What has so far been said completes the first and fundamental phase in the history of the development of Shi'i Islam. In this phase a rather specific direction, a well-defined trend of thought, an ideal of polity, and an underlying principle of religious adherence were established which can easily be distinguished as the Shi'i interpretation of Islam. Perhaps even at this early stage one can discern the basic difference between the Shi'a and the rest of the community, for while the former preferred to accept the leadership of only those who derived their authority directly from the person of the Prophet and in this way enjoyed divine sanction, the latter vested the authority for the leadership in the community as a whole, which was thus entitled to choose the leader.
With the death of Husayn, however, Shi'ism entered the second phase of its history. While the basic principle remained the same, disagreements arose over the specific criteria for deciding who the divinely inspired leader was, and this led to the internal division of Shi'i Islam. A study of the history of religions would show that a common phenomenon of world religions and their factions has been that they always split over certain details when they enter the second phase of their development. Islam too, and within it both the major groups of Shi'is and Sunnis, could not escape this fate.
We have seen in the previous chapter that shortly before the Tawwabun marched against the Syrians, Mukhtar arrived in Kufa and tried to gain the support of Sulayman b. Surad and his followers for his own plan to rise against the Umayyads. The Tawwabun, however, refused to join him. The personality and character of Mukhtar have been subjected to a great controversy in early Shi'i history. Some sources present him as an ambitious adventurer seeking political authority for himself in the name of the Ahl al-Bayt. Others give him the benefit of the doubt and accept that his actions were in reality motivated by his love for the family of the Prophet, though his approach and tactics were different from those of the Tawwabun.
An exhaustive scrutiny of the sources may well prove that he was a devoted follower of the House of 'Ali and a sincere supporter of their cause, but whatever the case may be, the fact remains that he has generally been treated rather unsympathetically by the sources of different schools for different reasons. The Twelver Shi'i sources present him in an unfavourable light since it was he who for the first time began propaganda for the Imamate of Muhammad b. al-Hanafiya, thus deviating from the line of Fatima. The non-Shi'i sources, on the other hand, seem to have been influenced by the anti-Mukhtar propaganda launched by both the sympathizers of Ibn az-Zubayr and those of the Umayyads. No serious study has so far been done on Mukhtar, and the sketchy accounts given by some of the modern scholars1 are generally influenced, without a critical assessment, by the sources usually hostile to him. Recently, however, Hodgson has hinted that the blackening of Mukhtar's reputation and the attempt to discredit him began from the time of his death.2
The fact, however, remains that Mukhtar, in all probability due to the quiescent policy of Zayn al-'Abidin,-to be discussed below, was responsible for shifting the Imamate from the descendants of the Prophet through Fatima to another son of 'Ali! Muhammad b. al-Hanafiya, thus creating the first deviation from the legitimist body of the Shi'a. The word legitimist may not be a good expression, but it is perhaps the nearest English approximation to the idea of a central body of the Shi'a, where the Imamate remained strictly restricted in the line of 'Ali and Fatima, coming from Hasan to Husayn and then through explicit nomination from father to son, usually to the eldest surviving son, until it ended with the twelfth Imam. Our intention in the following chapters is, therefore, to restrict our attention to the survey of this legitimist or central body of the Shi'a, which was reduced to an almost insignificant number after the death of Husayn by the newly emerging revolutionary or Messianic branches of the Shi'a. The use of the term legitimist and central body may seem at this stage arbitrary and a premature description of a later development; nevertheless, the fact remains that it was this legitimist faction which ultimately re-emerged as the largest and thus the central body of the Shi'a, and was eventually to be known as the Imamiya or Ithna-'ashariya (Twelver) Shi'a. The movement of Mukhtar and the idea of the Mahdi attached to the person of Muhammad b. al-Hanafiya, with its extremist and esoteric doctrines, or other ramifications of the Shi'a, are therefore beyond the scope of this study.
It may, however, be pointed out here for future reference that from this time of the confusion in the leadership which followed the death of Husayn, this study has to address itself to two different questions: first, how legitimist Shi'ism maintained its separate identity without being absorbed into the emerging Sunni synthesis; and second, how it maintained its own character distinct from the revolutionary and extremist branches within Shi'ism itself. To resist the latter form of absorption was indeed more difficult, since extremist and revolutionary ideas are often more appealing than moderate ones.
As long as Husayn was alive the Shi'is remained united, considering him the only head and Imam of the House of the Prophet. But his sudden death and the quiescent attitude of his only surviving son 'Ali, more commonly known as Zayn al-'Abidin, left the Shi'a in confusion and created a vacuum in the active leadership of the followers of the Ahl al-Bayt. Thus the period following Husayn's death marks the first conflict over the leadership of the followers of 'Ali, resulting in the division of the Shi'a into various groups.
