Lives of the Twelve Imams From the Alhe Bait (AS)
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The Twelfth Imam:
Muhammad al-Mahdi (AS)
Title: al-Mahdi (also al-Hujat, al-Qaim)
Epithet: Abul Qasim
Father: Hasan bin All
Mother: Nargis Khatoon
Date of Birth: Sha'ban 15, 255 AH (July 29, 869 AD)
Place of Birth: Samarah
Ghaibat us-Sughra: Rabi-ul Awwal 8,260 AH
Ghaibat ul-Kubra: Shawwal 10, 238 AH
THE TIMES AND LIFE OF IMAM MUHAMMAD AL-MAHDI (as)
The Birth of Imam Mahdi(as):
The intention of the Abbasid caliphs was to prevent the conception and birth of the awaited Mahdi from the union of Imam Hasan Askari (as) with Nargis Khatoon. This was based on the several traditions circulating among the early days of Islam as well as the fact that he would be the last in the chain of the twelve representatives of the Prophet. Further, it was believed that with the coming of the Mahdi, the tyrants will run for refuge, and the oppressed would be liberated. As demonstrated by Allah in several places in the Qur'an, His divine Will can never be superseded. Nargis was able to conceal her state of gravidity, and when the birth occurred, none other than Hakeema, daughter of Imam Muhammad Taqi (as), attended it.
The child was kept effectively hidden from the searching eyes of the tyrants. Although the news had leaked out about the birth of a son to Imam Hasan Askari (as), no one could find clues to prove it. In fact, the Caliph ordered that the estate of the Imam be kept under trust for two years to see if any of the bond women of the Imam would file a claim for heir ship for her offspring. When he was satisfied that there was no apparent heir to the Imam, he gave up the search and closed the case. This is probably the reason why many historians deny the very existence of a son born to the eleventh Imam.
Only the most trusted devotees of Imam Hasan al-Askari (as) knew of the birth and occultation. Scholars and researchers of theology have obtained evidence of the existence of a "Mahdi" from sources such as the Qur'an, ahadith of the Prophet quoted through respected companions as well as quotes from Imams of the Ahle Bait.
THE OCCULTATION OF THE TWELFTH IMAM
There is evidence in the literature about the time and the types of the occultation of the Twelfth Imam including the controversies surrounding this subject. This occultation occurred in two phases as detailed below:
Ghaibat us-Sughra (The Lesser Occultation):
This was a period of seventy years between 260 AH and 329 AH. The Imam was not available to his followers in person, but carried out his mission of guidance through four of his most trusted emissaries. During this period, the actual personal contact with Mm was kept to an extremely limited number. However, the followers of Ahle Bait and his devotees kept constant communication with him for guidance. They wrote letters to him, and he sent back written replies to them.
Ghaibat al-Kubra (the Greater Occultation):
At his deathbed in 329 AH, the last emissary of the Imam read the contents of his last letter to him. In it he said that the Imam had ordained not to appoint any new emissary to follow him because the Imam was going into the period of his greater occultation. He said that the period of his greater occultation would be as long a period of time as Willed by Allah. From then on, there would cease to be any physical contact with him until the time Allah would ordain his re-appearance. Throughout the ages, there would be others making false claims to be the Awaited One, but beware of the falsehood, and seek the Truth that had already been revealed.
The Twelfth Imam (as) warned the believers to remain steadfast and not succumb to the false claims by others to be the Awaited Imam (as). He also warned that there would be considerable doubt among the misguided regarding the very belief of his occultation. The author considers this to be beyond the scope of this book to indulge in further discussion on the subject here because of its length as well as the attended controversies.
THE TRADITION OF WRITING LETTERS TO IMAM-E ZAMAN (as)
Up to the end of the lesser occultation, the followers and the devotees used to communicate with the Twelfth Imam (as) through his safer (emissary). However, from the time of the death of his last safir, the tradition of written communications with the Imam has continued to this day, and there are believers who testify that they still get replies from him in some unusual ways.
GUIDANCE FROM IMAM AL-MAHDI (as)
1. The Imam considers them his rightly guided brothers who fight in way of Allah and serve Islam.
2. The Imam remains in touch with his followers, but whatever he does has to be with Allah's permission.
3. The Imam keeps away from the tyrant and is near to his devotee.
4. The ills of the Ummah result from the hypocrites and those who profess only to lip service. They arc the ones who have forsaken the Kingdom of Allah, and abandoned the Path of Righteousness.
