(from Arab. shi'ah, following; sect). Mems. of Shi'a, one of the 2 major branches of Islam.* The main difference bet. them and the other major branch (Sunnites*) is the Shi'ite belief that the imamate (or caliphate; see also Imam) is hereditary, not elective, that it belonged to Ali, Muhammad's* son-in-law, and his descendants, and that all others who claim the office, including abu-Bakr,* are usurpers.
Shi'ites are found throughout the Muslim world. They comprise 3 main groups: (1) Zaidites (named after Zaid, a grandson of Ali's son Husain) form the majority in Yemen (see Middle East, L 2). (2) Most Ismailis (named after Isma'il, son of Ja'far, the 6th imam; also called Seveners because they believe in 7 imams and the figure 7 is prominent also in other connections in their beliefs) are Khodjas (or neo-Ismailis) and are in India; other Ismaili groups include Assassins* (or Nizaris), Babists (see Bahaism), Carmathians (or Qarmatians; founded 9th c.; flourished in Middle Ages as a communistic secret soc.). (3) The creed of the Twelvers (so called because they believe in 12 imams) was est. as state religion in Iran 1502.
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