Imam Muhammad Al Mahdi (PBUH)
Imam Muhammad Al Mahdi (PBUH) (Arabic: مهدي) is the 12th and the last Imam of Shia from the descendant of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and he is prophesied redeemer of the world in Shia and Sunni view who will rule for several years before the Day of Judgment (the Day of Resurrection) and will rid the world of evil.
Imam Mahdi (PBUH) was born at 15, the month of Sha’ban in the year 255 A.H. in the town of Samarra, and in 260 A.H., when his great father martyred; he reached the exalted position of the Imamate. His name (M.H.M.D) and his agnomen (Abu’l-Qasim) are the same as the Prophet’s. His father, the 11th Shia Imam, was Imam Hassan al-Askari (PBUH), and his mother, the lady Nargis. For various reasons, the twelfth Imam, from the first day of his life, did not appear publicly, and for about seventy years people were in communication with him through the intermediary of his special representatives, in order of succession: Othman Ibn Sa’id, Muhammad Ibn Othman, Hussain Ibn Ruh, and Ali Ibn Muhammad al-Samari. This period of seventy years is known as the minor occultation (Al-Ghaybat Al-Sughra), and at the end of that period the major occultation (Al-Ghaybat Al -Kubra) began. During the major occultation till the time of his reappearance, no one has been his special representative, and there will be no one in the future, and the people have the duty to refer to the “Fuqaha” (Jurist), those excelling in knowledge of the shariah, and the narration of Hadith who are specialized in the matters of the religion.
Believe in Imam Mahdi (PBUH) and Universal Reform
Believe in the reappearance of the expected Mahdi (PBUH) the universal reformer is not confined to the Shia Muslims. Other Islamic groups and even non-Islamic groups like the Jews and the Christians and some of the great world intellectual figures believe in the appearance of a great spiritual reformer. In Psalm 37 is written: “…Trust in the Lord and do well; so you will dwell in the land, and enjoy security. …For the wicked shall be cut off: but those who wait for the Lord shall possess the land. …But the weak shall possess the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity. …The Lord knows the days of the flawless, and their heritage will abide forever. …For those blessed by the Lord, shall possess the land, but those cursed by Him shall be cut off. …The righteous shall possess the land, and dwell upon it at peace forever…”
There are numerous Hadith (prophetic sayings) cited in Sunni and Shia sources from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his descendants (Ahl Al-Bayt) concerning the appearance of Imam Mahdi (PBUH), such as that he is of the progeny of the Prophet (PBUH) and that his appearance will enable human society to reach true perfection and the full realization of spiritual life. In addition, there are numerous other traditions concerning the fact that Imam Mahdi (PBUH) is the son of the eleventh descendant of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Imam Hassan al-Askari (PBUH). They agree that after being born and undergoing a long occultation Imam Mahdi (PBUH) will appear again, filling with justice the world that has been corrupted by injustice and iniquity.
As an example, Imam Ridha (PBUH) (8th Imam of Shia, from the descendant of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)) has said, in the course of a Hadith, “The Imam after me is my son, Muhammad, and after him his son Ali, and after Ali his son, Hassan, and after Hassan his son Hujjat Al-Qa’im, who is awaited during his occultation and obeyed during his manifestation. If there remain from the life of the world but a single day, Allah will extend that day until he becomes manifest, and fill the world with justice in the same way that it had been filled with iniquity. But when? As for news of the hour, verily my father told me, having heard it from his father who heard it from his father who heard it from his ancestors who heard it from Ali (PBUH), that it was asked of the Holy Prophet, “Oh Prophet of Allah, when will the “the Risen” (Qa’im) who is from thy family appear?” He said, “His case is unknown like the the Resurrection day. He alone will manifest it at its proper time. It is significant in the heavens and the earth. It cometh not to you save unawares”
(holy Quran, Surah Al-A’raf, verse 187)
Saqr Ibn Abi Dulaf said, “I heard from Imam Muhammad al-Jawad (9th Imam of Shia, from the descendant of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)) who said, ′The Imam after me is my son Ali; his command is my command; his word is my word; to obey him is to obey me. The Imam after him is his son, Hassan. His command is the command of his father; to obey him is to obey his father.′ after these words the Imam remained silent. I said to him, ′Oh son of the Prophet, who will be the Imam after Hassan? ′ the Imam cried hard, then said, ′Verily after Hassan his son is the awaited Imam who is “Al-Qa’im bi’l-haqq” (He who rise for the Truth).′”
Musa Ibn Ja’far Baghdadi said, “I heard from Imam Hassan Al-Askari (PBUH) (11thImam of Shia) who said, ′I see that after me differences will appear among you concerning the Imam after me. Whoso accepts the Imams after the Prophet of Allah but denies my son, is like the person who accepts all the prophets but denies the prophet hood of Muhammad (PBUH), the Prophet of Allah. And whoso denies “Muhammad” (PBUH) the Prophet of Allah, is like one who has denied all the prophets of Allah, obeying the last of us is like obeying the first and denying the last of us is like denying the first. But beware! Verily for my son there is an occultation during which all people will fall into doubt except those whom Allah protects.”
