The long Imamat of Imam Hadi (AS) of around 33 years was a transition to the time when the Shias would not have direct access to their Imam. Imam Hadi lived around 13 years of his Imamat in Medina, where he relatively had more freedom to guide his followers and benefit them with his knowledge. However, when the Imam was forcefully relocated to Samarra, the Abbasid Capital, his interaction with his followers and companions was significantly limited. The hardest time for the Imam in Samarra was during the government of Mutawakkil.
The Imam of Guidance
Imam Ali ibn Muhammad (AS), also known as Hadi or Naqi, was born on the 15th of Zu al-Hijjah, in the year 212 Hijri. He was also known as Abul-Hasan. As per family traditions of the Ahlul-Bayt, Shia Imams with the name of ‘Ali’ were also honored with Imam Ali’s title of Abul-Hasan. Later, Imam Hadi named his son Hasan, and the title of Abul-Hasan truly manifested in the Imam. To distinguish him from Imam Kazim (AS) and Imam Reza (AS), who also had the title of Abul-Hasan, Imam Hadi was commonly referred to as “Abul-Hasan al-Thaalith” or “Abul-Hasan the Third”. He was born in Surya, a village close to Medina, which was founded by Imam Kazim. He was the oldest son of Imam Javad (AS).
Martyrdom of Imam Javad (AS)
Once Mu’tasim assumed power, he was worried about the chaos and unrest that threatened his new government. He was also concerned about the popularity and social status of Imam Javad, as he was the divine leader of the growing Shia community that did not accept the legitimacy of the Abbasid government. He decided to closely monitor and control every aspect of the Imam’s life and isolate him from his followers. Thus, he ordered his governor in Medina to send the Imam to Baghdad. The Imam knew that unlike his prior two trips to Iraq, he would not return back to Medina. Thus, he revealed his eldest son, Imam Hadi, as the next Imam after himself.
After about ten months from the Imam’s arrival in Baghdad, Mu’tasim poisoned and martyred Imam Javad. Mu’tasim held a grand funeral ceremony for Imam Javad in Baghdad. Mu’tasim’s son, Wathiq, officially prayed over the Imam’s body to portray to the people that the government was innocent in the Imam’s martyrdom.
Beginning of Imamat
Imam Hadi took leadership of the Shia community as an Imam after the martyrdom of his father, Imam Javad. At that time, Imam Hadi was only two weeks short of becoming eight years old. However, his Imamat was not challenged by the Shias because of his young age. The Shias had already validated and accepted the Imamat of Imam Javad at the very young age of seven-and-a-half years old. Therefore, age was no longer an obstacle when believing in the Imamat of a young boy. Imam Hadi was the oldest son of Imam Javad, and his Imamat had been prescribed by Imam Javad on various occasions. Furthermore, before Imam Javad’s martyrdom, his will of appointing Imam Hadi as his successor in the Imamat was passed to ten Shia elders by letter. These letters were effective in removing any doubts among Shia scholars and followers about the Imamat of Imam Hadi. As a result, the Shias accepted Imam Hadi as their next Imam.
Mu’tasim and the Imam
After the martyrdom of Imam Javad, Mu’tasim was concerned about the Shias gathering around Imam Hadi as their next Imam. He asked Umar ibn Faraj, his governor in Medina, to assign the Imam’s upbringing and training to a teacher trusted by the government. Mu’tasim’s intention was to train the Imam with non-Shia teachings and restrict his interactions with his followers.
After a while, someone asked the Imam’s teacher about the Imam’s whereabouts. He responded that the Imam is the best person on the earth and the most virtuous person that God has ever created. He then admitted that the Imam has the entire Quran in memory, has the best voice in recitation of the Quran, and has the full knowledge of the interpretation and the true meaning of the Quran. The Imam’s teacher, who was greatly influenced by the Imam’s holy character and divine knowledge, eventually became a Shia follower of the Imam.
Samarra: The Abbasid’s New Capital
Soon after reaching power, Mu’tasim decided to reduce the influence of the Arab and Iranian officials in his government. Mu’tasim, whose mother was a Turk, brought thousands of Turks from Central Asia to Baghdad and formed a powerful army from them. He also gave sensitive government and military positions to Turks and chose them as his elite guards. Turks became influential in Mu’tasim’s government and gradually replaced the Arab and Iranian officials.
The presence of thousands of Turk soldiers in Baghdad, the Capital of the Abbasids, was problematic for Mu’tasim. The Turk soldiers were treating the people of Baghdad harshly, and their presence had caused continuous clashes between the Turk soldiers and residents of Baghdad. The people of Baghdad complained to Mu’tasim about the behavior of the Turk soldiers and warned him that they would rise against him if he failed to resolve this issue. Thus, Mu’tasim decided to remove the Turk soldiers from Baghdad. He chose Samarra at the north of Baghdad as an army base for his Turk army. Samarra had better weather than Baghdad, and was conveniently connected to Baghdad through Tigris River. He then constructed a city in Samarra and made it the new Capital of the Abbasid Caliphate after Baghdad.
The Imam’s Scientific Contribution
The Imam was the true source of divine knowledge in the society. He was referred by many to answer questions regarding various aspects of the Islamic sciences. The names of 185 individuals that narrated Hadith from the Imam is recorded in history. The Imam had also trained multiple notable scholars. These scholars had a special role in recording and preserving the Imam’s narrations. They were not only scholars of Islamic knowledge, but were also unique in piety and character.
Migration to Samarra
Upon gaining power, Mutawakkil became concerned about the popularity and the social status of Imam Hadi among the Muslims. The Imam was also the political and religious leader of the well-established and large Shia community. Furthermore, every so often, Mutawakkil would receive criticisms against the Imam from his officials who wanted to trigger him into action. Thus, Mutawakkil, who was one of the most hostile Abbasid caliphs toward the Shias, decided to take action against the Imam. He decided to exile the Imam to his Capital in Samarra. By this decision, Mutawakkil could separate the Imam from his followers and also closely oversee his activities. He would also ensure that the Imam could not rise up against the Abbasids’ injustices. Furthermore, the Imam was accessible to him in case he decided to eliminate him at any time.
Mutawakkil and the Imam
Mutawakkil was the most hostile caliph against the Imam and his Shias during the Imamat of Imam Hadi. Due to his animosity toward Imam Ali, Mutawakkil named two of his sons Talha and Zubayr, after two of the Prophet’s companions who had later led the battle of Jamal against Imam Ali. Mutawakkil was not intimidated to express his feelings about Imam Ali. He would ridicule Imam Ali (AS) and curse Lady Fatimah (SA) in his private gatherings. This was an unprecedented action among the other Abbasid caliphs, as they would show pride for being the relatives of the Prophet and would portray to have respect for Imam Ali and Lady Fatimah. He also imposed excessive economical pressure on the Shias and the Alavids. This pressure was to such an extent that the female Alavids in Medina had to wear old and torn clothes. They even lacked an appropriate cover to put on for their prayers. Consequently, they passed along and shared the appropriate cover amongst one another, and took turns for the prayer. Mutawakkil ruled for about 15 years and had the longest duration of the caliphate among the other caliphs who ruled during the Imamat of Imam Hadi. Therefore, the Imam endured many calamities from Mutawakkil, and the Shias were under excessive pressure from him.
Network of Representatives
To meet the needs of the growing Shia community, Imam Sadiq had established a network organization of his trusted companions as his representatives in various cities across the Islamic territory. This organization was further developed during the Imamat of the next Imams, and became an effective way of communication between the Shias and their Imam. Imam Hadi took leadership of this organization, effectively during his Imamat. Due to the expansion of Shi’ism at this time, Imam Hadi divided the territory where this hidden organization was active into four geographical regions. The first region covered Baghdad, Madain, and Kufa, in Iraq. The second region covered Basrah and Ahvaz. The third region spanned Hamedan and Qom, in Iran. The fourth region covered Hijaz, Yemen, and Egypt. The Imam had appointed one representative for each of these regions. Each of them would further manage the local representatives of that region. These representatives were responsible for answering questions about Islamic laws and principles, transferring the letters between the Imam and his Shias, and resolving any division between the Shias to keep the Shia community united. They were also collecting the Islamic dues (Zakat) and transferring it to the Imam, or spending it on cases prescribed by the Imam. The names of 14 of the Imam’s representatives are recorded in history. The Imam’s leadership led to the expansion of the Shia community and prepared them for the occultation, during which they would not have direct access to their Imam.
During the time when the Imam’s life at the Abbasid Capital was under intense surveillance by the government, the Imam could not always be the center for managing this hidden organization. Historical records suggest that the Imam had appointed his loyal companion, Uthman ibn Saeed al-Amri, to secretly manage the affairs of this organization from Samarra during the last 10 years of the Imam’s life. Many of the communications between the Imam and his followers were through letters. Dozens of these letters are recorded in history and remain until today.
Mutawakkil followed Haroon’s tradition of appointing his successors after himself. He appointed three of his sons as his successors and gave each one a portion of the Abbasid territory. He appointed his oldest son, Muntasir, as his primary successor. He then appointed his two other sons, Mu’tazz and Mu’ayyad, as Muntasir’s successors. However, he later decided to replace Muntasir with Mu’tazz, as a sign of love for Mu’tazz’s mother. Muntasir did not accept giving up his position. As a result, his relationship with his father deteriorated.
Unlike Mutawakkil, his oldest son Muntasir, had positive opinions about the Ahlul-Bayt. He had heard his father cursing Lady Fatimah in his presence and became upset with him. Once, Muntasir came to his father, Mutawakkil, while he was intoxicated and enjoying a performance where someone was acting and ridiculing Imam Ali. Muntasir objected to his father holding an insulting performance about Imam Ali, and reminded him that they all belonged to the Prophet’s clan of Banu Hashim. Mutawakkil responded harshly to his son and insulted him using shameful words. This insult triggered Muntasir to act against his father. He conspired with a group of Turk leaders to kill his father. The Turks were motivated for this plan, as they feared losing their influence in the government due to Mutawakkil’s prior decisions to reduce their power. Subsequently, one night Muntasir came to his father with a group of armed Turks. They killed Mutawakkil. This incident shows the significant amount of power that the Turks had in the Abbasid government, to the extent that they could kill and replace the Caliph. As a result, the next Abbasid caliphs were practically powerless compared to the Turks.
Muntasir and the Imam
There is no historical evidence of any relationship between Muntasir and the Imam during his brief government of six months. However, it can be inferred that Muntasir’s Caliphate was one of the calmest periods during Imam Hadi’s Imamat. Muntasir, unlike his father, adopted a good relationship with the Alavids and the Shias. He replaced the governor of Medina, who was very hostile with the Alavids, and advised his new governor to treat the Alavids well. He also removed the ban on the pilgrims to visit the holy shrines of Imam Hossein and other Shia Imams, and ordered the reconstruction of Imam Hossein’s shrine.
Upon gaining power, Mu’tazz followed his father, Mutawakkil’s policy, in dealing with the Alavids. He treated the Alavids harshly. He could not tolerate Imam Hadi’s holy character, and feared his social popularity as a threat to his government. Thus, after only two years into his Caliphate, he ordered the poisoning and martyrdom of Imam Hadi. Imam Hadi’s soul ascended on the 3rd of Rajab, in the year 254 Hijri, in Samarra, at the age of 41. He was martyred after living in Samarra for about 20 years. Imam Hadi’s oldest living son, Imam Askari, took care of his father’s funeral rites, including washing and praying over his body.