Updated December 23rd, 2020 – a 7th observation has been added to the list of critiques.
A number of people have been messaging me for a while, asking me about a narration regarding the city of Qom and its position during the occultation of the 12th Imam (a). It is simply beyond me why such weak and solitary narrations are still quoted, and people’s emotions are played with and why we continue to build ideologies and perceptions amongst the community which are based on such weak and baseless narrations.
It is far more productive to spend some time learning about the sciences of ḥadīth, the methods of verifying narrations, the role of solitary reports and their probative or truth value, learning a bit about early Islamic history, the different trends and schools of Kufa, Baghdad and Qom and the conflicts between these trends and so on, before popularizing traditions which are so low grade in value that it is not even worth entertaining them.
The narration apparently says that during the final days of the occultation, the city of Qom will become the center of knowledge and that is where the truth will spread from all over the world.
The issue isn’t that some of the facts mentioned in the narration may actually be true – Qom is one of the major hubs of Shī‘ī learning, perhaps far more superior and resourceful from a considerable number of aspects than most other seminaries in the world today. The number, variety and diversity of teachers most likely won’t be found in any other seminary, and the quantitative output of research is most likely unmatched. This is not the issue. The problem is the attribution of this narration to an Imam (a) simply because a few elements in it happen to be true today, using it as a basis within an argument against others, pushing weak standards for what constitutes truth in our communities, and creating false impressions of rivalry and division amongst the seminaries and believers. Just the fact that a few elements of a tradition are true, does not mean the tradition itself is true – there is no necessary relationship between the two.
This is a very dangerous way to verify traditions, particularly those that concern the end of times, eschatological traditions, signs of the reappearance of the Imam (a) and so on. Not having a consistent and strong methodology of verifying or understanding narrations is what leads to the formation of groups like that of Aḥmad al-Hasan’s in Iraq, the founder of the Anṣār al-Mahdī, whose followers consider him to be the Yamānī, using many similar traditions and applying them on certain events that happen to be in accordance with some of these reports. Followers of this group are not just limited to the Middle East and Iran, but rather they exist in concerning numbers even in Europe and North America – I have personally engaged with some of them in dialogue. At one point in time a number of Shī‘ī orators were encouraging people to watch the infamous Arrivals series on YouTube, which makes use of all sorts of weak and unestablished reports, applying them on different personalities, and a short while later when people like Aḥmad al-Hasan and his followers also started applying these reports on themselves, these some orators and speakers had no choice but to start calling out “weak narrations”, “fabricated”, “can’t be trusted”. Why not just have a consistent methodology to begin with, instead of constantly shifting the goalposts and becoming an embarrassment for the Shī‘ī scholarly tradition?
