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
which means that he was born on 15th Sha`ban 256/18th
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,
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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,
(3)According to al-Tabari, Abu
Hashim al-Ja`fari died in 261/875; Tabari, III,
(6)According to al-Kulayni the
Tenth Imam, al-Hadi, died on 26 Jumada II, 254/2
June 869; al-Kafi, I, 497.
(8)al-Kafi I, 329, 514; Kama’l,
430; T. al-Ghayba, 144.
(9)Tabari, III, 1813; al-Kama’l,
(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,
(15)N. al-Ghayba, 101; Kama’l,
(16)`Ilal, 245; Kama’l, 316.
(19)al-Kafi, I, 328, 330.
(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,
(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,