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The Occultation of the Twelfth Imam

The Occultation of the Twelfth Imam



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A Historical Background

Jassim M. Hussain
A Historical Background

Jassim M. Hussain

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Published by: awaiting on Apr 03, 2008
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A Historical Background
Jassim M. Hussain
Publisher :Bunyad Be'that,Tehran, Iran
Introduction and survey of the sources
1. Introduction
 Muhammad b. al-Hasan al-'Askari is the twelfth Imam of the"Imamates" or "Twelve-Imam Shi'ites", al-Ithna Ashariyya, who formthe second largest denomination in Islam after the Sunnis. He appearsto have been born in 256 A.H./869 A.D. Four years later, after thedeath of his father al-'Askari, the eleventh Imam, he was hidden fromthe authorities of the 'Abbasid caliphs as a precaution. Hiswhereabouts were disclosed only to a very few of his followers. Four of his father's close associates became successive mediators between theImam and his followers until the year 329/941. This period has beenconsidered by the Imamites as the first or the short occultation (al-Ghayba) of the twelfth Imam. During it the four safirs directlysupervised the underground religious and political activities of theImamites.The last safir announced on his death-bed in 329/941 that the twelfthImam had decided not to appoint another safir and had entered intototal occultation. The Imamites considered this declaration thebeginning of the twelfth Imam's second occultation, which hascontinued until the present time.Because of the second occultation the series of Imam stopped at thenumber twelve. Accordingly the Imamites believe that the twelfthImam is al-Qaim ("he who will rise"), whose rising was promised bythe Prophet. For the Prophet is said to have predicted that adescendant of his daughter Fatima would rise with the sword and fill
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.

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