Literary CornerThe Zeidi Sect (I) [Archives:2007/1062/Culture]

June 25 2007

Abu Al-Kalima Al-Tayybah
Subject Book: The Zeidi Sect

Author: Dr. Ahmed Mahmoud Subhi

Part I of Volume II in the Science of Theology Series

Publisher: Arab Writer's Press

Year Published: 1991 AD

No. of Pages: 768

One of least known Islamic sects is the Zeidi sect, which is confined to small constituencies that are found in Yemen, Azerbaijan and a small community in North Africa. Nevertheless, the sect has aroused the interest of many Moslem scholars throughout the ages, since the death of its founder, Zeid Bin Ali Bin Al-Hussein Bin Ali Bin Abi Talib (80 AH – 122 AH = 699 AD to 740 AD). He is the victim of a heartrending betrayal or more appropriately abandonment by the very same masses that have urged him to rise and lead them to rebellion against the oppressive Omayyad Caliph of the time (more on that later). The Zeidi constituency is indeed one of the smallest Moslem sectarian constituencies, nevertheless, there is no doubt among all the leading scholars and even “founders” of Moslem sects that Imam Zeid is regarded as the first Islamic scholar of religious jurisprudence. Even modern researchers of modern Islamic studies are quick to recognize the latter's role in initiating the study of Moslem Jurisprudence or “Fiqh ” or “doctrine” at a time when most Moslems have become more inclined to mundane distractions that diverted them from looking into the many problems brought on by rapid wealth and the inclusion of many non-Arab communities into the fold of the faithful, soon after the death of the Prophet Mohammed. This significance in the development of Moslem theological scholasticism cannot be underestimated. The teachings of Abu Hanifah, Ja'afar Al-Sadiq, Mohammed Idriss Al-Shafe'i and many other Islamic scholars that followed him all refer to the teachings of Zeid and all respect his prominence in the development of their own views accordingly.

The interesting feature of this book is that it comes from an academician of philosophy, who is, in fact an adherent to the Sunni (Shafe'i) sect, whereas the Zeidi sect is regarded, to a large extent, as a Shi'ite sect, if one looks at it from a purely political angle. It is worth noting that the religious sectarian affiliation in Islam is often rooted to political differences that followed the passing away of the Prophet Mohammed (PBAUH) and only later took on their religious or theological manifestations. Even the most ardent Sunni scholars took on political views that were to bring to them tragic fates, including such renown Sunni scholars as Ahmed Bin Hanbal, who was known for his puritan interpretations of much of Islamic doctrine. The point to be made here is that prominent Moslem scholars were all in agreement that the cause d''tre of Islam was indeed the removal of oppression and transgressions in all their political, economic and social manifestations. However, as the centuries passed after the times of these great scholars, even their own followers let this important aspect of their teachers' lives take a back seat in their own religious persuasions. It is no wonder that these teachers were quick to attract the elements of the downtrodden of the society and the masses that often became the social products of the oppression that was rampant in their times.

The author begins the book by giving a brief dissertation on the dogma of Shi'ism and how this active force in Islam helped to bring about the dissemination of the teachings of the likes of Ali Bin Abi Talib and his many supporters in his age and throughout the Moslem periods that followed. He notes the political ramifications of Ali, his descendants and other followers and how that appealed to those who really saw in Islam as a movement of liberation that underscores the political relevancy of Islam and undoubtedly remind historians that indeed Islam was the first human movement that considered freedom and democratic governance as part and parcel of religious doctrinaire, and that if God made oppression as forbidden upon Himself, then surely it goes without saying that oppression by men should also be considered as anathema to all religious beliefs. This was bound to bring about an ongoing conflict, not so much resting on religious beliefs or theological persuasions, but rather on the obvious disdain that Islam has for all forms of oppression, persecution and social injustice. That is why it is very difficult for Moslems to separate religion from politics, since the origins of Islam are primarily based on the fight to eradicate all the elements of injustice and economic and social oppression, not to mention the wanton persecution that prevailed in the Sixth Century, not only in the Arabian Peninsula, but throughout the “civilized” world then.

It is important to note the political dimensions of Islam, at the outset as the author has done here in this very deep analytical assessment of the Zeidi sect, because this became a prominent feature of the history of the followers of Zeid, especially in Yemen, as we shall see later.