by Hamid Algar
-The Succession of Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS]
-Haroon al-Rashid and the eventual death of Imam Musa al-Kazim [AS]
-Influence of Imam Musa al-Kazim [AS]
-The offspring of Imam Musa al-Kazim [AS]
Taqiyyah – prudential dissimulation, means concealing one’s identity as a Shi’ah under conditions thought to be dangerous, either for the Imam [AS] himself, for the Shi’i community as a whole or for one’s own person. The utility of this practise one may say was demonstrated in the short run by the Imams after Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS]. Their fragile and hazardous position was made tenable in part by the practise of taqiyyah. However a problem arises, the observance of taqiyyah by the Imams themselves means that not all of their recorded utterances are to be taken as expressing their true opinions. One finds on a wide variety of topics, hadith from the Imams [AS] which are contradictory with each other. On the same topic the Imam [AS] appears to have contradicted himself, which is of course from the Shi’i point of view is an impossibility, therefore the necessity arises of identifying those hadith which were uttered by taqiyyah and those which did indeed express the true opinion of the Imam [AS] or his intended judgement on a given topic. This is a peculiar problem, to the philosophy of hadith, it is a technical problem. One way of approaching this problem is to see which of the apparently contradictory utterances corresponds the closest to a Sunni opinion – and to regard that as having been uttered by taqiyyah, this is the method followed by some Shi’i hadith scholars. The matter is not that simple because there are other instances of apparent contradiction in the sayings of the Imams [AS] that cannot simply be explained by comparing them to Sunni views of opinions on the same subject. This is a problem with which Shi’ah hadith scholars have had to deal with, determining which hadiths have been so to speak infected by the operation of the principle of taqiyyah.
Another related problem, because it is related to hadith – is the emergence in the time of both Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] and his predecessor Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] of the group of the tendency known as the Ghulah – it is an Arabic plural meaning ‘extremist’ i.e. those who go to extremes. The abstract noun in Arabic is Ghulu, which has the general meaning in Arabic as exaggeration, so you can regard the extremists if you like as exaggerists. What is meant here by extremism, nothing political, we are not dealing here with those groups among the Shi’ah or the fringes of the Shi’ah which demanded immediate revolutionary action, what is at issue here is the nature of the Imams [AS] themselves. The Imams [AS] have a high and exalted position by virtue of the attribute of ‘Ismah, infallibility, inerrancy, by virtue of being the Divinely appointed successors to the Prophet [sAW]. Some enthusiasts in the Shi’i movement were not content with this elevated nature of the Imams [AS] and engaged in exaggeration with respect to the nature of the Imams [AS]. For example, it was said that, ‘The Imams [AS] in their substance were created from light from beneath the Divine Throne.’ That is to say that there biological makeup is different from the rest of humanity, and of course given the fact that the Imams [AS] are included with the Prophet [sAW] in the category of the Ma’sumin then this saying, belief – extends to the Prophet [sAW] aswell. The Prophet [sAW] and the Imams [AS] and the totality of the ma’sumin are created in their very biological substance differently from the rest of humanity. Going beyond this the Imams [AS] were designated or viewed as Divine Manifestations – that is as being a complete manifestation in the human physical form of the Divine Being. This tendency first appeared already in the Imamate of Imam Ali [AS]. There were those amongst his followers or who claimed to be his followers who assigned him Divine Status, and he found it necessary to suppress them with the same vigour that he displayed amongst other adversaries.
