12th Imam of Twelver Shia Islam
19 July 868 |
(15 Sha'aban 255 AH)
c. 941 (aged 73)
|Status||Disappeared, believed by Shia Islam to be due to The Occultation|
|Monuments||Maqam e Ghaybat, Iraq
Jamkaran Mosque, Iran,
Al-Sahlah Mosque, Iraq
|Term||874 CE – present|
Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Mahdī (Arabic: محمد بن الحسن المهدي) (Persian: امام زمان) is believed by Twelver Shī‘a Muslims to be the Mahdī, an ultimate savior of humankind and the final Imām of the Twelve Imams who will emerge with Isa (Jesus Christ) in order to fulfill their mission of bringing peace and justice to the world. Twelver Shī‘a believe that al-Mahdī was born in 869 (15 Sha‘bān 255 AH) and assumed Imamate at 5 years of age following the death of his father Hasan al-Askari. In the early years of his Imamate he would only contact his followers through The Four Deputies. After a 72-year period, known as Minor Occultation, a few days before the death of his fourth deputy Abul Hasan Ali ibn Muhammad al-Samarri in 941, he is believed to have sent his followers a letter. In that letter that was transmitted by al-Samarri he declared the beginning of Major Occultation during which Mahdi is not in contact with his followers.
Followers of Sunni Islam and other minority Shias mostly believe that the Mahdi has not yet been born, and therefore his exact identity is only known 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 Caliphate. Sunnis also have a few more Mahdi hadiths which are not present in Shia collections.
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.
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 Babuya, the birth of Imam was miraculous which must be considered as hagiography. Aside from Shi`i works almost nothing is known about the life of this Imam. According to Yaan Richard some even cast doubt on his actual existence. As the messianic role of al-Mahdi, Abbasids crushed every revolt of Alids which caused al-Askari to hide the child's birth on 255/868 and inform only close companions of the child's birth.
Most scholars say al-Mahdi was born in 869 AD. His mother was reportedly called 'Narjis'. There are a couple of narrations regarding the origin of his mother. One is that Narjis was a Byzantine slave. 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. Other narration says that she was a Byzantine Princess who pretended to be a slave so that she might travel from her kingdom to Arabia. Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi suggests in Iranica that the last version is "undoubtedly legendary and hagiographic". Shaikh Tusi says that his mother′s name was Mali-ka the daughter of Yashu‘a-, son of the Caesar of Rome. Her mother was from the descendents of the Disciples of Jesus (Hawa-riyi-n), and her lineage went back to the successor of "Jesus, "Sham‘u-n"; she named herself 'Narjis' when she traveled to Arabia .
- 1 Names, kunyas and titles
- 2 Attributes
- 3 Seasons of his life
- 4 Condition before the Occultation
- 5 Historicity of Muhammad al-Mahdi
- 6 Scholarly observations
- 7 Sunni view
- 8 Birthday celebration
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes and References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Names, kunyas and titles
One of his names is Mahdi, because he guides to secret matters. Al-Qa'im, whose rise against unjust is awaited. Sahib al-Amr (the Master of the Command): he is a rightful leader whose obedience is obligatory for the community by God. As his occultation will be long and believers will be waiting for his rise and reappearance, He is called Montazar (the Awaited). Al-Hujjah (the Proof), the witness before God against those who refused His orders, the one who informs about God's religion and guides to it.
He will be of the prophet's ahl al-Bayt. He will be of the Ali's descendants. He will be a descendant of Fatima. He will be a descendant of Imam Zayn al-Abidin. He will be a descendant of Imam Hasan al-Askari. He will be the twelfth Imam of the Imams of the ahl al-Bayt. His life will be prolonged. His occultation will be prolonged. With his appearance Islam will rule the world. He will fill the earth with justice and righteousness.
Seasons of his life
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. Sura Kahf 65-66 points out, that even though people do not know the hidden saints, they benefit from them like the sun hidden behind the clouds.
According to Sachedina, in every age, there is an Imam, either apparent or hidden. Because of dangers threatening his life, he might be concealed by God's order. According to a Hadith, the real reason for the Occultation will be known when the Imam re-appears. al-Nu'mani states two reasons for the Occultation: the believers being evaluated by God for their assiduity to their hidden Imam and the hidden Imam not undergoing the Bay'h of the cruel leaders. Twelver Shi'as 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. Until the year AH 329 (about 940 CE), the occultation was not divided into two kinds.