It is unquestionable that the idea of Imam Mahdi (PBUH) was projected upon several Imams in turn, but it could take definite shape only around the person of the twelfth, with whom the purpose of Imamate will be fulfilled. There is a considerable body of literature about him, both in Persian and in Arabic. The sources of this literature have been assembled by Saffar al-Qummi, reporter-witness of Imam Hassan Al-Askari (PBUH); al-Kulayni and his follower al-Nu’mani, fourth/tenth century; Ibn Babuyah, d. 381/991, who owed his information to a contemporary witness, Hassan Ibn Muktib; al-Shaykh al-Mufid; Muhammad Ibn Hassan Tusi. The principal traditions are collected in volume 13 of Al-Majlisi’s Encyclopedias.
In Shia Islam, Imam Mahdi (PBUH) is a “hidden Imam” who has already been born and who will one day return alongside Prophet Jesus (PBUH) to fill the world with justice. The promised Mahdi (PBUH), who is usually mentioned in Shia by his title of “Imam Asr” (the Imam of the “time”) and “Sahib Al-Zaman” (the Lord of the Age). According to Shia Islam, Imam Mahdi (pbuh) was born in Samarra in 868 and until 872 when his father was martyred, lived under his father’s care and tutelage. He was hidden from public view and only a few of the elite among the Shia were able to meet him.
After martyrdom of his father he became Imam and by Divine Command went into occultation (Ghaybat). Thereafter he appeared only to his deputies (na’ib) and even then only in exceptional circumstances.
In Shia perspective, Imam Mahdi (PBUH) chose as a special deputy for a time Othman Ibn Sa’id Omari, one of the companions of his father and grandfather who was his confidant and trusted friend. Through his deputy Imam Mahdi (PBUH) would answer the demands and questions of the Muslims. After Othman Ibn Sa’id, his son Muhammad Ibn Othman Omari was appointed the deputy of him. After the death of Muhammad Ibn Othman, Abu’l Qasim Hussain Ibn Ruh Nawbakhti was the special deputy, and after his death Ali Ibn Muhammad Samari was chosen for this task.
A few days before the death of Ali Ibn Muhammad Samari in 939 an order was issued by Imam Mahdi (PBUH) stating that in six days Ali Ibn Muhammad Samari would die. Henceforth the special deputation of the Imam would come to an end and the major occultation (Ghaybat Kubra) would begin and would continue until the day Allah grants permission to the Imam to manifest himself.
So, the occultation of Imam Mahdi (PBUH) is, divided into two parts: the first, the minor occultation (Ghaybat Sughra) which began in 872 and ended in 939, lasting about seventy years; the second, the major occultation which commenced in 939 and will continue as long as Allah wills it. In a Hadith upon whose authenticity Shia and Sunni agree, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has said,“If there were to remain in the life of the world but one day, Allah would prolong that day until He sends in it a man from my community and my household. His name will be the same as my name. He will fill the earth with equity and justice as it was filled with oppression and tyranny.”
The Purpose of the Hidden Imam
Allah appointed the Imam of the Age to be a guide amongst people; however it is the people who are the obstacle to his appearance, and whenever they are ready for a single, divine world rule, formed on true justice observing rights, truths and realities, putting into practice all the laws of Islam without any dissimulation or fear, Imam Mahdi (PBUH) will openly declare himself. So, with regard to Allah, the Merciful, there is not the slightest lack of favor or mercy, for the fault lies with the people that the Imam is hidden and the appearance of his rule is delayed. Still, it must be remembered that the benefits of the existence of the Imam are not limited to outward guidance among people, for the pure existence of the Imam has other benefits which are not necessarily evident among people.
The most important benefit of the Imam’s existence is that he is the intermediary for Divine Favor. For, one the basis of the evidence scholars have produced and also according to numerous Hadith which speak about the Imamate, if there were no Imam, the relation between the world and its creator would no longer exist, because all of the favors of Allah come through the Imam to the rest of humanity. In many Hadith it is said very clearly that the earth will not remain without an Imam. The Imam is the heart of the world of existence, the leader, the preceptor of mankind, and for this reason his presence or his absence makes no difference. What is more, the spiritual guidance of the Imam towards worthy individuals will always be there, although they may not see him, especially as it is mentioned in Hadith that Imam Mahdi (PBUH) comes and goes in among the people in the meetings of the believers without anyone understanding. Thus the guarding of Islam and the protection of the worthy is well undertaken by the Imam, even during the time of his occultation. In reality the hidden Imam is like the sun behind a cloud from whose light and heat existent things may profit, although the ignorant and the blind may not see it. Imam Sadiq (PBUH) (6th Imam of Shia) also said in answer to the question: “How can people benefit from a hidden Imam? – Just as they do from the sun when it is behind a cloud.”
