The Myth of the Shi‘i Mahdi
By Abu Muhammad al-Afriqi
The 15th of Sha‘baan is a very significant date, both to the Ahl as-Sunnah and the Shi‘ah. The Shi‘ah, however, have their own reason for ascribing significance to this night. To them it is the night of the birth of their twelfth Imam, the Hidden Mahdi.
Who is this Mahdi whose return to this world is so eagerly awaited by the Shi‘ah, and belief in whose existence in occultation forms such a integral aspect of the Shi‘i psyche? Before an adequate answer to this question may be given, there is a need to understand certain aspects concerning the Shi‘i doctrine of Imamah.
The cornerstone of the Shi‘i faith is the belief that the spiritual and temporal leadership of this Ummah after the demise of Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam is vested in the Imam, who is appointed, like the Nabi sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam himself, by Allah, and who enjoys all the distinctions and privileges of the Nabi sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam.
However, they believe that Imamah, unlike Nubuwwah, can never come to an end. In this regard there is a well-known Shi‘i hadith which says that “the world cannot exist without an Imam”, and another which goes that “if the earth were to be without an Imam for a single day it would sink.”
Thus, when it came to pass that the first of those whom they regard as their Imams— Sayyiduna Ali radiyallahu ‘anhu— left this world, a problem arose. Some of those who regarded themselves as his followers claimed that he did not in fact die, but that he will return to establish justice. Others said that he was succeeded as Imam by his son Hasan, who was in turn succeeded by his brother Husayn.
When Husayn died there were some who claimed to follow their other brother Muhammad (known as Ibn al-Hanafiyyah) as their Imam. When he died his followers claimed that he was in reality alive, and that he will return in due time. Others amongst the Shi‘ah took Sayyiduna Husayn’s son, Ali, surnamed Zayn al-‘Abidin, as their Imam, and upon his death transferred their loyalties to his son, Muhammad al-Baqir.
When al-Baqir died there were once again elements from amongst the Shi‘ah who denied his death and claimed that he would return one day, while others took his son Ja‘far as-Sadiq as their Imam.
When he died there was mass confusion amongst the Shi‘ah: each of his sons Isma‘il, Abdullah, Muhammad, Zakariyya, Ishaq and Musa was claimed by various groups amongst the Shi‘ah to be their Imam. In addition to them there was a group who believed that Ja‘far did not really die, and that he would return one day.
More or less the same thing happened at the death of his son Musa. Some of the Shi‘ah denied his death, believing that he will return, and others decided to take as their new Imam one of his sons. Some of these chose his son Ahmad, while others chose his other son Ali ar-Rida.
After him they took as their Imam his son Muhammad al-Jawwad (or at-Taqi), and after him his son Ali al-Hadi (or an-Naqi). At the death of Ali al-Hadi they looked upon his son Hasan al-Askari as their new— and 11th— Imam.
The death of Hasan al-Askari
The above is a very brief synopsis of a tumultuous and confusing history— a history from which a dedicated researcher might extract some very revealing facts about the development of Shi‘ism.
However, that is not our concern at this moment. We have now arrived at the year 254 AH, the time when a major section of the Shi‘ah accepted as their Imam the 22-year old Hasan, son of Ali al-Hadi, and 10th lineal descendant of Sayyiduna Ali and Sayyidah Fatimah radiyallahu ‘anhuma. Six years later, in 260 AH, Hasan al-Askari, at the very young age of 28, is lying on his deathbed, but unlike any of his forefathers he leaves no offspring, no one to whom the Shi‘ah might appropriate as their new Imam.
The Shi‘ah who had been regarding Hasan al-Askari as their Imam were thrown into mass disarray. Does this mean the end of the Imamah? The end of the Imamah would mean the end of Shi‘ism. Were they prepared for that?
The confusion that reigned amongst the Shi‘ah after the death of Hasan al-Askari is reflected by the Shi‘i writer Hasan ibn Musa an-Nawbakhti, who counts the emergence of altogether 14 sects amongst the followers of Hasan al-Askari, each one with a different view on the future of the Imamah and the identity of the next Imam. It must be noted that an-Nawbakhti was alive at the time all of this was taking place. Another Shi‘i writer, Sa‘d ibn Abdullah al-Qummi, who also lived during the same time, counts 15 sects, and a century later the historian al-Mas‘udi enumerates altogether 20 separate sects.
There were four major trends amongst these various sects:
(1) There were those who accepted the death of Hasan al-Askari as a fact, and accepted also the fact that he left no offspring. To them Imamah had thus come to an end, just like Nubuwwah came to an end with the death of Rasulullah r . However, there were some amongst them who kept hoping for the advent of a new Imam.
(2) The second trend was one to which the student of the history of “succession to the Imamah” would be much more used to. This was the tendency to deny the death of Hasan al-Askari, and to claim that he would return in the future to establish justice upon earth. We have seen this tendency emerge amongst the Shi‘ah at more than one critical juncture in the history of the Imamah of the Shi‘ah; it is therefore only logical to expect it to resurface at a moment as critical as the death of Hasan al-Askari.
(3) The third trend was to extend the chain of Imamah to Hasan’s brother Ja‘far.
(4) The fourth trend was the claim that Hasan al-Askari did in fact have a son. It is the fourth trend which ultimately became the view of the dominant group in Shi‘ism.
The missing son
This trend was spearheaded by persons who had set themselves up as the representatives of the Imam, and who were in control of a network covering various parts of the Islamic empire— a network for the purpose of collecting money in the name of the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt.
All followers of the Imams were obliged to pay one fifth of their income to the representatives of the Imams. (This is a practice which continues up to today.) At the head of this network was a man called Uthman ibn Sa‘id al-‘Amri. His manner of resolving the predicament was unique: Hasan al-Askari was dead, he admitted, but he was not childless. He had a 4-year old son, Muhammad, with whom no one but he— Uthman ibn Sa‘id— could have contact. And from that point onwards he would act as the representative (wakeel) of the Hidden Imam and collect money in his name.
