the world with justice and equity. For this reason the Imamites believethat he is still alive, but in a state of occultation until the moment of his rising at an unspecified time in the future.Since the first half of the fourth/tenth century many scholars haveexamined the occultation of the twelfth Imam purely from thetheological point of view, even through this event appears to havebeen historical. However, because of the close connection between theoccultation and the Imamate (al-Imama) or the religious and politicalleadership, it became involved with Shi'ite theological discussions andgradually its historical aspects came to be ignored. Thus modernscholars like Ignaz Goldziher, Margoliouth, Snouck Hurgronje andDarmesteter were inclined to study the occultation of the twelfthImam as a theological phenomenon and tried to trace its pre-Islamicorigins. The present inquiry is an attempt to study the historicalbackground and circumstances of the occultation of the twelfth Imam.The Imamites had political ambitions to obtain political power underthe leadership of an Imam called al-Qaim bi-l-sayf (the on who willrise with the sword). This study tries to examine the role of theseambitions in his occultation and to trace as well the evolution of theunderground Imamite organization (al-Wikala) and its role during thetime of the twelfth Imam's short occultation. It is essential to make asurvey of the main sources of this study so that the viewpoint of eachof them can b understood and the information they contain evaluatedaccordingly.
2. Survey of the sources
2.1. Books on the question of Ghayba It is indeed an old idea inImamite history that one Imam from the progeny of the Prophetwould go into hiding to prepare for the day when he would rise againunder the title al-Qa'im al-Mahdi and fill the world with justice. Theconcealment (al-Ghayba) was considered a sign of the true al-Qa'im al-Mahdi, and both before and after the occultation of the twelfth Imamin 260/874> Many Shi'ite writers collected traditions attributed to theProphet and the Imams concerning this issue. These traditions wereused by many Shi'ite groups to back up the claims of their leaderswho aspired to power by adopting the title of al-Qa'im al-Mahdi.Before 260/874 they were used even by some Imamites themselvesas evidence that one or another of their deceased Imams was in factal-Qa'im al-Mahdi. Finally the same traditions have been used by theImamites to support their claims that the twelfth Imam was al-Qa'imal-Mahdi himself. These works on the subject of the Ghayba can bedivided into three groups based on the dates of their authorship.