Zaydīyya (Arabic: زیدیه) is one of the major Shi'a branches, whose followers believe that after Imam Ali (a), Imam al-Hasan (a), and Imam al-Husayn (a), and Zayd b. 'Ali, an Imam is any righteous, knowledgeable, and brave man from the descendants of Lady Fatima (a) who calls people to his own imamate and to whom people pay allegiance for uprising against unjust rulers. This sect appeared in the early 2nd/8th century. Inclination to Mu'tazili theology and being closer to Sunnis, in comparison to other Shi'a branches, are two characteristics of Zaydiyya. Yemen is currently the country with the largest Zaydi population.
In the past, Zaydis had dynasties in Yemen, Tabaristan, and Morocco. Zaydi Imams ruled in Yemen for about eleven centuries until the establishment of the republic of Yemen in 1962. Since then, Zaydis were mostly in seclusion for two decades, but they have become increasingly active in social and political spheres recently. The revolutionary movement of Ansar Allah is among the influential Zaydi currents of Yemen today.
After the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a), some Alids regarded military revolt against unjust rulers as a condition of imamate. After the demise of Imam al-Sajjad (a), the adherents of this idea supported Zayd b. Ali in his uprising against Hisham b. 'Abd al-Malik and regarded him as their Imam. This marked the formation of Zaydiyya in early 2nd century AH.
Uprising of Zayd b. 'Ali
- Main article: Uprising of Zayd b. 'Ali
When fifteen thousand men paid allegiance to Zayd in Kufa —and so did many others in Basra, Mada'in, and Khurasan— Zayd made his decision to rise up against Hisham b. 'Abd al-Malik, the Umayyad caliph. Zayd's supporters were not yet organized, when the governor of Iraq attacked Zayd's hiding place. As a result, Zayd was forced to start his uprising sooner than planned in 122/740 with a small army of two-hundred men; an uprising that was suppressed and resulted in Zayd's martyrdom in Muharram 24 or 25/January 3 or 4.
- Main article: Jarudiyya
Jarudiyya or Sarhubiyya are the followers of Abu l-Jarud Ziyad b. Abi Ziyad. This sect is the earliest or one of the earliest Zaydi sects. Like Imamiyya, they believed that the Prophet (s) clearly designated Imam Ali (a) as his successor. Jarudiyya rejected the imamate of Abu Bakr and 'Umar and criticized most of the companions. The belief in Mahdawiyya, limiting imamate to the descendants of Lady Fatima (a), and the belief in the divinely-inspired knowledge of the Imams are some of their beliefs that are similar to those of the Imamiyya. However, unlike Imamis, Jarudis believe in the role of election in choosing the Imam —though some sources have attributed to them the belief in the imamate of any descendant of Imam al-Hasan (a) and Imam al-Husayn (a) who rises up against unjust rulers and calls people to himself.
Salihiyya (or Batriyya) are the followers of al-Hasan b. Salih b. Hayy al-Hamdani and Abu Isma'il b. Nafi', known as Kathir an-Nawa' or al-Abtar. Their disagreement with Zayd over the issue of tawalli and tabarri made Zayd curse them, and so they were called Batriyya. Salihiyya believe that the Imam must be elected by an elite council. They believe that a person can become an Imam even if there is another person better than him, albeit if the latter does not disagree with it. Salihiyya insist on the principle of enjoining the good (al-amr bi l-ma'ruf) and are against taqiyya. They are close to Sunnis in jurisprudence.
Sulaymaniyya are the followers of Sulayman b. Jarir. Sulayman was against bada' and taqiyya. Although Sulaymaniyya believed in superiority of Imam Ali (a) in imamate, they accepted the caliphate of Abu Bakr and 'Umar as a forgivable mistake in ijtihad. Nevertheless, they regarded 'Uthman, Talha, al-Zubayr, and Aisha as unbelievers.
Other Zaydi Sects
Husayniyya, Qasimiyya, Hadawiyya, Nasiriyya, Sabahiyya, and Ya'qubiyya are some of the Zaydi sects mentioned in historical sources.
