Our 11th Imam, whose birth anniversary we commemorate this week is the only Imam to directly share a title with another Imam – his father, Imam Ali ibne Muhammad (who is also known as Al-Hadi). On this auspicious occasion, we offer our congratulations to our living Imam and spend some time to learn more about this noble personality.
Imam was born on the 10th of Rabi’ al Thaani (also called Rabi’ al Aakher) in the city of his grandfather – Madinatul Nabi. However, just as his noble ancestors, he was brought to the city of Samarra, which at that time was the capital of the Muslim government so that he and his family could be under more direct watch and supervision.
Our Imam lived in an area where the military was stationed and was thus known by the title – Al-Askari (Askari in Arabic refers to the military). Of course, we as Shia believe that this was a title given to him by Rasulullah (peace be upon him and his family) over 200 years prior to his birth in a long hadith narrated by Jabir ibne Abdullah Ansari. Another reason for his title Al-Askari is that it has been narrated that Mutawwakil, who was the ‘leader’ of the community, wanted to show the Imam his own military power and prowess. He therefore ordered his army of 90,000 to fill bags of sand and stack them on top of one another, and then showed this mountain of sand bags to the Imam. The Imam was not phased by this display, rather, he instructed Mutawwakil to look through his two fingers; and when he did so, he saw hundreds of thousands of Angels, armed and ready to attack at the command of the Imam! The Imam told the usurping Caliph that if he wanted to use this force, he would do so, but would not – and thus, the title of Al-Askari was attributed to him!
It is during the period of the later Imams, especially the 11th Imam, that the system of ‘Wikaalat’ or representation of the Imam was also taking greater form. With the Imam under close watch and in prison, he needed to keep in touch with the followers, answer questions and also collect any religious dues (Khums, etc…) which they may have and thus, trustworthy and pious individuals were chosen to represent the Imam and to collect questions, assistance and the Khums and to present it to Imam – or in the case of the Khums – to do with it what the Imam wanted.
This, as we know, became more solidified with the 12th Imam and his four special representatives – no more and no less – which ended with the death of the forth one. Since that day till today, there have not been and will not be any ‘special representatives’ of our living and present Imam. However as the common usage of the term is used, we do believe that the Maraa’ja Taqlid are the ‘general representatives’ of our living Imam.