Such evidence indicates that the Twelfth Imam was in an area not far from
Mecca, perhaps Medina.
As part of al-`Askari's prudent fear, he made his manifest testament only
to his mother, Hadith, and did not mention any successor
openly to anyone else(1).
From all this it seems most probable that the Twelfth
Imam spent most of his early life in Medina, because
al-`AskarT recognised the danger which his son would
face were he to remain in Iraq.
5. The Abbasid Attempt to Arrest al- 'Askari's Son
The caliph al-Mu'tamid continued the `Abbasid policy of patting the Imams
under close watch and enforced it even more vigorously
with the spread of the traditions concerning the role of
the Twelfth Imam. On hearing about the deterioraton of
al-`Askari's health, al-Mu’tamid sent five of his most
trusted officers, amongst whom was his servant Nahrir,
to the house of al-`Askari to watch over him. He also
ordered the chief judge, al-Hasan b. Abi al-Shawarib(2),
to send ten reliable people to participate in this task.
When al-`Askari died on 8th Rabi` I 260/1st January 874,
the caliph sent a contingent to search his house. They
sealed off all his estate and then looked for his son to
the extent that they even brought women to examine his
slavegirls in case any of them were pregnant(3).
Despite the fact that the primary investigation proved to al-Mu`tamid
that al-`Askari died without leaving a son, the vast
majority of the Imamites held that he had in fact left
According to the Imamite works, Ja’far, the brother of al-`Askari, who
had already claimed to be the Imam and tried to succeed
his brother, revealed to the authorities the Imamites'
belief in the existence of al-`Askari's successor.
Al-Saduq reports that a band of people from Qumm, among
whom was Muhammad b. Ja`far al-Himyari, arrived at
Samarra in ignorance of the death of al-`Askari with
letters of inquiry and legal taxes. There they learned
about his death and were directed to Ja`far. They met
him and wanted to indulge in the ceremonies which they
had practiced before on such occasions.
They asked Ja’far to tell them about the amount of money they had brought
and who had given it to them. Ja’far replied that he was
no soothsayer and that the things the Imamites claimed
about al`Askari were mere lies, because Allah alone
could know such things. He then told them. to hand the
money over to him, but they refused to do so, and their
quarrel became public. While they were arguing someone
came, called them by name and led them to a house. There
he showed them someone who was believed to be the agent
of the Twelfth Imam and who revealed to them how much
money they had brought. Therefore they accepted the
Imamate of the Twelfth Imam. Having done so they were
commanded that they should henceforth hand the money to
a certain man in Baghdad(5).
According to al-Saduq, Ja’far went straight to the caliph, al-Mu'tamid,
and informed him that the Imamites still believed in the
existence of a son of al`Askari. Al-Mu`tamid
immediately had this investigated by sending a band of
soldiers with Ja`far to search the house of al-`Askari
and the houses of the neighbours(6).
They arrested a slave-girl called Saqil and demanded that she show them
the child, but she denied having given birth to a child.
According to al-Saduq, in order to save the life of the
Twelfth Imam, Saqil claimed to be pregnant(7).
Thereupon al-Mu`tamid incarcerated her in his harem for
observation. Under the supervision of Nahrir, the
caliph's wives and slave-girls and the wives of the
chief judge, Ibn Abi al-Shawarib, observed Saqil for two
years until they felt that further observation was no
longer necessary. When disturbances occurred in various
parts of the Empire and the vizier `Ubayd Allah Ibn
Khaqan suddenly died, they ignored her completely(8).
Many reports indicate that while Saqil was imprisoned the `Abbasids
carried out a campaign of persecution against the
Imamites and that Ja’far was behind it. In spite of the
fact that the Imamites lost many people, all attempts on
the part of the authorities to arrest the Twelfth Imam
According to al-Mufid, al-`Askari wanted to deny the `Abbasids the
opportunity to find any trace which might endanger the
life of his successor. Hence he devised a plan whereby
according to his public will he left his estate only to
his mother, Hadith(9).
On hearing of the death of her son, she came from Medina to Samarra to
take over the estate, but found that it was under
`Abbasid control. Furthermore, Ja’far quarrelled with
her about his brother's inheritance, insisting on his
right to the estate. He raised the case with the
authorities, who were trying to confirm that al-`Askari
had no son by interfering in it. Hadith maintained that
al-`Askari had made her his sole heiress, and that
according to Imamite law Ja`far had no right to the
estate of his brother(10).
This quarrel went on for two years until the pregnancy of Saqil proved
false. Although the judge adjudicated in favour of
Hadith, Ja’far's claim was not disputed because of his
influential connections. In the end the estate was
divided into two parts, in spite of Imamite law(11).
The Underground Activities of the Twelth Imam as seen in the Actions of
1. A Brief Study of the Wikala Before the Twelfth Imam
As mentioned in Chapter Two, a critical situation the Imams faced,
brought about by the `Abbasids, forced the Imams to
search for a new means to communicate with the members
of their congregation. The Imamite sources indicate that
the sixth Imam al‑Sadiq was the first Imam to employ an
underground system of communication (alTanzim al‑Sirri)
among his community(12).
