A group of believers in North America would like to inquire about that which was…
Hope is one of the main constants in the life of every human is or her goals, regardless if they are big or small, short or long term. It is another way of perceiving the future, and there is no one in existence who does not think and plan for their future, even if it is to a certain extent.
In our daily lives, we may encounter two different groups of people with whom we coexist with and may also express empathy and concern for their suffering.
The first one is an optimistic group that tries to push itself to attain progress and development to achieve changes wherever needed. In fact, this group works hard to secure a better future. Consider, for example, that some people may view the best solution for mankind and the world as being one with a strong global economic system (i.e. capitalism versus other systems). Others may be of the position that through a specific system of government this solution can be found (i.e. a republic as opposed to a monarchy). Others still, may view a worldwide system of information as this solution (some are pro- globalization while others are against it), and we may yet see even more differences. In all cases, each of these groups has one thing in common, and that is a concern for the future, regardless of the path they take to address it.
The second group is a pessimistic one that tries to push a negative philosophical outlook to achieve what it views as needed changes or lack thereof. This group looks at life as a source of all illnesses, misery, and evil. They are tired of this life and for this reason, view no better means to bring about changes than to put down the efforts of those who possess an optimistic outlook on life. This is one of the only ways they find solace in what they see as an otherwise poisoned and evil world.
Without passing judgment of any of the aforementioned positions, it is not difficult to see that both of these groups live in what they view as a challenging world. The first one sees a need for progress, while the second sees only evil. Essentially, both groups are displaying a concern for their respective futures and channel their energies toward their hopes in this regard, or lack thereof. Both manifestations suggest that there is oppression and unfairness. Regardless of one’s being optimistic or pessimistic, neither situation can be free of the source of their concerns except through salvation and comprehensive, global justice.
Salvation (al-Najat, النجاة) defined as the ‘preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss’, cannot be an idea or opinion. Rather, it is the innate goal of human nature that mankind coexists peacefully. It is part of our very existence and not something acquired. A brief look at history reveals that people, regardless of religion or school of thought, all hold the common belief, that a day will come when all oppression comes to an end and that peace and justice will reign supreme. It is a widespread feeling and many view it an inevitable matter. Even different Holy Books, such as those of Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and others, have mentioned this and are, largely, of the same position on this topic. Further, even famous liberal and secular researchers support this theory.[i]
It is not difficult to imagine that this concept may even frighten some and drive those who control the world economically, politically, and socially, to take preemptive measures to “protect” their interests and even go so far as to start wars for no reason. This can be seen through many historical examples. Several kings of the Abbasid caliphs[ii] had received credible news that predicted the birth of a distinguished boy during the ninth century, who would be known as the savior and would bring justice to the world. As a result, Abbasid kings issued executive orders to detain any pregnant woman they could find until delivery. If they had a boy, then, the order was that he must be killed.[iii] Even a decade later, Caliph al-Mu’tadhid continued his efforts to find this special child among certain families in an effort to kill him.
This type of extreme behavior was not simply another example of the tyranny of a despotic ruler. Rather it was a strategic effort by a ruler who believed in the genuine “threat” a savior posed to his throne. In essence, regardless of his faith or lack thereof, even he believed that a savior would eventually appear.
So who exactly is this savior and what, for that matter is salvation? Let us try to analyze this concept in further detail.
Even though the concept of salvation is a widespread idea and that it, arguably, coexists with human nature, it is a theory that has been challenged by many throughout the ages. Many thousands of years have already passed, but salvation has not yet taken place. Still, it is a thing yearned for by mankind and the object of hope. Aside from this, over many millennia, the promise of salvation has been described in numerous Holy Books. However, these same texts also indicate that there were many Prophets and Messengers, from Adam to Muhammad (pbut), and each completed their divine mission before departing from this life. Despite this, and the advent of so many Prophets and Messengers, mankind has still not achieved salvation. Aside from Prophets, many great leaders, intellectuals, and seekers[iv] have also tried to achieve salvation, but to no avail. What we see in the world today in the form of unfairness not only demonstrates a world far from the justice, but it also reveals a world where mankind yearns for salvation more than ever before. Why, then, does it not occur? When will it happen and for that matter, by whose hand?
Upon analysis of the facts, it can be seen that people have a real desire for salvation. So what is this concept? Without a proper understanding of this idea, humanity risks falling into confusion instead of achieving clarity. Furthermore, the discussion of salvation is not limited to a single geographical location, rather it applies, uniformly, to the entire world. That being said, true salvation such as this cannot be measured by normal individuals with limited power, ability, tools, and means. No, this great movement, to achieve success, requires the power and means of none other than one who is capable of exercising and controlling such power. Therefore, it stands to reason that salvation can only be achieved by the will and power of the Creator Himself.
