I believe that Shi’ism cannot be defined without paying due attention to the stages of their metamorphosis, especially their ever-changing stances on the subject of beliefs. Shia beliefs are constantly changed and modified. This is why the Shia of the first century have almost nothing in common with those who succeeded them. In the first century, Shia were those who believed that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu deserved precedence over ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu. Thus there were Shias and ‘Uthmanis. A Shia was one who granted precedence to ‘Ali over ‘Uthman and an ‘Uthmani was one who granted precedence to ‘Uthman over ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhuma. Based on the above, the definition of the Shia in the first century would be, “those who grant precedence to ‘Ali over ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhuma.” They have no other beliefs that contradict those of the majority.
This is why Ibn Taymiyyah stated that the former Shia, who lived during the khilafah of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, would grant precedence to Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma. Sharik ibn ‘Abdullah — who was considered a Shia — refused to refer to those who grant precedence to ‘Ali over Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma as Shia. He knew that this belief was in stark contradiction to that which was unambiguously and undeniably established from ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, since Tashayyu’ means “obedience and support”, not opposition and disregard (for the opinions of the one who is to be followed).
Ibn Battah reports from his teacher, who was well-known as Abu al ‘Abbas ibn Masruq:
Reported to us by Muhammad ibn Humaid — Jarir —Sufyan — from ‘Abdullah ibn Ziyad ibn Jadir who said, “Abu Ishaq al Subay’i came to Kufah, so Shimr ibn ‘Attiyah said to us, ‘go to him!’ Thereupon we went to sit with him and they began speaking. Abu Ishaq said:
خرجت من الكوفة و ليس احد يشك فى فضل ابى بكرو عمر و تقديمهما و قدمت الان و هم يقولون و يقولون ولا والله ما يقولون
When I left Kufah, not a single soul doubted the virtue of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma and that they should be granted precedence. This time when I came they saying this and that and I do not know, by the oath of Allah, what they are saying!
Muhibb al Din al Khatib explains:
This is clear historical evidence which highlights the transformation of Shi’ism. Abu Ishaq al Subay’i was the leading and most prominent scholar of Kufah. He was born during the khilafah of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu (three years before he was martyred) and he lived until the year 127 A.H. He was still a child during the Khilafah of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu. He spoke about himself saying, “my father lifted me up so I could see ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib delivering a sermon. The hair of his head and beard was white.”
If we can establish the dates of his departure from Kufah and the day he returned, we will be able to determine when were the Shia ‘Alawi (followers of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu), who followed their Imam in granting precedence to Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma, and when did they start opposing ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu and belying that which he believed, to the extent that he openly announced on the pulpit of Kufah that his two brothers (Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma) were the companions, viziers, and Khulafaʼ of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, the best of the ummah in its purest and untainted eras.
Layth ibn Abi Salim said:
ادركت الشيعة الاولى و ما يفضلون على ابى بكر و عمر احدا
I met the very first group of Shia. They would not grant superiority to anyone over Abu Bakr and ‘Umar.
The author of Mukhtasar al Tuhfah states that the Muhajirin and Ansar and those who followed them diligently, who lived in the era of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, all understood his rights and merits and treated him accordingly. Furthermore, they did not attempt to discredit any of his brothers from the Sahabah of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Thus, declaring them kafir and using foul language regarding them was extremely far-fetched.
Whoever understands the constant modifications that came about in Shia beliefs will not be surprised at all to see that many great muhaddithin (hadith scholars) and scholars were referred to as Shia. At times it is used for some who were the torchbearers of the Ahlus Sunnah. This is simply because the term Shia in its meaning and implications — in the first era — was totally different to that which it later became. Hence, whilst discussing those who were accused of being affected by the innovation of Shi’ism from the Muhaddithin, Imam al Dhahabi states:
This innovation is of two types. 1) The minor innovation, such as being extreme as far as support for ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu is concerned, or supporting him without any extremism. This is common among the Tabi’in and those after them. Along with this, they were religious, pious and truthful. If the ahadith of these people is to be rejected, then a great amount of ahadith of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam will be lost. 2) The major innovation, such as total Rafd, extremism in it, disparaging Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma and calling towards it. This type of Shia (their narration) cannot be used as evidence and there is no hesitation regarding that. Not a single truthful or trustworthy person could be presented from this category until now. On the contrary, lies are their hallmark, and Taqiyyah and hypocrisy is their dress-code. Upon what stretch of logic can the narrations of one whose condition is such be accepted? Nay, their narration can never be accepted.
