Chapter 5: Conclusions

After summarising his many sources, ‘Allamah Majlesi concludes Kitab al-Raj‘ah with the rhetorical question:1

And so, if something like this is not agreed-upon, what can be called agreed-upon (tawatur)?

However, the agreement is only on the general concept of the raj‘ah – that is, the earthly rising of some of the dead. Otherwise, the specific prophecies differ, and several can be traced to specific unreliable narrators, especially:

• ‘Abdullah ibn al-Qasim al-Hadhrami (Manichaean eschatology)

• ‘Ali ibn Abi Hamzah al-Bata’ini and his son Hasan (vengeance against the Umayyids)

• ‘Amr ibn Thabit (the muntasir and saffah)

• Al-Mankhal ibn Jameel (the Prophet as the mudaththir)

• Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Daylami (violence in general)

• Al-Qasim ibn Yahya ibn Hasan ibn Rashid (the return of souls to heal themselves by seeking vengeance)

• Sahl ibn Ziyad (lengthy narratives)

While these narrators appear responsible for the extant hadith, they probably did not coin all the inauthentic prophesies themselves since so many unreliable narrators relate so many unreliable ideas. Instead, these ideas probably emerged from a combination of factors, such as extremist (ghulat) and non-Imami movements; resentment against the Umayyid and Abbasid caliphates must have aided their spread.

However, although many inauthentic ideas about the raj‘ah appear to have flourished during Abbasid times, reliable hadith about the concept of the raj‘ah do trace back to Amir al-Mu’mineen. Therefore, the raj‘ah does not appear to have been a later doctrinal element, as some have suggested.

While the unreliable hadith (‘suspect’ or lesser) cannot automatically be dismissed, many unreliable hadith display a marked difference in style and content from the reliable raj‘ah hadith; these discrepancies flag them as potential fabrications. The most obvious markers are: a lengthy narrative style, extremist ideas (particularly, exaggeration of the status of the Imams), eschatological themes from outside the Islamic tradition, and an excessive emphasis on violence. Since these hadith contradict the more reliable raj‘ah hadith as well as each other they should be treated as likely fabrications, especially since they were related by narrators who were severely condemned.

Of the fifty-four verifiable hadith (‘average’ or better), forty-six have been related from Muntakhab al-Basa’ir and Tafsir ‘Ali ibn Ibrahim, primarily through Ibn Abi ‘Umayr (to the father of ‘Ali ibn Ibrahim) and Sa‘d (from Ibn ‘Isa and Ibn Abi al-Khattab). While these individuals and sources are considered reliable, the lack of diversity among the verifiable hadith does cast a shadow over their credence, for it is questionable why the authors of those two works chose to include certain hadith that other renowned scholars, such as Al-Kulayni, might have chosen to reject. It is also questionable why they chose to include some raj‘ah hadith with glaringly extremist content and glaringly unreliable narrators.

After discarding the unreliable hadith, it can be hypothesised that the Imams prophesised that they and the prophets would be returned to life, along with the most faithful and the most faithless. Amir al-Mu’mineen is prophesised to return, both as a commander leading the ancient prophets in battle and as the Beast (dabbat al-ardh) bearing the maysam (animal brand). However, it is not clear whether he will fight the living or the dead. The Imams will hold political power, either one by one, or in sequence, or in some other arrangement; in particular, Imam al-Husayn will rule until his eyebrows droop. The verifiable hadith offer no other prophesies, and even this brief narrative should be viewed with some caution, since it was related primarily through two people.

Although the surviving verifiable hadith predict fighting, they do not depict the raj‘ah as a time of gratuitous violence. In contrast, the most violent hadith are narrated by extremely unreliable narrators and contain serious flaws in their content and thus appear to have been fabricated. In particular, the hadith predicting the resurrection and punishment of individuals revered in the Sunni tradition appear to have been fabricated. Thus, these prophesies cannot be ascribed to the Imams.

These hadith also do not present the primary purpose of the raj‘ah as being the punishment of the enemies of God. While it is still possible that the Imams taught that the raj‘ah would be a time of vengeance, other hadith suggest other explanations. According to one reliable hadith, the oppressed will inherit the earth during the raj‘ah. Although, by itself, this hadith does not sufficiently explain the raj‘ah, when combined with another frequently narrated hadith – that what happened to prior peoples must be repeated – an idea of what the Imams might have predicted emerges.

Since, according to the Qur’an, prior peoples were resurrected to witness the victory of truth and freedom from religious oppression, perhaps the Imams prophesised that the most faithful and most oppressive people would be raised to witness precisely those things. While the oppressive may ultimately fall, punishment is not the goal of the raj‘ah; rather, that will be reserved for the Hereafter. Alternatively, the raj‘ah itself may simply be a sign of the Last Day as the boundaries between the material and the spiritual world disintegrate, and the most faithful and the most faithless emerge back into the world to interact one last time. These are the most logical explanations which tie together the surviving verifiable hadith on the raj‘ah.

  • 1. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 53, p. 123.