Abu Muhammad Ismail, surnamed al-Wafi was born in Medina between 100/719 and 103/722. Imam Ismail is also known as an absolute Lord (az-azbab-i itlaq). He was born by the first wife of Imam Jafar Sadik, named Fatima bint al-Hussain al-Athram bin al-Hasan bin Ali. Shahrastani (1076-1153) writes inKitab al-milal wa’l nihal that during the lifetime of Fatima, Imam Jafar Sadik never got another marriage like Muhammad with Khadija and Ali with Fatima. Hatim bin Imran bin Zuhra (d. 498/1104) writes in al-Usul wa’l Ahakam that, "Ismail was the most perfect, the most learned and the most excellent of the sons of Jafar as-Sadik."
The early life of Imam Ismail is obscure except few fragmented records. Asraru’n-Nutaqa writes, "When Ismail completed 7 years of age, the Lord of religion (Jafar Sadik) declared him the master of religion and his heir-apparent, as his next in descent. He guarded him from his other sons, kept him away from the contact with the public, and his education went on under his own supervision." According to Marifat Akhbari’r-Rijal (comp. after 280/890) that in the absence of his father from Medina, Ismail acted on behalf of his father as the head of family. It is also related in Uyun’l-Akhbar (comp. 842/1438) that Mualli bin Khunyas, a wealthy Iranian and a famous narrator was killed and his property was confiscated by the order of the Abbasid governor of Medina, Daud bin Ali. Masudi (d. 346/958) also asserts in his Kitab al-Tanbih wal Ishraf (Leiden, 1894, p. 329) that Daud bin Ali had killed many persons by order of Abul Abbas, the first Abbasid caliph and the number of victims was about eighty persons. While in the matter of Mualli bin Khunyas, however, Imam Jafar Sadik was absent from Medina, therefore, Imam Ismail solved the dispute in 133/751.
Riyah bin Uthman al-Murri, the Abbasid governor in Medina burnt the house of Ahl al-Bayt, and Imam Ismail was decided to be killed. Ahmad bin Ali Najashi (d. 450/1058) writes in his Kitab al-Rijal (Bombay, 1917, pp. 81-2) that once caliph Mansur summoned Imam Jafar Sadik and his son Ismail to Iraq, where he found no chance to kill them, and thus their lives were spared, but Bassam bin Abdullah al-Sayrafi was executed instead. Muhammad Hussain al-Muzzafari quotes Imam Jafar Sadik as saying in his al-Sadik (2:119) that, "Ismail was planned two times for killing, but I prayed for his life, and God protected him."
The succession issue of Imam Jafar Sadik has become a mystery in the extant sources. We are faced with fact as with legend and myth, conjecture, hypothesis and prejudice of the historians. Committed in the heat of strife by the Shi’ite authors, they were continuously repeated by those who followed them. And finally, all this was inherited by the orientalists, who, after relying too much on these crumbs, endorsed many of these errors.
Imam Ismail was declared several times by his father as his successor. According to Asraru’n- Nutaqa (comp. 380/990), Imam Jafar Sadik said, "He is the Imam after me, and what you learn from him is just the same as if you have learnt it from me." It is also related that when the health of Imam Jafar Sadik became impaired, he summoned the most trusted amongst his followers, and those members of his family who were alive, and did what his predecessors had done, i.e., he handed over the authority of Imamate to Ismail. The most trusted followers of Imam Jafar Sadik supported Imam Ismail, notably Abu Hamza Thabit bin Abu Sufiya Dinar as-Samali (d. 150/767).
W. Ivanow (1886-1970) writes in Ismailis and Qarmatians (JBBRAS, Bombay, 1940, p. 57) that, "According to the overwhelming majority of the available sources, both sectarian and of their opponents, Imam Jafar appointed as his successor his eldest son Ismail, by his first wife, a highly aristocratic lady, great grand-daughter of Hasan." W. Montgomery Watt writes in The Formative Period of Islamic Thought (Edinburgh, 1973, p. 271) that, "The Ismailites derive their name from the fact that they consider that the Imam after Jafar as-Sadik was his son Ismail and not Musa al-Kazim."
The historians refer to the tradition that Imam Ismail had died during his father’s lifetime, but the followers of Imam Ismail refused to believe this rumour. Shahrastani (1076-1153) writes in Kitab al-milal wa’l nihal (London, 1984, p. 144) that, "Some of them (followers of Ismail) say that he did not die, but that his father had declared that he had died to save him from the Abbasid caliphs; and that he had held a funeral assembly to which Mansur’s governor in Medina was made a witness."
During the rule of the first Abbasid caliph, Abdullah as-Saffah, the Alids in Medina kept quiet and affairs remained stationary. But when Mansur assumed the power in 136/753, the Alids embittered by the usurpation of their rights. Thus, an-Nafs az-Zakia, the son of Abdullah al-Mahd refused to take the oath of allegiance to Mansur. It was the month of Ramzan, 145/December, 762 when the Abbasid commander Isa bin Musa spurred his horses towards Medina to crush the uprising of an-Nafs az-Zakia. It was very critical moment, and many families evacuated the city. On this juncture, Imam Ismail also managed to leave Medina secretly with the outgoing caravans. Tabari (3:226) and Baladhuri (d. 279/892) in Ansab al-Ashraf (5:617) write that, "On 12thRamzan, 145 (December 4, 762), Isa bin Musa camped at al-Jurf, where he entered into correspondence with many notables of Medina, including some Alids. Many of them left the city with their families and some even joined Isa, a move which created a sense of insecurity and led to a large scale evacuation of Medina." When the veritable fighting took place with the Abbasids, an- Nafs az-Zakia was left with only a small number of his followers. Tabari (3:249) writes that, "His followers took to flight, and he himself was killed on the 14th Ramzan, 145 (December 6, 762)." His brother, Ibrahim, wandering from Medina to Aden, Syria, Mosul, Anbar until he finally settled in Basra in 145/762 to propagate for his brother. He also rebelled two months after his brother’s revolt, and seized control of Basra.
Tradition has it that Imam Ismail went to Basra after leaving Medina, but it seems improbable as after the defeat of an-Nafs az-Zakia in Medina in 145/762, his brother Ibrahim mustered a large army in Basra, hatching a massive revolt against the Abbasids, therefore, Imam Ismail must have hidden himself elsewhere in Arabia, and when the condition had become congenial, he would have harboured himself in Basra. Ibrahim left Basra for Kufa after some time, but was killed in a battle at Bakhamri, about halfway between Wasit and Kufa.
The critical examination of the sources suggests that the Abbasids had added a twist to this puzzle after few years with the help of the predeceased tradition for Imam Ismail, broadcasting everywhere that Imam Jafar Sadik had changed the nass (investiture) in favour of his other son, Musa Kazim. This newly contrived theory took its early nourishment among the people who lacked the concept of the Imamate. The later sources, trusting on it, however endorse three different reasons for the change of nass i.e., Imam Ismail’s indulgence in drink in 138/755, his intriguing in the extremists circles in 143/760, and his death during his father’s life time in 145/762. It deserves to note that some bombastic stories of Imam Ismail’s indulgence in drink and his alleged association with the extremists have been condemned by many historians. Mufazal bin Umar as-Sayrafi however relates that Imam Jafar Sadik, in view of his son’s piety had already warned the people in Medina that, "Do not wrong Ismail" (la tajafu Ismaila).
Caliph Mansur had not yet exhausted in his plan, for he had another card to play, and there is a reason to suppose that the story of change of nass had been concocted in the Zaidite orbits. It was rolled in public most probably after the death of Imam Jafar Sadik in 148/765, otherwise the Imam himself would have refuted it. It aimed to force Imam Ismail to expose to repudiate the claim of Musa Kazim. But, as we have heretofore seen that Imam Ismail had tenaciously determined not to expose as it was a diplomacy of the Abbasids to arrest him. Consequently, the predeceased tradition took its root. Imam Ismail’s exposition would have also given free rope to the Abbasids to upbraid Imam Jafar Sadik, who is said to have produced a document to caliph Mansur, bearing signature of the persons, testifying the alleged death of his son.
