"One cannot pass a judgment on something unless one has a clear conception of it". Based on this rule, it is meaningless to pass a judgment on Shia unless you have good knowledge about them.
In short, before we proceed to criticize opponents or proponents of Shia, we should first understand who Shia are, what their origins are, what their theological and Fiqhi (Jurisprudential) backgrounds are, what their history is about, what their reality is an what their goals and ambitions are. Only after doing this, we can express our view foresightedly, especially when we know how many people changed their long-believed views and give up their ideas after they had been provided with sound information and clear vision.
Who are Shia?
The issue is not merely that of certain people living in a certain country who have some disputes with neighboring countries. Rather, it is an issue of theological, historical and Fiqhi backgrounds that have to be referred to.
Many historians differ on the real beginning of Shia.
What is commonly believed by the masses is that Shia are those people who supported `Ali bin Abu Talib during the caliphate of Mu`awiyah bin Abu Sufyan, (may Allah be pleased with him). Accordingly, this means that those who supported `Ali bin Abu Talib are Shia while those who supported Mu`awiyah are Sunnis. Such a notion has never been accepted by anyone. Moreover, Sunnis believe with regard to the dispute that arose between the two honorable Companions that `Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) was on the right, while Mu`awiyah (may Allah be pleased with him) exercised Ijtihad (independent judgment) but did not reach the truth. Thus, Sunnis thought is clearly siding with `Ali. Moreover, tenets, doctrines and ideologies held by Shia are entirely different from those held by `Ali bin Abu Talib absolutely. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that the rise of Shia was at that era.
Some historians say that the rise of Shia was after Al-Hussein (may Allah be pleased with him) was martyred. This opinion sounds to be more logical. Actually, Al-Hussein rebelled against the rule of Yazid bin Mu`aweiyah and, therefore, headed for Iraq after his followers there had promised to back him. However, they let him down at the critical time, which led to the martyrdom of Al-Hussein at Karbala. The group of people who invited him and failed to support him regretted doing so and decided to expiate their sin through rebelling against the Umayyad state. They actually did so and a large number of them were killed and thus were called Shia. This might explain why we notice that Shia are more attached to Al-Hussein bin `Ali than to `Ali bin Abu Talib (may Allah be pleased with him) himself. They also, as we can see, mark the anniversary of Al-Hussein's martyrdom while don not mark that of `Ali bin Abu Talib.
However, this sect only rose as a political one opposing the rule of the Umayyad dynasty and backed any attempts to rebel against it. Until that time, they did not hold theological or jurisprudential principles different from those of Sunnis. We will even come to know that earlier leaders whom Shiites claim to be their earlier Shia Imams were only Sunni men adopting doctrines and principles of Sunnis.
The situation continued to be stable for months after the martyrdom of Al-Hussein (may Allah be pleased with him). At this period lived `Ali Zainul-`Abdin bin Al- Hussein who was one of the most righteous personalities and great ascetic scholars. He has never been reported to have any beliefs or ideologies different from those held by Companions and later generations.
`Ali Zainul-`Abdin had two sons of a high level of piety and purity, namely, Mohammed Al-Baqir and Zaid, both of whom completely believed in beliefs held by Sunni scholars including Companions and Successors. However, Zaid bin `Ali (may Allah have mercy on him) differed in viewing that `Ali bin Abu Talib was worthier of assuming caliphate than Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him). Although this opinion conflicts with the Ummah's consensus and contradicts many Hadith that explicitly held Abu Bakr Al-Siddik, `Umar and `Uthman in a higher rank than `Ali (may Allah be pleased with him), this difference of opinion, however, does not relate to doctrinal issues. While he viewed that `Ali was the best, he, however, admitted the high rank of the first three caliphs. He also believed in the permissibility of one less in rank assuming imamate despite the existence of those higher in rank. Accordingly, he did not deny the imamate of Abu Bakr, `Umar and `Uthman (may Allah be pleased with them). Apart from this view, he concurred with Sunnis in theology, principles and Fiqh.
