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Shia's belief about Imam Al-Mahdi. Who is the awaited Imam?

By Dr. Taijani Samavi

He also became one of the topics misused by Ahl al-Sunnah to revile the Shi'ah. Some of them transgressed the limits by making of it a point of mockery and derision, as they negate, or say, believe it impossible for a human being to be alive and unseen for twelve centuries.

Some of the contemporary writers even dare to say: "The Shi'ah have fabricated and forged the idea of the occulted Imam who will verily deliver them, because of the much oppression and persecution they experienced from time immemorial to the present day. So they consoled themselves by the wish of the Awaited al-Mahdi, who will fill the earth with justice and equity and take their revenge from their enemies."

The topic of the Promised al-Mahdi has become the town-talk in the recent years after the culmination of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, with the Muslims, especially the educated youth starting everywhere, to inquire about the truth and authenticity of al-Mahdi .. whether is he factually there and has existence in the Islamic doctrines or just one of the compositions or forgeries of the Shi'ah?

Despite the books and researches compiled and written by the Shi'ah 'ulamā', long ago and recently  and despite the communications between many Sunnis and their brethren the Shi'ah through numerous conferences and discussions on miscellaneous doctrinal subjects, this topic remains so ambiguous to many of them, since they never used to hear the like of these episodes.

What is then the reality of the Promised al-Mahdi in the Islamic creeds?

The discussion about the topic is divided into two parts: the first relates to make a research on al-Mahdi through the Book (Qur'ān) and (Prophetic) Sunnah. The second focuses on his life (biography), occultation and reappearance.

Concerning the first research, it can be said that there is agreement between the Shi'ah and Sunnah on the fact that the Messenger of Allah (S) has foretold about him, informing his Companions that Allah, the Glorious and Exalted, shall verily make him to reappear at the end of Time (world, zamān). It is to be noticed that both the Shi'ah and Sunni 'ulamā' have reported many traditions about al-Mahdi ('a) in their authentic books (Sihāh) and Musnads.

I, in my turn, and as usual, to fulfill the commitment I undertook on myself in all the subjects discussed in this book, that not to infer (as a proof) but only through what is confirmed and sahih (correct, authentic) for Ahl al-Sunnah and the Shi'ah.

In Sunan Abi Dāwud, it is reported that the Messenger of Allah (S) said:

"If there remained but a single day of the (end of) Time, Allah would prolong that day till He sends a man of my progeny, whose name is like mine, and whose father's name is my father's, who will fill the earth with justice and equity as it had been filled with oppression and tyranny."

In Sunan Ibn Mājah, [ Sunan Ibn Mājah, Vol. II, hadiths Nos. 4082 & 4087.] the following tradition is reported. The Messenger of Allah (S) said:

"We are the Ahl al-Bayt for whom Allah has chosen the hereafter to this world. My Ahl al-Bayt will face after me difficulties, hardships and persecution in the lands, until a people will come from the east (mashriq) bearers of black banners. They will demand the right but it will be denied. So, they will fight and will emerge victorious. They will be given what they demanded, but will not accept it till they give it (the right to rule) to a man from my Ahl al-Bayt, who would fill it (the earth) with justice as it was filled with oppression."

In his Sunan, Ibn Mājah said: The Messenger of Allah (may God's peace and benediction be upon him and his Progeny) said:

"Al-Mahdi is from us, the Ahl al-Bayt. Al-Mahdi is among the children of Fātimah."

He said:

"Al-Mahdi will verily rule my Ummah, for seven years if it (his rule) be short, or otherwise it be nine years. During this period my Ummah will live in an unprecedented bounty, giving its fruit, saying nothing of it. Fortunes will be, in that period, accumulated. A man would rise and say: O Mahdi, give me. He will say: Take."

[ Sunan Ibn Mājah, Vol. II, hadith No. 4086.]