The Jewish religion, finished prophet hood with Prophet Moses (PBUH), which was the relationship between Allah and the world of man, and do not acknowledge the prophet hood of Jesus (PBUH) or Muhammad (PBUH). The Christians, also, stopped with Jesus (PBUH), and the Sunni Muslims stood still with Muhammad (PBUH), but Shia sect is the only religion which maintains eternally the link of Divine guidance between Allah and his creation, and continually keeps alive the union of Succession (ولایت). With the seal of prophet hood among the latter, they admit of no further link being maintained between the Creator and creation. Only the Shia faith believes that the prophet hood ended with Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), but that Succession (ولایت), which is this link of guidance and progression, continues to live after him and forever. Indeed, only among the Shia does this reality between the world of man and the Divinity remain forever.”
Necessity of Existence of Imam Mahdi (PBUH)
In Shia philosophy the existence of the redeemer is rationally necessary. Muhammad Hussain Tabatabaii, one of the most prominent thinkers of philosophy and contemporary Shia Islam, addresses the issue as follows: “As a result of the law of general guidance which governs all of creation, man is of necessity endowed with the power of receiving revelation through prophecy, which directs him toward the perfection of the human norm and the well-being of the human species. Obviously, if this perfection and happiness were not possible for man, whose life possesses a social aspect, the very fact that he is endowed with his power would be meaningless and futile. But there is no futility in creation.”
In other words, ever since he has inhabited the earth, man has had the wish to lead a social life filled with happiness in its true sense and has striven toward this end. If such a wish were not to have an objective existence it would never have been imprinted upon man’s inner nature, in the same way that if there were not food there would have been no hunger. Or if there were to be no water there would be no thirst and if there were to be no reproduction there would have been no sexual attraction between the sexes.
Therefore, by reason of inner necessity and determination, the future will see a day when human society will be replete with justice and when all will live in peace and tranquility, when human beings will be fully possessed of virtue and perfection. The establishment of such a condition will occur through human hands but with Divine succor. And the leader of such a society, who will be the savior of man, is called in the language of the Hadith, the Mahdi (PBUH).
In the different religions that govern the world such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Islam there are references to a person who will come as the savior of mankind. These religions have usually given happy tidings of his coming, although there are naturally certain differences in detail that can be discerned when these teachings are compared carefully. The Hadith of Prophet Muhammad upon which all Muslims agree,“The Mahdi is of my progeny,” refers to this same truth.
The opponents of Shia Islam protest that according to the beliefs of this school the Hidden Imam should by now be nearly twelve centuries old, whereas this is impossible for any human being. In answer it must be said that the protest is based only on the unlikelihood of such an occurrence, not its impossibility. Of course such a long lifetime or a life of a longer period is unlikely. But those who study the Hadith of Prophet Muhammad and the Imams will see that they refer to this life as one possessing miraculous qualities.
Miracles are certainly not impossible nor can they be negated through scientific arguments. It can never be proved that the causes and agents that are functioning in the world are solely those that we see and know and that other causes which we do not know or whose effects and actions we have not seen nor understood do not exist. It is in this way possible that in one or several members of mankind there can be operating certain causes and agents which bestow upon them a very long life of a thousand or several thousand years. Medicine has not even lost hope of discovering a way to achieve very long life spans. In any case such protests from “peoples of the Book” such as Jews, Christians and Muslims are most strange for they accept the miracles of the prophets of Allah according to their own sacred scriptures.
The opponents of Shia Islam also protest that, although Shia Islam considers the Imam necessary in order to expound the injunctions and verities of religion and to guide the people, the occultation of the Imam is the negation of this very purpose, for an Imam in occultation who cannot be reached by mankind cannot be in any way beneficial or effective. The opponents say that if Allah wills to bring forth an Imam to reform mankind He is able to create him at the necessary moment and does not need to create him thousands of years earlier. In answer it must be said that such people have not really understood the meaning of the Imam. The duty of the Imam is not only the formal explanation of the religious sciences and exoteric guidance of the people. In the same way that he has the duty of guiding men outwardly, the Imam also bears the function of Succession of the Prophet and the esoteric guidance of men. It is he who directs man’s spiritual life and orients the inner aspect of human action toward Allah. Clearly, his physical presence or absence has no effect in this matter. The Imam watches over men inwardly and is in communion with the soul and spirit of men even if he be hidden from their physical eyes. His existence is always necessary even if the time has not yet arrived for his outward appearance and the universal reconstruction that he is to bring about.