Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ashura: A Zaidi Perspective

Imam Rassi Society writes:

Although we are busy with new family responsibilities, we saw fit to write at least something regarding the occasion of the Martyrdom of Imam al-Hussein bin Ali (as) from a Zaydi perspective. As we know, the imam was killed on the plains of Karbala on the 10th of Muharram. This occasion is known as Ashura.

Technically, there is no problem commemorating the martyrdom of Imam al-Hussein (as) and his family and companions. This is consdiered praiseworthy when practice under the umbrella of the Shari'ah.

Among the things that it is praiseworthy to do on Ashura is fast.

--Imam al-Mutawakkil ala Allah, Ahmed bin Suleiman (as) said in his Kitāb Usūl al-Ahkām :
It is narrated on the authority of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, that he used to fast on ‘Ashura.
It is narrated on the authority of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, that he said: (There are no days that has as much reward as the month of Ramadan and ‘Ashura.) There are two reports that mention the recommendation of fasting on ‘Ashura, which is the tenth of al-Muharram. Some of the Imamis discourage fasting because al-Hussein bin Ali (as) was killed on ‘Ashura. That is not reliable (‘itimād) because fasting does not prevent grief. Also, breakfast is closer to the pleasure of fasting. He was killed after the time of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, and it is not permissible to change something after a Shari`ah law has been established. It is narrated on the authority of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, that he fasted on ‘Ashura and encouraged others to fast. It was said to him: “O Messenger of Allah, it is a day that is esteemed by the Jews and Christians.” The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, replied: ((Then, next time, we fast on the ninth day.))
Elsewhere in the book, there are other narrations that state that Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, commanded those who ate on ‘Ashura to make it up.

--Imam Nātiq Bil Haqq, Abu Talib Yahya bin al-Hussein al-Hārūni (as) said in his Kitāb at-Tahrīr :
It is recommended to fast during times where there is no difficulty or detriment to the body. One is to break the fast [i.e. not fast] on the days of the 2 Eids and the Days of Tashrīq. It is recommended to fast during the months of al-Muharram, Rajab, and Sha’ban. It is also praiseworthy to fast on Mondays and Thursdays. It is recommended to fast on ‘Ashura, which is the tenth of al-Muharram. It is also recommended to fast on the day of ‘Arafat for those in other cities. [It is also praiseworthy to fast] on the 13th, 14th, and 15th days of every month.

--Imam al-Qasim bin Ibrahim ar-Rassi (as) said in his Kitab al-Wāfid:
“The fasts of great reward include: Rajab, Sha’ban, the White Days, ‘Ashura, the day of ‘Arafat, Mondays, and Thursdays.”

--Imam al-Hadi ila al-Haqq, Yahya bin al-Hussein (as) says in Kitāb al-Ahkām :
There’s no problem fasting on ‘Ashura. It is a good thing to do so. It is narrated on the authority of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, encouraged fasting on that day as something special. It is recommended to fast during times where there is no difficulty or detriment to the body. This is because Allah, the Exalted, does not desire hardship in acts of worship and desires ease for them. Allah says: {Allah desires ease for you and not difficulty} (Q. 2:185). If one is strong, they can fast this fast.
It is not permitted to fast during the days of al-Fitr and al-Ažha, as well as the Days of Tashrīq. This is because the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, forbade fasting on these days. He also said that eating and drinking are to be done during these days, and one is to break the fast. One is not to fast on these days.
I relate on the authority of my father on the authority of his father who was asked about fasting on ‘Ashura, which day is it, and fasting on ‘Arafat: He replied: “Fasting on that day is a beautiful act and there is a lot of reward in doing so. There’s no harm in refraining from it. It is also a lot of reward in fasting on the day of ‘Arafat. It is expiation for that year. Concerning ‘Ashura, it is on the 10th. There is no disagreement concerning that.

Among the blameworthy things to do is wail and strike oneself out of grief.

--Imam al-Mutawakkil ala Allah, Ahmed bin Suleiman (as) says in his Kitāb Usūl al-Ahkām :
It is narrated on the authority of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny: ((Two evil sounds are cursed in this world and the hereafter: the sound of lamenting from one in mourning who rip their pockets, scratch their faces, and laments the lamentations of Satan; as well as the sound of one who celebrates a blessing with mindless entertainment (lahw) and the flutes of Satan)).
It is narrated on the authority of Zayd bin ‘Ali—his ancestors—‘Ali, upon them be peace: “The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, said: ((The one who shaves, lashes, rips, and calls out of woe and grief, is not one of us)). Zayd bin ‘Ali said: “‘Shaves’ refers to shaving one’s hair. ‘Lashes’ refers to cries of the wailers. ‘Rips’ refers to ripping one’s pockets.
Our comments: The proof of lashing out severely is in the statement of Allah, the Exalted: {But when fear departs, they lash at you with their sharp tongues} (Q. 33:19).
It is narrated on the authority of ‘Ali, upon him be peace, that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, prohibited wailing.
It is narrated on the authority of ‘Abdur-Rahmān bin ‘Awf who said: I took the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, by the hand and we went with to his son, Ibrāhīm, may Allah bless him, who passed away. He buried him and then cried. I then said: “O Messenger of Allah, do you cry after prohibiting it?” He replied: ((I did not prohibit crying. However, I did prohibit two types of evil sounds: the sound of one who celebrates a blessing with mindless entertainment and the flutes of Satan; as well as the sound of lamenting by slapping one’s cheeks (laŧm) and ripping one’s pockets. This [i.e. crying] is a mercy. The one who does not show mercy will not be shown mercy)).

Therefore crying for Imam al-Husswen (as) and his family is permissible, but wailing isn't.

And Allah knows best!


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Muhammad Badr: A Noble Defender of Zaidism

Muhammad al-Badr Hamidaddin was born in 1926 as oldest son of Ahmad bin Yahya, imam of the Zaydis.
Muhammad Badr and his relatives spent almost a decade defending the 1,000 year Zaidi Imamate from a band of republicans in collusion with Egypt’s Gamal Abdu Nasr.
Abdu Nasr had looked to a regime change in Yemen since 1957 and finally put his desires into practice in January 1962 by giving the “Free Yemen Movement” office space, financial support, and radio air time.
On 19 September 1962 Imam Ahmad died, Muhammad al-Badr was proclaimed Imam, but a week later rebels shelled his residence in Sana'a and set up a republic. Abdullah as-Sallal, whom al-Badr had appointed commander of the royal guard, led the coup, and declared himself president of the Yemen Arab Republic.
Badr is quoted as saying: "Now I'm getting my reward for befriending Nasser. We were brothers, but when I refused to become his stooge, he used Sallal against me.”
Al-Badr had, like most young Arab leaders of his generation, been a great admirer of Abdu Nasr and had even arranged during his father's absence for Egyptian experts to come and help modernize the Yemen. His father had incorporated Yemen into the United Arab Republic of Egypt and Syria, which then became the United Arab States. It is thus ironic that the coup was largely instigated and planned by Egyptians and that without a massive Egyptian presence in the Yemen for five years afterwards, the “Yemen Arab Republic” would never have survived.
Although the republicans had announced to the world that al-Badr had died beneath the rubble of his home, he had in fact managed to escape unhurt and set out to the north. As he proceeded on his journey, the loyal Zaydi tribes rallied round him pledging him their allegiance as Amir al-Mumineen ("Prince of the Faithful"), as loyalty to an imam from the Ahl al-Bayt (the descendants of the Prophet) is an important part of the Zaydi belief system. . Badr was joined by his childhood pen pal, American Zaidi convert Bruce Conde, who set up the post office and would later rise to the rank of general in the Royalist forces.[36]
Al Badr lived alongside his supporters, sharing with them every deprivation and hardship. Al-Badr was a man of great courtesy, kindness and personal charm. He loved dearly the Yemeni people and was essentially a man of peace. He said he would never allow a terrible civil war to rage once again in his country.
The hill tribes were Zaidi while the Yemenis of the coast and the south were Sunni, as were most Egyptians. Sallal was a mountain Shia but he was fighting alongside the lowland Sunnis and Egyptians in order to retain his Presidency.
Mohamed was a diplomat; his policy was to keep officers as prisoners for exchange, and to allow soldiers to go in return for their arms. He promised amnesty to all non-royalists once the Egyptians were withdrawn. He also promised a new form of government: "a constitutionally democratic system" ruled by a "national assembly elected by the people of Yemen" if his side was victorious.
In February, 1967, Nasser vowed to "stay in Yemen 20 years if necessary", while Prince Hussein bin Ahmed said "We are prepared to fight for 50 years to keep Nasser out, just as we did the Ottoman Turks."
As well as aerial bombardent, Egypt resorted to gas attacks. The gas attacks stopped for three weeks after the Six-Day War of June, which was lost because Egypt had sent too many troops to Yemen, but resumed on July, against all parts of royalist Yemen.[82] Casualty estimates vary, and an assumption, considered conservative, is that the mustard and phosgene-filled aerial bombs caused approximately 1,500 fatalities and 1,500 injuries.
In later peace negotiations involving Egypt, Badr said: "It is essential that the conflict which has devastated our beloved country be brought to an end by peaceful negotiations between the Yemeni people themselves."[63] In another reconciliation attempt, Badr promised to send his troops to fight with Egypt against Israel, should Nasser live up to a truce brokered by the Saudis.[85]However, Sallal kept frustrating the peace efforts. One of Sallal’s deputies resigned, saying "It is obvious that Sallal and his cronies are more interested in war than peace".
In 1970, despite the fact that territorially most of the Yemen remained under the control of al-Badr and the Hamid al-Din family, Saudi Arabia, which had been the principal opponent of the Sana'a regime, recognized the Yemen Arab Republic and other nations like the United Kingdom swiftly followed suit.
Stunned by Saudi Arabia's recognition of the republican regime which had been negotiated without any consultation with him whatsoever, al-Badr went to England, where he lived quietly in a modest house in Kent, only going abroad to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. He died in 1996 in London.
Historians call the Yemeni Civil War “Egypt’s Vietnam” because of its disastrous consequences, which include the loss of most of Palestine in the 6 day war, the senseless loss of life, the negative impact on Egypt’s economy, and the postponement of Yemen’s development as a modern nation.
For Zaidis, the War signaled the end of the 1,000 year Zaidi Imamate of Yemen. Today’s Zaidis propose that Muhammad Badr’s dream of a "a constitutionally democratic system" ruled by a "national assembly elected by the people of Yemen" will one day be realized, instead of the corrupt presidency currently led by Abdullah Saleh, which has continued to wage war on the Zaidi tribes of North Yemen, and encourages the Saud-backed Wahhabists to attack the Zaidis in their own region.
Sources: Wikipedia pages on Muhammad Badr and North Yemen Civil War.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Imam Rassi’s Mu’tazili/Zaydi Theories described in English

Thanks to one of our readers, it has come to our attention that an academic named Abrahamov has made a detailed study (originally in Hebrew, now also in English) of Imam Rassi’s Mu’tazili study of the Holy Qur’an, and his position on the subject of Imamate, which is the Zaydi position.
These are available online, at the following links, and provide an excellent insight into Imam Rassi’s thinking, as well as the views of his contemporary opponents:
1. Regarding the Interpretation of the Qur’an in the Theology of al Qasim bin Ibrahim (an excellent summary of Mu’tazili Qur’anic interpretation)
2. Regarding Al Kasim bin Ibrahim’s Theory of the Imamate, which includes his theories on:
(a) the obligation to appoint an Imam
(b) the signs attesting to the legitimate Imam
(c) A refutation of the Rafidite (i.e. 12 Imamer) doctrines concerning the Imamate
When we refer to “Imam Rassi” we mean Imam al-Qāsim bin Ibrāhīm bin Isma„īl bin Ibrāhīm bin al-Hasan al-Muthanna bin al-Hasan bin Fātima bint Muhammad, the Chosen Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny. Al Qasim bin Ibrahim was born in 169/785 and was based in a place called Rass, near Medina. Translations of some of his other works are available at the imam rassi society scribd page and the zaydiyyah.wordpress blog.

