And What Of The Mahdi
The Mahdi is not only an embodiment of the Islamic belief
but he is also the symbol of an aspiration cherished by mankind
irrespective of its divergent religious doctrines. He is also the
crystallization of an instructive inspiration through which all people,
regardless of their religious affiliations, have learned to await a day
when a heavenly mission, with all its implications, will achieve their
final goal and the tiring march of humanity across history will
culminate satisfactorily in peace and tranquillity. This consciousness
of the expected future has not been confined to those who believe in the
supernatural phenomena but has also been reflected in the ideologies and
cults which totally deny the existence of what is imperceptible. For
example, dialectical materialism which interprets history on the basis
of contradictions believes that a day will come when all contradictions
will disappear and complete peace and tranquillity will prevail. Thus we
find that this consciousness experienced throughout history is one of
the widest and the commonest psychological experience of humanity.
The religion, when it endorses this common
consciousness and stresses that in the long run this world will be
filled with justice and equity after having been filled with injustice
and oppression, gives it a factual value and converts it into a definite
belief in the future course of humanity. This belief is not merely a
source of consolation, but it is also a source of virtue and strength.
It is a source of virtue because the belief in the Mahdi means the total
elimination of injustice and oppression prevailing in the world. It is a
source of inexhaustible strength because it provides hope which enables
man to resist frustration, howsoever, hopeless and dismal the
circumstances may be. The belief in the appointed day proves that it is
possible for the forces of justice to face the world filled with
injustice and oppression, to prevail upon the forces of injustice and to
reconstruct the world order. After all prevalence of injustice,
howsoever dominant and extensive it may become, is an abnormal state and
must in the long run be eliminated. The prospect of its elimination
after reaching its climax, infuses a great hope in every persecuted
individual and every oppressed nation that it is still possible to
change the state of affairs.
Although the concept of the Mahdi is more wide spread
than the Muslim community, yet its detailed features, as determined by
Islam, meet more fully all the aspirations attached to it since the dawn
of history. They are in greater conformity with the feelings and
sentiments of the oppressed and the persecuted of all times. It is Islam
which has given a concrete shape to an abstract idea. It is no longer
necessary to look forward to an unknown saviour who may come into the
world at a distant future. The saviour is already here and we simply
have to look for the day when the circumstances are ripe for him to
appear and begin his great mission. The Mahdi is no longer an idea. He
is no longer a prophecy. We need not wait for his birth. He already
exists actually and we only wait for the inauguration of his role. He is
a specific entity living among us in his real human form and shares our
hopes and disappointments and our joys and griefs. He witnesses all the
acts of oppression and persecution which are perpetrated on the face of
the earth and, somehow or another, he himself is affected by them. He is
anxiously awaiting the moment when he will be able to extend his helping
hand to everyone whom any wrong has been done and be able to eradicate
injustice and oppression completely.
Although this Awaited Saviour is living among us,
waiting for the appointed moment for his advent, yet he is ordained not
to proclaim himself nor to disclose his identity.
It is evident that the concept of the Mahdi, with its
Islamic features, shortens the gap between the oppressed and the
expected saviour. It spans the bridge between them, howsoever long the
period of waiting may be.
When we are asked to believe that the Mahdi is a
particular person already living a normal life, we are also expected to
believe that the idea of absolute eradication of every kind of injustice
and oppression by the Mahdi has already been embodied in the person of
the Awaited Saviour who will reappear while he will be, as the tradition
says, 'owing no allegiance to any tyrant'. The belief in him means the
belief in eradication of all evils in a concrete form.
The tradition urges the believers in the Mahdi to keep
on waiting for him and to continue looking forward for solace. The idea
is to establish a close spiritual and intuitive link between the
believers, on the one hand, and the Mahdi and all that he stands for, on
the other. It is not possible to establish such a link without believing
that the Mahdi has already been born and is a living and a contemporary
Thus we find that the concept of the living Mahdi has
given a new impetus to the idea of an expected saviour. It has made it a
source of effective strength and consolation to every person suffering
from deprivation and injustice, a person who rejects all forms of
tyranny because he feels that his Leader, being a contemporary and a
living personality and not a future idea, shares his sufferings and
feels his misery.
Yet this concept, being beyond the imagination and
comprehension of a number of people, has led them to adopt a negative
attitude towards the very idea of the Mahdi.
Objections About The Mahdi
Some of the objections raised by them are mentioned
They object to the Mahdi being a contemporary of so
many successive generations during the past ten centuries and continuing
to live until he reappears on the scene. How is it possible for him,
they ask, to live such a long life without being affected by the natural
laws, according to which everyone has to pass through the stages of old
age and senility and eventually has to die at a time far earlier than
the supposed present age of the Mahdi. Such a long life is impossible
from a factual point of view.
(b) Suspension of laws
They also inquire as to why Allah is so keen to
suspend natural laws for the sake of this particular person and to
prolong his life so extraordinarily. Is humanity unable to produce any
other competent leader? Why is it not possible that the role of filling
the world with justice and equity be left to a leader who may be born on
the eve of the appointed day and grow like other people?
(c) Lack of training
They also say that if it is true that the Mahdi is the
name of a particular person who is the son of the eleventh Imam of the
Prophet's House, who was born in 255 A.H. and whose father died in 260
A.H. and who at the time of his father's death was a child of not more
than five years of age, then obviously this age was not sufficient for
his having been trained religiously and intellectually by his father.
They ask as to how then has he been prepared for his great role.
(d) His continued existence
They also say that even if it is presumed that the
existence of the Mahdi is theoretically possible, how can they believe
in his actual existence in the absence of any scientific or religious
proof? According to them, a few traditions of unknown authenticity
attributed to the holy Prophet cannot be considered to be enough for
such a belief.
(e) Delay in appearance
They also say that, if the leader is already prepared
for the performance of his great role, then what is the necessity of
waiting for hundreds of years. Could not the upheavals and the tragedies
so far witnessed by the world justify his appearance on the scene?
(f) His superhuman role
With reference to the Mahdi's role they ask as to how
it is possible for an individual, howsoever great he may be, to play
such a decisive role in the world, when it is known that no individual
by himself can make history nor can he give it an entirely new turn. It
is the prevailing circumstances which produce and direct historical
changes. The greatness of an individual lies only in his coming to the
fore-front, in the given circumstances, and in effecting a practical
change by selecting one of the multiple solutions.
(g) His modus operandi
They also ask what practical methods will be employed
by that individual to bring about the colossal change and to ensure the
final victory of the forces of justice over the mighty and dominating
forces of oppression and injustice, which now have the most destructive
weapons, scientific potentialities and political, social and military
power at their disposal.
These are the questions which are frequently asked in
this connection and repeated in one form or another. They are not always
motivated merely by intellectual curiosity. There are psychological
reasons also which stimulate them. There is a strong general feeling
that there is little chance of overthrowing the present world system,
which is too powerful and invincible. This feeling produces skepticism
and gives rise to queries. It leads to defeatism and an inferiority
complex. One begins to shudder at the very idea of a world-wide change
which may eliminate injustice and historical contradictions and usher in
a new system based on justice and equity. This mental frustration impels
one to doubt and reject every possibility of such a change by giving one
reason or another.
We now propose to take up the above-mentioned queries,
one by one, and deal with them briefly.
To The Objections
Is it possible for any human being to continue to live
for many centuries, as is presumed in the case of this Awaited Saviour
who has already lived for more than 1145 years? This long life is about
14 times the life of an ordinary man who passes through all stages of
life from infancy to old age.
The impossibility of such a long life is the
objection. Let us have a close look at the objection. The word
impossibility here (like any other truth) is relative. It has meaning
only in relation to some person, place and time. What is impossible for
one person need not be so for the others. Then what is impossible in one
place may be quite possible in another place. Again what is not possible
at one time may be quite possible at another. There is no dearth of
illustrations to prove how impossibility is a relative term.
In other words, the possibility of a thing may be of
three categories viz. factual possibility, scientific possibility and
logical possibility. To journey across the ocean, to reach the bottom of
the sea and to travel to the moon are practical possibilities. There are
people who have accomplished these tasks in one way or another.
By a scientific possibility we mean that there may be
certain things which may not be practicable in the present circumstances
but there exists no scientific reason to justify the denial of their
practicability in favourable circumstances and the scientific trends
indicate that they will be feasible sooner or later. For example, there
exists no scientific reason to deny the possibility of man's travelling
to Venus. Although, it has not been possible for anyone to go to that
planet so far, yet we know that there is only a difference of degree
between man's landing on the moon and his landing on Venus. It is only a
question of surmounting additional difficulties because of the greater
distance. Hence, it is scientifically possible to go to Venus, though
practically it is still impossible. In contrast, it is scientifically
impossible to go to the sun in the sense that science does not hope that
it will ever be possible to manufacture a protective shield against the
heat of the sun which is virtually a huge furnace blazing at the highest
imaginable degree of temperature.
By a logical possibility we mean that, on the basis of
self-evident laws, reason does not regard a thing impossible. For
example, it is logically impossible to divide three oranges into two
equal parts without cutting anyone of them. It is self-evident that,
three being an odd number, it is not divisible into two whole numbers.
Only an even number can be so divided and the same number cannot be both
odd and even simultaneously, because that will mean self-contradiction
which is impossible. But a man's entering into fire without being hurt
or going to the sun without being affected by its heat is not logically
impossible, for it is not self-contradictory to suppose that heat does
not pass. from a body having a higher temperature to a body having a
lower temperature. Only experience has proved that if two bodies are
mixed or put together, heat passes from a body having higher temperature
to a body having lower temperature, till the temperature of both the
bodies is at par.
Thus, we know that the scope of the logical
possibility is wider than that of the scientific possibility and the
scope of the scientific possibility is wider than that of the practical
There is no doubt that a person's remaining alive for
thousands of years is not logically impossible, for there is nothing
irrational or self-contradictory about it. Life itself does not imply
the sense of quick death.
Admittedly, such a long life is not as practical as
descending to the bottom of the sea or ascending to the moon.
Notwithstanding the present scientific facilities it has not so far been
possible to prolong human life to hundreds of years. Even those who have
all the modern facilities at their disposal and are the keenest to
continue to live cannot have more than the normal span of life.
As for the scientific possibility there exists nothing
to justify its denial from a theoretical point of view. In fact this
question is related to the physiological explanation of senility. The
question is, whether there exists a natural law according to which human
tissues and cells, after attaining the stage of full development,
automatically begin to stiffen and degenerate, till they cease
functioning at a particular moment or the senile degeneration is caused
by some external factors, such as microbes and poisons infiltrating into
the body through polluted food, unhealthy jobs or some other causes. It
is a question with which science is grappling at present and is
earnestly trying to find an answer to it. For the present there is more
than one scientific explanation of senility. Anyhow, if we accept the
view that senile degeneration is caused by external influences, it means
that if the tissues of the human body are secluded from these particular
influences it is theoretically possible to prolong life, to delay
senility and even to control it eventually.
The other view tends to suppose that living cells and
tissues are governed by a natural law according to which they carry
within themselves the seeds of their complete exhaustion. They, in their
natural course, pass through the stages of old age and senility and
eventually cease to function.
Even if we accept this view it does not mean that this
natural law is not flexible. In fact it is supposed to be a flexible
law, for we see in our ordinary life, and it has been confirmed by
scientific laboratory observations also, that senility is an untimely
physiological phenomenon in the sense that sometimes it appears early
and sometimes very late. It is a common experience which has also been
confirmed by the observations of the physicians, that many a man of
advanced age still possess a supple body and do not suffer from any old
age ailments. It is because of the flexibility of this natural law that
the scientists have already succeeded in prolonging the life of certain
animals, hundreds of times beyond their normal span of life by
artificially creating conditions conducive to the delay of senility.
They have falsified the law of natural senility by
acquiring brilliant successes and have made it clear scientifically that
to postpone senility or to provide opportunities and specified factors
therefore is possible and if present day science is not able to enforce
this programme in the case of phenomena like human beings it is on
account of the fact that more difficulties are involved in the matter
with regard to man as compared with other animals.
In a nutshell, it is logically and scientifically
possible to prolong life, though it is still practically impossible to
do so. Anyhow, science is endeavouring to make it practical also.
