4. The Third Saf段r and al‑Shalmaghani
Muhammad b. `Ali b. Abi al‑`Azaqir al‑Shalmaghani, who was brought up in
the village of Shalmaghan situated in the suburbs of
Wasit, became one of the reciters (qurra) of the Qur'an
in Wasit. Afterwards he moved to Baghdad where he joined
the `Abbasid administration, working as secretary
He was also an Imamite scholar (faqih) and wrote eighteen works dealing
with Shiite law and theology, among which is his book
al‑Ghayba. His writings were highly esteemed by the
Imamites before his deviations(2).
It has been noted that after the promotion of Ibn Ruh to the sifara, he
appointed al‑Shalmaghani to direct the activities of the
Imamites in Baghdad, especially those of Banu Bistam,
and those of the two agents of Kufa, al‑Zajawzji and
Al‑Shalmaghani continued directing the Imamites' activities in Baghdad
and Kufa for many years. He was well‑known for his
impatient political ambitions, and he may have lost hope
of gaining power in the near future by following the
instructions of the Twelfth Imam to the letter.
Therefore he decided to ignore the Twelfth Imam's
instructions and started searching for other groups to
achieve his political ambitions. According to Ibn
Hawqal, al‑Shalmaghani paid allegiance to the Isma`ili
However, Ibn Hawqal is the only narrator of this occurrence, and he gives
neither the date of al‑Shalmaghani's deviation, nor the
reason he later abandoned his Isma`ili ties. It is most
likely that he turned away from the Isma段lis to the
underground movement of the Ghulat because he found in
their belief in the incarnation of God (hulul) in human
form the best means to put his political and economic
ambitions into action.
According to al‑Shalmaghani's belief, throughout the course of history
God has been incarnated in human form. In other words,
God was incarnated first in the body of Adam and
thereafter transmigrated to the bodies of the Prophets.
After the Prophet Muhammad, He transmigrated to the
bodies of the Imams until the time of the eleventh Imam,
and then He appeared in the body of al-Shalmaghani
himself. Simultaneously Allah had created His foe Iblis,
who was also incarnated and who transmigrated throughout
the course of history into a series of wicked human
forms. According to al‑Shalmaghani, Allah's purpose in
His incarnation and transｭmigration was to prove His
existence and His excellence(5).
Al‑Shalmaghani did not leave the Imamite organization immediately after
his deviation nor did he announce the incarnation of God
in his own body. Several reports suggest that he used
his office as a deputy of the Saf段r, Ibn Ruh, to train
gradually the agents who were below him to accept his
heretical teachings. The agent Muhammad b. Humam reports
that he heard al‑Shalmaghani saying, "The truth (God) is
one, but His forms are several. One day He takes on a
white form, another day a red one, and on another a blue
one." Ibn Humam reports, "This was the first statement
which caused‑me to reject al‑Shalmaghani, because this
was the doctrine of the people of the incarnation of God
According to another report al‑Shalmaghani managed to persuade some
agents together with their families, especially the
agents of Banu Bistam, to accept the doctrine of the
incarnation of God and the transmigration of souls.
Afterwards he divulged to them that the soul of the
Prophet had transmigrated into the body of the second
Saf段rAbu Ja断ar, the soul of `Ali b. Abi Talib had
transmigrated into the body of the third Saf段rIbn Ruh,
and the soul of Fatima, the Prophet's daughter, had
transmigrated into the body of Umm Kulthum, the second
Saf段r's daughter. At the same time al‑Shalmaghani told
the sub‑agents not to divulge this secret, because it
was the true faith(7).
It appears that Ibn Ruh discovered the deviation of al-Shalmaghani
through a female missionary, Umm Kulthum, who used to
supervise the Imamite activities among the females of
Banu Bistam. He ordered her to stop her relations and
her secret meetings with them. He told her that
al‑Shalmaghani had impressed his deviation so deeply on
their hearts that they would even accept it if he were
to claim that Allah Himself had become incarnated in his
body; then he would follow in al‑Hallaj's footsteps and
claim that he was Allah(8).
