass, the special representative) of the
Hidden Imam. But he restricted his application of this
argument to the assumption of the duty of leading Friday
  It was Shahid ath-Thani (d. 966/1558) who took the concept
of Na'ib al-'Amm to its logical conclusion in the religious
sphere and applied it to all of the religious functions and
prerogatives of the Hidden Imam. Thus the judicial authority
of the ulama now became a direct reflection of the authority
of the Imam himself. It was now obligatory to pay the
religious taxes directly to the ulama as the trustees of the
Imam for distribution, and the donor who distributed these
himself was considered to obtain no reward. Furthermore,
Shahid ath-Thani extended the range of those eligible to
receive money from the zakat (poor tax) to include the
tullab (religious students) and the ulama themselves, who
thus became the recipients of the money as trustees and were
also able to expend the money on themselves and their circle
of students. Even in the field of defensive jihad (defending
the realms of Islam against attack by an infidel), Shahid
ath-Thani identified a role for the ulama. Only in the field
of offensive jihad did he allow that the role of Hidden Imam
had lapsed pending his return.[9]
  Thus up to the time of Shahid ath-Thani, the ulama were
gradually evolving the theoretical basis of their authority.
But the Safavids were too strong and maintained too close a
control over the ulama to enable them to put much of this
into practice. It was left to the Qajar period, after the
victory of the Usulis over the Akhbaris (see p. 127), before
the ulama were able to bring most of these theoretical
functions into practice. The end of the Safavid dynasty
brought about the weakening of the


state system of courts with government-appointed judges
(qadis) and the mujtahids were able to replace these with
Shari'a courts of their own to which people came in
increasing numbers, thus enabling the ulama to assert their
judicial authority.
  During the first Russo-Iranian War (1804-13), Fath 'Ali
Shah's son and heir, 'Abbas Mirza, who was conducting the
campaign, turned to the ulama and obtained from Shaykh
Ja'far Kashifu'l-Ghita (d. 1227/1812) and other eminent
clerics in Najaf and Isfahan a declaration of jihad against
the Russians, thus implicitly recognising their authority to
issue such a declaration--one of the functions of the Hidden
Imam. Furthermore, Kashifu'l-Ghita used the opportunity to
extract from the state acknowledgement of the ulama's right
to collect the religious tax of khums.[10]
  During the same period, another eminent mujtahid, Sayyid
Muhammad Baqir Shafti (d. 1260/1844), was asserting the
right of carrying out the penalties imposed in his religious
court (iqamat al-hudud). He is said to have executed some
seventy persons. "
  Thus, one by one, the lapsed functions of the Hidden Imam
were being taken over by the ulama. However, there was as
yet no claim by the ulama to political authority.

In summary, it may be said that over some nine centuries, by
a process of exegesis and innovative interpretation, the
ulama were able to effect a very considerable theoretical
consolidation of their authority but in such small stages as
to make the process scarcely discernible to each generation
and thus to give the impression of there having occurred no
change at all. This is not meant to imply, however, that
this was a conscious process among the ulama. They were
merely responding to social and economic pressure and
particularly the advent of the Shi'i Safavid and Qajar
states, in such a manner as to maximise both the benefit to
themselves and the consolidation of their authority, while
at the same time justifying and explaining the social and
political realities around them.

The Ulama's Attitude Towards Political Authority

Sunni Islam developed its constitutional theory in the
presence of a Sunni state. Thus the political sphere was
incorporated into the doctrine of the religious sphere and
religion became one of the main supports of the state.
Obedience to the ruler became a religious obligation even if
the ruler were unjust, for that was preferable to anarchy.
Conversely the judgement of one of the ulama appointed as
judge (qadi) would be considered competent only because of
his appointment by the government and regardless of his
ability, knowledge or sense of justice.


  The development of Shi'i Islam, on the other hand, took
place for much of the time with the Shi'is a persecuted
minority in a Sunni state. Thus the Shi'is, during their
early period, had no need of someone like Mawardi, who in
Sunnism integrated the political sphere into the religious
  One of the key statements in the Qur'an around which much
of the exegesis on this issue has revolved is the verse: 'O
believers! Obey God and obey the Apostle and those who have
been given authority [ula al-amr] among you' (Qur'an 4:59).
For Sunnis, ula al-amr (those who have been given authority)
are the rulers (Caliphs and kings) but for Shi'is this
expression refers to the Imams.
  All political authority for Shi'is is theoretically vested
in the Imam. However, the Imam of the age is occulted and
thus his political authority has lapsed. This tendency to
depoliticise the Imamate, which was important for the Shi'is
in the 4th/10th century, was reinforced during the Ilkhanid
and Timurid period when, under the influence of Isma'ili and
Sufi thought, the Imam became seen more in terms of a
religious saviour, interceding in Heaven with God for men,
rather than as a veiled earthly figure. Thus the concept of
the Imamate became removed from consideration in the sphere
of political authority and became a theological concept. As
a result of this, Shi'i Islam did not at this stage evolve
any real political theory and the ulama came to regard
politics as outside their realm of concern.
  Since legitimacy could not be given nor withheld from any
government, temporal authorities came to rely on the pre-
Islamic Sassanian Iranian concept of kingship as the basis
of their authority and the title 'Shadow of God on Earth'
which was adopted by the kings is an expression of that.
  The Shi'is saw themselves as an 'elect' (al-khassa) living
among the generality (al-'amma) of the Muslims. The Sunnis
were and still are acknowledged as Muslims but only Twelver
Shi'ism confers true belief (Iman) and makes one a true
believer (mu'min). For Shi'is, the sacred community
consisted of the believers with the ulama at their head
guiding and directing their actions. All political,
administrative and economic matters not directly concerned
with the Shari'a and therefore not under the control of the
ulama, were outside the concern of the sacred community.
  Thus, whereas Sunnis lived their lives in a system where
political affairs were integrated into the sacred community,
Shi'is lived simultaneously in two different systems, the
sacred community and the profane community. Since the ulama
and the political leaders of the community were in fact
rivals for the leadership of the people, this not
infrequently meant that Shi'is were living in two
communities between


which there was rivalry and tension.
  For the ulama there were three possible ways of relating
to the state. All three are, of course, justified by their
proponents through exegesis from the Qur'an and hadith:
1. Political Co-operation. The ulama can co-operate with the
state and provide it with recognition. They can accept
appointment to official positions in the state. This can be
justified by the contention that the state is preventing
anarchy and only where there is order can the provisions of
the Shari'a be fully implemented. It is permissible to co-
operate with a state that is enforcing the Shi'i Shari'a and
the ruler of which is just. Cooperation with a non-Shi'i or
unjust government is only permissible under compulsion on
the pain of death or grave loss when the provisions of
taqiyya (religious dissimulation, see p. 183) come into
  Theoretically, even when they accept a state's appointment
(as judge or some other post), this is not the sole source
of the Shi'i ulama's authority. Their authority derives also
by virtue of the concept of their being the Na'ib al-'Amm
(general representative) of the Hidden Imam.
  Many of the leading ulama of the Safavid period took this
view, but, in later periods, ulama who took posts identified
with the government were looked upon with some disdain by
their colleagues.
2. Political Activism. The ulama can actively involve
themselves in politics, seeking to bring the temporal
authorities into line with the Shari'a. Thus if the
government complies with them they dominate it (as happened
during parts of the Safavid period and also in present-day
Iran). Or else they oppose the government. This attitude can
be justified since all government is usurping (ja'ir) the
authority of the Hidden Imam and the ulama as the Na'ib al-
'Amm of the Hidden Imam and as experts in the Shari'a are
the best persons to guide the government. Western scholars
have tended to make a great deal out of this political
option (even to the extent of disregarding the others), and
it cannot be denied that there have been a few dramatic
occasions, such as the agitation against the Tobacco Regie
in 1891-2, the!Constitutional movement in 1905-9 and the
1979 Revolution in Iran, when this option has been taken up
by the majority of the ulama with dramatic political effect.
But this should not obscure the fact that this has not been
the attitude of the majority of the ulama for most of the
time. For example, Mirza Muhammad Hasan, Mirza-yi Shirazi,
the foremost Shi'i mujtahid of the late 19th century, spent
most of his life politically aloof. However, for a very
short period of time he chose to take a political initiative
and opposed the state over the question of the Tobacco
3. Political Aloofness. The ulama can remain totally aloof
from all political matters. This has always traditionally
been the attitude of the majority of the ulama. Indeed, it
has usually been considered that only


ulama who have remained aloof from all other activity and
concentrated on furthering the Shari'a can rise to the
highest ranks (this did not apply, however, during Safavid
times nor does it in present-day Iran).
  The writings of Shi'i ulama through the ages have shown
elements of all three of these attitudes and thus it cannot
be said that any coherent Shi'i theory of political
legitimacy or any unified stance by the ulama towards the
state has existed. Even individual ulama have changed their
attitude at different periods in their lives according to
circumstances, as the above example of Mirza-yi Shirazi

Up to the time of the Safavids, the question of a political
theory in Shi'i Islam did not arise, for up to that time the
ulama had existed in the milieu of a strongly Sunni state
(or, as in the case of the Buyids, a Shi'i state that made
no concessions to the ulama).

The early Safavid monarchs rested their power base on a
Shi'i claim that was closer to the ideas of the 'extremists'
ghulat) than of Twelver Shi'is. They were venerated as
divine figures by their troops. The late Safavids emphasised
their claimed descent from the Seventh Imam, Musa al-Kazim,
as the source of charismatic religious authority. Although
they gave the ulama a free hand in teaching Twelver
doctrines to the people, they were sufficiently dominant to
inhibit the ulama from trespassing into the field of
political theory. The ulama, however, did come to regard
themselves as guardians of public morals and towards the end
of the Safavid period did not hesitate to speak out if they
felt that the king was straying from the path of the
Shari'a. The Safavid dynasty can thus be seen as a period
which saw a certain degree of separation between church and
state but with the state exercising a degree of authority
over the religious field through its pseudo-religious
charismatic claims and its political control.

The Qajar dynasty claimed no hereditary charisma in the same
way as the Safavids did and so it turned to the ulama for
justification of its rule. The ulama were prepared to grant
this but used the opportunity to consolidate their position
and affirm their independence. For example Shaykh Ja'far
Kashifu'l-Ghita, as already mentioned, gave a fatwa-(legal
decision) declaring jihad on the Russians and authorising
Fath 'Ali Shah to fight them. This gave some derived de jure
legitimacy to the Qajar government.

It was ulama like Mirza Abu'l-Qasim Qummi (d. 1231/1816)
and, more particularly, Sayyid Ja'far Kashfi (d. 1267/18
50), who produced a fully-developed Shi'i political theory
which justified the Qajar dynasty. Sayyid Ja'far considered
that the Imam held both the religious and political
leadership in the community. With the Occultation of the
Twelfth Imam, however, his functions have been divided and
devolve upon two groups who are the Na'ibs (representatives
or vicegerents of


the Hidden Imam: the ulama who are charged with the
religious vicegerency and the rulers who have political
vicegerency. If these two co-operate then the affairs of the
community run smoothly since the ulama cannot apply the
Shari'a unless the ruler establishes order, while the ruler
needs the ulama without whose guidance he will stray towards
injustice and tyranny. "
  Through this means, Sayyid Ja'far not only satisfied the
Qajar dynasty's need for justification but also obtained
from the Qajars their recognition of the ulama's claim. It
was work such as this that created the theoretical framework
which was to remain the norm in Iran until the 1979
Revolution. Within this framework those ulama who wished to
could collaborate with the state and those who wished to
could remain aloof.
  In the period immediately preceding the 1979 Revolution,
groups of ulama can be identified who clearly fall into the
three patterns of response to government delineated above:

i. Ulama who co-operated with the state; this group included
the Imam Jum'a of Tehran, Dr Hasan Imami, 'Allama Vahidi and
ii. The activist ulama who sought to reform the temporal
authorities; this group was represented by Ayatu'llahs
Khumayni, Muntaziri and Mahallati-Shirazi.
iii. Ulama who avoided any interference with political
matters; this group included most of the religiously-
important ulama and especially the maraji' at-taqlid,
Ayatu'llah Burujirdi and his successors, Ayatu'llahs
Shari'atmadari, Gulpaygani and Mar'ashi-Najafi.
  Although the ulama had, since the Safavid and Qajar
periods, claimed to be the Na'ib al-'Amm of the Hidden Imam,
they had refrained from the obvious next step of claiming
the political authority and temporal rule implicit in their
vicegerency. Indeed, Sayyid Ja'far Kashfi and others had
specifically denied the ulama such a role. Initially,
Ayatu'llah Khumayni went along with this view. In his
earlier writings such as the Kashf al-Asrar he attacked the
Shah's government on the grounds of its injustice and
tyranny and because of its secularisation programme. But at
this stage Khumayni's aim was only to exert pressure on the
Shah and government to reform itself. He still allowed the
legitimacy of the temporal authorities provided they acted
justly, which is defined as acting in accordance with the
Shari'a. Khumayni's view, at this time, was that monarchy is
a divine privilege entrusted ta the king by the people. Thus
it is necessary for every king to obtain his mandate from
the people.

In 1963 Khumayni was exiled following his opposition to the
Shah's reforms. After this, in his addresses to the
religious students at Najaf, he began to take a new line.
His addresses, were published in 1971 in a book entitled
Hukumat-i Islami (Islamic Government). In this book


Khumayni argues that Islam is not just an ethical religion
but has all the laws and principles necessary for government
and social administration. Therefore, true Islamic
government is a constitutional government with the Qur'an
and the Traditions as its constitution. Although there is no
specific provision in the Qur'an or the Traditions for
designating a ruler during the Occultation, social order is
necessary for the Shari'a to be enforced. The Islamic ruler
needs to be just (which, as mentioned above, means acting in
accordance with the Shari'a) and therefore needs to have an
extensive knowledge of the Shari'a in order that his actions
may be determined by it. These conditions are fulfilled only
by the faqih, the expert in Islamic jurisprudence.
Therefore, he is the person most fitted to rule an Islamic
society--the Vilayat-i Faqih, governance by the
jurisprudent. The faqih as ruler has the same authority and
can carry out the same functions as the Imam, although he is
not of course equal to the Imam in station. In all this
there is no place for kings or other temporal rulers. These
Khumayni now regards as historical aberrations who, since
the death of the Imam 'Ali, have by their very existence
blocked the way to the emergence of the true Islamic
  It is interesting to note that Khumayni cites Mulla Ahmad
Naraqi (d. 1245/1829) and Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Na'ini (d.
1936) as two previous authorities who held a similar view to
himself regarding the political prerogatives of the ulama.
These two clerics, even if they did hint at this in their
writings, did not make it the central theme of their
political theory as Khumayni does. The most that previous
Shi'i writers have claimed is that kings and rulers should
be guided in their actions and policies by the Shi'i faqih
(a concept embodied in the 1906 Constitution of Iran).
Khumayni, on the other hand, asserts that the faqih should
supplant the ruler and rule in his place. Where highly
technical matters may need to be dealt with which are beyond
the knowledge of the faqih, these tasks may be delegated to
those with that type of knowledge, but superintendency of
all social and political matters must remain in the hands of
a just faqih.

Khumayni decries those of the ulama who refuse to involve
themselves in social and political matters. He considers
that these have betrayed the trust and the mission delegated
to them by the Imams. Even worse than these, however, are
the 'ulama of the court' (Akhund-ha--yi Darbari, i.e. those
who have sided with the Shah and accepted posts under the
government). These are the enemies of Islam and must be
expelled from their posts.

In summary, Khumayni has taken the Na'ib al-Amm concept to
its logical conclusion by asserting the right of the faqih
as the deputy of the Imam to superintend all religious,
social and political affairs--the Vilayat-i Faqih.


The Theoretical Basis to the Ulama's Authority

Since the concept of the ulama being the general
representative (Na'ib al-'Amm) of the Hidden Imam became the
basis of their authority and influence, the theoretical
basis of this concept, and the concept of Vilayat-i Faqih
which is related to and dependent on it, is of some
  In fact, there is not a very strong or clear basis in the
Shi'i Traditions for the Na'ib al-'Amm concept. Indeed, had
there been such a basis, the whole Akhbari-Usuli controversy
would never have occurred. Most of the Traditions on this
subject are called by the technical term 'weak' (da'if),
which means that they are transmitted by persons considered
unreliable or have other flaws.
The only Tradition relating to this concept that is accepted
as reliable by Shi'i scholars is called the Maqbula of 'Umar
ibn Hanzala (the term Maqbula meaning a Tradition which is
accepted as reliable). This Tradition, which is cited on the
authority of 'Umar ibn Hanzala, states:

     I asked Abu 'Abdu'llah (Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq) for
     his opinion concerning two of our companions
     between whom there was a dispute concerning
     matters of debt and inheritance and they took the
     case before the temporal ruler and the courts. He
     said: 'Whoever has sought their arbitration,
     whether he be in the right or in the wrong, has
     sought the arbitration of a false god (Taghut) and
     whatever is judged his (in this manner), he will
     have taken illegally, even if it is established
     that he is right, for he will have taken it by the
     ruling of a false god. For that is an action that
     God has decreed should be disallowed when He has
     said: "They wish to seek the judgement of a false
     god when they have been ordered to disavow it."' I
     said: 'And so what should they do?' He said: 'They
     should look for someone from among them who has
     transmitted our Traditions and has examined what
     is permitted by us and what is forbidden and has
     learned our laws . . . then let them agree to
     having him give judgement for I have made such a
     person judge (hakim) over you."[13]

There is some ambiguity in the last phrase of this Tradition
since the word hakim can be translated bath as judge and
ruler. On the face of it, this Tradition sets out the
procedure for solving disputes. It forbids taking the case
to the law courts of the land but rather enjoins recourse to
one of the Shi'i ulama that is acceptable to both parties.
However, such Shi'i writers as Muhaqqiq al-Karaki and Shahid
ath-Thani argued from this Tradition, and particularly from
the last phrase in it: 'I have made such a person
judge/ruler over you', that this in fact represented the
Imam Ja'far's delegation of authority to them, the Na'ib al-
'Amm concept, while Khumayni has taken the same argument to
its logical extension and stated that only government by a
faqih is permissible, the Vilayat-i Faqih.
  Khumayni has cited a number of other Traditions in
connection with his concept of Vilayat-i Faqih but with
these there is either a potential


ambiguity which makes the meaning controversial or the
Tradition is considered 'weak' by virtue of its

i. The Prophet when asked 'Who are your successors
(khulafa)?' replied: 'Those who come after me, transmit my
hadith and sunna and teach it to the people after me.'[14]
However, this can be held to refer to the Imams, who are
often referred to in the Traditions as the khulafa of the
Prophet. Another problem with this hadith is that although
it is found in several sources through different chains of
transmitters, in those sources which are considered most
reliable the last phrase 'and teach it to the people after
me' is omitted. On the face of it this may not appear an
important difference but, to Khumayni, it is of vital
importance since he is concerned to establish that the
vicegerency (niyabat) of the Hidden Imam rests not just with
the ulama who undertake the socially-passive activity of
transmitting Traditions but rather with the more socially-
active role implied in the phrase 'and teach it to the
people after me'. Thus Khumayni writes at length to
establish the case that the correct form of this Tradition
includes the last phrase.[15]
ii. The Seventh Imam, Musa al-Kazim, stated: 'The fuqaha
(jurists) who are believers (mu'min, i.e. Shi'i) are the
citadels of Islam.'[16] Khumayni interprets this Tradition
as meaning that the fuqaha--are entrusted with preserving
Islam which in turn means, for Khumayni, an active social
role for the ulama. This Tradition, although entrusting the
ulama with a mission, cannot be said to delegate authority
to them.
iii. The Prophet is reported as having said: 'The fuqaha--
are the trustees of the prophets . . . as long as they do
not . . . follow the Sultan . . .'[17] Khumayni interprets
this Tradition as meaning that the fuqaha--are entrusted
with all the authority that the prophets themselves had.
iv. The Sixth Imam, Ja'far as-Sadiq, said: 'Beware the
government! For government belongs to an Imam who is
knowledgeable in the just administration of the law among
the Muslims, to a prophet or a prophet's trustee.'[18] This
Tradition appears to refer to the Imam but Khumayni argues
that since it clearly states that only someone knowledgeable
in Islamic law and just is authorised to govern, in the
situation of the Occultation of the Imam this condition is
best filled by the fuqaha.
v. The Hidden Imam, in answer to a question posed to him
through the second of the four agents of the Lesser
Occultation, Muhammad ibn 'Uthman al-'Amri, is reported to
have replied: 'And as for events that occur, refer them to
those who transmit our Traditions, for they are my proof to
you and I am God's proof.'[19] Khumayni interprets this
Tradition as making the ulama the point of reference for
contemporary social problems as well as points of law.
vi. The Sixth Imam, Ja'far as-Sadiq said: 'The ulama are the
heirs of the


prophets. The prophets did not leave a single dinar or
dirham for an inheritance. Rather they left knowledge as an
inheritance and whosoever takes from it, has taken an
abundant share'[20] Khumayni argues that this Tradition does
not merely mean that the ulama are the inheritors of the
knowledge left by the prophets, but also they inherit the
Prophet's authority and rule.

Other Sources of the Ulama's Authority and Social Prestige

The Hidden Imam is thought to be among the body of the
Shi'is incognito. Since he must undoubtedly be accounted as
one of the learned, there is always the possibility that one
of the ulama may indeed be the Hidden Imam. In addition,
numerous stories exist of the Hidden Imam manifesting
himself to prominent members of the ulama. This feeling that
the ulama, and particularly the great mujtahids, are in
close contact with the Hidden Imam undoubtedly contributes
greatly to their prestige and authority among the ordinary
people. Their standing is further bolstered by the
attribution to them of miracles (karamat).
  During the Qajar period it became normal for the prominent
ulama in any town to surround themselves with a band of the
town's ruffians, known as lutis, to their mutual benefit.
The ulama had a ready band who would take to the street and
create agitation when it suited the ulama to call them out,
and many a governor in nineteenth-century Iran was withdrawn
because of such agitation. The lutis, in turn, had a
protector with whom they could take refuge if the government
moved against them. The tullab (religious students) attached
to the religious colleges were used by the ulama in much the
same way in the larger towns. This type of behaviour came to
the fore once more in the 1979 Revolution in Iran. Since the
Revolution, essentially the same group of persons, now
called Hizbu'llahis (the Party of God) are providing support
for the radical ulama at the street level. Some of these
elements have been incorporated into the Revolutionary
  Also closely involved in the power structure of the
religious classes are the Sayyids. These are persons who
claim descent from the Prophet through Fatima and the Imams.
Their prestige in the community is based solely on this
heredity. As a class they lay no claim to religious learning
(although as individuals many of them do undertake religious
education and become ulama as well) but, according to the
religious law, they are entitled to part of the khums
religiouS tax (see p. 179) and they are highly regarded by
the ordinary people. Thus this group are often asked to
bless a newborn child and a marriage into a Sayyid family is
regarded as highly advantageous. The Sayyids and the ulama
are often closely inter-related by marriage and are mutually
supportive socially.


  Two social groups that usually provide the ulama with
support are: the Bazaar (the complex net of merchants,
bankers and craftsmen who make up the heart of the
traditional Islamic city) an element-which has a tradition
of being conservative and 'religious';[21] and the Zur-
Khanas which are combined gymnasia and wrestling schools
(historically these are evolved from the futuwwa, see p. 90,
and are linked to the lutis mentioned above).

Education of the Ulama

Prior to the establishment of a modern school system in
Iran, elementary education was provided in the villages and
towns by the maktab, a school which was usually run by a
minor member of the ulama. These gave their pupils a basic
literacy but concentrated on memorising passages of the
Qur'an (which being in Arabic was unintelligible to the
pupils), teaching religious duties (such as obligatory
prayers, etc.) and usually also some Persian poetry (Sa'di,
Hafiz, Rumi, etc.). From the maktab students would go on to
a madrasa (religious college) which would be situated in the
larger towns. In the present day, at about the age of
fifteen those aiming to become top-ranking ulama will head
for the most important centres of religious learning which
are, at present, Qumm, Mashhad and Najaf, and will enrol in
the madrasas there.
  The course at a madrasa is composed of three levels, and
as each level is completed the student (talib, plural
tullab) goes on to the next level. Table 6 shows the
subjects taken and books studied at each level.

a. Muqaddamat (the preliminary level). At this level the
emphasis is on obtaining a good grasp of Arabic, which is
vital to all further studies. Usually, groups of students
will gather around a teacher who will go through the texts
with them in lessons lasting between one-and-a-half and two
hours. Teachers at this level are usually senior students or
assistants of the principal mujtahids.

b. As-Sutuh (the externals). At this level the teachers are
usually mujtahids who have only recently obtained their
authority of ijtihad and are seeking to build up their
reputations. A number of these will announce lectures based
on the main texts and the students are free to choose which
lectures to attend. Students can at the same time develop a
special interest by attending lectures in one of the
optional subjects but their progress to the next level is
dependent on their obtaining a thorough grasp of the main
texts in the two principal subjects, fiqh and usul al-fiqh.

c. Dars al-Kharij (or Bahth al-Kharij, graduation-classes).
It will usually have taken students about ten years to reach
this stage and thus most will


  Table 6: Subjects taken and books studied at each level of

Subjects            Books                         Authors


Nahw (Syntax)       al-'Awamil                    Mulla Muhsin al-Qazwini
                    ibn Malik's Alfiyya           Commentary by Suyuti
                    Sharh Qatran-Nada             Ibn Hisham
                    Mughni al-Labib               Ibn Hisham
                    Hidaya                        Zamakhshari
Sarf (Grammatical   Sarf-i Mir                    Mir Sayyid Sharif
   Inflections)                                   Jurjani
                    Sharh-i Tasrif                Taftazani
                    Sharh an-Nizam                Nishaburi
Mantiq (Logic)      Hashiya                       Mulla 'Abdu'llah
                    Sharh ash-Shamsiyya           Qutbu'd-Din Razi
Balagha (Rhetoric)  al-Mutawwal                   Taftazani

Optional Subjects include: Literature, Mathematics, Astronomy and
often some introductory fiqh working from one of the Risala Amaliyya
(Tracts on Practice) of one of the contemporary maraji' at-taqlid


Usul al-Fiqh        Ma'alim fi'l-Usul             Shaykh Hasan
  (Principles of
   Jurisprudence)   Qawanin al-Usul               Mirza-yi Qummi
                    Rasa'il                       Shaykh Murtada
                    Kifayat al-Usul               Akhund Khurasani
                    Usul al-Fiqh                  Muhammad Husayn
                    (The last has replaced the first two at Najaf)
Fiqh                Sharh al-Lum'a                Shahid ath-Thani
  (Jurisprudence)   Shara'i' al-Islam             Muhaqqiq al-Hilli
                    al-Makasib                    Shaykh Murtada
                    al-'Urwa al-Wuthqa            Sayyid Muhammad Kazim

Optional Subjects include: Tafsir (Qur'an Commentary or
Exegesis), Diraya (Critical study of the Hadith), Rijal
(Biography of transmitters of Hadith), Kalam (Theology),
Falsafa (Philosophy), Hikma (Theosophy),
'Irfan (Gnosis), Ta'rikh (History) and Akhlaq (Ethics).


There are no set books at this level; the student refers to
whichever books he needs either in following up lectures and
debates or in writing his 


be in their mid-twenties. At this level the teaching is done
by the principal mujtahids themselves. Each mujtahid will
announce a time and place for his teaching session and the
students are free to pick and choose whose lectures they
will attend. The subjects are usually fiqh and usul al-fiqh.
If a popular or very eminent mujtahid is giving a session,
several hundred students (and even other mujtahids) may be
gathered around him. Each mujtahid's method of teaching is
of course different, but in general there is a tendency to a
dialectical involvement of the audience. One favourite style
of teaching is known as mas'ala-sazi (constructing
hypothetical examples) and is said to have been introduced
by Shaykh Murtada Ansari in the 19th century. This consists
of posing a hypothetical legal problem and then discussing
all the possible ramifications and resolutions of the
problem. At the teaching sessions the more senior students
are encouraged to argue points with the teacher and thus
most students, by the time they complete their studies, are
skilled in the art of abstract discursive argumentation.
  The culmination of the student's endeavours is the receipt
of an ijaza (permission or authorisation) from a recognised
mujtahid. The student usually prepares a treatise on fiqh or
usul al-fiqh and presents it to the mujtahid. If the
mujtahid considers the student himself and the work worthy
of it, he issues an ijaza which in effect states that the
recipient is in his opinion, capable of exercising ijtihad
and thus can be called a mujtahid. The more eminent the
mujtahid, the more prestigious is the ijaza that he signs
and any student wanting to achieve recognition will usually
try and obtain ijazas from all of the most eminent mujtahids
at his centre of learning. It is uncommon to obtain an ijaza
before the age of thirty and not uncommon for forty-and
fifty-year-olds to be still students.
  The formal preconditions for being considered to be able
to give legal opinions (ifta) and thus to be a mujtahid are:

a. Maturity.
b. Being of the male sex (this is the subject of some
controversy).[22] c. Being of legitimate birth.

d. Faith.
e. Intelligence. f. Justice (integrity).

  The concept of justice is not, however, the usual Western
view of that word but rather it implies one whose words and
deeds are strictly controlled by the Shari'a, refraining
from all its prohibitions and performing all of its

There are no fees for studying at the madrasas and indeed
the students are given their room and an allowance for their
essential needs. This


allowance is almost always just enough for subsistence and
those students from a poor background who receive no
additional funds from home usually lead a very harsh,
spartan existence. 23

The Hierarchy of the Ulama

The clerical class constitutes a fairly distinctive entity
in Iran and to a lesser extent in other Shi'i communities.
The terms most usually used for a member of this class in
Iran is mulla or akhund. But since these two expressions
have acquired a somewhat pejorative connotation, in recent
years a third term, ruhani (spiritual) has been promoted
especially by the clerical class itself.
  Only a small percentage of those who enter a madrasa
succeed in obtaining an ijaza. Most students leave at some
stage before this either out of financial or personal
considerations or because they do not have the intellect and
perseverance to last the course. Most of those that leave
the madrasa at an early stage consider themselves members of
the ulama, although many will go to other occupations such
as merchants, tradesmen and craftsmen. Often a village or
town will petition one of the mujtahids to send them a
teacher for the maktab or a pishnamaz (a prayer-leader), or
a position as a mutawalli (custodian) of a shrine or
endowment will become vacant and the mujtahid will appoint
one of his students who obviously does not have the capacity
to complete the course to this position. Others will leave
the madrasa with the intention of becoming a wa'iz
(travelling preacher) or rawda-khan (narrators of the
Karbala tragedy), although these latter need not have
attended a madrasa at all.
  The obtaining of an ijaza, although a considerable
achievement and entailing a degree of prestige, does not
automatically result in recognition as a mujtahid. For the
status of mujtahid can only be achieved by public
recognition. In other wards, the possessor of an ijaza,
although considered by his teacher to be worthy of being a
mujtahid, does not in fact become one until he gathers among
the public a following who are prepared to acknowledge him
as such and refer to him on legal matters. The patronage of
one of the eminent mujtahids obviously assists greatly in
achieving recognition as a mujtahid, but prestige among
one's fellow students, family connections and the ability to
preach and communicate with the people are also important.
There are many who having obtained an ijaza fail to achieve
recognition as mujtahids and these are sometimes referred to
as mujtahid muhtat (mujtahid in abeyance).
  Once recognition as a mujtahid has been achieved, movement
upwards towards pre-eminence among one's fellow mujtahids is
once again dependent on public acclaim of one's piety and
learning and also, to


a certain extent, the natural result of the death of more
prominent mujtahids.
  There is no formal organisation or hierarchy among the
ulama. Rather the situation has been described as a
hierarchy of deference. 24 The lowest ranks of the ulama,
the village mulla, the rawda-khan, the pishnamaz of a small
mosque, will defer to one or all of the locally-prominent
mujtahids, and these in turn will defer to the eminent
mujtahids at the main centres of Najaf, Qumm and Mashhad.
But since every mujtahid has the obligation and right to
exercise independent judgement, this acts to counter any
building up of a hierarchy and limits the degree of cohesion
and hierocratic order that can be achieved.
  Historically, the ulama initially had no hierarchical
structure. Members of the ulama would choose to specialise
in different fields such as philosophy or theology and would
not suffer any loss of prestige thereby, although by far the
greatest number studied jurisprudence (fiqh) since this was
the field for which there was the greatest need in the towns
and villages of the Shi'i world.
  However, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries this
situation changed radically. One of the consequences of the
Usuli triumph over the Akhbaris (see p. 127) was the
consolidation of the concept of ijtihad and the rise in the
importance of the position of the mujtahid. Following on
from this it was argued that since only someone who has
expended the time and effort to become a mujtahid could
possibly know all the details of religious observances and
law, it was obligatory for anyone who was not himself a
mujtahid to follow the rulings of a mujtahid (otherwise they
were liable to err). The Shi'i world was thereby divided
into mujtahid (those who could follow their own independent
judgement and muqallid (those who had to follow the rulings
of a mujtahid).[25]
  One result of this division was that those ulama who had
not concentrated on jurisprudence in their studies and were
thus not considered eligible to be mujtahids fell sharply in
the hierarchy of deference and henceforth only mujtahids
could aspire to the highest ranks of the ulama.
  The practice of following or emulating a mujtahid is
called taqlid and thus the mujtahid became the marja' at-
taqlid (reference point for emulation).
  Up to the middle of the 19th century there were very few
mujtahids (three or four) anywhere at any one time. Probably
due to the new emphasis on the position of mujtahids there
was, after this, a sudden explosion in the numbers of
mujtahids so that several hundred existed by the end of the
19th century.
  At all times it was considered obligatory to seek the most


person available to give legal opinions. During the 19th
century, improving communications made it increasingly easy
for important or controversial questions to be referred to
the eminent mujtahids at Najaf both by ordinary Shi'is and
local mujtahids. In this way a small number of eminent
mujtahids in Najaf became regarded as being the marja' at-
taqlid for a particular area. Shaykh Muhammad Hasan Najafi
almost succeeded in consolidating the function marja' at-
taqlid in himself but there seems general agreement that
either Shaykh Murtada Ansari towards the end of his life or
Mirza-yi Shirazi were the first to become sole marja' at-
taqlid (marja' at-taqlid al-mutlaq) for the entire Shi'i
world. After Mirza-yi Shirazi there developed a pattern
whereby on the death of each marja' at-taqlid, there would
either be an obvious successor or there would be a small
group of mujtahids of equal renown. In the latter case, the
group would share the leadership until, as one after another
died, only one would be left and he would become the sole
marja ' at-taqlid. The situation continued until the death
of Ayatu'llah Burujirdi in 1961 (for developments after this
see p. 248).
  In recent years several lists of maraji' at-taqlid going
back to the time of Kulayni at the start of the Greater
Occultation have been produced.26 But this is a practice of
dubious historical authenticity since the concept of marja'
at-taqlid originated in the 18th century, possibly with
  In addition there has been a tradition in Islam that at
the beginning of each Islamic century there would arise a
great figure who would revitalise the religion. This figure
is called the Mujaddid (Renewer). Although there is general
consensus for who this figure was in some centuries, there
is not for others. Table 7 shows a provisional list.
  The local mullas and the great mujtahids are mutually
interdependent. The local mullas are the main means of
spreading public recognition of a mujtahid's piety and
learning since the common people are not considered able to
discern such things (piety being a question of how closely
one's actions conform to the norms laid down by the Shari'a;
this, naturally, can only be assessed by a member of the
ulama). Thus the great mujtahids need the local mullas for
recognition and the income that that ultimately entails.
Local mullas need the great mujtahids since they tend to
bask in the reflected glory of the mujtahid that they
  Prefixed designations such as 'Ayatu'llah' are a
relatively new phenomenon. In the 19th century a number of
the most prominent mujtahids such as Sayyid Muhammad Baqir
Shafti and Mirza-yi Shirazi were referred to as 'Hujjatu'l-
Islam' (the proof of Islam). Then in the 20th century, the
title 'Ayatu'llah' (the sign of God) became customary for
designating a marja' at-taqlid.27 In recent years, and
particularly after the 1979 Revolution, there was a vast
proliferation of individuals calling


             Table 7: Shi'i Mujaddids of each Islamic

Century        began AD  Mujaddid (Renewer)

  1        622      (Muhammad, as founder, cannot strictly
                    be considered as Renewer of the
  2        718      Imam Muhammad al-Baqir or Ja'far as-
  3        815      Imam ' Ah ar-Rida
  4        912      Muhammad al-Kulayni
  5       1009      Shaykh al-Mufid or 'Alamu'l-Huda
  6       1106      ?
  7       1203      ?
  8       1300      Hasan,'Allama al-Hilli
  9       1397      ?
 10       1494      'Ali, Muhaqqiq al-Karaki
 11       1591      Muhammad, Shaykh-i Bahá'í
 12       1688      Muhammad Baqir Majlisi
 13       1785      Muhammad Baqir, Vahid Bihbahani
 14       1882      Muhammad Hasan, Mirza-yi Shirazi
 15       1979      ?Ruhu'llah Khumayni

themselves 'Ayatu'llah', thus effectively degrading the
title. At present three levels of prefixed designations
appear to be in use: 'Ayatu'llah al 'Uzma' (the greatest
sign of God), designates a marja' at-taqlid; 'Ayatu'llah',
used for any established mujtahid; and 'Hujjatu'l-Islam' for
aspiring mujtahids.[28]

The Finances of the Ulama

In Sunni Islam the khums (fifth) is generally confined to a
portion of war booty that was reserved for the Prophet and,
after him, the Caliphs. The zakat, a tax for the benefit of
the poor and the traveller, was rationalised as part of the
taxes raised by the state. Shi'i Islam, however, does not
acknowledge the right of the temporal government to collect
this tax. After the Prophet, the Imams were the legitimate
recipients of the zakat and of the khums.
  Initially after the Occultation of the Twelfth Imam it was
considered that half of the khums being the personal share
of the Imam (the sahm-i Imam) had lapsed or else should be
hidden in the ground pending the emergence of the Hidden
Imam, while the individual had the responsibility of
distributing the zakat. Gradually the ulama, as has been
described in a previous section of this chapter, through the
concept of


Na'ib al-'Amm came to assert their right to receipt of this
money which represents a considerable income and gave the
ulama financial independence from the government. With the
development of the marja' at-taqLId concept, financial power
was concentrated in the hands of one man or a small group of
men, to be distributed more or less as they saw fit. In
addition, the ulama were the natural choice to be
administrators of properties made over as religious
endowments (waqf) and this made further considerable funds
available to the leading mujtahids. A third source of income
for the ulama is fees for certification of land
transactions, marriages, etc.
  Although the ulama have given themselves the right to
collect these religious taxes (khums and zakat), their
actual ability to do so has varied during each period of
history and among the differing segments of the population.
The craftsmen and tradesmen of the Bazaar have always
strongly supported (and intermarried with) the ulama and so
income from this source has always been readily available,
but the income from villages has depended to a large extent
on the influence of lOcal mullas. In addition, the amount of
money coming to the ulama has depended on how much is being
taken by the government and thus the ulama have always had
more reason than one for opposing tyrannical governors and
  From these funds, the mujtahids run madrasas including
supporting the students at the madrasa; they have a
responsibility to support needy Sayyids (descendants of the
Prophet); in addition, they provide various social benefits
such as giving financial assistance to the poorest families
and setting up medical clinics.
  Although the religious taxes of khums and zakat give the
ulama an independence from the state not enjoyed by Sunni
ulama, there is a price to pay for this independence. In
some parts of the Shi'i world most of the ulama's income
derives from the Bazaar. Since the ulama have no way of
enforcing payment of these religious taxes, the payers of
the tax can, to a certain extent, express their approval or
disapproval of the actions of a particular Ayatu'llah by
their readiness to pay and the amounts they pay. In other
parts of the Shi'i world, the ulama are closely identified
with landed interests (either themselves owning land or
being closely allied to landowners). Both the Bazaar and
landed interests tend to influence the ulama in a
conservative direction. Thus the theoretical freedom of
innovative exegesis given to the ulama by the concept of
ijtihad is, in practice, negated by the restrictions imposed
by their financial basis.

The finances of the ulama in Iran have of course been
radically altered by the 1979 Revolution. As one popular
song has a mulla saying: 'My poor old mule died last week;
so to replace him I bought a Mercedes Benz.'

Chapter 11


            Sufism, 'Irfan and Hikma

In Sunni Islam, Sufism has, through the Sufi Shaykhs, a
major hold on the religious devotion of the masses. But in
Shi'ism it has become largely a side-issue, a minority
interest. It is the orthodox ulama who hold the religious
leadership of the Shi'i community and few of them will have
anything to do with Sufism. It is not possible in a work of
this nature to undertake a systematic treatment of the
mystical and metaphysical ideas of Sufism. And so in this
chapter only Sufism in its relationship to Shi'ism and the
history of the Shi'i Sufi orders will be considered.
  Although most histories of Sufism go back to individual
ascetics such as Hasan al-Basri and Rabi'a al-'Adawiyya who
lived in the centuries immediately after the Prophet, Sufism
as it is known today, with its organised orders and their
hierarchies and rituals, dates from the 12th and 13th
centuries AD.
  The roots of this organised Sufism have a complex inter-
relationship with the Shi'ism of the 12th to 14th centuries
AD. Shi'ism achieved political power over almost all of the
Islamic world in the 10th and 11th centuries. Then in the
middle of the 11th century the Seljuqs came to power and
severely repressed Shi'ism. It has been suggested that
Sufism, in its organised form, arose at about this time to
fill the vacuum left by the suppression of Shi'ism.[1]
Certainly there is a great deal of similarity between
Shi'ism and many aspects of Sufism which would tend to
support this thesis.
  One of the most important doctrines of Sufism is the
concept of the Perfect Man (al-Insan al-Kamil). This
doctrine states that there always must exist upon the earth
a man who is the perfect channel of grace from God to man.
This man who is called the Qutb (Pole or Axis, of the
Universe) is considered to be in a state of wilaya
(sanctity, being under the protection of God). It can
already be seen that there are great similarities between
the concept of the Qutb in Sufism and the Shi'i Imam.
Indeed, many of the Traditions referring to the Imam (see


Chapter 7) are also to be found among Sufis in relation to
the Qutb: there can only be one Qutb on the earth at any one
time; anyone who dies without recognising the Qutb of his
time has died the death of the Jahiliyya; only recognition
of the Qutb confers true belief, etc.[2]
  The authority to teach the Sufi path has been handed down
from master (Qutb, Shaykh, Murshid or Pir) to pupil (Murid,
Talib, Salik) through the generations. Most of these
'chains' of authority (silsila) traditionally go back
through various intermediaries to 'Ali who among Sufis is
considered to have received initiation into mystical truth
from Muhammad. Thus among certain Sufi orders there has been
a tendency to glorify 'Ali. This tendency (as has been noted
in Chapters 5 and 6) may well have helped to prepare the
people of Iran during the 14th and 15th centuries for
accepting Shi'ism under the Safavids.
  However, it is precisely this closeness in certain areas
between Shi'ism and Sufism that has led to antagonism among
Shi'i ulama towards Sufism. The concept of the Qutb (who for
most Sufi orders is the head of the order) as the purveyor
of spiritual guidance and of God's grace to mankind is in
direct conflict with the concept of the Imam who in Shi'ism
fulfils this role. The vow of obedience to the Shaykh or
Qutb which is taken by Sufis is considered incompatible with
devotion to the Imam. Indeed, for Shi'is, the Twelfth Imam,
who is alive and only in occultation, is the living Qutb and
there can only ever be one Qutb upon the earth at any one
  There are several other reasons for the antagonism of the
ulama towards Sufism: the doctrine of wahdat al-wujud
(existential monism) is considered to be blasphemous; the
chains of authority of even the Shi'i Sufi orders do not
include all twelve of the Shi'i Imams, rather they progress
through the first eight Imams, but after 'Ali ar-Rida they
diverge through Ma'ruf al Karkhi to other individuals; the
zakat is paid by members of the order to the head of the
order and not to the ulama.
  The Shi'i Sufi orders have sought to bring their ideas
more closely into line with orthodox Shi'i opinion. Thus,
for example, the head of the order is often referred to as
the Na'ib-i Imam (deputy of the Hidden Imam). But even this
modification is not acceptable to the orthodox who regard
themselves as the Na'ib-i Amm (general deputy) of the
Twelfth Imam while no Na'ib-i Khass is permissible during
the Greater Occultation (see p. 165).
  Historically (as has been shown in Chapter 5) several Sufi
orders became increasingly oriented towards Shi'ism during
the 15th century but it was not until the Safavid order
become Shi'i and conquered Iran that several orders such as
the Nurbakhshi, Dhahabi and Ni'matu'llahi became openly
  The Nurbakhshi and Dhahabi orders have a common origin.

[Pages 210 and 211 contain a chart.]


Ishaq Khutlani (d. 826/1423) was a Shaykh of the Sunni
Kubrawiyya order which had marked Shi'i sympathies. A
hostile report claims that when he appointed Sayyid Muhammad
Nurbakhsh, the founder of the Nurbakhshi order, as his
successor, one of his prominent disciples, Mir Shihabu'd-Din
'Abdu'llah Barzishabadi Mashhadi, got up and left. Khwaja
Ishaq said: 'Dhahaba 'Abdu'llah ('Abdu'llah has gone)' and
'Abdu'llah's followers became known as Dhahabis. The
Dhahabis themselves, however, derive their name from dhahab,
gold, and speak of their affiliation as silsilat adh-dhahab,
the golden chain. The Dhahabiyya are also sometimes known as
the Ightishashiyya.
  The Dhahabiyya order became Shi'i at the beginning of the
Safavid period and, under the eighth successor of 'Abdu'llah
Barzishabadi (the twenty-ninth head of the order counting
from Ma'ruf al-Karkhi), Shaykh Muhammad 'Ali Mu'adhdhin
Khurasani, the order achieved some prominence during the
reign of Shah 'Abbas. But then, after encountering
antagonism from both the state and the ulama, the order
declined again.
  The revival of the Dhahabi order in Shiraz is due to
Qutbu'd-Din Sayyid Muhammad Nayrizi Shirazi (d. 1173/1760),
the thirty-second head of the order. Following on from him,
the order continued its prominence under successive leaders:

33rd Head, Aqa Muhammad Hashim Shirazi (d. 1199/1785)
34th Head, Mirza 'Abdu'n-Nabi Sharifi Shirazi (d. 1231/1815)
35th Head, Mirza 'Abu'l-Qasim Sharifi Shirazi (d.
1286/1869), known as Mirza Baba or Raz-i Shirazi, custodian
of the Shah Chiragh Shrine 36th Head, Jalalu'd-Din Muhammad
Sharifi Majdu'l-Ashraf Shirazi (d. 331/1913), custodian of
the Shah Chiragh Shrine
37th Head, Mirza Ahmad Tabrizi, Nayibu'l-Wilaya, Wahidu'l-
Awliya (d. 1375/1955)
38th Head, Hajji Muhammad 'Ali Ardibili, Hubb Haydar (d.
1382/1962) 39th Head, Dr Hajj 'Abdu'l-Hamid Ganjaviyan,

After Jalalu'd-Din Sharifi, his brother, Sayyid Muhammad
Rida Sharifi, claimed the leadership of the order and a
separate branch of the order called the sharifi branch was
formed, the leadership of which has remained hereditary in
this family. Custodianship of the important Shrine of Shah
Chiragh in Shiraz remains with this line.

  The headquarters of the order are in Shiraz and they
possess there a khanagah (meeting-place and hospice) which
includes shrines of the recent heads of the order. There are
also khanagahs in Tehran and Tabriz. The followers of this
order are distinguished by conical hats which are, however,
usually only worn at meetings of the order. Their numbers in
Iran are estimated at 3,000.3


  The Nurbakhshi order originated with 'Ala'u'd-Din Sayyid
Muhammad Nurbakhsh (d. 869/1464) who was a Sunni with strong
Shi'i proclivities. His son and successor, Shah Sayyid Qasim
Faydbakhsh (d. 917/1511), was still alive when the Safavids
came to power. At this time the order became Shi'i and
achieved considerable prominence. Many of the eminent Shi'i
ulama of the early and middle Safavid period were affiliated
to this order: Shaykh Bahá'í, Mulla Muhsin-i Fayd and Qadi
Nuru'llah Shustari. Certainly the Nurbakhsh order was a
significant influence upon the evolution of the Hikmat-i
Ilahi of the School of Isfahan (see later in this chapter).
It was also important in the spread of Shi'ism in India and
  As with all other Sufi orders, it was suppressed in Iran
towards the end of the Safavid period although it retained a
presence in India where it was instrumental in bringing
Shi'ism to Kashmir. It has never re-established itself in
Iran as an organised order, although individual prominent
Sufis such as Mirza 'Abdu'l-Wahhab Na'ini (d. 1212/1797) and
Mirza Abu'l Qasim Sukut-i Shirazi (d. 1239/1823) have been
said to be of this order.[4]
  The Ni'matu'llahi is the largest and most influential of
the Sufi orders in Iran. The relationship of the
Ni'matu'llahi order to the other Shi'i orders in terms of
the chains of authority is shown in the diagram (Chart

The founder of the order, Shah Ni'matu'llah Wali (d.
834/1431) was Sunni but sympathetic to Shi'ism. He died in
Mahan near Kirman where his grave is still an important
centre for this order. His successors moved to Hyderabad in
the Deccan, India, where they were enthusiastically received
by the Bahmani rulers. But the order maintained a presence
in Iran and there was a network of local Shaykhs. When the
Safavids came to power, the order closely identified itself
with them and became Shi'i. One of the local Shaykhs of the
order, Mir Nizamu'd-Din 'Abdu'l-Baqi, was appointed by Shah
Isma'il to the position of Sadr in 917/1511. From about the
time of Shah 'Abbas, however, the influence of the order in
Iran declined under attack from both state and ulama.

