The Original Shi’ites: The Wilayatites and the Wisayatites

Ayatullah Murtaza Razavi was born on January, 1948. He is a writer, theologian, jurist, and philosopher. He was a fighter for the 1979 Revolution, and he served in the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Iranian Parliament), representing Tabriz. For many years he has been a hawza professor. The ayatullah has written critiques of many modernists, including Hossein Modarresi and Dr. Shariati.

In his books Maktab dar Faraayand-e Tahaajimaat-e Taarikhi: Wilaayateeyaan wa Wis̪aayateeyaan, pages 69-84 and 298, and Insaan wa ‘Uloom-e Insaani dar S̪ah̪eefa-e Sajaadeeya, volume 2, pages 164-169, he delineates the two original Shia groups, the Wilayatites and the Wisayatites. I added details from this, this, and this article.

*The brackets [] are my own editions.


Wilaya (wilaaya) = The belief that God nominated Imam Ali (a) to succeed the Prophet (p) because he (a) is a “wali of God” and a “divine proof” (like the prophets).

Wisaya (wis̪aaya) = The belief that, before passing away, the Prophet (p), not God, desired that Imam Ali (a) succeed him (p) because of his virtuosity and great knowledge.

Following the Death of the Prophet (p)

From the death of the Prophet (p) until ~250 AH, the Shia community was divided into two disparate currents, the Wisayatites and the Wilayatites. The minuscule Wilayatite group believed that Ali (a) must have succeeded due to wilaya, whereas the much larger Wisayatite group claimed that Ali (a) should have succeeded due to wisaya.

There are incorrect understandings for the tawaatur and controversial hadith “Following the death of the Prophet (p), all Sahaba but three apostatized” they are Salman, Abu Dhar, and Miqdaad, later ‘Amaar returned to the fold. Prominents Shi’ites like Abas and Abdullah b. Abas are not a part of them. Group A, [composed of faithful Imamites] ignores the hadith, unable to unproblematize it; group B [of non-Imamites] uses it to discredit Imamism.

Imam Ali (a) and the four Companions displayed Islamic relations with the greater umma by intermarrying and engaging socially and politically. [Um Kulthoom, the daughter of Lady Fatima (a), was married to Umar]. During the reign of Umar, Salman was his governor in Madain until he (Salman) passed away. [Salman led an offense in the conquest of Persia during Umar’s caliphate. Abu Dhar participated in the conquest of Egypt under ‘Amr b. Aas, and the conquests of Syria and Cyprus under Muawiya during the reigns of Umar and Uthman. Miqdad was martyred in jihad in Alexandria participating in the conquest of Egypt during Uthman’s reign. Ammar b. Yasir was appointed the ruler of Kufa and its army; he led the battle of Nahawand and conquered parts of Iran during Umar’s reign]. Seeing all of this, group A considers those who pledged to Abu Bakr as Muslim.

Group B uses the same reasons to bring doubt upon Imamism.

[It should be said that Group C (also composed of Imamite scholars) accepted the apostasy hadiths literally.]

The explanation of the hadith is, “Following the death of the Prophet (p), all sahaba but three apostatized (regarding the wilaaya of Imam Ali).” After the Prophet (p) passed away, there were only three Wilayatite Shias – Salman, Abu Dhar, and Miqdaad. ‘Amaar apostatized, but later reverted.

The Wilayatites believed that Imam Ali (a) was:

  1. Chosen by God
  2. A Divine Proof and wali
  3. Infallible
  4. Aware of the unseen (ghayb)

Imam Ali’s (a) Other Shiites

Following the death of the Prophet (p), the Ansaris understood the excellence of Imam Ali (a), however, they thought that caliphate was a [theologically] unimportant matter. To them, it did not matter whether Imam Ali (a) or Abu Bakr succeeded. This explain why, when Salman tried to inform the public of their error saying, “Do ya’ll realize what [error] ya’ll committed?” the public did not comprehend the gravity of the situation.

Imam Ali’s (a) had other followers (Shias) besides these four. ‘Abas considered caliphate as Ali’s (a) right, not due to wilaya or believing that he (a) was a “Divine Proof” (hujjah min ‘ind Allah), but instead due to wisaya. The Hashimids agreed with Abas in this matter. Abas did not consider Ali’s (a) words as divine, if he did, he would not have taken Ali (a) to the caliph’s court over an inheritance dispute. The reason Shia and Sunni inheritance laws differs.

