This stage was that of minor occultation during which the Imam disappeared from the public scene, but maintained his contact with his followers through certain representatives who formed a connecting link between him and those who believed in his role as an Imam. During this period four persons, whose piety and impeccability was recognized by all, occupied the position of the vicegerents of the Imam. They are as under:

  1. Uthman ibn Sa'id al-'Amravi

  2. Muhammad ibn Uthman 'Amravi

  3. Abu'l Qasim Husayn ibn Ruh Nawbakhti

  4. Abu'l Hasan Ali ibn Muhammad al-Simmari

These four persons performed the duties of his vicegerent in the above order. As and when one of them died, another was duly appointed by the Mahdi to succeed him.

The vicegerent was in contact with: the Shi'ah. He carried their questions to the Imam and submitted their problems to him. He also conveyed the Imam's replies to his followers. The replies used to be mostly in writing and were occasionally verbal. The people who missed the sight of the Imam, found consolation in correspondence and indirect contact. All the letters received from the Imam during the tenure of his four vicegerents, which lasted for about seventy years, Were in the same hand-writing and in the same style and bore the same signature.

Al-Simmari was the last vicegerent. He announced the end of the stage of the minor occultation, the distinctive feature of which was the appointment of the particular vicegerent. It was turned into the major occultation after its object had been achieved and the Shi 'ah had gradually adapted themselves to the absence of the Imam. They had been immunized against the shock and the vacuum. Following the major occultation, instead of being represented by a specially appointed vicegerent, the Imam is now represented in a general way by the qualified mujtahids (eminent legists, capable of arriving at an independent decision on issues of religious law) having a keen insight into both the spiritual and temporal affairs. Now, in the light of the foregoing, it can easily be inferred that the existence of the Mahdi is a. fact which was experienced by a larger number of the people. He was represented by his vicegerents for seventy long years during. which they dealt with so many people but no one observed any inconsistency in what they said, nor discovered any signs of deception in their conduct. Is it conceivable that a fraud could be continued for seventy years by four persons, one after the other, without giving rise to the least suspicion? These four persons had no special link with each other and no collusion between them could be suspected. Their conduct was above reproach. They gained the confidence of all and everyone believed in the genuineness of their claim and the reality of their experience.

An old proverb says that truth will always come but. Events of practical life also prove that a fraud has no chance to last for such a long time in such a way. It is not possible to deal with so many people fraudulently and at the same time to gain their confidence.

Thus we know that the minor occultation is tantamount to a scientific experiment to prove the facts about the Awaited Saviour including his birth, life and occultation and the general proclamation of his major occultation, according to which be retired from the scene of life and does not now disclose his identity to anyone.

(e) Reasons for his delay in appearance

Why did the Saviour not appear during all this period when he had already prepared himself for the intended task? What prevented him from reappearing on the scene of life during the period of the minor occultation or immediately thereafter, instead of converting it into the major occultation? At the time it was simpler and easier to bring about the required change. He had a good opportunity at that time to mobilize his forces and to start his work forcefully because he already had contact with the people through the organization which existed during the period of the minor occultation. Moreover, at that time the ruling powers were not so powerful as they subsequently. became as a result of the scientific and industrial development.

The successful execution of a revolutionary order depends on certain pre-requisites and on the existence of a particular atmosphere. Unless these conditions are fulfilled and that atmosphere is created, it cannot achieve its object.

As regards the Divinely ordained shape of things it has two aspects. As far as its missionary aspect is concerned it, being Divinely ordained, does not depend on any congenial atmosphere, but, as far as its operational side is concerned, its timing and success is linked with the conducive circumstances.

The same was the reason why the pre-Islamic period of five centuries had to elapse before the Last Divine Message came to Prophet Muhammad, though the world had been in dire need of it since a far earlier time. It was delayed only because its successful completion was linked with certain suitable circumstances.