The revival of the Ni'matu'llahis in Iran dates from
1190/1776 when Rida 'Ali Shah Dakani, (d. 1214/1799), the
thirteenth successor of Shah Ni'matu'llah, sent his disciple
and successor, Ma'sum 'Ali Shah Dakani from India to Iran.
The latter was very successful and large crowds gathered
everywhere that he went. For example, he is said to have had
30,000 disciples in Shiraz where Karim Khan Zand held court.
This aroused the wrath of the ulama, and Ma'sum 'Ali Shah
was eventually killed in Kirmanshah at the instigation of
Mulla Muhammad 'Ali Bihbahani in 1212/1797.[5] The next Shaykh
of the order was an Iranian, Mirza Muhammad 'Ali Tabasi
Isfahani, Nur 'Ali Shah (d. 1212/1797) and from this time
onwards the Shaykhs of the order have been Iranians


and the centre of the order in Iran.
  Majdhub 'Ali Shah Kabudarahangi (d. 1239/1823), the
seventeenth successor of Shah Ni'matu'llah, did not clearly
appoint a successor and so there was a dispute over the
succession after him. Mulla Muhammad Shah Hamadani, Kawthar
'Ali Shah (d. 1247/1831), split off from the main body of
the order and formed a branch known as Kawthar 'Ali Shahi
which has survived to the present day under a succession of
leaders and is centred in Hamadan, Maragha and Tehran. Its
present leader is Nasir 'Ali Shah Malikniya who resides at
the order's khanagah in Tehran.
  A second branch which split off at the death of Majdhub
'Ali Shah was founded by Sayyid Husayn Astarabadi. Its most
famous Shaykh was Sayyid Husayn Husayni Tihrani, Shamsu'l-
'Urafa (d. 1353/1935), and so this line is called the
Shamsu'l-'Urafa or Shamsiyya line. Shamsu'l-'Urafa's
successors included Hajj Mir Sayyid 'Ali Burqu'i, a well-
known mujtahid who was responsible for the religious
training of Muhammad Rida Shah Pahlavi. This group have a
khanagah in Tehran.
  The main line of the Ni'matu'llahis continued after
Majdhub 'Ali Shah under Zaynu'l-'Abidin Shirvani, Mast 'Ali
Shah (d. 1253/1837). He was succeeded by Rahmat 'Ali Shah
(d. 1278/1861) who was known as Nayibu's-Sadr, but after
this there was a further split in the order. This split was
a much more serious affair and the order has remained
divided into three groups ever since.
  The uncle of Rahmat 'Ali Shah, Aqa Muhammad, Munavvar 'Ali
Shah (d. 1301/1884), was one claimant to the succession. His
son, Hajj 'Ali Dhu'r-Riyasatayn, Wafi 'Ali Shah (d.
1336/1918), succeeded him and the line is usually known as
the Dhu'r-Riyasatayn branch (or occasionally as the Mu'nis
'Ali Shahi branch after a later leader). Wafa 'Ali Shah was
succeeded by Sayyid Isma'il Ujaq, Sadiq 'Ali Shah (d.
1340/1922) and then by Ha.ii 'Abdu'l-Husayn Dhu'r-
Riyasatayn, Mu'nis 'Ali Shah (d. 1373/1953). After the last-
named, there was some dispute over the succession with
several of the local Shaykhs of the order claiming
successorship. However, one of these, Dr Javad Nurbakhsh
Kirmani, Nur 'Ali Shah, who had been Shaykh in Tehran,
succeeded in consolidating his authority over most of this
branch of the order. Under Dr Nurbakhsh, this branch of the
order has undergone a vigorous expansion with several new
khanagahs built in Iran and, taking advantage of the
interest in Sufism in the West, an expansion of the order to
England and the USA.
  Another claimant to Rahmat 'Ali Shah's successorship was
Hajj Muhammad Hasan, Isfahani, Safi 'Ali Shah (d.
1316/1899). After various travels, Safi 'Ali Shah settled in
Tehran and succeeded in attracting several notables of the
Qajar court as disciples. The next Shaykh of this line was
Mirza 'Al-Khan, Zahiru'd-Dawla, Safa 'Ali Shah, a Qajar


prince (d. 1342/1923). Safi 'Ali Shah had formed his
followers into a society called the Anjuman-i Ukhuvat
(Society of Brotherhood) and after the death of Zahiru'd-
Dawla most of the members of the order came under the
leadership of the eleven-man council of this society. This
branch of the Ni'matu'llahi order is called the Safi 'Ali
Shahi branch and is spread through most of Iran with some
ten or more khanagahs.
  The third branch of the order to arise after Rahmat 'Ali
Shah was founded by Hajj Muhammad Kazim Isfahani, Sa'adat
'Ali Shah (d. 1293/1876), known as Tawusu'l-'Urafa. He was
succeeded by Hajj Sultan Muhammad Gunabadi, Sultan 'Ali Shah
(murdered 1327/1909), who used to teach a circle of
disciples in the village of Bidukht in the Gunabad area near
Mashhad in Khurasan. Thus this important branch became known
as Gunabadi. After him, the leadership of this branch passed
to his son Haji Mulla 'Ali, Nur 'Ali Shah (murdered
1337/1918), and grandson, Hajj Shaykh Muhammad Hasan, Salih
'Ali Shah (d. 1386/1966). The present leader of this branch
is the son of Salih 'Ali Shah, Hajj Sultan Husayn, Rida 'Ali
Shah Tabanda. In Bidukht, Gunabad, there is an extensive
array of buildings which are the headquarters of the order.
  The Sufi orders in Iran have very little following among
the lower classes. The branches of the Ni'matu'llahi order
have, however, had a considerable following among government
officials and the nobility during the last 150 years.
Perhaps because of this and the way that Sufis attempt to
help their fellow-Sufis, the order has had attractions for
young men entering government service. A recent estimate put
the number of Ni'matu'llahis in Iran at between 50,000 and
350,000 with Gunabadis 30-50%, Dhu'r-Riyasatayn 20-45%, Safi
'Ali Shahi 15-30% and other splinter groups at less than 5%.[6]
  The third major Sufi order extant in Iran, apart from the
Dhahabi and Ni'matu'llahi, is the Khaksar order. The
originator of this order is said to be one Jalalu'd-Din or
Qutbu'd-Din Haydar in the 8th/13th century. The exact
identity of this figure remains unclear pending further
research. It has been suggested that he is identical with
the Suhrawardi Shaykh, Jalalu'd-Din Bukhari (d. 690/1291).
It is said that his tomb is at Turbat-i Haydari in Khurasan
and it is his name that was given to the faction in each
major Iranian town which, during Safavid and Qajar times,
was opposed by the Ni'mati faction (said to be named after
Shah Ni'matu'llah Wali) leading to frequent faction-fighting
and rioting especially on public holidays such as Naw-Ruz.
  There appear to be historical links between this order and
the Safavid order before its conquest of Iran. There is also
a complex inter-relationship with the Ahl-i Haqq
('Aliyu'llahis). Indeed, many regard the Ahl-i Haqq as a
Sufi order linked to the Khaksar rather than a Shi'i sect.


  There appears to be little organisation in the Khaksar
order, with many individuals claiming to be Shaykhs. The
wandering dervishes or Qalandars are often said to be of
this order. Several different branches of the order exist,
such as the Jalali Ghulam 'Ali Shahi and the Dawda Ma'sum
'Al,. Shahi. The order has khanagahs in several cities and
possibly has as many as 3,000 members. There are also some
adherents of this order in Iraq.[7]

Philosophy, Hikma and 'Irfan

The goal of philosophy is considered to be the achievement
of wisdom (hikma). Philosophers (hukama) have traditionally
been divided into two groups: the Masha'iyun (peripatetic
philosophers) who consider that wisdom is to be achieved by
intellectual effort and rational processes; and the
Ishraqiyun (illuminationist philosophers) who consider that
true wisdom is best gained through spiritual discipline, the
cleansing of the soul from all defilement and the
acquisition of virtues.
  Also closely associated with hikma is irfan (gnosis or
mystical knowledge). Although the Shi'i ulama have been
opposed to Sufism for the reasons stated above, 'irfan is
much more acceptable. It includes many of the ideas and much
of the technical vocabulary of Sufism but divests itself of
the features which the ulama find most objectionable: the
formal structure of the orders, initiation, the murshid-
murid (i.e. spiritual master to pupil) relationship, dhikr
(repetitive recitations), concepts such as wahdat al-wujud
(existential monism), etc.
  Typical works in the field of 'irfan deal with bringing
out the inner, esoteric meaning of the Qur'an based on the
process of ta'wil (bringing out of the spiritual meaning)
rather than tafsir (technical commentary) of the verses. It
is thus a very intellectual activity and can perhaps be
better described as esotericism in contrast to the ecstatic
mysticism of the Sufis.
  In this form mysticism has managed to retain a foothold
within the curriculum of teaching in the Shi'i religious
colleges but very much on the periphery. Interestingly,
Ayatu'llah Khumayni taught 'irfan in Qumm prior to his
expulsion in 1963.
  A movement that has had a great deal of influence on Shi'i
thought is what is called Hikmat-i Ilahi. It can be thought
of as the philosophical analysis and description of the
mystical path. The name itself, Hikmat-i Ilahi, can be
translated as Divine Wisdom, Divine Philosophy or Theosophy.
It has also gone under the name of Hikmat-i Muta'aliyya
which can be translated as Transcendent Theosophy.
  The school of philosophy called Hikmat-i Ilahi represents
the culmination of the endeavour to bring together and
harmonise the three major sources of spiritual knowledge in
the Islamic experience: the


revealed and transmitted sources which revolve around the
Qur'an and Traditions; the conclusions drawn from the
rational analysis of religion; and intuitive and ecstatic
spiritual illumination. The roots of this movement go back
to the earliest period of Islam and extend beyond Shi'ism
itself. Its culmination and flowering was in the School of
Isfahan (see pp. 112--13).
  Foremost among the influences on this movement was, of
course, the Qur'an itself and in particular the ta'wil
(esoteric interpretation or spiritual hermeneutics) of the
Qur'an that is to be found in the corpus of the Traditions
ascribed to the Shi'i Imams. Indeed, some of the most
important works of the philosophers of this school consist
of commentaries upon the Traditions of the Imams.
  The field of speculative theology (kalam) had, in previous
centuries, been a major area of intellectual activity and
the writers of the School of Isfahan were influenced not
only by Shi'i kalam which had found its fullest expression
in the works of Khwaja Nasiru'd-Din Tusi but also by the
Mu'tazili kalam upon which earlier Shi'i theology had been
based, as well as the Ash'ari kalam of Sunnism which had
reached its culmination in the works of such figures as al-
Ghazali, Fakhru'd-Din Razi and Sa'du'd-Din Taftazani.
  One of the most important influences on the Hikmat-i Ilahi
movement was Shaykhu'l-Ishraq Shihabu'd-Din Suhrawardi
(executed in Aleppo in 587/1191). His work in turn drew upon
several inter-related strands: the revival of Zoroastrian
angelology, Neo-Platonic cosmology, and in particular the
metaphysical works of ibn Sina (Avicenna). From these
sources and from direct spiritual experiences, Suhrawardi
created the Ishraqi philosophy or the philosophy of oriental
(in its metaphysical sense) illumination, a description of
ecstatic and mystical experience in the context of
philosophical concepts.
  A similarly important source of influence upon the School
of Isfahan was the gnostic mysticism of Muhiyu'd-Din, ibn
al-'Arabi, Shaykh al-Akbar (560/1165-638/1240). His
metaphysical doctrines, which were to evolve within his
school into such concepts as the Perfect Man (al-Insan al-
Kamil) and existential monism (wahdat al-wujud), exercised a
great influence on all aspects of Islamic mysticism.
  Sufism itself was one of the most important sources of
inspiration for Hikmat-i Ilahi. Not only were several
individual philosophers of this school themselves members of
Sufi orders (and in particular the Nurbakhshi order), but
there is frequent quotation in the writings of these
philosophers from the great Iranian Sufi poets such as
Jalalu'd-Din Rumi and 'Abdu'r-Rahman Jami.
  The Hikmat-i Ilahi philosophers were, of course, familiar
with the philosophy of both the Aristotelian and Neo-
Platonic traditions found


in the writings of the Greek philosophers as well as the
early Muslim philosophers such as ibn Sina (Avicenna) and
  The full flowering of Hikmat-i Ilahi in the School of
Isfahan in the 17th century was preceded by a number of
similar preliminary works. Mention has been made elsewhere
in this book of the work of Sayyid Haydar Amuli in bringing
together Shi'ism and Sufism. There is also the important
work of ibn Abi Jumhur who attempted an integration of
philosophy, kalam and Sufi concepts into Shi'ism thereby
laying an important foundation for the School of Isfahan. As
a further example there is the work of Sa'inu'd-Din, ibn
Turka Isfahani (d. 835/1431 or 836/1432) who integrated many
of the themes of Suhrawardi and ibn al-'Arabi into his
  The names of the key figures in the School of Isfahan are
given elsewhere (see p. 113). After being vigorously
attacked by the orthodox ulama during the course of the 18th
century, it began to re-emerge in the course of the 19th
century. The Shaykhi School may be considered as derived
from this movement (although Shaykh Ahmad himself strongly
disagreed with Mulla Sadra and Mulla Muhsin-i Fayd on some
issues) and the outlines of the Shaykhi teachings (given on
pp. 226-8) can also serve to give an idea of some of the
main themes of the School of Isfahan. Also during the 19th
century, Mulla Hadi Sabzivari (d. 1878) revived the teaching
of philosophy and himself wrote commentaries on works of
Mulla Sadra.
  In the years after the Second World War, 'Allama Muhammad
Husayn Tabataba'i succeeded in having the subject introduced
into the syllabus of studies at Qumm. Since then, he, Sayyid
Jalalu'd-Din Ashtiyani and Sayyid Husayn Nasr, ably assisted
by the French orientalist Henri Corbin, have written
extensively on the subject so that its themes and ideas have
become almost as well-known in the West as in the East.
  It is not possible to give an adequate descriptive survey
of the breadth of Hikmat-i Ilahi in an introductory work
such as this. Briefly, however, some of the characteristic
concepts of the school, and of the writings of Mulla Sadra
in particular, are:
a. The integration of the Fourteen Pure Souls (Muhammad,
Fatima, and the Twelve Imams) into Avicennan cosmology where
they, in effect, replace the Active Intelligences as the
ontological causes of existence. b. The belief in the
reality of an independent world of images (the 'alam al-mithal)
between the intelligible world and the sensible
world. c. The replacement of the principle of the
fundamentality of quiddity as the basic of metaphysics by
the fundamentality of being (asalat al-wujud). In this
respect, Mulla Sadra disagreed with his teacher Mir Damad


with Suhrawardi. d. The doctrine of the substantial motion
(al-haraka al-jawhariyya) of being. This doctrine asserts
that the being of anything that exists is susceptible to
change, intensification and perfection.
e. The essence of individuality is the soul. It is this that
is eternal and which experiences the resurrection.

  As an example of the metaphysical system of this school
and to demonstrate its links with other avenues of Islamic
thought, the following is a brief analysis of the four
journeys described by Mulla Sadra in Al-Hikmat al-
muta'aliyya 'l-asfar al-'aqliyya al-arba'a (The
Transcendental Theosophy concerning the Four Journeys of the
Rational Soul). This work concerns the four journeys: from
the creatures to the True One; from the True One to the True
One; from the True One to the creatures; and from the
creatures to the creatures.

The first journey is described as being the path whereby man
detaches himself from the physical world and his carnal self
(nafs) and rending the veils that intervene between him and
the Divine Beauty reaches the station of Annihilation in the
Divine. In this 'journey' Mulla Sadra gives an exposition of
metaphysics and ontology dealing with several philosophical

The second journey is described as being the path along
which the traveller contemplates and comes to know and
understand the Divine Names and Attributes. This is the
station of sainthood in which the traveller comes to hear
with His hearing, sees with His sight and is thus totally
annihilated in the Divine Essence, Actions and Attributes.
In this 'journey', Mulla Sadra discusses a number of
philosophical questions such as creation ex nihilo,
substance, quantity, quality and the receptivity of things
to the Divine Grace.

The third journey involves the termination of Annihilation
(fana) and the start of Subsistence (baqa) in God. This is
the state of the prophets (but not those prophets that bring
laws). In this state, the traveller is able to travel
through all the worlds of creation and to see all these
worlds in their essence and exigencies. In this 'journey',
our author deals with God in His Essence, His Names and
Attributes, discussing such subjects as divine will, fate,
evil and God's knowledge.
  The fourth journey is among the creatures but now the
traveller, who is in the station of a prophet who brings
laws, sees all beings in their essence and knows of the
manner of their return to God and so is able to give them
guidance. In describing this 'journey', Mulla Sadra deals
with the soul and its development and with the question of
the resurrection and other eschatological matters.[8]

Chapter 12



        Schools within Twelver Shi'ism

In Chapter 3 the traditional account of the formation of the
various Shi'i sects has been given. But in historical terms,
it is extremely difficult to determine when exactly each
group can be considered to have become a separate sect.
There were two main periods of time when there was intensive
religious speculation and a rapid evolution of groups and
  The first of these two periods was from about AD 750 to
950 in Iraq and in particular in Kufa and Baghdad. Something
of the nature of the speculations of this period can be
discerned from the accounts already given in Chapter 3. It
would appear that during this two-hundred-year period, the
main body of Shi'a began to break up into a number of
groups. At first the boundaries of these groups were ill-
defined, but as time went by their distinctive differences
became sharper and many died out. In general terms it can be
said that the Shi'a broke into three broad groups: those who
advocated political action, the political quietists and
those attracted to esoteric and gnostic ideas. These became
the Zaydi, Ithna-'Ashari (Twelver) and Ghulat/Isma'ili
groups respectively.
  The second period of intense religious speculation and
rapid sectarian development occurred in the 15th century.
During this time, in a broad crescent stretching from south-
west Iran and eastern Iraq into north-west Iran and eastern
Anatolia and across into northern Syria, there was a ferment
of religious activity most of which would be described by
orthodox Shi'is as 'extremist' (ghuluww) because of the
exaggerated position given to 'Ali. But most groups honoured
all of the Imams of the Twelvers. Included within the orbit
of this religious activity was the Musha'sha' state in
south-west Iran, the religious speculation of the Qara-Quyunlu,
the rising Safavid order in Ardabil, the Bektashi
order in eastern Anatolia and the 'Alawis (Nusayris) in
north Syria. Some of these movements (the Musha'sha' and the
Safavids) were absorbed into orthodox Twelver Shi'ism and
influenced it. But others divided off into separate
religious movements: the 'Alawis (Nusayris), the Ahl-i Haqq
groups and the Bektashis.
  The evolution of the Shi'i sects and schools may be
represented thus

[Page 221 contains a chart.]


diagrammatically (see Chart 5). The Ithna-'Ashariyya
(Twelver) is the largest group of the Shi'a in the world
today and the one with which this book is concerned. The
vast majority of Twelvers belong to the Usuli School and it
is the tenets of this school that are described in the
sections of this book and particularly in Chapter I 0. There
are, however, a small number of Twelvers who subscribe to
the Akhbari and Shaykhi Schools (for the history of these
schools see pp. 117-18, 127-8, 135-6). Very little research
has been done on these two minority schools in Twelver
Shi'ism and so the details given about their doctrines below
should only be regarded as tentative pending further
The Akhbari School

As described in Chapter 6, this school, which probably
represented a stream of thought within Twelver Shi'ism from
its earliest days, first crystallised out as a separate
movement in the wake of the writings of Mulla Muhammad Amm
Astarabadi (d. 1033/1623). It achieved its greatest
influence during the late Safavid and post-Safavid periods
but was crushed by the Usuli mujtahids on the eve of the
Qajar era.
  In essence, the Akhbari movement was a rejection of the
rationalist principles on which ijtihad and the whole of
Shi'i jurisprudence had come to be based. Some Akhbaris went
further and also rejected the Mu'tazili (i.e. rationalistic)
basis of Shi'i doctrine also. In practice this meant a move
towards the Sunni principles of jurisprudence (with the
Imams taking over the position of the founders of the Sunni
schools of law) and an almost-Ash'ari (i. e. Sunni) position
in theology. In other words, had it succeeded, it would have
brought Shi'ism very much closer to Sunnism and it is
interesting to note that Nadir Shah's attempt to make
Shi'ism a fifth school of Sunni law coincides with the
period when the Akhbaris were at the peak of their
influence. In turning away from the rationalist basis of the
Usulis, many of the Akhbaris turned their attention to 'non-
rational' avenues of knowledge such as kashf (intuitive
discovery of knowledge) and occult sciences.
  The principal areas of difference between the two schools
can be summarised as follows (although it should be
appreciated that, at the start, there were not many
differences between the two groups and the following
represents their final positions which are much further


USULI SCHOOL                       AKHBARI SCHOOL

A. On the Sources of Doctrine and Law

1. The Usulis accept four sources. The Akhbaris only accept
   of authority in matters of      the first two and some of
   doctrine and law: the Qur'an,   them only the second
   the Sunna, consensus (ijma')    (since the Qur'an can
   and the intellect ('aql);       only be understood with
                                   the help of the

2. accept and use the literal      consider that the Qur'an
   meaning of the Qur'an and the   and Traditions can only
   Traditions claiming that it is  be understood where their
   possible to know the meaning    meanings has been made
   of these through the use of     explicit by the commentary
   the intellect ('aql);           (tafsir and ta'wil)
                                   of the Imams;

3. consider the four 'canonical    consider the four books
   books of Traditions (see p.     to be reliable;
   174) to contain many unreliable

4. accept as authoritative only    allow a much wider search
   Traditions from the Imams       to made for Traditions
   transmitted through reliable    bearing on a particular
   Shi'is;                         problem, allowing Traditions
                                   from Sunni or other
                                   sources (provided the
                                   transmission is 'protected
                                   from fabrication') and even
                                   from an unknown source if
                                   there is good evidence
                                   supporting it.

5. divide the Traditions into      recognise only two categories:
   four categories: sahih, hasan,  sahih and da'if; and
   mutawatir and da'if (see p.     
   174); and

6. consider that doctrines or      consider that what is
   legal decisions derived from    derived from naqli
   transmitted (naqli) sources     sources always has
   (i.e. the Qur'an and Tra-       precedence over what
   ditions) cannot contradict      is derived from the
   what is derived from rational   use of reason.

B. On the Principles of Jurisprudence

1. The Usulis accept ijtihad;      The Akhbaris reject

2. consider that decisions can be  consider that decisions
   given on the basis of zann      can only be given where
   (valid conjecture)              there is certain


USULI SCHOOL                       AKHBARI SCHOOL

conjecture) achieved through       knowledge through a relevant
ijtihad, in cases where certain    Tradition from the Imam;
knowledge ('ilm) from an explicit
text in the Qur'an or Traditions
is not available;

3. consider that knowledge was     consider it obligatory to
   only obtainable directly from   refer to the Imams even if
   the Imams by those who were in  through an intermediary (i.e.
   their presence (i.e. that the   a transmitted Tradition) and
   legal decisions of the Imams    that these have general
   may have been affected by       applicability and that fatwas
   individual circumstances and    can only be issued on the
   and do not necessarily have     basis of a relevant Tradition;
   general applicability) and so,
   during the Occultation, it is
   necessary to resort to ijtihad,
   and fatwas (legal decisions)
   can only be issued through use
   of this;

4. consider that through the use   use only explicit text from
   of ijtihad, the Traditions can  the Imams; and
   be preferred over another con-
   tradictory one and practices
   can be derived from unclear
   and ambiguous texts; and

5. act on the basis of freedom     consider that in cases where
   and the permissibility of all   there is no clear text,
   actions if there is no clear    caution must be exercised.
   text against it.

C. On the Position of the Faqih (jurist)

1. The Usulis divide men into two  The Akhbaris hold that all men
   groups: mujtahid and muqallid   are muqallid to the Imam and
   (see p. 175);                   and it is not permissible to
                                   turn to a mujtahid;

2. consider that the unrestricted  consider that only the Imam is
   (i.e. fully competent) muj-     informed of all of the ordin-
   tahid is learned in all of the  ances of the religion and that
   ordinances of the religion      the only condition for issuing
   since the condition for         legal decisions is a knowledge
   for issuing legal decisions     of the terms used by the Imams
   is knowledge of a large         and
   number of


USUL, SCHOOL                       AKHBARI SCHOOL

sciences, the most important of    knowing of a Tradition con-
which is usul al-fiqh (principles  firming the matter;
of jurisprudence);

3. forbid following (taqlid) a     allow use of the decisions of
   a dead marja';                  a dead jurist;

4. consider it obligatory to       reject this; and
   obey a mujtahid as much as it
   is to obey the Imam; and

5. consider that the use of        consider that the issuing
   ijtihad will result in a        of a decree except on the
   (heavenly) reward even if the   basis of a reliable and
   decision is incorrect.          explicit Tradition is blame-

It can be seen from the above that had the Akhbaris been
successful, the ulama would have been restricted in the
field of jurisprudence to only those areas in which there is
an explicit Tradition (all other cases would have to go to
secular courts). But the Usulis, through the use of ijtihad,
can give a judgement on virtually any subject. The Akhbari
position also severely restricted the authority and
prerogatives of the ulama and effectively negated the Na'ib
al-'Amm concept (see p. 190). It is not surprising that it
was, in the end, decisively rejected by the ulama.
  Today, Akhbarism survives in pockets throughout the Shi'i
world. It is perhaps strongest in Bahrain where a
considerable proportion of the island's Shi'is follow ulama
of this school. There is also a band of territory stretching
from the lands of the tribes at the western end of Lake al-
Hammar (i.e. around Suq ash-Shuyukh) in southern Iraq to the
Khurramshahr (Muhammara) region of Iran where Akhbarism
survives and there are one or two small Akhbari religious
schools (madrasas). The main centre of this area is the city
of Basra and here the descendants of Mirza Muhammad Akhbari
(see p. 135) continue to live and to lead the Akhbaris of
the area. There are also a few Akhbaris in India. It has,
however, continued to influence the mainstream of Twelver
Shi'ism and not a few Usuli ulama have questioned the extent
to which ijtihad should be allowed. Even the late Ayatu'llah
Burujirdi was said to have had doubts regarding the Usuli

The Shaykhi School

Whereas the Akhbari School differed from the Usulis
principally in the field of jurisprudence or the furu-'
(peripheral elements) of the religion, the Shaykhi School,
founded by Shaykh Ahmad ibn Zaynu'd-Din al-


Ahsa'i (1166/1753--1241/1826) differed principally in the
field of doctrines and the usul (fundamental principles) of
the religion. Although Shaykh Ahmad disagreed with Mulla
Muhsin-i Fayd on a number of points, the Shaykhi School may
be regarded, on the simplest level of analysis, as a further
development of the Hikmat-i Ilahi of the School of Isfahan
(see pp. 216-19). The doctrines of Shaykhism require a great
deal more research but, pending that, the following is a
brief outline of the major themes, emphasising those aspects
where Shaykhism differs from the orthodox position:

A. On God: In order to have knowledge of something, there
must be some similarity between the knower and the known.
Since there is no similarity whatsoever between God and man,
man can never know God's Essence. Any knowledge that man has
of God is only a creation of his own imagination. At most it
relates to an image or reflection of God but can never
attain His reality. From God issues forth His Will and it is
this which is the cause of creation. This view of God
essentially negated the Sufi concept of wahdat al-wujud
(existential unity) and the mystical union with God.
  One aspect of Shaykh Ahmad's views about God which brought
him into conflict with the mainstream of Twelver Shi'i
thought was his view regarding the knowledge of God. Shaykh
Ahmad considered that God had two types of knowledge, an
essential (dhati) knowledge which is inseparable from His
Essence; and a created (muhdath) knowledge which comes into
being when God acts within creation. This same division may
be applied to all of the attributes of God.

B. On the Prophets: The prophet stands as an intermediary
between man and God. There is no similarity between God and
the prophet nor between man and the prophet. The prophet is
not merely a man whom God has chosen to become the recipient
of his revelation but is unique and possessed of
capabilities and attributes beyond the reach of even the
most perfect man. In this, Shaykh Ahmad is denying the Sufi
idea that man can by purifying himself achieve the station
of prophethood.

C. On the Imams: Shaykh Ahmad considered that the first
creation issuing forth from God's will was the light of
Muhammad (an-Nu-r al Muhammadiyya). From this light the
light of the Imams came into being. From the light of the
Imams the light of the believers came into being, and so on.
Thus the Imams are the instruments of the creation of the
world. They are also the ultimate cause of creation since
God has created the world for their sake. They are the
intermediaries through which man can obtain some
comprehension of God and God's bounties can reach man.
  It was Shaykh Ahmad's conception of the Imams that drew
from the


orthodox camp the accusation of tafwid (attributing God's
attributes to someone other than God).

  Another result of Shaykh Ahmad's extreme veneration of the
Imams was that, when visiting the shrines of the Imams, who
were buried as is Muslim custom with their heads pointing
towards Mecca, Shaykh Ahmad would pay his respects at the
foot of the Imam and never approached the head because he
considered it disrespectful and because he did not wish,
when the time for prayers came, to have to turn his back on
the Imam, when he turned towards Mecca. This way of visiting
the shrines of the Imams became characteristic of the
followers of the Shaykh who became known as Pusht-i Saris
(behind-the-headers) while the orthodox Shi'is were Bala-Saris
(above-the-headers). In the conflict between the
Shaykhis and their orthodox opponents that occurred from
time to time, the two sides were often referred to as
Shaykhis and Bala-Saris.

D. On the Nature of the World: Between the physical world
and the spiritual world, there exists an intermediary world,
the world of Hurqalya (or Huvarqalya--variously stated to be
Hebrew, Greek or Syriac in origin) or the world of
archetypal images ('Alam al-mithal). This is identified as
the barzakh (isthmus or purgatory) of orthodox Islamic
eschatology. 3 Everything in the physical world has its
counterpart in the world of Hurqalya. Each individual human
being has two bodies, one of which exists in the physical
world and one in Hurqalya. The occulted but living Twelfth
Imam and the cities of Jabulsa and Jabulqa, where he is
supposed to live, all exist in the realm of Hurqalya.

E. Eschatology: It was the consequences of Hurqalya, more
than anything else, that led to Shaykh Ahmad's conflict with
the orthodox ulama. For the Shaykh's chief endeavour was to
harmonise reason and religion and he used the concept of
Hurqalya to explain some of the doctrines of Islam that
appeared contrary to reason.

  For Shaykh Ahmad, the Occultation of the Twelfth Imam did
not mean that a living physical Imam was in hiding somewhere
on earth but rather that, although direct physical contact
with the Imam was no longer possible, the Imam lived on in
the world of archetypal images, the realm of Hurqalya, and,
for those who strive to reach him in that world, he is still
able to perform the key function of the Imam, that of
initiating the seeker into the divine mysteries (walaya).

With regard to the phenomenon of resurrection, Shaykh Ahmad
also regarded this as an event that occurs to man's subtle
body in the world of Hurqalya. Similarly, heaven and hell
are the results of men's actions which create the situation
of either heaven or hell in each individual's personal life
in Hurqalya.


F. The Night Ascent of Muhammad (Mi'raj): One of the key
events in the life of the Prophet was the night that,
according to orthodox Muslim belief, he was transported
bodily to a place near Jerusalem and then ascended to
heaven. Shaykh Ahmad asserted that the Mi'raj took place
with Muhammad's subtle body and not with his physical.
G. The Fourth Support: This key doctrine of the Shaykhis was
developed not so much by Shaykh Ahmad himself as by his
successors. Orthodox Shi'is believe in five supports or
principles of the religion (usul ad-din, see pp. 176-7).
Shaykh Ahmad considered that two of these, the unity of God
and the justice of God could be put together as one,
knowledge of God. Also, the resurrection, as part of the
prophetic teaching, could be put under that heading and did
not need to exist by itself. This left three supports to
which a fourth was added. In the time of Sayyid Kazim and
among the early writings of Karim Khan Kirmani, the Fourth
Support (ar-Rukn ar-Rabi') appears to mean the continuing
presence in the physical world of a Perfect Shi'i (ash-Shi'i
al-Kamil, cf. the Sufi concept of the Perfect Man) who is
able to act as the intermediary between the Hidden Imam and
the world. The Hidden Imam inspires this intermediary who
thus comes to represent the will of the Hidden Imam. This
Perfect Shi'i stands at the head of a hierarchy of figures,
nujaba and nuqaba, who are each able to impart some of the
Imam's knowledge and authority. The term ar-Rukn ar-Rabi'
(or in its Persianised form Rukn-i Rabi') is sometimes
applied to the Perfect Shi'i alone and sometimes to the
whole hierarchy. It is reasonably clear that the early
Shaykhis regarded Shaykh Ahmad and Sayyid Kazim as each
being successively the Perfect Shi'i, the Fourth Support,
the gate to the Hidden Imam. 4 At a later stage in the
evolution of Shaykhi doctrine, when the Shaykhis were trying
to be less controversial doctrinally, the term ar-Rukn ar-
Rabi' came to be applied to the body of the ulama as a whole
and indeed came to resemble the Na'ib al-'Amm concept.

However, underlying the bitter opposition of many mujtahids
to the Shaykh's doctrines was undoubtedly a fear that the
Shaykh's preference for intuitive knowledge, which he
claimed to obtain directly by inspiration from the Imams,
would seriously undermine the authority of their position
which was based on knowledge derived by the rational
processes of ijtihad. Shaykh Ahmad's preference for the
intuitive uncovering of knowledge (kashf) led his school to
be called Kashfi by some.
  In matters of jurisprudence Shaykh Ahmad appears to have
taken an intermediate position between the Usulis and the
Akhbaris. He did not deny the validity of ijtihad but
considered it desirable to remain within the area demarcated
by the Traditions of the Imams.


  These doctrines of Shaykh Ahmad inevitably brought him
into conflict with the more fundamentalist ulama. The first
matters that became the subject of conflict were the
questions of the night ascent of Muhammad and the
resurrection which the Shaykh's opponents considered to have
occurred or were to occur with the physical body. There was
also the question of tafwid (see above) and of the knowledge
of God. 5 Later numerous other points were added to the list
of differences.

Shaykh Ah. mad, during his lifetime, had appointed Sayyid
Kazim as his trustee and successor. During Sayyid Kazim's
time, the conflict with orthodoxy intensified. At his death
in 1259/1843, Sayyid Kazim failed to appoint a successor and
the Shaykhis, apart from those that went on to become Babis
(see next section), split into three main factions: one led
by Mirza Hasan Gawhar in Karbala, one led by Hajji Mirza
Shafi', Thiqatu'l-Islam and Mulla Muhammad Mamaqani
Hujjatu'l-Islam in Tabriz and one led by Hajji Muhammad
Karim Khan Kirmani in Kirman.

At Karbala many of the Shaykhis followed Mirza Hasan Gawhar
(Mulla Muhammad Hasan Qarachadaghi) although two other
figures, Mirza Muhammad Husayn Muhit Kirmani and Sayyid
Kazim's son, Ahmad (killed 1878), had considerable
influence. Leadership of this group was assumed after
Gawhar's death by Mulla Muhammad Baqir Usku'i (d.
1301/1883). After him leadership passed to his son, Mirza
Musa, and now rests with his grandson, Mirza 'Ali Ha'iri,
who is resident in Kuwait. They are known as Usku'is.

The Tabriz Shaykhis quickly suppressed all external evidence
of heterodoxy. Thus, for.example, in the field of
jurisprudence, they unreservedly adopted the Usuli School.
This did not, however, save them from the animosity of the
populace. During the last half of the 19th century there
were frequent anti-Shaykhi riots and, indeed, the splitting
of the city into Shaykhi and Bala-San quarters came to
replace the Ni'mati-Haydari division of other Iranian cities
(see p. 215). Leadership among the Tabriz Shaykhis came to
lie in two families. At first it was the Hujjatu'l-Islam
family that was predominant. Mulla Muhammad Mamaqani
Hujjatu'l-Islam (d. 1269/1852) led the prayers in the
Hujjatu'l-Islam Mosque and became one of the prominent
religious leaders of Adharbayjan. His three sons, Mulla
Muhammad Husayn (d. 1303/1885), Mulla Muhammad Taqi (d.
1312/1894) and Mirza Isma'il (d. 1317/1899) and Mulla
Muhammad Husayn's son, Mirza Abu'l-Qasim (d. 1362/1943) each
in turn took the title Hujjatu'l-Islam and became the leader
of prayers in the Hujjatu'l-Islam Mosque. After the last-
named, however, the family died out. The second family was
the Thiqatu'l-Islam family. Hajj Mirza Shafi' Thiqatu'l-
Islam (d. 1301/1884) was, like Mulla Muhammad Mamaqani, a
student of Shaykh


Ahmad and Sayyid Kazim. He was succeeded in turn by his son
Shaykh Musa (d. 1319/1901) and grandson Mirza 'Ali, each of
whom successively took the title Thiqatu'l-Islam. During the
lifetime of Mirza 'Ali, the Thiqatu'l-Islam family overtook
the Hujjatu'l-Islam family in importance and became the
leader of the majority of the Tabriz Shaykhis. Mirza 'Ali
became a national hero when he was hanged by the Russians in
1912 for resisting the occupation of Tabriz. A large number
of the writings of Shaykh Ahmad were lithographed in Tabriz
during the 19th century. (Tabriz also had a group of
Shaykhis who followed Muhammad Karim Khan Kirmani and these
were centred on the Kazimi Mosque.)
  The most important group of Shaykhis, however, was that
led by Hajji Muhammad Karim Khan Kirmani (1810-71) who was a
member of the ruling Qajar family (his mother was Nasiru'd-
Din's great-aunt and he was the maternal uncle of the mother
of Muzaffaru'd-Din Shah). After his death leadership of this
group of Shaykhis went successively to members of his family
who.were each known by the title 'Sarkar Aqa' (His
Lordship). For a while there was a dispute over the
leadership between Muhammad Karim Khan's two sons, Hajji
Muhammad Rahim Khan and Hajji Muhammad Khan. Then in 1878
there was a violent Shaykhi-Bala-Sari conflict in Kirman
which lasted for over a year. At the end of this time
Muhammad Rahim Khan was expelled by the Governor and the
leadership crisis was thus resolved in favour of Hajji
Muhammad Khan. Most of the followers of Muhammad Rahim Khan
rejoined the main group after a while. A more serious split
was caused by Hajji Mirza Muhammad Baqir Hamadani (d. 1901)
who objected to the leadership becoming hereditary and
considered himself more learned than Ha]il Muhammad Khan.
His residence was in Hamadan until 1897 when a Shaykhi-Bala-
San riot forced him to move to Na'in. His followers, known
as Baqiris, are most numerous in Hamadan, Na'in and Isfahan.
Muhammad Khan's followers were known as Natiqis or Nawatiq.

Hajji Muhammad Khan died in 1906 and was succeeded by his
brother Hajji Zaynu'l-'Abidin Khan (d. 1941) who in turn was
succeeded by his son Hajji Abu'l-Qasim Khan Ibrahimi (d.
1969) and grandson Hajji 'Abdu'r-Rida Khan Ibrahimi. The
latter was killed during the disturbances following the
Iranian Revolution on 26 December 1979 in Kirman. After this
leadership of the movement went out of the Ibrahim family
and the new leader is Sayyid 'Ali Musawi who is resident in
Basra in Iraq.

Under Muhammad Karim Khan and his successors Shaykhism
underwent a phenomenon that might be called doctrinal drift.
By this is meant that each successive Shaykhi leader
expounded the doctrines of the school in such a way as to
bring them more and more closely into line


with orthodoxy. The culmination of this process occurred in
1950 when Aqa Muhammad Taqi Falsafi (acting on behalf of
Ayatu'llah Burujirdi) put twenty-five questions to Hajji
Abu'l-Qasim Khan Ibrahimi on matters of doctrine. These were
answered (in the Risala-yi Falsafiyya) in so completely
orthodox a manner that Falsafi was left wondering why the
Shaykhis chose to call themselves by a separate name.
  Shaykhis have remained a small minority in the Shi'i
world, numbering perhaps 200,000 in Iran and 300,000 in Iraq
and the Gulf. They are to be found in most cities but ate
most numerous in Kirman, Tabriz, Khurramshahr, Abadan,
Tehran, Abada, Marvdasht, Rafsanjan, Shiraz and Zunuz as
well as in Basra in Iraq. At Kirman the Shaykhis have a
small religious college, the Madrasa Ibrahimiyya, with some
30 or 40 students, and a publishing house and press. There
is also a religious college in Basra.

The Babi Movement and the Bahá'í Religion

The approach of the Muslim year 1260 (1844) was accompanied
by a general rise in expectancy of the return of the Hidden
Imam. This was because that year marked the one thousandth
anniversary of the disappearance of the Twelfth Imam and the
beginning of the period of Occultation. There were several
indications in the Qur'an and the Traditions that the
dispensation of Muhammad would be one thousand years long[6]
and thus the year 1260 was greatly anticipated throughout
the Shi'i world.[7]
  Sayyid 'Ali Muhammad Shirazi (1819-50), who took the title
the Bab (the Gate), was, until the death of Sayyid Kazim
Rashti in 1843, closely associated with the Shaykhi School.
Then, in 1844, he put forward a claim and gained many
adherents, initially mostly from among the Shaykhi School.
At first the Bab only appeared to be claiming to be the Gate
to the Hidden Imam and his followers kept to the Islamic
Shari'a. But in 1848 he advanced the claim of being the
returned Twelfth Imam himself who had come to abrogate the
Islamic dispensation and inaugurate a new prophetic cycle.

Developing the argument of the Shaykhi School, from the Bab
viewpoint, just as the Hidden Imam existed in the world of
Hurqalya, the realm of archetypal images, so the return of
the Twelfth Imam was not the return of the self-same
physical body of the Imam but rather the advent of a man who
in the realm of Hurqalya is the archetypal figure of the
Imam. Thus it was that the Shaykhi teachings paved the way
for the Bab and it is doubtful if the Bab would have
attracted so many adherents if it had not been for the
Shaykhi doctrines.

The Bab was put to death by a firing squad in Tabriz in 1850
He had


appointed as his successor Mirza Yahya, Subh-i Azal, and had
prophesied the advent of another messianic figure whom he
called 'Him whom God shall make manifest'. Privately in 1863
and publicly in 1866, Mirza Husayn 'Ali (1817-1802), who
took the title Bahá'u'lláh (Glory of God), claimed to be
this messianic figure foretold by the Bab. The majority of
Babis became Bahá'ís. Bahá'u'lláh considerably expanded the
scope of his appeal beyond the confines of Shi'i Iran by
claiming to be the fulfilment of the messianic expectations
of other religions such as Judaism, Christianity and
  Bahá'u'lláh was succeeded by his son 'Abbas Effendi (1844-
1921), who took the title 'Abdu'l-Bahá (Servant of the
Glory). He was given the position of authorised interpreter
of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings. He appointed his grandson,
Shoghi Effendi (d. 1957), as Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith.
Since 1963 the religion has been administered by an elected
body, the Universal House of Justice.
The Bahá'í Faith, during the time of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, spread to
Europe and North America. In the last few decades, it has
gained large numbers of adherents in India, Africa, South
America and Australasia such that it has outstripped its
Islamic heritage and Iran is no longer even the largest
national Bahá'í community. Thus the Bahá'í Faith is now an
independent religion separate from Islam. It has its own
holy books, its own teachings and laws and considers its
prophets, the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh, to be independent
prophets of God equal in station to Muhammad and bearers of
a new revelation from God abrogating the Islamic
dispensation. It would therefore be inappropriate to
consider it any further in a book on Twelver Shi'ism.

Chapter 13

                 The Popular Religion

In Chapter 10 Shi'i Islam was viewed from the aspect of the
ulama. In this chapter we will try to give an impression of
what the religion means to the Shi'i masses and how it
affects their lives.
  In Sunni Islam it has tended to be the Sufi Shaykhs and
their mysticism that have held sway over a large part of the
population. Shi'is, however, look to the ulama for guidance
in religious matters. And therefore Islam for the Shi'is is,
even more than for Sunnis, a religion of rituals,
obligations and prohibitions.

The Personal Religious Outlook

Life for a devout Shi'i is perceived very much as having an
account with God. This account is credited and debited
during one's life. At death, for those with a sufficiently
large positive balance in their account there is heaven; for
those with a large negative balance there is hell; and for
those in between there is the in-between world of barzakh
(purgatory) where they are punished for their sins
sufficiently to make them eventually worthy of heaven.
  In order to avoid debits to one's account, one must live
one's life within the bounds of what is permitted (halal)
but, in addition, one can credit one's account by living
one's life as closely as possible to the ideal pattern laid
down in the Sunna (pattern of words and deeds as conveyed in
the Traditions) of the Prophet and the Imams. This involves
performance of the various ritual observances which occur on
a daily basis (e. g. the obligatory prayers), a weekly basis
(e. g. the Friday prayer) or a yearly basis (e. g. the fast
in Ramadan). All of these must be observed with a rigorous
attention to detail, for the slightest error may result in a
state of ritual impurity thus negating all benefit from the
performance of the ritual.

In addition to this, one's account can be credited by the
performance of specific deeds which are not in themselves
obligatory. These include such things as performing a
visitation to a shrine or hosting a gathering


for the recital of the sufferings of the Imams. Charitable
deeds such as donating money for hospitals or helping
someone who is in trouble will also credit one's account.
  Any meritorious action which will credit one's account is
called a thawab and each action has its own scale of
recompense, thus one can have big thawabs and little

On the debit side of one's account go failure to perform
rituals when one is able to perform them; committing acts
that are forbidden (haram); and failing to live up to one's
social obligations.

Every action performed by an individual may be classified
into one of five categories and these, with their credit and
debit resulting from their commission or omission, are
listed below:

                    Commission of  Omission of
Action              that Action    that Action

Obligatory (wajib)       +              -
Desirable (mustahabb)    +              0
Neutral (mubah)          0              0
Undesirable (makruh)     0              +
Forbidden (haram)        -              +

          + =  credit to account
          - =  debit to account
          0 =  no change in account

The result of this concentration on the externals of the
religion is that in tight-knit social groups such as the
Bazaar, one's piety and religious merit are judged by others
not on the basis of one's beliefs (which are indeed seldom
discussed) but on the basis of being observed to be
performing the required rituals (i.e. orthopraxy rather than
orthodoxy is the standard by which one is assessed).

The ulama are of course necessary as a guide to the complex
details of what is and what is not permissible. Although
individual mullas may be regarded as charlatans or
hypocrites, the ulama as a class are highly regarded both
because of their guidance in traversing the snakes-and-
ladders world of obligations and prohibitions and also
because the local mulla is regarded as an intermediary
between the ordinary Shi'i and the great mujtahids who are
the maraji' at-taqlid. At the village level the mulla is
often the only literate person and serves an important role
in communications and in social and business transactions.

There is a great deal of genuine popular esteem for the
maraji' at-taqlid. This is partly because of their perceived
piety and sanctity and partly because of their role as the
deputies of the Hidden Imam, the latter being the focus of
the eschatological and soteriological aspirations of the


masses. This image of the marja' is carefully fostered by
stories told of miracles attributed to them. These miracles
are called by the term karamat (so as not to compare them to
the miracles, mu'jizat, which are one of the proofs of the
prophets and Imams).
  Whereas in Sunni Islam there is a direct relationship
between the believer and God as revealed in the religion of
Islam, in Shi'i Islam there is something of a triangular
relationship. While for some things, such as the daily
obligatory prayers, the individual is in direct relationship
to God, in other matters he looks (usually through the
mediation of the local mulla) to the marja' at-taqlid who is
regarded as being in a more direct relationship with God.
Indeed, in the minds of many of the less educated, the ulama
and the marja' are intermediaries between them and God and
the relationship is not so much triangular as hierarchical
(see Chart 6 on p. 243).

Another group who have a popularly perceived sanctity are
the Sayyids (those who claim descent from Muhammad through
'Ali and Fatima). Marriage into such a family is considered
a great honour and Sayyids are often asked to bless a
marriage or a new-born child.