If we consider the question of the Mahdi's age in this
light there appears to be nothing strange or surprising about it, for it
has been proved that such a long life is logically and scientifically
possible and the scientists are working to turn its possibility into a
reality. All that appears to be surprising is that the Mahdi has
attained such a long life before the scientists have been able to turn
its theoretical possibility into a practical one. This phenomenon can be
compared to the discovery of a cure for cancer or brain haemorrhage
before science can make such a discovery.
If the question is how Islam, which planned the age of
the Awaited Saviour, could anticipate science in this field the answer
is simple. This is not the only field wherein Islam has anticipated
science. The Islamic Shari'ah as a whole anticipated the
scientific movement and the natural development of human thinking by
several centuries. Islam had already presented, for practical
application, the laws which science has taken hundreds of years to
discover. It has propounded doctrines, the wisdom of which has been
corroborated by science only recently. It disclosed such secrets of the
universe which none could think of at that time and the truth of which
was later confirmed by science. If we believe in this, then it is not
too much for Allah, the Exalted, to anticipate science in planning the
age of the Mahdi. We have talked of only those aspects of anticipation
which we can see directly. We can add other instances about which Qur'an
has told us.
Here we have talked of only those aspects of
anticipation by Islam vis-à-vis science which we can observe directly.
It is, however, possible for us to add some other instances of
anticipation about matters which it has not been possible for science to
comprehend so far. For example, Qur'an tells us that the holy Prophet
was carried one night from Masjid al-Haram (at Mecca) to Masjid al-Aqsa
(at Jerusalem). If we try to perceive the quality of this journey within
the framework of natural laws it points to the application of laws which
govern nature in this sense that science has not yet been able to
understand them and it will take it hundreds of years more to specify
their quality. The same Divine Knowledge, which granted the holy Prophet
this high speed long before science could consider it to be possible,
also granted long life to his last Divinely appointed successor, long
before it could be achieved by science.
(b) Suspension of laws
It is true, as far as common experience and the
experiments carried out so far by the scientists are concerned, this
long life granted by Allah to the Awaited Saviour appears to be very
unusual. But his role of revolutionizing the world order and rebuilding
the entire system on the basis of justice and truth is also so
extraordinary that neither are the people familiar with it nor has it
ever been experienced in history. So it should not be surprising if at
the preparatory stage also his role is preceded by some unusual and
extraordinary events, like his long life. Howsoever, unfamiliar these
events may be, they are not more unusual than the great role to be
performed by the Mahdi on the appointed day. If we can relish that role,
having no precedent throughout history, there is no reason why we should
not relish his long life unprecedented in our ordinary life.
We wonder if it is a mere chance that each of the only
two persons who undertook to purify the human civilization of all its
impurities and to reconstruct the world should have had a very long life
span, several times that of a usual one. One of them played his role in
the past. He was Noah, about whom the holy Qur'an has expressly said
that he lived among his people for 950 years. He reconstructed the world
after the Deluge. The other is to play his role in the future. He is the
Mahdi who has already lived among his people for more than a thousand
years and is destined to play his role on the appointed day and build
the world anew.
How is it then that we accept the longevity of Noah
who lived at least for about a thousand years and deny that of the Mahdi.
We have learnt that a long life is scientifically
possible but let us suppose that it is not so and the law of senility is
inexorable and cannot be defied either today or in future. Then what
does this mean? It means only this that to live for centuries, as is the
case with Noah and the Mahdi, is contrary to the natural laws
established by science through modern methods of experimentation and
In this case a long life may be accepted as a miracle
which suspends a natural law in particular circumstances to preserve the
life of a particular person entrusted with a celestial mission. This
miracle is not unique in its kind, nor is it alien to the Muslim belief
derived from the text of the Qur'an and the Sunnah.
The law of senility is not any the more relentless
than the law of the exchange of heat, according to which heat passes
from a body having a higher temperature to a body having a lower
temperature. This law was suspended to protect Abraham when he was
thrown into the burning fire, for this was the only way to preserve his
life. The holy Qur'an says: "We said: O fire, be coolness and
peace for Abraham". (Surah al-Anbia, 21:69). Accordingly, he
came out of the fire unscathed.
In many other cases also natural laws were suspended
to protect the prophets and other Divinely appointed people.
The sea was parted for Moses. It appeared to the
Romans that they had captured Jesus whereas they had not. Muhammad got
out of his house while it was surrounded by a mob of the tribe of
Quraish, waiting for an opportunity to assassinate him. Allah concealed
him, so that the Quraishites could not see him when he walked out
through their midst. In all these cases natural laws were suspended for
the protection of the people whose lives the Divine Wisdom wanted to
preserve. The law of senility too, can be bracketed with these cases of
From the above discussion we can arrive at a general
conclusion and say: Whenever it is necessary to preserve the life of one
of the chosen servants of Allah to enable him to accomplish his mission,
the Divine Grace intervenes to protect him and one of the natural laws
is suspended. On the contrary if the period of his appointment comes to
an end and the task entrusted to him by the Almighty is accomplished he
meets death in accordance with the natural laws related to life or is
In this connection we are usually confronted with the
How can a natural law be suspended and the compulsory
relationship existing between the various phenomena be severed?
Will such a suspension not be in contradiction with
science which has discovered that law determines the compulsory
relationship on the basis of experimentation and investigations?
Science itself has provided an answer to this
question. It has already given up the idea of compulsion in respect of
natural laws. It only says that these laws are discovered on the basis
of systematic observation and experiment. When it is observed that one
phenomenon invariably follows another, this invariability is treated as
a natural law. But science does not claim that there exists a binding
and compulsory relationship between any two phenomena, because
compulsion is a factor which cannot be proved by experiment and
scientific methods of investigation. Modern science confirms that a
natural law as defined by it, speaks only of an invariable association
between two phenomena and is not concerned with any compulsory
relationship between them.
Hence, if a miracle takes place and the natural
relationship between two phenomena breaks down it does not amount to the
breaking down of a compulsory relationship.
In fact, a miracle in its religious sense has become
more comprehensive in the light of modern scientific theory than it was
when the classical view of casual nexus prevailed. According to the old
theory it was presumed that the phenomena invariably associated with
each other must have an inevitable relationship between them and this
inevitability meant that their separation from each other was
inconceivable. According to modern scientific thinking, however, this
relationship has been transformed into a law of association or
Thus, a miracle need not come into clash with
inevitability any longer. It is only on exceptional state of the
invariability of association and succession.
We agree with the scientific view that modern
scientific methods cannot prove the existence of an inevitable
relationship between any two phenomena. Anyhow, we are of the view that
there must still be some explanation of the invariability of association
and succession. As it can be explained on the basis of the theory of
intrinsic inevitability, it can also be explained if we assume that it
is the Wisdom of the Organizer of the universe which requires a
particular phenomenon to be invariably related to some other phenomenon
and that in certain cases the same wisdom may require that there should
be an exception. Such exceptional cases are called miracles.
Now let us take up the question as to why Allah is so
keen to prolong the Mahdi's life that, even natural laws are suspended
for his sake. Is it not advisable to leave the leadership of the
appointed day to a person to be born in the future and brought up
according to the needs of that time? In other words, what is the
justification for this long occultation?
Most of the people who ask this question do not want
an answer simply based on belief. It is not enough to say that we
believe it to be so. What the interrogators really want is a social
explanation of the position in the light of the tangible requirements of
the great change expected to be brought about by the Mahdi.
Hence, we leave aside for the time being the
qualifications we believe the infallible Imams to have possessed and
take up instead the following question:
Is it likely, in the light of the past experience,
that such a long life of the leader-designate will contribute to his
success and will enable him to play his role better?
Our reply to this question is in the affirmative. Some
of the reasons are given below:
The proposed great revolutionary change requires that
its leader should possess a unique mental calibre. He should be
conscious of his own superiority and the insignificance of the knotty
system he has to overthrow. The more conscious he is of the
insignificance of the corrupt society he has to fight against, the more
prepared he will be psychologically to wage a war till victory is won.
It is evident that the size of his mental calibre
should be proportionate to the size of the proposed change and the size
of the social system required to be eliminated. The more extensive and
deep-seated this system is, the greater should be the psychological push
The mission being to revolutionize the world, full of
injustice and oppression, and to bring about a radical change in all its
cultural values and diverse systems, it is but natural that it should be
entrusted to a person whose mental calibre is higher than that of anyone
in the whole of the existing world and who may not have been born and
brought up under the influence of the society required to be demolished
and replaced by another culture of justice and righteousness. One
brought up under the shadow of a deep-seated and world-dominating
culture is naturally impressed and overawed by it, that being the only
culture which he has seen and by which he has been influenced from a
But the case should be different with a person who has
a long historical background, who has witnessed several great cultures
successively grow and decline, who has seen the big historical changes
with his own eyes and has not read about them in books, who has been a
contemporary of all the stages of the development of that culture which
happens to be the last chapter of the human history before the appointed
day and who has seen all its ups and downs. Such a person, who himself
has lived through all these stages very carefully and attentively, is
competent to look at the culture he has to grapple with in its
historical perspective and is not daunted by its magnitude. He does not
regard it as an unalterable destiny. His attitude to it will not be like
that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) to the French monarchy.
It is reported that Rousseau, in spite of being a
great champion of political revolution from an intellectual and a
philosophical point of view, shuddered at the very thought of there
being a France without a king, the reason being that he was born and
brought up and had always lived under the shadow of monarchy. But the
man having a long historical background and being fully aware of the
historical factors knows perfectly well how and when the prevailing
culture and the prevailing system came into being and developed. He
knows that the historical age of the cultures and systems, howsoever
long, is very limited.
Have you read the Surah al-Kahf (Chapter 18 of the
holy Qur'an) and have you gone through the story of the youths who
believed in Allah and were virtuous, but had to face an idolatrous
system which was dominant at that time and which ruthlessly crushed
every idea of Monotheism? They felt greatly distressed and lost all
hope. In utter despair they took refuge in a cave, for they were at
their wits' end and did not know what to do. They prayed to Allah to
resolve their difficulty. They thought that the then existing unjust
system would continue to prevail for ever and would liquidate all those
whose hearts throbbed for the truth. Do you know what Allah did? He sent
them to sleep in the cave for 309 years. Then He awakened them and sent
them back to the scene of life. By then the unjust regime, the power and
tyranny which had dazzled them, had completely collapsed and become a
part of past history. This arrangement was made to enable those young
men to see themselves the downfall of falsehood, the power and grandeur
which had overawed them. The people of the cave achieved moral uplift
and sublimation through this unique experience which extended their
lives for three hundred years. The same privilege will be enjoyed by the
Awaited Saviour through his long life which will enable him to see the
giant dwindling into a dwarf, a lofty tree shrinking to become a mere
seed leaf and a tornado turning into a mere whiff of the wind.
Furthermore, the experience gained through the direct
and close study of so many successive cultures will widen the mental
horizon of the person designated to lead the revolution and will prepare
him better for the accomplishment of his mission. He will have benefited
by the experience of others, knowing their strong and weak points, and
will be in a better position to assess social developments correctly in
their true historical context.
As the revolution to be brought about by the Awaited
Saviour is to be ideological and based on the message of Islam, the very
nature of his mission requires him to be close to the early Islamic
sources and to have a personality built independently of and detached
from the influences of the culture he is destined to fight. A person
born and brought up under the shadow of a particular culture cannot in
all probability, escape its effects totally, even if he leads a campaign
against it. To ensure that the leader-designate is not himself
influenced by the culture he is expected to change, his personality must
be built fully at a cultural stage closer in its general spirit to the
system he wants to establish.
(c) His training for the mission
Now we come to the third question as to how the
preparation of the Awaited Saviour for his mission was completed, as he
was only about five years old when his father, Imam Hasan al-Askari
died. This age is the time of early childhood and the child is not old
enough for the development of the personality of a leader. Then how did
his personality develop?
The answer is that several of his forefathers also
assumed the Imamate at an early age. Imam Muhammad ibn Ah al-Jawad
assumed it when he was only eight years old and Imam Ali ibn Muhammad
al-Hadi when he was only nine.
