Imam Al-Jawad (‘a), son of Imam Al-Ridha’ (‘a) and Sabika (r.a.)1, was born on the 10th Rajab in 195 AH/811 AD in Medina. His name was Muhammad, and one of his most famous titles was Jawad, the generous one, in accordance with the Prophet’s (S) proclamation.
Imam Al-Hadi (‘a), son of Imam Al-Jawad (‘a) and Samana Maghrebiyya (r.a.)2, was born on the 15th of Thul Hijja in 212 AH/827 AD near Medina. His name was Ali, and one of his most famous titles was Hadi, meaning the guiding.
Imam Al-’Askari (‘a), son of Imam Al-Hadi (‘a) and Hudayth (r.a.)3, was born in 232 AD/846 AD. in the city of Samarra, Iraq. His name was Hasan, and one of his most famous titles was Askari, derived from “Ashes” which means the army and its hiding place and refers to the fact that the Imam (‘a) spent his entire life in Samarra which was originally a military base, in an area called Askar.
All three Imams (‘a), as well as former Imams (‘a), were recognized among the scholars of their time for possessing the highest knowledge and expertise in religious matters as well as being god-fearing, pious and upholding distinguished moral values, in particular in their relation with other people, like their grandfather the Prophet (S).
There are many narrations depicting the manner in which Imam Al-Ridha’ (‘a) announced his son Imam Al-Jawad (‘a) as the succeeding Imam (‘a).4 Imam Al-Jawad’s (‘a) Imamah started at the age of 8 after the martyrdom of Imam Al-Ridha’ (‘a). The Imam’s (‘a) young age was met by some doubt. There were attempts to confuse people, especially Ahl Al-Bayt’s (‘a) followers, by questioning the Imam’s (‘a) age. But Imam Al-Ridha’’s (‘a) close and faithful followers adhered to Imam Al-Ridha’’s (‘a) clear instructions in the question of the successive Imam (‘a) after him.
Imam Al-Ridha’ (‘a), through divine knowledge, was aware that his son would become Imam (‘a) at a young age and that it would prove to be a great ordeal for all, not least Ahl Al-Bayt’s (‘a) companions.
The Imam (‘a) prepared the people in advance by clarifying the concept of Imamah to an even greater degree than before. The Imam (‘a) exemplified those of God’s chosen guides who was given divine knowledge and wisdom at a young age. The likes of which were Prophet Sulayman (‘a) [Salamo] and Prophet Isa (‘a) [Jesus] who even spoke in the cr’Adalahe. In this way, Imam Al-Ridha’ (‘a) indicated Imam Al-Jawad’s (‘a) similarity to them while making it clear that the position of Imamah is a divine position of God’s choice and not age-dependent. This in itself was also a preparation for the twelfth and final Imam (‘aj), who also exercised the position of Imamah at a young age.
