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Special Deputyship

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Special deputiship (Arabic: النیابة الخاصّة, al-Nīyāba al-Khāṣṣa) is the appointment of someone as a deputy of the Imam al-Mahdi (a) in order for people to contact him when it is not feasible for them to directly contact the Imam (a). In these circumstances, the Imam (a) appoints particular persons as his deputies.

The special deputy should be introduced to people either by the Imam (a) himself or by a previous special deputy. Some historians take "niyaba" to imply absolute succession, and they believe that only Imam al-Mahdi's (a) special deputies during the Minor Occultation, known as the Four Deputies ("al-nuwwab al-arba'a"), count as "na'ib" (special deputy) and absolute successors of the Imam (a).

According to this view, even the highest-ranking representatives of the Imams (a) in the period of their presence do not count as their absolute surrogates and special deputies, because people still had direct contacts with the Imams (a) in those periods. Thus, they are referred to as the Imam's (a) ambassadors or representatives (wakil).

The special deputies of Imam al-Mahdi (a) were four people:

When the Minor Occultation began, a number of the Shi'as and certain companions of Imam al-Mahdi (a) pretended that they were special deputies of Imam (a). Some of them were mentioned in a letter by Imam al-Mahdi (a) in which false deputies are reproached and cursed. The false claim to the position of special deputyship was not limited to the period of the Minor Occultation. Some people falsely claimed to be special deputies of Imam al-Mahdi (a) in the period of Major Occultation as well.

Notion

The term, "nāʾib" (Arabic: نائب) is used to mean a successor, a surrogate, or a deputy. According to one view, the use of the term to mean bab, absolute representative, and the only mediator between Imam al-Mahdi (a) and the Shi'as is restricted to the four deputies in the period of the Minor Occultation, and the representatives of the Imams (a) during their presence were not called "na'ib", because there was still a direct contact between the Imams (a) and the Shi'as although those people served as representatives or babs of the Imams (a). Thus, the highest-ranking representatives of the Imams (a) in the period of their presence do not count as "na'ib", successors, or absolute surrogates of the Imam (a).

One piece of evidence for this view is the use of the term, "wakīl" (Arabic: وکیل, representative), for 'Uthman b. Sa'id in the period of Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a), and the use of the term, "na'ib" (deputy), for him in the period of Imam al-Mahdi (a) by Qutb al-Din al-Rawandi.

Imam al-Mahdi's (a) Special Deputies

Main article: Four Deputies

Four companions of the Imams (a) were appointed as special deputies of Imam al-Mahdi (a) in the period of the Minor Occultation. On behalf of Imam al-Mahdi (a), they were successively in contact with the Imam's (a) representatives in the most distant areas of the Islamic territories and delivered the messages and requests of the Shi'as to the Imam (a) and the replies of the Imam (a) to the Shi'as.

The first special deputy of the Imam al-Mahdi (a) was 'Uthman b. Sa'id al-'Amri. After his death in 265/878, he was succeeded by his son, Muhammad b. 'Uthman as the second special deputy of the Imam (a). Muhammad b. 'Uthman served as the special deputy of Imam al-Mahdi (a) for forty years. Husayn b. Ruh al-Nawbakhti and 'Ali b. Muhammad al-Samuri were the third and the fourth special deputies of Imam al-Mahdi (a) who served in this position for twenty one and three years, respectively. When the period of the Minor Occultation ended in 329/941, the period of special deputies ended as well.

Pretenders of the Position of Special Deputy

Throughout the history, some companions of the Imams (a) and other Shi'as pretended to be special deputies of Imam al-Mahdi (a). Some of them are mentioned in a letter from Imam al-Mahdi (a) in which pretenders of the position of special deputy are reproached and cursed.

Al-Shalmaghani

Main article: al-Shalmaghani

Muhammad b. 'Ali b. Abi l-'Azaqir, known as al-Shalmaghani, was a companion of Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a) and a Shiite muhaddith in Baghdad in the period of the Minor Occultation. He is mentioned in a letter of Imam al-Mahdi (a) to Husayn b. Ruh al-Nawbakhti in which pretenders of the position of "niyaba" (special deputy) are reproached and cursed and the Shi'as are warned not to follow them.

Al-Shari'i

Main article: al-Hasan al-Shari'i

Abu Muhammad al-Hasan al-Shari'i was a companion of Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a). He was the first person who pretended to be a special deputy, attributed false remarks to the Shiite Imams (a), and exaggerated about them. He is mentioned in a letter by Imam al-Mahdi (a) in which pretenders of the position of special deputy are reproached and cursed.

Muhammad b. Nusayr al-Namiri

Muhammad b. Nusayr al-Namiri was a companion of Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a). After al-Shari'i, he pretended to be the special deputy. His claim led Muhammad b. 'Uthman al-'Amri, the special deputy of Imam al-Mahdi (a), to curse him.

Muhammad b. 'Ali b. Balal

Abu Tahir Muhammad b. 'Ali b. Balal was a Shiite scholar of jurisprudence, theology, and hadith, a companion of Imam al-Hadi (a), and a representative of the Eleventh Imam (a). He was such a great scholar that even al-Husayn b. Ruh al-Nawbakhti, the third special deputy of Imam al-Mahdi (a), consulted him with regard to some theological problems and was considered as one of his students. Another student of his was 'Ali b. Ibrahim al-Qummi. He did not accept the position of 'Uthman b. Sa'id as the special deputy and pretended that he was the special deputy of Imam al-Mahdi (a).

Ahmad b. Hilal al-Karkhi

Ahmad b. Hilal al-Karkhi, known as "al-'Abarta'i", was a companion of the Tenth and the Eleventh Imams (a). Al-Shaykh al-Tusi mentioned him among the pretenders of the position of special deputy. He accepted the position of 'Uthman b. Sa'id as the special deputy, but denied the "niyaba" of his son, Muhammad b. 'Uthman. In a letter from Imam al-Mahdi (a) to al-Husayn b. Ruh al-Nawbakhti, Ahmad b. Hilal is cursed by the Imam (a) because of his denial of the Muhammad b. 'Uthman's "niyaba". However, in his al-Fihrist, al-Shaykh al-Tusi has only pointed to his being a Ghali (that is, a person who exaggerates about Imams), without mentioning his claim to be a special deputy. Al-Najjashi believes that Ahmad b. Hilal was reproached by Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a). There were correspondences between him and Imam al-'Askari (a).

Al-Husayn b. Mansur al-Hallaj

Al-Husayn b. Mansur al-Hallaj was a well-known Sufi in the 3rd/9th and 4th/10th centuries. His conflicts with the Abbasid Caliphate and his execution on the basis of a fatwa by Sunni jurists imply that he was an Imami or, at least, he had Shiite tendencies. He tried to gather the Shi'as around himself and, to some extent, he succeeded to gather a number of Shi'as who had Sufi tendencies, but Imami scholars in Qom and Baghdad strongly rejected his invitations.

Al-Hallaj's claim to be the special deputy of Imam al-Mahdi (a) and a letter he sent to people of Qom to follow him led Abu l-Hasan 'Ali b. al-Husayn b. Babawayh, the father of al-Shaykh al-Saduq and the authority of the Shi'as in Qom in the 4th/10th century, to tear the letter apart and strongly reproach al-Hallaj. He finally deported al-Hallaj from Qom.

Al-Hallaj also sent a letter to Abu Sahl al-Nawbakhti, the leader of the Shi'as in Baghdad, in which he claimed to be the special deputy of the Twelfth Imam (a) and invited the Shi'as of Baghdad to follow him. Abu Sahl opposed al-Hallaj's invitation. Al-Hallaj was eventually disgraced after he failed to meet al-Nawbakhti's request to show a miracle by turning the latter's white hair into black.

References