Four Deputies

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The Four Deputies or Al-Nuwwāb al-Arbaʿa (Arabic: النُّوَّاب الْأَرْبَعَة), were four representatives or special deputies of Imam al-Mahdi (a) during the Age of Minor Occultation and provided the means of communication between Shi'a and Imam (a): Uthman b. Sa'id, Muhammad b. Uthman, Husayn b. Ruh and Ali b. Muhammad al-Samuri.

The Four Deputies were among very known and trustworthy companions of Imams (a) who were introduced one after another by Imam al-Mahdi (a), each through his previous deputy. The Four carried out the deputyship of Imam (a) for seventy years and delivered the messages and requests of Shi'as to Imam (a) and Imam's (a) answers to them to farthest places in the Islamic world through their agents. It was also among their duties to remove doubts about Imam al-Mahdi (a) and to hide the place of his living and apparent characteristics of Imam (a).

Special Deputyship

Special deputyship refers to the deputyship of a person by Imam (a) for connecting people with Imam (a) when it was impossible for people to have a direct relationship with Imam (a). In these situations, Imam (a) appointed certain people as his deputies, introduced the first one of them to people, and then the next deputies were introduced to people by the previous deputies.[1]

Introducing the Deputies

The activity of special deputies of Imam al-Mahdi (a) lasted from 260/874 until 329/941 (about seventy years) which was the Age of the Minor Occultation. In these years, four Shi'a, some of whom were distinguished people and companions of tenth and eleventh Imams (a) were appointed as the deputies and representatives of Imam al-Mahdi (a) and the links between Imam (a) and Shi'a. In these years, there were other agents in Islamic regions and cities who were representatives of the four deputies.[2]

'Uthman b. Sa'id al-'Amri

'Uthman b. Sa'id al-'Amri was the first special deputy of Imam al-Mahdi (a) and was titled "Samman", meaning oil-seller which was a cover for his religio-political activities; since he put anything he was supposed to deliver to Imam (a) in oil containers and delivered them to Imam (a).[3]

According to hadiths, Imam al-'Askari (a) showed his son Imam al-Mahdi (a) to forty companions of his, telling them to obey 'Uthman b. Sa'id during the occultation of the Twelfth Imam.[4] Moreover, in a meeting with people from Qom, Imam al-Mahdi (a) pointed to 'Uthman b. Sa'id’s deputyship and referred them to him.[5] 'Uthman b. Sa'id was Imam al-Mahdi’s (a) deputy until his death (for about six years).

Muhammad b. 'Uthman b. Sa'id al-'Amri

Muhammad b. 'Uthman was the second special deputy of Imam al-Mahdi (a). He (s) was first the deputy of Imam al-Mahdi (a) and then Imam's (a) delegate for forty years. After his father passed away, Muhammad (a) was given the responsibility for Shi'a affairs through a letter from Imam al-Mahdi (a).[6] Like his father, Muhammad was among the trustworthy companions of Imam al-'Askari (a), as a hadith narrated from him reads:

'Amri and his son are both trustworthy. Whatever they deliver or they say is from me. Listen to their words and follow those who are trusted and trustworthy.[7]

He was the special deputy of Imam al-Mahdi (a) for forty years.

Husayn b. Ruh

Abu l-Qasim Husayn b. Ruh al-Nawbakhti, the third special deputy of Imam al-Mahdi (a), was among those whom Muhammad b. 'Uthman al-'Amri trusted and a close friend of his in Baghdad.[8]

Muhammad b. 'Uthman sent those who came to him to Husayn b. Ruh prepared the ground for his deputyship and in his last days of life followed the order of Imam al-Mahdi (a) and introduced Husayn as Imam's (a) deputy. Afterward, Shi'a would refer to Husayn to give their taxes. His deputyship took twenty-one years since 305/917.[9]

He was among the companions of Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a) and in the presence of Abu 'Ali Hammam, Abu 'Abd Allah b. Muhammad al-Katib, Abu 'Abd Allah al-Baqitani, Abu Sahl Isma'il b. 'Ali al-Nawbakhti, Abu 'Abd Allah b. al-Wajana' and some others were introduced as the successor of Abu Ja'far al-'Amri (the second special deputy of Imam al-Mahdi (a)).[10]

Imam al-Mahdi’s (a) Letter to al-Samuri

Ṣadūq, Kamāl al-dīn, vol. 2, p. 516.

