The Benefit which the Shi"ah Derived from the Caliphate of Ali
During the four years and nine months of his caliphate, Ali was not able to eliminate the disturbed conditions which were prevailing throughout the Islamic world, but he was successful in three fundamental ways:
1. As a result of his just and upright manner of living he revealed once again the beauty and attractiveness of the way of life of the Holy Prophet, especially to the younger generation. In contrast to the imperial grandeur of Mu"awiyah, he lived in simplicity and poverty like the poorest of people. He never favored his friends or relatives and family above others, nor did he ever prefer wealth to poverty or brute force to weakness.
2. Despite the cumbersome and strenuous difficulties which absorbed his time, he left behind among the Islamic community a valuable treasury of the truly divine sciences and Islamic intellectual disciplines. Nearly eleven thousand of his proverbs and short sayings on different intellectual, religious and social subjects have been recorded. In his talks and speeches he expounded the most sublime Islamic sciences in a most elegant and flowing manner. He established Arabic grammar and laid the basis for Arabic literature.
He was the first in Islam to delve directly into the questions of metaphysics (falsafah-i ilahi) in a manner combining intellectual rigor and logical demonstration. He discussed problems which had never appeared before in the same way among the metaphysicians of the world. Moreover, he was so devoted to metaphysics and gnosis that even in the heat of battle he would carry out intellectual discourse and discuss metaphysical questions.
3. He trained a large number of religious scholars and Islamic savants, among whom are found a number of ascetics and gnostics who were the forefathers of the Sufis, such men as Uways al-Qarani, Kumayl al-Nakha"i, Maytham al-Tammar and Roshaid al-Hajari. These men have been recognized by the later Sufis as the founders of gnosis in Islam. Others among his disciples became the first teachers of jurisprudence, theology, Quranic commentary and recitation.
The Transfer of the Caliphate to Mu"awiyah and Its Transformation into a Hereditary Monarchy
After the death of Ali, his son, Hasan ibn Ali, who is recognized by the Shi"ah as their second Imam, became caliph. This designation occurred in accordance with Ali"s last will and testament and also by the allegiance of the community to Hasan. But Mu"awiyah did not remain quiet before this event. He marched with his army toward Iraq, which was then the capital of the caliphate , and began to wage war against Hasan.
Through different intrigues and the payment of great sums of money, Mu"awiyah was able gradually to corrupt the aides and generals of Hasan. Finally he was able to force Hasan to hand the caliphate over to him so as to avoid bloodshed and to make peace. Hasan handed the caliphate to Mu"awiyah on the condition that the caliphate would be returned to him after the death of Mu"awiyah and that no harm would come to his partisans.
In the year 40/661 Mu"awiyah finally gained control of the caliphate. He then set out immediately for Iraq and in a speech to the people of that land said: "I did not fight against you for the sake of the prayers or of fasting. These acts you can perform yourself. What I wanted to accomplish was to rule over you and this end I have achieved." He also said, "The agreement I made with Hasan is null and void. It lies trampled under my feet." With this declaration Mu"awiyah made known to the people the real character of his government and revealed the nature of the program he had in mind.
He indicated in his declaration that he would separate religion from politics and would not give any guarantees concerning religious duties and regulations. He would spend all his force to preserve and to keep alive his own power, whatever might be the cost. Obviously a government of such a nature is more of a sultanate and a monarchy than a caliphate and vicegerency of the Prophet of God in its traditional Islamic sense. That is why some who were admitted to his court addressed him as "king." He himself in some private gatherings interpreted his government as a monarchy, while in public he always introduced himself as the caliph.
Naturally any monarchy that is based on force carries with it inherently the principle of inheritance. Mu"awiyah, too, finally realized this fact, and chose his son, Yazid, who was a heedless young man without the least religious personality, as the "crown prince" and his successor. This act was to be the cause of many regrettable events in the future. Mu"awiyah had previously indicated that he would refuse to permit Hasan ibn Ali to succeed him as caliph and that he had other thoughts in mind. Therefore he had caused Hasan to be killed by poisoning, thus preparing the way for his son, Yazid.
