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 Baghdad(10).

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-Hayra(18). 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 Prophet”.(22)

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 – ends”.(27)

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 Imam(28). 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 Talib:

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.” (31)

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 expected.

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, al-`Askari(32).

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 intermediaries.

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 al-`Askari:

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 with al-Mahdi.(34)

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.






(1)T. al-Ghayba, 256.

(2)al-Tabarsi, al-Ihtijaj, II, 296-7.

(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.

(4)Ithbat, 246-7.

(5)Bihar, LI, 23.

(6)Ithbat, 240.

(7)al-Kafi, I, 524.

(8)Kama’l, 517.

(9)T. al-Ghayba, 257-8; Bihar, LI, 362.

(10)Yaqut, Mujam al-Buldan, I, 532.

(11)Kama’l, 516; T. al-Ghayba, 257; al-Tabarsi, al-Ihtijaj, II, 297; Sadr al-Din al-Sadr, op. cit., 179-80.

(12)Kama’l, 516.

(13)T. al-Ghayba, 237-8.

(14)Kama’l, 516.

(15)Kama’l, 516.

(16)Kama’l, 516.

(17)Kama’l, 516.

(18)N. al-Ghayba, 92.

(19)al-Irshad, 399; Bihar, LIII, complete work.

(20)Kama’l, 516.

(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, 231-2.

(25)Ithbat, 247-8.

(26)al-Kafi, I, 329-30.

(27)Watt, The Majesty that is Islam, 170-1.

(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, f. 23b-24a.

(31)Ikhtiyar, 464-5.

(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); Kama’l, 349.

(34)See Chapter I.