Dedication & Preface
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate
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
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
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 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
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.
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
of the Sources
on the question of the Ghayba
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.
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
Books on the question of the occultation written before
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
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).
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).
`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
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.
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
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
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.
al-Najashi, 193; T. al-Fihrist, 216-7.
al-Najashi, 32-3; T. al-Fihrist, 97-8.
Muhammad b. Ya'qub al-Kulayni, al-Kafi fi `Ilm
al-Din (Tehran, 1381), I, 335-6; al-Najashi, 39.
al-Najashi, 191; T. al-Fihrist, 226.