Meetings of Scholars and Other Believers with Imam al-Mahdi (af) during Ghaybah

The issue of meeting with Imam al-Mahdi (af) during the period of his greater occultation (ghaybat al-kubrā) is contentious amongst Shīʿa scholars. Many renowned scholars have described their own meetings with the Imam (af); however, a number of other scholars, like al-Nuʿmāni (d. 360/970) in his al-Ghaybah, al-Mufīd (d. 413/1022) in his Masāʾil al-ʿAshrah fī al-Ghaybah, Fayḍ Kāsḥānī (d. 1091/1680) in his al-Wāfī, and others, deny the possibility of anyone meeting him during the period of ghaybah al- kubrā. They cite as proof a number of narrations from the Imam (af) himself, (which state that whoever makes such a claim should be considered a liar), in particular, the communication (tawqiʿ) of the Imam (af) to his final deputy ʿAlī bin. Muhammad al-Samarī, in which he stated, “…And someone shall come to my partisans (shīʿa) claiming that he has seen me; but beware of anyone claiming to have seen me before the rise of Sufyānī and the outcry from the sky, for he shall be a slanderous liar.”1

Other scholars, like Sharīf Murtaḍā (d.436/1044)) in his Tanzīh al-Anbiyāʾ, Sh Ṭūsī (460/1067) in his Kalmia al-Muḥaqqiqīn, and Ibn Ṭāwūs (d. 664/1266) in his al-Ṭarāʾif, expressed the view that the Imam (af) can be met by individuals from who there is no fear of danger or misrepresentation.

 

Opinions about the nature of the ghaybah of the Imam (af)

Some believe that, through miraculous means, the Imam (af) himself cannot be seen by human eyes during the ghaybah. For example, Sayyid Muhammad Sadr says that this is the simplest explanation for the fact that that the Imam (af) sees the people while they do not see him, and conforms with the famous tradition that the Imam (af) is like the sun behind the clouds.

Others believe that the meaning of ghaybah is that the Imam (af) is hidden from the recognition of the people. This means that he lives amongst the people, who see him, but do not realise his identity. Syed Sadr accepts the validity of this opinion, citing the tradition that the Imam (af) is present every year at the Hajj, while the pilgrims do not know which of them he is.

The prevailing view of the Shīʿa scholars is that while general meetings with the Imam (af) are rare, they are possible, and many trusted scholars have met him. Hereunder we will present accounts of some of those meetings.

Meetings with Imam (af):

  1. Correcting the fatwā of Shaykh al-Mufīd

It is reported that a villager came to Shaykh Mufīd and asked him about a pregnant woman who had died, while the child in her womb was still alive. He asked whether the child should be removed from the mother by cutting her open. Shaykh Mufīd refused, saying the woman should be buried without any wounding of her body.

The man left, but on his way he noticed a rider coming swiftly towards him. When he approached, the rider said, that he had been instructed to tell him to cut open the woman’s abdomen and remove the child. The man carried out the order.

After some time, he saw Shaykh Mufīd and mentioned the incident. The Shaykh realised that the rider had been Imam al-Mahdi (af). Shaykh Mufīd was so upset at his mistake that he stopped giving religious rulings, until he received a letter from the Imam (af) himself, stating, “It is obligatory on you to issue religious rulings; we will support you and make sure that you do not make a mistake.” After this, Shaykh Mufīd resumed issuing religious rulings.2

 

  1. Meeting and assisting ʿAllāmah Ḥillī

ʿAllāmah Ḥillī was going to go for the visitation (ziyārah) of Imam al-Husain (as) on a Thursday night. He was riding on a donkey and had a cane in his hand. Along the way he came across an Arab who was walking, and the two men became engrossed in conversation. ʿAllāmah Ḥillī found the man to be very knowledgeable. So ʿAllāmah began to bring up questions that had concerned him one after another, and the man provided solutions for all of them. At one point the Arab gave a religious ruling, but ʿAllāmah Ḥillī rejected it, saying that there was no narration from the infallibles (as) to support that view.

The man corrected him and gave him the exact page reference from Kitāb al-Tahdhīb of Shaykh Ṭabarsī. ʿAllāmah Ḥillī was amazed, and suddenly thought to ask, “In the period of ghaybat al-kubrā is it possible for a man to see Imam al-Mahdi (af)?” At that moment, the cane slipped out of his hand. The Arab stooped to the ground and picked it up. As he handed the cane back to ʿAllāmah he said, “How can the Imam of this age not be seen, when his hand is in your hand?” ʿAllāmah Ḥillī sprang down from his mount to fall at the feet of the man, but he lost consciousness. When he regained consciousness, he was all alone. Later, when he referred to Kitāb al-Tahdhīb, he found the narration exactly as described to him by Imam al-Mahdi (af).3

Second episode

Another encounter of ʿAllāmah Ḥillī with Imam al-Mahdi (af) is reported as follows.

