Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Challenging the Sunnification of Yemeni Zaidism

In a recent Article, Zaidism expert N. Haider pointed out that Yemeni Zaidism has come under the influence of Sunnism over the past 700 years. Haider writes:

Zaydism: A Theological and political Survey.
By N. Haider, July 2010.
“Zaydism, one of the three major branches of Shi‘ism, emerged in the early 2nd/8th century in the southern Iraqi city of Kūfa around the claims of the ‘Alid rebel, Zayd b. ‘Ali (d. 122/740). The sect initially consisted of a range of Shi‘i? groups that shared a common political agenda but differed in their opinions of the first two caliphs. The next three centuries witnessed the development of a cohesive Zaydi theology constructed primarily on the Mu‘tazili belief in a just and rational God. Specifically, the Zaydis affirmed free will and a theory of the imāmate that required armed uprising against tyrants under the leadership of a learned descendant of ‘Ali and Fātima. Zaydi Imāms established a number of long-standing political states, the most important of which was centered in northern Yemen around the city of Sa’ada. Intellectually, Yemeni Zaydism was challenged by a gradual Sunnification that began in the 9th/15th century”.

Re-emergence of Zaidi Mu’tazilism:

It is my humble opinion that “Traditional Yemeni Zaidism”, is overly influenced by Sunnism.
In my opinion, there needs to be a re-emergence of Zaidi Mu’tazilism, which is free of Sunni influences and based on the Qur’an, reason, and the historical examples set by Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and his descendants. Such a school of thought would have widespread appeal to Western Muslims, Muslim Youth, and Muslim intellectuals, and could spark a Renaissance in Islamic intellectual scholarship. I believe it is the Sunni character of Yemeni Zaidism that is holding it back and lessening its appeal.

The type of Zaidi Mu’tazilism I am envisaging would limit itself to:
(1) the study of the Qur’an,
(2) the tenets written by the learned mu’tazili (rationalist) theologians, who relied upon the Qur’an and reason in their works,
(3) the historically proven political activism of the Prophet Muhammad and the early ahlul bait Imams, all of whom fought for justice and fought against tyranny; this was their “political agenda” as mentioned above
(4) the encouragement of spiritualism, as modeled by the early ahlul bait Imams, especially Zain ul Abideen.

The Qur’an has to be the basis of any Islamic school. The Mu’tazili scholars used reason, and their vast knowledge of the multi-layered Arabic language, to interpret the message of the Qur’an for their lesser educated contemporaries. These were the learned, educated Muslims of their time, and they were either from ahlul bait or consulted with ahlul bait.
Meanwhile, the less educated Muslims busied themselves with ahadith, mostly about trivial subjects, which were simpler to understand. Many of these hadith were fabricated or irrelevant. These lesser educated Muslims became known initially as “ahlul hadith” and later as “Sunnis”, because they were obsessed by the “Sunna”. “Sunna” is a term originally used by Sunnis, but later embraced by Traditional Yemeni Zaidism as it fell under the Sunni influence.

There is unanimous agreement that Imam Zaid and his grandfather Imam al Husayn rose up against the ruling Umayyad authorities of his time because of their injustice, their suppression of Islam, and their corruption. Knowing this, we are able to deduce what the aims of the ahlul bait were, (i.e. to install justice and goodness via political activism). By taking Imam Zaid and Imam al Husayn as our inspiration, we can be true Zaidis, i.e. Islamic activists, rather than Muslims who passively accept injustice and corruption. And by taking the example of Imam Zainul Abideen, we can appreciate the spirituality of Islam.

Under the influence of Sunnis, I believe that Traditional Yemeni Zaidis have become distracted by the intense study of ahadith about trivial matters, and arguments with Sunnis about the leadership controversy after the death of the Prophet. The study of ahadith and the obsession with mimicking minute details of the Prophet’s lifestyle (sunna), diverts and distracts our attention away from the real issues: the eradication of poverty, the making of peace in the world, the education of the masses, and so on. It was through political activism that the ahlul bait attempted to achieve these goals. Judging by their historically proven actions, these goals were the things the ahlul bait would have strived for, not the trivial matters which one finds discussed in ahadith books.