In breaking his agreement with Hasan, Mu"awiyah made it clear that he would never permit the Shi"ah of the Household of the Prophet to live in a peaceful and secure environment and continue their activity as before, and he carried into action this very intention. It has been said that he went so far as to declare that whoever would transmit a hadith in praise of the virtues of the Household of the Prophet would have no immunity or protection concerning his life, merchandise and property. At the same time he ordered that whoever could recite a hadith in praise of the other companions or caliphs would be given sufficient reward. As a result a noticeable number of hadiths were recorded at this time praising the companions, some of which are of doubtful authenticity. He ordered pejorative comments to be made about Ali from the pulpits of mosques throughout the lands of Islam, while he himself sought to revile Ali. This command continued to be more or less in effect until the caliphate of Umar ibn "Abd al-"Aziz, when it was discontinued. With the help of his agents and lieutenants, Mu"awiyah caused elite and the most outstanding among the partisans of Ali to be put to death and the heads of some of them to be carried on lances throughout different cities. The majority of Shi"ites were forced to disown and even curse Ali and to express their disdain for him. If they refused, they were put to death.
The Bleakest Days of Shi"ism
The most difficult period for Shi"ism was the twenty-year rule of Mu"awiyah, during which the Shi"ites had no protection and most of them were considered as marked characters, under suspicion and hunted down by the state. Two of the leaders of Shi"ism who lived at this time, Imams Hasan and Husayn, did not possess any means whatsoever to change the negative and oppressive circumstances in which they lived. Husayn, the third Imam of Shi"ism, had no possibility of freeing the Shi"ites from persecution in the ten years he was Imam during Mu"awiyah"s caliphate, and when he rebelled during the caliphate of Yazid he was massacred along with all his aides and children.
Certain people in the Sunni world explain as pardonable the arbitrary, unjust and irresponsible actions carried out at this time by Mu"awiyah and his aides and lieutenants, some of whom were like Mu"awiyah himself, among the companions. This group reasons that according to certain hadiths of the Holy Prophet all the companions could practice ijtihad, that they were excused by God for the sins they committed, and that God was satisfied with them and forgave them whatever wrong they might have performed. The Shi"ites, however, do not accept this argument for two reasons:
1. It is not conceivable that a leader of human society like the Prophet should rise in order to revivify truth, justice and freedom and to persuade a group of people to accept his beliefs - a group all of whose members had sacrificed their very existence in order to accomplish this sacred end - and then as soon as this end is accomplished give his aides and companions complete freedom to do with these sacred laws as they will. It is not possible to believe that the Holy Prophet would have forgiven the companions for whatever wrong action they might have performed. Such indifference to the type of action performed by them would have only destroyed the structure which the Holy Prophet had built with the same means that he had used to construct it.
2. Those sayings which depict the companions as inviolable and pardoned in advance for every act they might perform, even one unlawful or inadmissible, are most likely apocryphal ; the authenticity of many of them has not been fully established by traditional methods. Moreover, it is known historically that the companions did not deal with one another as if they were inviolable and pardoned for all their sins and wrongdoings. Therefore, even judging by the way the companions acted and dealt with each other, it can be concluded that such sayings cannot be literally true in the way some have understood them. If they do contain an aspect of the truth it is in indicating the legal inviolability of the companions and the sanctification which they enjoyed generally as a group because of their proximity to the Holy Prophet. The expression of God"s satisfaction with the companions in the Holy Quran, because of the services they had rendered in obeying His Command, refers to their past actions, and to God"s satisfaction with them in the past, not to whatever action each one of them might perform in the future.
The Establishment of Umayyad Rule
In the year 60/680 Mu"awiyah died and his son Yazid became caliph, as the result of the allegiance which his father had obtained for him from the powerful political and military leaders of the community. From the testimony of historical documents it can be seen clearly that Yazid had no religious character at all and that even during the lifetime of his father he was oblivious to the principles and regulations of Islam. At that time his only interest was debauchery and frivolity. During his three years of caliphate he was the cause of calamities that had no precedent in the history of Islam, despite all the strife that had occurred before him.
During the first year of Yazid"s rule Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Holy Prophet, was massacred in the most atrocious manner along with his children, relatives, and friends. Yazid even had some of the women and children of the Household of the Prophet killed and their heads displayed in different cities. During the second year of his rule, he ordered a general massacre of Medina and for three days gave his soldiers freedom to kill, loot, and take the women of the city. During the third year he had the sacred Ka"bah destroyed and burned.