One of the Sunni scholars who attended some of ʿAllāmah Ḥillī’s classes compiled a big book against the Shīʿa school of thought and began to read from it in gatherings. However, in order to forestall any refutation of the book by a Shīʿa scholar, he would not give the book to anyone. ʿAllāmah Ḥillī used his position as his teacher to ask to see the book. The Sunni scholar agreed on the condition that he could keep the book for a single night only.

ʿAllāmah Ḥillī took the book and began to copy it out immediately. However, it was a voluminous work, and there was no way it could be copied in a single night. By the time half the night had passed, ʿAllāmah was exhausted, but nowhere near completing the work. Suddenly he saw the Imam (af) in front of him who said, “Give me the book, and go to sleep.” 

When he woke, ʿAllāmah Ḥillī saw that the book had been copied in full.

 

  1. Confirming the ijtihād of Shaykh Murtaḍā al-Anṣārī

After the death of the marjaʿ, Muhammad Hasan Najafī (author of the famous work of fiqh, Jawāhir al-Kalām), the people turned to Shaykh Murtaḍā al-Anṣārī for taqlīd, and asked for his book of religious edicts (risālat al-ʿamaliyyah). Shaykh Anṣārī was unwilling to accept the position, and said, “With the presence of Mulla Saʿīd Barfurūshī Māzandarānī, who is more knowledgeable in fiqh than I am, I am not willing to present a risālat al-ʿamaliyyah.” He then himself wrote to Mulla Saʿīd Māzandarānī, inviting him to take up the position of the marjaʿ of the Shīʿa. Mullā Saʿīd wrote back to say that it was true that he was more learned in fiqh when they were colleagues in the seminary in Najaf, but he had not been teaching and studying for many years while engrossed in official duties in Babel, (whereas Shaykh Anṣārī was constantly studying); in short he considered Shaykh Anṣārī more knowledgeable than himself and urged him to accept the marjaʿiyyah.

Shaykh Anṣārī was still reluctant, saying that he did not consider himself qualified for the position. He would only accept it if his master, Imam al-Mahdi (af) endorsed his appointment.

One day when the Shaykh was sitting in a class surrounded by his students, they saw a man who possessed an impressive demeanour enter. Shaykh Anṣārī received him with great respect.

He addressed Shaykh Anṣārī, asking, “What is your view about a woman whose husband has received the punishment of transmutation (maskh)?” (Since this punishment of changing to another creature has not been visited on the nation of the Holy Prophet (s), there is no ruling from the Maʿsumīn (as) available in the books about it).

Shaykh Anṣārī replied that since the subject had not been dealt with in the books of fiqh, he could not give a ruling on the matter.

The man said, “Suppose such a thing did occur, how would you rule?”

Shaykh Anṣārī replied, “In my opinion, if he was transformed into a living creature, she should observe the waiting period (ʿiddah) of divorce before marrying again. However, if he had been transformed into an inanimate being, then she should observe the ʿiddah of a widow.”

The man then stated three times, “You are a Mujtahid, you are a Mujtahid, you are a Mujtahid!” Then he stood up and left.

Shaykh Anṣārī knew that the man was Imam al-Mahdi (af). After this, he took over the role of marjaʿiyyah, and is counted amongst the leading scholars in the period of ghaybah.4

Second episode

One of the students of Shaykh Anṣārī reports that once when he was in Karbala, he left his room in the middle of the night. All the streets were dark, and he could only see by the light of the lantern that he was carrying with him. He saw a figure in the distance and when he got closer, he realised to his surprise that it was his teacher, Shaykh Anṣārī. He followed him from a distance to make sure he would come to no harm.

He saw the Shaykh come to a stop outside a house, and then recite Ziyārat al-Jāmiʿah with intense concentration. Thereafter, he entered the house. From within the house the student could hear the voice of the Shaykh in conversation with someone.

An hour later he went to the ḥaram of Imam al-Husain (as) and saw the Shaykh there.

Sometime later, he brought up the episode in a conversation with the Shaykh. Shaykh Anṣārī was very reluctant to say anything, but after making him swear that he would not reveal what happened to anyone while the Shaykh was still alive, he told him, “Occasionally I receive permission to visit the Imam al-ʿAṣr (af). I go to that house and recite Ziyārat al-Jāmiʿah, thereafter, when I receive a second permission, I am blessed to sit with the Imam (af) and ask him all the questions that I have.”5

 

  1. Muqaddas Ardabīlī asks Imam ʿAlī (as) a question and is directed to Imam Mahdī (af)

Muqaddas Ardabīlī had a close student by the name of Mīr ʿAllām, whom he had trained in Akhlaq. He was very intelligent and pious. The student narrates: 

One night after I had finished my studies, I went out of my room. It was past midnight, and as I looked outside I saw a man going towards the blessed haram of Imam ʿAlī (as). I thought to myself that perhaps this was a thief who wanted to steal some candles from the shrine. I quietly began to follow the man. He went close to the locked door of the shrine and stood there. Suddenly, I saw the lock fall open. The same thing happened at the second and third door of the shrine as well. All the doors opened for him and he entered the area of the sacred shrine where the grave of the Imam (as) was located.

He said a greeting and the reply came back from the sacred grave. Then he spoke to the Imam (as) about some religious matters. From his voice, I recognized that it was my teacher, Muqaddas Ardabīlī. After a while, he came out of the haram and headed out of the city towards Masjid Kufa.

I followed him, while he was unaware of my presence. When he reached the prayer-niche (miḥrāb) in Masjid Kufa, I heard him speak to someone else about the same religious matters. Then he headed back to Najaf. I followed him but he did not see me.  

I came to him and said, “O master! I have been with you from the beginning. Tell me who was the first person whom you spoke to at the holy shrine, and who was the other person whom you spoke to at Masjid Kufa?”

He made me swear never to tell anyone his secret as long as he was alive. Then he said, “O my son! When I have difficulty in solving some religious issues, I go in the night to the grave of the Commander of the Faithful [Imam Ali (as)] to ask him about them and receive my answers. Tonight, Imam ʿAlī (as) sent me to Imam al-Mahdi (af) saying, ‘Tonight my son al-Mahdi is at Masjid Kufa. Go to him and ask him about your question.’ The man you heard me speaking to in Masjid Kufa was Imam al-Mahdi (af).”6

 

5. The meeting of Sayyid Baḥr al-ʿUlūm with Imam al-Mahdi (af) at Masjid Sahlah

The esteemed scholar Ākhund Mulla Zayn al-ʿĀbidīn Salmāsī reports: 

One day I was sitting in the class of ʿAllāmah Ṭabāṭabāʾī Baḥr al-ʿUlūm in Najaf. During that time the great scholar, Mīrzā Abū al-Qāsim Qummī (the author of al-Qawānīn) entered to visit him. When the lesson was over, Mīrzā Abū al-Qāsim remarked to Sayyid Baḥr al-ʿUlūm, “You have achieved a high spiritual station and your vision sees beyond the physical realm. Tell us something of the great bounties that you have seen.” 

At that time, without much thought, Sayyid Baḥr al-ʿUlūm said, “Last night I went to Masjid Kufa to offer the recommended (nāfilah) prayers. At daybreak, I decided to return to Najaf. When I came out of the mosque, I was struck with the desire to go to Masjid Sahlah. However, I was mindful that I had to reach Najaf in time for my class, so I decided against it. However, my desire to go to Masjid Sahlah grew moment by moment and become intense.

At that moment as I was deciding what to do, a gust of wind blew up a dust cloud and pulled me onwards, and in no time I found that I had reached Masjid Sahlah.

I entered the mosque and found it empty. There was no visitor (zāʾir) except for a venerable man who was engrossed in supplication to God. He was uttering words whose beauty shook my heart and brought tears to my eyes.

My state changed; my heart began to beat faster, and my limbs started to tremble, as I heard his words, the like of which I had never heard before, and which I had never come across in all the works of supplications that I was familiar with.

My tears flowed as I realized that the supplicant was composing his words as he spoke and was not reciting from memory. 

I stood still, and listened to those words, and benefitted from them until he ceased his supplication. 

Then he turned to me and said in Farsi, “al-Mahdi, come.” I walked towards him a few steps, and then stopped. He instructed me to come closer. Once again I walked towards him, then stopped. Once again he bid me to come closer, saying, “Etiquette lies in obedience.” I went forward until I could touch his hand. Then he spoke with me.” Here Sayyid Baḥr al-ʿUlūm stopped speaking.2

  1. Sadūq, Ikmāl al-Dīn. []
  2. Najm al-Thāqib. [] []
  3. Qaṣaṣ al-ʿUlamā. []
  4. Ghanjīneh-yi Dānishmandān. []
  5. Mulāqāt ba Imām-i Zamān (as). []
  6. Anwār al-Nu’māniyyah; Bihār al-Anwār. []

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