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Chapter 20 : IMAM AL-MAHDI

The birth of a Imam or Leader from the progeny of Prophet Muhammad (pbh), who would bring justice to the world had been foretold by the Prophet (pbh) himself and all preceding Imams and recorded in the books of Hadith or tradition such as as-Sahih of Abu Dawood, as-Sunan of Ibn Majah and al-Kafi of Ash-Shaykh al-Kulayni. While the Sunni Muslims believe that the Mahdi is yet to be born, the Shi’ah Muslims maintain that he is Muhammad ibn al-Hasan, son of the 11th Imam. (Sunni sources about the Mahdi: Abu Dawood, Sahih Vol. 5/ 207, Vol. 2; Ibn Majah, Sahih Vol. 2, Ibn Hajar, al-Sawa’iq al-Muharriqah; Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad Vol. 3, Yanabi’al-Mawadda Vol. 2)

Al-Mahdi, meaning The Guided One and also known as Al-Qa’im, The One Who Will Rise was born of a Byzantine woman named Nargis, in Samarra’, Iraq, on the night of the 15th Sha’ban 255 AH / 869 CE and was brought up in secret under his father, the Eleventh Imam, Hasan al-Askari’s tutelage. It was well known even before his birth that this 12th Imam would be in ghayba or Occultation which consist of two parts: a) Ghaybat-i Sughra or Minor Occultation which is shorter of the two and begins at his birth continuing until the end of the period of direct representation or Sifara between him and the Muslims; b) Ghaybatu'l-Kubra or Major Occultation from the end of the Imam’s representatives or Sufara till the Imam’s reappearance at the end of time.

When his father died in 260 AH, Imam Muhammad Al-Mahdi was just five years old and had been seen by only very close

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associates of his father. As the 12th Imam, Imam Mahdi then maintained contact with his followers during the Ghaybat-i Sughra, which extended until the year 329 H / 940 CE only through a succession of four deputies or na’ib and lived an invisible existence as far as the public was concerned. The first of the deputies was ‘Uthman Sa’id al-‘Amri, one of the companions of his father and grandfather. After ‘Uthman, his son Muhammad was appointed the deputy followed by Abu ‘l-Qasim al-Husayn ibn Ruh an-Nawbakhti and finally ‘Ali ibn Muhammad as-Samuri. Through these deputies, the Imam would answer the demands and questions of the people.

In 329 AH / 939 CE, predicting the death of the deputy ‘Ali ibn Muhammad as-Samuri within six days, Imam Mahdi issued an order through ‘Ali ibn Muhammad himself that henceforth the special deputation of the Imam would end with the demise and Ghaybatu ‘l-kubra would begin. True enough, as-Samuri died six days later and the Muslims continue to await until this Modern Era, the re-appearance of Imam Mahdi as they await the re-appearance of Jesus the son of Mary subsequently.

According to a hadith in Bihar al-Anwar Vol. 52, the sixth Imam was narrated to have said that "..The subject of occultation is among the divine secrets and a concealed matter whose knowledge is only with God. Since we regard God to be wise we must also affirm that His acts are based on that perfect wisdom, even when the detailed understanding is not accessible to us."

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While detailed understanding is still elusive, other traditions mention general benefits for the occultation. Among these: 1) A Hadith from Imam Musa Kazim stating;" When the fifth descendant of the seventh Imam disappears, watch out for your faith. God forbid, if someone may drive you away from your religion. O my son! undoubtedly, the Master of the Command will have such an occultation that a group of believers will turn away from religion. God will test the believers with the occultation (of their Imam).[Ibid., Vol. 52, p.113 ]

2) Imam Ali al-Rida said; "I see my followers in the aftermath of the death of my third descendant (Imam Hasan Askari) looking for their Imam everywhere and not finding him." I (the narrator of the Hadith) asked him the reason for that. He said: "Because their Imam will have entered the state of occultation." I went on to ask the reason for the occultation. He said: "This will be so that when he reappears he will have paid no allegiance to anyone." [Ibid., Vol. 51, p. 153]


Shi’i Islam theology always seeks precedence from the Holy Qur’an. In the matter of the occultation, the story of Prophet Khidir (pbh), recognized also by the Sunni Muslims as occult, is referred to while concerning the longevity of life, it is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an that Prophet Noah (pbh) live for 950 years.

In Kitab al-Irshad of Shaykh al-Mufid and Kashf al-Ghumma it is reported that Imam Sadiq relates : "When our Qa’im arises, he will call people anew to Islam, guiding them to the old thing from which people have turned away. He will be called Mahdi because he will guide people to the thing from which they have been separated. He will be called Qa’im because he will be commanded to establish the truth." Also from Kitab al-Irshad : (Imam al-Rida) said: ‘" What you stretch your necks for will not occur until you are able to discern and to be tested. Only a few of you will remain." Then he recited: "Alif Lam Mim. Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, We believe, and not be tried?" [Holy Qur’an Surah 29 Ayat 1 and 2] He said: " Among the signs of the relief is an event which will occur between the two mosques (of Mecca and Medina). So-and-so from the descendant of so-and-so will kill fifteen leaders of the Arabs." ‘

For further research see: http://www.al-islam/mahdi/nontl/chap-1.htm#three .



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