But the tendency was an obstinate one, a persistent one, and one finds it also in the time of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] and Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS]. It should be stressed that this was a tendency, and not an organised group unlike those other branches of the Shi’i movement already discussed for example the Zaidis, the followers of Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah, and of course the Ismailis. It is not a difference relating to the identity of the Imam [AS] but to the very essence and substance of the Imam [AS]. Some among the Ghulahseem to have infiltrated themselves into the following of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] and Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS]. Although the Imams [AS] did take care to distance themselves from them, you can find traces of Ghulah views in certain of the collections of hadith, and this is a problem that the scholar of Shi’i hadith must sometimes deal with, the presences of Ghulu. This tendency survives for a very long time, the mode, the tannoy of its transmission is not very clear but one finds it for example in Turkey and in western Iran in the late 15thand early 16th Christian century. And one of the paradoxes about the rise of Shi’ism in Iran is that it was carried to triumph by Ghulah, in other words the origins of Shi’ism as the established religion of the state in Iran, at the beginning of the 16th Christian century are associated with elements which draw upon traditions of the Ghulah. Later however, in fact very quickly, in the reign of the second Safawid king, these elements were laid aside, and there took place the introduction and propagation in Iran of normative twelver Shi’ism as derived from the teachings of the twelve Imams [AS]. One remarkably obstinate belief in Ghulah was that the Archangel Gabriel had made a mistake in bringing the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad [sAW], and that in fact it was intended for Imam Ali [AS]. Obviously a belief rejected by Shi’is and by all Muslims, but occasionally encountered in the beliefs of the Ghulah. Even when this precise claim is not made it is sometimes said retrospectively that Imam Ali [AS] was superior to the Prophet [sAW], himself – these elements exist on the Fringes of the Shi’i movement unconnected to the Imams [AS] and rejected by them but in some cases it is possible to discern traces of Ghulah teachings in hadith, or in alleged hadith exalting the Imams [AS] to Divine Status.
There was confusion after the death of Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS], despite the care taken by the Imam [AS] in clarifying the principles of succession above all the question of Nass. Gradually however Imam Musa al-Kazim [AS] with the exception of the Ismailis – did emerge as the generally accepted leader of the Shi’ah after Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS]. Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] was born in 128 AH, 745 AD in Madinah. He died in Baghdad in 183 AH, 799 AD, at the age of 55. He exercised in the course of this very brief life, the Imamate for about 35 years. So again a fairly long period of tenure of the Imamate. His influence however was by no means comparable to that of his father Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] because of the particular circumstances under which he was compelled to live – arrests, confinement – being coercively taken back and forth between Madinah and Baghdad. An interesting point to note about the ancestry of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] was that his mother was a certain Hamidah who is described in sources as al-Barabariyyah, Barabari is an adjective of origin in Arabic, it might be thought that this refers to the Berber people of North Africa, Saharan Africa – it is an ethno-noun i.e. it refers to a certain ethnic group, however in the usage of classical Muslim geographers Barbari refers to someone originating from what we today call the ‘horn of Africa’ i.e. Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea. Although there is no precise information about the geographical origins of Hamida the mother of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS], this much is certain that she came from that region of Africa. It is interesting to note also that out of the Imams [AS], at least one if not at least two had African mothers. The Successor of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS], the 8th Imam Ali al-Rida [AS] also had an African mother. Likewise the mother of the Twelth Imam [AS], there are two traditions concerning his mother, in one she is Greek, according to another she was African. Therefore by the time of the Twelth Imam [AS] if we consider his mother as Greek, there was a considerable amount of African Ancestry in the Imams [AS]. Interestingly enough there are traditions from Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS], traditions that praise the Berber, the Africans of this particular area for the piety and religiosity and the Imam [AS] recommends to his followers and his own son to take a wife from them. Ethnicity is not in itself an important consideration here, except that towards the late 19th century and early 20th century a very questionable series of pictures and illustrations began to appear in Iran and elsewhere – depictions that allegedly showed the Imams [AS] themselves. Of course depictions of the Prophet [sAW] and the Imams [AS], is in any school of Islamic thought including Shi’ism, is at the very least questionable. But what is interesting about these barely defensible depictions of the Twelve Imams [AS] that began to appear is that the Imams [AS] all appeared to look like Iranis or Arabs. No attention is given to any other possibility. So when the Twelth Imam [AS] comes to manifestation which is an important point of Shi’i belief he might not be immediately recognisable people may not immediately recognise him, given that he has this African ancestry.
Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] had been designated by Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS], Nass that is to say by witness designation and had a relatively long tenure as the Imam [AS]. However circumstances were now different from the time of his father Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS]. Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq’s [AS] life had spanned the final years of the Umayyad and the early years of the Abbasid Caliphate. There was a certain pretence to religious legitimacy of the Caliphate on the part of the Abbasids. In making such claims to religious legitimacy the Abbasids had two aims in mind, one was so that people would compare them favourably with the outgoing Umayyad Dynasty. The Umayyads from the time of Mu’awiyah and Yazid had been regarded by people in generality and not simply the nascent Shi’i community as irreligious. The Abbasids therefore sought to present themselves by contrast as patrons of religion and persons of piety. Then on the other hand they had to blunt the claims and the popularity of the Imams [AS] and the Shi’i community. The appeal of the Imams [AS] went beyond those who in a narrow and precise sense would identify themselves as their followers i.e. the Shi’is. It was therefore important for the Abbasids to neutralise and if not to counterbalance this appeal of the Imams [AS]. We find therefore a curious practise amongst the Abbasids from the second Abbasid Caliph onwards, of taking a kind of throne title. In other words they would have a conventional name before becoming caliph, on becoming caliph they would be given a ceremonial title indicating a claim to religious legitimacy and dignity. The exception was the very first Abbasid Caliph whose title was al-Saffah (the shedder of blood). However his successor during whose rule Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] succeeded to the Imamate called himself al-Mansoor bi Allah (the one made vicorious by God).
This marks a convention that was maintained by the Abbasid Caliphs until the very end of their rule until the middle of the 13th Christian Century. The inclusion of the Divine Name in the titles underlines the propaganda that they owed their legitimacy directly to Allah ÓÈÍÇäå æÊÚÇáì. The called themselves ‘Khalifatu Allah’, not simply the successor to the Prophet [sAW], but in a sense successor to God or viceregent of God, holding power directly on Divine Authority irrespective of descent or other association with the Prophet [sAW]. The persecution of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] began in the time of al-Mansoor, but became more intense in the reign of his successor al-Hadi bi Allah (the one who dispenses guidance by means of God). He ruled from 775 AD – 786 AD. Al-Hadi placed Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] under house arrest in Madinah. Then not content with that he had him taken to Baghdad where he remained for a long time under house arrest and close surveillance. This was to become normative for the Abbasid Caliphs in their dealings with the Imams [AS]. Removal from Madinah and putting into house arrest in conditions of varying intensity. Obviously this discouraged immediate contact being made between the Imams [AS] and their followers and discouraged their influence on the broader Muslim community. Before the end of his rule, al-Hadi released Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] from confinement in Baghdad and allowed him to return to Madinah. It was in the reign of the next Abbasid Caliph that Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] and the Shi’i community came under a degree of persecution that they had not since Umayyad times. This was the rule of the celebrated or notorious according to one’s faith Abbasid Caliph – Haroon al-Rashid. Amongst all the Abbasid Caliphs he is the best known, partly because of the length of his rule from 786 AD – 809 AD, partly because of his time in which the Caliphate obtained it’s maximum geographical extent, partly because of the undoubted prosperity that prevailed also the intellectual flourishing of Baghdad the imperial capital. You cannot forget the fact also that Haroon al-Rashid appears in a large number of folk tales in addition.
The period in question that of the Caliphate of Haroon al-Rashid is also one in which the persecution of the Imams [AS] and their followers also reaches a climax. Haroon al-Rashid in fact bought about the poisoning and martyrdom of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS]. The background to the re-arresting of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] and his ultimate poisoning is the following – Haroon al-Rashid had assigned the upbringing of his son and heir to the throne – Amin, to a certain Jaffer who was very probably a Shi’i. The name here is not important there have already been a number of Jaffers in addition to the most Important one (Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS]). One question that might arise is how is it possible that the Caliph should assign the tutoring of the heir to the throne to a Shi’i? Even if we suppose that the person in question here was exercising taqiyyah. Here the following is to be remarked – on occasion the Abbasid Caliphs seemed to have waited for some kind of co-opting of the Imams [AS] and their followers while retaining certainly their own supremacy and their own claim to legitimate rule. They occasionally sought to accommodate the Shi’is by drawing them in as their administration and extending certain favours to them. The most obvious example of that comes with the next Imam [AS], Imam Ali al-Rida [AS] who is in fact proclaimed albeit passingly as the heir to the Caliphate itself. So, this is on the side of the Abbasids – from the point of view of the Shi’is themselves there is the principle not only of taqiyyah that is to say the permissibility, in fact the necessity of concealing identity under certain circumstances. There is also the principle that the Shi’i may legitimately enter the service of an unjust or usurpatory ruler if by doing so he is either able to serve the interests of the community, or he is able to reduce the injustice and oppression which such rulers exercise. There are explicit hadith to this effect again from Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] and fairly numerous examples of this from the period of the Abbasid Caliphs. If we examine the history of the Abbasids we find in fact that numerous individuals who in very high positions that we know to have been Shi’i. For example the chief minister of the last Abbasid caliph at the time of the Mongol conquest of Baghdad was Shi’i. We need not conclude that their Shi’i identity was unknown to the Abbasid Caliph, it can be explained in terms of other considerations.