Repeating the attempt of his grandfather Al-Hussein bin `Ali (may Allah be pleased with them both), Zaid bin `Ali rebelled against the Umayyad caliph Hisham bin Abdul-Malik, which ended up with his being killed in 122 A.H. His followers then founded a sect based on his ideas, known in history as Zaydiyyah, named after Zaid bin `Ali. Though considered to be a Shia-based sect, Zaydiyyah agrees with Sunnis in everything except in holding `Ali in a higher position than the first three Caliphs. The followers of this sect are mainly in Yemen and they are the nearest Shia sects to Sunnis - even one can hardly distinguish them from Sunnis in most respects.
It is worth mentioning that a group of the followers of Zaid bin `Ali asked him about his opinion on Abu Bakr and `Umar. In reply, he supplicated Allah to show mercy to both of them, but those who asked him refused to do the same and seceded from his sect. Therefore, they were known in the history as Rafidah (lit. dissenters) because they rejected the caliphate of Abu Bakr and `Umar on one hand, and rejected Zaid's opinion on the other. Subsequent generations of such a group founded a sect which was later known as Ithna `Ashriyyah (Imamiyyah) to turn into Shia's largest sect.
Mohammed Al-Baqir, Zaid bin `Ali's brother, died eight years before his brother (in 114 A.H.) leaving behind a son who became the reverend scholar Ja`far Al-Sadiq. The latter was a prominent scholar and a proficient Faqih (Jurisprudent), who held the same theology believed in by Companions, Successors and Muslim scholars in general.
Late at the era of the Umayyad caliphate, the Abbasid movement started activities aiming at rallying people against the Umayyad caliphate. The movement collaborated with the groups which seceded from Zeid bin `Ali and both toppled the Umayyad caliphate in 132 A.H. The Abbasid caliphate came to power headed by the founder Abul-`Abbas Al-Saffah and his successor Abu Ja`far Al-Mansur. Those who collaborated with this movement felt disappointed as they sought to establish a caliphate ruled by one of `Ali bin Abu Talib's grandchildren. Therefore, those people formed a group called Al-Talibiyyun (lit. proponents of `Ali bin Abu Talib (may Allah be pleased with him) compared to Abbasids who are named after Al-`Abbas bin Abdul-Muttalib) with the aim of staging a coup against the Abbasid caliphate.
Until this era, there were no essential theological or jurisprudential violations except that of the criticism of Abu Bakr and `Umar; actually, some of them who seceded from Zaid bin `Ali rejected them and would even curse them in public.
Ja`far Al-Sadik died in 148 A.H. leaving behind a son called Musa Al-Kazim, who was also a scholar but less in rank than his father. He died in 183 A.H. leaving behind some sons including `Ali bin Musa Al-Rida.
It happened that the Abbasid caliph al Ma'mun sought to contain the rebellion of Al-Talibiyyun who claimed the caliphate for the descendants of `Ali bin Abu Talib rather than those of Al-`Abbas. Thus, he nominated `Ali bin Musa Al-Rida as the crown prince, which fueled a fierce controversy among Abbasids. However, `Ali bin Musa Al-Rida suddenly died in 203 A.H., but Al-Talibiyyun accused Al-Ma'mun of killing him and once again staged successive revolutions against Abbasids just as they did with Umayyads.
Anyway, passage of years gave room for revolutions to relatively calm down. Until that time, Shia had not yet adopted an independent religious school of thought to be called Shia. Rather, there were only political movements aiming at assuming power and opposing rulers due to many reasons which did not include such theological reasons as those held by Shia now.
Strikingly, such dissenting calls found support on a large scale in the Persian region (currently Iran). Actually, many inhabitants of such a region felt sorry for the fall of the huge Persian empire and its fusion into the Islamic state. They, Persians, considered themselves of a higher race, a better ethnicity and a greater history than Muslims. This feeling led to the rise of Persophilia – an ideology which means giving priority to their race and ethnicity over anything even Islam. Some of them even showed deep adherence to their Persian roots, lock, stock and barrel, even the fire which they once worshiped.
