The cautious attitude of the authorities towards the Imamites continued during the short Imamate of the eleventh Imam, al-Hasan al-`Askari (254-60/868-74). He was put under house-arrest and his movements were restricted, since he was obliged to present himself at the palace of the caliph in Samarra every Monday and Thursday(1)

Despite these restrictions, al- `Askari managed to communicate with his agents by secret means(2). It appears that the continuation of the rebellion of the `Alids, who extended their penetration into new areas, was behind the restriction of the Imam's movements. According to al-Tusi, the caliph al-Muhtadi arrested some Imamites in 255/869, accusing them of the assassination of `Abd Allah b. Muhammad al-`Abbasi, who had been murdered by the rebels in Kufa. Al-`Askari was also arrested, but was set free soon after the death of the caliph, al-Muhtadi(3).

Despite the fact that the eleventh Imam managed to carry out his activities without the knowledge of the authorities until his death in 260/874,(4) the policy of houseュarrest, which had been imposed upon the Imams by the caliph alュ-Ma知un and had been continued until the time of al-`Askari, seems to have led him to search for a method by which he could prevent `Abbasid surveillance being imposed on his son, the Twelfth Imam, so that he could disguise his identity and carry on his activities in secret(5).

6. Conclusion

From the death of al-Husayn onward, the Imams of the Shi'a followed a more or less passive policy towards the ruling caliphs, but this did not indicate their acceptance of the rights of the Umayyads and then the `Abbasids to the caliphate. Rather they believed that, since these families had come to power through natural means, their downfall would also be according to the will of Allah, that He would indicate their imminent downfall to them and assist them in carrying out His will when the appropriate time had arrived. Towards this end they were always prepared to rise and take their rightful position, because any Imam could be ordained by Allah as al-Qa段m al-Mahdi This can be noted in the statement of Imam `Ali b. Abi Talib,

"Allah will choose the Mahdi, whom He wants, from among us, the People of the House."(6)

Thus al-Sadiq, who was strong and capable of leading an uprising might have risen against the caliph if his followers had adhered to his instructions, but schisms appeared amongst their ranks and the Imam's aspirations came to naught. A considerable body among alュ-Sadiq's followers were not satisfied with his political methods, and cut themselves off from him in order to struggle for power without his interference.

This was manifested in the emergence of the Zaydites and the Isma'ilis, who put forward a new interpretation of the traditions (Ahadith) concerning al-Qa段m al-Mahdi and his rising and used it in their struggle for power. This can be seen in the Zaydite and Isma段li revolts between the years 145-296/762-908, which ended with the establishment of an Isma`ili state and the installation of an Imam with the title al-Mahdi.

The Imams, however, denied the claim of any `Alid who claimed that he was al-Qa段m al-Mahdi promised by the Prophet, but they sympathised with some 羨lid rebels who were loyal to them. This might encourage us to assume that the Imams had two methods designed to help them reach power. The first was the scholarly, cultural and religious activities which they fostered amongst the people without openly involving themselves in any political activities. Secondly, they secretly supported some Shi段te rebels who were loyal to them, hoping that they would hand the power over to them after their success.

The military activities of the various Shi段te groups confused the `Abbasids and led them to believe that the Imamite Imams were behind them or at least that the result of their intellectual activities would be militant action. Therefore the `Abbasid authorities forced the Imams to reside in the capital from the year 202/817 under houseュarrest.

This policy was imposed upon the Imams al-Riďa, al-Jawad, al-Hadi, and al-`Askari, and led them to develop the underground system of their organisation (al-Wikala) so that it could function under these difficult conditions. At the same time this critical situation forced the eleventh Imam, al-`Askari, to search for a method by which he could prevent `Abbasid surveillance being imposed upon his son, later to be the Twelfth Imam, so as to enable him to disguise his identity and carry on his activities beyond the careful watch of the authorities.

Chapter 3:The Imamites Views concerning the Concealed Imam and His Birth

1. The Schisms Amongst the Adherents of al-Hasan alュ 'Askari After His Death.

1.1  Introduction

The Imamate during the life of the last six Imams of the Twelver Imamites (al-Imamiyya al-Ithna 疎shariyya) was distinguised by the many splits which occurred after the death of each Imam, who was considered by the Imamites as one of the twelve Imams, over the recognition of his successor. In spite of these repeated schisms, after a hard struggle each Imam was able to maintain the obedience of the majority of the followers of the previous Imam(7).

Al-Hasan b. `Ali al-`Askari was born in 232/845 and died in 260/874. According to some later Shi段te sources, he was poisoned through the instigation of the `Abbasid caliph, al-Mu`tamid(8).

During the six years of his Imamate, al-`Askari lived in hiding and prudent fear because of the restrictions imposed upon him by his being surrounded by the spies of al-Mu'tamid. This was the reason for his lack of open contact with the mass of his followers. Only the elite of his adherents were able to communicate with him personally(9).

