The Patterns that Inform History: Shiite Worldviews and the Understanding of Past and Future
Shiism evolved originally as a political rather than as a religious movement, one focused on the question of leadership within the Islamic community. Evidence to support this assertion can be found in events of the seventh and eighth centuries subsequent to the death of Husain at Karbala. Husain’s direct descendants, those men now sanctified as Imams in Twelver belief, retreated into quietism, refusing to condone or lead open military revolts against the Sunni caliphate. They chose instead political obscurity and contented themselves with a role as spiritual teachers of the Shiite minority. But many Alid partisans grew dissatisfied with the quietism of Muhammad’s direct descendants and sought out other more distantly related members of the Prophet’s household who might be willing to lead an anticaliphal insurgency. One after another ephemeral Shiite sects arose, led by Alid rebels who claimed lineage from the Prophet. Each sect briefly became a focal point of political dissatisfaction and revolt, only to be cut down by caliphal forces. Through all this the Twelver Imams sat aloof, immersed in private teaching; thus the line survived.
KeywordsPrivate Teaching Seventh Century Direct Descendant Eighth Century Islamic Community
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- 1.Louis Massignon, “Die Ursprünge und die Bedeutung des Gnostizismus im Islam,” Eranos Jahrbuch 1937 (Zurich: Rhein-Verlag, 1938), 56.Google Scholar
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