I have been searching for some good quality material in English outlining the basis of the Shi'i belief for some time. The best book I had come across on this was the exceptional Al-Muraja'at by Sharaf al-Din al-Musawi. This is a series of dialogues between Sharaf al-Din and Shaykh Selim al-Bishri, the head of the Al-Azhar at that time. Whilst covering the baisic reasoning for being Shi'i, it did not go much further. I have looked through quite a few other works, however, none actually seem to do proper justice to the depth of the arguments that have been made over the years. There may of course be numerous works that I have missed, my reading is after all quite limited.

A few years ago, I came across an exceptional set of talks given by Hamid Algar, which managed to collect together large amounts of information, laying out the foundations for Shi'i belief. The quality of the presentation, the depth of his knowledge on the field and the breadth of material covered is deserving of merit.

I started a few years back taking notes on the talks and realised that his talks were packed with so much information that what was required was virtually a transcript. Due to my laziness, I was not planning to transcribe his talks, but I ended up with something that was quite close. I managed to only complete this for the first two talks, but am now going to set out to complete this task.

As there are 23 talks in total, this will require a large amount of work. I can not see myself going faster than 1 talk every two weeks and during busier times this will probably come to a stand still. None the less, I am hopeful to get this completed around Easter time (March-April-May).

I have included a list of the talks below and will update this list adding links to my notes as and when they are completed.

I hope this information is helpful to a few others as well.

The talks are all available and I have linked to copies of them on my site. This is with the exception of lecture number 7, for which the audio is not available and only a short set of notes have been provided.

I am grateful to the Al Islam project who have made these talks available online. The talks can be found here on their website.

Lecture Title
Lecture Summary
Lecture Notes
1 Qur'an: The Foundational Document of Shi'i Islam
  • Discussion of the importance of the Qur'an in Shi'ism, beginning with the use of the Hadith of Thaqalayn to show the special relationship between the Qur'an and the Ahlul Bayt.
  • A general outline of beliefs about the Qur'an that are shared by all Islamic schools of thought, including the revelation, Divine and miraculous nature, preservation and purpose of the Qur'an.
  • The Qur'an in Shi'ism is discussed, as is the role of the Prophet and the Imams as instructors in understanding the Qur'an.
  • A definition of Muhkam (firm) and Mutashabih (metaphorical) verses of the Qur'an, and the differences in Shi'i and Sunni beliefs in the interpretation of Mutashabih verses.
  • An introduction to specific Qur'anic verses relevant to Shi'ism, beginning with verse 5:55.
2 Specific Qur'anic Ayaat and Ahadith of the Prophet (s) relevant to Shi'ism
  • Explanation of the word 'wali', its meanings and implications - discussion on two ayaat 5:70 and 5:3, relating to the incident of Ghadir - Ayat of Purification (Tathir), 33:33. Whom does it refer to? What is meant by purification? - "holders of authority" in ayat 4:59, and "love for family" in 42:23.
  • Incident of calling to the near kin (Da'wate Dhul 'Ashira).
  • Various Hadith of the Prophet (s) including the prediction of 12 righteous Khulafa, relationship of Imam Ali (a) and the Prophet (s), knowledge of Imam Ali (a), Hadith of the Ark, and importance of recognizing one's Imam of the time.
3 Brief history of the Prophet (s) and his daughter Fatima (a), the confluence of two lights
  • Brief outline of the events in the life of the Prophet before and after Hijrah, the battles fought by the Muslims, and their return to Makkah in 10 AH.
  • Qur'anic verses about the Prophet : the Prophet is the seal of the Messengers, love for and obedience to him is mandatory
  • Functions of the Prophet (s) in light of verses from the Qur'an
  • Property of 'isma (inerrancy) in the Prophet and his successors
  • Brief outline of events in the life of Bibi Fatima (a)
  • Discussion of Sura al-Kawthar
  • Relationship between the Prophet and his daughter, and its importance
  • Denial of Fadak to Fatima (a)
4 Imam 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a), Part I
  • Early history.
  • Close relationship with the Prophet (s).
  • Migration to Madinah (Hijra), and participation in battles.
  • Role of the Imam during the life time of the Prophet (s), as a warrior, protector, and scribe.
  • Death of the Prophet, and the event of Saqifa.
  • Election of Abu Bakr, and the controversy that surrounded it.
  • Refusal of Imam Ali (a) to accept Abu Bakr as the first Khalifa, as well as his complete removal from political life in the years that followed.
  • Discussion on why the nomination of Imam Ali (a) by the Prophet (s) was ignored.
  • Elections of Umar and Uthman, and Imam Ali's refusal to accept the actions of first two Khalifas as binding.
  • Discussion of the election method, and its lack of uniformity.
5 Imam 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a), Part II
  • Opponents of 'Uthman and circumstances around his murder.
  • Reluctant acceptance by Imam Ali (a) of the Caliphate
  • Demand of the Umayyads to seek the murders of 'Uthman
  • refusal of Mu'awiyah, A'isha, Talha and Zubair to pay allegiance to Imam (a)
  • Battle of Jamal: causes, outcome, hostility of 'Aisha to Imam (a)
  • Battle of Siffeen: tricks of 'Amr ibn 'Aas, dissension in Imam's (a) army, demands for arbitration
  • Rise of the Kharijites
  • Sunnite view of Mu'awiyah
  • Death of Imam (a)
6 Legacy of Imam Ali (a) & Life of Imam Hasan (a)
  • Imam Ali (a) as narrator of Hadith.
  • written legacy of the Imam, Nahj al-Balagh: content, importance, and authenticity.
  • Sufism and the Imam.
  • Najaf, a centre of learning.
  • Early history of Imam Hasan (a), and the Prophet's love for him.
  • Caliphate of Imam Hasan (a), and the situation which led to the signing of a treaty with Muawiyah.
  • Terms and outcome of the treaty.
7 Imam Husayn (a) and the events at Karabala
  • Early life of the Imam, and close relationship with the Prophet (s).
  • Events in the life of the Imam between the death of his brother Imam Hasan (a) and the death of Muawiyah.
  • Caliphate and personality of Yazid.
  • Refusal of Imam to give allegiance to Yazid.
  • Journey of Imam from Madinah to Makkah to Karbala.
  • Events in Kufa, and the martyrdom of Muslim b. Aqeel.
  • The fateful day of Ashura.
  • Conclusions that can be drawn from the tragic events, including the different views of Sunni and Shi'i historians on the first century of Islam.
  • Importance of Ashura.
8 Long term effects of the events of Karbala, and Imam Zayn al-Abidin (a)
  • Martyrdom of Imam Husayn (a), a turning point in Shi'i history.
  • Ziyara, a remembrance of the Imams incorporating ideas of tawalla', and tabarra', and the modern usage of ziyara.
  • Poetry and ta'ziya, additional methods of remembrance.
  • The movement of the tawwabun.
  • Mukhtar, his movement, and attempts to bestow Imamate on Muhammad b. al- Hanafiya
  • Life of Imam Zayn al-Abidin (a).
  • Al-Sahifa al-Sajjadiya, the legacy of the 4th Imam.
  • Divisions in the Shi'a community, the 4th Imam, Muhammad b. al-Hanafiya, Zayd, and Imam Baqir (a).
9 Midterm review and Imam Muhammad Baqir (a)
  • Review of possible essay questions on the midterm.
  • The necessity of Imamate to be from the line of Imam Ali (a) and Bibi Fatima (a).
  • Life of Imam Baqir (a), and a discussion on the name 'Baqir'.
  • Importance of the cultivation/transmission of knowledge by the Imams.
  • Continuation of the movement of Mukhtar, even after his death, now called the Kaysaniya.
  • Beliefs of the Kaysaniya, raj'a and ghayba.
  • Rise in popularity of Zayd, the half brother of Imam Baqir (a), and his belief in the 'Imamate of the less virtuous'.
  • Development of separate fiqh for the different madhahib, including differences in furu' (eg. mut'ah and adhan), and 'usul (eg. ra'y, 'aql, and qiyas).
10 Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a)
  • Introduction to and early life of Imam Ja'far.
  • His influence on non-Shi'a madhhahib.
  • Rival claims to the Imamate; Muhammad b. al-Hanafiya, Zayd, and Muhammad al-nafs al-Zakiya.
  • Transition of power from the Umayyad to the Abbasid dynasties, and the claims of the Abbasid caliphs.
  • Development of Shi'i theology by the Imam; principle of nass, and the transition of knowledge from the Prophet to the Imams.
11 Imam Ja'far As-Sadiq (a) Part II
  • Importance of the cultivation of knowledge during the time of the 6th Imam.
  • What constitutes the knowledge of the Imams?
    • Inner knowledge: inherited books, supreme name of God (al-ism al-a'zam), ta'wil - esoteric interpretation of the Qur'an.
    • Outer knowledge: transmission of Hadith, development of fiqh and kalam, appointment of mufti.
    • Occult knowledge: alchemy, science of the letters.
  • Doctrine of taqiya.
  • Introduction to the life of Imam Musa al-Kazim, and the many claims to the Imamate after the death of his father Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq
12 Imam Musa al-Kadhim (a)
  • The science of Hadith, and the unique difficulty facing Shi'i scholars, as a result of the infiltration of Ghulat tendencies among the followers of the Imam, and those Hadith of the Imams narrated while in Taqiyya.
  • Early life of Imam Musa al-Kazim.
  • The African heritage of the Imams.
  • Persecution of the Imam by the Abbasid caliphs.
  • Meeting between the nephew of the 7th Imam, and caliph Harun ar-Rashid, and its dire consequences for the Imam.
  • Khums, and its importance for the Shi'i community.
  • Iraq, Madina, Central Iran, North Africa : areas where Shi'i communities existed during the time of the Imam.
  • Poisoning and martyrdom of Imam Musa al-Kazim.
  • Legacy of the Imam, and the migration of his numerous offspring.
13 Imam 'Ali Ar-Rida (a)
  • Name and kuniya of Imam ar-Rida
  • Early life history of the Imam.
  • Knowledge of the Imam, specifically in the areas of Hadith, law, and medicine.
  • Imam's appeal and influence outside his immediate following of Shi'is, to the extent that he was considered al-mujadid 'the renewer' by many Sunnis.
  • The Caliphate during the of the 8th Imam; Ma'mun ar-Rashid and his attempts to unite the institution of caliphate with Imamate.
  • Imam's appointment as the successor to Ma'mun, his journey to Iran, and his subsequent death.
  • A general look at Shi'i/Sunni relations during this time, and at the question 'what would have happened if the Imam had succeeded Ma'mun as caliph?'.
14 Imam Muhammad al-Jawad al-Taqi (a) and Imam 'Ali al-Hadi (a)
  • Anticipation of occultation of the 12th Imam during the periods of the 9th, 10th and 11th Imams.
  • Historical background during the times of 9th and 10th Imams, and the rise of Buwayhid and Hamdani dynasties.
  • Early life of Imam Muhammad al-Taqi, and his attainment of Imamate at a very young age.
  • The institution of wikala (name representatives of the Imam).
  • The early death of the 9th Imam at the hands of the Abbasid caliph.
  • Early life history of Imam 'Ali al-Hadi.
  • The rise of the mu'tazili school of theology.
  • The forced migration to Samarra by the Imam under the orders of the caliph Mutawakkil, and the subsequent death of the 10th Imam.
  • Written works and miracles of the Imam.
  • The city of Samarra, and its place in sacred Shi'i geography.
15 Imam Hasan al-'Askari (a) and the birth of his son, the 12th Imam (a)
  • The increase in persecution of Shi'as during the period of the 9th, 10th and 11th Imams.
  • Life history of the 11th Imam, and the importance of the institution of wikala (name representatives of the Imam) during his time.
  • Written works of the Imam.
  • The death of the Imam, and the widespread confusion that resulted among the Shi'i community.
  • Did the 11th Imam have a son? proof of the existence of the 12th Imam in Hadith of the Prophet and earlier Imams.
  • Birth of the 12th Imam and the miracles associated with it.
  • The numerous groups that arose among the Shi'as at the death of the 11th Imam.
16 Al-Ghayba (Occultation)
  • The meaning of the term occultation.
  • The two stages of occultation, lesser and greater.
  • The roles of the named representatives during the lesser occultation, including confirmation of the existence of the 12th Imam along with concealment of his whereabouts, the collection of khums, and communication with the Imam (called tawqi'at).
  • The four named representatives.
17 12th Imam (a) (cont'd)
  • Doubts within the Shi'i community in the beginning years of occultation.
  • Occultation in the Hadith of earlier Imams.
  • Difficulties faced by Shi'i scholars in the initial stages of the major occultation.
  • Discussion of the longevity of the Imam; comparisons with Prophet 'Isa (a), and Dajjal.
  • Discussion of the purpose and necessity of the Imam while he is in occultation
  • Titles of the Imam; al-qaim, mahdi al-anam, al-hujja, sahib al-amr/sahib al-zaman, and baqiyatullah.
18 12th Imam (a) (cont'd)
  • Common metaphors used to show purpose of the Imam while in occultation.
  • Communication with the Imam through ruq'a (writings by the Imam), 'arida (writings from believers to the Imam), and visions.
  • Role of the 12th Imam in Shi'i Sufi orders.
  • The signs preceding the re-emergence of the Imam, and the details of his reappearance.
  • The appearance of As-Sufyani and his eventual defeat.
  • Different Shi'i opinions on raja' (the partial resurrection of a few during the re-emergence of the 12th Imam).
19 12th Imam (a) (cont'd) & Shi'I Tafseer of Qur'an
  • Continuation of the discussion about the events that will likely occur during the reappearance of the 12th Imam; dajjal, P. Isa (a).
  • Shi'i doctrines and scholarly roles during the major occultation.
  • Tafsir (exegesis of the Qur'an); the Qur'an in the Hadith of the Imams, dimensions in the meaning of the Qur'an, tahrif of the Qur'an (distortion).
  • Stages in the development of Shi'i exegesis of the Qur'an, and their unique characteristics.
20 Scholarship and Hadith]
  • Scholarly roles and intellectual growth among the Shi'i community.
  • Geographical distribution of scholarship.
  • Development of the discipline of Hadith, and its stages of growth in the Shi'i community; the period of the Imams, formalization of modes of transmission, major collections of Shi'i Hadith.
  • 7 categories of Hadith, and the science of Hadith.
21 Principles of Law (Fiqh)
  • The 4 main Shi'i books of Hadith and the scholars that compiled them.
  • The discipline of Law (Fiqh).
  • Usul al-fiqh (principles of law): Qur'an, Sunnah, ijma', and 'aql.
  • Historical development of the discipline of fiqh.
  • Discussion of Qiyas (analogical reasoning) and Ra'y (personal opinion).
  • Debate between the Akhbaris (traditionalists) and the Usulis (rationalists).
22 Theology (Kalam)
  • Review of Akhbari (traditionalist) and 'Usuli (rationalist) schools of thought.
  • Review of concept of taqlid, ijtihad, and role of the scholar in the Shi'i community.
  • Discipline of kalam (theology): definition, origins, and early development.
  • Branches of kalam; burhani (demonstrative) and jadali (dialectic).
  • Discussion of the viewpoints of the Mu'tazili vs. Ash'ari schools of kalam.
  • Encouragement of development of kalam by the Imams.
  • Topics in kalam distinctive to Shi'ism; usul ad-din (tawhid, adl, nubuwwa, imama, ma'ad) and taklif (obligation) vs. lutf (favor).
23 Theology (Kalam) & Mysticism (Irfan)
  • Purpose of taklif (obligation), necessity of lutf (Divine favor).
  • Question of free will vs. predestination.
  • Special importance of lutf in Shi'i thought.
  • Irfan (experiential knowledge, mysticism), definition, differences from other principles of law.
  • Differences between Irfan and Tasawwuf (Sufism).
  • Principles of Irfan; sayr wa suluk, stages on the path.
  • Theoretical Irfan and the oneness of reality.
  • Relationship of Irfan with Kalam.