"O Ayyub b. Nuh, I am commanding you to cut off relations between
yourself and Abu `Ali. Both of you should engage
yourselves with what you have been entrusted and ordered
to do in your areas. If you do so you should be able to
manage your affairs without consulting me ... O Ayyub, I
am ordering you neither to receive anything from the
people of Baghdad and Mada`in, nor to give anyone
amongst them permission to contact me. If anyone brings
you revenue from outside your area, order him to send it
to the agent of his own area. O Abu 'Ali, I am ordering
you to follow what I have ordered Ayyub."(1)
This system saved the organization from otherwise inevitable damage after
the harsh attack of al‑Mutawakkil upon its underground
political cells in 235/850. In the same way it was saved
from the attack of al‑Musta`in in 248/862.
It should be noted that during the time of the tenth and eleventh Imams,
the leadership of the organization in the four areas,
was monopolized by a few individuals. Their tasks later
fell to their descendants and remained under their
control during the shorter occultation of the Twelfth
Imam. For example, `Ali b. Mazyar was the agent of
al‑Jawad and al‑Hadi in al‑Ahwaz(2),
while his sons were the agents of the Twelfth Imam in
the same region(3).
Ibrahim b. Muhammad al‑Hamadani was the agent of al‑Hadi in Hamadan(4),
while his offspring inherited this post from father to
son until the time of the Twelfth Imam(5).
Another agent was Isma`il b. Ishaq b. Nawbakht(6),
whose family later directed the members of the
organization in Baghdad, while one of his relatives,
al‑Husayn b. Ruh, became the third Saf段r or
"representative" of the Twelfth Imam.
Among the agents, the most important was `Uthmari b. Said alｭ`Umari, who,
as we shall see, was brought up under the auspices of
the tenth Imam, al‑Hadi. He made him first his own agent
and then the agent of his son, Imam al‑ `Askari. After
the death of the latter `Uthman controlled the whole
leadership of the organization as the first
representative of the Twelfth Imam, and his son Muhammad
later succeeded him to the post, as the second Saf段r.
The fact that the Imam's activities were underground made it easy for
certain people to claim falsely to be the
representatives of al‑Hadi and al‑ `Askari, and thus to
collect money from the Imamites. It seems that this
practice was carried out by the extremists (al‑Ghulat)
and increased throughout the time of the Twelfth Imam at
the expense of his rightful agents(7).
2. The Main Functions of the Wikala
For the Twelver Imamites the series of Imams ends with the Twelfth Imam,
who, from the death of his father in 260/874 up to the
year 329/940‑1, is believed to have lived in
occultation. According to alｭNu'mani this period was
called the "short occultation," al‑Ghayba al‑Qasira(8),
and according to later scholars the minor occultation,
It was of decisive importance for the organization and the internal
evolution of the congregation. During it the Twelfth
Imam is considered to have pursued his activities from
behind the scenes and to have led his followers by means
of four specially chosen representatives. These were
called sufara (sing. Saf段r) or "ambassadors." The first
was `Uthman b. Said al-Umari, the second his son
Muhammad, the third al‑Husayn b. Ruh al-Nawbakhti and
the fourth 'Ali b. Muhammad al‑Sammari.
A critical study of the history of this period (260‑329/874‑941) reveals
that the main function of the Saf段rs was to implement
certain tasks previously undertaken by the Imams so as
to save him from the political pressure of the `Abbasids(9).
His predecessors had suffered this pressure since the
time of al‑Ma知un, especially since it was widely
accepted among the Imamites of that period that the
Twelfth Imam would be al-Qa段m bi‑l‑Amr li‑Izalat
al‑Duwal, that is,"he who is to be in charge of
eliminating the governments (of the oppressors by
One of the ambassadors' tasks was to draw complete darkness over the name
of the Imam and his whereabouts, not only as regards his
foes, but even as regards his followers. Simultaneously
the Saf段r had to prove the existence of the Imam to his
reliable adherents. This statement can be illustrates by
a report of al‑Kulayni. `Abd Allah b. Ja断ar al‑Himyari
once asked the first Saf段r whether or not he had seen
the successor of the eleventh Imam. Al‑`Umari, the
Saf段r, confirmed that he had seen him. But he added
that people were forbidden to ask about his name,
because if the government discovered his name they would
certainly try to arrest him(11).
In this way the first Saf段r led the court of the
caliph, al‑Mu'tamid, to think that the eleventh Imam had
died without a successor(12).
According to al‑Kulayni's report, the conclusion reached by the `Abbasids
seems to have released the Imamites from the humiliation
which they had suffered throughout the time of the
previous Imams. The agents of the Twelfth Imam began to
carry out their activities without being afraid of the
authorities, since they were sure of the non‑existence
of the Twelfth Imam, and thus did not bother to
investigate the Imamite's activities(13).
