Episode 6 - Al-Ghayba Podcast
Death of al-Hasan al-Askari
As-Salamu alaykum, brothers and sister. This John (aka Andaluso24), host of the Al-Ghayba podcast - back to you with episode 6 of my program called “Death of al-Hasan al-Askari”. In this episode we will learn about the events preceding the death of the 11th Shi’i Imam, and ultimately his death. Subscribe to the podcast to not miss an episode!
Going back to the past 2 episodes regarding Imam al-Askari, we know that the Imam had excercised attempts to neutralize both his internal enemies among the Shi’a - and his external enemies from the Turkish generals in control of the Abbasid state.
The attempts manifested themselves both through violent action, and divine aide - God’s help.
The result naturally would be a more peaceful environment for Imam al-Askari to propagate his da’wah in the open. And the Imam appearing widely in public with his Shi’a.
However, the exact opposite happened.
In al-Istibsar (1) by Shaykh al-Tusi, Imam al-Askari’s companion Muhammad ibn Abd al-Jabbar al-Qummi writes to Imam al-Askari about a certain fiqhi matter and ends his letter with a very interesting comment:
فرأيك أدام الله عزك في مسألة الفقهاء قبلك عن هذا وتعريفنا بذلك لنعمل به إن شاء الله
“[We request] your opinion - May Allah preserve your glory - and ask the scholars around you regarding this, and let us know of the opinion about this matter so we can apply it if God wills”
In Twelver Shi’ism, the Imam’s word is authoritative. It needs not to be backed by scholarly opinion, as the Imam’s knowledge is considered the word of God itself. And above fallible human knowledge and understanding.
This request could not be viewed as simply perhaps the incorrect understanding of a recently converted Shi’i, as the narrator is described in Mu’jam Rijal al-Hadith by Ayatollah Khoei (2) in the following manner:
“[Muhammad ibn Abd al-Jabbar] narrated from al-Hadi and al-Askari. And it is said he was a servant to Imam al-Askari, and asked him many questions.. His name occurs in the isnad of many reports narrated back to the Ahlulbayt, the total number of these reports reaching 927 reports in the Four Books [of Shi’ism]”
It, thus, becomes evident that the narrator not only was a companion of both al-Hadi and al-Askari. But he was a prolific narrator who was a servant of Imam al-Askari. And being a servant means the narrator had lived with the Imam at one point and spent all his time from morning to night with the Imam.
Muhammad ibn Abd al-Jabbar could not be unaware that the status of the Imam was not equal to that of scholars.
His request would not be without basis from the Imam himself.
That is the Imam delegated certain powers to the scholars around him (i.e, those close to him) - except that the Imam is above them. Hence, Ibn Abd al-Jabbar asks for the Imam’s opinion first before the scholars.
A demonstration of this would be in the following hadith in al-Kafi (3):
العمري وابنه ثقتان، فما أديا إليك عني فعني يؤديان وما قالا لك فعني يقولان، فاسمع لهما وأطعمها فإنهما الثقتان المأمونان، فهذا قولإمامين قد مضيا فيك.
“Abu Muhammad [al-Askari] said: Al-Amri and his son are two thiqa (trustworthy individuals). Whatever they carry out regarding you [i.e, implementing laws] in my name - then they [truly] carry it out in my name.
And whatever they tell you - narrating it from me. Then they [truly] tell you, narrating it from me.
So hear them, and obey them - for they are the two entrusted thiqa’s.”
Hearing and obeying these scholars (Uthman ibn Sa’id al-Amri & his son Muhammad) was made obligatory by Imam al-Askari.
Their judgement & word was made equal by the Imam to his judgement and word.
They became the public face of the Imam. And their status is immense because their religious judgement could not be wrong - as it equals the judgement & word of the Imam, and is absolutely binding on the Shi’a.
The judgement of the scholars around the Imam (i.e, those close to him) received divine sanction. Thus, it would not be improper for the Imam to ask them.
This is in line with the Quran in Surat Yunus when it says:
“If you ˹O Prophet˺ are in doubt about ˹these stories˺ that We have revealed to you, then ask those who read the Scripture before you [i.e, Ahl al-Kitab scholars]. The truth has certainly come to you from your Lord, so do not be one of those who doubt” (4)
The Ahl al-Kitab scholars the Prophet was commanded to enquire from if he is in doubt, who were entrusted by Allah to implement his judgements, as evident in Surat al-Ma’ida:
“So too did the rabbis and scholars judge according to Allah’s Book, with which they were entrusted and of which they were made keepers.” (5)
This is despite the fact the Prophet had divine revelation - so he wouldn’t need to confirm with the Ahl al-Kitab. And despite the fact the Ahl al-Kitab scholars are fallible and susceptible to corruption.
