Shia Islam (شيعة Shia, sometimes Shi’a; adjective “Shia”/Shi’ite), is the second-largest denomination of Islam, comprising 10-13% of the total Muslim population in the world. Shia Muslims, though a minority in the Muslim world, constitute the majority of the populations in Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Iran, and Iraq, as well as a plurality in Lebanon.
In addition to believing in the authority of the Qur’an and teachings of Muhammad, Shia believe that Muhammad’s family, the Ahl al-Bayt (the “People of the House”), including his descendants known as Imams, have special spiritual and political rule over the community and believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, was the first of these Imams and was the rightful successor to Muhammad, and thus reject the legitimacy of the first three Rashidun caliphs.
The Shia Islamic faith is broad and includes many different groups. There are various Shia theological beliefs, schools of jurisprudence, philosophical beliefs, and spiritual movements. The Shia identity emerged soon after the martyrdom of Hussain son of Ali (the grandson of the prophet Muhammad) and Shia theology was formulated in the second century and the first Shia governments and societies were established by the end of the ninth century.
Significant Shia communities exist on the coastal regions of West Sumatra and Aceh in Indonesia (see Tabuik). The Shia presence is negligible elsewhere in Southeast Asia, where Muslims are predominantly Shafi’i Sunnis.
A significant syncretic Shia minority is present in Nigeria, centered around the state of Kaduna (see Shia in Nigeria). East Africa holds several populations of Ismaili Shia, primarily descendants of immigrants from South Asia during the colonial period, such as the [Khoja].
According to Shia Muslims community, one of the lingering problems in estimating Shia population is that unless Shia form a significant minority in a Muslim country, the entire population is often listed as Sunni. The reverse, however, has not held true, which may contribute to imprecise estimates of the size of each sect. For example, the 1926 rise of the House of Saud in Arabia brought official discrimination against Shia. Similarly, after the forced conversion of Sunnis to Shias during the Safavids’ rule, anti-Sunni sentiments and persecution have remained in Iran where they are often not allowed to pray or build mosques.
Schools of Shia jurisprudence
Shia Islam is divided into three branches. The largest and best known are the Twelver (اثنا عشرية iṯnāʿašariyya), named after their adherence to the Twelve Imams. They form a majority of the population in Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain and Iraq. Other smaller branches include the Ismaili and Zaidi, who dispute the Twelver lineage of Imams and beliefs.
The Twelver Shia faith is predominantly found in Iran (90%), Azerbaijan (85%), Bahrain (70%), Iraq (65%), Lebanon (40%), Kuwait (25%), Albania (20%), Pakistan (25%), Afghanistan (20%).
The Zaidi dispute the succession of the fifth Twelver Imam, Muhammad al-Baqir, because he did not stage a revolution against the corrupt government, unlike Zaid ibn Ali. They do not believe in a normal lineage, but rather that any descendant of Hasan ibn Ali or Husayn ibn Ali who stages a revolution against a corrupt government is an imam. The Zaidi are mainly found in Yemen.
The Ismaili dispute the succession of the seventh Twelver Imam, Musa al-Kadhim, believing his older brother Isma’il ibn Jafar actually succeeded their father Ja’far al-Sadiq, and did not predecease him like Twelver Shia believe. Ismaili form small communities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, India, Syria, United Kingdom, Canada, Uganda, Portugal, Yemen, China, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia and have several sub-branches.
Twelvers believe in twelve Imams. The twelfth Imam is believed to be in occultation, and will appear again just before the Qiyamah (Islamic view of the Last Judgment). The Shia hadiths include the sayings of the Imams. Many Sunni Muslims criticise the Shia for certain beliefs and practices, including practices such as the Mourning of Muharram (Mätam). They are the largest Shia school of thought (93%), predominant in Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain and have a significant population in Pakistan,India,Afghanistan Kuwait and the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia. The Twelver Shia are followers of either the Jaf’ari or Batiniyyah madh’habs.
Followers of the Jaf’ari madh’hab are divided into the following sub-divisions, although these are not considered different sects:
• Usulism – The Usuli form the overwhelming majority within the Twelver Shia denomination. They follow a Marja-i Taqlid on the subject of taqlid and fiqh. They are concentrated in Iran, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, India, Iraq, and Lebanon.
• Akhbarism – Akhbari, similar to Usulis, however reject ijtihad in favor of hadith. Concentrated in Bahrain.
• Shaykhism – Shaykhism is an Islamic religious movement founded by Shaykh Ahmad in the early 19th century Qajar dynasty, Iran, now retaining a minority following in Iran and Iraq. It began from a combination of Sufi and Shia and Akhbari doctrines. In the mid 19th-century many Shaykhis converted to the Bábí and Bahá’í religions, which regard Shaykh Ahmad highly.
