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Quarterly Journal
of the

Vol. XXI. Nos. 1 2
Edited by



Sami N.Makarem

The names of the Isma'ili hidden Imams have been subject to much research and speculation. (1) This is because of the secrecy with which these names were always surrounded. This secrecy was due, at first, to the fear of these Imams from the'Abbasid government. The Ismaili Imams of that period were too cautious to disclose their true names; instead "they assumed names, other than their own, and used for themselves esoterically names denoting the rank of proofs (Hujjats) (2) ."(3) They "went into hiding," as al-Mu'izz says in a letter to one of his da'is in Sind, "and the da'is to protect them, called them by nicknames, choosing ones which would fit them."(4) Even though the time of fear of the ' Abbasids was no longer in existence, and the hidden Imams had long passed away, the Fatimids were insistent not to divulge or try to divulge, the names of those who had been the hidden Imams during the 'Abbasids. They seemed to insist in keeping these names a secret perhaps in order to give their followers an additional aura of secrecy which would enhance the sanctity of the movement, or because the real names of these hidden Imams were too complicated to be clarified. Other possible reasons for the Fatimids' keeping the real names of the hidden Imams a secret were stated by Husayn F. al-Hamdani. Dr. al-Hamdani is inclined to attribute this secrecy to the fact that:

The Fatimid Caliph-Imams purposely avoided discussing the matter of their ancestry, which was seldom known even to high ranking dignitaries of their hierarchy or to their confidants. It was a preconceived plan to keep their genealogy a top secret, due to the intricate and dark passages it passed through and due to contradictions involved in the adoption of assumed names. It was also politically inexpedient to discuss questions which might have resulted in long-drawn controversies, attacks and counter-attacks. Having firmly established their Empire, they could afford to practice scornful silence. (5)

It is interesting to note that although the Fatimid Imam al-Mu'izz, in one of his letters to his da'i of Sind, made it a point to refute the idea that the hidden Imams were not direct descendants of Fatima, he did not even try to disclose the real names of those hidden Imams. (6)

This secrecy led to much confusion and made it too hard a task to establish the real names of the hidden Imams. However, fortunately enough, some Isma'ili sources did not retain complete silence concerning this matter. Although these sources are not in full agreement about the hidden Imams' real names, one can, by carefully studying these sources, draw near the truth.

In his book al-Fara'id wa Hudud ad-Din, Ja'far ibn Mansur al-Yaman (flourished ca. 380/990) (7) includes a report(8) on a letter sent by 'Abdallah al- Mahdi, the first Fatimid Caliph, to Yemen in which the Caliph supposedly reveals the real names of the hidden imams. If al-Mahdi's letter is authentic, as the editor, Dr. al-Hamdani tends to believe,(9)it is one of the oldest documents that have come to light until now, and, consequently a most reliable document, especially because it was written by the Caliph al-Mahdi himself.

Unlike the usual Isma'ili account(10) that ascribes the Imamate after Ja'far ibn Muhammad to his son Isma'il, this letter tells us that the Imam after Ja'far ibn Muhammad was rather his son 'Abdallah who was later given his brother's name, Isma'il as an assumed name.(11) After him his son Muhammad became Imam and assumed the name of Muhammad ibn Isma'il(12). Then came his son 'Abdallah, followed by the latters son Ahmad, followed in turn by Ahmad's son Muhammad. (13) The report goes on to say, "Then Muhammad ibn Ahmad appointed his nephew and vested in him, by God's preference, the whole Affair.(14) [The nephew] styled himself as Sa'id ibn al-Husayn. The da'wa was directed in his name for some time. When he came to power he proclaimed his position and styled himself as 'Abdallah. He is therefore our master 'Abdallah who is the Imam, may God bless him."(15) The report says later that the real name of this Sa'id ibn al-Husayn (i.e. 'Abdallah al-Mahdi) is 'Ali ibn al-Husayn. (16) is father, i.e. al-Husayn is, as has been shown above, the third hidden Imam's brother. This third hidden Imam, as we shall see later, also assumed the name of al- Husayn, his brother's name. (However, the fact that al-Husayn was called a brother of this third hidden Imam does not necessarily prove that he was a physical brother. Spiritual parenthood was often practiced among the Ismailis).(17)