As we learned now, the Imam had delegated his public status, judgement, and words to trusted deputies from scholars close to him. And he trusted their personal opinions - as evident by him being requested to ask them.
The question remains:
The Imam was now living in relative peace after danger was staved off from some of his serious enemy. Who exactly among his Shi’a did the Imam meet up with?
In Manaqib Ibn Shahr Ashoob, a group of Shi’a come to see Imam al-Askari in his house - and yet, despite the more peaceful conditions, he speaks to them behind a curtain acting as a barrier (hijab). Such that they can hear his voice, but not see his face.
It becomes increasingly clear the Shi’a of Imam al-Askari were divided into a hierarchy of three classes:
(1) Those with direct uncensored contact with the Imam - his servants, his deputies, the fuqaha close to him. It is possible for a person to occupy all three tasks. Their loyalty is unquestionable. In other words, the Imam’s inner circle.
As discussed above, an example being Uthman al-Amri and his son Muhammad.
(2) Those allowed to have restricted access to the Imam. They are Shi’a of high standing in their community, and a demonstrable level of loyalty. The Imam communicates with them via letter, and allows some of them to visit him physically with a barrier in between. They can hear his voice but not see him. As demonstrated in the Manaqib Ibn Shahr Ashoob hadith.
A number of them were also deputies of the Imam in respective regions.
It is possible for this class to defect or apostate.
(3) The ordinary, laymen Shia. They follow the deputies assigned to their regions by the Imam, and the leading fuqaha of the village - city - or region. And who may or may not have endorsement (tazkiya) from the Imam or deputy of the region.
Their religious literacy is subpar so they may be easily persuaded by the deputies or fuqaha.
If the scholar or deputy becomes a deviant - the popular masses of ordinary laymen Shi’a will also follow his deviancy.
As what happened to the people of Nishapur deviating in the era of Imam Ali al-Hadi, when the prolific scholar and companion of our Imams, al-Fadhl ibn Shadhan deviated - as evident in previous episodes.
As mentioned, the 3rd class - the laymen of the Shi’a are quite an easily influenced class.
Thus, a hierarchy of knowledge is assigned to them to help ensure they do not fall from the ranks of orthodox Imamite Shi’ism:
(1) The deputies with uncensored, direct contact with the Imam. Such as Uthman ibn Sa’id & his son Muhammad - whose words, action, and judgement equaled that of the Imam.
(2) The narrators of ahadith were the Imam’s hujja (representatives) over the people.
The Imam communicated them through books (i.e, letters) - written communication.
This communication with the Imam gave them direct knowledge to derive their rulings from but where based on ijtihad (personal reasoning) - not direct orders.
Hence, Imam al-Askari says - as mentioned in al-Ihtijaj by al-Tabrasi (6):
وأما الحوادث الواقعة فارجعوا فيها إلى رواة حديثنا فإنهم حجتي عليكم وأنا حجة الله.
“As for the events that occur, seek [the knowledge] in them in those who narrate our hadith. As they are my hujja over you, and I am the Hujja of Allah.”
But as the narrators of hadith are fallibles who do not act exclusively per divine instruction but their personal reasoning.
The Imams have set guidelines in accepting their judgement and reasoning from the narrators of ahadith if they differ, such as:
- Memorization of ahadith. It is reported in al-Kafi (7) that:
7 - الحسين بن محمد الأشعري، عن معلى بن محمد، عن محمد بن جمهور، عن عبد الرحمن بن أبي نجران، عمن ذكره، عن أبي عبد الله(عليه السلام) قال: «من حفظ من أحاديثنا أربعين حديثا بعثه الله يوم القيامة عالما فقهيا».
“Whomever memorizes from our ahadith 40 ahadith, Allah will resurrect him on the Day of Judgement as a knowledgeable, jurist”.
Remembering a hadith you memorized when formulating a judgement will allow you to use it to come to a well informed conclusion regarding a religious matter.
- The hadith conforming to Quran & sunnah, as reported in the following al-Kafi hadith (8):
“I asked Aba Abdilah [al-Sadiq] about the differences in hadith narrated by whom we trust and whom we don’t trust?
He said: ‘If a hadith comes to you - and you have found a witness to it from the Book of Allah and the word of the Prophet, then take upon it. Otherwise, the one who has brought it to you is more more worthy of it’
- Most knowledgeable narrator of hadith, as evident in al-Kafi (9):
“They must look for one among you who have narrated our Hadith and have studied what is lawful and unlawful in our teachings and have learned our laws they must agree to settle their dispute according to his judgment because I have made him over you a ruler. When he may judge according to our commands and then it is not accepted from him the dissenting this judgment has ignored the commands of Allah and it is rejection of us. Rejecting us is rejecting Allah and that is up to the level of paganism and considering things equal to Allah.”
