Why is the Imam (ajtf) in Ghaybah?


Ghaybat is a difficult time for the believers. This aspect can be well understood by those who would have had the opportunity of being with the Divine leader and then suddenly found one day that he is not present in their community.

In the case of Hazrat Idrees, it is said that when Allah caused the Ghaybat of Hazrat Idrees, his community grieved over his separation. Shaitaan came to them and encouraged them to make an idol of Hazrat Idrees so that they could continue to remember him. The people did so. While the first generation did not worship the idol, Shaitaan came to the next generations and told them that his idol is actually god and they should worship it. Thus as time passed, that same idol became the object of their worship. This is how idol worship was introduced in the world.

Our Aimmah (as) knew how the absence of the Imam (as) will cause issues in society and therefore they had started preparing the community for the eventual absence of their Imam (as). For example, we find that Imam Ali Naqi (as) and Imam Hasan Askari (as) led a major part of their lives under strict surveillance and no one could gain an easy access to them. Therefore they established a vast network of reliable Shiahs who served as the medium between them (as) and the people for resolving their queries, collection of their dues etc. A lot of effort was taken by the Aimmah to explain what is Ghaybat and how they should prepare for it.

When we study traditions related to Imam Mahdi (as), we find that from the very beginning, whenever his attributes were described, his Ghaybat was mentioned as his special characteristic. In fact it was reiterated so much that the companions of the Holy Prophet (sawa) often asked, “When the Imam will go into the occultation, then how will the people be benefitted from his existence?” In answer to this question, the Holy Prophet (sawa) replied, “They will benefit from him as they benefit from the sun while it behind the clouds.”

With regard to Ghaybat, Imam Mahdi (as) is not alone. Other prophets were also in Ghaybat at some point of time. But then the question arises, “what is the cause of this Ghaybat?”

As far as reasons of Imam Mahdi’s (as) Ghaybat are concerned even though there are traditions on the subject, generally followers have been ordered not to be inquisitive about the reasons since that will yield no benefits, rather only to focus on their responsibilities during this period.

The Quranic verse emphasizes: ‘O you who believe! Do not question about things which if declared to you may trouble you…’ (chapter 5 verse 101)

Like many other sciences the real reasons behind occultation are known only to Allah, Who will disclose them at an opportune moment. An interesting tradition reinforces this point.

Abdullah Ibn al-Fazl al-Hashimi narrates – I heard Imam Sadiq (as) saying that for this Saheb al-Amr (Imam Mahdi) occultation is necessary, all the deviated ones will doubt regarding the occultation.

Abdullah Ibn al-Fazl said, May my life be sacrificed for you, why will there be an occultation?

Imam Sadiq (as) replied, The wisdom which was present for the occultation of the past emissaries of Allah, that is also the wisdom behind the Ghaybat of Saheb al-Amr. The wisdom will be revealed only after his reappearance, just as the wisdom behind the actions of Khizr (as) i.e. puncturing the boat, killing the youth and building the wall was revealed only at the separation of Prophet Musa (as) and Khizr (as).

Imam (as) continued – O son of Fazl! This affair is from the affairs of Allah, it is a secret from the secrets of Allah; it is an occultation from the occultation of Allah. When we know that Allah is All-Wise, then we testify that all His actions are full of wisdom, even though the reasons behind them may not be apparent. (Al-Ehtejaaj by Shaikh al-Tabrisi, volume 2 page 376)

Given below are some of the reasons for Ghaybat which are explained to us through traditions

Ghaybat is a Divine secret

In some of the traditions, the Ghaybat of Imam Mahdi (as) is pronounced as a “Divine Secret” the rationale for which will be announced in future when Allah wishes. The tradition from Abdullah Ibn al-Fazl al-Hashimi, reported from Imam Jafar Sadiq (as) speaks about this aspect wherein the Imam (as) refers to Ghaybat from being one of the secrets of Allah.

The lack of our understanding for the wisdom for any subject cannot be a reason for us to deny or reject that subject altogether. For example, a person cannot say that I will not pray namaz or I reject namaz till such time that I understand the wisdom behind the number of rakaats in every namaz. Can any person accept this argument? No. Therefore even though we may not necessarily understand the wisdom behind Ghaybat, we still accept it with this certainty  that at some point of time in future, at an opportune moment, Allah (swt) will reveal the reason for the same.

The real cause of occultation will be disclosed only after the reappearance of Imam Mahdi (as). During the journey of Hazrat Musa (as) and Hazrat Khizr (as), on the way whatever acts were committed by Hazrat Khizr (as) their cause were not revealed to Hazrat Musa (as) till such time they were on the verge of parting their ways. (Beharul Anwar, volume 52 page 91)

Fear of getting killed

In several traditions one of the causes of occultation as explained by Aimmah (as) is the fear of Imam Mahdi (as) getting killed. If Imam Mahdi (as) would have appeared in such circumstances, there was every possibility of his assassination. Since he is the final link in the chain of guidance, he has to live up to the dawn of Qiyamat. Such traditions are quoted from the Holy Prophet (sawa), Imam Baqir (as), Imam Jafar Sadiq (as), Imam Musa Kazim (as), Imam Reza (as), Imam Hasan Askari (as) and Imam Mahdi (as) himself to the effect that, “If he would be recognized then he would be cut to bits and pieces.” (Ghaybat-e-Tusi, page 333, Beharul Anwar, volume 52, page 98)

It is according to the norms of intelligence to adopt seclusion or escape from the habitation when there is the virtual apprehension of one’s murder. It was for this reason that when the conspiracy to eliminate Hazrat Musa (as) was at the upsurge, then he left his city and migrated to Madaen where he remained secluded from his people for a very long time.

Similarly, when the infidels of Makkah joined hands to assassinate the Holy Prophet (sawa) and surrounded his house to execute their intention, the Holy Prophet (sawa) escaped from Mecca and hid himself in a cave. If he would not have gone into hiding at that moment, then perhaps he would have been killed.

Saving oneself from murder is neither cowardice nor shunning the bliss of martyrdom. Rather, it is the protection of life for achieving a great aim, which was the propagation and dissemination of the religion of Allah.

For similar reasons Imam Mahdi (as) had gone into Ghaybat. Several attempts on his life were made. So many times his house was besieged, well-armed troops repeatedly attacked his house. However despite all of this, Allah, the Almighty protected him from assassination for accomplishing an unparalleled feat in the history of mankind – establishing justice and equity and uprooting injustice, oppression, tyranny and despotism.

Imam (as) will not have any allegiance on his neck when he will reappear

Jameel Ibne Salih reports from Imam Sadiq (as) that he said, “The Qaem will arise without having anyone’s allegiance on his neck.”

In another tradition, Imam Sadiq (as) said, “The Qaem (a.s.) will arise and there will not be anyone’s allegiance on his neck.”

Imam Reza (as) said, “(It is) as if I can see the Shiahs after the passing away of my third descendant, that they are roving about like cattle in search of pasture but unable to find it. The narrator asked, Why would it be so, O son of Allah’s Messenger? He replied, Because that Imam will be hidden from them. The narrator asked, why? He replied, So that when he rises up with the sword he would not be having anyone’s allegiance on his neck.” (Kamaluddin vol 2)

Arrival of 313 companions

Imam Mahdi (as) will come when he has 313 top virtuous helpers become available. Imam Mahdi cannot govern the world with no helper, minister, etc. The communities should generate these top individuals. Here are two examples:

Before his demise, Holy Prophet (sawa) instructed Imam Ali (as) that if the number of his followers loyal to him (after the demise of the Prophet) exceeds 40 men, he should use force to restore his right and take the power, otherwise he should keep silent since the only remaining pious people would be killed without being able to help Islam. Unfortunately, the number of people who remained loyal to Imam Ali (as) did not reach to this amount, at that crucial moment.

Another example:

Sahl Ibn al-Hasan al-Khurasani who was one of the followers of Ahle Bayt in Khurasan (a province in Iran) came to Medina to meet Imam Sadiq (as). Sahl al-Khurasani said: “O son of the Messenger of Allah! You are of the Imams of Ahle Bayt. What prevents you from getting your right (i.e., the rule) while you find more than one hundred thousand Shiah who are ready to fight for you?”

The Imam (as) asked him to sit down, and then ordered to turn on the oven that was in the house. After the oven became very hot and turned red, the Imam (as) said, O Khurasani step into the oven and sit in it. The Khurasani said, My master, O son of the Messenger of Allah! Do not punish me by fire and make it easy for me.

At this time, Harun al- Makki entered the room, and after the greetings exchanged, the Imam (as) told him to put down his shoes and to sit down inside the oven. He did so and the Imam (as) started talking to Sahl about Khurasan as if nothing has happened.

After some time, the Imam (as) said, O Khurasani stand up and look inside the oven.

Sahl looked into the oven and saw Harun sitting cross-legged inside the fire. Then Imam al-Sadiq (as) asked Harun to come out of oven and he came out healthy with no burn or injury. At this time, the Imam (as) asked Sahl, How many individuals do you know in Khurasan like this man?

Sahl replied, By Allah, not even one. The Imam (as) confirmed his saying and said, We do not rise at this time when we do not even have five helpers (like him). We know better about the proper time. (Beharul Anwar volume 47 page 123 tradition no 172; Also found in Manaqeb Ibne Shahr Ashob)

The traditions state that Imam Mahdi (as) needs 313 followers which are not only sincere and faithful, but also possess supreme knowledge and wisdom. Imam Mahdi (as) should also have another 40,000 faithful followers who will fill the secondary positions. These people will not fall out of sky! It is up to us to educate our communities which could help to bring up such people, by first starting from our family, and friends, then school, then city, and then country to the extent our ability. We should however start from ourselves to avoid sin and to acquire more knowledge and wisdom and become more obedient to Allah.

Test for the Believers

We find that in every era, there were some people who were apparently very close to the prophet or to the Iam (as), but they were devoid of noble characteristics like courage, determination, fortitude and valour. These men were more interested in their selfish motives rather than keeping their aims at fore.

The consequence of such an attitude were that when they were tested with some worldly difficulty, they deserted their leaders. Thus their selfish designs were exposed for the people.  For example, in the case of Hazrat Musa (as) we find several instances when Bani Israel were unwilling to obey Hazrat Musa (as). Or when Hazrat Musa (as) was on Mount Sinai on the command of His Lord, in his absence, many from Bani Israel failed to obey his representative and followed the path of Samiri. Some even went to the extent of deviation by worshipping the idol of the calf prepared by Samiri. This was their text in the absence of their leader, Hazrat Musa (as), which they failed.

The Holy Prophet (sawa) also had such faithless companions who despite repeated emphasis of Quran disobeyed him. We find examples in the life of the Holy Prophet (sawa) that even though he commanded people to fight, yet they ran away from battlefields or did not join the army of Osama despite exhortation from Quran and the Prophet (sawa).

Even in the case of Imam Ali (as), we find laziness in his troops who made excuses not to fight. Or those who converted a certain victory at Siffeen into the impasse of an arbitration despite the command of Ameerul Momeneen (as) to the contrary. We find examples of Talha and Zubayr who, at one time, were close companions of Hazrat Ali (as), but yet they fought against him when they saw their worldly aspirations not being met.

The history of Islam is replete with examples of so-called companions of Aimmah who fell prey to the attractions of this world – to wealth, money, fame, power and deserted Aimmah. We find that when the accursed Umar Ibne Saad was ordered to go to fight Imam Husain (as), he initially declined. But when he was told that if he refused then the governership of the city of Ray would be taken from them and given to Shimr instead, he relented and agreed to fight Imam Husain (as). All of these are tests from the side of Allah which can bring our the best or the worst in people.

Imam Kazim (as) says, “For the sake of God, take care of your religion. Be on guard lest someone may make you away from the religion. The occultation is inevitable for Saheb al-Amr (Imam Mahdi)…This is also a trial through which Allah, the Almighty tests His servants.” (Mikyalul-Makarim volume 1, pages 126-127)

This is the era of trial for the Shiahs. Our duty in this period is to remain steadfast, serve the religion, create circumstances for for his reappearance, enlivens the hearts of the Shias with his remembrance and make them the true partisans and awaitees of Imam Mahdi (as).

Imam Reza (as) says, “By Allah I am seeing from my own eyes that it (Ghaybat) will be an examination for separating the believers and the hypocrites, till from among you will not remain but the precious ones.”(Mikiyalul Makarem)

The author of Raudhat-ul-Waezeen has narrated from Jabir Juafi that I asked Imam Mohammed Baqir (as): ‘When will be your ‘Faraj’ (deliverance)’? The Imam (as) replied: “Alas! Alas! There shall be no ‘Faraj’ until you are sieved and sifted (and he repeated this sentence three times) so that impure believers are exterminated and only the pure believers remain.’ (This refers to the point that believers will be repeatedly tested during Ghaybat and only a few will remain steadfast)

Zorarah Ibne Ayan reports that Imam Sadiq (as) said, “There is an occultation for the Qaim before his reappearance.” I asked: “Why is it so?” He replied: “He is fearful.” And he pointed towards his belly, implying that the Qaim fears for his life. Then he said: “O Zurarah; and he is that awaited one and he is the one in whose birth they shall doubt. Thus some will say: His father died heirless and some will say: He was in the womb of his mother when his father died. Some others will allege that he was born two years before the passing away of his father. And he is the Awaited one; but the Almighty Allah likes to test the Shias. It is the time when people of falsehood will fall in doubts.”

Zurarah says: I asked: “If I am able to live till that period, what action I should perform?”

He replied: “O Zurarah if you live till that time you must recite the following supplication:  ‘O Allah introduce Yourself to me. For if You don’t introduce Yourself to me I will not recognize Your Messenger. O Allah introduce Your Messenger to me for if You don’t introduce Your Messenger to me I will not recognize Your Proof. O Allah introduce Your proof to me for if You don’t introduce Your proof to me I will deviate from my religion.’

Another example which can be given to make this point very clear is that if a child who is tested in the absence of his father when his father is not in the home. When the father is not in the home then how does the child behave is the true test of his character. Whether he breaks every thing, whether he starts hitting brothers and sister, does he become disobedient, does he obey his mother, does he play mischief…Or does he follow the rules set out by his father even in his absence. The same is the case with Shiahs that whether in Ghaybat they believe in Imam (as) to his call, his sayings or no. This is the test for the believers.

The Triumph of Truth

We find in history that more often that not, falsehood always gained an upper hand and truth was subdued. For example, Namrud catapulted Hazrat Ibrahim (as) to the fire, Firaun exiled Hazrat Musa (as) from Egypt, the Jews (in their opinion) crucified Hazrat Isa (as), the infidels forced the Holy Prophet (sawa) to migrate from Mecca, the Muslim masses deprived Hazrat Ali (as) of his proven right, usurped the property of Hazrat Fatemah Zahra (sa), Imam Hussain (as) was ruthlessly martyred, Imam Musa Kazim (as) was imprisoned and a strict surveillance was imposed upon Imam Ali Naqi (as) and Imam Hasan Askari (as).

As a result, the truth could never be disseminated freely. None of the Prophets or Imams (as) could preach the tenets of religion with utmost freedom. The certain fallout of this way was that truth and justice could never be established; tyranny, injustice and oppression could never be undone, while these hold sway even to this day.

If Imam Mahdi (as) were to remain present, then perhaps he would have been deprived of freedom like his forefathers were in their times. Traditions inform us that Almighty Allah kept him in occultation so that no despotic ruler could overrule him. Post his reappearance, he will preach and propagate Islam with complete freedom, and establish all the tenets and precepts of Islam. Truth and Justice will be established and every nook and corner will be purged from tyranny and oppression. This necessitates that he should vanquish all while none could overpower him.

These words can be often found in the traditions of Hazrat Ali (as), Imam Hasan (as), Imam Zainul Abedin (as) and Imam Jafar Sadiq (as) that, “When our Qaem will reappear then none can overcome him.” (Elaamul-Wara, page 400, Beharul Anwar, volume 51, page 122, 279)

Our Deeds

One of the causes of the Ghaybat of Imam Mahdi (as) is our own sins, detestable actions, our immorality, misdemeanors, our love of this world and disregard for religion. All of these cause a distance in our relationship with Ahle Bayt (as) and in this period, with Imam Mahdi (as).

Hazrat Ali (as) said, “Know that this earth will never remain devoid of the proof of Allah. But Allah conceals His proof because of the continuous sins, injustice and oppression of His creatures.” (Beharul Anwar, volume 51 page 112, Mikyalul Makarim volume 1 page 132)

At another place, Imam Mahdi (as) himself writes in a tawqee (epistle) to Shaykh Mufid (ra), “If our Shiahs (May Allah help them in His obedience) would have fulfilled their covenant with united hearts then there would have been no delay in our meeting and they would have been blessed with our visitation at the earliest along with the recognition of truth and confirmation of our rights. Those things which have increased the distance between them and us are those detestable reports (about their deeds) which are not expected of them. And Allah is the best helper.” (Ehtejaaj Tabarsi volume 2 page 325, Mikyalul Makarim volume 1 page 132)

These words from Imam (as) himself establish that our sinful deeds are the one of the causes and consequence of his Ghaybat.

Revealing the Hidden Trusts

One of the causes of Ghaybat is the generation of those believers who are in the loins of disbelievers and are yet to take birth. When it was inquired of Imam Jafar Sadiq (as) that, “Why did Hazrat Ali (as) not wage war in the initial period of his times?”

Imam (as) replied, “It was because of one verse of Quran,. “They are the ones who disbelieved and obstructed you from al-Masjid al-Haram while the offering was prevented from reaching its place of sacrifice. And if not for believing men and believing women whom you did not know – that you might trample them and there would befall you because of them dishonor without [your] knowledge – [you would have been permitted to enter Makkah]. [This was so] that Allah might admit to His mercy whom He willed. If they had been apart [from them], We would have punished those who disbelieved among them with painful punishment.” (Surah Fath verse 25)

The narrator asked what does the separation mean? He replied, “It foretells about those trusts of believers which are reposed in the loins of disbelievers. Similarly Hazrat Qaem (as) will not reappear unless these trusts are not delivered…” (Elalush Sharae page 147, Kamaluddin page 641, Beharul Anwar volume 52 page 97)

Disclosing the Secrets

Some naive simpletons divulge such things out of their simplicity that it proves quite detrimental. Today, every devotee of Hazrat Mahdi (as) wants to see him and everyone is waiting for him earnestly. If, at such a time they learnt about his whereabouts, then naturally, these naive men will disclose everything to others. Probably it may result in the termination of Imam’s (as) precious life.

Imam Mohammed Baqir (as) has said: “Do not be in petulant haste. By Allah the reappearance was drawn nigh but when people divulged these secrets then Allah caused delay in it…” (Beharul Anwar volume 52 page 389)