Ali b. Muhammad al-Samuri

Abu l-Hasan 'Ali b. Muhammad al-Samuri (d. 329/941) was the fourth special deputy of Imam al-Mahdi (a) who undertook the position for three years (326/938 - 329/941). Al-Samuri’s deputyship occurred in years of governmental suppressions, which hindered him from widespread activities in the deputyship organization.[11] Crucial events of his lifetime include Imam al-Mahdi’s (a) letter to 'Ali b. Muhammad al-Samuri about his imminent death and the termination of the period of Special Deputyship, which marked the beginning of the Major Occultation.[12]


The special deputies' activities can be studied in some ways.

Secret Activities

An important point to notice at this period is that not only Imam al-Mahdi (a) was hidden from sight, but his representatives were also unknown and carried out their responsibilities without attracting attention. Moreover, keeping away from revolutionary and reformist activities helped Shi'a to face fewer threats and better manage the situation.

The result of this decision was that Shi'a preserved their presence in the center of Abbasid caliphate and imposed themselves on the Abbasid caliphate and the extremist Sunni people who were influential in Baghdad as an official minority. At this time, the Shi'a center in Baghdad, through their supervision over Shi'a of other places, managed to organize their religious affairs.[13]

Infiltrating in Caliphate

Special policies taken by Shi'a and especially by deputies in that period and the support of the infallible Imams (a) made some great Shi'a able to enter the Abbasid caliphate and even take responsibility for ministries.[14] Due to the influence of al-Nawbakhti family and Ibn Furat family who were responsible for ministries of Muqtadir al-'Abbasi and supported Shi'a, Husayn b. Ruh al-Nawbakhti was influential in 'Aabbasid government and respected by them at the beginning of his deputyship.[15]

Fighting with Ghulat

In biographies of most Imams (a), one of the most important points of their cultural and political fights was their fight with inside branching of Shi'a, the most important one of which was the issue of Ghulat. Lately, Ghulat's influences grew with the help of some of the children of Imams (a) such as Ja'far b. 'Ali al-Hadi known as Kadhdhab and also some other Shi'a political figures.

Among the Ghulat who emerged in this period was Muhammad b. Nusayr. He established Nusayriyya who spread exaggerated claims at the time of Imam al-Hadi (a) and later.

Al-Shaykh al-Tusi said, "At the time of the second deputy, he [Muhammad b. Nusayr] spread exaggerating beliefs like the beliefs of the previous Ghulat including the Lordship of Imams (a) and the permission to marry Mahram ones. Abu Ja'far cursed him and kept away from him. His followers were divided into three sects which did not last long."[16]

Muhammad b. 'Ali al-Shalmaghani was among other people who were first considered among Shi'a scholars of jurisprudence and agents of Imams (a). Even though he had a high position, he was drawn towards Ghuluww [exaggeration] due to his great ambitions and thus greatly focused on the theory of incarnation.

He tried to deceive some of those who worked for him and were from the distinguished family of Banu Bastam and justify Husayn b. Ruh's curses and rejections of him [Muhammad b. 'Ali] saying that because he understood the secrets and disclosed them, he was cursed by Husayn b. Ruh.[17]

Removing Doubts About Imam al-Mahdi (a)

One of the important actions of the special deputies was that they removed doubts about the existence of Imam al-Mahdi (a). These efforts were mostly made by the first and second deputies and then until the end of the Minor Occultation, there were discussions about that.

Among the letters now available from Imam al-Mahdi (a), some are about the mentioned issue. Reported by al-Shaykh al-Tusi, an argument broke out between Ibn Abi Ghanam al-Qazwini and a group of Shi'a. He insisted that Imam al-'Askari (a) did not have a child. Inevitably, Shi'a sent letters to Imam al-Mahdi (a) and asked him for an answer to settle the argument.

In reply, a handwritten letter was received from Imam (a) in which he (a) referred to the issue of Imamate and Wilaya and previous Imams (a) and said, "Do you think that God has canceled His religion and cut His connection with people? No, It is not so and it will not be as such until the time of Resurrection.

It continues on talking about the necessity of disappearance and staying hidden from the evil sights of oppressors.[18]

There is another report about a lengthy letter that was received from Imam al-Mahdi (a) after the claim of his uncle Ja'far for Imamate after Imam al-Askari (a). In that letter, he (a) briefly reviewed the issue of Imamate, knowledge and infallibility of Imams (a) and mentioned Ja'far's lack of knowledge about the permissible and impermissible and incapability of distinguishing between truth and falsehood and Muhkam [the evident] and Mutashabih [the ambiguous] and he (a) asks how could Ja'far ever claim for Imamate?[19]

In other letters, Muhammad b. Ibrahim b. Mahziyar's doubt about if his father was one of the agents of Imam al-Askari (a) was removed.[20]

Another letter was the one in which Imam al-Mahdi (a) proved his existence against skeptics and also answered some jurisprudential questions.[21]

Although special deputies insisted on the existence of Imam (a), they asked Shi'a not to insist on finding Imam's (a) whereabouts in order to preserve his security.

Managing Agents

The policy of appointing agents to manage different regions and making the connection between Shi'a and Imams (a) was usual since the time of Imam al-Kazim (a). After the beginning of the Occultation, the direct connection between agents and Imam (a) was cut and instead, the connection was made through the special deputies Imam (a) had appointed. There is a report that implies that upon the submission of properties and taxes people gave to agents, they received receipts, but no receipt was demanded from the special deputies.

Therefore, when Abu Ja'far announced Husayn b. Ruh as the special deputy, he also ordered that no one ask him for any receipt.[22] There were agents in Ahvaz, Samarra, Egypt, Hijaz, Yemen and some other regions of Iran such as Khurasan, Ray, Qom, etc., about whom there are some stories mentioned in al-Tusi's Kitab al-Ghayba and al-Saduq's Kamal al-din wa tamam al-ni'ma.

Preserving Concealment of Imam al-Mahdi (a)

From historical reports and narrations, it can be understood that Imam (a) stayed in Iraq, Mecca and Medina for some time and lived in a way that the special deputies could meet him; as even sometimes some companions also could meet him as is reported about Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Qattan. Also, when Abu Tahir Muhammad b. 'Ali b. Bilal doubted the deputyship of Abu Ja'far al-'Amri, Abu Ja'far took him to Imam (a) to hear about Abu Ja'far's deputyship directly from Imam (a) and then in a public announcement he admitted that Imam al-Mahdi (a) had ordered that Shi'a submit their properties to Abu Ja'far.[23]

Regarding all this, preserving the concealment of Imam (a) and his outward features was one of the essential duties of the special deputies. When Husayn b. Ruh al-Nawbakhti was appointed as the deputy of Imam (a), Abu Sahl Isma'il b. 'Ali al-Nawbakhti, a very distinguished Shi'a, lived in Baghdad. Once a person asked Abu Sahl about the reason behind the appointment of Husayn b. Ruh and not him [Abu Sahl]. Abu Sahl answered, "The one who has appointed Husayn b. Ruh is wiser than us since my duty is debating with their enemies. If I knew Imam's (a) place as Abu l-Qasim [Husayn] knows, maybe in the middle of an argument I would disclose it to the enemy; while, if Abu l-Qasim has hidden Imam (a) under his cloak, he would never uncover him even if he is sliced to pieces."[24]

Answering Jurisprudential and Ideological Questions

The four deputies mentioned religious questions of Shi'a to Imam al-Mahdi (a) and after they received the answers, delivered them to the people. These activities were not limited to religious issues and the deputies participated in debates and discussions to solve scientific and ideological problems of people.[25] The letter of Ishaq b. Ya'qub[26] and also the letter of Muhammad b. Ja'far al-Asadi[27] which contained important religious issues and issues in jurisprudence and also the participation of Husayn b. Ruh in scientific and ideological debates shows the activities of deputies in these cases.[28]

Ziyarat-nama of Deputies

In Misbah al-za'ir, Sayyid b. Tawus narrated a Ziyarat-nama which can be recited for each of the four deputies of Imam al-Mahdi (a). He attributed the text of Ziyarat-nama to the father of Husayn b. Ruh al-Nawbakhti.[29] The text of the Ziyarat-nama is as follows:

السَّلَامُ عَلَيْكَ يَا فُلَانَ بْنَ فُلَانٍ أَشْهَدُ أَنَّكَ بَابُ الْوَلِيِّ أَدَّيْتَ عَنْهُ وَ أَدَّيْتَ إِلَيْهِ مَا خَالَفْتَهُ وَ لَا خَالَفْتَ عَلَيْهِ...[30]

Also in Bihar al-anwar, 'Allama Majlisi mentioned a Ziyarat-nama for 'Uthman b. Sa'id and said that he saw it in an old script from a Shi'a scholar.[31] The text of that Ziyarat-nama is as follows:

السَّلَامُ عَلَیک أَیهَا الْعَبْدُ الصَّالِحُ النَّاصِحُ لِلَّهِ وَ لِرَسُولِهِ وَ لِأَوْلِیائِهِ الْمُجِدُّ فِی خِدْمَةِ مُلُوک الْخَلَائِقِ أُمَنَاءِ اللَّهِ وَ أَصْفِیائِهِ...[32]

