Branches of Shia Islam: Ismailis, Twelvers, and Bohras

The Shi‘i Ismaili Muslims, better known today as the Ismailis, make up the second largest branch of Shi‘i Islam after the Twelvers (Ithna ‘Ashariyyah). Shi‘i Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad’s divinely-ordained spiritual authority and divinely-inspired knowledge continues in members of his family, beginning with his cousin and son-in-law ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, and a specific lineage of his descendants. This office of religious authority and leadership is called the Imamat (Imamah) and forms the core doctrinal principle of the major branches of the Shi‘a – the Twelvers (Ithna Asharis), the Ismailis, and the Zaydis.

The Ismailis trace the Imamat through a particular lineage of Imams descended from Isma‘il (d. after 755), the son of Ja‘far al-Sadiq (d. 765); meanwhile, the Twelvers trace the Imamat through Musa, a younger son of Ja‘far al-Sadiq (see Figure 1). The Ismailis later divided over the question of the successor to the eighteenth hereditary Imam al-Mustansir (d. 1094).

Branches of Shia Islam: Ismailis, Twelvers, and Bohras
Click to enlarge.

One group, the Tayyibi Ismailis, followed the Imamat of the Imam Mustansir’s younger son al-Musta‘li and his descendants. Today the Tayyibis are called Bohras and are divided into three major branches – the Da’udi Bohras, the Sulaymani Bohras, and the Alavi Bohras – each of whom recognizes a different da‘i al-mutlaq (absolute missionary) as the chief representative of the Tayyibi Ismaili Imamat, whose lineage is believed to have gone into concealment with its twenty-first Imam al-Tayyib in 1230. The Da’udi Bohras led by Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin (b. 1946)  make up the largest Bohra community today.

Another group, the Nizari Ismailis, recognized the Imamat of al-Mustansir’s elder son and heir-designate Nizar and traced the Imamat in his progeny; The Nizari Ismailis are the only Shi‘a Muslim community by a visible hereditary Imam, Mawlana Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV (b. 1936), the forty-ninth Imam. Today, the term “Ismailis” is most often used to refer to the Nizari Ismailis.

Suggested Reading

Collection of Ideas to Overcome Sectarian Divide Among the Muslims

Who Speaks for the Flesh and Blood 1.6 Billion Breathing Muslim Souls?

4 replies


    Allah say in Al Quran; “
    They have taken their rabbis and their monks as gods beside Allah, and Tourah (Q. 9:31). They become Musryiqun ( Syrick)

    Remember) when We took a pledge from the children of Isra’il (Israel): “You shall not worship anyone other than Allah; and you shall do good to the parents, and to near of kin, and to orphans and the needy. And say to the people what is good, and be steadfast in Salah (prayer), and pay Zakah .” Then, you went back (on your word), all but a few among you, and you are used to turning away. (83) When We took a pledge from you: “You shall not shed the blood of one another, and you shall not drive one another out of your homes.” Then you agreed, being yourselves the witnesses. (84) Yet, here you are, killing one another, and driving a group of your own people out of their homes, supporting each other against them in sin and aggression – and if they come to you as prisoners, you would ransom them, while their very expulsion was unlawful for you! 37 Do you, then, believe in some parts of the Book, and disbelieve in others? So, what can be the punishment of those among you who do that, except disgrace in present life? And, on the Day of Judgement, they shall be turned to the most severe punishment. And Allah is not unaware of what you do. Q 2:85.

    Allah has answer that question as above verses clearly. Allah and drove away Jews from Israel because they had turned away from Tourah to Rabbis blindly.

    Unfortunately, most Islamic Scholars or Islamic Clerics do not take a lesson from Al Quran, or they want to hide the true of Islamic teaching. Instead of that, clerics teach his followers to believe in Imam Muslim-Bukhari, other narrators of Hadith, because those imam are the true of Prophet Muhammad’s follower.

    Islamic scholars, or Imam, or Clerics repeat mistakes again what Jews did thousand years ago.

    NO WONDER Allah has been cursing and punishing millions people till today and still going on….Rohingya, Pakistan, Yamen, Syria etc Refer to 7:2-5.
    Very very sad and pity..

    • will try to find more articles on the subject. But importantly: the similarities are much more than the differences ! The differences relate more to ‘politics’ (leadership) than to actual religious teachings.

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