Occultation and Mahdawiyyat in the Writings of Shaykh al-Mufid (Part 1)

Originally written in Arabic by Sayyid Muḥammad Riḍā Ḥusaynī al-Jalālī and translated into Persian by Dr. Jūyā Jahānbakhsh[1]

Translated and Annotated into English by Muhammad Jaffer

Edited by Sayyid Burair Abbas

The question of the Twelfth Imām’s (as) ghaybah (occultation) features widely in the writings of Shaykh Muḥammad bin Muḥammad bin Nu’mān al-‘Ukbarī al-Mufīd (336-413 AH). He had authored several books and treatises on this topic, dealing with all the major questions surrounding the issue quite comprehensively. During the era of Shaykh al-Mufīd, academic studies regarding the ghaybah completely transformed—both in terms of the content and stylistics of disputation; more specifically, during the end of his lifetime, the question of the Imām’s (as) longevity came to the fore and became an integral part of the discussions concerning the occultation.

Shaykh al-Mufīd addressed all the contentions raised regarding the occultation in an altogether novel format, precipitating a paradigm shift in the field. His “Al-Fuṣūl al-‘Asharah fī al-Ghaybah” (The Ten Epistles Regarding the Occultation) represents one of the most holistic and comprehensive treatments regarding the ghaybah. What follows is a translation of some segments from the book “Naẓarāt fī Turāth al-Shaykh al-Mufīd,” authored by Sayyid Muḥammad Riḍā Ḥusaynī al-Jalālī.

The “occultation of the Imām” is one of the discussions peculiar to the Twelver Shī’ites in the current clime, seeing as how Imāmī Shī’ism is the only sect which has uniquely adopted this belief. Imāmī Shī’ites believe that the Imām of the current age is the self-same Twelfth Imām: Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-‘Askarī, who was born in the year 255 AH. By the will and permission of God, he remains alive and is the “Mahdī” who will reappear and fill the Earth with justice after it had been plagued with oppression. He is the same promised “al-Muntaẓar” (the Awaited One) that every nation has been anxiously awaiting to reform all the corruption on Earth.

The belief of the Shī’ah regarding the occultation has become the scorn of their adversaries, who mock them with a flurry of castigations and criticisms in its wake. As such, since the beginning of the occultation, Shī’ah scholars have taken it upon themselves to defend this conviction, mounting a plethora of arguments against the contentions raised. Among these are as follows:

The Traditionist Style Based on Narrations

This style is characterized by presenting the various evidentiary texts (al-nuṣūṣ) that substantiate the occultation and affirm it as a necessary belief. These reports, which are hyper-corroborated (mutawātir) from both Shī’ah and Sunnī narrators, are not possible for one to deny. As such, we see al-Kulaynī (d. 329 AH), al-Nu’mānī (d. 333 AH), al-Ṣadūq (d. 381 AH), and others composing their works regarding the ghaybah on this paradigm. Scholars among the Sunnīs have also composed works about the Mahdi (as) employing this same style.[2]

The Theological Style of Rational Disputation

This style is characterized by presenting rational arguments and theoretical discussions concerning the occultation; in this style, one seeks to demonstrate that belief in the ghaybah does not contradict any of the major nor minor tenets of the creed. The various rational contentions and doubts that are raised in this vein are addressed. Among the Shī’ah theologians, we may reference ibn Qibah al-Rāzī (d. 319 AH), Abū Sahl al-Nawbakhtī (337-411 AH), Shaykh al-Mufīd (circa 336-413 AH), Sayyid al-Murtaḍā (355-436 AH), etc. as major contributors.

Combining Traditionist and Theological Approaches

In this style, theological disputation is mixed with reliance on the narrations, effectively fusing the two aforementioned approaches. The forerunners of this style included the father of al-Ṣadūq, al-Shaykh ‘Alī ibn Bābawayh al-Qummī (d. 329 AH), in his Kitāb al-Imāmah wa al-Tabṣirah min al-Ḥayrah. We may also cite Shaykh al-Tūsī’s (375-460 AH) methodology in his Kitāb al-Ghaybah.

Of course, the above categorization does not necessarily imply that every scholar only employed a single method; we are only speaking of the predominant proclivities found within their works. Otherwise, we may surmise that each of the personalities mentioned relied upon a combination of narrations and theological reasoning to substantiate their thesis: the muḥaddith uses the rational disputation of the mutakallim and the mutakallim cites ḥadīth to support his theological rationale.

In any case, the discussion regarding the ghaybah features quite prominently in a range of Shaykh al-Mufīd’s works; he has written several treatises to address this issue, dealing with a separate aspect of the occultation in each. His “Al-Fuṣūl al-‘Asharah” (The Ten Epistles) was written with exactly this purpose in mind: to answer several popular contentions surrounding the occultation.

Shaykh al-Mufīd in his writings takes advantage of the work done by his predecessors; to the extent of our knowledge, we will plan to allude to the preceding works he utilized in his writings. However, during the time of Shaykh al-Mufīd the discussions regarding the occultation took up an altogether different approach and style. By the end of al-Mufīd’s life, approximately 150 years (260-410 AH) had elapsed since the start of occultation. A lifetime this prolonged was considered atypical during the time of al-Mufīd; in this context, the question of the Imām’s longevity naturally arose.

Therefore, the belief in the occultation came to transcend a merely theological discussion; rather, a question of natural history also became palpable.

Most of the prior efforts of theologians such as Ibn Qibah and al-Nawbakhtī focused upon questions such as the nativity of the Imām (as), his providential existence, how to benefit from him, etc.  However, during the era of al-Mufīd, some individuals emerged who said that even if the Imām was born, his providential existence is substantiated, and some have benefitted from his existence, it is not possible for him to have lived this long!

Al-Mufīd expertly gleaned from his antecedents to answer these novel contentions, implementing the self-same rational force and precision. He sought to answer all the major contentions that could be raised about the occultation with his usual intellectual composure and inimitable style. Through cutting these contentions from their very roots and employing a powerful dialectical style, he dramatically advanced this polemic.

Let us proceed together to examine the major investigations found in his writings on the topic of the occultation:

The Ten Epistles Regarding the Ghaybah (Al-Fuṣūl al-‘Asharah fī al-Ghaybah)[3]

This book is one of the most detailed expositions of al-Mufīd regarding the question of the occultation. Anticipating all the major objections raised regarding the ghaybah, it endeavors to investigate and address them as comprehensively as possible. In his introduction to the work, al-Mufīd has noted that his plethora of writings regarding the ghaybah had already been widely disseminated and gained fame among both the Sunni and Shī’ah. Perhaps he is referencing his other four treatises that we will discuss after surveying this one.[4]

A crucial point mentioned in the introduction, despite its brevity, is an elaboration of the intellectual framework al-Mufīd takes as a given in resolving the question of the ghaybah. He states, “ The question of the ghaybah and the ontological necessity of an Imām is most certainly a culmination of precursory discussions regarding the following: 1) establishing the existence of Imāmah as an institution; 2) substantiating the Imams’ infallibility, exceptionality, perfection, and merit; 3) believing in their impeccable moral traits and the miracles they produced to substantiate their appointment; and 4) accepting the textual evidences from God and His Holy Prophet (al-nuṣūṣ) regarding them.”

This paradigm is employed by al-Mufīd in all his other treatises, and Sharīf al-Murtaḍā adopts and expands on this same methodology in his book “Al-Muqni’ fī al-Ghaybah” (The Gratifier Regarding the Occultation).[5]

Moreover, we glean that this book was an answer to personal questions posed to al-Mufīd by one of his acquaintances whom he describes as, “one who deserves the truth, highly esteemed, regarding whose piety I am confident.” In some old manuscripts, we find the name of this personality recorded as “Al-Ra’īs Abū al-‘Alā’ ibn Tāj al-Malik.”[6]

In the prologue, al-Mufīd presents all the relevant questions and then proceeds one-by-one devoting a separate epistle to answering each contention. Briefly, we will aim to present the contentions and the abridged answers provided by al-Mufīd for each:

Epistle One: How is it that the Imamites Claim Imām Ḥasan al-‘Askarī (as) Possessed A Son Born in His Lifetime, Whose Birth and Existence Was Completely Hidden from All of His Other Relatives?

In addressing this contention, al-Mufīd states: Imām al-Mahdī’s existence being kept a secret is not at all far-fetched or unprecedented. Rather, it has also occurred in the past that due to a specific rational exigency, the birth of some individuals had been hidden from even their closest relatives. Over here, one may consider the example of some previous kings who kept the existence of their progeny hidden.

