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WAFI AHMAD (197-212/813-828), 8TH IMAM

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"Abdullah bin Muhammad, surnamed ar-Radi, Nasir or al-Wafi (true to one's word) was also known as ar-Radi Abdullah al-Wafi or Wafi Ahmad, was born in 149/766. The tradition relates that Imam Wafi Ahmad was locally known as attar (druggist) in Nishapur and Salamia, a surname he earned after his profession in drug and medicine as a protection against his real position. He was however represented by his hujjat, Abdullah bin Maymun (d. 260/874).

The Abbasid caliph Amin (d. 198/814) was murdered, thereupon, his foster brother, Mamun Rashid (d. 218/833) became the next caliph, who transferred his capital to Khorasan in early period of his rule, and as a result he followed a mild attitude with the Alids. After coming to Baghdad, Mamun Rashid changed his mind, and followed the doctrines of Mutazilite. He was however a bitterest foe of the Ismailis.

With the death of Imam Ismail (d. 158/775) and Imam Muhammad (d. 197/813), the gravity of brutal persecutions of the Abbasids had considerably increased. The Abbasids left no chance to grind the Ismailis under the millstone of cruelty. The Ismaili Imams were impelled to thicken their hiding, therefore, the first dawr-i satr (period of concealment) came into force from 197/813 to 268/881, wherein the Imams were known as al-A'immatu'l masturin (the concealed Imams). Idris Imaduddin (d. 872/1468) writes in Zahru'l-ma'ani (p. 59) that, "He (Wafi Ahmad) was the first of the three concealed Imams by the order of God and His inspiration." Hamiduddin Kirmani (d. 412/1021) also admits in his ar-Risalat al-Wai'za (comp. 408/1017) that, "Muhammad bin Ismail became qaim, and after him, the concealed Imams (aima'i masturin) succeeded to the Imamate, who remained hidden on account of the persecution of the tyrants, and these were three Imams, viz., Abdullah, Ahmad and Hussain." Hatim bin Imran bin Zuhra (d. 498/1104) writes in al-Usul wa'l Ahakam that, "When Muhammad bin Ismail died, his authority passed to his son, Abdullah bin Muhammad, the hidden one, who was the first to hide himself from his contemporary adversaries." According to Hasan bin Nuh Broachi (d. 939/1533) in Kitab al-Azhar (comp. 931/1525) that, "The three hidden Imams were Abdullah bin Muhammad, Ahmad bin Abdullah, surnamed at-Taqi and Hussain bin Ahmad."

Imam Wafi Ahmad settled in Nihawand, and betrothed to Amina, daughter of Hamdan, son of Mansur bin Jowshan, who was from Kazirun. By this wife, the Imam had a son, Ali bin Abdullah, surnamed al-Layth, and a daughter, Fatima.

Meanwhile, the Abbasids intensified their operations, thus Imam Wafi Ahmad made his son as the chief of the Ismaili mission, and himself went from the knowledge of the people, so that none of his followers and other knew where he was. It is however known from the fragment of the traditions that he had gone to Syria and lived in the castle of Masiyaf for some time.

The Ismaili da'is in search of a new residence for their Imam came to Salamia and inspected the town and approached the owner, Muhammad bin Abdullah bin Saleh, who had transformed the town into a flourishing commercial centre. The adherents and da'is began to rush privily to Salamia. Like in Nishapur, Imam Wafi Ahmad was also known locally as attar (druggist) in Salamia.

Imam Wafi Ahmad further on repaired to Daylam with his 32 trusted da'is, where he got married with an Alid lady in the village of Ashnash, and had a son by her, whom he named Ahmad, who later on became known as Taqi Muhammad. The adoption of strict taqiya, and moving from one to another place, forced the Imam to assign the mission works to his brother, Hussain bin Muhammad. He ordered his followers to obey his brother, saying: "One who obeys him, he obeys myself, and one who disobeys him, he disobeys me." Hussain bin Muhammad with a party, disguised as merchants, went on pilgrimage to Mecca. He then arrived in Ahwaz from Samarra. A certain da'i started preaching in favour of Hussain bin Muhammad, stating that Imam Wafi Ahmad appointed him instead of himself. When Hussain heard about this, he went to the place where the da'i resided, collected the concerned people, and declared that he was not the Imam, but a lieutenant of his brother, his servant and his slave. When the people heard this, their allegiance to the Imam increased.

