Lady Narjis: A New Reading of Her Identity

The famous scholar, Sheikh Ahmed Salman, recently authored a fascinating book entitled ‘Sayyidat al-imā’ – Qirā’tun jadīdatun fi huwīyatihā wa sīratihā’ (The leader of the slave-women – a new reading of her identity and biography). The piece is a biography of Lady Narjis (a), the mother of the 12th Imam (ATFS), who initially came into the house of Imam al-Askari (a) as a slave. The biography offers a fascinating analysis of her life, especially the significant role she played after the martyrdom of Imam al-Askari (a). The author hypothesizes that along with some other women of this holy household, Lady Narjis (a) was part of an underground network of female agents working in parallel with the four deputies.

The below is a translation of one of the main chapters of the book where the author describes the obstacles Lady Narjis (a) faced after the martyrdom of Imam al-Askari (a) and posits her significant role in the minor occultation.

Her Jihad

After having established that the mother of the 12th Imam (atfs) remained alive after the martyrdom of Imam al-Askari (a), we now come to the most significant aspect of the life of this noble lady (a), and that is her Jihad in the minor occultation and her protecting the Imam of her time (atfs).

In order to present the reality of what took place, we must go through the events from their beginning:

The martyrdom of Imam al-Askari (a)

The first important discussion is the martyrdom of Imam al-Askari (a) by the poisoning of the Abbasids, since she (a) was with him (a) during his last moments, as is reported by Sheikh al-Saduq:

“Imam Hasan Askari (a) passed away on Friday at the time of the Morning Prayer. The preceding night he wrote a number of letters to Medina. The day was 8th Rabi al-Awwal, 260 A.H. At the time of his demise the only ones present were, Saqeel [this is another name of Lady Narjis (a)] – his maid, Aqeed – his servant, and the one whom Allah knows.

Aqeed says: Imam Hasan Askari (a) asked for water, that had been heated in the samovar, and we brought it for him.

The Imam said, “Prepare for the ritual prayer.”

We spread out a sheet in his room. The Imam took the water from Saqeel and washed his face, then washed both his hands once. Then he wiped his head and feet once. After that he performed the ritual prayer on his bed. He then took the cup to drink some water. The cup was hitting his teeth and his hand was shaking so badly that Saqeel took the cup from him. At that moment he passed away and was buried in his house in Samarra, besides the grave of his father. At that time, he was twenty-nine years of age.”[1]

What is of significance in this narration is that it mentions that no one else was present around Imam al-Askari (a) apart from Lady Narjis (a), Aqeed – the slave, and Imam al-Mahdi (atfs) and this indicates her proximity to Imam al-Askari (a) in comparison to the other women of the house. In fact, it seems the Imam (a) wanted to prepare her for another duty that was no less significant than her previous one. What indicates this is that the Imam was aware about his demise and hence distanced most of the people of the house, including his mother, and none remained but Lady Narjis (a).

The author of ithbāt al-waṣiyah reports from Ahmed ibn Masqalah, who said:

I entered upon Imam al-Askari (a) and he said to me: “O Ahmad, what is your state in regards to that which people are in doubt and confusion about?” I said, “Once we received the letter informing us of the birth of our master (a), there remained not a man, woman or discerning child, except they attested to the truth.”

He (a) said, “Do you not know that the earth does not remain devoid of a proof of Allah (Hujjatullah)?”

Thereafter, Imam al-Askari (a) ordered his mother to perform Hajj in the year 259 AH and he informed her about what would happen in 260 AH, and then he passed the Ism al-A’dham (greatest name of Allah), his inheritance and weapons to Imam al-Mahdi (atfs).

The mother of Imam al-Askari (a) departed for Makkah and Imam al-Askari (a) passed away in the month of Rabī’ al-Ākhar in the year 260 AH and was buried in Samarrah, next to this father Imam al-Hadi (a), and his lifespan from birth to the time of his calamity was 29 years.[2]

The plot of the Abbasid insurgence

It is not possible to understand what took place in that time period without knowing what Ja’far al-Kadhāb did to the holy household of the Imam (a). It is apparent that he had close ties with the Abbasid authorities during that period, and was preparing to take over the reigns of Imamate with their help and declare general leadership over the Shias of that time.

The groundwork for this plan had begun from the time of Imam al-Askari (a). Some historical works indicate the emergence of a group that were partisans of Ja’far al-Kadhāb, during the lifetime of Imam al-Askari (a). Qādi al-Nu’mān has attested to the existence of such a group by his words:

A group of them attested to the leadership of Ja’far ibn Ali and rejected the Imamate of Hasan during his lifetime and they said: We have tested him and did not find him to be possessing knowledge. And when he passed away, and did not leave behind any son, they argued using that, saying, an Imam can not be an Imam, except if he has a progeny.[3]

The opportunity was suitable to grab hold of the seat of leadership by claiming Imamate i.e., at the time of the martyrdom of Imam al-Askari (a), since he (a) did not have an apparent son who would come forward and take on the responsibilities of Imamate and therefore, the group that claimed Ja’far al-Kadhāb was the Imam could emerge triumphantly since the non-existence of a progeny was a sign of the falsity of Imam al-Askari (a)’s imamate!

The official announcement of Ja’far al-Kadhāb’s imamate was his leading the prayer over the body of his brother, Imam al-Askari (a). However, therein occurred that which they had not conceived of, whereby Imam al-Mahdi (atfs) appeared and foiled the plot by leading the prayers over his father, and the matter became clear to people.

Sheikh al-Saduq narrates a lengthy report from Abi al-Adyān in which it says:

“… I took the letters to Madāin and procured the answers. On the 15th day, just as Imam Hasan al-Askari (a) had predicted, I entered Samarrah. Loud voices of wailing and crying echoed from the house of the Imam (a). I saw Ja’far, the brother of Imam Hasan al-Askari (a), standing on the door and receiving condolences and consolation from the local Shias. I said to myself, ‘If this man is the Imam, then Imamate has definitely been nullified.

For I have seen him drink nabīḍ, gamble and play with musical instruments.’

I went near him and offered my condolences. He did not ask me anything. Afterwards Aqeed emerged from the house and said, ‘Master! Your brother has been shrouded. Come and lead his funeral prayers.’ Ja’far went ahead to lead the prayers. Around him were some Shias including Sammān and Hasan bin Ali famously known as Salama, whom Mu’tamid killed.

When I entered the Imam’s house, I saw that his corpse had been shrouded and Ja’far bin Ali went forward to lead the funeral prayer. As he was about to announce the Takbeer, a young boy with a wheatish complexion, curly hair and broad teeth came out of the house. He caught hold of Ja’far’s robe and tugged it saying, ‘Uncle! Move aside. I am more worthy of leading the funeral prayers of my father.’ Ja’far withdrew in a corner and his face went colorless.

The child went ahead to recite the prayers on his father’s dead body and buried him next to his father’s grave. Thereafter, he turned towards me and said, ‘O Basri! Give me the replies of the letters that are with you.’ I handed the letters to him and said to myself, ‘Two prophecies are already fulfilled. Now only the third one about the contents of the bag, remains.’ I went to Ja’far bin Ali and saw him sighing.

Hājiz al-Washā said to him, ‘O master, who is that lad? So that I can establish the proof on him.’ He said, ‘By Allah I had never seen him and I don’t know who he is.’

We were sitting when some residents of Qom arrived and asked about the condition of Imam Hasan al-Askari (a). When they were informed about his demise, they inquired about whom to give condolences. People guided them towards Ja’far Ibn Ali. They saluted him and offered their condolences. They said, ‘we have brought with us letters and money. Inform us who the letters are from and how much money is there?’

Ja’far stood up from his place, and while gathering his clothes, he said, ‘Do you want me to know the unseen?!’ Afterwards, a servant emerged from the house of Imam Hasan al-Askari (a) and announced, ‘The letters of so and so are in your possession. You also have a bag containing a thousand dinars. Of which, only ten dinars are pure.’ They gave the letters and money to this servant saying, ‘The one who has sent you must be the Imam.”[4]

Opposing the liar

The Abbasid plot was foiled by the appearance of this young son of Imam al-Askari (a), whose affair was hidden to the general masses. Ja’far al-Kadhāb had no option but to rush to his benefactor al-Mu’tamid al-Abbāsi and inform him about this matter, and even encouraged him to get rid of this boy – and this led to the first raid on the house of Imam al-Askari (a).

