Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan al-'Askarī (Arabic: محمد بن الحسن العسکری) (born in 255/869), also known as Imam al-Mahdi (a) (Arabic: إمام المهدی), is the twelfth Imam in Twelver Shi'ism. He is the promised savior, who will rise one day and fill the earth with peace and justice. Imam al-Mahdi (a) has been in occultation from the early years of his life. Shi'as regard him as the Imam of the present age. Among his well-known titles are Imam al-Mahdi (the Imam of the time) and Wali l-'Asr (the guardian of the age).
Imam al-Mahdi (a) became the Imam after the martyrdom of his father Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a) in the year 260/874, when he was five. From that time until the year 329/940, he was in contact with his followers through his Four Deputies. After that, his Major Occultation started, in which period the direct guidance and leadership of the Shi'a community rests with religious scholars.
There are many hadiths transmitted from the Imams (a) about Imam al-Mahdi (a), his life, his Occultation, and his government, and many collections of such hadiths have been written. In addition to hadith collections, many works have been published about Imam al-Mahdi (a).
Every year, on fifteenth of Sha'ban, Shi'as celebrate the Imam's birth, marking one of the greatest Shi'i festivals.
The possibility of meeting the Imam (a) during his Major Occultation, when and how he reappears, and the incidents related to his reappearance are some of the popular discussions among Shi'as.
In Shi'a hadiths, the Twelfth Imam (a) is referred to by names such as Muhammad, Ahmad, and 'Abd Allah. However, among the Shi'as, he is most famously referred to as al-Mahdi which is one of his titles.
According to a number of hadiths, he is the Prophet's (s) namesake. In some hadiths and written Shiite sources, such as al-Kafi and Kamal al-din, his name is written with separate letters as "م ح م د" (M Ḥ M D). This is in accordance with hadiths forbidding any mention of Imam al-Mahdi's (a) name.
There are many hadiths in Shiite sources according to which it is forbidden to mention the Twelfth Imam's (a) real name. There are two well-known theories about these hadiths: the first view, which is propounded by scholars such as al-Sayyid al-Murtada, al-Fadil al-Miqdad, al-Muhaqqiq al-Hilli, and others, restricts the ban to the period in which the Shi'as had to practice taqiyya (precautionary dissimulation). However, Mir Damad and al-Muhaddith al-Nuri take the ban to be in force before the Reappearance.
In different sources, supplications, and ziyaras, the Twelfth Imam of the Shi'as is characterized with different teknonyms and titles, the best-known of which are: al-Mahdi (المَهدی, guided), Ṣāḥib al-Zamān (صاحب الزمان, the owner of the time), al-Muntaẓar (المُنتَظَر, expected), Baqīyyat Allāh (بَقیّة الله, what remains with Allah), al-Muntaqim (المُنتَقِم, avenger), al-Maw'ūd (المَوعود, promised), Khātam al-Awṣīyā' (خاتَم الأوصیاء, the last successor), al-Ghā'ib (الغائب, hidden), al-Ma'mūl (المأمول, hoped), and al-Muḍṭarr (المُضطرّ, distressed). Another well-known title of Imam al-Mahdi (a) is al-Qa'im (القائم, upriser or standing) upon the hearing of which the Shi'as stand up and put their hands on their heads, as practiced by Imam al-Rida (a).
The names and titles of the Twelfth Shiite Imam (a) are mentioned in Sunni sources as well. In these source, "al-Mahdi" is the mostly mentioned title. The title "al-Qa'im" is rarely found in Sunni sources.
His mother is referred to in different ways: Narjis, Susan, Saqil or Sayqal, Haditha, Hakima, Malika, Rayhana, and Khamt. In general, there are four accounts of her life and characteristics. According to a hadith cited by al-Shaykh al-Saduq in his Kamal al-din wa tamam al-ni'ma, Imam al-Mahdi's (a) mother was a Roman princess. And in other hadiths, her life story is not mentioned and it is only said that she was trained and raised in the house of Hakima, the daughter of Imam al-Jawad (a). According to a third group of hadiths (cited by al-Mas'udi in his Ithbat al-wasiyya), Imam al-Mahdi's (a) mother was not only raised in the house of Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari's (a) paternal aunt, but was also born there. The last group of hadiths has a fundamental difference with these three groups. According to these hadiths, Imam al-Mahdi's (a) mother was a black bondwoman. The first three groups of hadiths can be considered as complementary, but the last one cannot be reconciled with them. However, some scholars have tried to reconcile the last group of hadiths with others by taking it to be concerned with Imam al-Mahdi's (a) nurse.
