4. The Third Saf段r and al‑Shalmaghani 

Muhammad b. `Ali b. Abi al‑`Azaqir al‑Shalmaghani, who was brought up in the village of Shalmaghan situated in the suburbs of Wasit, became one of the reciters (qurra) of the Qur'an in Wasit. Afterwards he moved to Baghdad where he joined the `Abbasid administration, working as secretary (katib)(1).

He was also an Imamite scholar (faqih) and wrote eighteen works dealing with Shiite law and theology, among which is his book al‑Ghayba. His writings were highly esteemed by the Imamites before his deviations(2).

It has been noted that after the promotion of Ibn Ruh to the sifara, he appointed al‑Shalmaghani to direct the activities of the Imamites in Baghdad, especially those of Banu Bistam, and those of the two agents of Kufa, al‑Zajawzji and al‑Zurari(3).

Al‑Shalmaghani continued directing the Imamites' activities in Baghdad and Kufa for many years. He was well‑known for his impatient political ambitions, and he may have lost hope of gaining power in the near future by following the instructions of the Twelfth Imam to the letter. Therefore he decided to ignore the Twelfth Imam's instructions and started searching for other groups to achieve his political ambitions. According to Ibn Hawqal, al‑Shalmaghani paid allegiance to the Isma`ili Mahdi(4) .

However, Ibn Hawqal is the only narrator of this occurrence, and he gives neither the date of al‑Shalmaghani's deviation, nor the reason he later abandoned his Isma`ili ties. It is most likely that he turned away from the Isma段lis to the underground movement of the Ghulat because he found in their belief in the incarnation of God (hulul) in human form the best means to put his political and economic ambitions into action.

According to al‑Shalmaghani's belief, throughout the course of history God has been incarnated in human form. In other words, God was incarnated first in the body of Adam and thereafter transmigrated to the bodies of the Prophets. After the Prophet Muhammad, He transmigrated to the bodies of the Imams until the time of the eleventh Imam, and then He appeared in the body of al-Shalmaghani himself. Simultaneously Allah had created His foe Iblis, who was also incarnated and who transmigrated throughout the course of history into a series of wicked human forms. According to al‑Shalmaghani, Allah's purpose in His incarnation and transュmigration was to prove His existence and His excellence(5).

Al‑Shalmaghani did not leave the Imamite organization immediately after his deviation nor did he announce the incarnation of God in his own body. Several reports suggest that he used his office as a deputy of the Saf段r, Ibn Ruh, to train gradually the agents who were below him to accept his heretical teachings. The agent Muhammad b. Humam reports that he heard al‑Shalmaghani saying, "The truth (God) is one, but His forms are several. One day He takes on a white form, another day a red one, and on another a blue one." Ibn Humam reports, "This was the first statement which caused‑me to reject al‑Shalmaghani, because this was the doctrine of the people of the incarnation of God (al‑Hululiyya).(6) "

According to another report al‑Shalmaghani managed to persuade some agents together with their families, especially the agents of Banu Bistam, to accept the doctrine of the incarnation of God and the transmigration of souls. Afterwards he divulged to them that the soul of the Prophet had transmigrated into the body of the second Saf段rAbu Ja断ar, the soul of `Ali b. Abi Talib had transmigrated into the body of the third Saf段rIbn Ruh, and the soul of Fatima, the Prophet's daughter, had transmigrated into the body of Umm Kulthum, the second Saf段r's daughter. At the same time al‑Shalmaghani told the sub‑agents not to divulge this secret, because it was the true faith(7).

It appears that Ibn Ruh discovered the deviation of al-Shalmaghani through a female missionary, Umm Kulthum, who used to supervise the Imamite activities among the females of Banu Bistam. He ordered her to stop her relations and her secret meetings with them. He told her that al‑Shalmaghani had impressed his deviation so deeply on their hearts that they would even accept it if he were to claim that Allah Himself had become incarnated in his body; then he would follow in al‑Hallaj's footsteps and claim that he was Allah(8).

