The third viewpoint was that of a group of Imamites who thought that al- `Askari's son had been born after his father's death in 1261/874. They claimed that a slave-girl had conceived a child belonging to al-`Askari, and that her pregnancy had been known to the caliph as well as to other people. Thus the authorities delayed the division of his share of the estate until the pregnancy was proved invalid to the caliph. They contended that the Imam was born eight months after his father's death, and was then hidden. Al- `Askari had commanded that he be named Muhammad(1).  From the historical viewpoint, the account given by this group is completely unconvincing and in itself does not encourage one to believe that al­`Askari had left a successor. Firstly, al-`Askari's slave-girl, Saqil, who had claimed that she was pregnant by her master, was detained by the `Abbasid authorities for two years until the pregnancy was proved invalid(2). Secondly, al-Kulayni reports that Abu Hashim al­-Ja`fari(3) once asked the eleventh Imam

"O master, do you have a son?" He replied, "Yes." Abu Hashim said, "If something should happen to you, where should I ask for him?" The Imam said, "In Medina."(4)

It is well-known that al -`Askari died in 260/874 and that Abu Hashim died the following year. Therefore this narration would suggest that the birth occurred before 260/874. Thirdly, al-Mas'udi reports that the Twelfth Imam was born two years after the death of his grandfather, al-Hadi(5). As the latter died in 254/869,(6) the birth would have occurred in 256/870.

Al-Mas`udi's narration adds weight to the fourth viewpoint, which places the birth of the Twelfth Imam in 256/870. The Imamite sources record many narrations in favour of this date(7). The most important one, however, is mentioned on the authority of Mu`alla b. Muhammad and Ahmad b. Muhammad b. `Abd Allah, who related that al-`Askari issued a letter to his reliable followers after the assassination of al-Muhtadi, the caliph, saying,

"This is the punishment of him who has sinned against Allah, the Exalted, in regard to his legatees. He thought that he would kill me without offspring. Now he has seen the omnipotence of Allah, the Exalted."

The narration continues to report that in fact the Imam had a son called Muhammad, who was born in 256/870.(8)

Al-Muhtadi wad dethroned and died in Rajab 256/870.(9)

Moreover all the Imamite narrators agree that the birth of the Twelfth Imam occurred on the 15th of Sha` ban. So if one links the death of al­Muhtadi in the month of Rajab with the letter of al-`Askari which was issued in the next month, Sha` ban, it would seem plausible that the Imam's birth occurred on the 15th of Sha`ban in 256/870. Furthermore al-Mas'udi reports an anecdote attributed to Khadija bint Muhammad al-Jawad to support such a hypothesis. In 262/875 a certain man called Ahmad b. Ibrahim asked her about al- `Askari's successor, and she confirmed his existence, adding that he had taken over the Imamate on 11th Rabi` 1260/874 at the age of four years and seven months(10), which means that he was born on 15th Sha`ban 256/18th July 870.

It is worth quoting here a narration concerning the birth of the Twelfth Imam which was viewed as authentic by the time of al-­Mas'udi, who died in 345/956. Al-Saduq presented it as follows and attributed it to Hakima bint al-Jawad, who related,

"Abu Muhammad al-Hasan b. `Ali, peace be upon both of them, called on me with the message, `O aunt, break your fast at our house tonight, because it is the fifteenth of Sha`ban. Tonight Allah, the Exalted, will manifest the Hujja, His Proof on earth.' (When I went to the house), I asked him who the mother of the child was. He said, `Narjis.' I said, `May Allah make me your sacrifice! But there is no sign of pregnancy in her!' He said, `What I am telling you is so.' Therefore I went in and greeted them. When I had taken my seat Narjis came forward to take off my shoes and said to me, `My mistress and the lady of my family, how are you tonight?' I said, `Nay you are the mistress of myself and my family.' But she denied my speech and replied, `What are you saying, O aunt?' I said to her, `O my daughter, tonight Allah the Exalted will give you a son who shall be the Master in this world and in the hereafter' She became embarrassed and blushed.

"After I had finished my evening prayer I broke my fast and then went to sleep. At midnight I woke for prayer. I performed my prayer while Narjis was sleeping, without any sign of childbirth. Then I sat down performing the supererogatory prayer. Thereafter I went to bed and got up again, but she was still sleeping. Then she got up, performed her supererogatory prayer and lay down again."

Hakima continued, "I went out to see the dawn and found that its first stage was about to appear. But she was still asleep. So I began to doubt al- `Askari's expectation. Just then he called out from his place, `Do not be in a hurry, O aunt, the matter is approaching.' I sat down and recited the Qur anic suras  Ha Mim al-Sajda (XL) and Yasin (XXXVI). At that moment she got up alarmed. I ran to her and said, `The name of Allah be upon you, do you feel anything?' She replied, `O aunt, yes.' Then I said to her `Gather yourself and procure peace in your heart.' However at that moment we felt sleepy and drowsiness overcame us. After that I got up at the voice of my Master, and when I raised the covering from him I saw him, peace be upon him, prostrate on the ground(11). I took him to my bosom and noticed that he was pure and clean.