Now that we have established that salvation requires the will of the Divine, it is not difficult to see that this will require a special emissary to implement this will. Furthermore, the implementation itself must be perfect and uniform. In other words, it must be representative of a perfect system. History has proven, time after time, that flawed systems of governance under even more flawed leaders have led mankind toward increased injustice. Therefore, a divine plan for a perfect system can only be implemented by a perfect leader.
This is the central focus of religions, beliefs, and the inclination that resonates deep in the hearts of all people who yearn for salvation. Therefore, proceeding under the premise that salvation can only be achieved through a divine savior (al-Munqith, المُنْقِذ), i.e. ‘a person who saves someone or something from danger or difficulty,’ what does God the Almighty say about such a distinguished figure and how has He described him?
As said earlier, salvation is a widely-accepted concept, however, people have differing opinions about the savior. For instance, he is referred to in numerous Holy Books, but by different names. Other information shows variations in details on biographical data. Some texts, for example, report that he is yet to be born, while others say he has already been born and remains in a condition of occultation until reappearing at the divinely appointed time.
The Savior as viewed in Islam & Christianity
A popular view of the savior in the eyes of some of the world’s most widely practiced faiths today makes the following preliminary assertions:
It is not sufficient that the savior should have special characteristics such as an abundance of knowledge, exceptional personality and so on, but he must also have divine support. Such a person has not yet been identified as coming into public view by any of the major world faiths especially since injustice still persists in the world.
The savior is not a prophet. All major religions acknowledge the finality of Prophet Muhammad (p) and no one has recognized another after him.
According to Islam, there is a great deal of information detailing the savior and his impending return. Among two big resources that Muslims have today, is the Holy Quran and the Narrations from Prophet Muhammad (p)[i]. These holy texts detail, at great length, information about even his personal matters, time, and what will happen before and after his appearance. A few of these details can be seen below:
- The savior’s lineage can be traced back to Prophet Abraham and is a descendant of Prophet Muhammad from his daughter Lady Fatima, the spouse of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (pbut). To read more about the Prophets from Adam to Jesus (pbut), read ‘God’s Emissaries: Adam to Jesus’.
- He is the final Imam after Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) (in this context, Imam means infallible religious leader; in the modern era, it can also be used more commonly to refer to one who leads prayer).
- He is the son of Imam Hassan al-Askari (p), who is the eleventh infallible Imam and his mother is Lady Narjis (p) whose ancestry can be traced back to Shimon. Shimon was one of Jesse’s apostle. Essentially, the savior is a descendent of two noble families.
- He is called al-Muntadhar (the Awaited one) and al-Mahdi (the Guided one). He was born on the 15th of Sha’ban, 255 AH (around July, 29th, 869 AD), in Samarra, Iraq. His parents hid him from public sight to protect him from the Abbasid caliph, with only a few trustworthy individuals being the exception.
- He is alive today and continues his normal life with God’s support and safety. He is the main channel through which God sends blessings to the entire universe.
- He will reappear and will be seen physically by everyone at a time of God’s choosing. At that time, oppression, injustice, and unfairness will have covered the entire world and all of mankind will be pleading for salvation. Then, God will permit him to appear and bring a universal justice.
The Holy Bible describes him in almost the same way:
- “And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious”[ii]. In the Arabic version, the term “stand for an ensign…” is the same term used for the Mahdi, who called al-Qaim in Arabic.
- “The humble will inherit the land; they will take in abundant peace”[iii].
- “And he shall judge among the nations”[iv]
- “he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked”[v]
Both Islam and Christianity mention the coming of a savior. How salvation is achieved, the manner in which unity can be attained, and our individual responsibilities towards a just world will be discussed in Part 2 of ‘Concept of a Savior’.
[i] Examples will be coming in next parts.
[ii] As an example, Abbasid kings like al-Musta’een (governed 862-866), al-Mu’tazz (866-869), al-Muhtadi (869-870), al-Mu’tamad (870-892), and al-Mu’tadhid (892-903) could be mentioned.
[iii] Numerous Islamic historical sources talk about this story in details such as but not limited to Ta’rikh al-Tabari, and al-Kamil Fi al-Ta’rikh, in the Events and Occasions of 254 AH (Islamic Calendar) and after 254. These two large books are the most valuable history resources among Muslims in general.
[iv] For example; look into “The End of History and the last Man” written by Francis Fukuyama. In his book, he adopted the salvation theory but he presented it within a current model. His sees today’s western liberal world as the highest and best in terms of progress humanity can reach, so it should be used as a model for other societies.
[i] The Holy Quran contains over 6,500 verses. And there are thousands of narrations related to Prophet Muhammad through different chains of narrators, but at least more than ten thousand narrations have been validated by all different Muslim sects in the world. Among them, we can find hundreds of narrations which refer to the Savior only.
[ii] Isaiah – 11: 10
[iii] Psalm – 37: 11
[iv] Isaiah – C 2: 4
[v] Isaiah – 11: 4