The Term "Shia" in Quran and Hadith

The word "Shia" means "followers; members of party". As such, the term "Shia" alone has no negative or positive meaning unless we specify the leader of the party. If one is a Shia (follower) of the most righteous servants, then there is nothing wrong with being Shia, specially if the leader of such party has been assigned by Allah. On the other hand, if one becomes the Shia a tyrant or a wrong-doer, he shall meet with the fate of his leader. In fact, Quran indicates that on the day of Judgment people will come in groups, and each group has its leader in front of it. Allah, to whom belong Might and Majesty, said: 
One day We shall call every group of people by their respective Imams. (Quran 17:71) 
In the day of judgment, the destiny of the "followers" of each group highly depends on the destiny of his Imam (provided that they really followed that Imam). Allah mentioned in Quran that there are two types of Imams. Some Imams are those who invite people to Hell fire. They are tyrannical leaders of each era (like Pharaoh, etc.): 
And We made them (but) Imams inviting to the Fire; and on the Day of Judgment no help shall they find. In this world We continued to curse them; and on the Day of Judgment they will be among the hateful. (Quran 28:41-42). 
Certainly, being the members of the parties of such Satanic Imams has been severely denounced in Quran, and the followers of such parties will meet the fate of their leaders. However, Quran also reminds that there are Imams who are appointed by Allah as Guides for the mankind: 
"And We ASSIGNED from among them some Imams who GUIDE by Our authority since they were patient and believed firmly in Our Signs." (Quran 32:24) 
Certainly, the true followers (Shia) of these Imams will be the real prosperous on the day of resurrection. Thus being a Shia does not mean anything, unless we know the Shia of whom. Allah mentioned in Quran that Some of His righteous servants were Shia of His other righteous servants. An example was Prophet Abraham who was mentioned in Quran specifically as the Shia of Noah: 
"And most surely Abraham was among the Shia of him (i.e., Noah)" (Quran 37:83) 
(Notice that the word "Shia" is explicitly used, letter by letter, in the above verse as well as the following verse.) In another verse, Quran talks about the Shia of Moses versus the enemies of Moses: 
"And he (Moses) went into the city at a time when people (of the city) were not watching, so he found therein two men fighting, one being of his Shia and the other being his enemy, and the one who was of his Shia cried out to him for help against the one who was of his enemy" (Quran 28:15) 
In the above verse of Quran, one is named the Shia of Moses (AS) and the other one is named the enemy of Moses, and the people at that time were either the Shia or the enemy of Moses (AS). Thus Shia is an official word used by Allah in His Quran for His high rank prophets as well as their followers. Do you want to say Prophet Abraham was sectarian? How about Prophet Noah and Prophet Moses? 
If somebody calls himself a Shia, it is not due to any sectarianism, nor any innovation. It is because Quran has used the phrase for some of His best servants. The above verses that I mentioned in support of Shia, has used this term singular form (i.e., one group of followers). This means that it has special meaning, such as: THE Shia of Noah (AS), THE Shia of Moses (AS). Also in the History of Islam, Shia has been specially used for the "followers of Ali". The first individual who used this term was the Messenger of Allah himself: 
The Messenger of Allah said to Ali: "Glad tiding O Ali! Verily you and your companions and your Shia (followers) will be in Paradise." 
Sunni references: 
Fadha'il al-Sahaba, by Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, v2, p655 
Hilyatul Awliyaa, by Abu Nu'aym, v4, p329 
Tarikh, by al-Khateeb al-Baghdadi, v12, p289 
al-Awsat, by al-Tabarani 
Majma' al-Zawa'id, by al-Haythami, v10, pp 21-22 
al-Darqunti, who said this tradition has been transmitted via numerous authorities. 
al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar Haythami , Ch. 11, section 1, p247 
Thus the Messenger of Allah (PBUH&HF) used to say the phrase of "Shia of Ali". This phrase is not something invented later! Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HF) said that the TRUE followers of imam Ali will go to Paradise, and this is a great felicity. Also Jabir Ibn Abdillah al-Ansari narrated that: 
The Messenger of Allah (PBUH&HF) said: "The Shia of Ali are the real victorious in the day of resurrection/rising" 
Sunni references: 
al-Manaqib Ahmad, as mentioned in: 
Yanabi al-Mawaddah, by al-Qundoozi al-Hanafi, p62 
Tafsir al-Durr al-Manthoor, by al-Hafidh Jalaluddin al-Suyuti, who quotes the tradition as follows: "We were with the Holy Prophet when Ali came towards us. The Holy Prophet said: He and his Shia will aquire salvation on the day of judgment." 
The "day of rising" may also refer to the day of rising of al-Mahdi (AS). But in more general term, it means the day of judgment. Also it is narrated that: 
The Messenger of Allah said: "O Ali! On the Day of Judgment I shall resort to Allah and you will resort to me and your children will resort to you and the Shia will resort to them. Then you will see where they carry us. (i.e. to Paradise)" 
Sunni reference: Rabi al-Abrar, by al-Zamakhshari 
Furthermore, it is narrated that: 
The Messenger of Allah said: "O Ali! (On the day of Judgment) you and your Shia will come toward Allah well-pleased and well-pleasing, and there will come to Him your enemies angry and stiff-necked (i.e., their head forced up). 