The Abbasids had gained power on the slogans of the Alids. Later, it took a political shape to the right of caliphate in the house of Abbas on religious ground. Abbas as-Saffah was to be succeeded by his son like the Imamate’s doctrine in the house of Ali bin Abu Talib from father to son. Conversely, Abbas as-Saffah was succeeded by his brother, Mansur. He determined to have a same effect that a brother could succeed by a brother. Thus, the Abbasids seems to have put into circulation a tradition of change of nass in the house of Imam Jafar Sadik by putting forth the claim of Musa Kazim. Thus, the Abbasids gained more than one benefit. Many Shi’ite followers, who had acquired the knowledge of the doctrines of Imamate from Imam Muhammad Bakir and Imam Jafar Sadik, however, ruled out the theory of change of nass.
Imam Jafar Sadik is also reported to have said: Inlillah fi kullo shain bida illah imamah means, "Verily, God makes changes in everything except in the matter of Imam." It tends to prove that once Ismail had been designated as an Imam, the spiritual authority of Imam Jafar Sadik came to the hands of his successor, and the status of Imam Jafar Sadik becomes same as he was before acquiring spiritual authority from his father. This point merits further indication that Imam Jafar Sadik had no power to cancel, revoke or alter the first nass in favour of Imam Ismail, and therefore, the tradition of change ofnass carries no historicity. The European scholar Marshall Hodgson writes in The Order of the Assassins (Netherland, 1955, p. 63) that, "Such a withdrawal (of nass) evidently was not historical." Nawbakhti (d. 310/912) writes in Kitab Firaq al-Shi’a that, "Yet another version is that by appointing his son, Ismail, as an Imam, Jafar Sadik thus resigned. Ismail was therefore a real Imam, and after him, the Imamate has to pass to his son, Muhammad." Shahrastani (1076-1153) also writes in Kitab al-milal wa’l-nihal (p. 144) that, "Designation (nass), however, cannot be withdrawn, and has the advantage that the Imamate remains in the descendants of the person designated, to the exclusion of others. Therefore, the Imam after Ismail is Muhammad bin Ismail."
The Abbasids brought Musa Kazim to lodge claim for his right on one side, and made an intensified search of Imam Ismail on other, indicating that Imam Ismail was a legitimate Imam in the eyes of the Abbasids. W. Ivanow writes in Ismailis and Qarmatians (JBBRAS, Bombay, 1940, p. 58) that, "Musa apparently was recognized by the secular authorities as the legitimate successor of Imam Jafar in his position, so far as it was concerned with the outer world." W. Montgomery Watt also writes that the political moderates had preferred Musa Kazim, vide The Formative Period of Islamic Thought (Edinburgh, 1973, p. 271). The Abbasids mustered a large following for Musa Kazim in Medina, and the snares of spies were also planted to watch signs of disloyalty emanating from him. The Abbasids then intended to gather the scattered Shi’ites at Medina under the leadership of Musa Kazim, and strike a final blow upon them to get an end of the concept of the Imamate.
Abul Khattab (d. 167/783) was an eminent disciple of Imam Jafar Sadik. He was first to have preached the Shi’ite doctrines tinctured with esoteric interpretation. For quite some time, he was closely associated with Imam Jafar Sadik, who had commissioned him as his chief da’i in Kufa. When Imam Ismail had been in Iraq, he adopted the title of Abul Khattab most probably after 151/769 for exercising taqiya. Nawbakhti in Kitab Firaq al-Shi’a (Istanbul, 1931, pp. 60-61) and al-Qummi (d. 300/912) in Kitab al-Maqalat wa’l-Firaq (Tehran, 1963, p. 83) write that the followers of Abul Khattab (i.e., Ismail) became known as Khattabiyya, believing that "the divine light had transferred from Jafar Sadik into Abul Khattab, and on the death of the latter, it passed into Muhammad bin Ismail." The term Abul Khattab here was the epithet of Imam Ismail. Abul Khattab however was killed most possibly in 167/783.
