How could he be prepared to lead the enormous task set upon him?
If the Awaited Savior is Al-Mahdi (as), who was born in 256 AH, then he was at the time of his father's death a child of no more than five years of age, Clearly he could not have been sufficiently trained to become an Imam at this age, so how could he be prepared to lead the enormous task set upon him?
During the history of mankind we know that there have been children between the ages of four to eighteen who had signs of exceptional skills, which are usually only found in a highly qualified adults. Examples are:
* The German mathematician, astronomer and physicist Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) was a mathematical genius when he was only a few years old. A notebook kept in Latin by him as a youth and discovered in 1898 showed that, from the age of 15, he had conjectured and often proved many remarkable results, including the prime number theory.84
* John Stuart Mill (1806-73), a Nineteenth century English philosopher and economist, advocated utilitarian reforms in his many writings and as Member of Parliament. A child prodigy who was taught Greek by his father at the age of three, he had mastered it by the age of seven, Latin and arithmetic by the age of eight, logic by the age of twelve, and studied political economics at the age of thirteen. His works express his social thought with great clarity and thoroughness.85
* The French thinker, Blaise Pascal, (1623-1662) was scientist and a prodigy in mathematics. He has been credited not only with imaginative and subtle work in geometry and mathematics, but with profoundly influencing later generations of theologians and philosophers. Being the son of a respected mathematician provided him with the opportunity to be taught by his father. Pascal was not allowed to begin a subject until his father thought he could easily master it, but by the age of eleven he had worked out in secret the first 23 propositions of Euclid, calling straight lines "bars" and circles "rounds". Inspired by the work of Girard Desargues, at sixteen he published an essay on conics which Descartes refused to believe was the work of a youth. Pascal invented and sold the first calculating machine in 1647.86
* The Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was the greatest musical child prodigy in history. He displayed early musical gifts, playing the keyboard confidently at the age of four, composing his first pieces for it, at five, and soon mastering the violin. He began composing symphonies at nine.87
* Beethoven (1770-1827) was given his first music lessons by his father, who was ambitious on his behalf and saw him as a second Mozart. He first appeared as a keyboard prodigy at Cologne in 1778. Beethoven's own talent was such that at the age of 12 he was already an assistant to the organizer Christian Gottlob Neefe, with whom he studied music. The famous composers Mozart, Hayden, Johan Albertsberger and Antonio Salieri taught him music in Vienna.88
In our own time, we have seen two children (one Muslim, the other Christian) who have been recognized as being child prodigies, such as:
* The Qur'an reciter and genius Dr. S. M. Hosayn at-Tabatba'i (b. 1990-). He was born in Qum, Iran, and had memorized the Holy Qur'an in its entirely by the time he was five and a half. I have met this boy, and every time I hear his answers to the most complicated social and spiritual questions I have found him to be a remarkable genius. He was awarded an honorary diploma in Qur'anic studies by the Association of Bosnian Muslim Scholars, and a Ph. D. in Qur'anic studies by Al-Hijaz College in Canterbury, England.89
* The piano player and prodigy Wesley Chu. He was chosen to participate in the seventh Annual Vatican Christmas Concert. The event was broadcasted from Nervi Hall, within the Vatican, and consisted of several artists (of both popular and classical musical styles), performing Christmas songs with a 100 piece Philharmonic Orchestra and 40 voice choir. This concert coincided with the opening of the "Sacred Door" and the beginning of the 2000 jubilee. When asked how he felt about the invitation -he replied: "I am honored to go to such a famous great place," but proving that he is an eight year old at heart, he added "I want to talk to Mr. Pope Wesley stayed in Rome for 4 days during which he had a private audience with Pope John Paul II. The concert was part of a benefit project for raising funds to build 50 new churches in the poorer suburbs of Rome for the Jubilee Year.
While not exhaustive, this list serves the purpose of demonstrating that this phenomenon occurs naturally among normal human beings from all walks of life. Scientifically speaking, it is quite possible that a child demonstrates abilities that adults cannot. Religiously speaking, anything Allah (swt) wants will happen no matter how strange. Indeed, Allah (swt) asserts unequivocally in Qur'an that if He wanted something, all He has to do is to say: "Be! And it will be!" (36:82)
Several of Al-Mahdi's forefathers (as) also assumed the Imamah when he was only eight years old and Imam Ali ibn Mohammad al-Hadi (as) when he was only nine. It should be observed that the phenomenon of the early Imamah reached its zenith in the case of Al-Mahdi (as). We call it a phenomenon, because it assumed a tangible and practical form as in the case of Al-Mahdi's forefathers (as). It was felt and experienced by the Muslims coming into contact with the Imam concerned. The 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 clarify our point.
Their Imamah was Unique
The Imamah of an Imam belonging to the Holy House was not a center of hereditary power and influence, nor did it have the backing of any ruling regime, as was the case with the Imamah of the Fatimid caliphs and the caliphate of the Abbasids. The extensive popular support and allegiance wich 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 intellectual grounds.