The emphasis on the observation of the externals of the
religion does not mean, however, that there is no room for
individual piety. Apart from the obligatory prayer (salat)
which is said in Arabic, one can say personal prayer (du'a)
and communions with God (munajat) in one's own language,
addressing God in relation to the events of one's daily

It is, however, upon the Fourteen Pure Ones (Muhammad,
Fatima and the Twelve Imams) that the religious fervour of
the individual is concentrated. Not only can addressing them
in prayer and visiting their shrines induce them to act as
intercessors with God for the pardoning of sins, but,
through the recital of the details of their lives and
struggles (especially at gatherings commemorating their
births and deaths), they become models for and guides to the
daily existence of the individual. In particular it is the
Holy Family (consisting of Muhammad as a grandfather figure,
'Ali and Fatima, their sons Hasan and Husayn, and to a
lesser extent their daughter, Zaynab) which is looked to as
the model family for all Shi'is to follow in their family
inter-relationships. Fatima (and to a lesser extent Zaynab)
has become the model of ideal womanhood, while 'Ali or
Husayn serve that role for men.

The Holy Family are connected with a large range of
religious symbolism. Muhammad is, of course, the recipient
of the revelation, the link with God; he is, however, so
exalted as to be only approachable through one of the other
members of the family; 'Ali represents the intellectual,
esoteric side of religion (the way to obtain the true
meaning of the revelation) and its legalistic aspect ('Ali
had complete knowledge of the religious law and was the
perfect judge); Fatima is the Mother-


Creator figure, not very different from the image of Mary in
Roman Catholicism, she is even referred to as 'virgin'
(batul); Husayn represents atonement, his redemptive
martyrdom gives to all the possibility of salvation; the
Twelfth Imam is the focus of eschatological hopes of triumph
over tyranny and injustice and final salvation. While the
ulama look to the image of 'Ali, the image of the
intellectual, esoteric yet legalistic attitude towards
religion, it is undoubtedly Husayn and his representation of
redemption through sacrifice and martyrdom that has caught
the imagination and devotion of the Shi'i masses.
  The theme of martyrdom and patient suffering is one that
is very strong in Shi'ism. This is perhaps not surprising in
a sect that has for much of its existence been a persecuted
minority. This theme is embodied in the lives of the Imams
themselves who are each regarded as having suffered intense
persecution, in some cases imprisonment and physical
punishment and who are all popularly considered to have been
martyred (except of course the Twelfth Imam, but see Chapter
3 regarding the historicity of this claim). The essence of
this Shi'i attitude is summed up in the word mazlumiyyat
which means the patient endurance of suffering caused by the
tyrannical actions of those who have power over you. All the
Imams are considered to have displayed this virtue and, at
each of their anniversaries, their lives are recounted
emphasising in particular the wrongs that they suffered at
the hands of the Umayyad and 'Abbasid governments.

There is thus a strange paradox in Shi'i Islam in that two
apparently contradictory attitudes are both equally praised
and commended. The Imams are praised for their patient
endurance of suffering at the hands of those with political
power; they are commended for their use of taqiyya
(religious dissimulation) in the face of overwhelming odds.
And yet the greatest Shi'i hero, the Imam Husayn, is praised
and commended for not submitting to tyranny and rising up
(qiyamat) and fighting even in the face of overwhelming odds
and the certainty of martyrdom.

This paradox has indeed given Shi'is religious justification
for an extraordinary political versatility. Those who wish
to lead the Shi'i masses can, if the opposition seems
overwhelmingly superior or it is expedient to do so, enjoin
upon the Shi'is the patient endurance (mazlumiyyat) of the
Imams. And yet when the opportunity seems right, the Shi'i
masses can be whipped up to the frenzy of revolution by
appeal to the spirit of uprising (qiyam) of Husayn. In this
state, as was seen in Iran in 1979, the Shi'is are prepared
to go into the streets unarmed in eager anticipation of
martyrdom. Indeed, it is this (rather than, as has been
stated by many Western orientalists, any theoretical
illegitimacy of temporal power during the Occultation of the
Twelfth Imam) that is the source of the revolutionary
fervour latent within Shi'i Islam. '


  One further feature of the Shi'i world-view, which is also
a feature of many centuries of being a persecuted minority,
is the need for a scapegoat. Although it is centuries since
Shi'ism was made the official religion of Iran, this world-
view is still strong among Iranian Shi'is. Thaiss has
described it thus:

The environment (in the broadest sense) to an Iranian Shi'a
is seen as threatening a perception in which the
directionality involved is from the environment toward the
person, so that he is viewed as an effect, and various
external factors as cause. A person in such a cultural
situation would not likely hold himself accountable when
things go wrong and would generally react by turning anger
and hostility outward toward others -perceived Sunni
oppressors, an arbitrary and unjust government,
imperialists, agents of change and modernization, minority
groups such as Jews, Bahá'í etc.2

This world-view is as much present among the ulama as among
the ordinary people and usually it has been the ulama who,
as the natural leaders of the community, have directed the
people as to the identity of the scapegoat. While Shi'ism
was a minority, the Sunni majority were, of course, the
scapegoats and for a while under the Safavids they remained
in this role. Later, when the threat from the Ottoman Empire
receded, internal scapegoats were found, especially among
those who challenged the authority of the ulama. At first it
was the Akhbaris, then successively the Shaykhis, the Babis
and then the Bahá'ís. From time to time, the government or
the Jews have also been cast in this role. The motif was
very strong in the period immediately before the overthrow
of the Shah in 1979, with the Shah being openly identified
with Mu'awiya, the enemy of the Imam Husayn. Since the
Revolution, the Iraqi government, American imperialism and
the international Zionist conspiracy have become the major
external scapegoats, while the Bahá'ís have resumed their
role as internal scapegoats.

The Pattern of Religious Life

The pattern of life for the religiously devout is punctuated
by the rituals of the religion. These rituals may be
classified according to whether they occur on a daily,
weekly, yearly or irregular basis. These rituals are
described elsewhere in this book (see Chapter g) and are
only briefly listed here to demonstrate their pattern of

Daily:    Between dawn and sunrise           Call to prayer (adhan)
          Between noon and late afternoon    Ablutions (wudu)
          Between sunset and midnight        Prayer (salat)

Weekly:   Friday                             Friday prayer (salat


Yearly:   Month of Ramadan                   Fast (sawn, siyam)
Various commemorations on particular days (see Table 8):
          Births of Imams by joyous feasts ('Ids, Persian
          'Ayds) and
          Deaths of Imams by mourning ceremonies ('aza-

Irregular: Month of Dhu'l-Hijja,             Pilgrimage to Mecca
          Anytime                            Pilgrimage to shrines
                                             of Imams, descendants
                                             of Imams (Imamzadas)
                                             and other saints

The yearly cycle is punctuated by a large number of events
of religious significance. Several of these, such as the
month-long fast during Ramadan, the feast of Qurban
(Sacrifice, commemorating Abraham's intended sacrifice of
Ishmael) and the death of Muhammad are shared with the
Sunnis. In addition, however, the births and deaths of each
of the Imams are commemorated by festive gatherings or
mourning ceremonies as appropriate. A full list may be found
in Table 8.
  The most important of these commemorations is that of the
martyrdom of the Imam Husayn. The commemorations of this are
detailed later in this chapter. It is traditional to keep an
all-night vigil of mourning for the three days that
commemorate the interval between the stabbing and death of
the Imam 'Ali (19 to 21 Ramadan).
  Of the religious events that occur sporadically in the
life of an individual, the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj) is of
course a high point and is undertaken by all who can afford
it. However, all of the important events of life such as
marriage, birth and death are commemorated by religious
gatherings both in the home and in the mosque. Indeed, for
the less devout these may be their only contact with

Religious Gatherings

It has been customary in Iran for the devout to gather
together in informal groups, usually on a neighbourhood
basis, for the purpose of religious instruction and the
commemoration of the events of the religious calendar. These
groups, which are called hay'ats, are not organised by the
ulama and the gatherings usually rotate among the houses of
the members of the group. A member of the ulama will,
however, often be asked to attend either to preach or to
assist in the study of the Qur'an.
  The most conservative and traditionally-devout section of
Iranian society has always been the Bazaar. Many of the
Bazaaris form hay'ats on the basis of their guilds (i.e. on
the basis of occupation). Other hay'ats may be formed on the
basis of ethnic affiliation (e. g. Turkish-speaking


     Table 8: Calendar of Religious Commemorations

Muharram    1-10    Martyrdom of the third Imam, Husayn at Karbala
         9[*],10[*] Tasu'a and Ashura, culmination of Karbala
              11[*] Death of fourth Imam, Zaynu'l-'Abidin
Safar          3[+] Birth of fifth Imam, Muhammad al-Baqir
               7    Birth of seventh Imam, Musa al-Kazim
              20    Arba'in (fortieth day after death of Husayn)
              28[*] Death of the Prophet Muhammad and second
                    Imam, Hasan
              30[+] Death of eighth Imam, 'Ali ar-Rida
Rabii I        8    Death of eleventh Imam, Hasan al-'Askari
               9    Death of 'Umar the second Caliph (a joyful
                    occasion for Shi'is)
              17    Birth of Muhammad (Sunnis celebrate this on
                    12th and of sixth Imam, Ja'far as-Sadiq
Rabi II        8[+] Birth of eleventh Imam, Hasan al-'Askari
Jamadi I       5    Birth of Zaynab, sister of Imam Husayn
              13[+] Death of Fatima
Jamadi II     20[+] Birth of Fatima
Rajab          3    Death of tenth Imam, 'Ali al-Hadi
              10[+] Birth of ninth Imam, Muhammad at-Taqi
              13[*] Birth of first Imam, 'Ali
              15    Death of Zaynab, sister of Imam Husayn
              25    Death of seventh Imam, Musa al-Kazim
              27[*] 'Id al-Maba'th (commemoration of the start
                    of the Prophet's mission)
Sha'ban        3[+] Birth of third Imam, Husayn
               5[+] Birth of fourth Imam, Zaynu'l-'Abidin
               8[+] Occultation of twelfth Imam, al-Mahdi
              15[*] Birth of twelfth Imam, al-Mahdi
Ramadan  Whole month  Month of fast--frequent religious gatherings
              15    Birth of second Imam, Hasan
              19    Stabbing of first Imam 'Ali
              21[*] Death of first Imam, 'Ali
Shawwal        1[*] 'Id al-Fitr (commemorates end of fast)
              25[*] Death of sixth Imam, Ja'far as-Sadiq
Dhu'l-Qad'a   11[*] Birth of eighth Imam, 'Ali ar-Rida
              29    Death of ninth Imam, Muhammad at-Taqi
Dhu'l-Hijja    7    Death of fifth Imam, Muhammad al-Baqir
              10[*] 'Id al-Qurban (Feast of Sacrifice)
              15    Birth of tenth Imam, 'Ali al-Hadi
              18[*] 'Id al-Ghadir (celebrates Muhammad's designation
                     of 'Ali as his successor at Ghadir Khumm,
                     see p. 15)
  * These more important commemorations are public holidays in Iran.
  + These dates are variable from one Shi'i community to another;
     the dates given in this table are the ones generally used
     in Iran.


Adharbayjanis) or just on friendship. Women, too, may have
their own hay'ats or participate in the neighbourhood ones.
  In the decades preceding the 1979 Revolution in Iran, some
religious groupings took on a more political aspect and
became foci of anti-government sentiment. In these groups,
names such as Mu'awiya and Umayyad became code-names for the
Shah and the government respectively and whole orations
could be given in such a mutually understood code. Some of
these groups such as the Fida'iyan and Mujahidin translated
the rhetoric of Husayn's rising against a tyrannical
government into action by forming themselves into terrorist

Apart from the gatherings of the hay'ats and other religious
groups, individual Shi'is will frequently convene other
religious gatherings, often in fulfilment of a vow taken to
hold such a meeting in return for recovery from an illness
or similar crisis.

The commonest of these meetings is the rawda-khani recital
of the sufferings and martyrdom of the Imam Husayn (or
sometimes the other Imams also). The host for the gathering
will send invitations to a number of friends and colleagues
at work, will invite the rawda-khan (reciter of the rawda),
and provide refreshments, usually in the form of tea and
sweet-meats. The rawda-khan is considered a good one if he
is able to raise the emotions of his audience to the point
of weeping and lamentation. At some meetings, some men will
start to beat themselves on the chest as the narration
reaches its climax while others call out to Husayn and weep.

Rawda-khani is held throughout the year but, in particular,
in the month of Muharram during which the martyrdom of
Husayn is commemorated. On 10 Muharram, the day of 'Ashura,
when the martyrdom itself occurred, most of the people
attend a rawda, either in a private house, or in a mosque,
or in another building called a Husayniyya, which has been
specially built or converted for such use. Another aspect of
the Muharram commemorations are street processions. These
processions often carry a simulated body or a replica
sarcophagus (naqi) and are, in effect, ritualised funeral
processions for the Imam Husayn. The procession goes through
the streets and the bazaar chanting eulogies and threnodies
to the martyred Imam while rows of men (dastas) beat
themselves rhythmically with sticks, chains and swords until
the blood flows from their backs or foreheads. This self-
flagellation can be seen in all parts of the Shi'i world
(see Figs. 46 9). In India the procession forms around a
replica of the tomb of Husayn in Karbala and the ceremony
ends with the burial of the replica tomb.

A third feature of the Muharram commemorations is the
ta'ziya. This is a highly stylised theatrical presentation
of the Karbala tragedy. It evolved in Iran during the late
Safavid and Qajar periods[3] and spread to


Iraq and south Lebanon but does not appear to be popular in
other Shi'i communities. It had almost died out in Iran in
recent years but has been revived since the 1979 Revolution.
It has been called the Shi'i equivalent of the Christian
Passion Play.
  The following is an account of a ta'ziya as witnessed by
J. M. Tancoigne at Tehran. Although this account relates to
the 19th century, it remains a remarkably good portrayal of
such events even to the present day:

But the most curious and extraordinary of all those we have
hitherto seen, is the Tazies, or desolations, a kind of
funeral games, instituted in memory of the martyrdom of the
Imams, Hassan and Hussein, sons of Ali. It is very difficult
to give an exact description of such a spectacle, even after
having seen it; I shall, however, attempt to give you an
idea of the scene. We were invited by the king to be present
at their celebration, and being placed conveniently in the
shade of a tent raised on one of the terraces of the palace,
it enabled us to enjoy a good sight of the whole at one

  . . . The object of the Tazies is to remind the people of
these memorable events and to preserve their hatred and
resentment against the Sunnis. The festival commences on the
first of Mouharrem, and lasts until the 11th of the same

During those days of mourning, all the mosques are hung in
black, the public squares and crossways are covered with
large awnings, and at regular distances are placed stands,
ornamented with vases of flowers, small bells, and arms of
every kind. The Mollahs stationed in pulpits sing in a
mournful voice sacred hymns and lamentations, and the whole
auditory respond to them with tears and deep sighs. Men
almost naked run through the city, striking their breasts
rapidly; others piercing their arms and legs with knives,
fastening padlocks in the flesh under their breasts, or
making wide ashes in their heads, invoke their saints with
frightful howlings, shouting out Hassan! Hussein!

It is in the great court of the king's palace that the five
last representations take place. They might be, in some
respects, compared to those ancient spectacles, in which the
miseries of the passion were acted. The vizirs pay the
expenses of the first day, and the city of Teheran, which is
divided into four districts, pays those of the remaining

On a theatre erected opposite the king's kiosk, is to be
seen the family of Hussein, represented by men in women's
dresses. They are in great agitation, seem to have a
foreboding of the dismal fate which that Iman must
experience in the plain of Kerbela, and make the air resound
with shrieks and dreadful moans. Horsemen soon arrive, load
them with chains and carry them off. The two armies of the
Iman Hussein and the caliph Yezid then appear in the square:
the battle commences, Hussein soon falls from his horse
covered with wounds, and Yezid orders his head to be cut
off. At that moment the sobbings and lamentations of all the
assembly are redoubled; the spectators strike their breasts,
and tears stream from every eye!

On the following days, the representation of this tragedy is
continued, Yezid successively destroys Hassan[*] and the two
children of Hussein, who had fallen into his power, and a
general procession terminates the fifth day.
  * This is evidently a mistake as the Imam Hasan had died
previously. However, these ta'ziya did often include
representations of the deaths of 'Ali and Hasan.


  The march was opened by a crowd of men of the lower
orders, carrying flags surmounted with a hand of steel, and
banners of Cachemire shawls, the richness of which formed a
singular contrast with the poverty of their own dresses.
Then came led horses magnificently caparisoned, their
trappings shining with gold and jewels; litters ornamented
with foliage and verdure; figures of dead bodies covered
with blood, and pierced with daggers, round which aquatic
birds moved. Naked and bleeding men marched behind, some of
them had a large scimitar stuck into a false skull half
open, fitted on their heads, or arrows which seemed to
pierce through their breasts. They were followed by a long
train of camels mounted by men dressed in black, as were the
female mourners, and an infinity of persons of that sort,
who threw ashes and chopped straw on their heads in token of
A more pompous and imposing spectacle suddenly came to
variegate these hideous scenes. There appeared two great
mosques of gilt wood, carried by more than three hundred
men: both were inlaid with mirrors, and surmounted with
little minarets: children placed in the galleries sang
sacred hymns, the soft harmony of which agreeably
recompensed the spectators for the frightful shoutings they
had heard just before. Several Mollahs, magnificently
dressed prayed in the interior, at the tomb of the two
Imams. The representation of the Kaaba, or house of Abraham,
at Mecca, appeared immediately after the two mosques, and
was not inferior to them in richness of ornament. It was
followed by Hussein's war horse, pierced all over with
arrows, and led at large by his faithful slave, naked and
armed with a battleaxe. A great number of children with
wings of painted pasteboard, figured as angels or genii,
marched in the rear.
  The procession was closed by two or three hundred of the
common people in tatters, who struck their breasts, and
drove two round pieces of wood with violence against each
other, crying 'Hassan, Hossein! Ali!' lastly, by Mollahs
each carrying a large torch of yellow wax in a candlestick.
The latter stopped a moment under the windows of the kiosk,
where the king was, and the Cheik ul Islam addressed,
according to custom, praises to his majesty.

We did not receive an invitation for the last day of the
festival: the kin wishing to spare the legation from
witnessing the assassination of a Greek ambassador, who
Yezid caused to be put to death, for having interceded with
him for the pardon of Hussein's brother. The Persians, from
what motive I know not, produce this ambassador in the
modern European dress.

All these ceremonies are also repeated in the houses of the
nobility. I give you only an imperfect idea of them, for it
would be impossible for me to recollect the numerous
peculiarities of the representation: yet I can assure you of
the exactness of those I have related.[4]

There appears to be a good deal of variation in different
parts of the Shi'i world for the terms associated with
mourning for the Imam Husayn. The terminology used above is
that which is prevalent in Iran. The word ta'ziya in India
denotes the model of Husayn's tomb carried in the
processions (also called darih); in Iran, as noted above, it
means the 'Passion Play'; in Lebanon it denotes the rawda
gathering; while in southern Iraq and Bahrain it is the name
given to the ceremonial processions (these latter are called
jalus in India). The rawda in India is called a majlis and
in southern Iraq a qiraya. The ta'ziya or 'Passion Play' is


sometimes in Iran and usually in Iraq called a shabih; in
Lebanon it is called shabih or tamthil al-Husayn. The
building used for rawdas is called a Husayniyya in Iran,
Iraq and Lebanon, an Imambara in India and a Ma'tam in
Bahrain (see Table 9).
  Although women also participate in rawda-khanis and may
host such events exclusively for women, there is another
type of religious meeting particular to women. This is
called the sufra (literally tablecloth) and consists of an
invitation by the hostess to a number of other women to join
her for a meal which is usually preceded or followed by a
discourse by a mulla (often female) on a religious theme.
Sufras are often held in the name of one of the members of
the Holy Family (who then becomes the theme Of the sermon
for the mulla) and are often in fulfilment of a vow.

[Chart 6. "Diagram illustrating religious relationships
          as perceived by the ordinary believer (see p. 235)


           Table 9: Names associated with mourning for
          the Imam Husayn in different Shi'i communities

        Oration   Place where    Theatrical perfor-
        mourning  such orations  mance of the        Ceremonial
Cntry   Imam Hsyn held           Karbala tragedy     Processions

Iran    Rawda     Husayniyya     Ta'ziya or Shabih   No particular name
Iraq    Qiraya    Husayniyya     Shabih              Ta'ziya, Mawkib
Bahrain 'Ashura   Ma'tam         Not performed       Ta'ziya
Lebanon Ta'ziya   Held in pri-   Shabih or Tamthil   No Particular name
        or Dhikra  vate houses    al-Husayn
India   Majlis    Imambara       Not often performed Jalus


The Role and Position of Women

The role and position of women is, throughout the Shi'i
world, more a matter of cultural than religious
determination. Although it is true that in most parts of the
Middle East women play a subordinate role in the society,
yet one can find examples, especially in tribal and village
societies, where women work alongside men unveiled and with
much greater social freedom.
  The most conservative and traditional sections of Shi'i
society, supported by the majority of the ulama, view the
role of women as being essentially to remain within the
house as domestic supervisor, to provide their husbands with
sexual pleasure, to bring up children and to keep away from
men other than close relatives. Women are regarded as not
worth any substantial education, too emotional to be trusted
with any important decisions and liable, if unveiled, to
lead men astray by arousing sexual desires. A woman is
considered incapable of becoming a mujtahid and giving legal

It is true that a woman has substantial but strictly defined
rights under Islamic
law: the right to inherit, to possess property independently
of her husband, to choose her husband, to work and to
initiate divorce. Few women, however, are in practice able
to exercise these rights effectively in a male-dominated
religion. There is no mechanism whereby women can act in
society independently of men. Thus
only an independently wealthy woman, who can buy the
services of a male agent, or
a woman who is fortunate enough to obtain the full backing
of the male members of
her family has any hope of bringing a legal action against
another person.

Modern Shi'i writers have attacked the image of the Western,
'liberated' woman which has penetrated Shi'i society. They
regard women in the West as being manipulated by society to
become sex objects, consumers of cosmetics and other
products of the Western economy. This degradation of women
has led, they maintain,
to promiscuity, adultery, divorce and the break-down of the
family unit in the West. Thus they vigorously reject all
movement towards importing any Western ideas
of female emancipation. Any movement that had been made in
that direction in Iran
in the last few decades has been more than reversed since
the 1979 Revolution.

Chapter 14


          Contemporary Shi'ism

The 20th century has seen great changes in all the Shi'i
communities of the world. The principal change has been in
the political sphere where the Shi'i communities have become
more assertive, particularly in countries such as Iraq,
Lebanon and Bahrain where they form a significant proportion
of the population but wield little political power. This
process will undoubtedly be accelerated by the 1979
Revolution in Iran but the full effect of this remains to be

The Religious Leadership

After the death of Mirza-yi Shirazi in 1895 there was a
period when leadership was shared among a group of prominent
mujtahids in Najaf. This group included Mulla Muhammad known
as Fadil Sharabiyani (1245/1829-1322/1904), Shaykh Muhammad
Hasan ibn 'Abdu'llah Mamaqani (1238/1822-1323/1905), Mirza
Husayn ibn Mirza Khalil (Khalili) Tihrani (d. 1326/1908) and
Mulla Muhammad Kazim known as Akhund Khurasani (1255/1839-
1329/1911). With the death of the other members of this
group, the last-named was for a time the sole marja at-
  During this period the leading mujtahids at Najaf were
strongly in favour of the Constitutional Movement in Iran.
In 1909, in protest at the actions of Muhammad Shah and the
continued presence of Russian troops in Iran, the leading
mujtahids of Najaf left the town and retired to Karbala, but
the success of the Constitutionalist forces in taking Tehran
caused them to return. Again in 1911 after the Russian
occupation of several Iranian towns and the threat of
Muhammad 'Ali Shah's restoration, the mujtahids planned to
leave Najaf and return to Iran to lead the people. The
sudden death of Akhund Khurasani delayed their departure but
in January 1912 they reached Kazimayn. By that time
negotiations between the Russians and the Iranian government
were at an advanced stage and so the mujtahids returned to

There was also, during the Constitutional Revolution, some


resurgence of interest among the Shi'i ulama in Pan-
Islamism. The mujtahids of Najaf addressed several telegrams
to the Ottoman Sultan addressing him as Caliph of the
Muslims and asking him to intervene in Iran against Muhammad
'Ali Shah and the Russians. But that was a short-lived
revival and faded soon after the Constitutionalist triumph. 
 After Khurasani, Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Yazdi (d. 1918)
became sole marja'. He was different in many ways from the
maraji' who preceded and succeeded him. He had been opposed
to the Constitutional Movement in Iran and, unlike the other
mujtahids, was friendly towards the British after their
occupation of Iraq. Under his leadership the ulama as a
whole became much less enthusiastic about the Constitution,
particularly as they observed the resulting secularisation
of many aspects of life such as education.

Yazdi's successor was Mirza Muhammad Taqi Shirazi (d. 1920),
a resident of Karbala, who was an implacable opponent of the
British in Iraq and even issued a decree calling for a jihad
against them. The next marja' at-taqlid, Shaykh Fathu'llah
Isfahani, known as Shaykhu'sh Shari'a (d. 1920), survived
his predecessor by only four months.

In 1920 an event took place in Qumm that was to have far-
reaching consequences. For a number of years prior to this
date, a group of ulama had been busy refurbishing the
madrasas of Qumm which had fallen into disuse and disrepair
for a century. Then in 1920 Shaykh 'Abdu'l-Karim Ha'iri-
Yazdi (d. 1937) was invited to come from Sultanabad (Arak),
where he had been teaching, to Qumm. This event marked the
beginning of the renaissance of Qumm.

From 1920 onwards there was a period similar to the years
after the death of Mirza-yi Shirazi when several of the
leading mujtahids were all regarded as being maraji' at-
taqlid. These were Shaykh 'Abdu'l-Karim Ha'iri-Yazdi (d.
1937) in Qumm, and Shaykh 'Abdu'llah Mamaqani (d. 1933),
Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Na'ini (d. 1936), Shaykh Diya'u'd Din
'Iraqi (d. 1942) and Sayyid Abu'l-Hasan Isfahani (d. 1946)
in Najaf. After the death of the others, the last-named
became sole marja'. His successor, Sayyid Aqa Husayn ibn
Muhammad Tabataba'i known as Ayatu'llah Qummi, a resident of
Karbala, survived him by only three months, dying in
February 1947.

After the death of Ha'iri-Yazdi in 1937, the centre of
learning (hawzayi 'ilmi) at Qumm continued to increase in
importance. At first Ha'iri Yazdi's work was continued by
Ayatu'llahs Sayyid Muhammad Taqi Khwansari (d. 1952), Sayyid
'Ali Hujjat (d. 1953), and Sayyid Sadru'd Din Sadr (d.
1954). Then in Muharram 1364 (December 1944-January 1945),
Ayatu'llah Burujirdi came to Qumm from Burujird and began
teaching there. After this Qumm increased even more in
importance until it rivalled Najaf.


  On the death of Ayatu'llah Qummi in 1947 there was
agreement among the ulama that his successor should be
Ayatu'llah Burujirdi of Qumm. Thus at this point in time,
with the residence there of the sole marja' at-taqlid, Qumm
took over as the leading centre of Shi'i scholarship. Najaf,
however, continued to contest this leadership and many
students, especially from the Arab countries and the Indian
subcontinent, continued to go there. But for Iranian
students Qumm now superseded Najaf.
  Burujirdi himself played a very quietist role politically
but towards the end of his life was moved to speak out
against the Bahá'ís in 1955 and against the land reform
proposals of the Shah in 1960. He died in March 1961.
  After Ayatu'llah Burujirdi there was no-one who could
claim to be outstandingly superior to the other mujtahids in
his knowledge. At Qumm there were Ayatu'llahs
Shari'atmadari, Gulpaygani and Mar'ashi-Najafi; at Mashhad,
Ayatu'llah Muhammad Hadi Milani; in Tehran, Ayatu'llah Ahmad
Khwansari; and in Najaf, Ayatu'llahs Khu'i, 'Abdu'l-Hadi
Shirazi (d. 1381/1961), Al Kashifu'l-Ghita and Muhsin al-
Hakim (d. 1970).[2] The last-named received the broadest
support but was unable to consolidate his position
sufficiently, especially among the ulama of Qumm, to become
regarded as the sole marja'.
  At the same time, there was a great deal of discussion
regarding the whole concept of marja' at-taqlid. In the book
Bahthi dar ba-ra-yi Marja'iyyat wa Ruhaniyyat (Discussion
regarding the marja' and the Religious Classes, see p. 258),
a number of ulama as well as some leading laymen discussed
the question of the leadership of the ulama and some of the
political problems confronting Iranian Shi'ism. One view
which was discussed by several writers in this book and
which had been favoured by Shaykh 'Abdu'l-Karim Ha'iri-Yazdi
was that the concept of a sole marja' at-taqlid be abandoned
in favour of each mujtahid specialising in a particular
field and being followed in that field. Parallel with this
view was the idea of a council of mujtahids sharing
leadership. It was argued that problems were now too complex
for any individual mujtahid to have universal competence.
  For a time Mashhad seriously rivalled Qumm in importance
with the presence there of Ayatu'llahs Kafa'i-Khurasani and
Milani, but with the death of the first in 1971 and of the
second in 1975, together with the destruction of Milani's
theological college in the course of municipal improvements,
there was a relative decline in Mashhad's importance
although it remains one of only three centres (the others
being Qumm and Najaf) from which universally-recognised
mujtahids can graduate. 3

The events of 1963 (see p. 254) catapulted Ayatu'llah
Khumayni into prominence as a marja' at-taqlid and so after
the death of Milani in 1975


there remained six top-ranking maraji' at-taqlid: in Najaf,
Ayatu'llahs Khu'i and Khumayni; in Qumm, Ayatu'llahs
Shari'atmadari, Gulpaygani and Mar'ashi-Najafi; and in
Tehran, Ayatu'llah Khwansari.
  At present the leading maraji' at-taqlid appear to be:
Ayatu'llah Khumayni at Jamaran, near Tehran; Ayatu'llahs
Muhammad Rida Gulpaygani, Shihabu'd-Din Mar'ashi-Najafi and
Ahmad Khwansari* at Qumm; Ayatu'llah Abu'l-Qasim Musavi
Khu'i in Najaf; and Ayatu'llahs Hasan Qummi and 'Abdu'llah
Shirazi* at Mashhad. It remains to be seen whether the
announcement of Ayatu'llah Kazim Shari'atmadari's deposition
as a marja' will be taken notice of by his supporters or
not. Early indications are that Shari'atmadari still has
considerable support in Adharbayjan.


The Constitutional Movement

The first decade of the 20th century saw the ulama of Iran
and Iraq much involved in the Constitutional Movement. The
leading mujtahids of the Shi'i world, who were resident in
Najaf and therefore relatively immune from the political
power of the Shah, threw their weight behind the
Constitutionalists. Three of them in particular, Mirza
Husayn ibn Khalil Tihrani, Mulla Muhammad Kazim Khurasani
and Mulla 'Abdu'llah Mazandarani, showed constant support
for the movement by letters telegrams and fatwas. Some of
the ulama were, however, against the Constitutionalists.
These included Shaykh Muhammad Kazim Yazdi at Najaf, Hajji
Mirza Hasan at Tabriz and most notably Shaykh Fadlu'llah
Nun. The latter held that the reforms advocated by the
Constitutionalists would weaken the Shari'a and increase
European penetration of Iran. He felt that the laws of the
nation should be dictated by the Shari'a and not by
parliamentary assembly.
  The Constitution was finally granted, after much public
agitation, by Muzaffaru'd-Din Shah in August 1906 and signed
one week before his death on 8th January 1907. His
successor, Muhammad 'Ali Shah, lost no time in trying to
cancel out its effects and finally, in June 1908, staged a
coup d'etat and overturned the Constitution. At first it
appeared that the king would have his way but, slowly, the
forces of the Constitutionalists gathered and in the spring
and summer of 1909 they advanced on Tehran, eventually
forcing Muhammad 'Ali Shah's abdication on 16 July 1909.
  * As this book was being prepared for publication, news
was received of the death of Ayatu'llah Shirazi in Mashhad
on 27 September 1984 and of Ayatu'llah Ahmad Khwansari in
Tihran on 19 January 1985.

January 1985.


  Among those executed by the triumphant Constitutionalist
forces was Shaykh Fadlu'llah Nuri. His memory was generally
execrated by Iranians because of his anti-Constitution stand
until the 1979 Revolution, since when he has been
rehabilitated as a great champion of the Shari'a. The
Constitution recognised Twelver Shi'ism as the official
religion and provided for a committee of five mujtahids who
would vet all the legislation of the National Assembly and
reject anything that was not in accordance with the Shari'a.
This last provision was, however, never activated.

In 1911, when the Russians occupied Tabriz and threatened to
restore Muhammad 'Ali Shah, it was the turn of a
Constitutionalist religious leader, Mirza 'Ali Thiqatu'l-
Islam, to be executed. After the First World War the
mujtahids continued to play a political role although it was
increasingly the Nationalist politicians who were in the

Rida Shah Pahlavi

When in 1923 Rida Khan came to power and forced Ahmad Shah
to leave the country, all the talk was of declaring a
republic. But the ulama, seeing the markedly secular
direction of the newly-formed Turkish republic under
Ataturk, took fright and began to call for a rejection of
republicanism. Rida Khan, who at this time needed the
support of the ulama, fell into line with their wishes and
in 1925 had himself proclaimed Shah, thus starting the
Pahlavi dynasty.
  No sooner was Rida Shah firmly in power, however, than he
began to take measures to curtail the power and influence of
the ulama. Between 1925 and 1928 a secular commercial,
criminal and civil code of law was introduced beginning the
erosion of the influence of the Shar' (religious) courts. In
1928 a law was passed making the abandonment of traditional
dress in favour of Western attire compulsory. Although the
ulama were exempt from this, the law stated that they had to
prove their status by examination (except for recognised
mujtahids), thus giving the government the defacto power of
deciding who was and who was not a member of the ulama. In
1929 government examinations were decreed for the teachers
and the tullab (students) at the religious colleges and in
1934 the Ministry of Education announced a curriculum for
these colleges, while the foundation of the University of
Tehran with a Faculty of Theology (established in 1934)
provided, for the first time, an alternative means of
acquiring a religious education. Thus the government was
giving itself the right to determine who was a member of the
ulama and who could enter this class, whereas previously
there had been no restriction on this. The rapid expansion
of the state school


system replacing the old maktabs (see p. 200) resulted in a
secularisation of general education. The powers of the ulama
were further curtailed in 1931 when strict limits were
placed on the Shar' courts. Thenceforward, these could only
deal with matters of personal status (marriage, divorce,
inheritance, etc.). The referral of other cases to these
courts had to be by approval of the civil courts or the
Attorney-General and then they had only power to determine
guilt, not to pass sentence. In 1932 the power of
registering documents and property titles was also removed
from the Shar' courts. The final stage of Rida Shah's attack
on the ulama was the Law on Religious Endowments (Awqaf) of
1934. This law provided for all religious endowments where
the administrator of the endowment was unknown, was
incompetent or was diverting the endowment to private gain
to be taken over and administered by a government Department
of Endowments (which meant, of course, that the government
determined how the income was to be spent).
  Apart from his direct attack on the ulama, Rida Shah also
carried out a number of other measures that were seen as an
attack on religion. The use of the veil by women was
prohibited in 193 6, an attempt was made to suppress
ta'ziyas and rawda-khanis in 1932, the Muslim lunar calendar
was replaced by a solar calendar and even the pilgrimage to
Mecca was prohibited for a time. The state also took over a
number of social functions such as the provision of
hospitals, public baths and orphanages, which had usually
been the domain of the ulama.

By the end of Rida Shah's reign the ulama had been greatly
subdued. In contrast to the early decades of the 20th
century, there was little political activity among them. The
numbers at the religious colleges were declining.

The most important religious thinker of the period of Rida
Shah was probably Mirza Rida Quli Shari'at-Sanglaji. He made
a plea to the ulama to abandon their reactionary and
superstitious attitudes and to use the tool of ijtihad to
reinterpret and modernise Islam. Another important religious
figure of this period was Sayyid Hasan Muddaris who led the
religious opposition to the Shah's secularisation programme
in the Majlis (Parliament). He was imprisoned in 1929 and
killed on 14 December 1937 (see Fig. 58).

Muhammad Rida Shah

After the abdication of Rida Shah in 1941 the ulama pressed
for and obtained the reversal of several measures which had
been considered anti-religious. These included the repeal on
the ban on ta'ziyas and rawda-khanis, and the observance of
Ramadan by government offices. Even the veil made a
reappearance on the streets. The British, who had


spearheaded the Allied occupation of Iran which forced Rida
Shah's abdication during the war, also encouraged this
resurgence of the ulama as a bulwark against communists who
had occupied parts of northern Iran.
  Up to 1953 the new Shah, Muhammad Rida, was unable to
exert any authority and became increasingly eclipsed by
political figures such as Ahmad Qavam and Musaddiq.
  Parallel to the rising importance of the ulama themselves
was the emergence of powerful and active religious groups.
The first of these, the Fida'iyan Islam, led by Navvab
Safavi, was formed in 1945. It was a right-wing
fundamentalist Islamic movement with much support among the
lower classes and the Bazaar elements. It was not, however,
a supporter of the ulama and they were not sympathetic to
it. It was responsible for several assassinations between
1946 and 1951.
  Closely linked with the Fida'iyan was a politically-active
member of the ulama, Ayatu'llah Kashani (d. 1962), and his
group of religious delegates in the National Assembly who
were called Mujahidin-i Islam. Kashani was popular among the
lower-ranking ulama and the middle classes. Kashani's
expressed aims were to make the Shari'a the law of the land
and to have the ulama as the principal element administering
and guiding the community. In all this he appears to have
been a forerunner of Khumayni. Kashani was a supporter of
Pan-Islamism but above all else he was anti-British. He came
to act as a link in an alliance of Fida'iyan, ulama and the
National Front party which brought Musaddiq to power in 1951
with a programme to eliminate Western influence in the
country and nationalise the oil company. However,
immediately Musaddiq came to power the coalition fell apart.
First the Fida'iyan were refused a part in the government.
Then Kashani also fell out with Musaddiq when the latter
tried to assume extraordinary powers. The increasing
infiltration of the National Front by the communist Tudih
Party had made Kashani and the rest of the ulama
antagonistic towards Musaddiq's government. Thus when the
Shah staged his dramatic return to Iran in August 1953,
almost the entirety of the ulama from Kashani to the leading
religious figure in Tehran, Ayatu'llah Bihbahani,
enthusiastically welcomed him back and were active in
mobilising the crowds that took to the streets and overthrew

After Musaddiq, the Shah, with strong British and American
support, became increasingly dictatorial and soon all
elements of democracy were gradually eradicated or negated.
The Fida'iyan-i Islam were ruthlessly crushed and their
leader Navvab Safavi executed on 18 January 1956.

The ulama during this period after the fall of Musaddiq
withdrew from active involvement in politics to a large
extent but gave the Shah


much-needed support in the early days of his efforts to re-
establish his authority. In return, the Shah maintained an
outward show of deference to the ulama and even accommodated
some of the requests of the ulama such as for more Islamic
instruction in the schools. Part of this accommodation
between the ulama and the Shah was the leeway given to the
ulama to raise a violent anti-Baha'; campaign.
  The Bahá'ís had, for over a century, been a convenient
scapegoat for both the ulama and the government of Iran
principally because persecution of this religious minority
was less likely to cause international repercussions than
persecutions of Christians or Jews. Also the Bahá'ís had
been successful in making converts from the Muslim
population thus, in effect, threatening the position of the
ulama in a way that the other religious minorities did not.
During the month of Ramadan (May-June) in 1955, the popular
preacher Shaykh Muhammad Taqi Falsafi was allowed to
broadcast, over the government-controlled radio, several
very inflammatory attacks on the Bahá'ís. Ayatu'llah
Burujirdi gave his support to Falsafi and soon Bahá'ís and
Bahá'í properties in all parts of the country were under
attack. Beatings, killings, looting and raping went on for
several weeks, usually incited by the ulama in each
locality. The Shah appeared, at first, to countenance these
disturbances which probably acted as a useful smoke-screen
to hide the fact that he was in the midst of signing the
Baghdad Pact (CENTO) allying himself formally with the much
distrusted British and Americans. It may even have been that
the Shah had negotiated a secret deal whereby the clergy
agreed not to agitate against such issues in return for
being allowed a free hand against the Bahá'ís. Eventually,
however, international pressure forced the Shah's government
to restore order.

Following the anti-Bahá'í persecution of 1955 there followed
a period of relative calm, during which the Shah drew up his
plans for modernising Iran, plans that would inevitably
bring him into conflict with the conservative ulama. The
comparatively good relations between the state and the ulama
came to an end in 1960 when Ayatu'llah Burujirdi, who had
previously studiously avoided political involvement, began
to speak out against the Land Reform Bill that had been
drafted. Although the ulama, as controllers of large
religious land endowments, were obviously concerned at any
measures involving the land, and although they were acting
to an extent on behalf of the landowners who were one of
their main benefactors, it is likely that the land issue was
merely the 'last straw' in a series of measures which the
ulama had perceived as threatening and had thus become the
focal point around which these resentments burst out. This
is shown by the fact that immediately afterwards, a number
of other issues were joined to the land


question as being policies that the ulama objected to. These
issues included: the question of women's rights and
enfranchisement; the regime's foreign policy and, in
particular, the close links with Israel; the growing Western
cultural penetration of the country which the Shah's regime
appeared to be actively encouraging; and the increasingly
totalitarian nature as well as the corruption of the regime. 
 Interestingly, at this juncture, as in previous times when
relations between the ulama and the state were
deteriorating, the idea of Pan-Islamism re-emerged strongly.
One sign of this was the issuing, in 1959, by Shaykh Mahmud
Shaltut, the Rector of al-Azhar in Cairo, the leading
theological institution of the Sunni world, of a fatwa
recognising Ja'fari (i.e. Twelver) Shi'ism as a legitimate
Islamic school of law. This was matched by increased
interest in Pan-Islamism among the Shi'i ulama.

In March 1961 Ayatu'llah Burujirdi died and there was no
single figure prominent enough to succeed him as sole marja'
at-taqlid. The Shah used this opportunity of disarray among
the ulama to push forward with his plans. In May 1961 he
dissolved the National Assembly and, in effect, suspended
the Constitution by not allowing further elections. He then
pressed ahead with land reform decrees and in 1963 announced
and won approval by referendum for his 'White Revolution'.
  Paradoxically, however, the lack of a clear successor to
Burujirdi had, by giving increased independence to local
religious leaders, strengthened the political effectiveness
of the ulama. The increasing dissatisfaction of the ulama
now boiled over into attacks upon the government. By 1962
the ulama were organising demonstrations and riots. On 22
January 1963, four days before the referendum on the 'White
Revolution', the ulama, acting in concert with their
traditional supporters in the Bazaar, staged violent
demonstrations and closed the Bazaar. The disorder reached
such a pitch that the Shah went to the previously undreamt-
of lengths of detaining a leading marja' at-taqlid,
Ayatu'llah Shari'atmadari, together with Ayatu'llahs
Khumayni, Mahallati-Shirazi, Qummi and Talaqan.
  It was Ayatu'llah Ruhu'llah Musavi Khumayni (b. 1902) who
came into prominence this year. He was the most outspoken of
the ulama in his criticism of the regime; his pictures
suddenly appeared everywhere as symbols of anti-government
feeling. It was his arrest at 2.00 a.m. on 5 June 1963 that
sparked off the worst of the rioting that year during the
Muharram mourning period. Khumayni remained in prison until
August 1963. He was tried and sentenced to death by a
military court. However, at the instigation of Ayatu'llahs
Shari'atmadari and Milani the combined Iranian Ayatu'llahs
proclaimed Khumayni to be elevated to the rank of Ayatu'llah
al-'Uzma and thus saved him.4 Although released from prison,
Khumayni continued his criticism of the


government and was eventually exiled to Turkey in November
1964 where he remained until October 1965 when he moved to
  Khumayni's rise to prominence at this time is probably
unique in Shi'i history. The usual way in which a mujtahid
rises to become a top ranking marja' at-taqlid is through
being recognised by other ulama and by the tullab as being
pre-eminent in scholarship (in the traditional fields of
jurisprudence and principles of jurisprudence) and piety.
However, Khumayni (who had not specialised in jurisprudence
and principles of jurisprudence) projected himself into the
top-ranking echelon of maraji' at-taqlid by his political
appeal to the masses.
  The ulama and all other opposition groups were effectively
crushed by the Shah in 1963 and the next fourteen years saw
a period of what appeared to be relative political calm. The
ulama were kept under firm government control and were thus
forced into political quietism. Censorship ensured that only
religious works on non-controversial topics could be
published and the few ulama who did venture to speak out
against the regime such as Ayatu'llah Sayyid Mahmud Talaqani
and Ayatu'llah Muhammad Rida Sa'idi were immediately dealt
with (the latter was tortured to death in 1970). The Shah's
secret police, SAVAK, infiltrated religious groups and dealt
harshly with any protests.