The same sources report that in the year 260/874 the eleventh Imam became ill. As soon as news of his sickness reached al-Mu稚amid, he dispatched five of his special servants to al-`Askari house, ordering them to keep close watch on him.

Thereafter the caliph sent physicians and the Qadi al-Qudat in the company of ten men whom he considered trustworthy, to al-`Askari's house to remain with him and observe his condition and the situation within his home at all times. Al-`Askari's malady became worse and he passed away on 8th Rabi` I 260/1st January 874.

Al-Mu'tamid dispatched Abu `Isa b. al-Mutawakkil to say the prayer for the dead over the body of al-`Askari. After this rite was completed al-`Askari was buried within the confines of his house in Sirr Man Ra'a (Samarra), next to his father(10).

According to the early Imamite sources al-`Askari did not leave a publicly acknowledged son, nor did he determine upon or install his successor openly(11).  As al-Mufid says, the Imamites were suffering oppression at the hand of the `Abbasids, while the caliph, al-Mu稚amid, was searching for al-`Askari's son and trying to arrest him by any means possible. Moreover, the views of the Imamite Shi誕 about him were being circulated, and it was becoming known that they were waiting for him to rise. For this reason al-`Askari had not revealed his son during his lifetime, not even to the greater portion of his own adherents(12).

Because the Imamites were distinguished from other Islamic denominatons by the principle of the designation of the Imam by his predecessor they seem to have found themselves in a critical situation after their Imam's death, since he had not designated his successor openly. Therefore the Imamite jurists had recourse to the traditions of the Prophet and his progeny to determine who was to be the Twelfth Imam.

They found many traditions to support their various claims. Amongst them were transmissions which stated that an Imam could not die without seeing his offspring who would succeed him; that the world cannot be without a Proof(13); that the Imamate cannot pass to two brothers after al-Hasan and al-Husayn, and that it will be occupied by one of the progeny of `Ali b. al-Husayn(14); that the Imam knows who will succeed him and does not die until he gives his testament to his successor(15); and that the Imamate should belong to the eldest son of the preceding Imam(16).

These traditions seem to have been adopted by the greater portion of the Imamites, and their interpretation of these traditions led to various viewpoints, which in turn led to new divisions amongst the Imamites.

Sa`d al-Qummi counted fifteen schisms, whereas al-Nawbakhti and al-Mufid enumerated them as fourteen. Al-Mas`udi thinks that there were twenty sects, while al-Shahristani counts only eleven(17). Nevertheless a study of the claims of these factions reveals that there were apparently only five major schisms. However, each of these became further split over the theological and traditional arguments employed to support their claims. At any rate it seems important to set down the major claims of these schisms in order to achieve a clear conception of the Imamites at that time.

1.2 Schism I: the Waqifa at al-`Askari

What brought the people of this faction together was their claim that the eleventh Imam, al-`Askari, was al-Qa段m al-Mahdi although they differed as to how he became al-Qa段m.

i)The first faction of this schism deemed that al- `Askari had not died, but had gone into occultation(18). They based their assumption on the traditions reported from the previous Imams, which said that an Imam could not die without having a publicly acknowledged son to succeed him, because the world cannot be without a Proof(19). While the people were not obliged to accept the Imamate of those who were now laying claim to it, they should acknowledge the Imamate of alュ`Askari whose Imamate had been confirmed by the testament of the former Imam. They also maintained that they had a tradition which said that al-Qa段m had two occultations. Therefore, since al-`Askari had not left a publicly acknowleged son and since the earth cannot remain for an hour without a Proof, it was right to claim that he had not died but was hidden, and that he was truly al-Qa段m. This was his first occultation, after which he would rise again. Then, when his rising became known, he would conceal himself once more in his second occultation(20).

In their discussions with their opponents, they tried to distinguish themselves from the Imamites who had stopped at the seventh Imam, Musa al-Kazim (183/799), claiming he was al-Qa段m al-Mahdi, by faulting them for stopping at al-Kazim. They pointed out that he had died and left his successor, `Ali al-Riďa (202/817) as well as other sons, while al-`Askari had obviously passed away and left no heir(21).

ii) The second faction of the Waqifa at al-`Askari believed that he had died, but was then raised to life, and was al-Qa段m al-Mahdi Basically, the members of this faction established their doctrine on a transmission from Imam Ja`far al-Sa'diq, who said that al-Qa段m was called al-Qa段m because he would "rise" again after his death. They stated that it was certain that al-`Askari had died without leaving a successor and without designating anyone as his legatee.

Thus there was no doubt about his being al-Qa段m, nor about his being alive after death, although he concealed himself for fear of his foes. They supported their theories with a saying of Imam `Ali b. Abi Talib, contained in his advice to his follower Kumayl b. Ziyad, "O Allah, indeed You do not leave the earth without a Qaim with proof from You, whether manifest or hidden, for then Your proofs and Your signs would be invalidated."(22) On the basis of `Ali's words they concluded that al-`Askari was absent and hidden, but that he would rise to fill the earth with peace and justice after it had been filled with tyranny(23).

iii)Al-Waqifa al-la Adriyya also stopped at al-`Askari. They deemed that he had died and had been the Imam. Although the earth could not be without a Proof from Allah, they were not sure who had succeeded al-`Askari, his son or his brother. Therefore they stopped at the Imamate of al-`Askari, and decided to make no decision until the matter became clear to them(24).

