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Rafida, also transliterated as rafidah, is an Arabic word (collective plural Arabic: الرافضة‎, romanizedar-rāfiḍa; multiple plural Arabic: روافض‎, romanizedrawāfiḍ; singular Arabic: رافضي‎, romanizedrāfiḍī) meaning "rejectors", "rejectionists", "those who reject" or "those who refuse". The word is derived from the Arabic consonantal root ر ف ض (r-f-ḍ), which as a verb means "to reject". The non-collective singular form is رافضي rāfiḍī "one who rejects".[1]

The term is used contemporarily by Sunni Muslims, who refer to Shias as such because Shias do not recognize Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman as the legitimate successors of Muhammad, and hold Ali as to be the first successor.[2]


The term rafida followed the Shi'a from a very early period, originating, according to one source, in the uprising of Zayd ibn Ali against the Umayyad Caliphate. Rafida referred to those Kufans who deserted and refused to support Zayd, who had a policy not to condemn the first two Rashidun Caliphs,[3][4] saying he never heard his family call them bad names.[5][6] Zayd ibn Ali considered Ali the most supreme after Muhammad, but refused to condemn the caliphate of Abu Bakr and Umar for diplomatic purposes in his uprising to increase his support. He viewed the caliphate of Abu Bakr & Umar as a test from God to see if people would reject Ali's authority.[7]

The meaning of the term went through several changes over time. According to Zaydi sources, the term used by Zayd ibn Ali against some Kufans was not related to their rejection of the Abu Bakr & Umar, but it was for their rejection of Zayd ibn Ali's claim to Imamate because they considered Ja'far al-Sadiq to be the Imam instead.

He said: "Allah is Most Great! I swear by Allah, you all are the Rafidites mentioned by the Messenger of Allah in his statement:((After me there will be a people who will reject the jihad with the good of the Ahl al-Bayt and they will say that there is no commanding the good or forbidding the evil! They will mimic in the religion and follow their whims …))."[8]

During the time of the Umayyad and Abbasid Sunni leaders, it became a popular pejorative term for Twelvers, intended to recall their rejection of the first Sunni Rashidun, namely Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman.[1]

In modern times, the term rafida is primarily used in Salafi jihadism such as ISIS to justify their execution of Shias.[9]

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 Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq saying that someone had warned him against becoming a Rafidhi and Imam Ja'far replied "By Allah, this name which Allah 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 Rafidha."[1]

Mughira ibn Shu'ba is said to have coined the term rafida against those who had rejected him.[10]

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. They were referred to in the army of Moses as al-Rafida because they rejected the Pharaoh and were intense in their worship and their love for Moses, Aaron, and their offspring.

Al-Sadiq further states that Allah revealed to Moses, "Establish this name for them in the Torah, for I have named them with it and gifted it to them." He extends the usage of the word to include the Shi'a of the family of Muhammad. [11]

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._[12]

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 that included rafida.[1]


Rumi (Mawlana) in his Masnavi (Title of the Story in Book V, poem 844) refers to the inhabitants of Sabzawar (in present-day Iran) as Rafizis among whom one cannot find a person named Abu Bakr. This is from the earliest extant copy of the Masnavi, dated 677 H Gh (1279 Gregorian) which is considered the most reliable by, e.g., B. Forouzanfar and R.A. Nicholson.

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.[13] The term continues to be used in this way today.[14] Rafida was also sometimes used to indicate extremists and ash-Shi'i for moderates.[15][16]

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 Umayyad tyranny.[17] 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.[1] 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.[10]

As defined by Ahmed Cevdet Pasha, the Shia first developed Kaysanism, which in turn divided into three major groupings known as Fivers, Seveners and Twelvers. The non-Zaydis are called "Rafida" by the Zaydis, when they were separated from the rest of the Shia.[18]


In their ongoing campaign to unseat the government of Iraq and the government Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, as well Syrian opposition rebels frequently uses the term "rafidah" to refer to Shia Muslims. Alawaites, are referred to as 'Nusayri'. In the 13th edition of the ISIS magazine Dabiq the feature article is entitled, The Rafidah: From Ibn Saba’ to the Dajjal and contains, "pages of violent rhetoric directed against Shiites" who it claims are, "more severely dangerous and more murderous...than the Americans". The article justifies the killing of Shia Muslims, who ISIS claim are apostates.[19]

In Saudi Arabia today, Shias are referred to as Rafidha.[20] In Iraq, anti-Shi'a material is still surfacing.[21] 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 Shias. [21]

Until 1993, schoolbooks in Saudi Arabia openly denounced the Shia Islam and referred to the Shi'as rafida in the books.[22] The curriculum was changed after protests and rafida is no longer used in the text books; the Islamic Shi'a beliefs are still however denounced in the books.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Kohlberg, Etan Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 99, No.4 (Oct.- Dec., 1979), pp. 677-679
  2. ^ Islam QA, Question # 220687: The relationship between Jews and baatini (esoteric) sects, retrieved on 27 July 2015. He (Abdullah ibn Saba') was the first one to state that ‘Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) should have been the ruler on the basis of religious texts, and that he would return before the Day of Resurrection. He was also the first to openly cast aspersions upon the first three caliphs and the Sahaabah. All of these beliefs are fundamental to the view of the Raafidis.
  3. ^ Ahmad Kazemi Moussavi; Karim Douglas Crow (2005). Facing One Qiblah: Legal and Doctrinal Aspects of Sunni and Shi'ah Muslims. Pustaka Nasional Pte Ltd. p. 186. ISBN 9789971775520.
  4. ^ Najam Haider (26 Sep 2011). The Origins of the Shī'a: Identity, Ritual, and Sacred Space in Eighth-Century Kūfa. Cambridge University Press. pp. 196–7. ISBN 9781139503310.
  5. ^ Najībābādī, Akbar (2000). History of Islam Volume 2. Darussalam Publishers. p. 229. ISBN 978-9960892863.
  6. ^ Suleiman, Yasir, ed. (21 Apr 2010). Living Islamic History: Studies in Honour of Professor Carole Hillenbrand (illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 11. ISBN 9780748642199.
  7. ^ حلمي, مصطفى. "Dr". http://www.alukah.net. Retrieved 2 August 2017. External link in |website= (help)
  8. ^ al-Hussein al-Houthi, Allāma Yahya. Al-Jawāb ar-Rāqi 'ala al-Masā'il al-Irāqi. p. 4.
  9. ^ Wagemakers, Joas (2012-06-11). A Quietist Jihadi. Cambridge University Press. p. xix. ISBN 978-1107606562.
  10. ^ a b Wasserstrom, Steve. History of Religions, Vol. 25, No. 1 (Aug., 1985), pp. 1–29
  11. ^ al-Kulayni, Muhammad ibn Ya‘qūb (2015). Al-Kafi (Volume 8 ed.). New York City: Islamic Seminary Incorporated. ISBN 9780991430864.
  12. ^ , E. "al-Rafida or al-Rawafid." Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2010. Brill Online.
  13. ^ Gibb, H.A.R., 'The Travels of Ibn Battuta, Hakluyt, (1999) v.1, p.93
  14. ^ Nasr, Vali, Shia Revival, Norton, (2006) p.53
  15. ^ Abrahamov, Binyamin.Arabica, T. 34, Fasc. 1 (Mar., 1987), pp. 80-105
  16. ^ Madelung, Wilferd. Islamic Legal Orthodoxy: Twelver Shiite Responses to the Sunni Legal System by Devin J. Stewart. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 120, NO. 1 (Jan.- Mar., 2000), pp. 111-114
  17. ^ "Rawafid." In The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Ed. John L. Esposito. Oxford Islamic Studies Online.[1].
  18. ^ Ahmed Cevdet Pasha, Kısas-ı Enbiyâ, vol. II, page 12.
  19. ^ Calderwood, Imogen (22 January 2016). "ISIS declares war on....Muslims: Latest edition of terror group's magazine calls for Shiites to be targeted". Daily Mail. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  20. ^ Rosen, Nir, "America's unlikely savior; Recently, the U.S. was calling for Muqtada al-Sadr's head. Now, the fiery cleric may be the only man who can defuse Iraq's Sunni-Shiite conflict," Salon, February 3, 2005, accessed February 8, 2010
  21. ^ a b Jones, Toby. Middle East Report, No. 237 (Winter, 2005), pp. 20-25
  22. ^ a b Prokop, Michaela. International Affairs, Vol. 79, No. 1 (Jan., 2003), pp. 77-89

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