Hasan ibn Hasan al-'Alawi said:

"I went to see Imam Hasan (al-'Askari) in Samarra' and congratulated him on the birth of his son."

And 'Abdullah ibn 'Abbas al-'Alawi also said:

"I visited Imam al-'Askari (a.s.) in Samarra' and congratulate him on the birth of his son."

Yes, in this manner was the Imam of the Age (Imam-e Zaman) born and kept hidden from the reach of strangers. On some occasions only were virtuous Shi'ites allowed to see him, until the year 260 A H., when the Eleventh Imam expired, and by Divine decree the office of Divine Leadership (Imamate) was vested in the Master of the Authority (Sahibu 'lAmr).

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When Imam Hasan al-'Askari ( a.s.) died, the office of Divine Leadership (Imamate) was transferred to the Last Luminous Pearl of the Household of the Holy Prophet, Imam al-Mahdi (a.s.) Although His Eminence did not appear amongst the people, some persons in whom he had trust and confidence were allowed to visit him and present him the problems and questions of the Shi'ites And they communicated to the people the guidance and commands of the Divine Luminous Light.

From the point of view faith, confidence and virtue, these were distinguished persons among the Muslims who were mediators between the Imam and the people And in due time they conveyed the guidance of His Eminence to the people.

By studying the degree of the character and perception of the belief and piety of these individuals, not only does the greatness of their personalities become clear to us, but we become more familiar with the Imam of the Age, because, among the sayings of these distinguished, trustworthy and reliable companions of the Holy Imams, one finds the signs of the greatness of His Eminence (Imam al-Mahdi - a.s.).

Among the companions of Imam-e Zaman, four became his most famous and confidential deputies who acted as mediators between the Imam and the people, and they are known as the Nawwab al-arb'a ah (the four deputies).

In order to know more about the dignity and greatness of their positions, we give below a brief description of each one of them:

1) 'Uthman ibn Sa'id 'Umari: This honourable figure was not only a deputy (na'ib) of Imam-e Zaman but he was also a representative (wakil) of Imam Hasan al-'Askari (a.s.) and Imam 'Ali an-Naqi (a.s.) He settled and organized many affairs of the Shi'ites The Tenth Imam (al-Hadi -a.s ) said to his followers regarding him.

"This Abu 'Umari is a reliable and trustworthy person. Whatever he says to you he says so on my behalf, and whatever he does he does on my behalf."

This representation continued till 254 A H when Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) died. Then, the Eleventh Imam is reported to have praised the character of Abu 'Umari as having his high esteem in his address to his Shi'ites, saying:

"This AbU 'Umari is a reliable and trustworthy person. He had the confidence of the preceding Imam, and has also my confidence in my lifetime and after my death. Whatever he says to you he says so on my behalf, and whatever he does he does on my behalf."

Likewise, with this certificate of admiration, he became the deputy (Na'ibu 'l-Imam) of the Twelfth Imam after the demise of Imam Hasan al-'Askari ( a s ).

On the death of Abu 'Umari, the Lord of the Age (Sahibu 'z-Zaman) himself sent condolences to his son, Muhammad ibn 'Uthman saying:

"Verily, we belong to Allah and verily to Him shall we return We submit to His command and are pleased with His decree. Your father has lived in good fortune and has died with dignity. May Allah's mercy be upon him, he has joined his friends and masters. He was always endeavouring to search for whatever would bring him near to Allah and His friends. May Allah make strengthen his countenance."

2) Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn 'Uthman: This man was the second special deputy of Imam-e Zaman He was also a deputy of the Eleventh Imam, about whom the latter said:

"The greatness of his dignity and the exaltation of his status among the Shi'ites is so famous that there is no need to explain or dispute it."

Regarding him and his father, 'Uthman ibn Sa'id, Imam Hasan al-'Askari (a.s.) said to one of his companions:

"'Umar and his son are both trustworthy Whatever they do they do on my behalf, and whatever they say to you, they say so on my behalf Therefore, listen to their words and obey them, because both of them are reliable and trustworthy to us."