The precise date of this incident is unknown. However, according to Ibn al‑Athir the deviation of al‑Shalmaghani began during the early time of the vizierate of Hamid b. al‑`Abbas, between the years 306‑311/918‑923.(9) This is consistent with al‑Tusi's report, which indicates that the deviation of al‑Shalmaghani must have occurred before 312/924.(10)

After discovering al‑Shalmaghani's heretical ideas, Ibn Ruh discharged him from his office and caused knowledge of his heresy to become widespread, first among the people of Banu Nawbakht and then among others(11).Afterwards he ordered the agents to sever their relations with him. It seems that the agent of Kufa, Muhammad b. Ahmad al‑Zajawzji followed this order, because al‑Tusi reports that he considered anyone possessing the book al‑Taklif by al-ュShalmaghani as extremist(12).

But the agents of Banu Bistam in Baghdad refused Ibn Ruh's order and continued to receive instructions from al‑Shalmaghani. For this reason Ibn Ruh disclosed al‑Shalmaghani's situation to all the Imamites and excommunicated him along with all those who paid attention to him(13).

Ibn Ruh's announcement reveals that a considerable body of the agents in Baghdad and the ordinary believers had been influenced by al‑Shalmaghani. After his excommunication, he began propagating the idea that he and not Ibn Ruh was the rightful representative (Saf段r) of the Twelfth Imam(14).

Through this claim and his belief in the incarnation of Allah in the bodies of the Prophets and the Imams, al‑Shalmaghani tried to monopolize the economic and political positions of the organization. Later he even advanced the claim that Allah was present in his own body," and that Iblis was localized in the human form of the Twelfth Imam, since the latter was known as al-Qa段m. Here al‑Shalmaghani was claiming that al-Qa段m ("the one standing") meant Iblis, who had refused to prostrate himself before Adam when other angels had done so(15)." He also claimed that `Ali b. Abi Talib was Allah, and that He had sent Muhammad to be His Prophet, but that the latter had betrayed Him. Therefore `Ali gave Muhammad a period of truce lasting about 350 years, at the end of which Islamic law would be changed(16). Then the law would have a new interpretaton, e.g. Paradise would be the acceptance of alュ-Shalmaghani's claim and allegiance to him, while Hell would be the rejection of his doctrine. Moreover, he aimed at eliminating the main claimants to the caliphate, particularly the `Alids and the `Abbasids, and considered himself the rightful claimant to all religious and political authority(17).

The political ambitions of al‑Shalmaghani are obvious in his materialistic interpretation of the Qur'anic verses concerning Hell and Paradise to serve his own ambitions. These are especially apparent with reference to two points. Firstly, he fixed a date for the change of the Islamic Shari`a; 350/967. By this "prophecy" he was attempting to mobilise people to support him in his preparation for the "coming age". Secondly he concentrated his propaganda among the high officials of the `Abbasid army and administration and gained a considerable number of followers, like Ahmad b. Muhammad b. `Abdus, Ibrahim b. Abi 'Awn, the author of the book al‑Tashbihat, Ibn Shabib al‑Zayyat, Abu Ja`far b. Bistam and Abu `Ali b. Bistam, all of whom were secretaries (kuttab) of the state(18).

In 312/924 al‑Muhsin b. al‑Furat, the son of the vizier Ibn al‑Furat, joined his side and enabled his followers to penetrate the 'Abbasid administrative circles(19).  Moreover, al‑Husayn b. al‑Qasim b. `Ubayd Allah b. Wahb, who held the vizierate between the years 319‑20/931ュ2, was one of the partisans of al‑Shalmaghani(20).