The fact that Ali ibn al-Husayn (i.e. 'Abdallah al-Mahdi), who was also called Sa'id, is a nephew of the Imam Muhammad ibn Ahmad is of great significance. It means that he was not a real Imam, because the Imamate must necessarily be given only to a son. He therefore must have been what was later known in Isma'ilism as a Thistee Imam (mustawda), acting on behalf of a real one (mustaqarr).(18) The Mustaqarr Imam, as we shall see later(19), was 'Ali ibn Muhammad, then his son Abul-Qasim Muhammad ibn Ali, known as al-Qa'im bi-Amr Allah. According to Ja'far ibn Mansur al- Yaman's report, al-Qa'im bi-Amr Allah appeared together with 'Ali ibn al-Husayn (i.e. 'Ab- dallah al-Mahdi). The report reads:

Together with him .(i.e. 'Abdallah al-Mahdi) appeared Our Master Abul-Qasim, God's blessings be on them both. His name was Muhammad. Thus the indication to al-Qa'im [son of] (20) al-Mahdi, Muhammad ibn' Abdallah Abul-Qasim, the Imam awaited for the glory of the state of true religion and for the holy war behind the banners of the faithful, was materialized (21).

This is clarified by a later Isma'ili da'i, the Yemenite Idris 'Imad ad-Din (d. 872/1463)(22) in this book Zahr al-Ma'ani. He says:

With him (i.e. al-Mahdi) was the Imam al-Qaim bi-Amr Allah, Muhammad ibn 'Abdallah who is entitled to the Caliphate after him, and in his favor the Call of all the Imams (da'wat al-awliya was carried on. According to the ruling of custody, al-Mahdi Billah was his custodian pointing his high rank to his followers.(23)

This shows that al-Qa'im was the real Imam, while al-Mahdi, the first Fatimid Caliph, was only a thistee one; hence the latter could not be the physical father of the former. In Ja'far ibn Mansur al-Yaman's report and in the passage just quoted from Idris 'Imad ad-Din's, the name 'Abdallah could not therefore denote that al-Qa'im was the physical son of Abdallah al-Mahdi himself. Now the question is, whose son could al-Qa'im bi-Amr Allah be? In his book, Ghayat al-Mawalid, the Isma'ili Yemenite da'i al-Khattab ibn Hasan (d. ca. 533/1138)(24) says:

When light came out in Yemen and the country of al-Maghrib, God's lieutenant over His land, 'Ali ibn al-Husayn, God's blessing be upon him, left for the country of al-Maghrib. On his way there he passed away after he had asked his Proof (hujja) Sa'id, nicknamed al-Mahdi, to succeed him, may God's peace be on him.. ..

When al-Mahdi was about to pass away he handed the Deposit (i.e. the Imamate) over to its real locus, Muhammad ibn 'Ali, al-Qa'im bi- Amr Allah. The latter assumed if, and it continued in his progeny, may God's peace be on him.(25)

A similar version is found in Idris 'Imad ad-Din's Zahr al-Ma'ani. It reads:

Then the Imam, the Master of the time, took off for al-Maghrib. Al- Mahdi was in his entourage. During his joumey he passed away after he had appointed his brother Sa'id al-Khayr and made him custodian and thistee for his son. Sa'id al-Khayr undertook [the son's] custody and assumed the title of Imam by order of the one who had appointed him such, so that he may veil the lieutenant of God and conceal his rank from his followers until the time would come for him to appear and for his light to break forth. [Sa'id] ordered the functionaries to abide by that and to proclaim him the rising sun so that he may act as a veil for the lieutenant of God, his son, who was to assume [the Imamate] after him. Except for the good chosen devoted pure ones who had had knowledge of God's mystery concerning His lieutenants and who had known what has been revealed to them by His devotees, no one was informed of this. God's secret behind this was kept concealed until the time came and the da'is established the da'wa and indicated their true Imam to whom they had been ordered to point. They revealed his supremacy to their followers, directed the call for him, and announced the rise of the sun from the West. They heralded the approach of the Day of Doom after the sun had risen from behind its concealing veils. (26)

