A very early work entitled Tarikh al-A’immah or Tarikh al-Mawalad wa Wafayat Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) is available. It mentions the dates of birth and martyrdom of the Infallible Imams (‘a) on the authority of Imam Baqir (‘a), Imam Sadiq (‘a), Imam Riza (‘a) and Imam ‘Askara (‘a). This book is variously attributed to Ibn Khashshab, Nasr bin ‘Ala Jahzama, Ahmad bin Muhammad Faryaba and Ibn Aba al-Thalj. Whoever happens to be its author it should be considered among the oldest books in this field that has survived from the 3rd century AH. Another book entitled Zuhrat al-Muhaj wa Tawarakh al-Hujaj on the lives of the Imams (‘a) has been referred to by Ibn Tawus, but there is no further information on this book at hand Exclusive books were written on the life of the Twelve Infallible Imams (‘a). The earliest surviving work in this field that has discussed this issue in detail is al-Irshad fa Ma‘rifah Hujaj-Allah ‘ala al-‘Ibad by Shaykh Mufad. The author has dedicated the first part of his book to a detailed account of Amar al-Mu’minan (‘a) and has practically dealt with the life and qualities of Prophet Muhammad (S) by emphasising on the prime position of Imam ‘Ala (‘a) right from the beginning of the Prophetic mission. The second part of al-Irshad deals with the life of the other eleven Imams and mainly contains historical and kalama discussions. Although Shaykh Mufad has not mentioned his sources in every case, it is evident that he has used credible and important sources. Basically the major characteristic of Shaykh Mufad in this regard is that he was well acquainted with books available in Iraq which were compiled by Iraqa historians. Masar al-Sha‘ah by Shaykh Mufad also gives us information on the life of the Imams (‘a).
The next important work in this field is the book I‘lam al-Wara bi A‘lam al-Huda, on the characteristics of the Prophet and his infallible progeny (‘a). In its section on the Imams (‘a) the book contains historical-kalama issues proving their Imamate, as is the case in al-Irshad. The author Aba ‘Ala Fazl ibn Hasan al-Tabrisa has accurately recorded his sources and in this way added to the book’s value. He has also incorporated important parts from Aban ibn ‘Uthman’s biography of the Prophet, a valuable Shi‘ite work which is not extant today.
Another immortal book is Manaqib Al-i Aba Talib by Muhammad bin ‘Ala Ibn Shahr Ashub al-Sarva al-Mazandarana. This important and detailed work has been compiled with reference to hundreds of books and the author has given the work special value by quoting different sources and mentioning their names. The greater part of the book includes the life of Amar al-Mu’minan (‘a) and his merits as found in Sunni sources. But before that Ibn Shahr Ashub has dwelt in detail on the life of the Prophet and after the account of Imam ‘Ala (‘a) has focused on merits of the other Imams.
The book Rawzah al-Wa‘izan by Fattal Nayshabura (d. 508) is also an important work which without mentioning its sources has dealt with the lives of the Twelve Imams (‘a). Another remaining work from the seventh century is Mukhtasar Ahwal al-Naba wa al-A’immah al-Thana ‘Ashar (‘a) by Shaykh Rashad bin Ibraham bin Ishaq Bahrana. The only extant copy of this book is being kept at the Markaz Ihya’ al-Turath al-Islama (Center for Revival of the Islamic Heritage) in Qum. Muntajab al-Dan al-Babawayh in his al-Fihrist has also referred to a book entitled Sarah al-Anbiya’ wa al-A’immah by Shams al-Islam Hasan bin Husayn bin Babawayh al-Qumma who lived in Rayy, but there is no trace of this book today. He has also mentioned another book named al-Maghaza wa al-Siyar by Sayyid Aba al-Qasim Zayd bin Ishaq Ja‘fara which shows the Shi‘ite community’s interest in this particular field. Shaykh Aba al-Hasan bin ‘Ala bin Hibatullah bin ‘Uthman Musila wrote a book named al-Anwar fa Tarakh al-A’immah al-Abrar.
Another important work of the seventh century is Kashf al-Ghummah fa Ma‘rifah al-A’immah by ‘Ala bin ‘Isa Arbila. This book which has been compiled from diverse Shi‘ite and Sunni sources, and has been written in an extremely moderate style, played a very important role in spreading Shi‘ism in the world of Islam and has been translated into Persian several times. This book describes the lives of the 14 Infallibles (‘a). We have elaborated on this work and its sources in an exclusive book.
During the 7th century several books were written on the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (‘a) and the tragedy of Karbala’. Ibn Tawus (d. 664) has written two books entitled Kitab al-Luhuf ‘ala Qatla al-Tufuf and al-Masra‘ al-Shayn fa Qatl al-Husayn. A common book named Maqtal, Abu Mikhnaf is also believed to probably the work of Ibn Tawus (Etan Kohlberg: A Medieval Muslim Scholar at Work – Ibn Tawus and his Library, pp. 42, 43).
Regional Histories from the 4th to 8th Centuries AH
The Sh’ites have also had a share in regional historiography. Among the earliest work in this field, which predates all other books is Nihl al-‘Arab by Muhammad bin Bahr Rahna. Yaqut al-Hamawa, commenting on this book and its author, writes: He has written many works including the one titled Kitab Nihl al-‘Arab, in which he has mentioned the dispersion of Arabs in the lands of Islam, noting whether they were Shi‘ite, Kharijite or Sunni, but he had good words for the Shi‘ites as well as for others. I know about the part of the book which deals with the people of the east, especially of Kirman, Sastan, Khurasan and Tabaristan.
Nothing remains of this book except what Yaqut al-Hamawa has written in Mu‘jam al-Buldan.
The book al-Buldan wa al Masahah or al-Tibyan fa Ahwal al-Buldan as it is also known, was written by Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Khalid al-Barqa. The author of Tarakh al-Qum used this work in the fourth century as a source for his history of Qum (Mudarrisa has pointed out the quotations from al-Tibyan in Tarakh al-Qum; refer to Bibliography of Works related to Qum, p. 18. Rafi‘a has also quoted some passages from it in al-Tadwan, pp. 44-48). In the printed edition of Tarakh al-Qum, al-Barqa has been quoted extensively, and in one instance, it says: “In the book al-Bunyan al-Barqa thus writes...”. It is possible that al-Bunyan is the misspelling of al-Buldan. Another possibility is that the author of the bibliographical work Kashf al-Zunun has misspelled the book whose actual title is Kitab al-Tibyan fa Ahwal al- Buldan. Muhammad bin Khalid al-Barqa, the father of Ahmad al-Barqa has also been named as the author of al-Buldan wa al Masahah. Another book of the same name al-Buldan wa al-Masahah was written in the third century by Aba Ja‘far Muhammad bin ‘Abdullah bin Ja‘far bin Husayn bin Jami‘ al-Himyara. When he failed in his efforts to get a copy of Ahmad al-Barqa’s book in Baghdad, Rayy and Qum, he decided to write a new book in this connection under the same title.
Another important book on the history of Qum is the one written in 378 AH by Hasan bin Muhammad bin Hasan al-Qumma. It is one of the most interesting and academic books of the early period of Islamic civilization. In contrast to the regional historiography of this period which mainly concerns the life of the notables of the cities, this particular work is a scholarly account of the various issues, including civic affairs, related to the city’s history. In the introduction, the compiler has divided the book into twenty chapters but unfortunately the Persian translation of only the fifth chapter is extant. There is no information either on the Arabic version or the rest of the translation. The Persian translation was completed in 805 AH by Hasan bin ‘Ala bin Hasan bin ‘Abd al-Malik Qumma. Apart from the information given on the city of Qum, the book mentions valuable details concerning the collecting of taxes in those days. In addition the author has elaborated in detail on the Ash‘ara tribe of the city beginning with its place of origin in Yemen and the meeting with Prophet Muhammad (S) in Medina on the advent of Islam till its migration to Iraq and then to Qum. He has also focused on the role of Ash‘arite tribesmen in the early Islamic conquests especially the conquest of parts of Iran.
Another valuable but lost book is the Tarakh Rayy by Muntajab al-Dan Ibn Babawayh the author of al-Fihrist who lived in the sixth century. Ibn Hajar ‘Asqalana in his Lisan al-Mazan has quoted accounts of several Shi‘ite and Sunni notables from this book, of which 47 have been mentioned by the late Urmawa in his introduction to the edition of al-Fihrist published by the Ayatullah Mar‘asha Najafa Library, Qum (pp. 11-16). Tarakh Rayy was also the title of a historical book written by Abu Sa‘ad Mansur bin Husayn Aba the author of the valuable book Nathr al-Dur. Another important book is the Tarakh Tabaristan of Ibn Isfandiyar who lived in the 6th century AH. It is considered the most important work on the history of Tabaristan by a Shi‘ite historian. Mention should also be made of the Tarakh Ruyan of Mawlana Awliya’ Allah Amula. It is a precious work on regional history in which the author has mentioned part of the historical viewpoints of the Shi‘ites in the days of the Imams (‘a).
Arabic and Persian Works of ‘Twelver Sunnis’ on the Twelve Imams (‘a) from the 6th to the 10th Centuries
From among the Sunnis, several scholars for various reasons, have written books on the lives of the Twelve Imams (‘a). This is apart from those Sunni scholars who wrote books on the merits of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) in general and whose works have been introduced by Sayyid ‘Abd al-‘Azaz Tabataba’a in his series of articles entitled Ahl al-Bayt fi al-Maktabah al-‘Arabiyyah in the quarterly magazine Turathana. The term ‘Twelver Imama Sunnis’ can be safely used to describe this group of authors. The first book in this regard is the Tadhkirah al-Khawass of Yusuf bin Farghala bin ‘Abdullah al-Baghdada Sibt Aba al-Faraj ‘Abd al-Rahman bin al-Jawza (581-654). The author has dwelt on the virtues of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) and given an account of the lives and merits of all the Twelve Imams (‘a). Among the books which no longer exist Kitab al-Al of Ibn Khalawayh (d. 370) must have been a similar work as could be gleaned from its passages quoted by Irbila in his Kashf al-Ghummah.
One of the outstanding figures of this trend among the Sunnis was Kamal al-Dan Muhammad bin Talhah Shafi‘a (d. 652) the author of the renowned book Matalib al-Su’ul fa Manaqib Al-i al-Rasul. Irbila has praised him for his excellent account of the lives of the Twelve Imams (‘a). ‘Abd al-‘Azaz bin Muhammad known as Ibn Akhzar Gunabada (d. 611) in his book Ma‘alim al-‘Itrah al-Nabawiyyah wa Ma‘arif Ahl al-Bayt al-Fatimiyyah al-‘Alawiyyah has written on the lives of only eleven of the Twelve Imams (‘a) and for this reason he has been criticised by ‘Ala bin ‘Isa Irbila.
Two other important examples of Sunni books are al-Fusul al-Muhimmah fa Ma‘rifah Ahwal al-A’immah by Ibn Sabbagh Malika (d. 855) and al-Shadharat al-Dhahabiyyah fa Tarajim al-A’immah al-Ithna ‘Ashariyyah ‘ind al-Imamiyyah by Shams al-Dan Muhammad bin Tulun (d. 953). Hamdullah Mustawfa the author of Nuzhat al-Qulub in his historical account titled Tarakh-i Guzadah, begins with the history of the first three caliphs and then elaborates on the life and virtues of Amar al-Mu’minan Imam ‘Ala ibn Aba Talib (‘a). In continuation, on page 198 he writes about the life of Imam Hasan (‘a) using the phrase Amar al- Mu’minan wa Hafad Rasul Rabb al-‘Alaman Imam al-Mujtaba, Hasan bin ‘Ala al-Murtaza (‘a) which means “Commander of the Faithful, Grandson of the Messenger of the Lord of the Worlds, the Chosen Imam, Hasan the son of ‘Ala the Pleased.” The thirtieth chapter of the thirtieth section deals with the lives of the other Imams. Mustawfa writes: “Concerning the rest of Imams, the pleasure of Allah be upon them all, they were the proof of Allah for mankind. The period of their imamate, starting from 4th of Safar 49 AH till Ramazan 264, was 215 years and 7 months. The Imams did not rule as caliphs, but since they were deserving (to be caliphs), the benediction of their status travels like perfume on the road of epitome to bring proof.” This discussion continues till the account of the life of the Imam of the Age (‘a).
Another important work is Fasl al-Khitab by Khwajah Muhammad Parsa who lived in the ninth century AH. Despite his insistence on being a Sunni and even his strong stances against the Rafidites, he has written about the lives of the Imams (‘a). This part of the book has been published in volume 4 of the series of books titled Islamic Heritage of Iran. The author of Rawzat al-Jinan wa Jannat al Jinan, Darwash Husayn Karbala’a (10th century AH) has also dedicated a lengthy section in his book on the lives of the Imams (‘a). This book has been published.
Among the outstanding works of this nature is the valuable book Wasalah al-Khadim ila al-Makhdum dar Sharh Salawat Chahardah Ma‘sum by Fazlullah bin Ruzbahan Khunja (d. 927) who is famous for his antagonism towards the Shi‘ites and especially the Safawid dynasty. This is an exclusive book on the lives of the Fourteen Infallibles. Kunh al-Akhbar is the title of a book on the lives of the Twelve Imams (‘a) and was compiled in the 10th century AH in the Ottoman realm. Even Ibn Hajar Haythama who wrote al-Sawa‘iq al-Muhriqah in refutation of what he called the beliefs of the Rafidites, has devoted the whole book to the lives and merits of the Twelve Imams (‘a). One of the most important figures in this regard is Mulla Husayn Kashifa who in his book Rawzah al-Shuhada’ has written a brief account of the lives of the Prophets and the Twelve Imams (‘a) as well as issues concerning mourning for them. The most detailed section of this book is dedicated to Imam Husayn (‘a). Another noteworthy book by this particular group of Sunnis is Kamal al-Dan Khwarazma’s al-Maqsad al-Aqsa, which in addition to the lives of the caliphs gives an account of the Twelve Imams (‘a).