by Hamid Algar
-Recap from last lecture
-Crisis after the greater occultation, arguments against the fact that the occultation was invented to find pragmatic solutions to these crises.
-How to deal with the administration of the Khums during the ghaibah and how to explain the prolonged life of the Imam [AS].
-Purposes of the ghaibah and an examination of some of the titles of the Imam [AS]
-The gradual development of the authority of the scholars
Last lecture the end of the lesser occultation was spoken about a period in which the existence of the 12th Imam [AS] is gradually established in the minds of the Shi’i community as a fact and a period in which he was represented by a succession of four named individuals who were accessible to the community. They served as intermediaries between the community and the hidden Imam [AS]. It was pointed out that six days before the death of the fourth of the named representatives ‘Ali Samarri a communication was received from the Imam [AS] informing him that he would die and that he [AS] the Imam [AS] had already entered into the greater occultation. It was in fact an established custom for each of the named representatives the wakils or the safirs to receive a similar communication from the Imam [AS] predicting their death on a certain date. So it must have been with a certain trepidation that the communication from the hidden Imam [AS] would be received by the wakil. The difference with this last communication being of course that the fourth representative was instructed not to name a successor and was informed that the Imam [AS] had gone into the greater occultation. And he warned that during the greater occultation anyone claiming to represent him should be rejected that is to say that any single named individual claiming to have particular privileged communication with the Imam [AS] should be rejected, and that he [AS] would return once the world had been filled with tyranny and injustice to an unprecedented degree. He [AS] remarked also that his ultimate return would be marked not simply by the filling of the world with injustice, but also by certain observable signs, the emergence of a certain individual in Syria called al-Sufian, and other celestial signs for example a voice in the heavens proclaiming that the 12th Imam [AS] is to appear or maybe has already appeared. So the receipt of this communication by the fourth of the named representatives marked the beginning of the greater occultation.
Not surprisingly the greater occultation just like the lesser occultation precipitated a new crisis within the Shi’ah community, for an obvious reason that now very basic questions such as the utility - the very purpose of an Imam [AS] who is not simply inaccessible to the majority of his followers but no longer present on the physical plain, such basic questions came forward occasioning considerable doubt and hesitation both within and beyond the Shi’i community. It is of course possible from a certain point of view to hypothesise that the greater occultation, the beginning of the greater occultation was again an inspired pragmatic solution to a certain crisis. In other words in just the same way that the apparent death of the 11thImam without a male issue had been resolved by proclaiming that indeed such a child existed but he [AS] was hidden from the community, in just the same way that this had been put forward as a solution to a problematic situation now likewise the greater occultation might be conceived of as a pragmatic solution to a new crisis. What would the nature of that new crisis be? Specifically the assumption by the wakils by the named representatives of the hidden Imam [AS] of powers and even of attributes that seemed peculiar only to the Imams [AS] themselves. For example the ability to miraculously estimate and not simply to estimate but in fact to specify precisely the amount of Khums that was being delivered on a certain occasion. We found this being done by the Imams [AS] and later by some of the wakils. One theory that is being put forward by historians of this period is that the wakils were becoming more than simple representatives of the Imam [AS], they were through force of circumstance or deliberately taking the place of the Imam [AS]. Back again, this pragmatic hypothetical argument seems untenable for two reasons – just as we argue that the pragmatic explanation for the lesser occultation is ultimately untenable. As far as the major occultation is concerned why is this notion rejected as improbable that the greater occultation was simply the result of a desire to cut short the ambitions of the wakils. Firstly because although that particular problem might appear to have been solved by ending the institution of the Wikala, a very large number of new problems were created by the beginning of the major occultation in other words in order to solve one problem a whole series of new problems had been created. This in itself argues against the likelihood of a conscious, pragmatic even cynical decision being made to proclaim the greater occultation. The major problem being as already suggested namely the utility, the purpose, the benefit of having an Imam [AS] who is in a state of complete occultation i.e. absence from the physical plain without even a named representative to speak on his behalf and to serve as an intermediary to the community – a very severe problem solutions to which of course are ultimately elaborated. This was indeed a problem and it is difficult to imagine that the occurrence of this problem would have been ignored and not anticipated by the leaders of the Shi’ah community if for reasons of their own they had pushed to posit in favour of a complete occultation in the absence of the fact. And the second and maybe more important argument is the same as advanced in the previous case namely the circulation of hadith from various Imams [AS] from a much earlier period that had spoken precisely of a two stage Ghaybah – that is to say not only the minor occultation which had now come to and an end but also the major occultation which had begun.
