For the Imamites, these are the unmistakable signs that Abu Ja断ar was acting as the representative and the Saf段r of the hidden Imam. According to them he did all this at the order of the first Saf段r. Moreover he was promoted to the office of the sifara both by the designation of al‑`Askari and of the first Saf段r, `Uthman b. Said, according to the order of the Twelfth Imam(1).

After his father's death, Abu Ja`far received a letter of condolence attributed to the Twelfth Imam, who offered his sympathy at his father's death and pointed out that he had been installed in his office(2).

However, some of the principal agents of the organization had serious reservations and doubts about his designation, as did Muhammad b. Nusayr, the leader of the extremist trend, the Ghulat. So Abu Ja`far did not succeed to his office without encountering certain difficulties.

1.1 Ibn Hilal

Ahmad b. Hilal al‑`Abarta'i was one of those who denied the validity of Abu Ja断ar's designation. He was born in the year 180/796 in `Abarta', a village in the district of Askaf near Nahrawan, and died in the year 267/880. It is clear from the numerous references to his name in the chain of transmissions (isnad) of the Imamite narrations that he was a well‑known theologian who had narrated most of the Shiite books of traditions (usul). Beginning in 204/819 he had related several traditions indicating, that the Twelfth Imam would be al-Qa段m, having first gone into occultation(3).

Al-Kashshi reports that he was a pious mystic and an eminent scholar, and some biographers respectfully mention the fact that he undertook fifty‑fourpilgrimages to Mecca, twenty of them on foot(4). According to a letter attributed to the Twelfth Imam, Ibn Hilal was one of the most important scholars in Iraq during the time of the first Saf段r and possessed an amount of money belonging to the Imam, which he refused to pay to the second Saf段r(5).

The Imamite reports of his refusal to obey Abu Ja断ar's instructions are confused and contradictory so it is rather difficult to discover the true state of affairs. According to al‑Najashi Ibn Hilal had already been cursed by al‑`Askari, who had spoken against him on several occasions(6).

Sa`d al‑Qummi states that he abandoned Shi'ism and embraced the nasb doctrine(7), whereas al‑Tusi accused him of holding an extremist doctrine (ghuluw)(8).

It is clear that the different accusations made against him are attempts to define his beliefs rather than explanations of his dispute with the second Saf段r. Al‑Tusi mentions a report attributed to an agent called Muhammad b. Humam, which states that Ibn Hilal denied neither the existence of the Twelfth Imam nor the validity of the office of the first Saf段r. When Ibn Hilal was questioned about this by the Imamites, he replied that the Imam had personally installed the first Saf段r, `Uthman b. Said, and made this known 'to all the faithful, but he had not done any such thing for Abu Ja断ar(9).

Because of Ibn Hilal's attitude towards the second safar he was expelled by the Imam in a letter distributed amongst the agents in Iraq which warned that the mystical practices of Ibn Hilal grew from hypocrisy and dissimulation(10).

Despite the fact that the eminent agents of the organization already knew the cause of Ibn Hilal's excommunication, some of the Imamite narrators in Iraq who were not agents were astonished at the excommunication of such a pious mystic, and so they rejected the pronouncement. In fact the considerable support for Ibn Hilal may have been brought about by the Iraqi narrators who did not know about the dispute between Abu Ja`far and Ibn Hilal concerning the sifara. They asked the agent al‑Qasim b. al‑`Ala to inquire about the pronouncement against Ibn Hilal, and he put this question in writing to the Imam via the second Saf段r. The Imam replied:

"Ibn Hilal was an incorrigible sinner and Allah will not forgive his sins. He behaved like a stubborn and arrogant person. Moreover, he has kept for himself money given for the Imam and refused to carry out our commands unless they suit his wishes. However we kept our composure until Allah fulfilled our prayer by taking away his soul. Concerning his case, we had informed a few of our close associates (mawali) during his time and ordered them to reveal it to the intimates among our adherents. . . There is no excuse for any of our followers to doubt the statements of our confidantes (thuqatuna), because we reveal these statements to them."(11)

This document shows clearly that Ibn Hilal had died, but that in spite of the Imam's strong criticism of him, the second Saf段r could not completely eliminate the danger he had stirred up for his office. Al-Kashshi reports that a group of people remained firm in their loyalty towards Ibn Hilal and doubted the authenticity of the above pronouncement(12).

