Inconsistency in Number of Imams


When studying Shia narrations, one sometimes comes across strange inconsistencies. In this short article, we examine one of these inconsistencies. We take a look at the most prominent Shia book of hadith, Al-Kafi by Al-Kulayni, and at the most significant of all ideological matters, the number of the Imams.

In Al-Kafi, Al-Kulayni (329 AH) quotes that Jabir bin Abdullah narrating that he saw that Fatima – peace be onto her – had a tablet with the names of the awsiya (appointed Imams) from her children. He counted them and found them to be twelve. He said, “Three were named Mohammad and three were named Ali.”

Fascinatingly, we find Al-Mufeed (413 AH) in Al-Irshad, who quotes Al-Kafi, but with a different number. The narration says, “Three were named Mohammad and four were named Ali.”

Al-Karajiki (449 AH), in Al-Istinsaar, then quotes his teacher, Al-Mufeed, who quotes Al-Kafi, but provides a different number altogether. His narration says, “Two were named Mohammad and four were named Ali.”

What is the cause behind these major inconsistencies in one book in a century? Is it due to alterations or incompetence?

Allah knows best.

(Screenshots are provided below)





  1. Salaam.

    Al-Karajiki quoting from Al-Mufeed who in turn quoted from Al-Kulayni then I assume that inconsistencies may be due to scribal error. In this case only Al-Kafi is the original source and it is reasonable that original source be followed.

    – We shias believe from Hadhrat Fatima al-Zahra (s.a) children (who are awsiya) 3 are Mohammed and 3 are Ali
    – We shias believe in 12 awsiya where 3 are Mohammed and 4 are Ali
    – We shia believe in al-Qaim (a.s) besides whom there are awsiya where 2 are Mohammed and 4 are Ali

    • Scribal errors can be in minor things, not in the main tenet of Twelverism which is that Imams are 12. This narration was altered more than once by several scholars, al-Tusi as well I recall. You’d be surprised that some of al-`Askari’s Shia believed his son was called “`Ali” not “Muhammad”, many didn’t think he’s the seal of Imams and believed he’d return and have children to continue the lineage.

    • Also, your suggestion that these are scribal “errors” are simply not plausible.

      The words used:
      اثنان 2 ثلاثة 3 أربعة 4
      do not look anything alike. One does not simply make an “accident” like that. The reality is the these were purposefully changed in order to fit the understanding of whomever copied them.

      • In this case as original source is available then it is reasonable to follow original report and reject other two contradictory reports.

        • Obviously the other two will be discarded. The contention revolves around the other two sources tampering with the original to fit in with their understanding. Much more to come of this, but for now, please read Macisaac’s article:

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