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one of the two main branches of Islam, the other being Sunnism.

In the seventh century the Shiites emerged in the Arabian Caliphate as a faction that supported the claim of Ali and the descendants of Ali and Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad, to the imamate and rule over the caliphate. Although the Shiites were defeated in the struggle for supreme political power, Shiism developed into a distinct branch of Islam by the mid-eighth century. The main dogmas of Shiism, as opposed to Sunnism, were the recognition of the sole right of Ali and his descendants—the Alids—to spiritual and secular leadership over the Muslim world, in other words, to the imamate. The Shiites denied the legitimacy of the first caliphs—Abu Bakr, Omar I (Omar ibn al-Khattab), Othman ibn Affan, and the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs—and believed that the caliph, as the prophet’s representative, should not be elected by the people.

As a result of disputes over the number of Imams, Shiism split into several subdivisions between the seventh and ninth centuries: the Kaisanis, the Zaidis, the Ismailians, and the Imamis, also known as the Twelver, or Ithna Ashariyah, Shiites. The Kaisani sect disappeared in the 11th century; the Zaidi sect is the most moderate. The Imamis, one of the leading sects, recognize twelve Imams, the last of whom—Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Hujjah—is believed to have vanished without a trace in infancy. Known as the hidden Imam, Muhammad is considered to be the messiah, or Mahdi, who will return to earth and establish the rule of the just. In the meantime, he guides Shiite Muslims in all aspects of their lives through the higher clergy, or mujtahid, whose authority derives from a mystical communion with the hidden Imam.

The doctrine of the Imamis, in combination with Sufism, provided the ideology for several popular movements in Iran and Middle Asia during the Middle Ages, notably the Serbadar rebellion and the Sayyid movement. The Ismailis broke from the Imamis in the mid-eighth century. A fertile ground for the growth of Shiism was Iran, where it was considerably influenced by Zoroastrianism and Nestorianism.

In many respects, Shiism resembles Sunnism. Shiites recognize an altered version of sunna, in which only those traditions of the Hadith that emanate from Ali’s supporters are accepted; they also recognize the Koran, although they consider the official Sunni text flawed. At the same time, the Shiites have their own sacred tradition, distinct from that of the Sunnis. The cult of the holy martyrs plays a greater role in Shiism than in Sunnism. The Shiites have accepted the Mutazilite doctrine denying predestination and affirming man’s free will. With the exception of the Zaidis and Kaisanis, who never accepted the doctrine, they recognize the infallibility of the Imams. In contrast to the Sunnites, the Shiites make pilgrimages not only to Mecca and Medina, but to the burial places of the Imams and their relatives: Karbala, al-Kazimiyah, Meshed, and Qom.

Shiism is practiced in various forms by most of the population of Iran and the Yemen Arab Republic and in India, Pakistan, Syria, southern Iraq, and some areas of the USSR, mainly in Azerbaijan.


Krymskii, A. E. Istoriia Persii, ee literatury i dervishskoi teosofii, vols. 1–3. Moscow, 1909–17.
Beliaev, E. A. Musul’manskoe sektantstvo. Moscow, 1957.
Petrushevskii, I. P. Islam v Irane v VIl–XV vv. Leningrad, 1966. (Contains bibliography.)
Doroshenko, E. A. Shiitskoe dukhovenstvo v sovremennom Irane. Moscow, 1975.
Corbin, H. Histoire de la philosophie islamique. [Paris] 1964.
Maklabah tashayyu, parts 1–4. Qom, 1959–61.
Loschner, H. Die dogmatischen Grundlagen des šīitischen Rechts. Cologne, 1971.


References in periodicals archive ?
Although, any clear and decisive evidence is not available about the entry of Shiism in Nishapur, but most likely, the Shiism is entered to Iran simultaneously with the conquest of the land, including Khorasan [3], Then, in an age of bloody Hajjaj bin Yusuf Saqafi dominated Iraq (75-95 AD.
On the one hand, the monarchy's legitimacy still stemmed from Shiism, and the Pahlavi shahs had to work within a constitutional framework that not only defined the government as Shiite, but also gave clerics exclusive authority to supervise the legislative process and ensure that all bills conformed to the sharia (Islamic law).
A 1989 Islamic law and a 1996 fatwa by Malaysia s top Islamic clerics banned Shiism, declaring it a "deviant ideology.
1033/1623) somehow transcended, especially in the cult and "tradition" that grew around his postmortem career, the limitations of his own gifts to become one of the more influential figures in the modern history of Shiism.
During recent times, it has become fashionable for Middle Eastern premiers and oil-kings to protest against an ethereal threat posed by Shiism.
34) Therefore, the root cause of Shia activism is not a reflection of transnational Shiism directed by Iran; rather, it is predicated on upholding communal interests in relation to the government and other strands of society.
If in Shia-majority Iran Shiism was identical with Islam, in Sunni-dominated countries Khomeini's call for Muslim unity was perceived as fomenting Shia mischief and threatening Sunni predominance.
As pointed out directly or indirectly by various authors, these similarities include: the importance of the remembrance of God and of those, like the imams in Shiism and saints in Catholicism, who have suffered and sacrificed in the service of God; belief in the redemptive function of suffering and martyrdom; suffering for the sake of others and for the sake of truth and justice, as exemplified by Christ and Imam Hussein; belief in the intercession of holy beings; and the central importance of a holy female in both traditions--the blessed Virgin in Catholicism and Fatima Zahra in Shi'a Islam.
Chamran, a nuclear physicist, and his brother Mustafa were both active student radicals in the 1960s in California, where they established a violent Marxist front known as the Muslim Students' Association of America and an Iranian terrorist organization called Red Shiism.
The Iranian people may well be loyal to their country, not only because of their religious affiliation but rather, because of their loyalty to their nation-state; and since Shiism is neither the invention of the late Imam Khomeini nor to that effect of Iran, we should be always circumspect when discussing the loyalties of various groups in the Middle East.
Da'wa, the most numerous and organised party among Iraq's Shiites, is part of Sistani's conservative mainstream, while the Sadrist movement projects a combination of socialist and Arab nationalist tendencies along with Ja'fari Shiism.
The House of Hashem, the progeny of Ali both as the first Imam in Shiism and the fourth Caliph in Sunnism, the Fatimids of Syria who in the 9th Century AD were a secret Ismaili Shiite movement trying to overthrow the Sunni Abbasid Caliphs of Iraq, and the Jaafari Shiites make a fascinating history worth looking up.