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Rafida, also Rāfiḍah, (Arabic: رافضة [rɑːfidˤa]; pl. rawāfiḍ) is a collective noun which means "defectors" or "deserters". The word is derived from the Arabic consonantal root ر ف ض, which as a verb means "to desert". The non-collective singular form is رافضي rāfiḍī "a deserter". This is an Islamic term which refers in a derogatory way to those who, in the opinion of the person using the term, reject legitimate Islamic authority and leadership. To those who the term is being directed towards, rafida is a pejorative appellation, a negative affect, and an abusive nickname.
The term rafida followed the Shi'a from a very early period, back to the uprising of Zayd ibn Ali against the Umayyad Caliphate. This uprising foreshadowed the collapse of the dynasty, which in turn led to the split between those Shi'i Muslims who agreed with Zayd and those who did not. The meaning of the term went through several changes over time. It became a popular pejorative term for Twelvers, intended to recall their rejection of Zayd ibn Ali and of the first Sunni Rashidun, namely Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman.
There is much debate of the exact origin of rafida; one example of an early instance is from the Maḥāsin of Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad Barqī, who died in 888 CE. A section of the Maḥāsin reveals occasions of the use of rafida ascribed to Ja'far al-Sadiq:
A man came to Ja'far al-Sadiq saying that someone had warned him against becoming a Rafidi and Ja'far replied "By God, this name which God has granted you is excellent, as long as you follow our teaching and do not attribute lies to us." Muhammad al-Baqir also mentioned an instance when he pointed at himself stating "I am one of the Rafida."
Others refer to another historical text for its origin. Ja'far al-Sadiq believed that rafida was an honorific given first by God and preserved in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament: he mentioned that there were 70 men among the people of Pharaoh who rejected him and his ways and rather joined Moses, and God called those 70 men Rafida. The Twelvers believe that after the death of Muhammad, they were the only ones who rejected evil, making them the successors of the original Rafida. They considered their rejection of evil to be leaving the power of Zayd ibn 'Ali and staying true to the ways of Ali. However, the term does not appear in the Qur'an. There are also those who insist that rafida was mentioned in the original texts, but the enemies later deleted the context including rafida.
The fourteenth-century Sunni traveler Ibn Battuta used it in his description of the Alawis, considered by many as a ghulat sect, during his visit to Syria in 1326. The term continues to be used in this way today. Rafida was also sometimes used to indicate extremists and ash-Shi'i for moderates. The pejorative use of the term continued to denote the Twelvers throughout the Middle Ages and into the modern era. Additionally, Sunnis used the example of the Dajjal to describe the ultimate rejector of their ways; "Dajjal" was worse than calling a Shi'i Muslim a rafidi.
When they wanted to be derogatory, Sunnis called their Shi'i opponents Rawafid and the Shi'ites responded by calling their Sunni opponents Nawasib.
At certain points, the Shi'i decided to turn this negative term that was being used against them daily and turn it into something positive. The Shi'is sometimes designated themselves as Rawafid, which is someone who refuses; it's also a derogatory term applied by the Sunnis to describe the Shi'is who refused to accept the early caliphates. They decided to refer to themselves a Rawafid since it gave them a sense of pride because the revolted against Zayd ibn 'Ali's tyranny. Through the years, Rafida was transformed within the Shi'i world from an abusive nickname into a name signifying special praise, making it a positive term. Not only did they use the word as honorific amongst the community, they furthered the positive term by writing it into ancient history stories where they had always rejected evil, not turned towards evil.
In Saudi Arabia today, Shiites are referred to as Rafidha. In Iraq, anti-Shi'a material is still surfacing. A discourse was released after improvement by the name of "The Rafida in the Land of Tawhid", which included orders by a member of the Higher Council, to kill Shi'is.
Until 1993, schoolbooks in Saudi Arabia openly denounced the Shi'i and Sufi beliefs and referred to the Shi'i as rafida in the books. The curriculum was changed after protests and rafida is no longer used in the text books; the Shi'a beliefs are still however denounced in the books.
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