by Hamid Algar
-The purpose filled by the Imam [AS] during the period of the greater occultation
-Communication with the Imam [AS] during the period of the greater occultation
-The emergence of the 12th Imam [AS] at the end of time
Looking at the meaning of the greater occultation, the purpose that an occulted Imam [AS] may be said to fulfil. And certain peripheral modes of communication with the Imam [AS] even during the period of the greater occultation. With respect to the purpose of the Imam [AS], what purpose does he fulfil during the greater occultation? Two common metaphors are commonly adduced in explanation and justification of the greater occultation. In the first and the most common of them, it is said that:-
‘The Imam [AS] in his occultation is like the sun obscured by the clouds.’
In other words the sun is most certainly there although you cannot see it, not only is it there but it continues to fulfil it’s function of giving light and heat even though it is not immediately visible because of being covered by the clouds. And therefore to continue the metaphor – the re-emergence of the Imam [AS] from occultation which will be the main topic of the lecture will be like the clouds being dispersed from in front of the sun – so that the sun then shines in it’s full and visible brilliance. Another metaphor that is adduced is that of the heart within the body. Clearly the heart is not visible to us. But we know that the heart is there. But not only is it there but it is invisible under normal circumstances. But it also fulfils a vital and important function giving life to the entire human organism. This second metaphor refers mostly to the role of the Imam [AS] with respect the community as a whole. That is that the Imam [AS] even in his occultation is like the heart in the body of the Shi’ah community – giving life and coherence to it despite absence from immediate view. So these two metaphors have a certain utility even though like any other metaphor they are not analytically precise and do not exhaust the purpose and function of the Imam [AS].
Then comes the question of peripheral occasional communication with the Imam [AS] even during his occultation. There are a number of items to be listed here:-
Firstly, the regular reappearance of the Imam [AS] on the occasion of the Hajj. This was one feature already during the period of the lesser occultation. The Imam [AS] being resident it was generally held in the Hijaz it would appear would make himself known to a limited number of his followers during the Hajj. And it is likewise said that even today during the period of the greater occultation he appears in similar fashion makes himself known on the occasion of the pilgrimage. One hears numerous accounts from individuals who claim to have been allotted this particular privilege. Then in a more formal sense it is said that if a group of authoritative legal scholars (fuqaha) come together and agree upon a subject that means that the Imam [AS] is present among them, this is a contention more easily capable of truth in that the general principle of ‘ijma (consensus) has a particular understanding and interpretation in Shi’ism. The principle of ‘Ijma is a principle in all schools of Islamic Law – Sunni as well as Shi’i. In other words if there is a consensus on a given topic then that consensus necessarily produces a correct answer. The question is of course what individuals must necessarily be involved? What group of individual must agree in order to produce and authoritative consensus? There are varying answers given to this and the difference is not to be co-ordinated necessarily with the difference of opinion of Sunnis and Shi’ahs – in other words in Sunni belief also there are varying opinions on what constitutes 'Ijma. However there is a distinctive Shi’i view point of what constitutes 'Ijma, that it must be the opinion which is endorsed by the Imam [AS] himself. It might under normal circumstances appear to negate the whole concept, because even in the absence of a collective agreement on a given topic by the fuqaha, clearly the opinion of the Imam [AS] in isolation is in itself authoritative and decisive, but if one considers the particular circumstances of the greater occultation then this principle of ‘Ijma acquits a meaning of practical effect, it means that if a group of authoritative scholars come to agree on a particular topic, they attain consensus then by definition that is also the opinion of the Imam [AS] even though there is no claim to any communication even a miraculous communication with the Imam [AS] on this particular occasion.
To return the realm of the miraculous or paranormal it is said that sometimes even in the conditions of the greater occultation there will be the receipt of a written communication from the Imam [AS]. Here the Arabic term is different during the lesser occultation a written communication to a named representative is called a tauqir, the name of such a communication received in the greater occultation is called ruq’a’ah which simply means a writing, an inscription on a piece of paper in Arabic. And the ruq’a’a is said to be found generally in a remote location minimising the possibility that it could be forged, put there by somebody else – or it is found floating on water. And conversely the believer himself may initiate written communication with the Imam [AS] by writing a petition and the word used here is aridha – this is the common word used in Arabic for a petition. And then the response to the aridha might conceivably be received in a raq’a’a but more likely through some other indication, some form of inspiration – some sudden realisation that a different course of action under consideration is a correct one, or possibly a dream. Dreams of the Imam [AS] during his occultation, particular his greater occultation are a fairly frequent feature of the biographical literature of the Shi’ah scholars. And the dream will not necessarily be authoritative for other than the one who sees it. In other words it is a form of personal communication, personal favour for the one who sees the 12th Imam [AS] during his occultation. But it is said that whoever dreams of the 12th Imam [AS] has in fact dreamt of him, in other words if you awaken with a sincere conviction that you have seen the 12th Imam [AS] then indeed you have. Here we have an analogy with a general principle in Islam both Sunni and Shi’ah, that whoever dreams of the Prophet [sAW] likewise has indeed dreamt of him. In other words it is not possible for another person, or entity of force to take on the shape of the Propet [sAW] in a dream thereby deceiving the believer. Therefore by definition any dream of the Prophet [sAW] that is experienced is authentically such. By analogy the same applies to the 12th Imam [AS].
