Letters of Imam al-Mahdī (a) or Tawqīʿāt al-Imām al-Mahdī (a) are letters and correspondences of Imam al-Mahdi (a). It sometimes refers to his non-written words as well. There are eighty "tawqi'at" (letters) by Imam al-Mahdi (a). They are mostly issued during the Minor Occultation and are about different issues such as the principles of Shiite beliefs, Islamic jurisprudence, financial matters, and the like.
The notion of tawqi'
Tawqi'at (plural of Tawqi'; meaning: letters) of Imam al-Mahdi (a) is a Shiite term referring to Imam al-Mahdi's (a) written words. It has also been used to refer to his non-written hadiths; for example, al-Shaykh al-Saduq cited some of his hadiths in the section of tawqi'at.
Moreover, some remarks by Imam al-Mahdi's (a) Four Deputies, such as information about the future and religious matters, are also considered as tawqi'at. The latter use is based on Husayn b. Ruh al-Nawbakhti's remark that in matters religious he never speaks out of his own thoughts; rather he cites what he heard from the origin (that is, Imam al-Mahdi (a)).
Number of tawqi'at
Imam al-Mahdi's (a) tawqi'at are cited in the books, Kamal al-din by al-Shaykh al-Saduq and al-Ghiba by al-Shaykh al-Tusi. In the former, forty nine tawqi'at and a supplication are cited, some of which are short and some are long. The latter contains forty three tawq'iat and hadiths, considering some of these as Imam al-Mahdi's (a) miracles. Some of them are cited along with a description of their occasions, and some are manuscripts of the Imam (a) himself issued as public statements, including the principles of Shiism. Of these forty three tawqi's, twelve are cited from al-Shaykh al-Saduq and some of them can be found in Kamal al-din as well. Thus by omitting repeated tawqi's, the two books contain eighty tawqi's.
Handwritings of tawqi'at
In many hadiths, it is made explicit that correspondences by Imams (a) were in their own handwriting. Particularly, it is sometimes emphasized about Imam al-Mahdi's (a) tawqi'at that his own stamp was in the letters,  and he sometimes made it explicit at the bottom of the letters that they were written by his own hands.
How were the letters received and delivered?
During the Minor Occultation, the main people who received Imam al-Mahdi's (a) letters and delivered letters of the Shiites to him were the special deputies of the Imam (a). In some cases, however, letters or requests were delivered to Imam al-Mahdi (a) by some servants or visitors who went to Imam's (a) house. For example, Muhammad b. Yusuf al-Shashi sent a letter to the Imam (a) by a woman who visited Imam's (a) house, and received Imam's (a) reply from her. Sometimes the letters (tawqi'at) were public, and so they were duplicated by different people.
The letters of the Imam (a) were sent by special messengers. Due to security issues, the identity of these messengers remained unknown, and they were mentioned as "a woman", "a boy", "a black boy", "a messenger from Husayn b. Ruh", and the like.
The date of issuance
Most of Imam al-Mahdi's (a) letters were issued during the Minor Occultation (260/874 - 329/941) as answers to questions delivered to Shiites by the Four Deputies. During the Major Occultation, only two letters have been addressed to al-Shaykh al-Mufid late in his life, but there are reservations about the attribution of these letters to Imam al-Mahdi (a).
Topics of tawqi'at
Some letters sent by Imam al-Mahdi (a) were answers to questions regarding Islamic doctrines, such as divine attributes, prophecy, and imamate. In an answer to questions about imamate, Imam al-Mahdi (a) emphasized that the Earth will never be without a hujja (Imam), and this divine tradition will last until the Dooms Day. He said that each Imam has the obligation to introduce the next Imam, and that Imam Hasan al-'Askari (a) introduced him as his successor. He defended the institution of imamate in general and his own imamate against people like Ja'far al-Kadhdhab. He also asked Shiites not to predict a date for his reappearance, or search for his place. And he appointed trusted deputies for himself.
