Meeting with Imam al-Mahdi (a)

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Meeting with Imām al-Mahdī (a) in the period of the Major Occultation has been a challenging issue for the Shi'as. Many Shiite scholars have talked about their meetings with Imam al-Mahdi (a) during the Major Occultation. However, some other scholars, such as al-Nu'mani, believe that it is impossible to meet the Imam (a) during the Occultation.

The most important evidence in this regard is the last tawqi' by Imam al-Mahdi (a) addressed to his fourth deputy according to which whoever claims to have met the Imam (a) is called a liar. Some people believe that this is restricted to those who claim that they met the Imam (a) along with being his deputy or representative.

Some hadiths have recommended supplications and practices for meeting Imam al-Mahdi (a), and there are hadiths according to which it is possible for special followers of the Imam (a) to have contact with, and meet, him. Some scholars, such as al-Shaykh al-Saduq and al-Shaykh al-Tusi have devoted particular chapters of their books to stories of people who have met the Imam (a) and have explicitly confirmed the possibility of meeting him.

People who are said to have met Imam al-Mahdi (a) include: Mirza Muhammad Husayn Na'ini, Sayyid b. Tawus, Ibrahim al-Kaf'ami, Muhammad Taqi al-Majlisi, Abu l-Hasan Sha'rani, al-Shaykh al-Hurr al-'Amili, al-Muqaddas al-Ardabili, Mirza Muhammad Astarabadi, al-Shahid al-Thani, al-Sayyid Bahr al-'Ulum, al-Sayyid Ni'mat Allah al-Jaza'iri, and al-Shaykh Murtada al-Ansari.

The Meaning of Meeting

During the Major Occultation, it is possible for some people to see Imam al-Mahdi (a) without knowing him. It is also possible to see him in one's dreams. There is an agreement among the scholars that these two types of meeting are possible. What has always been subject to disagreements is meeting with the Imam (a) during the Major Occultation while recognizing him as Imam al-Mahdi (a) either during or after the meeting. There is a disagreement about the possibility of such a meeting among Shiite scholars. There are also discussions about having contacts with the Imam (a) through revelations and spiritual journeys and their reliability for religious beliefs or jurisprudential rulings.

Before the Major Occultation

There is an agreement among scholars about the possibility, and even occurrence, of meeting with Imam al-Mahdi (a) before the Major Occultation, both during the Minor Occultation and before it. In Shiite books of history and hadith, such as al-Kafi, al-Irshad, I'lam al-wara, Kamal al-din, al-Ghayba by al-Shaykh al-Tusi, and al-Ghayba by al-Nu'mani, some people who managed to meet with Imam al-Mahdi (a) before the Minor Occultation and their stories are mentioned. They include Hakima bt. Imam al-Jawad (a), the paternal aunt of Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a) who witnessed the birth of Imam al-Mahdi (a).

Other people have also been mentioned as those who met Imam al-Mahdi (a) before the Minor Occultation, such as Ahmad b. Ishaq b. Sa'd al-Ash'ari, Sa'd b. 'Abd Allah al-Ash'ari al-Qummi, Ibrahim b. Muhammad b. Faris al-Nishaburi, and Ahmad b. Hilal.

It is reported in Shiite sources that during the sixty nine years of the Minor Occultation, several people other than the Four Deputies met Imam al-Mahdi (a), including Ibrahim b. Idris, 'Ali b. Ibrahim b. Mahziyar, Ahmad b. Ishaq al-Ash'ari al-Qummi, Muhammad b. Isma'il b. Musa al-Kazim (a), Muhammad b. Ja'far al-Himyari, and some other figures from Qom.

During the Major Occultation

There are two views about meeting with Imam al-Mahdi (a) during the Major Occultation. Some people believe that it is possible and has occurred as well. The view was first propounded by al-Sayyid al-Murtada and then became popular among recent scholars. It was also propounded by al-Muhaddith al-Nuri, al-Karajuki, and al-Shaykh al-Tusi. According to al-Sayyid al-Murtada, it is possible for divine saints to meet with Imam al-Mahdi (a). It seems that initially it was only the possibility of such a meeting which was at issue, but since the time of Sayyid b. Tawus (d. 664/1266) when the stories of such meetings were reported, its occurrence became certain, although some of the stories go back to earlier times. For example, the first story is that of Ibn Qulawayh (d. 368/978-9) in 339/950-1. In some hadiths, supplications and practices are mentioned for meeting with Imam al-Mahdi (a). Many scholars wrote works in this regard and there are many accounts of people who claim to have met with Imam al-Mahdi (a).

However, some other Shiite scholars maintain that it is not possible for the Shi'as to meet with Imam al-Mahdi (a) during the Major Occultation. One of the most significant arguments for this view is the last letter of Imam al-Mahdi (a) addressed to the Fourth Deputy in which he referred to people who claim to meet him as liars. Thus, according to the Imam's (a) command, any claim to meet him should be rejected.

Arguments of Proponents

1) Rational possibility: one argument by proponents of the possibility of meeting is that Imam al-Mahdi (a) has a human body just like other Imams (a) and none of the earlier Imams or Imam al-Mahdi (a) or the Four Deputies ever claimed that Imam al-Mahdi's (a) nature changed or that he went up to the sky. This is evidenced by the hadiths in which Imam al-Mahdi (a) is assimilated to Prophet Nuh (a) and Yusuf (a), rather than Jesus (a). Therefore, there is no rational reason to take meeting with the Imam (a) to be impossible. Moreover, none of the great and well-known Shiite scholars and authors, such as al-Shaykh al-Saduq, al-Shaykh al-Mufid, and al-Shaykh al-Tusi, believed that it is impossible to meet with the Imam (a). Some of them have even devoted chapters of their books to stories of people who met with the Imam (a) or at least the possibility of such meetings. Moreover, it is very unlikely for several people to claim something impossible at different times without facing serious, public denials.

2) Transmitted supplications and dhikrs for meeting with Imam al-Mahdi (a): another argument by proponents of the possibility of such a meeting is that there are many hadiths in which supplications and practices are cited for meeting with Imam al-Mahdi (a). The fact that such hadiths recommend people to recite such supplications and dhikrs shows that it is possible to meet with Imam al-Mahdi (a).

3) Hadiths: proponents of the possibility of meeting with Imam al-Mahdi (a) also believe that there are at least two reliable and acceptable hadiths which imply this possibility:

  • Ishaq b. 'Ammar quotes Imam al-Sadiq (a) as saying: "Qa'im (that is, Imam al-Mahdi) has two occultations: a short one, and a long one. During the first occultation, nobody knows his place except certain Shi'as, and during the second occultation, nobody knows his place except his special mawali (servants)".
  • According to another hadith from Imam al-Sadiq (a): "the owner of this affair (uprising) has two occultations: one of them will be long … nobody, neither friends, nor enemies, knows about his place, except a servant who takes care of his tasks".

However, some people have objected to the chain of the transmission of these two hadiths as well as their implications.

4) Accounts of meeting by prominent Shiite figures: there are many reports in different books according to which many people, from distinguished scholars to ordinary people, have met with Imam al-Mahdi (a), and some of them even succeeded to talk to him. The reports are so frequent that they can be said to be mutawatir. This tawatur has been endorsed by Shiite scholars, such as al-Shaykh al-Hurr al-'Amili, Sayyid 'Abd Allah al-Shubbar, and Lutf Allah Safi Gulpayigani. Moreover, some of these reporters are very reliable, great, and well-known scholars.

5) Letters of al-Shaykh al-Mufid: three letters allegedly addressed by Imam al-Mahdi (a) to al-Shaykh al-Mufid might imply that he had relationships with Imam al-Mahdi (a). The letters are cited in Abu Mansur al-Tabrisi's al-Ihtijaj.

Supplications and Dhikrs for Meeting with Imam al-Mahdi (a)

Some supplications, Istighathas (beseeching for help), and Visitation Supplications are transmitted for meeting with Imam al-Mahdi (a), such as the Supplication of Nudba, Ziyara Al Yasin, and al-'Ahd Supplication. Moreover, some supplications have been transmitted with regard to practices and supplications specific to the meeting with Imam al-Mahdi (a):

1. In his Makarim al-akhlaq, al-Hasan b. al-Fadl al-Tabrisi writes: "it is transmitted that if one continuously recites the following supplication after every obligatory prayer, his life will be so long that it would be boring for him and he would finally meet with Sahib al-Amr (that is, Imam al-Mahdi). Here is the supplication:

"O God! Send your peace to Muhammad and the family of Muhammad! O God! Truly your truthful, accredited messenger, your peace be upon him and his family, said that you said: ‘I never doubted anything I do as I doubted the reception of the soul of My faithful servant who dislikes death and I dislike to bother him.' O God! So send your peace to Muhammad and the family of Muhammad and hasten the faraj, victory, and comfort of Your saints and do not bother me and such and such a person (here you can mention anyone you want)."

2. Another long supplication is also transmitted from Imam al-Sadiq (a). He said if one recites the supplication after every obligatory prayer, he will meet Imam al-Mahdi (a) while awake or in his dreams.

Written Work about the Meeting

There are some independent works about the meeting or meetings with Imam al-Mahdi (a). Some of these works were written shortly after the Minor Occultation. Moreover, some books or articles are written specifically with regard to meeting with Imam al-Mahdi (a).