Zubayr, Imam Ali’s (a) cousin (the son his [a] paternal aunt], was an ardent Shia. He even unsheathed the sword to defend of Ali’s (a) right. If he would have considered Ali (a) as a Divine Proof and as God’s wali, he would not have begotten the Battle of Jamal.

During the period of confusion following the killing of Uthman, prominent individuals – including Usama b. Zayd, Sa’d b. Waqas, Abdullah b. Umar, and Muhammad b. Muslima – did not believe that pledging to Imam Ali (a) was obligatory. Politically, they neither supported Imam Ali (a) nor the opposition.

In order to prevent historical misunderstandings, when quoting the “apostasy hadith,” more focus should be on early Shias like Abas, Zubayr, and the Hashimids, not the participants of Saqeefa (which Umar himself considered a lapse). Using an academic, historical view, we see that, until ~250 AH, Imam Ali’s (a) supporters were two distinct currents, the Wilayatite Shias and Wisayatite Shias.

Abdullah b. Abas: The Wisayatite

According to Abdullah b. Abas:

One day my dad sent me to Umar for something. I saw Umar layed-down and eating dates. He insisted I take one, so I did. The date was so dry that I gave up trying to eat it. Umar asked, “Does your friend (Ali) continue in his claim for caliphate?” I responded, “Even my dad agrees, he states that the Prophet (p) requested so in his (p) will.” Umar answered, “Your dad’s right, towards the end of his (p) life, he (p) wanted to write something about this, but we did not heed his (p) advice, as we knew that the Arabs would never accept Ali’s rule.”1

In this story, the heart of the discussion of Abas, Abdullah b. Abas, and Umar is about wisaya, not wilaya.

After the Muslims conquered Jerusalem, the patriarch desired to meet their new sovereign. Umar chose Abdullah b. Abas to accompany him. On the way, every time the pair would pass a village, Umar, as a result of his tall stature, brute face, and un-kingly look, would be assumed to be the servant, and handsome Abdullah b. Abas would be welcomed as the new leader. This happened so many times that Abdullah b. Abas looked to Umar and jokingly stated, “According to the populous, I am more worthy of being caliph than you.” Umar retorted, “Hush, for there is a man in Medina more worthy of caliphate than you or I (meaning Imam Ali).”

The point of Umar was, ‘You (Abdullah b. Abas) do not know. If another caliph were to be chosen, the most deserving person would be Ali (a). So do not fancy such nonsense.’

Ayatullah Khui, in his Ma’jam Rijaal al-H̪adeeth writes about Abdullah b. Abas, “There is nothing praising him, and the hadiths in Kafi condemning him are authentic. This is enough to fault him. We see that the the amount of effort he put into supporting Imam Ali (a) and Lady Fatima (a) was not even one tenth what strained into fixing his gutters.”

(Abas’s gutter faced the mosque. One day, during his caliphate, Umar walked passed and some water splashed onto his clothing. He ordered Abas to remove it. Abas went to Ali (a) in order to complain, bawling and whimpering. Imam Ali (a) then ordered the gutter must remain, if not, they would have to deal with his (a) wrath.)

The rijali gradings of Abdullah b. Abas’s are conflicting. Ayatullah Khui states, “His many strifes in support of Imam Ali (a) are a sign of praise and truthfulness. Any hadith from him should be accepted and acted upon. Nonetheless, about his belief in wilaya and being a Divine Proof, the scholars have remained silent.”

One day I was in the company of Ayatullahs Paayaani Irdibeeli, Meshkeeni, Ahmadi Mayaanji, Muhammad Ameen Rid̪wi (my paternal uncle), and H̪aaj Aqa Reda S̪adr. Haaj Aqa Reda Sadr concluded that Abdullah b. Abas considered Imams Hasan and Husain (a) as “Virtuous persons with illustrious parents, not as persons obligatory to follow” (muftarad̪ al-t̪aa’a), everyone agreed.

Regarding Abdullah b. Abas, we know that:

  1. He was in the forefront of Imam Ali’s (a) supporters.
  2. He dearly loved Imams Hasan and Hussain (a).
  3. He apostatized, he was not one of the three like Salman, Abu Dhar, and Miqdad.
  4. Of the hadiths that praise him, none whatsoever indicate that he believed in wilaya.
  5. He did not believe in the Imamates of Sajjad (a) and the following Imams. He did not narrate from any Imam apart from Imam Ali (a).
  6. His fame is due to his descendants, the Abbasids.
  7. He considered some of Imam Ali’s (a) actions as errors. He denied the infallibility of the Imams.

