The Beliefs of the Zaydis: A Conspectus MS of Farāʾid al-Qalāʾid fī Taḥqīq al-ʿAqāʾid

The Beliefs of the Zaydis: A Conspectus


It is usually the case, and it has been for a long while now, that the multitudes—including those claiming expertise of a region or country—come to learn of a particular Muslim group and peoples during the tumultuous unfolding of regional conflicts, wars, and civil strife. The most recent name on the lips of many Middle Eastern experts—what that term encapsulates is still beyond me—is the Yemeni group known as the Houthis. While I do not wish to delve into the socio-political conditions that gave rise to the Houthis in Yemen in the recent decades, I will however offer some brief background on the Houthis, before proffering an outline of the religious principles that inform the worldview of the Houthis, that is, their commitment to Zaydism, which is hardly known to modern watchers of the Middle East, beyond the general and flimsy association with Shiʿi Islam.

The Houthis (or al-Huthis) prefer the self-appellation of Anṣār Allāh (Helpers of God). In a recent volume on the group, Abdullah Hamidaddin described them as a “quasi-state actor leading a political coalition, and social movement with a strong paramilitary core and an Islamist, anti-American ideology.”[1] The movement began in earnest in January 2002 when the firebrand preacher and the ideologue Ḥusayn Badr al-Dīn al-Ḥūthī urged Muslims worldwide to denounce the US and her allies following the Invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.[2] Like most sayyid families, that is, direct descendants of the Prophet Muḥammad, in South Yemen, al-Huthi clan migrated Yemen in the tenth century CE.[3]

The movement’s founder, Ḥusayn al-Ḥūthī, was trained in the Muslim sciences by traditional Zaydi authorities, including his father, Sayyid Badr al-Dīn al-Ḥūthī (d. 2010), a prolific author, theologian, and ardent Zaydi polemicist who wrote critically of the austere Wahhabi movement in Saudi Arabia, going as far as to call them innovators and heretics.[4] Ḥusayn al-Ḥūthī earned a master’s degrees from Sudan, undergoing a study and critical edition of Kitāb al-Burhān, a commentary on the Qurʾan by the Zaydi imam Abu l-Fatḥ al-Daylamī (d. 444/1052).[5]

The collected speeches of Ḥusayn al-Ḥūthī, delivered over a period of time, orally and circulated as cassette recordings, betray a complex web of interconnected worldviews and ideological streams. Among them is Khomeinism, Muslim Brotherhood Islamism, Zaydi Shiʿism, third-world anti-colonialism, and anti-imperialism.[6] The published transcriptions of al-Ḥūthī’s fiery sermons and fulminations constitute over two thousand pages in print, titled Malāzim, which, as Bernard Haykel discovered during interviews with a number of Yemenis, “have surpassed the older canonical works of the Zaydi sect in political and religious authority.”[7]

Traditional Zaydi scholars have in the past accused Ḥusayn al-Ḥūthī of adopting theological positions and making loaded religious comments that stand in firm opposition to the accepted Zaydi orthodoxy. It is indeed the case that a perusal of the Malāzim, the collected views of al-Ḥūthī, betray reformist predilections and numerous instances where he levels harsh criticisms against traditional Zaydi hermeneutics in fiqh and kalām. In the view of al-Ḥūthī, the complex legal discourses and convoluted theological formulations borne out of the Muslim scholastic traditions muddy the waters of understanding rather than bring lay believers closer to God. Time and time again, al-Ḥuthī urges his audiences to jettison ʿilm al-kalām and uṣūl al-fiqh, neither of which, he avers, is grounded in the Qurʾan, and to adopt instead direct engagement with the Muslim sacred scripture, without the mediation of later scholastic hermeneutical innovations and other reprehensible tools of interpretation.

While these mark a radical departure from centuries-old Zaydi scholarship and learning, al-Ḥūthī and his followers have not stepped beyond the bounds of Zaydism as a religious identity and praxis.