These hadiths had come into circulation may years earlier and at this point it seems because of the particular circumstances of the age had been attaining greater currency. Among the hadiths in question the following two can be cited, one from Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] in which he says:-
‘There will arise from our family (ahl al-bait [AS]) one who will be absent from view and his whereabouts will only be known to a number of his intimate associates and then he will be absent from this world and direct communication with him will be ruptured.’
Clearly this hadith put forwards the two stages of the Ghaybah, the first part indicates the lesser occultation, Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] is recorded to have said ‘There will arise from our family (ahl al-bait [AS]) one who will be absent from view…’. He will be physically present on earth but absent from view ‘…his whereabouts will be known only to a number of his intimate associates…’i.e. the wakils and then‘…he will be absent from this world…’i.e. the major occultation will follow,‘…and direct communication with him will be ruptured.’ In other words there will be no direct communication with him because the institution of the Wikala of the named representatives, this has also come to an end. Then we have another hadith from the 8th Imam [AS] Imam Ali al-Rida [AS], in which he cites the Prophet [sAW] himself to have said:-
‘There will be from among my descendants twelve leaders (Imams) the last of who will be al-Qa’im, he will enter into occultation and then emerge bearing the sword.’
Therefore from the 6th and 8th Imams [AS] hadiths which clearly indicate the future occurrence of the major occultation. So we can say that there is clear scriptural proof for an anticipation of al-Ghaybah, that is to say the major occultation within the Shi’ah community despite the problems that were created by it’s occurrence problems of both a doctrinal and practical nature. Before a discussion on the examination of these problems it maybe good to point out that it can be seen from a different point of view that an overall progression, and therefore a preparation for the occultation in this period of Shi’i history. In other words it can be said to recapitulate that the periods of the 9th, 10th and 11th Imams [AS], a period in which the Imams [AS] were subject to increasing surveillance and isolation from the community at large was a preparation for the minor occultation. In other words the Shi’ah community became used to and accustomed to the idea of, or reality of an Imam [AS] who is indeed present upon the earth, at a known location but inaccessible to them. One degree of withdrawal from the community although a forced and involuntary one. This in a sense prepared the community for the minor occultation in which the Imam [AS] is still present on earth but his whereabouts are unknown and access to him may be had only through a single named representative, this in turn prepared the community to some degree, they still had to contend with a persistence of problems and doubts, but to some degree it prepared the community for the greater occultation, that is to say a further degree of withdrawal of the Imam [AS] now took place on the part of the Imam [AS] and put simply from one point of view an intensification of the situation already experienced by the community.
Moreover the 12th Imam [AS] in the period of the lesser occultation is reported to have said the following:-
‘Those who try to fix a time for my re-emergence are liars.’
In other words a prohibition of any attempt to foretell in precise chronological terms the time at which the 12th Imam [AS] will emerge from his occultation. And if this hadith were in wide circulation at the time this must also have constituted a type of preparation on the part of the community in other words they anticipated the greater occultation which would be of indefinite duration and therefore the duty of patience would be imposed upon them. However having said all of this, that there was a mode of preparation deriving from the historical experience in the immediately preceding period and also the circulation of hadith that pointed to two stages of Ghaybah but still there were a number of practical problems. There were for example questions and doubts raised both at the scholarly level and at the level of the common believers. And there is documentary evidence of this from the writings of a certain scholar who emerged in the time of the greater occultation. Al-Nu’mani writes that people would come to him asking him quite simply, ‘Where is the Imam [AS]?’, ‘What is happening with the institution of the Imamate?’ Such people in explaining their doubts, giving rise to these questions they would remark the following that:-
‘If the Imam [AS] had been born in 256 AH (870 AD) then gone into the major occultation in 329 AH (941 AD) then he would have been 73 years old at the beginning of the greater occultation.’ So it was asked if not then tentatively suggested by these questioners that maybe he simply died after all 73 years would be a quite reasonable lifespan. Then others went somewhat further – here we are not dealing with polemics from outside the Shi’ah community but questions raised within the Shi’ah community – others said that maybe the Imam [AS] had never existed at all, that there had been no occultation either minor or major. The said that after all we never even saw the Imam [AS] before the beginning of the greater occultation. It maybe imagined that these questions were raised primarily at the popular level where the traditions that are cited are less likely to have been known and in wide circulation. They seem to have led to a temporary defection on the part of some members of the Shi’ah community but unlike previous succession crises in the history of the Imamate we do not find now the emergence of any new groups or sects in other words these are simply people with doubts and questions who did not go on to form a counter theory of their own rejecting or disputing the reality of the Ghaybah. So this is on a popular level.
