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From Imāmiyya to Ithnā-'ashariyya


The Imāmī Shī'ī theory of the imāmate evolved gradually during the first Islamic century and was given a definitive shape in the middle of the second/eighth century by Hishām b. al-Ḥakam. For the next 100 years or so, until the death in 260/874 of the eleventh Imām, al-Ḥasan al-'Askarī, no significant changes seem to have been introduced. Only in the mid-fourth/tenth century does a major addition appear in the form of a doctrine: it is the belief that there are 12 Imāms, the last of whom remains in a state of concealment (ghayba) until his ultimate return as Mahdī, or Qā'im. This ghayba is divided into two periods: a shorter, ‘lesser’ ghayba (al-ghayba al-ṣughrā), lasting from 260/874 to 329/941, during which the Imām was represented on earth by four successive safīrs; and a longer, ‘greater’ ghayba (al-ghayba al-kubrā), whose duration is known only to God. It is this doctrine which distinguishes Twelver Shī'ism from the earlier Imāmiyya, and it io worth examining in some detail ite origina and the-main-stages of its development.

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1 See the article ‘Hishām b. al-Ḥakam’, by W. Madelung, in EI, second ed.

2 Watt W. Montgomery (‘The Rāfiḍites: a preliminary study’, Oriens, XVI, 1963, 119 f.) has pointed out that the term ‘Imāmiyya’ occurs in a Zaydī source used by Abū 'l-Ḥasan al-Ash'arī (d. 324/935–6) (Maqālāt al-islāmiyyīn, ed. Ritter H., Istanbul 19291933, 64), and has suggested that it was first employed before 850. This suggestion appears to be corroborated by an additional source, the Kitāb naqḍ al-'uthmāniyya by the Baghdādī Mu'tazīlī Abū Ja'far al-Iskāfī (d. 240/854). At one point al-Iskāfī dissociates himself from the Imāmiyya whose obduracy, he says, leads them to ‘deny well-known things’ (The text is reprinted from Ibn Abī 'l-Ḥadīd's Sharḥ nahj al-balāgha at the end of al-Jāḥiẓ's Kitāb al-'uthmāniyya, ed. Hārūn ‘Abd al-Salām Muḥammad, Cairo, 1374/1955, 318). The terms qaṭ'iyya and ahl al-nasaq (the latter used almost exclusively by al-Nāshi’ al-Akbar (d. 293/906); see van Ess J., Frühe mu'tazilitische Häresiographie, Beirut, 1971, 28 f.) are older and broader than ‘Imāmiyya’. The term ‘Ithnā-'ashariyya’ was probably first used around 1000. It does not appear in the Fihrist of the Imāmī al-Nadīm (d' 380/990) (cf. Seilheim R., Israel Oriental Studies, II, 1972, 428–32), but is employed by the rabidly anti-Shī'ī ‘Abd al-Qāhir al-Baghdādī (d. 429/1037) to refer to a subsection of the Imāmiyya (al-Farq bayna 'l-firaq, ed. Muḥammad Muḥyi 'l-Dīn ‘Abd al-Ḥamīd, Cairo, 1384/1964, 23, 64). With the increasing predominance of the Twelvers, the terms ‘Imāmiyya’ and ‘Ithnā-'ashariyya’ gradually became synonymous (see Friedlaender I., ‘The heterodoxies of the Shiites in the presentation of Ibn Ḥazm’, JAOS, XXIX, 1908, 151).

3 For a detailed analysis of the relationship of the two sources, see Madelung W., ‘Bemerkungen zur imamitischen Firaq-Literatur’, Der Islam XLIII, 12, 1967, 37 ff.

4 Al-Nawbakhtī, Kitāb firaq al-shī'a, ed. Ritter H., Istanbul, 1931, 90–3; Sa'd b. ‘Abdallāh, Kitāb a1-maqālāt wo, 'l-firaq, ed. Mashkūr M. J., Tehran, 1383/1963, 102–6.

5 See ‘Abdallāh Sa'd B., op. cit., 103.

6 cf. Goldziher I., Abhandlungen zur arabischen Philologie, II. Das Kitâb al-Mu'ammarîn des Abû Ḥâtim al-Siģistânî, Leiden, 1899, pp. lxiilxix.

7 The sixth in al-Nawbakhtī's list (op. cit., 84 f.), the eleventh in the Kitāb al-maqālāt wa 'l-firaq (114).

8 According to the Kitāb firaq al-shī'a, Muḥammad was two years old when his father died; the information in the Kitāb al-maqālāt wa 'l-firaq is that he was grown up (bāligh) at the time (loc. cit.).

9 Al-Ash'arī, op. cit., 17 f., 30. Al-Ash'arī (ibid., 14) also mentions a sect of ghulāt who believe in the same 12 persons but who claim that God resides in each of them. It should be noted that while all Twelver Shī'ī doctors agree that Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan is the hidden Imām, there are traditions according to which it is forbidden to mention his name (see e.g. al-Kulīnī, Uṣūl al-kāfī, ed. ‘al-Ghaffārī Alī Akbar, Tehran, 1375/19551956–1377/19571958, 1, 332 f.). This principle, however, was not universally observed (cf. e.g. Bābawayhi Ibn, A Shī'ite creed, trans. Fyzee Asaf A. A., London, 1942, 98). An attempt at harmonization is made by explaining that the Qā'im has two names: one, Aḥmad, is made known, and the other, Muḥammad, remains a secret. See al-Kāshānī Muḥsin, al-Nawādir fī jam' al-aḥādīth, Tehran, 1380/1960, 148.

10 Al-Barqī, Kitāb al-maḥāsin, ed. al-Muḥaddith Jalāl ai-Dīn al-Ḥusayuī, Tehran, 1370/19501951, 315.

11 Bābawayhi Ibn, Kitāb al-khiṣāl, Najaf, 1391/1971, 436–51.

12 Al-Barqī, op. cit., 332 f.

13al-Qummī Alī b. Ibrāhīm, Tafsīr, ed. al-Jazā'irī Ṭayyib al-Mūsawī, Najaf, 1386/19661967–1387/19671968, II, 44 f.

14 See especially al-Kulīnī, op. cit., I, 328 ff., 525 ff. The Khiḍr-tradition appears on p. 525 f., and traditions on two concealments on p. 339 f.

15 See Bābawayhi Ibu, Ikmāl al-dīn, Tehran 1301/18831884, 204, cited by al-Majlisī, Biḥār al-anwār [= Biḥār], [Persia], 1305/18871888–1315/18971898, XIII, 236; al-Ṭūsī Abū Ja'far, Kitāb al-ghayba, ed. al-Ṭihrānī Āghā Buzurg, Najaf, 1385/19651966, 285, cited in Biḥār, XIII, 237; Muḥsin al-Kāshānī, op. cit., 199 f. And cf. Kitāb Muḥammad b. al-Muthannā, in al-Uṣūl al-arba'u mi'a, MS Tehran University, no. 962, fol. 53b (where the Qā'im is said to be followed by 11 Mahdīs). Al-Majlisī (loc. cit.) suggests two possible interpretations of these traditions: the 12 Mahdīs might be the Prophet and the 11 Imāms, whose rule would follow that of the Qā'im; or else these Mahdīs might be the legatees (awṣiyā') of the Qā'im, who would provide guidance to the community with the other Imāms who will have come back to earth (raja'ū).

16 See al-Nu'mānī, Kitāb al-ghayba, Tehran, 1318/19001901, 2.

17 ibid., 4 f.

18 al-Rāzī Al-Khazzāz, Kifāyat al-athar, [Persia], 1306/1888, 289.

19 Bābawayhi Ibn, op. cit., 3 ff.

20 Al-Nu'mānī, op. cit., 41. See also al-Ṭūsī, op. cit., 96. The Shī'ī scholar Muḥammad Ḥusayn al-Ṭabāṭabā'ī expresses reservations about the soundness of this exegesis. See his al-Mīzān fī tafsīr al-Qur'ān, DC, Tehran, 1379/19591960, 286.

21 Referring either to the 12 Israelites mentioned in Qur'ān V, 12, or to the 12 Companions chosen by Muḥammad. See Bābawayhi Ibn, Kitāb al-khiṣāl, 463 f.

22 Al-Nu'māuī, op. cit., 40.

23 ibid., 29–31; Bābawayhi Ibn, Ikmāl al-dīn, 179 f.; the references in my article ‘An unusual Shī'ī ianād’, Israel Oriental Studies, V, 1975, p. 144, n. 10.

24 Al-Nu'mānī, op. cit., 24.

25 ibid., 42.

26 Biḥār, IX, 120 ff. See also Bābawayhi Ibn, Kitāb al-khiṣāl, 445 ff.

27 See the article ‘Ghadīr Khumm’, by L. Veccia Vaglieri, in EI, second ed. The most exhaustive treatment of the subject from a Shī'ī point of view is that of ‘Abd al-Ḥusayn Aḥmad al-Amīnī in his al-Ghadīr fī 'l-kitāb wa 'l-sunna wa 'l-adab, Tehran, 1372/19521953.

