Twelver Shi`ism

Twelver Shi'ism ( _ar. اثنا عشرية "Ithnāˤashariyyah") is the largest branch of Shi'a branch of Islam. An adherent of Twelver Shi'ism is most commonly referred to as a "Twelver", which is derived from their belief in twelve divinely ordained leaders, or Imams, and "Shi'a" usually refers to Twelver Shi'a Muslims only. Approximately 85% of Shi'a are Twelvers, representing the largest branch of Shi'a Islam.

Twelvers share many tenets of Shi'ism with related sects, such as the belief in Imams, but the Ismaili and Zaidi Shi'ite sects each believe in a different number of Imams, and for the most part, a different path of succession regarding the Imamate. They also differ in the role and overall definition of an Imam.

The "Twelver Shi'a" faith is predominantly found in Iran (90%) , Iraq (65%), Azerbaijan (75%), Lebanon (35%), Kuwait (35%), Turkey (25%), Saudi Arabia (10-15%) [ [ International Crisis Group. The Shiite Question in Saudi Arabia, Middle East Report N°45, 19 September 2005] ] , Bahrain (80%) and form a large minority in Pakistan (20%) and Afghanistan (18%).

Alternate names

The Twelvers are also known by other names, each connoting some aspect of the faith.

* "Shīˤa" normally used to refer to the Twelvers since they are the "orthodox" variant of Shīˤa. In any extended usage, "Shīˤa" can refer to other groups as well.
* "Jaˤfarī" is always taken to refer to Twelvers to the exclusion of the Ismāˤīlī and Zaydī ("Fivers"). The term Jaˤfarī is used for the Jaˤfarī Madhhab and Fiqh ("Jurisprudence"). It is attributed to Jaˤfar as-Sādiq, who the Shīˤa consider to be their Sixth Imam. The founders of the Sunni Hanafi and Maliki schools of thought narrated Hadith from Jaˤfar as-Sādiq.
* "Imāmī" is a reference to the Twelver belief in holy and infallible Imams after the time of Muhammad. Though the Ismāˤīlī (including the Seveners) also accept the concept of Imams, this term is also used for the Twelvers.


Twelvers believe that the descendants of the Islamic prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima Zahra and his son-in-law Ali (the Imams) are the best source of knowledge about the Qur'an and Islam, the most trusted carriers and protectors of Muhammad's Sunnah (traditions) and the most worthy of emulation.

In particular, Twelvers recognize the succession of Ali (Muhammad's cousin), son-in-law, the first man to accept Islam (second only to Muhammad's wife Khadija), the male head of the Ahl al-Bayt or "people of the [Prophet's] house" and the father of Muhammad's only bloodline) as opposed to that of the caliphate recognized by Sunni Muslims. Twelvers also believe that Ali was appointed successor by Muhammad's direct order on many occasions, and that he is therefore the rightful leader of the Muslim faith.

Ali was the third successor to Abu Bakr and, for the Shia, the first divinely sanctioned "imam," or male descendant of Muhammad. The seminal event in Shia history is the martyrdom in 680 CE of Ali's son Husayn, who led an uprising against the "illegitimate" caliph. For the Twelvers, as well as most Shi'a, Husayn came to symbolize resistance to tyranny.

Regardless of the dispute about the Caliphate, Twelvers recognize the religious authority of the Twelve Imams, also called "Khalifa Ilahi."


hari'ah: Religious law

The Ja'farī derive their Sharia, or religious law, from the Qur'an and the Sunnah. The difference between Sunni and Shīˤa Sharia results from a Shīˤa belief that Muhammad assigned ˤAlī to be the first ruler and the leader after him (the Khalifa). Moreover, according to Shīˤa, an Imam or a Caliph can not be democratically elected and has to be nominated by God. Sunnis believe that their Caliphs were popular and had greater vote so they were made caliphs. This difference resulted in the Shīˤa:
# Following hadith from Muħammad and his descendants the 12 Imāms. [cite book | author=Imam Muslim (translated by Aftab Shahryar) | title=Sahih Muslim Abridged | publisher=Islamic Book Service | year=2004 | id=ISBN 81-7231-592-9]
# Not accepting the "examples", verdicts, and ahādīth of Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman (who are considered by Sunnīs to be the first three Caliphs).
# Attributing the concept of the "masūm" "infallibility" to the Twelve Imāms or Fourteen Infallibles (including Muhammad and his daughter Fatima Zahra) and accepting the examples and verdicts of this special group.