In any event in the time of Haroon al-Rashid we have this individual Jaffer, a Shi’i appointed tutor to the heir apparent al-Amin. This aroused the hostility and jealousy of a member of the Barmaki family. A family of bureaucrats and in some cases scholars originating from the locality of Bagh in present day Afghanistan. They have become so well known in the history of the Abbasids that there is an Anglicised form of their name – the Burmacides. The Barmaki feared that if the heir apparent came under the influence of this Shi’i scholar in the next reign their influence would be bought to an end. They therefore began to plot the downfall of both Jaffer, the Shi’i appointed as tutor to the heir apparent and of course of the Imam [AS] himself. The first step in the unfolding of this plot was that the Burmakis sent one member of their family to the house of Jaffer with a display of friendship and generosity to such a degree that they were always welcome and were able to witness the comings and goings in the house of Jaffer. At the very same time the Burmakis established contact with the nephew of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] in Madinah, a member of the family of the Imam [AS] himself. They behaved towards him in generous fashion, they gave him a large number of gifts, they suggested that he should travel to Baghdad as their guest and they also suggested that he would meet with the caliph himself, Haroon al-Rashid. Imam Musa al-Kadhim [AS] warned his nephew about accepting this invitation and laid particular stress that if he were to go to Baghdad and to meet with Haroon al-Rashid he should be very careful in what he said, in other words he should definitely observe on certain sensitive and important matters the principle of taqiyyah.
The nephew disregarded his advice and went to Baghdad as the guest of the Barmakis had an audience with Haroon al-Rashid and said precisely what he should not have said. He said that to the Imam [AS] in Madinah is coming a vast sum of money from east and west from a network of agents established by him and working under his authority. The implication of this, or the interpretation made of it whether in good or in bad faith by the Caliph was that here he was confronted by an insurrectionary movement fronted by Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS]. Despite the outward quietism established by Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] like his predecessors from the time of Imam Ali Zain al-Abidin [AS] onwards, in fact he was plotting a secret uprising. For this reason he had his agents coming and going and money transferred from them, coming from the east and the west. As a factual statement this was no doubt true, the interpretation of it was another matter. What was the money coming from the east and the west and who were the agents? In Shi’ah Islam there is the principle of the Khums, the payment of a tax known as the Khums. Khums is simply the Arabic word meaning one fifth. And the origin of the Khums as a tax of a particular type goes back to Quran (8:41):-
‘And know that whatever thing you gain, a fifth of it is for Allah and for the Messenger and for the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer, if you believe in Allah and in that which We revealed to Our servant, on the day of distinction, the day on which the two parties met; and Allah has power over all things.’ (Quran 8:41)
Fifth of what? In the original context of revelation a fifth of booty won in battle. One fifth of that was to be turned over to the Prophet [sAW] for the reasons that are specified in the balance of the verse. In other words for him to spend and disperse amongst those various categories – his immediate relatives, orphans, indigent, and the travellers. Travellers here is not any traveller – but it means traveller who of no fault of their own have fallen on hard times and are in need of assistance. The fact that the assignation of the Khums to Allah (SWT) and his Messenger in the lifetime of the Prophet [sAW] is essentially an assignation for the distribution and administration. In other words the khums in his time and of course later and even down to the present, khums is not a measure of enrichment for the persons that receive it. It is rather assigned to them for distribution and expenditure. And the proof of this in the lifetime of the Prophet [sAW] himself of course was that he died in a state of near poverty without leaving any wealth behind. Likewise when one comes to the Imams [AS] – we see that all of them lead lives of exemplary asceticism.