Religious Developments in the 1960s and 1970s

However, under this surface calm there were some very
important religious developments going on. These
developments during the 1960S and 1970S can best be
considered under four headings: the attempt by the Shah to
create a religious system independent of the ulama and
controlled by the government; the discussions within the
ranks of the religious classes aimed at reform of the ulama;
the rethinking of Shi'i concepts in order to bring them up
to date and thus counter more effectively the increasing
pervasion of Iranian society by materialistic Western
culture; and the continuing underground opposition of some
of the ulama to the Shah's regime.
  Having effectively muzzled the ulama, the Shah,
recognising that the innate religiosity of the masses would
always give the ulama a power base within the country, set
about constructing an alternative religious system. The
groundwork for this had been laid by Rida Shah when he had
begun the process of taking over control of some of the
religious endowments. Religious endowments formed a large
proportion of the income of the ulama and, although the
government Department of Religious Endowments continued to
use the income from the endowments for religious, charitable
and educational purposes, it was now the government that was
increasingly in control of the uses to


which the money was put. Also, as mentioned before, the
establishment of the Faculty of Theology at Tehran
University during Rida Shah's reign provided an alternative
means, under government control, of acquiring a religious
  The first stage of Muhammad Rida Shah's plan to set up a
religious structure to rival the ulama was the creation
under the White Revolution of a Literacy Corps (Sipah-i
Danish) which was to bring literacy and education to the
villages. Since the Corpsmen also taught the Qur'an and
religious education as part of their programme in each
village, they became, in effect, rivals of the village
mullas. Following on from this, the Shah created in 1970 a
Religious Corps (Sipah-i Dini) and a Corps of Religious
Propagandists (Muravvijin-i Din). These were in even more
direct competition with the village mullas.
  Thus what came to be called the Din-i Dawlat (government's
religion) was set up in competition with the Din-i Millat
(people's religion) and had virtually a complete hierarchy;
starting at the top with several influential religious
figures, such as Ayatu'llah Mahdavi and 'Allama Vahidi, who
threw their weight behind it; a country-wide network of
holders of government-appointed posts, such as the Imam-
Jum'as of many of the most important mosques; the
educational facilities of university theology faculties as
well as the government-run college, the Madrasa Sipahsalar
in Tehran; the efforts at the village level of the Literacy
and Religious Corpsmen; and the financial backing of the
Religious Endowments Department (see Table 10).
  Indeed, although it was never explicitly claimed, the
tenor of many of the Shah's pronouncements, about how he was
being guided by God and had seen visions of the Imams,
implied that he regarded himself, rather than the ulama, as
the true representative of the Hidden Imam (not unlike but
less extreme than the claims of Shah Isma'il, the first
Safavid monarch, see p. 105) and therefore the Din-i Dawlat
as the true form of Shi'i Islam.
  However, the Din-i Dawlat had up to 1978 failed to win the
allegiance of the masses who boycotted the government-
controlled mosques in the cities and continued to turn to
the traditional ulama and the independent mosques.
Nevertheless, it was a serious threat to the ulama and may
possibly have achieved its purpose had it continued longer.
Its existence certainly explains the intense hostility of
the ulama for the regime of the Shah.[5]
  During the 1960s there was an intense discussion among the
ulama concerning their role in society. Ayatu'llah Burujirdi
had always discouraged political involvement by the ulama
but after his death a number of writers began to call for
reforms within the religious establishment and for the ulama
to take a more active social role. In


Table 10. Diagrammatic representation of Din-i Dawlat and Din-i Millat
(adapted from Braswell, 'Mosaic of Mullahs and Mosques ', pp. 246-7)

                       Din-i Dawlat                  Din-i Millat

Leadership             Shah                          Maraji' at-taqlid
                       Imam-Jum'as                   Mujtahids
                       Sipah-i Dini and Muravvijin   Mullas

Institutional Arrangements

Education              Faculties of Theology         Qumm and other
                       Madrasa Sipahsalar            religious colleges

Legal                  Secular courts                Shari'a courts

Finance                Religious endowments          Some religious
                       Government support            Voluntary
                                                     offerings of khums
                                                     and zakat
Centres: national      Tehran                        Qumm
           local       Government-controlled         Independent
                        mosques                       mosques
Communications         Mass Media                    Informal

Literature             Qur'an                        Qur'an
                       Shah's autobiography          Traditional Shi'i
                       White Revolution              Writings of
                        literature                    maraji' at-taqlid
                                                     and some
                                                     thinkers such as

Ideology               White Revolution              Imam Husayn's
                       Monarchy                      Leadership of the
                       Modernisation                 Traditionalism



December 1962, after Burujirdi's death, there appeared a
seminal publication Bahthi dar bara-yi Marja'iyyat wa
Ruhaniyyat (Discussion regarding the marja' and the
Religious Classes) in which a number of leading ulama as
well as prominent lay thinkers presented papers discussing
the role of the ulama in Muslim society. This document urged
the necessity of reform of the curriculum at the religious
colleges so as to replace the centrality of fiqh
(jurisprudence) in the curriculum with more socially-
oriented subjects such as ethics. It considered that the
main factor holding the ulama back from being a major social
force was their financial dependence on the masses who
always tend to conservatism. It also urged the ulama to
resurrect the communal spirit among the Shi'i masses. Since
Islam is a total way of life, there can be no separation
between religion and social and political issues, therefore
the ulama have no choice but to emerge, speak out on these
issues and provide social leadership.6
  Parallel with this reassessment of the role of the ulama
in society was the attempt by a number of intellectuals to
reinterpret some of the traditional concepts of Shi'i Islam
in such a way as to make them more applicable to the modern
world. In previous generations, intellectuals, seeing the
backwardness of the Islamic world and the prosperity of the
Western nations, had sought to bring modernisation to Iran
and therefore had emphasised that Islam was compatible with
modernisation (i.e. Westernisation). But now, seeing the
regime pressing ahead with modernisation and the enormous
social disruption that this was causing, the new generation
of intellectuals looked back to a past that they imagined to
have been free of such problems and therefore they sought to
present Islam as a bulwark against the moral decay caused by
  Among the first of this new generation of intellectuals
who wrote of the need to resist the cultural penetration of
Iran by the West were Dr Sayyid Fakhru'd-Din Shadman, Prof.
Ihsan Naraqi and Jalal Al-i Ahmad (d. 1969). The latter
popularised the term gharbzadigi (spellbound by the West) to
describe the attitude of those who enthusiastically called
for the uncritical and wholesale adoption of Western ways.
Al-i Ahmad's line of thought was taken up and developed by
Dr 'Ali Shari'ati (1933-77). In 1965 an institute called the
Husayniyya Irshad was set up in Tehran to discuss modern
social issues in an Islamic context. Shari'ati lectured at
this institute regularly from 1967 until it was closed by
the government in 1973. These lectures were mimeographed and
distributed and caused a great deal of discussion,
eventually becoming one of the ideological bases of the 1979
  Both Al-i Ahmad and Shari'ati were very critical of the
ulama for their obscurantism and passivity. Shari'ati in
particular presents a theory that the original 'pure'
Shi'ism (which he calls 'Alawi Shi'ism) was perverted


in Safavid times so that the socially-active 'Alawi Shi'ism
in which each Muslim has an obligation to strive for
achieving the ideal Shi'i society became the passive Safavid
Shi'ism in which each Muslim was enjoined to sit back and
wait for the advent of the Hidden Imam who would put
everything right. The ulama of the Safavid period concerned
themselves only with other-worldly matters and hence gave
the state a free hand in politics and this tendency had
persisted, Shari'ati maintained, to the present day.
Shari'ati was also a sharp critic of the neo-colonialism of
the West and sought in a revitalised Islam the means of
combating this Western imperialism.
  Although very popular with the masses and especially with
the young, Shari'ati's writings never found favour with the
ulama. There was too much of an attack on the ulama
themselves in his writings for their comfort, although they
based their denunciations of Shari'ati on his lack of
traditional Shi'i learning and hence his liability to make
mistakes in his presentation of Shi'i history and doctrine.
Indeed, Shari'ati and certain groups such as the Furqan
terrorists who considered themselves his followers were
accused of being crypto-Sunnis.7

Two other lay writers who were very influential at this time
and who were later to play important political roles after
the 1979 Revolution were Abu'l-Hasan Bani-Sadr (b. 1933) and
Engineer Mihdi Bazargan (b. 1905). The former was the
leading economic thinker in the Revolution's ideology and
later the first President of the Islamic Republic; the
latter wrote mainly about Islam's adaptability and
compatibility with modern science and technology and later
became the Islamic Republic's first Prime Minister. Whereas
in the 1950s the university students had been anti-
religious, it was due to writers like Bazargan that the
interest of the students in Islam was rekindled in the 1960s
and this paved the way for the alliance of the students with
the ulama and Bazaar elements that was to be such an
important factor in the 1979 Revolution. Another factor that
contributed to the growing interest in Islam in the
universities was the increasing number of students from the
lower (and in general more rigidly Islamic) strata of
  Among the ulama also there were several writers of
importance in this process of rethinking the basis of Shi'i
Islam. Leaving aside Khumayni for the present, the most
influential of these were Ayatu'llah Mahmud Talaqani (1919-
September 1979) who achieved a reputation of being liberal,
progressive and sympathetic to minority groups and who was
very popular with the students and the middle classes, and
Ayatu'llah Shaykh Murtada Mutahhari (assassinated May 1979)
who was also very popular with the students and a leading
advocate of reforms among the ulama.

The ulama within Iran had very limited opportunities for


opposition to the regime. Some protest did occur in 1970-72
when disturbances occurred in the universities especially at
Tehran and also at Qumm. Two of the most outspoken ulama,
Ayatu'llahs Muntaziri and Talaqani, were arrested and exiled
internally. Shortly afterwards in 1973, the Husayniyya
Irshad was closed down and Shari'ati arrested. In June 1975,
on the anniversary of Khumayni's arrest in 1963, there was a
demonstration by religious students at the Madrasa Faydiyya,
the leading religious college in Qumm. Police invaded the
building using tear gas and are said to have killed some of
the students by throwing them off the roof. The Faydiyya was
closed and remained so until the Revolution.
  Ayatu'llah Khumayni, on the other hand, in exile in Iraq,
did not have the same constraints upon him. His writings and
talks in pamphlet form and on cassette were smuggled into
Iran and distributed. He thus became a rallying point for
the opposition to the regime among the religious elements of
the population and, in particular, the lower-ranking ulama,
the religious students and the Bazaar elements.
  Until 1970, Khumayni, while critical of the Shah's
government, had only called for its reform. But in that
year, in a series of lectures given to his students in Najaf
and later published in a book, Hukumat-i Islami (Islamic
Government), Khumayni stated that the only acceptable form
of Islamic government was government by an expert in Islamic
jurisprudence (the Vilayat-i Faqih, see p. 196). The Shah's
government tried everything that it could to discredit
Khumayni and to prevent his messages from reaching his
supporters, but its success was limited.
  The Iranian population was left in the late 1970s with
socialism and nationalism spent forces after the Musaddiq
episode, with all forms of political expression suppressed
by the state and with the Shah's White Revolution in
disarray. Of all of the groups that laid claim to leadership
within the nation, only the ulama were still a creditable
alternative with a viable organisation and so it was to this
group that the people turned for leadership in the 1979
Revolution (see the last section of this chapter).
  The population of Iran is about 38,000,000. The official
statistics indicate that the vast majority of Iranians (92%,
i.e. 35,000,000) are Twelver Shi'is although some observers
have suggested a much lower figure. Almost all of the
Persian-speaking population, both citydwellers and the
tribes of the south and south-west, are Twelver Shi'i.
Several of the most important non-Iranian ethnic groups such
as the Adharbayjan Turks and the Arabs of the south-west are
also predominantly Twelver Shi'i. Three important ethnic
elements have remained Sunni: the Baluchis of the south-
east, the Turkomans of the north-east, and the Kurds of the
west (the latter also contain many Ahl-i Haqq). The only
important groups that are not Muslims are the Bahá'ís


(numbering 350,000), the Christians (150,000), the Jews
(50,000) and Zoroastrians (30,000).


The First World War resulted in the British occupation of
Iraq. The British were at first welcomed by the Shi'is of
south Iraq as deliverers from the yoke of Turkish Sunni
oppression. But from 1918 onwards, when it became clear that
the British were not about to depart as quickly as they had
arrived, the Shi'is, led by Shaykh Muhammad Taqi Shiraz and
Shaykh Abu'l-Hasan Isfahan, began to oppose the British rule
and, in particular, they issued fatwas against the
appointment of a non-Muslim, Sir Percy Cox, as the British
Governor of Iraq.
  When in 1920 the British occupation appeared about to be
formally institutionalised by the establishment of a League
of Nations Mandate, the whole of Shi'i south Iraq erupted in
a violent revolt which was only subdued with difficulty by
the British. Th› Sunni elements in Iraq only played a minor
role in this revolt. Even after the British had withdrawn
the idea of ruling Iraq through a British governor, had put
Faysal on the throne with an Iraqi government, and had
produced a timetable that would lead eventually to full
independence, the Shi'is remained implacably opposed to the
British although most of the Sunni elements of the
population accepted the position.

The opposition of the Shi'i mujtahids to the British reached
its climax in 1922-3 when Na'ini and Isfahan issued fatwas
forbidding participation in the national elections. There
were then some disturbances and three of the more
politically-minded ulama were expelled from the country. In
protest the leading ulama of Karbala and Najaf, including
Na'ini and Isfahani, left Iraq for Iran in the summer of
1923. They went to the recently re-established centre of
studies at Qumm as guests of Shaykh 'Abdu'l-Karim Ha'iri-
Yazdi. They had been expecting that their departure would
provoke southern Iraq into revolt and would induce the Iraqi
government to request their return on their terms. In the
event, nothing happened and the Iraqi government was only
too happy to have these mujtahids out of the country during
the elections and only allowed their return afterwards in
April 1924.

For a time Shi'i political activity was quiescent and when
it reemerged, in 1927, in protest at the publication of an
anti-Shi'i book, it was now led by politicians rather than
the ulama. In 1934-5 there was a further crisis caused by
the resentment of the Shi'i tribes of the south at certain
government actions. One of the leading ulama, Shaykh
Muhammad Husayn Al Kashifu'l-Ghita, acted as mediator in
resolving these problems.


  However, in the main, religious differences decreased in
importance over the next decades and although individual
Shi'is were active in politics, they acted within the party
political framework rather than representing the Shi'i
community. Most government cabinets had one or two Shi'i
members and Salih Jabr and Sayyid Muhammad as-Sadr were
Shi'is who succeeded in becoming Prime Minister. Arab
nationalism and party politics superseded the former Shi'i
political unity. The Shi'i mujtahids were no longer
politically active (although such figures as Na'ini and
Isfahani, who had been active in the early 1920s, lived on
for many years more) and even the renewed British occupation
during the Second World War elicited surprisingly little
reaction. The tribes, the main political weapon of the Shi'i
community, became less militant and less able to threaten
the government.
The pace of secularisation was increased after the revolt of
1958 which overthrew the king and brought the socialists and
communists into power. The Shi'is, because of their poorer
social and economic position supported the socialists. When
the Ba'th party came to power in the coup of 1963, Shi'is
constituted 53% of the party. But gradually the Sunni
element in the party predominated and by the time of al-
Bakr's takeover of power in 1968, the Shi'i representation
in the party had fallen to 6%.

When Khumayni first arrived in Iraq in 1965 after being
expelled from Iran, 'Abdu's-Salam 'Arif's regime was
antagonistic to Shi'is and Khumayni was suppressed. Later,
under 'Abdu'r-Rahman 'Arif, Iraq established improved
relations with Iran and once more Khumayni's activity was
kept under a tight rein.
  It is said that at first Ayatu'llah Muhsin al-Hakim,
Iraq's foremost religious leader at the time, disapproved of
Khumayni's political stance but after Khumayni's arrival in
Najaf and meetings between the two, al-Hakim reversed his
opinion and supported Khumayni. Ayatu'llah Khu'i, although
al-Hakim's successor as the leading marja' of Iraq, is
reported to have opposed Khumayni's political activity.
  In 1968, after Hasan al-Bakr took power, Ayatu'llah al-
Hakim left Najaf for Baghdad in protest against the new
regime's treatment of the Shi'i ulama. It was about this
time that, with the extinction of any hope of social
improvement through political activity, the Shi'i masses
began to turn back to the ulama for leadership. It was out
of this change that the Da'wa party was formed and had the
support of most of the minor ulama and the blessing of many
of the more senior ulama.

In the early 1970s Khumayni enjoyed a short period of favour
with the regime of Saddam al-Husayn who took over from al-
Bakr. This was during a period when there was increased
tension between Iraq and Iran and Khumayni was used by the
Iraqi government as part of its campaign


against the Shah. In 1975, however, when Saddam al-Husayn
came to terms with the Shah, Khumayni's activities were once
more suppressed. The opening of the borders and the
resumption of pilgrimages by Iranians to the Iraqi shrines,
on the other hand, allowed Khumayni to smuggle his messages
and tape-recordings into Iran more easily.
  The Shi'i population of Iraq became increasingly
disaffected during the 1970S. The religious processions
during Muharram in the shrine cities became occasions for
political protests. In 1974 there was rioting after which
five members of the Da'wa party were executed. In 1977 there
were more serious disturbances and eight were executed.

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was inevitably a severe test
to Saddam al-Husayn's Ba'thist regime. Friction between the
government and the Shi'is increased almost immediately. In
June 1979 Ayatu'llah Muhammad Baqir as-Sadr was arrested and
placed under house detention. During the same year another
senior Iraqi religious figure, Ayatu'llah Shirazi, who had
close links with the Da'wa party, and Shaykh Ghulam-Rida
Ridwani were expelled from Iraq and came to Iran where they
began to organise the Shi'i resistance to Saddam al-Husayn.
On 9 April 1980, after an attempt to assassinate Saddam al-
Husayn, Ayatu'llah Muhammad Baqir as-Sadr was executed.
Following this several hundred more Shi'is suspected of
being associated with the Da'wa party were executed and
several thousand Shi'is whose families had in some instances
lived in Iraq for generations were pronounced to be Iranian
and expelled across the border.

Various attempts have been made by the Iranian government to
coordinate the different Iraqi opposition groups. The three
main religious Shi'i groupings, the Da'wa party, the Paykar
group (a guerilla organisation similar to the Iranian
Mujahidin) and the Jama'at al-'Ulama (a grouping of pro-
Khumayni ulama) have been united and their activities co-
ordinated from within Iran by Hujjatu'l-Islam Muhammad Baqir
al-Hakim, a son of Ayatu'llah al-Hakim.8 But these Shi'i
groups have not thus far managed to co-ordinate with the
secular Syrian-backed opposition groups.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi leadership made a determined effort to
woo support from Iraqi Shi'is. Resources were diverted to
the Shi'i south. The official government propaganda has cast
the war with Iran in terms of the struggle between the Arabs
and the Iranians for supremacy that occurred in the early
days of Islam, trying ta make the Shi'is of south Iraq
identify more closely with their being Arabs in the face of
the Iranian foe rather than their being Shi'is. Thus the
Iraqi official propaganda uses certain symbolic key-words
such as Qadisiyya (the battle at which the Arab armies
defeated the Iranian Empire in AD 637) while the Iranian
propaganda seeks to win the support of south Iraq's Shi'is
by using such


key-words as Karbala. Ayatu'llah Khu'i, the most senior of
the Iraqi religious figures, has refused to commit himself
politically but the regime did succeed in obtaining support
from another important figure, Shaykh 'Ali Al Kashifu'l-
  As the war with Iran has become prolonged, however, the
Iraqi government has become more and more severe on the
Shi'is in Iraq. Ayatu'llah Khu'i is now under virtual house
arrest and Shi'is in all walks of life are under suspicion
and pressure. In June 1984 some 95 Shi'i ulama, and in
particular members of the al-Hakim family, were executed.

Most authorities are agreed that the Shi'is form the
majority of Iraq's population and estimates of the
proportion vary from 55% to 60%. Thus the Shi'is number
approximately 7,000,000 of Iraq's total population of
12,000,000. With the Sunni population divided between the
mutually-antagonistic Arabs and Kurds, this makes the Shi'i
position even stronger. The Shi'is predominate in the
southern half of the country as far north as Baghdad, which
is a mixed Sunni-Shi'i city. Of the holy cities, Karbala and
Kazimayn, which is now a suburb of Baghdad, have a very
strong Iranian influence while Najaf is much more an Arab
city. Most of the tribes of the south are Shi'i and the
largest town of the south, Basra, is predominantly Shi'i.


The Shi'i community in Lebanon has always been and largely
remains to the present the poorest and least-educated among
Lebanon's religious groups.9 At the beginning of the 20th
century it was predominantly a rural community occupying
some of the poorest land. The majority were peasants
dominated by a small number of rich land-owning Shi'i
families. The Shi'is who lived in the towns tended to
conceal their religious identity and conform outwardly to
  During the 19th century the Ottomans had created a
separately administered Christian area on Mount Lebanon.
Following the First World War the Christians succeeded in
persuading the French, who were given control of Syria under
a League of Nations Mandate, to create a separate state
consisting of Mount Lebanon, Jabal 'Amil and 'Akkar together
with the central strip and the Biqa' valley. This area
included a large number of Sunni Muslims who regarded
themselves as Syrians and agitated against the proposed
division into Syria and Lebanon.

It was as a result of this conflict that the Shi'is of
Lebanon were suddenly forced into the centre of the
political arena. The Sunnis claimed that they spoke for all
Muslims, including the Druse and Shi'a, when


they demanded to be rejoined to Syria. The Christians,
however, realised that the Shi'is were unlikely to want to
be drawn into a Sunni-dominated Syria when they could be a
part of a multi-confessional Lebanon where they would not be
forced to conceal their religion. Therefore it was largely
due to the efforts of the Christians that the hitherto
apolitical and largely forgotten Shi'i community was
suddenly drawn into the limelight and in 1926 constituted as
an official community separate from the Sunnis.
  The Christians' assumption proved correct and the Shi'a
gave their backing to an independent state. The Christians
realised that the addition of large Muslim areas to the
original Christian enclave to form the new state would
threaten their numerical predominance but it was not until
the 1932 Census that they realised to what extent. That
Census revealed a Christian majority of only 266 in a total
population of 793,226. The Christians had managed to
persuade the French mandatory authorities to allow
registration of some 67,403 citizens (i.e. about 8% of the
electorate) who were resident abroad and predominantly
Christians, thereby shoring up their figures. The Shi'is
were numbered as 155,035 resident and 3,390 abroad. The
Christians have blocked the taking of another Census since
that time lest it show, as it almost certainly would, a
Muslim predominance.
  Based on the 1932 Census, an informal National Pact was
worked out in 1943, just prior to full independence in 1944.
According to this pact, virtually every aspect of public
life would be arranged so as to maintain a confessional
proportionality. The parliamentary seats were divided:
Christians 54, Sunnis 20, Shi'a 19, Druse 6. It was
determined that the President of the Republic would be a
Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim and
the Speaker of the House a Shi'i. The Shi'a have usually
been allocated the Agriculture Ministry.
  During the 1950s the Muslims began to clamour for a fresh
Census as they felt that they now outnumbered the Christians
and resented the automatic predominance of Christians in all
spheres of public life. Rising Arab nationalism under
Nasser, the Suez crisis of 1956, and discontent with the
rule of President Chamoun caused a political crisis in 1958
but Lebanon emerged from this with its power structure
little altered.
  The religious head of the Shi'i community at this time was
Hajj Sayyid 'Abdu'l-Husayn Sharafu'd-Din who had studied in
Najaf under Akhund Khurasani and Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Yazdi
and also under Sunni scholars in Egypt where he held some
much-publicised debates with Sunni scholars at al-Azhar
University between 1912 and 1919. He then returned to Tyre
and became the head of the Shi'i community in the Jabal
'Amil and was instrumental in setting up schools and a
madrasa and building a mosque in Tyre. He died in 1377/1957.


  In 1959 a leading Shi'i scholar, Musa as-Sadr (whose
ancestors had been from the Jabal 'Amil) came to Lebanon
from Iran and became the religious leader of Lebanon's
Twelver Shi'is. He took up residence in Tyre where he had
been appointed the Shi'i Mufti. The Shi'is were still at
this time, as they always had been, at the bottom of the
social scale in Lebanon, occupying the poorest regions of
the country and generally ignored by the government. So
demoralised was the Shi'i community that, in some villages,
it is reported that Musa as-Sadr even found Shi'is burying
their dead according to Christian rites.
  Imam Musa as-Sadr, as he came to be known, displayed
considerable ability and was able to build up a community
solidarity among the Shi'is. In December 1967 the Shi'i
Supreme National Islamic Council was set up by an Act of
Parliament and in 1969 Imam Musa as-Sadr was elected as its
President. The establishment of this Council completed the
process begun in 1926 of separating the Shi'i community
entirely from the Sunnis.
  Imam Musa as-Sadr's new role thrust him into the political
arena and at first he was opposed by the traditional Shi'i
feudal families who had always previously represented the
Shi'a politically. But by making his appeal direct to the
Shi'i masses he was able to neutralise this opposition.
Politically, while confirming the basic Shi'i support for an
independent Lebanon, he criticised the Lebanese government's
record with respect to the development of the poorer Shi'i
areas and also the failure of the Lebanese army to protect
the Jabal 'Amil from repeated Israeli incursions.
  In 1970 Imam Musa as-Sadr was instrumental in setting up a
Council of the South to develop the Jabal 'Amil region
together with a large injection of government money. In
1974, when he saw that the money promised by the government
for the south was not forthcoming, he mobilised the Shi'a in
the south and the Biqa' valley by holding a series of mass
meetings to pressure the government, and also made an appeal
to the Christians of Lebanon for a new supra-confessional
approach. Parallel to this, however, as-Sadr's supporters
created the Amal, a partly-political, partly-military Shi'i
organisation. Although as-Sadr was successful in mobilising
the Shi'is of the south, his success in the Biqa' valley was
less marked. The Biqa' is notably less religious in its
Shi'ism than the Jabal 'Amil. In the past there have been
few notable ulama from this area compared to the Jabal
'Amil, and the usual Shi'i commemorations of 'Ashura, etc.,
are celebrated on a more modest scale. As-Sadr's appeal to
religion was therefore less effective in this area.
  Then in August 1978, while on a trip to Libya, as-Sadr
mysteriously disappeared. The Libyans have failed to account
satisfactorily for this


disappearance and it must be assumed that the Imam was
killed either deliberately or accidentally.
  The disappearance of Imam Musa as-Sadr led to a
considerable amount of confusion among Lebanon's Shi'is,
particularly as it was closely followed by the Iranian
Revolution and the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon.
After the beginning of the Irano-Iraqi War, the situation
became even more confused with the pro-Khumayni Amal
organisation battling against the Lebanese branch of the
Iraqi Ba'thists in the streets of Ba'albakk and Beirut.
There was also fighting between the Amal and Palestinian
guerillas in south Beirut and southern Lebanon in April 1982
just prior to the second Israeli invasion. The Shi'i
militias around Ba'albakk have been considerably reinforced
by the Iranian military units stationed there. Many of the
recent terrorist episodes directed against Israeli and other
foreign forces have been attributed to Shi'i groups and in
particular one called the Islamic Jihad.  At present the
leadership of Lebanon's Shi'is is in the hands of a small
group of individuals. Nabih Birri is head of the politico-
military Amal organisation; Shaykh Muhammad Mahdi Shamsu'd-
Din holds a degree of religio-political leadership as Deputy
Chairman (the Shi'is have not as yet accepted Imam Musa as-
Sadr's disappearance sufficiently to allow his replacement
as Chairman) of the Shi'i Supreme National Islamic Council;
Shaykh 'Abdu'l-Amir Qabalan is the Shi'i Mufti. Considerable
power, however, still remains in the hands of the old
families of feudal overlords and notables, such as the al-
As'ad family in the Jabal 'Amil and the Hamada in the Hirmal
area.[11] Rapidly increasing in importance is the Hizbu'llah
party under Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Fadlu'llah which is
closely aligned to Khumayni's ideology. The question of how
many Shi'a there are in Lebanon is politically sensitive. As
has been mentioned above, the Christians have maintained a
political hegemony on the basis of the National Pact of 1943
which in turn was based on the Census of 1932. Although all
attempts to have another Census taken have been blocked, it
is almost universally acknowledged that, in the intervening
period, the Shi'a have grown proportionately more than the
other communities and are now probably the largest group.
The present estimated population of Lebanon is 3,500,000.
The proportion of Muslims to Christians is much disputed but
a 60-40 split in favour of the Muslims seems to be widely
accepted by independent authorities. Of the Muslims, the
Shi'a probably represent 45% with the Sunnis 35%, Druse 17%
and the remainder 'Alawis, Isma'ilis, etc.
  An-Nahar, Beirut's most prestigious daily newspaper,
quoted on 5 November 1975 the following estimated


Total Population:   3,258,000      Percentage of Total

  Christians:       1,250,000           38.4
  Muslims:          2,008,000           61.6
  Shi'a:              970,000           29.8
  Sunnis:             690,000           21.1
  Druse:              348,000           10.7

Another more recent estimate gives the following

Total Population:   3,575,000      Percentage of Total

  Christians:       1,525,000           42.7
  Maronites:          900,000           25.2
  Muslims:          2,050,000            7.3
  Shi'a:            1,100,000           30.8
  Sunnis:             750,000           21.0
  Druse:              200,000            5.6

  One area of Shi'i concentration is in the south of the
country. Tyre (Sur) with its hinterland, the Jabal 'Amil, as
far north as the Litani River is predominantly Shi'i (80%),
with Bint Jubayl, Mays al-Jabal and Tibnin as the important
inland Shi'i towns. Further north, Nabatiyya is the largest
Shi'i centre in the district centred on Sidon which is 60%
Shi'i. To the east of this area, the proportion of Shi'a in
the district centred on Marj 'Ayun drops to 40% and al-
Khiyam is the only important Shi'i town in this region.
Although the district of Jizzin which includes the village
of Juba' is historically important, it is now predominantly
Christian with only 13% Shi'a.
  The Shi'is in Beirut live predominantly in the southern
suburbs around Ba'abda. Although earlier in the present
century, the Shi'is constituted only 5% of the population of
Beirut, recent events in south Lebanon have resulted in
large numbers of refugees moving into the Beirut area with
the result that Shi'is are now probably the largest
religious community in Beirut. There is a small Shi'i
population (7%) in the Kisrawan area, in the districts
centred on Jubayl and Qartaba, including the resort villages
of Afqa and Laqluq on Mount Lebanon.
  The other main Shi'i area is the northern Biqa' valley
stretching from Ba'albakk to Hirmal, both of which are
important Shi'i towns. This area is 70% Shi'i. Further south
in the Biqa' valley there are a small number of Shi'i
villages in the area around Zahla.
  The disturbances in Lebanon in the last decade have almost
certainly made differences to the above figures (and to the
map on pp. 270-71) which are calculated on the basis of the
Censuses taken in 1921 and 1932. The area around Hirmal,
for example, which was 70-80% Shi'i, is now almost 100%
Shi'i due to the emigration of Maronites from there.



Once Lebanon had been carved out of the former Turkish
vilayat of Syria, there remained few Twelver Shi'is in the
new state of Syria. Of the estimated 50,000 that remain, the
majority live in villages in the region of Idlib to the
south-west of Aleppo and in the region of Azaz to the
northwest of Aleppo. These are the remnants of the once-
large Twelver community centred on Aleppo that existed until
the 12th century. There are also a few Twelver Shi'i
villages in the area of Hums and Hama.
  The present regime that controls Syria is dominated by the
'Alawis (see p. 58) who predominate in the Latakia area of
Syria and are considered heretical by many Muslims. In order
to bolster the legitimacy of the regime, the 'Alawis sought
and obtained from Imam Musa as-Sadr, the Twelver religious
leader in Lebanon, a legal decision that they are a
legitimate Muslim people.


It is almost impossible to estimate the number of Twelver
Shi'is in Turkey. This is for a number of reasons. Firstly,
the official censuses make no differentiation between the
various Islamic sects. Secondly, writers on Turkey usually
make no attempt to differentiate between the various Shi'i
sects but lump them all together as 'Alevi'. Thirdly, the
Shi'is themselves probably recognise no distinct boundaries
between the various sects and groupings. There are four main
groups of Shi'is in Turkey: (a) the Arabic-speaking 'Alawi
(Nusayri) community (see p. 58) centred on the Mediterranean
coast between Antakya and Mersin; (b) the Turkish-speaking
Turkomans who are scattered in villages throughout Turkey
but especially in a band from the north of Ankara to
Erzincan. These are mainly Bektashi, while some still use
the name Qizilbash; (c) the Kurds, who are mainly Ahl-i Haqq
and predominate in south-east Turkey; (d) the Adhari (Azeri)
Turkish refugees from Russian Adharbayjan.
  Of these Shi'i groups all accept the Twelve Imams of the
Twelver line. The first, the 'Alawis, would be considered
heterodox by most orthodox Twelver Shi'is although it is
reported that they send students to the religious colleges
in Najaf and Qumm. Among the second group can be found small
numbers who call themselves Ja'fari and must presumably
therefore be orthodox Twelvers but, in general, the standard
of education among them is so low and their contacts with
the rest of the Twelver Shi'i world so limited that they
have little in common with the wider Twelver community. The
majority of this second group subscribe to Bektashi and
other similar doctrines and would clearly be

[Pages 270 and 271 contain a map of South Lebanon.]


considered heterodox. The third group are also considered
heterodox 'extremists'. Only the fourth group (who are not
in any case native to Anatolia) can be considered an
integral part of the orthodox Twelver community.
  It has been estimated that some 15% of the total
population of Turkey (i.e. 7,000,000 people) are Shi'i. But
of these, probably only about I, 500,000 can be considered
orthodox Twelver Shi'is.


The Shi'i community in Bahrain began the 20th century in a
very oppressed situation, dominated by the Sunni tribal
hierarchy that ruled the island. In 1919, however, the
British, who had established themselves as 'protectors' of
Bahrain by a treaty dating from 1861 and who had given
themselves wide powers of dealing with all foreign subjects
on the island in 1904, began to intervene actively in the
internal affairs of Bahrain. One of the first measures they
undertook was to institute administrative reforms, such as a
court system independent of the ruling class's authority.
These changes were much welcomed by the Shi'i community but
sparked off a major episode of Sunni-Shi'i conflict in 1923
in which several Shi'i villages were attacked. However, the
perpetrators of these attacks were brought to trial and for
the first time public law, rather than the private law of
the ruler, was seen to be applied. The authority of the
ruling Sunni al-Khalifa tribe had been limited and the Sunni
attempt to disrupt this process overcome. It is somewhat
ironic that at the time that the mujtahids of Iraq were
issuing fatwas against the British in Iraq, the Shi'a of
Bahrain were looking to the British as their protectors.
  By 1932 a number of other abuses by the ruling classes,
such as forced labour and the right to raise taxes on their
estates, were abolished and these also principally benefited
the Shi'i peasantry. In 1934 and 1935 the Shi'a protested
vigorously against what they considered to be discriminatory
actions by the court system against them. Much more serious
was the uprising in the mid-1950s. This began in 1953 with a
series of Sunni attacks on Shi'is and culminated in a
sectarian clash at the oil refinery in 1954 followed by a
Shi'i attack on the fort to free some Shi'i prisoners that
were being held there. After this, the Shi'is joined up with
a number of Sunni Arab Nationalists and a widespread more
general movement aiming at political reform emerged. There
was continuing political tension between the ruling class
and the Nationalist reformers throughout 1955 and 1956 with
periodic violent clashes. Then in November 1956), following
the Suez crisis and further violence in Bahrain, the
government stepped in strongly and arrested all of the


leading nationalists, imprisoning some and exiling others.
  Although the Nationalist movement had been crushed, the
episode created pressure on the ruling al-Khalifa shaykhs to
introduce some reforms and eventually, after independence
from Britain in 1970, Shaykh 'Isa permitted the election of
an Assembly to determine the Constitution. This Assembly was
elected in 1972 and sat in 1973. Fourteen Shi'is and eight
Sunnis were elected but the ruler negated the Shi'i
advantage through his appointment of eight additional
members as well as the decision that the eleven Cabinet
Ministers, also selected by the ruler, would have full
voting powers in the Assembly. The Constitution was decided
and in December 1973 there were further elections resulting
in the formation of the National Assembly with thirty
elected members and fourteen Cabinet Ministers acting ex
officio. Hasan Jawad al-Jashi, a Shi'i, was elected Speaker
of the Assembly. In 1975, however, in the midst of a clash
with the government over security laws which the government
was trying to introduce without the Assembly's approval, the
Assembly was dissolved and the brief experiment with
democracy ended.[14]
  In 1971 the Shah of Iran formally gave up Iran's long-
standing claim to sovereignty over Bahrain and this move
eased tension within Bahrain where the Shi'is were under
suspicion of being sympathetic to Iran's claims (some 10% of
Bahrain's Shi'is are of Iranian origin, having been resident
in Bahrain for many generations, while there are some 5,000
recent Iranian immigrants).
  After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, however, Sunni-Shi'i
tensions re-emerged. On 14 July 1979 Ayatu'llah Muhammad
Sadiq Rawhani, a senior member of the Iranian ulama, stated
that the previous withdrawal of Iran's claim to Bahrain had
been made by an illegitimate regime and was therefore
illegal. Although the government of Bazargan immediately
repudiated this, his government fell shortly afterwards and,
since Khumayni has never pronounced on the issue, it remains
'in the air'.
  On 20 September 1979 Hujjatu'l-Islam Hadi Mudarrisi and
Shaykh 'Abdu'r-Razzaq Jawahiri, Khumayni's representatives
in Bahrain, were arrested and expelled. Following this, all
books and magazines from Iran were banned and pictures of
Khumayni in public places were torn down. In December 1981 a
Shi'i plot to overthrow the government was discovered and
some 73 people from the village of Jaw went on trial in
Spring of 1982. Clearly the Bahrain government is nervous
about the implications of the Iranian Revolution for its own
Shi'i population which have been and continue to be an
under-privileged section of society. There has been some
attempt to improve relations with Iran and ambassadors have
been exchanged but Bahrain remains very guarded in


its relations with Iran, especially after the start of the
Irano-Iraqi War, and is clearly seeking to shield its own
Shi'i population from being influenced by the Iranian
  Bahrain, at present, has a population of about 290,000.
Just over half of the population (55-60%, i.e. about
160,000) is Shi'i. The Sunni element of the population is
mainly urban and strongly represented in the armed forces
and the government. The Shi'a are the rural population,
mainly peasants working the palm estates, and fishermen. In
the 20th century large numbers of Shi'a did migrate to the
towns and are increasingly represented in the professions
and the lower echelons of the administrative bureaucracy.
But in the main the Shi'a occupy the less-skilled, lower-
income occupations.

Saudi Arabia

The Shi'is of Saudi Arabia live predominantly in the al-Ahsa
(or al-Hasa) province. At the beginning of the 20th century
they were living under the comparatively tolerant Ottoman
Empire. Then in 1913 the Wahhabis under 'Abdu'l-'Aziz, ibn
Sa'ud, reoccupied the area and the Shi'is were once again
subjected to the harsh, puritanical, anti-Shi'i ideology of
the Wahhabis backed by the fanatical Ikhwan tribesmen. By
1925 ibn Sa'ud had taken Mecca and Medina and the Ikhwan
damaged the important Shi'i tombs in the latter city and
were only prevented from destroying the tomb of Muhammad
himself by the personal intervention of ibn Sa'ud.
  The harshness of Wahhabi rule was, however, considerably
relaxed when, in 1929-30, ibn Sa'ud turned on the Ikhwan and
destroyed them. From that time onwards, although open
manifestations of Shi'ism are still prohibited in Saudi
Arabia, the Shi'is are not molested.
  The discovery of oil in large quantities in the Shi'i
province of al-Ahsa in 1938 changed the face of this area.
There was an influx of foreigners and an introduction of all
of the paraphernalia of Western (American) civilisation. The
indigenous Shi'a only benefited to a small extent from this
change. Some 8,000 of the 19,000 workforce of ARAMCO (Arab-
American Oil Company) are local Shi'a but they are mainly
employed in menial positions.
  There are thus grounds for discontent among the Shi'a of
al-Ahsa and there were demonstrations in Sayhat and Qatif in
1979 after the Iranian Revolution and in particular after
the seizure of the Grand Mosque of Mecca by a group of Sunni
fundamentalists on 20 November 1979 (the first day of the
15th Islamic century).
  The Saudi government has clearly been worried about the
possibility of Shi'i unrest in its vital oil province. It
has increased security in the al-Ahsa


province and has steadily been deporting Iranians whether or
not these have been involved in political activity.
  The population of Saudi Arabia is officially estimated at
seven or eight million but is probably closer to five
million, of which one million are immigrants. The Shi'is of
al-Ahsa province probably number in the region of 200,000.
In addition there are about 50,000 Twelver Shi'i immigrants
from India, Pakistan, Lebanon and Iran (there are also
probably some 50,000 Isma'ili Shi'is and 200,000 Yemeni
Zaydi Shi'is). Thus Twelver Shi'is probably number some 5%
of the total population but a much greater proportion in the
vital oil area.


In early 1979, shortly after the climax of the Iranian
Revolution, there were Shi'i demonstrations in Kuwait. The
Shi'is were protesting at being, in effect, second-class
citizens with little share in the country's government or
oil wealth. On 24 September 1979 Hujjatu'l-Islam Sayyid
'Abbas Muhri, who had recently been appointed as Imam-Jum'a
of Kuwait by Khumayni, was arrested and together with
nineteen others deprived of his Kuwaiti citizenship and
expelled. Simultaneously all photographs of Khumayni were
collected from shops and other public places and destroyed.
Muhri went to Iran where he began to broadcast to the Gulf
in Arabic promoting the Islamic Revolution. In November
1979, after the seizure of the Grand Mosque of Mecca by
Sunni Islamic revolutionaries, there were further Shi'i
demonstrations in Kuwait.
  The government clearly remains nervous about the
possibility of the importation of the Iranian Revolution, as
witnessed by the deportation of numerous Iranians. In
December 1983 a series of bomb blasts in Kuwait was
attributed to a Shi'i group.

Although Kuwait is predominantly a Sunni country, the Shi'i
tribes of southern Iraq and the al-Ahsa province of Saudi
Arabia overlap the borders of Kuwait and enter the country
in considerable numbers during their seasonal migrations.
Thus it has been estimated that some 20% of Kuwait's
indigenous population is Shi'i. About 60% of Kuwait's
population are immigrants and an estimated 20% of these are
also Shi'i including a large Iranian community (1975 Census:

Total (1980 Census)                     Estimated Shi'is
Indigenous Population      562,065
     Estimated 20% Shi'i                     112,000
Immigrants                 793,762
     Estimated 20% Shi'i                     159,000

Total                    1,355,827           271,000


Some have, however, estimated the proportion of Shi'is in
Kuwait to be as high as 50%.

Other Gulf States
Although there are few indigenous Shi'is in the other Gulf
states, the native populations of these states have in any
case been inundated since the oil boom by large numbers of
immigrants, among whom are many Shi'is. Thus, for example,
so prominent are the Iranians among the merchant community
in Dubai that much of the commercial transactions in the
Bazaar is carried out in the Persian language. The Shi'is in
these countries used to keep a low profile keeping all Shi'i
observances in private and practising taqiyya. They have
become a little more assertive since the Iranian Revolution
of 1979 but most of them are in a vulnerable position, being
liable to deportation by governments nervous of any
disturbing ripples from the Iranian Revolution across the
  From the figures of Iranian, Iraqi, Lebanese, Indian and
Pakistani immigrants it is possible to form a rough estimate
of the numbers of Shi'is in each of these states:

                       Total Population    Estimated Shi'is    Shi'i %
                        (1979 estimate)                        of Total
Qatar                       250,000             50,000           20
United Arab Emirates        900,000             60,000            6.6
Oman                        800,000              1,000            0.1

India and Pakistan

In 1907 an All-India Shi'a Conference was established and
thenceforward met annually. It devoted its attention to
community projects (schools, hostels, orphanages, etc.) and
to religious instruction. In some provinces there are also
provincial Shi'a conferences.
  Between 1904 and 1908 there were frequent Sunni-Shi'i
clashes especially in the United Provinces area. These
clashes were occasioned by public cursing of the first three
Caliphs by Shi'is and their praise by the Sunnis. Such
public demonstrations were banned in 1909 on the three most
sensitive days: 'Ashura (10 Muharram), Chihilum (40th day
after 'Ashura) and 'Ali's death (21 Ramadan). Intercommunal
violence resurfaced in 1935-6 and again in 1939. Many
thousands of Sunnis and Shi'is took to the streets on these
occasions despite bans on public demonstrations.

When the issue of the separation of India and Pakistan came
to the fore in the 1940s the Shi'a were at first reluctant
to entrust themselves to a


Sunni-dominated state of Pakistan and so, in the main,
opposed separation and supported the National Congress Party
  For the first decade of Pakistan's existence there was
comparative peace between the Shi'i and Sunni communities.
The first President of Pakistan, Iskandar Mirza, was a
Shi'i. But the recent events in Iran have served to
intensify Sunni-Shi'i differences. The present Pakistani
regime has attempted to Islamicise itself and, as part of
this, tried to organise state taxation on the basis of
zakat. This brought the Shi'is into the streets to protest,
as they paid zakat to their mujtahids. The state was
eventually forced to alter its original plans, to allow for
this. Since this episode there have been several occasions
when Sunni mobs have descended upon Shi'i Imambaras and
mosques and have destroyed them, especially in Karachi where
the population that moved there from Oudh appears to have
renewed its traditional Sunni-Shi'i feuding.
  The total number of Shi'a in India and Pakistan is
difficult to estimate since they do not exist as a separate
identifiable community as in most parts of the Middle East
but are intermingled with Sunnis and many practise taqiyya
of their beliefs in the presence of the Sunni majority.
There are moreover some difficulties of definition in that
there appear to be large numbers who participate in the
Muharram ceremonies, for example, and who venerate the Imam
Husayn, but who are not otherwise identifiable as Shi'is.
British censuses that attempted to differentiate Shi'is from
Sunnis in the early 20th century are thought to have grossly
underestimated the number of Shi'a on account of the
practice of taqiyya.

Estimates of the proportion of the Shi'a of India vary from
between ten and thirty-five per cent of the Muslim
population. There are an estimated 80,000,000 Muslims in
India; thus the number of Shi'a maybe between 8,000,000 and
28,000,000. The lower estimate is more likely to be the more
correct one.

The centre of Shi'ism in India is Lakhnau (Lucknow, the old
capital of Oudh or Awadh). Here there are two religious
colleges and the Madrasat al-Wa'izin, a college for
preachers. There are also Shi'i schools, secular colleges
and publishing houses in this city. Most towns and cities in
southern Uttar Pradesh (the former province of Oudh) have
large Shi'i communities: Faizabad, Kanpur (Cawnpore),
Varanasi (Benares), Allahabad and Jaunpur. There are also
important Shi'i communities in the following cities: Bihara
province: Patna and Muzaffarpur; northern Uttar Pradesh:
Meerut, Saharanpur and Amroha; Andhra Pradesh province:
Golconda and Hyderabad; Gujerat: Baroda and Bombay (Khoja
converts). In the Punjab, before the partition of India, the
Shi'is were probably the largest religious community after
the Sikhs and are estimated to have constituted 20% of the
population, but most of these


Shi'is are now on the Pakistan side of the frontier. In
Kashmir the district of Baltistan with its capital Skardo is
predominantly Twelver Shi'i and there are also many Shi'a in
the Ladak district centred on Leh. In Nepal there are
reported to be small communities of Twelver Shi'a in Ram
Nagar, Bhutaha, Harnagara, Kaptanganj and the Bhokhra
panchayat of the Sunsari district in the eastern region.
  The Shi'a form an estimated 15% of the 80,000,000 Muslims
in Pakistan. This gives a figure of about 12,000,000. The
most important Shi'i area in Pakistan is the Punjab centred
on Lahore. There are also large Shi'i communities in Sialkot
and Khairpur. But after the partition of India a large
number of Shi'is from Oudh moved to Karachi and this city
now rivals Lahore as the centre of Shi'ism in Pakistan.
Several of the tribes of north-west Pakistan, the Turis and
part of the Bangash in the upper Karam, are Shi'i as are the
Hazaras who live predominantly in Afghanistan but are to be
found in large numbers in Pakistan now because of the
situation in Afghanistan. The number of Shi'is in Pakistan
has also been swelled by refugees from Iran. The refugees
from Iran and Afghanistan may have increased the number of
Shi'is in Pakistan by up to 1,500,000.


Afghanistan is predominantly a Sunni country and its
population has something of a reputation for fanaticism in
its Sunnism. Therefore the Shi'is have always kept a low
profile, especially in the towns. Among the tribes in the
Afghanistan bordering Iran (the Firuzkuhi and Jamshidi
tribes) and also in the city of Herat, there is a
substantial number of Shi'a. In addition, the Hazara tribe
of the Hazarajat (numbering 80,000-100,000) and some of the
mountain Tajik tribe are Shi'i. In Kabul the descendants of
the Shi'i Qizilbash who came with Nadir Shah live in the
Chindawal quarter of the city. An estimated 6% or 1,320,000
of Afghanistan's 22,000,000 population is thought to be
Twelver Shi'i. However, many of these (perhaps as many as
one-half) are at present refugees in Pakistan and Iran.


The USSR has a large Muslim population and a considerable
proportion of these are Shi'is. In Central Asia some of the
urban Tajiks are Twelver Shi'is, and descendants of Iranians
who settled in cities such as 'Ishqabad Bukhara and
Samarqand in the 19th and early 20th centuries form small
Shi'i communities. But by far the largest number of Twelver
Shi'is is in Azerbaijan (Adharbayjan) SSR where an estimated
4,000,000 of the total population of 6,000,000 are Shi'is.


  A qurultay (council) of Muslims of Transcaucasia, convened
in Baku on 28 May 1944, recognised the Shi'is as a separate
community and created a joint Sunni-Shi'i Muslim Central
Religious Administration. In Central Asia a similar qurultay
in 1943 recognised the Shi'a as a fifth orthodox school of
Islam, alongside the existing Sunni schools of law. Since
the 1979 Revolution Iran has been aggressively beaming
revolutionary radio broadcasts to these areas and it remains
to be seen what effect this has.


Twelver Shi'ism was brought to East Africa in the middle of
the 19th century by Iranians who came to serve the Sultan of
Zanzibar and by Indian Khoja merchants. The Indian Khoja who
settled in large numbers in the last half of the 19th
century were Isma'ilis but included a number of Twelvers.
The Twelvers petitioned Shaykh Zaynu'l-'Abidin Mazandarani
(d. 1309/1892) for a mulla to guide them and Sayyid 'Abdu'l-
Husayn Mar'ashi-Shushtari was sent in 1885. Later Sayyid
Ghulam Husayn also came from Hyderabad.
  Up to the time that the third Agha Khan, Sultan Muhammad
Shah, visited East Africa in 1899 and 1905 there had not
been much distinction between the Isma'ili and Twelver Khoja
but, on the Agha Khan's orders, his followers separated
themselves and the Twelvers found themselves cast out of the
community with no mosques, cemeteries or meeting places.
However, they rallied around and with help from India
organised their communities.
  From Zanzibar and other coastal towns like Mombasa, Tanga,
Dares-Salaam, Lindi, Lamu and Bagamoyo, the Shi'a spread
inland during the 20th century reaching Nairobi, Arusha,
Bukoba, Moshi, Murunza, Kampala and Songea. In smaller
numbers they even reached Usumbura in Zaire by 1920. In all
these places they mainly engaged in trade and the size of
each community varied from thirty to several hundred.

In 1945 the first effort was made to create a regional
organisation when a delegate conference was held in Dar-es-
Salaam. Following on from this, an organisation called the
Federation of Khoja Shia Ithna-Ashari Jamaats of Africa was
formed. The Supreme Council of this body consisted of the
following representatives: Mainland Tanzania 26; Zanzibar
and Pemba 4; Kenya 10; Uganda 15; Zaire 1; Rwanda-Burundi 1;
Somalia 1; Mauritius 1; Malagassy Republic 4; and six others
nominated by the President. The representation from each
country was proportional to the number of Shi'a there.
  The Federation has standardised the syllabus of religious
instruction and promoted social, educational and other
activities throughout the

[Page 280 contains a map.]


area. In 1964 the Bilal Muslim Mission was set up at Tanga
to teach native Africans and a number have become Shi'is.
Five of these went in 68 to Najaf to study there, later
moving to Lebanon and Qumm.
  The largest Twelver community is in Tanzania and numbers
some 10,000; Kenya has 3,000. Uganda did have some 4,000 but
under the regime of Idi Amin most of these were expelled.
  In West Africa the Lebanese emigrant community that
dominates the trade of most of the area is composed of
Christians and Shi'is. The latter predominate in Sierra
Leone and Guinea. Although Shi'is probably do not number
more than 20,000 their importance in the economic life of
West Africa far outweighs their small numbers.