It has already been noted that the third Saf段r was imprisoned in 312/924. Al‑Shalmaghani seized this oppportunity to expand his activities among the Imamites, who had not yet received an answer from the Imam himself concerning the claims of al‑Shalmaghani. Therefore the Imam sent via Ibn Ruh this pronouncement concerning his attitude towards the claims of al‑Shalmaghani:

... Muhammad b. `Ali, known as al‑Shalmaghani, is one of those upon whom Allah has hastened His judgement and to whom He has granted no respite. He has deviated from Islam and separated himself from it. He has become an apostate from the religion of Allah, making claims which indicate the denial of Allah, the Most Glorious and High, fabricating lies and falsehoods, and pronouncing untruths and great transュgressions. Those who associate another with Allah are in far error and clearly suffer great loss. For indeed we declare ourselves free (of any relationship with al‑Shalmaghani) before Allah, may He be exalted, and His messenger and his family, may the blessings of Allah, His peace, His mercy and His benediction be upon them according to His benevolence; while we curse him (i.e. al‑Shalmaghani), may the curses of Allah be showered successively (upon him) externally and internally, secretly and publicly, at every time and in every circumstance. And (may the curse of Allah be) upon those who agree with him and follow him, and also upon those who, having heard our announcement, continue to pay allegiance to him.

So inform them (the Imamite agents) that we shall guard and take precautions against him, as was the case with those who preceded him and held similar views, like al‑Shari`i, al-Numayri, al‑Hilali, al‑Bilali and so forth. For the traditions of Allah are conformable to us. In Him we place our trust, and from Him we seek assistance. He is sufficient for us in all our affairs and is the best of Guardians.(21)

According to al‑Tusi the agent Muhammad b. Humam received this pronouncement from Ibn Ruh while he was in prison. He spread it personally among all the agents in Baghdad and sent it to the agents in the other cities until it became well‑known among the ordinary Imamites(22).

According to Ibn al‑Athir, Ibn Ruh disclosed al‑Shalmaghani's claim even to the `Abbasids. As a result in 313/925 the vizier al-ュKhaqani tried to arrest him(23), an attempt which brought about the imprisonment of many people who had inclined towards him(24). However he disappeared and escaped to Mosul, where he took refuge from the ruler Nasir al‑Dawla al‑Hasan b. `Abd Allah b. Hamdan. He lived there in alvillage called Ma althaya in the vicinity of Mosul. However, he did not break off communication with his followers in Baghdad(25).

 According to al‑Najashi, during his concealment in the village of Ma'alth'aya, al‑Shalmaghani narrated his books to a certain Abu `Abd Allah al‑Shaybani. He was an Imamite Muhaddith who lived in the Nawbakhtiyya district of Baghdad," but he later turned away from the Imamite school(26).

In 316/928 al‑Shaybani returned secretly to Baghdad(27) in order to be in direct contact with his followers, whose activities had spread widely among the officials of the Abbasid administration, a development which can possibly be regarded as a step toward his objective of obtaining power. Al‑Husayn b. al‑Qasim b. `Ubayd Allah b. Wahb, the partisan of al‑Shalmaghani, was promoted to the vizierate in 319/931 and his name was stamped on the coin beside the name of the caliph al‑Muqtadir(28).

As a vizier Ibn Wahb enabled his partisans to assume high positions, but after a year he was discharged. Later the new caliph al‑Qahir (320‑322/932‑934) exiled him to al‑Riqqah in Syria because of his allegiance to al-Shalmaghani. He also arrested his comrades, especially the Banu Bistam, and seized their property(29).

This campaign continued until al‑Shalmaghani himself was arrested in 323/934. Along with a few of the leading personalities of his movement, like Ibn Abi 'Awn, he was tortured and executed, and the corpses were burnt at the police headquarters (Dar al‑Shurta) on the western side of Baghdad(30).

Ibn Ruh's influence and authority among the `Abbasids increased after the persecution of al‑Shalmaghani, who was their common enemy. Thus Ibn Ruh recovered his high influence and became close to the caliph al‑Radi (322‑29/934‑40). Moreover it appears that Ibn Ruh's cooperation with the `Abbasids against al‑Shalmaghani led the caliph al‑Radi to think that his activities with the Imamites had no connection with the Twelfth Imam and would probably cease in the near future. Al‑Suli reports:

Al‑Radi sometimes mentioned that the Imamites used to hand the khums (al‑amwal) over to Ibn Ruh but we refuted this accusation, and claimed that it was a lie. So he said to us, "What is wrong with that? By Allah, I wish that there were a thousand people like him to whom the Imamites might bring their possessions so that Allah might impoverish them. I do not mind if they (Ibn Ruh and others) become rich through receiving their possessions (i.e. those of the Imamites).(31) "

Ibn Ruh died on the 18th of Sha'ban 326/20 June 938, and was buried in al‑Nawbakhtiyya district(32) in the western side of Baghdad(33). He was‑ succeeded by Abu al‑Hasan `Ali b. Muhammad al-Sammar(34).

