Why are the Zaydis called “Fivers”?
This term is an erroneous name applied to the Zaydis by 12ers. This is because they view the imamate in a linear manner—one imam consecutively following the other. They number their imams to twelve in this consecutive way. They apply this same logic to the Zaydis and number the imams from Imam ‘Ali to Imam Hasan to Imam al-Hussein to Imam Zayn al-‘Abidîn ‘Ali bin al-Hussein to Imam Zayd bin ‘Ali, upon them be peace; which numbers to five. It is for this reason that they call us “Fivers”.
They are mistaken in various ways. First, the assumption that we number the imams consecutively one-by-one until five is incorrect. The Zaydis do not number the imams in this way, and have held to the imamate of more than five imams. According to us, the imamate did not end with Imam Zayd, upon him be peace, although it began with Imam ‘Ali, upon him be peace.
Second, although the Zaydis hold Imam Zayn al-Abidîn, upon him be peace, to be an imam of knowledge, we do not hold him to be an imam in the absolute sense of the word. According to Zaydi thought, an imam is of three types: an imam who excels in knowledge, an imam who leads an army against oppressors, or an imam that does both. For a Zaydi to acknowledge one as an imam in the absolute sense, this one must be one who excels in knowledge and call others to fight against oppressors. There have been those from amongst theAhl al-Bayt who were imams of the first type, imams of the second type, and imams of the third type. It is the third type of imam that the Zaydis consider an imam of the absolute sense who is obligatory to obey and follow.
We say that imams such as Zayn al-Abidîn, Ja’far as-Sâdiq, Muhammad al-Bâqir, and the like were of the first type. May Allah bless them all! However, we do not consider them imams in the sense that we consider Imams Ali, al-Hasan, al-Hussein, Zayd, Muhammad Nafs az-Zakiyya, and the like as imams. May Allah bless them all! Therefore, we do not subscribe to this term “Fivers,” and we believe that this term was falsely attributed to us by those who do not understand the Zaydis.
It is noteworthy that no Zaydi imam or scholar of the past or present has ever referred to the Zaydis as “Fivers.”