نحمده ونصلى ونسلم على رسوله الكريم
Twelfth Imam: Fact or Fiction?
The largest branch of Shi’ism today is the Ithna Ashariya or ‘Twelver’ sect. This sect calls to belief in the concept of ‘Imamate’. It claims that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was succeeded by a series of twelve Imams from among his kin and progeny. The last of these Imams was supposedly the awaited ‘Mahdi’, prophecised to appear in the latter days and establish a reign of justice in the Earth and put an end to oppression and tyranny. According to the Twelver sect, people are enjoined to believe in these twelve Imams as an article of faith, on par with belief in Angels, Prophets and Scriptures. Hence, this is a very important issue from the Twelver perspective, a question of faith and disbelief and consequently a question of salvation and damnation.
Yet as I have repeatedly shown on this blog, this supposed article of faith in ‘Imamate’ is conspicuously absent from the Holy Qur’an and the authentic traditions of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ which is why ordinary and mainstream Muslims of Ahlus Sunnati wal-Jama’a reject it. But another compelling reason to doubt this doctrine of ‘Imamate’ is the indisputable fact that historically and presently the Shi’a themselves have viciously differed over the identity of the true Imams among themselves. Furthermore, the last of the Twelver Imams, the supposed ‘Twelfth Imam’ is a person shrouded in mystery. In this entry, I will attempt to shed some light on the reality of this enigmatic ‘Twelfth Imam’ who is so central to Twelver Shi’ite theology and doctrine, such that it is the most important factor which distinguishes them not only from mainstream Sunni Muslims, but from all other rival Shi’ite sects too.
The Twelver Shi’a claim that their eleventh Imam, Hasan al-AskariRA was succeeded by his son named Muhammad, who became the next Imam, but went into hiding to escape Abbasid persecution in 874 CE. According to them, this Muhammad is the Mahdi, and so in order to safeguard his life, he went into hiding or the ‘minor occultation’ in a cellar in Samarra, Iraq, but remained in contact with the Shi’a through a series of deputies or representatives and their respective agents and emissaries.
However, the critical issue which will be discussed in this entry is the fictitious existence of the so-called ‘Twelfth Imam’. I argue that in reality, the Eleventh Imam, Hasan al-AskariRA, did not have any son. The Twelver sect fabricated and invented the fictional character of the ‘Twelfth Imam’.
From among the proofs for this contention of mine is the fact that after Imam Hasan al-AskariRA passed away, the Shi’a split into dozens of parties and factions and disputed over the question of the succession to the eleventh Imam. His younger brother Ja’far, the son of Imam Ali al-NaqiRA called the Shi’a to accept his Imamate. The Twelvers condemn him and refer to Ja’far with the epithet ‘al-Kadhdhab’ or ‘the grand liar’. Ja’far’s claim to the Imamate was strengthened by the fact that it was well-known that his elder brother Hasan had no offspring, therefore, either Hasan’s claim to Imamate was invalid, or he was to be succeeded by his younger brother Ja’far. In any case, the true Imam was Ja’far b. Ali al-Naqi.
Some others claimed that the rightful Imam was Hasan’s elder brother Muhammad b. Ali al-Naqi, a man of piety, but who passed away during his father’s own lifetime. These Shi’a claimed that the tenth Imam, Ali al-NaqiRA had never appointed Hasan nor Ja’far as his successor, but only Muhammad. Although this Muhammad died within the tenth Imam’s lifetime, they argued that the Imamate was therefore transferred to the progeny of Muhammad b. Ali al-NaqiRA, similar to the argument of the Isma’iliya who claim the Imamate was transferred to the progeny of Isma’il b. Ja’far al-SadiqRA. Another faction within this tendency claimed that Muhammad was in fact alive and was the promised Mahdi.
Still another faction of the Shi’a considered the eleventh Imam Hasan al-Askari as the last and final Imam. From among them were those who claimed that Hasan was the promised Mahdi and denied his death, or that he was resurrected after his death. Others claimed that Hasan has died but that the Imamate ceased after his death and he simply had no immediate successor. Either the Imamate had ceased absolutely, or Allah would raise up a promised Mahdi in the future, but for now the Imamate had ceased.
All of these above described tendencies emerged because of one important factor – the fact that the eleventh Imam, Hasan al-Askari, had no offspring to succeed him.
But as for those Shi’a who attribute a son to the eleventh Imam, and claim he is the twelfth Imam, even they put forward contradictory views on the matter. Some claimed the eleventh Imam had a son named Ali. Others, however, insisted that he had a son named Muhammad. The Twelvers of today also say that the Twelfth Imam’s name is Muhammad. But originally the Shi’a differed extensively regarding this Muhammad. For example, they claimed a boy named Muhammad was born to the eleventh Imam some two years before the latter’s death. But others believed that this Muhammad was born some eight months after the eleventh Imam’s death. Others claim he was five years old or eight years old at the time of his father’s death, and was able to lead the eleventh Imam’s funeral prayers. Another faction claim that when the eleventh Imam died, the twelfth Imam was still a fetus in his mother’s womb, and that she has not yet given birth to him, so he remains concealed in her womb. They believe she will remain pregnant until the time for his appearance as the promised Mahdi. Finally, a faction believe that this Muhammad had died but he would be resurrected in the future and return as the promised Mahdi.
Regarding the mother of the twelfth Imam, it is well known that the eleventh Imam never had a wife in his Nikah. Therefore, those Shi’a who argue that the fictional Muhammad was the twelfth Imam claim that his mother was a concubine of the eleventh Imam. But they differ as to the identity of that concubine, some claiming she was Rayhana, or Sawsan, or Narjis. Supposedly latter was a Roman slave-girl. A large group of Shi’a, however, believed that the twelfth Imam’s mother was a slave-girl named Saqil. Saqil was imprisoned by the Abbasid ruler al-Mu’tadid because of the wild rumors that she was pregnant with the twelfth Imam, or that she had given birth to him. However, the Ithna Ashariya sect of today insist that the real mother of the twelfth Imam was Narjis. But the Ithna Asharis themselves admit that there was no sign of pregnancy in the supposed twelfth Imam’s mother after his supposed conception!
In conclusion, there is simply no evidence to establish the birth of a son to the eleventh Imam. It is well-known that he neither had a wife nor any offspring. This is why the Shi’a differed into numerous factions after his death. It is very likely that the deputies of the eleventh Imam, in order to continue to tradition of collecting Zakat, Khums, and other religious taxes from the Shi’a community, invented the figure of the twelfth Imam, so they could collect that money on his behalf.