Our branch of Shia Islam, in that particular generation of the family, accepted the legitimacy of the eldest son, Isma‘il, as being the appointed Imam to succeed and that is why they are known as Ismailis.
Forty-Ninth Hereditary Imam of the Shi‘i Isma‘ili Muslims
Dedication: This article is dedicated to the loving memory of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hakeem Seth Carney (1979-2007) whose hidden services and loving devotion to the Isma‘ili Imamat shall always be remembered. He will forever be a spiritual (ruhani) presence in the Isma‘ili Muslim Jamat. Special thanks to Quranic Blueprints for illustrating some of the new references in the updated version of this article.
The Isma‘ili Muslims take their name from the fact that they affirm the Imamat of Mawlana Isma‘il ibn Ja‘far as the hereditary Imām after the Imām Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq – as opposed to the Twelvers who believe that Musa al-Kāẓim was the Imām after Imām al-Sadiq. The issue became complicated because most historical sources confirm that the Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq publically designated his son Isma‘il as his successor. But most sources also say that Ismā‘īl died before his father. Therefore, at the death of the Imam Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq, the Shi‘ah community split into a number of factions – each following a different Imam. Many who followed Isma‘il and upheld his Imamat did not believe that Ismā‘īl had actually died, while others affirmed Isma‘il’s death and followed his son Muhammad ib. Ismā‘īl as the Imam. The group of Shi‘ah known as the Isma‘ilis trace the line of Imamat through the direct descendants of Isma‘il ibn Ja‘far and his son Muhammad ibn Isma‘il and today recognize their lineal descendant, Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV, as the Present, Living and Manifest Imam of Shi‘i Islam.
In the case of the Shia Muslims, the Shia branch of Islam split and one branch of the Shia Muslims accepted the concept of the Imam in hiding, the invisible Imam, because the twelfth Imam disappeared as a very young child, and our branch of Shia Islam, in that particular generation of the family, accepted the legitimacy of the eldest son, Isma‘il, as being the appointed Imam to succeed and that is why they are known as Ismailis. And that branch of the family has continued today hereditarily and that is why there is a living Imam for the Ismaili Muslims.
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV,
CBC Man Alive Interview, October 8, 1986
The question of who was the rightful successor to the Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq is of extreme importance. This is because the Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq was the last Imam recognized by both Isma‘ili and Twelver Shi‘is. The Imam Ja‘far is also revered by Sunni Muslims as one of the great scholars of hadith as he narrates at least 2000 traditions which are found in the nine major books of Sunni hadith, with 110 of these found within the six canonical collections (Sihah al-Sitta). He was the teacher of four founders of Islamic schools of thought: Mālik ibn Anas (d. 795), Abū Ḥanīfa al-Nu‘mān (d. 767), Sufyān al-Thawrī (d. 778), and ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Awzā‘ī (d. 774). In addition, the ḥadīth scholars and jurists Ibn Jurayj (d. 767), Sufyān ibn ‘Uyayna (d. 815) and Shu’ba ibn al-Ḥajjāj (d. 776) also studied under him. He was descended of Imam Ali b. Abi Talib through his father and Abu Bakr from his mother’s side. The overwhelming majority of Sufi chains of lineage go through him. It was during his time that many central theological doctrines of Shi’ism began to crystallize. He has been designated “Shaykh al-‘Ulamā’” and “Imām al-Fuqahā’” for his noble rank as one of the most knowledgeable men that the Islamic world has ever seen. (Source: Ballandalus).
For Shi‘i and Sufi Muslims, the true successor of the Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq is the inheritor of his authority, knowledge, and spiritual legacy; and the true lineage of Imamat continues the spiritual virtues, mystical teachings and authoritative knowledge of Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq.
This article presents a series of Seven Proofs that the Imāmah after Imām Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq went to his son Isma‘il and the Isma‘ili Imams from his lineal descendants.
To grasp the significance of this article and the importance of the Imamat in Shi‘i Islam, we highly recommend our readers review the following three articles, in order:
- The Rational Basis for the Existence of God
- Proof of Prophethood: A Philosophical Argument for the Prophethood of Muhammad
- The Spiritual Authority of the Prophet Muhammad
- The Concept of Imamat in the Quran
- The Prophet Muhammad’s Appointment of Imam Ali as his Successor
- The Aga Khan’s Direct Descent from the Prophet: Historical Proof
Summary of the Seven Proofs
Below is a summary of the proofs. Please read beyond for the evidence for each, or click on the proof number, to jump directly to a specific proof.
Taken individually or collectively, these Seven Proofs demonstrate that the legitimate successor and true Imam after the Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq is Mawlānā Ismā‘īl ibn Ja‘far and that the Present and Living Imam of all Shi‘i Muslims must be the direct lineal descendant of Isma‘il ibn Ja‘far.
Proof #1: Imām Ja‘far designated Mawlānā Ismā‘īl as the next Imam by the rule of nass as per Twelver, Ismaili, Sunni and academic sources.
Proof #2: The only way to deny the nass of Mawlānā Isma‘il is through contradictory hadiths presented in later Twelver hadith books.
Proof #3: Isma‘il’s death before Imam Ja‘far is not confirmed and may have been staged to protect him — as he was reportedly seen by eyewitnesses after his alleged death.
Proof #4: Even if Isma‘il had died before his father, the Imamat continued in Isma‘il’s son, Muhammad ibn Isma‘il, whom Isma‘il had appointed as his own successor.
Proof #5: Earliest Shi‘i hadiths lack the mention of Twelve Imams but instead predict exactly the first eighteen Imams in the Isma‘ili lineage of Imamat.
Proof #6: With the exception of the Nizari Ismaili Imamat, all other Shi‘i Imamat lineages have hidden Imams. This contradicts the Qur’anic definition of Imamat which requires the Imam always be present and manifest (mubin) in the world.
Proof #7: Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV is the forty-ninth hereditary Imam of Shi‘i Islam in direct, documented, lineal descent from Mawlana Isma‘il ibn Ja‘far al-Sadiq. As the only present (hadir), manifest (mubin) and living (mawjud) hereditary Imam, with a documented and validated lineage, Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni’s very existence is itself confirmation of his Imamat and that of his ancestors.
Imām Ja‘far designated Mawlānā Ismā‘īl as the next Imam by the rule of nass as per Twelver, Ismaili, Sunni and academic sources
Every Imām designates the succeeding Imām from among his descendants and this designation is called naṣṣ. The identity of the next Imām is determined by the Command of God and disclosed by the Imām of the Time.
[The Imam Muhammad] Al-Bāqir, as noted, categorically maintained that that, contrary to the belief of some groups, the Imām had to be divinely appointed and that his appointment had to be clear and precise, i.e. by naṣṣ al-jalī (explicit designation).
Arzina Lalani, (Early Shi‘i Thought, 77)
الإمام يعرف الإمام الذي من بعده فيوصي إليه
The Imām knows the one who will be the Imām after him, and so he passes his inheritance on to him.
Imām Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq, (Al-Kulayni [d. 941], Usūl al-Kāfi Vol. 1, p. 277)
The earliest historical sources and the majority of sources – both Ismā‘īlī and Twelver – bear witness that Imām Ja‘far designated his son Ismā‘īl as the next Imām
Twelver Sources (Early 10th century)
The earliest Twelver authors that confirm Ismā‘īl’s designation by the Imam Ja‘far include:
- Hasan ibn Musa al-Nawbakhti (d. before 922), Firaq al-Shi’a, ed. Ritter (1931 Istanbul), p. 55 – quoted below:
Ja‘far ibn Muhammad designated (ashāra ila) the Imamat of his son Isma‘il ibn Ja‘far.
Hasan ibn Musa al-Nawbakhti (d. before 922), Firaq al-Shi’a, ed. Ritter, Istanbul 1931, p. 55)
- Sa’id ibn Abdullah al-Qummi (d. 914), Kitab al-maqālat wa’l-firaq, ed. Muhammad J. Mashkur. Tehran 1963, p. 78 – quoted below:
Ja‘far ibn Muhammad designated (ashāra ila) the Imamat of his son Isma‘il ibn Ja‘far.
al-Qummi (d. 914), (Kitab al-maqālat wa’l-firaq, ed. Muhammad J. Mashkur, Tehran, 1963, 78)
- ‘Ali b. Babawayh al-Qummi (d. ca. 939-941), al-Imāma wa l-tabṣīra, (Madrasa Imam al-Mahdi, Qum 1404/1984), p. 73 tells his son ‘Abdullah that his full-brother Isma‘il possesses the Light (al-nur) of Imamat in his face and that Isma‘il is from his [the Imam’s] own soul (nafsi). The latter is identical to how Prophet Muhammad said that “‘Ali is from my own soul (nafsi).”:
Imam Ja‘far [Abu ‘Abdullah] was reprimanding and admonishing ‘Abdullah [his son], saying: ‘Why can’t you be more like your brother?’ By God, I recognize the Light (al-nur) in his face.’ ‘Abdullah said: ‘Aren’t my father and his father the same? Aren’t my mother and his mother the same?’ Then Imam Ja‘far [Abu ‘Abdullah] said: ‘Verily, Isma‘il is from my own soul (nafsi) while you are my son.’
‘Ali b. Babawayh al-Qummi (d. ca. 939-941), (al-Imāma wa l-tabṣīra, Madrasa Imam al-Mahdi, Qum 1404/1984, 73, Hadith No. 63: Read the Arabic Text)
Note: The Twelver Shi’i hadith compiler al-Kulayni (d. 941) quoted the above hadith with the same chain as al-Qummi in his Usul al-Kafi (ed. ‘Ali Akbar al-Ghifari, 5th edition, 1984, Vol. 1, 310, Hadith No. 10). But Kulayni removed the name of Imam Isma‘il b. Ja‘far from the original hadith and instead presented the hadith as evidence for Musa al-Kazim’s Imamat.Read the Arabic Text of al-Kulayni’s doctored version of the narration.
Ismaili Sources (Mid 10th Century)
And when the Command of God came to him [Imam Ja‘far] to hand over [his high office], he summoned his dignitaries and specially deserving followers, just as it was done by other Imams and Prophets before him, and handed over his authority to his son Isma‘il, by the Command of God and His inspiration of him, making them witnesses of this, his appointment. Thus, Isma‘il became the Gate to God (bab Allah) and His prayer niche (mihrab), the repository of His Light, the link between Him and His creatures – both we and you admit this. And then his body was caused to disappear during the lifetime of his father, as a mystery, intended to protect him from his enemies, and as a test for his followers.
Ja‘far ibn Mansur al-Yaman [d. 960], (Asrar al-Nutuqa, tr. Ivanow in Ismaili Tradition Concerning the Rise of the Fatimids, 275-276)
It is necessary to mention now Isma‘il’s acceptance of the authority from his father. We shall only say what no one can deny, except the aggressive heretics who suppress the right belief in their hearts and advance impious theories in the hope of ‘extinguishing the Light of God…But God shall make His Light triumph, even if the infidels shall be displeased.’ This is why Imam Ja‘far, when his health became impaired, summoned the most trusted amongst his followers, and those members of his family who were still alive, and did what his predecessors had done, i.e. handed over his authority to Isma‘il. Thus, Isma‘il became the Gate to God, His praying niche (mihrab), the Abode of His Light, and the link between Him and his creatures, the Lieutenant of God on earth.”
Ja‘far ibn Mansur al-Yaman [d. 960], (Asrar al-Nutuqa, tr. Ivanow in Ismaili Tradition Concerning the Rise of the Fatimids, 290-291)
It is similarly narrated from Ja‘far as-Sadiq that he said: ‘Even if someone should come before you with the head of this, my son [Isma‘il], do not doubt, nevertheless, that he is to be the Imam after me.’ And on another occasion he said, while he, Isma‘il ibn Ja‘far, was present: ‘He is the Imam after me, and what you learn from him is just the same as if you have learnt it from myself.
Ja‘far ibn Mansur al-Yaman [d. 960], (Asrar al-Nutuqa, tr. Ivanow in Ismaili Tradition Concerning the Rise of the Fatimids, 292)
We narrate [the tradition] (rawayna) and you narrate [the tradition] (rawaytum) that when [Isma‘il] the son of the Imam [Ja‘far] completed seven years of age, the Master (sahib) of the Time (waqt) declared him (‘arafa-hu) the Master of Religion (sahib al-din) and his heir apparent among sons. And he guarded him from his other of his sons, kept him away from the contact with the public, and his education went on under his own supervision.
Ja‘far ibn Mansur al-Yaman [d. 960], (Asrar al-Nutuqa, tr. Ivanow in Ismaili Tradition Concerning the Rise of the Fatimids, 296)
These hold that Ismā‘il was the designated Imām after Ja‘far, as the sons of Ja’far also agreed.
‘Abd al-Karīm al-Shahrastānī, (Muslim Sects, 144)
As far as Isma‘il ibn Ja’far as-Sadiq, he was given the patronym of Abu Muhammad, and his mother was Fatimah bint al-Husayn al-Athram bin al-Hasan bin Ali ibn Abi Talib, and was known as Al-‘Araj. He was the eldest son of his father, and the most beloved by him; his father loved him intensely.
Ibn ‘Uṭbah – Sunni scholar, (quoted in Ja‘far al-Subhani Buhuth fi al-Milal, 72)
According to the overwhelming majority of the available sources, both sectarian and of their opponents, Imam Ja‘far appointed as his successor his eldest son Isma‘il, by his first wife, a highly aristocratic lady, great grand-daughter of Hasan.
W. Ivanow, (Ismailis and Qarmatians, 57)
Jaʿfar had named his second son, Ismāʿīl, as his successor… In the light of the statements of Saʿd b. ʿAbd Allāh, there can be no doubt about the reality of this nomination, on which the Ismailis base their claim to the true imamate…. In fact, the Twelver Shiites, who hold Jaʿfar’s rightful successor to be Mūsā al-Kāẓim, generally admit that Jaʿfar first decided on Ismāʿīl as his successor.
Wilferd Madelung, “The Imamate in Early Ismaili Doctrine”, (Shii Studies Review, Vol 2, 2008, 62-155: 62-63)
Our oldest and presumably most reliable authorities agree that Ja‘far designated his second son Isma‘il to succeed him as Imam.
Paul Walker, (The Cambridge History of Egypt, Vol 1. 121)
The trial case for the Shi‘a in all periods that were to follow was that of the Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq who, by most reports, publicly designated his second son Isma‘il as the person to succeed him. This fact was accepted as the formal act of nass required by Shiite theory and was therefore a designation by an infallible imam of the new Imam who would inherit the full powers of the imamate. Isma‘il was thus not only Ja‘far’s choice but was God’s choice as well. However, to the extreme chagrin of Ja‘far’s numerous, deeply committed followers, Isma‘il died before his father. That Ja‘far’s choice of Isma‘il had been a mistake could not be admitted by his Shi‘a under any circumstances, although as long as the father lived there was hope of an explanation and a correction to this perception of error. Apparently, though, Ja‘far did not appoint another in place of Isma‘il and the theoretical argument by which he might have done so is, generally speaking, missing. Imami writers like al-Nawbakhti admitted as much even a hundred years after the fact… Those who formed the main party of what became the Ismailis refused either of these possibilities and claimed instead that the designation of Isma‘il was not only sound, no matter the early death of Isma‘il, but, because Ja‘far’s choice was correct, the succession necessarily moved thereafter beyond Isma‘il to his own son Muhammad.
Paul Walker, (“Succession to Rule in Shiite Caliphate”, Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, Vol. 32 , 241)
According to the majority of the available sources, he [Imām Ja‘far] had designated his second son Ismā‘īl (the eponym of the Isma‘ıliyya) as his successor, by the rule of the naṣṣ. There can be no doubt about the authenticity of this designation, which forms the basis of the claims of the Ismā‘īlīyya and which should have settled the question of al Ṣādiq’s succession in due.
Farhad Daftary, (The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines, 2nd Edition, 88)
There seems to be general agreement among the Shi‘i sources that, at first, as-Sadiq had intended his eldest son Ismā‘īl to succeed him.
Moojan Momen,(An Introduction to Shi‘i Islam, 55)
Mawlānā Ismā‘īl was the most beloved son of Imām Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq and most of the Shī‘ah of Imām Ja‘far believed that Mawlānā Ismā‘īl was his successor
“Abū ‘Abdullāh [Imām al-Ṣādiq] had ten children… Ismā‘īl was the eldest of them. Abū ‘Abdullāh [Imām al-Ṣādiq] had intense love, affection, and devotion for him, and the people believed that he would be the rectifier [al-qā’im] after him, and that he would be his successor. This was because he was the eldest of the brothers, as well as his father’s intense inclination towards him, and the great nobility which his father bestowed upon him.
(Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, Bihar Al-Anwar 47:246, Shaykh al-Mufid [d. 1022], Kitāb al-Irshād, 431)
As reported in the early proto-Twelver hadith book Kitab al-Mahasin compiled by al-Barqi (d. ca. 888-894), Imām Ja‘far referred to his son Ismā‘īl as the “my beloved” (habibati) (See the Arabic Text)
It appears that most of the followers of as-Ṣādiq were expecting the latter’s eldest son, Ismā‘īl, whose mother was a granddaughter of Zaynu’l-‘Ābidīn, the Fourth Imām, to succeed to the Imamate.
