Wednesday, 8 April 2009

How did the big schism in Islam happen?

The birth of the Mahdi...

The name Shi’ia derives from “shiat-Ali”, that means “advocate of Ali”.         

The father of Ali ibn Abu Talib (of course, Abu Talib), was the paternal uncle of Muhammad, he married Fatima, daughter of Muhammad, and his cousin. Ali was considered by his admirers to be the greatest Muslim warrior (but by his detractors as a vicious killer). Two of Ali's sons, Hassan and Hussein were viewed similarly. Ali reportedly killed untold numbers of Islam's enemies, including Persians, with his much-feared sword that had its own name: Zulfiqar. He was addressed by his followers as Amir-ul-Momeneen (Commander of the Faithful). For many Muslims, he was considered as the first true Khalifa (instead of Abu Bakr and then Umar and Uthman, that were considered usurpators. Eventually, Ali was killed (as his two other sons Hassan and Hussein) by the sixth (Sunni of course) Khalifa.

The direct line of Imams (reputed as “infallible”, this title is only allowed to Ali, his successors and their descendants) after Ali stops with the 11th (Hasan al-Askari), who had no heirs. That caused another schism (between 14-20 sects). The mainstream one is called Ithna-Ashari, “the twelver”. Their belief is that Askari actually had a child that is actually the Mahdi, the 12th, hidden Imam (now for more than 1’100 years, since the last died 941D), that survived miraculously in a cave. He will come back at the “Day of Judgment”, bringing back peace on earth.

Shi’ias and Sunni don’t disagree about the fact that Shariah must be applied to all Muslims in any part of the world. Clerics, with the black turban are called “Seyed” and are the descendants of Muhammad. A characteristic of the Shi’ias is that they believe that originally the Qur’an was at least double so long. You will never find a Shi’ia that is called Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman or Aisha. There are two main streams in Shi’ia: the 12th century old “quietistic” or “akhbari”, of Najaf” (Iraq), and the “usciuli”, from Qom (Iran), to whom the khomeinistic theocracy makes reference.

The first school advocates a distinction between temporal and spiritual leadership, the “hilafa”, the direction reserved to the Khalifa and the “hilama”, the spiritual direction reserved to the ulema. The second school does not advocate this separation. The “akhbari” school has been dominant in Iran till 1963, when ayatollah Bourouerdj died. This quietistic Shi’ia faction didn’t aspire to the direct management of power, and was outpaced by the winning “usciuli” school, by the ayatollah Khomeyni. He imposed in 1979 to Iran a constitution that certified that the power is only of Allah and that it was managed by a ”jurisconsoult”. Mohsen Kadivar has spent years formulating a devastating critic to the “velayat-e faqih” (guardianship of the jurisconsoult), the principle by which all power goes to the Islamic clericals. For Kadivar, the principle has been conceived by the clerics and not by Allah, so it cannot be considered holy and infallible”. He goes on by saying that terrorism is “anti-Islamic”, he deplores the privileges of the clergy and the inaccessibility of key positions to non-religious and not Muslims. In the Islamic republic, the jurisconsoult substitutes the Shah.

Sunni generally elect their leader (the Khalifa), while the Shi’ia Imam is the translator of the divine will, and thus cannot be elected.

There are as well the Ismailis (“seveners”). Their “schism” took place in 765 AD. What is peculiar to Shi’ias, it’s their cult of the saints (the Imams).

Another schismatic “sect”, the Druze: its origins derive from the Muslim cleric ibn Isma’il al-Darazi, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1021. His followers proclaimed him as divine, based on his mysterious and esoteric doctrines. One of their basic doctrines is the metempsychosis (philosophical term in the Greek language referring to the belief of transmigration of the soul, especially its reincarnation after death). For this reason, they believe that the inhabitants of the world are always the same number. They number around 70’000. When one of them dies, his soul transmigrates in another druze who is given birth.

 All Shi’ia would like to be buried in Najaf. That’s why it is the biggest Islamic cemetery: the reason: in Najaf, we can find the grave of Ali (where in Kerbala it is the one of Hussein). The most important Shi’ia clergy lives historically in Najaf and Qom. Najaf is “the capital” of the “akhbari” school. Sistani is the highest exponent, with Khoei, the son of the master of Sistani. He was killed in Najaf 2003, while coming back to Iraq (presumably by militias of al-Sadr). Sistani has criticized the famous fatwas of Sunni al-Qaradawi (that support Islamic terrorism), and is against the velayat-e faqih”. That doesn’t mean that he is against the implementation of Shariah, at that he puts infidels and urines in the same class (of repugnance). He was for the first free democratic Iraqi elections: Women were allowed to vote, because, on Islamic ground, they were like Zaynab (sister of Hussein), when she went to the battlefield and when she accompanied to Damascus the head of her brother. She defended the life of the only male that survived, the son of Hussein, allowing thus continuity to the dynasty.

Let’s see and learn about how Shi’ia saw its birth (as well in order to understand the clerical rulers of Iran). So, we need to learn about the genesis of this faith, Shi’ia Islam, and the pivotal place of the Mahdi.

Examination of the vast Islamic literature shows that the present sect of Shi’ia Islam has evolved from a mix of cultural, political, economic and religious influences. We will outline, in a summary form, how the belief in the Mahdi, the revered Imam whose advent is expected by the Shi’ia faithful, crystallized over time.

The Mahdi is expected to appear and save the world when it has reached the depth of degradation and despair. Below is a brief chronological account of how Shi’ism and the belief in the Mahdi as its pivotal figure were formed.

* Muhammad ruled with an iron fist while alive and no one contested his authority. He designated no heir, and left no will, oral or written, and had no male issues from any of his wives and slave women to inherit the office. Some believers, however, felt that the prophet wished for Ali, his cousin's and son-in-law, to assume the Ummah's leadership while a vast majority opted for the Arab's traditional patriarchal seniority-based practice by choosing Abu-Bakr as the Caliph.

* Abu Bakr, Muhammad's oldest high disciple and the father of Muhammad's nine-year-old child-bride Ayesha, assumed the position of the first Caliph and died shortly thereafter. He was followed by Umar ibn al-Khattab, Uthman ibn Affan became the third Caliph, and finally by Ali ibn Abu Talib.

* Ali was murdered, according to one version, by one of his own followers who resented Ali's capitulation to the Caliphate hierarchy. That is, the assassin and his like-minded Muslims felt that Ali betrayed Muhammad by not fighting to be his immediate successor and by consenting to be the fourth Caliph. Another version of his death is that a Persian warrior by the name of Brahman Jazyyeh killed Ali, avenging the death of numberless Persians that Ali and his people had slaughtered.

* The death of Ali transformed the feuding among the various Muslim factions into open warfare. Some decided to follow Ali's son Hassan who was soon killed by contenders, then the faction adopted another son of Ali Hussein as their Imam. Hence, to these people, Ali was the first Imam; an appointee of Allah, without a firm basis for this belief. Ali was considered sinless and pure (taher) and immune from error. Over time, eleven males from Ali's line were taken in succession as Pure Imams. Thus, the 12-Imamate Shi’ia originated with Ali (1) as the first, Hassan (2) as the second, and his brother Hussein (3) as the third Imam.

* Hussein (son of Ali and nephew of Muhammad) was killed in a fierce battle In Kerbala 680 AD (remembering of the Ashura (Link
), with all his 72 companions (all beheaded, including a baby, one year old whose name was Ali-Ashgar). with Muslim opponents of the Imamate (those who opposed the system of Imamate leadership which is based on the hereditary succession of leaders from the line of Ali.) The two major divisions in Islam diverged with Sunnis opting for the elective Caliphate and Shiites for the hereditary Imamate. 

* After Hussein's death, some of his followers claimed that he had not died and that he would return. Others took to his brother Muhammad, and then later many took to Hussein's son Zayn al-Abidin (4), as their Imam; and when he died, many followed his son, Muhammad Al-Baqir (5).

* Starting with the death of Ali, a strong belief began to form among his grieving followers that he had not died and that he would return to assume his rule. This belief in the return continued and eventually metamorphosed into the notion of Mahdi, or the Sahib-ul- Zaman (the Lord of the Age.)

* When al-Baqir died, there were once again elements from among the Shi’ia who denied his death and claimed that he would return one day, while others settled on his son Ja'far al-Sadiq as their Imam.

* When Ja'far al-Sadiq (6) died, there was mass splintering among the Shi’ia. Each of his sons Isma'il, Abdullah, Muhammad, Zakariyya, Ishaq and Musa Al Kazemi was claimed by various groups to be their Imam. Also a faction believed that Jaa'far did not die, he had simply disappeared from view, and that he would return one day.

* The same splintering and confusion happened after the death of Moosa (7). Some denied his death, believing that he will return, some following his son Ahmad as their Imam, while others chose his other son Ali al-Rida.

* After al-Rida (8), many took his son Muhammad al-Jawwad (9) -, also known as al-Taqi, and after him his son Ali al-Hadi (10), or an-Naqi. At the death of Ali al-Hadi, they adopted his son Hassan al-Askari (11) as their new- and 11th- Imam.

The above is a very brief synopsis of a tumultuous genesis of the Shi’ia adoption of the Imamate belief which climaxed at year 254 AH: the time when a major section of the Shi’ia accepted as their Imam the 22-year old Hassan, son of Ali al-Hadi, and 10th lineal descendant of Ali and his wife Fatima (Muhammad's daughter).

Six years later, Hassan al-Askari is lying on his deathbed, but unlike any of his forefathers he leaves no offspring, no one to whom the Shi’ia might turn to as their new Imam.

The Shiites, who had been regarding Hassan al-Askari as their Imam, were thrown into mass disarray. Does this mean the end of the Imamate? The end of the Imamate, they felt would mean the end of Shi’ism. They were not prepared for that.

The confusion that reigned among the Shi’ia after the death of Hassan al-Askari is recorded by his contemporary Shi’ia writer, Hassan ibn Moosa an-Nawbakhti, who reports the emergence of at least 14 sects among the followers of Hassan al-Askari, each one with a different view of the future of the Imamate and the identity of the next Imam. Another contemporary Shi’ia writer, Sa'd ibn Abdullah al-Qummi, records 15 sects, and a century later the historian al-Mas'udi lists 20 separate sects.

At least four major divisions of belief emerged to deal with the crisis of not having a legitimate male from the line of Muhammad to turn to as Imam.

- One group accepted the death of Hassan al-Askari and the fact that he left no offspring. To them Imamate had ended in like manner that Nubuwat (mission of Muhammad himself) had ended with his death. Yet, some in this group retained hope for the advent of a new Imam.

- Another group refused to accept the death of Hassan al- Askari, and claimed that he would return in the future to establish justice upon earth. The refusal to accept the death of an Imam and retain the belief in his future return goes back to the very early days of the Imamate line.

- Yet another group bestowed the mantle of Imamate to Hassan's brother Jaa'far.

- The final major group headed by Uthman ibn Sa'id al-'Amri claimed that Hassan al-Askari did in fact have a son, Muhammad, who had gone into hiding at the age of four for reasons of safety and no one but himself could have any contact with him. Uthman ibn Sa'id al-'Amri further claimed that, as Wakeel (representative) of the Imam, he was the one to collect money in the name of the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (descendents of Muhammad).

Hassan al-Askari's own family denied the existence of any child of his, and divided his estate between his brother Jaa'far and his mother. Yet Uthman ibn Sa'id and his gang won the allegiance of the masses of the believers by denouncing Jaa'far as al-Kadhdhab (the Liar).

This school of thought ultimately became the dominant view in Shi’ism with a new Wakeel following the death of a previous one.

With the passage of time, in-fighting among the various claimants for being the Wakeel exposed the scheme for nothing more than a way of extracting money from the gullible faithful. Yet, the belief in the Hidden Imam and his return remains a fundamental belief of Shiites.

 To this day, the ever-supplicated cry of the Shi’ia faithful is “Ya Saheb-ul-Zaman (Lord of the Age Mahdi) hasten your return”.

Who is the much prayed for Mahdi? The four-year old who never was? The four-year old who went into hiding in a well, as some Shiites believe to this day-the well in Iran's Jamkaran where president Ahmadinejad frequently visits, submits his written requests, and receives his marching orders from the Hidden Imam to whom he claims he is accountable?

Source: Amil Imani, August 28, 2008, on

Polemically, the swinging of the Qur’ans, started the civil war between Ali and Mu’awiya bin Abi Sufyan (the founder of the Umayyad dynasty, caliph from 661-680) Form that day on, Islam kills Islam. For example, the 21th of April 1802 the Wahabites attacked with arms the mausoleum of Hussein, in Kerbala: The same string of blood goes on, in 2004, hundreds of people died terrorists attacks. It is comparable as if there would be an attack against Saint Peter the day of Eastern.


No comments:

Post a Comment