Then there is the possibility or actuality if one believes all the narratives to this effect of having a vision of the 12th Imam [AS] in a wakened state. Being favoured with a vision of him, an actual vision with the physical eye in an awakened state, not on the particular occasion of the Hajj when he appears in Makkah but on some other occasion. And numerous are the accounts of scholars of whom it is said that they were in frequent communication with the very person of the Imam [AS], by means of his miraculous appearance. To name one recent report as an example for example Allamah Tabataba'i who wrote an extremely important commentary on the Quran. He is said to have by those closely acquainted with him including his son to have been in regular communication with the 12th Imam [AS], the same has also been said of Imam Khumaini himself. So there are these varying fashions for this rule, certainly not consistent and available to only certain individuals, this raises the possibility of communication even during the period of the greater occultation. In later lectures on of the topics will be the hybrid for of Sufi Shi’ism or Shi’i Sufusm. Sufism in it’s major expression is in sectarian terms a Sunni phenomenon, there are however a few Shi’i groups that are Sufi. Among these groups there is the belief that the progress of the individual member of the Sufi order takes place in some way through the aegis of the 12th Imam [AS]. Therefore although a living individual is the murshid – or guide on the path still he acts on behalf of or under the authority of the 12th Imam [AS]. It is said that the relationship between the two is the relationship of the sun and the moon in other words the true guide is the sun, the Imam [AS] however his light as it were is reflected on the moon i.e. the person in the shape of the living guide in the Sufi order. So this also is one mode of communication in the world of Sufi-Shi’ism or Shi’i Sufism however one puts it. Not surprisingly this interpretation of matters was strongly contested and remains strongly contested by the Shi’i ulema, by the Shi’i religious scholars who insist on their own privileged although collective function as those who exercise on behalf of the hidden Imam [AS] numerous of his powers and functions during the greater occultation.
The literature insists upon the fact that the absence the greater occultation will be of unpredictable length. That the individual believer should not expect the re-emergence of the Imam [AS] in his or her own lifetime. But this patience and restraint must go together with an aspiration for the Imam [AS] to return. So therefore a combination of opposing or contrasting attitudes. Which in itself maintenance of these attitudes, one may say is a certain type of communication with the Imam [AS] – in other words keeping alive the memory of him being aware of him constantly is in a way a mode of his presence. If he is present in the mind and if he is present in the heart this in itself is a certain type of function exercised by him.
Can look at the various terms used to designate the return of the Imam [AS]. Ghaibah – means absence or occultation. There are three words used to designate the return of the Imam [AS], the ultimate emergence of the Imam [AS] from the state of occultation – firstly qiyam which is cognate with that title qa’im. The 12th Imam [AS] is designated with the title qa’im – the one who will arise and fulfil expectations of universal justice and the vindication of the Imamate at the end of time. Qa’im is then the personal noun or adjective qiyam is the verbal noun ‘the arising, the rising up.’ And of course it has within itself all of the connotations of the word al-Qa’im. The word qiyam is also not only connected with the rising of the 12th Imam [AS] in order to vindicate the cause of the Imamate and bring about the universal triumph of justice it also within itself announces the proximity of resurrection. And not coincidentally the word for resurrection is the word qiyamah. So one can say that the appearance of qiyam the rising of Imam [AS] is an indication of qiyamah, that the resurrection is near at hand. In fact the qiyam is the principle sign for the nearness of the approach of resurrection. And secondly dhuhur, appearance – which is obvious in going with the literal sense of the word. Out of the state of occultation the Imam [AS] will come forth. And finally among these terms is khuruj meaning literally emergence, and the primary sense of the word is obvious, he will emerge from a state of invisibility in the occultation into a state khuruj, i.e. appearance or manifestation. There is however a secondary sense which is also relevant. In Arabic the verb Kharaja this is of course a verbal noun when construed with the preposition ‘ala, one might translate this as come out against. In other words this has the sense of insurrection, of opposition of confrontation – the corresponding English idiom to come out against something or someone is to stand up in opposition to or in confrontation with. And this also is the sense of the word khuruj when applied to the 12th Imam [AS], this will be the final and triumphant insurrection against injustice and illegitimate rule. So these three words are used and indicate one dimension or another of that which is anticipated.
