Shi'ite Islam (also called Shi’a, or Shi'i) is the second largest division of Islam, constituting about 10-15% of all Muslims. The Sunni Muslims recognise the Four Caliphs as ‘rightly guided’, while Shi’ite Muslims recognise Ali as the First Caliph and his descendants.

Shi’ite Muslims hold the fundamental beliefs of other Muslims. But, in addition to these tenets, the distinctive institution of Shi’ite Islam is the Imamate -a much more exalted position than the Sunni imam, who is primarily a prayer leader.  The Shi’ite doctrine of the Imamate was not fully elaborated until the tenth century. Other dogmas were developed still later. A characteristic of Shi’ite Islam is the continual exposition and reinterpretation of doctrine.

In contrast to Sunni Muslims, who view the caliph only as a temporal leader and who lack a hereditary view of Muslim leadership, Shi’ite Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad designated Ali to be his successor as Imam, exercising both spiritual and temporal leadership. Such an Imam must have knowledge, both in a general and a religious sense, and spiritual guidance or walayat, the ability to interpret the inner mysteries of the Quran and the sharia. Only those who have walayat are free from error and sin and have been chosen by God through the Prophet. Each Imam in turn designated his successor--through twelve Imams--each holding the same powers. Implied in the Shi’ite principle of the imamate is that imams, although not divine, are sinless and infallible in matters of faith and morals.

History and Development

Shi’ites differ on how many Imams there have been. Some talk of Twelve and others of Fourteen. They also differ on who is the last Imam (Mahdi). Imamites say it was the Twelfth Imam, Muhammad al’Mahdi, the Zaydites say the Fifth, Zayd, and, the Isma’ilites say the Seventh Imam, Ismail. However, Shi’as agree that the Last Imam went into hiding and will return to bring justice in the end of the world.

Like Sunni Islam, Shi’ite Islam has developed several sects. Because of their belief that the leader of the Muslim community must be a blood relative of the prophet, disputes arose when two sons of an Imam (the title given to the Shi’ite leader) both claimed to be the rightful successor. These disputes caused the Shi’ite sect to further divide into three groups: Zaids, Ismai’ilis, and Ithna Asharis.  TRhese sects differ on who is the last imam.   The Twelver or Ithna-Ashari sect is the most important of these, as it predominates not only in Iraq but in the Shi’ite world generally. The twelvers claim the last imam is Muhammad al’Mahdi.  Broadly speaking, the Twelvers are considered political quietists as opposed to the Zaydis, who claim the last iama to be Zayd and favor political activism, and the Ismailis, who claim the seventh and last imam to be Ismail and are identified with esoteric and gnostic religious doctrines.

The majority of Shi'tes are found in Iran. Shi'ite clerics act as deputies in the absence of the twelfth Imam, they impose the religious tax.


The five Shi’ite principles of religion (usul ad din) are: belief in divine unity (tawhid); prophecy (nubuwwah); resurrection (maad); divine justice (adl); and the belief in the Imams as successors of the Prophet (imamah). The latter principle is not accepted by Sunnis.

Most Sunnis believe the Sharia (religious law of Islam) was codified and closed by the 10th century. Shi’ite followers believe the Sharia is always open, subject to fresh reformulations of Sunna, hadith, (traditions of what Muhammad and his companions said and did) and Qur’an interpretations.

Canonical schools in Islam, are called "Fiqh's"; the only Fiqh's in Shi’ite Islam, are Usuli, Akhbari, and Shaykhi. These 3 all belong to the Ithna-Ashari or mainstream Shi’ite Islam, which believes in the 12 Shi’ite Imams; hence the name which means "Twelver's". The dominant Shi’ite legal school is sometimes termed the Ja'fari Fiqh, after lmam Jaafar Sadiq (a.s.), the Sixth Infallible Imam of the world of Shiism. The term "Jaafari" is something of a pejorative term.

The Ja'fari [Hafari] fiqh of the Imami Shi’ites is in most cases indistinguishable from one or more of the four Sunni madhahib, except that "Muta'h" or temporary marriage is considered lawful by the Fiqh Jafari, whereas it is prohibited in all the Sunni schools. But the Shi’ite are still viewed with great caution by the Ulema of the Sunni world. Although Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims are historically ambivalent, this traditional enmity was dampened in Central Asia due to shared resistance to Russian and Soviet rule. Indeed, both Sunni and Shi’ite delegations to the 1905 Third Congress of Muslims in Russia declared Ja'farite Shi'ism as a fifth legal school, equivalent to the Hanafi, Maliki, Hanbali, and Shafi'i madrasehs.


Two distinctive and frequently misunderstood Shi’ite practices are mutah, temporary marriage, and taqiyah, religious dissimulation.

Mutah, that is, marriage with a fixed termination contract subject to renewal, was practiced by Muslims as early as the formation of the first Muslim community at Medina. Banned by the second caliph, it has since been unacceptable to Sunnis, but Shi’ites insist that if it were against Islamic law it would not have been practiced in early Islam. Mutah differs from permanent marriage because it does not require divorce proceedings for termination because the contractual parties have agreed on its span, which can be as short as an evening or as long as a lifetime. By making the mutah, a couple places the sexual act within the context of sharia; the act then is not considered adulterous and offspring are considered legitimate heirs of the man.

Taqiyah is another practice condemned by the Sunni as cowardly and irreligious but encouraged by Shi’ite Islam and also practiced by Alawis and Ismailis. A person resorts to taqiyah when he either hides his religion or disavows certain religious practices to escape danger from opponents of his beliefs. Taqiyah can also be practiced when not to do so would bring danger to the honor of the female members of a household or when a man could be made destitute as a result of his beliefs. Because of the persecution frequently experienced by Shi’ite imams, particularly during the period of the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, taqiyah has been continually reinforced.

Shi’ite practice differs from that of the Sunnis concerning both divorce and inheritance in that it is more favourable to women. The reason for this reputedly is the high esteem in which Fatima, the wife of Ali and the daughter of the Prophet, was held.


  EMMA Advertising Campaigns
blood camp chienese compaign emma united
About Awards Nelson Mandela
" EMMA is a great initiative to bring together and acknowledge publicly the professionalism, expertise and contribution of the recipients...and will continue to make a great contribution to the ethnic and mainstream media in Britain. "
 Award Winners Clips
  EMMA Legends 
Icon Profiles Icon Profiles Icon Profiles
Members Area