If two narrators dispute - the Imam responds (9):
“The judgment will be the judgment of the one who has a more just, having more better understanding of the law, Fiqh, the more truthful in Hadith and the more pious of the two. The judgment of the other one will be disregarded.”
(3) The fuqaha who did not narrate ahadith.
Many mentioned in Rijal al-Tusi (10), under the Bab of من لم يرو عنهم عليهم السلام [Those who did not narrate from them عليهم السلام]
There is much talk on the hadith narrators, their virtues and status.
Some reached a status so great that whenever they complained to the Imam - the Imam took fierce initiatives to resolve their issue.
Such as, as mentioned in al-Thaqib fil Manaqib (11), when a narrator - Muhammad ibn Hajr - wrote to Imam al-Askari complaining about individuals named Abdulaziz ibn Abi Dalf and Yazid ibn Abdullah.
Subsequently - the Imam responded that he had spared Abdulaziz, but Yazid was killed (presumably from the Imam’s dua).
Regardless, the first class of the deputies and fuqaha close to the Imam had the Imam’s greatest trust and greatest responsibility assigned to them.
One of those figures who narrate these responsibilities is Muhammad ibn Ali al-Shalmaghani. A very controversial figure whom we’ll learn of in future episodes.
As we learned in the last episode, the Qa’im is of the progeny of al-Hasan al-Askari and his birth was kept a secret.
However - what were some steps Imam al-Askari undertook to assign responsibility over his newborn son to the first class?
Al-Shalmaghani mentions (12) in his book Kitab al-Awsiya’ - written when he was on a straight path (13) and recognized by Imam al-Mahdi’s 3rd deputy - that Nasr, servant of the Imam al-Askari - was ordered by Imam al-Askari to buy meat everyday for Imam al-Askari’s household after the Mahdi was born. So as to feed the newborn.
However, as reported in another hadith in Kitab al-Awsiya’ (12), it seems that Imam al-Askari wanted to give a precursor of the Twelfth Imam to his first class of companions.
So he introduced his first born, al-Husayn ibn al-Hasan al-Askari.
And asked them to slaughter a ram in his honor.
And when infant al-Husayn died and al-Qa’im was born, Imam al-Askari asked them to slaughter two rams in his honor - indicating this son is his successor.
To conclude, it seems that Imam al-Askari’s era was chiefly centered on preparing the Shi’a for the hidden Imam that would come after him.
He would be hidden in a way similar to al-Askari, with a hierarchy system similar to that of al-Askari and also somewhat similar to al-Hadi.
On the 8th of Rabi’ al-Awwal, 260 AH (January 1, 874) - Imam al-Askari passed away.
A curly haired, dark skinned boy prayed over him - he was the Qa’im, as discussed in the previous episode.
The Qa’im inherited a deliberate hierarchy, system, and organization perpetuated by his father al-Askari in ordered to protect the Imamite da’wah.
Both in terms of having a loyal cadre of scholars to be the Twelfth Imam’s closest and reliable deputies, and ensuring the safety of the Twelfth Imam.
Because of the era that will now usher - the era of al-Ghayba al-Sughra (The Lower Occultation).
And with that, we are done with episode 6: Death of al-Hasan al-Askari.
Before jumping into al-Ghayba al-Sughra, I will launch a miniseries consisting of 2 or 3 episodes on aspects of the life of Imam al-Kadhim which would be crucial to understand before we jump into the Ghayba period.
May Allah bless you all and I hope this was a beneficial listen.
(1) Al-Istibsar, vol 4, page 113 http://shiaonlinelibrary.com/الكتب/1160_الاستبصار-الشيخ-الطوسي-ج-٤/الصفحة_0?pageno=113#top
(3) Al-Kafi, vol 1, page 330 http://shiaonlinelibrary.com/الكتب/1122_الكافي-الشيخ-الكليني-ج-١/الصفحة_378
(6) Al-Ihtijaj, vol 2, page 283 http://shiaonlinelibrary.com/الكتب/1338_الاحتجاج-ج-٢/الصفحة_0?pageno=283
(7) Al-Kafi, vol 2,
(8) Al-Kafi, vol 1, page 69 http://shiaonlinelibrary.com/الكتب/1122_الكافي-الشيخ-الكليني-ج-١/الصفحة_117#top
(9) Al-Kafi, vol 1, page 68 http://shiaonlinelibrary.com/الكتب/1122_الكافي-الشيخ-الكليني-ج-١/الصفحة_116
(12) Kitab al-Awsiya’ reconstructed by Andaluso24, hadiths #2 and #3, https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Df3rwPugID1ygHiREBEVANxEDKY3nhDV/view
(13) Intro to my reconstruction of Kitab al-Awsiya, page 11 https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Df3rwPugID1ygHiREBEVANxEDKY3nhDV/view