“Islam, like the Protestants and Catholics in Christianity, is divided into two major branches: the Sunni and the Shia. The Sunni Muslims are by far the more numerous….. Soon after the founder of Islam, Prophet Mohammed died, issue concerning the religious and secular leadership of the Muslim community arose. By and large, the Sunni Muslims maintained that after Prophet Mohammed’s death each Muslim was left to interpret and practice his faith according to his understanding although every mosque has its own Imam to lead the prayers. The Shia Muslims, on the other hand, believe that the successor to the leadership of the Muslim community both in spiritual and temporal matters was the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, and that this leadership was to continue thereafter by heredity through Ali in the Prophet’s family….the Ismailis are today one of the few Shia sects led by a hereditary Imam.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam, Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce, Zurich, Switzerland, January 14, 1976
“The Shia school of thought maintains that while direct Divine inspiration ceased at the Prophet’s death, the need for Divine guidance continued and this could not be left merely to millions of mortal men, subject to whims and gusts of passion and material necessity, capable of being momentarily but tragically misled by greed, by oratory, or by the sudden desire for material advantage. These dangers were manifest in the period immediately following our Holy Prophet’s death.”
Mawlana Sultan Muhammad Shah (Aga Khan III) in The Memoirs of Aga Khan
The essence of Shi‘ism lies in the desire to search for the true meaning of the revelation in order to understand the purpose of human existence and its destiny. This true, spiritual meaning can never be confined by the bounds of time, place or the letter of its form. It is to be comprehended through the guidance of the Imam of the time, who is the inheritor of the Prophet’s authority, and the trustee of his legacy. A principal function of the Imam is to enable the believers to go beyond the apparent or outward form of the revelation in search of its spirituality and intellect.