Main doctrines

Twelvers believe in the five pillars of Islam, as do Sunnis, but categorize them differently. Twelver beliefs include the following:

Principles of Faith ("Usūl al-Dīn")
* Tawhīd (Oneness): The Oneness of God
* ˤAdālah (Justice): The Justice of God
* Nubuwwah (Prophethood): God has appointed perfect and infallible prophets and messengers to teach mankind the religion (that is, a perfect system of how to live in "peace" ("submission to God")).
* Imāmah (Leadership): God has appointed specific leaders to lead and guide mankind — a prophet appoints a custodian of the religion before his demise.
* Qiyāmah (The Day of Judgment): God will raise mankind for Judgment - the Day of ResurrectionBranches of Religion ("Furū al-Dīn")
* Salat (Prayer) — meaning "connection", establish the five daily prayers, called "namāz" in Persian and Urdu
* Sawm (fast) — fasting during the holy month of Ramadhan, called "rūzeh" in Persian
* Hajj (Pilgrimage) – performing the pilgrimage to Mecca.
* Zakat (Poor-rate) – charity. "Zakat" means "to purify".
* Khums ("Fifth" of one's savings) – tax
* Jihād (Struggle) – struggling to please God. The greater, internal Jihad is the struggle against the evil within one's soul in every aspect of life, called "jihād akbār". The lesser, or external, jihad is the struggle against the evil of one's environment in every aspect of life, called "jihād asghār". This is not to be mistaken with the common modern misconception that this means "Holy War". Writing the truth ("jihād bil qalam" "struggle of the pen") and speaking truth in front of an oppressor are also forms of jihād.
* ˤAmr bil-Maˤrūf – commanding what is good
* An-Nahy ˤana l-Munkar – forbidding what is evil
* Tawalla – loving the Ahlu l-Bayt and their followers
* Tabarra – dissociating oneself from the enemies of the Ahlu l-Bayt

The concept of Imams

The Twelve Imams are the spiritual and political successors to Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, in the Twelver or "Ithna Ashariya" branch of Shia Islam.cite encyclopedia| title=Shi'ite |year=2007| encyclopedia=Encyclopedia Britannica Online | accessdate=2007-11-06 |location=|publisher= |url=] According to the theology of Twelvers, the successor of Muhammad is an infallible human individual who not only rules over the community with justice, but also is able to keep and interpret the Divine Law and its esoteric meaning. The Prophet and Imams' words and deeds are a guide and model for the community to follow; as a result, they must be free from error and sin, and must be chosen by divine decree, or "nass", through the Prophet. [Nasr (1979), p.10] [Momen (1985), p.174]

It is believed in Shi'a Islam that Aql, a divine wisdom, was the source of the souls of the Prophets and Imams and gave them esoteric knowledge, called Hikmah, and that their sufferings were a means of divine grace to their devotees. [Nasr (1979), p.15] [Corbin (1993), pp.45-51] Although the Imam was not the recipient of a divine revelation, but has close relationship with God, through which God guides him, and the imam in turn guides the people. The Imamat, or belief in the divine guide is a fundamental belief in Shi'i Islam and is baed on the concept that God would not leave humanity without access to divine guidance.cite encyclopedia | encyclopedia = Encyclopaedia of Islam and the Muslim world; vol.1 | last = Gleave | first = Robert | title=Imamate | publisher = MacMillan | id = ISBN 0028656040]

According to Twelvers, there is always an Imam of the Age, who is the divinely appointed authority on all matters of faith and law in the Muslim community. Ali was the first Imam of this line, and in the Twelvers' view, the rightful successor to the Prophet of Islam, followed by male descendants of Muhammad through his daughter Fatimah Zahra. Each Imam was the son of the previous Imam, with the exception of Husayn ibn Ali, who was the brother of Hasan ibn Ali. The twelfth and final Imam is Muhammad al-Mahdi, who is believed by the Twelvers to be currently alive, and in hiding.

List of Imams

The Shi'a Imams are seen as infallible. It is an important aspect of Shia theology that they are not prophets ("nabi") nor messengers ("rasul"), but instead carry out Muhammad's message. Shi'a Muslims do not consider the Imams as superior to the prophets. This is an image that is misconstrued by many Muslims. Shia Muslims view all religions and groups that accept prophets or messengers after Muhammad to be heathen or heretical.

The role of Imam al-Mahdi

In Twelver eschatology, Muhammad ibn Hasan ibn ˤAlī, or al-Mahdi (مهدي transliteration: Mahdī, also Mehdi, "Guided One"), is the twelfth Imam and the Mahdi, the ultimate savior of mankind and prophesied redeemer of Islam. Twelvers believe that the Madhi has been hidden by God (referred to as occultation) and will later emerge to change the world into a perfect and just Islamic society alongside Jesus (Isa) before the "Yaum al-Qiyamah" (literally "Day of the Resurrection" or "Day of the Standing").

Other Shi'a schools, such as Zaidi, Ismaili and Bohra, adhere to different Imam successions and, along with Sunnis, do not consider Muhammad ibn Hasan the Mahdi.

Comparative jurisprudence: Twelver - Sunni

"(This list is not exhaustive nor representative of the Sunni/Shia dispute on religious jurisprudence)"

hahada: Declaration of faith

* Arabic text::* _ar. أشهد أن] لا إله إلاَّ الله و [أشهد أن ] محمد رسول الله ]
* Romanization::* "ArabDIN| [ʾašhadu ʾan] lā ilāha illā l-Lāh wa [ʾašhadu ʾanna] Muḥammadun rasūlu l-Lāh"
* English rendering::* [I testify that] there is no god (ilah) but God and [I testify that] Muhammad is the messenger of God.In usage the occurrences of "ʾašhadu ʾan" "I testify that" are very often omitted.

Another rendering current among some English-speaking Muslims, but without a historical tradition, is " [ I bear witness that ] there is none worthy of worship except God, and [I testify that] Muhammad is the messenger of God." [cite web|url=|title=USC-MSA Compendium of Muslim Texts|accessdate=2006-09-12] This version constitutes an interpretation rather than translation, as the words "worthy of worship" are not present in the Arabic.

Twelvers, along with Sunnis, agree that a single honest recitation of the shahādah in Arabic is all that is required for a person to become a Muslim according to most traditional schools.

A vast majority of Twelvers often add "ˤAlīyun waliyu l-Lāh" (علي ولي الله "Ali is the friend of God") at the end of the Shahādah. This testifies that ˤAlī is also the Leader of the Believers along with God and Muhammad, proof of which Shi'a theologians find in the Qur'ān Cite quran|5|55.

Though this form of the Shahādah is recited daily by other Shīˤa sects such as the Nizari Ismailis, Twelvers view it as "Mustahab" (recommended), but not "Wajib" (obligatory).

Taqlid: Accepting a scholar's verdict

alat / Namaz: Prayer

There are minor differences between Sunnis and Shīˤa in how the prayer ritual is performed. During the purification ritual in preparation for prayer (which consists of washing the face, arms, feet, etc. and saying of some prayers), the Shīˤa view wiping the feet with wet hands as sufficient, as opposed to some of the Sunnis who consider complete washing of the feet necessary. Also, Shīˤa do not use their fingers to clean inside the ears during the ablution ritual. A prerequisite for purification is that one has to be clean before he perform the purification ritual.

* Sunni often pray two "Raka'ah" Nafl after "Dhuhr", "Maghrib" and "Isha'a".

