The Technical Meaning of the Word Shi`ah – a.As Defined by the Books of the Ithna `Ashariyyah

b. The Definition of the Word Shi`ah from the Books of the Isma`ili
April 18, 2016
Definition of the Word ‘Shi`ah’
April 18, 2016

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The Technical Meaning of the Word Shia

As Defined by the Books of the Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers)


The First Definition

Al Qummi[1] (d. 301 A.H) defines the word Shia in the following words:


هم شيعة على بن ابى طالب

They are the Shia of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib.[2]


الشيعة هم فرقة على بن ابى طالب المسلمون شيعة على فى زمان النبى صلى الله عليه و سلم و بعده معروفون بانقطاعهم اليه والقول بامامته

The Shia are the group of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, who are Muslims. The Shia of ‘Ali were known for confining themselves to him and claiming his Imamah during the lifetime of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and even after his demise.[3]


Al Nowbakhti[4] agrees with this definition to the extent that he repeats it using the exact same words.[5]


An Analysis of the First Definition


This is the definition of the word Shia in the most important and the earliest book of the Shia regarding sects. This definition does not indicate towards any core beliefs and principles of the Shia, such as the belief that ‘Ali and his sons radiya Llahu ‘anhum were divinely appointed. (The only mention of their beliefs is the words “the Imamah of ‘Ali”. However, there is no mention of divine appointment or any of his successors.)

A definition which omits the principles laid down by latter day Shia is among the correct definitions of the Shia of ‘Ali or the real Shia. It expels all the claims of the Shia from the boundaries of Shi’ism. These claims are such that the Ahlul Bayt were completely unaware of them and they had no relation to that which they said. However, the Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers) do not accept this as the correct definition of Shi’ism, even though al Qummi and al Nowbakhti were of the Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers).

This definition claims that the Shia of ‘Ali were present during the era of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. This is a claim that cannot be substantiated by means of any kind of proof, be it the Qur’an, Sunnah or even authentic history. Rather, the opposite can be found in the Qur’an, as Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala says:


اِنَّ الدِّیْنَ عِنْدَ اللّٰهِ الْاِسْلَامُ

Indeed, the religion in the sight of Allah is Islam.[6]


Thus, we do not see any mention of Shi’ism or any other religion/sect. The Sahabah were all one group, sect and the Shia during the era of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Their support and allegiance was Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam alone.


The Second Definition


The grand Shia scholar of his era, al Mufid, states that the word Shia refers to:


اتباع امير المؤمنين صلوات الله عليه على سبيل الولاء والاعتقاد لامامته بعد الرسول صلوات الله عليه و اله بلا فصل و نفى الامامة عمن تقدم فى مقام الخلافة و جعله فى الاعتقاد متبوعا لهم غير تابع لاحد منهم على وجه الاقتداء


The followers of Amir al Mu’minin (may the salutations of Allah be upon him), who take him to be their guardian and they believe in his Imamah after Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam without anyone else in between. Also, it demands that Imamah should be negated from all those before him who were khulafa before him and to believe that they followed him whereas he did not take anyone as his leader.[7]


Thereafter, he mentions that this definition includes the Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers) and Jarudi Shia. As for the rest of the groups of the Zaidiyyah, they are not part of the Shia, and the term Shia does not include them.[8]


An Analysis of the Second Definition


We do not see in this definition offered by al Mufid, any mention of believing that the son of ‘Ali is to be taken as an Imam. This is despite the fact that the one who disbelieves in this is not considered a Shia according to them. The definition also omits many fundamental aspects of Shi’ism, upon which the cult is based. These concepts include divine appointment, infallibility etc., which are fundamental principles of the Imamiyyah.

It should also be noticed that he explicitly excluded the moderate sect of the Zaidiyyah from his definition of Shia, and he explains that it only includes the extremist Jarudis.[9] Furthermore, he has opened the door to include all the extremist Shia under the definition of Shi’ism. As for his claim, “to believe that they followed him whereas he did not take anyone as his leader,” this is an indication towards one of the basic and primary beliefs of the Shia, i.e. Taqiyyah (dissimulation). According to them, ‘Ali was outwardly a follower of the Khulafaʼ, but secretly, he was their leader. Thus, his obedience to them — according to al Mufid and his Shia — was not carried out with sincerity. Instead, it was taqiyyah. He did not believe that they were his leaders, he simply towed the line to please them.

