Following Muhammad’s death, the fierce competition for dominance among clan and tribal factions eventually developed into the two major branches of Islam: Sunni and Shia.
The party (shia) of Ali are those who believe that Muhammad appointed Ali, his cousin and the husband of his daughter Fatima, to be his successor. Ali became the fourth ruler (Caliph) in 657 AD, but he died in battle in 661. Both of his sons were killed shortly after. Overpowered by stronger factions, the embattled “party of Ali” have remained in conflict with succeeding Sunni rulers throughout the centuries.
Known as “the people of the household” (ahl al-bayt), Shias remain loyal to the family of Muhammad. They make up 10-13% of all Muslims today, with the largest communities in Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and India.
Shias believe that Allah continues to appoint successors to Ali – and they call this line of succession the Imamate. These successor Imams are given divine insight so that they can interpret the Quran without error. Today, there are three major groups of Shias who disagree about who succeeded Ali: the Twelvers (85% of Shias), the Zaydis in Yemen, and the Ismailis in Pakistan and India.
Surprisingly, the Shias changed the Sunni Confession of Faith (the Shahada): “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Prophet (or messenger) of Allah”. They add “and Ali is the friend (or holy man) (wali) of Allah.” Given that Ali and his sons suffered much, it is not surprising that Shia Islam stresses suffering and martyrdom.
During the Ashura Festival, which commemorates the martyrdom of Husain, men and boys beat themselves until their bodies run with blood.Shias believe that the final Imam (Mahdi) will return before the Day of Judgement and be joined by Isa (Jesus).
The Mahdi will lead Muslims in a final war against Dajjal, the false Messiah, and Isa will kill him. Then the Mahdi and Isa, they believe, will rid the world of evil and unite all in submission to Allah.
The most remarkable work of God among Shia Muslims is among Iranians, both inside Iran and among the tens of thousands of Iranians living in the diaspora. He appears to be at work in every Iranian community!
God has raised up a number of very fruitful Iranian leaders, most of whom live in the West, who minister in multiple ways to their own people in person and through satellite TV and internet ministries.
Movements to Christ among Iranians show no sign of slowing. In response, the current Iranian rulers appear to be doing all they possibly can to slow the growth of Christianity inside Iran. They carry out unrelenting and often severe persecution of believers, especially of those who are seen as leaders.