Let us read what Imam Ali (as) says referring to the events of the future and informing us about Imam Mahdi (atf): “He will direct desires towards (the path of) guidance while people will have turned guidance towards desires, and he will turn their views towards the direction of the Quran, while the people will have turned the Quran to their views.” (Nahjal Balaagha Sermon 137, Page 294) Then we also read in Nahjal Balaagha, Sermon 102, Page 247, Imam Ali (as): “O People! A time will come to you when Islam would be capsized as a pot is capsized with all its contents.” As seen right from the time of the Prophet (pbuh), the barrier between the Imam and the people has been “Ignorance” towards Haq and the lack of understanding of Haq (truth). To understand this better, let us quote again Nahjal Balaagha Sermon 207, Page 418, Imam Ali (as): “Till yesterday I was giving orders but today I am being given orders, and till yesterday I was dissuading people (from wrong acts) but today I am being dissuaded.”
For every Age, there is a particular need. The Imam of the Time understands this need of the Time and solves the problems as per the need. As such, the Imam (atf) knows the priorities. However, those Shias who cannot figure out this difference blame the Imam for his priorities. A particular thing might be good, but may not be the need of the time. For those things, which are obligatory, there is no problem. They have to be performed at any cost. However, the problem arises when the recommended (mustahab) comes into picture. For the recommended acts, it also has to be seen whether it is the need of the time/ hour, whether it harms the image of Islam at that instant, what role it plays in the protection and propagation of the Message of Islam, whether there is something better than this or not, etc. Our problem is that we perform a particular act because our fathers of old have been doing it. We do not understand the ideology, significance or purpose behind it, nor do we consider the above factors. Moreover, we are such that, believe it or not, who might even go against the Imam (atf) for the sake of our traditional practices, which are not obligatory (waajib) (Allah forbid). We might even slander the Imam (as) if we do not understand his decision, similar to those (so-called) Shias who slandered Imam Ali (as) at the Battle of Siffeen. A thing might be good but not obligatory, and if at any level, it comes in the way of protecting the Message of Islam, it must be abandoned. The Protection of Islam is high above all deeds. The barrier between the Imam of the Age (atf) and his Shias is this “ignorance”; it is this inability to distinguish Truth from Falsehood. Nahjal Balaagha Sermon 39, page 174, Imam Ali (as) says to his people: “I am faced with men who do not obey when I order and do not respond when I call them.”
What did the soldiers of Mu’aviah (la) do when they saw defeat during the Battle of Siffeen? They took the Quran high on their spears. What did those on Imam Ali (as)’s side do? They refused to attack them because they argued with Imam Ali (as) that they have their Muslim brethren on the other side holding the Quran, asking for peace with the Quran as the arbiter. They also asked Imam Ali (as) that how could he tell them to fight against the Quran. What did Imam Ali (as) say? “O people do not fall in this trap of deceit and trickery. They are putting up this device (The Quran) only to escape the ignominy of defeat. I know the character of each one of them. They are neither adherents of the Quran nor have they any connection with the faith or religion. The very purpose of our fighting has been that they should follow the Quran and act on its injunctions. For Allah’s sake do not fall in their deceitful device. Go ahead with determination and courage and stop only after vanquishing the dying foe.”(Nahjal Balaagha Sermon 35, Footnote on page 169.)
But, his people did not obey him. Shaytan had walked up to them in the garb of the Quran and he mixed Haq with Baatil. This went on to such an extent that Imam Ali (as)’s men threatened to “KILL HIM” should he not stop the war! They were naming Imam Ali (as) as an enemy of the Quran. What do we do today? Don’t we also keep naming our scholars as enemies of AhlulBayt (as), enemies of Azadari without thinking or without pondering into it, while we forget those who are the real enemies of Islam? This behavior is so dangerous that Allah forbid, some of us might end up denying the Imam of the Age (atf) when he returns and name him as an enemy because we don’t understand Haq as he does. Had we been such as to understand Haq similar to the Imam (atf) and had we prepared for supporting this Haq, the curtain of occultation would have already been lifted. This is the Barrier between the Imam (atf) and us.
Do not decide what is truth and what is falsehood by referring to a person, but decide whether a person is truthful or not by referring to the truth. This is what Imam Ali (as) has said about the identification of truth: “Surely, the religion of Allah is not known (or judged) by the people; it is recognized by the sign of Truth. Know the Truth, and you shall know its people.” (Al-Amali-The Dictations of Sheikh al-Mufid: Chapter 1-The First Assembly) Know the Truth and you shall know the Truthful! Do not search for the Truthful at first, but search for Truth and then proceed to search the Truthful.
We cannot judge a person just by looking at the marks of prostrations on his forehead or by his continuous recitation of the Quran. During the times of Imam Ali (as), Imam Hassan (as) and Imam Hussain (as), there were many such people who were devout worshippers. They performed the obligatory as well as the recommended acts and had their legs swollen due to excessive worshipping, but there were these very men standing against our pure A’immah (as), ready to fight them! We had The Khaarjiites – The foremost in performing all the obligations, but could not recognize Haq (truth), and stood against Imam Ali (as) in the Battle of Naharwan. Not only the Khaarjiites, but also most of those Muslims who stood against our A’immah (as) in the battle were devout worshippers who misinterpreted Truth. Just think of the situation! Muslims on two opposite sides engaged in fierce warfare. To recognize a person, we must see whether he practices what he preaches. To judge him who claims to love the AhlulBayt (as), we must see whether he follows them. An Imam does not need claimants. He needs followers.