America and Europe

During the 19th and early 20th centuries large numbers of
Lebanese emigrated to North and South America. Among these
were a small number of Shi'is. In the United States their
centre is in Detroit and they number some 50,000 The Shi'i
communities in North America and Europe have been
considerably increased by the influx of Iranians. Up to
these numbered some 40,000 in the USA and between 7,000 and
15,000 in each of France, Germany and Great Britain. (The
number of Shi'is in Britain was increased considerably after
Idi Amin's expulsion of Asians from Uganda.) Since 1979,
however, there has been a very large increase in the number
of Iranians, mainly as refugees. Reliable estimates are
difficult to obtain but it is estimated that there arc
probably 200,000 Iranians now in North America (100,000 in
Southern California) and 100,000 in Western Europe,
principally in France and Spain. Ethnic differences
(Lebanese, East African Asians, Iranians) and political
differences among the Iranians have prevented much
cohesiveness among the Shi'is in Europe and North America
although a number of 'umbrella' organisations have been set
up. The Muhammadi Trust in Britain and the Mizan Press in
California are publishing some Shi'i literature mainly in
the form of translations. In South America, apart from the
Lebanese Shi'i migrants in the southern half of the sub-
continent, there are also some Shi'i migrants from the
Indian subcontinent in the former British colonies of the
West Indies and Guyana.

The Shi'i World

In each of the foregoing sections of this chapter an attempt
has been made to estimate the number of Shi'is in each
country and region dealt with. In most countries, no
accuracy can be achieved because official censuses do not
exist or do not single out Shi'is as a separate category.
Bearing in


mind the severe limitations of all such figures, Table 11 is
a tentative attempt to estimate the total world Shi'i
population in the year 1980:

Table 11: The Distribution of Shi'is throughout the world in 1980

Country        Total          Muslim         Twelver Shi'i  Twelver Shi'is
            Population[15]  Population[16]   Population[17] as % of Total Pop
Iran            38,492,000    37,694,300     34,000,000          88.3
Pakistan        82,952,000    80,320,350     12,000,000          14.5
India          547,123,000    80,540,000     10,000,000           1.8
Iraq            13,145,000    12,589,200      7,500,000          57.1
USSR           268,115,000    30,297,000      4,000,000           1.5
Turkey          45,363,000    45,018,000      1,500,000           3.3
Afghanistan     22,038,000    21,855,280      1,300,000           5.9
Lebanon          3,360,000     2,000,000      1,000,000          29.8
Kuwait           1,439,000     1,368,600        270,000          18.8
Saudi Arabia    10,900,000    10,768,000        250,000           2.3
Bahrain            294,000       279,310        160,000          54.4
Syria            8,536,000     7,645,850         50,000           0.6

Other Asian countries                           300,000
Americas                                        270,000
Europe                                          100,000
Africa                                           40,000
Australasia                                      10,000

          Total world population             4,374,000,000
          Total Muslim population              723,000,000
          Twelver Shi'i population              72,750,000
          Percentage of world population               1.7

Iran: the 1979 Revolution and After

The 1979 Revolution

Between 1973 and 1977, although there were few disturbances
in Iran that would be serious enough to feature in the
world's press, there was increasing discontent seething
below the surface. The grandiose promises made by the Shah
following the oil price rises in 1973 gradually turned into
a nightmare of corruption and inflation. Attempts to control
inflation and trim budgets to the falling real value of oil
led in 1976-8 to a large rise in unemployment, particularly
among the unskilled and semi-skilled. The two major urban
terrorist groups which had been in existence since the 1960s
(the Marxist-oriented Fida'iyan-i Khalq and the Islamic
leftist Mujahidin-i Khalq) suddenly increased in activity.


  During this period between 1973 and 1977, the Bazaar and
religious opposition continued covertly through distribution
of Khumayni's writings and tape-recordings (particularly
after the resumption of pilgrimages to the Iraqi shrines in
1976); through allusions made by preachers and particularly
by the rawda-khans (implicitly identifying the Shah's regime
with the Umayyads who had caused the death of the Imam
Husayn); by boycotting the Din-i Dawlat structure and by
continuing to support the traditional ulama financially.
During 1977 there was a noticeable relaxation of censorship
by the regime. This may have been caused by the initiation
of President Carter's human rights policy with its attendant
threat of withdrawal of American support from regimes that
violated human rights. There had also been much pressure
from international organisations such as Amnesty
International and the International Commission of Jurists.
The Shah's illness with a lymphatic cancer may also have led
to a weakening of his usual iron grip. He appeared to bow to
public pressure and sacked Amir-'Abbas Huvayda, his Prime
Minister, in August 1977, but little changed as the cabinet
of the new Prime Minister was almost identical to that of
his predecessor.

The result of the relaxation of censorship and a few human
rights concessions by the regime was an immediate increase
in the amount of protest material circulating and a
subsequent heightening of the feeling of discontent. Almost
every section of the Iranian population had grievances
against the Shah's regime by 1977. The ulama were alarmed by
the increasing encroachment on their income and field of
action by the Din-i Dawlat structure, the laws being passed
by the regime which they considered anti-Islamic, and the
wholesale importation of Western culture; the students were
unhappy about government interference in the running of the
universities and in the curriculum; the farmers and peasants
had come to see that the propaganda of the White Revolution
did not match the realities, the policies of the government
were in fact favouring agricultural imports rather than the
peasant farmers, many of whom drifted to the cities and
became construction workers or unemployed; and the business
community, the civil service and most of the middle class
were unhappy about the increasing inflation and the
pervasive corruption. Something of the complete
disillusionment of the populace can be judged from the fact
that in the last local elections before the Revolution, in
Tehran, a city with 4,500,000 population, the top candidate
received 7,000 votes. Thus with the relaxation of
censorship, there were growing demands for reform and still
greater freedom.

An incident in August 1977 when a number of slum-dwellers
protesting about evictions were killed in clashes with the
police increased tension. Then towards the end of 1977 the
Shah's regime tried


to put the lid back on. Repressive measures were once again
taken against a number of opposition leaders. On 23 October
1977 Khumayni's son died under circumstances that led many
to assume the involvement of SAVAK. There was a
commemorative meeting in Tehran at which police clashed with
mourners. A short time later large crowds attending a poetry
recital began shouting anti-Shah slogans and there was a
further clash.
  On 31 December President Carter visited Iran and expressed
his support for the Shah. This, together with an ill-
conceived article on 7 January 1978 in the semi-official
newspaper, Ittila'at, attacking Khumayni in an undignified
and obscene manner, led to a protest by several thousand
students in Qumm on 9 January calling for the restoration of
the Constitution, the re-opening of closed universities and
religious colleges and the return of Ayatu'llah Khumayni.
Police opened fire on the demonstrators causing much loss of
life (no accurate figures are available but as many as 70
may have been killed).  The massacre at Qumm more than any
other episode initiated the events that led to the overthrow
of the Shah. Khumayni responded predictably by calling for
the overthrow of the Shah, but the importance of this
episode was the widespread public indignation caused and the
fact that it caused even the moderate Ayatu'llah
Shari'atmadari to declare the Shah's government non-Islamic
and to call for passive resistance.  These Qumm massacres
initiated a pattern of events in which one massacre led to a
commemoration of the martyrs after the traditional forty
days which in turn led to a further clash, further deaths
and another fortieth-day commemoration. At first these
fortieth-day commemorations were local and sporadic but as
time went by and the protests gained momentum, they became
national and well-coordinated. On 18 February the fortieth-
day commemoration of the Qumm massacre resulted in rioting
and deaths in Tabriz (as many as 100 may have been killed).
On 30 March the fortieth day of the Tabriz killings saw
demonstrations in several Iranian towns.
  In Yazd perhaps as many as 100 were killed by troops
firing on people as they emerged from one of the main
mosques of the town. For the next fortieth day there were
demonstrations in many towns on 8-11 May.
  There was something of a lull in June when the fortieth
day was commemorated by strikes and staying at home rather
than street demonstrations but this was to be merely the
prelude to an intensification of the protests during the
holy month of Ramadan which began on 5 August that year.
There were continuous demonstrations for most of that month,
particularly after the Abadan cinema fire on 19 August in
which over 400 lost their lives.
  In desperation the Shah made Ja'far Sharif-Imami, a
politician with


some religious credentials, Prime Minister. Sharif-Imami was
given leeway to make concessions to the opposition. A
Ministry of Religious Affairs was set up and the Ministry of
Women's Affairs disbanded, casinos were closed, a number of
notoriously corrupt officials were dismissed and a number of
Bahá'ís expelled from their jobs.
  Ramadan ended on 3 September and on the following day, the
Islamic festival 'Id al-Fitr, there was a large, peaceful
demonstration in Tehran. There were then several further
demonstrations until the government banned demonstrations on
7 September. On 8 September, Black Friday as it came to be
known, another demonstration in Tehran was fired on by
troops and several hundred were killed. There was an
immediate reaction by the crowds and the government imposed
martial law on 9 September and detained opposition leaders.
  Until this time there had been, in effect, two separate
protest movements: the religious protest initiated by the
ulama after the anti-Khumayni articles in January, and the
political agitation for greater liberalisation. From
September onwards these two movements became increasingly
merged and began to attract even middle-class support, thus
broadening the basis of the protests considerably.
  October saw the beginning of a major use of the strike
weapon. Large sections of the work-force went on strike,
including the economically important oil-workers and bank
  On 6 October Khumayni was expelled from Iraq at the
request of the Shah's government, and moved to France. This
proved another major miscalculation by the Shah's regime in
that from his residence at Neauphle-le-Chateau near Paris,
Khumayni was better able to communicate with his supporters
in Iran as well as being in a better position to obtain
publicity in the world's press and radio (in particular the
BBC's Persian service which was eagerly listened to by the
people of Iran and frequently broadcast Khumayni's
statements). Addresses by Khumayni would be taped in Paris
and then, via the telephone, transmitted to Iran where they
were again taped, reproduced and distributed in large
numbers. The Shah tried to compromise with Khumayni and even
announced that he was free to return to Iran. Both the Shah
and the National Front sent messengers to Paris to
negotiate. But Khumayni announced that no compromise was
possible and he would not return to Iran while the Shah
remained in power.
  On 6 November Sharif-Imami was replaced by a military
government headed by General Azhari. At first the latter had
some degree of success. He managed to get the oil-workers
back to work and the demonstrations died down. But then a
general strike was called for 26 November and the
demonstrations began again. One group particularly hard hit
at this time was the Bahá'í community. Not only was it being


attacked by the demonstrators urged on by the ulama, but it
was also subjected at this time to a violent campaign
against it organised by the Shah's secret police, SAVAK, in
order to try to shore up the regime's Islamic credentials.
  It was clear to all that the month of Muharram with its
Shi'i commemorations was to be the major test for the
government. The month began on 2 December. Almost at once
there were major demonstrations, while at night large
numbers defied the curfew. The government attempted to
negotiate but the opposition was now dictating the terms.
There were massive demonstrations on the day of 'Ashura (11
December); more than a million people are estimated to have
been on the streets of Tehran alone. More mass
demonstrations, a hardening of the oil-workers strike and
guerilla assassinations of government figures and foreign
technical advisers followed. Towards the end of December the
opposition groups began taking over institutions and
government offices. The troops, increasingly isolated,
either turned more brutal in their attacks on unarmed
civilians, causing numerous deaths, or began to desert in
increasing numbers, handing over their weapons to the
revolutionaries. It became common to see youths dressed in
white deliberately trying to provoke the troops into
shooting them; the Karbala theme and the Shi'i exaltation of
martyrdom came very much to the fore.
  on 29 December Dr Shapur Bakhtiyar, a long-time opponent
of the Shah's regime and formerly one of Musaddiq's aides,
was asked to become Prime Minister in the hope of appeasing
the crowds. But it was too late for even such a dramatic
gesture to have any impact. The momentum of revolutionary
fervour caused the crowd to turn even against Bakhtiyar for
the simple reason that he had reached an agreement with the
Shah. The only question now was whether the military would
stage a bloody coup in order to reassert order. Bakhtiyar
persuaded them not to do this and also persuaded the Shah to
leave the country on 16 January. Bakhtiyar tried to block
Khumayni's return but to no avail.
  On 1 February 1979 Khumayni returned triumphantly to Iran
welcomed by an estimated crowd of two million. Bakhtiyar,
having tried to keep up a pretence of being in power for
several days, finally gave Up on 12 February and fled
abroad. The Revolution was complete and Khumayni was de
facto ruler of Iran. The Vilayat-i Faqih (see p. 196) had
  Two years previously, almost no-one, not even the
opposition, could have predicted the fall of the Shah's
regime so rapidly and so completely. It is of interest
therefore to examine the factors that led to the success of
the 1979 Revolution as compared to previous upheavals:
1. The Shah's lack of resolution. During the crisis that
lasted from late 1977


until his departure in January 1979, the Shah displayed an
uncharacteristic lack of resolution in dealing with the
situation. At each stage he vacillated and did too little
too late, neither being firm enough to crush the opposition
as he had done in 1963 nor making enough concessions to
satisfy them or at least to split them. It may be that, as
has been suggested, the Shah's illness or the drugs being
used to treat it made it difficult for him to think clearly
in the crisis, or alternatively that as he knew that he was
dying he did not wish to cause a blood-bath which would have
made the transition of power more difficult on his death.
  It may also be that the Shah felt somewhat insecure as to
whether, if he acted firmly and many lives were lost, he
would receive the backing of the USA where Carter was in the
full swing of his human rights policy. Although it has been
said that Carter let the Shah down, it is difficult to see
what America could have done, once events were in train,
that would have saved the Shah. Any direct interference by
America would only have increased resentment. Although
Carter was probably instrumental in encouraging the protest
movement by his human rights policy, once the pattern of
protests was under way nothing that Carter could have said
or done would have saved the Shah.
2. The transfer of the allegiance of the middle classes. It
is doubtful whether the Revolution would have been
successful if it had merely remained a protest of the
religious classes, the Bazaar, the university students and
the unemployed as the upheaval of 1963 had been. The
movement towards revolution really picked up momentum when
the middle classes began to desert the Shah. This happened
particularly from the late summer of 1978 onwards. The
reasons for this switch are twofold. Firstly, the optimistic
promises that the Shah had made about the country's future
were all beginning to look very hollow by 1977-8 and there
was much discontent about corruption and inflation.
Secondly, the intellectuals of the Revolution such as Bani-
Sadr and Shari'ati had succeeded in presenting an Islamic
ideology that appeared modern, liberal and appealing by
contrast to traditional Islam. By suppressing all free
political discussion in the country, the Shah forced the
middle classes towards religiously-oriented opposition as
that was the only form of discussion and protest left.
3. Khumayni's leadership. The religious opposition was only
one of many groups that were actively working against the
Shah, and in the 1960s and early 1970s it seemed much more
likely that a leftist movement would overthrow the Shah or
that the liberals would wring concessions out of him. It was
mainly Khumayni's leadership that set the religious tone for
the Revolution. Khumayni succeeded in imposing his
leadership on three main groups: the religious leaders, the
political opposition, and the mass of the lower classes.


  Firstly, he united the religious leadership behind him
politically. The Shi'i mujtahids have been notorious for
their factionalism and stubborn independent-mindedness
Therefore it speaks highly for Khumayni's abilities that he
was able to unite this disparate body behind him and get
them to emerge from their traditional reticence to indulge
in political activity. Secondly, Khumayni was able to unite
the various opposition groups, most of which had very
diverse political aims, behind him in a concerted drive to
get rid of the Shah. Had the revolutionary ideology been
expressed in political terms, it is doubtful if it would
have had the mass support that it did. on the other hand,
the organisational abilities of the political opposition and
the military abilities of the guerilla groups undoubtedly
played an important role in the revolutionary process.
Thirdly, Khumayni was able to inspire the masses of the
people with his leadership. He succeeded in casting the
struggle against the Shah in cosmic terms in the minds of
the people and especially the poorer classes. The Revolution
became a struggle between good and evil; it became the re-
enactment of Karbala. Suddenly the wearing of the
traditional chadur (veil) or the plain sombre dress with
head-scarf, instead of being regarded as a symbol of
religious obscurantism and reaction, became the symbol of
protest against the regime and was adopted by many middle-
class university students. Thus the language and imagery of
the revolution became predominantly religious rather than
political. By stating that Khumayni succeeded in imposing
his leadership on these three groups it is not intended to
imply that he deliberately planned this or did anything to
attract these groups. Rather, he led the way and once the
others saw that he was succeeding, they fell into line with
him as the only way of ousting the Shah. His stubborn
refusal to compromise on his demands forced the other groups
like the National Front to fall in behind him, thus ensuring
that the Revolution went all the way to toppling the Shah
and did not come to any compromise short of that.
4. The Karbala factor. Perhaps the critical deciding factor
in the Revolution was the way in which Khumayni was able to
grip the imagination of the masses. Khumayni's role in the
Revolution became the embodiment and fulfilment of numerous
Shi'i themes on which the people of Iran had been raised
from childhood. The whole struggle became cast in terms of
the struggles of the Imams against their enemies (the
constant theme of the rawdas) and, in particular, the battle
of Karbala. The Shah and his powerful army were cast in the
role of Yazid and the Umayyad troops while Khumayni became
the Imam Husayn leading his people against overwhelming
odds. The banners in the demonstrations proclaimed:
'Everywhere is Karbala and every day is 'Ashura.' The
demonstrators killed by the Shah's troops were designated as
martyrs (in parallel with the Shi'i martyrs at Karbala and


elsewhere) and were buried in special cemeteries. Khumayni
in distant Paris was also like the Hidden Imam sending his
messages through special representatives. Stories circulated
among the crowd that Khumayni had dreamed that he would be
buried in Qumm and therefore it was inevitable that he would
return to Iran. As the momentum of the Revolution increased,
the anticipation of Khumayni's return became like the
anticipated return of the Hidden Imam; no sacrifice was too
great to help to realise it. Then came the day of Khumayni's
return--the anticipated parousia. The crowds were shouting
for 'Imam Khumayni' and were confident that a new age had
dawned with justice for all. Anyone who broke ranks with the
Revolution and opposed Khumayni after his return was likened
to the Nakithun (those like Talha, Zubayr and 'A'isha who
broke their allegiance to 'Ali and fought against him at the
Battle of the Camel). The commonest charge made against
those executed by the Revolutionary courts was that of being
mufsid fi'l-ard (a corrupter upon the earth) a vague and
indefinable charge which, however, had strong Qur'anic
overtones. Thus the Revolution became one long enactment of
Shi'i themes and even the major participants in the events
became more carried along by the momentum of the roles they
were playing than able to initiate actions of their own free
  Immediately after the success of the Revolution, there was
an effort to cool religious fervour. It was firmly stated on
several occasions that, of course, Khumayni was not the Imam
but the use of the designation Imam Khumayni continued and
so subsequently it was announced that Imam here was being
used as meaning leader of the people--a usage familiar
enough in Arabic but not hitherto made in Persian. Khumayni
has also allowed the designation of Na'ib al-Imam (Deputy of
the Imam) to continue[18] although it has been less used
recently. If by this designation is meant the traditional
Na'ib al-'Amm (general representative, see p. 190) of the
Imam, then it applies equally to all mujtahids and Khumayni
is not even sole marja' at-taqlid. If, on the other hand, a
special representation of the Hidden Imam (Na'ib al-Khass)
is intended, then this indeed is a radical change, for there
has been no Na'ib al-Khass since the beginning of the
Greater Occultation (see pp. 164, 190). One suspects that
Khumayni's aides would give the former interpretation but
that the masses of the people infer the latter.

After the Revolution

Bazargan, Khumayni's appointee, took over as Prime Minister
on 12 February 1979. But soon it became clear that there was
a secret government in parallel, in the shape of the
Revolutionary Council and the local Revolutionary Committees
that were to a large extent directing


the course of events. The identity of the members of the
Revolutionary Council and the exact nature of its activities
was to remain undisclosed to the public Until early 1980 but
it is now known that this Council was set Up, on the orders
of Khumayni, in late October 1978, to coordinate the
Revolution and to study and supervise what should be the
form of government after the departure of the Shah.
  At first this Revolutionary Council was composed only of
radical ulama such as Ayatu'llahs Mutahhari, Bihishti and
Musavi-Ardibili as well as Hashimi-Rafsanjani and Bahunar.
When Ayatu'llah Talaqani was freed from prison in November
1978, he became Chairman although in mid-1979 when he became
unhappy with the direction that the Revolution was taking,
he ceased to attend. Later a number of lay figures such as
Engineer Bazargan were added. In the final stages of the
Revolution, the Council was in contact with Bakhtiyar,
foreign ambassadors, and the army, while constantly
receiving instructions from Khumayni. Thus it is clear that
it must have made a major contribution to the comparatively
non-violent transfer of power and the forestalling of an
army coup.[19]  Although the Revolution had a clear aim, the
ousting of the Shah, its ideology was far from clear and in
some respects impractical. Everyone was in agreement that
they wanted an Islamic government, but there was no
consensus as to what an Islamic government was. Khumayni's
concept of Vilayat-i Faqih was that the Constitution and law
of the country is already determined by the Islamic Shari'a
and only requires interpretation by the mujtahids and a
planning council, also under clerical control, to determine
priorities. There was really no place in Khumayni's original
scheme for any political parties, parliament or other
democratic elements. But there was no consensus even among
the ulama that Khumayni's views were correct.
Shari'atmadari, Talaqani and others favoured a
constitutional democracy, patterned along the lines that
Na'ini wrote of at the beginning of the 20th century, with
multi-party political activity.
  This split was reflected inside the Revolutionary Council
where, although Bazargan had left the Council on his
appointment as Prime Minister, he had been replaced by a
number of Khumayni's lay associates from Paris such as Bani-
Sadr, Yazdi, and Qutbzada, who together with Ayatu'llah
Talaqani were in favour of democratic government, while
Ayatu'llah Bihishti and the other radical ulama wanted to
pursue a rigidly Islamic policy along the lines of
Khumayni's Vilayat-i Faqih However, the assassination of
Ayatu'llah Mutahhari on 2 May and the death of Ayatu'llah
Talaqani on 10 September 1979 greatly strengthened the hand
of the radical ulama on the Council.
  The first clash between the radical and the liberal democratic


on the Revolutionary Council came over the wording of the
referendum which was held on 31 March 1979 on the question
of whether the people wanted an Islamic Republic. Ayatu'llah
Talaqani and the liberal democrats (as well as Ayatu'llah
Shari'atmadari) wanted the people to have a free choice
between several types of government in the referendum. But
the final wording of the document gave only a choice between
monarchy and an Islamic Republic.
  The second major area of conflict to emerge was over the
question of the Constitution of the new Islamic Republic. A
draft Constitution, very similar to the 1905 Constitution
(but without the monarchy), which had been drawn up largely
by the secular democrats on the Council, was published in
June 1979. But the draft was to be subjected to scrutiny by
an Assembly of Experts and the radical ulama succeeded in
getting a large number of their supporters onto this body.
In order to facilitate this, the radical ulama had formed
themselves into a political party, the Islamic Republican

The final version of the Constitution that was published on
4 November 1979 was therefore much closer to what the
radical ulama wanted. It contained provision for a supreme
clerical guide, the faqih or rahbar (leader), who together
with a twelve-member Council would supervise the election
and dismissal of a President and could veto any legislation
of the National Assembly deemed to be contrary to Islam. It
was, of course, a foregone conclusion that Khumayni would
occupy the position of supreme clerical guide. The
Constitution was approved by a referendum in December 1979.
This Constitution was opposed by the National Front and by
Ayatu'llah Shari'atmadari. The latter protested that the
concept of Vilayat-i Faqih was not indisputably established
in Shi'i jurisprudence, nor was there only one marja' at-
taqlid--indeed, if anything he was senior to Khumayni. It
should also be noted that the Constitution represents a
considerable compromise from Khumayni's original stance in
favour of those wanting more democratic elements. What is
not clear is whether this change of mind by Khumayni
occurred in Paris under the influence of lay democrats like
Bani-Sadr or whether it occurred as a response to what
Khumayni found on his return to Iran.
  The strain between the moderates and the radicals built up
during the whole of 1979. In April 1979 Shari'atmadari's
supporters formed a new party, the Islamic People's
Republican Party in opposition to the radical ulama's
Islamic Republican Party. Ayatu'llah Sadiq Khalkhali, one of
the radical ulama, attacked Shari'atmadari publicly for
dividing the Islamic movement and provoked pro-
Shari'atmadari demonstrations, especially in Adharbayjan
where most of Shari'atmadari's supporters live. This unrest
continued for much of the year despite a much publicised
reconciliatory meeting between Khumayni and Shari'atmadari


on 18 June 1979 at the home of Ayatu'llah Gulpaygani in
Qumm.  The Revolutionary Committees that were set up in
every town to keep the Revolution on its Islamic course soon
became an alternative government to Bazargan and his
Cabinet. These Committees began executing hundreds of
people, some on comparatively minor charges and some without
trial. It became clear that Bazargan's government was unable
to exert any control over these Committees.  Although
freedom of speech and freedom of political activity had been
one of the rallying points of the Revolution, it was soon
evident that this did not include freedom to criticise the
new regime. Those who spoke out against the actions of the
Revolutionary Committees or against the restrictions that
were being imposed soon themselves became victims of those
Committees. The National Front disappeared from the ruling
coalition and the liberal National Democratic Front headed
by Musaddiq's grandson was suppressed in the summer of 1979.
Shari'atmadari's Islamic People's Republican Party was
outlawed in December 1979 and several of its leaders
executed. Bazargan's government became increasingly blocked
in any action that it wished to take by the radical ulama's
Islamic Republican Party, which effectively controlled the
national Revolutionary Council, the Revolutionary
Committees, the Revolutionary Guards and most of the
  The situation of two governments in parallel was ended
shortly after the take-over of the American embassy and the
start of the holding of the American hostages on 4 November
1979. Two days later Bazargan resigned and the Revolutionary
Council took over as the government with Ayatu'llah Bihishti
as secretary of the Council becoming defacto Prime Minister
of the country.
  Bihishti and the Islamic Republican Party suffered some
temporary setbacks between November 1979 and January 1980.
In the first place, the students holding the American
Embassy hostages refused to submit to the Revolutionary
Council, nor did they consider themselves part of the
Islamic Republican party. They maintained they were
following 'the line of the Imam (Khumayni)'. Bihishti and
the Islamic Republican Party had always considered
themselves the true followers of Imam Khumayni and were
somewhat dismayed when Khumayni refused to adjudicate on
which group was following his 'line'. The question of 'the
line of the Imam (khatt-i Imam)' and who was truly following
it became a very heated point of discussion for many months.
The second set-back for the IRP came when Khumayni decided
that the ulama, whose function he conceived to be
supervising and guiding the government, could not themselves
be candidates in the Presidential elections, thus barring
the way to Bihishti's candidature. To make matters worse,
when the IRP did eventually choose another candidate,
Khumayni disallowed him on


the grounds of his being found to be not of Iranian origin.
Thus the IRP was only able to field a weak candidate for the
Presidential election that was held on 25 January 1980.
  Abu'l-Hasan Bani-Sadr won the Presidential election and
was instated by Khumayni on 4 February. However, Bani-Sadr
had no real party political machine and in the elections for
the National Assembly, the IRP by a number of tactics, such
as announcing the need to screen all candidates on their
Islamic credentials and pre-Revolution activities and
suspending elections in some areas because of lack of
security, succeeded in winning 130 of the 270 seats. This
gave them a majority in the Assembly since 30 seats could
not be filled because of unrest in Kurdistan and elsewhere.
The Assembly began to function on 19 July 1980.
  However, it is clear that there was among the people a
growing disillusionment with the Revolutionary Government.
Of a total electorate of about 24,000,000, about 20,400,000
had voted in the referendum for the Islamic Republic in
March 1979; 14,000,000 in the Presidential election of
January 1980; and only 6,100,000 in the first stage of the
National Assembly elections in March 1980. After this
punitive measures were decreed for failure to vote and
numbers rose again.
  During the summer of 1980 the split between Bani-Sadr and
Bihishti widened. Bani-Sadr had the support of most of the
middle classes, the liberals and left-wing elements,
especially among the students, the army, and urban women,
all of whom were alarmed at the prospect of clerical
domination. But they were poorly organised compared with
Bihishti's supporters who included the radical ulama,
controlling most of the mosques, the Revolutionary
Committees, Revolutionary Guards, the Islamic societies that
had sprung up and now dominated many universities, factories
and government offices and a group called the Hizbu'llahis
(Followers of the Party of God) which was in fact only a new
name for the street roughs (lutis, see p. 199) who had
always had a close relationship with the ulama. Bihishti's
IRP control of the National Assembly effectively blocked all
of Bani-Sadr's political initiatives.
  On 17 June 1980 Khumayni tried to bring the two sides
together in a 'charter of unity', but on the very next day
Bani-Sadr's supporters revealed details of tapes made of a
prominent IRP member discussing how to disrupt Bani-Sadr's
control over the government.
  Although Bani-Sadr had initially had Khumayni's full
support, at this critical juncture it became clear that
Khumayni himself was not at all happy with the progress of
the Revolution and that a degree of tension was building up
between him and Bani-Sadr. Khumayni had envisaged an end to
the complex, bureaucratic, Western-oriented state apparatus
of the Pahlavi era, and its replacement by a much smaller
number of administrators whose chief qualifications would be
piety, Islamic knowledge,


and justice rather than technical or managerial expertise,
and who would be readily accessible to the people. This was
Khumayni's vision of returning Iran to governance in the
mould of the Imam 'Ali.[20] But in practice, Bani-Sadr had
found it impossible to make any progress on this front and
even notoriously corrupt officials from the previous
administration had found their way back to their old posts
as it was found that the administration was grinding to a
halt without their expertise.  Another aspect of Khumayni's
thinking that caused tension between him and the liberal-
democratic elements that formed the majority of Bani-Sadr's
supporters was Khumayni's insistence that there should be
ideological unity within the Revolution. Previously, as long
as one observed the outward dictates of the religious law,
orthodoxy of one's belief and thinking were not considered
to be a matter of concern. But now, Khumayni was insisting
that to be a Shi'i involved not only observance of religious
law but also that one's thoughts must be moulded by the
socially-active Revolutionary ideology. With Shi'ism now
rigidly defined, for Khumayni, in terms of both action and
ideology, any opposition, dissent or deviation must, by
definition, originate from outside Shi'ism (i.e. from US
Imperialism, Zionism, etc.).  Khumayni decided to give a new
impetus to the Revolution. In his Naw-Ruz (Iranian New Year,
21 March) speech, he called for a purge of the universities
which had become increasingly dominated by left-wing
elements. As a result, the Islamic Student Societies took
over the universities and closed them down on 4 June until
the 'leftist' and 'un-Islamic' elements could be screened
out. Then in July there was a drive to screen all government
offices and eliminate anyone whose pre-Revolutionary
activities were considered to be unacceptable or who were
found to be Bahá'ís. There was also a drive in the same
month to get women to wear the veil. Unveiled women were
attacked in the streets by Hizbu'llahis.  It was probably
only the start of the Irano-Iraqi war on 22 September 1980
that saved Bani-Sadr's government from collapse under all
these pressures at this time. Certainly control was
increasingly slipping away from him as it had with Bazargan. 
During the last months of 1980 and almost the whole of 1981,
the major drama that was being played out in the streets of
the cities of Iran was the battle for supremacy between the
left-wing Mujahidin guerillas and the Revolutionary Guards
backed by the IRP. on 21 November 1980 Muhammad Rida
Sa'adati, the leader of the Mujahidin, was sentenced to ten
years imprisonment on a charge of spying for Russia. During
1981 the Mujahidin staged several major demonstrations with
as many as 10,000 participants but increasingly they were
set upon by Revolutionary Guards and Hizbu'llahis and
eventually, after Bani-Sadr's fall, they went underground.


  During May and June 1981 the gradual erosion of Bani-
Sadr's position reached critical proportions. In late May,
Khumayni made a speech in which he criticised him. This was
the signal for his enemies to move in. During the first week
of June several members of his staff were arrested and his
newspaper closed. By 14 June he had gone into hiding, hoping
to rally support. On 22 June Bani-Sadr was formally deposed
as President, thus completing the triumph of Bihishti and
the IRP. Bani-Sadr and the Mujahidin leader, Mas'ud Rajavi,
fled to Paris which now ironically became the centre of
groups opposed to Khumayni.
But Bihishti's triumph was to be short-lived. On 28 June
1981 he and seventy-five members of the IRP were blown up by
a bomb at the IRP headquarters. With Bihishti's death went
the only figure who looked likely to be able to emulate
Khumayni in political adroitness and leadership. Now the
question of the succession to Khumayni became problematical.
But the immediate problem was the Presidential election to
replace Bani-Sadr. Despite their losses in the bombing and
other assassinations that occurred with alarming frequency
throughout that summer, the IRP were able to reorganise
themselves with great rapidity and their candidate, Muhammad
'Ali Raja'i, received an overwhelming majority of the votes
cast. Following this another leading member of the IRP,
Muhammad Javad Bahunar, was made Prime Minister, replacing
Raja'i who had occupied that position. Khumayni's initial
policy of not allowing clerics to hold executive
governmental positions had been visibly faltering for some
time and the appointment of Bahunar, who was a member of the
ulama, marked its final demise.

On 30 August 1981 another bomb blast killed Raja'i and
Bahunar. Following this, in October, another cleric,
Khamini'i, was elected President and Husayn Musavi was
appointed Prime Minister.

Throughout the whole of 1980 and 1981, Khumayni's
relationship with the other major Ayatu'llahs had been
deteriorating. Shari'atmadari's Islamic People's Republican
Party had in December 1979 threatened to take power in
Adharbayjan, and Khumayni asked Shari'atmadari to disperse
his followers. After this the IPRP was outlawed and several
of its leaders executed. Shari'atmadari was thus effectively
silenced and, although subsequently frequently named by
opposition groups as a figure-head around which a liberal
democratic movement could be launched, he himself refrained
from public political activity.

The two senior clerics of Mashhad, Ayatu'llahs Qummi and
Shirazi, delivered several attacks on the Revolutionary
regime in the spring of 1981. Other senior clerics such as
Ayatu'llahs Zanjani, Baha'u'd-Din Mahallati-Shirazi and
Shaykh 'Ali Tihrani have also voiced opposition to Khumayni,
the IRP, the Revolutionary regime and the concept of


Vilayat-i Faqih. At Qumm Ayatu'llahs Shari'atmadari and
Gulpaygani were thought to be opposed to the IRP's
domination while Ayatu'llah Mar'ashi-Najafi tried to
maintain a neutral stance. The senior Ayatu'llahs were hit
financially when it was announced by Khumayni that the
payment of khums and zakat should be made to the Imam-Jum'a
in each city, an official appointed by Khumayni. If this
measure were universally followed, the other Ayatu'llahs
would become unable to finance their students and their
charitable works and would thus lose influence.
  Then on 10 April 1982 it was announced that a plot had
been discovered to overthrow the Islamic Government. Sadiq
Qutbzada, formerly Foreign Minister, and Ayatu'llah
Shari'atmadari were accused of being the instigators. Later,
in an unprecedented development, Shari'atmadari was declared
to have been formally stripped of his position as marja '
One issue that came much to the fore in 1982 and 1983 was
the discussion over the Hujjatiyya Society. In the 1950s
this movement had been started by Shaykh Mahmud Halabi in
order to persecute and harass Bahá'ís. During the Pahlavi
era it had confined itself to this and was called the Anti-
Bahá'í Society. But after the Revolution it began to take a
wider, more political stance and assumed its new name.
During 1982 and 1983 it was claimed that many members of
this society had infiltrated the IRP and the government. It
would seem, although this is a point that requires further
careful analysis, that the intense discussion that went on
about the Hujjatiyya at this time was an indirect way of
conducting a debate about the concept of Vilayat-l Faqih
(for no one would have dared to appear to be openly opposing
Khumayni from within Iran). Whether the issue was raised by
the opponents of Vilayat-i Faqih in order to see what
support they could raise, or by the supporters of the
concept in order to flush out their last remaining
opponents, is not clear. But in any case, the Hujjatiyya
were said to be opposed to the concept of Vilayat-i Faqih
and after many months of debate, the final victory of those
opposing the Hujjatiyya Society (i.e. supporting Vilayat-i
Faqih) was signalled by the fact that Shaykh Mahmud Halabi
was ordered to leave Tehran and retire to Mashhad.
In late 1982 it was announced that elections were to be held
for an Assembly of Experts who would deliberate on the
question of the succession to Khumayni. Elections were held
on lo December 1982. This Assembly has considered a number
of different proposals including the appointment of one
named individual as Khumayni's successor or the possibility
of a council of mujtahids to take over the role. The
deliberations of the Assembly were, however, upstaged when
Khumayni, with great ceremony, sent them his sealed will


effectively forestalling any final decision being made until
his death.
  A few days after the elections for the Assembly of
Experts, on 17 December, Khumayni put forward what has
become known as the Imam's eight-point decree. This decree
was made in response to increasing complaints about the
arbitrary nature of the proceedings of the Revolutionary
Courts and the Revolutionary Guards. It laid down a number
of principles which were intended to check abuses.
During February 1983 the leaders of the communist Tudih
Party, the last remaining active non-government party, were
arrested and the Party disbanded, leaving Iran effectively a
one-party state.
The Islamic Republican Party, although virtually
unchallenged in the political sphere, is not as strong as it
would appear to be. A number of factors have contributed to
its decline: Khumayni himself has recently shown no
enthusiasm for the party but has rather tended to refer to
the 'Party of God' (Hizbu'llah);[*] several other
influential figures such as Ayatu'llah Hasan 'Ali Muntaziri
(widely regarded as a possible successor to Khumayni) have
followed this trend; the party's leadership has never really
recovered from the decimation it received at the hands of
the Mujahidin and it has no one with the charisma of
Bihishti; some of the principal figures in the party appear
to be intent on setting up independent power bases; some
groups such as the 'students following the line of the
Imam', who had previously aligned themselves with the party
are now pulling away again.[21]
With the Revolutionary government much more secure than it
has been since the Revolution, it has turned its attention
to a number of other issues. Although the war with Iraq
occupies a great deal of attention, the regime is also
providing a great deal of support for the Shi'is of Lebanon
in their conflict. At home, due to the shortages caused by
the war and the poor state of the economy, the mosques have
been able to consolidate their control over the population
in that all rationing and relief supplies are distributed
from there. A major drive has been launched to try to harass
and pressure the Bahá'í community into recanting their Faith
and converting to Islam, but thus far few Bahá'ís have done
so and the measures taken have produced widescale
condemnation from such bodies as the United Nations Sub-
Commission on Human Rights.

Developments in Shi'ism since the Revolution

Although it is perhaps too early to state for certain what
permanent changes will remain in Shi'ism as a result of the
1979 Revolution, the trend of the changes can already be
discerned. It can be stated with ' This is not a reference
to the Hizbu'llahis (see p. 293) but rather to the idea that
the divisiveness of political parties has no place among
Muslims who all belong to the Party of God.


reasonable certainty that Khumayni's Revolution will be seen
as the final stage in the working out of the Na'ib al-'Amm
concept. The right of the ulama to take over the religious
functions of the Hidden Imam (the right to collect the zakat
and khums, the right to lead the Friday Prayers, etc. ) and
to give judgement on religious law through the use of
ijtihad which had been gradually assumed by the ulama over
the centuries and which had been confirmed by the Usuli
victory over the Akhbaris was now completed by the victory
of Khumayni's concept of Vilayat-i Faqih which gave the
ulama the right to deputise also for the political functions
and authority of the Hidden Imam.
  It may be argued that the triumph of Khumayni's views is
not yet complete and several of the most influential of the
traditional ulama have expressed doubts on the subject. But
one of the most surprising features of the last few years
has been the ease with which many of the junior ulama have
felt it possible to ignore the views of such senior figures
as Ayatu'llah Shari'atmadari, who was the most influential
marja' at-taqlid prior to the Revolution. Others have put
into practice the idea of splitting the function of the
marja' at-taqlid; thus they follow Khumayni in political
matters but one of the other maraji' at-taqlid in religious
matters. It seems clear that among the present generation of
students who are receiving training in the religious
colleges at Qumm, most accept Khumayni's views and the
Vilayat-i Faqih will become an established doctrine within
the next generation.
  In parallel with this doctrinal development there has been
a rapid and far-reaching institutional development.
Previously Shi'ism had prided itself on its lack of
institutionalisation. It had been very much a personal
individual religion. There was no stress on attending the
mosque even for the Friday prayers. Individual ulama rose in
station according to personal charisma rather than any
institutional structure. Following the Revolution, the
mosque has become the centre of social life and is used not
only for religious purposes but to distribute welfare
supplies and even ration cards. The Friday prayers are now a
major event in the week and attract hundreds of thousands in
the large cities. The address at the Friday prayers has
become an important politico-religious organ for carrying
forward the Revolution, and government announcements are
frequently made through this medium. There has evolved in a
remarkably short time a formal hierarchy among the ulama
with prefixed designations (see p. 206). There is as yet no
institutional procedure for ascending the hierarchy but no
doubt this will come soon for, with the announcement of
Ayatu'llah Shari'atmadari's removal from the office of Grand
Ayatu'llah and the more recent (September 1984) decree from
Khumayni stating that certain persons who had been calling
themselves Ayatu'llah were not entitled to that designation


should henceforth be called Hujjatu'l-Islam, there is an
unspoken assumption that it is possible to regulate such
matters institutionally rather than leaving it to public
acclaim. Nor is it yet clear what the implications are of
the fact that the prefixed designation of Ayatu'llah has
been dropped for Khumayni and he is now universally called
Imam Khumayni. Does this imply the creation of a new level
in the spiritual hierarchy above Ayatu'llah al-'Uzma (see p.
206) or is it merely an indication of his political
function?  Further evidence of the rapid
institutionalisation comes with the election of the Assembly
of Experts to decide on the successor to Khumayni. Once
again this represents a formalisation of what in previous
generations had been left to public acclaim. The future will
undoubtedly see a much greater development of this process.
  The relationship of the individual believer to his
religion has also undergone something of a change. The ulama
have come to assert much more of a priestly intermediary
role. It has become much more difficult for the individual
to pursue a direct relationship with God. Whereas previously
it was sufficient to conform to the precepts of the
religious law and the individual's religious and political
opinions were his own affair, what is now being increasingly
insisted upon is a complete conformity, in both ideology and
action, to a single view of what Shi'ism is.

Chapter 15

                     Appendix I

     A Chronology of Political and Religious Events
                   in Shi'i History

Dates for dynasties are the dates of the start of the
dynasty; dates of religious personages are dates of death.
Place-names in parentheses after dynasties are capitals or
areas of rule, and after persons are places of principal

Political Events         Religious Personalities and Events

     622 Hegira of Muhammad
     632 death of Muhammad
     656 Beginning of Caliphate of 'Ali
     661 Assassination of 'Ali

661 Umayyad Dynasty
                         669 Imam Hasan (Medina)
                         680 Martyrdom of Imam Husayn at
684 Revolt of Tawwabun
686 Revolt of Mukhtar
                         c. 713 Imam Zaynu'l-'Abidin
                         c. 735 Imam Muhammad al-Baqir
740 Revolt of Zayd
750 'Abbasid Dynasty
758 Revolt of Muhammad
  an-Nafs az-Zakiyya
                         765 Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (Medina)
                         799 Imam Musa al-Kazim (Medina)
816 'Ali ar-Rida 
  proclaimed 'Abbasid heir
                         818 Imam 'Ali ar-Rida (Medina)
                         835 Imam Muhammad at-Taqi (Medina, 
                         868 Imam 'Ali al-Hadi (Samarra)


Political Events         Religious Personalities and Events

                         873 Imam Hasan al-'Askari (Samarra)
                         874 Occultation of Twelfth Imam

905 Hamdanid Dynasty (Mosul)
934 Buyid Dynasty (Iran, Iraq)
                         940 Muhammad al-Kulayni (Baghdad)
                         941 Beginning of Greater
944 Hamdanid Dynasty (Aleppo)
945 Buyids capture Baghdad
990 'Uqaylid Dynasty (Mosul)
                         991 Ibn Babuya (Qumm)
1012 Mazyadid Dynasty (S. Iraq)
                         1022 Shaykh al-Mufid (Baghdad)
1023 Mirdasid Dynasty (Aleppo)
                         1044 'Alamu'l-Huda (Baghdad)
1055 Seljuqs capture Baghdad
                         1067 Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa (Baghdad,
1079 'Uqaylid Dynasty (Aleppo)
1101 Foundation of Hilla
1128 'Imadu'd-Din Zangi
     captures Aleppo
                         1145 Shaykh Muhammad, grandson of  
                            Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa (Naja
                         1189 Ibn Zuhra Halabi (Aleppo)
                         1192 Ibn Shahrashub (Aleppo)
                         1201 Ibn Idris (Hilla)
1225 Death of Caliph an-Nasir
                         1238 Ibn Nima (Hilla)
1258 Mongols capture Baghdad
                         1265 Ibn Tawus (Hilla)
                         1274 Khwaja Nasiru'd-Din Tusi
                         1277 Muhaqqiq al-Hilli (Hilla)
1309 Oljeitu (Khudabanda)
     becomes Shi'i
                         1325 'Allama al-Hilli (Hilla)
1336 Jalayir Dynasty (Iraq)
1337 Sarbadarid Rule (Sabzivar)
1359 Mar'ashi Sayyid Dynasty
                         1370 Fakhru'l-Muhaqqiqin (Hilla)
1380 Timurid Dynasty (Iran, Iraq)
                         1384 Shahid al-Awwal (Jabal 'Amil)
1403 Execution of Fadlu'llah al-
1409 Qara-Quyunlu Dynasty
     (Adharbayjan, Iraq)


Political Events         Religious Personalities and Events

                         1422 Al-Miqdad al-Hilli (Hilla)
1423 Revolt of Muhammad
                         1437 Ibn Fahd (Hilla)
1489 'Adil Shah Dynasty
     (Bijapur, India)
1490 Nizam Shah Dynasty
     (Ahmadnagar, India)
1501 Safavid Dynasty (Iran)
1512 Qutb Shah Dynasty
     (Golconda, India)
                         1533 Muhaqqiq al-Karaki (Jabal
                         1558 Shahid ath-Thani (Jabal 'Amil)
1597 Shah 'Abbas moves capital
     to Isfahan
1602 Safavid force       1602 Sahibu'l-Ma'alim (Jabal 'Amil)
     captures Bahrain
                         1621 Shaykh Bahá'í (Isfahan)
                         1623 Mulla Muhammad Amin
                              founder of Akhbari school
                         1640 Mulla Sadra of the Hikmat-i
                              Ilahi School of Isfahan
                         1659 Mulla Muhammad Taqi Majlis    
                         1699 Mulla Muhammad Baqir Majlis   
1722 Afghans capture Isfahan
1722 Nawwabs and Kings of
     Oudh (Lucknow)
                         1724 Fadil-i Hindi (Isfahan)
1747 Nadir Shah (Iran)
1750 Zand Dynasty (S. Iran)
                         1760 Mulla Isma'il Khaju'i
                         1793 Vahid Bihbahani (Karbala)
1794 Qajar Dynasty (Iran)
                         1797 Bahru'l-'Ulum (Najaf)
1801 Wahhabis sack Karbala
                         1812 Shaykh Ja'far Kashifu'l-Ghita 
                         1815 Sayyid 'Ali Tabataba'i
                         1816 Mirza-yi Qummi (Qumm)
                         1826 Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i,
                         founder      of the Shaykhi School
                         1828 Mulla Ahmad Naraqi (Naraq,    
1843 Najib Pasha sacks Karbala


Political Events         Religious Personalities and Events

                         1850 Shaykh Muhammad Hasan Najafi
                         1850 The Bab, founder of the Bab   
1856 British end line of Nawwabs
     of Oudh
                         1864 Shaykh Murtada Ansari (Najaf)
                         1892 Bahá'u'lláh, founder of the   
                           Bahá'í Faith
                         1895 Mirza-yi Shirazi (Samarra)

1906 Constitutional Revolution
1907 All-India Shi'a Conference
                         1911 Akhund Khurasani (Najaf)
1913 Wahhabis occupy al-Ahsa
1918 Overthrow of        1918 Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Yazdi
     Ottoman Empire          (Najaf)
     ending Turkish rule
     over Lebanon, Syria
     and Iraq
                         1920 Mirza Muhammad Taqi Shiraz
                         1920 Shaykhu'sh-Shari'a Isfahani   
1932 Iraq Independence
                         1933 Shaykh 'Abdu'llah Mamaqani    
                         1936 Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Na'ini
                         1937 Shaykh 'Abdu'l Karim Ha'iri-
                         1942 Shaykh Diya'u'd-Din Iraqi
1944 Lebanon Independence
                         1946 Sayyid Abu'l-Hasan Isfahani   
                         1947 Ayatu'llah Qummi (Karbala)
1956 Suez crisis causes
     upheavals in Lebanon
     and Bahrain
                         1961 Ayatu'llah Burujirdi (Qumm)
1963 Uprising against
     Shah; Iraqi Revolution
                         1970 Ayatu'llah Muhsin al-Hakim    
                         1978 Disappearance of Imam Musa as-
                              Sadr (Lebanon)
1979 Iranian Revolution topples Shah
                         1980 Execution of Muhammad Baqir
                         as-     Sadr (Iraq)
1983 Lebanon upheaval


                         Appendix II
                       Shi'i Dynasties

Dates are for the start of the reign of each king or ruler.
Where the name of a dynasty is preceded by an asterisk, this
indicates a dynasty that was probably Shi'i but where it is
not clear that they were orthodox Twelver Shi'i. Sources for
this material include: Lane-Pole, Muhammadan Dynasties;
Zambaur, Manuel de Genealogie; Bosworth, Islamic Dynasties;
Shushtari, Majalis al-Mu'minin; and Encyclopaedia of Islam,
articles under name of each dynasty.

