Muhammad al-Mahdi

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Muhammad al-Mahdi
مُحَمَّد ٱلْمَهْدِي

12th Imam of Twelver Shia Islam
Imam Mahdi.png
Calligraphic representation of the name of Muhammad al-Mahdi as it appears in the Prophet's Mosque in Medina
Born15 Sha'ban 256 AH[1]
(c. (870-07-18)July 18, 870 CE)
DisappearedMinor Occultation
Disappeared date
c. 873 and age 5
Major Occultation
c. 941
Samarra, Abbasid Empire
StatusDisappeared, believed by Twelver Shia Islam to be due to The Occultation
MonumentsAl-Sahlah Mosque, Iraq
Maqam e Ghaybat, Iraq
Jamkaran Mosque, Iran
Known forLast Twelver Imam
  • al-Mahdiy
    (The Guided)[1]
  • al-Qāʾim
    (The Riser)[1]
  • Baqīyat Allah
    (بَقِيَّة ٱللَّٰه)
    (Remainder of Allah's)[1]
  • al-Ḥujjah Min ʾĀl Muḥammad
    (ٱلْحُجَّة مِن آل مُحَمَّد)
    (The Proof of the House of Muhammad)[1]
  • ʾImām al-ʿAsr
    (إِمَام ٱلْعَصْر)
    (Imam of Our Time)[2]
  • Ṣāhib az-Zamān
    (صَاحِب ٱلزَّمَان)
    (Master of the Era)[1]
  • Ṣāhib al-ʾAmr
    (صَاحِب ٱلْأَمْر)
    (Master of the Obligation)[1]
  • al-Muntaẓar
    (The Awaited)[3]
  • al-Ghāʾib
    (The Hidden)[1]
  • Delāvar
    (The Comforter of Hearts)
Term874 CE – present
PredecessorHasan al-Askari
MovementTwelver Shia Islam
Opponent(s)Shaytan, Sufyani, Dajjal
Parent(s)Hasan al-Askari (father)
Narjis (mother)[4][5]
RelativesMuhammad (forefather),
Fatimah (sister),
Sayyid Ali Akbar (brother),
Musa (brother),
Ja'far (brother),
Ibrahim (brother),
Ayesha (sister)[6][7][8][9]

Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Mahdi (Arabic: مُحَمَّد بِن ٱلْحَسَن ٱلْمَهْدِي‎, Muḥammad bin al-Ḥasan al-Mahdī)[a][10] is believed by the Twelver Shia to be the Mahdi, an eschatological redeemer of Islam and the final Imam of the Twelve Imams who will emerge with Isa (Jesus) in order to fulfil their mission of bringing peace and justice to the world. Twelver Shias believe that al-Mahdi was born on the 15th Sha'ban 870 CE/ 256 AH and assumed Imamate at nearly four years of age following the killing of his father Hasan al-Askari. In the early years of his Imamah, he is believed to have had contact with his followers only through The Four Deputies. This period was known as the Minor Occultation (ٱلْغَيْبَة ٱلصُّغْرَىٰ) and lasted from 873 to 941 CE.[11][12] A few days before the death of his fourth deputy Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Muhammad al-Samarri in 941, he is believed to have sent his followers a letter. In that letter, which was transmitted by al-Samarri, he declared the beginning of Major Occultation (ٱلْغَيْبَة ٱلْكُبْرَىٰ), during which Mahdi was not to be in contact with his followers directly, but had instructed them to follow the pious high clerics for whom he has mentioned some distinguishing merits.[citation needed]

Most Sunni Muslims reject that he was the Mahdi and believe that the Mahdi has not yet been born. They believe his exact identity is only known to Allah, other than the idea that he is to be from the descendants of Muhammad. Aside from the Mahdi's precise genealogy, Sunnis accept many of the same hadiths which Shias accept about the predictions regarding the Mahdi's emergence, his acts, and his universal Caliphate. Sunnis also have many hadiths about Mahdi which are in their Hadith collections. Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan and At-Tayyib Abu'l-Qasim ibn Al-Mansur are descendants of Muhammad who are considered by different groups of Shi'ites (respectively Twelvers and Tayyibi Isma'ili-Musta'li-Isma'ilis) to be Occulted Imams and Mahdis.


