Occultation of Imam Mahdi (as)

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The most important issue regarding the belief in Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.) is of his occultation (Ghaibat) i.e. being concealed from the eyes of the common people. According to the traditions, Ghaibat is the Sunnah of the past prophets. Past prophets like Hazrat Yunus (a.s.), Hazrat Saleh (a.s.), Hazrat Yusuf (a.s.) were hidden from the eyes of their nation for a long period of time.

Ghaibat is the special characteristic of Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.). This characteristic is not commonly found in the pseudo-Mahdis. The Ghaibat of Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.) is a confirmed fact, which has been narrated right from the earliest days of Islam. It is only due to these traditions that the attributed Mahdis (like Muhammad b. Hanafia) were regarded as being in Ghaibat, while in fact they had died.

The opponents and deniers of Mahdaviyyat, (i.e. the belief in Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.)) do not acknowledge the special characteristics of Ghaibat, long life (of Imam (a.t.f.s.)) and the benefits of a concealed Imam and have vehemently disputed these issues. On this basis we will establish in the light of Islamic traditions that the belief of the Shias regarding Ghaibat is correct.

  1. Kitabul Yaqeen (of Hafiz-e-Natnazi), ‘Faraedus Simtain’ (of Shaikhul Islam Hamuee) ‘Yanabiul Mawaddah’ (of Khwaja Qundoozi) have all recorded the famous tradition of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) narrated to Jabir b. Abdullah Ansari (r.a.). Shaikh-e-Sadooq (r.a.) has reported this tradition in ‘Kamaluddin’ deeming it authentic as it is narrated by the Ahle Sunnah and the Shias.

    Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) prophesied to Jabir b. Abdullah Ansari (r.a.) –

    ‘Certainly there will be an occultation for our Qaem (a.t.f.s.) with which Allah will test the believers and will destroy those who disbelieve in it. Surely, it is from the commands and secrets of Allah the reasoning of which is hidden from the eyes of His servants. Therefore it is upon you to refrain from doubting and rejecting it. Surely, doubting the commands of Allah is straying off into apostasy.’

    (Kamaluddin pg 288).

  2. One of the companions of Imam Sadiq (a.s.) – Hasan b. Mehboob Zarrad wrote a book ‘Masheekha’, a century before the birth of Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.) (in the latter half of the second Hijrah) and has quoted several traditions regarding the occultation of Imam (a.t.f.s.). One of the traditions that he has narrated is from Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.),

    ‘There will be two occultations for the Qaem-e-Ale-Muhammad (a.t.f.s.), one of which is longer than the other.’

    (Alaamul Waraa by Shaykh-e-Tabarsi, part 1, chap. 3)

  3. Seqatul Islam – Shaikh-e-Kulaini (r.a.) in Al Kafi (Book of Divine Proof, chap. of Ghaibat) reports a tradition from Muffazal (r.a.), who narrates from Imam Sadiq (a.s.),

    ‘By Allah, your Imam will be hidden from you for a long time till it will be said – where has he gone? Has he been killed? Or has he died? Or has he been destroyed? .. and you will be tested in such a manner that tears will flow from the eyes of believers who are grieved with his separation. Troubles and difficulties will afflict you in such a manner as a ship is trapped in a storm. Then except for those who are firm in their pledge with Allah and whose faith has been established and engraved in their hearts, nobody else will be saved.’

  4. Shaikh-e-Sadooq (r.a.) in ‘Kamaluddin’ records a tradition from Imam Sadiq (a.s.),

    ‘Indeed Ghaibat will occur for my son in the sixth generation, Hazrat Baqiatullah (a.t.f.s.), who will be the twelfth successor of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.). By Allah, if he remains hidden for as long as the age of Hazrat Nuh (a.s.) he will not die. He will not go away from the earth before he reappears and fills the earth with justice and equity as it had been filled with injustice and persecution.

    (Kamaluddin, pg 243, Muntakhabul Asar pg. 215)

As outlined by the numerous testimonies and traditions of the infallibles (a.s.), Ghaibat is an undeniable characteristic of Hazrat Qaem (a.t.f.s.). Anyone who believes in Mahdaviyat has to necessarily believe in Imam’s (a.t.f.s.) Ghaibat.

In reply to those who ask the wisdom and reasoning of such a long concealment, we would like to highlight the following points.

  • Like many other mysteries and unknown events, the real cause of occultation is hidden from us. In some traditions it has been promised that its complete rationale and explanation would be revealed after the reappearance of the Qaem (a.t.f.s.) (Muntakhabul Asar, vol. 1, pg. 266). Our ignorance and lack of knowledge about the reason and purpose of an undisputable fact like occultation cannot become an excuse or pretext for rejecting it outright.
  • According to the traditions of the infallibles (a.s.) the occultation of Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.) is an examination for the believers. Through Imam’s (a.t.f.s.) occultation, the sincere and steadfast ones shall be distinguished from the hypocrites and unfaithful.
  • On reappearance, Imam (a.t.f.s.) will establish universal peace and justice and form a just government where Allah’s Tauheed will overcome all other ideologies. This is undoubtedly a great task and needs significant preparation and needs a lot of time and effort. According to many traditions people will have a favourable mentality only when they have experimented with different ideologies and doctrines and despite this they find themselves overwhelmed with trials and tribulations. Only then will they realise that the sole path to salvation and deliverance is to embrace the teachings of Islam under the guidance of Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.).
  • People’s unacceptance of Imam’s (a.t.f.s.) leadership becomes the prime reason for his life being endangered. This was the case with all the eleven Imams (a.s.) before him (a.t.f.s.). Since he is the final link in the chain of Wilayat, it is important that he remain away from the eyes of the people until a favourable and suitable ground is prepared where the people readily submit to him.
  • Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.) after his reappearance will destroy all the false governments and slay all unjust tyrants. In order to kill the unjust kings and tyrants it is necessary that he remains inaccessible to them and he should not have anyone’s allegiance upon him. It is for this reason that his birth remained hidden and he went in occultation soon after.

Another objection that the opponents put forth in rejecting his occultation is – How can the society benefit from a hidden leader? Why should we believe in a leader who is in occultation?

In reply to these baseless arguments, we shall mention some of the benefits of believing in a hidden Imam. But before we proceed it is necessary that we understand that Allah is Wise and All-Knowing and acknowledge that none of His actions are unwise and foolish. If we have comprehended this fact then we can never refute the existence of a divine leader even if we cannot fully understand the divine wisdom and reasoning behind this matter. Now we shall discuss some of the benefits of a hidden Imam.

  1. On the basis of ample evidence both rational and traditional, the existence of a divine proof (Hujjat) is necessary for the continuity and subsistence of this universe. This divine proof should be the intermediary between this world and the celestial world and should be a means for the flow of divine blessing and grace. He should be the most noble of all creatures on the earth and a true and sincere worshipper of Allah, unlike any other creature. The earth cannot remain vacant from the existence of such a perfect man. Imam Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) declares in a sermon in Nahjul Balagha,

    ‘the earth is never devoid of Allah’s Hujjat (divine proof). Either he is manifest and recognised or is hidden out of fear, in order that Allah’s arguments and proofs should not be nullified. How many are they and where are there? By Allah they are in few in number, but they are great in esteem near Allah. Through them, Allah guards His pleas and arguments till they entrust them to others like themselves and sow the seeds thereof in the hearts of those who are similar to them. Knowledge has lead them to real understanding and so they have associated themselves with the spirit of conviction…they are Allah’s emissaries on His earth and they invite others towards His religion.’

  2. In this context, Imam Sajjad (a.s.) asserts,

    ‘We are the leaders of the Islamic nation and are the proofs upon the inhabitants of the earth….it is due to our existence that the earth does not collide with the sky and this world does not deprive its inmates from peace and tranquility. It is due to us that the rains descend on the earth, divine mercy is scattered, and the earth brings out its hidden treasures. If we were not there the earth would swallow its inmates. From the time of Hazrat Adam’s (a.s.) creation, this earth has never been left without the existence of a divine proof and it will never be deprived of one upto the Day of Resurrection. Allah’s Proof may be apparent and renowned or hidden and concealed. And if the divine proof is not present, then Allah will not be worshipped and obeyed in the best possible manner.’

    (Kamaluddin, pg. 207)

Therefore the existence of Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.), (either apparent or hidden) is beneficent to everyone, since he is Allah’s Caliph on the earth and the proof upon His creatures. He is the most noble and perfect human and his existence is the reason why we exist today.

(To be continued)

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