(Last Updated on : 31/08/2010)
Shia sect is a sect of Islam and it forms about twenty percent of the country's Muslim population. Literally, the term means 'party, followers' but, when used absolutely, it denotes a sect of Islam. The Shias refuse to acknowledge the senior-most companions of Prophet Muhammed
, Abu Bakr, Omar and Osman, as Imams. They hold that only Ali, who belonged to Muhammad's family, should have been made the Caliph immediately after the Prophet and that he was the ordained spiritual successor. They regard their dissociation from the three earlier successors as a part of their creed. For the Shias, the Imam is of prime importance. They believe that the last of the twelve imams, their real spiritual guide, is still living and guides them unseen.
History of Shia Sect
The sect began as a political party among the Arabs and looked to Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, and his descendants for leadership. Soon this movement was localized in Iraq and identified with local patriotism. The Arabs there resented being ruled from Damascus and getting a smaller share of the wealth of the state than the Arabs of Syria. Agitation led to the execution of twelve of the leading men of Kufa. When the first Umayyad Caliph died, Husain a son of Ali listened to a call from Iraq and left Medina with his family and a few followers to seek a kingdom there. He was intercepted by government troops. The Arabs of Kufa, who had invited him, stayed safely at home, so the little band of men was slain and the women and children were made prisoners. If this skirmish had been only an incident in politics it would not have been worth mentioning but it put emotion at the service of the Shia and became of the first importance. Hussain became a martyr.
The Shias render exclusive devotion to the Hashimite section of the Prophet Muhammad's survivors. Fatima was his only surviving child. Ali, her husband, was his first cousin and Hasan and Hussain, his two well-loved grandsons. They regard these four (and the twelve imams that followed) as infallible and the only group worthy of love and reverence after the Prophet.
Belief of Shia Sect
The cardinal articles of the Shiite creed are belief in the greatness of God, in the Prophets, and in the Imams after them. What marks the Shia off from other Muslims is the doctrine of the Imam for so they preferred to call the head of the state. The Imam is an essential part of religion. He is chosen by God either directly or through a preceding Imam. Sometimes he is announced by name and sometimes only a description of him is given. God must appoint him as an act of grace so that men can perform the duties imposed by reason and avoid evil. He can make no mistake and commit no sin. He is the intermediary between God and man. He is the interpreter of the word of God as written in the Holy Quran
, the guardian of the law, and the final court of appeal in all matters.
The importance of the Imam was enhanced by the doctrine of the 'light' of Muhammad; this was the first thing to be created, it appeared in Adam, then in all subsequent prophets, and finally in the Imam. To one who loves Ali and his family all sins are forgiven. As the Imam is the authorized interpreter of God's will, the Quran retires into the background. The sufferings of the Imams are emphasized.
The main body of the Shia recognize a succession of twelve Imams the last of whom disappeared in 878. For some years after his disappearance they believed that certain men were in contact with him and made known his will to men. They await his return as the Mahdi who will fill the earth with justice as it is now filled with injustice. In the meantime scholars are the religious leaders of the people.
Organisation of Shia Sect
The organisation of the Shia belief includes collections of traditions, interpretations of the Quran, system of law, and standard of life which might be called its Sunna. In theology they teach that God can change his mind, this is a transfer of the idea of annulment (Naskh) from the sphere of law to that of history. They allow a man to conceal his religion if public acknowledgement of it would endanger his life. Some examples of the differences in law follow. Temporary marriage is allowed. A man arranges a marriage with a woman for a fixed time and pays her an agreed sum of money. When the time is up, the marriage is automatically dissolved and can only be continued by a new contract.
Festivals of Shia Sect
The Shia has its special festivals, among them the 'Pool' which commemorates Muhammad's appointing Ali his successor at the pool of Khumm. The most spectacular festival is the mourning for Husain which takes place during the first ten days of Muharram
, the first month of the lunar year. During the day men parade the streets beating their backs with chains. At night processions recall the events of the fatal day. Closed liners carried by horses or camels represent the women of the party. Husain's daughter had just been married so the meats for the wedding feast are carried in the procession. The villain of the piece, the man who slew Husain is in red. In India the tomb of Husain made of Bamboo
and paper is part of the procession. Afterwards it is thrown into the sea, burnt or buried. On the last night enthusiasts gash themselves with swords. Another form of the celebration is to have a regular miracle play acted in the courtyard of a big house.
Pilgrimage of Shia Sect
The Shias make pilgrimages to their holy places in Iraq. Once he arrives at the shrine, the pilgrim purifies himself by the prescribed ablutions. At the threshold, he asks the Saint's permission to enter, circumambulates the grave thrice, and then prostrates himself twice before the tomb; all to the accompaniment of prayers and recitations and, it may be added as gifts to the keepers of the shrine.
The strongholds of the Shia Sect are Iraq, Persia and North India. In India, they are mostly concentrated in Oudh, Rampur and Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh
and towards the south in Hyderabad
in Andhra Pradesh