Twelver Shi‘ites

(ithna ‘ashariyya)
   The ‘Twelvers’, or Imamis (imamiyya) as they are also known, constitute the largest sect of Shi‘ite Islam. With the development of Twelver Shi‘ism, the imam became an increasingly elevated figure. Not only was he identified as a blood descendant of Muhammad’s family, he was endowed with divinely inspired knowledge and was seen as sinless and without error (‘isma). Twelvers believe that the twelfth imam went into occultation (ghayba) and will return at the end of time as the Mahdi (‘the rightly guided one’) to rule justly over all. In the meantime, they have traditionally espoused a kind of political quietism, one aspect of which is the practice of taqiyya, or precautionary dissimulation, according to which the imam and his followers are permitted to conceal their religious beliefs for the sake of survival in times of danger and persecution. In the realm of jurisprudence, the Twelver Shi‘ites recognize the same sources or roots (usul) as most Sunnis do: the Qur’an, sunna (custom as reported in tradition [hadith]), consensus (ijma‘) and analogy (qiyas). However, there are a few noteworthy differences. First, the Twelvers’ accepted hadiths often have different lines of transmission (due to their privileging of Muhammad’s family lineage and their consequent rejection of the authority of the first three caliphs). Second, their notion of consensus is closely linked to the imams rather than just legal experts. Third, Twelver jurists typically give more leeway to analogy than the Sunnis do, since they reject taqlid (‘obedience’, or unquestioning acceptance of authority) and retain the right to considered, independent judgement in their attempt to discern the actual intentions of the imams. Theologically, the Twelvers are influenced by the Mu‘tazilites on a number of key points: (1) they are great defenders of God’s absolute, transcendent unity, (2) they interpret scripture figuratively when necessary (e.g. anthropomorphic descriptions of God, but also some eschatological passages), (3) they hold that the Qur’an is created and not an eternal expression of God’s essence (accordingly, it is not immutable and may be modified by an inspired imam), and (4) they place great emphasis on reason, although they typically see it as justified by the Qur’an and hadith, rather than as self-legitimating. The tradition of Twelver Shi‘ism produced numerous important philosophers, among them al-Tusi, Mir Damad, Mulla Sadra and al-Sabzawari.
   See Isma‘ilis; law; Mir Damad; Mulla Sadra; Mu‘tazilites; al-Sabzawari; Shi‘ites; Sunnis; al-Tusi
   Further reading: Halm 1991/2004; Momen 1987; Watt 1962/85

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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