The Occultation of Imam Al-Mahdi (a.s.)

written by Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah

The issue of Imam Al-Mahdi (a.s.) has received a lot of attention, not only among the Muslims, but also among other people who belong to other religions, since Imam Al-Mahdi (a.s.) is regarded as the savior and the rescuer of humanity from all kinds of tyranny and torture. Imam Al-Mahdi (a.s.) is also considered as the spreader of justice and tranquility. In fact, all Muslim groups have agreed on this idea; however, extensive arguments and discussions have taken place among the believers, especially the issues related to his occultation and its expected advantages, his appearance and the means and ways that could be used to implement spreading justice and eradicating injustice. His Eminence, the Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah, has answered all these questions revealing the reasons behind the Imam’s occultation and explaining the general objectives of his message which is establishing the awaited justice.

– The evidence of his occultation

– Where is he during his absence?

– Imam Al-Mahdi (a.s.) and power

– The practical benefits of the Imam’s occultation

– The time of Imam Al-Mahdi’s appearance

– The signs of appearance of Imam Al-Mahdi

– Supporting Imam Al-Mahdi
The evidence of his occultation

Q- You say that the occultation of Al-Mahdi is one of God’s secrets, but this occultation needs evidence from both the Holy Book and Sunnah. However, Prophet Muhammad (p.) did not bring the glad tidings of the Imam’s occultation; what he brought was only the glad tidings of his appearance. If I belong to a different religious sect, how can I be convinced with such an evidence?

A- If Prophet Muhammad (p.) brought the glad tidings of Imam Al-Mahdi’s appearance, such appearance could have only come as a result of his occultation; this is one aspect.

The other aspect is that when we read: “I have left with you that which, as long as you uphold, you shall never let you stray after me: Allah’s Book, a Rope extending from heavens to earth, and my ‘itra, my Ahl Al-Beit. These twain shall never separate from one another till they reach me by the Pool; therefore, see how you succeed me in faring with them,” we realize that for every period of time, there must be a certain person from the progeny as long as the Holy Book exists. This person is Imam Al-Mahdi (a.s.). Besides, we have read many traditions narrated by the Members of the House (a.s.) who used to talk about what Prophet Muhammad (p.) said concerning this issue.

Q- Some say that the issue of Imam Al-Mahdi, his age, and the secret of his occultation, is something unscientific, illogical, and unfamiliar. What do you say?

A- Both the occultation of Imam Al-Mahdi and his appearance are of God’s secrets and unknowns. Just as God has lots of unknown secrets related to the other world, He also has many of the unknown secrets in this world, and the issue of Imam Al-Mahdi (a.s.) is one of them. Though unfamiliar with respect to age and to several other things, the issue of Imam Al-Mahdi (a.s.) continues with time, as long as Allah wishes. God’s will may be realized in ways that are unfamiliar to people, as His miracles to the Prophets. For example, we notice how the cane was transformed into a serpent; how Mousa’s brown hand was transformed into a white one; how God opened a “dry path” in the sea to Mousa (a.s.) “And certainly We revealed to Musa, saying: Travel by night with My servants, then make for them a dry path in the sea, not fearing to be overtaken, nor being afraid”. (20:77), how He empowered Christ to cure the deaf, the blind, and the lepers, and to raise the dead, and how He gave Muhammad (p.) the greatest miracles, which is the Holy Book, in addition to many other honors. Besides, the Holy Quran mentioned that Nuh (a.s.) lived one thousand years or more before the flood: “And certainly We sent Nuh to his people, so he remained among them a thousand years save fifty years. And the deluge overtook them, while they were unjust” (29:14), noting that we do not know how long he lived after the flood. Furthermore, God told us about a day which counts one thousand years, and another day “which is fifty thousand years”. (70:4).

God Who has the power to provide man with a short life, has also the same power to provide him with a long one. He is the One Who creates, decides, and determines. Therefore, the rejectionists should not object when the matter is related to God’s ability because “surely Allah has power over all things”. So, the rejectionists can only object when the matter is related to people and their abilities, since people’s abilities regarding their choices and movements are limited.

Q- If God sent the Prophets, the Messengers, and the Imams to lead, to guide, and to warn, how can this be applied to Imam Al-Mahdi who is invisible. Is not he supposed to be present among us to guide us in our movement?

A- The issue of Imam Muhammad Bin Al-Hassan (a.s.) differs from that of the Prophets and the other Imams. He is regarded as God’s conclusive argument, and the twelfth Imam, whose Imamate is not disputed. God has prepared him to make justice prevail in the world, and He has prepared him for the day the life on earth ends. In addition, Imam Al-Mahdi (a.s.) is prepared to implement the objectives of the other Prophets and the heavenly messages. Therefore, God did not make him an Imam as the other Imams and Prophets (p.) that follow up all details. The Prophets came with the Message and taught the wisdom, and the moral values of the Holy Book and the Holy Message. The Imams (a.s.), Imam Al-Mahdi’s fathers, explained the details of the Message, since they are considered according to our beliefs, the Prophets’ successors. Therefore, when Imam Al-Mahdi (a.s.) was asked about the duration of his occultation, and what people were going to do during his occultation, he answered:

“As to the occurring incidents, refer to the narrators of our traditions; they are my conclusive arguments.”

