Shi`ites

A significant minority (around 10%) of Muslims, who hold that `Ali should have been Muhammad's immediate successor. They regard him as the first of a succession of infallible Imams. For much of history, the Shi`ites have been an opposition movement with a tragic sense of identity, but there have been times when Shi`ites have wielded power, as during the Isma`ili Fatimid dynasty that ruled North Africa in the 10th-12th centuries.

There are several branches of Shi`ites, who recognize somewhat different lists of Imams:

The Imamis, or twelvers, accepted a series of 12 Imams, which ended when the last one was hidden from the world. This is the largest group of Shi`ites today. Different Shi`is accept the authority of different maraji` al-taqlid, who are authoritative figures, generally residing at traditional centers of Islamic learning in Iran and Iraq, whose decisions one follows, and to whom each Shi`i pays the khums (Shi`i religious tax.)

The Isma`ilis, or "seveners."

The Zaydis, or "fivers," whose series of Imams diverged from that of the Imamis at the fifth imam.


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