'Ali Zayn al-'Abidin was the only one of the sons of Husayn whose life was spared during the massacre at Karbala, since he did not take part in the fighting due to illness. He was at that time twenty-three years old.3 After his return from Karbala, Zayn al-'Abidin lived in Medina for most of his life, avoiding any political involvement as much as he could. The tragedy of Karbala left a deep mark on him and it was only too natural that he bore a deep grudge against the Umayyads, holding them responsible for the massacre of his father and all other family members. In spite of this feeling, however, he refrained from expressing any hostile attitude towards them. As a result, the Umayyads also tried to maintain good relations with him; in particular, Marwan b. al-Hakam and his son 'Abd al-Malik even showed a certain respect and affection for him.4
When the Medinese rose against Yazid b. Mu'awiya in the year 62/681, Zayn al-'Abidin, in order to emphasize his neutrality in the political struggle in the community, left Medina and went to stay on his estate outside the city.5 When Marwan, the governor of Medina, was compelled by the Medinese to leave the city, he took his wife to Zayn al-'Abidin and asked him to protect her. Zayn al-'Abidin demonstrated his magnanimity by accepting this responsibility; he sent her to Ta'if escorted by his son 'Abd Allah.6 When Yazid's army, led by Muslim b. 'Uqba however, defeated the Medinese in the battle of Harra, and sacked and looted the city, Zayn al-'Abidin and his family were left unmolested. Moreover, while all the Medinese were obliged to take a humiliating oath of allegiance, declaring themselves slaves of the Caliph Yazid, Zayn al-'Abidin was exempted.7 If this information, so widely reported by the sources, on the one hand illustrates the neutral policy of Zayn al-'Abidin, on the other hand it also indicated that the Umayyads, after killing Husayn, began to realize the respect and regard which the progeny of the Prophet commanded among the majority of the Muslims.
In the conflict between the Umayyads and 'Abd Allah b. az-Zubayr, Zayn al-'Abidin remained neutral. Ibn az-Zubayr did him no harm, but held him in Mecca under his supervision. Still another important factor in Zayn al-'Abidin's policy was his reserved attitude towards Mukhtar, who tried his best to gain his explicit support. Besides many approaches to Zayn al-'Abidin, which Mukhtar made while he was in the Hijaz, he even wrote a letter to Zayn al-'Abidin from Kufa, offering his allegiance.8 In avenging the blood of Husayn, Mukhtar beheaded most of those responsible for the tragedy.
The head of 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad, the chief architect of the massacre at Karbala, was sent by Mukhtar to Zayn al-'Abidin, not to Ibn al-Hanafiya, and was delivered in a most dramatic manner.9 The son of Husayn is reported to have been seen so happy at that occasion that people said that they had never noticed him so elated since that tragedy at Karbala. Nevertheless, he continued his reserved and with-drawn attitude towards Mukhtar. The sources even report Zayn al-'Abidin as publicly denouncing Mukhtar in violent terms which seem to warrant serious examination.10 If these reports are correct, however, the reason for Zayn al-'Abidin's resentful attitude towards Mukhtar seems to have been the latter's proclamation of Ibn al-Hanafiya's imamate, which Zayn al-'Abidin considered as the usurpation of his own rights.
Shi'i sources record a number of traditions stating that Husayn expressly appointed Zayn al-'Abidin as his successor. The most commonly reported tradition in this connection is. that Husayn, before leaving for Iraq, entrusted Umm Salima, the widow of the Prophet, with his will and letters, enjoining her to hand them over td the eldest of his male offspring in case he himself did not return. Zayn al-'Abidin was the only son who came back and so he was given his father's will and became his nominee.11 Another tradition states that Husayn nominated Zayn al-'Abidin as his successor and the next Imam of the House of the Prophet just before he went out to meet the Umayyad forces for the last encounter at Karbala.12
There is no criterion for an historian either to accept or to reject this sort of tradition. Perhaps the only guiding principle which may be used is the general tendency of the epoch and the common practice of the people of that period. Judging from this angle, we may recall our earlier comment in Chapter 7 that Husayn, by virtue of his family and his own position therein as the grandson of the Prophet, thought that it was his right to be the Imam of the community. It would therefore be natural to think that he bequeathed his heritage to his son to maintain his family's tradition of leadership coming down from the Prophet. Nevertheless, the fact remains unchallenged that after Husayn's death the majority of the Shi'is followed Muhammad b. al-Hanafiya and not Zayn al-'Abidin, though the Tawwabun, as we have seen, thought of the latter as their prospective Imam. Even the remnants of the Tawwabun who survived the battle of 'Ayn al-Warda were attracted by Mukhtar to the side of Ibn al-Hanafrya.13 The reason was obvious. The Shi'is in Kufa, especially the mawali among them, wanted an active movement which could relieve them from the oppressive rule of the Syrians. They found an outlet only under the banner of Mukhtar, and saw a ray of hope in the Messianic role propagated by him for Ibn al- Hanafiya.
On his part, Ibn al-Hanafiya did not repudiate Mukhtar's propaganda for his Imamate and Messianic role; he nevertheless maintained a carefully non-committal attitude and never openly raised his claims to the heritage of Husayn.14 It is indeed difficult to say whether Ibn al-Hanafiya's policy of not publicly laying claims to the leadership of the Shi'is was because of the serious risk such a claim would have entailed or because he was aware of the fact that he. was not the descendant of the Prophet. We have repeatedly pointed out throughout this work, from the event of Saqifa till the movement of the Tawwabun, that the main emphasis of the Shi'is regarding the leadership of the community has been focused upon the direct relationship to the Prophet.
With reference to Hasan and Husayn, we always find far more emphasis on the idea of succession to the Prophet by blood than to 'Ali by blood. If all these overwhelming reports have any historic merit, then it seems very strange indeed that immediately after Husayn's death the emphasis has so suddenly changed from the lineage of the Prophet to that of 'Ali. It is, therefore, most probable that, besides political danger, Ibn al-Hanafiya, not being the descendant of the Prophet, was hesitant to claim the Imamate for himself. This also explains why Mukhtar was first so anxious to gain the support of Zayn al-'Abidin; and when he lost all hopes of winning the son of Husayn, only then did he turn to Ibn al- Hanafiya.