Zaydism and Taqiyah

What is “Taqiyah”?
Taqiyah is defined as “fear, caution, dissimulation of one’s religion (under duress or in the threat of damage)” (Hans Wehr dictionary). The word is often used by 12 Imamer Shi-ites to refer to the practice of hiding the fact that they are 12er in order to be safe, or to lead a normal way of life, in a non 12er environment.
The reasons 12er Shi-ites find it necessary to do this include:
1. They are usually in the minority (with the exception of 12ers living in Iran and some parts of Iraq), and therefore tend to be the targets of bullying and discrimination. With the spread of Saudi Wahhabism, today’s Sunnis often label the 12ers as unbelievers, and anti-12er violent attacks seem to be on the rise.
2. The 12er version of Islam, with its far-fetched claims, and provocative version of history, has whipped up the Sunnis into an anti-Shi-ite frenzy.

Taqiyah for new Zaidis?
The question facing Zaidis living in non-Zaidi societies is, do we also need to hide the fact that we are Zaidi Shi-ites from Sunnis, and/or from 12er Shi-ites?

Personally, I think the answer to this question is no, for the following reasons:
1. The Zaidi version of Islam is not, and never has been, an extreme position, and we need to calmly explain this to Sunnis and 12ers rather than hide from them.
2. Zaidis have never officially allied themselves with either group and can not therefore be accused of really being allied to one side or the other.
3. Zaidis are not linked by the Western media to any suicide bombings or other terrorist acts, so they are unlikely to receive a hostile reception in non Muslim environments.

It is, of course, a matter for personal judgement, how/when/where/whether to make one’s Zaidism public.

It could be argued that a Sunni or 12er who has become a Zaidi stands to lose their spouse, and/or the goodwill of their parents, children, employers, work colleagues, and Muslim friends, and that taqiyah should be employed to avoid these types of relationship breakdowns.
I would disagree with that view because these are not life and death matters, and the precedents for hiding your religious beliefs (in Muslim literature) seem to be linked with the threat of immediate execution, not relationship breakdowns or loss of employment.
I decided to avoid confrontation by relocating before switching to Zaidism. Moving to a place where nobody knew me (and there are hardly any Muslims) made the change-over very easy and non confrontational.
It’s ridiculous that non Muslims accept you as a Zaidi more easily than Sunnis and 12 Imamers. It just goes to show how intolerant Muslims have become of each other in recent decades. May Allah guide us all to the Straight Path.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Ask a Zaidi: December Edition

Welcome to Ask a Zaidi, December edition. We encourage you to post your questions about Zaidism here, so that we may all benefit from the answers provided.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Zaydis Sceptical about “AlQaeda” Bombings.

Recently, when 20 or more Zaidis were killed by a suicide bomber while celebrating a Shi-ite religious procession, the official spokesman of the Al Houthi Zaidis, Muhammad Abdussalaam, was quick to blame the U.S. and Israel, rather than blaming “Al Qaeda”. He told Al Sahwa. Net on 24/11/2010:
“Probe evidence indicates that U.S./Israeli intelligence activities were behind al-Jawf incident. The aim of the incident was to provoke sectarian tensions and end the celebrations of religious occasions.”
To read full article click on this link:
Update: Nov.30th:
Funeral of Zaidi Cleric/Spiritual Leader Comes Under Attack
It is with sadness that we read of the passing of Sayyed Badruddin al Houthi, rahimuhullah, a Zaidi spiritual leader, aged 86, last Thursday. Our condolences to al Houthi family members, including the son of the spiritual leader, AbdelMalik, (regional leader of the Zaidis), who led the prayer at his father’s funeral last Sunday.
Media Report:
“Despite tight security, the suicide bomber managed to drive into a convoy of about 30 cars of Maarib tribes that attended the funeral of Badruddin Al-Houthi who died on Thursday. Badruddin Al-Houthi is the father of Abdul Malek Al-Houthi, a field commander of the rebel group, and a prominent Zaidi figure. Abdulsalam, a spokesman, accused the United States and Israel of being behind "what is called the Al-Qaeda network." (Saeed al Batati’s report at Saudi Telegraph.)
The Zaidis know the Wahhabi/Salafis very well, and have fought against them (ideologically, politically and militarily) for years, but they are not blaming them (or “alQaeda”) for these attacks. They say US/Israel intelligence is searching for excuses to turn Yemen into another Iraq or Afghanistan. If there isn’t a good enough excuse, they will try to create one, even if it means bombing a few funerals and processions and blaming Alqaeda for it, hoping to start a sectarian conflict. Their spies infiltrate salafist/wahhabi groups and persuade the stupid ones amongst them to bomb civilians. Much as the Zaidis dislike the salafists /wahhabis, they insist AlQaeda does not exist; and its website where it supposedly “claims responsibility” for attacks could be manipulated by intelligence officers.
We wish Yemen’s Zaidis well in trying to stay alive and sane amongst all this U.S./Israeli inspired madness.

The claim that Al Qaeda “suicide bombers” and “suspicious packages” are manipulated by US and/or Israeli intelligence organizations is not new. F. William Engdahl, in his article “The Yemen Hidden Agenda, Behind the AlQaeda Scenarios”, speculates about why the U.S./Israel might be behind the emergence of “AlQaeda” in Yemen and “Pirates” off the Yemeni coast:
“The Pentagon and US intelligence have a hidden agenda in Yemen….
For some months the world has seen a steady escalation of US military involvement in Yemen, a dismally poor land adjacent to Saudi Arabia on its north, the Red Sea on its west, the Gulf of Aden on its south, opening to the Arabian Sea, overlooking another desolate land that has been in the headlines of late, Somalia. The evidence suggests that the Pentagon and US intelligence are moving to militarize a strategic chokepoint for the world’s oil flows, Bab el-Mandab, and using the Somalia piracy incident, together with claims of a new Al Qaeda threat arising from Yemen, to militarize one of the world’s most important oil transport routes. In addition, undeveloped petroleum reserves in the territory between Yemen and Saudi Arabia are reportedly among the world’s largest…….
The curious emergence of a tiny but well-publicized al Qaeda in southern Yemen amid what observers call a broad-based popular-based Southern Movement front that eschews the radical global agenda of al Qaeda, serves to give the Pentagon a kind of casus belli to escalate US military operations in the strategic region….
As if on cue, at the same time CNN headlines broadcast new terror threats from Yemen, the long-running Somalia pirate attacks on commercial shipping in the same Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea across from southern Yemen escalated dramatically after having been reduced by multinational ship patrols….
The open question is, who is providing the Somali "pirates" with arms and logistics sufficient to elude international patrols from numerous nations?”
To read the full article, click on the link below:

Zaydi Mosques

First constructed in the ninth century, the Mosque of al-Hadi in Sa'da is one of the oldest mosques in Yemen. It is named after Al-Hadi Yahya bin al-Hussain, the founder of the Zaidi dynasty, whose tomb adjoins the mosque. The tombs of eleven of his successors are also found at this mosque.
A typical example of the early mosques in Yemen, this hypostyle mosque is square in plan with a central courtyard. The original ninth-century structure included only the section of the mosque south of the current court. This area has two mihrabs on its qibla wall. It is three bays deep and fifteen bays wide, with a flat roof carried on twenty-eight pillars. It measures approximately eight by forty-five meters.
In the middle of the thirteenth century, a large u-shaped prayer hall was added to the north of the old mosque, creating the mosque that exists today and its rectangular courtyard. This section has a large mihrab that is on axis with the larger of the old mihrabs. An impressive dome, visible from anywhere in the city crowns the mihrab. There is a single minaret inside the court.
To the south of the old sanctuary is a long irregularly shaped courtyard, lined by the domed tombs of the imams of various height and size. Some have mihrabs on their qibla walls. The tomb of Imam al-Hadi was originally open on all sides; it is now surrounded by three other tombs. The profusion of ornamentation and inscription on these tombs is not seen in the prayer hall where decorative treatment is focused on the mihrab.
The new section of the mosque has two entrances with stairs to the east while the old section has a side entrance to the west and doors along the qibla wall that lead into the new section. The courtyard with tombs is entered through entry halls to the east and west.
Sa'da, and the Mosque of al-Hadi in particular, is a well-known center for Islamic theology and, especially, Zaidi teaching. The mosque is the home to priceless manuscripts and books on Islam.

Located 242 km north of the capital, Sana'a, Sa'ada City rises 2261 meters above sea level, and was established on a plain known as Ka'a Al Sahn. First built as a trading point, Sa'ada spread out till it became a city. It came to the fore thanks to the attention it received from the Kings of Himiar, mainly because of its fertile soil and the crude iron that was discovered in its lands.

After the advent of Islam in Yemen, the city retained its great significance and flourished as a city of science, religion, culture, commerce and agriculture. Eventually, it became known as a city of Islamic monuments in Yemen as it contained several religious, civil and military buildings and movable rarities.

When Imam Hadi arrived in 897 A.D. to settle down in the city, he built a mosque and a house for himself outside the vicinity of the old city with an idea of making it the first stage of the construction of a new city that would develop and expand with time.

Today, the mosque is located at the southern east part of the city. It consists of an open nave in the middle surrounded by four porticos, the deepest of which is that of the kiblah. The mosque is accessible through thirteen doors and has two minarets, the bigger of which is placed in the nave. This minaret is considered the tallest minaret in Yemen as its 52 meters high. The second minaret is smaller and is located at the southern courtyard.

