Shia Islam

by Dr. William McElwee Miller (d. 1993AD)

Presbyterian Missionary to Persia

Edited & redacted in Italics by Dwight J. Davis



Shia Islam’s foundations of faith are laid on Persian soil and Persian soil is soaked with Islam; hence we need to study Islam.

In the early part of the seventh century there appeared in Arabia a preacher of monotheism and a reformer of morals, Muhammad by name (born 570AD, died 632AD). Influenced by the teachings of Jews and Christians (who did not worship idols), with whom he had associated intimately, he began to attack (at age 40) the Idolatry of his people in Mecca, proclaiming the Unity of God, the Resurrection, and the Judgment, promising paradise to those who repented and threatening with hell fire those who did not.

Muhammad was convinced that his commission to preach was from Allah [Arabic word for God] the Supreme God. He said that from time to time certain verses were conveyed to him from Allah by the angel Gabriel, and these verses he repeated to the people as the very words of Allah. When asked to show some sign or miracle to convince unbelievers of the truth of his divine mission he replied that his verses were his signs, and challenged others to produce the like of them. A few of Muhammad’s friends believed in him, but for some years most of his fellow townsmen refused to accept him, and instead frequently persecuted him and his followers. At last Muhammad resolved on flight, and in 622AD he and some of his followers made their way secretly to Medina, where a number of people had already expressed their readiness to accept him. Note: Muslims mark all events from 622AD from Muhammad’s hijra migration (haj) to Mecca.

On reaching Medina, Muhammad found himself much better situated than he bad been in Mecca. His followers now numbered several hundred men, and when his party, which was growing rapidly, gained the supremacy over the other factions in the city, Muhammad the Preacher became Muhammad the Chief of Medina, with armed men at his back. Having failed to win the allegiance of the idolaters of Mecca by his preaching and verses, he now undertook to convince them by the sword. Seven months after his arrival at Medina he began to attack, without any provocation whatever, the caravans of the people of Mecca in which most of their wealth was invested. At first he met with little success, but in 624AD he succeeded in capturing a large caravan, killing many of its guards and dividing the booty among his followers. This led to other wars, and finally the idolaters were defeated and Muhammad became master first of Mecca (630AD) and then of almost all Arabia. Those who owned him as their ruler and accepted Islam as their religion became equal sharers in the benefits enjoyed by his followers. Those who would not submit were forced to pay taxes or fight. Thus Islam became not a Church merely, but a Church+State [as did Jean Calvin’s Geneva].

Muhammad was both Prophet and King. Religion and politics were united in Islam from the beginning, at least in theory. In the Koran (which is a collection of the verses revealed to Muhammad) regulations for marriage and divorce, the conduct of war with the infidels, the division of the booty, and other civil matters are interwoven with instructions as to prayer, fasting, clean and unclean foods, social welfare, and various moral questions. Muhammad felt that it was his duty as Messenger of Allah to regulate all phases of life.

Muhammad probably took Moses as his model of what a prophet should be and do, for he knew far more of him than he did of Jesus. He told the Arabs that as Abraham and Moses and Jesus and other prophets had been sent to various peoples, so he had been sent to them. But his mission was not for the Arabs alone. It was for all mankind. He called upon all men, Jews, Christians, and heathen, to acknowledge and obey him. He believed that Jesus had predicted his coming, just as previous prophets had predicted the coming of Jesus. He made no claims of divinity for himself, saying that he was only a man like other men, and he warmly rejected the claims which Christians made for Jesus. He called himself the Seal of the Prophets, implying that he was the greatest and the last of the prophetic line.

The reforms which Muhammad was able to effect in Arabia were no doubt great but were by no means so far-reaching as they are sometimes represented. He preached against idolatry but ended by incorporating into his system the worship of the Black Stone in Mecca. He forbade his followers to take more than four wives, but himself (according to the Muslim historians) married nine wives and five concubines. He put a stop to the burying alive of girl babies, but he brought to his house Ayesha, his favorite wife when she was nine years of age and he fifty-three. He slaughtered his enemies and divided their wives and children and property among his followers. No wonder that he was commanded by Allah to ask pardon for his sins {Koran, Sura 47:21)1 With such an example before them it is not surprising that so many of the followers of Muhammad were and are like their prophet. Granted that the standards of Islam may have been somewhat higher than those of pre-Islamic paganism in Arabia, they were in every respect far inferior to those of Christianity. If the reader wishes to corroborate these statements he is referred to the Koran and the traditions of Islam.

