The Origins of Shi`ism

The Sects of the Shi`ah
April 15, 2016
The Views of Non-Shi`ah Regarding the Inception of Shi`ism
April 15, 2016

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The Origins of Shi’ism


The scholars and researchers have differed regarding the origins of Shia beliefs. Some have stated that it has Jewish origins, others have stated that it has Persian origins, a third group says that it was the home of old Asian beliefs such as Buddhism.[1] There are other views as well.


The View that it has Jewish Roots


There are some researchers who believe that Shi’ism has a Jewish flavour to it. This conclusion is reached due to two different reasons:

Firstly, Ibn Saba’ was the first person to believe in the divine appointment of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu and Raj’ah, and Ibn Saba’ was a Jew. These ideas went on to become the core principles of Shi’ism. It is for this reason that al Qummi, al Nowbakhti and al Kashshi (who were among the classical Shia scholars) have indicated towards this, after gathering and reviewing the ideas of Ibn Saba’ which ware later ‘elevated’ to degree that they became the founding principles of Shi’ism. They state:


فمن هنا قال من خالف الشيعة ان اصل الرفض ماخوذ من اليهودية

This is why those who oppose the Shia say that the origin of Rafd is Judaism.[2]


Secondly, there is a degree of resemblance between the foundations of Judaism and Shi’ism. Perhaps the first and most encompassing statement that was pronounced regarding this[3] is that which is reported from al Sha’bi[4]. Ibn Hazm indicates to a portion thereof. He says:


These Shia are treading the path of the Jews who believe that Ilyas ‘alayh al Salam and Fanhas ibn al ‘Azar ibn Harun ‘alayh al Salam are alive up until today.[5]


Ibn Taymiyyah says that the Shia in their extremism, ignorance and following of desires resemble the Jews in certain aspects and the Christians in other aspects.[6] People have always described them in this manner. Thereafter he quotes the statement of al Sha’bi regarding their resemblance to the Jews and Christians. Many researchers have held this view.[7]


The View that Shi’ism is of Persian Origin


Some researchers are of the opinion that Shi’ism has Persian links. This is due to the following factors:

Firstly, as stated by Ibn Hazm and al Maqrizi, the Persians had a vast kingdom, they had dominance over all other nations and they were overawed by themselves to the extent that they would call themselves the free ones (as opposed to slaves) and the masters and the rest of the nations were considered by them, to be their slaves. Thus, when their kingdom came to an end at the hands of the Arabs (who they viewed as the people of the least potential) they were dumbstruck and mind boggled. No calamity could not have been worse than this.

Hence, they planned a number of physical attacks against the Muslims. However, on each of these occasions, Allah granted dominance to the truth. Thereupon, they realised that waging a subtle ideological war against the Muslims would be more productive. The result of this was that some of them hypocritically came across as Muslims and won the confidence of some of the supporters of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu by ostentatiously expressing their love for the Ahlul Bayt and condemning the oppression that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu underwent (according to them). Thereafter, they steered them onto paths which distanced them from the path of guidance.[8]

Secondly, the Arabs believed in freedom (in choosing their rulers) whereas the Persians believed that kingdom was inherited and restricted to the family in authority. The idea of choosing the khalifah was unheard of by them. Thus, since Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam passed away and he did not leave behind any sons, the most deserving person of leadership would be his cousin, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu. Consequently, whoever else assumed the post of khilafah — such as Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthman — all snatched the post from the one who was most deserving of it.

Added to that, the culture of the Persians was to consider the ruler to be — to some degree — divine. As a result, they viewed ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu and his progeny in the same light. They would say, “obedience to the Imam is compulsory. Obeying him is in fact obedience to Allah.”[9] Many Persians had accepted Islam, but they did not rid themselves of all their previous beliefs, which they inherited generation after generation. Thus, with the passing of time, they merely gave their old ideologies an Islamic flavour. Hence the view of the Shia regarding ‘Ali and his progeny is the exact same view that was held by their forefathers regarding the rulers.


Sheikh Abu Zahrah says:


We believe that the Shia were affected by Persian ideologies regarding kingdom and inheritance, as the resemblance between their religion and the system of Persian kingdom or rule is quite evident. This view is supported by the fact that that most Persians are Shia and the first Shia were from Persia.[10]


Thirdly, after the Muslims conquered the Persian lands, Hussain ibn ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu married the daughter of Yazdegerd — one of the kings of Persia — after she was brought into the lands of Muslims along with all the other captives. ‘Ali ibn Hussain was born out of this wedlock. Thus the Persians now had seen in their offspring, who were born out of Hussain’s radiya Llahu ‘anhu wedlock, heirs to their previous kingdom. They believed that the blood that flowed in the veins of ‘Ali ibn Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhu and his progeny was Iranian (Persian) blood (due the daughter of Yazdegerd who was his mother) and he was from the progeny of the Sassanid and thus divine kings (according to their belief).[11] Added to that, the name Fatimah (as stated by some) is a revered name among the Persians, as there was a Fatimah, according to Persian history, whose achievements were praiseworthy.[12]

Fourthly, there are some narrations in the books of the Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers) which have a Persian flavour to them. According to them, Salman radiya Llahu ‘anhu — who was exonerated by Allah from their blasphemous beliefs — had a few specialities and qualities which raised him above the sphere of being a normal human. Their narrations state:


ان سلمان باب الله فى الارض من عرفه كان مؤمنا و من انكره كان كافرا

Salman is the door of Allah upon the Earth. Whoever recognises him is a believer and whoever does not recognise him is a kafir.[13]


This description of Salman radiya Llahu ‘anhu is repeatedly found in their narrations regarding their twelve Imams. Similarly, their narrations state:


يبعث الله اليه ماكا ينقر فى اذنه يقول كيت كيت

Allah sends an angel to him who whispers into his ears saying such and such…[14]


Hassan ibn Mansur reports:


I asked al Sadiq, “was Salman divinely inspired?” and he replied, “yes.” I asked, “who conveys to him the inspiration?” He replied, “an honourable angel.” Thereafter, I asked, “if Salman is of this status, then what is the status of his companion?” He replied, “mind your own business.”[15]


This narration establishes that Salman received revelation. It also implies that his companion, ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was level above that as well! Their narrations establish that Salman radiya Llahu ‘anhu was blessed with the knowledge of the prophets and Imams. It states:


سلمان ادرك علم الاول والاخر

Salman had the knowledge of the first and the last.


The narration then goes on to explain this:


يعنى علم النبى صلى الله عليه و سلم و علم على و امر النبى صلى الله عليه و سلم و امر على

i.e. the knowledge of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and ‘Ali and the matters of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and ‘Ali.[16]


It is also stated in their narrations that Salman is one of those Shia (as the falsely claim) by means of whom:


ترزقون و بهم تنصرون و بهم تمطرون

You are given sustenance, helped and because of whom you are granted rain.[17]


Some of the Shia were not satisfied with this degree of extremism. Hence they took it even further by claiming that Salman was a deity. This sect was found in the era of Abu al Hassan al Ash’ari (d. 330 A.H). He indicates towards them in his book, Maqalat, by saying:


Some people have said, in this era, that Salman al Farsi was a deity.[18]


The narrations of this type which appear in the books of the Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers) could be from the effects of this group. This is because the books of the Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers) are an all-inclusive collection of the absurdities of all the different sects of the Shia. However, the fact that these narrations have been preserved warns us that this group could resurface at some point in the future.

