Analysis of Traditions on the Birth of the Mahdi (a) – 2

The following are notes from a mubāḥatha (study-session) between Br. Yusuf Alsalahi and myself.

عَلِيُّ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ قَالَ حَدَّثَنِي مُحَمَّدٌ وَ الْحَسَنُ ابْنَا عَلِيِّ بْنِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ‏ فِي سَنَةِ تِسْعٍ وَ سَبْعِينَ وَ مِائَتَيْنِ قَالا حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ عَلِيِّ بْنِ عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ الْعَبْدِيُّ مِنْ عَبْدِ قَيْسٍ عَنْ ضَوْءِ بْنِ عَلِيٍّ الْعِجْلِيِّ عَنْ رَجُلٍ مِنْ أَهْلِ فَارِسَ سَمَّاهُ قَالَ: أَتَيْتُ سُرَّ مَنْ رَأَى وَ لَزِمْتُ بَابَ أَبِي مُحَمَّدٍ ع فَدَعَانِي مِنْ غَيْرِ أَنْ أَسْتَأْذِنَ فَلَمَّا دَخَلْتُ وَ سَلَّمْتُ قَالَ لِي يَا أَبَا فُلَانٍ كَيْفَ حَالُكَ ثُمَّ قَالَ لِي اقْعُدْ يَا فُلَانُ ثُمَّ سَأَلَنِي عَنْ جَمَاعَةٍ مِنْ رِجَالٍ وَ نِسَاءٍ مِنْ أَهْلِي ثُمَّ قَالَ لِي مَا الَّذِي أَقْدَمَكَ قُلْتُ رَغْبَةٌ فِي خِدْمَتِكَ قَالَ فَقَالَ فَالْزَمِ الدَّارَ قَالَ فَكُنْتُ فِي الدَّارِ مَعَ الْخَدَمِ ثُمَّ صِرْتُ أَشْتَرِي لَهُمُ الْحَوَائِجَ مِنَ السُّوقِ وَ كُنْتُ أَدْخُلُ عَلَيْهِ مِنْ غَيْرِ إِذْنٍ إِذَا كَانَ فِي دَارِ الرِّجَالِ فَدَخَلْتُ عَلَيْهِ يَوْماً وَ هُوَ فِي دَارِ الرِّجَالِ فَسَمِعْتُ حَرَكَةً فِي الْبَيْتِ فَنَادَانِي مَكَانَكَ لَا تَبْرَحْ فَلَمْ أَجْسُرْ أَنْ أَخْرُجَ وَ لَا أَدْخُلَ فَخَرَجَتْ عَلَيَّ جَارِيَةٌ مَعَهَا شَيْ‏ءٌ مُغَطًّى ثُمَّ نَادَانِيَ ادْخُلْ فَدَخَلْتُ وَ نَادَى‏ الْجَارِيَةَ فَرَجَعَتْ فَقَالَ لَهَا اكْشِفِي عَمَّا مَعَكِ فَكَشَفَتْ عَنْ غُلَامٍ أَبْيَضَ حَسَنِ الْوَجْهِ وَ كَشَفَتْ عَنْ بَطْنِهِ فَإِذَا شَعْرٌ نَابِتٌ مِنْ لَبَّتِهِ إِلَى سُرَّتِهِ أَخْضَرُ لَيْسَ بِأَسْوَدَ فَقَالَ هَذَا صَاحِبُكُمْ ثُمَّ أَمَرَهَا فَحَمَلَتْهُ فَمَا رَأَيْتُهُ بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ حَتَّى مَضَى أَبُو مُحَمَّدٍ ع

فَقَالَ- ضَوْءُ بْنُ عَلِيٍّ فَقُلْتُ لِلْفَارِسِيِّ كَمْ كُنْتَ تُقَدِّرُ لَهُ مِنَ السِّنِينَ قَالَ سَنَتَيْنِ قَالَ الْعَبْدِيُّ فَقُلْتُ لِضَوْءٍ كَمْ تُقَدِّرُ لَهُ أَنْتَ قَالَ أَرْبَعَ عَشْرَةَ سَنَةً قَالَ أَبُو عَلِيٍّ وَ أَبُو عَبْدِ اللَّهِ وَ نَحْنُ نُقَدِّرُ لَهُ إِحْدَى وَ عِشْرِينَ سَنَةً.

‘Alī b. Muḥammad has said, Muḥammad and al-Ḥasan (or al-Ḥusayn) the sons of ‘Alī b. Ibrāhīm have narrated to me in the year 279, from Muḥammad b. ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Raḥman al-‘Abdī of ‘Abd Qays from Ḍaw’ b. ‘Alī al-‘Ijlī, from a man from Persia who he named, who said:

I arrived in Surra Man Ra’a and stayed at the door of Abū Muḥammad (a). He invited me inside without me seeking permission. When I entered and offered greetings, he said to me, ‘How are you, O father of so and so?’ Then he said to me, ‘Sit down O so and so.’ He then asked me about a group of men and women from my family. He then said to me, ‘What brings you here?’ I said, ‘It is the desire to serve you.’ The narrator has said that he said, ‘Then stay in the house.’ I then remained in the house with the servants. Then I would go and make purchases for them from the market. I was able to go in his presence without seeking permission when he was present in the men’s quarter. One day I went to him while he was in the men’s quarter and I heard the sound of movement in the house. He said, ‘Do not move from your place.’ I did not dare to go out or inside. Then a female servant came out to me who had something with her, which was covered. He then called me inside and I went inside. He then called the female servant and she returned. He told her ‘Uncover that which you have.’ She uncovered a very handsome face of a white baby boy. She then uncovered his chest. A line of hair had grown from his neck down to his bellybutton, which seemed to be greenish in color and not totally black. He said, ‘This is your master.’ He then ordered her to take the baby inside after which I did not see him until Abū Muḥammad (a) passed away.

Ḍaw’ b. ‘Alī said, ‘I asked the man from Persia, ‘How old do you think he was?’ He said, ‘two years old.’ Al-‘Abdī said, ‘I asked Ḍaw’, ‘How old do you think he is?’ He replied, ‘Fourteen years old.’ Abū ‘Alī and Abū ‘Abdillah said, we think he is twenty-one years old.’

The tradition appears in the following works:

1) Usūl al-Kāfī, vol. 1, pg. 329

2) Usūl al-Kāfī, vol. 1, pg. 514-515

3) Kamāl al-Dīn wa Tamām al-Ni’mah, vol. 2, pg. 436

5) al-Ghaybah of Ṭūsī, pg. 233

6) Taqrīb al-Ma’ārif, pg. 426

All the traditions are one ḥadīth which go back to Shaykh Kulaynī’s al-Kāfī.

Chain of Narrators and Analysis

1) ‘Alī b. Muḥammad

It is possible for this individual to either be a) ‘Alī b. Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm ‘Allān al-Rāzī or b) ‘Alī b. Muḥammad b. Bundār.

If it is ‘Alī b. Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm ‘Allān al-Rāzī then he is the uncle of Shaykh Kulaynī. He is one of the individuals that Kulaynī reports from a lot in his al-Kāfī.

Najāshī says he was trustworthy (thiqa)1 and that he had a book called Akhbār al-Qāim. However, Najāshī goes on to say:

قتل علان بطريق مكة و كان استأذن الصاحب عليه السلام في الحج فخرج: توقف عنه في هذه السنة فخالف‏

He was killed on his way to Makkah. He had sought the permission of the Imam (a) regarding whether he should go to Ḥajj. The response came, ‘Do not go to it this year.’ ‘However, he went against it.2

A question may arise amongst the common Shī’ī; how someone can be considered trustworthy and reliable if they went against a command of the Imam (a). This is due to the misunderstanding of the types of commands an infallible Imam (a) can give. Sometimes, a command is being given from the perspective of them being a superior and an authority. Going against these commands would be considered a sin. However, some commands are simply reiterations of that which one’s intellect would itself attest to. In this specific case, though common people may condemn such a person to go against the command of the Imam (a) – and more specifically, the intellect’s – however it is not considered a sin legally speaking.

Muḥaqqiq Shūshtarī says:

أقول: الظاهر أنّ مخالفة هذا للحجّة- عليه السّلام- في الخروج إلى الحجّة في تلك الحجّة لفهمه من نهيه- عليه السّلام- إرشاده إلى صلاحه الدنيوي، فلا يكون مخالفته له- عليه السّلام- معصية حتّى ينافي قول النجاشي فيه: ثقة، عين.

I say: It appears that him going against the Ḥujjah (a) in regard to leaving for pilgrimage in that month of al-Ḥijjah was due to his understanding that his (a) prohibition is an advice for his worldly benefit. Hence, him going against the Imam (a) is not a sin, for it to be in conflict with Najāshī calling him trustworthy and notable.3

It is possible that ‘Allān considered this command to be the latter, rather than the first. There are numerous other reports where individuals sought permission from the 12th Imam (a) to go to Ḥajj and the Imam told them not to go during that year. These reports tell us that the caravans would go through problems during those years, either they would be robbed on the way, or people would be killed, or pirates would loot the ships and so on. These traditions imply that these commands from the Imam (a) where he would command people not to go to Ḥajj are not being given as a legal authority, rather as a reiteration of what one’s intellect would dictate had they the knowledge of the unseen.

This is what Sayyid Khūī attests to as well:

ثم إن مخالفة علي بن محمد علان لأمر الحجة بتوقفه عن الخروج لا ينافي وثاقته، مع أنه يمكن أن علي بن محمد لم يفهم من أمره أنه أمر مولوي، فلعله حمله على الإرشاد، كما لعله الغالب في أوامرهم الشخصية إلى أصحابهم‏

Furthermore, ‘Alī b. Muḥammad ‘Allān going against the command of the Ḥujjah (a) telling him to cease leaving, does not conflict with this trustworthiness (withāqah). It is possible that ‘Alī b. Muḥammad did not understand an authoritative command from his (a) command and predicated it on a reiteration. Just like it is perhaps the case in numerous personal commands of the Imams (a) to their companions.4

Interestingly, given ‘Allān was killed on the way to Makkah, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Ḥusayn al-Amīnī (d. 1970) brings him in his book where he discusses 130 Shī’ī scholars who were martyred.5 In other words, he presents him as a martyr and uses that as a point of praise for him.

However, why ‘Allān would seek permission from the Imam (a) if he would have gone regardless of his (a) response is something we may not ever be able to establish.

In any case, his going against the command of the Imam (a) in one instance would not ruin his trustworthiness in reporting traditions. As a matter of fact, even if the command was authoritative and ‘Allān had committed a sin in this one specific instance, it would still not diminish his trustworthiness, especially given he transmitted most of his narrations before his journey and death.

What is more important for us is the fact that Kulaynī does not narrate any tradition directly with the name ‘Allān mentioned. In other words, there is no chain which says ‘From ‘Alī b. Muḥammad ‘Allān’ in al-Kāfī.6 Rather, ‘Allān is only always presumed when Kulaynī narrates from ‘a group of our scholars’ (‘iddatun min aṣḥābinā) who narrate from Sahl b. Ziyād.7

However, there are numerous reports where Kulaynī does report from just an ‘Alī b. Muḥammad. What may assist us is looking at the chain of ‘Alī b. Muḥammad from Sahl b. Ziyād as will be seen shortly. Though he does not mention the name ‘Allān in this chain, this is most definitely ‘Alī b. Muḥammad ‘Allān because he is one of the individuals Kulaynī relies upon for Sahl’s traditions. The only reason why Kulaynī mentions him on his own as opposed to mentioning a ‘group of our scholars from Sahl b. Ziyād’ is because only ‘Allān narrated these specific traditions from Sahl. In some cases, we find Kulaynī saying Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan and ‘Alī b. Muḥamad from Sahl b. Ziyād, which further establishes our point. Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan is also one of four individuals, alongside ‘Alī b. Muḥammad ‘Allān who is presumed when Kulaynī quotes from ‘a group of our scholars from Sahl b. Ziyād’. However, in these specific instances, since only two of the four scholars narrate from Sahl, he mentions both of their names explicitly and separately. For example:

مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ الْحَسَنِ وَ عَلِيُ‏ بْنُ‏ مُحَمَّدٍ، عَنْ‏ سَهْلِ‏ بْنِ‏ زِيَادٍ، عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ الْوَلِيدِ شَبَابٍ الصَّيْرَفِيِّ، عَنْ أَبَانِ بْنِ عُثْمَان‏

Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan and ‘Alī b. Muḥammad from Sahl b. Ziyād from Muḥammad b. al-Walīd Shabāb al-Ṣayrafī from Abān b. ‘Uthmān.

مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ الْحَسَنِ و عَلِيُ‏ بْنُ‏ مُحَمَّدٍ، عَنْ‏ سَهْلِ‏ بْنِ‏ زِيَادٍ، عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ سُلَيْمَانَ الدَّيْلَمِيِّ، عَنْ بَعْضِ أَصْحَابِنَا، عَنِ الْمُفَضَّلِ بْنِ عُمَر

Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan and ‘Alī b. Muḥammad from Sahl b. Ziyād from Muḥammad b. Sulaymān al-Daylaī from some of our companions from al-Mufaḍḍal b. ‘Umar.

Kulaynī does narrate from another ‘Alī b. Muḥammad many times directly whose name is rendered as ‘Alī b. Muḥammad b. Bundār in al-Kāfī. His name appears in al-Kāfī as both ‘Alī b. Muḥammad and as well as with the name of his grandfather Bundār. However, this narrator never transmits from Sahl b. Ziyād.

Now what we do have is one instance where ‘Allān is narrating from Sahl who is narrating from a Muḥammad b. ‘Alī b. Ibrāhīm (the same name that appears in the tradition being discussed in this post):

 عَلِيُّ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنْ سَهْلِ بْنِ زِيَادٍ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ عَلِيِّ بْنِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ حَمَّادٍ عَنِ الْمُفَضَّلِ

‘Alī b. Muḥammad from Sahl b. Ziyād from Muḥammad b. ‘Alī b. Ibrāhīm from ‘Alī b. Ḥammād from al-Mufaḍḍhal.8

This chain is crucial because it shows ‘Alī b. Muḥammad ‘Allān does have at least one tradition from a Muḥammad b. ‘Alī b. Ibrāhīm, albeit via Sahl b. Ziyād. In another tradition we see Sahl b. Ziyād narrating a tradition from the grandfather of a Muḥammad, namely Ibrāhīm b. Muḥammad al-Hamdānī as follows:

عَلِيُ‏ بْنُ‏ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنْ‏ سَهْلِ‏ بْنِ‏ زِيَادٍ عَنْ إِبْرَاهِيمَ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ الْهَمَذَانِيِّ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ عُبَيْدَةَ‏

‘Alī b. Muḥammad from Sahl b. Ziyād from Ibrāhīm b. Muḥammad al-Hamdānī from Muḥammad b. ‘Ubaydah.9

In the above chain there is definitely someone missing between Sahl and Ibrāhīm al-Hamdānī as the two were from different generations and it is possible Muḥammad b. ‘Alī the grandson is missing. Although this cannot be said with any assurance and who the missing link happens to be is merely a possibility.

