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Islamic Studies Shi`i Islam
by
Andrew A. Newman

Introduction

Shiʿi Muslims believe that after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 CE his cousin and son-in-law ʿAli (died 661) inherited Muhammad's spiritual and political authority over the umma (Muslim community). Thus, generally speaking the Shiʿa dispute the legitimacy of the succession of the first three of Muhammad's successors (titled khalifah, or caliph) until ʿAli himself became caliph (656–661). After ʿAli's assassination, the Shiʿa believe, the succession lay with the male descendants of ʿAli and his wife Fatima (died 632). These men are called “Imams,” and their statements and actions are held to have authority equivalent to that of the Prophet himself. However, different groups understand the imamate to have been passed on through different individuals among these descendants. By the early 9th century, some forty different Shiʿi groups were said to have come into being. Today, however, there are three main Shiʿi groups and a few smaller ones. At present about 10 to 15 percent of the world's 1 billion Muslims are Shiʿites.

General Overviews and Textbooks

General, introductory studies of Shiʿism from a Western scholarly perspective have appeared only since the Iranian Revolution. Momen 1985, Halm 2004, and Richard 1995 provide general overviews of Shiʿism and its various sects, but these are now somewhat dated (Halm 2004, however, is the second edition of a 1991 original). The field of Shiʿi studies and the various subfields addressing specific Shiʿi sects, their history, doctrines and practices, and contemporary import expanded greatly in subsequent decades. Momen's references to substantial Shiʿi communities outside Iran did resonate in the field, especially given the rise of Shiʿi political activism in these communities in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution; more recently considerable attention has been paid to Twelver communities outside Iran. Moosa 1988 discusses the history and doctrines of some of the smaller Shiʿi sects. Fuller 1999 and Monsutti, et al. 2007 address non-Iranian Shiʿi communities. Ideologically, the field is now split between those who regard Shiʿism, especially Twelver Shiʿism, as a geopolitical threat and those who do not. Nakash 2007 and Norton 2007 represent the latter tendency. Nakash is the author of a number of careful historical studies on the Twelver Shiʿa, especially those in Iraq. In the work cited in this section, he examines Shiʿi experience across the Middle East, suggesting that the experiences of each of the region's communities may as much keep all of them apart from one another as unite them. Norton's work is a further antidote to alarmist tendencies among those who write about the Shiʿa. Nasr 2006 understands “political” Shiʿ ism to be a recent phenomenon that is not sanctioned by the tenets of the Twelver faith.

  • Fuller, Graham. 1999. The Arab Shiʿa: The forgotten Muslims. New York: St. Martin's.

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    Fuller concentrates on Twelver Shiʿi communities across the Arab world. He argues that the marginalization of the Shiʿa across the region can only drive them toward “the outer areas of the political spectrum,” but he cautions that Shiʿism is not inherently predisposed to radicalism and violence (p. 254). He also believes that the Arab Shiʿa do not see themselves as beholden to Iran.

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  • Halm, Heinz. An Introduction to Shiʿism. 2d ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

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    New edition of a 1991 translation of a 1987 German volume. The work addresses the history and key doctrines of the Twelvers, Ismaʿilis and Zaydis. Useful bibliographies follow sections. The volume is a bit dense for beginners.

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  • Momen, Moojan. An Introduction to Shiʿi Islam: The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shiʿism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.

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    Momen discusses all major Shiʿi groups, their historical evolution within Islamic history, their recent history, and their key, distinguishing doctrines and practices. He also includes detailed maps, demographic data, photographs and an excellent bibliography of secondary sources. He is especially careful to discuss the Shiʿi communities outside Iran. Although the volume is dated, it does give a good indication of the state of the field prior to and in the immediate aftermath of the Iranian revolution. This is still the single most useful introduction to Shiʿism generally and Twelver Shiʿism in particular.

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  • Monsutti, Alessandro, Silvia Naef, and Farian Sabahi, eds. The Other Shiites: From the Mediterranean to Central Asia. Bern and Oxford: Peter Lang, 2007.

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    The papers here examine the manner in which Shiʿi minorities worldwidereaffirm their identity through rituals.

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  • Moosa, Matti. Extremist Shiites: The Ghulat Sects. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1988.

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    “Extremist” refers not to radical political practice but to beliefs and practices, for example the deification of ʿAli, considered “extreme” by mainstream Shiʿi sects over the centuries. Today these groups are to be found in Iran and Iraq, as well as Syria (the Nusayris/Alawis) and Turkey.

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  • Nakash, Yitzhak. Reaching for Power: The Shiʿa in the Modern Arab World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.

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    Nakash offers a review of Shiʿi history from the 7th century through the 1979 Iranianrevolution to the 2005 elections in Iraq. Countering conventional wisdom, he suggests that the Shiʿa have become increasingly concerned with reaching accommodation with the West.

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  • Nasr, Sayyed Vali Reza. The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future. New York: Norton, 2006.

