"Al‑Hasan said, `When I arrived at Baghdad I rented a house. Thereafter an agent brought me clothes and money and entrusted them to me. I said to him,"What is this?" He said to me, "It is what you see." Then another one brought similar goods, and a third one until they filled the house. Afterwards Ahmad b. Ishaq (the assistant of the Saf段r) brought me all the goods he had. Thus I became confused. But later I received a message from al‑Rajul (the Imam), peace be upon him, ordering me to take the goods to al‑`Askar (Samarra). . . When I arrived there I received a message ordering me to bring the goods (to him). So I loaded them in the baskets of the carriers. When I reached the corridor of his house, I found a black slave standing there. He asked me, "Are you al‑Hasan b. al‑Nadr?" I said, "Yes." He replied, "Enter." So I entered the house, and then I entered an apartment, where I emptied the baskets of the carriers. . . There was a curtain leading to another apartment. Someone called me from behind it, "O al‑Hasan b. al‑Nadr, praise Allah for His grace is upon you, and do not doubt, for Satan would be pleased if you waver." Thereafter he sent out two garments for me and said, "Take them, because you will need them." So I took them and went out.' "

Sa'd al‑Ash'ari reports that al‑Hasan b. al‑Nadr departed and died in the month of Ramadan, and the two garments were used as his shroud(1).

This event was a clear proof to al‑Hasan, because both his name and his doubts concerning the validity of the agents' activities had been revealed to him. Moreover, according to Sa'd al‑Ash`ari, the two garments which al‑Hasan had received were a prediction of his death, which occurred a month later. If one studies carefully the circumstances surrounding al‑Hasan b. al‑Nadr from the time of his decision to investigate the activities of the agents until his death, one can surmise that the agents arranged them so as to remove his doubts.

They would have done so because al‑Hasan b. al‑Nadr was prominent amongst the Imamites of Qumm(2), and his doubts might have affected the Imamites of his area. So perhaps the agents of Qumm informed the Saf段r in Baghdad about his arrival there. This can be understood from the act of Ahmad b. Ishaq and the other agents who brought the clothes to al‑Hasan's house and later sent him a letter ordering him to send the goods to Samarra. There, it is reported, he met the Imam, who confirmed for him the validity of the agent's activities. One can discover from this example and many others not quoted here(3) the means used by the Saf段r to remove the doubts and confusion of the Imamites brought about by the concealment of their Imam, and to make them obey his instructions.

As has already been indicated the Saf段r forbade his partisans to ask about the name of the Imam. Perhaps, their silence along with alュ`Askari's last will in which he bequeathed his endowments to his mother and placed her in charge of his affair without referring to his successor(4), encouraged the authorities to believe that the Imamites no longer had an Imam and, therefore, that any Imamite activities were useless. In doing so the Saf段r gained a certain freedom to have communication with the Twelfth Imam and his followers. This is illustrated by a statement attributed to the Saf段r:

"The caliph thinks that Abu Muhammad (al‑`Askari), peace be upon him, died childless. Thus his estate was divided and given to someone, who had no right in the estate but he (the Twelfth Imam) kept quiet. These are his agents carrying out their activities without being afraid that someone would stop them for investigation. If the (Imam's) name is identified, the (authorities) would start searching for (his whereabouts). So, by Allah, do not ask about his name.(5)

The belief that al‑ `Askari had no successor was circulated among some sunni scholars, such as Abu al‑Qasim al‑Balkhi (died around 300/912). In his account of the Imamite doctrine, he states, "In our time al‑Hasan b. `Ali died and had no son. Therefore they (the Imamites) became confused(6).

Gradually this belief was so disseminated among the non‑Imamite circles that leading sunni scholars such as Ibn Hazm (d. 456/1063) and al‑Shahristani (d. 548/1153) were encouraged to view it as a matter of fact(7). Later alュ-Dhahabi believed that al‑`Askari left a son but he disappeared when he was nine years old or less in 265/878, when he entered a cellar (sardab) in Samarra and was not seen again(8).

