Zaydis and labelling & reservation

1 month 2 days ago - 1 month 2 days ago #1046 by Imam Rassi Society
I was wondering if you read Etan Kohlberg's article on Zaydi Views of the Companions?

He writes that the Imams such as al-Qassi al-Rassi and Hadi al-Haqq were quite critical of the early sheikhs although the majority of Zaydis over time (al-Salihiyyah), became neutral or dismissive of their disobedience (fisq) (for example see the footnotes on Pg 94).

Have you heard of this or how is this perceived in the Zaydi school?

Najam Haider is another author who hypothesises that the early imams such as Zayd (as) were "Batri" and later Zaydism became "Jarudi" over 100-150 years with companions who were from al-Baqir's associates such as Abu l-Jārūd [Zīyād b. Mundhir]. Again, they rely on the "cursing" narration in Tabari which is not in early Zaydi sources.

How does the Zaydi school perceive the alleged Batri to Jarudi transition?

I am aware that writers on this subject are not really being fair to Zaydism by using a Sunni source (Tabari) and that Twelver writers will no doubt portray Zayd as straying, to justify the desertion of him. In fact, it is quite possible that the cursing story was made up an excuse not to support Zayd, which is now being used to understand early Zaydism. It is rather interesting that the incident cannot be found in early Zayd sources - and Allah knows better.


Thank you for your questions!

I read this article years ago. However, i would say that although Western academics attempt to be unbiased and objective, much of their source material can be a bit limited. Many of these labels of Zaydis can bring up a host of difficulties, problems and contradictions. We discussed that here briefly.

i can say confidently that placing the Zaydis under the aforementioned labels is problematic at best. I would even say that the name 'Zaydi' itself could be considered a bit problematic as well because the word was used by historians to describe a whole host of various trends of thought and movements. I have yet to see the earliest Zaydi imams, such as Imam Muhammad an-Nafs az-Zakiyya, Yahya b. Isa, al-Qaasim b. Ibrahim, etc. refer to themselves as 'Zaydi.' They simply followed in the footsteps of Imam Zayd (as) in leading a rebellion against tyrants and holding to the primacy of the Ahl al-Bayt.

Many of our early imams were indeed critical of the first three caliphs; but we have no instance in our literature that they even cursed or promoted the cursing of the three. Resorting to 'reservation,' as I mentioned in the last email, seemed to be the most consistent and historically documented approach towards them. Depending on later developments and leaning of later imams, this attitude may have changed. However, you will find that, at least, as far as we know reservation was the policy.

Regarding the reference to the works of Imams ar-Rassi and al-Haadi, upon them be peace, there is not much mention of the sheikhayn honestly. I have been translating the works of the two imams for a while and I have not come across anything that imprecates the two sheikhs in particular. Imam al-Haadi (as) is almost silent regarding them, and Imam ar-Rassi (as) simply disregards their caliphates in an academic way. There are some works attributed to them which are harshly critical of the sheikhayn; however, our scholars are dismissive of such works as being spurious and false attributed to the imams.

And Allah knows best!

Last edit: 1 month 2 days ago by Imam Rassi Society.

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1 month 2 days ago #1047 by Imam Rassi Society
Salaam alaikum,

Thank you for your reply yes it would seem Islam in academia has a long way to go, like you say the further back you go in history the less sectarian it becomes and is just about the believers acting on principles from the Quran and Sunnah.

With regards to the attitude of reservation - is this specifically about cursing/praising or does it also include holding a judgement about them?

I only ask because sources such as Nahjul al-Balagha are quite clear in the manner in how they attained or rather usurped the caliphate. For example it mentions how Imam 'Ali (as) was taken like a camel to pledge allegience to the first caliph, after the second had threatened to burn down his house, which has been well documented in Sunni and Twelver sources. The fact that the first caliph also gave the leadership to the second little consultation is also noted by Imam 'Ali in Nahjul al-Balagha as well as other sources:

"No doubt these two shared its udders strictly among themselves. " Sermon 3

There are many other narrations that indicate at the speciel relationship between them, Abu Ubaydah and Salim.. Although some Sunni sources such as Sharh Nahjul al-Balagha by ibn Abi al-Hadid, if you have come across it, has 'Umar confessing to Ibn Abbas that he took it as a compromise between the Quraish. In other words, the caliphs are seen as performing a rightful deed that may have gone against the prophet's (s) wishes, although was necessary for the time and was more in line with Allah's wishes. I can try find this narration for you if would like. This does seem to be reflected in the later Umayyad propaganda hadiths such as "If there was a prophet after me it would of been 'Umar" etc.

