This faction constituted the majority of the Imamites who had accepted
the Imamate of al- `Askari, such as Abu Sahl Isma`il b.
`Ali al-Nawbakhti, al-Hasan b. Musa al-Nawbakhti, Sa'd
b. `Abd Allah al-Ash'ari al-Qummi (the author of Kitab
al-Maqalat wa-l-Firaq), `Uthman b. Said al- Umari and
his son Muhammad(1).
1.6 Schism V: The Cessation of the Imamate
This group held that from the moment al-`Askari died there was no longer
an Imam. Al-Nawbakhti, al-Mufid and al-Shahristani
considered this group as one faction, whereas Sa`d
al-Qummi was presumably more accurate when he divided it
since the partisans of this schism agreed on the death
of al-`Askari and the cessation of the Imamate, while
they differed on the dogma of al-Qa段mal-Mahdi as
i) The first group deemed that it had been confirmed by successive
transmission that al-Askari would die without leaving a
successor. For this reason there was no Imam after
al-`Askari and the Imamate ceased. This, they contended,
was reasonable and permitted. Since the cessation of the
prophecy after Muhammad was possible, the cessation of
the Imamate was also possible. They established their
doctrine on a transmission attributed to the sixth Imam,
Ja断ar al-Sadiq, which states that the earth cannot be
without a Proof unless Allah becomes angry at the sins
of His creatures and retains him from them for as long
as He wills. This group did not believe in the rising of
ii) The people of the second group held the same doctrine as the previous
faction, but they separated from them over the dogma of
al-Qa段m al-Mahdi They said that since al-`Askari had
passed away without leaving a successor, the Imamate had
ceased until Allah raised the Qa'im from among the Imams
who had died, such as al-Hasan al- `Askari, or from
among any of his descendants. Furthermore the rising of
al-Qa段m al-Mahdi was inevitable because this was
confirmed by successive tradition. They considered the
period after the death of al- `Askari and the rise of
al-Qa段m as an interval of time devoid of prophecy and
Imamate, like the period between Jesus and Muhammad(4).
There is some evidence that many people from various countries doubted
the existence of the Twelfth Imam, such as Muhammad b.
Ali b. Mahzayar al-Ahwazi from al-Ahwaz(5),
and many of the persons from Banu Taalib in Medina who
had been agents of the eleventh Imam(6).
This historical and theological survey suggests that on the death of al-
Askari, the Imamites fell into problems similar to those
which had beset them after the death of the seventh
Imam, Musa al-Kazim. They split into al-Waqifa,
Muhammadiyya, Ja断ariyya and Qat段yya. Possibly the
causes of this split were as follows:
i) Although the bulk of the Imamites accepted the Imamate of alｭ`Askari,
they retained their cultural and sectarian backgrounds.
For example, al- Askari himself had allowed his
adherents to accept the traditions related by the Banu
Faddal, who belong to the Waqifa Musa al-Kazim, but had
urged them to reject their doctrine. The influence
exerted by these cultural ties can be noted in the
traditional arguments held by the Imamites after the
death of alｭ`Askari, arguments which led to the rise of
the Waqifa at al-`Askari and the encouragement of the
ii) Despite its developed system the Imamite organization (alｭ-Wikala)
did not widely disseminate the testament of Imam al-
Askari concerning his successor amongst the populace and
the lower missionaries. The organization may have acted
in this way because of the tense political situation.
Thus no successor was openly indicated by al-`Askari,
nor was any well-known to the general mass of the
For this reason the Imamites who knew nothing about alｭAskari's testament
had recourse to the traditions adopted by the majority
of the Imamites to determine who was to be the Twelfth
Imam. The interpretation of these traditions led to
various different points of view which, in turn, led to
new sub-divisions amongst the Qat`iyya and the
iii) The third cause contributing to these divisions was the personal
ambition of al-`Askari's brother, Ja断ar, who claimed
the Imamate during the lifetime of al- `Askari. Ja断ar
became more powerful after the death of his brother,
because he was encouraged by the Fathiyya, in order to
vindicate their doctrine, and especially by Banu Faddal
in Kufa. However Ja`far's success did not continue,
because his followers differed as to how he gained the
Imamate, and because their arguments in the field of
traditions were weaker than those of the Qat`iyya.
Thus, as al-Mufid and al-Tusi state, all these divisions and splits
gradually vanished, except for the Qat段yya, who became
the Twelvers in the fourth/tenth century(7).
2. The Question of the Birth of the Twelfth Imam
The possibility that the Twelfth Imam was born and his birth was kept
hidden is supported by a number of narrations. The fact
that there were already narrations about the Twelfth
Imam as al-Qa段m al-Mahdi gave rise to other narrations
which can only be described as hagiographical. But from
the time of al-Saduq onwards, even these were accepted
by the Imamites as historical facts. Nevertheless, other
early narrations present his birth as a purely
historical fact without the embellishment of miraculous
2.1 The Origin of the Mother of the Twelfth Imam
The earliest Imamite scholar to give an account of the Twelfth Imam's
mother is al-Mas'udi. He reports that she was a
slave-girl called Narjis(8).