On the other hand, the followers of the Batiniyyah madh’hab consist of Alevis and Nusayris, who developed their own fiqh system and do not pursue the Ja’fari jurisprudence.
‘Alawi – Alawites are also called Nusayris, Nusairis, Namiriya or Ansariyya. Their madh’hab is established by Ibn Nusayr, and their aqidah is developed by Al-Khaṣībī. They follow Cillī aqidah of “Maymūn ibn Abu’l-Qāsim Sulaiman ibn Ahmad ibn at-Tabarānī fiqh” of the ‘Alawis. Slightly over one million of them live in Syria and Lebanon.
Alevi – Alevis are sometimes categorized as part of Twelver Shia Islam, and sometimes as its own religious tradition, as it has markedly different philosophy, customs, and rituals. They have many Tasawwufī characteristics and express belief in the Qur’an and The Twelve Imams, but reject polygamy and accept religious traditions predating Islam, like Turkish shamanism. They are significant in East-Central Turkey. They are sometimes considered a Sufi sect, and have an untraditional form of religious leadership that is not scholarship oriented like other Sunni and Shia groups. They number around 24 million worldwide, of which 17 million are in Turkey, with the rest in the Balkans, Albania, Azerbaijan, Iran and Syria.
Anatolian Qizilbashism and Alevi Islamic School of Theology
In Turkey, Shia Muslim people belong to the Ja’fari jurisprudence Madhhab, which tracks back to the sixth Shia Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (also known as Imam Jafar-i Sadiq), are called as the Ja’faris, who belong to Twelver Shia. Although the Alevi Turks are considered a part of Twelver Shia Islam, their belief is different from the Ja’fari jurisprudence in conviction.
• “The Alevi-Turks” has a unique and perplex conviction tracing back to Kaysanites Shia and Khurramites which are considered as Ghulat Shia. According to Turkish scholar Abdülbaki Gölpinarli, the Qizilbash (“Red-Heads”) of the 16th century – a religious and political movement in Azerbaijan that helped to establish the Safavid dynasty – were “spiritual descendants of the Khurramites”.
• Among the members of the “Qizilbash-Tariqah” who are considered as a sub-sect of the Alevis, two figures firstly Abu Muslim Khorasani who assisted Abbasid Caliphate to beat Umayyad Caliphate, but later eliminated and murdered by Caliph Al-Mansur, and secondly Babak Khorramdin who incited a rebellion against the Abbasid Caliphate and consequently was killed by Caliph al-Mu’tasim are highly respected. This belief provides strong clues about their Kaysanites Shia and Khurramites origins. In addition, the “Safaviyya Tariqah” leader Ismail I is a highly regarded individual in the belief of “Alevi-Qizilbash-Tariqah” associating them with the Imamah (Shia Twelver doctrine) conviction of the “Twelver Shi’a Islam”.
• Their aqidah (theological conviction) is based upon a syncretic fiqh system called as “Batiniyya-Sufism” which incorporates some Qarmatian sentiments, originally introduced by “Abu’l-Khāttāb Muhammad ibn Abu Zaynab al-Asadī”, and later developed by “Maymun al-Qāddāh” and his son “ʿAbd Allāh ibn Maymun”, and “Mu’tazila” with a strong belief in The Twelve Imams.
• Not all of the members believe that the fasting in Ramadan is obligatory although some Alevi-Turks performs their fasting duties partially in Ramadan.
• Some beliefs of Shamanism still are common amongst the Qizilbash Alevi-Turkish people in villages.
• On the other hand, the members of Bektashi Order have a conviction of “Batiniyya Isma’ilism” and “Hurufism” with a strong belief in the The Twelve Imams.
• In conclusion, Qizilbash-Alevis are not a part of Ja’fari jurisprudence fiqh, even though they can be considered as members of different Tariqa of Shia Islam all looks like sub-classes of Twelver. Their conviction includes “Batiniyya-Hurufism” and “Sevener-Qarmatians-Ismailism” sentiments.
• They all may be considered as special groups not following the Ja’fari jurisprudence, like Alawites who are in the class of Ghulat Twelver Shia Islam, but a special Batiniyya belief somewhat similar to Isma’ilism in their conviction.
