Five Year Old Boy Become an Imam?
The session began on time. Everyone was anxiously waiting to begin the discussion. Dr. Fahímí formulated his question thus.
Dr. Fahímí: Let us assume that Imam \asan 'Askarí did have a son. But how can one believe that a five year old lad is appointed to the position of wiláyat and Imamate? How is it possible that he is given the charge of protecting and effecting the laws of God at that young age and is made the Imam, the leader of the people and God's Proof on earth?
Mr. Hoshyár: It appears that you have imagined the position of the Prophethood and the Imamate to be a trivial thing not requiring any precondition or criterion for anyone who is supposed to protect and effect the divine laws! Moreover, it would seem that you do not require any qualifications or personal character and perfection in a person who is to assume such a divinely ordained position --even to the extent that it is possible that Abú Sufyán could take the position of the prophethood occupied by Mu<ammad b. 'Abd Alláh and ^al<a and Zubayr could assume the Imamate instead of 'Alí b. Abí ^álib.
However, a little attention will lead you to the traditions reported on the authority of the ahl al-bayt that the matter of the leadership and guidance of the community is not that simple. Indeed, Prophethood is a divine office that requires a qualified individual to be designated to carry out its functions derived from a special spiritual relationship between God and His emissary, a prophet. More importantly, such an individual is endowed with hidden knowledge, and knowledge about God's laws and injunctions which have been revealed to him through God's special favor on him and, hence, both he and the message are free from any error or falsehood.
Similarly, wiláyat and Imamate are extremely important offices. The person occupying that position is required to preserve the divine laws and teachings of the Prophet without committing any error or inadvertence in their transmission and their promulgation in the community. Moreover, that person has to be in contact with the hidden source of divine knowledge so that he may receive God's guidance in understanding and illuminating His revelation for humanity. It is because of his knowledge and the actions based on divine guidance that he attains the position of being proclaimed God's Proof (<ujjat) and His manifestation on earth.
It is obvious that not every person on this earth is capable of fulfilling these requirements and effecting the laws of God in human society. It is necessary that the person assuming this sensitive position should be endowed with a spiritual and human perfection so as to establish proper contact with the divine source and receive the knowledge and retain it for the community. Moreover, this person must possess both physical and mental qualities most appropriate to the execution of his functions as the leader and guide of the Muslim community. He cannot afford to be fallible and erroneous in conveying the religious truth necessary for the well being of humanity.
Hence, it must be maintained that the Prophet and the Imams are the best in creation. More importantly, it is because of these personal qualities that God, the Almighty, appoints them in the position of a Prophet and an Imam. These qualities are present in them from the time they come into this world. At the appropriate time and as the situation demands, and provided there are no obstacles, they become manifest. It is only then that these individuals become selected and appointed as Prophets and Imams with the mission to carry and effect God's ordinances for humanity. This manifest designation may occur at times after they attain the age of maturity, and at other times even while they are younger in age.
The Qur'an provides the best example of
the appointment to the prophethood at a very young age. In the
example of Jesus (peace be upon him), the Qur'an speaks about
the miracle of Jesus while he was still a baby in the cradle.
At that time Jesus introduced himself as a prophet who had brought
the revealed message for the Children of Israel. Thus, he says:
Lo, I am God's servant; God has given me the Book, and made me a Prophet. Blessed He has made me, wherever I may be; and He has enjoined me to pray, and to give the alms, so long as I live. (Súra Maryam, 29)
From this and other verses of the Qur'an it is clear that Jesus (peace be upon him) from his very early childhood had been appointed as the Prophet and had been given the Book.
In light of the above, it is correct to say that there is no objection to maintaining that a person could establish relations with the divine sources of knowledge at a very early age and could be appointed to undertake the critical responsibility of promulgating the divine laws with utmost care and accuracy. Moreover, he could be made completely capable of performing his task and safeguarding the divine trust.
Incidentally, Imam Jawád (peace be upon him), at the time of his father's death was nine or seven years old. It was because of his young age that some among the Shí'ís had doubts about his being the Imam. To resolve this problem some of the leading members of the community came to see Imam Jawád and asked him several difficult and complex questions. To all these the Imam was able to give sufficient and satisfactory answers. Moreover, they also witnessed some miracles from him which removed their doubt in his being their Imam at that young age.
Imam Ri_á had appointed Imam Jawád as his successor and when he found people surprised at his designation he said: "Jesus (peace be upon him) also became a Prophet and a Proof of God at a young age."
Imam 'Alí Naqí also became the Imam at the age of six years and five months, following his father's death.
So, Dr. Fahímí, the Prophets
and the Imams are specially created to carry out the functions
assigned to them by God. Hence, it is not proper to compare them
with ordinary people and their capacities.