It should be observed that the phenomenon of the early
Imamate reached its zenith in the case of the Imam Mahdi. We call it a
phenomenon, because it assumed a tangible and practical form as in the
case of Imam Mahdi's forefathers. It was felt and experienced by the
Muslims coming into contact with the Imam concerned. Experience of the
people being the best proof of a phenomenon, we cannot be asked to give
a more tangible or a more convincing proof of it. The following points
will elucidate what we mean:
(i) The Imamate of an Imam belonging to the Holy House
was not a centre of hereditary power and influence, nor did it have the
backing of any ruling regime, as was the case with the Imamate of the
Fatimid caliphs and the caliphate of the Abbasid caliphs. The extensive
popular support and allegiance which the Imams enjoyed was due only to
their spiritual influence and the conviction of their followers that
they alone deserved the leadership of Islam on spiritual and
(ii) The popular bases supporting the Imamate had
existed since the early days of the Islamic era. They expanded further
during the time of the Imam Baqir and Imam Sadiq. The school set up by
them assumed the form of an extensive intellectual movement which
included among its ranks hundreds of legists, scholastic theologians,
exegetes and others learned in various fields of Islamic scholarship and
the humanities known at that time. Hasan ibn Ali Washsha, when visiting
the Masjid of Kufah, found there 900 scholars all repeating the
traditions narrated to them by Imam Ja'far ibn Muhammad al-Sadiq.
(iii) The qualifications which an Imam possessed, as
believed in by this school and the popular bases represented by it, were
very high. The Imam was judged by the standard of these qualifications
to find out whether he was really fit to be an Imam. They believed that
the Imam must be the most learned and wise man of his time.
(iv) The school and the popular bases had to make
great sacrifices for the sake of their belief in the Imamate which the
contemporary governments regarded as a hostile line, at least from the
ideological angle. This attitude led the then authorities to the
persecution of the followers of the Imams. Many people were killed. Many
others were thrown into dungeons. Hundreds died while in detention.
Their belief in the Imamate of the Prophet's House used to cost them
dear. The only attraction was their conviction of gaining the favour of
(v) The Imams, whose Imamate these popular bases
acknowledged, were not living like the kings in high towers isolated
from their followers. They never segregated themselves, except when
imprisoned, exiled or forcibly kept aloof by the ruling juntas. This we
know for certain on the authority of a large number of reporters who
have narrated the sayings 'and deeds of each of the first eleven Imams.
Similarly, we have a record of the correspondence exchanged between the
Imams and their contemporaries. The Imams used to make journeys to
various places and
appointed their deputies in different parts of the
Muslim world. Their supporters also, while visiting the holy places
during Hajj, made it a point to call on them at Madina. All this meant a
continuous contact between the Imams and their followers scattered all
over the Muslim world.
(vi) The contemporary caliphs always regarded the
Imams and their spiritual leadership as a threat to themselves and their
dynasty. For this reason, they did all they could to disrupt this
leadership and in pursuance of their nefarious ends, they resorted to
many mean and arbitrary actions. Occasionally their behaviour was too
harsh and despotic. The Imams themselves were continuously chased and
kept in detention. Such actions were painful and disgusting to all the
Muslims, especially to the supporters of the Imams.
These six points comprise historical facts. If we take
them into consideration, we can easily come to the conclusion that the
early Imamate was a real fact and not a fiction. It is certain that an
Imam who appeared on the scene at a very early age, who proclaimed
himself to be the spiritual and intellectual leader of the Muslims and
who was acknowledged to be so by a vast cross-section of the people must
have had great knowledge, competence and mastery over all branches of
theology. Otherwise, the popular bases could not be convinced of his
We have already said that these bases had continuous
contact with the Imams and were in a position to judge their
personalities. It is not conceivable that so many people should have
accepted a boy to be their Imam and should have made sacrifices for his
sake without ascertaining his real worth and assessing his competence.
Even if it is presumed that the people made no immediate efforts to
ascertain the position, still the truth could not remain unknown for
years in spite of the continuous contact between the child Imam and the
people. Had he been childish in his knowledge and thinking, he would
certainly have been exposed.
Even if it is supposed that the popular bases of the
Imamate could not discover the truth, it was easy for the government of
the day to expose the child, if he had been really childish in his
thinking and cultural attainments like all other children. It certainly
would have been in the interest of the government of the day to bring
him before his supporters and others to prove that he was not fit to be
an Imam and a spiritual and intellectual leader. It might have been
difficult to prove the incompetence of a man of 40 to 50, but it
would have been quite easy to prove the incompetence of an ordinary
child, howsoever intelligent he might have been. Evidently this would
have been much simpler and easier than the complex and risky policy of
suppression adopted by those in power at that time. The only explanation
for why the government kept quiet and did not play this card is that it
had realized that the early Imamate was a real phenomenon and not a
The fact is that the government did attempt to play
that card but did not succeed. History tells us of such attempts and
their failures, but it does not report any occasion on which the child
Imam vacillated or showed signs of such embarrassment as could shake the
confidence of the people believing in his early Imamate.
That is what we meant when we said that the early
Imamate was really a phenomenon and not a mere presumption. This
phenomenon has deep roots, for there exist parallel cases throughout the
history of the heavenly mission and Divine leadership. We cite just one
We commanded John; Zachariah's son, to follow the
guidance of the Lord with due steadfastness. To John We gave knowledge
and wisdom during his childhood', (Surah
After it has been proved that the early Imamate had
been a real phenomenon already existing in the life of the people of the
Prophet's House, no exception can be taken to the Imamate of the Mahdi
and his succession to his father while he was still a child.
(d) Reasons for his continued existence
Now we come to the fourth question. Even if it is
presumed that theoretically the existence of the Mahdi, with all its
implication including the long life, the early Imamate and the complete
occultation is possible, how can we believe that he actually exists, for
a mere possibility is not enough to prove that. As the concept of the
Mahdi is unusual and extraordinary, the existence of a few sayings of
the holy Prophet, which are enshrined in the books, is not enough to
prove that the existence of the Mahdi is a historical fact and not a
mere presumption which has seized the imagination of a large number of
people for certain psychological reasons.
The answer to this question is this that the concept
of the Mahdi as the Awaited Saviour who is to change the world for the
better has been mentioned in the traditions of the holy Prophet
generally and in the sayings of the Imams particularly. It has been
emphasized in so many passages that there is no reason to doubt it. The
number of the reports on this subject found in the books of our Sunni
brethren comes to 400, and the total
number of the reports found in both the Shi'ah and the Sunni sources
comes to more than 6,000. This is a
colossal figure, unparalleled in the case of most of those Islamic
issues which are not usually doubted by any Muslim.
As for the embodiment of this concept in the person of
the twelfth Imam, there exists enough justification to believe that.
This justification can be summarized in two arguments, one being Islamic
and the other scientific.
By the Islamic argument we prove the existence of the
Awaited Saviour and by the scientific argument we prove that the Mahdi
is not a mere myth but his existence is a fact proved by historical
As for the Islamic argument, it is represented by
hundreds of traditions which have come down from the holy Prophet and
the Imams of his House. They specify that the Mahdi will belong to the
Prophet's House, will~be descended from his daughter Fatimah-tuz-Zehra
and will be the descendant of Imam Husayn in the ninth generation. The
traditions also say that the total number of the caliphs will be twelve.
Thus, the traditions give a specific shape to the general idea of the
Mahdi and determine that he is none other than the twelfth Imam of the
Prophet's House. The number of these traditions is very large in spite
of the fact that the Imams were very reserved on this subject, for fear
of an attempt on the life of the Mahdi.
It is not only because of their number that we have to
accept these traditions, but there are also other indications of their
authenticity. According to the different versions of a tradition of the
holy Prophet, he has to be succeeded by twelve caliphs, by twelve Imams,
or by twelve commanders. The total number of reports about this saying
as counted by some writers exceeds 270 and they are found in the most
celebrated Shi'ah and Sunni books, such as Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim,
Sahih Tirmizy, Sunan Abu Dawud, Ahmad's Musnad and Hakim's Mustadrak. It
may be noted that Bukhari, who has quoted this tradition, was a
contemporary of Imam Muhammad bin Ali al-Jawad, Imam Ali bin Muhammad
al-Hadi and Imam Hasan al-Askari. This fact has great significance, for
it proves that the tradition was recorded before its contents could
materialize. Hence, it cannot be suspected that it is a possible
reflection on the actual number of the Imam, as believed by the Twelver
Shi 'ah to reinforce their belief in the twelve Imams. This is because
the spurious sayings attributed to the holy Prophet refer to the events
which take place earlier and the saying comes afterwards. Such sayings
do not precede the events nor are they recorded in the books of
So long as we possess material evidence of the fact
that the tradition was recorded before the number of the Imams was
actually completed we can safely say that it is not a reflection on an
accomplished fact. It is only an expression of a divine truth, expressed
by him who never spoke whimsically, and a prophecy which was
subsequently fulfilled by the actual number of the Imams beginning with
Imam Ali and ending with Imam Mahdi.
As for the scientific argument, we have to state that
it consists of the experience of a large number of people for a period
covering about seventy years. This period is known as that of minor
occultation. To elucidate the point we propose to explain minor
The minor occultation represents the first stage of
the Imamate of the Awaited Saviour who was destined to keep himself
physically absent from the public scene, from the very inception of his
Imamate, though he still continues to take an intelligent interest in
what happens around him. Had this occultation come suddenly it would
have been a great shock to his supporters, for they had been accustomed
to be always in contact with the Imam and to consult him on their
divergent problems. His sudden disappearance would have caused a big
vacuum which might have absorbed and even destroyed the whole
organisation, for his supporters would have felt that they had been cut
off from their spiritual and intellectual leadership. In order to
familiarize them with the idea of occultation and to. enable them to
adapt themselves to the new situation it was felt necessary that a
preparatory stage should precede the final occultation.
This stage was that of minor occultation during which
the Imam disappeared from the public scene, but maintained his contact
with his followers through certain representatives who formed a
connecting link between him and those who believed in his role as an
Imam. During this period four persons, whose piety and impeccability was
recognized by all, occupied the position of the vicegerents of the Imam.
They are as under:
- Uthman ibn Sa'id al-'Amravi
- Muhammad ibn Uthman 'Amravi
- Abu'l Qasim Husayn ibn Ruh Nawbakhti
- Abu'l Hasan Ali ibn Muhammad al-Simmari
These four persons performed the duties of his
vicegerent in the above order. As and when one of them died, another was
duly appointed by the Mahdi to succeed him.
The vicegerent was in contact with: the Shi'ah. He
carried their questions to the Imam and submitted their problems to him.
He also conveyed the Imam's replies to his followers. The replies used
to be mostly in writing and were occasionally verbal. The people who
missed the sight of the Imam, found consolation in correspondence and
indirect contact. All the letters received from the Imam during the
tenure of his four vicegerents, which lasted for about seventy years,
Were in the same hand-writing and in the same style and bore the same
Al-Simmari was the last vicegerent. He announced the
end of the stage of the minor occultation, the distinctive feature of
which was the appointment of the particular vicegerent. It was turned
into the major occultation after its object had been achieved and the
Shi 'ah had gradually adapted themselves to the absence of the Imam.
They had been immunized against the shock and the vacuum. Following the
major occultation, instead of being represented by a specially appointed
vicegerent, the Imam is now represented in a general way by the
qualified mujtahids (eminent legists, capable of arriving at an
independent decision on issues of religious law) having a keen insight
into both the spiritual and temporal affairs. Now, in the light of the
foregoing, it can easily be inferred that the existence of the Mahdi is
a. fact which was experienced by a larger number of the people. He was
represented by his vicegerents for seventy long years during. which they
dealt with so many people but no one observed any inconsistency in what
they said, nor discovered any signs of deception in their conduct. Is it
conceivable that a fraud could be continued for seventy years by four
persons, one after the other, without giving rise to the least
suspicion? These four persons had no special link with each other and no
collusion between them could be suspected. Their conduct was above
reproach. They gained the confidence of all and everyone believed in the
genuineness of their claim and the reality of their experience.
An old proverb says that truth will always come but.
Events of practical life also prove that a fraud has no chance to last
for such a long time in such a way. It is not possible to deal with so
many people fraudulently and at the same time to gain their confidence.