5 . The Imam keeps his watch over the Ummah, for if he did not do so, the tyranny would have overtaken it and wiped it out of existence.
6. Dissimulation is useful for self-preservation, but should not be a deterrent for the preservation and propagation of the Faith. 7. The rulers of Iraq would be the cause of faithlessness and limitation of the provisions of Allah.
8. Only with the grace of Allah, the tyranny would end in Iraq and bring peace and plenty to the believers.
9. The difficulties for performing Hajj would be eliminated, and the Imam would provide assistance and guidance for it.
10. It is incumbent on the believers to obey the ordinances of Islam to gain nearness and pleasure of the Imam.
Some of these ordinances are:
-performance of the ritual obligations,
-adherence to acts of the Faith,
-act to prevent defamation of the Faith,
-be truthful by word and action,
-not to evade one's commitment,
-not to sell one's conscience, and prevent a split in the unity,
-harm not one's benefactor, and
-always remember that we are accountable for all our deeds.
THE RETURN OF THE TWELFRH IMAM AL-MAHDI (as)
THE TRUE CLAIM:
From the early days of Islam, there had been in circulation, a popular belief that al-Mahdi (as) (the rightly guided Imam) will make his appearance, (a Second Coming), towards the end of the era of human life on earth and will fill the world with justice. Although there is no specific reference in al-Qur’an on the word Mahdi (guided), there are many references to "imam of guidance" who would lead the believers to their salvation. This belief is further authenticated with ahadith quoted from the Prophet. He is reported to have said, "If no more than one day remained (on earth), Allah would lengthen it until He sent a man of mine (my Ahle Bait) whose name will be like mine, and whose father's name will be like my father's name." There are numerous traditions that form the basis this belief. This Mahdi is to be identified as the Qaim al-Muhammad, the Tweylh Imam from the Ahle Bait. He is presently in his Ghaibat ul-Kubra and is the awaited one. He will make his appearance only when it is Willed by Allah.
It is quoted from the Sixth Imam (Ja'far as-Sadiq (as)) that the awaited Mahdi (as) will make his appearance in the holy mosque in Makkah on a Saturday between Rukn and Maqaam. This date will coincide with the tenth of Muharram. He will then move to Kufa and send his forces to other directions to spread the Truth. He will uphold justice and Islam would be the preferred religion of all human beings on earth. He will lead the Ummah toward the path of piety and purity.
As to when the Mahdi (as) will make his appearance, it is said that a tyrant called Dajal (one who does everything in contrariety) would be ruling the world with tyranny, terror and injustice. Isa (Jesus), the son of Mary, will also have made his appearance, and together with the Mahdi (as), the Dajal will be defeated and killed. The Mahdi will be the Imam of the congregation. Isa will pray behind the Mahdi.
THE PRETENDERS AND FALSE CLAIMANTS:
Muslim history is full of claimants who have called themselves the Mahdi in practically all Muslim lands from the west to the east. In al-maghrib (the Muslim west), the claimants took to military insurgences against decadent regimes, and against external (non-Muslim) colonial aggression. In this regard, the middle of the nineteenth century AD was a particularly stressful time for the Muslim Ummah. Several European countries were actively competing against each other in acquiring foreign lands as well as aggressive missionary efforts. Many Muslim countries had become their targets, which caused several brave, as well as painful episodes of history pertaining to this era. There was an uprising unsuccessful against the British in India (1847 AD), however there was no Mahdiist claim attached to this effort. An unsuccessful Mahdiist uprising took place in Somalia against the Italian and British encroachment. A Mahdiist claimant was executed in Egypt when he rose against the Turko-Egyptian regime who, for their own political survival, were flirting with the West and causing the Muslim Ummah to an unworthy exposure. Similar risings occurred in Tunisia (1860 AD), Morocco and West Africa against the French encroachments, but they also met their careers by execution.
A powerful and prolonged jihad was carried out by Sayyid al-Mahdi al-Sanusi in central Sahara against the Italians in the Libyan territory, and against the French in the Chad territory. He was the second head of the Sanusi tarika (1859-1902 AD). Although he never claimed to be the awaited Mahdi, people believed that he was. Ultimately, his son Sayyid ldris bin alMahdi was installed as the first king of independent Libya in 1951.