The conducive circumstances, which affect the accomplishment of the change, include those which create a suitable atmosphere for it and those which determine the right moment for the beginning of the operation. For example, the revolution which was successfully led by Lenin in Russia was linked with certain factors, such as the out-break of the First World War and the decline of the Czarist regime. In addition, there were some minor factors also. For instance, Lenin's safe journey during which he secretly slipped into Russia. If he had met with some accident which might have impeded his entry into that country at that time, the revolution would possibly have been delayed.

It has been the unalterable practice, decreed by Allah, that the actual implementing of a Divine revolution is linked up with such objective circumstances as create the right climate and general atmosphere for its success. That is why there was a long gap of a several hundred of years before the appearance of Islam during which period no prophet was raised.

No doubt Allah is All-powerful. He can miraculously remove in advance all difficulties and obstacles impeding a Divine Mission. But He does not do so, because the tests, trials and tribulations through which man gains perfection require that a Divine revolution should come about in a natural and normal manner. This does not mean that occasionally Allah does not intervene in arranging certain details not related to the creation of the right atmosphere but which tend to give an impetus to the revolution. The Divine help rendered by Allah to his friends at critical junctures for the purpose of protecting their mission was of this nature.

The fire set alight by Nimrud did no harm to Abraham; the hand of the treacherous Jew who had drawn his sword to kill Muhammad was paralysed and, a strong wind hit the camp of the infidels who had besieged Madina during the Battle of the Ditch and demoralized them. In all these cases help was rendered at a critical juncture, but only after the right atmosphere for the desired change had already been created in a natural manner.

On this basis, when we study the position of the Imam Mahdi, we find that the revolutionary task which has been entrusted to him like any other process of a social change is linked with certain circumstances which will provide the right climate for its success. Hence, it is natural that is should be timed accordingly. It is known that the great task, for which Imam Mahdi has prepared himself, is not of a limited nature nor is it confined to any particular region. His mission in fact is to revolutionize the world order in its entirety. It is to rescue mankind from the darkness of vice and to usher in an era of light and guidance. For such a gigantic revolution the mere existence of a task and a leader is not enough, otherwise it would have been accomplished during the period of the holy Prophet himself. Such a revolution requires specific climate and a general atmosphere conducive to the fulfilment of all the prerequisites.

From man's viewpoint the frustration and disillusionment of a man of culture may be considered to be the basic factor in creating the right climate. This feeling stems from the failure of diverse cultural experiments. Only then does a man of culture feel that he is in need of help and turns to the unknown. From the material angle the modern conditions of life may be regarded as more suitable for the fulfilment of a mission on world level than the conditions which prevailed at the time of occultation, for now the distances have been shortened, the chances of contact between various people of the world have been improved and better facilities for a central organisation to enlighten mankind on the basis of the new message have become available.

It is true, as pointed out in the question, that the military power and the war equipment which the Awaited Leader would have to face have enormously grown, but it is to be remembered that material power is of no consequence when man is moralized and is determined to fight against injustice.

Many a lofty civilization in history has collapsed at the first touch of an invader, because it was already dilapidated and lacked the power of resistance.

(f) His superhuman role

Now we come to another question of the above-mentioned series. The question is whether a single individual, howsoever great he may be, can accomplish such a great task, when it is known that a great man is only he whom the circumstances bring forward to be in the forefront of the events.

This question is based on a particular viewpoint about history which explains historical developments on the basis that man is only a secondary factor, whereas the main factor consists of the forces which work around him. Man at the most can be described as an intelligent interpreter of the inter-play of these forces.

It is evident that history has two poles, one of them being man and the other the material forces around him. Just as the material forces influence man like the conditions of production similarly man also influences the material forces around him. There is no justification for supposing that action always begins with matter and ends at man. The opposite can also be as true. In history, man and matter have always been interacting. If the interacting force of man is celestial then his role in life will also assume the celestial hue. Then it is the Divine force which directs the course of history.

This is a fact which is abundantly proved by the history of the mission of the Prophets and especially by the life history of the last Divine Messenger, for Muhammad (P) assumed the control of the course of history and created a culture which could not be created by the external circumstances around him.(1) Hence, what was possible to be accomplished by the greatest of the Prophets can also be accomplished at the hands of the Awaited Saviour of his Family - The Leader whose appearance has been predicted by the holy Prophet and about whose great role he has already informed mankind.

(g) His modus operandi

Now we come to the last question which is about the method which the Mahdi is likely to adopt to achieve his objective of the final victory of justice and of the complete eradication of injustice.

A definite answer to this question depends not only on the knowledge of the timing and the stage at which the Mahdi will reappear but also on the possibility of imagining what particular circumstances will be prevailing at that time. It is only in the light of these circumstances that a picture of his possible strategy can be drawn. So long as we do not know at what stage the Mahdi will reappear and what will be the prevailing circumstances at that time, it is not possible to make any prediction on scientific lines. Any presumptions made in this connection will be based mostly on fiction and not on facts. Anyhow, there is one basic presumption which can be accepted in the light of the traditions and the historical experience of the great changes.

This much can in any case be predicted safely that the Awaited Saviour - will appear when the stage for his appearance is set, neither earlier nor later. Let us be clear as to the meaning - of this stage for his appearance. This stage means the conditions prevailing in the world and in the human society. It means the decline in man's moral life, when oppression and tyranny will be rampant and when mankind will have fallen into the abyss of crime and immorality.

In addition, this stage for his appearance means that the conditions then prevailing would create the necessary psychological atmosphere for the reception of a saviour. Mankind would be dead tired and fed up with the shape of things and would quite naturally look forward to a saviour for its liberation. This will happen when wickedness will reach its climax. There will be a great upheaval, a great conflagration, that will send this universe to its doom. In the darkness that will then prevail, there will dawn a new Sun in the form of the Mahdi, spreading light and lustre. Having liberated mankind from its misery and curse, the Mahdi will then bring about a transformation of life in which justice, peace, virtue and righteousness will abound. Thus will the Awaited Imam accomplish his mission.

Certain Islamic traditions speak of a government of the virtuous which is to continue until the appearance of the Mahdi (May Allah hasten his advent) and, as we know, some Shi'ah scholars who held a high opinion about a certain number of their contemporary rulers have hinted at the possibility of the continuance of their dynasties until the appearance of the Mahdi.

On the whole, it is derived from the Qur'anic verses and the Islamic traditions that the rising of the Mahdi will be the last in the series of fights between the good and the evil which have continued from the very inception of the world. It will be the Mahdi who will give a concrete shape to the ideal of all the Prophets, the saints and the fighters in the way of Allah.

During the period of the occultation it is our duty to be expecting the Awaited Imam. We must devise a sound and judicious system of social development based on the holy Qur'an and present it to the world. We must prove the excellence and efficacy of Divine laws to the people and attract their attention to the Divine system we must fight superstitions and false beliefs and pave the way for the establishment of Islamic world government. In the light of the teachings of the holy Qur'an and traditions of the holy Prophet we must chalk out a programme for solving the world problems and put it at the disposal of world reformers. We must enlighten the thoughts of the people of the world and at the same time, prepare ourselves to receive the Awaited Imam and the emergence of a just world government.

The saviour's revolution

Chapter four

The Final Victory

The idea of the final victory of the forces of righteousness, peace and justice over those of evil, oppression and tyranny, of the world-wide spread of the Islamic faith, the complete and all-round establishment of high human values, the formation of a utopian and an ideal society and lastly the accomplishment of this ideal at the hands of a holy and eminent personality called, according to the Islamic traditions, Mahdi is a belief which, of course with variations in details, is shared by all the Muslim sects and schools of thought.

Basically this is a Qur'anic concept and it is the holy Qur'an which in very clear terms, predicts:

1. The final victory of Islam.





(1) Al-Fatawa al-Waziha 'by Ayatullah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr.