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Why Did Others Not Know about the Twelfth Imam's Birth?

Dr. Fahimi: The custom is that when a child is born to anyone, then relatives, neighbors, and friends come to know about it. This is true in the case of a person who is well respected. As such no one disputes the existence of a child for that person. How can one believe that the people would have no information about a son born to Imam Hasan 'Askari in spite of the respect that he held among them and that they would have doubts about that and dispute with each other about it?

Mr. Hoshyar: You are correct that normally the situation is exactly the way you have described. However, Imam Hasan 'Askari from the very beginning had decided that he would not divulge any information about the birth of a son to him. Rather, such a decision was made when the Prophet was alive and when other Imams were faced with a situation where secrecy about the birth was among the signs of the last Imam. Thus we have a report which says that Imam Zayn al-'Abidin predicted that: "The birth of our Qa'im will be concealed from the people and that will cause the people to say that he is not born at all, so that when he takes the command no one's allegiance will be on his neck."1

In another tradition 'Abd Allah b. 'Ata relates:

I said to Imam Baqir: "Your followers in Iraq are numerous. By God, no one in your family has the status that you have. Why don't you rise?" The Imam said: "O 'Abd Allah, you have allowed nonsensical talk to enter your mind. By God, I am not the promised commander of the affairs." I asked: "Then who is the commander of the affairs?" He said: "Look out for someone whose birth will be concealed from the people. He will be your commander."2

Dr. Fahimi: Why did Imam Hasan 'Askari conceal the birth of his son from the people so that they would fall into doubt and perplexity and would be led astray in the matter of Imamate?

Mr. Hoshyar: As I have said earlier, the story of the promised Mahdi was widespread among Muslims from the very early days of Islam. The traditions and the hadith-reports about the subject that were related by the Prophet and the further confirmation of these reports by the Imams had circulated among the people. The rulers of the time were also well aware of these hadith-reports which announced that the promised Mahdi will be among the descendants of Fatima and Husayn. Moreover, these traditions announced the destruction of unjust governments by the Mahdi, who will establish the rule of justice and equity all over the world. Consequently, they were in fear of the birth and emergence of the promised Mahdi and were determined to rid themselves of the danger of the revolution of the Mahdi. It was for this reason that the homes of the family members of the Prophet, that is, the Hashimites, and more particularly Imam Hasan 'Askari's home, were under constant surveillance and under the watchful eyes of secret agents of the 'Abbasid state.

Mu'tamid, the 'Abbasid caliph, had assigned a number of midwives to conduct espionage missions in the Hashimite families to collect information about pregnancies and child births. When the caliph got the news about Imam Hasan 'Askari's illness, he instructed his agents to keep a constant watch over the house of the Imam. When he heard that the Imam had died, he ordered a search of the Imam's house to find the whereabouts of his son. In addition, he sent some of these midwives to examine the slave girls of the Imam to determine if they were pregnant. If a woman was found pregnant she was detained and imprisoned.

The midwives suspected one of the women to be pregnant and reported her to the caliph. The caliph ordered her to be confined to one of the rooms and commissioned Tahrir, his servant, to watch over her. He did not set her free until he was sure that she did not carry the Imam's child. He did not stop with the household of Imam Hasan 'Askari. Rather, as soon as the funeral was over he ordered all the houses to be searched and kept under watch.3

Now you can appreciate that Imam Hasan 'Askari, living under those dangerous circumstances, could not do anything other than conceal his son's birth from the people so that he would remain immune from their evil designs. The Prophet and his rightful successors, the Imams, used to predict these conditions and inform the people of the twelfth Imam's birth in secret.

However, such stories are not unknown in historical annals. As you know, when Pharaoh came to know that a child would be born among the Israelites who would put an end to his kingdom, he attempted to forestall the danger and so sent his spies around to keep a watch over all pregnant women and to kill all the boys and imprison all the girls that were born. With all these criminal acts he did not reach his aim, and God caused the birth of Moses to remain concealed so that the divine aim could be fulfilled.

As for Imam Hasan 'Askari, in spite of that dangerous situation, he revealed his son to a number of his trusted companions and followers so that they would continue to receive the guidance. Nevertheless, he asked them to keep the matter secret from the enemies and requested that they not even mention his name.

1 Bihar al-anwar, Vol. 51, p. 135.

2 Bihar al-anwar, Vol. 51. p. 34.

3 Usul al-kafi, Bab mawlid abi Muhammad al-Hasan b. 'Ali. See also all other sources that mention the adverse conditions under which these women suffered in the hands of the 'Abbasid caliph and his fear of the existence of a son for Imam Hasan 'Askari.

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

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