The Full Tradition In Question
First, let us look at the narration being analyzed completely rather than just looking at some excerpts from it:
وَ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ قُتَيْبَةَ الْهَمْدَانِيِّ وَ الْحَسَنِ بْنِ عَلِيٍّ الكشمارجاني [الْكَمْشَارِجَانِيِ] عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ النُّعْمَانِ عَنْ أَبِي الْأَكْرَادِ عَلِيِّ بْنِ مَيْمُونٍ الصَّائِغِ عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع قَالَ:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ احْتَجَّ بِالْكُوفَةِ عَلَى سَائِرِ الْبِلَادِ وَ بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ مِنْ أَهْلِهَا عَلَى غَيْرِهِمْ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْبِلَادِ وَ احْتَجَّ بِبَلْدَةِ قُمَّ عَلَى سَائِرِ الْبِلَادِ وَ بِأَهْلِهَا عَلَى جَمِيعِ أَهْلِ الْمَشْرِقِ وَ الْمَغْرِبِ مِنَ الْجِنِّ وَ الْإِنْسِ وَ لَمْ يَدَعِ اللَّهُ قُمَّ وَ أَهْلَهُ مُسْتَضْعَفاً بَلْ وَفَّقَهُمْ وَ أَيَّدَهُمْ ثُمَّ قَالَ إِنَّ الدِّينَ وَ أَهْلَهُ بِقُمَّ ذَلِيلٌ وَ لَوْ لَا ذَلِكَ لَأَسْرَعَ النَّاسُ إِلَيْهِ فَخَرِبَ قُمُّ وَ بَطَلَ أَهْلُهُ فَلَمْ يَكُنْ حُجَّةً عَلَى سَائِرِ الْبِلَادِ وَ إِذَا كَانَ كَذَلِكَ لَمْ تَسْتَقِرَّ السَّمَاءُ وَ الْأَرْضُ وَ لَمْ يُنْظَرُوا طَرْفَةَ عَيْنٍ وَ إِنَّ الْبَلَايَا مَدْفُوعَةٌ عَنْ قُمَّ وَ أَهْلِهِ وَ سَيَأْتِي زَمَانٌ تَكُونُ بَلْدَةُ قُمَ وَ أَهْلُهَا حُجَّةً عَلَى الْخَلَائِقِ وَ ذَلِكَ فِي زَمَانِ غَيْبَةِ قَائِمِنَا ع إِلَى ظُهُورِهِ وَ لَوْ لَا ذَلِكَ لَسَاخَتِ الْأَرْضُ بِأَهْلِهَا وَ إِنَّ الْمَلَائِكَةَ لَتَدْفَعُ الْبَلَايَا عَنْ قُمَّ وَ أَهْلِهِ وَ مَا قَصَدَهُ جَبَّارٌ بِسُوءٍ إِلَّا قَصَمَهُ قَاصِمُ الْجَبَّارِينَ وَ شَغَلَهُ عَنْهُمْ بِدَاهِيَةٍ أَوْ مُصِيبَةٍ أَوْ عَدُوٍّ وَ يُنْسِي اللَّهُ الْجَبَّارِينَ فِي دَوْلَتِهِمْ ذِكْرَ قُمَّ وَ أَهْلِهِ كَمَا نَسُوا ذِكْرَ اللَّهِ.
Muḥammad b. Qutaybah al-Hamdānī and Ḥasan b. ‘Alī al-Kashmārijānī from ‘Alī b. al-Nu‘mān from Abī al-Akrād ‘Alī b. Maymūn al-Ṣā’igh from Abī ‘Abdillah (a):
Allah will use Kufa as proof against the rest of the cities, and its believers against residents of other cities, and He will use the city of Qom as proof against all the cities and its residents against all of the people of the East and the West, from the Jinn and humans. Allah will not leave its people weak (mustaḍ’af), rather He will grant them success and assist them.
Then he (a) said: The religion and the people of Qom are despised, and if this was not the case, people would have rushed towards it and would have left Qom in ruins and its residents would have abandoned it, and it would not remain as a proof against all the cities. If that happens, the skies and earth will no longer remain stable, and no one would have an opportunity to blink.
Calamities are kept away from Qom and its residents. There will come a time when the city of Qom and its residents will be a proof against all of creation, and this will be in the time of the occultation of our Qā’im (a), until his (a) reappearance. If this is not the case, the earth will collapse alongside its residents.
The angels keep away calamities from Qom and its residents, and a tyrant does not approach the city with evil intent except that he will be smashed by Qāṣim al-Jabbārīn1 and He diverts catastrophes or calamities, or enemies away from them. Allah makes the tyrants forget the remembrance of Qom and its residents during their reign just like they have forgotten the remembrance of Allah.
