Major Occultation

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The Major Occultation (Arabic: ٱلْغَيْبَة ٱلْكُبْرَىٰ‎, al-Ghaybah al-Kubrā), according to Shia, is Hujjat-Allah al-Mahdi's second occultation after the Minor Occultation. Major Occultation_sentence_0

According to Twelvers, the Major Occultation which came around the year 329AH/941CE is still in effect, and will not end until the end of time when the Mahdi returns to reestablish justice on earth. Major Occultation_sentence_1

Upon the death of his father, while still a child, it is believed that the twelfth Imam entered his first occultation which lasted 70 lunar years. Major Occultation_sentence_2

During this time the hidden imam is said to have represented on earth by four successive deputies. Major Occultation_sentence_3

According to official tradition, in 329/940, the fourth and last delegate received a final letter signed by the hidden Imam in which he declared that henceforth and "until the end of time," no one will see him or be his representative, and that whosoever declares otherwise is no less than an imposter. Major Occultation_sentence_4

This document was apparently reported for the first time by Ibn Babawayh in his Kamal al-Din. Major Occultation_sentence_5

Shia scholars assert that, in every age, there is an Imam. Major Occultation_sentence_6

However, because of the dangers which threaten the life of the 12th Imam, he is concealed by God's order. Major Occultation_sentence_7

Critics say the occultation of the 12th imam "became subsequent orthodox doctrine" after none of the competing theories that sought to explain the succession to a childless 11th Imam "seemed satisfactory". Major Occultation_sentence_8

According to Wilferd Madelung, however, the doctrine of the Occultation was well-documented by traditions of the Imams before the occultation. Major Occultation_sentence_9

Concept Major Occultation_section_0

Arabic: Gayba (Occultation, lit. Major Occultation_sentence_10

'absence'), is a term used by the Shias to refer to the occultation of the Hidden Imam, however, as his occultation is believed to be long, and because believers would be waiting for his rise and reappearance, Mahdi is also called Montazar (the Awaited one). Major Occultation_sentence_11

He is also known as Qa'im, whose rise against injustice is awaited. Major Occultation_sentence_12

In this sense, it contrasted with qāʿed(lit: the seated one), a term designating previous Imams who did not participate in rebellious movements against Umayyad and Abbasid rule. Major Occultation_sentence_13

Some scholars, including Bernard Lewis point out that the idea of an Imam in occultation was not new in 873 but that it was a recurring factor in Shia history. Major Occultation_sentence_14

Examples of this include the cases of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah (according to the Kaysanites Shia), Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya, Musa al-Kadhim (according to the Waqifite Shia), Muhammad ibn Qasim (al-Alawi), Yahya ibn Umar and Muhammad ibn Ali al-Hadi. Major Occultation_sentence_15

Background Major Occultation_section_1

The idea of occultation in Islam has its origin in the Kaysanites whose members had considered Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah the Mahdi. Major Occultation_sentence_16

When his son, Abu Hashem died childless some of the Kaysanites again maintained that he was the Qa'im, who is in concealment in the Razwa mountain. Major Occultation_sentence_17

The Waqifi (Sevener) cessationists were another group who maintained that the Imamate was ceased with Musa al-Kadhim the seventh Shia Imam and refused to accept his death as they believed he had gone into occultation. Major Occultation_sentence_18

Finally the companions of Hasan al-Askari, the eleventh Imam, also believed he had a son whose birth, like that of the prophet Moses was concealed, and due to the belief that he was the promised Mahdi; Al-Mutamid ordered the house of the Imam to be investigated, and to find out if the Imam had left a son. Major Occultation_sentence_19

It is said that when his uncle, who became known as the "Ja'far the liar" afterwards, was about to say the prayer at Hasan al-Askari's funeral, "a fair child, with curly hair, and shining teeth" appeared and seized his uncle's cloak insisting that he himself should say the prayer. Major Occultation_sentence_20

And when a few days later a group of Shia pilgrims came from Qum to visit al-Askari, who was dead then, the same Ja'far claimed to be the next Imam. Major Occultation_sentence_21

