ulaiman: We have heard that Shias believe Mahdi the awaited one to be the twelfth Imam? And that he is in occultation (ghaib) till the time of his reappearance?
Ja’far: The belief in Mahdi the awaited one is not special to the Shias. All the Muslims believe that at the end of time Mahdi will rise and fill the earth with justice and equity just as it would have been filled with injustice and oppression. It mentioned in the Quran regarding the Divine government on the earth:
“And certainly We wrote in the Book after the reminder that (as for) the land, My righteous servants shall inherit it.”
(Surah Anbiya 21:105)
There are numerous traditions about Mahdi (a.s.) and these traditions have been recorded by most of the respected scholars of Ahle Sunnat. For example:
Samarqandi in his book Tohfatut Talib, Sharani in Al-Yawaaqeeto wal Jawahir, Kwaja Parsa in Faslul Khitab, Ibne Hajar Asqalani in Al Qaulul Mukhtasar, Muhammad ibne abi Talha in Matalibusso-oul, Shablanji in Noorul Absar, Sawaidi in Sabaekuzzahab. All of them have mentioned regarding Mahdi (a.s.) that he is Muhammad the son of Hasan al-Askari (a.s.), and that he is alive and present like Isa (a.s.). He will remain so till the Almighty permits him to reappear like He would allow Isa (a.s.) to descend.
Some of the Ahle Sunnat scholars have described the characteristics of Mahdi (a.s.) that he will be from the Ahle Bayt (a.s.).
Al Bukhari in his Sahih in the Chapter of Descension of Isa (a.s.)? mentions a tradition from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s):
“What would your condition be when the son of Marium descends amongst you and your Imam will be from you?”
Muslim in his Sahih (Vol. 2) also records a tradition from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s):
“There will be at the end of my Ummat a Khalifa. He will collect unlimited wealth. Which cannot be calculated.”
Tirmidhi and Abi Dawood remark, “This Caliph is Al Mahdi.”
(Sunan Tirmidhi, Vol. 2, Pg. 270, Sunan Abi Dawood Vol. 4, Kitabul Mahdi)
3.and 4. Abi Dawood in his Sunan and Tirmidhi in his Sunan write that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.s.) said,
“This world will not come to an end till a man from my Ahle Bayt has not ruled upon it. His name shall be same as mine. Even if a single day remains from the tenure of this earth the Almighty will prolong it so much that a man from my Ahle Bayt (a.s.) rises and fills it with justice and equity in the same way as it would have been filled with injustice and inequity.”
Abi Dawood has recorded this tradition with the additional words,
“He will rule for seven years.”
Abi Dawood says that this hadith is authentic and Tibrani has quoted it in his Mojam; other scholars have also mentioned it.
(Sunan Abi Dawood Vol. 4, Kitabul Mahdi)
Ibne Tayyimiyah writes in his book, Minhajus Sunnah:
“The traditions of Mahdi are well known. They are mentioned in the Musnad of Ahmed Ibne Hanbal, Sunan of Sajistani and Tirmidhi and other books of traditions.”
However the people who do not believe in Mahdi are very few, and they disbelieve due to ignorance or false pride. Because the majority of the scholars have admitted to the authenticity of the belief of Mahdi.
Mahdi will fill the Earth with Justice and Equity
Mustadrak of al-Hakim, Volume 4, page 558
Abu Abbas Muhammad ibne Yaqoob narrates from Hajjaj bin Rabi bin Sulaiman from Asad bin Moosa from Hammad bin Salmah from Matru and Abi Haroon, from Abi Siddiq an-Naji from Abu Saeed Khudri that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.s.) said,
“The earth shall be filled with injustice and oppression when a man from my family will appear and rule the earth for seven or nine years and fill the earth with justice and equity.”
Other books of Ahle Sunnat that mention this tradition are, Al Mustanad, Vol.3, pages 28 and 80, Arbaeen of Abu Nuyam, Faraedus Simtain, Talkheesul Mustadrak Vol. 4, page 558, Al Haawi al Fatawi page 63.
Musnad Ahmed Hanbal Vol.3 page 17:
Abdullah narrated from his father, from Abu Nasr, from Abu Muawiya Shaiban from Matar bin Tahman from Abi Siddiq Naji from Abu Saeed Khudri that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.s.) said,
“The hour shall not be established (qiyamat will not come) till a person from my Ahle Bayt (a.s.), with a bright face and a high nose will fill the earth with justice and equity like it would have been filled with injustice and oppression.
Other books that mention this hadith are Faraedus Simtain and chapter of Ramoozul Hadith page 447.
Sunan Abi Dawood, Vol. 4, page 154.
Sahal bin Tamaam narrates from Imaranul Qitan from Qatadah from his father Nazrah from Abi Saeed Khudri that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.s.) said,
“Mahdi is from me, he has a broad forehead and a high nose he would fill this earth with justice and equity just as it would be filled with injustice and oppression. And he shall rule for seven years.”
Other books that mention this hadith are: Al Mustadrak Vol. 40 page 557, Al Jama bainal Sahihain, Al Arbaeen, Al Masaabihus Sunnah Vol 2, page 134, Tazkeratul qurtubi, Al Bayan Fi Akhbaare Sahibuzzamaan, Muntakhab Kanzul Ummal Vol. 6, page 30, Talkhisul Mustadrak Vol. 4, page 557, Mishkatul Masabih Vol. 3, page 24, Matalibus So-ool page 89, Noorul Absar page 229, Al Fusoolul Mohimma page 272, Al Haawi wal Fatawi Vol.2 page 57, Al Jameus Sagheer Vol.2 page 579, Yanabiul Mawaddah page 340, Mukhtasar Tazkirah Qurtubi page 131, Al Fathe Kabeer vol 3 page 259, Sharhe Mishkat Vol.4, page 338.
Sulaiman: Then what is the point of controversy between the Shias and Sunnis?
Ja’far: They differ upon the identity of this Mahdi. Whether he is already born and in occultation and soon reappear by the permission of Allah. Or he would be born in the near future just before the time of his Zuhoor (reapearance). Is he the son of Hasan al-Askari (a.s.) the eleventh of the Shiite Imams? Was he born on the 15th of Shaban 255 A.H.? Or he is some other person?
Sulaiman: How did Mahdi (a.s.) disappear?
Ja’far: Imam Mahdi (a.s.) was five years of age at the demise of his father, Imam Hasan al-Askari (a.s.). The Almighty wished that he should remain away from the sight of the people and especially from the despotic rulers of Bani Abbas. The rulers were aware that according to the Shia belief the son of Imam Hasan al-Askari is the awaited Mahdi who will destroy the oppressive governments and lay the foundation of a just rule. They feared this eventuality and hence decided to have him killed when they heard that his five-year-old son performed the last rites of Imam Hasan al-Askari (a.s.). However they were unable to trace him. He disappeared into the house of his father and though he lived among the people in Samarrah, Baghdad and other places, his enemies could not touch him.
For a long period of 69 years, from 260 A.H. to 329 A.H. the twelfth Imam (a.s.) maintained contact with his Shias through his special representatives (Nawwabe Khassa). This period is known as the Lesser Occultation (Ghaibate Sughra).
After the demise of the fourth and the last special representative commenced the period greater occultation (Ghaibate Kubra). During this period there are no special representatives between the Imam (a.s.) and his followers. The people are supposed to refer to the pious scholars (fuqaha) for solving their problems.
Sulaiman: But how could a five-year-old boy assume the responsibility of guiding the community (Ummah)?
Ja’far: If you ask me about the historical authenticity of this matter, you can refer to traditions and books regarding this topic. Because the issue of childhood is decided by Allah. That is, if He wishes He can empower even a child with Prophethood and Imamat.
Therefore we find in the Holy Quran that Isa ibne Maryam (a.s.) attained the status of Prophethood while yet an infant.
“But she pointed to him. They said: How should we speak to one who was a child in the cradle?
He said: Surely I am a servant of Allah; He has given me the Book and made me a prophet;”
(Surah Maryam 19:29-30)
Similarly Hazrat Yahya (a.s.) was endowed wisdom during childhood.
“O Yahya! Take hold of the Book with strength, and We granted him wisdom while yet a child.”
(Surah Maryam 19:12)
Sulaiman: But how is it possible that a person who was born in 255 A. H. is still living after more than a thousand and fifty years?
Ja’far: It is not impossible for a person to live that long. There is no maximum life span of human beings. A person can continue to live till a cause of his death appears. Therefore we find in history numerous personalities who were able to attain an exceptionally old age.
The Holy Quran also proves it to be true. In connection with Hazrat Nuh (a.s.) the Holy Quran says that he preached among the people for 950 years. The people of the cave slept for 300 years before they woke up. Later they again went back to sleep and according to Muslim belief they still continue to sleep. Similarly Hazrat Isa (a.s.) who was born more than a thousand years before Imam Mahdi (a.s.) is still alive on the fourth heaven and will descend to the earth in the near future.
The authentic traditions stress upon the fact that Isa (a.s.) will descend and perform prayers behind Imam Mahdi (a.s.). Another example is that of Hazrat Khizr (a.s.) who is alive since the time of Prophet Musa (a.s.) and he resides on this very earth. The majority of the people believe in this.
Sulaiman: How can we benefit from this belief during the period of occultation?
Ja’far: According to the traditions we benefit from him during the ghaibat in the same way as we benefit from the Sun when it is hidden behind the clouds. There are some other benefits, which are not known to us presently. However we shall come to know the real reason only after the reappearance of Imam Mahdi (a.s.). It is the same with regard to the raising of Hazrat Isa (a.s.) to the heavens.
As said about Isa (a.s.)’s ghaibat that instead of death he was raised up. It is said that one of the reasons is that he will come in the Aakheruzzamaan (the period of time). The same is said of Imam Mahdi (a.s.). Doubtlessly Imam Mahdi (a.s.) will reappear as a Universal Reformer and lay the foundation of a Divine government on the earth. The belief saves us from despair whatever may be the condition of this earth due to difficulties and calamities. Hence, now it is the duty of all of us to create the conditions favourable for the reappearance of Imam Mahdi (a.s.), the Universal Reformer.
Sulaiman: It is said that Shias undertake pilgrimage (like Hajj) to the Sardab (cellar) in Samarrah, Iraq, in search of Mahdi whom they hope to find in that place?
Ja’far: This is an allegation. The Shias like other Muslims perform the Hajj of Ka’ba in Mecca. It is one of the obligatory duties.
Those who say that Shias go to Samarrah to meet Imam Mahdi (a.s.) are liars. They visit this place because it has special significance of being the place of birth of Imam Mahdi (a.s.). Before that it was the residence of Imam Ali Naqi (a.s.) and Imam Hasan al-Askari (a.s.). Therefore it is blessed place.
Sulaiman: If the belief of Mahdi, the awaited one, is common to all the Muslims then why do we find that people are so ignorant of it?
Ja’far: I myself ask the same question. But I think it is due to the lack of information or the failure of the ulama (scholars) to realise the importance of this topic and to educate the people in this regard.
Let Us Understand Each Other (Shia-Sunni Dialogue)