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Shīʿī Islam

[This entry contains two subentries:

Historical Overview

The term Shīʿah literally means followers, party, group, associate, partisan, or supporters. Expressing these meanings, Shīʿah occurs a number of times in the Qurʿān (e.g., surahs 19:69, 28:15, and 37:83). Technically the term refers to those Muslims who derive their religious code and spiritual inspiration, after the Prophet, from Muḥammad's descendants, the ahl al-bayt (literally, people of the house). The focal point of Shiism is the source of religious guidance after the Prophet; although the Sunnīs accept it from the ṣaḥābah (companions) of the Prophet, the Shīʿah restrict it to the members of the ahl al-bayt. This pivotal point is based on two important factors, one sociocultural and the other drawn from the Qurʿānic concept of the exalted and virtuous nature of the prophetic families.

To understand the sociocultural factor we must keep in mind the nature and composition of the Muslim community at Medina under the leadership of the prophet Muḥammad. This community was homogeneous in neither its sociocultural background and traditions nor its political-social institutions. The formation of a religious community, the ummah, under a new religio-moral impulse, left substantially unchanged some of the deeply rooted tribal values and traditions. It was therefore natural that some of these tribal inclinations would be reflected in certain aspects of the new religious order.

The two main constituent groups of the ummah at the time of the Prophet's death at Medina in 632 c.e. were the Arabs of northern and central Arabia, of whom the Quraysh of Mecca was the dominant tribe, and the people of south Arabian origin, whose two major branches, the Aws and Khazraj, had settled at Medina. The Arabs of north and central Arabia developed along different lines from the southern Arabs of Yemen in character, way of life, profession, and sociopolitical and sociocultural institutions. More importantly, the two groups differed widely from each other in religious sensibility and feelings. Among the people of the south there was a clear predominance of religious ideas, whereas among the people of the north religious sentiments were not so strong.

This difference in religious sentiments was naturally reflected in patterns of tribal leadership. The chief or shaykh in the north had always been elected by seniority in age and ability in leadership. There might sometimes be some other considerations, such as nobility and lineal prestige, but these were of little importance in the north. The Arabs in the south, on the other hand, were accustomed to succession based on hereditary sanctity and divine rights. Also important was the nature and character of Islam in seventh-century Arabia. Islam has been both a religious discipline and a sociopolitical movement. Muḥammad, the messenger of God, was also the founder of the new polity in Medina. The Prophet thus left a political legacy as well as a religious heritage.

The manner of choosing a successor to the Prophet thus came to involve the vision of the leadership of the Muslim community, with different approaches to and varying degrees of emphasis on its political and religious aspects. The majority of Muḥammad's companions, with their northern Arabian background, believed the function of his successor was to safeguard the community's political character and propagate the message of Islam beyond Arabia. Others, fewer and primarily of southern Arabian origin, conceived the succession in terms of Muḥammad's spiritual authority. They believed that the divine guidance had to continue through his successors, who should combine in themselves the Prophet's religious as well as temporal functions. Such leaders were the imams, who inherited the mantle of the Prophet in providing the revealed guidance for the creation of the Islamic order.

Besides these sociocultural traditions, the Qurʿānic concept of the exalted position of the prophetic families played a significant role in defining the succession. The Qurʿān describes the prophets as particularly concerned with ensuring that the special favor of God bestowed on them for the guidance of people be maintained in their families and be inherited by their descendants. Thus, Abraham prays to God to continue his guidance and special favor in his (Abrahamʿs) descendants so that His divine purposes would continue to be fulfilled. The Qurʿān refers to prophetic progeny with four key terms: dhurrīyah (direct descendant), āl (offspring; house, dynasty), ahl (family, progeny), and qurbā (relation, nearest of kin). When these words are used with reference to the Prophet, the commentators of the Qurʿān have interpreted them as meaning Muḥammad's nearest of kin: his cousin and son-in-law ʿAlī, his daughter Fāṭimah, and their sons Ḥasan and Ḥusayn. The Shīʿah also extend the status of ahl al-bayt to the descendants of Ḥasan and Ḥusayn.

Rashidun Period.

Taking into account these factors, the origin of the Shīʿah movement can be traced to the Medinan period of the Prophet's life. Some prominent Companions saw the Prophet's cousin ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib as his waṣī (legatee) and the imam to lead the community after him. Soon after the death of the prophet, at the beginning of the Rāshidūn period (632–661), this special regard for ʿAlī found expression when he was denied the leadership of the community. The early supporters of ʿAlī constituted the first nucleus of the Shīʿah.

However, after the initial defeat of ʿAlī's supporters and his own recognition of Abū Bakr's administration six months later, Shīʿah tendencies lost most of their open and active manifestations. This lasted through the caliphates of Abū Bakr and his successor, ʿUmar (r. 632–644). After the death of ʿUmar, Shīʿah feelings once again found expression in the protest made by ʿAlī's supporters when ʿUthmān was declared the third caliph. The office was first offered to ʿAlī on the condition that he follow the precedents established by the first two caliphs; ʿAlī refused this condition, and ʿUthmān accepted it. If ideological differences between the Shīʿah and Sunnīs date back to the election of Abū Bakr, the differences in legal matters, at least theoretically, must be dated from ʿAlī's refusal to follow the precedents of the first two caliphs. This refusal was thus a cornerstone in the development of Shīʿī legal thought, which would come to include a variety of forms (including Ithnā ʿAsharī [or Twelver], Ismāʿīlī, and Zaydī), although it took some time for the Sunnī and Shīʿī legal systems to become clearly distinguishable.