Following Yazid, the family of Marwan gained possession of the caliphate, according to details that are recorded in the history books. The rule of this eleven-member group, which lasted for nearly seventy years, was successful politically but from the point of view of purely religious values it fell short of Islamic ideals and practices. Islamic society was dominated by the Arab element alone and non-Arabs were subordinated to the Arabs. In fact a strong Arab empire was created which gave itself the name of an Islamic caliphate. During this period some of the caliphs were indifferent to religious sentiments to the extent that one of them - who was the "vicegerent of the Holy Prophet" and was regarded as the protector of religion - decided without showing any respect for Islamic practices and the feelings of Muslims to construct a room above the Ka"bah so that he could have a place to enjoy and amuse himself during the annual pilgrimage. It is even recounted of one of these caliphs that he made the Holy Quran a target for his arrow and in a poem composed to the Quran said: "On the Day of Judgment when you appear before God tell Him "the caliph tore me.""
Naturally the Shi"ites, whose basic differences with the Sunnis were in the two questions of the Islamic caliphate and religious authority, were passing through bitter and difficult days in this dark period. Yet in spite of the unjust and irresponsible ways of the governments of the time the asceticism and purity of the leaders of the Household of the Prophet made the Shi"ites each day ever more determined to hold on to their beliefs. Of particular importance was the tragic death of Husayn, the third Imam, which played a major role in the spread of Shi"ism, especially in regions away from the center of the caliphate, such as Iraq, the Yemen, and Persia. This can be seen through the fact that during the period of the fifth Imam, before the end of the first Islamic century, and less than forty years after the death of Husayn, the Shi"ites took advantage of the internal differences and weaknesses in the Umayyad government and began to organize themselves, flocking to the side of the fifth Imam. People came from all Islamic countries like a flood to his door to collect hadith and to learn the Islamic sciences. The first century had not yet ended when a few of the leaders who were influential in the government established the city of Qum in Persia and made it a Shi"ite settlement. But even then the Shi"ah continued to live for the most part in hiding and followed their religious life secretly without external manifestations.
Several times the descendants of the Prophet (who are called in Persian sadat-i "alawi) rebelled against the injustice of the government, but each time they were defeated and usually lost their lives. The severe and unscrupulous government of the time did not overlook any means of crushing them. The body of Zayd, the leader of Zayd Shi"ism, was dug out of the grave and hanged; then after remaining on the gallows for three years it was brought down and burned, its ashes being thrown to the wind. The Shi"ites believe that the fourth and fifth Imams were poisoned by the Umayyads as the second and third Imams had been killed by them before.
The calamities brought about by the Umayyads were so open and unveiled that the majority of the Sunnis, although they believed generally that it was their duty to obey the caliphs, felt the pangs of their religious conscience and were forced to divide the caliphs into two groups. They came to distinguish between the "rightly guided caliphs" (khulafa rashidun) who are the first four caliphs after the death of the Holy Prophet (Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali), and the others who began with Mu"awiyah and who did not possess by any means the religious virtues of the rightly guided caliphs.
The Umayyads caused so much public hatred as a result of their injustice and heedlessness during their rule that after the definitive defeat and death of the last Umayyad caliph his two sons and a number of their family encountered great difficulties in escaping from the capital. No matter where they turned no one would give them shelter. Finally after much wandering the deserts of Nubia, Abyssinia, and Bajawah (between Nubia and Abyssinia) during which many of them died from hunger and thirst, they came to Bab al-Mandab of the Yemen. There they acquired travel expenses from the people through begging and set out for Mecca dressed as porters. In Mecca they finally succeeded in disappearing among the mass of the people.
Shi"ism During the 2nd/8th Century
During the latter part of the first third of the 2nd/8th century, following a series of revolutions and bloody wars throughout the Islamic world which were due to the injustice, repressions, and wrongdoings of the Umayyads, there began an anti-Umayyad movement in the name of the Household of the Prophet in Khurasan in Persia. The leader of this movement was the Persian general, Abu Muslim Marwazi, who rebelled against Umayyad rule and advance his cause step by step until he was able to overthrow the Umayyad government.
Although this movement originated from a profound Shi"ite background and came into being more or less with the claim of wanting to avenge the blood of the Household of the Prophet, and although people were even asked secretly to give allegiance to a qualified member of the family of the Prophet, it did not rise directly as a result of the instructions of the Imams. This is witnessed by the fact that when Abu Muslim offered the caliphate to the sixth Imam in Medina he rejected it completely saying "You are not one of my men and the time is not my time."
