Nevertheless, there is ample proof that traditions claiming a-lQa'im
would be the Twelfth descendant of the Prophet were in
circulation before 874. It is thus necessary to throw
light upon these traditions, which were,transmitted by
Sunnites and Zaydites as well as Imamites, so that one
can see to what extent these traditions were used by the
Imamite scholars to support the belief that the Twelfth
Imam had not died but was in a state of occultation.
3.2. The traditions of the Sunnites (Ahl al-Hadith)
The Sunnite books of tradition report three Prophetic traditions
pertaining to the twelve Imams who would be the
successors of the Prophet. These were narrated on the
authority of seven companions of the Prophet, namely
Jabir b. Samura, `Abd Allah b. Mas`ud, Anas b. Malik, `Umar
b. al-Khattab, Wa'ila b. Asqa', `Abd Allah b. `Umar and
i) Jabir b. Samura narrates that he heard the Prophet say, "There will be
after me twelve Amirs. "Then he mentioned something
which I did not hear, so I asked my father, who was
sitting beside me, who said, "All of whom will be from
ii) `Umar b. al-Khattab reports that he heard the Prophet say, "The Imams
(al-A'imma) after me will be twelve, all of whom will be
iii) `Abd Allah b. Mas'ud was once reciting the Qur'an in the mosque in
Iraq, when a young man came and asked him if the Prophet
had informed them about the number of his successors.
Ibn Mas`ud replied, "The Prophet informed us that his
successors will be twelve caliphs, whose number is
similar to the number of the leaders (al-nuqaba) of Banu
These traditions have been related by the traditionists and considered
authentic. Ibn Hanbal narrates the first with
thirty-four chains of transmitters (sanad), all of which
are on the authority of Jabir b. Samura(4),
although there are slight differences in the versions.
Some of the narrators used the words Ami'r and Khalifa
instead of Imam. But these traditions, as reported by
the Sunnites, indicate only that the Prophet would be
succeeded by twelve successors; none reveals that the
Twelfth would go into occultation, nor that he would be
al-Qa’im al-Mahdi. But the Zaydite and the Imamite
narrators relate the same traditions with phrases which
indicate that the Twelfth Imam would be al-Qa’im
3.3 The Twelfth Imam in the Zaydite traditions
The Zaydite sect, the Jarudiyya, narrate many traditions attributed to
the Prophet and al-Baqir concerning the political role
of the Twelfth Imam. One of their distinguished scholars
in Kufa was Abu Said `Abbad b. Ya'qub al-Rawajini al-`Asfari
He wrote a book entitled Kitab Akhbar al-Mahdi(7).
Al-Dhahabi reports that `Abbad was a Rafidite propagandist, and was
awaiting the rise of al-Mahdi in the near future. He
used to carry a sword, and once said that he kept his
sword ready in order to fight for al-Mahdi(8).
It is worth mentioning that `Abbad held this view before
the occultation of the Twelfth Imam in 260/874, since he
died in 250/864.(9)
He reports three Prophetic traditions concerning the
Twelfth Imam. Below are two of them:
i) The Prophet is believed to have said, "From my descendants there will
be eleven leaders (who will be) noble, receivers of
tradition (and) possessed of knowledge, the last of whom
will be `al-Qa’im bil-Haqq' who will fill it (i.e. the
world) with justice, just as it was filled with tyranny(10).
ii) The Prophet is reported to have said: "I and eleven of my descendants
and you, O 'Ali, are the axis of the earth, that is, its
tent pegs and its mountains. By us Allah has secured the
world so that it will not sink with its people. For when
the eleventh of my descendants has died the world shall
sink with its people without warning(11).
These traditions along with other sayings predicting the historical
circumstances and the signs which would precede the rise
of al-Qa’im al-Mahdi were used by the Shi’a in their
struggle for power. This can be seen in the events of
the general `Alid uprising which occurred in
250-1/864-5, when many Shi’ites applied the Prophetic
traditions concerning the signs of the rise of al-Qa’im
al-Mahdi to the historical circumstances surrounding
this revolt. Ibn `Uqda (d. 333/944) reports that al-Sadiq
A man from the People of the House of the Prophet will rise in arms in
Mecca holding a white standard in his hand: the
Euphrates will become dry, and, at the same time, a
group of people, whose eyes are small, will advance
towards you from the East and will force you to leave
your houses. Moreover, the graves of your dead will be
opened and predatory animals will attack your houses.
Afterwards a fair-complexioned man will install a chair
in Mecca calling people to curse `Ali b. Abi Talib, and
killing many people, but he will be killed on the same
According to `Ali b. al-Husayn b. al-Qasim al-Kharraz (d. ca. 250/864)
all these signs occurred during the revolt of Yahya b. `Umar
in 250/864. As a result, some Shi’ites, particularly the
Jarudiyya, believed that the leader of this revolt,
Yahya b. `Umar, was himself al-Qa’imal-Mahdi(13).