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    Nasr suggests the existence of a Shiʿi crescent from Lebanon to the Indian subcontinent and claims that it is gathering strength in the region.

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  • Norton, Augustus. “The Shiite ‘Threat’ Revisited.” Current History 106 (2007): 434–439.

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    Like Nakash 2006, Norton challenges conventional wisdom on the Shiʿa in the modern world, arguing that further Sunni–Shiʿi conflict is not an inevitable result of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, nor is the overthrow of Sunni states by local Shiʿa.

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  • Richard, Yann. Shiʿite Islam: Polity, Ideology, and Creed. Oxford: Blackwell, 1995.

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    A translation of L'Islam chi'ite, croyances et ideologies (1991). The volume conveys not only useful information but something of the distinctive “ambiance” of the faith as well.

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The Twelver Shiʿa

The largest of the Shiʿi groups extant today is the Twelver Shiʿa. The Twelvers believe that the spiritual-political leadership of the community (the imamate) was passed down through the male descendants until the twelfth imam, born in 868, who is believed to be the Mahdi, alive but in hiding until Allah determines the appropriate time for his return to bring peace and justice to the world. In Iran, except for a brief hiatus in the 18th century, Twelver Shiʿism has been the established faith since the early 16th century. The faith forms the basis of the present-day Islamic Republic, which came into being after the 1979 revolution. Nearly 90 percent of today's 70 million Iranians are professing Twelvers. Elsewhere, the majority of Iraqi Muslims also profess the Twelver faith, and Twelvers form sizeable minorities in Lebanon, Kuwait, Bahrain, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, and areas in East Africa. They are also found in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Southeast Asia. Momen 1985 still offers the most accessible overview of Twelver Shiʿism. Halm 2004 and Richard 1995 are also useful. is less accessible to the general reader. Brunner and Ende 2001 offers an excellent collection of articles on the culture and politics of the Shiʿi communities across the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.

Ismaʿili Shiʿa

The Ismaʿilis are the second largest of the present-day Shiʿi groups. They believe that Ismaʿil, the eldest son of the sixth imam, Jaʿfar al-Sadiq (died 765), did not die—as many Twelvers believe—but went into hiding and had a son, Muhammad, who himself also went into hiding or died. The Ismaʿili community then fragmented. The Nizari Ismaʿilis are the largest remaining Ismaʿili group and follow the living imam, the Agha Khan, at present the 49th imam. Ismaʿilis are today found in the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia, the Middle East, and East Africa, as well as Europe and North America. Daftary 1992 offers an exhaustive discussion of the Ismaʿilis; Daftary 1998 is more accessible for the general reader. The overviews of both Momen 1985 and Halm 2004 are useful.

The Zaydi Shiʿa

The Zaydi Shiʿa gave allegiance to Zayd, son of the fifth imam. Zayd launched a revolt in Kufa against the Sunni Umayyad dynasty in 740 and was killed in the subsequent fighting. His followers adhered to Zayd's teachings but fragmented into several groups. They believe that any meritorious member of the Prophet's household is eligible to be the imam, and, like the Nizari Ismaʿilis, they follow a living imam. However, their last imam died in 1962. Zaydis comprise about 75 percent of the Muslims in Yemen, but there are also Zaydis in Saudi Arabia. Momen 1985 and Halm 2004 offer useful overviews.

The Druze

The Druze are Ismaʿili in origin, having proclaimed the sixth Fatimid caliph, al-Hakim (died 1021), to be the incarnation of Allah After his death his Egyptian followers were scattered, but many settled in Syria and farther east. During the Ottoman period the Druze were allowed to govern themselves. From the 19th century until the end of World War I, the Druze were almost continually in conflict with Maronite Christians. Following the war and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Druze, like other groups in the region, came under the jurisdiction of the European powers that took control of the Middle East. The Druze constituted important minority groups in three of the countries that were set up in the region in the 1940s: Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. In 1966 fear of a Druze-inspired coup resulted in the purging of Druze officers from the Syrian army and a general persecution of the Druze; many fled to Lebanon and Jordan. There are perhaps 250,000 Druze in Syria, the same number in Lebanon, 100,000 in Israel, and a few thousand in Jordan. Dana 2003 is arguably the best, most accessible work on the Druze in the region and their doctrines and practices.

The Nusayri-Alawi Shiʿa

The Nusayris trace their origins to the eleventh Shiʿi imam, al-Hasan al-Askari (died 873) and his pupil Ibn Nusayr (died 868). Since the 1970 coup of the Nusayri Syrian air force chief Hafiz al-Asad (died 2000), the Nusayris have been dominant in Syrian political and military life. The community has always been secretive about its beliefs and practices. Moosa 1988 discusses its history and doctrines; “extremism” does not refer to radical political practice but to beliefs and practices, for example the deification of ʿAli, considered “extreme” by mainstream Shiʿi sects over the centuries. Bar-Asher and Kofsky 2002 contains some articles that have appeared elsewhere but is a good introduction to key theological doctrines distinctive to Alawism. The volume includes a translation of a 19th-century catechism.

