The Just Leader of Humanity 6
On the basis of all these reports it can be surmised that the notes that were received by the people during 'Uthman b. Sa'id and Muhammad b. 'Uthman's time were in the same handwriting as those that were received during the time of Imam Hasan 'Askari. Thus, these could not be in the handwriting of the twelfth Imam. Rather, it can be maintained that Imam Hasan 'Askari had a special scribe who was in charge of writing the letters and who continued to do so also under these two deputies, namely, 'Uthman and his son Muhammad. It is also plausible to maintain that some of these letters were dictated directly by the Imam, whereas others were dictated by someone other than him. However, it is important to state that from the evidence provided in the biographies of the Shi'i scholars living during the short occultation, the contents of these letters were trusted by the Shi'is, were regarded as coming from the Imam himself, and were accepted as authentic. They used to write to the Imam about their points of dispute. And, when the response came for them, they used to submit to his judgement.
'Ali b. Husayn b. Babawayh corresponded with the Imam in occultation and requested him to pray for a son for him. To be sure, he received a response from the Imam.
One of the prominent scholars who was born during the short occultation and had been in touch with the deputies of the Imam was Muhammad b. Ibrahim b. Ja'far Nu'mani. In his book entitled Ghayba he confirmed the deputyship of some prominent associates of the eleventh and twelfth Imams. After relating some hadith on the subject of the ghaybat, he writes:
During the first occultation there were the mediators between the Imam and the people, carrying out [the duties of the Imam], having been designated [by him], living among the people. These were the eminent persons and leaders from whose hands emanated cures derived from the knowledge and the intricate wisdom which they possessed, and the answers to all the questions which were put to them about the problems and difficulties [of religion]. This was the short occultation, the days of which have come to an end and whose time has gone by. Now it is the time of the complete occultation.
It appears that the signed notes received from the Imam served as special signs and documentation which the Shi'is and their scholars accepted. Shaykh Hurr 'Amili writes:
Ibn Abi Ghanim Qazwini used to argue with the Shi'is on the matter of the successor to the Imamate. He used to say: "Imam Hasan 'Askari had no son." The people wrote to the Imam. Their custom was to write on a white sheet with a pen without ink so that it would serve as a sign of miracle. To this they received the answer from the Imam (peace be upon him).
The Number of Deputies
There is difference of opinion regarding the number of deputies of the twelfth Imam. Sayyid Ibn Tawus in his book entitled Rab'i al-shi'a has mentioned their names as follows:
(1) Abu Hashim Dawud b. al-Qasim
(2) Muhammad b. 'Ali b. Bilal