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Mahdi in classical and modern Shi'ite tafsir

Shi'ite Messianism and all that concerns the Mahdi have, of course, been studied in a number of works, but this chapter focuses on the Quranic verses reported as concerning the Mahdi and their interpretation according to classical and modern Shi'ite commentators. Although only a few mufassirin are mentioned in this research, three regularly refer to their predecessors and their opinions, therefore we will report on these in the translation we will give of their tafsir. Under each verse, we will only give the opinions and commentaries of the mufassirin as far as they concern the Mahdi, and not their commentary in its entirety, while we will give the relevant verses of the Quran and some of the traditions concerning the Mahdi in the footnotes in Arabic. Subsequently, in the conclusion, we will attempt to compare the manner in which classical and modern mufassirin - experts in different fields of Islamic thought - view the Mahdi in their tafsir of the same few verses that we will use in this research.

As part of our research in this third chapter, we first studied separately, within three different Tafsir works, the Tafsir

Majma' al-Bayan, the Tafsir al-Mizan, and the Tafsir Makhzan al-'Irfan dar Ulum-e Quran (Kanz al-'Irfan), examining each one of the 120 verses from the Quran which are believed to have been revealed for the Mahdi according to Seyyed Hashim al-Bahrani (d.1107 AH/1695 AD), a prominent Shi'ite scholar and mufassir, who relied upon the Shi'ite traditional reports1.

Results of our research show that:

- In his Majma' al-Bayan, Shaykh Tabarsi has interpreted as concerning the Mahdi only nine verses from among the 120 verses reported by al-Bahrani. These nine are the following:

Quran 2: 3 Quran 4: 159 Quran 9: 33
Quran 8: 39 Quran 21: 105 Quran 11: 8
Quran 24: 55 Quran 34: 51 Quran 48: 28

- In his Tafsir al-Mizan, Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i has also interpreted nine verses and eight of them are the same as those interpreted by Shaykh Tabarsi, although he gives a broader meaning to the verses of the Quran [2: 3], [21: 105] and [24: 55]. His nine are as follows:

Quran 2: 3 Quran 4: 159 Quran 9: 33
Quran 8: 39 Quran 21: 105 Quran 11: 8
Quran 24: 55 Quran 34: 51 Quran 41: 53

- In her Makhzan al-'Irfan, Banu Nusrat Amin has interpreted six verses from among the 120 verses and four of her verses are the same as those of the above authors:

Quran 2: 3 Quran 21: 105 Quran 61: 9
Quran 24: 55 Quran 34: 51 Quran 97: 5

Therefore, the Majma' al-Bayan, the al-Mizan and the Makhzan al-'Irfan have four verses in common. The Majma' and the al-Mizan have eight verses in common and in total there are twelve verses discussed by these three mufassirin that we will present below. We may therefore conclude that these twelve verses are among the most important ones.

1) Quran 21: 105
Before this We wrote in the Psalms, after the Message (given to Moses): My servants, the righteous, shall inherit the earth﴿2.

A- Tafsir Majma' al-Bayan by Shaykh Tabarsi

Concerning the meaning of the first part of the verse "wa laqad katabna fi az-zabur mim ba'di adh-dhikr" ("Before this We wrote in the Psalms, after the Message (given to Moses)"), Shaykh Tabarsi reports several views3:

1- Zabur are all the Prophets' Books. The meaning of the verse is then 'We wrote in all the Prophets' Books after the Mother of the Books which is in Heaven'. Zabur and Kitab (Book) have the same meaning here.

2- Zabur are the Books which were revealed after the Tawrah (Torah), and Dhikr in this verse means Tawrah, so the verse means "after the Tawrah, We wrote in the Zabur".

3- According to Sha'bi, Zabur is the Book of the Prophet David and Dhikr is the Book of the Prophet Moses. He also says that Dhikr is the Quran and transforms mim ba'd (after) to min qabl (before).