There were numerous attempts to try and test Imam Al-Jawad (‘a) in various ways. However, the Imam’s (‘a) approach and the response showed time and again that he possessed unique knowledge, wisdom and morality, which were linked to the divine source of truth.5
Imam Al-Jawad (‘a) experienced harsher surveillance and restriction than previous Imams (‘a). This is, not least, reflected in the limited amount of narrations attributed to him, that do not exceed 250 ahadith.6
The rulers during the time of Imam Al-Jawad (‘a) were two Abbasid caliphs:
1) Ma’moon Abbasi (193 AH/808 AD – 218 AH/833 AD)
2) Mu’tasim Abbasi (218 AH/833 AD – 227 AH/841 AD)
Imam Al-Jawad (‘a) was called to Baghdad by Mu’tasim Abbasi, whereby the Imam (‘a) knew that his life was in danger. Accordingly, he presented Imam Al-Hadi (‘a) to the Shi’a Muslims as his successor and left a written will in this regard to eliminating doubts. Like his father, Imam Al-Hadi (‘a) was 8 years old when he took the position of Imamah. There was a strong agreement among Shi’a that he was the Imam (‘a).7
The rulers during the time of Imam Al-Hadi (‘a) were seven different Abbasid caliphs:
1. Mu’tasim Abbasi (218 AH/833 AD – 227 AH/842 AD) [Ma’mon’s brother]
2. Wathiq (227 AH/842AD – 232 AH/847 AD) [Mu’tasim’s son]
3. Mutawakkil (232 AH/847 AD – 248 AH/861 AD) [Wathiq’s brother]
4. Muntasir [Mutawakkil’s son – 6 months]
5. Musta’in (248 AH/862 AD – 252 AH/866 AD) [Muntasir’s cousin]
6. Mu’tazz (252 AH /866 AD – 255 AH/869 AD) [Mutawakkil’s second son]
Imam Al-’Askari (‘a) officially became Imam at the age of twenty-two, subsequent to his father, Imam Al-Hadi’s martyrdom. Imam Al-’Askari (‘a) had been designated as the successor of his father Imam Al-Hadi (‘a) based on the Prophet’s (S) proclamation. Although there were attempts by the enemies to create doubt and confusion about Imam Al-’Askaris (‘a) Imamah, most companions followed the Imam (‘a).8 As they had been given clear instruction from Imam Al-Hadi (‘a) through his established system of reliable representatives, while the Shi’a Muslims had matured to some extent through their past experience of attempts to confuse regarding the matter.
There were three Abbasid caliphs during Imam Al-’Askari’s time:
1) Mu’tazz Abbasi (252 AH/866 AD – 255 AH/869 AD)
2) Muhtadi Abbasi (255 AH/869 AD – 256 AH/870 AD)
3) Mu’tamid Abbasi (256 AH/870 AD – 279 AH/892 AD)
The Prophet (S) had spoken about the final Imam (‘aj) to such an extent that his arrival was a matter of course for everyone. The fact that Imam Al-Mahdi (‘aj) would be the twelfth descendant from the Prophet’s (S) family drew more attention to Imam Al-’Askari (‘a). The enlightened enemies and the faithful companions knew that the final Imam (‘aj) would be Imam Al-’Askari’s (‘a), son. This caused the companions to yearn for the fulfilment of God’s promise and the enemies to be in constant fear and do everything possible to prevent it.9
Ahl Al-Bayt’s (‘a) enemies kept a close watch to prevent the birth of Imam Al-Mahdi (‘aj). Reminiscent of the parable of Pharaoh who killed 90000 boys on account of a prophecy that a child from Bani Israel would grow to crush his power. Similarly, Nemrood did the same before the birth of Prophet Ibrahim (‘a) [Abraham]. The reason the Imams (‘a) were always kept under strict surveillance, restricted, forcefully moved and finally murdered was in order to prevent the birth of the final Imam (‘aj). The surveillance of the Imams (‘a) was constantly a matter of fact, and it intensified for every Imam (‘a) up until the time of Imam Al-’Askari (‘a) where it reached an unprecedented height. Imam Al-’Askari (‘a) was held under house arrest all his life and was not even allowed to travel to Mecca to perform the mandatory duty of Hajj! The enemies were afraid that Imam Al-Mahdi (‘aj) would be born without their knowledge. They can be likened to Pharaoh with their attempts to monitor newborn children in the household of Imam Al-’Askari (‘a) and check the women in the house daily to prevent the birth of the expected child who would become Imam Al-Mahdi (‘aj).
Following the forced relocation of Imam Al-Ridha’ (‘a), the Abbasids continued to oppress Imam Al-Jawad (‘a) who was taken in by Ma’moon to live near the royal palace and be closely surveilled. To increase surveillance even further, and in an attempt to bring the final Imam (‘aj) from Ma’mon’s own lineage, Ma’moon forced Imam Al-Jawad (‘a) to marry his daughter Umm Al-Fadhl. In this way, Ma’moon also had, from the perspective of the public, an acceptable reason to keep Imam Al-Jawad (‘a) close and under his constant watch. However, his plans failed, and Umm Al-Fadhl bore no children. God’s plan in asserting the purity of Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a) was upheld as the next Imam (‘a) was born from another pure wife.