Viewpoints and Beliefs
One of the earliest Zaydi works on fiqh is Musnad Zayd b. 'Ali, also called Majmu' al-fiqhi wa l-hadithi or Majmu' al-fiqhi al-kabir. Among the fiqhi viewpoints of Zaydiyya are saying "Hayya 'ala khayr al-'amal" in adhan, permissibility of wiping on the shoes in wudu, prohibition of mut'a, and permissibility of eating the animals slaughtered by Ahl al-Kitab. They emphasize on the necessity of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, and as a result Zaydi Imams would revolt against unjust rulers, even though it led to their massacre. Some Zaydis used qiyas in their ijtihad. Zaydis believe the consensus of the scholars of ummah to be the foundation of fiqhi viewpoints.
In the issue of intelligibility of good and evil, Zaydis are inclined to the Mu'tazila. Al-Shahrastani believes that the reason behind this is the fact that Zayd studied under Wasil b. 'Ata', the founder of the Mu'tazila.
Zaydis do not believe in Bada' and raj'at and also do not regard taqiyya as permissible. They believe, an Imam has to be a descendant of Imam al-Hasan (a) or Imam al-Husayn (a); he has to be knowledgeable, pious, brave, generous, call people to accept his imamate, and rise up against the unjust rulers. Zaydis agree that it is not permissible for two Imams to rise up at the same time in the same land. However, there is disagreement among them as to whether it is permissible for two Imams to rise up in different lands at the same time.
It is reported that Zayd believed that it was permissible for a person to become an Imam while there is another person better than him. This belief persisted among Zaydis until the time of Nasir al-Utrush, after whom it was rejected. In Zaydi viewpoint, infallibility is not necessary for an Imam. They believe in a mahdi who will appear at the end of the time, but they do not regard him to be the son of Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a).
Zaydis believe in the principle of the intermediary position (al-manzila bayn al-manzilatayn), according to which a person who commits a grave sin is neither an unbeliever nor a believer; rather, he is a fasiq (a grave sinner)—unless he rejects its prohibition, in which case he would be an unbeliever, ending up in hell if he does not repent. They maintain that the Arabic word "kufr" can refer to both unbelief and to ungratefulness.
The following figures are the revivers of Zaydism in different centuries:
- Zayd b. Ali
- Qasim al-Rassi in 3rd/9th century.
- Nasir al-Din Hasan b. Ali known as "Utrush" in Tabaristan and Daylaman in 4th/10th century.
- Ahmad b. Yahya b. Husayn in Yemen in 4th/10th century.
- Yusuf b. Yahya b. Ahama in Yemen in in 5th/11th century.
- Ahmad b. Husayn b. Harun in Daylaman in 5th/11th century.
- Yahya b. Husayn b. Harun, known as "Abu Talib Kabir" in Daylaman in 5th/11th century.
- Yahya b. Husayn b. Ishaq Jurjani in Gorgan and Rey in 5th/11th century.
- Yahya b. Ahamad b. Abi l-Qasim, known as "Abu Talib Saqir" in Daylaman in 6th/12th century.
- Ahamad b. Sulayman b. Muhammad, known as "Mutiwakkil" in Yemen in 6th/12th century.
- 'Abd Allah b. Hamza b. Sulayman, known as "al-Mansur bi Allah" in Yemen in 7th/13th century.
- Muhammad b. Mutahhar b. Yahya, known as "al-Mahdi li Din Allah" in 8th/14th century.
- Ahmad b. Yahya b. Murtada in 9th/15th century.
- Ali b. Salah al-Din in 9th/15th century.
- Yahya Sharaf al-Din b. Shams al-Din in 10th/16th century.
- Al-Mansur bi Allah Qasim b. Muhammad b. Ali in 11th/17th century.
- Yusuf b. Mutiwakkil in 12th/18th century.
- Muhammad b. Ahamad b. Hasan in 12th/18th century.
- Ali b. Abbas b. Husayn in 12th-13th/18th-19th century.
