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Muhammad al-Mahdi (868 - ?) is the twelfth and final Imam of the Shi'a. His given name was Muhammad ibn Hasan ibn Ali. His mother Narjis (Melika) was a Byzantine princess, and is believed to have been the descendant of the apostle Simon Peter.
When Hasan al Askari died, his estate was divided between his brother Ja‘far and his mother according to the Islamic Law for one who leaves behind no offspring. Muhammad al-Mahdi was born in 868 (255 AH) to Hasan al-Askari, the 11th Imam, and his Byzantine wife, Narjis. However, his birth was kept a secret due to the persecution that the Shi'a were facing during this time at the hands of Al-Mu'tamid, the Abbasid Caliph.
The 11th Imam died on 8th Rabbi al-Awwal 260 AH (874 AD) and since that day his son Muhammad took on the role of Imam of the time. In fact, The most popular story of Muhammad al-Mahdi, in shi'a literature, comes from his father's funeral. As the funeral prayer was about to begin, his uncle Jafar bin Ali got ready to lead prayers. However, Muhammad al-Mahdi came out and told his Uncle: "Set aside, uncle; only an Imam can lead the funeral prayer of an Imam". Jafar set aside, and the five-year old child led the funeral prayer for his father.
It was also from this very point that he went into ghaybat or occultation.
The period of ghaybat itself consisted of two parts:
- Ghaybat al-Sughra or Minor Occultation (260-328 AH, 873-939 AD) which is the shorter of the two.
- Ghaybat al-Kubra or Major Occultation (329 AH-now, 939- AD).
The Four Deputees
During the Ghaybat al-Sughra, the Imam maintained contact with his followers via a succession of four appointed deputies or nuwwaab al-arba’a (Arabic). They represented him and acted as agents between him and his followers.
Whenever the believers faced a problem they would write their concerns and send them to the Imam’s deputy. The deputy would ascertain the Imam’s verdict, endorse it with his seal and signature and return it to the relevant parties. The deputies also collected zakat and khums on behalf of the 12th Imam. The idea of consulting an hidden Imam was not something totally new for the believers though as the two previous Imams had on occasion met with their followers from behind a curtain.
The 4 deputies were:
- Uthman bin Sa’id al Asadi. (260-304 AH).
- Abu Ja’far Muhammad bin Uthman (304-305 AH)
- Abul Qasim Hussein bin Ruh an-Nawbakhti (305-326 AH)
- Abul Hassan Ali ibn Muhammad al-Samarri (326-329 AH)
In 329 AH, the Imam issued an order through his 4th deputy that with his (the deputy's) demise the period of the special deputation of the Imam would henceforth end and Ghaybat al-Kubra would begin. As-Samarri died six days later and the Shi'a Muslims continue to await the reappearance of the Mahdi. They believe that the Mahdi will reappear with Jesus and pray together in Jerusalem. Believing him to still be alive, it is not uncommon for Shia's to seek intercession through Muhammad al-Mahdi.
Ghaybat al-Kubra began on 10th shawwal 329 AH. In the same year, many notable Shi'a scholars such as Ali ibn Babwayh Qummi and Muhammad ibn Yaqub Kulayni , the learned compiler of al-Kafi also died.
Narrations from the Mahdi
The 12th Imam himself is reported to have said: “...As to the benefit of my existence in Occultation, it is like the benefit of the sun behind clouds where the eyes do not see. Indeed, my existence is an amnesty for the people of the earth.”
The 12th Imam has also left the following advice for his followers during his absence: “...refer to the transmitters of our traditions, for they are my hujja (proof) unto you and I am God’s proof unto them”
- Kitab al-Irshad - The Twelfth Imam by Sheikh Mufid
- Sahib ul `Asr
- Al-Imam al-Mahdi - The Just Leader of Humanity by Ayatullah Ibrahim Amini
- The Awaited Saviour by Ayatullah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr & Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahhari
- A Discussion concerning the Mahdi by Ayatullah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr
| Preceded by:|
Hasan al Askari
|Twelver Shia Imams|
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