And Imam-e Zaman himself said about him:

"He is my confident, and his letter is of the same status as mine."

3) Abu 'l-Qasim Husayn ibn Ruh Nawbakhti: Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn 'Uthman, the third deputy of Imam-e Zaman, said about him:

This Husayn ibn Ruh ibn Abu Bahr Nawbakhti is my successor. He is a reliable and trust worthy envoy and deputy between you and the Sahibu 'l-Amr (the Master of the Authority). Therefore, in your affairs and important tasks refer to him and trust him. I was given this task; and I have announced it."

Shaykh Tusi (may Allah's mercy be upon him) said about him:

"Abu 'l-Qasim Husayn ibn Ruh was regarded by his friends and opponents as the most learned man among the people."

The integrity of Husayn ibn Ruh's deputyship w as acknowledged by his opponents too. Shalmaghani, who was one of the pseudo-claimants to the deputyship, had to confess his falsity when Imam-e Zaman ordered Husayn ibn Ruh to expose him. He (Shalmaghani) said:

"It is not right between me and Allah to say anything in the affair of Husayn ibn Ruh other than the truth. Although his crime towards me is a big one, yet this man was appointed by Imam-e Zaman for the task. The Shi'ites should not turn away from him."

4) Abu'l-Hasan 'Ali ibn Muhammad Simmari: This honourable figure was the last special deputy (Na'ibu 'l-khass) of the Holy Imam-e Zaman. His death, coincided with the 15th of Sha'ban 329 A.H. Husayn ibn Ruh introduced him as the deputy of the Imam. The last letter of Imam-e Zaman (the Lord of the Age) to the four special deputies was addressed to this honourable man. In this order the Imam announced the death of 'Ali ibn Muhammad and the end of the deputation:

"In the name of Allah, the Beneficient, the Merciful You are going to die in six days, may Allah grant patience to your brothers in faith on your departure So, be prepared, but appoint no one in your place, because from the day of your death the period of my major occultation (ghaybatu 'l-kubra) will begin. Henceforth-, no one will see me, unless and until Allah makes me appear My reappearance will take place after a very long time when people will have grown tired of waiting and those who are weak in their faith will say: 'What! Is he still alive?' When men will become cruel and inconsiderate, and the world will be full of injustice and violence. Very soon some men will claim to have seen me. Beware! Anyone who makes such a claim before the coming out of Sufyani and the sound from heaven announcing my reappearance, is a liar and an imposter. There is no might nor strength except in Allah, the Magnificent."

As can be seen from this, it is the last order, in which the door of special deputation is closed by the death of Ali ibn Muhammad; hence, anyone who claims to be a mediator, or claims that the Imam can be seen, is a liar. In the period of the major occultation no - one has made the claim that he has been in the presence of the Holy Imam-e Zaman.

The people would not accept the deputation of the four special deputies unless they had been shown the miracles of the Sahibu 'l-Amr to verify their truthfulness and accuracy, although they acknowledged them as reliable and trustworthy and had not the smallest doubt in their piety, faith and knowledge.

The special deputies presented to Imam-e Zaman the problems and questions of the Shi'ite scholars, and he answered the ones that were necessary in letter form and delivered them through the same deputies.

In these letters, the most important and difficult problems on different subjects of Shi'ite beliefs were cleared up.

One of these problems was a question as to what would be the responsibility of the Shi'ites who would be faced with new events during the period of occultation, and what should they do to face them?

In the letter issued by Imam-e Zaman to the celebrated and distinguished Shi'ite Is'haq ibn Ya'qub he recounted duties, methods and guidance for the Shi'ites in the period of occultation. This direction was carried out for many centuries, and it is one of the proofs of the comprehensiveness and eternity of Islamic rule.