The Zaydi books that you have translated (thank you!) also mention these affairs to some degree so it would imply that Zaydi scholars do make some form of judgement, at least in a worldy sense. I mean this in contrast to some Twelver scholars to happily condemn the caliphs no questions asked although the more progressive ones seem better with this issue.

Is this the principle of reservation - making a worldy judgement based on evidence but ultimately leaving the final judgement to Allah?


wa alaykum as salaam wa rahma!

Thank you for your questions! I would say that this reservation primarily refers to Allah's judgement of them. That is to say that these people's final destiny is in Allah's Hands. I'm sure that some may say that this can be true of everyone; we cannot make judgement for anyone as to whether they will end up in Paradise or Hell because they could change before they die. However, we reply by saying that the manifestation of certain obvious 'markers' make the condemnation and praise of certain people licit and necessary.

For example, if a person spent his entire life openly manifesting defiance and disobedience to Allah by open drinking or any other major sin, this person carries a judgement in this world and such actions are reserved as indicators of this person's destiny. Whether the person repented on their deathbed is immaterial to us because the open acts of disobedience necessitate condemnation and the label of fisq of such person. Allah may forgive such person; however, that doesn't mean that we base our praise of such person on the possibility of repentance because it is also possible that this person didn't repent.That withstanding, our judgement of such person is based on the obvious display of obedience or disobedience. Imam Zayd (as) was asked about the repentance of A'isha, az-Zubayr and Talha for what they did in the Battle of Jamal. He replied something to the effect that their open act of aggression against the Imam of the time is well-known and established but their repentance for such is unknown. In this way, the imam was basically demonstrating the concept of what i said.

in the case of the first two 'caliphs,' they openly and intentionally defied an order; yet it is not exactly clear as to the nature of the order. Meaning that we don't know that if such defiance necessitates eternity in Hellfire or not because we have no textual proof to establish such. It is for that reason that Zaydis typically adopt reservation.

Hopefully, this makes matters clearer! And Allah knows best!


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1 month 2 days ago #1048 by Imam Rassi Society
Thank you for your answer once again - would you mind clarying 'yet it is not exactly clear as to the nature of the order.' ? Sources would imply that they knew full well about the order (to take Imam 'Ali as their mawla) yet they had their own designs. Of course the final matter is with Allah who knows all affairs.


Thank you for your question!

As for the meaning of "yet it is not exactly clear as to the nature of the order," we mean that we don't know if the order was one in which the defiance of such necessitated divine punishment or not. This is evidenced by the very fact that our imams (as), from the first of them to the last of them, never openly condemned or cursed the first two. It cannot be argued that this was out of dissimulation (taqiya) because our imams were in positions of power and rule and not subjugated to Sunni authorities. This is coupled with the very well-known practice of our imams to openly and clearly curse and condemn other Companions such as Mu'awiya and Amr b. al-As.

Plus, as one of our imams, Imam Abdullah b. Hamza (as) argues in his Risaalat an-Naafi'a, it is agreed that the Companions attained a level of greatness due to their assisting the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, as well as struggling and sacrificing for the cause of Islam. The imam also says that they committed an error (khata) by placing others ahead of Ali (as). However, he says, we don't know the extent of penalty for their error to Allah because the error of a great person who sacrificed and fought could be minimised due to their greatness and virtue.

I think when we take all of the above into consideration, the Zaydi position regarding the first two should be very clear. However, I want to also make it clear that our imams openly criticised their actions. One of our imams, Imam Humaidaan b. Yahya (as) compiled the statements of our early imams regarding their error of preceding Ali in his treatise Al-Muntaza' . He begins with the statements of Ali(as) in Nahj al-Balaagha and ends with the statements of Mansuur Billah (as). The words of our imams are critical and biting; however, we find no condemnation to hell or the attribution of hypocrisy to the first two.

