Imam Al-Mahdi and Concept of Messiah in Traditional Texts
By: Hussein Al-Rumaithi
One of the concepts that is shared by majority of beliefs and religions is the concept of Messiah or the savior that will come at the end of time and rescue humanity from tyranny and all the calamities they are going through. The Jewish Messiah who descends from a Davidic line, will come and rebuild the Jerusalem Temple and rescue the Jewish people. Christianity however differs when it comes to defining the concept of Messiah, as he is son of God (Jesus) who will return and fulfill his prophecies, after his original crucifixion and resurrection. The Islamic school however, presents one of the most thorough concepts and descriptions for the personality and characteristics of Messiah. In Islam, this person is named Al-Mahdi, and it is believed that he will return at the end of time to fulfill the promise of Allah, and spread justice and equality throughout universe and rescue all mankind.
According to Shi’a Islam, he is the twelfth and last of the holy infallibles after Prophet Mohammad, and he was born, and he is still alive and lives among people. The events prior to his birth are very similar to the events prior to Moses’s birth, as there were no signs of pregnancy evident on the mother of Moses, due to the fear from the Pharaoh who had ordered a massacre against all new born boy infants. He was five years old when his father, Imam Hassan Al-Askari was martyred while in exile in the city of Samara. His life and presence is divided into two major events, which are known as the Minor Occultation and the Major Occultation. Imam Mahdi’s minor occultation lasted for almost seven years, and during this time he communicated with Shi’a Muslims through ambassadors, who were chosen by him and they were known to be from the most pious and devoted Shi’a Muslims of that time. The four ambassadors are:
Imam Al-Mahdi’s Appearance Signs:
To notify the Shi’a about the approximate time of return of Imam Al-mahdi, the previous Imams and the Holy Prophet have narrated a set of signs, which are known as appearance signs. The occurrence of these signs is an indication that (Al-Faraj) relief is near, and the return of Imam Al-Mahdi is at the horizon, and Shi’a Muslims always look upon these signs and try to identify them as them happen, and they compare the signs with what the Imams and the prophet have narrated. However, there are numerous narrations about these signs and indications, and some of them make the issue a bit ambiguous rather than making it evident and clear. Nonetheless, there are few signs that are considered as definite and inevitable, and they have been narrated by numerous Imams and the Prophet and these narrations have a strong and authentic chain of narrators. The definite signs are:
Is Occultation Necessary?
The question, which might arise to the mind, is the purpose of Imam Al-Mahdi’s occultation. One might ask, if Imam Al-Mahdi intends to spread justice and equality on earth, and his return is described as relief and mercy to mankind, then why doesn’t he return faster? Why do people have to suffer, why did God made the humans wait this long? Why does he (Imam Al-Mahdi) have to live such a long time, while innocent people are being slaughtered in different places on this planet?
The question of WHY has always accepted if the intend is acknowledgment and comprehension, rather than presenting doubts and uncertainty. Shi’a Islam theology presents the creator (ALLAH) is the most Just entity, and the most merciful at the same time, and these two notions are not contradictory if absolute knowledge is accompanied with them. In the case of the creator (ALLAH), he is the most knowledgeable above all, and his mercy and justice will always be put in the right direction and place. Therefore, Allah has given the opportunity to all groups and religions and beliefs to present their alternatives and systems to the world, and see if their version is suitable for the world. Ever since the creation of this world, and different systems and ideologies have been applied in different parts of the world, and during some periods one or two universal systems and ideologies were dominant in the world. In addition, God has given all humans a equal opportunity and a tool, which is the mind and the ability to acquire logic and sense, and make choices. Therefore, all the events and calamities that we see taking place in this world, are caused by humans themselves, and God has no hand in these notions. The whole purpose of this life and universe is an examination for all creations throughout this life. However, God has given all the necessary tools and guidance for humans to make their choices accordingly, and be able to determine what’s in their benefit and what’s not.
Therefore, God has placed a successor to inherit this earth and spread justice and equality on it, and save humanity from all the calamities and oppression they have been going through. The presence and return of Imam Al-Mahdi is a mercy to mankind, and his return will be awaited not only by Muslims around the world, but by all humans on the face of this earth. The current systems and ideologies that are ruling this earth, and governing it, have failed miserably, and the numbers of people under poverty are increasing, the number of people being killed due to conflicts and corrupt systems are increasing, the numbers of radical groups are increasing. Basically, it has gotten to a point, where the line has been passed and the limit has been crossed.