The Two Qualities of the Prophet (p)

The Prophet (p) possessed two qualities: prophetic – revealing God’s message, and imamic – being an imam and leading that message. Both qualities were Divine Proofs. After he (p) passed, the prophetic quality ended. The men of saqeefa and the Wisayatites believed that the imamic quality ended as well. Whereas the Wilayaties disagreed and believed that the earth can never be without a Divine Proof. They believed that the prophets and Imams are all Divine Proofs and walis.

Thus, the Wilayatites considered caliphate/imamate as God-given. The Wilayatites believe that the prophets and Imams are all walis, thus, a wali is a wali, whether elected or not.

The great majority of Shi’ites who pledged to Imam Ali (a) were Wisayatites. They believed that, with their allegiance, they were giving him (a) caliphate, not that God had pregiven authority to him (a). They used to say, “We are making Ali the Imam” in the same manner that they gave imamate/caliphate to Abu Bakr.

In contrast, the Wilayatites used to say, “We gave nothing to Ali (a) in our pledge, he (a) already had this Imamate. Just as the Prophet (p) did not gain prophethood by our pledge.” An Imam can abdicate from political authority, but not from divine authority. Thus, if the Shi’ites had sworn a “theological pledge” to Imam Hasan (a), then it would have been prohibited for Imam Hasan (a) to resign. Instead, they swore a “political pledge.”

The Mutazilites agree with the Wisayatites that caliphate is man-given, the difference is that the Wisayatites limit caliphate to the Hashimites.

The Wisayatite Shias believed that:

  1. The Imam is neither a Divine Proof nor wali.
  2. The Imam is a fallible man. Some Wisayatites called their Imams “ma’soom,” but by “ma’soom” they meant virtuous.
  3. The Imams do not possess the knowledge of the unseen.
  4. There is no such thing as an occulted Imam.
  5. Imam Ali (a) was the best Companion
  6. The Prophet (p) desired to bequeath political authority to Ali (a).
  7. The other Imams were merely the most knowledgeable men of the umma.

The Wisayatite Response to Imam Hussain’s (a) Revolt

During the uprising of Imam Hussain (a), the Wisayatite Shias, who were were of considerable size, did not rush to aid the Imam (a). Some even beged the Imam (a) against rebellion, [fearing his martyrdom]. Abdullah b. Mat̪ī’, ‘Umar b. Abd al-Rahman b. H̪art͡h,

Not only did they not follow the Imam, but they doomed him (a) before the Ummayads doomed him (a). News reached everywhere that so-and-so Shia panjandrums counseled the Imam (a), causing the Shias and those who wrote to Imam Hussain (a) to become doubtful in their Shiaism.

Of the Shi’ites who did not attend, two are excused – Muhammad b. Hanafiyya, the trustee of the Imams will,6 and Abdullah b. Ja’far, in charge of the finances of the children of Lady Fatima (a) and Imam Ali (a).7 [However, it seems likely that Muhammad b. Hanafiyya was a Wisayatite. He genuinely believed he was the Imam after Imam Hussain (a). Only after the incidident of the Black Stone did he realize that the true Imam is Imam Sajjad (a). According to hawza researcher Muhammad Tehrani, both Muhammad b. Hanafiyya and Abdullah b. Ja’far were Wisayatites. Refer to number 95 of the article, Popular – Unreliable – Accounts Related to Ashura].

The Growth of Wilayatitism

During the period of the Rightly Guided Caliphate, Wilayatism grew minutely. By the caliphate of Ali (a), Wisayatism remained the predominant form of Shi’ism, the majority of Iraq became Wisayati Shi’a, but new Wilayatites included Muhammad b. Abu Bakr, As̪bagh b. Nabaata, H̪abeeb b. Muz̪aahir, Muslim b. ‘Asooja, ‘Amru b. H̪amq, H̪aarith b. A’oor, Maalik Ashtar, Maytham Tammaar, Qanbaar, ‘Adi b. H̪aatim, ‘Uthmaan b. H̪aneef, Kumayl b. Ziyaad, etc.

