TAQI MUHAMMAD (212-225/828-840), 9TH IMAM

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"Ahmad bin Abdullah, Muhammad al-Habib, or Abul Hussain, surnamed at-Taqi (God-fearing), also called Imam Taqi Muhammad, was born in 174/790 and ascended in 212/828. He lived secretly with his followers as a merchant at Salamia. He is also called Sahib al-Rasail (Lord of the epistles). He however retained the services of Abdullah bin Maymun (d. 260/874) as his hujjat.

W. Ivanow writes in Ismailis and Qarmatians (JBBRAS, Bombay, 1940, p. 73) that, "The second hidden Imam, the author of the Encyclopaedia of the Ikhwanu's Safa, or Sahib al-Rasail, as he is usually referred to in the Ismaili theological works, is also known definitely as Ahmad."

Imam Taqi Muhammad was known as an eminent Hashimite trader, making the people to flock at his residence. It suspected the Syrian governor, who communicated its report to caliph Mamun Rashid, who issued order to arrest Imam Taqi Muhammad, but the latter had quitted Salamia in advance for few years.

After the rise of the Abbasids, the Iranian who excelled the Arabs in learning and scholarship, became associated with their empire. In fact they were the intellectual cream of that society, greatly inclined towards philosophy, for which the Arabs had no taste. It was for this reason that during the Umayyad period in Damascus, known as the Arab national rule, the intellectual discipline like philosophy never acquired popularity. But during the Abbasid rule, because of the close association of the Iranians, the Greek philosophy acquired great currency. Thus in those days, it was the Muslim intellectuals who kept the torch of Greek philosophy burning. They realized that the old religious ideas must not be taken in their literal meaning, imparting that the mystical philosophy of esotericism owed its distinct origin to the words of Koran. The Mutazalites were in front to see Islamic teachings on the scale of philosophy. Baghdad became not only the metropolis, but also an important centre at that time. The function of philosophy is nothing more than speculating on the beings and considering them in so far as they lead to the knowledge of the Creator.

The Mutazalites came forward to apply the criterion of reason in presenting Islamic teachings. Tools of Greek philosophy and its terminologies were now being freely employed for explaining Islamic faith. Even the Asharites who were fanatically opposed to see Islam in the light of Greek philosophical aspects had to employ those very tools. Mysticism too, grew side by side with this trend. The mystics were influenced by Neo-Platonism. During the time of new philosophical approach, the orthodox circles had two options open before them; either to adopt a rigid stance, or to assimilate the trend. The orthodox orbits, however, tenaciously reacted against this pattern.

The Ismaili mission also opted the philosophical course, and provided an ideal climate for the new philosophical tendency with the ever living role of the Imams. The Ismaili da'is were well aware of the intellectual trend, who sincerely desired to creatively apply Neo-Platonism in the teachings of Islam. What is known as tawil in Ismaili jargon was nothing but the esoteric explanation of the exoteric teachings and practices of Islam. This assimilation attracted a number of eminent persons towards Ismailism. The Neo-Platonism readily found a congenial home for itself within the world of Shi'ism. It was for this principal cause that the orthodox theologians vehemently opposed the rational interpretation, and wrongly accused Ismailism of having suspended the operation of the Islamic Shariah. The Ismaili Imams however never allowed their followers to disregard the observance of the outward injunctions, but imparted the hidden meaning of the Koranic verses. They had nothing to do with political opportunism and remained away from its vortex and clung fast to their doctrines.

The statement of Ibn Hazm shows that the Mutazalites were a group of rationalists who judged all Islamic beliefs by theoretical reason and renounced those that related to all that lay beyond the reach of reason. They raised the problems of freewill and determinism, the attributes of God, the nature of the soul, the createdness of the Koran, etc. In sum, an endless chain of polemics was started by them in the Muslim society to such extent that Islam began to be assailed both from inside and outside. The situation was fraught with great danger for the faith. When the various forces arrayed themselves against the extremism of the rationalists, the orthodox ulema also reacted against them negatively.

The Abbasid caliph Mamun (d. 218/833) also patronized philosophy and professed Mutazalism. It was trend among the educated elite to drift towards Greek philosophy and ultimately a bulk of the contradictions raised among the Muslims in interpreting Islamic practices. The intellect is an indispensable faculty in man, but despite this, its power of penetration has a definite limit. It may enjoy apparent supremacy and mastery in certain fields, but there are many things which are baffling and incomprehensible to it. The intellect cannot grasp a thing as a whole and its entirety. Its range of operation is limited, and therefore a true spiritual master is needed to guide a proper method. When the independent philosophical trend was perceived a threat to the Islamic Shariah from liberal sciences, a knot of earnest thinkers began to flock in a house in Basra at a fixed season to reconcile the philosophy and religion. They were the Ikhwan most probably an agency or organ of the Ismaili mission. They tried to evolve a new synthesis in order to save Islamic teachings from being swept away by the new flood of knowledge.

It is said that the members of the Ikhwan as-Safa formed a sort of Masonic Lodge, who lived in the Lower Mesopotamian river port of Basra; debating on literature, religion, philosophy and science. The association or club kept their proceedings concealed, and none were admitted. This secret association has left behind a standing monument of its achievements in an encyclopaedia, known as Ikhwan as-Safa, comprising of 52 epistles (rasail). The Epistles were distributed in various mosques of Baghdad. It played an important role by attempting a creative synthesis of Greek philosophy and the doctrines of Islam, giving a new dimension to the religion. It attracted the best intellectuals of its time and saved Islam from the heretical inroads that were preying upon it. It aimed to impart that if the tawil is carefully studied similarities with philosophical tools, the essence of the Islamic teachings can be easily discovered logically. It greatly impacted the rationalists and after 270/850, even the Mutazalites became more and more a small coterie of academic theologians cut off from the masses of the people and exercising no more influence on the further course of Islamic thought.

Prof. Masudul Hasan writes in History of Islam (Lahore, 1987, 1:486) that, "Al-Habib (Taqi Muhammad) had his headquarters at Salamiah near Hims in Syria, and from there he sent missionaries in all directions to propagate the Ismaili creed and enroll adherents."

Imam Taqi Muhammad is reported to have died in 225/840 in Salamia after bequeathing the office of Imamate to his son, Hussain surnamed, Radi Abdullah. His another son, Muhammad surnamed Sa'id al-Khayr, whose posterity were living in Salamia and killed at the hands of the Qarmatians in 290/902.