Shi?a: Zaydi (Fiver)
The branch of Shi˓ism known as the Zaydiyya owes its name to the belief in the imamate of Zayd b. ˓Ali. Adherents proclaimed Zayd as imam because it was he who raised an army against Ummayad rule in an aborted uprising in 740 c.e. The Zaydis are the inheritors of that element of Shi˓ism that emphasizes a willingness to challenge illegitimate political structures as a characteristic of the imam, rather than an esoteric conception of the imam as spiritual guide with a qualitatively different relationship to God than the ordinary believer. The qualities of the imam for Zaydis include a willingness and ability to assume some sort of political power, along with learning (˓ilm, in the traditional, rather than esoteric sense of the word) and descent from the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law, ˓Ali. It is not essential that the imam be designated by the previous imam, and there may be times when the world is entirely bereft of an imam since no descendant of ˓Ali is qualified to assume the position. For some Zaydis, there may be times when there is more than one imam, each leading Islamic states in different parts of the world (though the long-term aim that these states conjoin is regularly expressed). Indeed this was the case in the tenth century, when Zaydi states existed simultaneously in Yemen and Tabaristan (on the Iranian coast of the Caspian Sea) with separate imams.
The rejection of the special qualities of the imam in Zaydi thought removes one of the elements of Shi˓ism viewed as problematic by Sunni authors. This has led to a certain rapprochement between Zaydis and Sunnis, and the development of a Zaydi theological and legal tradition that intersects with the Sunni tradition more than with that of the Isma˓ilis or Imamis. This rejection of the special qualities of the imam manifests itself in the common Zaydi assertion that ˓Ali, Hasan, and Husayn were designated as imams, but that their designation was hidden (nass khafi), and could only be discovered after investigation. This exempted some of the companions of the Prophet, who had not recognized ˓Ali's imamate, from blame or censure. Zaydi theologians and historians have also been less eager to criticize the caliphates of Abu Bakr (r. 632–634), ˓Umar (r. 634–644), and ˓Uthman (r. 644–656). The legal system, it is claimed by Zaydi scholars, owes much to Shafi˓ite jurisprudence.
The theological writings of the Zaydiyya show the imprint of the Mu˓tazili school. Al-Qasim b. Ibrahim al-Rassi (d.860), an early imam and supposed founder of the Zaydi legal school, set the tone for later Zaydi exploration of Mu˓tazili themes with his support of standard Mu˓tazili principles such as the unity of God (tawhid), the justice of God (˓adl), and the promise and the threat (al-wa˒d wa˒l-wa˓id). Al-Qasim's grandson, al-Hadi ila al-Haqq al-Mubin (d. 911), himself a noted theologian, founded the Zaydi state in Yemen, and a close relationship with Mu˓tazilism characterized Yemeni Zaydi discourse thereafter. Other Mu˓tazili principles that permeate Zaydi theological works include a belief in human free will (qadr), a renunciation of anthropomorphism (tashbih) with regard to God, and the widely cited Mu˓tazili slogan taklif ma la yutaqu. The last of these can be interpreted as meaning that God cannot demand that his subjects (mukallafun) perform duties they are incapable of either doing or knowing; to do so would make God unjust. These principles were not, however, incorporated into Zaydi Islam without debate. Perhaps most notable of the dissident groups was the Mutarrifiyya, a Yemeni Zaydi movement that emerged in the eleventh century and was named after its founder Mutarrif b. Shihab (d. 1067). The Mutarrifiyya claimed to be adhering strictly to the teachings of al-Qasim b. Ibrahim in rejecting certain elements of Basran Mu˓tazilism in support of some of the conclusions of the Mu˓tazili school of Baghdad. In Zaydi Tabaristan, the state founded by a descendant of Zayd, al-Hasan b. Zayd (d. 888), there was also much theological and legal debate, particularly under the imamate of al-Nasir Hasan al-Utrush in the tenth century. The latter's legal doctrine was a matter of dispute among the Zaydis both during his life and after his death (in particular his doctrine that three statements of divorce announced by the husband in one session was a valid form of divorce). The intellectual history of the Zaydi school is, then, a history of debate and dispute that at times threatened the unity of the community. When the Zaydi state in Tabaristan collapsed in 1126, however, Yemen became (and remains to the present day) the undisputed home of Zaydi theology and law. The Zaydi imamate in Yemen had grown out of a loose coalition of Yemeni tribes, and the dynamics of tribal loyalty versus imamate authority are a constant theme in the history of the area.
Perhaps the most interesting figure of later Zaydi thought is Muhammad b. ˓Ali al-Shawkani (d. 1834), whose learning in both Sunni and Zaydi traditions has earned him the title mujaddid (renewer) of the twelfth hijri century by no less a Sunni authority than Rashid Rida. Though not an imam himself, he was appointed as chief judge of the Zaydi imamate. Shawkani's exposition of ijtihad, and his refusal to slavishly imitate past legal authority (of either the Zaydi or Sunni schools) brought about a revivification of legal studies, the effect of which was felt well beyond the boundaries of the Zaydi state.
The Zaydi imamate in Yemen continued well into the twentieth century. This was in part due to the charismatic and dynamic imam Yahya Hamid al-Din who fought against the Ottomans (eventually negotiating for them to withdraw from the area) and took the disputed town of Badr from the Saudis. After his death in 1948, the imamate faced a number of challenges and eventually collapsed in 1962 as Yemen experienced a revolution influenced by the thought of Jamal ˓Abd al-Nasser. The republicans who formed the Yemen Arab Republic, and negotiated an abortive union with Egypt, divesting the Hamid al-Din line of the imamate. This brought the end of the most long lasting Shi˓ite state in the Muslim world, and although Zaydi scholars still study and teach in the highlands of Yemen, the legal tradition has become increasingly mixed with Shafi˓ite law, the other major legal tradition in the area.
Abrahamov, Binyamin. Anthropomorphism and Interpretation in the Qur˒an in the Theology of al-Qasim b. Ibrahim. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996.
Madelung, Wilfred. Religious Schools and Sects in MedievalIslam. London: Varirum Reprints, 1985.
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