Shiʿi-Christian Dialogue

In the aftermath of then Iranian president Muhammad Khatemi's announcement of a “Dialogue among Civilizations” and the United Nations promulgation of 2001 as the year of such dialogue, several works appeared addressing themes common to both faiths in this vein. Bill and Williams 2002 endeavors to chart parallels between aspects of Roman Catholic and Twelver Shiʿi doctrine and practice, focusing especially on imams and saints as mediators and intercessors, on martyrdom and redemptive suffering, mysticism and law, and the involvement of leaders of both communities in politics. O'Mahony, et al. 2004 and O'Mahony, et al. 2006 are efforts to initiate dialogue between the two faiths.

  • Bill, James, and John A. Williams. Roman Catholics and Shiʿi Muslims: Prayer, Passion and Politics. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

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    The first published effort to compare and contrast similarities and differences between the two faiths.

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  • O'Mahony, Anthony, Wulstan Peterburs, and Mohammad A. Shomali, eds. Catholics and Shi'a in Dialogue: Studies in Theology and Spirituality. London: Melisende, 2004.

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    Includes articles by prominent spokesmen from both faiths that explore synergies between the doctrines and practices of each.

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  • O'Mahony, Anthony, Mohammad A. Shomali, and Wulstan Peterburs, eds. A Catholic-Shi'a Engagement: Faith and Reason in Theory and Practice. London: Melisende, 2006

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    These papers contain analysis and reflection on the roles of faith and reason, authority and tradition, morality and praxis within Catholic and Shica thought and its influence on the daily lives of adherents.

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The Evolution of a Field

Kohlberg 1987 discusses the study of Twelver Shiʿism from the 12th century to 19th, during which period, he notes, the Twelver faith was largely unknown in the West. Even in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the key texts and many of the major figures of the faith remained unexplored. In this period, Kohlberg notes, the only serious work on the faith was done by such scholars as Ignaz Goldziher (Goldziher 1874), Louis Massignon (Massignon 1938), and Rudolph Strothmann (Strothmann 1926). Of the works of these scholars, only that of Strothmann was specifically devoted to any one branch of the faith; he also wrote on the Nusayri/Alawi Shiʿa of Syria. In the 20th century, the earliest overview of the faith in English was Donaldson 1933. The intellectual event that heralded the emergence of the Twelver faith studies as a distinct field—the Strasbourg colloquium “Le Shiʿisme Imamite”—occurred only in 1968 (Fahd1970); in fact, the authors of the many, if not most, of its published papers were not specialists. From that time to Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, those who studied Shiʿism were composed of two groups. The “classicists” generally concerned themselves with aspects of Twelver doctrine and practice as charted in the works of Twelver scholars written from the onset of the twelfth imam's disappearance in 873–874 to the establishment of the faith in Iran by the Safavid dynasty (1501–1722). The “modernists” were primarily interested in events and trends in Iran since the 16th century, “modern” Iran often being dated from 1501, when the first Safavid shah, Ismaʿil (reigned 1501–1524), captured Tabriz and declared Twelver Shiʿism to be the established faith of the realm. The study of Twelver Shiʿism in this latter period overlaps with the study of Iran as a nation-state.

Shiʿism in Specific Countries and Regions

In the years prior to the Iranian revolution, the “modernists” considered Shiʿism to be mainly an Iranian phenomenon and, under the influence of Orientalist and “modernization” analyses then dominating the field of Middle Eastern studies, paid it scant separate attention. Assuming that Shiʿism—if not also Islam itself—was in the process of losing its influence among the populace, scholars focused mainly on Iran's place in the Cold War. The Iranian revolution of 1979 and the rapid Islamic turn taken by the revolutionary government renewed interest among scholars in the faith in its Iranian setting. Prior to the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the resulting formation of Hezbollah, and its alleged involvement in the April 1983 bombing of the United States embassy in Lebanon and the October 1983 bombing of the Multinational Forces' barracks at Beirut Airport, Western scholars, let alone the lay public, had generally ignored the presence of Twelvers, if not the Shiʿa generally, outside Iran. Not surprisingly, therefore, the works cited in this section date mainly from after 1979, in the immediate aftermath of which many authors adopted a distinctly alarmist tone, warning of the imminent spread of radicalism among Shiʿi minorities based outside Iran, and the spread of similar revolutionary Islam elsewhere. For a time, Iran replaced the USSR as the great bogeyman: the cover of Time magazine of 15 January 1979 and its lead story was “Crescent of Crisis”; and one year later Time's Man of the Year (7 January 1980) was the Ayatollah Khomeini himself. That alarmist tone is still widely visible in some of the literature cited herein, as is the idea that genuine Shiʿism is apolitical and quietist in nature.