On a scholarly level and again we know this from the writings of Nu’mani problems or doubts were perceived to exist – no doubt the scholar were better acquainted with the relevant traditions than were the bulk of the community, the traditions like the ones cited pointing to the two stages of the Ghaybah but it is claimed that many of the scholars expected the major occultation to last a relatively short time, they did not expect it to last indefinitely, they maybe even expected it to come to an end maybe even in their own lifetimes. The indication of this is the all important question of the Khums, the tax which is the distinctive feature of Shi’i doctrine and practise – remember that the Khums was due to and payable to the Imams [AS] or to their named representatives. Now that the major occultation had begun the question arose what to do with the Khums? Not only is the Imam [AS] no longer present on the physical plain – he did also not have a named representative a wakil who the money might be sent to for him to in turn transmit it to the Imam [AS], for the Imam [AS] then to expend and distribute. Initially it seems that members of the Shi’ah community were told by the scholars simply to store up the Khums in their own houses, or possibly to bury it for safety in anticipation of the day which they obviously thought would be not long in coming, for the Imam [AS] to return and therefore to be in a position to receive the Khums. Alternatively if these individuals were not comfortable with this situation, because after all from a pious point of view one is not accountable if the Khums remains in ones possession – it should be transferred to an appropriate authority for the remainder of one’s property to become legitimate for one’s use, if not comfortable with that situation then it was suggested that they simply transfer that money to a scholar appointed by them. However that scholar could only act as a trustee since he was not a named authoritative representative of the Imam [AS] he could receive the money but not distribute it. Therefore this set of instructions or suggestions is a clear indication that the return of the Imam [AS] from the major occultation was anticipated relatively early in the near future because as of yet no alternative mechanism for collection and distribution had been elaborated. It can be said that there were several practical questions this one being the most obvious accompanying the beginning of the major occultation. Just the same way that there was that fundamental doctrinal problem – the benefit of the Imam [AS] in the state of occultation without a single named representative. Later and it is difficult to set a date for this it became apparent that the occultation would be prolonged indefinitely. In other words that the expectation for the return of the Imam [AS] in one’s own lifetime was misplaced. It became apparent that the prolongation of the life of the Imam [AS] would be far beyond a natural lifespan. Therefore in explanation both for members of the community and for those who raised polemical objections from outside analogies were drawn between the 12th Imam [AS] and other personages who were believed to have had a supernaturally prolonged lifespan. Here there are two completely opposed cases that are relevant cited in the Shi’i literature. The first of them already touched upon is Prophet Isa [AS]. There were similarities in the circumstances of the birth of the 12th Imam [AS] and the birth of Isa [AS] as recounted in the Quran – both Isa [AS] and the 12th Imam [AS] speak immediately upon birth by proclaiming their message and their function and that both of them leave the earthly plain without suffering physical death.
The Ghaybah has been spoken of for some length – as for the case of Isa [AS] see (4:157):-
‘And their saying: Surely we have killed the Messiah, Isa son of Marium, the messenger of Allah; and they did not kill him nor did they crucify him, but it appeared to them so (like Isa) and most surely those who differ therein are only in a doubt about it; they have no knowledge respecting it, but only follow a conjecture, and they killed him not for sure.’ (4:157)
This states very implicitly that ‘they’ the Jewish did not kill him or crucify him – he was not killed on the cross indeed he was not even placed on the cross in the first place. The verse continues:-
‘Nay! Allah took him up to Himself; and Allah is Mighty, Wise’ (4:158)
The Quran also less explicitly but nonetheless clearly and unmistakably indicates that Isa [AS] will return
‘And most surely it is a knowledge of the hour, therefore have no doubt about it and follow me: this is the right path.’(43:61)
In this verse Isa [AS] is described as a sign of the hour of course the verse is subject to a number of different interpretations but the most common interpretation is that the return of Isa [AS] before the end of time would be a sign of it’s proximity also from a purely logical point of view it may be argued that every living being is bound to undertake, or to taste death as the Quran puts it, ‘..every soul shall taste death.’ Therefore if only to share in this universal experience of death it is therefore necessary that Isa [AS] must return to the human plain. There are of course a number of other important functions associated with his return but this is also one argument for his return from the doctrinal point of view. His return will be sign of the proximity of resurrection. To return to the parallel of Isa [AS] and the 12th Imam [AS], it is argued therefore that the life of Isa [AS] at the time that the major occultation had already lasted much longer than a normal lifespan, close in fact to a millennium. It is therefore in principle entirely possible that other than Isa [AS] should have preternaturally extended lifetime once removed from earth and in case the argument appears to be somewhat arbitrary saying that if Isa [AS] then why not the 12th Imam [AS] and in any case how can a life be prolonged indefinitely, absent from the physical plain then the answer is given that it is precisely the conditions of earthly life that cause decay and death. And therefore that once a life is removed from the physical plain with all of the factors of decay and corruption that ultimately induce death then it’s indefinite prolongation is entirely possible. In fact we find this world being referred to and here of course this is a general expression tied to Shi’ism – it is referred to as ‘Alam al-kauni wa-Fasad’ i.e. that this is world of generation and corruption. By corruption here it is not meant corruption in the moral sense, but in the physical material sense. Whatever comes into being – whatever is generated in this world will ultimately corrupt, decay and die. Therefore if a life is extracted from these conditions it’s prolongation on a different plain is conceivable and possible. Here one analogy advanced in favour of the major occultation, the indefinite prolongation of the life of the 12th Imam [AS].