To the fact that Hasan al-Askari’s own family were completely ignorant of the existence of any child of his, and that his estate had been divided between his brother Ja‘far and his mother, Uthman ibn Sa‘id and his ilk responded by denouncing Ja‘far as al-Kadhdhab (the Liar).
In due time a fantastic story was brought into circulation about the union between Hasan al-Askari and a Roman slave-girl, who is variously named as Narjis, Sawsan or Mulaykah. She is mentioned as having been the daughter of Yusha‘ (Joshua), the Roman emperor, who is a direct descendant of the apostle Simon Peter. But history shows that there never was a Roman emperor of that name. The Roman emperor of the time was Basil I, and neither he nor any other emperor is known to have descended from Peter. The story goes on to tell of her capture by the Muslim army, how she eventually came to be sold to Hasan al-Askari, and of her supernatural pregnancy and the secret birth of the son of whom no one— aside from Uthman ibn Sa‘id and his clique— knew anything. Everything about the child is enveloped in a thick and impenetrable cloud of mystery.
The four representatives
Uthman ibn Sa‘id remained the “representative of the Hidden Imam” for a number of years. In all that time he was the only link the Shi‘ah had with their Imam. During that time he supplied the Shi‘i community with tawqi‘at, or written communications, which he claimed was written to them by the Hidden Imam. Many of these communications, which are stilpreserved in books like at-Tusi’s Kitab al-Ghaybah, had to do with denouncing other claimants to the position of representatives, who had come to realise exactly how lucrative a position Uthman ibn Sa‘id had created for himself. The Shi‘i literature dealing with Uthman ibn Sa‘id’s tenure as representative is replete with references to money collected from the Shi‘i public.
When Uthman ibn Sa‘id died, his son Abu Ja‘far Muhammad produced a written communication from the Hidden Imam in which he himself is appointed the second representative, a position which he held for about 50 years. He too, like his father, had to deal with several rival claimants to his position, but the tawqi‘at which he regularly produced to denounce them and reinforce his own position ensured the removal of such obstacles and the continuation of support from a credulous Shi‘i public.
He was followed in this position by Abul Qasim ibn Rawh an-Nawbakhti, a scion of the powerful and influential Nawbakhti family of Baghdad. Before succeeding Muhammad ibn Uthman, Abul Qasim an-Nawbakhti was his chief aide in the collection of the one-fifth taxes from the Shi‘ah. Like his two predecessors, he too had to deal with rival claimants, one of whom, Muhammad ibn Ali ash-Shalmaghani used to be an accomplice of his. He is reported in Abu Ja‘far at-Tusi’s book Kitab al-Ghaybah as having stated: “We knew exactly what we were into with Abul Qasim ibn Rawh. We used to fight like dogs over this matter (of being representative).”
When Abul Qasim an-Nawbakhti died in 326 AH he bequethed the position of representative to Abul Hasan as-Samarri. Where the first three representatives were shrewd manipulators, Abul Hasan as-Samarri proved to be a more conscientous person. During his three years as representative there was a sudden drop in tawqi‘at. Upon his deathbed he was asked who his successor would be, and answered that Allah would Himself fulfil the matter. Could this perhaps be seen as a refusal on his part to perpetuate a hoax that has gone on for too long? He also produced a tawqi‘ in which the Imam declares that from that day till the day of his reappearance he will never again be seen, and that anyone who claims to see him in that time is a liar.
Thus, after more or less 70 years, the last “door of contact” with the Hidden Imam closed. The Shi‘ah term this period, in which there was contact with their Hidden Imam through his representatives-cum-tax-collectors, the Lesser Occultation (al-Ghaybah as-Sughra), and the period from the death of the last representative onwards the Greater Occultation (al-Ghaybah al-Kubar). The Greater Occultation has already continued for over a thousand years.
Activities of the representatives
When one reads the classical literature of the Shi‘ah in which the activities of the four representatives are outlined, one is struck by the constantly recurring theme of money. They are almost always mentioned in connection with receiving and collecting “the Imam’s money” his loyal Shi‘i followers. There is a shocking lack of any activities of an academic or spiritual nature. Not a single one of the four is credited with having compiled any book, despite the fact that they were in exclusive communion with the last of the Imams, the sole repository of the legacy of Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam.
When we look at the major sources upon which the Shi‘i faith is based, we find that most of them were written after the onset of the Greater Occultation. Those works, like al-Kafi, which was written during the latter decades of the Lesser Occultation, contain scarcely a reference to any of the four representatives as narrators from the Hidden Imam. Instead it is filled with thousands of reports which go back, via other channels, to the fifth and the sixth Imams. That is indeed strange, considering the fact that a man like Uthman ibn Sa‘id al-‘Amri is claimed to have been closely associated with the 10th, the 11th as well as the hidden 12th Imam, and also the fact that his son remained the Shi‘i community’s solitary link to that Imam for half a century. Would it not have been better and more authoritative for an author like al-Kulayni to report the hadith of his Imams from the Hidden Imam via his representatives who lived in Baghdad at the same time as he rather than to trace it all back to the fifth and sixth Imams through a myriad of doubtful channels?
But of course, he could not have done that, because the activities of those representatives did not have as much to do with authentically preserving the legacy of the Ahl al-Bayt as with the collection of wealth in their names.
In light of the fact that the Shi‘ah explain the necessity of Imamah in terms of the need for an infallible guide who serves as the repository of the legacy of Ahl al-Bayt, it appears extremely incongruous that this particular guide has left no sort of legacy of his own whereby the legacy of the Ahl al-Bayt can be known. Despite the fact that an infallible guide supposedly exists, it is upon fallible persons such as Muhammad ibn Ya‘qub al-Kulayni that the Shi‘ah must depend for that legacy.
The only bit of information that has come down to us regarding the Hidden Imam’s authentication of the hadith legacy of the Shi‘ah is what is recorded by Aqa Muhammad Baqir Khwansari in his book Rawdat al-Jannat. He writes that al-Kulayni’s book was presented to the Hidden Imam who looked at it and declared, “Hadha Kaafin li-Shi‘atina” (This is enough for our Shi‘ah). This is incidentally how the book received its name.
A report such as this creates a huge problem. It appears to be a ratification of the contents of the book al-Kafi by the infallible Imam. Yet, 9 centuries later the Shi‘i muhaddith, Mulla Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, would declare in his commentary on al-Kafi, named Mir’at al-‘Uqul, that 9,485 out of the 16,121 narrations in al-Kafi are unreliable. What did Majlisi know that the infallible Imam was so unaware of that he would authenticate a book, 60% of whose contents would later be discovered to be unreliable?
The Iraqi Shi‘i scholar, Muhammad Baqir as-Sadr, finds proof for the existence of the Hidden Mahdi in what he calls “the experience of a community”. The existence of the Hidden Imam, he postulates, was experienced by the Shi‘i community as a whole in the written communications that the representatives used supplied them with.
The crux of this argument lies in the fact that an individual experience might be doubted, but never that of experience of an entire community. However, the glaring flaw in this line of reasoning is that it very conveniently overlooks the part of the representatives as the individual go-betweens.
The community never had the privilege of seeing or meeting the person they believed to be the author of the tawqi‘at. Their experience was limited to receiving what the representatives produced. Even the argument of a consistent handwriting in all the various tawqi‘at is at best melancholy. There is no way one can get away from the fact that the existence of the Hidden Imam rests upon nothing other than acceptance of the words of the representatives.
The activities of those representatives furthermore go a long way to show that they were much, much more inspired by the desire to possess than by pious sentiments of any kind.
So when the Shi‘ah commemorate the birth of their twelfth Imam on the 15th night of Sha‘ban, or when they seek to apply ahadith in Sunni sources which speak of twelve khalifas to their twelve Imams, then let us ask them on what basis do they accept the existence of the twelfth one?
History bears witness to the existence of eleven persons in that specific line of descent, but when we come to the twelfth one, all we have is claims made by persons whose activities in the name of their Hidden Imam give us all the reason in the world to suspect their honesty and integrity.
In Islam, issues of faith can never be based upon evidence of this kind.
Editor’s note: The article by A.M. Jamsheed Basha first published in this space was found by an alert reader Mr. HASAN IQBAL to be based largely on the above article by Mr. Abu Muhammad al-Afriqi without proper attribution to the original author. Mr. Basha was given an opportunity to rework his article and give proper quotes and credit to the original author. He has not done so until now even though nearly 24hrs have passed since the request was first made to him. Since taking off the article from the site would also mean losing valuable comments made by a large number of readers, it is being replaced by the original article on which it was based. My apologies to readers of NewAgeIslam.com, Mr. Abu Muhammad al-Afriqi and ansar.org.
CRITIQUE OF THE TWELVER- IMAM SHIITES’ MAHDISM THEORY
IMAM MUHAMMAD BIN HASSAN ASKARI:
A HISTORICAL REALITY OR A PHILOSOPHICAL ASSUMPTION?
The Twelver-Imam Mahdism theory was a complicated theory comprising of belief in the existence of the twelfth Imam: ‘Muhammad bin Hassan Askari’ and in his being the Awaited Mahdi. It admits that Imam Hassan Askari did not openly declare that he has a son. The theory rather, claims that, he hid him in secret due to the fear of Abbasid authorities, that he would overthrow their thrones, and due to that, they were searching for him to kill him, while still in the cradle.
Serious academic research on the inception of this theory however, reveals the existence of a long time interval between the two parts of the theory. As it was in the beginning, centered around the existence of a son for Imam Askari, who inherits the Imamate from him. But it later turned out to be belief in his being the Awaited and occult Mahdi. The theory found in the ‘Occultation of the Mahdi’, an interpretation of the non-declaration of his birth by his father, and his non-appearance after that.
In order to confirm the truth of this theory that plays a very great role in the history of Islam, and in shaping of the Twelver-Imam Shiite political thought, it is necessary to dissect the different components of this theory, and study each in depth and objectively. We would have firstly to find out: Was the Shiite Mahdism theory before the middle of the third (3rd) century of Hijrah, clearly known and restricted to the person of the twelfth Imam- Muhammad bin Hassan Askari, or it was ambiguous and a general abstract idea.
A- THE AMBIGUITY SURROUNDING THE IDENTITY OF THE MAHDI FROM AHL AL-BAYT
The history of the Imams from the household of the Prophet (Ahl al-Bayt) (peace be upon them), and their traditions being preserved by Imamate Shiite heritage, confirm the ambiguity surrounding the identity of Imam Mahdi and the non-declaration of his name or the time of his appearance. This was not due to the fear of the then authorities, but due to its not being specified beforehand. This was because Mahdism was initially mere idea and hope, hovering over the head of any one of them. This hope came to the fore when Imam Ali became the Caliph, and it became more intense after the murder of Imam Hussain bin Ali in Karbala. That was the time when many Shiites started preparing for revenge, and the overthrow of the Umayyad regime through armed revolt. The people were gathering around this or other Imam of the Ahl al-Bayt, with Mahdism being attributed to him. He will proclaim that and succeed, or die due to his proclamation and appearance. Some will then say, he has gone into hiding and occultation, and he will reappear in future.
If the identity of the Mahdi has been outlined previously, since the time of Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) and the Shiites have reached consensus regarding it, they would not have gone to the left and to the right, and they would not have been perplexed, asking the Imams on the identity of the Mahdi.
Imam Muhammad bin Ali Baqir while addressing the Shiites said: “ You never cease looking towards one of us, saying: “ He is the one!” then he returns to his Lord, till the time when Allah will raise for this affair, one about whom you do not know whether he has been born or not, whether he has been created or not!” (1)
Kulayni says: Hakam bin Abi Na’im once came to Imam Baqir in Madinah and said to him: “ I have taken an oath between Rukn and Maqam (two holiest parts of the Ka’bah in Makkah) that if I meet you, I will not leave Madinah until I know whether you are the Qa’im of the family of the Prophet or not. “
Imam Baqir said to him: “ O Hakam, all of us stand by the commands of Allah”
Hakam however, was not satisfied with this general response, so he asked him specifically:
“Are you the Mahdi?” Baqir replied again in a general sense:“All of us guide to Allah” So Hakam asked more specifically and clearly:
“ Are you the owner of the sword and the one who inherited it?” For the third time the Imam responded vaguely:
“ All of us are owners of the swords, who inherited them.”
Hakam then asked (demanding) more clarity: “ Are you the one to kill to enemies of Allah?” Imam Baqir replied:
“O Hakam! How can I be the one, when I am 45 years of age? While the owner of this affair is closer to the time of breast-feeding than me, and lighter when he rides on the back of an animal.” (2)]
Kulayni and Nu’mani both say: “That Imam Sadiq did not like identifying the person of the Mahdi. Abu Hamzah one of his companions once asked him:
“ Are you the owner of this affair?” He replied: “ No.” He then said: “What about your son? “He said: “No.” He also said: “Is your grandchild the one?” He replied, “No.” Then he said: “Is he your great grandchild?” He replied!”No”. He (hakam) said at last “Then who is he?” He replied: “The one who will fill the world with justice as it was filled with injustice and tyranny, after the interval of Imams, as the Messenger of Allah was raised after the interval of Messengers (peace be upon them).” (3)
Supporting this is the fact that when Imam Sadiq convinced the poet Sayyid al-Himyari, who believed in Muhammad bin Hanafiyyah being the Mahdi, when he convinced him of his death, he did not specify for him who is the Mahdi. Al-Himyari said some poetic verses recording his transformation from the belief in the Mahdism of Ibn Hanafiyyah. But he did not mention the identity of the Mahdi: The meaning of the poetry is as follows:
“ My prolonged statements on the son of Khaulah was not in opposition, from my side, to the pure lineage. But what was reported from the inheritor of Muhammad (peace be upon him), and what he said cannot be falsified. That the owner of the affair will be lost, not being seen and concealed, like the fearful one, watching (people’s movements). The wealth of the lost will be distributed, as if his loss was in the grave. When it was reported that the son of Khaulah was lost (in occultation), we accepted it and went on speaking on it. We said he is the Mahdi and the Qa’im, in whose justice all will live. If you say no, your statement is the truth, and what I have been instructed is inevitable, without any prejudice. I testify to my Lord, that your statement is the evidence on all the people, the obedient and the disobedient. The owner of the affair and the Qa’im, whom I longed for delightfully, will go into occultation inevitably, may Allah bless him while in occultation. He remains (in it) for some time and then appear at other times and he will rule over the East and the West. This is my religions belief in secret and in the open, I will not mind even if I am blamed on it.”
Although Imam Sadiq, in an earlier report did not deny the possibility of his being the Qa’im as he did not emphasize it, Saduq reports from Ibn Abi Ja’far that he heard Sadiq saying: “ Woe onto the tyrants of the Arabs of a matter that has drawn closer.” He also reports from Sadir, and he from Abu Abdullah that he said: “ O Sadir, stay at your home, not leaving it and stay for days and nights. When it reaches you that Sufyan has appeared, come to us, even if on your feet.” (4) This reveals that Imam Sadiq was telling his companions of the imminence of his appearance. Muhammad bin Hassan Saffar however, reports in ‘Basair al-Darajat’ from Abu Basir that he one day came to Abu Abdullah and said to him:
- “May I be your ransom, I would like to touch your chest.” (Abu Basir was a blind man). He replied him:
- “ Do it”. He said: I torched his chest and his shoulders. He said, “Why this, O father of Muhammad?” Abu Basir said: “ May I be your ransom…I heard your father saying that the shoulders of the Qa’im are a bit down, spacious and broad between them.” Imam Sadiq then said:“O father of Muhammad, My father wore the shield of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) and it did not fit him…. I also wore it and it was this and that…. It will be worn by the Qa'im, and it would be as it was with the Messenger of Allah tight and fit, as if he raised its two sides by two rings. The owner of this affair will not be one, over forty (40) years of age. (5)
Tusi reports in ‘Al-Ghaybah’ a dialogue conducted between Imam Sadiq and Abu Basir, who asked him “Has this affair a long period (before being accomplished) so we relax ourselves till it comes?” The Imam said to him: “ Yes, but you revealed the secret and spread it, so Allah increased (the period).” He reports another tradition, with more direct bearing and clarity, where the Imam Sadiq said: “This affair was in me, but Allah delayed it, and He will do what He wishes in my progeny after that.” (6) This shows that the hope of Mahdism was on Imam Sadiq during his time. Due to this, when he died and the circumstances were not ripe for him to achieve his desired hope (ambition) the one inherent in the hearts of the Shiites, some of his followers, some of those very close to him, denied and rejected the news of his death, insisting that he went into occultation, and that he will appear very soon. They said: He was the Awaited Mahdi. The leader of such people was the leader of Shiites in Basrah: Abdullah bin Nawus.
THE HOPE OF KADHIM BEING THE MAHDI
With the intensity of the Abbasid political pressure on Imam Musa bin Ja’far Kadhim, the hope of Shiites who believed in his Imamate, increased as to his declaration and revolt leading to a rebellion against the Abbasid rule. Most of the Shiites believed seriously that Musa was the Qa’im and the Mahdi. They reported many traditions from Baqir and Sadiq in identifying his person. They might have added to it many things from their sides, based on their eagerness, love and suffering.
When Imam Kadhim died after thirty-five years of waiting and hope, the general Musawite Shiite populace did not believe the story of his death. They insisted on believing in his occultation, and his being alive and confirming that he was the Awaited Mahdi, who will appear and fill the earth with justice and fairness as it has been filled with injustice and tyranny
RIDA DENIES THE LIKELIHOOD OF HIS BEING THE MAHDI
That hope of (the Mahdi) returned to the Shiites after about twenty (20) years. That was when the Abbasid caliph Ma’mun called on Imam Ali bin Musa Rida, in the year 200 A.H. to Khurasan, and he appointed his as the Crown Prince in the year 201 A. H. This revived the hope in the minds of the Shiites and led them to the belief in the possibility of Rida becoming the Awaited Mahdi.