Some of the historical events cited below, manifest the same reaction of the Ummah towards pressure for survival, and looking for the awaited Mahdi for salvation. Most of these movements failed because they did not meet the criteria set forth in the ahadith quoted from the Prophet. Consequently their effects were short-lived. Only a few of them have survived to this day. It is beyond the scope of this book to name them all or to describe the circumstances in which they laid their claims. Some of these movements were considered heretic, and their followers were severely persecuted. The proponents of these movements founded new sects, and are described briefly here.
The Fatimid Dynasty, and of the Ismailia Sect
Ubaid Allah Muhammad, claiming to be from the chain of hidden Imams descending from Muhammad bin Ismail bin of Imam Ja'far as-Saadiq migrated from Yemen, and made his way to the far west in Morocco. There he declared himself to be the awaited Mahdi. He laid the foundations of the Fatimid dynasty initially in Morocco, but then moved to Egypt. He was the first Fatimid caliph (934-946 AD). There were a total of fourteen caliphs in this dynasty.
The Ismailia evolved their own theology, which is totally different from that of the mainstream Islarn, both from the Shiite and the Sunni point of view.
About fifty years before the final demise of the dynasty, Nizar was nominated by the Fatimid Caliph al-Mustansir as his successor. However, after the death of al-Mustansir, Nizar was ousted by the powerful vizier alAfdhal in favor of al-Musta'li. This led to a revolt by Nizar (I 043 AD) that was crushed, but led to serious consequences for the dynasty. Nizar teamed up with Hasan bin Sabah, who had founded the dreaded movement called Fida e’yyen (the assassins), with their head quarters in the Far East (Central Asia.) The progeny of Nizar did not give up their aims for the high post of the caliphate, but their rebellions were also unsuccessful.
At the end of the rule of al-Abid ( 1160-1171), the Fatimid rule ended, and with that the hopes of the Nizari princes. The present Agha Khan traces his direct lineage to Nizar, the ousted prince of the Fatimids, and continues to use the tide Prince (the political leader), as well as the Intam (the spiritual leader) of his adherents.
The Muwahids of Morocco
Muhammad bin Abdallah bin Tumart was a native of Sus, Morocco. He was born in the village of Ijilis, in the tribe of Hargha. As a yotmg man, he decided to learn religion, and journeyed to Baghdad for it. By the time he completed his studies, he had become an acknowledged master and a teacher. On his way back, he preached to the locals at each of his stops, and attracted followers. Abd al-Mu'min was one such'adherent, who later, played a key role on overthrowing the rule of al-Muravids and replacing it with the al-Muwahids.
Ibne Tumart proceeded westward to Fez where the Maliki fuqaha (jurists of the Malild School) resisted his teaching. They asked the governor for a debate with him, at which they lost. Threatened by his success, they prevailed on the governor and had him exiled from Fez. He moved on to the city of Marakah, but again met with resistance from the jurists in the court of the al-Muravid ruler. With a threat of death or fife imprisonment, he finally decided to migrate back to his home district of Sus, and settled among the Masmuda people in Timnal.
He taught religion to the people and grew strong as a leader. He then declared himself to be the awaited Mahdi, and launched his assault on the regime of the al-Muravids under the leadership of Abd al-Mu'min. Their first attempt was unsuccessful, with heavy loss of life, but Abd al-Mu'min escaped. After the death of Ibne Tumart (1130 AD), Abd al-Mu'min led successful raids and finally vanquished the al-Muravids.
The Mahdawi Sect:
Syed Muhanunad Mahdi (1443-1505 AD) of Jawnpur, India, proclaimed himself to be the awaited Mahdi, and attracted some adherents in Ahmadabad, Gujrat. He was forced to leave India, and found home in north western Afghanistan. Upon his death, he was buried there. His followers claimed that he could do miracles including the ability to heal the sick and raise the dead. They were actively persecuted by sultan Muzaffar II of Gujrat (1511-1526AD), and many were put to death. They continued to be pursued after by Aurangzeb when he was the governor of Ahmadabad (1645 AD). As a result, they began the practice of takiyya (dissimulation). The number of surviving adherents of this sect is uncertain. However, in India, they are found in small groups in Bombay, Deccan, and Utter Pradesh. In Pakistan, they are found in the province of Sindh where they are known as Zilais.