Often among ordinary people one comes across rare individuals endowed with excellent intelligence and immense potential. In fact, they manifest unusual mental powers and faculties of perception superior to an individual of, let us say, forty years of age.
Abú 'Alí Síná,
known as Avicenna to Western readers, is regarded among the geniuses
of his times. In his autobiography he writes:
Later we all moved to Bukhárá, where I was given teachers of Qur'an and Arabic letters (adab). By the time I was ten years old, I had completed the study of the Qur'an and a major part of Arabic letters, so much so that people wondered at my attainments. . . . Then, under the guidance of al-Nátilí, I began to read the Isagoge [of the Greek neoplatonist philosopher Porphyrius] . . .Almagest [of Ptolemy]. . . . Then I took up medicine and began to read books written on this subject. Medicine is not one of the difficult sciences, and in a very short time I undoubtedly excelled in it, so that physicians of merit studied under me. . . . At the same time I carried on debates and controversies in jurisprudence. At this point I was sixteen years old.
It is said that Fá_il Hindí had mastered all rational and traditional sciences by the age of twelve, and had begun to write a book. The list of the gifted people is long. One only has to open a history of the world to realize that a number of universally recognized individuals were endowed at a young age with uncommon intelligence and a capacity to learn and leave for posterity a wealth of knowledge in different disciplines.
Dr. Fahímí, if other children
can be endowed with unique potentials and turn out to be a genius,
capable of memorizing hundreds of things and a variety of subjects
-- provoking wonderment in others -- why should it be inconceivable
that God in His wisdom appointed the twelfth Imam, God's authentic
proof who happens to be a five year old, to occupy the position
of wiláyat and to be the exponent and protector
of God's ordinances? In fact, the Imams had predicted his attaining
that high position at an incredibly young age. Imam Báqir
said: "The one who will be entrusted with the command (#á<ib
al-'amr) will be youngest in age and less known than all of
of the People when Naming the Qá'im
Dr. Jalálí: I am sure you know that it is customary among the people to rise when the word qá'im is mentioned. Is there any tradition to support this custom?
Mr. Hoshyár: This custom is common among all the Shí'ís around the world. It is related that Imam Ri_á was present in one of the gatherings in Khurásán when the word qá'im was mentioned. At that he rose, put his right hand on his head and said: "O God, make his deliverance soon and his rising graceful!"
This custom was prevalent even during the
time of Imam @ádiq (peace be upon him). Somebody had asked
him: "Why is it that one should rise (qiyám)
when the Qá'im is mentioned?" The Imam replied:
The one who is entrusted with the command (#á<ib al-'amr) will have a very long occultation. Because of the utmost love that he has for his followers, whoever remembers him with his title Qá'im, which carries the meaning of awaiting his rule and conveys the impact of the longing for him, he too will show his concern for the faithful. Since the person remembering the Qá'im is also attended by him, it is appropriate to rise out of respect for him and pray to God for his early deliverance.
Hence, the Shí'í custom has
a religious root and reflects respect and conveys an aspiration,
although whether such an act is obligatory or not is unknown.
Did the Story about the Occultation Begin?
Dr. Fahímí: I have heard that since Imam \asan 'Askarí died without leaving a son, some opportunistic people like 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd, fabricated the story about the occultation of the Mahdí in order to preserve their own position in the community.
The Prophet and the Imams had long before that informed the people
about the impending occultation of the Mahdí. Thus, for
instance, the Prophet is reported to have said:
I swear by the One Who prompted me to give you the good news that the Qá'im among my descendants, in accordance with the covenant that reaches him from me, will disappear. [The situation will be such] that most of the people will say: "God does not need the progeny of Mu<ammad." Others will doubt his very birth. Whoever lives during [this period of occultation] should cling to his faith and not let the Satan approach him through the channel of doubt and cause him to abandon my religion, just as he had caused your parents [Adam and Eve], to be thrown out of Paradise. Undoubtedly, God has made Satan friend of those who do not believe.
A#bagh b. Nubáta relates the occasion when Amír al-Mu'minín 'Alí b. Abí ^álib remembered the Qá'im and said: "Be aware that he will disappear in such a way that an ignorant person will say: 'God does not need the progeny of Mu<ammad.'"
Imam @ádiq advised his followers saying: "If you hear the story about your Imam's occultation, do not deny it." There are some 88 <adíth-reports on this subject.
It was because of these traditions that Muslims regarded the occultation necessary for the Qá'im. It was considered to be one of his characteristics. In fact, anyone who claimed to be the promised Mahdí or was fancied to be so was necessarily believed by his supporters to be in occultation. Abú al-Faraj I#fahání, in his description of one of such claimants, writes: "'Ísá b. 'Abd Alláh reports that Mu<ammád b. 'Abd Alláh b. \asan [b. 'Alí b. Abí ^álib] lived in concealment from the very early childhood and was named Mahdí."
Sayyid Mu<ammad \imyarí, the well
known poet during the Umayyad period, relates that he used to
hold exaggerated beliefs about Mu<ammad b. \anafiyya, including
the belief that he was in occultation. For a long time he held
such erroneous beliefs until that time, as he says, God favored
him and he was saved from them by Imam @ádiq's right guidance.
The event is described thus by him:
When I was fully convinced about the Imamate of Ja'far b. Mu<ammad [@ádiq] through well demonstrated proof, I went to see him one day and asked him: "O son of the Prophet, there are traditions about the occurrence of occultation that have reached us from your forefathers which regard occultation among the definite things. Would you kindly inform me as to whom these traditions speak?" The Imam replied: "This occultation will occur for the sixth of my descendants. He is the twelfth Imam after the Prophet, of whom the first is 'Alí b. Abí ^álib and the last is the Qá'im, Baqiyyat Alláh (the Remnant of God), and the Master of the Age. I solemnly declare that even if his occultation lasts for as long as the age of Noah, he will not leave this world until he rises and fills it with justice and equity."
Sayyid \imyarí adds:
When I heard this from my master Ja'far b. Mu<ammad the truth became evident for me. I apologized to him for the erroneous belief that I held before that and composed a poem on the subject.
Hence, the story of occultation of the Mahdí
was not invented by 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd. It was God
who foreordained it for him, and the Prophet and the Imams had
informed the people about it before his father Imam \asan 'Askarí
was born. ^abarsí, in his book on the history of the Prophet
and the Imams entitled, I'lám al-wará, writes:
The traditions about the ghaybat of the twelfth Imam were in circulation before his, his father's, and his grandfather's birth. They were recorded and cited by the Shí'í traditionists who lived during the time of Imams Báqir and @ádiq. Among these highly trusted traditionists is \asan b. Ma<búb. He wrote a book entitled Mashíkha a century before the occultation of the twelfth Imam in which he recorded traditions about the occultation. One of the traditions published in this book included the following <adíth reported from Abú Ba#ír, who relates:
I asked Imam @ádiq: "Abú Ja'far [Imam Báqir] said, 'The Qá'im among the descendants of Mu<ammad will have two occultations, one long and the other short.'" Hearing this Imam @ádiq said, "Yes, that is so. One of the two occultations will be longer."
^abarsí then draws his conclusion
Do you see how with the materialization of the two occultations for Imam \asan 'Askarí's son the prediction in the <adíth came to be true?
Mu<ammad b. Ibráhím b.
Ja'far Nu'mání was born during the Short Occultation
(ghaybat-i sughrá), and when he wrote his book on
Ghayba the twelfth Imam was eighty and some years old.
He writes the following on page 6:
The Imams had foretold the occurrence of the occultation. If the occultation had not occurred, this very point would have become the source of falsification of the belief of the Shí'a Imámiyya (i.e., the Twelvers). But God manifested the truthfulness of the Imams' predictions by means of causing the Imam to go into occultation.
Books on the Subject of the Occultation before the Birth of the
The story of the Mahdí and the twelfth Imam's occultation was told by the Prophet, 'Alí b. Abí ^álib, and the rest of the Imams from the very early days of Islam. It was well known among the early companions to the extent that some scholars and narrators of <adíth-reports, including the close associates of the Imams, had written books on the subject long before the twelfth Imam or his father and grandfather were born. In these books the <adíth about the promised Mahdí and his occultation were recorded. The names of these authors and the titles of their works are preserved in the biographical dictionaries (kutub al-rijál). Thus, for instance:
(1) 'Alí b. \asan b. Mu<ammad ^á'í, a companion of Imam Ká~im, wrote a book on ghaybat. He was a jurist and was regarded as reliable in his transmission of <adíth.
(2) 'Alí b. 'Umar A'raj Kúfí, a companion of Imam Ká~im, wrote a book on ghaybat.
(3) Ibráhím b. @áli< Anmá>í, a companion of Imam Ká~im, wrote a book on ghaybat.
(4) \asan b. 'Alí b. Abí \amza, who lived during the time of Imam Ri_á, was also an author of a book on ghaybat.
(5) 'Abbás b. Hishám Náshirí Asadí was a prominent figure and a reputable person. He was among the companions of Imam Ri_á. He died in the year 220 AH/835 CE. He also wrote a book on ghaybat.
(6) 'Alí b. \asan b. Fa__ál was a learned man and reliable in his transmission of religious information. He was among the companions of Imams Hádí and \asan 'Askarí. He wrote a book on ghaybat.
