Ibn Taymiyya and Sa’ad al-Din Taftazani are of the view that what is available now is only Mahdi’s name and no one –even those who believe in him – can benefit from him.
In many places in his commentary, Fakhr Razi says it is not possible to know about Mahdi in whom Shias believe and it is no possible to benefit from him.
Imam Mahdi’s occultation and traditions
We will answer the above-mentioned question in the following manner:
Firstly, it has to be kept in mind that the Holy Prophet (S) who being the most truthful one was appointed as prophet, reminded us of his occultation and that he was an imam decades before he was born.
There are many authentic traditions that deal with Mahdi’s imamate and occultation. According to these traditions:
Mahdi is appointed as an imam by Allah.
He will disappear.
His life and imamate are useful, for Allah does not do anything useless.
Let’s now study some of these traditions. Based on a tradition, Jabir bin Abdullah Ansari says: When this verse was revealed:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ أَطِيعُواْ اللّهَ وَأَطِيعُواْ الرَّسُولَ وَأُوْلِي الأَمْرِ مِنكُمْ فَإِن تَنَازَعْتُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى اللّهِ وَالرَّسُولِ إِن كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ ذَلِكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَحْسَنُ تَأْوِيلاً
O you who believe! obey Allah and obey the Apostle and those in authority from among you; then if you quarrel about anything, refer it to Allah and the Apostle, if you believe in Allah and the last day; this is better and very good in the end.1
I said: O Messenger of Allah! We know Allah and His Messenger but we do not know ‘those in authority’ whose obedience is equal to your obedience. Who are they?
The Holy Prophet (S) said:
هُمْ خُلَفَائِي يَا جَابِرُ وَ أَئِمَّةُ الْمُسْلِمِينَ مِنْ بَعْدِي أَوَّلُهُمْ عَلِيُّ بْنُ أَبِي طَالِبٍ ثُمَّ الْحَسَنُ وَ الْحُسَيْنُ ثُمَّ عَلِيُّ بْنُ الْحُسَيْنِ ثُمَّ مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ عَلِيٍّ الْمَعْرُوفُ فِي التَّوْرَاةِ بِالْبَاقِرِ وَ سَتُدْرِكُهُ يَا جَابِرُ فَإِذَا لَقِيتَهُ فَأَقْرِئْهُ مِنِّي السَّلَامَ ثُمَّ الصَّادِقُ جَعْفَرُ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ ثُمَّ مُوسَى بْنُ جَعْفَرٍ ثُمَّ عَلِيُّ بْنُ مُوسَى ثُمَّ مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ عَلِيٍّ ثُمَّ عَلِيُّ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ ثُمَّ الْحَسَنُ بْنُ عَلِيٍّ ثُمَّ سَمِيِّي وَ كَنِيِّي حُجَّةُ اللَّهِ فِي أَرْضِهِ وَ بَقِيَّتُهُ فِي عِبَادِهِ ابْنُ الْحَسَنِ بْنِ عَلِيٍّ ذَاكَ الَّذِي يَفْتَحُ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى ذِكْرُهُ عَلَى يَدَيْهِ مَشَارِقَ الْأَرْضِ وَ مَغَارِبَهَا ذَاكَ الَّذِي يَغِيبُ عَنْ شِيعَتِهِ وَ أَوْلِيَائِهِ غَيْبَةً لَا يَثْبُتُ فِيهَا عَلَى الْقَوْلِ بِإِمَامَتِهِ إِلَّا مَنِ امْتَحَنَ اللَّهُ قَلْبَهُ لِلْإِيمَانِ.
O Jabir, they are my successors and leaders of Muslims after me. The first of them is `Ali ibn Abi-Talib, then Hasan and Husayn, then `Ali ibn Husayn, then Muhammad ibn `Ali, known as Baqir in the Torah. You will see him. When you see him, greet him on my behalf. Then comes Ja`far al-Sadiq and after him Musa ibn Ja`far and after him Muhammad ibn `Ali and finally one who has my name and will be Allah’s Argument (hujjat allah) on the earth, the son of Hasan, the same Imam whom Allah has appointed to conquer east and west, the same Imam will be hidden from the eyes of the Shi`ites and his friends. At that time, no one will be firm in his belief in his Imamate unless those whom Allah has purified their hearts for faith.
Jabirs says: O Messenger of Allah! Can his Shias benefit from him during his occultation?
إِي وَ الَّذِي بَعَثَنِي بِالنُّبُوَّةِ إِنَّهُمْ يَسْتَضِيئُونَ بِنُورِهِ وَ يَنْتَفِعُونَ بِوَلَايَتِهِ فِي غَيْبَتِهِ كَانْتِفَاعِ النَّاسِ بِالشَّمْسِ وَ إِنْ تَجَلَّلَهَا سَحَابٌ يَا جَابِرُ هَذَا مِنْ مَكْنُونِ سِرِّ اللَّهِ وَ مَخْزُونِ عِلْمِهِ فَاكْتُمْهُ إِلَّا عَنْ أَهْلِهِ
Yes. By Allah who appointed me as a Messenger they will benefit from the rays of the light of his imamate during his occultation. [He will be useful during his occultation] just as the sun hidden behind the clouds is useful for people. O Jabir! This is one of the secrets of Allah and the remaining of His knowledge and therefore keep it secret from unworthy people.
In another tradition, Imam Sadiq (a.s) quotes the Holy Prophet (S) as saying:
لابد للغلام من غیبه. فقیل له: و لم یا رسول الله؟ قال: یخاف القتل.
This young boy has to go into hiding. When the Holy Prophet (S) was asked as to why he had to go into hiding he said: He is afraid lest he is killed.
In yet another tradition, he narrates from his forefathers from the Holy Prophet (S) who says:
المهدی من ولدی اسمه اسمی و کنیته کنیتی. اشبه الناس بی خلقا و خلقا تکون له غیبه و حیره حتی تضل الخلق عن ادیانهم فعند ذلک یقبل کالشهاب الثاقب فیملؤها قسطا و عدلا کما ملئت ضلما و جورا
Mahdi is from my descendants. His name and tittle are the same as mine. He resembles me more than anyone else in terms of physical complexion and moral values. His occultation will last as long as people will become perplexed and as a result abandon their religion. It is under such circumstances that he will appear just like a meteor, eliminating all the darkness at once. He will fill in the earth with justice and equity just as it was filled with injustice and cruelty .2
In another tradition, Imam Sadiq (a.s) quotes the Holy Prophet (S) as saying:
طوبی لمن ادرک قائم اهل بیتی و هو مقتد به قبل قیامه یإتم به و بالائمه الهدی من قبله و یبرأ الی الله عز و جل من عدوهم اولئک رفقائی و اکرم أمتی علی111
“Lucky is he who sees our Qa’im (Mahdi) and before his uprising, he, however, follows him and his guided predecessors and hates their enemies. They are my friends and companions and the best of my community.”
Imam Sadiq (a.s) quotes the Holy Prophet (S) as having also said:
طوبی لمن ادرک قائم اهل بیتی و هو یاتم به فی غیبته قبل قیامه و یتولی اولیائه و یعادی اعدائه ذلک من رفقائی و ذوی مودتی و اکرم امتی الی یوم القیامه112
“Lucky is he who sees our Qa’im while he follows him during his occultation before his uprising, befriends his friends and antagonizes his enemies. He is among my friends and sympathizers and the best of my community until the Day of Judgment.”
Imam Sadiq (a.s) similarly says that the Holy Prophet (S) said:
من انکر القائم من ولدی فی زمان عیبته فمات فقد مات میته جاهلیه113
He who denies Qa’im (Mahdi) from my offspring in the period of his occultation dies the death of ignorance.
In another tradition, Imam Sadiq (a.s) narrates from his great forefathers who quote the Holy Prophet (S) as saying:
القائم من ولدی اسمه اسمی و کنیته کنیتی و شمائله شمائلی و سنته سنتی یقیم الناس علی ملتی و شریعتی و یدعوهم الی کتاب ربی عز و جل من اطاعه فقد اطاعنی و من عصاه فقد عصانی و من انکره فی غیبته فقد انکرنی و من کذبه فقد کذبنی و من صدقه فقد صدقنی الی الله اشکو المکذبین لی فی امره و الجاحدین لقولی فی شأنه و المضلین لامتی عن طریقته (و سیعلم الذین ظلموا ای منقلب ینقلبون(
Qa’im (Mahdi) is from my descendants. His name and surname are the same as mine. His complexion is the same as mine. His tradition is the same as mine. He rules people on the basis of my tradition and asks people to act in accordance with my Lord’s book (Quran). He who obeys him obeys me. He who denies him during his occultation denies me. He who refutes him refutes me. He who confirms him confirms me. I will complain before Allah against those who reject my words concerning him and prevents my people from following him. And those who act unjustly shall know to what final place of turning they shall turn back .3.4
Imam Sadiq (a.s) says Imam Ali (a.s) said:
و لیبعثن الله رجلا من ولدی فی آخر الزمان یطالب بدمائنا و لیغیبن عنهم تمییزا لاهل الضلاله حتی یقول الجاهل: ما لله فی آل محمد من حاجه.
Allah shall send someone from my offspring at the end of the times. He will avenge our bloods. He will go into hiding in order to distinguish those who are misguided (from others). (His occultation will last so long that) ignorant people will say that there is no need for Prophet’s household. 5
Imam Sadiq says:
ان لصاحب هذا الامر غیبه لابد منها یرتاب فیها کل مبطل
The one in authority (Imam Mahdi) shall go on an occultation which is inevitable. His occultation will take so long that all the people of falsehood will begin doubting. 6