28 Al-Nu'mānī, op. cit., 33.

29 ibid., 48 f.; Bābawayhi Ibn, Ikmāl al-dīn, 149–67; idem, Kitāb al-khiṣāl, 436–45; in general BiḥĀr, IX, 128 ff. For contemporary Shī'ī works consult, e.g., ‘al-Ḥā'irī Alī Yazdī, Ilzām al-nāṣib fī ithbāt ḥujjat al-ghā'ib, Tehran, 1351/19321933, 75 ff.; al-Ghiṭā’ Muḥammad al-Ḥusayn Āl Kāshif, Aṣl al-shī'a wa-uṣūluhā, Najaf, 1369/1950, 99.

30 Al-Khazzāz, op. cit., 293 f., cited in Biḥār, IX, 141–4.

31 Al-Khazzāz, op. cit., 294–7, whence Biḥār, IX, 145.

32 Al-Khazzāz, op. cit., 305.

33 ibid., 298 ff. Al-Majlisī criticizes al-Khazzāz for ‘mixing Imāmi traditions with those of the opponents’, and declares that in the Biḥār only reliable traditions are quoted (Biḥār, I, 12).

34 Al-Nu'mānī, op. cit., 49. In Shī'ī traditions the Imams are often referred to as khulafā', or khulafā' allāh fī arḍihi. See, e.g., al-Kulīnī, op. cit., I, 193 f.

35 See Rosenthal F., ‘The influence of the Biblical tradition on Muslim historiography’, in Lewis B. and Holt P. M. (ed.), Historians of the Middle East, London, 1962, 3545; Kister M. J., ‘Ḥaddithū 'an banī isrā'īla wa-lā ḥaraja’, Israel Oriental Studies, II, 1972, 215–39.

36 For some examples see Kister, art. cit., 222 f., 232, 233.

37 In various traditions (usually on the authority of Ka'b al-Aḥbār), the Prophet's name in the ancient Scriptures (or in the Torah) is said to have been ‘Mādh Mādh’, meaning ‘good, good’ (al-Qāḍī ‘Iyāḍ, al-Shifābi-ta'rīf ḥuqūq al-muṣṭafā, Cairo, 1369/1950, I, 148; al-Nuwayrī, Nihāyat al-arab, XVI, Cairo, 1374/1955, 79), or ‘Mūdh Mūdh’ (al-Bājūrī Ibrāhīm, al-Mawāhib al-laduniyya 'alā 'l-shamā'il al-muḥammadiyya, Cairo, 1301/18831884, 213), or ‘al-Ḥādd’ (Biḥār, VI (unpaginated)), or ‘Mād Mād’ (al-Ḥā'irī, op. cit., 38, 45). Most of these forms derive from the Hebrew me'ōd me'ōd (Gen. xvii, 2, 6, 20). It is claimed that the letters constituting the name ‘Mād Mād’ have a combined numerical value of 92 (this would be true if the alif were doubled), and that this is also the combined numerical value of the word ‘Muḥmmad’ (al-Ḥā'irī, op. cit., 38).

38 See Gen. XXV, 1316; of. 1 Chron. i, 2931.

39 Al-Nu'mānī, op. cit., 49 f. The names of Ishmael's sons as they appear in this story attest to a considerable corruption of the original text. Thus Nebaioth is rendered ‘Baqūnīth’ (or ‘Bāqūbīth’), Qēdār becomes ‘Qadū’ (‘Qaydawū’ ?), Adb'el is ‘Ra'īn’ (or ‘Dabīrā’), etc. The corruption is somewhat less marked in a different tradition, on the authority of Ka'b al-Aḥbär, copied in the Biḥār (IX, 127) from the Mugtatḍab al-athar of Ibn ‘Ayyāsh. Muslim authors in general seem to have been uncertain as to the correct form of the names of Ishmael's sons. Thus al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923) points to the discrepancy between Ibn Isḥāq's version and that of other sources. See his Tārīkh, ed. de Goeje M. J. and others, Leiden, 18791901, Prima Series, I, 351 f. The tradition about the 12 sons of Ishmael is quoted already in the Tafsīr of Ismā'īl b. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Suddi (d. 128/745). See al-Muẓaffar, Dalā'il al-ṣidq, II, Najaf, 1372/1953, 314; al-Ṭabarsī al-Nūrī, Kashf dl-astār ‘an wajh al-ghā'ib ‘an al-abṣār, sine loco, 1318/19001901, 106.