In one of the letters to Imam-e Zaman which he sent through the second special deputy of the Imam, Is'haq ibn Ya'qub asked him some different questions, among which was a question which is the subject of our discussion The Imam said that in those affairs one must refer to those who really understands their (Imams') sayings and have truly related them:

"But as for the problems which will occur in the future, you should refer to the narrators of our traditions for their verdicts as they are my proofs to you, and I am Allah's Proof (Hujjatu 'llah) to them."

Other letters of His Eminence (Imam al-Mahdi (a.s.) were issued during the minor occultation (ghaybatu 's-sughra), each one of them solved difficulties and gave instruction in the boundless sea of wisdom. All these letters were conveyed through the Holy Imam's special deputy to the desirous seekers.

Yes, the four deputies, who were at the highest level of faith and confidence for many years, were the blessed mediators between the Imam and the people till in the year 329 A. H., when this deputation was closed, and on the basis of the Divine Will the major occultation of Imam-e Zaman commenced. This was the very occultation which was prophesied a long time previously by the Holy Prophet and the Shi'ites Imams; and Muslims keep patient in this period of test, till by the order of Almighty Allah, the Awaited Imam will appear and the Divine Aim will reach its fulfilment.

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After the year 329 A H., when the major occultation commenced the special deputation of Imam-e Zaman terminated. If anybody claims during the major occultation to be a mediator and a deputy, then, according to the declaration of Imam-e Zaman himself, that claimer is a liar.

In the Holy Imams' traditions, the purpose of the Imam's going into occultation is compared to the sun being behind the clouds yet being a source of vitality and life for living creatures. Likewise, while the Imam is behind the curtain of occultation, he is still a source of the existence and remaining of the world.

During the major occultation, many people have had meetings with His Eminence (Imam al-Mahdi -a.s.), and have managed to meet him, but none of them have claimed to be able to see him or to represent him, because only the four special deputies (Nawwab al-khass) of the Imam had the honour of meeting with His Eminence whenever they wished.

Some of the names of these fortunate persons who have had the honour of meeting the Imam are mentioned in the authentic books. Among these personalities are - 'Allamah Hilli -- a famous scholar and a rhetorician of the Islamic world; Muqaddas Ardibili - the most pious person and most knowledgeable jurist of his time; Sayyid ibn Tawus - a pious and a virtuous narrator, Sayyid Bahru 'l-'Ulum - a distinguished scholar. and other great and no table figures in Islam.

Yes, they saw the "sun" (Imam) with their own eyes, and their hearts were filled with the faith of Imamu 'l-'Asr (the Imam of the Period), and with sympathetic explanations they informed others about their meeting with His Eminence.

As an example, we can examine part of the will of Sayyid ibn Tawus which he wrote to his son in the year 650 A.H In his own words he explained to his son, implying the truth of the matter without claiming to have perceived him:

"O' my son! If success in discovering the truth and mysteries has been granted to you, then I will inform you regarding Imam al- Mahdi (a.s.) in such a way that you will never have any doubt, and you will not need intellectual proofs and recorded traditions; because His Eminence is certainly alive and exists, and as long as Merciful Allah does not allow him to plan events, he is excused from revealing and declaring his workings. And this matter is not exclusively to him, but was usual among many prophets and their successors. Then you must know with confidence and consider it as your faith and creed. And know that the insight of your father into His Eminence is brighter than his knowledge of the world."

The honour of seeing Imam-e Zaman was not exclusive to some special Shi'ite scholars only, but many devout and illiterate people have also had this honour. We are completely amazed when we see people who at one time used to commit sinful and indecent acts, but who after their repentance, and after having their hearts filled with love for Imam-e Zaman, also had an opportunity to meet him, and among them were also our Sunni brothers.

One of the Sunni brothers was Hasan 'Iraqi who lived a life of immorality when he was young. One day, he suddenly awoke from the slumber of heedlessness and asked himself, "Was I created to commit these evil deeds?" Then he left the immoral place he was in and went directly to the mosque. By chance, a preacher there was speaking about Imam al-Mahdi (a.s.). 'Iraqi's fully disturbed soul turned into a heart flaming with enthusiastic love of the Imam Henceforth, he invoked Allah after every prayer to give him the opportunity to see the Living Imam (Baqiyyatu 'llah) Finally, his prayers were answered and for seven days and nights he learned the path of salvation in His Eminence's presence.