Some old sources did not talk about the birth date of Imam al-Mahdi (a), taking it to be a secret. However, many Shiite and some Sunni hadiths take the year of the birth of Twelfth Shiite Imam (a) to be 255/869 or 256/870.
There is also a disagreement about the month in which the Imam (a) was born. The majority of scholars take it to be Sha'ban as is evidenced by many old Shiite sources. However, some Shiite and Sunni sources take it to be Ramadan, and some Sunni sources take it to be Rabi' I or Rabi' II.
In historical sources, there are different accounts of the day on which the Twelfth Imam (a) was born, the best-known of which is Sha'ban 15th. This date is reported by Shiite scholars such as al-Kulayni, al-Mas'udi, al-Shaykh al-Saduq, al-Shaykh al-Mufid, al-Shaykh al-Tusi, Fattal al-Nisaburi, al-Tabrisi, Ibn Tawus, Ibn Taqtaqi, al-Allama al-Hilli, al-Shahid al-Awwal, al-Kaf'ami, and al-Shaykh al-Baha'i, and Sunni scholars such as Ibn Khallakan, Ibn Sabbagh al-Maliki, al-Sha'rani al-Hanafi, and Ibn Tulun. According to other reports, mentioned in al-Saduq's Kamal al-din, the birthday of the Imam (a) was the eve of the first Thursday of Ramadan or the eve of one of the Thursdays in Ramadan.
Historians who talked about the issue agree that Imam al-Mahdi (a) was born in the house of his father, Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a), in Samarra. The house is now part of the shrine of Imam al-Hadi (a) and Imam al-'Askari (a). Imam al-Hadi (a) and Imam al-'Askari (a) were summoned to Samarra, the center of the Abbasid Caliphate, years before the birth of Imam al-Mahdi (a) and lived there until they were martyred.
The famous account of the Imam's (a) birth is given by Hakima, the aunt of Imam al-Hasan al-Askari (a). In some parts of this account, as reported by al-Shaykh al-Saduq, we read,
Abbasid caliphs knew from the hadiths by the Prophet (s) and the Imams (a) that the Twelfth Imam was al-Mahdi, and thus, they assigned some guards to monitor Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a) and his house. According to historians, al-Mu'tamid al-'Abbasi had ordered the midwives to drop by sadat's houses, especially the house of Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a), search inside the house, learn about his wife, and report him about it.
The birth of Imam al-Mahdi (a) was hidden from people. The secrecy of his birth and its reasons are mentioned in some hadiths. According to a hadith from Imam al-Sajjad (a), "our al-Qa'im bears some traditions of the prophets. A tradition from Abraham (a) is the secrecy of his birth and his isolation from the people". And according to a hadith from Imam al-Sadiq (a), "the birth of Sahib al-Amr is hidden from the people until he reappears. This is in order for him not to have to pledge allegiance to anyone".
According to al-Shaykh al-Mufid, the reason behind the hidden birth of Imam al-Mahdi (a) was the persecutions and the fact that the governor of the time was on the watch to murder the last Proof of God.
It should be noted that the hidden birth of the Twelfth Imam (a) was not an unprecedented phenomenon. Abraham's and Moses's births also reportedly occurred in a hidden manner.
Apart from Hakima, two female slaves named Mariyah and Nasim also witnessed the birth of the Twelfth Imam (a). Al-Shaykh al-Tusi and al-Shaykh al-Saduq have recorded the accounts of the birth of the Imam (a) as reported by these two female slaves: "When the Master of the Time was born, he sat down on his knees and raised his forefingers toward heaven. Then, he sneezed and said, 'All praise belongs to God the Lord of the worlds. May God send his blessings on Muhammad and his family. The oppressors have thought that the Proof of God is destroyed. Were we permitted to speak, the doubt would fade away.'"