In fact the loyalty of this body to Ibn Hilal was mainly based not upon his inward spiritual faith, but upon his external and personal mystic acts. According to the Imamite doctrine, the worship of Allah is invalid without the recognition of and obedience to the Imams(13). Hence the mystic acts of Ibn Hilal were invalid, because he refused to recognise the second Saf段r, who had been installed by the Imam himself.

According to al‑Tusi, the influence of Ibn Hilal continued until the time of the third safar, Ibn Ruh, who circulated another Tawqi' on the authority of the Imam against Ibn Hilal(14):

"Although there are those among the Imamites who do not understand how such a great and pious man could have been excommunicated, what is piety if it please Allah to transform good deeds into sins? Al‑Dihqan(15) was also a pious man in the service of the Imam, yet Allah eventually changed his faith into impiety because of his arrogance. This also happened to Ibn Hilal"(16)

In fact it is hard to attribute this Tawqi'to the time of the third Saf段r, Ibn Ruh 305‑326/917‑937), because during that time there is no trace of the influence of Ibn Hilal's claim upon the Imamites. It is most likely that Ibn Ruh circulated this pronouncement against Ibn Hilal on the order of the second Saf段r while he was still working as an agent beneath him, expecially if one bears in mind that Ibn Hilal died in 267/880, a long time before Ibn Ruh held the sifara. It would appear that Ibn Hilal's challenge had vanished before the death of the second Saf段rin 305/917.

1.2 al‑Bilali

According to al‑Tusi, a second opponent to Abu Ja断ar's claim to the sifara was Abu Tahir Muhammad b. `Ali b. Bilal, who was commonly called al‑Bilali(17). He was well known in Imamite circles as a narrator of traditions(18). Furthermore he was amongst the principal agents in Baghdad and had close relations with both the tenth and the eleventh Imams(19).

The latter described al‑Bilali to Ishaq b. Ibrahim al‑Nisaburi with this phrase: "He is reliable, trustworthy and is acquainted with what he must do.(20) " Moreover, according to al-ュKulayni and al‑Saduq, al‑`Askari twice revealed to al‑Bilali the birth of his son, the Twelfth Imam: firstly in 258/871 and then three days before his deat(21)

However, al‑Bilali denied that Abu Ja断ar was the Saf段rand claimed that he himself was the agent of the Imam. He kept the money of the Imam in his own hands and refused to relinquish it to Abu Ja断ar. Alュ-Bilalis claim led to a serious split amongst the Imamites, since a considerable body of Imamites accepted his claim and followed him, such as his brother Abu al‑Tayyib and Ibn Hirz(22). But al‑Tusi neither fixes the date of this split nor the duration of al‑Bilalis claims.

It is most likely that al‑Bilali's claim lasted only for a few years after the death of the first Saf段r, by which time Abu Ja断ar had proved himself to be the rightful Saf段rof the Imam. Al‑Tusi reports that Abu Ja断ar arranged a secret meeting between al‑Bilali and the Twelfth Imam to prove to him that he was acting on his behalf. Abu Ja断ar took him to one of his houses where, it is said, they met the Imam, who ordered al‑Bilali to hand the money over to Abu Ja`far(23).

Alュ Tusi's report reveals that al‑Bilali's importance in the organization was such that Abu Ja断ar had to arrange this secret meeting with the Imam in Baghdad to put an end to the doubts raised by al‑Bilali, doubts which had led to a split among the agents. According to alュ Tusi, shortly after this meeting Abu Ja`far went to al‑Bilali's house, where his close supporters like Ibn Hirz and Abu al‑Tayyib were assembled. Abu Ja`far asked al‑Bilali,

"O Abu Tahir (al‑Bilali), I ask you by Allah, did the Sahib alュ-Zaman (the Twelfth Imam), peace be upon him, not command you to hand the money (of the Imam) which you have over to me?" Al‑Bilali replied, "Yes." Then Abu Ja断ar left the house.(24)

It is clear from this report that by these two steps Abu Ja`far managed to refute al‑Bilali's claim. Al‑Tusi mentioned one person who abandoned his support of al‑Bilali and took Abu Ja断ar's side, and perhaps other supporters did likewise, because the existent sources do not refer to any trace of this split during the last years of the second Saf段r's time in office, a fact which probably indicates that it had ended.

