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How do we know that this idea has not been manufactured to create hope for the oppressed Shi'ah?"

Assuming the theoretical possibility of Al-Mahdi's (as) miraculous existence, this still does not establish that he does, in fact, exist. A few sayings of the Prophet (saws) are not sufficient proof for this. How do we know that this idea has not been manufactured to create hope for the oppressed Shi'ah?"154

Once, I was discussing God's existence with some German atheists. They therefore believed in a supernatural existence and turned to prayer and sacrifice in order to help solve some of their problems. In the modern world we do not have any need for God since we are not primitive human beings anymore.

Those people who deny Al-Mahdi's (as) existence are utilizing a similar argument to that used by such atheists. Only those who question the Divine origin of Islam truly doubt the return of Al-Mahdi (asa cha), rismatic here whose appearance has been clearly revealed in both Muslim and non-Muslim books.155

In his The Faith of the Shi'ah School, Shaykh M. R. Al-Muzaffar concluded that if Al-Mahdi (as) has lived for such a long time, then it is nothing short of a miracle granted to him by Allah. It is no more amazing than the reality that his Imamah started at the age of five when his father was martyred, or the miracle of Prophet Jesus (as) who conversed with his people from his cradle and became a prophet whilst still in infancy. A Muslim who believes in the Holy Qur'an but expresses doubt in this matter should reassess his faith.156

However we will answer the above question in two stages:

First:

There are hundreds of narrated traditions from the holy Prophet (saws). There are more than enough narrations included in this book 157 to prove the existence of Al-Mahdi (as).

Second:

Faith in a Divine Savior is not unique to the Shi'ah. As such, it is hard to say that the belief in a coming savior has been invented by the Shi'ah. Human beings since the ancient religions' age have believed in a messiah to redeem their salvation.

Vittorio Lanternari in his article 'Messianism: Its historical Origin and Morphology', History of Religion, II, I (1962), pp. 52ff., sees in this history, a dialectic which is present in all prophetic movements. Mircea Eliade has dealt with this topic in his article 'Dimensions religieuses du renouvellment cosmique', Eranusjahrbuch, XXXVIII (959), pp. 241ff. Eliade pays special attention to the religious symbols of return to primordial time and the paradisial elements which are present in the cargo-cult. These two articles are highly nstructive for those interested in a general religious interpretation of this phenomenon. Robert Lowie discusses the meaning of primitive messianism in 'Primitive Messianism and Ethno-logical Problems'.158

Messianism also appeared among the North American Indians during the latter part of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries. A general book showing the relationship between American Indian nationalism and its religious expression in the peyote cult is 'The Peyote Religion by J. S. Slotkin (1956). Another aspect of this phenomenon among the American Indians goes by the name of "ghost dance" or "hand dance". The dance consisted of ritualistic militant movements which looked forward to the overthrow of the dominant white culture by a Messiah who was to re-establish the old Indian way of life.159 This traditional dance was known to be exteremly provocative as during one of these rituals many thousands of the participants were massacred by the white settlers. I have seen visual figures, of reproduced dummies in the Natural Museum of Atlanta University in Atalanta/Georgia, where all these historical facts are confirmed.

About Hinduism "The Oxford Dictionary of World's Religions" states the following:

Kalki: In Hindu mythology, the tenth and last in the standard list of Visnus avataras, who is to come in the future. The earliest known description of Kalki is in Mhabharata, but he is not identified with Visnu until some uncertain later date. He is usually described as a warrior brahman who will arise to punish evil-doers at the end of the kaliyuga.160

The followers of Mani believe that their Prophet, Mani, is a savior. "The Oxford Dictionary" states:

Mani's teaching was fundamentally Gnostic and dualistic, positing an oppression between God and matter. There was an elaborate cosmological myth: this included the defeat of a primal man by the powers of darkness, who devoured and thus imprisoned particles of light. The cosmic process of salvation goes on as the light is delivered back to its original state. Saving knowledge of this process comes through the apostles of light, among whom Mani, a self-conscious syncretist, included various biblical figures, Buddha, Zoroasters, and Jesus. He himself was the final one.161

About Zoroaster the dictionary describes the figure of Sosyant, the expected savior 162, and then goes on to say:

