The books regarding sects are filled with the names of the different sects and groups of the Shia. What draws our attention is the amount of sects that they have amongst them. Perhaps no other religion in the world has that amount of sects. It is their outstanding trait, or rather calamity. After the death of each of their Imams, a new set of sects emerged, and each sect had a unique methodology by which they would appoint the next Imam. Similarly, each sect would invent a unique set of beliefs and thereafter claim that they alone were on the correct path.
This difference of opinion was something that the Shia themselves complained and grumbled about. One of the Shia asked his Imam, as quoted by Rijal al Kashshi:
جعلنى الله فداك ما هذا الاختلاف الذى بين شيعتكم؟ فقال واى اختلاف؟ فقال انى لاجلس فى حلقهم بالكوفة فاكاد اشك فى اختلافهم فى حديثهم فقال ابى عبد الله اجل هو كما ذكرت ان الناس اواعو بالكذب علينا وانى احدث احدهم بالحديث فلا يخرج من عندى حتى يتاوله على غير تاويله و ذلك انهم لا يطلبون بحديثنا و بحبنا ما عند الله و انما يطلبون الدنيا و كل يحب ان يدعى راسا
“May Allah allow me to be sacrificed for you! What is all this differences in your Shia?” He asked, “what differences?” The questioner replied, “I sit in their study circles in Kufah, which makes me doubt regarding the differences in their ahadith.” Abu ‘Abdullah (al Sadiq) replied, “yes, it is as you have stated. The act of lying against us has been imbued into people. I say a hadith to one of them, but he does not leave my presence until he interprets it against its interpretation. That is because they do not seek by means of our hadith and love for us the reward of Allah. Their only goal is worldly wealth and each one dreams of being made a leader.”
This narration spells out to us that love for leadership and the wealth of this temporary world was the motive behind many Shia embracing Shi’ism, as well as the fact that lying and fabricating against the Ahlul Bayt was their passion. This was the reason behind their differences and splintering. Al Mas’udi (al Shi’i) mentions that that there is a total of seventy-three sects among the Shia, and each group declares the next group disbelievers. It is for this reason that the Rafidi Mir Baqir al Damad assumed that the hadith which states that the ummah will split up into seventy three different sects refers to the sects of the Shia, and the one that will be granted salvation is the Imamiyyah.
As for the Ahlus Sunnah, the Mu’tazilah and others, they are regarded by him to be part of those who need an invitation towards Islam. He believes that they did not yet accept the call towards Islam, and have not entered into it. This view was expressed by earlier Shia as well. Al Shahrastani and al Razi have indicated towards this. Da’irat al Ma’arif states:
The basis of their differences, in most cases, is account of their differences regarding the Imams of the Ahlul Bayt. They have many different opinions regarding the appointment of Imams, their numbers and whether Imamah should end with one of the Imams or it should be passed on to the next person and whether he should be made an Imam. This is besides their differences in subsidiary laws and fights regarding the interpretations of ahadith.
Al ‘Allamah Ibn Khaldun, after stating their differences regarding the appointment of Imams:
This type of difference of opinion proves that there was no divine appointment.
This means that their claim that Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam himself appointed ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu and the other Imams is definitely baseless. This conclusion is based upon the fact that if the appointment was divine, there would be no differences and disagreements, especially to the extent that was found amongst them. Since there is a high degree of differences, we are forced to believe that there was no divine appointment. Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala says:
وَلَوْ کَانَ مِنْ عِنْدِ غَیْرِ اللّٰهِ لَوَجَدُوْا فِیْهِ اخْتِلَافًا کَثِیْرًا
If it had been from [any] other than Allah, they would have found within it much contradiction.
It is imperative to remember that Imamah is the building block and foundation of Shi’ism. Thus, differences of opinion regarding it cannot be tolerated, as is tolerated in subsidiary matters. The leading scholar of the Zaidiyyah in his era, Ahmed ibn Yahya al Murtada (d. 840 A.H), considered the differences that arose at the death of each Imam and the appointment of the next Imam as the strongest and clearest proof which exposes the falsity of the claim that the Imams were divinely appointed.