In what follows I present the religious beliefs and the theological commitments of the Zaydis (and by extension, albeit not exclusively, the Houthis). I rely in the main on the excellent conspectus of the contemporary Zaydi scholar, Muḥammad b. Sharaf al-Dīn b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Ḥusaynī in his recent study on Zaydi theology. My English summary—with some of my own additions and elaborations—is indebted to his recent publication Maṣādir ʿilm al-kalām al-Zaydī.

The Zaydi Shiʿah (properly speaking, “al-Zaydiyyah”) are one of the oldest Muslim communities and theological group in Islam. Their origins trace back to the proto-Shiʿi movement that emerged in the first century of Islam (late seventh and early eighth century CE) which coalesced around the rights of the Family of the Prophet, the Ahl al-Bayt, regarded as the legitimate temporal and spiritual successors to the mantle of the Prophet Muḥammad. The appellation of al-Zaydi (الزيدي) is to denote adherence to Zayd b. ʿAlī (d. 122/740), the son of Imām ʿAlī b. al-Ḥusayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muḥammad, and the leader of the proto-Shiʿah community in the late first hijri (or, early eighth Gregorian) century.

Zayd was a learned scholar respected by his contemporaries and admired by a host of Shiʿi and Sunni authorities in posterity. The Eighth Imām of the Twelver Shiʿah, ʿAlī al-Riḍā (d. 202/812) described him in positively virtuous terms as one of the “scholars of the Progeny of Muḥammad” (“كان من علماء آل محمد”), while the medieval Sunni traditionist and biographer Shams al-Dīn al-Dhahabī (d. 749/1348) praised him as a person of learning, augustness, and rectitude (“كان ذا علم وجلالة وصلاح”).

Despite his erudition and leadership qualities during times of socio-political turbulence, Zayd did not establish a new school of law or theology; at least not the in the same vein as such putative founders of a legal rite like Imām al-Shāfiʿī (d. 204/820) or a theological school like Abu l-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī (d. 324/936). This is the preferred narrative of traditional Zaydis over the course of history. In later Zaydi historiography the figure of Zayd was depicted as more inheritor of the learning of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib and his sons, and less founding figure of new religious tendency that sprouted into a theological faction in subsequent periods. Zayd and his early followers were Shiʿah, in the sense of partisanship to the cause of the Ahl al-Bayt, that is, the belief that ʿAlī and his sons were the righteous inheritors and designated guardians of the legacy of the Prophet Muḥammad. The contemporary Zaydi scholar, Muḥammad b. Sharaf al-Dīn b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Ḥusaynī explains:

“The origins and emergence of the Zaydiyyah is linked to the Imāms of the Ahl al-Bayt, by becoming partisans ("التشيع") of them … the acting of partisanship started as partisanship to Imām ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib, then his sons, al-Ḥasan and al-Ḥusayn, peace be upon them, firstly under the general designation of al-tashyyuʿ and al-shiʿah, and later under the specific designation al-zaydiyyah.”[8]

In a similar modern account, the Zaydi authority and former mufti of the Hijaz, Majd al-Dīn b. Muḥammad al-Muʾayyidī (d. 2014) recounts a report attributed to the Successor (tābiʿī) and great-grandson of the Prophet, namely ʿAbd Allāh b. al-Ḥasan b. al-Ḥasan b. ʿAlī b. Abī Tālib (d. 145/762), who said:

“What separates us [the Shiʿah] from the multitudes is ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib, and what separates us [the followers of Zayd] from the Shiʿah is Zayd b. ʿAlī.”[9]

العلم بيننا وبين الناس علي بن أبي طالب، والعلم بيننا وبين الشيعة زيد بن علي


Zaydi belief can be summarised as a commitment to al-tawḥīd (Unity of God), al-ʿadl (Justice), al-waʿd wa l-waʿīd (The Promise and the Threat), tafḍīl ʿAlī (The Meritorious Priority of ʿAlī over the rest of the Companions), and wujūb al-khurūj ʿalā wulāt al-jūr (the Necessity of Rebelling against Tyrannical Rulers). The fundamentals of religion (أصول الدين) in Zaydi Shiʿism, as well as in other rational and rational-leaning theological schools, are determined and established as creed through a deep engagement in philosophical theology, ʿilm al-kalām in Muslim parlance. Typically, Zaydi theological compendia will tackle the following masāʾil, or theological problems.

