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.