The Creed of Shi!a and Sunna

The world’s Muslims are divided into two groups – the Sh:!a who number more than 500 millions, and the Sunnis who make up the rest of the Muslims. There is no difference between the two groups regarding the three fundamentals of the religion which are:

  1. Belief in monotheism (taw9:d).
  2. Belief in prophethood (nubuwwah).
  3. Belief in the resurrection (ma!"d). All Muslims believe in the existence of the one diety who is eternal and everlasting, all-knowing and all powerful, ever living and self subsisting, having no partner, and having all the beautiful attributes.

All Muslims also believe that Alla>h sent rightly guided prophets to mankind as guides to direct them to the truth and to happiness in this world and the next, and that Mu9ammad ibn !Abdull"h (N) is the ‘seal’ or last of the prophets and that there is no prophet to come after him. Similarly, all Muslims believe that when a person dies and his/her body perishes his/her soul (or spirit) remains and he/she will be brought back to life on the day of resurrection. Whoever has done good in the earthly life will be of the people of the garden of heaven and bliss, and whoever has done ill in the earthly life will be of the people of punishment and hellfire.

As for divine justice (!adl)15, the Sh:!a believe that Almighty Alla>h is just and does not wrong anyone and does not act without purpose.

And as for Imamate, the Sh:!a believe also that the Prophet of Islam Mu9ammad (N) appointed twelve successors and said: ‘The successors (khulaf"’) after me will be twelve.’16 He (N) also said: ‘Whoever dies without knowing the Imam (leader) of his time has died the death of the age of ignorance.’17 These twelve successors were named18 by the messenger of Alla>h (N) himself and they are, in order:

  1. Imam !Al: ibn AbY ھ"lib (Amir al-Mo’mineen) (a.s.).
  2. Imam .asan ibn !Al:. (al-Mujtab") (a.s.).
  3. Imam .usayn ibn !Al: (Sayyid al-Shuhada>’) (a.s.).
  4. Imam !Al: ibn .usayn (al-Sajj"d) (a.s.).
  5. Imam Mu9ammad ibn !Al: (al-B"qir) (a.s.).
  6. Imam Ja!far ibn Mu9ammad (al-£"diq) (a.s.).
  7. Imam MYs" ibn Ja!far (al-K"dim) (a.s.).
  8. Imam !Al: ibn MYs" (al-Ri+") (a.s.).
  9. Imam Mu9ammad ibn !Al: (al-Jaw"d) (a.s.).
  10. Imam !Al: ibn Mu9ammad (al-H"d:) (a.s.).
  11. Imam .asan ibn !Al: (al-!Askar:) (a.s.).
  12. Imam Muh}ammad ibn .asan (al-Muntadar al-Mahd:) (a.s.).

The last of the successors of these pure people is the Imam who is Muntadar (the awaited) Mahd: (rightly guided Imam) who is alive in this world but hidden from sight and who will appear at the end of time when Alla>h grants him permission so that he can fill the earth with justice and equity after it having been filled with wrongdoing and oppression. Then the servants of Alla>h will unite under his banner in a single Islamic government which will flourish by the will of Alla>h. There are widespread traditions about him reported from the Prophet Mu9ammad (N).19 The Sh:!a have brought forward proofs and evidences for these two fundamentals of religion (os}ool al-deen) – divine justice and Imamate – from both rational and traditional sources. As for the ‘branches’ of Islam (furu>‘ al-deen) meaning the acts of worship and social contracts and all other laws and rulings of Islam, Sh:!a Muslims have stated that the sources for them are four:

  1. The Holy Qur’"n. This is the book which is in the hands of the Muslims today. It has neither been added to or subtracted from.

