2. The Imamite activities during the period of al-Kazim (148-183/765-799)

As a consequence of al-Sadiq's death the Imamites became so weak that even if military rebellion might have been possible during his life­time, there was little chance of it now. The rise of the Isma'ilis during al-Sadiq's lifetime, followed by the rise of the Fathiyya sect, which included most of the Imamite fuqaha',(1) made the position of al-Sadiq's successor, Musa al-Kazim, very weak, and obliged him to follow the quiescent policy of his father. For this reason al-Mansur(d. 158/774) did not take any action against him or his followers during his life-time. However he continued his pursuit of the representatives of the revolutionary branch of the Hasanids(2).

The regime of al-Mahdi, who was installed in the Caliphate after the death of his father al-Mansur in 158/774,(3) was distinguished by his "orthodox" policy. He encouraged the traditional muhaddithun, pursued the zindiqs, and oppressed the People of the Book(4). However, "this policy could be described as less religious policy than a political weapon. The promotion of the Surma by the `Abbdsids was, in fact, a means in the struggle against the religio-political enemies or opposition movements"(5).

This statement is illustrated by al-Mahdi's attitude towards the Imamites. When he came to power in 158/774, the followers of al-Kazim became active and more powerful than the Fathiyya and the Isma'ilis(6).

Al-Mahdi thought that the religious and intellectual activities of al-Kazim's partisans might endanger his regime, especially as there was a report indicating "that an important body of opinion had been turning towards the `Alids and away from the `Abbasids or rather, had been insisting that the Hashimite charisma was not equally spread through all the clan, but was peculiarly present in the `Alids alone(7).

Perhaps for this reason, al-Mahdi summoned al-Kazim from Medina and imprisoned him in Baghdad. But in so doing he neither reinforced the legitimacy of his rule nor changed public opinion towards the charismatic character of al-Kazim(8)

Therefore, he decided to follow a policy which depended on bribery and the intimidation of the Shi`a. Al-Kazim was released in 159/775, after he had sworn that he would not rise in arms against al-Mahdi or his successors(9).  According to al-Tabari, al-Mahdi simultaneously approached the Zaydites in order to gain their assistance in monitoring the activities of the `Alids and their followers.

For example, he made overtures to Ya'qub b. Dawud, who belonged to a family which had worked in the secretarial affairs of Khurasan during the Umayyad period(10), and made him his "brother in God". Then, in 163/799, al-Mahdi made him his vizier and vested him with full powers to handle all the affairs of the Caliphate, whereupon Ya'qub gathered together the Zaydites and appointed them to the high offices of the state(11).

Al-Mahdi may have been motivated by the fact that the non-revolutionary Zaydites (al­-Jara'riyya) believed in the Imamate of the Inferior (al-Mafdul) as long as the Superior (al-Afdal), was present, and such dogma might give a legitimate foundation to his Caliphate which could be used against the `Alids.

During al-Mahdi's regime the claim was put forward that the lawful Imam after the Prophet was not `Ali but al-`Abbas, and that therefore the Imamate belonged to his family(12).

 In fact Ya'qub b. Dawud brought many jurisprudents together from Basra, Kufa and al-Sham and organised them(13)  so as to further this claim. Al-Kashshi reports two transmissions to support this. He says that the Zaydite Hisham b. Ibrahim wrote many Zaydite works, one of them entitled "The Confirmation of the Imamate of al- `Abbas”, and he adds that another Zaydite, called Ibn al-Muq`ad, wrote a heresiographical work illustrating the dogmas, places and activities of the pro-Imamites, such as al-Ya`furiyya, al-Zurariyya, al- Ammariyya, and al-Jawaliqiyya, and submitted his work to al-Mahdi. This work was then recited together with a warning by the Caliph at the gates of Baghdad, Medina and other cities(14).

The recitation of this work was the first step to al-Mahdi's pursuit of the other factions of the pro­`Alids. Some of these pro-`Alids were obliged to flee from Kufa to remote provinces, like Yemen(15), while al-Kazim spread instructions amongst his adherents for them to follow his quiescent policy carefully. Al-Kashshi's report seems to indicate that the tense relationship between the `Abbasids and the pro-`Alids continued until the death of al-Mahdi in 169/785.(16)

Although some of this tension seems to have been alleviated with the accession of al-Hadi, the Hasanids were closely watched and their salaries cut. They began to increase their propaganda in Khurasan and the other provinces in a new Zaydite form, and they contacted the leading personalities of the Hasanids in Medina, encouraging them to revolt(17).

As a part of al-Hadi's precautionary policy the Hasanids of Medina were forced to come to the office of the governor every evening. They exploited a gathering of their followers from numerous provinces during the Pilgrimage and made their ill-treatment by the governor an excuse to rebel in 169/785. But their uprising was easily defeated and resulted in their being massacred in the battle of Fakhkh(18).

However the Caliph accused al-Kazim of provoking the rebels and decided to kill him, but died in 170/786 before he could put his decision into practice(19).

The battle of Fakhkh and the commitment of al-Hades successor, al-Rashid, to the anti- `Alid policy of his predecessors only served to entrench the political strategy of the three `Alid parties, the revolutionary Hasanids, the Isma'ilis and the Imamites.

The Imamite group under Imam Musa al-Kazim became stronger and more organised, and insisted on a gradual movement towards their political goal, but the Imam rejected any bid to rise in arms because he considered this the task of al-Qa’im(20).

 His adherents, most of whom were originally from Kufa, were scattered throughout the Islamic state and used the rite of Pilgrimage to communicate with each other. They succeeded in maintaining an important body of followers in Akhmim in Egypt, which became a centre for communication between the Shi’a in Kufa and those in Egypt(21). They had other followers in al-Maghrib(22). Al-Kazim permitted a few of his adherents to work in the `Abbasid administration, especially in the offices of al-wizara and al-barad (governmental mail), so that they could help to save their fellows in times of danger. Hence several Imamite families held office, such as that of `Ali b. Yaqtin(23) and that of al-Ash'ath, including Ja`far b. Muhammad al-Ash'ath and his son al- `Abbas, who became the governor of Khurasan, and Waddah (or Wadih), who worked in the barid of Egypt(24).

The enlargement of al-Kazim's party increased his wealth, for there is much evidence to indicate that he collected secretly from his adherents(25) the khums, the zakat, gifts and other taxes enjoined in the Shari'a as part of what was due to his Imamate.

The second Shi’ite party was the Isma’ilis, who had already disassociated themselves from the quiescent policy of al-Sadiq and his son al-Kazim by adopting the Imamate of Isma'il first and then of his son Muhammad, both of whom were more inclined toward more actively revolutionary underground political activities. They learnt from the repeated failure of the Hasanid uprisings, which were initiated without political preparation, and they decided to struggle for power through a gradual political process.

This decision encouraged them to adopt ideas from beyond the circle of Islam, and their adoption of these ideas may have "liberated" their minds from the limits of Shari`a. They put forward new interpretations of the Islamic texts, according to which each passage had an esoteric and an exoteric meaning(26).

For example, a tradition attributed to the Prophet says that the Mahdi will appear when the sun rises from the place of its setting. According to them, this meant not the rising of the real sun, but that of al-Mahdi, who would appear in al-Maghrib. Therefore, they became more interested in preaching their doctrine in al-Maghrib and encouraged their followers in the east to emigrate there(27).

Nawbakhti's reports suggest that the relationship between the Isma'ilis and al-Kazim's followers was tense, since the Isma`ili leaders allowed their followers to assassinate the Imamites who supported al-Kazim(28). Moreover the Imamites accused the Isma'ilis of being implicated in the arrest of al-Kazim(29)

In the Hijaz the situation of the third Shi’ite group, the Hasanids, was very difficult following the total defeat of their second revolt in Fakhkh in 169/785. The `Abbasids discovered that the notion of al-Mahdihad been in circulation amongst the Hasanids and that they believed that he might rise in Mecca. It was such a notion that encouraged two Hasanid leaders to rise in arms, first al-Nafs al­-Zakiyya in 145/762 and then al-Husayn b. 'Ali in 169/785, each of whom hoped that he might be the promised Mahdi(30).

