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2. The Zaydīs

The Shī‘a began as the partisans of ‘Alī, but it received its greatest impetus from the violent death of his younger son, al-Ḥusayn. Al-Ḥasan, the eldest, had been proclaimed 'Alī's successor by the partisans, but Mu‘āwiya easily persuaded him to exchange his claim for a large pension and retirement in Medina. In A.D. 669, Ḥasan died, of natural causes according to the Sunnīs; the Shī‘a hold that he was poisoned. The headship of the family fell now to his brother Ḥusayn. When he refused to acknowledge Mu‘āwiya's son Yazid as Caliph in A.H. 61/A.D. 680, the inhabitants of his father's former capital, Kūfa, offered to make him Caliph. He set out from Medina across the desert to Iraq, but in the meantime Yazīd's viceroy put down the insurrection at Kūfa and set patrols on the approaches to the city. Ḥusayn walked into the trap with his family and a few retainers at Karbala, some twenty-five miles from Kūfa. As the Prophet's favorite and only surviving grandson, he apparently did not expect to be seriously harmed, and refused to surrender, although surrounded and cut off from water. After ten days, the little band was cut down to the last man, and Ḥusayn's head sent to Yazid in Damascus, who seems to have been genuinely shocked by the affair. Muslims everywhere were appalled, and the "Martyrdom of Karbala" became the rallying point of all who distrusted the Umawis. With many moving and pitiful details, the story forms the basis of the "passion plays" of the Tenth of Muḥarram, celebrated

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by most Shī‘īs and many Sunnīs. Originally an Arab political faction, the Shī‘a came to differ increasingly in doctrines from the Sunnīs.

Of the three major Shī‘ī sects surviving today, that of the Zaydīs most preserves its old Arab character and seems to form a bridge between Sunnī and Shī‘ī practice. Their name is traced to a grandson of al-Ḥusayn, Zayd ibn ‘Alī Zayn al-‘Abidīn, who was also killed leading an armed rebellion of the Kūfans, c. A.H. 121/A.D. 739. The sect traces its law-school back to Zayd, but the real systematizers were two descendants of al-Ḥasan: Ḥasan ibn Zayd (b. Muhammad b. Ḥasan b. Zayd b. ‘Alī b. al-Ḥasan) and al-Qāsim al-Rassī, (died A.H. 246/A.D. 860). Ḥasan ibn Zayd founded a Zaydī state on the mountainous Caspian seacoast of Persia (c. A.H. 250/A.D. 864) which at least produced claimants to the Imāmate until c. A.H. 520/A.D. 1126. At around the same time another Zaydī Imāmate was founded in the highlands of Yemen, c. A.H. 288/A.D. 901, which with many vicissitudes has endured until the present day, making it the oldest Muslim state.

Like the other Shī‘ī sects, the Zaydīs were profoundly influenced by their contacts with the Mu‘tāzila, and believe that God has no eternal and uncreated attributes, and that the Qur’ān is created. They also for the most part do not accept predestination.

In law, they hold to a fundamental strictness of observance. Like the other Shī‘a, they differ in some ritual matters from the Sunnīs: in the matter of ablutions, and the call to prayer. They are hostile to Ṡūfīsm, and Ṡūfī orders have been banned in the Yemen. They prohibit mixed marriages; they will not eat meat slaughtered by a non-Muslim and will not pray behind any man not of known

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piety. They consider their wars against Sunnīs as holy wars, but appear to regard Sunnīs as "rebellious Muslims," rather than apostates.

Most curious is their doctrine of the Imāmate, which is midway between that of the Sunnīs and the other Shī‘a. The Imām may not be a child, or invisible, as in the other Shī‘ī sects; he must be able to lead the holy war and defend the community, and must be a mujtahid. He may be any descendant of ‘Alī, and the Imāms of Yemen have included descendants of both Ḥasan and Ḥusayn. He is not impeccable or infallible, and can be and has been deposed. There may be more than one Imām at a time (as in two widely separated Zaydī states).

The traditions on the Imāmate are taken from one of the chief Zaydī legal works, a commentary on the Majmū‘ ascribed to Zayd ibn ‘Alī. The second selection is from one of the early ḥisba manuals extant, written by the Zaydī Imām al-Nāṡir li-al-Haqq (died A.H. 304/A.D. 917) of the Caspian area. Not all of its provisions would be enforced today, of course. The general picture it gives is of a society which must have seemed excessively puritanical to many Sunnīs of the third century.

Zaydī Traditions on the Imāmate

Zayd ibn ‘Alī told me on the authority of his father Zayn al-‘Abidīn from his grandfather al-Ḥusayn, peace be upon them all, that he said "Whoever dies with no Imām dies as ignorant carrion, if the Imām (of that time) is just, good, and pious." . . . And Muslim has published a ḥadīth of Abū Hurayra, with one of Ibn 'Abbās, that the Prophet, God's blessing be upon him and his family, and peace, said: "Whoever of you sees something he dislikes in his commander, let him be patient, for there is not one who arbitrarily (shabaran) abandons the Community (jamā‘a) but dies as ignorant carrion." . . .

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and he said "There is no obeying in what is rebellion against God; obedience is only in the good." . . .

Zayd ibn ‘Alī related on the authority of his father and grandfather from ‘Alī--peace be upon them all--that he said, "The Imām's duty is to judge by what God sent down and to be just to the subjects. If he does that, their duty is to hearken and obey, and to respond to his call, and if the Imām does not judge by what God sent down, no obedience is due him."

Zayd related . . . from ‘Alī that the Messenger of God--His blessing be on him and his family, and peace, said "Wherever any ruler is hesitant to deal with the needs of his people, God will be hesitant to deal with his on the Day of Judgment."

I asked Zayd ibn ‘Alī about the Imāmate and he said: "It is among all the Quraysh, and it may not be established without the oath of allegiance of the Muslims. When they have taken allegiance, and the Imām is good and pious, and knowledgeable in what is licit and illicit, then obedience to him is a duty for the Muslims." 3

Zayd ibn ‘Alī told me on the authority of his father and grandfather that ‘Alī (peace be upon them all) said: "There are five things for the Imām: the Friday prayer, the Two Feasts (that of Sacrifice and that of Fast-breaking), collecting the alms-tax and the ḥudūd (Qur’ānic punishments), and judgment, and retaliation." 4


The Muḥtasib must give orders that the doors of the mosques be not locked, or pictures painted on the mosques, and that they be not decorated with gold or have appointments like churches and synagogues, (ka al-bī‘a) or have curtains hung in them, or be ornamented with stucco or otherwise, for all that is objectionable. The minarets of the mosques shall not be raised higher than their roofs, and he shall order any crenellations raised above the people's houses to be concealed. It is related that the Prince of Believers, ‘Alī--the blessings of God be upon him and his family, and peace--that he said: "The minarets of the mosque shall not be raised above its walls." . . .

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The Muḥtasib must forbid burial places to be used as mosques, according to the teaching of the Prophet, God's blessing be upon him and his family, and peace: "God has cursed the Jews because they take the tombs of their prophets as mosques." And Ja‘far ibn Muhammad relates from his ancestors, from ‘Alī--peace be upon him and his family--that he said: "If you see legend-narrators (qaṡṡās) in the mosques, then good-bye to Islam (‘ala al-Islām al-Salām)." . . . And no Jew or Christian or Zoroastrian shall enter the mosques, even if the governor is holding hearings there, and menstruating women shall not enter there, or punishments be administered there. And he shall know the insignia of all People of the House (of the Prophet), peace be upon them, and see to it that the people of his district perform the prayers, and say twice at the end of the prayer-call "There is no God but God" and at the beginning of the prayer say it once, and drop the saying of "Amen" and say "Hasten to the best of works" at the prayer-call and the beginning of the prayers, and make them say "In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate" out loud, and forbid them the masḥ ‘alā al-khuffayn [merely wiping the socks instead of washing the feet at the ablution; permitted by some schools.--ED.] and order them to say "God is most great," five times at funerals [instead of four].

The Muḥtasib must also forbid carpenters and turners to make backgammon and chess sets, and sets for "fourteen," as it is a (sort of) lottery. It is mentioned of the Prince of Believers (‘Alī), that he would say "Peace be upon thee" to all who passed by him; even boys, and Abyssinians wearing necklaces, but he would not greet the owner of a backgammon-game or a chess-set, and that he once passed some people playing chess and said, "What are these images to which you apply yourselves?" and he ordered the chess-set to be broken and burnt the board on which they played.

And he shall order that they make unto themselves no idol or image or doll for children, and he shall break whatever he finds of such things.

And they shall not take unto themselves hand-drums or pipes or lutes or tambourines or mandolines or timbals or

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any other musical instrument, and whatever is confiscated of this nature shall be broken; their makers shall be instructed in this, according to the Prophet's instructions, the benediction of God be upon him and his family, to "I send you as God sent me, to break flutes and lutes, and to level heaped-up graves."

Similarly with anything with pictures on it, such as glass or other things; he shall order them to be rubbed out, and if they cannot be rubbed out except by breaking them, break them. Likewise with any pictures on doors or garments; he shall cut off the heads of the pictures. Similarly he shall break coins minted by foreigners on which are pictures. And he shall forbid men to mix with women in the markets and streets. 5


224:3 From al-Rawd al-Nādir (Cairo, 1928-1930), Vol. V, pp. 6-11.

224:4 Ibid., Vol. III, p. 457.

224:5 p. 250 From "A Zaydī Manual of Ḥisba of the 3rd Century," ed. by Serjeant in Rivista degli Studi Oriental (1953), Vol. 28, pp. 16, 17.

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