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- This article is about Minor Occultation' which is the first part of Imam al-Mahdi's Occultation. For more information on this concept, see Occultation of Imam al-Mahdi (aj).'
The Minor Occultation(Arabic: الغيبة الصغرى) refers to the period when Imam al-Mahdi (a) led a hidden life, but was in contact with his followers through The four deputies. This period started from 260/874 and ended in 329/940-1.
The Beginning of the Minor Occultation
Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari had very limited interactions with his followers, because the 'Abbasid caliph, al-Mu'tamid, had restricted the Imam's (a) contacts and activities and kept him under severe surveillance. As a result, most Shi'is were deprived of being directly in touch with the Imam (a) and could only contact him through a few select individuals. Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari was eventually martyred in 260/874.
According to the Imamiyya viewpoint, the last Imam is the Twelfth Imam (a). According to early Imamiyya sources, Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari did not appoint his son as his successor openly; rather, he introduced him secretly as the next Imam to some of his close companions. The reason for this was that al-Mu'tamid was looking for the Imam's son to arrest him, since he was aware of Shi'i beliefs about him and their anticipation for his uprising.
In Imamiyya hadith sources, the names and testimonies of several Shi'is who saw the son of Imam al-'Askari (a) are recorded. According to a hadith, reported by Muhammad b. 'Uthman, the second deputy of the twelfth Imam (a), Imam al-'Askari (a) gathered forty of his trusted followers and showed them his son.
After the martyrdom of Imam al-'Askari in 260/874, his son Imam al-Mahdi (a) performed the funeral prayer of his father. The Minor Occultation started on that day and continued until 329/940.
The Most Important Reason for the Minor Occultation
Because of the social and political restrictions and security threats that the Imams (a) were increasingly facing after the 'Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun, according to Shi'i hadith sources, the eleventh Imam (a) strived to protect his son, Imam al-Mahdi (a), after his birth. This is why he could not announce the news of his son's birth publicly and only informed some of his close companions, such as Abu Hashim al-Ja'fari and Ahmad b. Ishaq, and his sisters, Lady Hakima and Lady Khadija, of the birth of the Twelfth Imam (a).
The Imam's (a) relation with the Shi'a
The persecutions that the Imams (a) faced led them to adopt a new system for their relations with their followers. In this system, the relation between the Imams (a) and the Shi'a was basically established through a network of deputies and representatives. According to Shi'i sources, Imam al-Sadiq (a) was the first Imam who invented this secret system. Imam Hasan al-'Askari (a), too, used this system and was in contact with his followers through his deputies. The same system was used by the twelfth Imam (a), who was in contact with the Shi'a during the Minor Occultation through the Four Deputies.
The Four Deputies
- Main article: The Four Deputies
According to Shi'i hadiths, in the period of the Minor Occultation, the Twelfth Imam (a) was in contact with his followers through four deputies called sufara' (“ambassadors”). The first of these deputies was 'Uthman b. Sa'id al-'Amri, the second was his son Muhammad, the third al-Husayn b. Ruh al-Nawbakhti, and the fourth 'Ali b. Muhammad al-Samuri.
The Most important duty of these deputies was fulfilling the tasks that were previously done by the Imams (a) themselves, so that the Imams be protected against the persecutions of the Abbasids. The Imams (a) were under these persecutions since the time of al-Ma'mun, and the Twelfth Imam (s) faced the threat of persecutions more, because the belief of the majority of the Imamiyya was that the Twelfth Imam would destroy the rule of the oppressors.
While not revealing the name of the Imam (a) or his place of residence to anyone, the deputies had to be witnesses of the existence of the Imam (a) for his trusted followers. This can be inferred from a hadith quoted by al-Kulayni, according to which, one day, 'Abd Allah b. Ja'far al-Himyari asked the first deputy, 'Uthman b. Sa'id, whether he had seen the successor of the eleventh Imam (a). 'Uthman testified that he had seen him, but he added that people were prohibited from asking about his name, because if the government discovered his name, they would certainly try to detain the Imam (a).
The first deputy was able to make the Abbasid Caliph al-Mu'tamid think that the eleventh Imam (a) had passed away without leaving behind any successors. According to a report by al-Kulayni, this saved the Imamiyya from the persecution that they had long suffered from.
The activities of the deputies with regard to proving the imamate of the twelfth Imam (a) resulted also in protecting Imamiyya Shi'ism from further fragmentation. They cited the sayings of the Prophet (s) and the Imams (a) that indicated that the number of the Imams (a) would be twelve, and that the twelfth Imam (a) would go into an occultation.
The End of the Minor Occultation
According to the consensus of the Shi'a, after the demise of 'Ali b. Muhammad al-Samuri, the fourth deputy of Imam al-Mahdi (a), the period of direct deputyship came to an end, and there will be no specific deputies until the reappearance of the Imam (a). Thus, with the demise of the fourth deputy, the Minor Occultation of Imam al-Mahdi (a), which took seventy years, came to an end and the period of the Major Occultation started.
- The material for writing this article is mainly taken from غیبت صغراin Farsi wikishia.