Thus we know that the minor occultation is tantamount
to a scientific experiment to prove the facts about the Awaited Saviour
including his birth, life and occultation and the general proclamation
of his major occultation, according to which be retired from the scene
of life and does not now disclose his identity to anyone.
(e) Reasons for his delay in appearance
Why did the Saviour not appear during all this period
when he had already prepared himself for the intended task? What
prevented him from reappearing on the scene of life during the period of
the minor occultation or immediately thereafter, instead of converting
it into the major occultation? At the time it was simpler and easier to
bring about the required change. He had a good opportunity at that time
to mobilize his forces and to start his work forcefully because he
already had contact with the people through the organization which
existed during the period of the minor occultation. Moreover, at that
time the ruling powers were not so powerful as they subsequently. became
as a result of the scientific and industrial development.
The successful execution of a revolutionary order
depends on certain pre-requisites and on the existence of a particular
atmosphere. Unless these conditions are fulfilled and that atmosphere is
created, it cannot achieve its object.
As regards the Divinely ordained shape of things it
has two aspects. As far as its missionary aspect is concerned it, being
Divinely ordained, does not depend on any congenial atmosphere, but, as
far as its operational side is concerned, its timing and success is
linked with the conducive circumstances.
The same was the reason why the pre-Islamic period of
five centuries had to elapse before the Last Divine Message came to
Prophet Muhammad, though the world had been in dire need of it since a
far earlier time. It was delayed only because its successful completion
was linked with certain suitable circumstances.
The conducive circumstances, which affect the
accomplishment of the change, include those which create a suitable
atmosphere for it and those which determine the right moment for the
beginning of the operation. For example, the revolution which was
successfully led by Lenin in Russia was linked with certain factors,
such as the out-break of the First World War and the decline of the
Czarist regime. In addition, there were some minor factors also. For
instance, Lenin's safe journey during which he secretly slipped into
Russia. If he had met with some accident which might have impeded his
entry into that country at that time, the revolution would possibly have
It has been the unalterable practice, decreed by
Allah, that the actual implementing of a Divine revolution is linked up
with such objective circumstances as create the right climate and
general atmosphere for its success. That is why there was a long gap of
a several hundred of years before the appearance of Islam during which
period no prophet was raised.
No doubt Allah is All-powerful. He can miraculously
remove in advance all difficulties and obstacles impeding a Divine
Mission. But He does not do so, because the tests, trials and
tribulations through which man gains perfection require that a Divine
revolution should come about in a natural and normal manner. This does
not mean that occasionally Allah does not intervene in arranging certain
details not related to the creation of the right atmosphere but which
tend to give an impetus to the revolution. The Divine help rendered by
Allah to his friends at critical junctures for the purpose of protecting
their mission was of this nature.
The fire set alight by Nimrud did no harm to Abraham;
the hand of the treacherous Jew who had drawn his sword to kill Muhammad
was paralysed and, a strong wind hit the camp of the infidels who had
besieged Madina during the Battle of the Ditch and demoralized them. In
all these cases help was rendered at a critical juncture, but only after
the right atmosphere for the desired change had already been created in
a natural manner.
On this basis, when we study the position of the Imam
Mahdi, we find that the revolutionary task which has been entrusted to
him like any other process of a social change is linked with certain
circumstances which will provide the right climate for its success.
Hence, it is natural that is should be timed accordingly. It is known
that the great task, for which Imam Mahdi has prepared himself, is not
of a limited nature nor is it confined to any particular region. His
mission in fact is to revolutionize the world order in its entirety. It
is to rescue mankind from the darkness of vice and to usher in an era of
light and guidance. For such a gigantic revolution the mere existence of
a task and a leader is not enough, otherwise it would have been
accomplished during the period of the holy Prophet himself. Such a
revolution requires specific climate and a general atmosphere conducive
to the fulfilment of all the prerequisites.
From man's viewpoint the frustration and
disillusionment of a man of culture may be considered to be the basic
factor in creating the right climate. This feeling stems from the
failure of diverse cultural experiments. Only then does a man of culture
feel that he is in need of help and turns to the unknown. From the
material angle the modern conditions of life may be regarded as more
suitable for the fulfilment of a mission on world level than the
conditions which prevailed at the time of occultation, for now the
distances have been shortened, the chances of contact between various
people of the world have been improved and better facilities for a
central organisation to enlighten mankind on the basis of the new
message have become available.
It is true, as pointed out in the question, that the
military power and the war equipment which the Awaited Leader would have
to face have enormously grown, but it is to be remembered that material
power is of no consequence when man is moralized and is determined to
fight against injustice.
Many a lofty civilization in history has collapsed at
the first touch of an invader, because it was already dilapidated and
lacked the power of resistance.
(f) His superhuman role
Now we come to another question of the above-mentioned
series. The question is whether a single individual, howsoever great he
may be, can accomplish such a great task, when it is known that a great
man is only he whom the circumstances bring forward to be in the
forefront of the events.
This question is based on a particular viewpoint about
history which explains historical developments on the basis that man is
only a secondary factor, whereas the main factor consists of the forces
which work around him. Man at the most can be described as an
intelligent interpreter of the inter-play of these forces.
It is evident that history has two poles, one of them
being man and the other the material forces around him. Just as the
material forces influence man like the conditions of production
similarly man also influences the material forces around him. There is
no justification for supposing that action always begins with matter and
ends at man. The opposite can also be as true. In history, man and
matter have always been interacting. If the interacting force of man is
celestial then his role in life will also assume the celestial hue. Then
it is the Divine force which directs the course of history.
This is a fact which is abundantly proved by the
history of the mission of the Prophets and especially by the life
history of the last Divine Messenger, for Muhammad (P) assumed the
control of the course of history and created a culture which could not
be created by the external circumstances around him.
Hence, what was possible to be accomplished by the greatest of the
Prophets can also be accomplished at the hands of the Awaited Saviour of
his Family - The Leader whose appearance has been predicted by the holy
Prophet and about whose great role he has already informed mankind.
(g) His modus operandi
Now we come to the last question which is about the
method which the Mahdi is likely to adopt to achieve his objective of
the final victory of justice and of the complete eradication of
A definite answer to this question depends not only on
the knowledge of the timing and the stage at which the Mahdi will
reappear but also on the possibility of imagining what particular
circumstances will be prevailing at that time. It is only in the light
of these circumstances that a picture of his possible strategy can be
drawn. So long as we do not know at what stage the Mahdi will reappear
and what will be the prevailing circumstances at that time, it is not
possible to make any prediction on scientific lines. Any presumptions
made in this connection will be based mostly on fiction and not on
facts. Anyhow, there is one basic presumption which can be accepted in
the light of the traditions and the historical experience of the great
This much can in any case be predicted safely that the
Awaited Saviour - will appear when the stage for his appearance is set,
neither earlier nor later. Let us be clear as to the meaning - of this
stage for his appearance. This stage means the conditions prevailing in
the world and in the human society. It means the decline in man's moral
life, when oppression and tyranny will be rampant and when mankind will
have fallen into the abyss of crime and immorality.
In addition, this stage for his appearance means that
the conditions then prevailing would create the necessary psychological
atmosphere for the reception of a saviour. Mankind would be dead tired
and fed up with the shape of things and would quite naturally look
forward to a saviour for its liberation. This will happen when
wickedness will reach its climax. There will be a great upheaval, a
great conflagration, that will send this universe to its doom. In the
darkness that will then prevail, there will dawn a new Sun in the form
of the Mahdi, spreading light and lustre. Having liberated mankind from
its misery and curse, the Mahdi will then bring about a transformation
of life in which justice, peace, virtue and righteousness will abound.
Thus will the Awaited Imam accomplish his mission.
Certain Islamic traditions speak of a government of
the virtuous which is to continue until the appearance of the Mahdi (May
Allah hasten his advent) and, as we know, some Shi'ah scholars who held
a high opinion about a certain number of their contemporary rulers have
hinted at the possibility of the continuance of their dynasties until
the appearance of the Mahdi.
On the whole, it is derived from the Qur'anic verses
and the Islamic traditions that the rising of the Mahdi will be the last
in the series of fights between the good and the evil which have
continued from the very inception of the world. It will be the Mahdi who
will give a concrete shape to the ideal of all the Prophets, the saints
and the fighters in the way of Allah.
During the period of the occultation it is our duty to
be expecting the Awaited Imam. We must devise a sound and judicious
system of social development based on the holy Qur'an and present it to
the world. We must prove the excellence and efficacy of Divine laws to
the people and attract their attention to the Divine system we must
fight superstitions and false beliefs and pave the way for the
establishment of Islamic world government. In the light of the teachings
of the holy Qur'an and traditions of the holy Prophet we must chalk out
a programme for solving the world problems and put it at the disposal of
world reformers. We must enlighten the thoughts of the people of the
world and at the same time, prepare ourselves to receive the Awaited
Imam and the emergence of a just world government.
 For thousands of years
man has been aspiring to delay death which is a predestined phenomenon.
During the past centuries the efforts of the alchemists to find out an
elixir of life ended in fiasco.
At the end of the nineteenth century scientific
advancement revived the hope for a long life and it is possible that in
the near future this sweet dream may turn into a reality. In this
connection the scientists have resorted in the first instance to
experiments on the animals.
For example, McKee, a distinguished expert of the
Cornell University and Alex Komfort of London University have conducted
experiments about the connection between food and senility. Alex Komfort
was able, in the course of his experiments, to increase the age of a
group of mice by fifty per cent. The results of the studies spread over
four years conducted by Richard Rothschild, another American expert,
regarding increase in the life of mice by the use of Methyl aminoethynol
were published in the spring of 1972.
This scientist and his associate Akeep arrived at the
conclusion that the use of Methyl aminoethynol during the period of the
experiment increased the life of the mice between 6 to 49 per cent. The
experiment conducted on the mosquitoes increased their life upto 300 per
 It is not possible to
ascertain directly that one phenomenon is the cause of the appearance of
another phenomenon (like the rising of the sun being the cause of the
earth becoming hot). We understand only this that one phenomenon (rising
of the sun) is continually followed by another viz. the surface of the
earth becoming hot.
It has also been observed that some events always
taking place in succession to others is not limited to a special
relationship of the phenomena but is a special feature of nature.
However, neither the relationship of one single cause with its effect
nor the generality of this relationship throughout nature is visible
automatically and does not form an essential part of our thinking.
 The number of Imam
Sadiq's pupils has been reported upto four thousand, some of the
well-known among them are: Abu Hanifah al-Nu'man b. Thabit, Abu Basir
Yahya b. al-Qasim, Aban b. Taghlab, Ali b. Yaqteen, Abu Ja'far alias
Mu'min al-Taq, Hisham b. Hakam, Harith b. Mughira, Hatim b. Isma'il,
Jabir b. Hayyan, Malik b. Anas, Mufazzal b. Umar al-Kufi, (For details
see: Al-Imam al-Sadiq wa'l mazahibul arba'ah, Asad Haydar, (Darul Kitab
 Al-Mahdi by
Ayatullah Sayyid Sadruddin Sadr.
 Muntakhab al-Athr
fi Imam al-Thani 'Ashr by Lutfullah Safi.
 Al-Fatawa al-Waziha
'by Ayatullah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr.
The idea of the final victory of the forces of
righteousness, peace and justice over those of evil, oppression and
tyranny, of the world-wide spread of the Islamic faith, the complete and
all-round establishment of high human values, the formation of a utopian
and an ideal society and lastly the accomplishment of this ideal at the
hands of a holy and eminent personality called, according to the Islamic
traditions, Mahdi is a belief which, of course with variations in
details, is shared by all the Muslim sects and schools of thought.
Basically this is a Qur'anic concept and it is the
holy Qur'an which in very clear terms, predicts:
1. The final victory of Islam.
It is He who has sent His messenger with the guidance
and the religion of truth to make it prevail over every other religion.
However much the disbelievers may dislike it.
(Surah al-Tawbah, 9:33 and Surah As-Saff, 61:9)
2. The absolute supremacy of the good and the pious.
Indeed We have written in the Psalms after the Torah
had been revealed: The righteous among My slaves shall inherit the
earth". (Surah al-Anbia. 21:105)
3. The final collapse of the oppressors and the
We willed to show favour to those who were persecuted
in the earth and to make them leaders and masters. It was also Our will
to give them power in the earth and to show Pharaoh, Haman and
their hosts to experience from their victims what they feared most.