Muhammad made no definite provision as to his successor which all of his followers could agree upon. On his death, in 632AD, the stronger party among the believers choose Abu Bakr as Caliph (successor), and be ruled the Church+State of Islam in Muhammad’s place. Abu Bakr was succeeded in turn by ‘Umar,’Uthmin, and Ali, who were all chosen in like manner. To the democratic Arabs, it seemed altogether proper that their chief should be thus appointed. They held that the voice of the people was the voice of God. It was during the reigns of these first four Caliphs that the armies of the Arabs poured forth from their barren deserts, and in the name of Allah overthrew the forces of Persia and Byzantium, and conquered Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, and the Iranian Plateau for Islam.

However, there soon grew up a party in Islam whose members held a theory of the Caliphate totally different from that held by the ruling party. To them, it seemed as impossible for the successor of the Prophet to be elected by the people as it would have been for the Prophet himself to have been thus chosen. As a Prophet must be appointed by God, so must his successor also be divinely appointed. This party came to be called “Shiites,” or separatists. They held firmly to the principle that the successor of the Prophet, whom they called the Imam, or Supreme Pontiff of the Faith, “must be a descendant of the Prophet, and must be nominated explicitly by his predecessor, i. e., by the Prophet in the case of the first Imam, and in other cases by the preceding Imam … the Imam was none the less Imam though recognized only by a small minority, and to recognize and yield allegiance to the rightful Imam was the supreme duty of the believer.”

The Shiites held that the first Imam, or vicegerent of the Prophet, was Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law (Muhammad left no son), and after Ali his descendants. They asserted that Muhammad had publicly appointed him to succeed him, saying to all the people,

“Let whoever owns me as his master own Ali [also] as his master.”

They, therefore, looked upon Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, and ‘Uthman as usurpers and as enemies of God and His chosen Imam. Thus the Muslim World was from early times divided between the Shiites and their opponents the Sunnites, and this division remains to the present day. Though the Shiites were always in the minority and were often divided among themselves as to who was the rightful Imam of the age, they showed the most passionate devotion to their opinions, and much Muslim blood was shed over this question of the Succession.

The Persians were especially susceptible to Shiite influences. They despised the Arabs by whom they had been conquered, and in espousing the cause of Ali and his family they found an opportunity for expressing their national spirit and maintaining something of their independence. The Persians, unlike the democratic Arabs, were imbued with the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings and had even considered their rulers to be Divine Beings. They were therefore quite ready after their conquest by the Arabs to give the Imams the place in their affection which their own kings had previously occupied, and to look upon them as supernatural beings, free from all sin and imperfection, and endowed with miraculous powers, who ought by divine right to rule over them in both temporal and spiritual affairs. The Shiites never succeeded in gaining temporal authority for any of their Imams (except Ali), but they always longed to do so, chafing under the unrighteous rule of worldly Caliphs chosen by men.

The majority of Shiites are agreed in acknowledging twelve Imams in the line of Ali. They say that all of them suffered violent deaths at the hands of their enemies except the twelfth, a child named Muhammad, son of Hasanai al ‘Askari (11th Iman). He is called the “Lord of the Age,” who as a child disappeared from the view of men in 873AD, but is still alive, and will again appear on earth.

“For in every age there must be an Imam immune to sin.”

For some seventy years after his disappearance, the Twelfth Imam (Mahdi) communicated his will to men through four Babs (“Gates”), leaders who in succession acted as the channels of grace to mankind. When the fourth Bab died no one succeeded him, and from that time on Shiites were cut off from direct communication with the “Lord of the Age,” (Mahdi) and could only long for his return. This they have done for the past thousand years.

“O Allah, hasten his joy, and cause us to behold his victory, and make us his helpers and his followers!”

prays a Shiite divine of the fourteenth century and pious Shiites make the same prayer today. They look for his appearing as earnestly as ever the Jews did for their promised Messiah and Christians for Jesus.


