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The Geographical Expansion of Shī‘ism

Ghulam-Husayn Muharrami

It is certain that the first center of Shī‘ism had been the city of Medina and the pioneering Shī‘ah among the companions [ṣaḥābah] of the Holy Prophet (S)lived in that city. During the reign of the first three caliphs, the Shī‘ah ṣaḥābah were scattered in the different cities and regions, with some of them holding political and military positions. In this regard, ‘Allāmah Muḥammad Jawād Mughniyyah writes: The Shī‘ah ṣaḥābah played a pivotal role in the propagation and spread of Shī‘ism. Wherever they went, they were calling on the people toward Shī‘ism within the framework of the Qur’an and the Sunnah and through patience and fortitude, and on account of their companionship with the Prophet

#7779;), they were held in high esteem and regard by the people, and their speech had tremendous impact.
Even the place like Jabal ‘Āmil (in present day Lebanon) which was part of Shām, Mu‘āwiyah’s sphere of influence, would become one of the most important centers of Shī‘ism by the grace of the presence of the great companion of the Prophet

#7779;), Abū Dharr (al-Ghiffārī).
During the latter part of the caliphate of ‘Uthmān ibn ‘Affān, many Shī‘ah were living in the Muslim territories such that the name of ‘Alī (‘a) was always mentioned for caliphate. For this reason, ‘Uthmān used to send requests to ‘Alī (‘a) during rebel gatherings in Madina, asking him to stay out of Medina for sometime and to go to his farm in Yanbu‘ with the hope that the rebels would be motivated less. There were many Shī‘ah in Iraq especially during the time of ‘Uthmān. For example, when the Shī‘ah of Baṣrah—in spite of the fact that the city was under the occupation and influenced by the Jamal [camel] Army propaganda—heard the news that the Commander of the Faithful ‘Alī (‘a) along with Muhājirūn and Anṣār was heading toward them, three thousand men only from the tribe of Rabī‘ah joined the Imām in Dhīqār. Their decision to join ‘Alī (‘a) was ideologically motivated, regarding the Imām as the caliph appointed by the Holy Prophet (S)just as Balādhurī has this to say: “Among the Shī‘ah of ‘Alī were those from the tribe of Rabī‘ah.”
After ‘Alī (‘a) himself took control of the helm of government and went to Iraq, there was an extraordinary impact upon the spread of Shī‘ism in the region. Similarly, the rulers and governors of the Imām, most of whom were appointed from among the Shī‘ah, had remarkable contribution in the spread of Shī‘ism in other places. As Sayyid Muḥsin Amīn says, “Wherever the trustees of ‘Alī (‘a) went, the people there would become Shī‘ah.”
Of course, during that period, in addition to Shām which was totally under the influence of the Umayyads, other regions, such as Baṣrah and north of Iraq, also had inclinations toward ‘Uthmān. The people in those places were inclined toward ‘Uthmān on account of the settlement of ‘Uthmān’s relatives there, and this inclination in the north of Iraq continued till the end of the second century AH.
Mecca also had anti-Hāshimī and anti-‘Alawī tendencies since the Age of Ignorance [yamw al-jāhiliyyah]. Similarly, both during the Age of Ignorance and the Islamic period, Ṭā’if was the same as Mecca. The other tribes of Quraysh were always competing with Banū Hāshim and not willing to accept the leadership of Banū Hāshim, and this is one of the reasons for Quraysh’s opposition to the Holy Prophet

#7779;). The people of Ṭā’if, too, like that of Mecca, rejected the Prophet’s

#7779;) invitation although they submitted after Islam’s acquisition of power.
From the time of Ḥajjāj, Shī‘ism was extended beyond the realm of Iraq and Ḥijāz. During that period, as a result of the extreme pressure and harshness of Ḥajjāj, Shī‘ah went out of Iraq and settled in other Muslim territories. Especially in the eastern part of the Muslim lands at the end of the first century AH, the Shī‘ah centers in Iran were gradually formed. In Khurāsān, the ‘Abbāsids took advantage of the people’s love for the descendants of the Holy Prophet (S)and through the slogan, “the appointed one from among the progeny of Prophet Muḥammad

#7779;),” they gathered the people around themselves and utilized them in the struggle against the Umayyads.
The scattering of the Shī‘ah during the ‘Abbāsid period was very obvious. In the east, in addition to Iran, the Shī‘ah went to Central Asia, India and the Caucasus, among others, and with the collapse of the Umayyad dynasty, the Shī‘ah were also able to exert influence in the west, especially in Africa where a Shī‘ah government of the Idrīsīs was established during the second century AH. Although their government was a Zaydi one, it can be regarded as a ground for the efforts of the Shī‘ah. Of course, their contact with the capital (Baghdad) and Medina had been less due to the existence of the Aghlabī government in Egypt which was formed to counter them.
In this manner, Shī‘ism during the second century AH was spread in both the eastern and western parts of the Muslim world, and in addition to Khūzestān, the mountainous region [jabal] (the regions around the Zagros mountain ranges) and central Iran, Shī‘ism was also spread in far-flung regions such as Central Asia, present day Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Maghrib (Morocco), India, and Ṭabaristān.

The first center of Shī‘ism is Medina and the pioneering Shī‘ah used to live in this city. During the period of the first three caliphs, the Shī‘ah ṣaḥābah (companions of the Prophet

#7779;)) was scattered in the different cities and regions and calling people toward Shī‘ism on the basis of the Qur’an. The transfer of ‘Alī (‘a) to Iraq had a tremendous impact on Shī‘ism in Iraq.
From the time of Ḥajjāj, Shī‘ism was extended beyond the realm of Iraq and Ḥijāz. During the ‘Abbāsid period, the Shī‘ah in the east, in addition to Iran, also found their way into Central Asia, India, and the Caucasus, and in the west also, with the establishment of the Idrīsī government in Maghrib, a fertile ground was paved for the influence of Shī‘ism.
The Shī‘ah-populated regions during the first century AH were confined to Ḥijāz and Iraq. Owing to the residence of the pure Imāms (‘a) and Banū Hāshim there, Medina was the first city where the Shī‘ah gathered together.
The second Shī‘ah-concentrated region next to Medina was Yemen because the people embraced Islam through ‘Alī’s (‘a) hand.

1. Where was the first center of Shī‘ism? Whom is the initial spread of Shī‘ism associated to?
2. Which regions were Shī‘ah-populated during the first century AH?
3. What was the reason behind the inclination of the Yemenīs toward Shī‘ism?

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