Sunni references: 
al-Tabarani, on the authority of Imam Ali 
al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar al-Haythami, Ch. 11, section 1, p236 
A more complete version of the tradition which has also been reported by the Sunnis, is as follows: 
Ibn Abbas (RA) narrated: When the verse "Those who believe and do righteous deeds are the best of the creation (Quran 98:7)" was revealed, the Messenger of Allah (PBUH&HF) said to Ali: "They are you and your Shia." He continued: "O Ali! (On the day of Judgment) you and your Shia will come toward Allah well-pleased and well-pleasing, and your enemies will come angry with their head forced up. Ali said: "Who are my enemies?" The Prophet (PBUH&HF) replied: "He who disassociates himself from you and curses you. And glad tiding to those who reach first under the shadow of al-'Arsh on the day of resurrection." Ali asked: "Who are they, O the Messenger of Allah?" He replied: "Your Shia, O Ali, and those who love you." 
Sunni references: 
al-Hafidh Jamaluddin al-Dharandi, on the authority of Ibn Abbas 
al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar, Ch. 11, section 1, pp 246-247 
Then Ibn Hajar provides a bizarre commentary for the first tradition, saying: 
The Shia of Ali are the Ahlussunnah since they are those who love Ahlul-Bayt as Allah and His Prophet ordered. But others (i.e., other than Sunnis) are the enemies of Ahlul-Bayt in reality for the love outside the boundary of law is the great enmity, and that was the reason for their fate. Also, the enemies of Ahlul-Bayt were al-Khawarij and their alike from Syria, not Muawiyah and other companions because they were Muteawweloon, and for them is a good reward, and for Ali and his Shia is a good reward! 
Sunni reference: 
al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar, Ch. 11, section 1, p236 
And this is how Sunni scholars cope with the prophetic traditions in favor of "Shia of Ali"! They say that they are the real Shia! 
Let us look at one more tradition in this regard: 
The Messenger of Allah said to Ali: "The first four individuals who will enter the Paradise are me, you, al-Hasan, and al-Husain, and our progeny will be behind us, and our wives will be behind our progeny, and our Shia will be on our right side and in our company." 
Sunni references: 
al-Manaqib, by Ahmad 
al-Tabarani, as quoted in: 
al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar Haythami , Ch. 11, section 1, p246 
From the above pieces of evidence, the word "Shia" is used by Allah in Quran for His prophets as well as their followers. Further, His blessed Prophet, Muhammad (PBUH&HF) has repeatedly used this word for the followers of Imam Ali (AS). The word Shia is used here in its special meaning, and moreover, it is not in plural form (Parties), rather the above verses and traditions are referring to a special party, i.e., one single party. If Shia meant sectarian, neither Allah would use it for His high rank prophets nor Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HF) would have praised them. 
However there are some verses in Quran which uses the plural form of Shia that is "Shi-ya'a" which means "Parties/groups". This is a general meaning of this term, and not the special meaning in singular form which has been given in previous examples. Of course, only one single party is accepted by Allah and the rest are severely denounced because they have separated from that unique party. So it is clear why Allah denounced "Groups/Parties/sects" (plural form) who separated from that unique group in some verses of Quran. There can't be two righteous groups (with conflicting ideas) at the same time, because between the two leaders one is surely better and more qualified, and thus the claims and the motives of the other leader goes under question. 
However I did not locate the exact term of "Ahlussunnah wal-Jama'ah", nor did I find "al-Wahhabiyyah", "al-Salafiyyah" anywhere in the Holy Quran or the traditions of the Prophet. I agree that we should follow the Sunnah of Prophet, but I would like to discover the origin of the exact term here. We Shia are proud to follow the Sunnah of Prophet. However, the question is that which Sunnah is genuine and which one is not. The word "Sunnah" by itself does not serve the purpose of knowledge. All Muslims irrespective to their persuasions claim that they follow the Sunnah of Prophet (PBUH&HF). Please refer to the article titled "Quran and Ahlul-Bayt" for a detailed discussion in this regard. 
It should be emphasized that the Messenger of Allah never wished to divide Muslims into groups. Prophet ORDERED all people to follow Imam Ali (AS) as his agent during his life time, and as his Caliph after him. Prophet wished everybody does that. But unfortunately those who heeded him were few and were known as "Shia of Ali" who were subject to all sort of discrimination and prosecution, and suffered from day one of the demise of the Mercy to Mankind, Muhammad (PBUH&HF). If every one (or say the majority Muslims) had obeyed what prophet wished, then there wouldn't exist any group or school within Islam. Allah said in Quran: 
"Hold fast to the Rope of Allah, all of you together and do not separate" (Quran 3:103)" 
The Rope of Allah which we should not separate from, are the Ahlul-Bayt. In fact, some Sunni scholars narrated from Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (AS) saying: 
"We are the Rope of Allah about whom Allah has said: 'Hold fast to the Rope of Allah, all of you together and do not diverge (3:103)'" 
Sunni references: 
al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar Haythami , Ch. 11, section 1, p233 
Tafsir al-Kabir, by al-Tha'labi, under commentary of verse 3:103 
Thus, if Allah denounces the sectarianism, He denounces those who separated from His Rope, and not those who hold fast to it! Also some said the Rope of Allah is Quran. This is also true. But by looking at the following tradition narrated by Umm Salama who said: 
The Messenger of Allah said: "Ali is with Quran, and Quran is with Ali. They shall not separate from each other till they both return to me by the Pool (of Paradise)." 
Sunni references: 
al-Mustadrak, by al-Hakim, v3, p124 on the authority of Umm Salama 
al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar, Ch. 9, section 2, pp 191,194 
al-Awsat, by al-Tabarani; also in al-Saghir 
Tarikh al-Khulafa, by Jalaluddin al-Suyuti, p173 
Then we can conclude that Imam Ali is * the Quran verbatim *. That is, Imam Ali is the Strong Rope of Allah also, because they (Quran and Ali) are non-separable. In fact, there are a huge number of traditions in authentic Sunni sources where Prophet said Quran and Ahlul-Bayt are inseparable and if Muslims want to remain in the right path, they should stick to BOTH of them. (Please refer to the article titled: Quran and Ahlul-Bayt). Therefore, one can conclude that those who separated from Ahlul-Bayt are the sectarian who divided into sects and were denounced by Allah and His prophet due to their divergence. 