Moojan Momen, (An Introduction to Shi‘i Islam, 39)
The Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq did not designate or appoint any other son as his successor to the Imamat and Twelver Shi‘i authors admitted this
The most prominent followers of Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq, after his death, did not recognize or support the Imamat of Musa al-Kazim: Zurara b. A’yan, Abu Basir al-Muradi, Burayd, and Muhammad b. Muslim – described by Imam al-Sadiq as “tenth pins of the world” – did not recognize Musa as the successor of al-Sadiq. Zurara (see below) died without recognizing al-Sadiq’s successor; Abu Basir, who received special knowledge (‘ilm) from Imam al-Sadiq, criticized Musa al-Kazim for teaching things contradictory to Imam al-Sadiq, saying: “I think the knowledge of our companion (Musa) has not matured yet.” Burayd and Muhammad b. Muslim were known as the “Apostles” of Imam al-Sadiq and named by the Imam as the “Foremost” (al-sabiqun) and “Nearest” (al-muqarrabun) to God. Both men failed to recognize Musa al-Kazim as the successor of Imam al-Sadiq. Other prominent disciples of Imam al-Sadiq who did not follow Musa as the next Imam include: Abad b. ‘Uthman al-Bajali, ‘Abdullah b. Bukayr, and Yunus b. Zibyan. (see Mehmet Ali Buyukkara, “The Imam-Shi’i Movement in the Time of Musa al-Kazim and ‘Ali al-Rida,” PhD Dissertation, University of Edinburgh, 1997, 104-105)
It is certain that Jaʿfar did not nominate another successor after Ismāʿīl’s death, for when Jaʿfar died, three brothers of Ismāʿīl claimed the succession at the same time. None of them could invoke nomination by his father. The great majority of Jaʿfar’s adherents, including the most important scholars, initially supported ʿAbd Allāh, not Mūsā, contrary to what is generally said.
Wilferd Madelung, “The Imamate in Early Ismaili Doctrine”, (Shii Studies Review, Vol 2, 2008, 62-155: 63)
Apparently, though, Ja‘far did not appoint another in place of Isma‘il and the theoretical argument by which he might have done so is, generally speaking, missing. Imami writers like al-Nawbakhti admitted as much even a hundred years after the fact.
Paul Walker, (“Succession to Rule in Shiite Caliphate”, Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, Vol. 32 , 241)
However, the fact remains that Isma‘il was not present at the time of the Imam al-Sadiq’s death, when three other sons simultaneously claimed his succession, though none of them could convincingly prove to have been the beneficiary of a second nass. As a result, the Imam al-Sadiq’s Shı‘ı partisans split into six groups, two of which constituted the nucleus of the nascent Isma‘iliyya.
Farhad Daftary, (The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines, 2nd Edition, 88)
Even the most prominent Twelver ḥadīth narrator, Zurarah, died without even knowing who was the Imam on the death of Imām Ja‘far – as reported by al-Kashshi, one of the earliest Twelver rijal authors:
After Abu ‘Abdullāh [Imām al-Ṣādiq] died, some of the people believed that the Imāmah had passed to ‘Abd Allāh the son of Ja‘far, and they disagreed. And others said that it had passed to Abū’l-Ḥasan [Mūsa al-Kāẓim], and so Zurarah called for his son ‘Ubayd, and said: “O my son, the people are disagreeing about this affair. Those who are supporting ‘Abd Allāh are basing themselves on the report that says that Imāmah goes to the eldest son of the Imam. Get your riding camel and go to Madinah until you can bring me the truth about this affair.” Zurarah eventually became very ill, and when death approached he asked about ‘Ubayd. It was said to him: ‘He has not come.’ And so Zurarah called for a Qur’ān, and said: ‘O Allāh, indeed I bear witness to what has come with Your prophet Muḥammad and what You have revealed to him and made clear to us through his tongue, and I bear witness to what You have sent down in this Book. Indeed, my covenant and my religion is what my son ‘Ubayd will bring, and what You have explained in Your Book. If you will end my life before he comes, then this is my testimony and confession upon my own self concerning what ‘Ubayd, my son, will say. And You are my witness for that.’ And so Zurarah died.
Muhammad b. ‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-‘Azīz al-Kashshī [d. 978], (Rijāl al-Kashshi 154)
The succession to the tenth Twelver Imam implicitly affirms that Isma‘il was the original heir-designate of the Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq
The tenth Imam of the Twelver Shi‘ah, Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali al-Hadi, designated his older son Abu Ja‘far Muhammad as his successor but Abu Ja‘far Muhammad died within his lifetime. After his death, ‘Ali al-Hadi designated another son, Abu Muhammad Hasan al-‘Askari, and referred back to the Imam Ja‘far’s designation of Isma‘il ibn Ja‘far to justify his decision:
Abu Hashim Dawud al-Ja‘fari narrated: I was with Abu l-Hasan (‘Ali al-Hadi) at the time of the death of his son Abu Ja ‘far (Muhammad b. ‘Ali) – whom he had appointed and designated (wa-qad kana ashara ilayhi wa-dalla ‘alayhi). So then I thought to myself saying: “This is the story of Abu Ibrahim (Musa al-Kazim) and Isma‘il. Abu l-Hasan (‘Ali al-Hadi) came to me and said: “Yes O Abu Hashim, a new matter (bada) appeared to God concerning Abu Ja‘far [Muhammad b. ‘Ali] and He replaced him with Abu Muhammad [Hasan al-‘Askari], just as a new matter (bada) appeared to God concerning Isma‘il after Abu ‘Abdullah (Ja‘far al-Sadiq) designated him and appointed him.
Shaykh al-Tusi, (Kitab al-Ghaybah, Part 1, 106, Hadith No. 84, Read the Arabic Text))
When his son Abu Ja‘far [Muhammad] died, I was beside Abu al-Hasan [Ali al-Hadi]. I was thinking that Abu Ja‘far and Abu Muhammad [Hasan al-Askari] are like Musa ibn Ja‘far and Isma‘il ibn Ja‘far in this age; their story is the same. Just when I was about to say that Abu Muhammad was expected after Abu Ja‘far, Abu al-Hasan [‘Ali al-Hadi] turned to me and said: “Yes, Abu Hashim. The unknown thing concerning Abu Muhammad [coming] after Abu Ja‘far became clear for God (badā’ li-Allāh). His situation is that of Musa, i.e. badā occurred after Isma‘il’s death. Abu Muhammad [Hasan al-‘Askari] will be my successor.
(Narrated by Abu Hashim al-Ja‘fari, quoted in al-Nawbhakti [d. 922], Firaq al-Shi‘ah, 78-79)
The above hadith in Twelver books shows that even during the lifetime of the tenth Twelver Imam, the Twelver community – irrespective of the questionable idea of badā’ [to be dealt with below] – had expected that Isma‘il was going to be the Imam succeeding Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq. The fact that the case of Isma‘il was cited by the tenth Twelver Imam to justify his own second designation, confirms the Twelver Imams knew Isma’il was the designated successor for the Imamah.
The only way to deny the nass of Mawlānā Isma‘il is through contradictory hadiths presented in Twelver hadith books
To negate Mawlānā Ismā‘īl’s nass (shown in Proof #1), Twelver hadiths attributed to the Imām Ja‘far, as reported by scholar Shaykh al-Saduq [d. 991], state God was unaware that Isma‘il would die and so “changed His Mind” and appointed another successor in Ismā‘īl’s place. To assert God was ignorant is a fallacy and contradiction since, by definition, God knows all.
ما بدا لله بداء كما بداء له في إسماعيل إبني يقول ما ظهر لله أمر كما ظهر له في إسماعيل إبني إذ إخترمه قبلي ليعلم بذلك أنه ليس بإمام بعدي
Imam Ja‘far (allegedly) said: “No new affair (badā’) appeared to God (badā’ li-llāh) like what appeared to Him (badā’ lahu) about my son Ismā‘īl, meaning, nothing manifested to Allah greater like what manifested to Him about my son Ismā‘īl. For he was taken away by death before me, in order that it would be known that he was not the Imam after me.”
(Shaykh as-Saduq [d. 991], Kitab al-Tawhid, 336; Kamal al-Dīn, 1:69; Majlisi Bihar al-Anwār, 4:109)
ما بدا لله بداء أعظم من بداء بدا له في إسماعيل إبني
Imam Ja‘far (allegedly) said: “No new affair (badā’) appeared to God (badā’ li-llāh) like what appeared to Him (badā’ lahu) about my son Ismā‘īl.”
(Majlisi Bihar 4:122, 47:269; as-Saduq, Kamal al-Dīn 1:69; Kitab al-Tawhid 336)
ما بدا لله كما بدا له في إسماعيل إبني يقول ما ظهر لله أمر كما يظهر له في إسماعيل إبنى إذا اختمره قبلي ليعلم بذلك إنه ليس بإمام بعدي
Imam Ja‘far (allegedly) said: “No new affair (badā’) appeared to God (badā li-llāh) like what appeared to Him (badā’ lahu) about my son Ismā‘īl since he was slain before me, in order that it would be known that he was not the Imam after me.