His statement, “… they believe in the Imamah of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu after Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam without anyone else in between,” is based upon the Shia propaganda that the khilafah of the first three Khulafaʼ was invalid. Al Mufid explains this statement in detail in another of his writings.[10] He says:


و كانت امامة امير المؤمنين بعد النبى صلى الله عليه و سلم ثلاثون سنة منها اربع و عرون سنة و ستة اشهر ممنوعا من التصرف فى احكامها مستعملا للتقية و المداراة و منها خمس سنين و ستة اشهر ممتحنا بجهاد المنافقين من الناكثين و القاسطين و المارقين و مضطهدا بفتن الضالين كما كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم ثلاث عشر كذا سنة من نبوته ممنوعا من احكامها خائفا و محبوسا و هاربا و مطرودا لا يتمكن من جهاد الكافرين و لا يستطيع دفعا عن المؤمنين ثم هاجر و اقام بعد الهجرة عشر سنين مجاهدا للمشركين ممتحنا بالمنافقين الى ان قبضه الله جل اسمه اليه و اسكنه جنات النعيم


The Imamah of Amir al Mu’minin after the demise of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam lasted for a period of thirty years. Twenty four years and six months of this period were spent in Taqiyyah and towing the line, as he was stopped from getting involved in its affairs. The next five years and six months were spent in doing jihad against the hypocrites from the Nakithin, Qasitin and Mariqin[11] as well as dealing with the trials created by the deviates. This was the same as the condition of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, who was not allowed to implement his laws for thirteen years of his nubuwwah. He was in the state of fear, restricted, a fugitive and he was chased away in these years. He could not fight against the disbelievers or protect the Muslims. Thereafter, he migrated and he spent the remaining ten years fighting against the polytheists and he was tested with the hypocrites until Allah, whose name is glorified, repossessed his soul and granted him residence in the bountiful gardens.[12]


Thus, according to al Mufid, the term Shia only refers to those who believe that the khilafah of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu started with the demise of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and ended with his death.[13] The khilafah of the first three khulafa’, according to him, was invalid. Hence, according to him, the word Shia could only be used to refer to three people after the demise of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. The rest of the Sahabah of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, according to the Shia, were disbelievers just like the polytheists who lived in the era of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. The governance was one of kufr. Thus, they believe that ‘Ali lived amongst them practising dissimulation and behaving like a hypocrite.[14] Is it possible for anyone to insult ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, the Sahabah and Islam in a manner worse than this?


The Third Definition of the Word Shia


Since al Mufid did not mention, in his definition of the word Shia, the aspect of divine appointment and the bequest, we find that their scholar al Tusi[15] bailed them out and covered up in this aspect by basing Shi’ism upon the belief that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu became the Imam of the Muslims upon the bequest of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and the will of Allah.[16] Hence, al Tusi at this point establishes that believing that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was appointed by Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and Allah as the khalifah is a fundamental belief of Shi’ism. It is for this reason that he excludes the Zaidiyyah Sulaimaniyyah[17], from the sects of Shia as they believe that the Imam is not divinely appointed.

Their beliefs regarding Imamah are as follows: “Imamah is a position that is decided through mutual consultation. It can be enacted by the decision of two Muslims, if they are among the most virtuous ones. It is also valid in the case when the person appointed to the post is not the most virtuous person of his era.” The Khilafah of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar[18] radiya Llahu ‘anhuma is accepted by them. Hence, they were not only excluded from the Shia cult, but instead they were even labelled as “Nawasib[19]. As if that was not enough, it was stated in Rijal al Kashshi that the Zaidiyyah are worse than the Nawasib.[20] This judgement was passed by the Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers) regarding all the sects of the Zaidiyyah who agree with this view of the Sulaimaniyyah such as the Salihiyyah and the Batriyyah.[21]

Some of their contemporary scholars hold the same view as al Tusi. They only consider those who believe that ‘Ali’s radiya Llahu ‘anhu appointment to the post of Imamah was divine to be Shia. They assert that the word Shia “is the official title of those who believe that ‘Ali was appointed as the khalifah by Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.”[22]

It is important to take note that the idea of divine appointment was something that both former and latter day Shia scholars paid special attention to. Thus, we find that their scholar, al Kulayni penned down thirteen chapters (in which he quoted one hundred and nine narrations[23]) in his book al Kafi regarding this matter. In this day and age, one of the Rafidi scholars authored a book of sixteen volumes regarding one of the narrations that is used by them to prove that the appointment of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was divine. This hadith is the hadith of al Ghadir[24], so he named his book al Ghadir.[25]

We are not surprised by the fact they the Shia have taken the belief in the divine appointment of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu to be a fundamental and core belief of Shi’ism. However, what does surprise us is the extent and degree to which they go in proving all those beliefs which are taken to be far-fetched by majority of the Muslims. You will find that they consider all these types of beliefs to be the foundations and core beliefs of Shi’ism, yet when their scholars define Shi’ism, they do not even hint towards these beliefs — despite the fact that they believe Shi’ism cannot be adopted without subscribing to those beliefs, and there is no Shi’ism without them.