1. al-Naẓar wa l-Istidlāl

To arrive at knowledge of the fundamentals of religion, Zaydi theologians resort to a priori deliberations, or reasoned reflections, a process known as al-naẓar wa l-istidlāl. The term naẓar comes from the Greek θεωρία (theoría). An indispensable mode of knowing, naẓar is not only fundamental to all religious enquiry, but also the first step towards the establishment of the principles or fundamentals of religion; that is, the articles of belief that demarcate the faith of the believer and the community. The opening chapters of Zaydi theological manuals are prefaced with statements that privilege naẓar, such as the following:

النظر هو الطريق إلى العلم ومعرفة الله

Naẓar is the means to arrive at knowledge and to firmly grasp God.

Naẓar is the first obligation of the believer. He or she must affirm foundational beliefs rationally and without immediate recourse to scriptures. The foundations of belief, such as belief in a creator God, must be established through naẓar, according to Zaydi theology. In ascertaining the existence of God, the aspiring believer will discover principles that lead to ethical living. The necessity of following these principles is arrived at rationally, but the details of these principles and their application, the religious nomoi, is determined by adherence to the authority of transmitted reports (ḥadīth) going back to the Prophet Muḥammad and the Ahl al-Bayt, the Household, and the later Zaydi imams. Both reason and scripture are probative proofs and Zaydi theology assigns both modes of knowing epistemic credibility. There is however a pecking order so to speak. Reason is primary and fundamental in specific contexts of inquiry, while scripture takes the lead in others.

(i) The probative value of rational proofs is higher than scripture in relation to the discovery of the fundamentals of religion, such as the existence of a creator God, where reason is primary, while scripture is secondary. Rational proofs that fall back on demonstrative syllogistics and other logical principles are theology in excelsis.

(ii) The epistemic credibility of reason and scripture is almost equal, with reason taking the lead, in the discovery and determination of matters such as the ontological unicity of God. Put differently, the believer is required to fall back on rational proof to ascertain the existence of God, but he or she can draw on scripture, not as an ersatz, but as a valid epistemological tool on more specific issues relating to God, such as His unity, the divine essence-attribute problem, inter alia.

(iii) The lowest order: the epistemic credibility of scripture is primary in the discovery of non-rational matters such as the intricate details of Islamic law, and life after death, such as the bodily resurrection.

Naẓar is both a theological belief in the primacy of reason, and, perhaps more significantly, a Zaydi modus operandi in kalām matters, a methodology for establishing beliefs. The way to firmly establish a set of beliefs hinges on an eight steps process. Let us Suppose a Zaydi theologian wants to determine whether God is corporeal or incorporeal. Does God have a body that extends in space and time? The theologian will pursue the following steps to find the answer.

Step 1: The theologian will aver the theological position he thinks is most valid and sound.

Step 2: He will provide a rational demonstration, perhaps multiple, to support his position, which must be undergirded by coherent and convincing argument. The proof must be indubitable.

Step 3: He will then elaborate on the details of the proof, by offering the workings cogently, and to lay out all the terms in the argument, and then to break down the propositions analytically.

Step 4: He will consider and adumbrate all possible counter arguments, oppositional views, or potential rebuttals that could challenge his proof.

Step 5: The theologian then proceeds to repudiate each and every counter point, and to respond to every point of contention raised in the previous step. The purpose of the counter response on the part of the theologian is to settle any outstanding and lurking shubha (doubt), in order the proof becomes incontestable.

Step 6: Now the theologian enters the tumultuous terrains of inter-religious disputations to take part in ebullient debates where it does not particularly matter whether his theological rival is from a recent or distant past. The ontology of the divergent ideas and beliefs is addressed in close scrutiny. The theologian must state the position (s) adopted by his opponents from other schools of thought on the germane subject, in this case God’s ontological nature. He must report the views of his opponents faithfully and without polemical distortion.

Step 7: He then presents in lucid terms the arguments advanced by his opponents and the proofs they present to justify their particular beliefs. The contesting theologian must report the views of his rivals and opponents faithfully and without undermining their internal coherence.

