Al-Tusi reports that Ibn Ruh designated Abu al-Hasan `Ali b. Muhammad
al-Sammari as his successor(1).
According to al-Tabarsi, this designation was by the
stipulation and order of the Twelfth Imam himself(2).
His surname is derived from the name of al-Sammar or al-Saymar, situated
in one of the districts of Basra, where the relatives of
al-Sammari used to live(3).
According to al-Mas`udi many members of this family,
like al-Hasan and Muhammad, the sons of Isma`il b. Salih
and `Ali b. Ziyad, had large estates in Basra. They
devoted half of the income from these estates to the
eleventh Imam, who used to receive it every year and
correspond with them(4).
Moreover, some of al-Sammari s relatives were agents of the Twelfth Imam.
Among these was `Ali b. Muhammad b. Ziyad, who had also
been an agent to the tenth and eleventh Imams and who
wrote a book called al-Awsiyya to confirm the Imamate of
the Twelfth Imam(5).
He was the brother-inlaw of the vizier Ja`far b.
Muhammad, a relationship which enabled him to achieve an
important office in the `Abbasid administration(6).
According to al-Kulayni, the Twelfth Imam divulged to
him in a letter that his death would occur in 280/893,
when it actually occurred(7).
These points indicate that al-Sammari came from a family whose members
were well-known for their Shiite beliefs and their
service to the organization. In fact, such a background
was necessary to enable al-Sammari to reach the office
of the sifara with little opposition, especially if one
takes into consideration the prolonged occultation of
the Twelfth Imam, which shook the faith of a
considerable body of the Imamites.
However, the sifara of al-Sammari was too short-lived to cause any
remarkable changes in the relations between him and the
other agents. Although nothing is known about the
details of his activities, a report mentioned by
al-Saduq makes it clear that the agents recognised him
as the rightful Saf’ir and handed the khums overto him(8).
Al-Sammari died on the 15th of Sha`ban 329/15th May 941 and was buried in
al-Khaljani street in the quarter of al-Muhawwal(9).
According to Yaqut, this quarter was situated to the
north of the village of Buratha, on the western side of
A week before the death of al-Sammari the following pronouncement
(Tawqi') was issued by the Twelfth Imam:
May Allah give good rewards to your bretheren concerning you (i.e. on
your death), for indeed you shall die after six days. So
prepare your affairs, and do not appoint anyone to take
your place after your death. For the second occultation
has now occurred, and there can be no appearance until,
after a long time when Allah gives His permission,
hearts become hardened and the world becomes filled with
injustice. And someone shall come to my partisans
(Shi`a) claiming that he has seen me; but beware of
anyone claiming to have seen me before the rise of
al-Sufyani and the outcry from the sky, for he shall be
a slanderous liar(11).
Six days after the announcement of this document the principal agents
congregated at the death-bed of the fourth safer and
asked him who was to take charge of his office.
Al-Sammari replied, "To Allah belongs the matter which
He shall accomplish" (Li-llah amr huwa balighuh).(12)
This was the last statement heard from al-Sammari, the fourth Saf’ir.
Thereby direct communication between the safars and the
Twelfth Imam was brought to an end. In other words the
short occultation had ended and the second occultation
or, according to the later sources, the major
occultation had begun.
2. An Analysis of the Tawqi’ of the Fourth Saf’ir
The pronouncement of the Twelfth Imam illustrates five points:
Firstly, it reveals that the fourth Saf’ir, al-Sammari, would die six
days after the issue of the Tawqi’. According to the
Imamite reports, al-Sammari did die on the mentioned
day. It is worth pointing out that the Twelfth Imam is
also said to have predicted the times of the deaths of
the three previous Saf’irs(13).
For the Imamites this prediction was strong proof that
the Tawqi' had been issued by the Imam himself.
Secondly, the Imam ordered the fourth Saf’ir not to designate anyone to
succeed him or to be in charge of his office, "wa-la
tusi ila ahad fa-yaqum maqamak ba'd wafatik."(14)
This clearly indicated the end of direct communication between the Imam
and his Saf’irs and agents. Hence the Imam in the Tawqi
denies that he will have any personal Saf’ir during the
second occultation before his return:
“And someone shall come to my partisans (Shi`a) claiming that he has seen
me; but beware of anyone claiming to have seen me before
the rise of al-Sufyani and the outcry from the sky, for
he shall be a slanderous liar”.(15)
The highly developed activities of the organization, which continued for
about 69 years between the years 260-329/874-941 were
ended by the death-bed statement of the fourth Saf’ir as
regards his successor: God would do what He wished in
this matter, "Li-llah amr huwa balighuh."(16)
Thirdly, the Tawqi’ announces the beginning of the second, or the
complete occultation (Fa-qad waqa T. al-Ghayba
al-Thaniya aw al-Tamma)(17),
which al-Nu'mani describes as the period of confusion,
Al-Mufid calls it the longer occultation (al-Ghayba
al-Tula),whereas the later Imamites refer to it as the
major occultation (al-Ghayba al-Kubra)(19).