In fact, the opinion of majority is not a good criteria to distinguish the false from the truth. If you look at the Quran, you will see that Quran severely denounces the majority of by frequently saying that "the majority do not understand", "the majority do not use their logic", "the majority follow their whims"... 
In another verse, Allah said: 
"You are the best nation (Ummah) that has been raised up for the (benefit of) people. You enjoin the good and forbid the evil..." (Quran 3:110). 
The best nation is also the Ahlul-Bayt. Let us remember that according to Quran, "nation" does not mean the whole people. This is even clear from the above verse that such Ummah (nation) are raised FOR benefiting the people. Thus Ummah can be only a subset of people and not the whole people. In fact one person can be a nation. Sometimes the act of a single person is worthier than the deeds of the whole nation. This was the case for Prophet Muhammad, Imam Ali, as well as the case for Prophet Abraham, peace be upon them all. Quran states that Abraham (AS) was a nation (Ummah), meaning that his deeds was more valuable than all other people. Allah stated: 
"Lo! Abraham was a nation (Ummah) who was obedient to Allah, by nature upright, and he was not of the idolaters" (Quran 16:120) 
Thus, one single individual can be a nation in the language of Quran. As for the Verse 3:100, it is interesting to note that some Sunni scholars have narrated from Abu Ja'far (Imam Baqir (AS)) that: 
Abu Ja'far (AS) said about the verse 'You are the best nation raised up for the (benefit of) people...(3:110)': "The Members of the House of the Prophet." 
Sunni references: 
Ibn Abi Hatam, as mentioned in: 
al-Durr al-Manthoor, by Jalaluddin al-Suyuti under commentary of verse 3:110 of holy Quran. 
Also Allah mentioned in Quran: 
"O' you who believe! Fear Allah and be with the truthful"
(Quran 9:119) 
According to some Sunni Commentaries, "the truthful" means Imam Ali (AS): 
Sunni reference: 
Tafsir al-Durr al-Manthoor, by al-Hafidh Jalaluddin al-Suyuti, two reports: one from Ibn Mardawayh by Ibn Abbas and the second from Ibn Asakir by Abi Ja'far (AS). 
This means that people should have feared Allah and should not have separated from Imam Ali (AS) after the demise of Prophet (PBUH&HF). This unfortunately did not happen at large, and therefore, unfortunate divisions followed it. 
With respect to the world al-Siddeeq -- "The Truthful", there are many Sunni narrations in which the Messenger of Allah said: 
The Truthful are three: Hazqeel (who was) the believer of the family of Pharaoh (see Quran 40:28), and Habeeb al-Najjar (who was) the believer of the family of Yaasin (see Quran 36:20), and Ali Ibn Abi Talib who is the most virtuous one among them (see Quran 9:119)." 
Sunni references: 
Abu Nu'aym and Ibn Asakir, on the authority of Abu Layla 
Ibn al-Najjar, on the authority of Ibn Abbas 
al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar, Ch. 9, section 2, pp 192-193 
In conclusion, we have shown in this article that the term Shia has been used in Quran for the followers of the great servants of Allah, and in the traditions of the Prophet for the followers of Imam Ali (AS). One who follows such divinely appointed Guide is safe from the disputes in the religion and has grasped the Strong Rope of Allah, and has been given the glad tiding of Paradise. 
Side Comments 
A Sunni brother wrote: Sunni means the one who follows the traditions (Sunnah) of the Prophet, and this is supported by the following verse of Quran: 
Certainly you have in the Apostle of Allah an excellent exemplar (beautiful pattern of conduct) for him who hopes in Allah and the latter day and remembers Allah much. (Quran 33:21) 
My comment was as follows: 
In the above verse neither the word "Sunnah" nor any of its derivative has been used. As I mentioned earlier, Allah has used the terminology of "Muslim" in its exact form, letter by letter, in the verse 22:78. Also Allah used the word "Shia" again in exact form in verse 37:83 for the Prophet Abraham. However, Allah never used the words such as "Sunni" or as "Ahlussunnah" for the followers of the Prophet (PBUH&HF).
If you say we do not find such exact terminology, but we understand that the Prophet is our pattern, then one may say that Quran testifies that Prophet Abraham (AS) was a pattern for us as well: 
"Indeed, there is for you an excellent exemplar (beautiful pattern of conduct) in Abraham..." (Quran 60:4)
Notice that in the above verse, the phrase which has been used for Prophet Abraham (AS) is exactly the same as that of the previous quoted verse used for Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HF). That is true for the following verse as well: 
Certainly there is for you in them (Abraham and his followers) an excellent exemplar (beautiful pattern of conduct) for him who fears Allah and the last day; and whoever turns back, then surely Allah is the Self-sufficient, the Praised. (Quran 60:6) 
Now please tell us if we can be called a Sunni because we follow Abraham's traditions? Certainly Prophet Muhammad followed the tradition of Prophet Abraham, yet Muhammad (PBUH&HF) was never called Sunni, as that result. Similarly, Prophet Abraham followed the traditions of Prophet Noah, but he was never called a Sunni. Quran mentioned that he was a Shia of Noah.