Imam Al-Jawad (‘a) spent twenty-three years of his life under the caliphate of Ma’mon and two years during the caliphate of Mu’tasim. Ultimately, Imam Al-Jawad (‘a) was martyred by the hands of Ma’mon’s daughter Umm Al-Fadhl who poisoned the Imam (‘a) in 220 AH, the Imam (‘a) was twenty-five years of age.
During the time of Imam Al-Hadi (‘a), the situation worsened, and the surveillance of the Imam (‘a) and his household intensified. The Imam (‘a) lived at first in Medina. The Abbasids had the Imam (‘a) under surveillance and limited his contact with people.
Under the rule of Mutawakkil, in 233 AH, the Imam (‘a) was called to Samarra. Samarra was both closer to the capital and was a military city where the caliph’s forces were concentrated. Therefore, the caliph could better keep an eye on the Imam (‘a) in Samarra. The caliph made sure to publicly make it seem that he wanted the Imam (‘a) close to him for virtuous aims and that he invited the Imam (‘a) to Iraq with respect. What may have seemed like an invitation on the surface, was, in fact, an indirect threat to kill the Imam (‘a) if he refused.
People in Medina complained a lot about being separated from Imam Al-Hadi (‘a) whom they loved. The position and influence of the Imam (‘a) among the people caused the caliph to fear him even more.
Finally, the Imam (‘a) saw that there was no other way but to go along to Samarra. Imam Al-Hadi (‘a) was living with his immediate family in the middle of the military city of Samarra and was surveilled from all directions. Imam Al-Hadi (‘a) and his son Imam Al-’Askari (‘a) became known as Askariyyayn10 as they settled in the Askar area and were not allowed to leave Samarra and were kept under strict house arrest until their martyrdom. Therefore, Imam Al-Hadi (‘a) was even more heavily guarded than his father Imam Al-Jawad (‘a) and had even more limited contact with his followers.
In addition, many spies were hired to monitor the Imam (‘a), and his contact with humans was limited. Guards surrounded the Imam’s (‘a) house. Imam Al-Hadi’s (‘a) home was stormed on occasions when the caliph suspected that the Imam (‘a) had contact with his followers or received their letters.
In about twenty-one years, till his martyrdom, Imam Al-Hadi (‘a) lived in Samara. Mutawakkil, akin to previous Abbasid caliphs, publicly respected the Imam (‘a) all while scheming to undermine his rank and influence among people. After failed attempts, Imam Al-Hadi (‘a) was poisoned and martyred year 254 AH/868 AD.11
Imam Al-’Askari (‘a) was the Imam to be surveilled most intensely, also reflected in his short lifetime and Imamah. The Abbasids knew the final Imam (‘aj) to be the son of Imam Al-’Askari (‘a), and therefore the Imam (‘a) and his household were on surveillance during all hours of the day. The Imam (‘a) was in constant house-arrest, unable to leave and visits were strictly limited. Even the Imam’s (‘a) companions were surveilled, causing great danger and risks in trying to visit the Imam (‘a). Hence, only a few hade accesses to his home and his faithful companions would visit him disguised in order to send him only important concerns. Imam Al-’Askari (‘a) urged many of his followers not to greet him or even show signs of knowing him; lest for their own safety. The fear concerning his offspring was so intense that he was murdered early and became the Imam (‘a) martyred at the youngest age. Imam Al-’Askari (‘a) was martyred year 260 AH, by poising ordered by the caliph of age, similar to his father and forefathers.
Imam Al-Jawad (‘a) continued his father’s and grandfather’s work and drafted a systematically written foundation for religious laws. Likewise, the organization of a self-governing network of reliable personalities, and above all, criteria for scholars that people could follow and turn to in the absence of the Imam (‘a). Imam Al-Jawad (‘a) wrote down the collection of religious laws and developed this system because he knew that both Imam Al-Hadi (‘a) and Imam Al-’Askari (‘a) would spend most of their lives under house arrest and under close supervision. The Imam (‘a) therefore prepared the people for the fact that it would be difficult to receive direct guidance from an Imam (‘a) for a long time to come. With these works, the Shi’a Muslims now had guidelines for how the religion should be preserved and followed. Simultaneously, this systematic arrangement accounted for how answers to new questions could be obtained without having direct contact with the Imam (‘aj).
