Hadith of Twelve Caliphs


The Hadith of Jabir b. Samura on the twelve caliphs is one of the most pivotal and controversial Hadiths in Sunni-Shia polemics. Perhaps the inclusion of the number “twelve” in the report along with its relative popularity contributed to the mass-citation of this report by the Twelver Shia sect.

Unlike most Shi’ite sects, which appealed to their own reports to substantiate their respective positions on the number of Imams, the Twelver sect latched onto this report as external evidence to argue for their doctrine. This was demonstrated by some of the most prominent Twelver authorities, such Al-Tusi in Al-Ghaibah p. 127-133.

However, upon studying this report, we found that there is no reason to suggest that it supports the Twelver position. In this article,  we shall evaluate and dissect this tradition, and subsequently demonstrate the defectiveness of  Twelver appeals to this hadith.

Variants of the Hadith

First, it is important that the reader is made aware of the fact that this report is only authentically transmitted through the companion of the Prophet, Jabir b. Samurah.  From him, the tradition was then disseminated by several Tabi’een. The Tabi’een who transmitted this tradition include: Abdulmalik b.’ Umair, Hussain b. ‘Abdurrahman, Simak, A’mer b. Sa’ad b. Abi Waqqas, Al-Sha’bi, and others. Each of their redactions can be found in Sahih Al-Bukhari and Muslim.

1- Al-Bukhari (#6682) transmitted the report through Shu’ba, from ‘Abdulmalik, from Jabir b. Samura that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: There will be twelve amirs.

Shu’ba transmitted it in this concise manner. Others, like Sufyan (Sahih Muslim #3394) and Abu ‘Abdilsamad Al-Ami  (Musnad Ahmad #20019) transmitted a lengthier redaction from ‘Abdulmalik. Sufyan transmitted the report as follows: The matters of the people will continue to progress as long as they are led by twelve men.”

Abu ‘Abdilsamad Al-‘Ami transmitted the report as follows: “This religion will stay at a state of glory or the people will be in a good state until the passing of twelve caliphs.”

2- Muslim (#3393) transmitted this report through Husain b. Abdulrahman, from Jabir b. Samurah, who reported: “This matter will not end until the passing of twelve caliphs.”

3- Muslim (#3394) narrated this report through Abu ‘Awanah, from Simak in a concise manner. However, he also transmitted (#3395) from Hammad b. Salamah from Simak: Islam will stay in a state of glory until the passing of twelve caliphs. This redaction is corroborated by Zakariyya b. Abi Za’ida’s redaction in Mustakhraj Abi Awana (#5631), which includes this addition.

4- Muslim (#3396) transmitted this report through Dawud, from Al-Sha’bi, from Jabir: “This matter will be at a state of glory until twelve caliphs.” He then transmitted (#3397) a very similar report from Ibn ‘Awn which says: “This religion will be at a state of glory, fortified until the passing of twelve caliphs.”

5- Muslim (#3398) transmitted the report through Hatim b. Isma’il, from Al-Muhajir b. Mismar, from Amer b. Sa’ad b. Abi Waqqas, from Jabir: “This religion will remain upright until the end of time or until the passing of twelve caliphs.”

The doubt expressed in this Hadith seems to come from Hatim. The tradition can also be found in Musnad Ahmad (#19875) transmitted through the path of Ibn Abi Dhi’b, from Al-Muhajir without the clause, “until the end of time”.

By studying the aforementioned chains of transmission from Sahih Al-Bukhari and Muslim, we can conclude that the most accurate redaction ascribed to Jabir b. Samurah involved phrases/clauses, such as : “twelve, caliphs, and state of glory.” All of the aforementioned traditions also state that these caliphs shall all be from from the tribe of Quraish. In the different redactions of the report, the words “matter/religion/Islam” all refer to the same thing. They may have all been used by Jabir b. Samurah since they were all transmitted by his students in various redactions of the report.


It is authentically established by the aforementioned chains of transmission, relayed through five different Tabi’een, that Jabir b. Samurah quoted the Prophet (peace be upon him) saying:

“This matter/religion/Islam will stay in a state of glory until the passing of twelve caliphs.”

Jabir then said: He – peace be upon him – said something that I didn’t understand, so I asked my father about it.

He said: “They are all from Quraish.”

Content of the Report

The meaning of the Hadith is apparent: The Prophet is prophesying that Islam shall go through various phases, which span times of glory and times of disgrace. The years of glory for Islam, which were experienced during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), will continue to last until the passing of twelve caliphs from the tribe of Quraish.

The report does not state that glory is exclusively experienced  during the reign of twelve caliphs. Rather, it describes a specific uninterrupted era of glory. This prophecy embodied good news and glad tidings for the companions of the Prophet, who experienced oppression and persecution by their enemies in the early stages of the Seerah.

As apparent, nothing is said in this tradition about the nature of these twelve caliphs. They are not positively or negatively described in any of the redactions. Rather, it is only said that Islam will see glory during their reign. This report simply has nothing to do with the later Twelver construct of “the 12 imams”.

