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A Discussion Concerning the Mahdi (a)

The concept of the Mahdi is not just the embodiment of an Islamic doctrine possessing a religious character but rather signifies a universal aspiration of mankind with the variety of its religions and creeds. It represents an innate aspiration through which people, despite the variety of their beliefs and their means of recourse to the Unseen (ghayb), perceive that there is, for all mankind on the earth, a promised day wherein the divine messages with their momentous significance will be fulfilled and their ultimate objective will be realized, bringing the long and arduous human journey through history to its ultimate destination.

The original in Arabic is entitled Bahth hawl al-Mahdi. Written by Shahid
Sadr in 1397 H., it has been published separately (Beirut: Dar al Ta’aruf
lil-Matbu’at, 3rd impression 1401 H. /1981) as well as within his collected
works, al-Majjmu`ah al-kamilah li mu’allafat al-Sayyid Muhammad Bagir al-Sadr,
vol. 11 (Beirut: Dar al Ta’aruflil-Matbu’at, 1410 H. /1990)

The concept of the Mahdi is not just the embodiment of an Islamic doctrine
possessing a religious character but rather signifies a universal aspiration of
mankind with the variety of its religions and creeds. It represents an innate
aspiration through which people, despite the variety of their beliefs and their
means of recourse to the Unseen (ghayb), perceive that there is, for all mankind
on the earth, a promised day wherein the divine messages with their momentous
significance will be fulfilled and their ultimate objective will be realized,
bringing the long and arduous human journey through history to its ultimate
destination. In fact, the consciousness of this unseen day and the awaited
future is not limited to the religious believers in the Unseen (ghayb), but
includes others as well, being reflected even in ideologies and creeds most
vehement in their rejection of the Unseen and everything that relates to it,
such as dialectical materialism. Dialectical materialism, which interprets
history in terms of contradictions, believes in a promised day in which all the
contradictions would be resolved and peace and harmony will prevail. Similarly,
we find that the psychological experience pertaining to this perception of
mankind through the course of history, is one of the most widespread of
experiences and the most common among individuals.

When religion affirms this general perception and asserts that the world will
eventually be filled with justice and equity after rampant injustice and
oppression, it gives an objective value to this perception by transforming it
into faith in the future of humanity. This faith is not merely a source of
comfort and solace, it is rather a source of strength and resourcefulness,
because the faith in the Mahdi is faith in the removal of injustice and tyranny
even if it darkens the entire world and is an inexhaustible source of strength
and resistance, as it is a ray of hope which removes despair from the human
spirit by keeping the flame of hope lit in gloomy times when injustice assumes
monstrous dimensions. This is because the promise of such a day affirms the
possibility of justice defying a world filled with injustice and oppression, by
pulling down the foundations of injustice to rebuild a new structure in its
place. It implies that when injustice becomes monstrous and worldwide and spread
its tentacles over human destiny, that is an unnatural condition which is bound
to terminate. This great and inevitable defeat of injustice, at a time when it
is at its zenith, gives a great hope to every victim of injustice and
reassurance to every oppressed nation of the ability to tilt the scales and
build a new order.

As the concept of the Mahdi precedes Islam and is of a wider occurrence, the
detailed teachings furnished by Islam, being more fertile and more powerful in
arousing the sentiments of the oppressed and the tormented throughout the course
of history, give a greater vitality to all the aspirations which led to the
emergence of this concept at the dawn of religious history. That is so because
Islam has shifted this concept from the plane of transcendence to that of
concrete reality, from the future to the present, and from the expectations of a
saviour to be born in a distant and unknown future into a faith in an actual
saviour who awaits along with others the promised day when all the conditions
allowing him to carry out his great role are fulfilled.

Hence the Mahdi is not a saviour whose birth is awaited or a prophecy whose
fulfillment is sought; rather he is a present reality whose active involvement
is awaited and a particular individual living with his flesh and blood in our
midst, whom we see and who sees us. With us he lives through our hopes and
sufferings and participates in our joys and sorrows. He witnesses everything
going on in the world stage, the sufferings of the tormented, the misery of the
miserable, and the tyranny of the tyrants, and, from far and near; feels them
all intensely, and, with his grief, await for the moment when he may extend his
hand towards every victim of oppression, deprivation and distress, and crush the
tyrants.

It has been decreed that this awaited leader shall not make himself known
publicly nor disclose his life to others although he lives in their midst
awaiting the promised moment.

It is also obvious that these Islamic teachings close the gulf of transcendence
between the oppressed and their awaited saviour, building a bridge, in their
inner consciousness, between them and him, regardless of the length of the
period of waiting.

When we are called upon to have faith in the Mahdi as a particular individual,
alive, who lives like we do and waits as we wait, the purpose is to instill in
us the notion that the absolute rejection of all oppression and tyranny, whose
embodiment is the Mahdi, is personified, in the very present in a waiting leader
who rejects all injustice and who will appear in a state when he is free from
any impediment arising from oath of allegiance to any tyrant, as reported in the
traditions. Faith in him stands for faith in this living embodiment of
unflagging rejection of injustice and standing by his side.

There is, in the traditions, a continuous exhortation to await `the day of
relief’ (intizar al faraj) and a demand upon the believers in the Mahdi to await
him. In this manner a conscious link is established between them and the leader
and all the values which he represents including the negation of injustice .
This link and connection cannot possibly be established unless the Mahdi existed
as a contemporary living person.

Similarly, we see that this embodiment gives a new impetus to the notion and
transforms it, at a higher degree, into a source of resourcefulness and
strength. Further, it also gives every individual taking an stand against
injustice comfort and consolation and lightens the pain of injustice and
privation as he realizes that his Imam and leader also shares and feels these
pains as a contemporary human being, as he is not merely a notion relating to
the future.

Some objections about the Mahdi (‘a):

However, at the same time, the existence of this contemporary person has led to
negative attitudes towards the notion of the Mahdi itself among a group of
people on account of the difficulty to conceive such a personification.

Hence they ask: If the Mahdi is a living person who has been contemporaneous
with successive generations for more than ten centuries and will continue to be
such for the coming generations until he appears on the world stage, how is it
possible for him to live for a such a long time and remain immune to the natural
laws which cause old age and senility in a much lesser time, leading ultimately
to death. Is this not practically impossible?

They also ask: Why should God, the Glorious and the Exalted, be so keen in
respect of this particular person to suspend the natural laws for his sake and
carry out that which is impossible to prolong his life and save him for the
promised day? Has mankind become barren and incapable of producing capable
leaders? Why should not the promised day be left for a leader to be born at the
dawn of that era, someone who would grow up like other people and carry out his
role gradually until the world is filled with justice and equity after having
been filled with injustice and oppression?

They also ask: If the Mahdi is the name of a particular person, the son of the
Eleventh Imam from among the Imams of the Prophet’s family (`a), who was born in
256/870 and whose father died in 260/873-4, this implies that he was a small
child, not exceeding five years, at the time of his father’s death, and this age
is not sufficient for covering the stages of intellectual and spiritual
perfection under his father’s tutelage. Therefore, how could he have acquired
the preparedness for fulfilling his great religious and intellectual role?

They also ask: If the leader is well prepared, then what is the need for this
long waiting extending over centuries? Hasn’t the world witness enough of social
ordeals and calamities that might call for his appearance on the world scene for
the establishment of justice?

They further ask: How can we possibly believe in the existence of the Mahdi even
if we were to presume its possibility? Is it justifiable to believe in the truth
of this kind of hypothesis without scientific or religious evidence in its
favour? Do a few traditions narrated from the Prophet (‘s), the degree of whose
authenticity is unknown, suffice for accepting the above-mentioned hypothesis?

They have also questions concerning the role he is destined to play on the
promised day. Is it possible for an individual to play such a great and decisive
global role? A mere individual, however great he may be, how can he create
history by himself and usher in a new era? For the seeds and roots of historical
movements grow and develop under certain objective conditions and their
contradictions; the greatness of the individual only places him in a position to
channel these objective circumstances for bringing about practical changes to
achieve the sought solutions?

They also raise another question: How can one imagine that this person will
accomplish the task of bringing about such a terrific change and achieve a
decisive victory of justice and its message over the entire systems of
injustice, oppression and tyranny, despite the fact that they enjoy authority
and influence and possess the means of mass destruction, along with tremendous
scientific capability as well as political, social and military power?

These are questions which are raised regarding this issue and they are posed in
one form or another. But the real motives behind these questions are not just
intellectual. There is a psychological reason behind them as well, consisting of
the feeling of awe about the reality dominating the global scene and the
slightness of any chance of altering it fundamentally. The greater the awe
produced by this reality dominating the world through the course of history, the
more are the doubts and the questions that are raised. This is how defeatism and
the feeling of pettiness and weakness lead man psychologically into a state of
severe impotence at the mere idea of a great global change that would liberate
the world from all its contradictions and injustices that have marked its
history and give it a new content based on justice and truth. It is this feeling
of impotence that gives rise to the doubts concerning this picture and inspires
the attempt to reject it for some reason or another.

Here we will take up take up these questions, briefly examining each of them to
the extent permitted by the scope of these pages.

The Mahdi’s Long Life:

Is there a possibility that a human being may live for so many centuries as is
supposed in the case of this awaited leader who would change the world, whose
blessed life now exceeds eleven hundred and forty years, or nearly fourteen
times that of the age of an ordinary human being who passes through all the
usual stages of life from infancy to old age?

`Possibility’ here has one of three meanings: practical possibility, scientific
possibility, and logical or philosophical possibility: By `practical
possibility’ I mean that a thing should be possible for anyone to carry out.
Thus crossing an ocean, going into the depth of the sea, and traveling to the
moon are things which have now become practically possible. Hence there are
people who are presently engaged in doing these one way or another.

By `scientific possibility’ I mean things which may not be practically possible
for anyone at present with the aid of the existing means, but from the
viewpoint. of science there is nothing to preclude their possibility provided
proper conditions and means become available. Hence the possibility of man
traveling to Venus is not precluded by science. In fact, the present trends
point to its possibility, though it may not be possible for anyone at present,
because the difference between journey to the moon and journey to Venus is one
of degree, and traveling to Venus does not involve anything more than overcoming
the additional difficulties arising from greater distance. Therefore, traveling
to Venus is possible scientifically although it has not yet become a practical
possibility. As against this, the idea of a space journey to the sun is
scientifically impossible, i.e. science does not consider it possible because
scientifically and experimentally the possibility is inconceivable of making a
shield against the heat of the sun which is like a gigantic blazing furnace with
unimaginably high temperatures.

By logical or philosophical possibility I mean the absence, on the basis of a
priori rational laws (i.e. prior to empirical experience) of any rational
obstacle to the existence of anything. Hence it is logically impossible to
divide three oranges into two equal parts without cutting one of them into two
halves. Because, prior to any experience, reason knows that three is not an even
but an odd number and it is not possible to divide it into two equal whole
numbers because that would imply that it is both an odd as well as an even
number at the same time, and this is a contradiction, which is impossible. But
it is not logically impossible for man to enter fire without being burnt or to
make the journey to the sun without being burnt by its heat, because no
contradiction is involved in assuming that heat may not travel from a body at a
higher temperature to one which is less hot, although it is contrary to our
experience which shows that heat travels from a body at higher to one at a lower
temperature until their temperatures are equal.

Thus we see that logical possibility has a wider scope than scientific
possibility, and the latter in its turn has a wider scope than practical
possibility.

There is no doubt that it is logically possible for a person to have a life-span
extending over thousands of years because this is not something impossible from
a purely rational point of view, considering that it does not involve any
contradiction, for the concept of life undoubtedly does not in itself imply the
idea of speedy death.

Similarly, there is no doubt that such a long life is not a practical
possibility, like the possibility of reaching the sea floor or making journey to
the moon. That is because science cannot, with the present means and experience,
prolong human life for hundreds of years. Hence we see that those who have the
greatest desire to live and also access to all scientific resources, do not live
longer than what is usual.

As for scientific possibility, there is nothing in today’s science that might
negate the theoretical possibility of a very long life-span. This actually
relates to the physiological significance of the phenomenon of old age and
senility in man. Does this phenomenon represents a natural law which makes
tissues and cells in the human body, after the peak of their growth, to age
gradually and become less capable of sustained activity until they finally stop
working at some moment, irrespective of the influence of any external factor? Or
is aging and creeping infirmity of bodily tissues and cells in performance of
their physiological functions a result of their battle against such external
factors as microbes and toxicity which enter the body as a result of consuming
improper food or some other factor?

This is a question raised by science today and it seeks to answer it, whereas
there continue to be several answers for it on the scientific level. Therefore
if we accept the scientific view which inclines towards interpreting aging and
the mounting debility accompanying it as a consequence of the body’s battle and
resistance against certain external factors, it means that if the bodily tissues
were insulated from these factors it is theoretically possible to increase the
life-span, to overcome the phenomenon of aging and finally triumph over it.

But if we opt for the other viewpoint which favours the hypothesis that aging is
a natural law of cells and living tissues, in the sense that they carry within
themselves the seeds of their inevitable destruction through aging, senility and
finally death, we may still say that this does not mean that there is no
flexibility in this natural law. Rather, if such a law presumably exists it is a
flexible law, because as we find in our daily lives and the scientists in their
experiments, old age is a physiological and not a temporal phenomenon. At times
it sets in early and at times it is delayed until late in life. Some old people
possess young-looking organs and tissue despite being advanced in age, as
reported by physicians, and they show no signs of old age. In fact, scientists
have been practically able to benefit from the flexibility of this supposed
natural law and have extended the age of some animals by hundreds of times of
their natural age. They have achieved this by creating such conditions and
factors which delay the operation of the law of aging.

