By: Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD International law
The notion of the Hidden Imam (Islamic Messiah) has a central role in the Islamic Shiite thoughts. There are countless references to the Hidden Imam in the Shiite books. However, following the victory of the so-called Islamic Revolution in Iran (or hijacking of the Iranian revolution by the Mullahs), in 1979, the references to the Hidden Imam has gained new importance.
The main reason for this is that the power and wealth of an important oil-exporting contrary, with a tyrannical regime that does not care about the wishes of its people has been directed in support of the old religious notions. This does not mean that everybody in Iran or the Shiite world agrees on the role and modus operandi of the Hidden Imam. In fact, Khomeini, the so-called founder of the Islamic Revolution in Iran stopped the activities of one of the most important groups that claimed to be the strict follower of the Hidden Imam. This group was called Hojjatieh.
Since the election of Mahmud Ahmadinejad as the president of Iran through rigged elections, the notion of the Hidden Imam has gained new weight. Many of the actions of the present government of Iran seem to have originated from the same notion. For example the first letter of Ahmadinejad to President Bush was not based on political considerations (it was written at the worst possible time given the existing political atmosphere), and it did not mean to change anything about the most important current issue of Iran (the nuclear case of Iran and the sanctions through the United Nations Security Council).The president of Iran was thinking that he had a divine duty from the Hidden Imam to take certain measures and the letter to President Bush at that time was supposed to be one of these measures.
Sayyed Vahid Karimi, who is introduced as strategic issues researcher in Iran, has said: “we have a duty to guide this ignorant superpower [the USA].” (1) He has recommended that such letters should be sent to the leaders of the important states in the world, including the UK. It is therefore important to know in more details on what is the notion of the Hidden Imam and its role in the present government of Iran.
Who is the Hidden Imam? According to Richard Hines (2): “The core of the Shi’ite religious world view is the Hidden Imam,
Muhammad al-Mahdi, “The Guided One.”
While the stories of the first eleven Imams are historical in nature, the history of the twelfth Imam is mystical and miraculous. Born in 868 AD / 255 AH, Abu’l-Kasim Muhammad (which is the name of the Prophet himself), and when Hasan al-Askari, the Eleventh Imam, died in 874 AD / 260 AH, the seven year old boy declared himself to be the Twelfth Imam and went into hiding. The Shi’ites believed that he hid himself in a cave below a mosque in Samarra; this cave is blocked by a gate which the Shi’ites call Bab-al Ghayba, or the “Gate of Occultation.” This is one of the most sacred sites in Shi’a Islam, and the faithful gather here to pray for the return of the Twelfth Imam. The central Shi’a doctrines revolving around the Hidden Imam are the doctrines of Occultation (Ghayba) and Return (Raj’a) .
The Doctrine of Occultation is simply the belief that God hid Muhammad al-Mahdi away from the eyes of men in order to preserve his life. God has miraculously kept him alive since the day he was hidden in 874 AD / 260 AH; eventually God will reveal al-Mahdi to the world and he will return to guide humanity.
The Occultation has two distinct stages, the Lesser Occultation and the Greater Occultation. In the Lesser Occultation, the Hidden Imam continued to communicate with humanity through representatives. Since the Imam was the spiritual guide or light to the rest of humanity, the Lesser Occultation only removed the Imam’s body from the world, not his spiritual guidance. However, under the threat of orthodox Muslims, the Hidden Imam entered the period of Greater Occultation, which is still continuing.
In the Greater Occultation, the Imam is still the spiritual guide and light of the world with one exception: there is no longer any direct communication between humanity and the Imam….”
Names and Characteristics of the Hidden Imam According to the Encyclopedia of the Orient (3): “Muhammad al Mahdi (the guided) is the 12th and last Imam of the Twelver Shi’i, and is also known as Muhammad al Muntazar (the awaited). Very little can be said of him with any certainty. In fact, the non-Twelver might very well question whether there was an historical person associated with the name. Jafar, the brother of the Eleventh Imam denied the existence of any child and claimed the Imamate for himself. In fact, accounts of public appearances by Muhammad al Mahdi often involve his mysterious arrival at key moments to challenge his uncle’s claims.
In brief, the Twelver Shi’i believe that he was born to a Byzantine slave named Narjis Khatun, and that his birth was kept quiet by his father, the Eleventh Imam, Hassan al Askari, because of the intense persecution of the Shi’is at that time. Hidden since birth, he reappeared at age of 6 to assert his claim to the Imamate, only to then disappear down a well to avoid the sad fate of his father and grandfather.
