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Mahdi in Shi'ite traditions

The literature dealing with the Mahdi, his birth, concealment and return is vast and complex. Sachedina states, concerning this literature, that the primary sources in the study of the doctrinal evolution of the idea of the Mahdi in Imami Shi'ism 1 can make an essential contribution to an understanding of the period in which the idea of the Hidden Mahdi became crystallized in Imamite dogma. 2 M.A.A. Moezzi explains very clearly that the Imams passed on two kinds of traditions concerning the Mahdi: the first category contained confusing information, where the name of the Mahdi is not specified and was aimed at that large group of disciples who were involved in the writing down of traditions. In fact, the Imams prohibited the pronouncing of the latter's name (al-nahy 'an al-ism, al-man' 'an al-tasmiya) 3. According to the authors, this prohibition was maintained in effect up to at least the beginning of the minor Occultation. A second kind of tradition, aimed only at the closest of disciples, contained specific information about the identity of the Mahdi. His name was included here, except that, in order to guarantee the safety of his life, this category of traditions was only to be transmitted orally until after the beginning of the Occultation; it could be put into writing only after the life of the son of the eleventh Imam was out of danger. 4

Among the first Shi'ite compilers of traditions concerning the number of Imams, the twelfth Imam, his two occultations, his final Return and Rise, let us cite: Shaykh al-Kulayni, who died in 329 AH/940 AD, the same year as the beginning of the major Occultation, and who compiled his Usul min al-Kali during the period of the minor Occultation; al-Nu'mani Ibn Abi Zaynab (d.circa 345 or 360 AH/956 or 971 AD); Ja'far alQummi (d.369 AH/979 AD); Ali ibn Muhammad al-Khazzaz al-Razi al-Qummi (d. in the second half of the fourth AH/tenth AD century); Ibn Babuye (d. 381 AH/991 AD) who, especially in his Kamal (Ikmal) al-din, seems to have collected the essentials of all the information from his predecessors; Ahmad ibn Muhammad Ibn `Ayyash al-Jawhari (d.401 AH/1101 AD; Al-Shaykh al-Mufid (d. 413 AH/1022 AD), author of Kitab alIrshad; id. Al-Fusul al-'ashara fi a!-ghayba; Al-Murtada `Alam al-Huda (d. 436 AH/1044 AD), a disciple of al-Mufid: Ali al-Karajaki (d. 449 AH/1057 AD), another of al-Mufid's disciples; and finally Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan al-Tusi (d.460 AH/1067 AD). All these authors' works preceded the minor Occultation. 5

The Twelver Shi'ite doctrine on the Occultation, based on traditions attributed to the Imams, was authoritatively elaborated by Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Nu'mani in his Kitab al-Ghayba, by Ibn Babuya in his Ikmal al-Din, and by Shaykh al-Tusi in his Kitab al-Ghayba. In Imami traditions, as in Sunni traditions, the Mahdi will rule the world, with Jesus praying behind him after his descent from heaven. This did not raise a theological problem as it would in Sunnism, since the Mahdi, like all other Imams, according to prevalent Imami doctrine, exceeds all Prophets except Muhammad in religious rank. 6

1 Imami (or imamate); the Shia who believe in twelve imams.

2 Sachedina, "A treatise on the Occultarion..." , p.110

3 al-Kulayni , Usul, "kitab al-hujja", bab fi al-nahy 'an al-ism , hadith 1 and 3, vol.1, p.332-333.

4 M.A.A. Moezzi, The Divine Guide in Early Shi 'ism, p.106

5 M.A.A. Moezzi, The Divine Guide in Early Shi'ism, p.101

6 "Al-Mahdi", EI2, p. 1236

Adapted from the book: "Mahdi in the Qur'an" by: "N. Vasram and A. Toussi"

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