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 one(4).

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 proved fruitless.

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).

Chapter 4: The Underground Activities of the Twelth Imam as seen in the Actions of the Saf’irs 

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 propagandists(14).

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 in prison(20). 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 occultation(23).

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 dinars(24). 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 his Imamate(25).

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 Baghdad(28).

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 be al‑Hadi(33).

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; Tabari,III,1787,1790-1,1891,1907.

(3)al-Kafi, I, 505; Kama’l, 43.

(4)Kama’l, 43.

(5)Kama’l, 476- 478.

(6)Kama’l, 473.        

(7)Kama’l, 476.

(8)Kama’l, 474.

(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; Ithbat, 213.

(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.

(15)Ikhtiyar, 459‑60.

(16)al‑Najashi, 21, 231, 250, 348.

(17)Ithbat, 213.

(18)al‑Najashi, 250.

(19)al‑Najashi, 209.

(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. al-Ghayba, 227‑8.

(24)`Ilal, I, 235; T. al-Ghayba, 46‑7; Ikhtiyar, 459‑60, 466‑7.

(25)Ikhtiyar, 597‑9.

(26)Ikhtiyar, 483, 506, 591‑2.

(27)al‑Najashi, 148.

(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.

(29)Ithbat, 213‑5.

(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, IV, 389.

(33)al‑Kafi, I, 324.