Then we have a diametrically opposed case of miraculously prolonged existence – that of the figure known as the Dajjal. The word Dajjal may be reasonably translated as the anti-christ, because the full designation of the Dajjal in Arabic is al-Masih al-Dajjal – Masih of course being the title given in the Quran to Isa [AS]. So Dajjal is sometimes called more fully al-Masih al-Dajjal. We can therefore not simply by way of a parallel between two traditions but quite literally translate Dajjal as the Antichristm, the maleficent that will appear at the end of time whose existence is testified to in numerous traditions both Sunnni and Shi’i. He is the antichrist in that he parodies the miracles of Isa [AS] i.e. he will imitate those miracles, and his imitation will be successful, in other words it will not be because of sleight of hand – he will indeed restore the dead to life – he will reverse the natural order by making water burn and he will make fire cool. However the source of this power is Satanic rather than Divine. There will however tradition tells us – both Sunni and Shi’i that very many people will be unable to note this important difference that the miracles are of Satanic rather than Divine origin. In some traditions it is said that the Dajjal existed already in the lifetime of the Prophet [sAW]. This cannot be documented from the Quran it is purely a question of hadith both Sunni and Shi’i and this being the case, Dajjal just like Isa [AS] of whom he is the negative counterpart has a prolonged existence and like Isa [AS] will return at the end of time. So this too supplies an analogy for the case of the 12th Imam [AS]. Anticipating what will be said later about the conditions and circumstances of the anticipated return of the 12th Imam [AS] we can see already that there are these three figures or personages who will emerge at the end of time. Isa [AS], Dajjal and the 12th Imam [AS]. And the eschatological scenario involves interaction amongst these three with not surprisingly the 12th Imam [AS] having supremacy, Dajjal is put to death either directly by the 12th Imam [AS], or by Isa [AS] acting on behalf of and at the instructions of the 12th Imam [AS]. But the point that is relevant now is that an indefinite prolongation of life outside of the natural sphere has occurred already before the beginning of the occultation these two diametrically opposed examples.
So this is one answer that was given in answer to the doubts within the community – that is that indefinite prolongation of a life is indeed conceivable. Then the more important question is, of what use is an Imam [AS] who is in complete occultation and is absent from the physical plain without a named intermediary? Of what use is an Imam [AS] who is doubly removed from access to his community? Doubly removed in that he has no named individual representing him. Here in answer to the question the argument was in fact turned on it’s head, it was said that one purpose or use of the major occultation was in fact to vindicate the whole doctrine of the Imamate. Why? Because it has been seen several of the Imams [AS] had in their hadith predictions of the occurrence of the occultation so that the actual occurrence of the occultation vindicated the predictions by the Imams [AS]. Nu’mani the same individual whose works is being summarised here, says that:-
‘Considering the large number of traditions predicting the Ghaybah transmitted over the centuries if he occultation had not occurred then the very principle of the Imamate would have been proved invalid by occurrence of the Ghaybah Allah (SWT) has proved the authenticities of the Imams [AS] warnings and indeed their general veracity.’
So that from this particular point of view the occurrence of the Ghaibah far from casting doubt upon the principle of the Imamate serves as a vindication of it. An event that was predicted by the Imams [AS] has now occurred therefore not simply those predictions but the general veracity of the Imams [AS] has been proven. So that the Ghaibah in other words from being a doctrical burden has been turned into a factor of advantage. In addition to this answer we have other purposes of the Imam [AS] during his occultation being suggested. First it was said that the Ghaibah fulfils as it were a punitive purpose, this had been touched upon earlier that is that the community was unworthy of the presence of the Imam [AS] on a physical plain and it might be said with respect to the Shi’ah community, it had become increasingly unworthy in the time immediately before the occultation in the sense that after the death of Imam Hassan al-Askari [AS] there had been wide spread doubts within the community about the existence of the 12th Imam [AS]. Instead of entrusting in the general doctrine that the earth will never be without a Hujjah i.e. without an Imam [AS], people had raised all kinds of doubts and questions and split into a number of short-lived but nonetheless vigorous sects putting forward different opinions. Then again in the period of the lesser occultation there had been doubts and problems being raised as had been sketched upon already. Therefore it can be said that the increasing withdrawal of the Imam [AS] from presence on the physical plain from access from the community had gone together with even caused by still augmented unworthiness on the part of the community.
