What If the Mahdi Was Well-known?
Dr. Jalali: If the promised Mahdi had been a prominent and well-known personality and if his highly publicized merits and characteristics had reached the ears of the Muslims and the companions of the rightful Imams in the early days of Islam, the road to manipulation and fallacies would have necessarily been closed, and the associates of the Imams and the scholars would not have fallen into an error. On the contrary, one finds that even some of the descendants of the Imams did not have proper information about the subject of the Mahdi. How, then, did so many individuals claiming to be the Mahdi appear in the early days, introducing themselves as the promised Mahdi of Islam and misleading the people with their false claim? If the Muslims knew the Mahdi by name, and the name of his father and mother, and his patronymic, and that he was the twelfth Imam, and all other details about his age and other characteristics, how did then a group fall into error and regard Muhammad b. Hanafiyya, Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah b. Hasan, Ja'far Sadiq, Musa Kazim, or other such individuals as the Mahdi?
Mr. Hoshyar: As mentioned earlier, the fundamental belief in the existence of the Mahdi was a well-established tenet of faith among early Muslims. In fact, people did not entertain any doubt in his existence. The Prophet had given detailed information about the existence of the Mahdi, his characteristics, his universal mission of instituting the divine government based on justice and equity and of bringing an end to injustice and tyranny by carrying out necessary reforms. Indeed, the Prophet had given many such glad tidings to the Muslims. Nevertheless, he had not provided them with the cues and the actual characteristics and distinctions of the Mahdi. Rather, one can say that such matters were part of the confidential information that was revealed to a few entrusted and loyal followers of Islam. The Prophet had given that confidential information about the Mahdi to 'Ali b. Abi Talib, Fatima and other trusted companions, while keeping that secret from the general public, giving them only hints and general information on the subject. The Imams who came after the Prophet followed the Prophet's example and shared only summary information about the Mahdi with the general public. All the detailed particulars on the subject were handed down from one Imam to the succeeding Imams, one after the other. On occasion, the information was divulged to a few trustworthy associates. Over all, the general public and even some of the family members of the Imams, knew very little about the subject.
There were two reasons for the Prophet and the Imams not to indulge in providing detailed information about the future coming of the Mahdi:
First, they wanted to keep the identity of the promised Mahdi secret from the enemies of God and the unjust rulers so that no harm would befall him from that direction. The Prophet and the Imams were fully aware that if the unjust rulers, caliphs and their agents knew the identity of the Mahdi with all the particulars about his parents, their names, and so on, they would not hesitate to prevent his birth even if that meant killing his parents. The Umayyads and the 'Abbasids were determined to hold on to their power by eliminating even the slightest threat to it. They did not pause to commit grievous crimes in order to remain in power. In all likelihood, they would have endeavored to get rid of him, even if it meant killing anyone remotely connected with a challenge to their autocratic rule.
It is important to note that even though the Umayyads and the 'Abbasids were not fully informed about the signs of the Mahdi's appearance, they killed thousands of the descendants of 'Ali b. Abi Talib and Fatima, in order to thwart the potential threat of the Mahdi's revolution. In a hadith related from Imam Sadiq to Mufaddal, Abu Basir and Aban b. Taghlib, the Imam said: "Since the Umayyads and the 'Abbasids had heard that tyrannical rule will be overthrown by our Qa'im, they initiated their hostility against us. They labored to kill the descendants of the Prophet and to destroy subsequent generations with the hope that they could get rid of the Qa'im. But since God was determined to fulfill His will, He did not avail the tyrants all the information about the matter."1
The case with the Imams was not very different than with the Prophet himself. They lived in fear for their lives. Hence, they practiced 'prudential concealment' (taqiyya) in revealing the details about the Mahdi even to their closest associates and other 'Alawites. Abu Khalid, the close associate of Imams Baqir and Sadiq, once requested Imam Baqir to confirm the name of al-Qa'im for him so that he would perfectly recognize him. The Imam said: "O Abu Khalid, you have asked me something about which if the descendants of Fatima come to know anything, the authorities would cut him into pieces!"2
Second, by providing merely general information about the Mahdi, the Prophet and the Imams wanted those weak in their faith not to be overcome by despair at the weakness of God's religion in the face of the unjust powers. In other words, those who had witnessed or heard about the unpolluted and just rule of the Prophet and Imam 'Ali b. Abi Talib in the early days of Islam, had heard about the ultimate victory of true religion and the end of injustice and corruption under Islam. Accordingly, they had accepted the new religion with much hope of seeing an end to all the corruption. However, since they were newcomers to Islam their faith was not that strong. On the one hand, the prevalent turmoil in Muslim society and the unfavorable conditions that ensued had an impact upon these people. On the other hand, they saw the wicked behavior of the Umayyad and 'Abbasid rulers and the way that that impacted upon society. These unfavorable social and political conditions had made them very perplexed. The concern of the Prophet and the Imams was that people with weak faith would lose hope, with the truth and religion of Islam being overpowered by evil forces, and so these people would abandon Islam. The thing that to a certain extent assured people to remain faithful to Islam and to keep their hearts hopeful was the belief in the deliverance and the revolution of the promised Mahdi. These Muslims anticipated the revolution of the promised Mahdi to take place any day to redress the injustices in society and to restore universal good order according to the Islamic ideals of justice and equity. It is natural that this hope for a better future in the people would have been effected only when all the true details about the Qa'im's uprising were not clearly known. Otherwise, if the details about the timing, the identity and other related signs of the Mahdi's appearance were public knowledge, such a positive attitude and hope would not have ensued. Undoubtedly, it was this general, summary information about the future role of the Mahdi that gave the capacity to the downtrodden people in the early days of Islam to bear with patience the unfavorable living conditions under the corrupt and unjust rulers of the Ummayad and 'Abbasid dynasties.
The intended impact of what was foretold about the Mahdi in brief is captured in the report in which Yaqtin, a supporter of the 'Abbasids, asked his son 'Ali b. Yaqtin, one of the prominent associates of the Imam Musa Kazim: "Why is it that things that were predicted about us have been fulfilled, whereas those about you remain unrealized?" 'Ali b. Yaqtin replied: "The reports that foretold the events came from the same [prophetic] source. However, since the time for your political power has arrived, the prophecies about you are, one by one, being fulfilled. But, the time for our rule, that is the rule of the Prophet's family, has not come yet. Hence, they have kept us occupied with the glad tidings and future aspirations. If we had been told that the government of the Prophet's family will not be established for the next two or three centuries, the hearts would have been hard and most of the people would have abandoned Islam. But, the events have been reported in such a way that the hearts are pleased and every day we are looking forward to the establishment of God's government."3
1 Ibn Babüya, Kamal al-din, Vol. 2, 354.
2 Shaykh al-Tusi, Kitab al-ghayba, p. 202.
3 Ibid., p. 208.
Adopted from the book : "Al-Imam al-Mahdi (a.s.); the Just Leader of Humanity" by : "Ayatullah Ibrahim Amini"
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