Like all fallacious and defective Twelver appeals to authentic reports, the appeal to this hadith ironically backfires on Twelver polemicists. The hadith explicitly states that Islam will remain in a state of glory till the passing of Twelve caliphs. The first eleven Imams of the Shia were allegedly granted the Imamate between the years 11 and  260 AH.

Let us evaluate the events that unfolded during the supposed reign of these 11 imams (according to Twelver theology):

  1. The caliphate was usurped from ‘Ali by a massive nation-wide conspiracy after the death of the Prophet.
  2. The Prophet’s daughter, Fatimah, was attacked and consequently murdered in her own house.
  3. The entire Ummah was led by apostates for ~ 24 years before leadership was eventually granted to ‘Ali.
  4. ‘Ali’s rule was challenged by a political opponent in Syria whom ‘Ali was not able to overcome.
  5. After ‘Ali’s death, Al-Hassan conceded leadership of the entire Ummah to this alleged tyrant and enemy of ‘Ali, Mu’awiyah.
  6. Mu’awiyah’s son, Yazid, eventually assumed the leadership of the entire Ummah, and ended up massacring Hussain at Karbala, along with various individuals from the Prophet’s household.
  7. The Umayyads (tyrants) ruled the vast majority of the Ummah till the year 132.
  8. The ‘Abbasids (tyrants) ruled the vast majority of the Ummah post-132.
  9. Later Twelver imams were murdered, persecuted, and imprisoned by government authorities.

A brief glimpse into the Twelver narrative on early Islamic history will demonstrate that Islam was anything BUT glorious during the reign of their 12 imams. Rather, this era arguably is the worst and most disgraceful period in Islamic history.  Not only is the report irrelevant to the Twelver conception of Imamah, but it also (ironically) disproves it.


In no way or form does the hadith on the twelve caliphs substantiate the Twelver conception of Imamah. Rather, the report, in reality, dispels the Twelver narrative and demonstrates the defectiveness of Shi’ite appeals to this hadith.

As any objective reader may see, there are no actual evidences for Twelver Shi’ism in this Hadith. However, we have taken it upon ourselves to further expand this article for the benefit of the readers. Refer to the articles below for more information:

Who are the Twelve Caliphs? (Sunni View)

Who are the Twelve Caliphs? (Shia View)


  1. I have gathered pretty much all of its texts and translated the variations in the narration of Samura bin Jundub:

    لَا يَزَالُ الْإِسْلَامُ عَزِيزًا إِلَى اثْنَيْ عَشَرَ خَلِيفَةً
    “Islam shall remain strong until twelve caliphs.”

    -Ibn abi `Umar from `Abdul-Malik:
    لَا يَزَالُ أَمْرُ النَّاسِ مَاضِيًا مَا وَلِيَهُمُ اثْنَا عَشَرَ رَجُلًا
    “The people’s affair shall progress as long as they’re led by twelve men.”

    -Ibn Mahdi from `Abdul-Malik:
    لَا يَزَالُ هَذَا الْأَمْرُ صَالِحًا حَتَّى يَكُونَ اثْنَا عَشَرَ أَمِيرًا
    “This matter shall remain good until twelve chiefs (rule).”

    -Abu `Abdul-Samad from `Abdul-Malik:
    لَا يَزَالُ هَذَا الدِّينُ عَزِيزًا أَوْ قَالَ لَا يَزَالُ النَّاسُ بِخَيْرٍ، شَكَّ أَبُو عَبْدِ الصَّمَدِ إِلَى اثْنَيْ عَشَرَ خَلِيفَةً
    “This religion shall remain strong OR he said the people shall remain in goodness (the narrator was unsure) until twelve caliphs.”

    -Dawoud from Sha`bi:
    لَا يَزَالُ هَذَا الْأَمْرُ عَزِيزًا إِلَى اثْنَيْ عَشَرَ خَلِيفَةً
    “This matter shall remain strong until twelve caliphs”

    -Mujalid from Sha`bi:
    إِنَّ هَذَا الدِّينَ لَنْ يَزَالَ ظَاهِرًا عَلَى مَنْ نَاوَأَهُ، لَا يَضُرُّهُ مُخَالِفٌ وَلَا مُفَارِقٌ، حَتَّى يَمْضِيَ مِنْ أُمَّتِي اثْنَا عَشَرَ خَلِيفَةً
    “This religion shall remain victorious over its opponents, unharmed by those who oppose it or leave it, until twelve caliphs from my nation come to pass.”

    -Ibn `Awn from Sha`bi:
    لَا يَزَالُ هَذَا الدِّينُ عَزِيزًا مَنِيعًا إِلَى اثْنَيْ عَشَرَ خَلِيفَةً
    “This religion shall remain strong and fortified until twelve caliphs.”