(7) Fa_l b. Shádhán Nishábúrí was among the jurists and theologians. He was among the companions of Imams Hádí and \asan 'Askarí. He died in the year 260 AH/873 CE. He wrote a book on the subject of the Qá'im of the Family of Mu<ammad and his ghaybat.
It is important to keep in mind that the story about ghaybat is not something new in Islam. It has deep religious roots and was always discussed and debated from the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny). Consequently, the possibility that a person like 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd invented and disseminated it is absolutely unfounded. Such an accusation cannot come about from any one other than a prejudiced individual. Moreover, if we append the following three propositions together, then the matter of the occultation of the Imam of the Age becomes certain:
(a) On the basis of rational demonstration as well as numerous <adíth-reports related from the Prophet and the Imams, it is certain that the existence of the Imam and the Proof of God on earth is necessary for the survival of humanity. Therefore, there is no time when the earth could be without the Imam.
(b) On the basis of numerous <adíth-reports, there can be no more than twelve Imams.
(c) On the basis of many reports, both in the books on <adíth and history, it is a fact that eleven of these twelve Imams have lived and died.
These three propositions make it necessary
to conclude that the existence of the Imam Mahdí is beyond
any doubt, and that since he does not live a visible existence,
he must be in occultation.
and Complete Occultation 
Dr. Jalálí: What is the meaning of 'short' and 'complete' occultation?
Mr. Hoshyár: It means that the twelfth Imam (peace be upon him) remained concealed from the public at two different times. The first period extends from the time of his birth in 255 or 256 AH/868 or 869 CE or from the time of his father, Imam \asan 'Askarí's death in 260 AH/873 CE, to the year 329 AH/940 CE. During this time, although he lived an invisible existence as far as the public was concerned, he was not completely cut off from them. Rather, he maintained regular contact with his followers through his deputies, who were able to reach him and present to him their needs and inquiries. The existence of the Imam during this period that lasted some 74 or 69 years is known as ghaybat-i #ughrá.
The second period extends from the year 329/940, with the termination of the deputyship of his prominent and trustworthy associates, to the time when he will emerge from the state of the occultation to lead humanity to establish the rule of justice and equity on earth. This period of occultation is known as ghaybat-i kubrá.
Both the Prophet and the Imams (peace be
upon them) had informed people about the two forms of occultation
for the Mahdí. Thus, for instance, Is<áq b. 'Ammár
relates a <adíth he heard from Imam @ádiq:
The Qá'im will have two forms of occultation: one long and the other short. During the first occultation his special followers will know his whereabouts; during the second occultation, except for a few very special followers of his in his religion, no one will have any information about his whereabouts. 
In another tradition Imam @ádiq said:
The one who is entrusted with the command (#á<ib al-'amr) will have two forms of occultation. One of them will be so long that a group of the people will say that he has died; others will say he has been killed; still others will say he has disappeared. Very few will remain who will still have faith in his existence, and will continue to be steadfast. At this time no one will have any information about his whereabouts except his very few followers.
Short Occultation and the Contacts with the Shí'a
Dr. Fahímí: I have heard that after the short occultation began, there were some charlatans who, taking advantage of the ignorance of the ignorant masses, claimed to be the deputies and 'gates' (báb = 'mediator' between the Imam and his followers) of the Hidden Imam. They cheated the people and pocketed a lot of their wealth. Could you take some time to explain who exactly these deputies were and what kind of contact and relationship there was between the Imam and his followers, and in what form?
During the short occultation people in general were deprived of
a more normal contact with the Imam. However, the relationship
was not completely severed. It was maintained through some special
individuals known as báb ('mediator'), ná'ib
('deputy'), and wakíl ('representative'). It was
through these individuals that the people established contact
with their Imam, asking questions of him and seeking his assistance
in their affairs. The share of the Imam from the khums
(the 'fifth') was delivered to the Imam through his deputy. Sometimes,
they used to ask for material help from the Imam; at other times
they used to seek permission to go for <ajj or other
kinds of travel; still at other times they would ask the Imam
to pray for their sick or to pray for a child for them. The Imam
used to respond to these requests through different individuals
who represented him among them in different parts of the Muslim
world. In the performance of all these tasks there were specific
individuals who executed the will of the Imam. There were times
when the requests were made in letters to the Imam and, accordingly,
he would respond in writing. These 'signed notes' from him were
known as tawqí'.
these Letters from the Imam in His Own Handwriting?
Dr. Jalálí: Who wrote these letters? Was it the Imam himself or someone else?
Mr. Hoshyár: It is said that the Imam himself wrote these letters or notes. In fact, his handwriting was well known among his associates and the contemporary scholars. They used to recognize it well. There is some evidence to that effect in the sources. For instance, Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán 'Amrí says: "A signed note was issued from the Imam and the handwriting was well known to me."
Is<áq b. Ya'qúb relates that he had sent a letter asking questions to the twelfth Imam through Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán. He received the reply in the Imam's own handwriting.