Sheikh al-Saduq reports,

“Ja’far bin Ali came to Mu’tamid and narrated everything. Mu’tamid sent his soldiers who arrested and brought Saqeel, the slave girl. Mu’tamid told her to surrender the child but she denied having given birth to any child and she claimed that she was pregnant, in an attempt to keep the affair of the child as a secret. So he gave her in to the custody of Ibn Abī Shawārib, the Qāḍi, till Ubaydullāh ibn Yahya bin Khāqān died all of a sudden and Sāhib al-Zanj revolted in Basra. They became distracted with that and overlooked the slave-girl, so she slipped away from their grip. And praise be to Allah the Lord of the worlds.”[5]

An in another report:

“The mother of Imam Hasan Askari (a) who was named Hadīth, arrived from Medina and got the news of Imam’s demise when she had reached Samarra. She was also told about the demands of Imam Askari’s brother Ja’far regarding inheritance and the fact that he had gone to the ruler and revealed to him all those things that Allah (swt) had ordered to be kept confidential. Mu’tamid arrested Saqeel, the Imam’s slave wife and detained her in his palace. Saqeel claimed that she was pregnant. Mu’tamid appointed his women, his female slaves, the women of Muwafaq and his female slaves, and the women of Qāḍi Ibn Abī Shawārib, to keep an eye on Saqeel at all times, But this was soon followed by events like the affair of al-Saffār, the death of Ubaydullah ibn Yahya Khāqān, their revolution in Samarra, and the rule of Sāhib al-Zanj in Basra, due to which their attention was diverted away from her.”[6]

At this point it becomes apparent, the first real and important role that this noble lady (a) played. When Banu Abbas invaded her house and arrested her, she claimed that she was pregnant. This was for two reasons:

The first was to hide the affair of the young boy, whom the henchmen of Banu Abbas wanted to get rid of, for it would have been really difficult for them to accept the claim of Ja’far al-Kadhāb that Imam al-Askari (a) had a son whilst they had kept the whole household under strict surveillance.

Secondly, not availing Ja’far al-Kadhāb the opportunity to spread his imamate. In the case that Imam al-Askari (a) did not have a child, everyone would have accepted Ja’far’s claim without any hesitation or investigation. However, with the existence of another claimant the matter would be different, for everyone would make an effort to investigate and unveil the reality and this would not work in the favor of Ja’far al-Kadhāb for he was someone who was habitually involved in vice and indecent acts and his affair would easily be uncovered.

Based on the above report, the length of her imprisonment was until after the demise of Ubaydullah ibn Yahyā ibn Khāqān, who died in 263 AH according to historians, and therefore she (a) would have spent 3 years in the prison of Banu Abbas!

In fact, there are reports that indicate that her imprisonment lasted longer than this. Ibn Hazm reports what indicates that her (a) imprisonment lasted for 7 years. He says:

She claimed to be pregnant after Hassan ibn Ali, her master, and therefore his inheritance was suspended for 7 years. She was disputed in that by his brother Ja’far ibn Ali and a group from the elites of the regime were leaning towards her whilst others were leaning towards Ja’far ibn Ali. Then the matter of the pregnancy became exposed and Ja’far took the inheritance of his brother, and the demise of Hassan was in 260 AH.[7]

The period of hiding

It seems that the coming out of prison of Lady Narjis (a) was not due to the willingness of Banu Abbas, rather it seems like she escaped from their prison, as can be gleamed from the expressions that Sheikh al-Sadūq has reported, such as: “So they became distracted with that and overlooked the slave-girl,” “she slipped away from their grip,” “their attention was diverted away from her,” especially taking into consideration that Ibn Hazm says there existed a group from inside the Abbasid Regime who were supporting her, as he said, “and a group from the elites of the regime were leaning towards her.”

