The sects that relate themselves to Shi‘ism or the divisions, which occurred among the Shī’as themselves and made them into sub-sects fall into two categories: –
The First Category The sects that call themselves “Shī’ah” but they differ from the Imamiyyah in the meaning of imamate and its conditions. The most important of these sects are:
Al-Ghulat (The Extremists) In defining the concept of imamate, al-Ghulat has gone to an extreme, which has placed them outside the fold of the mainstream of Islam.
Az-Zaydiyyah The concept of imamate among the Zaydiyyah does not differ in general from the concept found among the non-Imamiyyah Muslims. They have deleted some essential conditions of imamate, and have added two conditions: (i) He must be a descendant of Fatimah (the daughter of the Holy Prophet); and (ii) He must stage an armed movement to gain political power. The only argument that can be put forth to them is, first, regarding the concept and essence of imamate: Is imamate a divinely invested position in which the imam and his essential conditions cannot be defined except by Allah? Is there any religious text indicating the imamate of any particular person? These are also other issues on which the Zaydiyyah is not in agreement with the non-Imamiyyah Muslims. So, the dispute is not just on the imamate of one person against the other. We shall not discuss this category of “Shi‘ah” sects because it is not our intention to discuss the history of Shi‘ah sects or to evaluate their opinions or argue about the validity or otherwise of their beliefs.
The Second Category The second category refers to the sects that are in agreement with the Imamiyyah al-Ithna-‘ashariyyah (the Twelvers) in the general concept of imamate (as a divine position which is not assigned to anyone except by the unequivocal nass), and are in agreement with them in the characteristics and attributes of an imam in an inclusive way even though they may differ in some areas. We shall confine our discussion on this second category to three sects only: –
a) The Isma‘iliyyah; b) The Fatahiyyah, and c) The Waqifah. What has prompted us, partially, to put this limitation in our discussion is that the respected translator1 has apparently faced some ambiguity or has not been able to fully comprehend all aspects of the issue wherever ash-Shaykhu ‘l-Mufid (r.a.), has talked, in his theological/polemical style, about these three sects, especially the Isma‘iliyyah. The translator, for example, makes the comment that: “al-Mufid takes great trouble to demonstrate that Ja‘far did not nominate Isma‘il . . .” (Intro. p.xxxi, [London’s edition]) We have already mentioned the justification of al-Mufid in the method that he has adopted in writing al-Irshad, but here we wish to elaborate, particularly, on the issue of Isma‘il’s imamate in order to dispel any wrong impression from the reader’s mind when he reads the translator’s introduction, especially the readers whose only exposure to this issue would be whatever is in this book and its introduction. Moreover, the sects that affiliate them- selves to Shi‘ism and those that have been mentioned in this book have almost all become extinct except the Zaydiyyah – who, as mentioned earlier, are to be discussed at a different level – and the Isma‘iliyyah, which is still alive, with its numer- ous sub-sects, who, willingly or unwillingly, engage in religious and theological confrontation from time to time.