Concerning the second part of the verse: "inna al-ardh yarithuha `ibadiya as-salihun" ("My servants, the righteous, shall inherit the earth"), Tabarsi reports its meaning from several commentators:

1- Some define the word ardh as the earth of Heaven. So the verse means: "My righteous servants shall inherit the earth of Heaven". According to this view, this verse does not concern the Mahdi.

2- Some define the word as the same Earth we are living in and which will belong to the Umma of the Prophet Muhammad. As the Prophet says: "The Earth was gathered for me, and the Eastern and Western parts of it were offered to me. And soon the Kingdom of my Community (Umma) will recover all of them." Regarding this verse, Imam Baqir asserts that these righteous servants are the Companions of the Mahdi at the End of Time. To confirm these statements, there is a tradition that both the Shi'ites and the Sunnites report as emanating from the Prophet: "Even if there remains only a day on the Earth, God will prolong it until He will bring forth a pious man from my progeny so that he will fill the earth with justice and equity as it was filled with oppression and tyranny."

After having reported that the verse concerns the Mahdi, Shaykh Tabarsi mentions a tradition which denies the Mahdi and gives his own opinion. He writes that, in his work al-Ba'th wa an-Nushur, Imam Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn Husayn Bayhaki cites several traditions in this regard; his grandson `Abdullah ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad also reported all of these in the year 517 AH, but the tradition reported from Abu `Abdullah Hafez from Muhammad ibn Khaled from Aban ibn Saleh from Hasan from Anas ibn Malek, claiming that the Prophet said: `The people are living in difficulty and miserliness .... and Mahdi is no one but `Isa ibn Maryam' is first of all a tradition reported only by Muhammad ibn Khaled, and secondly both the latter and Abu 'Abdullah Hafez are unknown. Finally, declared Tabarsi, there is also disagreement in the Isnad or the transmissional chain of the Hadith: once Muhammad ibn Khaled reports the tradition from Aban ibn Saleh from Hasan from Anas from the Prophet, and once he reports the tradition from Aban ibn Abi `Ayyash (who can be omitted) from Hasan from the Prophet, and this chain of transmission is broken.

Tabarsi finally confirms his position, saying: "The traditions which clearly concern the reappearance of the Mahdi have a more trustworthy chain of narration. In these same traditions, it is reported that the Mahdi is from the Prophet's progeny. Among them, there is one that Bayhaki's grandson reports in his work from Abu Ali Rudbary, from Abu Bala ibn Das, from Abu Dawud Sajestani ..... from the Prophet who said: 'Even if there remains only one day on the earth, God will prolong it until He will bring forth a pious man from my progeny.' And in some of these traditions it is reported that the Prophet also said: 'His name is the same as my name and he will fill the earth with justice and equity as it was filled with oppression and tyranny.' Also he reports a tradition from the Prophet who said: 'The Mahdi is from my progeny, and from the descendants of Fatimah'."

B- Tafsir d-Mizan by Allama Tabataba'i

As for the Zabur, several meanings are reported by Allama Tabataba'i4 from different commentators:

1- Apparently, the Zabur is the Book which was revealed to the Prophet Dawud as mentioned in another part of the Quran: wa aatayna Dawud Zabura﴿.

2- Some commentators believe that this refers to the Quran.

3- Some are convinced that it concerns all the Books in general that were revealed to the Prophets, or that were revealed to the Prophets after Moses. However, there is no apparent support for this view.

For the word Dhikr, Tabataba'i reports that:

1- Some believe it means the Tawrah because God used the word Dhikr in two other places of this same chapter, clearly referring to the Tawrah.

2- Some say that it refers to the Quran because God used it several times in the Quran with that meaning. If this is so, the fact that the Zabur comes after the Quran in this verse where the Quran was revealed before the Zabur is not a problem because this order corresponds to the rank of the Books and not to their chronology.

