An Introduction to Shi'i Islam

An Introduction to Shi'i Islam: The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shi'ism

Moojan Momen
Copyright Date: 1985
Published by: Yale University Press
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    An Introduction to Shi'i Islam
    Book Description:

    This book is a general introduction to Shi'i Islam-specifically to Twelver Shi'ism, to which the majority of Shi'is belong today. It deals with the history and development of this important religion, giving an account of Shi'i doctrines and focusing in particular on those areas in which it differs from Sunni Islam."Momen's book fills an important gap in the general literature in English on Twelver Shi'ism, and should be carefully studied by anyone who wants to know more about what is happening in the Middle East today….This is a fine work which deserves the widest possible readership."-Malise Ruthven,The Middle East"An extremely useful reference source on the establishment and evolution of the Shi'ite branch of the Islamic religion."-Cecil V. Crabb, Jr.,Perspective"An unpretentious style, interpretive clarity and . . . sound judgment characterize Momen's writings. The various aspects of Twelver Shi'ism are carefully distinguished to satisfy both the general reader and the aspiring student."-Norman Calder,Times Literary Supplement"Specialist and nonspecialist alike will benefit from its lucid exposition of both elite and popular Shi'ism. Especially valuable is the way the work presents modern critical scholarship on Shi'i history alongside the orthodox history, which still has great influence on the religion's selfunderstanding."-Mel Piehl,Library JournalMoojan Momen has written extensively on Iran and Middle East religion.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16262-2
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Alessandro Bausani

    To introduce such a book is not an easy task. Like most Western Islamologists, my training and research have been concentrated on Sunni Islam and so Shi‘ism is not my main field. However, this book has been researched and presented in such a truly scientific manner that it does not suffer from the biases apparent in many such works.

    There is now much interest in the question of the differences between Sunni and Shi‘i Islam. I used to discuss this matter often with my students in the Islamic Studies department of the Faculty of Literature of Rome University. But nowadays...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. Glossary
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  6. 1 An Outline of the Life of Muhammad and the Early History of Islam
    (pp. 1-10)

    This chapter is intended to set the background for the emergence of Shi‘i Islam. It will consist mostly of a survey of the life of Muhammad and a brief outline of the early history of Islam as well as some of the fundamental elements of the teachings contained in the Qur’an. The outline presented in this introductory chapter is intended to be a presentation of what is held in common by both Shi‘is and Sunnis. The specifically Shi‘i aspects of the history and teachings will be presented in subsequent chapters.

    The emergence of Muhammad and the religion of Islam must...

  7. 2 The Question of the Succession to Muhammad
    (pp. 11-22)

    The succession to Muhammad is clearly the key question in Shi‘i Islam and the principal factor separating Shi‘is from the Sunni majority. The question is not only who was the successor of Muhammad but also the nature of the role of this successor, for it is on both these points that Shi‘is and Sunnis disagree.

    On the death of Muhammad, anad hocassemblage of a number of the notables in Islam elected, by general consensus, Abū Bakr to be the Caliph or successor to Muhammad. This was envisaged as being a temporal appointment designed to continue the position of...

  8. 3 The Lives of the Imams and Early Divisions among the Shi‘is
    (pp. 23-60)

    In considering Shi‘i history, especially in the early period, it is necessary to differentiate between the traditional history as recorded by the Shi‘i writers and the results of modern critical scholarship. In this chapter the traditional view will be examined and the results of the research of modern scholars will be found in the next chapter. The first part of the life of ‘Ali has already been dealt with in the previous chapter and what historical information is available regarding the Twelfth Imam will be found in Chapter 8.

    Although a great number of histories of the Imams have been...

  9. 4 Early History of Shi‘i Islam, AD 632–1000
    (pp. 61-84)

    In the whole field of Islamic studies, Shi‘i Islam has probably received less than its fair share of attention and effort from Western orientalists. However, in recent years, there have been some studies in this very important field and the 1979 revolution in Iran has undoubtedly focused attention on Shi‘i Islam. In surveying the whole of Shi‘i history, it is without doubt the early period in which modern, mainly Western, critical scholarship has presented a picture which differs most markedly from that found in the books of the traditional Muslim historians, whether Shi‘i or Sunni.

    At the start, one problem...

  10. 5 Shi‘i Islam in the Medieval Period AD 1000–1500
    (pp. 86-104)

    Following the decline of the ‘Abbasids, Iran and Iraq were for a time under the sway of an Iranian dynasty of Shi‘i persuasion, the Buyids. However, at the beginning of the 5th/nth century the empire of this dynasty was gradually seized by waves of Turkish tribes emanating from Central Asia. These Turkish tribes adopted Sunnism in its severest form under the Hanafī School. The first of these Turkish dynasties was the Ghaznavids who took over most of Iran, reaching their greatest extent in about 421/1030. They were followed by the Seljuqs who conquered the Ghaznavids in Iran and pressed on...

  11. 6 Shi‘i Islam in Modern Times AD 1500–1900
    (pp. 105-146)

    The early history of the Safavids has already been described in the previous chapter. When Ismā‘īl became the leader of the Safavid order of Sufis in 900/1494, the Aq-Quyūnlū Empire was being seriously weakened by civil war between rival claimants. Rustam, the Aq-Quyūnlū claimant who had killed Ismā‘īl’s brother, ‘Alī, for a time pursued Ismā‘īl and the latter went into hiding in Ardibīl and later in Lāhījān. But soon Rustam was embroiled in fighting other claimants and was killed in 1497 leaving Ismā‘īl free to organise his followers.

