The Origins of the Sh‘īa: Identity, Ritual, and Sacred Space in Eighth-Century Kūfa

Publication Year



The Sunnī-Shi'a schism is often framed as a dispute over the identity of the successor to Muhammad. In reality, however, this fracture only materialized a century later in the important southern Iraqi city of Kūfa (present-day Najaf). This book explores the birth and development of Shī'i identity. Through a critical analysis of legal texts, whose provenance has only recently been confirmed, the study shows how the early Shi'a carved out independent religious and social identities through specific ritual practices and within separate sacred spaces. In this way, the book addresses two seminal controversies in the study of early Islam, namely the dating of Kufan Shi'i identity, and the means by which the Shi'a differentiated themselves from mainstream Kufan society. This is an important, original, and path-breaking book that marks a significant development in the study of early Islamic society.

  • This path-breaking book challenges previous notions about the origins of the Shi'a thus shedding new light on early Islamic history
  • Based on legal texts which date to the eighth century whose provenance has only recently been confirmed
  • A book which will open up new paths of scholarship for historians of Islam and the Middle East

Table of Contents

Part I. Narratives and Methods:
1. Kufa and the classical narratives of early Shi'ism
2. Confronting the source barrier: a new methodology
Part II. Case Studies:
3. In the name of God: the Basmala
4. Curses and invocations: the Qunūt in the ritual prayer
5. Drinking matters: the Islamic debate over prohibition
Part III. The Emergence of Shi'ism:
6. Dating sectarianism: early Zaydism and the politics of perpetual revolution
7. The problem of the ambiguous transmitter: ritual and the allocation of identity
8. The mosque and the procession: sacred spaces and the construction of community
9. Conclusion.

Series Title
Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization
Cambridge University Press