Now, al-Qa'is father, whose name was 'Ali, must have been the son of Muhammad ibn Ahmad. Therefore Muhammad ibn Ahmad must have taken the name of his so-called brother al-Husayn, as an assumed name. This is also stated by a later Ismaili scholar, Ibn Zahra (flourished in the beginning of the 1Oth/16th century) (27) who says in his book, al-Usul wal-Ahkam, that the names of the hidden Imams (after Muhammad ibn Isma'il) are the following: Abdallah ibn Muhammad,(28) Ahmad [ibn 'Abdallah] and Husayn [ibn Ahmad].(29) The latter's real name, as we have seen above is Muhammad ibn Ahmad. Idris Imad ad-Din, who also confirms these names,adds to them, the following titles respectively: ar-Radi, at-Taqi and al-Muqtada al-Hadi.(30) A third Ismaili scholar, Hasan ibn Nuh (d. 939/1533)(31) though he agrees with the previous sources, gives the third Imam a different title, namely az-Zaki.(32) However, a Nizari Ismaili prayer book, entitled Du'a, lists the hidden Imams as being: Wafi Alhmad, Taqi Muhammad and Radi ad-Din Abd- allah. (33) Also in his poem, Qasida-i dhurriyye,(34) the Persian Ismaili scholar, Khaki Khurasani (flourished in the 11th/17th century)(35) gives the same list of the above mentioned prayer book (the third Imam's title though is Radi, not Radi ad-Din, and is name is omitted). Those Imams must then be respectively Abdallah ibn Muhammad, Ahmad ibn Abdallah and al-Husayn ibn Ahmad(36) (whose real name was Muhammad ibn Ahmad).

Here we cannot ignore an interesting work, entitled Istitar al-Imam, attributed to Ahmad ibn Ibrahim (or ibn Muhammad) an-Naysaburi (flourished towards the end of the 4th/10th century and the beginning of the next, under al-Aziz and al-Hakim).(37) Although this work does not mention the decease of Imam Ali ibn Muhammad (known as Ali ibn al-Husayn), i.e. al-Qa'im's father, on his way to al-Maghrib, it clearly attributes to him the title of al-Mahdi, and gives us more information about the hidden Imams. The passage which concerns us here is the following: (38)

[The Imam] was Abdallah the elder.(39) He sent his missionaries to all the lands secretly; and, pretending to be a merchant, he dismissed and commissioned [different agents]. Two sons were born to him there (i.e. in Salamiyya): Ahmad and Ibrahim. He died [there] , and the office of Imamate after him was [vested in] Ahmad, not Ibrahim. Ahmad ibn 'Abdallah had a son, he was al-Husayn, the Imam [to be],(40) father of al-Mahdi and of Sa'id al-Khayr.(41) Al-Husayn lived until al-Mahdi, peace be on him, was born to him. When [al-Husayn] was about to pass away and as his son was still a minor, be put him in charge of his brother(42) Sa'id al-Khayr. Sa'id acted freely with the office of Imamate; he vested it in one of his sons, but the son died. So he vested it in another son who also died. He had ten sons. He did not cease to vest [the office] in one after the other until they all died.(43) Sa'id al-Khayr then realized that Right can never part with those who are entitled to it. So he expressed regret and turned repentantly to God, may He be blessed and exalted. (44) He summoned his missionaries and explained to them that was only a Trustee for al-Mahdi, God's blessings and peace be on him. He then handed him the Imamate and admitted that the Deposit (i.e. the Imamate) [belonged] to him. Hence the office of Imamate was [handed over] to al-Mahdi, peace be on him.(45)

Ja'far ibn Mansur al-Yaman's report identifies Sa'id with 'Abdallah al- Mahdi. (46) By comparing it with Ghayat al-Mawalid we come to the conclusion that 'Ali ibn Muhammad (known also as 'Ali ibn al-Husayn) to whom the Imamate was handed over by Sa'id, either willingly or unwillingly, set forth for al-Maghrib, but died on his way there. His son al-Qaim was still a minor. So Sa'id took over and continued the journey to al-Maghrib after he had been vested, for the second time, with the Imamate (as a guardian for al- Qaim).(47) He took over the title of the deceased Imam, al-Mahdi, as well as his surname, 'Ali ibn al-Husayn. (48) In this way he was able to convince the followers, except for those in his very closed circles, that he was al-'Mahdi himself. This explains the vagueness of the phraseology in Ja'far's report when speaking about al-Mahdi, which vagueness was either due to 'Abdallah al-Mahdi's letter on which the report was written, or to Ja'far's intention of making it ambiguous.

