The Ash’ari Family | History of Imami Shi’i Theology (3)

With the decline of intellectual theological discourse in Kufa, Qom had become the base for the Shi’as and would remain influential during the course of the 3rd and 4th century. Before we begin discussing any further, it is important to take a brief glance over how and why Qom became to be such an important city. This is by no means meant to be a thorough detailed analysis, and I have intentionally chosen not to mention many things and keep it as straightforward as possible.

The Ash’ari tribe of Yemen can be given credit for bringing Shi’ism to the city of Qom. This tribe’s history can be traced back to the days of Jahiliyyah, and they were even then known for their nobility and virtuous status in Yemen. The first person from this tribe to convert to Islam was Malik bin ‘Amir after having met the Prophet (s) in Makkah.[1] In any case, many members of the Ash’ari tribe later converted to Islam, the most notable one from early Islamic history being Abu Musa al-Ash’ari.

After the death of ‘Uthman, the Ash’ari tribe were divided into three factions. A group supported Mu’awiyah, another followed the lead of Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, and a third group stayed loyal to Imam ‘Ali (s) and also formed part of his army during the civil wars. This last group, would become important as it was through them that Shi’ism was brought to the city of Qom.

There are multiple reasons given for why the progeny of this last faction moved to Qom. The Ash’aris may have had some familiarity with the city from the time of ‘Umar’s caliphate, since it is reported that Qom and Kashan were conquered by Abu Musa al-Ash’ari.[2] Malik bin ‘Amir also played a role in the conquest of Iran during the caliphate of ‘Umar, and thus his progeny may have had familiarity with the various cities. Nevertheless, most historians place the official migration of the Ash’ari family to Qom near end of the 1st century Hijri, during the reign of al-Hajjaj bin Yusuf al-Thaqafi, who is infamous in history for his brutal political policies.

Its relevant here to mention that Malik bin ‘Amir had two important sons named Sa’ib and Sa’d. Sa’ib was vehemently anti-Umayyad, whereas not much is known about Sa’d besides a few anecdotes and that he was also a notable figure in Kufa.

Some of the reasons given for why the Ash’aris moved to Qom do not appear to be historically accurate, so we will suffice with mentioning two of them. One possible reason for their migration is that al-Hajjaj exiled Muhammad the son of Sa’ib bin Malik to Azerbaijan, but he instead hid in Kufa. After al-Hajjaj found out about this, he ordered for him to be killed and it was then that the sons of Sa’d bin Malik (namely ‘Abdullah and Ahwas), as well as their nephews and nieces escaped to Qom.

Another reason given is that the Ash’aris were supporting ‘Abdul Rahman bin Muhammad bin Ash’ath bin Qays during his revolt against al-Hajjaj. When the latter’s revolt was crushed, al-Hajjaj had given them a few days to leave Kufa. Overall, it seems that the support and affinity this side of the family had towards the Alids as well as their anti-Umayyad stance, caused al-Hajjaj to crack down on them. It was thus a forced migration as they were no longer safe in the city of Kufa.

Whether ‘Abdullah and Ahwas intentionally decided to go to Qom, or whether they were on their way to a different city, but ended up in Qom, is not known with certainty. There are different reasons[3] mentioned as to how the Ash’aris ended up Qom:

  • It is said that when Malik bin ‘Amir was accompanying Abu Musa al-Ash’ari in the conquest of some of the Iranian cities, a group of fighters from Tabaristan had attacked Taghrud[4] – a village located between Qom and Aveh – and had taken their people as prisoners. Malik had fought this army off, and freed the prisoners as well as returned back their stolen property to them. After Malik returned to Kufa, he had narrated the incident to his sons. ‘Abdullah and Ahwas (the grandsons of Malik) would have known that these people would be willing to welcome them as they were given protection and safety by their grandfather during the conquests.
  • Another report mentions that it was Ahwas who chose Qom as a destination, but ‘Abdullah (who apparently joined the caravan late) instead wished to go to Isfahan or Qazwin. Ahwas informed his brother that those cities have been hit by cholera and convinced ‘Abdullah to remain in Qom.
  • The Daylamites would often send forces to attack various cities even after the conquest of Persia by the Muslims. On one occasion when they decided to attack Qom, they were unaware that the Ash’aris were in the region, who came out to defend the city. Their victory caused the residents of Qom to request them to stay as residents with them, and a contract was formed between the residents and the Ash’aris.

Nevertheless, what we can say for sure is that the Ash’aris were well informed about the various regions of Iran, including Qom. However, it isn’t very clear that they set off from Kufa to go to Qom, rather it is highly likely that they intended on going to Isfahan or Qazwin, and due to unforeseen circumstances were forced to stay in Qom.

Theological Views of the Ash’aris

It is not clear as to how the Ash’ari residents of Qom essentially all turned towards Shi’ism in the theological sense. Given that one of the main reasons why certain Ash’aris had to leave Kufa was their support for the Alids, it is only natural that these individuals brought with them their ideologies as well. It seems that moreso than being mere political Shi’as (i.e. followers of a certain camp due to political reasons – a trend that was common in Kufa[5]), those who moved to Qom also had a basic understanding of Shi’i theology – whose details of course were in their infancy. There is no doubt that belief in the Imamate of the Imams would have transferred over to Qom from Kufa because of the Ash’ari family. One report mentions that Musa bin ‘Abdullah bin Sa’d was the first person to express his theological belief in Shi’ism, which encouraged others to also express their beliefs in it.[6] Musa was an Imami who had been brought up in Kufa, and migrated to Qom with his father.

Regardless of which member of the Ash’ari family spread Shi’ism in Qom and its surrounding villages after their migration, what is certain is that it quickly became a major Shi’i city where Shi’i teaching and learning circles became active. In fact, the Shi’ism of the Ash’aris was so obvious that they were known for sending occasional gifts and Khumus money to the Imams from the income received through surrounding farms and gardens. The Imams were also known to have sent gifts to them and as well as coffins. It makes sense then, that we began seeing narrations like the ones below from Imam Sadiq (s):

قم‏ بلدنا و بلد شيعتنا – Qom is our city, and the city of our Shi’as.[7]

أَهْلُ‏ قُمَ‏ أَنْصَارُنَا – The residents of Qom are our helpers.[8]

These and many other similar narrations by the Imams show that Qom was indeed a city the Imams deemed important. The residents were Imami Shi’as who believed in the special role of the Imams as a source of guidance, and this formed the basis of their theology. With their continuous communication and relationship with the Imams, their theological understanding gained depth over the centuries, and this slowly began giving Qom a distinct identity.

Three Generations of Ash’ari Narrators

Even though Qom had become an important city after the Ash’aris migrated to it in 94 Hijri, it was still going to be Kufa that would dictate the norms of Imami theology for the next one-and-a-half century. As it was mentioned in the previous post, it was only after the decline of Kufa that Qom became the hub for such intensive discourse. Nevertheless, before we begin discussing Qom as a spearhead for Imami theological discourse, following the decline of Kufa, it is imperative that we learn about certain influential people of the city so we can later see how and why it was easy for Kufan scholars in the middle of the 2nd century Hijri to migrate to Qom.

First Group

The first group of Ash’aris are those who lived during the lifetime of Imam Baqir (s), Imam Sadiq (s) and Imam Kadhim (s). Some of these important figures are as follow:

  1. Musa bin ‘Abdullah al-Ash’ari: It was previously mentioned that he was the first person to express his Shi’ism in the city of Qom. Shaykh Tusi says that he narrated ahadith from both Imam Baqir (s) and Imam Sadiq (s).
  2. Shu’ayb bin ‘Abdullah al-Ash’ari: Also a narrator and companion of Imam Baqir (s) and Imam Sadiq (s).
  3. ‘Imran bin ‘Abdullah al-Ash’ari: He was an Imami scholar in Qom, and some of his meetings with Imam Sadiq (s) during Hajj and in Medina have been recorded in Rijal al-Kashi.
  4. Adam bin ‘Abdullah al-Ash’ari: Companion of Imam Sadiq (s).
  5. Abu Bakr bin ‘Abdullah al-Ash’ari: Companion of Imam Sadiq (s).
  6. ‘Abdul Malik bin ‘Abdullah al-Ash’ari: A companion of Imam Sadiq (s) and has been praised by the Imam himself.
  7. Yasa’ bin ‘Abdullah al-Ash’ari: Although his name hasn’t appeared in primary Rijal works, nevertheless there are two ahadith reported on his authority from Imam Sadiq (s) which implies that he had met the Imam.
  8. Ya’qub bin ‘Abdullah al-Ash’ari: Companion of Imam Sadiq (s) – though not much is known about him, Yaqut al-Hamawi in his Mu’jam al-Buldan says he was one of the scholars of Qom.
  9. Ishaq bin ‘Abdullah al-Ash’ari: Companion of Imam Sadiq (s) and Imam Kadhim (s). It is possible he may have met Imam Baqir (s) as well – the confusion is due to another similar name who has been deemed a companion of Imam Baqir (s).
  10. Idris bin ‘Abdullah al-Ash’ari: Companion of Imam Sadiq (s) and Imam Kadhim (s). Najashi also considers him to have narrated from Imam Ridha (s).
  11. ‘Isa bin ‘Abdullah al-Ash’ari: Companion of Imam Sadiq (s) and Imam Kadhim (s). There is a report in Rijal al-Kashi from Imam Sadiq (s) who says about him: Surely you are from us, the Ahl ul-Bayt.[9]
  12. Ahmad bin ‘Isa bin ‘Abdullah al-Ash’ari: His name appears in the chain of two narrations in Usul al-Kafi and one narration in Tahdhib ul-Ahkam of Shaykh Tusi where he is seen to be narrating directly from Imam Sadiq (s).

As it can be seen in the brief list above, all individuals are the immediate sons of ‘Abdullah bin Sa’d bin Malik.  There are some children of Ahwas who are recorded to have been scholars as well who are part of this generation, but not a lot is known about them. We have not mentioned them here as the intent was not to produce an exhaustive list of narrators, rather to show that there was a group of active individuals in Qom that was in contact with the Imams and had heard ahadith from them. In any case, below is a genealogy tree of the children of ‘Abdullah which is resourceful – taken from my personal copy of the Shi’a Atlas by Rasul Jafariyan:

 

In our next post, we will continue to build this list of scholars who lived during the two subsequent generations. Thereafter, we will return back to some of these individuals – such as Sa’d bin Abdullah al-Ash’ari, Ahmad bin Muhammad bin ‘Isa – and focus on their life in a bit more detail and attempt to describe some of their methods and views which would have played an influential role in shaping the theological school of Qom. As we chronologically reach the end of the middle of the 2nd century Hijri, we will begin discussing other influential figures such as Ibrahim bin Hashim, Ali bin Ibrahim, ‘Abdullah bin Ja’far al-Himyari, Muhammad bin Hasan al-Saffar etc. We will also have to briefly discuss certain trends that formed in Kufa – that of Mufadhdhal bin ‘Umar al-Ju’fi and Hisham bin Salim al-Jawaliqi – and then show how those impacted theological discourse amongst Shi’i scholars in Qom.

Eventually we will also discuss some thematic issues such as discussions pertaining to knowledge of the Imams, infallibility of the Prophet and Imams, phenomenon of Ghuluww (exaggeration), role of the intellect in theology etc.


[1] A detail account of his conversion is recorded in the book Tarikh Qom by 4th century Hijri scholar Hasan bin Muhammad bin Hasan al-Qumi. Much information regarding the Ash’ari family and the history of Qom in general for this article and subsequent articles, is taken from this book.

[2] Origins of the Islamic State (English translation of Futuh al-Buldan) by al-Baladhuri, Volume 1, pg. 487. Translated by Philip Khuri Hitti, 1916

[3] All reasons are reported in the book Tarikh Qom

[4] This village still exists today. See: https://goo.gl/maps/XSB4i6ZFzdP2

[5] For more information on this aspect of history, please see the section Iraqi Shi’ism in Rasul Jafariyan’s work Shiism and its types during the early centuries available online here: https://www.al-islam.org/al-tawhid/general-al-tawhid/shiism-and-its-types-during-early-centuries-part-1-rasul-jafariyan-0#iraqi-shi-ism

[6] Tarikh Qom, Pg. 278-279

[7] Safinah al-Bihar, Volume 7, Pg. 359

[8] Bihar al-Anwar, Volume 57, Pg. 214

[9] Rijal al-Kashi, Hadith #610, Pg. 334

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