By: Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Week of celebrating the birthday of the Saviour of Humanity – Imam Mahdi (a.s) – Part 3
In Part 2 we focused on the identity of Imam Mahdi (a.s) and introduced the belief in the occultation of Imam Mehdi (a.s) and how we benefit from his occultation.
For many, the sheer extraordinary length of his occultation which has reached almost 1200 years to this day is difficult to comprehend, yet once again in terms of the Quranic references to previous Prophets we find that it is not something unusual.
Prophet Nuh (a.s) spent 950 years calling his people to Allah. Similarly, Prophet Khidr (a.s) is alive for an even longer period, etc. The desire to keep the representative of Allah alive in this world for such a long time is the prerogative of Allah who has the power to do so and has done so in history.
But even if one believes in all of this, one major question remains unanswered to some extent and that is what is the philosophy of the occultation of Imam Mehdi (a.s)? This is a question that was posed to the Imams who came before Imam Mehdi (a.s) and we will derive the answer to this question from this post.
OCCULTATION SERVES TO PROTECT THE LIFE OF IMAM MEHDI (a.s)
Zurara ibn A’yun is a well known companion of the earlier Imams who enquired about the reason for the occulation of Imam Mehdi (a.s) from 6th Imam Saadiq (a.s) who informed him that the purpose of the occultation is to save the life of Imam Mehdi (a.s).
It is very important to understand and re-emphasize that the Program of Imam Mehdi (a.s) is one of Global Justice which is an extremely dangerous one where he will come up against all the enemies of Islam who will undoubtedly want to take his life.
You may say at this point that if Allah wishes, then He will surely protect the life of Imam Mehdi (a.s). And the answer to this question is that the occultation does precisely that – it is Allah’s way of protecting the Imam in the process of establishing Global Justice.
OCCULTATION ENSURES THAT IMAM MAHDI (a.s) IS FREE FROM ALLEGIANCE TO ANYONE
When the 8th Imam Reza (a.s) was asked the same question about the reason for occultation, he indicated that Imam Mehdi (a.s)’s role is Jihaad (struggle) against Taaghut (false gods) which will be conducted when the time is ripe and he must do it without any restrictions to any ruler that may be in the world at the time.
This is a very powerful reason indicated by the Imam which needs to be clarified. As we witness in the lives of the previous 11 Imams, that if they were not in power and others were in power, their presence in society necessitated that they had to give some sought of political acknowledgement to the ruler of the time.
The best example of this was the forced Treaty that Imam Hassan (a.s) had to sign with Muawiyya. So during this period, he could not rise up against the one with whom he had signed a Treaty. And we witness similar lesser forms of political acknowledgement between the Imams and the prevailing rulers due to their very presence in the society.
By Imam Mehdi (a.s) being out of the physical contact with society while in occultation, he has no allegiance to anyone whatsoever and this provides him with the unrestricted ability to conduct his Jihaad when the time is ripe.
OCCULTATION IS A TEST FOR THE BELIEVERS
The Imams have indicated that the Occultation is a “test from the tests of Allah.”
During the years of occultation, as we experience in our very own time, much confusion may exist about Imam Mehdi (a.s) as was discussed in Part 2, the main confusion propagated being that Imam Mehdi (a.s) is a fictional character.
To the believer, whose belief is based on intellectual understanding of the Unseen together with proof from our Primary sources like Quran and Ahadith, this confusion becomes a major test due to us having to contend with the never ending ridicule and mockery that those whose disagree with us launch against us.
Furthermore, during the period of Occultation, believers are tested with their ability to unite under the Leadership of Ulama in general whom Imam Mehdi (a.s) instructed us to follow in this period.
Whereas Imam Mehdi (a.s) is the Leader of the movement for establishing Global Justice, he cannot do this without committed followers.
The period of Occulation then is one wherein the Believers are tested to build their commitment towards the Mission of Imam Mehdi (a.s) through the growing of committed soldiers for his cause.
The purpose of Imam Mehdi (a.s)’s existence being one to achieve Global Justice was already witnessed on the day of his birth when it is narrated that when Imam Mehdi (a.s) was born he performed sajda and after raising his head he recited verse 5 of Surah Qasas wherein Allah says
وَنُرِيدُ أَن نَّمُنَّ عَلَي الَّذِينَ اسْتُضْعِفُوا فِي الاَرْضِ وَنَجْعَلَهُمْ أَئِمَّةً وَنَجْعَلَهُمُ الْوَارِثِينَ
“And We desired to bestow a favor upon those who were oppressed in the land and make them Imams and make them the inheritors”.
