Tuesday, May 19, 2009
O Allah speed up his Return, Amin!
Imam Mahdi (Descendent of Prophet Muhammad PBUH)
by Mufti A.H. Elias and Mohammad Ali ibn Zubair Ali
Who Is Imam Mahdi?
Note: Please do not confuse Imam Mahdi with Hadhrat Isa (Jesus) Alayhis Salaam. They are two different persons, and both will come during the last days. According to Hadeeth, Imam Mahdi will appear first, and Hadhrat Isa (A.S.) will appear during Imam Mahdi's lifetime. Furthermore, only Hadhrat Isa (A.S.) will be able to kill Dajjal (the "anti-Christ").
The term "MAHDI" is a title meaning "The Guided one".
Hadhrat Abdullah bin Mas'ood (R.A.) says that Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) said, "This world will not come to an end until one person from my progeny does not rule over the Arabs, and his name will be the same as my name." (Tirmidhi)
Hadhrat Ali (R.A.) narrates that Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) said, "Even if only a day remains for Qiyamah to come, yet Allah will surely send a man from my family who will fill this world with such justice and fairness, just as it initally was filled with oppression." (Abu Dawood)
Hadhrat Abu Saeed Khudri (R.A.) relates that Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) said, "Al Mahdi will be from my progeny. His forehead will be broad and his nose will be high. He will fill the world with justice and fairness at a time when the world will be filled with oppression. He will rule for seven years."
Other ahadeeth inform us that:
* He will be tall
* He will be fair complexioned
* His facial features will be similar to those of Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam)
* His character will be exactly like that of Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam)
* His father's name will be Abdullah
* His mother's name will be Aamina
* He will speak with a slight stutter and occasionally this stutter will frustrate him causing him to hit his hand upon his thigh.
* His age at the time of his emergence will be forty years
* He will receive Knowledge from Allah.
His Emergence and Rule
Hadhrat Umme Salmah (R.A.) narrates that Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) said, " After the death of a Ruler there will be some dispute between the people. At that time a citizen of Madina will flee (from Madinah) and go to Makkah. While in Makkah, certain people will approach him between Hajrul Aswad and Maqaame Ibraheem, and forcefully pledge their allegiance to him.
Thereafter a huge army will proceed from Syria to attack him but when they will be at Baida, which is between Makkah and Madina, they will be swallowed into the ground.
On seeing this, the Abdaals of Shaam as well as large numbers of people from Iraq will come to him and pledge their allegiance to him. Then a person from the Quraish, whose uncle will be from the Bani Kalb tribe will send an army to attack him, only to be overpowered, by the will of Allah. This (defeated) army will be that of the Bani Kalb. Unfortunate indeed is he who does not receive a share from the booty of the Kalb. This person (Imam Mahdi) will distribute the spoils of war after the battle. He will lead the people according to the Sunnat and during his reign Islam will spread throughout the world. He will remain till seven years (since his emergence). He will pass away and the Muslims will perform his Janazah salaat." (Abu Dawood)
According to a Hadeeth, Sayyidena Eesa (A.S.) will lead the Janaazah of Imam Mahdi (A.S.).
While the people will be pledging their allegiance to Imaam Mahdi, a voice from the unseen will call out:
"This is the representative of Allah,
The Mahdi, listen to him and obey him"
This announcement which will be heard by all those present will establish his authenticity. Another sign which will indicate the authenticity of Imaam Mahdi wil be that in the Ramadhaan prior to his emergence an eclipse of the sun and moon will occur.
Hadhrat Abu Umamah (R.A.) says that Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) said: "There will be four peace agreements between you and the Romans. The fourth agreement will be mediated through a person who will be from the progeny of Hadhrat Haroon (A.S.) and will be upheld for seven years."
The people asked: "O Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam), who will be the Imaam of the people at the time?"
Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) said: "He will be from my progeny and will be forty years of age. His face will shine like a star and he will have a black spot on his left cheek. He will don two "Qutwaani" cloaks and will appear exactly as a person from the Bani Israeel..." (Tabrani)
According to hadith narrated by Abu Saeed Khudri (R.A.) Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) said: "...(regarding the rule of Imaam Mahdi) the skies will rain down in abundance and the earth will yield forth its crop in abundance, and those alive will desire that those who have already passed away should have been alive to enjoy this prosperity..."
Hadhrat Buraidah (R.A.) says that Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) said: "There will be many armies after me. You must join that army which will come from Khurasaan." (Ibn Adi)
Abu Hurairah (R.A.) says that Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) said: "(Armies carrying) black flags will come from Khurasaan. No power will be able to stop them and they will finally reach Eela (Baitul Maqdas) where they will erect their flags."
from: "Signs of Qiyamah"
by Mohammed Ali Ibn Zubair Ali
More Hadeeth (with references) (contributed by Bradley Bilal).
1) The Prophet (PBUH and HF) said: "Even if the entire duration of the world's existence has already been exhausted and only one day is left (before the day of judgment), Allah will expand that day to such a length of time, as to accommodate the kingdom of a person from my Ahlul-Bayt who will be called by my name. He will fill out the earth with peace and justice as it will have been full of injustice and tyranny (by then)."
Sahih al-Tirmidhi, v2, p86, v9, pp 74-75
Sunan Abu Dawud, v2, p7
Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, v1, pp 84,376; V3, p63
2) The Prophet (PBUH and HF) said: "al-Mahdi is one of us, the members of the household (Ahlul-Bayt)."
Reference: Sunan Ibn Majah, v2, Tradition #4085
3) The Prophet (PBUH and HF) said: The Mahdi will be of my family, of the descendants of Fatimah (the daughter of the Prophet (PBUH)).
Sunan Abu Dawud, English version, Ch. 36, Tradition #4271 (narrated by Umm Salama, the wife of the Prophet)
Sunan Ibn Majah, v2, Tradition #4086
4) The Prophet (PBUH and HF) said: "We (I and my family) are members of a household that Allah (SWT) has chosen for them the life of the Hereafter over the life of this world; and the members of my household (Ahlul-Bayt) shall suffer a great affliction and they shall be forcefully expelled from their homes after my death; then there will come people from the East carrying black flags, and they will ask for some good to be given to them, but they shall be refused service; as such, they will wage war and emerge victorious, and will be offered that which they desired in the first place, but they will refuse to accept it till they pass it to a man from my family (Ahlul-Bayt) appears to fill the Earth with justice as it has been filled with corruption. So whoever reaches that (time) ought to come to them even if crawling on the ice/snow since among them is the Vice-regent of Allah (Khalifatullah) al-Mahdi."
Sunan Ibn Majah, v2, Tradition #4082,
The History Tabari
al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar, Ch. 11, section 1, pp 250-251
5) Abu Nadra reported: We were with the company of Jabir Ibn Abdillah... Jabir Ibn Abdillah kept quite for a while and then reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) having said: "There would be a Caliph in the last (period) of my Ummah who would freely give handfuls of wealth to the people without counting it." I said to Abu Nadra and Abu al-Ala: Do you mean Umar Ibn Abd al-Aziz? They said: NO, (he would be Imam Mahdi).