When we look at the books regarding sects, or other books which have mentioned the different sects of the Shia, we find that they had such differences in their principles that on account of it they split up into many types of different sects. Al Jahiz believes that there are only two types of Shia; Zaidiyyah and Rafidah. He says:
اعلم رحمك الله ان الشيعة رجلان زيدى و رافضى و بقيتهم بدد لا نظام لهم
Know well, may Allah have mercy upon you, that the Shia are only two types; the Zaidis and the Rafidis. The rest of them are unsettled, they have no order.
This classification is accepted by the leading scholar of the Shia, al Mufid who says that there are only two (types of) persons among the Shia; the Imami and the Zaidi.
Imam al Ash’ari rahimahu Llah believes that there were primarily three sects; the Ghaliyah, the Rafidah (Imamiyyah) and the Zaidiyyah. According to his count, the total amount of sects of the Shia were forty-five. Fifteen sects belonged to the Ghaliyah, twenty-four to the Rafidah and six to the Zaidiyyah. The Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers) are considered by him as one of the sects of the Rafidah (Imamiyyah), and he names them al Qati’iyyah. He states that they are the majority of the Shia.
Many of the authors of books regarding sects have followed in the footsteps of al Ash’ari as far as regarding them to be, in essence, three sects. Al Razi, al Isfarayini, Ibn al Murtada and Ibn Taymiyyah are examples of the many scholars who did so. Al Razi names them saying, the Zaidiyyah, the Imamiyyah and the Kaysaniyyah. Ibn al Murtada says, “the Shia are three sects; the Zaidiyyah, Imamiyyah and Batiniyyah.” Ibn Taymiyyah categorised them placing each one on a different level, the worst of them being the Ghaliyah (who believe that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was to some degree a deity or at least that he was a Nabi), followed by the Rafidah, and the best of them being the Mufaddilah among the Zaidiyyah and others (who grant precedence to ‘Ali over Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma but believe that their khilafah was valid and they were just. They do not dissociate themselves from them.
‘Abdul Qahir al Baghdadi believes that there are four primary sects among the Shia; the Zaidiyyah, Imamiyyah, Kaysaniyyah and the Ghulat. He gives all of them the title of Rafidah. According to his count, there are twenty sects in total, excluding the extremists. He includes the Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers) among the sects of the Imamiyyah and he refers to them as the Qati’iyyah as well, even though he previously listed Qati’iyyah and the Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers) as two different sects of the Imamiyyah, not as one sect.
As for al Shahrastani, he is of the view that the Shia were divided into many different sects. He says, “they have many differences and views regarding their counts of the Imams. At each count and hesitation (to appoint the next Imam) a new book, a new sect and a further decline takes place.” However, he states that in principle, they are five sects; the Kaysaniyyah, Zaidiyyah, Imamiyyah, Ghulat and Ismailiyyah.
The author of al Hur al ‘Ayn sums up the many different sects into six main sects. Ibn Qutaybah counts them as eight. Abu al Hassan al Milti believes that the Shia have twelve (primary) sects. He refers to all of them as Rafidah. He is supported, as far as this view is concerned, by al Saksaki in his book al Burhan fi Ma’rifat ‘Aqa’id Ahl al Adyan. However, it is surprising to note that al Milti refers to the Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers) as the Ismailiyyah. Ibn al Jowzi is of the view that the Shia are twelve sects, and Imam al Qurtubi concurs with him regarding that.
It is important to note that the Zaidiyyah — besides the Jarudiyyah — should be excluded from the rest of the Shia, if they are all being referred to as the Rafidah. This is because the Jarudiyyah have adopted the stance of the Rawafid. This is the same reason why the renowned scholar of the Shia, al Mufid, considers them alone — in exclusion to the rest of the Zaidiyyah — to be Shia. The rest of the sects are not regarded as Shia, as the Jarudiyyah alone share the same principles as that of Rafd.
The books of the Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers) on the subject of sects have adopted a different methodology in mentioning the sects. They list the sects of the Shia in order of the Imams, as they realised that the Shia split up into many different sects at the death of each Imam. The count of the sects of Shia in the book al Maqalat wa l-Firaq of al Qummi and Firaq al Shia of al Nowbakhti exceeds sixty. The Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers) have been counted by both of them among the fourteen or fifteen groups into which the Shia split after the death of Hassan al ‘Askari (d. 260 A.H).
As for the books on narrations, al Kulayni quotes a narration in al Kafi in which it is stated that there are thirteen sects of the Shia and all of them, with the exception of one, will be in hell. With all the above being mentioned, studying the inception of Shi’ism and the constant metamorphosis that it underwent requires a separate research and discussion, which would be a study of their History. So, we will not digress by stating all of their details.
Nonetheless, as will be noticed when the ideas and doctrines will be presented, the Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers) have upheld most of the ideas and doctrines that the other sects have concocted. They are the river into which all the streams and lakes flow. A study of this matter (which would require studying the narrations of the Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers) and comparing them with the views of the other sects) would also demand a separate discussion. I have indicated to some of these reasons in this chapter of my thesis that I wrote for my masters.
Thus, these sects have not ceased to exist, as is commonly believed. Most of them have survived. They remain in our midst, courtesy of the Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers) school of thought. Present-day Shia can be categorised into three groups:
The Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers) are the largest of all the groups in today’s time, just as they would represent the majority of the Shia at different points in history.
Some of the scholars who wrote regarding sects have referred to them as the “majority of the Shia”. Among them is al Ash’ari, al Mas’udi, ‘Abdul Jabbar al Hamdani, Ibn Hazm and Nishwan al Himyari. However, they were not always the majority. As an example, Ibn Khaldun relates that the Shia of Muhammad ibn al Hanafiyyah were the largest (group from the) Shia of the Ahlul Bayt (i.e. in their era). Thereafter, the followers began abandoning it until it disappeared. Similarly, al Balkhi says, as quoted by the author of al Hurr al ‘Ayn, that the Fathiyyah were the largest group of the Jafariyyah and they had the largest gatherings (i.e. in his era).
 Rijal al Kashshi pg. 135-136, Bihar al Anwar 2/246
 ‘Ali ibn Hussain ‘Ali al Mas’udi, the historian. Ibn Hajar says: “His books make it clear that he was a Shi’i Mu’tazili. The Twelvers classify him — in their books on biographies — as one of their scholars. He died in the year 436 A.H.” Refer to Ibn Hajar: Lisan al Mizan 4/224, Ibn Shakir al Kutbi: Fawat al Wafayat 3/12, ‘Abbas al Qummi: al Kunna wa l-Alqab 3/160, al Ardabili: Jami’ al Ruwat 1/574
 Muruj al Dhahab 3/221, also refer to al Razi: I’tiqadat Firaq al Muslimin pg. 85
 Muhammad Baqir ibn Muhammad al Istarbadi, famously known as Damad. He was among the scholars of the Shia during the reign of the Safawids (d. 1040). His biography can be found in al Kunna wa l-Alqab 2/206, al Muhibbi: Khulasat al Athar pg. 301, al Hakimi: Tarikh al ‘Ulama pg. 83
 The hadith about the ummah splitting into seventy-three sects is as stated by Ibn Taymiyyah: “A Mashhur (one level below mutawatir) and authentic hadith which appears in the Sunan and Masanid.” (al Fatawa 3/345, gathered by ‘Abdur Rahman ibn Qasim). “There are so many narrations of the hadith regarding the splitting of the ummah into seventy-three sects that no doubt can remain regarding the meaning thereof.” (al ‘Ilm al Shamikh pg. 414).
It should be noted that this hadith has been narrated without mentioning that any of them will be doomed. This version has been reported by most of the hadith scholars including the authors of Sunan books (besides al Nasa’i). Other versions mention that one will attain salvation and the rest will be doomed. This is not reported by any of the authors of Sunan books besides Abu Dawood in Kitab al Sunnah (number 4573). It is also reported in Al Darami 2/241, Ahmed 4/102, Hakim 1/128 and al Ajurri reports it in al Shari’ah pg. 18.
There is also a narration which states that all the sects will attain salvation besides one, i.e. the irreligious sect. The ‘ulama have classified this narration as a fabrication. Refer to Kashf al Khafa 1/369, Al Asrar al Marfu’ah pg. 161.
Just as the Ahlus Sunnah have reported this hadith, the Shia have also done so. The wording reported by them is: “My ummah will split into seventy two groups, from which seventy one groups will be doomed and one will attain salvation.” They asked, “who will that group be, O Rasulullah?” He replied, “the majority, the majority, the majority!” Another narration states: “My ummah will split up into seventy three sects after me. One sect from them will attain salvation and seventy two will be in hell.” Refer to Ibn Babawayh al Qummi: al Khisal 2/584-585.
There is no clear mention in these narrations that all these sects will be from the Shia. Added to that, it is unambiguously stated that the sect that will attain salvation is the majority (not the Shia)!
 Jamal al Din al Afghani: al Ta’liqat ‘Ala Sharh al Dawwani li l-’Aqa’id al ‘Adudiyyah (inside the book Kitab al A’mal al Kamilah by al Afghani, researched by Muhammad ‘Amarah 1/215). Rashid Rida attributed this book to Muhammad ‘Abduh (Tafsir al Manar 8/221). However Muhammad ‘Amarah’s research explains that it was the book of al Afghani. Refer to Muhammad ‘Amarah: al A’mal al Kamilah li l-Afghani 1/155-156, al A’mal al Kamilah by Muhammad ‘Abduh 1/209.
 Al Milal wa l-Nihal 1/165
 Al Razi: I’tiqadat Firaq al Muslimin pg. 85
 Da’irat al Ma’arif al Islamiyyah 14/67
 Al Khutat 2/351
 Ibn Khaldun: Lubab al Muhassal pg. 130
 Surah al Nisa: 82
 He was among the greatest scholars of the Zaidiyyah, to the extent that his books on jurisprudence were highly appreciated by the Zaidiyyah of Yemen and those who affiliate themselves with the Ahlul Bayt. Refer to al Showkani: al Badr al Tali’ 1/122
 Al Munyat wa l-Amal pg. 21
 Thalath Rasa’il li l-Jahiz (published by al Sindubi) pg. 241, or Rasa’il al Jahiz, Risalat Istihqaq al Imamah pg. 207 (researched by ‘Abdul Salam Harun)
 Al Irshad pg. 195
 Maqalat al Islamiyyin 1/66, 88, 140
 Maqalat al Islamiyyin 1/90
 Refer to the statement of Zayn al ‘Abidin ibn Yusuf al Askubi wherein he says, “as for the Shia, they are twenty two sects, three of whom are the roots of the rest, i.e. the Ghulat, the Zaidiyyah and the Imamiyyah.” al Radd ‘ala al Shia, page 9 of the manuscript.
 I’tiqad Firaq al Muslimin pg. 77
 Al Munyat wa l-Amal pg. 20, al Maqdisi: al Bad’ wa l-Tarikh 5/125
 Ibn Taymiyyah: al Tis’iniyyah pg. 40 inside Majmu’ al Fatawa vol. 5 printed in Kurdistan 1329 A.H.