The Al Hadi Mosque has great religious status, in addition to its fabulous religious and artistic Islamic architecture. It contains several architectural elements that give the viewer an impression of the disparity of the artistic and architectural style that were carried out on the mosque in different eras.

The Al Hadi Mosque is considered the third mosque in Yemen to have a minaret -- the first is the Farwa bin Maseek Mosque and the second is the Grand Mosque in Sana'a. It is also the oldest mosque to have annexes for the devotees and expatriates, in addition to the fact that it is the only mosque with a two-level grade mihrab that tapers off as the building rises.

The mosque is also famed for its wooden pulpit which is considered the oldest pulpit with a recorded date of 922 A.D., in addition to eight other magnificent structures. These structures contain various types of Arab and Islamic decorations (arabesque).

Another extraordinary feature of the mosque is its walls, which have miscellaneous plans, as well as geometric and written decorations made out of gypsum. All the building materials used in the construction, were taken by architects from the area surrounding the mosque.

To see a picture of the minaret of the ancient Kawkaban mosque, click on this link:
And here are some pictures of the Ali bin Talib mosque in Sana'a, Yemen:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Zaydism and Hajj

Imam Rassi Society writes:

This month is Dhul-Hijjah. We just wanted to remind you and ourselves of some of the great virtues of this month.

It is recommended for one to fast on the Day of Arafat which is the 9th of Dhul-Hijjah. Imam al-Hadi (as) said in his Kitab al-Ahkam regarding fasting on the Day of Arafat: "Many virtues have been related regarding fasting on the Day of Arafat. It is an expiation of sins for the year." What our imam is referring to is the hadith of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny: ((It is expiation for the past and remaining years)).

One can also recite the dua of Arafat by Imam as-Sajjad (as). You can find an English translation of it here:

Also for this month our imams recommend that we fast on the Day of Ghadir (the 18th of Dhul-Hijjah). Imam Murshid Billah (as) narrated on the authority of Abu Hurayra: "The one who fasts on the 18th of Dhul-Hijjah shall have written for him/her a fast of 60 months." Contemporary scholar, Sayyid Hamud bin Abbas al-Mu'ayyidi (ra) narrated in his Nur al-Ansa: "It is recommended to fast on the Day of Ghadir Khumm, which is the 18th of Dhul-Hijjah. The one fasting should pray two units. One should recite the Fatiha in both and recite Sura Ikhlas 20 times, Sura al-Qadar 10 times, and Ayat al-Kursi 10 times. It is narrated that the Prophet , peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, did so."

If anyone has questions relating specifically to Hajj, please post them below.
Eid Mubaarik to all of our readers!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Challenging the Sunnification of Yemeni Zaidism

In a recent Article, Zaidism expert N. Haider pointed out that Yemeni Zaidism has come under the influence of Sunnism over the past 700 years. Haider writes:

Zaydism: A Theological and political Survey.
By N. Haider, July 2010.
“Zaydism, one of the three major branches of Shi‘ism, emerged in the early 2nd/8th century in the southern Iraqi city of Kūfa around the claims of the ‘Alid rebel, Zayd b. ‘Ali (d. 122/740). The sect initially consisted of a range of Shi‘i? groups that shared a common political agenda but differed in their opinions of the first two caliphs. The next three centuries witnessed the development of a cohesive Zaydi theology constructed primarily on the Mu‘tazili belief in a just and rational God. Specifically, the Zaydis affirmed free will and a theory of the imāmate that required armed uprising against tyrants under the leadership of a learned descendant of ‘Ali and Fātima. Zaydi Imāms established a number of long-standing political states, the most important of which was centered in northern Yemen around the city of Sa’ada. Intellectually, Yemeni Zaydism was challenged by a gradual Sunnification that began in the 9th/15th century”.

Re-emergence of Zaidi Mu’tazilism:

It is my humble opinion that “Traditional Yemeni Zaidism”, is overly influenced by Sunnism.
In my opinion, there needs to be a re-emergence of Zaidi Mu’tazilism, which is free of Sunni influences and based on the Qur’an, reason, and the historical examples set by Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and his descendants. Such a school of thought would have widespread appeal to Western Muslims, Muslim Youth, and Muslim intellectuals, and could spark a Renaissance in Islamic intellectual scholarship. I believe it is the Sunni character of Yemeni Zaidism that is holding it back and lessening its appeal.

The type of Zaidi Mu’tazilism I am envisaging would limit itself to:
(1) the study of the Qur’an,
(2) the tenets written by the learned mu’tazili (rationalist) theologians, who relied upon the Qur’an and reason in their works,
(3) the historically proven political activism of the Prophet Muhammad and the early ahlul bait Imams, all of whom fought for justice and fought against tyranny; this was their “political agenda” as mentioned above
(4) the encouragement of spiritualism, as modeled by the early ahlul bait Imams, especially Zain ul Abideen.

The Qur’an has to be the basis of any Islamic school. The Mu’tazili scholars used reason, and their vast knowledge of the multi-layered Arabic language, to interpret the message of the Qur’an for their lesser educated contemporaries. These were the learned, educated Muslims of their time, and they were either from ahlul bait or consulted with ahlul bait.
Meanwhile, the less educated Muslims busied themselves with ahadith, mostly about trivial subjects, which were simpler to understand. Many of these hadith were fabricated or irrelevant. These lesser educated Muslims became known initially as “ahlul hadith” and later as “Sunnis”, because they were obsessed by the “Sunna”. “Sunna” is a term originally used by Sunnis, but later embraced by Traditional Yemeni Zaidism as it fell under the Sunni influence.

There is unanimous agreement that Imam Zaid and his grandfather Imam al Husayn rose up against the ruling Umayyad authorities of his time because of their injustice, their suppression of Islam, and their corruption. Knowing this, we are able to deduce what the aims of the ahlul bait were, (i.e. to install justice and goodness via political activism). By taking Imam Zaid and Imam al Husayn as our inspiration, we can be true Zaidis, i.e. Islamic activists, rather than Muslims who passively accept injustice and corruption. And by taking the example of Imam Zainul Abideen, we can appreciate the spirituality of Islam.

Under the influence of Sunnis, I believe that Traditional Yemeni Zaidis have become distracted by the intense study of ahadith about trivial matters, and arguments with Sunnis about the leadership controversy after the death of the Prophet. The study of ahadith and the obsession with mimicking minute details of the Prophet’s lifestyle (sunna), diverts and distracts our attention away from the real issues: the eradication of poverty, the making of peace in the world, the education of the masses, and so on. It was through political activism that the ahlul bait attempted to achieve these goals. Judging by their historically proven actions, these goals were the things the ahlul bait would have strived for, not the trivial matters which one finds discussed in ahadith books.

I believe there needs to be a re-emergence of Zaidi Mu’tazilism, which is focused on Qur’an, Reason, Political struggle and Spirituality, as modelled by the early ahlul bait. I hope that through this blog I will meet others who share my interest in uncovering the Zaidi Mu’tazilism that flourished before the Sunnification of Yemeni Zaidism took place.

In Zaidi Mu’tazilism, a recontextualization of Revelation, using Reason, becomes possible. This holds out hope for those who believe that traditional Islam is out of context with today’s societies worldwide.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Zaydism and Sunna

What is “Sunna”?
Sunna is defined as “habitual practice, customary procedure or action” and “Sunna annabee” is defined as “The Prophet’s sayings and doings, later established as legally binding precedents (in addition to the Law established by the Qur’an)”. (definition from Wehr Cowan dictionary).
Almost as soon as the prophet passed away, disagreements arose between the prophet’s household (ahlul bait) and his companions/in-laws about things he had said, e.g. whether or not his family would inherit from him; Fatimah claiming she was entitled to an inheritance and Abu Bakr claiming the Prophet had said otherwise.
Given that there were disagreements between ahlul bait and companions (sahaaba) about what the Prophet said and did, it follows that there are different versions of what “Sunna anNabee” is. So when a Zaidi or 12 Imamer talks about “The Qur’an and the Sunna” this does not mean the same thing as when a Sunni or Salafi talks about “The Qur’an and Sunna”.
Moreover, there were disagreements later on between the “ahlul hadith” (people who loved to quote hadith) and the “mutakallimoon” (Muslim theologians) about what the Prophet had said and done. The mutakallimoon claimed that traditions (hadith) had been fabricated by the following groups to support their positions: Murji-ites, Qadarites, Jabrites, Rafidites, ascetics, fuqahaa, and anthropomorphists. They wrote a letter to Ibn Qutayba expressing their concern that “The traditionists (ahlul hadith) relate follies which cause people to disparage Islam, the unbelievers to laugh at the faith, those who wish to embrace Islam to abstain from it, and which increase the doubts of the skeptics”.
Given the historical context of the ahadith, the term “Sunna” can not be used to mean anything that is written in a hadith book. Zaidi Imams have attempted to preserve the true “sunna”, as described by the ahlul bait, for future generations.

Imam Rassi Society says:
“The Zaidi Imams consider the normative practice of the ahlul bait to be the sunna. For example, even though there are hadiths circulating which say one should say the word “Ameen” during prayer, this was not the opinion of the ahlul bait, and according to them it is an innovation. The preserved practice of the Imams of ahlul bait is considered the most authentic source of the sunna, even in the presence of contradictory ahadith.
The Zaidi attitude is similar to the attitude of Imam Malik, who considered the normative practice of the people of Medina to be the Sunna, even in the presence of contradictory ahadith. For example, he thought that the Sunna was to pray with one’s arms by one’s sides, even though there were ahadith quoted in his “Al Muwatta” saying to place the right hand over the left. His opinion was based on his observations of the people of Medinah.
In other words, the Sunnah is not something that can be written down. It is acted out and lived. Hadith, on the other hand, is what was recorded.”

What is the Zaidi version of “Sunna”?
Zaidis are fortunate to have in their possession the Musnad Zaid, the Amali of Abu Talib, the Amali of Imam Murshid billah, and Kitab ul ahkam of Imam al Hadi, which are sources of the “Sunna annabee” as transmitted by the Prophet’s great great grandson Zaid and other descendants.
Being passed from father to son, these are a more accurate and authentic source than that of the Prophet’s companions and their descendants.

Note: The works of Imam Rassi, now translated to English at the scribd website: (as well as at refer frequently to non- Ahlul bait (sunni) hadith transmitters as well as the ahlul bait Imams.
In this regard, Imam Rassi Society stresses that this does not mean they are considered to be authentic. He adds: “We refer to Sunni ahadith for the sake of our Sunni readers (they are, after all, in the majority). They do not, however, form the basis of Zaidi jurisprudence.”
In other words, this is done to be diplomatic to the Sunnis, not because Zaidis are in need of non-Zaidi ahadith.

Does the Qur’an tell us to Practise the “Sunna”?
There isn’t a verse that specifically mentions following the prophet’s “Sunna”.
The following verses speak in general of the Prophet’s role:
“Whatever the Messenger brought to you, take hold of it, and whatever he forbids you, abstain from it” (59:7)
“And We have sent to you the message, that you may clarify what is sent to them” (16:44)
These verses mean that it was the Prophet’s role to clarify the message of the Qur’an, and that it was his right to forbid things which are not mentioned in the Qur’an.
However, they do not say that Muslims should copy every aspect of the Prophet’s lifestyle for generations to come, which is what Sunnism encourages. As its name suggests, Sunnism places a huge importance on “Sunna”, with some Sunnis placing it on a level equal with the Qur’an.

Do Zaidis Place as much Importance on “Sunna” as Sunnis do?

In Imam Rassi Society’s view, Zaidis and Sunnis are in agreement as to the importance of the Sunnah. They disagree on some points about what the Sunna actually was, and also share some common ground. He says:
“The Sunnis did not and do not have a monopoly on what the Sunna is. Each group recorded the various statements and actions of the Prophet…inmost cases there is similarity but occasionally there are differences.”

Imam Rassi Society agrees with the Sunni view that, based on the above Qur’anic verses, Muslims should strive to imitate the Prophet in all aspects. He says:
“If the Prophet’s role was to elucidate the Qur’an, then those matters mentioned in the Qur’an (which range from worship to everyday dealings to character development) must be referred back to the normative practice of the Prophet (s.a.w.). Even in those matters which we may feel irrelevant to our lives, our love for the Prophet should encourage us to strive towards mimicking his life in all aspects.”

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Spirituality in Zaidism

This post has been moved to

Ask a Zaidi: November edition

Welcome to the November edition of "Ask a Zaidi". Please check previous "Ask a Zaidi" sections to check that your question hasn't already been answered.

For questions and answers relating to Ismailism, please refer to where there is information about Ismailism and an "Ask an Ismaili" section.

For questions and answers relating to Pro- ahlul bait Sunnism, please refer to where there is information about "pro ahlul bait sunnism" and an "Ask Pro ahlul bait" section.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010

Legitimacy of Violence: A Zaidi Perspective

Many people are turning away from religion because they perceive that it is to blame for much of the violence in the world. They see that Jews, Muslims and Christians are fighting and killing each other, and think that their religions legitimize that violence. As “World Peace” has become the dream and goal of many thinking individuals, monotheistic religions are seen as part of the problem, while peacemakers like the Dalai Lama are getting all the positive publicity.
While it is true that most wars are started for political reasons, with religion often used by governments to get legitimacy for what they wanted to do anyway, it must also be admitted that Islam is a religion which legitimizes violence in some forms. However, it is my belief that Islam does not have to continue to be associated with violence in the modern world. Islam needs a rethink and an image-change.
For me, “Islam” is what we find in the Qur’an, and its interpretation by the mujtahids of our day, who take into account the circumstances of today, rather than ignoring the fact that the world has changed since its revelation.

Does the Qur’an legitimize certain forms of violence?
The Qur’an, taken literally, legitimizes violent punishments for certain crimes/ wrongdoings, namely:
1. Hand amputation for thieves
2. Whipping for adulterers
3. Capital punishment for murderers
4. Hitting wives who are guilty of lewdness.
The Qur’an also legitimizes fighting in self defence, when people are driven out of their homes by force, and/or overrun by tyrants. The type of fighting referred to is presumably hand to hand combat between males on a battle field away from civilians, not aerial bombardment, nuclear weaponry, hidden explosives, landmines, and guided missiles, which give their victims (who are often civilians) no chance to defend themselves, and are therefore (in my opinion) unacceptable.
As these weapons had not been invented at the time the Qur’an was revealed, it is incorrect to say that Islam legitimizes their use in any circumstances. We now rely upon ijtihad to ascertain whether such weapons can be used by Muslims, in retaliation for the suffering caused by non- Muslims against them. I would hope that Muslim mujtahids are not going to legitimize these cruel weapons in any circumstances.

Does the Sunna legitimize certain forms of violence?
Other violent punishments carried out in the name of Islam, including the stoning of adulterers and capital punishment for apostates, are not backed up by Qur’anic verses, and therefore open to debate. They will not be considered part of “Islam” for the purpose of this article. Even if they were carried out during the Prophet’s lifetime (making them “sunna”), I do not believe that “sunna” equates to “Islam.” I acknowledge that most Zaidis would disagree with me on this point.

I think that, in the past, people of various religious backgrounds thought violence was a legitimate way to sort out problems because their states were carrying out violent acts in the name of justice. As long as people are taught to think that violence is a legitimate way to solve problems, and achieve justice, they will continue to use violence in their personal lives. The non violent solutions need to start at the top and they will filter down. With today’s science and technology, there are ways to punish people that do not incur violence, such as prison terms, fines, removal of privileges, hard labour, re-education and deportation. The need for state imposed violence is no longer there.

Can the Qur’an be interpreted in a non-violent way?

The Qur’an tells us that some verses can be interpreted figuratively and does not specify which ones, thereby giving a green light to liberal interpretations of any verse.
e.g. The verse saying “cut off the hand of the thief” could be interpreted to mean “disable the hand of the thief” (e.g. by imprisonment ), the verse saying “whip the adulterer” could be interpreted to mean “humiliate the adulterer” (e.g. by publicizing his/her wrong-doing and banning him/her from future employment and public posts), and the verse saying “hit” the lewd wife could be interpreted as “make her aware of her unacceptable behaviour”. When the Qur’an says “an eye for an eye” etc, the main point here is, Muslims should not use more violence than what was used against them if they are acting in self defence or punishing a murderer, and the other point here is that violence should not go unpunished. “A life for a life” could therefore be interpreted either as “a life sentence for a life” or “non- violent capital punishment for a murderer” (e.g. lethal injection).
Instead of re-interpreting the texts and coming up with a version of “Islamic Law” that is appropriate in this century, some Muslim leaders have adopted Western legal systems, leaving the old “Sharia” untouched. It sits there, looking relatively inhumane, frightening off potential converts and alienating most of the Muslim youth.
These issues were recently discussed at a conference in the UK entitled “Legitimate and Illegitimate Violence in Islamic Thought”, organized by non- Muslim academics, and attended by one of our contributors. It is a topic that inspired a lot of academic discussion, so I thought I’d raise it here and see what sort of response it gets among our readers. Can mu’tazilism re-emerge and reshape Islam? Can Zaidi mujtahids play a part in making Islam more acceptable to non Muslims and Muslim youth? Can Muslims lead the way to a more peaceful world?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ask a Zaidi: October Edition

Here is where readers can post their questions about Zaidism and Zaidis can attempt to answer them. Anyone is free to respond to the questions!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sunni Identity and Mu'tazili Identity: A Zaydi Perspective

In a recent article I defined a Zaydi as “a progressive, moderate, rational muslim”. I declined to add “who follows Imam Zaid and other Zaidi Imams” because many Zaidis today seem to have moved away from following an Imam, and seem to have faith in a (properly administered) democratic political system with Zaydi Imams providing some kind of religious leadership. It is hard to find a Zaidi today who wants to entrust the leadership of his/her country to a single individual, even a Hashemite individual. It is also hard to find a Zaidi today who thinks Zaidis are locked into the judgements made by Imams in medieval Medina and Yemen. Since Zaidism is open to ijtihad, the opinions of Zaidi Imams centuries ago are not binding on contemporary Zaidis, rather they are a source of inspiration. To see my justification for my definition of Zaidism, refer to the earlier post, “The Question of Zaydi Identity”.
For the purpose of this blog, I think it would be useful to now define what we mean when we say “Sunni” and “Mu’tazili”as well, as these terms seem to mean different things to different readers. A 12 Imamer is easy enough to identify, but not so a sunni or mu’tazili. Part of the problem here is that, in the past, some Sunnis were mu’tazilis, while there are sunnis who consider mu’tazilis as unbelievers, and mu’tazilis who are opposed to sunni theology. To further complicate the definitions, there are sunnis who are “pro ahlul bait” and sunnis who are “anti-ahlul bait”. The same goes for mu’tazilis.

Here is the Wikipedia definition of a sunni:
“Sunni is a broad term derived from Sunna, which is an Arabic word that means "habit" or "usual practice". TheMuslim usage of this term refers to the sayings and living habits of Muhammad. In its full form, this branch of Islam is referred to as "Ahlus-Sunnah Wa Al-Jama'ah" (literally, "People of the Sunnah and the congregation"). Anyone claiming to follow the Sunnah and can show that they have no action or belief against the Prophetic Sunnah can consider him or herself to be a Sunni Muslim.
Sunni theological traditions:
1.Athari , or "textualism" is derived from the Arabic word athar, meaning, literally "remnant" and also referring to "narrations".
2.Ash'ari, founded by Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari (873–935). This theology was embraced by Muslim scholars such as al Ghazali.
3.Maturidiyyah, founded by Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (d. 944). Maturidiyyah was a minority tradition until it was accepted by the Turkish tribes of Central Asia]”

Imam Rassi Society has quoted two other definitions of Sunnis in an earlier post, i.e :
“The adalat (complete reliability)of the sahaba (companions) is the hallmark of the sunnis.” And “The belief in the consensus of the sahaba” is a hallmark of the sunnis.
He adds: The criteria of determining who is a Sunni and who isn't has changed so many times that it is difficult to say who is and who isn't."
Let’s compare Sunnis with the definition of Zaidis I came up with:
Are sunnis progressive? I think not, because they have closed the door on ijtihad, and they accept the status quo, even if it be a tyrannical ruler. Are sunnis moderate? I think not, because when compared with the full range of views including 12 Imamer, Zaidi and Sunni, their views are at the extreme, with the Zaidi views being the medium, and the 12er views being at the other extreme. Are sunnis rational? I think their rejection of mu’tazilism is a rejection of rationalism, and their hypothesis that the Prophet’s descendants do not have a special role, and the sahaba do, is irrational.

Sunnis can be identified as Muslims who are not progressive, not moderate, and not rational. (sorry Sunnis, but you are welcome to disagree in the comments section).

What about mu-tazilis?