As for the other part of the problem, that is, how the Shi'is of Kufa so readily changed their attitude and accepted as their Imam a son of 'Ali who was not the descendant of the Prophet, whereas Zayn al-'Abidin was, some explanation must be sought. Perhaps the only answer to the riddle may be found in the fact that most of the original and main body of the Shi'a, with a clear doctrinal stand regarding the idea of the leadership, had been much reduced in number, first in the Karbala massacre with Husayn, and then in the battle of 'Ayn al-Warda under the command of Sulayman b. Surad al-Khuza'i.
They were not only the hard core and well grounded in their Shi'i! ideals, but also provided intellectual and religious leadership and guidance to the masses of the Shi'a of Ku fa. After Karbala and 'Ayn al- Warda, what remained in Kufa in the name of the Shi'a were mostly the wavering commoners of the Arabs and the mawali who in that desperate situation could not make the delicate doctrinal distinction between merely a son of 'Ali and a son of 'Ali from Fatima. To them, 'Ali was, after all, the cousin of the Prophet and also a member of the priestly clan of Hashim. That the sanctity of the Banu Hashim was confined to Muhammad after the Prophethood had been bestowed on him, to the exclusion of other members of the family of Hashim, as understood by the original body of the Shi'a, was lost among these commoners.
They were thus easily carried away by the talented eloquence of Mukhtar and his successful propaganda for Ibn al-Hanafiya as the deliverer (Mahdi) from the tyranny and injustice inflicted upon them by the Umayyads. It was, therefore, not so much the rights and personality of Ibn al-Hanafiya which made the masses of the Shi'is of Kufa accept him as Mahdi-Imam as it was their desperate yearning for a deliverer from Umayyad domination and oppressive rule. A careful examination of Mukhtar's propaganda for Ibn al-Hanafiya would show that the overriding emphasis in introducing him was on his role as Mahdi and not so much on his being the Imam. This may prove to have been the main factor which attracted people to him.
Once, however, the idea was implanted it found its way and swept away most of the unstable Shi'i masses. Once it became a popular movement with certain hopes pinned to it, even some of the remnants of the original Shi'a were also carried away.
It is indeed difficult to resist what we may call a popular appeal and, especially in the situation prevalent in Iraq at that time, even some of the firm believers in the leadership of the descendant of the Prophet could not remain unaffected. Thus the Mahdism of Ibn al-Hanafiya soon became the order of the day among the Shi'is of Kufa. And, in course of time, the idea was popularly spread and accepted by the people and developed its own doctrines and dogma, legends and beliefs. It produced its own poets, such as Kuthayyir and Sayyid al- Himyari and others. The majority of the Shi'a thus in that particular period became the followers of the Mahdi-Imam (and not of the Imam only) attached to the person of Ibn al-Hanafiya, and eclipsed, though only for a short period of time, the Imams from the line of Husayn.
Being the son of Husayn and the eldest surviving descendant of the Prophet, Zayn al-'Abidin could not tolerate this situation for long. Though he maintained his quiescent policy of not getting involved in any politico-religious movement, he nevertheless resisted the acceptance of Muhammad b. al-Hanafiya as the Imam, and the latter's own silence, which to Zayn al-'Abidin seemed to imply Ibn al-Hanafiya's tacit approval of Mukhtar's propaganda.
The traditions recorded in this connection by Shi'i traditionists15 may or may not be authentic in their details, but it does seem that he did make known to the people his own claims to the heritage of the House of the Prophet against those made on behalf of his uncle. This is deduced from the fact that some of those of the prominent Shi'is who had become followers of Ibn al-Hanafiya, such as Abu Khalid al-Kabuli16 Qasim b. 'Awf,17 and a few others, abandoned Ibn al-Hanafiya and went over to Zayn al-'Abidin's side. The nucleus of his following, though, was not formed before 73/692, the year which marks the death of Ibn az-Zubayr and a complete collapse of the political aspirations of the peoples of the Hijaz and Iraq. The majority of the Shi'is, however, continued to recognize the Imamate of Ibn al-Hanafiya and later on his son Abu-Hashim 'Abd Allah.
Towards the end of his life Zayn al-'Abidin seems to have succeeded in gathering round himself a small group of his adherents, some of them quite prominent figures of the erstwhile followers of the Ahl al-Bayt. Among them, apart from Yahya b. Umm at-Tiwal18 and Muhammad b. Jubayr b. Mut'im19 was also Jabir b. 'Abd Allah al-Ansari,20 a respected Companion of the Prophet and a devoted supporter of 'Ali b. Abi Talib. On account of his prestige as one of the most devoted Companions of the Prophet who took part in the pledge of Al-'Aqaba and in the Bay'at ar-Ridwan, Jabir's recognition of Zayn al-'Abidin was of great significance for the latter. Another important figure was the Kufan Sa'id b. al-Jubayr,21 a mawla of Banu Asad and a warm-hearted and brave man who even refused to hide his partisanship and support for the House of the Prophet.
