It appears that the members of the ‘Abbasid family who became part of the revolutionary movement against the Umayyads adhered to the belief, in common with the various groups of the Shi'a, that the first lawful caliph after the Prophet was ‘Ali1, and that the caliphate must belong to the People of the House (Ahl al-Bayt).
The ‘Abbdsids preached against the Umayyads by calling for reform and justice. They invited the people to rally around the most suitable person from the progeny of Muhammad (al-Da'wa li-l-Riďa min Al Muhammad). Many Shi’ite thought that this slogan referred only to the descendants of Imam ‘Ali. Thus they joined the ‘Abbasid movement2.
Some of the Shi'a, such as Abu Salama al-Khallal, reached high rank in the ‘Abbasid movement without cognizing the fact that the ‘Abbasids were the founders of the movement, and they aimed to monopolize the caliphate for themselves.
When the propagandists overthrew the Umayyads in 132/749, Abu Salama al-Khallal, having discovered the reality of the ‘Abbasid's goal, endeavoured to transfer the caliphate to the ‘Alids by corresponding with Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, ‘Umar al-Ashraf and ‘Abd Allah al-Mahd, offering it to each of them, Imam Ja’far al-Sddiq rejected the offer bluntly by burning Abu Salama's letter, and he warned ‘Umar al-Ashraf and ‘Abd Allah al-Mahd against accepting it3.
Al-Sadiq had already held a secret meeting with the leading personalities of the ‘Abbasid family, such as al-Saffah and al-Mansur at al-Abwa', near Medina, around the year 120/737, to discuss the situation of the People of the House (Ahl al-Bayt). At this meeting the attendants wanted to form an underground collusion to bring about the downfall of the Umayyads.
A proposal also was made to support the Hasanid claims put forward by ‘Abd Allah al-Mahd on behalf of his son Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya4, but al-Sadiq refused to have anything to do with it. Although the ‘Abbasids present at this meeting made a nominal pledge to Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya, al-Sadiq seems to have been aware of the possibility that their involvement with the revolutionaries, particularly the Kaysaniyya or its Hashimiyya branch; would be successful and that they would replace the Umayyads.
Also al-Sadiq knew he was the true divinely appointed Imam of the Muslims and he achieved the Imamate by the testament of his father, Imam al-Baqir. Thus people should rally around him to recover his right in the caliphate. Al-Sadiq's view did not please the ‘Abbasids, so, they carried out their underground activities against the Umayyads without his participation.
When the ‘Abbasids succeeded in seizing the reins of power in 132/749 they were naturally aware of the danger from their kinsmen, the ‘Alids, whose claims to succession would be greater than their own if ‘Ali's right to the caliphate were to be accepted by the general populace. As a result the ‘Alids now faced ‘Abbasid oppression more severe than that of the Umayyads5.
The motives for this oppression seem to have been first of all doctrinal. The early members of the ‘Abbasid family, such as ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Abbas6, had confirmed ‘Ali's right to the Imamate (the political and religious authority) by relating many traditions attributed to the Prophet supporting it. They had also supported ‘Ali against the first three Caliphs and participated in the Caliphate of ‘Ali, and they gave some support to his son al-Hasan.7
In the eyes of the ‘Alids by taking over the Caliphate the ‘Abbasids became usurpers of the political authority of the Imamate. Hence the ‘Abbasids became suspicious of the ‘Alid attitude toward their authority. Secondly there were economic motives for the ‘Abbasid oppression since Imam al-Sadiq continued to collect the khums secretly from his followers8, an act which the ‘Abbasids considered as a preparatory step towards some conspiracy to overthrow them.
These two factors obliged the ‘Abbasids to keep al-Sadiq in Medina and to hold his followers, especially in Iraq and later in Egypt, under close scrutiny as measures to ensure the security of the state.
Thus al-Sadiq maintained an externally quiescent policy towards the ‘Abbasids. Yet at the same time he spread traditions amongst the Shi’ite narrators of traditions stating that the Imamate was a prerogative bestowed by God upon one of the descendants of al-Husayn, who, before his death and at the Prophet's order, had transferred it to his successor by a clear stipulation (al-Nass al-Jali)9.
Al-Sadiq held that it was not necessary for the divinely appointed Imam to rise in revolt immediately in order to recover his rights to political authority. He should be satisfied with the spiritual leadership and perform its duties until the time when the community is sufficiently aware of his right to political power. Then God will assist him in his quest10.
In accordance with his quiescent policy al-Sadiq announced openly that al-Qa’im al-Mahdi and not himself would achieve political power11.
Al-Sadiq's quiescent policy did not satisfy a considerable body of his adherents. Their political ambitions caused schism amongst the Imamites. The instigator of this political movement was called Abu al-Khattab. At first he was trusted by al-Sadiq and nominated as agent (wakil) of the Shi’ite group in Kufa.
But al-Sadiq then repudiated and denounced him because of his extremist theological view12, which he had endeavoured to enforce by militant means. It seems likely that Abu al-Khattab wanted to circumvent the influence and the interference of al-Sadiq by propounding his political and revolutionary ideas to al-Sadiq's son Isma'il, who was more inclined to such thoughts than his younger brother Musa. Thus Abu al-Khattab hoped to give his revolutionary ideas religious legitimacy under Isma’il's name.
Although the rebellion of Abu al-Khattab was easily subdued at Kufa, his failure and al-Sadiq's continued insistence on a quiescent policy forced Abu al-Khattab's followers to resort to underground activities under the leadership of Muhammad b. Isma’il. This event led the adherents of al-Sadiq to split into the Isma'ilis and the Musawiyya.
After his death, they split into Musawiyya, who held the Imamate of Musa al-Kazim, al-Fatthiyya, who held the Imamate of the eldest son of al-Sadiq, Abd Allah al-Aftah; al-Muhammadiyya, who held the Imamate of Muhammad b. Ja’far al-Sadiq, the Waqifa, who thought that al-Sadiq had not died but was al-Qa’im al-Mahdi; and the two Isma’ili sects who held the Imamate of Isma'il and his son Muhammad respectively13.
As a consequence of al-Sadiq's death the Imamites became so weak that even if military rebellion might have been possible during his lifetime, there was little chance of it now. The rise of the Isma'ilis during al-Sadiq's lifetime, followed by the rise of the Fathiyya sect, which included most of the Imamite fuqaha',14 made the position of al-Sadiq's successor, Musa al-Kazim, very weak, and obliged him to follow the quiescent policy of his father.
For this reason al-Mansur(d. 158/774) did not take any action against him or his followers during his life-time. However he continued his pursuit of the representatives of the revolutionary branch of the Hasanids15.
The regime of al-Mahdi, who was installed in the Caliphate after the death of his father al-Mansur in 158/774,16 was distinguished by his "orthodox" policy. He encouraged the traditional muhaddithun, pursued the zindiqs, and oppressed the People of the Book17. However, "this policy could be described as less religious policy than a political weapon. The promotion of the Surma by the ‘Abbdsids was, in fact, a means in the struggle against the religio-political enemies or opposition movements"18.