Al-Shahid (d. 786/1384) states that her name was Maryam
b. Zayd al-`Alawiyya(9),
and other reports give her name as Rayhana, Saqil and
Sawsan.ss It is possible that her name was in fact
Narjis and the other names, except Saqil, were given to
her by her owner Hakima bint Muhammad al-Jawad. People
at that time used to call their slave-girls by different
names as a form of flattery, and Narjis, Rayhana and
Sawsan are all names of flowers.
The earliest report concerning the nationality of the Twelfth Imam's
mother goes back to the year 286/899. This was written
down for the first time by al-Saduq, on the authority of
Muhammad b. Bahr al-Shaybani, who attributed his
narration to Bishr b. Sulayman al-Nakhkhas. According to
this report she was a Christian from Byzantium who had
been captured by Islamic troops(10).
She was sold as a slave and bought by al-Nakhkhas in the slave-market in
Baghdad. Al-Nakhkhas sent her to the tenth Imam, `Ali
al-Hadi, in Samarra. After this, however, the narration
begins` to lose much of its credibility and becomes
hagiographical. It is related that she was Malika b.
Yashshu', the granddaughter of the Emperor of Byzantium,
whose mother was a descendant of Simon (Sham' un) the
disciple of Jesus. When Malika was in her grandfather's
palace, she dreamt that she saw Jesus's mother, Mary,
and Muhammad's daughter, Fatima. In this dream Fattima
converts her to Islam and persuades her to allow herself
to be captured by Islamic troops(11).
The authenticity of this narration is questionable in many aspects, the
most doubtful points being found in the last part.
Firstly there was no major battle between the `Abbasids and the
Byzantines after 242/856(12)
and there is no indication in the sources that the
Emperor of Byzantium appealed to the `Abbasids to
liberate his granddaughter.
Secondly, the early Imamite authors, particularly al-Qummi, al-Nawbakhti,
al-Kulayni and al-Mas'udi, who were contemporaries of
al-Shaybani, the narrator of this report, do not refer
to it in their works. In addition, al-Kashshi, who was a
companion of al-Shaybani, and the later scholars
al-Najashi and Ibn Dawud claim that he was an extremist(13).
Thirdly, al-Kulayni states that al-Qa段m's mother was a slave-girl from
al-Nawba, the northern province of Sudan(14).
Moreover alｭ-Nu'mani and al-Saduq related other
narrations which indicate that al-Qa段m's mother was to
be a black slave-girl(15).
It may be that the later Imamites ignored these
transmissions and considered the narration of
al-Shaybani as authentic because the latter makes
al-Qa段m痴 mother of noble ancestry and high social
They would have been particulary attracted by the connection the report
establishes between the Twelfth Imam, al-Qa段m, and
Jesus, since prophetic traditions state that the two of
them will rise together to rid the world of tyranny(16).
In the light of these three points the narration of-Muhammad b. Bahr
al-Shaybani can be rejected despite the fact that
al-Tusi and Ibn Rustam al-Tabari consider it reliable(17).
Possibly the correct account of the origin of al-Qa段m's
mother is given by al-Mufid, who states that she was a
slave-girl brought up in the house of Hakima, the sister
of the tenth Imam. According to his report the Imam saw
her one day and predicted that she would give birth to
someone with special Divine blessing(18).
According to al-Saduq she died before the death of her husband,
al-Hasari al-`Askari, in 260/874.(19)
But al-Najashi's report indicates that she was alive
after this year hiding at the house of Muhammad b. `Ali
b. Hamza, one of the close associates of her husband
2.2 The Birth of the Twelfth Imam
Since the eleventh Imam died without leaving an obvious son, most of his
followers, who held that he had in fact left a
successor, based their belief on traditions attributed
to the preceding Imams concerning al-Qa段m al-Mahdi and
The following statements, some of which we have already
had occasion to relate, are examples of these
traditions: The world cannot be void of a Proof, either
manifest and well-known, or hidden because of fear(22).
The Imamate cannot be vested to two brothers after al-Hasan and alｭHusayn(23).
According to al-Sadiq, the "Master of the Command"
(Sahib al-Amr) will have two occultations. One of them
will be so prolonged that some will say that he has died
and others will say that he has been killed, and finally
only a few of his followers will remain faithful to his
Imamate. No one will become cognizant of his whereabouts
and his affairs except his intimate partisans, who will
look after his affairs(24).
