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Twelvers or the "Ithna Asharia" refers to the group of Shias who believe in twelve Imams. The Twelvers are the largest Shia school of thought, predominant in Iran. Among the more notable persons belonging to this denomination in modern history is Ayatollah Khomeini.

Table of contents
1 Alternate names
2 Theology
3 Some examples of Jafari jurisprudence differing from Sunni

Alternate names

The Twelvers are also known by other names, each connoting some aspect of the faith.

  1. Shia, when this term is used it is usually in reference to the Twelvers since they are the "orthodox" variant of Shiism. Though in extended usage, it can be taken to refer to other groups as well.
  2. Jafari is always taken to refer to "the Twelvers" to the exclusion of the Ismailis ("the Seveners") and the Zaidis ("the Fivers"). The term Jafari is used as the Jafari school of thought (madhab) and deduction of jurisprudence (fiqh) was founded by the 6th Shia Imam Jafar Sadiq. The founders of the Sunni Hanafi and Maliki schools of thought were students under Imam Jafar Sadiq.
  3. Imami is a reference to the Twelver belief in holy and infallible Imams after the time of the prophet Muhammad. Though the Seveners also accept the concept of Imams, this term is also used exclusively for the Twelvers.
  4. Rafidi (meaning rejectors) is a somewhat derogatory term used by those among the Sunni that consider Shia to be heretics. Commonly referring to the zealous members among the Twelvers, though it can be taken to refer to shia in general.


Religious law, the Sharia

The Jafari derive their Sharia, or religious law, from the Quran and the Sunnah similar to the Sunni schools of thought (madhab) Hanafi, Maliki, Shafai and Hanbali. The difference in Sunni and Shia Sharia results from;

  1. Alternate interpretations of the Quran,
  2. Alternate interpretation of the Hadith from which the Sunnah is derived,
  3. Disagreement on the veracity of several Hadith,
  4. The Shia non-acceptance of the "examples" and verdicts of the three first Caliphs, Abu Bakr, Omar and Uthman,
  5. the concept of the Infallibility (masuum) of the Twelve Imams, or the Fourteen Infallibles (including Muhammad and his daughter Fatima Zahra), hence the Shia accept their examples and verdicts as is, if they can be proven to have been authentically related from any of them.

The concept of Imams and the Mahdi

The Shia Imams, the first of which is Ali ibn Abu Talib are viewed to be infallible. It is an important aspect of Shia/Twelver theology that they are, however, not prophets (nabi) nor messengers (rasul). The Twelvers view all religions and groups that accept prophets or messengers after Muhammad to be heathen or heretical. The last imam is believed to be hidden and will return; he is called the Mahdi.

Husseins martyrdom

Hussein ibn Ali's martyrdom at the 10th of Muharram - known as the Ashura - plays a significant role in Twelver theology. This day is annually commemorated with grief and sorrow; men beating their chests and whipping their backs with chains and sharp objects, causing themselves pain and bleeding, women with crying and hitting their chests. This is known as the Matam. In most nations with significant shia populations one can observe large crowds in processions grieving over Hussein's martyrdom.

Some examples of Jafari jurisprudence differing from Sunni

(This list is not exhaustive nor representative of the sunni/shia dispute on religious jurisprudence)

Declaration of faith

Both shia and sunni believe that anyone who declares in public; "There is no god but God (Allah), and Muhammad is his messenger" and believes in it is to be considered a muslim. Though some Shias add: "...and Ali is the friend of God, and the heir of the messenger of God."

Accepting a scholars verdict

The Jafari school of thought accept and encourages the concept of taqleed or "imitation" eg. that unlearned muslims choose a scholar of known virtue and knowledge and follow ("imitate") his rulings and verdicts in their daily life. Although Sunnis also have a concept of taqleed, it differs from that of the Jafaris.


There are minor differences in how the prayer ritual is performed among sunnis and shias. During the purfication ritual in preparation of prayer (which consists of washing the face, arms, feet etc and saying of some prayers), the shia view wiping the feet with wet hands as sufficient as opposed to the sunnis who consider complete washing of the feet necessary. During prayer, it is Jafari view that it is preferable to prostrate on earth. Hence many Shia use a small tablet of soil (often taken from a holy site) during their daily prayers upon which they prostrate. In Jafari view the hands are to be held straight out during the standing position of the prayer, while the Sunni schools of thought (except for the Malikis) hold that they should be folded. Similar to the Sunni view, the Jafari consider the five daily prayers to be compulsory, though the Jafari consider it acceptable to join the second and third prayer and the fourth and fifth during the parts of the day where they believe the timings for these prayers to overlap. Hence most shia that pray regularly do it at three times a day, performing five prayes.


The concept of muta or "temporary marriage" is endorsed by the Jafari school of thought. The Sunni schools of thought reject it because of the verdicts of Omar. Besides the muta issue, the sunni and jafari have similar rulings regarding the different aspects of marriage. Regarding divorce in sunni view, a marriage is dissolved if the man pronounces the word "divorce" (talaq), be it intentional or non-intentional. The shia view this to not be correct.

Dissimulation of faith

The Jafari school of thought recognises the concept of taqqiya or "dissimulation of faith" in face of danger. A Jafari may, if facing danger or persecution, conceal his faith and even assume a false faith.

''See also;;: Shia