7 Misconceptions About Shia Muslims

The world brands me as a terrorist, so I turn to my ummah for support. The ummah is consumed with divisions, too weak to stand on its feet. But it is not the outsider’s tarnishing words that leave an imprint on me; it is my ummah’s, who cast me out and call me a kafir because the people in power disagree that I am even Muslim, let alone a valued member of our ummah. 

In my first week of high school, I came across a Muslim girl in my class. Overcome with excitement and the idea of solidarity amongst a whirlpool of Islamaphobia, I immediately wanted to befriend her. But if friendship was the goal, I suppose I shouldn’t have mentioned that I was Shia.

I remember her saying: “No, you’re different. I follow my Prophet Muhammad (saw). That’s part of my religion. I don’t know about you.” My mouth stuttered, and my heart froze, confusion rendering me unable to form a response.

For centuries, Shia Muslims have been persecuted due to their beliefs. Anti-Shia propaganda has contributed to this persecution and has been rampant throughout history. I will clarify a few significant misconceptions about Shia Muslims in this article. Inshā`llāh, I hope my efforts will contribute to the unity of the ummah, as commanded in the Qu’ran (3:103).

“And hold firmly to the rope of Allāh all together and do not become divided.” 

CLEARING UP 7 MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT SHIA Muslims

1. “Shias don’t do the five daily prayers.”

We do! This misconception arises because the Shia often combine their five prayers into three daily prayer times. The reasoning is taken from the Holy Qu’ran and the Sunnah of our Holy Prophet (saw).

From the following verse of the Qu’ran (17:78), the Shia have interpreted three main prayer times:

“Undertake the prayer at the time of the declining sun to the darkness of the night and the morning recitation; for indeed the morning recitation is witnessed.”

Hence, the Shia combine zuhr and asr in the midday and maghrib and isha at night. Through multiple authentic Hadith, the Shia have identified that the Holy Prophet (saw) also combined his prayers even when not traveling.

Ibn Abbas narrates, “The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) observed the noon and afternoon prayers together, and the sunset and Isha’ prayers together without being in a state of fear or in a state of journey.”

Someone asked Ibn Abbas why the Prophet (saw) would combine prayers, and he replied: “He wanted that his ummah should not be put to (unnecessary) hardship.”

Shia Muslims do not combine the Salat out of laziness or carelessness. We do so because we learn from the Prophet (saw) that it is beneficial for the convenience of the ummah and makes it easier for people.

Shia Muslims do not combine the Salat out of laziness or carelessness. We do so because we learn from the Prophet (saw) that it is beneficial for the convenience of the ummah and makes it easier for people, especially those living in a fast-paced society, to complete all their five prayers consistently. Remember that we have been told our religion should be ease.

However, it is worth noting that some Shia Muslims do pray the five prayers separately and that within the Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali schools of thought, one can combine prayers under certain circumstances.

2. “Shias pray to a rock.”

TikTok comments have recently labeled Shias as “cookie worshippers.” The cookie/rock in question is a turbah, a small piece of hardened clay or soil that Shias place their forehead on while in sujood. Shias do not pray to an inanimate object (astaghfirullah); rather, we have adopted this practice from the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (saw). 

Abu Huraira has narrated that the Prophet (saw) said: “The earth has been made for me a place of worship and a means of purification.

From this, Shia Muslims acknowledge that when we prostrate, it should not be on something artificial but from pure earth, such as soil, leaves, etc. Many hadiths such as Bukhari and Abi Dawud report the Prophet (saw) with a mark on his forehead due to prostrating on dirt. It is not mandatory to place the forehead on a turbah, as long as the surface is natural.

These turbahs are most commonly made from the dust in Karbala, from the grave of the grandson of the Messenger of Allah, Imam al-Ḥusain (as). The soil from Karbala has been known to have unique characteristics since the time of the Prophet (saw). Amongst other scholars, Ibn Hajar, Ibn Kathir, and al-Dhahabi — well-known scholars of the Shafi’i jurisprudence – have recorded the following hadith.