As I have pointed out earlier in this blog, the term “mu’tazili” was given to the “People of Divine Justice” by their opponents, the upholders of Qadar (pre-determinism). The term is used in sunni theological books when they are referring to a group of scholars they disagree with. It is not a name that particular Muslims adopted for themselves, and not a name that Zaidis adopted for themselves, therefore Zaidis don't refer to themselves as Mu'tazili as such.
The views which have come to be known as “mu’tazilism” do not include views on the issue of Imamate. However, they include a rational perspective on theological issues, which Zaidis uphold.
Can sunnis be mu’tazili?
As Imam Rassi Society points out, it was once acceptable for a “sunni” to hold mu’tazili views, but it is no longer acceptable (from the sunnis’ point of view).
Imam Rassi Society says:
“The mutazilites were considered Sunnis at some point before being considered heterodoxical.”
Pro Ahlul Bait agrees with this view. He says:
“ Mutazilla cannot be Sunni because a lot of their opinions are not substantiated by ahadith….What caused the Ashari to be part of the Ahlus Sunnah was because Abu Hasan al Ashari backed his opinions through ahadith.”
An examination of “fiqhul akbar” (compiled by students of Abu Hanifa) would suggest that the Mu’tazili views had already been rejected by the Hanifi “ahlus sunna” shortly after the death of Abu Hanifah, or during his lifetime. Since that time, any sunnis who adopt Mu’tazili views are considered wrong (fasiq) by sunni leaders and scholars. Sunnis who adopt mu’tazili views are also considered wrong by Shi-ites, because they have not accepted the Imamate of the Ahlul bait along with mu’tazilism. These individuals can not be labelled as Sunnis or Shi-ites. Whatever they are, they do not have their own label yet. However, some of them, like Pro ahlul bait (and his pro ahlul bait sheikhs?), would like to reclaim the title of “sunni” for themselves, and redefine the genuine sunnis as “salafis”. Pro ahlul bait writes:
“As for Sunnis or wahabis who cannot tolerate the Mutazilla view, they are Nasibis in reality. Anyway, I prefer you to use the term Salafi or Wahabi (for them) instead of Sunni. These people (sunnis) you come across actually recognize themselves as Salafi more than Sunni.”
The trouble with this idea, though, is that it is not just the salafis who reject mu'tazilism, it is all of the "orthodox" sunni theologians over the centuries. This is something that rationally minded sunnis find difficult to come to terms with.

For the purpose of this blog, then, I define a “mu’tazili” as a Shi-ite individual who, by using reason, agrees with the mu’tazili views as expressed in the Wikipedia page on “mu’tazila”, (and confirmed in the works of the Zaidi Imams), and disagrees with the theological stands provided by the athari, ash-ari and maturidi schools.

If we define a mu’tazili as a Shi-ite rationalist, it is then possible to say that the Zaidi Imams were mu’tazili, and the sunnis who liked the mu’tazili standpoints post Abu Hanifa’s lifetime, but did not support ahlul bait, were not mu’tazilis. There is evidence that the mu’tazili views originated with the ahlul bait, and have been wrongly attributed to some of their followers by historians of Sunni/ Western backgrounds. So, let’s avoid the confusion, and draw a distinct line between Sunnism and mu’tazilism, instead of drawing a line between Zaidism and Mu’tazilism.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Zaidi “Rebels” face Saudi Weapons Build-up

It is very sad that the Saudi Wahhabis see Iran and the Zaydis of Sa'ada as a threat, while being such good friends with the U.S. and Israel. As discussed earlier, the only "crime" the Iranians and Houthi Zaydis have committed is to vocally condemn the Zionist Occupation of Palestine. The Saudis have already shown that they are quite happy to use their U.S. and U.K. supplied weapons to commit war crimes against Zaydi civilians. It seems they will be quite happy to do the same to Iranian civilians as well, if asked to do so by their non Muslim allies, judging by the following article:

Source : Middle East online, By Paul Handley (edited excerpts).
RIYADH- Saudi Arabia's planned massive arms deal with the United States is aimed at establishing air superiority over rival Iran while also addressing weaknesses bared in border fighting with Yemeni rebels, experts said on Tuesday.
Under the potential 60-billion-dollar (47-billion-euro), 10-year deal, the Saudis would be authorised to buy 84 new F-15 fighters and upgrade 70 more, as well as buy 178 attack helicopters and various missiles.

The Saudis are most worried about Iran's push to build missiles with greater precision and longer range, and possibly a nuclear weapons capability.

“We really have to see it as directed against Iran…… In this case, Israel and Saudi Arabia are on the same side” ," Theodore Karasik of the Institute for Near East & Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai said.

He said the package is also a response to failures in Saudi Arabia's three-month assault on Shiite rebels along the Yemeni border in late 2009 and early 2010.

The better-armed Saudi forces lost at least 109 men in guerrilla-type fighting in the craggy border mountains, and the conflict went on many weeks longer than they expected.

"The Saudi forces were not prepared for this type of warfare. They suffered much in the same way the Soviets did in Afghanistan,” Karasik said.
To read the full article, go to Nasser Arrabyee's blog:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

8th century Zaydi Imam responds to 180 Questions

The Imam Rassi Society has recently translated an important Zaydi / Zaydi work into English, being Imam Rassi's response to 180 questions ranging from matters of Fiqh to Theology in Zaydism / Zaidism. This work gives us insight into the types of questions which were being debated in Islamic circles at the time. Imam Rassi's full name is Imam al-Qāsim bin Ibrāhīm bin Isma„īl bin Ibrāhīm bin al-Hasan al-Muthanna bin al-Hasan bin Fātima bint Muhammad, the Chosen Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny. He was born around the 8th century. He was based in Medina and raised under the tutelage of the imams and scholars of the Prophet‟s Descendants.
Imam Rassi Society writes about him:
"He mastered all of the religious sciences and quickly rose to the status of universal recognition in the City of his ancestor, the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny. Insomuch that he was given the nickname by his contemporaries, the Star of the Progeny of the Messenger (an-Najm Al ar-Rasūl), peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny.
Although he authored a myriad of works, he is most known to engage in discussions and debates with various religions, sects, and philosophies. His works demonstrate his encompassing knowledge concerning various differences in belief and practice. He also demonstrates an artistic flair to his works because the majority of his works are written in rhyming prose.
He was also sought out by both scholars and lay people to answer the many inquiries that plagued them. The 180 questions and answers just translated are examples of the various questions that were prevalent in Medina during that time."
Imam Rassi Society has managed to translate the text, which is in the form of rhyimg prose in the Arabic version, in such a way that the rhyme and rhythm has been preserved as much as possible for English readers.

To read the full translation, go to our sister blog, which is
There is another work by the same author at the same blog, which is a list of Zaydi / Zaidi credal statements.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Question of Zaydi / Zaidi Identity

How would I define a Zaydi?

From what I have read so far, I would define Zaydism as “progressive, moderate, rational Islam”.
To elaborate on this simple definition, I would say:
“progressive, because it is inspired by the an early Muslim who challenged the corrupt status quo (Zaid bin Ali), moderate, because it represents the common ground between the two differing sects of Sunnism and 12erism, rational because it incorporates the rational school of thought within Islam (the mu’tazilah school.)”
Therefore I would define a Zaydi as a “progressive, moderate, rational Muslim”.

Let’s compare my definition with the Wikipedia definitions:

“Zaydis historically come from the followers of Zayd ibn Ali, the great-Grandson of 'Ali b. Abi Talib. They follow any knowledgeable and upright descendant of al-Hasan and al-Husayn, and are less esoteric in focus than Twelverism or Ismailism.”
“Zaydism is a Shī'a madhhab (sect, school) named after the Imām Zayd ibn ˤAlī. Followers of the Zaidi fiqh recognize the first four of the Twelve Imams but differ from Twelver Shia in recognising Zayd ibn Ali — not his brother Muhammad al-Baqir — as the "Fifth Imām". After Zayd ibn Ali, the Zaidi recognize other descendants of Hasan ibn Ali or Husayn ibn Ali to be Imams. Other well known Zaidi imams in history were Yahya ibn Zayd, Muhammad al Nafs az-Zakiyah and Ibrahim ibn Abdullah… In matters of theology, the Zaidis are close to the Mu'tazili school, but they are not Mu'tazilite, since there are a few issues between both schools, most notably the Zaidi doctrine of the imamate.”

I think these definitions do not do justice to Zaydism, because they portray Zaydis as followers (of Imams) rather than thinkers; in truth, Zaydism is a way of thinking, not a matter of blindly following an Imam. The Imams were, in my opinion, an inspiration and showed us how to think.
It has been well documented that Islam is in a state of intellectual stagnation compared to the West. The blame for this rests on the shoulders of the Sunnis and 12er Shi-ites. Instead of encouraging debate, reform, creativity, critical thinking, and self criticism, they have opted for a bigoted “holier than thou” attitude, refusing to admit that any mistakes or flaws may exist in their respective ideologies, demanding blind acceptance from their devotees, and promising Hell to anyone who questions the dogmas they inherited from their ancestors.
The remedy is to convince Sunni and Shi-ite Muslims to adopt a progressive line, like Zaydism, so they can free up their thinking, without resorting to Western ideologies.
However, as long as Zaydi intellectuals themselves refuse to be identified as Zaydis, for whatever reason, it will difficult to change the Sunnis and 12er Shi-ites’ negative perception of Zaydism.
Some “progressive, moderate, rational Muslims” are reluctant to be identified as Zaydis, putting forward the following reasons:
1. They agree with the Zaydi stand on every issue, but are happy to be Sunni!
2. Although they are from a Zaydi family, they disapprove of sectarianism, and think that by identifying as Zaydi they are joining a sect.
3. They prefer to be known as Muslims, not Zaydis.
4. They do not want to follow Zaydi Imams/ scholars, because they think that the judgements and theories made by imams and scholars of the past may not have been intended to be set in stone, and need reform.

Reasonable enough, ...but perhaps their own definition of Zaydism is too narrow, like the narrow definitions in Wikipedia?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Zaydism: Summary

For new readers, these are the topics we have covered so far in this blog, listed under broad subject headings. Feel free to make comments on older posts, as they will be checked regularly.

1. Theology/ Aqeedah:
Zaidi Theology, the Mu’tazilah Doctrines, 19th June.
Zaidi Theology Allows Metaphorical Interpretations of Qur’an. 21st June.
Free Will and Divine Justice. 4th July.
The Role of the Prophets: a Zaidi Perspective. 15th July.
Zaidi Credal Statements, by Early Zaidi Scolar. 17th July.
Translation of Credal Statements by Yemen’s first Zaidi Imam. 24th July.
The Relationship between Mu’tazilism and Zaydism. 25th August.
Mu’tazilism saved from extinction by Zaidism. 29th August.