Finally the Abbasids gained the caliphate in the name of the family of the Prophet and at the beginning showed some kindness to people in general and to descendants of the Prophet in particular. In the name of avenging the martyrdom of the family of the Prophet, they massacred the Umayyads, going to the extent of opening their graves and burning whatever they found in them. But soon they began to follow unjust ways of the Umayyads and did not abstain in any way from injustice and irresponsible action. Abu Hanifah, the founder of one of the four Sunni schools of law, was imprisoned by al-Mansur and whipped. The sixth Imam died from poisoning after much torture and pain. The descendants of the Holy Prophet were sometimes beheaded in groups, buried alive, or even placed within walls of government buildings under construction.
Harun al-Rashid, the Abbasid caliph, during whose reign the Islamic empire reached the apogee of its expansion and power, occasionally would look at the sun and address it in these words: "Shine wherever thou wilt, thou shalt never be able to leave my kingdom." On the other hand his armies were advancing in the East and West, on the other hand a few steps from the palace of the caliph, and without his knowledge, officials had decided on their own to collect tolls from people who wanted to cross the Baghdad bridge. Even one day when the caliph himself wanted to cross the bridge he was stopped and asked to pay the toll.
A singer, by chanting two lascivious verses, incited the passions of the Abbasid caliph, Amin, who awarded him three million dirhams. The chanter in joy threw himself at the feet of the caliph saying, "Oh, leader of the faithful! You give me all this money?" The caliph answered, "It does not matter. We receive money from an unknown part of the country."
The bewildering amount of wealth that was pouring every year from all corners of the Islamic world into the public treasury in the capital helped creating luxury and a mundane atmosphere. Much of it in fact was often spent for the pleasures and iniquities of the caliph of the time. The number of beautiful slave girls in the court of some of the caliphs exceeded thousands. By the dissolution of Umayyad rule and the establishment of the Abbasids, Shi"ism did not benefit in any way. Its repressive and unjust opponents merely changed their name.
Shi"ism in the 3rd/9th Century
At the beginning of the 3rd/9th century Shi"ism was able to breathe once again. This more favorable condition was first of all due to the fact that many scientific and philosophical books were translated from Greek, Syriac, and other languages into Arabic, and people eagerly studied the intellectual and rational sciences. Moreover, al-Ma"mun, the Abbasid caliph from 198/813 to 218/833, had Mu"tazilite leanings and since in his religious views he favored intellectual demonstration, he was more inclined to give complete freedom to the discussion and propagation of different religious views. Shi"ite theologians and scholars took full advantage of this freedom and did their utmost to further scholarly activities and propagate Shi"ite teachings. Also, al-Ma"mun, following demands of the political forces at the time, had made the eighth Shi"ite Imam his successor, as is recounted in most standard histories. As a result, the descendants of the Holy Prophet and their friends were to a certain extent free from pressures from the government and enjoyed some degrees of liberty. Yet before long the cutting edge of the sword once again turned towards the Shi"ites and the forgotten ways of the past came upon them again. This was particularly true in the case of al-Mutawakkil (233/847-247/861) who held a special enmity towards Ali and the Shi"ites. By his order the tomb of the third Imam in Karbala was completely demolished.
Shi"ism in the 4th/10th Century
In the 4th/10th century certain conditions again prevailed which aided greatly the spread and strengthening of Shi"ism. Among them were the weaknesses that appeared in the central Abbasid government and administration and the appearance of the Buyid rulers. The Buyids, who were Shi"ite had the greatest influence not only in the provinces of Persia but also in the capital of the caliphate in Baghdad, and even upon the caliph himself. This new strength of considerable proportions enabled the Shi"ites to stand up before their opponents who previously had tried to crush them by relying upon the power of the caliphate. It also made it possible for the Shi"ites to propagate their religious views openly.
As recorded by historians, during this century most of the Arabian Peninsula was Shi"ite with the exception of some of the big cities. Even some of the major cities like Hajar, Uman, and Sa"dah were Shi"ite. In Basra, which had always been a Sunni city and competed with Kufa which was considered a Shi"ite center, there appeared a notable group of Shi"ites. Also in Tripoli, Nablus, Tiberias, Aleppo, Nayshapur, and Herat there were many Shi"ites, while Ahwaz and the coast of the Persian Gulf on the Persian side were also Shi"ite.