As they were not powerful enough to rebel against the Islamic state, and being Muslims for decades, they found the Al-Talibiyyun's revolutions a way through which they would seek to topple the Islamic caliphate which toppled their Persian state before. In the same time, they did not want to forsake Islam which they embraced for many years. They, however, decided to interpolate it through injecting into it the heritage of the Persian state so as to secure instability within the Muslim Ummah. They kept a low profile, while Al-Talibiyyu maintained the high profile. Bearing in mind that Al-Talibiyyun are affiliated to `Ali bin Abu Talib, are a part of the Prophet's Household and thus held in a high esteem by people, such people secured continuation of there mission.
Thus, attempts of Persophils united with those of Al-Talibiyyun belonging to the Prophet's Household to form a new independent, not only political but also religious, entity.
Back to Al-Talibiyyun, we can see that after the death of `Ali Al-Rida whom Abbasid Caliph Al-Ma'mun nominated as the crown prince, he was succeeded by his son Mohammed Al-Jawad who died in 220 A.H. The latter was also succeeded by his son `Ali bin Mohammed Al-Hadi who died in 254 A.H. Finally, the latter was succeeded by Al-Hassan bin `Ali called Al-`Askary who also died suddenly in 260 A.H. leaving behind a young 5-year-old son, Mohammed.
Throughout previous years, separatist movements, which consisted of some of the Prophet's Household and Persophils, would swear allegiance to the elder son of Al-Talibiyyun's leader, starting with `Ali Al-Rida and ending with Al-Hassan Al-`Askary. Concerning the ascendants of `Ali Al-Rida, such as his father Musa Al-Kazim or his grandfather Ja`far Al-Sadik or his grandfather's father Mohammed Al-Baqir, they did not assume the revolutionary leadership against Umayyad or Abbasid rule.
However, after Al-Hassan Al-`Askary had died in 260 A.H., revolutionists got totally confused as to who is to assume leadership when Al-Hassan Al-`Askary left behind a young son. They even got more confused after the sudden death of that young son. This resulted in dividing such revolutionary groups into many sects each different from the other in terms of principles and ideas as well as even in laws and beliefs.
The most famous among such sects is Ithna `Ashriyyah (Imamiyyah), now prevailing in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon. It is the biggest Shiite sect at present.
The leaders of this sect started to add to Islam ideas that would work best for situations they are exposed to currently and that may ensure the continuation of their sect despite the absence of their leader.
They added many serious Bid'ahs (innovations in religion) to the religion of Islam, claiming them to be part and parcel of Islam. Thus, such Bid'ahs, with the passage of time, became a key component of their ideology and thought. Some of such Bid'ahs relate to Imamate (caliphate). Seeking a justification for the lack of a current imam, they argued that Imams are twelve only, arranging them in the following order: 1- `Ali bin Abu Talib, 2- Al-Hassan bin `Ali, 3- Al-Hussein bin `Ali, 4- `Ali Zainul-`Abidin bin Al-Hussein, 5- Mohammed Al-Baqir bin Zainul-`Abidin, 6- Ja`far Al-Sadik bin Mohammed Al-Baqir, 7- Musa Al-Kazim, 8- `Ali Al-Rida, 9- Mohammed Al-Jawad, 10- `Ali Al-Hadi, 11- Mohammed Al-Mahdi and 12- Al-Hassan Al-`Askary.
That is why this sect is called Ithna `Ashriyyah. Seeking to justify why the Imam succession came to an end, they claimed that the young child Muhammad bin Al-Hassan Al-`Askary has not died yet, and that, according to them, he has disappeared in a mountain cave and that he is still alive (over one thousand years now). They further claim that he will be back one day to rule the world. They also believe him to be the Awaited Mahdi (Righteous Imam). They also claimed that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) bequeathed Imamate to those twelve names but Companions withheld such information. This is why they judge Companions in general to be disbelievers (however, some of them judge Companions to be only profligate) as they concealed such a bequeath. Influenced by the Persian system of rule, they introduced the inevitability of the monarchical system believing that the Imam must be the elder son of `Ali bin Abu Talib and likewise all succeeding Imams. As known to all, this notion is not Islamic at all. Even Sunni Islamic states based on a monarchical system, such as Umayyad, Abbasid, Seljuk, Ayyubi and Ottoman caliphates, never considered the monarchical system to be a part of religion or that ruling must be on a dynasty basis. Influenced also by Persia, they introduced sanctification of the ruling dynasty. Accordingly, they believed in the infallibility of the aforementioned Imams and thus considered their sayings to be as holy as the Qur'an and Prophetic Hadith. Moreover, most of their Fiqhi (jurisprudential) rules are even derived from the sayings of Imams, regardless of whether these sayings are authentically or falsely attributed to them. Furthermore, in his book "Islamic Government", Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian revolution, stated, "One of the fundamentals of our ideology is that our Imams are higher in rank than devoted angels and prophets." Hence, this explains their bitter hostility to all Companions (except for a few of them who do not exceed thirteen). They also show hostility to even some of the Prophet's Household, such as Al-`Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him), Allah's Messenger's uncle, and his son Abdullah bin `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him), the great scholar of the Ummah. Unarguably, hostility to these two figures and judging them to be disbelievers is due to the historical conflict between Ithna `Ashriyyah and Abbasid caliphate.