Shaykh al-Mufīd discusses the example of the legendary Iranian king Kay Khosrow, whose mother hid his birth and existence from his grandfather, despite all the latter’s attempts to locate him. He alludes to the fact that al-Ṭabarī himself also mentions this anecdote within his historical work.[7]

Al-Mufīd also notes that in antiquity, there had been many a person whose lineage was only established after his father passed away. Under the pretext of some exigency, the father had kept his birth a secret such that no one at all knew he had a son.[8] Later, this fact is only established based on the testimony of two Muslims who secretly had borne witness to the lineage, or the need to clarify his genealogy for the purposes of administering the Sharī’ah.[9]

Al-Mufīd then mentions many such examples such as the clandestine birth of the Prophets Ibrāhīm and Mūsā, universally recognized as such by religious scholars.[10]

Thereafter, al-Mufīd states: why is it that the adversaries of the Imāmites build their objection against the existence of Imām al-Mahdī upon the premise of it being hidden? This is all the while the motives for his clandestine nativity were even more pressing than any other of the above circumstances?!

Then al-Mufīd notes that the validity of the birth of Imām al-Mahdī (as) has been established on a basis even more stringent than the lineages of anyone else. Normally, lineage may be established based on the testament of a mid-wife or other women who are present for the birth; it is established by the father; or it is established by the testament of two Muslim individuals that the lineage was confided to them by the father.

Meanwhile, the birth of Imām al-‘Askarī’s son has been established by the most well-established means by which genealogies are ascertained: the testimony of a large group of pious and religious individuals that Imām al-‘Askarī showed them his son and indicated to them that he was the next Imām. Similarly, it is well-attested that some of them witnessed him both in his childhood and his youth.[11]

Al-Mufīd then states: I have already mentioned a number of the trustworthy and most bosom companions of Imām Ḥasan al-‘Askarī (as) about whom it is known they made contact with the Twelfth Imām. I have mentioned this in a number of my writings including al-Irshād fī Ma’rifat Ḥujaj Allāh ‘alā al-‘Ibād (The Guide Regarding the Recognition of the Proofs of God on His Servants) and al-Īḍāḥ fī al-Imāmah wa al-Ghaybah (The Clarification Regarding the Imamate and the Occultation).[12]

Epistle Two: If the Imamites Are Correct, Why did the Brother of Imām al-‘Askarī (as), Ja’far ibn ‘Alī, Deny the Testimony that His Brother Had Begotten a Son and Claim al-‘Askarī’s Inheritance for Himself?

In response, al-Mufīd states that such a happenstance should not so much as raise a contention for those who are intelligent, let alone qualify as an argument. The ummah is unanimous that Ja’far was not infallible—therefore his rejection of the truth and false claims should not engender any confusion. Rather he was an ordinary individual who was amenable to perpetrating major mistakes, false aims, and perverse objectives.

Similarly, the sons of Ya’qūb behaved insolently in their ill treatment of Yūsuf and their creating anxiety and angst for their father—this is notwithstanding that they were the progeny of a Prophet! In regards to someone like Ja’far who was less than them in religiosity and wealth, why should one find such a situation objectionable?

Additionally, there were clear motives that led Ja’far to deny his nephew’s existence, such as his desire to usurp the vast estate and inheritance of his brother, to claim his coveted Imamate, and to seize the religious tithes (al-khums) that his representatives had collected during and after his lifetime.

Raising this contention is akin to the claim of the polytheists in rejecting the call of the Holy Prophet by using the stance of his uncle Abū Lahab or Abū Jahal in rejecting his prophethood! Of course, this example is still not befitting, for the proof of the Holy Prophet (saw) was crystal clear, while the means of Ja’far and his likes to know about the nativity of Imām Mahdī (as) was completely obscured and closed off! Therefore, whoever should still ignorantly insist on Ja’far’s rejection as proof ought to be completely rebuked and alienated from the scholarly elite.

Al-Mufīd then notes that the traditionists have mentioned the circumstances of Ja’far in a way that discloses the reality of why Ja’far rejected the Twelfth Imām.[13] However, he shall abstain from quoting this since all of the progeny of Ja’far ibn ‘Alī at his time have themselves submitted themselves to the belief in Imām Mahdī’s birth—he believes that out of respect and esteem for this group of sayyids, it is more appropriate to refrain from presenting these narrations.[14]

Epistle Three: If He Truly Had a Son, Why Did Imām al-‘Askarī (as) Entrust His Wealth and Estate to His Mother Ḥudayth (Umm al-Ḥasan) During the Infirmity Which Claimed His Life?

Al-Mufīd states that this does not cast any aspersion on Imām al-‘Askarī having a son; again, the purpose of hiding the birth of the Twelfth Imām was the exact same as those of previous kings in protecting their progeny from assassination. If he had mentioned having a son in his will, that would contradict the objective and would negate the entire plan of concealment. This is especially the case when we consider that some of the confidantes of the Abbasid Empire placed themselves in position to witness his bequeathal, such as the bondsman of al-Wāthiq billāh, the slave of Muḥammad bin Ma’mūn, Fatḥ ibn ‘Abd Rabbihi, and others.