Thus the `Abbasids continued to restrict the movements of the Hasanids and forced them to present themselves to the governor (al-Wali) every evening."(31) This critical situation made it impossible for the Hasanids to take any militant action in the Hijaz, so two of al-Nafs al-Zakiyya's brothers left Medina after the battle of Fakhkh to promote their claims elsewhere. The first of these was Yahya al-Mahd, who went to the province of Daylam and preached his ideas there, winning considerable support from the native princes and the people of Daylam, whom he provoked to rebellion against the caliph al-Rashid in 175/791.(32)

The second brother, Idris, fled to Egypt, where he already had a large body of partisans, and, with the assistance of a certain Wadih, a Shi’ite working in the bared, managed to escape from there to al-Maghrib. It seems most likely that his partisans in al-­Maghrib had already spread much propaganda against the `Abbasids, because within three years Idris succeeded in rebelling against them and establishing the Idrisid state, in 172/788.(33)

The numerous Shi’ite activities mentioned above seem to have been the causes of al-Rashid's anti-`Alid policy, which covered most of his Caliphate. In 171 /787 he became suspicious of the loyalty of the `Alids in Baghdad, and decided to gather all of them together and exile them to Medina(34).

He followed this step with the appointment of Bakkar al-Zubayri, a descendant of `Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr, as governor of Medina and he ordered him to put the `Alids under close watch and to restrict their movements(35). As for the rebellion of Yahya al-Mahd in Daylam, al-Rashid sent an army against him (fifty thousand according to al-Tabari) under the leadership of al-Fadl b. Yahya al-Barinaki. Through diplomacy and promises of amnesty he managed to persuade Yahya al-Mahd to end his uprising and to surrender, after giving him a guarantee of security from al-Rashid. But the Caliph was not satisfied, so he had al-Mahd arrested in Baghdad and killed(36).

As for the revolt of Idris al-Mahd, al-Rashid followed the policy of his father al-Mahdi by using the Zaydites against the other `Alids. He sent a Zaydite scholar called Sulayman b. Jarir to kill Idris. In order to hide his secret target, Sulayman pretended to be a Shi’ite partisan who had escaped from the `Abbasids' oppression. He became one of the courtiers of Idris and managed to poison him in 177/793.(37)

However the assassination of IdrTs did not bring about the disintegration of his state, as the Berber tribes installed his child, Idris II, after his death. For this reason al-Rashid vested Ibrahim b. al-Aghlab with the government of Ifriqiyya and, four years later, encouraged him to establish the Aghlabid state, possibly to counteract the danger posed by the Idrisids(38)

In the meantime the Imamite scholars were active in the intellectual field in Egypt, Yaman, Iraq and Khurasan(39).

 Hisham b. al-Hakam, for example, attempted to prove the legitimacy of the Imamate of al-Kazim, which means that he considered the `Abbasids as usurpers of al-Kazim's rights(40).

The Hasanid uprisings in Daylam and al-Maghrib and the underground activities of the Imamites and the Isma`ilis worried al­Rashid and made him think that al-Kazim, whom he already knew to be receiving the khums, the kharaj and gifts from his followers; was behind all these activities and had prepared a conspiracy to overthrow him. Therefore he initiated a campaign of arresting the Imamites(41).

He started by arresting al-Kazim in Medina in 179/795, and sent him to prison in Basra and Baghdad(42). Furthermore, Ibn al-Mu'tazz reports that al-Rashid ordered the Zaydite Abu `Isma to kill the Imamite poet Mansur al-Nammari(43).






(1) N. Firaq, 65. For an account of the Fathiyya see Watt, "Side-lights on Early Imamite Doctrine', Studia lslamica, MC MLXX, vol. XXXI°, 293-5; al-Hasam, op. cit., II 369-77.

(2) Tabari, III, 261-3, 377-8; Mizan, IV, 211.