3.4 The Twelfth Imam in the Imamite traditions
The Imamite traditionists are distinguished from the Sunnites and the
Zaydites by their claim that the Twelfth Imam mentioned
in the Sunnite and the Zaydite traditions is in fact
Muhammad the son of the eleventh Imam al- `Askari, and
that he is al-Qa’im al-Mahdi. Moreover they have written
in more detail about his occultation, and his political
role, the signs which would precede his reappearance and
the social and political conditions which might pave the
way for it.
3.4.1. The traditions concerning the Twelfth Imam
The Prophetic traditions concerning the twelve Imams related by the
Sunnite and the Zaydite traditionists were also narrated
by the Imamites(14).
They applied these traditions to their twelve Imams and added traditions
of the Imams themselves which indicate explicitly that
the successor of the eleventh Imam was al-Qa’im. The
traditions attributed to the Prophet do not indicate
explicity that al-Qa’im would be the successor of
al-`Askari, the eleventh Imam, whereas the sayings of
the Imams do.
The earliest reference to a Prophetic tradition concerning the Twelfth
Imam is recorded by the Imamite traditionists on the
authority of Sulaym b. Qays al-Hilali. He was a
companion of five Imams, 'Ali, al-Hasan, al-Husayn, `Ali
b. al-Husayn and al-Baqir, and died in 90/701.(15)
The Imamites regard his work as the first Shi’ite
collection of Hadith(16). He
reports numerous narrations concerning the twelve Imams
and the political role of the last Imam. The first of
these narrations is attributed to a Christian monk who
met `Ali after his return from the battle of Siffin. He
informed him that he had found in the Gospels that the
successors of the Prophet Muhammad would be twelve; the
last of them would fill the world with justice, and
Jesus would perform the prayer behind him(17).
All the other narrations in Sulaym's work are attributed to the Prophet.
The most important of these is quoted on the authority
of the companions `Ali, `Abd Allah b. Ja’far al-Tayyar,
Salman al-Farisi, Abu al-Haytham b. al-Tayhan, Khuzayma
b. Thabit, `Ammar b. Yasir, Abu Dharr, al-Miqdad and Abu
Ayyub. They narrated that the Prophet gathered his
companions together at Ghadir Khumm and said to them:
O people, the legal power (al-wilaya) is granted only to `Ali b. Abi
Talib and the trustees from my progeny, the descendants
of my brother `Ali. He will be the first, and his two
sons, al-Hasan and al-Husayn, will succeed him
consecutively. They will not separate themselves from
the Qur'an until they return to Allah.(18)
Sulaym adds that the Commmander of the Faithful, ‘Ali, told him, "O
brother, son of Hilal, the Mahdi of my nation is
Muhammad, who shall fill the earth with justice and
equity as it was filled with tyranny and injustice. I
know who will pay the oath of allegiance to him.(19)
Sulaym states that he met al-Hasan and al-Husayn in Medina after the
assassination of their father, 'Ali, and related to them
this tradition on 'Ali's authority. They confirmed that
they had also heard it from the Prophet. Sulaym adds
that he informed `Ali b. al-Husayn, the fourth Imam, in
the presence of his son al-Baqir about this tradition,
and they also confirmed its authenticity. Moreover Abban
b. Abi `Ayyash reports that he met al-Baqir during the
rite of pilgrimage and mentioned Sulaym's tradition to
him, and that he confirmed its authenticity(20).
But al-Mas`udi doubts the authenticity of this tradition claiming that
this tradition was transmitted only through Sulaym(21).
Despite the fact that this tradition is related on the authority of
Sulaym b. Qays by many Imamite scholars, such as
al-Kulayni, al-Nu`mani, and al-Tusi(22),
it was related and confirmed by others as well(23).
In addition al-Saduq relates the above tradition on the
authority of `A1i(24),and
he narrates another prophetic tradition on the authority
of Abd Allah b. `Abbas:
I am the master of the Prophets and 'Ali the master of my trustees, of
whom there will be twelve; the first one is `Ali, and
the last is al-Qa’im.(25)
Moreover the Imamite scholars relate numerous traditions attributed to
their Imams, which confirm that the Twelfth Imam will be
It is worth noting that al-Hadrami (fl. 3rd/9th
century) reports a tradition which gives the Imam who
will rise in arms the epithet al-Qa’im(27).
At the same time other narrations employ the epithet al-Mahdi,
particularly in the works of al-Saffar (d. 290/902)(28).
The use of these two terms caused such confusion amongst the followers of
al-Jawad that some were not sure whether al-Qa’im and
al-Mahdi were the same individual or not. Therefore,
according to al Saduq, al-Jawad was reported as having
said that al-Qa’im is from "us" and that he would be
al-Mahdi; he must be awaited by his followers during his
occultation and obeyed at his rising and that he would
be his descendant in the third generation(29).