The precise date of this incident is unknown. However, according to Ibn
al‑Athir the deviation of al‑Shalmaghani began during
the early time of the vizierate of Hamid b. al‑`Abbas,
between the years 306‑311/918‑923.(9)
This is consistent with al‑Tusi's report, which
indicates that the deviation of al‑Shalmaghani must have
occurred before 312/924.(10)
After discovering al‑Shalmaghani's heretical ideas, Ibn Ruh discharged
him from his office and caused knowledge of his heresy
to become widespread, first among the people of Banu
Nawbakht and then among others(11).Afterwards
he ordered the agents to sever their relations with him.
It seems that the agent of Kufa, Muhammad b. Ahmad
al‑Zajawzji followed this order, because al‑Tusi reports
that he considered anyone possessing the book al‑Taklif
by al-ｭShalmaghani as extremist(12).
But the agents of Banu Bistam in Baghdad refused Ibn Ruh's order and
continued to receive instructions from al‑Shalmaghani.
For this reason Ibn Ruh disclosed al‑Shalmaghani's
situation to all the Imamites and excommunicated him
along with all those who paid attention to him(13).
Ibn Ruh's announcement reveals that a considerable body of the agents in
Baghdad and the ordinary believers had been influenced
by al‑Shalmaghani. After his excommunication, he began
propagating the idea that he and not Ibn Ruh was the
rightful representative (Saf段r) of the Twelfth Imam(14).
Through this claim and his belief in the incarnation of Allah in the
bodies of the Prophets and the Imams, al‑Shalmaghani
tried to monopolize the economic and political positions
of the organization. Later he even advanced the claim
that Allah was present in his own body," and that Iblis
was localized in the human form of the Twelfth Imam,
since the latter was known as al-Qa段m. Here
al‑Shalmaghani was claiming that al-Qa段m ("the one
standing") meant Iblis, who had refused to prostrate
himself before Adam when other angels had done so(15)."
He also claimed that `Ali b. Abi Talib was Allah, and
that He had sent Muhammad to be His Prophet, but that
the latter had betrayed Him. Therefore `Ali gave
Muhammad a period of truce lasting about 350 years, at
the end of which Islamic law would be changed(16).
Then the law would have a new interpretaton, e.g.
Paradise would be the acceptance of alｭ-Shalmaghani's
claim and allegiance to him, while Hell would be the
rejection of his doctrine. Moreover, he aimed at
eliminating the main claimants to the caliphate,
particularly the `Alids and the `Abbasids, and
considered himself the rightful claimant to all
religious and political authority(17).
The political ambitions of al‑Shalmaghani are obvious in his
materialistic interpretation of the Qur'anic verses
concerning Hell and Paradise to serve his own ambitions.
These are especially apparent with reference to two
points. Firstly, he fixed a date for the change of the
Islamic Shari`a; 350/967. By this "prophecy" he was
attempting to mobilise people to support him in his
preparation for the "coming age". Secondly he
concentrated his propaganda among the high officials of
the `Abbasid army and administration and gained a
considerable number of followers, like Ahmad b. Muhammad
b. `Abdus, Ibrahim b. Abi 'Awn, the author of the book
al‑Tashbihat, Ibn Shabib al‑Zayyat, Abu Ja`far b. Bistam
and Abu `Ali b. Bistam, all of whom were secretaries
(kuttab) of the state(18).
In 312/924 al‑Muhsin b. al‑Furat, the son of the vizier Ibn al‑Furat,
joined his side and enabled his followers to penetrate
the 'Abbasid administrative circles(19).
Moreover, al‑Husayn b. al‑Qasim b. `Ubayd Allah b. Wahb,
who held the vizierate between the years 319‑20/931ｭ2,
was one of the partisans of al‑Shalmaghani(20).