After the death of the Prophet [sAW], the daughter of the Prophet [sAW], Bibi Fatima [AS] not only demanded as her right the land known as Fadak, but also raised a claim to the khums as a relative of the Prophet [sAW]. The first Caliph Abu Bakr denied her this as he had denied her Fadak. But from the point of view of Shi’ah Islam this denial is unwarranted and it continues except of course in the military campaigns undertaken by the Caliphs which resulted in booty, that booty did not come to the Imams [AS] or even to the descendants of the Prophet [sAW], it rather remained literally in the hands of and not substantially distributed by the Caliphs themselves. The monies therefore are different in nature, Khums is levied upon certain categories of wealth and income for example profit in commercial transactions is subject to the khums and one fifth of it is payable to the Imams [AS] in their lifetimes and afterwards i.e. after the beginning of the occultation, then the legitimate recipients and distributors of the khums on the behalf of the occulted Imam [AS] are the scholars – the fuqaha. We know that the payment of the khums under conditions when the majority community is Sunni – who regarded it is obsolete as effectively abrogated was an important signal of continuing loyalty to the Imams [AS]. It is not that large sums of money were involved, still less the case that the Imams [AS] used for the money for their own comfort or personal enrichment. But the very payment of the money its transmission to the Imam [AS] in Madinah or in some cases later in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq – this was an important demonstration of reaffirmation of loyalty to the Imam [AS]. Apart from which insofar as the Shi’ah community did exist as a community with a certain number of institutions – clearly those institutions required some material support, and to this also the khums was devoted. What kinds of institutions? We know that at least from the time of Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] onwards there were courts of law operating under the general authority and auspices of the Imam [AS]. Although there was an attitude of quietism there was the establishment of, and it is not known how extensively, of a separate and distinct legal system. We even have hadith from Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] forbidding recourse to the courts of the Caliphs even for the vindication of a legitimate claim. Let us assume that you gave a loan to your neighbour or business partner who doesn’t pay it back and you have an entirely legitimate claim to it – Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] forbids recourse to the courts established by the Caliph, for recovering that entirely legitimate right. From this we can deduce the existence of a more permative legal system the maintenance of which would require a certain amount of modest expenditure.
We know also and this applies particularly to Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS], we have anecdotal evidence supporting it that the khums was distributed amongst the poor, the poor in general and not simply the poor of the Shi’i community. Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] once exiled again to Baghdad by Haroon al-Rashid became known amongst the poor in Baghdad as ‘Bab al-Hawa’ij’, ‘the gate of needs’, meaning the gate where needs are fulfilled. This is therefore the question of money which is at issue here – the khums. Being paid, and sent to the presence of the Imam [AS] as a mark of solidarity to him, as a sign of continuing allegiance and expended for the purposes already mentioned – not to be understood as the financial preparation for an uprising. Even in the time of Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] when the Imam [AS] was able to function with relative freedom he had found it appropriate to name representatives in various parts of the Muslim world where his followers existed. And these bore the title of ‘Wakil’ – meaning representative or deputy, one authorised to act on his behalf with respect to a variety of functions. First and foremost the collection and forwarding of the Khums, secondly the organisation also of a certain judicial system, forwarding utterances and pronouncements of the Imams [AS] to his followers and conversely also forwarding their queries (i.e. the wakil to the Imam [AS] on behalf of the people) on matters of doctrine to the Imam [AS] himself wherever he might be. And as the circumstances of confinement to which the Imams [AS] were subjected became more and more stringent the importance of these representatives was heightened. Since access to the Imam [AS] was virtually impossible for the great majority of the Shi’ah the wakils stood in for him and were able to maintain the cohesion of the community.
Finally with respect to this accusation made either foolishly or treacherously by the nephew of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] that money is coming to the Imam [AS] from the east and the west what has he meant here by east and west. In other words at this point in the history of Shi’ism where were the Shi’is to be found? Primarily in four areas of geographical concentration firstly Iraq itself and more specifically Southern Iraq. The city of Kufa which had been the centre of government of Imam Ali [AS] during his exercise of the caliphate and the place of his martyrdom, to a lesser extent the nearby city of Basrah. This was the earliest homeland it can be said, the earliest concentration of the Shi’ah. It had seen after all the exercise of rule of Imam Ali [AS] and Imam Hassan [AS] but also the martyrdom of Imam Hussain [AS] at Karbala. Secondly the city of Madinah itself, in the Imamate of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] there is a geographical shift and thereafter we do not find any of the Imams [AS] resident in Madinah. However there was and remained a Shi’i community in Madinah from the earliest times. And in fact there is still today in Madinah a Shi’i community concerning the history of which very little is known precisely because this community down to the present has been obliged to observe taqiyyah. This has been particularly necessary under the Wahhabi rule of the Hijaz (Makkah and Madinah).
