"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, al-Ghayba al‑Sughra.

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 militant means).(10) "

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 their rule(16).

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 the organization.

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 al‑Asadi(18). 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 handed down.

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, al‑Mahdi(23).

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 proof(26).

 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:

"Al‑Hasan 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; Ikhtiyar, 510.

(2)al‑Najashi, 191.

(3)Kama値, 442; al‑Kafi I, 518.

(4)Ikhtiyar, 608, 611‑2, 557.

(5)Ibn Dawud, al‑Rijal, 248; al-Kafi, I, 519; Ikhtiyar, 608; al‑Najashi, 265‑6.

(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.

(8)N. al‑Ghayba, 92

(9)al‑Sadr, op. cit., I, 341‑6.

(10)T. al-Ghayba, 56, 109.

(11)T. al-Ghayba, 57.

(12)al-Kafi, I, 505; Kama値, 441‑2.

(13)T. al-Ghayba, 157; al-Kafi, I, 330.

(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, 377‑9.

(17)al‑Najashi, 343; T. al‑Fihrist, 48.

(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.

(20)Dala'il, 217.

(21)T. al-Ghayba, 229.

(22)Ikhtiyar, 526.

(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.

(25)T. al-Ghayba, 231.

(26)Kama値, 90, 441‑2; al‑Kafi, I, 329‑30; T. al-Ghayba, 157.

(27)For a full account see Chapter III