Socioeconomic issues also played a part in the development of Shīʿī Islam. Unlike the first two caliphs, ʿUthmān belonged to the powerful clan of the Umayyads which, in his accession, found an opportunity to regain its former political importance. Within a few years of ʿUthmān's accession, the Umayyads claimed all the positions of power and advantage and appropriated to themselves the immense wealth of the empire at the expense of the masses. The resulting social and economic disequilibrium aroused the resentment of various sectors of the population. The discontent exploded into revolt, and the caliph was killed in 656. Populist opposition to the Umayyad aristocracy thus became involved with support for ʿAlī, who accepted the caliphate, reportedly with great reluctance. ʿAlī's accession was, however, strongly resisted by the Umayyads, represented by Muʿāwiyah and some of the Companions who sought the position for themselves. This resulted in the first civil wars in Islam and ultimately led to ʿAlī's assassination in 661.

The sixteen-year period beginning with the caliphate of ʿUthmān and ending with the assassination of ʿAlī differed markedly from the preceding period in the development of Shiism in a number of ways: it encouraged the Shīʿī tendencies to become more conspicuous, active, and sometimes violent, and a number of political, geographical, and economic considerations coalesced around the Shīʿī identity, broadening its sphere of activity. The emergence of political Shiism at this stage is thus characterized both by the increase in its influence and numbers and by its sudden and rapid growth thereafter.

Umayyad and ʿAbbāsid Periods.

The ʿAbbāsid era (750–945) witnessed consolidation of the Shīʿī identity. During the first twenty years of Umayyad rule under Muʿāwiyah, Ḥasan, the elder son of ʿAlī who was acclaimed caliph by the majority of the Muslims, was forced to abdicate. Some of the ardent supporters of the Shīʿī cause were executed, cursing ʿAlī from pulpits all over the empire was proclaimed by the governors to be an official duty, and the Shīʿah were oppressed and terrorized. But the single event that crystallized the nature of official Shiism was the martyrdom of Ḥusayn in 681 at Karbala. Ḥusayn, the only surviving grandson of the Prophet and the focus of Shīʿī aspirations, along with eighteen male members of his family and many companions, was brutally killed, and the women and children of his caravan were made captives to be humiliated in the markets and courts of Kufa and Damascus.

The tragedy of Karbala became the most effective agent in the propagation of Shiism. It gave to Shīʿī Islam its ethos of passion, in expressing the love (walāyah) for ahl al-bayt and a willingness to suffer persecution for the sake of justice and piety. Within a year, the tragedy gave rise to a movement known as Tawwābūn (Penitents), three thousand of whom sacrificed their lives fighting the overwhelming force of the Umayyads in repentance for their inability to help Husayn in his hour of trial. This passionate act of self-sacrifice took place without a leader from among the ahl al-bayt and thus marks the emergence of Shiism as an independent and self-sustaining movement.

The death of Ḥusayn and the quiescent attitude of his only surviving son, ʿAlī Zayn al-ʿĀbidīn, however, marked the first conflict over the leadership of the followers of the ahl al-bayt and their division into various groups. The Shīʿah in Kufa, especially the mawālī (the non-Arabs and the downtrodden masses) wanted an active movement which could relieve them from the oppressive rule of the Umayyads. Mukhtār ibn Abī ʿUbaydah al-Thaqafī, a Shīʿah activist, began to promote ʿAlī's third son, Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥanafīyah, born of a Ḥanafī woman, as the Mahdī, who would save the people from oppression. This is the first recorded reference to the Mahdī. The Shīʿah saw a ray of hope in the messianic role advocated by Mukhtār for Ibn al-Ḥanafīyah, and they followed him as their Imam-Mahdī, abandoning Zayn al-ʿĀbidīn. Mukhtār's uprising was put down in 686, and Mukhtār himself was killed, but the propaganda on behalf of Ibn al-Ḥanafīyah continued, and when he died in 700 a group of his followers, known as Kaysanīyah, believed that he had not died but had gone into “occultation” or been “hidden” and would return. The idea of the Mahdī, often equated with the Imam, and the concepts of ghaybah (occultation) and rajʿah (return) thus became integral to Shīʿī thought.

After Mukhtār's uprising, the first ʿAlid of the Ḥusaynid line who rose against the Umayyads was Zayd, the second son of Zayn al-ʿĀbidīn. Zayd and his followers wanted no quiescent or Hidden Imam, like al-Bāqir and Ibn al-Ḥanafīyah. In their eyes, the imam, although he had to be a descendant of ʿAlī and Fāṭimah, could not claim allegiance unless he asserted his imamate publicly and, if necessary, fought for it. Zayd's activist policy toward the imāmate and his adoption of the rationalist Muʿtazilah theological doctrines secured him Shīʿī support, and his acceptance of the legitimacy of the first two caliphs gained him the full sympathy of traditionalist circles. Zayd's revolt, however, was unsuccessful. He and many of his followers were killed in 740, and his son Yahyā, who continued his father's activities for three years, met the same fate in 743.

After the collapse of Zayd's revolt, the only serious Shīʿī uprising to take place during the Umayyad period was that of the ʿAbbāsids, which began as a manifestation of the Shīʿī cause. The agents of the ʿAbbāsids called the people to rise in the name of an imam to be chosen from among the ahl al-bayt. To the extremists of the Kaysanīyah—the followers of Ibn al-Ḥanafīyah and his son Abū Hashīm—the activists of the Zaydīyah, and the other groups of the Shīʿah, this implied an ʿAlid, so they supported the ʿAbbāsids wholeheartedly. The ʿAbbāsids thus succeeded in overthrowing the Umayyad regime. Once in power, they realized that the Shīʿah would not accept them as legitimate rulers, so they turned to the ahl al-ḥadīth (people of the ḥadīth, i.e., Sunnīs) for their religious support and began to persecute the Shīʿah. The series of Zaydī revolts, particularly among ʿAlids of the Ḥasanid line, which had begun toward the end of the Umayyad era, continued into the ʿAbbāsid period. Muḥammad al-Nafs al-Zakīyah, a great-grandson of Ḥasan who had long coveted the role of Mahdī for himself, rose against the ʿAbbāsids, but he and his brother Ibrāhīm were defeated and killed in 762. Some of al-Nafs al-Zakīyah's followers believed that he was not dead but had gone into occultation and would return.

