- Islam is, according to its adherents, the last revealed Word of God through His Prophet
(nabi) and messenger (rasul), Mohammad son of Abdullah, as contained in the
Qur'an. Mohammad was born in the 6th Christian century in Arabia, and began his Islamic
mission at the age of 40. Islam is, however, founded on the religion of Abraham
(Ibrahim), and the Judaic/Christian prophets Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus (Issa), together
with Mohammad, constitute the six major prophets recognised by Islam. But tradition and the Qur'an states
that there were many thousands more prophets preceding Mohammad, who is the last according to Islam.
- Following the death of Prophet Mohammad, there was the 'Righteous Caliphate' who led the Ummah (people of Islam). There were four in turn: Abu Bakr, Uthman, Omar and then 'Ali, the Prophet's son-in-law. Following this, Islam was split; the third caliph, of the aristocratic family of the Omayyads, laid the foundation for a hereditary Caliphate. Later, there was the Abbasid Caliphate, who moved the Islamic capital to Baghdad.
- The feeling, nurtured by the opposition to the Omayyads, that Ali and his descendants were the rightful heirs of the Prophet became incorporated in the religious dogma of the discontented factions. The schism between Orthodox (Sunnite) and Alid (Shiite) Islam has continued to run throughout Islam down to the present day. Islam is to-day seen to be consisting of these two main threads, or groups. The name SHIA originates from the phrase shia-atul 'Ali, relating
to that party of Muslims (those who practise Islam) who followed the authority of 'Ali, the son-in-law
and cousin of the Prophet, on the death of the Prophet. The SHIA based their belief on the apparent authority of the
Prophet himself, just prior to his death, on the way from returning from pilgrimage (hajj).
- The SUNNI practise to-day represents the vast majority of Muslims, and the SHIA are mostly to be found
in Iran and Iraq. The SHIA, however, are themselves now broken in two main camps, and the most orthodox
of these are those to be found in Iran and Iraq.
- TEACHINGS: Those emanating from 'ALI and his progeny
- To the SHIA Muslims (for a definition of SHIA, please see PRELIMINARY), the divine wisdom of the Qur'an was most properly divulged by 'Ali, particularly after
the death of the Prophet. 'Ali was vested with the power of ta'wil (inner teaching, or wisdom), and,
accordingly, was recognised as the first Imam (spiritual leader) by the Shia. Subsequent Imams must be of the
progeny of 'Ali and appointed by the Imam of the time, prior to his death.
- The teachings of the Shia are concerned with two major forms, or aspects of life; the outward (zahir),
and inner (batini). A good example of these two aspects is in the meaning of the word jihad (or sacrifice for God).
The Western World is probably unaware that the GREATER jihad (in batini - inner - Islam) is action against one's own base self,
NOT (for example) action against others in the form of unwarranted terrorism.
- One Shia Imam (the fifth or sixth, depending on Shia group), Jaffer-as-Saddiq, is also known to have had particular influence over the
Muslim community. He had the attention of many spiritual groups and individuals in Islam, both Sunni and Shia, and
also (remarkably), the alchemist Gabir (Jabir). After Imam Jaffer, there was some confusion as to which son
was to carry on the mantle as Imam, particularly as his eldest son (Isma'il) was thought to have died before
his father. Imam Jaffer is known only to have confirmed the passing of Imamate to Isma'il, however, and as Isma'il
was just not there on the demise of the Imam, Musa assumed the Imamate. Thereby began the first major division
in the Shia Imamate, as Musa's line became known as 'the Twelvers' (ending in a 12th Imam without progeny), to-day
being the most orthodox branch and living mainly in Iran/Iraq,
whilst the believers in Isma'il later became known as Isma'ilis.
- Amongst the Shia, there
is a party that, according to them, still has an Imam whose ancestry derives directly from 'Ali. This is the main group of a branch of
the Shia which is to-day generally called the Nizari Isma'ili Shia. They are also called Agakhanis, whose Imam is the current Aga
Khan. His followers are scattered world-wide, and are thought to number about 20 millions, though a number is difficult
to determine, particularly as their habitat is in the midst of Russia and China, as well as the major countries of
the Western World, and elsewhere.
- There are also other 'esoteric' traditions in Islam, generally called SUFI-ism. Most of these batini traditions are known to have stemmed
from 'Ali also, although some strands have emanated from other 'Companions of the Prophet', such as Abu Bakr (the first caliph
after the death of the Prophet). There are many strands in the SUFIs, each based on the name of a spiritual leader who is
known to have passed on the spiritual message, such as Naqshband, and Rumi, who is also known for his poetic, but allegorical, writings,
and is known to have been greatly influenced by Shams-i-Tabriz, who is strongly suspected as having been an Isma'ili missionary (da'i).
- Where Islam spread, the mystical element of the faith went also. It became most profoundly developed in Asia Minor, Persia, Afghanistan and India.
Ibn al-'Arabi (born in Spain during the Omayyad Caliphate there) is a very major name in Sufic tradition.
Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith (an attempt at reconciling Hindu/Islamic disparities),
was himself a Sufi - or at least hugely influenced by Sufi thought.
- Isma'ilis and Sufis are both now very prevalant in Western countries.