Allah, the Blessed, the High says in the Holy Quran:
"The day when We will call every people with their Imam"
(Bani Israel: 71)
Allah, the High at various places, has promised guidance to the people. To fulfill His promise. He sent Prophets and Messengers (peace be on them all) one after another, who called people towards His religion, recognition and worship. When the Prophethood was completed with the advent of the last prophet Mohammad (s.a.w.s.). He introduced Imamat in the progeny of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) so that people may turn to them and save themselves from straying and attain eternal happiness. The greatest and the highest bounty of Allah from amongst His bounties is the presence of Imam (a.s.).
No other bounty can match this bounty. Other bounties have reached their relative position due to this bounty, without which all other endowments are imperfect. As it is mentioned in the Holy Quran,
"This day (on the day of Ghadeer) I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor on you and chosen for you Islam as a religion."
"And as for the favor of your Lord, do announce (it)."
Our guidance and salvation depends upon the fourteen infallibles therefore, it is obligatory upon us that we discuss and talk about this bounty.
We would like to make an important point over here. And that is, a believer should never give preference to any bounty over that of the mastership and love of Ahle Bait (a.s.). To consider the gift of 'Mastership of Ahle Bait (a.s.)' as light or equating it with other endowments like wealth, children, business etc. will lead to our destruction and devastation.
The Islamic nations received the distinction of living with the thirteen infallibles and reap benefits from their holy lives. However, the majority breached their covenant with their Lord and the people who actually remained loyal and faithful, could easily be counted on fingers.
Instead of deriving benefits from their existence, the people oppressed and tortured them no end. Their barbarism and brutality had reached to such pits that had they been told to oppress the family of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.), they would have not been able to repress than what they actually did. Notwithstanding such-a disgraceful demonstration of ingratitude and inhumanity, the Merciful Allah did not snatch away the bounty of the physical presence of the infallibles (a.s.) from amongst the people, till the commencement of the occultation of Imam Mahdi (a.s.).
It should be borne in mind that if Allah bestows bounty on any one without he deserving it, then this bounty of Allah is His 'Grace'. If He snatches the bounty after sometime, it is not injustice because he had bestowed it without the person deserving it.
On the contrary, it will be sheer justice. It is not obligatory on Allah that He should always deal with 'Grace'. But on occasions, He deals with His grace and on others, with justice. None of His dealings are devoid of wisdom. It is not necessary that we should . know the prudence behind all His actions. Whatever He does is sheer wisdom, whether we comprehend or not. We can comprehend the wisdom behind any of His action only in the light of the Holy Quran and the traditions. The intellect of men cannot comprehend the rationale behind His actions.
However, from the divine practices of Allah is the practice which has been related in Holy Quran and the traditions is:
"Surely Allah does not change the condition of people until they change their own condition..."
"This is because Allah has never changed a favor which He has conferred upon the people until they change their own condition..."
Imam Mohammad Baqir (a.s.) in the exposition of the above Quranic verses says:
It is a definite and certain decree of Allah that when He bestows a bounty on His servant. He does not snatch it till the servant commits a sin which becomes the cause of its deprivation. This is the meaning of Allah's word "Surely Allah does not change the condition of people until they change their own condition".
(Tafseer Noor al-Saqalain, vol.2, p. 488)
In brief, the actions of the people are the cause of Allah, the High, confiscating the bounty from them. Ameerul Momineen Ali Ibn Abi Taalib (a.s.) in the opening sentences of his famous supplication, Dua-e-Kumayl,says:
"0 Allah! Forgive those of my sins which convert the bounties (into calamities)."
The Divine practice shows that Allah's Mercy takes precedence over His Wrath. Therefore, Allah seizes the bounty only when people are ungrateful and unappreciative.