Abu Muhammad called out to me and said, `O aunt, bring my son to me,' and I did so ... Afterwards al-`Askari put his tongue in his mouth and gently stroked his eyes, ears and joints with his hand. Then he said, `O my son, speak.' The child replied, `I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, He is unique and has no partner, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah.' Then he sent his greetings upon the commander of the faithful (Amir al-Mu'minin), and upon the Imams respectively until he stopped at the name of his father. Then he stopped speaking.

"Abu Muhammad said, `O aunt, take him to his mother, so that he may greet her, and then bring him back to me.' I took him to her and when he had done so I brought him back and left him there. Al-Askari said to me, `O aunt, come to visit us on the seventh day.' The next day I came to greet Abu Muhammad and raised the curtain to see my Master. But I did not see him. So I asked the Imam, `May Allah make me your sacrifice! What has happened to my Master?' He replied, `O aunt, we have entrusted him to the one to whom the mother of Moses entrusted her son.'(12)

Hakima said, "On the seventh day I came and greeted him and took my seat. Abu Muhammad said, `Bring my son to me.' I brought him wrapped in a piece of cloth, and the Imam repeated what he had done on the first day and the child said what he had said before. Then he recited the Qur'anic verse" And We desired to show favour unto those who were oppressed in the earth, and to make them Imams and to make them the inheritors. And to establish them in the earth, and to show Pharaoh and Haman and their hosts that which they feared from them. "(13)

The hagiographical nature of this account is obvious. However, certain of its elements suggest something about the nature of the birth. It seems that the pregnancy of Narjis was deliberately concealed, and a close relative was brought in to act as midwife only when the birth was due. If this was the case and a son was indeed born to al- `Askari - the likeliest date being 256/870 - then the reasons for the concealment of the pregnancy and the birth would be the same as the reasons for the Imam's occultation.

3. The Reasons for the First Occultation of the Twelfth Imam

The early Imamite works mention three reasons for the occultation of the Twelfth Imam, reasons which mirror the new tactics of the Imams in their religious and political activities

Al-Sadiq was reported to have said that al-Qa’im would go into occultation before he rose again, because he would be afraid of being killed(14).  A second reason is mentioned on the authority of the Twelfth Imam, who was reported as having informed his partisan Ishaq b. Ya'qub that all his forefathers had paid the oath of obedience to oppressive rulers, but that he had hidden himself in order to rise in arms, and had made no oath of obedience to any oppressive ruler(15).

This reason had already been mentioned by al-Hasan and al-Riďa, who both said that al-Qa’im alone would not swear fealty to an oppressive ruler(16). The third reason is mentioned by al-Kulayni, who states that the occultation was a test set by Allah for his creatures, so as to see who would remain steadfast in acknowledging the Imamate of the Twelfth Imam(17).

These three reasons depict a new phase in the attitude of the Imamites toward their struggle for power. It appears that the quiescent policy of the Imams towards the `Abbasid regime, along with their continued intellectual activities, h1d led the Imamite organizaton to a more politically developed situation. This fact encouraged the Twelfth Imam to instigate underground political activities against the `Abbasids. At the same time, he knew that certain followers of his forefathers had caused the failure of two bids for power in 70/689 and 140/757 by revealing the activities of the Imams to their enemies, which led to their arrest and the failure of their attempt(18).

Perhaps such incidents obliged the Twelfth Imam to live in a state of concealment even from his own followers so as to practice his underground activities through the Imamite organization and to evade any `Abbasid bid to arrest him. This is indicated by many traditions commanding the Imamites to keep the name of al-Qa’im a secret(19). Al-Kulayni reports that, after the death of al- `Askari in 260/874, some people among his adherents asked the agent (wakil), Abu Abd Allah al-Salihi, to ask about the name and residence of the Twelfth Imam for them. When he did so, the answer was,

"If you reveal the name to them, they will reveal it in public; and if they realize the place of his residence they will lead foes to it.”(20)

Al-Kulayni mentions another report which asserts that the occultation of the Twelfth Imam was a preparatory step for the overthrow of the state of injustice(21).

It is relevant to study the plan of al-`Askari to hide his son and the `Abbasid attitude towards the Imamites after the death of al-`Askari so as to see why the later felt it necessary to hide his son.