The activities of the Saf段rs also aimed at protecting the congregation
from any more schisms by proving the authenticity of the
Imamate of al‑`Askari's son. Towards this aim they
employed those sayings of the Prophet and the Imams
which indicate that the series of Imams will end with
the Twelfth, who would then go into occultation(14).
The four Saf段rs carried out another task in the name of the Imam. They
received and collected the taxes that the Imamites had
previously paid to their Imams. According to the Imamite
sources all the Saf段rs performed miracles before
receiving the money so that their adherents would
believe in their legitimacy. According to the Imamite
belief, whoever proclaimed himself a Saf段r and did not
work miracles had lied about the Imam and was driven out
of the organization(15).
The Tawqi誕t (written and signed answers or pronouncements) attributed to
the Twelfth Imam indicate that he neither gave any
statement to elucidate his attitude towards the
political and economic situation of his time, nor
ordered his followers to implicate themselves in an open
political struggle with their rivals, the `Abbasids. In
fact, it is reasonable to agree with Muhammad al‑Sadr
that by acting in this manner the Imam enabled his
partisans to pursue their activities without attracting
the attention of the `Abbasids by statements criticising
Moreover it seems most likely that in following this policy the Imam
wanted his agents and propagandists to concentrate their
efforts upon strengthening the size and quality of their
party, until it developed its political means and
ideology to a degree which might enable it to put its
goal into action. But the involvement of the agents in
an immediate political struggle would have taken place
at the expense of an increase in the size and the
development of the ideological and political basis of
3. The Early Career of Uthman b. Sa段d
Most of the Imamite information concerning the activities of the four
'Saf段rs is attributed to al‑Tusi in his work al‑Ghayba.
The latter depended mainly on two early missing works,
that is, Kitab fi Akhbar Abi Amr wa Abi Ja`far
al‑`Umariyyayn by Ibn Barina al‑Katib, the son of the
granddaughter of the second Saf段r, and Kitab Akhbar
al‑Wakil al‑`Arba誕 by Ahmad b. Nuh(17).
Unfortunately, the work of al‑Tusi and other works give
very few details concerning the background to the career
of the first Saf段r. We know that the latter was Abu
`Amr `Uthman b. Said al-Umari from the tribe of Asad.
Javad `Ali, whose opinion was followed by Rajkowski, thought that the
grandfather of `Uthman was `Amr b. Hurayth al‑Sayrafi
al‑Kufi, a well‑known Shi段te from Kufa who belonged to
Banu Asad. According to Javad `Ali, since both belonged
to the same tribe, both are known by the epithet
But this cannot be accepted because there is no explicit
evidence leading one to link the lineage of the two
individuals. Nothing is known about the Saf段r nor of
his position in the congregation. Moreover, the year of
his birth and the details of his youth have not been
It is said that at the age of eleven `Uthman b. Said was contracted to
become a servant in the house of the ninth Imam,
al‑Jaw‑ad, and that he never left his service. Later he
became his gate‑keeper and chamberlain. As the Imam's
"right hand", he enjoyed his entire confidence and was
entrusted with the execution of all his commissions(19).
`Uthman b. Said occupied this same position of trust
throughout the lifetime of al‑Hadi, the tenth Imam(20),
who was watched carefully and suspiciously by the
government of the day, so that he even avoided speaking
with the individual members of the community.
For this reason, al‑Hadi presented `Uthman to those who found it
difficult to consult him directly. He told them that
`Uthman was his trusted associate and a man of honour,
and that whatever he did was done in the Imam's name(21).
Furthermore, al-ｭKashshi's account indicates that during the last ten
years of the time of al‑Hadi, the leadership of the
underground organization (al-ｭWikala) was in `Uthman's
hands. He organized its internal affairs and
systematized the relations between the centre of the
organization and its branches in the remote provinces.
When the agent, 'Ali b. `Amr, came to Samarra from
Qazwin with money and contacted Faris b. Hatim, without
knowing that the latter had been cursed by the Imam in
250/864, ` Uthmari quickly moved his lieutenants to save
the money and prevented `Ali b. `Amr from having contact
with Faris b. Hatim(22).
`Uthman continued to hold this position of trust under the eleventh Imam
al‑`Askari, who appointed him using the same words as
had his father. It is reported that al‑ `Askari had only
informed a few of his followers that `Uthman b. Said was
his agent. However, at one point a group of Yemenite
Shi段tes brought money to al‑ `Askari, and he revealed
to them that `Uthman was his agent and that his son,
Muhammad, would be the agent of the Twelfth Imam,
According to another narration al‑`Askari presented his successor to
forty reliable Shi段tes, such as al‑Hasan b. Ayyub, `Ali
b. Bilal, Ahmad b. Hilal, and `Uthman b. Said. He
informed them that they would not see him again and
commanded them to obey `Uthman during the concealment of
the Twelfth Imam, because he would be his representative(24).