• In conclusion, Twelver branch of Shia Islam Muslim population of Turkey is composed of Mu’tazila aqidah of Ja’fari jurisprudence madhhab, Batiniyya-Sufism aqidah of Maymūn’al-Qāddāhī fiqh of the Alevīs, and Cillī aqidah of Maymūn ibn Abu’l-Qāsim Sulaiman ibn Ahmad ibn at-Tabarānī fiqh of the Alawites, who altogether constitutes nearly one third of the whole population of the country. (An estimate for the Turkish Alevi population varies between Seven and Eleven Millions. Over 85% of the population, on the other hand, overwhelmingly constitute Maturidi aqidah of the Hanafi fiqh and Ash’ari aqidah of the Shafi’i fiqh of the Sunni followers.)
Regular daily salat and fasting in the holy month of Ramadan are officially not accepted by all members of Alevism.
Furthermore, some of the sub-groups like Ishikists and Bektashis, who portrayed themselves as Alevis, neither comprehend the essence of the regular daily salat (prayers) and fasting in the holy month of Ramadan that is frequently accentuated at many times in Quran, nor admit that these principles constitute the ineluctable foundations of the Dīn of Islam as they had been laid down by Allah and they had been practised in an uninterruptible manner during the period of Prophet Muhammad.
Mustaali – The Mustaali group of Ismaili Muslims differ from the Nizāriyya in that they believe that the successor-Imām to the Fatimid caliph, al-Mustansir, was his younger son al-Mustaʻlī, who was made Caliph by the Fatimad Regent Al-Afdal Shahanshah. In contrast to the Nizaris, they accept the younger brother al-Mustaʻlī over Nizār as their Imam. The Bohras are an offshoot of the Taiyabi, which itself was an offshoot of the Mustaali. The Taiyabi, supporting another offshoot of the Mustaali, the Hafizi branch, split with the Mustaali Fatimid, who recognized Al-Amir as their last Imam. The split was due to the Taiyabi believing that At-Tayyib Abi l-Qasim was the next rightful Imam after Al-Amir. The Hafizi themselves however considered Al-Hafiz as the next rightful Imam after Al-Amir. The Bohras believe that their 21st Imam, Taiyab abi al-Qasim, went into seclusion and established the offices of the Da’i al-Mutlaq (الداعي المطلق), Ma’zoon (مأذون) and Mukasir (مكاسر). The Bohras are the only surviving branch of the Mustaali and themselves have split into the Dawoodi Bohra, Sulaimani Bohra, and Alavi Bohra.
• Dawoodi Bohra – The Dawoodi Bohras are a denomination of the Bohras. After offshooting from the Taiyabi the Bohras split into two, the Dawoodi Bohra and the Sulaimani Bohra, over who would be the correct dai of the community. Concentrated mainly in Pakistan and India.
• Sulaimani Bohra – The Sulaimani Bohra named after their 27th Da’i al-Mutlaq, Sulayman ibn Hassan, are a denomination of the Bohras. After offshooting from the Taiyabi the Bohras split into two, the Sulaimani Bohra and the Dawoodi Bohra, over who would be the correct dai of the community. Concentrated mainly in Yemen.
• Alavi Bohra – Split from the Dawoodi Bohra over who would be the correct dai of the community. The smallest branch of the Bohras.
• Hebtiahs Bohra – The Hebtiahs Bohra are a branch of Mustaali Ismaili Shia Islam that broke off from the mainstream Dawoodi Bohra after the death of the 39th Da’i al-Mutlaq in 1754.
Druze – The Druze are a small distinct traditional religion that developed in the 11th century. It began as an offshoot of the Ismaili sect of Islam, but is unique in its incorporation of Gnostic, neo-Platonic and other philosophies. Druze are considered heretical and non-Muslims by most other Muslims because they are believed to address prayers to the Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, the third Fatimid caliph of Egypt, whom they regard as “a manifestation of God in His unity.” The Druze believe that he had been hidden away by God and will return as the Mahdi on Judgement Day. Like Alawis, most Druze keep the tenets of their Faith secret, and very few details are known. They neither accept converts nor recognize conversion from their religion to another. They are located primarily in the Levant. Druze in different states can have radically different lifestyles. Some claim to be Muslim, some do not, though the Druze faith itself abides by Islamic principles.
Zaidiyyahs historically come from the followers of Zayd ibn Ali, the great-Grandson of ‘Ali b. Abi Talib. They follow any knowledgeable and upright descendant of al-Hasan and al-Husayn, and are less esoteric in focus than Twelvers and Ismailis. Zaidis are the most akin sect to Sunni Islam amongst the Shi’ite madh’habs. A great majority of them, more than Seven Million people who constitutes less than 1% of the World overall Muslim population, lives in Yemen.
Ghulāt movements in history
Muslim groups who either ascribe divine characteristics to some figures of Islamic history (usually a member of Prophet Muhammad’s family (Ahl al-Bayt)) or hold beliefs deemed deviant by mainstream Shi’i theology were called as Ghulāt.