I came across the following report whilst translating Rijal al-Kashshi:
حدثني محمد بن قولويه، قال حدثنا سعد بن عبد الله، قال حدثنا أحمد بن هلال، عن محمد بن الفرج قال: كتبت إلى أبي الحسن عليه السلام أسأله عن أبي علي بن راشد و عن عيسى بن جعفر بن عاصم و ابن بند، فكتب إلي: ذكرت ابن راشد رحمه الله فإنه عاش سعيدا و مات شهيدا، و دعا لابن بند و العاصمي
و ابن بند ضرب بالعمود حتى قتل، و أبو (ابن) جعفر ضرب ثلاثمائة سوط و رمي به في دجلة
Muhammad b. Qulawayh – Sa’d b. Abdallah – Ahmad b. Hilal – Muhammad b. al-Faraj who said:
I wrote to Abi al-Hasan (al-Hadi) عليه السلام asking him about Abi Ali b. Rashid, Isa b. Ja’far b. A’sim, and Ibn Band – so he (the Imam) wrote to me:
‘You have mentioned Ibn Rashid, may Allah have mercy on Him, (as for him) then he lived a felicitous life and died a martyr’. He (the Imam) also supplicated for Ibn Band and al-Asimi.
(Muhammad b. al-Faraj comments:) Ibn Band was (repeatedly) hit with a column until he was killed. Abu Ja’far (sic. the son of Ja’far) was lashed three-hundred whips and was thrown in the Tigris river.
The report seems to be about three faithful followers who met gruesome deaths. Indeed Abi Ali b. Rashid is explicitly called a martyr by the Imam who goes on to supplicate for the other two.
I want to concentrate on this al-Asimi i.e. Isa b. Ja’far b. A’sim, who is said to have been lashed three hundred whips before being thrown in the river.
What possible crime could he have committed?
A Condemned Man
While the nature of the crime is not given in Shi’i sources, fortune smiles on us, for a search in the Sunni historical works reveals the answer.
al-Tabari (d. 310) records in his Ta’rikh in connection with the events of the year 241 AH:
وفيها ضرب عيسى بن جعفر بن محمد بن عاصم صاحب خان عاصم ببغداد- فيما قيل- ألف سوط
In it (i.e. 241 AH) was flogged Isa b. Ja’far b. Muhammad b. A’sim, the owner of the caravanserai (called) A’sim in Baghdad. (He was flogged) a thousand lashes, as per what is said.
وكان السبب في ذلك أنه شهد عند أبي حسان الزيادي قاضي الشرقية عليه أنه شتم أبا بكر وعمر وعائشة وحفصة، سبعة عشر رجلا، شهاداتهم- فيما ذكر- مختلفة من هذا النحو
The reason for that (flogging) is the testimony against him that was given to Abi Hassān al-Ziyadi, the Qadhi (chief judge) of the Sharqiyya (eastern quarter of Baghdad), (to the effect) that he (Isa) had defamed Aba Bakr, Umar, Aisha, and Hafsa. Seventeen men testified along these lines – per what is said.
فكتب بذلك صاحب بريد بغداد الى عبيد الله ابن يحيى بن خاقان، فأنهى عبيد الله ذلك إلى المتوكل، فأمر المتوكل أن يكتب إلى محمد بن عبد الله بن طاهر يأمره بضرب عيسى هذا بالسياط، فإذا مات رمى به في دجلة، ولم تدفع جيفته إلى أهله
The postmaster of Baghdad wrote concerning this to Ubaydallah b. Yahya b. Khaqan (the Vizier), and Ubaydallah apprised al-Mutawakkil (the Abbasid Caliph) of that. al-Mutawakkil instructed that it (a letter) be written to Muhammad b. Abdallah b. Tahir ordering him to flog this Isa using whip. So if he dies then he is thrown in the Tigris. His corpse not being returned to his family.
فكتب عبيد الله إلى الحسن بن عثمان جواب كتابه إليه في عيسى
Ubaydallah then wrote to al-Hasan b. Uthman (Abu Hassān al-Ziyadi) replying the latter’s letter to him concerning Isa:
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم، أبقاك الله وحفظك، وأتم نعمته عليك، وصل كتابك في الرجل المسمى عيسى بن جعفر بن محمد بن عاصم صاحب الخانات، وما شهد به الشهود عليه من شتم أصحاب رسول الله ص ولعنهم وإكفارهم، ورميهم بالكبائر، ونسبتهم إلى النفاق، وغير ذلك مما خرج به إلى المعاندة لله ولرسوله ص، وتثبتك في أمر أولئك الشهود وما شهدوا به، وما صح عندك من عدالة من عدل منهم، ووضح لك من الأمر فيما شهدوا به، وشرحك ذلك في رقعة درج كتابك، فعرضت على أمير المؤمنين أعزه الله ذلك، فأمر بالكتاب إلي أبي العباس محمد بن طاهر مولى أمير المؤمنين أبقاه الله بما قد نفذ إليه، مما يشبه ما عنده ابقاه الله، في نصرة دين الله، وإحياء سنته، والانتقام ممن ألحد فيه، وأن يضرب الرجل حدا في مجمع الناس حد الشتم، وخمسمائة سوط بعد الحد للأمور العظام التي اجترأ عليها، فان مات القى في الماء من غير صلاة ليكون ذلك ناهيا لكل ملحد في الدين، خارج من جماعة المسلمين، وأعلمتك ذلك لتعرفه إن شاء الله تعالى- والسلام عليك ورحمة الله وبركاته
In the Name of Allah the Beneficent the Merciful. May Allah keep you, protect you, and complete His blessings upon you.
Your letter which concerns the man called Isa b. Ja’far b. Muhammad b. A’sim – the owner of the caravanserais – reached me, (containing) what the witnesses have testified against him, with respect to him defaming the companions of the Messenger of Allah, cursing them, deeming them disbelievers, accusing them of great sins, ascribing hypocrisy to them, and other (crimes), by which he has come out in opposition to Allah and His Messenger.
Also (you mentioned) your verification of those witnesses and their testimonies. How you became satisfied with the truthfulness of those who possess probity among them (i.e. the witnesses). How you became convinced of (the truth of) the matter in which they have testified. You clarified all this in a note attached to your letter.
I presented that to the Commander of the Faithful, may Allah strengthen him in that (i.e. commanding the faithful), so he ordered (me) to write to Abi al-Abbas Muhammad b. Tahir, the Mawla of the Commander of the Faithful, may Allah keep him, with his instructions to him, which are consistent with (the instructions) which are already with him, may Allah keep him, of supporting the religion of Allah, enlivening His Sunna, punishing the one who deviates from it, and (specifically) that the man should be flogged the Hadd in front of a crowd of people, the Hadd of Shatm (defamation), and five hundred strokes on top of the Hadd because of the grave matters which he dared commit.
So if he dies (as a result of this) then he is thrown in the water without praying over him (Salat al-Mayyit), so that this can be a deterrent to every Mulhid (heretic) in the religion, outcast from the community of Muslims.
I have informed you of this so that you may know it, if Allah the Elevated wills. Peace be upon you, and the Mercy of Allah and His Blessings.
وذكر أن عيسى بن جعفر بن محمد بن عاصم هذا- وقد قال بعضهم: إن اسمه أحمد بن محمد بن عاصم- لما ضرب ترك في الشمس حتى مات، ثم رمي به في دجلة
(al-Tabari resumes:) It is mentioned that this Isa b. Ja’far b. Muhammad b. A’sim [and some say that his name was: Ahmad b. Muhammad b. A’sim] was left out in the sun (i.e. with all his wounds) after he was flogged until he died, then he was thrown in the Tigris.
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (d. 463) gives additional details quoting from an eye-witness in his Ta’rikh:
قال ابن أبي الدنيا: كنت في الجسر واقفاً وقد حضر أبو حسان الزيادي القاضي ، وقد وجه اليه المتوكّل من سرّ من رأى بسياط جدد في منديل ديبقيّ مختومة، و أمره أن يضرب عيسى بن جعفر بن محمّد بن عاصم و قيل: أحمد بن محمّد بن عاصم صاحب خان عاصم ألف سوط، لأنّه شهد عليه الثقات و أهل الستر: أنّه شتم أبا بكر و عمر و قذف عائشة، فلم ينكر ذلك و لم يتب، و كانت السياط بثمارها، فجعل يضرب بحضرة القاضي و أصحاب الشرط قيام، فقال: أيّها القاضي قتلتني! فقال له: قتلك الحقّ لقذفك زوجة الرسول و شتمك الخلفاء الراشدين المهديّين و قيل: لمّا ضرب ترك في الشمس حتّى مات و رمي به في دجلة
Ibn Abi al-Dunya said: I was standing on the Bridge (in Baghdad), with Abu Hassān al-Ziyadi the Qadhi also present, and al-Mutawakkil had sent to him from Samarra (the Abbasid Capital) brand new whips contained in a sealed Dabiqi wrap, and ordered him to flog Isa b. Ja’far b. Muhammad b. A’sim [and it is said: Ahmad b. Muhammad b. A’sim], the owner of the caravanserai A’sim – a thousand whips, because trustworthy and distinguished people had testified against him that he had defamed Aba Bakr and Umar and slandered Aisha (i.e. accused her of committing unlawful intercourse), but he (Isa) did not deny that or repent for it. The whips still had their knots (at both ends i.e. were unused).
So he began being flogged in the presence of the Qadhi with the security officials standing by. He (Isa) said: You have killed me O Qadhi! He (the Qadhi) said to him: The truth has killed you because of your slandering the wife of the Messenger and defaming the Guided and Guiding Caliphs.
It is said: After he was flogged he was left in the sun until he died and he was then thrown in the Tigris.
Were the accusations against Ibn A’sim true? A few scholars have cast doubt on this claiming that some enemies of Ibn A’sim in Baghdad wanted to get rid of him by exploiting the notorious anti-Shi’i hatred of al-Mutawakkil (d. 247). However there is no evidence to give credence to this supposition.
They also note the divergence between Tabari’s report which only mentions him being given the Hadd for Shatm (defamation) – whether there is a prescribed Hadd for defamation or not is debatable – and Khatib’s report which mentions Qadhf (slandering a chaste woman i.e. Aisha), which does have Qur’anic sanction. However, this can be explained away by the usual problems afflicting oral transmission. Additionally, it is difficult to pin-point the exact details of the sentence given that a Ruler can also inflict additional punishment (beyond the Hadd), the nature of which is totally under his discretion (Ta’zir). It is clear that Mutawakkil opted for this in our case.
When we the Shia say that Taqiyya was necessary for our predecessors to preserve their lives, when we say that the Imams had to teach their followers secretly, many among our opponents scoff at us and consider this a lie. But this is just one episode among many to demonstrate the danger of openly propagating our beliefs in those times. Ibn A’sim contravened Taqiyya and faced the consequences gladly, may Allah be well pleased with Him.
On the other hand, there are some contemporary Shia who fail to understand the correct doctrine of Tabarra and what it entails. They wish to overlook the serious divide between the two sects in the pursuit of a modern and misguided notion of ‘unity’. The fact that the Imams could not express their feelings for the usurping Caliphs openly does not mean they had nothing to say about the subject as the report implicitly confirms.