I believe there needs to be a re-emergence of Zaidi Mu’tazilism, which is focused on Qur’an, Reason, Political struggle and Spirituality, as modelled by the early ahlul bait. I hope that through this blog I will meet others who share my interest in uncovering the Zaidi Mu’tazilism that flourished before the Sunnification of Yemeni Zaidism took place.

In Zaidi Mu’tazilism, a recontextualization of Revelation, using Reason, becomes possible. This holds out hope for those who believe that traditional Islam is out of context with today’s societies worldwide.


  1. there is a difference between hadaoism and zaidism.and the houthis are hadaoists.the hadaoi imams were descendants of persians who faked alid lineage when harun rashid went to send a army to despose persians who had been ruling since sassanid times.the general was known for killing the persians said:we are hashemites.the sayyid class in yemen are these persians who were the upper clas before this event.and the remain became known as the mezaya,and they are the lower class.this is why some ymountain dwellers have blond hair and blue eyes.they adapted zaidism.ordinary zaidis had to coem of thier horse and bow when they saw the hadoists.and now these persians want their''divine right ''to rule,and zaidis are not falling for it.zaidis will kill the houthi.

  2. to anonymous, where is the proof for such accusations.

    sayids that are from rassi lineage have family tree proof. all historians affirm that they are hashimite lineage. alimam alhadi is of the prophet lineage and his sons and all of rassi lineage.

    check historians of all nations you will know what i am saying is true.

    sister zaida I am assuming this article is yout opinion and doesnt reflect the views of ahlulbayt. to think that zaidis adapted the mutazili view point and not the other way around is incorrect. zaidies didnot differ in opinion through out history. zaid bin ali has the same views as alnafs alzakia as did alnafs alradia as did alimam alhadi as did all zaidies to this day. Zaidi ahlulbayt have been the same and been following the same view points since the prophet. just compare their writings and beliefs.
    zaidism share with sunnis some viewpoint and so they do with 12rs. what is true is true there is no changing that.
    sister zaida i am feeling that you are trying to make zaidism something it is not.

  3. zabarah tell about the mezayana and how they came about,any historian knows this event go to and type in ''descendants of sassanid persians in yemen''it provides fruther articles on this matter.also the 4 million iranian sayeds have ''proof''for their lineage,but they did not become so unto recently.anybody can fake lineage.rassiya came from daylam(gilan province)no more to be said!there were experts on shajarah in baghdad and they study closely to who is a real sayed and not.the persians ruled yemen since sassanid timses and theyve been doing it ever since.its time to send them back to houthis go back to iran!

  4. Good job zaida never thought someone from australia would represent the zaidi mathhab in english.

  5. Sister Zaida, I am sorry about my last comment it was written in hast. I was just hoping that this blog would inform of the ahlulbayt mathhab a more othodox view. you clearly do that in some articles. and in some you provide your view which makes things alittle mixed. The frustrating part is that you quote nonzaidi source, which is not your fault because zaidies do not have alot of material translated to english and available online.

    Anyways, please accept my apologies.

    You are ahead of us all by having the first blog/site that informs people of zaidism.

  6. Salaam Zabarah, no need to apologise! It's great having you and Imam Rassi Society on this blog, sharing your knowledge of Zaidism in English!
    I admit that I sometimes push the boundaries, I do it so that Zaidism will have more appeal to those who are put off Islam by orthodoxy and literalism, e.g. my grown up children and their friends, who are struggling with their Muslim identity in the Western culture we live in.

    To Anonymous: One of the themes of Zaidism is that the early ahlul bait are role models for us, in particular their refusal to tolerate corrupt leadership and injustice.
    The Houthis were fighting for justice, which they had been deprived of by the corrupt Yemeni government. So, for me, their struggle is a Zaidi one whether or not they are truly Hashemites. However, I against the use of violent weapons and prefer that Zaidis use the internet, electronic media, cinema, and political parties, to get their anti-corruption messages across. The media and internet are the perfect weapons for jihad because they do not cause death and injury to innocents.
    We should be encouraging the disarmament on all sides, tolerance and peace.

  7. May I take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy Eid ul Adhaa! Kulla sana wa antum bikhair!

  8. Muslims all over the world are non sense people. They are loosing their future in past history. The shia sunni conflict is a mere family cnflict over property and power of mohammad, the prophet of islam, who though a wise person ( ? ) passed away without officially appointing heir and left the entire muslim world in trouble.