13 December 2017


Part 5: Shi’a Islam

As an educated Middle Eastern Muslim, Majed made his pilgrimage to Mecca, the fifth pillar of Islam, at the age of nineteen. But his spiritual journey was to result in a radically different discovery. Through Bible correspondence and meeting with Christians it was finally revealed to him that the ultimate divine truth is not a religious framework, but a divine person, Jesus Christ.

On his becoming a Christian, Majed’s family disowned him and he was forced to leave the country. Now he is living out the consequence of this life-changing revelation.

Majed is currently involved in ministry to Muslims, mainly on Christian literature translation and Bible commentaries. He is also involved in speaking in Churches in N. Ireland and Europe to explain the faith of Islam and the challenges faced by evangelism to Churches. Majed’s full story is written in a book called ‘The Fifth Pillar’, published by Piquant.

This year, Majed graduated from Belfast Bible College after completing a post graduate theological course. The aim was to deepen his understanding of the theological aspects of the Bible and the Christian faith so that he could better approach the Muslim community with an apologetic approach in both dialogue and respect.

Majed is currently based in N. Ireland for another year.

In a previous issue of Rejoice Always, we looked at the Sunni Islam and its schools; we learned that Sunni Islam is the largest branch of Islam, and Sunni Muslims are referred to as “Ahlus Sunnah wa Al- Jamā‘ah.” Sunni Islam may be referred to as Orthodox Islam. The word “Sunni” comes from the term Sunnah, which refers to the words and actions or example of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

We also learned that the Sunni branch of Islam has four legal schools of thought or madh’hab, which are all accepted among one another. The Sunni branch accepts the first four caliphs as rightful successors of Muhammad and accepts hadiths narrated by the companions. In this edition we will be looking at Shi’a Islam and exploring its history.

Shi’a and Sunni schools of thought form the two wings of the Islamic nation that allow it to fly and carry out its lofty objectives. A great Muslim scholar once said, “Those who attempt to cause division between the Shi’a and Sunni are neither Shi’a nor Sunni.” The Shi’a and Sunni schools of thought differ primarily in jurisprudence and have far more similarities than differences. Every school of thought in Islam must be respected because they all can lead people to salvation. I hope that this brief article will clarify some common questions and inquiries about the philosophy and practice of Shi’a Islam.

Due to the lack of clear information, the Shi’a Imamiyyah school of thought has remained a mystery to many Muslims. Numerous Muslims are relieved to discover the truth about Shi’a Islam from reliable sources.

Shi’a today refers to the followers of a particular school of Islamic thought, which is based on the teachings of the Prophet and his family, and sometimes it is referred to as the “school of Ahlul Bayt” (the family of the Prophet). While no schools of thought existed at the time of the Prophet Muhammad, he still used to refer to a certain group of people as the “Shi’a of Ali.”

The Shi’a is the second-largest denomination of Islam, comprising anywhere between 10% or 13% of the total Muslim population in the world. Shi’a Muslims, though a minority in the Muslim world, constitute the majority of the populations in Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Iran, and Iraq, as well as a plurality in Lebanon and Yemen.

In addition to believing in the authority of the Qur’an and teachings of the Muhammad, a Shi’a Muslim believes that his family – the Ahl al-Bayt (the People of the House), including his descendants known as Imams – have special spiritual and political rule over the community. He also believes that Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, was the first of these Imams and was the rightful successor to Muhammad, and thus rejects the legitimacy of the first three caliphs.

The Shi’a identity emerged soon after the death of Umar Ibnil-Khattab, the second caliph. Shi’a theology was formulated in the second century and the first Shi’a governments and societies were established by the end of the ninth century.

The Shi’a refer to some narrations in which the Prophet Muhammad used the term “Shi’a of Ali” to affirm their beliefs: the parable of “Ali is like a tree, in which I am the root, Ali is the branch, Hassan and Husayn are the fruits, and the Shi’a are the leaves.”

“We were gathering around the Prophet when Ali ibn Abi Talib came. He said, ‘Verily, my brother has come to you,’ and he placed his hand on the Ka’ bah and said, ‘By the One who holds my soul in His hand, this man and his Shi’a will indeed be the successful ones on the Day of Judgment.” (Narrated by Jabir ibn ‘Abdillah al-Ansari)

The Shi’a believe that these narrations show the Prophet Muhammad himself was in fact, the first person to use the term “Shi’a,” and what’s more, that he always used the term in reference to Imam Ali. After the Prophet passed away those who were loyal to Imam Ali were also known as the Shi’a. During the second century Hijrah (i.e. two centuries after the migration of the Prophet Muhammad from the city of Makkah to the city of Madina – the event which marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar), the Abbasid caliphs officially patronised the four Sunni schools of thought, which were popularised by the enthusiasm of some of their leaders.

As for the Shi’a, after the assassination of Imam Ali they followed the leadership of his son Hassan, and after him his brother Husayn, and the subsequent nine imams who were the descendants of Husayn. They followed them on the firm basis of evidence in the Quran and the tradition of Prophet Muhammad who explicitly repeated on many occasions that he [the Prophet] would be followed by twelve imams and that they would all be from the tribe of Quraysh.

The Shi’a also believe that the Prophet Muhammad told the Muslims both about the succession of the designated members of his family (Ahlul Bayt), as well as the specific succession of Imam Ali. The Messenger of Allah has been recorded to have said in regards to Imam Ali: “Ali is the authority (wali) over every believer (mu’min) after me. Ali is the doorway to my knowledge, and after me he will explain to my followers what has been sent to me. Love for Ali is faith, and spite towards him is hypocrisy.”