Greetings of Peace. This blog contains selections from my correspondence and other sources on a variety of subjects related to religion, philosophy, and spirituality. I hope that they may be of benefit to the interested reader. Concerning the title of the blog, read this entry.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Imam Al-Mahdi: The Hidden Guide and Master of Time

The Apostle of Allāh, may Allāh bless Him and His Family, said: “The days and nights will never end until Allāh sends a man from my House, whose name will be the same as mine. He will fill (the earth) with justice and fairness as it was filled with oppression and tyranny.” He, may Allāh bless Him and His Family, said: “If only a single day remained for the world, Allāh would lengthen that day so that He could send on it a man from my descendants, whose name is the same as mine. He will fill the world with justice and fairness as it was filled with oppression and tyranny.”

- Shaykh Al-Mufid, Kitab al-Irshad, Chapter 11

The Mahdī is the one who shows humans the Path. All the Prophets before him guided humans to the Path of God, but their words were veiled, and their Sciences were hidden because the times required this. But once the process has reached its end and the lifting of the veils has come near and the Cycle of Unveiling (dawr-i kashf) has arrived, clear proofs will come out into the open, and well-ordered signs of that will appear. The person who will appear then will guide the humans without [having recourse to] veils and symbols, and he will unveil to them all of the [True] Knowledge that had been in the religious Laws and the [prophetic] Books, and every Wisdom and Mystery that had been hidden. The name of that person [i.e., Mahdī] is derived from [the root] HDY [to guide], which implies that there is no way for anyone to avoid him and his Call (daʿwat), or to escape from his arguments and proofs, because he guides the humans to that which is in their own inner reality (ḥaqīqat-i īshān) and shows the way to those sciences to which ‘the Horizons and the Souls’  bear witness and opens the way for the souls to know the spiritual dominion of God, so that the souls become one with the True Realities (ḥaqāyiq) and the Spiritual Support [of the ‘chosen ones’, taʾyīd].

- Abu Ya'qub Sijistani, On the Fifth Creation, VI 6.1

Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi entitled Sahib al-zaman (the master of time), who is the last Shi'ite Imam, went into minor occultation upon the death of his father. From 260/873 to 329/940. He had four representatives (na'ib) to whom he appeared from time to time and through whom he ruled the Shi'ite community. This period is thus called the minor occultation (al-ghaybat al-sughra). Henceforth, there began the major occultation (al-ghaybat al-kubra) which still endures. During this time, according to the Shi'ah, the Mahdi is alive but invisible. He is the axis mundi, the invisible ruler of the Universe. Before the end of time he will appear again on earth to bring equity and justice and to fill it with peace after it has been torn by war and injustice. The Mahdi is an ever-living spiritual being who guides on the spiritual path those who are worthy and whose succor all the devout ask in their daily prayers. He who is spiritually qualified is, in fact, in inner contact with the Mahdi.

- Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Ideals and Realities of Islam, pp. 162-164

In the same way that he has the duty of guiding men outwardly, the Imam also bears the function of walayat and the esoteric guidance of men. It is he who directs man’s spiritual life and orients the inner aspect of human action toward God. Clearly, his physical presence or absence has no effect in this matter. The Imam watches over men inwardly and is in communion with the soul and spirit of men even if he be hidden from their physical eyes. His existence is always necessary even if the time has not yet arrived for his outward appearance and the universal reconstruction that he is to bring about.

- Allama Tabataba'i, Shiite Islam, pp. 194-195

This polar function culminates in that of the major Pole, the major polar function (qutbiyah kubra) of the "pole of poles". This is the esoteric dimension of prophecy, and as such it can belong only to the Imam. Every Imam of each of the great prophets has had his turn at being the pole of poles. In the present, post-Muhammadan period, the qualification belongs to him who, as the esoteric dimension of the Seal of the prophets, is the Seal of all the Friends of God: the twelfth Imam, at present occulted, invisibly present to this world until the day of his advent.

- Henry Corbin, Temple and Contemplation, p. 66

[T]he Twelfth Imam ... is the Hidden Imam, both in Shi'ism and in Sufism as it exists in the Shi'ite world. Inasmuch as the Imam, although in concealment, is alive and is the spiritual axis of the world, he is the pole (Qutb) with whom all Sufi masters are inwardly connected. He is to Shi'ism what the supreme pole is to Sufism in its Sunni context. In Shi'ism the Imams, especially 'Ali, the first, and the Mahdi, the last, are the spiritual guides par excellence. The Hidden Imam, representing the whole chain of Imams, is the pole that attracts the hearts of the believers and it is to him that men turn for guidance. Moreover, the Imam also exists within the hearts of men. He is the inner guide who can lead man on the journey beyond the cosmos and also into the inner dimensions of his own being, if only man could reach this inner pole. That is why certain Shi'ite gnostics and Sufis have instructed the disciple to seek the 'imam of his being'. The possessor of the power of walayah or initiation, by virtue of which the Imam in fact becomes the Imam, is the esoteric interpreter of things, of religion and of nature. And it is, in the Shi'ite view, the Imam's inward connection with the Sufi masters that enables them to gain the power of initiating and guiding men so that these men too can in fact reach the inner pole of their being.

- Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Sufi Essays, p. 66

At any given point in time, there could be several saints and friends of God (awliya’) who have achieved human perfection. If so, then each of them would be capable of guiding, instructing and assisting the wayfarers of the spiritual path. However, there is only one Imam at a time, who would be the vicegerent of the Messenger of God, the possessor of the Greatest Guardianship (al-wilayat al-kubra), the upholder of both the shariah and the tariqah (the exoteric and the spiritual paths), one who predominates over all planes of existence, and one who encompasses every affair in the contingent world, particular and universal alike. All of the saints are under his guidance and follow his shariah and tariqah. It is necessary for a wayfarer to be constantly attentive of him, and this is what [is meant] by companionship (murafaqah). Murafaqah is derived from rifaqah (company) and rafiq (companion), but it is not limited to physical company and presence. Instead, what matters in the spiritual journey is spiritual companionship. Just as the spirit of a saint or master encompasses the wayfarer, the wayfarer should also be continuously heedful of his master [and see himself under his master’s guardianship] so that companionship may hold [because companionship is something mutual]. This companionship of the wayfarer with the Imam is the main driving force that advances the wayfarer on his journey. [T]he Imam [is] the particular master, which, at the time of the Greater Occultation (al-ghaybat al-kubra), is only Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-‘Askari, who is the Imam of the Time and the Final Proof of God (may the Supreme God hasten his reappearance).

- Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Husayni Tihrani, Treatise on Spiritual Journeying and Wayfaring, Notes