He used the term, which later referred to the expected savior, Sosyant, at least partly to refer to the work of himself and his followers, but also probably with a future sense as in the developed eschatology. Future, he refers to the fires of judgement at the final turning-point of existence (Ys. 43, 5f) again features associated with the second judgement in the later detailed expositions of the doctrine."163

The Messiah or Savior idea was also familiar to Jainas and Buddhists believe that their Lord will come again to redeem His People appearing as Maitri and with Hindus as their tenth Avatra 'Kalki' who as a Lord of light will ride a milk-white steed, wield a golden scimitar, and overthrow all enemies and efface evil and unbelief-views readily adopted by Christians and Muslims. 164 Let us start with Buddhism. Referring to Buddhism the same dictionary states:

Maitreya (Skt., 'lowing one': Pali, Metteyya; Chin.' Mile-fo; Korean, Mituk; Jap., Miroku). One of the five earthly Buddha's, the embodiment of all-embracing love, who is expected to come in the future as the fifth and last of the Buddha's. In early Buddhism, Maitreya dwells in the Tusita heaven (the realm of the fully delighted gods), waiting for the decline and eclipse of Buddhism. when he will become the next Buddha -in about 30000 years time. This belief was further developed in all Mahayana countries, and above all in Tibet, where he is known as byams pa (champa). It is a particular commitment of Gelugpa to prepare for his coming. He is depicted usually with feet placed firmly on the ground, ready to step into the world.165

Jainism has also forestalled Christianity in its solemn Paryushana or Lenten periods of humiliation, prayer and religious reading; in its past and future Messianic stages and hopes; and it Padikaman or doctrine of Confusion and priestly absolution of Alavan.166
Regarding the Jews and their belief in the Messiah, the "Oxford Dictionary of World's Religions" states:

Messiah (adaptation of Heb., ha--maShi'ah, the anointed one, also transliterated ha MaShi'aach). Anointed descendant of the Jewish king David who will restore the Jewish kingdom. The idea of the messiah did not exist before the second Temple period, but grew out of the biblical hope that the House of David would again rule over the Jewish people. The so-called 'Messianic oracles' in the prophets (e.g. Isaiah 7.4; 9.1-6) do not look for a distantly future king, but express the hopes vested in the newborn royal child. The kings played a role in the cult, representing the people before God -a role vividly expressed in the many royal psalms. The failure of the kings historically led to a reassessment during the Exile, when the future hope replaced present kingship. In the intertestamental period, messianic speculation included three messianic figures (the righteous priest, the anointed king, and the prophet of the last days). These can be found in the literature of the Dead Sea Sect. In the Psalms of Solomon, Ezra, and in the Apocalypse of Baruck, the Davidic messiah has become central. As a result of the Roman occultation of Erez Israel, various messiahs emerged, including Jesus (as interpreted after his death by his followers), Judas the Galilean (mentioned in Josephus), and Simeon Bar Kokhba. The rabbis taught that, with the coming of the messiah, the climax of human history would be achieved and God's kingdom would be established on earth.167

Christians believe in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (as). The same dictionary states about Christianity as follows:

Some aspects of his life (e.g. the entry into Jerusalem) were clearly open to the interpretation that he was acting as the descendant of David, but it was only after his death and resurrection that the appropriateness of interpreting him as messiah was developed (e.g. Matthew I. I; Luke I. 27, 2, 4; Acts 2. 29 f.; Romans 1,3). The term Christos (GK., 'anointed one' = Heb., ha-ma-Shi'a, i.e. messiah) then become virtually a proper name. The New Testament reveals a certain amount of scripture-searching to find ways in which Jesus fulfilled messianic prophecies in Tanach (Jewish scripture).168

As for the Muslims, the dictionary states, referring to Sunni Muslims:

In Islam, .... Muslims beliefs about Al-Mahdi are sometimes referred to as 'messianism'169

Consciousness of this expected future has not been confined to those who believe in supernatural phenomena. It has also been reflected in those ideologies which totally deny the existence of the imperceptible. Marxism, which interprets history on the basis of purely material contradictions, argues that a day will come when all contradictions will disappear and complete peace will prevail.

