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The Origins of Twelver Shīʿism in Iran

The issue of the entry of Imāmite/Twelver Shīʿism into Iran is one of the most controversial issues in the History of Islamic Sects. According to the established general opinion, it is after the Safavids that the Shī’ite groups in question became the dominant thought in Iran.

Before, they were only a minority. However, this study reveals that Imāmite Shīʿism was not a minority to be underestimated even before the Safavids. The introduction of Imāmism/Twelve Shīʿism into Iran runs parallel to the formation of the Shīʿite Imāmite ḥadīth literature that was produced in Qum in the second phase of its configuration. The first phase was inaugurated by the introduction of some extremist doctrines in Kufa of Iraq and then discussion of them by such theologians as Hishām bin al-Ḥakam and ʿAlī bin Mītham al-Tammār in such centers as Kufa and Baghdad. The Arabs of Yemenite origin who immigrated from Kufa to Qum carried the lore formed in the former to the latter. This Qum-centered Shīʿism in Iran made progress in some areas that
were in contact with Kufa and Baghdad.
To speak in very general terms, Qum’s becoming the center of Imāmite Shīʿism in Iran starts in the late third/ninth century. In this period, the followers of Imāmite Shīʿism seemed to exist in the region of Nishabur (Sabzevar and Tus), as well as in Ahwaz and the coasts of Fars. Towards the end of the fourth century, Imāmism made some progress in Tabaristan, Daylam, Jurjan, Hamadan, Ray, Azerbaijan, and, though to a lesser degree, in some parts of Transoxiana. By the end of the fifth/eleventh century, such towns as Kashan and Abeh (Aveh) near Qum had become followers of Imāmism, their population having possibly increased in Ray. By the sixth/twelfth century, they had grown even more to acquire the majority in Ray, gaining a considerable number of followers in Qazvin, Mazandaran, and Tabaristan (Sari and Uram) in the north and in Astarabad and Jurjan in the northeast. In the seventh/thirteenth century, when the Ilkhanates came into power, the Imāmite Shīʿites began to appear in Isfahan, too, maintaining their control of Ray in which, being one of the largest cities of the time, they reached majority one century earlier; in further east, they reached Herat and Balkh, which are located in the territory of present-day Afghanistan. In fact, Imāmite Shīʿism held ground in the first place in Qum and the neighboring area, as well as the region of Nishabur, never shrinking after it held ground over there. In answer to the question of whether Shīʿism retreated in any regions, Azerbaijan and Hamadan are possible to be mentioned; however, they are not clearly so. Although the names Azerbaijan and Hamadan may be given in response to the question “whether there were regions that could be considered as a regression in some periods in this process?”, it is not entirely clear to what extent this answer reflects the truth.

Bibliographic Information

Title: The Origins of Twelver Shīʿism in Iran

Author(s): Cemil Hakyemez

Published in: Turkish Journal of Shiite Studies,  Volume 3, Issue 1, 30.06.2021.

 Language: English

Length: 24 pages

The Origins of Twelver Shīʿism in Iran

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