In other words the Twelfth Imam died during the lifetime of the first Saf段r. But alュ-Dhahabi is a later historian, since he died in 748/1347. Moreover he does not give the source of his narration, nor does he state explicitly how al‑`Askari's son died even though he presents his information concerning the concealment of the Twelfth Imam in the list of people who died in 265/878 to give the impression that he had passed away in that year. The earliest report concerning the occultation of alュ`Askari's son in the cellar is given by al‑Kanji, who died in 08/1260, but he also does not mention the source of his information(9).

 It is therefore most likely that al‑Dhahabi based his report upon a belief common among the Imamite masses, that the Twelfth Imam had hidden himself in the cellar of his house. This belief spread after the fifth/eleventh century and later became popular among certain scholars, such as Ibn Khaldun(10).

Moreover, several reports in the early Imamite sources refute al-Dhahabi's narration and prove that the Twelfth Imam was alive after 265/878. Al‑Tusi mentions that many of the Imamites received written answers to their letters from the Imam in the same handュwriting as in the letters they used to receive during the lifetime of the first Saf段r(11), and al‑Saduq lists thirteen agents and forty‑six ordinary Imamites from numerous cities who claimed to have seen the Twelfth Imam both during and after the time of the first Saf段r(12).

From this it is clear that al‑Dhahabi's report is based on popular belief rather than upon sound historical facts. So it would be foolish to give credence to his claims concerning the death and occultation of the Twelfth Imam.

5. The Opposition to the First Saf段r

As has been noted the occultation of the Imam resulted in the gradual expansion of the role of the Saf段r. However it also made it easier for a pretender to the deputyship (al‑sifara or al‑niyaba) to practice his activities among the Imamites at the expense of the Imam's rightful representative. As we have seen, this was practiced mainly throughout the period of the short occultation by the extremists (al‑Ghulat).

That they were extremists is indicated by a number of factors. Firstly, the claimant to the sifara believed in the incarnation of God (hulul)(13). Most of the claimants to the sifara from the time of al‑Hasan al-Shari段 up until al‑Shalmaghani claimed first that they were the agents of the Imam. Then when the Imam excommunicated them, they called people on their own account. Extremists had claimed to be the Imam's representative even before the occultation of the Twelfth Imam, but with a slight difference. The claimant would first announce that he was the Gate (Bab) of the Imam, and then claim that he was a prophet. Al‑Kashshi mentions many extremists who did so, such as Muhammad b. Furat, al‑Qasim al‑Yaqtini and Ali b. Haska(14).

The third factor indicating that the claimants were extremists is that certain links existed between the extremists active during the time of the tenth and eleventh Imams and the claimants who lived during the time of the short occultation. According to al‑Kashshi, Ali b. Haska was the teacher of Muhammad b. Musa al‑Shari`i, al-ュQasim al‑ Yaqtini and al‑Hasan b. Muhammad b. Baba(15). The last of these was a close follower of Muhammad b. Nusayr, who led the extremists trend during the time of the eleventh Imam, and then claimed that he was the agent of the Twelfth Imam(16). Morever, Ibn Nusayr was supported by some of Banu Furat, the descendants of the extremist Muhammad b. Furat(17).

According to al‑Tusi, Abu Muhammad al‑Hasan al‑Shari`i'(18) was the first to claim falsely to be the Imam's representative during the short occultation, but the Imamites cursed him and refused to accept him. Then the Twelfth Imam issued a Tawqi; in which he excommunicated al‑Shari`i and announced the falseness of his claim(19). Although al-Shari段 did not achieve immediate success, his following grew in strength and eventually he formed a strong threat to the leadership of the second Saf段r.

6. The Imam's Wikala During the Time of the First Saf段r

The main problem facing any historian dealing with the period of the short occultation is that most of the activities of the Twelfth Imam and his representatives were carried out underground. Perhaps for this reason, the Imamite scholars such as al‑Kulayni, `Abd Allah b. Ja断ar al‑Himyari, Sa`d al‑Ash `ari and al‑Hasan b. Musa al-Nawbakhti rarely mention the names of the Imam's agents, or refer to their activities or links with each other: however, they do refer to those of their activities which did not attract the attention of the authorities.

