Hasan al-Askari

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Hasan al-Askari
ٱلْحَسَن ٱلْعَسْكَرِيّ

Imam Hasan al-Askari (A.S.).png
Arabic text with the name of Hasan ibn Ali and one of his titles, "Al-Askari"
Born10 Rabi' al-Thani 232 AH
(c. 4 December 846 CE[1])
Died8 Rabi al-Awwal 260 AH[2]
(c. 4 January 874(874-01-04) (aged 27)[1])
Cause of deathPoisoning by Al-Mu'tamid according to Shia Muslims
Resting placeAl-Askari Mosque, Samarra, Iraq
34°11′54.5″N 43°52′25″E / 34.198472°N 43.87361°E / 34.198472; 43.87361
Other namesAl-Hasan al-Khalis ibn Ali ibn Muhammad
EraAbbasid era
Office11th Imam (Twelver Shia)
Term868–874 CE
PredecessorAli al-Hadi
SuccessorMuhammad al-Mahdi
Spouse(s)Narjis, Sawsan,[3] Sayqal[4]
ChildrenMuhammad al-Mahdi; Ali Akbar[5][6][7][8]
Parent(s)Ali al-Hadi
RelativesMuhammad (brother)
Ja'far (brother)
aalso referred to as Susan[10] or Sevila (Savīl)[11]

Hasan ibn Ali al-Askari (Arabic: ٱلْحَسَن ٱبْن عَلِيّ ٱلْعَسْكَرِيّ, Ḥasan ibn ʿAlī al-ʿAskarī, c. 846 – 874) was a Muslim scholar and the 11th Imam in Twelver Shia Islam, after his father Ali al-Hadi. He is also an important figure to Sunni-Sufis. He was called Abu Muhammad and Ibn al-Ridha. Because Samarra, the city where he lived, was a garrison town, he is generally known as al-Askari (Askar is the word for military in Arabic). Al-Askari married Narjis Khatun (also recorded as Sawsan, Mariam) and was kept under house arrest or in prison for most of his life. According to some Shia sources, he was poisoned at the age of 28 on the orders of the Abbasid caliph Al-Mu'tamid and was buried in Samarra. The Twelver Shia are looking forward to the succession of his son, Hujjat-Allah al-Mahdi, as they believe him to be the twelfth Imam, and that he is destined to remove injustice from the world.[12][13][14][15][16]

Birth and early life[edit]

In 231 or 232 A.H., Hasan al-Askari was born in Medina.[17][18] Dwight Donaldson has put al-Askari's birth near the time Al-Mutawakkil transferred his father, Ali al-Hadi, from Medina to Samarra. It is unclear whether he was born in Samarra or Medina.[19] Hans Halm has set 233 or 234 A.H.(849 A.D.) as the date of the departure of Hasan al-Askari with his father.[20] Wilferd Madelung considers 23 Ramadan 233 AH (5 May 848 A.D.) the date of their entry into Samarra,[21] so he spent most of his life there.[17] According to authentic Shia Hadith he was born in Medina on the 8th of Rabiul Akhar 232 Hijri (4 December 846 AD) and died in Samarra Iraq on the 8th of Rabiul Awwal 260 Hijri (4 January 874) aged 28. The period of his imamate was six years. He was taken along with his family to Samarra in the year 230, 231 or 232 A.H., and was kept there under house arrest. In Samarra, al-Askari spent most of his time reading the Quran and the Sharia. According to Donaldson, al-Askari must also have studied languages. In later years it was known that he could speak Hindi with the pilgrims from India, Turkish with the Turks, and Persian with the Persians.[19] According to Shia accounts, however, it is part of the divine knowledge given to all Imams to be able to speak all human languages.[22][23]

It is said that even as a child, al-Askari was endowed with divine knowledge. One day a man passed by him and saw that he was crying. The man told him he would buy a toy that he might play with. "No!" said al-Askari, "We have not been created for play." The man was amazed at this answer and said, "Then, what for have we been created?" "For knowledge and worship", answered the child. The man said, "Where have you got this from?" Al-Askari said, "From the saying of God, 'Did you then think that We had created you in vain'."[a] The man was confused, so he asked, "What has happened to you while you are guiltless, little child?" Al-Askari replied, "Be away from me! I have seen my mother set fire to big pieces of firewood, but fire is not lit except with small pieces, and I fear that I shall be from the small pieces of the firewood of the Hell."[24][25]

Al-Askari's mother, as in the case of most of The Twelve Imams, was a slave girl who was honoured after bearing children with the title umm walad (mother of offspring). Her given name was Hadith, though some say she was called "Susan", "Ghazala", "Salil", or "Haribta".[19] Al-Askari had other brothers. Among them was Ja'far who was also known as "Ja'far al-Zaki" or "Jaffar-us-Sani". His other brother was Husayn, and together he and al-Askari were known as "as-Sibtayn", after their two grandfathers Hasan and Husayn, who were also called "as-Sibtayn".[26][17]


Various legends relate to al-Askari's wife, Narjis Khatun (the mother of the twelfth Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi). It is said that al-Askari's father, Ali al-Hadi, wrote a letter in the script of Rûm, put it in a red purse with 220 dinars, and gave it to his friend Bashar ibn Sulaiman. The letter instructed him to go to Baghdad, to a ferry dock on the river where the boats from Syria were unloaded, and female slaves were sold.[27] Bashar was told to look out for a shipowner named Amr ibn Yazid, who had a slave girl who would call out in the language of Rûm: "Even if you have wealth and the glory of Solomon the son of David, I can never have affection for you, so take care lest you waste your money." And that if a buyer approached her, she would say, "Cursed be the man who unveils my eyebrow!" Her owner would then protest, "But what recourse do I have I; I am compelled to sell you?" The Imam said, "You will then hear the slave answer, 'Why this hast, let me choose my purchaser, that my heart may accept him in confidence and gratitude'."

Bashar gave the letter to the slave girl as he was instructed. She read it and was unable to keep from crying afterward. Then she said to Amr ibn Yezid, "Sell me to the writer of this letter, for if you refuse I will surely kill myself." "I therefore talked over the price with Amr until we agreed on the 220 dinars my master had given me," said Bashar. On her way to Samarra, the slave girl would kiss the letter and rub it to her face and body; and when asked by Bashar why she did so despite not knowing the writer of the letter, she said, "May the offspring of the Prophet dispel your doubts!" Later, however, she gave a full description of the dream she had, and how she had escaped from her father's palace. A lengthier version of this story is recorded in Donaldson's book, along with further discussion on its authenticity.[19]

Some Shia sources have recorded her as being a "Roman (i.e. Byzantine) princess" who pretended to be a slave so that she might travel from her kingdom to Arabia.[28][29][30] Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi, in the Encyclopedia of Iranica, suggests that the last version is "undoubtedly legendary and hagiographic".[13][30]

About his descendants, there are different views. According to many collections of Sunni and Shi'a hadith, his only son was Mohammed, who was born in 255 A.H.(869 A.D.). Some sources enumerate up to three girls and three boys as his offspring. Some others say he did not have any offspring.[17]


Shia believe that Hasan al-Askari gained the Imamate after the death of his father—by divine command, as well as by the decrees of the previous Imams—at the age of 22. During the seven years of his Imamate, Hasan al-Askari lived in dissimulation (taqiyah), without any social contact,[31] as the Abbasid Caliphs were afraid of the increasing popularity of Shia Islam at the time. The Caliphs also came to know that the leaders among the Shia believed that the eleventh Imam would have a son who was the promised Mahdi.[b] Due to these fears, the Caliphs of the time had decided to put an end to the Imamate of Shi'ism once and for all.[12]

Under the rule of the Abbasid Caliphs[edit]

Hasan al-Askari lived almost his entire life under house arrest in Samarra and under the supervision of the Abbasid caliphs. He was not allowed to communicate with others and wore the Taqiyah (cap).[32] Some say, however, that due to visits made on his traffic route, at the beginning of his imamate, he had a little freedom. According to Sachedina and Jassim M. Hussain, during his house arrest, al-Askari named a personal deputy to guide the Shia in religious thought and collect religious taxes (Khums, Zakat, etc.).[31][33] He organized The institution of the deputyship (wikala).[17] He criticized the rulers for appropriating the wealth of the nation and extorting the people under their rule by not communicating with or cooperating with the kings of his time. The state remained in a political crisis, as the Abbasid Caliphs were considered puppets of the Turks, who were seen as ruling through terrorism. After the death of al-Askari's father, Ali al-Hadi, the Caliph Al-Mu'tazz summoned him to Baghdad, where he was kept in prison during the short rule of the next Caliph, Al-Muhtadi. Most of his prison time, however, was during the reign of the succeeding Caliph, Al-Mu'tamid, who is known in Shia sources as the main oppressor of the Imam.[19] The Imam's death has largely been attributed to poison administered by al-Mu'tamid.[34] The al-Mu'tamid era coincided with the rebellion of the Alawites, and people allied to them, so al-Askari was released from prison, from 256 to 260 A.H. The news of his death was published in his home.[17]


There was a large sect of Shia, the Waqifiyya, who believed that the Imamate stopped with the seventh Imam, Musa al-Kadhim. They were unwilling to approve the succession of the remaining five Imams. Also, Ja'far, the son of the tenth Imam, claimed to be Imam after the death of his brother, al-Askari, and was followed by a group of Shia. However, this group disbanded soon afterwards, as Ja'far himself gave up his claim. Except for Zaidiyyah and Isma'ilism, which continue to the present day, all other minority sects of the Shia were dissolved in a short period, except for the division made by Ibn Nusayr after the death of Al-Askari, which later became the Alawites.[12]


During their lifetimes, the Shia Imams trained hundreds of scholars whose names and works can be found in biographical books.[c] During the time of the Eleventh Imam, however, some Shia saw Islamic religious life as being in shambles. The Imam was under house arrest,[31] and many non-believers took advantage of this to question religion, in spite of the Imam's continuing to speak out against those who questioned the Qur'an. An account of this can be found in a tafsir ascribed to him.[35] The religious skepticism was manifested in a book entitled The Contradiction of the Quran, by Abd al-Masih ibn Ishaq al-Kindi.[36] News of the book came to al-Askari, who met one of al-Kindi's disciples and said to him, "Is there no wise man among you to prevent your teacher, al-Kindi, from that which he has busied himself with?" The disciple answered that they were al-Kindi's disciples and were unable to object. Later on, Hasan al-Askari instructed the disciple how to question al-Kindi.

Go to him, be courteous with him, and show him that you will help him in what he is in. When he feels comfortable with you, you say to him, "If someone recites the Quran, is it possible that he means other meanings than what you think you understand?" He shall say that "it is possible because he is a man who understands when he listens." If he says that, you say to him "How do you know? He might mean other than the meanings that you think, and so he fabricates other than its (the Qur'an) meanings …"[37]

The disciple did as al-Askari advised him; and Al-Kindi was shrewd enough to say, "… No one like you can get to this. Would you tell me where you have got this from?" And when he heard the true story said, "Now you say the truth. Like this would not come out except that house …". It is said that al-Kindi burnt his book afterwards.[37][38]

Tafsir al-Askari[edit]

Despite being confined to house arrest for almost his entire life, Hasan al-Askari was able to teach others about Islam, and even compiled a commentary on the Quran that became known as Tafsir al-Askari. However, there was much suspicion about whether it truly was his work. The tafsir was thought by some to have a weak chain of authorities (Sanad), which is an essential part of the transmission of a tradition.[17] The tafsir was also questioned because it contained a few inconsistencies and lacks eloquence, which some claim ruin its validity by default. The main reason people questioned its validity was the fact the Imam was under constant watch by the Abbasid government, which prevented any contact between him and other Shia, making it impossible for such knowledge to be transmitted.[39]