Another tradition makes the situation more complicated because it shows an ‘Alī b. Muḥammad quoting from Muḥammad b. ‘Alī b. Ibrāhīm without Sahl b. Ziyād:

عَلِيُّ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ‏ عَلِيِ‏ بْنِ‏ إِبْرَاهِيمَ‏ عَنْ‏ أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ صَالِح‏

‘Alī b. Muḥammad from Muḥammad b. ‘Alī b. Ibrāhīm from Abī ‘Abdillah b. Ṣaliḥ

Is the one chain mentioned earlier, of ‘Alī b. Muḥammad (‘Allān) narrating from Sahl b. Ziyād who narrates from Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm enough for us to suggest that this ‘Alī b. Muḥammad is also ‘Allān? If Sahl and Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm are from the same generation, it is possible for ‘Allān to have transmitted directly from the latter, which is the case in the tradition we are dealing with in our discussion and as well as the chain just mentioned above.

It is difficult to argue, because Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm itself is a name that could be two possible individuals. It will be argued that the Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm in our tradition is al-Hamdānī, however in these chains shown above, there is nothing clear for us to suggest whether it is al-Hamdānī or someone else. In fact, ‘Allāmah Majlisī even casts down on the Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm who Sahl b. Ziyād is narrating from and says:

محمد بن علي بن إبراهيم‏ هو إما أبو سمينة، أو الهمداني وكيل الناحية،

Muḥammad b. ‘Alī b. Ibrāhīm he is either Abu Sumaynah or al-Hamdānī the trustee (wakīl) of the Nāḥīyyah (i.e. the Imām).10

Conclusion: Despite the arguments and counter arguments on both sides, one may be enticed to say ‘Alī b. Muḥammad in this tradition is ‘Allān rather than Bundār, however it appears there is still room for thought or perhaps it is a dead end. If the narrator does happen to be ‘Alī b. Muḥammad Bundār, then his full name is ‘Alī b. Abī al-Qāsim ‘Abdullah b. ‘Imrān al-Barqī. Najāshī considers him trustworthy (thiqa).

In either case, whether the narrator is ‘Allān or Bundār, they are reliable as per the explicit words of Najāsḥi.

2) Ḥasan b. ‘Alī b. Ibrāhīm or Ḥusayn b. ‘Alī b. Ibrāhim

In most manuscripts this name appears as al-Ḥasan b. ‘Alī instead of al-Ḥusayn.

Ḥasan b. ‘Alī b. Ibrāhīm is only mentioned in two narrations in our books. One of them is the tradition being discussed from al-Kāfī where ‘Alī b. Muḥammad is narrating from him, and another one is in Shayk Ṭūsī’s al-Istibṣār11 where Sa’d b. ‘Abdillah (d. 301 or 299 AH) is narrating from him as follows:

 سَعْدُ بْنُ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ عَنِ الْحَسَنِ‏ بْنِ‏ عَلِيِ‏ بْنِ‏ إِبْرَاهِيمَ‏ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنْ جَدِّهِ‏ إِبْرَاهِيمَ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ أَنَّ مُحَمَّدَ بْنَ عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ الْهَمْدَانِيَّ كَتَبَ إِلَى أَبِي الْحَسَنِ الثَّالِثِ ع‏ يَسْأَلُهُ عَنِ الْوُضُوءِ لِلصَّلَاةِ فِي غُسْلِ الْجُمُعَةِ فَكَتَبَ لَا وُضُوءَ لِلصَّلَاةِ فِي غُسْلِ يَوْمِ الْجُمُعَةِ وَ لَا غَيْرِهِ.

Sa’d b. ‘Abdillah from al-Ḥasan b. ‘Alī b. Ibrāhīm b. Muḥammad from his grandfather Ibrāhīm b. Muḥammad that Muḥammad b. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Hamdānī wrote to Abī al-Ḥasan the third [Imām Hādī]: I asked him about doing wuḍū for prayers after the ablution of Friday and he (a) wrote back saying, ‘There is no need for a wuḍū for prayers after the ablution of the day of Friday and other than it.’

Though there is a decent amount of information regarding Ḥasan’s grandfather Ibrāhīm in Shī’ī works, there is nothing mentioned about Ḥasan and whether he was trustworthy or not.

On the contrary, if we were to give the far-fetched presumption that Ḥasan is a scribal error for Ḥusayn, then once again we have nothing in our works about a Ḥusayn b. ‘Alī. In either case, the individual’s reliability is unknown.