It has already been noted that the third Saf段r was imprisoned in
312/924. Al‑Shalmaghani seized this oppportunity to
expand his activities among the Imamites, who had not
yet received an answer from the Imam himself concerning
the claims of al‑Shalmaghani. Therefore the Imam sent
via Ibn Ruh this pronouncement concerning his attitude
towards the claims of al‑Shalmaghani:
... Muhammad b. `Ali, known as al‑Shalmaghani, is one of those upon whom
Allah has hastened His judgement and to whom He has
granted no respite. He has deviated from Islam and
separated himself from it. He has become an apostate
from the religion of Allah, making claims which indicate
the denial of Allah, the Most Glorious and High,
fabricating lies and falsehoods, and pronouncing
untruths and great transｭgressions. Those who associate
another with Allah are in far error and clearly suffer
great loss. For indeed we declare ourselves free (of any
relationship with al‑Shalmaghani) before Allah, may He
be exalted, and His messenger and his family, may the
blessings of Allah, His peace, His mercy and His
benediction be upon them according to His benevolence;
while we curse him (i.e. al‑Shalmaghani), may the curses
of Allah be showered successively (upon him) externally
and internally, secretly and publicly, at every time and
in every circumstance. And (may the curse of Allah be)
upon those who agree with him and follow him, and also
upon those who, having heard our announcement, continue
to pay allegiance to him.
So inform them (the Imamite agents) that we shall guard and take
precautions against him, as was the case with those who
preceded him and held similar views, like al‑Shari`i,
al-Numayri, al‑Hilali, al‑Bilali and so forth. For the
traditions of Allah are conformable to us. In Him we
place our trust, and from Him we seek assistance. He is
sufficient for us in all our affairs and is the best of
According to al‑Tusi the agent Muhammad b. Humam received this
pronouncement from Ibn Ruh while he was in prison. He
spread it personally among all the agents in Baghdad and
sent it to the agents in the other cities until it
became well‑known among the ordinary Imamites(22).
According to Ibn al‑Athir, Ibn Ruh disclosed al‑Shalmaghani's claim even
to the `Abbasids. As a result in 313/925 the vizier
al-ｭKhaqani tried to arrest him(23),
an attempt which brought about the imprisonment of many
people who had inclined towards him(24).
However he disappeared and escaped to Mosul, where he
took refuge from the ruler Nasir al‑Dawla al‑Hasan b.
`Abd Allah b. Hamdan. He lived there in alvillage called
Ma althaya in the vicinity of Mosul. However, he did not
break off communication with his followers in Baghdad(25).
According to al‑Najashi, during his concealment in the village of
Ma'alth'aya, al‑Shalmaghani narrated his books to a
certain Abu `Abd Allah al‑Shaybani. He was an Imamite
Muhaddith who lived in the Nawbakhtiyya district of
Baghdad," but he later turned away from the Imamite
In 316/928 al‑Shaybani returned secretly to Baghdad(27)
in order to be in direct contact with his followers,
whose activities had spread widely among the officials
of the Abbasid administration, a development which can
possibly be regarded as a step toward his objective of
obtaining power. Al‑Husayn b. al‑Qasim b. `Ubayd Allah
b. Wahb, the partisan of al‑Shalmaghani, was promoted to
the vizierate in 319/931 and his name was stamped on the
coin beside the name of the caliph al‑Muqtadir(28).
As a vizier Ibn Wahb enabled his partisans to assume high positions, but
after a year he was discharged. Later the new caliph
al‑Qahir (320‑322/932‑934) exiled him to al‑Riqqah in
Syria because of his allegiance to al-Shalmaghani. He
also arrested his comrades, especially the Banu Bistam,
and seized their property(29).
This campaign continued until al‑Shalmaghani himself was arrested in
323/934. Along with a few of the leading personalities
of his movement, like Ibn Abi 'Awn, he was tortured and
executed, and the corpses were burnt at the police
headquarters (Dar al‑Shurta) on the western side of
Ibn Ruh's influence and authority among the `Abbasids increased after the
persecution of al‑Shalmaghani, who was their common
enemy. Thus Ibn Ruh recovered his high influence and
became close to the caliph al‑Radi (322‑29/934‑40).
