الموقع الرسمي لحيدر حب الله

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Shi'ism in the 1st and 2nd century AH

تاريخ الاعداد: 2/25/2024 تاريخ النشر: 2/25/2024

Haidar Hobballah


This lecture was delivered at the cultural meeting held by T4C in Birmingham on 2-22-2024.


First of all, I must point out that I cannot discuss the entire history of Shi'ism here as the topic is far too extensive. So, I will limit myself to a very brief and condensed overview of Shi'ism in the 1st and 2nd century AH, and hopefully then we can expand on this further on other occasions.

Shi'ism is one of the major doctrines in Islamic history. This doctrine had states that ruled over vast lands of the Islamic world. The Shi'a were not just an opposition movement against the ruling authorities throughout history, but they had their own major states, such as the Fatimid state in Egypt and North Africa, the Idrisid state in Morrocco, the Alawite state in the Daylam region (northern Iran today), the Hamdanid state in Syria, Mosul and Kirkuk, the Safavid state in Iran, and others, up to the present day Islamic Republic of Iran.

The original Shi'i idea is centered around preferring Ali ibn Abi Talib over the other companions and caliphs, and that he was the most rightful to the caliphate after the Prophet. However, throughout history, the Shi'a have not held the same opinion regarding the first three caliphs. Some severely criticized them and accused them of usurping the caliphate, to the extent of calling for cursing them - this includes many Twelver Imami Shi'a, as well as the Jarudiyya sect of the Zaydi Shi'a. While other Shi'a saw that preferring Ali does not necessitate adopting a negative stance towards the early caliphs, rather we fault them but respect them and see the legitimacy of their authority - this includes many Zaydi doctrines.

The first starting point for Shi'ism came with the issue of the caliphate after the Prophet's death. A group of companions gathered around Ali, such as Ammar ibn Yasir, Miqdad, Salman al-Farsi and others. But there were no confrontations or clashes during that period, except for the first few days and what is related to the incident of Fatima and other matters that Muslim historians differed over. On the contrary, we find that some of the senior companions of Imam Ali were commanders and governors during the periods of Abu Bakr and Umar ibn al-Khattab.

However, the revolution led by a number of Muslims, especially some Egyptians, against the third caliph Uthman ibn Affan in 34-35 AH, began to shape a new phase in Shi'i history because the killing of Uthman brought Ali ibn Abi Talib to power. It was also one of the reasons that pushed some Muslims, led by Talhah, al-Zubayr and Aisha the Prophet's wife, to demand that Ali avenge Uthman's blood. When Ali did not do so, they mobilized an army to Basra, leading to the Battle of the Camel between them and Ali.

This battle was a clear beginning for the formation of a strong group led by Ali ibn Abi Talib. Ali defeated Ayesha’s army in the battle of the Camel and in the process, many fighters joined Ali’s army. Ali then prepared to confront the breakaway of the Levant (modern day Syria and Lebanon etc.) from the central caliphate in Kufa under the leadership of Mu'awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan. This led to the Battle of Siffin which took place in an area called Siffin, near the city of Raqqa in northern Syria today. At its end, the outcome of the war in Siffin created a split within Imam Ali's army, and a splinter group known as the Kharijites emerged. Later on, Imam Ali then fought this group in the Battle of Nahrawan, killing most of them.

The split within Imam Ali's army and among Ali's supporters in Iraq was greater than we imagine. It led to falling-out between Ali and many of his soldiers, to the extent that he would constantly criticize them and say: Mu'awiyah's soldiers are better than you, and I wish I could get one soldier from Mu'awiyah's army in exchange for ten of you - as came in one of his sermons in Nahj al-Balagha. This split was the beginning of a state of chaos within Ali's party that later caused many Shi'i divisions. After the martyrdom of Imam Ali at the hands of one of the Kharijites named Abd al-Rahman ibn Muljam al-Muradi, his son Imam al-Hasan was unable to consolidate his authority. Although he asked the Shi'a to march with him to fight Mu'awiyah, he failed to achieve that and they rebelled against him, forcing him to cede power to Mu'awiyah. His rule lasted no more than a few months.

Some historians and sociologists believe that the nature of the Arab society in Iraq at that time played a role in the successive divisions within the Shi'i community loyal to Ali. Most of them were Arab tribes who migrated from the Arabian Peninsula towards Kufa, which was no more than a military base where fighters gathered during Umar ibn al-Khattab's time to prepare to confront Persian armies. This tribal diversity, lacking the lifestyle of the people of the city, made tribal divisions very common, which made it difficult for Ali and al-Hasan to manage the social and political situation there.

During the periods of Uthman and Ali, a faction emerged within Shi'i circles that researchers have written extensively about, some of whom consider it a myth while others confirm its existence - the Saba'iyya sect. They state that a man named Abdullah ibn Saba, a Yemeni Jew from Sanaa, converted to Islam during Uthman's time. He traveled to several cities to incite people against Uthman and instigated the Egyptians to revolt against him. Later, Ibn Saba's name appears at the Battle of the Camel, where the Saba'iyya prevented reconciliation between the two camps, agitating both sides to cause strife. They say Imam Ali executed him, while others say he was exiled to al-Mada'in in Iraq in 37 AH. After Ali was killed, he denied his death and said: 'Ali does not die'.

Some historians state regarding the beliefs of this group that they believed in:

1. The Prophet's return after his death.

2. The concept of wasiyah (successorship), based on every prophet having a successor, like Moses and Joshua.

3. The deification of Imam Ali and Ibn Saba's claim to prophethood.

4. The return (raj’ah) of Imam Ali.

5. The belief that part of God dwelled in Ali and the Imams.

6. Cursing Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman.

However, much of the information about this sect is unclear, so it is difficult to ascertain if they really held these beliefs in this form at that early time.

Let us return to history again. Al-Hasan's exit from power and his return from Kufa to live with his brother al-Husayn and their families in Medina, followed by Mu'awiyah's oppression of the Shi'a in Iraq from 41 AH to 60 AH, made many Iraqi Shi'a feel frustrated, hopeless, and lost. Thus, when Mu'awiyah died and his son Yazid came to power, and the people of Iraq learned that al-Husayn had refused to pledge allegiance to Yazid and went to Mecca, they quickly sent letters to him asking him to come to them and restore Ali's rule over them. Al-Husayn responded to them, but they split yet again due to intimidation and threats by Ibn Ziyad's army, abandoning al-Husayn in 61 AH.

The conditions of the Shi'a, their lives and history before al-Husayn's martyrdom were completely different from what came after. While they were silent during Mu'awiyah's time, they exploded in anger after al-Husayn's killing, feeling guilty towards the Prophet's family. Shi'ism transformed into a revolutionary opposition to the authorities. Ali ibn Abi Talib did not revolt against anyone before taking power himself, rather others revolted against him after he took power in 35 AH, likewise with al-Hasan. But what happened after al-Husayn's killing was completely different, shaping a new identity for the Shi'a - the revolutionary, militant, armed political identity. This led to the emergence of the Tawwabun revolutions in Iraq, like al-Mukhtar al-Thaqafi. Many of them claimed they had permission for armed revolt against Umayyad rule, sometimes from Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah son of Imam Ali, and other times from Imam Ali ibn al-Husayn Zayn al-Abidin, but there is no confirmation of this. Here the Kaysaniyya doctrine emerged, considered one of the first Shi'i theological-political sects.

We should pause briefly on the Kaysaniyya Shi'i doctrine. This name (Kaysan) is said to be a nickname for al-Mukhtar ibn Ubayd Allah al-Thaqafi (d. 67 AH), given to him by Ibn al-Hanafiyyah (d. 81 AH) for his intelligence. It is also said to be Ibn al-Hanafiyyah's own nickname. Some historians of theology see the Kaysaniyya as the first appearance of extremism among the Shi'a after the Saba'iyya, identifying them with al-Mukhtar's group. They attribute to them beliefs like:

1. Mahdism and the occultation of Ibn al-Hanafiyyah. Professor Tabataba'i states that the idea of the Mahdi emerged strongly with the Kaysaniyya.

2. Raj’ah (return after death before Resurrection Day).

3. Allegorical interpretation of the Quran.

4. The prophethood of Ali and his three sons: Hasan, Husayn, and Ibn al-Hanafiyyah.

It is difficult to ascertain whether there existed a good relationship between Imam Zayn al-Abidin, al-Baqir and al-Sadiq with the Kaysaniyya sect and other sects that emerged from it in the 2nd century AH. Rather, we find narrations in which the Imams criticize some ideas put forward by the Kaysaniyya.

At the end of the 1st century AH and beginning of the 2nd century, a major shift occurred within Shi'i life. This shift was the emergence of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir. This Imam transferred the Shi'a from a state of political conflict and intellectual chaos to a state of knowledge, learning and understanding religion. He began nurturing generations of scholars and jurists. Thus, we find thousands of narrations from him in Shi'i books, while we do not find even 10% as many narrations from Ali, Hasan, Husayn and Zayn al-Abidin compared to al-Baqir, and then his son al-Sadiq after him.

The important thing we discover is that the Shi'a before al-Baqir were not very concerned with religious knowledge, rituals, and jurisprudence. They were preoccupied with political life and their difficult circumstances. But with al-Baqir and al-Sadiq, scholars began to emerge among them, and they became concerned with building a religious sectarian identity.