Indeed, this is similar to the strategy of Imām al-Ṣādiq (as) in protecting his son Imam al-Kāẓim by bequeathing his property to five individuals: the Abbasid caliph Abū Ja’far al-Manṣūr, his chamberlain al-Rabī’, the chief judge of the time, his bondswoman Ḥumaydah al-Barbariyyah, and Imām al-Kāẓim (as). By so doing, he managed to protect the life of his son; he deliberately did not mention any other progeny because he knew they would claim the rank of Imamate.

Of course, if Imam Mūsā al-Kāẓim (as) had not already been well-recognized as the son of Imām al-Ṣādiq (as) and had his birth been consigned to secrecy, the 6th Imām would certainly not have mentioned him in his will.

This is evidentiary in understanding the purpose of Imām al-‘Askarī in bequeathing only to his mother, to the exclusion of his own progeny.

Epistle Four: What was The Motive For Hiding the Birth of The Twelfth Imām (as) While The Birth of His Forefathers Was Apparent? Those Imāms Had an Even Stronger Exigency to Perform Dissimulation Than Imām al-Askarī Owing to the Tyrants of Banū Umayyah and Banū ‘Abbās. Nonetheless, None of Them Went into Occultation and their Birth Was Not Hidden From Anyone!

The response of al-Mufīd is that the previous kings of that time knew the opinion of the Shī’ah Imāms regarding the importance of dissimulation (al-taqiyyah) and their banning their followers from armed uprising until the apparent signs of the Advent (al-ẓuhūr) were near. Since the preceding kings saw themselves safe from rebellion, they did not care about the existence or appearance of these Imāms; their followers were a meagre faction and did not pose them any immediate threat.

However, when the time approached for the Imām who would uproot the foundations of their oppression, regarding whom the Shī’ah were eagerly awaiting, they became hellbent on locating him and shedding his blood pre-emptively to eliminate the perceived threat against their government.

Al-Mufīd then states that even if we did not know the exact reason for why the previous Imāms were apparent while Imām Mahdī was placed in occultation, it would suffice for us that God knew the previous Imāms were safe in their being apparent and the Mahdī would be in danger by being apparent—this would then necessitate his being in occultation. It may also be said that for the previous Imāms, if they were to pass away there would be another Imām who would take their place; however, as it pertained to the Twelfth Imām (as), he is the final seal of the Imamate and there is no one to be his heir should he be killed.

Epistle Five: Regarding the Extraordinary Claim of the Imamites that No One Knows the Whereabouts of This Imām Throughout this Extended Period. Anyone Who Has Tried to Conceal Himself Before Has Not Been Able to Do So for More than Twenty Years; At Least Some of His Family Would Be Aware of His Location. Since The Claim of the Imamites Goes Against the Norm, it Must Be Invalid!

Al-Mufīd responds that it is invalid to claim that no one has seen the Twelfth Imām (as); rather, a sizeable number of the companions of his father Imām al-‘Askarī (as) met with Imām al-Mahdī during the lifetime of the 11th Imām himself. After Imam al-‘Askarī’s martyrdom, these individuals themselves became the trusted companions of the Twelfth Imām. During the period of occultation, these same individuals were the intermediaries between him and his Shī’ah. Religious teachings and communications were transmitted from him through these individuals. These individuals also became his representatives in collecting the religious tithes of the Shī’ah. This group was highly trusted by Imām al-‘Askarī during his lifetime and were considered his de facto representatives; he gave them jurisdiction over his estate and properties and they are known by name and by genealogy.

Such individuals include Abu ‘Amr ‘Uthmān ibn Sa’īd al-Sammān and his son Abū Ja’far Muḥammad ibn ‘Uthmān, the al-Raḥbā family in Nuṣaybīn, the Sa’īd and Mahziyār families in Ahwāz, the al-Rakūlī family in Kūfah, and the Nawbakht family in Baghdād; there were also a number of individuals from Qazwīn, Qum, and Northern Iraq. These individuals were highly intelligent, trustworthy, and noble, to such an extent that they were esteemed by even the Sulṭāns themselves.[15] [16]

After the demise of this vanguard, the narrations from the previous Imāms had already foretold the situation: that there would inevitably be two occultations, one of which would be longer than the other. During the shorter one, his close companions would be aware of his whereabouts while in the longer occultation, none of the laity would know his condition except for his most bosom supporters.[17] This had already been mentioned in the books of the Shī’ah before the last three Imāms, and the occurrence of these occultations validates the narrations in this regard.