A well-known traditionist, Sa'd was Zayn al-'Abidin's main spokesman and gained for the son of Husayn many sympathizers among the ranks of his fellow traditionists, especially from the old companions of 'Ali b. Abi Talib. The group of Zayn al- 'Abidin's active supporters also included two young but energetic Kufans: Abu Hamza Thabit b. Dinar,22 an Arab from the tribe of Azd, and Furat b. Ahnaf al-'Abdi.23 Their attachment to the family of Husayn remained strong, and both were later close companions of Zayn al-'Abidin 5 son and successor Muhammad al-Baqir. That these people became the followers of Husaynid Imams and were in the close circles of Zayn al-'Abidin and then of Muhammad al-Baqir is further indicated by the fact that a great number of Shi'i traditions from the above-mentioned Imams are frequently transmitted on their authority.24 Obviously the Twelver Shi'i traditionists would not have accepted them in their isnads had they not been the followers of these Imams. Thus there seems to be no serious reason to doubt the reports that these people formed a nucleus of the followers of Zayn al-'Abidin.
Perhaps the most important role in enhancing Zayn al- 'Abidin's prestige was played by Farazdaq, a renowned poet of the time. He composed numerous verses to propagate the cause of Zayn al-'Abidin, the most famous of which was his qasida (ode) in praise of the Imam, which celebrates the occasion when the Caliph Hisham b. 'Abd al-Malik was overshadowed by the respect the people demonstrated for the great-grandson of the Prophet. It was at the time of the Hajj when both of them were trying to reach the Black Stone in the crowded Ka'ba. The people gave way to Zayn al-'Abidin while the Caliph was struggling to reach the relic. This deeply offended Hisham, and in a sarcastic manner he inquired who was the person to whom the people gave preference. Farazdaq, present at the scene, upon hearing this remark, spontaneously composed the qasida and recited it, addressing Hisham. A few lines from this famous qasida, which is also considered as one of the masterpieces of Farazdaq and of Arabic literature, are worth quoting:
It is one whose footsteps are well known to every spot and it is he who is known to the Bayt [Ka'ba], in Mecca, the most frequented sanctuary.
It is he who is the son of the best of all men of God [reference to the Prophet], and it is he who is the most pious and devout, pure and unstained, chaste and righteous and a symbol [of Islam].
This is 'Ali [b. al-Husayn], whose father is the Prophet, and it was through the light of his [the Prophet's] guidance that the darkened road changed into the straight path.
This is the son of Fatima, if you are ignorant of him; and with his great-grandfather the Prophethood came to an end and Muhammad became the seal of the Prophets.
Whosoever recognizes his God knows also the primacy and superiority of this man ['Ali b. al-Husayn], because religion reached the nations through his house.25
The authenticity of this famous qasida of Farazdaq, and also the occasion at which it was composed and recited, has never been questioned by anyone. It must therefore be taken as a most reliable and useful contemporary document describing Zayn al-'Abidin, with particular emphasis on his noble birth as a descendant of the Prophet as distinct from Muhammad b. al-Hanafiya. One may note with interest that the poet, in praising Zayn al-'Abidin, describes him with emphasis on his being the grandson of Fatima and the great-grandson of Muhammad, while he does not refer to his being the grandson of 'Ali b. Abi Talib.
Farazdaq, however, had to pay for his praise of the Imam, and was imprisoned by the order of Hisham. When Zayn al 'Abidin heard about the misfortune of the poet, he sent him a gift of 12,000 dirhams, but Farazdaq refused to accept it, saying that he had composed the poem purely from his religious zeal. Farazdaq remained in prison and then began to satirize Hisham. Fearing the poet's biting tongue, the prince released him.26
All these reports of Zayn al-'Abidin's adherents suggest that the Husaynid line had never ceased to be a focus of devotion and special regard, though in this period by a small minority of the Shi'is, and that Zayn al-'Abidin gathered around himself a committed following who looked upon him as the legitimist Imam of the House of the Prophet. Yet it cannot be denied that in the period between the death of Husayn in 61/680 and thedeath of Ibn az-Zubayr in 73/692, Zayn al-'Abidin was left without any active following. Indeed, the Tawwabun did consider, it seems, that Zayn al-'Abidin was their Imam, but they never declared it publicly; and the small number of them who survived the battle of 'Ayn al-Warda went over to Mukhtar and thus accepted Ibn al- Hanafiya as their Imam. This is confirmed even by Muhammad al-Baqir in one of his traditions quoted by Kashshi, which must be accepted as genuine. Muhammad al-Baqir said: “After the death of Husayn all the people apostatised except three-Abu Khalid al-Kabuli, Yahya b. Umm at-Tiwal, and Jubayr b. Mut'im-and only later did others join them and their numbers increased.”27
Moreover, that Zayn al-'Abidin was not of much significance as an Imam or leader of any visible group until the year 73/692 is further evident from the fact that among the 'Alids, including Ibn al-Hanafiya, whom Ibn az-Zubayr held in the prison of 'Arim, the name of Zayn al-'Abidin is nowhere mentioned.This means that he was of no potential danger to Ibn az-Zubayr and that until that time he remained quiet and did not make his claims to the Imamate publicly. Silence does not, however imply the complete absence of an idea, the expression of which often depends on the prevailing circumstances and opportunities.
Apart from the small number of followers, mentioned above, who looked upon Zayn al-'Abidin with special regard as their Imam and the only religious authority of the time, he was also held in great respect and high esteem by the learned circles in Medina in general. This was the period when there was a growing sympathy and regard for the descendants of the Prophet among the people, though it was indeed altogether different from that of the Shi'is. This was also the period of growing interest in Medina in Prophetic traditions, especially those dealing with legal matters. This was the “epoch of the seven lawyers of Medina” whom we have mentioned in the second chapter of this book. In this setting of Medina we find that Zayn al-'Abidin was considered an eminent traditionist in the Medinese circle of scholars. The greatest Medinese lawyer of this time, Sa'id b. al-Musayyab, regarded the Imam with the highest esteem.28
The Shi'i sources assert that Sa'd was a follower of the Imam, which cannot be true. In fact, though Sa'd respected Zayn al-'Abidin and was also a close friend of his, he did not have common views in legal matters with him. However, at that time the schools of legal thought were still in their embryonic state, and therefore there might not have been many serious differences of opinion between Zayn al-'Abidin and Sa'id. Yet it is possible that the former, as well as his uncle, Muhammad b. al-Hanafiya, adhered only to the traditions related on the authority of 'Ali b. Abi Talib. Another great jurist and traditionist of the period, Az-Zuhri, was also a great friend and admirer of the Imam.
The honorific name Zayn a1-'Abidin (the ornament of the pious), due to his excessive prayers, was given to him by Az-Zuhri;29 from the overwhelming reports recorded by both the Shi'I and the Sunni authorities,30 it seems, however, that Zayn al- 'Abidin was widely respected by the community in general for his extraordinary qualities, such as the long duration of his prayers, his piety, and his generosity. His piety must have been of a high degree, for he was not inclined to making a show of his virtues. When travelling with people who did not know him, he remained incognito so as not to take advantage of the fact that the Prophet was his ancestor.31
Zayn al-Abidin died in the year 94/712-713, and was buried in the cemetery of Al-Baqir. He lived thirty-four years after the death of Husayn, a period long enough to establish himself as the trustee of the heritage of his father, and to leave an imprint of his personality on his followers and associates. According to the unanimous Shi'i traditions, before his death Zayn al-'Abidin nominated Muhammad al-Baqir, his eldest son, as his wasi and successor to his heritage.32
One may doubt the existence of any explicit will of Husayn for the nomination of Zayn al-'Abidin as his successor, but we should accept the tradition that Zayn al-'Abidin, before his death, must have explicitly nominated his son Al-Baqir, at least in the circle of his adherents. The obvious factor in support of the credibility of this tradition is that during Zayn al-'Abidin's time the majority of the Shi'is abandoned the Husaynid line and went over to Ibn al-Hanafiya, and then accepted the Imamate of the latter's son, Abu Hashim; Zayn al-'Abidin thought this a usurpation of his rights and, not without much difficulty, succeeded in winning over a group of followers on the principle of legitimate succession through Fatima in the line of Husayn. It is then only natural that he would have entrusted his eldest son to continue the task on the same ground he had established.
Zayn al-'Abidin, by raising claims to the heritage of Husayn and by collecting around himself a number of followers, had only laid the foundation of the legitimist group of the Shi'a; it was the task of Muhammad al-Baqir to evolve the principles of legitimacy in the concept of succession. Some scholars33 have cast doubts on whether Muhammad al-Baqir really achieved any degree of success in his lifetime, or even whether he claimed the Imamate for himself. There is indeed a possibility that many traditions attributed to Al-Baqir in this connection might have been produced by some of his followers who survived him. Yet, there being no decisive criterion for either admission or rejection of these traditions, we must, as far as circumstantial evidence allows, accept them in the form in which they are found in the earliest Shi'I collection of Hadith, Al-Usul al-Kafi Moreover, the testimony of the following Imams of the same line, and their own rejection of many a tradition forged by some of the fanatical followers of the House, makes stronger the case in favour of the surviving traditions.
Though Muhammad al-Baqir inherited his father's following, he had to face many more serious problems than did his father. Zayn al-'Abidin had only to counteract the propaganda of Mukhtar for the Imamate of Ibn al-Hanafiya, which he could easily do on the grounds that he was the descendant of the Prophet as well as of 'Ali. After the death of Zayn al- 'Abidin many descendants of Fatima too, either motivated by ambitions or discontented with the idea of the Imam being merely a spiritual guide, as adopted by Zayn al-'Abidin, raised their own claims to the heritage of the Prophet.
Thus the immediate problem facing Al-Baqir was not from outside, but from within the family circle. The movements of his two most potential rivals, 'Abd Allah al-Mahdi, who worked for his son Muhammad an-Nafs az-Zakiya, and Al-Baqir's half brother Zayd b. 'Ali Zayn al-'Abidin, will be discussed in detail in the following chapter. Here it would suffice to point out in passing that Zayd b. Zayn al-'Abidin's energies appealed to many Shi'is and were a serious challenge to the Imamate of Al-Baqir. In these rivalries, however, Al-Baqir and his followers were markedly overshadowed by Zayd and led the former to put increasing emphasis on legitimism within the Shi'i movement.
Thus, against the claims of his half-brother, Al-Baqir resorted to the principle of nomination by an explicit “text” (Nass)–a fundamental legitimist principle which will be discussed in detail in Chapter II. He claimed that Zayn al-'Abidin had appointed him to the succession in the presence of his brothers and had entruste him with a casket containing secret religious scrolls and the weapons of the Prophet.34
A number of traditions are recorded by the Shi'i traditionists35 in which Al-Baqir explains the nature and function of an Imam, who possesses certain special qualities which come down to him through the nass of the preceding Imam. In this way Al-Baqir introduced certain ideas which were to be fully elaborated by his son Ja'far as-Sadiq. The traditions of Al- Baqir, however, make it abundantly clear that he tried to establish his position as an Imam, declaring himself the representative of God on earth and the divinely inspired interpreter of His Word.
Now the most vital question with which we are concerned here is how far Al-Baqir succeeded in establishing the principle of legitimacy in the concept of the Imamate, and thereby whether he could really achieve any success of religious consequence in his lifetime. A close scrutiny of the biographical literature from both Sunni and Shi'i sources will help us to find an answer to this question. In this attempt, it is immensely useful to note that the names of the followers of Al-Baqir, which have been recorded with full biographical details by the Imamate writers, were never disputed by the Sunny compilers of biographical dictionaries (Kutub ar-Rijal).
Instead, whenever Sunni writers mention the names of the adherents of the legitimist Imams, they immediately remark that he was a rafidi, or a ghali; or a Shi'i. Besides biographical dictionaries, the heresiographical works such as Al-Baghdadi's Al-Farq bayn al-Firaq, Ibn Hazm's Al-Fasl and Ash-Shahrastani's Al-Milal wa'l-Nihal also describe these names with often derogatory remarks. Finally, it should be noted that the Imamate writers themselves specifically remark that such-and-such a person changed his affiliation at such-and-such a time to Zayd or An-Nafs az-Zakiya, whatever the case may have been. Furthermore, the writers of the Zaydiya and Isma'iliya sects, which produced a considerable religious literature of their own, do not claim adherents of Al-Baqir as among their numbers. There was, indeed, a considerable shift from one 'Alid claimant to another by some, such as Bayan b. Sim'an and Al-Mughira b. Sa'id al-'Ijli, but they are vocally repudiated by the Imamate writers.
All these facts, however, support the view that the list of Al-Baqir's followers, which we are going to enumerate here as the legitimist faction, is not a mere fiction. No matter how much “the biographies of these men have been touched up by Shi'ite [Imamate] writers in the attempt to show that all along they [the Husaynid Imams] claimed to be Imams and acted as such,”36 these reports must have been based on certain facts. Indeed, Zayn al-'Abidin, Al- Baqir, and Ja'far were unimportant politically and as a matter of policy they avoided involvement in any political adventures, but this does not mean that they did not claim a strictly religious “function” as Imams for themselves. In fact the very policy of quiescence caused them to be overshadowed by other activist members of the family; at the same time, through this very policy, they in the long run survived as the Imams and emerged as the recognized leaders of the future majority group of the Shi'a.
It is no doubt true, however, that immediately after the death of Zayn al-'Abidin a struggle for the leadership began between Al-Baqir and his half-brother Zayd, and that a great number from among the Shi'is preferred the latter because of his activist policy and his bold attitude. Yet, in the course of time Al-Bsqir succeeded in winning back some of those who had gone over to Zayd, as well as in attracting some new followers. The most important of them were Zuhra b. 'Ayan, his brother Humran, and Hamza b. Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah at-Tayyar. Zuhra in particular was a very important acquisition, for he became the most eminent theologian and traditionist of his time, with a wide circle of disciples in Kufa.37
His brother Humran was formerly a close associate of Zayn al-'Abidin and later made himself known as an extremely devoted supporter of Al-Baqir, who promised him Paradise and declared that “Humran would be from our Shi'a in this world and the next.”38 Hamza b. at-Tayyar, although for a time opposed to Al-Baqir, after hesitating between various claimants, finally chose to follow him.39 Apart from Zurara, other important adherents of Al-Baqir, who became the main authorities on Twelver fiqh when their Shi'i legal school was formulated later on, were Ma'ruf b. Kharrabfldh,40 Abu Basir al-Asadi,41 Burayd b. Mu'awiya,42
Muhammad b. Muslim b. Riyah at-Ta'ifi,43 and Al-Fudayl b. Yasar.44 The prominent figure among them was Muhammad b. Muslim b. Riyah, a Kufan mawla of the Thaqif, a miller by trade, known also as Al-A'war (the one-eyed). Described as the “most trustworthy of all men”, he was well known as a great jurist in Kufan circles and a contemporary fellow-lawyer of Ibn Abi Layla, Aba Hanifa, and Sharik al-Qadi. He seems to have been a counterpart of Zurara, for while the latter was a traditionist as well as a speculative theologian, and the originator of the Sh1'i school of kalam, Muhammad b. Muslim combined knowledge of the science of Tradition with the work of a practical lawyer, and was renowned for quick and drastic solutions. He was also a well known ascetic.
Among these followers of Al-Baqir, Aba Basir Layth al- Bakhtari al-Muradi also attained fame and reputation as a great Shi'i faqih and traditionist. Aba Basir, a mawla of Banu Asad, became the favourite companion of Al-Baqir and later of Ja'far al-Sadiq. Ja'far is reported to have said that Aba Basir, Burayd, Zurara, and Muhammad b. Muslim were the “tent pegs of the world”, and that without them the Prophetic traditions would have been lost.45 They were the fastest runners and the closest associates of the Imams. Another striking figure was Aba Hamza ath-Thumali, who occupieda high place among Al-Baqir's associates, and to him may be traced many traditions of an extremist tendency, especially those relating to miracles.46
Al-Kumayt b. Zayd al-Asadi,47 a renowned poet of his time, was another great and very important supporter of Al-Baqir. He served the cause of the Imam more than any other follower through his poetic genius. His devotion, which found expression in his talented poetry, took the name and fame of Al-Baqir far and wide. But his collection of poetry, devoted to the praise of the Ahl al-Bayt, the “al-Hashimiyat”, caused him some serious trouble. The anti-'Alid viceroy of Iraq, Yusuf b. 'Umar, brought this work to the attention of the Caliph 'Abd al-Malik.48 Kumayt, however, managed to extricate himself from danger, and in order to please the Caliph he even wrote some poems in praise of the Umayyads.49 Nevertheless, the poet remained a great favourite of the legitimist line of the Husaynid Imams, and Ja'far as-Sadiq said of him: “Kumayl has not ceased to be aided by the Holy Spirit.”50
Though the city of Basra was generally anti-Shi'i, Al-Baqir succeeded in gaining several followers there too, such as Muhammad b. Marwan al-Basri51 and Malik b.A'yan.52 In Mecca also, Al-Baqir earned quite a few staunch followers.
However, the popularity of the movement of Zayd b. Zayn Al-Abidin overshadowed Al-Baqir's efforts to establish the legitimist Imamate, yet Al-Baqir restricted himself to attacking only the friends and followers of Zayd. Nevertheless, when an opportunity presented itself, he did not hesitate to contest Zayd's rights quite sharply. Thus when Sa'id b. al-Mansur, one of the leaders of the Zaydiya circle, asked him:
“What is your opinion about nabidh, for I have seen Zayd drinking it?” Al-Baqir replied: “I do not believe that Zayd would drink it, but even if he did, he is neither a Prophet nor a Trustee of a Prophet, only an ordinary person from the Family of Muhammad, and he is sometimes right and sometimes may commit an error.”53 This was both an open denial of Zayd's rights to the Imamate, and an indirect assertion of his own position as the Prophetic Wasi Muhammad al-Baqir was the son of Fatima, the daughter of Al-Hasan,54 and so, being the descendant of the Prophet and of 'Ali on both sides, he had a great advantage over Zayd, whose mother was a slave-woman from Sind,55 but the former never showed any inclination to organize an active movement and maintained the pacific policy of his father.
On the other hand, Zayd, a close associate of Wasil b. 'Ata', the Mu'tazilite, was strongly impressed by the latter's ideas and laid emphasis on the principle of “ordering good and prohibiting evil”, if necessary, by force. Accordingly, he believed that if an Imam wanted to be recognized, he had to claim his right, sword in hand.56 Al-Baqir and Zayd quarrelled over this point, for when the latter asserted that an Imam must rise against the oppressors, the former remarked: “So you deny that your own father was an Imam, for he never contested the issue.”57
When Abu Bakr b. Muhammad al-Hadrami and his brother 'Alqama, two Kufan Shi'is, asked Zayd whether 'Ali was an Imam before he resorted to the sword, he refused to answer the question, which made them break their allegiance with Zayd and go over to Al-Baqir.58
A crucial question was that of the rights of Abu-Bakr and 'Umar. Zayd, agreeing with the Mu'tazilites, held that the first two caliphs had been legally elected Imams, though 'Ali was the preferable candidate, and this greatly impressed the traditionist circles. At the same time he rejected the Mu'tazilite doctrine of the “intermediate state”, but did not object to the opinion of Wasil, that in the conflict between ”'Ali and his adversaries” one of the opposing sides was certainly wrong though Wasil was not sure which,59 whereas Zayd regarded the virtues of 'Ali as of such a high order that the idea of his not being in the right was inadmissible.
However, Zayd's special emphasis on accepting the caliphates of Abu Bakr and 'Umar and his popularity on this ground among moderate circles show, on the one hand, that the question of the caliphates of the first two caliphs had already been under serious discussion in some Shi'i circles at that time, and on the other hand, that Zayd's success by adopting this stand created an embarrassing and complicated situation for Al-Baqir. Zayn al-'Abidin himself never spoke against the first two caliphs, but during Al-Baqir's lifetime some of the extremists who sided themselves with him started asking this question among the legitimist section of the Shi'a. Al-Baqir was thus asked time and again what he thought of Abu Bakr and 'Umar, but he did not publicly discredit them and rather confirmed that they were caliphs.60
Yet certain Shi'is of Kufa asserted that he disavowed the first two caliphs and only concealed his real opinion by resorting to the principle of dissimulation.61 This propaganda on the part of some of the Kufan followers of Al-Baqir no doubt earned him the sympathy of many extremist and semi-extremist circles, but on the other hand it discouraged those who wanted an active and more practical movement to bring the Ahl al-Bayt to power, and were already disappointed with Al-Baqir's quiescent policy. These moderates therefore preferred to range themselves on the side of Zayd,62 who in order to secure certain advantages became more emphatic in his acceptance of the first two caliphs, at the same time rejecting the principle of Taqiya. Al-Baqir was infuriated by the attitude of these Ku fan Shi'is and said, “Even if the Butrites formed one battle-line from east to west, God would not grant glory to the world through them.”63