According to the Shia, the Mahdi belongs to Muhammad's Bayt (Household), being a descendant of Ali, Fatimah and Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin, and is considered by Twelvers to be the son of Al-Askari, and consequently the twelfth Imam of the Twelve Imams of the Bayt. It is considered that his life and occultation would be prolonged, and then that with his appearance, he would fill the earth with justice and righteousness, and allow Islam to rule it.[13]

Abdulaziz Sachedina describes him as "the victorious Imam" of Shia "who will restore the purity of the Faith" and "bring true and uncorrupted guidance to all mankind, creating an adequately just social order and a world free from tyranny and wickedness."[14]

Birth and family[edit]

The Mosque of Al-Askari in Samarra, Iraq, 2017. This is where Twelver Imams Ali al-Hadi and Al-Hasan al-Askari, respectively considered the grandfather and father of the Twelver Mahdi, are buried.

According to Twelver Shias, because of the Abbasids' crackdown on Alids' revolts for fear of the expected liberator from Ali's progeny, Al-Askari kept the child's birth on 255/868 secret and informed only close companions of the existence of his successor.[15]

Al-Mahdi's mother was reportedly named Narjis.[4] There are a couple of narrations regarding the origin of his mother. One is that Narjis was a Byzantine slave.[4] Another narration says she was a black slave from Africa. Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi states that names like Sawsan, Narjis or Rayhana were common names for slaves at that time and his mother's name supports this narration.[16] Another narration says that she was a Byzantine princess who pretended to be a slave so that she might travel from her kingdom to Arabia.[17][18] Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi suggests in Iranica that the last version is "undoubtedly legendary and hagiographic".[16] Shaikh Tusi says that his mother's name was Malika the daughter of Yashu'a-, son of the Caesar of Rome. Her mother was from the descendants of the Disciples of Jesus, and her lineage went back to the successor of Jesus, Simon Peter. She adopted herself Narjis when she came to Arabia.[19]

Aside from Shia works, almost nothing is known about the life of this Imam.[20] In the biographies of Mahdi written by Shi'is themselves, it is hard to draw a line between hagiographical and historical works. In Shia sources, even in historical works of Ibn Babawayh, the birth of the Imam was miraculous which must be considered as hagiography.[21] According to Yaan Richard, some even cast doubt on his actual existence.[20]


Twelver Shias believe that the Imam did not suffer death, but that, for various reasons, has been concealed by Allah from mankind. This event is known as "The Occultation".[22] Since the year AH 329 (about 940 CE), the occultation has been divided into two periods.[22]

The Quran states, that there are two kinds of saints of God among people: apparent and hidden. The hidden saints live among the people and are aware of them, but the people do not know them. Surah Takwir 15–16 implies that even though people do not know the hidden saints, they benefit from them like the sun hidden behind the clouds.[23]

Shias generally believe that in every age, there is an Imam, either apparent or hidden. But in times that there are dangers threatening the life of the Imam, he is concealed by God's order, hence the Occultation of the twelfth Imam.[24] Al-Nu'mani states two reasons for the Occultation in particular: a) a test for the followers of the Imam and their faith, b) saving the Imam from Bay'a (allegiance) to the oppressive leaders.[25] With all that said, a Hadith states that the real reason for the Occultation will be only known when the Imam re-appears as in the story of Musa and Khidr where the reasons for Khidr's deeds were not immediately revealed to Musa.[25]

When Jabir asked Muhammad about the benefits of the hidden Imam, he replied that the people would benefit from his authority (Walayah) as they benefit from the sun when it is covered by the clouds.[26] Sharif al-Murtaza, a classical Shia scholar has argued that the reason for the Imam's Occultation was to protect his life after establishing the just state had been rendered impossible by his enemies.[27] But Shias would still benefit from the Imam because belief in his hidden presence keeps them from committing evil in their life.[28]