Admonishing his companions in Nahjal Balaagha Sermon 68, Page 197, Imam Ali (as) says: “You do not understand the right as you understand the wrong, and you do not crush the wrong as you crush the right.” Now, my brothers and sisters just think for a while. Can’t the same thing happen to us? What difference do we have in ourselves that we are sure to recognize Haq? We claim to follow the AhlulBayt (as) similar to how those against the A’immah (as) claimed to follow the Quran, but there was no following and only claim, and consequently they failed to judge what is right and what is wrong. Again, Nahjal Balaagha Sermon 121 Page 270, Imam Ali (as): “We now had to fight our brethren in Islam because of entry into Islam of misguidance, crookedness, doubts and (wrong) interpretation.”
Nahjal Balaagha Sermon 165 Page 337, Imam Ali (as): “You roamed about the deserts (of disobedience) like Bani Israel. I swear by my life that after me your tribulations would increase several times, because you would have abandoned the truth behind your backs…” We take part in so many activities that add to our good deeds, that which counts us amongst the devout worshippers, but it has nothing to do with the identification of Haq (Truth). The matter of the Identification of Haq is neither dependent upon how much we have claimed to love the AhlulBayt (as), nor upon how many praises about the AhlulBayt (as) we have written or shared or how many times we have finished the recitation of the Quran or how many recommended fasts we observed, or any other similar deeds. Instead, the Identification of Haq completely depends upon the correct understanding of the Quran and the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), and the lives of the Pure A’immah (as). How do we judge that which is the correct interpretation of the Quran? By comparing the lives of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), Imam Ali (as), Imam Hassan (as), Imam Hussain (as) and other members of AhlulBayt (as), with an interpretation of the Haq (Quran), it should be clear which the correct interpretation is. Observe their lives carefully, in accurate detail. Imam Ali (as) says: “Where are you being taken astray and how are you groping while you have among you the descendents of the Prophet (pbuh)? They are the reigns of Right, ensigns of Faith and tongues of Truth.” (Nahjal Balaagha Sermon 86, Page 217)
Note how they responded to Baatil (Falsehood) and how they defended Haq (Truth) and there shall not remain an iota of doubt in our minds as to what is Haq and what is Baatil, Inshallah! We should remove the barrier between Haq, and ourselves so that this barrier does not prevent us from recognizing the Imam (atf). This is what Imam Ali (as) also explains while enumerating the qualities of a faithful believer: “The first step of his justice is the rejection of desires from his heart. He describes right and acts according to it. There is no good which he has not aimed at nor any likely place (of virtue) of the Quran. Therefore, the Quran is his guide and the leader. He gets down when the Quran puts down his weight, and settles where the Quran settles him down.” (Nahjal Balaagha Sermon 86, Page 217) The Holy Prophet (pbuh), while explaining the dangers to Islam, mentions three important things: “There are three hazards for religion: the scholar of evil conduct, the tyrannical leader (ruler), and the person who is diligent in practicing religion but is ignorant.” [AI-Jami’ al-saghir, vol. 1, p. 4] Here the Prophet (pbuh) tells us that the person who is pious and diligent in practicing religion remains a danger to Islam so long as he stays ignorant. The Prophet (pbuh) has considered such people as hazards for faith.
A person might not be a Shia as we call ourselves, but he might be understanding Haq as Allah wants a person to understand Haq from the Quran and from the lives of Allah’s Vicegerents. Therefore, when the Imam (atf) returns, this truth-loving person will not fail to understand the Imam (atf). However, if we cannot distinguish between a friend and a foe, between Haq and Baatil, Allah forbid, we may fail. Men may climb the pulpits and whether they know or not, they may give their opinions about the Imam (atf), and like blind followers, masses might deny the Imam (atf)’s return. What did we see during the time of Imam Hassan Ibn Ali (as) and Imam Hussain Ibn Ali (as)? What was the barrier between the Shias and the Imam? It was the inability to understand the decision of the Imam of the Age! The people of Imam Hassan Ibn Ali (as) attacked him openly, and called him an enemy after the truce with Mu’aviah (la) because they could not understand the decision of the Imam of the Age. Imam Hassan ibn Ali (as) said: “You have become indignant (angry) with me because you have no knowledge of the meaning of wisdom. Were it nor for what I have done, all my followers (Shi’a) on the surface of the earth would be killed.” (Al-Majlisi, Bihar al–Anwar, vol. 10, p. 101.) When Imam Al Mahdi (atf) returns, there may be some of us who might behave in a similar manner.
Today, we do not step back from going against the decisions of the revered Mujtahids and the Marja-e-Taqleed and show no respect for them. When they issue certain fatwas, we turn our faces away if it is against our material desires. When they order us, we become negligent. When they say something, which is coming in the way of our interests, or that which goes against our traditional practices, we start slandering them! This is the barrier between us and the Imam of the Age! Our Arrogant and Ignorant attitude stands between Imam Mahdi (atf) and his Return.
When the Imam (atf) returns, only the ones who truly understand Haq, will recognize him, others will follow the words of others. That time will be such that we could not afford to depend on the words of other people, but only on that which our hearts bear. Therefore, if it bears Haq, we will understand it when informed about it. If it bears Ignorance, we will ignore it when informed about it. If it bears Evil, we will reject it even after recognizing it. So that this does not happen and so that the Barrier between the Imam (atf) and ourselves is removed, we should adhere to the Book of Allah, and the lives of the Prophet (pbuh) and his AhlulBayt (as).