On the Justification for the Imamate of the Progeny of Al-Ḥusayn


Farīd Al-Bahraini (@farid_0v)

Bismillāh Al-Raḥmān Al-Raḥīm,


After the first generation of splits in the early Shia community, an important ground rule was set up in order to constrict the potential candidates for the Imamate. One of these conditions is that the Imamate is exclusive to the progeny of Al-Ḥusayn, which led to the elimination of Moḥammad bin Al-Ḥanafiyyah, the progeny of Al-Ḥassan, and other Hashimites from the station of Imam. It was also quite useful for putting an end to those irritating lesser known non-Hashimites like `Abdullāh bin `Amr bin Ḥarb Al-Kindī,[1] who sought after the Imamate.

However, by the middle of the second century, pressure by other Shia sects increased, which may have looked something similar to what has been attributed to `Abdullāh bin Al-Ḥasan: “Why would it be in the progeny of Al-Ḥusayn when both are the leaders of the youth of paradise and are equal in merit, except for that Al-Ḥassan precedes Al-Ḥusayn in age, and the Imamate is supposed to be assigned to he who is superior?”[2]

While the concept of the superiority of Al-Ḥassan over Al-Ḥusayn may seem foreign to most Shias today, this was the view of the early Shias as recorded by Al-Karājikī[3] and is also supported by a report by that was attributed to Ja’far Al-Ṣādiq.[4]

Due to these circumstances, those that held the belief that the Imamate is restricted to the progeny of Al-Ḥusayn required a justification for themselves and for their opponents. The height of this perhaps occurred in the second century during the times of Al-Bāqir and Al-Ṣādiq. This is obvious when realizing that Ibn Bābawayh Al-Qummī, in his `Ilal Al-Sharā`i`i, has a full chapter, with twelve narrations, entitled: The reason as to why the Imamate is in the progeny of Al-Ḥusayn and not the progeny of Al-Ḥassan.

The first nine reports in this key chapter offer nothing more than an affirmation of the criterion. The last three narrations provide more direct answers:

Narration #10 states, “Allah is not asked about His actions.” This would be sufficient to believers in the constriction, but it was most likely not satisfying to opponents.

Narration #11 provides a very spiritualistic interpretation that involves Moḥammad (peace be upon him) and Ali being created as a pillar of light, which split from within Abdul-Muṭṭalib, into `Abdullāh and Abū Ṭālib, then to Āmina bint Wahb and Fāṭima bint Asad. Then Āmina gave birth to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and Fāṭima gave birth to `Alī. Ultimately, the report ends with the explanation that Al-Ḥassan came from the light of `Alī and Al-Ḥusayn came from the light of the Prophet (peace be upon him), which led to the Imamate being transferred within the progeny of Al-Ḥusayn alone. The report comes through the path of Ibn `Ulayya, from Aslam bin Maysara Al-`Ijlī, from Anas bin Mālik, from Mu`aḏ bin Jabal. This report does not go through Ahlulbayt, but through Sunni narrators, apparently in order to provide it more legitimacy. They could argue that Shias themselves should not dispute the matter of the exclusivity for even the Sunnis are aware of this matter and narrate it.

Narration #12 includes a polemical response instead of an answer where Al-Rabī’ bin `Abdillāh argues that the line of prophets came through the path of Hārūn instead of Mūsā even though Mūsā was superior to Hārūn. Al-Ṣādiq praises Al-Rabī’ for his sound reasoning.

In total, none of the reports in the chapter provide a clear-cut answer, with the exception of narration #11, which is a clear fabrication.

A Clear Justification

Strangely enough, there is one report that Ibn Bābawayh did not include in his chapter, but can be found in early sources. Not surprisingly, the report comes in forms that are quite controversial and contradict what is seen as established Shia ideologies.

