Shi’a Islam emphasizes the importance of five fundamental principles which are sometimes called the ‘roots of religion’. Every individual must make themselves aware of these truths as the foundation of their faith.
Usul ad-Din, the five roots of religion, can also be referred to as the ‘foundation of faith’. They are:
▶ Oneness of God (Tawid)
▶ Justice of God (Adl or Adalah)
▶ Prophethood (Nubuwwah)
▶ Leadership (Imamat)
▶ Resurrection (Qiyyamat).
1 The oneness of God (Tawid): There is one God who has no equals; he is a divine unity. He cannot be compared to anyone or anything. He is perfect and unique and he possesses infinite power and knowledge. He is immortal (he was never born) and has no partner or children. He alone should be worshipped. ‘Say, “He is God, [who is] One, God, the Eternal Refuge.’ Qur’an 112:1–2
2 The justice of God (Adl or Adalah): God is perfect justice, fairness and wisdom. He does not wrong anyone and he will not tolerate wrongdoing. He cannot abuse his power by performing acts that go against his own nature to be just and fair. Humans must be responsible for their own actions, good or bad.
3 Prophethood (Nubuwwah): God has appointed prophets and messengers to guide human beings, showing them how to live in peace and submission to God. According to some Islamic sources, God sent 124,000 prophets; some of these bought divine scriptures with them, from God. Muhammad was the Seal of the Prophets, meaning that he brought the final, perfect and unchanging message from God.
4 Leadership (Imamat): All Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last prophet, who brought the final scripture (the Qur’an) to humanity. Shi’as believe that, after his death, God appointed 12 infallible Imams to guide the Muslim community, leading them on the path set by the Prophet Muhammad. These Imams are part of what Shi’as call Ahl al-Bayt (the Family of the House). In other words, they are part of Prophet Muhammad’s extended household. Of these 12, 11 have been killed. They believe that the 12th (or hidden) Imam is still alive, but is in hiding (occultation), waiting to reappear and rule on earth with justice. They sometimes refer to him as the Mahdi.
5 Resurrection (Qiyyamat): The belief that, on the Day of Judgement, there will be a resurrection, when all human beings will be physically raised to life to be judged by God. He will reward the good and punish the evil. ‘So, whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it, and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it.’ Qur’an 99:7–8
They unite all Shi’a Muslims as a community (ummah) and form the basis of the religion. They show what it means to be a Muslim as they share these beliefs in common.
They are often considered to be the foundations of the religion of Islam, holding it together. It helps to support the faith in establishing its key beliefs.
They help Shi’a Muslims to understand their religion by identifying those beliefs that teach what they should accept and how they should behave. For example, accepting belief in Yawm al Qiyyamah – the Day of Resurrection – means they consider every action they make as it will contribute towards this day when they will be judged.
They help Shi’a Muslims understand their religion better and allow them to live as Allah intended. They guide Shi’a Muslims on understanding how Allah wants them to behave and act within the world.
There is no doubt that each member of the human race is naturally drawn to his fellow-men and that in his life in society he acts in ways which are interrelated and interconnected. His eating, drinking, sleeping, keeping awake, talking, listening, sitting, walking, his social intercourse and meetings, at the same time that they are formally and externally distinct, are invariably connected with each other. One cannot perform just any act in any place or after any other act. There is an order which must be observed.
There is, therefore, an order which governs the actions man performs in the journey of this life, an order against which his actions cannot rebel. In reality, these acts all originate from a distinct source. That source is man's desire to possess a felicitous life, a life in which he can react to the greatest extent possible the objects of his desire, and be gratified. Or, one could say that man wishes to provide in a more complete way for his needs in order to continue his existence.
This is why man continually conforms his actions to rules and laws either devised by himself or accepted from others, and why he s e l e c ts a particular way of life for himself among all the other existing possibilities. He works in order to provide for his means of livelihood and expects his activities to be guided by laws and regulations that must be followed. In order to satisfy his sense of taste and overcome hunger and thirst, he eats and drinks, for he considers eating and drinking necessary for the continuation of his own happy existence. This rule could be multiplied by many other instances.
