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Dynamics of Absence. Twelver Shiʿism during the Minor Occultation

Pages 305 - 334



This article analyzes the religious and sociopolitical ferment that shaped Twelver Shiʿism during the Minor Occultation. At the core of the controversy is the question of sifāra and the status of the Safīrs. The paper argues that the main points of Twelver dogma regarding the Imamate and the twelfth Imam are the product of a delicate balance between contending views of Twelver sub-groups of the time. Some of these groups were pushed outside the fold of Twelver Shiʿism while others incorporated mutatis mutandis. The second and third Safīrs contributed most to this process on three levels: communicating with the Twelver masses, establishing an understanding with the ʿulamāʾ, and neutralizing Abbasid authority. Despite the relatively modest religious rank of the Safīrs they were able to use their acumen not only to preserve the nascent community, but also to shape its views by relying on the ʿulamāʾ. They devised a dynamic by which they could put the crisis to rest without menacing the leadership of the ʿulamāʾ, although they eventually managed to promulgate a version of Shiʿism that was not fully accepted by any particular Twelver group.

New Haven


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