Kulayni reports in ‘Al-Kafi’ that Ayub bin Nuh went to Imam Rida and said to him. “ I hope that you will be the owner of this affair, and that Allah may bring it to you without the use of sword. You have already received oath of allegiance, and money have been minted with your name (on it).” Imam Rida however shattered his expectations and rejected being the Mahdi. (7)
When the poet Da’bal al-Khuza’i came to Imam Rida and recited a well-known poem: “ Schools of verses not being recited, and the house of revelation without premises”, he pointed to the Mahdi in an ambiguous manner. He said: “ The Imam has emerged. It was necessary for him to emerge, based on the name of Allah and His blessings. He distinguishes for us between the truth and falsehood. He rewarded for favours and calamities.” He did not mention him by name.
The identification of Imam Mahdi with the twelfth Imam of the Ahl al-Bayt, as it is known by the Twelver-Imam Shiites today, took place in a later date long after the death of Imam Hassan Askari, and the claim of his having a son in secret, in the beginning of the fourth century of Hijrah approximately. This happened after the development of the theory of ‘divine’ Imamate and its transformation from infinite number to limiting them to only twelve (12), so that the sect will be a Twelver-Imam (sect).
Sheikh Saduq has mentioned in ‘Ikmal al-Din’, which he wrote in the middle of the fourth century of Hijrah, a big number of traditions from the Noble Prophet (peace be upon him), and from the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (peace be upon them). Some of them point to the Qa’im or the Mahdi without specifying his name and the name of his father. Some of them emphasized and specified his position, as the twelfth (Imam), and that he is the son of Hassan Askari. As it came in another report that says that: Imam Rida asked the poet ‘Da’bal Al-Khuza’i’, after he has recited his poem in which he pointed to the Mahdi in an ambiguous manner. He said to him: “Do you know who will be that Imam? And when will he appear?” He replied: “ No, my master, except that I heard of the emergence of an Imam from among you (Ahl al- Bayt) who will purify the world of mischief and corruption, and fill it with justice as it was filled with injustice.” He said to him: “ O Da’bal, the Imam after me will be Muhammad, after Muhammad his son Ali, after Ali his son Hassan, and after Hassan his son, the Evidence, the Awaited Qa’im” in his Occultation whose obedience is mandatory at the time of his appearance.” (8)
These reports are weak traditions both in their chains of transmission and in their contents, for they cannot withstand academic investigation. We will discuss them in the chapter on the critique of the traditional (special) evidence, and its unsoundness will be established subsequently.
B – THE MAHDISM PHENOMENON IN ISLAMIC HISTORY
The several and frequent claims of being the Mahdi, extending to tens of such claims here and there, are what further confirm the ambiguity associated with the identity of the Mahdi among the members of the Prophet’s household. This even led to each sect or group to have more than one Mahdi. This phenomenon shows that the term ‘Mahdi’ because synonymous with revolt, freedom and justice and its re-emergence again in corrupt circumstances shows that the Muslim world is degenerating, day in day out.
Most of the stories of Mahdism in the early Islamic generations were connected to revolutionary political movements that confront injustice and persecution and gathered around one of the leaders, mostly being one of the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (peace be upon them). When such movements fail and the Imam dies before he emerges (as a political leader), or is killed in the confrontation, or hides in obscure circumstances, his followers used to differ. Among them will be those who will submit to and accept the reality, and start searching for another new Imam and a new occasion for revolt. Some of them will not submit to the reality and will not accept defeat, and will be quick at believing in hearsays, which have it that, the revolting Imam has fled and has hidden himself and has gone into occultation. It is usually the simple-minded people who fixed their hopes on a person, exaggerating his attributes. So it becomes very difficult for them to change their minds, for that will mean a failure and total breakdown.
THE MAHDISM OF IMAM ALI
The supporters of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (peace be upon him) who revolted against the Umayyad rule, and fought in the Battle of the Camel and fought Muawiyah in the Battle of Siffin, who also confronted the Kharijites in Nahrawan, were pinning their hopes in the rule of the Imam, during which they will enjoy justice and equity. Their hope in the Imam was very high. That was why some of them were shocked by the news of his assassination. They could not believe the news of his (untimely) death.
Shiite historians like Nubakhti, Ash’ari al-Qummi, Al-Kashi were saying that: ‘A group of Shiites did not accept the death of the Imam and they claimed that: ‘Ali was not killed nor did he die, and that he will never be killed, nor will be die, till he chases the Arabs with his stick and fill the earth with justice and equity, as it has been filled with injustice and tyranny.’ (9)
We can interpret this statement of the Mahdism of Imam Ali and his Occultation, as due to shock of the death, its sudden nature, as well as very high hope…This was because those people, were living very far away from Kufah could not bear the news of the Martyrdom of the Imam, after their hope in him, to establish universal justice on earth. This led to the acceptance of ideas contrary to the reality.
THE MAHDISM OF IBN HANAFIYYAH
After the massacre of Karbala Shiite fury gathered around the leadership of Muhammad bin Hanafiyyah, the brother of Imam Hussain for the purpose of revenge and retaliation for the martyrs of Karbala… When Muhammad bin Hanafiyyah died in obscure circumstances in the year 81 A.H, a group of his supporters –Kissanites-said that: ‘He did not die and that he was staying in the Ridwi mountains between Makkah and Madinah. They believed that he was the Imam, the Awaited Mahdi who was predicted by the Prophet (peace be upon him), who will fill the earth with justice and equity. (10).
Sayyid Murtada Alam al-Huda interpreted the claims of the Kissanites on the Mahdism of Ibn Hanafiyyah as perplexity, which made them resort to it. (11)
Perhaps perplexity and confusion was their lot, because they have pinned their hopes on Ibn Hanafiyyah to wrestle power from the Umayyads’ hands. They were disappointed when the desired goal was not achieved. His followers from among the Kissanite Shiites were forced to invent a doctrine on his Mahdism, and the perpetuation of his life and his occultation in their attempt to preserve the hope ignited in their hearts. Moreso that the Shiites in those days were aware of any predetermined particular personality as the ‘Awaited Mahdi’.