Following the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (a) and the Penitents Uprising (Tawwabun Uprising) [a movement beloved by Sunni historians], the Wilayatite Shia population returned to its original size. “After the martyrdom of Hussain, all but three apostatized (regarding the wilaya) – Abu Khaalid Kabuli, Yahya b. Um T̪aweel, Habeeb b. Mut̪’am.”2 Imam Sajjad (a) stated, “Today in Mecca and Madina, there are not even 20 persons who love us.”3

As a result of Imam Sajjad’s (a) efforts, the number of Wilayatites increased, paving the way for the establishment of Imam Baqir’s (a) school and eventual expansion by Imam Sadiq (a) to the extent that by the time of Imam Kazim (a), there were Wilayatites in every corner of the Muslim world.

After the martyrdom of Imam Kazim (a), some influential Imamite leaders rejected the authority of Imam Reda (a) [forming the Waqifite sect] due to bribery and not wanting to part with their monies. They fabricated narrations, causing the community to decrease until only three or four supporters would have been left. Imam Reda’s (a) unparalleled adventure from Medina to Merv saved the Imamate from isolation.

The Wisayatites Request Imams Baqir, Saqid, (a) and Shaheed Zayd

The Wisayatites requested Imam Baqir (a) to rebel. However, since Imam Baqir (a) knew that their pledge was political and not theological, he declined. Same for Imam Sadiq (a).

The Wisayatites swore allegiance to Zayd and revolted with him. We are unsure of Zayd’s motives. What we do know is that the actions of Zayd and his followers were without the approval of Imam Sadiq (a). In Sahifa Sajjaadiya, in the discussion between Yahya b. Zayd and Mutawakil b. Haroon, Yahya acknowledges Imams’ Baqir and Sadiq’s (a) superiority, however, he believes that this is as a result of tutelage from their family, not due to being divinely appointed Imams. In addition, he considers his father (Zayd) as an Imam and himself (Yahya) as his successor due to their own form of wisaya.

Ali b. Hakam from Aban via Mumin Taq, narrates:

One day, Zayd b. Ali b. Hussain requested me (Mumin Taq), so I went to him. Zayd asked, “What do you (Taq) think of a member of the Ahlulbayt rebelling? Would you join?” Taq responded, “If led by your father or brother, then yes.” Zayd declared, “I want to revolt against the Ummayads. Join me!” Taq said, “Thank you so much, but I cannot accept.” Zayd retorted, “Are you withholding your life from me?” [i.e. Are you scared of death?] Taq answered, “I only possess one life. If God sent us a Divine Proof [which is not you], then those who reject your uprising are saved, and those who support you are damned [i.e. perdition]. On the other hand, if no Divine Proof was sent, then the rejector and supporter are coequal.” Zayd irately remarked, “I used to accompany my father on trips. Whevever he fed me, he would cool the hot food [so that I do not burn] due to his fatherly love. How is it possible that my dad cared enough to feed me cool food so that my mouth does not burn, but he does not care about my hereafter by neglecting to teach me theology, damning me to hellfire?” Taq responded, “He pretermitted to inform you out of compassion. He feared that you would disbelieve [in imamate] and end up in Hades. Whereas, it is unproblematic [for Imam Sajjad (a)] if I am damned to hell. Ergo, he enlightened me but not you.” Taq continued and asked, “Sir, who is superior, you (Zayd) or the prophets?” Zayd replied, “The prophets, of course.” Taq stated, “Ya’qub told Yusuf, ‘Do not repeat your dream to your brothers, for jealousy burns within them.’ Why hide this dream from them? So that they do not become jealous. Your father did the same, he hid this information as he feared you.” Zayd stated, “You say all this, but, by God, your Imam (Imam Baqir) informed me that I shall be crucified. In the Imam’s hand is a book which mentions my crucifixion.” Taq then narrated Imam Sadiq (a) the exchange between him and Zayd. Imam Sadiq (a) [affirmingly] responded: “You left no path for him [Zayd] open, whether if was forward or backward, left or right, above or below.”8

The Shia fervor that swept through Khorasan was Wisayatite. Thus, when the commander of the movement, Abu Muslim, sent a letter to Imam Sadiq (a) requesting that the Shias pledge allegiance to him (a), he (a) burned it and never responded. In response, the Wisayatite Shiites continued their search until they found someone to elect as imam, forming the Abbasid dynasty. If the Imam (a) would have accepted their political pledge, the political and religious nature would still have allowed the Abbasids caliphate [or something similar] to arise.