Besides, Imam Ismail had to assume the pseudonym of al-Mubarak in certain cases to protect his life. Al-Mubarak was a servant of Imam Ismail in Medina. In all probability, al-Mubarak was also the epithet of Imam Ismail. More evidences of the application of the name al-Mubarak to Ismail have now come to light, lending strong support to W. Ivanow’s hypothesis, vide The Alleged Founder of Ismailism (Bombay, 1946, pp. 108-112), describing that, "I have happened upon such clear and unequivocal testimony concerning al-Mubarak. The fact that it was in reality the surname of Ismail b. Jafar is revealed in at least four different passages in the early Ismaili esoteric work, Sullamu’n-Najjat by Abu Yaqub as-Sijistani" (p. 111). It can be also ascertained from another work of Abu Yaqub as-Sijistani, entitled Ithbat al-Nubuwwat (Beirut, 1966, p. 190).
Hence, another small following of Imam Ismail became known as Mubarakiyya. The Fatimid Imam al-Mahdi had sent a letter in Yamen after 308/921, which is reproduced by Jafar bin Mansur al-Yamen in al-Fara’id wa Hudud ad-Din (pp. 13-19), in which the Imam has also disclosed that the Imams descending from Imam Jafar Sadik wished to resuscitate the true dawat, and feared the treachery of hypocrites, therefore, they assumed names other than their own, and used for themselves esoterically names denoting the rank of proofs (hujjats) and styled themselves as Mubarak, Maymun and Sa’id because of the good omen in these names.
The terms Mubarakiyya and Khattabiyya therefore, were the original names of the nascent Ismailism, as well as the regional identifications of the followers of Imam Ismail, who, on the whole, merged into the main fold of Ismailism in the time of Imam Muhammad bin Ismail. Concluding his judgment, al-Mutawakkil (532-566/1137-1170) writes in his Kitab Haqa’iq al- Marifa as quoted by Bernard Lewis in The Origins of Ismailism (London, 1940, p. 35) that, "The Ismailiyya are the Mubarakiyya and the Khattabiyya."
Imam Ismail mostly lived in Salamia, and then moved to Damascus. Mansur knew his whereabouts, and wrote to his governor to arrest him, but the Imam quitted Damascus for Basra. Imam Ismail’s presence in Basra was marked in 151/769. According to Tarikh-i Jhangusha, "A paralytic begged alms of him. Ismail took him by the hand and he was healed; and rising to his feet he departed in his company. Ismail also prayed for a blind person and he recovered his sight."
Imam Jafar Sadik had realized the significance of a tight, well-knit and secret organization to face the emerging challenges in Arab society. For that purpose, he employed his Iranian client (mawla), named Maymun al-Qaddah, who had a skill for organizing the vast network of an underground mission. The Arabs, it must be noted, were not traditionally and temperamentally suited for secretive and underground functioning. They had always lived in an open and free society in the desert without the paraphernalia of state and political intrigues.
De Lacy O’Leary writes in Short History of the Fatimid Khilafat (London, 1923, p. 25) that, "The Ismailians alone have inherited the accurate knowledge of secret mysteries bequeathed by Jafar as-Sadik to his son Ismail." W. Ivanow writes in Ismailis and Qarmatians (JBBRAS, Bombay, 1940, p. 59) that, "The successors of Ismail were therefore compelled to pay more attention to the other aspect of Imam Jafar’s heritage - the philosophical and esoteric theories, which were more in demand here. This probably defined the further course of the evolution of Ismailism, which though it never gave up its strictly Islamic substance, had, nevertheless, to reconcile it with the philosophy of the time."
Imam Ismail died in Salamia after bequeathing the office of Imamate to his son Muhammad. According to al-Usul wa’l Ahakam by Hatim bin Imran bin Zuhra (d. 498/1104) that, "Ismail had sent his da’is to all parts and ordered him (Muhammad) to administer the oath in his name according to the custom of all preceding Imams. When his death drew near, he appointed as his heir, his son Muhammad who showed great perfection."
The predeceased tradition assigns Imam Ismail’s death in 145/762, but Dustur al-Munajjimin (comp. 450/1056) places it in 152/769. According to the Ismaili tradition, Imam Ismail died in 158/775, and was interred in Salamia. Besides Muhammad, he had a son called Ali, who was born in 130/748 and a daughter, Fatima.
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