THE MAHDISM OF ABU HASHIM
Support for the belief in the Mahdism of Ibn Hanafiyyah declined with the emergence of Abu Hashim Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Hannafiyyah, as a new leader for the Shiites towards the close of the first century of Hijrah. Great hopes were pinned on him for attaining what his father was unable to attain… The crisis was repeated when Abu Hashim died without appearing (as the Mahdi)… This led to the belief of some Shiites in his hiding and occultation and saying that he was the Awaited Mahdi, and that he is alive and has not died. (12)
As for those who admitted the death of Abu Hashim, they preserved their hopes in their hearts, by waiting for the emergence of one of the children of Muhammad bin Hanafiyyah in the future. They did not specify any particular person. (13)
THE MAHDISM OF AL-TAYYAR
The Shiites who formed the main opposition group to the Umayyad rule, immediately gathered around a new leader from the Ahl al-Bayt, i.e. Abdullah bin Mu’awiyah bin Abdullah bin Jafar Al-Tayyar, who succeeded in establishing a Shiite state in Isfahan at the end of the Umayyad rule. He was, however defeated later, and was killed in obscure circumstances. Some of the Shiites could not bear the news of the collapse of the Shiite state. They claimed that Al-Tayyar was alive and has not died, and that he was staying in the Mountains of Isfahan, that he wouldl never die till he hands over the reins of affairs to a man from Banu Hashim, of the children of Ali and Fatimahh. (14)
CONFINING MAHDISM TO THE FATIMIDE FAMILY
The Shiite theory of Mahdism was not confined to the Fatimide family in the beginning, as the Kissanites-representing a stage in the development of Shiism-limited it to the household of Ali (Alawites), seeing possible in Muhammad bin Hanafiyyah and his children: or they limited it to them, but it extended to others outside their fold, like Abdullah bin Mu’awiyah bin Abdullah bin Ja’far al-Tayyar. It later developed and became confined only to the Fatimide family, in the children of Hassan and Hussain. At that time it was not confined to anyone of the two households. Due to this a group of Shiites believed in the Mahdism of Zayd bin Ali. And another group believed in the Mahdism of Muhammad bin Abdullah bin Hassan bin Hassan (Dhu al-Nafs al-Zakiyyah).
As Zayd was killed after little while, his followers went to Dhu al-Nafs al-Zakiyyah, Abdullah bin Hassan, his father has named him Muhammad and predicted at the time of his birth that he will be the promised Mahdi, who was foretold by the Prophet (peace be upon him) and has said on himregarding him, “His name is like my name, and the name of his father is like the name of my father”, as was popularly known in that period.
THE MAHDISM OF DHU AL-NAFS AL-ZAKIYYAH
Dhu al-Nafs Al-Zakiyyah hoped to rebel against the Umayyad rule, when the children of Hashim paid their allegiance to him at Abwa. Among them were, Ibrahim al-Imam, Saffah and Mansur. But it did not take long that the Abbasid rule was established, so those who paid allegiance to him deserted him, and another group of Shiites flocked around him. He left Madinah in the year 145 A.H and took over Makkah and Yemen, but he was killed after few months. Due to this a section of his followers were shocked and could not bear the news of the defeat, and did not believe the murder of the Mahdi, whose appearance they were waiting since very long time. They said that: ‘He was alive and did not die, nor was he killed, but was staying on the Mount of ‘Ilmiyyah’-between Makkah and Najd-till the time he will reappear. They held onto the Hadith of the prophet (peace be upon him), which says: “The Qa’im (Mahdi’s) name is like my name and his father’s name is like my father’s.” (15)
As there were no explicit, specific and well-known Hadiths, which explain the identity of the Mahdi, the followers of Dhu al-Nafs al-Zakiyyah have explained the Hadiths of Mahdism as referring to him, and have interpreted the Hadiths related to (the Mahdi) to also refer to him. They might have even fabricated some reports and attributed them to the Prophet (peace be upon him), in order to augment their theory and to support their Awaited Leader.
THE MAHDISM OF BAQIR
Some reports state that: ‘A section of the Shiites believed in the Mahdism of Imam Muhammad bin Ali Baqir (peace be upon him) depending on a report which says that: ‘The prophet (peace be upon him) said to Jabir bin Abdullah al-Ansari: “ You will meet him, so say my ‘Salam’ to him.” (16)
Kulayni says in ‘Al-Kafi’: ‘Imam Baqir used to confine to his companions that the emergence (of the Mahdi) and his appearance were imminent, and he advised them to maintain it as a secret. Some of them abandon all they were doing waiting for the time of the blowing of (the siren)’. (17)
THE MAHDISM OF SADIQ
After the death of Imam Baqir and the defeat of Muhammad bin Abdullah Dhu al-Nafs al-Zakiyyah, and the triumph of the Abbasids, and the popularity of Imam Jafar bin Muhammad Sadiq (peace be upon him), reports became widespread on his Mahdism. (18)
Nubakhti reports that: ‘Some Shiites have reported from Imam Sadiq that he said: “If you see my head rolling to you from the mountain, you should not believe that, for I am your ‘Sahib’ (Mahdi).” And he also said: “If anyone informs you that he nursed me, washed my body (after death) and shrouded me, do not believe him, I am your companion (Sahib) and the companion of the sword.” (19) Hence a section of the supporters of Imam Sadiq denied admitting that he died. They also said that: “He is the Awaited Mahdi and that he is alive and did not die.” This group was known as the ‘Tawussites –attributed to Ajlan bin Tawus. (20) Among these group was Aban bin Uthman Al-Ahmar considered by al-Kashi to be one of the menof consensus (Ijma’), i.e. one of the closest people to Imam Sadiq. (21)
THE MAHDISM OF ISMA’IL
From the above, it seams that the various Mahdism theories were born with time and in different circumstances. They were more of hopes than dependence on clear and sound Hadiths. The belief in the Occultation evolves when an Imam dies before his appearance (as the Mahdi). The Shiites have never ever agreed on the Mahdism of a particular Imam previously, and ithas been the same from the beginning. At the time when some of them believed in the Mahdism of Imam Sadiq, some of them were fixing their hopes on the Mahdism of his son Isma’il. When Isma’il died during the lifetime of his father Imam Sadiq, his supporters denied his death, and invented a doctrine in his Occultation. They interpreted his funeral and burial by Imam Sadiq openly, as a drama aimed at concealing the fact that Isma’il has fled and has hid himself, as a preparation for his reappearance in the future! (22)
It is well known that the Shiites differed after the death of Imam Sadiq into six (6) different sects. The Isma’ilites believed in the life of Ismail, as well as his Imamate, Mahdism and occultation. Some of them after their despair in his Mahdism turned to accept the Mahdism of his son Muhammad. They then transferred Mahdism to the children of Isma’il till the appearance of the last of them, at the close of the third (3rd) century when he established the Fatimide rule in North Africa.
