Shi'ite Islam (book)

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Shi'ite Islam
Author 'Allama Tabataba'i
Original title شیعه در اسلام
Language Farsi
Series 1 vol
Subject Belief
Genre Theology
English translation
Translator Sayyid Husayn Nasr

Shi'ite Islam (Persian: شیعه در اسلام) is the title of an introductory book written by 'Allama Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i to introduce Shi'a especially to non-Muslim readers. The original name of the book in Persian was شیعه در اسلام (Shi'a in Islam).

Being republished for many times, this three-chapter book comprises many discussions about Shi'a, ranging from the historical emergence of the particular method for jurisprudence to delicate spiritual teachings, for the first time in Persian in a simple language. The English version of the book has been published in Europe and the U.S.


Main article: 'Allama Tabataba'i

'Allama Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i (d. 1402/1981) was a famous and prominent scholar in 14th/20th century. He was a distinguished theorist in different branches of Islamic studies such as in exegesis of the Qur'an, jurisprudence and principles of jurisprudence, Islamic philosophy and mysticism. al-Mizan (a complete commentary of the Qur'an) is his most important work. Two of his philosophical writings, Bidayat al-hikmah and Nihayat al-hikmah are among the current textbooks of the Islamic Seminaries in Iran.


Aiming to introduce Shi'a to readers who are unfamiliar with the Islamic and Shi'a thought and willing to have a comprehensive view on this school of thought, Shi'ite Islam introduces a broad range of information about Shi'a, ranging from discussions on historical emergence of Shi'a to its specific jurisprudential methodology and delicate spiritual teachings, in a simple and easy to understand way.

Tending to cover all important topics related to Shi'a, the book discusses Shi'a chronologies, different branches of Shi'a, its beliefs and teachings, and the life of Twelver Shi'a Imams (a).

One other important factor of the book is its concision. While it discusses all important related topics, the book is not very sizable.

The other feature is its polite and non-provocative language in defending Shi'a's fundamental beliefs and its historical origins. The author presents Shi'a as the truly original approach towards Islam without making or widening slightest sectarian divisions in Islam.

A notable advantage of the book is its simplicity, which allows readers to follow discussions without requiring specialized studies.


Shi'ite Islam has three chapters as following:

Brief History of Shi'a

The first chapter is titled as "the emergence and development of Shi'a" which is a brief historical review of the formation of Shi'a, its origin, the reason of Shi'a-Sunni separation and the issue of rightful political and jurisprudential successors of the Prophet (s).

In following sections, Shi'a criticism of an election-based caliphate is discussed, as well as the conditions in which Amir al-Mu'minin (a) (Imam 'Ali (a)) became a caliph, his methods of governing the Muslim society and the benefits of his five-years administration to Shi'a.

Next topic in this chapter deals with the transition of the caliphate to Mu'awiya b. Abu Sufyan and consequently, its reduction to a kinship monarchy under the titles: The most difficult days for Shi'a and the establishment of Umayyad Caliphate, the situation of Shi'as in the 2th/8th,3th/9th and 4th/10th centuries has been discussed. Such analyses shed some lights on the conditions of Shi'as during the reign of Abbasid dynasty as well.

Shi'a in 9th/15th, 10th/16th to 11th/17th, and 12th/18th to fourteenth/twentieth centuries, are the titles of following sections of this chapter.

In the section discussing Shi'a sub-divergences, Allama Tabataba'i presents Zaydi and Isma'ili Shi'as and their subdivisions. The final part of this chapter gives a brief history of 'Ithna 'Ashari (Twelver) Shi'a its differences with two former groups.

Shi'a Theological Thought

The second chapter is titled as "Theological thought in Shi'a". After a short introduction, mainly on the meaning and definition of theological thought, the author discusses the original sources of Islamic teachings. He presents different ways of studying Islamic teachings in the Qur'an according to apparent and hidden meanings of Quranic verses. Then, he mentions the particular methodology of Shi'a in discussing hadith.

After outlining Shi'a approach toward revelation/tradition-based theology, rational discussions in Shi'a are studied under following titles:

  1. Philosophical and theological thoughts
  2. The pioneer role of Shi'a in philosophical and theological thought in Islam
  3. Shi'a's constant endeavor in philosophy and other rational sciences
  4. why philosophy has survived among Shi'a?
  5. Some of Shi'a geniuses

At the end of this chapter, the author writes about mysticism and the way of acquiring mystical intuition. Following a discussion about the relation between man and mystical knowledge, he explains the emergence of mysticism in Islam and the way the Qur'an and Islamic traditions direct us to a deeper knowledge of the soul and provide a program for attaining such awareness.

Shi'a Beliefs

By the title "Islamic doctrinal beliefs according to Shi'a", the third chapter of the book presents four main sub-sections:

  1. On the knowledge of God
  2. On the knowledge of the Prophet (s)
  3. Eschatology
  4. On the knowledge of the Imams (a)

After providing short biographies of Shi'a Imams, the author discusses the reappearance of Imam al-Mahdi (a). The final section presents the spiritual message of Shi'a.

Translations and Publications

Shi'ite Islam has been republished many times in Persian by different publishers. The English version translated by Dr. Sayyid Husayn Nasr, a student of Allama Tabatab'i, has been studied as a textbook in some American universities.[1]

In 1989, this book was translated from the English version into Indonesian language by Djohan Efendi as Islam Syiah Asal Usul dan Perkembangannya[2]. Also, it was translated into Japanese in 2007.[citation needed]


  1. Shīʿa dar Islām, p. 7.
  2. slam Syiah : Asal-Usul Dan Perkembangannya, website of Pusat Data dan Dokumentasi Ilmiyah.


  • Khayyāṭīyān, Qudrat Allāh and Shāhmuḥammadī, ʿAlīriḍā. Nigāhī intiqādī bi tarjuma-yi englīsī-yi kitāb-i shīa dar Islām Allāma Ṭabāṭabāʾī. in Shīʿashināsī journal. No, 61. Spring 1397 Sh.
  • Ḥājī Rustamlū, Qudrat. Naqdī bar tarjuma-yi kitāb-i shīa dar Islām marḥūm Ṭabāṭabāʾī . In pazhūhish- dīnī journal. No, 20. 1389 Sh.