Moreover, during the last illness of the eleventh Imam, `Uthman looked
after him and cared for him. According to alｭ-Tusi, he
performed the last rites for the dead man, washed the
corpse, wrapped him in his shroud and buried him. For
the Imamites these are the unmistakeable signs that
`Uthman was the rightful representative Saf段r of the
hidden Imam. They contended that `Uthman did all this on
the orders of al‑`Askari(25).
4. The Career of the First Saf段r
The first Saf段r managed to satisfy the prominent Imamites who were
already members of the organization that the Twelfth
Imam was in a state of occultation and thus safe from
his enemies, while also convincing them that he was the
rightful representative of the Imam.
It appears that his occupation of the leadership of the organization
during the time of the tenth and the eleventh Imams
encouraged the agents to accept his claim and follow his
instructions, without asking him to show a miracle or
However, the ordinary Imamites, who had nothing to do with the
organization, were confused by the occultation of the
Imam and, as has been noted(27),
held different views concerning the Twelfth Imam's
successor. Many Imamites refused to pay the khums to
`Uthman b. Said unless he showed, by means of a miracle,
that he had been rightfully appointed by the Twelfth
Imam. This is illustrated by a narrative of al‑Kulayni
attributed to Sa`d alｭ-Ash'ari al‑Qummi:
b. al‑Nadr, Abu al‑Saddam and a number of others spoke
together after the death of Abu Muhammad (the eleventh
Imam) about the agents and decided to search for the new
Imam. Al‑Hasan b. Nadr came to Abu al‑Saddam and said to
him, `I desire to make the pilgrimage.' Abu al‑Saddam
said to him, `Delay it this year.' Al‑Hasan b. al‑Nadr
said to him, `I am frightened by my dreams, so I must
go.' He made Ahmad b. Ya'la b. Hammad his executor. The
latter had devoted some money to the Imam. Hearing of
al‑Hasan's decision, he gave the money to al‑Hasan and
commanded him not to hand anything over without proof.
(1)Ikhtiyar, 513‑4; according
to another letter the agent of al‑Hadi in
Baghdad and its environs was `Ali b. al‑Husayn
b. `Abd Rabba. After his death in Mecca in
229/843, Abu `Ali b. Rashid assumed his post;
(3)Kama値, 442; al‑Kafi I,
(4)Ikhtiyar, 608, 611‑2, 557.
(5)Ibn Dawud, al‑Rijal, 248;
al-Kafi, I, 519; Ikhtiyar, 608; al‑Najashi,
(6)Ithbat, 215; al‑Barqi
categorized him as one of the close followers of
al‑Hadi; al-Rijal, 60
(7)The representatives of this
trend throughout the time of the tenth and the
eleventh Imams were mainly such extremists as
Ahmad b. Muhammad alｭ Sayyari, Ja`far b. Waqid,
Abu al‑Samhari, `Amr b. Yahya al‑Dihqan, Faris
b. Hatim al‑Qazwini and Muhammad b. Nusayr al‑Numayri;
Ikhtiyar, 525, 529, 573, 606.
(9)al‑Sadr, op. cit., I,
(10)T. al-Ghayba, 56, 109.
(12)al-Kafi, I, 505; Kama値,
(13)T. al-Ghayba, 157; al-Kafi,
(14)For a full account of the
traditions which were used by the Imamites
during the short occultation, see al‑Kafi, I,
525‑35; N. al‑Ghayba, 26‑47; al‑`Asfari, Asl Abu
Said al‑'A fari, f. 1‑3.
(15)Kama値, 476‑8; Javad 'Ali,
op. cit., in Der Islam, XXV (1939), 197‑227.
(16)al‑Sadr; op. cit., I,
(17)al‑Najashi, 343; T. al‑Fihrist,
(18)Javad `Ali, op. cit‑ in
Der Islam, XXV (1939), 199; Rajkowski, op. cit.,
667; alｭ Najashi, 222; T. al‑Fihrist, 243; al‑Tusi
mentions that the grandfather of `Uthman was `Amr,
however, he does not link him with `Amr b.
Hurayth; T. al-Ghayba, 231.
(19)Javad `Ali, op. cit., in
Der Islam, XXV (1939), 199.
(23)T. al-Ghayba, 229‑31.
(24)T. al-Ghayba, 231‑2;
Kama値, 435; for a full account of those men see
al‑Najashi, 41, 202, 323.
(26)Kama値, 90, 441‑2; al‑Kafi,
I, 329‑30; T. al-Ghayba, 157.
(27)For a full account see