However when it comes to the circumstances, the time and the place of the re-emergence the reappearance of the Imam [AS] very many details are to be found – it is difficult to work into a coherent and consistent whole. This maybe in the nature of things understandable and comprehensible precisely because of the mysterious nature of the phenomenon – using the word mysterious here in the original and not the colloquial sense of the word. In other words this is a mystery it is something in and of itself is beyond human comprehension, it is beyond ordinary sensory experience of man. That being the case it is comprehensible that there should not be a complete agreement upon all of the narrative details concerning what will ultimately happen. It is of course true that most of those details are derived from hadith. But it must be remembered that the science of hadith is even in the hands of it’s most capable practitioners a somewhat fragile science. And that in the case of Shi’ah hadith the factor of taqiyyah has always to be borne in mind. That is to say that any of the Imams [AS] may on a given occasion have deliberately refrained from presentation of the matter at hand in a way that indeed reflects it’s view. In the discussion that now follows an attempt has been made to iron out some of the contradictions, to present the main features, the highlights of what is agreed upon by all of the authorities on this question. In advance of that kind of rationalised summary there are the following two things to say. Firstly as shall be seen many of the details concerning the circumstances of the re-emergence of the Imam [AS], the places where he is active, the personages involved are clearly derived from the early history of Islam and of Shi’ism in particular. It is as it were to constitute these details, an echo of what happened in the earlier history of Islam. Which is again entirely comprehensible in that one of the purposes, one of the immediate purposes of the re-emergence of the Imam [AS] will be to avenge the injustices suffered in the past by the Ahl al-bait [AS] to reverse the course of history. So that some details which might otherwise appear curious are in this sense explicable. Secondly many of the details have a symbolic significance connecting the re-emergence of the 12th Imam [AS] with the whole pattern of sacred history, in other words not simply a replay or a revision of events in the earliest history of Islam but to connect the 12th Imam [AS] and his re-emergence with the whole pattern of sacred history from the very origins of humanity. When I say that they have a symbolic significance, it is not meant necessarily by this that such events will not palpably visibly happen but simply drawing attention to the fact that there is undeniable symbolic significance attached to many of these events.
To begin with the question of time, as already mentioned the time of the re-emergence of the Imam [AS] is uncertain, it is unknown indeed there is an explicit prohibition of any attempt to predict the coming or return of the 12th Imam [AS] to manifestation, and this is for two important reasons. Firstly the belief in the re-emergence of the Imam [AS] at the end of time is obviously tied to the belief in resurrection – qiyam is the prelude to qiyamah. And the timing of resurrection is unknown in fact there in the Quran itself a clear and unmistakable statement that the timing of resurrection, when the hour shall come is known only to Allah (SWT):-
‘They ask you about the hour, when will be its taking place? Say: The knowledge of it is only with my Lord; none but He shall manifest it at its time; it will be momentous in the heavens and the earth; it will not come on you but of a sudden. They ask you as if you were solicitous about it. Say: Its knowledge is only with Allah, but most people do not know.’ (7:187)
It is Allah (SWT) alone who knows when the hour will come that being the case an even that is closely associated with and serves as the prelude to the coming of resurrection it is appropriate that the precise timing of that event be left unknown aswell and in fact unknowable. The second important reason for this unknowability of the time of the emergence of the Imam [AS] is of course the continuing danger to which the Shi’ah community was exposed. If for example there were a precise prediction of the re-emergence of the Imam [AS] then the enemies of the Shi’ah cause, the enemies of the Imam [AS] would be in a position to make preparations to increase repression in order to forestall any possible preparation by the followers of the Shi’ah community to lend their support to the Imam [AS] once he came. So in terms of the year there is absolutely no knowledge, nor even the possibility of knowledge. However the day is of course fixed. There is a complete agreement on the day, in just the same day that there was a complete agreement of the day on which the Imam [AS] was born, 15th Sha’ban. And likewise the day on which the Imam [AS] will re-emerge is fixed according to the agreement of all the relevant traditions being 10th Muharram the day of Ashura. It is here we see the echoes of the early history of Islam – Shi’ism in particular and a connection between the Mahdi and the overall development of sacred history, because Ashura even before the martyrdom of Imam Husain [AS] in Kerbala was a day on which significant events happened in the sacred history of humanity, it was on that day it is said that Adam [AS] descended to earth, it was on that day that the flood had subsided and Nuh [AS] descended from the Ark, it was on that day that Ibrahim [AS] was delivered from the fire and it was on that day that Isa [AS] ascended to heaven. And in addition to that before the institution of the month long fast of Ramadhan there was a one day fast observed by the early Muslims before the migration to Madinah on Ashura. So it was a day already replete with these significances and associations. But of course after the martyrdom of Imam Husain [AS] all of this was overshadowed by precisely that event. So that Ashura not only in the memory of Shi’i Muslims but also Sunnis became above all the day on which the grandson of the Prophet [sAW] had been martyred in that atrocious fashion. So this being the case that the 12th Imam [AS] will reappear on Ashura, Ashura is the day that not only one looks back to into memory, remembers the martyrdom of Imam Husain [AS] in Kerbala it is also a day on which one looks forward to the emergence of the 12th Imam [AS]. Although the latter is overshadowed by the former. Mourning is more important or at least a more widely practised component of worship on that day than is look forward to the emergence of the 12th Imam [AS], but it is that also – one looks forward in the two senses of that expression, you anticipate it in the future and you look forward to it in the sense of eagerness and happiness.