Thereafter, this man became known as one of the great scholars of Islam 'Abdu '-Wahhab Sha'rani, one of the great Sunni scholars, and the original relater o f this anecdote, used to call him by the title, "My great master Shaykh 'Iraqi."

During the major occultation, letters were issued by His Eminence to individuals and great scholars of Islam. In those letters new difficult problems were solved, and necessary guidance was given. Among these letters there was one issued in the year 410 A.H. praising a distinguished scholar of Islam, Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Nu'man, alias Shaykh Mufid.

Shaykh Mufid has enjoyed a special rank for his knowledge and devoutness, and that letter was an acknowledgement of his efforts and worthy services. Even after the passing of many centuries, people still ad mire him with honour and respect.

The importance of this letter indicates the awareness of the Imam of the mistakes and immoral actions of some of the Shi'ites, and at the same time it gives hope in the purpose of his existence.

"We are well informed of all your affairs and none of them is hidden from us. We are aware of the problems which have occupied you from the time when you found pleasure and kept committing indecent deeds which your predecessors had avoided. We are aware from that time when your predecessors broke the covenant made with them, as if they knew not about it. We will not neglect or forget you lest calamity and troubles fall on you, and enemies have the opportunity to overpower you. Therefore, remember Allah and fear Him."

The valuable writings of Imam al-Mahdi (a.s.) during the major occultation are the most important guidance for his Shi'ites (followers). These writings can be referred to in the authentic Shi'ite books.

However, we are now passing through a very sensitive period in the major occultation.

In Islamic traditions, when the subject of the occultation of the Twelfth Imam is discussed, reference is made to the complex nature of this Divine test In this Divine test, the sincere and faithful Shi'ites are distinguished from others "and becomes as pure as a pure gold."

In Islamic traditions, a comparison is drawn between the sincere faith of the Shi'ites and the faith of a few followers of the Prophet Nuh (Noah (a.s.), who remained faithful despite their very difficult test, and who, by boarding the ark with Prophet Nuh (a.s.), were saved from the Deluge.

Therefore, blessed are those who have passed this Divine test; we hope to be among their rank.

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So now, what is a duty of a Shi'ite? What responsibilities does he have?

Truly, are we reckoned among the real followers of His Eminence (Imam al-Mahdi (a.s.)?

If we study the lives of the devout Shi'ites (followers) of the Holy Imams before the Twelfth Imam, and consider their sacrifices without the slightest hesitation, we shall at once awake from our neglectful slumber and realize our weakness and guilt.

Were not Salman al-Farisi, Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, 'Ammar ibn Yasir and Malik al-Ashtar the followers of the contemporary Imam 'Ali, Amir al-mu'minin (a.s.), and are we too the followers of the Imam of our Age?

Was not Maytham at-Tammar, who did not cease to praise 'Ali, the Lord of the faithful, a follower of His Eminence 'Ali, and are we too, who are passing with the Imam of our Age through a strange period, the followers of His Eminence?

Were not the martyrs of Karbala', who with love strived in the way of defending the Imam of their time, Husayn (a.s.), and were martyred, the followers of His Eminence, and are we too, who refuse to give our wealth, lives and other means in the way of the Imam of our time, His Eminence's followers?

Is a person like Hisham ibn Hakam, who in his extraordinary and valuable debates crushed and defamed the opponents of the Divine Leadership (Imamate) in such a way that he was called the "assistant of the Imam" by Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.), a Shi'ite? And are we too, who are sluggish in fulfilling our foremost duty to recognize the Imam of our time, Shi'ites?