Imam Al-Jawad (‘a) also appointed representatives in various parts of the Islamic world who were connected in a network. The Imam’s (‘a) representatives had various responsibilities throughout the Islamic world and maintained his contact with his followers. The Imam (‘a) actively referred people to the representatives in their living areas and countries, therefore confirming his support to them and strengthening their position. One of these prominent representatives was Sayyid Abdul-Adhim Hasani (r.a.) who was sent to Rey. He was of Imam Al-Hasan’s (‘a) descendants and a scholar whose religious and insightful position and high understanding of the contemporary situation and what was required, made him one of the most reliable representatives of the Imam (‘a). It is recounted in the history that the Imam (‘a) asked a multitude of Shi’a Muslims, who had travelled with difficulty all the way from Khorasan to visit him, to henceforth turn directly to Abdul-Adhim Hasani (r.a.) in Rey. In this way, the Shi’a Muslims were prepared, step by step, for the long occultation of the final Imam (‘aj).
As surveillances intensified during Imam Al-Hadi’ (‘a) and Imam Al-’Askari’s (‘a) time, communicating through the Shi’a network of representatives became critical. These Imams (‘a) utilized this kind of contact by often referring to pious reliable scholars who could be the best representatives of faith and Ahl Al-Bayt (‘a). This was due to the strict surveillance and to ensure the safety of their followers, as well as the fact that Shi’a Muslims would be taught to seek out the most pious among scholars in the future.
Additionally, through this network, there were now Shi’a representatives spread throughout the Islamic state. The system of networks ensured that the establishment and preservation of the strong contact with the infallible Imam (‘a) (as it is the centre and driving force), could live on despite threats and limitations. In addition to distributing Khums (one fifth wealth tax), sent by believers from all parts of the state, to the needy through the representatives, the Imams (‘a) could also assist in other issues concerning the Shias, through these representatives. The representatives of the Imams (‘a) were self-propelled in many issues thanks to the guidelines and supporting documents provided by previous Imams (‘a). At the same time, these representatives were connected and, if necessary, in contact with the Imams (‘a) via letters, through a few reliable companions who gained access to the Imams (‘a). This happened while other Shi’a Muslims were linked to the Imams (‘a) through the representatives. The anchoring of this system was therefore very important in preparation for the final Imam’s (‘aj) time. Moreover, a large part of the teachings of the final Imams (‘a) has reached us through the exchange of letters between them and their representatives.
Towards the end, the Imams (‘a) referred people to their representatives more strictly and commanded Shias that they had to turn to these representatives and not directly seek the Imams (‘a). Slowly but surely, the contact with the Imams (‘a) was completely limited to the representatives, this was in connection with the intensified surveillance, causing extreme danger if getting in contact with them. It is narrated in history that on some occasions, the Imams (‘a) spoke from behind a cloth so that people would not see them but only hear their voice and therefore Shias had to get used to following an Imam without seeing him. This while the Imams (‘a) could at times refrain from meeting their followers so that the contemporary tyrants would not act accordingly. On other occasions, they abstained from it for the purpose of preparing the Shias for the occultation of the final Imam of the time, Imam Al-Mahdi (‘aj).
In fact, Imam Al-Jawad (‘a), Imam Al-Hadi (‘a) and Imam Al-’Askari (‘a) expanded and strengthened the system of representatives and scholars that previously was established over the Islamic world. They transformed the system into an even more entrenched network that enabled Imam Al-’Askari (‘a) to keep in touch with his followers despite being on house arrest all of his life. This great effort came in addition to all the guidelines that all the Imams (‘a) left behind, to constitute a very important preparation for the final Imam’s (‘aj) occultation and to be a basis for the survival of the Shias in the indirect presence of the Imam (‘aj).