Books of Shiite popular theology give the minutest description of the long expected coming of the “Mahdi,” as the Hidden Imam is called. Only God knows the time of his coming. But Shiites know everything else about it I His appearance will be preceded by wars, confusion, eclipses of sun and moon, the terrible increase of infidelity and corruption of morals. Men will cease saying the prayers, will lie, take interest and bribes, will build strong houses, and will take counsel with women. Women will enter business, will sing in public, and ride astride. Muslims will become the most abject of peoples, Anti-Christ (Dajjal) will appear, riding on an ass, and will entice many people after him and destroy them. Then will appear the “Mahdi,” the Lord of the Age. At once his 313 followers, who have also been hidden for a thousand years, will rush to his side from the ends of the earth. All true believers will join him with drawn swords, and win for him the rule of which he has been wrongfully deprived these many centuries. His armies will scour the whole earth, killing all who refuse to own allegiance to their Lord. All former prophets and Imams will also return and aid him. He will bring to an end all oppression and will fill the earth with justice. Then only Shiites will be found on the earth, and the religion of mankind will, at last, become one. Following a long reign of the saints, all will die again and then will come the Resurrection and the Last Judgment. Let not the reader imagine that these details are to the Shiites mere imagery! The swords which today may be seen hanging in many shops in Persia in readiness for the coming of the “Lord of the Age” prove how real these hopes are to many of the people, and how central a place in their expectations is occupied by the conquest of unbelievers and the establishment of an earthly kingdom.

Among the Shiites, there have been many sects whose members have not contented themselves with considering the Imams as sinless and possessing miraculous powers but have taught that they were also Emanations of the Deity and Manifestations of the Divine Essence. These sects (known as ghulat) were all characterized by certain cardinal doctrines, chiefly Metempsychosis (tanasukh), Incarnation (hulul), and “Return” of individuals (reincarnation) or types in successive cycles (rijat).

From time to time in Persian history we find individuals putting forward the claim that they were the “return” of some previous prophet or Imam, and were, therefore, Divine manifestations. One of these leaders who claimed to be God was Al-Muqanna’, “the Veiled Prophet of Khorasan,” known to English readers through Moore’s Lalla Rookh. He taught that the Divinity had been incarnated in all the prophets from Adam down, and had finally passed to him. He gathered about him a great number of people who worshipped him and fought for him, but he finally perished miserably with his followers in 779AD. A half-century later Babak made the same claim and kept Western Persia in turmoil for twenty years, during which time he is said to have killed upwards of a half a million people. At last he, too, was captured and executed (838AD). Again in 922AD al-Hallaj was put to death in a horrible manner for saying,

“I am the Real”(ie, God).

Al-Hallaj is said to have been

“an ignorant, pushing, headstrong fellow, over-bold against authorities, meddling in high matters, eager to subvert governments, claiming divinity among his disciples, preaching the doctrine of incarnation—claiming that the Deity had become incarnate in him and that he was God.”

To his disciples he would say, to one,’Thou art Noah;’ to another, ‘Thou art Moses;’ to another, ‘Thou art Muhammad;’ adding, ‘I have caused their spirits to return to your bodies.’

As Dr. Edward Browne remarks,

“these doctrines [of Incarnation, Return, etc.] appear to be endemic in Persia, and always ready to become epidemic under a suitable stimulus.”

One of the latest of these ultra-Shiite sects to appear in Persia is that of the Shaykhis, or followers of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa’i (died 1826AD). The chief doctrines of this sect were:

  1. That Muhammad and the eleven Imams who followed him were divine beings;
  2. that there must always exist among men some person who is in direct supernatural communication with the Hidden Imam and acts as the channel of grace between him and his Shiites;
  3. that there is no bodily Resurrection.

Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa’i was during his lifetime considered by his disciples to be the “Channel of Grace” between believers and the Hidden Imam, as was also his successor Sayyid Kazim of Rasht.

Both of these men were sometimes called by the title “Bab”(Gate) by which the first four intermediaries spoken of above had been known. These Shaykbi teachers led their disciples to expect the appearance of the Hidden Imam himself in the near future. Some traditions said that he would return at the end of a thousand years, and many pious Shiites had grown eager with expectation, for the time was drawing nigh.