What has been previously said may however create some problem in relation to other reliable sources. In his letter to his da'i in Sind, al-Mu'izz seems to admit the existence of seven Imams, alleged to be only "lieutenants" (khulafa) and not Imams by some heterodox Isma'ilis. These seven Imams were said to have come after Muhammad ibn Isma'il. This letter is an attack by al-Mu'izz against these "followers" in Sind who believed that some of these "Lieutenants" were not descendants of Muhammad ibn Isma'il. On the contrary al-Mu'izz asserts their direct descent from this Imam. He writes to the da'i:

". ..As to the confusion of those people and their perplexities about which you write in four questions, viz. what they say about the seven Lieutenants (khulafa') , and about their number being completed with the seventh among them: their doctrine is one of "Limitation" (tawqit) , similar to the doctrine which we have mentioned before. I mean to say, that as they professed "limitation" in the case of Muhammad b. Isma'il, and he died, and they developed their doctrine about him, they asserted that he had appointed as his Lieutenant someone who was not one of his sons and that this lieutenant appointed after himself another lieutenant, till they reached the number seven. ..

Al-Mu'izz goes on to say:

There is a reason for this which must be mentioned. When the mission on behalf of Muhammad b. Isma'il spread, the 'Abbasid usurpers sought the man who was acknowledged as the leader. The Imams went into hiding and the da'is, to protect them, called them by nicknames, choosing ones which would fit them.. .By their order and their instruction to their da'is, such nicknames were applied also to the Imams succeeding him. Then, after that generation had passed, this reached the cars of someone who did not understand it. (49)

This may shed some light on the seven functionaries, esoterically referred to as "Heavens",(50) mentioned in the Druze epistle, Taqsim al-'Ulum,(51) The first of these "Heavens", the Druze epistle says, is Ismail ibn Muhammad, (52) the second is Muhammad ibn Isma'il,(53) the third is Ahmad ibn Muhammad, the fourth is 'Abdallah ibn Ahmad,(54) the fifth is Muhammad ibn Abdallah(55), who was styled esoterically as al-Mahdi, the sixth is al-Husayn ibn Muhammad,(56) and the seventh is 'Abdallah, father of Sa'id al-Mahdi Billah. This 'Abdallah, the Druze epistle states, has styled himself as Ahmad; that is why Sa'id was known as Sa'id ibn Ahmad.(57)

The question of the hidden Imams is treated by the Druzes in a different way. At the time of Ahmad ibn Muhammad, i.e. the third "Heaven", there appeared, says Tasim al-Ulam, Abu Zakariyya. He is considered by the Druzes to be the real Master (al-mowla) of that period, i.e. the Imam. Following Abu Zakariyya, the Imam, accorrding to the Druze epistle, was named 'Ali. He appeared during the time of the fourth "Heaven", 'Abdallah ibn Ahmad (known also as 'Abdallah ibn Maymun al-Qaddah).(58) After Ali came al-Mu'ill. He was the Imam during the fifth, the sixth and the seventh "Heavens", i.e. Muhammad ibn Abdallah, al-Husayn ibn Muhammad and 'Abdallah, father of Sa'id al-Mahdi. It was al-Mu'ill, says Taqsim al-Ulam, who vested the Deposit (al-wadi'a), i.e. the Imamate, in Sa'id al-Mahdi as a guardian of al-Qa'im bi-Amr Allah who was the first Imam "to actually rule over an earthly kingdom."