Thus, we are not aware of the actual wisdom behind the occultation of Imam-e-Asr (a.t.f.s.) and according to some traditions. Imam Zaman (a.t.f.s.) will himself give the reason of his occultation when he reappears. However, one of the reasons that we are familiar with is that occultation is due to the anger of Allah on account of the ingratitude of the people. The physical presence of Imam (a.s.) among the people was the greatest bounty of Allah upon the people that was snatched from them. While explaining the importance of the physical presence of Imam (a.s.). Imam Reza (a.s.) says:
"Imamat is complete religion, the foundation of Islam, the basis of all goodness, the discipline of the nation, the path to Allah and the light through which people acquire guidance."
Imam Mohammad Baqi'r (a.s.) says:
"Islam is based on five principles -Namaz, Zakat, Fasting, Ha] and the Mastership (ofAhle Bait (a.s.)) and the manner in which importance has been given to Mastership no other thing has been given such importance."
(al-Kaafi, vol.2, p.l8)
While explaining the following Quranic verse. Imam Mohammad Baqir (a.s.) says:
"Then believe in Allah and His Messenger and the light which We have sent down",
"By Allah in the above verse, 'light' refers to the Imams from the progeny of Mohammad (s.a.w.s.) till the day of Judgment and by Allah these are the 'lights' which Allah has sent. And by Allah, they are the 'lights' in the heavens and on the earth... By Allah the 'light' of Imam in the hearts of the believers, is brighter than the shining sun."
(Tafseer Noor al-Saqalain, vol. 5, p. 321)
When people disregarded this great bounty, Allah, the High concealed Imam-e-Zaman (a.s.) from their eyes. No other calamity can be greater than this concealment of Imam (a.s.) from the sights of the people. The simile of the above is like a child who is left alone in darkness to seek out his way, he is not aware of its beginning nor its end. Resultantly, he will fall a prey for the beast or will become needy of somebody.
Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) says:
"When Allah, the Blessed and the High is angry with His creation then He makes us -the Ahle bait (a.s.), distanced and away from
(al-Kaafi, Chapter of Occultation, Tradition No. 31)
The presence of Imam (a.s.) among the people to solve their questions and problems is a divine grace of immeasurable magnitude. The concealment of Imam (a.s.) from the sights of the people and their helplessness to reach the Imam (a.s.) is the justice of Allah. Grace takes precedence over justice but the disobedience and ungratefulness of the Muslims has replaced the grace of Allah with His justice.
It is an irrefutable reality that the benefits that we would have enjoyed in the physical presence of Imam (a.s.), are not available now. It is a great loss and nothing can make the loss 'good. We only are to be blamed for the loss and nobody else.
One question arises here: The cause of occultation was due to the disobedience and ingratitude of the earlier Muslims. Then why are we suffering for their action and misdeeds? Is it not injustice?
Answer: Firstly, as we have already mentioned that if Allah has kept His Proof among the people, then it is His grace. And if He conceals Him, then it is His justice.
Secondly, we are also responsible for the occultation of Imam-e-Asr (a.s.) by our conflicts, internal fighting, sins, misdemeanours, etc. These actions are the cause of prolonging the occultation of Imam (a.s.). Imam-e-Zaman (a.s.), in one of his 'Tawqee' to Sheikh Mufeed (a.r.) writes: "If the hearts of our Shias (may Allah give them the taufeeq of His obedience) were united in their fulfillment of the covenant (of Shiasm), then certainly our meeting with them would have not been delayed".
The words of Imam (a.s.) show that our disunity not only makes him sorrowful but is also a cause of prolongation of his occupation and loneliness. In other words, our actions and sins are the cause of sorrow and grief for our Imam (a.s.). If we sincerely love our Imam (a.s.) then let all of us take this oath that we will not commit sins and disobey Allah the Almighty, as these sins deprive us of our Imam and consequently, we lose the greatest bounty of Allah, the High. On the flip side, if we keep our covenant and refrain from sins, we can undo the misdeeds of the earlier Muslims and can obtain the privilege of an earlier meeting with our Imam (a.s.).