Dr. Yahya Jahangiri (Professor at Hawzah of Qom)
Imam Mahdi (AS) is the Twelfth divinely-designated Heir of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). He is the son of the Prophet’s 11th Heir Imam Hassan Askari (AS), and was born in 255 AH in the city of Samarra in Iraq. He was five years at the time of the martyrdom of his father, and was entrusted by God with the universal message of Islam at this tender age.
He went into occultation (Gheyba) at the start of his imamate. This period is known as "Gheybat us-Soghra” because of its short timespan compared to his second and lengthy occultation known as "Gheybat ul-Kubra”, which continues. During both periods of occultation, the Imam was in contact with his close representatives. Imam Mahdi will return in the end times to fulfill God’s promise.
According to the authentic narrations, Imam Mahdi (AS) will reappear as a young man, despite having lived for over a thousand years. So how can this be? How is it possible to live for such a long period? And how can he live long yet not age physically?
This paper is going to address these questions on the basis of the ayahs of the holy Qur’an and authentic Hadith.
In the holy Qur’ an, we find the story of the Companions of the Cave ("As’hab al-Kahf”). We find verses stating that upon awakening from their sleep, the companions were asked how long they had been sleeping for. Their answers circulated around ideas of half a day or one full day. They were surprised then, when Almighty Allah revealed to them that they had been asleep for three hundred years. They were amazed at this and left the cave to find out for themselves. They witnessed the changes that the city had undergone and realized that they had indeed slept for longer than they thought. They came to understand then, that there was truth in what Allah had told them.
"So it was that We aroused them [from sleep] so that they might question one another. One of them said, ‘How long have you stayed [here]?’ They said, ‘We have stayed a day, or part of a day.’ They said, ‘Your Lord knows best how long you have stayed. Send one of you to the city with this money. Let him observe which of them has the purest food, and bring you provisions from there. Let him be attentive, and let him not make anyone aware of you.” (holy Qur’an 18:19)
"They remained in the Cave for three hundred years, and added nine more [to that number].” (holy Qur’an 18:25)
"Say, ‘Allah knows best how long they remained. To Him belongs the Unseen of the heavens and the earth...” (holy Qur’an 18:26)
Ironically though, the changes on their appearance reflected their hypothesis of being asleep for only one day or half a day. And yet, the changes in their surroundings demonstrated that they had been asleep for more than three hundred years. Though this was all impossible for them to understand, they believed when they saw it for themselves. Thus, although the world around them had aged for three hundred years, they had only aged for one full day or half a day.
The holy Qur’an also mentions the account of Prophet Uzair. When he questioned Allah on the process of resurrection, Allah asked him what he was holding in his right and left hands. He fell asleep and when he woke up Allah asked him about the duration of his sleep. He responded with the same answer as the "As’hab Al-Kahf” – one full day or half a day. The apparent changes on his body indicated that he had only slept for as long as he had guessed for. But Allah told him that he had been sleeping for a hundred years. He asked Allah how this was possible and how despite the timeframe, no changes had taken over his body?
"Or (consider) him who came upon a township as it lay fallen on its trellises. He said, ‘How will Allah revive this after its death?!’ So Allah made him die for a hundred years, then He resurrected him. He said, ‘How long have you remained?’ Said he, ‘I have remained a day or part of a day.’ He said, ‘Rather you have remained a hundred years. Now look at your food and drink which have not rotted! Then look at your ass! [This was done] that We may make you a sign for mankind. And look at the bones, how We arrange them and then clothe them with flesh!’ When it became evident to him, he said, ‘I know that Allah has power over all things.’” (holy Qur’an 2:259)
Allah reminded Prophet Uzair to keep his patience. Allah then inquired about the condition of his food. Prophet Uzair looked over at the food and judging from its condition, he thought it must’ve been only day or half a day. Interestingly, the freshness of the food, despite the passing of a century, in contrast to the ass which had turned to bare bones during this lengthy period before being revived by God, demonstrated two different timeframes. This portrayed the notion that there must be more than one form of recording time.
During the days of the Imams of the Ahl ul-Bayt as well, people would ponder over the concept of time and aging. Imam Husain (AS) and Imam Ja’far Sadeq (AS) were both asked in regards to Imam Mahdi (AS). The replies given by them were similar - that Imam Mahdi (AS) will reappear as a young man.
Recognition of Imam Mahdi (AS)
In addition to Imam Mahdi’s (AS) good manners and excellent intellect, Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) also described the physical characteristics of his 12th Heir in great detail. These descriptions are so detailed and explicit that when he reappears, people will be able to immediately recognize him. It is mentioned in the holy Qur’an that the People of the Book will recognize the Prophet of Islam "Those whom We have given the Book recognize him just as they recognize their sons, but a part of them indeed conceal the truth while they know. (2:146)
This ayah is also a figurative reference to the recognition of Imam Mahdi (AS). When he reappears, people will recognize him in the light of the descriptions given by the Prophet ("as they recognize their own sons”). Despite this however, some people will still deny him.
The Hadith narrated from the Prophet of Islam say Imam Mahdi (AS) will reappear with Prophet Jesus (AS) and they will face the antichrist. The Hadith detail his morale and the activities that he will engage in. In short, the attributes of the Imam are clearly outlined and done so with the purpose of his easy recognition.
For example, the Prophet refers to marks on the body of the Imam such as a Mole, or a Mark, a Sign or a Seal and likens these to a Leaf, Pearl or a Star. Imam Mahdi’s (AS) complexion, hair, beard, colour, stature, build, the general outline of his face, the shape of his head and forehead and features such as his eyebrows, nose and teeth are also mentioned in the astounding detail. A Hadith from the Prophet says: "The Mahdi will have a Black Mark on his Right Leg.”
Contrastingly, according to narrations, we find there will be people who reject the Imamate of Imam Mahdi (AS) when he returns due to the time and age paradox. Thus by analyzing the Qur’anic ayahs and hadith, we understand the possibility of this phenomenon. These indicate how different changes can take place in one event. The main idea here is the preservation of time and its control.
What we must understand is that Imam Mahdi (AS) has been given the titles of the Timeless Imam or Imam of the Time (Imam-e Zaman, Wali al-Asr). These attributes indicate that time is in his hands, by the Will of the All-Wise Allah.