The Zaydites also applied the term al-Mahdi in its eschatological sense to their leaders who rose in arms against the `Abbasids, such as Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya (d. 145/762), Muhammad b. Ja`far al-Sadiq (d. 203/818), and Muhammad b. al-Qasim al-Talqan, who disappeared in the year 219/834.'(1)

An example of the Zaydite usage of this term is recorded by Ibn Tawus(2), who states on the authority of Ibrahim b. `Abd Allah b. al-Hasan, the brother of al-Nafs alュ Zakiyya, that the latter had rebelled hoping that Allah might make him the Mahdi promised by the Prophet:

As for the Imamites, a considerable body among them applied the title of al-Mahdi in its messianic sense to each Imam after his death. This can be seen in the claim of al-Nawusiyya, al-Waqifa and the followers of al- `Askari, the eleventh Imam. After the death of al-Sadiq in the year 148/765 the Nawusiyya group held that he was al-Qa段mal-Mahdi and that he did not die but went into occultation(3).

The Waqifa group applied this title to the seventh Imam Musa alュKazim (d. 183/799) and denied his death, contending that he was al-Qa段m al-Mahdi and that he would rise to fill the earth with justice after it had been filled with tyranny(4).

Other Imamites held that the eleventh Imam al- `Askari was al-Qa段mal-Mahdi,(5) whereas the last important usage of this term was given to the Twelfth Imam, who became the magnate of the Imamites' hope in their struggle for justice and equity.

It is worth mentioning that all these claims relating to the eschatological usage of the term `al-Mahdi' were based mainly on Prophetic traditions concerning a future restorer of Islam. Hence it is essential to discuss the traditions of the Prophet and the Imams, especially these traditions which concern the Twelfth Imam, so as to see their role in the question of his occultation. 

2. The Occultation of al-Qa段m al-Mahdi in the Qur'an

In Shi段te exegesis many Qur'anic verses are regarded as references to the role of al-Qa段m and his occultation.

The most important is the following verse: O, but I call to witness the planets, the stars which rise and set (al-Takweer, LXXXI, 15-6)

According to Imam al-Baqir, this verse means that an Imam would go into occultation in the year 260/847; then he would reappear suddenly like a bright shooting star in the dark night(6).

Ibn al-Furat, al-Kafi and al-Saduq interpret the following Qur'anic verse: "Say: Have you thought: If (all) your water were to disappear into the earth, who then could bring you gushing water" (al-Mulk LXVII, 30)

They maintain that this verse is a metaphor for the concealment of the Imam, whose presence among people is like the water they need to drink(7).

The Isma'ili writer Mansur al-Yaman (ca. 4th century A. H.) agrees with al-Kulayni that some Qur'anic verses which apparently deal with the Day of Judgement actually concern the appearance of al-Qa段m after his occultation. According to al-Kulayni the verse "And those who sincerely believe in the day of Judgement" (al-Mi`raj, LXX, 26) refers to those who believe in the reappearance of al-Qa段m(8). Mansur al-Yaman gives a similar esoteric interpretation of another verse:

And of mankind are some who say, we believe in Allah and the Last Day, when they believe not. They think to beguile Allah and those who believe, but they beguile none save themselves; but they perceive not. (al-Baqara, II, 8-9)

Mansur al-Yaman states that the Last Day (al-Yawm al-Akhir) in this verse is the "Commander of the Age" (Sahib al-Zaman), that is al-Qa段m al-Mahdi(9).

Al-Kulayni interprets many Qur'anic verses with the same kind of approach and links them to the future role of al-Qa段mal-Mahdi.' In his view, when al-Qa段m reappears he will establish the political state of the "People of the House" (Ahl al-Bayt) that is, the Imams, upon the ruins of the state of inequity. This is al-ュKulayni's esoteric commentary on the verse: "And say: The truth has come and falsehood has vanished. Surely falsehood is a vanishing thing." (Banu Isra'il, XVII, 81)(10)

Al-Tusi follows in al-Kulani's footsteps in commenting on certain Qur'anic verses. Take, for example, this passage:

And We desired to show favour unto those who were oppressed in the earth, and to make them Imams and to make them the inheritors. And to establish them in the earth, and to show Pharaoh and Haman and their hosts that which they feared from them. (al-Qasas XXVIII, 5-6)

Al-Tusi holds that the above verses predict the establishment of the state of Justice by al-Qa段m al-Mahdi, who would inherit what had been in the possession of the wrong-doers(11).