During the formative phase of Shiism, three major trends of thought—activism, extremism, and legitimism—dominated the Shīʿī perception of the imamate. For the early period, however, it is difficult to identify well-organized groups representing each of these trends, as there was considerable overlap among their beliefs. Activists like the Kaysanīyah, for example, sometimes adopted extremist ideas. The extremists, known as ghulāt (exaggerators) because of their ascription of divinity to the Imams, often resorted to activist methods. But the ghulāt, who were identified as Shīʿah by Sunnī scholars of heresy, remained a minority that was rejected by the main body of the Shīʿah condemned by their Imams. In the course of history, however, extremists and other small branches died out or were merged into the three main branches which have survived into the twenty-first century.

The Zaydīyah, followers of Zayd ibn ʿAlī ibn al-Ḥusayn, are mainly in Yemen with smaller numbers in Iraq and parts of Africa. They represent the activist groups of the early Shīʿah, as Zayd believed that the Imam ought to be a ruler of the state and therefore must fight for his rights.

The Ismāʿīlīyah, named after Ismāʿīl, the eldest son of Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq, who predeceased his father, declared Ismāʿīl's son Muḥammad to be their seventh Imam, instead of following Jaʿfar's second son, Mūsā al-Kāẓim. The Ismāʿīlīyah are also known as the Bāṭinīyah (the internal), that is, those who maintained the central role of the esoteric aspects of Islamic revelation in their religious system. Ismāʿīlīs occasionally rose to great political and religious prominence, and they founded the Fāṭimid Empire (909–1171).

The majority of the Shīʿah belong to the Twelvers, the Ithnā ʿAsharīyah, whose theological position is regarded as moderate. They represent the legitimist or central body of the Shīʿah who believe in twelve Imams beginning with ʿAlī, followed by his two sons, Ḥasan and Ḥusayn, as the second and the third Imams, respectively. After Ḥusayn, according to Twelver Shīʿah, the imamate remained with his descendants until it reached the twelfth Imam, Muḥammad al-Mahdī, who went into occultation to return at the end of time as the messianic Imam to restore justice and equity on earth.

The consolidation of the Ithnā ʿAsharī position was accomplished by Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq, the sixth Imam of the quiescent Ḥusaynid branch, who expounded his theory of the imamate based on naṣ, the explicit designation of his successor by the previous Imam, and the special knowledge of religion passed down in the family from generation to generation. With the efforts of Jaʿfar, the quiescent line of the Ḥusaynid Imams regained the prominence it had lost after the death of Ḥusayn. Jaʿfar was surrounded by traditionalists who played an important role in establishing the Shīʿī legal and theological system. By the time of Jaʿfar's death in 765, the Shīʿah (later to become the Twelvers) were fully equipped in all branches of religion and had acquired a distinctive character. The remaining six Imams of the Twelvers’ line living under the ʿAbbāsids in varying circumstances further strengthened Imami Shiism until the twelfth Imam, Muḥammad al-Mahdī, went into occultation.

Būyid Period.

The Būyids (945–1055) accorded the Shīʿah the most favorable conditions for elaboration and standardization of their tenets. In this period compilation of the major collections of Shīʿah ḥadīth and formulation of Shīʿah law took place. This elaboration began with Muḥammad ibn Yaʿqūb al-Kulaynī (d. 490), author of the monumental Uṣūl al-kāfī (the sufficient fundamentals), who was followed by such figures as Ibn Bābūyah, also called Shaykh al-Ṣadūq (d. 991), Shaykh al-Mufīd (d. 1022), and Shaykh al-Ṭāʿifah, or Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Ṭūsī (d. 1067), by whom the principal doctrinal works of Shīʿī theology and religious sciences were finally established. This was also the period of other renowned Shīʿī scholars, such as al-Sharīf al-Rāḍī (d. 1015)—who compiled the sermons and sayings of ʿAlī—and his brother, Murtaḍā ʿAlam al-Hudā (d. 1044).

These intellectual activities continued after the fall of the Būyids through such Shīʿī scholars as Faḍl al-Ṭabarsī (d. 1153), known for his monumental Qurʿānic commentary; Raḍī al-Dīn ʿAlī ibn al-Ta’us (d. 1266), theologian and gnostic; Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī (d. 1273); ʿAllāmah Ḥillī (d. 1326); and Ḥaydar al-Āmulī (d. after 1385), who established a new system of rational theology.

It was also in the Būyid period that two popular Shīʿī commemorations were instituted in Baghdad: ʿAshūrāʿ, marking the martyrdom of Imam Ḥusayn on the tenth of the month Muḥarram, which was observed with great religious fervor and zeal; and the Festival of Ghadīr, commemorating the Prophet's nomination of ʿAlī as his successor at Ghadīr al-Khumm. It was also during this period that public mourning ceremonies for Ḥusayn were initiated, shrines were built for the Imams, and the custom of pilgrimage to these shrines was more popularly established.

By the end of the Būyid era Shiism's basic beliefs had been completely formulated, leaving to the future only elaborations, interpretations, rationalizations, and certain adaptations and additions. Among the scholars who have enriched Shīʿī literature over the past eight hundred years—especially in philosophy, theology, and law during the Mongol, Ṣafavid, and Qājār periods—were such great figures of the Ṣafavid period as Mīr Dāmād (d. 1631) and Mullā Ṣadrā (d. 1640), masters of metaphysics with whom Islamic philosophy reached a new peak; Bahā’ al-Dīn al-ʿĀmilī, theologian and mathematician; and the two Majlisīs, the second, Muḥammad Bāqir, being the author of the largest compendium of the Shīʿī sciences, the Biḥār al-anwār (Oceans of Light).