Afghanistan

As of 1980, some 6 percent of Afghans were estimated to be Shiʿa. Edwards 1986 was one of the first post-1979 discussions of the Shiʿa in Afghanistan. Emadi 1995 charts of the activities of the country's main Shiʿi political groups, their activities, and Iran's influence thereon, to the early 1990s. Mousavi 1998 is an excellent introduction to the “Hazaras” (the Afghan Shiʿa), their social structure, culture and beliefs, and history from the 1890s to the 1990s. It has an extensive, very useful bibliography.

Africa

Some Shiʿa from the Arab and Persian world were present on the East African coast prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in the region. More recently, the Khoja Twelvers, descended from Hindu converts to Ismaʿili Shiʿism who later relinquished their Ismaʿili affiliations, settled in the region from at least the 1850s (see also India). Zanzibar was a major center of Twelver Shiʿism in the area. From there some elements moved to Nairobi, Zaïre, and Uganda. Those who settled in Uganda were among the Asians expelled by Idi Amin in 1972. Amiji 1975 offers an extensive discussion of the Bohra Ismaʿili Shiʿa and their place in East Africa. Nanji 1974 discusses the Nizari Ismaʿilis, a community otherwise known as the Khojas, and maintains they are distinct from the Twelvers. Anderson 1964 discusses the organizational structure of the community in this period.

Bahrain

Half or more of Bahrain's population is estimated to be Shiʿi (see also Saudi Arabia and Iraq). Khuri 1980 offers a nuanced discussion of the complex structure of Bahraini society, including a discussion of the Bahraini Shiʿa and their sociopolitical status in the country. Since then, however, scholars have split on the issue of the impact of Iran's revolution on the Bahraini Shiʿa. Ramazani 1986, by a noted expert on Iranian foreign policy, offers an overview of the potential exportability of Iran's Islamic revolution to the Gulf countries, with their repressed Shiʿi minorities, and to Iraq. Kostiner 1987 discusses the contemporary position of the Shiʿa in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Kuwait and the impact of the Iranian revolution on them. Some Shiʿa embarked on terror campaigns that produced a Sunni backlash, but Kostiner argues that the Gulf Shiʿa understood the delicacy of their position in their own countries better than Iran did. Chubin 1987, however, argues that from its earliest days the Islamic Republic posed a threat—ranging from the use of propaganda to support for terrorism and opposition groups—to its neighbors, whereas under the last shah Iran had been a guarantor of regional stability and security. Bahry 2000 discusses the roots and implications of the Shiʿi uprising in Bahrain over the period between 1994 and 1996.

  • Bahry, Louay. “The Socioeconomic Foundations of the Shiite Opposition in Bahrain.” Mediterranean Quarterly 11.3 (2000): 129–143.

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    A detailed discussion of the Shiʿi opposition and its activities in the mid-1990s.

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  • Chubin, Shahram. “The Islamic Republic's Foreign Policy in the Gulf.” In Shiʿism, Resistance and Revolution. Edited by Martin Kramer, 159–172. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1987.

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    The author argues that local Shiʿa were a threat to the stability of Gulf states following the Iranian revolution, and that Iran was active in its support for a range of opposition activities.

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  • Khuri, Fuad. Tribe and State in Bahrain: The Transformation of Social and Political Authority in an Arab State. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

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    Includes an assessment of the impact of the Iranian revolution.

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  • Kostiner, Joseph. “Shiʿi Unrest in the Gulf.” In Shiʿism, Resistance and Revolution. Edited by Martin Kramer, 173–188. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1987.

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    A nuanced article in which the author argues that local Shiʿa understood the delicacy of their position as minorities throughout the Gulf.

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  • Ramazani, R. K. “Shiʿism in the Persian Gulf.” In Shiʿism and Social Protest. Edited by Nikki Keddie and Juan Cole, 30–55. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986.

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    In the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, an early overview of the potential exportability of Iran's revolution to the Gulf countries, with their repressed Shiʿi minorities, and Iraq. Offers a nuanced discussion of the possibilities of Shiʿi risings throughout the region.

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Caribbean

Between 1845 and 1917, some 140,000 East Indian laborers migrated to Trinidad and Jamaica to work on its plantations. In 1891 it was estimated that about 13 percent of these were Muslims. With the very few Shiʿa who were among these migrants came the Muharram ceremonies commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein at Karbala in 680. In 1884 colonial police, supported by British soldiers, shot Indians participating in these ceremonies, killing about sixteen. There has been little scholarly attention to the Caribbean Shiʿi community except for discussions of Muharram in Trinidad. Singh 1988 discusses the massacre. Chelkowski 2005, an expert in the Muharram commemorations, discusses their present-day Trinidadian variant, called “Hosay” (from “Hussein”).

Europe

Although there is a growing body of literature on Muslims in Europe generally, there are few specific studies on the Shiʿi presence there. The Khoja Twelver community in London maintains a website at Hujjat.org. Crombecque 2005, Vanzan 2007, and Vanzan 2005 discuss the Ashura commemorations across the region.

