Several remarks made about twenty years after the beginning of the second occultation (around the year 352/963) suggest that confusion and despair over the immediate return of the Twelfth Imam became a dominant feature in Imamite circles. Moreover harsh attacks on the concealment of the Twelfth Imam by such Mu`tazilites as Abu al­-Qasim al-Balkhi(1) and such Zaydites as Abu Zayd al-`Alawis(2) and al­-Sahib b. `Abbad(3) increased this confusion among the Imamite populace from Nisapur to Baghdad, so that many Imamites abandoned their belief.(4)

The confusion over the prolongation of the occultation along with the attacks from opposition groups encouraged the Imamite narrators to justify the Ghayba by composing works. At first they gathered their material from traditions attributed to the Prophet and the Imams. Such works are exemplified by al-Nu`mani's Kitab al-Ghaybaand al-Saduq's Kamal al-Din.

The latter explains that he composed his work while he was living in Nisapur, because concealment of the Imam caused perplexity and bafflement among the majority of the Shi'a who used to visit him and consequently they had gone astray. Their number included even the well-known Qummi scholar Muhammad b. al-Salt. This situation provoked him into writing a work quoting the authentic narrations attributed to the Prophet and the Imams on this issue. According to him, these narrations had already been assembled in al-Usul al-Arba`mi'a and had been written down before 260/874 by the followers of al-Sadiq and the other Imams(5). He also devotes a chapter to people who lived to be more than 100 years old in order to vindicate the advanced age of the Twelfth Imam during his occultation.

By the end of the 4th/10th century, it seems that the argument based on traditions and employed by al-Kulayni, al-Mas'udi, al-­Nu’mani, al-Saduq and al-Khazzaz were no longer sufficient(6). Hence the Imamite scholars resorted to theological arguments (`Ilm al-Kalam) and used them extensively to vindicate the Imam's concealment. Al-Mufid (d. 413/ 1022) was perhaps the pioneer in this period.

In his work al-Fusul al-`Ashara fi al-Ghaybahe tries to prove the existence of the hidden Imam on the basis of two principles: the necessity of the existence of an Imam at every period of time and the infallibility of this Imam. Al-Mufid's treatment of this subject became the framework for later Imamite scholars like his pupil al­-Karajaki (d. 449/1057), al-Murtada and al-Tusi. In al-Ghayba,the last of these advances both the traditional and the theological arguments for vindicating the complete occultation of the Twelfth Imam. However that may be, the theological approach goes beyond the historical approach of the present work and pertains to a later period. 

5. The Application of the Epithet al-Mahdi to the Twelfth Imam 

The traditions used by the Imamites during the short occultation to support the view that the Twelfth Imam was the one who will rise with the sword (al-Qa’im bil-sayf) were the same traditions talking about the Twelfth Imam as the expected Mahdi. In other words, the two ideas, al-Qa’im and al-Mahdi,were already combined and applied to the Twelfth Imam at the time of the Prophet. But, as we have already seen (pp 21-23, 30) the Imams due to certain reasons revealed it only to a few of their followers instructing them not to publicize it. In spite of this Sachedina holds that

“. . . the Mahdiism of the Twelfth Imamite Imam was a later development in the theory of the Imamate of the hidden Imam, which combined the already known belief in the coming of al-Mahdi to restore justice and equity with the prolonged occultation of the Twelfth Imam”.(7)

Sachedina reached this conclusion after examining the Kutub al-­Ziyarat(8)which was included by al-Majlisi in his work Bihar al-­Anwar(9). According to Sachedina the earliest work of this literary genre is related on the authority of the Twelfth Imam himself in reply to a letter written by Abd Allah al-Himyari (d. 290/902). Sachedina says,

“In this Ziyarah which I have carefully examined, there is no mention of the title al-Mahdi at all. The Twelfth Imam is not addressed as the Mahdi, the one promised by the Prophet. This is the first Ziyarah mentioned in this section of the Book on the Shrines.”(10)

From the historical point of view there are several points in Sachedina's thesis which are open to question.

Firstly, according to sayings attributed to al-Baqir and al-Jawad, all the Imams hold the title al-Qa’im,inferring that they have been entrusted with the execution of Allah's order (Kullun Qa'imun bi ­Amr Allah);in addition, they all hold the title al-Mahdi,whose duty is to guide people to the Religion, of Allah (kulluna Nahdi ila Din Allah).(11) For this reason, we find that in the books on pilgrimage or Ziyara,all the Imams are addressed as al-A'imma al-Rashidun al-Mahdiyyun(12).

Consequently the Twelfth Imam must hold the title of al-Mahdi in this meaning,even though here the word has quite a different meaning from the epithet al-Qa’im al-Mahdi,the one promised by the Prophet who will rise with the sword(13).

(14)Secondly, in the Imamite works there is a certain consistency between the signs indicating the rise of al-Qa’im and his performance of his duty on earth following his return and those pointing to the rise of al-Mahdi. This can be noted in such statements as the following:

It becomes clear from numerous statements of this nature that the Imams used two different titles when referring to one person. A tradition attributed to al-Sadiq makes the identity between the two figures explicitly for when he was asked by his follower Abu Said al­Khurasani, "Are al-Mahdi and al-Qa’im one and the same person?" He replied "Yes.(15)

Hence we find that al-Nu'mani sometimes refers to the Twelfth Imam as al-Qa’im and sometimes as al-Mahdi without imagining that such an application of the two terms would lead to confusion among the Imamites. It is clear that the two titles refer to the same person since al-Nu'mani also reports a narration attributed to al-Baqir revealing that al-Mahdi is al-Qa’im bi-l-Sayf.

When the Qa'im of the People of the House (Ahl al-Bayt) rises he will distribute equally among the people and deal justly with his subjects. He is called al-Mahdi because he will be the Guide to secret matters.(16)

For this reason al-Nu`mani refers to the Twelfth Imam as al-Qa’im al-Mahdi.(17)

Moreover it is clear that the expected Mahdi acquired this title because he will be `guided' by Allah and will guide men to undertake a spiritual transformation of society, just as he acquired the title al-Qa’im bil-Sayf because he will rise by militant means to put into practice this transformation, namely the establishment of a truly Islamic State based entirely upon the shari`a as interpreted and implemented by the Prophet and his rightful successors, the Imams. This can also be seen in al-Mufid's interpretation of the doctrine of return (al-Raj`a):

“I say that Allah the Exalted will return some of the dead people to the present world in the physical forms which they had before. He will do this to honour one group and to debase another, to grant superiority to the faithful over the deniers, and to judge between the oppressors and the oppressed. This will take place after the rising of al-Mahdi of the Family of Muhammad”.(18)

Moreover most of the `Alids who had been inspired by the Prophetic tradition predicting the rise of al-Mahdi held the title al-Qa’im al-Mahdi when they rose in arms, like Muhammad b. Ja’far al-­Sadiq, who rose in 199/814.(19)

Thirdly, al-Kulayni and al-Mas`udi, both of whom lived during the period of the short occultation, report a tradition which explicitly refers to the Twelfth Imam as al-Mahdi: `Ali b. Abi Talib said,

I thought about a child who will be from my flesh, the eleventh from my line of descendants. He is the Mahdi who will fill the earth with justice and equity when the height of injustice and tyranny in the world has been reached. He will live in a state of occultation as a result of which a group of people will go astray and another will remain faithful.(20)

Al-Saduq (d. 381/991) includes similar traditions referring to the Twelfth Imam as al-Mahdi and as al-Qa’im.(21) He also cites the text of a visit (ziyara) to the Twelfth Imam during his occultation which is attributed to the second Saf’ir, Abu Ja’far, (d. 305/917), who addresses the Twelfth Imam as al-Hujja al-Qa’im al-Mahdi.(22)

In the light of these points one can conclude that after the Twelfth Imam went into occultation for the first time, the Imamite scholars considered him as al-Qa’im al-Mahdi, theone who will rise with the sword. This was a strongly supported belief by the time of the occurrence of the second or complete occultation. 

6. The Effect of the Complete Occultation on the Position of the Imamite Fuqaha'

The occurrence of the second occultation of the Twelfth Imam, followed by the immediate dissolution of the Imamite Wikala after the death of al-Sammari, the fourth safar in 329/941, left a serious vacuum in the Imamite leadership. This situation allowed the Imamite jurists (al-Fuqaha') to extend their activities. They reached a consensus 'that the concealed Imam would be alive until the moment of his rising in arms, irrespective of the length of his concealment. They based their view upon such traditions as that attributed to al­Sadiq, who says to his adherent Hazim,

O Hazim, the Sahib al-Amr (al-Qa’im) has two occultations and will rise after the second one. Anyone who comes to you claiming that he has purified his hands in the soil of his grave (i.e. the grave of al-Qa’im), do not believe him.(23)

But in reality they found themselves in need of a leader to save the congregation from possible disintegration, and there was no one to undertake this task except themselves. By the last quarter of the fourth/tenth century the ordinary Imamites were accepting the statements of the jurists as the actual statements of the Twelfth Imam, but they did not consider their authority equal to his.(24)

In other words the fuqaha' were considered the spokesmen for the Imam's views concerning Islamic doctrine and law. But they were not in charge of the office of the Imdma because as is explained by authors such as al­-Tusi and al-Majlisi, it is not possible for anyone to hold the position of Imam before the rise of al-Qa’im.(25)

For this reason the eminent leaders of the Imamites, al-Mufid (d.413/1022) and al-Tusi (d. 460/1067), refused to give themselves authority over the half of the khums(26) which was set aside for the Imam. Al-Mufid held that any faithful follower who wanted to pay the Imam's share should put it aside and either keep it in a safe place or bury it. In case of his death, he should turn it over to a trustworthy person to give to the Imam when he rises. As for the other half of the khums,which is called sadat share, it should be divided into three shares and distributed equally among the needy members of the Prophet's family, i.e. the orphans, the poor and the penniless travellers.(27)

 Al-Mufid's view was also held by such later scholars as al-­Tusi, Abu al-Salah and Ibn Zahra al-Halabi. This consensus among the Fuqaha' concerning the khums continued until the 7th/13th century. But since the Twelfth Imam's occultation prolonged, the believers did not know what to do with the Imam's share in the khums,which they have been trusted with by their predecessors.

By the beginning of the 7th AH/13th century the Imamite Fuqaha',in particular, al-Muhaqiq al-Hilli wanted to solve this problem. He began receiving the Imam's share in the khums and spent it on religious activities serving the Shiite cause. This step taken by the later Fuqaha' marked a break with the authority of the earlier Fuqaha'. It was a factor along with other previous factors for the extension of the role of the Fuqaha' after the second occultation which can be seen in the following points:

Firstly, the prolongation of the occultation of the Twelfth Imam enabled the Imamite fuqaha' to develop their role from mere narrators of traditions into mujtahidun. It has been noted that as regards legal statutes (al-Ahkam) the fuqaha' used to consult the Twelfth Imam via his four representatives during the time of the short occultation (260-329/874-941). In other words their main function was to narrate the traditions of the Imams, and they continued to perform this function in the early years of the second occultation.(28)

Thus they rejected the arguments based on reason (`Aql) put forward first by Ibn `Aqil al-`Umam (in the first half of the fourth/tenth century and then by Ibn al-Junayd al-Askafi (d. 381/991). Both of these figures refined Imamite jurisprudence,put forward new ideas, separated the discussions about principles (usul) from those about subordinates (furu’) and based their method on the basic principles of jurisprudence. Their method was rejected by the Imamite Fuqaha' because it might lead to wrong inference in finding the religious rules.






(1)Quoted by al-Qadi `Abd al-Jabbar, al-Mughni, II,176, 182-3.

(2)Quoted in Kama’l,94-122, 126.

(3)Ibn `Abbad, Nusrat Madhahib al-Zaydiyya,211.

(4)Kama’l,2-3, 16.

(5)Kama’l,2-3, 19.

(6)There are two reports which support this point. First al-Saduq mentions that the Zaydites accused the Imamites of inventing the Prophetic traditions which indicate that his successors will be twelve Imams (Kama’l,67-8). The Zaydite al­- Saib b. `Abbad (d. 381/991) held this claim against the Imamites (Ibn `Abbad, Nusrat Madhahib al-Zaydiyya,209-12). Also the Isma`ilis did so. Ivanow (ed.), Zahr al-Ma`atli,51.

(7)Sachedina, op. cit.,83.

(8)Kutub al-Ziyarat are the books which give details of how to undertake pilgrimages to the shrines of the Imams.

(9)Bihar, CII,81.

(10)Sachedina, op. cit.,86-7.

(11)al-Kafi, I,307, 536; Kama’l,263; al-Tabarsi, al-Ihtijaj, II,249-50; Ithbat,178-9.

(12)al-Saduq, Man la Yahduruhu al-Faqih, II,371; al-Tusi, al-Tahdhib, VI,114; N. al­- Ghayba,45.

(13)al-Saffar (d. 290), Basa'ir al-Darajat,f. 50a; al-Kafi, I,243.

(14)N. al-Ghayba,122.

(15)T. al-Ghayba,(Najaf, 1965), 296.

(16)N. al-Ghayba,125.

(17)(17)N. al-Ghayba,125.

(18)al-Mufid, Awa'il al-Maqalat,50.


(20)al-Kafi, I,19, 35, 338; Ithbat,260.

(21)Kama’l,256, 260, 280, 289, 333, 338, 342.

(22)Kama’l,512, 513.

(23)N. al-Ghayba,91; T. al-Ghayba,274-5; Ikhtiyar,476.

(24)Kama’l, 81.

(25)T. al-Ghayba,215; Bihar, LII,99.

(26)The khums (the fifth) in Shiite law is an obligatory tax based on the following Qur'anic verse: "And know ye that whatever of a thing ye acquire, a fifth of it is for God, and for the Apostle, and for the Apostle's near relatives and the orphans and the needy and the penniless traveller" (al-Anfal, VIII,41). The Imams collected the khums from their followers and used the first three shares for the benefit of the congregation and the kindred of the Prophet, and the second three shares for distribution among the orphans, the needy, and the penniless traveller (wayfarer) of the Prophet's family; Asl `Asim b. Hamid al-­Hannat, f. 22;al-Kafi, II,626-8.

(27)al-Muhaqqiq al-Hili,al-Mu`tabar fi sharh al-Mukhtasar (Qumm,1318),298;al-Jawami' al-Fiqhiyya (Iran,1276),12,76.

(28)For details see Ibn Dawud, al-Rijal,110; T. al-Fihrist,268,363; Ibn Qubba, quoted in Kama’l,120; al-Najashi,315.