3- Dhikr is also said to mean al-Lawh al-Mahfuz (the Protected Tablets), but according to Tabataba'i this is not correct.

For Inheritance (waratha), Tabataba'i reports that Raghib says Inheritance means the donation of goods to someone without any monetary exchange and that the inheritance of land means in this verse the transfer of that land from others to the virtuous people as well as the wealth and abundance of this land which belongs exclusively to them. This inheritance may be this-worldly or otherwise.

Tabatabai's view is that the verse here has a general meaning and that the inheritance to which it refers concerns both this world and the hereafter, and that those who say that it concerns only the inheritance in the hereafter are in error. Also, the commentators who believe that the verse concerns exclusively the inheritance in this world, interpreting it for the time of the Mahdi's reappearance (about which there are authentic traditions from the Prophet reported by both Sunnites and Shi'ites) are also in error. The traditions concerning the Mahdi, even authentic and certain, cannot be applied exclusively to this verse, according to Tabataba'i. Tabatabai also refers to the Tafsir al-Qummi in which it is written that the word Dhikr means all the divine Books and that the Zabur comprises the predictions, praises and prayers (du'a). As far as the inheritance of land by the virtuous is concerned, it is mentioned that it refers to the Mahdi and his followers.

Tabatabai concludes that the traditions concerning the Mahdi and his advent, whether originated by the Shi' ites or the Sunnites, by the Prophet or the Imams, are so numerous that they are considered as mutawatir, reported by several unbroken chain of transmitters, and authentic. It would perhaps be better to refer to the works devoted specifically to this subject.

C- Tafsir Makhzan al-`Iran by Banu Nusrat Amin

Banu Amin5 first reports from several commentators the meaning of Zabur and Dhikr. The meaning of Zabur:

1- According to some commentators, the Zabur means the Book of the Prophet Dawud (David), as God says in the Quran 4: 126 ("wa aatayna Dawud Zabura') and in the Quran 17: 55.

2- Others claim that the Zabur refers to the Quran.

3- Also, the Zabur is said to consist of all the revealed Books or the Books revealed after that of the Prophet Musa (Moses).

The meaning of Dhikr:

1- According to some commentators, it means the Tawrah, because God used the word Dhikr several times in the Quran when referring to the Tawrah.

2- It is also said to refer to the Quran because it was used to indicate the Quran on different occasions. In this case, the fact that the Zabur comes after the Dhikr (Quran) in the verse does not mean after in chronological time but in the sense that it comes after the Dhikr because of its lower rank.

3- The Zabur is said by some to represent the al-Lawh alMahfuz.

Banu Amin then briefly reports the commentators' views concerning the second part of the verse (My servants the righteous, shall inherit the earth﴿):

1- The meaning of Ardh is the earth of Heaven which the virtuous and pious servants of God will inherit, as we can see in the Quran 23: 11 and in the Quran 39: 74.

2- Ardh is also said to be a sacred land that the Community of the Prophet will inherit.

3- Ardh is the earth and the verse concerns people who have faith in general.

4- The virtuous members of the Community are being referred to here; it is said that, at the End of Time, the Umma of the Prophet will conquer the earth and its unbelievers, and will rule it.

At this point, Banu Amin reports a tradition from Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (fifth Imam) concerning the Righteous mentioned in the verse: These are the Companions of the Mahdi at the End of Time, who will conquer the Eastern and Western parts of the earth﴿. She adds that, in confirmation of this, there is a tradition reported by the Shi'ites and the Sunnites, according to which the Prophet said: "Even if there remains only one day on Earth, God will prolong it until He will bring forth a pious man from my progeny so that he will fill the earth with justice and equity as it was filled with oppression and tyranny".6 Moreover, she adds that the traditions concerning the reappearance of the Mahdi and his descendency from Fatima are numerous among the Shi'ites and the Sunnites."