Umm Salama says: I saw Husayn (a) sitting in the lap of his grandfather, the Prophet (s), who had a red block of soil in his hand. The Prophet (s) was kissing the dust and weeping. I asked him what that soil was. The Prophet (s) said: “Gabriel has informed me that my son, this Husayn, will be murdered in Iraq. He has brought this earth for me from that land. I am weeping for the suffering that will befall my Husayn.”

Then the Prophet (s) handed the dust to Umm Salama and said to her: “When you see this soil turn into blood, you will know that my Husayn has been slaughtered.” Umm Salama kept the soil in a bottle and kept watch over it until she saw on the day of Ashura, 10th of Muharram 61 A.H., that it turned to blood. Then she knew that Husayn bin Ali (a) had been martyred.  

After Imam Husain (as) was brutally martyred, his son Imam Zayn-ul Abideen (as) picked up the dust from Karbala’s battlefield and kept it. It is not mandatory for us to prostrate on the soil from Karbala, but it is preferable as our Imams would do it and encourage their followers to do so as well. 

3. “Shias have a different Qu’ran.”

This one surprised me the most. Maybe it’s because of all the years of my Islamic Studies teachers drilling it into our heads that the Qu’ran is a miracle because it can never be changed, and it has been preserved for all these years.

Shia Muslims do not have a different Qu’ran; we share the same Qu’ran as every other Muslim.

Shia Muslims do not have a different Qu’ran; we share the same Qu’ran as every other Muslim. Establishing that we have the same Qu’ran should also clear up further misconceptions, such as “Shia don’t believe in Tawheed,” and/or “Shia don’t fast in Ramadhan.”

4.“Shi’ism was started by a Jewish man.”

One of the most creative misconceptions I have encountered is that during the reign of the third caliph, a Jewish man named Abdullah Ibn Saba pretended to be a Muslim and developed his own sect — Shi’ism—to create discord within the ummah. 

To preface, the literal definition of the word Shia is “follower.” Allah (SWT) mentions the word twice in the Holy Qur’an, in reference to followers of Prophet Ibrahim (as) and Prophet Musa (as) (Qu’ran, 37:83, 28:15). Shias today are not the product of a mythical man’s scheme. Rather, the term was coined by Prophet Muhammad (saw) regarding the Shia of Ali Ibn Abi Talib (as).

Scholars from various sects have recorded these hadiths in their books. Hafiz Jalaluddin al-Suyuti, the respected Egyptian scholar, narrates in his tafsir of the Qu’ran — al-Durr al-Manthur — the following account from Jabir Ibn Abdullah Ansari: “We were with the Holy Prophet when Ali came towards us. The Holy Prophet said: He and his Shia will acquire salvation on the Day of Judgement.”

This narration is one example; you can read other hadith documenting Prophet Muhammad (saw)’s use of Imam Ali’s Shia in various books, including those of Ibn Hajar, At-Tabarani, and Nur ad-Din ‘Ali ibn Abibakr al-Haythami.

5. “Shia’S worship Ali Ibn Abi Talib (as).”

Like other Muslims, Shias believe in the Oneness of God and the acceptance of Muhammad as His messenger. Hence we do not worship Imam Ali (as) nor consider him a Prophet.  Shia Muslims are known for their passionate love for the Ahlul Bayt and their belief that Imam Ali (as) was the divinely appointed successor after our beloved Prophet. This is also supported by a Tirmidhi Hadith.

According to Sahih Muslim, Prophet Muhammad instructed us we take the Ahlul Bayt as role models on how to embody the Qu’ran and the sunnah of the Prophet (saw).

Imam Ali (as) is not only dear to Shia Muslims but all Muslims. He played a pivotal role in preserving Islam, and his high status was made clear by Allah (SWT) and Prophet Muhammad (saw).

The following is a hadith from Sahih al-Bukhari narrated by Salama:

The Prophet said, “I will give the flag tomorrow, or tomorrow the flag will be taken by a man who is loved by Allah and His Apostle, and (Khaibar) will be conquered through him, (with Allah’s help)” While every one of us was hopeful to have the flag, it was said, “Here is `Ali” and the Prophet gave him the flag and Khaibar was conquered through him (with Allah’s Help).”

A Tirmidhi hadith reports the Prophet (saw) saying to Ali, “You are to me in the position that Harun was to Musa…”

The Prophet (saw) has also said: “Ali is part of me and I am part of him, and no one will represent me except ‘Ali.”

As narrated by Ibn Abbas, the Messenger of Allah said (Shazan 103), “If all the trees were pens, and all the seas were ink, and all the Jinn were counters, and all human beings were writers, they would not be able to count the incredible virtues of Ali ibn Abi Talib.”

The merits of Ali (as) in hadith and Qu’ran are much too substantial for me to condense into a paragraph. I will leave it at this and encourage the reader to conduct their research into the man who is known as the gate to the city of knowledge (Tirmidhi 3723). Loving the Prophet (saw) is loving his family, and loving his family is loving the Prophet (saw). It is incredibly hurtful to Shias when we are falsely accused of shirk because of our value for the Ahlul Bayt. 

6. “Shias believe Ali was supposed to be the last Prophet.”

The extent of propaganda never fails to surprise me. Shias do not believe that Jibrail accidentally went to Prophet Muhammad (saw) instead of Ali. As mentioned above, we believe Allah (SWT) sent our beloved Prophet Muhammad as his final messenger. This is a baseless misconception, especially since Shias follow the Qu’ran, which clearly states that Muhammad (saw) is the seal of the Prophets (Qu’ran, 33:40). 

7. “Shia’s worship graves and shrines.”

Like the misconceptions mentioned above, this one is born out of ignorance, hate, and anti-Shia propaganda. Shia Muslims do not worship anything or anyone other than Allah (SWT). 

Many people will look at Shias visiting the shrines of the Imams and falsely attribute them to committing shirk.

Shia Muslims often perform Ziyarat, a pilgrimage where we visit the graves of Prophet Muhammad’s progeny to send our Salaams to them. This may lead to confusion on why we are greeting dead people.

However, the Qu’ran reminds us that these beloved servants of Allah (SWT) are not dead: “And do not say about those who are killed in the way of Allāh, “They are dead.” Rather, they are alive, but you perceive [it] not.” (2:154)

Amongst the graves of the twelve Imams of the Shia Ja’fari jurisprudence, most famously visited are Imam al Husain (grandson of the Prophet)  buried in Karbala, Imam Ali (cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet) in Najaf, and Ali ibn Musa al-Rida (descendant of the Prophet) in Mashhad, Iran.

It’s sad that I have to clarify this, but when we visit these holy sites and pray salat, we face the qibla, not the graves — and once again: do not worship anyone except Allah (SWT). 

Although it is mostly Shias who partake in Ziyarat, people from all sects and other religions also visit the sites of these revered personalities.

I can imagine that this practice is unfamiliar to many non-Shia Muslims, so I recommend the following website for information on why we visit graves.

Calling someone a Kafir is a weighty accusation, and I encourage every Muslim to focus on unity rather than the division of the ummah.

Calling someone a Kafir is a weighty accusation, and I encourage every Muslim to focus on unity rather than the division of the ummah. This can only be achieved through mutual respect, open-minded learning, civil discussion, and directing questions to trustworthy scholars rather than spreading propaganda.

There are many misconceptions that weren’t covered in this article. But to the people who use these rumors as excuses to call us kafirs, I request you to instead ask us first. Ask us about our practices. About the reasoning behind our beliefs. Do not fuel violence with ignorance. Two excellent resources to learn about Shi’ism are www.al-islam.org and Ahlul Bayt TV on YouTube.

“..and do not say to one who gives you [a greeting of] peace, “You are not a believer,”…” (Qu’ran, 4:94)

And Allah knows best.