 Al Farq Bayn al Firaq pg. 21
 The extremists are twenty sects according to him. Al Farq Bayn al Firaq pg. 232
 Al Farq Bayn al Firaq pg. 23
 Ibid pg. 64
 Ibid pg. 53
 It is for this reason that Muhy al Din ‘Abdul Hamid points out that the manner in which al Baghdadi’s list in al Farq Bayn al Firaq, the Twelvers are a separate group from the Qati’iyyah (footnotes of Maqalat al Islamiyyin 1/90). He did not realise that al Baghdadi clearly stated that the Qati’iyyah and the Twelvers are one sect. al Farq Bayn al Firaq pg. 64
 Al Milal wa l-Nihal 1/147
 Ibid 1/147
 Al Hur al ‘Ayn pg. 154
 Ibn Qutaybah: al Ma’arif pg. 622-623
 Al Tanbih wa l-Radd pg. 18
 Al Burhan pg. 36
 Al Tanbih wa l-Radd pg. 32-33
 Talbis Iblis pg. 32 (researched by Khayr al Din ‘Ali)
 Bayan al Firaq, page 1 of the manuscript
 Refer to al Mufid: Awa’il al Maqalat pg. 39. Read up on the Jarudiyyah on page 42 of this booklet. Footnote 3.
 Refer to al Nowbakhti: Firaq al Shia pg. 96 where he mentions that the companions of Hassan al ‘Askari who split up into fourteen sects after his death. Al Qummi states that they split up into fifteen groups. Refer to al Qummi: al Maqalat wa l-Firaq pg. 102.
 Usul al Kafi (which is printed at the bottom of Mir’at al ‘Uqul) 4/344. Al Majlisi, according to their so-called classification methodology, classified this narration to be Hassan (reliable). Mir’at al ‘Uqul 4/344
 Fikrat al Taqrib Bayn Ahlus Sunnah wa l-Shia pg. 346
 Al Nashshar: Nash’at al Fikr al Falsafi 2/12, al ‘Amili: A’yan al Shia 1/22, Muhammad Mahdi Shams al Din: Nizam al Hukm wa l-Idarah fi l-Islam pg. 61, Hibat al Din al Shahrastani: Muqaddimat Firaq al Shia
 They believe that the Imam after Jafar al Sadiq is Ismail ibn Jafar and thereafter Muhammad ibn Ismail ibn Jafar. The Imamah of the rest of the progeny of Jafar is rejected by them. Other groups sprouted out from the Ismailiyyah such as the Qaramitah, Hashshashis, Fatimids and the Druze. The Ismailiyyah have many different sects and names which differ from place to place. They have, as al Shahrastani states, “a new claim in every era and a new doctrine in every language.” As for their religion, al Ghazali (among others) states, “it is a religion which is outwardly Rafd and in reality nothing but plain kufr.” Ibn al Jowzi states, “the crux of their beliefs is the denial of a creator, belittling nubuwwah and denying the hereafter. However, they do not disclose this at the first encounter. They have different levels in their invitation (to their beliefs). The reality of the religion is not told to anyone, unless he reaches the highest level. Many of the scholars have learnt the reality of their matters and thereafter exposed them. Al Baghdadi came across their book, al Siyasat wa l-Balagh al Akyad wa l-Namus al Akbar. He realised therefrom that they are atheists and irreligious people who hide behind the veil of Shi’ism. Al Hamadi al Yamani got to live amongst them, through which he realised their condition. He explained this in his book Kashf Asrar al Batiniyyah. Ibn al Nadim found their al Balaghat al Sab’ah (the seven messages), and he read the seventh message. To his surprise, he found it to be a legalisation of illegal and forbidden acts, as well as a mockery of the shara’i’ (plural of shari’ah) and the ones upon whom they were revealed as well as others. They are still active today. They keep their books a secret amongst themselves. One of them stated, ‘we have books which are not available to anyone for reading except us and none will learn their realities besides us.’” Mustafa Ghalib”al Harakat al Batiniyyah fi l-Islam pg. 67, Abu Hatim al Razi al Ismaili: al Zinah pg. 287 (inside the book al Ghuluw wa l-Firaq al Ghaliyah), al Ghazali: Fada’ih al Batiniyyah pg. 37 onwards, al Milal wa l-Nihal 1/167, 19, al Baghdadi: al Farq Bayn al Firaq pg. 294, 621, Ibn al Nadim: al Fahrist pg. 267-268, al Milti: al Tanbih wa l-Radd pg. 218, al Maqdisi: al Bad’ wa l-Tarikh 5/124, al Isfarayini: al Tabsir fi l-Din, Ibn al Jowzi: Talbis Iblis pg. 99, al Ismailiyyah: Ihsan Ilahi Zahir.
 The Zaidiyyah are the supporters of Zaid ibn ‘Ali ibn Hussain ibn ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, al Milal wa l-Nihal 1/154, Muqaddimat al Bahr al Zakhkhar pg. 40. They have been named Zaidiyyah due to their affiliation with him. Yahya ibn Hamzah: al Risalat al Wazi’ah pg. 28, al Sam’ani/al Ansab 6/340. They detached themselves from the Imamiyyah when Zaid radiya Llahu ‘anhu was asked regarding Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma, whereupon he said: “May Allah be pleased with them.” Those who disliked this and denounced him due to it were then named Rafidah. Those who did not denounce him were named Zaidiyyah, on account of them following him. This took place towards the end of the reign of Hisham ibn ‘Abdul Malik (in the year 21/22 A.H) Minhaj al Sunnah 1/21, al Risalat al Wa’izah pg. 87-88. The Zaidiyyah and the Mu’tazilah share the same beliefs. al Milal wa l-Nihal 1/162, al Muqbili: al ‘Ilm al Shamikh pg. 319, al Razi: al Muhassal pg. 247. There are different sects among the Zaidiyyah as well. Some have no affiliation with Zaid except his name. They are in reality Rawafid. They claim that the ummah deviated and committed kufr by directing the khilafah towards someone other than ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu. They are referred to as the Jarudiyyah, the followers of Abu al Jarud (as was explained). Another group from them hold beliefs that are almost the same as that of the Ahlus Sunnah. They are the followers of Hassan ibn Salih ibn Hayy al Faqih. They believe that Imamah should be restricted to the progeny of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu (Ibn Hazm says that the actual belief that has been established from Hassan ibn Salih is that Imamah is restricted to the Quraysh). They associate themselves with all the Sahabah, but they believe in the superiority of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu over the rest. Ibn Hazm: al Fisal 2/266. For more information regarding the fair stance of the real Zaidiyyah as far as the subject of Sahabah is concerned, refer to Ibn al Wazir: al Rowd al Basim pg. 49-50, al Muqbili: al ‘Ilm al Shamikh pg. 326. Also refer to my discussion regarding the Zaidiyyah in Fikrat al Taqrib pg. 146.
 Maqalat al Islamiyyin 1/90
 Muruj al Dhahab 4/199
 Al Mughni vol. 2 category two pg. 176
 Al Fisal 5/38, 4/158
 Al Hur al ‘Ayn pg. 166
 Tarikh Ibn Khaldun 3/172
 They are the followers of ‘‘Abdullah ibn Jafar ibn Muhammad al Sadiq, the eldest of al Sadiq’s children. They were named al Fathiyyah because ‘Abdullah had a large head (aftah al ra’s in Arabic). They are also named al ‘Ammariyyah, as one of their leaders was known as ‘Ammar. Al Nowbakhti says that most of the scholars and jurists of the Shia had inclined towards this group. However, ‘Abdullah lived for a mere seventy days after the demise of his father, due to which they retracted their view that he was an Imam. Refer to Masa’il al Imamah pg. 46, Firaq a-Shia by al Nowbakhti pg. 77-78, Maqalat al Islamiyyin 1/102, Al Hur al ‘Ayn pg. 163-164.
The author of al Zinah (Abu Hatim al Razi al Ismaili (d. 322 A.H)) says: “This sect has ceased to exist, as none hold this view anymore. ‘Abdullah passed away seventy days after the demise of his father and he did not leave behind any male children.” Al Zinah pg. 287. Perhaps this is the reason why they have ceased to exist. The narrations of the followers of this group have been preserved in the reliable books of the Twelvers as will appear under the chapter of the Sunnah.
 Al Hur al ‘Ayn pg. 164Back to top