And Allah knows best!


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1 month 2 days ago #1049 by Imam Rassi Society
Thank you for the clarification on the matter it is much appreciated.

It has been argued that Imam 'Ali (a) adopted a political approach with regards to the caliphs and only really began properly vocalising his rights (after the initial incident) after they had passed. For example the Hadith al-Rahba/Ruhba in Kufa where he reminded the companions about the day of Ghadir - this is just one example. It has also been reported that many people within his own armies had respect for the caliphs and their achievements, so he was prudent about criticising them. It has also been narrated that he rejected the offer of Abu Sufyan to uprise against the caliphs as Islam was still in its infancy. This political policy of prudence/caution (taqiyyah) does not seem to be too far-fetched and I think this is what leads such diverse views about Imam 'Ali's (a) true view on the caliphs..

I wondered if you could tell me how Zaydis interpret Imam 'Ali (a) mentioning that if he had 40 men/sizable army he would of opposed the caliphs? In line with the Zaydi views it is only legitimate to uprise against an unjust Muslim leader, so would this mean that Imam 'Ali viewed that as somewhat unjust?

No doubt the territorial gains of the caliphs were impressive and their reign was relatively stable - more in the case of Abu Bakr. However, it could be argued that the credit to get Islam to this stage is for the ahl al-Bayt (as) and Sahaba (ra) who sacrificed themselves. The caliphs were known to abstain from action in most battles which indicated their wavering belief and the abundance of Umayyad fabrications, which have been chained back to prophet Muhammad (saws) have created most of their merits. History reports these were created by none Mu'awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan who paid his comrades to fabricate hadith, who then taught them to the people of Sham - still to this day this legacy lives on and people like Amr ibn al As are considered reliable reporters etc. In fact, names such as al-Faruq and al-Siddiq have been transferred from Imam 'Ali to the Sheikhs - I am sure you are aware of this and it strikes me how such an effort was made to ensure that they had a close relationship to prophet Muhammad (s).

As we know it was not long until the taliqs attained positions of power which in all fairness, would not have been possible if the caliphs did not draw people away from Imam 'Ali (a) in the first place. It would seem that they (Abu Bakr, Umar and their companions) bowed under the pressure of the Quraish who were really objecting to the imamate of Imam 'Ali. If we were being generous, we could say that they flapped under pressure and were corrupted by the taliqs, who were really pulling the strings - Allah knows better.

With Imam 'Ali (a), his family and companions weakened, the taliqs were able to gradually take revenge, essentially for what was the bringing of Islam. This revenge accelerated after the death of Imam 'Ali when Ziyad ibn Abihi killed most of the Shia in Kufa - this was when narrations were being circulated about the Sheikhayn. Muawiyah consolidated his power and eventually killed most of the Shia and bribed people to come join to Sham. It all seems to culminate in Karbala and the reality is surmised in Yazid's words:

"The Bani Hashim only played a game with government"

In other words, they thought what prophet Muhammad (s) brought was concocted magic and was merely a power grab in spiritual garb. The Umayyads exacted their revenge on prophet Muhammad (s) through Imam 'Ali (s) and his family. This can be seen in Nahjul al-Balagha to some extent where Imam 'Ali (a) reminds Muawiyah that he still has the sword his defeated his relatives. They did not like Imam 'Ali (a) as he essentially humiliated them in the early battles.

This may be a simplistic analysis however, what are your thoughts of the initial deviation impacting the ahl al-Bayt and even Islam to this day? Of course we all have our own book of deeds in the end, and we do not bear the burden of another, but this deviation seemed to have opened a can of worms for years to come.

I wondered if Zaydi sources mention the people of the contact or people of the agreement which are mentioned and alluded to in Twelver and Sunni sources? They are the people who agreed to take the imamate from Imam 'Ali (as) and keep it between themselves - namely Abu Bakr, Umar, Abu Ubaydah and Salim.