The Phenomena of Imamah is as Old as the Islamic Era
The popular basis of support for the Imamah had existed since the early days of the Islamic era. It expanded further during the time of Imam Baqir and Imam Sadiq (as). The school set up by them assumed the form of an extensive intellectual movement, which included amongst its ranks hundreds of jurisprudents, scholastic theologians and others learned in various fields of Islamic scholarship and the humanities. Hassan ibn Ali Washsha, when visiting the mosque of Kufah, found 900 scholars all repeating the traditions narrated to them by Imam Ja'far ibn Mohammad al-Sadiq (as). The qualifications which an imam had to possess, as believed by this school and its supporters, 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. The Shi'ah believed that the Imam must be the most learned and wise man of his time.
This Ideology required Sacrifice without Worldly Reward
This school and its supporters had to make great sacrifices for the sake of their belief in Imamah, which contemporary governments regarded as a hostile ideological line. This attitude led the authorities to presecure the followers of the Imams (as). Many people were killed. Many others were thrown into dungeous, and hundreds died while in detention. Their belief in the Imamah of the Prophet's House cost them dear, the only attraction to this belief was their conviction of gaining the favore of Allah (swt).
The Imams lived amongst the People
The Imams, whose Imamah these supporters acknowledged, did not live like kings in high towers isolated from their followers. They never seregated themselves, except when imprisoned, exiled or forcibly kept aloof by the ruling juntas. We know this 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 deputies in different parts of the Muslim world. All this meant a continuous contact between the Imams and their followers scattered all over the Muslim world.
The Imam were viewed as a Threat by the Caliphs
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. In pursuance of their nefarious ends, they restored to despotic and arbitary actions. The Imams themselves were continuously harassed and kept in detention. Such actions were painful and disgusting to all the Muslims, most especially to the supporters of the Imams.
In the light of these six points we understand that achieving Imamah at an early age was a realy 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 his supporters would not have been convinced of his Imamah. These supporters 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 the people made no immediate judgement, and if it is presumed that efforts to ascertain the Imams true position were not made, still the truth could not remain unknown for years considering the continuous contact between the young Imam and the people. Had he been childish in his knowledge and thinking, he would certainly have been exposed.
Even if it is supported that the supporters of the Imamah could not discover the truth, it would have been easy for the government of the day to expose the child, if he had been really childish in his thinking and culture. 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 quite and did not play this card that it had realized that the early Imamah was a real phenomenon and not fraud.
The fact is that the government did attempt to discredit the young Imam but did not succed. History tells us of such attempts and their failures, but it does not report any occasion on which the young Imam vacillated or showed signs of such embarrassment as could shake the confidence of the people believing in his early Imamah. That is what we meant when we said that the early Imamah was a real phenomenon and not a mere supposition.
This phenomenon has deep roots, for there exist parallel cases throughout the history of the heavenly mission and Divine leadership. The history of religion has told us about the phenomenon of young leaders. The Qur'an gives us two examples: Jesus (as) and John the Baptist (as).
Jesus (as) became a prophet and spoke to people while he was still a baby in the cradle:
But she pointed to the baby. They said: "How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?" He said: "I am indeed a servant of Allah, He has given me the Scripture and assigned me to be a Prophet, and He has made me blessed Wherever I be, and has enjoined on me Prayer and zakah as long as I live." (Qur'an 19:29-31)
Thus Jesus (as) became a prophet and received revelation and a book while he was less than two years old.
Near to the passage just discussed, the Qur'an mentions the case of Prophet John (as), to whom Allah (swt) said: "O Yahya! Take hold of the Book with might:' And We gave him the appointment (of Prophet hood) in his childhood." (Qur'an 19:12) If a two-year old boy can become a prophet and receive revelation, then obviously a five-year old boy can become an imam.
After it has been proved that the early Imamah was a real phenomenon already existing in the life of the people of the Prophet's Household (as), as has been stated above, no problem can be found in the Imamah of Al-Mahdi (as) and his succession to his father while he was still a child.90
84. Chambers Biographical Dictionary, p.717. 6th edition. Chambers 1997
85. Chambers Biographical Dictionary, p.1281. 6th edition. Chambers 1997
86. Chambers Biographical Dictionary, p.1427. 6th edition. Chambers 1997
87. Chambers Biographical Dictionary, p.1326. 6th edition. Chambers 1997
88. Chambers Biographical Dictionary, p.164. 6th edition. Chambers 1997
89. Hossayn As-saleh, Alam ul-Huda. pp.46 & 54. Qum/Iran
90. As-Sadr, Sayyid Muhammed Baqir. The Awaited Savior. pp.41-45. London: Al-Khoi foundation, 1996
Adapted from the book: "The Awaited Saviour; Questions and Answers"
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