Opinions differ on the cause of Hasan al-Askari's death. Some believe he died from illness.[17][15] But, according to some Shia sources, others think he was poisoned at the age of 28 at the instigation of the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mu'tamid and died on the 8th Rabi' al-Awwal 260 AH (approximately: 4 January 874)[40] in his house in Samarra and was buried with his father.[13][15][41] Shaykh Tabarsi thought, based on hadith of the Imamieh, that all Shia imams will be killed by someone else, so that he believed al-Askari was poisoned.[17] Ibn Shahrashub, referring to documents such as Dala'il al-imama, stated that al-Askari was killed by someone else.[42] Rasul Jafarian, referring to historical documents and detention records of the sixth century A.H., stated that al-Askari opposed the Abbasid Caliph politically and that his death happened early in life.[43] According to the Encyclopaedia of Islam, in all of the sources there is one common thread: that al-Mu'tamid wanted a declaration by medical practitioners that showed the people that al-Askari died a natural death.[17][44]

When news of al-Askari's illness reached Caliph Al-Mu'tamid, he sent a physician and a group of his trusted men to observe the Imam's condition. After the death of the Imam, they had all his female slaves examined by the midwives. For two years, they searched for the successor of the Imam until they eventually lost hope. Al-Askari died on the very same day that his young son, Muhammad al-Mahdi, who then was five or a little over, disappeared and started what was henceforth known as the Minor Occultation.[12][19]

Genealogy trees of Middle Eastern families, mostly from Persia and Khorasan, show that Imam Hasan al-Askari also had a second son called Sayyid Ali Akbar. These indicate that Imam al-Askari had children and tend to substantiate the existence of Imam Muhammad al Mahdi. Sayyid 'Ali is Sultan Saadat (Sodot) who died in Termez. His burial place is located in the main mausoleum Sultan Saodat memorial complex in Termez.[45][46][47][48][49] The reason for dispute over whether Imam Al Askari had children or not is perhaps because of the political conflicts between the followers of the Imamah and the leadership of the Abbasids and Ghulat Shiites who had not believed in Imam Hasan al-Askaris Imamah. In fact, the eleventh Imam had two sons, Sayyid Muhammad (i.e. Imam Mahdi) and Sayyid Ali Akbar. Notable descendants of Ali are Sufi saints such as Maudood Chishti and Bahauddin Naqshband,[50][51] descendant after 11 generations.[52] Khwaja Khawand Mahmud, also known as Hazrat Ishaan, descendant after 18 generations and the three saintly brothers Sayyid ul Sadaat Sayyid Mir Jan Sayyidul-Sadaat Sayyid Mahmud Agha and Sayyid ul Sadaat Sayyid Mir Fazlullah, Qadhi ul Qudhad i.e. chief of justice of the Emirate of Afghanistan, maternal descendants of Imam Hasan al Askari and Hazrat Ishaan. The German entrepreneur and member of the royal family of Afghanistan de:Sultan Masood Dakik is a contemporary descendant of Ali, through his great grandfather Sayyid ul Sadaat Sayyid Mir Fazlullah, Qadhi ul Qudhad i.e. chief of justice of the Emirate of Afghanistan.[53] Also Qadi Qozi Sayyid Bahodirxon,[54][55][56][57] and the Sufi saints Tajuddin Muhammad Badruddin[58] and Pir Baba[59] and Sayyid Ahmed Amiruddin.[60][61] Another descendant of Sayyid Ali Akbar was Saint Ishan (Eshon) Imlo of Bukhara.[62][63] Ishan Imlo [ru] Bukhara or "saint of the last time", as he is called in Bukhara, is believed to be the last offspring of the Saints. The average Asian Muslim revere him as the last of the Saints. Ishan Imlo according to the source, died in 1162 AH (1748–1749), the mausoleum (Mazar) is in a cemetery in Bukhara.[56]

His son[edit]

Twelver Shi'ites believe the birth of Al-Askari's son, like that of the prophet Moses, was concealed due to the difficulties of the time and because of the belief that the son was the promised Muhammad al-Mahdi, an important figure in Shia teachings. The Mahdi was believed to be destined to reappear before the end of time to fill the world with justice, peace, and to establish Islam as the global religion.[64] Al-Askari's death coincided with the beginning of the imamate of the Mahdi.[65]

Ja'far al-Zaki, Al-Askari's brother, claimed that his brother never had a son.[66] It is said that when Ja'far al-Zaki was about to say the prayer at his brother's funeral, there appeared "a fair child, with curly hair, and shining teeth", who seized Ja'far's cloak and insisted on saying the prayer. A few days later, a group of Shia pilgrims from Qom, ignorant of his death, came to visit al-Askari. The same Ja'far claimed to be the next Imam. The pilgrims said they would accept him if he would prove himself by telling them their names and indicating how much money they had. While Ja'far was protesting this examination, a servant of Hasan's son appeared, saying that his master had sent him to inform them of their particular names and their specific amounts of money. Ja'far searched everywhere but could not find the boy. The doctrine of his ghaiba declares simply that the Mahdi has been "withdrawn by God from the eyes of men, that his life has been miraculously prolonged, that he has been seen from time to time and has been in correspondence with others, and maintains a control over the fortunes of his people".[19]

Non-Twelver views[edit]

Sunnis do not believe the Mahdi was already born,[67] but there is a group of as many as 40 well-known Sunni scholars including Al-Dhahabi, Ibn-Hajar, Abu al-Falah Hanbali and al-Qunduzi, who believed that he was the son of Hasan.[68][69][65] In 648 AH / 1250-1 CE, the Syrian Shafi'i author Muḥammad b. Yusuf al-Gandji al-Kurashi wrote K. al-Bayan fi akhbar sahib al-zaman in proving the Mahdiship of the Twelfth Imam using Sunni traditions. In 650/1252 Kamalal-Din Muḥammad b. Talha al-ʿAdawi al-Nisibini, a Shafi'i scholar, composed his Maṭalib al-suʾul fi manaḳib al al-rasul answering Sunni objections to the belief that the Twelfth Imām was the Mahdi. The Sibt ibn al-Jawzi wrote Tadhkirat khawass al-umma bi-dhikr khasaʾis al-aʾimma, collecting hadiths from Sunni sources about the virtues of ʿAli and his descendants, and at the end affirmed that the Twelfth Imam was the Expected Qaʾim Al Mahdi. Among Sufi circles, Abu Bakr al-Bayhaḳī (d. 458/1066) had noted that some Sufi gnostics (djamaʿa min ahl al-kashf) agreed with the Twelver doctrine about the identity of the Mahdi and his ghaybah (occultation). The Persian Sufi Sadr al-Din Ibrahim al-Hammuyi (late 7th/13th century) supported Twelver doctrine on the Mahdi in his Faraʾid al-simtayn. The Egyptian Sufi al-Shaʿrani, while generally showing no sympathy for Shiʿism, affirmed in his al-Yawaḳit wa ʾl-dj̲awahir (written in 958/1551) that the Mahdi was a son of Imam al-Hasan al-ʿAskari, born in the year 255/869, and would remain alive until his meeting with Jesus.[70]

According to the earliest reports as cited below from official family tree documents and records, Imam Hasan al-Askari fathered seven children and was survived by six.[71][72] The names of his illustrious biological children were: Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi, Musa, Ja’far, Ibrahim, Fatima, Ayesha, and 'Ali,[73] sometimes referred to as Akbar or Asghar.[74][75][76][77] Еarly books on sayyid genealogy also mention that the descendants of Sayyid Ali ibn Imam Hassan Askari lived in the city of Sabzevar in shiites Iran.[78][56]

See also[edit]


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  • Shareef al-Qurashi, Baqir (2005). The Life of Imam Al-Hasan Al-Askari. Translation by: Abdullah al-Shahin. Ansariyan Publications – Qum.

External links[edit]

Shia Islam titles
Preceded by 11th Imam of Twelver Shia Islam
868 – 874
Succeeded by