Among these beliefs is the belief of Raj’ah (reincarnation). They have it recorded in there narrations that, “the one who does not belief in our Raj’ah is not among us.”[26] Despite this, one will never find this in their definition of Shi’ism. The same is the condition of the belief in infallibility, belief in the Imamah of the progeny of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, etc. This extremism is also found in certain matters of jurisprudence and subsidiary matters such as mut’ah (temporary marriage). They say, “the one who does not believe in the permissibility of our mut’ah is not from us.”[27] Therefore, it can be concluded that they have no clarity and consistency in their religion.


Other Definitions of the Word Shia


There are other definitions of the word Shia in the books of former as well as latter day Shia scholars, which do not differ with that which has been mentioned thus far.[28] Along with this, there are other definitions which were formed in a very different way. They do not mention any of their beliefs therein. As an example, their scholar, Al Najashi[29] states:


الشيعة الذين اذا اختلف الناس عن رسول الله اخذوا بقول على واذا اختلف الناس عن على اخذوا بقول جعفر بن محمد

The Shia are those who accept the statement of ‘Ali when the people differed regarding Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and they accept the statement of Jafar ibn Muhammad when people differed regarding ‘Ali.[30]


What happens when there are differences in the statements attributed to Jafar ibn Muhammad? At this point, who do they follow? We do not find the answer to that in the definition. Except if the definition implies that matters are concluded by the statements of Jafar ibn Muhammad and there are no differences among those who narrate from him. However, this implication cannot be established, as reality as well as the narrations from Jafar — even in the books of the Shia — belie it. The other possibility is that this statement was made within the lifetime of Jafar ibn Muhammad, due to which his decision was final, and al Najashi merely narrated it. Whatever the case may be, it neither indicates towards the Imams before Jafar, nor to those after him.

Furthermore, this definition contradicts the temperament of Islam. He says that when there are differences in the narrations from Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, then instead of adopting the correct and accepted principles and procedures in order to establish that which is accurate, we should blindly accept the view of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu. The same is said as far as taking the statement of Jafar when there are differences concerning the sayings of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu. Furthermore, we would like to ask, how is it that there will be no differences regarding the sayings of Jafar, whereas there are differences regarding the sayings of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu? Was he greater than them?

The books of the Ithna ‘Ashariyyah (Twelvers) contain a few more definitions of the word Shi’ism. These definitions imply that Tashayyu’ and Shi’ism are synonymous to piety, uprightness and steadfastness. Abu ‘Abdullah al Sadiq says:


ما شيعتنا الا من اتقى الله و اطاعه و ما كانوا يعرفون الا بالتواضع و التخشع و الامانة ,

Our Shia are only those who fear Allah and obey Him. They would be recognised by their humility, submissiveness and trustworthiness.[31]


انما شيعة على من غف بطنه و فرجه و اشتد جهاده و عمل لخالقه و رجا ثوابه و خاف عقابه فاذا رئيت اولاءك فاولائك شيعة جعفر

The Shia of ‘Ali are only those whose bellies and private parts are guarded, they exert themselves, work to please their creator alone, anticipate His reward and fear His punishment. When you see these people, then know that they are the real Shia of Jafar.[32]


Abu Jafar al Baqir said:


لا تذهب بكم المذاهب فوالله ما شيعتنا الا من اطاع الله عز و خل

The different sects should not sweep you away. By the oath of Allah, our Shia are only those who obey Allah the exalted and glorified.[33]


NEXT⇒ b. The Definition of the Word Shia from the Books of the Ismaili

[1]  Sa’d ibn ‘Abdullah al Qummi. He is a great and very knowledgeable scholar according to the Shia. He authored many books and he is considered reliable by them. Among his books are al Diya fi l-Imamah and Maqalat al Imamiyyah. He died in the year 301 A.H. or 299 A.H. Refer to al Tusi: Al fahrist pg. 105, al Ardabili: Jami’ al Ruwat 1/355.

[2]Al Maqalat wa l-Firaq pg. 3

[3]Al Maqalat wa l-Firaq pg. 15

[4]  Hassan ibn Musa al Nowbakhti (Abu Muhammad, the theologian and philosopher). Al Tusi said, “he was an Imam who had correct beliefs. He authored many books including Kitab al Ara wa l-Diyanat.” He died after the year 300 A.H refer to al Tusi: al Fahrist (pg. 75), Al Ardabili: Jami’ al Ruwat (1/228), Ibn al Nadim: Al Fahrist (pg. 177), Al Qummi: Al Kunna wa l-Alqab (1/148), Mujam al Mu’allifin (3/298), al Dhahabi: Siyar A’lam al Nubala’ (15/327)

[5]Firaq al Shia pg. 2, 17

[6]  Surah Al ‘Imran: 19

[7]Awa’il al Maqalat pg 39

[8]Awa’il al Maqalat pg 39

[9]  A sect from the Zaidiyyah, who are affiliated with Abu al Jarud Ziyad ibn al Mundhir al Hamdani al Kufi, who was blind. Abu Hatim said regarding him. He was a Rafidi who would fabricate ahadith in criticism of the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Among the statements of the Jarudiyyah is, “Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam personally appointed ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu by indicating towards him and describing him. He did not take his name and specify him. The ummah, by placing the matter in the hands of others have gone astray and committed kufr.” For more details regarding Abu al Jarud and the Jarudiyyah, refer to Rijal al Kashshi (pg. 151, 229, 230), it contains six narrations, among which there are narrations which imply that he was a liar and a disbeliever. Despite this, their scholar, al Mufid includes him among the Shia. This is because, according to his definition, Shi’ism is the name of this type of extremism. Also refer to Al Tusi: Al Fahrist (pg. 192), Al Ardabili: Jami’ al Ruwat (1/339), Al Qummi: al Kunna wa l-Alqab (1/30), Ibn Hajar: Tahdhib al Tahdhib (3/386), al Qummi: Al Maqalat wa l-Firaq (pg. 18), al Nowbakhti: Firaq al Shia (pg. 21), Mishwan: Al Hur al ‘Ayn (pg. 165), Al Maqrizi: Al Khutat (2/352), Al Shahrastani: Al Milal wa l-Nihal (1/159), Al Milti: Al Tanbih wa l-Radd (pg. 23), Ahmed ibn al Murtada: Al Munyah wa l-Amal (pg. 20, 90), Al Baghdadi: Al Farq bayn al Firaq (pg. 30), Al Razi: Muhassal Afkar al Mutaqaddimin wa l-Muta’akhkhirin (pg. 247), Al Ash’ari: Maqalat al Islamiyyin (1/140).

[10]Kitab al Irshad, one of the most reliable books according to the Twelvers. The forward of al Irshad (pg. 70) states: “The scholars of the Imamiyyah, former as well as latter day scholars, relied upon it. They have considered it among the most important books on the subject and they have paid great attention to it.” To learn more about their reliance upon this book, refer to Bihar al Anwar (1/27).

[11]  The book Ma’ani al Akhbar by their scholar Ibn Babawayh al Qummi explains: “Nakithin refers to those who pledged allegiance to him in Madinah and thereafter broke their pledge in Basrah. Qasitin refers to Muawiyah and his companions from Sham, and Mariqin refers to the people of Nahrawan.” (Ma’ani al Akhbar pg. 204)

[12]  Al Irshad pg. 12

[13]  Their scholar ‘Abdullah Shibr affirms this meaning in his definition of Shi’ism. He says: “Know well that the word Shia is used to refer to those who believe that the khilafah of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu began immediately after the death of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam without anyone else in-between.”(Haq al Yaqin 1/195)

[14]  The proofs regarding this will appear under the discussion regarding the law of the one who rejects the Imamah of the twelve Imams.

[15]  Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Hussain ibn ‘Ali al Tusi. He is regarded by them to be Sheikh al Imamiyyah and Ra’is al Ta’ifah (leader of the group). He is the author of two of their four canonical works (which hold a similar position in their circles like that of the six books of hadith according to the Ahlus Sunnah). These books are Tahdhib al Ahkam and al Istibsar. He was born in the year 385 A.H and died in the year 460 A.H. Refer to his autobiography in al Fahrist pg. 88-190, Al Bahrani: Lu’lu’at al Bahrayn pg. 293-304, Al Qummi :Al Kunna wa l-Alqab 2/357, and Lisan al Mizan of Ibn Hajar 5/135

[16]Talkhis al Shafi 2/56

[17]  A sect of the Zaidiyyah who are affiliated with Sulaiman ibn Jarir al Zaidi. They are named Sulaimaniyyah by many of those who have authored regarding the subject of sects. Refer to Maqalat al Islamiyyin 1/143, I’tiqad Firaq al Muslimin pg. 78, Al Milal wa l-Nihal 1/159, Al Tabsir fi l-Din pg. 17.

