Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi (p)

Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi (peace be upon him)

Name: Muhammad
Title: al-Mahdi; al-Hujjat ibn al-Hassan, al-Muntadhar
Kunya: Abu Salih (The Most Pious One)
Father: Hassan ibn Ali (al-Askari), peace be upon them
Mother: Narjis
Born: 15th Sha’ban, 255 AH/869 CE in Samarra, Iraq
Occultation: 329 AH
Period of Imamate: Continuous

Imam Mahdi (p)

The Twelfth Imam

The eleventh Imam’s holy body had been prepared and the mourning attendees were waiting to see who would lead the prayer for the late Imam…Imam al-‘Askari’s brother Ja’far stepped up to lead the prayer, but as soon as the brother prepared to utter the opening statement, a radiant young boy approached. “Step back, uncle,” said the boy, whose face glowed like the full moon, “…for I have a greater right [than you] to (lead) the prayer over my father.” Ja’far’s color changed as the young Imam spoke. He stepped back to make way for the twelfth immaculate Imam. The Holy Imam, son of Imam Hasan al-Askari, then led the prayer.[i]

The twelfth Imam’s name is that of Prophet Muhammad. He is referred to by many titles, such as al-Hujjah (the proof), al-Qa’im (the one who rises), and Sahib al-Zaman (guardian of the age). However, the most famous of his titles is al-Mahdi (the guided one).[ii] Imam al-Mahdi is the savior whom Prophet Muhammad spoke of on numerous occasions. Scholars from both the Shia and Sunni schools of thought agree that the Messenger of God foretold of Imam al-Mahdi’s advent. “Even if no (period) remained left in time except for a single day, God would (still) send forth a man from my family to fill it with justice, just as it had been filled with injustice.” The Shia scholars have conclusive evidence that Imam al-Mahdi was born in the year 255 AH (869 CE) and is living to this day as a hidden personality. In other words, Imam al-Mahdi is over 1000 years old! These statements raise many questions…[iii]

Questions to Answer

How can someone live that long? Practically, living that long does not seem feasible. But, to be fair, if we consider this in a purely rational way, the logical possibility – although unlikely – still exists. Now, when one recognizes that the All-Powerful Lord of the Worlds is in control of everything, extending the life of a man for some Divine purpose can easily be fathomed.[iv]

But what is the use in having a Hidden Imam? To be clear, the Imam is not invisible. He is in occultation. “Occultation” here refers to the concealment – not the invisibility – of the twelfth Imam. During the occultation, Imam al-Mahdi has led and continues to lead a normal life in the heart of various societies. However, he is not publically known as Imam al-Mahdi.[v]

Divine wisdom dictated that the twelfth Imam should not be publically apparent until a time in which society would be best prepared to receive his guidance. The time of occultation is meant as a way to protect the Imam from imprisonment or assassination and as a test of faith for people. Beyond these reasons, only God knows the true wisdom behind the occultation.[vi]

At one point, Prophet Muhammad was asked if the Shia would benefit from the Imam during his occultation. The Prophet replied, “Yes, I swear by the One who sent me as a Prophet, they do benefit from him and are illuminated by the light of his guardianship during his occultation – just as people benefit from the sun, even when it is concealed by the clouds.”

At any point in time, God always has a manifestation of the best guidance to humanity – whom we call the Imam. Because of this reality, we know that the Imam is the medium through which God channels the emanation of Divine perfections to the rest of creation. The Imam, then, is the channel for spiritual life and energy to the universe. Without the Imam as the conduit for Divine expression, the universe would collapse. As the sixth immaculate Imam, Ja’far al-Sadiq, described it, “If the earth were to be without an Imam, it would go under.”[vii]

The Occultation

In discussing Imam al-Mahdi’s life, the context of two main periods – the Minor Occultation (al-Ghaybat al-Sughra) and the Major Occultation (al-Ghaybat al-Kubra) – comes into focus.