This program can be achieved in 2 ways:
a) By the miracle of Allah like when the Prophet (sawa) split the moon in 2 or Prophet Musa (a.s) divided the sea in 2 to save the Bani Israeel.
b) Through the normal means of cause and effect which is a long term struggle. (The fact the Nabi Nuh (a.s) only managed to achieve around 100 followers after 950 years of preaching gives you an idea of how long this process can take).
In relation to the above it should be clearly noted, that though Prophets performed miracles, it was NEVER used to be the main tool in their Prophetic missions. Prophets always strived to achieve their goals via normal means and routes.
OCCULTATION IS DUE TO CONDITIONS NOT BEING CONDUCIVE AND FAVORABLE FOR THE PROGRAM OF IMAM MAHDI
Up to 100 years ago, human beings could not intellectually conceptualize the idea of someone ruling the whole world in the manner in which Imam Mehdi (a.s) is meant to rule.
With the passage of time of the last 100 years and the development of technology and advanced communication means, it is only now, after almost 1200 years that we can actually intellectually conceptualize this phenomenon.
Sheikh Tusi has a beautiful saying in this connection indicating that we are the cause of Imam Mehdi (a.s) still being in Occultation when he says:
“the Existence of Imam Mehdi (a.s) is a Blessing of Allah,
the interaction of Imam Mehdi (a.s) is a Blessing of Allah,
occultation is caused by us (i.e. we are in occultation, not the Imam),
only Blessings emanate from him!”
From the above analysis we see that Imam Mehdi (a.s)’s life must be protected during this period wherein humanity is travelling in the direction of the establishment of the Global Justice program of Imam Mehdi (a.s).
OCCULTATION IS A SECRET OF SECRETS OF ALLAH
What has been mentioned thus far is what we can understand (within our limited ability) from the sayings of the Imams regarding the Occultation.
However, this matter is much more complex than we can imagine and thus the Imams have an all-inclusive saying which covers the remaining reasons for the Occultation and that is that it is a “Secret from the Secrets of Allah.” It is only upon the return of Imam Mehdi (a.s) that the reason for the Occultation will truly be understood.
We can also see this in the lives of other Prophets like Prophet Musa (a.s) who disappeared from his people who returned to achieve a major revolution of freeing them from Pharow, a matter that nobody even imagined was possible at the time.
OUR RESPONSIBILITY DURING THE OCCULTATION OF IMAM MAHDI
With a sound understanding of the philosophy of the Occultation of Imam Mehdi (a.s), what remains is for us to highlight our responsibility during this period.
Those who have a weak understanding of the Mission of Imam Mehdi (a.s) incorrectly imagine that he will return to solve our problems and that we have nothing to do. This belief is the furthest from the truth.
Our Imams have taught us that the best action during this period of occultation is Waiting for the return of Imam Mehdi (a.s). The narrations say “Afzal ul A’mal intazarul faraj” which means “The best of deeds is to wait for relief and reprieve.”
In shia culture “waiting” is from the category of action and not just a physiological status.
This reference to “waiting” has been misinterpreted by some to mean that we have nothing to do during this time.
However the correct understanding is that “waiting for the return” means that we have to invest all our effort during this period to pave the way for his return. That means we should measure all our actions on a daily basis against the criteria of contributing to the Mission of Global Justice of Imam Mehdi (a.s).
“Waiting” therefore means that:
a) We are not happy with our existing condition,
b) We invest all our effort to be freed from our existing condition,
c) Our level of preparation is on the Grand Scale which is befitting of being in line with the Grand Mission of Imam Mehdi (a.s)
This is exactly the same as the “waiting” of a patient who wishes to experience an improved state of health or a student who is waiting to pass in his exams or a host who is waiting for an important guest. It results in us being extremely busy during the “waiting period” for the impending outcome.
Imam Saadiq (a.s) thus says “Whoever wants to be counted to be among the companions of the Qaim of Aali Muhammad (i.e. Imam Mehdi a.s.) should have waraa (consciousness of Allah) and morality.”
In Shia Culture “Waiting” – which is called “Initizar” is a culture which manifests as a school of training and grooming of those who are ready for change. This concept of Intizar is the source of hope and confidence for lovers of Imam Mehdi (a.s) and the warriors of truth and Justice.
Consequently you may be interested to know that last year, in an academic conference in Tel Aviv where Shiasm was analysed, one of the academics made a most accurate analysis of Shiasm when he said that Shiasm flies with the use of 2 wings, both of which will cause it to fly to greater and greater heights.
The one wing is called the “red” wing which represents the “Blood of Karbala” wherein Shiasm is grounded in the philosophy of “sacrifice” and the second wing is called the “green” wing which represents “The hope of the Awaited Saviour called Mehdi (a.s)” wherein Shiasm is grounded in the philosophy that the future belongs to Islam and thus no obstacle will prevent this from being achieved.
May we all achieve that status!
To be continued in Part 4……