* Buyids Iran and Iraq, an Iranian tribe from Daylam

Fars (Shiraz)

320/923   'Imadu'd-Din 'Ali ibn Buya captured Shiraz 322/934
338/949   'Adudu'd-Dawla Fana-Khusraw ibn Ruknu'd-Dawla
          (nephew of above)
372/983   Sharafu'd-Dawla Shirdil (Shirzil) ibn 'Adudu'd-
380/990   Samsamu'd-Dawla Marzuban ibn 'Adudu'd-Dawla
388/998   Baha'u'd-Dawla Firuz ibn 'Adudu'd-Dawla
403/1012  Sultanu'd-Dawla Abu Shuja' ibn Baha'u'd-Dawla
412/1021  Musharrafu'd-Dawla Hasan ibn Baha'u'd-Dawla
415/1024  'Imadu'd-Dawla Marzuban ibn Sultanu'd-Dawla
440/1048  Al-Malik ar-Rahim Khusraw Firuz ibn 'Imadu'd-Dawla
447/1055  Fulad-Sutun Abu Mansur ibn 'Imadu'd-Dawla
--454/1062     power in Shiraz taken by Kurdish chief

Iraq (Baghdad)

334/945   Mu'izzu'd-Dawla Ahmad ibn Buya captured Baghdad
          from 'Abbasids in 334/945
356/967   'Izzu'd-Dawla Bakhtiyar ibn Mu'izzu'd-Dawla
367/978   'Adudu'd-Dawla, see above
372/983   Samsamu'd-Dawla, see above
376/987   Sharafu'd-Dawla, see above
379/989   Baha'u'd-Dawla, see above
403/1012  Sultanu'd-Dawla, see above
412/1021  Musharrafu'd-Dawla, see above


416/1025  Jalalu'd-Dawla Abu Tahir ibn Baha'u'd-Dawla
435/1044  'Imadu'd-Din Marzuban, see above
440/1048  Al-Malik ar-Rahim, see above
--447/1055 Seljuqs capture Baghdad
Other branches of the family ruled in Kirman, Hamadan, Rayy
and 'Uman

* Hamdanids North Iraq and North Syria, of the Taghlib tribe

North Iraq (Mosul)

292/904   Abu'l-Sajjad 'Abdu'llah ibn Hamdan made Governor
          of Mosul by 'Abbasids; deposed 303/915
318/930   Nasiru'd-Dawla Hasan ibn 'Abdu'llah
358/968   'Uddatu'd-Dawla Abu Taghlib al-Ghadanfar
369/979   Buyids conquer Mosul
Abu Tahir and Husayn, brothers of Abu Taghlib, briefly
reconquered Mosul 371/981--380/991

North Syria (Aleppo)

333/944   Sayfu'd-Dawla 'Ali ibn 'Abdu'llah captured Aleppo
          from Ikhshids
356/967   Sa'du'd-Dawla Abu'l-Ma'ali Sharif ibn Sayfu'd-
381/991   Sa'idu'd-Dawla Abu'l-Fada'il ibn Sa'du'd-Dawla
          died in 392/1001 leaving two small children who
          were dispossessed by their Mamluk guardian Lu'lu';
          Aleppo eventually fell into Fatimid control in

* 'Uqaylids North Iraq (Mosul) and North Syria (Aleppo), of
Banu Ka'b Arab tribe

380/991   Abu Dhawwad Muhammad occupied Mosul for one year
          then Mosul recaptured by Buyids
386/996   Hisamu'd-Dawla al-Muqallad ibn Musayyib captured
          Mosul and remained ruler as vassal of Buyids
391/1000  Mu'tamadu'd-Dawla Qirwash ibn Muqallad
442/1050  Za'imu'd-Dawla Baraka ibn Muqallad
443/1051  'Alamu'd-Din Quraysh ibn Badran (nephew of
453/1061  Sharafu'd-Dawla Muslim ibn Quraysh captured Aleppo
          from Mirdasids 472/1079
--478/1085     Aleppo captured by Seljuqs
478/1085  Ibrahim ibn Quraysh
486/1093  'Ali ibn Muslim
 --489/1096    Mosul captured by Seljuqs

Mazyadids South Iraq (Hilla), an Arab tribe of the Bani Asad

403/1012  Abu'l-Hasan 'Ali ibn Mazyad al-Asad created Amir
          by Buyids
408/1017  Nuru'd-Dawla Dubays ibn 'Ali


474/1080  Baha'u'd-Dawla Mansur ibn Dubays
479/1086  Sayfu'd-Dawla Sadaqa ibn Mansur built Hilla
501/1107  Nuru'd-Dawla Dubays II ibn Sadaqa
529/1134  Sadaqa II ibn Dubays
532/1137  Muhammad ibn Dubays
540/1145  'Ali II ibn Dubays
--545/1150     Hilla captured by Seljuqs

* Mirdasids    North Syria (Aleppo), of Arab tribe of Kilab

414/1023  Salih ibn Mirdas captured Aleppo from Fatimids
420/1029  Shiblu'd-Dawla Abu Kamil Nasr
--Fatimid reoccupation of Aleppo 429/1037-434/1042
434/1042  Mu'izzu'd-Dawla Thamal
--Fatimid reoccupation of Aleppo 449/1057-452/1060
452/1060  Rashidu'd-Din Mahmud
453/1061  Mu'izzu'd-Dawla, second reign
454/1062  'Atiya
457/1065  Rashidu'd-Din, second reign
466/1074  Jalalu'd-Dawla Nasr
468/1076  Sabiq
--472/1079 surrendered Aleppo to 'Uqaylids

* Banu 'Ammar Tripoli, Arabs

462/1070  Aminu'd-Dawla Hasan ibn 'Ammar took control of
          Tripoli from Fatimids
464/1072 Jalalu'l-Mulk 'Ali (nephew of above)
494/1100  Fakhru'l-Mulk 'Ammar (brother of 'Ali)
--501/1107 Tripoli captured by crusaders

* Chupanids Adharbayjan (Tabriz), a Mongol tribe

721/1321  Timurtash ibn Chupan
728/1328  Shaykh Hasan Kuchik ibn Timurtash
744/1343  Malik al-Ashraf ibn Timurtash
--756/1355 overcome by Qipchaq Turks

* Jalayirids Iraq and Adharbayjan (Baghdad), a Mongol tribe

736/1336  Taju'd-Din, Hasan Buzurg
757/1356  Uways ibn Hasan
776/1374  Jalalu'd-Din Husayn ibn Uways
784/1382  Ghiyathu'd-Din Ahmad ibn Uways
813/1410  Shah Walad ibn 'Ali (nephew of Ahmad)
--814/1411-815/1412 Qara-Quyunlu ended Jalayir control of
all but south Iraq where Jalayir Amirs continued until

* Sarbadarids Khurasan (Sabzivar), Iranians
737/1337 'Abdu'r-Razzaq ibn Amir Fadlu'llah Bashtini


738/1338  Amir Vajihu'd-Din Mas'ud ibn Fadlu'llah
745/1344  Muhammad Aytimur
747/1346  Kulu Isfandiyar
748/1347  Amir Shamsu'd-Din ibn Fadlu'llah
749/1349  Khwaja 'Ali Shamsu'd-Din
753/1352  Khwaja Yahya Karawi
759/1357  Khwaja Zahiru'd-Din (brother of Yahya)
760/1359  Haydar Qassab
761/1360  Amir Lutfu'llah ibn Vajihu'd-Din
762/1361  Pahlavan Hasan Damghani
763/1361  'Ali Mu'ayyad
          submitted to Timur 782/1380 but continued to rule
          as Timur's Governor until death in 788/1386

* Mar'ashi Sayyids Mazandaran (Amul), Arab-Iranian

760/1359 Qavvamu'd-Din, Mir Buzurg Mar'ashi
781/1379 Kamalu'd-Din ibn Qavvamu'd-Din
--794/1391 conquered by Timur
809/1406  Sayyid 'Ali ibn Kamalu'd-Din made Governor of
          Amul, captured Sari
820/1417  Sayyid Murtada ibn 'Ali
830/1426  Sayyid Muhammad ibn Murtada
856/1452  Sayyid 'Abdu'l-Karim ibn Muhammad
865/1460  Sayyid 'Abdu'llah ibn 'Abdu'l-Karim
872/1467  Amir Zaynu'l-'Abidin (cousin of 'Abdu'llah)
880/1475  Mir 'Abdu'l-Karim ibn 'Abdu'llah submitted to
          Safavids and governed as their vassals
933/1526  Mir Shahi ibn 'Abdu'l-Karim
939/1532  Mir 'Abdu'llah grandson of 'Abdu'l-Karim
969/1561  Mir 'Abdu'l-Karim ibn 'Abdu'llah
          d. 972/1564

* Qara-Quyunlu Adharbayjan and Iraq (Tabriz), a Turkoman
782/1380  Qara Muhammad Turmush
791/1389  Qara Yusuf ibn Qara Muhammad
823/1420  Jahan Shah
872/1467  Hasan 'Ali
--873/1469 defeated by Aq-Quyunlu

* 'Adil Shahs Deccan, India (Bijapur), of Iranian or

895/1489  Yusuf 'Adil Shah proclaimed independence from
915/1510  Isma'il ibn Yusuf
941/1534  Mallu ibn Isma'il
941/1535  Ibrahim ibn Isma'il
965/1577 'Ali ibn Ibrahim
987/1579  Ibrahim II, grandson of Ibrahim I


1035/1626  Muhammad ibn Ibrahim I
1070/1660  'Ali II ibn Muhammad
1083/1672  Sikandar ibn 'Ali II
--1097/1686 overrun by Moguls

Nizam Shahs Deccan, India (Ahmadnagar), Indian

896/1490  Ahmad Nizam Shah proclaimed independence from
914/1508  Burhan I ibn Ahmad
961/1553  Husayn ibn Burhan
972/1565  Murtada I ibn Husayn
996/1588  Miran Husayn ibn Murtada
997/1589  Isma'il ibn Burhan II
999/1590  Burhan II ibn Husayn
1003/1594 Ibrahim ibn Burhan II
1004/1595 Ahmad II
1004/1595 Bahadur ibn Ibrahim
--1008/1599 overrun by Moguls

Qutb Shahs Deccan, India (Golconda), of Iranian ancestry

917/1512  Sultan Quli proclaimed independence from Bahmanids
950/1543  Jamshid ibn Sultan-Quli
957/1550  Suhan Quli ibn Jamshid
957/1550  Ibrahim ibn Sultan Quli
989/1581  Muhammad Quli ibn Ibrahim
1020/1611 'Abdu'llah, grandson of Ibrahim
1083/1672 Abu'l-Hasan ibn 'Abdu'llah
--1098/1687 overrun by Moguls

Chak Kashmir (Srinagar)

969/1561  Ghazi Khan Chak, son of Qadi Chak
971/1563  Nasru'd-Din Husayn Shah, brother of Ghazi
978/1570  Zahiru'd-Din 'Ali,brother of Husayn
987/1579  Nasru'd-Din Yusuf ibn 'Ali
993/1585  Ya'qub ibn Yusuf
--994/1586 conquered by Moguls

Safavids Iran (Tabriz, Qazvin then Isfahan), probably of
Kurdish or Turkoman ancestry

907/1501  Isma'il I, son of Haydar overcame Aq-Quyunlu
930/1524  Tahmasp I, son of Isma'il
984/1576  Isma'il II, son of Tahmasp
985/1578  Sultan-Muhammad Khudabanda
996/1588  'Abbas I, son of Muhammad
1038/1629 Safi I, grandson of 'Abbas


1052/1642 'Abbas II, son of Safi
1077/1666 Sulayman 1105/1694 Sultan-Husayn
--1135/1722    Afghans capture Isfahan ending effective
               Safavid rule although various Safavid princes
               continued to hold limited power.

Nawwabs and Kings of Oudh Oudh, India (Lucknow), of Iranian-
Arab ancestry

1133/1720 Burhanu'l-Mulk Muhammad Amm Musawi Sa'adat Khan
1152/1739 Safdar Jang Abu Mansur Khan (nephew of above)
1167/1754 Shuja'u'd-Dawla, son of Safdar Jang
1189/1776 Asafu'd-Dawla, son of Safdar Jang
1212/1797 Wazir 'Ali, adopted son of Asafu'd-Dawla
1213/1798 Sa'adat 'Ali son of Asafu'd-Dawla
1229/1814 Ghaziyu'd-Din Haydar son of Sa'adat 'Ali
          proclaimed independence from Moguls 1234/1819
1243/1827 Nasiru'd-Din Haydar son of Ghaziyu'd-Din
1253/1837 Mu'inu'd-Din Muhammad 'Ali son of Sa'adat'
1258/1842 Amjad 'Ali son of Mu'inu'd-Din
1264/1847 Wajid 'Ali son of Amjad 'Ali
--1272/1856 deposed by British

Zand South Iran (Shiraz), an Iranian tribe

1163/1750 Muhammad Karim Khan
1193/1779 Abu'l-Fath and Muhammad 'Ali
1193/1779 Sadiq (Shiraz) and 'Ali Murad (Isfahan)
1199/1785 Ja'far
1203/1789 Lutf 'Ali
--1209/1794 defeated by Qajars

Qajars Iran (Tehran), a Turkoman tribe

1209/1794 Agha Muhammad Shah defeated Zand dynasty; crowned
          Shah 1211/1796
1212/1797 Fath 'Ali (nephew of above)
1250/1834 Muhammad grandson of Fath 'Ali
1264/1848 Nasiru'd-Din son of Fath 'Ali
1313/1896 Muzaffaru'd-Din son of Nasiru'd-Din
13 24/1907 Muhammad 'Ali son of Muzaffaru'd-Din
13 26/1909 Ahmad son of Muhammad 'Ali
--dynasty terminated 1344/1925

Pahlavis Iran (Tehran), Iranian

1344/1925 Rida Shah
1360/1941 Muhammad Rida, son of Rida
--dynasty overthrown 1399/1979


                       Appendix III
              Biographies of Prominent Ulama
Look up ulama under commonest designation. Where this
designation indicates place of origin, look up under this,
e.g. for Muhaqqiq al-Hilli look up under Hilli. Most of
those listed here studied under many ulama, had numerous
students and may have written up to 200 books, therefore
only the most prominent in each category have been listed.

Al Kashifu'l-Ghita.The descendants of Shaykh Ja'far
Kashifu'l-Ghita (see below under Kashifu'l-Ghita) have
produced mujtahids of the first rank in almost every
generation from his time. The most notable of these were:

1.   Shaykh Musa ibn Ja'far (1180/1766-1243/1827); eldest
     son of Kashifu'l-Ghita and took over his father's
     leadership after his death. Mediated between Turkey and
     Iran in 1821.

2.   Shaykh 'Ali ibn Ja'far (d. 1253/1837); took over his
     brother's leadership at his death and shared religious
     leadership in Najaf with Shaykh Muhammad Hasan an-
     Najafi. Was a teacher of Ansari.

3.   Shaykh Hasan ibn Ja'far (1201/1786-1262/1846); was at
     first religious leader in Hilla but came to Najaf on
     his brother 'Ali's death and took over his religious
     leadership; shared religious leadership in Najaf with
     Shaykh Muhammad Hasan an-Najafi. Negotiated with Najib
     Pasha in 1843 and saved Najaf from being occupied and
     plundered as Karbala had been. Was a teacher of Ansari.

4.   Shaykh Muhammad ibn 'Ali ibn Ja'far (d. 1268/1851);
     after the death of Shaykh Muhammad Hasan an-Najafi,
     became marja' for Iraq.

5.   Shaykh Mahdi ibn 'Ali ibn Ja'far (1226/1811--
     1289/1872); one of the leading maraji' especially for
     Caucasus, Tehran, Isfahan, Tabriz and the Sawad of Iraq
     during and particularly after the time of Ansari.

6.   Shaykh Ja'far ibn 'Ali, known as Shaykh Ja'far as-
     Saghir (d. 1290/1873); succeeded to his brother's
     leadership but died a year later.

7.   Shaykh Hadi ibn 'Abbas ibn 'Ali ibn Ja'far (1289/1872-
     1361/1942); was a marja' but only of limited

8.   Shaykh Ahmad ibn 'Ali ibn Muhammad Rida ibn Musa ibn
     Ja'far (1292/875-1344/1926); after the death of Sayyid
     Muhammad Kazim Yazdi, became marja' for some Iraqi
     tribes and parts of Iran and Afghanistan.

9.   Shaykh Muhammad Husayn, brother of (8) (1294/1877-
     1373/1954); was marja' for many of the Shi'is of Iraq
     and the other Arab countries as well as having some
     followers in India, Tibet, Afghanistan and Iran.


'Alamu'l-Huda (Banner of Guidance), Abu'l-Qasim 'Ali ibn
Husayn al-Musawi, also known as Sharif al-Murtada or Sayyid
al-Murtada. b. Rajab 355/966, Baghdad. Studied in Baghdad
under Shaykh al-Mufid. Was Naqib al-Ashraf (head of the
'Alids) in Baghdad and Amir of the Hajj. Much respected and
very wealthy resident of Baghdad. Author of many books
especially on kalam and also much poetry. Teacher of
Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa and Muhammad ibn 'Ali al-Karachaki. d.
Rabi' 1436/1044, Baghdad; buried Karbala. His brother was
Abu'l-Hasan Muhammad, Sharif ar-Radi or Sayyid ar-Radi, the
compiler of the Nahj al-Balagha.

Ansari, Shaykh Murtada ibn Muhammad Amin Ansari Tustari
Najafi. b. 1224/1799, Dizful. Studied under Sayyid Muhammad
Tabataba'i and Sharifu'l-'Ulama Mazandarani in Karbala,
Mulla Ahmad Naraqi in Kashan and Shaykh Musa Al Kashifu'l-
Ghita, Shaykh 'Ali Al Kashifu'l-Ghita and Shaykh Muhammad
Hasan Najafi in Najaf. Took up permanent residence in Najaf
in 1249/1833. Became sole marja' at-taqlid after death of
Muhammad Hasan Najafi in 1266/1850. Was famed for his
memory, his speedy resolution of intellectual problems, his
innovative teaching methods and his upright character. His
life-style was that of the poor and, at his death, he left
only 70 Qiran( 3.00 approx.). Author of al-Makasib and
Fard'id al-Usul (known as Rasa'il). Students include Mirza-
yi Shirazi, Sayyid Husayn-i Turk (Kuhkamari), Shaykh
Muhammad Hasan Mamaqani, and Mulla Muhammad Sharabiyani. d.
18 Jamadi II 1281 18 November 1864, Najaf and buried there.

Ardibili, Muqaddas (Holy One), Ahmad ibn Muhammad, also
known as Muhaqqiq-i Ardibili. b. Ardibil. Resident of Najaf.
Became leading Shi'i scholar after death of Shahid ath-Thani
in 966/1558. Was in communication with the Safavid monarchs
Shah Tahmasp and 'Abbas 1. Books include Tafsir Ayat al-
Ahkam and Hadiqat ash-Shi'a. Teacher of Shaykh Hasan
Sahibu'l-Ma'alim, Sayyid Muhammad Sahibu'l-Madarik, and
Shaykh 'Abdu'llah Shushtari. d. Safar 993/1585, Najaf and
buried there.

Bahá'í, Shaykh, Baha'u'd-Din Muhammad ibn Husayn al-Harithi
al-Hamdani al-'Amili al-Juba'i. b. 17 Dhu'l-Hijja 953/1547,
Ba'albakk. When he was still young, his father moved to
Khurasan where he lived mainly in Herat. Shaykh Bahá'í
studied under his father who was himself a student of Shahid
ath-Thani. Shaykh Bahá'í became Shaykh al-Islam of Isfahan
under Shah 'Abbas, a position that was at that time the
foremost clerical office in Iran. After a few years, during
which Shaykh Bahá'í assisted greatly in the building and
development of Isfahan, he left everything for the life of a
wandering darvish, a life which he led for thirty years. He
was a great scholar in several fields such as mathematics,
astronomy and jurisprudence as well as being an eminent poet
philosopher and mystic. His many books include Jami' al-
'Abbasi, on fiqh; Kitab az-Zubda on usul al-fiqh; and the
Kashkul, a pot-pourri of prose and poetry on various
subjects. Among his students was Muhammad Taqi Majlisi. d.
Shawwal 1031/1622 or 1032/1623, Isfahan and buried Mashhad.

Bahru'l-'Ulum (Ocean of the Sciences), Sayyid Muhammad Mahdi
ibn Murtada Tabataba'i Burujirdi. b. Shawwal 1155/1742,
Karbala. Studied at


Karbala under Shaykh Yusuf Bahrani and Vahid Bihbahani.
Resident of Najaf. Became leading Shi'i mujtahid on death of
Vahid Bihbahani. Many miracles related of him, including
being in contact with the Hidden Imam. Teacher of Kashifu'l-
Ghita, Mulla Ahmad Naraqi, Hajj Mulla Ibrahim Kalbasi,
Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i. d. 1212/1797, Najaf and buried
there. The Bahru'l-'Ulum family has produced many important
ulama down to the present day.

Bihbahani, Vahid (Unique One), Muhammad Baqir ibn Muhammad
Akmal, also known as Murawwij and Ustad-i Akbar, b.
1118/1706, Isfahan. Was descended from Shaykh al-Mufid.
Studied at Karbala under his father Shaykh Muhammad Akmal,
Mulla Sadru'd-Din Tuni and Shaykh Yusuf Bahrani. After
completing his studies, he returned to Bihbahan, near
Isfahan. He remained there for thirty years before returning
to Karbala in 1159/1746. Was responsible for the Usuli
victory over the Akhbari position and for defining the Usuli
system of jurisprudence and the role of the mujtahid. His
works include Risalat al ijtihad wa'l-akhbar and Sharh
Mafitih. His most important students include Bahru'l-'Ulum,
Kashifu'l-Ghita, Mirza-yi Qummi, Mulla Ahmad Naraqi, Hajj
Muhammad Ibrahim Kalbasi, Sayyid 'Ali Tabataba'i and his own
son Aqa Muhammad 'Ali Bihbahani. d. c. 1207/1792.

Burujirdi, Ayatu'llah Husayn ibn 'Ali Tabataba'i Burujirdi.
b. 1292/1875, Burujird. Studied at Isfahan and Najaf, at the
latter place under Akhund Khurasani and Sayyid Muhammad
Kazim Yazdi. Returned to Burujird in 1328/1910. Moved to
Qumm in Muharram 1364/December 1944-January 1945. Became
sole marja' in 1947 on death of Ayatu'llah Qummi. Books
include Hashiyya al-Kifaya and Hashiyya al-Nihaya. Students
include most of the leading ulama in the Revolutionary
Islamic Government of Iran. d. 13 Shawwal 1381/19 March
1962, Qumm.

Fakhru'l-Muhaqqiqin (Pride of the Investigators), Muhammad,
son of 'Allama al-Hilli, also known as Fakhru'd-Din. b. 22
Jamadi I 682/1283, Hilla. Studied at Hilla under his father
and uncle and is said to have achieved the rank of mujtahid
at ten years of age. Resident of Hilla. Accompanied his
father to the court of Sultan Khudabanda. Writings: is said
to have been responsible for the completion of several of
the works of his father; also wrote Sharh al-Qawa'id and
Hashiyya al-Irshad. Most of the important ulama of the next
generation studied under him, including Shahid al-Awwal, ibn
Ma'uya al-Hilli (d. 766/1364) and Sayyid Haydar Amuli. d. 25
Jamadi II 771/1370, Hilla.

Gulpaygani, Ayatu'llah Sayyid Muhammad Rida ibn Muhammad
Baqir. b. 8 Dhu'l-Qi'da 1316/1899, in a village near
Gulpaygan. From 1336/1917 studied at Arak under Ayatu'llah
Ha'iri-Yazdi and moved with him to Qumm in 1922. Began
teaching Dars al-Kharij at Qumm in 1937 after death of
Ha'iri-Yazdi. After death of Ayatu'llah Burujirdi became
administrator of the Madrasa Faydiyya as well as building
the modern Madrasa Gulpaygani. Books include Hashiyyas on
the Wasa'il and 'Urwa al-Wuthqa. At present resident in

Ha'iri-Yazdi, Ayatu'llah 'Abdu'l-Karim ibn Muhammad Ja'far.
b. 1276/1859, in a village near Ardikan. Studied at Yazd,
then at Samarra under Mirza-yi


Shirazi and Najaf under Akhund Khurasani and Sayyid Muhammad
Kazim Yazdi. Taught for a while at Karbala until in
1332/1914 he was invited to teach at Arak (Sultanabad). In
Rajab 1340/March 1922 he travelled to Qumm intending only to
stay there over Naw-Ruz but he was persuaded to remain there
to teach. From this time on he devoted his energies to the
building up of Qumm as a centre of studies. Books include
Durar al-Fawa'id. Students include many of the present
leading ulama including Ayatu'llahs Khwansari, Mar'ashi-
Najafi, Shari'atmadari, Gulpaygani and Khumayni. d. 17
Dhu'l-Qi'da 1355/28 February 1937, Qumm and buried there.

al-Hakim, Ayatu'llah Sayyid Muhsin ibn Mahdi at-Tabataba'i
al-Hakim an-Najafi. b. Shawwal 1306/1889, Najaf. Studied at
Najaf under Akhund Khurasani, Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Yazdi,
Na'ini and 'Iraqi. Taught at Najaf and after death of
Ayatu'llah Burujirdi was the most widely-followed marja' of
the Shi'i world. Was particularly active in opposing
socialism and communism. Books include Mustamsak al-'Urwa.
d. 27 Rabi' 1 1390/2 June 1970, Najaf and buried there.

al-Hilli, 'Allama (Very learned one), Jamalu'd-Din Abu
Mansur Hasan ibn Yusuf, also known as ibn al-Mutahhar. b. 29
Ramadan 648/1250, Hilla. Nephew of Muhaqqiq al-Hilli.
Studied under Khwaja Nasiru'd-Din Tusi, Muhaqqiq al-Hilli
ibn Tawus, ibn Nima (Shaykh Ja'far) and ibn Maytham al-
Bahram, as well as under a number of Sunni ulama. Resident
of Hilla. Was responsible for conversion of Sultan
Khudabanda to Shi'ism after debating with Qadi Nizamu'd-Din
Shafi'i in 709/1309. Was the author of numerous books
particularly on usul al-fiqh and is specially noted for his
development of the role of the mujtahid. Students include
Fakhru'l-Muhaqqiqin and ibn Ma'uya. d. Muharram 726/1325,
Hilla and buried in Najaf.

al-Hilli, Al-Miqdad ibn 'Abdu'llah as-Sayyuri al-Hilli al-
Asadi. Studied under Shahid al-Awwal. Resident of Hilla and
Najaf. Books include Kanz al-'Irfan. Students include ibn
Fahd. d. 826/1423, buried in Baghdad.

al-Hilli, Muhaqqiq Najmu'd-Din Abu'l-Qasim Ja'far ibn Hasan,
also known as Muhaqqiq al-Awwal. b. 602/1205, Kufa. Studied
under Shaykh Muhammad, ibn Nima. Resident of Hilla. Most
important book is Shara'i' al-Islam on fiqh. Students
include his nephew 'Allama al-Hilli. d. 13 Rabi' II
676/1277, Hilla and buried there.

Hindi, Fadil-i (Distinguished one), Baha'u'd-Din Muhammad
ibn Hasan Isfahani. b. 1062/1652, Isfahan. While young,
lived for a time in India and hence acquired the designation
'Hindi'. Studied under Muhammad Baqir Majlisi. Is said to
have achieved the position of mujtahid while still a child,
and, because of being learned while still a child, taught in
the Royal Harem. Resident of Isfahan. Although some accounts
state that he died before the fall of Isfahan to the Afghans
in 1 722, most agree that he witnessed this event. d. 25
Ramadan 1137/1725, Isfahan and buried there.

Ibn Babuya Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn 'Ali al-Qummi, known as
ibn Babuya (Babawayh) and Shakyh as-Saduq. b. about 306/918,
Qumm. Teachers include


his father 'Ali ibn Husayn. Resident of Qumm but travelled
extensively collecting traditions. Between 352/963 and
368/978 travelled thus: Qumm, Rayy, Mashhad, Nishapur, Rayy,
Baghdad, Kufa, Mecca, Hamadan, Baghdad, Mashhad, Rayy,
Mashhad, Balkh, Samarqand Approximately 300 works of his are
listed. Among the most well-known are: Man la yahduruhu'l-
faqih, 'Ilal ash-Shari'a, Kamal ad-Din wa Tamam an-Ni'ma and
'Uyun al-Akhbar ar-Rida. His students include Shaykh al-
Mufid. d. 381/991, Rayy and buried there His father, 'Ali
ibn Husayn, is also often called ibn Babuya and the two
together are sometimes referred to as as-Saduqayn.

Ibn Fahd, Jamalu'd-Din Abu'l-'Abbas Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-
Asadi al-Hilli. b. 757/1356, Hilla. Studied under al-Miqdad
al-Hilli. Resident of Hilla. Students included Shaykh 'Ali
ibn Halal al-Jaza'iri (a teacher of Muhaqqiq al-Karaki) and
Muhammad ibn Falah, the founder of the Musha'sha'. Ibn Fahd
tried to oppose ibn Falah's activities once it had become
clear that he was deviating from orthodoxy, but was not
successful. Books include Al-Muhadhdhib. d. 841/1437, Hilla,
buried Karbala.

Ibn Idris, Abu 'Abdu'llah Muhammad (ibn Ahmad) ibn Idris al-
'Ijli al-Hilli. b. about 543/1148, Hilla. Studied under ibn
Zuhra at Aleppo. Resident of Hilla. In his book As-Sara'ir,
he strongly attacks Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa on many points. Teacher
of ibn Nima. d. 18 Shawwal 598/1202.

Ibn Nima, Shaykh Muhammad, Najibu'd-Din Abu Ibrahim Muhammad
ibn Ja'far al-Hilli. Student of ibn Idris. Resident of
Hilla. Teacher of Muhaqqiq al-Hilli and ibn Tawus. d. 4
Dhu'l-Hijja 636/1239 or 645/1248, Hilla, buried at Karbala.
His son, Najmu'd-Din Ja'far (d. 680/1281), author of the
Muthir al-Ahzan, was also a prominent scholar and teacher of
'Allama al-Hilli.

Ibn Shahrashub, Rashidu'd-Din Abu 'Abdu'llah Muhammad ibn
'Ali ibn Shahrashub Sarawi Mazandarani. b. about 489/1096,
San, Mazandaran. Teachers include Diya'u'd-Din Rawandi and
Fadl ibn Hasan Tabarsi Travelled to Baghdad and preached
there in the time of the Caliph al-Muqtafi who is reported
to have enjoyed his preaching. Then travelled to Aleppo and
took up residence there. Was an important jurist but is
chiefly remembered for his books on biography, Ma'alim al-
'ulama and also the Manaiqib Al Abi Talib. d. Sha'ban
588/1192, Aleppo and buried there.

Ibn Tawus, Sayyid Radiyu'd-Din Abu'l-Qasim 'Ali ibn Musa al-
Hasani al-Hilli. b. Muharram 589/1193, Hilla. Studied in
Hilla under Shaykh Muhammad, ibn Nima. Lived for 25 years in
Baghdad and for short periods in Najaf, Karbala and Kazimayn
before returning to Hilla. Was Naqib al-Ashraf (head of the
'Alids) for Iraq for a time. Was famed as a poet and
ascetic. Is said to have met the Hidden Imam in Samarra.
Books include At-Tara'if and Kashf al-Yaqin. Teacher of
'Allama al-Hilli. d. 5 Dhu'l-Hijja 664/1266, buried at

Ibn Zuhra, Sayyid 'Izzu'd-Din Abu'l Makarim Hamza ibn 'Ali
al-Husayni al-Halabi. b. Ramadan 521/1127, Aleppo. Was said
to have been in contact with the Hidden Imam and his
frequent recourse to ijma' as the source of authority in


his book on fiqh, Ghaniyat an-Nuzu', is reported to be on
account of the fact that it is material that he heard from
the Hidden Imam but did not dare to attribute to him. Tried
to rouse the population of Aleppo against Salahu'd-Din
Ayyubi. d. 585/1189, Aleppo.

'Iraqi, Aqa Diya'u'd-Din ibn Muhammad al-'Iraqi an-Najafi.
b. 1278/1861. Studied at Najaf under Akhund Khurasani and
others. Was famed in teaching usul al-fiqh but was
considered poor in fiqh. Books include Sharh al-Tabsira and
Kitab al-Qada. Was teacher of Ayatu'llahs Khu'i, Khwansari,
Shari'atmadari, Mar'ashi-Najafi and Milani. d. 28 Dhu'l-
Qid'a 1361/1942, Najaf and buried there.

Isfahani, Sayyid Abu'l-Hasan ibn Muhammad Musawi Isfahani
Najafi. b. 1284/1867 in a village near Isfahan. Studied in
Isfahan, Karbala and finally in Najaf under Mirza
Habibu'llah Rashti (d. 1312/1894) and Akhund Khurasani.
After political agitations, left Iraq for Qumm, 1923-4.
After deaths of Na'ini and 'Iraqi became sole marja' of the
whole Shi'i world. Author of Risala al-Ilmiyya and Hashiyya
'ala al-'Urwa. Students include Ayatu'llahs Shari'atmadari
and Mar'ashi-Najafi. d. 9 Dhu'l-Hijja 1365/1946.

al-Karaki, Muhaqqiq (Investigator), Nuru'd-Din 'Ali ibn
'Abdu'l-'Ali al-'Amili al-Karaki, also known as Muhaqqiq
ath-Thani and Khatim al-Mujtahidin. b. about 870/1465,
Karak-Nuh in the Jabal 'Amil. Studied under Shaykh 'Ali ibn
Halal Jaza'iri (a student of ibn Fahd). Was invited to Iran
by Shah Tahmasp and travelled to all parts of Iran, imposing
Shi'ism on the population. Author of Sharh al-Qawa'id.
Students include Shahid ath-Thani and Shaykh 'Ali al-Maysi.
d. about 940/1533.

Kashifu'l-Ghita (Uncoverer of Error), Shaykh Ja'far ibn
Khidr an-Najafi, from Janaja near Hilla. b. 1156/1743,
Najaf. Studied at Karbala under Vahid Bihbahani and at Najaf
under Bahru'l-'Ulum. Became leading Shi'i scholar after
death of Bahru'l-'Ulum. Was highly thought of by Fath 'Ali
Shah. Intervened in hostilities between Iran and Turkey in
1806 in order to bring about the release of Sulayman Pasha
who had been captured. Was involved in defence of Najaf
against the Wahhabis in 1803 and 1806. Travelled extensively
in Iran. His most famous book, after which he is titled, is
the Kashf al-Ghita on fiqh. He also wrote a refutation of
Mirza Muhammad Akhbari. His students include his sons (see
Al Kashifu'l-Ghita above), Shaykh Muhammad Hasan Najafi,
Hajj Muhammad Ibrahim Kalbasi and Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i. d.
22 Rajab 1227/1812.

Khu'i, Ayatu'llah Hajj Sayyid Abu'l-Qasim ibn 'Ali Akbar al-
Musawi al-Khu'i an-Najafi. b. Rajab 1317/1899, Khuy. Came to
Najaf in 1912 and studied under Na'ini, 'Iraqi, and
Shaykhu'sh-Shari'a. After death of Ayatu'llah al-Hakim
became leading marja' of Iraq and has religious leadership
of most of the Shi'is of India, Pakistan and East Africa.
Indeed, of the contemporary maraji', Khu'i probably has the
greatest following outside Iran. Is now under virtual house-
arrest. Is considered to be one of the leading exponents of
kalam, rijal as well as fiqh. Books include Ajwad at-
Taqrirat and At-Bayan fi tafsir al-Qur'an.


Khumayni, Ayatu'llah Ruhu'llah ibn Mustafa Musawi Khumayni.
b. September 1902, Khumayn near Isfahan. His grandfather had
traded for a time in India and therefore the family was
sometimes called by the name Hindi. Studied under Ha'iri-
Yazdi at Sultanabad from 1919 and at Qumm from 1922. After
the death of Ha'iri-Yazdi in 1937, he began to teach. He
specialised in kalam, akhlaq (ethics), philosophy and 'irfan
(mysticism, gnosis). In 1944 he published a book entitled
Kashf al-Asrar (Discovery of Secrets) in which he condemned
the government of Rida Shah, stated that a monarchy should
be limited by the provisions of the Shari'a as interpreted
by mujtahids and hinted that government by mujtahids was
preferable. During the period of the leadership of
Ayatu'llah Burujirdi, Khumayni remained quiet politically in
keeping with Burujirdi's leadership. But from about 1960
onwards when Burujirdi himself took a more politically
active line, and particularly after Burujirdi's death, his
lectures at Qumm on ethics began to be openly critical of
the government. Arrested 25 January 1963, 5 June 1963, 5
November 1963; arrested and exiled to Bursa, Turkey, in
November 1964. Moved to Najaf, October 1965. In 1970, in the
course of lectures delivered in Najaf, he developed the
concept of vilayat-i faqih. Was the leading figure in the
Iranian Revolution of 1978-9. In the Constitution
inaugurated in December 1979, he became the Rahbar (Leader)
of the Revolution. After living for a while in Qumm after
his return to Iran, he moved to Jamaran, near Tehran.

Khurasani, Akhund Muhammad Kazim ibn Husayn Harawi Khurasani
Najafi. b. 1255/1839, Mashhad. Came to Najaf in 1279/1862
and studied under Ansari and Mirza-yi Shirazi. When Shirazi
moved to Samarra, Khurasani remained in Najaf and began to
teach. He was the most prominent of Shirazi's successors and
was particularly known for his innovative style in teaching
usul al-fiqh. His major book is the Kifayat al-
Usul,completed in 1291/1874. Students include Isfahani,
'Iraqi, Na'ini, Husayn Qummi, Burujirdi and Khwansari. d. 20
Dhu'l-Hijja 1329/1911.

Khwansari, Ayatu'llah Hajj Sayyid Ahmad ibn Yusuf Musawi
Khwansari. b. 1309/1891, Khwansar. Studied at Khwansar,
Isfahan, and came to Najaf in about 1911, where he studied
under Khurasani, Yazdi and 'Iraqi. In 1336/1917 he moved to
Sultanabad and studied under Ha'iri-Yazdi, moving with him
to Qumm in 1922. He began to teach in Qumm shortly
afterwards. In 1369/1950 he was persuaded to move to Tehran
and teach there. After Burujirdi's death he became the main
marja' for Tehran and other parts of Iran. Moved back to
Qumm after the 1979 Revolution. d. 19 January 1985, Tehran,
buried Qumm.

al-Kulayni, Muhammad ibn Ya'qub, Abu Ja'far, al-Kulayni
(Kulini) ar-Razi al-Salsali. Came from a village near Rayy
called Kulayn. Lived in Baghdad near the Bab as-Salsala
(Kufa Gate) and hence is sometimes called Salsali. Wrote al-
Kafi in twenty years. Students include ibn Quluya. d.
328/939 or 329/940, Baghdad and buried there.

Majlisi, Muhammad Baqir ibn Muhammad Taqi; b. 1038/1628,
Isfahan. Studied under his father Muhammad Taqi Majlisi,
Mulla Muhsin-i Fayd Kashani and al-Hurr al-'Amili. Became
Shaykh al-Islam of Isfahan and


foremost Shi'i scholar of his time. Was held in great
respect by the Safavid king Shah Sultan-Husayn. Initiated
campaign against Sunnis, Sufis and mystical philosophers. He
wrote over 60 books, the most famous of which are the Bihar
al-Anwar, which consists of Traditions which are for the
most part taken from books other than the four early
canonical works; Jala al-'Uyun; Hayat al-Qulub; Haqq al-
Yaqin. Students include Fadil-i Hindi, Mir Muhammad Salih
Khatunabadi and Muhammad Akmal Bihbahani (father of Vahid
Bihbahani). d. 27  Ramadan 1110/1699 or 27 Ramadan
1111/1700, Isfahan and buried there. His father Muhammad
Taqi ibn Maqsud 'Ali Majlisi (circa 1003/1594--1070/1659) was
also a prominent scholar having studied under Mulla
'Abdu'llah Shushtari, Shaykh Bahá'í and Mir Damad.

Mar'ashi-Najafi, Ayatu'llah Abu'l-Ma'ali Sayyid Shihabu'd-
Din Muhammad Husayni ibn Mahmud Husayni Mar'ashi-Najafi;
descended from Mar'ashi Sayyid dynasty of Tabaristan. b.
1318/1900, Najaf. Studied at Najaf under many teachers
including 'Iraqi, Shaykhu'sh-Shari'a, Isfahani, Na'ini and
Qummi, and also at Kazimayn and Tehran. In about 1924 he
came to Qumm and began to study under Ha'iri-Yazdi and
shortly afterwards began teaching there. Is at present the
administrator of the Madrasas Mu'miniyya, Mar'ashi-Najafi,
and Mahdiyya. Is considered the leading exponent of usul al-
fiqh at Qumm as well as teaching fiqh, kalam and rijal. His
books include Ta'liqat Ihqaqu'l-Haqq, Ghayat al-Quswa and on
the subject of genealogy Mushajarat Al ar-Rasul as well as
many biographical monographs.

Milani, Ayatu'llah Hajj Sayyid Muhammad Hadi ibn Ja'far
Husayni Milani. b. 1313/1895, Najaf. Studied at Najaf under
'Iraqi, Shaykhu'sh-Shari'a, and Na'ini. Taught at Najaf
where his students included Agha Buzurg Tihrani. Came to
Mashhad on a pilgrimage in 1954 and was persuaded to stay to
teach. Built up Mashhad as a centre of studies. His own
school there, however, was pulled down as part of road
improvements around the Shrine of Imam Rida. His books
include Sharh Istidlali and Hashiyya 'ala al-'Urwa. d. 29
Rajab 1395/1975, Mashhad and buried there.

al-Mufid, Shaykh (the beneficial Shaykh), Abu 'Abdu'llah
Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Nu'man al-'Ukbari al-Baghdadi al-
Karkhi, also known as ibn al-Mu'allim. b. Dhu'l-Qa'da
336/948 or 3381950, 'Ukbara in Iraq. Came to Baghdad at an
early age and studied there under ibn Babuya and ibn Quluya
as well as a number of Mu'tazili shaykhs. Became recognised
by Sunnis and Shi'is alike as the leading Shi'i scholar of
his time, but because of this, following Sunni-Shi'i clashes
in Baghdad, he was expelled from the city for a time.
Particularly important for his development of Shi'i kalam.
His most important works include al-Ikhtisas, al-Irshad, al-
Amali and al-Fusul. His most important students include
'Alamu'l-Huda, Sharif ar-Radi, Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa, an-Najashi,
and al-Karachaki. d. Ramadan 413/1022, Baghdad and buried

Muhaqqiq (Investigator) Ardibili see Artibili, Muqaddas; al-
Awwal see al-Hilli, Muhaqqiq; Ath-Thani see al-Karaki,
Muhaqqiq; Tusi see Tusi, Khwaja Nasiru'd-Din.


Na'ini, Shaykh Muhammad Husayn ibn 'Abdu'r-Rahim Na'mi
Najafi. b. 1277/1860, Na'in. Studied at Na'in, then Isfahan,
then at Najaf under Mirza Habibu'llah Rashti and Akhund
Khurasani and at Samarra under Mirza-yi Shirazi. He lived
for a time in Samarra after the death-of Shirazi and then in
Karbala before coming to Najaf. Was much involved in the
Iranian Constitutional Movement and wrote a tract Tanbih al-
Umma supporting it. After the death of Khurasani, he became
one of several maraji' in Najaf. Was involved in Shi'i
agitations of 1922-3 and left for Qumm for eight months in
1923. His students include Ayatu'llahs Milani,
Shari'atmadari, Khu'i and Mar'ashi-Najafi. The most well-
known of his writings are Taqrirat fi'l-Usul and Hashiyya
al-'Urwa al-Wuthqa. d. 26 Jamadi I 1355/1936, Najaf and
buried there.

an-Najafi, Shaykh Muhammad Hasan ibn Baqir. b. c. 1202/1787,
Najaf. Studied under Kashiful-Ghita and his son Musa, Sayyid
'Ali Tabataba'i and Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i. Became leading
Shi'i scholar during his lifetime and taught most of the
next generation of leading ulama such as Shaykh Radi an-
Najafi, Shaykh Muhammad Husayn al-Kazimi, Mirza-yi Shirazi,
Mirza Habibu'llah Rashti, Shaykh Murtada Ansari and Shaykh
Mahdi Al Kashifu'l-Ghita. His most famous book is the
Jawahir al-Kalam on fiqh. d. I Sha'ban 1266/1850, Najaf and
buried there. His descendants are called Al al-Jawahir and
al-Jawahiri and have included a number of prominent ulama.

Naraqi, Mulla Ahmad ibn Muhammad Mahdi Naraqi Kashan. Born
in Naraq, resident of Kashan. Studied under Vahid Bihbahani
in Karbala and later under Bahru'l-'Ulum and Sayyid 'Ali
Tabataba'i. Made Kashan a centre for teaching, attracting
such students as Shaykh Murtada Ansari. Was held in great
respect by Fath 'Ali Shah. Was the author of a number of
important books including Mi'raj as-Sa'ada on ethics, Miftah
al-Usul and the Sayf al-Umma written in refutation of Rev.
Henry Martyn. d. c 1245/1829, Naraq.

Qummi, Ayatu'llah Hasan ibn Husayn Tabataba'i. b. 1329/1911,
Najaf, the son of Ayatu'llah Sayyid Aqa Husayn Qummi.
Studied at Mashhad and from 1348/1929 at Isfahan and from
1350/1931 at Najaf under the major teachers there such as
Na'ini. He then returned to Mashhad until 1354/1935 when he
left Iran with his father in protest at Rida Shah's actions.
He studied further at Karbala and Najaf and soon began to
teach as well. In 1368/1948 he returned to Mashhad and began
to teach there. From 1383/1963 for a few years he lived at
Karaj near Tehran but then he returned to Mashhad where,
after the death of Milani, he became the senior Ayatu'llah
and marja'.

Qummi, Sayyid Aqa Husayn ibn Muhammad Tabataba'i Qummi
Ha'iri. b. 1282/1865, Qumm. Studied in Tehran under Mirza
Hasan Ashtiyani and Shaykh Fadlu'llah Nuri; at Najaf under
Akhund Khurasani and Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Yazdi; and at
Karbala under Muhammad Taqi Shirazi. In 1331/1913, he
settled in Mashhad and began teaching there. He became
increasingly unhappy about the reforms initiated by Rida
Shah and in 193 5 came to Tehran seeking an interview with
the Shah over the abolition of the veil and the mixing of
the sexes in schools. However, the Shah refused to meet him


invited him to leave the country. He left for Karbala where
he remained until his death except for a brief visit to
Mashhad and Qumm in 1362/1943. Students include Mar'ashi-
Najafi. His influence increased to such an extent that when
Abu'l-Hasan Isfahani died, he became the sole marja' at-
taqlid for the Shi'i world. But he survived Isfahani by only
three months and died on 14 Rabi' I 1366/1947, Karbala, and
was buried at Najaf.

Qummi, Mirza-yi Mirza Abu'l-Qasim ibn Hasan Jilani Qummi. b.
Japulaq, a village near Qumm. His father had moved to Qumm
from Rasht. Studied at Khwansar and under Vahid Bihbahani at
Karbala and under Shaykh Muhammad Mahdi Fatuni and Aqa
Muhammad Baqir Hizarjaribi at Najaf. He then returned to the
Qumm area and lived in one or other of the villages of that
area for a time. He then moved to Isfahan where he taught at
the Madrasa Kasihgaran, but after a disagreement with the
ulama there he moved to Shiraz where Karim Khan Zand held
court. He remained there for a few years and then returned
to Isfahan and eventually to the village of Qal'a-Babu near
Qumm. Later he moved into the town of Qumm itself and there
set up a teaching circle that soon attracted a large number
of students such as Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Shafti and Hajj
Muhammad Ibrahim Kalbasi. He became one of the leading
mujtahids and maraji' of Iran and was held in great respect
by Fath 'Ali Shah. His most famous book is the Qawanin al-
Usul on the subject of usul al-fiqh. d. 1231/1816, Qumm and
buried there.

as-Saduq, Shaykh see ibn Babuya

Sahibu'l-Ma'alim (Author of the Ma'alim), Shaykh Hasan ibn
Zaynu'd-Din al-'Amili al-Juba'i, Abu Mansur Jamalu'd-Din,
also known as ibn Shahid ath-Thani and Khatib al-Usuliyyin.
b. 959/1552, Juba'in Jabal 'Amil, he was seven years old
when his father, Shahid ath-Thani was martyred. He was a
close and life-long friend of Sayyid Muhammad Sahibu'l-
Madarik with whom he studied under Muqaddas Ardibili at
Najaf. He also studied in the Jabal 'Amil under Shaykh
Husayn, the father of Shaykh Bahá'í, and Sayyid 'Ali ibn
Husayn as-Sa'igh, a student of Shahid ath-Thani. Author of
the Ma'alim fi'l-Din from the introduction of which is taken
the Ma'alim fi'l-Usul, one of the standard works for
teaching usul al-fiqh. Became the foremost Shi'i scholar of
the Jabal 'Amil and teacher of such persons as Shaykh
'Abdu's-Salam, the father of Shaykh Muhammad al-Hurr al-
'Amili. d. Muharram 1011/1602.