Since Shias believe that the primordial light of the prophethood has continued to shine through the ages in the character of the Imams, be they hidden or apparent, no idea ever rose regarding the inaccessibility of the Hidden Imam in the state of occultation.[29] According to Baha'i scholar Moojan Momen, numerous stories exist of the Hidden Imam "manifesting himself to prominent members of the ulama (Muslim religious scholars)."[30] Publishers close to the Lebanese Shia militant organization, Hezbollah, have published accounts by Hezbollah fighters on how Mahdi intervened personally on the battlefields in critical moments during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah conflict to help them fight against the Israeli army.[31]

Minor Occultation[edit]

Ghaybat al-Sughra or Minor Occultation (874–941), consists of the first few decades of the Imam's disappearance when communication with him was maintained through his deputies. Tusi and al-Mofid state that the Occultation resumed on the third or seventh day[clarification needed] of his birth.[32]

Major Occultation[edit]

Ghaybat al-Kubra or Major Occultation began 941 CE and is believed to continue until a time decided by Allah, when the Mahdi will reappear to bring absolute justice to the world. According to the last letter of al-Mahdi to Ali ibn Muhammad al-Samarri "from the day of your death [the last deputy] the period of my major occultation (al ghaybatul kubra) will begin. Henceforth, no one will see me, unless and until Allah makes me appear."[33] Another view is that the Hidden Imam is on earth "among the body of the Shia" but "incognito".[citation needed]


The occultation of 12th Imam left a considerable gap in leadership of Shias. According to Shia beliefs the Imam was both the spiritual and political head of the community. Although during the lesser occultation the network of Imam deputies (wikala) claimed to have the right to handle Shia communities' issues, this system was not continued during the Greater Occultation.[34] After the greater occultation, the role of Imam as the head of community was left vacant, which did not theoretically matter at the beginning of Occultation because Shias had no political power at that time. However, when Shia states arose in later centuries, since the hidden Imam was alive and was the leader of Muslims, the role of the Shia states among Shia communities was in question.[34] This problem has caused continuing tension between government and religion throughout Shia history.[34]

The occultation has resulted in many people claiming to be the returned Mahdi. According to seminary expert, Mehdi Ghafari, more than 3,000 fake Mahdis were in prison in Iran in 2012.[35] In the last letter Muhammad al-Mahdi wrote to Ali Ibn Muhammad al-Samari, the last deputy: "whoever claims seeing me before the rise of Sufya-ni[clarification needed] and the call, he is a liar and a slanderer".[36]


Twelver Shi'as cite various references from the Qur'an and reports, or Hadith, from Imam Mahdi and the Twelve Imams with regard to the reappearance of al-Mahdi who would, in accordance with Allah's command, bring justice and peace to the world by establishing Islam throughout the world. Shi'as believe that `Îsâ (Jesus) will also come (after Imam Mahdi's re-appearance) and follow the Imam to destroy tyranny and falsehood and to bring justice and peace to the world.[37] This will also be accompanied by the raj'a (return) of several other personalities for retribution of the previously oppressed against the oppressor. Shi'as also believe that Imam Mahdi will reappear on a Friday, and that he will come forth speaking Arabic (probably all languages as he has Allah as translator).


Shia works on the twelfth Imam have usually included a chapter or two on "those who have seen or met with the Sahib az-Zaman (Master of the Age)."[29]

Condition after Al-Askari's death[edit]

As Al-Askari died in AH 260 (874 CE) in Samarra, he did not leave any apparent son, because the situation was difficult and Mu'tamid was searching for the successor of the Imam; the Imam did not reveal his son and Shias were confused about the successor of the Imam. The troubled situation of the Abbasid khalifas made people think that a descendant of Muhammad would rise with a sword (Qa'im bi'lsayf) and wipe out injustice on earth which acted as a consolation for the oppressed people who were waiting for the establishment of God's will on earth.[38]


