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The Imamate, which Shi’i Muslims maintain is an intrinsic part of Islam, is a prerogative bestowed by God upon a chosen person, from the family of the Prophet (pbh), who before his death and with the guidance of God, transfers the Imamate to another by an explicit designation or Nass. Hence, on the authority of Nass, the Imamate is restricted through all political circumstances to a definite individual among all the descents of the Prophet (pbh) through his daughter Fatima, whether he claims the temporal rule for himself or not. The Imamate therefor was a challenge to the ‘Abbasid Caliphs who also claimed spiritual leadership of the community.

According to the traditions cited by the previous Imams and foretold in the authenticated hadith of the Prophet (pbh), the eleventh Imam would father a son who would be the promised Mahdi, who "would bring justice to the world". This eleventh Imam was Abu Muhammad al-Hassan b. Ali al-Askari who succeeded his father, Imam Ali Ibn Muhammad al-Hadi in 254 AH / 868 CE at the age of 22.

Imam al-Hasan was born in Medina in Rabi’al-Akhir 232 AH / 846 CE to the wife of his father named Hadith and spent 22 years of his life under the patronage of his father, the 10th Imam. According to narrations from various sources, the nomination of al-Hasan as the successor to Imam al-Hadi was made at the death of Muhammad, one of al-Hasan’s brothers. The death of the brother left al-Hasan as the eldest among the

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surviving sons and because of the traditions about the Mahdi, the ‘Abbasid Caliphs kept Imam al-Hasan al-Askari under close surveillance, more than they had the previous Imams. Often the Imam was able to speak to his supporters only through intermediaries.

Once when the Imam was imprisoned, the ‘Abbasids went to Salih b. Wasif and told him to treat the Imam harshly. Salih sent for two of the evilest men he could find to take charge of the Imam, but the men changed into men of worship, prayer and fasting to an amazing extent. When he interrogated them about their change in character, they said : "What can we say about a man who fasts through the day and stands (in prayer) through the night, who does not speak and occupies himself with nothing except worship? When he looks at us, our limbs shake and within us is (a feeling) which we have never had."

The Imam was also handed over to a man named Nahrir who asked permission to throw Imam al-Askari to wild animals but instead of being eaten, they found the Imam standing in prayer with the animals around him.

A consequence of the severe restrictions impose by the ‘Abbasid Caliphs was Imam Hasan al-Askari having to resort to Taqiya or the protection of the true religion and its followers from enemies through concealment in circumstances where there is fear of being captured or insulted.(precedent: e.g. Holy Qir'an Chapter 40: Verse 28). The Imam did not make his son publicly known during his life-time and the ordinary people were

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not able to recognize him after Imam al-Askari’s death.

Imam al-Hasan fell sick due to poisoning on the 1st of Rabi’u ‘l-Awwal 260 AH / 873 CE and as soon as the news of the illness reached the Caliph al-Mu’tamid, physicians as well as agents including Nahrir were sent to increase surveillance. When the Imam died on Friday, 8th Rabi’u ‘l-awwal, Samarra was in uproar. The markets were empty and the Banu Hashim, military leaders, secretaries, judges, attestators and the common people rode to his funeral. Imam al-Hasan al-Askari was buried in the house in which his father was buried, the house for both of them in the military (‘Askar’) district of Samarra, Iraq.

Ja’far b. Ali, the Imam’s own brother, a profligate seized whatever possession the Imam left behind and strove to take his place in the eyes of the Shi’is Muslims and even went to the authorities offering them money and whatever he thought could advance him as the new Imam but nobody could make his legitimate. All the Imam’s female servants were also examined by the midwife of the Caliph to determine whether anybody was with child, fearing the Mahdi. The ‘Abbasid maintained their futile search for the Mahdi for a further two years.

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