Imam Ali in Twelver-Shi'ite and Barelwi (Ahl i Sunnat wa jama'at) traditions of Islam : an investigation into perceptions of sainthood, martyrdom and prophethood within Shi'ite and Barelwi Islam, and the way in which these concepts are used and understood by religious leaders of these traditions resident in the UK
In Sunni estimation, `Ali ibn Abu Talib is one of the four Rashidun Khilafat
'Rightly Guided Caliphs' who succeeded the Prophet. In Shia understanding `Ali
was duly designated as his immediate successor by Muhammad. The varying
understandings of `Ali are examined in four roles: as Wali [friend of God], as
Imam [Leader], as Shadid [Martyr for God], and as Bab [Gateway to Spiritual
In the thesis `Ali ibn Abu Talib is examined as the bearer of many attributes some
descriptive with others of a more esoteric nature. A significant term ascribed to
`Ali is wali [friend/saint] of God. This is included in the distinctive three tenet
The term and title Imam is used both for the Prayer Leader of a Muslim
community and within the Shi'a tradition for the legitimate ruler of the wider
ummäh. The concept of the Imam is examined for Shi'a understandings and the
comparable idea of qutb pole, within Sufi influenced Sunnism such as the AN i-
Sunnat wa jama'at.
Within the Shi'a tradition there is a profound awareness of shahid martyrdom for
Imam `Ali, and the majority of the succeeding Imams. This consciousness centres
in particular on the death of his youngest son, Imam Husayn as commemorated in
the month of Muharram and the 121hd ay - AshuraAli is acknowledged by both Shi'a and Sunni Sufi traditions as a key figure in the
transmission of esoteric knowledge. A majority of Sufi streams trace their sources
of spiritual knowledge to `Ali. A comparison is made between the respective
understandings of `Ali's role in the Twelver Shi'a and Sufi expressions.
With the development of British colonial rule in nineteenth century India, Muslim
traditions found themselves in a new political and religious context as a minority.
Movements emerged to create fresh Muslim identities by which to address this
situation. Drawing upon a scholarly past tradition, Ahmad Raza Khan led the AN
1-Sunnat movement alongside other Sunni groups and the Shi'a tradition. Within
British India, Muslim groups found themselves in rivalry and competition with
each other for adherents and to some extent in rivalry with Christian missionaries
and Hindu revivalists. Amongst the symbols used in the intra-faith conflict were
the Prophet, `Ali and their family.
An examination is made of the process by which religious ideas concerning `Ali
have been transferred by the migration of Muslim groups from South Asia into the
British context. Rivalry between Ah! i-Sunnat wa jama'at and Shi'a groups has
continued in their use of `Ali as a symbol of their respective theological emphases.
Critical reading of texts in English and English translation relating to the evolution
of understandings of devotion to `Ali ibn Abu Talib amongst Twelver Shi'a and
Ahl i-Sunnat traditions in the UK is addressedExamination follows of essential elements of devotion accorded to Imam `Ali and
to the Prophet Muhammad, and the extent to which each mode of devotion has
influenced the other.
Parallels are examined between the two traditions regarding the sources of their
respective understandings of `Ali ibn Abu Talib. Conclusions are offered from
fieldwork and textual study in discussing possible common derivations of these
models of devotion and understandings