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?


  1. i am hanfi muslim from pakistan.i hav twellver friends and they say that the only issue between us and zaidis is immamat....

    can you please clearify

  2. Salaam and welcome to our Zaydi blog!
    Apart from the issue if Imamate, there are a few minor differences between the Hanafi math-hab and the Zaydi one, e.g. in salaat Zaidis pray with their arms hanging down like Malikis, and can join prayers even when not travelling, like 12 Imamers. (see “how to pray like a Zaidi” in the earlier posts for more details). I think it’s fair to say that, in fiqh, Zaidism is half way between Sunnism and 12 Imamerism… if only all Sunnis and 12ers could meet half way, we would have Muslim unity, the Palestinian problem could be solved, and the world would be a much more peaceful place! (see my earlier article “Zaidism: the Key to Muslim Unity?”). In Theology, Zaidism is close to the Mu’tazili school, which you can read about in Wikipedia or in the earlier posts on this blog. Mu’tazilism has a bad reputation among sunnis which it does not deserve; it is a collection of noble principles based on justice and reason. The Hanafis' Maturidi school may have slight Mu’tazili tendencies, when compared with the Ash'ari school. I hope and pray you and your family were not badly affected by the recent floods… w/salaam

  3. wasalam
    i asked you about the difference between twellvers and zaydis....other than imamat and Infallibility

    and can i find any video lectures on different issues of zaydi scholar...?

    well i m sufi inclined hanfi muslim...and regard ahle-bayt...and dont make distinction in there love...for me all imams of tewellvers,zaydis and ismailis are imams but not Inflable...coz our imam abu hanifa regarded them...and we have sufi chains from them....

    what are zaydi views on sufism and spirtuality which is based on love and tolerance?


  4. The Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama’ah thus take the wives of the Prophet (صلّى الله عليه وآله وسلّم) to be the Ahlel Bayt. This is in accordance with the dictionary definition of the word as shown above. The Prophet’s wives are part of the Prophet’s Ahl, and they live in his Bayt. Therefore, Aisha (رضّى الله عنها) and Hafsa (رضّى الله عنها) are included in the Ahlel Bayt....what is zaydis stance on it...

  5. Ahl: noun; relatives including wives, children, brothers, sisters, and other kinsmen, and sometimes used to refer to fellow tribesmen

    Bayt: noun; house; place of residence

    Ahl-Al-Bayt: noun; those people in relation to a man who live in his house, especially his wives and unmarried children that live under his roof and are provided for by him

  6. Salaams! Regarding issues where Zaydis and 12ers disagree, see my post: "Zaydi/ 12 Imamer discussion translated to English" which I posted on this blog 21st August. There is a link there to the article, which is on our other blog,
    That blog is where we post long translations, and you can comment on them in this blog.
    Regarding video lectures, I haven't found any in English yet, but they are available in Arabic. Try the majalis website.
    See also the "Zaidism: Summary" post where I have listed all the topics covered so far on this blog.
    Regarding "ahlul bait", I agree with your definition but I'm not sure what the Zaidi's stance is on it, I will have to check. Even if the prophet's wives were "ahlul bait", it is the Prophet's descendants who became entitled to leadership roles, not his wives or their fathers, according to Zaydism. This is not because of the verse in the Qur'an mentioning "ahlul bait" and purity, (which, I agree with sunnis, seems to be referring to wives and daughters of the Prophet), but because of ample other evidence that the Prophet wanted to be succeeded by Ali and his off-spring through Fatimah. Also, ample precedents in the Qur'an where prophets are succeeded by members of their family.

  7. salaam again to Hassan! I've just posted the translation of Chapter 3 of Imam Zaid's biography on the zaydiyyah blog, and it contains a good discussion of the Zaydi definition of "ahlul bait", under the sub-heading "who are the ahlul bait?" I hope you find it helpful.
    Also, your question about Sufism was answered by 3 Zaidis in the July post entitled "Ask a Zaidi" on this blog. w/salaam