- Isma'il b. Ahmad b. 'Abd Allah Kabs in 12th-13th/18th-19th century.
- Muhammad b. Yahya b. Muhammad in 14th/20th century
After the martyrdom of Zayd b. 'Ali, several revolts were carried out, most of which were suppressed by the rulers.
Uprising of Yahya b. Zayd
- Main article: Yahya b. Zayd
Yahya b. Zayd, who went to Madain and then to Rey and Sarakhs after the martyrdom of his father, started his revolt in Khurasan. He was able to defeat the army of Nasr b. Sayyar, the Umayyad governor of Iraq, but was martyred in another battle that took place in Juzjan. The people of Khurasan mourned for him for seven days. It is reported that Imam al-Sadiq (a) wrote a letter to Yahya, prohibiting him from uprising.
Uprising of 'Abd Allah b. al-Hasan and His Sons
In 145/762-63 (towards the end of al-Mansur's reign), two revolts were conducted in Medina and Basra, one by Muhammad and the other by Ibrahim, the sons of 'Abd Allah b. al-Hasan. During the lifetime of Zayd, 'Abd Allah did not support him, but when Zayd was killed, he adopted Zayd's ideology and became the leader of the revolts of his sons.
Uprising of Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah al-Mahd
- Main article: Uprising of al-Nafs al-Zakiyya
Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah b. al-Hasan, also known as al-Nafs al-Zakiyya (the Pure Soul), was regarded by some people as the Mahdi. Before the victory of Abbasid revolution, al-Mansur and al-Saffah paid allegiance to him and were of his missionaries. Muhammad's revolt took place in 145/762-63 in Medina, where he was called Amir al-Mu'minin (the Commander of the Faithful). When al-Mansur became the caliph, he wrote Muhammad letters, threatening him but at the same time giving him safety if he ended his revolt. Muhammad disregarded al-Mansur's letters, so the latter send an army to Medina. In the battle that took place there, Muhammad's revolt was suppressed and Muhammad himself was killed; his head was circulated in Kufa and then taken to the caliph.
Uprising of Ibrahim b. 'Abd Allah
- Main article: Uprising of Martyr of Bakhamra
When Zaydi revolts in Kufa and Medina were being defeated and Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah was killed, his brother Ibrahim b. 'Abd Allah started a revolt in Basra, where he had settled in 143/760. With the help of 'Isa b. Zayd b. 'Ali, he organized his uprising, and many Zaydis, Mu'tazilis, as well as many other people from Fars, Ahwaz, and other places joined him. However, in a battle that took place in Bakhmara between Ibrahim's army and that of the caliph, Ibrahim and four-hundred Zaydis were killed.
Uprising of Fakhkh
- Main article: Tragedy of Fakhkh
The uprising of Husayn b. 'Ali b. al-Hasan, well-known as the Martyr of Fakhkh, took place in 169/786 and was suppressed by Muhammad b. Sulayman. Al-Husayn was killed, together with a number of his companions in a place called Fakhkh near Mecca and their bodies were left in the desert.
Uprising of Yahya b. 'Abd Allah
During the reign of Harun al-Rashid (170/786-193/809), one of the companions of Husayn b. 'Ali b. al-Hasan, who was present in the massacre of Fakhkh, went to the land of Daylam and, with the help of some Zaydis, organized an uprising. However, his supporters left him, so he had no choice other than making peace with the caliph.
Uprising of Idris b. 'Abd Allah
- Main article: Idrisid Dynasty
Idris was another survivor of the massacre of Fakhkh, who went to Egypt in 172/788-89 and from there to Morocco, where he called people to support the Zaydiyya. He was able to attract the support of the local tribes and establish the Idrisid dynasty, whose territory extended from Kairouan to the Atlantic Ocean. The Idrisid rule lasted from 172/788 until 375/985.