1 According to Shia Muslims, these are to be performed in sets of two raka'ah each.
2 Prayed daily by Muhammad (Sunnis)
3 Mustahab (praiseworthy) to do everyday. (Shias)
4 Replaced by Jumu'ah on Fridays, which consists of two raka'ah.
5 According to Imam Abu Hanifa, "Asr starts when the shadow of an object becomes twice its height (plus the length of its shadow at the start time of Dhuhr)." For the rest of Imams, "Asr starts when the shadow of an object becomes equal to its length (plus the length of its shadow at the start time of Dhuhr)." Asr ends as the sun begins to set.
6 According to Shia Muslims, 'Asr prayer and 'Ishaa prayer have no set times but are performed from mid-day. Zuhr and 'Asr prayers must be performed before sunset, and the time for 'Asr prayer starts after Zuhr has been performed. Maghrib and 'Ishaa prayers must be performed before midnight, and the time for 'Ishaa prayer can start after Maghrib has been performed, as long as no more light remains in the western sky signifying the arrival of the true night.
7 According to Shia Muslims, this prayer is termed nawafil.

During prayer, it is the Jaˤfarī view that it is preferable to prostrate on earth, leaves that are not edible or wood, as these three things are considered purest by Muhammad in Hadith specifically mentioning "Tayammum". Hence many Shīˤa use a small tablet of soil (a mixture of earth and water, and often taken from the ground of a holy site) or wood during their daily prayers upon which they prostrate.

In the Jaˤfarī view, the hands are to be left hanging straight down the side during the standing position of the prayer, while the Sunni schools of thought (except for the majority of Malikis) hold that they should be folded. The Jaˤfarī consider the five daily prayers to be compulsory, though the Jaˤfarī consider it acceptable to pray the second and third prayer, and the fourth and fifth prayer, one after the other during the parts of the day where they believe the timings for these prayers to overlap. The other three Sunni schools allow this consolidation of daily prayers only while travelling or under some other constraint.

Khums: One-fifth tax

Khums (خمس) is the Arabic word for One Fifth (1/5). In Islamic legal terminology, it means "one-fifth of certain items which a person acquires as wealth, and which must be paid as an Islamic tax". [ Khums (The Islamic Tax) [] ] The items eligible for khums are referred to as "Ghanima" (الْغَنيمَة) in the Quran. The Arabic word Ghanima has two meanings
* "spoils of war" or "war booty"
* gain or profit

The Sunni translate this word exclusively as "war booty" or "spoils of war" [] . The Twelvers hold the view that the word "Ghanima" has two meanings as mentioned above, the second meaning is illustrated by the common use of the Islamic banking term "al-ghunm bil-ghurm" meaning "gains accompany liability for loss or risk". [ Glossary of Islamic Banking Terms [ ] ] [ ...Challenges Facing Islamic Banking [] ]

Also, in a famous supplication, the supplication after the noon prayer, the person asks God to bestow on him His favors, one of those favors which the person asks is the benefit or gain from every act of righteousness, the word used here is "al-ghanima" (وَالْغَنيمَةَ مِنْ كُلِّ بِر ) this is in accordance with the second meaning of the word. [ The Keys to Paradise, chapter 1, section 2 title "special prayers" [] ]

Mut'ah: Temporary marriage

Nikāhu’l-Mut‘ah, Nikah el Mut'a (ArB|نكاح المتعة, also "Nikah Mut‘ah" literally, "marriage for pleasure"), [نكاح/ALEXMN/] [متعة/ALEXMN/] or "sighah", is a fixed-time marriage which, according to the Usuli Shia schools of Shari‘a (Islamic law), is a marriage with a preset duration, after which the marriage is automatically dissolved. It has many conditions that can be considered as pre-requisite, similar to that of permanent marriage. It is the second form of Islamic marriage (Nikah), described in the Qur'an (4:24). However, it is regarded as "haram" (prohibited) by Sunnis. This is a highly controversial "fiqh" topic; Sunnis and Shi‘a hold diametrically opposed views on its permissibility, however see Misyar.


All Muslims, Sunni or Twelver Shi'a, celebrate the following annual holidays:
* Eid ul-Fitr (عيد الفطر), which marks the end of fasting during the month of Ramadan and falls on the first day of Shawwal.
* Eid ul-Adha, which marks the end of the Hajj or pilgrimage to Makkah, starts on the 10th day of Dhul Hijja.

The following holidays are observed by Twelvers Shi'as, unless otherwise noted:
* The Remembrance of Muharram and Ashurah (عاشوراء) for Shia commemorates Imam Husayn ibn Ali's martyrdom in the Battle of Karbala. Imam Husayn was grandson of Muhammad, who was killed by Yazid ibn Muawiyah, the Sunnis' 6th Khalif. Ashurah is a day of deep mourning which occurs on the 10th of Muharram. Sunnis also celebrate Ashurah, but give it a different meaning (see Ashurah).
* Arba'een commemorates the suffering of the women and children of Imam Husayn's household. After Husayn was killed, they were marched over the desert, from Karbala (central Iraq) to Shaam (Damascus, Syria). Many children (some of whom were direct descendants of Muhammad) died of thirst and exposure along the route. Arba'een occurs on the 20th of Safar, 40 days after Ashurah.
* Milad al-Nabi, Muhammad's birth date, is celebrated by the Shia on the 17th of Rabi al-Awwal, which coincides with the birth date of the sixth imam, Ja'far al-Sadiq.
* Mid-Sha'aban is the birth date of the 12th and final imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi. It is celebrated by Twelvers on the 15th of Sha'aban. Many Shia fast on this day to show gratitude.
* Eid al-Ghadeer celebrates Ghadir Khum, the occasion when Muhammad announced Ali's imamate before a multitude of Muslims. Eid al-Ghadeer is held on the 18th of Dhil-Hijjah.
* Al-Mubahila celebrates a meeting between the household of Muhammad and a Christian deputation from Najran. Al-Mubahila is held on the 24th of Dhil-Hijjah.

Martyrdom of Imam Husayn

The death of the grandson of Muhammad and the son of Ali Husayn ibn Ali on the Tenth of Muharram - known as Ashura - plays a significant role in Twelver theology. This day is annually commemorated with grief and sorrow; some participate in ritual beating of their chests, as some believe this is a form of expressing the helplessness that comes from a practical inability to have helped Husayn and his small troop of 72 family and supporters. Some hit themselves as a form of emotional and love for the "ahlulbayt" and their sacrifice and martyrdom. In most nations with significant Shia populations, one can observe large crowds in processions grieving over Husayn's death.

Notable Twelver Scholars

Historical Scholars

*Mulla Sadra
*Allamah al-Majlisi
*Muhammad Ya'qub Kulainy
*Shaikh Saduq
*Sheikh al-Mufid
*Abu Ja'far al-Tusi
*Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī

Contemporary scholars


*Ali al-Sistani
*Bashir Hussain Najafi
*Muhammed Saeed Al-Hakeem
*Mohammad Ishaq Al-Fayyad
*Sayed Muhsin al-Hakim (late)
*Abul-Qassim Khoei (late)
*Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (late)


*Allameh Tabatabaei
*Ruhollah Khomeini
*Mortaza Motahhari
*Hossein-Ali Montazeri
*Ali Khamenei
*Hossein Vahid Khorasani
*Taqi Bahjat
*Naser Makarem Shirazi
*Hossein Noori Hamedani
*Lotfollah Safi Golpaygani
*Sheikh Mirza Jawad Tabrizi


*Musa al-Sadr
*Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah
*Hassan Nasrallah


*Allama Talib Jauhri
*Muhammad Hussain Najafi

Republic of India

*Maulana Kalbe Abid(late)
*Allama Kalbe Hussain ("Maulana Kabban")
*Maulana Kalbe Jawaad
*Allama Syed Aqeelul Gharavi

ee also

*Persecution of Shia Muslims
*Ja'fari Fiqh
*Shi'a Islam
*World Federation of KSI Muslim Communities
*The Fourteen Infallibles