The Babi Sect:
The concept of 'the Bab', (the gateway) to knowledge of the Divine Truth (the Hidden Imam: al-Mahdi), was originated by Ahmad al-Ahsai in Iran. He claimed to be under special guidance from the Imam, and gathered followers. He then evolved a totally separate set of beliefs and ritual practices. He exalted the Twelve Imams and their role in creation beyond the claims of the mainstream Shiites, to the point of polytheism. His successor, Syed Karim Reshti (d. 1843 AD) claimed that the Hidden Imam was guiding him through his dreams. This deviant belief was regarded with suspicion by the ruling authorities. After the death of Syed Karim, his followers took another leader known as Mirza Ali Muhammad of Shiraz (1820-1850 AD). Mirza Ali Muhammad had become disenchanted with the fanaticism of the mullahs (clergy) and was already preaching his revolutionary ideas in public. He was thus perfectly suited to be the successor to Syed Karim.
By the year 1844 AD, a popular belief was circulating that the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam was imminent. Mirza Ali Muhammad claimed that he was the Bab and in 1848 AD, he declared himself to be the awaited Mahdi. Soon afterwards, he declared himself the revealer of a new religion, and laid down a totally new set of rules of belief and the practice of their faith. He further expanded his role into prophethood and beyond. He also predicted a "promised one" who would follow him and fulfill his teachings.
The authorities arrested him and sequestered him in the fortress of Maku in Azerbaijan. He was finally transferred to Tabriz where he was condemned and executed by bullets of a Christian firing squad.
The followers of the Bab are known as the Babi or the Ahle Bayan (the followers of Bayan, the writings of the Bab). After attempts by three Babis to assassinate Shah Nasir ud-Din, the king of Iran (I 852 AD), their sect was banned and actively persecuted as heretics. At that time, authorities also arrested and interned Mirza Husain Ali Nuri, a young convert to the Babi doctrine. His half brother Mirza Yaha, at age thirty years, was recognized by Babis as the successor to the Bab and called him Subhe Azal (the Eternal Dawn).
To escape persecutior4 Mirza Yahya left Iran and moved to Baghdad. He maintained the pure form of the teachings of his master. His followers are known as the Azali Babis. However, the Turkish government took him from Baghdad and detained him in Famagusta (Cyprus). Only a few members of this sect have survived.
The Bahai Sect:
Mirza Husain Ali Nuri (c. 1817-1892 AD) was -imprisoned in Tehran and later exiled. He came to settle in Baghdad in 1852 AD.In 1863 AD he declared that he was the man yuzhiruhu-Ilah, (the one whom Allah shall manifest) predicted by the Bab. Durmg the few months that followed, he modified the Babi faith to give it a more universal appeal, and thus laid the foundation of a new religion named after his epithet Baha Ullah (die Splendor of Allah). He was imprisoned initially in Adrianople in 1863 AD, and later moved to Acre in 1868 AD where he died in 1892 AD.
The followers of his doctrines are known as the Bahais and are spread throughout the world. Besides the Middle East, the Bahai doctrine has found acceptance in Europe and Americas.
The Ahmadiya Sect:
This was originated by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, district Gurdaspur, Punjab, British India, (1843-1908 AD). In the year 1900 AD, they got themselves registered with the Imperial Indian government as a separate modem Muslim Sect.
Reacting to the challenges of the West and zealous efforts of the Christian missionaries in British India, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad first declared himself to be a mujaddid (a renewer of the faith) in 1882 AD. Soon afterwards started claiming to be the awaited Mahdi as well as the promised Messiah (Second Coming of Jesus Christ). He even claimed to be the buniz (re-appearance) of Prophet Muhammad, and the avtar (die returning) of Lord Krishna of the Hindus. He claimed to receive Divine Revelations, and the ability to perform miracles. In 1889 AD, he announced that he had received orders from Allah to start accepting bayat (fealty) from his believers.
Not unexpectedly, there was uproar over these claims by the Christians, Muslims and Hindus of India. This led to fatwas (Muslim juristic decrees), debates, contests as well as a few law suites against these claims. However Mirza Ghulam Ahmad continued Ms office till his retirement due to old age. Thus, until his death in 1908 AD, his affairs were run by the Sadr Anjtunane Ahmadiya. He was succeeded by Khalifa Nur ud-Din.
After the partition of British India (1947 AD), many adherents of this sect migrated to Pakistan and built their headquarters in Rabwa. They have spread to many Muslim countries and elsewhere in the world by their active propaganda and missionary efforts.The sect split into two groups. The Qadiani faction considers Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as a Nabi (prophet) and the Lahori Party who consider him only as a mujaddid (the renewer of the faith).