In this day and age, we have witnessed, among the inner circles of the Shia an attitude of honouring a Persian personality, who participated in conspiring against the Khilafah Rashidah (the rightly guided khulafa’, viz. Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman and ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhum), i.e. Abu Lu’lu’ah, the Persian fire-worshipper who assassinated ‘Umar ibn al Khattab radiya Llahu ‘anhu. He is granted the honourable title of Baba Shujah al Din[19], by them. The date of the murder of ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu, at the hands of this fire-worshipper is celebrated as one of their ‘Ids. Their scholar, al Jaza’iri quoted many narrations regarding this.[20] Furthermore, they honour the Day of Nayruz, just as the fire-worshippers do,[21] whereas their narrations clearly state that the Day of Nayruz is the ‘Id of the Persians.[22]


The View that Shi’ism is the Home of Old Asian Beliefs


Some believe that Shi’ism is the home and habitat of old Asian beliefs such as Buddhism and others.[23] Ahmed Amin says:


Under the banner of Shi’ism, views such as Tanasukh al Arwah (transmigration of souls)[24], believing in Tajsim (Anthropomorphism), Hulul (that the Almighty may embody another person) and other similar beliefs which were common among the Brahmins[25], philosophers and Zoroastrians[26] before it entered the Islamic world.[27]


One of the orientalists pointed out that many un-Islamic beliefs were embraced by the Shia. He states:


Those beliefs were adopted from Zoroastrianism, Maniasm[28], Buddhism and other religions which were popular in Asia even before the appearance of Islam.[29]


The author of Mukhtasar al Tuhfah says:


The religion of the Shia has exact resemblances with Judaism, Christianity, polytheism and Zoroastrianism.


Thereafter he mentions the reasons behind their resemblance with each group.[30] A very accurate statement was made by the person who said that after studying the different sects of the Shia, he found that Shi’ism contained all those beliefs against which Islam waged war.[31]


The Preferred View Regarding the Origin of Shi’ism


I am of the view that simply claiming that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was divinely appointed as the khalifah is not necessarily something that has foreign roots. Love for the Ahlul Bayt is natural (for Muslims). This love itself, does not demand that any difference is made between the different members of the Ahlul Bayt, extremism is adopted as far as their love is concerned, or any of the Sahabah should be bad-mouthed — as is the practice of those who claim Shi’ism.

Love for the Ahlul Bayt increased and intensified after the calamities and trials that they were put through, starting from the assassination of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, thereafter his son Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhu and so on. These incidents ripped open the emotions of the Muslims. The ideologies of Ibn Saba’ did not find fertile grounds to flourish and spread except after the occurrence of these tragedies.

However, Shi’ism in the form of set beliefs such as the divine appointment of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu[32], Raj’ah, Bada, Ghaybah, ‘Ismah, etc., there is no doubt that these beliefs were brought into the ummah and they unlawfully entered the ranks of the Muslims. Their roots can be traced back to many different nations, as whoever had any malice and hatred for Islam and the Muslims jumped onto the bandwagon of Shi’ism.

Shi’ism was also a safe haven for all those who wished to remain upon their beliefs (whether they were Jews, Christians, Zoroastrian or followers of any other set of beliefs) and still be referred to as Muslims. The outcome of all of this was Shi’ism became a conglomeration of foreign doctrines which forced their way into it. This will be explained under the in-depth study of their principles. Ibn Taymiyyah accurately stated that those who claim to be adherents of Shi’ism composed their religion from the beliefs of the Persians, Romans, Greeks, Christians, Jews and others. They added all of these to Shi’ism. Thereafter, he says that this is the realisation of the information passed on to us by Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, that this ummah will follow in the footsteps of the people before them, and he quotes the relative ahadith. He says that this the exact condition of the Shia.[33]


NEXT⇒ The Sects of the Shia

[1]  They are the followers of Buddha. They are scattered across Asia and the beliefs of the different groups differ Buddha. Japanese Buddhists believe that he is a god who is embodied in the universe. The Buddhists of India (from where it started) do not have a deity. The Buddhists of China are inclined towards the belief that there is one deity who manifests himself in the form of different people and Buddha was one of them. for more details, refer to Muhammad Sayed Kilani: Dhayl al Milal wa l-Nihal pg. 13, 26, 31, Muhammad Abu Zahrah: al Diyanat al Qadimah pg. 53, Sulaiman Mazhar: Qissat al Diyanat pg. 73

