SHAFAQNA (Shia News Association) — The tragic death of our eleventh Imam was the advent of a new era for the Shi’a world. It was the beginning of a period, which the followers of Ahlul Bayt had never experienced before. A period that would last till an appointed time not known by any except the Lord of the worlds, Allah (SWT). The Imam of the time had always been available to the believers so as to lead them and guide them without the presence of a veil, but now the age had arrived when the faith of the people would be truly under test.
For the first sixty-eight years of his Imamate, Imam Al-Mahdi (AS) was in a transitional concealment from the people, whereby he used to directly answer the questions and requests of his followers through deputies that he had appointed. It was a period that allowed the people to become accustomed to the time that was to come, when the imam would neither make a public appearance nor would the people be able to approach him through any deputies“ the time of the major occultation.
Much criticism has been leveled against the disappearance of the Imam (AS) with claims that he has hidden himself out of fear and no benefit can be availed from him in his concealment. However, before being so judgmental, the philosophy behind the occultation needs to be viewed more deeply, since there are many factors surrounding the issue, which may not have been considered by critics. One needs to appreciate the wisdom behind the reasons as to why the Imam is in occultation, after, which his advantage to the society albeit in concealment can be understood more profoundly.
History bears witness to the fact that the faith of many companions of the Holy Prophet (SAW) and the Imams was only by word of mouth The requirement of believing in such a phenomenon as the invisible existence of Imam Al-Mahdi (AS) their true inner self is made manifest. Having faith in the unseen and suffering whilst awaiting deliverance from the turmoil of this world is in itself evidence of true loyalty towards the Imam (AS); devotion towards him is a crucial factor when considering the establishment of divine order on earth.
By being in concealment, the Imam is also immune from giving allegiance to unjust rulers as well as from being killed. Many mistakenly interpret this act as one of cowardice since he has gone into hiding in order to save his blood from being shed. A question arises, Is Allah (SWT) not powerful enough to protect the Imam from murder? Well, has it ever been considered that this very decree of Allah is the method He is using for the Imam’s protection? After all, is not Allah (SWT) the Mighty, the Wise?
However, it must be noted that although these are some of the reasons behind the concealment of Imam Al-Mahdi (AS), a hadith from Imam As-Sadiq (AS) quoted in Bihar al-Anwar explains how the true purpose of the occultation cannot be clarified until the day of Imam’s reappearance, The true understanding behind this occurrence will not take place until after he has reappeared, just as the wisdom behind making the boat defective, killing the boy, and repairing the falling wall [in the story of Musa (AS) and Khidr in the Qur'an] were revealed to Musa only after the two had decided to part company. The subject of occultation is among the divine secrets and a concealed matter whose knowledge is only with God. Since we regard God to be wise, we must also affirm that His acts are based on that perfect wisdom, even when the detailed understanding is not accessible to us."
With regards to the benefits of the Imam to the people during this period of occultation, Ayatollah Ibrahim Amini quotes in his book, Al-Imam Al-Mahdi The Just Leader of Humanity’ from Yanabi Al-Mawadda that a man once asked Imam As-Sadiq (AS), How can people benefit from an Imam who is in occultation? and the Imam replied, In the same way as they benefit from the sun behind the clouds.
Elaboration on this imagery in scientific terms suggests the fact that the benefit of thermal energy and illumination provided by the sun reaches the earth regardless of whether it is from behind a veil of clouds or apparent; the clouds are not an obstacle to the role of the sun on its recipients since all the earth’s functions remain intact with or without such a veil. Likewise, whether the Imam is manifest in the people’s eyes or in concealment, it does not prevent his benefit from reaching them. In the same way that the sun is the centre of the solar system and a necessity for life to exist, Imam Al-Mahdi (AS) is the heart of mankind and its existential guide without whom humanity would be lost.
It is true that certain roles such as propagating Islam, directly solving the problems of society, upholding the political ordinances of Allah (SWT) and guiding individuals according to their epoch and lifestyle cannot be performed by the Imam openly if he is in concealment. However, one must not view the role of the Imam with such a narrow-minded approach since his benefits to the society are not only limited to these.
The existence of the Imam is a perfect and unique embodiment of humanity that serves as a link between the material and the spiritual worlds. Had there been no Imam, Allah (SWT) could not have been known or worshipped perfectly, thus this link would have severed. The heart of the Imam is like the source of electricity that distributes light to numerous lamps. The illumination of the hidden universe first mirrors on the heart of the Imam and then from there it reflects onto the hearts of mankind. The roles of Imamate and Wilayat undertaken by the Imam have much more responsibility than just the external functions witnessed by people in their daily lives.
In a tradition related by Imam As-Sadiq (AS), it is related that Imam Zain Al-Abideen (AS) has said, We are the leaders of the Muslims, Allah’s proofs for his creatures, masters of the believers, guides for the God-fearing and those invested with discretionary authority over the affairs with Muslims. We are the security of the dwellers of the earth, just as the stars are the security of the dwellers of the heavens. It is because of us that the heavens descend on the earth whenever Allah (SWT) permits. It is because of us that the rain descends and blessings of earth come out of it. If we had not been on earth, its dwellers would have been consumed in it.
Furthermore, faith in the hidden Imam and awaiting deliverance through his return is a source of hope and peace for the hearts of the believers. Such a hope is one of the major causes towards the advancement of the Islamic ideal. If pessimism and despair infiltrate through any group or society, they inevitably begin to suffer from self-imposed negativism that leads to the defeat of the ideology.
There is no doubt that the social and political turmoil in many parts of the world, the decline of moral and ethical vision and the deprivation and poverty suffered by the downtrodden have all caused conscientious thinkers around the world to become concerned about the ability of human society to find its way out of its own self-cultivated gradual destruction. The only door that remains open is that of hope in the darkness of despair; the hope of divine intervention in human affairs sent by the Almighty Creator. It is this hope that gives solace to those who have suffered injustices; it is faith in the ultimate victory that makes people seek active roles in working towards a reform, thereby also providing them with an opportunity by which they can transcend towards their Lord through individual struggle.
As has been quoted by Ayatollah Ibrahim Amini in his book, Imam Zain Al-Abideen (AS) has been reported to say, To hope for deliverance and release in itself functions as the most profound form of deliverance.
AS far as the external benefits are concerned, it is not that Allah (SWT), the most Merciful, is depriving the people of them by keeping the Imam in concealment; rather it is the fault of the people. If people worked towards creating a just order and strengthening their character so as to prepare themselves to receive the leadership of Imam Al-Mahdi (AS), then the Imam would surely appear to lead humanity towards establishing a divine order on earth.
Many may question as to why they have been deprived of the opportunity of serving the Imam. However, by endeavoring to raise the standard of thinking and moral awareness among people, informing them of the admirable aims of Islam and instilling within them the love of the Imam, one is actually fulfilling his obligations as a follower of Imam.
Therefore, in order to attain the highest reward and gain proximity to Allah (SWT) and the Ahlul Bayt, as well as preparing for his reappearance, both practically and spiritually, one must be aware of one’s duties towards the Imam while he is still in occultation and be an exemplar to the society by implementing an impeccable character in one’s daily life. — www.shafaqna.com/english/