Also, very importantly al-Baqir shifted Shi'ism from being a political dispute over "who should rule after the Prophet" to a religious sectarian identity. It shifted from the caliphate to guardianship (wilayah). For this reason, some researchers consider Muhammad al-Baqir as the founder of Shi'i thought, followed by al-Sadi.

However, the mission of Imam al-Baqir and then al-Sadiq was never easy, and their circumstances were very difficult. At the beginning of the 2nd century AH, Shi'i revolts against the Umayyads continued, and slowly tremendous divisions emerged within the Shi'a. The divisions were mainly between two opposing movements, one calling for continuing armed revolt and political action, led by the Zaydis and Hasanis from the lineage of Imam Hasan ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib, and the other movement arguing that armed revolt against the Umayyads was not appropriate at that time, rather it was time to build faith and knowledge.

Thus, al-Baqir and al-Sadiq were on one side, while the Zaydis and Hasanis were on the other. The Zaydi Shi'i doctrine emerged strongly emphasizing the idea that the Imam is one who brings out his sword and presents a political and social project to the nation, not one who sits in his home practicing taqiyya (dissimulation). Many heated debates occurred between the Zaydis and al-Sadiq's companions, recorded for us in history and books of Hadith. Therefore, we can say two currents emerged in Shi'ism: The first was political military Shi'ism, and the second was Shi'ism of taqiyya, knowledge and propagating religion until the emergence of the Mahdi.

However, the difference between the Zaydi doctrine and other Shi'a loyal to al-Baqir and al-Sadiq was not limited to this. The Zaydis did not accept the concept of divine appointment of the Imams. Rather, they said they preferred Ali and denied the existence of a divinely appointed imamate. Rather, the Imam is anyone who brings out his sword, leads the nation, enjoins good and forbids evil, establishes God's laws. Whereas the trend surrounding al-Baqir and al-Sadiq saw that the imamate must be by divine appointment from God to His Messenger, and each Imam appoints the next Imam, as predetermined by God.

Thus, two concepts of the imamate emerged: the divinely appointed imamate, and the political military imamate. The Zaydis separated from the followers of al-Sadiq. The Zaydis became many, comprising a high percentage of all Shi'a at the time. They gained power and built a great state later in northern Iran, then moved to Yemen until today.

Note here that al-Baqir and al-Sadiq's followers emphasized the idea of the Mahdi and waiting for him to come rescue us, while Zayd ibn Ali's followers said: no one should be awaited, rather we must participate and act today, we are all Mahdis. Thus, some researchers state that the 20th century Shi'i political Islam movement (Khomeini's movement) is an Imami movement with a Zaydi flavor.

Leaving the Zaydis and returning to the course of Shi'ism surrounding the Imams, we witness three major events in Shi'i history in the 2nd century AH:

First event: the rise of the Ghulat (extremists). From the early 2nd century AH, extremist ideas spread greatly in Kufa, which is considered the birthplace of extremists in this era. By the term “Ghulat”, what is meant are those groups characterized by one of two traits:

First trait: exaggerating the status of the Ahl al-Bayt to an almost superhuman level, to the extent of believing them to be gods or performing acts of gods, such as that God created the world and delegated it to the Ahl al-Bayt to run. Many of them also believed in incarnation, meaning God incarnated in the Imams or embodied them. And saying they are prophets and so on.

Second trait: permissiveness, meaning some tended to abrogate religious duties and permit prohibitions, claiming that prayer, fasting, Hajj, adultery, theft are all just names mentioned in the Quran referring to either the Ahl al-Bayt or their enemies, and nothing more.

The Ghulat turned into many groups, some of which undertook political military activities and gained influence for a period of time. For example, the Janahiyya sect, founded by Abdullah ibn Mu'awiyah ibn Abdullah ibn Ja'far ibn Abi Talib. In 127 AH he led a revolution that overthrew the governor of Kufa, then took control of vast lands in Iran and Iraq like Fars, Isfahan, Rayy, etc. before being defeated by the Umayyads. He fled to Khurasan but was killed in Herat in 129 AH.

The struggle between Imam al-Baqir, al-Sadiq and the Ghulat was intense. Many statements were issued cursing them, calling on people to avoid them, and disavowing them. But they would claim al-Sadiq only did this out of taqiyya (dissimulation). The most dangerous extremist sects in history were the Khattabiyya and Almoghereya. They would take the books of the Imams' companions, copy them, and insert their false narrations without anyone noticing. Many Imams and major narrators warned against them.