Uprising of Abu l-Saraya
Al-Sari b. Mansur al-Shaybani, known as Abu l-Saraya, started a revolt in 199/815 in Kufa. He was able to gain victory by calling people to "the Chosen One from the Family of Muhammad (s)". Despite initial victories, his uprising was suppressed in 200/815.
- Main article: Idrisid dynasty
The Idrisid rule in Morocco lasted as an independent dynasty until 305/917, when the Fatimid dynasty appeared in Egypt and so the Idrisids had no choice but to accept their rule. Thus, the Idrisids ruled in Fez under the authority of the Fatimids until 375/985-86. Afterwards, the Idrisid dynasty came to an end, and consequently the Zaydiyya gradually disappeared from North Africa.
Zaydi rule in Yemen was first established by Yahya b. al-Husayn b. Qasim al-Rassi, a descendant of Imam al-Hasan (a), also called al-Hadi ila al-haqq, in 284/897. He made Sa'dah his capital and Zaydism the state religion in Yemen.
Zaydi rule in Yemen witnessed four periods of great power:
- From the time of al-Hadi ila al-haqq in 284/897 until the second half of the fourth century AH at the time of al-Mansur bi Allah, al-Qasim b. Ali al-'Iyani, a descendant of al-Qasim al-Rassi. This period came to an end by the beginning of the fifth century AH when Isma'ili Sulayhids repeatedly defeated Zaydi Imams, resulting in a period of decline which lasted until the end of the sixth century AH.
- The second period started in the late sixth century AH by 'Abd Allah b. Hamza and lasted until the eleventh century AH when Isma'il al-Mutawakkil 'ala Allah (d. 566/1170-71) was the Imam.
- The third period of this government began with the conquest of Yemen by Ottomans. In this period, Mansur Billah Qasim b. Muahammad b. Ali (a descendant of Hadi Ila l-Haqq) took the leadership of Zaydis and entered the war with Ottomans. He took Yemen from them and returned its government to Zaydis. After him, his children Mu'ayyid Billah (d. 1054 AH/1644-45) and Mutawakkil 'Ala Allah Isma'il (d. 1087 AH/1676-77) continued his way, but in this period, Zaydis had internal weakness and disputes which led to return of Ottomans and occupation of Yekmen toward the end of 13th/19th century.
- The forth period started with the decline of the Ottoman Empire in 1377/1918, when Yahya b. Muhammad Hamid al-Din was the Zaydi Imam of Yemen.
Imam Yahya was assassinated by Yemeni revolutionaries in 1367/1948, but this did not end Zaydi rule, as Imam Yahya's son, Ahmad b. Yahya, succeeded his father and continued Zaydi rule. However, when Badr b. Ahmad came to power, the centuries long Zaydi rule was no longer able to resist the opposition, called republicans and modernists—it was overthrown by a coup led by Abd Allah al-Sallal and the support of the government of Jamal 'Abd al-Nasir in 1382/1962.
In Northern Iran
- Main article: Alids (Tabaristan)
According to some reports, Zaydis entered Iran in early 2nd century AH (8th Century CE) and their first uprising was that of Yahya b. Zayd who revolted against the Umayyads in Sabziwar and was killed in 126/743-44. The people of Sabziwar named all their children Yahya to show their sympathy and support for him.
After him, Yahya b. 'Abd Allah b. al-Hasan came to Iran and secretly settled in Daylam and called people to support his Imamate and was able to gain supporters. However, his uprising failed as Fadl b. Yahya al-Barmaki, the commander of Harun al-Rashid's army, was able to make Yahya's supporters leave him by threatening or bribing them. As a result, Yahya had to make peace with Fadl and return to Baghdad, where he was sent to jail. Yahya passed away there in 172/788-9.
Although Zaydis were not able to gain a firm footing in Iran until the third century AH, their activities led to the promotion of Zaydism in Iran in the third century AH and afterwards.
- Main article: Hasan b. Zayd b. Muhammad
When the people of Tabaristan invited al-Da'i al-Kabir, he went there from Rey in 250/864-65 and the people paid allegiance to him. After defeating the Tahirid governor, he entered Amol and ruled there for twenty years. When al-Da'i al-Kabir passed away, his brother Muhammad b. Zayd, called al-Da'i al-Saghir, became the ruler of Tabaristan. His reign lasted seventeen years until he was killed in a battle with the Samanids in 287/900. After this defeat, Tabaristan came under Samanid rule.
- Main article: Hasan Utrush
Thirteen years later, Hasan b. Ali b. al-Hasan, also known as Nasir Utrush or Nasir al-Kabir, was able to retake Tabaristan from the Samanids and enter Amol in 301/913-14. Nasir Utrush is one of the Zaydi Imams who produced many works. Unlike other Zaydi Imams who were more influenced by the Mu'tazila, he was more inclined to the Imamiyya.
After Nasir Utrush and the twelve-year long reign of his cousin al-Hasan b. al-Qasim, the Alid rule in Iran was dissolved and the Shi'a dynasty of Buyids was established. During the Buyid period, some Zaydi Imams were able to establish temporary, local rules in Iran.
From the fourth century onwards, Zaydis were greatly supported and respected by the Buyids, such that, according to some historians, Zaydi Imams reached the zenith of their power and had Tabaristan, Daylam, Gilan, and Gorgan under their control. An important development in Zaydi history in this period was the increase of intra-faith scholarly debates and conflicts.
There is no report as to Zaydi revolts in Northern Iran between 6th and 8th centuries (12th-14th century CE). However, in 776 AH/1374-75, the allegedly Zaydi dynasty of Al Kiya was established in Gilan by Sayyid Ali b. Sayyid Amir Kiya.
Dominance of Imamiyya in Iran In the Safavid period, Shah Tahmasp defeated Khan Ahmad Gilani, the last ruler of the Al Kiya dynasty. According to some historians Khan Ahmad left Zaydism in 960 AH/1553, and as a result the people of Northern Iran converted to Twelver Shiism.
Since the third/ninth century, Yemen has been the main place of Zaydi settlement. Since the second half of the twentieth century the one-thousand-year long rule of Zaydi Imams was dissolved, which led to persecution and discrimination against Zaydis by the Republican government ever since. However, the decision of Zaydi leaders and scholars to revive Zaydi political and cultural role and heritage through establishing political parties and religious and scholarly centers has led to an increase of Zaydi influence among Yemeni people and tribes. As a result, the Houthi revolution in 2014 was supported by many Yemeni people which marked the great movement of Ansar Allah in Yemen.
Political and Cultural Zaydi Currents in Yemen
There are four active Zaydi currents in Yemen.
After the union of Yemen in 1990 and the ratification of the law of free parties, a good opportunity was provided for Zaydis to come out of the isolation they had undergone for more than twenty years. In this context, a current was formed consisting of Zaydi scholars who aimed at reviving Zaydi heritage. They started to teach and train the youth according to the teachings of Zaydiyya. Later they established "al-Haqq party", which was the first political party established after the fall of the rule of the Zaydi Imams.
Among the leaders of this party were Majd al-Din al-Mu'ayyidi and Badr al-Din al-Houthi, two of Zaydi religious authorities. Salah Ahmad Falita was elected as the first secretary-general of the al-Haqq party. In the parliamentary election of 1993, the party was able to win two seats, and Husayn Badr al-Din al-Houthi and 'Abd Allah 'Ayda al-Razzami became the representatives of al-Haqq party in the parliament.
The Iranian revolution also had a great impact on Zaydi scholars of Yemen, encouraging them to revive Shi'i intellectual and social role. The travel of several Zaydi figures to Iran, Teaching courses on Iranian revolution in Zaydi educational programs, their support of Imam Khomeini, and supporting Iran in Iran-Iraq war are some of the manifestations of the proximity between Zaydi scholars and Iran.
However, this current issued a declaration in which the necessity of establishing a Zaydi rule was regarded as belonging to the past and so revolting against the existing rule was declared to be impermissible.
