Middle East Encyclopedia

Encyclopedia of the Middle East


MidEastWeb Middle East


Shia Islam (or Shi'a or Shi'ite, Shiite etc) (Arabic: شيعة ),  - A sect or branch of the Muslim religion centered in Iran, with large followings in southern Iraq and sub-sects (Alawi, Ismaili) in Syria and Lebanon. Shi'ites. Shia is the second largest Muslim denomination after Sunni Islam. Shias adhere to the teachings of Muhammad and the religious guidance of his household and family, the Ahl al-Bayt and his descendants known as Shi'a Imams. Muhammad's bloodline continues only through his  daughter Fatima Zahra and cousin Ali, who, with Muhammad's grandsons, are the Ahl al-Bayt. Thus, Shi'a consider Muhammad's descendants as the true source of guidance while considering the first three ruling Sunni caliphs a historic fact,  not connected with Islam.

Shia Islam has many branches. The three largest are the Twelvers, the Sevener (Ismaili) and the Zaidiyeh. The best known and the one with most adherents is  Twelver Shiism, introduced by the Safavid dynasty in Persia,  which has a large following in Iran  of 60%. Iraq is 45% Shia. Alawites (Alawi) and Druze sometimes consider themselves Ismaili Shia. Mainstream Muslims often do not consider the Druze to be Muslims. The Sufi orders among the Shias are the Alevi, Bektashi, Kubrawiya, Noorbakhshi, Oveyssi, Qizilbashi, Hamadani and Fatimid. As many as ten percent of Turkey's population is Alevi while Lebanon and Syria have relatively small percentages of Alawi.


Synonyms and alternate spellings: Shi'a or Shi'ite, Shiite

Further Information: See History of Islam and the Arabs Ismaili

USA Credit Card - Donate On-Line - Help us live and grow

Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

Copyright 2007- 8,  MidEastWeb for Coexistence RA.

All original materials at MidEastWeb are copyright by MidEastWeb and/or by their authors unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy materials from this Web site to your Web site or to forums without permission. Please tell your friends about MidEastWeb. Please forward these materials in e-mails to friends with links to this URL - http://www.mideastweb.org and to the URL of the material. You can print out materials for your own use or classroom use, giving the URL of  MidEastWeb. For pages marked Copyright, printed material should bear this notice:

"Copyright by MidEastWeb for Coexistence R.A - Middle East Resources. - http://www.mideastweb.org. All rights reserved. "

and should give the URL of the original. Reproduction in any other form - by permission only. Consult detailed terms of use and copyright information

Mideastweb: Middle East Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Issues in a Nutshell Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Brief History Zionism Zionism: Definition & brief history