India

Lucknow, the capital of the area formerly known as Oudh (or Awadh) and now called Uttar Pradesh, and Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, have long been the centers of Shiʿism in India. These centers have had long intellectual and financial associations with Shiʿi centers in Iran and Iraq. As is true of studies of the Shiʿa outside the Middle East proper, a number of these studies focus on Muharram commemorations, but in the process they reveal much about the status of the Indian Shi'a as a minority Muslim community within a non-Muslim majority. Nearly 2 percent of India's people are estimated to be Shiʿi. Juan Cole is one of the first scholars to explore the history and development of Twelver communities in the subcontinent and their connections with their coreligionists in Iran and, especially, Iraq. Cole 1997 explores the extent to which class and gender have influenced interpretations of the faith. Considerable attention has been paid to Muharram ceremonies as practiced by India's Shiʿa: Hjortshoj 1987 discusses Muharram practices in Lucknow from the mid-19th century to the late 1970s, including mention of riots in 1935, 1968 and 1974, and the possible causes thereof. The author notes, as does Howarth 2005 in his discussion of Muharram ceremonies in Hyderabad, that in these commemorations the Shiʿa of Lucknow are often at pains to minimize overt sectarian differences from Sunnis and non-Muslims and rather emphasize their role as followers of the family of the Prophet. Howarth offers the texts of ten “sermons” on the occasion, including three by women and others by “lay preachers” and religious scholars. He argues that the community is less interested in focusing on sectarian and, hence, potential political distinctiveness than in identifying themes of injustice common to other faith communities in India. Pinault looks at Muharram ceremonies as a gauge of the health of the community as a whole. Pinault 1992 examines Shiʿi ritual and devotional practices in modern-day India. Pinault 2001 examines Muharram ceremonies in communities throughout India, including Darjeeling, where these are organized by Sunni Muslims, and Ladakh, addresses the role of women in these and Shiʿi–Buddhist relations, and offers some ideas about teaching about Shiʿism in a Western setting. See also Pakistan.

  • Cole, Juan Ricardo. Roots of North Indian Shiʿism in Iran and Iraq: Religion and State in Awadh, 1722–1859. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

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    An examination of the Indian Shiʿi communities and their relationship with the Shiʿa in Iraq.

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  • Cole, Juan Ricardo “Shiʿite Noblewomen and Religious Innovation in Awadh.” In Lucknow: Memories of a City, 83–90. Edited by Violette Graf. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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    Cole is one of the first scholars to explore the history and development of the Twelver communities in the subcontinent and their connections with their coreligionists in Iran and, especially, Iraq. Here the author explores the extent to which class and gender have influenced interpretations of the faith. A considerably expanded version of this essay appears in his Sacred Space and Holy War (London: I. B. Tauris, 2002), 138–160. “Lucknow Through the Ages” is the title of the Graf volume as listed by Cole himself on p. viii of the Ib Tauris volume. See also Cole's webpage on h-net's site.

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  • D'Souza, Diane. “Devotional Practices among Shia Women in South India.” In Lived Islam in South Asia: Adaptation, Accommodation and Conflict. Edited by I. Ahmad and H. Reifeld, 187–206. New Delhi: Social Science Press, 2004.

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    The author discusses women's recourse to devotional practices as part of a social networking process in the present day.

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  • Hjortshoj, Keith. “Shiʿi Identity and the Significance of Muharram in Lucknow, India.” In Shiʿism, Resistance and Revolution. Edited by Martin Kramer, 289–310. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1987.

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    A discussion of Muharram practices in Lucknow from the mid-19th century to the late 1970s, including mention of riots in 1935, 1968 and 1974, and some discussion of the possible causes thereof. The author notes, as does Howarth 2005, that in these commemorations the Shiʿa of Lucknow are often at pains to minimize overt sectarian differences with Sunnis and non-Muslims and rather to emphasize their role as followers of the family of the Prophet.

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  • Howarth, Toby M. The Twelver Shiʿa as a Muslim Minority in India: Pulpit of Tears. London: Routledge, 2005.

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    An excellent discussion of Muharram commemorations in modern-day Hyderabad. The volume contains texts of ten “sermons” on the occasion, including three by women and others by “lay preachers” and religious scholars. The author argues the community is less interested in focusing on sectarian and, hence, potential political distinctiveness than on identifying themes of injustice common to other faith communities in India.

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  • Pinault, David. The Shiites: Ritual and Popular Piety in a Muslim Community. New York: St Martin's, 1992.

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    Focuses on Muharram but in the process also addresses the organization of the community and the place of the Hyderabad community within the city itself, India, and worldwide Shiʿism.

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  • Pinault, David. Horse of Karbala: Muslim Devotional Life in India. New York: St. Martin's, 2001.

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    Pinault examines Muharram ceremonies in communities throughout India, including Darjeeling, where these are organized by Sunni Muslims, and Ladakh, addresses the role of women in these as well as Shiʿi-Buddhist relations, and offers some ideas about teaching about Shiʿism in a Western setting.

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  • World Federation of KSIMC

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    Website of the Khoja Shiʿa.

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Iran

Twelver Shiʿism has been the established faith in Iran since 1501, except for a brief interlude in the early 18th century under Nadir Shah (died 1747), who disestablished the faith in a bid to win Ottoman recognition of Shiʿism as the fifth “school” of Islamic law. Prior to the 1979 Iranian revolution, most scholars in the field of Iranian studies believed the faith was “withering away” in the face of the “modernizing” policies being pursued by Muhammad Reza Pahlavi (died 1980), who fled Iran in February 1979. In the aftermath of the Islamic “turn” taken by the revolution, scholars rushed to explain why secularization had failed. Among them were a number who understood “political Shiʿism” to be at odds with “genuine” Shiʿism. Others have argued for the legitimacy of the former as one sort of religious expression. Algar 1969 was one of the first to argue that the Twelver clergy played a consistently positive political role in Iranian history. Algar 1972 counters Keddie 1972 (in the same volume), on role of the clergy in the modern period. Akhavi 1980 appeared just as the Islamic revolution got underway and remains the best account to date of the inherently political nature of the faith throughout the past century. Arjomand 1984 is a sociological approach to the faith and its history, especially the period since the establishment of Shiʿism in Iran. Keddie (see Keddie 1981) is arguably the preeminent scholar of modern Iran and its Shiʿi connections, and has been instrumental in setting the agenda of the study of contemporary Iran in the United States. Mottahedeh 1986 is a superbly readable reconstruction of modern Iranian history, overlaying the biography of a religious scholar who lived and worked through the 1979 revolution. Ramazani 1986 offers a more nuanced, less alarmist discussion of the potential impact of Iran's revolution on its neighbors than do many others available at the time. Newman 2006 discusses the period from 1501 to 1722, when Twelver Shiʿism became Iran's established faith.

  • Akhavi, Shahrough. Religion and Politics in Contemporary Iran: Clergy-State Relations in the Pahlavi period. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1980.

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    This book contains an especially detailed account of the state–clergy confrontation between 1959 and 1963 and clerical and lay efforts to “modernize” the faith, ignored by nearly all scholarly and other observers at the time.

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  • Algar, Hamid. Religion and the State in Iran, 1785–1906: The Role of the Ulama in the Qajar period. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.

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    Algar argues that that the Twelver clergy played a consistently positive political role in Iranian history.

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  • Algar, Hamid. “The Oppositional Role of the Ulama in Twentieth Century Iran.” In Scholars, Saints, and Sufis. Edited by Nikki Keddie, 231–255. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972.

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    Algar's response to Keddie 1972, in the same volume, on role of the clergy in the modern period.

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  • Arjomand, Said Amir. The Shadow of God and the Hidden Imam: Religion, Political Order, and Societal Change in Shiʿite Iran from the Beginning to 1890. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

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    A discussion of Shi'ism in Iran to the late ninteenth century. The author, extrapolating from earlier studies on the Gnostic dimensions of Shiʿism, argues that the mixing of Shiʿism with politics is a recent phenomenon not sanctioned by the tenets of the faith.

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  • Keddie, Nikk. “The Roots of the Ulama's Power in Modern Iran.” In Scholars, saints, and Sufis. Edited by Nikki Keddie, 211–229. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972.

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    The article to which Algar 1972 replies, in the same collection. The volume contains papers delivered at a 1969 conference.

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  • Keddie, Nikki. Roots of Revolution: An Interpretive History of Modern Iran. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981.

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    This volume (reprinted 2006) represents an effort to explain why so many scholars had failed to understand the continued popular strength of Shiʿism in the face of the shah's efforts to secularize Iranian society.

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  • Mottahedeh, Roy. The Mantle of the Prophet: Learning and Power in Modern Iran. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986.

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    An examination of modern Iranian history via the biography of a contemporary Iranian religious scholar. Reprinted, Oxford: Oneworld, 2000 and 2008.

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  • Newman, Andrew J. Safavid Iran: Rebirth of a Persian Empire. London: I. B. Tauris, 2006.

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    An introduction to the period in which Twelver Shiʿism became Iran's established faith on both a popular and institutional level such that the groundwork was laid for the association of the faith, its clerical spokesmen and its adherents in the nation-building processes of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

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  • Ramazani, Ruhollah. Revolutionary Iran: Challenge and Response in the Middle East. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.

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    The author offers a counter-argument to the many alarmist discussions of the potential impact of Iran's revolution on its neighbors.