(Surah al-Qasas, 28:5-6)
4. A bright and happy future for humanity.
Moses told his people to seek help from Allah and
exercise patience. The earth belongs to Him and He has made it the
heritage of whichever of His servants He chooses. The Final Victory is
for the pious. (Surah al-A'raf 7:128)
This idea is not an outcome of any wishful thinking,
but it emanates from the total working of the system of nature, the
evolutionary process of history, man's confidence in the future and the
total rejection by him of pessimism about the destiny of mankind, which
is extraordinarily bleak, according to certain theories.
Aspiring for the realization of this human ideal has, in
the Islamic traditions, been termed as 'Expectation of Solace'. Its
underlying idea is substantiated by the Islamic and Qur'anic principle
of the prohibition of despair of Allah's Mercy.
Those who believe in Allah's universal Kindness can
never lose hope, whatever be the circumstances, and can never submit to
despair and despondency. Anyhow, it must be borne in mind that the
principles of the expectation of solace and non-despair of Allah's Mercy
have no personal or group application. They simply refer to Allah's
general Benevolence and Kindness to the entire man kind. As for the
exact nature of solace, it is determined by certain other Islamic
traditions and prophecies.
Expectation of solace or cherishing of a hope for the
future is of two kinds. One is constructive and dynamic. It is an act of
virtue. The other is destructive and paralysing. It is a sin and should
be taken as a sort of licentiousness.
These two kinds of expectations are the direct result
of the two divergent notions of the appearance of the promised Mahdi
which in turn have emanated from two different approaches to historical
changes and revolutions. Hence, it would not be out of place here to
refer briefly to the subject of historical changes.
Let us examine whether the historical developments are
a chain of accidental occurrences or a sequence of natural events. In
nature there is nothing really accidental.
In other words, no phenomenon can come into existence
casually and without a case, though, relatively speaking, there are
incidents which may be regarded as taking place accidentally and just by
If, one morning, you leave your house and run into a
friend whom you had not seen for years and who is passing by your house
at that particular moment, such a meeting will be considered accidental.
Why? Because there exists no natural law that your leaving your house
will essentially be followed by such a meeting or else such a meeting
would have taken place everyday. How ever, it is also true that such a
meeting is an essential consequence of this particular departure at a
particular moment in specific circumstances.
When we see that no binding and invariable sequence
exists between a cause and its effect we call the resulting event an
accident. Accidental occurrences are not governed by any universal or
general rule, nor do they come within the purview of any scientific law,
for a scientific law is concerned only with an invariable sequence
between specific conditions and a specific phenomenon.
One may say that the historical developments are
nothing more than a series of accidental occurrences, not governed by
any universal or general rule. To support his view, he may argue that a
society is a mere collection of individuals. Everyone of them has his
own personal traits and individual character. Personal whims and
individual motives produce a set of incidents, which lead to a series of
accidental occurrences and it is these happenings which constitute a
But that is not the real story. According to another
point of view a society has its own personality, independent of the
individuals, and it acts as demanded by its own nature. The personality
of the society is not identical with that of the individuals. It comes
into being through the combination of individuals and their cultural
actions and reactions.
Thus, the society has its own nature, its own
character and its own rules. It acts according to its own genius and its
actions and reactions can be explained through a set of universal and
We have to admit that a society has its own
independent personality, because only then can we say that history has a
philosophy and is governed by norms And rules. It is only then that
history can be a subject worthy of deep study and a source for learning
On the contrary, if it is assumed that history has no
personality then only the life of the individuals can be studied and not
the collective life of nations and peoples. In that case the scope of
taking lessons and drawing morals will also become limited to the
individual's life. As mentioned above, there are two contrary notions of
history and historical developments, which, in fact, revolve around the
main question whether a society has a personality or not.
The Qur'an and history
The expectation of solace, which forms the subject of
the present study, is a question which is philosophical and social as
well as religious and Islamic. As mentioned earlier, it has a Qur'anic
basis. Hence, before an attempt is made to describe the nature of this
expectation, it will be in the fitness of things to throw some light on
the Qur'anic view regarding society and the ever-changing course of its
life i.e. history.
It is undeniable that the holy Qur'an looks at history
as a lesson, a precept, a source of knowledge and a subject worth
contemplation and deep thinking. Now the big question is whether the
Qur'an looks at history from an individual angle or a collective one;
whether it puts forth only the life of the individuals for persuading
others to emulate the example of the good and to abstain from the ways
of the wicked, or it has an eye only on the collective life, or at least
on the collective life too. In the latter case, is it possible to infer
from the Qur'an that the society, as distinct from the individuals, has
a personality, a life and even consciousness and feelings? Similarly, is
it possible to deduce that groups and nations are governed by definite
rules which are equally applicable to all of them?
Due to lack of space it is not possible here to
discuss these questions in detail, but it may be stated briefly that the
answer to all three questions is in the affirmative.
The holy Qur'an, while relating the stories of the
past for the purpose of reflection and instruction, puts forth the life
of the past nations as an admonishing material for the benefit of other
That nation is gone. They have reaped what they sowed,
and the same applies to you. You are not responsible for their deeds.
You are responsible for your deeds only".
(Surah al-Baqarah 2:134-141)
The holy Qur'an repeatedly refers to the subject of
the existence of the nations and their duration. For example,
Every nation can only live for an appointed time. When
its term ends, it will not remain (alive) even for a single hour, nor
will they die before the appointed time. (Surah
al A'raf 7:34 and Surah al-Nahl 16:61)
It emphatically refutes the idea that destiny can in
any way be affected by the blind forces of fate. It clearly states that
the destiny of nations is subject to and governed only by the firm and
consistent laws of nature. It says
Are they waiting for the punishment which has been the
lot of the earlier people. You will not find any change in Allah's way
(of dealing with such people). (Surah al Fatir
It also draws attention to a point which is of vital
importance. It points out that the people, by looking at their deeds and
behaviour, can find out for themselves whether a good or a bad destiny
awaits them, for the forces which determine the destiny are just a
sequence of reactions set in motion by their own deeds. In other words,
particular acts are always and invariably followed by particular
reactions. Thus, though the course of history is ordained by the Divine
Will, the role of man as a free agent is not eliminated. There are many
passages in the Qur'an which refer to this subject. We quote just one
Surely Allah does not change the condition of a people
unless and until they change their own conduct, behaviour, customs and
manners. (Surah al-R'ad 13:11).
of the evolution of history
If it is admitted that a society has its own nature,
character and a living, growing and developing personality then the next
question is, how is its evolution to be interpreted i.e. how does it
strive for a state of perfection?
We have already seen how the holy Qur'an lays stress
on the genuineness of society's personality and its evolutionary
progress. We also know that there have been, and still are, other
schools holding a similar view. Now we must find out how, from the
viewpoint of the holy Qur'an and from these other schools of thought,
history develops. What are the responsibilities of man in this respect
and what part is he supposed to play? What form should "The Great
Expectation" assume is another closely related subject which must
be explored simultaneously.
Historical evolution is interpreted in two different
ways. One method is known as the materialistic or dialectic and the
other is called human or natural. In other words, in respect of
historical evolution there exist two different approaches and two
different ways of thinking.
According to each of them the great expectation
assumes a different form and a distinctive nature. We propose to explain
these two ways of thinking, but only to the extent that they are related
to the question of the expectation and hope for the future.
Some people interpret history from the angle of
transformation of one contradictory into another. Not only history but
the evolution of the entire nature is also interpreted by them on this
basis. Hence, before explaining the materialistic interpretation of
history, we propose to explain briefly the dialectic interpretation of
nature, which is the basis of the materialistic interpretation of
Firstly, according to this doctrine, everything in
nature is constantly moving and striving to reach the next stage.
Nothing is static or motionless. Therefore, the correct approach to
nature is to study things and phenomena while they are moving and
changing and to realise that even our thinking, being a part of nature,
is constantly undergoing a change.
Secondly, every part of nature is influenced by other
parts and in turn influences them. The whole universe is bound by a
chain of actions and reactions. Nevertheless, a complete harmony exists
among all parts of nature. Hence, the correct approach is to study
everything in nature as it is related to other things and not in
Thirdly, motion originates from contradiction. It is
contradiction which is the basis of every motion and change. As the
Greek philosopher, Heracleitus, said 2,500 years ago, struggle is the
mother of all progress. Contradiction in nature means that everything is
inclined to its opposite and it nurtures its antithesis within itself.
Along with everything that exists, factors which tend to destroy it,
also set off factors those which tend to preserve the existing state and
those which tend to transform it into its antithesis.
Fourthly, this internal struggle continues to
intensify and grow till it reaches a point where a sudden revolutionary
change takes place. There the struggle culminates in the triumph of the
new forces and the defeat of the old ones with the result that the thing
is transformed into its antithesis completely.
Following this transformation the same process begins
anew, because this phase again nurtures its opposite within it, and a
further internal struggle leads to a fresh transformation. Anyhow, this
time the thing does not revert to its original state, but is transformed
into a state which is a sort of combination of the first and the second
phases. This third state is known as synthesis. Thus, nature moves from
thesis to antithesis and then finally to synthesis and after completing
one cycle, again starts following the same evolutionary course.
Nature has no ultimate goal and is not striving to a
state of perfection but is rather inclined towards self destruction.
However, as every antithesis tends towards its own antithesis, this
process perforce takes the shape of synthesis, resulting in compulsory
evolution. This is what is called the dialectic interpretation of
History being a part of nature, the same law of
evolution applies to it also, the only difference being that, its
components are human. History is a continuous process and is influenced
by inter-relations between man and nature and between man and society.
There is a constant conflict and confrontation between the progressive
groups and others which are in a state of decay. This struggle, which in
the final analysis may be described as the struggle of contradictories,
after going through a violent and revolutionary process, ends to the
benefit of the progressive forces. Every event in the course of this
struggle is followed by its antithesis and the process goes on until the
evolution is completed.
The basis of human life and the motive force of
history is the function of production which at every stage of its
development creates particular, political, judicial, domestic and
economic conditions necessitating the development of relations among
But the function of production does not remain static
at any particular stage. It continues to develop, for man is a
tool-making creature. With the gradual development of tools the
production goes up and with that new men with a fresh outlook and a more
developed conscience appear on the scene, for not only does man make the
tools but the tools also make the man. The development of productions
and the increase in its quantum create new economic equations which
bring about a set of new social conditions.
It is said on this account that economy is the
understructure of a society and all other affairs are subservient to it.
Whenever it undergoes a change as a result of the development of the
means of production and the going up of production level, it becomes
necessary to change the superstructure also. But that stratum of the
society which depends upon the old economic system regards this change
as being against its interests and endeavours to maintain the status
quo. In contrast the newly up-coming stratum attached to new means of
production, considering a change in the situation and in the
establishment of a new system to be in its interest tries hard to change
and push the society and all its affairs forward to bring them into
harmony with the newly developed means of production.
The intensity of the struggle and the conflict between
these two groups, one decrepit and reactionary and the other progressive
and forward-looking, continues to grow until it reaches an explosive
point and the society with a revolutionary group steps forward and
undergoes a complete change. The primitive system gives place to the new
and thus the process ends in the complete victory of the new forces and
defeat of the old ones. Thereafter a new phase of history begins.
This new phase again faces a similar fate. With the
further development of the means of production fresh men come into the
field. With the increase in the quantum of production the current system
loses its capability of solving social problems and the society once
again faces a deadlock. There again appears the need of a big change in
the economic and social systems. This phase also gives place to its
antithesis and a new phase begins. And thus the process of change and
development goes on steadfastly.
History, just like nature itself, passes through
contradictories, i.e. every stage of it harbours the germs of the next
stage within itself and gives place to it after a series of struggles
This mode of thinking in respect of nature and history
is called dialectic and according to it, all the social values
throughout history have been subservient to this means of production.
Now let us see as to what is the chief characteristic
of the dialectic thinking which distinguishes it from what is termed as
the metaphysical thinking. The exponents of dialectic thinking mention
four principles as the distinctive features of their doctrine. Let us
take them one by one.
Firstly, they maintain that all things are constantly
moving and progressing whereas, as they assert, according to
metaphysical thinking, things are static and motionless.
