Imam al-Mahdi (af) in the Holy Qur’an

Although there are multiple Ahadith in both Sunni1 and Shia2 sources referring to the Imam (af), he is not explicitly mentioned by name in the Holy Qur’an. This is not unusual; only 25 of the 124,000 Prophets are mentioned by name in the Holy Qur’an, but the other 123,975 were still representatives of Allah & proofs over His creation.

The Holy Qur’an needs a guide to expand and explain the deeper meanings of its verses, particularly those referred to as ‘Mutashabiha’(Qur’an 3:7), which are deeper and have multiple meanings (as opposed to those which are ‘Muhkam’ and have more straightforward, simpler meanings).

In his famous Hadith of Thaqalayn, the Prophet (s) referred to the Ahlul Bayt (as) and the Holy Qur’an as two weighty things (Thaqalayn) for his community to follow and hold dear, explaining that they would never separate (i.e. contradict one another). It is because of this that in our daily Ziyarat, we refer to the Imam (af) as a partner to the Holy Qur’an [Asalamu alayka ya Sharika al-Quran].


The explanations provided by the Masumeen (as) can be divided into two types:

  1. The first, more basic type, fleshes out and explains Qur’anic concepts or commands that are referred to briefly. For example, there are many verses in the Holy Qur’an that tell us to ‘establish prayer’, but nowhere does Allah  explain how to pray. For this, we turn towards the Prophet (s) and the Ahlul Bayt (as) as our Divinely appointed guides. 
  2. On a deeper level, the role of the Holy Prophet (s) and Aimmah (as) in explaining the Holy Qur’an extends to discussing and disseminating its Ta’wil. The Tafsir of the Qur’an is its apparent meaning; whereas the Ta’wil is the hidden, deeper meaning, the knowledge of which has been given by Allah SWT to the Masumeen. 

…وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلَّا اللَّهُ ۗ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ …

[3:7] … but none knows its Ta’wil except Allah, and those firmly rooted in knowledge…

An example of the difference between Tafsir and Ta’wil is in Surah Abasa, where Allah urges mankind to take notice of their ‘food’:

فَلْيَنْظُرِ الْإِنْسَانُ إِلَىٰ طَعَامِهِ         

[80:24] Then let man look to his food

The Tafsir of this verse would discuss in detail the types of food that are permissible and forbidden, whereas the Ta’wil as explained by the Ahlul Bayt (as) is that food here refers to knowledge. 

In the same way, mention of the 12th Imam (af) in the Qur’an is hidden within the Ta’wil of the verses of the Qur’an. Below are a few examples, (references to the Imam (af) have been highlighted in bold font):

Several Qur’anic verses indicate the coming of a Caliph in the last era to establish a government as per Allah (SWT)’s will:

وَعَدَ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنْكُمْ وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ لَيَسْتَخْلِفَنَّهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ كَمَا اسْتَخْلَفَ الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِهِمْ وَلَيُمَكِّنَنَّ لَهُمْ دِينَهُمُ الَّذِي ارْتَضَىٰ لَهُمْ وَلَيُبَدِّلَنَّهُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِ خَوْفِهِمْ أَمْنًا ۚ يَعْبُدُونَنِي لَا يُشْرِكُونَ بِي شَيْئًا ۚ وَمَنْ كَفَرَ بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ 

[24:55] ‘Allah has promised to those of you who believe and do good that He will most certainly make them rulers in the earth, as He made rulers those before them, and that He will most certainly establish for them their religion which He has chosen for them, and that He will most certainly, after their fear, give them security in exchange; they shall serve Me, not associating aught with Me; and whoever is ungrateful after this, these it is who are the transgressors.’

وَلَقَدْ كَتَبْنَا فِي الزَّبُورِ مِنْ بَعْدِ الذِّكْرِ أَنَّ الْأَرْضَ يَرِثُهَا عِبَادِيَ الصَّالِحُونَ

[21:105] ‘And certainly We wrote in the Book (Psalms) after the reminder (the old testament3) that (as for) the land, My righteous servants shall inherit it.’

يُرِيدُونَ لِيُطْفِئُوا نُورَ اللَّهِ بِأَفْوَاهِهِمْ وَاللَّهُ مُتِمُّ نُورِهِ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْكَافِرُونَ

[61:8] ‘They desire to put out the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah will perfect His light, though the unbelievers may be averse.’

وَنُرِيدُ أَنْ نَمُنَّ عَلَى الَّذِينَ اسْتُضْعِفُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَنَجْعَلَهُمْ أَئِمَّةً وَنَجْعَلَهُمُ الْوَارِثِينَ

[28:5] ‘And We desired to bestow a favour upon those who were deemed weak in the land, and to make them the Imams, and to make them the heirs.’

بَقِيَّتُ اللَّهِ خَيْرٌ لَكُمْ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ مُؤْمِنِينَ ۚ وَمَا أَنَا عَلَيْكُمْ بِحَفِيظٍ 

[11:86]What remains with Allah is better for you if you are believers, and I am not a keeper over you.’ NB: ‘Baqiyatullah’ is a title for the Imam (af)

أَمَّنْ يُجِيبُ الْمُضْطَرَّ إِذَا دَعَاهُ وَيَكْشِفُ السُّوءَ وَيَجْعَلُكُمْ خُلَفَاءَ الْأَرْضِ ۗ أَإِلَٰهٌ مَعَ اللَّهِ ۚ قَلِيلًا مَا تَذَكَّرُونَ

[27:62] Or, Who answers the distressed one when he calls upon Him and removes the evil, and He will make you successors in the earth. Is there a god with Allah? Little is it that you mind!


In total, the scholars have found reference to the Imam (af) in some 250 verses. These verses can be categorised into three groups:

  1. The verses that talk about the Aimmah (as) in general, of whom he is the last. For example 33:33 (Ayah Tathir) or 4:59: ‘Obey Allah, obey the Prophet, and those in authority’.
  2. The verses that emphasise the necessity of the existence of an Imam (as). For example Qur’an 13:7: ‘…and there is a guide for every people.’ In reference to this verse, Imam Baqir (as) said: ‘In every generation, there is a guide from us who guides the people to what the Prophet of God (s) has brought.
  3. The verses that gives glad tidings about the rule of the righteous over the earth. Several verses of the Qur’an promise the righteous and the oppressed that they will rule over the earth and that truth and justice will prevail. Examples have been given above.
  1. Sahih al-Bukhari, hadith 6682 []
  2. al-Kafi, v.1, p.219, hadith 4 []
  3. Genesis 17:20 mentions that 12 leaders would arise from the progeny of Ismail (as): ‘And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation.’ []

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