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Imam Muhammad al-Jawad al-Taqi (a) and Imam 'Ali al-Hadi (a) [Lecture 14]

Hamid Algar



-Conditions at the time of the 9th, 10th and 11th Imams and how the Imams [AS] acted in anticipation and preparation of the occultation of the 12th Imam [AS].

-The institution of the Wikalah and the administration of the community.

-The death of the 9th Imam [AS], the Caliphate passes from al-Ma’mun to al-Mu’tasim to al-Wathiq then to al-Mutawakkil.

-A brief look at the Mu’tazali school of thought at that time and how some of their beliefs overlapped with those of the Shi’ah.

-The 10th Imam is forced to move to the new capital city of Samarra, as a result the institution of the wikalah is reorganised.

-A look at some of the works of the 10th Imam [AS] and the miracles attributed to him.

-The death of Imam Ali al-Hadi [AS], and Samarra is included in the sacred geography of Shi’ism.

Conditions at the time of the 9th, 10th and 11th Imams and how the Imams [AS] acted in anticipation and preparation of the occultation of the 12th Imam [AS]

The cult for respect for the twelve Imams [AS] of Shi’ism is seen to be compatible with a polemical hostility to Shi’ism itself on certain occasions and with certain personalities. As late as the 19th century, there is a sufi when he arrived in Mashhad on his way to Kurdistan from India he composed two poems one in honour of Imam Ali al-Rida [AS], and one in condemnation of the Shi’i ‘Ulema of Mashhad without seeing any contradiction between these two, a complex and interesting topic.

The period in which the occultation of the Twelth Imam [AS], his disappearance from the physical plain is in some sense already anticipated, it can already be seen to be looming on the horizon. By this it is meant that the possibility to the access to the Imam [AS] on the part of his own community, let alone the broader Muslim community, becomes more and more restricted. So it is as if there is a gradual withdrawal of the Imam [AS] from the physical plain, from accessibility to his followers and to others. Interestingly enough the period in which this happens – the period of the 9th, 10th and 11th Imams [AS] is also the period in which the Abbasid Caliphate itself begins to in a number of ways to disintegrate. The caliphate is in decline as a viable political institution. And given the fact that these two processes occur apparently in parallel the question maybe asked that why did not the Imams [AS] attempt to benefit from the situation? In other words why given the continuing permanent claim to exclusive political legitimacy, did they and their followers not seek to vindicate that claim at a time of growing weakness on the part of the Abbasid caliphs? It is in some sense the same question that was posed on behalf of the sixth Imam [AS] Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq [AS] who lived towards the end of the Umayyad period, a period in which the Umayyads went into decline and the Abbasids had not fully established themselves. As it was seen he deliberately abstained from political activity, he [AS] did not seek to take advantage of an unsettled period. The answer is manifold, firstly the complete assimilation of taqiyyah had taken place by this period, both by the Imams [AS] themselves and by their followers. Taqiyyah is that principle of prudential dissimulation i.e. either concealing one’s identity as Shi’i or some aspect of Shi’i doctrine or practice under conditions of perceived danger, danger either for oneself or the Shi’i community at large, or most particularly for the Imams [AS] themselves. Taqiyyahas practiced by the Imams [AS] had the obvious consequence of political quiescence that is to say of not affirming publicly a claim to political legitimacy. On the one hand it was never denied and taken back and on the other it was never asserted actively. This principle was strongly emphasised by Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq [AS], and had been assimilated to such a degree that the assertion of a political claim would have constituted a break with a tradition established over several generations.

Some of this can be seen in the conduct of the Imams [AS] themselves, in the period in question. The 10th Imam [AS] even when his followers came to meet him would rarely mix with them – he would rather delegate the duties of the Imamate even to some of his more prominent associates. Still more striking is that the 11th Imam [AS] when he was visited by some of the Shi’ah did consent to talk to them but only from behind a curtain. The symbolism as well as the practical effect of this is very plain and that is that the Imamate is gradually withdrawing itself from the physical plain. Two concepts of Shi’ism – taqiyyah as practiced and understood in this period gradually merges into or leads to the Ghaibah. Taqiyyah, is understood to be not simply the political quietism but withdrawing oneself to a ceratin degree even from one’s own followers, that clearly is preparation for Ghaibah – the actual definitive absence of the Imam [AS] from the physical plain. Even among the Imams [AS] themselves there is a further assimilation of taqiyyah and even a further development oftaqiyyah at this period which would be completely counter to any assertion of political authority to the wider Muslim community. It is as if there is an anticipation of Ghaibah as the allotted destiny of the Imamate. There are many hadith as it can be seen from the time of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq [AS], and even earlier which foretell the Ghaibah, the withdrawal of the Imam [AS] from the physical plain.