In examining the Druze epistle, Taqsim al-'Ulum, we find that it stems to differ from the Ismaili sources mentioned above in two major points: The first is the Druze belief that the real Imams of that period were Abu Zakariyya, 'Ali and al-Mu'ill. The Druzes seem to believe that the third "Heaven" Ahmad ibn Muhammad, though he was a descendant of Muhmmad ibn Isma'il ibn Ja'far was only a facade Imam. The real Imam, according to them, was Abu Zakariyya. Likewise the real Imam after Abu Zakariyya was a certain Ali, the facade Imam during his time was the fourth "Heaven" 'Abdallah ibn Ahmad. After 'Ali, came al-Mu'ill as a real Imam; he had the fifth, sixth and seventh "Heavens" as facade Imams. Al-Mu'ill, according to Taqsim al-Ulum, vested the Imamate in Sa'id al-Khayr as a trustee to the real Imam, al-Qa'im.

Nowhere in the Druze scriptures is there any statement about these Imams' origin. From what has been mentioned we can therefore deduce that, according to the Druzes, the Imams Abu Zakariyya, Ali, al-Mu'll and al-Qa'im, and consequently the other Fatimid Imams were not descendants of Muhammad ibn Ismail ibn Ja'far. This curious view corresponds in part with that of the Sunni Ibn Rizam (4th century A.H.) who says that al-Qa'im was (If an unknown origin.(59)

As for the second point in which Taqsim al-' Ulum seems to differ from the Ismaili sources, it can be summarized as follows: the Druze epistle says that the one who came after the third "Heaven" was 'Abdallah ibn Ahmad, it styles him as the fourth "Heaven". It also describes him as being "from the race of Maymun al-Qaddah. A few pages before, the same man is actually referred to as being the son of Maymun al-Qaddah, i.e. 'Abdallah ibn Maymun al-Qaddah himself. On the other hand, we see that both Ja'far ibn Mansur al-Yaman's report and Istitar al-Imam state that the third Imam vested the Imamate in Sa'id al-Khayr. (60) However, Abdallah ibn Ahmad is not mentioned in any of the Ismaili sources referred to in the present study. According to the Druze epistle Taqsim al-Ulum, Sa'id al-Mahdi is a descendant of 'Abdallah ibn Maymun al-Qaddah. His father, who was styled as Ahmad, was 'Abdallah, son of al-Husayn son of Muhammad son of' Abdallah ibn Maymun al-Qaddah.

It is worthy of mention here that the Druze epistle also calls this Sa'id al-Mahdi Said ibn ash-Shalaghlagh (or ash-Shala'la'). It is interesting to note that this tallies well with what the Sunni historian Muhammad ibn Malik al-Hammadi (d. 470 A.H.) says in his book Kashf Asrar al-Batiniyya, namely that Abdallah ibn Maymun al-Qaddah was a Jew, of the family of Shalala, of Salamiyya.(61)

Now, Taqsim al-Ulum says that the cycle(62) of Muhammad ibn Ismail ibn Ja'far leads to the trustee Lieutenants (ila al-Khulafa al Mustawda'in) and ends with Ahmad ibn al-Husayn ibn Muhammad ibn Abdallah ibn Maymun al-Qaddah (i.e. the seventh "Heaven").

Who then could these Lieutenants be? While commenting on the seven "Heavens'" mentioned in Taqsim al-Ulum, another Druze manuscript entitled Umdat al-Arifin(63)says that the fourth, fifth and sixth "Heavens" were "Lieutenants par excellence" (al-khulafa al-haqiqiyyo). This appelation suggests that they are not considered true Imams. As for the seventh "Heaven", he is not even recognized as a Lieutenant. "He fell short," says Umdat al Arifin, "of the rank of the three Lieutenants which is the reason he was not counted as one of them". This suggests that the appointment of Sa'id al-Khayr to the Imamate by Muhammad ibn Ahmad (Ahmad ibn Muhammad in Taqsim al-Ulum), a fact which is stated in Ja'fa's report and Istitar al-Imam, does not contradict the Druze epistle Taqsim al-Ulum which tells us about the advent of the fourth "Heaven" Abdallah ibn Ahmad after the third one Ahmad ibn Muhammad. Also it suggests that the first, second and third "Heavens", namely Ismail ibn Muhammad, Muhammad ibn Isma'il and Ahmad ibn Muhammad, may be considered the same as Abdallah ibn Muhammad, Ahmad ibn Abdallah and Muhammad ibn Ahmad respectively.