If the matter is related to the details, the religious scholars, who narrated, taught, and explained everything given by God, His Prophet, and the Imams, are able, nowadays, to explain and give all answers to any legislative issue to all generations. Therefore, there is no longer a need for Imam Al-Mahdi to go into details. His role is just to change the world into a better place for living, after if has been filled with tyranny and injustice.

As to why he has been invisible all this long time and the secret behind his occultation, it is one of God’s secrets, just as his appearance is also considered one of God’s secrets. In this respect, there are certain signs that do not specify the date of his appearance, but they might give some indications. People have become so preoccupied with these signs that they started considering any event or any outbreak of a war as a sign of his appearance. Indeed, it should be understood that his occultation is one of God’s secrets and unknowns, and we, as human beings, do not possess the knowledge that could help us in unveiling this secret.

The role of Imam Al-Mahdi (a.s.) differs from that of all the other Imams. It also differs from the roles of the Prophets. There is a repeated question in this sense: “How can he be invisible all this long time despite that he is the Imam who acts as Allah’s argument, which would also be non-existent during his occultation?” These questions are nothing but the outcome of our education. We are taught that the role of the Imam must be a copy of that of his fathers and grandfathers. But if we go back to the traditions that have reached us, we will find out that the case is different.

Where is he during his absence?

Q- Is the occultation of Imam Al-Mahdi restricted to the daily contact with people; meaning that he eats, drinks, and meets his deputies? Or is he away from the earthly world, staying nearer to the other world, the metaphysical world?

A- This is none of our business. Why should we care about what he eats and drinks?! First of all, I have already said that his occultation is one of God’s secrets, and so is his appearance. We built our belief on the traditions narrated from the Prophet (p.) He said: “He will be filling the earth with justice and fairness as it was filled with tyranny and injustice.” Now we hear some satellite channels asking: “Is he married? Does he have children? Where does he live? What does he eat and drink?” What is this talk?! This information does not benefit us; most importantly, we are not supposed to know such secrets. We are commissioned to believe in him, because our truthful Prophet (p.) told us about him. Above all, we are Muslims, and we are waiting for him for the sake of Islam and for spreading peace and justice. Meanwhile, we must work hard for establishing justice in our homes and countries, as well as in politics, economy, and sociology. We have to prepare ourselves for such things. It is neither our business nor our duty to know how he looks or how he lives. Our religious duty is to believe in him, because it was proven by indisputable arguments. What we should be concerned about is our religious duties.

Imam Al-Mahdi (a.s.) and power

Q- It is believed that the appearance of Imam Al-Mahdi is built on authority and power, while the Prophet’s call was not. Why is this difference?

A- There is a big difference between the Prophet who wanted to call and convey; a mission that was built on gradual convincing for the sake of the intellectual and practical commitment to his Message, and the mission of Imam Al-Mahdi whose role, at the end of time, is to change the world. If the call is a part of his Message, then his main role is to fill the world with fairness and justice, after it had been filled with tyranny and injustice. It is a role that needs special conditions that differ from those of the Prophet. This does not prevent Imam Al-Mahdi from having his own way of calling to Allah; he has his own resources that he depends on to convince people with the Message, the idea, and the reality.

Q- In a previous lecture, you mentioned that the Message of religions was not linked with force and violence, but it depended on the means of persuasion, contrary to what is dominating in the world, nowadays. Actually, the language of violence and power is dominant. Is this considered a reason that God’s ruling on earth can not be established unless Imam Al-Mahdi appears?

A- We say that the Prophet’s Message emerged from the innate faith of the human being, not from the external surrounding conditions. But this does not mean that we must not rely on power and strength. Convincing people to embrace the Message should rely on addressing the mind.

As to the change of the reality, it has its conditions. If calling to Allah reaches a point that necessitates a change in the status quo, these conditions might need power or peace; it all depends on the surrounding conditions.

Q- The Shiites of the 12 Imams believe that Imam Al-Mahdi, the twelfth Imam, is still alive, and that he is an extension of Prophet Muhammad. Why does not Imam Al-Mahdi interfere to amend the deviated Fatwas, Sunnis or Shiites, since his Message is considered a universal one, and not restricted to a certain sect? Does not his non-interference violate his religious duty that is to enjoin the good and forbid the evil?

A- I have previously stated that the Imam’s role is to change the world as a whole, at the end of time, while the role of the other eleven Imams was to call and to assert and correct the concepts. Those Imams left behind the foundations that we could depend on to amend what needs amendment. Therefore, there is no vacuum in this field; it is the people’s duty to reconsider these rulings or concepts and foundations. If they do not, they are held responsible.

The practical benefits of the Imam’s occultation

Q- It is believed that people could benefit from Imam Al-Mahdi during his occultation, like the benefit we get from the sun when it is covered with clouds. What is the practical benefit of the Imam’s occultation?