40 Al-Nu'mānī, op. cit., 50.

41 ibid. The Arabic is preceded by a badly corrupted transliteration of the Hebrew original.

43 Bi;ḥār, IX, 127, quoting from Ibn ‘Ayyāsh's Muqtadab al-athar.

44 Al-Nu'mānī, op. cit., 51 f.

45 ibid., 54. Cf. al-Kulīnī, op. cit., I, 629 f., 531 f.

46 Al-Nu'mānī, op. cit., 90, cited in Bī;ḥār, XIII, 142.

47 ibid. Cf. the somewhat vague formulation in a tradition of the Prophet: ‘He [i.e. the Qā'im] will undergo two ghaybas, one of which will be longer than the other’ (al-Khazzāz, op. cit., 307).

48 This is said by al-Majlisī to refer to his appearance before his closest associates (khawā;ṣ;ṣ mawālīhi wa-sufarā'ihi), or to the fact that news about him will reach the people (Bi;ḥār, XIII, 143).

49 Al-Nu'mānī, op. cit., 91.

50 See e.g. al-Faḍl b. al-Ḥasan al-Ṭabarsī, I'lām al-warā fī a'lām al-hudā, ed. al-Khursān M. Mahdī al-Sayyid Ḥasan, Najaf, 1390/1970, 445; Biḥār, XIII, 142.

51 al-Murtaḍā Al-Sharīf, Tanzīh al-anbiyā’, Najaf, 1380/1961, 228.

52 ibid., 233f.

53 See Bābawayhi Ibn, Ikmāl al-dīn, 82 f.

54 Often identified as the Shi'b Abī Yūsuf. See Yāqūt, Mu'jam al-buldān, III, Beirut, 1376/1957, 347.

55 See al-Suhaylī Abd al-Raḥmān, al-Rawḍ al-unuf fī sharḥ al-sīra al-nabawiyya, ed. ‘al-Wakīl Abd al-Raḥmān, III, Cairo, 1389/1969, 354.

56 See al-Ṭūsī, Kitāb al-ghayba, 61–3. See also Sa'īd b. Hibat Allāh al-Rāwandī, al-Kharā'ij wa 'l-jarā'iḥ, Bombay, 1301/18831884, 162.

57 cf. above, p. 525, n. 21.

58 See e.g. al-Ya'qūbī, Tārīkh, Najaf, 1358/19391940, III, 40 f., whence al-Shaybī, al-Fikr al-shī'ī wa 'l-naza'āt al-ṣūfiyya, Baghdād, 1386/1966, 25.

59 Al-Nawbakhtī, op. cit., 34.

60 Cited by Ṭāwūs Ibn, al-Malāḥim wa 'l-fitan, Najaf, 1383/1963, 26, 147.

61 See Wensinck A. J. and Mensing J. P. (ed.), Concordance et indices de la tradition musulmane, Leiden, 19361964, I, 306, s.v. thny.

62 Al-Qasṭallānī, Irshād al-sārī li-sharḥ ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, x, Būlāq, 1327/1909, 273. In practical terms, the only difference between (i) and (iii) lies in the replacement of Yazīd and Hishām, two of ‘Abd al-Malik's sons, by al-Ḥasan b. ‘Alī and ‘Abdallāh b. al-Zubayr.

63 On the margin of al-Qasṭallānī's Irshād, VIII, Bulaq, 1326/1908, 57.

64 Perhaps including al-Ḥasan b. ‘Alī.

65 Al-Muẓaffar, op. cit., II, 314 f. Al-Muẓaffar (ibid., 315–18) rejects this and other interpretations given by al-Faḍl b. Rūzbihān. See also al-Ṭabarsī al-Nūrī, op. cit., 94 ff.

66 A good example of such an anti-Umayyad, pro-Quraysh attitude is provided by al-Maqrīzī's al-Nizā' wa 'l-takhāṣum fīmā bayna banī Umayya wa-banī HāShim (passim). In a Shī'ī tradition of a somewhat different character, the Prophet declared that after his death the community would come under the rule of 12 ‘erring Imāms (imām ḍalāla)’, two of them from Quraysh (referring probably to Abū Bakr and ‘Umar) and 10 from the Banū Umayya. See Aḥmad B. ‘Alī al-Ṭabarsī, Kitāb al-īḥtijāj, II, Najaf, 1386/19661967, 4.

67 cf. Wensinck and Mensing (ed.), op. cit., VII, 83, s.v. hrj.