Among their Bid`ahs also is that they consider most Muslim countries to be Darul-Kufr (House of disbelief). They also judge the people of Medina, Mecca, Egypt and Levant to be disbelievers, falsely reporting the Messenger of Allah to have said something in this regard and thus believe it to be a part of their religion.
You can refer to such ideas in their original resources, such as Al-Kafy, Bihar Al-Anwar and Tafsir Al-Qummi, Tafsir Al-`Ayyashi, Al-Burhan and other books.
Consequently, they do not acknowledge any Sunni scholars and all the authentic Hadith books, such as Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Al-Tirmidhi and Al-Nasa'i. They also deny the authority of Abu Hanifah, Malik, Al-Shafi`i and Ibn Hanbal. They also do not admit the excellence of Khalid bin Al-Walid or Sa`d bin Abu Waqqas, `Umar bin Abdul-`Aziz,, Musa bin Nusair, Nourul-Din Mahmoud, Salahud-Din, Qutuz and Muhammad Al-Fatih.
As a result of their non-recognition of Companions, Successors and books of Hadith and Tafsir (exegesis of the Qur'an), they depended largely on sayings attributed to their Imams through very weak chains of narrators. Consequently, many abhorred Bid'ahs took place regarding their doctrines, acts of worship, transactions and other wakes of life. In this article, I do not intend to give a list of their Bid'ahs; actually, such a goal requires composing many books. I only refer here to the origin of the problem so that we may understand its consequences. However, it requires a lengthy talk to speak about such Bid'ahs as Taqiyyah (a dispensation allowing Shiites to conceal their faith when under threat, persecution or compulsion) and Raj'a (the second coming or the return to life of their Imams after death), viewing that the Qur'an was interpolated, misbelieving in Allah, Bid'ahs committed at the shrines, building such shrines in mosques, abhorred Bid'ahs committed on the anniversary of Al-Hussein's Martyrdom and thousands of other Bid'ahs that became key pillars in religion according to Ithna `Ashriyyah.
All that I have mentioned so far is only a part of the ideology of Ithna `Ashriyyah. However, there are several other sects that rose during the same period in history, especially during the period known in history as the period of "Shia Bewilderment", which started as early as the middle of the third century A.H. following the death of Al-Hassan Al-`Askary (the twelfth and last Imam according to them).
From this period on, literature and books that plant their ideology and doctrines were composed. Their methodologies spread widely in the Persian region in particular and in the Muslim world in general. However, till then no state was established to officially adopt such ideologies. Anyway, by the end of the third century and the beginning of the fourth century A.H., serious developments took place that led to Shia assuming power in some areas, which had serious repercussions on the entire Muslim Ummah. This is what I will deal with in the next article, if Allah so wills.
However, I have to repeat the rule that "one cannot pass a judgment on something unless one has a clear conception of it". Thus, if we are to take a decision regarding a specific matter or issue, we have to have knowledge about it first. In other words, we can judge something to be right or wrong or say that it is better to do so-and-so only when authentic information is available. Undoubtedly, judgments based of passions and on no study leads certainly to evil consequences.
We ask Allah to glorify Islam Muslims.
By: Dr. Ragheb El Sergani