Encounters with the Hidden Imam in Early and Pre-Modern Twelver Shīʿī Islam

  • Book Title:
 Encounters With The Hidden Imam
  • Book Author:
Omid Ghaemmaghami
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Acknowledgments ix

A Note on Transliteration and Style xi

Introduction 1

  1. Approaches to the Question of Encountering the Hidden Imam in Sources in Western Languages 7
  2. Outline of the Book 21
  3. The Unknown, the Unseen, and the Unrecognized 23
    1. The Hadith Compilations Attributed to al-Barqī and al-Ṣaffār al-Qummī 23
    1. The Exegetical Corpus: The tafāsīr of al-ʿAskarī, al-Sayyārī, al-Furāt, al-Qummī, and al-ʿAyyāshī 28
    1. The Hadith Compilation of al-Kulaynī 40
    1. The Hidden Imam: Unseen and Unrecognized 44
    1. The Hidden Imam: Seen but Not Recognized 49
  4. Hidden from All, yet Seen by Some? The Special Case of Three Hadiths 53
  5. Hadith 1 (and Variants): “the 30 are never lonely” 54
  6. Hadith 2 (and Variants): “[and] no one will know his location except the elite of his mawālī” 66
  7. Hadith 3 (and Variants): “except the mawlā who is in charge of his affairs” 72
  8. The mawlā/mawālī 75

3 “A Lying Impostor” 85

  1. Ibn Abī Zaynab al-Nuʿmānī 86
  2. Al-Shaykh al-Ṣadūq 93
  3. The Final Missive of the Hidden Imam 96
  4. “A Lying Impostor” 106
  5. Al-Shaykh al-Mufīd 115
  6. Al-Sharīf al-Murtaḍā and His Students 121

4 From the Youth and the Stone to the Proliferation of Accounts 133

1 Earliest Accounts of Encounters with the Imam in a Wakeful

tate 137

 viii contents

  • The “Invention” of a Tradition 145
  • The Proliferation of Accounts and the Consolidation of a Tradition 157

5 Conclusion 172

Hidden from All, yet Seen by Some? The Special

Case of Three Hadiths

The hadiths presented in the section entitled “The Hidden Imam: Unseen and Unrecognized” of the previous chapter suggest that no one can see the Imam. By contrast, those presented in the section entitled “The Hidden Imam: Seen But Not Recognized” affirm that it is possible to see the Imam though no one, not even his closest followers, is able to recognize him.

On what basis, then, do later Shīʿī scholars who contend that it is possible to see and recognize the Hidden Imam base their claim? As might be expected, these scholars tend to emphasize the stories of sightings of and encounters with the Hidden Imam as the greatest proof that seeing and contacting him is possible during the Greater Occultation.

Al-Nūrī al-Ṭabarsī, who compiled two major collections of such stories in the late nineteenth century, for example, claims, “Let it be known that we have limited ourselves in citing the stories [of encounters with the Hidden Imam] to what we found in credible books (kutub-i muʿtabarih) or heard from trustwor-thy scholars and ulama.

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We left out a number of accounts that did not have a reliable chain of transmission.”1 More recently, the publisher of a compilation of such stories writes, “Since there are so many widely attested reports (al-akhbār al-kathīra wa-l-mutawātira) from ulama and scholars (al-fuḍalāʾ) [who said that they met the Hidden Imam], no one can deny or reject [this fact] and say it is impossible to see him during the occultation (lā yumkin li-aḥadin inkār wa-juḥūd wa-istiḥālat mushāhadatihi fī zamān al-ghayba).”2

Yet, in light of the final tawqīʿ of the Imam and the hadiths discussed in chap-ter 1, which explicitly deny that the Imam can be recognized during the ghayba, these scholars have sensed a need to support their position with traditional proofs.

 They have cited and glossed three hadiths—and only three—from the earliest sources and left open the possibility that a special cadre of believers can encounter (and recognize) the Imam during the Greater Occultation.3 In this chapter, I comment on these three hadiths, explore their Sitz im Leben, and examine how they have been understood and negotiated by traditional Shīʿī ulama and Western scholars and translators……

“A Lying Impostor”

The death, in Shaʿbān 329/May 941, of the person later cast as the fourth and final emissary of the allegedly concealed twelfth Imam is said to mark the start of the second ghayba, commonly referred to in later sources as the Greater or Major Occultation. In this chapter I show that, according to the sources that have survived, in the decades that followed, the possibility of seeing the Imam again was almost completely excluded.

This was the position advanced by the Shīʿī traditionists, as represented in the earliest surviving defenses of the ghayba written by al-Nuʿmānī and al-Ṣadūq, and as reflected in the final tawqīʿ of the Hidden Imam recorded by the latter in his book on the occultation of the Hidden Imam.1 As I show, the position of rejecting the possibility of see-ing the Imam during the Greater Occultation, however, proved untenable. The next generation of scholars revived the rationalist approach that had been in abeyance since the period of the Lesser Occultation.2

 Al-Mufīd, an exponent of the rationalist Baghdad school, for the most part affirmed the opinion of the traditionists that it was not possible for anyone (including the ulama) to see or have contact with the Imam during the Greater Occultation, a privilege he reserved only for those among the Imam’s servants who tend to his needs.

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Al-Mufīd’s student al-Sharīf al-Murtaḍā and three of the latter’s students dis-agreed with al-Mufīd by writing that it was at least theoretically possible for the elite followers of the Imam (and not just his servants), which presumably includes the ulama, to see him and benefit from his knowledge. I begin by dis-cussing the views of the traditionists.

Ibn Abī Zaynab al-Nuʿmānī (d. 345/956 or 360/971) was an itinerant student of Shīʿī hadith, having traveled to Shiraz, Baghdad, Damascus, and Aleppo in search of hadiths of the Imams. He was a student of al-Kulaynī and is com-monly referred to by the agnomen al-kātib (“the scribe”) for having copied the latter’s al-Kāfī.3 Whereas his teacher is believed to have died before the end of the first or shorter ghayba, al-Nuʿmānī lived and wrote into the period of the second ghayba as well.4

Al-Nuʿmānī’s Kitāb al-Ghayba (completed in Dhū l-Ḥijja 342/April–May 954),5 from which I cited extensively in chapters 1 and 2, is the earliest extant defense of the ghayba of the Hidden Imam, from the period of the Greater Occultation.

 It is difficult to overestimate its importance as a window into the ḥayra (confusion, uncertainty, helplessness, loss, and perplexity) that charac-terized the Shīʿī community in the period that immediately followed the four emissaries (sufarāʾ), especially in light of the fact that, unlike al-Kulaynī’s al-Kāfī, which is a catalogue of Shīʿī hadiths with few comments from its compiler, al-Nuʿmānī offers valuable observations about the state of the fledgling Imāmī Shīʿī community of his time and, on rarer occasions, his own interpretation of the hadiths he cites.

In the introduction to Kitāb al-Ghayba, al-Nuʿmānī bemoans the fact that the Shīʿa have split into numerous branches (tashaʿʿabat madhāhibuhā). He states that those who believe in the line of the Imams either do not know who the Hidden Imam is, they dispute his existence, or are so pusillanimous as to allow themselves to be overcome with doubt about the ghayba.6

 The heresiographi-cal works that have survived from the Lesser Occultation indicate that after the passing of al-ʿAskarī, his followers split into numerous sects. According to al-Nawbakhtī (d. between 300/912–3 and 310/922–3),7 fourteen factions emerged (though he only provides information for thirteen of them); according to al-Ashʿarī al-Qummī (d. 299/911–2 or 301/913–4),8 fifteen factions. The celebrated……

From the Youth and the Stone to the Proliferation of Accounts

The tacit approval of al-Sharīf al-Murtaḍā and al-Ṭūsī of the possibility of see-ing the Imam foreshadowed the “invention” of a tradition. Over the following two centuries, accounts of encounters and contact, in a wakeful state, with the Imam during the Greater Occultation, albeit rare and infrequent, began to appear in the works of Shīʿī authorities Quṭb al-Dīn al-Rāwandī (d. 573/1178), Aḥmad al-Ṭabarsī (d. late sixth/twelfth century), and in particular, Ibn Ṭāwūs (d. 664/1266) and his student al-Irbilī (d. 692/1292–3 or 693/1293–4).

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Until the late fourth/twelfth century, other than al-Ṣadūq’s dream of the Hid-den Imam at the Kaʿba (discussed in chapter 3), one other story of an encounter with the Imam during the period after the Lesser Occultation has come to light, though this account cannot be dated with absolute certainty.

The encounter described in this account also occurs in a dream and is found in Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad b. Jarīr b. Rustam al-Ṭabarī al-Āmulī al-Māzandarānī’s (known as al-Ṭabarī al-Ṣaghīr; fl. early fifth/early eleventh century)1 Dalāʾil al-imāma (The proofs of the imamate), a hagiographical collection of mostly miraculous tales that seek to prove the Imams’ supernatural abilities.2

The account in question is the last of five reports in a chapter called “Knowledge about the compan-ions [that is, Shīʿa] who saw the lord of the [final] age during the ghayba and recognized him.”3 The first four reports mentioned in this chapter all date to the Lesser Occultation.

The fifth report appears to describe an episode that occurred during the Greater Occultation, though it is not possible to be certain. Al-Ṭabarī al-Ṣaghīr writes that he heard this story from Abū l-Ḥasan Muḥam-mad b. Hārūn b. Mūsā al-Tallaʿukbarī (fl. late fourth/tenth century),4 who heard it from a certain Abū l-Ḥusayn b. Abī l-Baghl al-Kātib, about whom nothing is known, during the lifetime of Abū Manṣūr al-Ṣāliḥān,5 a minister at the court of the Buyid rulers Sharaf al-Dawla (r. 350–79/961–89)6 and Bahāʾ al-Dawla (r. 379–403/989–1012)7 during the reign of the Abbasid caliph al-Qādir bi-Allāh (r. 381–422/991–1031).

In the account, Abū l-Ḥusayn b. Abī l-Baghl al-Kātib, while fleeing from Abū Manṣūr al-Ṣāliḥān, seeks refuge in a cemetery in Baghdad and asked its custo-dian to lock the gate. During the night, a young man miraculously enters the cemetery without opening the gate and gives him the text of a prayer known as duʿāʾ al-faraj (“supplication for the removal of difficulties”)8 to recite for divine aid and assistance (ghawth). The next day, al-Ṣāliḥān’s men find al-Baghl al-Kātib and assure him that he will not be harmed if he comes with them to meet….

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