An Introduction to Shi’a Islam
“Shi’a” means a group of followers, and it occurs in the Quran many times in reference to the followers of the previous prophets, such as Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and Prophet Musa (Moses).
Shi’a today refers to the followers of a particular school of Islamic thought, which is based on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and his family. It is sometimes referred to as the “School of Ahlul Bayt” (the family of the Prophet Muhammad). While no schools of thought existed at the time of the Prophet Muhammad, he still used to refer to a certain group of people as the “Shi’a of Ali.” [Referring to Imam Ali (a.s), the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law]
After the assassination of Imam Ali, the Shi’a followed the leadership of his son Hassan, followed by his brother Husayn, and the subsequent nine Imams who were the descendants of Husayn. The Shi’a followed the Imams on the firm basis of evidence in the Noble Quran, and the tradition of Prophet Muhammad who explicitly repeated on many occasions that he [the Prophet] would be followed by twelve Imams and that they would all be from the tribe of Quraysh.
Therefore, Shi’ism can be termed as the following of the Noble Quran and the tradition of Prophet Muhammad as conveyed by his family, whom he appointed (i.e., the Ahlul Bayt). After the Prophet Muhammad, the Shi’a followed the twelve divinely ordained imams as successors of the Prophet Muhammad.
Despite many differences, the unity of every Muslim is one of the goals of Muslim society, and is an obligation upon all Muslims, both individually and collectively.