Why have natural laws been suspended for the sake of this particular person?
Why have natural laws been suspended for the sake of this particular person? Is it not possible that the role of filling the world with justice and equity could be left to a leader who might be born on the eve of the appointed day and grow like other people?
It is true, as far as common experience and the experiments carried out so far by scientists are concerned, that this long life granted by Allah (swt) to Al-Mahdi (as) appears to be very unusual. But his role of revolutionizing the world order and rebuilding the entire system on the basis of justice and truth is also so extraordinary that it has never been experienced in history. It should not be surprising that in the preparatory stage his work is preceded by some unusual and extraordinary events, such as an unusually long life. No matter how unfamiliar these events may be, they are not more unusual than the great role to be performed by Al-Mahdi (as) on his appointed day. If we can appreciate the gravity of this role, which has no precedent in history, there is no reason why we should not appreciate his unprecedented long life.
We wonder if it is mere chance that both of the only two people who undertook to purify human civilization of all its impurities and to reconstruct the world should have had a very long life span, several times that of the usual one. One of them played his role in the past. He was Noah (as), about whom the Holy Qur'an has expressly said that he lived among his people for 950 years. He reconstructed the world after the Deluge. The other is to play his role in the future, and he is Al-Mahdi (as), who has already lived among his people for more than a thousand years and is destined to play his role on the appointed day and, again, build the world anew. How is it that we can accept the longevity of Noah who lived for at least about a thousand years and deny that of Al-Mahdi (as)?
We have learnt that a long life is scientifically possible, but let us suppose that it is not so and the law of senility is inexorable and cannot be defined either today or in future. All that this means is that a life spanning several centuries. Like that of Noah and Al-Mahdi (as), is contrary to the natural laws established by science through modern methods of experimentation and investigation. But there still remains the possibility that such a long life can be the result of a miracle, which suspends natural laws in order to preserve the life of a particular person entrusted with a celestial mission. This miracle is not unique, nor is it alien to the Muslim belief derived from the texts of the Qur'an and the Sunnah.
The law of senility is not any more relentless than the law of heat exchange, according to which heat passes from a body having a higher temperature to a body having a lower temperature. This law was suspended to protect Abraham when he was thrown into the burning life, for this was the only way to preserve his life. The Holy Qur'an says: "We said: O fire, be coolness and peace for Abraham" (21:69), and Abraham came out of the fire unscathed.
In many other cases natural laws were suspended to protect the Prophets and other Divinely appointed Messengers. The sea was parted for Moses. It appeared to the Romans that they had captured Jesus whereas they had not. Prophet Mohammed (s) escaped from his house while it was surrounded by a mob from Quraysh and other Arab tribes who were waiting for an opportunity to assassinate him. Allah concealed him, so that the Quraishites could not see him when he walked out through their midst. In all these cases natural laws were suspended for the protection of the people whose lives the Divine Wisdom wanted to preserve. The onset of cell senility can be just as easily suspended.
From the above discussion we can arrive at a general conclusion: Whenever it is necessary to preserve the life of one of the chosen servants of Allah to enable him to accomplish his mission, Divine Grace intervenes to protect him and one of the natural laws is suspended. On the contrary, if the period of his appointment comes to an end and the task entrusted to him by the Almighty is accomplished, he meets death in accordance with the natural laws related to life or is martyred.
In this connection we are usually confronted with the following questions:
How can a natural law be suspended and the compulsory relationship between the various phenomenon be served?
Will such a suspension not be in contradiction to science, which has discovered that a law determines the compulsory relationship on the basis of experiments and investigation?
Science itself has provided an answer to this question. It has already given up the idea of compulsion in respect of natural laws. It only says that these laws are discovered on the basis of systematic observation and experiment. When it is observed that one phenomenon invariably follows another, this invariability is treated as a natural law. But science does not claim that there exists a binding and compulsory relationship between any two phenomena, because compulsion is a factor that cannot be proved by experiment and scientific methods of investigation. Modern science confirms that a natural law as defined by it, speaks only of an invariable association between two phenomena and is not concerned with any compulsory relationship between them.
Hence, if a miracle takes place and the natural relationship between two phenomena breaks down, it does not amount to the breaking down of a compulsory relationship.
In fact, a miracle in its religious sense has become more understandable in the light of modern science theory than it was when the classical view of casual nexus prevailed. According to the old theory it was presumed that phenomena invariably associated with each other must have an inevitably relationship between them and this inevitability meant that their separation from each other was inconceivable. According to modern scientific thinking, however, this relationship has been transformed into a law of association or invariable succession.
Thus, a miracle need not come into conflict with inevitability any longer. It is only an exceptional state of the invariability of association and succession.