This statement is illustrated by al-Mahdi's attitude towards the Imamites. When he came to power in 158/774, the followers of al-Kazim became active and more powerful than the Fathiyya and the Isma'ilis19.
Al-Mahdi thought that the religious and intellectual activities of al-Kazim's partisans might endanger his regime, especially as there was a report indicating "that an important body of opinion had been turning towards the ‘Alids and away from the ‘Abbasids or rather, had been insisting that the Hashimite charisma was not equally spread through all the clan, but was peculiarly present in the ‘Alids alone20.
Perhaps for this reason, al-Mahdi summoned al-Kazim from Medina and imprisoned him in Baghdad. But in so doing he neither reinforced the legitimacy of his rule nor changed public opinion towards the charismatic character of al-Kazim21.
Therefore, he decided to follow a policy which depended on bribery and the intimidation of the Shi’a. Al-Kazim was released in 159/775, after he had sworn that he would not rise in arms against al-Mahdi or his successors22. According to al-Tabari, al-Mahdi simultaneously approached the Zaydites in order to gain their assistance in monitoring the activities of the ‘Alids and their followers.
For example, he made overtures to Ya'qub b. Dawud, who belonged to a family which had worked in the secretarial affairs of Khurasan during the Umayyad period23, and made him his "brother in God". Then, in 163/799, al-Mahdi made him his vizier and vested him with full powers to handle all the affairs of the Caliphate, whereupon Ya'qub gathered together the Zaydites and appointed them to the high offices of the state24.
Al-Mahdi may have been motivated by the fact that the non-revolutionary Zaydites (al-Jara'riyya) believed in the Imamate of the Inferior (al-Mafdul) as long as the Superior (al-Afdal), was present, and such dogma might give a legitimate foundation to his Caliphate which could be used against the ‘Alids.
During al-Mahdi's regime the claim was put forward that the lawful Imam after the Prophet was not ‘Ali but al-’Abbas, and that therefore the Imamate belonged to his family25. In fact Ya'qub b. Dawud brought many jurisprudents together from Basra, Kufa and al-Sham and organised them26 so as to further this claim. Al-Kashshi reports two transmissions to support this.
He says that the Zaydite Hisham b. Ibrahim wrote many Zaydite works, one of them entitled "The Confirmation of the Imamate of al- ‘Abbas”, and he adds that another Zaydite, called Ibn al-Muq’ad, wrote a heresiographical work illustrating the dogmas, places and activities of the pro-Imamites, such as al-Ya’furiyya, al-Zurariyya, al- Ammariyya, and al-Jawaliqiyya, and submitted his work to al-Mahdi. This work was then recited together with a warning by the Caliph at the gates of Baghdad, Medina and other cities27.
The recitation of this work was the first step to al-Mahdi's pursuit of the other factions of the pro‘Alids. Some of these pro-’Alids were obliged to flee from Kufa to remote provinces, like Yemen28, while al-Kazim spread instructions amongst his adherents for them to follow his quiescent policy carefully. Al-Kashshi's report seems to indicate that the tense relationship between the ‘Abbasids and the pro-’Alids continued until the death of al-Mahdi in 169/785.29
Although some of this tension seems to have been alleviated with the accession of al-Hadi, the Hasanids were closely watched and their salaries cut. They began to increase their propaganda in Khurasan and the other provinces in a new Zaydite form, and they contacted the leading personalities of the Hasanids in Medina, encouraging them to revolt30.
As a part of al-Hadi's precautionary policy the Hasanids of Medina were forced to come to the office of the governor every evening. They exploited a gathering of their followers from numerous provinces during the Pilgrimage and made their ill-treatment by the governor an excuse to rebel in 169/785. But their uprising was easily defeated and resulted in their being massacred in the battle of Fakhkh31.
However the Caliph accused al-Kazim of provoking the rebels and decided to kill him, but died in 170/786 before he could put his decision into practice32.
The battle of Fakhkh and the commitment of al-Hades successor, al-Rashid, to the anti- ‘Alid policy of his predecessors only served to entrench the political strategy of the three ‘Alid parties, the revolutionary Hasanids, the Isma'ilis and the Imamites.
The Imamite group under Imam Musa al-Kazim became stronger and more organised, and insisted on a gradual movement towards their political goal, but the Imam rejected any bid to rise in arms because he considered this the task of al-Qa’im33.
His adherents, most of whom were originally from Kufa, were scattered throughout the Islamic state and used the rite of Pilgrimage to communicate with each other. They succeeded in maintaining an important body of followers in Akhmim in Egypt, which became a centre for communication between the Shi’a in Kufa and those in Egypt34. They had other followers in al-Maghrib35.
Al-Kazim permitted a few of his adherents to work in the ‘Abbasid administration, especially in the offices of al-wizara and al-barad (governmental mail), so that they could help to save their fellows in times of danger. Hence several Imamite families held office, such as that of ‘Ali b. Yaqtin 36 and that of al-Ash'ath, including Ja’far b. Muhammad al-Ash'ath and his son al- ‘Abbas, who became the governor of Khurasan, and Waddah (or Wadih), who worked in the barid of Egypt37.
The enlargement of al-Kazim's party increased his wealth, for there is much evidence to indicate that he collected secretly from his adherents38 the khums, the zakat, gifts and other taxes enjoined in the Shari'a as part of what was due to his Imamate.
The second Shi’ite party was the Isma’ilis, who had already disassociated themselves from the quiescent policy of al-Sadiq and his son al-Kazim by adopting the Imamate of Isma'il first and then of his son Muhammad, both of whom were more inclined toward more actively revolutionary underground political activities.
They learnt from the repeated failure of the Hasanid uprisings, which were initiated without political preparation, and they decided to struggle for power through a gradual political process.
This decision encouraged them to adopt ideas from beyond the circle of Islam, and their adoption of these ideas may have "liberated" their minds from the limits of Shari’a. They put forward new interpretations of the Islamic texts, according to which each passage had an esoteric and an exoteric meaning39.
For example, a tradition attributed to the Prophet says that the Mahdi will appear when the sun rises from the place of its setting. According to them, this meant not the rising of the real sun, but that of al-Mahdi, who would appear in al-Maghrib. Therefore, they became more interested in preaching their doctrine in al-Maghrib and encouraged their followers in the east to emigrate there40.
Nawbakhti's reports suggest that the relationship between the Isma'ilis and al-Kazim's followers was tense, since the Isma’ili leaders allowed their followers to assassinate the Imamites who supported al-Kazim41. Moreover the Imamites accused the Isma'ilis of being implicated in the arrest of al-Kazim42.
In the Hijaz the situation of the third Shi’ite group, the Hasanids, was very difficult following the total defeat of their second revolt in Fakhkh in 169/785. The ‘Abbasids discovered that the notion of al-Mahdi had been in circulation amongst the Hasanids and that they believed that he might rise in Mecca.
It was such a notion that encouraged two Hasanid leaders to rise in arms, first al-Nafs al-Zakiyya in 145/762 and then al-Husayn b. 'Ali in 169/785, each of whom hoped that he might be the promised Mahdi43.
Thus the ‘Abbasids continued to restrict the movements of the Hasanids and forced them to present themselves to the governor (al-Wali) every evening."44 This critical situation made it impossible for the Hasanids to take any militant action in the Hijaz, so two of al-Nafs al-Zakiyya's brothers left Medina after the battle of Fakhkh to promote their claims elsewhere.
The first of these was Yahya al-Mahd, who went to the province of Daylam and preached his ideas there, winning considerable support from the native princes and the people of Daylam, whom he provoked to rebellion against the caliph al-Rashid in 175/791.45
The second brother, Idris, fled to Egypt, where he already had a large body of partisans, and, with the assistance of a certain Wadih, a Shi’ite working in the bared, managed to escape from there to al-Maghrib. It seems most likely that his partisans in al-Maghrib had already spread much propaganda against the ‘Abbasids, because within three years Idris succeeded in rebelling against them and establishing the Idrisid state, in 172/788.46
The numerous Shi’ite activities mentioned above seem to have been the causes of al-Rashid's anti-’Alid policy, which covered most of his Caliphate. In 171 /787 he became suspicious of the loyalty of the ‘Alids in Baghdad, and decided to gather all of them together and exile them to Medina47.
He followed this step with the appointment of Bakkar al-Zubayri, a descendant of ‘Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr, as governor of Medina and he ordered him to put the ‘Alids under close watch and to restrict their movements48. As for the rebellion of Yahya al-Mahd in Daylam, al-Rashid sent an army against him (fifty thousand according to al-Tabari) under the leadership of al-Fadl b. Yahya al-Barinaki.
Through diplomacy and promises of amnesty he managed to persuade Yahya al-Mahd to end his uprising and to surrender, after giving him a guarantee of security from al-Rashid. But the Caliph was not satisfied, so he had al-Mahd arrested in Baghdad and killed 49.
As for the revolt of Idris al-Mahd, al-Rashid followed the policy of his father al-Mahdi by using the Zaydites against the other ‘Alids. He sent a Zaydite scholar called Sulayman b. Jarir to kill Idris. In order to hide his secret target, Sulayman pretended to be a Shi’ite partisan who had escaped from the ‘Abbasids' oppression. He became one of the courtiers of Idris and managed to poison him in 177/793.50
However the assassination of IdrTs did not bring about the disintegration of his state, as the Berber tribes installed his child, Idris II, after his death. For this reason al-Rashid vested Ibrahim b. al-Aghlab with the government of Ifriqiyya and, four years later, encouraged him to establish the Aghlabid state, possibly to counteract the danger posed by the Idrisids51.
In the meantime the Imamite scholars were active in the intellectual field in Egypt, Yaman, Iraq and Khurasan52.
Hisham b. al-Hakam, for example, attempted to prove the legitimacy of the Imamate of al-Kazim, which means that he considered the ‘Abbasids as usurpers of al-Kazim's rights53.
The Hasanid uprisings in Daylam and al-Maghrib and the underground activities of the Imamites and the Isma’ilis worried alRashid and made him think that al-Kazim, whom he already knew to be receiving the khums, the kharaj and gifts from his followers; was behind all these activities and had prepared a conspiracy to overthrow him. Therefore he initiated a campaign of arresting the Imamites54.
He started by arresting al-Kazim in Medina in 179/795, and sent him to prison in Basra and Baghdad55. Furthermore, Ibn al-Mu'tazz reports that al-Rashid ordered the Zaydite Abu ‘Isma to kill the Imamite poet Mansur al-Nammari56.
It was this campaign of persecution that forced the Imamite missionary Hisham b. al-Hakam to hide in Mada’in, from whence he escaped to Kufa, where he died two months later57.
However al-Rashid's arrests did not deter the Imamite underground activities, especially in Basra. Therefore, according to the Imamite narrations, al-Kazim was poisoned for al-Rashid in 183/799 at the instigation of Yahya al-Barinaki58.
Al-Rashid also put to death sixty ‘Alids who were in his prisons59.
The death of al-Kazim led to another schism amongst the Imamites. The first group, which represented quite a large body, was called the Waqifa. They held that he was al-Qa’im al-Mahdi, but they differed amongst themselves concerning his death and split into four sub-groups, three of whom maintained that he had died while the fourth denied it60.
A few anecdotes mentioned by the Ithna' ‘Ashariyya suggest that the cause of the denial of al-Kazim's death was that some of his agents, like ‘Uthman b. ‘Isa al-Rawasi in Egypt, and Ziyad, al-Qindi, ‘Ali b. Abi Hamza, Hayyan and al-Sarraj in Kufa, possessed a large amount of money (more than a hundred thousand dinars) which belonged to al-Kazim. Since they had used this money for their own benefit, they denied his death and rejected the Imamate of al-Riďa in order that they would have an excuse for not returning the money61.
However, it is hard to agree with al-Kashshi's view concerning the reason behind the emergence of the Waqifa sect. Most of the traditions concernng the occultation and the rise of al-Qa’im are attributed to al-Sadiq, who did not indicate explicitly which of his descendants would be al-Qa’im62.
Therefore it is very likely that a considerable number of the muhaddithun thought that the Imam had indicated his son Musa and hence stopped at him, contending that he was al-Qa’im al-Mahdi and was in a state of occultation.
The second group resulting from the schism after al-Kazim's death held that he had passed away and the Imam was his son ‘Ali al-Riďa, who, according to al-Kulayni, assumed the Imamate by the designation of his father63. Al-Riďa faced many difficulties in proving his right to the Imamate, not only to his father's prominent followers, but also to his brother Ahmad.64
However, between the years 183-199/799-814, he managed to maintain a considerable number of followers, and administer an underground system of communication to carry on the religious functions of his Imamate65.
Moreover his preference for the religious dimensions of Islam, rather than its political dimensions, made him a magnet for many individuals, including the precursors of the sufi movements, especially in Khurasan66. But many Imamites who had accepted his Imamate were not satisfied with his quietist attitude and involved themselves in the underground activities of the revolutionary Zaydites, probably without his permission67.
When al-Amin became caliph, Iraq was the centre of his power. It was here that he maintained the support of the Arabs, and especially that of the Murji'ite scholars (al-amma, later called the Sunnites), while his brother al-Ma’mun was governor of Khurasan and gained the support of its military leaders and senior administrators, especially the Persian vizier al-Fadl b. Sahl and his partisans, who eventually helped him to overthrow al-Amin68.
Al-Ma’mun's success in gaining the caliphate was contrary to the political and economic interest of al-Amm's supporters. Therefore many regional revolts took place in Syria, al-Jazira, Yemen and Iraq, headed by the local ‘Abbasid governors69.
At the same time the ‘Alids used their underground propaganda which was influential in the Yemen, Hijaz and Iraq, to exploit al-Ma’mun's difficulties in Iraq and to cause a revolt in Kufa in 199/815. Thus these regions fell out of al-Ma’mun's control.
Although reports about the ideological identity of the ‘Alid uprising and the events surrounding it are confused, apparently it was a Zaydite revolt70 maintained with the support of some Imamite sects. These included the followers of Ahmad b. Musa al-Kazim and the sabtiyya, the followers of Muhammad b. Ja’far al-Sadiq71, along with some of the Imamites, but without the direct order of the eighth Imam, al-Riďa72.
The spiritual leader of this revolt was Muhammad b. Ibrahim b. Tabataba, while its military leader was Abu al-Saraya. It broke out under the slogan "We invite people to rally around the most suitable leader from the progeny of Muhammad and to practice the teachings of the Qur'an and the sunna'73 in Kufa on the 10th Jumada 199/26th January 815, where the rebels had the support of the people of the environs of Kufa and of the bedouins. Abu al-Saraya minted coins in his own name in Kufa, managed to defeat three ‘Abbasid armies and occupied Mada'in74.
Moreover he dispatched many successful campaigns under the leadership of al-Riďa's brothers and relatives to extend his authority in Iraq, al-Ahwaz, Fars, the Hijaz, and Yemen. They fulfilled their tasks and became the governors of these regions.
For example, Zayd b. Musa al-Kazim became the governor of alAhwaz and Basra, Fars came under the control of Isma'il b. Musa al-Kazim, and Yemen came under the control of his brother Ibrahim, Wasit was ruled by Husayn b. Ibrahim b. al-Hasan b ‘Ali. Abu al-Saraya appointed Sulayman b. Dawud in Medina, and nominated al-Husayn al-Aftas as governor in Mecca, authorising him to be the leader of the pilgrims and to provide the Ka'ba with a white kiswa75.
The authority of Abu al-Saraya increased after the mysterious death of the spiritual leader of the revolt, Ibn Tabataba on the 1st Rajab 199/15th February 815, and the refusal of the eminent ‘Alid, ‘Ali b. 'Ubayd Allah, to accept the position of Ibn Tabataba. Abu al-Saraya, in order to evade the interference of any strong spiritual leader, nominated for this post a young ‘Alid called Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Zayd b. ‘Ali76, and monopolised all affairs of the leadership of the revolt.
Abu al-Saraya's full control in Iraq did not continue, because the ‘Abbasid army defeated him at Qasr b. Hubayra near Kufa and forced him to withdraw towards Basra along with 800 horsemen. But news came to him that his governor in Basra, Zayd b. Musa al-Kazim, had also been defeated after hard combat and had been captured by the ‘Abbasid troops.
Thus he went towards al-Ahwaz, but was defeated by the ‘Abbasid governor of that city and his followers dispersed. A few months later the troops of al-Hasan b. Sahl captured him at Jalawla' and on 10th Rabic I 200/18th October 815 they beheaded him, after which his body was impaled in Baghdad77.
It is worth mentioning that the failure of this revolt caused some Imamites to hold that Musa al-Kazim, the seventh Imam, was al-Qa’im al-Mahdi They had considered his son Ahmad' as the lawful successor of his father. But since he had participated with Abu al-Saraya, they rejected his Imamate and denied the death of al-Kazim78.
This fact reveals the general attitude of the Imamites towards any militant action and indicates that they had Hadiths concerning the rise of an Imam with the sword, whose uprising would never be defeated, for he could not die without establishing the government of the People of the House. This may be the reason behind the quiescent attitude of those followers of al-Riďa who did not take any open or active part in the revolt of Abu al-Saraya.
On hearing of the military defeat of their comrades on the Iraqi front after the death of Abu al-Saraya, the rebels in Mecca, who had full control of the Hijaz and the Yemen, made overtures to Muhammad b. Ja’far al-Sadiq, asking him to be their leader and finally persuading him to accept their offer. They swore the oath of allegiance to him as their caliph and called him Amir al-Mu'minin on 6th Rabi’ II 200/13th November 81579.
He himself claimed that he was al-Qa’im al-Mahdi, and based his claim on prophetic traditions80. But the eighth Imam al-Riďa denied his claim, although he endeavoured to save him from a military defeat by advising trim to postpone his revolt against the ‘Abbasids81.
The installation by the rebels of an ‘Alid caliph in Mecca with the epithet al-Mahdi threatened the authority of al-Ma’mun. Having failed to subdue the revolt by force, al-Ma’mun decided to resort to political methods, by conciliating the eight Imam al-Riďa. He dispatched an army under the leadership of 'Isa b. al-Juludi to Medina for this purpose82.
But this army was badly defeated at the hands of Muhammad b. Ja’far al-Sadiq. Therefore al-Juludi asked al-Riďa to contact Muhammad and ask him to end his resistance, but he rejected al-Riďa's mediation and insisted on continuing his rebellion. This led to skirmishes between the ‘Abbasid troops and the rebels until the end of the year 200/815, when the ‘Abbasid army captured Muhammad b. Ja’far al-Sadiq and forced him to renounce his claim publicly83.
Because his arrest did not return the areas of revolt into the hands of the authorities, al-Juludi returned with him and al-Riďa to Merv. According to al-Kulayni, al-Ma’mun welcomed al-Riďa and offered him the caliphate, but he refused. However, after a few. months of negotiation with al-Ma mun, al-Riďa agreed to be his successor84.
The caliph announced his acceptance. on 5th Ramadan 201/28th March 817 and called him "al-Riďa mini Al Muhammad'. At the same time he ordered his soldiers to wear green clothes instead of the black which was the emblem of the ‘Abbasids. Then he strengthened his relations with al-Riďa by marrying his sister Umm Habiba to al-Riďa85.
The installation of al-Riďa was in reality a political step arranged by the Persian vizier al-Fadl b. Sahl and associated with other policies aimed at consolidating his Persian support and harming the interests of his Arab opposition in Baghdad. This can be concluded from the points mentioned below:
Firstly, the fact that al-Ma’mun continued to reside in Merv caused complaints amongst the military and administrative groups in Iraq, who had been the courtiers of Al-Amin (193-198/808-814) and who then had to struggle for their economic and regional interests against the Persian vizier of al-Ma’mun, al-Fadl b. Sahl, and his brother al-Hasan b. Sahl86.
Because he was busy with this conflict, al-Ma’mun failed to subdue completely the ‘Alid rebellion in the Hijaz and Yemen. Therefore, with the encouragement of his vizier, al-Ma’mun installed al-Riďa as his successor to the caliphate in order to divide the rebels by gaining the support of al-Riďa's adherents and those who were hoping for the appearance of an inspired ‘Alid leader87.
