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Book Review: Encounters with the Hidden Imam in Early and Pre-Modern Twelver Shīʿī Islam

Encounters with the Hidden Imam in Early and Pre-Modern Twelver Shīʿī Islam is a published PhD by Omid Ghaemmaghami, obtained at the University of Toronto in 2020.

As stated in the title, it specifically addresses the issue of how texts from the Twelver Shi’i tradition tackle the subject of whether or not it is possible to meet the Twelfth Imam during the Major Occultation, since he is meant to have issued a final decree (or tawqī), declaring that anyone who claims to have seen him after the end of the Minor Occultation is ‘a lying imposter’ (recorded in Shaykh al-Ṣadūq’s (d. 991) Kamāl al-dīn wa tamām al-niʿma, 484).

The book consists of four chapters and two appendices. Chapter One is entitled ‘The Unknown, the Unseen and the Unrecognised’. It examines Imami hadith collections from the period of the Minor (or ‘Lesser’) Occultation, such as Aḥmad al-Barqī’s (d. 893 CE) Kitāb al-Maḥāsin and al-Ṣaffār al-Qummī’s (d. 902 CE) Baṣāʾir al-Darajāt, and also exegeses, such as those of Furāt ibn Furāt Ibrāhīm al-Kūfī (c. ninth century), ʿAlī ibn Ibrāhīm al-Qummī (d. 919 CE), and Muḥammad al-ʿAyyāshī (d. 941 CE) that mention the ghaybah (concealment) of the Twelfth Imam. It looks at narrations that mention a ghaybah of Imam Mūsā al-Kāḍim (d. 799 CE) circulated by members of the Wāqifiyya and narrations in Abū Yaʿqūb al-Kulaynī’s (d. 941 CE) al-Kāfī that mention sightings of the Imam during the period of the Minor (Lesser) Occultation; Chapter Two, entitled ‘Hidden from All, Yet Seen by Some? The Special Case of Three Hadiths’, examines three of the most significant narrations to form the basis of the Shi’i tradition on the ghaybah of the Twelfth Imam, which indicate that, rather than no-one seeing him at all during the Major Occultation, people actually will see him, but will not recognise him. Chapter Three, entitled ‘A Lying Imposter’, holds that ‘the position of rejecting the possibility of seeing the Imam during the Greater Occultation, however, proved untenable’ (85), and so the next generation of scholars to come after al-Kulaynī and Shaykh Ṣadūq (d. 991 CE), that is, Shaykh Mufīd (d. 1022 CE) and his student al-Sharīf al-Murtaḍā (d. 1044 CE), tried to establish rational arguments for certain select people being able to see the Imam. Shaykh Mufīd, following the traditionists before him, held that only the Imam’s servants would be able to see him, but al-Sharīf al-Murtaḍā argued the case for the elite followers of the Imam (mostly likely referring to the scholars) being able to see him. Chapter Four, entitled ‘From the Youth and the Stone to the Proliferation of Accounts’, discusses narrations of sightings of, or meetings with the Imam while awake from the eleventh and twelfth centuries CE onwards, as influenced by al-Sharīf al-Murtaḍā and al-Tūsī’s (d. 1067 CE) ‘tacit approval of the possibility of seeing the Imam’ (133). This is a development from it being held that the Imam is utterly inaccessible, and cannot be seen nor met, to the Imam being present but not recognised, to the Imam being accessible in dreams only, and not awake. Ghaemmaghami systematically discusses the earliest accounts of the Imam being met while someone was awake. Chapter Five concludes with a brief account of the reports of encounters with the Hidden Imam in the present era, which include him providing jurisprudential and political support. Bringing his discussion up-to-date, Ghaemmaghami states that the overall aim of his book is…

Bibliographic Information

Title: Book Review: Encounters with the Hidden Imam in Early and Pre-Modern Twelver Shīʿī Islam

Author(s): Rebecca Masterton

Published in: Journal of Shi’a Islamic Studies, Volume 12, Number 3-4, Summer-Autumn 2019

 Language: English

Length: 15 page

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