This imputation has no basis. The upholders of
metaphysical thinking do not believe that things are static . They use
the term "Unchangeability" relatively. Otherwise they also
believe that all physical things are subject to change. It is only
metaphysical things which may be described as static.
Unfortunately the supporters of dialectic logic, being
the adherents of the maxim that the end justifies the means, concentrate
their attention on achieving their objectives and in doing so, ignore
the correctness or other wise of what they attribute to others. Anyhow,
the principle of motion is not a distinctive feature of dialectic
The second principle is that of correlation and
interaction of things. This, too, cannot be considered to be a
characteristic of dialectic thinking. Though the supporters of this
doctrine allege that the rival theory of metaphysical thinking does not
believe in this principle, yet the fact is not so.
The third principle is that of contradiction. But the
question is whether it is the characteristic only of the dialectic
thinking. Is it a fact that the upholders of metaphysical thinking
totally deny the existence of contradiction in nature? On this point the
supporters of dialecticism have unnecessarily raised such an uproar.
They base their arguments on the existence of the principle known in
logic and philosophy as the law of noncontradiction and assert that as
the supporters of metaphysical thinking believe in this principle, they
must naturally deny the existence of all sorts of contradiction. But the
dialecticians conveniently forget that this logical principle is not
even remotely connected with the existence of contradictions, in the
sense of conflict between the various elements of nature or the elements
of the society or history. Anyhow, the dialecticians go a step further
and assert that the supporters of the metaphysical thinking because of
their beliefs that all parts of nature, including such obviously
divergent things as fire and water, are in a state of mutual harmony and
compatibility call upon the various elements of that society to be at
peace and on this basis urge the persecuted not to resist oppressors and
adopt a policy of appeasement and surrender.
We again emphasize that all this is a distortion of
the truth. According to the supporters of metaphysical thinking
contradiction in the sense of divergence and mutual competition of the
various elements of nature does exist and it is necessary for the
continuity of Allah blessings.
The fourth principle of mutation in nature and of
revolution in history is also not a basic characteristic of dialectic
thinking. It was never mentioned as a dialectic principle by Hegel, the
father of the modern dialectic method of reasoning, nor by Karl Marx,
the hero of dialectic materialism. It was recognized as a biological
principle of evolution in the 19th century and was later introduced into
dialectics by Ferederick Inglis, a disciple of Karl Marx. Today it is an
accepted principle of biology and is not the exclusive monopoly of any
particular school of thought. Then what is the basic characteristic of
In fact, the distinctive feature and the real basis of
this school is two fold. One is the doctrine that not only external
realities but ideas also have a dialective nature i.e. the ideas are
subject to the above mentioned four principles. In this respect no other
school of thought shares the views of this school. (This point has been
discussed in detail in the 1st volume of the book 'The Principles of
Philosophy and the Method of Realism').
The other distinctive feature of this school is that
it interprets contradiction to mean that everything necessarily nurtures
its antithesis within itself and subsequently gets transformed into it
and that this anti thesis itself passes through the same process. This
doctrine is claimed to apply to both nature and history both of which,
as they put it, pass through contradictories. According to this school
evolution means the combination of two opposites, one of which is
transformed into the other.
The doctrine of contradiction in the sense of conflict
between different parts of nature and their occasional combination is
quite old. What is new about dialecticism is the claim that, besides
contradiction and conflict between different parts of nature,
contradiction also exists within each part of itself and this
contradiction takes the form of a battle between the new progressive
factors and the old decadent ones and culminates in the final triumph of
the progressive ones. These two features are the corner stone of the
dialectic way of thinking.
Hence, it is entirely wrong to consider every school
upholding the principles of motion and contradiction to be dialectic.
Such a mistake has been committed by those who, having come across the
principles of motion, change and contradiction in Islamic teachings,
have drawn the conclusion that Islamic thinking is also dialectic. The
fact is that according to the dialectic thinking all truths are
transient and relative, whereas Islam believes in a series of permanent
and eternal truths.
Further, to believe that nature and history move in a
triangular form (thesis, antithesis and synthesis) and pass through
contradictories is an essential characteristic of the dialectic way of
thinking. Islamic teachings do not approve of this belief.
The fact is that this misconception has been created
by the supporters of dialectic materialism. They, in their discourses,
which are never free from an element of propaganda, give all
non-dialectic thinking the name of metaphysical thinking according to
which, as they allege, all parts of nature are motionless, unrelated to
each other and free from all sorts of contradiction. They accuse the
Aristotelian logic of being based on these very principles. They assert
this view with such force that those who have little direct knowledge
are often misled.
Not only that, but also those who are impressed by
such statements, if lacking in the knowledge of Islam, easily come to
the conclusion that the principle of immobility, unrelatedness and
absence of contradiction must form the basis of Islamic thinking. They
base their arguments on the premises that Islam, being a religious
creed, has a metaphysical basis and therefore, its thinking must also be
metaphysical and that metaphysical thinking being based on the
above-mentioned three principles the belief in them must be a part of
the Islamic way of thinking.
Another group, which is somewhat acquainted with
Islamic teachings, presume that Islamic thinking, not being
metaphysical, must be dialectic. As this group recognizes no third
alternative, naturally it comes to this conclusion.
All this misunderstanding and confusion is the result
of undue reliance on what the supporters of dialectic materialism
attribute to others. Anyhow, as already mentioned, truth is quite
From the above discussion we may draw the following
The new and old ideology
In the present context the young and the old do not
refer to the younger and the older generation and the conflict between
them has nothing to do with the problem of the so-called generation gap.
It does not mean that the younger generation always supports a
revolutionary movement, or that the older generation is necessarily
conservative. Similarly, confrontation between the new and the old has
no cultural implications either. It does not mean a confrontation
between the educated and the illiterate. Its significance is purely
social and economic and it simply means a conflict between those classes
which are the beneficiaries of the existing order and those which are
dissatisfied with it and being inspired by new means of production, are
keen to bring about a change in the existing social structure.
In other words it means a struggle between the
progressive and the liberal minded elements of society favouring
evolution and those that are decrepit and narrow-minded and tend to
maintain the status quo.
Consequent to the fact that social conscience and the
social attitude of man are inspired by his class position and
environmental conditions the privileged classes, being the beneficiaries
of the existing order, necessarily become obscurantist, whereas the
exploited and deprived classes are stirred to action. This is entirely
different from the question or having or not having a formal education.
Mostly the evolutionary movements are launched by those who are
educationally backward but, owing to their class position, are
forward-looking and liberal minded.
Logical continuity of history
Evolutionary stages of history are linked with each
other by a natural and logical bond. Each stage has its own place and
cannot be moved forward or backward. For example, capitalism is the
middle link between feudalism and socialism and it is impossible for a
society to pass directly from feudalism to socialism without passing
through capitalism. Such a happening will be in a way similar to what
was termed by ancient philosophers as "abrupt jump" i.e.
passing from one point to another without passing through any of the
routes connecting them. This will be as if the human seed, without
passing through the foetus stage, reaches the delivery stage, or a
new-born child, without passing through childhood, becomes a fully
grown-up youth, or that "B" who is the son of "A"
should take birth before "A" comes into the world.
That is why the supporters of this logic gave the
early socialists, who wanted to lay the foundation of socialism merely
on ideology, ignoring the compulsion of history and logical continuity
of its stages, the name of idealists and called their socialism
fantastic. Contrary to early socialism, Marxism is based on the logical
continuity of historical stage.
Not only is an abrupt transition and traversing
several stages in one leap not possible, but it is also essential that
every phase reaches its natural climax before the evolutionary process
takes the final form. For instance, feudalism, or for that matter
capitalism, has its definite course which must run gradually so that, at
a historical moment, a change may come about. To expect any stage to
come, before the stage prior to it attains its climax, is tantamount to
expecting a child to be born before completing its foetal stages. In
such a case the result may be an abortion, not the delivery of a healthy
The fight between the new and the old is the basic
condition of the transition of history from one stage to another and is
an essential factor in the evolution of human society. Such a fight is
always sacred. Similarly, the extermination of the old elements is
lawful, even if they do not commit any act of aggression, because
without doing so the society cannot be pushed forward towards evolution.
On the basis of this logic lawful fights need not necessarily be
defensive, or with a view to forestalling an aggression.
Not only is the struggle against the old by the new
lawful and sacred but every other action also, which paves the way for a
revolution and accelerates the evolutionary process, is equally lawful.
Thus, all subversive and disruptive activities, with a view to creating
dissatisfaction and unrest, widening the split and deepening the
conflict, are sacred. As stated earlier, evolution depends on a
revolutionary and violent change of one contradictory to another and
such a change does not materialize unless and until the internal
conflict reaches its boiling point and the breach becomes the widest.
Therefore, anything which widens the gulf accelerates the transition of
the society from lower stage to a higher stage. As unrest and discord
may play such a role, they are also lawful and sacred, according to this
In contrast, such measures as partial reforms,
appeasing and pacifying action and redress of grievances are considered
to be wrong and improper. They are supposed to serve as an anesthetic
and are, therefore, tantamount to a betrayal of the cause. Such actions
obstruct the way of evolution as they, at least, temporarily narrow the
split and thus delay the revolution. These are the conclusions which may
be drawn from the materialistic approach to history.
Human or Natural Approach
The human approach to history is just the opposite of the
materialistic approach. It gives basic importance to man-and human
values, both in relation to the individuals and the society. From the
psychological point of view it considers itself to be composed of a set
of animal instincts which are common to both man and beasts and the
other set of higher instincts, religious, ethical, inquisitive and
aesthetic which are peculiar to man and distinguish him from the
From the philosophical point of view it considers a
society to have two aspects. Firstly, it is composed of individuals,
each of them having a mixture of high and low qualities. Secondly, as a
whole, it has its own variety of attributes which are the eternal
characteristics of man in general. A Persian poet expresses this fact
"This sweet water and this saltish water in
every vein of creatures will flow till the Day of Resurrection. "
Here a vein refers to the veins of the society i.e.
man in an indefinite and general application. In some individuals sweet
water flows i.e. good qualities dominate and in others saltish water
flows i.e. bad qualities are more numerous and remarkable. This position
will continue so long as man exists on the face of the earth. The death
of individuals makes no difference to it. Anyhow, with the evolution of
man and human society the position will certainly improve a great deal.
According to this approach history, like nature
itself, is developing and progressing towards a state of perfection. The
development of history is neither confined to the technical nor the
cultural aspects, nor to the growth and improvement of the means of
production. It is an all-round and all pervading process and extends to
all human affairs. Man, as a result of his comprehensive evolution, is
moving towards liberation from environmental and social bonds and is
gradually throwing off the shackles which bind him to his environment.
At the same time his adherence to an ideology and
faith is growing. In the future he is expected to secure complete
emancipation and with that to reach the stage of complete adherence to
faith and ideology. In the past when man was less able to exploit
natural resources he was a slave to nature. In the future, with more and
more exploitation of natural resources, he will not only be free from
the bonds of nature but will also gradually bring it under his
domination and control.
It is erroneous to say that evolution follows the
development of the means of production. Those who say so confuse the
cause with the effect. In fact, the development of the means of
production is the result of man's natural craving for perfection,
expansion and diversification. It originates from his power of invention
which has, with the passage of time grown and is still growing.
According to this approach one of the characteristics of man is the
internal and individual contradiction between his terrestrial and
celestial aspects, i.e. between those instincts which are inclined down
wards and aim only at the individual, limited and temporary gains and
those which are inclined upwards and want to encompass the whole of
humanity and aim at achieving the moral, religious, scientific and
intellectual objectives. The famous Persian poet, Mawlawi says:
The soul inclines to wisdom and science,
The body inclines to gardens and fruits,
The soul inclines to progress and honour,
The body inclines to property and chattels,
The body inclines to greenery and flowing water,
because it originates from them,
The soul inclines to life and the living;
because its origin is divine,
Allah also inclines to soul,
So say that He loves them and they love Him.
The internal conflict of man, which the ancients
called the fight between reason and passion, automatically leads to the
conflict between different groups of human beings, the elated and
morally liberated beings on the one side and the nasty and brutish
beings on the other.