Despite the absence of a detailed written history of the Shi’i community in Madinah it is reasonable to presume that the present day community goes back to the community first established when the Imams [AS] themselves were resident in Madinah. Thirdly one may mention Khurasan, which was a culturally and historically important region in eastern Iran, except that we should bear in mind that the historical Khurasan is far broader in it’s extent than the present day Iranian province with that name. In other words Khurasan, if one were to try to delineate it with respects to present day borders it would also include large areas of western Afghanistan and to the north east also certain areas of central Asia. The establishment of the Shi’i community in Khurasan appears to go back to that time of transition between the Umayyad and the Abbasid caliphates. We know that in most of the principle cities of Khurasan there were Shi’i communities established. We know also that at that time i.e. during the early Abbasid period there were Shi’i communities in some of the cities of Central Asia, which today no longer have these communities for example Bukhara and Samarkand – now located in Uzbekistan, they did have indigenous Shi’i communities which in the course of history died out. Of course it is not true to say that today there are no Shi’is in Bukhara and Samarkand however they are the descendants of Iranian prisoners of war taken there during the 18th and 19th centuries, they are therefore not originally indigenous to the area. Fourth in our numeration of areas of the Shi’i world at this time is Central Iran, most particularly of course the city of Qum, which today one might designate as the spiritual, as opposed to the political and administrative capital of Iran. Qum is one of the few cities that was founded in Iran after the coming of Islam. From it’s very first foundation Qum was a centre of Shi’ism in Iran, it was established by Shi’is fleeing from persecution by the Abbasids. From the time of Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] onwards it’s importance was clearly recognised as a place for the cultivation and dissemination of Shi’ah Islam. There is a tradition from Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] in which he is recorded to have said that:-
‘From Qum a man will arise from my lineage who will establish the right and will forbid the wrong, and who will vindicate the cause of the Ahl al-bait [AS].’
So a prediction for the rising from Qum of a person who will fulfil these accomplishments, it is not surprising that after the triumph of the revolution in 1979, that Imam Khomaini (ra) was regarded as having fulfilled this prediction made many centuries earlier by Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS]. Closer to the time of Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] is the death in Qum of one of the daughters of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] – Fatimah Ma’sumah, whose shrine is a principal place of pilgrimage in Iran. There are indication also of a fifth region of Shi’i presence in Egypt and North Africa. Egypt not before too long becomes the centre of the Fatimid Caliphate which of course espouses Ismaili Shi’ism not Twelver Shi’ism. But we know that in the time of Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] and probably Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] there were those in Egypt that owed their loyalty to the Twelver line, and also elsewhere in North Africa, farther to the west along the North African coast. Of course no trace of these communities now remains, unlike the other four regions that have been discussed.
Once the nephew of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] had been incautious or treacherous in his interview with Haroon al-Rashid – Haroon al-Rashid had Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] arrested in 793 AD. It seems that he regarded this as an enterprise of great importance and sensitivity because he himself on the pretext of making the Hajj went that year to the Hijaz to Arabia. Moreover he had Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] arrested at night and sent to Basrah in Southern Iraq. And at the very same time sent a decoy caravan in order to confuse the followers of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] or the Muslim public at large so they wouldn’t know which caravan the Imam [AS] was being taken into exile. Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] was initially imprisoned in Basrah under the close surveillance of the governor of the city. After a year Haroon al-Rashid sent to the governor instructions to put Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] to death. The governor was unwilling to do this he responded to Haroon al-Rashid that he had not observed a treasonable political activity on the part of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] whilst he was in his care – he had been engaged exclusively in acts of devotion and scholarship and therefore he was not only unwilling to execute him he was unwilling to detain him any longer, or to have responsibility for him. To this Haroon al-Rashid responded by having Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] removed from Basrah and taken to Baghdad and imprisoned in a succession of different houses. Here again by his demeanour Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] was able to incline his jailors favourably towards him, to the point that in his frustration Haroon al-Rashid had one of them arrested, cursed and publicly whipped for his supposed treachery to the Abbasid Caliphate.