Therefore, the historical information concerning the underground activities of the agents is to be found scattered throughout the theological and heresiographical works much more than in the histories. Because of the nature of these works the historical information has taken on a heresiographical form. In addition, both questions asked by the Shi段tes and answers of the Twelfth Imam and his Saf段rs were collected during his time, but unfortunately, most of them have been lost.

Only a few are extant, especially in works dealing with the concealment (Ghayba). For example the second Saf段r Abu Ja断ar Muhammad b. `Uthman, collected the pronouncements of his father, but his collection is not extant. However, many anecdotes which assist us in discovering the links among the Imam's agents and the nature of their activities have been recorded.

6.1 Iraq: The Centre of the Wikala

After the death of the eleventh Imam, the first Saf段r had not the slightest reason to remain in Samarra, which was then the capital and the headquarters of the troops of the `Abbasid dynasty, which had opposed the Imams from the very beginning. Perhaps for this reason, `Uthman b. Said wanted to carry out the activities of the organization beyond the surveillance of the authorities in the capital. Therefore he moved to Baghdad, where he made the area of alュKarkh, which was inhabited by Shi段tes, the centre for the leadership of the organization(20).

A part of `Uthman's prudent fear (al‑Taqiyya) was to evade the investigation of the regime by not involving himself in any open political or religious arguments. He also disguised himself as a butter‑seller (samman) and, used to bring money to the Imam in a butter‑sack. Consequently he acquired the nickname al‑Zayyat or al‑Samman(21).  Al‑Kashshi reports that his name was Hafs b. `Amr al‑`Umari(22), which may have been a pseudonym he used when he held underground meetings with other agents.

It has been noted that the Twelfth Imam was sent by his father to Medina in 259/873. However, the first Saf段r made Baghdad the centre of the organization. He followed the traditional geographical divisions of the Islamic provinces in organizing the underground political units (cells) of the organization. Nevertheless he took into consideration the size of each factional unit, the distance of each area from the capital, and its situation on the main roads.

According to al‑Kashshi, `Uthman b. Said was the head of the Wikala from the time of the eleventh Imam, in the sense that all the revenue sent by the adherents to the Imam through his agents was given in the end to `Uthman, who in turn handed it over to the Imam(23).

Many agents were situated below the Saf段r in the ranks of the organization in Baghdad and in the other cities of Iraq, such as Hajiz b. Yazid al‑Washsha', Ahmad b. Ishaq al‑Ash`ari and Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Ja`far al‑Qattan, the last two of whom were the chief assistants of the first Saf段r.

Ahmad b. Ishaq was at first al‑ `Askari's agent for his endowments awqaa in Qumm(24). However, after the death of al‑ `Askari the sources begin to refer to his activities in Baghdad as assistant to `Uthman b. Said in the financial affairs of the organization. AlュKulayni reports that in 260/874 some people from the east doubted the validity of the agents after al‑ `Askari's death and for this reason they came to Baghdad. Along with other agents Ahmad b. Ishaq managed to remove their doubts(25).

 The first Saf段r may have summoned him from Qumm because he needed his service in Iraq after al‑ `Askari's death. According to Ibn Rustam al‑Tabari, Ahmad b. Ishaq continued his career in the organization in Iraq until his death during the time of the second Saf段r(26).

Muhammad al‑Qattan was the second agent of the Saf段r in Baghdad. In order to hide his activities he disguised himself as a cotton dealer. The agents used to bring money and letters to him hidden in cotton which he then took to the Saf段r(27).






(1)al‑Kafi, I, 517‑8, 522‑3.

(2)Al‑Kashshi gives his statement as regards al‑Hasan b. al‑Nadr along with his account of Abu Hamid al‑Maraghi. He does not name explicitly the city which al‑Hasan belonged to; Ikhtiyar, 535. According to al‑Mustawfi Maragha is a large town, and was formerly the capital of Azerbayjan; al‑Qazwini, Nuzhat alュ Qulub, 88. However, there is evidence to support the claim that al‑Hasan b. alュ Nadr was a native of Qumm. Al‑Saduq reports that al‑Hasan was from Qumm and listed him among the people who saw the twelfth Imam; Kama値, 442.