The period of occultation (ghaybat) is divided into two parts:
Ghaybat al-Sughra or Minor Occultation (874 – 941), consists of the first few decades after 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 of his birth.
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. "  Another view is that the Hidden Imam is on earth "among the body of the Shia" but "incognito." Numerous stories exist of the Hidden Imam "manifesting himself to prominent members of the ulama. "
When Jabir asked the prophet about the benefits of the hidden Imam, the prophet replied that the people would benefit from his love (Walayah) as they benefit from the sun when it is covered by the clouds. Al-Sharif al-Murtada states that belief to the existence of Imam causes the people act according to his desires. and to guard against harms is a necessary reason for the hidden Imam.
Reasons and consequences of the Occultation
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. 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. This problem has caused continuing tension between government and religion throughout Shia history.
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. 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 and the call, he is a liar and a slanderer".
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 Mahdi to destroy tyranny and falsehood and to bring justice and peace to the world. This will also be accompanied by the raj'a (return) of several other personalities for retribution of the previously oppressed against the oppressor.
Condition before the Occultation
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 the prophet would rise with a sword (Qa'im bi'lsayf) and wipe out injustice on earth which acted like a consolation for the oppressed people who were waiting for the establishment of God's will on earth.
Historicity of Muhammad al-Mahdi
The historical existence of the twelfth imam has been long debated since the death of the eleventh Imam. 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 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 eleventh Imam is said to have made a public appearance was as a child at the time of the eleventh Imam's death, there after the boy was seen no more.
It was believed that the twelfth Imam was connected to his community through four agents, giving his commands via letter; Momen 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.
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 phenomenologist: we must discover the aims of Shi’ite awareness...".
There was a hadith that was already present in orthodox Sunni collections wherein the Prophet Muhammad declares that he will be followed by twelve caliphs (alernative 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 the 874 A.D.
Some scholars, including Bernard Lewis 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 ibn Abdallah An-Nafs Az-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 deciple 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.
Yaan Richard suggests Occultation was a "convenient solution" for the last Imams' justification of their quietism. According to Sachedina, however, the idea of the eschatalogical 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.
Hasan al-Askari's estate was divided between his brother Jafar and his mother.
Moojan Momen writes in "An Introduction to Shi’i Islam" (London, 1985, p. 162): Jafar remained unshakeable in his assertion that his brother (Hasan al-Askari) had no progeny." 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." 
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, mother of the infant Imam, 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.
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.
By the third and fourth decades of the 10th century (i.e. the closing years of the Lesser Occultation), the majority of the Shiis were agreed on the line of the Twelve Imams.
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". 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. 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.
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 Sunnis, Ismaili and Zaidiyyah argue that the 11th Imam, of the Twelver Shia, Hassan al-Askari, did not have a son. 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. The existence of any descendant of Imam Hasan al Askari is disputed by many people. However it is believed by Sunni and Shia followers of the Twelve Imams that Imam Hasan al-Askari had a son called Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi, who will be the redeemer of Islam. Genealogy trees of middle eastern families, mostly from Persia and Khorasan show that Imam Hasan al-Askari had also a second son called Sayyid Ali Akbar, however, his existence is rejected by shiite historians. It definitely indicates that Imam al-Askari had children and it also substantiates the existence of Imam Muhammad al Mahdi. The reason, why the fact that Imam Al Askari had children or not is till today disputed was maybe because of the political conflicts between the followers of the Imamah and the leadership of the Abbasids and Ghulat Shiites who had not believe Hasan al-Askaris Imamah. Notable descendants of Sayyid Ali Akbar are Sufi Saints like Bahauddin Naqshband, descendant after 11 generations, 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. 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 descendent, 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...".
In 648/1250-1 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 Imami doctrine about the identity of the Mahdi and his ghayba (occultation). The Persian Sufi Sadr al-Din Ibrahim al-Hammuyi (late 7th/13th century) supported Imami 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 ’l-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.
The birthday of Muhammad al-Mahdi is celebrated annually in Iran. Every year on the evening of the birthday, millions of people in the country celebrate the occasion 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. The date of the celebration is based on the Islamic calendar and changes from year to year:
|1434||24 June 2013|
|1435||13 June 2014|
|1436||3 June 2015|
|1437||22 May 2016|
|1438||12 May 2017|
|1439||1 May 2018|
Notes and References
- A Brief History of The Fourteen Infallibles. Qum: Ansariyan Publications. 2004. p. 159.
- al-Qurashi, Baqir Shareef (2006). The Life of Imam al-Mahdi. Qum: Ansariyan Publications. p. 40.
- A Brief History of The Fourteen Infallibles. Qum: Ansariyan Publications. 2004. p. 160.
- Sachedina, Abdulaziz (1981). Islamic Messianism. Albany, NY, USA: State University of New York Press. pp. 72–74, 78. ISBN 0873954424.
- Dr.Annemarie Schimmels book "Pain and Grace: A Study of Two Mystical Writers of Eighteenth-Century Muslim India" BRILL, 1976, p.32
- Frederic P. Miller, Agnes F. Vandome, John McBrewster "Baha-ud-Din Naqshband Bukhari" 2011, ISBN 978-6-1341-5642-4
- (Sachedina 1981, pp. 181–183)
- (Sachedina 1981, p. 70)
- Richard, Yaan (1995). Shi'ite Islam. Oxford UK, Cambridge US: Blackwell.
- Sachedina 1981, p. 40
- Amir-Moezzi, Mohammad Ali. "ISLAM IN IRAN vii. THE CONCEPT OF MAHDI IN TWELVER SHIʿISM". Encyclopedia iranica. Retrieved 2011-07-24.
- The Expected Mahdi
- Online Islamic Courses
- Book of Occultation Biharul Anwar,Allama Muhammad Baqir Majalisi, pages 11-13
- Sachedina 1981, p. 61
- Sachedina 1981, p. 62
- Sachedina 1981, p. 64
- Qazvini 2009, p. 59
- Sachedina 1981, p. 66
- Sobhani 2001, p. 116
- Sobhani 2001, pp. 116–117
- Sachedina 1981, p. 23
- Sachedina 1981, p. 104
- Sachedina 1981, p. 84
- Sachedina 1981, p. 82
- the last letter of al-Mahdi to Ali ibn Muhammad al-Samarri
- Momen, Moojan, An Introduction to Shi'i Islam, Yale University Press, 1985, p. 199
- Sachedina 1981, p. 105
- Sachedina 1981, p. 134
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- An Introduction to Shi'i Islam by Moojan Momen, p. 164, Yale University Press
- Abu Dawud, Sahih, Vol. 2, p. 208; Fusul al-muhimma, p. 275
- Muhammad Baqir Al-Majlisi (2003). Hassan Allahyari, ed. The book of occultation (Kitab al-Ghaibah; Bihar al-Anwar, Volume 51) (1st ed.). Qum: Ansariyan Publication. p. 140 (Tradition XI). ISBN 964-438-478-4.
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- Tazkare Khwanadane Hazrat Eshan(genealogy of the family of Hazrat Eshan)(by author and investigator:Muhammad Yasin Qasvari Naqshbandi company:Edara Talimat Naqshbandiyya Lahore)p. 63
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- Kitab al-Irshad, Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Nu'man (al-Shaikh al-Mufid), 4th A.H./10 A.D.
- Review of 'Kitab al-Irshad' by Al-Mufid, by Dr. I. K. A. Howard
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- Nasr, Seyyed Hossein; Hamid Dabashi (1989). Expectation of the Millennium: Shiʻism in History. SUNY Press. ISBN 0-88706-843-X.
- Tabatabae, Sayyid Mohammad Hosayn (1979). Shi'ite Islam. Seyyed Hossein Nasr (translator). Suny press. ISBN 0-87395-272-3.
- Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Hujjah an article by Encyclopædia Britannica Online
- ghaybah an article by Encyclopædia Britannica Online
- Mahdi an article by Encyclopædia Britannica Online
- ghaybah(The Occultation) an article by Encyclopædia Britannica Online
- MAHDI'S DEPUTIES by Verena Klemm, an article by encyclopedia Iranica
- List of sites about Imam Mahdi
- Guide to the 12 Imams - Inc. Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi (www.shiacode.com)
- Information and Biography of Imam Mohammed Al Mahdi
- The Awaited Saviour by Ayatullah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr & Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahhari
- A Discussion concerning the Mahdi, by Ayatullah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr
- Imam Mahdi's Biography
- - Iran prepares people for 'messiah miracles'
-  Unravelling lies from people about Imam Muhammad Mahdi
- MISC. Information on Sunni & Shia Documentation about Imam Mehdi
- Al-Muntazar.com Biography of Imam Mehdi (atfs)
|Shia Islam titles|
|12th Imam of Twelver Shia Islam
874 – present