Second event: the death of Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq in 148 AH. Al-Sadiq had several sons, the oldest being Isma'il. He was expected to be the next Imam, but Isma'il died before al-Sadiq did, causing shock. When al-Sadiq died, his loyal Shi'a split into two groups: one said the Imam was Musa al-Kazim, the other said it was Isma'il. The latter either denied he died during al-Sadiq's life, claiming he only disappeared, or accepted his death but said the Imam after him was his son Muhammad ibn Isma'il ibn Ja'far al-Sadiq.

Thus emerged the Isma'ili sect, which later split into numerous sects, most prominently the Nizari Ismailis. They had great states throughout history like the Fatimid Caliphate. They tend towards esotericism and allegorical interpretation, and are present today in: Tajikistan, Najran in southern Saudi Arabia, India, northern Yemen, Syria and elsewhere.

Many researchers believe this split brought about two types of Shi'ism: the esoteric, allegorical, detached from law and rituals type; and the historical, interpretive, jurisprudential type. Thus, some see that some esoteric ideas found in Imami Hadith literature infiltrated in from the Ghulat and Isma'ilis. Of course, this requires much research to confirm or negate.

Third event: the death of Imam Musa al-Kazim (183 AH). To understand what happened after his death, we must know that in the eras of Imam al-Sadiq and al-Kazim, a relatively new phenomenon emerged among the Shi'a - the deputyship system (wukala'). The Imams would try to communicate with Shi'a present in different parts of the Islamic world, mainly through two well-known methods:

First method: the Hajj season, where the Imams would emphasize to their followers to meet their Imam during Hajj. They would teach them in this season, transmit Hadith, exchange news, etc.

Second method: deputies. The Imams appointed individuals in regions with Shi'i presence, like Khurasan, Rayy, Kufa, etc. The deputies would relay news from the Imams and collect khums (religious tax) for them. This did not exist before the era of Imam al-Baqir, and was very minimal during his time, becoming more widespread in the eras of al-Sadiq and al-Kazim afterwards. Thus, an economic hierarchical system emerged to organize the affairs of poor Shi'a who faced deprivation by the Abbasid state. Naturally these deputies would have influence in society.

When Imam Musa al-Kazim passed away, some prominent Shi'i figures including famous deputies refused to acknowledge the imamate of Ali al-Rida, and refused to send him the funds they had. They became known as the Waqifiyya (those who stopped at al-Kazim's imamate and rejected any Imam after him). Many of them said al-Kazim did not die and that he was the Mahdi, while the rest of the Shi'a said he died in prison.

The significance of the Waqifiyya is that some major Shi'i scholars, narrators and Hadith transmitters of the time were among them. Of 274 companions of Imam al-Kazim, some researchers say 64 belonged to the Waqifiyya doctrine, causing great division within Shi'i society. Many narrations transmitted by them still exist today in Twelver books, including the Four Books, numbering in the hundreds or thousands. These include Ali ibn Abi Hamza al-Bataini, Ziyad ibn Marwan al-Qandi, Uthman ibn Isa al-Rawasi, Sama'ah ibn Mihran, Zar'ah ibn Muhammad al-Hadhrami, and others.

However, the imamate of Imam al-Rida soon gained great influence among the Shi'a. Thus, after a century or two, the Waqifiyya doctrine disappeared. Today, to our knowledge, no one belongs to it.

From here, we can summarize the scene as follows:

1 - The emergence of the first Shiism in the sense of love for Ali and Ali’s family, preferring him over other companions, and believing that he took precedence over the three caliphs.

2 - Shiism turned into a clear political faction under the leadership of Imam Ali after the killing of Othman bin Affan, and Kufa turned into the main center of Shiism.

3 - After the killing of Imam Hussein, Shiism took a revolutionary, military direction against the existing authority, and some exaggerated and extremist ideas began to appear.

4 - During the time of Imam al-Baqir, the Shiite movement began to form its own religious identity through him and his son Jaafar al-Sadiq, and generations of scholars, narrators, and jurists appeared, and little by little the revolutionary political movement represented by the Zaidis and Hasanis began to separate from Imam al-Sadiq, so religious Shiism and political Shiism, so to speak, appeared.

5 - the beginning of the second century AH was the start of the extremists, who left a great impact on Shiite thought, and the imams confronted them in a strong manner, and their influence continued for about two centuries.

6 - After the death of Al-Sadiq, the Shiites divided into an esoteric sect represented by Ismailism, and another imami sect that continued with Imam Musa Al-Kadhim.

7 - The great division was repeated after the death of Al-Kadhim in the late second century AH. Waqifism appeared, but it became extinct after about a century or two.

I would also like to talk about the history of mourning for Imam Hussein in the first and second centuries AH, but time does not permit us. I will dedicate a lecture to this topic in which we will talk about the history of mourning from the time of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein until today.