Previously, we covered the Creed of Sunni Islam. In this article, we will briefly be covering the Creed of the Shiites, more specifically, that of the Twelvers, Ithna Ash'ari. The Creed of the Ithna Ash'ari is divided into two sections based on faith and practice. The section covering the former is called the Foundations of the Religion, Usul ad-Din. This is the section we will be focusing on. The latter, known as the Furu'd-Din, that is, the Ancillaries of the Religion, are the practices akin to the five pillars of Sunni Islam. We will only be listing those here without going into details.
The Foundations of Shiite Islam are five, in contrast to six of the Sunnis. These are:
- Yawm al-Qiyamah
The Ancillaries, that is, the Practices of Shiite Islam are ten, in contrast to five of the Sunnis. These are:
- Salat, that is, establishment of Ritual Prayer
- Sawm, that is, establishment of Fasting during the Holy Month of Ramadan
- Hajj, the Pilgrimage to Mecca
- Zakat, that is, mandatory charity to the poor
- Khumms, that is, mandatory tax paid to the Imam
- Jihad, the struggle in the Cause of Allah
- Amr bil-Ma'ruf, enjoining good deeds upon society
- Nahi ana'l-Munkar, forbidding others from deeds that are evil
- Tawalla, professing love towards God and the People of Muhammad's Household
- Tabarra, expressing dissociation from the enemies of God and those who hate and oppress the members of the Prophetic Household
The Ten Ancillaries of the Religion in Shiite Islam are derived off the first five Principles which are key to the Creed. Among these, Salat, Zakat, Sawm and Hajj are shared practices between Shiites and Sunnis. Jihad is another commonality, though, it is an optional sixth pillar in Sunni Islam and not a core tenet.
Regarding the concepts of Amr bil-Ma'ruf nahi ana'l-Munkar, these are derived off the second Principle of Religion, 'Adalah-e-Allah, that is, what roughly translates to the Divine Justice of God. This is the belief that deeds are inherently good and evil, and what is good is to be encouraged and what is evil is to be avoided. Sunnis do not believe that any work is innately good or evil but something is good by virtue of being commanded by Allah and something is evil by virtue of being forbidden by Him.
As for Tawalla and Tabarra, this is where controversy arises between Shiites and Sunnis, particularly with the latter concept that demands absolute divorce of the Shiite Muslim from all those perceived to be enemies of the people of Muhammad's Household, Ahlul-Bayt. The Shiite interpretation of history portrays the first three caliphs of Sunnism, Abu Bakr, 'Umar ibn al-Khattab and 'Uthman ibn 'Affan as usurpers to the rightful Imamate of 'Ali and his bloodline.
In short, without getting into the many nuances, the Shiite narration of the tale unfolds in Ghadeer-e-Khum on the 18th of Dhul-Hijjah of the year 10 AH, which would be 10th March, 632 CE of the Gregorian calendar. On this momentous occasion, on the way from the Final Pilgrimage in Mecca back to Medina, the Holy Prophet Muhammad stops at the Oasis of Khum, the following Verse is revealed to him,
O Apostle! Deliver what has been sent down to you from your Lord; and if you don't do it, you have not delivered His Message; and Allah will protect you from the people ...Upon receiving this Revelation, Muhammad stops the caravan of pilgrims and waits for everyone to gather at the spot. Then he delivers a long sermon lasting over three hours. A crucial excerpt of the sermon is presented below,
It seems the time approaches when I shall be called away and I shall answer that call. I am leaving for you two weighty things and if you adhere to them both, you will never go astray after me. They are the Book of Allah and my Progeny, the People of my House. The two shall never separate from each other until they come to me by the Pool of Paradise.
Following this, the Prophet asks,
Do I not have more right over the believers than what they have over themselves?The people cry and answer,
Yes, O Messenger of God!Then the Prophet declares, raising the hand of Hazrat 'Ali Murtaza,
Whosoever I am his Leader, 'Ali is his Leader.
By God, love those who love him, and be hostile to those who are hostile to him.