From what we read of the glad tidings in the Qur'an and the traditions of the Holy Prophet and the infallible Imams, the Imam of the Age (Imam-e Zaman) has special responsibilities which other Imams did not have. Imam-e Zaman will establish a Universal Government. He will fill the earth with righteousness and justice. He will exploit the earth's treasures and natural resources. He will improve and develop the land, and in this way people's awareness and understanding will improve.

Therefore, do not the followers of His Eminence have a very particular duty? Should not the Shi'ites endeavour to obtain the competence and merit of being His Eminence's special companions when he reappears by Divine Command?

Therefore, let us see what our duties are and how we should observe them. Undoubtedly, our first duty is to become acquainted with him.

Recognizing Imam-e Zaman is so important and essential that in the Holy Prophet's traditions we read:

"He who dies without recognizing the Imam of his age is like one who had died during the jahiliyyah (the pagan era before the advent of Islam)."

To die during the jahiliyyah means a death devoid of Islam and faith. And it is obvious that one who dies without recognizing the Imam of his age is counted in the group of the faithless.

In another tradition, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) is quoted as having said on the same subject :

"One who dies without having (accepted) the Imam, it is as if he died in the jahiliyyah, and people are not exempted from recognizing their Imam."

Therefore, we must endeavour to recognize His Eminence (Imam-e Zaman) for the sake of Islam and our faith, and so that we may be reckoned among those who have gained salvation and among the faithful.

Another duty of the Shi'ites during the major occultation, which the Holy Imam have alluded to, is the question of being ready for the Saviour Hence, the first step for salvation is to recognize the Imam of the age; and the second step is to be prepared for the establishment of just Government by His Eminence.

One who is waiting (muntazir) and preparing himself for the appearance of the Imam must have the characters and merits of the companions of Imam al-Mahdi (a.s.), and should sacrifice his life and wealth in his way. For this reason, Imam as- Sadiq (a.s.) said:

"One who waits for our commands is like a person who sacrifices his own blood in the way of Allah."

Yes, he who is really ready for the Imamu 'l-'Asr (the Imam of the Period) becomes like a martyr in the way of Allah.

In another tradition, the same Imam told some of his followers about the person who is really waiting for the Imam-e Zaman, saying:

"One who dies while expecting the Government of al-Qa'im is like one who is in the presence of al-Qa'im (Imam al-Mahdi (a.s.)."

After a pause he added:

"But he is like one who has been struck with a sword while accompanying him."

Then he insisted further by adding:

"Nay, by Allah! He is like one who has been martyred in the presence of the Messenger of Allah."

Are we reckoned among those who are expecting His Eminence? Are we at least waiting for the Divine Promise of the Authority of Allah (Waliyyu 'llah) in the same manner as we wait for the return of our loved ones from a journey?

In another tradition, Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.) narrated the virtues of the companions of Imam al-Mahdi (a.s.) saying:

"If one takes pleasure in being among the companions of al-Qa'im, then he must wait for him and must act with good behaviour and modestly. If he dies before the appearance of al-Qa'im, then he will be rewarded like one who has followed him. Then act diligently, and await, that this effort and awaiting will give you delight, O' you who have found salvation."

So, one who is awaiting and has not ceased from good and worthy deeds should earnestly endeavour to be in an excellent and worthy position in such a way that Allah may shower His blessings on him.

So, we should pray to Allah that He may include us among those who are waiting for the Imam of the age, and that our acts and conduct may also symbolize the truth of our claim. Firstly, we should acquaint ourselves with His Eminence, the Imam, and then we should guide others, his opponents and enemies. We should gain the virtues of the companions of Imam al-Mahdi (a.s.), and should always be in the expectation of his appearance Henceforth, we will be able to sacrifice our worthless souls and thus to make them worthy.

Shi'ites must have a devout link with His Eminence during the occultation.

Their hearts and souls should be filled with love and affection for him.

Their thoughts should be devoted to his service and their desire should be to meet him.

Their prayers should be to ask for the blessing of Allah to be showered on His Eminence, and their supplication should be for salvation.

Their existence should be one welded and fused unit, and their life should blaze with love for him

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