3) Muḥammad b. ‘Alī b. Ibrāhīm

There are at least two Muḥammad b. ‘Alī b. Ibrāhims in our works. One of them is Muḥammad b. ‘Alī b. Ibrāhīm b. Mūsa al-Qarashī who was known as Abū Sumaynah. Najāshī says about him:

ضعيف جدا فاسد الاعتقاد لا يعتمد في شي‏ء. و كان ورد قم و قد اشتهر بالكذب بالكوفة و نزل على أحمد بن محمد بن عيسى مدة ثم تشهر بالغلو فجفا و أخرجه أحمد بن محمد بن عيسى عن قم و له قصة

Seriously weak, corrupt beliefs, cannot be relied upon for anything. He entered Qom, though he had become famous in Kūfah for lying, and came to Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. ‘Īsa for a while. He then become famous for exaggeration (ghuluw) and became harsh. Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. ‘Īsa exiled him out of Qom – and it has a story.12

Based on the information given to us by Najāshī, we know Abū Sumaynah came from Kūfah to Qom and stayed with Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. ‘Īsa for a while. Aḥmad b. Muḥammad was the head of the Shī’a in Qom at that point. He is trustworthy and according to scholars he had met Imām Riḍā (a) and lived up until the time of Imām ‘Askarī (a). It is possible for someone to have met Imam Ridha (a) when they were younger and also have met Imam ‘Askarī (a) near the end of their life.13

Aḥmad is also known to have exiled Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Khālid al-Barqī from Qom, but he participated in his funeral prayers. Aḥmad al-Barqī died in 274 AH according to Ibn Ghaḍāirī or 280 AH according to his student ‘Alī b. Muḥammad Mājīlawayh.14 If Aḥmad participated in al-Barqī’s funeral, it means he was alive at the very least in 274 AH.

That being the case, Abū Sumaynah who has been described as a contemporary of Imām Riḍā, could have also lived up to the time of Imam ‘Askarī and hence it is not impossible for the person in our chain to be him.

However, one thing that helps us prefer the opinion that the individual in our tradition is not Abū Sumaynah is because his teknonym was Abū Ja’far.15 In the text of our tradition near the end, it mentions the teknonym of one of the brothers as Abū ‘Alī. The teknonym of another Muḥammad b. ‘Alī b. Ibrāhīm is also Abū ‘Alī and we have a tradition where ‘Alī b. Muḥammad (be it Bundār or ‘Allān) is narrating from Muḥammad b. ‘Alī citing his teknonym explicitly”

عَلِيُّ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنْ أَبِي عَلِيٍّ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ عَلِيِّ بْنِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ قَالَ حَدَّثَنِي أَحْمَدُ بْنُ الْحَارِثِ الْقَزْوِينِيُّ

‘Alī b. Muḥammad from Abī ‘Alī Muḥammad b. ‘Alī b. Ibrāhīm who said, Aḥmad b. al-Ḥārith al-Qazwīnī narrated to me.16

What we definitely know is that Abū Sumayah was a known liar and that his teknonym was not Abū ‘Alī. Hence, it would be extremely far-fetched for one of Kulaynī’s major teachers narrating anything from Abū Sumayna – particularly ‘Allān or Bundār. In which case we are left with the only other possibility that this individual is Muḥammad b. ‘Alī b. Ibrāhīm al-Hamdānī who was one of the agents and trustees for the representative of the 12th Imam (a), like his ancestors were before him for the previous Imams.

Many scholars do not necessarily consider being a trustee enough for establishing trustworthiness, however, even if we consider it as an indicator of trustworthiness, it will not help us in anyway as the next few narrators are completely unknown.

4) Muḥammad b. ‘Alī b. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-‘Abdī

We have no narration from him in our works nor is anything mentioned about him. He is completely unknown.

5) Ḍaw’ b. ‘Alī al-‘Ijlī

We have three traditions from him in our books, all of them in al-Kāfī. However, nothing else is mentioned regarding him and is unknown.

6) Persian Man

We do not know who this person is, despite being named by Ḍaw’ b. ‘Alī, however one of the later narrators forgot it.

Conclusion: The chain of this tradition is very weak and cannot be relied upon under any circumstances.

Analysis of the Content

‘Alī b. Muḥammad mentions that this tradition was narrated to him by the two brothers Muḥammad (Abū ‘Alī) and Ḥasan (Abū ‘Abdillah) in the year 279. One of the problems with this tradition is the details we can extract from its last statement:

Ḍaw’ b. ‘Alī said, ‘I asked the man from Persia, ‘How old do you think he was?’ He said, ‘two years old.’ Al-‘Abdī said, ‘I asked Ḍaw’, ‘How old do you think he is?’ He replied, ‘Fourteen years old.’ Abū ‘Alī and Abū ‘Abdillah said, we think he is twenty-one years old.’

Abū ‘Alī and Abū ‘Abdillah inform ‘Alī b. Muḥammad in the year 279 that they believed the Imam is 21 years old. When Ḍaw’ asked the Persian man how old he thought the Imam was when he saw him, he says 2 years old. However, when ‘Abdī asked Ḍaw’ how old he thought the Imam was now – at the time of his narration – he says 14 years old. This could either mean that there was a significant gap between the time Ḍaw’ first heard the tradition from the Persian man, or it could mean that the Persian man reported the tradition to Ḍaw’ soon after but it was narrated by Ḍaw’ to ‘Abdī many years later. By the time it comes to ‘Abū ‘Alī and Abū ‘Abdillah, they calculate his age to be 21 years old, which is another 7-year gap. These large gaps of years further diminish any possibility of attaining trust in the details of this story.

If the ages these narrators are mentioning are to be taken on face value, it would imply that the birth of the Mahdi (a) took place in the year 258. This is the only report by which we can arrive at this conclusion, and the only other scholar to apparently accept this year is Kamāl al-Dīn Muḥammad b. Ṭalḥa al-Shāfi’ī (d. 652 AH) in his Maṭālib al-Sa’ūl.17 If we were to reconcile the story with other more popular years such as 255 or 256, we could suggest the possibility that the Persian man made a mistake in his estimation, especially if he was narrating the story at a much later time.


  1. Rijāl al-Najāshī, pg. 260, #682
  2. Ibid, pg. 261
  3. Qāmūs al-Rijāl, vol. 7, pg. 536.
  4. Mu’jam Rijāl al-Ḥadīth, vol. 12, pg. 129
  5. Shuhadā al-Faḍīlah, pg. 15.
  6. Though there is a tradition of Kulayni from ‘Allān recorded in Kamāl al-Dīn of Shaykh Ṣadūq and Kifāyah al-Athar of al-Khazzāz, though it is not from Al-Kāfī.
  7. Khulāsah al-Aqwāl fī Ma’rifah Aḥwāl al-Rijāl by ‘Allāmah Ḥillī, pg. 272.
  8. Vol. 1, pg. 441.
  9. Al-Kāfī, vol. 1, pg. 53.
  10. Mirāt al-‘Uqūl, vol. 5, pg. 193.
  11. Vol. 1, pg. 126.
  12. Rijāl al-Najāshī, pg. 332.
  13. Imām Riḍā became Imam around 183 AH and died in 203 AH. Imam ‘Askari became Imam around 254 AH and he died around 260 AH. Hence, it is conceivable for someone to have met Imam Riḍā around the age of 20 near the end of his Imāmate and still live on to be contemporary to Imam ‘Askarī around the age of 80.
  14. These dates are mentioned in Rijāl al-Najāshī, pg. 77.
  15. Rijāl Ibn Ghaḍāirī, pg. 95, Rijāl al-Najāshī, pg. 332.
  16. Al-Kāfī, vol. 1, pg. 507
  17. Pg. 312 where he says the Imam was born in Surra Man Ra’a on the 23rd of Ramaḍān of the year 258 AH.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.