The rules and laws that govern human existence depend for their acceptance on the basic beliefs that man has concerning the nature of universal existence, of which he himself is a part, and also upon his judgment and evaluation of that existence. That the principles governing man's actions depend on his conception of being as a whole becomes clear if one meditates a moment on the different conceptions that people hold as to the nature of the world and of man.
Those who consider the Universe to be confined only to this material, sensible world, and man himself to be completely material and therefore subject to annihilation when the breath of life leaves him at the moment of death, follow a way of life designed to provide for their material desires and transient mundane pleasures. They strive solely on this path, seeking to bring under their control the natural conditions and factors of life.
Similarly, there are those who, like the common people among idol-worshipers, consider the world of nature to be created by a god above nature who has created the world specially for man and his goodness. Such men organize their lives so as to attract the pleasure of the god and not invite his anger. They believe that if they please the God, he will multiply his bounty and make it lasting and if they anger him, he will take his bounty away from them.
On the other hand, such men as Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians, and Muslims follow the high path in this life for they believe in God and in man's eternal life, and consider man to be responsible for his good and evil acts. As a result, they accept as proven the existence of a day of judgment (qiyamat) and follow a path that leads to felicity in both this world and the next.
The totality of these fundamental beliefs concerning the nature of man and the Universe, and regulations in conformity with them which are applied to human life, is called religion (din). If there are divergences in these fundamental beliefs and regulations, they are called schools such as the Sunni and the Shi'ite schools in Islam and the Nestorian in Christianity. We can therefore say that man, even if he does not believe in the Deity, can never be without religion if we recognize religion as a program for life based on firm belief. Religion can never be separated from life and is not simply a matter of ceremonial acts.
The Holy Quran asserts that man has no choice but to follow religion, which is a path that God has placed before man so that by treading it man can reach Him. However, those who have accepted that religion of the truth (Islam) march in all sincerity upon the path of God, while those who have not accepted the religion of the truth have been diverted from the divine path and have followed the wrong road.
Islam etymologically means surrender and obedience. The Holy Quran calls the religion which invites men toward this end Islam since its general purpose is the surrender of man to the laws governing the Universe and man, with the result that through this surrender he worships only the One God and obeys only His commands. As the Holy Quran informs us, the first person who called this religion Islam and its followers Muslims was the Prophet Abraham, upon whom be peace.
Shi'ah, which means literally partisan or follower, refers to those who consider the succession to the Prophet - may God's peace and benediction be upon him - to be the special right of the family of the Prophet and who in the field of the Islamic sciences and culture follow the school of the Household of the Prophet.
Shi'ism began with a reference made for the first time to the partisans of Ali (shi'ah-i ' Ali), the first leader of the Household of the Prophet, during the lifetime of the Prophet himself. The course of the first manifestation and the later growth of Islam during the twenty-three years of prophecy brought about many conditions which necessitated the appearance of a group such as the Shi'ites among the companions of the Prophet.
The Holy Prophet during the first days of his prophecy, when according to the text of the Quran he was commanded to invite his closer relatives to come to his religion, told them clearly that whoever would be the first to accept his invitation would become his successor and inheritor. Ali was the first to step forth and embrace Islam. The Prophet accepted Ali's submission to the faith and thus fulfilled his promise.
From the Shi'ite point of view it appears as unlikely that the leader of a movement, during the first days of his activity, should introduce to strangers one of his associates as his successor and deputy but not introduce him to his completely loyal and devout aides and friends. Nor does it appear likely that such a leader should accept someone as his deputy and successor and introduce him to others as such, but then throughout his life and religious call deprive his deputy of his duties as deputy, disregard the respect due to his position as successor, and refuse to make any distinctions between him and others.
The Prophet, according to many unquestioned and completely authenticated hadiths, both Sunni and Shi'ite, clearly asserted that Ali was preserved f r o m error and sin in his actions and sayings. Whatever he said and did was in perfect conformity with the teachings of religion and he was the most knowledgeable of men in matters pertaining to the Islamic sciences and injunctions.