The word "Sunnah" has used in Quran to refer to the custom of God and the way Allah conducts the affairs and the rules governing the universe (Sunnatullah). But here we are discussing the word Sunnah referred to the Prophet (PBUH&HF), and not the rules governing the universe. As such we are looking for the term such as "Sunnatu Rasoolillah".
A word XXXX can be used in two ways: 
XXXXX by definition 
XXXXX by label
All Muslims are Sunni by definition, but only a group of people, which are famous to this name, are Sunni by label. How they got such label needs to be investigated though.
Also, all Muslims are "obedient" by definition, but there is no special group among Muslims who are called "obedient". This shows that having a certain characteristic by definition does not force us to specify such characteristic in our label. In fact, in most cases (not all cases) the label is just a stereotype and does not reflect the real attributes of the holder of such label. Sometime the label is used to allure people to specific version of something which is found in various versions, each of which is claimed to be genuine one, by different groups. As such, it wouldn't be an intelligent practice, in general, to identify the genuineness of something with its label.
Surely, the followers of the Prophet are supposed to follow his Sunnah by definition. But were they called Sunni when Prophet Muhammad was alive? or even few years after his demise? In other words, the question to be answered is: When did the title "Ahlussunnah wal Jama'ah" come into existence in the history of Islam for a specific group of Muslims?


Despite the vast amount of scholarship carried out by Western orientalists since the nineteenth century and the analyses and translations made of various Islamic sources, very little attention has been paid thus far to the collection of religious sayings, sermons, prayers, proverbs and didactic expositions which comprises the corpus of Hadith as understood by Twelve Imam Shi'ite Muslims. It is of course true that much of the substance of the Shi'ite hadith collection resembles the Sunni collection, [1] and to the extent that the latter has been studied the former has also been dealt with in an indirect manner. But in as much as Shi'ite hadiths possess a form, style and "perfume" of their own, no indirect treatment of their substance and content can replace the direct translation and analysis of this collection itself. 
It is in fact rather amazing that despite the extreme importance of Shi'ite Hadith for the development of Shi'ite law and theology as well as many fields of the "intellectual sciences" (al-'ulum al-'aqliyyah), not to speak of its role in piety and the spiritual life, the sayings of the Imams of Shi'ism have not been rendered into English until now. Nor have they been studied as a whole and as a distinct body of religious writings of an inspired nature within the general context of Islam itself. The present volume represents, therefore, a pioneering effort to present a sample of this extensive body of writings to the English speaking world.
The Shi'ite hadith literature includes all the sayings of the Prophet of Islam accepted by Shi'ites as well as the traditions of the twelve Imams from 'Ali ibn Abi talib to the Mahdi. This collection is thus considered to be, after the Holy Quran, the most important body of religious texts for Shi'ites. As in Sunni Islam, so in this case: the Hadith forms along with the Revealed Book the basis of all the religious sciences, including of course the Shari'ah as well as religious life in both its intellectual and devotional aspects. No aspect of the life and history of the Shi'ite community would be comprehensible without a consideration of this body of inspired writings.
What is particular to this collection, however, is that although it is a part of the foundation of Islam as seen by Shi'ism, its "composition" stretches over a period of more than two centuries. In Sunni Islam, Hadith is limited to the sayings of the Blessed Prophet. In fact to use the term "hadith" in Sunnism is to refer to his sayings and not to anyone else's. In the case of Shi'ism, however, although a clear distinction is made between prophetic Hadith (al-hadith al-nabawi) and the sayings of the Imams (al-hadith al-walawi), the two are included in a single collection. This means that from a certain point of view the apostolic age of Islam is seen by Shi'ism to stretch way beyond the relatively short period usually associated with apostles in various religions.
The reason for this perspective lies of course in the Shi'ite conception of the Imam. [2] The term imam as used in a technical sense in Shi'ism differs from the general usage of the term in Arabic, where it means "leader", or in Sunni political theory where it means the caliph himself. As used technically in Shi'ism the term refers to the person who contains within himself the "Muhammadan Light" (al-nur al-mahammadi) which was handed down through Fatimah, the daughter of the Blessed Prophet, and 'Ali, the first Imam, to the others, terminating with the Hidden Imam who is to appear again one day as the Mahdi. [3] As a result of the presence of this light, the Imam is considered to be "sinless" (ma'sum) and to possess perfect knowledge of the esoteric as well as the exoteric order.
The Imams are like a chain of light issuing forth from the "Sun of Prophecy" which is their origin, and yet they are never separated from that Sun. Whatever is said by them emanates from the same inviolable treasury of inspired wisdom. Since they are an extension of the inner reality of the Blessed Prophet, their words really go back to him. That is why their sayings are seen in the Shi'ite perspective as an extension of the prophetic Hadith, just as the light of their being is seen as a continuation of the prophetic light. In Shi'ite eyes, the temporal separation of the Imams from the Blessed Prophet does not at all affect their essential and inner bond with him or the continuity of the "prophetic light" which is the source of his as well as their inspired knowledge.
This metaphysical conception is the reason that Shi'ites incorporate traditions stretching over two centuries into a single whole with those of the Blessed Prophet himself. It also distingiushes the Shi'ite conception of Hadith from that held in Sunnism. Otherwise, the actual content of Hadith in Sunni and Shi'ite collections is very close. After all, both kinds concern the same spiritual reality. Of course the chain of transmission accepted by the two schools is not the same. But despite this difference in the authorities who have handed down the prophetic sayings, the actual hadiths recorded by Sunni and Shi'ite sources have overwhelming similarities. The major difference is the Shi'ites' consideration of the extension of an aspect of the being of the Blessed Prophet in the Imams and therefore their addition of the sayings of the Imams to the strictly "prophetic" Hadith.
