This book contains two articles by two great scholars known for their learning, erudition and convincing style. The first valuable article by Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr refutes all the doubts and objections raised by the sceptics in connection with the Mahdi's existence, his role, his early Imamate and his occultation. The second article by Ayatullah Shaykh Murtaza Mutahhary deals with the philosophical aspects of the Mahdi's mission and removes a grave misconception about the circumstances in which he will reappear.

It is hoped that the scholarly treatment of the subject will augment the faith of the readers and at the same time fully satisfy their intellectual curiosity.



The savior's return

Chapter one

Who And What Of The Mahdi

The Mahdi is not only an embodiment of the Islamic belief but he is also the symbol of an aspiration cherished by mankind irrespective of its divergent religious doctrines. He is also the crystallization of an instructive inspiration through which all people, regardless of their religious affiliations, have learned to await a day when a heavenly mission, with all its implications, will achieve their final goal and the tiring march of humanity across history will culminate satisfactorily in peace and tranquillity. This consciousness of the expected future has not been confined to those who believe in the supernatural phenomena but has also been reflected in the ideologies and cults which totally deny the existence of what is imperceptible. For example, dialectical materialism which interprets history on the basis of contradictions believes that a day will come when all contradictions will disappear and complete peace and tranquillity will prevail. Thus we find that this consciousness experienced throughout history is one of the widest and the commonest psychological experience of humanity.

The religion, when it endorses this common consciousness and stresses that in the long run this world will be filled with justice and equity after having been filled with injustice and oppression, gives it a factual value and converts it into a definite belief in the future course of humanity. This belief is not merely a source of consolation, but it is also a source of virtue and strength. It is a source of virtue because the belief in the Mahdi means the total elimination of injustice and oppression prevailing in the world. It is a source of inexhaustible strength because it provides hope which enables man to resist frustration, howsoever, hopeless and dismal the circumstances may be. The belief in the appointed day proves that it is possible for the forces of justice to face the world filled with injustice and oppression, to prevail upon the forces of injustice and to reconstruct the world order. After all prevalence of injustice, howsoever dominant and extensive it may become, is an abnormal state and must in the long run be eliminated. The prospect of its elimination after reaching its climax, infuses a great hope in every persecuted individual and every oppressed nation that it is still possible to change the state of affairs.

Although the concept of the Mahdi is more wide spread than the Muslim community, yet its detailed features, as determined by Islam, meet more fully all the aspirations attached to it since the dawn of history. They are in greater conformity with the feelings and sentiments of the oppressed and the persecuted of all times. It is Islam which has given a concrete shape to an abstract idea. It is no longer necessary to look forward to an unknown saviour who may come into the world at a distant future. The saviour is already here and we simply have to look for the day when the circumstances are ripe for him to appear and begin his great mission. The Mahdi is no longer an idea. He is no longer a prophecy. We need not wait for his birth. He already exists actually and we only wait for the inauguration of his role. He is a specific entity living among us in his real human form and shares our hopes and disappointments and our joys and griefs. He witnesses all the acts of oppression and persecution which are perpetrated on the face of the earth and, somehow or another, he himself is affected by them. He is anxiously awaiting the moment when he will be able to extend his helping hand to everyone whom any wrong has been done and be able to eradicate injustice and oppression completely.

Although this Awaited Saviour is living among us, waiting for the appointed moment for his advent, yet he is ordained not to proclaim himself nor to disclose his identity.

It is evident that the concept of the Mahdi, with its Islamic features, shortens the gap between the oppressed and the expected saviour. It spans the bridge between them, howsoever long the period of waiting may be.

When we are asked to believe that the Mahdi is a particular person already living a normal life, we are also expected to believe that the idea of absolute eradication of every kind of injustice and oppression by the Mahdi has already been embodied in the person of the Awaited Saviour who will reappear while he will be, as the tradition says, 'owing no allegiance to any tyrant'. The belief in him means the belief in eradication of all evils in a concrete form.

The tradition urges the believers in the Mahdi to keep on waiting for him and to continue looking forward for solace. The idea is to establish a close spiritual and intuitive link between the believers, on the one hand, and the Mahdi and all that he stands for, on the other. It is not possible to establish such a link without believing that the Mahdi has already been born and is a living and a contemporary personality.

Thus we find that the concept of the living Mahdi has given a new impetus to the idea of an expected saviour. It has made it a source of effective strength and consolation to every person suffering from deprivation and injustice, a person who rejects all forms of tyranny because he feels that his Leader, being a contemporary and a living personality and not a future idea, shares his sufferings and feels his misery.

Yet this concept, being beyond the imagination and comprehension of a number of people, has led them to adopt a negative attitude towards the very idea of the Mahdi.

Chapter two

Some Objections About The Mahdi

Some of the objections raised by them are mentioned below: -

(a) Longevity

They object to the Mahdi being a contemporary of so many successive generations during the past ten centuries and continuing to live until he reappears on the scene. How is it possible for him, they ask, to live such a long life without being affected by the natural laws, according to which everyone has to pass through the stages of old age and senility and eventually has to die at a time far earlier than the supposed present age of the Mahdi. Such a long life is impossible from a factual point of view.

(b) Suspension of laws

They also inquire as to why Allah is so keen to suspend natural laws for the sake of this particular person and to prolong his life so extraordinarily. Is humanity unable to produce any other competent leader? Why is it not possible that the role of filling the world with justice and equity be left to a leader who may be born on the eve of the appointed day and grow like other people?

(c) Lack of training

They also say that if it is true that the Mahdi is the name of a particular person who is the son of the eleventh Imam of the Prophet's House, who was born in 255 A.H. and whose father died in 260 A.H. and who at the time of his father's death was a child of not more than five years of age, then obviously this age was not sufficient for his having been trained religiously and intellectually by his father. They ask as to how then has he been prepared for his great role.

