Ithnā ʿAsharīyah


Ithnā ʿAsharīyah

▪ Islamic sect
also called  Imāmīs , English  Twelvers 

      an important sect of the Shīʿah (one of the major branches of Islām), believing in a succession of 12 imāms, leaders of the faith after the death of Muḥammad, beginning with Alīʿ ibn Abī Ṭālib, fourth caliph and the Prophet's son-in-law.

      Each of the imāms—ʿAlī, his sons Ḥasan and Ḥusayn, ʿAlī Zayn al-ʿĀbidīn, Muḥammad al-Bāqir, Jaʿfar aṣ-Ṣādiq (Jaʿfar ibn Muḥammad), Mūsā al-Kāẓim, Alī ar-Riḍāʿ, Muḥammad al-Jawād, ʿAlī al-Hādī, Ḥasan al-ʿAskarī, and Muḥammad al-Mahdī al-Ḥujjah—was chosen from the family of his predecessor, not necessarily the eldest son but a descendant deemed spiritually pure. The last imām recognized by the Ithnā ʿAsharīyah disappeared in 873 and is thought to be alive and in hiding, ready to return at the Last Judgment. As the 12 imāms are viewed as preservers of the faith and the only interpreters of the esoteric meanings of law and theology, a cult has grown around them, in which they are thought to influence the world's future. Pilgrimages to their tombs secure special rewards and are legitimate substitutes for pilgrimages to Mecca. In the period from the disappearance of the imām to the Mongol invasion (c. 1050), a body of literature known as Ḥadīth (reports of Muḥammad's activities and sayings and the sayings of ʿAlī) was collected in support of Twelver beliefs.

      Ithnā ʿAsharīyah became the state religion of Iran under the Ṣafavīd dynasty (1501–1736), which claimed descent from the 7th imām and added the words “I testify that ʿAlī is the walī (friend) of God” to the Muslim profession of faith (shahādah). The sect also has followings in India, Iraq, and Syria. See also imām (imam).

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Universalium. 2010.

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