The seven "Heavens" consisted therefore, according to Umdat al-Arifin of three facade Imams and three Lieutenants acting as facade Imams as weIl ;(64) while the seventh was not even considered as a Lieutenant. Therefore between Muhammad ibn Ismail ibn Ja'far and Sa'id al-Mahdi six functionaries, three of them were mere Lieutenants, acted as facade Imams to the real Imams Abu Zakariyya, Ali and al-Mu'ill.

It is interesting to notice that the fact that three among these six functionaries were Lieutenants was not strange to the Isma'lis, or at least to some of them. These Isma'ilis however, unlike the Druzes, considered the other three to be real Imams. The author of the Ismai'li poem, ash-Shafiya says in this respect(65): The Light went on to Muhammad(66) The seventh, (67) the perfect, the great, the master. After him came the youths, the men in the Cave until god would permit them to disclose. Thus three Lieutenants paralleled them [as concealers), men of purity, light and faithfulness.

Now, the fact that the Druze epistle, Taqsim al-Ulum links some of the "Heavens" with the term "of the race of (min walad) Maymun al-Qaddah"(68) does not necessarily mean that the others are not from the same race.

In addition to what has been concluded from this study, the following deductions can also be drawn:

To the Isma'ilis, the names of the hidden Imams after Muhammad ibn Isma'il ibn Ja'far are: Abdallah ibn Muhammad (better known in Isma'ili circles as Ahmad al- Wafi), Ahmad ibn Abdallah (better known as Muhammad at-Taqi) , Muhammad ibn Ahmad (better known as 'Abdallah ar-Radi) and Ali ibn Muhammad (better known as Ali ibn al-Husayn, with al-Mahdi as title). The latter died on his way to al-Maghrib but his name and title (al- Mahdi) were assumed by a certain Sa'id al-Khayr who conquered al-Maghrib in his name, established himself Caliph and founded the Fatimid dynasty.

After Sa'id al-Mahdi died, the Imamate was assumed by al-Qa'im bi-Amr Allah who was not the physical son of the first Fatimid Caliph Sa'id al-Mahdi.

The first Fatimid Caliph, who is also known in history as Abdallah, or Ubay-dallah, al-Mahdi, was not from the line of succession of the Imams. He was only an acting Imam. The Druzes claim that he was a descendant of Ab-dallah ibn Maymum al-Qaddah who was in turn from the family of Shalaghlagh (or Shala'la, probably a Jewish family.

Sa'id al-Mahdi acted twice as a Trustee Imam. He was first appointed as such by Imam Muhammad ibn Ahmad, known also as al-Husayn, the third of the hidden Imams who came after Muhammad ibn Ismail. He was appointed as a Trustee Imam for the real Imam Ali ibn Muhammad, known as al-Mahdi. The second time he was appointed as a Trustee Imam was by al-Mahdi Ali ibn Muhammad, before the latter died on his way to al-Maghrib. This time he was appointed Trustee Imam for the rightful owner, al-Qa'im bi-Amr Allah.

The Ismailis have two different views vis-a-vis the first Fatimid Caliph Sa'id al-Mahdi. The first is held by the Fatimid Imam al-Mu'izz and his close entourage, and possibly by all other Fatimid Imams and their high officials. They believed that Sa'id al-Mahdi was simply a usurper. He only handed over the Imamate to its rightful owner, "Ali ibn Muhammad al- Mahdi (al-Qa'im's father) after he had designated it to each of his ten sons in succession, each having died after receiving the appointment. The Fatimid Caliph al-Mu'izz unreservedly says about him, "He inevitably installed the rightful owner, as he did not find anyone else".(69) The other view is held by the rest of the Isma'ilis. They believe that although Sa'id al-Mahdi tried to deprive Ali ibn Muhammad al-Mahdi from his right to the Imamate, he repented after he had been punished by losing all his ten sons. As a representative of this view, an-Naysaburi, the author of Istitar al-Imam, says, "Sa'id al-Khayr then realized that Right can never part with those who are entitled to it. So he expressed regret and turned repentantly to God, may He be blessed and exalted. He summoned his missionaries and explained to them that he was only a Trustee for al-Mahdi, God's blessings and peace be on him. He then handed him the Imamate and admitted that the Deposit [belonged] to him."(70)

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