ML 407 – Authority in Shi’a Islam


This first part of the module seeks examine the following core issues:

  • The concept of imama and different kinds of authority vested in the Imam
  • The debate about the succession of Muhammad in early Islam
  • The emergence of early Shi’i groups: Zaydis, proto-twelvers and Isma’ilis
  • The occultation of the Twelfth Imam and the crisis of authority among Shi’as
  • The stages of development of the concept of al-wilaya al-‘amma (all-inclusive authority) and delegation of legal and political authority to jurisconsults
  • Al-Khumaini and the articulation of the concept of walayat al-faqih

The second part of the module aims at providing a specialised knowledge in two of the areas related to Shi’a Islam:

  • Rational v. Traditional and the Akhbari-Usuli dispute
  • Safavid dynasty: adoption of Shi’ism as state religion
  • The establishment of the institution of Marja’i al-taqlid in the 19th century
  • Shi’ism in modern times: Iran, Iraq and Lebanon
  • The Hawzeh Ilmiyahs of Najaf and Qom

Learning, Teaching and Assessment Strategy

Assessment Scheme

Lectures provide the basic structure of the module. Seminars will be used to debate and explore specific issues. Students are expected to undertake individual study consisted of free and set reading and preparation for lectures. Students prepare for classroom participation through reading and analysis of distributed material, readings from the indicative reading and their own research.

Formative Assessment:
Formative assessment for this module will consist of verbal feedback from the lecturer, questioning and discussion during class, and e-learning using the Desire2learn environment. One draft of the coursework may be handed in to the lecturer before the 10th learning week for formative assessment, in which the lecturer will give the student feedback on how to improve their research and quality of writing.

Summative Assessment:
Individual essay of 4000 words demonstrating significant ability to critically evaluate a particular subject as suggested by the tutor ability to debate and explore ideas.

Assessment Weighting

Individual essay: 100 out of 100

Learning materials

Core readings
Abisaab, R. J. (2004). Converting Persia: Religion and Power in the Safavid Empire (Vol. 1). IB Tauris.
Adel, G. H., Elmi, M. J., & Taromi-Rad, H. (Eds.). (2012). Hawza-yi ‘Ilmiyya, Shi ‘i Teaching Institution: An Entry from Encyclopaedia of the World of Islam. EWI Press.
Calmard, J. (1991). Mardjaᶜ-i taḳlid. Encyclopaedia of Islam. Leiden, Boston: Brill, 548-556.
Enayat, H. (2004), Modern Islamic Political Thought. I.B.Tauris
Hermann, D. (2013). Akhund Khurasani and the Iranian Constitutional Movement. Middle Eastern Studies, 49(3), 430-453.
Hourani, G.F. (1985), Reason and Tradition in Islamic Ethics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kakaie, G. (2000), Authority and Tradition, in Message of Thaqalayn: A Quarterly Journal of Islamic Studies, Tehran: World Assembly of Ahlul Bayt.THE ISLAMIC COLLEGE/ MA Islamic Studies Student Handbook 2015/2016 123
Khumeini, S.R (1981). Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini, trans. and ed. By Hamid Algar, Berkeley, CA: Mizan Press.
Lapidus, I. M. (1996). State and religion in Islamic societies. Past & present, (151), 3-27.
Legenhausen, M. (2000). Authority from a Shi’ite Perspective, in Message of Thaqalayn: A Quarterly Journal of Islamic Studies, Tehran: World Assembly of Ahlul Bayt.
Modarressi, H. (1993). Crisis and Consolidation in the Formative Period of Shi’ite Islam: Abu Ja’far Ibn Qiba Al-Razi and His Contribution to Imamite Shi’ite Thought. Darwin Press.
Al-Nawbakhti, H. M. (2007) Shi’a Sects, trans. Abbas, Kadhim, London: ICAS Press.
Sindawi K (2007) Hawza instruction and its role in shaping modern Shiite identity: The Hawzas of al-Najaf and Qumm as a case study. Middle Eastern Studies 43(6): 831–856.
Shomali, M.A (2003), Shi’i Islam: Origins, Faith & Practices. London: ICAS Press.
Shomali, M.Ai (2003), Reason, Faith and Authority: A Shi‘ite Perspective. Qum: Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute.
Tabataba’i, S.M.H. (2009), The Return to Being: The Treatise on Friendship with God: Risalat Al-Walayah. London: ICAS Press.
Tabataba’i, S.M.H (1975). Shi’ite Islam, trans. Sayyid Hossein Nasr, Albany, New York: SUNY Press.
Takim, L.N. (2007), The Heirs of the Prophet: Charisma and Religious Authority in Shi’ite Islam. State University of New York Press
Vaezi, A. (2004). Shia Political Thought, London: Islamic Centre of England.