Published on 2nd June, 2002
What is the Benefit of Having the 12th Imam in Occultation
If the Imam is
the leader of the people he should be present among them. What
is the benefit of having an Imam who lives an invisible life?
What is the use of having an Imam who lives in the state of
occultation for centuries without fulfilling any of the
functions that he normally undertakes, such as:
Solving the problems of
Responding to the attacks of his
Commanding the good and forbidding the
Helping the poor and redressing the wrongs committed against
Upholding the ordinances of God by instituting proper
Explaining the lawful and the unlawful to the
and so on.
The people are surely deprived of some of the benefits
that you have enumerated during the occultation. However, the
benefits of the Imam's presence are not limited to these. In
fact, there are other benefits that are available during the
occultation. The following two are among those many other
benefits that you have not enumerated:
In accordance with all that
we have said previously and the proofs that were derived from
the writings of Muslim scholars, including the hadith-reports
that spoke about the necessity of the Imamate, the existence
of the Imam as a perfect and unique embodiment of humanity
serves as a link between the material and the spiritual world.
If the Imam is absent the human species will be extinct. If
there is no Imam then God cannot be known or worshipped
perfectly. Without the Imam the link between the material and
the spiritual become severed.
The heart of the Imam is like the source of electricity that
distributes light to numerous lamps. The illumination and
energization of the hidden universe first mirrors on the heart
of the Imam and then from there it reflects on the hearts of
humankind. The Imam is the heart of the created universe and
the leader and guide of humankind. It is evident that his
presence and absence have an impact upon these actualities.
After all these, can one
ask what benefit accrues from the invisible existence of the
Imam? I think that you are raising this objection on behalf of
someone else who does not have a real understanding of the
meaning of wilayat and the Imamate and who does not see
the Imam as more than a legal expert and an administrator of
justice, whereas the responsibilities of the wilayat
and the Imamate are much more than these external functions.
In a long tradition reported from Imam Sadiq ('a) it is related
that Imam Sajjad ('a) said:
"We are the leaders of the Muslims, God's proofs for His
creatures, masters of the believers, guides for the
god-fearing, and those invested with discretionary authority
over the affairs of Muslims. We are the security for the
dwellers of the earth, just as the stars are the security of
the dwellers of the heavens. It is because of us that the heavens
descend on the earth whenever God permits. It is because of us
that the rain descends and blessings of earth come out of it.
If we had not been on earth its dwellers would have been
consumed in it."
He then went on to say:
"From the day God created Adam until today He has not left
the earth without a competent authority (proof-hujjat). But
this authority is sometimes manifest and well known; at other
times he is in occultation and in concealment. The earth will
not be void of such an authority until the Day of Judgement.
If there is no Imam, God will not be worshipped."
Sulayman, the narrator, asked Imam Sadiq ('a):
"How can people benefit from the existence of an Imam
who is in occultation?"
The Imam said:
"In the same way as they benefit from the sun behind
In this and other traditions of this kind the existence of the
twelfth Imam and the benefit derived from him are compared to
the benefit derived from the sun hidden behind the clouds. To
elaborate on this imagery, let us remind ourselves of the way
natural science which explains the phenomenon. It is
established in natural science and in astronomy that the sun
is the centre of our solar system. The laws of gravity protect the earth
from falling into an abyss, and permit the earth to revolve
around the sun, generating the distinction between day and
night and different seasons according to its position in
relation to the sun. The thermal energy produced by the sun is
the source of life on earth and its light illuminates the
otherwise dark earth. This benefit accrues to the earth
regardless of the fact of whether the sun is shining directly
or from behind the clouds. In other words, all its functions
(illumination, providing energy, growth, etc.) are intact even
when it shines from behind the clouds. In fact, whether it is
from behind the dark clouds or at night when we think the sun
is not present, we are still recipients of the sun's thermal
energy and all other benefits that are critical for our
survival on earth.
The existence of the Imam is like the sun behind the clouds
that benefits the dwellers of the earth. He is the heart of
humankind and its existential guide. In order for his benefits
to reach humanity it does not matter whether he is manifest or
in concealment. Let us recall our previous discussions about the necessity of the Prophethood and Imamate
and review all their aspects so that we can appreciate the
true meaning of wilayat.
This review will help us to understand the most important
benefit of having an Imam from the progeny of the Prophet
('s), whether manifest or in
concealment. As we ponder this matter, we are actually
enjoying the blessings of this Imam's invisible existence.
As for other benefits
enumerated by you, of which people are deprived, actually,
both from the direction of God and from the existence of the
Imam, there is no obstacle to these benefits reaching the
people. The problem is with the people themselves. If these
obstructions could be removed and if the people worked towards
creating the just order and toward preparing to launch God's government by spreading the right information and
strengthening the character of the people to receive the
Imam's leadership, then the Imam would appear to lead humanity
towards the creation of the divine order on earth.
It is possible that someone might say: Under the circumstances
when the overall situation is not favourable to the appearance
of the Imam, why should we put ourselves in the dangerous
situation of trying to prepare for his return? In response to
this it must be pointed out that a Muslim's actions in this
connection should not be motivated by the personal gain of
some individuals; rather, it should become the goal of each and
every person to endeavour for the social reforms affecting all
people. Seriousness of purpose in improving the conditions of
the people and in removing causes of injustice and tyranny in
society are regarded as the most meritorious act of worship in
Again, it is possible
that someone might say: The endeavours of one or a few
individuals trying to change the conditions in society may
come to nothing. Hence, one should not even try to do
anything. Moreover, in principle, it might be asked what wrong
have I done to be deprived of meeting my Imam? In response to
this one can point out the benefit that accrues to an
individual and to the society in general when we endeavour to raise the
standard of thinking and moral awareness among people,
informing them about the lofty goals of Islam and bringing
them closer to the goals of the Imam (aj).
By doing so we have actually fulfilled our obligation as a
follower of the Imam. In return, we have attained the highest
reward of having furthered the realization of an ideal
society, even if merely by a step. Any rational person can
attest to this benefit of striving to further the divine
purposes for human society. It is for this reason that there are
numerous traditions that speak about the merits of awaiting
deliverance through the appearance of the twelfth Imam, and
which regard this awaiting as a form of serving God.
Faith in the Hidden Imam
and awaiting deliverance through his return is a source of
hope and peace for the hearts of the believers. Such a hope is
one of the major causes of the success and advancement of the
Islamic ideal. Any group of people that becomes bogged down by
pessimism and despair also suffers from self-imposed
negativism that leads to the defeat of the purpose.
There is no doubt that the social and political turmoil in
many parts of the world, the decline of moral and ethical
vision, the deprivation and poverty suffered by the
downtrodden, the spread of tools of various forms of
imperialistic intervention in the affairs of the weaker
societies, the arms race among the powerful countries --all these -- have led
sensitive and conscientious thinkers around the globe to
become concerned and even, to a certain extent, pessimistic
about the ability of human society to deliver itself from its
self-cultivated gradual destruction.
The only door that has
remained open for humanity is the door of hope in the darkness
of despair. That hope lies in the divine intervention in human
affairs by the sending of a divinely guided leader, the Mahdi,
to establish a godly society founded upon the divinely
ordained laws. Indeed, it is this hope that gives solace to
the disturbed hearts of those who have suffered injustices. It is the hope of seeing that government based on
the acknowledgement of the Unity of God which has safeguarded
the faith of the people, and has made them firm in their
commitments to God. It is faith in the ultimate victory of
truth that has made these people seek an active role in working towards social reforms and other related matters.
Seeking the help of God under these circumstances helps human
beings to avoid becoming hopeless in the face of continued
atrocities and wrongs committed against the innocent. The
Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) laid the
foundation of this positive attitude by introducing the
universal program of reform under the divinely guided leadership that will
undertake to unite human resources in creating the ethical
order proclaimed in the Qur'an.
Imam Zayn al-'Abidin has conveyed this positive aspect of the
hope of deliverance in the tradition in which he says:
"To hope for deliverance and release in itself
functions as the most profound form of deliverance."
To conclude our
discussion at this point, faith in the promised Mahdi has made
it possible for the Shi'a community:
To hope and work for the ideal.
It has eliminated the negative spirit of pessimism,
engendering in it the positive spirit of confidence in the
human ability to work for its betterment.
The belief has, furthermore, required the followers of the
twelfth Imam to fight against the forces of disbelief,
materialism, corruption and injustice.
To work for the government of
The perfection of the human
The establishment of true peace through justice on
And to further human knowledge and technology.
It is for this reason that the hope for deliverance during the
occultation has been regarded as the best form of divine
worship and martyrdom in the path of truth in the numerous
traditions reported from the ahl al-bayt.
From the Book: "The
Just Leader of Humanity" by Ayatollah Ibrahim Amini.