Hadith - The Book of Leading the Prayer (Al-Imamah) - Sunan an-Nasa'i - - Sayings and Teachings of Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم)

With Thanks

Thank you for your questions!

As for your first question, i've heard that Imam ali said that if he had forty men...However, I am presently unfamiliar with the source of this statement. Can you please refer me to the source where this statement appears? Then, I could better answer this question. Regardless of whether the imam said or not, this doesn't contradict the Zaydi criteria of imamate because the Zaydis hold this criteria to be for those a'imma after al-Hussein (as). This is because the imamates of Ali, al-Hasan and al-Hussein, peace be upon them all, was explicitly mentioned by the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny. When the imamate is explicitly designated, there is no need for criteria.

Also, the judgement of rising against a tyrant is from the principle of commanding the good and forbidding the evil. Moreover, even this principle has stipulations as we mentioned in our book. Given the circumstances, we say that the imam was not able to enact this principle because of the lack of some stipulations. If the preconditions existed, we say that the imam would have fought against the previous caliphs.It can nowhere be argued that he saw their rule as legitimate. He was openly critical of them as can be witnessed by sermons such as Shiqshiqiya.

As for the effects of the initial deviation, some of our imams have mentioned the disastrous effects of Saqifa. For example, in one of our books Anwaar al-Yaqiin it is narrated that Imam Zayd (as) said that the oppression of Hishaam can be attributed to the sheikhain because they were the first to establish the oppression of the Descendants and precedence over their imams. This would therefore follow that much of the oppression that we find today could equally be attributed to their actions. Because of their actions and the actions of those after them, the rightful heirs to the caliphate have been deprived and allowed for all types of violations of Islam. Even when you look at the oppression and corruption of the Umayyads, their coming into power was due to Umar and subsequently Uthman. Umar made Muawiya that amir of Syria. And who elected Umar? Abu Bakr.

I couldn't find this narration from Sunan Nisaa`i in Zaydi sources.

And Allah knows best!


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1 month 2 days ago #1050 by Imam Rassi Society

Many thanks for your reply again may Allah (swt) keep you well. Have you thought of translating al-Amali Abi Talib?

It would be interesting comparing this book with Kitab Sulaym ibn Qays which is an early Shia book containing narrations of Imam 'Ali (a). The book in today's form however has been corrupted by the Twelvers/Ghulat Shia during their rivalry with the Abbasids, by their 12 imam narrations - it also contains a fair amount of exaggeration which is typical. The famous tablet tradition with the twelve imams is in this book narrated by Ibn Abbas which screams of Abbasid rivalry.

Despite this there are narrations that can be found in the wider corpus which likely are the more authentic parts of the book, if you have time I would recommend reading hadith 10 below, which I believe is also found in Zaydi books sources as well as Nahjul al-Balagha. It also contains an interesting response from Imam Muhammad ibn Ali al-Baqir

Sulaym commonly narrates about what I quoted before in Sunan Nissa'i which is the people of the contract or agreement. I have recently completed a paper showing that Sulaym ibn Qays is likely Qays ibn Ubad aka Abbad ibn Qays al-Asadi. He may or may not appear in Zaydi sources. This book is what contains the narration about if Imam 'Ali (a) had 40 men.

I have one final question if you could be so kind to answer - I am convinced Zaydism is the right path and may Allah reward you for translating the existing works so far:

What would be the situation if a descendent of Hasan or Husayn existed but there was one amongst them who was more pious/learned and manfiested the qualities of imamate better than a descendent? Also, what would be the situation for imamate amongst a sizable portion of Muslims who were not of Hasani/Husayni lineage - would they still be allowed to elect an imam? My ultimate question is how stringent is it that the imamate be from a lineage? Do the other qualities such as knowledge, strength, freedom etc take priority?

It would seem against common sense that lineage alone could trump these qualities, especially in today's day and age where knowledge is being spread in such a way that the previous generations could not imagine. We no longer have to go to a certain house to obtain knowledge, I am not trying to downplay tradition or hadith of the weight things, but rather stating that in this era, demanding leadership from a certain lineage seems somewhat of an anachronism, as the whole reason for demanding lineage from the house in the first place, is that they carried the knowledge and legacy, like Noah's ark carried the people and animals.

With Thanks


Thank you for your questions!

As for your first question regarding the translation of Amaali Abi Taalib, we never really considered translating this book actually. We have translated excerpts from it that are quoted in other texts; however, as a standalone work, we never really thought about doing so. One of our long term goals is the translation and publication of a Zaydi hadith book. Since the Musnad Imam Zayd has already been translated, we would have to choose another hadith book. I can bring up the Amaali as a possibility. We'll see, inshaAllah.

As for your second question, I would say that it can be approached from various angles. However, I would start by saying that the precondition of the imamate being descent from the Fatimi line is considered essential and not optional. This was the case with our earliest imams to the latest. I know of no instance in our collective history when the consensus of Ahl al-Bayt recognised the imamate of anyone outside of the Prophetic Descendants. Keep in mind that various dynasties have come and gone with a wide spectrum of leaders from just to corrupt; however, I don't know of any Zaydi scholar or imam who held to the imamate of any of them.

Imam al-Qaasim ar-Rassi (as) said in one of his treatises that the descent of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, as a criteria of the imamate has a wisdom behind it. He argues that in addition to the various verses of the Qur'an that emphasise primacy of a Prophet's or Messenger's family, one of the wisdoms of restricting the imamate to them is that various tribes and families would refrain from slaughtering each other over it. I mean, we have numerous examples in history of the viciousness of warring dynasties, such as the Umayyads and Abbasids. Their aggression even turned towards the Family of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny! However, if it is understood that the imamate is restricted to the Prophetic Descendants, other tribes and families would not vie for it themselves, which would lead to less bloodshed. Speaking of the Abaasids and Umayyads, it's not surprising that they claimed authority due to their clan connection to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family. This brings us to the second point.

Another point of consideration is that even if there were no explicit references to the primacy of the Prophet's Family in the Qur'an and ahadith, natural human sentiment would hold to their primacy due to their descent. I mean, just look at kingdoms and dynasties that have ruled humankind for millennia. Even societies with no Divine Book have held to the primacy of their founder's family. For example, who did the rulership of communist Cuba go to after Fidel Castro? His brother, Raul. Also, just look at the preponderance of the various Sufi groups that exist. Many of the khalifas of the tariqas got their position because of their familial connection to the sheikh--even if there are other people who may be considered more qualified. I'm not saying that this is right or wrong; however, I'm saying that it is human nature to some extent. Unless some institution has a clause/condition in which a leader is selected from a group of qualified candidates, successorship would almost always be handed over to the family of the previous ruler. All of that withstanding, I would say that Divine Wisdom takes human nature (fitra) into account.

So to answer your question, since no one else can claim a closer connection to the Prophet than his closest family members and since a non-family ruler would always be deficient in this charisma inherent in the family member, it doesn't make logical sense that the rulership of anyone else but the family would be universally accepted and considered valid. The person may be considered just, brave, strong, knowledgeable, etc. However, without the connection to Ahl al-Bayt, the ruler would always have this aforesaid deficiency looming over his head. His leadership may be respected; however, the command of absolute obedience to him would NOT be considered binding on the Ummah.

Remember, this is what we are talking about when discussing the imamate. We are not talking about a local ruler or president or prime minister; the office of imamate implies the collective Muslims' absolute obedience by the decree of Allah. Since it is a divine decree, it has a list of preconditions, and one of them is descent from the Fatimi line, which is proven both textually and intellectually as I have demonstrated.

Also, I want to also point out that it is NOT the duty of Zaydis, in particular, or Muslims, in general, to elect an imam or caliph. We are not like the Sunnis who make and break the rules of selecting a caliph and are therefore in a theological bind since its abolishment in 1923. Nor are we like the 12er Shia who see themselves as religiously obligated to 'bring' a hidden imam back. Instead, we say that the obligation of imamate lies only with the qualified sayyid who rises to the occasion and calls to himself. This point is very important! We are only obligated to know the qualifications of the imam and use them to judge whether we follow this qualified sayyid or not.

Hopefully, in a roundabout way, I've answered your question! If not, please ask for clarification. And Allah knows best!


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