Imam Mahdi (as) was born in Samarrah, Iraq on 15th Shabaan 255 AH. His father is Imam Hasan Askari (as) – the 11th Shiite Imam – and his mother, Janabe Narjis Khatoon (sa). This event has been reported successively by historians from both, the Shiah and the Ahle Sunnah.
Due to the circumstances prevailing at the time, Allah chose to keep the birth of Imam Mahdi (as) a hidden matter. Therefore there were only a few people in the house who witnessed the birth of the Imam. After the birth, Imam Hasan Askari (as) informed his close companions about the event and even introduced his son, Imam Mahdi (as) to his select companions. In this article, we shall understand why news of his birth was kept hidden from the people, explore some of the circumstances before and after his birth and finally establish the birth of Imam Mahdi (as).
Why Imam Hasan Askari (as) Was Kept Under House Arrest?
There are a large number of traditions from the Holy Prophet (sawa) prophesying the advent of twelve Imams (as) who would succeed him, along with their names. Due to these traditions, the Abbasid caliphs knew that the son of Imam Hasan Askari (as) would be the twelfth and the final Imam.
The book Muntakhabul Asar by Ayatullah Lutfullah Safi Gulpaygani (ar) narrates 148 traditions on the topic – “The Number of Caliphs are Twelve and they are equal to the Number of the Chiefs (Noqaba) of Bani Israel and the Companions (Hawari) Of Isa (as)”
In subsequent chapters of the same book, the names of the twelve Imams (as) are clearly stated. These narrations are reported from the books of both the Shiah and the Ahle Sunnah. For the sake of brevity, we report one tradition from this book –
Ibn Abbas narrates that I heard the Messenger of Allah (sawa) say, “O people! Know that for Allah there is a door. One who enters it will be safe from the hell-fire and the great fear.” At this, Abu Saeed al-Khudri stood up and requisitioned, “O Messenger of Allah (sawa)! Guide us to this door that we may recognise it.”
He (sawa) responded, “He is Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the chief of the successors, the leader of the believers, the brother of the Messenger of Lord of the worlds (sawa) and his caliph on the people, all of them. O people! Whoever loves to fasten to the strong rope, which will never split, must hold on to the mastership (wilayah) of Ali Ibn Abi Talib (as) because his mastership is my mastership and his obedience is my obedience. O people! Whoever desires to take Allah and His messenger as his master, he must follow Ali Ibn Abi Talib (as) and the Imams from my progeny for surely, they are the treasurers of my knowledge.”
At this point, Jabir Ibn Abdullah Ansari stood up and enquired, “O Messenger of Allah (sawa)! What is the number of these Imams?”
He (sawa) replied, “O Jabir! May Allah have mercy on you, you have asked me about Islam, the whole of it. Their number is equal to the number of months and these with Allah are twelve months in the Book of Allah (since) the day He created the heavens and the earth. Their number is equal to the number of the springs that gushed for Musa Ibne Imran (as) when he struck the stone with his staff and their gushed twelve springs from it. Their number is equal to the chiefs of Bani Israel. Allah the High says, ‘And indeed We took the covenant from the Bani Israel and raised from them twelve chiefs.’ So, O Jabir, the Imams are twelve. First of them is Ali Ibn Abi Talib (as) and the last of them is al-Qaem al-Mahdi (as).” (Muntakhabul Asar, volume 1, tradition 158 reported from Meah Manqebah page 71, manqebah no. 41; al-Yaqeen page 60; Beharul Anwar, volume 36, page 263, chapter 41, tradition 84)
Due to traditions like these, Imam Hasan Askari (as) was kept under house arrest and under strict observation. The Imam (as) would be prevented by the government from maintaining contact from the people. Efforts were made so that a child would not be born in the house of Imam Askari (as).
Imam Hasan Askari (as) and the Christian Priest
This incident which occurred before the birth of Imam Mahdi (as) highlights how Allah creates circumstances for His Command to be executed.
This was the time when Imam Hasan Askari (as) was imprisoned in Baghdad soon after he became the Imam after the martyrdom of Imam Ali Naqi (as). During that period, there was a severe drought in the region. Rain had not fallen for some time and crops were drying up. A Christian priest came to the caliph and performed a “miracle”. He lifted his hands in prayer and rain fell. He used this as an excuse to establish the superiority of Christianity over Islam.
The Abbasid caliph became concerned that people were giving up Islam and becoming Christians at the hands of the priest. Islam was under threat. At that time, the caliph turned (as always) to the Ahle Bayt (as) and summoned Imam Hasan Askari (as) for his help.
When the Imam (as) was consulted, he said he would remove their doubts. The Imam was allowed to leave the prison to go where the crowd assembled to see the “miracle” performed by the priest.
The crowd saw the priest raise his hands and it began to rain. Imam Askari (as) told one of his companions to take hold of a piece of bone hidden near the priest’s hands. When this bone was brought before the Imam (as), he said that it was the bone of a prophet of God. It was the effect of this holy bone lifted in prayers to Allah that His mercy brought rain to the land.
When the Imam asked the priest to pray for rain without the bone in his hand, the priest was unable to cause rain. Then the Imam (as) performed a prayer to ask Allah to bring down rain and it started to rain. This was the first time when people became familiar with Imam Hasan Askari (as), They started asking questions on why the Imam was imprisoned. As a result of this incident, the government had no choice, but to allow the Imam (as) to leave prison but he had to stay in the al-Askar area in Samarrah. He was kept under house arrest under strict supervision.
Hidden Birth of Imam Mahdi (as) Is Like Hazrat Musa (as) and Hazrat Ibrahim (as)
These difficult conditions were no different than during the time of Hazrat Musa (as) and Hazrat Ibrahim (as). Firaun used to kill the children of Bani Israel because he had known from the people that Hazrat Musa (as) is one of them and is going to destroy him. (Birth of Hazrat Musa)
Imam Sadiq (as) says, “When Firaun discerned that the demise of his kingdom is on his hands, he ordered the soothsayers be called, who foretold him about his lineage and that he will be from the Bani Israel. Firaun did not cease to have his men rip open the abdomens of the pregnant women of Bani Israel, until he killed in the pursuit of Musa twenty and some odd thousand babies. He was unable to murder Musa, for Allah, the Exalted, protected him.” (Kamaluddin volume 1, page 267, English)
Similarly, Nimrod killed the children of his people in order to avoid the birth of Hazrat Ibrahim (as) who was believed to come and put an end to the reign of Nimrod.
But despite everything, Allah brought Hazrat Musa (as) into this world and made the house of Firaun as his residence. As also Hazrat Ibrahim (as). The Quran speaks of Hazrat Ibrahim and that his mother gave birth to him in secrecy and how he hid him in a cave until he grew up and then his story unravelled.
None could prevent the Will of Allah (swt). Regarding this, the Holy Quran says, “They want to extinguish the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah refuses except to perfect His light, although the disbelievers dislike it.” (Surah Tawbah, verse 32)
Regarding the birth of Imam Mahdi (as), Shaykh Mufid quotes in his book al-Irshad, “Imam Hasan Askari (as) prepared a true government for his son. He kept secret the birth of his son and other related matters, because the Imam (as) was living in a difficult time when the caliphs were intensively searching for his son and were keeping a close eye on his affairs. This is because the Shiite belief about the Imam Mahdi (as) had become so current that they were waiting for the twelfth Imam (as). Hence, Imam Hasan Askari (as) did not show his son, and, therefore, the enemies could not recognize Imam Mahdi (as) after the demise of Imam Askari (as).”
Motamid, the Abbasid caliph, was afraid of this son of Imam Hasan Askari (as.). He formed a group of detectives and midwives who had the mission of frequently searching through the houses of the Shiahs, and especially the house of Imam Hasan Askari (as), so that if a newly-born child were found, he could be killed immediately. Therefore on Divine command, the signs of pregnancy did not appear in Janabe Narjis Khatoon (sa) just as they were not manifest in the mother of Hazrat Musa (as) and Hazrat Ibrahim (as).
Report of Birth of Imam Mahdi (as)
The following tradition is reported in Beharul Anwar from the book, Kamaluddin. This tradition, narrated by Janabe Hakima Khatoon, the daughter of Imam Mohammed Taqi (as), is one of the most quoted regarding the birth of Imam Mahdi (as).
She says, Imam Hasan Askari (as) sent for me and said: “O aunt, have your Iftar tonight with us. This is the night of mid-Shabaan and Allah, the High, will bring forth the Divine Proof on this night. He will be His Proof on His earth.”
Janabe Hakima says, I said to him, “And who is his mother?” “Narjis,” he said to me. “May Allah make me your ransom,” I said to him, “there is no sign (of pregnancy) in her.” “It is as I tell you,” he said.
Janabe Hakima says, I came and when I greeted and sat, she (Narjis) came to take off my shoes and said: “My lady, how are you this evening?” “Rather, you are my lady,” said I, “and the lady of my household.” She turned my word down and said: “What is this, dear aunt?” “My dear daughter, Allah, the Exalted, will grant you in this night of yours a boy, a master in this world and in the hereafter.” She sat and felt shy.
After I finished the Isha prayers and had Iftar, I went to bed and slept. In the middle of the night I got up to perform prayers. I finished my prayers and she was sleeping and there was no sign of any kind in her. I sat reciting the post-prayer recitations, then I went to the bed, and then I woke up suddenly. She was still asleep. She then woke up and arose and performed prayers.
Janabe Hakima says, As doubts came to me, Imam Hasan Askari (as) called out, “Don’t make haste, aunt, the affair has come near.” I recited Surah Sajdah and Surah Yasin. And as I was doing that, she woke up suddenly; I rushed to her and read the name of Allah on her and then asked, “Do you feel anything?” “Yes aunt,” she said. “Pull yourself together and gather your heart,” I told her. “It will be as I told you.”
Janabe Hakima says, “And then faintness overwhelmed me as parturition (the action of giving birth) seized her. I woke up by sensing my Master, (as), I removed the sheet from him, and there he was in prostration, touching the earth with his forehead and palms and knees and toes; I pulled him to myself and there he was, pure and clean.”
Imam Hasan Askari (as) called on me, “Bring my son to me, Aunt.” I took his son to him. He put his hands under his thighs and back and put the infant’s feet on his chest. He then put his tongue in his mouth and touched his eyes, ears, and joints with his hands. “My son, talk,” he said then. The baby said: “I testify that there is no god, except Allah, the One without a partner. And I bear witness that Mohammed is Allah’s Messenger.” He then invoked blessings for Ameerul Momeneen (as) and the Imams until he reached his father and then respectfully stopped.
Imam Hasan Askari (as) said, “Aunt, take him to his mother, so he may give her greetings and then bring him to me.” I took her to his mother and he greeted her. Then I brought him back and put him in the sitting room. He then said: “Aunt, come to us on the seventh day.”
Janabe Hakima says, In the morning, I came to offer my greetings to Imam Hasan Askari (as). I removed the curtain looking for my Master. Not seeing him, I asked his father, “May I be your ransom, where is my Master?” He said: “We entrusted him to the One that mother of Musa had entrusted Musa to.”
When it was the seventh day, I came and greeted and sat. He said: “Bring to me my son.” I brought my Master in a wrap. He acted towards his son in the same way he had acted the first time. Then he put his tongue into his mouth, as if feeding milk or honey. Then he said: “Talk, my son.” The blessed infant said: “I testify that there is no god, except Allah.” He then praised and invoked blessings on Mohammed and Ali, Ameerul Momeneen (as), and every one of the Imams, blessings of Allah be upon all of them, until his father. He then recited this verse, “And We desired to bestow a favour upon those who were deemed weak in the land, and to make them the Imams, and to make them the heirs, and to grant them power in the land, and to make Firaun and Haman and their hosts see from them what they feared.” (Surah Qasas verses 5-6)
Musa Ibne Jafar, the narrator of this tradition says, I asked Aqaba, the servant, about this report and he authenticated and verified Janabe Hakima’s narration. (Beharul Anwar, volume 51, chapter 1, tradition 3)
Other Reports for the Birth of Imam Mahdi (as)
Naseem and Maariyah who were maid servants in the house of Imam Hasan Askari (as) report, “When the Master of the Age fell from the abdomen of his mother, he fell hobbling on his knees, while raising his two forefingers towards the heavens. He then sneezed and said: ‘Praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds, and may Allah bless Mohammed and his household. The oppressors assumed that the Proof of Allah has expired. Should we be allowed to talk, doubts would disappear.’” (Beharul Anwar volume 51, chapter 1, tradition 6)
Ibrahim bin Mohammed has narrated from Naseem, maidservant of Imam Hasan Askari (as) that she said: “When I came to him one night after his birth and sneezed in his presence, the Master of the Age, Imam Mahdi (as) said to me, ‘May Allah have mercy on you.’ I became very happy. So he said to me, ‘May I not give you glad tidings about sneezing?’ I said, ‘Please do.’ He said: ‘It is protection from death for three days.” (Beharul Anwar volume 51, chapter 1, tradition 7)
Thus it is sufficiently established that Imam Mahdi (as) was born in the house of Imam Askari (as) on 15 Shabaan 255 AH.
Source: Know the Mahdi (ajtf)