During the period of prophecy Ali performed valuable services and made remarkable sacrifices. When the infidels of Mecca decided to kill the Prophet and surrounded his house, the Holy Prophet decided to emigrate to Medina. He said to Ali, Will you sleep in my bed at night so that they will think that I am asleep and I will be secure f r o m being pursued by them? Ali accepted this dangerous assignment with open arms. This has been recounted in different histories and collections of hadith. (The emigration f r o m Mecca to Medina marks the date of origin of the Islamic calendar, known as the hijrah.) Ali also served by fighting in the battles of Badr, Uhud, Khaybar, Khandaq, and Hunayn in which the victories achieved with his aid were such that if Ali had not been present the enemy would most likely have uprooted Islam and the Muslims, as is recounted in the usual histories, lives of the Prophet, and collections of hadith.
For Shi'ites, the central evidence of Ali's legitimacy as successor to the Prophet is the event of Ghadir Khumm when the Prophet chose Ali to the general guardianship (walayat-i 'ammah) of the people and made Ali, like himself, their guardian (wali).
It is obvious that because of such distinctive services and recognition, because of Ali's special virtues which were acclaimed by all, and because of the great love the Prophet showed for him, some of the companions of the Prophet who knew Ali well, and who were champions of virtue and truth, came to love him. They assembled around Ali and followed him to such an extent that many others began to consider their love for him excessive and a few perhaps also became jealous of him. Besides all these elements, we see in many sayings of the Prophet reference to the shi'ah of Ali and the shi'ah of the Household of the Prophet.
The friends and followers of Ali believed that after death of the Prophet the caliphate and religious authority (marja'iyat-i 'ilmi) belonged to Ali. This belief came from their consideration of Ali's position and station in relation to the Prophet, his relation to the chosen among the companions, as well as his relation to Muslims in general. It was only the events that occurred during the few days of the Prophet's final illness that indicated that there was opposition to their view. Contrary to their expectation, at the very moment when the Prophet died and his body lay still unburied, while his household and a few companions were occupied with providing for his burial and funeral service, the friends and followers of Ali received news of the activity of another group who had gone to the mosque where the community was gathered faced with this sudden loss of their leader. This group, which was later to form the majority, set forth in great haste to s e l e c t a caliph for the Muslims with the aim of ensuring the welfare of the community and solving its immediate problems. They did this without consulting the Household of the Prophet, his relatives or many of his friends, who were busy with the funeral, and without providing them with the least information. Thus, Ali and his companions were presented with a fait accompli.
Ali and his friends - such as 'Abbas, Zubayr, Salman, Abu Dharr, Miqdad and 'Ammar - after finishing with the burial of the body of the Prophet became aware of the proceedings by which the caliph had been s e l e c ted. They protested against the act of choosing the caliph by consultation or election, and also against those who were responsible for carrying it out. They even presented their own proofs and arguments, but the answer they received was that the welfare of the Muslims was at stake and the solution lay in what had been done.
It was this protest and criticism which separated from the majority the minority that were following Ali and made his followers known to society as the partisans or shi'ah of Ali. The caliphate of the time was anxious to guard against this appellation being given to the Shi'ite minority and thus to have Muslim society divided into sections comprised of a majority and a minority. The supporters of the caliph considered the caliphate to be a matter of the consensus of the community (ijma') and called those who objected the opponents of allegiance. They claimed that the Shi'ah stood, therefore, opposed to Muslim society. Sometimes the Shi'ah were given other pejorative and degrading names.
Shi'ism was condemned from the first moment because of the political situation of the time and thus it could not accomplish anything through mere political protest. Ali, in order to safeguard the well-being of Islam and of the Muslims, and also because of lack of sufficient political and military power, did not endeavor to begin an uprising against the existing political order, which would have been of a bloody nature. Yet those who protested against the established caliphate refused to surrender to the majority in certain questions of faith and continued to hold that the succession to the Prophet and religious authority belonged by right to Ali. They believed that all spiritual and religious matters should be referred to him and invited people to become his followers.