The report, which comes in the form of a dispute between Zayn Al-`Ābidīn and his uncle Moḥammad bin Al-Ḥanafiyyah on which of them is supposed to be the Imam. Their dispute is settled by the black stone which testified that Zayn Al-`Ābidīn is the true successor.

The narration can be found in Baṣā`ir Al-Darajāt,[5] Mukhtaṣar Baṣā`ir Al-Darajāt,[6] Al-Kāfī,[7] Al-Imāma wal Al-Tabṣira,[8] and Dalā`il Al-Imāma.[9] During the discussion, Zayn Al-`Ābidīn states that “You should not dispute this matter, for I fear for you that your life may be shortened and the deterioration of your condition. Allah the most majestic made the wasiyyah and the Imamate in the progeny of Al-Ḥusayn (peace be onto him).” This is the wording provided by Al-Kulaynī in Al-Kāfī. However, other sources provide a different wording.

In `Alī ibn Bābawayh’s report, he includes the following instead: “When what occurred with Mu`āwiyah happened, it had become apparent to Allah (بدا لله) the most majestic made upon himself to not place the wasiyyah and Imamate anywhere but within the progeny of Al-Ḥusayn (peace be onto him).”

The report in Mukhtaṣar Baṣā`ir Al-Darajāt is even more explicit, for it states that “When [Al-Ḥassan (peace be upon him) did what he did with Mu`āwiyah (may Allah curse him)],[10] Allah the most majestic made upon himself to not place the wasiyyah and Imamate anywhere but within the progeny of Al-Ḥusayn (peace be onto him).”

The report in Dalā`il Al-Imāma is similar: “When Al-Ḥassan (peace be onto him) did with Mu`āwiyah what he did, Allah the Almighty made the wasiyyah and Imamate in the progeny of Al-Ḥusayn (peace be onto him).”

The report in Baṣā`ir Al-Darajāt makes no mention of Al-Ḥassan nor does it mention limiting the Imamate to the progeny of Al-Ḥusayn.

Chains and Wordings

The five reports above all go through Al-Ḥassan bin Maḥbūb, from `Alī bin Ri`āb, from Abī `Ubayda and Zurāra, from Abī Ja’far Al-Bāqir. Al-Kulaynī also provides a second path.

Baṣā`ir Al-Darajāt: Al-Ṣaffār from Aḥmad bin Moḥammad and Moḥammad bin Al-Ḥusayn from Al-Ḥassan bin Maḥbūb.

Mukhtaṣar Baṣā`ir Al-Darajāt: Sa`ad bin `Abdillāh Al-Qummī from Aḥmad and `Abdīllah bin Moḥammad bin `Īsā both, from Al-Ḥassan bin Maḥbūb.

Al-Kāfī: Al-Kulaynī from Moḥammad bin Yaḥyā, from Aḥmad bin Moḥammad, from Al-Ḥassan bin Maḥbūb.

Al-Kulaynī also provides an alternative chain through `Alī bin Ibrāhīm from his father, from Ḥammād bin `Īsā, from Ḥarīz, from Zurāra, from Abī Ja’far Al-Bāqir.

Al-Imāma wal Tabṣira: `Alī ibn Babāwayh from Moḥammad bin Yaḥyā, from Moḥammad bin Al-Ḥusayn bin Abī Al-Khaṭṭāb, from Al-Ḥassan bin Maḥbūb.

Dalā`il Al-Imāma: The author from Abī Al-Ḥassan `Alī bin Hibatillāh, from Abī Ja’far Moḥammad bin `Alī bin Al-Ḥusayn bin Mūsā bin Babāwayh, from Al-Ḥusayn bin Sa`īd, from his father, from Aḥmad bin Moḥammad bin `Īsā, from Al-Ḥassan bin Maḥbūb.

Three students of Al-Ḥassan bin Maḥbūb have reported this narration from him. They are: Moḥammad bin Al-Ḥusayn bin Abī Al-Khaṭṭāb, Aḥmad bin Moḥammad bin `Īsā, and `Abdullāh bin Moḥammad bin `Īsā.