The historical existence of the twelfth imam has been long debated since the death of the eleventh Imam.[39] Even though Shi'ite Scholars believe that the Twelfth Imam is an actual person, the Eleventh Imam, Hasan al-Askari, was kept more or less a prisoner by the Abbasids in the camp at Samarra, about 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of Baghdad, and died there in 874 CE at the age of twenty-eight. It appears that none of the Shi'i notables knew of the existence of the son of the eleventh Imam. The only possible occasion the son of the eleventh Imam is said to have made a public appearance was as a child at the time of the eleventh Imam's death, thereafter the boy was seen no more.[40]

It was believed that the twelfth Imam was connected to his community through four agents, giving his commands via letter; Moojan Momen, a much-published Baha'i historian, doubts the historical accuracy of these accounts, mentioning that there is no indication that the number of agents was limited to four and several others are mentioned. It seems likely that after the death of the eleventh Imam, for the duration of a natural lifespan (i.e. seventy years) this system had continued to operate. The brother of the eleventh Imam, Jafar ibn Ali, remained firm in his assertion that his brother had no progeny and there were legal disputes over the ownership of his brother's estate with the supposed agents.[40] Twelvers believe that Jafar ibn Ali was immoral,[41] while the Baháʼís believe that he was a truthful person.[42]

Henry Corbin in contrast believed that the question of historicity is irrelevant admitting that the idea of the hidden Imam was shaped by the person of twelfth and considering the extensive body of literature about him, saw the birth and his occultation as archetypal and symbolic, describing it as "sacred history". In his History of Islamic Philosophy he writes: "The simultaneity of these (birth and occultation) is rich in meanings from the mystical point of view… here above all, our approach should be that of the phenomenological: we must discover the aims of Shi’ite awareness...".[43]

There was a hadith that was already present in orthodox Sunni collections wherein Muhammad declares that he will be followed by twelve caliphs (alternative versions have qayyims) from his descendants all from his tribe, the Quraysh. The hadith appears in both Bukhari (as amirs Bab al-istakhlaf, 7062) and Muslim (as "caliphs", Bab al-nas taba l-Quraysh, 4667). The statement had been in circulation long before 874 CE.[44][45][46]

Scholarly observations[edit]

Some scholars, including Bernard Lewis[47] also point out, that the idea of an Imam in occultation was not new in 873 CE but that it was a recurring factor in Shia history. Examples of this include the cases of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah (according to the Kaysanites Shia), Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya, Musa al-Kadhim (according to the Waqifite Shia), Muhammad ibn Qasim (al-Alawi), Yahya ibn Umar and Muhammad ibn Ali al-Hadi (according to the Muhammadite Shia).

According to Jassem Hossein, traditions regarding occultation of Mahdi had been collected by many different Shia sects. Before 874, the traditions existed in Waqifi, Zaydi, Jarudi and Imamite books. In Waqifis, Anmati Ibrahim ibn Salih Koufi, a disciple of the fifth Imam, wrote a book titled "Occultation". Ali ibn Hossayn Taee Tatari and Hassan ibn Mohammad ibn Sama'ah each wrote a book titled "Book of Occultation" and introduced the seventh Imam as the Imam who will go into Occultation. Among Zaydis AbousSaeed Ibad ibn Yaqub Ravajini Asfari in a book titled Aboosaeed Asfari collects traditions on occultation and the twelve Imams and the end of Imams in twelve without naming them all. From the Twelvers, Ali ibn Mahziar Ahwazi who died on or before 874 CE wrote two books titled, Kitab Al-Malahem and Kitab Alqaem both on occultation and the rise of Imam with sword. Hossein ibn Mahboob Sarad wrote the book titled Al-Mashikhah on occultation. Fazl ibn Shazan Nisabouri wrote Al-Qaybah which is narrated from Al-Mashikhah. He died two months before the 11th Imam and declared the twelfth Imam as the Qaem.[48]