    It is clear that Ismā‘īl was representing himself to his Turkoman Qizilbāsh...

  12. 7 The Imamate
    (pp. 147-160)

    The Sunni concept of leadership of the Muslim community after the death of the Prophet, the Caliphate, is essentially a temporal leadership. The Caliph is a first among equals, elected ideally by consensus, although later the hereditary principle became the norm. To others, the theologians and experts in jurisprudence, is given the task of expounding upon religious questions.

    To the Shi‘is, however, the succession to the Prophet is a matter of the designation by the Prophet of an individual (‘Ali) as Imam. Each Imam designates his successor during his lifetime. The authority of the Imam derives from his designation by...

  13. 8 The Twelfth Imam, His Occultation and Return
    (pp. 161-171)

    Perhaps no aspect of the history of Shi‘i Islam is as confused as the stories relating to the Twelfth Imam and this is not surprising as this is the point in Shi‘i history where the events related become of a miraculous, extraordinary nature and the non-believer may be unwilling to go along with the facts as related by Shi‘is. But even for the committed believer, it is difficult to decide which of the many and often contradictory versions presented in the Traditions to follow. The following version is the one that is usually presented in the books published for popular...

  14. 9 Doctrines, Ritual Practices and Social Transactions
    (pp. 172-183)

    The main sources for all rituals and legal practices in Islam are the Qur’an and the Traditions (hadīth). In the matter of basic theological principles, however, Shi‘is hold that reason is the primary source.

    The Qur’an is considered to be the Word of God revealed through Muhammad acting as God’s mouthpiece. The text of the Qur’an in the recension compiled under the direction of the third Caliph, ‘Uthmān, is accepted by both Sunnis and Shi‘is.

    There is, however, considerable evidence that the early Shi‘a did not accept the standard text of the Qur’an. Even as late as the time of...

  15. 10 Shi‘i Jurisprudence and the Religious Hierarchy
    (pp. 184-207)

    Shi‘i Islam can be said to have three facets in its religious expression: the popular religion of the masses, the mystical religion of the Sufis and the scholarly legalistic religion of the clerical classes (the ulama). Of these three, it is undoubtedly the last which has dominated the others in terms of the respect and influence it enjoys. Although there are other schools of jurisprudence in Shi‘i Islam (see Chapter 12), it is the Usūlī School which predominates and which will be considered in this chapter.

    When Twelver Shi‘i Islam first emerged as a distinct entity separate from other Shi‘i...

  16. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  17. 11 Sufism, ‘Irfān and Hikma
    (pp. 208-219)

    In Sunni Islam, Sufism has, through the Sufi Shaykhs, a major hold on the religious devotion of the masses. But in Shi‘ism it has become largely a side-issue, a minority interest. It is the orthodox ulama who hold the religious leadership of the Shi‘i community and few of them will have anything to do with Sufism. It is not possible in a work of this nature to undertake a systematic treatment of the mystical and metaphysical ideas of Sufism. And so in this chapter only Sufism in its relationship to Shi‘ism and the history of the Shi‘i Sufi orders will...

  18. 12 Schools within Twelver Shi‘ism
    (pp. 220-232)

    In Chapter 3 the traditional account of the formation of the various Shi‘i sects has been given. But in historical terms, it is extremely difficult to determine when exactly each group can be considered to have become a separate sect. There were two main periods of time when there was intensive religious speculation and a rapid evolution of groups and sects.

    The first of these two periods was from about AD 750 to 950 in Iraq and in particular in Kūfa and Baghdad. Something of the nature of the speculations of this period can be discerned from the accounts already...

  19. 13 The Popular Religion
    (pp. 233-245)

    In Chapter 10 Shi‘i Islam was viewed from the aspect of the ulama. In this chapter we will try to give an impression of what the religion means to the Shi‘i masses and how it affects their lives.

    In Sunni Islam it has tended to be the Sufi Shaykhs and their mysticism that have held sway over a large part of the population. Shi‘is, however, look to the ulama for guidance in religious matters. And therefore Islam for the Shi‘is is, even more than for Sunnis, a religion of rituals, obligations and prohibitions.

    Life for a devout Shi‘i is perceived...

  20. 14 Contemporary Shi‘ism
    (pp. 246-299)

    The 20th century has seen great changes in all the Shi‘i communities of the world. The principal change has been in the political sphere where the Shi‘i communities have become more assertive, particularly in countries such as Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain where they form a significant proportion of the population but wield little political power. This process will undoubtedly be accelerated by the 1979 Revolution in Iran but the full effect of this remains to be seen.

    After the death of Mīrzā-yi Shīrāzī in 1895 there was a period when leadership was shared among a group of prominent mujtahids in...

  21. Appendix I A Chronology of Political and Religious Events in Shi‘i History
    (pp. 300-303)
  22. Appendix II Shi‘i Dynasties
    (pp. 304-309)
  23. Appendix III Biographies of Prominent Ulama
    (pp. 310-323)
  24. Notes
    (pp. 324-344)
  25. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 345-362)
  26. Index
    (pp. 363-397)