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Factors behind the Rifts within Shī‘ism

Ghulam-Husayn Muharrami

The blessed names of the twelve Imams (‘a) have been recorded in the Prophetic traditions and Shī‘ah had learned of their names before personally seeing them. As Jābir ibn ‘Abd Allāh, a devoted companion of the Holy Prophet (S)narrates, When the verse, “O you who have faith! Obey Allah and obey the Apostle and those vested with authority among you,” was revealed, I asked: “O Messenger of Allah! We know Allah and His Apostle and we do obey them, but who are ‘those vested with authority’ [ūli’l-amr] obedience to whom has been mentioned by God alongside the obedience to Himself and obedience to you?” He said: “‘Those vested with authority’ are my successors and the leaders after me. The first of whom is ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib; after him, Ḥasan and then Ḥusayn; after him, ‘Alī ibn al-Ḥusayn; and after him is Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī who is known in the Torah [tawrāt] as “Bāqir” [he who cleaves something asunder] and you shall see him. Once you meet him, extend my salutations to him. After him is aṣ-Ṣādiq, Ja‘far ibn Muḥammad, and then Mūsā ibn Ja‘far followed by ‘Alī ibn Mūsā; after him is Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī; after him is ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad and then Ḥasan ibn ‘Alī, and after him is his son who shall have the same name and epithet as mine. It is he who shall conquer the east and west of the world. He shall be hidden from the visible ones—a long occultation on account of which the people will doubt his Imamate except those whose hearts shall be endowed with untainted faith by God…
The same Jābir used to sit at the Masjid an-Nabī and say: “O Bāqir al-‘Ilm [he who cleaves knowledge asunder]! Where are you?” People who heard him would say: “Jābir, you are talking nonsense.” He would reply, “I am not talking nonsense. Rather, the Holy Holy Prophet (S)has informed me that “You shall meet a man from my descendants whose name and physical appearance is like that of mine who will cleave knowledge asunder.”
The infallible Imāms (‘a) also used to prove their rightfulness by showing manifest miracles and wonders. In spite of this, a series of reasons and factors caused some Shī‘ah to commit error concerning the matter (of Imamate) and a number of them deviated from the straight path. These factors can be stated as follows:

1. Repression
After 40 AH intense persecution and repression of the descendants of the Prophet (‘a) and their followers prevailed. This suppression hindered some Shī‘ah from establishing a link with their Imāms to have enough acquaintanceship with them.
During the second half of the first century, in particular after 72 AH and the defeat of ‘Abd Allāh ibn Zubayr who was anti-Shī‘ah, Ḥajjāj ibn Yūsuf ruled over Iraq and Ḥijāz for twenty years, brutally suppressed, killed and imprisoned the Shī‘ah, expelling them from Iraq and Ḥijāz. Imām as-Sajjād (‘a) was exercising dissimulation [taqiyyah] and he could express the Shī‘ah teachings only within the framework of supplication [du‘ā]. The Kaysāniyyah sect emerged during that time.
Although Imām al-Bāqir and Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a) enjoyed relative freedom and were able to propagate the Shī‘ah fundamentals and teachings, when the ‘Abbāsid caliph assumed power, he focused his attention on the Shī‘ah. And when he heard the news of the martyrdom of Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a), he wrote a letter to his governor in Medina instructing him to identify and behead the successor of Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a). Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a) designated five persons as his “successors”—Abū Ja‘far al-Manṣūr, Muḥammad ibn Sulaymān, ‘Abd Allāh, Mūsā, and Ḥamīdah. Imām al-Kāẓim (‘a) languished in prison for a long time. Initially, the ‘Abbāsid caliph Mūsā al-Hādī imprisoned the Imām and released him after sometime. Hārūn arrested the Imām four times and prevented the Shī‘ah from visiting him. The Shī‘ah remained in limbo and without a guardian paving the way for Ismā‘īliyyah and Faṭḥiyyah preachers. At the time, the Shī‘ah had nobody to clarify their doubts. The ‘Abbāsid rule’s control and surveillance over Imām al-Kāẓim’s (‘a) activities were such that even ‘Alī ibn Ismā‘īl, the Imām’s nephew, was relaying information regarding him.
Yes, most of the Shī‘ah at the time were not sure whether Imām al-Kāẓim (‘a) was alive or not. As Yaḥyā ibn Khālid Barmakī used to say, I uprooted the religion of the rafiḍīs [dissidents] (pejoratively referring to the Shī‘ah) because they were thinking that religion without the Imām will not survive and remain alive, while today they do not know whether their Imām is alive or not.”
During the moment of Imām al-Kāẓim’s (‘a) martyrdom, none of the Shī‘ah were present on the scene. This matter seems to be the reason why the Wāqifiyyah would deny the death of the Imām though financial issues contributed more to the emergence of this sect.
Yes, the infallible Imāms (‘a) were under constant ‘Abbāsid surveillance. They even coerced Imām al-Hādī and Imām al-‘Askarī (‘a) to live in the military city of Sāmarrā so as to keep them under constant surveillance. After the martyrdom of Imām al-‘Askarī (‘a), the ‘Abbāsids imprisoned his spouses and bondwomen with the aim of identifying the Imām’s successor (the Master of the Age, Imām al-Mahdī (‘a)). Even Ja‘far ibn ‘Alī, known as Ja‘far al-Kadhdhāb (Ja‘far the Liar) used to act against his brother Imām al-‘Askarī (‘a). As such, the Ghulāt doctrines were spread through Naṣīriyyah founded by Muḥammad ibn Naṣīr Fihrī. A number of them gathered around Ja‘far and then he started claiming for the Imamate.

