By As-Shahid Ayatullah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr
Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds, and prayers and peace be upon Muhammad and his Family (Ahl al-Bayt).
Some modern scholars view Shi`ism as an accidental manifestation in Islamic society, and see the Shi`a as a part of the main chorus of the Islamic community; a result of the events which took place with the passing of time and of specific social developments, which in turn led to the formation of a special sectarian attitude within this larger body, and then gradually expanded into a sect. Having assumed this fact, these scholars disagree as to the actual events and developments which led to the growth of this manifestation and to the birth of this sect. Some assume that the supposed political activities of `Abd Allah ibn Saba` formed the basis for the formation of the Shia. Others, however, attribute the appearance of Shi`ism to the khilafah of Imam Ali, prayers and peace be upon him, and to the political and social position which was established during that era, according to the events which took place. While others assume that the appearance of the Shia was hidden in events which occurred later than this in the historical process of Islamic society.
What has encouraged many of these scholars to the assumption
and the belief that Shi`ism was an accidental manifestation in Islamic society is, in my opinion, the fact that the Shi`a in the early times only constituted a small part of the whole Islamic community. This fact has given them the impression that non Shi`ism was the original foundation of Islamic society, and that Shi`ism was an accidental and exceptional manifestation, whose causes must lie in the development of the parties opposed to the situation of the day.
However, it is hardly logical to define principles or exceptions, or bases and deviations, according to largeness or comparative fewness of numbers, and it is erroneous to consider non-Shi`ism as the basis according to its large numbers, and to consider Shi`ism as a deviant, accidental manifestation because this disagrees with the fundamental nature of doctrinal divisions. We have often found a particular doctrinal division within the development of a single religion founded upon the basis of some difference in the definition of the tenets of that religion without there being two equal doctrinal divisions according to numbers. Yet they may be equal according to their purity of origin and equally expressive of the religion, while differing as regards to its basic character. Thus it is not in any way permissible for us to construct our conceptions of the internal doctrinal divisions within Islam, of the Shi`a and others, according to numerical strength.
Similarly, it is not permissible for us to link the birth of the Shi`a presentation of Islam in the development of Islam with the birth of the word `Shi`a' or `Shi`ism' (al-Tashayyu as a technical term or special name for a clearly defined group of Muslims; for the birth of technical terms is one matter and the growth of conventions and presentations is quite another.
Even if we did not find the word `Shi`a' in the normal language used during the lifetime of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and his family and grant him peace, or after his death, this would not mean that the Shi`a presentation of Islam and its attitudes did not exist. It is in this spirit that we must deal with the
question of Shi`ism (al-Tashayyu) and the Shi`a, and answer the two following questions:
a) How did Shi`ism come into existence?
b) How did the Shi`a appear?