The Imamites of the fourth/ninth century called the
Twelfth Imam al-Qa’im al-Mahdi. Al-Mufid states that he
was called al-Mahdi because he would guide people to a
forgotten dogma and law(30).
3.4.2. The political role of al-Qa’im
It has already been pointed out that the Imams from `Ali b. alHusayn
onwards adopted publicly a quiescent policy towards the
Umayyads and the `Abbasids. Accordingly, they stressed
the propagation of their teachings, which they expected,
would result in religious and political awareness among
the people and would prepare the ground for the task of
(1) al-Bukhari, al-Sahih (Cairo,
1355), IV, 175; M. Sahih, III, 190-3; al-Tirmidhi,
IV, 501; Ibn Hanbal, al-Musnad (Cairo, 1313), V,
(2) al-Kharraz, Kifayat al-Athar,
quoted by al-Galbaygani, Muntakhab al-Athar, 28.
(3) Ibn Hanbal, al-Musnad, I, 398;
al-Karajuki, al-Istibsar, 12.
(4) Ibn Hanbal, al-Musnad, V, 86-90,
(5) N. al-Ghayba, 48-9; Kamal, 270-3.
(6) For the biography of `Abbad and
his Shiite sympathies see Ibn Hibban, al
Majruhin, II, 172; Mizan, II 379-80, IV, 149;
(7) al-Hilli, al-Idah, 176;
al-Galbaygani, op. cit., 5
(9) Ibn Hibban, al-Majruhin, II, 172.
(10) al-`Asfari, Asl Abu Said
al-`Asfari, Ms. f. 1-2.
(11) al-`Asfari, Asl Abu Said al-`Asfari,
f. 2. Al-Kulayni includes these traditions in
his work al-Hujja but, according to his
transmission, the Prophet mentioned twelve Imams
from his descendants and not eleven. Thus the
number of the Imams along with `Ali would-be
thirteen. Because al-Kulayni transmitted his
narration on the authority of al-`Asfari, it
appears that the latter's version is more
accurate. al-Kafi, I, 533-4.
(12) Ibn `Uqda, Kitab al-Malahim, f.
(13) EI1, art. "al-Mahdi", 112.
(14) N. al-Ghayba, 7,48,57-61, 31,
45; al-Saduq, Khisal, 436-45; `Uyun, 323, al
Karajaki, al-Istibsar, Ms. f. 11-12; al-Kafi, I,
534; al-Tabsi al-Shi'a wa-l-Raja (Najaf, 1966),
129-30; Kamal, 279.
(15) al-Barqi, Kitab al-Rijal,
(16) Ibn al-Nadim, al-Fihrist, I,
535; N. al-Ghayba, 47.
(17) al-Hilali, Kitab Sulaym b. Qays,
(18) Ibid., 109-10, 124-5, 165-6,
(19) al-Hilali, op. cit. 94; Kamal,
(20)al-Hilali,op. cit. 95.
(21)al-Mas`udi, al-Tanbih, 198.
(22)al-Kafi, I, 529; N. al-Ghayba,
38; 46, 274-8; T. al-Ghayba, 99.
(23)al-Tirmidhi, IV, 505-6; al-Darimi,
Sunan, IV, 151.
(25)Kama’l, 280. Another narration
has been narrated by the companion Jabir al
Ansari, which confirms that al-Mahdi would be
from the progeny of `Ali b. al Husayn (al-Tusi,
al-Amali II, 251), but al-Sahib b. `Abbad doubts
its authenticity; Nusrat, Madhahib al-Zaydiyya,
(26)al-Kafi, I, 531-3; al-Irshad,
393; Dala'il, 236-8, 249-51.
(27)al-Hadrami, Asl Ja’far b.
Muhammad b. Shurayh, Ms. f. 32b; for other
similar traditions see al-Kafi, VIII, 167, 536;
Ibn Tawus, al-Igbal, 431.
(28)al-Saffar, Basa'ir al-Darajat, f.
19b, 49b; for similar traditions see al-Kafi, I,
243, 281, 338, 372, 411, 496, 536.
(29)Kama’l, 377. Al-Tusi reports
another narration attributed to the tenth Imam
who stated explicitly that the Twelfth Imam
would be al-Mahdi (T al-Ghabya, 92). However, it
might be that such narrations were not common
among the Imamites. When the traditionist al-Fadl
b. Shadhan (d. 260/874), talks about the role of
al-Qa’im al-Mahdi, he does not attach this
epithet to the Twelfth Imam; Ibn Shadhan, al-Idah,
(30)al-Irshad, 411; see also
al-San`ani, al-Musannaf, XI, 472.