Step 8: Having presented all dissenting views, the theologian proceeds to repudiate the arguments of his opponents on the subject under consideration. He will go on to demonstrate the invalidity and specious nature of these weak “proofs” utilised by his rivals, in order to make clear his proof is sounder, and his theological position is most valid and most worthy to qualify as a tenet of faith.

2. The Cosmos and the Effector

For the Zaydis, the cosmos (العالم) describes the heavens and the earth, and everything in between, where every being falls into either substances, bodies, or accidents. All things in the cosmos are created and generated in time, whether seen through the lens of microcosmic aggregates or the macrocosmic whole. Like other rational theologians in medieval Islam, Zaydis utilise a number of rational proofs and marshal various arguments to show the cosmos is caused by an effector.

The argument from particularisation stands tall among various proofs deployed by Zaydi theologians to prove the cosmos is created. This type of argument relies on the classical Muʿtazili presupposition of atomism and rejection of natural causality. Its exponents assert that randomness of any kind in the world is inconceivable. Every configuration in the world of creation, including the cosmos itself, was seemingly selected over a given alternative. This selection is not arbitrary but points to an action of a particularising agent (مخصص).

The particularising agent, or God in religious parlance, creates with free choice, volitionally, and without any hints of the doctrine of necessitarianism found among Muslim Neoplatonists. In the lexicon of medieval Zaydi theology, God is said to be a muḥdith, originator of temporal things.

3. The Divine Attributes

After establishing through philosophical proof, the existence of God and His unity, Zaydi theological works turn their attention to the essence-attribute problem. In medieval times, intellectual speculations relating to God’s unity (tawḥīd) and His transcendence (tanzīh) dominated the intellectual landscape in the Islamic world. In their quest for scriptural exegesis, Muslim thinkers made the essence-attributes problem central to speculative religious concerns. The overarching dominance of this theme in Islamic thought would later evince itself in the disputes between representatives of different intellectual trends in Islam.

For the Zaydis, the divine attributes predicated of God, such as knowledge, powerful, etc., are mentally posited, or mind-dependent (إعتبارية). While not all Zaydi theologians adopt anti-realist position vis-à-vis the divine attributes, many favoured the view that stated God is existent, living, knowing, and powerful because of His essence (li-dhāthihi). In the Zaydi conception of things, God is absolutely one and undivided, and when one says “God knows” there is no assertion of the reality of any entity other than God’s self (nafsuhū).

The Zaydi position is not too dissimilar from the medieval formulations of their Imāmī Shiʿi counterparts, whose view is epitomised by the likes of al-ʿAllāmah al-Ḥillī (d. 1325 CE), who argued that God’s attributes are additional to His essence in ratiocination (زائدة عن الذات في التعقل)

these mental concepts do not, however, have a reality in the external world beside His essence.

4. Determining something to be Good or Repellent

Zaydi meta-ethical theories are grounded in rational and, to a lesser extent, theologically voluntarist, frameworks. Accordingly, the intrinsic value of an act is arrived at rationally, as synthetic a priori knowledge. For instance, to Zaydis, oppression is inherently repellent, or repugnant, and such is known through the use of reason first and foremost, and through the collective deliberation of rational agents. Similarly, the intrinsic goodness of truthfulness is determined by reason. The purview of reason, however, is neither exhaustive nor sufficient in its ability to discover the moral value behind actions commanded or prohibited by the shariʿah alone.

5. Justice and Divine Wisdom

Owing to their commitment to a rationalist theology, the Zaydis maintain that God just, in the sense that God does not issue repugnant action nor opt for the least good nor abandon the goodness expected of a just being. All of His actions are good, morally virtuous, and rational. While God has the power to issue repugnant actions, for divine power is not delimited, repugnant acts do not come forth from God owing to His wisdom (ḥikmah), for a wise agent is perfectly cognisant of all the implications of good and repugnant doings.

6. Human Acts

Humans have volition to discern and enact both good and bad. For Zaydis, the volitional agent is free to determine, through rational reflection and discernment, actions that either qualify as bad, or evil, or good, or virtuous. In this regard, humans choose independently (without coercion), freely, and through a rational discovery of the intrinsic nature of acts. God, Zaydī theology holds, is neither the author of human acts nor creator agent. Rather, humans act in accordance with their will and volition, motivation, and determination.

