Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. William A. Ritchie

Second Advisor

David Ede

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Campus Only


This study of the Shi'ite doctrine of political-religious leadership deals with the question of who should fill Muhammad's rulership role. According to the Shi'ite belief, Muhammad did not die leaving his successors undetermined. The prophet announced his legal successors until the end of the world. The study looks at the emergence of the Shi'ite doctrine, explains how the Imamate theory gives legitimacy to its leaders, and examines the function of the Imam from the Islamic perspective. Results of the study indicate that the Shi'ah are so insistent on the legitimacy of their Imams as leaders that they consider them the true rulers of the Islamic world whether they attain official political power or not. Ali b. Abi Talib is used as a case study. The paper investigates Ali's life both outside the formal political framework and inside as ruler of the Islamic world; the research shows that in either case Ali acted as a Shi'ite Imam in terms of his holy character.

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