The Qur'an and Mahdism
In the Sura Anbiya' God says:
For We have written in the Psalms, after the Remembrance, 'The earth shall be the inheritance of My righteous servants.' (21:105)
In the Sura Nour God promises:
God has promised those of you who believe and do righteous deeds that He will surely make you successors in the land, even as He made those who were before them successors, and that He will surely establish their religion for them that He has approved for them, and will give them in exchange, after their fear, security: 'They shall serve Me, not associating with Me anything.' (24:55)
In the Sura Qasas God says:
Yet We desired to be gracious to those who were abased in the land, and to make them leaders, and to make them the inheritors. (28:4)
In the Sura Saff God says:
It is He who has sent His Messenger with the guidance and the religion of truth, that He may uplift it above every religion, though the unbelievers be averse. (61:9)
From all these verses it can be briefly surmised that the world can look forward to the day when its power and administration will be given into the hands of the believers and those worthy of the divine trust to become leaders and lead humanity and its civilization to its perfection. At that time, Islam will become the dominant religion, and monotheism will replace polytheism. That brilliant period will be marked by the revolution of the divinely designated reformer and savior of humanity, Mahdi.the Promised, More importantly, that universal revolution will be launched by the deserving Muslims.
The Appearance Of Mahdi
The prophet has declared:
The world will not come to an end until a man from my family (ahl al-bayt), who will be called al-Mahdi, emerges to rule upon my community.
Another tradition reported by Abu al-Hujaf quotes the Prophet saying three times:
Listen to the good news about the Mahdi! He will rise at the time when people will be faced with severe conflict and the earth will be hit by a violent quake. He will fill the earth with justice and equity as it is filled with injustice and tyranny. He will fill the hearts of his followers with devotion and will spread justice everywhere.
The Prophet has declared:
The Day of Resurrection will not take place until the True Qa'im rises. This will happen when God permits him to do so. Anyone who follows him will be saved, and anyone who opposes him will perish. O servants of God, keep God in your mind and go towards him even if it happens to be on the ice, for indeed he is the caliph of God, the Exalted and Glorified, and my successor.
In another hadith the Prophet is reported to have said:
"Any one who denies al-Qa'im among my children will have denied " me.
In still another hadith the Prophet assured his community by stating:
The world will not come to an end until a man from the descendants of Husayn takes charge of the affairs of the world and fills it with justice and equity as it is filled with injustice and tyranny.
Mahdi among the Descendants of the Prophet
Such hadith-reports are abundant. The main idea that runs through all of them suggests that the topic about the future coming of the Mahdi and Qa'im during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) was well known. In fact, the way these reports speak about the subject indicates that it was not something new which was being presented to the people. On the contrary, they relate the signs and characteristics of the person who would emerge as the Mahdi, as in the statement "the promised Mahdi will be among my descendants."
The following traditions reflect such a pattern in their presentation. It is reported from 'Ali b. Abi Talib who said:
I asked the Prophet: "Is Mahdi going to be among our own family or from some other?" He replied: "He will be among us. God will conclude His religion through him, just as He began it with us. It will be through us that people will find refuge from sedition, just as it was through us that they were saved from polytheism. Moreover, it will be through us that God will bring their hearts together in brotherhood following the animosity sown by the sedition, just as they were brought together in brotherhood in their religion after the animosity sown by polytheism."
Abu Sa'id al-Khudari, a close associate of the Prophet says:
I heard the Prophet declare from the pulpit: "The Mahdi from among my descendants, from my family, will rise at the End of Time, while the heavens will pour rain and the earth will bring forth green grass for him. He will fill the earth with justice and equity as it is filled with tyranny and injustice."
In another tradition from Umm Salma, the wife of the Prophet, there is even more specific information given to the community. The Prophet says: "Mahdi will be among my progeny, among the children of Fatima."
On another occasion the Prophet said:
The Qa'im will be among my descendants. His name will be my name and his patronymic will be my patronymic. His character will be like my own. He will call people to my custom and to the Book of God. Anyone who obeys him would be obeying me, and any one who turns away from him would be turning away from me. Anyone who denies his existence during his concealment would have denied me, and anyone who falsifies him would have falsified me. Anyone who confirms his existence would have confirmed my existence. As for those who are engaged in falsifying what I have said about him and thereby mislead my community, I will complain against them to God. "Those who do wrong shall surely know by what overturning they will be overturned." [28:228]
Abu Ayyub Ansari says:
I heard the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) say: "I am the chief of the prophets and 'Ali is the chief of the legatees. My two grandsons are the best among the descendants. The infallible Imams will come forth from among us through Husayn. Moreover, the Mahdi of this community is among us." At that time an Arab stood up and asked: "O Prophet of God, how many Imams are there after you?" He replied: "Equal to the number of the apostles of Jesus and the chiefs of the Children of Israel."
A tradition with similar information has been cited from Hudhayfa, another companion of the Prophet, who heard the Prophet declare:
The Imams after me will be equal to the number of the tribal chiefs among the Children of Israel. Nine among them will be the descendants of Husayn. The Mahdi of this community is among us. Beware! Truth is with them and they are with truth. Thus be careful of the way you treat them after me.
There are numerous hadith-reports of this kind in the sources which one can undertake to examine.
Mahdi in sunni's hadith
In spite of the most unfavorable conditions under the Umayyads and the `Abbasids, whose politics and oppressive governments did not allow the discussion or the spread of hadith about wilayat and imamat and the ahl al-bayt or their being recorded in the books of the hadith, they are not completely void of any traditions on the subject of the Mahdi.
For example, the following:
'Abd Allah reports from the Prophet, who said: "The world will not come to pass until a man from among my family, whose name will be my name, rules over the Arabs."
Tirmidhi has recorded this hadith in his Sahih and comments: "This hadith on the Mahdi is reliable, and has been related by 'Ali b. Abi Talib, Abu Sa'id, Umm Salma and Abu Hurayra":
'Ali b. Abi Talib has narrated from the Prophet, who said: "Even if there remains only a day on earth, God will bring forth a man from my progeny so that he will fill the earth with justice and equity as it is filled with tyranny."
In another hadith Umm Salma narrates that she heard the Prophet say: "The promised Mahdi will be among my progeny, among the descendants of Fatima."
Abu Sa'id al-Khudari says:
The Prophet said: "Our Mahdi will have a broad forehead and a pointed nose. He will fill the earth with justice as it is filled with injustice and tyranny. He will rule for seven years."
'Ali b. Abi Talib has related a tradition from the Prophet who informed him:
The promised Mahdi will be among my family. God will make the provisions for his emergence within a single night.
Abu Sa'id al-Khudari has related a tradition from the Prophet who declared:
The earth will be filled with injustice and corruption. At that time, a man from among my progeny will rise and will rule for seven or nine years and will fill the earth with justice and equity.
Greater detail is provided in another hadith reported by Abu Sa'id al-Khudari. In this tradition the Prophet said:
Severe calamity from the direction of their ruler will befall my people during the Last Days. It will be a calamity which, in severity, shall be unprecedented. It will be so violent that the earth with injustice and corruption will shrivel for its inhabitants. The believers will not find refuge from oppression. At that time God will send a man from my family to fill the earth with justice and equity just as it is filled with injustice and tyranny. The dwellers of the heavens and the earth will be pleased with him. The earth will bring forth all that grows for him, and the heavens will pour down rains in abundance. He will live among the people for seven or nine years. From all the good that God will bestow on the inhabitants of the earth, the dead will wish to come to life again.
There are numerous traditions that convey these meanings.
: Sahihs Of Moslem and bukhari
To be sure, the Sahihs of Muslim and Bukhari, whose authority is accepted by all the Sunnis, are not completely devoid of traditions about the Mahdi, although the term mahdi has not been used to express this belief among Muslims. Following is one such hadith:
It is reported from Abu Hurayra that the Prophet said: "What will be your reaction when the son of Mary descends and your Imam is among yourselves?"
There are a number of other traditions on a similar theme in these two compilations. It is also important to bear in mind that Ibn Khaldun has neither totally falsified all the traditions about the Mahdi, nor has he claimed that he does not accept them. The context of Ibn Khaldun's remark about these traditions is provided by his opening statement in this section when he says:
It has been well known (and generally accepted) by all Muslims in every epoch, that at the end of time a man from the family (of the Prophet) will without fail make his appearance, who will strengthen Islam and make justice triumph. Muslims will follow him, and he will gain domination over the Muslim realm. He will be called the Mahdi.
It is evident that he has briefly accepted the fact that the belief in the awaited Mahdi is common among Muslims. Moreover, after his critical evaluation of the traditions and their transmitters he concludes the discussion with the following observation:
This is the situation of the traditions about the awaited Mahdi. It has been seen in the books that, with the exception of very few, most of these traditions are regarded as unreliable.
Hence, even at this point he has not rejected all the traditions on the subject. Rather, as he confesses, some of them are authentic.
Furthermore, it is relevant to point out that the traditions on the subject of the Mahdi are not confined only to those mentioned and critically evaluated by Ibn Khaldun. Quite to the contrary, most of the books on hadith, both by the Sunnis and the Shi`ites, narrate traditions in an unbroken chain of transmission which actually comes close to their verification as being credible. Had Ibn Khaldun known about the existence of all these traditions, he would have probably regarded the belief in the Mahdi as deeply rooted in the Islamic revelation.
To conclude this discussion, we can say that it is incorrect to maintain, as some scholars do, that Ibn Khaldun rejected the tradition about the Mahdi. On the contrary, it is these authors who have read into Ibn Khaldun such an opinion.
The Family of the Prophet and the Eleven Imams' Predictions about Mahdi
Following the Prophet's death the subject of Mahdiism was also under discussion among the Prophet's companions and the Imams. The Family of the Prophet, as the heirs to the Prophet's knowledge and to the intricate matters concerning faith, was the most knowledgeable about the Prophetic traditions. They spoke about the Mahdi and replied to the questions that were posed to them on this subject. Let us cite some examples of these communications by them with some attention to the chronology. Although there are several traditions cited from each one of the Imams and from Fatima Zahra (peace be upon her) we will cite just one from each:
(1) Tradition Narrated by Imam 'Ali about the Future Coming of Mahdi:
The following tradition is related by al-Asbagh who heard 'Ali b. Abi Talib say:
The promised Mahdi will emerge at the End of Time from among us. There is no Mahdi in any nation other than him being awaited.
There are more than fifty traditions narrated from 'Ali b. Abi Talib in connection with the future appearance of the Mahdi and his being from among the Family of the Prophet.
(2) Tradition Narrated by Fatima Zahra (peace be upon her):
Fatima Zahra told her son Husayn:
When I gave birth to you, the Prophet came to see me. He took you in his hands and said to me: "O Fatima, take your Husayn, and know that he is the father of nine Imams. From his descendants will appear righteous leaders among whom the ninth will be the Qa'im."
(3) Tradition Narrated by Imam Hasan b. 'Ali:
Hasan b. 'Ali said:
There will be twelve Imams following the Prophet. Nine of these Imams will be from the progeny of my brother Husayn. The Mahdi of this umma will be among them.
(4) Tradition Narrated by Imam Husayn b. 'Ali:
Husayn b. 'Ali said:
Twelve Imams will be from among us. The first among them will be 'Ali b. Abi Talib and the last will be my ninth descendant, the rightful Qa'im. Because of his blessed existence God will bring back the dead earth to life and prosperity. God will give victory to His religion over all other religions, even if this be against the liking of the disbelievers. The Mahdi will disappear from public for a while. During his occultation a number of people will abandon religion, whereas others will remain steadfast and will suffer because of their faith. This latter group will be asked tauntingly: "If your belief is true, when would your promised Imam rise?" But, remember that whoever perseveres under those unfavorable circumstances when enemies would falsify and harm them, their status will be like those who fought by the side of the Prophet in defending the religion of God.
(5) Tradition Narrated by Imam 'Ali b. Husayn:
'Ali b. Husayn said:
The birth of our Qa'im will be hidden from the people in such a way that they will assert: "He has not been born at all!" The reason for his concealment is that when he begins his revolution he will have no one's allegiance on his neck.
(6) Tradition Narrated by Imam Muhammad Baqir:
Muhammad b. 'Ali Baqir told Aban b. Taghlib:
I solemnly declare that the Imamate is the divine covenant that has reached us from the Prophet. The Imams after the Prophet are twelve in number of whom nine are the descendants of Husayn. At the End of Time the Mahdi will also emerge from among us who will protect the religion of God.
(7) Tradition Narrated by Imam Ja'far Sadiq:
Ja'far b. Muhammad Sadiq said:
Whoever acknowledges all the Imams, but denies the existence of the Mahdi, is like the one who acknowledges all the prophets but denies the prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Someone asked him: "Among whose descendants is the Mahdi?" The Imam responded:
The fifth progeny of the seventh Imam [Musa Kazim] will be the Mahdi. However, he will disappear. It is not proper for you to name him.
(8)Tradition Narrated by Imam Musa Kazim:
Yunus b. 'Abd al-Rahman asked Imam Musa b. Ja'far: "Are you the rightful Qa'im?" He replied:
Yes, I am the rightful Qa'im. But the Qa'im who will purify the earth from the enemies of God and will fill it with justice and equity, is my fifth descendant. Since he is afraid for his life, he will be in occultation for a long time. During this period of occultation, a group will turn away from religion. But some will remain steadfast in their faith.
He went on to add:
Blessed are those Shi'a who during this period of occultation will continue to be faithful to us and remain steadfast in their loyalty to us and their hostility toward our enemies. Truly, they are from us and we are from them. They are convinced about our Imamate and we acknowledge their fealty to us. By God, blessed are they! They will be with us in Paradise.
(9) Tradition Reported by Imam 'Ali b. Musa Rida:
Rayya b. Salt once asked Imam Rida: "Are you sahib al-'amr (Master of the Undertaking)?" The Imam said:
Yes, I am the Master of the Undertaking. However, I am not that Master of the Undertaking who will fill the earth with justice and equity. How can I be that Master of the Undertaking when you are witness to the prevalent weakness and helplessness? The promised Qa'im will be old in age but young in appearance when he emerges. He will be so powerful and strong that if he extended his hand to the most huge tree it would fall uprooted. And if he screamed among the mountains the rocks would be crushed into pieces. The rod of Moses and the seal of Solomon are with him. That person will be my fourth descendant. God will keep him in occultation for as long as He deems necessary. Then, He will cause him to appear, and through him God will fill the earth with justice and equity as it is filled with tyranny and oppression..
(10) Tradition Reported by Imam Muhammad b. 'Ali Jawad:
Imam Muhammad Taqi Jawad told 'Abd al-'Azim Hasani:
Our Qa'im is the same as the promised Mahdi whom you should await and when he appears you should obey. He will be my third descendant. I swear by the God who sent Muhammad as the Prophet and appointed us as the Imams that even if there remains a single day on earth, God will prolong it until the Mahdi emerges and fills the earth with justice and equity as it is filled with injustice and tyranny. God takes care of His affairs overnight just as He managed the affairs of Moses in one night. Moses had gone to fetch fire for his family and he returned having been fully designated as God's prophet.
The Imam then added: "Awaiting for the deliverance to come is the best act for our Shi'a."
(11) Tradition Narrated by Imam 'Ali Naqi:
Imam 'Ali Naqi said: "Following me my son Hasan is the Imam, and following Hasan it will be the Qa'im who will fill the earth with justice and equity."
(12) Tradition Narrated by Imam Hasan 'Askari:
Imam Hasan 'Askari told Musa b. Ja'far Baghdadi:
I see you disputing in the matter of the Imam after me. Be aware that anyone who acknowledges the Imams after the Prophet, but rejects the Imamate of my son is like the one who has accepted the prophethood of all the prophets except the prophethood of Muhammad. The one who denies the latter is like the one who has denied all other prophets. The reason is that obedience to the last Imam is like obedience to the first Imam among us. Hence, whoever rejects the last among us is like the one who has rejected the first Imam. Let it be known to you that the occultation of my son will be so much prolonged that people will fall in doubt except for those whose faith God protects.
The Short and Complete Occultation
The meaning of 'short' and 'complete' occultation;
The twelfth Imam (peace be upon him) remained concealed from the public at two different times. The first period extends from the time of his birth in 255 or 256 AH/868 or 869 CE or from the time of his father, Imam Hasan 'Askari's death in 260 AH/873 CE, to the year 329 AH/940 CE. During this time, although he lived an invisible existence as far as the public was concerned, he was not completely cut off from them. Rather, he maintained regular contact with his followers through his deputies, who were able to reach him and present to him their needs and inquiries. The existence of the Imam during this period that lasted some 74 or 69 years is known as ghaybat-i sughra.
The second period extends from the year 329/940, with the termination of the deputyship of his prominent and trustworthy associates, to the time when he will emerge from the state of the occultation to lead humanity to establish the rule of justice and equity on earth. This period of occultation is known as ghaybat-i kubra.
Both the Prophet and the Imams (peace be upon them) had informed people about the two forms of occultation for the Mahdi. Thus, for instance, Ishaq b. 'Ammar relates a hadith he heard from Imam Sadiq:
The Qa'im will have two forms of occultation: one long and the other short. During the first occultation his special followers will know his whereabouts; during the second occultation, except for a few very special followers of his in his religion, no one will have any information about his whereabouts.
In another tradition Imam Sadiq said:
The one who is entrusted with the command (sahib al-'amr) will have two forms of occultation. One of them will be so long that a group of the people will say that he has died; others will say he has been killed; still others will say he has disappeared. Very few will remain who will still have faith in his existence, and will continue to be steadfast. At this time no one will have any information about his whereabouts except his very few followers.
The Short Occultation and the Contacts with the Shi'a
We have heard that after the short occultation began, there were some charlatans who, taking advantage of the ignorance of the ignorant masses, claimed to be the deputies and 'gates' (bab = 'mediator' between the Imam and his followers) of the Hidden Imam. They cheated the people and pocketed a lot of their wealth. Could you take some time to explain who exactly these deputies were and what kind of contact and relationship there was between the Imam and his followers, and in what form?
A: During the short occultation people in general were deprived of a more normal contact with the Imam. However, the relationship was not completely severed. It was maintained through some special individuals known as bab ('mediator'), na'ib ('deputy'), and wakil ('representative'). It was through these individuals that the people established contact with their Imam, asking questions of him and seeking his assistance in their affairs. The share of the Imam from the khums (the 'fifth') was delivered to the Imam through his deputy. Sometimes, they used to ask for material help from the Imam; at other times they used to seek permission to go for hajj or other kinds of travel; still at other times they would ask the Imam to pray for their sick or to pray for a child for them. The Imam used to respond to these requests through different individuals who represented him among them in different parts of the Muslim world. In the performance of all these tasks there were specific individuals who executed the will of the Imam. There were times when the requests were made in letters to the Imam and, accordingly, he would respond in writing. These 'signed notes' from him were known as tawqi'.
Were these Letters from the Imam in His Own Handwriting?
Who wrote these letters? Was it the Imam himself or someone else?
A; It is said that the Imam himself wrote these letters or notes. In fact, his handwriting was well known among his associates and the contemporary scholars. They used to recognize it well. There is some evidence to that effect in the sources. For instance, Muhammad b. 'Uthman 'Amri says: "A signed note was issued from the Imam and the handwriting was well known to me."
Ishaq b. Ya'qub relates that he had sent a letter asking questions to the twelfth Imam through Muhammad b. 'Uthman. He received the reply in the Imam's own handwriting.
Shaykh Abu 'Amr 'Amiri relates: Ibn Abi Ghanim Qazwini had a dispute on a matter with a group of the Shi'is. For resolving it they wrote a letter to the Imam explaining the matter. The response came from the Imam in his own handwriting.According to Shaykh Saduq, the letter that his father had received from the Imam was in his possession.
These aforementioned individuals have borne the testimony that the letters they received or were in their possession were from the Imam himself, in his own handwriting. However, we do not know the way they determined that it was the Imam's handwriting. The reason is that with the occultation it was not possible to see the Imam. In addition, there were some who reported contrary to what these aforementioned individuals were claiming. For example, Abu Nasr Hibat Allah relates that the signed notes were issued by 'Uthman b. Sa'id and Muhammad b. 'Uthman, in the same handwriting that was used during the time of Imam Hasan 'Askari.
In another report the same person relates that Abu Ja'far 'Amri died in the year 304 AH/916 CE. He had been the deputy of the Imam for over fifty years. People used to bring their donations to him and signed notes were issued to them in the same hand writing as during the time of Imam Hasan 'Askari. In yet another report he says that the signed notes of the Imam were issued by Muhammad b. 'Uthman, in the same handwriting as they were issued during the time of his father, 'Uthman b. Sa'id.
'Abd Allah b. Ja'far Himyari relates: "When 'Uthman b. Sa'id died, the signed notes of the Imam of the Age were issued in the same handwriting in which we used to receive earlier letters.
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).
However, the deputyship of the four prominent members of the community is famous among the Shi'is. These are:
(1) 'Uthman b. Sa'id 'Amri (260 AH/874 CE)
(2) Muhammad b. 'Uthman 'Amri (d. 304 AH/916 CE)
(3) Husayn b. Ruh Nawbakhti (d. 326 AH/937 CE)
(4) 'Ali b. Muhammad al-Samarri (d. 329/940 CE)
'Uthman b. Sa'id, the First Deputy
He was among the most trustworthy and eminent companions of Imam Hasan 'Askari and was his representative among the Shi'a. According to Bu 'Ali and Mamqani, "'Uthman b. Sa'id was thoroughly reliable and highly respected because of his impeccable character. He served as the agent of the Imam Hadi, Imam Hasan 'Askari, and Imam Qa'im (peace be upon them)." Such an opinion of him was universally held by all other authors of biographical dictionaries. Thus, 'Allama Bihbahani, in addition to praising 'Uthman, says that he was actually accredited by the Imams Hadi and Hasan 'Askari.
Ahmad b. Ishaq relates the incident in which he asked the tenth Imam Hadi regarding the person with whom the Shi'a should deal and whose guidance they should accept as coming from the Imams. The Imam said: "'Uthman b. Sa'id is my trusted agent. If he relates something for you then he is telling the truth. Listen to him and obey him because I trust him." When Imam Hasan 'Askari was asked a similar question he mentioned both 'Uthman and his son Muhammad as his trusted agents. Moreover, he also required his followers to listen to and obey Uthman. These reports were so widespread among the companions of the last Imams that they became the source of the respect and trust with which 'Uthman b. Sa'id was held.
On one occasion Muhammad b. Isma'il and 'Ali b. 'Abd Allah came to Samarra to visit Imam Hasan 'Askari. There was a group of Shi'a visiting the Imam at that time. Suddenly, the servant came and announced that a group of villagers, shabbily dressed, were seeking permission to enter the presence of the Imam. The Imam said: "They are Shi'a from the Yemen." Then he told the servant to ask 'Uthman to be prepared for the visitors. Within a short while 'Uthman was ready. The Imam said to him: "'Uthman, you are our trusted agent. Receive the goods this group has brought." This elevation of 'Uthman, according to the narrators of the report, was done in order to let the Shi'a know the status of 'Uthman. In fact, towards the end of that visit Imam Hasan 'Askari declared to the group saying: "Let it be known to you that 'Uthman b. Sa'id is my agent and his son will be the agent of my son Mahdi."
Imam Hasan 'Askari revealed his son to the group of forty people among his followers, including 'Ali b. Bilal, Ahmad b. Hilal, Muhammad b. Mu'awiya, and Hasan b. Ayyub and said: "This is your Imam and my successor. Obey him! Know that after this time for a while you will not see him. Listen to what 'Uthman b. Sa'id says and follow his instructions because he [Uthman] is the successor of your Imam. The management of the affairs of our people will be in his hands."
His Miraculous Acts
In addition to these favorable statements from the Imams accrediting 'Uthman b. Sa'id, there are miraculous acts (karamat) ascribed to him. These acts actually provide further evidence to bolster the truthfulness of his statements. For instance, Shaykh Tusi in his Kitab al-Ghayba, relates the following story from a number of persons belonging to Nawbakht family, including Abu al-Hasan Kathiri:
A person brought some goods [belonging to the twelfth Imam] from Qumm and the vicinity to 'Uthman b. Sa'id. When the person wanted to leave 'Uthman b. Sa'id said: "You have been entrusted with something else too. Why have you not delivered it?" The person said: "There is nothing else left." 'Uthman b. Sa'id told him to go back and search for it. After a few days of searching the person returned to report that he had not found anything on him. At that 'Uthman b. Sa'id asked him: "What happened to the two pieces of cloth that were handed to you by so and so?" The person said: "By God, you are right. But I have forgotten about them, and now I do not know where they are."
Once more he returned to his place and searched for the material, but could not find it. He came and told 'Uthman b. Sa'id about that. 'Uthman said: "Go to so and so, the cotton seller, to whom you delivered two bundles of cotton. Open the bundle on which such and such is written. You will find that entrusted material in it." The man went and did what 'Uthman b. Sa'id had asked him to do. He found the material and brought it to him. 
Muhammad b. 'Ali Aswad, another agent of the Imam, was given a piece of cloth by a woman for 'Uthman b. Sa'id. He took it with some other clothes to 'Uthman. 'Uthman asked him to hand it to Muhmmad b. 'Abbas Qummi. He did so. After that 'Uthman b. Sa'id sent him a message which said: "Why have you not delivered the cloth given by the woman?" Muhammad b. 'Ali Aswad remembered the cloth and searched for it until he delivered it to him.
Shaykh Saduq has narrated another incident in his Kamal al-din. He writes:
A man from Iraq brought the Imam's share (sahm imam) to 'Uthman b. Sa'id. 'Uthman returned the money and said: "Deduct from it that which you owe to your cousins." The man was surprised to hear that. When he investigated his goods he found that he owed part of the agricultural land to his cousins, which he had not returned. On careful calculation he found that the land was equivalent to four hundred dirhams. Thus, he deducted that from his goods and took the remaining portion to 'Uthman b. Sa'id. This time it was accepted from him.
After all these reports about 'Uthman b. Sa'id's honesty and trustworthiness, the respect with which he was held by the tenth and eleventh Imams, and the consensus among the Shi'a about his moral probity and sound character, is it fair to assume that he was a manipulative individual, intent upon deceiving the generality of the Shi'is?
Muhammad b. 'Uthman, the Second Deputy
Muhammad b. 'Uthman succeeded his father, 'Uthman b. Sa'id, as the deputy after the latter's death in 260 AH/874 CE. Shaykh Tusi, commenting on both these deputies of the Hidden Imam (peace be upon him), writes that "they enjoyed the highest esteem in the eyes of the Master of the Age."
According to Mamqani, the high status of Muhammad b. 'Uthman among the Shi'is is self-evident. They are in agreement that during the lifetime of his father he was the deputy of Imam Hasan 'Askari, and later on he became the deputy of the twelfth Imam. In fact, 'Uthman b. Sa'id explicitly appointed Muhammad b. 'Uthman as his successor and the deputy of the Hidden Imam.
Ya'qub b. Ishaq, a prominent follower of the Imams in Samarra, relates:
I wrote a letter to the Imam of the Age through Muhammad b. 'Uthman in which I asked some questions about religious problems. The reply came in the Imam's own handwriting. In addition to the responses to my inquiries it included the statement: "Muhammad b. 'Uthman is the trusted one. His letters are my letters."
His Miraculous Acts
Muhammad b. Shadhan, a close companion of Imam Hasan 'Askari, relates that he had four hundred and eighty dirhams that belonged to the Imam (peace be upon him). Since he did not like to send without rounding the figure to five hundred, he added twenty dirhams from his money and sent it to Muhammad b. 'Uthman, without writing to him that he had added that amount. A receipt came from the Imam in which it was written: "We received five hundred dirhams, which included twenty dirhams from you."
A similar story is reported by Ja'far b. Ahmad b. Matil. Muhammad b. 'Uthman sent a message calling him to visit. When Ja'far came Muhammad b. 'Uthman gave him some pieces of cloth and a bag of dirhams, and asked him to go to Wasit. There he asked him to hand the bag and cloth to the first person he would meet. When Ja'far reached Wasit the first person he met was Hasan b. Muhammad b. Qatah. He introduced himself to Hasan who recognized him and they embraced each other. He related to him Muhammad b. 'Uthman's greetings and handed over to him the goods he had brought. When Hasan heard this he thanked God and said: "Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah 'Amiri has died. I left the house to get a shroud for him." Upon opening the goods that were sent by Muhammad b. 'Uthman they found everything they needed to prepare for 'Amiri's burial. Even the money was exactly the amount that was needed to cover the expenses related to the funeral. Hence, they went ahead and buried 'Amiri.
According to another eminent follower of the Imams, namely, Muhammad b. 'Ali b. al-Aswad Qummi, Muhammad b. 'Uthman had prepared his burial place while still alive. He asked him for the reason. In response Muhammad b. 'Uthman said: "I have been ordered by the Imam to take care of my affairs in advance." Two months following this event Muhammad b. 'Uthman died.
Muhammad b. 'Uthman remained the Hidden Imam's deputy for almost fifty years and died in the year 304 AH/916 CE.
Husayn b. Ruh, the Third Deputy
The third deputy of the Imam of the Age (peace be upon him), was the most learned and astute leader of his time. Muhammad b. 'Uthman had himself designated him as his successor and deputy of the Imam.
'Allama Majlisi, in his Bihar al-anwar, writes:
When Muhammad b. 'Uthman became seriously ill, a group of prominent Shi'is like Abu 'Ali b. Humam, Abu 'Abd Allah b. Muhammad Katib, Abu 'Abd Allah Baqtani, Abu Sahl Nawbakhti, and Abu 'Abd Allah b. Wajna' came to see him. They asked him about his successor. In reply he said: "Husayn b. Ruh is my successor and the trusted deputy of the Master of the Age. Refer to him in your affairs. I have been commanded by the Imam to designate Husayn b. Ruh in the position of deputyship.
Ja'far b. Muhammad Mada'ini relates that he used to carry the goods that belonged to the Imam to Muhammad b. 'Uthman. One day he took four hundred dinars to him. Muhammad b. 'Uthman asked him to deposit it with Husayn b. Ruh and so Ja'far asked him the reason he did not accept it himself. Muhammad b. 'Uthman said: "Take it to Husayn b. Ruh. You should know that I have appointed him as my successor." Ja'far went on to ask if he had done so under instructions from the Imam. He replied: "Yes." Hence, Ja'far took the money to Husyan b. Ruh and from this time on he deposited the Imam's share with the latter.
Among the companions and close associates of Muhammad b. 'Uthman there were a number of people, such as Ja'far b. Ahmad b. Matil, who held much higher position in merits than Husyan b. Ruh. In fact, many thought that the deputyship would be given to Ja'far Matil. However, contrary to the generally held expectation, it was Husayn b. Ruh who became the next deputy. Everyone at that point submitted to Muhammad b. 'Uthman's decision, including Ja'far Matil. Abu Sahl Nawbakhti was asked about this decision:
"How did Husayn b. Ruh get appointed to the position of deputyship, when you were more qualified to assume it?" In response he said: "The Imam knows better about the person who can represent him. I am always in debate with our opponents. If I were the deputy, maybe at the time of heated debate, in order to prove my point, I would have revealed the Imam's whereabouts. But Husayn b. Ruh is not like me. If he had the Imam hidden under his garments, and if he were being cut to pieces, he would not expose him to anyone."
Shaykh Saduq relates the circumstances that led his father to write a letter to the Imam and ask him to pray for a son for him. According to this report, it was Muhammad b. 'Ali Aswad who related that Shaykh Saduq's father, 'Ali b. Husyan b. Babawayh, sent a message through him to Husyan b. Ruh to ask the Imam to pray for a son for him. That message was delivered to Husayn b. Ruh. After three days he informed Muhammad Aswad that the Imam had prayed for him and that in the near future God would favor him with a son. That very year Muhammad, that is Shaykh Saduq, was born. After that several other sons were born. But it was Shaykh Saduq who used to pride himself on having been born through the special prayer of the Imam. In fact, whenever Muhammad Aswad saw Shaykh Saduq in the learning sessions with prominent teachers, studying extremely well, he would say: "It is not surprising to see you studying so well. After all you were born through the prayer of the Imam of the Age!"
There was a man who had doubts about the deputyship of Husayn b. Ruh. For clarification of his doubt he wrote a letter to the Imam with a dry pen without ink. After a few days he received a reply from the Hidden Imam (peace be upon him) through Husayn b. Ruh.
Husayn b. Ruh died in the month of Sha'ban, in the year 326 AH/937 CE.
'Ali b. Muhammad Samarri, the Fourth Deputy
He was the fourth deputy of the Hidden Imam (peace be upon him). His full name was Abu al-Hasan 'Ali b. Muhammad Samarri. According to Ibn Tawus, he had served under the Imam Hadi and Imam Hasan 'Askari. These two Imams were, moreover, in correspondence with him and had written a number of signed notes for him. He was undoubtedly among the most eminent faces of the Shi'a in Baghdad.Husayn b. Ruh, as reported by Ahmad b. Muhammad Safwani, had appointed 'Ali b. Muhammad Samarri in his place so that he could manage his affairs. When his death approached, a number of Shi'is came to see him and asked him about his successor. His response was that he had not been asked to appoint anyone to that position.
It is related by Ahmad b. Ibrahim Mukhallad that one day 'Ali b. Muhammad Samarri, without any indication, said: "May God have mercy on 'Ali b. Muhammad b. Babawayh Qummi!" Those present at that time made note of the date of this pronouncement. Later the news came that 'Ali b. Babawayh had died on the same day. He himself died in the year 329 AH/941 CE.
Hasan b. Ahmad relates that he was with 'Ali b. Muhammad Samarri some days before he died. A letter came from the Imam which he read for the people. The contents were as follows:
In the name of God. O 'Ali b. Muhammad Samarri, may God reward your brethren in your death, which is going to take place in six days' time. So take care of your affairs and do not appoint anyone in your place, since the complete occultation has taken place. I will not appear until God permits me to do so (may His name be exalted) and that will be after a long time and after the hearts become hard and the earth is filled with wickedness. In the near future there will be those among my followers who will claim to have seen me. Beware, those who claim this before the rise of Sufyani and the [hearing of the] voice from the sky are liars.
This was the end of the Short Occultation and the beginning of the Complete Occultation. The deputyship of these four prominent members of the Shi'a community is famous among the believers. There were also some individuals who made false claims about being deputized by the Hidden Imam (peace be upon him). Since they could not prove their claim their falsehood became manifest and they were discredited in the community. Among this latter group were Hasan Shari'ati, Muhammad b. Nusayr Numayri, Ahmad b. Hilal Karakhi, Muhammad b. 'Ali b. Bilal, Muhammad b. 'Ali Shalmaghani, and Abu Bakr Baghdadi.
This was, in brief, the account of the special deputies. From all the sources that speak about them it is reasonable to assert that their claim to be the deputy of the Hidden Imam was defensible. There is no rational ground to doubt that they truly held that kind of highly esteemed position in the Shi'a community in the ninth-tenth century.
The Philosophy of Occultation
Q: If the Imam of the Age was living among the people, they would have been able to reach him and consult with him in times of need to seek solutions to their problems. That would have been better. In spite of such a need among his followers why did he go into occultation?
A: To be sure, if there had been no obstacles to his being present among the people, it would have been more expedient and beneficial to have him around. However, since God has chosen a state of invisible existence for him, and since God's acts are founded upon what is in the best interest of humanity, one should also believe, as one does in other instances, that in this case also the reason for occultation is also based on divine wisdom, about which we have simply an overall knowledge, the details being unknown to us. The following hadith corroborates the point we are trying to make, namely, that the actual reason for occultation was not explained for the people, and except for the Imams themselves no one knew anything about it.
The hadith is reported by 'Abd Allah b. Fadl Hashimi. He relates:
Imam Sadiq said: "The one entrusted with the command will necessarily live an invisible life. This will lead those who are already astray into doubt." So I asked the Imam the reason. He said: "I am not permitted to reveal the reason." I went on to seek the philosophy behind the invisible life [of the Imam of the Age].
He said: "It is the same wisdom that existed in the prior situation when other proofs of God also went into occultation. However, the true understanding behind this occurrence will not take place until after he has reappeared, just as the wisdom behind making the boat defective, killing the boy, and repairing the falling wall [in the story of Moses and Khidr in the Qur'an] were revealed to Moses only after the two had decided to part company. O the son of Fadl! The subject of occultation is among the divine secrets and a concealed matter whose knowledge is only with God. Since we regard God to be wise we must also affirm that His acts are based on that perfect wisdom, even when the detailed understanding is not accessible to us."
The hadith certainly points to the fact that the main reason for the occultation was not explained to the people either because it was not suitable for the people or because they had no preparation to grasp it. But there are other traditions in which three benefits are given for the occultation of the Imam:
(1) The benefit of being tested and purified: There are some who do not have strong faith. Through the requirement of believing in such a phenomenon as the invisible existence of the Imam their true inner self is made manifest. Then there are those who do have strong faith in hidden things, but because of the prolonged concealment and their awaiting for the deliverance so long, they have suffered a lot. Such people should receive proper recognition and should reap rewards for their steadfastness and patience. Imam Musa Kazim has related this situation in the following hadith:
When the fifth descendant of the seventh Imam disappears watch out for your faith. God forbid, if someone may drive you away from your religion. O my son! Undoubtedly, the Master of the Command will have such an occultation that a group of believers will turn away from religion. God will test the believers with the occultation [of their Imam].
(2) The benefit of being relieved from having to pay allegiance to unjust rulers. There is a tradition reported by Hasan b. Faddal from Imam Rida, who said:
"I see my followers in the aftermath of the death of my third descendant [i.e., Imam Hasan 'Askari) looking for their Imam everywhere and not finding him." I asked him the reason for that. He said: "Because their Imam will have entered the state of occultation." I went on to ask the reason for the occultation. He said: "This will be so that when he reappears he will have paid no allegiance to anyone."
(3) The benefit of being immune from murder. Zurara reports the hadith from Imam Sadiq, who said:
"The Qa'im must live an invisible existence." I asked for the reason. He said: "He is afraid of being killed," and pointed to his stomach.
These three benefits are reported in various ways in a number of traditions, especially those reported from the ahl al-bayt.
Appointing No Special Deputies
Why Did He Appoint No Special Deputies During the Complete Occultation?
Q: We accept in principle the necessity of occultation for the Imam. But, the question arises as "Why didn't he appoint his special deputies during the Complete Occultation as he had done during the Short Occultation? Such an appointment would have enabled the Shi'a to establish contact with him and ask for his assistance in solving their problems.
A: The enemies did not leave the deputies in peace either. They were imprisoned and tortured so that they would reveal the whereabouts of the Hidden Imam (peace be upon him).
Q: Well, in that case perhaps it was possible for him not to appoint specific individuals as his deputies. However, from time to time he could appear for some of his followers through whom he could convey his injunctions for the community.
A: Even this approach was not feasible because in all likelihood that very person to whom the Imam had appeared would have revealed his domicile to the enemy, leading to the arrest and murder of the Imam.
Such a danger would have been possible if he had appeared in front of any unknown person. But if he had appeared for some trustworthy persons among his followers, the probability of impending danger would have been absent.
First, if the Imam had decided to appear for anyone he would have needed to perform a miracle to introduce himself. In fact, for a cynical individual he might have been required to perform several miracles to be accepted by each . Among these individuals there was a possibility that there would be some who would resort to trickery and fraud through magic to deceive and mislead the ordinary believers and even claim to be the Imam himself! By the way, it is not possible for everyone to distinguish between a miracle and an act of magic. This very difficulty would have led to further corruption among the people, leading to a disastrous situation.
Second, there were actually some shrewd impostors and fraudulent individuals who had abused such incidents for their own personal ambitions. They used to claim to have seen the Imam and spread laws contrary to the Shari'a on his authority to achieve their evil designs. Whoever intended to do something against the law and further his own ends used to claim that he had reached the presence of the Imam of the time and that the Imam had come to his house the previous night and had told him that he would do such and such or that the Imam approved what he was doing, and so on. The dangerous consequences of such claims is too self-evident to require any further elaboration.
Third, we do not have any unequivocal proof that the Imam of the time does not appear to anyone highly trustworthy among his followers. Rather, it is quite likely that his pious and Godly followers might reach his presence and might be under oath to keep that secret, without revealing it to anyone. In such cases, everyone is bound to their own experience and has no right to judge anyone else.
What Is the Benefit of Having the Imam in Occultation?
If the Imam is the leader of the people he should be present among them. What is the benefit of having an Imam who lives an invisible life? What is the use of having an Imam who lives in the state of occultation for centuries without fulfilling any of the functions that he normally undertakes: such as propagating religion, solving the problems of the society, responding to the attacks of his opponents, commanding the good and forbidding the evil, helping the poor and redressing the wrongs committed against the downtrodden, upholding the ordinances of God by instituting proper penalties and explaining the lawful and the unlawful to the people, and so on.
A: The people are surely deprived of the benefits that you have enumerated during the occultation. However, the benefits of the Imam's presence are not limited to these. In fact, there are other benefits that are available during the occultation. The following two are among those many other benefits that you have not enumerated:
First, in accord with all that we have said previously and the proofs that were derived from the writings of Muslim scholars, including the hadith-reports that spoke about the necessity of the Imamate, the existence of the Imam as a perfect and unique embodiment of humanity serves as a link between the material and the spiritual world. If the Imam is absent the human species will be extinct. If there is no Imam then God cannot be known or worshipped perfectly. Without the Imam the link between the material and the spiritual become severed. The heart of the Imam is like the source of electricity that distributes light to numerous lamps. The illumination and energization of the hidden universe first mirrors on the heart of the Imam and then from there it reflects on the hearts of humankind. The Imam is the heart of the created universe and the leader and guide of humankind. It is evident that his presence and absence have an impact upon these actualities. After all these, can one ask what benefit accrues from the invisible existence of the Imam? I think that you are raising this objection on behalf of someone else who does not have a real understanding of the meaning of "wilayat" and the Imamate and who does not see the Imam as more than a legal expert and an administrator of justice, whereas the responsibilities of "wilayat" and the Imamate are much more than these external functions.
In a long tradition reported from Imam Sadiq it is related that Imam Sajjad said:
We are the leaders of the Muslims, God's proofs for His creatures, masters of the believers, guides for the Godfearing, and those invested with discretionary authority over the affairs of Muslims. We are the security for the dwellers of the earth, just as the stars are the security of the dwellers of the heavens. It is because of us that the heavens descend on the earth whenever God permits. It is because of us that the rain descends and blessings of earth come out of it. If we had not been on earth its dwellers would have been consumed in it.
He then went on to say:
From the day God created Adam until today He has not left the earth without a competent authority (=proof=hujjat). But this authority is sometimes manifest and well known; at other times he is in occultation and in concealment. The earth will not be void of such an authority until the Day of Judgement. If there is no Imam, God will not be worshipped.
Sulayman, the narrator, asked Imam Sadiq: "How can people benefit from the existence of an Imam who is in occultation?" The Imam said: "In the same way as they benefit from the sun behind the clouds."
In this and other traditions of this kind the existence of the twelfth Imam and the benefit derived from him are compared to the benefit derived from the sun hidden behind the clouds. To elaborate on this imagery let us remind ourselves of the way natural science explains the phenomenon. It is established in natural science and in astronomy that the sun is the center of our solar system. The laws of gravity protect the earth from falling into an abyss, and permit the earth to revolve around the sun, generating the distinction between day and night and different seasons according to its position in relation to the sun. The thermal energy produced by the sun is the source of life on earth and its light illuminates the otherwise dark earth. This benefit accrues to the earth regardless of the fact of whether the sun is shining directly or from behind the clouds. In other words, all its functions (illumination, providing energy, growth, etc.) are intact even when it shines from behind the clouds. In fact, whether it is from behind the dark clouds or at night when we think the sun is not present, we are still recipients of the sun's thermal energy and all other benefits that are critical for our survival on earth.
The existence of the Imam is like the sun behind the clouds that benefits the dwellers of the earth. He is the heart of humankind and its existential guide. In order for his benefits to reach humanity it does not matter whether he is manifest or in concealment. Let us recall our previous discussions about the necessity of the Prophethood and Imamate and review all their aspects so that we can appreciate the true meaning of "wilayat". This review will help us to understand the most important benefit of having an Imam from the progeny of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny), whether manifest or in concealment. As we ponder this matter, we are actually enjoying the blessings of this Imam's invisible existence.
As for other benefits enumerated by you, Engineer Madani, of which people are deprived, actually, both from the direction of God and from the existence of the Imam, there is no obstacle to these benefits reaching the people. The problem is with the people themselves. If these obstructions could be removed and if the people worked towards creating the just order and toward preparing to launch God's government by spreading the right information and strengthening the character of the people to receive the Imam's leadership, then the Imam would appear to lead humanity towards the creation of the divine order on earth.
It is possible that someone might say: Under the circumstances when the overall situation is not favorable to the appearance of the Imam, why should we put ourselves in the dangerous situation of trying to prepare for his return? In response to this it must be pointed out that a Muslim's actions in this connection should not be motivated by the personal gain of some individuals; rather, it should become the goal of each and every person to endeavor for the social reforms affecting all people. Seriousness of purpose in improving the conditions of the people and in removing causes of injustice and tyranny in society are regarded as the most meritorious act of worship in Islam.
Again, it is possible that someone might say: The endeavors of one or a few individuals trying to change the conditions in society may come to nothing. Hence, one should not even try to do anything. Moreover, in principle, it might be asked what wrong have I done to be deprived of meeting my Imam? In response to this one can point out the benefit that accrues to an individual and to the society in general when we endeavor to raise the standard of thinking and moral awareness among people, informing them about the lofty goals of Islam and bringing them closer to the goals of the Imam (peace be upon him). By doing so we have actually fulfilled our obligation as a follower of the Imam. In return, we have attained the highest reward of having furthered the realization of an ideal society, even if merely by a step. Any rational person can attest to this benefit of striving to further the divine purposes for human society. It is for this reason that there are numerous traditions that speak about the merits of awaiting deliverance through the appearance of the twelfth Imam, and which regard this awaiting as a form of serving God.
Second, faith in the Hidden Imam and awaiting deliverance through his return is a source of hope and peace for the hearts of the believers. Such a hope is one of the major causes of the success and advancement of the Islamic ideal. Any group of people that becomes bogged down by pessimism and despair also suffers from self-imposed negativism that leads to the defeat of the purpose.
There is no doubt that the social and political turmoil in many parts of the world, the decline of moral and ethical vision, the deprivation and poverty suffered by the downtrodden, the spread of tools of various forms of imperialistic intervention in the affairs of the weaker societies, the arms race among the powerful countries --all these -- have led sensitive and conscientious thinkers around the globe to become concerned and even, to a certain extent, pessimistic about the ability of human society to deliver itself from its self-cultivated gradual destruction.
The only door that has remained open for humanity is the door of hope in the darkness of despair. That hope lies in the divine intervention in human affairs by the sending of a divinely guided leader, the Mahdi, to establish a Godly society founded upon the divinely ordained laws. Indeed, it is this hope that gives solace to the disturbed hearts of those who have suffered injustices. It is the hope of seeing that government based on the acknowledgement of the Unity of God which has safeguarded the faith of the people, and has made them firm in their commitments to God. It is faith in the ultimate victory of truth that has made these people seek an active role in working towards social reforms and other related matters. Seeking the help of God under these circumstances helps human beings to avoid becoming hopeless in the face of continued atrocities and wrongs committed against the innocent. The Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) laid the foundation of this positive attitude by introducing the universal program of reform under the divinely guided leadership that will undertake to unite human resources in creating the ethical order proclaimed in the Qur'an.
Imam Zayn al-'Abidin has conveyed this positive aspect of the hope of deliverance in the tradition in which he says: "To hope for deliverance and release in itself functions as the most profound form of deliverance."
To conclude our discussion at this point, faith in the promised Mahdi has made it possible for the Shi'a community to hope and work for the ideal. It has eliminated the negative spirit of pessimism, engendering in it the positive spirit of confidence in the human ability to work for its betterment. The belief has, furthermore, required the followers of the twelfth Imam to fight against the forces of disbelief, materialism, corruption, and injustice, and to work for the government of God, the perfection of the human intellect and the establishment of true peace through justice on earth, and to further human knowledge and technology. It is for this reason that the hope for deliverance during the occultation has been regarded as the best form of divine worship and martyrdom in the path of truth in the numerous traditions reported from the ahl al-bayt.