One of the special attributes emphasized by the Ahle Bait (a.s.) in their narrations is the occultation of Imam-e-Asr (a.t.f.s.).

The three most common interpretations of occultation are:

1. Imam (a.t.f.s.) is not living among the common people. He remains out of reach for people. Hence, people cannot meet him. The status for everyone, friends or not, common or special, is the same. This means you cannot meet him.

2. Imam (a.t.f.s.) is present in society with the help of divine power. He can disappear at will and the people cannot see him. This is akin to the Quranic description of other creations existing alongside us in this world like angels, souls, etc which though present cannot be seen.

3. Imam (a.t.f.s.) lives his life in the society and as narrations elaborate, people do see him but do not recognize him.

Review

What is crystal clear and supported by traditions is that the first meaning of occultation is not acceptable in its entirety. This is because he is Allah’s servant and a true guide. He has been divinely appointed for the guidance of mankind.

Therefore, what is gleaned through narrations of the infallible Imams (a.s.) is that the second and third of the meanings can be held as correct. That is he is present as well as absent from society. Present for the one who yearns for meeting him while treading on his path and absent for his enemy and one who opposes him.

The Almighty says in the noble Quran:

وَجَعَلْنَا مِن بَيْنِ أَيْدِيهِمْ سَدًْا وَمِنْ خَلْفِهِمْ سَدًْا فَأَغْشَيْنَاهُمْ فَهُمْ لاَ يُبْصِرُونَ

And We have made before them a barrier and a barrier behind them, then We have covered them over so that they do not see.

The Rationale of Occultation

A summary of the sources of history and traditions reveals that Allah’s Sunnah (tradition) continues throughout the nations, peoples and eras without change. Society has, in the past, witnessed the Sunnah (of occultation) in one form or the other. Allah had kept His previous guides, teachers and trainers of men hidden from the people. The Muslim nation is not exempt from this tradition. It has to face this trial in the form of the occultation of the last proof, Imam-e-Zamana (a.t.f.s.).

Some of the secrets and reasons of this occultation are as follows:

1.       For the protection of Imam (a.t.f.s.): The lovers of the Ahle Bait (a.s.) always follow and act upon the orders and sayings of the Imams (a.s.). This is because the pure Imams (a.s.) are the true successors of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and the inheritors of the religion. But, whenever the Shias attempted to gain benefit from the presence of Imam (a.t.f.s.), the enemies, specifically the rulers of the time, felt disconcerted. They were riled with hatred and envy. They would try their best to extinguish this light of guidance. Therefore, we find an explanation in the narrations of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and his pure household (a.s.) regarding the occultation of Imam-e-Zamana (a.t.f.s.). It is clarified that the wisdom behind occultation was the safety of Imam (a.t.f.s.), through whom mankind will receive salvation. The pages of history are replete with the sordid crimes and tyrannical rule of the Umayyads and Abbasides. They gained control of the Muslim world, projected themselves as the leaders of Islam and tried with all their stately power and oppression to eliminate the true reformers and guides to salvation.

More so, when they learnt that the last successor of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was the redeemer of mankind, the bane of tyrannical rulers, demolisher of mighty palaces and destroyer of the oppressors. They mobilized all their forces to search for him. But Allah the Almighty had other plans. The saviour of mankind, the last link of leadership and the culmination of the efforts of the Prophet’s progeny (a.s.) was to be safeguarded at all costs. There are a multitude of shades and facets to this occultation. One clear need for occultation arose due to the actions of the enemies. It became the imperative of divine wisdom that the last proof (a.s.) be kept in occultation. Divine power and wisdom was executed and the twelfth Imam (a.t.f.s.) was veiled from the eyes of the people.

2.       To realize the value of the bounty: The second secret for Imam’s (a.t.f.s.) occultation was that mankind should recognize the value and importance of the life and presence of the other Imams (a.s.) in society, when they were accessible and guiding mankind. The true price of ease and comfort is known only to the one who has faced trial and tribulation.

So, the example of reappearance has been taken from the rising of the sun once again after its disappearance (into a dark night). This means that the sun of guidance has disappeared from the vision of man because the people at that time had not valued and appreciated the mastership and love of the Imams (a.s.). They had disregarded and disowned the knowledge, recognition and wisdom of Imams (a.s.) and sided with people who invited them towards destruction and deviation. For this reason, the bounty of Imam’s (a.t.f.s.) presence was snatched from them and will not be returned until man has a sincere desire for it.

3.       Examination of people: Trial and examination is among the secrets behind the occultation of Imam-e-Zamana (a.s.). This too is a Sunnah of Allah, Who puts his servants under various kinds of examinations. People who believe in Allah, His Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and all that has been revealed regarding Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.) will not flinch and remain steadfast, regardless of the length of occultation.

4.       Transformation in Attitude and Psychology during the Era of Occultation: Among the secrets of Imam’s (a.t.f.s.) occultation is that the nations of the world change their way of thinking, knowledge base, outlook and work ethics to become prepared for the great reformer. The coming of Imam (a.t.f.s.) will not be like the advent of other Prophets and Messengers (a.s.) where normal systems and way of living were taken into consideration. Imam (a.t.f.s.) will guide the people on the basis of reality and universal truths. He will not rule using dissimulation (taqayya). Advocating goodness (amr bil maroof) and prohibiting evil (nahy anil munkar) will be strictly implemented. The administrators, governors and concerned officials of authority will be closely audited and their actions will be questioned. To act in such an environment requires excellence of thought, belief, character and actions so that the road to universal government based on the Quranic sciences can be established.

5.       The believers and unbelievers are recognized: One of the secrets of occultation is that people are tested in difficulties, trials and tribulations of life, such that each recognizes his patience and forbearance. How steadfast am I in my religion and path? Examination will differentiate the good from the bad, the believer from the unbeliever, the believer from the hypocrite and the just from the unjust. Evil distinguishes itself from goodness. While the believer’s faith increases, his doubt fades away and Allah’s argument upon the world is completed.