Rebecca Masterton, Dr Rebecca Masterton graduated with a BA in Japanese Language and Literature; an MA in Comparative East Asian and African Literature and a PhD in Islamic literature of West Africa. She has been... Answered 11 months ago

In the early period, the word 'shi'a' was understood simply to mean 'follower'. Hence there were those known as the shi 'a of Mu'awiya, the shi'a of 'Uthman and the shi'a of 'Ali [as].  In the early period there was fierce debate as to who could be categorised as a Shi'a of 'Ali [as]. Sunnis who considered him superior to the first three khulafa were known as Shi'a of 'Ali. Due to propaganda and war, any such slight inclination towards Imam Ali [as] could mean being accused of being one his Shi'a. From the persepective of the Imams, their Shi'a were those that were utterly trustworthy, and intelligent enough to imbibe their teachings. People who simply loved the Imams were generally known as 'lovers and supporters' and were appreciated by the Imams, but could be of little use to them because of their lack of capacity to imbibe knowledge and be absolutely trustworthy. There is a narration of Imam al-Sadiq [as] that says '‘a simple profession of love for us (walayah) does not turn a person into a follower (shi‘a), rather those who profess love simply diminish the solitude of our followers.’ (Usul al-Kafi, Vol. 3)

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