Dr Farhad Daftary and Professor Azim Nanji
The historical formation of the worldwide Muslim community or Umma, as it is known in Arabic, has resulted in a great deal of diversity that reflects a rich intellectual, spiritual, and institutional pluralism. In seeking to express a response to the primal message of Islam, Muslims have developed distinct perspectives that have led various groups to coalesce around different interpretations of the core message of the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet Muhammad. One such perspective is that of Shi‘a Islam. Rather than perceive these expressions as sectarian in a narrow sense, it is more appropriate to recognise them as representing different communities of interpretation with diverse views of how the ideals of Islam might be realised in the life of the Umma. Unfortunately, much early scholarship on Shi‘ism has represented this perspective as a dissident voice or heterodoxy, and in some cases has even characterised it as a ‘Persian’ response to ‘Arab’ Islam. Recent scholarship has created a more balanced view of Shi‘ism. Thus, it is now possible to move beyond stereotypical assumptions and reject the view that there is an ‘orthodox’ or ‘authentic’ Islam, from which Shi‘ism is a departure.