ʿĀMMA (pl. ʿawāmm), a common Emāmī Shiʿite appellation for the Sunnites. Roughly equivalent to ahl al-ḵelāf, al-moḵālefūn, al-ḵaṣm, or al-ǰomhūr, it is more obviously pejorative, in that it implies an identity between Sunnites and ʿāmma in the sense of “ignorant masses.” It is not clear at precisely which point the term ʿāmma in the technical Emāmī sense began to be employed; it appears in traditions attributed to Moḥammad al-Bāqer (d. 115/733; cf. Keššī, Reǰāl, Naǰaf, n.d., p. 114), and was probably current among his disciples. The expression maqālat al-ʿawāmm (“the doctrine of the generality;” Nawbaḵtī, Feraq al-šīʿa, ed. H. Ritter, Istanbul, 1931, p. 23), which is used with reference to an unspecified non-Shiʿite doctrine said to have existed already at the time of Ḥosayn’s death (61/680), seems to reflect later terminology. ʿĀmma is contrasted with ḵāṣṣa, and al-ḵāṣṣa wa’l-ʿāmma means either “Shiʿites and Sunnites” or, by extension, “everyone.” The term is not always confined to the Sunnites in the strict sense; it spans on occasion all enemies of Shiʿism, such as the followers of anti-Shiʿite tyrants in antediluvian times (Ebn Bābawayh, Ekmāl al-dīn, Naǰaf, 1389/1970, p. 132), or members of the first generation of Islam who allegedly deprived ʿAlī of the succession (this latter category of ʿāmma is sometimes identified with the Morǰeʾa; see Ṭorayḥī, Maǰmaʿ al-baḥrayn, n.p., 1307/1889-90, pp. 36-37; Maǰlesī, Beḥār al-anwār [Iran], 1305-15/1887-97, VII, p. 5).

In Emāmī literature, ʿāmma often refers specifically to Sunnite theologians or doctors, and maḏhab al-ʿāmma is a blanket term for the Sunnite schools of jurisprudence. Emāmī biographical works contain references to ʿāmmī scholars who exhibited Shiʿite sympathies in at least some of their writings (cf., e.g., Keššī, Reǰāl, p. 333; Ṭūsī, Fehrest, Naǰaf, 1380/1961, pp. 86, 130, 145, 210; Ebn Šahrāšūb, Maʿālem al-ʿolamāʾ, Naǰaf, 1380/1961, pp. 25, 43, 61, 72, 76, 81, 118, 135, 138). Traditions transmitted on the authority of the ʿāmma are accepted when they can profitably be cited for polemical purposes. Such dispensation does not, however, extend to legal Hadith; indeed, an important principle has it that where two traditions contradict each other, the believer should follow that Hadith which contradicts the practice of the Sunnites (ḵelāf al-ʿāmma; see Kolaynī, al-Kāfī I, Tehran, 1375/1955-56, p. 68; Moḥsen Fayż Kāšānī, al-Nawāder fī ǰamʿ al-aḥādīṯ, Tehran, 1960, p. 35; G. Lecomte, in Le Shīʿisme Imāmite, Paris, 1970, pp. 100-01). One reason given for this is that ʿāmma practice follows that of the people of ʿAlī’s days who would ask him for a legal opinion only to act in opposition to it (Ebn Bābawayh, ʿElal al-šarāʾeʿ, Naǰaf, 1966, p. 531). The principle of ḵelāf al-ʿāmma may, however, be set aside for reasons of taqīya (ibid.).

The ʿāmma are repeatedly accused of ignorance and injustice (ʿAlī b. Aḥmad Kūfī, al-Esteḡāṯa, n.p., 1930-, p. 141; Karāǰakī, Ketāb al-taʿaǰǰob, Mašhad, 1322/1904, pp. 2-3). At times they are even described as unbelievers (Naǰafī Eṣfahānī, ʿEnāyat al-rażawīya, Tehran, 1319/1901, pp. 163-64, 167), though such strong condemnation is normally reserved for the militantly anti-Shiʿite elements among them, the nāṣeba. Works entitled Al-radd ʿala’l-ʿāmma and composed in the last two centuries (al-Ḏarīʿa X, pp. 210-11 ) attest to the continued prevalence of the term among Emāmī writers.


See also Nawbaḵtī, Feraq al-šīʿa, pp. 51, 59.

Saʿd b. ʿAbdallāh, al-Maqālāt wa’l-feraq, Tehran, 1963, pp. 19, 73, 82.

ʿAyyāšī, Tafsīr, Qom, 1380/1960-61, I, pp. 82, 200.

Ebn Bābawayh, ʿElal, pp. 389, 522.

Keššī, Reǰāl, Karbalā, 1963, pp. 275, 493.

Moḥsen Fayż Kāšānī, al-Maḥaǰǰat al-bayżāʾ, Tehran, 1339-42 Š./1960-63, I, p. 1.

Ṭorayḥī, Maǰmaʿ al-baḥrayn, p. 542.

Aʿyān al-šīʿa I/1, Beirut, 1370/1951, pp. 29, 63.

(E. Kohlberg)

Originally Published: December 15, 1989

Last Updated: August 3, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 9, pp. 976-977

Cite this entry:

E. Kohlberg, “ʿĀMMA,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/9, pp. 976-977, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/amma-pl (accessed on 30 December 2012).