It also seems that the continuation of the house arrest encouraged the Imams to find a means which might release them from its restrictions. From the years 245‑250/859‑64 onwards statements related on the authority of al‑Hadi and al‑`Askari, indicating that an unnamed Twelfth Imam would go into concealment, were circulating amongst the Imamites. Furthermore al‑Hadi and al‑`Askari ordered their close agents to follow the instructions of `Uthman b. Said alュ`Umari and his son Abu Ja`far (i.e. the first and the second safrs). It appears therefore that outwardly and historically the Imam's first concealment grew from the desire of his fathers to evade the surveillance of the government of the day, so that he could safely perform the duties of the Imama.

E) An attempt has been made in‑this study to prove that the eleventh Imam, al‑`Askari, left a single male successor, whose name was Muhammad and who was smuggled by his father from Samarra to Medina in 259/873. He was the Twelfth Imam and his concealment began during the years 260‑329/874‑941. This was regarded as his first occultation, during which he continued to carry out his activities without disclosing his identity or his whereabouts, except to his four Saf段rs and certain select followers.

The first occultation was distinguished by the widening of the role of the Wikala. Throughout this period the four safrs directed the Imamites' activities. Their names were `Uthman b. Said al‑`Umari, Abu Ja断ar Muhammad b. `Uthman, al‑Husayn b. Ruh alュ-Nawbakhti and 'Ali b. Muhammad al‑Sammari. Baghdad was the centre of activities for the saf r, who had agents in other provinces, beneath whom were many local agents.

A critical study of this period reveals that the main function of the Saf段rs was to perform certain tasks previously undertaken by the Imams so as to save the Imam from the political pressure of the `Abbasids, which had been directed toward his predecessors from the time of al‑Ma'mun. The split amongst the Imamites after the death of al‑ `Askari in 260/8741ed the first and the second Saf段rs to concentrate their efforts upon re‑uniting the Imamite ranks by proving the existence of the Twelfth Imam and emphasizing that he was al-Qa段m al‑Mahdi; that is, he who would undertake the elimination of oppressive government by militant means.

While the Imam was in hiding the role of the Saf段r continued to increase so that by the time of the fourth Saf段r, his statements began to be regarded as the statements of the Imam himself. It seems that the increased role of the Saf段r was the result of the instructions of the Imam himself, who wanted his followers to accept the leadership of the jurists until the. moment of his reappearance.

F) On the death of the fourth Saf段r in 329/941 no further Saf段r was appointed and all direct communications with the Imam came to an end, which meant the end of the Imamite Wikala. This was also considered the beginning of the second occultation. At this stage the Imamites expected the Imam's reappearance in the near future, and as a result none of the jurists dared to act on behalf of the Imam.

However the prolongation of the occultation led them to attempt to fill the vacuum left by the death of the fourth Saf段r. They turned their attention to theological matters and became the leaders of the Imamites in this field. Gradually they came to be seen as the hidden Imam's indirect deputies, who were leading the community and instructing in the law during his occultation.

Finally the concealment of the Twelfth Imam seems to have been closely connected with two important phenomena:

Firstly, with the occurrence of the second occultation, most of the Shiite revolts, particularly those of the Zaydite and the Imamites, gradually disappeared.

Secondly, when the Imams were openly living amongst their followers, they suffered along with them from the oppression of the government, which was suspicious of their ambitions. But after the second occultation this oppression all but disappeared, and the Imamite jurists (Fuqaha) began to carry out their activities without encountering the difficult conditions faced by their predecessors. This encouraged one to put forward the idea that Imams were throughout their lives trying to recover their usurped right, the political leadership of the Islamic state, by means which they believed to be correct and legal, while after the second occultation this task fell upon the Imamites themselves under the leadership of the Fuqaha; a situation which has continued until the present day.

In other words, as long as the Muslims are not ready for such political transformation the rise of the hidden Imam, the expected Mahdi, will be far. During his occultation it is the task of his followers in particular the Fuqaha' to make Muslims ready for this transformation. They should struggle to make them true committed Muslims practicing the shari`a in its true sense in their daily life and in all aspects of society. The Fuqaha 'should convince the Muslims that their rightful leader is the hidden Imam, the expected Mahdi, who was divinely appointed and that he acquired this title, the Mahdi, because he will be `guided' by Allah and will guide men to undertake a spiritual and political transformation of society.

Before the reappearance of the hidden Imam, the Fuqaha can assume political authority in order to disseminate the above tasks and to implement the rules of the shari `a.

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