2. Leadership (Imamate) in Zaidism:
Abu Hanifah and Malik’s View on Hashemite leadership. 21st June.
Monarchy or Imamate? 22nd June.
Imamate: Zaidi reply to 12 Imamer. 11th July.
Selecting an Imam. 21st July.
Western Scholar supports Zaidi Imamate position. 10th August.

3. Zaydi versus Sunni:
A Sunni View of Zaidism. 1st August.
A Zaidi Reply to Ahlus sunnah. 3rd August.
Zaydi Activism versus Sunni Quietism. 22nd August.

4. Zaydi versus 12 Imamer:
12er Shi-ite Discussion on Zaidism. 9th July
Zaydi / 12 Imamer discussion Translated to English. 21st August.

5. Zaidi Jurisprudence/ Fiqh/ Hadith:
How to become a Zaidi. 24th June.
Zaidis judge ahadith by the Qur’an, not the other way around. 25th June.
How to Pray the Zaidi Way. 28th June
Ijtihad in Zaidism. 6th July
Zaidi Prayer Rituals, by early Zaidi Scholar. 21st July.
Ask a Zaidi, Ramadan (fasting) edition. 12th August
English Translation of Zaidi book on Fasting. 15th August.
Zaidism and Hadith Authenticity. 31st August.
What is the Zaidi Position on the Burqa? 19th June.

6. History of Zaidism:
Where does Zaidism get its name? 19th June
Zaidi Leaders. 21st June.
Is Zaidism Successful? 10th July.
The History of the Zaidi Revival in Sa’ada. 16th August.

7. Zaidi Politics:
Zaidism Under Threat in Yemen 19th June.
Democracy and Zaidism. 6th July
The War on Zaidism: Sa’ada update. 9th August
Should Zaidis Outside Yemen support the al Houthis? 15th August.
Zaidism and Women’s Liberation. 27th July
Should Religion be Imposed by a Zaidi Government? 12th July.

8. Introduction to Zaidism:
Zaidism .19th June.
Books of Zaidi Doctrine. 19th June
Zaidism: the Moderate and Progressive School of Thought. 19th June
Western Converts and Zaidism. 28th June.
Is Zaidism a Sect? 7th July.
Zaidis Outside the Arabian Peninsula. 7th July
Zaidism: the Key to Muslim Unity. 14th July.
Comments from Readers about Progressive Zaidism. 19th August.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Zaidism and Hadith Authenticity.

Followers of the Zaydi / Zaidi math-hab are at a distinct advantage when it comes to the study of ahadith (prophetic narrations) and the study of the authenticity of ahadith. This is because, unlike the Sunnis, the Zaidis do not require taqleed (blind acceptance) of ahadith, and unlike 12 imamers, Zaidis do not believe in the infallibility of some of the ahadith narrators.
With these two restrictions lifted from them, Zaidi scholars are in a position to review ahadith critically and logically, taking into account the historical / political context of the hadith’s appearance, its conformity with Qur’anic principals, and applying reason/logic in an effort to ascertain the hadith’s authenticity.

Why do Sunnis and 12 Imamers uncritically accept their ahadith collections?

The sunnis have idolized two of their ahadith collectors, namely Bukhari and Muslim, to such an extent that they do not acknowledge that either of them could have made a mistake when selecting the ahadith that went into their collections. They have labeled their collections as “Sahih al Bukhari” and “Sahih Muslim”, and if anyone challenges any ahadith from these two collections, they are considered non-sunnis. This is despite the fact that these two scholars, who are not from ahlul bait or even from Qr’aish, never claimed infallibility.
The 12 Imamers have idolized their 12 Imams to such an extent that any narrations supposedly originating from them go unchallenged as well. They have an advantage over the sunnis in that their narrations come from ahlul bait, however, their insistence that their Imams are infallible makes serious scientific study, with a critical approach, very difficult.

Contrast this with the Zaidi position as articulated by Imam Rassi Society:
“A hallmark feature of the Zaydi school is that all of our hadith literature are subject to scrutiny; even ahadiths from our imams! We don't have any book called "Saheeh this" or "Saheeh that". The Qur'an and logic are used to judge the ahadith.”

As discussed in an earlier post, the Zaidis and 12 Imamers agree that “Allah ta`ala does not abrogate His speech by (anything) other than His speech” i.e. the Qur’an can not be abrogated by the Sunna (the ahadith). However, the sunnis, also known in history as “ahlul hadeeth” have a tendency to give ahadith precedence over the Qur’an where there is a contradiction.

As well as using the Qur’an and logic to judge the validity of a hadith, another way of evaluating ahadith, which was refined by the mu’tazili scholars, is to identify and promote those ahadith which are “mutawatir’, i.e. found in the books of all Islamic math-habs including sunni, Zaidi and 12 imamer, in other words:
“those (ahadith) that have come down to later generations through a large number of chains of narration, involving diverse transmitters such that it is virtually impossible that all these people, living in different localities and espousing (at times radically) different views, would come together, fabricate the exact same lie and attribute it to the Prophet of Islam or any other authority. A large number of narrators is not a sufficient criterion for authenticating a report because people belonging to some sect or party may have an interest in fabricating reports that promote their agendas. The power of this mode of transmission, tawatur, rests on both the number and diversity of narrators at each stage of transmission.” (quoted from Wikipedia summary of Mu’tazili doctrine).
This is a very scientific and logical way to identify the accurate ahadith, and it surprises me that nobody has yet published a book of these “mutawatir ahadith” for hadith skeptics like myself to reflect upon.
We have seen that Zaidism and Mu’tazilism are intricately interwoven, therefore I think it is fair to say that Zaidi scholars, like Mu’tazili ones, would have given preference to ahadith which are mutawatir, when quoting from narrators other than Imam Zaid bin Ali. (further research on this point is on its way).

Zaidi scholars also have a tendency to re-interpret ahadith from other schools so that they conform with narrations on the same topic from the Imam Zaid.
Imam Rassi Society has provided an example of this tendency in these words:

“Another thing about our imams is that they made themselves familiar with the narrations of other schools, taking all of the narrations on a topic and seeing if one can interpret the others to conform (with the Zaidi view). For example, in the issue regarding whether touching one's private parts violates ritual purity, our (Zaidi) imams take the position that it doesn’t. As for those (non- Zaidi) narrations that seemingly contradict that view, they interpret those reports that say: ((Whoever touches one's private parts should make ablution)) to mean: "Whoever touches one's private parts should wash their hands". This is because the literal meaning of wudu is to wash one's limbs.”

For all of these reasons, the Zaidi math-hab is clearly the superior math-hab of the three, when it comes to the scientific and logical study of the ahadith. Having said that, Zaidis must be on their guard not to uncritically accept ahadith from their own school, in the event that any of them seem not to conform to the guiding principles of hadith validity mentioned above (i.e. being in accordance with the Qur’an, being logical, and, wherever possible, being mutawatir.)
An example of a possible inconsistency within Zaidism: (?) Debate welcome…
I personally find it surprising that all three schools (Zaidi, sunni and 12 imamer) have accepted the ahadith prescribing the punishment of stoning for married adulterers, which contradicts with the Qur’anic ayat prescribing flogging (i.e. a much more lenient penalty). Here we have an example of a hadith which is mutawatir (agreed upon by all schools of thought) yet in contradiction with the Qur’an. I personally would go with the Qur’an on this one; even though I identify myself as a Zaidi, and it is a mutawatir hadith. On this particular issue I am taking the position of the “Ahlul Qu’ran”, (a group of scholars who have rejected al ahadith because their respect for the Qur’an), because I am not yet convinced by the following justifications for the “unQur’anic” hadith, given by the three math-habs:
A Zaidi justification (from AwsMekka):
“In the written history about leaders (imams)in Yemen (and in Gilan and Dailman) I didn’t read that any did stoning ...but there are ahadith that imam Ali(as) lashed the married adulterer while saying “I lash according to Quraan” and then stoned him saying “I stone according to the sunna”. Imam Hadi (founder of Zaidism in Yemen) only did stoning when the adulterer confessed and chose to be stoned, i.e. to restore their honour”

A 12 Imamer justification (from MacIsaac):
“The usual explanation is that it is abrogated in recitation while not abrogated in ruling. Regardless, yes we do have hadiths indicating that the punishment for the muhsan (married, and whose spouse is sexually available to them) adulterer is to be stoned. However, our fiqh is compatible with what the Quran says in that the adulterer is also lashed a 100 times, like the ayat says. The stoning is an additional punishment on top of that.”

A Sunni justification (a hadith from Sahih al Bukhari, kitab ul hudood)
“The Prophet S.A.W said; “For unmarried persons, one hundred lashes and one year’s exile, for married adulterers, 100 lashes and stoning.”

With all the freedom to evaluate and re-consider its hadith literature, the Zaidi math-hab is the only math-hab that has the potential to develop and flourish into the future, weeding out any inconsistencies; with objective research and open minded scholarship, the true ahadith can be uncovered from the false. Zaidi scholars are in the perfect position to carry out this task. Sunni and 12 Imamer scholars are not. I believe the Zaidi math-hab will be the only math-hab left standing when truly objective and scientific research into all of the ahadith has been thoroughly completed.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mu’tazilism Saved from Extinction by Zaydism / Zaidism

There are many Sunnis today who would love to be Mu’tazilis, but are under the mistaken impression that Mu’tazilism is “extinct”. Here is a typical comment from one of them:
“As a Mutazili Muslim from Turkey who abandoned the foolish dogmas and barbaric absurdities of Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jamaah, who is fed up with secularist state-control toward Islam, and who perhaps is the last of the adherents of a revolutionary 'dead sect' that made such notable contributions to a logical and consistent monotheistic creed based on Quranic revelation, I must confess, I was overjoyed to discover the great theological and philosophical reasoning of Mutazilah the first time I encountered it early this year. Never before in any Islamic text or school had I seen such clarity and sophistication in thinking regarding ontological matters. The question of free will and existence of evil in the world were elucidated to such a level that no question or doubt remained. Even now, to my astonishment, I read to explore how Mutazilah has successfully answered all issues of faith, law, justice, morality, etc... in Islam more than a thousand years ago.
Equally, I am baffled as to how a rational, intellectual, meritorious, virtuous, well-principled school of Islamic thought as Mutazilah could fade away. Is it because of Asharite slanders against the magnanimously upright tenets of Mutazilah for centuries? Or the hatred caused by the Mihna unfairly attributed to Mutazilah? Was it Al-Ghazali who delivered the final blow with his inconsistence and irrationalism? The downfall and demise of this sect is shrouded in mystery. Whatever the cause, Mutazilah is too precious a phenomenon to neglect...” (by Ozan Yarman).
There are many modern Sunnis who feel the same way as Osman, and have no idea that the Zaydis are the only Muslims who, instead of neglecting the noble principles mentioned above, have let them flourish throughout the centuries. It is important to educate our Sunni brothers and sisters about Zaydism so that they can emerge from their Dark Age and join us in the Age of Muslim Enlightenment. Also to inform them that by adopting Zaydism, one can unashamedly be a Mu’tazili and at the same time be a loyal and faithful supporter of the Prophet’s family.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Relationship Between Mu’tazilism and Zaydism / Zaidism

The relationship between Mu’tazili theology and Zaydism has been raised; claims that Zaydism “borrowed” mu’tazilism from Sunni theologians, and claims that Zaid bin Ali was a follower of the mu’tazili school rather than a person who inspired it, are worth discussing and clarifying. A Zaidi scholar has also said it is erroneous to label Zaydism as “Mutazili in theology”, when in fact Zaydism comprises more than just Mu’tazilism, as the Mu’tazili school does not deal with the issue of Imamate.