One aspect of this time is of course is that among other things the re-emergence of the Imam [AS] out of occultation on that day will accomplish vengeance for the martyrdom of Imam Husain [AS]. Then again with respect to timing it is said that the first outward sign of the impending re-emergence of the Imam [AS] from occultation will be on the night of the 23rdRamadhan in the preceding year. Muharram is the first month of the Islamic year, and therefore in advance of that in the preceding year on the 23rd night of Ramadhan a sign will be given. Before discussing the nature and content of that sign, the general significance of the 23rd Ramadhan needs to be discussed – the 23rd Ramadhan is that day or night it is generally identified in Shi’i tradition as being the night of power ‘Laylat al-Qadr’. The primary or most common significance of Laylat al-Qadr is that on that night the Quran was revealed in the following sense it was brought down from the proximity of the Divine Throne to the edge of the worldly plain as a totality – as a body. And thereafter piece by piece it was conveyed by the Archangel Jibra’il to the Prophet [sAW]. Therefore one may think in rather crude fashion that the revelation of the Quran in these two stages, firstly a bringing down of the totality of the book, to the proximity of the world and then once there it’s gradual transference in accordance with circumstances to the Prophet [sAW] by the archangel Gabriel. As for the uncertainty of the difference of opinion concerning it’s time this goes back to a tradition from the Prophet [sAW] in which he says:-
‘Search for the Laylat al-Qadr on an odd numbered night in the last ten days of Ramadhan.’
So in theory the night of power might be as a early as the 21st Ramadhan or as late as 29th Ramadhan. Why is there ambiguity about this because it contains an encouragement to observe each of those nights as laylat al-Qadr in order to gain the benefit from doing so. However generally speaking there have been attempts to identify Laylat al-Qadr with a particular night. In Sunni tradition this night is regarded as the 27th Ramadhan and Shi’i tradition it is considered to be the 23rd. So the fact that this preliminary announcement of the forthcoming announcement for the return of the Imam [AS] will be made on the 23rd Ramadhan is significant it was on that night that the Quran as a totality was sent down. Given the essential and unbreakable linkage between the Quran and the Ahl al-Bait [AS] it is appropriate that the proclamation of his return should take place on this particular night. In other words it is an indication by virtue of timing of this important linkage between the last member of the Ahl al-Bait [AS], the 12th Imam [AS] and the original receipt of revelation. And what of the sign given on this night? A voice will call out from the heavens that al-Qa’im al-Mahdi will re-emerge next Ashura. This preliminary announcement will only be audible to the faithful followers of the Imam [AS]. It is not yet a universally audible proclamation of his re-emergence. However it will be quickly accompanied by or followed by signs visible to all. On earth for example it is said that the sun will rise in the west and that solar and lunar eclipses will take place in quick succession. So these cosmic signs will also point to the unique nature of the time. They count as an indication that the order of all things cosmic as well as worldly is about to be overturned. And some of these signs these two in particular i.e. the sun rising in the west and the solar and lunar eclipses taking place in quick succession we also find in the Sunni literature concerning the emergence of the Mahdi (not re-emergence as is the case in this Shi’ah literature).
And sometimes one finds attempts being made to give metaphorical interpretations to these signs, for example that the sun will rise in the west – we find some Muslims saying that the re-birth of Islam will take place right here in the west but this self congratulatory metaphorical interpretation cannot be taken too seriously quite apart of the state of disarray of western Muslims, there is nothing in the literature to indicate that the signs are other than events that will indeed be visible, observable with the physical eye in the cosmos. As far as place is concerned there is again a near total consensus that the place for the re-emergence of the Imam [AS] will be in Makkah, he will not re-emerge in any of the places more narrowly and particularly associated with Shi’ism not in Najaf, Kerbala, Kufa or Samarra, not even in Madinah but in Makkah, this is because he is the Mahdi sent to humanity as a whole – Mahdi al-anar. In terms of precise details, some inconsistencies have to be ignored in order to construct a consistent narrative. There is a hadith from Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] which says that:-
‘The Mahdi will enter Makkah wearing the same clothing that the Prophet [sAW] wore and will have on his feet the same sandals that the Prophet [sAW] wore.’
Whether by saying this it is meant of the same type or substantially the same identical items is left open, probably for that it is intended. Clearly without wanting to judge one way or another the literal veracity of this prediction it’s symbolic sense is clear that is that the Imam Mahdi [AS] comes as the successor to the Prophet [sAW] as the one who will vindicate the cause of the Imams [AS] whose authority goes back the Prophet [sAW] himself. It is also said in continuation of the same hadith that:-
‘He will be driving a herd of goats before him so that none will recognise him.’
In other words in advance of his general proclamation he will assume this lowly guise in order to protect his identity one final time before his open re-emergene and vindication of the cause. He will having entered Makkah go to the courtyard of the Ka’bah and await nightfall. Then when night falls he will be visited by two of the archangels Jibra’il and Mika’il and they will promise him their support in the tasks that he is about to undertake. The once dawn comes the Imam al-Mahdi [AS] will take up his position between two locations in the courtyard of the Ka’bah the Makam Ibrahim and Rukn al-Yamani. Makam Ibrahim is believed to be a post where it is believed that Prophet Ibrahim [AS] stood in order to pray this is marked in the courtyard of the Ka’bah even now. As for the Rukn al-Yamani this is at the corner of the Ka’bah, the west corner of the Ka’bah the corner pointing in the direction of Yemen. To stand at Makam Ibrahim and offer prayer is of course part of the Hajj ritual, but in this particular case that is the re-emergence of the 12th Imam [AS] one may deduce some further symbolic significance mainly that he [AS] is hereby connecting himself implicitly to the entire line of the Prophets, reaching back to his own ancestor Prophet Muhammad [sAW] and Ibrahim [AS] himself. However he does not stand at the Makam Ibrahim, but between that and the corner of the Ka’bah and this may indicate a connection with all of the bearers of the Divine word even before Ibrahim [AS], because in Islamic belief the first builder of the Ka’bah was none other than Adam [AS] himself. By positioning himself here the Imam Mahdi [AS] is connecting himself spatially and symbolically with the entire line of the Prophets and the entirety of sacred history.
Taking up his position there he makes his proclamation:-
‘O chiefs and people who are close to me, O you who are preserved on earth by Allah (SWT) in order to help me come towards me and obey me.’
The ‘chiefs and people who are close to me…’ this presumeably refers to those faithful Shi’ah who heard the otherwise inaudible proclamation made on the previous 23rd Ramadhan having heard that they would know that on the following Ashura the Imam [AS] would become manifest again and would have therefore come there to him, to be at his disposal when he made the proclamation. It is said that there will be precisely 313 of them and 50 of them will be women. Why 313? Again here there is an echo of previous history although now of exclusively Islamic history, because this is the number of people who fought with the Prophet [sAW] a the battle of Badr the first battle fought in Islam, an obvious echo, or a replay of earlier history. One can say that the final confrontation of truth with untruth is a mirror numerically speaking of that first confrontation that took place in the battle of Badr. Then in response to this proclamation of the Imam [AS] the 313 will advance towards him to pledge their allegiance to him. And pillars of light will rise up from the courtyard of the Ka’bah to the heavens. And these pillars of light will make visible to the naked eye, to the physical eye, heavenly entities such as the Divine throne and tablet, what the Quran refers to as the preserved tablet on which the archetype of all revelation is inscribed. This is interesting in that the light rises up to the heavens it does not come down to the heavens as might be expected. In other words the Imam [AS] himself by his re-emergence is the supreme manifestation of the Divine Luminosity, the Divine Light, such that it is his light that illumines the heavens and makes visible that which is otherwise belongs to the hidden but non-manifest realm – the Divine Throne and the Preserved Tablet. We also find here a possible parallel with one element in the narrative concerned with the birth of the Prophet [sAW] although it is not something that can be authenticated with reference to the Quran. It is often said in the relevant narratives concerning the Prophet [sAW] in both Sunni and Shi’i sources that his birth also was accompanied by columns of light rising up from the earth to the heavens. Then after the receipt of allegiance from the 313, the Imam [AS] goes towards the Ka’bah and places his back against it stretches out his hand and invites a pledge of allegiance from all others that are present on this occasion. In other words not simply his own 313 followers but all others who happen to be present there. And as he does this light will come forth from his outstretched hand, once again this element of luminosity and he will say:-
‘This is the hand of God, it is from his direction and from his command.’
He will the recite (48:10)
‘Surely those who swear allegiance to you do but swear allegiance to Allah; the hand of Allah is above their hands. Therefore whoever breaks (his faith), he breaks it only to the injury of his own soul, and whoever fulfills what he has covenanted with Allah, He will grant him a mighty reward.’ (48:10)
The verse is of course originally addressed to the Prophet [sAW], ‘Surely those who swear allegiance to you do but swear allegiance to Allah…’ why? Because it is axiomatic in the Quran, it stresses it on several occasions that obedience with the Prophet [sAW] is co-terminus with obedience with God. Therefore to swear allegiance to the Prophet [sAW] is swearing allegiance to God, ‘…the hand of Allah is above their hands…’ obviously not to be taken in an anthropomorphic sense that God has a hand akin to humans, but rather that his authority is above their hands, in other words that his authority confirms the pledge of allegiance that has been made by the believers who place their hands in the hand of the Prophet [sAW] as the outward sign of pledging allegiance to him. Now the fact that the Imam [AS] at this point recites this verse is of obvious significance, again it is a reflection of continuation of the authority of the Prophet [sAW] so when he [AS] at the beginning of this sentence says that ‘this is the hand of God’ clearly he does not claim to be a Divine Manifestation it is his own hand however in a symbolic and a functional sense it is the hand of God. To place ones’ hands in the hand of the Imam [AS] and to swear allegiance to him is swearing allegiance to God. One other detail in this narrative the fact that the Imam [AS] places his back against the Ka’bah, this might appear to be an act of gross discourtesy towards the Ka’bah. The Ka’bah is not only the house of mankind, it is the house of Allah ÓÈÍÇäå æÊÚÇáì, it is the earthly counterpart of the Divine Throne, and to turn one’s back to it, and to go beyond that to lean against it might be seen to be an act of supreme discourtesy and impiety and in fact no-one in his right mind will attempt to do this in the course of the pilgrimage today. Even there are those who believe that it is not permissible to turn one’s back the Ka’bah, when exiting the courtyard surrounding it. How do we then explain how for other than the Imam [AS] would be a highly reprehensible act? The explanation that follows is not in any particular source but if one correlates it with other beliefs and traditions possibly it makes sense. There is a hadith to be found in both Shi’ah and Sunni sources in which God says speaking of the time of the Prophet [sAW]:-
‘The heavens and the earth cannot contain Me rather the heart of My believing servant contains Me.’
From this it has been deduced not surprisingly by the Sufis above all that the true house of God in this world is not the Ka’bah i.e. the structure made of mortar and bricks but rather the heart of the believer. So the purified heart of the believer as a locus of Divine Presence is ultimately superior to the Ka’bah. This is expressed in numerous way particularly in the sphere of Sufism. If it was permissible to transfer this to the person of the Mahdi [AS] his leaning against the Ka’bah may possibly be understood in this sense, indeed he as the purified servant of God and more than that has a superiority over the Ka’bah itself, so that this act of apparent reprehensibility becomes justifiable and understandable. Having invited the pledge of allegiance from all those present it is said that other orders of being now come forward to pledge their allegiance, the totality of the angels firstly Jibra’il and Mika’il come forward to him at night, and other totality of the angels, then the most noble amongst the Jinn. The Jinn are a category mentioned in the Quran of subtle being, in other words under normal circumstances to most people they are not visible or noticeable. And in fact the word jinn comes from an Arabic root meaning hidden. So they are those whose existence is hidden, although nonetheless real. The Jinn have in common with humans the possession of free will so therefore they believe or refuse to believe, they can be virtuous or evil. And the virtuous and the believers among them at this point come forward to pledge their allegiance to the Mahdi. Two things can be made of this – firstly that the cosmic functions of the Imams [AS] go even beyond he human sphere so that other orders of being, orders of subtle being – the angels and the jinn also acknowledge his claims of authority over them. And secondly again an echo of an incident in the life of the Prophet [sAW]. He also received a profession of belief from some of the Jinn when he was in the environs of he city of Ta’if in Arabia.
After receiving the allegiance of the angels and the jinn and the 313 faithful followers some of the other people will also come forward. It is said that from all of the people of Makkah only four people at this point will pledge their allegiance to the Imam [AS], and of all of the people of Madinah only four as well. So from these two most sacred cities in Islam – Makkah and Madinah only 8 will step forward to pledge their allegiance to the Imam [AS]. And they will in fact be confused not surprisingly by what is underway because they will not recognise any of the 313 people. The 313 faithful followers of the Imam [AS] will be unknown to them because they have gathered there from outside the haramain, from outside Makkah and Madinah in order to pledge their allegiance to the Imam and to lend him their aid. Once the sun has fully risen there will be a declaration this time from the heavens and this time audible to everyone. The first heavenly proclamation on the preceding 23rd Ramadhan was audible only to the faithful followers of the Imam [AS], this one will be generally audible. Not only to the Muslims but in fact to all of mankind across the world it will be said that the voice will be audible and appropriately the proclamation begins, ‘O people of the worlds…’ the plural should be noted here which means not only the human world, but all levels and orders of being, they are being addressed here.
‘O people of the worlds this is the Mahdi from amongst the descendants of Muhammad [sAW].’
So a generally audible proclamation to the entirety of mankind announcing the coming of the Mahdi from the lineage of the Prophet [sAW]. In the traditions the question of language and the diversity of language is not made apparent or touched upon but once one posits the possibility of what is clearly a miraculous event, one can go logically one step further and say that irrespective of the language of those who hear this address it will presumerably be comprehensible to them. The believers having heard this proclamation will then say:-
‘We hear and we obey.’
Now exactly at this same time or very soon thereafter another voice will be audible coming from the west and this voice will say the following:-
‘Sufiani has appeared in Palestine pay allegiance to him in order to be saved.’
In other words a rival claim to the allegiance of the loyalty of the believers now makes his appearance. Who is Sufiani? Sufiani is taken from the name Abu Sufian, the father of Mu’awiyah and therefore the grandfather of Yazid. Abu Sufian during the lifetime of the Prophet [sAW] was one of the most obstinate opponents of Islam, he embraced Islam only after the conquest of Makkah and the return there of the Prophet [sAW]. Sufiani is a descendant of Yazid, a member of the Umayyad family. Now a proclamation is made of his appearance and of his claim for allegiance. So very obviously here there is some kind of replay, repetition or reflection of early Shi’i history. It is said that the first time that this proclamation is made no-one in Makkah will listen to him. However the second time that this proclamation is made some people will defect and join the cause of Sufiani. What is the logic behind this? If the cause of the Imamate is not the cause of a simple lineage but the cause of justice, legitimate rule and obedience to God, then it makes sense that at the very end of history, this principle be confronted with it’s negative counterpart. Therefore Sufiani as the heir of Yazid makes his appearance. In other words the necessity in this final confrontation for a manifestation of absolute evil as well. And as shall be seen the manifestation of evil is twofold there is not simply Sufiani but also the antichrist Dajjal. So there is the emergence while the Imam Mahdi [AS] is still in Makkah of the Sufiani.
The Imam Mahdi [AS] continues with his task by making another proclamation that he is identical with all of the preceding Prophets and Imams [AS] he says:-
‘Truly anyone wishes to see Adam [AS] and Seth [AS] should know that I am Adam [AS] and Seth [AS]. Whoever wishes to see Noah [AS] and Shem [AS] should know that I am Noah [AS] and Shem [AS]…’
Why the mention not only of these prophets Adam [AS] and Noah [AS] but also of their sons because Shi’ah belief sees in earlier sacred history the counterpart to the Imamate, in other words each of the preceding prophets is held to have in turn had his succession of authorised successors from their lineages. So another identification on the part of the Imam [AS], with the Imam Mahdi [AS] now returned with the totality of preceding history. Then he says:-
‘Anyone who has read all of the Divine Scriptures and Scrolls let then now hear them from me.’
He proceeds to recite all of the sacred books and revelations of history restoring them to their integral and correct form, since it is the Islamic belief that previous scriptures whether by accident because of the ravages of time or because of deliberate distortion were subject to textual change and loss. And now the Imam [AS] as a part of his general function as a kind recapitulation of sacred history as a whole will recite in their original and integral form the texts of all preceding revelations.
Now will discuss the difficult and controversial point, controversial even within Shi’ism itself of what is called the raj’ah what might be called the partial or selective resurrection of certain individuals in advance of the general resurrection. What is being dealt with here is something different from the reappearance of the Imam [AS]. The Imam [AS] returns from occultation to the human plain to visibility – raj’ah is something different -those who are dead are now brought back. The word raj’ah of course means return – they are brought back by means of resurrection in advance of the general resurrection of mankind we are not yet at qiyamah. The persons that are bought back are marked either by great virtue, or profound corruption. So this general theme which underlies the whole of this narrative of a decisive confrontation between the forces of evil and virtue and unbelief and belief, justice and injustice again finds expression here. Among those who return here are for example Imam Husain [AS] and his 72 companions – the 72 who kept faith with him and were martyred at Kerbala and other of the Imams [AS] also, as well as some of the companions of the Prophet [sAW]. The problematic nature of this belief is that although the Mahdi has returned from a state of occultation to the manifest plain obviously he has not died, from the point of view of the premises that have been established. Whereas these individuals have died and are now being bought back in advance of the general resurrection. In defence of this belief the following scriptural arguments are being advanced firstly (40:11)
‘They shall say: Our Lord! twice didst Thou make us subject to death, and twice hast Thou given us life, so we do confess our faults; is there then a way to get out?’(40:11)
This verse cites the sinners as saying on the day of judgment, ‘…Lord! twice didst Thou make us subject to death, and twice hast Thou given us life…’ There are of of course a multitude of possible interpretations of this directly from this, if directly from it is to adduce it in favour of the doctrine of raj’ah then it was seen to be fairly clear and explicit. So that just as the person is resurrected in advance of the general resurrection likewise he will be caused to die again and then be resurrected again so two deaths and two resurrections. Then there is the Quranic belief that Isa [AS] among his other miracles also resurrected the dead:-
‘And (make him) a messenger to the children of Israel: That I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I determine for you out of dust like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird with Allah's permission and I heal the blind and the leprous, and bring the dead to life with Allah's permission and I inform you of what you should eat and what you should store in your houses; most surely there is a sign in this for you, if you are believers’ (3:49)
It is argued that if Isa [AS] as a prophet was capable of resurrecting the dead obviously in advance of the general universal resurrection of mankind, then it should certainly be possible for God to do so also. So on a scriptural and even rational basis an argument is made in favour of the raj’ah. Against this argument of the theory or doctrine of raj’ah it can be said and in fact has been said that among those who will be selectively resurrected will be the Prophet [sAW] himself. But he plays no significant role in the unfolding of the narrative surrounding the return of the 12th Imam [AS]. This being the case the concept itself in the view of certain scholars is questionable. Because all that the 12th Imam [AS] does is ultimately as the one who fulfils the will, who has inherited the legacy, the mission, the scripture of the Prophet [sAW] and that he should as it were to put it bluntly be ‘sidelined’ in inverted commas in this last and final confrontation of history seems questionable. In any event this is the belief in the raj’ah. After the receipt of allegiance the Imam Mahdi [AS] goes from Makkah to Madinah this is a replay or echo of the Hijrah, the original migration of the Prophet [sAW] from Makkah to Madinah. And also to the seat of authority, Madinah of course was the first seat of authority of the Islamic government. And the Mahdi is here above all for governmental purposes, he establishes a government. Before he leaves Makkah to go to Madinah he rebuilds the Ka’bah exactly as it was in the time of Adam [AS]. It is already mentioned that it is believed that that Ka’bah was first built by Adam [AS] and of course in the course of time it has been destroyed and rebuilt on numerous occasions, although the black stone in the corner of the Ka’bah is held to be relic of the first construction made by Adam [AS]. Again one can see behind or together with this narrative a symbolic aspect namely a final reconstruction or restoration of that which the Ka’bah symbolises namely Divine Unity. It may also be appropriate to recall that even before the beginning of his mission the Prophet [sAW] had a hand in the reconstruction of the Ka’bah in his own time. The Ka’bah was being rebuilt and the Prophet [sAW] was chosen even before he beginning of his mission for the significant task of placing the black stone in the corner of the Ka’bah.
Also before leaving Makkah to go to Madinah the Imam al-Mahdi [AS] will destroy the palaces built by the caliphs, and by the unjust rulers. And here again the purpose is more than material it is to destroy the architectural manifestations of shirk. In just the same way as the restoration of the Ka’bah in it’s original form has the symbolic sense of restoring the correct and true understand of Divine Unity, likewise destroying the premises built by the caliphs of the outer, the architectural manifestations of the negative counterpart of Tauhid which is shirk. Of course one should not take this in a restrictive sense, not only the palaces built by the caliphs no doubt the palaces built by the Saudis also. A large royal palace built on one of the hillsides overlooking the Ka’bah – this is obviously a prime target for destruction by the Mahdi [AS] if it is still standing at that time. After the Imam [AS] has left Makkah for Madinah a revolt will take place in Makkah and the deputy that he has left behind to rule on his behalf will be killed. There is no historical record or symbolic echo to this part of the narrative in any event it is said that the Imam [AS] will send an army from Madinah to Makkah to suppress the rebellion. Those who took part in the rebellion will repent and be forgiven. However then they rebel again and this time they are not forgiven and the killing of all of those who have rebelled against the authority of the Mahdi [AS] takes place. Then from Madinah the Imam Mahdi [AS] moves to Kufah which was of course the seat of government of Imam Ali [AS] so that here he is engaged in a restoration of the government of Imam Ali [AS]. And at this time a movement arises in easterly regions which will strengthen his government. There are two locations mentioned here – from two places in Iran groups of people will arise in order to lend their support to the Mahdi [AS] these two places are Daylam and Taliqan. Dailam is an arcane geographical term corresponding roughly to the present day province of Iran that area on the Caspian shore which since it’s first acquaintance with Islam professed Shi’ism. Taliqan is the city in Khurasan in the eastern part of Iran which now has no particular significance although at an earlier point of view in history it was one of the earlier strongholds of Shi’ism in Iran. There are more than one place called Taliqan there is also a Taliqan in North-Eastern Afghanistan. The significant point is that these two locations obviously have their significance in the earlier history of Shi’ism. It is said that a descendant of Imam Hassan [AS] the 2nd Imam [AS] would emerge in Dailam and that he will call upon the devotees of the Imam [AS] to gather around him and to proceed to Kufah in order to give support to the Mahdi [AS]. And the most significant response will come precisely from Taliqan, from this city in the Eastern part of Iran. This army drawn from these two areas will come westwards to Kufah defeating the enemies of the Imam [AS] as they come. Once they arrive in Kufah they form as it were the core of a military force that the Mahdi [AS] is now gathering. And he will display to them as tokens of the Imamate which according to a tradition already established by Imam Jaffer al-Sadiq [AS] were in the hereditary possession of the Imams [AS]. The weapons used by the Prophet [sAW] and therefore indicating the Imam’s [AS] political and military authority. Some of this force arising from Iran is now sent to Damascus in order to capture and put to death the Sufiani. This they are successful in doing they behead the Sufiani and send his head back to Kufah. Here of course there is a reversal or a mirror image of what happened at Kerbala on the occasion of Kerbala of course an army came from Damascus to Imam Hussain [AS] and took his head back to Damascus. Whereas what happens now is that an army goes to Iraq to Damascus – puts to death the descendant of Yazid – Sufiani beheads him and brings his head back to Kufah. So in obvious narrative terms a reversal of earlier history.