Chapter 17 : The Number of the Prophet’s Righteous Successors

Ibn Hanbal says:

A. Hasan bin Musa- has related to us from Hamma-d bin Zayd from Muja-lid from Sha‘bi- from Masruq who says that in Kufa ‘Abdulla-h bin Mas‘ud was giving us lessons from the Holy Qur’a-n when a person asked:

O Aba- ‘Abd al-Rahma-n! Did you not ask the Prophet how many caliphs would this ummah have?

‘Abdulla-h bin Mas‘ud said:

Since my coming to Iraq no one has posed me this question so far except you.

Then he added:

Yes! We did ask the Messenger of Allah (S) about this matter and he said:

“Ithna--‘Ashara ka ‘iddati nuqaba-’ Bani- Isra-’i-l (Twelve, equal to the number of the Chieftans of Bani- Isra-’i-l).”[62]

The isna-d of this hadith are sahi-h according to Ahmad Sha-kir.

Ibn Hanbal says:

B. Sufya-n bin ‘Uyaynah has related to us from ‘Abd al-Malik bin ‘Umayr from Ja-bir bin Samrah al-Suwa-’i- who narrates that he heard the Messenger of Allah (S) say:

“La- yaza-l ha-dha al-amr ma-ziyan hatta- yaqum ithna--‘ashara ami-ran (This affair [religion] will continue until twelve leaders [Ami-r] will rise).”

Then he mentioned something which I did not hear, so I asked my father (who was sitting beside me), who said:

“All of whom will be from the Quraysh.”[63]

This hadith has been recorded over 40 times in Ibn Hanbal’s Musnad[64] and in some versions the word Khali-fah is found instead of Amir.[65] The version which I have selected here has the shortest chain of authority and reaches the Prophet through the medium of three narrators. Sunni scholars and exegetes of hadith have rather been perplexed and come up with unconvincing comments in their explanation of this particular hadith of the Prophet. They have been unable to reconcile with their beliefs the meaning of the figure of “twelve caliphs” as used by the Prophet. As a result we find conflicting and self-contradictory answers in their explanations.[66]


[62] Ibid, hadith no. 3781. Refer to Holy Qur’a-n (5:12) regarding the Nuqaba-’ (Chieftans) of Bani- Isra-’i-l.
[63] Al-Musnad, vol. 5, p. 101. Also refer to al-Safa-ri-ni-, Shams al-Di-n Muhammad: Sharh Thula-thiyya-t Ahmad, vol. 1, p. 539, first edition, 1380, Damascus.
[64] Al-Salafi-, Murshad al-Muhta-r, vol. 3, p. 380.
[65] E.g. refer to Musnad, al-Maymaniyyah print.
[66] For more information on the views of the Sunnis refer to al-Safa-ri-ni-: Sharh Thula-thiyya-t Ahmad, vol. 2, pp. 540-566. Also see al-‘Askari-, Sayyid Murtaza-: Naqsh-e A’immah dar Ihya-’-e Di-n, vol. 11, pp. 74-84.