Tawalla or Tabarra – what is the real cause behind persecution of Shias?

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Some people are always looking for an excuse to create disharmony in the community by challenging established Islamic beliefs. Among their ridiculous claims is that the practice of tabarra (distancing oneself from the enemies of Aale Muhammad (a.s.) has led to the persecution of innocent Shias around the world. In other words, they imply that Shias must forgo and abandon the practice of Tabarra for the sake of security and safety of their lives.

There is yet another group who propagates that Shias must abandon tabarra for the sake of unity among the Muslims because when we curse the enemies of the Ahle Bait (a.s.), those who have killed the progeny of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and usurped their rights, the majority of the Muslims will feel hurt, thereby leading to bitterness and disharmony.


1. Who is a Nasibi?
2. The greatest Nasibi
3. Tawalla is the real reason, not Tabarra
4. The Nasibi has pledged to hate Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.)
5. What are the Shias willing to give up for unity?
6. Are Shias expected to abandon their beliefs to meet with expectations of the majority?

To answer these baseless and illogical accusations, let us step back and understand who is a Shia.

A Shia is one who has accepts Islam as dictated by the Majestic Quran and interpreted by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) and his infallible successors (a.s.).

Next, let us understand who is out to persecute the Shias. There is a special term in traditions for so-called Muslims who harass Shias. He is referred to as Nasibi.

Back to Top1. Who is a Nasibi?

Imam Sadiq (a.s.) informed – He is not a Nasibi who bears enmity against us Ahle Bait (a.s.). For, you will certainly not find anyone saying, ‘I hate Muhammad and the progeny of Muhammad (s.a.w.a.); rather a Nasibi is the one who bears enmity against you (Shias) knowing that you have accepted our mastership and that you are from our Shias.

• Ma’ani al-Akhbaar, pg 365
• Sawaab al-A’maal pg 207

From the definitions of Shia and Nasibi two points are apparent:

• A Shia is one who adheres to Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) and Aal-e-Muhammad (a.s.)
• A Nasibi hates Shias for such an adherence

Back to Top2. The greatest Nasibi

Let us turn to history and understand the motivation behind Nasibis persecuting Shias. Was it because of tabarra as the Muslims claim today or was it due to some other reason?

We do not have to look beyond Muawiyah, the son of Abu Sufyan, arguably the greatest Nasibi the world has ever seen.

What motivated Muawiyah to persecute the lovers of Aal-e-Muhammad (a.s.)? We find the answer over here:

Muawiyah ordered people to curse Ameerul Momineen– Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) and eliminated those Shias who narrated his (a.s.) virtues.

He warned – Beware that there will be no responsibility (on us) for anyone who narrates any report concerning Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) and his Ahle Bait’s (a.s.) virtues and merits, and he (the narrator) will have brought punishment on himself.

And all who gave sermons, in every small village, every place and all pulpits, started cursing Ali (a.s.), abusing him, humiliating his Ahle Bait (a.s.) and cursing them all – attributing negative traits which they did not possess….

Thereafter, in all cities, problems for the Shias of Ali and his Ahle Bait (a.s.) increased. It was most difficult for the people of Kufa, because the Shias in Kufa were many and Muawiyah’s brother Ziyad was made the governor. Basrah, Kufa and the whole Iraq was given under his control. Ziyad had Shias under surveillance and he knew them all because he was himself at one time from the Shias. He was well aware of their beliefs. He killed them under every tree, stone and piece of clay. They were thrown out of cities, were scared, their hands and feet cut off, hanged on the branches of date-trees, eyes pierced with iron rods and were thrown out until they abandoned the mastership of Ali (a.s.). In Iraq, there was not a single popular person who was not killed or hanged or thrown out of cities. In many cases, the weak-hearted Shias even abandoned the mastership of Ali (a.s.) to save themselves and their families from these agonies.

Muawiyah wrote to all his judges and governors in every place, in every city to the extent that no Shia of Ali, his Ahle Bait or anyone who was his friend, who either narrated his merits or mentioned his virtues, should be accepted as a witness.

• Kitab-o-Sulaim Ibn Qais, tradition 26

It is clear that Muawiyah’s motivation to persecute the Shias was NOT tabarra. Rather it was tawalla. Love for Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) was a sufficient reason to victimize the Shias.