The report of `Abdillāh bin Moḥammad bin `Īsā includes the addition. While the narration has been attributed to Aḥmad bin Moḥammad bin `Īsā and Moḥammad bin Al-Ḥusayn bin Abī Al-Khaṭṭāb with and without it.

Cause and Effect

After years of civil war, Al-Ḥassan and Mu`āwiyah agreed to end it in the year 41 AH. Al-Ḥassan gave up his position and returned to Madinah in order to live out the rest of his life away from politics. The companions of Al-Ḥassan became disillusioned with him and switched out his title of “Commander of the Believers” with “the one who has brought shame upon the believers.”[11]

This act alone led Allah the Almighty, according to this report, to expel the children of Al-Ḥassan from the station of Imamate, and to keep it within the progeny of Al-Ḥusayn exclusively.

According to later generations of Shias, Al-Ḥassan’s reconciliation with Mu`āwiyah conflicted with the policies of `Alī, but it was the correct decision, given the circumstances. On the other hand, some early Shias considered it to be an unjustifiable mistake.

Originally, this view was not a controversial one, due to the fact that early Shias, up until the time of Hishām bin Al-Ḥakam, had no qualms with the belief that the Imams made mistakes, for the concept of infallibility was not yet mainstream.

However, with the passage of time, some scholars, perhaps even Al-Kulaynī himself, found this report to be conflicting with their present ideology in the infallibility of the Imams, and thus, alterations needed to be made.

In conclusion, by studying this report with a critical eye, an often overlooked tale about the miraculous nature of the Imam told us more about the evolution of Shia thought than we could have imagined.

Wal Ḥamdulillāhi rab al-`Ālamīn.

[1] Firaq Al-Shia p. 40

[2] `Ilal Al-Sharāi’i’ p. 166

[3] Kanz Al-Fawā`id 1/246

[4] Kamāl Al-Dīn p. 383

[5] Baṣā`ir Al-Darajāt p. 655

[6] Mukhtaṣar Baṣā`ir Al-Darajāt p. 78

[7] Al-Kāfī 1/215

[8] Al-Imāma wal Tabṣira p. 193

[9] Dalā`il Al-Imāma p. 89

[10] The editor comments that two of the three manuscripts include: “When Al-Ḥassan (peace be onto him) did what they did with Mu`āwiyah (may Allah curse him).” Yet, he opted to use a third manuscript that had replaced the sentence with “Al-Ḥusayn” and with no mentioning of Mu`āwiyah due to ideological reasons.

[11] Tanzīh Al-Anbiyā’ p. 213

Al-Ḥillī, Al-Ḥassan bin Sulaymān. Mukhtaṣar Baṣā`ir Al-Darajāt. Qum: Mu`asasat Al-Nashr Al-Islami, 1431.

Al-Karājikī, Moḥammad bin `Alī. Kanz Al-Fawā`id. Beirut: Dār Al-Aḍwa’, 1405.

Al-Kulaynī, Moḥammad bin Ya’qūb. Al-Kāfī. Beirut: Manshūrāt Al-Fajr, 1428.

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Al-Ṣaffar, Moḥammad bin Al-Ḥassan. Baṣā`ir Al-Darajāt. Qum: Manshūrāt Ṭalī`at Al-Fajr, 1429.

Al-Sharīf Al-Murtaḍā, `Alī bin Al-Ḥusayn. Tanzīh Al-Anbiyā’. Beirut: Mu`asasat Al-A`alamī, 1412.

Al-Ṭabarī, Moḥammad bin Jarīr bin Rustum. Dalā`il Al-Imāma. Beirut: Mu`asasat Al-A`alamī, 1408.

Ibn Bābawayh, `Alī bin Al-Ḥusayn. Al-Imāma wal Tabṣira. Beirut: Mu`asasat Āl Al-Bayt li-`iḥyā’ Al-Turāth, 1412.

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