Where do we draw the line as far as the Taqiyya that the Imams had historically engaged in is concerned?
The standard view of the Madhhab is that the Imams would not purposely mislead the overwhelming majority of their own Ashab through statements given in Taqiyya.
My own argument in support of the standard view runs as follows:
The Imam has informed us that whenever there are two contradictory positions attributed to the Imam then the Mujma alayhi (the position of the overwhelming majority) among the Ashab, if it exists, is the ‘truth’ which is ‘free of doubt’ (i.e. fabrication or Taqiyya), since it is the Imam himself who has caused them to unite upon the ‘truth’.
Hence the Imam cannot misguide the overwhelming majority of his Ashab through his statements
If someone takes a contrary view for whatever reason then it can lead to radical conclusions, such as the claim that the Imams cursed and disassociated from Abu al-Khattab in front of the majority of their own companions while secretly calling a handful of elite-companions to associate with him. Or the claim that the Imams actively created false sects by announcing the wrong successor as the next Imam (making many companions to fall into Kufr) as some sort of smoke-screen to confuse the authorities etc.
A Very Flimsy Straw Man
If the Imam does not publicize the truth among his Ashab (because of Taqiyya) and they unite upon something based on their collective Ijtihad (judgment), or based on mere speculation, then the consensus of these fallible individuals does not have any significance whatsoever, they could all be wrong for all I care.
But there is a big difference between Taqiyya wherein the truth is not publicized such that the majority of the Ashab are in the dark about it, from the claim that the Imam feeds false information to the overwhelming majority of his own Ashab such that they unite upon falsehood.
In short, if John Andaluso wants to disprove my argument he will have to demonstrate that the Imam purposely introduced a false position through his own statements to the majority of his own Ashab such that it became the ‘overwhelmingly dominant’ position among the Ashab while the contradictory true position remained in the hands of only an ‘elite few’.
Andaluso attempts to poke holes in my argument by citing three examples, all of which boil down to the succession disputes that erupted after the death of one Imam and whilst identifying the next Imam, unfortunately for him, none of the three demonstrates what he wants them to demonstrate.
Who tells Andaluso that it is Imam al-Sadiq who united the Ashab upon the Imama of Abdallah?
In fact, Imam al-Sadiq did not publicize any successor to the Taifa, and chose instead to impart the privileged information to only a few (who knew not to divulge this before time).
But not publicizing the true position is totally different from actively misleading the overwhelming majority of the Taifa!
After all, the Ashab knew what they had to do after the death of one Imam (and if they were not in possession of Nass). They had to undertake a Talab (search) to ascertain the identity of the true candidate based on the general principles given to them. The general principles were absolutely true but their application could require Ijtihad (judgment) on the part of fallible individuals and this is where a mistake could be made.
Thus we find that the majority who united around Abdallah did not do so because of any Nass that they had in support of him from al-Sadiq, rather, they were applying a general principle which they attributed to the Imam i.e. ‘Imama is in the eldest son’.
But this ‘seniority’ principle was not absolute for ‘the elder had to be free of flaw’.
Now whether a candidate had a flaw or not is a matter which required them to apply their own fallible judgment by asking the candidate ‘questions’ to test whether his ‘level of knowledge’ was adequate for an Imam or not.
In the case of Abdallah, his level of knowledge was soon found out and the majority of the Ashab who had not yet detected a flaw quickly realized their mistake and turned away from him, thus the bogus fallible Ijma of the Ashab vanished into thin air already in the life-time of Abdallah!
The narrative I summarize above has been meticulously reconstructed from the sources and given in detail here: https://shiiticstudies.com/2022/01/22/how-to-know-your-imam-pt-i/
Therefore I repeat my statement: the Imam ‘decked the card’ such that Abdullah al-Aftah’s doom was guaranteed and the Taifa went on to coalesce upon the truth!
The irony is that Abdallah was found out because of giving a wrong answer that went against the Established Sunna regarding Zakat, but since Andaluso believes that the Imam can abrogate the Law he will be forced to conclude that this testing was superfluous.
Maybe Abdallah – as the true Imam – had abrogated the Nisab level of when Zakat starts to be paid and the Ashab like Hisham, Aba Basir and Fudhayl (sic. Mufadhal) did not know the authority that the Imam had!
Maybe they were wasting their time testing out the candidates by asking questions like these!
If brother Andaluso believes Abdullah al-Aftah is the true Imam, he should come out and state his case plainly!
The Case of Ismail and Sayyid Muhammad the son of al-Hadi
For a second time, who tells Andaluso that it is Imam al-Sadiq who united the Ashab upon the Imama of Ismail or Imam al-Hadi who united the Ashab upon the Imama of Muhammad?
What we need to realize is that speculation over who was going to be the next Imam was a thing then just as it is a thing now where people seem to be endlessly prognosticating on who is going to be the next president or the next Marja Taqlid. This is especially the case if the incumbent Imam has numerous children who are all equally-likely candidates (at least in theory).
It would be natural for the Shia masses to expect the succession to go in a certain way i.e. the ‘eldest’ – being in tune with their tribal beliefs. Furthermore, the same seniority principle that was later used for Abdallah (the eldest surviving son) would have equally applied to both Ismail and Muhammad (biologically first-born and much loved sons) if they had out-lived their fathers.
We even know of cases where loose coalitions and alliances were being formed already in the life-time of the incumbent Imam with some companions pinning their hopes in the cause of one future Imam over the other e.g. the Khattabiyya’s courting of Ismail.
But this does not mean that Ismail or Sayyid Muhammad had been named as the successors!
As al-Mufid says:
و أما ما ادعوه من تسليم الجماعة لهم حصول النص عليه فإنهم ادعوا في ذلك باطلا و توهموا فاسدا من قبل أنه ليس أحد من أصحابنا يعترف بأن أبا عبد الله ع نص على ابنه إسماعيل و لا روى راو ذلك في شاذ من الأخبار و لا في معروف منها و إنما كان الناس في حياة إسماعيل يظنون أن أبا عبد الله ع ينص عليه لأنه أكبر أولاده و بما كانوا يرونه من تعظيمه فلما مات إسماعيل رحمه الله زالت ظنونهم و علموا أن الإمامة في غيره فتعلق هؤلاء المبطلون بذلك الظن و جعلوه أصلا و ادعوا أنه قد وقع النص و ليس معهم في ذلك أثر و لا خبر يعرفه أحد من نقلة الشيعة و إذا كان معتمدهم على الدعوى المجردة من برهان فقد سقط بما ذكرناه
As for what they (i.e. the Ismailis) have claimed to the effect that the community as a whole agreed with them about the occurrence of Nass on him (i.e. Ismail) then they have claimed in that a falsehood and assumed wrongly.
In the sense that there is no one among our Ashab who acknowledges that Aba Abdillah made Nass for his son Ismail, nor has a narrator narrated that (i.e. the Nass) in a report – be it a Shaadh (isolated) report or a Ma’ruf (well-known) one.
Rather, it is the common people in the life-time of Ismail who used to think that Aba Abdillah would make the Nass on his behalf since he was the eldest of his sons, and because of what they used to see of the honour in which he was held (by his father), so when Ismail – may Allah have mercy on him – died, their assumption was dashed and they realized that the Imama is in other than him.
But these falsifiers (i.e. the Ismailis) latched onto that conjecture and made it out into an Asl, and claimed that the Nass had occurred, while they do not have with them to prove that any Athar nor Khabar which anyone from the transmitters among the Shia knows of, and if their dependence is on a mere claim that is free of proof then it has been debunked by what we have mentioned (before)
al-Saduq is even more blunt when he says:
فقلنا لهم: بم قلتم بم قلتم إن جعفر بن محمد عليهما السلام نص على إسماعيل بالأمامة؟ وما ذلك الخبر؟ ومن رواه؟ ومن تلقاه بالقبول؟ فلم يجدوا إلى ذلك سبيلا، وإنما هذه حكاية ولدها قوم قالوا بامامة إسماعيل، ليس لها أصل …
We say to them: With what (evidence) did you say what you said that Ja’far b. Muhammad issued Nass upon Ismail in regards Imama? What is that Khabar that you use? Who narrated it? Who has received it with acceptance?
So they will not find for (showing) that any way, rather this is a Hikaya (fable) which was dreamt up by a group that asserted the Imama of Ismail, it does not have an Asl …
Let not someone hide behind the excuse that reports of appointment were there but have been expunged such that we don’t have them in hand today, because we will say that if we had access to these reports (if they ever existed in the first place) we would be able to tell whether there is in them a clear indication for succession or merely general praise (showing the close relation between father and son which Mufid calls ‘honouring’) that does not amount to Nass.
Nor was there any reason for the Imam to quell this immature speculation because it would be counter to Taqiyya to publicize the true candidate when the truth would ‘out’ anyway, and this is the meaning of Bada i.e. Allah revealed his Will by causing the death of these candidates who were expected to be future Imams in the life-time of the present Imam, thereby ruling them out of the running such that they can never be considered Imams in any sense of the word!
As al-Tusi says:
ما تضمن الخبر المتقدم من قوله: ” بدا لله في محمد كما بدا له في إسماعيل ” معناه ظهر من الله وأمره في أخيه الحسن ما زال الريب والشك في إمامته، فإن جماعة من الشيعة كانوا يظنون أن الامر في محمد من حيث كان الاكبر، كما كان يظن جماعة أن الامر في إسماعيل بن جعفر دون موسى عليه السلام فلما مات محمد ظهر من أمر الله فيه، وأنه لم ينصبه إماما، كما ظهر في إسماعيل مثل ذلك لا أنه كان نص عليه ثم بدا له في النص على غيره، فإن ذلك لا يجوز على الله تعالى العالم بالعواقب
What is contained in the aforementioned report in his (i.e. the Imam’s) words ‘Bada from Allah about Muhammad as did Bada from Him about Ismail’ its meaning is that it became manifest from Allah His decree concerning his (i.e. Muhammad’s) brother al-Hasan that which extinguished all misgivings and doubts in regard his (al-Hasan’s) Imama.
For a group of the Shia would think that the Affair (i.e. Imama) is with Muhammad (after his father) since he was the eldest, just as how a group used to assume that the Affair is with Ismail b. Ja’far not Musa (after al-Sadiq).
So when Muhammad died (in the life-time of his father) the decree of Allah about him became manifest, that he had not been appointed as an Imam, just as it became manifest about Ismail the same.
It is not that Allah had made out the Nass upon him (i.e. appointed him) and then it occurred to him to make out the Nass upon other than him (i.e. He changed his mind), for that is not permissible for Allah the Exalted knower of all outcomes
The ways of God are different from those of men, yet human nature is such that when someone convinces himself that something is going to happen in a certain way, and when it doesn’t, he is faced with a bitter choice: either to accept the divine verdict of history which unmasks his error and reluctantly conclude that it had all been a terrible mistake, or to hold on to the former belief by formulating various doctrines with the intention of explaining away outer historical reality which seems to contradict it.
The Situation Post-Ghayba
Andaluso bringing up the situation after the Ghayba is even stranger than his two earlier examples, because it is clear that there was no Majmu alayhi in the face of that unprecedented situation.
The very existence of the child was kept secret (what to say of Nass being made public), al-Askari’s Will did not mention him, nor was he directly accessible to his followers so that they could ascertain the truth by questioning him (since he was in Sitr).
The only thing that remained (referring back to Abd al-A’la’s report) was the presence of those ‘who can point to him’, and this was the trusted Wikala system which had been set up by the latter Imams and been made the intermediary between the believers and their Imams.
These figures maintained that there was a Child whom they had seen and were in contact with, and there followed miraculous interventions and Tawqiat to those whom Allah wished to guide.
This was aided by the presence of true scholars who went back to their corpus and saw in them reports that supported the possibility, nay, the inevitability of this.
Now in the face of this severe Test which sifted the true believer from the false, if there were many who were over-taken by doubt and swerved away from the path (except upon whom Allah had mercy) then this does not harm the Truth in any way, nor for that matter does it rebut my argument.
In all three examples discussed above – there does not exist two contradictory positions originating from the Imam such that it can be demonstrated that the true position was in the hands of an ‘elite few’. What we have instead is unpublicized Nass going against collective fallible Ijtihad, or against mere expectation of the masses, or against an unprecedented situation.
Any serious reader will realize that my argument has remained consistent throughout, but for me to be accused of ‘changing my argument’ means that it is fast becoming clear to me that the best response in the light of the slow up-take on the other side is taking recourse in Allamah Hilli’s response to Ibn Taymiyya:
لو كان يفهم ما اقول أجبته
If he could understand what I am asserting I would have responded to him