In Sahih al-Tirmidhi, [Al-Tirmidhi in al-Jāmi' al-sahih, Vol. IX, pp. 74-754.] it is reported that the Messenger of Allah (S) said:

"A man of my Ahl al-Bayt whose name is like mine, will verily rule (the world). And if there remained but a single day of the (end of) time, Allah would prolong that day till he assumes the rule.”

Further the Messenger of Allah (S) is reported to have said:

"The world shall never end till the Arabs will verily be ruled by a man of my Ahl al-Bayt, whose name is like mine."

In his Sahih [Sahih al-Bukhāri, Vol. IV, p. 143, "bāb nuzul `Isā ibn Maryam".] al-'Imām al-Bukhāri is reported to have said: Ibn Bukayr, told us saying we are told by al-Layth, from Ibn Shahab, from Nafi' the mawlā of Abu Qatādah al-'Ansari, that Abu Hurayrah said: The Messenger of Allah ( upon whom be God's peace and benediction) said:

"What would be your condition when the son of Mary (Jesus) is raised down among you, and your leader (Imam) be of you."

The author of Ghāyat al-ma'mul says: “It is commonly known among the old and contemporary 'ulamā', that at the end of Time, a man of Ahl al-Bayt called al-Mahdi should appear. The ahādith (traditions) about al-Mahdi reached us through a group of pious Sahābah and chains of reliable traditionists like: Abu Dāwud, al-Tirmidhi, Ibn Mājah, al-Tabarani, Abu Ya'lā, al-Bazzaz, al-'Imām Ahmad ibn Hanbal, and al-Hākim (may God be pleased with them all). And mistaken is whoever has weakened all the traditions about al-Mahdi.

Al-Hāfiz, in Fath al-Bāri, says: “There are many authentic traditions (mutawātir) confirming that al-Mahdi is of this Ummah, and that Jesus the son of Mary will reappear and perform his prayers behind him”.[Fath al-Bāri, Vol. V, p. 362]

In al-Sawā'iq al-muhriqah, Ibn Hajar al-Haythami said: “The ahādith containing references to the reappearance of al-Mahdi are so many and mutawātir (authentic)." [Ibn Hajar, al-Sawā'iq al-muhriqah, Vol. II, p. 211.]

Al-Shawkāni, in his risālah (treatise) called: al-Tawdih fi tawātur mā jā'a fi al-muntaZar wa al-dajjāl wa al-Messiah, after citing the traditions about al-Mahdi, says: "Whatever we cited, that reaching the extent of tawātur, as is not covered or unknown for that who has honour of cognizance."

In al-Lumu'āt, al-Shaykh 'Abd al-Haqq says: "The ahādith reaching the extent of tawātur (authentic chains) unanimously confirm that al-Mahdi is of Ahl al-Bayt and son of Fātimah." [Hāshiyat Sahih al-Tirmidhi, Vol. II, p. 46.]

Also al-Sabbān, in his book Is'āf al-rāghibin, says: "Many authentic (mutawātir) akhbār reported from the Messenger of Allah (may God's peace and benedictions be upon him and his Progeny) confirming his (al-Mahdi's) reappearance, and his being of Ahl al-Bayt, and that he will fill the earth with equity and justice." [Is'āf al-rāghibin, Vol. II, p. 140.]

In his book Sabā'ik al-dhahab, al-Suwaydi is reported to have said: "That upon which all the 'ulamā' have concurred is al-Mahdi's being the one who is to rise (al-qā'im) at the end of the Time (al-zamān), and that he will fill the earth with justice. The ahādith that confirm his reappearance are so many." [Sabā'ik al-dhahab, p. 78.]

Ibn Khaldun, in his Muqaddimah, also says: "Know that what is widely known among Ahl al-'Islām ('ulamā' and people) throughout course of time, is that at the end of the Time a man of Ahl al-Bayt should appear, who would support the Din, and establish justice. He is called al-Mahdi." [Muqaddimat Ibn Khaldun, p. 367.]

