Other Shi'ite Sects

Ibadis (Kharijites)

The Kharijites, Arabic for ‘those that seceded,’ were members of the earliest sect in Islam that left the Shi’ites. They disagreed with Ali on succession, because they believed that the Imam should be chosen for moral qualities not ancestry. Ali defeated their rebellion, but the Kharijites survived and an adherent of the movement murdered Ali in 661. The Kharijite theology was a radical fundamentalism, with uncompromised observance of the Koran in defiance of corrupt authorities. Kharijites considered moderate Muslims to be hypocrites and unbelievers who should be opposed, ostracized, or killed.

Modern Kharijites are known as Ibadis after Abu Allah ibn Ibad, who made the faith more moderate and less antagonistic against other Muslims. Eventually, the Kharijite insistence on the importance of religion in political life moved into the mainstream of Islamic thought. Ibadis are a majority in Oman, and there are significant minorities in Algeria and Tunisia. Adherence to Ibadism accounts in part for Oman's historical isolation. Considered a heretical form of Islam by the majority Sunni Muslims, Ibadis were not inclined to integrate with their neighbors.

Druze (Druse)

The Druze faith developed out of Ismaili Islam and did not attempt to reform mainstream Islam, but aimed to create a whole new religious body influenced by Greek philosophy, Gnosticism and Christianity, among others. They live mostly in Lebanon and Syria. The religion was started by Tariq al-Hakim, a Fatimid Caliph who claimed to be a reincarnation of God. The Druze regard Jethro, father-in-law of Moses,

AP Photo from http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/03/07/mideast/

Druze attending a funeral.

as their chief prophet and make annual pilgrimages to his tomb in lower Galilee. They also revere Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, the three most important prophets of Islam.

The Druze have always kept their doctrine and ritual of secret to avoid persecution. Only those who demonstrate extreme piety and devotion and the correct demeanor are initiated into the mysteries. The initiated are a very small minority and may include women. Most Druzes are juhhal, or ignorant ones. The religion is complex, involving neo-Platonic thought, Sufi mysticism and Iranian religious traditions. Until recently, most girls were married between the ages of 12 and 15, and most men at the age of 16 or 17. Women are veiled in public, but, in contrast to Muslim Arab custom, they can and do participate in the councils of elders.

Zaidis (Fiver Shi'ites)

Zaidis are the are the nearest to the Sunnis in their theology out of all the Shi'ite groups. According to the Zaidis, Ali, Hasan and Husayn are the first three rightful Imams; after them, the imamate is open to whoever of their descendants establishes himself through armed rebellion. Zaidis thought that Zaid b. Ali should be Imam since he headed a rebellion against the Sunni rulers, but all other Shi’ites thought the Imam should be Muhammed Al-Baqir. Unlike other Shi’ites Zaidis do not believe in the infallibility of the Imams, nor that they receive divine guidance. The Zaidi faith is centered in Northern Yemen’s mountains and they make up 40 percent of the country. For over one thousand years they have been the dominant community in the Yemen, but conversions to Sunni Islam are becoming more frequent.


The Alevis are a Shi’ite sect that has both Turks and Kurds as members. They comprise a quarter of Turkey’s population and are concentrated in the mid-eastern part of the country with smaller groups in Azerbaijan and Syria. They interpret the Koran largely figuratively rather than literally, they do not teach a religious prohibition of alcohol and they also have an strong devotion to Jesus and Mary. Modern Alevi theology has been profoundly influenced by humanism and universalism,

AP Photo from http://cfrterrorism.org/sponsors/syria.html

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is an Alawi, a small Shi'ite sect sharing many beliefs with the Alevis. His family has been in power since 1971.

probably more so than any other school of Islam. Alevism has integrated many diverse religious influences over time, such as ancient Turkish Shamanism, Sufism (Islamic mysticism) and the Christianity of the Assyrian Church.

Alevis have traditionally been discriminated against and persecuted in the rural areas of mid-eastern Turkey which are their heartland. Their religion is tolerated in Turkey, but they also enjoy considerably less financial and organizational privileges. Turkey has built and financed Sunni mosques in lots of almost completely Alevi villages, which many consider a purposeful humiliation. Oppression of Alevis reached its nadir in the city of Sivas in 1993, when 36 Alevis attending a cultural conference were burned to death in a hotel by Sunni locals. The response from Turkish security forces at the time and afterwards was weak.


Bahais, numbering some 300,000 in Iran, constitute the country's largest non-Muslim religious minority. Although it started as a Shi'ite sect (the Bab claimed to be the Hidden Imam), it has veered for away from its roots, so much so that it is usually considered its own religion. The Bahai faith, which was started in the mid-1800s, is a monotheistic religion whose members follow the teachings of Bahaullah, founder and prophet of the religion. Its central theme is that humanity is one single race and that the day has come for its unification in one global society. Bahaullah, a Persian whose name is Arabic for "the Glory of God", taught that there is one God who progressively reveals his will to humanity. In the Bahai view, each of the great religions were brought by Messengers of God—such as Moses, Krishna, the Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus, Muhammad, and the Bab (of whom Bahaullah was a follower before the Bab was executed by the Shah)—and represent a successive stage in the spiritual development of civilization. Bahais believe Bahaullah is the most recent Messenger in this line. The Islamic Revolution in Iran has forced many Bahais to emigrate. More than 200 Bahais have been executed or killed, hundreds more have been imprisoned, and tens of thousands have been deprived of jobs, pensions, businesses and educational opportunities.

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