Shaykh Abú 'Amr 'Ámirí relates: Ibn Abí Ghánim Qazwíní had a dispute on a matter with a group of the Shí'ís. For resolving it they wrote a letter to the Imam explaining the matter. The response came from the Imam in his own handwriting. According to Shaykh @adúq, the letter that his father had received from the Imam was in his possession.
These aforementioned individuals have borne the testimony that the letters they received or were in their possession were from the Imam himself, in his own handwriting. However, we do not know the way they determined that it was the Imam's handwriting. The reason is that with the occultation it was not possible to see the Imam. In addition, there were some who reported contrary to what these aforementioned individuals were claiming. For example, Abú Na#r Hibat Alláh relates that the signed notes were issued by 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd and Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán, in the same handwriting that was used during the time of Imam \asan 'Askarí.
In another report the same person relates that Abú Ja'far 'Amrí died in the year 304 AH/916 CE. He had been the deputy of the Imam for over fifty years. People used to bring their donations to him and signed notes were issued to them in the same hand writing as during the time of Imam \asan 'Askarí. In yet another report he says that the signed notes of the Imam were issued by Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán, in the same handwriting as they were issued during the time of his father, 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd.
'Abd Alláh b. Ja'far \imyarí relates: "When 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd died, the signed notes of the Imam of the Age were issued in the same handwriting in which we used to receive earlier letters."
On the basis of all these reports it can be surmised that the notes that were received by the people during 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd and Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán's time were in the same handwriting as those that were received during the time of Imam \asan 'Askarí. Thus, these could not be in the handwriting of the twelfth Imam. Rather, it can be maintained that Imam \asan 'Askarí had a special scribe who was in charge of writing the letters and who continued to do so also under these two deputies, namely, 'Uthmán and his son Mu<ammad. It is also plausible to maintain that some of these letters were dictated directly by the Imam, whereas others were dictated by someone other than him. However, it is important to state that from the evidence provided in the biographies of the Shí'í scholars living during the short occultation, the contents of these letters were trusted by the Shí'ís, were regarded as coming from the Imam himself, and were accepted as authentic. They used to write to the Imam about their points of dispute. And, when the response came for them, they used to submit to his judgement.
'Alí b. \usayn b. Babawayh corresponded with the Imam in occultation and requested him to pray for a son for him. To be sure, he received a response from the Imam.
One of the prominent scholars who was born
during the short occultation and had been in touch with the deputies
of the Imam was Mu<ammad b. Ibráhím b. Ja'far
Nu'mání. In his book entitled Ghayba he confirmed
the deputyship of some prominent associates of the eleventh and
twelfth Imams. After relating some <adíth on
the subject of the ghaybat, he writes:
During the first occultation there were the mediators between the Imam and the people, carrying out [the duties of the Imam], having been designated [by him], living among the people. These were the eminent persons and leaders from whose hands emanated cures derived from the knowledge and the intricate wisdom which they possessed, and the answers to all the questions which were put to them about the problems and difficulties [of religion]. This was the short occultation, the days of which have come to an end and whose time has gone by. Now it is the time of the complete occultation.
It appears that the signed notes received
from the Imam served as special signs and documentation which
the Shí'ís and their scholars accepted. Shaykh \urr
Ibn Abí Ghánim Qazwíní used to argue with the Shí'ís on the matter of the successor to the Imamate. He used to say: "Imam \asan 'Askarí had no son." The people wrote to the Imam. Their custom was to write on a white sheet with a pen without ink so that it would serve as a sign of miracle. To this they received the answer from the Imam (peace be upon him).
Number of Deputies
There is difference of opinion regarding
the number of deputies of the twelfth Imam. Sayyid Ibn ^áwús
in his book entitled Rab'í al-shí'a has mentioned
their names as follows:
(1) Abú Háshim Dáwúd b. al-Qásim
(2) Mu<ammad b. 'Alí b. Bilál
(3) 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd
(4) Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán
(5) 'Umar al-Ahwází
(6) A<mad b. Is<áq
(7) Abú Mu<ammad al-Wajná'
(8) Ibráhím b. Mahziyár
(9) Mu<ammad b. Ibráhím
Shaykh ^úsí introduces the
names of the deputies of the Imam as follows:
From Baghdád 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd and his son Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán, \ájiz, Bilálí, and 'A>>ár; from Kúfa 'Á#imí; from Ahwáz Mu<ammad b. Ibráhím b. Mahziyár; from Qumm A<mad b. Is<áq; from Hamadán Mu<ammad b. @áli<; from Rayy Shámí and Asadí; from Azerbaijan Qásim b. 'Alá'; and from Nishábúr Mu<ammad b. Shádhán. 
However, the deputyship of the four prominent
members of the community is famous among the Shí'ís.
(1) 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd 'Amrí (260 AH/874 CE)
(2) Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán 'Amrí (d. 304 AH/916 CE)
(3) \usayn b. Rú< Nawbakhtí (d. 326 AH/937 CE)
(4) 'Alí b. Mu<ammad al-Samarrí
(d. 329/940 CE)
b. Sa'íd, the First Deputy
He was among the most trustworthy and eminent companions of Imam \asan 'Askarí and was his representative among the Shí'a. According to Bú 'Alí and Mámqání, "'Uthmán b. Sa'íd was thoroughly reliable and highly respected because of his impeccable character. He served as the agent of the Imam Hádí, Imam \asan 'Askarí, and Imam Qá'im (peace be upon them)." Such an opinion of him was universally held by all other authors of biographical dictionaries. Thus, 'Alláma Bihbahání, in addition to praising 'Uthmán, says that he was actually accredited by the Imams Hádí and \asan 'Askarí.
A<mad b. Is<áq relates the incident in which he asked the tenth Imam Hádí regarding the person with whom the Shí'a should deal and whose guidance they should accept as coming from the Imams. The Imam said: "'Uthmán b. Sa'íd is my trusted agent. If he relates something for you then he is telling the truth. Listen to him and obey him because I trust him." When Imam \asan 'Askarí was asked a similar question he mentioned both 'Uthmán and his son Mu<ammad as his trusted agents. Moreover, he also required his followers to listen to and obey Uthmán. These reports were so widespread among the companions of the last Imams that they became the source of the respect and trust with which 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd was held.
On one occasion Mu<ammad b. Ismá'íl and 'Alí b. 'Abd Alláh came to Sámarra to visit Imam \asan 'Askarí. There was a group of Shí'a visiting the Imam at that time. Suddenly, the servant came and announced that a group of villagers, shabbily dressed, were seeking permission to enter the presence of the Imam. The Imam said: "They are Shí'a from the Yemen." Then he told the servant to ask 'Uthmán to be prepared for the visitors. Within a short while 'Uthmán was ready. The Imam said to him: "'Uthmán, you are our trusted agent. Receive the goods this group has brought." This elevation of 'Uthmán, according to the narrators of the report, was done in order to let the Shí'a know the status of 'Uthmán. In fact, towards the end of that visit Imam \asan 'Askarí declared to the group saying: "Let it be known to you that 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd is my agent and his son will be the agent of my son Mahdí."
Imam \asan 'Askarí revealed his son
to the group of forty people among his followers, including 'Alí
b. Bilál, A<mad b. Hilál, Mu<ammad b. Mu'áwiya,
and \asan b. Ayyúb and said: "This is your Imam and
my successor. Obey him! Know that after this time for a while
you will not see him. Listen to what 'Uthmán b. Sa'id says
and follow his instructions because he [Uthmán] is the
successor of your Imam. The management of the affairs of our people
will be in his hands."
His Miraculous Acts
In addition to these favorable statements
from the Imams accrediting 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd, there
are miraculous acts (karámát) ascribed to
him. These acts actually provide further evidence to bolster the
truthfulness of his statements. For instance, Shaykh ^úsí
in his Kitáb al-Ghayba, relates the following story
from a number of persons belonging to Nawbakht family, including
Abú al-\asan Kathírí:
A person brought some goods [belonging to the twelfth Imam] from Qumm and the vicinity to 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd. When the person wanted to leave 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd said: "You have been entrusted with something else too. Why have you not delivered it?" The person said: "There is nothing else left." 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd told him to go back and search for it. After a few days of searching the person returned to report that he had not found anything on him. At that 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd asked him: "What happened to the two pieces of cloth that were handed to you by so and so?" The person said: "By God, you are right. But I have forgotten about them, and now I do not know where they are."
Once more he returned to his place and searched for the material, but could not find it. He came and told 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd about that. 'Uthmán said: "Go to so and so, the cotton seller, to whom you delivered two bundles of cotton. Open the bundle on which such and such is written. You will find that entrusted material in it." The man went and did what 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd had asked him to do. He found the material and brought it to him. 
Mu<ammad b. 'Alí Aswad, another agent of the Imam, was given a piece of cloth by a woman for 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd. He took it with some other clothes to 'Uthmán. 'Uthmán asked him to hand it to Mu<mmad b. 'Abbás Qummí. He did so. After that 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd sent him a message which said: "Why have you not delivered the cloth given by the woman?" Mu<ammad b. 'Alí Aswad remembered the cloth and searched for it until he delivered it to him.