For the next seventy years he maintained contact with his followers through a succession of four assistants, each known as Bab (Gate), Uthman al Amir; his son Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Uthman; Abu’l Qasim Husayn ibn Ruh an Nawbakhti; and Abu’l Husayn Ali ibn Muhammad as-Samarri. The period when he used the 4 Babs as his form of contacting the Shi’is is known as the Lesser Occultation. On his deathbed in 941 CE, the fourth Bab, as-Samarri produced a letter from the Imam stating that there should be no successor to as-Samarri and that from that time forward the Mahdi would not be seen until he reappeared as champion of the faithful in the events leading to the Judgment Day.
Therefore, after 941 CE there has been no earthly expression of the Imamate. This period is known as the Greater Occultation. However, it is still possible to seek the Twelfth Imam’s advice or intercession by writing him a letter and leaving it at one of the Shi’i shrines… There is much that is miraculous associated with al Mahdi. The various traditions are rich in stories and are often contradictory.
Tales range from speaking from the womb, growing at so astonishing a rate that he was full grown by age 6, being raised by birds and with the ability to appear and disappear at will. While there was much controversy over the succession of the 12th Imam, as the Lesser Occultation proceeded, dissent gradually diminished. This can be attributed in part to the active support of the Caliphate for the institution of the Bab. Several opponents of the doctrine of the Occultation were executed and others were persecuted in various ways.
Another factor explaining the acceptance of the Lesser Occultation, and by extension the Greater Occultation, was that due to the house arrest of the 10th and 11th Imams. Hence, most Shi’is were already accustomed to the idea of their Imam being hidden from their view. In the time of the 10th and 11th Imams, a network of wikala (agents) had developed to act as intermediaries between the Imam and his followers, handling money and carrying messages back and forth. In fact, Uthman al Amri, the first Bab of the 12th Imam had held the same position as head of the wikala under the 11th Imam. Therefore, for most Shi’i, there was not a significant change in their relation to their Imam after the death of the Eleventh Imam. Some titles of the 12th Imam include: Sahib az Zaman (Master of the Age), Sahib al Amr (Master of Command), al Qa’im (the one to arise), Bagiyyat Allah (remnant of Allah) and Imam al Muntazar (the awaited Imam).”
Signs of Hidden Imam’s Appearance
Gregoire de Kalbermatten (4) has mentioned the signs of the appearance of Mahdi: “The universal precursory Sign of the return of the Mahdi, “He who Guides,” consists of the general invasion of the earth by Evil and the victory of the forces of Evil over those of Good. Without such a manifestation, the entirety of humanity would be engulfed by darkness…. The Sign consists of the following traits: the people will neglect prayer, squander the divinity which is conferred on them, legalize untruths, practice usury, accept bribes, construct huge edifices, sell religion to win this lower world, employ idiots, consult with women, break family ties, obey passion and consider insignificant the letting of blood. Magnanimity will be considered as weakness and injustice as glory, princesses will be debauched and ministers will be oppressors, intellectuals will be traitors and the reader of the Koran vicious. False witness will be brought openly and immorality proclaimed in loud voices. A word of promise will be slander, sin and exaggeration. “The sacred Books will be ornate, the mosques disguised, the minarets extended. Criminals will be praised, the lines of combat narrowed, hearts in disaccord and pacts broken. Women, greedy for the riches of this lower world, will involve themselves in the business of their husbands; the vicious voices of the man will be loud and will be listened to. The most ignoble of the people will become leaders, the debauched will be believed for fear of the Evil they will cause, the liar will be considered as truthful and the traitor as trustworthy… They will resort to singers and musical instruments … and women will horse ride, they will resemble men and the men will resemble women. The people will prefer the activities of this lower-world to those of the Higher-World and will cover with lambskin the hearts of wolves.”
Dajjal or the Islamic anti-Christ
Dajjal is an important notion, which is related to the concept of the Hidden Imam. On the basis of the Shiit teachings, Dajjal will appear right before the Hidden Imam and he will try to deceive people by pretending to be the Hidden Imam. He is later killed by “Jesus Christ” who will return to earth and pave the way for the Hidden Imam. Christ will fight along with the Hidden Imam for a while, and during this time all Christians become Muslims and later he leaves the scene completely for the Hidden Imam.
Mohammed Ali Ibn Zubair Ali (5) describes Dajjal or the Islamic Anti-Christ as: “…He will emerge between Shaam [Syria] and Iraq, and his emergence will become known when he is in Isfahaan [central Iran] at a place called Yahudea [the Jews Place]. The Yahudis (Jews) of Isfahaan will be his main followers. Apart from having mainly Yahudi followers, he will have a great number of women followers as well… There will be a thick fingernail-like object in his left eye. The letters “Kaa” “Faa” “Raa” will appear on his forehead and will be deciphered by all Mu’mineen whether or not they are literate.
He will have a wheatish complexion. He will travel at great speed and his means of conveyance will be a gigantic mule. It is said that he will play beautiful music which will attract the music lovers. Dajjal will lay claim to prophethood. He will then lay claim to Divinity. He will perform unusual feats. He will travel the entire world…The hidden treasures will spill forth at his command. He will stay on this Earth for a period of forty days; the length of the first day will be one year, the second day will be equal to one month, the third day will be equal to a week and the remaining days will be normal…”
Mosque in Jamkaran of Iran
In the Persian Journal I wrote (6): Jamkaran is a village near Qom in the South of Tehran. It is the home for a lucrative business of corresponding with the Imam-e Zaman or the Hidden Imam or the Islamic Messiah. According to the Islamic-Shiite stories, Imam e Zaman will appear and enforce justice all over the world. The Shiites have been waiting for his appearance in the last 14 centuries. Again according to the Islamic-Shiite stories, anyone who wants to send a letter to the Imam-e Zaman can write it and throw it in any flowing underground current or well.
Also, Jackson Diehl, reporting from Qom in Iran says (7): “ in a dusty village outside this Shiite holy city, a once-humble yellow-brick mosque is undergoing a furious expansion…. the expansion is driven by an apocalyptic vision: that Shiite Islam’s long-hidden 12th Imam, or Madhi, will soon emerge – possibly at the Mosque of Jamkaran- to inaugurate the end of the world. The man who provided $20 million to prepare the shrine for that moment, the Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, has reportedly told his cabinet that he expects the Mahdi to arrive within the next two years…”
Hojjatieh and the Hidden Imam
In an article regarding the “Hojjatieh Group”, the newspaper published by the exiled former president of Iran, Abulhasan Bani Sadr (8) has mentioned: “during the elections for the Seventh Majles, the Hojjatieh elements played an important role and they sent their agents inside the Majles under the disguise of “fundamentalism”.
Also, Meshkini (the former Friday Prayer leader of Qom), claimed that the Hidden Imam had endorsed the list of the Majles deputies for the Seventh Majles. Later, during the presidential elections, Mesbah Yazdi, claimed that someone in Ahwaz had seen the Hidden Imam in his dreams who had prayed for success of “Ahmadinejad” [the current president of Iran] in the elections. This opened the hands of the Hojjatieh mules in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and other organizations for propaganda in favor of Ahmadinejad and rigging the elections in his support.
At the moment, Ahmadinejad and his ministers claim that they get instructions from the Hidden Imam directly…in the first session of the Council of the Ministers, Ahmadinejad and his ministers signed a treaty with the Hidden Imam and they asked Sadr Harandi, the then Minister of Culture, to hand over the treaty to the Hidden Imam by throwing a copy of the Treaty down the well in Jamkaran. In the second session of the Council of Ministers, Rahmati, the Minister of Roads and Transportation said: “due to the high amount of donations to Jamkaran, we do not need to set aside a governmental budget for construction of the Tehran-Jamkaran railway.” Ahmadinejad answered him with anger: “we have not come [to power] for democracy. We are here to prepare the way for the emergence of the Hidden Imam…. “
These are some of the convictions of the Mafia that Ahmadinejad represents:
* The Hidden Imam is present in many places
* All preparations must be made for his emergence
* Some of the members of the group have met the prophet and his companions
* When they perform the prayer called “Tavassol” [which calls for the emergence of the hidden Imam], the Imam comes to the session
* They claim to be chosen as the companions of the Hidden Imam and at least some of them are among the 313 special persons or even the 10 prominent persons that will fight along with the Hidden Imam.
* They claim that the Hidden Imam has given presents to some of them
* They claim that they get the solution to the problems from the Hidden Imam
* They believe that the Hidden Imam will appear in the next couple of years…they have established organizations to find the proper persons to fight along the army of the Hidden Imam
* They claim to be protected by the Hidden Imam
(1) dated 4 Jan. 2006