What is Mu’tazilism?
An Islamic school of speculative theology, often described as rationalist because it states that human reason is more reliable than tradition and prefers speculation over “taqleed” (blind acceptance).
The Mu’tazilis believe that it is speculation and reflection which leads to the knowledge of Allah, particularly Allah’s unity (tawheed), His Justice (adl) , Prophecies (nubuwaat), and what is lawful/unlawful. For Zaydis, knowledge of Imamate is added to this list (see Imam alHaadi’s credal statements on our translations blog).
Non mu’tazilis oppose this notion and state that knowledge is gained through uncritical acceptance of ideas (al ilm bil taqleed), and that there is no need to reflect and speculate.
Early Hanbali credal statements encourage “ acceptance of traditions as they are without questions of “why” and “how”, no interpreting of traditions, and no discussion of predestination and other issues.” Even the Hanafi school has a “Laa kaif” policy on some of the issues Mu’tazilis speculate about.

Is Mu’tazilism based on the Quran?
Mu’tazilis state that the proof that speculation is obligatory is in the Qur’an, e.g. “Speculate about what is in the Heavens and the Earth” (10.101)
Mu’tazilis say that there are systems which are right and others which are wrong, it is impossible that all systems can be wrong, for the truth lies within one of them, and the truth can only be found through speculation, not through other people. Therefore speculation is obligatory, and taqleed is incorrect.
The Wikipedia summary of Mu’tazilism states:
“Mu'tazilis believed that the first obligation on humans, specifically adults in full possession of their mental faculties, is to use their intellectual power to ascertain the existence of God, and to become knowledgeable of His attributes. One must wonder about the whole existence, that is, about why something exists rather than nothing. If one comes to know that there is a being who caused this universe to exist, not reliant on anything else and absolutely free from any type of need, then one realizes that this being is all-wise and morally perfect. If this being is all-wise, then his very act of creation cannot be haphazard or in vain. One must then be motivated to ascertain what this being wants from humans, for one may harm oneself by simply ignoring the whole mystery of existence and, consequently, the plan of the Creator. This paradigm is known as wujub al-nazar, i.e., the obligation to use one's speculative reasoning to attain ontological truths. About the "first duty," 'Abd al-Jabbar said (Martin et al., 1997): It is speculative reasoning (al-nazar) which leads to knowledge of God, because He is not known by the way of necessity (daruratan) nor by the senses (bi l-mushahada). Thus, He must be known by reflection and speculation.”

What came first, Mu’tazilism or Zaydism?
The mu’tazili school got its name (given to it by other theologians) around the same time as Zaid bin Ali was alive, however, some of its principals were being discussed before Zaid’s time, as a result of the Karbala tragedy (e.g. Divine Justice, Reward and Punishment) when people became became disillusioned with the Umayyad leadership. It could be said that Zaydism and Mu’tazilism grew up together, as each of the following issues arose and were dealt with:

1. Al-Manzilah bayna al-Manzilatayn المنزلة بين المنزلتين - the intermediate position. That is, Muslims who commit grave sins and die without repentance are not considered as mu'mins (believers), nor are they considered kafirs (non-believers), but in an intermediate position between the two.
Wasil bin Ataa (died 131 AH) is credited by Western historians as being the first to voice the view “Those who commit major sins are neither believers or unbelievers”, and the one who started a study circle independent his previous study circle (that of Hassan al Basra). This standpoint is known as the position between 2 positions, i.e. between khawaarijism and murjism.
It is said that Zaid bin Ali and Wasil sat in the same circles and agreed on this point. Some say that Wasil was Zaid’s student. According to a sunni source, Wasil ibn Ata (ra) and Imam Zayd ibn Ali (as) were considered "blood brothers" because their views were synonymous on various issues. Then it is no surprise that Zaidis adopt this position.
The 12 Imamer view is similar to the mu’tazili view, except that, in their view, 12 Imamers will have special privileges in regards to entering paradise, compared to other Muslims. This is justified by a narration they attribute to Imam Jaf'ar as Sadiq: "Verily, God has angels who cause sins to fall off the backs of our Shi'ites, like the wind does to leaves in autumn” and also by narrations, attributed to their Imams, saying that the Prophet, 12 Imams and righteous Shi'ites will intercede for the rest of the Shi'a (and presumably not for other Muslims).

2. Al-Tawhid التوحيد - Divine Unity. Mu'tazilis believed in the absolute unity and oneness of God. and denied the existence of attributes distinct from Divine essence, and they used metaphorical interpretations of Qur'anic verses with seemingly anthropomorphic content.
Imam Zaid approved of the metaphorical interpretation (ta’wil) according to this narration:
Ubaidullah ibn al-‘Ula said, I heard Zayd ibn ‘Ali say about the following ayat:
And the Jews say, “God’s hand is shackled; and manacled [by Allah] are their hands because of this their assertion. No, but wide are His hands stretched out... 5: 64
Imam Zayd says that the reference here is to Allah’s magnanimity and generosity. In other verses in the Quran the words speak of Allah: “giving abundantly.” In Arabic discourse when it is said that a person is indebted to another person’s hand it is another way to express how one person extends is helping self to another person.
Allah also says:
And neither allow your hand to remain shackled to your neck...
17: 29
and this, according to Imam Zayd, this means do not withhold your hand from spending in good causes as it would be tantamount to having your hand tied to your neck.
Allah also says:
Said He: “O Iblis! What has kept you from prostrating yourself before that [being] which I have created with My hands?
38: 75
This would mean that “I [God] personally created him [Adam] without parents. This is not a specific reference to human-like “hands” as much as it is a reference to Him as a whole being responsible for Adam’s creation. It could very well be that Allah said to Adam “be” and he was without ever having His “hands” involved in the act of creation.
...and the heavens will be rolled up in His right hand...
39: 67
“right hand” in the above ayat refers to His ability and potency. Likewise:
rolled up in His right hand... would refer to His possession and dominion. It is like saying: If it is in my hand it is mine. Which does not necessarily and literally mean that I have it clenched in my fist. There are examples of this in Arabic poetry.”

In contrast to Zayd bin Ali’s position, his contemporary, Abu Hanifa, said in his book Fiqhul Akbar:
“He (Allah) has a hand, a face and a soul, as Allah mentioned in the Qu'ran, and whatever Allah mentions in the Quran regarding the face the hand and the soul, these are His attributes, and (let there be) no discussion about this (laa kaif). It should not be said that His "hand" signifies His "power" or His "kindness", for that would be cancelling out the attribute, and that is what the Qadariyyah and Mu'tazilah are saying. His hand is (one of) His attributes, with no discussion, (just as) His Anger and His Pleasure are two of His attributes, with no discussion ."
This indicates that Zaid bin Ali had the mu’tazili view on this issue, but his student, Abu Hanifa, did not follow his view in this regard. Zaidis follow Zaid’s position, not Abu Hanifa’s, yet many people desribe Zaydism as “close to Hanafism”.

3. Al-'Adl العدل - Divine Justice. Facing the problem of existence of evil in the world, the Mu'tazilis pointed at the free will of human beings.
Muhammad and his early companions, the Sahabah, always insisted on the theory of Sovereignty of Allah, and the freedom of human will, based on the doctrine that man would be judged by his actions. These teachings were predominant until the Umayyad period.
Due to public hatred after the tragedy of Battle of Karbala, the sack of Medina, and many political blunders committed by theUmayyad Caliphate , they were in need of a theory of Predestination,(see Predestination in Islam ), fatalism, (jabr), that "a man is not responsible for his actions which proceed from God". So with their help a school of thought was emerged and was called "JABRIA", which appealed to many because pre-Islamic values were fatalistic. The mu’tazili school, in response, reaffirmed the “adl” concept, which was not something new, but the original concept held by the first generation of Muslims.
Ash’ari opposed it and created the Kasb standpoint as an alternative. Maturidi created a similar standpoint to Ash’ari. The Hanbali school opposed Ash’ari and the Mu’tazilil and created a position even closer to jabr (compulsion).
The Mutazili became known as “People of Divine Unity and Justice”(ahlul tawhid wal adl) .
Judging by his actions in rebelling against the pro-jabr Umayyad leadership, Zaid had the view of the mu’tazili school on this issue, and the Zaydis have adopted it.
There appear to be differences of opinion in the 12 Imamer camp on the issue of Divine Justice.
The leading Iranian ayatollah, Ja’far Subhani, wrote: “ What God has ordained for man is, precisely, free will, the very feature which distinguishes him from animals; man has been ordained a free agent, capable of choosing to perform or abstain from actions.” This sounds like the mu'tazilil position, but then he adds:
"In other words, although action revolves upon man, it is also dependent upon God; for the action proceeds from the human agent, but since in reality the agent, along with his power, is created by God, how can one consider the action of such an agent to be independent of God?" which sounds like the Maturidi position.
He later mentions that God also has foreknowledge of what people will do, but does not compel them.
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq’s view, “The reality is neither pre-destination, nor absolute free will, but something between the two” is a statement of non-committal which does not part with the Ash'ari or Maturidi view.
THE 12 imamers also have a narration they attribute to Imam Ali, saying: “This (doctrine of predestination) is a dark path - do not traverse it; a deep ocean - do not enter it; and a divine mystery - do not try to unveil it.” This statement reminds me of the Hanbali school’s warnings not to discuss predestination at all, and goes against the mu’tazili spirit of speculation in order to gain knowledge.
Therefore, it could be said that the Zaydi math-hab holds a unique position on this issue, which goes right back to the early days of theological discussions.
As for sunnis who agree with the mu'tazili/Zaidi position on adl, they have been disowned by the vast majority of their sunni brethren, especially since the "Mihna" instigated by the caliph Ma'mun.