When Sayyid Kazim died, his disciples were in doubt for some time as to whom they should turn for guidance. Soon two rival claimants for the leadership appeared, and the Shaykhi brotherhood was torn in two. One faction followed Hajji Karim Khan of Kirman and continued to go by the name “Shaykhi.” The other faction (which was the stronger) followed Mirza Ali Muhammad of Shiraz. The latter adopted the title “Bab,” and his followers became known as “Babis.”

These two men are the foundational teachers of the Baha’i faith, created in the late 1800’s, we now see in modern times.

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Dictionary of Terms & Comments:

Revelation 6:1-8 perfectly describes Islam as four horsemen. These horsemen conquer the Levant, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Persia by Caliph (the Rightly Guided successors of Muhammad), with their initial identities being Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Umath, and Ali. Recall, Shias believe that Ali is the only legitimate Caliph (although they use the term Imam) and Revelation 6:8 shows the fourth horse as being GREEN, the color of his Persian-Shia Caliphate.

Caliph is a term Sunni Muslims use to describe the ELECTED LEADER (vicar, successor) of the Muslim community, as Abu Bakr was elected first Caliph by the Muslims of Mecca 10 years after the death of Muhammad.

Imam is the term Shia Muslims use to describe the divinely CHOSEN LEADER and SUCCESOR to Mohammed. They reject the term Caliph and the idea of an elected successor to Muhammad. Further, all authentic Muslims must recognize and submit to this concept of Imam. Sunni Muslims use the term Imam to refer to a Preacher or Leader of a local Mosque. An Imam to a Shia is sinless, virtuous, and morally pure.

Shias believe that Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, & ‘Umath were all usurpers of Muhammad’s Imam Lineage. They only recognize Ali as the legitimate heir to Muhammad’s leadership since Muhammad made this statement: “Let all who recognize me as their owner/master also recognize Ali as their master.” Thus to Shias, all Sunni’s are apostate infidels because they recognize Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, & ‘Umath as successors to Muhammad.

‘Son of God’ is the term Muhammad rejected regarding Jesus. To him, Jesus was a prophet-teacher but not divine. This idea was Muhammad’s conclusion based on his association with Jewish Rabbinical teachers of Mecca that influenced his theology.

‘Seal of the Prophets’ is a term Muhammad applied to himself. This phrase means “the last and greatest prophet” from Abraham to Jesus. Muhammad self-declared this epithet to himself which violates the John 5:31 scripture of the New Testament.

The term Iran is a Persian pronunciation of Aryan.

Arabs defeated the Persians during the Muslim conquest. To Persians, Worship of Kings was prevalent and this devotion was transferred to the recognized 12 Imam’s, as Islam came to rule the Persian cities.

Shah is the Persian term for King. Shah ala Shah is the term for ‘King of Kings’.

Sufayid Shah’s of Persian Kurdistan created the ‘Twelver School of Islam’ in the 16th century, making Twelver Islam the official religion of the Iranian empire. They ruled from 1501 to 1722 (experiencing a brief restoration from 1729 to 1736) and, at their height, they controlled all of modern IranAzerbaijanBahrainArmenia, eastern Georgia, parts of the North CaucasusIraqKuwait, and Afghanistan, as well as parts of Turkey, Syria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Occultation is where one object in the foreground which hides the second object in the background. It is a term applied to the eclipse of the moon by the sun most often is used to express the hidden location of both the Mahdi and Jesus. In graphics software, the concept of layering is relevant to this term.

Mahdi is the messianic term given to the hidden child of 11th Imam ‘Hasani al-Askari’ and the woman ‘Janab-e-Nargis Khatoon’. This boy named Muhammad (born 869AD) disappeared in 873AD soon after praying an enlightened prayer at a funeral. It is expected that the Mahdi (Guided one) will appear with Jesus (who walks behind him as a follower) during the time of anti-Christ (wars and chaos). Further, that Mahdi will be accompanied by all previous prophets who are among 313 followers. Below are some of the expectations Shias have regarding the Mahdi:

  1. He will defeat Dajjal, the anti-Christ who rides a donkey and spreads false doctrines such as Judaism, Christianity, Sunni-ism, and all other superstitious faiths.
  2. He will have a black spot on his left cheek, a broad forehead, a high nose, and his face will shine like a star (revelation of the guided one).
  3. His face will shine on the face of the moon (moon is a symbol of Islam)
  4. His ministry will include charity to the needy.
  5. He will reign for 7 years during a time of unparalleled prosperity.
  6. He will establish the morality missing among aberrant faith systems. Many will come to his classroom.
  7. His voice will be heard universally without modern communication methods and technologies.
  8. He will have the personal name, Muhammad.
  9. He will fill the earth with peace and justice, removing injustice and tyranny.
  10. There will be two occultations of the Mahdi. The first occurred in 873AD when he disappeared and communicated only to a select few (four Babis, gates), initially as a child. This lasted for 70 years. His second occultation has occurred since then but no gate or Bab is available to receive the communications from Mahdi
  11. He is the child of Fatimah (Muhammad’s daughter, offspring) and is a member of the Ahlul-Bayt (Household of Muhammad, descendant)

Islam is defined as submission and loyalty to both the Prophet and current Imam. Muhammad is Allah’s prophet. Muhammad is a descendant of Hagar’s son Ishmael. Mahdi is the twelfth and last Imam before Judgment Day.

Sayyed (Sayyid or Sayyidi in Arabic and the synonyms Alwai, Sharif, & Amir) and derivative transliterations mean ‘descendant of Muhammad’. It is also a title that means LIEGE-LORD, COMMANDER, MASTER, or PRINCE in current usage. Feminine version is Sayyeda, a female descendant of Muhammad. Children of a Sayyeda and a non-descendent of Muhammad are called Mirza or Mr. Many Arab linguists believe Sayyed is derived from the meaning LION, VIRTUOUS LEADER, Al Assad.

Lord of the Age is the concept of the current Imam’s aeon, the term of reign. The Mahdi will reign 1,000 years.

Bab is a link to a gateway, a special individual who has access to a channel to the Divinity, an Imam. Similar to praying to Mary or Saints in Catholicism which put prayer requests in their hands for a petition to God.

Baha’I faith is a sect of Shia Islam.

Ummah is the community or nation of Islam, Muslims.

Al-Mahi or Apollyon, the Destroyer of infidelity. A synonym name for Muhammad.

A.H. is anno higerae, that is, after 622AD, the Year Muhammad migrated to Medina. Islamic calendar numbering system.

Askari is a term for military. Hasan al-Askari is the 11th Imam from Sammara, an Arabian military town, who was father of the 12th Imam (Mahdi) Muhammed ibn (son of) Hasan al-Askari. The Mahdi disappeared at around 5 years of age. Hasan al-Askari could speak Arabic, Turkish, Hindi, and Persian. This gave rise to the idea that all Shia Imam’s could speak all known languages.

Ghaiba is a simple doctrine that states that Mahdi has been withdrawn from the eyes of men by God, that his life has been extended by God, and that he appears at various times to men, can be communicated with by certain men, and that he controls the fortunes of all Shias.

Kafir is an unbeliever.

Dajjal is the deceiver, liar, the antichrist, a chain of lying ideas. Muhammad said he will have a bulging right eye and his left eye will be high on his forehead. Jesus will catch him at the white minaret of Damascus and kill him with a spear. Peace will break out worldwide and Isa (Jesus) will point everyone toward Islam.

Professor Edward Granville Browne, while searching the Cambridge University library for Sufi Islam philosophy, came across a French book called ‘Religions et Philosophies dans l’Asie Centrale’ written by Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau (Count of Gobineau was in the French diplomatic service to Tehran in the middle 1800’s).  Brown discovered Gobineau’s book in 1890AD. Count Gobineau’s translations and book revealed an uncanny understanding of Iranian culture, language, Shia Islam, and it’s offshoot, Bahai’ism (Babism).   Brown wrote two books after discovering Gobineau’s writings about the Baha’I faith, ‘The Babis of Persia’ and ‘A year amongst the Persians’. He translated a critical writing of the Old History of the Babis after discovering a manuscript in the Bibliotheque Nationale of  Paris (National Library of Paris) explaining the old history of the Bab called ‘Nuqtatu ‘l-kaf’, a lost history written by Mirza Jani. This old history matched the writings of Gobineau.  Dr. Browne also wrote ‘A  literary history of Iran’, a translation of ‘Nuqtatu ‘l-kaf’. 

 Muslims from earliest times point at this New Testament verse as a predictor of Muhammad:  John 14:16  And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever

 


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