2. Taqiyyah [Dissimulation]
Taqiyyah [dissimulation] means expression of what is contrary to the truth when there is fear for the life of a Muslim. It is adopted in following previous laws and the law of Islam as dictated by both the text and reason. For example, ‘the believer among the family of Pharaoh’ [mu’min āl fir‘āwn] kept his faith in secret out of fear of Pharaoh and his men. Among the companions of the Messenger of Allah

#7779;), ‘Ammār also exercised taqiyyah on account of torture and persecution perpetuated against him by the polytheists [mushrikūn] (of Mecca). When he was crying (for repentance) beside the Holy Prophet (S)for doing so, the Holy Prophet (S)said to him: “You have to do the same if they torture you again.”
Since the Shī‘ah have always been few in numbers, they practiced taqiyyah in a bid to survive and save their lives. This method was responsible for the preservation of the school of Shī‘ism. As Dr. Samīrah Mukhtār al-Laythī writes, Among the contributory factors for the perpetuation of the Shī‘ah movement are taqiyyah and the clandestine propagation, which gave opportunity to the nascent Shī‘ah movement to advance away from the attention of the ‘Abbāsid caliphs and their governors.
But on the other hand, taqiyyah has been one of the causes of rifts within Shī‘ism because the Shī‘ah used to conceal their beliefs out of fear of the tyrants of the day. Even the Imāms (‘a) used to do so. On account of the atmosphere of strangulation, the infallible Imāms (‘a) somehow refrained from explicitly declaring their Imamate. This matter is indicated clearly in a dialogue between Imām ar-Riḍā (‘a) and some followers of Wāqifiyyah: ‘Alī ibn Abī Ḥamzah who was a Wāqifī asked Imām ar-Riḍā (‘a): “What happened to your father?” The Imām replied: “He passed away.” Ibn Abī Ḥamzah said: “Whom did he appoint as the successor after him?” The Imām answered: “It is me.” He said: “So, are you the Imām ought to be obeyed?” The Imām responded: “Yes.” Ibn Sirāj and Ibn Makārī (two other Wāqifīs) inquired: “Has your father determined it for you?” Imām ar-Riḍā (‘a): “Woe to you! There is no need for me to say, ‘He has designated me.’ Do you like me to go to Baghdad and say to Hārūn, ‘I am the Imām ought to be obeyed’? By God! I do not have such a duty.” Ibn Abī Ḥamzah said: “You expressed something which had never been expressed by any of your forefathers.” The Imām said: “By God! My best grandfather, namely, the Prophet, expressed it when the verse was revealed and God commanded him to convey the message to his nearest of kin.”
During the time of Imām al-Bāqir (‘a), a number of the Shī‘ah abandoned their belief in his Imamate, on account of his exercise of taqiyyah in dealing with some issues, and embraced Zaydiyyah Batriyyah.
Meanwhile, some people who could not grasp the expediency of taqiyyah accused the pure Imāms (‘a) of error for not explicitly expressing their Imamate. They were in a sense radical and extremist. This motive had far-reaching contribution in the emergence of Zaydiyyah.
As such, when the pressure and repression were lessened and there were some opportunity for the pure Imāms (‘a) to prove their Imamate, sprouting of Shī‘ah groups were minimal. During the time of Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a) when there was good opportunity and the Imām had freedom of action due to the conflicts between the Umayyads and the ‘Abbāsids, we witnessed the least number of rifts that take place, but after his martyrdom when the pressure and persecution of the ‘Abbāsid caliph Manṣūr prevailed, the Nāwūsiyyah, Ismā‘īliyyah, Khaṭābiyyah, Qarāmaṭah, Samṭiyyah, and Faṭḥiyyah sects emerged.
During the time of Imām ar-Ridā (‘a), the condition was again favorable and even during the caliphate of Hārūn, the Imām enjoyed relative freedom of action. At the time, a number of the leading figures of Wāqifiyyah such as ‘Abd ar-Raḥmān ibn Ḥajjāj, Rafā‘ah ibn Mūsā, Yūnus ibn Ya‘qūb, Jamīl ibn Dibāj, Ḥamād ibn ‘Īsā, and others abandoned their faith and believed in the Imamate of Imām ar-Riḍā (‘a).
Similarly, after the martyrdom of the Imām, notwithstanding the young age of Imām al-Jawād (‘a), less rifts within Shī‘ism took place due to the efforts of Imām ar-Riḍā (‘a) in introducing his son as his successor.