7. Divine Assistance

In relation to the question of moral theory and the role God in helping the moral agent settle for the optimal course of action, the Zaydis uphold the theory of luṭf, typically translated as divine grace, or facilitating divine grace, but I slightly prefer another rendering that translate luṭf as divine assistance. Like the Muʿtazili and Imāmī Shiʿi camp, the Zaydis believe that divine assistance is a form of divine intervention in the world. God prepares the moral agent with power and means (تمكين) to opt for the moral action in their best interest (صلاح). How does God offer divine assistance is a topic of contention among medieval theologians and philosophers of religion. The Zaydis hold to the belief that God intervenes to offer physical and psychological conditions that precede the human volitional act of moral action. This kind of divine assistance is what the Zaydis term luṭf tawfīq (لطف توفيق) where the moral agent chooses freely without compulsion. For example, when a person finds a good and pious marriage partner, he or she is assisted by God to meet their moral obligation in a way that works in their best interest. Similarly, divine assistance could come in the form of preventative divine assistance.

The absence of divine assistance is not necessary for the moral agent to meet his or her moral obligation. But, that said, they can weaken their motive and muddy the waters of their decision-making process.

8. Suffering and Redemption

It can be the case that when humans suffer pain and undergo trials and tribulations, these are as a matter of fact a form of divine assistance, which, as the Zaydis maintain, are bereft of evil but are good and reflect divine wisdom. Other times of pain and suffering belong to the theory of desert (إستحقاق), for wayward and wicked moral agents will receive punishment in line with divine justice of reward and punishment. In both eventualities where God inflicts pain and suffering, either as divine assistance or divine punishment, the inherent goodness of the divine act is beyond doubt. Inflicted suffering and pain as a form of divine assistance repudiates the claim that God acts in an oppressive manner, and, similarly, the dispensing of divine punishment as divine retribution obviates the claim that God acts arbitrarily and unwisely.

Redemption is the opposite of pain and suffering. A tested believer who endures and keeps patient in times of difficulty will be rewarded. The endurance is a volitional act upkept by the moral agent, which, in the final analysis, bears similitude of redemptive suffering theories in other traditions.

9. Worldly Blessings

For Zaydis, God is the author of blessings we receive and experience in the world. Whether these blessings (الأرزاق) are substantial or accidental, it is God alone who can bestow them to humanity. That said, in some exceptions, certain acts of the believers such as charity, ṣadaqah, can be a reason for God sending down blessings.

10. Prophecy

In line with the Zaydi theory of divine justice and the nature of the divine essence, whereby God acts necessarily good and wise, so too is the sending of prophets and messengers to guide mankind. Prophets and messengers are sent to mankind to remind them of rationally discernible duties and responsibilities, by exhortation and admonishment and promise of reward and punishment in the hereafter.

Zaydis further maintain that the sending of prophets and messengers falls under theological category of divine assistance, or luṭf, where those sent by God are agents who demarcate acts of obedience from those of disobedience, thereby rendering the sending of prophets and messenger both necessary and just, for to leave mankind in darkness is contra to divine wisdom and godly justice. Ignorance of some moral obligations, that is, those whose intrinsic value and judgement is not discerned rationally, impedes moral agents from discharging their duties and responsibilities before God and fellow humans. The impediment of ignorance is removed by prophets and messengers. This act of God is rational and wise, and therefore necessarily expected.

But it is not necessary to send prophets and messengers in every age and in every epochal moment of human history. Zaydi theology is not opposed to the theological view that the necessity of prophecy is not tantamount to uninterrupted continuity, but rather it is possible that prophecy is not required during some historical epochs and in some milieus. The reason being is the sending of prophets and messengers is conditioned by specific interests that do not materialise at all times.

Miracles and the breaking of the customs of the natural order is a necessary condition for the truthfulness of a prophet. As a matter of fact, the performance of miracles is a means to ascertain the veracity of the claims of prophets.