(As-Saduq, Kitab al-Tawhid 66)
The content of these ḥadīths is contradictory and suggest God did not know that Ismā‘īl was going to die and that his death was a new event (badā’) that became known to God (badā li-Llāh) when it happened. God transcends space and time and His knowledge encompasses all things – so there can be no question of an event like the death of a person being a “newly known affair” (badā’) for God. The Twelver academic Sachedina points out the absurdity in this idea:
It [the badā’ doctrine] implied God’s change of mind because of a new consideration, caused by the death of Ismail. However, such connotations in the doctrine of badā’ (change of mind) raised serious questions about the nature of God’s knowledge, and indirectly, about the ability of the Imams to prophesy future occurrences… Ibn Babuya cites a tradition in which the sixth Imam, al-Sadiq, says: “He who asserts that God, the Mighty and Glorious, does something new which He did not know before, – from him I disassociate myself,” and then he added, “He who asserts that God, after doing something, repents concerning it, – then he, in our opinion, is a denier of God, the Almighty.” But the question of the change concerning the Imamat from Isma‘il to Musa al-Kazim, the sons of al-Sadiq, remained unsettled.
Abdul-Aziz Sachedina (Islamic Messianism: The Idea of Mahdi in Twelver Shiism, 153-54)
In fact, the Imām Ja‘far himself completely refutes the very notion that something new can appear to God and commands us to disassociate from anyone who holds such a belief:
If someone claims that something manifests itself to Allah one day which He did not know the previous day, then disassociate from that person.
Imām Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq, (As-Saduq, Kamal al-Dīn, 69)
Interestingly, the Twelvers were faced with a similar situation when their tenth Imām, ‘Alī al-Naqī, originally designated his eldest son Abū Ja‘far Muḥammad as his successor. However, Muḥammad died before his father and instead his brother, Abū Muḥammad Ḥasan al-‘Askari, succeeded him as the eleventh Imām of the Twelvers. In this case, the Twelvers tried to explain the “change in nass” through the same idea of badā’:
قال علي بن مهزيار: قلت لأبي الحسن أن كان كون و أعوذ بالله فإلى من قال عهدي ألى أكبر من ولدي<
‘Ali ibn Mahziyar says: ‘I said to Abū Al-Ḥasan [the tenth Twelver Imām]: “If something should happen, and I take refuge in Allah from that, then who will it go to?” He said: “It will go to my eldest son.”
(Al-Kulayni [d. 941], Usul Al-Kafi 1:326)
بدا لله في أبي محمد بعد أبي جعفر ما لم يكون يُعرَف له كما بدا له في موسى بعد مضي إسماعيل.
Something has become manifested to Allah [badā li-Llāh] in Abu Muhammad [al-‘Askari] after Abu Ja’far [Muhammad] something which was not known to Him before, just as something became manifest to Him (badā lahu) about Mūsā [al-Kāẓim] after the death of Ismā‘īl.
(Al-Kulayni, Usūl al-Kafi 1:328)
Again, how can the death of any person be newly known to God (badā li-Llāh)? God, by definition, always has complete knowledge of all things. It is self-evident that hadiths which theologically contradictory and question the omniscience of God cannot be genuine and thus can not be used to justify the Imamat of Mūsa and al-‘Askarī.
Another argument used to try and nullify Mawlānā Ismā‘īl’s designation are contradictory hadīths where the Imām Ja‘far pleads with God for Isma‘il to be the Imam after him but God refuses his requests.
Imam al-Sadiq said: I have not ceased imploring Allah the Exalted about Ismā‘īl, begging him to bring him back to life and make him the Rectifier (qā’im) after me, but my Lord has refused this. This is not something that a man places wherever he wants; rather it is a covenant from Allah the Exalted and Glorified. He will make this covenant with whomever he wills, and so Allah has willed that my son Mūsā would be the Rectifier after me, and has refused to make Ismā‘īl the Imam after me.
(Majlisi, Bihār al-Anwār, 47:270)
ما بدا لله بداء أعظم من بداء بدا له في إسماعيل إبني
Imam as-Sadiq said: “Nothing has been manifested to Allah greater than what was manifested to him about my son, Ismā‘īl. I implored Allah that he make Ismā‘īl the Imam after me, but he refused to make anyone the Imam except my son Mūsā.
(Majlisi Bihār al-Anwār 47:269)
إنّي سألت اللّه في إسماعيل أن يُبقيه بعدي فأبى، ولكنّه قد أعطاني فيه منزلة أُخرى، انّه يكون أوّل منشور في عشرة من أصحابه،.
Imam as-Sadiq said: “I asked Allah that he would preserve Ismā‘īl after me, but He refused. But He has given me another noble station with him; indeed, he will be the first to be risen [at the End of Time] amongst his companions.
(Muhammad b. ‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-‘Azīz al-Kashshī, Rijal al-Kashshī, 217)
The above ḥadīths attributed to Imām Ja‘far suggest that the Imām had wishes and desires and prayers which were contrary or against the Will of God. They state that Imām Ja‘far wanted or desired for his son Ismā‘īl to be the next Imām but that God refused and instead chose Mūsa al-Kāẓim. Yet, the Imam Ja‘far has said that his words are at the same level of authority as the Words of God:
My words are the words of my father, and the words of my father are the words of my grandfather, and the words of my grandfather are the words of my great grandfathers, Imam al-Hasan and Imam al-Husayn, and their words are the words of Imam Ali, and the words of Imam Ali are the words of Prophet Muhammad and the words of Prophet Muhammad are the words of God the Almighty, the Great.
Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq,
(al-Kulayni, Usul al-Kafi, Book 2, Chapter 17, Hadith No. 14)
So was Allah pleading with himself? The whole idea that the Imam would desire something other than what God desires, and implore God to grant him his desire, is absurd and contradicts the very definition of Imāmah because the Imām, by definition, is the khalīfah or representative of God on earth and is divinely inspired (mu’ayyad) by the Holy Spirit (Ruh al-Quds). Whatever the Imam desires on a religious or spiritual matter is a reflection of God’s Will and can never go against the Will of God.
Therefore, given the contradictions with the very definition of Imamat in the above hadiths, it is self-evident that they — like others upon which the Twelvers rely on to refute the Imāmah of Mawlānā Ismā‘īl, such as those that state God was ignorant of Ismā‘īl’s death until it happened, as discussed earlier — cannot be genuine.
Another argument in Twelver texts relies on hadiths purportedly attributed to Imām Ja‘far that contradict all of the historical evidence in Proof 1 — that Imam Ja‘far appointed his son Ismā‘īl as the Imam via nass — and, instead, claim that Imām Ja‘far actually condemned his beloved son Mawlānā Ismā‘īl as a sinner!
The seminal Twelver Shaykh as-Saduq, considered to be one of the greatest of Twelver scholars — the same as-Saduq who cited “hadith” suggesting that God can be ignorant and changes His mind, as discussed in 2A above, offers the following narration as “proof” that Imam Ja’far could have never given nass to Isma‘il, and that Imam Ja’far had no affection for him whatsoever. He says:
و كيف نص الصادق على إسماعيل مع قوله فيه إنه عاص لا يشبهنى و لا يشبه أحداً من آبائي
And how could Imam as-Sadiq have given the nass to Isma’il, when he said: “Indeed, he was a sinner! He does not resemble me nor any of my fathers.”
(As-Saduq, Kamal al-Din, 103)
He then provides two chains of narrations for this same hadith, with slightly different wording:
قال الحسن بن راشد: سألت أبا عبد الله عن إسماعيل فقال عاص لا يشبهنى و لا يشبه أحداً من آبائي
Al-Hasan ibn Ar-Rashid says: “I asked Abu ‘Abdullah [Ja‘far as-Sadiq] about Isma‘il, and he said: “A sinner. He does not resemble me nor any of my fathers.”
قال عبيد بن زرارة: ذكرت إسماعيل عند أبي عبد الله فقال عاص لا يشبهنى و لا يشبه أحداً من آبائي
‘Ubayd ibn Zararah says: “I mentioned Isma’il to Abu ‘Abdillah [as-Sadiq] and he said: “A sinner. He does not resemble me nor any of my fathers.”
However, again, the above hadiths are problematic because, in another set of narrations, reported by as Saduq himself, and others, the Imam Ja‘far Sadiq condemns and contradicts the very statements he allegedly made concerning his son Isma‘il:
لا يقول أحد في ولده لا يشبهنى و لا يشبه شيئاً من آبائي
“No one should say about their child: ‘He does not resemble me nor anything of my fathers.’”