Shaykh @adúq has narrated another
incident in his Kamál al-dín. He writes:
A man from Iraq brought the Imam's share (sahm imám) to 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd. 'Uthmán returned the money and said: "Deduct from it that which you owe to your cousins." The man was surprised to hear that. When he investigated his goods he found that he owed part of the agricultural land to his cousins, which he had not returned. On careful calculation he found that the land was equivalent to four hundred dirhams. Thus, he deducted that from his goods and took the remaining portion to 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd. This time it was accepted from him.
After all these reports about 'Uthmán
b. Sa'íd's honesty and trustworthiness, the respect with
which he was held by the tenth and eleventh Imams, and the consensus
among the Shí'a about his moral probity and sound character,
is it fair to assume that he was a manipulative individual, intent
upon deceiving the generality of the Shí'ís?
b. 'Uthmán, the Second Deputy
Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán succeeded his father, 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd, as the deputy after the latter's death in 260 AH/874 CE. Shaykh ^úsí, commenting on both these deputies of the Hidden Imam (peace be upon him), writes that "they enjoyed the highest esteem in the eyes of the Master of the Age."
According to Mámqání, the high status of Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán among the Shí'ís is self-evident. They are in agreement that during the lifetime of his father he was the deputy of Imam \asan 'Askarí, and later on he became the deputy of the twelfth Imam. In fact, 'Uthmán b. Sa'íd explicitly appointed Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán as his successor and the deputy of the Hidden Imam.
Ya'qúb b. Is<áq, a prominent
follower of the Imams in Sámarra, relates:
I wrote a letter to the Imam of the Age through Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán in which I asked some questions about religious problems. The reply came in the Imam's own handwriting. In addition to the responses to my inquiries it included the statement: "Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán is the trusted one. His letters are my letters." 
His Miraculous Acts
Mu<ammad b. Shádhán, a close companion of Imam \asan 'Askarí, relates that he had four hundred and eighty dirhams that belonged to the Imam (peace be upon him). Since he did not like to send without rounding the figure to five hundred, he added twenty dirhams from his money and sent it to Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán, without writing to him that he had added that amount. A receipt came from the Imam in which it was written: "We received five hundred dirhams, which included twenty dirhams from you."
A similar story is reported by Ja'far b. A<mad b. Matíl. Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán sent a message calling him to visit. When Ja'far came Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán gave him some pieces of cloth and a bag of dirhams, and asked him to go to Wási>. There he asked him to hand the bag and cloth to the first person he would meet. When Ja'far reached Wási> the first person he met was \asan b. Mu<ammad b. Qa>áh. He introduced himself to \asan who recognized him and they embraced each other. He related to him Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán's greetings and handed over to him the goods he had brought. When \asan heard this he thanked God and said: "Mu<ammad b. 'Abd Alláh 'Ámirí has died. I left the house to get a shroud for him." Upon opening the goods that were sent by Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán they found everything they needed to prepare for 'Ámiri's burial. Even the money was exactly the amount that was needed to cover the expenses related to the funeral. Hence, they went ahead and buried 'Ámirí.
According to another eminent follower of the Imams, namely, Mu<ammad b. 'Alí b. al-Aswad Qummí, Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán had prepared his burial place while still alive. He asked him for the reason. In response Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán said: "I have been ordered by the Imam to take care of my affairs in advance." Two months following this event Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán died.
Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán remained the
Hidden Imam's deputy for almost fifty years and died in the year
304 AH/916 CE.
b. Rú<, the Third Deputy
The third deputy of the Imam of the Age (peace be upon him), was the most learned and astute leader of his time. Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán had himself designated him as his successor and deputy of the Imam.
'Alláma Majlisí, in his Bi<ár
When Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán became seriously ill, a group of prominent Shí'ís like Abú 'Alí b. Humám, Abú 'Abd Alláh b. Mu<ammad Kátib, Abú 'Abd Alláh Báq>ání, Abú Sahl Nawbakhtí, and Abú 'Abd Alláh b. Wajná' came to see him. They asked him about his successor. In reply he said: "\usayn b. Rú< is my successor and the trusted deputy of the Master of the Age. Refer to him in your affairs. I have been commanded by the Imam to designate \usayn b. Rú< in the position of deputyship."
Ja'far b. Mu<ammad Madá'iní relates that he used to carry the goods that belonged to the Imam to Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán. One day he took four hundred dinars to him. Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán asked him to deposit it with \usayn b. Rú< and so Ja'far asked him the reason he did not accept it himself. Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán said: "Take it to \usayn b. Rú<. You should know that I have appointed him as my successor." Ja'far went on to ask if he had done so under instructions from the Imam. He replied: "Yes." Hence, Ja'far took the money to \usyan b. Rú< and from this time on he deposited the Imam's share with the latter.
Among the companions and close associates
of Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán there were a number of people,
such as Ja'far b. A<mad b. Matíl, who held much higher
position in merits than \usyan b. Rú<. In fact, many
thought that the deputyship would be given to Ja'far Matíl.