Moreover, many traditions about al-Mahdi are reported by contemporary 'ulamā', such as the Mufti of al-'Ikhwān al-Muslimun al-Sayyid Sābiq in his book al-'Aqā'id al-'Islāmiyyah, deeming the idea of al-Mahdi to be among the Islamic doctrines ('aqā'id) in which all should believe.

With their multiplicity, the ahādith about al-Mahdi are reported and cited in the Shi'ah books, to the extent it is said that the ahādith reported from the Messenger of Allah (S) about al-Mahdi exceed in number all his ahādith about other subjects.

Further, the researcher Lutf Allāh al-Sāfi, in his encyclopedia Muntakhab al-'athar, reported many traditions about al-Mahdi from more than sixty sources of Ahl al-Sunnah books, including al-Sihāh al-Sittah (the Six Sahihs), and more than ninety references of the Shi'ah books, including al-Kutub al-'Arba'ah.

In regard of the second subject, which deals with the birth, life, occultation of al-Mahdi and his being alive. This part also was never negated by some of the reliable Sunni 'ulamā', who believe al-Mahdi to be Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-'Askari, the Twelfth Imam of Ahl al-Bayt. And that he was born, and is still alive, and will reappear at the end of the Time to fill the earth with equity and justice, and through him Allah will surely make His Din victorious. In this respect they agree with the beliefs held by the Imāmiyyah Shi'i. Hereunder some of those 'ulamā':

1. Muhyi al-Din ibn al-'Arabi, in al-Futuhāt al-Makkiyyah.

2. Sibt ibn al-Jawzi, in his book Tadhkirat al-khawāss.

3. 'Abd al-Wahhāb al-Shirāni, in 'Aqā'id al-'akābir.

4. Ibn al-Khashshāb in Tawarikh mawalid al-'A'immah wa wafayātihim.

5. Muhammad al-Bukhāri al-Hanafi, in Fasl al-khitāb.

6. Ahmad ibn Ibrāhim al-Balādhuri, in al-Hadith al-mutasalsil.

7. Ibn al-Sabbāgh al-Māliki, in al-Fusul al-Muhimmah.

8. Al-'Arif 'Abd al-Rahmān, in Mir'āt al-'asrār.

9. Kamāl al-Din ibn Talhah, in Matālib al-sa'ul fi manāqib Al al-Rasul.

10. Al-Qunduzi al-Hanafi, in Yanābi' al-mawaddah.

If any researcher pursues the matter, he will verily come across among Ahl al-Sunnah 'ulamā', in greater number than those we referred to, who believe in the birth of al-Mahdi and that he is still alive till Allah the Most High makes him to reappear.

Then we are left with only those among Ahl al-Sunnah who deny his birth and his being alive, though admitting the veracity of the ahādith about him (al-Mahdi). But they can never be considered hujjah (authority) over the others believing in such issue.

Such assumption is not denied by the Holy Qur'ān, in which Allah coined many a similitude about this for those having inactive minds, so as to be liberated from the fetters and to give the reins to their thoughts and intellects to be certain and submit that Allah, Subhanah, is Able to do all things.

So the Muslim, whose heart is filled with faith, can never be astonished when hearing that Allah has caused 'Uzayr (Ezra) to die for a hundred years, then brought him back to life. There at he would look at his food and drink which have not rotted,and to his ass how would Allah assemble its bones and then clothe them with flesh, rendering it to its former condition after its bones have rotted away. And when the matter became clear unto him, he said: I know now that Allah is Able to do all things. Glorified is Allah! How soon he changes his mind. As before the event, he wondered and thought it to be impossible when passing by a township, which had fallen into utter ruin, exclaiming: How shall Allah (ever) bring this (township) to life (again), after its death?

The Muslim believing in the Qur'ān never finds strange the story of our master Abraham, when he made the bird into parts, placing each of them on the hills, calling them then, when they would come to him in haste.

And any Muslim would never find strange the fire's being cool, and never burning or harming our lord Abraham, as when he be thrown into it, Allah said to it: O fire, be coolness and peace (for Abraham).