68 See the recent discussion by van Ess J., op. cit., 28 ff.; idem, Das Kitāb an-Nakṯ des Naẓẓām und seine Rezeption im Kitāb al-Futyā des Ğāḥiẓ, Göttingen, 1972, 52 ff.; idem, ‘Das Kitāb al-irğā’ des Ḥasan b. Muḥammad b. al-Ḥanafiyya’, Arabica, XXI, 1, 1974, 32 ff.

69 See al-Ṭihrānī Āghā Buzurg, al-Dharī'a ilā taṣānīf al-shī'a, Najaf, 1355–7/19361938, Tehran, 1360/1941 ff., XVI, p. 74, no. 371.

70 ibid., XVI, p. 76, no. 382.

71 ibid., XVI, p. 78, no. 395.

72 ibid., XVI, p. 76, no. 382. According to al-Kishshī's Rijāl, however (ed. Aḥmad al-Ḥusaynī, Najaf, c. 1964, 344–6), the wāqifī was al-Ḥasan's father, ‘Alī al-Baṭā'inī, who believed that al-Riḍā was the last Imām.

73 See al-Nawbakhtī, op. cit., 79 f.; Sa'd B. ‘Abdallāh, op. cit., 106 f.

75 cf. al-Ṭihrānī Āghā Buzurg, op. cit., XXI, p. 69, no. 3995.

76 See al-Ṭabarsī, l'iām al-warā, 443 f., cited in Biḥār, XIII, 99 f.

77 Al-Nawbakhtī, op. cit., 68; Sa'd B. ‘Abdallāh, op. cit., 90.

78 In. an. Imāmī tradition, Ja'far al-Ṣādiq says explicitly that ai-Kāẓim will disappear twice (inna li-Abi 'l-Ḥasan ghaybatayn), so that some men will claim that he has died. In fact, says al-Ṣādiq, Mūsā al-Kāẓim. will not die until he appoints a legatee (al-Ṭūsī, op. cit., 38).

79 Note the complete title of Ibn. Bābawayhi's work: Kitāb ikmāl al-dīn wa-itmām al-ni'ma fī ithbāt al-ghayba wa-kashf al-ḥayra.

80 ibid., 13. See also al-Ṭabarsī, op. cit., 443; and cf. the introduction to al-Barqī's Kitāb al-maḥāsin by Jalāl al-Dīn al-Muḥaddith, p. kāf-alif.

81 Al-Nu'mānī, op. cit., 47.

82 Kitāb Abī Sa'īd ‘Abbād al-'Uṣfurī, in al-Uṣūl al-arba'u mi'a, fol. 10a.

83 Kitāb Muḥammad b. al-Miithannā al-Ḥaḍramī, in al-Uṣūl al-arba'u mi'a, fol. 53b. As it stands, this sounds like an Ismā'īlī tradition. The Ithnā-'asharī version of this and similar sayings is that Ja'far al-Ṣādiq is the first of the seven last Imāms. Cf. al-Ṭūsī, op. cit., 36.

84 See al-Ḥillī Ibn al-Muṭahhar, Rijāl, ed. al-'Ulūm Muḥammad Ṣādiq Baḥr, Najaf, 1381/1961, 83; Goldziher, Muhammedanische Studien, Halle, 18891890, II, 10 f.

86 al-Ḥimyarī Al-Sayyid, Dīwān, ed. Shakar Shākir Hādī, Beirut, 1966, 355–69.

86 See Sourdel D., ‘La politique religieuse des successeurs d'al-Mutawakkil’, SI, XIII, 1960, 12 ff.

87 See the discussion in Watt W. Montgomery, art. cit., 119–21; Cahen C., ‘Buwayhids’, in EI, second ed., II (in particular pp. 1350–2); idem, ‘La changeante portée sociale de quelques doctrines religieuses’, L'élaboration de l'Islam. Colloque de Strasbourg, 12–14 juin 1959, Paris, 1961, 16.

88 cf. Laoust H., ‘La pensée et l'action politiques d'al-Māwardī (364–450/974–1058)’, REI, XXXVI, 1, 1968, 43 ff.; idem, ‘Les agitations religieuses à Baghdād aux IVe et ve siècles de l'Hégire’, in Richards D. S. (ed.), Islamic civilisation 950–1150, Oxford, Cassirer, 1973, 169–85.

89 cf. Massignon L., ‘Recherches sur les Shī'ites extrémistes à Bagdad à la fin du troisième siècle de l'Hégire’, ZDMG, XCII, 1938, 378–82; Cahen, loc. cit.

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