It is worth mentioning that this last tradition had also been recorded
before the death of al-`Askari in 260/874 by the Sevener
Imamites, the Waqifa who had applied these traditions to
the seventh Imam Musa al-Kazim(25).
Abu Sahl al-Nawbakhti reports that al-`Askari had intimate partisans who
used to narrate traditions concerning Islamic law on his
authority and were his deputies. When al-`Askari died in
260/874 all of them agreed that he had left a son who
was the Imam. Al-Nawbakhti adds that they forbade their
adherents to ask about his name or to reveal his
existence to his foes, who were at that time trying to
The `Abbasids'political pressure, which forced al-`Askari to hide the
birth of his son from the ordinary Imamites, may also
have led the Twelfth Imam to transmit different reports
concerning the date of his birth, some of which took on
a hagiographical form.
Most of the Imamite sources agree that al-`Askari's son was born on
Friday, the 15th of Sha'ban(27),
but they differ about the year of his birth. Al-Qummi
gives an account of a group of Imamites who held that
al- `Askari had died and left a son called Muhammad, who
had already come of age when his father died(28).
But they did not fix the year of his birth. Perhaps this group based
their belief in the existence of al-`Askarl's son mainly
upon the tradition which says that the earth cannot be
void of a Proof. Unfortunately al-Qummi does not report
any witnesses to the birth of the Imam from this group
to support their opinion.
Al-Kulayni, al-Mufid and al-Tusi mention four different viewpoints
concerning the date of the Twelfth Imam's birth. The
first was related by `Allan al-Razi and al-Kulayni on
the authority of 'Ali b. Muhammad, who states that the
Twelfth Imam was born in 255/868.(29)
Al-Tusi reports two narrations attributed to Hakima bint
al-Jawad which support this date(30).
The second report states that he was born in 258/871. This report is
attributed by Daw' b. `Ali al-`Ijli to an anonymous
Persian who related that in the year 260/873 he had come
to Samarra from Persia to serve in the house of al-
`Askari. According to the Persian one of alｭ`Askari's
slave-girls had given birth and he saw the child in the
arms of another slave-girl. He estimated his age at
about two years(31).
Another transmission, on the authority of Muhammad b. `Ali b. Bilal,
relates that al- `Askari informed him twice about his
successor: once in 258/871, then three days before his
death in 260/874.(32)
narration attributed to Daw` does not mention explicitly
the date of the Imam's birth nor the time when the
narrator gave his estimation, whether it was before or
after the death of al-`Askari. Regarding the narration
of Ibn Bilal, although al-`Askari informed him about the
existence of his successor in 258/871, this does not
indicate or reveal that the birth of his son occurred in
that year. In fact it leads us to think that the birth
occurred before 258/871.
(1)Ibn al-Nadim, al-Fihrist,
(Tehran, 1972), 225; Kama値, 482; Q. Maqlat,
(2)Milal, 130-1; N. Firaq,
(4)Q. Maqalat, 108-9; T.
(7)T. al-Ghayba, 142-6;
al-Fusul al-Mukhtara, 261.
(8)Ithbat, 248. For the later
authors who named her as Narjis see al-Irshad,
390; T. al-Ghayba, 153, 158; 繕yun, 32-3.
(9)Bihar, LI, 28, quoted from
(13)Ikhtiyar, 147-8; al-Najashi,
298; Ibn Dawud, al-Rijal, 541.
(15)N. al-Ghayba, 84, 85, 120;
(16)Kama値, 280, 345; al-Marwazi,
Kitab al-Fitan, Mss fol, 150-63.
(17)T. al-Ghayba, 134-9;
(21)Ibn Qubba, Naqd Kitab al-Ashhad,
quoted in Kama値, 113.
(22)al-Kafi I, 178; N. Firaq,
(23)al-Kafi, I, 285-6; Abu
Sahl al-Nawbakhti states in his work al-Tanbih
that the main argument used by the Imamites to
prove the existence of the Twelfth Imam was the
traditions of the preceding Imams, which had
been narrated beforethe death of the eleventh
Imam in 260/874; quoted in Kama値, 92-3; also
see N. Firaq, 90-91; Q. Maqalat, 102.
(26)Abu Sahl al-Nawbakhti, al-Tanbih,
quoted in Kama値, 92-3.
(27)For example, see al-Kafi,
I, 514; Kama値, 424; al-Irshad, 390. However,
Ibn Rustam al-Tabari mentions that al-`Askari's
son was born on the 8th of Sha鍛an, 257/870;
(28)Q. Maqalat, 114; al-Saduq
reports a narration the authority of Ya'qub b.
Manfush who claimed that al-`Askari had shown
him his son, whose age at that time was between
eight and ten years old; Kama値, 407.
(29)al-Kafi, I, 329; al-Irshad,
(30)T. al-Ghayba, 150-151,
(32)al-Kafi, I, 328; al-Irshad,