THE IDEA of an expected deliverer
The term “messianism” in the Islamic context is often used to translate the significant concept of an eschatological figure, the Mahdi, who as the foreordained leader “will rise” to launch a great social transformation in order to end the sufferings of the faithful and the rule of enemies of God and establish His kingdom on earth (Sachedina, 1981). The Islamic doctrine of salvation does not conceive of a man as a sinner who must be saved through spiritual regeneration. The basic emphasis of Islamic salvation lies instead in the historical responsibility of its followers, namely, the establishment of the ideal religio-political community, the ummah, with a worldwide membership of all those who believe in God and His revelation through Muhammad.
The seeds of this responsibility are actually sown by the Prophet himself. Muhammad is not only the founder of a new religion, but also a guardian of a new social order.
I. Three Methods of Religious Thought
Here “religious thought” means that form of thought which concerned with any of the problems of a religious nature within a particular religion (Tabatabai, 2001: 89). Of course, the concept of Mahdiism, includes at religious thought. Undoubtedly, the religious thought, like Mahdiism, have the trustworthy sources.
There are three methods of religious thought in Islam. The Holy Quran in its teachings identify three paths for Muslims to follow in order to understand the goal of religion and the Islamic sciences (ibid):
1. the path of the external and formal aspect of religion (shari’ah)
2. the path of intellectual understanding
3. the path of spiritual comprehension achieved through sincerity (ikhlâs) in obeying God
The first method, according to Tabatabai, implies the acceptance the traditional source from which the formal and external aspect of religion is derived, that is the Holy Quran and the Sunnah, hadith received from the Prophet (s) and his infallible Household (`a). Both of them are an authoritative document and also the basic source for the religious thinking of Islam (ibid, 93)
The two, in its formal aspect, speak to all people without providing any demonstration. The Holy Quran, for instance, orders people to accept the principles of faith such as Divine Unity, prophethood, eschatology; it gives them practical injunctions like the daily prayers, fasting, etc.; and at the same time the Holy Quran forbids human to do certain other actions. However, if the Quran, Tabatabai adds, had not provided authority for these orders, it would never have expected man to take on and obey them. Therefore it must be that such simple utterances of the Quran are a path toward the understanding of ultimate religious goals and the comprehension of Islamic sciences. We mention such verbal utterances like “Believe in God and His Prophet” and “Perform the Prayers” as the external or formal aspect of religion (ibid, 89).
As for the second method, it provides intellectual demonstrations of the validity of the outer or formal aspect of the Quran, which is a divine revelation, as well as of the definitely established sayings of the Prophet (s) and his infallible Household (`a) (ibid, 106).
Tabatabai maintains that intellectual proofs are of two kinds: demonstration (burhân) and dialectic (jadal). The former is a proof whose premises are true even if they are not observable. This type of thought is called rational thought. The latter is a proof all or some of whose premises are based on observable and certain data.
The Holy Quran has used both these methods. First of all, the Quran commands free investigation and meditation upon the universal principles of the world existence, the general principles of cosmic order, as well as upon more particular orders like the heavens, the stars, the earth, etc. Secondly, the Quran has commanded man to apply dialectical thought, which is usually called theological (kalâmi) discussion (ibid, 106-107).
By the third method is meant gnostic approach. This method based on knowledge combined with love, rather than fear. It is method for realizing the inner truth of religion rather than remaining satisfied only with its external form and rational thought (ibid, 113).
Therefore, regarding the concept of Mahdiism as a part of religious thought, we can approach this by three methods as mentioned above.
I.1 Mahdiism: A Proof from the Formal Aspect
According to theologians, we can prove the concept of Mahdiism and his being from the Holy Quran and Hadith. The Holy Quran does not mention, in fact, the Mahdi in its specific details. Not only the Mahdi, there are so many particular details that are true and authentic and yet have been mentioned in the heavenly book. Concerning the Mahdi and his mission, there are a number of verses in the Holy Quran which, however brief, give tidings about the day when the devout worshippers of God and those who support the true religion and those who are worthy of that blessing will rule the earth in its entirety; and the religion of God, Islam, will become the dominant faith over all other religions (Amini, 1997).
For instance, there are four ayah, verses, which indicates the appearance of the promised Mahdi as follows:
1. Sura Anbiyâ (21):105, For We have written in the Psalms, after the Remembrance, ‘The earth shall be the inheritance of My righteous servants.’
2. Sura Nûr (24):55, God has promised those of you who believe and do righteous deeds that He will surely make you successors in the land, even as He made those who were before them successors, and that He will surely establish their religion for them that He has approved for them, and will give them in exchange, after their fear, security: ‘They shall serve Me, not associating with Me anything.’
3. Sura Qasas (28):4, Yet We desired to be gracious to those that were abased in the land, and to make them leaders, and to make them the inheritors.
4. Sura Shaff (61):9, It is He who has sent His Messenger with the guidance and the religion of truth, that He may uplift it above every religion, though the unbelievers be averse.
From all these verses and the likes, according to the theologians, it can be concluded that the world actually look forward to the day when its power and government will be given into the hands of the believers and those worthy of the divine trust to become leaders and lead humankind and its civilization to its perfection. Shortly, these verses actually elucidate the appearance of Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return) (Amini, 1997; Gulpaygani, 2001).
Certainly, we can also attest the existence of the promised Mahdi through the second source of religious thought, namely, Hadith or prophetic tradition. There are many traditions transmitted from the Prophet (s) and the Imams of the Household of the Prophet (`a), and which identify the Mahdi as belonging to the Household of the Prophet (`a), stating that he is a descendent of Fatimah in the lineage of Husayn and his ninth descendant. They also state that the Prophet\'s successors (khulafa) are twelve in number. These traditions define the general notion and identify its embodiment in the person of the twelfth Imam from among the Imams of the Household of the Prophet. These Hadiths have been narrated in a great number and have been widely known despite the caution observed by the Imams (`a) in raising this issue in public for the sake of protecting their worthy descendent (the Mahdi) from being assassinated or put to death immediately (Tabatabai, 2001; Sadr, 2001). The Hadiths also state that his rising will enable human society to reach true perfection and the complete realization of spiritual life. In fact, the number of these traditions is not the only criterion for their acceptance. There are other indications verify their validity as well.
Thus the Prophetic tradition mentions the Imams, khulafa or umara\' succeeding him and their number, that there shall be twelve Imams, khulafa-\' or umara\', in accordance with the varying texts of the tradition as transmitted by different chains, occurs in the form of narrations collected by some compilers which form more than 270 narrations taken from the most famous Shiite and Sunni compilations of hadith, including the works of Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Ahmad ibn Hanbal in his Musnad, and al-Hakim in his Mustadrak `ala al-Sahihayn.
It should be noted here that Bukhari, who transmits this hadith, was a contemporary of Imam Jawad as well as the Imams al-Hadi and al-Askari, and this is of great significance because it proves that this hadith was recorded from the Prophet (s) before its subject had materialized and before the concept of Twelve Imams had been practically completed. This implies that there exists no ground for the doubt that the transmission of this hadith might lave been influenced by the actual situation of the Twelver (Ithna Ashari) Imamis or was a reflection of it, because forged traditions attributed to the Prophet (s) that are either reflections or justifications of a later event do not go back, in their origin or recording in books of hadith, to a date earlier than that event (Sadr, 2001).
Now, we possess real proof that the above-mentioned tradition historically precedes the Twelve Imams and that it had been recorded in books of hadith before the completion of the Twelver Imami reality, it is possible for us to assert that this hadith is not a reflection of some event, but an expression of a Divine reality by someone who did not speak out of selfish motives.
Here we can present some hadiths from the Companions of the Prophet (s), for instance, verify the existence of the promised Mahdi such as:
1. Sa’îd ibn Musayyib reports from ‘Amr ibn ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affân, who said:
We heard from the Prophet saying: “The Imams after me will be twelve in number, of whom nine will be from the progeny of Husayn. Moreover, the Mahdi of this community will be among us. Anyone who holds on to them after me holds on to the rope of God; and whoever abandons them has abandoned God.” (quoted from Amini, 1997)
2. Abû Ayyûb Ansârî says:
I heard the Propeth (s) says: “I am the chief of the Prophets and ‘Alî is the chief of the legatees. My two grandsons [Hasan and Husayn] are the best among the descendants. The infallible Imams will come forth among us through Husayn. Moreover the Mahdi of this community is among us.” At that time an Arab stood up and asked: “O Prophet of God, how many Imams are there after you?” He replied: “Equal to the number of the apostles of Jesus and the chiefs of the Children of Israel.” (ibid.)
3. From Hudhayfa, the Prophet (s) declares:
The Imams after me will be equal to the number of tribal chiefs among the Children of Israel. Nine among them will be the descendants of Husayn. The Mahdi of this community is among us. Beware! Truth is with them and they are with truth. Thus be careful of the way you treat them after me.” (ibid)
In historical reality, actually, the Imams of Twelver Shiite begins with Imam Ali (`a) and terminates in the Mahdi (`a). All of them are the sole rational interpretation of these noble Prophetic traditions (Sadr, 2001).