A vast and considerable part of the tawqi'at are answers to questions regarding the jurisprudential rulings, such as questions regarding cleanliness (tahara), prayer, fasting, hajj, testimony, judgeship, Endowment (waqf), transactions, khums, sadaqa (alms), marriage, intoxicants, visiting the shrines of Shiite Imams (a), and the like.
Some letters are concerned with money and property that Shiites sent to the Imam (a) as khums or other Islamic financial obligations by his deputies or agents. For example, Muhammad b. Shadhan b. Nu'aym al-Nisaburi says: "I had 500 dirhams minus 20 dirhams. I wanted it to reach 500. So I added 20 dirhams from my own money to it, and I gave it to Asadi, but I did not mention the money that I had added to it. In his reply to me, Imam al-Mahdi (a) wrote, 'I have received 500 dirhams, 20 of which was from your own money'".
Because of Imam al-Mahdi's (a) secret life, some people pretended that they had relations with him in order to achieve their own interests. In letters to his Four Deputies—especially Husayn b. Ruh—, Imam al-Mahdi (a) denied and condemned such pretenders and liars. For example, al-Shaykh al-Tusi wrote about Abu Muhammad Hasan al-Shari'i, who was the first person who claimed to be a medium between the Imam (a) and people, that he was a companion of Imam al-Hadi (a) and Imam Hasan al-'Askari (a), but he lied about the Imams (a), and Imam al-Mahdi (a) wrote a letter, cursing and condemning him.
Karamat (supernatural wonders) and praying:
Letters also contain things that might count as Imam al-Mahdi's (a) divine powers and karamat (theurgies), such as his praying for Shiites, informing them of other people's unknown financial rights and other secrets.
Evaluation of tawqi'at
The letters with jurisprudential contents have been appealed to by early jurists, but recently they have been more appealed to by scholars. Most of them are considered to be reliable by jurists, but some of them are not taken to be reliable. What is more, a correspondence is, for some scholars of jurisprudence, not as reliable as oral words heard by narrators of hadiths.
Moreover, only the letters sent by Imam al-Mahdi (a) during the Minor Occultation by his Four Deputies are reliable, and the ones allegedly issued after that are not reliable. Here is a couple of letters attributed to Imam al-Mahdi (a) after the Minor Occultation:
- The letters allegedly sent by Imam al-Mahdi (a) to al-Shaykh al-Mufid. The letters are said to be sent to al-Shaykh al-Mufid by a trusted person, who remained anonymous. There is serious doubt about the attribution of these letters to Imam al-Mahdi (a).
- Some contemporary writers have considered a message sent by Shaykh Muhammad Kufi Shushtari to Sayyid Abu l-Hasan al-Isfahani to be a tawqi'.
Sources of tawqi'
The most important source for Imam al-Mahdi's (a) tawqi'at are Kamal al-din by al-Shaykh al-Saduq and al-Ghayba by al-Shaykh al-Tusi. There is a chapter in these books devoted to the tawqi'at. Other chapters also contain some tawqi'at. al-Kulayni, who lived during the Minor Occultation in the main centers of hadith (Qom, Rey and Baghdad), cited some tawqi'at in the first volume of his al-Kafi. Later these letters were cited and elaborately reported in some collections of hadiths, such as al-Ihtijaj, Ma'adin al-hikma, Bihar al-anwar and contemporary books regarding Imam al-Mahdi (a) and his correspondences (such as the seventh volume of 'Ali Ahmadi Miyanaji's Makatib al-A'imma).
- Ṣadūq, Kamāl al-dīn, vol. 2, p. 505; ;Ṭūsī,kitāb al-Ghibah, p. 309.
- Ṣadūq,Kamāl al-dīn, vol. 2, p. 502- 504;Ṭūsī,kitāb al-Ghibah, p. 294, 298, 307, 308, 321.
- Ṣadūq, Kamāl al-dīn, vol. 2, p. 508- 509; Kulaynī,Al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 330.
- Muḥammadī Reyshahrī,Dānishnāma-yi Imām Mahdī, vol. 4, p. 117, Note 2.
- Kulaynī, "Al-Kafi", vol. 1, p. 96, 102, 103, 107, 510.
- Kulaynī, "Al-Kafi", vol. 7, p. 163; Ṭūsī, kitāb Al-Ghibah , vol. 9, p. 31.
- Kashshī, Rijāl al-Kashī , p. 513; 551.
- Rāwandī,Al-Kharāʾij wa l-jarāʾiḥ, vol. 2, p. 695, hadith. 9.
- Ṣadūq, Kamāl al-dīn, vol. 2, p. 487, 491, 495, 497, 505.
- Muḥammadī Reyshahrī,Dānishnāma-yi Imām Mahdī, vol. 4, p. 130-165.
- Muḥammadī Reyshahrī,Dānishnāma-yi Imām Mahdī, vol. 4, p. 130-165.
- Ṣadūq, Kamāl al-dīn, vo. 2, p. 240.
- Ṭūsī, ' kitāb Al-Ghibah , p. 284.
- Muḥammadī Reyshahrī,Dānishnāma-yi Imām Mahdī, vol. 4, p. 322-425.
- Muḥammadī Reyshahrī, Dānishnāma-yi Imām Mahdī, vol. 4, p. 320.
- Khoeī, Muʿjam rijāl al-ḥadīth, vol. 18, p. 220.
- Muḥammadī Reyshahrī, Dānishnāma-yi Imām Mahdī, vol. 4, p. 124.
- ʿĀmilī, Sayyid Jawād. Miftāḥ al-kirāma fī sharḥ qawā'id al-ʿallāma. Edited by Muḥammad Bāqir Khāliṣī. Qom: Daftar-i Intishārāt-i Islāmī, affiliated to Jāmiʿa Mudarrasīn Qom, 1419 AH.
- Imām Khomeinī, Sayyid Rūḥ Allāh. kitāb al-bayʿ. Qom: Intishārāt Ismāeīlīyān, 1363 SH.
- Imām Khomeinī, Sayyid Rūḥ Allāh.Wilāyat faqīh. Tehran: Markaz-i Nashr-i Āthār-i Imām Khomeinī, 1373 Sh.
- Kashshī, Muḥammad b.ʿUmar al-. Rijāl al-Kashī (Ikhtīār Mʿarifah al-Rijāl ). Edited by , Muḥammad b.Ḥasan Ṭūsī and Ḥasan Muṣṭafawī. Mashhad: Muasisih nashr Dānishgāh Mashhad, 1409 AH.
- Khoeī, Sayyid Abū l-Qāsim al-. Muʿjam rijāl al-ḥadīth. Qom: Markaz Nashr al-Thāqah al-Islāmīyah fi al-ʿĀlam, 1372 SH.
- Kulayni, Muhmmad b. Ya'qub al-. Al-Kafi. Tehran: Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyya, 1417 AH.
- Muḥammadī Reyshahrī, Muḥammad. Dānishnāma-yi Imām Mahdī. Qom: Dār al-Ḥadīth, 1393 Sh.
- Rāwandī, Saʿīd b. Hibat Allāh al-. Al-Kharāʾij wa l-jarāʾiḥ. Qom: Muʾassisat al-Imām al-Mahdī, 1409 AH.
- Shubayrī, Muḥammad Jawād. Tawqīʿ. Dānishnāmeh Jahān Islām, volume 8, Tehran: 1383 SH.
- Ṣadūq, Muḥammad b. ʿAli al-.Kamāl al-dīn wa tamām al-niʿma.Edited by ʿAlī Akbar Ghaffārī. Tehran: First edition Islāmīyah, 1395 SH.
- Ṭabrisī, Aḥmad b. ʿAlī al-. Al-Iḥtijāj ʿAlā ahl al-lijāj. Edited by Muḥammad Bāgir kharsān. Mashhad: Nashr Murtaḍā, 1403 AH.
- Ṭūsī, Muḥammad b. Al-Ḥasan al-. kitāb al-Ghibah . Edited by ʿIbād Allāh Tehrānī and ʿAlī Ahmad Nāṣiḥ, Qom: Dār al-Maʿārif al-Islāmīyah, 1411 AH.