Aviva Directory » Faith & Spirituality » World Religions » Abrahamic Religions » Islam » Denominations & Sects » Shia

Sometimes presented as Shi'ah, the Shia are a branch of Islam whose adherents believe that the Prophet Muhammad named Ali ibn Abi Talib as his successor and leader.

In contrast, the Sunnis hold that Muhammad did not appoint a successor. Sunnis believe that all Muslims can have a direct relationship with God, while the Shia hold that intercession is an essential component of salvation.

For the Shia, Ali and the other Imams were divinely appointed guides for the Muslim world and intermediaries between believers and God. In their absence, local religious leaders could serve as community guides, but without intermediary or intercessory powers. Later, this developed into the practice in which a cleric might serve as the supreme guide and authority on Islamic law in the absence of an Imam.

The veneration of the Imams is central to Shiism. Central figures to the Shi'ite are the Fourteen Pure or Perfect Ones, who are the Prophet, Ali, and Fatima, as well as their sons, Hasan and Husayn, and the other nine Imams.

Along with the Holy Days that are celebrated by all Muslims, Shi'ites also celebrate the birthdays and days of death of the Imams, and visiting the tombs or shrines of the Imams is a major form of devotion.

While the Five Pillars of Islam and Sharia are the shared basis of faith and practice for all Muslims, the theological beliefs, and practices of the Shia differ in some ways from that of the Sunni.

While all Muslims pray five times each day, the Shia have the option of combining two of their prayer obligations with two others, as only three distinct times of prayer are mentioned in the Quran.

The Shia version of the Shahada, the Islamic profession of faith, differs from that of the Sunni in that it adds a phrase naming Ali as the Wali, or custodian of God, recognizing the authority of the family of the Prophet Muhammad.

Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad was infallible. Twelver and Ismaili Shia Muslims attribute infallibility to Imams, as well as to Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad.

There are different branches of Shia Muslims.

The largest are the Twelver Shia. By default, the term Shia Muslim is often used to refer to the Twelvers. The doctrine of the Twelvers is based on five principles: monotheism, justice, prophethood, leadership, and last judgment. However, the Twelvers get their name from their veneration of the Twelve Imams, who are the spiritual and political successors to Muhammad to the Twelvers and are infallible. Each Imam was the son of the previous Imam, except for Hussein ibn Ali, who was the brother of Hasan ibn Ali. They believe that the twelfth and final Imam will be Muhammad al-Mahdi, who they believe is currently alive and living in secret.

Another branch of Shia Islam are the Zaidi, also known as the Fivers. Zaidism is a Shia school named for Zayd ibn Ali. All Shia recognize the first four Imams, but the Zaidis recognize Zayd ibn Ali as the fifth and hold that any descendant of Hasan ibn Ali or Hussein ibn Ali could be Imam if he fulfills certain conditions. The Zaydis reject the doctrine of the infallibility of Imams, and also do not believe that the Imams receive divine guidance.

Also known as the Ismailiyyah, the Ismaili are named for Isma'il ibn Jafar, who they hold to be the divinely appointed successor to Ja'far al-Sadiq. There are several sub-groupings of Ismaili, the largest of which is the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, who are generally known simply as Ismailis.

The Occultation of some Shia Islam groups that a hidden Imam known as the Mahdi, a messianic figure, will return one day to fill the world with justice The Twelvers believe that the main goal of the Mahdi will be to establish an Islamic state, in which Islamic laws will be applied. They believe that the Mahdi is already on earth.

Zaidi and Nizari Ismaili Muslims do not believe in the Occultation, while Sunni Muslims believe that the future Madhi has not yet arrived on earth.

An individual member of the Shia branch is known as Shi'i or Shi'ite.

Most historians believe that Shi'ism began as a political faction within Islam rather than as a religious movement, while others argue that this cannot be accurately determined, given the interrelationships between religion and politics in Islam.

Although Shi'ites are estimated to make up only about twenty percent of the Muslim world, and have never constituted a majority, they have frequently been the ruling class in Muslim countries.

Today, countries with a Shia majority include Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Iran, and Iraq. They are the largest group in Lebanon but do not have majority status. There are large minority communities of Shi'ites in several African countries.

Sunni-Shia relationships have not been good historically, often involving violence, including war.






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