With the same chain of transmission2, another narration is mentioned immediately as follows from Imam Ṣādiq (a) – it appears it is a continuation of a sort of the previous report:
ثُمَّ قَالَ وَ رُوِيَ بِأَسَانِيدَ عَنِ الصَّادِقِ ع أَنَّهُ ذُكِرَ كُوفَةُ وَ قَالَ سَتَخْلُو كُوفَةُ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَ يأزر [يَأْرِزُ] عَنْهَا الْعِلْمُ كَمَا تأزر [تَأْرِزُ] الْحَيَّةُ فِي جُحْرِهَا ثُمَّ يَظْهَرُ الْعِلْمُ بِبَلْدَةٍ يُقَالُ لَهَا قُمُّ وَ تَصِيرُ مَعْدِناً لِلْعِلْمِ وَ الْفَضْلِ حَتَّى لَا يَبْقَى فِي الْأَرْضِ مُسْتَضْعَفٌ فِي الدِّينِ حَتَّى الْمُخَدَّرَاتُ فِي الْحِجَالِ وَ ذَلِكَ عِنْدَ قُرْبِ ظُهُورِ قَائِمِنَا فَيَجْعَلُ اللَّهُ قُمَّ وَ أَهْلَهُ قَائِمِينَ مَقَامَ الْحُجَّةِ وَ لَوْ لَا ذَلِكَ لَسَاخَتِ الْأَرْضُ بِأَهْلِهَا وَ لَمْ يَبْقَ فِي الْأَرْضِ حُجَّةٌ فَيُفِيضُ الْعِلْمُ مِنْهُ إِلَى سَائِرِ الْبِلَادِ فِي الْمَشْرِقِ وَ الْمَغْرِبِ فَيَتِمُّ حُجَّةُ اللَّهِ عَلَى الْخَلْقِ حَتَّى لَا يَبْقَى أَحَدٌ عَلَى الْأَرْضِ لَمْ يَبْلُغْ إِلَيْهِ الدِّينُ وَ الْعِلْمُ ثُمَّ يَظْهَرُ الْقَائِمُ ع وَ يَسِيرُ سَبَباً لِنَقِمَةِ اللَّهِ وَ سَخَطِهِ عَلَى الْعِبَادِ لِأَنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَنْتَقِمُ مِنَ الْعِبَادِ إِلَّا بَعْدَ إِنْكَارِهِمْ حُجَّةً.
Kufa was mentioned, and he (a) said: Soon Kufa will become empty of the believers, and knowledge will leave it just as a snake goes out of its lair. Then the knowledge will appear in a land called Qom. It will become the center of knowledge and merits, until no one, not even the secluded women in the tents, will be unaware of the religion of God. This will be close to the time of the reappearance of our Qā’im. Allah will place Qom and its people in the place of the Ḥujjah, for if this was not the case, the earth will collapse alongside its people and there will be no proof left on earth. Knowledge will disseminate from it towards all the cities in the East and in the West, and with that, the proof of Allah will be completed upon the creation until no one on earth will remain except that religion and knowledge would have reached them. Thereafter the Qā’im will reappear and will become the cause for the revenge of Allah and His anger upon the servants because Allah does not avenge the servants except after they reject the proof.3
Chain of Transmission
Before we analyze the content of this tradition, let us look at its chain of transmission.
1) Muḥammad b. Qutaybah al-Hamdānī and Ḥasan b. ‘Alī al-Kamshārijānī (or Kashmārijānī) are both unknown and unheard of in the extant Shī‘ī ḥadīth corpus. The scholars of Rijāl and bibliographical works have not mentioned them at all.
2) ‘Alī b. Nu‘mān: This could either be:
a) the Kufan reliable transmitter ‘Alī b. Nu‘mān al-A‘lam al-Nakha‘ī who transmits from Imam Riḍa (a),4
b) ‘Alī b. Nu‘mān al-Ju‘fī who Shaykh Tūsī puts in the section of the companions of Imam Ṣādiq (a) but does not offer any description of him whatsoever and it is important to note that this name does not appear in some of the manuscripts of Shaykh Tūṣī’s al-Rijāl. In any case, he is an unknown figure.
c) ‘Alī b. Nu‘mān al-Rāzī5 who is also unknown.