Among these Kufan Shi'is was Al-Hakam b. 'Utayba al-Kindi, one of the most eminent lawyers of his city.64 He put 'Ali b. Abi Talib above Abu Bakr, but nevertheless remained mild in his Shi'i partisanship, which made him highly popular among the followers of Zayd. As the judge of Kufa, he exercised a strong influence among his fellow-citizens, thus greatly helping the cause of Zayd.65 Naturally Al-Baqir, who considered that he possessed better rights to the Imamate than his younger half-brother, and also objected to the generally compromising attitude of Zayd and his partisans, spoke of them in a bitter way, giving expression to his displeasure thus: “Hakam b. 'Utayba and other associates of Zayd led astray many people. They say, 'We believe in God and the Last Day,' but they are not believers.”66 The successor of Al-Baqir, Ja'far as-Sadiq, upheld the same view and accused Hakam of blaspheming against Al-Baqir,67 and even called the Zaydites an-Nussab (dissenters) who hated 'Ali.68
The question of the first two caliphs at this stage draws our attention to another problem: that of religious practices. Al-Baqir adhered to the traditions derived from 'Ali and his supporters. There were, however, certain disagreements even among the Ahl al-Bayt, for Zayd was inclined to accept the practice of the Ashab al-Hadith of Kufa, mainly based on the rulings of 'Umar. Thus it was Al-Baqir who established the beginnings of the madhhab (legal school) of the Ahl al-Bayt Kashshi records for us a very important tradition which says:
“Before the Imamate of Muhammad al-Baqir the Shi'is did not know what was lawful and what was unlawful, except what they learned from the [other] people; until Abu Ja'far [Al-Baqir] became the Imam, and he taught them and explained to them the knowledge [of law], and they began to teach other people from whom they were previously learning.”69
This tradition clearly indicates that until the time of Al-Baqir there were hardly any differences in legal practices among the Shi'is and Ashab al-Hadith of Medina, Kufa, and elsewhere. Even later the differences in the sphere of legal matters (furu') were in reality few,70 such as while Al-Baqir absolutely forbade all intoxicants, including nabidh (fermented drinks)71 the Kufan jurists allowed nabidh. Another problem was that of mut'a (temporary marriage), over which the Shi'i and Kufan jurists differed, the former allowing it on the authority of 'Ali, the latter forbidding it, referring to the decision of 'Umar.72 The argument was that if 'Umar could revoke a permission granted by the Prophet, then 'Ali could revoke a ruling of 'Umar.
However, the above-mentioned accounts seem to make it highly probable that Muhammad al-Baqir did claim the Imamate as the inheritance of his father, and that the small nucleus established by Zayn al-'Abidin began to develop under him into a legitimist faction within the Shi'i movement. If we reject this then we will have to reject many established historical facts, foremost among them being the rivalry and even the quarrel, overwhelmingly reported by the sources, between him and Zayd. Nevertheless, the dates of the deaths of the chief associates of Al-Baqir indicate that these developments in his favour took place towards the end of his life, for most of the renowned traditionists and jurists of his circle survived him by at least a decade.
At the time of Al-Baqir's death, the legitimist faction, though still limited in number, was to be found in all the main centres of the Hijaz and Iraq. It possessed the elements necessary for its future growth into a strong and popular discipline. It possessed a theoretical foundation, still only partly formulated and uncertain, and although it was not completely separated from the current ideas permeating the Madhhab Ashab al-Hadith, it was nevertheless sufficiently individualized to be regarded as a doctrine in its own right. It had in Zurara and his disciples its own school of speculative theology and an embryo for a school of jurisprudence. Finally, in Kumayt it was able to produce its own literature and gain widespread public exposure.
Much has been recorded about Muhammad al-Baqir's person and extraordinary qualities, many of which he inherited from his father. He was extremely generous. devoted to acts of piety, and peaceful by nature, never thinking to organize a revolt to assert his rights.73 Instead he strove to impress people by his extensive knowledge in matters of religion, and in fact he came to be considered as one of the most erudite men of his time. Because of this -learning, according to Ya'qubi, he was nicknamed Al-Baqir, “the one who splits knowledge open”: that is, he scrutinized it and examined the depths of it.74 But according to Ibn Khallikan, he received the appellation Al-Baqir, “the ample”, because he collected an ample fund (tabaqqar) ofknowledge.75
Many jurists, attracted by the fame of his learning, used to visit him to discuss legal problems. Among them were Muhammad b. Minkadir, Abu Hanifa an-Nu'man, Qatida b. Di'ama, 'Abd Allah b. Mu'ammar al-Laythi, and the Kharijite Nafi' b. Azraq.76
It is not certain when Al-Baqir died. The earliest date is given as 113/731-732,77 the latest as 126/743-744.78 The most acceptable however, seems to be 117/735, as given by Ya'qubi.79 There can be no doubt that he was no longer alive when Zayd revolted in Kufa, but he could not have been dead for many years then, as Ja'far as-Sadiq's position was still not well established.
Shahrastani tells us that some of Al-Baqir's followers refused to believe that he had died and expected his raja (return).80 These people must have been former Kaysanites who abandoned Abu Hashim and attached themselves to Al- Baqir's following. If, however, this report has any truth in it, it is a further proof that Al-Baqir in his lifetime was recognized by a group of people as their Imam. Nawbakhti classifies his followers as Al-Baqiriya,81 which was replaced after his death by Al-Ja'fariya, derived from his son and successor.82 These titles given by heresiographers, however, should not be taken literally, as they are used to mention the followers of certain persons, and not a sect.
Muhammad al-Baqir, by the time he died, had lived as an Imam for about nineteen years. He left his heritage to his son and successor Ja'far as-Sadiq, to whom we now turn our attention.