2) Quran 24: 55

Allah has promised, to those among you who believe and work righteous deeds, that He will, of a surety, grant them in the land, inheritance (of power), as He granted it to those before them; that He will establish in authority their religion-the one which He has chosen for them; and that He will change (their state), after the fear in which they (lived), to one of security and peace: 'They will worship Me (alone) and not associate aught with Me. 'If any do reject Faith after this, they are rebellious and wicked7.

A- Tafsir Majma' al-Bayan by Shaykh Tabarsi

Shaykh Tabarsi explains the verse as8:  "God promised to those who sincerely have faith and are obedient that he will make them heirs of the ancients and that He will grant them all the Arab and non-Arab unbelievers' lands, and will make them inhabitants and governor of these lands, in the same way as he made the Bani Isra 'il the heirs of the ancients and destroyed the tyrant of Egypt, and granted all his goods and lands to them." He then reports several views concerning this verse:

1- Some commentators believe that it concerns the Prophet.
2- Some say it concerns the Umma.
3- From the sayings of the Imams of the Ahl al-Bay!, it is reported that it concerns the Mahdi from the Prophet's descendants. The fourth Imam once recited this verse and said: By God, these people are our Shi'ites about whom God will accomplish all the promises he made in this verse by the hands of a man from among us, who is the Mahdi of this Community.﴿ The Prophet said about him: "Even if there remains only one day on Earth, God will prolong it until He will bring forth a pious man from my progeny and who is named as I am, so that he will fill the earth with justice and equity as it was filled with oppression and tyranny The same tradition was reported by Imam Baqir and Imam Sadeq.

Shaykh Tabarsi adds that the expression "al-ladhina amanu minkum wa `amilu as-salehat" ("those among you who believe and work righteous deeds") refers to the Prophet and the Ahl al-Bayt and that this verse gives them the good news that they will be the Caliphs (governors) and will seize power in every land and that during the revolution of the Mahdi, they will be made safe. Moreover, he affirms that the meaning of "kama estakhlqfa al-ladhina min qablihim" ("as He granted it to those before them") is that, before them also, God granted the governorship (khilafa) and power to those who deserved it, such as Adam, Dawud and Sulayman, as we can see in the following verses:

Quran 2: 30; Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: I will create a vicegerent on earth.﴿ They said: Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name)?﴿ He said:  know what ye know not.﴿.

Quran 38: 26; 0 David! We did indeed make thee a vicegerent on earth: so judge thou between men in truth (and justice): Nor follow thou the lusts (of thy heart), for they will mislead thee from the Path of Allah: for those who wander astray from the Path of Allah, is a Penalty Grievous, for that they forget the Day of Account.

Quran 4: 54; Or do they envy mankind for what Allah hath given them of his bounty? But We had already given the people of Abraham the Book and Wisdom, and conferred upon them a great kingdom.

Finally, concerning the Mahdi, Shaykh Tabarsi remarks that consensus has been reached among all the Imams concerning this subject and their consensus is a proof (hujja) because the Prophet said: "I am leaving among you two weighty things: the Book of God and my progeny. They will never be separated from each other until they meet me again next to the fountain".

B- Tafsir al-Mizan by Allama Tabataba'i

Tabataba'i explains that this verse constitutes a beautiful promise from God to the believers who also worked virtuous deeds; He promised to have them live in a just and virtuous society, to put the earth at their disposal, to make their religion reign on earth, to replace their fear by safety so that they will no longer be afraid of the hypocrites and their tricks or the unbelievers, and so that they will be able to worship their God freely and in safety. The verse and the promise mentioned in it is exclusively aimed at those believers (mu'minin) of robust faith but who also carried out virtuous deeds.

