A group of believers in North America would like to inquire about that which was…
Statement of His Eminence Ayatullah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani on false Mahdawi claimants and recommendations on how to deal with them
[ توصيات المرجعية الدينية العليا بخصوص عصر الغيبة الكبرى، والموقف من مدعي المهدوية والسفارة ]
In recent times, the [troubling] phenomenon has emerged in Muslim communities of some people claiming to be in direct communication with the-awaited Imam Al-Mahdi (p), and there are even those who purport to be his official agents. Further still, there are those who claim to be the Imam themselves. Those claimants have exploited a deficiency in [prevalent religious] standards among certain people who are [easily] influenced due to ignorance, heedlessness, emotions, or false and negative media portrayals by those who seek to harm the community of believers. For this reason, the religious authority, represented by senior jurists for a thousand years since the beginning of the major occultation of the Imam (p), has stood firmly against those deviant claimants and thwarted their plots. Similarly, in this present era, jurists and religious authorities, led by Ayatullah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani (may Allah protect him), have nullified and refuted such false claims, especially after these intrigues had spread to certain regions of the world. Consequently, believers have sought [clarification] and refuge in the religious authority to discern the truth and the reality of the obligation [upon them]. The following was the answer:
In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful
The Commander of the Faithful Imam Ali (p) said to Kumayl ibn Ziyad. ‘People fall into one of three categories: a divine scholar, a student (seeker) on the path of salvation, and the disreputable rabble (or ignoble ones), who follow every call and bend with every wind [that blows]; never do they benefit from the light of knowledge, nor [do they seek] refuge in a strong pillar”.
One of the most important duties of the believers during the occultation of Imam al-Mahdi (p) is to observe extra caution and act prudently with respect to matters of religion, especially that which concerns the Imam (p), his time of reappearance, and the [legitimate] link that exists with him. This matter represents one of the most difficult challenges and risks of sedition in the entire age of occultation.
How many fanciful individuals, wearing the garb of knowledge and religiosity, have innovated and [falsely] affiliated themselves (i.e., as a direct representative) with the Imam (p), and as such, have taken advantage of people’s good-nature, positive opinion of [and reliance upon] scholars, and intense attachment to the guidance of the Holy Household while awaiting the return of their Imam al-Mahdi? As a result, some people were seduced and through these devious means were misguided towards [the fulfillment of] these false goals. Inevitably the falsehood was revealed, and these false claimants perished and destroyed many people [along with them]. And how many people have relied on such false claims and huddled under these misguided banners without investigating and verifying the truth and exercising caution? These people believe that they are students and seekers on the path of salvation when in reality they are of the [misguided] ignoble, stumbling after being on the straight path and deviating from the truth after already having been guided. Thus, they adhere to an illusory path to reach the Imam (p) and perhaps are even drawn to believe in the imamate of other pretenders. Hence, the [warning of the] tradition “whoever dies without knowing [and acknowledging] the [legitimate divine] Imam of his time has died a death of ignorance”.
The prevalence and predilection for this false claim has included many people from the minor occultation to the present time, even possibly some of the advocates of imamate and its agency in a given era. As such, a person could gain understanding and insight if they were to examine this phenomenon [through the ages], and [undoubtedly] they would feel astounded by the boldness of the people who are driven by their whims towards false claims and of the perishable debris of this world against God Almighty and His representatives. Furthermore, one would be surprised at the speed with which people believe [in these false claimants] and follow them despite being [clearly] instructed about how to face and resist suspicious matters in religion and refrain from hastiness, because it is a major obstacle in such affairs.
Consequently, the (re-)appearance of the Imam (p) will be substantiated with [divine] proof and clear evidence, attested to by the Almighty and victoriously supported by Him so that no believer is deprived of [knowing] His covenant and no seeker of the truth strays from His path. Therefore, whoever hastens [towards] aversion [of this truth] will only misguide themselves, because God does not hasten His slaves towards misguidance.
The only legitimate reference and recourse in matters of religion during the occultation of the Imam (p) are the pious jurists and scholars who have been extensively trained and tested in matters of knowledge and [religious] practices and have distanced themselves from whims [of any kind] and misguidance. This standard has been firmly established since the minor occultation to the present time. There is no doubt that the path to obeying the Imam (p) and gaining his closeness and pleasure can only be through abiding by the provisions of the Holy Law, engaging in virtuosity, abstaining from vices, and following the way of the scholars of religion and the people of [true] insight who have remained true to the path of the Imams (pbut) since their time. So, whoever chooses an erratic path, one based on innovation, will succumb to doubt, fall into sedition, and lose true purpose.
In addition, the narrations that contain details about the signs of the Imam’s (p) reappearance are like any other tradition from the Ahl Al-Bayt (p). They must undergo expert scholarly research and be acted upon through the instructions, explanations, and clarifications of experienced scholars who are specialized [in this area of study] to discern their significance and distinguish their apparent commandments from their allegorical meanings. Furthermore, only these scholars can reconcile any apparent contradictions [that exist in the traditions], because the basis for fundamental principles cannot be established through [unproven] assumptions and conjecture. Conjecture does not substantiate matters of truth, and two groups have erred in this regard:
- The first category are people with good intentions who have sought to [properly] uphold the narrations and readily act according to them. However, they did not consider the proper approach and [by doing so] paved the way for false claimants with worldly aims and [unwittingly] aided them in their false purposes. An enlightened observer of such circumstances would realize that some of those narrations have been applied [falsely] over and over in various times, and each time proven to be false, yet [subsequently] they were applied [in the same false manner] once again.
- The second category are those people with worldly aims who follow their desires. Every time they sought to fulfill their whims they targeted the simple-minded and naïve and subverted the allegorical significance of the narrations to suit their [perverted] intentions. Moreover, they gave people false hopes and seduced them with pretenses causing doubt and suspicion to arise in their hearts. Imam Ali (p) said, “Beware of suspicion and its pervasive influence, because visions [of the people] will be darkened so long as the robes of sedition are glorified” and “When mischief comes it distorts (right and wrong) and when it clears away it leaves a warning. It cannot be known at the time of approach but is recognized when it recedes.”
We ask Almighty Allah to protect all the believers from the evil of dark sedition and grant them success in the good of waiting for the appearance of the Imam (p). It was narrated by Ahl al-Bayt (pbut) that, “One who dies while expecting the justice of al-Qaim is like one who is with al-Qaim, Imam al-Mahdi (p)”. 
 Shaykh al-Tusi, Kitab al-amali, p. 20.
 Imam Ali (p), Nahj al-Balagha, Sermon 93.
 Shaykh al-Kulayni, Al-kafi, vol. 5, p. 22.