(d) His continued existence

They also say that even if it is presumed that the existence of the Mahdi is theoretically possible, how can they believe in his actual existence in the absence of any scientific or religious proof? According to them, a few traditions of unknown authenticity attributed to the holy Prophet cannot be considered to be enough for such a belief.

(e) Delay in appearance

They also say that, if the leader is already prepared for the performance of his great role, then what is the necessity of waiting for hundreds of years. Could not the upheavals and the tragedies so far witnessed by the world justify his appearance on the scene?

(f) His superhuman role

With reference to the Mahdi's role they ask as to how it is possible for an individual, howsoever great he may be, to play such a decisive role in the world, when it is known that no individual by himself can make history nor can he give it an entirely new turn. It is the prevailing circumstances which produce and direct historical changes. The greatness of an individual lies only in his coming to the fore-front, in the given circumstances, and in effecting a practical change by selecting one of the multiple solutions.

(g) His modus operandi

They also ask what practical methods will be employed by that individual to bring about the colossal change and to ensure the final victory of the forces of justice over the mighty and dominating forces of oppression and injustice, which now have the most destructive weapons, scientific potentialities and political, social and military power at their disposal.

These are the questions which are frequently asked in this connection and repeated in one form or another. They are not always motivated merely by intellectual curiosity. There are psychological reasons also which stimulate them. There is a strong general feeling that there is little chance of overthrowing the present world system, which is too powerful and invincible. This feeling produces skepticism and gives rise to queries. It leads to defeatism and an inferiority complex. One begins to shudder at the very idea of a world-wide change which may eliminate injustice and historical contradictions and usher in a new system based on justice and equity. This mental frustration impels one to doubt and reject every possibility of such a change by giving one reason or another.

We now propose to take up the above-mentioned queries, one by one, and deal with them briefly.

Chapter three

Replies To The Objections

(a) Longevity

Is it possible for any human being to continue to live for many centuries, as is presumed in the case of this Awaited Saviour who has already lived for more than 1145 years? This long life is about 14 times the life of an ordinary man who passes through all stages of life from infancy to old age.

The impossibility of such a long life is the objection. Let us have a close look at the objection. The word impossibility here (like any other truth) is relative. It has meaning only in relation to some person, place and time. What is impossible for one person need not be so for the others. Then what is impossible in one place may be quite possible in another place. Again what is not possible at one time may be quite possible at another. There is no dearth of illustrations to prove how impossibility is a relative term.

In other words, the possibility of a thing may be of three categories viz. factual possibility, scientific possibility and logical possibility. To journey across the ocean, to reach the bottom of the sea and to travel to the moon are practical possibilities. There are people who have accomplished these tasks in one way or another.

By a scientific possibility we mean that there may be certain things which may not be practicable in the present circumstances but there exists no scientific reason to justify the denial of their practicability in favourable circumstances and the scientific trends indicate that they will be feasible sooner or later. For example, there exists no scientific reason to deny the possibility of man's travelling to Venus. Although, it has not been possible for anyone to go to that planet so far, yet we know that there is only a difference of degree between man's landing on the moon and his landing on Venus. It is only a question of surmounting additional difficulties because of the greater distance. Hence, it is scientifically possible to go to Venus, though practically it is still impossible. In contrast, it is scientifically impossible to go to the sun in the sense that science does not hope that it will ever be possible to manufacture a protective shield against the heat of the sun which is virtually a huge furnace blazing at the highest imaginable degree of temperature.

By a logical possibility we mean that, on the basis of self-evident laws, reason does not regard a thing impossible. For example, it is logically impossible to divide three oranges into two equal parts without cutting anyone of them. It is self-evident that, three being an odd number, it is not divisible into two whole numbers. Only an even number can be so divided and the same number cannot be both odd and even simultaneously, because that will mean self-contradiction which is impossible. But a man's entering into fire without being hurt or going to the sun without being affected by its heat is not logically impossible, for it is not self-contradictory to suppose that heat does not pass. from a body having a higher temperature to a body having a lower temperature. Only experience has proved that if two bodies are mixed or put together, heat passes from a body having higher temperature to a body having lower temperature, till the temperature of both the bodies is at par.

Thus, we know that the scope of the logical possibility is wider than that of the scientific possibility and the scope of the scientific possibility is wider than that of the practical possibility.

There is no doubt that a person's remaining alive for thousands of years is not logically impossible, for there is nothing irrational or self-contradictory about it. Life itself does not imply the sense of quick death.

Admittedly, such a long life is not as practical as descending to the bottom of the sea or ascending to the moon. Notwithstanding the present scientific facilities it has not so far been possible to prolong human life to hundreds of years. Even those who have all the modern facilities at their disposal and are the keenest to continue to live cannot have more than the normal span of life.

As for the scientific possibility there exists nothing to justify its denial from a theoretical point of view. In fact this question is related to the physiological explanation of senility. The question is, whether there exists a natural law according to which human tissues and cells, after attaining the stage of full development, automatically begin to stiffen and degenerate, till they cease functioning at a particular moment or the senile degeneration is caused by some external factors, such as microbes and poisons infiltrating into the body through polluted food, unhealthy jobs or some other causes. It is a question with which science is grappling at present and is earnestly trying to find an answer to it. For the present there is more than one scientific explanation of senility. Anyhow, if we accept the view that senile degeneration is caused by external influences, it means that if the tissues of the human body are secluded from these particular influences it is theoretically possible to prolong life, to delay senility and even to control it eventually.