Rafed English

The Mother of the Twelfth Imam

Dr. Jalali: What is the name of the mother of the Master of the Age?

Mr. Hoshyar: His mother was introduced in the sources with various names. Among them are: Narjis, Sayqal, Rayhana, Sawsan, Khumt, Hukayma, and Maryam. If you keep the two following points in mind you will understand the source of this confusion:

(a) Imam Hasan 'Askari had several slave girls with different names. On two occasions Hakima Khatun has mentioned these slave girls. At one time she came to visit Imam Hasan 'Askari and saw him seated in the courtyard of his house, surrounded by his slave girls. She asked him: "Which one of these girls is going to be the mother of your successor?" The Imam replied: "It is Sawsan."1

In another report Hakima relates the event of the birth of the twelfth Imam, cited earlier, in which Imam Hasan 'Askari requests her to spend the night of 15th Sha'ban (255 AH/870 CE) in his house because a child was going to be born. At that point Hakima asked him: "Which of your maidens is the mother of the child?" The Imam said: "It is Narjis." Hakima said: "Yes, I too like her the most among your slave girls."2

From these two and other similar reports it appears that Imam Hasan 'Askari had several slave girls.

(b) As stated earlier Imam Hasan 'Askari's child was born in an extremely dangerous situation because the 'Abbasid caliphs and even some members of the Hashimite clan had been aware of the approaching time for the birth of the Mahdi, who was to end unjust and tyrannical rule and establish justice and equity. Hence, the agents of the 'Abbasids were guarding the homes of the Hashimites in general, and the Imam in particular, day and night. The secret agents of the caliph were involved in searching for the newborn in these homes to deliver him to the caliph.

Having noted these two things, it must be pointed out that it was certainly decreed by God that in such a threatening environment and in such a home of importance a son had to be born to Imam Hasan 'Askari who should remain protected from all sorts of dangers. It was for this reason that all necessary precautions had to be taken. Hence, to begin with, according to the related accounts, there were no signs of pregnancy in his mother. Moreover, Imam Hasan 'Askari did not reveal her real name. In addition, at the time of the delivery only Hakima Khatun, and probably some slave girls were present. This is despite the fact that usually in such circumstances assistance is sought from a midwife and other experienced women. In fact, nobody knew whether Imam Hasan 'Askari was married or not and, if he was married, no one knew the identity of his wife.

On the fifteenth night of Sha'ban when it was completely dark, at night, the child was born under fear and veiled circumstances. This too happened in a home where there were several slave girls of whom none had any visible signs of pregnancy. At the time of delivery, with the exception of Hakima, there was no one present and no one dared to reveal the situation.

For a long while the matter was kept a secret and only later the close, trusted companions of Imam Hasan 'Askari began to inquire and were told about it. Some among the followers believed that God had favored Imam Hasan 'Askari with a son, whereas others denied it. Since all the slave girls lacked visible signs of pregnancy, the story about the dispute over the identity of the child's mother was naturally bound to occur. Some knew the mother to be Sawsan, some Narjis, some Sayqal, and so on. Nobody, except a select few, knew the true state of affairs. But they were not allowed to divulge that information. Even Hakima, who was the witness and was present during the birth of the twelfth Imam, for the sake of protecting the identity of his mother, sometimes used to mention her name variantly as Narjis, Sayqal or Sawsan, and at other time, as a precautionary measure she would ascribe the child to Imam Hasan 'Askari's mother.

In the year 262 AH/877 CE Ahmad b. Ibrahim came to see Hakima Khatun, the daughter of Imam Jawad. He spoke to her from behind the curtain and asked her about her beliefs. She introduced her Imams and mentioned Muhammad b. Hasan as her last Imam. Ahmad said: "Were you yourself witness to the matter (of his birth) or are you saying this on the basis of what you have heard?" She replied saying that the matter was according to what Imam Hasan 'Askari had written to his mother. So Ahmad went on to inquire as to whom the Shi'a should follow in that matter. Hakima said that they should follow Imam Hasan 'Askari's mother. Ahmad objected saying: "In this will of testament should we follow one woman?" Hakima responded that actually Imam Hasan 'Askari was following his forefather, Imam 'Ali b. Husayn in this matter. Imam Husayn had made his sister Zaynab his legatee and the knowledge that was possessed by 'Ali b. Husyan was ascribed to Zaynab. Imam Husyan had done that, added Hakima, so that the matter about the Imamate of 'Ali b. Husayn would remain secret. Then she said: "You are the people who know the traditions. Have not you been informed that the inheritance belonging to the ninth among the descendants of Husayn will be distributed while he is alive?"3