4. The concept of “commanding good and forbidding evil” was/is another of the mu’tazili tenets. During his lifetime, Imam Zaid put this concept into practice, by rising up against the corrupt leadership. In Yemen, the Zaydi Imam al Haadi (died 300 AH) added the concept of rising up against corrupt leadership as a tenet of Zaydism, and added the knowledge of Imamate (Zaydi imamate) to the mu’tazili list of knowledge that Muslims must speculate about in order to know Allah. This is why Zaydis would say that their theology is more than just mu’tazilism; the Zaydi Imamate doctrine stands alongside the mu’tazili tenets and holds equal importance.

Zaidis believe that the unbroken chain of truth goes from the prophet's family passed down knowledge generation after another. The mu'tazili tenets form part of this unbroken truth, but were not known as "mu'tazili" tenets by the ahlul bait. The name was later given by sunni scholars who perceived their own views as the norm and the ahlul bait's views as somehow unorthodox. Wasil bin Ataa was a student of ahlul bait members, like Muhammad bin al Hanafiyyah and Zaid bin Ali, who became known for separating himself from the main Basran school.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Zaydi/Zaidi Activism versus Sunni Quietism.

We have seen that one of the five tenets of mu’tazilism, which is the theology of the Zaidis, is “Commanding right and forbidding wrong”. The Western scholar Michael Cook has written a book about this concept, and to what extent it has been put into practice by the different math-habs, including Zaydis, 12 Imamers, quietist Sunnis and Hanbalis. To read excerpts of the book, entitled “Commanding Right and Forbidding wrong in Islamic Thought”, click on this link:,+by+michael+cook&printsec=frontcover&source=bn&hl

Here's the blurb by Google books: “What kind of duty do we have to try to stop other people doing wrong? In the Islamic tradition, commanding right and forbidding wrong is a central moral tenet mentioned in the Koran. This book covers the origins of Muslim thinking about forbidding wrong , the relevant doctrinal developments over the centuries, and its significance today. In this way the book contributes to the understanding of Islamic thought, its relevance to contemporary Islamic politics and ideology, and raises fundamental questions for the comparative study of ethics.”

While the Zaydis have always consistently emphasized the importance of forbidding the evil, in particular by their rejection of corrupt leadership, this trend has been more recent among the 12 Imamers (who started off in the “quietist” camp) and the majority of Sunnis (who are still “quietist”, with the exception of some Hanbalis). The book describes the unique way the Hanbalis have put the “forbidding wrong” concept into practice throughout history, which seems to be by accepting the political leadership no matter how corrupt, and instead approaching individual wrong-doers in the street and giving them a hard time (e.g. by smashing musical instruments, overturning chess boards, and interrogating couples to make sure they are married).
Although political activism got off to a slow start among the 12er Imamers, in today’s world it is they who have excelled in this regard, earning themselves the admiration of many non-12 Imamers including the Zaydis of Sa’ada. The political solidarity that is now felt between Zaydis and 12 Imamers is acknowledged here by Imam Rassi Society:

“The Sunni world has been either wholly complacent or incompetent when it comes to dealing with Islam's enemies. You've had the occasional Sunni uprising like Sh. Uthman dan Fodio, Sh. Muhammad as-Sanussi, Sh. Wali Allah Dehlawi, etc. but these isolated incidents pale in comparison to the historical political quietism of the traditional Sunni world. There were some responses to this inability of the traditional Sunni world by politicised Sunnis like the Ikhwan al-Muslimin or the occasional caliphate-restoration groups. However, due to their failure to accomplish much of anything short of securing recognition as a party in some countries and due to the current witchhunt against them, they are simply confined to their liquor-store-money-funded mosques whining about Palestine! Other politicised Sunnis simply abandoned the insufficiency of their own madhhab and adopted Western political models such as communism and Arab nationalist republics, who have failed their people miserably!
The 12er Shiites have been successful in forwarding resistance movements and establishing a Shiite state in the 20th century after the fall of the Sunni caliphate and even the Zaydi imamate. They have also voiced opposition on behalf of those outside of their own madhhab (on behalf of the Sunni Palestinians, Bosnians and the Zaydi Houthis) and religion (on behalf of the Black South Africans during aparteid). Like them or not, they have actualised the ideals of Islamic statehood and governance that the Sunnis have only theorised.
The solidarity between all Shiites is something real. Despite their differences, the fact remains that all Shiites are united in the wilayat of Amir al-Muminin Ali bin Abi Talib, alayhi as salam. This is the reason why despite the fact that Sayyid al-Houthi wrote works refuting the 12ers and was exiled from Iran because of his converting too many 12ers to Zaidism, Ayatullah Sistani was sought to mediate between the Houthis and the Yemeni govt. When the smoke clears, what really matters is not what one says but what one does! You have all of these Sunni so-called "lovers of Ahl al-Bayt" and "Ahl al-Bayt supporters" but when the Hassani and Husseini sayyids in Sa'ada are being massacred and made orphans, they say and do nothing!
In contrast to that, the 12ers adhere to the Wilayat of 'Ali, alayhi as salam, and they put their support of Ahl al-Bayt into action!”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Comments from readers about Progressive Zaydism:

This week I’ve been inspired by some of the remarks in the comments section of this blog. Comments like…

“Rather than making Islam fit the pre-casted mold of Western secular humanism, we should bring the progression BACK into Islam. This should be done by progressing our minds to the point that we prefer revelation and reason over stale and unfounded traditions. This should also be done by progressing from oblivious ritualistic practices to actions of constant renewal of faith. This should be done by progressing from outward displays of religiosity to the inward pursuit of spiritual truths and refinement of the soul.”
by Imam Rassi Society

“I think that all reformists, whether we are coming from a Zaidi persecutive, or a Mu’tazili perspective, or the perspective or the religious intellectual movement propagated most successfully by Soroush, who has greatly influenced me, agree that we have to be honest and look in those dark corners which are troubling to us. Covering our eyes does not make them go away and the only way out of our current impasse is with great intellectual courage. It is time that Muslims progressed from child-like faith to the complexities of a more mature faith even if that means a few are overwhelmed by doubts”.
By Devin

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Should Zaidis Outside Yemen support the al Houthi bid for leadership?

The history of the Zaid Revival in Sa'ada:

A Zaidi revival was sparked in Sa’ada during the 1990’s in response to an aggressive campaign by the Wahhabis to stamp out Zaidism. In 1995, a journalist travelled to Sa’da and wrote about the revival, and the scholars who inspired it. He also named some of their important writings, some of which are being translated to English at present.
The Zaidi revival continues today, and many Zaidis have sacrificed their lives in order to preserve the Zaidi heritage from extinction, since Haykel’s article was written. Many civilians, including women and children, have been killed or maimed, due to the Wahhabi policy that all non-Wahhabis are unbelievers so it’s halal to murder them, even women and children. (Or will the Wahhabi supporters tell us that their pilots don’t know the difference between a chicken farm or home and a military target?) The Yemeni government has been encouraging the Wahhabi onslaught for political reasons, (i.e. to weaken opposition to their corrupt leadership), and the day will surely come when they will regret that decision.
The Wahhabi campaign against Zaidism is nothing new. Wahhabis have overrun Yemen twice before the 1990’s. On one of these occasions they were driven out by the Ottomans, and on another occasion by the Zaidis themselves.

The Al Houthi leadership:
When Zaidis outside Yemen start looking around for a living Zaidi Imam, the most obvious choice would seem to be Abdul Malik al Houthi, the (self proclaimed?) leader of the recent rebellion against the corrupt Yemeni regime of Abdullah Saleh.
Here are some reasons for and against supporting, or allying ourselves with al Houthi:

Reasons for:

1. Al Houthi fits the criteria for a Zaidi Imam because he has risen up against the corrupt leader of his region. His father and brother did the same and were killed (martyred?) by the Yemeni Regime for that reason. There is no other Zaidi leader openly challenging the corrupt Yemeni government.
2. Al Houthi’s father wrote a book confirming the Zaidi theology as we know it, and criticizing the 12 Imamer Shi-ite “Hidden Imam” which he described as a “fantasy.” Therefore rumours that the Al Houthis are 12 Imamers hiding behind a Zaidi mask seem to be fabricated. The mere fact that al Houthi travelled to Iran does not make him a 12 Imamer, even if he was drumming up support for his cause.
3. The Al Houthi movement is not aggressive or expansionist. It began as a peaceful protest against the pro- U.S./Israel policies of the Yemeni regime and the enforced spread of Wahhabism in Zaidi regions. An official sanction was introduced to replace Zaidi teachers in Sadah with those who understood the so-called ‘correct’ form of Sunni Islam, i.e. Wahhabism…. And then:
“On June 18, 2004, the police arrested and temporarily detained 640 Huthi demonstrators in front of the capital’s Great Mosque. On June 20, 2004, the governor of Sada traveled to Marran District but tribesmen, possibly affiliated to Husain al-Huthi, denied him access. The same day security forces in some 18 military vehicles attempted to arrest al-Huthi, escalating the fighting into full-blown war” (Professor Megalommatis,
4. Zaidis living in Yemen are unable to voice their support for the Al Houthi leadership bid, as they will be jailed or even killed if they do. There is no such restriction on Zaidis living outside Yemen.

Reasons Against:

1. Most of Yemen’s Zaidis do not appear to support the al Houthis. However, it is difficult to know whether this is because of the dangers of doing so, or because they see flaws in the AlHouthi leadership bid, or both.
2. In recent history (1940’s to 1962), the performance of the Sayyid monarchical rulers was below expectations. It was quite autocratic. Older Yemenis would still remember the days of the Zaidi Royals and they do not seem to remember it fondly. Perhaps they doubt that the al Houthis will do a better job than the previous ruling family.
3. On the other hand, if there is to be a re-establishment of the Zaidi Imamate in Yemen, perhaps Yemen’s Zaidis would prefer the return of the former Royal Family (the Hamidaddins) who were ousted by the revolution in 1962, rather than the introduction of a lesser known family with no track record at all, and that might explain the unenthusiastic response.
4. It is conceivable that Yemen’s Zaidis prefer to work within a democratic/secular framework rather than returning to the rule of the Sayyids, which was accompanied by a slightly arrogant Sayyidi elite/ aristocracy. For a history of the Sayyids’ role in Yemeni society pre 1962 click on the following link:
and for an Iranian scholar’s arguments in favor of secular democracy rather than theocracy for shi-ite societies, see this link:
5. Since unification of North and South Yemen in the 1990’s, the majority of Yemenis are not Zaidi, therefore most Yemenis would deem it inappropriate to impose a Zaidi Imamate on the entire population of Yemen. Given this context, perhaps the Zaidi Imam’s role should be no more than a Mufti advising on religious matters, within a parliamentary democratic system.