See also


  1. See: Aḥmadī, "Nuwwāb-i arbaʿa wa shakhṣīyyat-i Ijtimaʿī-yi ānān", p. 35-36.
  2. See: Aḥmadī, "Nuwwāb-i arbaʿa wa shakhṣīyyat-i Ijtimaʿī-yi ānān", p. 40.
  3. Ṭūsī, al-Ghayba, p. 214.
  4. Ṭūsī, al-Ghayba, p. 231-232; Ṣadūq, Kamāl al-dīn, p. 435.
  5. Ṣadūq, Kamāl al-dīn, p. 476.
  6. Tusi, al-Ghayba, p. 219
  7. Tusi, al-Ghayba, p. 219
  8. Tusi, al-Ghayba, p. 223
  9. Tusi, al-Ghayba, p. 224-226
  10. Tusi, al-Ghayba, p. 226-227.
  11. Jabbārī, Sāzmān-i wikālat, vol. 2, p. 480.
  12. Ṣadūq, Kamāl al-dīn, vol. 2, p. 516.
  13. Jabbari, Sazman-i wikalat, vol. 1, p. 66
  14. Tusi, al-Ghayba, p. 109
  15. Jasim Husayn, Tarikh-i siyasi ghaybat-i imam-i dawazdahum, p. 198; Ja'fariyan, Hayat-i fikri wa siyasi a'imma, p. 583,
  16. Tusi, al-Ghayba, p. 244-245
  17. Tusi, al-Ghayba, p. 248
  18. Tusi, al-Ghayba, p. 173-174
  19. Tusi, al-Ghayba, p. 174-176
  20. Kulayni, Al-Kafi, vol. 1, p. 518
  21. Kulayni, Al-Kafi, vol. 1, p. 176
  22. Tusi, al-Ghayba, p. 225-226
  23. Husayn, Tarikh-i siyasi ghaybat, p. 166
  24. Tusi, al-Ghayba, p.255
  25. Ghaffarzadi, Zindigani-y-i nuwwab-i khass-i imam zaman, p. 86-87
  26. Tusi, al-Ghayba, p. 290
  27. Saduq, Kamal al-din, vol. 2, p. 520
  28. Tusi, al-Ghayba, p. 324,373,378,388,390; Saduq, Kamal al-din, vol. 2, p. 519; Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 52, p. 192
  29. Ibn Tawus, Misbah al-za'ir, p.514
  30. قُمْتَ خَاصّاً وَ انْصَرَفْتَ سَابِقاً جِئْتُكَ عَارِفاً بِالْحَقِّ الَّذِي أَنْتَ عَلَيْهِ وَ أَنَّكَ مَا خُنْتَ فِي التَّأْدِيَةِ وَ السِّفَارَةِ السَّلَامُ عَلَيْكَ مِنْ بَابٍ مَا أَوْسَعَكَ وَ مِنْ سَفِيرٍ مَا آمَنَكَ وَ مِنْ ثِقَةٍ مَا أَمْكَنَكَ أَشْهَدُ أَنَّ اللَّهَ اخْتَصَّكَ بِنُورِهِ حَتَّى عَايَنْتَ الشَّخْصَ فَأَدَّيْتَ عَنْهُ وَ أَدَّيْتَ إِلَيْهِ ثُمَّ تَرْجِعُ فَتَبْتَدِئُ بِالسَّلَامِ عَلَى رَسُولِ اللَّهِ ص إِلَى صَاحِبِ الزَّمَانِ وَ تَقُولُ بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ جِئْتُكَ مُخْلِصاً بِتَوْحِيدِ اللَّهِ وَ مُوَالاةِ أَوْلِيَائِهِ وَ الْبَرَاءَةِ مِنْ أَعْدَائِهِمْ وَ مِنَ الَّذِينَ خَالَفُوكَ يَا حُجَّةَ الْمَوْلَى وَ بِكَ اللَّهُمَّ تَوَجُّهِي وَ بِهِمْ إِلَيْكَ تَوَسُّلِي ثُمَّ تَدْعُو وَ تَسْأَلُ اللَّهَ مَا تُحِبُّ تَجِبُ إِنْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى‏ .
  31. Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 99, p. 293.
  32. السَّلَامُ عَلَیک أَیهَا الْعَبْدُ الصَّالِحُ النَّاصِحُ لِلَّهِ وَ لِرَسُولِهِ وَ لِأَوْلِیائِهِ الْمُجِدُّ فِی خِدْمَةِ مُلُوک الْخَلَائِقِ أُمَنَاءِ اللَّهِ وَ أَصْفِیائِهِ السَّلَامُ عَلَیک أَیهَا الْبَابُ الْأَعْظَمُ وَ الصِّرَاطُ الْأَقْوَمُ وَ الْوَلِی الْأَکرَمُ السَّلَامُ عَلَیک أَیهَا الْمُتَوَّجُ بِالْأَنْوَارِ الْإِمَامِیةِ الْمُتَسَرْبِلُ بِالْجَلَابِیبِ الْمَهْدِیةِ الْمَخْصُوصُ بِالْأَسْرَارِ الْأَحْمَدِیةِ وَ الشُّهُبِ الْعَلَوِیةِ وَ الْمَوَالِیدِ الْفَاطِمِیةِ السَّلَامُ عَلَیک یا قُرَّةَ الْعُیونِ وَ السِّرَّ الْمَکنُونَ السَّلَامُ عَلَیک یا فَرَجَ الْقُلُوبِ وَ نِهَایةَ الْمَطْلُوبِ السَّلَامُ عَلَیک یا شَمْسَ الْمُؤْمِنِینَ وَ رُکنَ الْأَشْیاعِ الْمُنْقَطِعِینَ السَّلَامُ عَلَی وَلِی الْأَیتَامِ وَ عَمِیدِ الْجَحَاجِحَةِ الْکرَامِ السَّلَامُ عَلَی الْوَسِیلَةِ إِلَی سِرِّ اللَّهِ فِی الْخَلَائِقِ وَ خَلِیفَةِ وَلِی اللَّهِ الْفَاتِقِ الرَّاتِقِ السَّلَامُ عَلَیک یا نَائِبَ قُوَّامِ الْإِسْلَامِ وَ بَهَاءِ الْأَیامِ وَ حُجَّةَ اللَّهِ الْمَلِک الْعَلَّامِ عَلَی الْخَاصِّ وَ الْعَامِّ الْفَارُوقَ بَینَ الْحَلَالِ وَ الْحَرَامِ وَ النُّورَ الزَّاهِرَ وَ الْمَجْدَ الْبَاهِرَ فِی کلِّ مَوْقِفٍ وَ مَقَامٍ السَّلَامُ عَلَیک یا وَلِی بَقِیةِ الْأَنْبِیاءِ وَ خِیرَةَ إِلَهِ السَّمَاءِ الْمُخْتَصَّ بِأَعْلَی مَرَاتِبِ الْمَلِک الْعَظِیمِ الْمُنْجِی مِنْ مَتَالِفِ الْعَطَبِ الْعَمِیمِ ذی [ذَا اللِّوَاءِ الْمَنْصُورِ وَ الْعَلَمِ الْمَنْشُورِ وَ الْعِلْمِ الْمَسْتُورِ الْمَحَجَّةَ الْعُظْمَی وَ الْحُجَّةَ الْکبْرَی سُلَالَةَ الْمُقَدَّسِینَ وَ ذُرِّیةَ الْمُرْسَلِینَ وَ ابْنَ خَاتِمِ النَّبِیینَ وَ بَهْجَةَ الْعَابِدِینَ وَ رُکنَ الْمُوَحِّدِینَ وَ وَارِثَ الْخِیرَةِ الطَّاهِرِینَ صَلَّی اللَّهُ عَلَیهِمْ صَلَاةً لَا تَنْفَدُ وَ إِنْ نَفِدَ الدَّهْرُ وَ لَا تَحُولُ وَ إِنْ حَالَ الزَّمَنُ وَ الْعَصْرُ اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّی أُقَدِّمُ بَینَ یدَی سُؤَالِی الِاعْتِرَافَ لَک بِالْوَحْدَانِیةِ وَ لِمُحَمَّدٍ بِالنُّبُوَّةِ وَ لِعَلِی بِالْإِمَامَةِ وَ لِذُرِّیتِهِمَا بِالْعِصْمَةِ وَ فَرْضِ الطَّاعَةِ وَ بِهَذَا الْوَلِی الرَّشِیدِ وَ الْمَوْلَی السَّدِیدِ أَبِی مُحَمَّدٍ عُثْمَانَ بْنِ سَعِیدٍ أَتَوَسَّلُ إِلَی اللَّهِ بِالشَّفَاعَةِ إِلَیهِ لِیشْفَعَ إِلَی شُفَعَائِهِ وَ أَهْلِ مَوَدَّتِهِ وَ خُلَصَائِهِ أَنْ یسْتَنْقِذُونِی مِنْ مَکارِهِ الدُّنْیا وَ الْآخِرَةِ اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّی أَتَوَسَّلُ إِلَیک بِعَبْدِک عُثْمَانَ بْنِ سَعِیدٍ وَ أُقَدِّمُهُ بَینَ یدَی حَوَائِجِی أَنْ تُصَلِّی عَلَی مُحَمَّدٍ وَ آلِ مُحَمَّدٍ وَ شِیعَتِهِ وَ أَوْلِیائِهِ وَ أَنْ تَغْفِرَ لِی الْحُوبَ وَ الْخَطَایا وَ تَسْتُرَ عَلَی الزَّلَلَ وَ السَّیئَاتِ وَ تَرْزُقَنِی السَّلَامَةَ مِنَ الرَّزَایا فَکنْ لِی یا وَلِی اللَّهِ شَافِعاً نَافِعاً وَ رُکناً مَنِیعاً دَافِعاً فَقَدْ أَلْقَیتُ إِلَیک بِالْآمَالِ وَ وَثِقْتُ مِنْک بِتَخْفِیفِ الْأَثْقَالِ وَ قَرَعْتُ بِک یا سَیدِی بَابَ الْحَاجَةِ وَ رَجَوْتُ مِنْک جَمِیلَ سِفَارَتِک وَ حُصُولَ الْفَلَاحِ بِمَقَامِ غِیاثٍ أَعْتَمِدُ عَلَیهِ وَ أَقْصِدُ إِلَیهِ وَ أَطْرَحُ نَفْسِی بَینَ یدَیهِ وَ السَّلَامُ عَلَیک وَ رَحْمَةُ اللَّهِ وَ بَرَکاتُهُ ثُمَّ صَلِّ صَلَاةَ الزِّیارَةِ وَ أَهْدِهَا لَهُ وَ لِشُرَکائِهِ فِی النِّیابَةِ صَلَّی اللَّهُ عَلَیهِمْ أَجْمَعِینَ ثُمَّ وَدِّعْهُ مُسْتَقْبِلًا لَهُ إِنْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ تَعَالَی.


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