If the broader political circumstances of the Abbasids are looked at, it is true that the power of the Abbasids is gradually slipping away. Outlying provinces asserted a de factoindependence from the centre. It should not be concluded that these various factors and elements which were weakening the authority of the Abbasid Caliphate would have been favourable to the cause of the Imams [AS] to the cause of Shi’ism. In particular it is found that in the centre of the Caliphate itself the powers of the caliph were weakened by Turkish soldiers who had originally been bought in as slaves or mercenaries from Central Asia. But like many other groups of mercenaries they in the end established their supremacy over their former employers. It is found in many places that the Caliphs were only nominal rulers, the actuality of rule was undertaken by the Turkish solders. These Turkish soldiers coming from Central Asia were Sunni. In fact with a few significant exceptions it can be said that all Turkish dynasties in Islamic history have been Sunni, an example is the Ottoman Empire – there are even pseudo-hadith which testify to a kind of pre-eternal link between the Turks and Sunnism, or more particularly between the Hanafi School of Law. These Turks would be able to gain effective control over Baghdad all of them were Suuni. Therefore on one hand they deprived the Caliph of the actuality of his power. On the other hand they assert with great vigour the theoretical legitimacy of the Caliph. The same goes for the dynasties which established themselves in the outlying provinces of the Abbasid realm. Particularly in Eastern Iran, in Khurasan, where there was a growing Shi’i presence. Virtually all the dynasties which arose in Eastern Iran were Sunni in their sectarian affiliation and although they acted independently of the Caliph, they went through the motions of recognising him as the head of the Islamic world so the same paradox as the Turkish soldiers who were running affairs in Baghdad. On the one had they did as they pleased and on the other hand they contributed theoretically and nominally in reasserting the authority of the Abbasid Caliph.

There is however an important qualification to be made – among these dynasties that established themselves as effectively independent of the Abbasids you also find two dynasties which are Shi’i in their sectarian affiliations – The Buwayhids or sometimes also known as Buyids, and then the Hamadanis. Of these two the Buwayhids are more important. They originated from the lands of the southern shores of the Caspian Sea which had been relatively late in accepting Islam because of natural barrier posed by the Alborz Mountains – it was difficult at that time to cross from the Iranian Plateau into these remote regions. When Islam did arrive there it was under the auspices of Shi’i refugees who were undergoing Abbasid persecution and in this area you find both Zaidi and Twelver Shi’is and it is from this area that the Buwayhid Dynasty originates. It was probably in it’s beginnings Zaidi in it’s affiliations (believed in the Imamate of Zaid ibn Ali Zain al-‘Abidin, the half brother of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS]). In the course of time they became mainstream Shi’ahs. They started their campaign by gaining control of Western Iran and then the Abbasid capital itself, putting an end to the dominance of the Turkish mercenaries. You might have thought that this would have furnished them with an ideal opportunity for putting and end to rule by the Abbasid Caliphs, the fact that they did not do so and went through the motions of recognising the Abbasid Caliphs as legitimate it extremely significant. It means that by this time the Shi’ah community had established itself as a minority within the overall body of Islam, which has it’s own distinctive law, theology and view of the Imamate – it did not however primarily mean an active ongoing claim to rule over the entire Muslim community that had to be vindicated. So it can be seen here how taqiyyah played itself out in the political affairs of the time, a Shi’i dynasty did not see any alternative to the formal recognition of the Abbasid Caliph as legitimate ruler, or possibly the question did not even arise in their minds.

