3. The Imamite Learned Men's Attitude Towards the Second Occultation

As has already been indicated, during the period of the short occultation (260-329/874-941) more than two generations of Imamites were brought up under the careful supervision of the agents and with the teachings of the Imamite narrators (al-Muhaddith`un),in order that the new generation would recognize that religious authority derives from indirect communication with the hidden Imam, via his four Saf段rs.

Their arguments and instructions concerning the hidden Imam were based mainly on the traditions attributed to the previous eleven Imams before the year 260/874, including the traditions narrated by al- `Asfari. Although the Imamites split into fifteen groups and held different views concerning the successor of al-`Askari at the time of the first Saf段r,the teaching and the underground activities of the second Saf段rmet with success.  

His followers (al-Imamiyya al-Qat'iyya) carried out intensive propaganda to prove the existence of the Twelfth Imam and the necessity for his occultation without specifying the date of his reappearance: "concerning the release from suffering (i.e. the rise of the Imam) it is in the hand of Allah and those who try to fix certain times for it are liars." (1)

Thus the teachings and doctrine of the followers of the second Saf段r dominated Imamite circles, whereas the other groups disappeared. During the time of the third and the fourth Saf段rswe find the new generation of Imamites more obedient to the Saf段rs and willing to accept their statements as the statements of the Twelfth Imam. They were all the more willing because, as we have noted, all the pronouncements (Tawqi`at) issued to the four Saf段rsand attributed to the Twelfth Imam were written in the same handwriting and in the same style(2).

The identical handwriting explains the consensus among the Imamites to be obedient to the last pronouncement of the fourth Saf段r,by which the first occultation came to an end and the second began.

There is evidence that when the last pronouncement of the Twelfth Imam proclaimed the end of direct communication with the fourth Saf段r,the agents ceased their underground activities and in particular refrained from collecting the khums. In other words the Imamite underground organization (al-Wikala),which had been established during the time of al-Sadiq (d. 148/765), was dissolved by that pronouncement.

Henceforth anyone claiming to be the Saf段r of the Imam was considered an unbeliever and imposter. For this reason the Imamites cursed Muhammad b. Ahmad b. `Uthman al-Umari, known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdgdi, the nephew of the second Saf段r,when he claimed that he was the Saf段r of the Twelfth Imam(3). Al-Tusi gives an example of how the agents refrained from collecting' the khums:

Ahmad b. Muhammad b. al-Hasan b. al-Walid al-Qummi came to Basra as the representative of his father and the group (i.e. the agents in Qumm). The Imamites questioned him concerning rumours that he was the deputy of the Imam. But he denied them, saying: "I have no right in this matter" So they offered him money as a test, but he rejected it and said, "It is forbidden for me to take it, because I have no right in this matter (i.e. the deputyship of the Imam), and I have never made such a claim."(4)

Perhaps these two examples are a further evidence that the theory of the occultation of the Twelfth Imam was not "the creation of politicians" to further their own ends. In fact, there were some people motivated by political and worldly aspirations, such as al-Shalmaghani and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose followers held that they were the Saf段rsof the hidden Imam. However, the Imamites totally rejected their claim(5).

The agents' decision to end their activities led the Imamite narrators (al-Muhaddithun, al-Ruwat) to the belief that since no new Saf段r had been appointed, the second occultation which they called the "period of trial and confusion" had begun. They supported their conclusion with traditions attributed to the previous Imams indicating that al-Qa段m would have two forms of occultation before his rising, one of them being short and the other long. Al-Nu`mani may have been the first scholar to give this particular interpretation to existing traditions. After quoting nine traditions predicting the two forms of Ghaybas and attributed to al-Sadiq on the authority of seven of his disciples(6), al-Nu`mani comments:

典he authenticity of these traditions mentioning that al-Qa段m has two occultations has been proved - Praise be to Allah. For by bringing about the occultation He has authenticated the statements of the Imams.

As for the first occultation, it is that during which there were Saf段rs between the Imam and the people, safars who had been appointed by the Imam and who carried out their activities while living amongst the people... This is the short occultation, whose days have come to an end and whose period has passed away.

The second occultation is the one during which the Saf段rs and the mediators have been removed for a purpose intended by Allah and planned for in the creation. In other words, throughout this period testing, examination, trial, sifting and purification will be the lot of those who claimed (to be Imamites), just as is stated in the Qur'an: It is not (the purpose) of Allah to leave you in your present state till He shall separate the wicked from the good. And it is not (the purpose of) Allah to let you know the unseen. (Al-Imran III,179). . . This explains our statement that the Imam has two occultations and that we are living in the second.(7)

Al-Nu'mani's interpretation of the two Ghaybas became the foundation for most explanations put forward by the Imamite jurists from the time of al-Saduq (d. 381/991) in Kamal al-Din wa-Tamam al-ュNima and al-Khazzaz al-Razi al-Qummi (d. 381/991) in Kifayat al-ュAthar fi al-Nusus ala al-A'imma al-Ithna `Ashar through the period of al-Majlisi (d.1111/1700) in Bihar al-Anwar.

However, a contemporary scholar, Sachedina, writes as follows:

的t is plausible to maintain that the division of the Ghayba into short, and long is the innovation of the Imamite jurists. In support of this division, traditions were either invented or interpreted to accommodate the situation as it appeared to them.(8)

But Sachedina's hypothesis does not bear scrutiny, because the belief in two Ghaybas did not come newly into being after the death of the fourth Saf段r in 329/941, nor was it invented by al-Nu'mani and those scholars who followed his footsteps, such as al-Saduq, alュ-Khazzaz, al-Mufid (d. 413/1022) and al-Tusi (d. 460/1067). They merely clarified the consistency between the two concealments of the Twelfth Imam and the traditions predicting their occurrence(9).

From the historical viewpoint there are several reports which reveal that the traditions speaking about two concealments already existed prior to the year 329/941 when the second occultation began and that they were used by the Waqifa and the Imamites. 

The Waqifa who stopped at the seventh Imam Musa al-Kazim (d. 183/799) contending that he was al-Qa段m al-Mahdi,had narrated these traditions. Among the Waqifite narrators is Abu Muhammad `Ali b. Ahmad al-`Alawi, who wrote a book in support of Waqifite doctrine called Fi Nusrat al-Waqifa. He mentions this tradition attributed to al-Sadiq:

典he Sahib al-Amr (i.e. al-Qa段m) will have two occultations, one of which will be longer than the other. Finally people will say that he has died and others will say that he has been killed. Only a few of his followers will continue to support his Imamate, and no one will know his whereabouts and his affairs except his servant.(10)

As we have previousely seen, one group of the Imamites held that the eleventh Imam had not died in 260/874, but had merely disappeared and would return and be recognized, only to disappear again before finally rising as al-Qa段m(11).

According to al-Nawbakhti (d. ca. 310/922) this group based its claim on the generally accepted narration which states that al-Qa段m will have two concealments(12). Agha Buzurg reports that such traditions were included by al-Hasan b. Mahbub al-Zarrad in Kitab al-Mashyakha,(13) and by al-Fadl b. Shadhan (d. 260/873) in Kitab al-Ghayba,(14) but these works are not extant. Fortunately, al-Kulayni, who lived during the short occultation, has included three of these traditions in al-Kafi. According to one of these traditions, al-Sadiq said:

鄭l-Qa段m will have two concealments, one of them short and the other long. In the first only his intimate partisans will know his whereabouts, while in the second only his close associates will know his whereabouts.(15)

These traditions predicting the two concealments of the Twelfth Imam which are reported by al-Hasan b. Mahbub, al-Fadl b. Shadhan and al-Kulayni were not invented by the Imamite narrators as is Sachedina's belief. On the contrary, such traditions were the main reason why Imamite scholars like Ibn Qubba(16) and al-Nu`mani put forward the claim that the Twelfth Imam was al-Qa段m al-Mahdi,since they applied them to the historical circumstances which accompanied the career of the Twelfth Imam from 260/874 until the discontinuation of his direct communication with his followers after the death of his fourth Saf段r in 329/941. Thus al-Nu'mani, after narrating such traditions, states,

鼎onsidering the large number of traditions predicting the concealment transmitted through the centuries, if the concealment had not occurred the very principle of the Imama would be invalid. However by its occurrence Allah the Exalted has proved the authenticity of the Imams' warnings about the occultation and the correctness of their belief in it which they held generation after generation. In so doing, Allah obliged the Shi誕 to accept it(17)

4. The Attitude of the Ordinary Imamites towards the Second Occultation

Despite the fact that the Imamite narrators like al-Nu`mani accepted the second occultation of the Twelfth Imam and contented themselves with the traditions going back to before 260/874 which predicted its occurrence, the vast majority of the ordinary Imamites disagreed with them. They argued that if the Imam was born in 256/870, he was 73 years old by the end of the first occultation in 329/941, and this accords with the life span of a normal person. They concluded that he had probably died, since death is the natural end for a person living to such an age. Al-Nu`mani describes the confusion among the Imamite populace as follows:

典he majority of the Imamites asked regarding the successor of al-Hasan, "Where is he?", "How could this happen?", "For how long will he be concealed?" and "How much longer will he live, since he is now about 73 years old?" Some of them believed that he was dead. Other groups denied his birth or even his existence, and mocked those who believed in him. Some merely found it difficult to accept the prolongation of his concealment because they could not imagine that it was within the power of God. . . to prolong the age of His wali (i.e. the Imam) . . . and cause him to reappear afterwards .(18)

According to al-Nu`mani the bulk of these groups abandoned their belief in the hidden Imam. In fact those who continued to hold a firm belief irrhis Imamate were a small minority belonging to the circles of narrators, like Ibn Qubba and al-Nu`mani himself, who based their belief on the traditions of the Imams.(19)

Many scholars shared the perplexity of the Imamite masses over the prolonged occultation of the Twelfth Imam. According to Ibn al-Nadim, Abu Sahl Isma`il b. `Ali al-Nawbakhti was the first to hold the opinion that the Twelfth Imam had died during his occultation, that his son had succeeded him, and that the Imama would continue in his progeny until Allah resurrected the Twelfth Imam.(20)

The attribution of this statement to Abu Sahl may be sound, because in his defence and vindication of the concealment of the Imam written around the year 290/902, he does not expect the concealment to last beyond the life span of an ordinary person. He writes,

填ntil the present time there has been one of his hidden and reliable adherents, who claims that he is the Imam's Gate (Bab) and the intermediary for his commands and orders to his followers. The period of the occultation (of the Imam) has not become so prolonged that it is exceptional and beyond the length of the concealments of those who went into concealment before him.(21)

Muhammad b. al-Hasan b. Ahmad b. `Ali al-Salt al-Qummi was another Imamite scholar baffled by the discontinuation of direct communication with the Imam because of his prolonged occultation. Thus he went along with a philosopher from Bukhara in doubting the Imam's existence.(22)






(1)al-Tabarsi, al-Ihtijaj, II, 283.

(2)Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, Bahth Hawla al-Mahdi, 69-70.

(3)Bihar, LI, 377-78.

(4)T. al-Ghayba, 270.

(5)Incidents recorded by Ibn Taghri Bardi indicate that the adherents of alュ- Shalmaghani continued their underground activities until the year 341/952, when the `Abbasids discovered their cells. For a full account, see Nujum, III,307-8.

(6)The disciples of al-Sadiq who narrated these traditions on his authority were Ishaq b. `Amman al-Sayrafi, Ibrahim b. `Amr al-Kannas% Hisham b. Salim, alュ-Mufaddil b. `Umar, Hazim b. Habib, Abu Basir and Muhammad b. Muslim; N. al-Ghayba,90-1.

(7)N. al-Ghayba,92.

(8)Sachedina, op. cit.,125

(9)T. al-Ghayba,110.

(10)al-`Alawi, Fi Nusrat al- Waqifa,quoted in T. al-Ghayba,44.

(11)Q. Maqalat,106.

(12)N. Firaq,97.

(13)Buzurg, al-Dhari`a, XXI,69.

(14)Quoted in the T. al-Ghayba,274.



(17)N. al-Ghayba,6.

(18)N. al-Ghayba,80.

(19)N. al-Ghayba,99; Ibn Qubba quoted in Kama値,112.

(20)Ibn al-Nadim, op. cit.,225.

(21)Abu Sahl al-Nawbakhti, Kitab al-Tanbih,quoted in Kama値,3.

(22)Kama値, 3.