1.3 Muhammad b. Nusayr

A third rival to Abu Ja断ar for the office of the sifara was Muhammad b. Nusayr, who was not an ordinary Imamite, but belonged to the extremists, (al-Ghulat). It has been noted that some of the extremists, first during the time of the ninth Imam (such as Ja断ar b. Waqid, Abu al‑Ghamr and Hashim b. Abi Hashim), then during the time of the tenth and eleventh Imams (such as `Ali b. Haska al‑Hawwari al‑Qummi and his students al‑Qasim al‑Sharani alュYaqtini, al‑Hasan b. Muhammad b. Baba al‑Qummi and Muhammad b. Musa al‑Shariqi or al‑Shari`i), had claimed that they were the agents or the Gates (Abwab) of the Imam and had collected money from the ordinary believers. They also preached extremist ideas aimed at abolishing the Islamic rites, that is, the prayer, fast, zakat and pilgrimage.

According to Al-Kashshi their roots lay in the extremist doctrines of Ibn Abi al‑Khattab(25), the contemporary of the sixth Imam al-Sadiq. However, the presence of the Imams had limited the activities of the extremists, since the Imams used to have direct contacts with their followers and circulated open letters of excommunication against false agents.

But the occultation of the Twelfth Imam enabled the Ghulat to extend their role as agents or Gates (Abwab) at the expense of the Saf段r, since the Saf段rcould not refute their claim by declaring publicly that he was the true Imam's Saf段r, a declaration which might put his life and the Imam's life in danger. For this reason, when al‑`Askari died, Muhammad b. Musa al‑Shari`i claimed ‑ as has been noted ‑ that he was the Gate (Bab) of the Imam.

According to al‑Tusi, after the death of al-Shari段, Muhammad b. Nusayr al‑Numayri aspired to the office of the Saf段r(26).

This shows that both men may have been representatives of a single trend. According to Al-Kashshi, Ibn Nusayr had already claimed that he was the Bab of the tenth Imam(27). Al‑Tusi's account suggests that he had abandoned this claim during the lifetime of the eleventh Imam, al‑`Askari. It seems that only after the death of the first Saf段rdid he dispute the legality of Abu Ja断ar as the Saf段rand claim that he was the Bab of the Twelfth Imam. Therefore Abu Ja`far cursed and excommunciated him. Having been excommunicated, Ibn Nusayr tried to make Abu Ja断ar change his mind, but he did not even receive him, so the Imamites excluded him from their community(28).  

Ibn Nusayr was encouraged in his claim by Muhammad b. Musa b. Furat, who belonged to the well‑known family of Banu Furat(29).

He was a well‑known muhaddith in Kufa and Baghdad and seems to have been the first man from Banu Furat to hold an important administrative office in the `Abbasid government(30).

 With the support of Banu Furat, Ibn Nusayr was able to circulate his claim amongst the Imamites, and, because of the participation of the two of them, their sect was known as "al‑Numayriyya al‑Furatiyya"(31). The vast majority of their followers who came from Mada`in, and were called al‑Ishaqiyya after one of their leaders, Ishaq b. Muhammad alュ-Ahmar(32).

It appears that Ibn Nusayr's claims neither weakened Abu Jafar's position nor attracted any of his followers to Ibn Nusayr's side, so the latter's influence must have been limited mainly to the extremists. According to al‑Nawbakhti a certain Ahmad was supposed to have been designated as the successor of Ibn Nusayr, but a Nusayri work refers to a certain Muhammad b. Jundab as Ibn Nusayr's successor in the view of the majority of the Nusayriyya. It is said that he was in turn followed by Muhammad al‑Junbulani(33).






(1)T. al-Ghayba,230-1,233,236;Kama値,432.

(2)T. al-Ghayba,235;Kama値,510.

(3)T. al-Fihrist,50-1;T. Tahdhib al-Ahkam,IV,134;T. al-Ghayba,100-1. Most of the narrations attributed to Ibn Hilal come on the authority of Sad al-Ash'ari al-Qummi, which reveals that Ibn Hilal had a high position among the Imamites before he was excommunicated by the Saf段rs (Ikhtiyar,18,141,503,603). For the narration concerning the twelfth Imam being al-Qa段m related on the authority of Ibn Hilal, see Kama値,252-3,350,649; al-Kafi,I,342; N. al-Ghayba,175,100-1,149,283.


(5)al-Sadr, op. cit.,I,501.