  2. The Purified Traditions (the sunnah) reported from the Prophet (N) and his pure family (a.s.).

  3. The consensus (ijm"!) of the Muslims.

  4. Reason.

They have also said that the door to independent legal judgement (ijtih"d) is open, so whoever derives - according to the proper conditions - a ruling from these four sources may act upon it. Introducing the Shi!a The word ‘sh:!a’ is derived from an Arabic word meaning ‘following’. The word sh:!a is applied in the Holy Qur’"n to the followers of Noah (a.s.) as Almighty Alla>h says: eAnd indeed amongst his followers (sh:!a) was Abrahamf20 The Prophet (N) applied the name sh:!a to the followers of Imam !Al: (a.s.) and named them with this name, and it is related by historians and traditionalists of the Sh:!a and the Sunni schools alike in their books that the Prophet (N) said: ‘O !Al:, you and your sh:!a (followers) are the ones who will triumph.’21 Thus the followers of Imam !Al: (a.s.) were known by this name from the days of the Messenger of Alla>h (N) who was the first to apply this name to them. And since the speech of the Messenger (N) is revelation from Almighty Alla>h who has said in the Holy Qur’"n [referring to the Prophet]: eAnd he does not speak of his own desire, it is nought but revelation revealed to himf22 it follows that naming the Sh:!a this name is nothing but revelation from Almighty Allah.

The Sh:!a are those Muslims who follow Amir al-Mo’mineen (Commander of the Believers) Imam !Al: ibn AbY ھ"lib (a.s.) and his pure sons (a.s.) after the Messenger of Alla>h (N); and this is following the order of the Noble Messenger (N) who said before his death: ‘I am soon to be called and will answer, and I am leaving with you the two weighty things (thaqalayn). As long as you adhere to these two you will never go astray after me ever; the book of Alla>h and my family; the people of my house.’23 The Messenger of Alla>h (N) also said: ‘!Al: is with the truth and the truth is with !Al:.’24

He (N) also said: ‘There will occur dissension after me. When this happens then align yourselves with !Al: ibn AbY ھ"lib for he is the first who will see me and the first who will shake my hand on the day of resurrection and he will be with me in the highest heaven and he is the criterion (al-f"rYq) between truth and falsehood.’25 He (N) also said: ‘There will occur dissension after me. When this happens then align yourselves with !Al: ibn AbY ھ"lib for he is the criterion (al-f"rYq) between truth and falsehood.’26 He (N) also said: ‘Amongst the people there will occur schism and difference but this man (meaning !Al: [a.s.]) and his companions are in the right.’27

The Sh:!a are also named the ‘Imamites (im"m:yah)’ as they believe in the imamate of !Al:, Amir al-Mo’mineen (Commander of the Believers), and his eleven sons and grandsons (a.s.).

They are also named the ‘Ja!farites (ja!far:yah)’ since they follow the Imams of the people of the prophet’s house (the Ahl al-Bayt) in matters of what is lawful and unlawful since these Imams are most knowledgeable of the book of Alla>h and what the Messenger of Alla>h (N) said. The sixth of these Imams is Ja!far ibn Mu9ammad (known as ‘al-£"diq’, ‘the truthful’). He was able to propagate Islamic teachings – the fundamentals (os}ool al-deen), branches (furu‘ al-deen), etiquettes (adab) and ethics (akhla>q) - in a more comprehensive and complete manner, something which conditions did not permit the rest of the Imams to do in such a complete way. The Sh:!a took from Imam Ja!far most of the features of their religion and for this reason they are related to him. The other Imams did not have as much opportunity to do this as they met with troubles as in the time of !Al: and his sons .asan and .usayn (a.s.), or with oppression and terror from the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphs. However, Imam £"diq (a.s.) lived during a period in which the Umayyad dynasty was in decline and the Abbasid dynasty was in ascendance and he took the opportunity to spread the realities of Islam on a wide scale. The Sh:!a are also named the ‘Twelvers (ithn" !ashar:yah)’ as they believe in the Imamate of the twelve Imams of the Prophet’s house, the prophet having said: ‘The successors after me will be twelve in number.’28

The Sh:!ite sect, then, is a practical form of Islam as the Prophet (N) and his pure household put forward. The other Islamic sects are practical forms of Islam as put forward by these particular sects’ leaders.