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.
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: