Hadith of Twelve Caliphs

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The Hadith of Jabir bin Samura about the twelve caliphs is one of the most important and controversial Hadiths in the Sunni-Shia debate. The inclusion of the number “twelve” in the report and the renowned popularity of the narration was perhaps the main cause of the spreading of the Twelver Shia sect. Unlike most Shia sects, which used its own narrations to justify their position on the number of Imams, the Twelvers, had this narration, which was considered to be external evidence for the correctness of their position. This was demonstrated by even some of the earliest scholars, like Al-Tusi in Al-Ghaibah p. 127-133.

However, upon studying the narration, we find that there are no evidences that suggest that this narration could possibly support the Shia view. In this article, we take a deep look into the narration, its variations and meanings before deconstructing the Shia position towards this Hadith.

Variations of the Hadith:

Firstly, we need to be aware that the narration authentically reaches us from only one companion, which is Jabir bin Samura, and from him, the narration was narrated by a few Tabi’een. The Tabi’een in this narration include: Abdulmalik bin Umair, Husain bin Abdulrahman, Simak, Amer bin Sa’ad bin Abi Waqqas, Al-Sha’abi, and others. Each of these men narrated this narration in the Saheehain (Bukhari & Muslim).

1- Al-Bukhari (#6682) narrated through the path of Shu’ba from Abdulmalik from Jabir bin Samura that the Prophet – peace be upon him – said that there will be twelve amirs. Shu’ba narrates it in this short form, which others, like Sufyan in Saheeh Muslim (#3394) and Abu Abd Al-Samad Al-Ami in Musnad Ahmad (#20019) narrated a lengthier form from Abdulmalik. The former said: The matters of the people will continue to progress as long as they are led by twelve men. The latter said: 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) narrated from the path of Husain bin Abdulrahman from Jabir bin Samura the narration but said: This matter will not end until the passing of twelve caliphs.

3- Muslim (#3394) narrated from the path of Abu Awana from Simak the same narration in short form as well. However, he also narrated (#3395) from Hammad bin Salama from Simak that he said: Islam will stay in a state of glory until the passing of twelve caliphs. This is supported by Zakariya bin Abi Za’ida’s report in Mustakhraj Abi Awana (#5631) that includes this addition.

4- Muslim (#3396) narration from the path of Dawud from Al-Sha’abi from Jabir: This matter will be at a state of glory until twelve caliphs. He then narrates (#3397) from Ibn Awn something very similar. The narration is: This religion will be at a state of glory, fortified until the passing of twelve caliphs.

5- Muslim (#3398) narrated from the path of Hatim bin Isma’eel from Al-Muhajir bin Mismar from Amer bin Sa’ad bin Abi Waqqas from Jabir the same but said: 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 narration can also be found in Musnad Ahmad (#19875) through the path of Ibn Abi Thi’b from Al-Muhajir without “until the end of time”.

By studying the above chains from the Saheehain, we come to the conclusion that the correct variation that is attributed to Jabir bin Samura is not the shortened form and that the included words are: twelve, caliphs, and state of glory. All of these narrations also mention that they will all be from Quraish. The words “matter/religion/Islam” all suggest the same meaning and may have all been used by Jabir bin Samura since they were all narrated by his students in various Hadiths.

Conclusion:

It is authentically established through the narrations provided from five different Tabi’een that Jabir bin Samura narrated from the Prophet – peace be upon him – that he said: This matter/religion/Islam will stay in a state of glory until the passing of twelve caliphs.

Jabir then says: 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.

Meaning of the Hadith:

The meaning of the Hadith is apparent. Islam will go through phases, which include times of glory and times of disgrace. The years of glory that were known during the time of the Prophet – peace be upon him – will continue to last until the passing of twelve caliphs, which suggests a long period of glory.

The narration does not suggest that glory will only be known during the reign of twelve caliphs, but rather, it suggests an uninterrupted era of glory, which was a significant prophecy and good news for the Sahabah, who were used to the oppression from their enemies.

There is also nothing in this narration about the nature of these twelve caliphs. They are not described in any of the narrations in a positive or negative light, but only that Islam will see glory until they pass.

Even though, as the objective reader can see, there are no evidences for Twelver Shiasm in this Hadith, we have taken it upon ourselves to expand on this article for the benefit of readers. Refer to the articles below for more:

Who are the Twelve Caliphs? (Sunni View)

Who are the Twelve Caliphs? (Shia View)

6 Comments

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

    -Simak:
    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.”

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

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

    -Musayyib:
    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?

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