Yaan Richard suggests occultation was a "convenient solution" for the last Imams' justification of their quietism.[20] According to Sachedina, however, the idea of the eschatological Qa'im who would rise after going to occultation was mentioned by the fifth and sixth Imam, i.e. Muhammad al-Baqir and Ja'far al-Sadiq at various times when the two were approached by their followers and assured of their support if they wanted to rise against the existing regime.[49]

Hasan al-Askari's estate was divided between his brother Jafar and his mother. Moojan Momen writes: Jafar remained unshakeable in his assertion that his brother (Hasan al-Askari) had no progeny."[50] According to Sachadina, "sources describe Ja'far as a worldly and pleasure-loving man who in order to become the Imam had used various repressive means in the presence of al-Mu'tamid and more than once has tried to slander those who upheld the Imamate of the infant son of al-Askari in concealment." [51]

During the caliphate of al-Mu'tamid to that of al-Muqtadir, the agents of the dead Imam believed that Hasan al-Askari had left a son who will appear at Allah's will. This group of people were under attack and opposed by others. Al-Mutamid, the Abbasid caliph, ordered to investigate the house of Imam and also to inspect if Imam's wives were pregnant. During these investigations, Narjis was imprisoned for not revealing the place of her baby. In order to promote a dispute within Imam's family, they "supported Ja'far a brother of al-Askari and claimant to the office of the Imamat". The situation changed when "political disturbances caused by the Zanj and provincial leaders in Iran, Egypt and Syria" led to the capture of the caliph.[51]

According to Jassim M. Hussain, the majority of the Imamites denied his birth or even his existence, and abandoned their belief in the hidden Imam except for a small minority belonging to the circles of narrators, like Ibn Qubba and al-Nu'mani who based their belief on the traditions of the Imams (i.e. Hadith about twelve Imams). Jassim Hussain indicates, several books were written before the minor Occultation predicting the event of the twelfth Imam being the Mahdi and his going to occultation.[52]

By the third and fourth decades of the 10th century (i.e. the closing years of the Lesser Occultation), the majority of the Shias were agreed on the line of the Twelve Imams.[53]

Non-Twelver views[edit]

Sunni and Sufi[edit]

Historically, "the Sunnites often applied it [Mahdi] to the four caliphs after the Prophet, who were called al-Khulafa' al-Rashidun al-Mahdiyyun, the rightly guided caliphs.' Sulayman b. Surd called al-Husayn, after his martyrdom, Mahdi b. al-Mahdi".[48] The majority of Sunni Muslims do not consider the son of Hasan al-Askari to be the Mahdi nor to be in occultation. However, they do believe that the Mahdi will come from Muhammad's family.[54] Sunnis believe that the Mahdi has not yet been born, and therefore his true identity is known only to Allah. Aside from the Mahdi's precise genealogy, Sunnis accept many of the same hadiths Shias accept about the predictions regarding the Mahdi's emergence, his acts, and his universal Khilafat. Sunnis also have a few more Mahdi hadiths which are not present in Shia collections.[55][56]

Sunnis also believe that Jesus will return alongside the Mahdi, with the only difference being that they disagree with the Shia regarding exactly who the Mahdi is. Many other Sunnis, Ismaili and Zaidiyyah argue that Al-Askari did not have a son.[citation needed]

