The myth of the “Shīʿī perspective”

Identity and memory in early Islam

Authored by: Najam Haider

Routledge Handbook on Early Islam

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138821187
eBook ISBN: 9781315743462
Adobe ISBN:


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It is often assumed that the Shīʿa, informed by theological and soteriological concerns, hold an unreliable and skewed perspective on early Islam. The Shīʿa are described as partisans of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 40/660), who felt dispossessed when the community chose Abū Bakr (d. 13/634) as Muḥammad’s successor in 11/632. The group’s attachment to ʿAlī was ultimately transformed into a veneration of his family and descendants, producing an interpretation of Islam that differed from the community-centric vision associated with Sunnī Muslims. In this narrative, the emergence of two distinct religious orientations (i.e., Sunnī and Shīʿī) was the consequence of a dispute over the leadership of the community.

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