Although Ithnā ʿAsharī Shiism attained its final position under the Būyids who ruled over Baghdad and Iran, the Ismāʿīlīyah and the Zaydīyah also consolidated their doctrinal positions at roughly the same time. The Ismāʿīlīs controlled Egypt, southern Syria, much of North Africa, and the Hejaz, and the Zaydīs established their rule in northern Iran and Yemen. This political supremacy provided the Ismāʿīlīyah and the Zaydīyah with opportunities to elaborate and standardize their doctrinal positions. By the end of the tenth century, all three branches of Shiism were thus firmly enough established to withstand the vicissitudes of history and the stresses of the sectarian role into which they were pushed by the Sunnī majority.



  • Classic histories such as Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī's Tārīkh al-rusul wa-al-mulūk (History of the Prophets and the Kings) (2d ed., 10 vols., Cairo, 1979; translated into English as The History of al-Ṭabarī, Albany: State University of New York, 1985–), Aḥmad ibn Abī Yaʿqūb Yaʿqūbī's Tārīkh al-Yaʿqūbī (Yaʿqūbī's History) (2 vols., Beirut, 1980), and Abū Ḥanīfah Aḥmad ibn Dawūd Dīnawārī's Al-akhbār al-tiwāl (The General History), edited by ʿAbd al-Munʿim Amir (Cairo, 1960) give historical accounts of the political events and religious thought of the first three centuries of Islam.
  • Some Shīʿī and Sunnī works on heresies are Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī ibn Ismāʿīl al-Ashʿarī's Maqālāt al-Islāmīyin wa-ikhtilāf al-musallin (Islamic Treatises and Controversies of the Worshippers), edited by Muḥammad Muḥyīʿ al-Dīn ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd (2d rev. ed., Cairo, 1969), Abū Fatḥ al-Shahrastānī's Al-milal wa-al-nihal (Sects and Creeds), edited by Muḥammad Sayyid Kīlānī (2 vols., Beirut, 1982), and al-Ḥasan ibn Mūsā Nawbakhti's Firaq al-Shīʿah (Shīʿī Sects; 2d ed., Beirut, 1984); the first two give the Sunnī account and the third the Shīʿah view of various Shīʿī sects which emerged in the first two centuries of Islam.
  • Theological and creedal works of the Shīʿah include Shaykh Ṣadūq ibn Bābūyah al-Qummī's Risālāt al-iʿtiqād (Treatises on the Creed, translated by A. A. A. Fyzee as A Shiʿite Creed, London, 1942), Ḥasan ibn Yūsuf al-Ḥillī's Al-Bāb al-Ḥādī ʿAshar (The Eleventh Chapter, translated by W. M. Miller as A Treatise on the Principles of Shīʿ Theology, London, 1928), and Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ṭabāṭabāʿī's Shīʿah dār Islām (edited and translated by Seyyed Hossein Nasr as Shiʿite Islam, Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1975); the first two provide the most authentic Shīʿī creed by scholars of the tenth century and the last a philosophical exposition by a modern scholar.
  • Several modern studies include Syed Husain M. Jafri'sOrigins and Early Development of Shiʿah Islam (London: Longman, 1979), which examines the development of Shīʿī thought in historical perspective until the time of Imam Jaʿfar; and Moojan Momen's An Introduction to Shiʿi Islam: The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shiʿism (New Haven, Conn. Yale University Press, 1987), which mainly gives political and dynastic history up to modern times.
  • After the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and the 2003 Iraq War that freed that country's Shīʿī clergy from Baʿth regime constraints, several useful books were published on the mobilization of Persian and Arab Shīʿah, among them Robert Gleave, Inevitable Doubt: Two Theories of Shīʿī Jurisprudence (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2000); Kafkzli Seyyed Javad Miri Meynagh, Unknown: An Imami Shia's Quest for Enlightening Salvation in the Age of Major Occultation (New York: Xlibris, 2003); Raza Ali Hasan, Grieving Shias (Riverdale-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Sheep Meadow Press, 2006); Yitzhak Nakash, Reaching for Power: The Shiʿa in the Modern Arab World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006); Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future (New York: Norton, 2007); and Jaʿfar Sobhani and Reza Shah-Kazemi, Doctrines of Shiʿi Islam (Qom, Iran: Imam Sadeq Institute, 2003).

Syed Husain M. Jafri

Updated by Joseph A. Kéchichian

Modern ShĪʿĪ Thought

The intellectual dimension of Shiism has a long and varied history that includes political, juridical, theological, philosophical, and mystical traditions. However, it is only the political dimension of Shiism that has significantly responded to the issues and problems posed by modernity. In addressing the political dimension of modern Shīʿī thought, this article thus examines such points of contact and dialogue between Shiism and modernity that have been instrumental in placing it in its contemporary history.

Although the origins of modern Shīʿī political thought can be traced back to the sixteenth century and the rise of the Ṣafavid Empire, it was not until well into the nineteenth century that the major characteristics of a distinctly Shīʿī political imagination were noticed. The centrality of the first and the third Shīʿī Imams, ʿAlī and Ḥusayn, in resuscitating Shīʿī political sentiments are noteworthy. The figure of Ḥusayn in particular has been the subject of much imaginative recreation for specifically political purposes. The lives of other Shīʿī Imams have also been the subject of contemporary political renarration. The concept of “disappearance,” of the last Shīʿī Imam has proven equally conducive to repeated political uses. But the Ṣafavid establishment of Shiism as the official state ideology is a defining point in the long and arduous history of this small but significant branch of Islam.

The rapid and effective universalization of Shīʿīsm during the Ṣafavid period gave historical expression to the potentialities of the faith, creating what Weber called a world religion (Weber, 1920). The theological, juridical, philosophical, mystical, and literary imagination coalesced during the Ṣafavid period to rejuvenate earlier traits in the Shīʿī sacred imagination.

