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The origins of Shiism lie in the disagreement about the succession of Muhammad in the 7th century, when the 'Party of Ali' supported the Prophet's son-in-law. The First Civil War (656-661 C.E.) cemented the divisions within the young Muslim community.


Early Shiism reflects, like all of Islam, the political and religious culture of late antiquity. Its more distinctive features may be attributed to its southern Arabian and non-Arab supporters in Kufa and their traditions of charismatic leadership.


Muhammad's son-in-law, Ali, and his grandson Husayn, who was killed by the Umayyads in Karbala, are the most prominent historical figures in Shiite salvation history.

Sacred Texts

In addition to the Quran, Shiites consult traditions of the prophet as transmitted by their own authorities. Shiite approaches to the Islamic scripture, the Quran, differ from Sunnis in two respects: the integrity of the preserved text and exegetical methods.

Historical Perspectives

Shiism developed over several centuries, but few, if any, sources remain that give an accurate impression of the earliest days. Later developments reflect often negotiated narratives. Furthermore, Shiite-majority Iran has often been incorrectly used as a paradigm for all of Shiism.