The reports of Sheikh al-Saduq also indicate the circumstances that provided her the opportunity to escape whereby he mentions a group of political events that had an impact on the power of the Abbasid government and their control over affairs, such as:

  • The scaling up of the revolution of the Zanj
  • The rising up of Layth ibn Ya’qūb al-Saffār
  • The death of Ubaydullah ibn Yahyā ibn Khāqān

And from this point onwards, this pure lady (a) entered into a period of seclusion, out of fear of being imprisoned and that is why she did not return to the house of Imam al-Askari (a) but her destiny was to roam the earth, fleeing from the spies of the Abbasids and it has been reported that which indicates her situation in this period:

Sheikh al-Kulayni reports from his chain of narrators, from Ahmed ibn Ishāq who reports the words of al-‘Amri (the first of the four deputies of the Imam):

“It is unlawful for you to ask about it [the name of the 12th Imam]. I do not say this from myself, for it is not for me to make permissible and impermissible, but it is from him [the Imam (as)], for the affair in the eyes of the caliph is that Abu Muhammad [Imam al-Askari (a)] departed this world and did not leave behind any progeny. His inheritance is distributed and is taken away by one who has no right in it. And right now, His (a) family is currently dispersed and no one has the courage to introduce themselves to them nor give them anything. When the name is mentioned search for him will take place. Have fear of Allah and abstain from it.”[8]

What is apparent is that Ja’far al-Kadhāb gained ownership of all the inheritance of his brother Imam al-Askari (a), such that his (a) noble family were not left with any place to settle in and therefore once Lady Narjis (a) left the prison, she did not return to her house but rather she began moving around the houses of the great Shias in Iraq.

The first house she settled in was the house of Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Hamza al-Abbāsi. Najāshi in his Fihrist discusses about him and indicates that she (a) remained in his house. He says,

“Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Hamza ibn Hassan ibn Ubaydullah ibn Abbas ibn Ali ibn Abu Talib (a), (known as) Abu Abdillah, reliable, ‘Ayn in Hadith, upright in belief, he has narrations from Imam al-Hādi (a) and Imam al-Askari (a), connected through letters, and in his house remained the mother of the 12th Imam (atfs) after the demise of Imam al-Askari (a).”[9]

And historians have reported in his biography that he passed away in the year 287 AH, amongst them is al-Mirzbāni who said,

“Poet, narrator, scholar, reports a lot from the reports of his family and the children of his cousins, and he met a group of our Sheikhs and they reported to us about him, and he died in the year 287 AH.”[10]

Apparently, she (a) left this house after his demise, and perhaps this was because there was no one who could take care of her, especially considering she was being pursued by the Abbasid authorities. What proves this is that Ibn Hazm reports that she was arrested just about 20 years after the death of her master [Imam al-Askari (a)] i.e., necessarily before 290 AH, rather even before 289 AH because she was arrested during the time of al-Mu’tadhid who died in that year. And she was arrested in the house of Hasan ibn Ja’far al-Nawbakhti, the famous Abbasid writer.[11]

By reconciling these matters together, we may conclude that Lady Narjis (a) may have left the house of Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Hamza and shifted to the house of al-Nawbakhti and she remained there for about a year or a little more and then she was arrested from there and imprisoned for a second time.

To the Abbasid Prison

As it has become clear from what was previously mentioned, Lady Narjis (a) was imprisoned for a second time and Ibn Hazm has reported for us some of the events of this prison, whereby he says:

And the fitnah of the rawāfiḍ increased due to this Saqīl and her claims, until al-Mu’tadhid imprisoned her, twenty-something years after the demise of her master. And there was a tip-off of her being in the house of Hassan ibn Ja’far al-Nawbakhti, the writer, and so she was found therein and was taken to the palace of al-Mu’tadhid and remained there until she passed away, in the palace, during the days of Muqtadir.[12]

This report has several points that ought to be pondered upon:

Firstly, Lady Narjis (a) remained in the house of Hassan ibn Ja’far al-Nawbakhti, who was a writer for the Abbasids and it is not farfetched to say that this planning was due to the third emissary, Hussain ibn Ruh al-Nawbakhti, who was at that time working under the reigns of the second emissary, Muhammad ibn Uthmān al-Amrī. He was from Bani Nawbakht and was working under the guise of Taqiyyah hence everyone trusted him.

Secondly, it seems that the Abbasids came to know of the whereabouts of Lady Narjis (a) through a rumor which is understood by the words, “there was a rumor of her being in the house of Hassan ibn Ja’far al-Nawbakhti, the writer, and so she was found therein.” His expression “she was found therein” indicates that they were previously ignorant about her being there, and history does not tell us about what happened to al-Nawbakhti.

Thirdly, the most important point here is the type of prison that she was imprisoned in this time. Ibn Hazm reports that she was imprisoned in the palace of the caliph and not in the prison of the ordinary folk and this indicates the seriousness of the issue of Imam al-Mahdi (atfs) in the eyes of the Abbasids in those days and their eagerness in terminating the Mahdavi mission.

Fourthly, this text also allows us to specify the duration of her imprisonment. The previous texts showed us that the beginning of her imprisonment started some time between 287-288 AH, and she remained in this prison until she passed away, during the days of al-Muqtadir, who became caliph in they year 295 AH, and so the least amount she was imprisoned was 7 years – and we are from Allah and to him is our return!

Why this imprisonment?

There remains the discussion about the beginning of the statement of Ibn Hazm, where he said “And the fitnah of the rawāfiḍ increased due to this Saqīl and her claims…”

It seems she (a) had some sort of movement amongst the Shia during that period i.e., after more than 20 years after the martyrdom of Imam al-Askari (a). This leaves us with a perplexing question: What was her (a) role during this period?

Here we have three possibilities:

The first possibility is that Lady Narjis (a) had escaped from the prison of Banu Abbas in the context of the events mentioned above and she remained on the wanted list of the caliph, and they regained pursuit of her during the time of al-Mu’tadhid because of his extreme attitude towards the affairs of the Ahlulbayt (a) and their Shias,[13] and perhaps their fixating on this pure lady was as a means of leveraging pressure on Imam al-Mahdi (atfs) so that it would be easier to capture Him (atfs).

The second possibility is that Lady Narjis (a) had remained hidden from the eyes of the masses during this lengthy period and she returned to the forefront due to the occurrence of denigrating events such as the increased number of false claimants of emissaries (of the 12th Imam) during the time of Muhammad ibn Uthmān al-Amri. Her reappearance and coming forward was a form of support for him and strengthened his side against the false claimants, and uniting the Shias of the Ahlulbayt (as).

The third possibility is that perhaps she never hid herself from these events. Rather, she had some form of underground activities which she performed behind the curtains for we can not negate the possibility that she was an intermediary between the Imam (atfs) and the rest of the people, even if that may be in the context of al-‘Amri and his son (the first and second emissary).

While we do not have any evidence for the first and second possibility, there are indications that could make us prefer the third possibility. By analyzing the texts we have, we find ourselves facing an underground network of women who had some very serious roles in parallel to the activities of the four emissaries (al-nuwāb al-arba’):

Amongst these ladies was Hakīmah, the aunt of Imam al-Askari (a), who took up the role of establishing a progeny for the son of her brother (a) and therefore anyone who was confused or doubted [the existence of the 12th Imam] would approach her, and we previously mentioned a few of the reports and narrations about her, hence we do not need to repeat them here.

Amongst these ladies was the mother of Imam al-Askari (a), the grandmother of Imam al-Mahdi (atfs), about whom the narrations are explicit that she played a role in the minor occultation. Sheikh al-Saduq reports with his chain of narrators from Ahmed ibn Ibrāhim, who says:

“I went to Hakīma bint Muhammad ibn Ali al-Redha (a), the sister of Imam al-Askari (a) in the year 282 in Medina. I conversed with her from behind a curtain and asked her about her religion. She named to me the Imams she followed and then she said, “And the son of Hassan (a)” and mentioned his name. I said to her, “May I be sacrificed for you, do you say this on the basis of an observation or on the basis of a report?” She said, “A report from Imam al-Askari (a), which he wrote to his mother.” I asked, “Where is then the son?” She said, “He is in hiding,” So I said to her “To whom are the Shias to turn for guidance?”

She said, “To the grandmother, the mother of Imam al-Askari (a).”

I said to her, “Who has he emulated in assigning a woman as his deputy?”

She said, “He has emulated Husain Ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib (a). Husain Ibn Ali (a) assigned his sister, Zainab bint Ali ibn Abi Talib (a) in the apparent. Whatever knowledge emanated from Ali ibn Hussain (a) was attributed to Zainab bint Ali in order to maintain secrecy over Ali Ibn al-Husain (a).”[14]

And amongst these women was an elderly woman, who it seems was the aunt of Imam al-Mahdi (atfs). Sheikh al-Saduq reports in his al-Ghaybah with his chain of reporters from Ya’qub ibn Yusuf al-Dharāb al-Ghasānī, on his departure from Isfahan, he said:

“I performed Hajj with some Sunnis of my town in 281 AH. When we reached Mecca, one of our companions rented for us a house on Sūq al-Layl Street. It was a fortunate chance that the house was a property of Lady Khadija (a) and which was now called as Dar al-Redha (a) and was occupied by an old lady who had a wheatish complexion. When I came to know that the house was called Dar al-Redha (a), I asked that old lady how she was related to the owner of the house and why it was called Dar al-Redha (a)?