Fourthly, there can be no appearance of the Imam until Allah gives him
His permission. His return will take place when it
becomes far from the expectation of the people because
of the hardening of their hearts and the filling of the
world with tyranny(20).
Fifthly, the Tawqi' indicates that the appearance of the Imam will be
preceded by two inevitable signs, that is the rise of
al-Sufyani, who according to early traditions will rise
and dominate Syria, and the outcry in the sky in the
name of the Imam.
After quoting the-Tawqi' Rajkowski states as follows:
“. . . this document is a clear indication that the leaders of al-Shi`a
al-Qat`iyya had lost hope in the speedy arrival of
al-Mahdi and thought that the moment of al-Zuhur might
still be very distant; so that it was no longer possible
to keep up the pretences of direct communication between
the successive Ambassador and the Sahib al-Zaman. It was
better to leave the Shiites without an official
mediator, and rely only on al-Mahdi's invisible
protection and inspiration”.(21)
Rajkowski seems to be suggesting that the eleventh Imam died heirless and
the leading Imamites invented the idea of the
occultation (al-Ghayba) and claimed that the Saf’irs had
direct communications with al-`Askari's successor.
Rajkowski's theory seems to have inspired Jihad
al-Hasani to hold similar views concerning the role of
the four Saf’irs. He says,
“... by resorting to the claim of being agents for the concealed Twelfth
Imam, the four Twelver agents were apparently able to
put themselves forward in the position of the leadership
though they were not from the line of descent of the
The hypothesis of these two authors might be sound if there were no clear
proof that al-`Askari had left a successor or that
traditions were circulating in Imamite circles before
260/874 indicating that the series of the Imams would
end with the Twelfth Imam, who would be al-Qa’im.(23)
However, it has been demonstrated that it was highly probable that the
eleventh Imam had showed his son to about forty of his
adherents among whom were the first two agents, `Uthman
b. Said and Muhammad b. `Uthman(24).
Furthermore, the evidence has strongly suggested that the eleventh Imam
sent his son to Medina in 259/873,(25)
where he stayed during the time of the first Saf’ir.
Moreover, the Imamite organization, the Wikala,was
established during the time of the sixth Imam al-Sadiq.
Had it appeared suddenly after the death of al- `Askari
without the spread of traditions before 260/874
predicting the Ghayba and without the explicit
appointment of `Uthman b. Said and his son Muhammad (Abu
Ja`far) by the eleventh Imam as the agents of his son
the Twelfth Imam(26),
one could agree with Rajkowski's statement and with
Montgomery Watt, who says:
“... the Imamite theory of twelve Imams did not come into being of its
own accord, as it were, following upon certain events
known to all. The theory was an interpretation of
selected events, and was deliberately created by
politicians to further their own - perhaps very worthy –
We have already mentioned that the Imamites consider Wilaya (allegiance
and obedience to Ahl al-Bayt) as the fifth pillar of
Islam. According to them, the practice of all the other
pillars (the prayer, zakat,fasting, pilgrimage) is
invalid without the recognition of the rights of the
They report many traditions stressing the necessity of
the existence of an Imam until the Day of Judgement,
such as the well-known saying attributed to `Ali b. Abi
Allah, I know that knowledge (al-'Ilm) cannot disappear completely, its
sources cannot cease, and You cannot leave Your earth
without a proof (Hujja) of You for Your creation, either
manifest and unobeyed or afraid and unknown (i.e. in a
state of occultation). Otherwise Your proofs (hujaj)
would be (sent) in vain, and Your followers would go
astray after You have guided them.(29)
Al-Saffar (d. 290/902) reports that al-Baqir interpreted the Qur'anic
verse, "Indeed you are a warner and for every people
there will be a Guide."(al-Ra`ad, XIII, 7), as follows:
The "warner" is the Prophet, peace be upon him, and in
every time there is someone who will guide others to
what the Prophet brought. These guides are first the
Prophet of Allah, then the Guided ones (al-Hudat);that
is, 'Ali and the Imams (the "legatees", al-Awsiya ),(30)
Al-Kashshi reports a tradition attributed to the eighth Imam, al-Riďa:
"The Imam cannot pass away unless he sees his successor,
except for al-Qa’im.”
All of these traditions depict the Imamite belief in the necessity of the
continuity of the Imama. Any break in its continuity
would mean its overthrow as a principle of the religion.