Now the member of the Barmaki family who was at the origin of this whole affair obligingly offered Haroon al-Rashid to take over responsibility for the confinement of the Imam [AS]. Without any hesitation that member gave orders on behalf of the Caliph that Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] be poisoned. It was said that the poison was administered by feeding him with dates that had been poisoned. However whether by way of premonition or simple chance Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] was able to dictate a will, Nass, naming the following Imam [AS] before his death. Once the Imam [AS] had passed away, Haroon al-Rashid gave orders that his body be displayed on the principal bridge of Baghdad, the bridge across the Tigris in Baghdad – for a variety of political reasons. First, to prove that he was indeed dead – to prove that Imam [AS] was dead. As we have seen with respect to previous Imams [AS] and claimants to the Imamate – it was a popular theme amongst their followers to suggest that the person in question was not really dead, but had gone into hiding or had disappeared, and would somehow reappear. So to display beyond all doubt that Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] had indeed undergone a physical death of conventional type the caliph ordered that his body be displayed. Of course, this did not do the trick with respect to some followers of the Imam [AS], or who regarded themselves as the followers of the Imam [AS], because after his death again the notion arose with respect to him that he had gone into a state of occultation that he had disappeared – and that he would reappear – or that he had died and would be resurrected soon, and that in fact someone looking like him had been put to death as a trick and not the Imam [AS] himself. This purpose was not entirely attained by the scandalous act of displaying his body to public view. The second purpose was no doubt to arouse the impression that the Imam [AS] had not died as a result of foul play. Because he had simply been poisoned and there were no signs of wounds or blows on his body. One can say that this purpose was directed at the Muslim community in general that bore respect and veneration to the person of the Imam [AS], and who would have been shocked that a descendant of the Prophet [sAW] suffered violence at the hands of the Caliphate. Thirdly, it is permissible to discern in this display of the body of the Imam [AS] an intention on the part of the caliph to show a deliberate disrespect to the Shi’i community to expose the body of their Imam [AS] to public view under conditions of indignity. This was the fashion under which one more of the Imams [AS] was martyred at the hands of the one claiming legitimate rule over the Muslim community.
Given these conditions – imprisonment, confinement, close surveillance – Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] obviously enough was not able to have prolonged contact with the community like Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] nor to have substantial interaction with others beyond the confines of the Shi’i community. However we do know that he was held in high esteem we find transmitted from him a number of hadith in Sunni books of tradition as well as well as of course in the Shi’ah books of tradition. There is a hadith narrated from him in the Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Sunan Tirmidi and Sunan Ibn Majah. Many of the biographers of the Imam [AS] make a close comparison between him and the 4th Imam [AS], Imam Ali Zain al-Abidin [AS] – the comparison lying on the fact that both of them were renowned for their emphasis upon continuous acts of worship and devotion. This was noted by for example by some of his jailors after he was detained by Haroon al-Rashid, and it was noted already in Madinah before he was banished to Iraq. He was given in the general community the affirmation ‘ al-‘Abd al-Salih’ ‘The Righteous Servant (of Allah (SWT))’.
Not only did he transmit hadith despite the circumstances in which he was forced to live, but he also seems to have had some interactions with Sufis. There has been intersection between Shi’i and Sufi tradition most noticeable of course in the fact that most of the Sufi lineages go back to Imam Ali [AS]. Then we find Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] associated with certain Sufis and also included in the initiatic lines of descent of some of the Sufi orders. The same goes for Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS]. He is connected with at least two figures in Sufi tradition. Shaqiq al-Balkhi and Bishr Hafi. His connection to Shaqiq al-Balkhi is said to go back to his time when he was still in Madinah – he came on Hajj and saw him surrounded by a large number of believers - astounded by the popularity that this modest figure enjoyed discovered that it was Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] he then became close to him. According to Sufi Tradition Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] was the initiating Sheikh of Shaqiq al-Balkhi. This is not really possible, in that for all their similarity and frequent interception Sufism is one thing and Shi’ism is something else – one cannot make it applicable to the Imams [AS] this kind of passing on of a Sufi initiation. We have to take it in a more general sense of sympathetic interaction between the two and above all of gained spiritual benefit for some of the Sufis from some of the Imams [AS]. As for Bishr Hafi – his association with Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] goes back to the time that he was imprisoned Baghdad awaiting his martyrdom, the details of the story are not of particular importance.