We do see that the rule of the Buwayhids over western Iran and Baghdad did result in patronage of some Shi’i institutions and scholars. It is during the rule of the Buwayhids in Baghdad that the first public commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain [AS] in Kerbala in the Caliphal capital had become possible under the protection of the Buwayhids. On the other hand the Buwayhids were pragmatic in their exercise of rule – whenever sectarian riots between Sunnis and Shi’is broke out in Baghdad which threatened public order then the Buwayhids would move in and indiscriminately repress both Sunnis and Shi’is alike. One physical consequence of the emergence of the Shi’i community as a minority within overall body of Islam was the existence of residential patterns of segregation. So for example Shi’is in Baghdad but also those in Iran that had a mixed population of Shi’i and Sunnni would live separately – not necessarily because of mutual hostility or repulsion but in the natural order of affairs – after all a traditional locality in an Iranian or in a Muslim city would be grouped around the principal place of worship the mosque and of course Sunnis tend to pray together and Shi’is tend to pray together there being difference in the way that the prayer is performed.

Another Shi’i dynasty of this period i.e. during the dissolution of the Abbasid Caliphate is the Hamdanid Dynasty which had two branches – one which was based in Mosul in Northern Iraq, and another in Allepo in Northern Syria. Unlike the Buwayhids they never got as far as Baghdad and therefore did not have direct control overall and interaction with the Abbasid Caliphs. The dynasty was derived from a tribe of originally Christian Arabs who had migrated to the areas of Northern Iraq and Northern Syria in the time of the early Muslim conquests. It is worth pointing out that participating in the early Muslim conquests of Syria and Iraq were certain Christian Arab tribes – and this was in the time of the Second Caliph ‘Umar. Although the great bulk of the army consisted of Muslims there were a number of Christians aswell. The ancestors of the Hamdanid dynasty seem to have made a direct transition from Christianity to Shi’ah Islam. Mosul even in that time was not an important centre of Shi’ism. Allepo however which is today maybe exclusively a Sunni city was at that time a centre of Shi’ism, nowadays only in the villages around Allepo do you find some Shi’i communities.

There was a gradual transition of the part Imams [AS] into conditions which seemed to hint at the proximity of taqiyyah. There was a gradual weakening of the Abbasids but not in a way which would see the gradual vindication of the Shi’i cause. Imam Muhammad al-Taqi [AS] was the Ninth Imam [AS] also known as Muhammad al-Jawwad [AS]. Al-Taqi – means the pious, al-Jawwad means the generous. He was born in 810 AD of the Chrisitan era in the city of Madinah to an African mother from the region of Nubia. When his father Imam Ali al-Rida [AS] in response to the Caliph Ma’mun left for Khurasan he remained behind in Madinah. When his father was martyred in 817 AD Muhammad al-Taqi [AS] became the Imam [AS] and inherited the Imamate. On the death of his father under extremely exceptional conditions in that he was only seven to eight years old at the time, so as if the various complications that had beset the succession in the lines of the Imams [AS] already were not enough the Shi’i community had to confront the potentially problematic situation - that of a child Imam [AS]. From a purely theoretical point of view the problem was not that great, in that as it has been seen even the earlier Imams [AS] were attributed with great feats of piety and scholarship even in childhood. Imam Ali al-Rida [AS] was said to have memorised the Quran in just three days. In addition to that if the question was asked and no doubt it was asked both within and without the Shi’ah community how could a child of seven years of age have that high, exceptional degree of knowledge that was exceptional to the exercise of the Imamate then the answer was ready, that precisely the act of nomination by the predecessor (nass) was co-terminus with the transmission of knowledge. In the same way that the degree of knowledge possessed by the Imam [AS] is exceptional and extraordinary in the strict sense of the word likewise the mode of transmission of that knowledge is also extraordinary, it is different from the normal processes of study and diligence and the acquisition of knowledge in that way. In addition to this argument that the knowledge would be transmitted by means of the nass, by means of the nomination not by way of formal instruction, attention was also drawn to the fact that the Quran tells us that Jesus (pbuh) already proclaimed his Prophethood in infancy, in fact immediately upon birth – there are numerous verses in the Quran in which Jesus (pbuh) spells out the nature of his mission and the purpose for which he is being born immediately upon his birth. So if an analogy is to be entertained it is said that likewise the Imam [AS] who was at least seven years of age, not an infant when he succeeded to the Imamate also had some consciousness of his task and some preparation for it. So theoretically in terms of doctrine the matter might be explained.