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Iraq

Nearly 60 percent of Iraq's population is Shiʿi. Batatu 1978 offered one of the first discussions of the socioeconomic and political history of 20th-century Iraq through the 1958 toppling of the British-imposed monarchy to the early 1970s. The work is especially notable for the author's use of secret police archives. Batatu 1981 was one of the first studies of Shiʿi political movements and the role of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr therein. The author notes that with the latter's 1980 execution the two movements examined declined in significance. After the Iranian revolution of 1979, many scholars drew attention to factors that separated Iranian and Iraqi Shiʿism. Wiley 1992 offered an early examination of modern Shiʿi political activity in Iraq, while Saddam Hussein was still in power. Mallat 1993 argues that al-Sadr's views were influential in the rise of Islamism in the region. Litvak 1998 is a thorough examination of the networks of Shiʿi scholars between Iraq and Iran, but is careful to draw distinctions between Iraqi Shiʿi views on clerical activism and the views of Iranian scholars. Nakash 1994 is an excellent study of the distinctive manner in which Shiʿism flourished and became the majority faith in Iraq in the modern period, stressing the independence of Iraq's Shiʿa from of Iranian Shiʿism, as does Stewart 2001. Jabar 2003 offers a sociological discussion of Shiʿi politics in modern-day Iraq, suggesting that there are as many factors dividing the community as might unite it. Pelham 2008 points to the rising power of Shiʿi religious leaders in Iraq following the United States-led invasion.

Israel

Israel, like Lebanon and Syria, has a Druze population and a small Twelver Shiʿi population. The former have generally tried to avoid taking sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Ben-Dor 1981 and Firro 1999 discuss the situation of the Druze in Israel, while Sundawi 2008 examines Israel's Twelver Shiʿa.

Kuwait

Some 20 percent of Kuwaitis are Shiʿi. Ramazani 1986 offers an overview of the potential exportability of Iran's Islamic revolution to the Gulf countries, with their repressed Shiʿi minorities, and to Iraq. Kostiner 1987 discusses the contemporary position of the Shiʿa in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Kuwait and the impact of the Iranian revolution thereon. The same year, however, Chubin 1987 argued that from its earliest days the Islamic Republic posed a threat to its neighbors in the Gulf, whereas under the last shah Iran had been a guarantor of regional stability and security. See also Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq.

  • Chubin, Shahram “The Islamic Republic's Foreign Policy in the Gulf.” In Shiʿism, Resistance and Revolution. Edited by Martin Kramer, 159–172. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1987.

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    An argument that local Shiʿa were a threat to the stability of Gulf states following the Iranian revolution in Iran, and that Iran was active in fomenting unrest in the area.

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  • Kostiner, Joseph. “Shiʿi Unrest in the Gulf.” In Shiʿism, Resistance and Revolution. Edited by Martin Kramer, 172–188. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1987.

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    The author argues that local Shiʿa understood the delicacy of their position as minorities throughout the Gulf after the Iranian revolution.

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  • Ramazani, R. K. “Shiʿism in the Persian Gulf.” In Shiʿism and Social Protest. Edited by Nikki Keddie and Juan Cole, 30–55. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986.

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    In the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, an early, nuanced overview of the potential exportability of Iran's Islamism to the Gulf countries, with their repressed Shiʿi minorities.

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Lebanon

In addition to the Twelver Shiʿa, Lebanon is also home to the Druze (see Syria). At least 30 percent of Lebanon's population is estimated to be Shiʿi. Following the 1975 founding of Amal and, especially, the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the consequent emergence of Hezbollah, Lebanese Shiʿism began to attract scholarly attention. Ajami 1986, Norton 1987, and Mallat 1988 offer early analyses of different aspects. Shanahan 2005 is a good political and socioeconomic history of the Lebanese Shiʿa. More recent studies of Hezbollah are Norton 2007 and Noe 2007. Deeb 2006 studies Lebanese Shiʿi women who identify with Hezbollah, to suggest that Islam and “modernity” are not necessarily incompatible.

Pakistan

The Shi'a in Pakistan are mainly Twelvers and constitute between 15 and 25 percent of the nation's population, as such representing the second largest national Shiʿi community in the world, more numerous than those of India and Iraq (Nasr 2000, p. 139; Rieck 2001, p. 383). In recent decades anti-Shiʿi violence in Pakistan has become endemic. Lodhi 1988 offers an interview with an ethnic Pashtun Shiʿi activist in Pakistan. Behuria 2004 examines the rising tide of sectarian violence in Pakistan since the 1980s. Pinault 2008 is an exceptionally accessible discussion of the ongoing breakdown of religious tolerance in Pakistan as accentuated by the nation's strategic position between the West and Sunni and Shiʿi activism. See also India and Afghanistan.

Saudi Arabia

Estimates of the Shiʿi population in Saudi Arabia range from 2.5 to 15 percent of the population of the kingdom. They are mainly located in the eastern provinces, where between 50 and 100 percent of an area's population is Shiʿi (Goldberg 1986, p. 230; International Crisis Group 2005, p. 1; Steinberg 2001, p. 239). Al-Khoei 2001, a prominent Shiʿi scholar and cleric, offers first-hand observations of the situation of the Shiʿa in Medina in 1996.

  • Goldberg, Jacob. “The Shiʿi Minority in Saudi Arabia.” In Shiʿism and Social Protest. Edited by Nikki Keddie and Juan Cole, 230–246. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986.

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    Goldberg offers one of the first post-Iranian revolution discussions of the Shiʿa in Saudi Arabia, examining their treatment by the Saudis from c. 1792 to the present day.

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  • International Crisis Group. “The Shiite Question in Saudi Arabia.” Middle East Report. Number 45 (2005).

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    The ICG study examines the treatment of the Shia in the kingdom and offers information about “informal” Shii networks inside the country. Available online.

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  • Al-Khoei, Y. “The Marjaʿ and the Survival of a Community in Saudi Arabia: The Shiʿa of Medina.” In The Most Learned of the Shiʿa. Edited by Linda S. Walbridge, 247–250. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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    Impressions of the condition of the Shiʿa in Saudi Arabia, by a prominent Shiʿi leader.

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  • Steinberg, Guido. “The Shiites in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia (al-Ahsa'), 1913–1953.” In The Twelver Shia in Modern Times: Religious Culture and Political History. Edited by R. Brunner and Werner Ende, 236–254. Leiden: Brill, 2001.

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    Discusses Shiʿi activities in the peninsula between the 1913 Saudi occupation of the eastern region and official repression of their activities from 1930, following an unsuccessful revolt.

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Syria

The Nusayri/Alawi make up some 12 percent of the population of modern-day Syria. Faksh 1984 discusses the rising political power of the community. Douwes and Lewis 1989 discusses the extent to which the region's Ismaʿilis were cut off from the larger community in this period. Kramer 1987 is a good introduction to the faith, it history and its practitioners, the role of Musa al-Sadr in Alawi affairs, and early associations with Iran's Islamic Republic.

Turkey

Shankland 2003 suggests that as believers move from rural to urban settings, they become increasingly secularized. Erdemir 2005 discusses Alevi revivalism in response to modernity. White and Jongerden 2003 contains a series of articles on the Alevis, including discussions of Alevis in Europe and of Alevi–Armenian–Kurdish relations.

United States

Haddad and Smith 1991 introduces the Druze faith and addresses the history of their presence in the United States. Schubel 1996 examines the importance of Karbala in an Ontario Shiʿi community. Walbridge 1997 is a pioneering study of the Lebanese Shiʿa in Dearborn, Michigan, with whom the author lived for four years until 1991. Each of the three mosques in the city had a different Shiʿi affiliation: the oldest featured sermons in English, while the two others were linked with Hezbollah and Khomeinism, respectively. The second half of the volume addresses personal beliefs and practices distinctive to Shiʿism as mediated in the American context and offers an overview of “American Shiʿism.” Takim 2000 is an assessment of the foreign influences on American Shiʿites.

  • Haddad, Yvonne, and Jane I. Smith. “The Druze in North America.” Muslim World 81 (1991): 111–132.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1478-1913.1991.tb03517.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An overview of the faith and its history, followed by a discussion of Druze immigration to America in the late 19th century and the Druze experience in Seattle and West Virginia and the nuanced manner of their integration into United States society.

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  • Hegland, Mary. “Women of Karbala Moving to America.” In Women of Karbala: Ritual Performance and Symbolic Discourses in Modern Shi'i Islam. Edited by Kamran Scott Aghaie, 199–227. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.

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    Hegland examines the experiences and religious practices of two different ShiʿI immigrant groups to the United States, Iranians and South Asians, to show the important differences between them. She notes that the South Asian women are more religiously active than their Iranian counterparts, even as the attitudes of both toward Shiʿi ritual changed over time as a result of the experience of living in America.

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  • Schubel, Vernon James “Karbala as Sacred Space among North American Shi'a.” In Making Muslim Space in North America and Europe. Edited by Barbara Daly Metcalf. Berkeley, 186–203. University of California Press, 1996.

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    Available online. Explores the role of Karbala as a “sacred center” for Shi'i Muslims in Ontario.

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  • Takim, Liyat. “Foreign Influences on American Shiʿism.” Muslim World 90 (2000): 459–478.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1478-1913.2000.tb03700.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A survey of the foreign political, cultural, and religious influences on the Shiʿa in America. Available online

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  • Walbridge, Linda. Without Forgetting the Imam: Lebanese Shiʿism in an American Community. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1997.

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    Examines the Shiʿa in Dearborn, Michigan, and the practice of Shiʿism as mediated through American society and culture.

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Southeast Asia

Marcinkowski 2008 discusses the recent appearance of Shiʿism in Malaysia, and the crackdown on the Shiʿa that began in the late 1990s, as well as the modern-day Shiʿi presence in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore.

LAST MODIFIED: 12/14/2009

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195390155-0076

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