Regardless, it should be said that not every human who is in occultation must necessarily have his whereabouts known by others!

Al-Mufīd gives the example here of Khiḍr (as), who took to traveling the Earth in worshipping God to escape the clutches of the oppressors. No one knows his location all the while there is unanimity among the traditionists that he has been living from the time of Prophet Mūsā (as) until today. He also presents the absentia of Prophet Mūsā from Egypt when he fled from the Pharaoh and Prophet Yūsuf (as) whose whereabouts were unknown even to his own father Prophet Ya’qūb (as). He also gives the example of Prophet Yūnus (as), who disappeared from his people such that his whereabouts were not known to anyone except God. Finally, he cites the precedent of the Companions of the Cave and the Companion of the Donkey.[18]

All these circumstances and situations are exceptional and extraordinary; if the Qur’ān itself did not relate this to us then the adversaries of the Shī’ah would have hastened to reject them as well!

There are also similar accounts about extended occultations of kings from their subjects due to specific exigencies, after which they appeared. Al-Mufīd states he will not narrate these events because he knows that the enemies will quickly reject them. He therefore relies on the Qur’ān, because Muslims are unanimous about it and his opponents also yield themselves to its account. He states that when the Qur’ān itself narrates such wondrous occurrences, what is the impediment in accepting the occultation of the Twelfth Imām?

Al-Mufīd ends this epistle remarking that those who mock the belief in the Twelfth Imām’s occultation are truly hypocritical and are employing a double standard.

Epistle Six: Regarding the Extraordinary Claim of the Imamites Regarding His Longevity, from 255 AH to 401 AH. His Life is Nearly 155 Years Long and No One Has Ever Lived that Long.

It is not the case that this has never happened before in antiquity; in some periods of time, this type of longevity was not atypical. Indeed, that which has a precedent cannot be deemed impossible in latter epochs. Even if this had never happened in the past though, it cannot be deemed outside of the omnipotence of God to actuate such a circumstance.

At this point, al-Mufīd presents several individuals among both Arabs and non-Arabs who were known to have had very extended lives.[19] He relates these examples from his book, “Al-Īḍāḥ fī al-Imāmah.”[20] He mentions the example of Salmān al-Fārisī (rh) who is widely recognized by those of knowledge as having seen ‘Īsā and having passed away at the time of ‘Umar in Madā’in.[21]

Epistle Seven: There is No Need for a Hidden Imām Because His Existence is Like Non-Existence: No One Is Able to Meet with Him and He Cannot Establish God’s Laws. He Cannot Guide Anyone, Enjoin Good/Forbid Evil, or Call Towards Jihād.

Occultation does not contradict the need of having someone who is the guardian of the Sharī’ah and the creed. Can you not see that the Shī’ah themselves have taken up the responsibility for dissemination of religious teachings, such that he himself does not need to do so? The same applies to administering corporal punishments and application of religious edicts; sometimes, the representatives of the Imāms are given the discretion to implement them. This same logic applies to the issue of jihād; in fact, this applied even in the times of the Prophets, who had appointed deputees to command their batallions.

Therefore, whenever there is someone who stands up to represent the creed on the Imām’s behalf, the immediate responsibility is alleviated from the Imām (as) and he may remain covert.[22] In contrast, when all individuals refuse to do so and become perverse in their religious duties, he must re-appear to assume the responsibility for himself.

It is precisely because of this reason that his existence becomes rationally necessary; his non-existence or demise would preclude him from protecting the religion and therefore it is reprehensible.

Secondly, given that the Imām has gone into occultation due to the threat of enemy forces, the culpability for the non-implementation of the creed and the stagnation of its edicts falls on these oppressors themselves. However, if God caused the Imām to die or eliminated him, the responsibility for the deviation of the ummah would fall upon God the Almighty Himself. It is of course completely unacceptable that God should precipitate ruination or cause disorder.[23]

Epistle Eight: The Claim of the Imāmīs Regarding the Ghaybah is The Same as the Wāqifites, the Kaysanites, the Nāwūsites, and the Ismā’ilīs in Their Beliefs About their Hidden Imāms,[24] as Well as Some of the Zaydīs Regarding the Belief of Their Imāms like Yaḥyā bin ‘Umar,[25] Who Was Killed. All These Claims are Invalid, and Therefore the Claim of the Imamites is Also Invalid.