THE MAHDISM OF DIBAJ
Muhammad bin Jafar Sadiq (Al-Dibaj) who appeared in Makkah in the year 200 A.H., claimed that he was the Awaited Mahdi. He declared himself as the Caliph of the Muslims and took oath of allegiance from them, and was called the Leader of the faithful. (23)
Therefore, we can say that the theory of Mahdism meant, emergence, revolt,… and was never specific in a particular person.The theory of occultation used to evolve whenever any awaited Imam fails or dies without achieving his goals.
THE MAHDISM OF MUHAMMAD BIN ABDULLAH AL-AFTAH
The only exceptional case, which was contrary to the above- mentioned rule at that time, was the theory of the Mahdism of ‘Muhammad bin Abdullah bin Jafar Sadiq’. This person was not born at all and did not exist. Some of the Fathite Shiites invented a story of his existence in secret, after the death of his father Abdullah Aftah, who was believed by those Shiites to be the Imam after his father Sadiq. Those Shiites were shocked when Aftah died without an issue to succeed him in the Imamate. They believed in the necessity of the continuation of the Imamate in the children and the grand children (of the Imam), i.e. being inherited vertically. Due to this they could not shift to the belief in the Imamate of the brother of Abdullah, Musa bin Jafar. They therefore invented the idea of the existence of a son for him in secret: They said that: “His name corresponds to the famous Prophetic Hadith: His name is my name, the name of his father is the name of my father.” (24)
It cannot be ruled out that some people of vested interest and hypocrites from among the companions of the Imams might have fabricated this illusory story of the myth of the awaited Mahdi-Muhammad bin Abdullah bin Sadiq, so as to benefit from that financially, and claim being his deputy and receive money on his behalf. The stories on the existence of that illusory Mahdi were widespread in Yemen. And that he will appear, and fill the earth with justice and equity after it has filled with injustice and tyranny.
THE MAHDISM OF KADHIM
With the Abbasid revolution and its deviation from its goals of reform and the spread of corruption in their rule, it was only natural that their opponents gathered around any great personality from the Ahl al-Bayt, i.e. Imam Musa bin Ja’far Kadhim (peace be upon him) who was a symbol of piety, knowledge and devotion. The hope of his emergence and appearance (as the Mahdi) grew. In this way there were a lot of reports on the Mahdism of Imam Kadhim, and the belief that he was the Qa’im from the family of Muhammad (peace be upon him). Some of the Shiites went on reporting some narrations from Sadiq that: “It was inevitable that my son is the Qa’im (Mahdi) of this Ummah, and the Owner of the sword”. And “Musa is the Qa’im, and this is inevitable from Allah”. “Even if his head will roll to you from the mountains you should not believe, for he is the Qa’im” “The name of the Qa’im is the iron (knife) of the barber.” “As if I am seeing the black banner with a green patch on it lowered over the head of this person sitting” and the rest of such reports that lack consensus!
When Rashid arrested Imam Kadhim, many of the Shiites considered that as the first or minor Occultation. When he killed him and threw his pure body on the bridge in Baghdad, they refused accepting that or believing it, and they said, ‘It was an Abbasid drama’ and they said also that: ‘Imam Kadhim has gone into his second Occultation, and that he fled from the prison and he was alive and did not and will not die till he controls the East and the West of the world, and fill the whole of it with justice as it was filled with injustice, and that he was the Qa’im and the Mahdi.” (25)
Most of the children of the Imam claimed the same thing, so also most of his close companions like Al-Mufaddal bin Umar, Dawud al-Ruqa, Daris al-Kinani, Abu Basir, A’yun bin Abdul Rahman bin A’yun, Hadid al-Sabati and Hassan bin Qiyyama al-Sirafi. Ali bin Abi Hamiza wrote a book on the occultation. Similarly Ali bin Umar al- A’raj wrote another book on that.
Those Shiites were known as the Waqifites i.e. those who accepted the Imamate of Imam Kadhim, and refused faith in Ali bin Musa Rida.