False Claims and Misuses of Imam Al-Mahdi’s Occultation:
Unfortunately, just like any other phenomenon, ideology and reality, the occultation of Imam Al-Mahdi and his existence has been a tool to taking advantages and mid-leading people in different ways. There are numerous cases of individuals claiming to be Imam Al-Mahdi, and agents of Imam Al-Mahdi, and having direct communication with him. In Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, Egypt, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritania, Pakistan and many other places, there have been cases of groups following a person with such claims. The Masses tend to turn toward any glimpse of hope and relief, especially when they realize the hope they are turning toward, is against the governments and systems they are being ruled by. Therefore, these kinds of claims have been very successful, and large amounts of funds have been accumulated from them, and this is why until this day we witness the continuance of such phenomenon.
In addition, there have been states and governments, taking advantage of this notion and used the concept of Imam Al-Mahdi to acquire legitimacy and credibility. Majority of people are very sensitive when it comes to the issue of Imam Al-Mahdi and tend to be afraid of denying anything that has link to him. Therefore, using the Media, and concentrated propaganda will result in containment if the notion of Imam Al-Mahdi is used to legitimize policies and political conducts. For instance, some states have claimed they are preparing and paving the way for Imam Al-Mahdi’s return, and they policies and purpose is linked to this glorious goal. Therefore, by opposing this system or government, it means an individual is opposing the return of Imam Al-Mahdi, and he/she is a factor in postponement of his return, which is not in the benefit of humanity, and as a result that individual is against humanity. This kind of labeling can lead someone to his/her death row in some cases, since it has all the elements of legitimizing any actions taken against oppositions.
What Happens to the Rest of the World?
The other question that might arise is the fate of other nations and people outside the Middle East region, since Imam Al-Mahdi will return in this geographic region. According to the narration and traditions of the Holy Prophet and the infallible Imams of Shi’a Islam, many of the non-Muslims states will give allegiance to Imam Al-Mahdi when they see that Jesus has returned with him, and he is part of his army and is praying behind him. In addition, other narrations indicate that Jesus himself will take the responsibility of inviting many of his followers around the world to adhere to Imam Al-Mahdi and follow him, since he is the awaited savior of this world. Other narrations indicate that some states will sign peace treaties with the Imam, and co-exist with his presence and the new reality. It should be understood and acknowledge, there is no compulsion and coercion involved with the return of Imam Al-Mahdi, as there is no need for such a method, since he is considered mercy to mankind and not the other way around.
Imam Al-Mahdi will be the relief this world has been waiting for, and the issue of conversion and surrendering is not even feasible upon his return. He will bring out the hidden goods of this world, and his system would be so just and equal that people from all over the world would migrate to his lands and be part of his nation. His advancement in all fields will traverse all technologies and sciences, and under his rule poverty, suppression, oppression, tyranny, inequality, racism and instability would vanish and not exist anymore.
Meanwhile, What is Our Duty in the Current Time?
This would be another question that arises from knowing about Imam Al-Mahdi and the conditions after his return. One might argue, then why should we put our efforts to change things, and end the calamities and the misfortunes that the world and we in general are going through? Imam Al-Mahdi will fix everything upon his return, and all we shall do meanwhile is wait.
As said before, the ability to make choices is affiliated with the notion of elevation and advancement through life. We do not know the exact time of Imam Al-Mahdi’s return, and many people have been waiting for that moment for more than one thousand years. Therefore, the least thing we can do for ourselves and our surrounding is to improve our lives and conditions, and try to do our part in ending the misfortunes of this world. We might not be able to bring absolute justice to this world and help every single person in need, but as the Holy Quran says: saving one life is equivalent to saving the whole universe. Therefore, we should never stop elevating ourselves and helping the ones around us, and if we are successful and have the ability, we shall put our efforts to widen the diameter of good deeds and help the largest amount of people. Everyone in this world is responsible. Imam Ali says that humans are responsible for the environment, and society and any person who is in desperation. Therefore, we shall never lose hope and no matter how bad things seem to be, we must remember that evil would vanish one days, and what remains is relief and happiness.