From what I have read so far, I would define Zaydism as “progressive, moderate, rational Islam”.
To elaborate on this simple definition, I would say:
“progressive, because it is inspired by the an early Muslim who challenged the corrupt status quo (Zaid bin Ali), moderate, because it represents the common ground between the two differing sects of Sunnism and 12erism, rational because it incorporates the rational school of thought within Islam (the mu’tazilah school.)”
Therefore I would define a Zaydi as a “progressive, moderate, rational Muslim”.
Let’s compare my definition with the Wikipedia definitions:
“Zaydis historically come from the followers of Zayd ibn Ali, the great-Grandson of ‘Ali b. Abi Talib. They follow any knowledgeable and upright descendant of al-Hasan and al-Husayn, and are less esoteric in focus than Twelverism or Ismailism.”
“Zaydism is a Shī’a madhhab (sect, school) named after the Imām Zayd ibn ˤAlī. Followers of the Zaidi fiqh recognize the first four of the Twelve Imams but differ from Twelver Shia in recognising Zayd ibn Ali — not his brother Muhammad al-Baqir — as the “Fifth Imām”. After Zayd ibn Ali, the Zaidi recognize other descendants of Hasan ibn Ali or Husayn ibn Ali to be Imams. Other well known Zaidi imams in history were Yahya ibn Zayd, Muhammad al Nafs az-Zakiyah and Ibrahim ibn Abdullah… In matters of theology, the Zaidis are close to the Mu’tazili school, but they are not Mu’tazilite, since there are a few issues between both schools, most notably the Zaidi doctrine of the imamate.”
I think these definitions do not do justice to Zaydism, because they portray Zaydis as followers (of Imams) rather than thinkers; in truth, Zaydism is a way of thinking, not a matter of blindly following an Imam. The Imams were, in my opinion, an inspiration and showed us how to think.
It has been well documented that Islam is in a state of intellectual stagnation compared to the West. The blame for this rests on the shoulders of the Sunnis and 12er Shi-ites. Instead of encouraging debate, reform, creativity, critical thinking, and self criticism, they have opted for a bigoted “holier than thou” attitude, refusing to admit that any mistakes or flaws may exist in their respective ideologies, demanding blind acceptance from their devotees, and promising Hell to anyone who questions the dogmas they inherited from their ancestors.
The remedy is to convince Sunni and Shi-ite Muslims to adopt a progressive line, like Zaydism, so they can free up their thinking, without resorting to Western ideologies.
However, as long as Zaydi intellectuals themselves refuse to be identified as Zaydis, for whatever reason, it will difficult to change the Sunnis and 12er Shi-ites’ negative perception of Zaydism.
Some “progressive, moderate, rational Muslims” are reluctant to be identified as Zaydis, putting forward the following reasons:
1. They agree with the Zaydi stand on every issue, but are happy to be Sunni!
2. Although they are from a Zaydi family, they disapprove of sectarianism, and think that by identifying as Zaydi they are joining a sect.
3. They prefer to be known as Muslims, not Zaydis.
4. They do not want to follow Zaydi Imams/ scholars, because they think that the judgements and theories made by imams and scholars of the past may not have been intended to be set in stone, and need reform.
Reasonable enough, …but perhaps their own definition of Zaydism is too narrow, like the narrow definitions in Wikipedia?