At the beginning of this century Nasir Utrush, after many years of propagation of his religious mission in northern Persia, gained power in Tabaristan and established a kingdom which continued for several generations after him. Before Utrush, Hasan ibn Zayd al-"Alawi had reigned from many years in Tabaristan. Also in this period the Fatimids, who were Isma"ili, conquered Egypt and organized a caliphate which lasted for over two centuries (296/908-567/1171). Often disputation and fighting occurred in major cities like Baghdad, Cairo and Nayshapur between Shi"ites and Sunnis, in some of which the Shi"ites would gain the upper hand and come out victorious.
Shi"ism from the 5th/11th to the 9th/15th Centuries
From the 5th/11th to the 9th/15th centuries Shi"ism continued to expand as it had done in the 4th/10th century. Many kings and rulers who were Shi"ite appeared in different parts of the Islamic world and propagated Shi"ism. Toward the end of the 5th/11th century the missionary activity of Isma"ilism took root in the fort of Alamut and for nearly a century and a half the Isma"ilis lived in complete independence in the central regions of Persia. Also the Sadat-i Mar"ashi, who were descendants of the Holy Prophet, ruled for many years in Mazandaran (Tabaristan). Shah Muhammad Khudabandah, one of the well-known Mongol rulers, became Shi"ite and his descendants ruled for many years in Persia and were instrumental in spreading Shi"ism. Mention must also be made of the kings of the Aq Qoyunlu and Qara Qoyunlu dynasties who ruled in Tabriz and whose domain extended to Fars and Kerman, as well as of the Fatimid government which was ruling in Egypt.
Of course religious freedom and the possibility of exerting religious power by the populace differed under different rulers. For example, with the termination of Fatimid rule and coming to power of the Ayyubids the scene changed completely and the Shi"ite population of Egypt and Syria lost its religious independence. Many of the Shi"ites of Syria were killed during this period merely on the accusation of following Shi"ism. One of these was Shahid-i awwal (the First Martyr) Muhammad ibn Makki, one of the great figures in Shi"ite jurisprudence, who was killed in Damascus in 786/1384. Also Shaykh al-ishraq Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi was killed in Aleppo on the accusation that he was cultivating Batini teachings and philosophy. Altogether during this period Shi"ism was growing from the point of view of numbers, even though its religious power and freedom depended upon local conditions and the rulers of the time. During this period, however, Shi"ism never became the official religion of any Muslim state.
Shi"ism in the 10th/16th and 11th/17th Centuries
In the 10th/16th century Isma"il, who was of the household of Shaykh Safi al-Din Ardibili (d. 735/1334), a Sufi master and also a Shi"ite, began a revolt in Ardibil, with three hundred Sufis who were disciples of his forefathers, with the aim of establishing an independent and powerful Shi"ite country. In this way he began the conquest of Persia and overcame the local feudal princes. After a series of bloody wars with local rulers and also the Ottomans who held the title of caliph, he succeeded in forming Persia piece by piece into a country and in making Shi"ism the official religion in his kingdom.
After the death of Shah Isma"il other Safavid kings reigned in Persia until the 12th/18th century and each continued to recognize Shi"ism as the official religion of the country and further to strengthen its hold upon this land. At the height of their power, during the reign of Shah "Abbas, the Safavids were able to increase the territorial expansion and the population of Persia to twice its present size. As for other Muslim lands, the Shi"ite population continued the same as before and increased only through the natural growth of population.
Shi"ism from the 12th/18th to the 14th/20th Centuries
During the past three centuries Shi"ism has followed its natural rate of growth as before. At the present moment, during the latter part of the 14th/20th century, Shi"ism is recognized as the official religion in Iran, and in the Yemen and Iraq the majority population is Shi"ite. In nearly all lands where there are Muslims one can find a certain number of Shi"ites. It has been said that altogether in the world today there are about eighty to ninety million Shi"ites
CHAPTER II DIVISIONS
Each religion possesses a certain number of primary principles which form its essential basis and other principles of secondary importance. When the followers of a religion differ as to the nature of the primary principles and their secondary aspects but preserve a common basis, the result is called division (inshi"ab) within that religion. Such divisions exist in all traditions and religions, and more particularly in the four "revealed" religions of Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Islam.
