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Is it correct to say that there are two broad groups within Twelver Shia, the Usuli, Akhbari and Shaykhi being the orthodox group and the other group being the Alawi, Alevi and Nimatullahi? If so, which one or ones are correct and by what criteria?
This statement is not correct.
The name of Twelvers came from the Prophetic statement that my successors will be twelve. This most authentic Hadeeth is narrated in main Sunni books including Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmithi, Ibn Maajah, Musnad Ibn Hanbal hundreds of Hadeeth books.
While all Muslim scholars believe that the Prophet said this, but only Shia Muslims follow the Prophetic teachings by following the Twelve successors.
In fact every Muslim must believe and follow the Twelve Imams If he really wants to abide to the Prophetic orders.
The Osooli and Akhbari and Shaikhi are not different sects, as all of them believe and follow the Twelve Imams from Ahlul Bayt (AS), but some of their scholars have their attitude to derive the Islamic rules from the Hadeeths.
The criteria to know the truth among all the different opinions and sects is the authentic evidence from Quran and authentic Hadeeth.
Why did the descendants of Imam Hussein (A.S.) become the Imams of the Twelvers and not those from the lineage of Imam Hassan (A.S.)?
From the Shi'a point of view an Imam is not chosen by people. Even the ma'soom Imam himself does not chose who the next Imam will be. It is something exclusively appointed by Almighty God.
We clearly know that an Imam must have certain characteristics, the most important of them is 'Ismah, which is not something that can be acquired, and it is something endowed by the Almighty.
In addition to this, we see that the Prophet had mentioned who the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) were, and the numerous famous traditions of the Twelve Khalifahs have also mentioned this.
Even in the case of Imam Husain (a.s.), it was one of his sons who was divinely selected and appointed to be the next Imam.
Another point that can be mentioned here is that the descendents of Imam Hasan (a.s.) did have a continuous role in Imamah.One example for this is that Imam Muhammad al-Baqir's (a.s.) mother was the daughter of Imam al-Mujtaba (a.s.). This means that Imam al-Baqir (a.s.) goes back to both Imam Hasan and Imam Husain (a.s.).
There is a tradition that says as a result of the greatest sacrifice made by Imam Husain (a.s.), he was blessed with three things:
1. The lineage of the Imams are from him.
2. There is cure in his soil.
3. Prayers are answered under his dome.
May the Almighty grant us their shafa'ah.
"Shia", in his technical sense, originally indicated a person who followed Ali and preferred him to the other sahabah. It was not supposed to be a sect or a variety of doctrinal branches with different theological or religious views. As a matter of fact divisions were spread, the book "Firaq al-Shia" by Hasan Ibn Musa al-Nawbakhti, available also in English, mentions most of their ramifications. Nowadays the main surviving schools are the Zaydiyyah (Zaydis), the Ismailiyyah (Ismailis) and Ithna Ashariyyah (Twelvers).
With prayers for your success.