(3) Muruj, VI, 224; Shaban, Islamic History (C.U.P., 1976), II, 21.

(4) al-Kafi, I, 478; Muruj, VI, 227.

(5) Omar, F., "Some observations on the Reign of the `Abbasid Caliph al-Mahdi (158-169/775-785)", Arabica, XXI, 139.

(6) Sa`d b. `Abd Allah al-Ashari al-Qummi, al-Maqalat wa-I-Firaq (Tehran, 1963), 89.

(7) Watt,Formative Period, 155.

(8) al-Kafi, I, 484.

(9) al-Khatib al-Baghdad, Tarikh Baghdad (Beirut, 1931), XIII, 31; Tabari, III, 533; Ibn Tulun, al-Shadharat al-Dhahabiyya (Beirut, 1958), 96.

(10) Tabari, III, 506-7; al-Fakhri, 136.

(11) Tabari III, 508; al-Saduq agrees with al-Tabari about the persuasion of Ya'qub b. Dawud, but he mentions that he was coverted to the Imamiteschool about 179/795. See `Uyun, 60. However, Ya`qub belonged to a Shi’ite family from Merv. His father and uncle helped promote ‘Abbasid propaganda in Khurasan. Later Ya`qub himself was associated with al-Nafs al-Zakiyya in his revolt in 145/762, after which he was imprisoned until 158/774-5. Shaban, op. cit., 21.

(12) N. Firaq, 43; Watt, Formative Period, 155; according to al-Balkhi this claim was invented by the Rawandiyya after the death of al-Mahdi. However, it appears that the Rawandiyya had held this claim at the instigation of al-Mahdi himself. AI-Qadf `Abd al-Jabbar, op. cit., II, 177

(13) Tabari, III, 486-7.

(14) Ikhtiyar, 265-6, 501. All these groups derived their names from various companions of al-Sadiq: i.e. Abd Allah b. Abi Ya`fur, Zurara b. A yun, `Ammar b. Mnsa al-Sabati and Hisham b. Salim al-Jawaliqi respectively. al­ Najashi,132,157,223,338; T. al-Fihrist,141-3,235,356.

(15) Ikhtiyar, 335.

(16) Ikhtiyar, 269-70.

(17) al-Ya`qubi, III, 142. It is clear from the prominent persons who took part in this revolt that it was Zaydite, for example Yahya, Sulayman and Idris, the brothers of al-Nafs al-Zakiyya, who rebelled in the year 145/762 against al-Mansur. Moreover Ibrahim b. Isma`il Tabataba was the father of Muhammad b. Tabataba, the spiritual leader of the Zaydite revolt which took place in Kufa in 199/814 (Maqatil, 297, 304). It is worth mentioning that al-Sahib b. `Abbad considered the individuals mentioned above as Zaydite; al-Sahib b. `Abbad, Nusrat Madhahib al-Zaydiyya (Baghdad, 1977),222.

(18) Tabari, III, 552-3, 557-9; Muruj, VI, 226-7; Maqatil, 298.

(19) `Ibar, III, 215-6. Al-Isfahani mentions two narrations about the attitude of al­-Kazim. The first one reveals that he refused to participate in the revolt, while the second shows that he ordered Yahya al-Mahd to rise in arms; Maqatil, 298, 304. There is evidence showing that al-Kazim did not take part in this revolt but encouraged the rebels to fight the `Abbasids vigorously, al-Kafi,I,366.

(20) al-Galbaygani, op. cit., 219, quoted from al-Khazaz al-Razi al-Qumi, Kifayat al-Athar fi al-Nusus `ala al-Imam at-Thani `Ashar.

(21) al-Kafi, I, 494. The Imamite activities in Egypt may have started in Akhmim during the time of al-Sadiq, because some people of Akhmim such as `Uthman b. Suwayd al-Akhmimi and Dhu al-Nun al-Misri were students of Jabir b. Hayyan al-Kufi, who was a student of al-Sadiq (al-Qifti, Tarikh al-Hukama' (Leipzig, 1903), 185; al-Shibi, op. cit., 360). Among al-Kazim's Kufan agents in Egypt were `Uthman b. `Isa al-Rawasi and al-Husayn b. `Ali al-`Uyun, 92; al­ Najashi, 52, 230.