The first generation of Muslims considered a person to be an extremist Shia if he spoke negatively regarding ‘Uthman, Zubair, Talhah, Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhum and others who had disagreed and clashed with ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu. On the other hand, the extremist in our times and our environments is the one who considers these luminaries to be out of the fold of Islam and he dissociates himself from Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma. This individual (who subscribes to the mentioned beliefs) is the deviant liar.
By now, it should be clear that Shi’ism had different levels, modifications, and phases just as it has many sects and groups. However, the sect which we have singled out as a subject of research, analysis and investigation is the Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers), and the phase that we wish to study is the one which derives its beliefs and religion from the four seminal books (according to them) viz. Al Kafi, Al Tahdhib, Al Istibsar and Man La Yahdurhu al Faqih (these books hold the same status in their eyes that the six books of hadith hold in the eyes of the Ahlus Sunnah), the four later books which are al Wafi, al Bihar, al Wasa’il and Mustadrak al Wasa’il and the other books (which are many in number) that the Shia scholars believe to be of the same level as the above-mentioned books.
Before concluding our discussion on the definition of the word Shia, we would like to highlight that majority of the books regarding sects define Shia (the Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers)) as the followers of ‘Ali… This could lead to a very erroneous understanding, which contradicts a belief which the ummah unanimously accepts, i.e. ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu had the same beliefs as the Shia. The fact of the matter is that he was totally innocent from all that the Shia concocted regarding him and his progeny.
Hence, it is necessary to add on to this definition that which will save a person from misunderstanding it, so it will be said, “they are those who claim to be the followers of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu whereas, instead of following him, they have opposed him. Amir al Mu’minin has nothing at all to do with their beliefs.” Otherwise, it can be said that they claim to be the followers of ‘Ali or they are the Rafidah, as was explained. Some of the scholars have done so by saying, “(they are) the Rafidah, who are believed to be part of the followers of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu.” In essence, they are not on the path of the Shia of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, who followed him, they merely claim so, and they are in reality the Rafidah.
 Refer to Nishwan Al Hamiri: Al Hur al ‘Ayn pg. 179, Ibn al Murtada: Al Munyah wa l-Amal pg. 81
 Even though they are referred to as Shia, they are in fact part of the Ahlus Sunnah. This is because the matter regarding ‘Ali and ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhuma is a really insignificant matter. There is no way that one holding the opposite view could be taken as a deviate, as it is only a matter of khilafah… Some of the Ahlus Sunnah have differed with the majority regarding the matter of ‘Uthman and ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhuma, after agreeing that Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma were undoubtedly given precedence over everyone else. Thus, some have said that ‘Uthman was more virtuous whilst others said that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was more virtuous. A third group also existed, who did not comment on the matter. However, the Ahlus Sunnah eventually accepted the first view. Refer to Majmu’ah Fatawa Sheikh al Islam 3/153, Ibn Hajar: Fath al Bari 7/34
 Minhaj al Sunnah 2/60
 His exact words were quoted previously.
 Al Muntaqa pg. 360
 Refer to Tahdhib al Tahdhib for his biography 8/63, Al Khulasah pg. 291
 Hashiyat al Muntaqa pg. 360-361
 Al Muntaqa pg. 360-361
 Mukhtasar al Tuhfah al Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers) pg. 3
 Al Dhahabi: Mizan al I’tidal 1/5-6, Ibn Hajar: Lisan al Mizan 1/9-10
 Minhaj al Sunnah 2/106Back to top