As with other Shiʿi theological articles of faith, Zaydis hold on to the belief that a prophet must necessarily be error-free, or infallible, maʿṣūm. A prophet is naturally an avid believer in God, in His angels, and in the Day of Judgement. A prophet must also abide by refined manners and show convivial character. It is impossible for a prophet to fall into disbelief nor commit reprobate sin before and after the moment of revelation (البعثة). It is possible, however, that a prophet falls into minor sin stemming from inadvertence that does not affect the deliverance of the message. In relation to matters of religion and the truth, a prophet cannot lie, conceal cunningly, distort, change, or dissimulate.

11. On the Qurʾan

In Zaydi creedal formulations, the Qurʾan is considered the word of God, divine revelation, and His tanzīl. Most Zaydi theologians affirm the doctrine of creation, that is, the Qurʾan, they argue, is originated (muḥdath). Some early Zaydi authorities held back from elaborate discussions on the matter, such as Imam al-Qāsim al-Rassī (d. 246/860) who was content with the simple statement, the Qurʾan is muḥdath. Other Zaydi theologians such as al-Hādī ilā al-ḥaqq Yaḥyā b. al-Ḥusayn (d. 298/911) stated the Qurʾan is makhlūq, created.

The speech, al-kalām, consist of letters and sounds. The speaker is the effector or actor agent of speech. Zaydis, like Twelver Shiʿis, reject the doctrine of kalām nafsī. Put briefly, al-kalām al-nafsī is said to be an attribute which inheres in the divine essence, which does not sit well with divine simplicity, since in terms of its ontological modality, the kalām nafsī is either a mental or real existent. This compounds the problem for theologians who reject divine simplicity, for affirming either, mental or real, leads to theological problems. If kalām nafsī is mental, then this is impermissible because groups such the Ashʿaris deny mental existence altogether. If, however, it is real, then this entails affirming contraries (unity and multiplicity), since the kalām nafsī insofar as it is God’s essential speech refers to multiple real existents.

On the integrity of the Qurʾan, the Zaydi view is in agreement that the Qurʾan has not undergone corruption, distortion, nor addition or omission.

12. Intercession

The Zaydi view is intercession (الشفاعة) is among established beliefs of Islam that is beyond dispute. Unlike some other Muslim groups, Zaydis are of the belief that only believers deserving of paradise will receive of intercession.

13. Intermediate Rank

The Zaydis espuse the Muʿtazili doctrine of intermediate rank, al-manzila bayn al-manzilatayn, which describes someone who faces the qiblah (Muslim) who commits grave sin as neither deserving of the label muslim nor kāfir. Rather, an errant person of this sort occupies an intermediate rank between belief and disbelief. The legal criteria by which such a person is judged are not those applicable to a believer or a disbeliever.

A grave sinner was also known as a kāfir bi l-niʿmah. This was a view held by the early imams, Imam al-Qāsim al-Rassī, according to the report of his son Muḥammad b. al-Qāsim, as well as others such as the Imam al-Nāṣir al-Kabīr al-Ḥasan b. ʿAlī al-Uṭrūsh (d. 304/917), as well as some later imams such as Imam al-Mutawakkil ʿalā Allāh Aḥmad b. Sulaymān (r. 532–66/1137–70).

The Zaydi definition of belief, īmān, is built on three considerations: first, belief is affirmation of the heart; second, belief is declaration of the tongue; and third, belief is implementation of the limps. A believer, in other words, is one who believes in thought and action.

14. Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong

To command right and forbid wrong (الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر) are obligatory on believers, first in speech, then, according to the accepted condition, and in action (by the sword). The preliminary conditions that precede promoting goodness and forbidding evil by rising up follow a three-step approach:

First: to offer sound advice and moral homilies, to remind of the wrath of God, and admonish gently. If that does not yield the intended results, then one moves to step two.

Second: to admonish harshly and to issue stern warning. If that does not work, then one moves to step three.

Third: if evil prevails and goodness is bereft in society and among the people despite efforts taken to curtail evil and command right, as in steps one and two, then one has to resort to belligerency to command right and forbid wrong.

