Question of Mahdawiyyat and Doubts about it
By: Ayatullah Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Milani
Taftazani’s strange opinion
A great Sunni theologian, Sa’ad al-Din Tatazani says: Imamite Shias are of the view that Muhammad bin Hasan Askari, being afraid of his enemies, has hidden himself from people’s eyes. According to them, like Noah, Luqman and Khidr he also lives a long life. This is while other Islamic sects deny what Shias claim, for going into hiding for such a long time without being effective at all is something that is unbelievable.
Moreover, it is useless to appoint a person with such a long occultation as an imam. Had there been such an imam, he should have been present among people. Thus it is not true to say – as it is said by some – that Jesus Christ will follow Mahdi in prayer or vice versa.1
An Apt Answer
If such questions are raised as intellectual concerns looking for answers, they are welcomed. I wish this was the case and we would observe moral values while holding our discussions.
Though some Sunni scholars have observed these moral rules others like Ibn Taymiyya in his al-Minhaj has violated them. In a chapter devoted to Mahdi, he has made use of foul language and impolite terms. To deal with his ill-treatment of Mahdi is of course in need of an independent study. To pay a glance at some instances of such an approach reference has to be made to the examples that were given in the beginning of this work.
Being under the influence of Ibn Taymiyya, some contemporary writers have also followed the same disgusting approach while dealing with the question of Mahdi. Instead of observing moral rules, they accuse Shias of telling lies.
It is even more regrettable that some people read these books and make efforts to spread their content.
The fact is that those who propagate against Mahdi are somewhat skeptic about the traditions on Mahdi. They are either skeptic about the tradition that specifies the ‘twelve imams’ or else are refusing to accept the tradition that says that he who does not know the imam of his time dies the death of ignorance.
This model of discussion is good as far as the rituals of debate are concerned. They insist on their opinions rejecting thus the traditions available in their books. To get involved in debates with such type of people is indeed useless (for they illogically insist on their own views and do not accept the traditions available even in their own books).
Despite all these, since the traditions on Mahdi have appeared in Sihah, Sunan, Masanid and other reliable sources that are accepted by all Muslims, therefore it is obligatory for every Muslim – whether a Shia or a Sunni – to believe in Mahdi as the twelfth Imam of Islamic community. If researchers, however, accept the traditions on Mahdi as acceptable, they need then to accept Mahdi as the twelfth imam, for this is the implication of the traditions accepted by them. Some Sunni scholars have followed this line of thought. We mentioned examples of such scholars on previous pages.
1. Imam Mahdi and his long life
Among the important questions concerning the issue of Mahdawiyyat is Imam Mahdi’s long life. Some Sunni scholars like Sa’ad al-Din Taftazani are of the view that Mahdi cannot live such a long life saying that it cannot be easily accepted that someone may live such a long life in this world.
Taftazani does not deny that Mahdi, son of Imam Hasan Askari is born. What he terms as unacceptable is his extraordinary long life.
It is on the basis of such an opinion that some Sunni scholars based on existing evidence accept that Imam Mahdi is born but claim that now he is no longer alive. This is because they regard it as unlikely for a person to live an extraordinary long life. Their opinion is however in contradiction with a prophetic tradition saying:
According to this tradition, there is no time without an imam. Given such traditions, some Sunni scholars, have, instead of speaking about the death of Imam Mahdi, said that they know that he is born but they do not know what has happened to him. Since they cannot accept Imam Mahdi’s long life, therefore they are not willing to confess to it.
On the hand, since they know that the rejection of Imam Mahdi’s long life is in contradiction with traditions, they do not explicitly reject his long life. As a result, they accept his birth, though they say they do not know what has happened to him.
It seems as if they feel compelled to accept these traditions and thus they are required to accept his birth and long life as well.
Is long life something incredible?
Something might seem incredible before it happens, but once it happens it is no longer incredible. For example, you believe that something is impossible, but if it happens for once you can no longer be cocksure about its impossibility and your certainty will decrease. Now if the same phenomenon happens for twice and thrice, your certainty will also decrease correspondingly. If this process continues to happen your certainty will continue to decrease.
Now in response to what Taftazani has said, it must be pointed out that Allah has given long lives to (many including) Noah, Khidr and Jesus Christ. The belief in Jesus’s long life is an essential belief among Muslims and no one can deny that Jesus is alive now.
