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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
He started by arresting al-Kazim in
Medina in 179/795, and sent him to prison in Basra and
Furthermore, Ibn al-Mu'tazz reports that al-Rashid
ordered the Zaydite Abu `Isma to kill the Imamite poet
(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
(2) Tabari, III, 261-3, 377-8; Mizan,
(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),
(7) Watt,Formative Period, 155.
(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,
(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.,
(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
(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.
(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
(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.
(23) Ikhtiyar, 433. For a full
account of other names see al-Najashi, 104, 158,
(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,
(27) Ivanow, W., The Rise of the
Fatimids (Bombay, 1946), 49-52, quoting from an
Isma`ili Ms entitled Zahr al-Maani.
(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.
(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,
(39) Osman, op. cit., 300; Q.
Maqalat, 88; Ikhtiyar, 598-9.
(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.