Not only is al-Mahdi (the Guided One) a materialization of an Islamic belief of a spiritual nature, but a model to a particular goal which humanity has been striving to achieve, as well as a form to a natural inspiration, through which people came to realize - in spite of their different faith and means of access to the unseen - that there is an appointed day on earth, when the Divine messages will be fulfilled in all their great significance and final aim, when the exhausting march which humanity took in the course of history will lead to stability and security, after a long struggle.

However, the awareness of this expected future is not limited to those who believe in the unseen from a religious angle, but it has extended to others and has even been reflected in those ideologies which strongly denied the existence of the unseen and any of its aspects, such as dialectical materialism, that interpreted history in terms of contradictions, but at last admitted the fact that there was an appointed time in which these contradictions would be resolved when peace and harmony would prevail on earth.

Thus we find that the psychological experience of this awareness, which humanity has undertaken in the course of time, is one of the widest and most commonly held among people.

So, if religion strengthens this awareness by reaffirming that at the end of matter, the earth will be filled with justice after having been filled with injustice and tyranny, it is in reality providing it with its objective value and turning it into a decisive belief in human destiny, which is not only a source of consolation but of generosity and strength.

A source of generosity, since belief in al-Mahdi is in reality belie f in the protest against all forms of oppression and tyranny although they still prevail in the world.

It is also a source of strength and a refutation that cannot dwindle, since it is a ray of light that is continually struggling against despair within people and keeping the flame of hope ablaze within their hearts in spite of the gloomy conditions and the might of oppression under which they live, because the appointed day confirms the fact that justice can challenge a world filled with transgression and tyranny, that it can shake its foundations, and rebuild it anew; that oppression is only an unnatural condition, regardless of its power and extent in the different corners of the world. that it will eventually be defeated; that the ultimate defeat of oppression while on the summit of its glory, brings great hope before every persecuted individual and every oppressed nation, in tipping the balance and rebuilding the world.

If the idea of al-Mahdi is older and wider than Islam, the detailed outlines, which the latter has fixed for it, have proved more satisfactory to all those ambitions that have been seeking its realization since the dawn of history as well as a more generous gift and a stronger prediction for the feelings of those who have been persecuted and op pressed in the course of history. This is because Islam has turned the idea from the unseen into reality, and from an aspiration for a saviour the world would produce in the distant and unknown future into the conviction that he actually exists looking forward with other people to that day and the right circumstances that would make it possible for him to assume his great role.

Thus, al-Mahdi (peace be upon him) is no longer an idea waiting to be materialized nor a prophecy that needs to be substantiated, but a living reality and a particular person, living among us in flesh and blood, who is sharing our hopes, suffering, sorrows and joys, actually witnessing all the sufferings, sadness and transgression that exist on the surface of the earth, who is affected with all this from near or far, who is waiting for the appropriate moment when he can stretch his hands to every oppressed and needy person and eradicate the tyrants.

However, it has been decreed that this expected leader is not to reveal anything concerning his life or person to other people, although he is living amongst them, waiting for the appointed moment.

It is obvious that thinking in terms of these Islamic indictions narrows the gap of the unseen between the oppressed people and the expected saviour and reduces the psychological distance between him and them, no matter how long the expectation may last.

So, when we are supposed, as far as we are concerned, to consider the idea of al-Mahdi as actually designating a particular living person who is observing events like we are, it is to inspire us with the fact that the idea of the unconditional protest against all sorts of transgression and tyranny, which al-Mahdi stands for, has already materialized in the expected dissident leader who will emerge, paying no homage to the transgressors, as it has been mentioned in the hadith (tradition), and that by believing in him we are in reality believing in this unyielding and living protest and participating in it.

Indeed lots of ahadith ( traditions) are constantly urging those who believe in al-Mahdi to expect release from suffering and be prepared for his coming, which is a consolidation of that spiritual bond and emotional tie between them and the dissident leader and every value he stands for both of which could not have existed had he not actually materialized as a contemporary living person.

Thus we come to realize that this materialization has given a new impetus to the idea and made it a source of strength and generosity of a higher degree in terms of what any dissident individual finds of comfort consolation and relief from the pains that he has to suffer under tyranny and deprivation, when he comes to feel that his Imam and leader shares them with him, since the latter is a contemporary person and not an idea to be realized in the future.

However, the above mentioned materialization has led many people, who found it hard to believe or assume, to take negative attitudes even regarding the idea of al-Mahdi.

Since they all wonder if the idea of al-Mahdi actually designates a living person who has coexisted with all these consecutive generations for more than ten centuries, who will continue to do so until the time comes for him to emerge on the surface, how can such a human being live all this long and yet be immune from the laws of nature which compel any person to pass by the phase of old age and decrepitude and from there to his death. Is not such a matter impossible from an existential point of view?

Also, why should Allah show all this desire for this particular person - for whom the laws of nature would be obstructed - and endeavours to prolong his life and preserve him for the appointed day. has humanity become barren from yielding capable leaders? Why should not that day come when a leader will be born at its dawn and grow up like anyone else and gradually assume his role until the earth be filled with justice after having been filled with injustice and transgression?

They also wonder if al-Mahdi is the name of a particular person, who is the son of the eleventh Imam of the family of the Prophet (Ahlu'l-bayt - peace and blessing of Allah be upon them), born in the year 256 A.H. whose father died in the year 260 A.H. This means that he was very young when his father died, not exceeding the age of five, which is too early for him to have completed his religious and intellectual education at the hands of his father. Therefore how and by what means could he personally be prepared to assume that great role from religious, intellectual and scientific angles.

Moreover, if the leader is ready why should he wait all these hundreds of years? Is not what the world has witnessed of afflictions and social disasters enough to justify his appearance on its surface for the establishing of justice on earth?

They also wonder how can we believe in his existence even if we were to assume that this could be possible? Can anybody admit the validity of a hypothesis of this kind when it is not actually supported by any conclusive legal or scientific evidence? Should some narratives (ahadith) related to the Prophet ( blessing and peace of Allah be upon him and his progeny), of which we doubt the authenticity be enough for us to approve such a hypothesis?

As far as the role that this individual is going to play on the appointed day is concerned they wonder how a single person can assume this great decisive role in the world, while we know that however great an individual is, he cannot create history nor lead it into a new phase; whereas the seeds of any historical movement ripen under certain objective circumstances and their coming together. and the sublimity of the individual is the factor which selects him to shape these objective circumstances and provide the required solutions?

They also wonder how we can imagine what this individual would achieve of enormous change and decisive victory for justice and its message against the realities of injustice, oppression and tyranny in spite of what they have of power and influence and what they possess of means of destruction as well as what they have achieved of high standards in scientific, political, social and military capabilities.

Questions in this connection recur often in one form or another, however the true motives behind them are not only intellectual, since they have also a psychological source expressed in terms of the fear that dominates the world and the meagerness of all opportunity of change from the roots. Therefore, doubts deepen and questions increase, the more one becomes aware of the harsh reality that has prevailed in the world in the course of time. Thus failure, meagerness and the weakness that the human being is subject to lead him to feel under a psychological pressure whenever he attempts to imagine the tremendous change of the world which would relieve it of its contradictions and historical oppression and would provide it with a new structure based on justice and truth. This pressure makes the individual doubt the whole concept of change and leads him to refuse it for one reason or another.

As far as we are concerned, we are going to deal with all these questions in sequence answering each one briefly due to the limits provided by these pages.

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In other words, is it possible for a man to live for many centuries, as is the case with the Expected Leader, for the change of the world, whose age must be actually one thousand one hundred and forty years, or fourteen times the average age of an ordinary person who would pass through the phases of life from childhood to old age normally.

The word possibility here has one of the three following meanings, namely. Practical possibility, scientific possibility and philosophical or logical possibility.

I mean by practical possibility that a task is feasible in a manner that enables me, you or a third person to perform it, such as taking a journey across the ocean, reaching the depth of the sea or going to the moon , all of which are practically possible since they have actually been performed by people in one way or another.

By scientific possibility I mean that there are some tasks that neither I nor you nor a third person can practically perform with the means that are accessible to present civilization. However there is nothing in the alterable trends of science which can indicate a justification for the rejection of the possibility of these tasks and their occurrence conforming to certain special circumstances and means. For example, there is nothing in science that could deny the possibility of travelling to Venus, because all its existing trends indicate the possibility of such a task, although that is still not possible for me or you Since the difference between going to the moon and travelling to Venus is only one of degree. The latter representing a stage of overcoming some relative difficulties stemming from the fact that the distance is longer. From this we deduce that it is scientifically possible to travel to Venus even if it is still not feasible from a practical angle.

Contrary to that is the idea of travelling to the sun in distant space since it is scientifically impossible, meaning that science would never entertain the possibility of this task, for one cannot assume scientifically or empirically the possibility of inventing that preventive armour that could protect the body against the heat of the sun which is like an enormous kiln constantly burning with a degree impossible to imagine.

By logical or philosophical possibility I mean that there is nothing in the intellect, conforming to what it knows of previous laws - (preceding the experiment) - that could justify the rejection of a task nor decide that it could not occur.

Say, for example, the grouping of three oranges into two equal parts, this is logically impossible, since the intellect knows - before carrying out such an experiment - that three is an odd number, thus it is impossible to divide it into two equal parts, first it would turn into an even number, which would be a contradiction, which is impossible in logic.

But if a man were to be exposed to fire, or if he were to go to the sun without burning, that would not be impossible from a logical point of view, since there is no contradiction in the assumption that heat does not penetrate into a body of lower temperature from one of higher temperature.

That would only run contrary to the experiment which proved that h eat actually penetrates into a body of lower temperature from one of higher temperature until both bodies get an equal temperature.

Therefore, we come to realize that logical possibility has a wider scope than scientific possibility and that the latter is wider than practical possibility.

There is no doubt about the logical possibility of the prolongation of human life for some thousands of years, because that is not impossible from an abstract intellectual point of view, also there is no contradiction in an assumption of this sort, since life as it is understood does not fathom sudden death and no one can dispute this fact.

Also, there is no doubt or controversy that this prolonged life is not possible from the practical aspect, as is the case in going down to the depths of the ocean or ascending to the moon. That is because science with what it owns of modern means and instruments, that were made available by concomitant human experiments, cannot prolong human life for hundreds of years, this is why we find that even those among people who are more eager about life and more able to utilize scientific possibilities can only live to the extent of what is usual.

As far as Scientific possibility is concerned, there is nothing in science, nowadays which could justify the denial of that fact from a theoretical point of view. This inquiry is in reality related to the nature of the physiological interpretation of the phenomenon of old -age and decrepitude among people. Does this phenomenon indicate a natural law that compels the tissues of the human body and its cells to harden gradually and become less efficient in the performance of their task once they have reached the summit of their growth, until they die at a particular moment, even if we were to isolate them from the influence of some external failure? Or is this hardening of the bodily tissues and cells and the lack of efficiency in the performance of their physiological tasks a result of their struggle against certain external factors, such as microbes or poison that penetrate the body from an excess in food or from the heavy work that the person might perform or any other factor.

Now this is the question that science has to find an answer to, y et many answers present themselves on a scientific level in this respect.

If we are to consider the scientific point of view that tends to interpret old-age and the weakness that goes with it, as a result of reactions against some external factors, it means that it is theoretically possible, once we have isolated the tissues that compose the body from these influences, to prolong life to the extent of surpassing the phenomenon of old-age and even overcoming it.

On the other hand, if we consider the other point of view which sees old-age as a natural process with regards to the living tissues and cells, it will mean that they hear within themselves the seed o f their own ultimate death, once the phase of old-age has been completed.

I say: If we take this point of view into consideration it should not mean that there is no flexibility in this natural law, rather the assumption of its existence shows that it is in fact flexible, Since we find in our everyday life, in addition to what has been found by scientists through the experiments that they carry out in their laboratories, that old - age as a physiological phenomenon has no fixed time, since a man can be very old and yet possess tender limbs, with no trace of old- age appearing on him as has been mentioned by some doctors. Moreover some scientists take advantage of this flexibility and prolong the life of some animals by a hundred times their natural age, by creating certain circumstances and factors that delay the process. of old-age.

Thus it has been proved scientifically that this process can be postponed, by creating specific circumstances and factors, even if this experiment has not been carried out by science on a particular complicated creature such as the human being, owing to the difference in the difficulty of carrying it out on the human being and other organisms.

This means that, from a theoretical point of view, science, with all its alterable orientations, has never had any objection to the prolongation of human life, whether old-age has been interpreted as the product of a struggle and close contact with some external influences, or as a result of a natural process of the cells and tissues that leads them towards their death.

Thus we deduce that the prolongation of human life and its survival over many centuries is possible logically as well as scientifically but it is still impossible from a practical angle, and that nevertheless scientific progress has a long way to go before realizing this possibility.

In light of what has been discussed we shall deal with the age of al-Mahdi (peace be upon him) and what has been surrounding it of wonder and surprise.

Thus we notice that since the possibility of this prolonged life has been confirmed both logically and scientifically, science is in the process of gradually transforming the theoretical possibility into a practical one. There is no room left for wonder except the remoteness of the probability that al-Mahdi might have preceded science in this transformation, before that the latter could have, in its evolutionary course, reached the standard of actual capacity for such a transformation, which would make him equal to that person who had preceded science in discovering the cure for cancer.

The question now is - How could Islam which determined the age of the Expected Leader - have preceded science in the field of this transformation?

The answer is that this is not the only field in which Islam preceded science. Has the Islamic shari'ah (revealed law) as a whole not come before science and the evolution of human thought by many centuries? Did it not promulgate certain symbols that submitted plans to be put into practice, which man could achieve only after hundreds of years of his independent activity? Did it not formulate certain regulations perfect in wisdom, the secrets of which were realized by man only after a certain length of time? Did the Divine message not reveal mysteries about the universe, that could never have occurred to people's minds, which science came later to confirm and support?

So, if we are convinced by these facts why then should we regard as too much that the sender of this message - the Exalted - anticipates science in determining the age of al- Mahdi?

Here I mentioned only those aspects of precedence that we can notice in a direct manner, we can also include the aspects of precedence mentioned in the Divine message, for example, when it informs us about the night journey which the Prophet undertook from al- Haram Mosque to al- Aqsa Mosque. If we are to understand this journey within the frame of natural laws, we will find that it shows that these laws were utilized in a way that science could achieve only after hundreds of years.

Therefore, the same Divine knowledge which enabled the Messenger (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him and his progeny) to undertake this fast motion before science could achieve it, has also enabled his designated successors to have a prolonged life before science could realize such a project.

Certainly, this prolonged age that Allah, the Exalted, has bestowed on the Expected Saviour may see m rather strange, if it is considered within the limits of the everyday in people's lives and what has been achieved by the experiments of scientists. But is the decisive and transformative role which has been prepared for this Saviour not strange within the limits of the ordinary in people's lives and what they have experienced of historical evolution? Has he not been entrusted with the task of changing the world and rebuilding its civilization on the basis of justice and truth? Why should we disapprove if the preparation of this great role is characterized by strange and unusual aspects, such as the prolongation of the Expected Leader's age? For this remoteness of those aspects and their unusual aspects, however great they are, cannot surpass the remoteness of the great role that has to be achieved on the appointed day? Therefore, if we approve the validity of that unique role from a historical angle in spite of the fact that there has never been in the history of humanity a role similar to it, why should not we also approve that prolonged age which is still unique in our ordinary life?

I wonder if it is a coincidence that only two individuals should carry out the task of emptying human civilization of its corrupt elements and rebuilding it, which means that they must have been of an excessive age many times superior to our ordinary lives. The first is Nuh (Noah) who had assumed his role in the humanity's past. The Qur'an mentioned that he had lived among his people for nine hundred and fifty years. His role was to reconstruct the world after the Great Flood.

The other one is al-Mahdi, who is to assume his role in the future, who has lived among his people until now for more than a thousand years. It has been ordained that he will reconstruct the world on the appointed day.

Why then should we accept Noah, who must have reached a thousand years at least, and yet reject al-Mahdi?

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