We agree with the scientific view that modern scientific methods cannot prove the existence of an inevitable relationship between any two phenomenon. But we are also of the view that there must still be some explanation of the invariability of association and succession. As this can be explained on the basis of the theory of intrinsic inevitability, it can also be explained if we assume that it is the Wisdom of the Organizer of the universe which requires a particular phenomenon to be invariably related to some other phenomenon and that in certain cases the same wisdom may require that there should be an exception. Such exceptional cases are called miracles.
Now let us take up the question as to why Allah (swt) is so keen to prolong Al-Mahdi's (as) life so that even natural laws are suspended for his sake. Is it not advisable to leave the leadership of the appointed day to a person to be born in the future and brought up according to the needs of that time? What is the justification for this long Occultation?
Most of those who ask this question do not want an answer based simply on belief. It is not enough to say that we believe it to be so. What such interrogators really expect is a reasonable and social explanation of Al-Mahdi's (as) position in the light of the tangible requirements of the great change expected to be brought about by Al-Mahdi (as).
Let us leave aside for the time being the qualifications we believe the infallible Imams (as) to have possessed and instead ask the following question: Is it likely, in the light of past experience, that the leader-designate's long life will contribute to his success and will enable him to play his role better?
Our reply to this question is in the affirmative. To begin with, we see that a great revolutionary change requires that its leader should possess a unique mental caliber. He should be conscious of his own superiority and the insignificance of the knotty system he intends to overthrow. The more conscious he is of the insignificance of the corrupt society he has to fight against, the more prepared he will be psychologically to wage a war till victory is won.
It is evident that the size of his mental caliber should be proportionate to the size of the proposed change and the size of the social system required to be eliminated. The more extensive and deep-stead this system is, the greater should be the psychological push required.
His mission being to revolutionize the world, full of injustice and oppression, and to bring about a radical change in all its cultural values and diverse systems, it is but natural that it should be entrusted to a person whose mental caliber is higher than that of anyone in the whole of the existing world and who may not have been born and brought up under the influence of the society to be overthrown and replaced with a culture of justice and righteousness. One brought up under the shadow of a deep-seated and world-dominating culture is naturally impressed and overawed by it, that being the only culture which he has seen and by which he has been influenced from a tender age.
But the case should be different with a person who has a long historical background, who has witnessed several great cultures successively grow and decline, who has seen the big historical changes with his own eyes, who has been a contemporary of all the stages of the development of that culture which happens to be the last chapter of human history before the appointed day and who has seen all its ups and downs. Such a person, who himself has lived through all these stages very carefully and attentively, is equipped to look at the culture he has to grapple with in its historical perspective and is not daunted by its magnitude. He does not regard it as an unalterable destiny.
His attitude will not be like that of Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) with regards to the French monarchy. Rousseau, in spite of being a great champion of political revolution from an intellectual and a philosophical point of view, shuddered at the very thought of there being a France without a king, the reason being that he was born and brought up and had always lived under the shadow of monarchy. But a man having a long historical background and being fully aware of historical factors will know perfectly well how and when the prevailing culture and the prevailing system came into being and developed. He will know that the historical age of all cultures and systems, howsoever long, is very limited.
One should examine Surah al-Kahf (chapter 18 of the Holy Qur'an), where there is recounted the story of a group of virtuous youths who believed in Allah (swt), and who faced an idolatrous system which ruthlessly crushed every idea of monotheism. They were greatly distressed and seemed to have lost all hope. In utter despair they took refuge in a cave, where they prayed to Allah (swt) to resolve their difficulty. They thought that the unjust system existing then would continue to prevail forever and would liquidate all those whose hearts ached for the truth. In response, Allah (swt) sent them to sleep in the cave for 309 years. He then awakened them and sent them back to the scene of life. By then the unjust regime, the power and tyranny that had dazzled them, had completely collapsed and become a part of history. This arrangement was made to enable those young men to see for themselves the downfall of the falsehood, power and grandeur which had overawed them. The people of the cave achieved moral uplift and sublimation through this unique experience, which prolonged their lives for three hundred years. The same privilege will be enjoyed by the Mahdi (as) through his long life which will enable him to see the giant dwindling into a dwarf, a lofty tree shrinking to become a mere seed and a tornado turning into a mere breeze.
The experience gained through the direct and close study of so many successive cultures will widen the mental horizon of the person designated to lead the revolution and will prepare him better for the accomplishment of his mission. He will have benefited by the experience of others, and will be in a better position to assess social developments correctly in their true historical context.
As the revolution to be brought about by the Awaited Savior is to be ideological and based on the message of Islam, the very nature of his mission requires him to be close to the early Islamic sources and to have a personality built independently of and detached from the influence of the culture he is destined to fight. A person born and brought up under the shadow of a particular culture cannot completely escape its effects, even if he leads a campaign against it. To ensure that the leader-designate is not himself influenced by the culture he is expected to change, his personality must be built fully at a cultural stage closer in its general spirit to the system he wants to establish.
Adapted from the book: "The Awaited Saviour; Questions and Answers"
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