(3)Al‑Kulayni reports in his account of the birth of the twelfth Imam sixteen narrations, elucidating the activities of the first Saf段r with his followers. Most of these narrations indicate that he practiced miracles to persuade them that he was rightfully appointed by the Imam; al-Kafi:, I, 514‑24, narrations nos. 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 12‑17, 20, 21, 23, 28.

(4)al‑Fusul al‑`Ashra, 13.

(5)T. al-Ghayba, 157‑8, al‑Kafi, I, 329‑30.

(6)Abd al‑Jabbar, al‑Mugni (Cairo, 1963), II, 176; quoted from al‑Balkhi.

(7)Milal, 128; Fasl IV, 181, however some later sunni scholars such as Abu Nu `aym al‑Asfahini, `Abd al‑Wahhab al‑Sha`ram al‑Maliki, al‑Kunji al‑Shafi'i and Sibt b. al‑Jawzi held that al‑Hasan al‑`Askari had, in fact, left a son. For full account of the later sunnite views concerning the existence of the twelfth Imam, see Sulayman al‑Qanduri, al‑Hanafi; Yanabi al‑Mawadda (alュ Istana, n.d.), 451,471,491; Sadr al‑Din al‑Sadr, op. cit., 65‑7.

(8)al‑Dhahabi, al‑`Ibar, II, 31.

(9)al‑Kanji, op. cit., 336‑7.

(10)Ibn Khaldun writes that the twelfth Imam disappeared in a cellar in Hilla. However, Hilla was established in 495/1101 by Banu Mazyad whereas the occultation of the Imam, according to al‑Dhahabi took place in 265/878. Thus it appears that Ibn Khaldun also relied in his report on the popular belief; alュ Muqaddima (Cairo, 1322), 157.

(11)Al‑Tusi states that the second Saf段r saw the twelfth Imam in Mecca holding the drapes of the Ka`ba. According to another report a certain Yusuf b. Ahmad alュ -Ja断ari on his way to Syria in 309/921 saw the Imam (T. al-Ghayba, 162, 166). For a full account of the letters of the Imamites and their answers) by the Imam, see T, al‑Ghayba, 184‑93; Muhammad al‑Sadr, op. cit., 1, 403,430.

(12)Kama値, 442‑3.

(13)Abu al‑Fida, al‑Mukhtasar, II, 80‑I; al‑Kamil, VIII, 219‑20.

(14)Ikhtiyar, 518, 520, 555.

(15)Ikhtiyar, 521.

(16)According to al‑Tabrani (a Nusayri writer), the Nusayriyya movement was established by 'Ali b. Ahmad al‑Tarba'i, who during the time of al‑`Askari gained thirty‑five partisans in the village of Tarba' and other followers in Ninawa near Hilla. Then he attracted Muhammad b. Nusayr to his side. The latter led the movement along with his student al‑Husayn b. Harridan during the time of the short occultation. In 336/947 the movement became independent from the Imamites, and gave more emphasis to the role ofthe Gate (Bab) than the Imam himself; al‑Tabrani, Sabil Rah at al‑Arwah, in Der Islam, XXVII (1946), 129‑31.

(17)T. al-Ghayba, 259.

(18)Al‑Tusi mentions that al‑Shari i was an adherent of the tenth Imam and that he is not sure about his real name. Al‑Kashshi mentions a certain Muhammad b. Musa al‑Shari'i or al‑Sharif amongst the Ghulat during the time of the tenth Imam. It is most likely that he is the same person discussed by al‑Tusi; Ikhtiyar, 521

(19)T. al-Ghayba, 258.

(20)Javad 羨li, op. cit., in Der Islam, XXV (1939), 203; In his account of al‑Karkh district al‑Baghdadi states that many places were inhabited by Rafidites (Shi`ites); al‑Khatib, I, 81.

(21)T. al-Ghayba, 229.

(22)Ikhtiyar, 532.

(23)Ikhtiyar, 580.

(24)al‑Qummi, Tarikhi Qumm, 211.

(25)al-Kafi, I, 517‑8.

(26)Dala'il, 272, 275‑7.

(27)Bihar, LI, 316‑7.