However, contrary to the generally held expectation, it was \usayn
b. Rú< who became the next deputy. Everyone at that
point submitted to Mu<ammad b. 'Uthmán's decision, including
Ja'far Matíl. Abú Sahl Nawbakhtí
was asked about this decision:
"How did \usayn b. Rú< get appointed to the position of deputyship, when you were more qualified to assume it?" In response he said: "The Imam knows better about the person who can represent him. I am always in debate with our opponents. If I were the deputy, maybe at the time of heated debate, in order to prove my point, I would have revealed the Imam's whereabouts. But \usayn b. Rú< is not like me. If he had the Imam hidden under his garments, and if he were being cut to pieces, he would not expose him to anyone." 
Shaykh @adúq relates the circumstances that led his father to write a letter to the Imam and ask him to pray for a son for him. According to this report, it was Mu<ammad b. 'Alí Aswad who related that Shaykh @adúq's father, 'Alí b. \usyan b. Bábawayh, sent a message through him to \usyan b. Rú< to ask the Imam to pray for a son for him. That message was delivered to \usayn b. Rú<. After three days he informed Mu<ammad Aswad that the Imam had prayed for him and that in the near future God would favor him with a son. That very year Mu<ammad, that is Shaykh @adúq, was born. After that several other sons were born. But it was Shaykh @adúq who used to pride himself on having been born through the special prayer of the Imam. In fact, whenever Mu<ammad Aswad saw Shaykh @adúq in the learning sessions with prominent teachers, studying extremely well, he would say: "It is not surprising to see you studying so well. After all you were born through the prayer of the Imam of the Age!"
There was a man who had doubts about the deputyship of \usayn b. Rú<. For clarification of his doubt he wrote a letter to the Imam with a dry pen without ink. After a few days he received a reply from the Hidden Imam (peace be upon him) through \usayn b. Rú<.
\usayn b. Rú< died in the month
of Sha'bán, in the year 326 AH/937 CE.
b. Mu<ammad Samarrí, the Fourth Deputy
He was the fourth deputy of the Hidden Imam (peace be upon him). His full name was Abú al-\asan 'Alí b. Mu<ammad Samarrí. According to Ibn ^áwús, he had served under the Imam Hádí and Imam \asan 'Askarí. These two Imams were, moreover, in correspondence with him and had written a number of signed notes for him. He was undoubtedly among the most eminent faces of the Shí'a in Baghdád. Husayn b. Rú<, as reported by A<mad b. Mu<ammad @afwání, had appointed 'Alí b. Mu<ammad Samarrí in his place so that he could manage his affairs. When his death approached, a number of Shí'ís came to see him and asked him about his successor. His response was that he had not been asked to appoint anyone to that position. 
It is related by A<mad b. Ibráhím Mukhallad that one day 'Alí b. Mu<ammad Samarrí, without any indication, said: "May God have mercy on 'Ali b. Mu<ammad b. Bábawayh Qummi!" Those present at that time made note of the date of this pronouncement. Later the news came that 'Alí b. Bábawayh had died on the same day. He himself died in the year 329 AH/941 CE.
\asan b. A<mad relates that he was with
'Alí b. Mu<ammad Samarrí some days before he
died. A letter came from the Imam which he read for the people.
The contents were as follows:
In the name of God. O 'Alí b. Mu<ammad Samarrí, may God reward your brethren in your death, which is going to take place in six days' time. So take care of your affairs and do not appoint anyone in your place, since the complete occultation has taken place. I will not appear until God permits me to do so (may His name be exalted) and that will be after a long time and after the hearts become hard and the earth is filled with wickedness. In the near future there will be those among my followers who will claim to have seen me. Beware, those who claim this before the rise of Sufyání and the [hearing of the] voice from the sky are liars.
This was the end of the Short Occultation and the beginning of the Complete Occultation. The deputyship of these four prominent members of the Shí'a community is famous among the believers. There were also some individuals who made false claims about being deputized by the Hidden Imam (peace be upon him). Since they could not prove their claim their falsehood became manifest and they were discredited in the community. Among this latter group were \asan Sharí'atí, Mu<ammad b. Nu#ayr Numayrí, A<mad b. Hilál Karakhí, Mu<ammad b. 'Alí b. Bilál, Mu<ammad b. 'Alí Shalmaghání, and Abú Bakr Baghdádí.
This was, in brief, the account of the special
deputies. From all the sources that speak about them it is reasonable
to assert that their claim to be the deputy of the Hidden Imam
was defensible. There is no rational ground to doubt that they
truly held that kind of highly esteemed position in the Shí'a
community in the ninth-tenth century.
I had many more questions in this connection. However, I shall
postpone asking them now, since it is getting quite late. Let
us raise these questions when we meet next time.