Secondly, al-Ma’mun changed the colour of the ‘Abbasid emblem from black to green. The latter colour was associated with the Sasanids, whereas the ‘Alid emblem was white88.
Such a step suggests the influence of the Persian vizier al-Fadl b. Sahl.
Thirdly, by installing al-Riďa as his successor, al-Ma’mun succeeded in splitting the rebels by gaining the support of al-Riďa's brothers, who accepted the conciliation of al-Ma’mun and mentioned his name in the khutba along with the name of al-Riďa. According to al-Tabari, al-’Abbas b. Musa al-Kazim accepted the governorship of Kufa on behalf of al-Ma’mun, a fact which encouraged some of the rebels to mentions the names of al-Ma’mun and al-Riďa in the khutba.
But the majority of the Kufans insisted on mentioning only al-Riďa's name or that of any prominent person from the descendants of 'Ali89.
Such attitudes indicate the Zaydite inclination of the Kufans. However, the leader of the rebels in Mecca, Ibrahim b. Musd al-Kazim agreed to mention both his brother alRida and al-Ma’mun in the khutba. For this reason, al-Ma’mun confirmed his office and authorised him to lead the pilgrimage in Mecca90.
But a year later, in 202/817, the caliph gave the governorship of Mecca to an ‘Abbasid leader, ‘Isa al-Juludi, and dispatched Ibrahim to Yemen to subdue the rebellion there. He also granted him Yemen's governorship. After he had fulfilled this task, Ibrahim set out for Mecca, but during his return he was arrested, as was his brother Zayd, and sent to al-Ma’mun91.
Moreover, al-Nawbakhti mentions that a considerable body of the muhaddithun and Zaydites (the non-revolutionary branch) became Imamites after the installation of al-Riďa. But the accounts of al-Kashshi and al-Saduq suggest that these same people, for example Hisham b. Ibrahim al-Rashidi, had been used by al-Ma’mun to watch the partisans of al-Riďa, and this might explain why they returned to their previous faith directly after the death of al-Riďa in 203/817.92
Fourthly, after he had quashed the 'Alid rebellion, al-Ma’mun decided to go to Baghdad, taking with him al-Riďa and Muhammad b. Ja’far al-Sadiq. During his advance, his vizier. al-Fadl b. Sahl was assassinated, then al-Riďa died in Tus, probably of poison93, and Muhammad b. Ja’far al-Sadiq passed away and was buried in Jurjan94.
Their mysterious deaths seem to indicate that al-Ma’mun, having used them to fragment the ‘Alid opposition, was now moving on to a more rigorous anti- 'Alid programme.
Fifthly, the numerous measures initiated by al-Ma’mun after his arrival at Bahgdad on Rabi’ I 204/819 revealed the political aim of his previous policy. He cast aside the green banner and ordered his subjects to wear the black colour of the ‘Abbasids95. He granted al Riďa's successor, al-Jawad, two million dirhams96, and gave back the ‘district of Fadak to prominent ‘Alids, Muhammad b. Yahya b. al-Husayn and Muhammad b. ‘Ubayd Allah b. al-Hasan97.
Furthermore, the land-tax (al-kharaj) of the sawad was adjusted in favour of the tax-payer. The share of the treasury was to be two-fifths instead of half of the produce98.
Through these actions, al-Ma’mun wanted to cut the support given by the prominent ‘Alids and the peasants of the sawad to the revolutionary 'Alid activities, which, according to Abu al-Fida, he had brought to an end. He was also endeavouring to work against his Arab opposition in Baghdad. When he entered the city everything there returned to normal as if the uprising had never occurred.99
Finally, in 205/820 al-Ma mun started to hold symposiums between the Imamites and the Zaydites, and encouraged them to discuss the question of the Im ama in his presence. It is worth mentioning that the non-revolutionary Zaydites believed in the Imamate of the inferior (al-Mafdul) in spite of the presence of the superior (al-Afdal).
This view was based on the belief that even though ‘Ali b. Abi Talib was the most excellent of the community after the Prophet, he fully recognized the caliphate of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar. Because of this belief of the Zaydites, in the discussions with the Imamites, al-Ma’mun often agreed with the viewpoints of Zaydite scholars such as ‘Ali b. al-Him, as regards the Imamate100.
Then al-Ma’mun managed to capture the 'Alid rebel ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Ahmad b. ‘Abd Allah b. Muhammad b. ‘Umar b. ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, who rose in arms in Yemen. By subduing this rebellion, alMa’mun ended the last military opposition of the ‘Alids during his rule. Finally, in 206/821 his real attitude towards the ‘Alids was revealed when he ordered them to wear black, and announced that all the descendants of Imam ‘Ali b. Abi Talib and their close kindred (al-Talibiyun) should be prevented from entering his palace101.
Despite the well-developed status of the Imamite organization during the last period of al-Riďa's Imamate, he died, leaving a successor only seven years old, thus causing further splits amongst his followers. Al-Mas'udi mentions that because of the age of Muhammad al-Jawad, the ninth Imam, al-Riďa's followers were confused as to whether or not he possessed the requisite qualifications for the Imamate.
Therefore eighty leading personalities from various provinces, among them al-Rayyan b. al Salt, Safwan b. Yahya, Yunis b. ‘Abd al-Rahman, Muhammad b. Hakim, 'Ali b. al-Hasan al-Wasiti, and Ishaq b. Isma’ il b. Nawbakht, gathered together at the house of ‘Abd al-Rahman b. al-Hajjaj in Baghdad to discuss the validity of al-Jawad's Imamate.
They decided to test his knowledge during the pilgrimage. Two groups concluded that al-Jawad's age precluded his being qualified for the Imamate; the first group supported the Imamate of his uncle, Ahmad b. Musa al-Kazim, whereas the second group, including Ibrahim b. Salih alAnmati, joined the Waqifa and held that the seventh Imam .was al-Qa’im al-Mahdi102.
But the rest were satisfied that al-Jawad's knowledge was exceptional and held that he was well qualified in spite of his age103. Hence they continued with the affairs of the organization, and sent propagandists from Kufa and Medina to various provinces. According to al-Najashi, many Kufan muhaddithun, such as Muhammad b. Muhammad b. al-Ash'ath, Ahmad b. Sahl, al-Husayn. b. ‘Ali al-Misri, and Isma’ il b. Musa al-Kazim, moved to Egypt and carried on their activities there.
One of these activities was to circulate the traditions of the Prophet concerning al-Qa’im al-Mahdi and the fact that he would be from the progeny of al-Husayn104.
A narration mentioned by al-Kulayni suggests that they gained considerable adherents there, namely, that ‘Ali b. Asbat al-Kufi came from Egypt to Medina to see al-Jawad so as to describe him to the Imamites in Egypt105. Throughout the land of the caliphate the Imamite system of sending out agents (wukala') became more developed and managed to save their organization from certain disintegration.