This approach accepts the existence of a conflict as a
part of the development and evolution of history, but not in the form of
class war between those attached to the old means of production and old
social system and those attached to the more modern means of production.
It claims that a conflict has always existed between
men with mature faith who are free from the captivity of nature and the
environment of animal instincts and have an object in view and the
degraded and brutish persons and it has played a very effective role in
the evolution of history.
To interpret all the wars in history as class wars is
tantamount to closing the eyes to the most beautiful and the brightest
manifestations of human life all along.
Throughout history many battles have been fought to
secure material needs like food, clothing or housing, or on questions
connected with sex, power and prestige. But there have definitely been
certain battles which can be described as fights between the right and
the wrong and the good and the evil. They represented a struggle between
the human motives and the animal propensities, between the common good
and the individual interests, between the high human values and the base
desires and between the progressive and the elated man and the low and
the perverted man. In the words of the holy Qur'an they were fights
between the troops of Allah and the troops of the Devil. The supporters
of this theory strongly censure the attempts of the materialists to
interpret all religious, ethical and human movements on the basis of
class struggle and regard such attempts as a distortion of history and
an insult to human dignity. Historical events show that many movements
which were initiated for securing the primary material needs were led
and guided or at least supported by individuals who themselves were
well-off and well-placed.
Contrary to the claim of the materialists that all
progressive campaigns are waged by the oppressed and the deprived
classes wanting to displace the existing system and to replace it by
another system which may ensure their material needs in conformity with
the developed means of production there exists historical evidence to
prove that progressive movements have not always been confined to the
They have occasionally been led by the individuals
belonging to the privileged classes who thrust their dagger into the
heart of the ruling system.
The risings of Abraham, Moses, Muhammad and Husayn
were all of this nature. It is also misleading to suggest that the
progressive movements have always aimed at material objectives. The
movement of the early Muslims bears witness to the fact that this is not
so. Ali identifying the nature of this movement said: "They were
given permission to defend their faith with the help of their
swords". (See: Sermon 154, Peak of Eloquence, ISP 1979) Similarly,
progressive movements have not always been the result of the development
of the means of production.
During the past two centuries a number of freedom
movements were launched both in the East and the West. One such movement
was the movement for securing a constitutional government in Iran, known
as the Mashruta Movement. In this case it cannot be claimed that the
development of the means of production had created a crisis in Iran. It
is also not true that unrest in the society has always been caused by
the unsuitability of the legal provisions of the existing system. In
certain cases the provisions as such were quite acceptable, but a
campaign had to be waged to secure their effective enforcement and the
Alawi uprisings during the Abbasid period had this nature. Human
conscience is not so depraved that people cannot be inspired by anything
higher and nobler than their basic material needs.
From the above the following conclusions may be drawn:
1. Evolutionary battles: Battles in history have been
of divergent forms, nature and causes: But those which contributed to
the development of history and humanity have been only those which were
fought between the men of high ideology, free from selfishness and greed
and the men of selfish and beastly nature lacking in aspirational and
The nature of the wars which have contributed to the
advancement and evolution was not that of a class war nor that of a
confrontation between the new and the old in the sense mentioned earlier
during the course of the discussion on the materialistic theory. Wars
have, by and by acquired an ideological aspect and from the viewpoint of
human values man is gradually coming closer to perfection i.e. to the
stage of an ideal man in an ideal society. He will continue to advance
on this path till a world government, having full regard for all human
values is established and that will be the end of all the evil forces
and selfish wars.
According to the Islamic terminology this government
is called the Mahdi Government.
2. Absurdity of logical continuity: A logical
continuity of the historical stages as described by the materialists is
baseless. Historical events, especially those of the past one century,
prove the absurdity of this theory. During this period only such
countries have gone over to communism as had never passed through the
stage of capitalism. The Soviet Union, China and the East European
countries are a conspicuous example of it. On the other hand the
countries with a highly developed capitalistic system like the United
States, Great Britain and France are still maintaining their old systems
and a century old prediction of the protagonists of materialism
concerning the workers revolution in the heavily industrialized
countries like Britain and France has turned out to be mere illusion.
It is evident from the above that there is no such
thing as a historical compulsion. It is quite possible that in a
capitalistic society the proletarian class attains such a state of
prosperity and well being that it may totally reject all ideas of
revolution. Similarly, it is also possible that with appearance of a
clear and convincing ideology and an elevation of religious and social
conscience a nomadic society may reach the highest stage of human
culture in one leap. The renaissance of the early Islamic era bears
witness to this fact.
3. Sanctity of an armed struggle: The lawfulness and
sanctity of an armed struggle does not mean an encroachment on any
individual's rights or aspirations. The struggle becomes lawful and
sacred whenever anything sacred to humanity is in danger. Whenever any
right, especially that which pertains to the entire society, is
threatened an armed struggle is allowed. Freedom is one such right. A
struggle for the liberation of the oppressed, as specifically mentioned
in the holy Qur'an, is another instance.
If the belief in the Oneness of Allah, which is the
greatest asset of humanity, is in danger then a fight is naturally
4. Reforms: There is no reason why partial or gradual
reforms should be condemned. History does not compulsorily pass through
contradictions and the transformation of one contradiction into another
is not a universal truth. Hence, it is not correct to say that partial
and gradual reforms prevent an explosion and block the way to evolution.
Even partial and gradual reforms do encourage and help
those who fight for a rightful and just cause and bring the chances of
their final success closer. In contrast corruption, turmoil and
perversions help the hostile forces and slow down the movement of
history in favour of the righteous people. According to this approach,
what is required is a sort of development which precedes the ripening of
the fruit on the tree and not an explosion. The better the care, anti
pest protection and watering of a tree, the better, healthier, and
sometimes earlier is the fruit it produces.
5. Disorders: The same reasons which justify partial
and gradual reforms also make unlawful subversion and sabotage with a
view to creating deadlock and crisis, which is recommended by the
6. Vacillations of history: Although, on the whole,
history moves towards evolution, yet contrary to the materialistic view,
such a movement is neither compulsory nor inevitable. It is also not
essential that every society in any stage of its history should be more
perfect than it was in the preceding stage.
The prime mover of history is man who is free and the
master of his actions. Hence, history fluctuates in its movements.
Sometimes it goes forward and sometimes backward.
It sways now to the right and now to the left. Some
times it moves fast and sometimes slow and occasionally stands still. A
society continues to rise and fall. The history of human civilization is
nothing but a series of rises, falls and extinctions. As the famous
historian, Toynbee, has pointed out, decline of every single
civilization is inevitable, though on the whole, human history continues
to advance steadily along a line of evolution.
7. The evolutionary march of humanity towards freedom
from the restrictions imposed by natural environments, economic
conditions and individual and group interests has on the whole, been
guided towards a purposeful life, a better ideology and a deeper faith.
The will of a primitive man is mostly conditioned by
his natural and social environments and his animal impulses, whereas a
culturally advanced man with his broad outlook has gradually attained a
great deal of freedom from such restrictions and has consequently, to a
large extent, brought his environments and his impulses under his
8. The jihad and the efforts to persuade others to
adopt the righteous path are quite different from a class war, for they
have a humanitarian basis.
9. The power of conviction and reasoning is genuine,
natural and effective. A conviction enables the human conscience to
overcome material urges.
10. The Hegelian and Marxian triangle of thesis,
antithesis and synthesis is neither applicable to history nor to nature
and consequently it is a false presumption that history passes through
contradictories or that historical stages are a series of
contradictories derived from each other and transformed into one
The triangle of thesis, antithesis and synthesis is
based on two transformations and one combination i.e. the transformation
of a phenomenon into its antithesis, then its transformation into the
antithesis of antithesis and the combination of these two forms at the
third and last stage viz. the synthesis.
But, in reality, nature does not work in this manner.
What actually exists in nature is either a combination of two
contradictories without transformation, or transformation of one
contradictory into another without any combination. The third form which
is met with is evolution without either transformation or combination.
Many elements which are somewhat contradictory to each
other combine together but are not transformed into each other. For
instance, water is a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen. In such cases there
is a combination, not transformation. There are other cases where nature
gradually tilts from one excessive state to the opposite state and in
the process strikes a balance between the two. In such cases there is a
transformation, but no combination. There are still other cases where a
third thing comes into being as a result of the combination of the two
things. Of course, there is no harm if we call the resulting third thing
synthesis and the two original ones thesis and antithesis respectively,
but that means nothing more than the use of common and familiar terms.
The same is the case with the use of the word
"dialectic". It is a beautiful and well-sounding word and no
writer would like to be deprived of it. Therefore, there is no harm if
it is used in connection with any idea that combines the principles of
motion and contradiction though it may not have those distinctive
features of dialectic thinking to which we have referred before.
Concepts About Man
The above-mentioned two approaches to the evolutionary
movement of history have resulted from two concepts about man, his real
identity and his hidden capacities. According to the first concept man
is a prisoner of his material interests, all his actions being
invariably determined by the compulsion of the means of production and
economic conditions. His conscience, his temperament, his judgement, his
ideas and his selections are all but a reflection of his natural and
social environment against the dictates of which he cannot make the
According to the second concept man is free from
compulsion of nature, environment and temperament. He is the master of
his destiny and righteousness. Human values are inborn in him. He can
use his reasoning power and can implement his ideas. He need not be
dictated to by his environmental conditions. No doubt, man is influenced
by his environment but this is not a unilateral process.
Environment, too, is affected by man. Being free and a
master of his environment, man's conduct and his reactions to
environmental conditions are often different from that of an animal.
Man's basic characteristic which, in fact, is the criterion of his
humanity is his ability to control his passions and base desires. This
ability which is a very bright aspect of the human life has been totally
ignored by the materialists.
No doubt the holy Qur'an interprets history on the
basis of the second view. From the Qur'anic point of view there has been
an eternal conflict between a group of righteous people like Abraham,
Moses, Jesus and Muhammad and their faithful followers on the one hand
and the other group of evil-doers like Nimrud, the Pharaoh, the Jewish
tyrants, Abu Sufyan etc. on the other.
Against every Pharaoh there is a Moses, says an Arabic
proverb. In the words of the Persian poet, Mawlawi, two banners have
always been afloat, one white and the other black. In the fight between
the forces of right and the forces of wrong sometimes the former has
been victorious and sometimes the latter. Anyhow, all victories and
defeats have been the outcome of a set of social, economic and moral
factors. The holy Qur'an emphasizes the effect of moral factors and thus
turns history into a source of instruction.
If history is considered to be merely a string of
accidental happenings, having no definite cause behind them, it will not
be in any way different from fiction which may provide an entertainment
and serve as a pastime, but it can have no instructional value.
In case we admit that history has definite rules by
which it is governed, but think that human will has no part to play in
determining its course, then history may be regarded as instructive from
a theoretical point of view, but can have no practical value. In this
case it will only be as instructive as the farthest galaxy about which
we may know quite a lot, but can do nothing to determine or change its
In case we concede that history is governed by
definite rules and man also plays an effective role therein, but think
that, despite all that, the determining factor is money or force, then
history will no doubt be instructive, but only as an evil. The same will
be the result, if knowledge is looked upon, not as a determining factor,
but as an instrument for acquiring power or force.
However, if we consider history to be subject to
definite rules and at the same time admit that human will plays an
effective and final role in determining its course for the benefit of
the society, then and only then is history both instructive and useful
and its study is educative and rewarding. The holy Qur'an looks upon
history from this very angle.
The holy Qur'an has described those who are termed
reactionaries as the rabble, pleasure-seekers and egoists and those who
fight for the right cause as the oppressed and the persecuted. From the
Qur'anic point of view the nature of the eternal struggle, which has
continued from the dawn of history and which has helped the advancement
of the society, is moral and human, not material, nor is it a class war.
To hope for the appearance and revolution of the Mahdi is
an inspiring Islamic social idea. Besides being a repose of trust in the
future, it is an appropriate mirror in which the nature of the Islamic
aspirations of mankind can be seen.
This prophecy comprise many elements, some of them
philosophical, others cultural, political, economic or social and still
others human or physio-human.