The institution of the Wikalah and the administration of the community

There remained however the practical problem for the administration of the community. Already the administration of the community was rendered difficult by the surveillance to which the Imams [AS] had been subjected in earlier time and the difficulty for the access to the Imam [AS]. Now clearly having a child as the Imam [AS] did not facilitate matters. However precisely the difficulties that the previous Imams [AS] had been subject to did in a way prepare the community for what now befell them. In other words the actual business of administering the community fell to not the person of the Imam [AS] but rather to a network of agents that acted in his name and on his behalf. This was already the case at a much earlier period in Shi’i history. We can probably trace a network of agents acting on behalf of the Imam [AS] way back to the Imamate of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] and it becomes fully recognisable in the time of Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] and grows thereafter. There was also a network of agents that worked in conjunction with Imam Musa al-Kazim [AS]. As part of a conspiracy against Imam Musa al-Kazim [AS] it was said that the network of agents had an insurrectionary nature and purpose and that the Imam [AS] using these agents was preparing for the overthrow of the Abbasid Caliphate. The agents however fulfilled a different purpose, these agents were engaged in the collection of Khums – that distinctive tax the payment of which constituted a token of loyalty on the part of the Shi’i belief to the Imam [AS], and also the payment of the Zakah. The payment of Zakah is a general Muslim obligation and is not exclusively a Shi’i tax like the Khums a tax which is levied on certain types of accumulated property. In early Shi’ism whilst the Imams [AS] were alive the Zakah was to be paid if not to them in person then to their appointed agents for forwarding on to the Imam [AS] who would in turn disperse the money.

Some of the agents – not all of them also had a teaching function. The agents would convey the teachings of the Imams [AS] on certain matters and when guidance on a particular legal problem was sought from the Imam [AS] then they would forward the query to the residence of the Imam [AS] for his answer. Thirdly, there was a kind of judiciary function – what can be inferred from some of the hadith of the Imams [AS] that there must have been a separate judicial system . The name for this institution i.e. the institution of these agents is known as Wikalah. That is the institution of having many representatives of the Imams [AS] in various parts of the Muslim world where Shi’is live. The abstract name for this institution is the Wikalah and the name of individual representatives is Wakil. In a very concrete sense the Wikalah prepares the community for what is to occur after the occultation of the 12th Imam [AS]. Once the Imam [AS] was no longer there then the Wikalah was already in place and able to function and fulfil at least some of the functions that had been previously fulfilled by the Imams [AS]. Some of the Wakils that were operating in the time of the Imams [AS] before the occultation, carried over into the period after the occultation – there is therefore is an element of continuity provided not only by the institution of the Wikalah but also by some of the individual Wakils.

Soon after the death of his father, he [AS] [the 9th Imam [AS]] was in accordance with the pattern that has been seen brought from Madinah to Baghdad. He was after all a child at the time and did not have any say in the matter, but he [AS] would not have anticipated any kind of favourable behaviour from Ma’mun, who was still at this point the Caliph. Ma’mun was that person who had gone through the motions of nominating Imam Ali al-Rida [AS] as his successor, and then when the project met with difficulty he put him to death. It seems that Ma’mun may have wanted to keep open even at this late stage the option of merging the Imami and the Abbasid lineages, and thereby also creating a merging of the institutions of the Imamate and the caliphate because one of the acts in which he engaged was a token of hospitality in giving one of his daughters in marriage to the Imam [AS]. It must have been some time till the marriage was consummated given the fact that Imam Muhammad al-Taqi [AS] at this point was still a child, however the marriage was ultimately consummated and offspring occurred from this marriage.

The death of the 9th Imam [AS], the Caliphate passes from al-Ma’mun to al-Mu’tasim to al-Wathiq then to al-Mutawakkil

After eight years spent in Baghdad, Imam Muhammad al-Taqi [AS] was permitted to return from Baghdad to Madinah. In the year 833 AD the caliph Ma’mun died and was succeeded by the caliph Mu’tasim. Ma’mun meant ‘the one given safety by God’, Mu’tasim means ‘the one who holds firmly onto Divine Protection’. So the tradition of religious nomenclature with religious meaning is maintained. Mu’tasim seems not to have had the ambiguous attitude of his predecessor towards the Imams [AS]. He very soon after the death of his predecessor had Imam Muhammad al-Taqi [AS] bought back to Baghdad and in that very same year he died, whilst enjoying Abbasid hospitality he died at the very early age of 25. This combination of circumstances makes it extremely probable that from a purely historiographical point of view the Imam [AS] was poisoned by the Abbasid Caliph after an extremely brief exercise of the Imamate. Some of the accounts attribute the act of poisoning to the Abbasid wife given to him by al-Ma’mun. One consequence of this was that yet again the Imamate was confronted yet again with the problem of having a child Imam [AS]. Afterall Imam Muhammad al-Taqi [AS] had died at the age of 25 years and he did not therefore have any adult offspring. His successor to the Imamate – Imam Ali al-Hadi [AS] was indeed an infant at the time. He had been born in the year 829 AD in Madinah.