This is the basis for the concepts of Tawalla and Tabarra. Following the declaration, the Prophet received Revelation,
On this day, I have perfected your religion and completed my favor upon you, and I was satisfied that Islam be your religion.And upon the Revelation of this Verse, Shiites have consolidated it to be a core matter of their 'Aqeedah to believe in the Imamate of 'Ali and his household as Allah mentioned the perfection of His religion after the declaration of 'Ali as the leader of the Muslim Ummah. Therefore, without the belief in 'Ali as the rightful successor after Muhammad as Amirul Mumineen, one's Islam is concluded to be imperfect and incomplete.
The Shiites believe that after the death of the Prophet, while Hazrat 'Ali and Fatima were busy with the funeral rites, Abu Bakr and 'Umar conspired at Saqifa to usurp power from 'Ali who was to be the rightful successor. Enraged that the decision was made without their consent, the supporters of 'Ali then went to Fatima's house to mobilize a revolt but 'Umar arrived there just in the nick of time with the threat to burn down the house of Fatima for it had become a place of fitna. After this, 'Ali, for the sake of unity, performs taqiya and does not claim his right to be the leader allowing Abu Bakr, then 'Umar, then 'Uthman to take up his position as Amirul Mumineen.
This is an extremely abridged summary of the Shiite historical narration but the gist of the matter is that the Imamate of 'Ali is a Godsent Revelation unto Muhammad following the declaration of which Allah stated that the religion is perfected and thus for one's Islam to be accepted as whole it is absolutely fundamental to believe in the Right of Hazrat 'Ali to be the Imam. Denial of this right makes Abu Bakr, 'Umar and 'Uthman have their religion rendered defective and drag them into the position of those against whom a believer in God is to perform Tabarra.
Unfortunately, the length of this article does not permit us to go into the depths of these matters. It is a historical debate and multitudes of opinions against even among the Shiites. In brief, the Shiites, due to their such beliefs, are often called the Rafidah, meaning "the Rejectors," because they rejected the legitimacy of the Caliphate. A historian with expertise in this field will be able to provide better elucidation of these things. For now, it would be better to divulge the Usul ad-Din as intended at the beginning of this text.
The first of the five Usul ad-Din of Shiite Islam is belief in the Oneness of God. This is very simple and a shared foundation between Shiites and Sunnis. The concept is basic. There is no deity but God, the One God of Abraham. He is Allah. He has no beginning nor end. He is Eternal, Ever-living, Creator of all that exists, seen and unseen.
Akin to Sunnis, Shiites believe God is Omniscient, Omnipotent and His Essence is Immanent throughout all of creation. He is the Lord of all things and His Power is what sustains the Heavens and the Earth and everything in between and beyond. In order to have a more thorough understanding of God in Shiite Islam I suggest readers to look into this book by Sayyid Mujtaba Musavi Lari.
It is the belief that Sovereignty belongs only to God that supports the legitimacy of the Imamate over the Caliphate, since the Imam was chosen by Allah and this decision was revealed to Muhammad to be declared to the Ummah at Ghadeer-e-Khum and the Sole Authority of God over all things deems it impossible for any to reverse this decision and claim the right for themselves in place of 'Ali.
Next, we have the belief in 'Adalah, that is Divine Justice. Shiites believe that there is intrinsic good or evil in things, and that God commands them to do the good things and shun the evil. They believe that God acts according to a purpose or design, and human reason cannot comprehend this design or purpose in its entirety, though man must always strive to understand as much as he can.
The Sunnis do not consider Justice of God as part of the fundamentals of their creed. It subscribes to the view that nothing is good or evil on its own, and that whatever God has commanded people to do became good by the virtue of His Command, and whatever He has forbidden has become evil.
Third comes the belief in Prophethood, that is, Nabuwwat. This is the belief that God has sent forward His Message unto mankind through the vessel of divinely appointed Prophets, infallible and sinless, sound of mind and body, devoted to the propagation of God's Sacred Plan.
This is also another belief that Shiites and Sunnis share. The Prophets are empowered by eloquence in words and miracles in deeds to help the facilitation of their Message. However, one key area where the Shiites and Sunnis differ is in the discussion on how the Message and its interpretation is preserved. Sunnis believe that the proper interpretation of the Prophetic Message is protected by the 'ijma of the Muslim community as the Prophet has said,
Allah will never allow my Ummah to unite upon misguidance and incorrect beliefs. Allah’s mercy, blessings and protection are with the largest group of Muslims. And he who deviates from this largest group of Muslims will be thrown into Hell.
[Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Volume 2 Page 39]
Stick to the greater crowd of believers because Allah will never gather my community upon misguidance.'Ijma is the consensus of the larger number of scholars within the Muslim community and whenever a dispute arises as to the correct interpretation of a Quranic Verse, Sunnis adhere to the opinion of the majority to base their understanding upon. This is covered in great detail in my previous article on Knowledge and Guidance.
[Mu’jam al-Kabir at-Tabarani, Volume 17, Page 240]
In contrast, Shiites do not believe in such a democratic system when interpreting the Prophetic Message, namely the Quran and Sunnah. Rather, the Shiite belief is that such a process would lead to utter chaos and God would instead have His Message preserved via the Divine Appointment of Rightful Leaders from the Family of Muhammad, the Imams of the Ahlul Bayt, who are infallible like the Prophets and protected from error in reason and judgment. Therefore, their interpretation of the Message from God is considered most correct and authentic. This leads us to the fourth fundamental of Shiite creed, the belief in the Imamate.
Belief in the Imamate is the belief that God has appointed successive leaders following Muhammad to interpret his Message correctly for the benefit of mankind, to guide humanity towards the truth, enjoin good and forbid evil. These Imams are believed to be from the bloodline of the Prophet through his daughter Fatima and the union between her and Hazrat 'Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Apostle.
The belief is that there shall come Twelve Imams from this bloodline, the descendants from the Tribe of Quraysh. This is supported by the following Hadith,
Islam shall neither pass away nor be deviated while there are my twelve successors from my nation in it; all of them will be from Quraysh. When the last of them passes away, the Hour will be established and the Earth will be destroyed with all its inhabitants.This narration can be found in over a hundred ahadith, with at least thirty-seven chains of narrators for each of them, in both Shiite and Sunni sources. The interpretation of the hadith varies between the two sects.
Shiites believe eleven of the twelve successors have already come and gone, all of them assassinated via the administration of poison by their enemies except for Imam Husayn who was martyred in the Battle of Kerbala at the hands of Shimr ibn Dhi'l-Jawshan, commander of the army of Yazid ibn Muaviye ibn Abu Sufyan, the tyrannical Ummayad Caliph of infamy whose reign is marred by oppression and injustice.
The Twelfth Imam, Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Mahdi, is believed to be in Occultation, raised unto Divine Protection following the death of his father, Imam Hasan al-Askari. It is said that the Hidden Imam shall return during the period before the End Times to fight alongside Jesus Christ and slay the Antichrist.
The names of the Twelve Imams in chronological order of their reigns are:
'Ali ibn Abi Talib al-Murtaza
Hassan ibn 'Ali al-Mujtaba
Husayn ibn 'Ali Sayed ash-Shuhada
'Ali ibn Husayn as-Sajjad Zayn al-Abedin
Muhammad ibn 'Ali al-Baqir al-'Ulum
Ja'far ibn Muhammad as-Sadiq
Musa ibn Ja'far al-Kazim
'Ali ibn Musa ar-Reza
Muhammad ibn 'Ali at-Taqi al-Jawad
'Ali ibn Muhammad al-Hadi an-Naqi
Hassan ibn 'Ali al-Askari
Muhammad ibn Hassan al-Hujjah al-Mahdi
For more information on the concept of the Imamate and the Imams of the Ahlul Bayt, please make sure to check out this book by Sayyid Mujtaba Musavi Lari and this series of lectures by Sayyid Ammar Nakshawani.
Finally, we have the belief in Yawm al-Qiyamah, that is, belief in the Day of Judgment, the Day when all souls shall be resurrected once more from the dead and their eternal fates decided based on their worldly deeds. Knowledge about the Hour of this Day is known to none but Allah alone. Sunnis and Shiites share similar beliefs regarding the establishment of this Day except for the difference of opinion regarding the person of the Mahdi. On this Day, all truth shall be revealed and all Judgment be made. May Allah subhana wa ta'ala protect us. Ameen.
— Fahim Ferdous Promi