Twelver Shiʿa

Andrew A. Newman

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online May 2011 | | DOI:
Twelver Shiʿa


Shiʿi Muslims believe that after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 ce, his cousin and son-in-law ʿAli (d. 661) inherited Muhammad’s spiritual and political authority over the ummah (the Muslim community). Thus, the Shiʿa reject the succession of the first three of Muhammad’s successors (khalifah, caliph) until ʿAli himself became caliph (665–661). After ʿAli’s assassination, the Shiʿa believe that the succession lay with his male descendants. Each of these men is called “Imam.” At present some 10–15 percent of the world’s 1 billion Muslims are Shiʿites. The largest of the Shiʿi groups extant in the early 21st century are the Twelver Shiʿa. The Twelvers believe that the spiritual-politico leadership of the community (the Imamate) was transferred down through ʿAli’s male descendants until the twelfth Imam, understood to have been born in 869. He is believed to be the Mahdi, and understood to be alive but in hiding from a few years after his birth. He is to return when deemed appropriate by Allah. In Iran, except for a brief hiatus in the 18th century, Twelver Shiʿism has been the established faith since the early 16th century. The faith forms the basis of the present-day Islamic Republic, which came into being in 1979. As of 2010, nearly 90 percent of 70 million Iranians are professing Twelvers. Elsewhere, the majority of Iraqi and Bahrayni Muslims also profess the Twelver faith. Twelvers also form sizeable minorities in Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, and areas in eastern Africa. They are also found in Afghanistan, Nigeria, Southeast Asia, Europe, and North America.

Article.  7696 words. 

Subjects: Islam

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribeRecommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »