Thus far in our series we have investigated the historical development of the Shia concept of Imamah, from its inception under the notorious hypocrite Ibn Saba’ through the lives of the illustrious Imams, until the tenth Imam ‘Ali al Hadi. We discovered that it lacked any sort of foundation or Islamic justification, the concept itself as well as its purport was rejected by the Imams of the Ahlul Bayt, their brothers, and the majority of the Shia in their respective generations. We have seen it warp from a political movement to what one may describe as an aberrant cult, teeming with elements of kufr and shirk.
Seeing this doctrine heading off a cliff, many abandoned the cart—its adherents lessening even further with the passage of time—thus inevitably leaving its devotees clutching at straws to ensure their doctrines survival. It no longer mattered whether the reasoning was logical or even supported by evidence; hearsay and speculation became the lifebuoy keeping it afloat.
The issue of childhood in the eras of Imam al Jawwad and Imam al Hadi literally shook the foundations of this ideology, and by the time the year 254 A.H arrived, the Shia were more inclined to Zaidi principles; aligning themselves with any member of the Ahlul Bayt who led them against the powers of that time. Thus, the support enjoyed by Imam ‘Ali al Hadi was miniscule, which would be further split after his demise.
During the lifetime of ‘Ali al Hadi, the Shia had already come to believe that his eldest son, Muhammad would succeed him, even circulating an edict to the same in the name of the Imam. However, just as it occurred in the case of Ismail ibn Jafar, Muhammad passed away during the lifetime of his father, forcing the Shia to revisit this opinion. While others did switch their opinion on the matter, some continued to maintain that Muhammad was the Imam, and in fact the Mahdi who had gone into occultation and would one day return.
Others were divided between the two brothers, with equal claims made for candidacy of Hassan and Jafar—the two sons of Imam al Hadi. Amongst them now were some of those who had initially believed in the Imamah of Muhammad ibn al Hadi but were forced to make a u-turn on the death of Muhammad, attributing the mistake not to themselves but to Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala, accusing Him of Bada and the ultimate cause of their confusion.
The tenure of Imam Hassan al ‘Askari, however, did not last long and he passed away just 6 years after, at the young age of 28, leaving behind no issue. This in itself should have resolved the matter once and for all, but the Shia would not have any of it and instead grasped onto every possible opinion to save them from the abyss they found themselves plummeting into. Al Nawbakhti counts no less than 14 sects that emerged on the death of al ‘Askari. A few of the theories that emerged were:
The questions which plagued the minds of many at that time though could not be simply shrugged off:
Soon a small group emerged, setting themselves up as the representatives of the “Hidden” Imam. At the head of them was a person by the name of ‘Uthman ibn Sa’id al Amri, who controlled this integral network, a network designed for the sole purpose of collecting money in the name of the Hidden Imam. All followers of the Imams were obliged to pay one fifth of their income to the ‘representatives’ of the Imam. This is called Khums, which is compulsory in the Shia faith. This practice of Khums continues to this day: the Shia of Iran pay a religious tax that goes into the coffers of their Ayatollahs.
So, the tale was soon crafted that the Eleventh Imam, Hassan al ‘Askari, had left behind a son before he died, who was supposedly four years old and was named Muhammad. According to ‘Uthman ibn Sa’id, this son went into occultation and nobody but ‘Uthman ibn Sa’id himself could have any contact with the Hidden Imam. And from that point onwards, ‘Uthman ibn Sa’id would act as the wakeel or representative of the Hidden Imam and collect MONEY in his name.
Jafar, the brother of Hassan al ‘Askari, insisted that no such son existed and tried his level best to expose the lies of ‘Uthman ibn Sa’id. Moojan Momen writes in An Introduction to Shi’i Islam:
Jafar remained unshakable in his assertion that his brother (Hassan al Askari) had no progeny.
But it was easier for the Shia to accuse Jafar of being a liar and a thief who stole from their Hidden Imam, than accept the bitter truth.
It should be noted that Jafar, according to Shia belief, would also be part of the Ahlul Bayt, since he was the brother of Hassan al ‘Askari. The Ithna ‘Ashariyyah, thus, abandon Jafar, a member of the Ahlul Bayt, and instead follow ‘Uthman ibn Sa’id.
‘Uthman ibn Sa’id spread this wondrous fairy-tale of a son who was born to Hassan al ‘Askari from the union of the 11th Imam 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 the direct descendent of the apostle Simon Peter. The story goes on to tell of the Roman slave-girl’s capture by the Muslim army, how she eventually came to be sold to Hassan al Askari, and of her supernatural pregnancy. The story then relates the secret birth of the “son”, whom no one—aside from ‘Uthman ibn Sa’id and his clique—knew anything of. Everything about the child is enveloped in a thick and impenetrable cloud of mystery.
Then the story goes that ten days before the death of Imam Hassan al ‘Askari, that child of four or five years disappeared and took along with him all the things which had been passed down from their first Imam—Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu—to the eleventh Imam Hassan al ‘Askari. For instance, the original and complete Qur’an compiled and written by Sayyidina ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu himself, all the ancient Holy Scriptures like the Torah, Bible, Psalms of David, etc., in their original forms, and the Mushaf Fatimah, al Jafr and the leather bag containing al Jamid (two other divine books believed by them to have been revealed after the Qur’an), as well as the miracles of the Prophets of the past—the Staff of Musa, the Shirt of Adam, the Ring of Sulaiman etc. etc. With all these materials the four or five year old child singly vanished and hid himself in a cave of his city called Samarra.
‘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 Shia had with their supposed Imam. During that time, he supplied the Shia community with Tawqi’at or written communications which he claimed were written to them by the Hidden Imam. Many of these communications, which are still preserved in books like al Tusi’s al Ghaybah, had to do with denouncing other claimants to the position of representative. In fact, many people had come to realise exactly how lucrative a position ‘Uthman ibn Sa’id had created for himself.
‘Uthman ibn Sa’id blocked all efforts by other claimants by these Tawqi’at, which called them liars and frauds. The Shia literature dealing with ‘Uthman ibn Sa’ids tenure as representative is replete with references to money collected from the Shia public (i.e. Khums).
When ‘Uthman ibn Sa’id died, his son—Abu Jafar Muhammad—produced a written communication from the Hidden Imam in which he himself is appointed as the second representative, a position he held for about fifty years. A period in which, once again, no one saw the Imam and the sole link to him was this individual collecting funds on his behalf.
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 the support from a credulous Shia public.
Abu Jafar Muhammad was followed in this position by Abu al Qasim ibn Rawh al Nawbakhti, a scion of the powerful and influential Nawbakhti family of Baghdad. Before succeeding Abu Jafar, Abu al Qasim was his chief aide in the collection of the one-fifth taxes (Khums) from the Shia.
Abu al Qasim, like his two predecessors before him, too had to deal with rival claimants one of whom—Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al Shalmaghani—used to be an accomplice of his. He is reported in Abu Jafar al Tusi’s Kitab al Ghaybah as having stated:
We knew exactly what we were into with Abu al Qasim ibn Rawh. We used to fight like dogs over this matter (of being representative).
When Abu al Qasim al Nawbakhti died in 326 A.H, he bequeathed the position of representative to Abu al Hassan al Samarri. Whereas the first three representatives were shrewd manipulators, Abu al Hassan al Samarri proved to be a more conscientious person. During his three years as representative, there was a sudden drop in Tawqi’at. However, when asked upon his deathbed as to who his successor will be, rather than expose the scam for what it was, he answered that Allah Himself would fulfil the matter. Abu al Hassan al Samarri then produced a letter in which the Imam declared 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 liar.
Thus, more or less after 70 years, the last “door of contact” with the Hidden Imam closed. The Shia term this period, in which there was contact with their Hidden Imam through his representatives or rather tax collectors the Ghaybah Sughra (Lesser Occultation) and the period from the death of the last representative onwards the Ghaybah Kubra (Greater Occultation). The Ghaybah Kubra has lasted for over a thousand years.
When one reads the classical literature of the Shia in which the activities of the four representatives are outlined, one is struck by the constantly recurring theme of Money. The representatives of the Hidden Imam are always mentioned in connection with receiving and collecting “the Imam’s money” from his loyal Shia followers. There is a shocking lack of any activities of an academic or spiritual nature.
The Shia 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, who had set themselves up in a rather lucrative position. The activities of those representatives go a long way to show that they were much, much more inspired by the desire to possess wealth than by pious sentiments of any kind.
In Iran today, the Shia Ayatollahs are multi-Millionaires or rather Billionaires as a result of the Khums they procure from the Shia devout. They exploit religion for money, wealth, and power. These Ayatollahs are todays “Representatives” of the Hidden Imam, as expounded upon at length by the Supreme Ayatollah Khomeini who has duped the entire Shia community—yet again—by the doctrine of Wilayat al Faqih, granting himself Wilayat al Mutlaqah, meaning that he has absolute authority from Allah, since he is the representative of the Imam in his absence. And just as the four early representatives during the lesser occultation condemned and denounced all rival claimants, so too did Ayatollah Khomeini arrest and condemn all those Ayatollahs who questioned his position as representative of the Imam.
And so, the scam continues… Love for the Ahlul Bayt continues to be exploited for political and financial gain, emotions are stirred to override logic, passions to cast aside reason, and hatred to blind from the truth; but it can only last so long:
وَلَقَدْ فَتَنَّا الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ ۖ فَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا وَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ الْكَاذِبِينَ
But We have certainly tried those before them, and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars.
Fraudsters always get exposed and their schemes laid to waste…
And they are inevitably left to face the wrath of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala…
وَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّنِ افْتَرَىٰ عَلَى اللَّهِ كَذِبًا أَوْ قَالَ أُوحِيَ إِلَيَّ وَلَمْ يُوحَ إِلَيْهِ شَيْءٌ وَمَن قَالَ سَأُنزِلُ مِثْلَ مَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ ۗ وَلَوْ تَرَىٰ إِذِ الظَّالِمُونَ فِي غَمَرَاتِ الْمَوْتِ وَالْمَلَائِكَةُ بَاسِطُو أَيْدِيهِمْ أَخْرِجُوا أَنفُسَكُمُ ۖ الْيَوْمَ تُجْزَوْنَ عَذَابَ الْهُونِ بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَقُولُونَ عَلَى اللَّهِ غَيْرَ الْحَقِّ وَكُنتُمْ عَنْ آيَاتِهِ تَسْتَكْبِرُونَ
And who is more unjust than one who invents a lie about Allah or says, “It has been inspired to me,” while nothing has been inspired to him, and one who says, “I will reveal [something] like what Allah revealed.” And if you could but see when the wrongdoers are in the overwhelming pangs of death while the angels extend their hands, [saying], “Discharge your souls! Today you will be awarded the punishment of [extreme] humiliation for what you used to say against Allah other than the truth and [that] you were, toward His verses, being arrogant.”
 Firaq al Shia, pg. 79.
 Firaq al Shia, pg. 79-94.
 An Introduction to Shi’i Islam, (London, 1985, p. 162).
 Surah al Ankabut: 3.
 Surah al An’am: 93.Back to top