The tradition is that of Ibn Hajar in Fath al-Baari as narrated by Haafez Jalaaluddin Suyuti in Tarikh al-Khulafaa and is as follows: These traditions imply the existence of twelve caliphs during the entire lifespan of Islam till the Day of Judgment, who will act with truth, even if they will not rule in immediate succession of each other. They support this idea with a narration reported in his Musnad from Abi al-Jild who said, ‘This nation will not be destroyed till there are twelve caliphs in it. All of them will act with guidance and the true religion. From them will be two persons from the Ahle Bait (a.s.) of Muhammad (s.a.w.a.)…’

Explaining the statement of Ibn Hajar, Suyuti remarks, ‘Hence, from the twelve caliphs, four are the rightly guided caliphs[1], followed by Hasan, Moawiyah, Ibn Zubair and Umar Ibn Abd al-Aziz, which makes it eight. Probably, Mohtadi, the Abbasi caliph, can be added to this list because he was amongst the Abbasi kings like Umar Ibn Abd al-Aziz was amongst the Bani Umayyah tyrants. This was on account of the apparently insignificant oppression of Umar Ibn Abd al-Aziz and Mohtadi. From the remaining two, one is al-Mahdi since he is from the progeny of Muhammad (s.a.w.a.).’ — End of Suyuti’s statement.

Reply: This view or probability is also incorrect because plenty of traditions have confined a number of caliphs to twelve. In fact, some of these have also explicitly mentioned the names of these caliphs, like the narration of Ibn Masood, which rules out all possibilities of interpretations and conjectures. Moreover, these have stated in no uncertain terms that they will follow each other successively and their eras will be immediately after one another.

As for the narration of Abi al-Jild, which is cited as a support for this probability, it is rejected outright because of the notoriety of Abi al-Jild for presenting his own views and whimsical interpretations as traditions of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.). Therefore, his statement, ‘from them are two men from the Ahle Bait (a.s.) of Muhammad (s.a.w.a.)’ is certainly an addition from his own side or from his source. Otherwise, he should have reported, ‘my Ahle Bait (a.s.)’ and not ‘the Ahle Bait (a.s.) of Muhammad (s.a.w.a.).’

All this is assisted by the report available in the book of Khesaal, through his chain of narrators that Abi Najraan reports that Abi al-Jild has narrated to him and even taken an oath, ‘This nation will not be destroyed till there are twelve caliphs in it. All of them will act with guidance and true religion.’ Nowhere, in this report, has he mentioned the additional part.

This is in addition to his view that three of them are from the Ahle Bait (a.s.) of Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) viz. Ali, Hasan and Mahdi (a.s.) while Abi al-Jild says, ‘Two of them will be from Ahle Bait (a.s.) of Muhammad (s.a.w.a.).’

It is also worth mentioning that after some research concerning the views of the scholars of rejaal, I found that Abi al-Jild, whose name was Jailaan Ibn Farwah al-Asadi and is also called as Ibn Abi Farwah had the habit of either fabricating lies or sourced his knowledge from the Testaments. The author of Shamaael al-Rasool, p. 484, writes, ‘Abi al-Jild used to refer to the Old Testament time and again.’ The writer of Al-Jarho wa al-Ta’deel, vol. 2, p. 547, tradition no. 2275, pens, ‘Abi al-Jild al-Asadi al-Basri had command over the Old Testament and its like.’

In any case, one cannot afford to neglect or be heedless towards all the reliable and authentic traditions that talk about the continuity of the eras of these caliphs and the limitation of their number to twelve, notwithstanding the other consecutive traditions in this regard. For, if we consider this tradition to be reliable, it will necessarily require the conformity of the two kinds of traditions. While one talks about the consecutiveness of their eras and their number being twelve, the aforementioned limits it severely as is clear from these two kinds of traditions.

Yes, many consecutive traditions prove the caliphate of these twelve (a.s.). But to interpret it in the manner as Suyuti has done is not valid as demonstrated in the above discussions. Moreover, if we rely on the narration of Abi al-Jild, it will seriously limit the applications of the traditions that emphasize on the continuity of eras.

Interestingly, Suyuti too has become a victim of amnesia and forgetfulness. For, as per his own statement, three of these caliphs must necessarily be from the Ahle Bait (a.s.) of Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) because Ali (a.s.), Hasan (a.s.) are undoubtedly from the Ahle Bait (a.s.) in the light of the Verse of Purification[2] and the clear traditions from the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.). Moreover, he has included the likes of Ibn Zubair and Moawiyah amongst those who act with guidance.

These are absolutely disgusting and weak arguments, which show their confusion and obscene helplessness in the exegesis of these traditions, while turning their backs on their only and real interpretation i.e. the twelve famous Imams (a.s.) from the Ahle Bait (a.s.).

(Abridged from the English translation of the book ‘Muntakhab al-Asar’, vol. 1, (published by Naba Publications, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran) by Ayatollah Lotfollah Saafi Golpaygani (may Allah prolong his life))!

[1] Implying Abu Bakr, Umar, Usmaan and Ali (a.s.).

[2] Surah Ahzaab (33): Verse 33.