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Twelvers / Ithna Ashari Islam

The Twelvers are by far the largest group of Shiite Muslims, because the Iranians are Twelvers. Perhaps eighty percent of the Shiis are Twelvers. Twelvers constitute ninety percent of the modern population of Iran and fifty-five to sixty percent of the population of Iraq. Twelver Shiites are the majority in Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan and also have substantial populations in Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Syria, India, Afghanistan and Bahrain.

The following of Jafar Sadik bifurcated into two branches - the Ismailis, the followers of Ismail, and the Musawite, the supporters of Musa Kazim, who later on came to be known as Twelvers, or Ithna Asharites. Canonical schools in Islam are called "Fiqh's". the only Fiqh's in Shia Islam, are Usuli, Akhbari, and Shaykhi. These 3 all belong to the Ithna-Ashari or mainstream Shia Islam, which believes in the 12 Shia Imams; hence the name which means "Twelver's".

Those who believe that the third son was the rightful ruler of Islam are called the "Twelvers", because they believe that there were 12 Imams. The last one is still alive, according to the Twelvers, and has been hiding in a cave for the last more than one thousand years. They hold that the twelfth Imam (Muhammad) who disappeared about 874 is still living. He will come out and resume his rule soon, the Twelvers say.

Modern Twelvers believe that, for his own protection, Mohammad al-Mahdi went into "occultation" (hiding). He is reported to have communicated to the faithful via intermediaries called Babs (Gates), the first of whom was Uthman al-Amri. When the last of the four gates died in 941 CE, the lesser occultation ended and the greater occultation began. The line of Twelver Imams came to an end.

About the time the lesser Occultation came to an end the Twelvers came to believe that the Twelfth Imam would return to earth in the last days as the Mahdi, and would establish a reign of justice and peace on earth. After his coming, they believe, Christ will return. Some from Iran claimed when Imam Khomeini was alive that he was in fact the "Disappearing Imam" who had come back to rule. Others said that he was the Mehdi or "Promised Messiah".

The Twelvers are the largest Shiite group today, but they are not the only one, and historically they were often a very small, weak group. They emerged as a distinct Shii group mostly in the third Muslim century (the eighth century C.E.) after the death of the twelfth Imam. Twelver Shiism appears to have grown in size partly because it did not have a living Imam; many other descendants or alleged descendants of the Prophet called themselves the Imam, formented militarty revolt, and were killed. By not having a living Imam, Twelver Shiism was able to survive and grow, and other Shiis often were absorbed into it when their revolts were crushed and their Imams executed.

In law, the Twelvers do not accept hadiths, transmitted by enemies of the Imans such as 'A'isha, and make use also of the sayings of the Imams. In addition to the Shi'i regulations for the prayer call and ablutions, they admit the doctrine of taqiya or katman, the prophecy or even necessity of hiding one's true beliefs among non-Shi'is...and they retain the peculiar institution of legal temporary marriage between a free man and woman for mut'a (pleasure).

An integral part of the Shii doctrine of the Imam is that he is the legitimate political leader of Islam; just as the caliphs usurped Ali's authority, modern governments, in the absence of the authority of the Imam, are not legitimate. Most Imams of the Twelver line, after Hossein's martydom, did not make a claim to political leadership; rather, they acknowledged the authority of the caliphs, and urged their followers to do the same. Thus political quietism was a common option pursued by Twelver Shiis. Early Shii thinkers living after the occultation of the Imam felt leaderless. They felt a profound alienation from the world and generally adopted a quietest political policy.

Within Twelver Shia Islam there are three major legal schools, the Usuli, the Akhbari and the Shayki. Akhbaris constitute a very small group and are found primarily around Basra and in southern Iraq as well as around Khorramshahr in Iran. The dominant Usuli school is more liberal in its legal outlook and allows greater use of interpretation (ijtihad) in reaching legal decisions, and considers that one must obey a mujtahid (learned interpreter of the law) as well as an Imam.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:59:39 ZULU