Shia Islam

Shia Islam (ə/; Arabic: شيعةShīʿah, from Shīʿatu ʿAlī, "adherents of Ali"; Arabic: شيعةShi'i is singular, Arabic: شياعShi'a is plural,[1] Shi'ite is also used in English) is one of the two main branches of Islam. It holds that the Islamic prophet Muhammad designated Ali ibn Abi Talib as his successor and the Imam (leader) after him,[2] most notably at the event of Ghadir Khumm, but was prevented from the caliphate as a result of the incident of Saqifah. This view primarily contrasts with that of Sunni Islam, whose adherents believe that Muhammad did not appoint a successor and consider Abu Bakr, who they claim was appointed caliph by a small group of Muslims at Saqifah, to be the first rightful caliph after the Prophet.[3]

Unlike the first three Rashidun caliphs, Ali was from the same clan as Muhammad, Banu Hashim, as well as being the prophet's cousin and being the first male to become Muslim.[4]

Shia Islam is the second largest branch of Islam: as of the late 2000s, Shia Muslims constituted 10–15% of all Muslims.[5] Twelver Shia (Ithnā'ashariyyah) is the largest branch of Shia Islam,[6] with 2012 estimates saying that 85% of Shias were Twelvers.[7]

Ali ibn Abi Talib

Shia Islam is based on the Quran and the message of Muhammad attested in hadith, and on hadith taught by their Imams.[8][9] Shia consider Ali to have been divinely appointed as the successor to Muhammad, and as the first Imam. The Shia also extend this Imammah doctrine to Muhammad's family, the Ahl al-Bayt ("the people/family of the House"),[10] and some individuals among his descendants, known as Imams, who they believe possess special spiritual and political authority over the community, infallibility and other divinely ordained traits.[11] Although there are many Shia subsects, modern Shia Islam has been divided into two main groupings: Twelvers and Ismailis, with Twelver Shia being the largest and most influential group among Shia.[12][13][14]


The word Shia (Arabic: شيعة‎) literally means "followers"[15] and is the short form of the historic phrase shīʻatu ʻAlī (شيعة علي /ˈʃiːʕatu ˈʕaliː/), meaning "followers of Ali", "faction of Ali", or "party of Ali".[16] Shi'a, Shia, Shi'ism/Shi'ite or Shiism/Shiite are the forms used in English, for adherents, mosques, and things associated with the religion.[17][18] Shi'i is the singular for of Shi'a.[1]

The term was first used during Muhammad's life.[19] At present, the word refers to the Muslims who believe that the leadership of the community after Muhammad belongs to Ali and his successors. Nawbakhti states that the term Shia refers to a group of Muslims that at the time of Muhammad and after him regarded Ali as the Imam and Caliph.[20] Al-Shahrastani expresses that the term Shia refers to those who believe that Ali is designated as the Heir, Imam and caliph by Muhammad[21] and that Ali's authority is maintained through his descendants.[22] For the Shia, this conviction is implicit in the Quran and the history of Islam. Shia scholars emphasize that the notion of authority is linked to the family of the prophets as the verses 3:33,34 show: "Indeed, God chose Adam and Noah and the family of Abraham and the family of 'Imran over the worlds – (33) Descendants, some of them from others. And God is Hearing and Knowing. (34)"[23]