Shi'ism: Waiting for the Hidden Imam

Directed by Said Bakhtaoui and Mohammad Ballout

53 minutes / Color
French / English subtitles
Release: 2005
Copyright: 2005

SHI'ISM illuminates the historical roots of this branch of Islam, from its origins in a 7th-century dispute over the successor to the Prophet Mohammad and a political and theological war between Sunni and Shi'ite followers, through the sect's mythology of martyrdom established by the massacre in 662 at Karbala, followed by centuries of persecution and discrimination of Shi'ism as a minority faith, and outlines its basic tenets, including belief in the 'hidden' Imam, who will appear on the Last Day as the Mahdi.

Filmed in Iran, Lebanon and Iraq, SHI'ISM blends both contemporary and historical footage and graphics with interviews with Muslim scholars, philosophers, writers, politicians and religious leaders, including Iran's Ayatollah Mussa Zein al-Abidin, Lebanon's Sheikh Mohammad Hassan al-Amin, and Islamic Encyclopedia Director Mohammad Kadhim Bujnurdi, among many others. The film also visits Shia holy sites, including the Tomb of Imam Hussein in Karbala, Iraq, and the Mausoleum of Imam Abdul Azim and the Tomb of Bibi Shahrbanoo in southern Tehran.

film still

SHI'ISM explores a wide range of historical and contemporary issues, from the basis of the original schism between Shia and Sunni followers, contemporary differences in legal and religious matters, the cultivation of martyrdom as the foundation of Shi'ite doctrine, the relative strength of Shi'ism in countries throughout the Middle East, the suicide bombings of the Hezbollah in Lebanon, and a political analysis of the Iranian Revolution's establishment of an Islamic Republic in which the clergy assumed political power, as contrasted with the belief of Iraq's Shia leader, Ayatollah Sistani, in a separation between religion and the state.

SHI'ISM offers valuable insights into the complex and largely unknown history, at least for Western viewers, of this small branch of one of the world's largest faiths, which recent events have transformed into one of the most politically influential and controversial religious movements.

"The film's major contribution is the collection of interviews with prominent Shi'ite religious scholars and intellectuals [who] powerfully convey the significance for Shi'ites of the imams. Deeply moving… thoroughly recommended!—The Middle East Quarterly

"Highly Recommended! If one wants to learn the history and current political significance of Shi'ism in less than an hour, it's hard to do better than this documentary."—Educational Media Reviews Online

"Remarkable! The film restores the richness of a fascinating history."—Temps Fort

"A valuable perspective."—Telerama

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Select Accolades

  • 2006 Middle East & Central Asia Politics, Economics, and Society Conference
  • 2005 Middle Eastern Studies Association FilmFest


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