As you can see, in this report Hakima has not responded to the inquiry about the last Imam's birth directly. In fact, she has attributed the story to Imam Hasan 'Askari's mother. It is also likely that out of fear for revealing the true state of affairs to the reporter she employed 'prudential concealment' (taqiyya). Or, she simply wanted to present the report in a manner that would generate bewilderment. However, the same Hakima in another place relates the event that led to the marriage of Imam Hasan 'Askari with Narjis Khatun and the birth of the Mahdi, to which she was herself a witness, in great detail. She ends this account with the following statement: "I now see my master (i.e., the twelfth Imam) regularly and talk to him."4

In short, the differences of opinion regarding the name of the last Imam's mother is not something unusual. On the contrary they point to the most difficult and even frightful situation at that time. Moreover, the number of the slave girls that belonged to Imam Hasan 'Askari and the extreme precaution that he took in keeping the matter secret would have necessarily created confusion. It is not unlikely that the story about the serious dispute that erupted between the Imam's mother and brother, Ja`far, the Liar, could have been part of a state conspiracy masterminded by the caliph in order to extort information about Imam Hasan 'Askari's son.

According to Shaykh Saduq in his Kamal al-din, at the time when Imam Hasan 'Askari's mother got into the dispute with Ja'far, his brother, over the inheritance and when the matter was referred to the caliph, one of the slave girls belonging to Imam Hasan 'Askari by the name of Sayqal claimed to be pregnant. Sayqal was brought to the palace of the caliph, Mu'tamid, and was kept under strict guard and under the watchful eyes of the midwives and other women in the palace to determine the fate of her pregnancy. At that very time, political turmoil as a consequence of the insurrection led by Saffar, the death of 'Abd Allah b. Yahya, and the revolution of the Zanj engulfed the caliphal state. The 'Abbasids were forced to abandon Samarra. Hence, they became occupied with their own troubles and gave up the surveillance of Sayqal's pregnancy.5

There is also another reason for differences in the name of the mother of the twelfth Imam. It is possible to say that all those names were given to one and the same person. That is to say that the twelfth Imam's mother had several names. This explanation is not far fetched because it was customary among Arabs to give several names to a person of importance.

The evidence for this is provided in Shaykh Saduq's Kamal al-din. He himself has related from Ghiyath that Imam Hasan 'Askari's successor was born on Friday, and his mother was Rayhana, who was also known as Narjis, Sayqal, and Sawsan. Since at the time of her pregnancy she had some kind of brilliance over her face, she was known as Sayqal.6

To sum this discussion up, it is important to remind ourselves that in spite of some ambiguity in identifying the actual name of the twelfth Imam's mother, there is no doubt that she existed. In other words, such an ambiguity does not detract authenticity from her existence. As you have noticed all the Imams, including Imam Hasan 'Askari, have informed about the existence of a son for the latter. In addition, Hakima, the daughter of Imam Jawad, was a highly trustworthy woman who reported in detail the birth of the Imam. Moreover, a number of trustworthy companions and servants of Imam Hasan 'Askari saw the son and testified to his existence, regardless of his mother's name.

1 Bihar al-anwar, Vol. 51, p. 17.

2 Ibid., p. 25.

3 Kamal al-din, Vol. 2, p. 178.

4 Kamal al-din, Vol. 2, pp. 99-103.

5 Kamal al-din, Vol. 2, p. 149.

6 Kamal al-din, Vol. 2, p. 106.

Adopted from the book : "Al-Imam al-Mahdi (a.s.); the Just Leader of Humanity" by : "Ayatullah Ibrahim Amini"

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