Ali al-Layth, the elder son of the Imam had also converted a multitude of people. He was a generous and brave soldier, and fond of hunting and raised a small force of about two thousand men. Once he was on a hunting excursion with his friends in woods, where the Abbasids force raided them sent from Ray. He had a handful men with him, but fought valiantly until an arrow struck him in his throat and fell from his horse. He was arrested and beheaded and his head was sent to the Abbasid governor at Ray.

Hussain bin Muhammad was busy with his correspondence and the affairs of the community on other side. He was much frightened when the news about the murder of Ali al-Layth reached him. He decided to emigrate a safe place together with his associates. The Abbasids in the hills of Nihawand also ambushed them. Hussain bin Muhammad performed outstanding feats of bravery, and after a heroic resistance, he was killed with his associates and their families.

Ali al-Layth had a son, called Ahmad bin Ali al-Layth, a learned and highly talented. When his father was killed, his nurse concealed him and saved from the enemies. He took refuge in the village called Mahdi kad-gah in Khuzistan. With him there were those of his relatives from among the sons of Hussain bin Muhammad. When he grew up, he resolved to take revenge of his father's murder from the people closely involved. Hence he gathered around him those of the Shi'ites, who were supporting him. Thus, he is said to have mustered four thousand men around him. He proceeded with them and pitched his tents at Shaliba, near Damawand, where he posed himself as an Abbasid commander. He summoned the local inhabitants, assuring them to read an official letter received from the government for his commandership. When the people came, he, with his Shi'ite supporters, slaughtered them all. It is recounted that they were the people who had killed his father and Hussain bin Muhammad. After taking revenge, Ahmad bin al-Layth repaired to Asak, a village in the district of Ramhurmuz in Khuzistan.

It is most possible that Imam Wafi Ahmad lived in Suk al-Ahwaz for a short period. When he received news of the misfortunes that befell his brother and son, he left Ahwaz, which was so far an unscathed place for him.

Imam Wafi Ahmad next moved to Samarra with his son, Taqi Muhammad. Samarra lies on the east bank of the Tigris, half way between Takrit and Baghdad. It seems that Imam Wafi Ahmad found no proper respite at Samarra, he ultimately settled in Salamia, where he built a house and resided in the cloak of a local merchant. There lived many eminent Hashimites in Salamia. Most of them belonged to the posterity of Aqil bin Abu Talib, but some of whom were related to the Abbasids. So the Imam pretended to be one of these, and was regarded as one of the Hashimites.

The constant change of the Imam's abode made the Ismailis and da'is a complete loss of the trace of Imam Wafi Ahmad, making them to remain in great confusion. Hurmuz and his son Mahdi, Surhaf bin Rustam and his son Imran finally came forward to institute a search of the Imam. They collected four thousand dinars in cash from the donations of the faithful. They started on their journey, dispersing everywhere, each of them carrying with him a description of the appearance and characteristic features of the Imam. They travelled in guise of wandering hawkers, carrying with them on their donkeys different wares, such as pepper, aromatic plants, spindles, mirrors, frankincense and different kinds of millinery that find demand amongst women. Among themselves they agreed to meet on a fixed date at a certain place, selected in every province, different districts of which were allotted to every one of them to be toured. Whenever children and women came around them, they would ask whether there was in their locality a person, bearing such features. At length, they came to the district of Hims in Syria. They appointed a mosque of that town as their meeting place. So it happened that the Imam also was in the same district, namely in the hills of Jabal as-Summaq, in "the monastery of sparrows" (dayr asfurin), near Kafrabhum. As usual, they were shouting for the items for sale in the Jabal as-Summaq. Some women and children came out to them, and they, as usual, asked whether there was amongst them a man, having such and such physical features. To their utter surprise, a boy and a woman demanded from them as a price from their goods, promising to show them where the person answering their description could be found. They offered to them mastic, frankincense and other things. The woman and child told them that when just a short while ago they were passing near the monastery of sparrows, where they had seen the person with his pages. At length, they succeeded after hard searching for a year to find the Imam with great relief and jubilation.

Imam Wafi Ahmad is known to have summoned his most trusted da'is, called Abu Jafar and Abu Mansur at Salamia before his death, and said in presence of his son, Taqi Muhammad that: "I bequeath the office of Imamate to this my beloved son. He is your Imam from now onwards. You take an oath of allegiance from him, and must remain faithful with him in the manner you have been with me, and obey his orders." It is said that shortly before his death, Imam Wafi Ahmad retired into solitude and died in Salamia in the year 212/828. Imam Wafi Ahmad had two sons, Ahmad surnamed Taqi Muhammad and Ibrahim.


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