They allowed their partisans to work in the ‘Abbasid administration. Thus Muhammad b. Isma'il b. Bazi and Ahmad b. Hamza al-Qummi occupied high ranks in the vizierate113, and Nuh b. Darraj was the qadi of Baghdad and then of Kufa. Because his relatives were the agents of al-Jawad, he hid his faith during his occupation of this post114.
Other Imamites became governors of some ‘Abbasid provinces, such as al-Husayn b. ‘Abd Allah al-Nisaburi, the governor of Bist and Sistan, and al-Hakam b. ‘Alya al-Asadi, the governor of Bahrain. Both of these men paid the khums to al-Jawad while hiding their allegiance to him115.
At this stage the underground activities of the agents only aimed at controlling and carrying on the religious and financial affairs of the Imamites, not at endangering al-Ma’mun's rule. However in the year 210/825 the people of Qumm, most of whom were Imamites, appealed to the caliph to reduce their land-tax (al-kharaj), just as he had reduced the kharaj of the inhabitants of Rayy, but he ignored their appeal.
Therefore they refused to pay the kharaj and took control of the affairs of Qumm116.
As a result al-Ma’mun dispatched three regiments of his army from Baghdad and Khurasan to quash their revolt. The leader of the Abbasid army, ‘Ali b. Hisham accomplished his task. He demolished the wall of Qumm and killed many people, amongst them Yahya b. ‘Umran, who, according to Ibn Shahr Ashub, was the agent of al-Jawad117.
Moreover al-Ma’mun collected seven million dirhams from Qumm's inhabitants as a kharaj instead of the normal amount, which had been two million dirhams before the uprising. The reports of al-Tabari and Ibn al-Athir indicate that some of the leaders of this revolt were exiled to Egypt, among them Ja’far b. Dawud al-Qummi118.
But these measures did not end the military activities in Qumm. According to al-Tabari, Ja’far b. Dawud escaped from Egypt and rebelled in Qumm in 214/829, but his revolt was subdued and he was arrested and banished again to Egypt119.
Unfortunately the Imamite sources are silent about these military actions in Qumm and their relationship with the Imamites' organization. But al-Ma’mun linked these activities with al-Jawad. Thus he endeavoured to end them through the Imam. According to al-Azdi and al-Tabari, during his march to invade al-Rum, al-Mam'un summoned al-Jawad and welcomed him in Tikrit in Safar 215/830, where he married his daughter Umm al-Fadl to him.
He asked him to celebrate his marriage in Baghdad, then to go back with his wife to Medina120.
But this marriage neither gave al-Ma’mun the support of the Imamites nor stopped the revolts in Qumm. Ja’far b. Dawud managed to escape again from Egypt and rebelled in Qumm in 216/831, where he defeated the army sent by alMa’mun and killed its leader ‘Ali b. ‘Isa. He continued his resistance until the end of the year 217/832, when the ‘Abbasid troops ended his uprising and executed him121.
But afterwards the underground activities of the ‘Alids increased on a wide scale. Therefore al-Mu’tasim, who succeeded al-Ma’mun to the caliphate in 218/833, was obliged to summon al-Jawad and Muhammad b. al-Qasim al-Talqan, so as to investigate their role in the underground activities.
The latter, on hearing of al-Mu'tasim's decision, escaped from Kufa to Khurasan122, whereas al-Jawad was arrested in Medina and taken along with his wife, Umm al-Fadl, to the caliph in Baghdad, where he was put under house-arrest. He died a few months later in Dhu al-Hijja 220/835. Some Imamite writers claim that his wife Umm al-Fadl poisoned him at the instigation of al-Mu'tasim, but al-Mufid thinks that he died naturally123.
In the last few years of al-Jawad's Imamate the system and the tactics of the Imamite agents were highly developed. The Imam's followers in Khurasan allowed themselves to be recruited into the ‘Abbasid army and participated in subduing the rebellion of the Khurramiyya. According to al-Tusi, in 220/834 they seized a large amount of booty from the rebels, so al-Jawad ordered them to pay the khums either to him directly or to his agent124.
Al-Jawad himself, on hearing of al-Mu'tasim's command to present himself in Baghdad, asked his representative Muhammad b. Al-Faraj to hand the khums to his son 'Ali al-Hddi as a .sign that he was to be his successor125.
According to the Imamite sources; the bulk of the followers of alJaw5d accepted the Imamate of his successor ‘Ali al-Hadi, who was then seven years old. His age presented no obstacle to their accepting his Imamate, since they had faced the same problem with his father, who had also been seven years old when he took over the office.
A few of al-Jawad's followers, however, supported the Imamate of his son Musa, but after a short time they rejoined the rest of the Imamites, accepting the Imamate of ‘Ali al-Hadi126.
At this stage the Imamites concentrated their efforts in reorganising the activities of their followers. This was especially necessary considering the fact that the flourishing state of the 'Abbasid economy had decreased the ‘Alids' opportunities to obtain supporters for further military action127.
Perhaps for this reason the caliph, al-Mu'tasim and his successor al-Wathiq (227-232/841-846), were more tolerant towards the ‘Alids than al-Ma’mun before them or al-Mutawakkil after them. According to Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani, the descendants of ‘Ali b. Abi Talib and their close kindred (al-Talibiyun) assembled in Samarra where they were paid salaries by the caliph al-Wathiq128.
The latter also distributed a large amount of money among the ‘Alids in the Hijaz and other provinces129.
After the death of al-Wathiq certain events had serious consequences for the ‘Abbasid attitude towards the activities.of the adherents of the tenth Imam, al-Hadi. Al-Mutawakkil was chosen to the caliphate in 232/837,130 and his installation was seen by the narrators (al-Muhaddithun al-amma) as a major setback for those who favoured the ‘Alids.
The majority of the latter were from the ranks of the Mu'tazila and the Shi’ites, who formed the progressive and indeed radical element in society. Recognising this, alMutawakkil carried out certain measures with the aim of destroying the economic and political foundations of both the Mu'tazila and the Shi’ites.
Firstly, he abandoned the"inquisition" (al-Mihna) against the narrators of the amma, which had been implemented by al-Ma mun with the support of the Mu’tazilites, and he encouraged these narrators and their adherents to openly adopt anti-Shi’ite slogans131.
Secondly, al-Mutawakkil discharged the vizier, al-Zayyat, and his staff from their offices and appointed instead al-Jarjara’i and Ibn Khaqan, who were more inclined to go along to with his anti-Shi’ite policy132.
Thirdly, he decided to rebuild the whole structure of the army in two stages. First he began to gradually weaken the power of the Tahirids, who were in charge of ruling Khurasan and of policing Baghdad and the Sawad. He did this by nominating his three sons, alMuntasir, al-Mu’tazz and al-Mu'ayyad, as his successive heirs apparent, and then appointing al-Muntasir as governor in Ifriqiyya and al-Maghrib, al-Mu'ayyad as governor in Syria, and al-Mu'tazz as ruler of the eastern provinces, in particular Khurasan.
Simultaneously the caliph divided the army in the capital among his sons and sent them to the provinces to which he had appointed them, so as to prevent any direct conspiracy on the part of the leaders of the army. His second move was to begin to build a new army called alShakiriyya, recruiting people from areas which were well-known for their anti-’Alid attitudes, particularly from Syria, al-Jazira, al-Jabal, Hijaz, and even from the ‘Abna , who had rebelled against the "inquisition"133.
While carrying out these measures, al-Mutawakkil turned towards the opposition to deal with the organised underground activities of the ‘Alids in general and the Imamites in particular. The intellectual activities of the Imamites in Egypt, which had been encouraged by Isma’il b. Musa al-Kazim, had borne fruit and expanded into the sphere of underground political activities, even penetrating into remote parts of North Africa134.
The system of communication of their organization (al-Wikala) was highly developed, particulary in the capital Samarra, Baghdad, Mada’in, and the districts of the Sawad135.
Furthermore al-Yaqubi's report seems to indicate that the Imamites had hidden the name of their Imam to the extent that the caliph was not sure exactly who he was136 or if he had direct links with Shi’ite underground activities.
Al-Mutawakkil instigated a campaign of arrests against the Imamites in 232/846, accompanied by such harsh treatment that some of the agents of the Imam in Baghdad, Mada’in, Kufa and the Sawad died under torture, while others were thrown into jail137.
By these measures the caliph caused serious damage to the communication network within the Wikala. In order to fill the vacuum left by the arrested agents, the Imam had to appoint new agents instead, such as Abu ‘Ali b. Rashid, who was nominated to lead the activites of the Imamites in Baghdad, Mada’in and the Sawad, and Ayyub b. Nuh, who was appointed as the agent of Kufa.
Al-Hadi also provided them with new instructions concerning their duties during this critical situation138.
Despite all the Imamite efforts to save their organization, the investigation of the governor of Medina, ‘Abd Allah b. Muhammad, led to the discovery that al-Hadi was in fact behind these activities. He informed al-Mutawakkil, warning him of the danger of al-Hades presence in Medina. So the caliph summoned al-Hadi to Samarra in 233/848, where he kept him under house-arrest139.
Two years later the caliph discovered that Egypt and the areas near the tomb of al-Husayn in the Sawad were the strongest centres of the underground communications of the ‘Alids. Therefore he ordered that the tomb of al-Husayn and the houses nearby be levelled to the ground. Then he ordered that the ground of the tomb be ploughed and cultivated, so that any trace of the tomb would be forgotten. Furthermore he issued an order prohibiting people from visiting the tombs of any of the Imams and warning them that anyone found in their vicinity would be arrested140.
Al-Mutawakkil also waged another campaign of arrests. Among those taken prisoner was Yahya b. ‘Umar al-’Alawi, who was accused of conspiracy and held in the jail of al-Mutbaq in Baghdad141. At the same time al-Mutawakkil ordered the governor of Egypt to deport the Talibiyyin to Iraq, and he did so. Afterwards in 236/850,142 alMutawakkil banished them to Medina which had been used as a place of exile for the ‘Alids.
Several remarks suggest that al-Mutawakkil went even further in his policy, aiming in the long term to destroy the economic and social status of the ‘Alids, and issued many orders so as to achieve this end. He confiscated the properties of the Husaynids, that is the estate of Fadak, whose revenue at that time, according to Ibn Tawus, was 24,000 dinars, and granted it to his partisan ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Umar al-Bazyar143.
He also warned the inhabitants of the Hijaz not to have any communication with the ‘Alids or to support them financially. Many people were severely punished because they did so. According to al-Isfahani, as a result of al-Mutawakkil's measures the ‘Alids faced harsh treatment in Medina, where they were totally isolated from other people and deprived of their necessary livelihood144.
The caliph also wanted to remove the Shi’ites from the ‘Abbasid administration and to destroy their good standing in public opinion. Al-Mas'udi gives an example of this policy: he mentions that Ishaq b. lbrahim, the governor of Saymara and Sirawan in the province of al-Jabal, was discharged from his office because of his Imamite allegiance, and that other people lost their positions for the same reason145.
According to al-Kindi, al-Mutawakkil ordered his governor in Egypt to deal with the ‘Alids according to the following rules:
1) No ‘Alid could be given an estate or be allowed to ride a horse or to move from al-Fustat to the other towns of the province.
2) No ‘Alid was permitted to possess more than one slave.
3) If there was any conflict between an ‘Alid and a non‘Alid, the judge must first hear the claim of the non-Alid, and then accept it without negotiation with the ‘Alid.146
By these measures, al-Mutawakkil managed to prevent the Shi’ites from plotting against his regime, but he failed to end their underground activities. Reports indicate that al-Hadi continued his communications with his adherents secretly, receiving the khums and other taxes from his agents in Qumm and its districts147.
According to al-Mas'udi, al-Mutawakkil was informed about this, and he also heard that in al-Hadi's house there were arms and letters from his supporters indicating a conspiracy against him. Therefore the house was searched by the caliph's soldiers, but they did not find any proof, and so al-Hadi was set free148.
The suppression of the Imamites decreased after the assassination of al-Mutawakkil, who was succeeded by his son al-Muntasir in 247/861. He was more tolerant toward them than his father. He issued an order to stop the campaign of arrests and the oppression of the ‘Alids and their adherents, and permitted them to visit the tombs of al-Husayn and the other Imams.
He also gave the properties of Fadak back to them. But this new attitude on the part of the caliph ceased with the succession of al-Mustain in 248/862.149
According to al-Kindi, the Imamites in Egypt were persecuted by its governor, Yazid b. ‘Abd Allah al-Turki, who arrested an ‘Alid leader called Ibn Abi Hudra along with his followers. They were accused of carrying out underground activities and deported to Iraq in 248/862.150 Al-Kulayni also states that the campaign of arrests and pursuits affected the followers of al-Hadi in Egypt.
For example, Muhammad b. Hajar was slain and the estate of Sayf b. al-Layth was seized by the ruler151.
It appears, however, that the ‘Abbasid oppression did not deter the Shi’ite ambition to reach power. Many historians like al-Isfahani report that ‘Alid revolts broke out in 250-1/864-5 in the areas of Kufa, Tabaristan, Rayy, Qazwin, Egypt and Hijaz.
These might have been directed by one group, or to be more accurate, by one leader. It is beyond the scope of this work to deal with the details of these revolts, but it is worth mentioning that the rebels employed the Prophetic traditions concerning al-Qa’im al-Mahdi and the signs of his rising to achieve immediate political success.
According to Ibn ‘Uqda, the leader of this uprising, Yahya b. ‘Umar al-’Alawi, was expected to be al-Qa’im al-Mahdi, because all the signs and events predicted by the sixth Imam, al-Sadiq, regarding the rise of al-Qa’im al-Mahdi occured during the course of that revolution154:
قال ابو عبداللة لا بدان رجل يخرج من ال محمد ولا بدان يمسك الراية البيضاء. قال علي ابن الحسن; فاجتمع اهل بني رواس و كانوا قد عقدوا عمامة بيضاء على قناة فامسكها محمد بن معروف وقت خروج يحيى بن عمر, و قال ابو عبد اللة في هذا الخبر, و يجف فراتكم فجف الفرات, و قال ايضا; يحونكم قوم صغار الاعين فيخرجونكم من دوركم. و قال علي ابن الحسن, فجاءنا كنجور و الاتراك فاخرجوا الناس من ديارهم. و قال ابو عبد اللة ايضا; و تجىء السباع الى دوركم. قال علي; فجاءت السباع الى دورنا. و قال ابو عبد اللة, و كاني بجناءزكم تحفر.و قال علي ابن الحسن, فراينا ذلك كلة. و قال ابو عبد اللة; يخرج رجل اشقر ذو سبال ينصب لة كرسي على باب دار عمر بن حريث , يدعوا الناس بي البراءة من علي ابن ابي طالب علية السلام و يقتل خلقا من الخلق و يقتل في يومة , فراينا ذلك كلة.
This document indicates that the Imamites were expecting the establishment of their state by al-Qa’im al-Mahdi in the near future. Despite the uprising's Zaydite facade, many pure Imamites participated. According to Ibn ‘Uqda, the holder of the rebel standard in Mecca was Muhammad b. Ma’ruf al-Hilali (d. 250/864), who was among the eminent Imamites of the Hijaz155.
Furthermore, the leader' of the rebels in Kufa, Yahya b. ‘Umar, who was assassinated in 250/864, attracted the sympathy and praise of al-Hadi's agent, Abu Hashim al-Ja’fari156.
In addition al-Mas’udi reports that a certain ‘Ali b. Musa b. Isma'il b. Musa al-Kazim took part in the revolt in Rayy and was arrested by the caliph al-Mu’tazz. Since this man was the grandson of the Isma'il b. Musa al-Kazim who had preached the Imamite doctrine in Egypt, it seems extremely probable that the revolt was essentially Imamite157.
Moreover, al-Tabari gives information concerning the underground activities of the Imamites and their role in this rebellion, which the authorities considered purely Zaydite rather than Imamite. He also reports that the ‘Abbdsid spies discovered correspondence between the leader of the rebels in Tabaristan, al-Hasan b. Zayd, and the nephew of Muhammad b. ‘Ali b. Khalf al-’Attar. Both of these men were adherents of the tenth Imam, al-Hadi158.
This led the authorities to the conclusion that the Imamites had direct links with the rebels. So they arrested the leading Imamite personalities in Baghdad and deported them to Samarra. Among them were Muhammad b. ‘Ali al-Attar, Abu Hashim al-Ja’fari159, and the two sons of al-Hadi, Ja’far and al-Hasan al-’Askari, later to be the eleventh Imam160.
One can link these ‘Abbasid precautions to the sudden death of al-Hadi in Samarra in 254/868, because the authorities believed him to be behind all these disturbances, and felt that his death would bring them to an end161.
The cautious attitude of the authorities towards the Imamites continued during the short Imamate of the eleventh Imam, al-Hasan al-’Askari (254-60/868-74). He was put under house-arrest and his movements were restricted, since he was obliged to present himself at the palace of the caliph in Samarra every Monday and Thursday162.
Despite these restrictions, al- ‘Askari managed to communicate with his agents by secret means163.
It appears that the continuation of the rebellion of the ‘Alids, who extended their penetration into new areas, was behind the restriction of the Imam's movements. According to al-Tusi, the caliph al-Muhtadi arrested some Imamites in 255/869, accusing them of the assassination of ‘Abd Allah b. Muhammad al-’Abbasi, who had been murdered by the rebels in Kufa. Al-’Askari was also arrested, but was set free soon after the death of the caliph, al-Muhtadi164.
Despite the fact that the eleventh Imam managed to carry out his activities without the knowledge of the authorities until his death in 260/874,165 the policy of housearrest, which had been imposed upon the Imams by the caliph al-Ma’mun and had been continued until the time of al-’Askari, seems to have led him to search for a method by which he could prevent ‘Abbasid surveillance being imposed on his son, the Twelfth Imam, so that he could disguise his identity and carry on his activities in secret166.
From the death of al-Husayn onward, the Imams of the Shi'a followed a more or less passive policy towards the ruling caliphs, but this did not indicate their acceptance of the rights of the Umayyads and then the ‘Abbasids to the caliphate. Rather they believed that, since these families had come to power through natural means, their downfall would also be according to the will of Allah, that He would indicate their imminent downfall to them and assist them in carrying out His will when the appropriate time had arrived.
Towards this end they were always prepared to rise and take their rightful position, because any Imam could be ordained by Allah as al-Qa’im al-Mahdi. This can be noted in the statement of Imam ‘Ali b. Abi Talib,
البيت اهل منا يشاء من الله يجعل والمهدي
"Allah will choose the Mahdi, whom He wants, from among us, the People of the House."167
Thus al-Sadiq, who was strong and capable of leading an uprising might have risen against the caliph if his followers had adhered to his instructions, but schisms appeared amongst their ranks and the Imam's aspirations came to naught. A considerable body among al-Sadiq's followers were not satisfied with his political methods, and disassociated themselves from him in order to struggle for power without his interference.
This was manifested in the emergence of the Zaydites and the Isma'ilis, who put forward a new interpretation of the traditions (Ahadith) concerning al-Qa’im al-Mahdi and his rising and used it in their struggle for power. This can be seen in the Zaydite and Isma’ili revolts between the years 145-296/762-908, which ended with the establishment of an Isma’ili state and the installation of an Imam with the title al-Mahdi.
The Imams, however, denied the claim of any ‘Alid who claimed that he was al-Qa’im al-Mahdi promised by the Prophet, but they sympathised with some ‘Alid rebels who were loyal to them. This might encourage us to assume that the Imams had two methods designed to help them reach power.
The first was the scholarly, cultural and religious activities which they fostered amongst the people without openly involving themselves in any political activities. Secondly, they secretly supported some Shi’ite rebels who were loyal to them, hoping that they would hand the power over to them after their success.
The military activities of the various Shi’ite groups confused the ‘Abbasids and led them to believe that the Imamite Imams were behind them or at least that the result of their intellectual activities would be militant action. Therefore the ‘Abbasid authorities forced the Imams to reside in the capital from the year 202/817 under housearrest.
This policy was imposed upon the Imams al-Riďa, al-Jawad, al-Hadi, and al-’Askari, and led them to develop the underground system of their organisation (al-Wikala) so that it could function under these difficult conditions.
At the same time this critical situation forced the eleventh Imam, al-’Askari, to search for a method by which he could prevent ‘Abbasid surveillance being imposed upon his son, later to be the Twelfth Imam, so as to enable him to disguise his identity and carry on his activities beyond the careful watch of the authorities.