(7)al-Saduq, Mashyakhat al-Faqih,IV,128. Al-Nasb literally means to declare war on someone, or to show open hostility to someone. In the Shiite works the tern al-nasb has been used to define a doctrine of a group of people called al-Nawasib (pl. of nasib). The Nawasib were mainly distinguished by their hostility towards the People of the House (Ahl al-Bayt). Al-Kulayni considers Ahmad, the son of the `Abbasid vizier `Ubayd Allah b. Khaqan, as one of them, and adds that al-Qa段m would order them to pay the jizya (al-Kafi,I,503,508,VIII,227,101,160-1). The Khawarij were amongst the Nawasib and al-Tusi considered them as infidels (kuffar)and forbade the Shiites from having any social relations with them. Furthermore, he permitted the Imamites to confiscate their money; al-Tusi, Tahdhib al-Ahkam,IV,22; al-Istibsar,III,183-4.

(8)T. al-Fihrist,50-1;al-Tabarsi, al-Ihtijaj,II,289.

(9)T. al-Ghayba,260.

(10)Kama値,489;al-Sadr, op. cit.,I,500.



(13)According to the Imamites, Islam is based on five pillars: prayer, zakat,fasting, pilgrimage, and the Wilaya,that is, the recognition of the Imam, to which they gave priority over the pillars. Therefore if a person spends all his life performing the other four Islamic pillars but does not recognize the Imam, his worship is invalid. For a full account of this point, see al-Kafi,I,181-4,374-5,II,18-19.

(14)T. al-Ghayba,260.

(15)Al-Dihqan is `Urwa b. Yahya al-Nakhkhas al-Baghdadi; he is said to have been the wakil and treasurer of the eleventh Imam, al-`Askari. But he was deposed and cursed because he seized the money of the organization and burnt the documents of the Imam, which were kept in the treasury; Ikhtiyar,573, 579.


(17)T. al-Ghayba,260.

(18)al-Najashi,254-5; Ikhtiyar,564, 566.

(19)al-Barqi, al-Rijal,57, 61.

(20)Al-Kashshi mentions a document attributed to al-`Askari containing instructions to his agents in Iraq and Khurasan, in which he ordered Ishaq alュ-Nisaburi to contact al-Bilali in Baghdad; Ikhtiyar,579.

(21)al-Kafi I,328; Kama値,499.

(22)T. al-Ghayba,260.

(23)T. al-Ghayba,261.

(24)T. al-Ghayba,261.

(25)Ikhtiyar,517-21, 528-9.

(26)T. al-Ghayba,259. Javad Ali and Rajkowski think that Ibn Nusayr was an eminent citizen of Basra. Moreover the latter thinks that he was of Persian origin. However, both base their accounts on al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (al-Khatib,III, 163-4) and Al-Kashshi, whereas the latter refers to two people bearing the same name. The first one was his teacher in Basra and the second was the above extremist. Al-Kashshi attributed the latter lineage to the Arab tribe Fahr and criticized him bitterly; Ikhtiyar,5, 278, 503, 520.


(28)T. al-Ghayba,259.

(29)N. Furat,78. Al-Sabi reports that Banu Furat used to inhabit a village called Babili Sasfrin in the district of upper Nahrawan, and that there were more than 300 people in this village (Hilal b. Muhsin al-Sabi, al-Wizara (Cairo, 1958), 11ュ12). They named themselves after their great-grandfather, Furat b. Ahnaf al-`Abdi, who had lived and died in Kufa around 120/737 and was a close associate of al-Sajjad and al-Baqir (al-Barqi, al-Rijal,8-9, 16). Another member of this family was `Umar b. Furat, who was executed on the orders of lbrahim b. al-Mahdi in 203/808, as a punishment inflicted on him for his propaganda in favour of the vizier Ibn Sahl. See for details, D. Sourdel, "Ibn al-Furat", E.I. 2; Rajkowski, op. cit.,769-70.

(30)al-Khatib,III,163-4; al-Sabi, op. cit.,30-31.

(31)Rajkowski, op. cit.,772-3, quoted from al-Khasibi, Diwan,f. 49b, 4, 5a.

(32)al-Khatib, VI,380; Salih Ahmad al-羨li, "al-Mada'in fi al-Masadir al-`Arabiyya", Sumar, XIII (1967), 50.

(33)Javad Ali, op. cit.,in Der Islam, XXV (1939), 206.