In addition to these various kinds of contact and influence during his lifetime we can discern also certain important ways in which he exercised a posthumous influence. Firstly, with respect to what you may call the sacred geography of Shi’ah Islam. Being martyred in Baghdad, it was there that he was buried, in what was at the time a suburb of Baghdad, later was buried next to him the 9th Imam [AS] Muhammad al-Taqi [AS] – the shrine which houses them is now known as Kazimain– now effectively a part of Baghdad and no longer a suburb. Kazimain in the dual in Arabic – the two Kazims – not in a literal sense, we are not dealing here with two people who are called Kazim, what is meant rather is that Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] and the one associated with him by burial next to him Imam Muhammad al-Taqi [AS]. Likewise one speaks of Sadiqain (the two Sadiqs) – this does not mean two Imams both known as al-Sadiq but means Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] and his son Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS]. The burial of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] in what was to become Kazimain enriches the sacred geopraphy of Shi’ah Islam and also reinforces primacy of Iraq in this respect. In Iraq there is now not only Najaf and Karbala as places for the visitation of the Imams [AS], there is also Kazimain.
Secondly, with respect to the posthumous influence of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] – he had numerous offspring. There are varying reports of how many children he had by varying wives at least 37 or possibly more. Of these 37 large numbers sought refuge away from Baghdad the centre of the Caliphate where control and persecution were liable to be at their most intense – in lands to the east, and in the first place Iran, where already Shi’i communities but of course in the minority were coming into being and offered a hospitable environment.
It must also be mentioned that traces of the descendants of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] settled very much further to the east in entirely unexpected places. There are for example in Siberia shrines which are associated with descendants of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] because of a lack of a written historiographical tradition amongst the Muslims of this area of Siberia i.e. Western Siberia it is difficult to be certain of the historicity of these attributions. But the very fact that they were made means that there must have been at one point some kind of presence in the area of descendants of the Imams [AS] – and specifically of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS]. An even more interesting and distant destination that some of the descendants of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] appear to have reached is China – more specifically the island of Hainan in the South China Sea – in present day Vietnam. The island of Hainan is designated in the works of early Muslim geographers as ‘Jaziratu al-Sa’dat’ or ‘Jaziratu al-‘Alawi’ – the Island of the Sayyids – Sayyids here having the particular connotation of the Prophet [sAW] through the line of the Imams [AS] – more explicitly still Jaziratu al-‘Alawi – the Island of the descendants of Imam Ali [AS]. It is impossible to confirm the any specific descendants of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] or others from the line of the Imams [AS] in this area. All that is known is that there are indeed on this island Muslim tombstones of great antiquity – unfortunately the inscriptions have become virtually illegible with the passage of time. But on the face of it there is no reason to question in general terms a probability of a presence of descendants of the Imam Musa al-Kazim [AS] in this area. Ultimately more significant than these exotic areas of Siberia and China is of course Iran. The settlement there of the descendants of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS]. There residence of, and subsequent death of the descendants gave rise to some of the most important shrines in the country. Already mentioned in passing is the daughter of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS], Fatimah Ma’sumah buried in Qum. Her shrine is one of the principal points of pilgrimage as well as a place for the cultivation of Shi’i scholarship. We can also mention amongst them a host of other shrines dedicated to the children of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] Shah Cheragh in Shiraz, and Shah Sadiq Hussain in Qazwin. There are in fact tens of shrines in Iran, housing the remains of the offspring of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS]. Each of these shrines has to a degree become the destination for Ziyarah. The tombs of the Imams [AS] themselves are the prime destinations for Ziyarah. However Ziyarah may legitimately and meritoriously be made to the tombs of one of the descendants of the Imams [AS]. The technical term to bear in mind is Imamzadeh – a Persian term meaning the descendant of the Imam [AS], this means in Persian the person who is descended from the Imam and also the location where he/she is buried. Ziyarah to the Imamzadeh goes back an extremely long way – and is authenticated as a religious practise by the Imams [AS] themselves. We know for example that a Shi’i from the city of Ra’i in Central Iran once told the 8th Imam [AS], Imam Ali al-Rida [AS] that it was difficult if not impossible for him to go all the way to Iraq to visit Najaf or Karbala, whereupon the Imam [AS] told him that
‘There are many descendants from amongst our family buried close to you (i.e. geographically close to him) – and you may go there with equal merit.’
The Ziyarah of the Imamzadeh has an equal merit to the Ziyarah of the tombs of the Imams [AS]. A final point as to the posthumous influence of Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS] are the various lineages that eventuated not simply in a shrine or a tomb of sanctity but also in the cultivation of knowledge and scholarship. The most contemporary modern example can be referred to – Imam Khumaini (ra) who was himself a Musavi – Imam Ruhullah Musavi Khumaini (ra) – Musavi indicating his descent from Imam Musa al-Kazim[AS].