It is not possible in this short article to discuss
the subject in detail nor to quote extensively from the holy Qur'an and
the Sunnah, but, in order to make the nature of "The Big
Expectation" clear, we propose briefly to throw some light on its
salient features. They are as below:
Optimism about the future of humanity
There are divergent views about the future. There are
some who believe that adversity, distress, disorder and mischief are the
lot of humanity and on that account life has no value. In the eyes of
such people the most judicious action would be to put an end to life.
Some others think that human life has already been
thrown into disarray. They believe that, following the marvellous
technological progress and the accumulation of huge stockpiles of the
means of mass destruction, mankind has reached a stage where its final
annihilation is Imminent.
The English philosopher, Bertrand Russell, says in his
book, 'New Hopes' that there are people, including Einstein, who see the
possibility of man having completed his span of life and think that with
his wonderful scientific skill he may, in a few years, succeed in
completely exterminating himself.
According to this theory there is a great possibility
of the total extinction of the human race just when it is on the
threshold of attaining maturity. If we rely on perceptible evidence
only, such a possibility cannot be ruled out.
According to a third theory distress and disorder are
not a part of human nature. Nor will the tragedy of collective suicide
ever take place. In fact, a very happy and bright future awaits
humanity. A great man will appear who will uproot all corruption and
mischief. This is a religiously inspired theory and it is in this
context that Islam gives the glad tidings of Mahdi's revolution. Its
salient features will be:
- Final victory of righteousness, virtue, peace,
justice, freedom and truth over the forces of egoism, subjugation,
tyranny, deceit and fraud.
- Establishment of a world government (one government
in the whole world).
- Reclamation and rehabilitation of the whole earth
so that no area remains waste.
- Attainment of full sagacity by mankind, adherence
to ideology and emancipation from animal impulses and undue social
- Maximum utilization of the gifts of the earth.
- Equal distribution of wealth and property among all
- Complete eradication of all vices like adultery,
fornication, usury, use of intoxicants, treachery, theft and
homicide and total disappearance of abnormal complexes, malice and
- Eradication of war and restoration of peace,
friendship, co operation and benevolence.
- Complete coherence between man and nature.
All these points require detailed discussion and
analysis but here the idea is just to acquaint the readers with the
nature of the Islamic tidings and aspirations.
It simply means hoping and aspiring for the
materialization of the order (referred to above) which the Divine Will
has destined for the world. Now let us turn back to the point that the
expectation is of two kinds. One kind is constructive and dynamic which
is an act of virtue and the other is destructive and paralysing which is
a sort of licentiousness. We have already mentioned that these two kinds
of expectations are the outcome of two divergent notions of the great
appearance of the promised Mahdi. These two notions have sprung from the
two approaches to the nature of historical development. Now let us
explain further the two kinds of expectations.
The concept which some people have of the rising of
the Mahdi and the revolution which he will bring about is only of an
explosive nature. These people believe that the appearance of the Mahdi
depends solely upon the spread of injustice, discrimination, frustration
and disasters. They are of the opinion that, immediately prior to the
appearance of the Mahdi, the forces of evil will gain a complete hold
and not a single good man will be left in the world. They look forward
to an explosion, following which the divine forces will redeem the truth
but not the supporters of truth, for they would not be existing. On this
basis they would condemn every reform and regard every sin, every excess
and every injustice as valid and proper, because, according to their
idea, corruption and tyranny bring the explosion nearer and pave the way
for the eventual betterment of a permanent nature. They believe in the
maxim that ends justify the means and as such unlawful means become
lawful if the objective is desirable. That is how deadly sins besides
giving pleasures are supposed to help in bringing about the final
sacred-revolution. The following lines most appropriately apply to their
"Win the heart of your beloved even by deceit
and treachery. Commit a sin if you are unable to perform a good
Such people naturally dislike the reformers and all
those who enjoin good and forbid evil, because they think that their
action is delaying the appearance of the promised Mahdi. They, even if
they do not commit the sins themselves, at least appreciate the
reprehensible activities of the sinners who, according to them, are
preparing the ground for the appearance of the Mahdi.
This sort of notion may be called semi-dialectic,
because it regards corruption and distress as a prelude to the sacred
explosion. The dialectic thinking also opposes partial reforms and
allows the creation of unrest, but it has some merit, because it does so
with a view to making the split wider and the fight hotter, whereas the
supporters of this outrageous notion simply allow corruption and
disorder and then do nothing except to sit back and hope for the desired
result to follow automatically. It need not be added that this sort of
notion of the appearance of the promised Mahdi is against the tenets of
Islam and must be regarded as a sort of licentiousness.
All the verses of the holy Qur'an, which form the
basis of the concept of the Mahdi and all the traditions cited in
support thereof go against the above notion. What is inferred from the
holy Qur'an is that the appearance of the Mahdi is a link in the series
of fights between the righteous and the wicked and the Mahdi is the
symbol of the final and complete victory of the righteous and the
faithful. The holy Qur'an says:
Allah has promised the righteously striving believers
to appoint them as His deputies on earth, as He had appointed those who
lived before. He will make the religion that He has chosen for them to
stand supreme. He will replace their fear with peace and security. They
will worship their Lord without fear and will not submit to anyone other
than Him and will associate nothing with His worship and obedience.
(Surah al-Nur, 24:55)
The appearance of the Mahdi is Allah's favour for the
oppressed and the weak and is a means of their coming to power and
gaining the promised Divine succession in the whole world. The holy
We have decided to grant favour to the suppressed ones
by appointing them leaders and heirs of the earth.
(Surah al-Qasas, 28:5)
The appearance of the Mahdi means the realization of
the promise Allah made to the righteous in His sacred Book.
Verily We have written in the Psalms after the Torah
had been revealed: My righteous servants shall inherit the earth.
(Surah al Anbia, 21:105)
The well-known saying of the holy Prophet that Allah
will fill the earth with justice after its having been filled with
injustice and tyranny testifies to the fact that at the time of the
appearance of the Mahdi there will exist two classes. One will consist
of the oppressors and the other, howsoever small, of the oppressed who
are subjected to injustice and tyranny.
Shaykh Saduq narrates on the authority of Imam Ja'far
ibn Muhammad al Sadiq that the Mahdi would appear only when the virtuous
would become the most virtuous and the wicked the most wicked. From this
also it is evident that both the virtuous and the wicked will be in
Islamic traditions make mention of a group of people
who will come forward and join Imam Mahdi immediately on his appearance.
From this again it is evident that the virtuous will not be completely
wiped out and though their number may be insignificant, yet they will be
best in the quality of faith and comparable to the companions of Imam
Husayn ibn Ali.
According to Islamic traditions the rising of the
Mahdi will be preceded by other risings of the virtuous. What has been
mentioned as the Yamani's rising is an instance.
In some Islamic traditions a mention has been made of
a government of the righteous people which will continue to exist till
the rising of the Mahdi (May Allah hasten his solace) and, as we know,
some Shi'ah ulama, who held good opinions about some of their
contemporary Shi'ah governments, considered it probable that it would be
those very governments which would last till the rising of the Mahdi.
It is gathered from the various Qur'anic verses and
traditions taken together that rising of the promised Mahdi will be the
last one of the chain of the battles which have taken place between
truth and falsehood since the creation of the world.
The promised Mahdi will realize the ideal of all the
prophets, saints and fighters in the path of truth.
Belief in the Mahdi (the 'guided' latter-day ruler who
will establish justice) is deeply rooted in Islam, and is an obligatory
part of belief in the view of some ulama. There may be
differences of opinion on the characteristics and the person of the
Mahdi ,but all are of the opinion that most of the traditions on the
Mahdi are right and that the tidings about him are mutawatir.
In addition to the direct references to the Mahdi in
Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, there are also almost 50 traditions,
with direct reference to the Mahdi, in other well-known collections such
as Abu Daud, Tirmizi, Musnad-i Ahmad bin Hanbal, Ibn Maja, Tabarani (in
all the three collections: Al-Kabir, Al-Awsat and Al-Saghir),
Al-Hakim (Mustadrak), Abu Ya'li, al-Bazzar, Ibn Hibban, Abu al-Shaykh
(Kitab al-Fitan), Ibn Asakir, Ibn Adi, Abu Na'im (Akhbar al-Mahdi),
Al-Royani (Musnad), al-Dailami, Al-Dani (Sunan), Ibn
Mandah, Na'im ibn Hammad (Kitab al-Fitan), Al-Harith ibn Ali
Usamah (Musnad), Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (Tarikh), Ibn Abi
Shaibah (Musannaf), Al-Darqutni, Abu Na'im (Dalail al-Nubuwwah
and al-Hilyah), Ibn al-Munadi (Al-Malahim), Abu Ghannam
al-Kufi (Kitab al-Fitan), Tammam (Fawaid), Ibn Sa'd (Tabaqat),
Ibn Jarir (Tafsir), Al-Muhami (Al-Amali), etc.
These authoritative source books contain almost 50
traditions of the Prophet, (Peace and benediction be upon him and his
infallible progeny) which clearly foretell the emergence of the Mahdi
before the Day of Resurrection. Many of these traditions are 'Sahih' and
directly narrated on the authority of the Prophet by 33 well-known
companions, who include: Ali ibn Abi Talib, Husayn ibn Ali, Abu Sa'id
al-Khudari, Abdullah ibn Mas'ud, Umm Salmah, Thauban, Abu Hurayrah, Anas
ibn Malik, Jabir ibn Abdullah, Uthman ibn Affan, Awf ibn Malik, Talha
ibn Ubaidallah, Huzaifah ibn al-Yaman, Umran ibn Husayn, Abdullah ibn
Umar, Ayesha, Abdul Rahman ibn Awf, Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, Ibn Abbas,
Tamim al-Dari, Umm Habibah, Abbas ibn Abdil Muttalib and Ammar ibn Yasir.
The most famous of these traditions is the one narrated by Abdullah ibn
Mas'ud in which the Prophet said: "Even if a (single) day is left
in (the life of) the world, Allah will lengthen that day to send a
person of my House whose name will be like my name and whose Kunyah
will be similar to mine. He will fill the world with justice and equity
just as it was previously full of injustice and oppression". (Abu
Daud, Tabarani, Ibn Hibban, Hakim, Ibn Maja, Abu Na'im, Ibn Asakir etc).
This and many other traditions are in accordance with
the highest standards of scrutiny set by the traditionists and therefore
it is the consensus of Islamic scholars of all ages that the tradition
is true and mutawatir (uninterruptedly conveyed on the authority of the
Prophet). Following is a selection of affirmative references to the
Mahdi by Muslim authorities from the old to the modern times:
- Ibn Taimiyyah, Minhaj al-Sunnah al-Nabawiyyah
- Al-Qurtubi, Al-Tazkirah
- Al-Hafiz, Abul Hasan al-Abiri, Manaqib al-Imam
- Al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari
- Al-Hafiz al-Sakhawi, Fath al-Mugheeth
- Al-Suyuti, Al-'Urf al-Wardi and Al-Kashf
'an Mujawazat Hazihi al-Ummah al-Alf
- Al-Zarqani, Sharh al-Mawahib al-Ladunniyyah
- Abul 'Ala al-'Iraqi al Husayni, Al-Mahdi
- Al-Shaukani, Al-Tawzih fi tawatur me jaa fi'l
Mahdi al-Muntazar wa'l Dajjal Masih
- Siddiq Hasan Khan, Al-Izh'ah lima kana wa ma
yakunu baina yadai al-Sa'ah
- Abu Abdillah Muhammad Jassis, Sharh Risalah ibn
- Muhammad al-Arabi al-Fasi, al-Marasid
- Abu Zaid Abd al-Rahman al-Fasi, Muhhij al-Maqasid
- Al-Safarini, Al-Durrah al-Mudi'ah fi 'Aqidah al-Firqah
- Qutbuddin Muhammad ibn Ja'far al-Kitabi, Nazm
al-Mutanathir min al-Hadith al-Mutawatir Abdullah ibn Muhammad
ibn al-Siddiq, Al-Mahdi al-Muntazar
- Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Ghimari, Ibraz al-Wahm al-Maknun
min Kalam Ibn Khalladun
- Ibn a1-Qayyim, Al-Manar
- Al-Hafiz al-Dhahabi, Al-Muntaqa
- Abu al-Tayyib ibn Ali al-Hasan al-Hasani, Al-Iza'ah
lima kana wa ma yakunu baina yadai al-Sa'ah