Unfortunately, the contemporary sources do not mention anyone as representing the three factions of al-Waqifa at al-`Askari. However, from the doctrine of the first faction of the Waqifa, it seems that its partisans lived in places which were far from Samarra, the city of the Imam. Since they were not present at the moment of his death, they tended to believe that he had not in fact died, but was al-Qa段m al-Mahdi.






(1)T. al-Ghayba, 139-40.

(2)Manaqib, IV, 427-8; Bihar, L, 283-4.

(3)T. al-Ghayba, 147, 226; Bihar, L, 303; Tabari, III, 1709

(4). al-Kafi, I, 503.

(5)This will be discussed in greater detail in the next chapter

(6)al-Kafi, I, 450

(7)N. Firaq,65-6,77,79.

(8)The reports of the early Shi段te authors like al-Kulayni, Sa`d al-Qummi and al-Mufid did not reveal any external cause for al-`Askari's death ( al-Kafi, I, 509; Q. Maqalat, 101-2, al-Irshad, 377, 383, 389; al-Mufid, al-Muqni`a fi al-Fiqh (Iran, 1274), 72-5; and his Tashih I`tiqadat al-Imamiyya (Tabriz, 1371), 63,) but the later Shi段te authors followed al-Tabari, who claimed that the Imam was poisoned or killed. He based this assumption on a tradition whose chain of transmitters related to al-Sadiq, who said "None of us die naturally, but are killed or martyred." (al-Tabarsi, Ilam al-Wara, 349; Muhammad b. Ja断ar alュ Tabari, Dala'il al-Imama (Najaf, 1369), 223, Ibn Shahr Ashub, Manaqib, IV,421; Bihar, L, 236-8, 335, Muhammad al-Sadr, Tarikh al-Ghayba al-Sughra (Beirut, 1972), 230-4).

(9)Ibn Shahr Ashnb, Manaqib, III; 533; Ithbat, 262; Subhi, Nazariyyat al-Imaina (Cairo, 1969), 394.

(10)Al-Kulayni and al-Mufid report the same chain of transmitters for their information about al-`Askari's death (al-Kafi, I, 503-5; al-Irshad, 381-2, 389). Al-Nawbakhti agrees with Sad al-Qummi that Abu `Isa prayed `Askari's body (N. Firaq, 79; Q. Maqalat, 102). But Sad dates al-`Askari's death in Rabi` II, which agrees with al-Mas`udi's report (Ithbat, 248). Al Kulayni's report seems to be more reliable that the latter, since it adds several supporting reports.

(11)N. Firaq, 79; Q. Maqalat, 102.

(12)al-Irshad, 389-90; Kama値 (Tehran 1378/1958), I, 101.

(13)Al-Barqi and al-Kulayni mention many traditions with different chains of transmitters asserting that the world cannot be without a Proof (Hujja); alュ Barqi, al-Mahasin (Tehran, 1370/1950), 92, 234-6; al-Kafi, I, 178-80, 514; see also Dala'il, 229-30; Ahmad b. `Ali al-Tabarsi, al-Ihtijaj (Najaf, 1966), II, 48-9, 78.

(14)al-Kafi, I, 285-6; al-Ghayba, 146.

(15)al-Kafi, I, 285-6; al-Ghayba, 146.

(16)Q. Maqalat, 109.

(17)Because of the way al-Shahristani classifies his information on these schisms, it seems that his study is based on the works of al-Nawbakhti and al-Ash`ari. Alュ Nawbakhti deemed the Imamite sub-divisions to be as many as fourteen, although his work in its present form counts only thirteen. Fortunately alュ Mufid, who discusses the various factions on the authority of al-Nawbakhti, mentions the fourteenth faction, which is missing from al-Nawbakhti's work. Al-Mas`udi does not give any details on the splits. Later al-Nawbakhti's work became more circulated than Sa`d al-Qummi's work, because the latter contains opinions on the occultation which contrast with the official opinion of the later Imamites from the fifth/eleventh century onwards; al-Qummi's book was gradually withdrawn from these circles; N. Firaq, 79; al-FUsul al-Mukhtara, 258-60; Muruj, VIII, 50, Milal, 130-1.

(18)Kama値, 40.

(19)al-Kafi, I, 178-80, 514.

(20)Q. Maqalat, 106; N. Firaq, 78-80; Milal, 129.

(21)Q. Maqalat, 106-107.

(22)al-Kaji, I, 178; al-Sharif al-Radi (ed.), Nahj al-Bahagha (Beirut, 1967), 497; N Firaq, 80-1.

(23)Q. Maqalat, 107.

(24)N. Firaq, 89-90.