Shi"ism did not undergo any divisions during the imamate of the first three Imams: Ali, Hasan, and Husayn. But after the martyrdom of Husayn, the majority of the Shi"ites accepted the imamate of Ali ibn Husayn al-Sajjad, while a minority known as the Kisaniyah believed that the third son of Ali, Muhammad ibn Hanafiyah, was the fourth Imam as well as the promised Mahdi, and that he had gone into occultation in the Radwa mountains and one day would reappear. After the death of Imam al-Sajjad the majority of the Shi"ites accepted as Imam his son, Muhammad al-Baqir, while a minority followed Zayd al-Shahid, another son of Imam al-Sajjad, and became known as Zaydis. Following Imam Muhammad al-Baqir, the Shi"ites accepted his son Ja"far al-Sadiq as Imam and after the death of Imam Ja"far the majority followed his son Imam Musa al-Kazim as the seventh Imam. However, one group followed the older son of the sixth Imam, Isma"il, who had died while his father was still alive, and when this latter group separated from the majority of Shi"ites it became known as Isma"ilis. Others accepted as Imam either "Abdollah al-Aftah or Muhammad, both sons of the sixth Imam. Finally, another party stopped with the sixth Imam himself and considered him as the last Imam. In the same way, after the martyrdom of Imam Musa al-Kazim the majority followed his son, Ali al-Rida, as the eight Imam. However, some stopped with the seventh Imam and became known as the Waqifiyah.
From the eighth Imam to the twelfth, whom the majority of the Shi"ites believe to be the promised Mahdi, no division of any importance took place within Shi"ism. Even if certain events occurred in the form of division, they lasted but a few days and dissolved by themselves. For example, Ja"far, the son of the tenth Imam, claimed to be Imam after the death of his brother, the eleventh Imam. A group of people followed him but scattered in a few days and Ja"far himself did not follow his claim any further. Further more, there are differences between Shi"ites in theological and juridical matters which must not be considered as division in religious schools. Also the Babi and Baha"i sects, which like the Batinis (the Qaramitah) differ in both the principles (usul) and branches (furu") of Islam from the Muslims, should in any sense be considered as branches of Shi"ism.
The sects which separated from the majority of Shi"ites all dissolved within a short period, except two: the Zaydi and the Isma"ili which continue to exist until now. To this day communities of these branches are active in various parts of the world such as the Yemen, India, and Syria. Therefore, we shall limit our discussion to these two branches along with the majority of Shi"ites who are Twelvers.
Zaydism and Its Branches
The Zaydis are the followers of Zayd al-Shahid, the son of Imam al-Sajjad. Zayd rebelled in 121/737 against the Umayyad caliph Hisham "Abd al-Malik and a group paid allegiance to him. A battle ensued in Kufa between Zayd and the army of the caliph in which Zayd was killed.
The followers of Zayd regard him as the fifth Imam of the Household of the Prophet. After him his son, Yahya ibn Zayd, who rebelled against the caliph Walid ibn Yazid and was also killed, took his place. After Yahya, Muhammad ibn "Abdallah and Ibrahim ibn "Abdullah, who revolted against the Abbasid caliph Mansur al-Dawaniqi, and were also killed, were chosen as Imams.
Henceforth for some time there was disorder in Zaydi ranks until Nasir al-Utrush, a descendant of the brother of Zayd, arose in Khurasan. Being pursued by the governmental authorities in that region, he fled to Mazandaran, becoming himself Imam. For some time his descendants continued to rule as Imams in that area.
According to Zaydi belief any descendant of Fatimah (the daughter of the Prophet) who begins an uprising in the name of defending the truth may become Imam if he is learned in the religious sciences, ethically pure, courageous and generous. Yet for some time after Utrush and his descendants there was no Imam who could bring about an insurrection with the sword until recently when, about sixty years ago, Imam Yahya revolted in the Yemen, which had been part of the Ottoman Empire, made it independent, and began to rule there as Imam. His descendants continued to rule in that region as Imams until very recently.
At the beginning the Zaydis, like Zayd himself, considered the first two caliphs, Abu Bakr and Umar, as their Imams. But after a while some of them began to delete the name of the first two caliphs from the list of Imams and placed Ali as the first Imam.
From what is known of Zaydi beliefs it can be said that in the principles of Islam (usul) they follow a path close to that of the Mu"tazilites, while in the branches or derivative institutions of the law (furu") they apply the jurisprudence of Abu Hanifah, the founder of one of the four Sunni schools of law. They also differ among themselves concerning certain problems.