The early life of Imam Ali al-Hadi [AS] in Madinah was similar to that already encountered with a number of Imams [AS]. He devoted himself to learning an worship having a greater degree of access to the community than his short-lived father. He was in fact able to survive the inauspicious period of Mu’tasim’s exercise of the Caliphate. He was also able to survive the successor of Mu’tasim – al-Wathiq meaning ‘the trusted one’. The problems of Imam Ali al-Hadi [AS] begin with his successor al-Mutawakkil. Al-Mutawakkil came to the throne in 846 AD and exercised rule until 861 AD. He abandoned the somewhat ambiguous policy of his predecessors with respect to the Imams of the Ahl al-bait [AS]. He was from the outset extremely hostile, open in his display of hostility to the Imams [AS] and relentless in persecuting their followers. It can be said that from an ideological point of view his purpose was to re-emphasise the exclusively Sunni nature of the Caliphate, as conceived of at that time in what it implied. In doing this and it cannot be dismissed that he believed he was doing the right thing, but it is probable that he had a political purpose in mind. Given the disintegration of the Caliphate and the loss of the actual exercise of power even within the capital itself he may have thought that to re-emphasise the legitimacy of the Caliphate as an emphatically Sunni institution was one way to recoup the losses that the Caliphate had undergone. If he was to appear as the champion of Sunni Islam then his claim might receive credence and some people might accordingly become more obedient and submissive to him.

It should also be understood in evaluating the Caliphate of al-Mutawakkil in his policies the general intellectual climate of the period. In talking of the Sunni – Shi’i divide which is of course the primary concern of this talk we run the risk of imagining that this is the only issue, in point of fact there were a number of issues religio-political that were under dispute. Part of what Mutawakkil is reacting against is not simply the overtures that his predecessors had made towards Shi’ism and the Imams [AS], it is also some other tendencies also. The removal of Ma’mun had been characteristic of the rise of the Mu’tazili school of theology which is generally although misleadingly characterised as a rationalist school of thought. Once the word ‘rationalist’ is used then it implies maybe rationalism of the contemporary type which is an exclusive reliance of reason in the conception of truth and the rejection of revelation as constituting evidence of truth in and of itself, and this is not what is at issue. It is however true to say that the Mu’tazali did lay heavy stress on the use of reason as a method for the attainment of truth and without examining their positions in detail that which became most controversial was their assertion that the Quran is created. In other words that the Quran originated certainly as a Divine Book, that it was created by God at a certain point in time or to be more precise over a period of time. After all the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet [sAW] extends over a period of 23 years. It is the belief of every school of thought other than the Mu’tazlis that the Quran is not a created book that although the revelation of the book takes place in time the essence of the book is not created, as it is the Divine Word it is eternal. In the period of al-Ma’mun this became the official dogma of the Caliphate, persons of authority and prominence who held an opposing view were imprisoned and persecuted.

A brief look at the Mu’tazali school of thought at that time and how some of their beliefs overlapped with those of the Shi’ah