Shahid al-Awwal (the First Martyr), Shamsu'd-Din Abu
'Abdu'llah Muhammad ibn Makki al-'Amili al-Jizzini. b.
734/1333, Jizzin in the Jabal 'Amil. Studied at Hilla under
Fakhru'l-Muhaqqiqin and Ibn Ma'uya and also under numerous
Sunni teachers. Returned to Damascus and, through use of
taqiyya, established himself as a leading scholar of that
town, giving judgements on points of law for all four Sunni
schools while at the same time being the head of the Shi'i
community, and promoting Shi'ism. But eventually he was
arrested, according to some accounts because of betrayal by
a Shi'i and according to other accounts because of the
jealousy of the Shafi'i qadi, Ibn Jama'a. He made important
contributions to fiqh and usul al-fiqh and was the


teacher of many Shi'i ulama, for example al-Miqdad al-Hilli.
His most important book is the al-Luma'a ad-Dimashqiyya,
which he wrote for Shamsu'd-Din Muhammad Awl, the emissary
of 'Ali Mu'ayyad, the Sarbadarid ruler of Khurasan.
According to some accounts it was written in seven days
during the year that he spent in prison prior to his
execution but other accounts state that he completed it four
years before his execution. He remained in prison one year
and was then executed on the orders of the Governor of
Damascus, Baydar, and the Mamluk Sultan, Barquq, and on the
fatwas of the Maliki and Shafi'i qadis. According to most
accounts, he was kept in prison for one year and then
executed by blows of the sword followed by crucifixion,
stoning and then being burned. His death occurred on 9
Jamadi I 786/1384.

Shahid ath-Thani (the Second Martyr), Shaykh Zaynu'd-Din ibn
'Ali al-'Amili al-Juba'i. b. Shawwal 911/1506, Juba' in the
Jabal 'Amil. He studied in Juba' under his father arid at
Mays in the Jabal 'Amil under Shaykh 'Ali al-Maysi; he may
also have studied under Muhaqqiq al-Karaki; then in about
937/1530 he went to Damascus, in 942/1535 to Egypt,and in
951/1544 to Istanbul, studying in each place under Sunni
ulama. In 951/1544 he became a teacher at the Sunni Madrasa
Nuriyya in Ba'albakk in the Biqa' Valley. Here he taught the
four Sunni schools of law under taqiyya as well as Shi'i
students. His major contribution was to standardise the
subject of Dirayat al-Hadith, the study and classification
of the hadith, using largely his knowledge of Sunni
scholarship on this subject. His major book is Rawdat al-
Bahiyya which is a commentary on Shahid al-Awwal's al-Luma'a
ad-Dimashqiyya. Among his students were Shaykh Husayn, the
father of Shaykh Bahá'í, and Sayyid 'Ali ibn Husayn as
Sa'igh, a teacher of both Muqaddas Ardibili and Shaykh Hasan
Sahibu'l-Ma'alim. A man whom he had given judgement against
complained to the Wali of Sidon and, as a result, Shahid
ath-Thani was summoned to Istanbul. He was killed in
966/1558 either in or on his way to Istanbul.

Shari'atmadari, Ayatu'llah Hajj Sayyid Kazim ibn Hasan
Husayni Burujirdi Tabrizi Qummi b. 1322/1904, Tabriz.
Studied at Tabriz, then in 1343/1924 he came to Qumm and
studied under Ha'iri-Yazdi before going on to Najaf where he
studied under Na'ini, Isfahani and 'Iraqi. He returned to
Tabriz and taught fiqh there. Then in 1369/1949, he came
once more to Qumm and began to teach there. After
Burujirdi's death he became one of the leading maraji' with
followers in Iran, especially Adharbayjan, Pakistan, India,
Lebanon, Kuwait and the Gulf. He was the founder of the Dar
at-Tabligh Islami (House of Islamic Propagation) which
specialises in teaching students, and especially foreign
students, at Qumm using modern educational methods, as well
as distributing Shi'i literature throughout the world. He
was also the administrator of the Madrasa Fatima in Qumm. He
specialises in the teaching of akhlaq as well as fiqh. He
was formally stripped of his rank of Ayatu'llah al-'Uzma
after the discovery in April 1982 of a plot against Khumayni
which was said to have had his support.

Sharif al-Murtada see 'Alamu'l-Huda


Shaykhu'sh-Shari'a (Shaykh of the Shari'a), Shaykh
Fathu'llah ibn Muhammad Jawad Namazi Shirazi, also known as
Shari'at Isfahani. b. 1266/1849, Isfahan. Studied at Isfahan
and, in 1295/1878, moved to Najaf where he studied under
Mirza Habibu'llah Rashti and Shaykh Muhammad Husayn al-
Kazimi. He participated in the Shi'i revolt against the
British in 1920-23. His students include Ayatu'llahs Milani,
Mar'ashi-Najafi and Khu'i and Agha Buzurg Tihrani. He became
sole marja' for the Shi'i world in August 1920 after the
death of Mirza Muhammad Taqi Shirazi but only survived the
latter by four months and died on 9 Rabi' II 1339/20
December 1920, Najaf and was buried there.

Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa (Shaykh of the Sect), Abu Ja'far Muhammad
ibn Hasan at-Tusi, also known simply as ash-Shaykh. b.
Ramadan 385/955 Tus in Khurasan. Studied at Tus and then in
408/1017 moved to Baghdad where he studied under Shaykh al-
Mufid and 'Alamu'l-Huda. After the death of the latter,
Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa became the leading Shi'i scholar and taught
in Baghdad where he had as many as 300 students. His most
important works are the two collections of hadith entitled
al-Tahdhib and al-Istibsar, an-Nihaya on fiqh, al-Ghayba on
the Occultation, and the bio-bibliographical works, ar-Rijal
and al-Fihrist. His students include his son, Shaykh Hasan.
In 448/1056 his house was attacked and his library burned
during Sunni-Shi'i riots in Baghdad and as a result of this
he moved to Najaf. d. 22 Muharram 460/1067, Najaf and buried

Shirazi, Ayatu'llah Sayyid 'Abdu'llah ibn Muhammad Tahir
Tahiri Shirazi. b. 1309/1891, Shiraz. Studied at Najaf and
then became a teacher at Mashhad. After opposing the Shah,
he was jailed and later left for Najaf. He was one of the
leading maraji' in Najaf after the death of Ayatu'llah al-
Hakim and built three madrasas there. In 1975 he returned to
Mashhad where he was one of the maraji'. d. 27 September

Shirazi, Mirza-yi Hajji Mirza Sayyid Muhammad Hasan ibn
Mahmud Shirazi, Hujjatu'l-Islam. b. Jamadi I 1230/1815,
Shiraz. Studied in Isfahan and then in Najaf under Shaykh
Murtada Ansari as well as Shaykh Muhammad Hasan Najafi and
Shaykh Hasan Al Kashifu'l-Ghita. After the death of Ansari,
he became the leading Shi'i scholar and eventually sole
marja' at-Taqlid. In 1292/1875 he moved to Samarra and began
teaching there. He is perhaps best known for his opposition
to the Tobacco Regie in 1891. But he is also important for
having reorganised and consolidated the teaching off fiqh
along the lines that it has continued to be taught to the
present day. However, he wrote no books of note. He was the
teacher of the most prominent ulama of the next generation
including Akhund Khurasani, Muhammad Kazim Yazdi, Muhammad
Taqi Shirazi, Na'ini and Ha'iri-Yazdi. d. 24 Sha'ban
1312/1895, Samarra and buried in Najaf.

Shirazi, Mirza Muhammad Taqi ibn Muhibb 'Ali Shirazi Ha'iri.
b. Ramadan 1269/1853, Shiraz. Grew up in Karbala where he
began his studies then moved to Samarra where he studied
under Mirza-yi Shirazi. After the death of Mirza-yi Shirazi,
he remained in Samarra for a while teaching but then


moved to Karbala. Became sole marja' after the death of
Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Yazdi in 1919. He led the start of the
Shi'i revolt against the British Mandate in Iraq in 1920 but
died in its early stages. His writings include Hashiyya 'ala
al-Makasib. He was the teacher of many students including
Aqa Husayn Qummi. d. 13 Dhu'l-Hijja 1338/28 August 1920,
Karbala and buried there.

Shushtari, Mulla 'Abdu'llah ibn Husayn Shushtari (at-
Tustari). Born in Shushtar in south-west Iran. Studied under
Shaykh Ni'matu'llah ibn Khatun 'Amili, a student of Muhaqqiq
Karaki, and Muqaddas Ardibili in Najaf from about 977/1569.
After the death of Ardibili remained in Najaf teaching for
about fourteen years until he moved to Isfahan in about
1007/1598. He was the leading teacher in Isfahan and was
responsible for building up Isfahan as a centre of Shi'i
scholarship. His books include Sharh al-Qawa'id. He was the
teacher of Muhammad Taqi Majlisi. d. 26 Muharram 1021/1612,
Isfahan, and buried Karbala.

Tabataba'i, Sayyid 'Ali ibn Muhammad 'Ali Isfahani. b. 12
Rabi' I 1161/1748, Kazimayn. Nephew of Vahid Bihbahani.
Studied under Bihbahani whose daughter he married. After the
death of Bihbahani, maintained the importance of Karbala as
a centre of teaching. Held a famous debate with Mirza
Muhammad Akhbari. His best-known book is Riyad al-Masa'il,
known as al-Sharh al-Kabir. Teacher of Mulla Ahmad Naraqi
and Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i. d. Muharram 1231/Dec. 1815,

at-Tusi, Shaykh Muhammad see Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa

Tusi, Khwaja Nasiru'd-Din Muhammad ibn Muhammad, also known
as Muhaqqiq Tusi. b. II Jamadi I 597/1201, Tus in Khurasan.
Studied in Tus under Shi'i ulama such as his father who was
a student of Diya'u'd-Din Rawandi and also under teachers of
philosophy such as Faridu'd-Din Damad who traced his
teachers back to Abu 'Ali, ibn Sina (Avicenna). However, he
left home while still in his youth, possibly as a result of
the Mongol advance towards Khurasan, and then lived for over
thirty years among the Isma'ilis at first in Quhistan in
east Iran and later at Alamut. During this time Khwaja
Nasiru'd-Din wrote several important books in accordance
with Isma'ili doctrines, and therefore he is also claimed by
the Isma'ilis as one of their foremost exponents. After the
fall of the Isma'ili strongholds to the Mongol leader Hulagu
Khan, in 1256, Khwaja Nasiru'd-Din became Hulagu Khan's
astrologer and was able to save many of the valuable
manuscripts in the libraries of Alamut and Baghdad from
destruction at the hands of the Mongols. After the fall of
Baghdad in 656/1258, Khwaja Nasiru'd-Din devoted his
attention to the building of an astronomical observatory at
Maragha. He wrote on astronomy, mathematics, ethics,
medicine, geography and history but his most important
contribution to Twelver Shi'ism was his development of Shi'i
kalam so as to incorporate philosophical concepts. His books
include Tajrid al-I'tiqadat on kalam and al-Akhlaq an-
Nasiriyya on ethics. He was the teacher of 'Allama al-Hilli.
d. 18 Dhu'l-Hijja 672/1274, buried at Kazimayn.


Yazdi Sayyid Muhammad Kazim ibn 'Abdu'l-'Azim Tabataba'i
Yazdi Najafi. b. c. 1247/1831, Kasnu near Yazd. He travelled
to Isfahan and then to Najaf in 1281/1864 where he studied
under Mirza-yi Shirazi. He began to teach at Najaf after the
death of Shirazi and became sole marja' after the death of
Akhund Khurasani in 1911. Unlike most of the other Iraqi
ulama he was opposed to the Constitutional Movement in Iran.
He lived in the village of Huwaysh near Najaf. His most
famous book is 'Urwa al-Wuthqa on fiqh. He was the teacher
of Ayatu'llahs Burujirdi, Khwansari and Husayn Qummi. d. 28
Rajab 1337/1919, Huwaysh, and buried in Najaf.



There are numerous biographical accounts of Muhammad and
histories of Islam. For someone who wants a detailed
biography of Muhammad, Alfred Guillaume's translation of ibn
Hisham's Sira entitled The Life of Muhammad can be
recommended, as well as Montgomery Watt's two volumes,
Muhammad at Mecca and Muhammad at Medina, and Martin Lings'
Muhammad. Surveys of the course of Islamic history include
Carl Brockelmann, History of the Islamic Peoples; M. G. S.
Hodgson, The Venture of Islam, 3 vols.; and Cambridge
History of Islam, 2 vols. A useful book that includes a
fairly detailed biography of Muhammad and a survey of
Islamic history is H. M. Balyuzi, Muhammad and the Course of
Islam. More general works on Islam including doctrine and
practice include: Kenneth Cragg, The Call of the Minaret;
Frithjof Schuon, Understanding Islam; and for surveys of
Islam written by Muslims see Syed Ameer Ali, The Spirit of
Islam; K. Morgan (ed. ), Islam, the Straight Path. Of the
numerous translations of the Qur'an that have been
attempted, probably the best is that of A. J. Arberry. For
specific subjects a very useful source of information is the
Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1st edition, 1913-34; new edition
1960--proceeding; although this source is relatively poor on
Shi'i subjects. More information on Shi'i subjects will be
provided in forthcoming issues of the Encyclopaedia Iranica.


Arabic: A useful compilation of many of the Traditions cited
in this chapter can be found in ibn Tawus, al-Yaqin, and in
a modern work, az-Zanjani, 'Aqa'id al-Imamiyya, pp. 88-99.
The Sunni Traditions relating to 'Ali can be found in most
compilations of Traditions in the chapter on 'Ali in the
section 'Fada'il or Manaqib as-Sahaba' (The Virtues of the
Companions). Concerning the events of the Saqifa, Baladhuri,
Ansab al-Ashraf, has a good cross-section of Sunni and Shi'i
accounts of this episode.
European languages: A useful and detailed review of this
subject can be found in Jafri, Origins and Early Development
of Shi'a Islam. Some of the Traditions given here are also
to be found in Tabataba'i, Shi'ite Islam (Chap. 6).

Or according to some sources, eleven years of age; see ibn
Athir, al-Ka-mil, Vol. 2, p. 42.

                 NOTES FOR PAGES 11 TO 17

2    Some Sunni sources state that Abu Bakr was the first to
     believe in Muhammad. But even the most respected
     collections of Sunni Traditions contain examples giving
     'Ali the credit for being first. See, for example,
     Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol. 2, pp. 300, 301; Ibn Hanbal,
     Musnad, Vol. I, pp. 209-210. The discrepancy can be
     accounted for by allowing that 'Ali preceded Abu Bakr,
     but that Abu Bakr was the first male adult to accept
     Muhammad, 'Ali being then only a child (see Tirmidhi,
     Sunan, Vol. 2, p. 301).
3 Qur'an 26: 214.
4 at-Tabari, Ta'rikh, Vol 1, pp. 1172-3.
5 Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol. 2, p. 299,
6 Muslim, Sahih, Vol. 2, p. 324.
7    Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, contains more than 10 separate
     Traditions in which this sentence occurs with respect
     to 'Ali: Vol.. I, pp. 170, 173, 174-5, 179, 182-3, 184,
     331; Vol.3, pp. 32, 338; Vol.6, pp. 369, 438. See also
     Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol. 2, p. 301 (2 Traditions); Muslim,
     Sahih, Vol. 2, pp. 323-4 (4 Traditions); ibn Maja,
     Sunan, Vol. I, Bab II, pp. 42-3, No. 115; p. 45, No.
8 ibn Hanbal, Musnad, Vol. I, p. 151; similar Tradition in
Vol. I, p. 3.
9 Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol. 2, p. 299.
10 Ibn Maja, Sunan, Vol. I, Bab II, p. 42, No. 114.
11 Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol. 2, p. 299; Ibn Maja, Sunan, Vol. I,
Bab II, p. 44, No. 119.
12 Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol. 2, p. 298.
13 al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, Vol. 3, pp. 126-7.
14 Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol. 2, p. 299.
15 ibid. pp.300, 319, 320.
16 ibid. p. 300.
17 ibid. p.301.
18 ibid. p. 306.
19   Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, Vol. 4, p. 281; similar Traditions
     can be found in the same work: Vol. 1, pp. 84, 118,
     119, 152, 331; Vol. 4, pp. 367, 370, 372; Vol. 5, pp.
     347, 366, 419 and in many other works such as ibn Maja,
     Sunan, Vol. I, Bab II, p.43, No. 116.
20 al-Bukhari, Sahih, Kitab al-'Ilm, Bab 40, Vol. 1, p. 41.
21 Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, Vol. I, p. 175.
22   Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, Vol. 3, p. 59. Similar hadith in
     Vol. 3, pp. 3, 17, 26; Vol. 4, pp. 366-7; Vol. 5, pp.
     151-2; also Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol. 2, p. 308; Muslim,
     Sahih, Vol. 2, pp. 325-6.
23 Muslim, Sahih, Vol. 2, pp. 323-4; Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol.
2, p. 300.
24 Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol. 2, pp. 308, 320.
25 Ibn Hajar, as-Sawa'iq, pp. 150, 184; al-Hakim, al-
Mustadrak, Vol. 3, pp. 150-51.
26 Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol. 2, p. 298.
27 ibn Hanbal, Musnad, Vol. 1, p. 331.
28 Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol. 2, p. 299; Ibn Maja, Sunan, Vol. 1,
Bab II, p. 44, No. 118.
29 Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol. 2, p. 320.

                   NOTES FOR PAGES 17 TO 26

30 al-Mufid, al-Ikhtisas quoted in Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar,
Vol. 26, p. 30, Nos. 38--41.
31 Majlis,., Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 26, p. 6.
32 ibid. pp. 4-5; similar Tradition in ibn Babuya, 'Uyun al-
Akhbar ar-Rida, quoted in Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 39, p. 36,
No. 5.
33 Qur'an 13:7.
34 Suyuti, ad-Durr al-Manthur, Vol. 4, p. 45.
35 Qur'an 5:55.
36 Razi, at-Tafsir al-Kabir, Vol. 12, p. 26.
37 For a review of these see Jafri, Origins, pp. 27-57.
38 Baladhuri, Ansab al-Ashraf, Vol. 1, p. 580.
39 al-Ya'qubi, Tarikh, Vol. 2, p. 137.
40 at-Tabari, Ta'rikh, Vol. I, pp. 2769-70; this phrase
occurs several times.
41 Baladhuri, Ansab al-Ashraf, Vol. 1, pp-581, 583
42 ibid. p. 588 (2 Traditions).
43 But see, for example, at-Tabari, Ta'rikh, Vol. 1, pp.
2769-70 where even in this source which is accepted by
Sunnis, the mutual dislike of 'Umar and the house of Hashim
is clearly seen.
44 'Ali, for example, disagreed with 'Umar on the question
of the distribution of money from the Central Treasury. The
Sunni collections have numerous Traditions showing how 'Ali
saved 'Umar from making erroneous legal decisions on several
occasions. 'Umar is reported to have said: ''Ali is the best
judge among us.


Arabic and Persian: Important sources on the lives of the
Imams include Shaykh al-Mufid, Kitab al-Irshad; Ibn
Shahrashub, Manaiqib Al Abi Talib; al-Irbili, Kashf al-
Ghumma; and Majlisi, Jala' al-'Uyun.
  On the Shi'i sects the most important non-Shi'i sources
are: ibn Tahir al-Baghdadi, Kitab al-Farq bayn al-Firaq
(First part translated by Seelye and second
by Halkin); ash-Shahristani, al-Milal wa'n-Nihal (Tr. Kazi
and Flynn); ibn Hazm, al-Fasl fi'l-Milal (Tr. Friedlander);
al-Khayyat, al-Intisar (Tr. Nader); al-Ash'ari, Maqalat al-
Islamiyyin. Shi'i sources include: an-Nawbakhti, Firaq ash-
Shi'a (Tr. Mashkur) and al-Qummi, al-Maqalat.
European languages: One of the most important Arabic sources
on the lives of the Imams, al-Mufid, al-Irshad, has been
translated into English by Howard. Jafri, Origins and Early
Development of Shi'a Islam, has given a detailed and
review of the traditional accounts for the period of the
first six Imams. Hussain, Occultation of the Twelfth Imam,
has useful information from the period of the last six
  On the Shi'i sects several of the important sources have
been translated as indicated above. See also Ivanow, 'Early
Shi'ite Movements', for some additional information from
Isma'ili sources.
 1   For example al-Mufid, al-Irshad; see notes 13 and
     14 below.
 2   ibn Maja, Sunan, Vol. 1, p. 44, No. 118.

               NOTES FOR PAGES 26 TO 59

 3   ibid. p. 51, No. 143.
 4   `Ashura (10 Muharram) had been a Holy Day of
     atonement and fasting in pre-Islamic and Jewish
     custom, long before the martyrdom of Husayn on
     that day. Muhammad had ordained it as a day of
 5   The al-Hurr family of Lebanon which has produced
     many prominent Shi'i ulama claims descent from
     this man.
 6   al-Mufid, al-Irshad, pp. 227-8 (Tr. pp. 364-5).
     Also quoted in Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 45,
     p. 116. Some of the Shi'i histories have a similar
     episode occurring when the head of Husayn reaches
     Damascus and is hit by Yazid.
 7   al-Mufid, al-Irshad, pp. 228-9 (Tr. p. 366). Also
     quoted in Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 45, pp. 117-18.
 8   Jafri, Origins, pp. 200-204.
 9   The years AH 36, 37 and 38 are all mentioned by
     different sources. For the different versions of
     the dates of the births and deaths of the Imams,
     see the relevant sections in Majlisi, Jala'al-
10   al-Mas'udi, Muruj adh-Dhahab Vol. 5, pp 467-8. 
11   Jafri, Origins, pp. 290-3.
12   Hussain, Occultation, pp. 46-7.
13   al-Mufid, al-Irshad, p. 308 (Tr. p. 495).
14   ibid. p. 314 (Tr. p. 506).
15   al-Kashshi, Rijal, p. 48.
16   ibid. p. 70.
17   ibn Hazm, see Friedlander, 'Heterodoxies' 1, p.
     45; Shahristani, see Kazi, 'Shahristani', p. 76.
18   ibn Hazm, see Friedlander, 'Heterodoxies' 1, p. 45
19   ibid.; Maqrizi, Kitab al-Mawa'iz, Vol. 2, pp. 356-
20   ibn Hazm, see Friedlander, 'Heterodoxies' 1, p.
21   Shahristani, see Kazi, 'Shahristani', pp. 56-7.
22   al-Mas'udi, Muruj, Vol. 6, p. 186.
23   ibn Tahir, al-Farq, pp. 242-3 (Tr. pp. 74-5)
24   ibid. p. 243 (Tr. pp. 75-8).
25   ibn Hazm, see Friedlander, 'Heterodoxies' I, pp.
26   ibid. p. 56.
27   al-Kashshi, Rijal, p. 206.
28   Ivanow (ed.), 'Ummu'l-kitab', p. 11 of text, p. 97
     of article.
29   The Murji'ites were a group who took some of the
     important early steps towards what was to become
     the final Sunni position on matters of theology
     and politics. See Watt, Islamic Philosophy, pp.
30   al-Mufid, al-Irshad, p. 268 (Tr. pp. 432-3); also
     quoted in Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 47, p.
31   It is said that in the course of argument, 'Ali
     al-Maythami, one of the followers of Imam Ja'far
     as-Sadiq, said to them: 'You are nothing but rain-
     drenched dogs' - it being considered that the
     smell of rain-drenched dogs was worse than that of
     rotting corpses.
32   al-Mas'udi, Muruj, Vol. 8, p. 40.
33   al-Qummi, al-Maqalat, pp. 102-16.
34   an-Nawbakhti, Firaq, p. 79.

                NOTES FOR PAGES 61 TO 78

     4. EARLY HISTORY OF SHI'I ISLAM, AD 632--1000


Arabic and Persian: The heresiographers are an important
source, see note on sources for the previous chapter. Of the
Muslim historians, at-Tabari, Ta'rikh; al-Ya'qubi, Ta'rikh;
and al-Mas'udi, Muruj adh-Dhahab give the most information
on Shi'ism.

European languages: No western scholar has produced an
adequate survey of Shi'ism in this period. The articles by
Hodgson, 'How did the early Shi'a . . . '; Kohlberg, 'From
Imamiyya to Ithna-'Ashariyya'; Madelung, 'Imamism and
Mu'tazilite Theology'; and Watt, 'The Rafidites' and
'Shi'ism and the Umayyads' provide valuable insights. See
also note for previous chapter.

 1   See, for example, Hodgson, 'How did the early
     Shi'a . . . ', p. 1.
 2   Watt, 'The Rafidites', p. 111; idem, Islamic
     Philosophy, p. 50.
 3   Tabari, Ta'rikh, Vol. 2, pp. 131-2.
 4   Jafri, Origins, pp. 200-205 quoted on pp. 31-2 of
     the present book.
 5   Even the Zaydis generally accept Hasan in spite of
     his resignation. They do not count the quietist
     Zaynu'l-'Abidin as an Imam.
 6   This is confirmed in Kashshi, Rijal, pp. 81-2,
     where it is stated that Muhammad al-Baqir said
     that after the death of Husayn all but three of
     the people apostasised (i.e. withdrew their
     allegiance from Zaynu'l-'Abidin) and only later
     did others join these three.
 7   Hodgson, 'How did the early Shi'a . . . ', p. 5.
 8   See, for example, ibn Hazm in Friedlander,
     'Heterodoxies' I, p. 55.
 9   Hodgson, 'How did the early Shi'a . . . ', p. 6.
10   al-Khayyat, al-Intisar, pp. 5ff., and al-Ash'ari,
     Maqalat al-Islamiyyin, quoted in Madelung,
     'Imamism . . . ', pp. 13-14.
11   al-Nu'mani, Kitab al-Ghayba (Tehran 1318/1900),
     pp. 4ff., quoted in Kohlberg, 'From Imamiyya . . .
     ', p. 524.
12   ibn Babuya, Kamal ad-Din, Vol. I, p. 2.
13   This point has been fully argued by Kohlberg,
     'From Imamiyya . . .', pp. 522-3, based on
     evidence from al-Barqi (d. 274/887 or 280/893),
     Kitab al-Mahasin, and Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-
     Qummi (d. 290/903), Basa'ir ad-Darajat.
14   See Kohlberg, 'From Imamiyya . . . ', p. 523, who
     quotes as evidence 'Ali ibn Ibrahim al-Qummi (d.
     307/919), Tafsir, and Muhammad al-Kulayni (d.
     329/940), Usul al-Kafi.
15   al-Nu'mani, Kitab al-Ghayba, cited in Majlisi,
     Bihar al-Anwar (old ed.), Vol. 13, p. 142.
16   On al-Khayyat and al-Ash'ari, see p. 74 and note
     10 supra. On the differing agents of the Hidden
     Imam see Massignon, Passion of al-Hallaj, Vol. I,
     pp. 306-7.
17   See Sahl ibn Ziyad al-Adami (Najashi, Rijal, p.
     132) and Muhammad ibn 'Ali al-Qurashi (Najashi,
     Rijal, p. 134). Another resident of Qumm who was
     opposed for his ghulat views was Muhammad ibn
     'Urama al-Qumm (Najashi, Rijal, p. 231).
18   Especially his Kitab at-Tawhid; see MacDermott,
     Theology of al-Shaikh al-Mufid,


pp. 323-40.
19   MacDermott, Theology of al-Shaikh al-Mufid, pp.
     341-6, quoting from ibn Babuya, Kitab al-Hidaya
     and Risalat al-I'tiqadat.
20   MacDermott, Theology of al-Shaikh al-Mufid, pp.
     347-9, quoting from ibn Babuya, Kitab at-Tawhid.
21   For a consideration of the relationships between
     the theologies of ibn Babuya, Shaykh al-Mufid,
     'Alamu'l-Huda and the Mu'tazilites see MacDermott,
     Theology of al-Shaikh al-Mufid.
22   Kulayni, al-Kafi, Vol. I, pp. 228-9.
23   In fact the table is derived from Shaykhu't-
     Ta'ifa's Fihrist together with Muhammad ibn
     Muhammad Muhsin 'Alamu'l-Huda's supplement to this
     work, Nadad al-Idah, as published in the edition
     by A. Sprenger (ed. Mahmud Ramyar).
24   Tihrani, Tabaqat A'lam ash-Shi'a (5th century).


Sources Arabic and Persian: Of contemporary sources,
Qazwini, Kitab an-Naqd, is one of the most useful. The great
universal histories of ibn al-Jawzi, ibn al-Athir, Abu'l-
Fida and ibn Kathir contain some useful information although
each author tends merely to copy the previous author and
only adds new material for the period following the previous
author's death. Juwayni, Ta'rikh-i Jihan-gusha and
Hamdu'llah Mustawfi Qazwini, Ta'rikh-i Guzida, are also of
importance. Of modern works on this period, ash-Shaybi, Fikr
ash-Shi'i, is very useful for the connections between
Shi'ism and Sufism throughout this period.
European languages: There has been very little research on
Shi'ism during this period. The most useful sources are the
two articles by Bausani in the fifth volume of the Cambridge
History of Iran. Mazzaoui, Origin of the Safawids; Spuler,
Die Mongolen in Iran; and Smith, History of the Sarbadar
Dynasty also contain much useful information.

 1   Ibn Athir, Kamil, Vol. 9, p. 11; regarding the
     year 456/1063.
 2   Ibn Kathir, Bidaya wa Nihaya Vol. 12, p. 152.
 3   Nasir Khusraw, who travelled through the area in
     439/1047, states that all of the inhabitants of
     Tripoli and most of those of Tyre and Tiberius
     were Shi'i (Safarnama, pp. 18, 20-21, 25); Yaqut
     quotes a letter from ibn Butlan from about
     440/1048 which states that the fuqaha of Aleppo
     gave their fatwas according to the Imami school
     (Mu'jam al-Buldan Vol. 3, p. 313).
 4   Ibn Jubayr writes in the course of his description
     of Damascus (which he visited in 580/1184): 'The
     Shi'a in these lands have strange manifestations.
     They are more numerous than the Sunnis there and
     have spread their doctrines throughout the lands.'
     Rihla, p. 280.
 5   Derived from Agha Buzurg Tihrani, Tabaqat (6th
     century), Vol. 3, p. 313.
 6   Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 1, pp. 209-10.
 7   ash-Shaybi, Fikr ash-Shi'i, pp. 82-4.
 8   Ibn Hajar, ad-Durar al-Kamina, Vol. 2, p. 72, n.
 9   Derived from Tihrani, Tabaqat (7th Century) and
     Tabaqat (8th Century).
10   See Minorsky, 'Shah-Jihan'.


    6. SHI'I ISLAM IN MODERN TIMES, AD 1500--1900


Arabic and Persian: The most important primary source for
the Safavid period is Iskandar Beg Munshi, Ta'rikh-i 'Alam-
ara-yi 'Abbasi. For the period of Nadir Shah, see Mirza
Mahdi Khan, Ta'rikh-i Nadiri. For the Qajar period, the
court histories Sipihr, Nasikh at-Tawarikh, and Hidayat,
Rawdat as-Safa, are important sources. See also the
biographical dictionaries of the ulama such as Tunukabuni,
Qisas al-'Ulama, Kashmiri, Nujum as-Sama, and Khwansari,
Rawdat al-Jannat.
European languages: There are several books that cover the
Safavid period and the 18th century but none of them make
much mention of religious issues: Savory, Iran under the
Safavids; Lockhart, The Fall of the Safavi Dynasty and Nadir
Shah. Much more useful for religious issues are the papers
by Lambton, 'Quis Custodiet Custodes', and Arjomand,
'Religion, Political Action . . . ' and 'Religious Extremism
. . . '. On the religious policy of Nadir Shah, see Gursoy,
'Nadir Shah's religious policy', and Algar, 'Shi'ism and
Iran'. For the Qajar period there is a great deal of
information on religious issues in Algar, Religion and
State, and in Browne, Literary History, Vol. 4. For Shi'ism
in India see Hollister, Shi'a of India, and Cole, Ph.D.,
'Imami Shi'ism from Iran to North India'.

 1   al-Ghazzi, al-Kawakib as-Sa'ira quoted in ash-
     Shaybi, Fikr ash-Shi'a, p. 409.
 2   This threat was clearly perceived by those in
     neighbouring countries. See, for example, the
     reference by ibn Tulun of Damascus to Isma'il as
     'seeking to be a new Timurlane'; Hartmann, Das
     Tubinger Fragment, p. 61, and p. 24 of text.
 3   See Arjomand, 'Religious Extremism', p. 31.
 4   Khwansar,., Rawdat al-Jannat, p. 404.
 5   However, it should be noted that according to a
     twelfth-century source, some Shi'i madrasas
     existed in Iran at that time particularly at Rayy.
     See Qazwini, Kitab an-Naqd, quoted in Bausani,
     'Religion in Saljuq Period', p. 295. However,
     religious studies in the Shi'i field had virtually
     ceased in Iran by the start of the Safavid period.
 6   Chardin, Voyages, Vol. 5, p. 208; Vol. 6, pp. 249-
     50. Du Mans, Estat de la Perse, p. 162.
 7   Browne, Literary History of Persia, Vol. 4, p.
     404; 'Risalat li-Muhammad Taqi al-Majlisi', quoted
     in Lockhart, Fall of the Safavi Dynasty, p. 70.
 8   Khwansari, Rawdat al-Jannat, pp. 336-7; Kashmiri,
     Nujum, pp. 64-5.
 9   ibid. p. 185.
10   There is indeed a passing reference to Akhbaris in
     the twelfth-century work, Qazwini, Kitab an-Naqd
     (see Madelung, 'Imamism and Mu'tazilite Theology',
     pp. 20-21). The dispute between Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa
     and ibn Idris in the 5th/11th and 6th/12th
     centuries (see p. 89) was probably in part a
     prodrome of the Usuli-Akhbari dispute in that
     Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa is considered to have taken an
     Akhbari line in his book Kitab an-Nihaya while ibn
     Idris is described as a 'pure mujtahid' (Bahrani,
     Lu'lu,'at Bahrayn, pp. 276, 297).


11   Khwansari, Rawdat al-Jannat, p. 405; ash-Shaybi,
     Fikr ash-Shi'i, p. 416; ash-Shaybi, 'Sufism and
     Shi'ism', Ph.D., p. 382. Al-Karaki was even called
     the 'inventor of Shi'ism' by Sunni writers perhaps
     on account of this innovative use of ijtihad, see
     Khwansari, Rawdat al-Jannat, p. 404.
12   Quoted in Kashmiri, Nujum as-Sama, p. 42. Among
     Majlisi's teachers were at least five Akhbaris: a
     pupil and son-in-law of Muhammad Amin Astarabadi,
     Muhammad Mu'min Astarabadi; the latter's son,
     Muhammad Muhsin; Muhammad Tahir Shirazi Qummi;
     Shaykh Muhammad al-Hurr al-'Amili and Mulla
     Muhsin-i Fayd (See Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, Vol.
     105, pp. 79, 82; Vol. 110, pp. 103--6, 124, 129--
     31); that is, if Majlisi's father who was probably
     an Akhbari is not counted. In some recent works
     (see Morris, Wisdom of the Throne, p. 47 and note;
     Corbin, En Islam iranien, Vol. 4, p. 250) it has
     been implied that the Akhbari viewpoint favoured
     mysticism and philosophical speculation and this
     would obviously militate against the possibility
     of Muhammad Baqir Majlisi being in favour of the
     Akhbari school. But in fact, the Akhbaris included
     among their number some prominent antagonists of
     Sufism and mysticism such as Muhammad Tahir
     Shirazi and al-Hurr al-'Amili. Thus it would
     appear that the Akhbari-Usuli dispute was purely
     about legal issues and did not affect this area.
     It is probably also of relevance to note that 'Ali
     Davvani, in giving a list of the most important
     Shi'i mujtahids from earliest times to the time of
     Vahid Bihbahani, omits both Muhammad Baqir Majlisi
     and his father (Vahid Bihbahani, pp. 64-9).
13   Shaykh Yusuf eventually abandoned his support for
     the Akhbaris and adopted a neutral stance in face
     of the strong Usuli advance in his time.
14   Khwansari, Rawdat al-Jannat, p. 39.
15   Muhammad Taqi Majlisi quoted in Khwansari, op.
     cit., pp. 38-9.
16   Lockhart, Nadir Shah, p. 60.
17   Kashmiri, Nujum as-Sama-, pp. 316-17.
18   There is some uncertainty as to whether Shaykh
     Muhammad Hasan Najafi, who held an ijaza from
     Shaykh Ahmad, participated in the Takfir or not.
     He did, however, come out against the Shaykhis at
     a later date


     are indications that th re were other maraji'
     during most of Shirazi's lifetime. Sayyid Husayn
     Turk (Kuhkamari) of Najaf was marja' for much of
     the Caucasus and Adharbayjan and he died in
     1299/1882 although he was paralysed from 1291/1874
     onwards. After the death of Sayyid Husayn Turk,
     most of those who followed him turned to Shaykh
     Muhammad Iravani (d. 1306/1888) of Najaf. Shaykh
     Zaynu'l-'Abidin Mazandarani, a resident of
     Karbala, appears to have been regarded by Indian
     Shi'is as their marja' as well as being marja' for
     the Karbala area. He died in 1309/1892 only two
     years before the death of Mirza-yi Shirazi. Shaykh
     Muhammad Hasan Ya Sin (d. 1308/1891), resident of
     Kazimayn, was marja' for the Kazimayn area.
     Another important figure was Shaykh Habibu'llah
     Rashti (d. Jamadi II 1312/1894) who, although he
     does not appear to have claimed the rank of
     marja', was considered the leading scholar and
     teacher of Najaf. See Hirzu'd-Din, Ma'arif ar-
     Rijal Vol. 1, pp. 204-5, and entries under each of
     these names in Hirzu'd-Din, Ma'arif ar-Rijal and
     Tihrani, Tabaqat (13th and 14th cent.).
23   Algar, Religion and Slate, p. 208.

                        7. THE IMAMATE


Arabic and Persian: For this chapter I have taken as the
basis the section on the Imamate in Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar
and Kulayni, al-Kaft. European languages: There is no full
account of the Imamate in any European language. Donaldson
has a survey of some of the main points in the relevant
chapter in his book The Shi'ite Religion (Chap. 29).

For these notes:  Majlisi. Bihar al-Anwar is abbreviated BA
                  Kulayni, al-Kafi is abbreviated KK
 1   Ibn Babuya, 'Ilal ash Shari'a, quoted in BA, Vol.
     23, p. 22, No. 25. See also KK, Vol. 1, pp. 178.
 2   Ibn Babuya, 'Ilal ash-Shari'a, quoted in BA, Vol.
     23, p. 22, No. 24. See also KK, Vol. 1, pp. 178-9.
 3   Ibn Babuya, 'Ilal ash-Shari'a, quoted in BA, Vol.
     23, p. 19, No. 14.
 4   Ibn Babuya, Amali, quoted in BA, Vol. 23, pp. 57-
     8, No. I.
 5   al-Bursi, Mashariq al Anwar, quoted in BA, Vol.
     25, p. 24, No. 42. See also BA, Vol. 26, p. 3.
 6   Hasan ibn Sulayman al-Hilli, Muntakhab al-Basa'ir,
     quoted in BA, Vol. 53, p. 46, No. 20; and al-
     Bursi, Mashariq al-Anwar, quoted in BA, Vol. 25,
     p. 23, No. 39. See also BA, Vol. 25, pp. 15-25,
     Nos. 28-45, and Kirmani, Kitab al-Mubin, Vol. 1,
     p. 242.
 7   BA, Vol. 25, p. 17, No. 31.
 8   Quoted in Kirmani, Kitab al-Mubin, Vol. 1, p. 241.
 9   as-Saffar, Basa'ir ad-Darajat, quoted in BA, Vol.
     25, pp. 10-13, Nos. 14, 16, 23-6.
10   BA, Vol. 25, p. 10.
11   as-Saffar, Basa'ir ad-Darajat, quoted in BA, Vol.
     25, p. 56, No. 22. See also BA, Vol. 25, pp. 56-7.


12   'Abdu'llah al-Bahram, al-'Awalim, quoted in
     Kirmani, Kitab al-Mubin, Vol. I, p. 281. See also
     BA, Vol. 26, pp. 83-4. Indeed, in some Traditions
     the 'Bee' is interpreted as being the Imam; BA,
     Vol. 24, pp. 110-13.
13   as-Saffar, Basa'ir ad-Darajat, quoted in Kirmani,
     Kitab al-Mubin, Vol. I, p. 283.
14   According to three Traditions quoted in BA, Vol.
     26, p. 67, No. 5; pp. 6970, No. 10; p. 74, No. 26,
     the phrase 'or a speaker (muhaddith, meaning the
     Imam)' has dropped from and should be added on to
     the sentence 'And whenever we sent an apostle or a
     prophet . . . ' (Qur'an 22: 52).
15   as-Saffar, Basa'ir ad-Darajat, quoted in BA, Vol.
     26, pp. 75-6, No. 29. See also pp. 74-8, Nos. 27-
16   al-Qummi, Tafsir, quoted in BA, Vol. 23, p. 206.
17.  KK, Vol. 1, p. 187, No. 11.
18   Imam 'Ali in the Tradition known as the hadith an-
     Nuraniyya; BA, Vol. 26, p-23, 2-33. KK, Vol. 1,
     pp. 214-15, Nos. 1-4.

                 NOTES FOR PAGES 152 TO 156

35   al-'Ayyashi, Tafsir, quoted in BA, Vol. 23, pp.
     189-90, No. 6.
36   at-Tabarsi, Majma' al-Bayan, quoted in BA, Vol.
     23, pp. 284-5. Ibn Babuya,  'Uyun al-Akhbar-Rida,
     and other sources quoted in BA, Vol. 23, pp. 285-
     91, Nos. 2, 3, 13, 16-18, 26-32, 37-43, 47, 49-53.
37   at-Tabarsi, Majma' al-Bayan, and other sources
     quoted in BA, Vol. 24, pp.  31, 33, Nos. 3-5, 8-
     10. KK, Vol. 1, p. 208, Nos. 1, 2. ibn Shahrashub, 
     Manaqib, Vol. 2, p. 288; Vol. 3, p. 314.
38   al-Qummi, Tafsir, and other sources quoted in BA,
     Vol. 23, pp. 167-71,  Nos. 1-12.
39   al-Qummi, Tafsir, quoted in BA, Vol. 23, pp. 172-
     4, Nos. 1-4. KK, Vol. 1,  pp. 210-12, Nos. 1-9.
40   at-Tabarsi, Majma' al-Bayan, quoted in BA, Vol.
     23, p. 212. al' Ayyashi,  Tafsir, quoted in BA,
     Vol. 23, p. 225, Nos. 44-5.
41   at-Tabarsi, Majma' al-Bayan, quoted in BA, Vol.
     23, pp. 229-32. Furat,  Tafsir; al-Qummi, Tafsir,
     and other sources quoted in BA, Vol. 23, pp. 236-
     52, Nos. 2-31. al-Mufid, Ikhtisas, p. 63.
42   Baydawi, Anwar at-Tanzil, Vol. 5, p. 53. Razi,
     Mafatih-Ghayb, Vol. 7, pp.  273-5.
43   'Alam ibn Sayf al-Hilli, Kanz Jaimi' al-Fawa'id,
     quoted in BA, Vol. 23, pp. 257-8, No. 3.
44   'Alam ibn Sayf al-Hilli Kanz Jaimi' al-Fawa'id,
     and other sources quoted in  BA, Vol. 24, pp. 1-2,
     4, 7-9, Nos. 1, 2, 4, 11, 13, 19, 22, 25. ibn
     Shahrashub,  Manaqib, Vol. 3, p. 403.
45   al-Qummi, Tafsir, and other sources quoted in BA,
     Vol. 24, pp. 70-80,  Nos. 4-10, 14-20. Some of the
     Traditions quoted here give slightly different 
     interpretations to these verses.
46   Ibn Babuya, Al-Khisal, and other sources quoted in
     BA, Vol. 24, pp. 97-9, Nos. 1-7.
47   at-Tabarsi, al-Ihtijaj, quoted in BA, Vol. 24, p.
     213, Nos. 6-7.
48   al-Qummi, Tafsir, Furat, Tafsir, and other sources
     quoted in BA, Vol. 24,   pp. 247-52, Nos. 1-20.
50   as-Saffar, Basa'ir ad-Darajat, quoted in BA, Vol.
     23, p. 73, No. 19.
51   as-Saffar, Basa'ir ad-Darajat, quoted in BA, Vol.
     23, p. 71, No. (). Several other similar
     Traditions quoted on pp. 70-72. See also KK, Vol.
     I, pp. 227-9, Nos. 2, 4.
52   as-Saffar, Basa'ir ad-Darajat, quoted in BA, Vol.
     23, p. 73, No. 17.
53   as-Saffar, Basa'ir ad-Darajat, quoted in BA, Vol.
     23, p. 53, No. 113. See also  BA, Vol. 25, pp.
     105-110, Nos. 1-8.
54   Muhammad Javiri, Qisas al-Anbiya, quoted in BA,
     Vol. 23, p. 33.
55   Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar,  quoted in Kirmani, Kitab
     al-Mubin, Vol. 1, p. 264.
56   Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, quoted in Kirmani, Kitab
     al-Mubin, Vol. 1, p. 265. Quotation from Qur'an
57   as-Saffar, Basa'ir ad-Darajat, quoted in BA, Vol.
     23, p. 196, No. 26.
58   as-Saffar, Basa'ir ad-Darajat, quoted in BA, Vol.
     23, pp. 198-9, No. 31 Similar Tradition from al-
     Qummi, Tafsir, quoted in BA, Vol. 23, p. 191, No.


59   as-Saffar, Basa'ir ad-Darajat, quoted in BA, Vol.
     25, p. 62, No. 40. Similar Traditions from various
     sources in BA, Vol. 25, p. 59, Nos. 27-45.
60   KK, Vol. 1, p. 255, No. 1.
61   MacDermott, Theology, pp. 107-9. See also KK, Vol.
     1, pp.256-7, Nos. 1-4.
62   KK, Vol. 1, pp. 274-5, Nos. 1-3.
63   'Abdu'llah al-Bahram, al-'Awalim, quoted in
     Kirmani, Kitab al-Mubin, Vol. 1, p. 308.
64   BA, Vol. 23, pp. 79-955, gives this Tradition in
     26 forms from nine different sources.
65   Commentary of Majlisi, BA, Vol. 23, p. 76.
66   'Alam ibn Sayfal-Hilli, Kanz Jami' al-Fawa'id,
     quoted in BA, Vol. 23, p. 93.
67   Ibn Babuya, Kamal ad-Din, quoted in BA, Vol. 23,
     p. 88, No. 31.
68   Al-Nu'mani, al-Ghayba, quoted in BA, Vol. 23, p.
     89, No. 34.
69   Ibn Babuya, Kamal ad-Din, quoted in BA, Vol. 23,
     p. 96, No. 2.
70   ibid.
71   Ibn Babuya, Kamal ad-Din, quoted in BA, Vol. 23,
     p. 97, No. 4.
72   Ibn Babuya, Ma'ani al-Akhbar, quoted in BA, Vol.
     23, pp. 100-101, No. 4.


Arabic and Persian: There are a large number of sources for
the doctrine of the Twelfth Imam. Some of the most important
are the early works that sought to establish the legitimacy
of the doctrine: al-Nu'mani, al-Ghayba, ibn Babuya, Kamal
ad-Din, and Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa, al-Ghayba. I have also used
the section on the Twelfth Imam in Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar.
For a more recent view on the subject see Zanjani, 'Aqa'id
European languages: There have recently appeared two good
reviews of the doctrine of the Twelfth Imam and its place in
Shi'ism. Hussain, Occultation of the Twelfth Imam, presents
a review of the traditional historical accounts surrounding
the Occultation. Sachedina, Islamic Messianism, concentrates
on the doctrine itself and its significance for Shi'is. An
important source for an understanding of events during the
Lesser Occultation is Massignon, Passion of al-Hallaj.