Before Marx, we see that Hegel was a very enthusiastic supporter of Napoleon, viewing him as the historical hero fulfilling the destiny of the French Revolution. He was, thought Hegel, the one man able to transform the achievements of 1789 into a state order and to connect individual freedom with the universal reason of a stable social system. In Hegel's eyes Napoleon was the "soul of the world", in whom the universal task of the time was embodied.170 He stated in a lecture:

In addition to the kingdom of the world to which all thoughts and efforts has hitherto been directed, the Kingdom of God may also considered.171

Alexandre Kojeve, representing the more contemporary ideas of dialectics, states:

In point of fact, the end of human Time, or History -that is, the definitive annihilation of man properly speaking, of the free and historical individual- means quite simply the cessation of action in the full sense of the term. Practically, this means the disappearance of Philosophy; for since Man himself no longer changes essentially, there is no longer any reason to change the (true) principles which are at the basis of his understanding of the world and himself. But all the rest can be preserved indefinitely; art, love, play, etc; in short everything that makes man happy.172

Vincent Descombes writes explaining this position:

The end of history is none other than the translation into figural and narrative language of what in the language of philosophy is known as absolute knowledge. Absolute knowledge is the science of the identity of subject and object (or of thought and being). The metaphysical thesis, undeniably obscure and incontestably idealist, was suddenly given a ready meaning, with a realistic even a materialist look to it. The identity of subject and object, in the unraveling of this tale, meant that man (subject) would encounter nothing outside of himself (in the object) to impede the realization of his projects. In the other words, nature would be mastered and society appeased. Living in the world as if in a garden of flowers, finding a friend in everyone, man would go into retirement, throw over the work of history and become an Epicurean sage, given up to everything that makes man happy (play, love, art, etc). The end of the history would be the end of adversity, a term which adequately translates Hegel's Gegenstandlichkeit."173

We find that this sort of messianic hope is one of the most common psycho-philosophical experiences of humanity. It is impossible to say that all these people, whether they be Hindus, Zoroastrians, Manists, Buddhists, Jews, Christians and Sunni Muslims, have all invented this doctrine for political and psychological purposes. The idea of the future victory of righteousness, justice and peace over those of evil, oppression and tyranny, of the worldwide establishment of the Islamic faith, the complete establishment of the highest human values, the formation of an ideal society and, lastly, the accomplishment of this ideal at the hands of and eminent personality called, according to the Islamic narration, Al-Mahdi (as), is a belief and hope, which is shared by all humans and Muslim sects. This idea emanates from man's examination of the completeness in the system of nature, the evolutionary process of history, man's confidence in the future and the total rejection of pessimism about the destiny of mankind.

The final conclusion here is that Al-Mahdi (as) is not only and embodiment of the Islamic belief; he is also the symbol of an religious beliefs. He is the crystallization of an instructive inspiration through which all people, regardless of their religious afflictions, have learnt to await a day when a heavenly mission, with all its implications, will achieve its final goal and the tiring march of humanity across history will culminate in peace and justice.

____________
154. Khatieb, A'qiedat ul-Issma bein wal-faaqih e 'nd ash-Shi'a iah, p.4 Jordan

155. Walbridge, Linda, Without forgetting the Imam, p.164

156. Muzaffar, Muhammad Ridha, The Faith of Shi'a Islam. pp.73-74, Islamic Seminary Publications, 1985

157. See chapter 2, in which we have presented some of these narrations.

158. Diogenes, 19 (1957), pp.62-72.

159. Ed.: Charles J. Adams, A Reader Guide to the Great Religion, pp.23-24, The Three Press, New York, Collier-Mac Millan ltd. 1965

160. Ed.: John Bowker, The Oxford Dictionary of World's Religions, p.526, Oxford University Press 1997

161 Ed.: John Bowker, The Oxford Dictionary of World's Religions, p.612, Oxford University Press 1997

162 Ed.: John Bowker, The Oxford Dictionary of World's Religions, p.915, Oxford University Press 1997

163. Ibid: pp.1069-1070

164. Major General J.G.R. Short Studies in the Science of Comparative Religions, p.23. Forlong, London 1897

165. Ibid: p.606

166. Major General J.G.R. Short Studies in the Science of Comparative Religions, p.23. Forlong, London 1897

167. Ibid: p.637

168. Ibid: p.637

169. Ibid: p.637

170. Marcuse, Herbert, Reason and Revolution, pp.169-170, Routledge & Kegan Paul plc, London, 1986

171. Ibid: p.171

172. Hegel, Introduction, p.435 (in the note)

Adapted from the book: "The Awaited Saviour; Questions and Answers"

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