Dawud al-Ruqa hesitated in admitting the Imamate of Rida, based on those agreed reports, which limited Mahdism to Kadhim and say that: “The seventh of us, is our Qa’im.” Imam Rida said to him, “The hope of the rising (appearance) of Kadhim depends on the will of Allah and it was not inevitable.” (26)
The Waqifites continued in their faith in the Mahdism and the occultation of Imam Kadhim for a long time. But they decreased in number with the passage of time, till the death of the theory and the extinction of those who believe in it, especially when Imam Rida confirmed the death of his father and said to them: “Allah’s evidence on His creation will be only through the Imam that is alive, and is well-known. Glory be to Allah. The Messenger of Allah died and Musa bin Ja’far did not die? Yes, by Allah he has died, and his wealth has been distributed and his slavegirls have been married.” He suspected those who claim that he did not die, of lying and said: “They are disbelievers in what Allah the Exalted has revealed on Muhammad (peace be upon him). If Allah exalted were to extend the lifespan of anyone due to the need of the creation to him, He would have extended the lifespan of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him).” (27)
THE MAHDISM OF MUHAMMAD BIN QASIM
In the beginning of the third (3rd) century of Hijrah, in the year 219 A.H and during the days of the Caliphate of Mu’tasim, an Alawite rebellion took place in ‘Taliqan’ under the leadership of Muhammad bin Qasim. Mu’tasim however defeated and arrested him and carried him to Baghdad, detaining him in his place. He was able to run away and fled. The people differed on his affairs. Some of them said that: ‘He has died or fled’. Some of the Shiites said that: ‘He is alive and he will reappear and he is the Mahdi of this Ummah’. (28)
THE MAHDISM OF YAHYA BIN UMAR
Another Alawite Imam, namely, Yahya bin Umar marched out from Kufah in the days of Musta’in. He directed Hussain bin Isma’il to him, and he killed him. But some of his companions did not accept the news that he was defeated, and said that: ‘He was not killed, he only hid himself, and went into occultation, and that he was the Mahdi and the Qa’im, who will reappear another time’. (29)
THE MAHDISM OF MUHAMMAD BIN ALI HADI AND ASKARI
The Imamate Shiites differed among themselves in the middle of the third century of Hijrah on the identity of the Awaited Imam Mahdi. A section of them said that: He is Muhammad bin Ali Hadi, who died suddenly in Dajil. They believed in his occultation, like that of Isma’il bin Ja’far. They did not believe his death. Another section of them claimed that Imam Hassan Askari was the Mahdi. A third section of them believed in the existence and the Mahdism of a son for him (Askari) in secret, namely, Imam Muhammad bin Hassan Askari. Yet others said that: ‘He (the Mahdi) is not specified, and that he will be one of the members of the Ahl al- Bayt, not by appointment, and that he will be born and will appear in future.” (30)
THE MAHDISM OF AN UNKNOWN QA’IM
At last, two Shiite historians contemporaneous to the death of Imam Askari mentioned that: ‘A sect from the followers of the Imam said: “Hassan bin Ali has died, a confirmed death, and the Imamate has ceased till the time when Allah will raise a Qa’im from the family of Muhammad (peace be upon him) that have passed away. If He wills, He raises another person other than him, but from his forefathers. That is because the raising of the Qa’im and the appearance of the Mahdi is inevitable. The appearance of the Mahdi is on Allah. The reports came on the basis of that, so also sound narrations and a consensus of the Ummah. It is not possible to invalidate that. This is due to the fact that, the death of Hassan bin Ali has been confirmed, as his not leaving an issue has also been confirmed. So the Imamate has ceased, as he has no issue. Since it is not possible except in the children (of the Imam). It cannot go to the uncle or cousin or brother after Hassan and Hussain. The Imamate has thus ceased till the raising of the Qa’im from among them. If he appears and emerges (as the Mahdi) (his affairs) will continue till the Hour of judgment. (31)
All these several and conflicting claims of Mahdism movements express and show the ambiguity and vagueness of the concept of Imam Mahdi, and the likelihood of his being any of the Imams from the Ahl al-Bayt. That is the one who will appear with the sword, and establish the state and rule of truth. All the Shiite sects believed that he is from this Hashimite family, or that house of Alawites or Fatimide or Hassanite or Hussainite or Musawite house. And that he is this or that person. If the identity of the Mahdi has been determined before, , since the time of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) or the time of the previous eleven Imams, the Muslims would not have differed, nor would the Shiites, nor the Imamate Shiites, not the supporters of Imam Hassan Askari in determining the identity of the Mahdi. Some of them would not have believed ‘Imam Hassan Askari’ himself to be the Mahdi.
We conclude from all these that: The identity of the Mahdi was vague and not specific or determined in the time of Ahl al-Bayt. That the belief of his being the son of Hassan Askari evolved after supposing his existence in secret, and in an attempt to explain his absence from sight, and the non announcement of his birth by his father, on the basis of considering occultation as (an essential) attribute of the Mahdi.
Saduq: Ikmal al-Din, p. 183 Kulayni: Al-Kafi, vol. 1 p. 536 ibid. Vol. 1 p. 341, Numani: Al-Ghaybah p. 187 Saduq: Ikamal al-Din, p. 35 Al-Kafi. Vol. 1 p. 341, Saduq: Ikmal al-Din, p. 370 Saduq: Ikmal al-Din, p. 373 Nubakhti: Firaq al-Shi’ah,p. 22, Saad bin Abdullah al-Ashari al-Qummi: Al-Maqalat was al-Firaq . p. 20 Al-Kashi: Marifah al-Naqilin an al-A’imah al-Sadiqin. P. 101 Nubakhti: Firaq al- Shiah p. 34 al-Ashari: Al-Maqalat. P. 27 Nubakhti: Firaq al-Shiah. P. 34, al- Ashari: Al-Maqalat Nubakhti: Firaq al-Shiah . p. 35, Al-Ashari: Al-Maqalat p. 35 Nubakhti: Firaq al-Shiah. P. 62, Al-Ashari: Al-Maqalat. P. 76 Al-Isfirayini: Al-Farq bain al-Firaq. P. 60 Kulayni: Raudah Al-Kafi. P. 245 Kulayni: Al-Kafi : Al-Raudah. P. 290 Al-Kashi: Ikhtiyar Ma’rifah al-Rijal Nubakhti p. 68, Al-Ashari, p. 80 Nubakhti, p. 80, Al-Ashari, p. 89 Al-Nuri al-Tabrisi Khatimah Mustadrak Wasait al-Shiah vol. 3 p. 595 Al-Kashi: Ma’rifat al-Rijal. P. 379 Al-Isfahani: Maqatil al-Talibiyyin p. 577 Al-Isfirayini: Al-Farq bayn al-Firaq p. 31 Al-Kamil of Ibn Al-Athir, vol. 7,p. 43, Muruj al-Dhahab of Mas’udi, vol. 4, p. 147 See Nubakhti: Firaq al-Shi’ah ,m p. 93,96,98 and 105, Al-Ashari al-Qummi: Al-Maqalat wa al-Firaq,p.101, 106, 107,108.
Nubakhti: Firaq al-Shiah, p105, Al-Ashari: Al-Maqalat. P. 108