 1   ibn Babuya, Kamal ad-Din, p. 516.
 2   Sachedina, Islamic Messianism, pp. 86-7. Massignon
     suggests that the first Bab, 'Uthman al-'Amri,
     died in 258/871 (i.e. during the lifetime of the
     Eleventh Imam and before the Occultation occurred)
     and that there were several agents until about
     280/893 when the second Bab, Muhammad ibn 'Uthman
     al-'Amiri, succeeded in consolidating his
     authority. Passion of al-Hallaj, Vol. 1, pp. 307-
 3   See sources quoted by Kohlberg, 'From Imamiyya. .
     .', p. 524. Also Hussain, Occultation, p. 143.
 4   See, for example, the risala by Husayn ibn
     Muhammad Taqi Nuri entitled


              NOTES FOR PAGES 166 TO 169

     Jannat al-Ma'wa (appended to Majlisi, Bihar al-
     Anwar (old ed.), Vol. 13) listing 59 such stories.
 5   al-Mufid, al-Ikhtisas, quoted in Majlisi, Bihar
     al-Anwar (old ed.), Vol. 13, p. 210.
 6   For Sunni sources see ibn Maja, Sunan, Bab Khuruj
     al-Mahdi, pp. 1366, No. 4082; Abu Dawud, Sunan,
     Kitab al-Mahdi, Vol. 2, p. 422. Shi'i sources for 
     this are numerous; see, for example, al-Mufid, al-
     Irshad, p. 341 (Tr. 548).
 7   az-Zanjani, 'Aqa'id, p. 255.
 8   ibid. pp. 253-4.
 9   ibid. p. 261, quoting Kulayni, al-Kafi (Rawda).
     Zanjani concludes this Tradition by stating that
     most of these signs are without doubt occurring
10   az-Zanjani, 'Aqa'id, pp. 258-9.
11   Ibn Babuya, Thawab al-A'mal, quoted in Majlisi,
     Bihar al-Anwar (old ed.), Vol. 13, p. 152.
12   For Sunni sources see ibn Maja, Sunan, p. 1367,
     No. 4085; at-Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol. 2, p. 36; Abu
     Dawud, Sunan, Vol. 2, p. 422. For Shi'is the Mahdi
     is the Twelfth Imam who was of course, a
     descendant of Muhammad.
13   For Sunni sources see at-Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol. 2,
     p. 36; Abu Dawud, Sunan, Vol. 2, p. 420. For
     Shi'is the Mahdi is, of course, Muhammad ibn Hasan
     al-'Askari. However, interestingly, there are also
     numerous Traditions that state that no name should
     be attributed to the Hidden Imam prior to his
     advent; see ibn Babuya, Kamal ad-Din, p. 648.
14   For Sunni sources see at-Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol. 2,
     p. 36; Abu Dawud, Sunan, Vol. 2, pp. 422-3. For
     Shi'i sources see, for example, al-Irbili, Kashf
     al-Ghumma, Vol. 3, pp. 257, 269; al-Nu'mani, al-
     Ghayba quoted in Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar (old ed.
     ), Vol. 13, p. 178.
15   For Sunni sources see ibn Maja, Sunan, p. 1367,
     No. 4084; see also p. 1366, No. 4082. For Shi'i
     sources see al-Irbili, Kashf al-Ghumma, Vol. 3,
     pp. 262-3; Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa, al-Ghayba, quoted in
     Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar (old ed. ), Vol. 13, p.
16   For Sunni sources see at-Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol. 2,
     pp. 37. For Shi'i sources  see ibn Babuya, Kamal
     ad-Din, pp. 525-32.
17   Taken from Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar (old ed.), Vol.
     13; Shaykh al-Mufid, Kitab al-Irshad; al-Irbili,
     Kashf al-Ghumma; and ibn Babuya, Kamal ad-Din. 8
     ibn Babuya, Kamal ad-Din, p. 655; Shaykhu't-
     Ta'ifa, al-Ghayba, quoted in Majlisi, Bihar al-
     Anwar (old ed.), Vol. 13, pp. 156-7; al-Mufid, al-
     Irshad, p. 338 (Tr. 544).
19   al-Mufid, al-Irshad, p. 336 (Tr. 541).
20   ibid. p. 336 (Tr. 541).
21   Ibn Babuya, Kamal ad-Din, pp. 650, 652; al-
     'Ayyashi, Tafsir, and other  sources quoted in
     Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar (old ed.), Vol. 13, pp.
     156, 160.
22   al-Mufid, al-Irshad, p. 338 (Tr. 544).
23   ibid. p. 337 (Tr. 542, 548).
24   ibid. p. 341 (Tr. 548).
25   ibid. p. 341 (Tr. 548).


26   ibid. p. 341 (Tr. 549)
27   ibid. p. 342 (Tr. 551); al-Irbili, Kashf al-
     Ghumma, Vol. 3, p. 254. 28 al-Nu'mani, al-Ghayba,
     quoted in Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar (old ed.), Vol.
     13, p.191.
29   al-Nu'mani, al-Ghayba, quoted in Majlisi, Bihar
     al-Anwar (old ed.), Vol. 13, pp. 192, 194) al-
     Mufid, al-Irshad, p. 343 (Tr. 552); al-Irbili,
     Kashf al-Ghumma, Vol. 3, p. 255
30   al-Nu'mani, al-Ghayba, quoted in Majlisi, Bihar
     al-Anwar (old ed.), Vol. 13, p. 192.
31   al-Nu'mani, al-Ghayba, quoted in Majlisi, Bihar
     al-Anwar (old ed.), Vol. 13, p. 193.
32   al-Mufid, al-Irshad, pp. 343-4 (Tr. 552-3).
33   Qutbu'd-Din Rawandi, al-Khara'ij, quoted in
     Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar (old ed.), Vol. 13, p.
34   al-'Ayyashi, Tafsir, quoted in Majlisi, Bihar al-
     Anwar (old ed.), Vol. 13, p. 222.
35   ibn Babuya, 'Uyun al-Akhbar ar-Rida, quoted in
     Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar (old ed.), Vol. 13, p.
     214. For Sunni traditions see, for example, at-
     Tirmidhi, Sunan, Vol. 2, p. 36.
36   ibn Babuya, Kamal ad-Din, p. 654; Hasan ibn
     Sulayman al-Hilli, Muntakhab al-Basa'ir, quoted in
     Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar (old ed.), Vol. 13, p.
37   al-Mufid, al-Ikhtisas, quoted in Majlisi, Bihar
     al-Anwar (old ed.), Vol. 13, p. 210.


Arabic and Persian: The manuals dealing with doctrine and
points of jurisprudence are too numerous to mention. For
this book reliance has been placed on Kulayni, al-Kaft, and
Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar. These two works are notable in that
they contain a section on the usul ad-din which most legal
works do not. Two relatively modern works are: Al Kashifu'l-
Ghita, Asl ash-Shi'a, which deals mainly with doctrine and,
in particular, the five usul ad-din, and al-Muzaffar, Aqa'id
al-Imamiyya, which deals with ritual and legal points.
European languages: With respect to Shi'i jurisprudence,
several of the manuals of Muslim law designed for use in
British India contain a good deal of information about
points of Shi'i law; see, for example, J. Baillie, Digest of
Mohummudan Law; N. B. E. Baillie, A Digest of Moohummadan
Law; and Querry, Droit Musulman, all three of which are
based mainly on Muhaqqiq al-Hilli's Shara'i' al-Islam. Since
the 1979 Revolution a number of translations of Shi'i works
have appeared in Iran. The two works by Al Kashifu'l-Ghita
and al-Muzaffar mentioned above are among these.

 1   al-Qummi, Tafsir, al-'Ayyashi, Tafsir, and other
     sources quoted in Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, Vol.
     23, pp. 222-8, Nos. 25, 26, 48, 49.
 2   'Alam ibn Sayf al-Hilli, Kanz Jami' al-Fawa'id,
     quoted in Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 24, pp.
     18--19, No. 31.

                  NOTES FOR PAGES 173 TO 189

  3  al-'Ayyashi, Tafsir, quoted in Majlisi, Bihar al-
     Anwar, Vol. 24, p. 153, Nos. 1, 2.
  4  at-Tabarsi, al-Ihtijaj, quoted in Majlisi, Bihar
     al-Anwar, Vol. 24, pp. 195-6, No. 19.
  5  See W. St. Clair Tisdall, 'Shi'ah additions to the
     Koran', and Eliash, 'The  Shi'ite Qur'an'. For
     another example of material said to have been
     omitted  from the Qur'an see the assertion that
     the names of six pseudo-prophets have been omitted
     from the Qur'an, al-Kashshi, Rijal, pp. 187, 195.
     See also  Chap. 7, note 14 supra.
 6   See, for example, al-Bukhari, Sahih, Vol. 1, p.
     146; Muslim, Sahih, Vol. 1,  pp. 264-5.
  7  See Muslim, Sahih,, Vol. I, pp. 534-8. Several of
     the Traditions quoted in  this section state that
     temporary marriage was prohibited during the 
     Prophet's lifetime but others confirm the Shi'i


Arabic and Persian: Much information can be obtained from
selective use of primary sources such as the biographies of
the ulama (see Khwansari, Rawdat al-Jannat, Tunukabuni,
Qisas al-'ulama, etc.) and comparisons of works on
jurisprudence and the principles of jurisprudence from
different periods (e.g. Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa, Nihaya, Shahid
ath-Thani, Rawda, etc., see pp. 188-9). European languages:
The history of the development of Shi'i jurisprudence is
poorly served in Western languages. The best work on the
subject is the Ph. D. thesis, Calder, 'Structure of
Authority. . . ', but see also Bellefonds, 'Droit imamite'.
Concerning the ulama themselves see Fischer, Iran, and
Arjomand, 'Shi'ite Hieroeracy'. Concerning the programme of
studies at the theological colleges see Fischer, Iran;
Vahdati, 'Academies shiites'; Jamali, 'Theological
Colleges'; Mesopotamien, 'Programme des etudes'

 1   The old view of Shi'i jurisprudence was first put
     forward by Schacht,  Origins; see also Bellefonds,
     'Droit imamite', p. 185. The new view has been 
     advanced by Coulson (see Coulson, History of
     Islamic Law, pp. 105ff.; Conflicts and Tension,
     pp.31-3; succession in the Muslim Family, pp. 108-
     34).  Nevertheless, it can still be said that in
     the field of ritual observances ('ibadat)  there
     is little significant difference between the Sunni
     schools and Shi'ism, whereas in the field of
     social transactions (mu'amalat) there are
     significant  differences especially in three
     areas: marriage (with respect to temporary 
     marriage), divorce (with respect to innovated
     divorce) and inheritance.
 2   al-Hurr al-'Amili, Amal al-'Amil, Vol. 2, pp. 81-
     5; Vol. 1, pp. 85-91 respectively.
 3   al-Bahrani, Lu'lu' at Bahrayn, p. 14.
 4   For example, using this Sunni-based terminology,
     9,485 of the 16,199  Traditions in Kulayni's al-
     Kafi were found to be 'weak' (da'if) by one
     author; Tunukabuni, Qisas al-'ulama, p. 397.
 5   Gibb, 'Government and Islam', p. 118.


 6   Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa, Nihaya, cited in Calder, Ph. D.,
     'Structure of Authority', pp. 73-4, 110, 132--3,
 7   al-Hilli, Shara'i' al-Islam, cited in Calder,
     Ph.D., 'Structure of Authority', pp. 77--8, 123.
 8   al-Karaki, Jami' al-Maqasid, cited in Calder, Ph.
     D., 'Structure of Authority', pp. 163-5.
 9   Shahid ath-Thani, Rawda al-Bahiyya, sections:
     Kitab az-Zakat (3rd Chap.), Kitab al-Jihad
     (Introduction), Kitab al-Qada. See also Calder,
     Ph.D., Structure of Authority, pp. 84-5, 112, 125-
     6, 147-51.
10   Kitab al-Jihadiyya (Tabriz, 1818), pp. 46-50,
     quoted in Arjomand, 'Shi'ite Hierocracy', pp. 57-
11   Tunukabuni, Qisas al-'ulama, p. 145.
12   Sayyid Ja'far Kashfi, Tuhfat al-Muluk (Tehran,
     1857), p. 123a, cited in Arjomand, 'Shi'ite
     Hieroeracy', pp. 53-5. On Mirza Abu'l-Qasim
     Qummi's political theory see Lambton, 'Some new
     trends. . . ', pp. 114-18.
13   Al-Hurr al-'Amili, Wasa'il ash-Shi'a, quoted in
     Khumayni, Hukumat-i Islami, pp. 100-101.
14   Ibn Babuya, Ma'ani al-Akhbar, pp. 374-5, quoted in
     Khumayni, Hukumat-i Islami, p. 64.
15   Khumayni, Hukumat-i Islami, pp. 64-7.
16   Kulayni, al-Kafi, Vol. 1, p. 38, quoted in
     Khumayni, Hukumat-i Islami, pp. 70-71.
17   Kulayni, al-Kafi, Vol. 1, p. 46, quoted in
     Khumayni, Hukumat-i Islami, p. 75
18   Al-Hurr al-'Amili, Wasa'il ash-Shi'a, quoted in
     Khumayni, Hukumat-i Islami, p. 86.
19   ibn Babuya, Kamal ad-Din, pp. 283-5. Al-Hurr al-
     'Amili, Wasa'il ash-Shi'a, quoted in Khumayni,
     Hukumat-i Islami, p. 88.
20   Kulayni, al-Kafi, Vol. I, pp. 24, 32, quoted in
     Khumayni, Hukumat-i Islami, pp. 111-12.
21   The following is a description of the relationship
     between the Bazaar and the ulama in the late Qajar
     period. Much of it remains true to the present day
     although the legal function of the ulama was much
     reduced in Pahlavi times: 'The relationship
     between the people of the bazaar (merchants,
     banker-changers, ambulatory changers, wholesale or
     retail merchants, bank messengers, intermediaries,
     bureaucratic functionaries, accountants, artisans,
     etc.) and the religious class was longstanding,
     close, and mutually beneficial. The people of the
     bazaars needed the services of the ulama to
     authenticate written contracts, to administer
     justice, to give reassurance of the orthodoxy of
     their actions, and to give clarification on
     casuistical and religious problems. They also
     sought the protection of the ulama, and, though
     the central government was making attempts to
     limit the practice, the bazaaris often turned to
     the men of religion for asylum. The merchants both
     Muslim and non-Muslim, were dependent upon the
     services that the ulama provided, and could not do
     without them.
       'But the ulama were dependent upon the merchants
     too, not least of all for


                  NOTES FOR PAGES 202 TO 207

     financial support. Though merchants generally
     lived modestly, religious or  secular feasts and
     ceremonies were occasions for generosity and
     display, especially on the part of the rich. But
     every merchant, whatever his economic situation,
     had to give alms during his life, or, through
     testamentary disposition, to make provision for
     donations after his death. Thus, a strong
     community of spirit and outlook was established
     between these two social categories, although it
     was never formally organized. This was so much the
     case. that during the period that concerns us, any
     action on the part of one group was often followed
     sympathetically by the other.' (Mahdavi,
     'Significance of private archives', p. 259.)
22   See Fischer, Iran, p. 163.
23   See pathetic accounts of hardships endured by
     religious students in Browne, Literary History,
     Vol. 4, pp. 361-7; and Najafi-Quchani, 'Zindigi-yi
24   Arjomand, 'Shi'ite Hieroeracy', p. 69.
25   The role of a mujtahid as defined by such scholars
     as 'Allama al-Hilli involved the forming of
     judgements on all legal points independently and
     indeed the following (taqlid) by one mujtahid of
     another was, in some works, considered not
     permissible. But this position has undergone
     modification. In the 18th and early 19th centuries
     there were only a handful of people who were
     considered mujtahids. But as the number of
     mujtahids grew during the late 19th century and
     the 20th century, this independence and the
     ability to give judgements on all points was
     effectively passed upwards by most mujtahids and
     today only applies to the top-ranking maraji'.
     Lower-ranking mujtahids in effect practise taqlid
     towards the judgements of these maraji'.
26   See, for example, Fischer, Iran, Appendix 2, pp.
     252-4; and Hairi, Shi'ism, pp. 62-3. Although it
     has been stated that the concept of marja' at-
     taqlid evolved during the 18th and 19th centuries,
     there is a hint of an earlier stage in the
     evolution of this concept in the designation of
     Shaykh 'Ali Muhaqqiq al-Karaki as mujtahid az-
     zamani (mujtahid of the age) in the Safavid
     history Ahsan at-Tawarikh (quoted in Savory,
     'Principal Offices of the Safawid State', pp. 81-
27   Although it is not uncommon to find the phrase
     Ayat Allah fi'l-'alamin among other similar
     phrases as part of an encomium extolling a
     prominent scholar in works dating from the 19th
     century or even earlier, its use as a prefixed
     designation denoting rank is a modern phenomenon.
     Akhund Khurasani was sometimes referred to as
     Ayatu'llah and there was sporadic use of the term
     in the early decades of the 20th century. It
     appears to have gained currency among Iranians in
     the 1940s and 1950s but Arabic books of even quite
     recent date do not use this designation.
28   Even these distinctions are not, however, clear-
     cut. There are, for example some individuals such
     as Ayatu'llah Amuli, the head of one of the
     madrasas of Qumm, who obviously is in receipt of
     funds since he distributes money to the tullab and
     who is called Ayatu'llah al-'Uzma but is clearly
     not considered of equal rank to such Ayatu'llahs
     as Gulpaygani and Mar'ashi-Najafi.

                    NOTES FOR PAGES 208 TO 219
                   11. SUFISM, 'IRFAN AND HIKMA
Arabic and Persian: Sources for the history of the Shi'i
Sufi orders include Ma'sum 'Ali Shah, Tara'iq al-Haqa'iq;
Humayuni, Tarikh-i Silsila-ha-yi Tariqayi Ni'matu'llahi. For
the history of the early connections between Sufism and
Shi'ism see ash-Shaybi, Fikr ash-Shi'a. The writings of the
philosophers of the School of Isfahan are very difficult for
those not used to the vocabulary. European languages: On the
Sufi orders see Gramlich, Die Schiitischen Derwischorden.
The Ni'matu'llahi order has brought out a large number of
tracts by their present Shaykh, Dr Javad Nurbakhsh, in
English. On Hikmat-i Ilahi, the most important sources of
information are the writings of Henri Corbin, see En Islam
iranien, Vol. 4, and La Philosophie iranienne islamique. See
also Fazlur Rahman, The Philosophy of Mulla Sadra, and Nasr,
Sadr al-Din Shirazi and his Transcendent Theosophy. One of
Mulla Sadra's works, al-Masha'ir, has been translated into
French by Corbin and his al-Hikma al-'Arshiyya into English
by Morris (The Wisdom of the Throne). See also Dehbashi,
Ph.D., 'Mulla Sadra's Theory of Transubstantial Motion'.

 1   See also comments on p. go.
 2   See, for example, Nurbakhsh, Murad wa Murid, and
     Miller, 'Shi'ah Mysticism'.
 3   Gramlich, Schiitischen Derwischorden, Vol. 1, p.
 4   Ma'sum 'Ali Shah, Tara'iq al-Haqa'iq, Vol. 3, p.
 5   Sir John Malcolm (History of Persia, Vol. 2, pp.
     382-426) gives a description of the revival of
     Sufism brought about by Ma'sum 'Ali Shah and also
     gives an account of Sufi doctrines and of the
     opposition of the ulama.
 6   Gramlich, Schiitischen Derwischorden, Vol. 1, pp.
 7   ibid. p. 91.
 8   This summary is condensed from Nasr, Sadr al-Din,
     pp. 58-61.


Persian and Arabic: Original Akhbari works are difficult to
obtain. On Shaykhis the best source is Ibrahimi, Fihrist;
see also al-Ahsa'i, Hayat an-Nafs; and Rashti, Dalil al-
Mutahayyirin. No substantial work of the Bab has been
published in its original language. Many individual works
and compilations of the writings of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-
Baha are available; for example, Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i Iqan
and Muntakhabati az athar.
European languages: Little work has been done on the
Akhbaris; see Scarcia, 'Interno alle controversie'. On
Shaykhis see Corbin, L'Ecole Shaykhie and En Islam iranien,
Vol. 4; Nicolas, Essai sur le Chelkisme; Bayat, Mysticism
and Dissent; and the following Ph. D. theses: Rafati,
'Development of Shaykhi Thought'; MacEoin, 'From Shaykhism';
and Jalali, 'Shaikhiyya'. On the Babis and Bahá'ís see
Balyuzi, The Bab, and Bahá'u'lláh; Smith, Babi and Bahá'í
Religions; and also the following Ph.D. theses: Amanat,
'Babi Movement'; Smith, 'Sociological Study of the Babi and
Bahai Religions'. For Babi and Bahá'í doctrine see


               NOTES FOR PAGES 222 TO 236

Bausani, 'Bab' and 'Bahá'í' in Encyclopaedia of Islam, new
edition. General introductory works on the Bahá'í Faith
include Esslemont, Bahá'u'lláh and th New Era; Huddleston,
The Earth is but One Country;
 1   See Khwansari, Rawdat al-Jannat, pp. 36-7, and
     Davvani, Vahid Bihbahani, pp. 75-6.
 2   Binder, 'Proofs of Islam', p. 125; Eliash,
     'Misconceptions', p. 12.
 3   I am grateful to Stephen Lambden of the University
     of Newcastle for the suggestion that in view of
     the intermediary position of Hurqalya, it may be a 
     corruption of the Hebrew Ha-Raqia' (or an
     equivalent word in another language) which is the
     word used in Genesis 1:6 for the firmament
     standing between heaven and earth.
 4   When E. G. Brown, was in Iran in 1887 he records
     having been told by a Shaykh-i of Kirman that the
     term Rukn-i Rabi' applied to a specific person: 
     Year among the Persians, pp. 519-20.
 5   See Kirman-i, Hidayat al-Talibin, pp. 135-6.
 6   See, for example, Qur'an 32:6.
 7   Amanat, Ph.D., 'Babi Movement', pp. 75-90, surveys
     messianic expectation at this time in Iran, Iraq
     and the Caucasus. Mrs Meer Hasan Ali states that
     the Shi'is with whom she was in contact in Oudh in
     India in the 1820s were 'said to possess
     prophecies that led them to expect the twelve
     hundred  and sixtieth year of the Hegirah [i.e.
     1844] as the time for his [the Hidden Imam's]
     coming'. Mrs Meer Hasan Ali, Observations, p. 76,
     quoted in Cole,  Ph. D., 'Imami Shi'ism from Iran
     to North India', pp. 348-9.

                13. THE POPULAR RELIGION

A number of anthropological and other studies of Shi'i
communities exist and the ones that have been of most use
for this chapter include:for Iran: Thaiss, Ph. D., '
Religious Symbolism. . . '; Braswell, Ph. D., 'Mosaic of
Mullahs. . . ';
Fischer, Iran; for Iraq: Fernea, E.W., Guests of the Sheik;
Fernea, A., Shaykh and Effendi; Thesiger, Marsh Arabs; for
Bahrain: Khuri, Tribe and State; for India: Mrs Meer Hasan
Ali, Observations on the Musulmans; for Lebanon: Adams,
Ph.D., 'Shi'ite Community in Northern Lebanon', Peters,
'Aspects of Rank and Status'. I am also indebted for oral
information to several persons including Prof. Emrys Peters
and Dr Juan R. Cole.
  Regarding the significance of the martyrdom of Husayn in
the popular religion see Thaiss, Ph. D., 'Religious
Symbolism. . . ', and Ayoub, Redemptive Suffering. For
descriptions of the 'Ashura ceremonies see Gobineau,
Religions et Philosophies, pp. 320-408; Pelly, The Miracle
Play of Hasan and Husain; and Peters, 'A Muslim Passion

 1   This paradox is closely linked to 'Ali Shari'ati's
     concepts of Safavid Shi'ism and 'Alawi Shi'ism
     (see pp. 258-9). The attitude of mazlumiyyat is
     linked to  an other-worldly intercessor role for
     the Imams which has as its counterpart  a
     socially-passive role for the Shi'a (Shari'ati's
     Safavid Shi'ism). The attitude  of qiyam, on the
     other hand, involves bringing about social change

              NOTES FOR PAGES 237 TO 248

     demands an active role for the Shi'a (Shari'ati's
     'Alawi Shi'ism). It is clear, however, that these
     two attitudes are not, as Shari'ati would have it,
     two opposed alternatives but rather they are two
     aspects of the same attitude (of love and
     reverence for the Imams) either of which may be
     manifested according to external (usually
     political) circumstances.
 2   Thaiss, Ph.D., 'Religious Symbolism. . . ', p.
 3   Although the ta'ziya is generally thought of as
     having evolved during the Qajar period, there is
     evidence of early forms of it in the late Safavid
     period (see Bruyn, Travels, Vol. I, pp. 215-18).
 4   Tancoigne, Journey into Persia, pp. 196-201.
 5   There was one woman, Banu Amin of Isfahan, who in
     recent years claimed the rank of mujtahid and held
     ijazas. However, her ranking was never fully
     accepted by many of the ulama (see Fischer, Iran,
     p. 163). A recent analysis of the position of Banu
     Amin suggests that women can achieve the status of
     being a mujtahid (in the sense of being able to
     follow their own independent judgement and not
     practise taqlid, see p. 175), but they cannot act
     as marja' at-taqlid (i.e. become a point of
     reference and imitation for others); see Mahjuba
     magazine for women, Vol. 3, Nos. 4, 5, 6, Aug.-
     Oct. 1983, pp. 60-64, and also Fischer, Iran, p.
     279, n. 18. However, this is an area which is
     obviously still controversial among the ulama. On
     women under the present Revolutionary Government
     see Tabari, Shadow of Islam, and Nashat, Women and

               14. CONTEMPORARY SHI'ISM

On Iran see Akhavi, Religion and Polities; Hairi, Shi'ism
and Constitutionalism; Braswell, Ph.D., 'Mosaic of Mullahs
and Mosques'; Millward, 'Aspects of Modernism'. On Lebanon
see Sicking and Khairallah, 'Shi'a awakening in Lebanon'. On
Bahrain see Khuri, Tribe and State in Bahrain. On India and
Pakistan see Hollister, Shi'a of India. On East Africa see
Rizvi and King, 'Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheriya Community' and
'Some East African Ithna-Asheri Jamaats'. On the 1979
Revolution and after the most useful source of information
is the Iran Press Digest (Echo of Iran). See also Fischer,
Iran; Keddie, Roots of Revolution; Akhavi, Religion and
Polities; and Zabih, Iran since the Revolution.

 1   On Burujirdi's role in the 1950s see Akhavi,
     Religion and Politics, pp. 24, 779, 102.
 2   There were also a number of slightly less
     important figures who were nevertheless regarded
     by some as maraji': Ayatu'llah Ahmad Kafa'i-
     Khurasani (d. 1971) in Mashhad; Ayatu'llahs
     'Abdu'l-Karim Zanjani (d. 1389/1969), Sayyid
     Muhammad Javad 'Aynaki Tabataba'i Tabrizi (d.
     1387/1967) and his son Sayyid 'Ali (d. 1394/1974)
     and Hasan Bujnurdi (d. 1395/1975) in Najaf; and
     Ayatu'llah Muhammad 'Ali Shahristani (d.
     1385/1965) in Baghdad.
 3   There are, however, a number of other cities with
     religious colleges: Isfahan, Shiraz, Tabriz,
     Karbala, Lakhnau (Lucknow), etc. One recent

+344     NOTES FOR PAGES 254 TO 297

     source states that whereas in the late sixties
     there had been 20,000 students at Najaf, as a
     result of the Iraqi government's persecution of
     the Shi'i tullab  there are now only 300
     (Siddiqui, Issues, p. 319).
 4   Iran Press Digest, No 213, 22 Jan. 1978, pp. 5-6.
 5   For a more detailed analysis of the Din-i Dawlat,
     see Braswell, Ph.D., 'Mosaic of Mullahs and
 6   For a further discussion of this book, see
     Lambton, 'Reconsideration. . . '.
 7   On Shari'ati's thought see Akhavi, Religion and
     Politics, pp. 144-58. See also Shari'ati, On the
     Sociology of Islam.
 8   On Iraq's Shi'i opposition groups, see Batuta,
     'Iraq's underground Shi'a movements'.
 9   Chamie ('Religious Groups in Lebanon') has
     produced figures showing that  Shi'is are at the
     bottom of the social scale in education, status of
     occupation  and income. In all these areas the
     social scale runs: Christians, Druse,  Sunnis,
     Shi'is. Even within the same occupation group,
     whether this be the  professional/technical group
     at the top of the social status league or 
     labouring occupations at the bottom, Shi'is tend
     to be paid less than other  groups for the same
     kind of work.
10   See account of confrontation between as-Sadr and
     Hamada in the Hirmal area in Adams, Ph.D., 'Social
     Organisation of a Shi'ite Community'.
11   On Shi'i leadership in Lebanon see Deeb, 'Lebanon:
     Prospects', pp. 268-73.
12   Quoted in Betts, Christians in the Arab East, pp.
13   McDowall, Lebanon, p. 9.
14   On Shi'i political activity in Bahrain see Khuri,
     Tribe and State, passim but especially pp. 66-84,
     154-93, 225-9.
15   Derived from entries in Barrett, World Christian
     Encyclopaedia which are in  turn based on United
     Nations Statistical Bulletins.
16   Derived from entries in Barrett, World Christian
17   Author's estimates.
18   The edition of Khumayni's important work Hukumat-i
     Islami printed in Tehran shortly after the
     Revolution has the author's name as 'Na'ib al-Imam
     Khumayni' on the front cover.
19   On the role of the Revolutionary Council see Iran
     Press Digest, No. 268, 3 March 1980, pp. 2-10.
20   On Khumayni's vision of governing in the mould of
     'Ali see Iran Press  Digest, No. 285, 7 July 1980,
     pp. 2-10; and Fischer, Iran, pp. 216-17.
21   On the decreasing cohesion of the IRP see. Iran
     Press Digest, 15 March 1983, pp. 20-21.

                    Select Bibliography

In the course of this book, lists of the basic important
Shi'i works have been given. The following will assist the
reader to locate these lists, which can act as the basis for
the drawing up of a Shi'i bibliography (the most
comprehensive Shi'i bibliography is at-Tihrani, adh-Dhari'a,
see below):

Books on the succession of 'Ali, the Imamate, lives of the
Imams and the  Occultation of the Twelfth Imam (mainly
polemical and Kalam works) 160
Tafsir (Commentary on the Qur'an) 173
Hadith (Traditions of the Prophet and the Imams) 174
Rijal (Biographical dictionaries of the transmitters of the
Hadith  and the ulama) 175
Fiqh (Jurisprudence) 188-9
Usul al-Fiqh (Principles of Jurisprudence) 188-9
Standard textbooks used in studies at religious colleges 201

  The rest of the Bibliography relates to books consulted by
the author in the course of research for this book as well
as a selection of other books on Shi'ism. As elsewhere in
this book, the Islamic (Hijri) dates precede the Gregorian.
'Sh' after a date indicates the Hijri solar (Shamsi)
calendar used in Iran. Otherwise Hijri dates are according
to the usual lunar calendar used in the rest of the Islamic

A. Arabic and Persian

Abu Dawud Sulayman as-Sijistani. Sunan. 2 vols. Matba'a
     al-Babi al-Halabi, Cairo, 1371/1952.
al-Ahsa'i, Shaykh 'Abdu'llah ibn Ahmad. Risala-yi Sharh
     Trans. from  Arabic by Muhammad Tahir Khan. Chapkhana
     Sa'adat, Kirman, 1387/1967.
al-Ahsa'i, Shaykh Ahmad ibn Zaynu'd-Din. Hayat an-Nafs.
     from  Arabic by Sayyid Kazim Rashti. Chapkhana Sa'adat,
     Kirman, 1353/1934.
Al Kashifu'l-Ghita, Muhammad Husayn. Asl ash-Shi'a wa
     9th printing, Najaf, 1381/1962.
Al Ya Sin, Muhammad Husayn. Tarikh al-Mashhad al-Kazimi.
     Matba'at al-Ma'arif, Baghdad, 1388/1967.
al-Amin, Muhsin. Khitat Jabal 'Amil. Matba'at al-Insaf,
--A'yan ash-Shi'a. Vol. I. Matba'at al-Insaf, Beirut, 1960
     proceeding. al-Ash'ari, 'Ali ibn Isma'il. Maqalat al-
     Islamiyyin. Ed. Hellmut Ritter. Bibliotheca Islamica,
     Vol. 1a, b, c. Matba'at ad-Dawla, Istanbul, 1929-33.
     al-Baghdadi, see ibn Tahir.


Bahá'u'lláh (Mirza Husayn 'Ali Nuri). Kitab-i-Iqan.
     Zaki, Cairo,  1934. RP Bahá'í-Verlag, Hofheim-
     Langenheim, Germany, 1980.
--Muntakhabati az athar-i Hadrat-i Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'í-
     Hofheim-Langenheim, Germany, 1984.
al-Bahram, Yusuf ibn Ahmad. Lu'lu'at Bahrayn. Ed. Muhammad
     Sadiq  Bahru'l-'Ulum. Matba'at an-Nu'man, Najaf,
Baladhuri, Ahmad ibn Yahya. Ansab al-Ashraf. Ed. Muhammad
     Hamidu'llah.  Vol. I, Dar al-Ma'arif; Cairo, 1960.
al-Baydawi, 'Abdu'llah ibn 'Umar. Anwar at-Tanzil. 5 vols.
     al-Kutub al-'Arabiyya al-Kubra, Cairo, 1330/1912.
al-Bukhan, Abu 'Abdu'llah Muhammad ibn Isma'll. SahIh. Ed.
     K. Krehl. 4  vols. E.J. Brill, Leidel, 1862.
Chahardihi, Nuru'd-Din Mudarrisi. Sayrl dar Tasawwuf
     Ishraqi, Tehran, 1359/1940.
Davvani, 'Ali Vahid Bihbahani. Mu'assisa Intisharat Amir
     Tehran, 1362 Sh/1983.
Dawud, Nablla 'Abdu'l-Mun'im. Nashat ash-Shi'a al-Imamiyya.
     Matba'at al-lrshad, Baghdad, 1968.
al-Hakim an-Naysabun. al-Mustadrak. 4 vols. Maktabat an-Nasr
     al-Haditha, Riyadh, n.d.
Hidayat, Rida Quli Khan. Rawdat as-Safa-yi Nasiri. 2 vols.
     Lithographed  Tehran, 1270/1853-1274/1857.
al-Hilli, Ja'far ibn Hasan, Muhaqqiq. Shara'i' al-Islam fi
     masa'il al-halal wa'l-haram. Ed. 'Abdu'l-Husayn
     Muhammad 'Ali 4 vols. Matba'at al-Adab, Najaf,
Hirzu'd-Din, Muhammad. Ma'arif ar-Rijal fi tarajim al-'ulama
     wa'l-udala. Ed. Muhammad Husayn Hirzu'd-Din. 3 vols.
     Matba'at an-Najaf, Najaf, 1383/1964.
Humayuni, Dr Mas'ud. Tarikh-i Silsila-ha-yi Tariqa-yi
     Ni'matu'llahi dar Iran. Maktab-i 'Irfan, Tehran?, 1358
al-Hurr al-'Amili, Muhammad ibn Hasan. Amal al-'Amil. Ed.
     al-Husayni. 2 vols. Maktabat al-Andalus, Baghdad,
--Wasa'il ash-Shi'a. Ed 'Abdu'r-Rahim ar-Rabbani ash-Shirazi
20 vols. Maktaba al-Islamiyya, Tehran, 1383/1963.
Ibn Athir, 'Izzu'd-Din Abu'l-Hasan 'Ali. al-Kaimil fi't-
Ta'rikh. Ed. C. J. Tornberg, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1868.
Ibn Babuya, Muhammad ibn 'Ali. 'Ilal ash-Shari'a. Ed.
     Fadlu'llah Tabataba'i  Yazdi. 2 vols. Maktaba
     Tabataba'i, Qumm, c. 1377/1957
---Kamal ad-Din wa Tamam an-Ni'ma (also called Ikmal ad-Din
     wa Itmam an-Ni'ma). Ed. 'Ali Akbar Ghaffari. 2 vols.
     Maktabat as-Saduq, Tehran, 1390/1970.
--Ma'ani al-Akhbar. Ed.'Ali Akbar Ghaffan. Maktabat as-
     Tehran, 1379/1959.
--'Uyun al-Akhbar ar-Rida. Matba'a al-Haydariyya, Najaf,
Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani, Shihabu'd-Din Ahmad. Durur al-
Kamina. 4
     vols. Matba'a Majlis Da'irat al-Ma'arif al-'Uthmaniyya,
     Hyderabad, 1348/1929--1350/1931.


Ibn Hajar al-Makh, Ahmad. as-Sawa'iq, al-Muhriqa. Ed.
     Wahhab 'Abdu'l-Latif. Maktabat al-Qahira, Cairo,
Ibn Hanbal, Ahmad. Musnad. 6 vols. Matba'a al-Maymaniyya,
     Cairo, 1313/1896.
Ibn Hazm, 'Ali. al-Fasl fi'l-Milal. Matba'a Muhammad 'Ali
     Sabih, Cairo, 1347/1928--1348/1929.
Ibn al-Jawzi, 'Abdu'r-Rahman ibn Ah. al-Muntazam. 5 vols.
     Matba'a Da'irat al-Ma'arif, Hyderabad, 1357/1938--
Ibn Jubayr, Muhammad ibn Ahmad. Rihla. Ed. William Wright.
     Revised. M. J. de Goeje. E. J. W. Gibb Memorial Series,
     Vol. S E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1907.
Ibn Kathir, Isma'il ibn 'Umar. Bidaya wa Nihaya, 14 vols.
     Matba'at as-Sa'ada, Cairo, 1351/1932--1358/1939.
Ibn Maja, Muhammad ibn Yazid. Sunan. Ed. Muhammad
     Fu'ad 'Abdu'l-Baqi. 2 vols. Dar Ihya al-Kutub al-
     'Arabiyya, Cairo, 1372/1952--1373/1953, RP 1972.
Ibn Shahrashub, Abu 'Abdu'llah Muhammad. Manaqib Al Abi
     Talib. Ed. by a committee of scholars at Najaf. 3 vols.
     Matba'a al-Haydariyya, Najaf, 1376/1956.
Ibn Tahir al-Baghdadi. Kitab al-Farq bayn al-Firaq. Matba'at
     al-Ma'arif, Cairo, 1328/1910. For translation
     (designated 'Tr.') of last part, see Halkin in Section
Ibn Tawus, Radiyu'd-Din 'Ali. al-Yaqin fi Imara Amir
     al-Mu'minin. Mu'assisa Dar al-Kitab, Qumm, 1369/1950.
Ibn Tulun, see Hartmann in Section C.
Ibrahimi (Kirmani), Abu'l-Qasim. Fihrist-i Kutub-i Mashayikh
     'Azzam. 3rd ed., Chapkhana Sa'adat, Kirman, n.d.
al-Irbili, Abu'l-Hasan 'Ali ibn `Isa. Kashf al-Ghumma. 3
     Maktaba Bani Hashim, Tabriz, 1381/1961.
al-Isfahani al-Kazimi, Muhammad Mahdi. Ahsan al-Wadi'a. 2
     Matba'at  an-Najah, Baghdad, 1347/1928?
Iskandar Beg Munshi. Ta'rikh-i ``Alam-ara-yi `Abbasi. 2
     Chapkhana  Musawi, Tehran, 1955-6.
Juwayni, 'Ala'u'd-Dawla. Ta'rikh-i Jihan-gusha. Ed. Mirza
     Muhammad Qazwini. 3 vols. E.J.W. Gibb Memorial Series,
     Vol. 16. E.J. Brill, Leiden and Luzac & Co., London,
Kashmiri, Muhammad 'Ali. Nujum as-Sama. Matba'a Ja'fari,
     Lucknow, 1303/1885.
al-Kashshi, Muhammad ibn 'Umar. ar-Rijal. Matba'a al
     Mustawiyya,  Bombay, 1317/1899.
Juwayni, `Ala'u'd-Dawla. Ta'rikh-i Jihan-gusha. Ed. Mirza
     Muhammad Qazwini. 3 vols. E.J.W. Gibb Memorial Series,
     Vol. 16. E.J. Brill, Leiden  and Luzac & Co., London,
Kashmiri, Muhammad 'Ali. Nujum as-Sama. Matba'a Ja'fari,
     Lucknow, 1303/1885.
al-Kashi, Muhammad ibn 'Umar. ar-Rijal. Matba'a al-
     Bombay, 1317/1899.
al-Khayyat al-Mu'tazili, Abu'l-Husayn 'Abdu'r-Rahim. Kitab
     Intisar. Ed. H. S. Nyberg. Dar al-Kutub al-Misriyya,
     Cairo, 1925.
Khumayni, Na'ib al-Imam Ruhu'llah. Hukumat-i Islami
     Faqih dar khusus-i-hukumat-i Islam). No publisher,
     [Tehran, c. 1980].
Khwansari Isfahani, Muhammad Baqir. Rawdat al-Jannat. 
Lithographed Tehran, 1306/1888.
al-Kilidar, 'Abdu'l-Jawad. Tarikh Karbala wa Ha'ir al-
     Matba'a al-Haydariyya, Najaf, 1386/1967.


Kirkush al-Hilli, Yusuf. Tarikh al-Hilla. 2 vols. Matba'a al
     Haydariyya, Najaf, 1385/1965.
Kirmani, Muhammad Khan. Kitab al-Mubin. 2 vols. 2nd
     Chapkhana  Sa'adat, Kirman, 1354 Sh/1975.
Kirmani, Muhammad Karim Khan. Hidayat at-Talibin Chapkhana
     Sa'adat,  Kirman, 1380/1960.
Kulayni, Muhammad ibn Ya'qub. al-Kafr. Ed. 'Alii Akbar
     Ghaffari. Vols. 1-2  (Usul), Maktabat as-Sadiq, Tehran,
     1381/1961. Vols 3-8 (Furu' and Rawda), Shaykh Muhammad
     al-Akhundi, Tehran, 1377/1957--1379/1959.
Mahdi Khan, Mirza. Ta'rikh-i Nadiri. Lithographed Tehran,
Mahir, Su'ad. Mashhad al-Imam 'Ali fi'l-Najaf wa ma bihi min
     al-Hadaya wa'l-Tuhaf. Dar al-Ma'arif Cairo, 1969.
Majlisi, Muhammad Baqir. Bihar al-Anwar. 110 vols. Matba'a
     al-Islamiyya, Tehran, 1376/1956--1392/1972. Where
     access was not available to some  volumes of this
     edition, the lithographed Tehran edition in 25 vols.,
     1301/1884--1315/1897 (designated 'old ed.'), has been
--Jala'al-'Uyun. Mu'assisa Matbu'ati Amir Kabir, Tehran,
al-Maqrizi, Taqiyu'd-Din Ahmad. Kitab al-Mawa'iz wa'l-
     fi dhikr al-Khitat wa'l-Athar. 2 vols. Dar at-Tab'a al-
     Misriyya, Cairo, 1270/1853.
al-Mas'udi, 'Ali ibn Husayn. Murujadh-Dhahab (Les Prairies
     d'or). Ed. and trans. C. Barbier de Meynard. 9 vols.
     Imprimerie Imperiale, Paris, 1861-77.
Ma'sum 'Ali Shah, Muhammad Ma'sum Shirazi. Tara'iq al
     Haqa'iq. Ed. Muhammad Ja'far Mahjub. 3 vols.
     Kitabfurushi Barani, Tehran, 1345 Sh/1966.
Mudarrisi-Chahardihi, see Chahardihi.
al-Mufid, Shaykh Muhammad ibn Nu'man. Awa'il al-Maqalat fil
     Madhahib al-Mukhtarat. Kitabfurushi Haqiqat, Tabriz,
--al-Ikhtisas. Ed. 'Ali Akbar Ghaffari, Maktabat as-Saduq,
     Tehran, 1379/1959.
--Kitab al-Irshad, al-Haydari Press, Najaf, 1382/1963. For
     translation  (designated 'Tr. ') see Howard in Section
--Sharh 'Aqa 'id as-Saduq or Tashih al-I'tiqad published in
     same volume as Awa'il al-Maqalat, see above.
Muslim, Abu'l-Husain ibn al-Hajjaj. Sahih. 2 vols. Dar Ihya
     al-Kutub al-'Arabiyya, Cairo, 1349/1930.
al-Muzaffar, Muhammad Husayn. Tarikh ash-Shi'a. Dar az-
     Beirut,  1399/1979.
al-Muzaffar, Muhammad Rida. 'Aqa'id al-Imamiyya. 3rd ed.,
     Matbu'at an-Najah, Cairo, 1391/1971.
an-Najafi, Shaykh Muhammad Hasan. Jawahir al-Kalam. Ed.
     al-Quchani. 23 vols. Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyya, Tehran,
Najafi-Quchani. S. Hasan. 'Zindigi-yi Talabigi va Akundi.'
     Rahmama-yi Kitab, 14 (1971), pp. 267-73, 489-94, 779-
Najashi, Ahmad ibn 'Ali. Rijal. Published by Haji Shaykh
     al-Mahallati al-Ha'iri, Bombay, 1317.
Nasir Khusraw. Safar-nama. Ed. Mahmud Ghanizada. Chapkhana
     Kaviyani, Berlin, 1341/1922.
al-Nawbakhti, Abu Muhammad Hasan. Firaq ash-Shi'a.


     Istanbul, 1931.
Nurbakhsh, Dr Jawad. Murad wa Murid/The Master and Disciple
     Sufism. Text and translation. Khanagah Ni'matu'llahi,
     Tehran, 1977.
al-Qazwini ar-Razi, 'Abdu'l-Jalil. Kitab an-Naqd. Ed. S.
     Jalalu'd Din Husayni Muhaddith. Chapkhana Sipihr,
     Tehran, 1371/1951.
al-Qazwini, Hamdu'llah Mustawfi. Ta'rikh-i Guzida. Ed. and
     trans. E. G. Browne. E. J. W. Gibb Memorial Series,
     Vol. 14, 2 vols. E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1910-13.
al-Qummi, Sa'd ibn 'Abdu'llah al-Ash'ari. al-Maqalat wa'l-
     Firaq. Ed. Muhammad Javad Mashkur. Matba'a Haydari,
     Tehran, 1963.
Rashti, S. Kazim. Dalil al-Mutahayyirin. Chapkhana Sa'adat,
     Kirman, 2nd printing, n.d.
ar-Razi, Fakhru'd-Din. Mafatih al-Ghayb. 8 vols. Matba'a al-
     Khayriyya, Cairo, 1308/1891.
--at-Tafsir al-Kabir, 32 vols. Matba'a al-Bahiyya al-
     Cairo, 1357/1938.
Razi, Muhammad Sharif. Ganjina-yi Danishmandan. 7 vols,
     Kitabfurushi Islamiyya, Tehran, 1352 Sh/1973.
as-Samarra'i, Yunis. Tarikh Madina Samarra. Matba'at al-
     Baghdad, 1971.
Shahid ath-Thani, Zaynu'd-Din ibn 'Ali. Rawda al-Bahiyya fi
     sharh. al-Luma'a ad-Dimashqiyya. Lithographed Tabriz,
ash-Shahristani, Abu'l-Fath Muhammad. Kitab al-Milal wa'n-
     Nihal. Ed. Muhammad Sayyid Kilani. Matba'a Mustah al-
     Babi al-Halabi, Cairo, 1967.
ash-Shaybi, Dr Kamil M. Fikr ash-Shi'i wa'n-Naza'at as-
     Maktabat an-Nahda, Baghdad, 1386/1966.
Shaykh al-Mufid, see al-Mufid. Shaykh as-Saduq, see ibn
     Shaykhu't-Ta'ifa, Shaykh Muhammad ibn Hasan at-Tusi.
     al-Fihrist. Published together with Muhammad ibn
     Muhammad Muhsin 'Alam al-Huda. Nadad al-Idah. Ed. A.
     Sprenger. Revised Mahmud Ramyar. Chapkhana Danishgah
     Mashhad, Mashhad, 1351 Sh/1972.
--an-Nihaya fi mujarrad al-faqih wa'l-fatawi Trans. into
     Persian by Muhammad Baqir Sabzivari. 2 vols. Intisharat
     Danishgah Tehran, 1333 Sh/1954--1334 Sh/1955.
--Tafsir at-Tibyan. 10 vols. Maktabat al-Amin, Najaf,
ash-Shidyaq, Tannus. Akhbar al-A'yan fi Jabal Lubnan. 2
     Matabi' Simya, Beirut, 1954.
Shushtari, Nuru'llah Mar'ashi. Majalis al-Mu'minin.
     Lithographed Tehran, 1268/1852.
Sipihr, Muhammad Taqi, Lisanu'l-Mulk. Nasikh at-Tawarikh;
     dawra-yi kamil-i tarikh-i Qajariyya. Ed. Jahangir
     Qa'im-Maqami. Amir Kabir, Tehran, 1337 Sh/1958.
as-Suyuti, Jalalu'd-Din. ad-Durr al-Manthur. 6 vols. Matba'a
     al-Maymaniyya, Cairo, 1314/1896, facsimile edition
     printed in Beirut, n.d.
at-Tabari, Abu Ja'far Muhammad. Ta'rikh ar-Rusul wa'l-Muluk.
     Ed. M. J. de Goeje, 15 vols. E.J. Brill. Leiden, 1901.
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