Philosophy of Occultation (ghaybah) Imam Mahdi (A.J)


SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Agency) – With the acceptance of Imamate as one of the principles of Shī‘ah faith, the following questions are raised: According to the Shī‘ah viewpoint and ideological foundations, Imamate is an essential principle, therefore what is the justification for occultation [ghaybah]? Since divine wisdom demands the existence of an Imām in every period, how is the long deprivation of the Muslim society from Imamate justified and analyzed?

The answer to these questions can be inferred from the following points:

1. As stated earlier, only general imāmah can be proved rationally, but based on divine exigency, [the philosophy behind] the number of Imāms (‘a) is unknown to us and we cannot comprehend it based on rational means.

2. The presence of an Imām is a grace from God, but the deprivation from the presence of an Imām can be traced back to the actions of the people.41 This deprivation also existed to some extent during the periods of the Imāms (‘a) prior to the 12th Imām (‘a).

3. The people’s open connection to the hidden Imām (‘atfs)42 is in abeyance as far as his two functions of religious authority and political leadership are concerned, but the Imām’s esoteric Imamate continues and the people benefit from the blessing of his existence.

At this time, the Imām (‘atfs) is like the sun behind the clouds. Just as the sun behind the clouds is beneficial, the Imām (‘atfs) has an esoteric connection with his Shī‘ah and the people are able to benefit from the blessing of his existence. Basically, the world exists owing to his existence and this function of the Imām which is “ontological guardianship” [wilāyat-e takwīnī], “spiritual guardianship” [wilāyat-e ma‘nawī] or “esoteric Imamate” [imāmat-e bāṭinī] does not depend on his physical presence.

Keeping in view the above mentioned points, the principle of the occultation of the Imām (‘atfs) is compatible with the general theory on Imamate and it is here that the dynamic idea of “waiting” [intiẓār] takes form. It is true that this idea also exists in other religions,43 but in Islam to wait for the day when the Savior [munjī] removes oppression from the world, turned the imaginary state of a totally hidden subject into a belief about a true celestial living being. Attention to a savior in the future turned attention to a living person who, along with all other people, is also waiting. He lives with us and actually feels our pains and sufferings.44 Waiting is a positive and constructive idea, entailing many benefits some of which are as follows:

a. The belief that the people are attached to his rule and consider other governments as usurpers is a kind of idealism, fundamentalism and legalism in their individual, social and political beliefs. It is exactly like the condition of a people who, on account of particular political conditions, feel as if their Imām is in exile and believe that they must pave the grounds for his advent or reappearance. As such, “waiting” [intiẓār] and “protest” [i‘tirāḍ] from the Shī‘ah viewpoint is an intellectual tradition within the core of the Shī‘ah political thought, and Imamate has not ended with the occultation of the last Imām (‘atfs) but it rather continues in a particular way.

b. “Waiting” naturally gives direction to the human perspective as well as meaning to the future. It removes despair and hopelessness from the hearts of humanity. It gives purpose to their actions and makes them more ready to show all their talents. Hence, “waiting for deliverance [by the Imām’s advent]” [intiẓār al-faraj] has been described as the activity of the Prophet’s ummah.45

“Waiting” has made the Shī‘ah always endure difficulties and afflictions with optimism and dynamism and given them a profound perspective and positive orientation. Individuals whose aspiration it is to implement global justice, righteous government, benevolent administration, human dignity, and freedom from oppression no doubt follow a correct, lofty, goal-oriented, and divine social philosophy, and these are among the blessings of “waiting” and effects of the occultation [ghaybah].

c. The meaningfulness of history and the glad tidings of victory for the faithful, which have also been repeated many times in the Qur’an, is one of the secrets of ghaybah. The promises for the faithful to inherit the earth, their assumption of power, the establishment of the government of faith, the unification of religion, the unification of government, and the unity of society, among others, give enthusiasm to the faithful to engage in social struggle.46 From the Islamic viewpoint, therefore, the philosophy of history acquires a particular meaning. Accordingly, the future is not a condemnation of the will of the powerful and the arrogant. Rather, the will of God will prevail through the establishment of a benevolent state, the dominance of the divine religion, and the prevalence of divine values throughout the world. Therefore, history is leading us towards a positive future.

d. “Waiting” requires emphasis on values and negation of anti-values. These ideals embellish the sociopolitical view of the faithful. The faithful who are eager to implement social justice and the rule of values will never submit to deviant viewpoints and always focus their attention on a better society and a righteous world.

The spirit of waiting is an emphasis on the theory of Imamate and the negation of any dispute over it. The Shī‘ah waits for his Imām and this negates the sovereignty of any other.

e. For those who wait for the Imām [muntaẓirīn], any social change is valuable provided that it contributes in the realization of the ideals of the period of occultation. Thus, “waiting” itself is a positive social movement and a sublime idea within a revolutionary thought. For this reason, in terms of implementation, objectives, achievements, and elements the Islamic Revolution in Iran must be compatible with the ideals of the period of waiting. “Waiting” teaches the Shī‘ah not to gather under any banner that is incompatible with the global revolution of the Mahdī (‘atfs).

Moreover, the ideal or aspiration of “waiting” gives a particular rationality to the Revolution. Since the period of occultation is always a period of waiting, the revolution constantly continues in different aspects until the establishment of the global government of the Mahdī (‘atfs).

f. Belief in Imamate during the period of waiting endows humanity with the opportunity to follow the perfect man [insān al-kāmil] (of his time). Based on following the perfect man, the waiting person is always strengthening himself spiritually.

A question

Given the prolongation of the period of occultation, the following questions may be raised: How can it be accepted that a hidden Imām is living with us? Or, is not the belief that a perfect man could be living with us for so long in occultation a superstitious one?

In reply to these question, some points are worth considering: Firstly, the reality of the occultation of the Mahdī (‘atfs) has been mentioned by the infallible Imāms (‘a). Therefore, those who believe in the truthfulness of Imāms (‘a) can easily accept the 12th Imām’s (‘atfs) occultation.47 The acceptance of the long life of an Imām who is commissioned by God is not an unusual thing in religious culture.

The All-wise Who created this world, Can prolong the life of a proof.

Also, the event of the birth of the Imām of the Time (‘a) has been mentioned in history and books of tradition [ḥadīth], and even those who witnessed the event have been identified.48

Secondly, the Imām of the Time (‘atfs) was in minor occultation [ghaybah aṣ-ṣughrā] for around 70 years49 during which period, the proof of his existence had been well known to the Shī‘ah. Through his special deputies [nawwāb], he had contact with the people. Apart from the four special deputies, he had also appointed his representatives [wukalā] in different cities and towns. Naturally, his deputies and representatives were men of distinction and honor. It is absurd to think that distinguished men would have been in contact with an imaginary and superstitious person for 70 years. During that period, many individuals had submitted their requests to the Imām (‘atfs) through his envoys, and in reply to some of them, the hidden Imām (‘atfs) had written letters. These letters are technically called tawqī‘ some of which are recorded in ḥadīth books.


41. – See ‘Allāmah Ḥillī, Kashf al-Murād fī Tajrīd al-I‘tiqād, Section on Imamate.

42. – The abbreviation, ‘atfs stands for the Arabic invocative phrase, ‘ajjalallāhu ta‘ālā farajah ash-sharīf [may Allah, the Exalted, expedite his glorious advent], which is invoked after mentioning the name of Imām al-Mahdī (‘atfs). [Trans.]

43. – See Muḥammad Riḍā Ḥakīmī, Khurshīd-e Maghrib, chaps. 4-6; Ṣāfī Gulpāygānī, Muntakhab al-Āthār.

44. – See Sayyid Muḥammad Bāqir Ṣadr, Baḥth Ḥawl al-Mahdī, p. 55.

The book’s English translation is An Inquiry Concerning Al-Mahdī (Tehran: World Organization for Islamic Services, 1980). [Trans.].

45. – ‘Allāmah Majlisī, Tuḥaf al-‘Uqūl, p. 37.

46. – See Sūrah Anbiyā’ 21:105; Sūrah Nūr 24:55; Sūrah Qaṣaṣ 28:5.

47. – See Uṣūl al-Kāfī, “Kitāb al-Ḥujjah,” Bāb fī’l-Ghaybah”; Biḥar al-Anwār, vol. 51, p. 110.

48. – Gulpāygānī, Muntakhab al-Āthār, p. 355.

49. – During the first 70 years of his Imamate, the Imām of the Time (‘atfs) had special deputies to manage on behalf of the Imām the affairs of the Shī‘ah. This period is known as the minor occultation.

By: Ali Reza Amini Mohsen Javadi




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