This was the case with other tyrants as well – be it Ziyad Ibn Abeeh, Ubaidullah Ibn Ziyad, Hajjaaj Ibn Yusuf as also tyrants of Bani Abbas like Mansoor, Haroon, Mutawakkil, etc. Just being a lover of Aal-e-Muhammad (a.s.) made a Shia a target of hostilities and even death.

Many companions like Abu Zarr (r.a.), Ammar Ibn Yasir (r.a.), Ibn Abbas and tabe’een like Owais (r.a.) were either harassed or exiled or killed only for tawalla.

Back to Top3. Tawalla is the real reason, not Tabarra

Clearly as history shows, love for Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) i.e. tawalla is the real reason for persecuting the Shias. Never have we seen tabarra as a factor that led to the death of Shias. Tabarra only serves as a convenient excuse for the cowards and the feeble-hearted. They want to see Shias abandon their beliefs and join the majority of the so-called Sunnah. They will not be satisfied until they see this happening.

Just like the Jews and Christians will not be satisfied until they see Muslims abandon their faith.

وَلَن تَرْضَى عَنكَ الْيَهُودُ وَلاَ النَّصَارَى حَتَّى تَتَّبِعَ مِلَّتَهُمْ قُلْ إِنَّ هُدَى اللّهِ هُوَ الْهُدَى وَلَئِنِ اتَّبَعْتَ أَهْوَاءهُم بَعْدَ الَّذِي جَاءكَ مِنَ الْعِلْمِ مَا لَكَ مِنَ اللّهِ مِن وَلِيٍّ وَلاَ نَصِيرٍ

‘And the Jews will not be pleased with you, nor the Christians until you follow their religion. Say: Surely Allah’s guidance, that is the (true) guidance. And if you follow their desires after the knowledge that has come to you, you shall have no guardian from Allah, nor any helper.’ (Surah Baqarah (2): Verse 120)

Back to Top4. The Naasebi has pledged to hate Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.)

There are many traditions which inform us that love for Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) is the only contention of the Naasebis, regardless of tabarra. In other words, even if Shias were to abandon tabarra it will not satisfy the Naasebi. The Naasebi, who hates Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) with all his existence, wants the Shia to abandon love for him (a.s.).

Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) informed Imam Hasan (a.s.), “…Surely Allah has taken a pledge from your father to hate every hypocrite and transgressor. And He has taken a pledge from every hypocrite and transgressor to hate your father.”

• Amaali-e-Tusi (r.a.) pp. 246 and 309

According to this and other traditions, it is clear that love for Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) is the dividing line between the Naasebi and the Shia. In other words Naasebi cannot bear the tawalla of the Shias.

So even if the Shias were to abandon tabarra, it will not satisfy the Naasebi who is pledged to hate Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.). He will only be satisfied till the Shia becomes like him in his hatred for Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.).

Back to Top5. What are the Shias willing to give up for unity?

The hatred for Shias is based on baseless arguments that betray a poor understanding of Islam and the correct Sunnah. For instance, some people advance arguments like:

a. Shias reject the so-called rightly guided caliphs in favour of the Imams (a.s.)
b. They ‘worship’ the Imams (a.s.) by visiting the shrines
c. They seek from the Imams (a.s.) instead of seeking from Allah
d. They believe in distortion of the Holy Quran (tahreef)
e. They mourn over the Aal-e-Muhammad (a.s.)
f. They condemn the companions and wives

From these allegations, only the last one – condemning the companions and wives – alludes to tabarra, the rest are related to tawalla. So even if the Shias were to downplay or even abandon tabarra, they will never satisfy the Muslim majority on other tawalla-related objections like favouring the Imams (a.s.) over the caliphs, etc.

Back to Top6. Are Shias expected to abandon their beliefs to meet with expectations of the majority?

Allah has warned us about abandoning our beliefs in the aforementioned Quranic verse – ‘And if you follow their (Jews and Christians) desires after the knowledge that has come to you, you shall have no guardian from Allah, nor any helper.’ (Surah Baqarah (2): Verse 120)

It is not becoming for a Shia to get cowed down by threats of persecution and surrender his values and beliefs in desperation. Tabarra is an inseparable part of his identity. We do not find any instance of the infallible Imams (a.s.) ordering Shias to give up tabarra for fear of persecution and it must be acknowledged that no one understands persecution better than the Imams (a.s.). Hence those who offer the persecution argument to downplay tabarra are barking up the wrong tree.