Firaq al-Shi'a (book)

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Firaq al-Shīʿa
File:Firaq al-Shi'a.jpg
Authoral-Hasan b. Musa al-Nawbakhti
Original titleفرق الشيعة
SubjectIntroduction to Shi'a sects
English translation
En. titleShi'a Sects
En. publisherIslamic College for Advanced Studies Press, London

Firaq al-Shīʿa (Arabic: فرق الشيعة, Shi'a sects), a book written in Arabic by al-Hasan b. Musa al-Nawbakhti, an Imami theologian and heresiographer of the 3rd/9th and 4th/10th centuries. The book is one of the most important primary sources on Shi'a sects until the 3rd/9th century.

Al-Nawbakhti has tried to write succinctly and objectively. The only group against whom he shows some bias is the Ghulat.

The sects introduced in the book are mostly political and doctrinal sects, and not so much jurisprudential ones.


Al-Hasan b. Musa al-Nawbakhti is a member of the well-known Shiite al-Nawbakhti Family, who—apart from their scholarly status—held political positions in the Abbasid court. The exact date of birth or demise of al-Hasan b. Musa (hereby called al-Nawbakhti) is not known, but we know that he was alive in the early fourth century. Al-Nawbakhti belongs to the Imami rationalist current, with close ties to the Mu'tazila.

Al-Nawbakhti had many works, none of which are available today except Firaq al-Shi'a. The titles of his works indicate that he was mostly concerned with theology and philosophy and defending Shi'a beliefs.


Firaq al-Shi'a was first edited and published by the German orientalist Helmut Ritter in 1931 in Istanbul. Ritter attributed the book to al-Nawbakhti, and this led to a discussion between scholars as to whether this attribution was correct.

Abbas Iqbal maintained that the book was written by Abu l-Qasim b. Sa'd b. 'Abd Allah al-Ash'ari, a contemporary of al-Nawbakhti. Against Iqbal's viewpoint, Shaykh Fadl Allah Zanjani presented some evidence that supported the authorship of al-Nawbakhti.

Today, the scholars agree that the author of the book was al-Nawbakhti.


Firaq al-Shi'a provides comprehensive information on Shi'a branches, their groupings, and the reason behind their schisms until the time of the author. In addition to Shi'a sects, the book contains useful information on other religious or political Muslim groups in the first three centuries after Hijra. Because of this, it has been an important source for later heresiographers. Since al-Nawbakhti lived in the Minor Occultation period, he provides us with first-hand information on this stage in Shi'a history.


Al-Nawbakhti has a historical approach in this book. He briefly mentions the important data on how and when different Shi'a sects emerged and what their beliefs were.

Al-Nawbakhti has avoided insulting other Muslim groups or refuting their beliefs, except in the case of the Ghulat whom he curses and emphasizes on the falseness of their doctrines. Thus, in the majority of his work, he has preserved objectivity. In the final section of his book, when he mentions the emergence of fourteen sects after Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a), his report is so unbiased that it is not clear to which of the fourteen groups he himself belongs.

The divisions that al-Nawbakhti mentions are mostly political and doctrinal, not jurisprudential. Thus, he divides Muslims into four main branches: Shi'a, Murji'a, Mu'tazila, and Khawarij.

Compared to other works of heresiography, Firaq al-Shi'a is written in a quite simple style. Like other heresiographers of his time, al-Nawbakhti has not mentioned the sources of his work.


The book starts with the division that took place in the Muslim community right after the demise of the Holy Prophet (s) and ends with the schism that occurred in the Shi'a community after the demise of Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a).

Al-Nawbakhti maintains that the origin of the Shi'a goes back to the time of the Prophet (s) himself, when a group of people — including Miqdad b. Aswad, Salman al-Farsi, Abu Dharr, 'Ammar b. Yasir—were called Shi'at 'Ali (the partisans of 'Ali).

Some of the sections of the book discuss the following topics:

  • The first dispute in the Muslim community
  • The disagreement after the martyrdom of Imam 'Ali (a)
  • Major Muslim sects
  • Discussion on transmigration and raj'a
  • Discussion on the Ghulat


  • The material for writing this article has been mainly taken from فرق الشیعه in Farsi WikiShia.