(As-Saduq Faqih 3:484; ‘Ilal al-Shara‘i 1:103)
Such reports about Isma‘il’s dipsomania and his disavowal by his father, especially as related by the Twelver sources, probably represent later fabrications by those who did not accept the Isma‘ili line of imams.
Farhad Daftary, (The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines, 2nd Edition, 88)
Isma‘il’s death before Imam Ja‘far is not confirmed and may have been staged — to protect him — as he was reportedly seen by eyewitnesses after his alleged death
The year and cause of Isma‘il’s death remain unknown and unverified. Many sources which claim that Isma‘il died in the lifetime of Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq also report that eyewitnesses saw Isma‘il three days later
The exact date and the circumstances of Isma‘il’s death also remain unknown. According to some Isma‘ili authors, Isma‘il survived the Imam al-Sadiq. However, the majority of sources report that he predeceased his father in Medina, and was buried in the Baqı cemetery… Many Isma‘ili and non-Isma‘ili sources repeat the story of how, before and during Isma‘il’s funeral procession, the Imam al-Sadiq made deliberate attempts to show the face of his dead son to witnesses, though some of the same sources also relate reports indicating that Isma‘il was seen in Basra soon afterwards.
Farhad Daftary, (The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines, 91)
Mid-10th century Isma‘ili sources report that Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq staged his son’s Ismail’s death before witnesses to protect him from ‘Abbasid persecution, and that Isma‘il was then seen in Basra a few days after his supposed death
Seyyed Hossein Nasr, renowned Twelver scholar, admits that the safety of the successor to Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq was a paramount issue as the Abbasids had threatened to kill whomever was designated as the next Imam:
The question of the successor to the Imam (Jafar al-Sadiq) having been made particularly difficult by the fact that the Abbasid caliph al-Mansur had decided to scourge to death whoever was to be chosen officially by the Imam as his successor thereby hoping to put an end to the Shiite movement.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr (Ideals and Realities of Islam, 165-166)
The following extensive report, by Ja‘far ibn Mansur al-Yaman (d. 960), is among the earlier sources that cover Ismail’s purported death and funeral. In this account, the Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq takes unusual measures to have numerous people watch the funeral of Isma‘il and testify that Isma‘il has died. This is done in order to convince the ‘Abbasid Caliph that the successor of Imam Ja‘far has died and thus spare Isma‘il from ‘Abbasid persecution. A few days later, Isma‘il was seen alive in Basra and this was reported to the ‘Abbasid Caliph. However, the Imam Ja‘far was able to produce witnesses that Isma‘il has died and he was saved from harm.
And also among those things which prove the Imamat of Isma‘il b. Ja‘far is the fact that when he died, Ja‘far left his body remain covered in his house for three days. His face was left uncovered, and the people who came in could recognize him – the Hashimites and the non-Hashimites, the residents of Madina, and the visitors from elsewhere. Imam Ja‘far himself asked those who came to express their condolence to him: “Is not this my son Isma‘il?” And those who saw him had no choice but to admit this without hesitation. Then he took the signature of the visitor, as to what he had seen. He did this until in Madina all the Hashimites, local people and visitors, had given their signatures.
The body was then taken out to the Baqi cemetery on the fourth day, still with the face exposed. From time to time the Imam [Ja‘far] caused it to be laid on the ground, kissed it, and said: “By God, the death of Isma‘il does not hurt me so much as what I have promised him.” He made the whole crowd which was with him to witness his burial, and even took signatures from those who were not present before the body was carried about. He did this three times, and on the fourth he had the body placed in the grave. He went through the ceremony in the usual way, and those present could give testimony of having seen him [Isma‘il] buried in their presence.
[Twelver sources also report the above scene of Isma‘il’s funeral and Imam Ja‘far asking numerous witnesses to confirm multiple times that it was the face of his son – see al-Mufid, Kitab al-Irshad, 431; Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, 47:254.]
The local spies wrote about all this to al-Mansur [the second ‘Abbasid Caliph]. And Imam Ja‘far also sent a letter to him, informing him of his bereavement. The ‘Abbasids [had] sent spies to watch Imam Ja‘far, in order to find out who was appointed as his successor, so that he might be murdered. When the news [about the appointment of Isma‘il] came to him, he became worried. And they [the spies] were watching Isma‘il, plotting to seize him. Then came the news of his death, and the Caliph was relieved from his anxiety.
But only a few days passed before he received a report that a man in Basra, a cripple of about sixty years, was sitting once at the door of his shop in the bazaars of the town, plaiting a basket of palm leaves, when a young man passed by, in appearance and dress looking like Isma‘il b. Ja‘far. A crowed of men surrounded him, all greeting him, and asking for protection. When the cripple, who was a Shi‘ite, a follower of Imam Ja‘far, saw him, he began to shout: ‘O descendant of the Messenger of God, stretch thy hand to me so that God may stretch His to thee.’ The young man returned, seized his hand, and brought him down from his shop. Then the cripple walked along with him a distance, leaving him later, and returned to his place healthy and straight in stature. People began to crowd around him, asking him who it was who healed him. And he replied: ‘Isma‘il b. Ja‘far b. Muhammad.’
Thus the spies of the caliph wrote about Isma‘il being dead, and also Ja‘far al-Sadiq wrote about his bereavement. And when the caliph read the latest news, he said: ‘Verily, the trickery of the sons Abu Kabsha will never cease until they perish to the last man.’ Then he immediately summoned Imam Ja‘far, who was brought before him. When he appeared before the caliph, the latter produced his own letter, and the report of the spies, and, showing to Imam Ja‘far his own note, asked him: ‘Is not this in their own handwriting, the letter informing me about Isma‘il’s death?’ The Imam replied: ‘yes’. Then the caliph produced the report of his spies about the events which took place in Basra. The Imam also produced the testimony of those who witnessed the death and the burial of his son. When the caliph saw these documents, his anger subsided. He then summoned a number of the Hashimites who were with him, and they testified what they had seen, and acknowledged their signatures.
Ja‘far ibn Mansur al-Yaman [d. 960], (Asrar al-Nutuqa, tr. Ivanow in Ismaili Tradition Concerning the Rise of the Fatimids, 275-276)
The Twelver Shi‘i hadith literature bears witness to the fact that people saw Mawlana Isma‘il after his alleged death
When faced with reports that Ismail was reportedly seen alive after his supposed funeral, the Twelver scholar Shaykh as-Saduq, who above was quoted saying that God changed His mind because He was unaware Ismail would die, now produces hadiths where the Imam Ja‘far allegedly says that a demon was appearing in the form of his son Isma‘il:
قال الوليد بن صبيح : جاء ني رجل فقال لي: تعال حتى اريك أين الرجل؟ قال: فذهبت معه قال: فجاء ني إلى قوم يشربون فيهم إسماعيل بن جعفر فخرجت مغموما، فجئت إلى الحجر فاذا إسماعيل بن جعفر متعلق بالبيت يبكي، قد بل أستار الكعبة بدموعه، فرجعت أشتد فاذا إسماعيل جالس مع القوم، فرجعت فاذا هو آخذ بأستار الكعبة قدبلها بدموعه قال: فذكرت ذلك لابي عبدالله فقال: لقد ابتلي ابني بشيطان يتمثل في صورته
Al-Walid ibn Sabih said: “A man came to me and said, ‘Come, and I will show you where the man is.’ And so I went with him, and he brought to a group of people who were drinking. Isma‘il ibn Ja‘far was amongst them! I fled away in anxiety, and came to the hijr [in the Holy Mosque of Mekkah], and there was Isma‘il ibn Ja‘far, clinging to the Sacred House and weeping, almost flooding the covering of the Ka’bah in tears. And so I went back, stronger this time, and saw Isma‘il sitting with the people. And then I went back again, and there was Isma‘il grabbing the cover of the Ka’bah, covering it with tears. I told Abu ‘Abdullah [as-Sadiq] about this, to which he said: ‘My son is being tormented by a demon which takes his form.’”
(Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar 47:270; Al-Mazandaran, Al-Manaqib 1:267; As-Saduq, Kamal al-Din 1:70)
إن شيطانا قد ولع بابني إسماعيل يتصور في صورته ليفتن به الناس وإنه لا يتصور في صورة نبي ولا وصي نبي ، فمن قال لك من الناس: إن إسماعيل ابني حي لم يمت ، فإنما ذلك الشيطان تمثل له في صورة إسماعيل ، مازلت ابتهل إلى الله في إسماعيل ابني أن يحييه لي ويكون القيم من بعدي فأبى ربي ذلك و إن هذا شيء ليس إلى الجرل منا يضعه حيث يشاء إنما ذلك عهد من الله عز و جل يعهده إلى من يشاء فشاء الله أن يكون إبني موسى أبي أن يكون إسماعيل.
Indeed, Satan has become passionately fond of my son Isma‘il, and has appeared in his image in order to create chaos amongst the people. But he cannot take the form of a prophet, nor the successor of a prophet. And so whenever the people say that my son Isma‘il is alive and has not died, then this is nothing but Satan, manifesting himself in Isma‘il’s form.
(Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar 47:270)
Of course, the existence of the above hadiths in Twelver books raised the question of why they are there in the first place. Two possibilities present themselves: a) either Imam Isma‘il was seen after his alleged death — because he was actually alive — and his father Imam al-Sadiq actually made these statements; or b) these hadith are not genuine. If they are genuine, then it would be logical to conclude the Imam made such statements under practicing taqiyya — so as to continue to protect his son’s life, after the meticulously staged death and funeral he arranged for that very purpose.
Even if Isma‘il had died before his father, that does not preclude Ismail’s son from becoming Imam on Imam Sadiq’s death and indeed the succession of Imamat has continued through Muhammad ibn Isma‘il and in his lineage up to the present Imam
Muhammad was the eldest son of Isma‘il who had at least one other son named ‘Ali. He was also the eldest grandson of the Imam al-Sadiq and, according to Isma‘ili tradition, was twenty-six years old at the time of the latter’s death. Furthermore, all sources agree that he was older than his uncle Musa by about eight years… He was the imam of the Mubarakiyya and the eldest male member of the Imam al-Sadiq’s family, after the death of his uncle ‘Abd Allah al-Aftah. As such, he enjoyed a certain degree of esteem and seniority in this Fatimid branch of the ‘Alid family… It was probably then, not long after al-Sadiq’s death, that Muhammad left Medina for the east and went into hiding, henceforth acquiring the epithet al- Maktum, the Hidden. As a result, he was saved from persecution by the Abbasids, while continuing to maintain close contacts with the Mubarakiyya, who like most other radical Shi‘i groups of the time were centred in Kufa. Different sources mention various localities and regions as Muhammad’s final destination, but it is certain that he first went to southern Iraq and then to Persia.
Farhad Daftary, (The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines, 2nd Edition, 95)
Mawlana Isma‘il had, during his own lifetime, already appointed his eldest son Muhammad ibn Isma‘il as his successor and the Imam after him
It is evident that Isma‘il was not present in Medina when his father died, but that he had designated his successor… A second group of the Shi‘i Imamis affirmed Isma‘il’s death had occurred in the lifetime of his father and now recognized his eldest son Muhammad b. Isma‘il as their Imam.
Farhad Daftary, (The Ismailis: An Illustrated History, 64)
Isma‘il never left this world without leaving in his stead his son, who was of mature age, and that the Imamat had been handed over to him by the Command of God, and His inspiration of him. And that he, Isma‘il b. Ja‘far, when the desire of God became known to him, received an inspiration to hand over the authority to his son Muhammad. He then summoned the dignitaries, and those specially trusted amongst his followers, and handed it over to him in the presence of the chosen ones alone, in secret, in order not to expose him to danger…He, Muhammad b. Isma‘il, was at that time a grown up, 14 years of age. At such age witness is acceptable from a man, according to law. He [Imam Isma‘il] did this in anticipation of the calamities and the attack of the infidels which were to befall him.
Ja‘far ibn Mansur al-Yaman, (Asrar al-Nutuqa, tr. Ivanow in Ismaili Tradition Concerning the Rise of the Fatmids, 296)
And just as the Imamat of Isma‘il was handed over to him by the Command of God and His inspiration of the one who preceded him, so also was it handed over to his son by the Command of God and His inspiration, as is already narrated concerning how it happened in the past ages, and how the past prophets and Imams acted. Both we and you admit the tradition that when Isma‘il was about to die, he summoned his son [Muhammad b. Isma‘il] and his followers, and handed over the Imamat to him, in their presence, under the supervision of his father [Imam Ja‘far]. He entrusted the testimony concerning the position of his son to one of his hujjats [high ranking da‘i]… And Imam Ja‘far presided over the assembly, as [the Prophet] Jacob presided over the assembly of Joseph when the latter was on his deathbed. Then came Muhammad b. Isma‘il by the command of God and His Inspiration of him. His da‘is dispersed, travelling in different provinces (jaza‘ir), and ordering the local people to carry on the da‘wah in his favour. The world became alive with da‘wah and his influence spread.
Ja‘far ibn Mansur al-Yaman, (Asrar al-Nutuqa, tr. Ivanow in Ismaili Tradition Concerning the Rise of the Fatimids, 297)
There are traces of Imam al-Sadiq’s appointment of both Imam Isma‘il and his son Imam Muhammad ibn Isma‘il in the extant Twelver Shi’i hadiths that are purportedly about Musa al-Kazim. Al-Kulayni reports a tradition where a companion of Musa named Yazid ibn Salit recalls an event where Imam al-Sadiq met Yazid and Yazid’s father on the way to pilgrimage. Kulayni reports that on this occasion, Imam al-Sadiq pointed to Musa as his successor, referring to his successor as the “Gate among the Gates of God”. Imam al-Sadiq also stated that the future Imam’s son and successor would be the future savior of the Ummah. When Yazid’s father asked Imam al-Sadiq whether the successor-Imam’s son, the promised savior, was already born, the Imam replied that he was born several years ago: “I asked him [the Imam]: ‘Is he already born (wa-hal wulida)?’ He said: ‘Yes and several years have passed for him (na’am wa-marat bihi sanun).'” (Usul al-Kafi, ed. ‘Ali Akbar al-Ghifari, 5th edition, 1984, Vol. 2, 180, Hadith No. 14: Read the Arabic Text). In other words, Imam al-Sadiq indicated that one of his sons would be his successor/heir and the heir-designate son already had his own son who had been born several years earlier. This proves that Imam al-Sadiq could not have designated Musa as his successor because Musa’s son and successor, ‘Ali al-Ridha, was born in 766 after the death of Imam al-Sadiq in 765. On the other hand, Imam Isma‘il’s son and successor, Muhammad ibn Isma‘il was born in 740 during the lifetime of Imam al-Sadiq. Therefore, the narration of al-Kulayni purportedly referring to Musa actually shows that Imam al-Sadiq designated Isma‘il as his successor and the Gate (bab) of God (which matches the Ismaili narrations quoted above) and also designated Isma‘il’s living son, Muhammad ibn Isma‘il as the successor of Isma‘il.
‘Abd al-Karim al-Shahrastani, the Sunni Muslim historian of religions, agrees that the Imamat remains among the descendants of Isma‘il
These [the Isma‘ilis] hold that Isma‘il was the designated Imam after Ja‘far, as the sons of Ja‘far also agreed. They differ among themselves, however, as to whether or not he died during the lifetime of his father. Some of them 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. Some, on the other hand, say that he really did die. Designation, however, cannot be withdrawn, and has the advantage that the Imamat remains in the descendants of the person designation, to the exclusion of others.
‘Abd al-Karim al-Shahristani, (Muslim Sects and Divisions, 144)
Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani, the Fatimid hujjat and dā‘ī, offers three deductive arguments to prove that the Imamat only continues in the progeny of Mawlana Isma‘il
What follows is quoted from Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani, Master of the Age, 104-106:
Argument #1: “Subsequent to Jaʿfar b. Muḥammad’s designation of Ismāʿīl, with respect to claims about his having designated another of his sons after the death of Ismāʿīl, the situation had three possible outcomes:
Outcome #1: Either he designated another of his sons following the death of Ismāʿīl, as has been reported, and Ismāʿīl had a son; or
Outcome #2: he designated him and Ismāʿīl did not have son; or
Outcome #3: he did not designate another after having issued his previous designation of Ismāʿīl.
Conclusion of Outcome #1: If the designation [of another son] was made and Ismāʿīl had a son, Jaʿfar would have issued a decision contrary to what God revealed should he have thereby given the inheritance of Ismāʿīl, despite his having a son, to his brothers without a cause for depriving the son… But to imagine something like that of Jaʿfar is inconceivable due to the validity of his imamate and his infallibility. If that is inconceivable, what is attributed to him concerning the designating of another of his sons, after having previously designated Ismāʿīl, is false.
Conclusion of Outcome #2: If he were to have designated him and Ismāʿīl had no son, and yet [he had done so] with the knowledge and empowerment of God, there would have been a truncation of genealogical descent. But God’s knowledge and power would not have permitted a designation in favour of a person whose line would end, given that the Imamat is preserved in progeny. That requires that Jaʿfar did not designate Ismāʿīl. However, since we have found that he did designate him [Isma’il], we know that he was not without progeny and lineal succession. And if he was not without progeny and lineal succession, that the Imamat belonged to him and to his progeny is proven.
Conclusion of Outcome #3: If, however, Jaʿfar did not designate anyone after having designated Ismāʿīl, the Imamat belonged to Ismāʿīl. If the Imamat of Ismāʿīl is established fact, that he had progeny is proven because the Imamat is not merited by someone who has no lineal successor since it is preserved through lineal succession. If his progeny is proven, that the Imamat belongs to his offspring is also proven. The situation was confined to these three possibilities and yet the three possibilities all require that the Imamat belong to Ismāʿīl and to his descendants. Thus, the Imamat is proven to have been Ismāʿīl’s and his son’s. Therefore, the Imamat resided in Ismāʿīl and in his descendants.
Argument #2: We hold that since the Imamat resided in the succession of Jaʿfar, the imam would not have designated anyone he regarded as suitable other than a person he knew to be appropriate for it. The first thing to be considered fitting of an Imam in regard to his having the Imamat is that the person not be infertile. Next, since a person without a successor does not merit the Imamat, he should have a lineal successor and progeny. Because the imam Jaʿfar designated Ismāʿīl, from that fact we determine that Ismāʿīl had a son and successor; otherwise he would not have designated him. Since he had a successor, his successor was more worthy of the imamate than his uncles. Therefore, the Imamat belonged to Ismāʿīl, and to his successor, to the exclusion of the rest of them.
Argument #3: “Given that the Imam is infallible, never having made a mistake, and given that, if Ismāʿīl had not had a son nor successor nor descendants, it would make Jaʿfar’s designation of him a mistake, since he was designated, with respect to the infallibility of the Imam, that requires that Ismāʿīl had a successor and descendants. If he had descendants and a successor, his successor is more deserving of the Imamat than his uncles. Therefore, the Imamat after Ismāʿīl belonged to his son, and to his descendants, to the exclusion of everyone else.
Earliest Shi‘i hadiths lack the mention of Twelve Imams but instead predict the Fatimid Isma‘ili lineage of Imāms
The main proof for the Twelver line of Imams has always been the large number of Sunni narrations prophesising the coming of twelve Imams (these hadiths where the Prophet purportedly says that twelve commanders or khalifs will come after him). In Shaykh as-Saduq’s Kamal ad-Din, he continually argues against the Ismailis and Zaydis and other Shi’a sects on the basis of the “Twelve Imam” narrations. However, the pre-Occultation Twelver Shi’a hadith books have a striking lack of narrations about “Twelve Imams.” The two main, surviving works of Twelver Shi’ism which pre-date the Occultation of the Twelfth Imam of the Twelvers are the Basa’ir al-Darajat of Al-Qummi and the Kitab al-Mahasin of al-Barqi. The former book is an extensive tract on the fada’il (noble attributes) of the Imams; yet nowhere in it do we find a single reference to there only being Twelve Imams [there are only 5 scattered references to 12 muhaddathun in chapters not at all related to the number of Imams]. Kitab al-Mahasin is a text mainly dealing with issues of akhlaq (ethics), but does contain an extensive introductory discussion on Imamat. Once again, one finds absolutely no reference to Twelve Imams in this text, even in the chapter on the significance of the number 12.
The only other books that were purportedly compiled before the Occultation are known as the “four hundred source books.” These source books are the basis for the Twelver Shi’a hadith literature; scholars who authored one of these books are usually held in the highest esteem by Twelver Shi’a scholars. In one of these texts, we find the most fascinating reference to the number of Imams. This quote is found in the Asl of Muhammad ibn al-Muthanna al-Hadrami in which we read:
ان منا بعد الرسول صم سبعة اوصياء ائمة مفترضة طاعتهم سابعهم القائم انشاء له ان الله عزيز حكيم يقدم ما يشاء ويؤخر ما يشاء وهو العزيز الحكيم ثم بعد القائم احد عشر مهديا من ولد الحسين فقلت من السابع جعلني الله فداك امرك قلت ثلث مراة قال ثم بعدي امامكم ثم قائمكم.
Imam as-Sadiq said: Indeed, after the Prophet there will be seven inheritors, Imams, upon whom obedience has been made obligatory. The seventh of them is the Qa’im, if Allah the Mighty and Wise wills he will come soon, and if He wills he will come later, and He is the Mighty and Wise. Then, after the Qa’im there will be eleven Mahdis from the progeny of Husayn.” His companion said to him: “May my soul be your sacrifice! Tell me who this Seventh Imam will be? He said this three times. Finally, Imam as-Sadiq said “After me will be your Imam, and then your Qa’im.
(Al-‘Usul as-Sitta ‘Ashr, Asl of Muhammad ibn al-Muthanna al-Hadrami, 90-91)
The fulfillment of the above hadith is the exact unfolding of the Isma‘ili lineage of Imams:
The “Seven Inheritors (awsiya) and the Qa’im” are the first seven Isma‘ili Imams:
- Imam Mawlana ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib
- Imam Mawlana al-Husayn
- Imam Mawlana ‘Ali Zayn al-Abidin
- Imam Mawlana Muhammad al-Baqir
- Imam Mawlana Ja‘far al-Sadiq
- Imam Mawlana Isma‘il ibn Ja‘far
- Imam Mawlana Muhammad ibn Isma‘il [the first Qa’im in the Cycle of Imamat]
The “Eleven Mahdis from the Progeny of al-Husayn” are the next eleven Isma‘ili Imams – including the three concealed Imams and the eight Fatimid Imam-Caliphs:
- Imam Mawlana ‘Abdullah ibn Muhammad al-Wafi
- Imam Mawlana Ahmad ibn ‘Abdullah al-Taqi
- Imam Mawlana al-Husayn ibn Ahmad al-Radi
- Imam Mawlana ‘Abdullah al-Mahdi bi-llah
- Imam Mawlana Abu’l-Qasim Muhammad al-Qa’im bi-amr Allah
- Imam Mawlana Isma‘il al-Mansur bi amr Allah
- Imam Mawlana Ma‘add al-Mu‘izz li-Din Allah
- Imam Mawlana Nizar al-Aziz i-llah
- Imam Mawlana Mansur al-Hakim bi-amr Allah
- Imam Mawlana ‘Ali al-Zahir li-Din Allah
- Imam Mawlana Ma‘add al-Mustansir bi-llah
Interestingly, the Fatimid Imam-Caliphs always referred to themselves and their ancestors as the mahdis and as the Mahdi-ist Imams:
The phrase khulafāʾ al-rāshidīn al-mahdiyyīn, ‘the rightly guided mahdī-ist caliphs’, was a part of the very first Fatimid khuṭba. [The Fatimid Imam-Caliph] Al-Qāʾim in 302 asked for God’s blessings on al-khulafāʾ al-rāshidīn al-mahdiyyīn. In [the Imam-Caliph] al-Manṣūr’s first khuṭba he uses the words ibn al-mahdiyyīn ‘son of the mahdīs’ for his grandfather. Later in the same sermon he cites al-hudāt al-mahdiyyīn, ‘the rightly guided guides’. In a subsequent khuṭba he speaks of [the Imam-Caliph] al-Mahdī as wārith faḍl al-aʾimma al-mahdiyyīn min ābāʾihi al-khulafāʾ al-rāshidīn, ‘the inheritor of the excellence of the mahdī-ist imams from his forefathers, the rightly guided caliphs’.
Paul Walker, (Orations of the Fatimid Caliphs: Festival Sermons of the Ismaili Imams, 70)
With the exception of the Nizari Ismaili Imamat, all other Shi‘i Imamat lineages have hidden Imams. This contradicts the Qur’anic definition of Imamat which requires the Imam always be present and manifest (mubin) in the world
Mohib Ebrahim’s article, Towards Validating Manifest Imamat from the Holy Qur’an, established that one necessary attribute of Imamat, as defined by the Qur’an, is that the Imam must always be mubin (manifest) and present in the world in physical form, not hidden, in each generation in order to fulfill his mandate. Regarding the meaning of mubin in the verse “And We have encompassed all things in the Manifest Imam (imamin mubin)” (36:12), Allamah Nasir al-Din Nasir Hunzai writes that:
In the sense of mubīn, the Imam is manifest and speaking in two forms: corporeal and luminous. That is, he is manifest both in human form and in the luminous form. Similarly, he speaks in both the physical hudūd as well as in the spiritual hudūd.
Allamah Nasir al-Din Nasir Hunzai, (Recognition of the Imam, Vol. 1, 31)
Thus, the true Imam is always mubin – meaning that he is present in physical form and physically speaking to and guiding his followers. Any Imam that is ghayb (occulted) or mastur (hidden) from all of his followers cannot, by definition, be the manifest Imam (al-imam al-mubin). With the unique exception of the Ismaili Imamat, all other Shī‘ī Imamat lineages – including those of the Twelvers and the Tayyibi Bohras — have ceased. All these Shia hold their Imams have been occulted (ghayb) or concealed (mastur) for 900-1,200 years. On this note, the historian Wladmir Ivanow concludes that:
If an Imam dies without leaving a son as his successor, it can only mean that not only he personally, but the whole line of his ancestors were not the true Imams. Thus the discontinuation of the line of the Twelvers proved that at least the last several of them were not genuine.
