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Rafida, also transliterated as Rafidah, is an Arabic word (collective plural Arabic: الرافضةtranslit.: ar-Rāfiḍa; multiple plural Arabic: روافضtranslit.: Rawāfiḍ; singular Arabic: رافضيtranslit.: Rāfiḍī) meaning "rejectors", "those who reject" or "those who refuse". The word is derived from the Arabic consonantal root ر ف ض, which as a verb means "to reject". The non-collective singular form is رافضي rāfiḍī "one who rejects". This is an Islamic term which refers to those who, in the opinion of the person using the term, reject legitimate Islamic authority and leadership. Those being called rafida generally consider it to be a pejorative appellation, a negative affect, and an abusive nickname.[1]

The term is used contemporarily in a derogatory manner by Sunni Muslims, especially Salafis, who refer to Shia Muslims as such because Shia Muslims do not recognize Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman as the legitimate successors of Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam) .[2]


  • Origin 1
  • Usage 2
  • Current 3
  • See also 4
  • External links 5
  • References 6


The term rafida followed the Shi'a from a very early period, originating in the uprising of Zayd ibn Ali against the Umayyad Caliphate. Rafida referred to those Kufan Shi'ites who deserted and rejected Zayd, at the last minute, when he refused to repudiate and condemn the first three Rashidun Caliphs,[3][4] whose rule, he argued, had been accepted by Ali himself.[5] Zayd's uprising foreshadowed the collapse of the dynasty, which in turn led to the split between those Shi'a Muslims who agreed with Zayd and those who did not.[1] 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.[1]

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.[6]

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,(Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam) they were the only ones who rejected evil, making them the successors of the original Rafida.[7] 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.[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.[8] The term continues to be used in this way today.[9] Rafida was also sometimes used to indicate extremists and ash-Shi'i for moderates.[10][11] The pejorative use of the term continued to denote the Twelvers throughout the Middle Ages and into the modern era.[7] 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.[6]

When they wanted to be derogatory, Sunnis called their Shi'i opponents Rawafid and the Shi'ites responded by calling their Sunni opponents Nawasib.[12]

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.[13] 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.[6]


In their ongoing campaign to unseat the Shia government of Iraq and the Alawite government Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant frequently uses the term "rafidah" to refer to Shia Muslims. Alawaites, who are a sect of Shiism, are referred to as 'Nusayri'.

In Saudi Arabia today, Shiites are referred to as Rafidha.[14] In Iraq, anti-Shi'a material is still surfacing.[15] 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.[15]

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.[16] 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.[16]

See also

External links

  • "The Language of Anti-Shiism" by Fanar Haddad, Foreign Policy, August 9, 2013
  • "The Vocabulary of Sectarianism" by Aaron Y. Zelin and Phillip Smyth, Foreign Policy, January 29, 2014


  1. ^ a b c d e f 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.  
  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.  
  5. ^ Suleiman, Yasir, ed. (21 Apr 2010). Living Islamic History: Studies in Honour of Professor Carole Hillenbrand (illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 11.  
  6. ^ a b c Wasserstrom, Steve. History of Religions, Vol. 25, No. 1 (Aug., 1985), pp. 1-29
  7. ^ a b Kohlberg, 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.
  8. ^ Gibb, H.A.R., 'The Travels of Ibn Battuta, Hakluyt, (1999) v.1, p.93
  9. ^ Nasr, Vali, Shia Revival, Norton, (2006) p.53
  10. ^ Abrahamov, Binyamin.Arabica, T. 34, Fasc. 1 (Mar., 1987), pp. 80-105
  11. ^ According to  )
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ "Rawafid." In The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Ed. John L. Esposito. Oxford Islamic Studies Online.[1].
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^ a b Jones, Toby. Middle East Report, No. 237 (Winter, 2005), pp. 20-25
  16. ^ a b Prokop, Michaela. International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 79, No. 1 (Jan., 2003), pp. 77-89
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