Other Imamite scholars maintain that the fifth Imam, al-Baqir, said that Allah's promise of victory to an Imam from the People of the House is mentioned explicitly in the following verse:

And verily We have have written in the scripture (al-Zabur), after the Reminder My righteous slaves will inherit the earth. (alュ-Anbiya', XXI, 105)(12)

Other verses have also been interpreted by the Imamites to be connected with the role of al-Qa段m, after his rising from occultation, such as the verse:

Allah has promised such of you as believe and do good works that He will surely make them to succeed (the present rulers) in the earth even as He caused those who were before them to succeed (others); and He will surely establish for them their religion which he has approved for them, and will give them in exchange safety after their fear. They serve Me. They ascribe nothing as a partner unto Me. Those who disbelieve henceforth, they are the wrong doers. (al-Nur, XXIV, 55) 

Al-Qummi and al-Tusi report that the People of the House mentioned that this verse concerns the Mahdi because he would live during his concealment in a state of fear, would appear after the removal of fear, and would certainly become victorious(13)

3. The traditions concerning the Twelfth Imam and his occultation

3.1 The traditions concerning al-Qa段m al-Mahdi 

There are many traditions attributed to the Prophet in the books of tradition concerning the identity of al-Mahdi, his family, his epithet (kunya) and his character. The conclusion of these numerous traditions is that al-Mahdi is a descendant of the sons of Fatima(14), the daughter of the Prophet; and more particularly, that he is of the progeny of her son al-Husayn. His colour is similar to that of the Arab, and his body is like the Israelite, and his name and kunya are similar to,the name and kunya of the Prophet(15).

Moreover some traditions claim that the Prophet said that al-Mahdi's father's name is like the name of the Prophet's grandson, al-Hasan. Below are a number of these traditions.

i) We, the family of `Abd al-Muttalib, are the Masters of the inhabitants of Paradise: I, Hamza, Ja断ar, `Ali, al-Hasan, al-Husayn and al-Mahdi(16).

ii) Al-Mahdi is from my progeny. His name is similar to mine and his epithet is similar to mine. In his physique and character he looks exactly like me. He will be in a state of occultation and there will be confusion (Hayra) in which people will wander about. Then he will come forth like a sharp, shooting star to fill the earth with justice and equity as it was filled before with injustice and inequity(17).

iii) Al-Mahdi is from my family (`itra) from the sons of Fatima. It is worth mentioning that this tradition was reported on the authority of Umm Salama by `Ali b. Nufayl, who died in 125/742.(18)

iv) On the authority of Ibn 'Abbas, the Prophet is reported to have said, "How shall Allah destroy a nation whose beginning is myself, whose end is Jesus and whose very centre is al-Mahdi, who will be from my family?(19)

v) The name of al-Mahdi's father is similar to the name of my son al-Hasan(20).

The conclusion of Osman concerning these traditions seems to be rather forced. "All these hadiths are weak and contradictory (mutadarib), therefore their attribution to the Prophet Muhammad is to be very much doubted(21).

For the use of the epithet al-Mahdi by numerous Islamic groups, particularly the Zaydites, in their struggle for power during the Umayyad period shows that these traditions were well-known among the Muslims of that period. Moreover, many traditionists from different Islamic sects transmitted these traditions before the downfall of the Umayyads in 132/749, and later they were collected in the books of tradition (hadith).

The earliest of these books was Kitab Sulaym b. Qays, attributed to Sulaym b. Qays al-Hilali, who died between the years 80-90/699-708. He reports many Prophetic traditions concerning al-Mahdi, his occultation and his reappearance(22).

It appears from these two points that Osman's judgement is somewhat hasty, particularly if one takes into account the fact that Prophetic traditions regarding al-Mahdi were narrated by twenty-six companions of the Prophet. On their authority thirtyュ-eight traditionists recorded these traditions in their collections of hadith(23).

The evidence suggests that from the earliest times in Islam there was a belief that the Prophet had given his followers a promise about a man from the progeny of al-Husayn, who would rise in arms in the future to purify Islam from innovation. But political rivalry amongst the Muslims encouraged some people to exploit this hope and to distort these Prophetic traditions in order to use them in their struggle for power(24).

These traditions only mention that al-Qa段m al-Mahdi will be from the progeny of the Prophet. But there are also other traditions attributed to the Prophet which state that al-Mahdi will, in fact, be the Twelfth Imam.

It is true that Montgomery Watt objects that,

Until al-`Askari died on 1st Jan. 874, there was nothing to make people expect that the number of the Imams would be limited to twelve or that the Twelfth would go into occultation. It follows the theory of the twelve Imams was worked out after 874.(25)





(1) N. Firaq, 54; `Uyun, 155; Maqatil, 359; B. Firaq, 44.

(2) Ibn Tawus, al-Iqbal, 53.

(3) N. Firaq, 57; Kamal, 37.

(4) al-Hasani, Sirat al-A'imma al-Ithna `Ashar (Beirut, 1977), 370.

(5) Kamal, 40.

(6) al-Kafi,I,341;Kamal, 325,330; N. al-Ghayba, 75.

(7) Ibn al-Furat, al-Tafsir, quoted by al-Majlisi in Bihar, LI, 50; Kamal, 351.

(8) al-Kafi, VIII, 287.

(9) Ibn Hawshab, Kitab al-Kashf (London, Cairo, Bombay, 1952), 6.

(10) al-Kafi, VIII, 287.

(11) al-Tusi, al-Tibyan, VIII, 114-6.

(12) al-Tusi al-Tibyan, VII, 250; Sadr al-Din al-Sadr, al-Mahdi, (Tehran, 1358),11.

(13) `Ali b. Ibrahim al-Qummi Tafsir al-Qummi (Najaf, 1387), II, 68, 84, 205-6; T. al-Ghayba, 120; al-Tusi, al-Tibyan, VIII, 404

(14) Ibn Maja, Sunan, II, 519; Abu Dawud, al-Sunan, II, 208.

(15) al-Tirmidhi, IX, 74, 75; and the Cairo edition, IV, 505-6

(16) Ibn Maja, Sunan, II, 1368.

(17) Kamal, 286-7. Al-Tirmidhi mentioned the same tradition on the authority of Ibn Mas`ud without any details concerning the occultation of the Mahdi. Alュ Tirmidhi, IV, 505-6; al-Darimi, Sunan, IV, 151.

(18) Mizan, III,160; Ibn Maja, Sunan, II, 1368; al-Musannaf, XI,372.

(19) al-Thalabi, `Ara'is al-Majalis, 363; al-Kanji, op.cit., 327.

(20) al-Haythami, al-Sawa`iq al-Muhriqa, 100.

(21) Osman, Mahdism in Islam, Ph.D. Thesis (Edinburgh, 1976), 204.

(22) Sulaym b. Qays al-Hilali, Kitab Sulaym b. Qays (Najaf, n.d.), 56, 159-62. Although this book has received some criticism with regard to its authenticity, a careful examination of its contents which show that it was regarded as a source by such writers as al-Kulayni in al-Kafi, al-Mas`udi in al-Tanbih wa-l-Ishraf and al-Nu'mani in Kitab al-Ghayba.

(23) `Abd al-Muhsin al-`Abbad, `Aqidat Ahl al-Sunna wa-l-Athar fi al-Mahdi alュ Muntazar, al-Hadi (Qumm, 1971) I, part 1, 33-5; al-Tabsi, al-Shi`a wa-l-Raja(Najjaf, 1966), 36-54.

(24) For the Umayyad and the `Abbasid use of the epithet al-Mahdi so as to gain political success, see al-Ishfahani, al-Aghani, XVI, 88; al-Darimi, Sunan, IV, 152.

(25) Watt, The Majesty that is Islam, 169-170.