Now we come to the third question as to how the preparation of the Awaited
Saviour for his mission was completed, as he was only about five years old when
his father, Imam Hasan al-Askari died. This age is the time of early childhood
and the child is not old enough for the development of the personality of a
leader. Then how did his personality develop?
The answer is that several of his forefathers also assumed the Imamate at an
early age. Imam Mohammad ibn al-Jawad assumed it when he was only eight years
old and Imam Ali ibn Mohammad al-Hadi when he was only nine.
It should be observed that the phenomenon of the early Imamate reached its
zenith in the case of the Imam Mahdi. We call it a phenomenon, because it
assumed a tangible and practical form as in the case of Imam Mahdi's
forefathers. It was felt and experienced by the Muslims coming into contact with
the Imam concerned. Experience of the people being the best proof of a
phenomenon, we cannot be asked to give a more tangible or a more convincing
proof of it. The following points will elucidate what we mean:
(i) The Imamate of an Imam belonging to the Holy House was not a centre of
hereditary power and influence, nor did it have the backing of any ruling
regime, as was the case with the Imamate of the Fatimid caliphs and the
caliphate of the Abbasid caliphs. The extensive popular support and allegiance
which the Imams enjoyed was due only to their spiritual influence and the
conviction of their followers that they alone deserved the leadership of Islam
on spiritual and intellectual grounds.
(ii) The popular bases supporting the Imamate had existed since the early days
of the Islamic era. They expanded further during the time of the Imam Baqir and
Imam Sadiq. The school set up by them assumed the form of an extensive
intellectual movement which included among its ranks hundreds of legists,
scholastic theologians, exegetes and others learned in various fields of Islamic
scholarship and the humanities known at that time. Hasan ibn Ali Washsha, when
visiting the Masjid of Kufah, found there 900 scholars all repeating the
traditions narrated to them by Imam Ja'far ibn Mohammad al-Sadiq.3
(iii) The qualifications which an Imam possessed, as believed in by this school
and the popular bases represented by it, were very high. The Imam was judged by
the standard of these qualifications to find out whether he was really fit to be
an Imam. They believed that the Imam must be the most learned and wise man of
(iv) The school and the popular bases had to make great sacrifices for the sake
of their belief in the Imamate which the contemporary governments regarded as a
hostile line, at least from the ideological angle. This attitude led the then
authorities to the persecution of the followers of the Imams. Many people were
killed. Many others were thrown into dungeons. Hundreds died while in detention.
Their belief in the Imamate of the Prophet's House used to cost them dear. The
only attraction was their conviction of gaining the favour of Allah.
(v) The Imams, whose Imamate these popular bases acknowledged, were not living
like the kings in high towers isolated from their followers. They never
segregated themselves, except when imprisoned, exiled or forcibly kept aloof by
the ruling juntas. This we know for certain on the authority of a large number
of reporters who have narrated the sayings 'and deeds of each of the first
eleven Imams. Similarly, we have a record of the correspondence exchanged
between the Imams and their contemporaries.
The Imams used to make journeys to various places and appointed their deputies
in different parts of the Muslim world. Their supporters also, while visiting
the holy places during Hajj, made it a point to call on them at Madina. All this
meant a continuous contact between the Imams and their followers scattered all
over the Muslim world.
(vi) The contemporary caliphs always regarded the Imams and their spiritual
leadership as a threat to themselves and their dynasty. For this reason, they
did all they could to disrupt this leadership and in pursuance of their
nefarious ends, they resorted to many mean and arbitrary actions. Occasionally
their behaviour was too harsh and despotic. The Imams themselves were
continuously chased and kept in detention. Such actions were painful and
disgusting to all the Muslims, especially to the supporters of the Imams.
These six points comprise historical facts. If we take them into consideration,
we can easily come to the conclusion that the early Imamate was a real fact and
not a fiction. It is certain that an Imam who appeared on the scene at a very
early age, who proclaimed himself to be the spiritual and intellectual leader of
the Muslims and who was acknowledged to be so by a vast cross-section of the
people must have had great knowledge, competence and mastery over all branches
of theology. Otherwise, the popular bases could not be convinced of his Imamate.
We have already said that these bases had continuous contact with the Imams and
were in a position to judge their personalities. It is not conceivable that so
many people should have accepted a boy to be their Imam and should have made
sacrifices for his sake without ascertaining his real worth and assessing his
competence. Even if it is presumed that the people made no immediate efforts to
ascertain the position, still the truth could not remain unknown for years in
spite of the continuous contact between the child Imam and the people. Had he
been childish in his knowledge and thinking, he would certainly have been
Even if it is supposed that the popular bases of the Imamate could not discover
the truth, it was easy for the government of the day to expose the child, if he
had been really childish in his thinking and cultural attainments like all other
children. It certainly would have been in the interest of the government of the
day to bring him before his supporters and others to prove that he was not fit
to be an Imam and a spiritual and intellectual leader.
It might have been difficult to prove the incompetence of a man of 40 to 50, but
it would have been quite easy to prove the incompetence of an ordinary child,
howsoever intelligent he might have been. Evidently this would have been much
simpler and easier than the complex and risky policy of suppression adopted by
those in power at that time. The only explanation for why the government kept
quiet and did not play this card is that it had realized that the early Imamate
was a real phenomenon and not a concoction.
The fact is that the government did attempt to play that card but did not
succeed. History tells us of such attempts and their failures, but it does not
report any occasion on which the child Imam vacillated or showed signs of such
embarrassment as could shake the confidence of the people believing in his early
That is what we meant when we said that the early Imamate was really a
phenomenon and not a mere presumption. This phenomenon has deep roots, for there
exist parallel cases throughout the history of the heavenly mission and Divine
leadership. We cite just one instance.
We commanded John; Zachariah's son, to follow the guidance of the Lord with due
steadfastness. To John We gave knowledge and wisdom during his childhood', (Surah
After it has been proved that the early Imamate had been a real phenomenon
already existing in the life of the people of the Prophet's House, no exception
can be taken to the Imamate of the Mahdi and his succession to his father while
he was still a child.