- 1. Imam Al-Jawad’s (‘a) mother, known as Sabika Nubiyya (r.a.), as she was originally from Nubia, is said to have been descended from the Prophet’s (S) wife, Marie Qebtiyya (r.a.). She too was enslaved before Ahl Al-Bait (‘a) took her in. She was known for her piety.
- 2. Imam Al-Hadi’s (‘a) mother Samana Maghrebiyya (r.a.) was also enslaved and taken to Ahl Al-Bayt’s (‘a) home under Imam Al-Jawad’s (‘a) command. She often fasted and spent a lot of time in worship. Imam Al-Hadi (‘a) has stated his mother was fully aware of the Imam (‘a) of her time and was among the people of paradise.
- 3. Imam Al-’Askari’s (‘a) mother Hudayth (r.a.) was enslaved and taken in by Ahl Al-Bait (‘a). Hudayth (r.a.) later became known as Jadda (grandmother) given that she was Imam Al-Mahdi’s (‘a) grandmother. Imam Al-’Askari (‘a) appointed his mother as his representative to whom Shi’a would turn to in important matters. Accordingly, Hudayth (r.a.) had an important role in defending Imam Al-Mahdi (‘aj) and in dismissing false claims about him during his occultation as well as in addressing important issues and conveying important messages. Sayyida Hakima (r.a.), Imam Al-’Askaris (‘a) aunt, resembles Imam Al-’Askaris (‘a) appointment of his mother Hudayth (r.a.) at Imam Al-Husayn’s (‘a) leaves behind by her sister Sayyida Zaynab (‘a) in the front to protect the next Imam (‘a); Kamal ad-Din volume 2 p.501. In comparison, this is similar to Imam Al-Sadiq’s (‘a) appointment of five representatives, including his mother Hamida (r.a.), for preserving Imam Al-Kadhim’s (‘a) life and supporting the message while giving Shi’a reliable people to turn to.
- 4. Some of these events and occasions have been recounted, among others, in Kafi by Kulayni Volume 1 a p.320-323; Irshad by Sheikh Mufid volume 2 p.265 and 274-280; Bihar Al-Anwar by Allamah Al-Majlisi volume 50 p.18-37; ‘Uyoon Akhbar Al-Ridha by Sheikh Sadooq volume 2 p.586; Aʿlam Al-Wara volume 2 p.92-96 et al.
- 5. The descriptions of questions that have been asked to Imam Al-Jawad (‘a) and Imam’s (‘a) response are many and are narrated, among others, in Manaqib Aal Ali Ibn Abu Ṭalib by Ibn Shahrashoob volume 4 p.383; Dalaʾil Al-Imama by Tabari p.205-206; Kafī volume 1 p.322; Bihar Al-Anwar volume 50 p.99-100 et al.
- 6. This is recounted in Musnad Al-Imam Al-Jawad by Atarudi p.249 et al.
- 7. This is recounted in Kafi volume 1 p.381-382 and Musnad Al-Imam Al-Jawad p.20 et al.
- 8. This is narrated, in Al-Ghayba p.120-122; Kashf Al-ghumma vol 2 p.404-407; Hayate Fekri va Siyasiye Imamane Shi’a by Ja’fariyan p.537 et al.
- 9. God says in the Holy Qur’an: “They want to extinguish the light of God with their mouths, but God will perfect His light, although the disbelievers dislike it.” (the Holy Qur’an 61:8).
- 10. Askariyyan is also from the term boxes with the meaning army and its hiding place. The Imams’ (‘a) forced relocation to Samarra on the caliph’s orders and their circumstances as well as consequences is a given historical fact narrated in the majority of historical accounts and sources including Tathkirat Al-Khawas by Ibn Jawzi volume 2 p.492 et al.
- 11. This is narrated in Irshad p 649; Kashf Al-Ghumma volume 4 p 40 et al.