Question # 463: I faced this situation today. Praying behind a Shia Imam. We pray Fajar in the office. We are only three people. Two Sunni and one Shia. For almost every day, one of the Sunni leads the prayer while the other two are followers. Today weather was bad. Shia guy came early and we two Sunni got late so Shia started prayer. We waited till he finished his prayer then had our separate prayers. Our Shia friend questioned why we did not joined him? He was reciting while he was praying so we knew he was praying Faraz.

bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,

Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,

All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).

Dear questioner,

First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.

Shorter Answer: The differences between the Ahl al-Sunnah (Sunnis) and the Raafidis (Shias) are very great and fundamental. For example, the Shias say that the Qur’an was altered, and they condemn most of the Sahabah (رضي الله عنهم) and think that they went astray; they exaggerate about their imams and venerate them, and give them precedence over the Prophets and angels; they exaggerate concerning the Ahl al-Bayt (members of the Prophet’s household), they go on pilgrimages to mashhads (shrines) and graves, where they commit all kinds of actions of shirk (associating others in worship with Allah). They also believe in hypocrisy (as a tenet of faith) and call it taqiyah (dissimulation), and they believe in al-badaa’ (the notion that Allah “changes His mind”), al-raj’ah (the Return, i.e., the raising of the dead to life again for some time in the same form as they were before) and absolute infallibility of their imams, and prostrate on a handful of clay.  Hence, one should not pray behind any Shia who is known to have the above beliefs and practices. If no such thing is known about him, then it is allowed to pray behind him; however, even in this situation, one should not follow him regularly in prayer.

Long Answer: The differences between the Ahl al-Sunnah (Sunnis) and the Raafidis (Shias) are very great and are fundamental. The following is a summarized outline of the beliefs of Shi’ites, in the matters of faith and Doctrine:

Qur’an: To some of them, the Qur’an authenticity is doubtful, and if it appears to contradict any of their sectarian beliefs or doctrines, then they give the Qur’anic text strange, far-fetched interpretations that agree with their sectarian views. For that reason, they are called Al Mutawwilah (those who give their own interpretations to the revealed texts). They love to draw attention to the discord that occurred at the time when the Qur’an was first compiled. The views and opinions of their Imams are the primary sources of their jurisprudence.

Ahadith: The Shi’ites reject all Prophetic Traditions that were not related by members of Ahlul-Bait or their descendants. The only exception to this rule is their acceptance of a few ahadith narrated by those who sided with ‘Ali (رضي الله عنه) in his political wars They do not attend to the authenticity and soundness of the chain of narrators, nor do they approach the study of the Prophetic Traditions with a scientific, critical attitude. Their narrations often appear in a form like that of the following example: “It has been reported regarding Muhammad bin Isma’eel by way of some of our friends through a man who transmitted it from him [‘Ali] that he said…”49 Their books are filled with hundreds of thousands of traditions whose authenticity cannot be confirmed. They have built their religion specifically upon these spurious texts while outright rejecting over three-quarters of the authentic Prophetic Traditions. This is one of the main differences between the Shi’ites and the Sunnis.

Companions (رضي الله عنهم) of Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم): It is unanimously agreed that the noble Companions deserve our utmost respect, and are absolutely trustworthy. As for the discord that occurred among them, it is to be considered as the consequence of the sincere exercise of personal conviction and opinion. The discord was resolved and is a thing of the past. It is not permissible for us to hold, on the basis of past differences among the Companions, grudges and ill will that continue for generations. The Companions are those whom Allah has described in the best of terms; He has praised them upon many occasions. It is not lawful for anyone to make any accusation against them or cast suspicion upon them, and there is no benefit to be derived therefrom. The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said, “Do not abuse my companions, by Him in Whose Hand is my life, if anyone among you would have spent as much gold as Uhud, it would not amount to as much as one mudd or a half of it on behalf of one of them”, and it was reported by Muslim. He also said, “Whoever abuses my Companions, may Allah’s curse and the curse of all angels and humans be on him” (Reported by At-Tabarani in Al-Mu’jam Al-Kabeer and was graded sahih by Al-Albani in Al-Silsilah Al-Sahihah)

Tawheed: The Shi’ites also believe in Allah, except that they adulterate this belief with polytheistic rituals and observances. They implore and make supplication to Allah’s slaves and worshippers rather than to Him alone, saying “O Ali! And “O Hussain!” and “O Zainab!” Similarly, they make vows and sacrifice beasts in the name of others besides Allah. They request the dead to fulfill their needs as is shown by their prayers and poems. They consider their Imams to be infallible, to have knowledge of the unseen, and to partake in the administration of the universe. It is the Shi’ites who invented Sufism (mysticism) to consecrate their deviated tenets and thus give them the air of legitimacy. They claimed that there is special power and authority invested in the “awliyaa“‘ (mystic saints), “aqtaab” (those considered to be the spiritual axes of the universe, which turns due to their exalted status), and Ahlul-Bait Shi’ite scholars and clergy impressed upon their followers the concept of a hereditary privileged class, as a matter of religion, although this has no foundation in Islam at all. Knowledge of Allah is attained, according to them, through the exercise of- reason, not by knowledge of divinely revealed law. That which came to us by way of revelation in the Qur’an merely represents an affirmation of reason’s judgment; it is not considered to be a source that is independent of and beyond the limits of reason.

Seeing Allah: The Shi’ites believe that to see Allah is not possible in this world nor in the Hereafter.

The Unseen: They claim that knowledge of the unseen belongs solely to their Imams, and it is not for the Prophet to inform us about the unseen. Some Shi’ites have gone so far as to claim godhead (for those Imams).

Shari’ah and Haqeeqah: The Shi’ites see the shari’ah as being merely the various rulings and directives set forth by the Prophet; they concern the common and superficial folk only. As for the haqeeqah, no one knows it except the Imams of Ahlul Bait. These Imams acquire the sciences of haqeeqah through inheritance, one generation after another. It remains a secret possession among them. Furthermore, the Shi’ites consider their Imams infallible; their every work and practice is deemed incumbent upon their followers. They believe that one may communicate with God only through intermediaries, and it is for this reason that their religious leaders have such an inflated opinion of themselves, as evidenced by the exaggerated titles they take for themselves, e.g. Baabullah (the door to Allah), Waliyullah (the friend of Allah), Hujjatullah, (Allah’s proof), Ayatullah (the sign of Allah), Al-Ma’soom (the infallible one), etc.

Islamic Jurisprudence: They depend only on the exclusive sources which they claim for their Imams; upon their farfetched interpretations of the Qur’an; and upon their contrary attitude which puts them at odds with the majority of the Muslim peoples. The Shi’ites consider their Imams to be infallible, and to have the right to create new rulings and directives in contradiction to the revealed law. For example, they have altered:

(a) The call to prayer and the prescribed times and postures of prayers.

(b) The rites of Hajj (pilgrimage) and visitation to the sacred places.

(c) The specified times for beginning and breaking the fast.

(d) The rulings with regards to Zakah (alms-tax) and its distribution.

(e) The inheritance laws.

The Shi’ites are very particular to take positions in opposition to Ahlus-Sunnah, thus widening the gap between them and us.

Al-Walaa’ (Obedience and Devotion): They view al-walaa’ as being one of the pillars of emaan. They define it as the firm belief in the Twelve Imams including the “hidden” Imam). They consider one who does not have strict devotion to Ahlul-Bait as one who has no faith. They will not pray behind such a person, nor will they give him Zakah although he is deserving of it. They would treat such a person as a kaafir. 

Taqiyyah (Calculated Deception): In spite of the differences among the various Shi’ite sects, they all agree that taqiyyah is a prescribed duty and a pillar of their faith. Their schools of thought could not stand without it. They learn its principles and methods and they practice it, especially if they are in dire circumstances. They exaggeratedly praise and flatter those whom they consider disbelievers, whom they consider deserving of slaughter and destruction. The verdict of kufr is passed on anyone who is not of his or her sectarian school, and for them “the end justifies the means.” Their ethics allow every manner of lying, cunning, and deception.

Concept of Ar-Raj’ah: Generally speaking, the right to govern according to Shi’ites, is hereditary, and restricted to ‘Ali, and his descendants by Fatimah (the daughter of the Prophet). There is, however, some slight difference among them on the point of the hereditary right as to whom it belongs to. Due to this view of theirs, the Shi’ites are never loyal to any ruler unless he is one of the descendants of ‘Ali bin Abi Talib. When the practice of hereditary leadership vested in the descendants of ‘Ali and Fatimah could no longer be maintained because the line had come to an end, the Shi’ites invented the doctrine of Ar-Raj’ah, according to which the last Imam was not dead, but “hidden”. He is expected to arise and return at the end of time, when he will slaughter all of his political opponents, and those of his ancestors, and will restore to the Shi’ites their rights, which were “plundered” by the other sects over the centuries.

(Unless stated otherwise, most part of the above answer is based on the book ‘Al-Khutoot Al-‘Areedah’ – ‘An Exposition and Refutation of the sources upon which the Shi’ite Religion is based’ by Muhibbudeen Al-Khateeb)

Concept of Al-Badaa’: According to Al-Majlisi (from Bihaar Al-Anwaar – Shi’ite book), Al-Badaa’ has two meanings literarily: 1) Appearance and manifestation 2) Emergence of new opinion… This belief which originated from Jews was accepted among Shias] that new opinions occur to Allah from time to time after the decision. [In other words, they claim that Allah doesn’t know the future and frequently changes his mind.] The Shi’ite scholars ascribe to Allah, ignorance of what He decrees and yet they claim nothing is hidden from their Imams. They exonerate their Imams from mistakes and yet ascribe such [concept] to Allah. [To elaborate,] it was the way out for their leaders who placed themselves in the positions of prophets before their followers. They would tell their followers that so and so will happen in so and so time. If what they proposed, come to fruition, they would say: did we not inform of it? We know what the prophets knew and we have from Allah all it takes to be like them. But if it happens not as they proposed, they would tell their followers: it manifested to Allah to make it as it became”. For example, they claimed that their Imams have knowledge of life span, designated provisions, afflictions, sicknesses and all that are placed on the notion of Al-Badaa’ (manifestation). Manifestation is nothing than a trick with which they cover up their lies whenever they predict what contradicts reality. (‘Doctrines of the Twelver Shiite’ by Abdurrahman bin Sa’d bin Ali Al-Shathri)

With regard to praying behind one who is of this nature, Shaykh Ibn Baaz (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “It is not permissible to pray behind any of the mushrikeen, including those who seek the help of anyone other than Allah and seek support from him, because seeking help through anyone other than Allah, such as the dead, idols, the jinn, etc. is shirk, the association of others with Allah, glorified be He.” And he said: “One should not pray behind any imam who is known to exaggerate concerning the Ahl al-Bayt (members of the Prophet’s household). If no such thing is known about him or any other Muslim, then it is okay to pray behind them.” (Fataawa al-Shaykh Ibn Baaz)

According to Dr. Main Khalid Al-Qudah, Member of the Fatwa Committee of Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America: “The differences in creed between the Sunni and the Shia sects are hard to tolerate or to overlook.

Praying together has more than one scenario:

  • A Sunni Imam leads Shia follower(s) in the salah, and that is acceptable as the status of the follower (Maa’moom) does not affect the status of the Imam.
  • Both Sunni and Shia followers pray behind a Sunni Imam, and that is acceptable as well for the same reason mentioned above.
  • A Sunni follower led by Shia Imam, and that is not acceptable in general because the defect of the salah of the Imam affects the validity of the followers’ salah, especially when he knows what kind of belief the Imam adopts.

An exception from the above rule is when the Shia Imam is a layman and not a scholar, as well as the Sunni follower does not follow him regularly.”

Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.