Isma"ilism and Its Branches
Imam Ja"far al-Sadiq had a son named Isma"il who was the oldest of his children. Isma"il died during the lifetime of his father who summoned witnesses to his death, including the governor of Medina. Concerning this question, some believed that Isma"il did not die but went into occultation, that he would appear again and would be the promised Mahdi. They further believed that the summoning of witnesses on the part of the Imam for Isma"il"s death was a way of hiding the truth in fear of al-Mansur, the Abbasid caliph. Another group believed that the true Imam was Isma"il whose death meant the imamate was transferred to his son Muhammad. A third group also held that although he died during the lifetime of his father he was the Imam and that the imamate passed after him to Muhammad ibn Isma"il and his descendants. The first two groups soon became extinct, while the third branch continues to exist to this day and has undergone a certain amount of division.
The Isma"ilis have a philosophy in many ways similar to that of the Sabaeans (star worshippers) combined with elements of Hindu gnosis. In the sciences and decrees of Islam they believe that each exterior reality (zahir) has an inner aspect (batin) and each element of revelation (tanzil) a hermeneutic and esoteric exegesis (ta"wil).
The Isma"ilis believe that the earth can never exist without Proof (hujjah) of God. The Proof is two kinds: "speaker" (natiq) and "silent one" (samit). The speaker is a prophet and the silent one is an Imam or Guardian (wali) who is the inheritor, or executor of the testament (wasi) of a prophet. In any case the Proof of God is the perfect theophany of the Divinity.
The principle of the Proof of God revolves constantly around the number seven. A prophet (nabi), who is sent by God, has the function of prophecy (nubuwwat), of bringing a Divine Law or Shari"ah. A prophet, who is the perfect manifestation of God, has the esoteric power of initiating men into the divine Mysteries (walayat). After him there are seven executors of his testament (wasayat) and the power of esoteric initiation into the Divine Mysteries (walayat). The seventh in the succession possesses those two powers and also the additional power of prophecy (nubuwwat). The cycle of seven executors (wasis) is then repeated with the seventh a prophet.
The Isma"ilis say that Adam was sent as a prophet with the power of prophecy and of esoteric guidance and he had seven executors of whom the seventh was Noah, who had the three functions of nubuwwat, wasayat, and walayat. Abraham was the seventh executor (wasi) of Noah, Moses the seventh executor of Abraham, Jesus the seventh executor of Moses, Muhammad the seventh executor of Jesus, and Muhammad ibn Isma"il the seventh executor of Muhammad.
They consider the wasis of the Prophet to be: Ali, Husayn ibn Ali (they do not consider Imam Hasan among the Imams), Ali ibn Husayn al-Sajjad, Muhammad al-Baqir, Ja"far al-Sadiq, Isma"il ibn Ja"far, and Muhammad ibn Isma"il. After this series there are seven descendants of Muhammad ibn Isma"il whose names are hidden and secret. After them there are the first seven rulers of the Fatimid caliphate of Egypt the first of whom, "Ubaydallah al-Mahdi, was the founder of the Fatimid dynasty. The Isma"ilis also believe that in addition to the Proof of God there are always present on earth twelve "chiefs" (naqib) who are the companions and elite followers of the Proof. Some of the branches of the Batinis, however, like the Druzes, believe six of the "chiefs" to be from the Imams and six from others.
In the year 278/891, a few years before the appearance of Ubaydallah al-Mahdi in North Africa, there appeared in Kufa an unknown person from Khuzistan (in southern Persia) who never revealed his name and identity. He would fast during the day and worship at night and made a living from his own labor. In addition he invited people to join the Isma"ili cause and was able to assemble a large number of people about him. From among them he chose twelve "chiefs" (naqib) and then he set out for Damascus. Having left Kufa he was never heard of again.
This unknown man was replaced by Ahmad, known as the Qaramite, who began to propagate Batini teachings in Iraq. As the historians have recorded, he instituted two daily prayers in place of the five of Islam, removed the necessity of ablution after sexual intercourse, and made the drinking of wine permissible. Contemporary with these events, other Batini leaders rose to invite people to join their cause and assembled a group of followers.
The Batinis had no respect for the lives and possessions of those who were outside their group. For this reason they began uprisings in the cities of Iraq, Bahrain, the Yemen, and Syria, spilling the blood of people and looting their wealth. Many times they stopped the caravans of those who were making the pilgrimage to Mecca, killing tens of thousands of pilgrims and plundering their provisions and camels.
