The Shia and related Sects
The Shia is the second major branch in Islam, although smaller in total number of followers than the
NOTE: The all capital letters after names in brackets, such as (SAW) are honorifics.
Origins/history and terminology:
• The Shia originally came into being at the battle of Siffin in 657
• The term “Shia” which can be translated as “Follower”is derived from the phrase “Shia'atAli”
which translates into “Ali's Party.” The original Shias were the partisans ofAli.
• Acore historical event that helped form Shiite tradition was the battle of Kerbela/Karbala (10
of Muharram 680)where the grandsons of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) were killed along
with most of their family members.
• The Shia branch can be subdivided into three main sects based on how many authentic “imams”
they believed in. The Fiver (5 imams), Sevener(7 imams) and Twelver(12 imams) are the three
• The Zaidiyyah, who accept only 5 imams, believe that Zaid, who was the son of ZainAlAbidin
(a survivor of the battle in Kerbela), was the 5 imam. However, the other Shia groups accept
Muhammad al-Baqir, brother of Zaid, as the 5 imam.
• The Seveners or the Ismailiyya Shia took the descendant of Muhammad al-Baqir, a man named
Isma'il, to be the 7 imam.
• The Twelvers or Imamiyya continued the line not through Isma'il, but through his brother Musa
al-Kazim all the way to the 12 imam: Muhammad al-Mahdi
• An important divisional group of the Sevener sect were the Qarmathians. They were often
accused of communism by their adversaries and once took away the black stone from the Ka'ba
(the black structure in the middle of Makkah where all Muslims direct their prayers). The stone
returned after 22 years. They formed a small state in Multan, modern day Pakistan
• The Fatimid Empire was influenced by the Sevener Shia and their beliefs (covered in the
• The Fatimid Empire split into two after the death of the caliph Mustansir in 1094. The new
caliph was Musta'li, and the leader of the other group was Nizar, who was forced to flee and
take refuge in the fortress of his friend Hasan i-Sabbah.
• The fortress of Hasan i-Sabbah, namedAlamut, was the place of origin for the “Assassins.”
• The wordAssassin derives from “Hashshashiyyun” which means “eater of Hashish”
• TheAssassins constantly interfered during the Crusades and played an important role. Their
fortresses however were conquered by the Mongols on one side and the Egyptian Mamluks on
the other eventually removing them from power altogether
• The followers of Musta'li settled mainly in Yemen where their Queen Hurra played an important
role. She sent our missionaries who reached Sind and Gujarat, modern day India. The
missionaries were successful on converting many people by transforming esoteric Hindu ideas
to better fit the mold of their beliefs.
• In the modern day, many Ismailis have migrated to Canada where they have significant
• One Ismaili sect which has fallen into oblivion was the Hurufi sect. Fadlullah ofAstarabad was
the founder (Their beliefs outlined in the section below) th