Similarly based on Sunni traditions, Dajjal is alive now and they believe firmly that he is alive now.
Now that there have been many people in the world, who have lived long lives, no one can deny as improbable Imam Mahdi’s long life.
The discoveries and inventions we observe everyday also make impossibles possible.
The belief cherished by Taftazani and his likes that long life is improbable gets increasingly weakened as history proceeds ahead.
[To explain it further], some of our scholars have said that it may look queer if someone claims that he is able to walk on the surface of water, but if he does it for once and people watch it, they will somewhat change their views concerning walking on water’s surface. If he does it for many times, it will become a natural act and everyone will easily accept it.
Ibn Taymiyya and denial of Khidr’s being alive
He basically refuses to accept that Khidr is alive now saying that most scholars are of the view that he is dead by now.2
He rejects the fact the Khidr is alive by now in order to be able to say that the point that Mahdi is alive by now is very unlikely.
Opponents of Ibn Taymiyya’s opinion
Contrary to Ibn Taymiyya, in his al-Isaba, Ibn Hajar Asqalani considers Khidr as one of the companions of the Holy Prophet(S).3
Likewise, in his Tahdib al-Asma wa al-Lughat, Hafiz Nawavi, a sixth or seventh century scholar openly says that according to most scholars Khidr is alive now.4
This shows that Khidr was alive when Nawavi was living.
Other scholars like Qari (in his Mirqat al-Mafatih fi Sharh Mishkat al-Masabih5) and the commentator of al-Mawahib al-Ladunniya who lived years after Nawavi’s time, were also of the view that Mahdi was alive (at least) until their times. They have gone so far that they have mentioned in their books stories of people meeting Khidr and listening to his words.
Given all these issues, Ibn Taymiyya’s refusal to accept that Khidr is alive is very meaningful! He knew if he accepted that Khidr was alive it would pave the ground for rejecting the theory that rejects Mahdi’s long life as incredible.
Divine power and wisdom
Moreover, if Allah who is all-power, wills on certain grounds to keep someone alive for thousands of years He will do it. Thus it is not that much difficult to answer the question of Imam’s long life in our present time.
2. Why did the Imam disappear? How can we benefit from him, given he is not among us now?
Ibn Taymiyya and Sa’ad al-Din Taftazani are of the view that what is available now is only Mahdi’s name and no one –even those who believe in him – can benefit from him.
In many places in his commentary, Fakhr Razi says it is not possible to know about Mahdi in whom Shias believe and it is no possible to benefit from him.
Imam Mahdi’s occultation and traditions
We will answer the above-mentioned question in the following manner: Firstly, it has to be kept in mind that the Holy Prophet (S) who being the most truthful one was appointed as prophet, reminded us of his occultation and that he was an imam decades before he was born.
There are many authentic traditions that deal with Mahdi’s imamate and occultation. According to these traditions: Mahdi is appointed as an imam by Allah.
He will disappear.
His life and imamate are useful, for Allah does not do anything useless.
Let’s now study some of these traditions. Based on a tradition, Jabir bin Abdullah Ansari says: When this verse was revealed:
I said: O Messenger of Allah! We know Allah and His Messenger but we do not know ‘those in authority’ whose obedience is equal to your obedience. Who are they?
The Holy Prophet (S) said: O Jabir, they are my successors and leaders of Muslims after me. The first of them is `Ali ibn Abi-Talib, then Hasan and Husayn, then `Ali ibn Husayn, then Muhammad ibn `Ali, known as Baqir in the Torah. You will see him. When you see him, greet him on my behalf. Then comes Ja`far al-Sadiq and after him Musa ibn Ja`far and after him Muhammad ibn `Ali and finally one who has my name and will be Allah’s Argument (hujjat allah) on the earth, the son of Hasan, the same Imam whom Allah has appointed to conquer east and west, the same Imam will be hidden from the eyes of the Shi`ites and his friends. At that time, no one will be firm in his belief in his Imamate unless those whom Allah has purified their hearts for faith.
Jabirs says: O Messenger of Allah! Can his Shias benefit from him during his occultation?