This proves that slowing down of this law is scientifically possible by creating
specific conditions and factors, although science has not yet acquired the
ability to bring it about in relation to a complicated being such as man.
However, this is only due to the relatively greater difficulty involved in
achieving this in relation to man, in contrast to other living beings. This
means that from a theoretical point of view science, to the extent indicated by
its moving trends, does not have any basis for rejecting the possibility of
extending the human life-span, irrespective of whether we interpret aging as a
consequence of the combat and resistance against external factors, or as
consequence of a natural law of the living cell itself which compels it towards
destruction.

What has been mentioned can be summarized as follows: To be sure, the extension
of a man’s life for several centuries is something possible logically and
scientifically, although it continues to remain practically impossible. But
science is moving on the path, albeit a long one, of realizing this possibility.

In the light of what has been said, we may approach the issue of the Mahdi’s
life-span and the questions and incredulity that surround it. We may note that
such a long span of life is logically-and scientifically possible, and science
is gradually moving towards changing this theoretical possibility into a
practical one. Hence there remain no grounds for wonder and incredulity except
that the Mahdi should have outstripped science itself by changing the
theoretical possibility into a practical one in his own person before science
could reached the level of competence to bring it about. But this is something
similar to a person outdistancing science by discovering a cure for meningitis
or cancer.

If the problem is as to how Islam, which has determined the age of this awaited
leader, has outstripped science in bringing about this change, the reply is that
this is not the only area in which Islam has outstripped science. Has not the
Islamic Shari’ah in general outstripped science and the natural development of
human thought by several centuries? Did it not lay down prescriptions setting
forth a program for implementation, whereas it took man several centuries to
acquire the maturity to arrive at them independently? Did it not bring the
divine laws which represent ultimate wisdom and whose secrets and judiciousness
could not be comprehended until recent times? Didn’t its heavenly message
disclose cosmic secrets which had never occurred to man’s mind and which were
proved and confirmed by science only later on? Thus if we believe in all this,
why should we regard it with incredulity if the Author of this message, the
Glorious and the Exalted, has presaged and outdistanced human science in
determining the age of the Mahdi?

Here I am not speaking about anything except cases of such presaging which we
are able to perceive directly, and it is possible to add to these other
instances of presaging mentioned in the heavenly message itself. An example of
this is in the Qur’an where it inform us about the nocturnal ascension of the
Prophet (s), a journey in which he was taken from the Holy Mosque in Makkah to
the Masjid al-Aqsa. If we want to understand this nightly journey within the
framework of natural laws, it may be considered as a use of natural laws which
science did not discover except hundreds of years later. Therefore, the same
divine knowledge which made it possible for the Prophet (s) to travel at that
speed before science could understand it, has granted the last of his
God-designated vicegerents a long life before science could accomplish anything
of the kind.

Indeed this long life bestowed upon the awaited saviour by God, the Exalted,
seems strange from the viewpoint of what is regarded as usual and familiar until
today and in the light of what has been presently achieved by scientific
experiments. But isn’t the saviour’s very role of bringing about a tremendous
change, for which he has been prepared, something strange, unusual and
unprecedented in history? Is he not entrusted with the task of changing the
world and rebuilding a new civilization on the basis of truth and justice.? Such
being the case, why should we consider it strange if the preparation for this
great role is marked with certain strange and unusual phenomena such as his long
life-span? However strange and unusual these phenomena may appear, they are not
more strange than the great role which he is to play on the promised day So when
we accept his unique historical role despite its being without a precedent in
the history of mankind, then why should we not accept his long life span which
has no precedent in ordinary life?

I do not know whether it is a matter of accident that only two individuals are
entrusted with the mission to purge human civilization and build it anew, and
both have long life-spans, several times the normal? One of them who performed
such a role in the past was Noah, about whom the Noble Qur’an explicitly says
that he remained among his people for a period of nine-hundred and fifty years
and it became possible for him to create a new world after the flood. The other,
who will perform his role in future, is the Mahdi who continues to be among his
people for more than a thousand years, and who will be enabled to create a new
world on the promised day in the future. If we accept the case of Noah who lived
for at least a thousand years, why should we not accept the case of the Mahdi?

Miracle and Long Life:

Until this point we have observed that a long life-span is scientifically
possible. But if it is supposed that it is not practically possible and the law
of aging is an inflexible law, which mankind has not been able to overcome until
today and to alter its conditions, what does that imply? It implies that
prolonging the human life-span for several centuries, such as in the case of
Noah and the Mahdi, is against natural laws as proved by the modem scientific
methods of experimentation and induction. As a consequence this becomes a
miracle wherein a natural law is suspended in a specific situation for
preserving the life of a person entrusted with safeguarding the celestial
message. This miracle is neither the only one of its kind nor is it incredible
from the viewpoint of Muslim belief based upon explicit Quranic verses and the
Prophet’s traditions. That is because the law of aging is not more inflexible
than the law of heat transfer, according to which heat flows from a hotter body
to one at a lower temperature until the two are at an equal temperature. This
law was suspended for the sake Abraham (‘a) when the only way to save him was to
suspend this law. Hence when Abraham was thrown into fire, it was told:

"[We said:] O fire, be coolness and safety for Abraham". (Al-Quran, 21:69)

Thereat he came out from it unhurt and untouched by fire. Similarly other
natural laws were suspended for the sake of support to other figures from among
the prophets and testaments of God upon the earth, such as the parting of the
sea for Moses, the illusion of the Romans that they had arrested Jesus while in
fact they had not arrested him, and the Prophet Muhammad’s (s) going out unseen
from his house which had been besieged by the Quraysh who lay in wait for hours
to attack him and God concealed him from their eyes when he walked out through
their midst. All these cases represent suspension of natural laws for the
support of an individual whose preservation is desired by providence. The law of
aging might be one of those laws.

From this we may derive a general notion that whenever the preservation of the
life of a human testament (hujjah) of God on earth-which is necessary for the
fulfillment of the mission for which he has been prepared-depends upon
suspending a natural law, divine providence intervenes to suspend that law for
the sake of the fulfillment of that mission. Conversely, if the mission for
which the individual has been prepared is completed, he dies naturally or is
martyred in accordance with the workings of natural laws.

Concerning this general notion we are usually faced with the following question:
How is it possible for the laws of nature to be suspended, severing the
necessary relationship between natural phenomena? Is this anything except
negation of science which has discovered natural laws and determined the
necessary relationship on the basis of the principles of experimentation and
induction?