(22) Ikhtiyar, 442.

(23) Ikhtiyar, 433. For a full account of other names see al-Najashi, 104, 158, 254-5.

(24) Tabari, III, 561, 609, 612, 740; al-Ya`qubi, III, 166; al-Kafi, II, 224-5. AI-Kashshi mentions that the family of Banu al-Ash ath sent the zakat (30,000 dinars) to the agent of al-Kazim in Kufa, which seems to confirm their Imamite inclinations; Ikhtiyar,459

(25) Uyun, I, 18, 24, 25-6, 92; Ikhtiyar, 405, 468; al-Fakhri, 145-6; al-Haythami, al­ Sawa'iq al-Muhriqa (Cairo, 1312/1894), 101.

(26) N. Firaq, 63- 64.

(27) Ivanow, W., The Rise of the Fatimids (Bombay, 1946), 49-52, quoting from an Isma`ili Ms entitled Zahr al-Maani.

(28) N. Firaq, 64.

(29) Al-Kulayni mentions this on the authority of `Ali b. Ja`far al-Sadiq. His narrations states that Muhammad b. Ismail met his uncle al-Kazim in Mecca and asked him to allow him to go to Baghdad. Al-Kazim did so and gave him 300 dinars and 3000 dirhams for the expense of his journey. Then he warned his nephew not to bring about his death by giving the authorities information concerning his activities. However, Muhammad contacted the caliph Harun al-Rashid and informed him that his uncle was considered the real caliph by the people who had visited him; al-Kafi, I, 485-6. Also see Ikhtiyar, 263-5; Ibn Hazm, Jamharat Ansab al-`Arab (Cairo, 1971), 60.

(30) al-Fakhri (Gotha, Greifswald, 1860), 195-6, 227-8; al-Kafi, I, 366.

(31) Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh (Leiden, 1866-1876), VI, 61.

(32) Tabari, III, 612-3; al-Fakhri, 231; al-Kulayni records a correspondence between Yahya al-Mahd and al-Kdzim, which indicates that the latter had nothing to do with this revolt; al-Kafi, I, 366-7.

(33) Ahmad b. Khalid al-Misri al-Salawi, al-Istaqsa li-Akhbar al-Maghrib al-Aqsa (al Dar al-Bayda, 1954), I, 67-9.

(34) Tabari, III,606.

(35) Tabari, III, 614, 616.

(36) Tabari, III, 613-16; al-Ya`qubi, III, 145-6;`Ibar, III, 218; al-Kamil, VI, 85.

(37) Because Sulayman succeeded in killing Idris, the Caliph al-Rashid appointed him to the barid of Egypt, and had the previous official Wadih, who had helped Idris in his escape to al-Maghrib, killed; Tabari, III, 561

(38) Tabari, III, 561, 649; al-Kamil, VI, 106-8.

(39) Osman, op. cit., 300; Q. Maqalat, 88; Ikhtiyar, 598-9.

(40) Ikhtiyar, 258-63.

(41) al-Tabarsi, al-Ihtijaj (Najaf, 1966), 161; Ikhtiyar, 262. Some of the Imamites accused the Isma'ilis of provoking al-Rashid against al-Kazim. They mentioned that Muhammad b. Isma`il informed al-Rashid about al-Kazim's underground activities (al-Kafi I, 485-6). Whereas the arrest of al-Kazim was part of the general plan of the Caliph which he carried out against the Imamites, several remarks suggest that the viziers Banu al-Marmak were behind al-­Rashid's plan, in order to bring about the fall of their Imamite competitors in the 'Abbasid ministry, the family of Banu al-Ash`ath; al-Kafi, II, 224-5; Ikhtiyar, 258.

(42) al-Kafi, I, 476;N. Firaq, 71-2.

(43) Ibn al-Mutazz, Tabaqat al-Shu ara' (Cairo, 1956), 244.