A- These similes, such as the sun that is covered with clouds, are not clear. However, we say that there must be wisdom behind this issue. It is only God who knows what it is. But we believe in it, without seeing it, just as we believe in God without seeing Him. Our truthful Prophet (p.) told us about Imam Al-Mahdi just as he told us about heaven and hell. Faith is an indivisible whole entity.

The time of Imam Al-Mahdi’s appearance

Q- Some believe that our present time is the time of the appearance of Imam Al-Mahdi. Can we believe in this?

A- God says: “Surely they think it to be far off. And We see it nigh.” (70:6-7).
As we have asserted many times, this is not our responsibility. God, Whose wisdom has been embodied in occultation, would also show it in his appearance. Our responsibility lies in how to prepare the circumstances to his appearance. Do not we say”Oh God we ask You to provide us with an honorable state which dignifies Islam and its people and humiliates hypocrisy and its people, and make us among the callers for Your obedience”? How can this be achieved without exerting efforts to study, read, and educate ourselves? How can we become callers to Allah, without being fully equipped and qualified to call to Him? How can we wait for Imam Al-Mahdi, and we do not call on either our wives or children for God’s obedience? How do we wait for him and we do not possess the social, religious, and movement education to the call to Allah?

We also call for God to make us: “the leaders to Your course”. To make ourselves promising leaders, we have to develop the elements of leadership in ourselves, “and to provide us with Thy grace in this life and in the after life.” Imam Al-Mahdi will appear to fill the earth with justice and fairness, after it had been filled with tyranny and injustice. We must follow the right path, the path of justice, since Imam Al-Mahdi is going to appear to establish universal justice. Who among us is thinking about justice in his home? Who is giving his wife her rights fairly? Or is the wife treating her husband fairly? Who is just with his children and his neighbors? Are we like those who repeat “long live justice”, while the members of their house are the most miserable people? Are we treating each other with justice, so that we could be paving the road for Imam Al-Mahdi’s appearance along with the justice he will establish?

The signs of appearance of Imam Al-Mahdi

Q- What are the signs of the appearance of Imam Al-Mahdi?
A- This is not our responsibility, because both his occultation and his appearance are God’s secrets. This is God’s will and our role is only to prepare some Islamic locations, and to prepare ourselves so that we could be his soldiers and the leaders to his course. How many celebrations have we made so far, but have we celebrated the occasion of preparing ourselves to become leaders and callers to Allah? Do we want Imam Al-Mahdi to appear, while we are preoccupied with ourselves and not with him or Islam? I will tell you a story I have heard: You know Assahlah Mosque that is located between Al-Kufa and An Najaf! It includes holy shrines for the Prophets (p.) and for Imam Al-Mahdi. It is spread among people – we do not know the source of these stories – that if people go to this Mosque for forty Wednesdays consecutively, and read prayers and supplications, they could see Imam Al-Mahdi. So, one of those people completed his supplications for forty Wednesdays consecutively. Eventually, he saw Imam Al-Mahdi who told him: “You have to leave your wife because, she is your sister by breastfeeding; and you have to leave your house because its land is an endowment for the orphans; and you have to leave your money because it is illegal.” Then, the man left the place shouting: “There is a thief in the house, take him out!”

This might be the stance of many people when Imam Al-Mahdi appears. When Imam Al-Hussein, Al-Mahdi’s grandfather, launched his campaign against injustice, he said: “People are certainly the slaves of this world. The religion is only a slaver on their tongues. They turn it wherever their livelihood demands. If they are examined by misfortunes, the religious will be very little”. Who knows when Imam Al-Mahdi appears?! We might be preoccupied with gossips and with mistreating each other, so we would be the supporters of his enemies, and not his own supporters, similar to those who were supporting Imam Al-Hussein in their hearts, while their swords were directed against him. May Allah save us.

Supporting Imam Al-Mahdi

Q- How can the person support Imam Al-Mahdi spiritually and physically?
A- There are two ways, direct and indirect. As to the direct way, it is achieved by following and supporting the religious path, which Imam Al-Mahdi has taken. He is the Imam of the Muslims, like his fathers, and he does not have any other special role in this respect. His role is to enable Islam to gain the upper hand and establish universal justice on the bases of Islam. If we want to support Imam Al-Mahdi, we must call for Islam. We must not be satisfied with supplications, such as reading Alnudbah, but rather we must educate ourselves and our people on Islam and face the challenges that are directed against Islam and the Muslims. We must face the tyrants and the arrogant powers who impose themselves on Muslims in economy, politics, and security.

As to the indirect way, it is done by preparing ourselves; each according to his religious responsibility. This does not mean that during his occultation, we are free from our responsibility and that we can sit, , drink tea, or go to Assahlah Mosque for forty consecutive Wednesdays to make our wishes. Allah has made us all responsible for something, and we have to carry out our responsibility fully and then we can wait for the appearance of Imam Al-Mahdi, as came in the following verse: “Those who deliver the messages of Allah and fear Him, and do not fear any one but Allah; and Allah is sufficient to take account.” (33:39).

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