Some Sunni scholars have reported the birth of Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari's (a) son, but they are silent about the son being the promised al-Mahdi: some examples are Ibn Athir (d. 630/1232) in his al-Kamil fi l-tarikh, Ibn Khallikan (d. 681/1282) in his Wafayat al-a'yan, and al-Dhahabi (d. 748/1347) in his al-'Ibar. Other Sunni scholars have, in addition to reporting his birth, pointed to his being the promised al-Mahdi as well, such as Ibn Talha al-Shafi'i (d. 652/1254) in his Matalib al-sa'ul and Ibn Sabbagh al-Maliki (d. 855/1451) in his al-Fusul al-muhimma.
After Imam al-Mahdi's (a) birth, some Shi'as who were close and reliable companions of Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a) saw Imam al-Mahdi (a). Al-Shaykh al-Mufid mentions some Shi'as who saw Imam al-Mahdi (a) during the life of Imam al-'Askari (a): Muhammad b. Isma'il b. Musa b. Ja'far (a), Hakima bt. al-Imam al-Jawad (a), Abu 'Ali b. Mutahhar, 'Amr al-Ahwazi, and Abu Nasr al-Turayf, the servant of Imam al-'Askari (a).
For example, according to a hadith, Muhammad b. 'Uthman al-'Amri and forty other people were in Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari's (a) house. The Imam (a) showed his son to them and said, "this is your Imam after me and my successor among you. Obey him and do not dispute about your religion. Otherwise, you will be disorganized and you will never see him again".
A similar hadith is cited by al-Shaykh al-Tusi. He also mentioned other people who saw Imam al-Mahdi (a) in the meeting: 'Ali b. Bilal, Ahmad b. Bilal, Muhammad b. Mu'awiya b. Hakim, and Hasan b. Ayyub b. Nuh.
Al-Shaykh al-Mufid also refers to other people, such as Abu 'Umar 'Uthman b. Sa'id al-Samman and his son, Abu Ja'far Muhammad b. 'Uthman, who saw Imam al-Mahdi (a) during the life of his father. Imam al-Mahdi (a) was also seen during the life of Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a) by people from Banu al-Rahba family from Nusaybin, Banu Sa'id, Banu Mahziyar from Ahvaz, Banu l-Rukuli from Kufa, Banu Nawbakht from Baghdad, and a group of people from Qazvin, Qom, and Jibal.
|[Expand]Family tree of Ahl al-Bayt (a)|
When the caliph of the time, al-Mu'tamid al-'Abbasi, learned about Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari's (a) illness, he sent five of his reliable officers to the Imam's (a) house in order to monitor him. Also, al-Mu'tamid ordered his Grand Judge to commission ten reliable people to monitor Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a).
In his will, Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a) gave all his property to his mother, Hudayth, although the Abbasids did not allow the whole property to be given to Hudayth. They gave half of the property to Ja'far b. 'Ali b. Muhammad, Imam al-Mahdi's (a) uncle.
After Imam al-Hasan al-'Askaris (a) demise, the Abbasid caliph sent a group of agents to his house. They shut down the house and confiscated the Imam's (a) property. They looked for the Imam's (a) son, examined the Imam's (a) wives and bondwomen for pregnancy, and arrested a heavy bondwoman who was suspected to be pregnant. She was monitored for two years and was released afterwards.
Imam al-Mahdi (a) was born in 255/869 about twelve centuries ago. This longevity is not comparable to that of ordinary people. Shiite theologians have provided different replies to questions about the extraordinary longevity of Imam al-Mahdi (a).
Biologists take it possible for human beings to live long lives. Lutf Allah Safi Gulpayigani has cited many western scientists who have claimed that biologically speaking, a human organism can live eight hundred to thousand years.
Possibility of Occurrence Miracle: Imam al-Mahdi's (a) long life is a miracle and an extraordinary event.
With the Divine Will, a human person can have a long or permanent life.
The human soul is in control of the body. If the soul is so powerful that it can have wilaya on the body, in addition to the control, then it can keep the body alive for a longer time.