Wladmir Ivanow, (Brief Survey of the Evolution of Ismailism, Holland, 1952, 9)
Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani argues that if a lineage Imams terminates, then that lineage never possessed the Imamat in the first place and, consequently, the true Imamat must belong in another, ongoing, lineage:
The nobility of the Imamat and the crown of designation and appointment require, if it were to have been in any one of them [non-Isma‘ili lineages], that the authority of the Imamat continue in the lineal succession of the one who had a lineal successor. If that succession breaks off for them, while at the same time the existence of the Imamat in the lineal succession of Jaʿfar is well established, its authority rests with the lineal succession of Ismāʿīl, and it is thus correct that the Imamat belonged to Ismāʿīl and to his lineal succession. Therefore, the Imamat belongs to Ismāʿīl and to his lineal descendants to the exclusion of the rest of them.
Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani, (Master of the Age, 112)
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV is the forty-ninth hereditary Imam of Shi‘i Islam in direct, documented, lineal descent from Mawlana Isma‘il ibn Ja‘far al-Sadiq. The Aga Khan’s Lineage is Historically documented in this article. As the only present (hadir), manifest (mubin) and living (mawjud) hereditary Imam, with a documented and validated lineage, Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni’s very existence is itself confirmation of his Imamat and that of his ancestors
To learn more about the succession of Isma’ili Imams, from Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib to the present Imam, Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni, please read our article, Light upon Light: Glimpses into the Succession of the Shia Ismaili Imams.
The different historical lineages of the Shi‘i Imams to the present day
Remarks by the present Aga Khan about the Shia and Ismaili Imamats
Interviewer: When did this turning-point as far as the Ismailis come and why was it necessary?
Aga Khan IV: It was the sixth generation after Ali where the Imam of the time, called Ja‘far Sadiq, had four sons. Isma‘il was the eldest, and the Sevener Shia – the Isma‘ilis are Sevener Shia – followed the branch of the family led by Isma‘il, and that’s why they are called Isma‘ilis….
Interviewer: And your own descent as head of the Isma‘ilis is from…?
Aga Khan IV: Is from Isma‘il.
Interviewer: And where do you rank?
Aga Khan IV: I am the forty-ninth.
Interviewer: You are the forty-ninth Imam?
Aga Khan IV: Yes, Yes.
BBC Radio 4 Interview with Michael Charlton, September 6, 1979
Interviewer: You are called the living Imam, what exactly does that mean?
Aga Khan IV: Well the Shia history has followed the same sort of historical developments all hereditary offices have followed, where there have been differences of opinion on who was the legitimate successor to the predecessor, whether it was a secular or religious office. In the case of the Shia Muslims, the Shia branch of Islam split and one branch of the Shia Muslims accepted the concept of the Imam in hiding, the invisible Imam, because the twelfth Imam disappeared as a very young child, and our branch of Shia Islam, in that particular generation of the family, accepted the legitimacy of the eldest son, Isma‘il, as being the appointed Imam to succeed and that is why they are known as Ismailis. And that branch of the family has continued today hereditarily and that is why there is a living Imam for the Ismaili Muslims.
CBC Man Alive Interview, October 8, 1986
Interviewer: What makes the Ismailis different from the mainstream Shiite Islam?Aga Khan IV: Probably that there is a living Imam who traces his family back to Hazrat Ali. The majority of the Shia today are known as the Twelver Shia and they believe in the hidden Imam.
Independent Television ITV Interview, June 4, 1985
The leadership is hereditary, handed down by Ali’s descendants, and the Isma‘ilis are the only Shi‘a Muslims to have a living Imam, namely myself. The other Shia — the Twelvers — revere a “hidden” Imam who will return on the Day of Judgement to take part in the final judgement. It is the presence of the living Imam that makes our Imamat unique.
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV
“The Power of Wisdom”, Politique Internationale, March 1, 2010
In time, the Shia were also sub-divided over this question, so that today the Ismailis are the only Shia community who, throughout history, have been led by a living, hereditary Imam in direct descent from the Prophet.
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV
Address to both Houses of the Canadian Parliament and Senate, February 27, 2014
Contemporary scholarship on the present Aga Khan’s ancestry
Contemporary historians and scholars have confirmed the present Aga Khan’s claim to be the direct descendant of Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib through Mawlana Isma’il ibn Ja’far al-Sadiq.
His Highness the Honourable Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, is held in the highest esteem by all sections of the Persian and the Indian communities. Through not a ruling prince he is a descendant of the ruling princes of Central Asia in the Middle Ages. He is, as it were, an uncrowned prince among the noblemen of India. His ancestry for forty-eight generations is traced, through the Fatimite Caliphs of Egypt, to Isma‘il, the son of Ja‘far al-Sadiq, the sixth Imam and through him back to Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Apostle of God. He is thus an hereditary Imam by a long descent.
Naoroj Maneckji Dumasia, (A Brief History of the Aga Khan: With An Account of His Predecessors, the Ismailian Princes or Benefatimite Caliphs of Egypt, 1903, 10)
The Aga Khan comes from the stock of the Banu-Fatimid Caliphs, for he traces his descent through [Hasan]‘ala-dhikrihi al-salaam, who was a direct lineal descendant from Isma‘il, the seventh Imam, through Nizar, a son of Mustansir (one of the Fatimid-Caliphs of Egypt). The Aga’s ancient and splendid pedigree was accepted by Shah Fateh Ali Shah, for otherwise he would not have given the hand of his daughter and a government to Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah’s grandfather, who was then a mere youth.
Naoroj Maneckji Dumasia, (A Brief History of the Aga Khan: With An Account of His Predecessors, the Ismailian Princes or Benefatimite Caliphs of Egypt, 1903, 56)
There are few persons throughout the wide world who do not know of the Aga Khan’s historic nobility and pontific heritage. All the same, a short account of his family would interest millions of Muslims and non-Muslims. The Aga Khans are direct descendants of the great Arabian Prophet through his son-in-law and cousin, the chivalrous Ali; and his beloved daughter Fatima.
Syed M.H. Zaidi, (A Short Biographical Sketch of Aga Khan III)
We have traced the line of the Imams of the Shia Imami Ismailis, known also as the Nizari branch of Ismailis, from Ali to the present Agha Khan, and we have seen the sect establish itself in India as one of the important components of Islam in that country.
J.N. Hollister, (The Shi’a of India, 1953, 378)
Most recently, Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni declared, at the 2005 Amman Conference, that he was the forty-ninth hereditary Imam in direct lineal descent from the Prophet Muhammad. His letter was read to the leadership and representatives of the Sunni, Twelver, Zaydi, and Ibadi madhahibs of Islam.
…the Shia Ismaili Muslims of whom I am the 49th hereditary Imam in direct lineal descent from the first Shia Imam, Hazrat ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib through his marriage to Bibi Fatimat-az-Zahra, our beloved Prophet’s daughter… Our historic adherence is to the Jafari Madhhab and other Madhahib of close affinity, and it continues, under the leadership of the hereditary Ismaili Imam of the time.”
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV
Message to The International Islamic Conference, July 4, 2005 http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/7426/
It is worth noting that the Amman Conference was attended by the representatives of the highest religious authorities of Sunni and Shi’i communities including the Shaykh al-Azhar, the Ayatullah Ali Sistani, the Ayatullah Khamenei, and the Grand Muftis of several nations, and not one person disputed or challenged the Aga Khan’s direct lineal descent from the Prophet Muhammad. In fact, the Aga Khan’s lineal descent is affirmed and acknowledged during his visits to several Muslim countries including Syria, Egypt, Dubai, Russia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Afghanistan, and many others who collectively constitute the vast majority of the Muslim peoples in the world today.
We conclude with the remarks of Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni which emphasize the continuity of the Imamat throughout history and his role as the Living Imam in fulfilling the mandate of the institution:
The Imam is a transitory being, who forms a link between the past and the future. For this reason, ensuring the continuity of the institution and its ability to fulfil its role is what my life is all about.
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV, [Translation]
‘The Confessions Of The Aga Khan’, Paris Match, February 3, 2005
Acknowledgements: Ismaili Gnosis would like to thank Shaykh Seth ‘Abd al-Hakeem Carney (1979 – 2007) whose book The Proofs for the Imamah of Mawlana Isma‘il ibn Ja‘far (2004, unpublished) served as the basis for this article, and Mohib Ebrahim for his tireless editorial assistance.