Ismail ibn Ja’far, part 5: Eldest son is the Imam?



Some websites have edited their old articles to add information from this article onto it. However, the research presented in my article is fully original

Our ahadith clarify that the eldest son is the Imam after his father.

In this article, I will clarify what “eldest son” means in our scripture - and whether Ismail was truly the “eldest son”, per our Imams’ words.


  • Hadith 1: Why the eldest son is seen as Imam presumptive?

(Al-Kafi [1])

I said to Abu al-Hasan al-Ridha, peace be upon him: If the Imam dies, what traits will the one after him be known by?

So he (the Imam said): There are signs identifying the (next) Imam, among them that he will be the eldest son of his father (2) and that he will have merit and the wasiya (will).”

محمد بن يحيى، عن أحمد بن محمد، عن ابن أبي نصر قالقلت لأبي الحسن الرضا عليه السلامإذا مات الامام بم يعرف الذي بعده؟ فقالللامام علامات منها أن يكون أكبر ولد أبيه (2) ويكون فيه الفضل والوصية،

  • Commentary on meaning of hadith:

The Imam above is not mentioning traits to discern who the Imam is, but rather - these are traits the upcoming Imam will have assuming his Nass (designation) is established. 

Shaykh al-Saduq’s comments on a hadith he mentioned in al-Khisal highlights this idea (2):

Imamate is not suitable for a person who has committed what is forbidden - whether the sin is small or big. Even if he repents from it [i.e, the sin] after that. 

Similarly, one cannot execute the Hudud if he himself is deserving of being punished by the Hudud. 

Thus, the Imam can only be infallible. And his infallibility can only be known by a direct Nass (designation) from the tongue of the Prophet. Because infallibility cannot be viewed on a person’s apparent features - like white and black is seen, and such. 

It [infallibility] is hidden, and is only revealed by He who knows Knowledge of the Hidden/Unseen.”

ان الشرك لظلم عظيم " (1) وكذلك لا تصلح الإمامة لمن قد ارتكب من المحارم شيئا صغيرا كان أو كبيرا وإن تاب منه بعد ذلك، وكذلك لا يقمالحد من في جنبه حد فإذا لا يكون الامام إلا معصوما ولا تعلم عصمته إلا بنص الله عز وجل عليه على لسان نبيه صلى الله عليه وآله لانالعصمة ليست في ظاهر الخلقة فترى كالسواد والبياض وما أشبه ذلك وهي مغيبة لا تعرف إلا بتعريف علام الغيوب عز وجل.

  • What is meaning of the eldest son?

Once the next Imam is designated, he grows more in day an equivalent of one year in human years.

Imam al-Askari being the designated Imam made him grow spiritually older than his physically elder brother Muhammad, as will be seen below:

(Al-Tusi’s Al-Ghayba [3])

Imam al-Askari said:

We the genus of Imams grow in one day - the same amount of time other people grow in one year

يا عمتي أما علمت أنا معاشر الأئمة ننشؤ في اليوم ما ينشؤ غيرنا في السنة.

  • How does this apply to Ismail ibn Ja’far (or Abdullah al-Aftah)?

Our Imams compare the case of badaa’ (Allah’s true will of Musa al-Kadhim being Imam revealed to the Shi’a, instead of ismail)

To the case of Muhammad ibn Ali al-Hadi who died in his father’s lifetime (just like Ismail).

(Al-Kafi [4])

“Yes O Aba Hashim, Allah did badaa’ in Abi Muhammad (revealing Imam al-Askari as Imam) after Abi Ja’far (Muhammad ibn Ali al-Hadi)

In the same way he did badaa’ in Musa (being chosen as Imam), after Ismail died”

قبل أن أنطق فقالنعم يا أبا هاشم بدا لله في أبي محمد بعد أبي جعفر (2) ما لم يكن يعرف له، كما بدا له في موسى بعد مضيإسماعيل 

  • Were Ismail ibn Ja’far and Muhammad ibn Ali al-Hadi the eldest sons of their respective Imam fathers?

While physically they were, spiritually they were not.

As the Imams grow in a day the same amount of time others grow in a year. 

Thus, Imam al-Askari was spiritually older than his brother Muhammad, and Imam al-Kadhim spiritually older than Ismail.

As evident by hadith shared above in which Imam al-Askari says Imams grow in one day in what is equivalent to one year to other humans.

And as clarified in the following al-Kafi (5) hadith:

I entered upon the father of al-Hasan al-Askari (i.e, Imam al-Hadi) and Abu Ja’far (his son Muhammad ibn Ali al-Hadi) was alive, and I thought it was him that was chosen to be the next Imam.

He (Imam al-Hadi) said: “Do not presume anyone (as Imam) until my order comes out to you.”

So I wrote to him after: To whom is this matter (i.e, who is the next Imam) 

He (the Imam) said: The matter will be the eldest of my sons. 

He (the Imam or the narrator) said: And Abu Muhammad (al-Askari) is older than Abu Ja’far (Muhammad in Ali al-Hadi)

علي بن محمد، عن أبي محمد الأسبارقيني، عن علي بن عمرو العطار قالدخلت على أبي الحسن العسكري عليه السلام وأبو جعفر ابنهفي الاحياء وأنا أظن أنه هو، فقلت لهجعلت فداك من أخص من ولدك؟ فقاللا تخصوا أحدا حتى يخرج إليكم أمري قالفكتبت إليه بعدفيمن يكون هذا الامر؟ قالفكتب إلي في الكبير من ولدي، قالوكان أبو محمد أكبر من أبي جعفر.

It was understood from the Imam’s words that Imam al-Askari is (spiritually) older than his physically elder brother, Muhammad.

Wa Allahu A’lam


(1) Al Kafi, vol 1, page 284

(2) 3) إلى هنا تمام الخبر وما بعده من كلام الصدوق رحمه الله كما هو الظاهر من ألفاظه. Hadith ends here:الكتب/1137_الخصال-الشيخ-الصدوق/الصفحة_319#top

Shaykh al-Saduq’s comments, with quote above:الكتب/1137_الخصال-الشيخ-الصدوق/الصفحة_324

(3) Al-Ghayba, vol 1, page 263

(4) Al-Kafi, vol 1, page 327

(5) Al-Kafi, vol 1, page 326