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When Did the Story about the Occultation Begin?

Dr. Fahimi: I have heard that since Imam Hasan 'Askari died without leaving a son, some opportunistic people like 'Uthman b. Sa'id, fabricated the story about the occultation of the Mahdi in order to preserve their own position in the community.

Mr. Hoshyar: The Prophet and the Imams had long before that informed the people about the impending occultation of the Mahdi. Thus, for instance, the Prophet is reported to have said:

I swear by the One Who prompted me to give you the good news that the Qa'im among my descendants, in accordance with the covenant that reaches him from me, will disappear. [The situation will be such] that most of the people will say: "God does not need the progeny of Muhammad." Others will doubt his very birth. Whoever lives during [this period of occultation] should cling to his faith and not let the Satan approach him through the channel of doubt and cause him to abandon my religion, just as he had caused your parents [Adam and Eve], to be thrown out of Paradise. Undoubtedly, God has made Satan friend of those who do not believe.1

Asbagh b. Nubata relates the occasion when Amir al-Mu'minin 'Ali b. Abi Talib remembered the Qa'im and said: "Be aware that he will disappear in such a way that an ignorant person will say: 'God does not need the progeny of Muhammad.'"2

Imam Sadiq advised his followers saying: "If you hear the story about your Imam's occultation, do not deny it."3 There are some 88 hadith-reports on this subject.

It was because of these traditions that Muslims regarded the occultation necessary for the Qa'im. It was considered to be one of his characteristics. In fact, anyone who claimed to be the promised Mahdi or was fancied to be so was necessarily believed by his supporters to be in occultation. Abu al-Faraj Isfahani, in his description of one of such claimants, writes: "'Isa b. 'Abd Allah reports that Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah b. Hasan [b. 'Ali b. Abi Talib] lived in concealment from the very early childhood and was named Mahdi."4

Sayyid Muhammad Himyari, the well known poet during the Umayyad period, relates that he used to hold exaggerated beliefs about Muhammad b. Hanafiyya, including the belief that he was in occultation. For a long time he held such erroneous beliefs until that time, as he says, God favored him and he was saved from them by Imam Sadiq's right guidance. The event is described thus by him:

When I was fully convinced about the Imamate of Ja'far b. Muhammad [Sadiq] through well demonstrated proof, I went to see him one day and asked him: "O son of the Prophet, there are traditions about the occurrence of occultation that have reached us from your forefathers which regard occultation among the definite things. Would you kindly inform me as to whom these traditions speak?" The Imam replied: "This occultation will occur for the sixth of my descendants. He is the twelfth Imam after the Prophet, of whom the first is 'Ali b. Abi Talib and the last is the Qa'im, Baqiyyat Allah (the Remnant of God), and the Master of the Age. I solemnly declare that even if his occultation lasts for as long as the age of Noah, he will not leave this world until he rises and fills it with justice and equity."

Sayyid Himyari adds:

When I heard this from my master Ja'far b. Muhammad the truth became evident for me. I apologized to him for the erroneous belief that I held before that and composed a poem on the subject.5

Hence, the story of occultation of the Mahdi was not invented by 'Uthman b. Sa'id. It was God who foreordained it for him, and the Prophet and the Imams had informed the people about it before his father Imam Hasan 'Askari was born. Tabarsi, in his book on the history of the Prophet and the Imams entitled, I'lam al-wara, writes:

The traditions about the ghaybat of the twelfth Imam were in circulation before his, his father's, and his grandfather's birth. They were recorded and cited by the Shi'i traditionists who lived during the time of Imams Baqir and Sadiq. Among these highly trusted traditionists is Hasan b. Mahbub. He wrote a book entitled Mashikha a century before the occultation of the twelfth Imam in which he recorded traditions about the occultation. One of the traditions published in this book included the following hadith reported from Abu Basir, who relates:

I asked Imam Sadiq: "Abu Ja'far [Imam Baqir] said, 'The Qa'im among the descendants of Muhammad will have two occultations, one long and the other short.'" Hearing this Imam Sadiq said, "Yes, that is so. One of the two occultations will be longer."

Tabarsi then draws his conclusion and writes:

Do you see how with the materialization of the two occultations for Imam Hasan 'Askari's son the prediction in the hadith came to be true?6

Muhammad b. Ibrahim b. Ja'far Nu'mani was born during the Short Occultation (ghaybat-i sughra), and when he wrote his book on Ghayba the twelfth Imam was eighty and some years old. He writes the following on page 6:

The Imams had foretold the occurrence of the occultation. If the occultation had not occurred, this very point would have become the source of falsification of the belief of the Shi'a Imamiyya (i.e., the Twelvers). But God manifested the truthfulness of the Imams' predictions by means of causing the Imam to go into occultation.

1 Ithbat al-hudat, Vol. 6, p. 386.

2 Ibid., p. 393.

3 Ibid., p. 350.

4 Maqatil al-talibiyyin, p. 165.

5 Kamal al-din, Vol. 1, pp. 112-115.

6 I'lam al-wara (Tehran edition, 1378 AH), p. 416.

Adopted from the book : "Al-Imam al-Mahdi (a.s.); the Just Leader of Humanity" by : "Ayatullah Ibrahim Amini"

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