The sayings of the Imams are in many ways not only a continuation but also a kind of commentary and elucidation of the prophetic Hadith, often with the aim of bringing out the esoteric teachings of Islam. Many of these hadiths deal, like those of the Blessed Prophet, with the practical aspects of life and the Shari'ah. Others deal with pure metaphysics, as do certain prophetic hadiths, especially the "sacred hadiths" (hadith qudsi). Still other sayings of the Imams deal with the devotional aspects of life and contain some of the most famous prayers which have been recited over the ages by both Sunnis and Shi'ites. Finally some of the sayings deal with the various esoteric sciences. They thus cover a vast spectrum ranging from the "mundane" problems of daily life to the question of the meaning of truth itself. Because of their innate nature and also the fact that like Sufism they issue from the esoteric dimension of Islam, they have intermingled over the ages with certain types of Sufi writings. [4] They have also been considered as sources of Islamic esotericism by the Sufis, because the Imams of Shi'ism are seen in the Sufi perspective as the spiritual poles of their age. They appear in the spiritual chain (silsilah) of various Sufi orders, even those which have spread almost exclusively among Sunnis. [5]
Because of the nature of their contents, these sayings have influenced nearly every branch of Shi'ite learning as well as the daily life of the community. Shi'ite jurisprudence (fiqh) bases itself directly upon this corpus in addition to the Holy Quran. Shi'ite theology (kalam) would be incomprehensible without a knowledge of these sayings. Shi'ite Quranic commentaries draw heavily upon them. Even sciences of nature such as natural history or alchemy were developed with reference to them. And finally these sayings have surfaced as sources for meditation of the most sublime metaphysical themes over the centuries, and some of the most elaborate metaphysical and philosophical schools of Islam have issued to a large extent from them. Later Islamic philosophy as associated with the name of Sadr al-Din Shirazi, would in fact be inconceivable without recourse to the Shi'ite hadith collection. [6] One of Sadr al-Din's greatest metaphysical works is his unfinished commentary upon a portion of the most important of the four basic Shi'ite collections of Hadith, the al-Kafi of al-Kulayni. [7]
Within the collection of Shi'ite hadiths are certain works which need to be mentioned separately. There is first of all the celebrated Nahj al-balaghah (The Path of Eloquence) of 'Ali ibn Abi talib assembled and systematized by the fourth/tenth century Shi'ite scholar Sayyid Sharif al-Radi. Considering the enormous importance of this work in Shi'ite Islam as well as for all lovers of the Arabic language, it is remarkable how little attention has been paid to it in European languages. [8] After all, many of the leading writers of Arabic such as Taha Husayn and Kurd 'Ali claim in their autobiographies to have perfected their style of writing Arabic through the study of the Nahj al-balaghah, while generation after generation of Shi'ite thinkers have meditated and commented upon its meaning. Moreover, the shorter prayers and proverbs of this work have spread very widely among the populace and have entered both the classical and folk literature of not only Arabic but also Persian, and through the influence of Persian, several other languages of the Islamic peoples, such as Urdu.
The Nahj al-balaghah contains, besides spiritual advice, moral maxims and political directives, several remarkable discourses on metaphysics, especially concerning the question of Unity (al tawhid). It possesses both its own method of exposition and a very distinct technical vocabulary which distinguish it from the various Islamic schools which have dealt with metaphysics.
Western scholars refused for a long time to accept the authenticity of the authorship of this work and attributed it to Sayyid Sharif al-Radi, although the style of al-Radi's own works is very different from that of the Nahj al-balaghah. In any case as far as the traditional Shi'ite perspective is concerned, the position of the Nahj al-balaghah and its authorship can best be explained by repeating a conversation which took place some eighteen or nineteen years ago between 'Allamah Tabatabai, the celebrated contemporary Shi'ite scholar who is responsible for the selection of the present anthology, and Henry Corbin, the foremost Western student of Shi'ism. Corbin, who himself was as far removed from "historicism" as possible, once said to 'Allamah Tabataba'i during the regular discussions they had together in Tehran (in which the present writer usually acted as translator), "Western scholars claim that 'Ali is not the author of the Nahj al-balaghah. What is your view and whom do you consider to be the author of this work ?" 'Allamah Tabataba'i raised his head and answered in his usual gentle and calm manner, "For us whoever wrote the Nahj al-balaghah is 'Ali, even if he lived a century ago."
The second notable work in the Shi'ite collection of Hadith is the al-Sahifat al-sajjadiyyah (The Scroll of al-Sajjad of the fourth Imam Zayn al-'Abidin), also called al-Sajjad. A witness to the tragedy of Karbala-which must have left an indelible impression upon his soul-the fourth Imam poured forth his inner life in a symphony of beautiful prayers which have caused the Sahifah to be called the "Psalms of the Family of the Holy Prophet". These prayers form a part of the daily religious life of not only Shi'ites but also Sunnis, who find them in many of the prayer manuals most popular in the Sunni world. [9]
Also notable in the Shi'ite collection of Hadith are the sayings of the fifth, sixth and seventh Imams, from whom the largest number of traditions have been recorded. These Imams lived at the end of the Umayyad and beginning of the Abbasid dynasties when, as a result of the changes in the caliphate, central authority had weakened and the Imams were able to speak more openly and also train more students. The number of students, both Shi'ite and Sunni, trained by the sixth Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq has been estimated at four thousand. He left behind a vast body of sayings which range from the field of law to the esoteric sciences.