Abu Tahir al-Qaramati, one of the Qaramite leaders who in 311/923 had conquered Basra and did not neglect to kill and plunder, set out with a large number of Batinis for Mecca in 317/929. After overcoming the brief resistance of government troops he entered the city and massacred the population as well as the newly arrived pilgrims. Even within the Masjid al-haram (the mosque containing the Ka"bah) and within the Holy Ka"bah itself, there flowed streams of blood. He divided the covering of the Ka"bah between his disciples. He tore away the door of the Ka"bah and took the black stone from its place back to the Yemen. For twenty-two years the black stone was in Qaramite hands. As a result of these actions the majority of Muslims turned completely away from the Batinis and considered them outside the pale of Islam. Even "Ubaydallah al-Mahdi, the Fatimid ruler, who had risen in those days in North Africa and considered himself the promised Mahdi, abhorred them.
According to the view of historians the distinguishing characteristic of the Batini school is that it interprets the external aspects of Islam in an esoteric manner and considers the externals of the Shari"ah to be only for simple-minded people of little intelligence who are deprived of spiritual perfection. Yet occasionally the Batini Imams did order certain regulations and laws to be practiced and followed.
The Nizaris, Musta"lis, Druzes and Muqanna"ah
The Nizaris. Ubaydallah al-Mahdi, who rose in North Africa in 292/904 and as an Isma"ili declared his imamate and established Fatimid rule, is the founder of the dynasty whose descendants made Cairo the center of their caliphate. For seven generations this sultanate and Isma"ili imamate continued without any divisions. At the death of the seventh Imam, al-Mustansir bi"llah Mu"idd ibn Ali, his sons, Nizar and al-Musta"li, began to dispute over the caliphate and imamate. After long disputes and bloody battle al-Musta"li was victorious. He captured his brother Nizar and placed him in prison, where he died.
Following this dispute those who accepted the Fatimids divided into two groups: the Nizaris and the Musta"lis. The Nizaris are the followers of Hasan al-Sabbah, who was one of the close associates of al-Mustansir. After Nizar"s death, because of his support of Nizar, Hasan al-Sabbah was expelled from Egypt by al-Musta"li. He came to Persia and after a short while appeared in the Fort of Alamut near Qazwin. He conquered Alamut and several surrounding forts. There he established his rule and also began to invite people to the Isma"ili cause.
After the death of Hasan in 518/1124 Buzurg Umid Rudbari and after him his son, Kiya Muhammad, continued to rule following the methods and ways of Hasan al-Sabbah. After Kiya Muhammad, his son Hasan "AlaDhikrihi"l-Salam, the fourth ruler of Alamut, changed the ways of Hasan al-Sabbah, who had been Nizari, and became Batini. Henceforth the Isma"ili forts continued as Batini. Four other rulers, Muhammad ibn Ala Dhikruhi"l-Salam, Jala al-Din Hasan, "Ala" al-Din, and Rukn al-Din Khurshah, became Sultan and Imam one after another until Hulagu, the Mongol conqueror, invaded Persia. He captured Isma"ili forts and put all the Isma"ilis to death, leveling their forts to the ground.
Centuries later, in 1255/1839, the Aqa Khan of Mahalat in Persia, who belonged to the Nizaris, rebelled against Muhammad Shah Qajar in Kerman, but he was defeated and fled to Bombay. There he propagated his Batini-Nizari cause which continues to this day. The Nizaris are today called the Aqa Khanids.
The Musta"lis. The Musta"lis were the followers of al-Musta"li. Their imamate continued during Fatimid rule in Egypt until it was brought to an end in the year 567/1171. Shortly thereafter, the Bohra sect, following the same school, appeared in India and survives to this day.
The Druzes. The Druzes, who live in the Druze mountains in Syria (and also in Lebanon), were originally followers of the Fatimid caliphs. But as a result of the missionary activity of Nashtakin, the Druzes joined the Batini sect. The Druzes stop with the sixth Fatimid caliph al-Hakim bi"llah, whom others believe to have been killed, and claim that he is in occultation. He has ascended to heaven and will appear once again to the world.
The Muqanna"ah. The Muqanna"ah were at first disciples of "Ata" al-Marwi known as Muqanna", who according to historical sources was a follower of Abu Muslim of Khurasan. After the death of Abu Muslim, Muqanna" claimed that Abu Muslim"s soul had become incarnated in him. Soon he claimed to be a prophet and later a divinity. Finally, in the year 162/777 he was surrounded in the fort of Kabash in Transoxiana. When he became certain that he would be captured and killed, he threw himself into a fire along with some of his disciples and burned to death. His followers soon adopted Isma"ilism and the ways of the Batinis.
To be continued…