The answer is that science itself has answered this question by relinquishing
the concept of necessity in relation to natural laws. To explain, science
discovers natural laws on the basis of experiment and systematic observation.
That is, when a particular natural phenomenon follows another phenomenon,
science infers from this succession a natural law that whenever the first
phenomenon occurs the second follows it. But in this law science does not
presume the existence of a necessary relationship between the two phenomena
arising from their essences, because necessity is an unobservable condition
which cannot be proved by experimentation and instruments of scientific
induction. It is for this reason that the logic of modem science emphasizes that
natural laws, as known to science, do not speak of a necessary relationship but
of association between two phenomena. Hence if a miracle occurs and one of the
two phenomena involved in a natural law is excluded, it does not involve
breaking of a necessary relationship between two phenomena.

In fact, in the light of the logic of modem science miracle, in its religious
sense, has become more comprehensible than it was in the light of the classical
view relating to causal relationships. The earlier viewpoint conceived two
phenomena which were constantly associated with one another as bound by a
necessary relationship, and this necessity implied the impossibility of their
separation. But this relationship has changed in modem science into the law of
persistent association and succession between two phenomena which does not
presume unobservabie necessity.

On this basis, a miracle becomes an exception to the state of persistent
association and succession without conflicting with necessity or leading to
impossibility.

In the light of the principles of inductive logic, we concur with the modem
scientific viewpoint that induction does not prove the existence of a necessary
relationship between two phenomena. But we think that it does indicate the
presence of a common interpretation for persisting association and succession
between two phenomena. In the same way that this common interpretation may be
justified on the basis of the assumption of essential necessity, similarly it is
possible to justify it on the basis of Divine wisdom which prompts the orderer
of the universe’ to persistently link certain phenomena with others and it is
this wisdom itself which at times demands an exception leading to the occurrence
of a miracle.

God’s Concern in Extending His Life:

We will now take up the second question which is, why should God, the Glorious
and the Exalted, show such special concern for this particular individual and
suspend natural laws for the sake of prolonging his age? Moreover, why not leave
the leadership of the promised day for someone to be born in the future, to be
summoned by the signs of the promised day, to appear on the stage and carry out
his awaited role? In other words, what is the benefit of this long occultation
and what is its justification?

This question is asked by many people and they do not want a reply based on
occult explanations, considering that we believe that the Twelve Imams ( ‘a)
form a unique chain of which not a single link can be altered. But those who
raise this question demand a social interpretation of this stance based upon
tangible realities of the process of change as such and understandable needs of
the promised day.

On this basis we will temporarily shift our attention from the, characteristics
which we believe these infallible Imams to possess and raise the following
question: Taking into account the process of awaited change on the promised day,
to the extent it is understandable in the light of human life and experience, is
it possible to consider the longevity of the leader reserved for that day as one
of the factors greatly conducive to its success and its leadership?

Our reply to this question is in the affirmative for a number of reasons among
which are the following:

The process of a great change requires that the leader who brings it about
should possess a unique spirit which is full of consciousness and preeminence
and awareness of the insignificance of the dominant arrogant systems for whose
annihilation he has been prepared and to replace them with a new civilization
and a new world order. And the more the revolutionary leader is conscious of the
pettiness of the civilization which he combats and the more dearly he perceives
that it is only a point on the long line of human civilization, the higher will
be his morale in confronting it and continuing his campaign against it until
victory.

It is obvious that the required measure of this awareness would be proportional
to the extent of the change itself and the extent and hold of the civilization
and regime to be annihilated. Therefore, confrontation with a mightier system
and a more deeply-rooted civilization requires an awareness possessing greater
force and vigour.

Considering that the mission of the promised day is to bring about a
comprehensive change in a world filled with injustice and oppression by
transforming all its cultural values and diverse systems, it is natural that
such a mission should require someone whose awareness is greater than that of
the world in its entirety, someone who is not an offspring of that world grown
up in the shadow of the civilization which he seeks to demolish and transform
into a civilization based upon justice and truth. That is because someone who
grows up in the shadow of a deep-rooted civilization and spend his life under
the spell of its authority, values and ideas, dwells under a feeling of awe for
it because it was already there when he was only an infant, a mighty adult when
he still grew up as a child, and when he had opened his eyes on the world he did
not see anything except its myriad faces.

As against this there is someone who has delved deeply in history and lived in
the world before this age of enlightenment, and has seen great civilizations
ruling over the world one after another and then decline and fall with his own
eyes and not through books of history, seeing also the present civilization
which constitutes the latest chapter in human history prior to the promised day.
He saw it while it was still a small seed hardly visible. He then saw these
seeds establish themselves in the body of society waiting for an opportunity to
sprout and grow. He has witnessed its growth and march, its ups and downs, and
observed it blossom and grow into a giant and gradually control the destiny of
the entire world.

Surely such a person who has lived through all these stages with complete
awareness and insight will mark this giant, which he intends to confront,
through the long history he has personally observed, not as something read in
books of history. He will neither view it as inevitable fate, nor as Jean
Jacques Rousseau viewed France without a monarch, for it is said that he was
terrified by the mere idea of France without a king, despite his being,
intellectually and philosophically, one of the leading advocates of political
change during that era. That was so because he had grown up in the shadow of
monarchy and had breathed in its atmosphere throughout his life. But someone who
has accompanied history itself carries within him the awe and force of history
and profound awareness of the fact that the order and civilization that
surrounds him is the offspring of a day from among the days of history that came
into being due to certain conducive factors and which will perish when other
factors appear, and in near or distant future nothing will remain of it in the
same manner as nothing of it lasted in the past; that life-spans of
civilizations and regimes, however long they may be, are not more than numbered
days in the long course of history.

You may have read the Surat al-Kahf. It mentions the story of the youths who
professed faith in their Lord: God had increased them in guidance at a time when
they were confronted with a dominant idolatrous regime which, without pity and
hesitation, ripped the buds of tawhid and stifled any effort to rise above
polytheism. They were under great stress; despair had overwhelmed them and they
had lost hope. Unable to find any solution, it appeared to them that falsehood
would continue to rule and oppress for ever and to prevail over the truth,
forcing into submission everyone whose heart leaned towards truth. They sought
refuge in a cave seeking from God relief from their predicament. Do you know
what God did? He caused them to fall asleep for 309 years in the cave. Then he
raised them from sleep and sent them forth on the stage of life after the regime
that had overwhelmed them with its power and oppression had disintegrated and
collapsed to become an inert and harmless part of history. All this was done so
that those youths might witness the fall of untruth whose prevalence, power, and
persistence seemed overwhelming to them, land that they might see its end with
their own eyes and witness the triviality and insignificance of falsehood. If
this clear vision — with all its spiritual force and sublimity — was realized
by the Men of the Cave through this unique incident which extended their
life-span by 300 years, a similar thing applies to the Awaited Leader in the
course of his long life-span, which enabled him to witness the giant of a
civilization when it was still a dwarf, the ancient tree when it was still a
seed, and the epochs when they were taking their first breaths of life.

In addition, this experience of accompanying successive civilizations and direct
contact with their movement and development, have a great role in intellectually
preparing and deepening the leadership skills for the promised day, as they
expose the reserved individual to the various efforts made by others along with
their points of weakness and strength and all kinds of error and correct
judgment, giving him the utmost ability to evaluate social phenomena with a
complete awareness of their causes and historical conditions.

Further, the change that the Awaited Leader is destined to bring about is based
upon a specific message, the message of Islam. It is but natural that it should
require a leader who in nearer to the sources of pristine Islam, with a
personality built in an entirely independent manner separately from the cultural
influences he is destined to combat on the promised day. This is opposed to the
case of a person who is born and brought up in that culture and whose thoughts
and sensibilities take shape within its environs, because such a person is
usually not free from the influences and tendencies of this culture even if he
is leading a change against it. Therefore, for ensuring that the reserved leader
is not influenced by the civilization for whose change he has been prepared, it
is necessary that his personality be entirely built in an earlier civilizational
stage closest in its general spirit and origin to the civilization which he
seeks to realize on the promised day under his leadership.

How did His Personality Develop?

We now come to the third question: How did the Awaited Leader’s personality
develop despite his having lived with his father, Imam Askari (‘a), for just
about five year, and that too during infancy, which is insufficient for his
personality to mature? So what were the circumstances that were instrumental in
the development of his personality?

The answer is that the Mahdi ( `a) succeeded to his father’s office of the
Imamah of the Muslim community, and this implies that he was an Imam possessing
all the intellectual and spiritual qualities associated with Imamah from a very
early stage of his noble life. The possession of the Imamah at an early age is
.a phenomenon which has precedents in a number of his forefathers (`a). Thus
Imam Muhammad ibn Ali al-Jawad ( `a) assumed the Imamah when he was 8 years old
and Imam Ali ibn Muhammad al-Hadi (`a) when he was 9 years. Imam Abu Muhammad
al-Hasan al-Askari, the father of the Awaited Imam, assumed the Imamah’ when he
was 28 years. Hence the phenomenon of assuming the Imamah at an early age
reached its climax in Imam Mahdi ( `a) and Imam Jawad ( `a), and we call it a
`phenomenon’ as it manifested itself as a tangible and practical reality in
relation to some of the Mahdi’s ancestors, which for the Muslims was a kind of
living experience of the Imam. It is not possible for us to find any evidence
that may be clearer and stronger than the experience of the Muslim community. We
mention the following points to elucidate this matter:

1) The Imamah of the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt was not an office associated with
worldly power and influence which passes from father to son on the basis of
heredity and is supported by state power, as in the case of the imamate of the
Fatimid caliphs and the caliphate of the Abbasids. Rather, it acquired its wide
popular base through spiritual power and the intellectual conviction it
generated among the masses concerning the worthiness of this Imamah for the
leadership of Islam in accordance with spiritual and intellectual principles.

2) The foundations of this popular base were laid during the early days of Islam
and it blossomed and spread during the period of Imam Baqir (`a) and Imam Sadiq
(`a). The school over which these two Imams presided generated a widespread
intellectual current among the masses in the Islamic world, attracting hundreds
of jurists, theologians, exegetes and scholars of various Islamic disciplines
and other sciences known at the time. Speaking in this regard, al-Hasan ibn Ali
al-Washsha’ says: "On entering the Mosque of Kufah I saw 900 shaykhs all of whom
would say, "haddathna Jafar ibn Muhammad’ " ("Ja’far ibn Muhammad narrated to
us").

3) The conditions for determining the Imam and ascertaining his capacity for
Imamah, to which this school and the people who formed its popular base in
Islamic society subscribed and which they abided by, were very stringent,
because they did not consider anyone an Imam unless he was the most teamed
scholar of his time.

4) The school and the people constituting its popular base gave great sacrifices
for their sustained faith in the Imamah as, from the viewpoint of the ruling
caliphs, they formed a hostile front, at least in respect of its doctrinal
approach. This led the authorities to launch almost continuous assaults to
liquidate or torture them. As a result many were killed and many more were
imprisoned, and hundreds died in the dark of prison cells. This means that they
had to pay dearly for their faith in the Imamah of the Imams of the Ahl at-Bayt,
and it carried with it no attraction except a believer’s appeal or his
commitment for the sake of nearness to God, the Exalted.

5) The Imams in whose Imamah these masses had faith did not live secluded lives
in ivory towers, as was the wont of kings vis-a-vis their people. They lived in
constant contact with the people so long as they were not imprisoned or exiled
by the rulers. This is known from the large number of narrators and
traditionists who have narrated traditions on the authority of each of the
eleven Imams as well as from the correspondence which each Imam held with his
contemporaries. The journeys undertook by each of the Imams, on the one hand,
and the representatives which they appointed for the various regions of the
Islamic world on the other, along with the practice of the Shi’`ah from every
region to pay regular visits to the Imams and meet them in Madinah during their
journeys to the holy land for ha" pilgrimage-all this implies a continuous and
clear interaction between the Imam and his followers who were spread all over
the Islamic world and included both scholars and laymen.

6) The contemporary caliphate viewed the Imams (‘a) and their spiritual
leadership as a great threat to its existence and authority Consequently it made
every effort to weaken this leadership and endured many negative consequences
arising from such measures. Occasionally, when their policies required, they
manifested themselves in the form of ruthless tyranny, and the Imams themselves
were repeatedly imprisoned and kept under continuous surveillance despite the
shock and revulsion which it generated among the generality of Muslims and their
followers in varying degrees.

If we reflect over these six points, which are all indubitable historical facts,
it is possible to arrive at the conclusion that the phenomenon of assumption of
Imamah at a young age was a reality and not a fantasy Because the Imam who at a
young age appears before the people and proclaims himself as the spiritual and
intellectual leader of Muslims and whose Imamah and leadership are believed in
by such a large and widespread body of people, must have possessed, quite
clearly and remarkably, vast knowledge and wisdom, an extensive learning and
expertise in law, exegesis and doctrine. Because, in its absence, he would have
been unable to convince the various classes of people of his Imamah, especially
in view of what we have mentioned concerning the continuous interaction between
the Imams and their followers and the limelight that focused on their lives and
different angles of their personality.

Therefore, is it likely that a child should invite people to his own Imamah as
the standard of Islam, making himself the focus of the various segments of
people, who believe in him and sacrifice for his sake their precious security
and life without taking the trouble to inquire about him and without being
jolted by the phenomenon of a child’s Imamah into making an inquiry into the
authenticity of the claims of the young Imam and an evaluation of his person?
Assuming that the people did not make any immediate effort to discover the
facts, is it possible for such a matter to continue for days and months, or even
years, without the reality being disclosed despite normally continuous
intercourse between the young Imam and the people? Is it reasonable to suppose
that he could be truly childish in his thinking and knowledge without its coming
to light during such a long period of interaction?

Even if we suppose that the supporters of the Imamah of the Ahl al-Bayt did not
have the opportunity to unearth the reality, why did the caliphate of the period
remain silent on the matter and did not make any effort to expose the facts when
it was in its interest to do so? How easy it would have been for the authorities
to do that had the young Imam possessed childish ideas and manners, as is usual
for children. It would have been the most successful way of exposing the reality
of the claims of this child to his followers and others, and of demonstrating
his incapacity for spiritual and intellectual Imamate and leadership. If it is
somewhat difficult to prove the incapacity of a person in his forties or fifties
for the office of the Imamah, considering that by that time he could become
largely acquainted with the cultural heritage of his era, there is no difficulty
in proving the incapacity of an ordinary child, however intelligent and clever,
for assuming the office of the Imamah as understood by Imami Shi`is. That would
have been the easiest and most convenient measure as compared to the complicated
and hazardous methods of repression adopted by the authorities at that time.

The only explanation for the reticence of the caliphate and its reluctance to
play this card was that it had learnt that the assumption of the Imamah at a
young age was a real phenomenon, not a pretension. In fact it had learned this
practically after it tried to play this card and failed. History tells us about
the efforts of this kind and their failure, while it does not mention a single
instance wherein the Imamah assumed by an Imam at an early age might have been
shaken, or wherein the young Imam faced a critical situation which exceeded his
ability or which led the people’s faith in him to be shaken.

This is what we meant when we said that the Imamah assumed at an early age was a
real phenomenon in the lives of the Ahl al-Bayt and not simply a presumption.
Further, this real phenomenon has its precedents in the Divine tradition
which-covers prophetic missions and divine leadership. The life of John ( `a),
to mention one instance from the Divine tradition, suffices as a precedent for
the phenomenon of assumption of Inrainah at an early age by the Ahl al-Bayt (
`a) . God, the Glorious and the Exalted, says:

"’O John, hold on to the Book firmly, ‘and We gave him judgment while still a
child." (Al-Quran, 19:12)

When it is established that the phenomenon of assumption of Imamah at an early
age is a reality and something actual in the lives of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a),
there remains no doubt in this regard in the case of Imam Mahdi (‘a) and his
succeeding to his father’s office as a child.

Belief in the Existence of the Mahdi:

We now come to the fourth question: Assuming the possibility of the hypothesis
of the Awaited Leader with all its implications pertaining to his long
life-span, the Imamah at an early age, and the period of silent occultation,
this possibility is not sufficient to convince one that he presently exists.
Therefore, how can one presently believe in the existence of the Mahdi?
Notwithstanding the strangeness of such a hypothesis and its being contrary to
the ordinary course of nature, are a few traditions from the Prophet (‘s)
narrated in books of hadith sufficient for totally convincing us about the
Twelfth Imam? How is it possible to prove the historical existence of the Mahdi,
and how do we know that it is not a mere assumption created by psychological
circumstances to establish it in the minds of a large number of people?

The answer is that the concept of the Mahdi as an awaited leader who would
change the world for the better occurs in the traditions of the Prophet (‘s) in
general and the narrations of the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt in particular. It is
emphasized to-such a degree in a large number of explicit traditions that it is
not possible to doubt it. Four hundred traditions of the Prophet (s) transmitted
only through chains of authorities belonging to our Sunni brothers have been
identified, while the total number of traditions about Imam Mahdi, including
those transmitted by Sunni and Shi`i chains, is more than six thousand. This is
a very large number and one cannot find a similar number of traditions on any of
the many Islamic matters which are considered as evident and which no Muslim
usually doubts.

As to the Twelfth Imam ( `a) being the embodiment of this concept, there is
sufficient and clear justification and evidence for this claim. This can be
summarized iii the form of two proofs, one of which is Islamic and the second
scientific. We prove the existence of the Awaited Leader with the means of the
Islamic proof, and by employing the scientific proof we establish that the Mahdi
is not a myth and conjecture, but a reality whose existence has been affirmed by
concrete experience through history.

As to the Islamic proof, it is in the form of hundreds of traditions transmitted
from the Prophet (s) and the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (`a), and which identify
the Mahdi as belonging to the All al-Bayt, stating that he is a descendent of
Fatimah in the lineage of Husayn and his ninth descendant. They also state that
the Prophet’s successors (khulafa) are twelve in number. These traditions define
the general notion and identify its embodiment in the person of the twelfth Imam
from among the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt. These traditions have been narrated in
a great number and have been widely known despite the caution observed by the
Imams ( `a) in raising this issue in public for the sake of protecting their
worthy descendent (the Mahdi) from being assassinated or put to death
immediately

The number of these traditions is not the sole criterion for their acceptance.
There are in addition other indications which prove their validity.

Thus the Prophetic tradition mentioning the Imams, khulafa or umara’ succeeding
him and their number, that there shall be twelve Imams, khulafa-‘ or umara’, in
accordance with the varying texts of the tradition as transmitted by different
chains, occurs in the form of narrations collected by some compilers which form
more than 270 narrations taken from the most famous Shi’i and Sunni compilations
of hadith, including the works of Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Ahmad
ibn Hanbal in his Musnad, and al-Hakim in his Mustadrak `ala al-Sahihayn. It
should be noted here that Bukhari, who transmits this hadith, was a contemporary
of Imam Jawad as well as the Imams al-Hadi and al-Askari, and this is of great
significance because it proves that this hadith was recorded from the Prophet
(s) before its subject had materialized and before the concept of Twelve Imams
had been practically completed. This implies that there exists no ground for the
doubt that the transmission of this hadith might lave been influenced by the
actual situation of the Twelver (Ithnn Ashari) Imamis or was a reflection of it,
because forged traditions attributed to the Prophet (s) that are either
reflections or justifications of a later event do not go back, in their origin
or recording in books of hadith, to a date earlier than that event. Now that we
possess concrete proof that the above-mentioned tradition historically precedes
the Twelve Imams and that it had been recorded in books of hadith before the
completion of the Twelver Imami reality, it is possible for us to assert that
this hadith is not a reflection of some event, but an expression of a Divine
reality by someone who did not speak out of selfish motives. Hence he (s) said:

"Indeed there will be twelve khulafa’ after me."

And this Ithna Ashari Imami historical reality which begins with Imam Ali ( `a)
and terminates in the Mahdi ( `a) is the sole rational interpretation of this
noble Prophetic tradition.

As to the scientific proof, it comprises of the experience of a religious
community extending for a period of nearly seventy years which is known as the
period of the Lesser Occultation (al-ghaybat al-sughra). As a prelude to the
explanation of this matter we shall give a short description of the period of
Lesser Occultation.

The Lesser Occultation (of Imam Mahdi) is the first stage in the Imamah of the
Awaited Leader, may Peace and God’s blessings be upon him.

From the time of assumption of tile office of the Imamah it was decreed for this
Imam to conceal himself from the public view and to keep himself apparently at a
distance from events while remaining at close with his heart and mind. It has
been observed that if his occultation (ghaybah) had occurred suddenly, it would
have delivered a great blow to the community of adherents of the Imamah within
the Islamic ummah because they were used to close contact with the Imam during
every age and to interaction with him, referring to him various problems for
solution. If the Imam were to disappear suddenly from the view of his followers
and were they to realize that they had been cut off from their spiritual and
intellectual leader, it would have given birth to a feeling of a great and
catastrophic void which could shake the entire system and shatter its unity
Therefore, it was necessary that there be a preparatory period for this
occultation so that the community might gradually get used to it and adapt
itself. This preparatory period was that of the Lesser Occultation in which Imam
Mahdi remained hidden from the public, although he was in constant contact with
them through his deputies, representatives and trustworthy companions, who acted
as a link between him and the community of the believers in his Imamah. During
this period, the task of representing the Imam was carried out by four persons
whose piety, God-fearing and honesty were endorsed by the community within which
they lived. They were: 1) Uthman ibn Said al-Amri, 2) Muhammad ibn Uthman ibn
Said al-Amri, 3) Abu al-Qasim al-Husayn ibn Ruh, 4) Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn
Muhammad al-Samarri.

These four deputies (nuwwab), in succession, in the order mentioned above,
performed the task of representing the Imam and when one of theirs died he was
succeeded by the next one appointed by Imam Mahdi (‘a). The deputy who was in
contact with the Shi’i community, would communicate their questions and their
problems to the Imam and bring back to them his replies, which were at times
verbal and often written. The community which had been deprived of the sight of
their Imam found comfort through these letters and indirect communications. It
is noteworthy that these letters and messages issued by Imam Mahdi (‘a) were in
a single handwriting and style throughout the period lasting for nearly seventy
years when these four persons acted as his deputies. Later, al-Samarri who was
the last of the Imam’s deputies, announced the end of phase of Lesser
Occultation, which is marked by the presence of specifically appointed agents of
the Imam, and the beginning of the Greater Occultation (al-ghaybat al-kubra) in
which no specific persons were appointed as intermediaries between the Imam and
his followers. This transition from the Lesser to the Greater Occultation
signifies the fulfillment of the goals of the former and the conclusion of its
role, because through this gradual process it protected the Shi’`ah from a shock
and confronting a great void arising from the occultation of the Imam. It was
able to make the Shi`ah acclimatized to the era of Occultation, preparing them
gradually for acceptance of the notion of general representation (al-niyabat al
`ammah) of the Imam. Thus from that of directly appointed deputies during the
Lesser Occultation, the mode of representation of the Imam changed during the
Greater Occultation to a general one by mujtahids of integrity (al-mujtahid al-`adil)
possessing insight into temporal and religious matters.

In the light of what has been said one can evaluate the situation so as to
clearly perceive that the Mahdi is a reality experienced by a community of
people through the mediation of representatives and deputies for a period of
seventy years in the course of their interaction with others. During this period
not a single person ever accused them of prevarication, fraudulent conduct, or
inconsistency in their role as messengers. Hence is it conceivable that a fraud
should remain undetected for seventy years while four individuals practice it
consecutively and consistently and continue to deal with the community on its
basis as if it were a part of their lives and something they saw with their own
eyes without doing anything to cause doubt and without their being any special
relationship among them that might enable them to ‘conspire in some manner, thus
acquiring through their genuine conduct the confidence of everyone and
confirming their faith in the truth of something that they claimed to experience
and live with?!

An ancient saying states that falsehood is short-lived, and the logic of life
also proves that in accordance with the law of probability it is scientifically
impossible for a lie of this proportion and extending over such a period to
acquire the confidence of everyone around it throughout such continuous contacts
and dealings.

Thus we learn that the phenomenon of the Lesser Occultation can be considered a
scientifically justifiable experience for proving its objectiveness and for
acknowledging Imam Mahdi, the fact of his birth, life, occultation and general
proclamation concerning the Greater Occultation as a result of which he kept
himself offstage and did not revealed himself to anyone.

The Reasons for His not Appearing Publicly:

Why didn’t the Leader appear during this period? If he has prepared himself for
a social mission, what stopped him from appearing on the stage during the period
of Lesser Occultation or at a later time, instead of changing it into a greater
occultation, as the conditions for social activism and change were simpler and
easier at that time? Further, his links with the people through the set-up of
the Lesser Occultation provided him with the opportunity to gather his forces
and launch his movement with a powerful initiative. The ruling forces around him
too had not yet acquired the terrible power and strength which mankind acquired
afterwards as a result of scientific and industrial progress.

The answer is that the success of any activity involving social change depends
upon certain concrete conditions and circumstances and its objective cannot
possibly be achieved unless these conditions and circumstances are realized. The
missions of a celestial origin for initiating social change in the world are
distinct in their absence of dependence on existing circumstances when their
apostolic dimension is taken into consideration. Because the message upon which
this process of change is based is divine and a celestial product, not the
outcome of prevailing circumstances. However, from the viewpoint of its
execution, it depends on presence of certain objective conditions for its being
successful and timely. It is for this reason that the Heavens had to wait for
five centuries of Jahilliyah to pass before sending its final message through
the Prophet Muhammad (s) because the dependence of its execution on objective
conditions necessitated its delay despite the world’s long-standing need.

Among objective conditions which affect the executive aspect of the process of
change are those which form a conducive atmosphere and general climate for the
intended change, as well as some details which are essential for the process of
change in its detailed course. Taking into consideration, for example, the
process of successful change led by Lenin in Russia, we see that it was linked
to such factors as the outbreak of the World War I and the decline of Czarist
rule, and this facilitated the creation of a suitable atmosphere for
revolutionary change. It also depended on certain other specific and limited
factors such as Lenin’s surviving his journey while infiltrating into Russia to
lead the Revolution. For any incident impeding him could result in the
Revolution losing its impetus in arising swiftly on the political stage.

In the process of divine change it is an unchanging wont of God Almighty that is
limited in its executive aspect by objective conditions which create a conducive
climate and general atmosphere for successful accomplishment of change.
Consequently, the advent of Islam did not occur except after a long period of
suspension in the coming of prophets, a long gap continuing for centuries.

Therefore, despite that God Almighty possesses the power to surmount all
obstacles in the path of a divine mission and to create miraculously a conducive
climate for it, He does not choose these methods because the trials, tribulation
and ordeals through which roan attains perfection require that the activity of
divine change be natural and objective in this regard. This does not stop God,
the Glorious and the Exalted, from intervening at times in certain details which
by themselves do not create the conducive climate but are catalysts which speed
up the process within the prevailing conducive climate. To this class belong the
providential favours and help which God grants to His friends (awliya’) in times
of difficulty, thereby supporting His mission. Thus the fire lit by Nimrud is
changed into coolness and safety for Abraham, the hand of a treacherous Jew is
paralyzed when he raises his sword over the Prophet’s head, and a powerful
windstorm blows away the tents of the infidels and idolaters who besieged
Madinah during the Battle of the Ditch, striking terror into their hearts. But
all these are only details and instances of providing help in decisive moments
following the presence of a conducive atmosphere and climate for a general
change that advances in a natural way under the influence of objective
conditions.

In the light of this, we can study the position of Imam Mahdi ( `a) and see
that, like any other social change, the change for which he has been prepared
depends, from the standpoint of execution, on concrete factors conducive to the
emergence of a suitable climate. Consequently, it is natural that this change
should be timed accordingly. Obviously, the Mahdi has neither prepared himself
for a social change of limited dimensions nor is it limited to some part of the
world. The mission for which he has been preserved by God, the Glorious and the
Exalted, is of global dimensions and involves the emancipation of all mankind
from the darkness of tyranny into the light of justice. A change of such great
proportions cannot be undertaken solely on the presence of a message and a
worthy leader; otherwise these conditions were fulfilled during the time of the
Prophet himself. It requires a suitable global climate and a general conducive
atmosphere that may be bring about the needed concrete conditions for the
process of world-wide change.

From the human aspect, the feeling of the civilized human being of having
reached a dead-end is an essential factor for creation of that suitable climate
so that he may accept the new message of justice. This feeling of exhaustion is
produced and deepened by a variety of cultural experiences from which the
civilized man emerges burdened with the wrongs of his own making, to become
conscious of the need for help, turning by his innate nature towards the
transcendental and the unknown.

From a material aspect, the material conditions of modem life may be more
helpful for carrying out a global mission than the past conditions of an earlier
era such as the period of Lesser Occultation. This is due to the shortening of
distances, the great possibility of interaction among different nations of the
world, and the presence of the means communication required by a central body
for enlightening the nations and educating them on the basis of the new message.

As to the point raised in the question concerning the advancements in military
power and equipment which the Awaited Leader will have to encounter on the
promised day the more his advent is delayed, that is correct. But what benefit
could increase in material power bring to men who possess such power and
equipment with a defeatist mentality and a shattered morale? How many times in
history have the lofty edifices of civilizations collapsed at the first military
stroke because of their having broken down earlier by loss of self-confidence
and faith in their existence and dissatisfaction with their own reality.

Is That Possible for an Individual?

We now come to the last in the series of aforementioned questions. Can an
individual, however great, possess the capacity to play such a great role? Is
the great man anyone except someone chosen by circumstances to spearhead their
momentum?

The idea expressed in this question is based upon a certain notion of history
which interprets history on the hypothesis that human beings are a secondary
factor, while the real forces surrounding him are the principal factor. On this
basis, the individual, in the best of conditions, is nothing except an
intelligent expression of the course determined by the principal factor.

We have explained elsewhere in our published works that history consists of two
axes: one of them is man, and the other the material forces surrounding him. In
the same way that the material forces and conditions relating to production and
nature influence man, likewise man, too, influences the forces and conditions
around him. There is no more ground for supposing that movement begins in matter
and culminates in man than for supposing the converse. Therefore man and matter
interact continually all along, and it is possible for an individual within this
framework to perform a greater role than a spectator watching the march of
history, especially when we take into account the factor of his links with the
heavens. In that case this link becomes a force that spearheads the movement of
history. This is exactly what happened in the history of prophetic missions,
especially during the final prophetic mission wherein the Prophet Muhammad (s),
by virtue of his prophetic links with the Divine, took the reins of historical
movement in his own hands and generated a civilizational wave which could never
have been produced by the surrounding conditions, as explained by us in the
second introduction of al-Fatawa al-wadilah.

That which took place at the hands of the Prophet (;) can again occur at the
hands of the Awaited Leader belonging to his Ahl ul-Bayt, the good news of whose
coming and the great role he would play has been proclaimed by him.

The Method of Change on the Promised Day:

We come finally to one point raised in the questions posed above. It relates to
the conceivable method by which decisive victory for justice will be achieved at
the hands of the Mahdi and tyrannical regimes opposing him will be abolished.

The answer to this question depends upon the knowledge of the time and stage at
which Imam Mahd3 (‘a) will be ordained to appear on the scene and the
possibility of defiling the distinctive features and conditions of that phase so
that i1i its light we can determine the form and course the process of change
would take. And as long as we are ignorant of that stage and know nothing about
its environment and conditions, it is not possible to predict what will happen
on the promised day, though it is be possible to form a subjective, if not an
objective, conception of that which might take place.

There is one basic probability which can possibly be accepted in the light of
relevant traditions and experience of great changes in history. This assumption
is that the advent of Imam Mahdi ( `a) will be subsequent to a great void
resulting from a setback and a choking civilizational crisis. This void would
open the way for the spread of the new message and the setback would prepare the
psychological atmosphere for its acceptance. This setback will not be an
accident in the history of human civilization, but a natural consequence of the
contradictions of a history that has severed its links with God Almighty, and
for which there are no definitive solutions. This will eventually set ablaze a
fire which will not leave anything unconsumed, and at this time the light will
appear to extinguish the flames and establish heavenly justice on earth.

I will confine myself to this brief summary, leaving an extensive study of this
subject and its related details to the valuable book which is before me, the
august encyclopedia of Imam Mahdi (`a) compiled by one of my sons and students,
the learned researcher Sayyid Muhammad Sadr, may God Almighty preserve him. This
encyclopedia is unparalleled in the history of Shi’i writings on Imam Mahdi (`a)
from the viewpoint of the comprehensiveness with which it deals with the issue
of the Awaited Imam. Its scope is vast and underlying it is an unflagging
scholarly spirit and a masterful grasp of a variety of striking points which
show the diligent efforts made by the compiler in preparing this unique work. I
feel elated by the scholarship, perceptiveness and brilliance that it reflects
and the significant gap that it has filled. I beseech the Lord, the Glorious and
the Exalted, to delight me through him and make him an outstanding scholar of
religion. All praise is for God, and may Peace and benediction be upon Muhammad
and his immaculate Ahl al-Bayt.

The writing of these pages was begun on 13 Jumadi al Thani 1397 H. and
finished on the afternoon of 17th day of the same month. And it is God who
grants assistance and success.

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