The sayings of the Holy Prophet and the Imams have been of course a constant source of meditation and discussion by Shi'ite men of learning throughout the ages. But it is especially in the later period of Shi'ite history beginning with Sayyid Haydar Amuli, leading to the great masters of the Safavid period such as Mir Damad and Mulla Sadra and continuing to the present day that these sayings have served as a distinct source for metaphysics and philosophy as well as the juridical and Quranic sciences. The commentaries of Mulla Sadra, Qadi Sa'id al-Qummi and many others on these collections of Shi'ite Hadith are among the great masterpieces of Islamic thought. [10] Later Islamic philosophy and theosophy in fact could not be understood without them. [11]
The present volume represents the second in a series of three which was planned many years ago with the help and support of Professor Kenneth Morgan, then of Colgate University, with the aim of presenting Shi'ism to the Western world from the point of view of Shi'ism itself. The first volume in the series appeared in English as Shi'ite Islam by 'Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai edited and translated by the author of these lines. [12] The second volume, called The Quran in Islam (Qur'an dar islam), was also written by 'Allamah Tabataba'i and its Persian version printed in Tehrarn. Most of it was also translated by us into English, but the translation was not completed. The events of the last year in Iran have made the manuscript of what we have already translated inaccessible to us so that there is no possibility at the present moment to produce the English translation as planned.
The present volume is the third and final one in the series. After a long period of study and deliberation, 'Allamah Tabataba'i made the present selection from the vast collection of Hadith, a task which would have been bewildering for anyone not possessing his knowledge of this inspired literature. Once this selection was made, Dr. William Chittick, who was then residing in Tehran and working with us on various scholarly projects, undertook the arduous task of translating the very compact and difficult Arabic texts into English. Because of the lack of precedence for rendering these writings into European languages and the nature of the texts themselves, Dr. Chittick was faced with a formidable task. It was only his intimate knowledge of Arabic, Persian and the subject matter combined with great patience and meticulous scholarship that made it possible for him to succeed in such a laborious and exacting undertaking. He should be congratulated in every way for having successfully concluded this colossal task.
It remained for the Muhammadi Trust to bring the project to fruition and to make its publication possible. The credit for this volume and its effect in making Shi'ism better known must be given to a large extent to the Trust. As one who was responsible for this volume from its inception, I want to thank the Trust especially Wg. Cdr. (ret'd.) Q. Husayn, its very able secretary who with great love and devotion to the true cause of Islam, enabled us to complete this project. Dr. Chittick, also, has earned the gratitude of all students of Islam for his fine scholarship and devotion to the completion of a very difficult project.
This volume is particularly pertinent at the present moment, when volcanic eruptions and powerful waves of a political nature associated with the name of Islam in general and Shi'ism in particular have made an authentic knowledge of things Islamic imperative, lest ignorance destroy the very foundations of human society and the relations which make the discourse between various nations and religious communities possible.
At the dawn of this fifteenth century of the terrestrial existence of Islam, may this volume be an aid in bringing about an understanding of one of the fundamental sources of inspiration and knowledge for not only Shi'ism but Islam as such.

Wa'Llahu a'lam 
Seyyed Hossein Nasr
Cambridge, Massachussetts
Muharram 1400 November 1979

[1] There are six canonical collections in Sunni Islam which have been accepted by the whole community since they were first compiled in the second and the third Islamic centuries. These collections, referred to al-Sihah al-sittah, the Six Correct Collections, are associated with the names of great scholars of Hadith such as Bukhari, Muslim, etc. Of these, the most famous is that of Bukhari, which has been translated into English (Sahih al-Bukhari: Arabic-English, by Muhammad Muhsin Khan, Islamic University, Madina; second revised edition, Ankara, 1976). The vast concordance of Hadith by Wensinck, Mensing et al. (Leiden, 1936-69) is based on these six collections.
[2] See 'Allamah Tabatabai, Shi'ite Islam, London-Albany, 1975, pp. 173ff.
[3] As far as the continuity of the chain is concerned the Isma'ili conception is of course different, since for the Isma'ilis the chain of Imams continues un-interrupted to this day.
[4] On the relation between Shi'ism and Sufism See S. H. Nasr, Sufi Essays, London, 1972, pp. 104-20
[5] A most interesting example of such interpenetration is to be seen in part of the famous prayer of the third Shi'ite Imam Husayn, also found in Shadhili prayers manuals. See W. Chittick, "A Shadhili Presence on Shi'ite Islam", Sophia Perennis, vol. I, 1975, pp. 97-100
[6] On this corpus as a source for the doctrines of Sadr al Din Shirazi see S. H. Nasr, Sadr al Din Shirazi and His Transcendent Theosophy, London-Boulder, 1978, chapter 4.
[7] This monumental work was translated into French by H. Corbin, who taught it for many years in Paris, but it has never been published. See Corbin, En Islam iranien, Paris, 1971.
[8] This work has been translated several times in part or wholly in the Indo-Pakistani sub-continent and in Iran, but none of these translations is completely adequate. A new translation as been prepared by S. H. Jafri which is supposed to be published soon and which, we hope, will fulfill the very difficult condition of doing justice to both the meaning and the literary beauty of the text.
[9] Some of these prayers have been translated by C. Padwick in her Muslim Devotions, London, 1961
[10] See H. Corbin, En islam iranien.
[11] Not only Mulla Sadra, but also his students were deeply influenced by this collection. One of Mulla Sadra's most famous students, Mulla Muhsin Fayd Kashani, who was at once theologian, gnostic and philosopher, was also an outstanding authority on Shi'ite Hadith. His al-Wafi is one of the most studied works on hadiths of the Shi'ite Imams and their lines of transmission.
[12] In our introduction to that work we have dealt with the conditions under which these works were conceived as well as a biography of 'Allammah Tabatabai. Shi'ite Islam, was published by both Allen & Unwin in London and the State University of New York Press in Albany. The work has also just appeared in paperback in America. It is of interest to note that the original Persian version of this work, written specifically for this project and with a Persian Introduction by S. H. Nasr, has become one of the most widely read works on Shi'ism in Iran itself and has been reprinted many times.

Translator's Introduction

In works on Islam the word "hadith" usually refers to the sayings or "traditions" which have been transmitted from the Prophet. Muslims hold these to be the most important source of Islamic teachings after the Qur'an. Numerous works have been written in Western languages on the role of the hadith literature in Islam [1] and a number of important translations have been made. [2] But almost all Western studies have been limited to the point of view of Sunni Islam and based on Sunni sources and collections. Practically no one has paid any serious attention to the different nature of the hadith literature in Shi'ism and the different sources from which the hadiths are derived. 
The fundamental distinction to be made between Shi'ite and Sunni hadiths is that in Shi'ism the traditions are not limited to those of the Prophet, but include those of the Imams as well. As important and basic as this point is, it has not been understood even in such standard reference works as the new Encyclopedia of Islam. There the author of the article "Hadith" is aware that there is some difference between Shi'ism and Sunnism on the question of which hadiths are included, but he thinks that it lies in the fact that the Shi'ite collections accept "only traditions traced through 'Ali's family." But this is incorrect, since numerous traditions are also transmitted through other sources. What the author fails to mention is that the hadith literature as understood by Shi'ites is not limited to the sayings of the Prophet, but includes those of the Imams as well. [3] 
In short, collections of hadiths in Sunni Islam, such as those of al-Bukhari and Muslim, contain only sayings transmitted from and about the Prophet. But the Shi'ite collections, such as that of al-Kulayni, also contain sayings transmitted from and about the twelve Imams. Naturally the Shi'ites make a distinction among the hadiths, so that those transmitted from the Prophet are of greater authority, but nevertheless all traditions are listed together according to subject matter, not according to author. 
The most famous and authoritative collections of Shi'ite hadiths are four works which, in terms of their importance for Shi'ism, correspond to the Six Correct Collections in Sunni Islam. These are al-Kafi fi 'ilm al-din (The Sufficient in the Knowledge of Religion) by Thiqat al-Islam Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni (d. 329/940), Man la yahduruhu al-faqih (For him not in the Presence of Jurisprudent) of Shaykh al-Saduq Muhammad ibn Babuyah al-Qummi (d. 381/991), Tahdhib al-ahkam (Rectification of the Statutes) by Shaykh al-Ta'ifah Muhammad al-Tusi (d. 460/ 1068) and al-Istibsar fi ma ukhtulif fihi min al-akhbar (Reflection upon the Disputed Traditions) also by al-Tusi. 
The Present Collection 
The sermons, sayings, prayers and writings translated here present a cross section of Shi'ite religious thought with an emphasis upon that which is most basic for the religion itself and most universal and hence understandable in the eyes of non-Muslims. As 'Allamah Tabataba'i points out in his foreword, in making these selections his aim was to emphasize the three basic dimensions of the Shi'ite tradition: I. The profession of Unity (altawhid), or the metaphysical and theological principles of the faith 2. The political, social and moral teachings. 3. The inward, spiritual and devotional life of the community. Hence the selections stress the principles and fundamentals (usul) of Islam, while they tend to ignore the branches and secondary aspects (furu). In other words, little is said about the concrete ramifications of the principles in terms of the details of the application of the Divine Law (al-Shari'ah) to everyday life. Nevertheless, the secondary aspects are clearly reflected in 'Ali's "Instructions to Malik al-Ashtar" and to a lesser degree in the prayers. 
Although it is well known that the first "pillar of Islam" is the profession of faith, which begins with a statement of the Divine Unity, Western scholars have tended to explain the Islamic belief in God's Oneness as a relativity simple-minded affirmation of the existence of only one God. Perhaps one reason the Nahj albalaghah and the Shi'ite hadith literature in general have been neglected or simply branded as spurious is that their very existence flatly contradicts the commonly accepted idea of a simple bedouin faith with few philosophical or metaphysical overtones. In these writings we see that already in the first centuries of Islam the Divine Unity was affirmed in terms reminiscent of the subtlety of later "theosophical" Sufism, but still completely steeped in the peculiar spiritual aroma of the revelation itself. 
The Sources 
In making the selections 'Allamah Tabataba'i utilized four works: the Nahj al-balaghah, al-Sahifat al-sajjadiyyah, Bihar al-anwar and Mafatih al-jinan. The first two works are discussed in Dr. Nasr's introduction. Bihar al-anwar (Oceans of Lights) is a monumental encyclopedia of hadiths which attempts to collect all Shi'ite traditions in a single work and which classifies them by subject matter. It was compiled in the Safavid period by the famous theologian Muhammad Baqir Majlisi (d. 1110/1698-9 or 1111/1699-1700). The importance the work has possessed since its compilation as the standard reference work for all Shi'ite studies can hardly be overemphasized. One indication of its popularity is that, despite its enormous size, it was published twice in lithographed form in the nineteenth century. The modern edition of the work fills 110 volumes of approximately 400 pages each. 
Majlisi collected his traditions from numerous earlier sources. As examples, we can mention a few of the works from which he derived the hadiths in the present collection, works which have been independently published in modern times. Shaykh al-Saduq, the author of one of the four basic works on Shi'ite hadiths referred to above, compiled dozens of authoritative hadith collections, each of which usually follows a particular theme. His al-Tawhid collects traditions which illustrate the profession of God's Unit. His 'Uyun akhbar al-Rida gathers together everything that has been related about Imam 'Ali al-Rida, the eighth Imam, whose tomb in Mashhad is the holiest site of pilgrimage in Iran. The work contains such things as descriptions of the Imam's mother, explanations of the reason his name was chosen, all the sayings which have been recorded from him, and traditions concerning his death and the miracles which have occurred at his tomb. Shaykh al-Saduq's al-Khisal demonstrates the importance of numbers in the traditions. In twelve long chapters he records all the hadiths which mention the numbers one to twelve. The author of al-Ihtijaj, Abu Mansur Ahmad ibn 'al-Tabarsi (d. 599/1202-3), rejects the views of certain of his contemporaries who had claimed that the Prophet and the Imams never engaged in argumentation. He collects together traditions in which their discussions with opponents have been recorded. 
The fourth work from which 'Allamah Tabataba'i made his selections is Mafatih al-jinan ("Keys to the Gardens of Paradise"), a standard collection of Shi'ite prayers compiled from Bihar al-anwar and other sources by 'Abbas Qummi (d. 1359/1940-1). It includes prayers to be recited daily, prayers for special occasions such as religious holidays and days of mourning, litanies and invocations for different moments in one's life, instructions for making a pilgrimage to the tomb of the Prophet or any one of the Imams and prayers for every other conceivable occasion as well. 
The Translations 
A note needs to be added about the method of translation. Because of the sacred nature of the texts and their fundamental importance as sources for the Shi'ite branch of Islam, I have attempted to translate them in a strictly literal manner so that the least amount of personal interpretation will have been made. There are definite disadvantages to this method, but the necessity for an accurate translation would seem to outweigh them all. After all, the Quran has been translated dozens of times. Others who may feel that the present translation does not do justice to the literary qualities of the text may try their own hand at rendering it into English. 
The necessity for a literal translation is all the greater because a good deal of the material translated here-in particular those parts which derive from the Nahj al-balaghah-has also been translated elsewhere and on the whole has been misrepresented. Before such interpretive translations are made and held to reflect the thought of the Imams, literal translations are of paramount importance. In order to maintain a faithful translation, I have added notes wherever I deviate from a strictly literal translation or wherever there are questionable readings in the original. 
Because no standard translations exist for many technical terms, I have felt it necessary to add the Arabic original in brackets for the benefit of scholars and Arabic speakers. This is especially true in the most difficult and metaphysical section of the book, Part I "On the Unity of God." Although the Arabic terms will prove a distraction to most readers, they represent the only practical way of tying the present texts into the reader's knowledge of the Arabic language. 
Finally I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, who asked me to undertake this work many years ago and has guided me in every stage of it, although of course I remain completely responsible for any inaccuracies which may remain in the translations and notes. Peter Lamborn Wilson and William Shpall also read the manuscript and made valuable suggestions. And without the kindness and encouragement of Wg. Cdr. (rtd.) Husayn and the Muhammadi Trust, the work may never have been completed and published. 
[1] On the subject of Prophetic Hadith in general see the article "Hadith" in the Encyclopedia of Islam (new edition), wherse a good bibliography is also provided (vol. III, pp.23-8) 
[2] Perhaps the most important hadith collection yet to be completed into worthy English is the Mishkat al-masabih, trans. By J. Robson, Lahore 4 vols, 1963-5. See also the translation of Bukhari mentioned in note 1 of the introduction, and Sahih Muslim, trans. By A.K Siddiqi, Lahore, 1972 onward. 
[3] The Encyclopedia of Islam, vol. III, p.24.


If one studies the literature of Islam carefully, one will immediately encounter a vast and varied field of material. First there is the network of laws and regulations which makes up Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) and which takes into consideration and regulates man's every individual and social "movement and rest", activity and situation, at every moment of time, in every place and under all conditions, as well as every particular and general occurrence related to human life. Second there is a vast range of moral and ethical expositions which weighs every sort of moral activity, whether praiseworthy or blamable, and presents as a model for human society that which befits the perfection of man. Finally on the level of Islam's overall view of Reality there is the general "philosophy" of Islam, that is, its sciences relating to cosmology, spiritual anthropology and finally the knowledge of God, presented in the clearest possible expression and most direct manner. 
On a more profound level of study and penetration it will become obvious that the various elements of this tradition, with all their astonishing complexity and variety, are governed by a particular kind of interrelationship; that all of these elements are reducible in the final analysis to one truth, the "Profession of God's Unity" (tawhid), which is the ultimate principle of all the Islamic sciences. "A good word is as a good treeā€”its roots are in heaven, it gives its produce every season by the leave of its Lord" (Quran XIV, 24). 
The noble sayings and writings presented in the present work were selected and translated from the traditions left by the foremost exponents of Islam. They include expositions elucidating the principle of tawhid and making clear the fundamental basis of all Islamic sciences and pursuits. At the same time they contain excellent and subtle allusions to the manner in which the important remaining sciences are ordered and organized around tawhid, how the moral virtues are based upon it, and how finally the practical aspects of Islam are founded upon and derived from these virtues. Finally, 'Ali's "Instructions to Malik al-Ashtar" clarify the general situation of Islamic society in relation to the practical application of Islamic government. 
All the traditions translated in the present work are summarized in the following two sentences: "Islam is the religion of seeing things as they are" and "Islam means to submit to the Truth (al-haqq) and to follow It in one's beliefs and actions." 
Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i 

On the Unity of God

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