Prophet said: Yes. By Allah who appointed me as a Messenger they will benefit from the rays of the light of his imamate during his occultation. [He will be useful during his occultation] just as the sun hidden behind the clouds is useful for people. O Jabir! This is one of the secrets of Allah and the remaining of His knowledge and therefore keep it secret from unworthy people.
In another tradition, Imam Sadiq (a.s) quotes the Holy Prophet (S) as saying: This young boy has to go into hiding. When the Holy Prophet (S) was asked as to why he had to go into hiding he said: He is afraid lest he is killed.
In yet another tradition, he narrates from his forefathers from the Holy Prophet (S) who says: Mahdi is from my descendants. His name and tittle are the same as mine. He resembles me more than anyone else in terms of physical complexion and moral values. His occultation will last as long as people will become perplexed and as a result abandon their religion. It is under such circumstances that he will appear just like a meteor, eliminating all the darkness at once. He will fill in the earth with justice and equity just as it was filled with injustice and cruelty7.
In another tradition, Imam Sadiq (a.s) quotes the Holy Prophet (S) as saying: “Lucky is he who sees our Qa’im (Mahdi) and before his uprising, he, however, follows him and his guided predecessors and hates their enemies. They are my friends and companions and the best of my community.”
Imam Sadiq (a.s) quotes the Holy Prophet (S) as having also said: “Lucky is he who sees our Qa’im while he follows him during his occultation before his uprising, befriends his friends and antagonizes his enemies. He is among my friends and sympathizers and the best of my community until the Day of Judgment.”
Imam Sadiq (a.s) similarly says that the Holy Prophet (S) said: He who denies Qa’im (Mahdi) from my offspring in the period of his occultation dies the death of ignorance.
In another tradition, Imam Sadiq (a.s) narrates from his great forefathers who quote the Holy Prophet (S) as saying: Qa’im (Mahdi) is from my descendants. His name and surname are the same as mine. His complexion is the same as mine. His tradition is the same as mine. He rules people on the basis of my tradition and asks people to act in accordance with my Lord’s book (Quran). He who obeys him obeys me. He who denies him during his occultation denies me. He who refutes him refutes me. He who confirms him confirms me. I will complain before Allah against those who reject my words concerning him and prevents my people from following him. And those who act unjustly shall know to what final place of turning they shall turn back 8.9
Imam Sadiq (a.s) says Imam Ali (a.s) said: Allah shall send someone from my offspring at the end of the times. He will avenge our bloods. He will go into hiding in order to distinguish those who are misguided (from others). (His occultation will last so long that) ignorant people will say that there is no need for Prophet’s household. 10
Imam Sadiq says: The one in authority (Imam Mahdi) shall go on an occultation which is inevitable. His occultation will take so long that all the people of falsehood will begin doubting. 11
The need to know the imam of the time
Secondly there are many successively reported Shia and Sunni traditions that state that it is necessary to know the imam of the time and that the imams are twelve people from Prophet’s household. These traditions imply that Mahdi is the twelfth Imam and that he is born and is alive.
Now that Imam Mahdi is not present among us, he must be, on the basis of the traditions mentioned, somewhere hidden from our vision.
Harmony between occultation and imamate
Thirdly we need to know that there is no contradiction between imamate and occultation. Allah appoints someone as an imam in order to guide people through him and to make him an authority between Himself and them, but it is not Allah who has caused his occultation; it is rather people who have caused his occultation.
Imam Mahdi and divine grace
Fourthly Khaja Nasir al-Din Tusi, a celebrated scholar commenting on Imam Mahdi says: His existence is a divine grace, his action is another divine grace and his absence is due to us.
Commenting on Khaja’s words, Allama Hilli says: It is said that an imam is a divine grace as long as he can take actions through issuing orders and is actively present in society, but when he is missing (as in the case of Imam Mahdi) he is no longer a divine grace. Shias (in other words) do not consider what is a divine grace as necessary (and what they consider as necessary is not an instance of divine grace).
In response to this objection it has to be said that it is necessary to have an imam because of the following: He protects religion against any addition and subtraction (innovation).
Obviously, if all those under obligation in every circumstance believe in the existence of an imam and in the necessity of the implementation of his orders, they will shun evil deeds and will instead do good acts.
No doubt, Imam’s participation is a divine grace and this will not happen except through his presence. Thus Imam’s existence is a divine grace and so is his participation.
In other words, imamate is a divine grace in many ways: It is incumbent upon Allah to create an Imam, make him eligible, by giving him knowledge and power and pronounce clearly his genealogical details. All this is done by Allah the Almighty.
It is incumbent upon the imam to accept imamate and to shoulder its responsibility.
It is incumbent upon people to help the imam and obey his commandments, but people however did not fulfill their responsibility. Thus Allah has not deprived people of this divine grace nor did the imam. It is hence the people themselves who have deprived themselves of this divine grace.12
Uses of an absent imam
Fifthly critics are not aware of the uses and advantages of the existence of an absent imam. They will not come to know about these things even if they want to do so.
There are some Shia scholars and even reliable Shia laymen who have met the Imam of the Time. Their stories are related by reliable people and are recorded in relevant books.
To solve many of their problems including their personal problems, (some) Shias have been able to meet the Imam and solve their problems through relying on his directives.
The hypocrites and the enemies of the imams do not naturally however accept such reports and thus we do not criticize them for that.
Moreover, Allah has appointed a prophet and an imam for every nation in order to guide them and set a divine authority among them. Many prophets were martyred during the very first days of doing their mission. Others were sent on exile. Can we say that sending such prophets was useless?
In short, the Imam is absent not because of Allah or his own observations, but because of the obstacles created by people. As soon as these obstacles are removed, he will appear, establishing a divine government and filling the world with justice and equity.
As to when the Imam appears, we do not know and it is Allah alone who knows about it.
3. Where does he live?
Before responding this question, we must ask as to where other great figures whom we consider alive because of reliable traditions, live.
As mentioned in some Shia books, Imam Mahdi lives in a place called Khadra Island. It seems that some great Shia scholars agree with this theory.
A baseless claim by Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Khaldun
As quoted before, Ibn Taymiyya is of the view that Shias believe that Mahdi has gone into hiding in a basement in Samarra (in Iraq). Ibn Khaldun repeats the same thing saying: “Shias think that their twelfth imam – Muhammad bin Hasan Askari called Mahdi – has gone into hiding in the basement of his father’s house in Hilla, after he and his mother were arrested. (According to them) it is he who appears in the end of time establishing justice and equity in the world.
This Shiite belief is based on a tradition Timihdi has mentioned concerning Mahdi in his book. They are still waiting for his reappearance and that is why they call him ‘awaited imam’.
After offering evening prayer, they stand every night at the door of this basement. They bring an animal for him to ride on and appeal to him by calling his name to appear. As darkness looms, they disperse. This is what they do in the coming nights as well. The aim is to show that they are, as they have pledged, waiting…”13
These are some of the lies they attribute to poor Shias. Some Shias’ enemies have even expressed these lies in the form of poems saying: “Is it not the proper time for the basement to give birth to ….”
A response by Shiite scholars
I wish these people referred to a single Shiite tradition or a single word said by a Shiite scholar to prove their lies and accusations.
Great early and later Shiite scholars have decisively rejected such accusations. Below are some of their words: Sheikh Arbili says: “Those who believe in Imam Mahdi do not claim that he lives in a basement. They instead believe that he is alive moving to and residing at different places in the world…”14
Sheikh Noori Tabarsi (another Shiite scholar) says: “Though we tried our best, we could not find any evidence to show the truthfulness of their words (that Mahdi lives in a basement). Above all, traditions have made no mention of this ‘basement’ either”.15
Sayyid Sadr says: “The opinions expressed by some Shiite laymen are attributed to us by some Sunni scholars. I could not find any evidence to show these opinions are right”.16
Commenting on this issue, Allama Sheikh Abd al-Husayn Amini says: “The accusation of ‘basement’ is more embarrassing than any other accusations. Though some other Sunni scholars have related this accusation as well, he (Ibn Tamiyya) has extremely exaggerated about it adding donkeys to horses.
He claims that Shias do this ritual every night and they have been doing it for the past one thousand years.
This is while Shias do not believe that their imam has disappeared in a basement. He has not hidden himself in that place nor will he arise from that place. According to Shiite beliefs that are based on sound traditions, Mahdi will appear in Mecca.
No (important) Shia believes that the basement is the place where he disappeared. Basement is a place each house had at that time. They made it in order to use it when the weather was very hot.