The main purpose of the Wikala was to collect the khums, the zakat, and
other kinds of alms for the Imam from his followers.
Although the Wikala may have had other purposes at that
time, the sources rarely record them. Al‑Sadiq directed
the activities of the organization with such care that
the `Abbasids were not aware of its existence. As part
of his prudent fear (al‑Taqiyya), he used to ask some of
his followers to carry out certain tasks for the
organization without informing them that they were in
fact his agents. Al‑Tusi reports that Nasr b. Qabus
al‑Lakhmi spent twenty years working as an agent (wakil)
for al‑Sadiq, without knowing that he had actually been
appointed as one.
Al‑Sadiq's most important agent in Iraq was `Abd al‑Rahman b. al‑Hajjaj,
who continued in this office until his death, after the
time of the eighth Imam al‑Riďa(13).
Mu'alla b. Khunays was al‑Sadiq's agent in Medina. In 133/750 he was
arrested by the `Abbasids and sentenced to death because
he refused to reveal the names of the Imamite
Despite the difficulties which faced the Wikala in its early stages, the
areas covered by the agents and their training were
extended during the time of al‑Kazim as activities were
intensified. The rite of pilgrimage was used as a means
to communicate with each other. Al-Kazim's agent in
Egypt was `Uthman b. `Isa al‑Rawwasi(15).
He also had agents in numerous other places, such as Hayyan al‑Sarraj in
Kufa, Muhammad b. Abi `Umayr in Baghdad, and Yunis b.
Ya'qub al‑Bajli in Medina(16).
Al‑Mas'udi's report suggests that all the agents
received their instructions from `Abd al‑Rahman b.
al‑Hajjaj, who was then resident in Baghdad(17).
The agents faced another campaign of arrests in 179/795 instigated by the
caliph al‑Rashid. It caused the Imamite organization
considerable damage. The agent in Baghdad, Muhammad b.
Abi `Umayr, was arrested and tortured in the unfulfilled
hope that he would reveal the names and locations of
al‑Kazim's followers, while his sister was put in jail
for four years(18).
Another agent, `Ali b. Yaqtin, who used to send money and letters to the
Imam through an individual called Isma’il b. Salam, was
also arrested and spent the rest of his life in prison(19).
According to the Imamite sources the campaign of arrests
led to the arrest of al‑Kazim himself and to his death
Sixty other `Alids also died under torture in prison(21).
After the death of al‑Kazim the members of the Imamite organization found
themselves faced with an internal theological and
political question involving the doctrine of al-Qa’im
al‑Mahdi and his occultation. Al‑Kazim's agents, such as
al‑Rawwasi in Egypt, Ziyad al‑Qindi in Baghdad, `Ali b.
Abi Hamza and Hayyan al‑Sarraj in Kufa, and al‑Hasan b.
Qayama in Wasit, had received many traditions attributed
to al‑Sadiq concerning al-Qa’im al‑Mahdi and his
occultation, but these traditions did not explicitly
state his identity(22).
Perhaps for this reason, they applied these traditions to the seventh
Imam al‑Kazim by denying his death and contending that
he was al-Qa’im al‑Mahdi, but that he had gone into
Consequently, they rejected the Imamate of his son al‑Riďa and split into
a new group called the Waqifa, using the money of the
organization to their own ends. As a result al‑Riďa lost
a considerable number of trained agents and over 100,000
Between the years 183‑202/799‑817 al‑Riďa managed to
solve this problem at least partially by clarifying to
the members of the Waqifa the true nature of al-Qa’im
al‑Mahdi, as transmitted on the authority of the
previous Imams. According to al‑Kashshi, he seems to
have been able to persuade some of the members of the
Waqifa, like al‑Rawwasi and his followers to recognize
Meanwhile the role of the Wikala was expanded to embrace the new needs
and tasks of the congregation. Al‑Riďa's agents were
`Abd al‑`Aziz b. al‑Muhtadi in Qumm(26),
Safwan b. Yahya in Kufa(27),
`Abd Allah b. Jandab and `Abd al‑Rahman b. al‑Hajjaj in
Along with another eighty agents `Abd al‑Rahman b. al‑Hajjaj controlled
the leadership of the organization through the time of
the ninth Imam, al‑Jawad(29),
who achieved considerable success in protecting the
organization from new schisms. Moreover the tactics of
his agents developed in new directions especially in
widening the sphere of al‑Taqiyya (prudent fear) by
allowing some of his partisans to participate in the
administration and the army of the `Abbasids.(30)
During the long Imamate of the tenth Imam, al‑Hadi (220-254/835‑868) new
trends emerged amongst the Imamites due to historical
circumstances, trends which were later to play a
dangerous role during the time of the Twelfth Imam.
As was pointed out above (Ch. II), al‑Mutawakkil practiced the policy of
al‑Ma’mun, who had made al-Riďa and his son al‑Jawad
join his courtiers so that their links with their
partisans could be restricted and closely watched.