Belligerency is a last course of action if all fails to command right and forbid wrong. The decision of the matter in hand has to be undertaken by a learned scholar who understands the right that is promoted is good in reality and the wrong being forbidden is evil in reality.

15. Imamate

The Zaydi position on imamate, or leadership of the Muslim community, avers that imamate is a function and office held by the Ahl al-Bayt, starting with ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib, followed by his sons al-Ḥasan and then al-Ḥusayn. The subsequent imams are from their progeny, the descendants of Fāṭima, daughter of the Prophet Muḥammad.

Unlike Twelver Shiʿas who believe all of the imams were designated, explicitly and implicitly, by means of naṣṣ, the Zaydis opt for something a little different. The Zaydi position is ʿAlī was designated by the Prophet Muḥammad to succeed him and take on the mantle of the imamate, while his sons al-Ḥasan and al-Ḥusayn became imams by both naṣṣ (designation) and communal consensus. As for the subsequent imams after al-Ḥasan and al-Ḥusayn, their assumption of the function of imamate was done by the calling (الدعوة) for the allegiance of the faithful, when the conditions are met.

The qualificaiton conditions for the imamate are many. They are:

(i) Ijtihād, that is, the ability to derive legal judgement through sound legal procedure, even if through another person.

(ii) Piety, that is, the avoidance of forbidden acts, ḥarām, and to pay heed to moral and legal obligations.

(iii) Faḍl, that is, being the best among the ummah in following righteousness, devotion in religion, and modesty in character.

(iv) Courage, that is, the trait of leading military expeditions and wars fearlessly, while harbouring sound political acumen.

(v) Generosity, that is, to be completely bereft of frugality and miserliness in order that he manage the monetary affairs of the ummah and apportion properly.

(vi) Sound mind and body, that is, to perform all bodily functions without impediment, and to be capable in intelligent deliberation and sound discourse.

While the prophets are necessarily error-free or infallible, the imam in Zaydi theology does not need to be infallible. This is the dominant view among the Zaydis, except for a small coterie of Zaydi imams and authorities who saw infallibility as a condition for imamate, such as Abū l-ʿAbbās Aḥmad b. Ibrāhīm al-Ḥasanī (d. c. 352/963), a towering jurist and theologian, and one of the most prominent Zaydi scholars of Iran and Iraq.

The majority of Zaydi authorities rule the possibility to two active imams in the same age. However, some, such as al-Qāsim al-Rassī, did not consider such possibility problematic.

The committal of a grave sin invalidates the presumption of the imamate. The sinful imam can resume the role, however, after seeking repentance.

The rightful imam after the Prophet Muḥammad, without any intermediary between them, is ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib. This is the standard Zaydi belief. Moreover, Zaydis are of the view that Abū Bakr, ʿUmar, and ʿUthmān erred in their assumption of the caliphate after the Prophet Muḥammad. Some Zaydi theologians consider the error of the Three (Sunni) Caliphs a grave sin, while other theologians refuse to label the error category grave or minor sin. There were some Zaydis who did not ascribe fisq to the Three Caliphs but went on to add the tarḍiyah (declaring "God be pleased with them") after their names, with some issuing Abū Bakr and ʿUmar with praise and lauding their virtues.

[1] Abdullah Hamidaddin, The Huthi Movement in Yemen (London, 2022), 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 4.

[4] See his treatise Man hum al-Wahhābiyyah included in the collection of his writings, Majmūʿ al-rasāʾil wa l-rudūd al-fiqhiyyah.

[5] Bernard Haykel, “The Huthi Movement’s Religious and Political Ideology and Its Relationship to Zaydism in Yemen”, in A. Hamidaddin (ed.), The Huthi Movement in Yemen, 20.

[6] Ibid., 21.

[7] Ibid. 17.

[8] Muḥammad b. Sharaf al-Dīn b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Ḥusaynī, Maṣādir ʿilm al-kalām al-Zaydī (Ḥawallī, 2022), 36.

[9] Majd al-Dīn b. Muḥammad al-Muʾayyidī, al-Tuḥaf sharḥ al-zulaf, sixth edition (Saad, 2020), 75.