3. Ambition for Leadership
Whenever repression was prevalent and the pure Imāms (‘a) were practicing taqiyyah for the preservation of the foundation of Shī‘ism and protecting the lives of the Shī‘ah, opportunist and power-greedy individuals within the ranks of the Shī‘ah, though without much belief in religion, used to take advantage of this condition. For example, in reply to one of his companions who asked about the contradiction of ḥadīths, Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a) said: “There are those who want to possess the world and acquire leadership by means of personally interpreting [ta’wīl] our ḥadīths.”
For this reason, during the second century AH and after the spread of Shī‘ism as well as after the martyrdom of Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq, Imām al-Kāẓim and Imām al-‘Askarī (‘a), such opportunist and leadership-greedy individuals multiplied in the midst of the Shī‘ah and founded different sects for financial and political motives. After Imām al-Bāqir (‘a) Mughayrah ibn Sa‘īd claimed that he is the Imām and he has been designated by Imām as-Sajjād and Imām al-Bāqir (‘a). Hence, his supporters were called followers of Mughayriyyah.
After the martyrdom of Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a) the Nāwūsiyyah and Khaṭābiyyah sects came into existence whose founders used to utilize the names of Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a) and his son Ismā‘īl in a bid to draw the people’s attention toward themselves. Ibn Nāwūs was the founder of Nāwūsiyyah; his followers denied Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq’s (‘a) death and pointed to him as the Mahdī. The followers of Khaṭābiyyah rejected the death of Ismā‘īl, Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq’s (‘a) son, and introduced their leader as the Imām after these two personages.
The peak of financial motives in founding a certain sect was after the martyrdom of Imām al-Kāẓim (‘a). Yūnus who was one of the companions of Imām al-Kāẓim (‘a) narrated that when Abū’l-Ḥasan Imām al-Kāẓim (‘a) passed away, each of his deputies acquired abundant possessions and wealth. As such, they suspended their judgment concerning the Imām and denied his death. For example, Ziyād Qanadī had a deposit of seventy thousand dinars while ‘Alī ibn Ḥamzah had three thousand dinars. Yūnus thus wrote: When I saw that condition and the truth became clear to me and also, I learned of the issue of Imamate of Ḥaḍrat Riḍā (‘a), I started relaying the truths and inviting the people toward the Imām. Those two persons pursued me, asking: “Why are you are calling on the people toward the Imamate of Riḍā? If your motive is to acquire money, we shall make you rich” and they offered ten thousand dinars to me but I refused. They became angry with me and expressed enmity and hostility toward me.
Sa‘d ibn ‘Abd Allāh al-Ash‘arī also says: After the martyrdom of Imām al-Kāẓim (‘a), the followers of Hasmawiyyah sect believed that Imām al-Kāẓim (‘a) did not die and was never imprisoned rather he was in occultation and he is the Mahdī. Their leader was Muḥammad ibn Bashīr who claimed that the seventh Imām appointed him as the successor; that rings and all things that the people need in the affairs of the religion and the world had been granted to him; that all prerogatives had been given to him; and that he assumed the position of the Imām. Then, he was allegedly the Imām after Imām al-Kāẓim (‘a) and at the time that this Muḥammad ibn Bashīr was about to die he designated his son, Samī‘ ibn Muḥammad, as his successor, alleging that obedience to him is obligatory till the appearance of al-Kāẓim (‘a). He also urged people to give to Samī‘ ibn Muḥammad whatever they want to offer in the way of God. These people were labeled as “mamṭūrah”.

