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
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
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
Sa`d al‑Qummi states that he abandoned Shi'ism and embraced the nasb
whereas al‑Tusi accused him of holding an extremist
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
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
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
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
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
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).
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
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.
(5)al-Sadr, op. cit.,I,501.
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
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.
(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
(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;
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.