According to Tabataba'i, this verse was the subject of strong disagreement among the commentators. He then reports their different opinions:

1- Some of them said that the verse was revealed about the Companions of the Prophet and that God fulfilled the promise He made to them by putting the land at their disposal, making their religion triumph, or by replacing their fear by safety. In fact, after the death of the Prophet, during the time of the Caliphs (al- Khulafa al-rashidin), God enabled Islam to progress and gain dignity, and consequently the Muslims' fear of Hypocrites and unbelievers was assuaged. These commentators also said that the believers' inheritance mentioned in this verse refers to the inheritance of the four Caliphs after the Prophet or otherwise only to the first three Caliphs.

2- Other commentators said that the verse is aimed at the Community (Umma) of the Prophet in general. And the meaning of the inheritance of the Prophet's Umma, the supremacy of their religion, and the replacing of their fear by safety, is that they inherited the earth in the same way that the Communities before Islam inherited the earth. Or it can also refer to the inheritance of the Caliphs after the Prophet in which case God fulfilled His promise by making the Caliphs triumph over the unbelievers and conquer cities and countries of the world.

Here Tabataba'i remarks that, according to the two different views expressed above, this verse is among the predictions of the Quran because good tidings are mentioned that were not fulfilled at the time the verse was revealed and even the hope of their fulfillment was absent.

3- Other commentators said that this verse concerns the Mahdi whose reappearance is predicted in numerous authentic traditions, acknowledging that he will fill the earth with justice and equity as it was filled with tyranny and oppression. The meaning of "al-ladhina amanu minkum wa `amelu as-salehat" ("those among you who believe and work righteous deeds") refers to the Prophet and the Imams from his family (Ahl al-Bayt).

Tabataba'i comments on the verse and gives his own opinion: "What we understand from the verse, leaving aside the many instances of negligence on the commentators' part, is that the verse is undoubtedly aimed at some of the people of the Community (Umma) and neither at the Community as a whole nor at some designated individuals from the Community, and these people are the people who believe and work righteous deeds as mentioned in the verse. This meaning is clear in the verse, and there is no evidence, either in the words of the verse or intellectually, that "the people who believe and work righteous deeds" are exclusively the Companions of the Prophet, or the Prophet himself with the Imams from his family, or the Community as a whole".

He adds, "The meaning of their inheritance of earth, like the inheritance of the Communities of the past, is that God will make of them a virtuous society who will inherit the earth as He did for the Communities of the past. This inheritance is dependant on their being a virtuous society and not on particular individuals. Also the interpretation of this inheritance as the Divine Caliphate or the Divine Kingdom and authority, like the Kingdom of Dawud, Sulayman and Yusuf, is highly unlikely, because the Quran would not talk about such Prophets by saying "al-ladhina min Qablihim" ("those before them"). Moreover, this expression appears more than fifty times in the Quran and in any case it is applied to the Prophets."

Concerning the virtuous society, the author adds that this can only become a reality in the time of the Mahdi: "It is clear in the verse that God promised to those who believe and work righteous deeds that He will soon grant them a society that will be virtuous in all its meanings, that will be purified from blasphemy, hypocrisy and debauchery, that will inherit the earth and in which the True religion masters the beliefs and deeds of its people, that will be in safety and will have no fear from enemies from inside or outside and that will be free from the oppressors, tyrants, and dictators. Such a pure and perfect society has never existed in the world. Neither has such a society existed since the beginning of the Prophet's mission. But if a society such as this ever becomes a reality, it will inevitably be during the time of the Mahdi, because the traditions reported by numerous unbroken chains of transmitters (Akhbar Mutawatira) from the Prophet and the Imams of his family concerning the characteristics of the Mahdi and his government mention the creation of such a society. Of course the people the verse is addressing are virtuous people in general and not only the Mahdi in particular."

Tabataba'i answers possible objections to this view as follows: 'According to this point of view, the verse addressed people who believed and worked righteous deeds at that time, while the Mahdi and anyone from his time did not yet exist'. He then goes on to say: "It is possible to address people in two different manners: On the one hand, we can address people while taking into consideration their individual qualities and characteristics, while on the other hand, we can speak to the same group without considering them as individuals but rather as a group with particular qualities. In this second case, designated individuals are not involved but those in general who possess the qualities mentioned in the verse are addressed, even though they did not exist when the verse was revealed. In this verse, the second case is applied as well as in most of the verses which address either the believers (Mu 'minin) or the unbelievers, or in the verses which criticise the People of the Book, particularly the Jews, not speaking to them individually but only to those among them who committed such and such a fault."

The author adds, "The reality is that, if we really want to give a true meaning to the verse, it can only be in conformity with a society founded through the reappearance of the Mahdi." But, says the author, "if we interpret the verse negligently, then:

- It is possible to say that the inheritance of those who believe and act virtuously is the inheritance of the whole community. In denying this view, we can answer that it is overgeneralizing. In fact, it is like saying that Shams (Sun) and Qamar (Moon) are the Shamsayn (two Suns), or the Qamarayn (two Moons), and so on.

- We can also interpret the supreme reign of their religion, the one they love, as the fact that God will make them renowned throughout the world as the Islamic Community (Umma), and will consider Islam as their exclusive religion, and this, even if they divide into seventy-three different schisms, and each one of these branches considers the others heretics and unbelievers or find it permissible to kill the members of other branches and steal their goods.

- We can also interpret the fact that God will replace their fear by safety and that they will worship God and nothing else, as the granting by God of dignity and power to their religion, so that it will spread throughout the world, and people will then be able to practise their religion freely, even if among these people themselves, there is no security, and if the truth has abandoned the inhabitants of the earth."

Tabataba'i then reports from the Majma' al-Bayan, Shaykh Tabarsi's work, concerning this verse, that the commentators have different interpretations related to the expression "alladhina amanu minkum" ("those among you who believe") and that there are traditions from the Ahl al-Bayt which attribute it to the Mahdi from the family of the Prophet. He also reports from the Majma' that `Ayyashi reported from Ali ibn al-Husayn (fourth Imam) that when he recited the verse, he said: "By God these are our Shi'ites, about whom God will fulfill his promises through a man from us, and he is the Matadi of this Community, about whom the Prophet said: `Even if there remains only one day on Earth, God will prolong it until He will bring forth a pious man from my progeny whose name is the same as my name and he will fill the earth with justice and equity as it was filled with oppression and tyranny.' A similar tradition is reported from Abi Ja'far (fifth Imam) and Abi `Abdillah (sixth Imam). Tabataba'i says: "Traditions are reported from the Imams concerning the subject that we mentioned previously. Also the Majma' al-Bayern, after the tradition reported above, mentions that: 'In consequence, "al-ladhina aamanu minkum wa `amelu as-salehat" ("those among you who believe and work righteous deeds") are the Prophet and his family.' Tabatabai comments: "The reader has understood that the verse is general and the tradition does not argue more than that. In the work al-Durr al-Manthur, it is mentioned that ibn Abi Hatem and ibn Marduyeh reported from Bara' about the interpretation of the verse that he said: 'It was revealed about us, because we were living in fear and insecurity'. It appears from this tradition that the meaning of ' al-ladhina aamanu ...' is the Companions of the Prophet, but the reader must have realised that the verse does not argue at all in favour of this meaning."

* Mahdi in the Quran According to Shi'ite Qur'an Commentators. Chapter 3, by : N. Vasram and A. Toussi.


1- Seyyed Hashim al-Bahrani: Sima-ye Hazrat-e Mahdi dar Quran, p.23.
2- Yusuf Ali 21:105
3- Majma' al-Bayan, Vol. 16. p. 170
4- Al-Mizan, vol. 14, p. 453
5- Makhzan al-lrfan, Vol. 10 p. 309
6- The same tradition is reported by Shaykh Tabarsi in his tafsir of the same verse, see note 5.
7- 24:55
8- Majma' al-Bayan,Vol.17 p.161

1191 View | 02-03-2011 | 06:47


 
 

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