She said: “I am one of the adherents of the owner of the house and this house belongs to Ali Ibn Musa al-Redha (a). Imam Hasan al-Askari (a) has accommodated me in it, because I had been in his service.”

When I heard that from her, I was delighted by that, but I did not disclose it to my Sunni friends. Whenever I returned from Tawaf at night, I slept in the verandah with them. We used to close the door and also place a huge stone behind it. One night I saw a light in the verandah where we slept, similar to a lantern. Then I saw the door being opened, but I did not see anyone from the people of the house opening it, and I saw a young man with medium stature, wheat complexion and physically fit, having a mark of prostration, wearing two shirts, a cloak which he had worn over his head, and wearing shoes without socks, enter and ascend to the attic occupied by the old lady. She had told us not to go up, as her daughter lived there.

When the man went to the attic, I noticed that the light present in the verandah had now reached the attic, though I did not exactly see any lantern [. . .] curiosity overcame my heart and I wanted to know about this man, and I decided to ask the old lady about him. One day I said, “O so-and-so, I want to ask you something in private, but I don’t get a chance as others are also present. So, when you notice that I am alone, you should come down from the attic.”

She also said, “I also want to speak to you in private, but I don’t get a chance, because of those around you.”

I asked, “What do you want to talk to me about?” She said, “See, don’t mention this to anyone; he has told you to not be harsh with your companions and associates and do not dispute with them, for they are your enemies.”

I asked, “Who has said this?”

She replied, “I say it.”

Since a sort of awe and fear had entered my heart, I did not dare to ask anything else. I just asked what she meant by companions? I was under the impression that she was implying my present companions whom I had come for Hajj with.

She said, “Your associates in your town and those who were with you in the house.” The fact was that I had had disputes with those companions who were in the house with me, about religious matters. They began gossiping about me until I ran away from there and went into hiding and now, I understood that she was talking about them.

I asked, “What is your concern with Imam Ali al-Redha (a)?” She said, “I was the servant of Imam Hasan Askari (a).” When I became certain that she was connected to that family, I asked her about the hidden Imam and said, “I adjure you; please tell me if you have really seen him yourself?”

She said, “O brother, I have not seen him with my own eyes, because when I had left that place, my sister was pregnant, but Imam Hasan Askari (a) had given me the glad tidings that I would see him at the end of my life and that I will be to him just as I was to Imam Hasan Askari (a) [. . .]”

Then on many nights I saw him descend from the attic and the light accompanied him. I used to open the door and follow the light, but I could only see a light and that person did not become visible to me, till he reached the courtyard of the Kaaba. I also saw men from various cities visit the house and hand over their letters to that old lady. I also saw her returning them to the letters along with their replies and spoke to them in a language, which I could not understand. I also met some of them on the way back home till I reached Baghdad. . .”[15]

What appears after taking into account all the reports, is that al-‘Amri and his son (the first two deputies) were famously known for their relations with the holy household, especially since Ja’far al-Kadhāb had unveiled all the confidentialities of the network of agents under Imam al-Askari (a) and so the alternative was to create another network of agents that could be the nexus to the rest of the Shia populace, which was the role of these women, the foremost being Lady Narjis (a).

I think its highly probable that the tip about her whereabouts was due to one of the agents who would frequent Muhammad ibn Uthmān al-Amri, and were considered trustworthy by everyone, but unfortunately, we do not have enough historical data about this.

Yes, we might have something that could support this hypothesis, and that is the appointment of the third emissary, Hussain ibn Ruh al-Nawbakhti. Sheikh al-Tusi reports that he was not known to have any significance amongst the agents of the 12th Imam.

Sheikh al-Tusi reports with his chain of narrators from Ja’far ibn Ahmad ibn Matīl:

Muhammad Ibn Uthman Abu Ja’far al-Amri had about ten people in Baghdad who carried out his work. Abul Qasim ibn Ruh was one of them. All of them were closer to him than Abul Qasim ibn Ruh so much so that when he needed something or had a task, he would have it fulfilled through someone else, because Ibn Ruh did not have that kind of proximity to him. When Abu Ja’far passed away, he (ibn Ruh) was chosen and the designation was for him.[16]

And he also says:

Our Shuyukh have reported saying: We did not have any doubt that if something should happen to Abu Ja’far, no one would take his place, except Ja’far ibn Ahmad ibn Matīl or his father, for he was Abu Ja’far’s confidant and was at his house mostly, such that towards the end of his life, Abu Ja’far did not eat any food unless it was prepared at the house of Ja’far ibn Ahmad ibn Matīl and his father, due to an incident that had occurred. His food was at the house of Ja’far and his father. Our scholars did not doubt that if something happened, the position will be handed to him.

When he passed away and Abul Qasim was selected, they submitted to him and did not reject him. They were all with him and at his service just as they were with Abu Ja’far. Ja’far ibn Ahmad ibn Matīl continued to serve Abu al-Qasim as his deputy until his death as he served Abu Ja’far al-Amri. Anyone who criticizes Abu al-Qasim in fact criticizes Abu Ja’far and finally criticizes the Divine Proof (Hujjah).[17]

In light of the analysis that we presented, the reason for choosing Hussain ibn Ruh was because he was not famously known amongst the people of Iraq as being a Shia, for he was very strong in his Taqiyyah:

Sheikh al Tusi reports that Abu Abdullah ibn Ghalib the father-in-law of Abul Hasan ibn Abi Tayyib said: I did not see anyone wiser than Shaykh Abu al-Qasim Husain ibn Ruh. I saw him one day in the house of Ibn Yasār. He had a great position before the Sayyid and the caliph. The Ahle Sunnat people also revered him. Abu al-Qasim attended that place due to dissimulation (Taqiyyah) and fear. I remember him whence two men were arguing; one was claiming that Abu Bakr was the best of the people after the Messenger of Allah (s) and then Umar and then Ali; while the other contended that Ali was better than Umar. Their debate became more intense. So, Abu al-Qasim said: “What the companions are unanimous upon is that the Siddiq comes first, then after him the Fārūq, and then after him Uthman, owner of the two lights, and then Ali, the Successor. Narrators of traditions uphold this. This is the correct belief according to us. Everyone there was perplexed by these words. Members of the Ahle Sunnat were raising him over their heads from gaiety and were praying for him and cursing those who were accusing him to be a Rafidi.[18]

And it has been reported from him that which is even greater than this:

Shaykh Abul Qasim discovered that his doorman had cursed Muawiyah. He ordered that he should be removed from his post. For a long time, the doorman was asking him to reinstate him, but by Allah, he did not. Someone from the houses took him and gave him employment. All of this was due to dissimulation (Taqiyyah).[19]

The hiddenness of this network of women, of whom Lady Narjis (a) was at the helm, made the circumstances such that a deputy had to be chosen who had some other qualities, the most important of which was that he should have a standing in all groups and should not be looked at suspiciously by any of the different factions.


[1] Kamal al-Din, p. 474

[2] Ithbāt al-Waṣiyah, p. 217

[3] Sharh al-Akhbār, 3/312

[4] Kamal al-Din, p. 476

[5] Kamāl al-Dīn, p. 476

[6] Kamāl al-Dīn, p. 474

[7] Al-Fasl fi Millal wa al-Nihal, p. 477

[8] Al-Kafi, 1:330

[9] Fihrist al-Najāshi, p. 248

[10] Mu’jam al-Shuarā, p. 453

[11] Al-Fasl fi al-Millal wa al-Nihal, 4/77

[12] Al-Fasl fi al-Milal wa al-Nihal, 4/77

[13] A’yān al-Shīah, 5:37

[14] Kamal al-Dīn, p. 501

[15] Ghaybah al-Tusi, p. 273

[16] Ghaybat al-Tusi, p. 369

[17] Ghaybat al-Tusi, p. 369

[18] Ghaybat al-Tusi, p. 384

[19] Ghaybat al-Tusi, p. 386