The basement of the Imam’s house is so important because it is related to him and other imams. This basement was used, like the rooms of his house, by three imams. Other houses belonging to anyone of the infallibles (including the Holy Prophet (S)) have the same place and status no matter where they are located. This is because Allah has said: In the houses which Allah has permitted to be exalted and that His name may be remembered in them, there glorify Him therein in the mornings and the evenings. 17
I wish these liars reached a similar conclusion about the said basement so that we would not observe the signs of fabrication and lie in their words.
As an instance, in his travel account, Ibn Batuta says that the said basement is located in Hilla.18
In his Akhbar al-Duwal, Qarmani claims that it is located in Baghdad. Others have pointed out that this place is located in Samarra. Qamisi who lived years later than the above mentioned figures, was not aware of the location of this basement. Only to deceive others, he has made use of the term ‘basement’.
Having tried their best, Suwaidi and his likes were not able to find a single document in Shiite traditions or Shiite scholars’ words, to prove their point of view.”19
The Samarra basement as a holy place
Some Sunni scholars like Ibn Khallakan20 and Hafiz Ganji have considered the issue of ‘basement’ as indisputable and thus they have defended it on certain grounds.21
It is worth mentioning that the quotations we quoted from Shiite scholars (that according to Shia he does not live a basement) do not reject respecting and paying homage to the basement located in the neighborhood of the holy shrines of Imam Hadi and Imam Hasan Askari in Samarra (in Iraq). This basement is no doubt a holy place used by Prophet’s household and that is why believers visit it.
4. When will Imam Mahdi reappear?
As mentioned before, the reappearance of Imam Mahdi depends on the fulfillment of certain conditions. (If these conditions are fulfilled he will appear.) Some Shiite traditions state that he will suddenly reappear.22
How does Imam Mahdi judge?
Based on Shiite traditions, his judgments are similar to those of Prophet Dawood. The Holy Prophet (S) states: He is abler than others in terms of presenting formal arguments….23
To explain it, it has to be said that whenever two people disputed on something they would go before the Holy Prophet (S). The Holy Prophet (S) would ask the complainant to offer his evidence. If he offered reliable evidence the Holy Prophet would take that thing (on which they were disputing) from the accused and gave it to him.
In other words, the Holy Prophet’s judgments were based on formal arguments and outward evidence. That is why the Holy Prophet himself says that his judgments are based exclusively on formal arguments and evidence. He adds that if the complainant’s arguments are false he must make sure that what he earns through such arguments is Hell’s fire.
In other words, the Holy Prophet wants to say that he is duty bound to judge on the basis of formal argument and evidence. (To judge on such basis is not immune from errors). Thus if the complainant knows that he is not right he must not proceed further.
Thus Islamic judgments whether at the time of the Holy Prophet or after him were passed on the basis of formal and conventional rules and regulations and these rules and regulations were nothing more than formal arguments and evidence.
After reappearing, Imam Mahdi will not however judge on the basis of such rules and regulations. He will instead judge on the basis realities on the ground (for Allah helps him know the realities sooner than others).
For example, if he observes that (a) belongs to (x) but (y) claims that he owes it, he will take (a) from (y) and give it (x) (without following the formal procedures). Similarly if he observes that (x) has unjustly occupied (a), he will order him to evacuate it and submit it to its owner, even though (x) has strong formal arguments acceptable at courts.
In other words, Imam acts in accordance with realities rather than conventional rules and regulations. (It is on the basis of such a procedure that) he can quickly return all rights back to their owners.
Waiting and Those Who Wait
Now that we came to know that the Imam appears very suddenly and that he judges on the basis of realities rather than formal rules, we need to know about our duties (during the time of occultation) towards ourselves, Allah and others. We can better understand the importance of these duties if we pay attention to the following two points:
One: It is possible for the Imam to reappear at any moment.
Two: Once he reappears, he will judge (as mentioned before) on the basis of realities rather than formal rules.
Given all these, what are the responsibilities of each one of us?
In a tradition, it has been stated that the best deed is waiting for his reappearance.24
Considering all these facts, we can come to know why the holy imams prevented their companions from making haste in asking for his reappearance and stressed that they only needed to follow their Lord and pray for his reappearance.
In other words, waiting for the Imam’s reappearance and his righteous government is a good way for individual and social reform. If we are able to reform ourselves, we will be included among the Imam’s companions and helpers.
