The Role of Traditions in the Occultation of the Twelfth Imam
After the martyrdom of al-Husayn, the Imamite Imams from `Ali b. al-Husayn to al-Hasan al-`Askari followed a quiescent policy towards the Umayyads and the `Abbasids. But they expected that all their suffering would be terminated by al-Qaâ€™im, whose rising in arms they were awaiting. The Imamites based their expectations on their interpretation of certain Quranic verses and on numbers of traditions attributed to the Prophet concerning the political and religious role of al-Qaâ€™im. So it is essential to discuss some of these Qur'anic verses and traditions in order to see their effect upon the attitude of the `Abbasids towards the Imamites, and consequently their reactions to the question of the occultation (al-Ghayba) of the Twelfth Imam.
1. The early usage of the term al-Mahdi
Theterm al-Mahdi, which means "the one who is guided by Allah", is the passive participle of the stem hada, "to guide". A term that occurs twice in the Qur'an is the active participle of the same stem, al Hada, the Guide. The first verse states, "Allah is surely the Guide of those who believe" (XXII, 53), while the second states, "But the Lord is a sufficient Guide and Helper" (XXV,33). In the usage of the Qur'an the eighth form of the same stem, ihtada, "he accepted the guidance for himself", is used strictly as a reflexive passive, whose participle is Muhtada.So Man, who is guided by Allah, is not simply guided, but reacts himself to the divine guidance (hidaya), either by instinct or intellect. Through these two means he can acquire knowledge of Allah, which leads him to worship Him by following His laws on earth. However, Allah's laws cannot be discovered through these two sources of knowledge, so throughout the course of history Allah has revealed His knowledge and laws to a group of people who have been divinely guided to lead mankind towards His straight path. These people are called "Prophets" and possessed charismatic qualities which enabled them to implement the commands of Allah and to lead the people without error. Hence they are called in the Qur'an al Hudat (sing. al-hadi), because they were already rightly guided (muhtadin) by Allah.
Theterm al-Mahdi (the guided one) has the same meaning as al-Muhtadi. However, it has been applied to certain individuals in the early Islamic period as an honorific title, while also being applied to al-Qaâ€™im. Many examples can be cited showing that the term al-Mahdi was used in these two senses. For example the poet Hassan b. Thabit (d. 54/673) applied the term al-Mahdi to the Prophet in a qasida when he says:
Sorrowfor the Mahdi who is buried!
Obest of those who walked on Earth, be not far!
Thepoet Jarir applies this term to Ibrahim, the prophet.
TheSunnites often applied it to the four caliphs after the Prophet, who were called al-Khulafa' al-Rashidun al-Mahdiyyun, the divinely guided caliphs.' Sulayman b. Surd called al-Husayn, after his martyrdom, Mahdi b. al-Mahdi.
Asfor the theological usage of this term, according to Rajkowski, Abu Ishaq Ka'b b. Mati' b. Haysu` al-Himyari (d. 34/654) was the first individual to speak of al-Mahdi as the Saviour. But it is worth mentioning that the second caliph, `Umar b. al-Khattab, had spoken of occultation before Ka'b. When the Prophet died in 11/632, ` Umar contended that Muhammad had not died but had concealed himself as Moses did and would return from his occultation. `Umar's claim, however, was refuted by Abu Bakr, who reminded him of the Qur'anic verse revealing the death of the Prophet which states: "Surely you shall die and they [too] shall surely die. Then surely on the Day of Resurrection you will contend with one another before your Lord" (al-Zumar, XXXIX, 30-1).
Thefollower of Ibn al-Hanafiyya (d. 81-4/700-3), al-Mukhtar, who was in revolt in Kufa in 66/685, named him as claimant to the Imamate and called him al-Mahdi in the messianic context.
Laterthe name of Ibn al-Hanafiyya became associated with the Kaysaniyya sect, which denied his death and held that he was the promised Mahdi, who had concealed himself in Mound Radwa, and who would rise in arms to eliminate injustice.
TheKaysaniyya dogma played an important role in Islamic political history during the Umayyad period, since the `Abbasid propaganda, which brought about the collapse of the Umayyads, was in fact derived from this sect.
Thedogma of al-Kaysaniyya can be seen in the poetry of Kuthayyir (d. 105/723) and al-Sayyid al-Himyari (d. 173/789). The latter had followed this sect, but it is said that he became an Imamite after a discussion with al-Sadiq, who clarified for him that the concealed Imam mentioned by the Prophet was not Ibn al-Hanafiyya but the Twelfth Imam from the progeny of al-Husayn.
TheZaydites also applied the term al-Mahdi in its eschatological sense to their leaders who rose in arms against the `Abbasids, such as Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya (d. 145/762), Muhammad b. Ja`far al-Sadiq (d. 203/818), and Muhammad b. al-Qasim al-Talqan, who disappeared in the year 219/834.'
Anexample of the Zaydite usage of this term is recorded by Ibn Tawus, who states on the authority of Ibrahim b. `Abd Allah b. al-Hasan, the brother of al-Nafs al Zakiyya, that the latter had rebelled hoping that Allah might make him the Mahdi promised by the Prophet:
Asfor the Imamites, a considerable body among them applied the title of al-Mahdi in its messianic sense to each Imam after his death. This can be seen in the claim of al-Nawusiyya, al-Waqifa and the followers of al- `Askari, the eleventh Imam. After the death of al-Sadiq in the year 148/765 the Nawusiyya group held that he was al-Qaâ€™imal-Mahdi and that he did not die but went into occultation.
TheWaqifa group applied this title to the seventh Imam Musa alKazim (d. 183/799) and denied his death, contending that he was al-Qaâ€™im al-Mahdi and that he would rise to fill the earth with justice after it had been filled with tyranny.
OtherImamites held that the eleventh Imam al- `Askari was al-Qaâ€™imal-Mahdi, whereas the last important usage of this term was given to the Twelfth Imam, who became the magnate of the Imamites' hope in their struggle for justice and equity.
Itis worth mentioning that all these claims relating to the eschatological usage of the term `al-Mahdi' were based mainly on Prophetic traditions concerning a future restorer of Islam. Hence it is essential to discuss the traditions of the Prophet and the Imams, especially these traditions which concern the Twelfth Imam, so as to see their role in the question of his occultation.
2. The Occultation of al-Qaâ€™im al-Mahdi in the Qur'an
InShiâ€™ite exegesis many Qur'anic verses are regarded as references to the role of al-Qaâ€™im and his occultation.
Themost important is the following verse: O, but I call to witness the planets, the stars which rise and set [al-Takweer, LXXXI, 15-6]
Accordingto Imam al-Baqir, this verse means that an Imam would go into occultation in the year 260/847; then he would reappear suddenly like a bright shooting star in the dark night.
Ibnal-Furat, al-Kafi and al-Saduq interpret the following Qur'anic verse: "Say: Have you thought: If (all) your water were to disappear into the earth, who then could bring you gushing water" [al-Mulk LXVII, 30]
Theymaintain that this verse is a metaphor for the concealment of the Imam, whose presence among people is like the water they need to drink.
TheIsma'ili writer Mansur al-Yaman (ca. 4th century A. H.) agrees with al-Kulayni that some Qur'anic verses which apparently deal with the Day of Judgement actually concern the appearance of al-Qaâ€™im after his occultation. According to al-Kulayni the verse "And those who sincerely believe in the day of Judgement" [al-Mi`raj, LXX, 26] refers to those who believe in the reappearance of al-Qaâ€™im. Mansur al-Yaman gives a similar esoteric interpretation of another verse:
Andof mankind are some who say, we believe in Allah and the Last Day, when they believe not. They think to beguile Allah and those who believe, but they beguile none save themselves; but they perceive not.[al-Baqara, II, 8-9]Mansural-Yaman states that the Last Day (al-Yawm al-Akhir) in this verse is the "Commander of the Age" (Sahib al-Zaman), that is al-Qaâ€™im al-Mahdi.
Al-Kulayniinterprets many Qur'anic verses with the same kind of approach and links them to the future role of al-Qaâ€™imal-Mahdi.' In his view, when al-Qaâ€™im reappears he will establish the political state of the "People of the House" (Ahl al-Bayt) that is, the Imams, upon the ruins of the state of inequity. This is al-Kulayni's esoteric commentary on the verse: "And say: The truth has come and falsehood has vanished. Surely falsehood is a vanishing thing." [Banu Isra'il, XVII, 81]
Al-Tusifollows in al-Kulani's footsteps in commenting on certain Qur'anic verses. Take, for example, this passage:
AndWe desired to show favour unto those who were oppressed in the earth, and to make them Imams and to make them the inheritors. And to establish them in the earth, and to show Pharaoh and Haman and their hosts that which they feared from them.[al-Qasas XXVIII, 5-6]
Al-Tusiholds that the above verses predict the establishment of the state of Justice by al-Qaâ€™im al-Mahdi, who would inherit what had been in the possession of the wrong-doers.
OtherImamite scholars maintain that the fifth Imam, al-Baqir, said that Allah's promise of victory to an Imam from the People of the House is mentioned explicitly in the following verse:
Andverily We have have written in the scripture (al-Zabur), after the Reminder My righteous slaves will inherit the earth.[al-Anbiya', XXI, 105]
Otherverses have also been interpreted by the Imamites to be connected with the role of al-Qaâ€™im, after his rising from occultation, such as the verse:
Allahhas promised such of you as believe and do good works that He will surely make them to succeed (the present rulers) in the earth even as He caused those who were before them to succeed (others); and He will surely establish for them their religion which he has approved for them, and will give them in exchange safety after their fear. They serve Me. They ascribe nothing as a partner unto Me. Those who disbelieve henceforth, they are the wrong doers. [al-Nur, XXIV, 55]
Al-Qummiand al-Tusi report that the People of the House mentioned that this verse concerns the Mahdi because he would live during his concealment in a state of fear, would appear after the removal of fear, and would certainly become victorious.
The traditions concerning the Twelfth Imam and his occultation
The traditions concerning al-Qaâ€™im al-Mahdi
Thereare many traditions attributed to the Prophet in the books of tradition concerning the identity of al-Mahdi, his family, his epithet (kunya) and his character. The conclusion of these numerous traditions is that al-Mahdi is a descendant of the sons of Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet; and more particularly, that he is of the progeny of her son al-Husayn. His colour is similar to that of the Arab, and his body is like the Israelite, and his name and kunya are similar to,the name and kunya of the Prophet.
Moreoversome traditions claim that the Prophet said that al-Mahdi's father's name is like the name of the Prophet's grandson, al-Hasan. Below are a number of these traditions.
i)We, the family of `Abd al-Muttalib, are the Masters of the inhabitants of Paradise: I, Hamza, Jaâ€™far, `Ali, al-Hasan, al-Husayn and al-Mahdi.
ii)Al-Mahdi is from my progeny. His name is similar to mine and his epithet is similar to mine. In his physique and character he looks exactly like me. He will be in a state of occultation and there will be confusion (Hayra) in which people will wander about. Then he will come forth like a sharp, shooting star to fill the earth with justice and equity as it was filled before with injustice and inequity.
iii)Al-Mahdi is from my family (`itra) from the sons of Fatima. It is worth mentioning that this tradition was reported on the authority of Umm Salama by `Ali b. Nufayl, who died in 125/742.
iv)On the authority of Ibn 'Abbas, the Prophet is reported to have said, "How shall Allah destroy a nation whose beginning is myself, whose end is Jesus and whose very centre is al-Mahdi, who will be from my family?
v)The name of al-Mahdi's father is similar to the name of my son al-Hasan.
Theconclusion of Osman concerning these traditions seems to be rather forced. "All these hadiths are weak and contradictory (mutadarib), therefore their attribution to the Prophet Muhammad is to be very much doubted.
Forthe use of the epithet al-Mahdi by numerous Islamic groups, particularly the Zaydites, in their struggle for power during the Umayyad period shows that these traditions were well-known among the Muslims of that period. Moreover, many traditionists from different Islamic sects transmitted these traditions before the downfall of the Umayyads in 132/749, and later they were collected in the books of tradition (hadith).
Theearliest of these books was Kitab Sulaym b. Qays, attributed to Sulaym b. Qays al-Hilali, who died between the years 80-90/699-708. He reports many Prophetic traditions concerning al-Mahdi, his occultation and his reappearance.
Itappears from these two points that Osman's judgement is somewhat hasty, particularly if one takes into account the fact that Prophetic traditions regarding al-Mahdi were narrated by twenty-six companions of the Prophet. On their authority thirty-eight traditionists recorded these traditions in their collections of hadith.
Theevidence suggests that from the earliest times in Islam there was a belief that the Prophet had given his followers a promise about a man from the progeny of al-Husayn, who would rise in arms in the future to purify Islam from innovation. But political rivalry amongst the Muslims encouraged some people to exploit this hope and to distort these Prophetic traditions in order to use them in their struggle for power.
Thesetraditions only mention that al-Qaâ€™im al-Mahdi will be from the progeny of the Prophet. But there are also other traditions attributed to the Prophet which state that al-Mahdi will, in fact, be the Twelfth Imam.
Itis true that Montgomery Watt objects that,
Untilal-`Askari died on 1st Jan. 874, there was nothing to make people expect that the number of the Imams would be limited to twelve or that the Twelfth would go into occultation. It follows the theory of the twelve Imams was worked out after 874.
Nevertheless,there is ample proof that traditions claiming a-lQa'im would be the Twelfth descendant of the Prophet were in circulation before 874. It is thus necessary to throw light upon these traditions, which were,transmitted by Sunnites and Zaydites as well as Imamites, so that one can see to what extent these traditions were used by the Imamite scholars to support the belief that the Twelfth Imam had not died but was in a state of occultation.
The traditions of the Sunnites (Ahl al-Hadith)