Dedication & Preface

This book is dedicated to Khair Allah al-Sa'dani and L. K. Hussain without whose moral support and academic assistance this work would never have been written.


It is particularly welcomed that this new study of the occultation of the Twelfth Imam should be presented to those interested in the history of religion. Indeed, too little attention has been paid to this subject by scholarship generally, and especially in the West. When the matter has been discussed, it has tended to be dismissed rather cursorily. In some measure, Dr. Hussain's work serves to restore the balance.

The author, using little known and rarely consulted early Shi段te sources, has presented a detailed study of the Imami-Shi段te movement from the time of Ja断ar al-Sadiq, the Sixth Imam, to the end of the lesser occultation of the Twelfth Imam. What emerges is a picture of a secret religious organisation with adherents all over the Islamic world. This organisation had to be secret because it was constantly subject to persecution from the authorities.

The great unifying force of the movement which Dr. Hussain describes was its belief in the Imamate as a central institution to preserve the integrity of Islam. This Imamate would be the means by which justice and equity would be eventually brought to the world. Dr. Hussain demonstrates that the traditions about one of the Imams being the Mahdi were circulating among the Shi'a from the very earliest times. He also establishes that though there was some confusion among the Shi'a as to which Imam would be the Mahdi, there was some evidence that traditions existed which said it was to be the Twelfth Imam and that traditions about the Twelfth Imam being the last Imam even found their way into the body of Sunni literature.

For the first time in English, the evidence for the existence of the Twelfth Imam is fully presented and while it is of a circumstantial nature, it is much more convincing than the usual picture presented by Western scholarship. Dr. Hussain's thorough and sympathetic treatment of this is to be greatly welcomed.

The greater occultation of the Twelfth Imam is a matter of religious faith. It, like other great religious beliefs, is not something that scholars can prove or disprove. However, it has an inner religious reality which no one can reject. The proof of this inner religious reality is that it is a doctrine that has sustained and strengthened the faith of millions of Shi段te Muslims up to the present time. Despite persecution and tribulation, this community and their faith have survived.

This work of meticulous scholarship by Dr. Hussain is commended to all those interested in the history of the development of Islam and Shi'ism. The work of the Muhammadi Trust, and its tireless secretary in ensuring its publication is particularly appreciated.


Department of Islamic Studies,

University of Edinburgh


In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate

Muhammad b. al-Hasan al- `Askari is the Twelfth Imam of the "Imamates" or "Twelve-Imam Shi段tes", al-Ithna Ashariyya, who form the second largest denomination in Islam after the Sunnis. He appears to have been born in 256 A.H./869 A.D. Four years later, after the death of his father al- `Askari, the eleventh Imam, he was hidden from the authorities of the `Abbasid caliphs as a precaution. His whereabouts were disclosed only to a very few of his followers. Four of his father's close associates became successive mediators between the Imam and his followers until the year 329/941. This period has been considered by the Imamites as the first or the short occultation (al-Ghayba) of the Twelfth Imam. During it the four Saf段rs directly supervised the underground religious and political activities

of the Imamites.

The last Saf段r announced on his death-bed in 329/941 that the Twelfth Imam had decided not to appoint another Saf段r and had entered into total occultation. The Imamites considered this declaration the beginning of the Twelfth Imam's second occultation, which has continued until the present time.

Because of the second occultation the series of Imams stopped at the number twelve. Accordingly the Imamites believe that the Twelfth Imam is al-Qa段m ("he who will rise"), whose rising was promised by the Prophet. For the Prophet is said to have predicted that a descendant of his daughter Fatima would rise with the sword and fill the world with justice and equity. For this reason the Imamites believe that he is still alive, but in a state of occultation until the moment of his rising at an unspecified time in the future.

Since the first half of the fourth/tenth century many scholars have examined the occultation of the Twelfth Imam purely from the theological point of view, even though this event appears to have been historical. However, because of the close connection between the occultation and the Imamate (al-Imama) or the religious and political leadership, it became involved with Shi段te theological discussions and gradually its historical aspects came to be ignored. Thus modern scholars like Ignaz Goldziher, Margoliouth, Snouck Hurgronje and Darmesteter were inclined to study the occultation of the Twelfth Imam as a theological phenomenon and tried to trace its pre-Islamic origins. 

The present inquiry is an attempt to study the historical background and circumstances of the occultation of the Twelfth Imam. The Imamites had political ambitions to obtain political power under the leadership of an Imam called al-Qa段m bi-l-sayf (the one who will rise with the sword). This study tries to examine the role of these ambitions in his occultation and to trace as well the evolution of the underground Imamite organization (al-Wikala) and its role during the time of the Twelfth Imam's short occultation.

It is essential to make a survey of the main sources of this study so that the viewpoint of each of them can be understood and the information they contain evaluated accordingly.

Survey of the Sources

1. Books on the question of the Ghayba

It is indeed an old idea in Imamite history that one Imam from the progeny of the Prophet would go into hiding to prepare for the day when he would rise again under the title al-Qa段m al-Mahdi and fill the world with justice. The concealment (al-Ghayba) was considered a sign of the true al-Qa段m al-Mahdiand both before and after the occultation of the Twelfth Imam in 260/874. Many Shi段te writers collected traditions attributed to the Prophet and the Imams concerning this issue. These traditions were used by many Shi段te groups to back up the claims of their leaders who aspired to power by adopting the title of al-Qa段m al-Mahdi.

Before 260/874 they were used even by some Imamites themselves as evidence that one or another of their deceased Imams was in fact al-Qa段m al-Mahdi. Finally the same traditions have been used by the Imamites to support their claims that the Twelfth Imam was al-Qa段m al-Mahdi himself. These works on the subject of the Ghayba can be divided into three groups based on the dates of their authorship.

1.1. Books on the question of the occultation written before 260/874

The Imamite scholars wrote about four hundred books (al-Usul alュ Arba`mi'a)during the lifetimes of the first eleven Imams. Some of these dealt with the subject of the Imam's concealment, recording traditions on the authority of the Prophet and the Imams predicting that an Imam would go into occultation. These traditions, however, neither named the Imam nor fixed the time at which his occultation would begin. The ambiguity of these traditions encouraged many Shi段tes to apply them to different Imams. Hence the Waqifa sect held that Musa al-Kazim, the seventh Imam, was the hidden Imam whereas al-Imamiyya al-Qat`iyya and al-Zaydiyya al-Jarudiyya(1) held that the hidden Imam would be the Twelfth, but they did not identify him by name. Despite the fact that a great majority of these early works are not extant, it appears that during the fourth and fifth centuries the Imamite authors based their works concerning alュ-Ghayba on these early writings. The following works are examples of the Waqifite, Zaydite and Imamite views on this matter.

The Waqifa 

1. Al-Anmati Ibrahim b. Salih al-Kufi, was a companion of the fifth Imam, al-Baqir (d. 114/732). He wrote a book entitled alュ Ghayba which represents the Waqifite point of view, although the information he gave was used by such later scholars as Ahmad b. `Ali b. Nuh (d. before 423/1031) and al-Tusi to support the Imamite view(2).

2. Al-Ta'i al-Tatari, 'Ali b. al-Hasan, was a companion of the seventh Imam, al-Kazim (d. 183/799), whom he named as the hidden Imam. In defence of his view he wrote Kitab al-Ghayba, which became the framework for the works of later Waqifite authors like Ibn Suma`a (d. 263/877) on this issue(3).

3. Al-Hasan b. Muhammad b. Suma`a, composed a book on al-Ghayba, following the footsteps of his Waqifite teacher al-Ta'i alュ Tatari(4).

 However, those Imamites who lived during the period from 260-329/874-940-1, like al-Hasan al-Saffar (d. 292/904) and alュ Kulayni (d. 329/940), used his information to support their claim that the hidden Imam was not the seventh Imam but the Twelfth Imam(5).

The Zaydites 

Abu Said `Abbad b. Ya`qub al-Rawajini al- `Asfari (d. 250/864) was one of the leading scholars of the Shi段te sect al-Zaydiyya alュJarudiyya. He compiled a book of traditions entitled Kitab Abu Said al- Asfari. The importance of this work is that its author cites a tradition referring to the occultation at least ten years before its occurrence. He also mentions other traditions which point to the fact that the number of the Imams would end with the Twelfth Imam and that he would be al-Qa段m. However in contrast to the Imamites he does not mention the names of the twelve Imams.

Al-`Asfari's work along with the works of Sulaym b. Qays (d. 80ュ90/699-707) and al-Hasan b. Mahbub al-Sarrad (d. 244/838) were used extensively by such Imamites as al-Kulayni (d. 329/941), alュ Nu'mani (d. 360/970) and al-Saduq (d. 380/991) to prove the existence of the Twelfth Imam and his subsequent occultation.

The Imamites 

1. `Ali b. Mahzayar al-Ahwazi was a close associate of the ninth Imam, al-Jawad. He was appointed by the latter as his representative in al-Ahwaz and continued to remain in office throughout the reign of the tenth Imam, al-Hadi. He wrote two books, called Kitab al-Malahim and Kitab al-Qa段m, both dealing with the occultation of the Imam and his subsequent rising with the sword(6). Then between the years 260/874 and 329/940 his two sons Ibrahim and Muhammad became the authorised representatives of the Twelfth Imam in al-Ahwaz. It is on their authority that al-Kulayni and al-Saduq give important information concerning the comュmunication methods employed in the underground activities of the Imamites.






(1) The founder of this sect was Abu al-Jarud Ziyad b. al-Mundhir, the companion of the fifth Imam, al-Baqir. After the revolt of Zayd b. 'Ali, Abu al-Jarud abandoned his allegiance to al-Baqir and put forward the claim of Zayd, establishing a new sect called al-Zaydiyya al-Jarudiyya. Some later representatives of this sect agree with the Imamites that the series of the Imams ended with the number twelve but others claim that there were thirteen by including Zayd

(2) Ahmad b. al-`Abbas al-Najashi, Kitab al-Rijal (Tehran, n.d.), 12, 19; Muhammad b. al-Hasan al-Tusi, al-Fihrist (Mashhad, 1972), 14; Ibn Dawud alュ Hilli, Kitab al-Rijal (Tehran, 1964), 15, 416.

(3) al-Najashi, 193; T. al-Fihrist, 216-7.

(4) al-Najashi, 32-3; T. al-Fihrist, 97-8.

(5) Muhammad b. Ya'qub al-Kulayni, al-Kafi fi `Ilm al-Din (Tehran, 1381), I, 335-6; al-Najashi, 39.

(6) al-Najashi, 191; T. al-Fihrist, 226.