    -`Amir bin Sa`d:
    لَا يَزَالُ الدِّينُ قَائِمًا حَتَّى تَقُومَ السَّاعَةُ أَوْ يَكُونَ عَلَيْكُمُ اثْنَا عَشَرَ خَلِيفَةً كُلُّهُمْ مِنْ قُرَيْشٍ
    “The religion will remain to be upright until the hour or you are ruled by twelve caliphs all from Quraysh.”

    -Isma`il bin Hurmuz from Hurmuz:
    لَا يَزَالُ هَذَا الدِّينُ قَائِمًا حَتَّى يَكُونَ عَلَيْكُمُ اثْنَا عَشَرَ خَلِيفَةً كُلُّهُمْ تَجْتَمِعُ عَلَيْهِ الْأُمَّةُ
    “The religion will remain to be upright until you are ruled by twelve caliphs, the nation shall gather united around them.”

    -Fitr from Hurmuz:
    لَا يَزَالُ هَذَا الْأَمْرُ مُؤَاتًي أَوْ مُقَارِبًا حَتَّى يَقُومَ اثْنَا عَشَرَ خَلِيفَةً
    “This matter shall continue to be appropriate or adequate until the rule of twelve caliphs.”

    لا يَزَالُ هَذَا الدِّينُ قَائِمًا حَتَّى يَقُومَ اثْنَا عَشَرَ خَلِيفَةً
    “The religion will continue to be upright until the rule of twelve caliphs.”

    إِنَّ هَذَا الأَمْرَ لاَ يَنْقَضِي حَتَّى يَمْضِيَ فِيهِمُ اثْنَا عَشَرَ خَلِيفَةً
    “This matter shall not come to pass until twelve caliphs rule them.”

    إِنَّ هَذَا الأَمْرَ لا يَزَالُ ظَاهِرًا لا يَضُرُّهُ خِلافُ مَنْ خَالَفَهُ حَتَّى يُؤَمَّرَ اثْنَا عَشَرَ مِنْ أُمَّتِي كُلُّهُمْ مِنْ قُرَيْشٍ
    “This matter will remain to be victorious, unharmed by the opposition of any opponent until twelve from my nation receive authority, all of them from Quraysh.”

  2. From my point of view. Islam is lost no matter what sect you belong to. There is no real leader. Who has the right word or fatwa. Now its all based in studies of hadeeth and opinions. But the message and connection with Allah is lost.
    And this is exactly what this hadeeth talks about. Its not about Glory or success. Its about Upright. The Pure Islam without alterations will remain until 12 caliphs will pass. All of them from Quraish. So for the Shia view it does have sense. All Imams of Shia were known even by the sunni for their knowledge. Instead the corruption in Sunni leaders started right after Muawiya and Yazeed.
    Our Prophet Muhammad saaw was our best leader. The pure Islam existed with him. He was the city of knowledge and Ali was his gate. The first muslim. The one who was raised up with him and knew him better. And his descendants passed on that knowledge. Imam Jaafar was teacher of many important sunni scholars. How to deny that knowledge wasnt in their family.

    But after Imam Mahdi disappeared, the pure Islam was lost.

    Now our religion.. and the fatwas leaders make its based on their opinions. Its all lost. We can just ask Allah to accept our practice. I wish Prophet Muhammad saaw was with us. We need him so much.

    • Sister, you sound like you come from a Shia background, even if you do not adopt their views right now. I assume this since you say, “Islam is lost no matter what sect you belong to.” Be aware that Sunnis do not believe that all Twelve Shia Imams were scholars. We only hold that view for the first six. The other six were not known by us to be significant at all. Other Shia sects will agree that the late Imams were not as significant, since many Shia sects were formed in Abbasid era that did not accept the last few Imams.
      Due to the this, the narration makes especially no sense if we assumed the Shia understanding was the correct one.

  3. How was Islam triumphant/glorious when:
    1) the daughter of 1st caliph is thirsty for the blood of th 4th caliph? and waging jamal war against him resulting in more than 20,000 deaths?
    2) muslims wage 3 civil wars with up to 40-50,000 killed in a period of 4 years during Imam Ali (as) caliphate?
    3) some sahabas burn Ali’s house, kill his wife and force him to give allegiance to the 1st caliph?
    4) a lot of the sahaba and muslims wanted their 3rd caliph dead and seized his house for days and eventually brutally killing him?
    5) it was sunnah to curse the 4th caliph on pulpits for decades?
    6) your 6th caliph was thirsty for the blood of the 4th and and 5th caliph?
    7) the Prophet (pbuh) curses the 6th caliph, during his lifetime.
    8) the 7th caliph orders the brutal killing of Hussain (as) son of the 4th caliph and brother of the 5th caliph?
    9) none of these 12 caliphs claimed to be a member of the 12 caliphs the Prophet (pbuh) referred to.

    • If you do not believe that Islam was triumphant/glorious in the first century, then you and other Shias should stop using this hadith as evidence for your Imams. Problem solved.

    • if after 1400 years there are only 150-200 million shias in the world out of about 1.5 billion muslims can it be said that islam was triumphant under the shia. what did islam gain from the shia last imam whom not even shia can confidently claim know if he ever existed?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.