Original Source of Belief in Imamah and Faith in The Appearance of the Twelfth Imam (peace be upon him)

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By: Ayatullah al-Uzma Lutfullah as-Safi al-Gulpaygani
QUESTION: From which Islamic sources has the position and esteem (i`tibar) of the Imamah and leadership and faith in the reappearance of Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return) been understood? And what effect have events and the passage of time had on the completion of this principle?
ANSWER: According to a verse of Qur’an, Imamah is a station that was granted to Ibrahim al-Khalil (peace be upon him) after that great test—trial by kalimat (words)[52]. According to traditions that are consecutively narrated (mutawatir) and which both Shi‘a and Sunnis have related, this station was also placed in the Ahl al-Bait of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) and they have been singled out for this great Divine grant.
On this basis it has been established that in every era an individual from this family who possesses the necessary capabilities, including knowledge and infallibility, will be responsible for the station of Imamah and leadership.
Such an individual is the proof (hujjat) of Allah, equal of the Qur’an, guide of the people, and protector of the religion and Divine law. Imamah is a principle that has been established from the time of the Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him and his family) until our time and will continue from our time until the end of the world. The point of its apparent perfection and complete flowering will be during the age of the gladdening reappearance of Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return) and establishment of his united just world government, during which the world will be filled with equity, justice, goodness, and blessings through the blossoming of all human potentials and evolution of thoughts and becoming apparent of terrestrial and celestial blessings.
The agenda of forming a new world community which must end in spreading justice and the sovereignty of tawhid (Divine unity) is understood from the core of Islamic teachings. The Noble Qur’an in several chapters has announced this and hundreds of prophetic traditions have related the world’s adoption of Islam and the government of justice and establishment of complete security in the land after the reappearance of the promised Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return), who is from the descendents of ‘Ali and Fatimah (peace be upon her) and shares the name and agnomen (kunya) of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family).
Belief in the appearance of Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return) with the mentioned qualities is something which has been mentioned in Islam’s primary texts. According to consecutively-narrated (mutawatir) traditions, the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) has given news of this blessed event and requested his ‘ummat (community) to be in wait of that consequential day.
Though the issue of appearance is deduced from the general tidings pertaining to Islam’s becoming supreme in the world and truth overcoming falsehood, this does not mean that the issue of appearance is solely a concept deduced from the purport of traditions, since the text and very words of narrations point to it independently, and most of the faithful rely one these very texts that explicitly point to the appearance of Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return) and its signs.
Once it is known that the foundation of the existence of this belief is the general tidings and texts of traditions, it can be said that historical conditions and events that occurred after the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) had no role in its coming into existence.
This is because the origin of this idea is the era of prophecy and the traditions related to it exceed one thousand traditions, which are narrated in books traditions, commentary, and many other books. Prominent Sunni scholars have also written independent books about it, and books written more than twelve centuries ago by the greatest experts and researches of Islamic sciences clearly indicate that the person of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) gave tidings about the issue of the appearance of the Promised Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return), and his companions, the followers (tabi`in) of the companions, and after them other generations of people have narrated them.
The Qur’an and Messianism (Mahdawiyyat)
QUESTION: Which verse of the Noble Qur’an can be cited regarding the authority (wilayat) of the twelve Imams (peace be upon them) and the just government of Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return) and the supremacy of Islam over the world?
ANSWER: The verses from whose purport it is understood that the twelve Imams—may Allah elevate their word—have authority and Imamah are many in number.
Among them is the verse: "You are but a warner, and every people has a guide."[53]
And the verse:
 لاَ يَنَالُ عَهْدِي الظَّالِمِينَ  

"My covenant reaches not the oppressors (and only that group of your descendants is worthy of this position who are pure and infallible)."[54]
and the verse:
 أَفَمَنْ يَهْدِي إِلَى الْحَقِّ أَحَقُّ أَنْ يَتْبَعَ  

"Thus is one who guides to the truth worthier of being followed?"[55]
These verses indicate this point since from them one understands that society is not without an Imam, the infallibility of the holder of the station of Imamah, and his being more knowledgeable than others, and this issue is among the exclusive convictional principles of the Shi‘a. And from the verse:
 يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَأُولِي الأَمْرِ مِنْكُمْ  

"O’ ye who have brought faith! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you (the trustees of the Prophet)."[56]
This doctrine of the Shi‘a—that the Imam and ruler must be infallible—is understood. This is because in this verse obedience to those in authority has been commanded in an absolute manner. Obedience to the Prophet, which is in all affairs, has been expressed together with obedience to those in authority in one word—the imperative verb أطيعوا, "obey!"
It is obvious that someone whom the believers have been ordered to obey absolutely in such a way must be infallible and far removed from errors and mistakes, and as it is undisputed that from among the Islamic sects only the Shi‘a believe in the infallibility of the Imam.
In addition to this, commentaries and reliable traditions also indicate that the intent of the noble verse "Obey Allah…" and other verses is the twelve Imams (peace be upon them), and in these commentaries, the blessed names of these personages are also mentioned explicitly.
As for the supremacy of Islam in the world and its overcoming all religions, it is sufficient to pay attention to verses 32 and 33 of Surah at-Tawba, verse 28 of Surah al-Fath, verses 6 and 8 of Surah al-Saff, and numerous other verses. In them, the promise of appearance and true religion’s overcoming all religions has been given, a promise that will come to pass with the appearance of Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return), and this is inviolable.
In regard to the appearance of Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return) in particular, many verses have been elucidated to refer to it, which exceed one hundred verses in all. The book Al-Mahajja fi ma Nazala fi al-Qa’im al-Hujja (The Final Destination Regarding What Has Been Revealed About the Twelfth Imam) has collected all of them.
Among those verses is this verse: "Allah has promised those who have believed among you and do good deeds that He shall certainly make them rulers in the earth as He made rulers those before them and shall make firm for them their religion which He has chosen for them and shall change their fear into security; they will worship Me and associate none with Me, and whoever disbelieves after that, it is they who are the iniquitous."[57]
and this verse:
 وَنُرِيدُ أَنْ نَمُنَّ عَلى الَّذِينَ اسْتُضْعِفُوا فِي الأَرْضِ وَنَجْعَلَهُمْ أَئِمَّةً وَنَجْعَلَهُمُ الْوَارِثِينَ  

"And we desire bestow a favor on those deemed weak in the land and make them leaders and make them inheritors."[58]
and the verse:
 وَلَقَدْ كَتَبْنَا فِي الزَّبُورِ مِنْ بَعْدِ الذِّكْرِ أَنَّ الأَرْضَ يَرِثُهَا عِبَادِي الصَّالِحُونَ  

"And verily We have written in the Zabur (Psalms) after the Remembrance that my righteous servants will inherit the earth."[59]
Belief in the Appearance of the Mahdi and Savior and the Appearance of False Mahdis
QUESTION: Belief in the appearance of the Mahdi and savior has caused the appearance of false Mahdis throughout history, and some make this circumstance a justification for setting aside this idea. To what extent can this viewpoint be accepted?
ANSWER: This viewpoint is absolutely unacceptable, or else humanity must set aside all positive viewpoints. This is because all of them have more or less been subject to misuse. All of the individuals who claimed to be God or regarded themselves the manifestation of God, united with God, or regarded God to have taken abode in them have all misused the principle of belief in Allah. This action in no way harms the issue of belief in Allah.
Similarly, all of the false prophets who claimed prophecy and misled a people do not transmit any damage to the correctness of the principle of prophecy. This issue arises in more or less every field and industry, but that incident brings no harm to that field itself.
In short, if any name or word that has a good and attractive meaning has been used for its opposite, this does not damage these values and good affairs themselves, such as if a betrayer has been called trustworthy, an oppressor called just, an ignorant person called learned, a sinner called God-fearing, or if all treacheries and oppressions have been committed in the name of well-wishing and seeking reform.
The Effect of Social, Economic, and Political Factors in Religious Thought
QUESTION: What effect have social, economic, and political factors had on religious thoughts and creeds and on belief in the appearance of the Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return)?
ANSWER: From the viewpoint of the godless worldview, all affairs must be attributed to historical and material causes.
However, from the viewpoint of the religious worldview, the source of that which is genuine and true from among various ideas and creeds is revelation, the call of the prophets, and the inborn comprehension of humanity, which is referred to as the guidance of reason, natural disposition, revelation, and prophecy.
In the eyes of this viewpoint, all of the devious courses and harmful thoughts are the effect of material and historical causes, personal goals, and deficiency of culture of society and its upbringing. Religious creeds taken from revelation and prophecy are all genuine and actual and have a place in humanity’s nature.
History, the passage of time, human knowledge, and material causes do not bring them into existence. Rather, the source of conviction about matters such as the principle of the messengership of the prophets and Imamah of the Imams (peace be upon them) and all true creeds is reason, human disposition, and revelation from Allah.
On this basis, no social, economical, or political factor has had or has an effect even in the appearance of belief in the appearance of Mahdi the Savior (may Allah hasten his return). The beginning and source of it is the narrations of the prophets, the celestial books, and the guidance, narrations, and words of the person of the Final Prophet (peace be upon him and his family), Imam Amir al-Mu’minin (peace be upon him), and the remaining Imams (peace be upon them).
Though there have been false claims regarding being the Mahdi based on seeking rank and political aims, by analysis and recognition the original source of the appearance of these claims and the appearance of false claimants we reach the reality that an uncontested reality has been involved around which these claims and distortions have come about and been made tools by individuals.
In the same way, regarding belief in Allah, revelation, and prophecy itself we see that some realities exist and there is a ground for its acceptance in people’s harts, and opportunistic individuals, abusing this fact, have throughout history made claims of Godhead or prophecy.
And the issue of the Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return) as well—since it was raised by the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) himself and the companions have heard and related it from him—is a reality which has been accepted by all.
For this reason it has been abused and individuals have made it means for differing objectives, most of which have been political.
If the issue of the Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return) did not have reality, individuals would not have resorted to such distortion with regard to it. Thus, these abuses themselves confirm the fact that this issue has been accepted as a reality by all.
It is possible for events to guide humanity to realities, just as Ibrahim (peace be upon him), the great monotheist, taught recognition of Allah to people by use of events.
When night set, that personage saw a star. In the beginning, he said, "This is my Lord." But when the star set he said;
 لاَ أُحِّبُ الآَفِلِينَ  

"I love not those that set."[60]
By making use of the incident of the rising and setting of the star, Ibrahim (peace be upon him) taught people that the star cannot be God.
After that, the moon also rises and sets, and from this incident as well he concludes that the moon, too, cannot be God.
Then, the sun rises and sets and, in the same way, he reaches the same conclusion about it.
In this way he seeks aversion to all polytheistic beliefs and guides the people to the Creator of all the world’s inhabitants.
Thus, events can lead people to realities, but credal realities cannot be considered the effects of events.
Yes, it can be said that the passage of time caused a strengthening of people’s belief in the family of ‘Ali (peace be upon him) and deepening of Shi‘a thought in their hearts. But if someone says that Shiaism and the occultation of the Imam (peace be upon him) were originated and completed by the passage of time, this is false, since many proofs, which have been pointed out in the previous discussions, belie this view.
No one can say that the traditions of the Imams (peace be upon them), all of which they have related from the tongue of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family), are all forged, since all off them, in addition to consecutive narration, have external contexts with themselves. In reality, they are like the news of the martyrdom of ‘Ammar, when the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him and his family) said,
 تَقْتُلُكَ الْفِئَةَ الْبَاغِيَةُ  
."
"The oppressive party will kill you."[61]
No one said that after ‘Ammar was martyred by Mu`awiyah and his army, this tradition was forged, i.e. the tradition is an effect of that event. This is because before this event, the companions would relate this tradition. The issue of the Imamah of the Imams (peace be upon them) is the same way, regarding which it has been related from three of them, that is ‘Ali and Imam Hasan and Imam Husayn, that the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) said, "The number of Imams is twelve, the last of whom shares my name." And it transpired exactly in this way in the external world. In this situation, none can claim that these traditions are spurious and were forged after the occurrence of these events.
"Mahdi" in a Special Meaning and Technical Usage
QUESTION: Is "Mahdi" a specific label and title referring to a particular person with particular qualities and distinctions or a general concept and title applied to everyone Allah has guided? In other words, is the Mahdi and belief in Mahdawiyyat related to person or a category?
ANSWER: The concept of the word "Mahdi" is a general concept that is permissible to use, according to the language and common usage, for anyone that Allah has guided. With this concept, all of the prophets and legatees (awsiya’) are "Mahdi" (guided) and using this word for the person of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family), Amir al-Mu’minin, Imam Hasan, Imam Husayn, and the remaining Imams (peace be upon them) is permissible since all of them were "Mahdi" and guided. Rather, using this word to refer to other individuals were raised and attained guidance in the school of those personages is permissible.
For example, the companions of Imam Husayn (peace be upon him) were all guided. Similarly, using the word for eminent Shi‘a, or rather all Shi‘a or all who have been guided to the truth and are on guidance is permissible. However, everyone knows that the purport of "Mahdi" which the Messenger (peace be upon him and his family) said was a particular label and title reserved for a specific and unusually mighty person about whose appearance the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) has given tidings and has invited his Ahl al-Bait (peace be upon them) and all the Muslims to be among those awaiting his appearance. Some of these prophetic traditions are:
 اَلْمَهْدِي مِنْ وُلْدِي  
.
"The Mahdi is from my descendants."[62]
 اَلْمَهْدِي مِنْ عِتْرَتِي مِنْ وُلْدِ فَاطِمَةَ  
.
"The Mahdi is from my family, from the descendants of Fatimah."[63]
 اَلْمَهْدِي مِنْ وُلْدِكَ  
.
"The Mahdi is from your descendants."[64]
"Mahdi" in the meaning of "guided", as per the various meanings of "guidance", such as "showing the way," "conveying to the desired object," and other instances is also used for non-humans, and the verse:
 رَبَّنَا الَّذِي أَعْطَى كُلَّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقَهُ ثُمَّ هَدى  

"He said, Our Lord is the One Gave every existent what is necessary for its creation, then guided."[65]
indicates this fact.
In spite of all this, it appears that by studying the instances in which this word has been used, the conclusion is reached that "guidance" is generally used for individuals in whom Allah’s guidance has had an effect.
On this basis, it must be said:
 اَلْمَهْدِيُّ مَنْ هَدَاهُ اللهُ وَقَبْلَ هَدَايْتَهُ وَاهْتَدَى بِهَا بِعِنَايَةِ مِنْهُ وَتَوْفِيقَهُ  
.
That is, one who has received Allah’s guidance is "Mahdi." In other words, guidance in the meaning of "showing the path" has been directed at him and though the special attention and tawfiq of Allah, it has born fruit in him, for which the loftiest examples are the prophets and Imams (peace be upon them).
According to reliable traditions, "Mahdi" is the title of the same promised personage of the end of time whose genealogy and qualities have even been pointed to in reliable traditions, which cannot be applied to anyone except the twelfth Imam, the son of Imam Hasan al-‘Askari (peace be upon him). The title "Mahdi" in the meaning of the receiver of Allah’s guidance, reviver of Islam, one who will fill the world with equity and justice, and possessor of distinguished qualities, was first used with regard to that personage and this took place in the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) himself through his person, and the Mahdi in the sense of savior and redeemer—and other synonymous words like this from Allah—are solely his titles.
And mahdawiyyat as a concept of a category is not understood from any of the narrations related from the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) or Imams (peace be upon them).
Notes:
[52] Surah al-Baqara (2), Verse 124: "When his Lord tried Ibrahim by words, then he completed them.”
[53] Surah Ra’d (13), Verse 7
[54] Surah Baqarah (2), Verse 124
[55] Surah Yunus (10), Verse 35
[56] Surah an-Nisa’ (4), Verse 59
[57] Surah Nur (24), Verse 55
[58]Surah Qasas (28), Verse 5
[59]Surah al-Anbiya’ (21), Verse105
[60] Surah Ana’m (6), Verse 75
[61]Bihar al-Anwar, Volume 18, Page 123
[62]Bihar al-Anwar, Volume 36, Page 309, hadith 148
[63]Bihar al-Anwar, Volume 51, Page 102
[64]Bihar al-Anwar, Volume 51, Page 78
[65]Surah Taha (20), Verse 50