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 Wafi Ahmad was locally known as attar (druggist) in Nishapur and Salamia as well, 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). It is also learnt that he was called Muhammad bin Ismail among the Ismailis, who lived at remote distance and had not seen the Imams. He, being the son and successor of Imam Muhammad bin Ismail is admittedly asserted in the work of Tabari (3rd vol., p. 2218). His mother was Fatima, the daughter of Sarah, sister of Ishaq bin al-Abbas.The Abbasid caliph Amin (193-198/809-814) was murdered after ruling for 4 years and 8 months, thereupon, his foster brother, Mamun Rashid (198-218/814-833) 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.
The word satr (pl. satur) is derived from astar, meaning hide, cover or shield. As it is said, masatra (he concealed enmity), or tastir(to hold within a curtain). According to 'Arabic-English Lexicon' (New York, 1872, 4th vol., p. 1304) by Edward William Lane, the word satr means to veil, conceal or hide a thing. The early Ismailis had employed the term satr with regards to those periods in their history when the Imams were hidden from the eyes of their followers. When the animosity of their enemies reached to its extreme, the Ismaili Imams had to hide themeselves to elude discovery. On that juncture, the hujjats represented the Imams in the community. Thus, the hujjat was himself a living proof, acting as the custodian until the time of the Imam's reappearance. This period is called Dawr-i Satr (period of concealment) in Ismaili history. In contrast, the period following the concealment is known as an unveiling (Dawr-i Kashf), or the period of manifestation (Dawr-i Zuhur), when the Imams publicly made their appearance.
With the death of Jafar Sadik in 148/765, Ismail (d. 158/775) and 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 came into force from 197/813 to 268/882, wherein the Imams were known as al-A'immatu'l masturin i.e., the concealed Imams. Achilles des Souza writes in 'Mediation in Islam - an Investigation' (Rome, 1975, p. 35) that, 'For the first century and a half after the death of Ismail, the Ismaili Imams remained hidden and little is known. This period could be characterised, as we have seen earlier, as the period of the quietists.'
And here we cannot but call attention to a fact that the doctrine of ghayba among the Twelvers should not be confounded with that of the concept of satr among the Ismailis. Seyyed Hossain Nasr writes in this context in his 'Ideals and Realities of Islam' (London, 1966, p. 159) that, 'The idea of being hidden (mastur) must no, however, be confused with the occultation (ghayba) of the twelfth Imam (of the Twelvers). The first implies simply being hidden from the eyes of the crowd and from public notice, while the second means disappearance from the physical world.'
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.' The fact that the Dawr-i Satr virtually came into force in the time of Wafi Ahmad has been also asserted by the modern scholars, such as W.Ivanow, Dr. Sami Nassib Makarem, Sir Johj Glubb, Husayn F. al-Hamdani, etc.
Shahrastani (1076-1153) writes in 'Kitab al-milal wa'l nihal' (p. 164) that, 'Then begins the era of the hidden Imams, who went about secretly but sent out emissaries, who appeared openly on their behalf. They hold that the world can never be without an Imam who is alive and a qaim, either visible and manifest, or hidden and concealed. When the Imam is manifest it is possible for his hujjat (proof) to be hidden, but if the Imam is hidden it is necessary for his hujjat and emissaries to be manifest.'
On account of the strictness of Imam's concealment, when his hujjats were accepting on his behalf the oath of allegiance from neophytes, they used to tell them that they should obey the Lord of the Time (Sahib al-Asr or Waliyul Asr) without pronouncing the name of the Imam. This practice was in use among the neophytes through the whole period of the concealment of the Imams.
Summing up the condition of the hidden Imams in the veiled period, Ibn Khaldun writes in his 'Muqaddimah' (1st vol., pp. 44-5) that, 'These people (Imams) were constantly on the move because of the suspicions various governments had concerning them. They were kept under observation by the tyrants, because their partisans were numerous and their propaganda had spread far and wide. Time after time they had to leave the places where they had settled. Their men, therefore, took refuge in hiding, and their (identity) was hardly known, as the poet says: `If you would ask the days what my name is, they would not know, and where I am, they would not know where I am.''
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. The brother of Wafi Ahmad also married here and had a posterity.
Meanwhile, the Abbasids intensified their operations, thus 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 dais 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. They told him that there was a Hashimite merchant from Basra who was desirous of settling in the town. He readily accepted and pointed out to them a site along the main street in the market, where existed a house belonging to a certain Abu Farha. The Ismaili dais bought it for their Imam and informed him about it. Wafi Ahmad arrived to his new residence as an ordinary merchant. He soon pulled down the old building and had new ones built in its place; and also built a new wall around it. He also built a tunnel inside his house, leading to the desert, whose length was about 12 miles. Money and treasures were carried on camels to the door of that tunnel at night. The door opened and the camels entered with their loads inside the house.
Salamia was a small town in Syria in the district of east of the Orontes, and is located at a distance of 32 kilometers to the south- east of Hammah, or 44 kilometers to the north-east of Hims. It lies in a fertile plain, about 1500 feet above the sea level, south of the Jabal al-A'la and on the margin of the Syrian steppe, standing on the main entrance of the Syrian desert.
It is an ancient Salamias or Salaminias of the Greek, which flourished in the Christian period. According to Yaqut in 'Mudjam' (3rd vol., p. 123), the town was originally called Salam-miyyah (a hundred safe) after the hundred surviving inhabitants of the destroyed town of al-Mutafika, who migrated to this town, which they built and the expression was changed with the years until it became Salamia. There is a foundation inscription of a mosque on a stone at the entrance to the citadel, dating 150/767 founded by the local Hashimites and was destroyed by the Qarmatians in 290/902. It will be perhaps appropriate to say that the modern Salamia in Syria was prospered by the Ismailis. According to 'The Encyclopaedia of Islam' (Leiden, 1995, 8th vol., p. 921), 'The fact that Salamiyya was the centre of an important branch of the Hashimids and the isolated position of the town perhaps account for its important role in the early history of the Ismaili movement as the secret headquarters of the pre-Fatimid Ismaili dawa.'
The adherents and dais began to rush privily to Salamia. Like in Nishapur, Wafi Ahmad was also known locally as attar (druggist) in Salamia.
It is related that during the Abbasid campaign of energic search for Wafi Ahmad, the hujjat, dais and the followers demonstrated matchless example of their firm faith. But one of the dais, called Ahmad bin al-Kayyal al-Khasibi had deviated from Ismailism. He had acquired Ismaili teachings from Imam and was well steeped in esoteric doctrines (kalimat ismiyya), but concocted his own theories that were contrary to the Ismaili faith. When Wafi Ahmad was informed about his negative propaganda, his having created confusion in the community, he excommunicated him, ordering his followers to separate from him. When Ibn al-Kayyal learnt the severe actions of Wafi Ahmad against him, he publicly renounced his allegiance and proclaimed himself first an Imam, and later on the promised Mahdi on earth to establish peace. Shahrastani also writes in 'Kitab al-milal wa'l-nihal' (p. 17) that, 'Ibn al-Kayyal had claimed the Imamate for himself and asserted that he was the promised Qaim on earth.' He founded a sect called after him Kayyaliyya, who incorporated different heretical ideas in their doctrines. Ahmad bin al-Kayyal was however executed by his own followers in 207/822 who depended upon him, when they understood his impiety and his idea to spread trouble in the world. With the end of Ahmad bin al-Kayyal, the Kayyaliyya sect also disappeared and its handful followers reverted to their original faith of Ismailism.
Wafi Ahmad further on repaired to Daylam with his 32 trusted dais, 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 Wafi Ahmad 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 dai started preaching in favour of Hussain bin Muhammad, stating that Wafi Ahmad appointed him instead of himself. When Hussain heard about this, he went to the place where the dai 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 Wafi Ahmad 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 they were raided by the Abbasids force 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. They were also ambushed by the Abbasids in the hills of Nihawand. Hussain bin Muhammad performed outstanding feats of bravery, and after a heroic resistance, he was killed with his associates with 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 Shiites, 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 Shiite 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.
Ahwaz (the Elymais of the Greeks) was a province in Abbasid realm, whom the Iranians coined in the form of Susiana. Ahwaz is an Arabic name (pl. of the sing. Huz, corresponding with Syriac Huzaye). It was bounded by Iraq on the west side, by the province of Faras, on the east and south, and on the north by the part of the province Jabal (now Luristan). Its capital was Suk al-Ahwaz (market of Ahwaz) and hence simply as al-Ahwaz.