A Few Wisayatite Uprisings of the Era:

  1. Zayd
  2. Yahya b. Zayd
  3. Muhammad Deebaaj [the son of Imam Jafar (a)]
  4. Zayd al-Naar [son of Imam Kazim (a)].
  5. Muhammad b. Abdullah Mah̪d̪ [Nafs Zakiyya]
  6. Ibrahim b. Abdullah Mah̪d̪ [Nafs Zakiyya’s brother]
  7. Abdullah b. Muawiya [a descendent of Ja’far b. Abi Talib]

The Origins of the Term Rafidite

The Wisayatites christened the Wilayatites “Rafidites” (meaning Rejectors) after the Wilayatites abandoned them and rejected their imam in the rebellion of Zayd, their first uprising. This occurred before the term “Sunni” was formed, when Islam was composed of the Uthmanites and Alawites [more information below].

Doctor Mu’een in Farhang-e Mu’een defines the term “Rafidite.” a) The Shi’ites who broke their pledge to Zayd b. Ali. b) Those Shia groups who reject the first three caliphs.7

The first is is inapplicable to the Wilayatites, as the true Wilayatites rejected Zayd’s uprising from the onset. [Those who rejected Zayd after, for whatever reason, were also Wisayatites]. The second is correct.

Since the Wilayatites rejected any uprising that was not spearheaded by the Divine Proof, they became known as the Rejectors or Rafidites. There are only two Wilayatite uprisings in history, the battle of Karbala and the 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran. The Wilayatites could never revolt due to small size. Shaheed Zayd’s revolt, for the first time, clearly demonstrated the two disparate currents within Shi’ism.

The Wisayatites were considered Shias, in fact, they considered themselves the “authentic Shias.” Thus, they labeled the Wilayatites as “Rejectors” due to rejecting their imam and movement. As well, Wisayatite factions who often branded one another as “Rafidite” due to rejecting their movement/imam. The original reason the term was coined was not due to rejecting the first three caliphs.

During the caliphate of Mehdi, the “Sunnis” labelled all Shia groups: Wilayatites, Wisayatites, and Ghulats – as Rafidites

Pre-Sunni Islam: Uthmanism vs Alawism

The two mainstream Islamic groups of early Islam were the Shia of Uthman (Uthmanites) and the Shia of Ali (Alawites). The Alawites were composed of two currents, the Wisayatites and Wilayatites.

The term “Uthmanite” did not fall out of usage during the era of Mutawakil.4

Agha Buzurg Tehrani in his al-Dhuree’a under naqd̪ mentions three books about this:

  1. Naqd̪ al-‘Uthmaniyah by Shabeeb b. Muhammad ‘Askari
  2. Naqd̪ al-‘Uthmaniyah wa al-Rad ‘Alaa al-Jaah̪iz̪ by Muaffar b. Ahmed Abu al-Jaysh Balkhi
  3. al-Rad ‘Alaa al-‘Uthmaniyah by Abu al-Ah̪was̪ Mis̪ri (~300 AH)

The Nasibi Beliefs of the Uthmanites

The term “Uthmanite” was used in Ibn Abi H̪adeed’s time, during the end of the Abbasids (beginning of the seventh century). He quotes Jaahiz̪, “The Uthmanites say, ‘When someone asks us why we do not consider Ali the first believer, we say it is because he was prepubescent, only five or nine, during the conversion.'”5

He then quotes from someone else, “They made it so that Ali’s name cannot be mentioned. If someone wants to narrate a hadith from Ali, his name cannot be uttered, such as ‘A Qurayshite man stated.’ They forbid the mentioning of Ali’s virtues, except when they are maliciously misinterpreted. They are the renegade Kharijites, spiteful Nasibites, lying hypocrites, and envious Uthmanites.”

The Abbasids

The Abbasid Revolution, a major historical event, marked the end of Wisayatism. Mehdi Abasi was forced to put aside the Shia (Wisayatite) claims they had made for themselves and he created the term “Sunni.” Mamoon returned to Wisayati Shi’ism. Mutawakil backtracked and promoted the “Sunni” identity, with him marked the end of “Wisayati Shi’ism.”

Mehdi Abasi [158-169]

Mehdi Abasi, after negating wisaya, brought the Uthmanites and Wisayatites under one umbrella, Sunnis. After Mutawakil, historians do not mention anything about Wisayatites.