The pilgrims said they would accept him if he would prove himself by telling them their names and indicating how much money they had. Major Occultation_sentence_22

While Ja'far was protesting against this examination, a servant of al-Mahdi appeared saying that his master had informed him to say that they had certain particular names and definite amount of money. Major Occultation_sentence_23

Ja'far searched everywhere but could not find the boy, al-Mahdi." Major Occultation_sentence_24

The majority of Shia, therefore, denied Mahdi's birth except for a small minority belonging to the circles of narrators who based their belief on the traditions of the previous Imams. Major Occultation_sentence_25

Jassim Hussain indicates several books written before the Minor Occultation predicting the twelfth Imam being the Mahdi and his going to occultation. Major Occultation_sentence_26

According to Modarressi, the introduction of the idea of the Mahdi have taken place very slowly after the death of the eleventh Imam, and the crisis of succession that resulted from it. Major Occultation_sentence_27

According to the Imami doctrine that took shape in the 10th and 11th centuries, the Twelfth Imam is the Mahdi, who is in occultation and will reappear at the end of time. Major Occultation_sentence_28

This picture can be supplemented by the early Imami Shia traditions which present the Qa'im as the redresser of the house of Muhammad. Major Occultation_sentence_29

Reasons for Occultation Major Occultation_section_2

According to Sharif al-Murtaza the twelfth Imam used to appear before his adherents at the beginning of his Occultation concealing himself only from his enemies; only later, when danger to his life increased, did he have to hide from both followers and adversaries, as there are numerous stories of the Hidden Imam "manifesting himself to prominent members of the Ulama" When Jabir ibn Abd Allah asked the prophet about the benefits of a hidden Imam, the prophet replied that the people would benefit from his Walayah (Twelver doctrine) as they benefit from the sun when it is covered by the clouds. Major Occultation_sentence_30

According to Sachedina, in every age there is an Imam whether be apparent or hidden. Major Occultation_sentence_31

As for Mahdi because of the dangers which threatening his life, he is concealed by God's order. Major Occultation_sentence_32

Al-Numani states two reasons for the Occultation: the believers being evaluated by God for their assiduity to their hidden Imam and the hidden Imam not undergoing the Bay'h of the cruel leaders. Major Occultation_sentence_33

Shia tradition cites four major reasons for Mahdi's occultation: protecting the life of the Imam; independence with regard to temporal powers; testing Shi'as in order to measure their faith; and also there is a secret reason which won't be revealed until the end of time. Major Occultation_sentence_34

The real reason for the Occultation, according to a Hadith, will be known when the Imam re-appears. Major Occultation_sentence_35

Criticism Major Occultation_section_3

In Shi'a sources, even in historical works of Al-Shaykh al-Saduq, the birth of the twelfth Imam was miraculous which must be considered as hagiography. Major Occultation_sentence_36

Aside from Shi'i works almost nothing is known about the life of the twelfth Imam. Major Occultation_sentence_37

Some even cast doubt on his existence. Major Occultation_sentence_38

This is because Abbasids were crushing every revolt of Alids which caused al-Askari to hide the child's birth on 255/868 and just close companions get informed of the birth. Major Occultation_sentence_39

However, this belief has long been criticized. Major Occultation_sentence_40

Critics say the occultation of the 12th Imam "became subsequent orthodox doctrine" after none of the competing theories that sought to explain the succession to a childless 11th Imam "seemed satisfactory". Major Occultation_sentence_41

According to Bernard Lewis with each new leader "who disappeared and did not return", this belief was "enriched" and became more detailed and "essential" as a "feature of Shia Islam." Major Occultation_sentence_42

According to Wilferd Madelung, however, the doctrine of the Occultation was well-documented by traditions of the Imams before the occultation of the Twelfth Imam whom the majority of the Imamiyya came to consider as the Mahdi after the death of the eleventh. Major Occultation_sentence_43