4. Al- ‘Askari’s Plan to Hide his Successor

The circumstances which accompanied the birth of al-`Askari's son suggest that al-`Askari wanted to save his successor from the restrictive policy of the `Abbasids, which had been established by al-­Ma’mun. Hence he did not circulate in public the news concerning the birth of his son, but only disclosed it to a few reliable followers, such as Abu Hashim al-Ja`fari, Ahmad b. Ishaq, and Hakima and Khadija, the aunts of al-`Askari(22).

Moreover he decided to move his son to a place safer than Samarra so that he could carry on his religious and political activities through the Wikala without suffering the interference of the `Abbasids.

Study of the hagiographical and historical anecdotes concerning the first occultation of the Imam and his reappearance reveals that al­`Askari hid his son first in Samarra and then in Medina, where he lived under the guardianship of his paternal grandmother. According to al-Saduq, al-`Askari sent his son to an unknown place forty days after his birth, and then his son was brought back to his mother(23).

According to al-Mas`udi, three years later, in the year 259/873, al­`Askari asked his own mother, Hadith to go on the pilgrimage. He explained his critical position to her, gave her full instructions, and sent his son with her. His son had already received from his father the signs of the Imamate, the most esteemed name of Allah, the inheritance and the weapon. Thereafter Hadith and her grandson went to Mecca under the protection of a close friend called Ahmad b. Muhammad b. al-Muttahir(24). It appears that after they had performed the rite of pilgrimage they went to Medina, which was used as the place of concealment for the Twelfth Imam.

Many reports incline one to accept the above description of the Twelfth Imam's early life. As we have seen, Abu Hashim al-Ja’fari once asked al-`Askari where he should ask for his successor were he to die. Al-`Askari said, "In Medina." Another report states that the residence of al-Qa’im would be in Medina, surrounded by thirty intimate followers(25). All the traditions concerning the rise of al-Qa’im indicate that it will occur in Mecca(26).  The Imamite sources record that the Twelfth Imam al-Qa’im went on the pilgrimage every year(27).






(1)Q. Maqalat, 114; N. Firaq, 85.

(2)Kama’l, 33.

(3)According to al-Tabari, Abu Hashim al-Ja`fari died in 261/875; Tabari, III, 1887.

(4)al-Kafi, I, 328.

(5)Ithbat, 251.

(6)According to al-Kulayni the Tenth Imam, al-Hadi, died on 26 Jumada II, 254/2 June 869; al-Kafi, I, 497.

(7)Kama’l, 432.

(8)al-Kafi I, 329, 514; Kama’l, 430; T. al-Ghayba, 144.

(9)Tabari, III, 1813; al-Kama’l, VII, 157.

(10)Ithbat, 261-2.

(11)According to al-Kulayni each Imam when he comes out from the womb of is mother puts his hands on the ground and holds his head towards the sky, and then recites some Qur'anic verses; al-Kafi, I, 386.

(12)al-Qasas, XXVIII, 5-6.

(13)Kama’l, 424-6; the account of the birth of the Twelfth Imam has been related in the Imamites' works with some differences in detail. See Ithbat, 248-50; T. al Ghayba, 150-4; Dalail, 269-70. All the Imamite sources agree that al-`Askari left only one son; al-Saduq, however, reports a narration on the authority of Ibrahim al-Mazyar which indicates that al-Askari had two sons, Muhammad and Musa, who were living in Hijaz. A critical study of the context of the narration and its chain of transmitters suggests it was invented, mainly because the narrator Ibrahim b. al-Mazyar died before 260/874, whereas according to the narrative al-`Askari's sons were mature, and this is unlikely if the Twelfth Imam was born in 256/874; Kama’l, 445-53.

(14)`Ilal, 243-4; Kama’l, 24; N. al-Ghayba, 86-7; al-Kafi, I, 340; al-Murtada, Mas'ala wajiza fi al-Ghayba , l l; al-Fusul al-`Ashara, 16.

(15)N. al-Ghayba, 101; Kama’l, 303, 485.

(16)`Ilal, 245; Kama’l, 316.

(17)al-Kafi, I, 336.

(18)al-Kafi, I, 369.

(19)al-Kafi, I, 328, 330.

(20)al-Kafi, I, 333.

(21)al-Kafi, I, VIII, 247.

(22)The Imamite works record the names of many individuals who saw the son of al-`Askari. One report attributed to Muhammad b. `Uthman, the second Saf’ir of the Twelfth Imam, says that al-Askari gathered together forty of his reliable followers and showed them his son; Kama’l, 435; al-Kafi, I, 330-1; T. al-Ghayba, 148, 152

(23)Kama’l, 429.

(24)Ithbat, 247-8, 253.

(25)al-Kafi I, 328, 240; N. al-Ghayba, 99-100; T. al-Ghayba, 149.

(26)`Abd al-Razzaq al-San`ani, al-Musannaf (Beirut, 1972), XI, 371; N. al-Ghayba, 98-9.

(27)al-Kafi, I, 339.