The whole categorical validity of modern Shīʿī political thought can be understood as the dialogical outcome of the encounter between Shīʿī political, therefore, juridical and philosophical, sensibilities and institutions, on the one hand, and the preeminence of such modern forces as rationalism, secularism, constitutional democracy, socialism, and nationalism, on the other.

Despite the political demise of Shīʿīsm after the fall of the Ṣafavids in the eighteenth century, its institutional dimensions had grown so large that it soon became reincarnated in the Qājār body-politic. In both political and doctrinal institutions, Shiism stretched its ideological domains over a vast and pervasive political culture.

As an ideology, Shiism was the most important aspect of Qājār political legitimacy. The Qājār monarchs took full advantage of Shiism in buttressing the ideological foundation of their reign. By the nineteenth century, the institution of the ʿulamāʿ had been established on solid social grounds. Rooted in both their juridical learning and popular support, the ʿulamāʿ solidly institutionalized their power of self-legitimation and had a major legitimizing authority in relation to the Qājār dynasty.

The doctrinal legitimacy of the authority of the ʿulamāʿ as the principal constitutional cornerstone of modern Shīʿī political thought was challenged by internal strife over the problematic of Akhbārīyah, a literalist movement that considerably limited the political power of the ʿulamāʿ, wich lasted until the Constitutional Revolution of 1906–1911 in Iran. Having doctrinally defeated Akhbārī literalism, the Uṣūlī hermeneutics, which put much interpretative power at the disposal of the ʿulamāʿ, became the doctrinal basis of ijtihād (reasoning) and its practitioners, the mujtahids. See AKHBāRīYAH; UṣūLīYAH.

Beyond its institutional bases in the formation of an Uṣūlī-oriented ʿulamāʿ, modern Shīʿī political thought emerged in conscious or tacit responses to historical events entirely outside the purview of Shīʿī political culture. The historically evolving political culture surrounding a nominal or practicing Shiism has been a multicultural and multifaceted phenomenon entirely irreducible to particular tenets of Shiism. The perception of the central drama of Shīʿī faith, the martyrdom of the third Imam, Ḥusayn, has moved from a revolutionary episode to a quietist act of piety only to emerge yet again as a radical event in the changing configuration of the Shīʿī collective imagination.

Having had its institutional bases consolidated in the self-conscious formations of the ʿulamāʿ, Shīʿī political thought entered the Qājār phase with its classical medieval baggage. In dialogue with Arabic, Persian, Greek, Indian, and other conceptions of legitimate authority, Shīʿī political thought continued in its traditional genre of royal advice to the Qājār princes, thus legitimizing both the princes and the ʿulamāʿ. One can detect a gradual increase in the power and authority of the ʿulamāʿ during the Qājār period. It is evident that the relation of power between the political and the religious establishment was a constant struggle of one-upsmanship.

The emerging power of the ʿulamāʿ in the Qājār period should not be considered a unilateral phenomenon without resistance and opposition from the political establishment. The political establishment was particularly resentful of the rising power of the ʿulamāʿ and put up a stiff resistance to it. There are also reports of severe punishments publicly executed against particularly disobedient ʿulamāʿ.

The institutional and ideological consolidation of the ʿulamāʿ during the nineteenth century, as well as their rising political power, were put to a crucial test during the so-called Tobacco Revolt of 1891–1892. But the greatest challenge to both the clerical and the monarchical authority, challenging the very foundation of their legitimate claim to authority appeared in the form of the most radical millenarian Shīʿī movement of the nineteenth century: the Bābī movement led by Sayyid ʿAlī Muḥammad Shīrāzī (1819–1850).

The ambivalence of the clerical class in regard to the Constitutional Revolution of 1906–1911 marks the conflicting impact of patently secular ideas on the modern turn of Shīʿī political thought. From the late eighteenth century onward there was a gradual rise of a patently secular political discourse that added momentum and change to the classical repertoire of the Arabic, Iranian, Indian, and Turkish political cultures. The construction of and encounter with the idea of “The West,” which was concomitant with the rise of European colonialism, added a new ingredient to these political cultures. In Iran proper, where Shīʿī political thought had its deepest and widest roots, the encounter with the colonial powers generated an efflorescence of secular ideas. The catastrophic results of the Russo-Iranian Wars of 1804–1824, the unanticipated consequences of the dispatch of Iranian students to Europe by ʿAbbās Mīrzā (1787–1833), the presence and rivalry of colonial officers from England and France, the introduction of the printing machine for mass publication, a massive translation movement from European literary and historical sources, publication of newspapers and journals, and, ultimately, the formation of a consciously nationalist political discourse in prose and poetry were among the chief institutional and ideological forces that precipitated the dawn of a new secular imagination in the Iranian political culture. Shīʿī men of learning were conscious of and concerned about the rising tide of secularism in the former Ottoman domains. The two leading religious leaders of Tehran, Ayatollahs Sayyid Muḥammad Ṭabāṭabāʿī (1841–1920) and Sayyid ʿAbd Allāh Bihbahānī (d. 1871), fully participated in the revolutionary mobilization launched toward the foundation of a constitutional monarchy.

A typical example of a staunchly anticonstitutional attitude is to be found in Shaykh Fazlullāh Nūrī (1843–1909), who gave full and powerful expression to an antimodern reading of juridical Shīʿīsm. Nūrī's opposition to constitutionalism was primarily on legal grounds, rejecting the postulation of a political law that, ipso facto, subverted the authority of Shīʿī law. Stripped of the community of its legal tradition, Nūrī thought, Shiism would dwindle into pale reminiscences of a benign religious culture. See NūRī, FAZLULLAH.