The Khorasani Wisayati Shia fervor which brought the Abbasids into power also caused numerous reactionary Wisayati rebellions attempting to overthrow the established Abbasids, such as the uprisings of Muhamad b. Abdullah b. Hassan b. Hassan (a) and his brother Ibrahim. This was due to the oppression of the Abbasids. Although both sides were Wisayatite Shias, devotees of both group branded one other as “Rafidite.”

When Mehdi Abasi [158-169 AH] became caliph, he could not continue to kill Shi’ites while, simultaneously, calling himself a Shia, like his father Mans̪oor [137-158 AH]. These actions of Mehdi Abasi caused him to lose his “chain of wisaya” in the eyes of the Wisayatites, causing the innumerable Wisayatite-led rebellion upon rebellion in Yemen and Iran, spearheaded by the many descendants of lady Fatima (a).

In response to the uprisings, Mehdi spread the concepts of “Sunni,” “sunnah,” and “Ahlul Sunnah.” He sidelined the wisaya and ‘right to rule’ championed by his ancestors; in lieu, he espoused custom (sunnah). He claimed “The same logic which legitimized the caliphates of Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and the Ummayds applies to us. That is the sunnah of the ummah.”

This benefited the authoritites, it brought all of the ummah under them. The Ummayads, who had been tracked and killed until that point, were freed. From then on, the seed was planted for the dichotomization of Islam which would eventually sprout into Sunni and Shia.

Due to Mehdi, the “Sunnis” (the coalescence of the Uthmanites and Wisayatites) mislabelled all Shia groups: Wilayatites, Wisayatites, and Ghulats – as Rafidites

The Short Return of Wilayatism: Mamun [198-218] and Mu’tasim [218-227] and its Eventual Downfall: Mutawakil [232-247

Mamun [198-218] returned to Wisayati Shi’ism. With the aid of the Khorasani Wisayatites, he took the throne from his brother Ameen. Mu’tasim [218-227] patronized Wisayatism, in his era, the list of the Abbasid wisaya could be heard again. Mutawakil [232-247] returned to Mehdi Abasi’s policy, he labeled all forms of Shi’ism as unorthodox and championed their right to rule as a result of tradition (sunna).

The Theology of Wisayatism and the Ummayads Compared

Wisayatite Shi’ism does not differ greatly with the theology of the Ummayads. For example, Muawiya believed that Ali (a) was the best. Their only fundamental difference was that the Ummayads gainsaid Imam Ali’s (a) wisaaya for political authority.

Although the fundamentals of the Ummayads and the Wisayatites differed only regarding Ali’s (a) caliphate, their beliefs about the other Imams is identical. Abd al-Malik b. Marwaan and Waleed b. Abd al-Malik both considered Imam Baqir (a) the most knowledgeable theologian and the spiritual leader of the ummah. To illustrate, Abd al-Malik faced an economic issue regarding Roman coins which he could not ameliorate, hence, he sought Imam Baqir’s (a) advice and the Imam (a) assisted him.

Another difference between the Wisayatites and the Ummayads was that the the Wisayatites restricted caliphate to the Hashimites, which they mislabeled as “the family of the Prophet” (aal-e Rasool) instead of “the family of Haashim.” This is why they considered the Abbasids as Ahlulbayt.

The Error of Dr. Shariati

Frankly, what Doctor Shariati calls “Red Shi’ism,” regarding rebelling and protesting, is erroneous. He believes that Wisayatism is true Shi’ism, and that Wilayatism was invented by the Safavids, completely ahistorical. The Wilayatites could never revolt due to their small size. Some [of the scholars] opposed him and accused Dr. Shariati of becoming a Sunni, others accused him of being a spy. He responded to them by saying, “My speech in Saudi Arabia was boycotted because of me being labeled a ‘Ghulat.'” Both accusations are false, the truth is that Dr. Shariati was a Wisayatite Shia, neither a Wilayatite nor Sunni.

The Fatimids, an Ismaili Empire, were Wilayatites

A simple example demonastrating Dr. Shariati’s error is the Ismaili Fatimids. They were pre-Safavid Wilayatites. The Ismailis are Wilayatites because they believe that their seven Imams enjoy knowledge of the unseen and are infallible. However, over time, since the Fatimid caliphs did not show signs of knowing the unseen and did not act infallibly, their theology regarding the modern Imams transformed from Wilayatite to Wisayatite.

The Error of Many Researchers

Since both Wilayatites and Wisayatites are called “Shi’ites,” modern researchers often err when researching early Shi’ism by confusing today’s Shia monopoly (Wilayatism) with yesterday’s majority (Wisayatism) when, in reality, both sects are totally disparate. For example, erroneously assuming that the Shi’ism of Zubayr, Abas, Abdullah b. Abas, and other Wisayatites who denied “knowledge of the unseen” and Divine Proof was authentic Shi’ism. This is what Hossein Modarresi and Dr. Shariati did.

*Translator’s Thoughts

It seems that, although the Prophet (p) did state that he (p) would like for Imam Ali (a) to succeed, the urgency of the matter was not relayed. Abu Bakr was elected because the Companions feared that the backlash of the Arabs against Ali (a). Even though imamate is considered more important than prophethood, the Companions seem to have been oblivious of this. Leading Shi’ites who endeavored greatly in support of Imam Ali (a) were unaware of this fact. Even genuine Shi’ite relatives of the Prophet (p) and the Imams (a) seem to have been Wisayatites, oblivious of the Imams’ identity and divine status.

Ayatullah Murtaza Razavi is not a modernist nor liberal. He has penned much material against such individuals. The questions I am left are: why did the Messenger (p), who was a prophet for 23 years, not delineate the salvational concept of wilaya to the sahaba; why did Imam Ali (a) inform so few persons of his true status; why did the Imams (a) not inform their own children of the true meaning of imamate; what is the purpose of the Imams (a) possessing such statuses, responsibilities, and incredible abilities if they are unutilized?

From the first narration of Umar and Abdullah b. Abas, I noticed a few points. First, the caliph was laying down publicly, not in a castle and without bodyguards. Second, the dates that the caliph were eating were so dry that Abdullah b. Abas could not stomach it. He could have afforded better food, but chose to eat indigently.

The second narration surprised me, the caliphal military had just captured unimaginable riches from their recent conquests. Any king would have toured his recently conquered territory alongside an entourage. The majesty would have been easily spotted due to his clothing, jewelry, servants, mighty-attitude, etc. In addition, if he were a Nasibi, he would not have defended Imam Ali’s (a) right.

The narration of Zayd was surprising, but elucidative. When analyzing history, it becomes clear that many of the children of the Imams (a) were righteous, yet, were ignorant of certain beliefs. For example, Imam Shafi’i adored the Ahlulbayt and treasured his teacher, Sayyida Nafisa. At no point, however, does it seem that she, nor her husband (Is-haq b. Ja’far Sadiq), informed this individual of the truth of Wilayati Shi’ism.

At one point, the author claimed that the beliefs of the Wilayatites are unchanged, but in another section, he mentions that the Fatimids were Wilayatites. The reconciliation would be that Wilayatite doctrine did not evolve regarding certain beliefs, such as knowledge of the unseen, infallibility, etc. However, the Wilayatites were not always one sect, but multiple like the Wisayatites.

All in all, although the scholar uses the notion of Wilayatism and Wisayatism in order to defend the pure Imamite sect against modernists and Westerners. It seems as though, by elucidating this forgotten section of history, he has also engendered many questions.

The previous article, Implicit Nas vs Explicit Nas, shows that the typical evidences used to prove the succession of Imam Ali (a), such as Ghadeer Khum, are considered implicit evidences, according to many scholars. According to this article, there was an early group of Imamites who argued that the wilaya for Imam Ali (a) was never explicit. This means that the Companions may not have understood the wilaya. If that is the case, the congratulation of Abu Bakr and Umar at Ghadeer could be viewed differently.


  1. Ibn Abi H̪adeed, Sharh̪ Nahj al-Balaagha, 3:97
  2. Ikhtis̪aas̪, 64, 204; Bihaar al-Anwaar, v. 144; Rijaal Kashi, 123
  3. Bihaar, 46:143; Ibn Abi Hadeed, Sharh Nahj al-Balaagha, 4:104
  4. Ma’jam al-Dabaa; 2:30; al-Waafi al-Wafiyaat 7:387
  5. Ibn Abi H̪adeed, Sharh̪ Nahj al-Balaagha,13:219; Jaahiz is a famous Sunni scholar
  6. Bihaar, 44:329-30
  7. v. 5
  8. Ihtijaj Tabrasi, v. 2, p. 376

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s