Chapter 7: The Fourth Saf段r and the Complete Occultation of the Twelfth Imam 

1. The Career of the Fourth Saf段r (326-329/937-941)






(1)Ibn al‑Athir, al-Lubab, II, 27; Yaqut, Irshad al‑Arib, I, 296; Mujam al‑Buldan, V, 288.

(2)al‑Najashi, 293‑4; T. al-Fihrist, 305‑6; T. al-Ghayba, 158, 221, 267. It seems that the extant work called Fiqh al‑Riďa is in fact Kitab al‑Taklif of al‑Shalmaghani because it has a tradition concerning testimony (al‑Shahada) and another concerning the definition of the measure called kurr which al‑Shalmaghani gave in contrast to the other Imamites.

(3)T. al-Ghayba, 212, 263.

(4)Ibn Hawqal, op. cit., 211.

(5)Yaqut, Irshad al‑Arib, I, 301‑3, al‑Kamil, VIII, 218‑9.

(6)Bihar, LI, 374; Hashim al‑Hasani, op. cit., II, 575.

(7)Bihar, LI, 372; al‑Sadr, op. cit., I, 516.

(8)Such a claim obviously contradicts the beliefs of both the Shia and the Sunni alike. For details of God's essential nature according to the Imamites, see al-Hilli, al‑Hasan b. Yusuf, Anwar al‑Malakut fi Sharh al‑Yaqut (Teheran, 1338), 77‑85, and his al‑Bab al‑Hadi Ashar, A Treatise on the principles of Shiite theology, trans. from Arabic from W. Miller (London 1958), 15‑52

(9)al‑Kamil, VIII, 218‑9.

(10)T. al-Ghayba, 268.

(11)T. al-Ghayba, 265.

(12)T. al-Ghayba, 253‑4.

(13)T. al-Ghayba, 2564.

(14)al‑Kamil, VIII, 218.

(15)Yaqut, Irshad al‑Arib, I, 302; Ibn al‑Athir, al-Lubab, II, 27

(16)T. al-Ghayba, 266.

(17)Yaqut, Irshad al‑Arib, I, 302‑3; al‑Shibi, op. cit., 203.

(18)al‑Dhahabi, al‑`Ibar, II, 191.

(19)Ibn Miskawayh, op. cit., I, 123.

(20)Yaqut, Irshad al‑Arib, I, 303.

(21)al‑Sadr, op. cit., 517‑8.

(22)T. al-Ghayba, 269.

(23)al‑Kamil, VIII, 217.

(24)Yaqut, Irshad al‑Arib, I, 299.

(25)al‑Najashi, 289, 294.

(26)Al‑Shaybani seems to have been an Imamite Muhaddith but after the deviation of al‑Shalmaghani he inclined toward him, ignoring the Twelfth Imam's pronouncement against him; T. al-Fihrist; 299; al‑Najashi, 309.

(27)al‑Sadr, op. cit., I, 527; Hashim al‑Hasani, op. cit., II, 575.

(28)Ibn Miskawayh, op. cit., I, 215‑7, 223.

(29)Ibn Miskawayh, I, 267.

(30)al‑Mas'udi, al‑Tanbih, 343; Yaqut, Irshad al‑Arib, I, 299‑304.

(31)al‑Sufi, op. cit., 104.         

(32)T. al-Ghayba, 252.

(33)At the present time the grave of Ibn Ruh is situated on the eastern side of Baghdad, whereas al‑Tusi mentions that this grave was in the Nawbakhtiyya district at the avenue which leads to Qantarat al‑Shawk, which was located in the western side of Baghdad; Yaqut, Mujam al‑Buldan, IV, 191; al‑`Amid, op. cit., 70.         

(34)Kama値, 517.