Shia Islam Doctrine: The Awaited Imam (AJ)

All Muslims believe in the prophecy that a reformer will come to usher in an age of global justice. This doctrine cannot be denied by anyone with an understanding of the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet (PBUH).

Shia Islam Doctrine: The Awaited Imam (AJ)

Muslim traditionists are unanimous in saying that the Prophet foretold the coming of a global reformer to fill the world with justice, put an end to hostilities and implement the true teachings of Islam on a worldwide scale. Through the advent of this awaited Imam, God fulfils Divine Promise to bring about justice in the world. To that effect, we highlight the following two verses of the Quran as the basis for this belief:

‘Allah (SWT) has promised those of you who have faith and do righteous deeds that God will surely make them successors in the earth, just as God made those who were before them successors, and God will surely establish for them their religion which He has approved for them, and that God will surely change their state to security after their fear, while they worship Me, not ascribing any partners to Me. And whoever is ungrateful after that – it is they who are the transgressors.’ (Q24:55)

‘Certainly We wrote in the Psalms, after the Torah: “Indeed My righteous servants shall inherit the earth.”’ (Q21:105)

Muslims believe that the appearance of this awaited Imam will prepare the way for the establishment of a global Islamic government and the restoration of the dignity of the Muslim world. The only point of difference between Muslims is that while the Shia Islam say the awaited Imam is the son of their Eleventh Imam, Al-Hassan Al-Askari (AS), born on the 15th of Shaban 255/869. According to the Shia Islam, the Imam (AS) was raised by his father for six years. During this time, Imam Hassan Al-Askari (AS) granted many people the honour of seeing his son and said that he would succeed him. The birth of Imam Mahdi (AJ) was discussed by Imam Al-Hādī (AS) and Abd Al-Azim Hassani.

Meanwhile, most Sunni scholars say the Awaited Imam will belong to the progeny of Fāṭima (a.s) but that he has not yet been born. Some Sunni Ahadith have identified the Imam’s (AS) father as Abd Allah. However, there are a minority of Sunni scholars who have acknowledged the Awaited Imam’s (AJ) birth. Some Sunni scholars have authored books about Imam Mahdi (AJ). Some of them are as follows:

Ṣifat Al-Mahdi, by Abu Naim Al-Isfahani

Al-Bayan fi Akhbar Sahib Al-Zaman, by Al-Kunji al-Shafii

Al-Burhan fi Alamat Mahdi Akhar Al-Zaman, by Mulla Ali Naqi

Al-Urf Al-Wardi fi Akhbar Al-Mahdi, by Jalal Al-Din Al-Suyuti

Al-Qawl Al-Mukhtaṣar fi Alamat Al-Mahdi Al-Muntaẓar, by Ibn Hajr

Aqd Al-Darar fi Akhbar Al-Imam Al-Muntaẓar, by Shaykh Jamal Al-Din Dimishqi

Shia scholars have authored more detailed books about Imam Mahdi (AJ), his birth and his Imamate. We mention only two of the most important ones here:

Muntakhab Al-Athar fi Akhbar Al-Imam Al-Thani Ashar, by Grand Ayatollah Lutf Allah Safi Gulpaygani.

Al-Mahdi Ind Ahl Al-Sunna, a collection of quotes from more than 40 Sunni scholars about the birth of Imam al-Mahdi printed in two volumes in Beirut.

No Sunni scholar has entirely rejected the traditions about Imam Mahdi (AJ) because they are so many and nobody can call their authenticity into question. Ibn Khaldun (d. 808/1406) is the only major figure to cast doubt on the issue of Imam al-Mahdi because of his lack of access to Islamic sources. A Moroccan scholar, Muhammad Siddiq Al-Maghribi, has written a book criticizing Ibn Khaldun’s views on the issue of the Mahdi.

In 1400/1979, extremist Wahhabis led by Juhayman Al-Utaybi staged an armed takeover of the Holy Sanctuary of Mecca. He and his armed men took control of the sanctuary and introduced a man with them as Imam Al-Mahdi, calling on worshippers to pay allegiance to him. The occupation and violence lasted for several days until the Saudi government intervened by sending military troops backed by artillery fire and tanks.

The insurgents were killed or arrested. In the aftermath of this takeover, Saudi preachers began to deny the existence of Imam Mahdi (AJ). Some media supported them in this regard, but some knowledgeable Saudi scholars of traditions insisted that belief in Imam Mahdi (AJ) was a pillar of Sunnism. They even wrote books on the topic, amongst which Bayn Yadayy Al-Saa is the best one.

In this book, we read: ‘The doctrine of the Mahdi is not only mentioned in one or two Ahadith, or in one or two narrations that can be easily ignored. These narrations have been referred to in different books. There are 80 of them and confirmed by hundreds of scholars.’

So why should we reject these narrations? Are they all unfounded? If that is true, one can easily call into question all the other Ahadith narrated from the Prophet (PBUH). I don’t see any disagreement about the advent of Imam Mahdi (AJ) or the world’s need for such a reformer. The difference between Muslims is only over one point: Namely is he already born or will he be born later on? To that effect, many people have claimed to the Mahdi, but their claims could not be taken seriously.

How can anyone reject the Ahadith pertaining to Imam al-Mahdi while some of them have been mentioned in the Sahih collections of Bukhari and Muslim? Muslim quotes Jabir b. Abd Allah as saying: ‘I heard the Prophet say: “A group of my community will wage jihad on the right path and will remain victorious until the Day of Judgment. Jesus son of Mary will descend and the leader of my community will ask him to lead the world and he will reply: ‘Some of you must lead some others and this is a characteristic of this community.’ (Muslim, Sahih, 1/59, Cairo edition).

Other traditions make clear that this event will occur after the appearance of Imam Mahdi (AJ) and that Jesus (AS) will accept the leadership of Imam Mahdi (AJ).

In another Hadith, the Prophet (PBUH) is quoted as saying: ‘What will your condition be when Jesus son of Mary descends and your Imam is amongst you?’ (Bukhari, Sahih, tradition no. 3449). This is another distinguishing feature of Imam al-Mahdi; a messenger of God accepts him as his leader!

A full discussion of the birth, occultation, longevity and philosophy of Imam Mahdi (AJ) is beyond the scope of the present volume. However, many reliable books have been authored since the time of Shaykh Al-Saduq.

Source: Shia Islam: History and Doctrines, Ayatollah Jafar Subhani, Chapter 13

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