In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Zaydiyya

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Shi’a Islam
  • Zaydi Beginnings
  • The Caspian Sea
  • Imamate and Law
  • Theology
  • Qur’anic Reading and Exegesis
  • Specific Figures

Islamic Studies Zaydiyya
Daniel Peterson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0153


The Zaydiyya are a branch of Shi’i Islam, often termed “moderate” or even “the practical group of the Shi’a,” that diverged from other Shi’i factions in the course of the dispute over the succession to the imamate that followed the death of the fourth imam, ‘Ali Zayn al-Abidin’, in 713. Rejecting the claims of Muhammad al-Baqir, the Zaydis instead chose Zayd ibn ‘Ali (d. 740), a grandson of the martyred Husayn, as the fifth imam (hence their name, and hence the common nickname for them, “Fivers”). One reason they preferred Zayd was his activist revolutionary stance against the Umayyad dynasty. Indeed, Zayd was the first descendant of Husayn to rebel openly against the Umayyads, which led to his violent death in 740. Thus, their supposed “practicality” or theological moderation—which is actually no more than their relative doctrinal affinity to Sunnism, implicitly privileged as the norm—did not entail political moderation.

General Overviews

One of the three major divisions of Shi’i Islam, along with the majority Imamis or Ithna Ashariyya (Twelvers) and the Ismailis, the Zaydis claimed that Zayd ibn Ali, a grandson of Husayn, was the fifth imam, but most Shi’is recognized Muhammad al-Baqir and his son Ja’far al-Sadiq as the rightful heirs. The Zaydis were the first Shi’i movement to achieve political independence when some of them established a dynasty in Tabaristan, on the Caspian Sea, in 864. Another Zaydi state was founded in the Yemen in 893, which survived until 1963. Mortel 1987 demonstrates that the rulers of Mecca, in the Hijaz, were also inclined to the Zaydiyya from the 10th into the 15th centuries, though no formal Zaydi state can really be said to have been created there. In the overall Muslim world today, and even among the Shi’a, Zaydis are a small minority. Burrowes 1996 and Peterson and Hamblin 2009 offer extremely concise overviews of Zaydi history and doctrine by Western scholars, while Tabataba’i 1977 locates the Zaydiyya among the other branches of the Shi’a. Laoust 1977 likewise provides a brief survey, but also gives attention to the divisions within the Zaydiyya. Strothmann 1987, Madelung 2002, and Serjeant 1969 are more substantial and significantly more detailed overviews of Zaydi origins, history, and dogma.

  • Burrowes, Robert D. “Zaydism.” Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East. Vol. 4. Edited by Reeva S. Simon, Philip Mattar, and Richard W. Bulliet. New York: Macmillan Reference, 1996.

    A short and very basic overview.

  • Laoust, Henri. Les schisms dans l’Islam: Introduction à une étude de la religion musulmane. Paris: Payot, 1977.

    Pages 135–140 offer a brief overview, with further references to Arabic sources, of Zaydi belief and of thinkers and factions within the Zaydiyya.

  • Madelung, Wilferd. “Zaydiyya.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. 2d ed. Vol. 11. Edited by P. J. Bearman, T. Bianquis, C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, and W. P. Heinrichs, 477–481. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002.

    A brief but authoritative and quite detailed survey of the Zaydiyya by one of the foremost modern scholars of the subject.

  • Mortel, Richard. “Zaydi Shi’ism and the Hasanid Sharifs of Mecca.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 19.4 (1987): 455–472.

    Demonstrates that the sharifs of Mecca espoused Zaydi Shi’ism from at least roughly the 10th century until roughly the 15th century, which is not typically mentioned nor thought of in connection with general treatments of Zaydi history.

  • Peterson, Daniel, and William Hamblin, “Zaydīyah.” In Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Vol. 6. Edited by John L. Esposito, 45–47. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    A very short and basic introduction to the Zaydiyya, including dogma and history. Updated by Daniel Peterson.

  • Serjeant, R. B. “The Zaydis.” In Religion in the Middle East, Vol 2. Edited by A. J. Arberry, 285–301. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1969.

    Still one of the best short scholarly surveys available.

  • Strothmann, Rudolf. “al-Zaidīya.” In E. J. Brill’s First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913–1936. Vol. 8. Edited by M. Th. Houtsma, A. J. Wensinck, H. A. R. Gibb, W. Heffening, and E. Lévi-Provençal, 1196–1198. Leiden, The Netherlands, and New York: Brill, 1987.

    Photomechanical reprint. A pioneer statement, still very much worth reading, by one of the earliest and greatest European students of the Zaydiyya.

  • Tabataba’i, Sayyid Muhammad Husayn. Shi’ite Islam. 2d ed. Translated by Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Persian Studies series 5. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1977.

    Pages 75–85 offer a brief survey of the Zaydiyya and its relationship to other branches of Shi’ism by a major modern Iranian Twelver intellectual and scholar.

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