The death or murder of the aforementioned personalities was supported by eyewitness testimony. The Imāms that came after them, whose Imamate was substantiated by the same proof as their predecessors, gave witness to their demise. Denying such clearly perceived events is invalid in the view of the rationalists.

However, this is in contrary to the claim regarding the Twelfth Imām (as): his existence is not refuted by any eyewitness testimony, perceivable fact, or another legitimate Imām who has attested to the falsity of his occultation.

The reader should note that we do not reject the occultation of these other personalities on the basis of the length of their absence; this would otherwise become a proof against us given the length of the occultation of our Twelfth Imām (as).

Epistle Nine: The Imamites Profess That God Almighty Has Hidden the Imām Out of His Providence and They Believe That As Long as God Continues To Test Mankind, He Will Always Carry Out What Is Prudent For their Guidance and He Will Never Leave Their Religious Needs Unmet. This Directly Contradicts Their Claim that the Imām is the Completion of Religious Guidance and that He is the Securer of God’s Plan.

Al-Mufīd answers that what is in the public’s best interest (al-maṣlaḥah) varies with the situation and is not homogenous. Rather, when a wise individual carefully analyzes a situation seeking the best outcome, his plan will change in accordance with the circumstances. He proposes the example of God in holding his creation to task in recognizing his Unity and belief in his Prophets; by default, this is what is in their best interests. However, if they are constrained such that their lives would be threatened by openly declaring monotheism, it becomes their best interest to conceal this belief from others.                                                                                                           

This applies equally for the presence of the Imāms; they are in the public’s advantage so long as the nation obeys them and supports them; however, if the nation should turn their backs on the Imāms and seek to annihilate them, the nation’s best interest is in the occultation of the Imām.

Al-Mufīd then remarks that the Mu’tazilites, the Murji’ites, the Zaydites, and the Jabarites[26] all believe that the ummah’s best interest dictates selecting an Imām, however they relent that in the setting of oppression one is considered excused from doing so and the social interest (al-maṣlaḥah) is to abstain from selecting an Imām. He exclaims that the double standard is quite shocking here: while these adversaries make this allowance for themselves, they deem it contradictory when the Imamites propose the same in reference to the occultation.

As al-Mufīd states, God has allowed the occultation to take place, and this implies that this is the wiser decision and that it is more fitting for the management of worldly and religious affairs.

Epistle Ten: If the Imam Is In Occultation From his Birth Until He Reappears, Creation Has No Way to Recognize Him Upon His Reappearance and Cannot Differentiate Between Him and Others, Except By Way of Miracle. If God Does Not Show Miracles to Substantiate His Imamate, No One will Be Able To Recognize Him. However, Miracles At the Hand of Other than The Prophets Is Invalid, Because Miracles Are Exclusively A Sign of Prophethood and there is No Other Prophet after Prophet Muḥammad (saw).

The Awaited Imām possesses certain signs that indicate his Imamate, which have been narrated from his pious forefathers. Among these are the uprising of the Sufyānī, the appearance of the Dajjāl, the murder of a Ḥasanī Sayyid who will rise up from Madīnah, the sinkhole at Baydā’, etc. Most of these signs have been narrated by both the Sunni and the Shī’ah, going back to the Holy Prophet (saw).[27] This in itself is a sign for the validity of what the Imamites profess regarding the belief in the occultation.

Granted that miracles are not specific to prophethood; rather, they essentially indicate the truthfulness of a summoner regarding that which he is summoning towards. If this summoner is calling towards his own prophethood, then these signs and miracles are proofs of it; if it is towards his Imamate, then these become proofs of his Imāmate. Of course, after the Prophets, miracles are specific to those who possess infallibility.

For example, God bestowed sustenance unto Maryam from Heaven while she was neither a Prophet nor a Messenger.[28] Rather, she was among God’s chosen and immaculate servants. Similarly, God states that he gave revelation to the mother of Mūsā while revelation is among the miracles of the Prophets and she was not among them.[29]

In conclusion, al-Mufīd states that in his book, “Al-Bāhir fī al-Mu’jizāt,” he has clarified how to discern the signification of miracles, how they are applied, and their objective. He has also included a substantial portion of this discussion in his book “al-Īḍāḥ.”

