The Ghaybah (occultation) of Imam Mahdi (ajtf)

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An interesting aspect about the discussion on Imam Mahdi (as) is that once his birth is established, there are a lot of questions concerning his physical presence. Where is he? How can we meet him? Can we actually meet him?

Islam provides answers to all these questions and even more from the Quran and from traditions of the Holy Prophet (sawa) and Aimmah (as). Ghaybat is a special characteristic and sign of the true Imam Mahdi (as). What is meant by special characteristic is that it is present in the true Mahdi (as) only. This is an important point for Shiahs for the history of Islam is littered with incidents of those who have falsely claimed to be the Mahdi for the society. Needless to say, false claimants deny Ghaybat since they do not have this sign.When Shiahs are asked about the presence of Imam Mahdi (as), their common reply that he (as) is in “Ghaybat” or that he is in “Occultation.” Through a series of articles, we will, God-willing, attempt to explain:


Ghaybat Explained in Four Points: Meaning and Implications

The word Ghaybat literally means to be absent from a place. For example, if a student is absent from class, we would say that he is “ghayab.” With regards to Imam Mahdi (as), it refers to his special concealment from the people.

  1. Ghaybat means that Imam Mahdi (as) is on this earth. He lives in our midst and not in heaven as Hazrat Isa (as). We see him (as), but do not recognise him. Ameerul Momeneen Ali Ibne Abi Talib (as) while explaining Ghaybat of Imam Mahdi (as) says that “people will see him, but will not recognise him.

This point is explained well in traditions of Aimmah (as) through the example of Hazrat Yusuf (as). The story of Hazrat Yusuf (as) informs us that the brothers of Hazrat Yusuf envied him, planned to kill him and ultimately left him alone in a well. He was rescued from the well and made a slave to be solve in the market. With the passage of time, Allah created such circumstances that Hazrat Yusuf progressed from being a slave to the Prime Minister of Egypt. During a period of drought, for which Hazrat Yusuf had prepared well, while all regions were reeling under the effects of the drought, Egypt was well taken care off. People flocked to Egypt to seek food and provisions. The brothers of Hazrat Yusuf also reached Egypt.

The Hoy Quran describes their first meeting in many years as follows – “And the brothers of Yusuf came [seeking food], and they entered upon him; and he recognized them, but he was to them unknown.” (Surah Yusuf, verse 58)

Which means that Hazrat Yusuf (as) recognised his brothers. They saw him, but did not recognise him. They did not recognise that this is the same Yusuf who we grew up with, played with and even tried to kill. But despite all of this, they failed to recognise him. Till such time that Hazrat Yusuf (as) introduced himself. To which the brothers said, “They said, “Are you indeed Yusuf?” He said “I am Yusuf, and this is my brother. Allah has certainly favored us. Indeed, he who fears Allah and is patient, then indeed, Allah does not allow to be lost the reward of those who do good.”” (Surah Yusuf, verse 90)

In the same way, we see Imam Mahdi (as). Ghaybat means that the apparent signs of Imamate are hidden from us when we see the Imam (as) till such time that the Imam himself intends that we recognise him.Traditions inform us that he visits our gatherings and in present in our markets. After reappearance, when the veils of Ghaybat are lifted from our eyes, many will see the Imam (as), recognise him and say that I know him. I have met him, he helped me at so and so place…

  1. Ghaybat does not mean that Imam Mahdi (as) is invisible. Or that he is bound to one place like the Sardaab (cellar) in Samarrah. Neither does it mean that the Imam Mahdi (as) is present only in the form of a spirit or that his spirit has entered into another person’s body. It also does not mean that he is in some secret location like Bermuda Triangle or isolated on some island or on some mountain. He (as) has met people all over the world – in Iran, Iraq, at Hajj etc. One of the ziyarats of Imam Mandhi (as) starts with the sentences – “Assalamo Alaika Ya Hujjatallhe Fee Arzehi Was Khalifatallahe Fee Biladehi” Salutations be upon you, O Proof of Allah upon this Earth and the Caliph of Allah in his cities.
  1. Ghaybat does not prevent Imam Mahdi (as) from fulfilling his duties. He meets us, he visits our gatherings and is aware of our actions. Ghaybat is from our side and not from the side of Imam (as). It is us who see the Imam (as) and do not recognise him. The Imam (as) see us, recognises us and knows our name and the name of our father. He is very aware of our actions, our intentions and of every breath we take.

Traditions inform us that our actions are presented to him at least once a week on Thursday night (or in some traditions on Monday and Thursday night). Imam Mahdi (as) says, “We are not negligent of your matters we do not forget your remembrance.” Then he (as) explains, “Had we not looked after you then your enemies would have overpowered you, and suppressed you.” So very clearly, despite Ghaybat, the Imam (as) fulfils all his responsibilities of Imamate towards the religion and towards his Shiahs.

  1. There were two Ghaybat for Imam Mahdi (as) – Ghaybate’ Sughra (Minor Occultation) which lasted for 69 years; and Ghaybate’ Kubra (Major Occultation) which commenced in 329 AH and continues till date.

The martyrdom of Imam Hasan Askari (as) occurred on 8 Rabi-ul-Awwal 260 AH. At that time the age of Imam Mahdi (as) was only 5 years. When Imam Mahdi (as) led the funeral prayers for his father, the government sent its troops to arrest him. History informs us at when the troops entered the house of the Imam (as), they saw him in the cellar of the house in Samarrah. He was reciting prayers. However they failed to capture him. Allah created such circumstances that the Imam (as) left unharmed through their midst. This was a repeat of the event of Hijrat when the Holy Prophet (sawa) passed through the group of armed men who were waiting to ambush and kill him. At that time, the Holy Prophet (sawa) recited the 9th verse of Surah Yasin – “And We have put before them a barrier and behind them a barrier and covered them, so they do not see.” This event marked the start of Ghaybate’ Sughra.

During Ghaybate’ Sughra, there were four appointed deputies of Imam Mahdi (as). They were called Special Deputies (Nawabe Khassah) They were:

  • Janab Abu Amr Usman Ibne Saeed al-Amri (expired in 265 AH) (Read more)
  • Janab Abu Jafar Mohammed Ibne Usman Ibne Saeed al-Amri (expired in 304 or 305 AH) (Read more)
  • Janab Abul Qasim Husain Ibne Rauh Nawbakhti (expired 326 AH) (Read more)
  • Janab Ali Ibne Mohammed Seymouri (expired 329 AH) (Read more)

The period of the four deputies was successive (one after another). These were trusted individuals who served as the medium between Imam Mahdi (as) and the masses. Most importantly, they were appointed by the Imam (as). In that sense they were “authorised” appointees of the Imam (as). They could meet the Imam (as) whenever they needed without any barrier or hinderance.

During the period of Ghaybate’ Kubra, there is no designated appointed deputy. People living in the time of Ghaybate’ Kubra are expected to refer to spiritual leaders or Marajae’ Taqleed for their daily affairs. The Marajae’ Taqleed are called as General Deputies (Nawabe Aammah).

Since there is no designated deputy, therefore no person, absolutely no person can claim to meet the Imam (as) whenever he wants. Yes, only if the Imam (as) desires, he may offer an individual the opportunity to meet with him. The above point is extremely significant for Shiahs so that they are no misled by any fraudster who may claim that he has access to Imam Mahdi (as). In one of his signed letters, Imam Mahdi (as) wrote, “And as for the future occurrences, refer to those who narrate our traditions, because they are my proofs upon you and I am the proof of Allah.”

(Kamaluddin chapter 45 tradition 4)