A contemporary of al-Kulayni was Abu al-Qasim al-Balkhi, a Mu'tazilite,
who died around the year 301/913. He held that the
eleventh Imam had died heirless and gave expression to
these opinions in his work al-Mustarshid, which is a
refutation of Ibn Qubba's book al-Insaf. Unfortunately
his work has been lost. However judging by the
quotations recorded in the book al-Mughni by al-Qadi
`Abd al-Jabbar (d. 415/1024), it appears that al-Balkhi
relied on al-Hasan al-Nawbakhti (d. ca. 310/922) for
information concerning the divisions among the Imamites
after the year 260/874.(1)
As for al-Ash`ari (d. 324/935), he depended on al-Balkhi for his
information about the Imamites. In fact after
al-Ash'ari's conversion to the group of Ahl al-Hadith,
later to be the Sunnites, his books became the main
source for the later Sunnite writers, such as alｭ
Baghdadi (d. 429/1037) in his work al-Farq bayn al-Firaq(2)
, the writer Ibn Hazm (d. 456/ 1063) in his work al-Fasl
fi al-Milal wa-l-Ahwa' waｭ l-Nihal and later
al-Shahristani (d. 548/1153) in his work al-Milal waｭ
However the information contained in the latter works concerning the
Imamite schisms after the death of al- `Askari is so far
removed from the original expostion of al-Balkhi and
al-Nawbakhti that one has to be careful about relying
2 The Biographical Works
Among the primary sources of this study are the books of al-Rijal, which
deal with the scientific biographies of the narrators
and compilers of traditions by estimating the degree of
their authority and deducing their reliability from
their dogmatic and political inclinations.
The Imamites compiled four main biographical works concerned with the
domain of the present study in the 4th-5th/10th-11th
1. The first is Ma'rifat al-Naqilin `an al-A'imma al-Sadiqin, compiled by
Muhammad b. `Umar al-Kashshi. He was a native of the
town of Kashsh near Samarqand, where he was brought up
under the auspices of the Imamite scholar Muhammad b.
Mas'ud al ｭSamarqandi and where he spent the whole of
his life. According to al ｭTusi he died in 368/978(4).
Al-Kashshi quoted his information from fifty-three narrators, but his
main source was `Ali b. Muhammad b. Qutayba of Nishapur(5),
who was contemporary with the short occultation and had
close ties with the agents of the Twelfth Imam in
Khurasan. Ibn Qutayba provides important information
concerning the evolution of the underground organization
of the Imamites (alｭ-Wikala) after al-Sadiq (d. 148/765)
and the reason behind the rise of the Waqifite groups
after the death of the seventh Imam in 183/799.
Al-Kashshi's work became an important source for later Imamite scholars
like al-Tusi (d. 460/1067), who summarised it and gave
it the title Ikhtiyar Ma`rifat al-Rijal.
2,3. Al-Tusi's works, al-Fihrist and al-Rijal, are two of the four main
Imamite books of al-Rijal. He cites different chains of
transmitters (isnad) regarded as authentic and enables
us to discover the links between the Imamite scholars
and the agents during the short occultation.
4. The fourth Imamite work on al-Rijal is Fihrist Asma' Musannifi
al-Shi`a, which was written by Ahmad b. 'Ali al-Najashi
(d. 450/1058), a native of Kufa. He received his Shi段te
education there and then moved to Baghdad, where he was
one of the leading Imamite scholars along with
al-Murtada (d. 436/1044). His residing in these two
cities enabled him to establish close contact with
fortyｭfive Imamite scholars who had in their possession
documents related to the period of the short
occultation. These documents cast light on the different
ranks within the Imamite organization and provide useful
information on works on the Ghayba compiled before and
Al-Barqi (d. 278/891), in his work on al-Rijal, provides valuable reports
concerning the relationship between the Imams and their
followers in particular the tenth and eleventh Imams,
since he was their contemporary.
Despite the fact that the work of al-Dhahabi (d. 748/ 1347) entitled
Mizan al-I`tidal is a later source, it contains some
reports which elucidate the background of the Ghayba and
its connection with the rise of al-Qa段m.
3 The Books of General History
Al-Tabari (d. 310/922) lived during the periods of the short occultation.
His work Tarikh al-RUsul wa-l-Muluk is devoid of any
information on the activities of the representatives of
the Twelfth Imam, which points to the fact that their
activities were underground.
However he does follow the militant activities of the other Shi段te
groups like the Qaramita and the Isma`ilis until the
establishment of their state in 296/908. He also traces
the use of the prophetic traditions regarding al-Qa段m
al-Mahdi by these groups in their struggle for power
during the time of the short occultation.
Al-Mas'udi (d. 346/957) lived during the period of the second occultation
and provides important information regarding the harsh
treatment of the Imams and their followers by the
`Abbasids and the effect of this policy on the
occurrence of the Ghayba. This can be found in his
works, Muruj al-Dhahab, al-Tanbah wa-l-Ishraf and Ithbat
al-Wasiyya (attributed to him).
In his work al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh, Ibn al-Athir (d. 630/ 1232) provides a
useful report concerning the schisms among the agents of
the Twelfth Imam and the role of the extremists in these
schisms, especially al-Shalmaghani. It is possible that
Ibn al-Athir quotes his information from an Imamite work
entitled Tarikh al-Imamiyya by Yahya b. Abi Tay (d.
630/1232). Unfortunately, however, this work is not
Many other historical and geographical works and books of traditions have
also been used in the present study. Before they have
been employed, they have been considered with the same
critical method as that used above.
The Role of Traditions in the Occultation of the Twelfth Imam
After the martyrdom of al-Husayn, the Imamite Imams from `Ali b.
al-Husayn to al-Hasan al-`Askari followed a quiescent
policy towards the Umayyads and the `Abbasids. But they
expected that all their suffering would be terminated by
al-Qa段m, whose rising in arms they were awaiting. The
Imamites based their expectations on their
interpretation of certain Qur'anic verses and on numbers
of traditions attributed to the Prophet concerning the
political and religious role of al-Qa段m. So it is
essential to discuss some of these Qur'anic verses and
traditions in order to see their effect upon the
attitude of the `Abbasids towards the Imamites, and
consequently their reactions to the question of the
occultation (al-Ghayba) of the Twelfth Imam.
1. The early usage of the term al-Mahdi
The term al-Mahdi, which means "the one who is guided by Allah", is the
passive participle of the stem hada, "to guide". A term
that occurs twice in the Qur'an is the active participle
of the same stem, alｭ Hada, the Guide. The first verse
states, "Allah is surely the Guide of those who believe"
(XXII, 53), while the second states, "But the Lord is a
sufficient Guide and Helper" (XXV,33). In the usage of
the Qur'an the eighth form of the same stem, ihtada, "he
accepted the guidance for himself", is used strictly as
a reflexive passive, whose participle is Muhtada.So Man,
who is guided by Allah, is not simply guided, but reacts
himself to the divine guidance (hidaya)(6),
either by instinct or intellect. Through these two means
he can acquire knowledge of Allah, which leads him to
worship Him by following His laws on earth. However,
Allah's laws cannot be discovered through these two
sources of knowledge, so throughout the course of
history Allah has revealed His knowledge and laws to a
group of people who have been divinely guided to lead
mankind towards His straight path. These people are
called "Prophets" and possessed charismatic qualities
which enabled them to implement the commands of Allah
and to lead the people without error. Hence they are
called in the Qur'an al ｭHudat (sing. al-hadi), because
they were already rightly guided (muhtadin) by Allah(7).
The term al-Mahdi (the guided one) has the same meaning as al-ｭMuhtadi.
However, it has been applied to certain individuals in
the early Islamic period as an honorific title, while
also being applied to al-Qa段m. Many examples can be
cited showing that the term al-ｭMahdi was used in these
two senses. For example the poet Hassan b. Thabit (d.
54/673) applied the term al-Mahdi to the Prophet in a
qasida when he says(8):
Sorrow for the Mahdi who is buried!
O best of those who walked on Earth, be not far!
The poet Jarir applies this term to Ibrahim, the prophet(9).
The Sunnites often applied it to the four caliphs after the Prophet, who
were called al-Khulafa' al-Rashidun al-Mahdiyyun, the
divinely guided caliphs.(10)
' Sulayman b. Surd called al-Husayn, after his
martyrdom, Mahdi b. al-Mahdi(11).
As for the theological usage of this term, according to Rajkowski, Abu
Ishaq Ka'b b. Mati' b. Haysu` al-Himyari (d. 34/654) was
the first individual to speak of al-Mahdi as the Saviour(12).
But it is worth mentioning that the second caliph, `Umar
b. al-Khattab, had spoken of occultation before Ka'b.
When the Prophet died in 11/632, ` Umar contended that
Muhammad had not died but had concealed himself as Moses
did and would return from his occultation. `Umar's
claim, however, was refuted by Abu Bakr, who reminded
him of the Qur'anic verse revealing the death of the
which states: "Surely you shall die and they (too) shall
surely die. Then surely on the Day of Resurrection you
will contend with one another before your Lord"
(al-Zumar, XXXIX, 30-1).
The follower of Ibn al-Hanafiyya (d. 81-4/700-3)(14),
al-Mukhtar, who was in revolt in Kufa in 66/685, named
him as claimant to the Imamate and called him al-Mahdi
in the messianic context(15).
Later the name of Ibn al-Hanafiyya became associated with the Kaysaniyya
sect, which denied his death and held that he was the
promised Mahdi, who had concealed himself in Mound
Radwa, and who would rise in arms to eliminate injustice(16).
The Kaysaniyya dogma played an important role in Islamic political
history during the Umayyad period, since the `Abbasid
propaganda, which brought about the collapse of the
Umayyads, was in fact derived from this sect(17).
of al-Kaysaniyya can be seen in the poetry of Kuthayyir
(d. 105/723) and al-Sayyid al-Himyari (d. 173/789). The
latter had followed this sect, but it is said that he
became an Imamite after a discussion with al-Sadiq, who
clarified for him that the concealed Imam mentioned by
the Prophet was not Ibn al-Hanafiyya but the Twelfth
Imam from the progeny of al-Husayn(18).
(1) al-Qadi `Abd al-Jabbar, al-Mughni
fi Abwab al-Tawhid, al-Imama (Cairo, 1963), II,
(2) al-Baghdadi, al-Farq bayn al-Firaq
(Beirut, 1973), 24, 51-2.
(3) Ibn Hazm, `Ali b. Muhammad, al-Fasl
fi al-Milal wa-I-Ahwa' wa-l-Nihal (Cairo,
1317-21), IV, 180, 188; al-Shahristani, al-Milal
wa-l-Nihal (London, 1864),128.
(4) al-Najashi, 288; T.Rijal 458.
(6) EI1, art. "al-Mahdi", 112.
(7) Sachedina, op.cit., 6-7.
(8) Ibn Hisham, Das Leben Muhammads (Wustenfeld,
Gottingen, 1859), II, 1024.
(9) Goldziher, al-`Aqida wa-l-Shari'a,
tr. Muhammad Yusuf (Cairo, 1378/1959), 327-8,
(10) D.Sunan, IV, 201; Ibn Maja,
Sunan, I, 16; Ibn A`tham al-Kufi, Kitab al-Futuh
(Hyderabad, 1972), V, 31, 34.
(11) Tabari, II, 546. Ibn A`tham
reports a letter attributed to the Kufans, sent
to al-Husayn b. `Ali encouraging him to rebel
against the Umayyads, in which they used the
title al-Mahdi for al-Husayn as an honorific
Ibn A`tham, op. cit., V, 47.
(12) Rajkowski, op. cit., 166-7.
There is evidence which supports the claim that
Ka`b narrated traditions attributed to the
People of the Book which predict the rise of al-Mahdi
It is obvious from a line of poetry attributed
to the poet Kutayr that those who applied this
term to Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya were influenced
by Ka'b. This can be noted in Kuthayyir's
saying: Huwa al-Mahdi Akhbarnahu / Ka`bun Akhu
al-Akhbar fi al-Huqab al-Khawali; al-Zubayri,
Nasab Quraysh (Beirut, 1953), 41.
(14) Al-Nawbakhti thinks that Ibn al-Hanafiyya
died in 81/700 (Firaq, 24), whereas al-Saduq
puts his death in 84/703; Kama値, 36;
(16)N. Firaq, 25-6; Milal, 111-2; B.
(17) N. Firaq, 29-30, 42-3. For a
full account of the fact that the `Abbasid
propaganda was the outcome of a branch of the
Kaysaniyya movement, see alｭ Ansari, Madhdhib
ibtada`atha al-Siyasa fi al-Islam (Beirut,
(18)Kama値, 32-4; al-Zubayri, op.cit.,