Al‑Mutawakkil did the same with al‑Hadi. In 233/847 he
summoned him , from Medina to Samarra, where he spent
the rest of his life(31).
The absence of direct contact between the Imam and his followers led to
an increase in the religious and political role of the
Wikala, so that the agents of the Imam gained more
authority in running its affairs. Gradually the
leadership of the Wikala became the only authority which
could determine and prove the legitimacy of the new
Imam. For example the ninth Imam, al‑Jawad, gave his
testament concerning his successor to his chief agent
Muhammad b. al‑Faraj. He told him that in case he should
die, he should take his orders from al‑Hadi(32).
When al‑Jawdd died in 220/835 the prominent leaders of the organization
held a secret meeting at the house of Muhammad b.
al‑Faraj to determine the next Imam, who was proved to
The agents of the Imam gradually gained a great deal of experience in
organizing their partisans into separate units. Several
reports suggest that the agents divided their followers
into four separate groups according to area. The first
included Baghdad, Mada’in, Sawad and Kufa, the second
Basra and al‑Ahwaz, the third Qumm and Hamadan, and the
fourth the Hijaz, Yemen and Egypt. Each area was
entrusted to an independent agent, beneath whom many
local agents were appointed. The workings of this system
can be observed in letters of instruction attributed to
al‑Hadi concerning the organization's administration. It
is reported that he sent a letter in 232/847 to his
local agent, `Ali b. Bilal, saying:
"I have substituted Abu `Ali b. Rashid for `Ali b. al‑Husayn b. `Abd
Rabba. I have entrusted him with this post since he is
sufficiently qualified so that no one can take
precedence over him. He has been informed that you are
the chief (shaykh) of your own area, since I wished to
invest you with that area. However, you have to follow
him and hand all the revenues to collect over to him."
In a letter to his agents in Baghdad, Mada`in and Kufa, al‑Hadi wrote,
(1)al-Fusul al-`Ashara, 13.
(2)Al-Hasan b. Muhammad was
related to an Umayyad family called Al Abi
al-Shawarib. During the `Abbasid period most of
his relatives worked in the office of Judge
(al-Qada'). As part of his anti-shi`ite policy
al-Mutawakkil included al-Hasan b. Abi
al-Shawarib among his courtiers (Tabari, III,
1428). Later al-Mu`tazz appointed him chief
judge in 252/866 (Tabari, III, 1684). Three
years later he was discharged from his office,
but recovered it during al-Mu’tadid's regime. He
continued in this office until his death in
Mecca in 261/875;
(3)al-Kafi, I, 505; Kama’l,
(9)al-Fusul al-‘Ashara, 13.
(10)According to Imamite law,
if a dead person leaves a mother and a son and a
brother, the brother has no right to take
anything from the estate; al-Saduq, almuqnia
(Tehran, 1377), 171; Kama’l, 47, 58.
(11)Muhammad al-Sadr, op.
cit., I, 314.
(12)Javad 'Ali, op. cit., in
Der Islam, XXV (1939), 212.
(13)al‑Ghayba, 224‑5. Al‑Tusi
thinks that Ibn al‑Hajjaj died during the time
of al‑Riďa, but al‑Mas`udi reports that he was
still alive after al‑Riďa's death in 203/818;
(14)al-Kafi, II, 557; Ikhtiyar,
381; al‑Saduq, Man la Yahduruh al‑Faqih (al‑Mashyakha),
IV, 67. The date of his death is not mentioned.
However, al Kashshi reports that Dawud b. `Ali,
who killed Mu’alla, died a few days after
Mu'alla, and according to al‑Dhahabi, Dawud died
in 133/750 (Mizan, II, 14). So the persecution
of Mu`alla must have occured in the same year.
(16)al‑Najashi, 21, 231, 250,
(20)Ikhtiyar, 258; N. Firaq,
67‑8, `Uyun, 194‑5.
(21)`Uyun, I, 89‑90, II, 143.
(22)For a full account of
these traditions see Chapter I pp 17‑30; however
the Waqifa report a tradition attributed to al‑Sadiq
which states that al-Qa’im would be the seventh
Imam; Ikhtiyar, 475; al-Kafi, I, 320‑1
(23)Ikhtiyar, 463‑7, 475‑8; T.
(24)`Ilal, I, 235; T. al-Ghayba,
46‑7; Ikhtiyar, 459‑60, 466‑7.
(26)Ikhtiyar, 483, 506, 591‑2.
(28)T. al-Ghayba, 224‑5; al‑Tusi
states that ‘Abd Allah b. Jandab was the agent
of the seventh and the eighth Imams but it seems
that his career in the organization was earlier
than that. According to Ibn Shu’ba, he was the
agent of the sixth Imam, al‑Sadiq; Ibn Shu`ba,
Tuhaf al‑`Uqul, 223.
(30)al‑Najashi', 80, 98, 254;
al‑Tusi, al‑Istibsar, II, 58‑61; al‑Kafi V, 111.
(31)al‑ Ya'qubi, III, 217.
(32)Ibn Shahr Ashub, Manaqib,