Twelver Shias say his birth was concealed. Others argue that even if he had a son, Muhammad ibn al-Hassan could not live for over a thousand years.[43][57][58][59] The existence of any descendant of Al-Askari is disputed by many people. However it is believed by Twelver Shi'ites and some Sunnis that Al-Askari had a son who would be the redeemer of Islam. Genealogy trees of Middle Eastern and Central Asian families, mostly from Persia, Khorasan, Samarqand and Bukhara show that Imam Hasan al-Askari had also a second son called Sayyid Ali Akbar,[60][61] however, his existence is rejected by Shiite historians. Sayyid 'Ali is Sultan Saadat (Sodot) who died in Termez. His burial place is located in the main mausoleum Sultan Saodat memorial complex in Termez[62][63][64][65] It definitely indicates that Imam al-Askari had children and it also substantiates the existence of the Imam. Aside from the presence of other Shi'ites, the reason why whether or Imam Al-Askari had children is disputed may be due to the political conflicts between the followers of the Twelver Imamah, and the leadership of the Abbasids and Ghulat Shiites who had not believe Hasan's Imamah. Notable descendants of Sayyid Ali Akbar are Sufi Saints like Bahauddin Naqshband,[66][67] descendant after 11 generations,[68] Khwaja Khawand Mahmud known as Hazrat Ishaan, descendant after 18 generations and Sayyid ul Sadaat Sayyid Mir Jan, maternal descendant of Imam Hasan al Askari and Hazrat Ishaan.[69] In her book "Pain and Grace: A Study of Two Mystical Writers of Eighteenth-Century Muslim India" p. 32, Dr.Annemarie Schimmel writes:"Khwaja Mir Dard`s family, like many nobles, from Bukhara; led their pedigree back to Baha'uddin Naqshband, after whom the Naqshbandi order is named, and who was a descendant, in the 11th generation of the 11th Shia imam al-Hasan al-Askari." Although Shiite historians generally reject the claim Hasan al-Askari fathered children other than Muhammad al-Mahdi, the Shiite hadith book Usul al-Kafi, in Bab Mawlid Abi Muhammad al-Hasan b.'Ali confirms the Sufi claim that Hasan al-Askari had more than one wife, in addition to slave girls, with whom he had relations. In his Usul, al-Kafi writes, "When the caliph got news of Imam Hasan 'Askari's illness, he instructed his agents to keep a constant watch over the house of the Imam...he sent some of these midwives to examine the slave girls of the Imam to determine if they were pregnant. If a woman was found pregnant she was detained and imprisoned...".[5][68][70][71]

In 648 AH / 1250-1 CE, the Syrian Shafi'i author Muḥammad b. Yusuf al-Gandji al-Kurashi wrote K. al-Bayan fi akhbar sahib al-zaman in proving the Mahdiship of the Twelfth Imam using Sunni traditions. In 650/1252 Kamalal-Din Muḥammad b. Talha al-ʿAdawi al-Nisibini, a Shafi'i scholar, composed his Maṭalib al-suʾul fi manaḳib al al-rasul answering Sunni objections to the belief that the Twelfth Imām was the Mahdi. The Sibt ibn al-Jawzi wrote Tadhkirat khawass al-umma bi-dhikr khasaʾis al-aʾimma, collecting hadiths from Sunni sources about the virtues of ʿAli and his descendants, and at the end affirmed that the Twelfth Imam was the Expected Qaʾim Al Mahdi. Among Sufi circles, Abu Bakr al-Bayhaḳī (d. 458/1066) had noted that some Sufi gnostics (djamaʿa min ahl al-kashf) agreed with the Twelver doctrine about the identity of the Mahdi and his ghaybah (occultation). The Persian Sufi Sadr al-Din Ibrahim al-Hammuyi (late 7th/13th century) supported Twelver doctrine on the Mahdi in his Faraʾid al-simtayn. The Egyptian Sufi al-Shaʿrani, while generally showing no sympathy for Shiʿism, affirmed in his al-Yawaḳit wa ʾl-dj̲awahir (written in 958/1551) that the Mahdi was a son of Imam al-Hasan al-ʿAskari, born in the year 255/869, and would remain alive until his meeting with Jesus.[72]


`Abdu'l-Bahá has interpreted the Book of Revelation 11:3 "And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth."[73][74] The two witnesses are Muhammad and Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib. The 1,260 years are lunar years which refer to AH 1260 when Sayyed ʿAli Muhammad Shirāzi revealed himself to be the 'spiritual return' of Muhammad al-Mahdi[75][76] on 23 May 1844.[77]

Historical social impact[edit]

The messianic belief in Mahdi helped Shias to tolerate unbearable situations to the level that without it the Shia religion might not have been able to survive persecutions in the course of history. It also acted as a moderating force among them by postponing political activities until the future coming of the Awaited Mahdi.[78] The belief has also acted as an inspiration for social movements against political repression. The sense of responsibility for paving the way for the reappearance of Mahdi has also led Shi'as to re-evaluate their social circumstances and the shortcomings of their lives and strive to build their own provisional Islamic government in anticipation of Mahdi's promised rule.[79]

Contemporary influence[edit]

The Shia millennial vision of history continues to be expressed, even today, through radical social protest against political oppression. Abdulaziz Sachedina writes: "Without the deep sense of paving the way for the reappearance of the Imam, the Shi'as would not have felt the need to re-evaluate their social circumstances and the shortcomings of their present lives. Thus, the ghayba (occultation) of the Mahdi has acted as a creative force in their lives that has not only helped them bear with patience the difficult times but also has also prepared them to fulfill their historical responsibility of establishing a true Islamic rule, even before the Imam assumes the leadership of the Shia after his final reappearance."[79]

The Shia Mahdi doctrine was a key element in inspiring the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who argued as part of his theory of the Rule of the Jurist that the highest and most learned Muslim Jurist could legitimately administer the government on a God-given mandate to prepare the world for the return of the Hidden Imam. Khomeini succeeded in using the potent concepts of Shia eschatology and theodicy—such as the Shia notions of struggle against injustice and worldly oppression—to mobilize the masses towards revolutionary goals.[80]

Islamic traditions hold that before the ultimate return of the Muslim messiah, his influence manifests itself in the world in different ways. Throughout history, "a vast and deeply personal literature" has emerged in the Shia world that apparently exemplifies this influence in form of "revelations, dreams, healings, visions, and other occurrences all attributed to the Mahdi's personal intervention."[31] Over the recent years in particular, a growing anticipation of Mahdi's imminent return among the wider public has been identified, leading to spread of widely-available literature about predictions and prophecies concerning Mahdi and his imminent appearance that include great detail on where, when and how Mahdi will appear, overturn the modern order and establish the just state.[31] For example, under the influence of the Lebanese resistant organization Hezbollah, literature containing classical traditions as well as interpretations of contemporary events in the light of Mahdi's return have sprang from the Lebanese press. A book including "miraculous occurrences" has been published including accounts by Hezbollah fighters on how Mahdi intervened on the battlefields during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah conflict to help them fight against the Israeli army.[31]

Another instance of contemporary Shia messianic tendency manifested itself in the discourse and policies of the former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who thought that Mahdi's return was imminent. He "merged messianic rhetoric with populist nationalism" at home and in his UN speeches he "combined references to the Mahdi with a blistering Third-Worldist ideological attack on "Western Imperialism" and "Zionism" intended to appeal to some Middle East audiences." He and his supporters also sought to depict Iran as "a chosen nation and a superpower uniquely blessed by the special favors of the Lord of Age" [Hidden Imam] to lead a global mission against injustice."[80]

In Iraq where many hold deep suspicions of the U.S., there are frequent assertions in the apocalyptic literature claiming that the U.S.-led invasion was aimed at finding and killing the Mahdi as part of an apocalyptic war against the Shia world.[31]

Political controversies[edit]

On 3 May 2017, the then-Saudi deputy crown prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, in an interview with MBC, made repeated references to the Shi'ite ideology of the Iranian state to reject the possibility of dialogue with Iran for settling the regional rivalry between the two countries. He argued that it was impossible to have dialogue with an entity with an "extremist ideology" that believes its policies are divinely-guided to prepare conditions for the return of the Imam Mahdi, fearing a spread of Twelver Shi'ite or Iranian influence to the land of Islam's holiest shrine.[81]

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah Secretary General of the Iran-backed Lebanese resistance organization Hezbollah responded to bin Salman's remarks by accusing him of wanting to turn a political struggle in the region into a religious one. He added that the Mahdi doctrine is not specific to Shias and that, apart from the question of his actual birth, there's a consensus among all Muslims that Imam Mahdi is from the progeny of Prophet Muhammad and that he will rise from Mecca and that when he rises he will get rid of all corrupt rulers and fill the Earth with justice. Addressing bin Salman directly, Nasrallah remarked: "Neither you nor your children nor grandchildren can change this Divine destiny."[82][83][84][85]

Birthday celebration[edit]

The birthday of Muhammad al-Mahdi is celebrated annually in Iran. Every year on the evening of the birthday,[86] millions of people in the country celebrate the occasion[87] by handing out food, often tossing juice containers and candy into passing cars. Also, people picnic and enjoy fireworks displays. The city of Qom is decorated by bright lights and flags.[88] The date of the celebration is based on the Islamic calendar and changes from year to year:

Islamic year Iran[89]
1440 21 April 2019
1441 9 April 2020
1442 29 March 2021
1443 19 March 2022
1444 8 March 2023
1445 25 February 2024
1446 14 February 2025

See also[edit]


  1. ^ also known as al-Imām al-Mahdī (ٱلْإِمَام ٱلْمَهْدِيّ), Imām al-Zamān (إِمَام ٱلزَّمَان, "Imam of the Time"), Ḥujjat ibn Al-Ḥasan (حُجَّة ٱبْن ٱلْحَسَن) and Muḥammad ibn Al-Ḥasan (مُحَمَّد ٱبْن ٱلْحَسَن)


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  2. ^ A Brief History of The Fourteen Infallibles. Qum: Ansariyan Publications. 2004. p. 160.
  3. ^ al-Qurashi, Baqir Shareef (2006). The Life of Imam al-Mahdi. Qum: Ansariyan Publications. p. 40.
  4. ^ a b c Sachedina, Abdulaziz (1981). Islamic Messianism. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. pp. 72–74, 78. ISBN 0873954424.
  5. ^ a b Annemarie Schimmel (1976). Pain and Grace: A Study of Two Mystical Writers of Eighteenth-Century Muslim India Brill, p. 32[ISBN missing]
  6. ^ Ibn Abi l-Thalj (d.322 hijrah) Majmuat nafisa fi tarikh al-a'imma, pages 21-22
  7. ^ Ali Al Arbali (d.693 h.) Siraj al-Ansab, page 222
  8. ^ Shajara-e-nasab lineages of descendants of Imam Hasan al-Askari r.a.
  9. ^ page 41 "النجف الأشرف) السيد محمد مهدي ابن السيد محمد اصفهاني الموسوي الكاظمي "دوائر المعارف في الأسماء الحسنى)
  10. ^ "علماءُ أَهلِ السُّنَّةِ يَعترِفون بولادةِ الإِمامِ المهديِّ الحُجَّةِ بْنِ الْحَسَنِ ﴿ع﴾". (in Arabic). Retrieved 26 March 2021.
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  • as-Sadr; Mutahhari (1986). The Awaited Saviour (5th ed.). Accra: Islamic Seminary Publications. ISBN 0-941724-20-4.
  • Qazvini, Muhammad Kazim (2009). Imam Mahdi from Veladat ta Zohur. Qom: al-Hadi. ISBN 978-9644000126.
  • Sachedina, Abdulaziz Abdulhussein (1981). Islamic Messianism: The Idea of Mahdī in Twelver Shīʻism. Suny press. ISBN 978-0873954426.
  • Sobhani, Jaʻfar; Shah-Kazemi, Reza (2001). Doctrines of Shiʻi Islam : a compendium of Imami beliefs and practices ([Online-Ausg.] ed.). London: I.B. Tauris [u.a.] ISBN 978-1-86064-780-2.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit][edit]

Encyclopædia Britannica[edit]

Shia Islam titles
Preceded by
Hasan al-Askari
12th Imam of Twelver Shia Islam
874 – present
Major Occultation