This page was compiled and written in 1999 by John Lerwill (with minor amendments since).

(Any under-lined word or phrase indicates a link to further study of that subject)

  • 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.
  • Imam 'Ali (renowned for his wider perspectives) is reputed to have said: "The land where books were first written and from where wisdom and knowledge sprang is India." (source: Hindu Muslim Cultural Accord - By Syed Mohamud Bombay 1949 p. 18and 21). Many Islamic traditions support the high standing of Indian culture with the Arabs. This shows the affection and respect of early Muslims had for India. In any case, Caliph Umar, was opposed to attacking India, even when he was told that "Indian rivers are pearls, her mountains rubies, her trees perfumes," for he regarded India as a country of complete freedom of thought and belief where Muslims and others were free to practise their faith.

    This site provides a comprehensive independent description on the subject and is well indexed.

    See this site for further queries on the Qur'an.

    A statement on Sunni-Shi-ite differences
    (from a Shia perspective).

    Click here for a detailed study of Shi-ism.
    A Shi-ite Encyclopeadia.

    See also further links in
    The Prophet and His Family below.

    The Centre for Ismai'li Studies site

    For an academic and independent study of Sufi-ism, click here.

    This site is dedicated to Rumi, but also provides insights, including ibn al-Arabi (see the menu item 'Sufism').

    Try to find a copy of The Sufis, by Idries Shah, pub'd. ca. 1971, and re-published in 1994, pub'd by Anchor., and The Isma'ilis, Their history and doctrines, by Farhard Daftary, C.U.P., 1990.


    It is not the purpose of this page to go into depth on this topic.
    There have been many such forms appearing over the years. Some of the most recent,
    and probably most well known, are those called Subud and Beshara,
    and a school established by Gurdjieff. But this list is just a sample.

    Showing the various progeny of the greater family

  • The Prophet Mohammad is known to have been extremely honest in his dealings before he received the message of Islam. To such an extent, Khadija (a business-woman herself) chose Mohammad as her husband, even though she was much older. This clearly demonstrates that the Islamic woman's rights were clear and bold, and that any notion of restricting a righteous woman is anathema in Islam. Click here for a further description of the Prophet.
  • The family 'tree' (below) shows all major branches of the Prophet's family, and particularly those that (at some time or other) either sought power for themselves, or were promoted for that purpose by others. Isma'ili Imams down to Isma'il himself are shown on this chart. From Ismai'il onwards, this party of the Shia moved their mission (da'wa) to Syria from Medina (Arabia). The Shia movement has never since returned to the Islamic starting point of the Hijaz in Arabia, and in recent times, the Wahhabi Muslims of Saudi Arabia have even gone so far as to destroy the tombs of the Prophet's progeny at Medina.
  • The origin of the Arabs is said to lie with the seed of Abraham through his servant-concubine Hagar and their son Ishmael. They were both cast out into the desert, and were saved by the appearance of a devinely-created spring. This water-source is still venerated by the Muslims when they perform pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca (see The Arabs, by P.K. Hitti, pub'd. ca. 1970).
  • The primary source for the genealogical data is The Isma'ilis, Their history and doctrines, by Farhard Daftary, C.U.P., 1990. Where names in the 'tree' are shown in italics, other Shia sources are taken to show additional data.
  • Abbreviations: d is death; k is 'killed in battle'; m is 'murdered'.
  • Other conventions: The Muslim year is usually shown, but the Christian year may also be shown prefixed by a forward oblique. An asterisk (*) is shown to indicate each Isma'ili Imam.
  • For further details concerning "the Twelvers" genealogy and doctrine, please click on this webpage.
  • For further details of the King of Jordan's bloodline, please click on this webpage.
  • Return to Top of Page        Further Study
    The Prophet's Family
    PLEASE mail me with your suggestions and/or other comment. John Lerwill.