According to the Qur'an, the prophet 'Uzayr's food and drink stayed fresh after hundred years although the food and drink do not have souls. Thus, a fortiori, a human person with a soul can have an extraordinarily long life.
According to historical accounts, there were people who lived longer lives than other people.
The Torah, the Gospel, and the Qur'an have pointed to people who had longer lives than ordinary people. According to the Qur'an, Prophet Noah's (a) mission as a prophet lasted for 950 years. It also mentions people with long lives in earlier nations.
Some hadiths have also pointed to the long life of Imam al-Mahdi (a). For example, there is a hadith from Imam al-Sajjad (a) according to which: "our al-Qa'im bears traditions from the prophets. His tradition from Adam (a) and Noah (a) is his long life." Imam al-Sadiq (a) has also assimilated Imam al-Mahdi (a) to Ibrahim (a) who lived for 120 years, but was like a thirty-year-old young man. According to a hadith from Imam al-Hasan (a), "God will give a long life to the ninth child from my brother al-Husayn's progeny. And then with His power, he will reappear as a young man looking younger than 40 years."
After his uprising in end of the time, Imam al-Mahdi (a) will rule the world. According to hadiths, the period of his reign is from seven to 303 years. In most of the Sunni hadiths, the period is seven years, and in Shiite hadiths, it is mostly over ten years. According to some Shiite hadiths, his reign will be seven years with each year being equal to ten or twenty years. According to other hadiths, the length of the reign depends on the Divine Will, and so it is not known. The most popular view among the Shi'as is nineteen years.
There is no hadith about how Imam al-Mahdi (a) will die or be martyred. Some scholars appeal to the well-known view that all the Imams (a) are martyred (based on a hadith according to which, "all of us will either be killed or poisoned", and thus, argue that Imam al-Mahdi (a) will be martyred at the end of his government. According to the Imamiyya, after the demise of Imam al-Mahdi (a), there will be a raj'a (return of the dead). Imam al-Husayn (a) will be the first person who will return to this world. He will say the Funeral Prayer for Imam al-Mahdi (a), and wash and enshroud his corpse.
Since his birth until the beginning of the Minor Occultation, Imam al-Mahdi (a) lived in his place of birth, Samarra. In this period, he lived and worshipped in the cellar (sardab). According to some reports, he was frequently seen in this place during his father's life. Some researchers believe that he attended the hajj rituals together with his father in the last years of his life, and then he hid in Medina. This view is not consonant with Shiite historical sources.
According to some hadiths, the place of Imam al-Mahdi's (a) residence during the Occultation is unknown. However, some other hadiths point to places such as Mount Dhi Tuwa, Mount Radwa, and Tayba (Medina) as places in which Imam al-Mahdi (a) lives during the Occultation. Since his Four Deputies had contacts with him during the Minor Occultation, it can be said that in at least some parts of the Minor Occultation, the Imam (a) lived in Iraq.
Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzi and Ibn Khaldun have attributed to the Shi'as the belief that Imam al-Mahdi (a) lives in the cellar during his Occultation and will reappear from there. However, such a belief cannot be found in Shiite books. They do sanctify the cellar because Imam al-Mahdi (a) lived and worshipped there during his father's life.
There is no precise information about the place of the Reappearance of Imam al-Mahdi (a). According to a hadith, he will reappear in Dhi Tuwa area. And then he and 313 of his companions will go to Mecca, he will lean towards the Black Stone, and will shake his flag. According to this hadith as well as some others, Imam al-Mahdi (a) will begin his uprising from al-Masjid al-Haram and his companions will pledge their allegiance to him between the Rukn and Maqam. According to some hadiths, Tihamah is where Imam al-Mahdi (a) will begin his uprising. "Tihamah" also refers to Mecca (which is part of it).
According to some other hadiths, the center of Imam al-Mahdi's (a) government will be Kufa, the center of his judiciary will be the Mosque of Kufa, and the Mosque of Sahla will be the place where he will reside and distribute the Treasury.
A number of places are believed to be specially related to the Imam (a). Shiites visit these places to get closer to their Imam (a) and to ask him for his prayers. These places are the following: