Up to now we have seen that the prolongation of life is scientifically possible. But let us suppose that it is not, that the process of old-age and decrepitude is quite rigid, that it cannot either now or in the long run overcome nor alter its conditions or circumstances - what will this mean? It will mean that the prolongation of human life - as is the case of Noah, or al-Mahdi - runs contrary to the natural laws which science confirmed thanks to modern instruments of experimentation. Thus this condition becomes a miracle that has hindered the applicability of a natural law under a certain circumstances, in order to preserve the life of a particular individual whose role is to cherish the Divine message.

Yet this is not the only miracle of its kind, nor is it remote from a Muslim's faith, which derives from the Qur'an and the sunnah. Moreover the process of old-age is no more rigid than is the process of the passage of heat from a body of higher temperature to another of lower temperature until both of them become equal. This had occurred in the case of Ibrahim (peace be upon him) when the only way to preserve his life was by hindering that process, when it was said to the fire in which he was thrown:

We said, "O fire be cool on Ibrahim and keep him safe." (Qur'an, 21:69)

So, he emerged from it safe and unharmed. There are also other cases where natural laws were hindered to protect some of the prophets or Proofs of Allah on earth. When the sea was split for Musa (Moses), when the Romans were misled in thinking they had caught 'Isa (Jesus) or when Muhammad (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him and his progeny) left his house, while it was surrounded by the troops of Quraysh who were waiting for hours to attack him but Allah, the Exalted, hid him from their eyes while he was walking in their midst. All of these cases show a hindrance of the laws of nature to protect an individual, whom the Divine wisdom wished to preserve. Therefore, why not include here the process of old-age and decrepitude?

From this we can deduce a general notion, which is that whenever the preservation of the Prophet's life (the Proof of Allah on earth) depends on the hindrance of a natural law, and the prolongation of his life comes to be necessary for the performance of his task, Divine care then intervenes by delaying the process so that the task of that individual can be accomplished. On the other hand, once the Divine mission of that individual has been fulfilled he either dies naturally or as a martyr depending on what is determined by natural laws.

Thus we find ourselves confronted with the present question in connection with this general notion: How can the process be obstructed? How can the necessary correlation that exists between natural phenomena, be sundered? Does it not contradict science, which discovered the existence o f that natural law or process and defined that necessary correlation on experimental and deductive bases?

The answer is that science has already solved the problem by giving up the idea of necessity as far as natural laws are concerned. To clarify this we can say that science discovers natural laws through systematic observations and experiments. For example, when the occurrence of a natural phenomenon is followed another one, we deduce from this a natural law which is: that whenever the first phenomenon comes into existence it is automatically followed by another phenomenon.

However, science does not propose a necessary correlation between the two phenomena stemming from their nature, since necessity is an invisible condition that experimentation and the instruments of scientific and inductive inquiry cannot demonstrate. Therefore, the logic of modern science emphasizes that natural law - as it is defined by science - does not indicate a necessary correlation, but an uninterrupted connection, between two phenomena. But when the miracle occurs and separates one from the other, it does not mean that their correlation was sundered.

The truth of the matter is that the miracle, in its religious sense, has become, in the light of modern scientific logic, more understandable than before, under the classical view of causal correlation. This old view assumed that every two phenomena, in which one is followed automatically by the other must have a necessary correlation, which means that it is impossible to separate one from the other. However, this correlation has been transformed thanks to modern scientific logic into a law of correlation or of consecutive succession between two phenomena without the hypothesis of invisible necessity.

Thereby the miracle becomes an exceptional condition with regard to this connective succession without running against a necessity or leading to an impossibility.

So, in the light of the logical foundation of induction we agree with the modern point of view which says that induction does not demonstrate the existence of a necessary correlation between two phenomena. We find that it shows that there is a common interpretation for the consecutive connection between the two. Since this common interpretation can be formed on the basis of the assumption of subjective necessity, it can also be formed on the assumption of a wisdom that made the Creator of the universe to continuously combine some particular phenomena with others. The same wisdom sometimes calls for exception; thus a miracle occurs.

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Now we should deal with the second question which is: Why should Allah, the Exalted, show all. this desire for this person in particular? Why should the natural laws be hindered just to prolong his life? Why should the leadership of the appointed day not be left to a person born in the future, who will appear then and assume his expected role?

In other words: What is the use of this long absence and what is the motive behind it? Indeed many people ask these questions, yet at the same time none of them is prepared to accept the Divine answer for them. However we believe that the twelve Imams form a unique group of individuals, none of whom could be substituted. But these people require a social interpretation of the situation, in the light of tangible realities, for the great operation of change and the understandable requirements for the appointed day.

On these bases, we will temporarily disregard the characteristics that we believe should be fulfilled in the infallible Imams and ask the following questions:

As far as the expected operation of change, of the appointed day, is concerned and as far as it is understandable in the light o f the norms and the experiences of life, can we consider the prolonged age of its preserved leader as one of the factors for its success? And of his ability to lead it in a better way?

We can give an affirmative answer to this question because of many reasons among which are the following:

First, that the great operation of change requires from its leader a unique psychological attitude, filled with a sense of success and a sense of the insignificance of the mighty existence which he has been prepared to struggle against and transform into a new civilized world.

Thus the more the leader's heart is filled with the triviality of the civilization he is fighting, and the clearer is his sense that it is no more than a speck of dust on the long path of human civilization, the more he is ready from a psychological angle, to oppose, resist and persevere in his efforts against it until victory is achieved.

It is clear, therefore, that the scope required from this psychological attitude ought to be proportionate to the size of change to be brought about and what needs to be rooted out of civilization and existence. So, whenever the opposition is to a mightier existence and a loftier and deeply rooted civilization, the greater is the thrust required from this psychological attitude.

Since the message of the appointed day is to change, in a comprehensive way, a world filled with injustice and tyranny, it is therefore natural that it is looking for an individual whose psycho logical attitude is superior to that whole world; a person whose age exceeds those who were born in that world and who were brought up in the shade of its civilization which he is to destroy and replace with one based on justice and truth.
For whoever is brought up in a deeply-rooted civilization, that dominates the world with its values and modes of thinking, would be overwhelmed by it, since he would have been born while it had been in existence, and opened his eyes just to see its different aspects, and would have been brought up under its power and influence. Unlike that is a person who has deeply penetrated history, who has come to life long before that civilization which completes the cycle of the story of humanity before the appointed day saw the light. He sees it as little seeds, hardly visible, then gradually growing and taking roots within human societies, waiting for the right moment to blossom and appear. Then he witnesses it, as it starts to grow and advance, sometimes relapsing, sometimes meeting with success, then when it begins to prosper and become gigantic, gradually dominating the destinies of the world, such a man who has lived through all these stages with sagacity and caution, watching this giant - (against which he has to struggle) under that long historical perspective which he has lived in reality, and not just read about in books of history, such an individual would consider it as a definite destiny, unlike Jean Jacques Rousseau's consideration of the monarchy in France, when he was terrified at the mere imagining of France without a king, in spite of the fact that he was one of the heralds, both intellectually and philosophically, of the evolution of the political situation that existed in those times. That was because Rousseau lived in the shade and under the influence of the monarchy.

On the other hand this individual who has thoroughly penetrated history, would have the dignity and strength of history and a powerful sense that all that surrounds him of civilization and existence was born at a certain time in history, when the way was paved for its existence, that it would disappear to the extent that nothing of it would remain as when there was nothing of it before it came into existence in the distant or near past, that the historical life spans of any civilization, however long they may be, are only limited days in the long era of history.

Have you not read the chapter of the cave in the Qur'an (surah al-Kahf)? Have you not read of those youths who believed in their Lord, whom Allah increased in guidance, who opposed a ruling pagan existence that was ruthless and did not hesitate to suppress every single seed of at- tawhid (Unity of Allah), so that it might not rise above the level of idolatory. So these youths became depressed to the point of despair, once the windows of hope had been closed before their eyes; so they sought refuge in the cave, where they begged Allah for a solution to their problem after having exhausted all the possibilities. For they could not tolerate the fact that falsehood was ruling, transgressing and subjugating the truth and suppressing anyone whose heart showed an inclination towards the truth. Do you know what Allah did to them? He made them sleep for three hundred and nine years in that cave and caused them to rise up from their long sleep and sent them to the outside world, after that the existence which had bewildered them with its power and transgression had collapsed and became a chapter in history that could frighten no one nor activate anything. They were brought out so that they could see all this with their own eyes and learn that falsehood is insignificant.

Indeed if this clear vision had been true in the case of the people of the cave, with all that it bore of psychological loftiness and thrust out of that unique event which prolonged their age by three hundred years, then the same event could occur in the case of al- Mahdi, the Expected Leader, whose extended age would make him see the giant as a dwarf, the tall tree as a seed and the hurricane as a breeze.

Add to this that the experience that is granted by the concomitants of those consecutive civilizations and the direct confrontation with all their movements and changes, has a great influence on the intellectual preparation and the deepening of experience of the Expected Leader, since it puts him face to face with the many various practices of others, with all they contain of weakness and strength, and the different aspects of their errors and accuracy. And this enables him to classify the social symptoms with a complete awareness of their causes and their historical circumstances.

Moreover the preserved operation of change, which is the task of the Expected Leader, is founded on a particular message, namely the message of Islam. Therefore, it is natural that in this case, the required leadership should be more proximate with the original sources of Islam, that his personality be fully shaped in an independent way, free from the influence of that civilization which is subject to his struggle on the appointed day, unlike that individual who would have been born and brought up in its atmosphere, whose intellect and feelings would have blossomed within its frame. Quite often such a person cannot free himself from the effects and residues of that civilization, even if he were to lead a movement of change against it.

Thus, in order that the preserved leader be not influenced by the civilization he has been prepared to transform, it is necessary that his personality should be fully shaped during a previous stage of civilization, as near as possible to the universal spirit, and in terms of the principles of that civilized condition, which the appointed day is aiming at realizing under his leadership.

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Now we have reached the third question which is: How could the preparation of the Expected Leader be achieved, while we know that he only remained five years with his father, al-Imam al-'Askari - which is a period of childhood not sufficient for the maturity of his personality.
Therefore, under what circumstances has this achievement taken place?

The answer is: That al-Mahdi (peace be upon him) was appointed as a successor to his father, for the leadership of the Muslims, which means that he was an Imam in the fullest intellectual and spiritual sense of the word in a very early age of his noble life.

Moreover, the early Imamate (leadership) is a previous phenomenon in the case of his forefathers (peace be upon them all), for example, al-Imam Muhammad son of 'Ali al-Jawad (peace be upon him). We call it a phenomenon because it has given in the case of al-Mahdi's forefathers (peace be upon them), a perceptible and a practical meaning, which the Muslims have lived and been aware of, in all their experiences with the Imams, in one way or another. Therefore, we cannot claim the proof of a clearer and wider phenomenon than the experience of a whole community. So, we can clarify the issue in the following points:

1) The leadership of the Imams of Ahlu'l-bayt (descendants of the Prophet) has never been one of the centres of influence and power that are transmitted through inheritance, from father to son, with the full support of the ruling regime, as was the case, in the leadership of Fatimid caliphs and the 'Abbasids; but it has always won the good will of its wider popular bases, on the grounds of their intellectual and spiritual conviction about the worth of the Imamate for the leadership of Islam.

2) These popular bases have existed since the dawn of Islam and became wider during the times of the two Imams, al-Baqir and as-Sadiq (peace be upon them). The school that these two Imams led within the boundaries of these bases formed a very wide trend that stretched all all over the world of Islam, bringing together hundreds of jurists (fuqaha') theologians (mutakallimun) and commentators (mufassirun) on the Qur'an and the learned in the different branches of Islamic and human sciences that were predominant in those times, to the extent that al-Hasan son of 'Ali al-Washsha said, "I went into al-Kufah Mosque and found nine hundred sheikhs all of them were saying, 'Ja'far son of Muhammad related to us . . .'"

3) This school and what it represented of popular bases from Islamic society, had certain conditions which it believed in and abode by, in the appointment of the Imam and his suitability for the role because it believed that an individual cannot be appointed as Imam unless he is the most learned among the agnostic of his time.

4) That both this school and its popular bases were ready to give sacrifices, for the sake of their belief in the Imamate, since the latter was considered, in the opinion of the concomitant leadership, as a hostile line, even from an intellectual point of view. This was the reason that led the authorities to carry out several campaigns of purging and torture to the extent that many people were either killed or were put into prisons, while hundreds of them died in the darkness of the cells. This meant that those who believed in the Imamate were ready to pay a lot, and the only instigation they had was their nearness to Allah.

5) The Imams these bases yielded to were not isolated from them, only when the authorities prosecuted them or sent them into exile. This is what we come to know through the narrators who related to us the events of each one among the twelve Imams, and on the one hand from what has been copied from the letters that they sent to their contemporaries and the trips that they took, and on the other hand from representatives that they dispatched to the different corners of the Islamic world, as well as the frequent visits that the Shi' ahs used to pay to their Imams in the holy city of Medina, when they went to the sacred lands for the performance of the holy rites of hajj.

All of these factors show an uninterrupted interaction between the Imam and his popular bases, that stretched over the different parts of the world of Islam, with all their different classes including the learned as well as the others.