Shia

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The Shi'a (also Shi'ite) make up the second largest group of believers in Islam, constituting about 10-15% of all Muslims. (The largest group, the Sunni Muslims, make up about 85% of all Muslims).

Shi'a Muslims accept Ali, the son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet Muhammad, as the legal successor of Muhammad and disregard the three caliphs who preceeded him. They also regard eleven descendants of Ali as Imams, or spiritual successors of the Prophet.

Shi'a Muslims live in all parts of the world, but some countries have a higher concentration of Shi'a. [ [Iran]] is overwhelmingly Shi'a, and of the 95% Muslim population of Iraq, about 2/3 are Shi'a; they were oppressed by the Sunni dominated Baath party that ruled Iraq. Large Shi'a populations are also found in Pakistan (20%), the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia (10%), Bahrain (almost 70%), Oman, with smaller groups in other parts of the Arabian Gulf.

There are two major groups of believers in Shi'a Islam, with the majority (primarily found in Iran and Iraq) following the Twelver version of Shi'a. The term "Shia" is often taken to be synonymous with the Twelvers. There are also several forms of Sevener Shi'a sects, the largest being known as Ismailis. The Seveners and Twelvers differ regarding the rights of succession after the death of Muhammad, but they agree that the Sunni have usurped the rightful authority of Muhammad's family descendants. Other minor groups exist that grew out of Shiism, such as the Zaidis who believe in the same first four Imams as the Twelvers and Seveners, but differ on the fifth. They are thus known as Fivers.

According to the Twelvers, the twelve descendants of Ali are Imams and have a special status; they are less than the Prophet, but higher that ordinary mortals. They are regarded as direct corporeal and spiritual successors of the Prophet, infallible, divinely inspired, and chosen directly by God.

Both major Shi'a sects believe that the last Imam (either the Seventh or the Twelfth) has been hidden alive by God. This hidden (occulted) Imam is capable of sending messages to the faithful. Some Iranian Shi'a believed that the late Ayatollah Khomeini (not to be confused with Ayatollah Khamenei, the current Supreme Ayatollah of Iran) received inspiration from the 12th and last Imam. Beliefs vary as to what will happen when the last Imam, called the Mahdi, or Savior, returns (though some sects reserve that title for Jesus). It is generally believed that the last Imam will be accompanied by God's prophet Jesus and will affirm Muhammad's message to mankind from God. In shia islam, it is obligation of every muslim to follow a living Marja. There are many shia Marja in world today like, Ayatollah Khamenei, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Ayatollah Fazil Linkarani, Ayatollah Sadiq Sherazi etc.

Some Shi'a Muslims sometimes beat their chests or cut their foreheads with a sword during the annual ritual to mark Ashurah. This is, however, only a cultural practice that is not prescribed in any Shi'a religious teachings. Ashurah day marks the Shi'a Muslim’s commemoration of the 7th century killing of one of their most important saints, Imam Husain. Husain (or al-Husain) was a son of Ali and the grandson of Islam’s prophet Muhammad and is a symbol of martyrdom for Shiites

(from Wikipedia)

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