*cite encyclopedia | encyclopedia = Encyclopaedia Britannica Online | publisher = Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.
*cite encyclopedia | encyclopedia=Encyclopædia Iranica | publisher=Center for Iranian Studies, Columbia University| id= ISBN 1568590504
*cite encyclopedia | encyclopedia = Encyclopaedia of Islam and the Muslim world; vol.1 | last = Martin | first = Richard C. | publisher = MacMillan | id = ISBN 0028656040
*cite encyclopedia | encyclopedia = Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa | last = | first = | year = 2004 | publisher = Gale Group | id = ISBN 9780028657691
*cite book|last = Corbin|first = Henry|authorlink = Henry Corbin|coauthors = |title = History of Islamic Philosophy, Translated by Liadain Sherrard, Philip Sherrard|publisher = London; Kegan Paul International in association with Islamic Publications for The Institute of Ismaili Studies |year = 1993 (original French 1964)|id = ISBN 0710304161
*cite book | last=Momen | first=Moojan | authorlink= | title= TAn Introduction to Shi`i Islam: The History and Doctrines of Twelve| publisher=Yale University Press | year=1985 | id=ISBN 0300035314
*cite book | last=Sachedina | first=Abdulaziz Abdulhussein | authorlink=Abdulaziz Sachedina | title= The Just Ruler (al-sultān Al-ʻādil) in Shīʻite Islam: The Comprehensive Authority of the Jurist in Imamite Jurisprudence| publisher=Oxford University Press US | year=1988 | id=ISBN 0195119150
*cite book | last=Tabatabae | first=Sayyid Mohammad Hosayn | coauthors=Seyyed Hossein Nasr (translator) | authorlink=Allameh Tabatabaei | title= Shi'ite Islam
publisher=SUNY press| year=1979 | id=ISBN 0-87395-272-3

External links

* [ A brief introduction of Twelve Imams]
* [ A Brief History Of The Lives Of The Twelve Imams] a chapter of Shi'a Islam (book) by Allameh Tabatabaei
* [ The Twelve Imams] Taken From "A Shi'ite Anthology" By Allameh Tabatabaei
* [ A Short History of the Lives of The Twelve Imams]
* [ Ithna 'Ashariyah] An article by encyclopedia Britannica online
* [ - Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project]
* [ Twelver Media Source ]
* [ Imamia Mission] Shia Organisation in United Kingdom
* [ The Shia Islamic Guide / Imam Stories] (


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Twelver Shi`ism/Holding area — Ithna Ashariyya ( ar. اثنا عشرية Ithnāˤashariyyah ), also known as Twelver Shi ism, is the largest denomination within the Shi ite sect of the Islamic faith. An adherent of Twelver Shi ism is most commonly referred to as a Twelver , which has… …   Wikipedia

  • Criticism of Twelver Shi'ism — Part of a series on Shī‘ah Islam Twelvers The Fourteen Infallibles …   Wikipedia

  • Twelver Shi‘ites — (ithna ‘ashariyya)    The ‘Twelvers’, or Imamis (imamiyya) as they are also known, constitute the largest sect of Shi‘ite Islam. With the development of Twelver Shi‘ism, the imam became an increasingly elevated figure. Not only was he identified… …   Islamic philosophy dictionary

  • Twelver — Part of a series on Shī‘ah Islam Twelvers The Fourteen Infallibles …   Wikipedia

  • Shi‘ites — (shi‘a)    The Shi‘ites constitute one of the two main branches of Islam. Although historically there have been Shi‘ite communities dispersed throughout various areas in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, today they are primarily concentrated in… …   Islamic philosophy dictionary

  • Shīʿite — ▪ Islam Introduction Arabic  Shīʿī,  collective  Shīʿah        member of the smaller of the two major branches of Islam, distinguished from the majority Sunnis (Sunnite). Early development       Early in the history of Islam, the Shīʿites were a… …   Universalium

  • Imamah (Shi'a twelver doctrine) — This is a sub article to Imamah (Shi a doctrine) and is specifically about the Shi a twelver conception of the term.Imāmah ( ar. اٍمامة) means leadership and it is a part of the Shi a theology. The Twelve Imams are the spiritual and political… …   Wikipedia

  • Imamah (Shi'a doctrine) — Imāmah ( ar. إمامة) is the Shī‘ah doctrine of religious, spiritual and political leadership of the Ummah. The Shī‘ah believe that the A immah ( Imams ) are the true Caliphs or rightful successors of Muḥammad, and Twelver and Ismā‘īlī Shī‘ah… …   Wikipedia

  • Shia Islam — Shia redirects here. For other uses, see Shia (disambiguation) …   Wikipedia

  • Akhbari — The Akhbārīs (ArB|اخباري) Traditionalists are Twelver Shī‘a Muslims who reject the use of ijtihad or reasoning in the creation of new laws, and believe only the Qur an and aḥadīth (prophetic sayings and recorded opinions of the Imāms) should be… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.