Then complementing this purpose of the Ghaibah, the punitive purpose was what one might call the educational purpose or the purgative purpose. In other words if the community had proven unworthy of the Imam [AS] now was the chance to purge itself of that unworthiness by remaining patient during this prolonged period of separation. Patient in the sense of maintaining their belief in the Imam [AS] and purifying themselves morally in such a way that his ultimate return might find a community ready, waiting for him extending it’s sincere and comprehensive assistance to him [AS]. Then to it was said that the Imam [AS] even in a state of complete occultation fulfilled yet another simple purpose that is belief in him [AS]. To believe in the Imam [AS] regardless of his accessibility or inaccessibility, his presence or his absence is in of itself a religious merit insofar as belief in the Imam [AS] is one of the articles of faith, therefore the simple act of believing in him [AS], whatever his practical consequences is in and of itself of benefit. Beyond that it is maintained sometimes that the very validity of one’s religious acts for example prayer fasting and other acts of devotion, pilgrimage all of these depend on their validity of belief in the Imam [AS]. In other words if one does not have a belief in the Imam [AS] from the point of view of Shi’ah Islam, the validity of one’s mandatory prayers is in itself dubious or at least reduced. Therefore from this point of view as well the existence of the Imam [AS] the belief in the Imam [AS] despite his absence is of crucial benefit and desirability. So there are these varying answers that are given to this question.
Ultimately of course the purpose of the Imam [AS] fulfilled by him is a future one that is to say it is a postponed one until a distantly anticipated point in the future of various functions that he will fulfil. It is useful to examine some of the titles and epithets that are given to him, beginning with that compound title already mentioned in the lectures al-Qa’im al-Mahdi. It was pointed out that these attributes taken separately from each other are applied also to some of the preceding Imams [AS] – however as a compound endowed with a particular sense al-Qa’im al-Mahdi is a description of an attribute of exclusively the 12th Imam [AS]. Some of the ambiguities of some of the meanings of al-Qa’im can be elaborated upon. The word Qa’im can mean one who stands, or one who arises, beyond that it should be pointed out that in Arabic Grammar a present participle like al-Qa’im may either have a present sense or a future sense, therefore the word al-Qa’im could be translated either as the one who stands or the one who will stand – the one who arises or the one who will arise – and this too is relevant to the understanding of the title as bestowed upon the 12th Imam [AS]. If we disregard the meaning of standing that applies to the term al-Qa’im and concentrate on the sense of ‘rise’ the one who arises. Then clearly this taken in the future sense will apply only to the 12th Imam [AS]. In other words al-Qa’im is understood as an attribute of the 12thImam [AS] to be the one who will arise in the future he will stand up he will rise in the future, in order to vindicate the cause of the Imamate. Another possible sense of al-Qa’imendowed with a future sense is of course ‘the one who will be resurrected’. This shade of meaning gives rise or has given rise in the past to some problems of understanding, because if we understand the 12th Imam [AS] to be the one who will be resurrected, al-Qa’im being in the sense of arising from the grave – this is taken to mean that he is not in ghaibah but he has simply died however will be resurrected, as it were selectively resurrected in advance of the mass of humanity. The marginal plausibility of this understanding is strengthened or is seen to be strengthened even by some hadiths from the Imams [AS]. We have a hadith from Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] in which he says:-
‘Our affair (Our cause i.e. the cause of the Shi’ah) resembles that of a person who is put to death by Allah (SWT) for a hundred years and then rises again.’
So here there is an explicit mention of death and resurrection. However it can be said here of course that this is an analogy, not a precise analogy a comparison – an attempt to make a paranormal event comprehensible in terms of familiar human experience i.e. death. However on the other hand we have a hadith that is more problematic, more difficult to explain in this sense from Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] in which he says that:-
Here the word used is death and there is no room for a comparison or an analogy. In explanation of this hadith it has been said that here the Imam [AS] may have been speaking under conditions of taqiyyah. It will be recalled that taqiyyah that is to say dissimulation of true intent for reasons of prudence. In other words it may have been thought desirable to convey the impression that the 12th Imam [AS] had indeed died a biological death. Alternatively it has been said that here there is an implied metaphor, that is that the ghaibah for the non-believer is as good as death – why because of a lack of a tangible or visible presence in this world. The important task in question is obvious i.e. the important task that he will ultimately fulfil within the faith of the Shi’ah cause upon his re-emergence. In any event whatever one makes of these two hadiths which raise or seem to raise in their wording the possibility of death as identical to the ghaibah or at least comparable to it there is the simple fact that the world will never be without a hujjah. The overall overriding principle that the world, creation can at not time be without a hujjah i.e. without an Imam [AS] therefore the death of the Imam [AS] is axiomatically impossible. Finally in explanation of this problematic hadith it has been said that what will die out is in fact not the Imam [AS] himself but awareness of him. That his occultation will be so long that he will die out from the memories of most people so that it was as if he were dead, not that he is actually dead. Therefore to return from this excursive concerning death it is very improbable that what is meant by al-Qa’im is the one who will be resurrected, rather it is the one in the future who will rise up and vindicate the cause of the Shi’ah. It may be asked how then could the same epithet be applied to preceding Imams [AS], who obviously did indeed die and whose rising up is not predicted – then one would have to have recourse to other meanings of the world al-Qa’im because the verb in Arabic qama can also mean to undertake something to have authority, therefore a wide range of meanings. For example if we construe the verb qama and add the preposition ‘ala therefore ‘qama ‘ala’ this means to have supervisory powers over. And clearly the Imams [AS] in their time had supervisory powers over their community. Then again the verb qama can be construed with the preposition bi which then means to undertake a certain task ‘qama bi ‘amrin’, and therefore applies to the Imamate. It remains only to remark on this title of the 12th Imam [AS] that the primary designation is al-qa’im and al-mahdi is secondary – or to think of it differently we can think of al-qa’im here as a noun and al-mahdi being an adjective describing that noun. We have a hadith from Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] in which he says:-
‘When the Qa’im arises he will distribute equally among all people and he will be called al-Mahdi.’
I.e. he will engage in in what modern terminology might call distributive justice – resources, wealth, provisions will be allocated justly among mankind and he will be called al-Mahdi. So al-Mahdi is a name that will accrue to him after he has emerged and arisen. Finally with respect to these two terms it should be pointed out that al-Qa’im is an exclusively Shi’i term it hardly has any resonance at all as a title or as an indication of religious function in Sunni Islam. Whereas al-Mahdi as previously pointed out is to be found in Sunni usage – Sunni Islam also has the doctrine of the ultimate emergence at the end of time of a salvific figure the difference being that the Mahdi anticipated by Sunni Muslims or at least those aware of this traditional doctrine will be born in the future and have a normal lifespan. It is probably fair to say without trying to trace an origin or to assign a monopolistic possession of the concept of the Mahdi to either Sunni or Shi’ah Islam, it is probably fair to say that the concept because of the importance given to it in the overall doctrinal framework of Shi’ah Islam received emphasis above all in Shi’ah Islam and then had some reflection in Sunni Islam as well. It is obvious that the figure of the Mahdi is not something upon which Sunni Muslims dwell, many Sunni Muslims because of the absence of any explicit mention in the Quran to this theme would even deny it’s veracity. Whereas it is essential to Twelver Shi’ism, the belief in the emergence of al-Qa’im al-Mahdi towards the end of history. And insofar as it has emerged in Sunni Islam it may be because quite simply because of the general recognition that the affairs of the world are too profoundly corrupt and disordered to be remedied except by the actions of a person enjoying unique Divine support and authority. Which is again a general human recognition or at least has been until 20th Century America, where it is imagined that with enough ingenuity and effort virtually everything on the face of the earth can be put right. But if we put aside that exception to the run of general realistic pessimism in the history of humanity the assumption and belief is that only through some mode of Divine intervention at the end of time can matters finally be put right.
This leads to the second most important designation given in Shi’ah tradition to the 12th Imam [AS] Mahdi Anar – the Mahdi of mankind. Which is pretty obvious explanatory in that the function of the Mahdi when he re-emerges will be universal. He will not be sectarian in other words he does not simply emerge to assume or reassume the direct visible leadership of the Shi’ah community nor even to simply to vindicate the cause of the Imams [AS] but in the broader Islamic community he has ultimately a broader function. And one indication of this is that he will appear in Makkah, he will not appear in any of the sites peculiar to or specially emphasized in the sacred history of Shi’ism not in Kufa or Kerbala or Najaf, Kazimain, Samarra or even in Madinah but rather in Makkah. And he will appear in Makkah in front of the Ka’bah. Which is of course the point of orientation of the Muslim community, but you might ask at this point how does this square with the universality of the Mahdi, if he appears at a point which is of particular importance to the Muslim community because the Ka’bah is of course the primary indication of the Divine Unity upon earth. It is as it were the architectural expression of the Divine Unity, the terrestrial counterpart to the Divine Throne. It is designated in the Quran as not simply being the House of Allah ÓÈÍÇäå æÊÚÇáì, the house established for the monotheistic worship of Allah (SWT) but also as a house established for mankind, and therefore whether it’s significance as such be acknowledged by humans in general is from one point of view beside the point it is a established for the entirety of mankind. And therefore the appearance there of the Mahdi at the Ka’bah will be an indication of his universal mission. In this same connection it is said that one of the functions of the Imam [AS] as Mahdi anar when he appears at the Ka’bah will be that he shall bring forth the unadulterated texts of all preceding revelations specifically it is the Torah and the Injil which are mentioned. It is not to be thought the book that the Quran refers to as the Injil is somehow equivalent to the New Testament as it currently exists. The Injil is a book that is revealed to Isa [AS] according to the Quran it is not the record somewhat contradictory and fragmentary record of his sayings and his deeds that later came to constitute the New Testament. So the Torah and the Injil in their integrity, in their original form will be brought forth by the Mahdi on his reappearance at the end of time. There are also other aspects of his function at the end of time which will be dealt with later.
Thirdly there is the title al-Hujjah, al-Hujjah as already mentioned is the title given to all of the Imams [AS] because one of the functions, maybe the primary function of the Imam [AS] at any point is to serve as the Hujjah that is to say the Divine proof of His Will to guide mankind to the truth. However al-Hujjah it receives particular emphasis as a designation for the 12thImam [AS] it seems for the following two reasons, firstly it seems that in the time of the lesser occultation it was forbidden for the community to reveal the name of the Imam [AS]. If you consider that his existence was kept a secret then this will be part and parcel of that same effort to hide him from the hostile intentions of the Abbasid Caliphs, his name itself was to remain unknown. And several of the wakils when asked by members of the Shi’ah community ‘Tell us at least the name of our Imam [AS]’ they were refused and it is said that the 12thImam [AS] was referred to simply as al-Hujjah. We find some of the traditions recorded from him as being in the following form ‘al-Hujjah ibn Hassan al-Askari [AS] said’. Then a second reason for emphasis of the 12th Imam [AS] being al-Hujjah was the same doctrinal question that was previously raised and discussed i.e. what is the status of the twelth Imam [AS] if he is in a state of complete occultation and part of the answer given is that he is al-Hujjah. You often find him described in a variety of contexts as al-Hujjah. He is al-Hujjah of the time, beginning with the death of Imam Hassan al-Askari [AS] continuously down to the present, and in fact until his occultation he is al-Hujjah.
Then there are two title reserved exclusively to him Sahib al-amr and Sahib al-Zaman literally the ‘lord or master of the affair’ and the ‘master of the age’. These two are more or less synonymous with each other. The one who is entrusted with the affair – that is the one who is entrusted during the period of the occultation with the Imamate. Simply the words themselves do not provide any clue that this should exclusively be a title for the 12th Imam [AS] himself. However there is a hadith from Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] when he was once asked:-
‘Are you Sahib al-amr?’
To which the Imam answered:-
‘No he will be the one who will fill the earth with justice as it is filled with injustice and wickedness.’
There is a similar hadith from Imam Muhammad al-Baqir [AS] – these hadith point to the fact that sahib al-amr which already in earlier usage was referred for the 12th Imam [AS]. As for the second of these two virtually synonymous titles Sahib al-Zaman – the lord of the master of the age – Zaman the period in question is of course the entire period of the occultation. Then finally among the titles is Baqiatullah which alone among all these titles has a Quranic basis:-
‘What remains with Allah is better for you if you are believers, and I am not a keeper over you.’ (11:86)
Baqiatullah – literally the remnant that which is left behind by Allah (SWT) is better for you if you are believers. What according to Shi’i exegetes is precisely the person of the 12th Imam [AS], he is the remnant in the sense that he is the last personage for the conveyance of Divine Guidance. In other words Prophethood and Messengerhood were both sealed and bought to an end by the death of the Prophet [sAW] and now the line of the Imams [AS] has now been bought to an end by the 12th Imam [AS], so the last individual personification of the Divine Will to guide is the 12th Imam [AS]. It might be argued that the context of the verse does not indicate the 12th Imam [AS] and the verse is capable of other interpretations, however the condition placed at the end of the verse ‘in kuntum mu’minin’ ‘If you are believers’. In other words if you are believers in the totality of authentic doctrine, from the point of view of Shi’ah Islam includes the Imamate then you will understand what is Baqiatullah and you will be able to draw upon it’s benefits. So there are these titles of the 12th Imam [AS] which also indicate something about the function, admittedly functions that lie in the future but the anticipation of this already has the purpose for the Shi’ah community in that it enables them to understand the continuing purpose as well as the future purpose of the Imamate. But of course we have to balance this with the ongoing practical problems faced by the community.
It has already been mentioned about the question of Khums there is one indication that practical problems arose in the community of what to do with the Khums And we find that in the plain of Shi’i law and jurisprudence some consequences occurring as a result of the greater occultation and it’s indefinite prolongation. One may say in short and in anticipation of some later lectures that now the authority of the Imam [AS] was devolved to one degree or another on the religious scholars. This is a long and gradual process which has it’s final crystallisation in the doctrine of the rule by religious scholar ‘Wilayah al-Faqih’ which is the constitutional basis of the Islamic Republic. That is in the absence in the continued absence of the Imam [AS] his governmental functions devolve upon not a single named individual as was the case during the lesser occultation but rather on the totality of the religious scholars or on the most qualified among them, whether it be an individual or a group. However from the beginning of the greater occultation to the articulation of that theory by Imam Khumaini (ra) and it’s application in the Islamic Republic of course many centuries passed. One can say that there is a gradual accumulation of duties and functions performed by the religious scholars in the meantime. And first is again the Khums. Soon the realisation set in that the Khums could not be allowed to accumulate for no good purpose indefinitely and therefore the ‘ulama the religious scholars regarded it as authorised that they should collect and distribute the Khums on behalf of the Imam [AS]. And going together with this were a certain number of other functions for example the organisation of courts. The existence of a parallel judicial system has already been talked about under the Abbasids a situation in which recourse to the courts even for just a grievance was forbidden by the Imams [AS] to their followers. It is known also that other courts operating under the general authority of the Imam [AS] were in existence. Now in the period of the occultation we find that this function also is assumed by the religious scholars. This assumption of authority both administrative and leadership functions of the scholars gradually acquires a particular name ‘Niabah al-amr’ as opposed to ‘Niabah al-Khasah’ the specific deputyship. Niabah al-Khasah this refers retrospectively to the period of the lesser occultation when there were specific named deputies wakils or safirs acting on behalf of the 12th Imam [AS]. When the period of Niabah al-Khasah came to the end with the onset of the greater occultation – then we have Niabah al-‘ama the general deputyship. And what is meant by the general deputyship is that there is no longer a single named representative, that is named by the 12th Imam [AS] himself acting on his behalf. Rather there is a diffuse and general deputyship exercised by the religious scholars. For this doctrine of Niabah al-‘ama there are of course numerous proofs to be found in the body of Shi’i hadith. But there is one that is significantly enough prescribed to the 12th Imam [AS] himself, when he is purported to have said:-
‘Within our absence (Ghaibah) then consult on newly emerging problems with those who narrate our traditions.’
Newly emerging problems are problems on which no detailed or explicit guidance is available either in the Quran or in the body of hadith – consult those who narrate our traditions. Those who narrate our traditions, that is to say scholars who are aware of the traditions of the Imams [AS] and of the Prophet [sAW]. But more than that because the narration of traditions lies not simply on memorisation and transmission but also on awareness and understanding of the contents of the traditions therefore this phrase those who narrate those traditions might reasonably be paraphrased as the religious scholars in general – the scholars of Shi’i Islamic Law. It can be said therefore that the problem within the Shi’ah community of administration, leadership and guidance after the onset of the greater occultation gradually attains it’s solution by means of this principle ‘al-Niabah al-‘amma’. The assumption by the religious scholars of an accumulating series of functions that make possible not simply the continuation but even the consolidation of the Shi’ah community in the occultation of the Imam [AS]. Whatever the scriptural arguments in favour of this development and they are indeed numerous this may be a more general consideration that is to say that Shi’ah Islam has as parts of it’s essential genius heavy emphasis upon transmitted and authoritative transmitted and legitimate authority. There is a comparison to be drawn – the authority of the Prophet [sAW] was passed to the Imams [AS], when the institution of the Imamate which has not ended but modified because of the Ghaibah then there is a transmission of legitimate authority, that is to say a devolution of it to the religious scholars so that this underlying feature of Shi’ism can be evoked to explain the great coherence and solidity of Shi’i tradition after what appears to be from an external point of view a great and puzzling crisis at the beginning of the greater occultation.