The period of rule of al-Mutawakkil is a reaction not only against the ambiguous policies of the previous Abbasid Caliphs towards Shi’ism and the Imams [AS] it is also a reaction to this deviant school of thought what in the overall context of Islamic history, what must be regarded as a deviant school of thought. Therefore there is a resurrection of Sunni Orthodoxy on two fronts vis-à-vis the Mu’tazilis and also vis-à-vis Shi’ism and the Ahl al-bait [AS]. Before the subject of the Mu’tazili school is left in order to illustrate again that issues are not clearly separate and that these various currents interact with each other, although Shi’ism definitely rejects the notion of a created Quran still there was some influence of Mu’tazili kalam on Shi’i kalam, there was some important overlap on some important questions. For example the inerrancy of the prophets (‘ismah) – the divine protection of the Imams [AS] and also of the prophets to whom the Imams [AS] succeed from the commission of error and sin. The most common traditional Sunni position on the matter is that it is rationally possible that prophets should in certain matters have used their personal judgement, and since personal judgement is fallible they might have fallen into error and they are therefore not in possession of the quality of ‘ismah, there are further nuances to the position but this is the stance basically. Having said that it is rationally possible to consider the office of Prophethood without infallibility as the concomitant of Prophethood, it is to be entertained as an outside possibility that the Prophets did depend on personal judgement and therefore fell into the possibility of error - on this they call judgement. It may in conclusion therefore be a pointless and abstract and ultimately useless argument, however it is of some significance. The Mu’tazili theologians like their Shi’i counterparts insisted on the absolute infallibility of the Prophets. This is another area of commonality between Mu’tazili kalam and Shi’ism – that it is not rationally conceivable that the Prophets should be subject to error.

Then connected with the above is the concept of ‘lutf’ which has the basic meaning in Arabic of ‘favour’ or ‘kindness’. What it means in the terminology of Shi’i and Mu’tazili kalam is that God as a matter of his favour to humanity, his ‘lutf’ provides it with infallible guides in the first place the Prophets and then their successors the Imams [AS]. There are also other consequences of this doctrine. Therefore the Sunni – Shi’i question is not the only one on the intellectual agenda of the time. Such was the hostility of al-Mutawakkil towards the Shi’ah that in the year 851 AD he had the tomb of Imam Hussain [AS] in Kerbala destroyed. At this point a fairly extensive shrine had already come into be and next to it a cemetery for those wishing to be buried in the proximity of Imam Hussain [AS]. Al-Mutawakkil had the building destroyed and the surrounding cemetery ploughed over. It is therefore not surprising that al-Mutawakkil had Imam Ali al-Hadi [AS] in accordance with Abbasid precedence brought from Madinah to the Caliphal capital. The governor of Madinah and of course an appointee of al-Mutawakkil had sent a report that in the house of the Imam [AS] he had found weapons, a stash of money and what he called ‘prohibited writings’. A guess may be hazarded that the prohibited writings in question were works written by and inherited from the earlier Imams [AS] and as for the money this would have not doubt been the Khums and Zakah collected by the network of agents and forwarded for dispersement by the Imam [AS]. In terms of weapons – one of the external tokens of the Imamate is held to be a number of weapons first possessed by the Prophet [sAW] and Imam Ali [AS] and then passed on from one generation to the next both as a legacy from the Prophet [sAW] and also it may be thought as a symbolic indication that ultimately the cause of the Imamate will be vindicated by armed struggle and force. So there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of this report that weapons, money and prohibited writings were found in the house of Imam Ali al-Hadi [AS], although the interpretation to which this report was put is another matter that he was preparing for insurrection. Therefore the same kind of report that was prepared in condemnation of Imam Musa al-Kazim [AS] in an earlier period. Imam Ali al-Hadi [AS] wrote to Mutawakkil saying that he did not have insurrectionary intentions but the Caliph responded to him that nonetheless it would be advisable for him to leave Madinah and to come to Baghdad. From Baghdad the Imam [AS] was obliged to move to the new Abbasid capital at Samarra. A city in Northern Iraq.

The 10th Imam is forced to move to the new capital city of Samarra, as a result the institution of the wikalah is reorganised

For a variety of reasons the Caliph al-Mutawakkil decided to move his capital from Baghdad to this northern new city of Samarra. The reasons are not entirely plain, this move is maybe tied to his ideological problem in that he wanted to move away from Baghdad with the accumulation of intrigues and ambiguities that were associated with the city and to make a new beginning on the basis of a firmly asserted Sunni Orthodoxy in the new location. And it may also have been simply an example of megalomania often found in history when a ruler is dissatisfied with his capital and decides to establish an entirely new one at great expense and in a different location. The Shah just a couple of years before his overthrow also had the idea of an entirely new capital, he wasn’t happy with Tehran even though it had four or five palaces to accommodate him, he decided to build a new capital which was to be known as Shahistan, the place of the Shah some distance outside Tehran. But the revolution came before the plans came off the drawing board. Therefore what is at issue here maybe little more than an earlier instance of architectural megolamania on the part of rulers with too much money to spend.