A contemporary of Nūrī, ʿAbd al-ʿAẓīm ʿImād al-ʿulamāʿ Khalkhālī, however, represents precisely the opposite view of a Shīʿī cleric fully in support of the constitutional government. In Khalkhālī's treatise one sees as much reference to and reliance on a modernist reading of the Shīʿī canonical sources as on abstract notions of reason and progress, thus giving full expression to the rising force of political modernism in Iran.

As constitutionalism became a key catalyst of Shīʿī political consciousness, leading religious authorities tried to reconcile between their understanding of what constitutionalism was and their selective remembrance of their received faith. Shaykh Mīrzā Muḥammad Ḥusayn Nāʿīnī (1860–1936) wrote his famous tract on constitutionalism under such circumstances. This tract reveals Nāʿīnī's deep concerns for the future of the political culture and institutions in Iran. Nāʿīnī was equally active in the 1920s uprising in Iraq, giving both ideological and political momentum to the rising revolutionary sensibilities of the reconstructed Shīʿīsm. See NāʿīNī, MUHAMMAD HUSAYN.

After the tumultuous period of the constitutional movement, the 1910s was a decade of relative political inaction for Shīʿī clerics. The occupation of northern Iran by the Russians did not engender much political concern for the clerics in this period.

In 1920, Iraqi Shīʿī authorities were instrumental in the popular uprising against British colonialism. Mīrzā Muḥammad Taqī Shīrāzī emerged as the leading clerical authority in Iraqi anticolonial struggles. He called for the establishment of “a theocratic government built upon one of the fundamental principles of the Shīʿah doctrine.” The Irāqī Shīʿah were much influenced by proconstitutional Shīʿī authorities in Iran and wished to emulate that system in Iraq.

Under British pressure, Shaykh Muḥammad Khāliṣī (d. 1963) went to Iran in 1922 and joined forces with Khāraqānī in an incipient war against the rising tide of secularism in which they found both a political and a moral danger. Khāraqānī and Khāliṣī, in fact, saw a link between the rise of secularism and British imperialism, which sought to undermine clerical authority. The secularizing agenda of Reza Shah and the antisecularization anger of the clerical establishment finally came to a head-on collision in the late 1920s, and Khāraqānī and Khāliṣī, among other clerical activists, were severely punished.

The 1930s and 1940s were decades of Shīʿī polemical responses to the rising power of secularism. Mīrzā Muḥammad Ḥusayn Nāʿīnī, Shaykh ʿAbd al-Karīm Ḥāʿirī Yazdī (d. 1937), Ḥājj āqā Ḥusayn Ṭabāṭabāʿī Qummī (d. 1947) were the leading Shīʿī jurists of these decades, chiefly responsible for elevating Qom to a position of prominence in juridical studies, on the same level as Najaf. The political agenda of the 1940s was chiefly characterized by the continued anger of the clerical establishment against the relentless unfolding of secularism. Khāliṣī tried to strike a balance between the radical traditionalists who denied women any social presence and status and the rising secularism in which women were actively unveiled and socially present. See ḤāʿīRī YAZDī, ABD AL-KARīM; AND BORUJERDI, MOHAMMAD HOSAYN.

The rising tide of modernity in the 1930s and 1940s, which in political terms ultimately led to the establishment of the Pahlavi state apparatus, also witnessed a contrapuntal mode of reform in Shīʿī political thought. Mīrzā Riẓā Qulī Sharīʿat Sangalajī (1890–1944) is the chief representative of a rather radical notion of modernity who tried to advance such subversive ideas as the total discarding of the institution of taqlīd, or “emulation of the exemplary conduct of the religious authorities.”

The 1950s also gave rise to a reemergence of nationalism in Iran, a movement chiefly identified with Mohammad Mossadegh, the champion of the Iranian nationalist resurgence. And it was to nationalism that Shīʿī political thought responded in the 1950s. ʿAlī Akbar Tashayyud was chiefly responsible for an active coordination of Shīʿī doctrines with the dominant themes of nationalism in the 1950s. Although Tashayyud tried to assimilate nationalism into Shīʿī political thought, Sayyid Maḥmūd Ṭāliqānī (Ṭāleqāni, 1910–1979) sought to give an active rereading of such key Shīʿī figures as Nāʿīnī and Khāraqānī by posing Shiism as an alternative to nationalism. See ṬāLEQāNI, MAHMūD.

The decade of the 1960s began with the death of Ayatollah Burūjirdī as the last principally apolitical jurist in the tradition of Shaykh ʿAbd al-Karīm Ḥāʿirī Yazdī's and Abū al-Ḥasan Iṣfahānī. Burūjirdī's passive condoning of Muhammad Reza Shah.

A major institutional development following the death of Burūjirdī was the emergence of Qurʿānic commentary schools, such as the one established by Ṭāliqānī in Tehran. Muslim student associations on many university campuses, Muslim professional associations of engineers, physicians, teachers, lawyers, and so forth were among the voluntary associations that began to emerge in the 1960s. These organizations provided the institutional bases for the propagation of modern Shīʿī political thought. But ultimately the establishment of the Ḥusaynīyah Irshād in 1965 in Tehran must be considered the most successful modern institution of radical Shīʿī thought.

The major event of the 1960s was Ayatollah Khomeini's first revolutionary uprising. Since the 1940s, Khomeini had been active in Qom, where he was busy pursuing his juridical studies under Hāʿirī Yazdī. Although such politically conscious and active clerics as Ṭāliqānī and Muṭahharī were busy debating Pahlavi legitimacy, Khomeini seized the moment by publicly calling for the ouster of the shah. The June 1963 uprising was severely crushed, and Khomeini was exiled first to Turkey and then to Iraq.

Khomeini's 1963 uprising put clerical reform on hold and gave added momentum to the continued validity of the institution of the ʿulamāʿ. At least two high-ranking members of the ʿulamāʿ, Ḥasan Farīd Gulpayganī and Shaykh ʿAlī Tihrānī, carried forward the theoretical implications of Khomeini's 1963 uprising and in the 1970s wrote treatises in which ideas of supreme collective clerical rule for the Shīʿī ʿulamāʿ were expounded. The result of Khomeini's radical politicization of the institution of the ʿulamāʿ is so drastic that one can indeed speak of “an ideological revolution in Shīʿīsm.”

The greatest and most effective challenge to the authority of the ʿulamāʿ as an institution, however, came from ʿAlī Sharīʿatī (1933–1977). In the 1960s and 1970s, Sharīʿatī singlehandedly reimagined a whole new, radically active spectrum for Islam. Sharīʿatī generated an unprecedented energy and enthusiasm among politically committed intellectuals with a religious bent. Educated in Mashhad and Paris, Sharīʿatī mastered an effective repertoire of rhetorical devices and then returned to his homeland, fully committed to transforming Shīʿīsm into a full-fledged political ideology. Sharīʿatī considered the institution of the clerical establishment as fundamentally outdated and compromised. Sharāʿatī wed the sacrosanct memories of Shiism to the most serious problems of his time: cultural colonialism, social injustice, political repression, and the worldwide domination of what he saw as “Western imperialism.” See SHARīʿATī, ALI.

By far, the most erudite, systematic, and relentless ideologue who carried the revolutionary potential of a repoliticized Shiism to its logical conclusion was Murtazā Muṭahharī (1920–1979). Muṭahharī disagreed with Sharīʿatī. Launching his revolutionary zeal from his solid place in the Shīʿī clerical establishment, Muṭahharī mobilized Shīʿī doctrines and institutions to argue against all other (Marxist–materialist and nationalist-liberal) revolutionary alternatives. He severely criticized the clerical establishment for its abandonment of politics. Also, he confronted all the vital issues of his time, preaching to and preparing a massive audience that ultimately joined him and other clerics in 1979 to topple the Pahlavi monarchy.

ʿAllāmah Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ṭabāṭabāʿī (1903–1981), a distinguished Shīʿī scholar, was equally concerned with the erosion of Islamic doctrines and ideas. He actively participated in his generation of high-ranking clerics’ concern with the rise of Marxism, historical materialism, secularism, and ultimately the future of the Shīʿī faith and its social and political contexts. See ṬABāṭABāʿī, MUHAMMAD HUSAYN.

Another major political thinker of this period, Sayyid Maḥmūd Ṭāliqānī, read an actively revolutionary message into the Islamic holy text. In and out of prison for his political activities over an extended period of time, Ṭāliqānī preached his radical, revolutionary reading of the Qurʿān, linking its sacrosanct message to the most immediate and compelling problems of his time. Ṭāliqānī felt equally compelled to battle Marxism, especially its economic theory. Ṭāliqānī's ideological and political leadership were instrumental in the formation of the Mujāhidīn-i Khalq organization, an urban guerrilla movement that paralyzed the Pahlavi regime, then joined the 1979 revolution but subsequently broke ranks with Ayatollah Khomeini's followers, See MUJāHIDīN, subentry on MUJāHIDīN-I KHALQ.

The economic aspect of “Islamic Ideology,” as the Shīʿī ideologues now actively identified their rallying cry, was more extensively elaborated by Sayyid Abol-Hasan Bani Sadr (Abū al-Ḥasan Banī Ṣadr, b. 1933). Long before he attained the distinction of becoming the first president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Bani Sadr actively participated in anti-Pahlavi movements and wrote extensively on the political economy of oil production in the Middle East in general and Iran in particular. Bani Sadr argued enthusiastically that the Pahlavi regime was plundering Iranian natural resources and selling them cheaply to the United States and Europe.

Mehdi Bāzargān (b. 1907), a quiet revolutionary became the link between revolutionary ideologues and their targeted audience. Long before he had the precarious distinction of becoming the first (transitional) prime minister after the fall of the Pahlavi regime in 1979, Bāzargān had been actively involved in the political mobilization of the professional classes. In 1961, Bāzargān, Ṭāliqānī, and a number of other Muslim activists established the Liberation Movement of Iran. See LIBERATION MOVEMENT OF IRAN and BāZARGāN, MEHDI.

By far the most rhetorically successful revolutionary Shīʿah was Ayatollah Khomeini (1902–1989), who ultimately engineered the downfall of the Persian monarchy. Khomeini watched with visceral contempt the shah's absolutist rule in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Khomeini's 1963 uprising against the shah was based on decades of resentful deliberation in religious and political terms. The increasing secularization of Pahlavi society and the American domination of Iranian political, social, economic, and cultural life were the principal points of contention that moved Khomeini to open revolt. The principal text that was produced in this period was Rule of the Jurist, in which Khomeini defined the principal doctrines of his Islamic government. The major thesis is quite simple: the Islamic government established by the prophet Muḥammad and (according to the Shīʿah) continued by the Imams was not meant to be a transitional government. In the absence of the Twelfth Imam, who is now in occultation, the world is plunging deeply into corruption and despair. The Shīʿah cannot know exactly when the Twelfth Imam is to appear. In the meantime, the responsiblities of leading Muslim nations cannot be entrusted to corrupt and tyrannical rulers like the shah, who simply aggravate the situation because they are deeply corrupt themselves. See WILāYAT AL-FAQīH and KHOMEINI, RUHOLLAH AL-MUSAVI.

As Khomeini's leadership of the Iranian Revolution was gaining momentum late in 1970, in Lebanon another Iranian cleric, Imam Mūsā al-Ṣadr, gave charismatic expression to the hopes and aspirations of the disenfranchised Shīʿī community in that wartorn country. Mūsā al-Ṣadr was instrumental in turning the Shīʿī minority of Lebanon into a major political force that not only the Sunnīs and Maronite Christians had to take seriously, but that the two occupying powers, the Syrians and the Israelis, had to contend with. In the summer of 1978, Mūsā al-Ṣadr disappeared while on a short visit to Libya (Ajami, 1986). See ṢADR, MūSā AL-.

The most prominent Shīʿī political theorist after the success of the Islamic Revolution is ʿAbd al-Karīm Surūsh, whose theory of “contraction and expansion of religious law” created much controversy in Iran. Surūsh read the ideas of such major ideologues of the Islamic Revolution as Murtaẓā Muṭahharī into a metanarrative of Islamic revolutionary revivalism. With the same stroke he tried to elevate the level of ideological debate in Iran beyond the incessant factionalism of the opposing parties that fought for the immediate fruits of their revolution. As the most philosophically engaged ideologue of the post–Islamic Revolution, Surūsh will undoubtedly emerge as the future systematizer of yet another master-dialogue of Shiism with its history.

Muhammad Khatami (b. 1943), a religious reformist and liberal Shīʿīt Iranian clerk, was elected as President of Iran in 1997 to 2006, defeating ʿAli Akbar Natiq Nuri who received the blessing of the religious establishment, including Iran's supreme guide, Ayatollah Khameneʿi. His election was considered by most world observers to be an extremely significant event in the modern history of Iran and its Islamic Revolution.

His campaign speeches promised the activation of civil society, freedom, and tolerance, and the development of democracy.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah (b. 1936) helped Imam Mūsā al-Sadr in establishing the Higher Islamic Supreme Shīʿīte Council in Lebanon but did not join it and did not appear in the Lebanese political scene until the Israeli invasion of 1982. After the arrival of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, he helped in establishing Hizbullah and became its spiritual leader—a claim he rejects. In reality, he laid down the ideological bases of the party by advocating and spreading the idea of the Islamic state and other important doctrines.

Fadlallah is pragmatic, progressive and radical in activist politics and he is anti-American and anti-Israeli and a supporter of the Palestinian cause. His is also radical in his modernist reformism of religious jurisprudence, Shīʿī doctrine and his rationalism in intellectual history and the reading of classical texts. He is the preeminent Islamic scholar in Lebanon and one of the Shīʿī world's premier jurist and one of the most foremost intellectuals in the Muslim world today.

The ideology of Hizbullah is also based on the attachment to the leadership of the religious scholars in Muslim society. The task of citing religious texts in Islam to prove that religion required Muslims to abide by the rulings and orders of their religious leaders is not difficult. The party restricts the interpretation of the sources of its ideology to a select few. The ʿulamāʿ of Islam are viewed as the best qualified to perform their duty of leading the umma towards Islam. Moreover, the leadership of the party, in accordance with Shiism, does not leave the interpretation of religious texts to the average Muslim. Every Shīʿah has to follow strictly the theological pronouncements of a religious authority.

Hasan Nasrallah (b. 1960) is one of the notable figures who exert weight and impose their presence on the Lebanese political scene as well the Araband Islamic worlds. Nasrallah states that Hizbullah is a national party, whose main objective is to fight against occupation and to establish relationships with other political sectors and civil groups, including Christians. He believes in Hizbullah's need to participate in the Lebanese political system and to refrain from violence. Under his leadership, Hizbullah has become represented officially in the parliament. Mostly, he justifies resistance against Israel as a way of national struggle and defense against Israel.

The events surrounding the 1978–1979 Islamic revolution emboldened Iraqi Shīʿah and led them to openly confront the Baʿth regime. But as the cleric Muhammad Bāqir al-Sadr acknowledged before his execution in 1980 that the socioeconomic and political conditions in Iraq were not ripe for an Islamic revolution. Moreover, the concept of the rule of the jurist, who commands absolute religious and political authority, as developed by Ayatollah Khomeini and implemented in Iran after 1979, did not gain ground among the large majority of Iraqi Shīʿah, including lay members of the Islamic Daʿwah.

In Iraq, development has been political and ideological rather than intellectual. Shīʿī Islamic forces participated in the political process with the blessing of Grand Ayatollah ʿAlī al-Sistānī after the U.S. invasion in 2003. There are four main trends among the religious establishment, including Hizb al-Daʿwāh al-Islamī and the Higher Islamic Council head by ʿAbd al-Azīz al-Hākīm after the death of his brother Muhammad Bāqir al-Hākīm in 2003 and Hizb al-Daʿwah-Tanzīm al-Iraq and a new group that formed Hizb al-Fadila.

Led by higher level of the religious establishment in Najaf, Karbala, and Samiraʿ, the first trend's symbols are Ayatollahs ʿAlī Sistānī and Muhammad Ishāq Fayad. This trend seeks to restore the religious authority of the old establishment.

The Hākim family, which is allied with Iran, is its opponents and constitutes the second trend. The Higher Council of Islamic Revolution is allied with both the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States along with a tense relation with the highest Shīʿī authority. It has an army, Badr Brigade, that undertook training in Iran, which is the main Shīʿī military power.

The third trend is headed by Muqtada al-Sadr who tried, by controlling Najaf, to extend his influence, with some support from Hizb al-Daʿwah, to other cities. The guiding spirit for the Sadrists is the memory of Muhammad Sadiq Sadr, a Shīʿī leader who was assassinated by the regime in 1999. The Sadrist trend has initially opposed the political process under occupation and set up its own militia, Jaysh al-Mahdī in 2003 but later joined the parliament. It calls for the end of occupation.

The fourth trend is Hizb al-Daʿwah and its different factions. Hizb al-Daʿwah, founded in 1957 and the oldest of the Shīʿī Islamic organization, has suffered since the assassination of its founder Muhammad Bāqir al-Sadr, has factions that supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq, while others opposed it.

Ibrahim al-Jaʿfari, Hizb al-Daʿwah leader did not call for the establishment of an Islamic state but called for the creation of a political system that is inclusive of all political and social forces. Two of its members, Ibrahim al-Jaʿfari and Nori al-Maliki, became prime ministers.



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