4. The Existence of Mentally Weak Individuals
There were coward individuals among the Shī‘ah who, when they would see a miracle from the Imām of their time, their intellect could not digest it and they would start expressing extreme beliefs notwithstanding the fact that the pure Imāms (‘a) themselves used to strongly combat such beliefs. As narrated in Rijāl Kashī, seventy black-skinned persons residing in Baṣrah expressed extreme beliefs about ‘Alī (‘a) after the Battle of Jamal. Opportunist and leadership-greedy elements also exploited the spirit of these people, misguiding them and letting them do things for their own benefit. For example, Abī’l-Khaṭṭāb founded the Khaṭṭābiyyah sect, introduced Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a) in the position of prophethood, allegedly bestowed on him by God, and claimed himself to be the Imām and successor of Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a). Also, during the minor occultation [ghaybah aṣ-ṣughrah] of the Imām of the Time (‘a), Ibn Naṣīr initially introduced himself as the ‘door’ (medium) [bāb] and deputy [wakīl] of the Imām in explaining the religions laws and collecting the religious funds. Later on, he started claiming prophethood and finally went to the extent of claiming divinity. His followers also accepted him as such. As a matter of fact, it was on account of such a mentality of his followers that he made such claims. In essence, extremist sects were founded under such grounds.

The Infallible Imāms’ (‘a) Campaign against Extreme Views
One of the potent dangers that threatened the Shī‘ah throughout history is the issue of the extremists [ghālīs] and the attribution of their views to the Shī‘ah. The state of affairs is such that the adversaries and enemies of the Shī‘ah have always accused them of committing extremism and fanaticism with respect to their Imāms. At this juncture, we shall not engage in talking about the different extremist [ghullah] sects, discussing their views and beliefs. Of course, it must be noted that the most salient feature and point of convergence of all the extremist sects is their extremism with respect to the right of the Imāms by blasphemously elevating their station to the station of divinity.
The existence of the extremists [ghullāt] among the Muslims is caused more by external factors than internal ones. Through direct and face-to-face confrontations and encounters, the enemies of Islam were not able to strike a blow to Islam while Islam enlightened their lands and defeated its enemies. As such, they decided to strike a blow to Islam from within. So, they targeted the principal principles of Islam. The political establishments were also not disinterested in encouraging, or at least tolerating, such individuals to emerge from among the Shī‘ah and followers of the Ahl al-Bayt of the Holy Prophet (S)so as to attribute these individuals’ views to the Shī‘ah, and in so doing, the followers of the Ahl al-Bayt could be presented as extremists and outside the community of Muslims.
Although this trend had started since the caliphate of the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) and a number of mentally weak elements held extreme views regarding him (who were executed for not recanting their deviant views), ‘Abd Allāh ibn Saba’ is a fictitious and imaginary figure. The first person to have mentioned him is Ṭabarī the historian. He, in turn, has taken the account of this Ibn Saba’ from Sayf ibn ‘Umar, whose being known as a liar has been unanimously agreed upon by the scholars of rijāl. The pure Imāms (‘a) had always faced this problem and strongly combated it, constantly cursing the extremists and informing the people of the danger posed by these extremists. The Imāms (‘a) used to order the Shī‘ah not to socialize with them nor establish relationship with them. Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a) had mentioned the names of a number of chief extremists [ghālīs] such as Mughayrah ibn Sa‘īd, Bayān, Ṣā’id Nahdī, Ḥārith Shāmī, ‘Abd Allāh ibn Ḥārith, Ḥamzah ibn ‘Ammār Barbarī, and Abū’l-Khaṭṭāb, and cursed them. As the effect of the pure Imāms’ (‘a) curse, they suffered from pain and torment and were killed under terrible conditions. As Imām ar-Riḍā (‘a) says, Banān used to tell lies about Imām as-Sajjād (‘a); God made him taste the sharpness of the sword. Mughayrah ibn Sa‘īd used to tell lies about Imām al-Bāqir (‘a) and he also tasted the sharpness of the sword. Muḥammad ibn Bashīr used to lie about Abū’l-Ḥasan al-Kāẓim (‘a) and God, the Exalted, also made him perish via the sword. Abū’l-Khaṭṭāb used to lie about Abū ‘Abd Allāh Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a) and he was also killed via the sword. And the one telling lies about me is Muḥammad ibn Furāt.
The period of Imām Ḥasan al-‘Askarī had been one of the periods when the trend of extremism [ghullah] gained optimal momentum. It is for this reason that the Imām had cursed individuals such as Qāsim Yaqṭīnī, ‘Alī ibn Ḥaskah Qummī, Ibn Bābā Qummī Fihrī, Muḥammad ibn Naṣīr Numayrī, and Fārs ibn Ḥātam Qazwīnī who were considered among the chiefs and leaders of extremism.
Therefore, in Shī‘ah-populated regions such as Qum there had always been an anti-extremism [ghullah] atmosphere and the extremists were not permitted to reside there. For this reason, in describing the personal characters of Ḥusayn ibn ‘Abd Allāh Muḥarrar, Ibn Dāwūd has said: “It is reported that he always expelled from the city of Qum those who were accused of extremism.”
As narrated by Ibn Ḥajm, Abū’l-Ḥasan Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad, a son of Imām al-Kāẓim (‘a) who, during the third century AH, lived in Azerbaijan where he was held in high esteem, was so strict against the preachers of extremist sects that they provided the means for his murder and they persuaded Mufallaḥ Ghulām ibn Abī’s-Sāj, the governor of Azerbaijan, to kill him.

Although the blessed names of the twelve Imāms (‘a) are recorded in the Prophetic traditions and the Shī‘ah were familiar with their names prior to meeting them, a series of reasons and factors caused some Shī‘ah to commit error with respect to the matter (Imamate) and to deviate from the straight path. Among these factors are the following:
1. Repression: After 40 AH when the Umayyads assumed power, repression of the Shī‘ah community was the order of the day. The same state of affairs prevailed during the ‘Abbāsid period, and this condition caused the Shī‘ah not to be able to acquire the necessary knowledge about their Imāms.
2. Taqiyyah [dissimulation]: Taqiyyah contributed to the preservation of the Shī‘ah school. Yet, it has also been one of the factors for the emergence of rifts within Shī‘ism because the pure Imāms (‘a) used to avoid explicitly declaring their Imamate.
3. Ambition for leadership and love of the world: There were always opportunist individuals in the ranks of the Shī‘ah who used to take advantage of the atmosphere of strangulation prevalent in the Shī‘ah community and create sects to advance their personal interests.
4. The existence of mentally weak individuals: There were mentally weak individuals among the Shī‘ah whose minds could not properly grasp the miracles that they witnessed from the Imāms and would start to hold extreme views.
The issue of extremism [ghullah] was one of the most serious dangers that had threatened the Shī‘ah. The pure Imāms (‘a) always confronted this matter, intensely informing the people of its peril.

1. What were the reasons behind the rifts within Shī‘ism?
2. How did the Imāms (‘a) combat extremist trends?

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