Rafida, also transliterated as rafidah, is an Arabic word (collective plural Arabic: الرافضة, romanized: ar-rāfiḍa; multiple plural Arabic: روافض, romanized: rawāfiḍ; singular Arabic: رافضي, romanized: rāfiḍī) 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".
The term is used contemporarily in a derogatory manner by Sunni Muslims to refer to Shias on the grounds that Shia do not recognize the first three caliphs of Islam— Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman — as the legitimate successors of Muhammad. Shia believe Ali as to be the first successor.
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."
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.
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.
The term rafida as a pejorative for Shi'a began early in the history of Islam, 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, saying he never heard his family call them bad names. Zayd ibn Ali considered Ali the best leaders after Muhammad, but refused to condemn the caliphate of Abu Bakr and Umar. As a result the majority of the Kufans deserted Zayd ibn Ali, hence the term rafida due to their rejection.
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 …))."
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.
Influential medieval literalist scholar Ibn Taymiyyah was known to condemn Rafida as generally diabolical -- "the worst of those who follow desires, ignorance and oppression". Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, founder of Wahhabism and follower of Ibn Taymiyyah, titled one of his books Al-Radd 'ala al-Rafida (The Refutation of the Rejectionists), though one apologist (Natana J. Delong-Bas) insists that at least ibn Abd al-Wahhab was referring to an extremist sect of Shi'i Islam when talking about rafidah, not Shia in general.
Rumi (Mawlana) in his Masnavi (Title of the Story in Book V, poem 844) refers to the inhabitants of Sabzawar (in present-day Afghanistan) 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. The term continues to be used in this way today. Rafida was also sometimes used to indicate extremists and ash-Shi'i for moderates.
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. 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.
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.
In Saudi Arabia today, Shias 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 Shias.
Until 1993, schoolbooks in Saudi Arabia openly denounced the Shia Islam and referred to the Shi'as rafida in the books. 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. In modern times, the term rafida is primarily used in Salafi jihadism such as ISIS to justify their execution of Shias.
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
- Criticism of Twelver Shia Islam
- Shia–Sunni relations
- Succession to Muhammad
- Words to denote religious opponents
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