إذا وصلته وقطعني قطع الله أجله
If I maintain my ties with him and he cuts me off then Allah will cut off his life-time [Imam al-Kadhim about Muhammad b. Ismail]
We all know of the summons of Imam Musa al-Kadhim to Baghdad in the year 179 by Harun al-Rashid, his subsequent imprisonment and ultimate death in the year 183. But what is less well known is the role of one of the relatives of the Imam, specifically his nephew Muhammad b. Ismail in bringing this tragic event about.
Who was Muhammad b. Ismail?
Muhammad is the seventh “Imam” of the Ismailiyya about whose life very little is known even in their pitiable sources. Muhammad was the eldest son of Ismaıl b. Ja’far [who died in the lifetime of al-Sadiq]. The Ismailiyya claim that he left Iraq after the recognition of the Imamate of Musa al-Kadhim by the majority of al-Sadiq’s followers, and went into hiding, henceforth acquiring the epithet al-Maktum, the Hidden. He is supposed to have continued to maintain close contacts with the Mubarakiyya, a radical Shı’ı group which followed him. According to the later Ismaılıs, this emigration marks the beginning of the period of concealment (Dawr al-Satr) in early Ismaılism, with no apparent Imam, until the Fatimi Da’wa came and re-established it.
What happened to the followers of Muhammad b. Ismail?
Most of the followers of Muhammad b. Ismail refused to acknowledge his death. For these immediate predecessors of the Qarmatıs, Muhammad b. Ismaıl was regarded as the last Imam and expected to reappear as the Mahdı or Qaim, ‘riser’. They were also called Sab'iyya [seveners i.e. believed in seven Imams] and Waqifiyya [stoppers i.e. who halted at Muhammad b. Ismail].
Later Ismailis claim that that there was another obscure group of followers of Muhammad b. Ismail who accepted his death and traced the Imamate in his descendants. However, the separate existence of this group is not recorded in any contemporary source, until Abd Allah, the future leader of the movement, publicly claimed the Imamate of the Ismaılıs for himself and his ancestors in the year 297. It is hard to conclude this to be anything other than a back-projection of the Fatimid Imams wishing to to place themselves in one continuous chain of Imams back to Muhammad b. Ismail and the early 'Aimma.
His Role in Sending al-Kadhim to his Death
The picture that emerges in a reliable narration in al-Kafi shows Muhammad b. Ismail to be quite a worldly and ambitious fellow who was instrumental in heightening Harun’s suspicion towards Musa al-Kadhim. This acts as another reminder that mere blood relation with the purified personalities is not enough to safeguard one from evil inclinations.
الكافي: علي بن إبراهيم، عن محمد بن عيسى، عن موسى بن القاسم البجلي، عن علي بن جعفر قال: جاء ني محمد بن إسماعيل وقد اعتمرنا عمرة رجب ونحن يومئذ بمكة، فقال: يا عم إني أريد بغداد وقد أحببت أن اودع عمي أبا الحسن - يعني موسى بن جعفر عليه السلام - وأحببت أن تذهب معي إليه، فخرجت معه نحو أخي وهو في داره التي بالحوبة وذلك بعد المغرب بقليل، فضربت الباب فأجابني أخي فقال: من هذا فقلت: علي، فقال: هوذا أخرج - وكان بطئ الوضوء - فقلت: العجل قال: وأعجل، فخرج وعليه إزار ممشق قد عقده في عنقه حتى قعد تحت عتبة الباب، فقال علي بن جعفر: فانكببت عليه فقبلت رأسه وقلت: قد جئتك في أمر إن تره صوابا فالله وفق له، وإن يكن غير ذلك فما أكثر ما نخطي قال: وما هو؟ قلت: هذا ابن أخيك يريد أن يودعك ويخرج إلى بغداد، فقال لي: ادعه فدعوته وكان متنحيا، فدنا منه فقبل رأسه وقال: جعلت فداك أوصني فقال: اوصيك أن تتقي الله في دمي فقال مجيبا له: من أرادك بسوء فعل الله به وجعل يدعو على من يريده بسوء، ثم عاد فقبل رأسه، فقال: يا عم أوصني فقال: اوصيك أن تتقي الله في دمي فقال: من أرادك بسوء فعل الله به وفعل، ثم عاد فقبل رأسه، ثم قال: يا عم أوصني، فقال: اوصيك أن تتقي الله في دمي فدعا على من أراده بسوء، ثم تنحى عنه ومضيت معه فقال لي أخي: يا علي مكانك فقمت مكاني فدخل منزله، ثم دعاني فدخلت إليه فتناول صرة فيها مائة دينار فأعطانيها وقال: قل لابن أخيك يستعين بها على سفره قال علي: فأخذتها فأدرجتها في حاشية ردائي ثم ناولني مائة اخرى وقال: أعطه أيضا، ثم ناولني صرة اخرى وقال: أعطه أيضا فقلت: جعلت فداك إذا كنت تخاف منه مثل الذي ذكرت، فلم تعينه على نفسك؟ فقال: إذا وصلته وقطعني قطع الله أجله، ثم تناول مخدة أدم، فيها ثلاثة آلاف درهم وضح وقال: أعطه هذه أيضا قال: فخرجت إليه فأعطيته المائة الاولى ففرح بها فرحا شديدا ودعا لعمه، ثم أعطيته الثانية والثالثة ففرح بها حتى ظننت أنه سيرجع ولا يخرج، ثم أعطيته الثلاثة آلاف درهم فمضى على وجهه حتى دخل على هارون فسلم عليه بالخلافة وقال: ما ظننت أن في الارض خليفتين حتى رأيت عمي موسى بن جعفر يسلم عليه فالخلافة، فأرسل هارون إليه بمائة ألف درهم فرماه الله بالذبحة فما نظر منها إلى درهم ولا مسه
al-Kafi: Ali b. Ibrahim from Muhammad b. Isa from Musa b. al-Qasim al-Bajali from Ali b. Ja’far who said: Muhammad b. Ismail [b. Ja’far] approached me when we were in Makka and had just completed the Umra in the month of Rajab - he said: O uncle, I want to travel to Baghdad but first I wish to bid farewell to my uncle Aba al-Hasan - that is Musa b. Ja’far. I would like it if you accompany me to meet him.
