Imam Mahdi’s Arrival: Is it an essential belief? Will he be an Imam?
Recently a Muslim scholar visited LUMS to talk about Mahdi. I would like to know your views on Mahdi. I found his views to be contradicting. On the one hand, he said that Mahdi would not be gifted with miracles and that Muslims should try to improve themselves on their own. I do agree that it is a Muslim’s responsibility to improve his/her behavior. However, if Mahdi’s arrival will not result in any miracle then naturally, its not of much importance to us. Are such beliefs essential? I believe in Mahdi’s arrival because this was told by Prophet Muhammad (saw). But predicting when Mahdi will come and what will follow are fruitless questions since no one knows the future except Allah. Is Mahdi an Imam? Please share your views on the issue.
The first thing I’d like to make clear is that the arrival of ‘Imam Mahdi’ is a piece of information, which has been given to us through some compilations of hadith, claimed to have been shared with a select few by Prophet Muhammad (sws). This does not constitute belief, for belief essentially means the Quran: the Message that was transmitted to all people around Prophet Muhammad (sws) as the binding word of God, forming a necessary part of our understanding of Islam – rejecting any part of which would place us outside the fold of Islam.
Information contained in ahadith, which can be debated over by scholars as to their authenticity and reliability, donot and cannot form a part of our belief system. Belief entails absolute certainty, and does not presume doubts about what is acceptable and what isn’t.
I will, therefore, comment on ‘Imam Mahdi’ and the proposed arrival as religious information, and not as a component of belief; even moreso because there is not a single mention of the arrival of an ‘Imam Mahdi’ in the Quran. I believe that the Quran being the fully preserved, last book from the Almighty, would’ve ensured a reference to such an incident, if at all Muslims needed to be guided about such a future event.
From an academic point of view too, ‘Imam Mahdi’ has not even been mentioned in any of the authentic, sahih ahadith. There is a very strong argument that all ahadith that do mention such a coming, do not pass as ‘sahih’ (not befitting the criteria of reliability, as set by the doctors of hadith) in the first place.
The arrival of ‘Imam Mahdi’, seems to me, to come from the Shia school of thought, amongst the Muslims. The Shia mainly differs with the Sunni, in that he believes that the God Almighty Himself appointed twelve Imams after Prophet Muhammad (sws), in order that they may guide Muslims in worldly and spiritual matters. The first of these Imams is believed to be Ali (ra), then his sons, Hassan and Hussain (ra), followed by the progeny of Ali and Fatima (ra). The twelfth Imam in this chain is supposed to have disappeared, following which, contact was established with him, indicating that, he re-appeared in a sense. He is believed to have disappeared again, inspiring a wait for his second re-appearance. This second period of his disappearance has continued till now. It is believed by the Shias that the day he returns will be the day marking the revival of the Muslim Ummah, returning to it, its lost glory. This is briefly how the Shia Muslim understands the coming/return of ‘Imam Mahdi’.
The Sunni Muslim does not believe in the twelver Imamate of the Shias. They believe that Mehdi will be an Imam in his own right, and would be an Imam in the sense of a leader – one who will lead the Ummah against the enemies of Islam, and succeed in this endeavour, once again, towards the same end – that is, glory of the Muslims.
The problem with either understanding is that it promotes slackness and lack of incentive to act and make a difference, especially in times of subjugation by the powers that be. As a result, one fails to accept the blame for the woes of the Ummah, a decline, if there is, is attributed to fate as opposed to our own unwillingness to progress. This is a highly unacceptable and ineffective way of approaching our problems. Indeed, according to the Quran and Ahadith, this worldly life is a trial, and if we do not strive to act as per the teachings of Islam, we will suffer in this world – the Ummah will keep getting weaker, falling deeper into its subjugation by non-Muslims.
Awaiting ‘Imam Mahdi’ essentially means that our focus shifts away from searching within ourselves for reasons of our degeneration, towards pinning hopes on an individual to miraculously come to our rescue. The moment one stops self-evaluation is the moment one stops recognising problems and looking for solutions. The sense of urgency to reform and to improve is sourly missing. Unfortunately, that seems to be an established pattern with the Ummah today, only helping aggravate our situation. What else can one expect, when refuge is sought in the coming of one individual, as opposed to the Quran!
i) The idea of an ‘Imam Mahdi’ is itself just religious information, at best, and not belief, having no bases in the Quran;
ii) The information itself comes from reports rejected by the doctors of hadith as unauthentic;
iii) As a result of pinning our hopes on the coming of an ‘Imam’, the condition of the Ummah is constantly in decline, and despite, Muslims seem unwilling to act.