The Minor Occultation lasted for about 69 years, during which Imam al-Mahdi maintained limited contact with specifically designated representatives. There were four appointed representatives of the twelfth Imam, who served consecutively during this period.[viii]

Before the fourth representative’s death, Imam al-Mahdi informed him that the Major Occultation would soon begin. Hence, there would be no more specifically designated representatives. But rather, in accordance with intellectual practice, the Shia were to refer to the most qualified scholars for direction and guidance. These qualified scholars would be considered general representatives of the twelfth Imam. When someone asked Imam al-Mahdi about who the Shia should refer to regarding events that occur during the occultation, the Imam replied:

“As for the events which occur, refer back to the narrators of our narrations (the qualified scholars) in that (regard). For indeed, they are my proof (as witnesses) upon you and I am the proof of God.”[ix]

Signs and Preparations

Prophet Muhammad and the immaculate Imams have narrated several ‘signs’ which are believed to herald Imam al-Mahdi’s advent. Some of these signs include:

1.    The appearance of al-Yamani

2.    The call from the sky

3.    The murder of the pure soul of al-Nafs al-Zakiyyah

4.    The appearance of al-Sufyani

5.    An eclipsed in the desert of the Arabian peninsula

The interpretation of what each of these signs may actually mean is discussed extensively among scholarly experts. A more accessible discussion of practical implications, however, deals with the conditions of preparation for Imam al-Mahdi’s reappearance.

Four key points of particular importance in this regard are:

1.    Worldwide readiness to receive Imam al-Mahdi’s reforms

2.    Advancement of the collective human intelligence

3.    Advancement of human technologies

4.    Preparation of a worldwide defensive force[x]

Being aware of the strengths and drawbacks of different approaches to world affairs is also important. In efforts to pave the way for Imam al-Mahdi’s advent, the faithful are to discipline themselves through the pursuit of useful knowledge. Connecting with Imam al-Mahdi’s general representatives – the upright, qualified scholars – is a sure way to attain this knowledge and strengthen the readiness to defend universal principles.

Awareness of Imam al-Mahdi

By training and nurturing the human intellect, a person learns to remedy his or her spiritual ailments and is able to manifest virtue. The entire process of striving for positive change intensifies a believer’s awareness. In the state of heightened awareness, a person works to realize Imam al-Mahdi’s goals and may be awakened to some startling questions: Is the twelfth Imam really absent or are we? Are we waiting for Imam al-Mahdi or is he waiting for us?

It has been narrated that the sixth Imam advised his close companion:

“If you (live to) see that time (of the twelfth Imam’s occultation), then commit to (reading) this prayer,‘Oh God, make me aware of Your (Divine) Self – for if you do not make me aware of Your Self, I will not be aware of Your Prophet (to me). Oh God, make me aware of Your Messenger (to me) – for if you do not make me aware of Your Messenger, I will not be aware of Your Proof (as a witness upon me; the Imam). Oh God, make me aware of Your Proof – for if you do not make me aware of Your Proof, I will deviate from my religion (of guidance).’”[xi]


[i] Pg. 585 of Seerat al-A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani

[ii] Pg. 591 of Seerat al-A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani

[iii] Pg. 119-120 of al-A’immah al-Ithnay Ashar by Sh. Ja’far Subhani

[iv] Pg. 132 of al-A’immah al-Ithnay Ashar by Sh. Ja’far Subhani

[v] Pg. 636 of Seerat al-A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani

[vi] Pg. 595-598 of Seerat al-A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani

[vii] Pg. 638-640 of Seerat al-A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani

[viii] Pg. 598, 600 of Seerat al-A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani

[ix] Pg. 615 of Seerat al-A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani

[x] Pg. 134 of al-A’immah al-Ithnay Ashar by Sh. Ja’far Subhani

[xi] Pg. 326, Vol. 92 of Bihar al-Anwar by Allamah Majlisi