Waiting and praying for Imam’s reappearance
We are told to pray a lot for the infallibles’ reappearance and wait for their arrival. Waiting is nothing but self-purification and compliances with the realities on the basis of which the Imam will rule. We need to give to others what we owe to them. In our societies, there might be people with properties they really do not owe. Once the Imam reappears, he will confiscate such properties and give them back to their real owners.
Thus we can pave the ground for his reappearance if we pay attention to the issue of self-purification and practically abide by religious rules on personal and social levels.
Commenting on the issue of reappearance, Imam Ali (a.s) says: Stick to the earth, keep patient in trials, do not move your hands and swords after the liking of your tongues, and do not make haste in matters in which Allah has not asked for haste because any one of you who dies in his bed while he had knowledge of the rights of Allah and the rights of His Prophet and members of the Prophet’s house, will die as martyr. His reward is incumbent on Allah. He is also eligible to the recompense of what good acts he has intended to do, since his intention takes the place of drawing his sword. Certainly, for everything there is a time and a limit. 25
Shiite traditions maintain that anyone who has the above-mentioned qualities and dies before the Imam appears his reward is similar to the rewards of those who really serve Mahdi and fight in his company.
In a tradition, Imam maintains: Verily he who dies from among you in his bed while he recognizes the right of his Lord, the right of His Messenger and the right of Prophet’s household dies as a martyr. His reward is upon Allah. He deserves the reward of the good deeds he has intended to perform. His intention to do good deeds will be considered as his actions. 26
Waiting and taking preparation for his reappearance
Though we are supposed to pray for his immediate reappearance, we must get fully ready to help him in case he appears. If every Shia acts in accordance with his duties and recognizes the rights of Allah, His Messenger and Prophet’s household, the ground will be automatically paved for the Imam’s reappearance. (Now if the Imam reappear, so much the better, if not) they have at least acted in accordance with their duties towards their Imam. Our main goal was also to explain this.
We ask Allah, the Glorious, to (further) acquaint us with His rights, His Messenger’s rights, and the rights of Prophet’s household and help us do our duties.
Peace and blessing be upon Muhammad and his pure progeny
1. Sharh al-Maqasid, vol. 5, p. 313.
2. Minhaj al-Sunna, vol. 4, p. 93.
3. Al-Isaba, vol. 1, p. 429.
4. Tahdib al-Asma wa al-Lughat, vol. 1, p. 176.
5. Miqat al-Mafatih, vol. 9, p. 962.
6. Quran, Sura an-Nisa, 4:59.
7. Kamal-al-Din, vol. 1, p. 287.
8. Quran, Shu’ara, 227.
9. Kamal-al-Din, vol. 2, p. 411.
10. Nu’amani, Kitab al-Ghayba, p. 140.
11. Ilal-al-Sharae’a, vol. 1, p. 245.
12. Kashf al-Murad fi Sharh Tajrid al-Itiqad, pp. 491 492.
13. Muqaddima Ibn Khaldun, p. 352.
14. Kashf al-Ghumma fi M’arifat al-Aamma, vol. 3, p. 283.
15. Kashf al-Astar an Wajh al-Imam al-Ghaeb an al-Absar, p. 212.
16. Al-Mahdi, p. 155.
17. Quran, Noor, 36.
18. Safar Nama Ibn Batuta, vol. 2, p. 198.
19. Al-Ghadir fi al-Kitab wa al-Sunna wa al-Adab, vol. 3, p. 308.
20. Wafayat al-Aayan, vol. 1, p. 372.
21. Al-Bayan fi Akhbar Sahib al-Zaman.
22. Sheik Mufid, Kitab al-Mazar, p. 9 and al-Ihtijaj, vol. 2, p. 324.
23. Al-Kafi, vol. 7, p. 414. There are other versions of this tradition as well. See for example this one: إنّما أقضى بينكم بالبيّنات و الأيمان و بعضكم ألحن بحجّته من بعض فأيّما رجل قطعت له من مال أخيه شيئا فإنّما قطعت له به قطعة من النّار.Jawmi’a al-Kilam, p. 698.
24. Saduq, al-Khisal, p. 616.
25. Nahj al-Balagha, Sermon 190.
26. Ta’awil al-Ayat, p. 642, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 52,p. 144.