I came out with him heading towards my brother who was in his house in Huba. We reached a little after Maghrib. I knocked the door and was answered by my brother who said: who is that? I said: Ali, he said: I am just coming - he was someone who took long in making the ablution - so I said: make haste, he said: I will. Eventually he came out wearing a lower garment [waist-wrapper] dyed in an earthish hue, knotted at his neck and proceeded to sit at the threshold [step] of the door.
Ali b. Ja’far said: I bent towards him, kissed his forehead and said: I have come to you concerning a matter, if you find it to be appropriate then it is Allah who facilitated it, and if it is not [if you find it disagreeable] then how often do we err [as humans]. He said: what is it? I said: this is the son of your brother, he wishes to bid you farewell and depart towards Baghdad. He [the Imam] said to me: call him [Muhammad b. Ismail]. I called him and he was close by.
He [Muhammad b. Ismail] came near him, kissed his forehead and said: May I be made your ransom, advise me, he [the Imam] said: I advise you to fear Allah concerning my blood, he replied to him: May Allah do such to whoever wishes ill for you, and he began supplicating against the one who harbors ill-feeling towards him. Then he kissed his forehead a second time and said: O uncle, advise me, he said: I advise you to fear Allah concerning my blood, he said: May Allah do such and such to whoever wishes ill for you [and He has already done so]. Then he kissed his forehead a third time and said: O uncle, advise me, he said: I advise you to fear Allah concerning my blood, so he supplicated against the one who wishes ill towards him, then he turned away from him [to depart], I too began walking away with him, but my brother said to me: O Ali, [stop] where you are.
I halted, he called me and I entered [the house]. He outstretched a pouch which contained a hundred gold coins and handed it to me and said: tell the son of your brother [nephew] to make use of it on his journey. Ali said: I took it and twisted it around the hem of my cloak, then he handed me another hundred and said: give it to him, then he handed me another pouch and said: give it to him also.
I said: may I be made your ransom, if you fear him doing what you described then why are you aiding him against yourself [by helping him]? he said: If I maintain my ties with him and he cuts me off then Allah will cut off his life-time. Then he took to hand a tanned leather pillow [hollowed out to store money] in which were three thousand fine silver coins and said: give this to him as well.
He [Ali b. Ja’far] said: I came out and gave him the first hundred whereupon he became extremely delighted and supplicated for his uncle, then I gave him the second and the third. He became so happy that I thought he will turn back and not depart [for Baghdad]. Lastly I gave him the three thousand silver coins.
Nevertheless, he departed on his mission until he went in to see Harun [the Abbasid Caliph] and greeted him by acknowledging his Caliphate [said: peace be upon you O Commander of the Faithful]. Then he said: I never thought that there could be two Caliphs on earth [at the same time] until I saw my uncle Musa b. Ja’far being greeted with the Caliphate [people referring to him as the Caliph when greeting him]. Harun sent him one hundred thousand silver coins [as a reward for his reporting about his uncle] but Allah afflicted him [Muhammad b. Ismail] with an ailment [in which an ulcer grows and chokes the passage in the throat] and he did not get the chance to even take a look at a single silver coin [that he had been gifted] let alone touch it.
The death date of Muhammad b. Ismail can be fixed to be the year 179, the year in which he betrayed his uncle to the authorities and was punished immediately by Allah for it. Muhammad sold his Akhera for the Dunya, despite the Imam supporting him from his own wealth to repel his evil and fulfill the ties of kinship. Such a person hardly meets the base requirements of a supposed Imam and the adulation that his followers direct towards him.