[2] Refer to al Qummi: al Maqalat wa l-Firaq pg. 20, al Nowbakhti: Firaq al Shia pg. 22, Rijal al Kashshi pg. 108

[3]  ‘Amir ibn Sharahil ibn ‘Abd Dhi Kibar al Sha’bi. A narrator from the Tabi’in. He had a phenomenal memory (d. 102 A.H.) Tahdhib al Tahdhib 5/5

[4]  Reported by al Khallal in Kitab al Sunnah. The researcher of the book says that the isnad is unreliable as it contains ‘Abdur Rahman ibn Malik ibn Mighwal whose narrations were not accepted. However, whatever has been mentioned therein is found among the Rafidah. Al Sunnah li l-Khallal 2/563-565, Minhaj al Sunnah 1/6-10, al Lalika’i: Sharh Usul I’tiqad Ahl al Sunnah, Kashif al Ghummah fi I’tiqad Ahl al Sunnah pg. 611, Ibn al Jowzi: al Mowdu’at 1/337, Ibn Bakr: al Tamhid wa l-Bayan pg. 233-234 (of the manuscript).

[5]Al Fisal 5/37

[6]Minhaj al Sunnah 1/6

[7]  Among them is Ahmed Amin who says, “Judaism became apparent in Shi’ism, as they believed in Raj’ah and they claimed that the Shia are forbidden upon Hell except for a few moments just as the Jews said, “Hell will not touch us, except for a few days”. Christianity became apparent due to the speech of some of them who said, “the relationship between Allah and the Imam is the same as the relationship between Him and the Messiah.” Refer to Fajr al Islam (pg. 276). Goldziher is of the view that the concept of Raj’ah crept into the Shia due to Jewish and Christian influences. Refer to al ‘Aqidah wa l-Shari’ah (pg. 215). Similarly, Friedlaender states that the core ideologies and doctrines of Shi’ism were donated to it by Judaism. Refer to al ‘Aqidah wa l-Shari’ah pg. 100. Wellhausen says that their origins go back to Judaism, and he points out some of the beliefs which are common between the Jews and the Shia. Ahzab al Mu’aridah pg. 170

[8]  Ibn Hazm: al Fisal 2/273, al Maqrizi: al Khutat 2/262

[9]  Muhammad Abu Zahrah: Tarikh al Mazahib al Islamiyyah 1/37, Ahmed Amin: Fajr al Islam pg. 277, ‘Irfan ‘Abdul Hamid: Dirasat fi l-Firaq pg. 23, Wellhausen: Ahzab al Mu’aridah al Siyasiyyah al Diniyyah fi Sadr al Islam pg. 168, Vloten: al Siyadat al ‘Arabiyyah pg. 76

[10]  Muhammad Abu Zahrah: Tarikh al Mazahib al Islamiyyah 1/38

[11]  For more information regarding the fact that the mother of ‘Ali ibn Hussain was the daughter of Yazdegerd, refer to Tarikh al Ya’qubi 2/247, Sahih al Kafi 1/53. To understand the effects thereof, refer to Samirah al Laythi: al Zandaqah wa l-Shu’ubiyyah pg. 56, ‘Abdullah al Gharib: Wa Ja’a Dowr al Majus pg. 77, al Nashshar: Nash’at al Fikr al Falsafi 2/111, ‘Abdur Razzaq al Hisan: al Mahdi wa l-Mahdawiyyah pg. 82, Donaldson DM: /This Shi’ite Religion pg. 101