If ‘Alī b. Nu‘mān is (a), then there needs to be a narrator between him and Abū al-Akrād (the next transmitter) since former is from Imam Riḍa’s (a) generation and the latter is from Imam Ṣādiq’s (a) generation (and at most from the early years of Imam Kāẓim). In this case, there is a high chance that the chain is broken.
If ‘Alī b. Nu‘mān is (b), then even though both transmitters are from the same generation, al-Ju‘fī is unknown.
In both scenarios, the transmission will have a degree of weakness in it.
3) Abū al-Akrād ‘Alī b. Maymūn al-Ṣā’igh: He is from the companions of Imam Bāqir (a) and Ṣādiq (a), and it appears he may have transmitted from Imam Kāẓim (a) as well. Scholars have differed over his trustworthiness, a number of major scholars leaning towards his weakness,6 while others have accepted his narrations.7
Conclusion: Other than Abū al-Akrād who is supposedly narrating this from Imam Ṣādiq (a), all other narrators are absolutely unknown, or there is a possible narrator missing in the chain. This is a very weak chain, containing individuals who do not appear in our main books of ḥadīth, some of them have not been mentioned in any of the bibliographical works of the scholars of Rijāl, while the names of others have been mentioned without any description whatsoever.
There are serious issues with the content of this tradition which makes us very convinced that this narration was not uttered by the Imam (a):
1) The narration is contradicting a very significant and established theological belief of the Twelver Shī‘a who believe that an infallible Imam (a) has to remain on earth at all times, or else “the earth will collapse alongside its people” as there will be no proof left on earth. In the occultation, it is the Mahdī (a) who remains a living ḥujjah (proof) and it is only through him that anyone else amongst his followers is granted any authority (for example, a certain degree of authority given to the jurists – as has been derived from one of the letters of the Imam (a) when he tells an individual to refer to the narrators of the ḥadīth in the occultation).
The report regarding Qom is indicating that in the occultation, it is not the Mahdī (a) who remains the ḥujjah, rather the people of Qom replace him (a) as a ḥujjah over all of creation until his reappearance. There are over dozen narrations in our primary books of ḥadīth that convey the complete opposite belief, in which it is an infallible Imam (a) who remain as a ḥujjah and it is only with his (a) existence on earth (whether present or in occultation) that the earth will not collapse. These narrations are popularly referred to as the narrations of “sākhat al-arḍ bi-ahlihā.”
A solitary and weak report such as this has no value against an established theological belief, and its utterance from an Imam (a) is highly susceptible.
2) The report mentions that Allah (swt) and the angels keep calamities away from the city of Qom, this is while the city of Qom has been struck with various calamities throughout the centuries, whether it be floods, famines, droughts, or plagues. The most evident example of this is what we are seeing today with the coronavirus. The Persian famine of 1870-1872 during the Qajar era is also well documented, and we have very explicit descriptions of the events that occurred in various cities. When speaking about Qom, most records show that the famine was so bad that many people had resorted to cannibalism and also ate dogs and cats – the detailed eye-witness accounts of some of these are too explicit to be shared here.8
The point being made here is that this report goes against events that have certainly occurred, Qom has been hit with calamities of all sorts over the centuries.
3) The report says that angels protect the city of Qom from the attacks and evil intents of any tyrant. This is while Qom was one of the cities that was bombed and raided during the imposed Iraq-Iran war and people were killed in these attacks. One could argue that the sanctions currently imposed on Iran by the evil tyrants, which makes life difficult for Iranians, or leads to the deaths of many in hospitals and creates many other hardships are also an instance of this – and Qom is no exception. Once again, this report goes against what we know and have been observing in our own lives.
4) There is some absurdity in the narration where on the one side Qom and its people are being praised and given a lofty position, and they are supposed to be the proof for all of humanity and jinns, yet Allah also makes them the most despised (dhalīl) people?
5) The report says that Allah (swt) makes the enemies of Qom forget about the city, just like they have forgotten the remembrance of Allah (swt). This is once again absurd, as Qom is perhaps one of the most significant cities in Iran that opponents of Iran are concerned with and we can observe this with our own eyes and ears today.
6) If someone is to offer an esoteric or allegorical interpretation, against the apparent wording of this report, for any of the above matters, then it behooves one to also offer a non-apparent meaning for the part which says that Qom will become the center of knowledge and merits.
7) The narration is being cited from the book Tārikh-e Qom of al-Ḥasan b. Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan al-Qumī (d. 4th/10th century), and we only have this narration in Farsi today. What we find in Biḥar al-Anwār of ‘Allāmah Majlisī is a translated Arabic version of the Farsi narration – we do not have the original Arabic narration today. Now when we look at the original Farsi, the narration actually says events such as the transfer of knowledge from Kufa to Qom will happen near the time of the Ghaybah – the Occultation – not near the time of the Ẓuhūr – the reappearance.9 This is a very important observation, and in fact in the original manuscript of Biḥār al-Anwār written in the handwriting of ‘Allāmah Majlisī which is stored in the Ayatollah Marashi Najafi Library (#9854), on page number #145, this same narration has been translated accurately as:
و ذلک عند قرب غیبة قائمنا
“…and that will happen near the occultation of our Qā’im.”
This in fact shows someone intentionally has tried to alter this sentence, which is very worrying, to make the narration about the reappearance and perhaps push certain agendas that they may have. Whereas, if this narration was reliable – and not a fabrication – in hindsight we would find this phenomenon of knowledge transferring from Kufa to Qom near the time of the occultation to be a historical fact.
In other words, the Farsi narration which is what we have today, and which is what was translated into Arabic and also documented by Majlisī does not even have anything to do with the reappearance of the Mahdi (a), and instead, it has to do with the signs of the occultation!
Conditions for Applying a Sign of the Reappearance on an External Phenomenon
If we do happen to come across a report which we believe is reliable and can be convincingly said to be from an Imam (a) then there are still a few conditions that need to be taken into consideration before someone can say that a certain report is a reference to a certain phenomenon occurring:
1) The application of a report on an external phenomenon has to be done with certainty. If a certain report says that a sign of the reappearance is that a severe flood will come in the regions of Iraq and Iran and people will be killed, you need to be certain that this report is speaking about this specific flood. Najaf was struck by floods in January 2019 and Iran was hit by severe floods in March 2019 and some began speculating that this report is referring to these specific floods. This is while in the 19th century some scholars were saying the same thing for floods that struck southern parts of Iran. As it can be seen, even if a report is reliable, it is extremely difficult to be certain and sure that it is referring to a certain phenomenon that you are observing.
2) See if a certain sign can be replicated, duplicated or repeated, because if it can, then once again the level of certainty in applying the report on an external phenomenon will be very low. A flood or a plague can easily be repeated, these are occurrences that happen every few years, but for example, the blowing of a trumpet in the skies which everyone around the world can hear is not something that can just naturally occur again.
3) If a certain report mentions multiple signs, then when you look for an external phenomenon, all of those signs mentioned in the report have to be present for you to say that this report is referring to this specific event. For example, if a report says that a person from Yemen will do an uprising who will be very knowledgeable and has X Y Z qualities, we cannot just look at one or two of these qualities and say this is who the report is talking about. All the signs mentioned in the report have to be present in this person.
4) The signs mentioned in a report should not be superimposed on a phenomenon unrealistically and allegorically. Around 11 years ago, a group of people began saying President Ahmadinejad was one of the signs of reappearance. They relied on a report that said a person by the name Shu‘ayb b. Ṣāliḥ, who will be from Banū Tamīm, will do an uprising from Samarqand. One may ask, what does this report have to do with Ahmadinejad?
They would say Shu‘ayb is from the root-word sha‘b which is a reference for a young person who is charismatic, and Ahmadinejad is a people’s person, Banū Tamīm is referring to the Islamic congregation and society (i.e. people of Iran), and Samarqand is also part of greater Persian (even though today it is part of Uzbekistan). This is an act of someone superimposing their views onto a report.
Likewise, in the report that we addressed above, if the Imam (a) is talking about the city of Kufa, someone cannot say “it is referring to Najaf”. Najaf was a town that had already existed for centuries before Islam and it was populated by Christians. If the Imam (a) meant to say Najaf, he would have said Najaf! The reference to Kufa and Qom here is very clear for someone familiar with early Islamic history; Kufa was one of the major hubs of knowledge from the start of the 2nd century hijri up until around mid-3rd century hijri after which at least a lot of the Shī‘ī intellectual heritage began to move from Kufa to Qom, and also eventually to Baghdad.
Further, if the narration says that Qom will be the place from where knowledge will be disseminated to all parts of the world until even a secluded woman in her tent will know about it, well as this has not yet happened, and in fact, there is a long way to go, then assuming that this could be speaking about our era and our generation is mere speculation.
All in all, the report cannot be established to have been from an Imam (a), it has a seriously worrying contradiction with one of the fundamental established beliefs of the Twelver Shī‘a, the details of the report do not exactly and fully match with our times today (a partial match is not sufficient), it is highly likely a product of certain socio-political trends that were prominent during the Abbasid dynasty where such eschatological reports were being constructed in a large quantity and have made their way into both Sunni and Shī’ī works.
Sayyid Ali studied in the seminary of Qom from 2012 to 2021, while also concurrently obtaining a M.A in Islamic Studies from the Islamic College of London in 2018. In the seminary he engaged in the study of legal theory, jurisprudence and philosophy, eventually attending the advanced kharij of Usul and Fiqh in 2018. He is currently completing his Masters of Education at the University of Toronto and is the head of a private faith-based school in Toronto, as well as an instructor at the Mizan Institute and Mufid Seminary.
- The smasher of the oppressors – one of the attributes of Allah as mentioned in some supplications.
- As mentioned in the Persian translation of the book Tārikh-e Qom, pg. 95.
- Biḥar al-Anwār, vol. 57, pg. 212-213. The narration is being cited from Tārikh-e Qom of al-Ḥasan b. Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan al-Qumī (d. 4th/10th century).
- Rijāl al-Najāshī, pg. 274.
- Some scholars have said this name is most likely a scribal error for just Nu‘mān al-Rāzī, while others have argued that Nu‘mān al-Rāzī could have been a scribal error for ‘Alī b. Nu‘mān. See Tanqīh al-Maqāl (riḥlī print), vol. 2, pg. 313; and Qāmūs al-Rijāl, vol. 7, pg. 594.
- See Shahīd Thānī in Ḥawāshī al-Shahīd al-Thānī ‘ala Khulāṣah al-Aqwāl, pg. 22; al-Rijāl of Ibn Ghaḍā’irī, pg. 73; Ibn Dāwūd Ḥillī in al-Rijāl, pg. 142.
- ‘Allāmah Ḥillī in Khulāṣah al-Aqwāl, pg. 180; Tanqīḥ al-Maqāl (riḥlī print), vol. 2, pg. 313.
- See Tārīkh Dār al-Īmān Qom by Muḥammad Taqī Bayg, or the recently published book on this specific event, Qom Dar Qaḥṭi-ye Buzurg 1288 Qamarī published by the library of Ayatullah Mar‘ashī Najafī. I came across this short treatise in Seyyed Hossein Modarresi’s Qom Nāmeh few years back, but it seems it has been published independently by the Sāzmān-i Mudīrīyat wa Barnāmeh-rīzī Ustān-i Qom, with an introduction written by the son of Ayatullah Mar‘ashī Najafi, Sayyīd Maḥmūd Mar‘ashī Najafī.
- Tārikh-e Qom, pg. 96.