Some of the authors on the subject of sects have named them the Jaririyyah. (al Hurr al ‘Ayn pg. 156, Al Maqrizi: Al Khutat 2/352) the author of Al Farq Bayn al Firaq clearly mentions that they are referred to as the Sulaimaniyyah or Jaririyyah (al Farq Bayn al Firaq pg. 32). The author of Al Munyah wa l-Amal at times refers to them as Sulaimaniyyah (pg. 90) and at times he refers to them as Jaririyyah (pg. 90).

[18]  Al Ash’ari: Maqalat al Islamiyyin 1/143

[19]  Refer to al Tusi: al Tahdhib 1/364, Al Hurr al ‘Amili: Al Wasa’il 4/288. Nawasib are those who consider hatred for ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu to be part of their religion. Ibn Manzur: Lisan al ‘Arab 1/762. However, the Rafidah have a different definition of the word, as you have seen. They go to the extent of classifying all those who do not hate Abu Bakr and ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma as Nawasib. (Majmu’ Fatawa Sheikh al Islam 5/ 112). In fact, even the one who says that Abu Bakr was more virtuous than ‘Ali is considered by them to be from the Nawasib. Refer to Ibn Idris: Al Sara’ir pg. 471, Al Hurr al ‘Amili: Wasa’il al Shia 6/341-342.

[20]  Refer to Rijal al Kashshi pg. 459

[21]  Salihiyyah are the followers of Hassan ibn Salih ibn Hayy. Batriyyah are the followers of Kathir al Nawa al Abtar. Both sects have the same view as the Sulaimaniyyah regarding Imamiyyah. Al Shahrastani considers both of them to be one sect, as their views are the same. Al Ash’ari only mentioned the Batriyyah. He says that they do not believe in reincarnation and they believe that the Imamah of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu started only after allegiance was pledged to him. (al Ash’ari: Maqalat al Islamiyyin 1/144, Al Shahrastani: Al Milal wa l-Nihal 1/ 161)

[22]  Muhammad Jawad Mughniyah: Al Shia fi l-Mizan pg. 15

[23]Usul al Kafi 1/286-328

[24]  Details regarding this as well as an analysis will appear under the section wherein the proofs of the Shia regarding Imamah are mentioned.

[25]Kitab al Ghadir by their scholar ‘Abdul Hussain al Amini al Najafi. It is filled with lies, calamities and blatant kufr. Refer to Mas’alat al Taqrib Bayn al Sunnah wa l-Shia by the same author, page 66.

[26]  Ibn Babawayh: Man La Yahdurhu al Faqih 3/291, Al Hurr al ‘Amili: Wasa’il al Shia 7/438, Tafsir al Safi 1/347, Al Majlisi: Bihar al Anwar 53/92

[27]  Ibid

[28]  Among these definitions are definitions which base Shi’ism upon following ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu and granting him precedence over others in Imamah. Refer to Sharh al Lum’ah 2/228. Other definitions add on that it is necessary to believe that he was appointed as Imam by Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and Allah in clear terms as the Imamiyyah believe, and in unclear terms as the Jarudiyyah believe. Mowsu’at al Atbat al Muqaddasah pg. 91, ‘An Hawiyyat al Tashayyu’ pg. 12.

[29]  Ahmed ibn ‘Ali ibn Ahmed ibn al ‘Abbas al Najashi. He authored the book Kitab al Rijal, which is relied upon by the scholars of the Imamiyyah. He died in the year 450 A.H. Refer to al Ardabili: Jami’ al Ruwat 1/54, Al Qummi: Al Kunna 3/199.

[30]Rijal al Najashi pg. 9

[31]Safinat al Bihar 1/ 733

[32]  Op. cit. 1/732

[33]Usul al Kafi 1/73, Sheikh Musa Jar Allah quotes at the end of al Washia (pg 230) similar texts from the books of the Shia. Thereafter he explains, “these Shia were the Shia of ‘Ali. They were known for their scrupulousness, exertion, staying away from minor sins and hatred. They were loved by the former part of the ummah. The religion of these Shia was taqwa (piety) and not Taqiyyah. The religion of these Shia was loyalty to Allah, the truth, His Nabi, his Ahlul Bayt, his Sahabah and the remainder of the believers. As for these ones, whose religion centres around Taqiyyah, hypocrisy, hatred for the Sahabah as well as some of the Ahlul Bayt, and extremism with regards to the others; they are not part of the Shia, as testified to by those who the Shia take as their imams as well as their books. This is why Imam Zaid named them Rafidah instead of Shia.”