Sachedina also states that the idea of the eschatalogical Qa'im who would rise after going to occultation was mentioned by fifth and sixth Imams, Muhammad al-Baqir and Ja'far al-Sadiq, at various times when the two were approached by their followers and assured them of their support, if they wanted to rise against the existing regime. Major Occultation_sentence_44

After the greater occultation, the role of Imam as the head of community left vacant, which did not theoretically matter at the beginning of Occultation because Shias had no political power at that time. Major Occultation_sentence_45

However, when Shia states arose in later centuries, since the hidden Imam was alive and was the leader of Muslims, the role of the Shia states among Shia communities was in question. Major Occultation_sentence_46

This problem has caused continuing tension between government and religion throughout Shia history. Major Occultation_sentence_47

Predictions Major Occultation_section_4

According to Madelung the doctrine of the Occultation was well-documented by traditions of the Imams before the occultation of the Twelfth Imam. Major Occultation_sentence_48

The future arrival of the Mahdi constitutes the most frequent of the imams' predictions. Major Occultation_sentence_49

Kulayni and Numani each dedicated an entire chapter to it, and Ibn Babawayh devoted thirteen chapters to the predictions of the Prophet. Major Occultation_sentence_50

In a Hadith upon whose authenticity everyone agrees, Muhammad has said, "If there were to remain in the life of the world but one day, God would prolong that day until He sends in it a man from my community and my household. Major Occultation_sentence_51

His name will be the same as my name. Major Occultation_sentence_52

He will fill the earth with equity and justice as it was filled with oppression and tyranny." Major Occultation_sentence_53

Mahdi's physical existence Major Occultation_section_5

According to Shia tradition the twelfth Imam is living in his physical body divinely endowed with a long life. Major Occultation_sentence_54

The compilations of al-Kulayni, al-Nu'mani, and Ibn Babawayh which are among the best known contain accounts from people who were able to meet the twelfth Imam. Major Occultation_sentence_55

Ibn Babawayh for example dedicates six chapters of his book to those known for their exceptionally long lives. Major Occultation_sentence_56

He also quotes the Shia Imams to the effect that some prophets had lived incredibly long lives. Major Occultation_sentence_57

According to Tabatabaei, even during his occultation the twelfth Imam watches over men "inwardly and is in communion with the soul and spirit of men" thus "his existence is always necessary even if the time has not yet arrived for his outward appearance and the universal reconstruction that he is to bring about." Major Occultation_sentence_58

Divisions during the Occultation Major Occultation_section_6

After the death of the eleventh Imam in 873, and the mysterious fate of the son of Hasan al-Askari shia was divided into a number of factions, some asserted that his son had died at his early age; others, that he had lived but died in old age; still others denied his existence completely. Major Occultation_sentence_59

Another group took up the ideas of the Waqifites. Major Occultation_sentence_60

Another argued that, as a childless Imam cannot die and leave the world without imam, Imam Hasan al-Askari, therefore, had not died but had gone into occultation. Major Occultation_sentence_61

As for Ja'far, the son of the tenth Imam, who claimed to be Imam after the death of his brother, Hasan al-Askari, was followed by a group of Shia who scattered soon, as Ja'far himself gave up his claim afterwards. Major Occultation_sentence_62

Except the Zaidiyyah and the Isma'ilism which continue to exist until now, all other sects which were separated from the majority of twelver Shia, went extinct within a short period, with the Zaydis and Isma'ilis becoming a small minority. Major Occultation_sentence_63

The first theological tracts on the occultation appeared about thirty years after the death of the eleventh Imam. Major Occultation_sentence_64

This idea adopted later by all Imamis, as a result of the efforts of al-Nu'mani and Ibn Babawayh, and some other shia scholars. Major Occultation_sentence_65

Signs of Advent Major Occultation_section_7

The future coming of the Savior, the Mahdi is the most frequently cited subject in predictions made by the Prophet Muhammad, Fatimah, and the Imams, collectively known as the Fourteen Infallibles, however the ultimate advent of the Hidden Imam is not known and believers are advised to wait patiently and piously. Major Occultation_sentence_66

His advent, however, is heralded by a number of signs. Major Occultation_sentence_67

"The universal signs are the widespread invasion of the earth by Evil, the overcoming of knowledge by ignorance, and the loss of a sense of the sacred and all that links man to God and his neighbors." Major Occultation_sentence_68

These require the rising of Mahdi, otherwise humanity will be overwhelmed by darkness. Major Occultation_sentence_69

There are also some specific signs among which five recur more regularly: Major Occultation_sentence_70

Major Occultation_unordered_list_0

  • The coming of Sufyani, the enemy of the Mahdi who would raise an army against him.Major Occultation_item_0_0
  • The rise of Yamani, who is believed to preach support for Mahdi.Major Occultation_item_0_1
  • The Scream of supernatural origin, coming from the sky calling man to defend Mahdi.Major Occultation_item_0_2
  • The swallowing of an army composed of the Mahdi's enemies in a place located between Mecca and Medina.Major Occultation_item_0_3

There are also some signs both Shias and Sunnis are agreed upon: Major Occultation_sentence_71

Major Occultation_unordered_list_1

  • That Mahdi would be a descendant of Muhammad of the line of FatimahMajor Occultation_item_1_4
  • That his name would be Muhammad.Major Occultation_item_1_5
  • That he would rule for either seven, nine, or nineteen years.Major Occultation_item_1_6
  • That it would be accompanied by raising the Black Standard in Khorasan.Major Occultation_item_1_7
  • That his coming would accompanied by appearance of the Dajjal.Major Occultation_item_1_8

Sunni views Major Occultation_section_8

Mahdi of Sunni and Mahdi of Shia are different. Major Occultation_sentence_72

Sunni Muslims do not consider the son of Hasan al-Askari to be the Mahdi nor to be in occultation. Major Occultation_sentence_73

However, they do believe that the Mahdi will come from Muhammad's family. Major Occultation_sentence_74

Sunnis believe that the Mahdi has not yet been born, and therefore his true identity is known only to Allah. Major Occultation_sentence_75

Aside from the Mahdi's precise genealogy, Sunnis accept many of the same Hadiths Shias accept about the predictions regarding the Mahdi's emergence, his acts, and his universal Caliphate. Major Occultation_sentence_76

Sunnis also have a few more Mahdi hadiths which are not present in Shia collections. Major Occultation_sentence_77

However, they disagree with the Shi'a regarding exactly who the Mahdi is. Major Occultation_sentence_78

Many Sunnis, Ismaili and Zaidiyyah argue that the 11th Imam, of the Twelver Shia, Hassan al-Askari, did not have a son. Major Occultation_sentence_79

Twelver Shias say his birth was concealed. Major Occultation_sentence_80

Others argue that even if he had a son, Hujjat-Allah ibn al-Hasan could not live for over a thousand years. Major Occultation_sentence_81

for the Sunnis the "Mahdi" stands for "an eschatological individual in the future", of whom "the Prophet, gave good tidings, that he would come in the End of Time." Major Occultation_sentence_82

The word Mahdi means the one who is absolutely guided 'by God, and it is in this sense that he is regarded as worthy to guide others. Major Occultation_sentence_83

Unlike Shias, Sunnis belief in the Mahdi never became an essential article of faith. Major Occultation_sentence_84

In Shia Islam, however, it is made a constitutive dogma of its religious doctrine, its dualist vision of the world, and more specifically, its conception of maʿād, "place of return" or the hereafter. Major Occultation_sentence_85

According to Ibn Khaldun, numerous claimants to Mahdi-hood have risen in Sunnism. Major Occultation_sentence_86

The Sunni Mahdis include Ibn Tumart the founder of the Almohad movement, the Sudanese Mahdi, Mohammad Ahmad, and more recently, Mohammad Al-Qahtani, whose followers seized the Grand Mosque in 1979. Major Occultation_sentence_87

See also Major Occultation_section_9

Major Occultation_unordered_list_2

Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: Occultation.