The (true) Muslim also would never find strange that our prophet Jesus was born without the male's sperm-drop (nutfah), i.e. with no father, and that he is still alive, not dead, and will be restored to the earth.

Moreover, every Muslim would never find strange to see our master Jesus Christ raising the dead, healing that who was born blind, and the leper; and that the sea be split for our master Moses and the Children of Israel, so as they would walk through it without being moistened, and his staff be turned into a serpent, with his transforming the Nile water into blood.

The Muslim would also never find strange when knowing that our lord Solomon used to talk to the birds, and the jinn, and the ants, with his throne be carried and flown in the skies place to place, and the throne of Balqis be straightened within moments.

Even the Muslim would never find strange that Allah caused the fellows of the Cave to die for three hundred years, and more other nine (years), raising them again to life, when the grandson of the grandson became older than the grandfather's grandfather.

Further he would never find strange being told that our master al-Khidr (peace be upon him) is still alive, and never died, and that he met our lord Moses ('a).

He would never find strange too the fact that Iblis (upon whom be God's damnation) is not dead and still alive, and that he was created before Adam (peace be upon him). And also he is still joining the procession of mankind from the first day of his creation till the day of his perishness. However he is hidden with no one being ever able to see him, despite his hideous deeds and abominable acts, while he can see all the people.

Every Muslim has faith in all these things, never wondering or finding their occurrence to be strange, so why should he consider the existence of al-Mahdi unseen for some time — for a wisdom ordained by Allah the Glorious — to be strange or incredible.

It is to be noted that whatever is stated in the Qur'ān, which is extensively more than the instances we referred to, cannot be regarded ordinary or common things among people, besides being impossible to be done by them even if they combine together for the purpose.

But it is altogether the making of Allah, Whom nothing in the earth or heavens can escape or strive against. And it also should be trusted by all Muslims, as they have believed in whatever revealed in the Holy Qur'ān, without any exception or reservation.

And due to the fact that al-Mahdi is the Imam of the Shi'ah, who lived among them beside his forefathers, so they should be better aware of whatever is related to him and said about him, and the people of Mecca are better aware of its (mountain) passes.

Further, the Shi'ah revere and glorify their leaders, making for Ahl al-Bayt Imams special tombs, which they constructed and kept abide to make pilgrimage to, seeking blessings through them. Based on this, had the Twelfth Imam — al-Mahdi ('a) — deceased, there would have been a tomb (or shrine) known for all. Besides, it would have been feasible for them to claim the permissibility of raising him (to life) after death, the thing possible to come true, as is referred to by the Qur'ān, when taking into consideration their belief in the doctrine of raj'ah (restoration of life). Moreover, they even insist on the belief that al-Mahdi ('a) is alive and having provision, and his being unseen for a wisdom willed by Allah, the Glorious and the Exalted, that is only known by those who are firmly rooted in knowledge and their awliyā' (followers).

Anyhow it should be known that the disagreement between the Sunnah and Shi'ah regarding the case of al-Mahdi ('a) is not of essential nature, as they both believe in his reappearance at the end of the Time, and that Jesus ('a) will perform his prayers behind him. Further they both believe that he will fill the earth with equity and justice as it had been filled with oppression and tyranny, and the Muslims taking possession of the whole earth during his reign, with prevalence of welfare and prosperity that no poor shall be there.

The only point of controversy between them being that the Shi'ah believe that he is born, while the Sunnah hold that he is to be born (in future), with concurring both on his reappearance at the end of the Time.

So let the Sunnah and Shi'ah unite and be in agreement on truth word, and on bringing together the disintegrated Ummah with striving to eliminate any difference, and gathering it again.

Further, all of them should sincerely invoke Allah, with good intentions during their prayers, to hasten his reappearance in which lies the deliverance, and which entails victory for the Ummah of Muhammad (may Allah's peace and benediction be upon him and his Progeny).

Our last prayer is that all praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds, and benediction and peace be upon the most honourable of the prophets and apostles, our master and lord Muhammad and his good and pure Progeny.

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