The Origins of the Shi'ahs - Part 3
Now, on the other hand, if you reflect upon the life of 'Ali (a.s.) and his descendants, you will come to know why Shi'ism spread and how it spread; moreover the truth will be revealed as to whether Shi'ism was the innovation of the Iranians, or the ingenuity of the Sabeans, or whether it was the simple and straight way of Islam as shown by Muhammad (s.a.w.).
After the martyrdom of Sayyid ash-Shuhadah (the Leader of the Martyrs) Imam al-Husayn (a.s.), Imam Zayn al-'Abidin (a.s.) became the head of the 'Alawi family. After the tragedy of Karbala', the Holy Imam lived a secluded life, mostly spent either in worship of God or in giving moral teachings and spiritual guidance to the peopl. Highly pious and devout persons like Hasan al-Basri, Tawus al-Yamani, ibn Sirin and Amr ibn al-'Ubayd were products of this very school.
The Muslims received great instruction and knowledge from the Sayyid as-Sajjad (a.s.) at a time when the common people had been driven far off the paths of reality.
Imam Zayn ul-'Abidin (a.s.) was succeeded by Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) who was also a shining example of the same noble character. His legacy was handed down to Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s.).
The age of Imam as-Sajjad (a.s.) was comparatively more favourable to the Shi'as because the Umayyid and 'Abbasid powers had been exhausted; open tyranny and oppression became rare. Accordingly the previously suppressed truths and hidden realities rose like the sun and diffused like the light. Those who had been living in 'taqiyyah', hiding their beliefs on account of fear and danger to their lives, also disclosed their identity. The atmosphere was well-disposed to the expansion of Shi'ism. The Holy Imam (a.s.) spent day and night preaching; his sermons explained the teachings of Muahammad and Al Muhammad (s.a.w.). The teachings of the truth were now within the reach of every common man; larger and larger groups of people began to accept the 'Ja'fari religion. This age was callled the golden age for the propagation of Shi'ism, because before this the Muslims could not openly profess Shi'ism, nor even find out about its teachings.
This academy of learning was like a flowing river where people in quest of knowledge came to quench their thirst and later quenched the thirst of others. According to Abu 'l-Hasan al-Washsha': "I personally saw a crowd of four thousand 'Ulama' (scholars) in the Mosque of Kufah and heard all of them saying: 'This tradition was related to us by Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s.).'"
Banu Umayyah and Banu 'Abbas want on love for power, their stormy violence, extreme worldliness and unlimited indulgence in luxuries, contrasted sharply with the love for knowledge of the descendants of 'Ali 9a.s.), their devotion to God, their truthfulness and their abstention from corrupt politics, and it was this obvious contrast which showed people the truth of Shi'ism and led to the rapid expansion of this sect.
It goes without saying that many people's spiritual lives are ruined by their attachment to the world. Nevertheless they too have a natural feeling for the different branches of learning and the validity of religious matters. The period about which we are talking was not only close to the period of the Holly Prophet (s.a.w.), but also the mind of the common Muslims were imbued with the conviction that the Islamic way of life was endowed with countless blessings. The Quranic teachings gave them rights which conquered the Caesars of Rome and the Emperors of Iran; it was in the name of Islam alone that they were the rulers of the east and the west; they also knew that there was sufficient liberality within the laws of this religion to enable all to accept it without hardship. If the modus operandi is lawful, it does not restrain anybody from gaining worldly wealth. This religion is, in fact, pure mercy.
These inner feelings were the hidden motives which made the masses incline towards a religious way of life.
There always exist men who konw that they should mould their social life according to the light of religious commandments. There are always men who desire that their entire culture be completely Islamic. But where could they gain the necessary learning from? Could they get it from the despots, who claimed to be "khulafa'u 'l-muslimin" (Caliphs of the Muslims) but did not live accordingly?
Of course, the desire for knowledge was fulfilled by the descendants of Muhammad (s.a.w.) who were the treasure houses of the Quran and the repositories of knowledge, and a vivid impression of their superiority was stamped on the minds of the common people; gradually the Muslims began to believe that it was these persons who were the true heirs to the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.), and that the right of the Imamate must be theirs alone.
The Shi'as grew so firm that they were ready to undergo anything to protect their faith. Most of the Shi'as proved to be immeasurably brave, valiant and inspired with the spirit of sacrifice; Hajar ibn 'Adi al-Kindi, 'Amr ibn Himq al-Khuza'i, Rushayd al-Hajari and 'Abdullah ibn Afif al-Azdi to name but a few, were stalwart Shi'as who, on various occasions, confronted the antagonists; they triumphed despite the fact that the opposite group was always materially more powerful. The moral strength of these people showed the weakness of the apparently strong armies of the enemy; their sacrifices, on the one hand, shook the governments of the oppressors to their foundations, and, on the other, awakened the intellect of the elite and changed the way of thinking of the masses.
We must ask why these chivalrous men played with death in this way. Did they expect any worldly gain from the descendants of Muhammad (s.a.w.)? Were they afraid of loss of life and property? History has answered both these questions in the negative; the sons of 'Ali (a.s.), it is true, were bereft of material means, but they had no interest in this world. What had they to give? They gave Islam to those thirsty for the truth; the luminous hearts of these fighters were filled with strong faith and perfect sincerity and it was these very sentiments which drove them to do battle against tyranny and corruption.
If one considers the literary men of the first and second century of the hijrah, we will find that, in spite of the atmosphere of fear and despair, the poets of the time expressed their aversion towards the kings of their age and their misdeeds and praised the Ahlu 'l-bayt of Muhammad al-Mustafa (s.a.w.).
Numerous men of letters have testified against the ruling Caliphs and in favour of the true Imams (a.s.) in their worlks. Farazdaq, Kumayt, Sayyid al-Humayri, Du'bil, Diku 'l-Jin, Abu Tamam al-Balarri and Abu Faras al-Hamdani are full of praise for the holy progeny. The following couplet of Abu Faras clearly shows how the poets of that age felt at that time.
"Religion has been shattered to pieces. Truth has become the victims of oppression and the share of the descendants of the Porphet of God has been usurped."
Du'bil says: "I have been courting death for forty years, but no one has yet accepted to be the killer." Du'bil railed at Harun ar-Rashid, al-Ma'mun and al-Mu'tasim, and yet composed a great many famous panegryics in praise of Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s.), Imam Musa al-Kazim (a.s.) and Imam ar-Ridha (a.s.) in the most colorful verse.
We must ask whether the Shi'as endangered their lives in vain? Did they give up their ease and comfort without any rhyme or reason? When we examine the causes and motives for their sacrifices, we find that it was only the truthfulness of the descendants of the Prophet (s.a.w.) which made them despise the sky-high golden palaces and attracted their attention towards the miracle of the Quran.
We could pursue this discussion further but the aim of this introduction was merely to outline the origin and rise of Shi'ism. We hope nothing has been left ambiguous despite the brevity of this account. We can only emphasize that Shi'ism was started by the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) himself, and its spread and propagation is a historical fact. We may observe the series of causes and motives, connected in a regular sequence, which gave rise to the separation of Shi'a Islam from the Islam of the rest of the community.
Adopted from the book: "The Origin of the Shi'ite Islam and its Principles (Asl ash-Shi'ah wa Usuluh" by: "Allamah Kashiful Ghita"
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