It is most possible that 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.
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. The original form of the name is probably Iranian, and in this context, the following etymologies have been proposed: Sam-rah, Sai-Amorra and Sa-morra. The last two meaning the place of payment of tribute. On the Abbasid coins, it was written as Surra man ra'a(delighted is he who sees it). Samarra was founded in 221/836 by the Abbasid commander, Ashnas, two parsangs south of the village of Karkh-Fairuz. Between 221/836 and 276/889, seven Abbasid caliphs lived in Samarra. It seems that Wafi Ahmad found no proper respite at Samarra, therefore, 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 Wafi Ahmad pretended to be one of these, and was regarded as one of the Hashimites. He however kept in secret his own real name and the name of his son.
The constant change of the Imam's abode made the Ismailis and dais a complete loss of the trace of Wafi Ahmad, making them to remain in great confusion. Dai Hurmuz and his son Mahdi, dai 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 faithfuls. They started on their journey, dispersing everwhere, 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 alloted to every one of them to be toured. Whenever children and women came around them, they would ask these 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 appearance. 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.
During the period of concealment (dawr-i satr), it is known that the Ismailis had offered great sacrifices for the cause of their faith, the detail of which is not accessible. They had been severely domineered and tortured by the Abbasids, the equal of which is hardly seen in other period. Suffice it to elite here one instance: a Syrian daily news, 'al-Baath' on October 28, 1966 highlighted a report that a team of workers had discovered human skulls beneath the earth while digging a location to lay a pipeline, about 150 miles north of Salamia. The exhumation was immediately suspended, and the experts were summoned from Damascus for investigation. During the excavation, about 382 human skulls were exhumed, pitching with small iron nails, emanating a trembling story of severe torture and maltreatment. One skull, for instance was pierced with 151 nails. The matter was referred to the archaeological department, and after a minute examination of two months, it had been discovered that the above location originally was an old Ismaili cemetery, belonging to the period between 150/777 and 275/900. These Ismailis had to live in the teeth of very bitterest opposition, and were tortured with heartless during brutal persecutions, who could not escape the snares of the Abbasids. Being ingrained in their faith, they would not recant even under hardest trials.
Wafi Ahmad is known to have summoned his most trusted dais, 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, Wafi Ahmad retired into solitude and died in Salamia in the year 212/828.
Wafi Ahmad had two sons, Ahmad surnamed Taqi Muhammad and Ibrahim. Nothing is virtually known about Ibrahim, save the fact that his posterity was still living at the time of Imam al-Mahdi in Salamia and were slain by the Qarmatians in 290/902.
According to Ibn Athir (10th vol., p. 184), Khalaf bin Mulaib al-Ashhabi (d. 499/1106) had captured Salamia in 476/1084 and acknowledged the Fatimid suzerainty. There is an evidence of this in an inscription in Kufic character, dated 481/1088, on the door beam of a mosque in Salamia. In the inscription, studied extensively by Rey, Hartmann, van Berchem and Littmann, Khalaf bin Mulaib says that he has erected a shrine on the tomb of Abul Hasan Ali bin Jarir. But, the Syrian Ismailis however have traditionally regarded this tomb as that of Imam Wafi Ahmad (Abdullah bin Muhammad), calling the mausoleum locally as Makam al-Imam. Later on, Prof. Heinz Halm studied and reinterpreted the aforesaid inscription in 1980, lends support to the local Syrian Ismaili tradition by holding that the mausoleum was in all probability originally erected, about 400/1009, over the tomb of Imam Wafi Ahmad by the Fatimid commander, called Ali bin Jafar bin Falah, known as qutb ad-dawla (magnate of the state), who, after subduing the rebellion of Mufraj bin Dagfal al-Jarrah Taiy, had seized Salamia for the Fatimids and whose name also appears in the inscription, and that Khalaf bin Mulaib merely repaired the site, some four decades later, vide 'Les Fatimides a Salamya' (Revue des Etudes Islamiques, LIV, 1986, pp. 133-149) by Heinz Halm.