The short occultation did not signify the non-existence
of the Twelfth Imam, because he continued to carry out
his activities via his four Saf’irs until the year
329/941. Thus, regardless of the "creations of
politicians," it is quite clear that the first
occultation of the Twelfth Imam occurred within a
religious environment where this event had come to be
As we have noted, the `Abbasid authorities wanted to restrict the
activities of the Imams, so they included them amongst
their courtiers and placed them under house arrest, so
that they could no longer practice their activities
amongst their followers. Restrictions were placed upon
the Imams from the time of al-RidH and were greatly
increased during the Imamate of the eleventh Imam,
As a result, the Imams devised a policy to save their last successor from
a similar situation. They realized that any son born to
the eleventh Imam would be hidden from the eyes of the
`Abbasids so that he could carry out his activities
incognito. To this end they encouraged the transmission
of traditions (hadith) predicting an Imam who would be
hidden from sight and would implement his policies in
secret amongst his followers; and this would be the
Twelfth Imam. Such steps were taken so as to prepare the
Imamites to accept the Saf’irs as the Imam's
In the light of this explanation, it is worth mentioning a few of the
traditions which were reported by al-`Asfari, who died
in 250/863, that is, ten years before the death of
i) Al-Baqir said to his companion Abu al-Muqdam, "O Abu al-Muqdam, what
would you do if an occultation (sabta) occurred between
the Haramayn (i.e. Mecca and Medina) . . . My father
used to say that would happen and that Allah does what
He wills. . ."
ii) The Prophet is reported to have said, "I and eleven of my descendants
and you, O `Ali, are the axis of the earth, its pegs and
its mountains. . . When my eleven descendants pass away,
then chaos and disorder will occur among the people."
iii) The Prophet is reported to have said, "(There will be) from my
descendants eleven leaders (who will) be noble and
receive and understand (knowledge). The last of them
will be al-Qa’im, who will fill the world with justice
after it has been filled with tyranny."(33)
These and other traditions were spread in both Imamite and Zaydite
circles. Al-`Asfari, who was a member of al-Zaydiyya al
Jarudiyya,was himself awaiting the rise of al-Mahdi in
the near future and used to carry his sword with him. As
already mentioned, he once said that he carried his
sword so that he would always be ready to fight along
According to al-Saduq these traditions
and others predicting the occurrence of the Ghayba were
the main reason for the Imamite acceptance of the Ghayba
and for their being satisfied that the series of the
Imams should stop at the Twelfth. For the Imamites the
acceptance of the Ghayba is a matter of obedience to the
orders of the Imams.
(2)al-Tabarsi, al-Ihtijaj, II,
(3)Buzurg, Nawabigh al-Ruwat,
200. Saymara was the name of a town in the
region of al-Jabal in Iran (Ibn Hawqal, op.
cit., 158, 259), but it seems that the surname
of the fourth Saf’ir is derived from the river
al-Sammar in Basra, because most of his
relatives lived there; Ithbat, 246-7; al-Subki,
Tabaqat al-Shafi’iyya, III, 339.
(9)T. al-Ghayba, 257-8; Bihar,
(10)Yaqut, Mujam al-Buldan, I,
(11)Kama’l, 516; T. al-Ghayba,
257; al-Tabarsi, al-Ihtijaj, II, 297; Sadr
al-Din al-Sadr, op. cit., 179-80.
(19)al-Irshad, 399; Bihar,
LIII, complete work.
(21)Rajowski, op. cit., 673-4.
(22)al-Hasani, op. cit., 278.
(23)For these traditions see
al-`Asfari, op. cit., f. 1-2.
(24)Kama’l, 442-3; T. al-Ghayba,
(27)Watt, The Majesty that is
(28)al-Kafi, I, 183, 375, al-Tusi,
al-Amali, I, 124. Al-Kulayni devotes a complete
section to the principle of Wilaya. He records
about 90 narrations containing an exegesis of
Qur'anic verses concerning it, al-Kafi 412-38.
(29)al-Kafi, I, 355, 339. For
a full account of these traditions, see al-Saffar,
Basa'ir al-Darajat, f. 23b; al-Mufid, Awa'il al-Maqalat,
8; al-Kafi, I, 177-8, 184.
(30)al-Saffar, Basa'ir al-Darajat,
(32)This can be noted in the
tradition attributed to the ninth Imam, al-Jawad,
who said, "If my son, `Ali, died, a light from
him will appear and when this light went off,
another light will be concealed. I warn those
who doubt what will happen." N. al-Ghayba, 99.
(33)For all these traditions
see al-`Asfari, op. cit., f. 1-2 (Appendix);