[12]  She helped out greatly — as they believe — in exposing the fire-worshipper Samardays, who took over the throne of the Kayanin. Thus Fatimah was brave and consequently sanctified. If it was not for, the matters of this Smardays, the fire-worshipper would have remained unknown. If it was not for her, her father Otans and his companions would not be able to conspire against him. Refer to ‘Abdur Razzaq al Hisan/al Mahdi wa l-Mahdawiyyah pg. 84, on the authority of Herodotus (2/462), al Maqdisi: al Bad’ wa l-Tarikh 4/134, 6/95

[13]Rijal al Kashshi pg. 15

[14]Rijal al Kashshi pg. 16

[15]Rijal al Kashshi pg. 19

[16]Rijal al Kashshi pg. 16

[17]Rijal al Kashshi pg. 6-7

[18]Maqalat al Islamiyyin 1/80

[19]  ‘Abbas al Qummi: al Kunna wa l-Alqab 2/55

[20]Al Anwar al Nu’maniyyah 1/108

[21]  Al A’lami: Muqtabas al Athar 29/202-203, al Majlisi: Bihar al Anwar, Bab ‘Amal Yawm al Nayruz 98/419, Wasa’il al Shia Bab Istihba Sawm Yawm al Nayruz wa l-Ghusl fih wa Lubs Anzaf al Thiyab wa l-Tib 7/246

[22]Bihar al Anwar 48/108

[23]Tarikh al Mazahib al Islamiyyah by Abu Zahrah 1/37

[24]  The transference of the soul, after death, from one body to another, whether it is the body of a human or an animal. This view was held by some Hindus and Pythagoras of Greece and thereafter found its way into the Muslim world. Refer to al Mu’jam al Falsafi pg. 55, al Ta’rifat by al Jurjani pg. 93

[25]  They are those who affiliate themselves with a man from them named Braham. al Milal wa l-Nihal 2/251, or Birham, who was one of the kings of Persia. Al Munyat wa l-Amal pg. 72, They believe in Allah but disbelieve in the prophets. They have different sects among them. Refer to the above-mentioned references.

[26]  Besides worshipping fire, they also believe that everything is based upon two principles; light and darkness. Light, according to them, always existed, whilst darkness came about later. The laws of the Zoroastrians also revolve around two principles; i.e. explaining the reason why light mixes with darkness and explaining the reason why it is free from darkness. Mixing of the two is considered the beginning and freedom of light is the end-point. Al Milal wa l-Nihal 1/232, al Razi: I‘tiqadat Firaq al Muslimin wa l-Mushrikin pg. 134 Akhbar Umam al Majus:al Kasandar Sibil

[27] Fajr al Islam pg. 277

[28]  Maniasm: The followers of Mani ibn Fatik who was a Zoroastrian by origin, and thereafter formed a religion between fire-worship and Christianity. The Zoroastrians opposed him and tried to kill him, until eventually he was killed by Bahram ibn Hurmuz ibn Sabur, after the era of ‘Isa ‘alayh al Salam. His religion remained among his followers. They also believe in the two principles; light and darkness. They believe that the universe was formed from these two, and that light is greater than darkness. It is the praiseworthy deity. Refer to al Milal wa l-Nihal 1/244 onwards, al Munyat wa l-Amal pg. 60, Sharh al Tahawiyyah pg. 18, al Razi: I’tiqadat Firaq al Muslimin wa l-Mushrikin pg. 128

[29]  Vloten: al Siyadat al ‘Arabiyyah pg. 83-84

[30]Mukhtasar al Tuhfah pg. 298

[31]  Barakat ‘Abdul Fattah: al Wahdaniyyah pg. 125

[32]  This is unlike the first case, where a mere claim is made and it is not linked in any way to a person’s beliefs and it has no effect upon his status as a Muslim.

[33]Minhaj al Sunnah 4/147, read the ahadith regarding this in Sahih al Bukhari, Kitab al I’tisam bi l-Sunnah, Bab Qowl al Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam Latattabi’anna Sunan Man Kan Qablakum number 2669, al Musnad 2/450, 511, 527