In the previous part, I provided extensive traditions from the six authentic Sunni collections concerning the fact that Imam Mahdi (A.S.) who is different than Jesus (the messiah) WILL come and he is the descendant of Prophet and his daughter Fatimah. The traditions further illuminated the fact that Jesus (who was a great Prophet) will pray behind al-Mahdi (who is an Imam). Also I gave the fatwa of Sunni scholars who stated that the belief in the "Mahdi of the House of Prophet" is one of the Islamic tenets for "Ahl al-Sunnah wal Jama’a", and any one who denies it is either ignorant or an innovator.
In this part however, I would like to talk about some special specifications of Imam Mahdi which is questionable for a majority of Sunnis. Imam Mahdi’s Identification:
Shia believe that Imam Mahdi is the only son of Imam Hasan al-Askari (the 11th Imam) who was born on 15th of Sha’ban 255/869 in Samarra, Iraq. He became the God-appointed Imam when his father was martyred in 260/874. Imam Mahdi went into occultation (disappearance; leaving among people while they can’t recognize him) at the same time. He will re-appear when Allah wills. More specifically:
His title is "al-Mahdi" which means "The Guided One."
His name is Muhammad Ibn al-Hasan (A.S.).
His lineage, traced back to al-Imam Ali (A.S.), is: Muhammad Ibn al-Hasan Ibn Ali Ibn Muhammad Ibn Ali Ibn Musa Ibn Ja’far Ibn Muhammad Ibn Ali Ibn al-Husain Ibn Ali Ibn Abi Talib (A.S.).
Now let us see what is the argument of each side:
Some Sunnis question Shia that how a five year old boy can become an Imam for the people? And why attribute all this importance to him?
First, we must question whether or not in the history of religion, the phenomenon of young leaders has a parallel. Undoubtedly, there is. The Quran strikes two examples which are worthy of mentioning:
We have the example of Jesus (A.S.) who became Prophet and spoke people when he was a baby in the cradle:
﴾But she pointed to the baby. They said: `How can we talk to one who is a CHILD in the cradle?’ He said: `I am indeed a servant of Allah. He HAS GIVEN me Scripture and ASSIGNED me a Prophet, and He has made Me blessed wherever I be, and has enjoined on me Prayer and zakat As long as I live.’﴿ (Quran 19:29-31)
Thus Jesus (A.S.) became Prophet and received revelation and book while he was less than two years old!
Furthermore, in few verses before, Quran mentions the case of Prophet Yahya (John), to whom Allah (SWT) said:
﴾O Yahya! Take hold of the Book with might:’ And We gave him the appointment (of prophethood) in his CHILDHOOD.﴿ (Quran 19:12)
So if a two-year old boy can become a prophet and receives revelation, then why can not a five-year old boy become Imam?
Every body is mortal. How can he live so long?
Yes, in fact Imam Mahdi will die too. But the difference is the length of life in this world. In fact Quran and the prophetic traditions tell us that some people have had/are having long life in this world. So it is possible to see this phenomenon again.
Are you aware that according to the Quran (see 29:14), Prophet Noah has just been prophet for 950 years? In fact, he was alive even more than that because we should add his age before prophethood to the above number. Who knows how much it was.
Do you agree that Prophet Jesus (A.S.) is still alive? He is in fact 1,994 years old now. Of course, he is not living on Earth right now; he is living in the Heavens. But according to Muslim’s belief, he will come back to Earth, and will pray behind Imam al-Mahdi (A.S.).
Do you agree that al-Khidr (A.S.) is still alive? Quran mentions his story with Moses (A.S.). He existed before the birth of the Prophet Moses (A.S.), so al-Khidr (A.S.) is now more than 3000 years old. He lives right here on this Earth, but we can not recognize him (fairly similar to the case of Imam Mahdi). He serves Allah (SWT) as one of His agents.
No doubt Allah has the ability to give a very long life, but He also has assigned a death time for every body (including the above mentioned individuals) which can be so soon or so late.
Where is Mahdi (A.S.) right now? Is he in cave?
Imam Mahdi disappeared in 260/874 when he became Imam. The last time that he was seen, was in the cellar of his father’s house in Samarra, Iraq. That is what is rumored regarding Shia that they believe Mahdi is in the cave!!!
Shia do NOT believe that Imam Mahdi is in the Cave or Cellar! He was just seen there for the last time. He can be anywhere Allah wishes. However one thing is clear is that he lives on the earth among people while people around him do not perceive.
Second, with regards to the occultation of al-Mahdi (A.S.), the Quran does NOT rule out such an occurrence at all. Again, the examples of Jesus (A.S.) and al-Khidr (A.S.), who are both in occultation, are worthy of mentioning.
What about his mother? Provided that Shia is right in their assertion that al-Mahdi’s (A.S.) mother was a slave or bondwoman, isn’t it shameful that he (A.S.) should be born to a slave-girl?
The answer would be in the form of the following questions: Wasn’t Hagar (A.S.), the Prophet Abraham’s wife, a bondwoman? Did she not bear Isma’il (Ishmael) (A.S.), whom the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his household) is a direct descendant of? If it is acceptable for the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his household), the Seal of Prophethood, to be a descendant of Isma’il (A.S.) who was born to a bondwoman, then why not al-Mahdi (A.S.)?
I need to mention that the birth of al-Mahdi (A.S.) was an event surrounded with secrecy, because the authorities (The Abbasids) knew that the Mahdi who is to bring about a revolution is going to be the son of Imam Askari, and were awaiting his coming, to capture him for execution. Owing to that, Imam Hasan Askari (A.S.), the Mahdi’s father, could not behave conspicuously by revealing who the mother of the Mahdi (A.S.) was. The Imam Mahdi’s mother was Narjis and was a roman slave who married to Imam al-Askari (A.S.). Notwithstanding, what has created the confusion among the critics of Shia is the fact that Imam al-Askari (A.S.) did not refer to her (A.S.) with one name. A variety of names were used in an effort to fool the authorities, and to prevent them from recognizing who she was. That was part and parcel of the plan to protect the Mahdi (A.S.). Had the father (A.S.) been slightly negligent in protecting his son, it is clear that al-Mahdi (A.S.) would not have survived.
The story of birth of Imam Mahdi is like that of the Moses. All the women were being regularly inspected by female specialists of Abbasids to find out if anybody is pregnant. The Imam Mahdi’s mother did not have any sign of pregnancy to the last hours, similar to Moses’s mother. But no doubt that what Allah wishes will certainly take place.
Given these adverse conditions and hardships, the birth of the Imam (A.S.) was kept in utmost secrecy, that even the closest people to Imam al- Askari (A.S.), the father of the Mahdi (A.S.), did not know of the time of his (A.S.) birth. Only VERY FEW close associates were notified. The obvious contention is that the birth of al-Imam al-Mahdi (A.S.) constitutes a direct threat to the continuance of the corrupt government to rule. This situation is best understood when we refer back to the first few days of Islam when the Prophet (peace be upon him and his household) preached the religion in utmost secrecy among a few loyal followers. The Prophet (peace be upon him and his household) feared for the lives of these believers, and, as such, forbade them from revealing any information that might jeopardize the entire mission.