Once al-Mutawakkil moved from Baghdad to Samarra he insisted that the Imam [AS] should accompany him, or that is to say that he should remain there in Samarra under al-Mutawakkil’s immediate surveillance. It seems that the Imam [AS] was at least able to move around the city he was not literally confined to his house and to have some contact with the scholars in the city. But beyond that he had no extensive contact with his own following. However one advantage of this relatively isolated situation was that he was able to reorganise the all important insitution of the Wikalah - the agency. The fact may be drawn too that one of the agents who he nominated at this time was a certan Uthman al-’amri. There are two things to be noticed about Uthman al’amri, firstly that he has the name Uthman which is the name of the third caliph. Although this is unthinkable in contemporary terms for a Shi’i to use or give his offspring the name Uthman because of it’s association with the third Caliph, who is viewed like the first two Caliphs as a usurper. However this segragation by name had not yet fully taken root. So that not simply a member of the community but a prominent member of the community could without causing eyebrows to be raised be named Uthman. The second and more important thing to be noted is that Uthman al-’amri outlived Imam Muhammad al-Hadi [AS] and became an agent for the 11th Imam [AS] and beyond that also one of the named representatives of the Hidden Imam [AS] after the beginning of the occultation. So we see here in a concrete sense encapsulated in the period of a single person how there was continuity from the period of the Imamate to the period of the occultation. How the institution of the agency of the named representative continued from one period to another.

A look at some of the works of the 10th Imam [AS] and the miracles attributed to him

Al-Mutawakkil died in the year 861 AD and was succeeded by a number of short-lived Caliphs whose names don’t need to be mentioned. In the year 868 AD two Caliphs took office in quick succession al-Mu’taz and al-Mu’tamid. Because the exact date of death of Imam Ali al-Hadi [AS] is unknown despite the fact that it was in this fateful year of 868 AD it is not sure which of the two Caliphs was responsible again for poisoning an Imam [AS]. It seems probable that it was the first of the two al-Mu’taz. The Imam [AS] at this time was 39 years of age, and had been the Imam [AS] for a period of 33 years, a relatively lengthy tenure except of course that for the early part of it he had been a child and even then later when he was of mature years he had had little contact with the community and therefore little ability to have impact upon it. Nonetheless Shi’ah tradition tells us a number of significant facts about the Imamate of Imam Ali al-Hadi [AS]. Firstly that he wrote a number of treatises - the text of one of which has survived and this is a treatise on the all important subject of free will versus predestination which is of course a general problem in Islamic theology whether a man in his acts enjoys unfettered free will or are the acts pre-determined in an absolute sense. Clearly this is a question of such importance that it had been raised and discussed by the Imams [AS] earlier in the line of the Imamate. After all it might be argued and in fact has been argued still if man is absolutely free then what is the scope of the Divine Will, on the other hand if man is entirely predestined for his acts then how can he be held morally responsible and therefore subject to punishment for sin, obviously it is a very important question. The Shi’ah position on the matter had first been summarised by Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] in the formula that there is neither absolute predestination nor absolute free will rather something in between them. This might appear to be a very evasive and unsatisfactory formula. In other words neither of them (absolute free will or pre-destination) taken in isolation represents the truth rather the truth must be something inbetween. In other words it does not view them as polar opposites, irreconcilable opposites but rather as two aspects of the same truth. That being the case it again remains of course to identify the fashion in which these two apparent opposites are in fact aspects of one and the same truth. Man is indeed free this is a matter of common sense and everyday experience, most of our acts are indeed free, so clearly there is the reality of free will even in everyday life. Likewise one can deduce from everyday experience that indeed certain matters are predetermined i.e. that not everything before us for good or for ill is a result of our choice even as the indirect or ultimate result of our choice. There are certain parameters to the sphere in which free will can be exercised. That only scratches the surface of the matter which is an extremely complex and important one. One of the major treatises in exposition of it is by Imam Ali al-Hadi [AS].

Also attributed to Imam Ali al-Hadi [AS] is an unusual number of what may be called miraculous deeds. One of the matters held in common between the Prophets and the Imams is the performance of miraculous deeds except that the miraculous deeds are designated in Arabic by a different word from the miracles of the Prophets, the functions of the mircales is different in each case. The function of a Prophetic miracle is the vindication of his mission, that is whoever sees the miracle being performed by the Prophet will thereby become more predisposed to pay attention to what the Prophet is saying. A miraculous deed performed by one of the Imams [AS] is rather a sign of Divine Generosity to Him, to the Imam [AS] it is not that his status as Imam [AS] is dependent upon a miracle or is even to be openly proclaimed, or him gaining credibility by that miracle it is rather a personal matter, a personal favour, an act of generosity towards the Imam [AS] in question. And all of the Imams [AS] have various miracles ascribed to them. And miracles are particularly numerous with respect to Imam al-Hadi [AS]. He has said to have transformed dust into gold for the benefit of one of his impecunious followers, and there are other miracles. Whether or not it is a miracle - but Imam Ali al-Hadi [AS] is said to have known a large number of languages without having gone through formal instruction in those languages he is said to have known Persian this is not surprising and entirely inconceivable even in conventional terms, then what is described as the languages of the Slavs, the Indians and the Africans. What is meant here is vague in that clearly not all Slavs have the same language, nor do all Indians or all Africans but no more precise explanation is given. Irrispective of this lack of precision it seems to be significant that the knowledge of these wide range of languages is attributed to the Imams [AS], because for many generations as it has been seen the Imams [AS] took wives from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds so it is entirely conceivable that in the household of the Imams [AS] various languages in addition to Arabic were spoken and were passed on from one generation to the next. Generally speaking however Imam Ali al-Hadi’s [AS] knowledge his polyglotability is not ascribed to these identifiable circumstances but into the wide and miraculous range of his knowledge.

The death of Imam Ali al-Hadi [AS], and Samarra is included in the sacred geography of Shi’ism

After his assasination, his poisoning most probably at the hands of al-Mu’taz in 868 AD Imam Ali al-Hadi [AS] was buried in the new Caliphal capital of Samarra and again in keeping with Abbasid tradition not the Caliph but his brother lead the funeral prayers for the Imam [AS] the next day. The burial of Imam Ali al-Hadi [AS] in Samarra added another city to the sacred geography of Shi’ism it has already been mentioned that in the places of burial and ultimately of pilgrimage of the Imams [AS] now a new city is added. The successor to Imam Ali al-Hadi [AS] the last of the Imams [AS] on the visible plain is also buried in this city. The successor to Imam Ali al-Hadi [AS] is Imam Hassan al-Askari [AS], the word Askari goes back to the Arabic word Askar which is ultimately the Arabacization of the Persian word Lashkar meaning Army, but hear it means the Armed character. Why is the 11th Imam [AS] called al-Askari? Also sometimes Ali al-Hadi [AS] has this designation appended to his name because these two Imams [AS] were kept not simply in the city of Samarra but rather in the royal camp, in the military camp under the surveillance of the Caliph. The 10th and 11th Imams [AS] are therefore designated as al-Askari but particularly Imam Hassan al-Askari [AS] to distinguish himself from the second Imam - Imam Hassan [AS]. Samarra therefore becomes the place of burial of the 10th and 11th Imams [AS]. It never however attains the same importance as a centre of pilgirmage and learning as various other cities that have been encountered.

There are two reasons for this, firstly because these two Imams [AS] although intrinsically having the same rank as all of the other Imams [AS] were because of the circumstances of the time unable to have the same interaction with and impact upon the community as there predecessors. Therefore it is not that they are being ignored but they do not have the same substantial presence in the consciousness of the Shi’i community as there is with most of the other Imams. Secondly Samarra lies to the far north of Iraq away from the places of burial of the Imams [AS] it is distant from Najaf, Kerbala and from Kazimain. It is in Kazimain that Muhammad al-Taqi [AS] alongside Imam Musa al-Kazim [AS] is buried. Kerbala, Najaf and Kazimain are relatively easy to visit, Samarra is far distant to the north. Thirdly the population of Samarra is now and always has been overwhelmingly Sunni there is very little indigenous Shi’i population in the city and it has not played an important role in the history of Shi’i scholarship with the exception of a rather brief interval towards the close of the 19thcentury. However this is one more of the cities of Shi’ism to which occasionally pilgrimage is made.


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