- Main article: Al-Houthis
Among Zaydi religious authorities and scholars, there was a current inclined to the Jarudi Zaydis, who were close to the Imamiyya in matters of theology and jurisprudence. This current insisted on imamate as a fundamental Zaydi principle and preserved the revolutionary attitude of the Zaydiyya. Emphasizing on the principle of enjoining the good and prohibiting the evil, they maintained that uprising against an unjust ruler is an obligation. This group regarded the approach of the conservative current as insufficient, so they established a new educational institution, called "Muntada l-Shabab al-Mu'minin" (Association of Believing Youths), to train and educate Zaydi youths, which later expanded and changed its name to "Tanzim al-Shabab al-Mu'minin" (Organization of Believing Youth). The spiritual leader of this organization was Badr al-Din al-Houthi and its political founder and theoretician was Husayn al-Houthi.
This revolutionary current was close to the Iranian revolution in terms of its intellectual and political tendencies. Husayn al-Houthi was influenced by Imam Khomeini, and would regard the latter's system of government and anti-imperialist attitude as a good model for an Islamic state.
The revolutionary current used to be active mostly in intellectual and cultural spheres from 1997 until 2002. However, when the US attacked Afghanistan and Iraq, the cooperation of the Yemeni government with the US government and the presence of Americans in Yemen increased. As a result, the revolutionary current expanded its political activities, and al-Houthi increasingly criticized the US and Israel.
Al-Houthi severely criticized the Yemeni government when it joined the so-called anti-terrorism coalition led by the US. The audience of al-Houthi's speeches where Zaydi youths, through whom the anti-American and anti-Israeli objections found a new momentum.
As a result, the government of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni president of the time, who had given several warnings regarding the political activities of Husayn al-Houthi, started to arrest the supporters of the revolutionary current and then in 2004 use military force to suppress them. The revolutionary current, which came to be known as the Houthis, resisted and defended itself.
The Yemeni government killed Husayn al-Houthi, but this did not put an end to its conflict with the Houthis; rather, the conflict continued until 2010 in Northern Yemen, and many people from both sides were killed or displaced. The mercilessness of the Yemeni army in killing civilians and the continuation of the discrimination of the Yemeni government against Zaydis led to increasing popularity of the Houthis among Zaydi youths, who more and more joined them. After Husayn al-Houthi and the demise of Badr al-Din al-Houthi, 'Abd al-Malik al-Houthi became the leader of the revolutionary current.
Since 2013, the Houthi current changed its name to Harakat Ansar Allah (Ansar Allah Movement) and gained greater popularity among Yemeni tribes and people. Ansar Allah Movement started a revolution against Yemeni government in 2014, whose president was 'Abd Rabbih Mansour Hadi, because of the government's corruption, despotism, and failure to fulfill people's demands.
The development of the Zaydi intellectual current in Yemen can be traced back to the revolution of 1947 against the government of Yahya Hamid al-Din, the last leader of the Zaydi rule. This current believed that the election of the Imam has to be conducted by all people. They believed that the government has to have four branches: executive branch consisting of the Zaydi Imam and his officials, parliament, judiciary branch, and religious scholars. The family of Al Wazir is the leader of the intellectual current. After the revolution of 1962, while rejecting the Western model of government, they supported establishing an Islamic government based on their proposed model.
Demoting the belief in the designation of Imam Ali (a) as the successor of the Prophet (s), this Zaydi current has interpreted Hadith al-Ghadir as calling people to love Imam Ali (s). They question the authenticity of the Prophetic hadith "The Imams are from Quraysh," and regard it as an Umayyad invention. They believe that the Imam has to be elected by the people, and his being a descendant of Lady Fatima (a) is only an idea emphasized by Qasim al-Rassi (d. 246 AH/860-61) and not a fundamental principle. Al Wazir's idea of government is very close to Western democracy.
This current includes those Zaydis who believe that their traditional teachings on politics and society is insufficient. The supporters of Ali Abdullah Saleh and many of the Republicans belong to this current. The most important political party of the secular current is General People's Congress.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from زیدیه in Farsi WikiShia.