Moreover it appears that Ibn Ruh's cooperation with the
`Abbasids against al‑Shalmaghani led the caliph al‑Radi
to think that his activities with the Imamites had no
connection with the Twelfth Imam and would probably
cease in the near future. Al‑Suli reports:
Al‑Radi sometimes mentioned that the Imamites used to hand the khums
(al‑amwal) over to Ibn Ruh but we refuted this
accusation, and claimed that it was a lie. So he said to
us, "What is wrong with that? By Allah, I wish that
there were a thousand people like him to whom the
Imamites might bring their possessions so that Allah
might impoverish them. I do not mind if they (Ibn Ruh
and others) become rich through receiving their
possessions (i.e. those of the Imamites).(31)
Ibn Ruh died on the 18th of Sha'ban 326/20 June 938, and was buried in
in the western side of Baghdad(33).
He was‑ succeeded by Abu al‑Hasan `Ali b. Muhammad
Chapter 7: The Fourth Saf段r and the Complete Occultation of the Twelfth Imam
1. The Career of the Fourth Saf段r
(1)Ibn al‑Athir, al-Lubab, II,
27; Yaqut, Irshad al‑Arib, I, 296; Mujam
al‑Buldan, V, 288.
(2)al‑Najashi, 293‑4; T.
al-Fihrist, 305‑6; T. al-Ghayba, 158, 221, 267.
It seems that the extant work called Fiqh
al‑Riďa is in fact Kitab al‑Taklif of
al‑Shalmaghani because it has a tradition
concerning testimony (al‑Shahada) and another
concerning the definition of the measure called
kurr which al‑Shalmaghani gave in contrast to
the other Imamites.
(3)T. al-Ghayba, 212, 263.
(4)Ibn Hawqal, op. cit., 211.
(5)Yaqut, Irshad al‑Arib, I,
301‑3, al‑Kamil, VIII, 218‑9.
(6)Bihar, LI, 374; Hashim
al‑Hasani, op. cit., II, 575.
(7)Bihar, LI, 372; al‑Sadr,
op. cit., I, 516.
(8)Such a claim obviously
contradicts the beliefs of both the Shia and the
Sunni alike. For details of God's essential
nature according to the Imamites, see al-Hilli,
al‑Hasan b. Yusuf, Anwar al‑Malakut fi Sharh
al‑Yaqut (Teheran, 1338), 77‑85, and his al‑Bab
al‑Hadi Ashar, A Treatise on the principles of
Shiite theology, trans. from Arabic from W.
Miller (London 1958), 15‑52
(9)al‑Kamil, VIII, 218‑9.
(15)Yaqut, Irshad al‑Arib, I,
302; Ibn al‑Athir, al-Lubab, II, 27
(17)Yaqut, Irshad al‑Arib, I,
302‑3; al‑Shibi, op. cit., 203.
(18)al‑Dhahabi, al‑`Ibar, II,
(19)Ibn Miskawayh, op. cit.,
(20)Yaqut, Irshad al‑Arib, I,
(21)al‑Sadr, op. cit., 517‑8.
(24)Yaqut, Irshad al‑Arib, I,
(25)al‑Najashi, 289, 294.
(26)Al‑Shaybani seems to have
been an Imamite Muhaddith but after the
deviation of al‑Shalmaghani he inclined toward
him, ignoring the Twelfth Imam's pronouncement
against him; T. al-Fihrist; 299; al‑Najashi,
(27)al‑Sadr, op. cit., I, 527;
Hashim al‑Hasani, op. cit., II, 575.
(28)Ibn Miskawayh, op. cit.,
I, 215‑7, 223.
(29)Ibn Miskawayh, I, 267.
343; Yaqut, Irshad al‑Arib, I, 299‑304.
(31)al‑Sufi, op. cit.,
(33)At the present time the
grave of Ibn Ruh is situated on the eastern side
of Baghdad, whereas al‑Tusi mentions that this
grave was in the Nawbakhtiyya district at the
avenue which leads to Qantarat al‑Shawk, which
was located in the western side of Baghdad;
Yaqut, Mujam al‑Buldan, IV, 191; al‑`Amid, op.