Al-Mufīd then concludes his work with the following insignia:

فهذه جملة الفصول التي ضمنت إثبات معانيها، ليتضح بذلك الحق فيها، ليعتبر به ذوي الألباب، وقد وفيت بضماني في ذلك، والله الموفق للصواب وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد النبي وآله، وسلم كثيرا، ولا حول ولا قوة إلا بالله العلي العظيم وحده وحده

“This is the completion of the epistles whose exposition I pledged to clarify, in order to reveal the truth regarding these points and so that those imbued with intellect may reflect therein. I have fulfilled my pledge in this regard. Indeed, God is the Facilitator of (all) Veracity. May He Bless our Lord the Prophet Muḥammad and his progeny and bestow upon them peace in abundance. And there is no power or strength except in God Alone, the Almighty the Exalted!”


[1] We have relied on Dr. Jahānbakhsh’s translation here, which is itself adapted from Sayyid Muḥammad Riḍā al-Jalālī’s “Naẓarāt fī Turāth al-Shaykh al-Mufīd,” pages 132-167.

[2] For instance, consider the work of Muḥammad bin Yūsuf al-Ganjī al-Shāfi’ī entitled, “Al-Bayān fī Akhbār Ṣāḥib al-Zamān.”

[3] In translating this portion of the Persian text, we have availed ourselves of the Arabic original version of al-Mufīd’s work, critically edited by al-Shaykh Fāris al-Ḥasūn, published in 1413 AH by al-Mu’tamar al-‘Ālamī. May Allāh reward the editor generously.

[4] A summary of these works will be translated in Part 2 of this article. They consist of: 1) a treatise regarding the Ḥadīth about dying a death of ignorance without recognition of one’s Imām; 2) an investigation regarding the proof for the existence of the Twelfth Imām during his occultation; 3) a treatise about the difference between an apparent and a hidden Imām; and 4) an investigation about the narration about the advent of the Imām being contingent on his helpers being equivalent to the Prophet’s army at Badr.

[5] One should realize that the Shī’ah theologians of Baghdād rose to prominence within a specific context that intersected with Mu’tazilite theology, and thus their reasoning is highly technical and difficult to comprehend for those who are uninitiated.

[6] Unfortunately, this personality is not mentioned in the Shī’ah books of tarājim and his identity remains unknown.

[7] The reference here is to Muḥammad bin Jarīr al-Tabarī’s Tārīkh al-Umam wa al-Mulūk, volume 1 pages 504-509. While we know today that the story of Kay Khosrow is simply a legend, this does not at all negatively impact al-Mufīd’s invoking it as an example here. He means to say that historians likes of al-Tabarī considered Kay Khosrow’s account believable and possible, and this therefore supports the plausibility of hiding a child’s birth from relatives.

[8] Al-Mufīd proposes many examples here such as one of a secret concubine who gives birth to a son, who is kept hidden by the father to avoid creating discord in his family. He also proposes the example of a father who seeks to hide the existence of his son to protect him from avaricious relatives, greedy to embezzle his estate.

[9] For instance, in issues where clarifying the genealogy is important such as in bequeathment, marriage, or licit relations. This is alluded to in the narration from Imām al-Ṣadiq (as):
هشام بن سالم عن أبي عبد الله قال: إنما جعلت البينات للنسب والمواريث

“Hishām bin Sālim narrates from Abū ‘Abd Allāh: “Witness testimony was established for the sake of lineage and inheritance.” (al-Kāfī, 5:387, adapted from Hossein Modarresi’s “Text and Interpretation”)

[10] This has been mentioned by al-Tabarī in his Tārīkh, volume 1 page 234

[11] As narrated from Abū Sahl al-Nawbakhtī in al-Ṣadūq’s Ikmāl al-Dīn, pages 92-93

[12] The first book is also known as “Kitāb al-Irshād” and documents the history of the Twelve Imāms (as), the textual proofs of their Imamate, their miracles, and some anecdotes about their lives, births, martyrdoms, the length of their lives, and some of their companions. It has been translated into English and can be found freely online. The second book “Kitab al-Īḍāḥ” is devoted to rebutting the Sunnī arguments about the caliphate and establishing the proofs about the Imāmate of the Infallibles. This book is rare with one manuscript available in the library of Sayyid Rājah Muḥammad Mahdī in Fayẓābād, India.

[13] For instance, see Kamāl al-Dīn volume 2 pages 383-484 and al-Biḥār volume 50 pages 227-232. There are also some narrations which indicate that Ja’far later did tawbah.

[14] This is indeed a beautiful point of the highest etiquette demonstrated by Shaykh al-Mufīd in honoring the family of the Holy Prophet. In other words, he would not want to even malign their grandfather despite the clear wrongdoing that he committed as it may hurt their feelings in the process.

[15] Al-Mufīd is referencing the complex web of representatives (al-wukalā’) that met and corresponded with the Twelfth Imām during the minor occultation. These individuals included the four envoys (al-sufarā): ‘Uthmān ibn Sa’īd, Muḥammad bin ‘Uthmān, Ḥusayn ibn Rawḥ, and Ali ibn Muḥammad al-Samurī. Aside from these individuals, there were nearly 50-60 other individuals who are documented to have seen the Twelfth Imām; for more details, refer to al-Ṣadūq’s Kamāl al-Dīn volume 2 pages 442-443.

[16] Of note, there have been some recent writers, such as Aḥmad al-Kātib, who have proposed that the entire institution of the wakālat was an elaborate conspiracy. They state that the Twelfth Imām is not real and that the Shī’ah just made up this belief to rationalize their theological presuppositions. We are currently working on an article to answer this contention, God-willing.

[17] This is a very interesting statement from al-Mufīd, suggesting he believes that there are a select group who do know of the Imām’s whereabouts. In the original Arabic, he states:
ولا يعرف العام له مستقرا في الطولى إلا من تولى خدمته من ثقاة أوليائه ولم ينقطع عنه إلى الاشتغال بغيره

“The laity do not know his location in the longer occultation, except for those who take up his service from the most trusted of his followers, not ever breaking themselves away to serve other than him.”  

[18] The Companion of the Donkey being alluded to here is a reference to the Qur’ān chapter 2 verse 259. The commentators differ regarding the identity of this individual, some claiming it is Prophet ‘Uzayr; others say he is the Prophet Jeremiah or the Prophet Khiḍr. Finally, some propose that this was actually a disbeliever (cf. Daqā’iq al-Ta’wīl wa Ḥaqā’iq al-Tanzīl of Abū al-Makārim Ḥasanī al-Rāzī, ed. Dr. Jūyā Jahānbakhsh page 24).

[19] Among these individuals are Adam and Nūḥ, who are narrated to have had lifespans of nearly a thousand years (cf Sūrah al-‘Ankabūt verse 14 for the latter Prophet).

[20] Among these individuals, he mentions Luqmān who is said to have lived for nearly 3500 years.

[21] Salmān al-Fārisī has been mentioned to have lived for at least 250 years by many Muslim historians, as he is mentioned to have been the waṣiyy of Prophet ‘Īsā (as). Some historians such as al-Dhahabī in his Siyar A’lām al-Nubalā’ have critiqued this view and stated that Salmān was approximately 80 years old when he passed away. Nonetheless, al-Mufīd’s point remains that when the non-Shī’ah are prepared to ascribe such long lives to others, why do they raise qualms when it comes to the Twelfth Imām?

[22] Al-Mufīd is alluding to the institution of al-niyābah al-‘āmmah (general deputyship), which obviates the need for the Imām to actively administer the Sharī’ah and allows jurisconsults (marāji’) to do so on his behalf.

[23] A similar answer has been provided by Abu Sahl al-Nawbakhtī in al-Ṣadūq’s Ikmāl al-Dīn (page 90).

[24] The Wāqifites believed in the occultation of Imām al-Kāẓim (as); the Kaysanites believed in the occultation of Muḥammad bin Ḥanafiyyah (rh); the Nāwūsites believed in the occultation of Imām al-Ṣādiq (as); the Ismā’īlīs believed in the occultation of Muḥammad bin Ismā’īl.

[25] Yaḥyā ibn ‘Umar ibn Yaḥyā ibn al-Ḥusayn ibn Zayd ibn ‘Alī was a revolutionary activist who arose during the era of al-Mutawakkil in the year 235 AH; he was eventually killed in 250 AH. His revolt had an interesting sequel in that the leader of the Zanj Rebellion, ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad, claimed to be his reincarnation in 255 AH.

[26] These were all theological opponents of the Imamites during the time of al-Mufīd. A detailed explanation of these groups is beyond the scope of this piece, however in brief the Mu’tazilites were a group of theologians who believed in rationality as an independent epistemic source. The Murji’ites were a group of individuals who believed that correct belief is the only prerequisite for salvation. The Jabrites were a large faction who believed in the doctrine of predestination and refuted independent volition.

[27] For more details, refer to the book al-Imām al-Mahdī ‘inda Ahl al-Sunnah in Arabic, in 2 volumes.

[28] Sūrah Āli ‘Imrān verses 37-38

[29] Sūrah al-Qaṣaṣ verse 7