Spiritual Dimensions of Mahdism in the Modern Age
There are numerous other Ahadith which also detail the coming of Imam Mahdi, and describe the events that will follow his emergence. There is no doubt in the minds of the majority of the Ulema, both Sunni and Shia, regarding the veracity of such Ahadith. However, there is much debate as to when Imam Mahdi will emerge and proclaim his Khilafat. Evidence from Ahadith indicates that Imam Mahdi will appear near the time of Qiyamat (Day of Judgement). This paper will not deal with this issue, but will instead examine the nature of the leadership of Imam Mahdi. His leadership will have a dual role, one aspect will be political and the other spiritual. It is the spiritual aspect of his Khilafat, and its profound effect on the lives of all the Muslims throughout the world, which will be discussed.
Restoration of Justice and Equality
Muslims throughout the world eagerly await the arrival of Imam Mahdi, this is because Imam Mahdi will restore justice and equality in the world, and help to unite the Muslims. It is therefore not surprising, that many Muslims are perhaps a little impatient with regard to the emergence of Imam Mahdi. Currently the Muslim Ummah is in a state of constant turmoil, and the worldwide political and moral situation of the Muslims is in chaos. The leadership of the Muslim Ummah is an eclectic mix of tyrants and puppets appointed by Western governments, who either serve their pay masters or themselves. For example, the reign of terror exhibited until recently in Iraq, by Saddam Hussein. In other words the leadership of the Muslims is in a state of complete disarray. This disastrous situation has had a very negative effect, not only on the individual Muslims in those countries, but also for the Muslim Ummah as a whole. Part of this negativity is reflected in the moral decay prevalent in Muslim communities, where Muslims are preoccupied with the acquisition of wealth, status, and pandering to their physical desires.
The emergence of Imam Mahdi will result in the complete annihilation of corrupt and tyrannical regimes in the Muslim world. One of the most important aspects of the role that Imam Mahdi will fulfil is the restoration of justice and equality throughout the earth. The restoration of justice and equality will include removal of all material and political injustices. For example, the current so called ‘war on terror’ and other human rights abuses will all be eliminated. However, it is important to bear in mind that Imam Mahdi will ultimately bring about global change in the form of social justice for all the peoples of the world. The reformation process will not be based on the implementation of man’s law, but that of Allah s.w.t.’s law. The removal of evil from the world will also result in a change in the nature of Muslims and how they deal and relate to each other. Old hatreds will disappear, false beliefs and practices will be abandoned, and a sense of true Muslim brotherhood will spread throughout the Muslim world, as was witnessed at the time of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.).
There is a dire need for a spiritual reawakening within the psyche of the Muslims, many of whom have tried to seek answers in different ideologies, which are alien to Islam e.g. feminism, secularism, liberalism and rationalism. A spiritual vacuum exists in the hearts of many Muslims, who in a futile attempt to understand and fill this gap; have sought answers elsewhere. The result; unfortunately has been the creation of a bizarre mix of new ideologies which combine various aspects of Islam, and attempt to fuse other ideologies with Islamic thinking. Allah s.w.t states in the Holy Quran, “This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed my favour upon you, and have chosen Islam for you as your religion’ (5:3), yet Muslims continue to seek guidance through man-made solutions. This situation in part, is due to ignorance, but there are those who are not satisfied with the solutions provided by Islam, and continue to search for answers through other avenues.
There is little doubt that, in the Western world, that the general population is not happy with the current situation in their daily lives. This crisis has resulted in the creation of a multi-million dollar industry, the ubiquitous self help book. In 2005, ninety million pounds was spent on buying self help books in the United Kingdom1. This clearly illustrates that there is an unfulfilled need in the lives of ordinary people, who are looking for personal contentment, beyond that which money and the acquisition of ever more material goods can satisfy. The remedy for this situation is ultimately found in the spiritual condition of the heart, which has become diseased, not only physically but also spiritually. The heart has been deprived of spiritual nourishment for so long that, individuals have in many respects relinquished their responsibility in fulfilling its spiritual needs. This neglect manifests itself in many different ways from depression, anxiety to mental illness. In the United Kingdom, depression has overtaken unemployment, as the number one social problem2.
This situation then raises, a very important question, how do we deal with the spiritual needs of the heart? The answer to this question cannot be found in a medical journal or from a psychiatrist. The remedies for the illnesses of the heart are found in the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). Some of the greatest Muslim thinkers and mystics have shown us how the heart can be cleansed, and restored to a state of spiritual equilibrium. Imam Ghazali and Maulana Rumi are but two of the most famous Muslim thinkers, who spent a life time studying how the heart can be purified, through the remembrance of Allah s.w.t.
Imam Mahdi will help to alleviate the personal problems faced by millions of people all over the world. He will have a direct connection with all the souls of every living person and as a consequence be able to remove their sense of isolation and loneliness. His persona will radiate with the minds of the people, and when he speaks it will seem as if he is personally speaking to each individual. Every action that he performs will be a source of direct guidance and therefore no mentoring or tutoring will be required.
There are some Muslims, who think that they can live their lives without the need for spiritual fulfilment. This view is both misguided and ill informed, one only needs to look at the life of the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon Him), to see that he was a deeply spiritual person. The Holy Prophet’s (Peace be upon Him) spirituality manifested itself in many different ways, for example he would regularly spend part of the night in Tahajjud prayer. He fought many battles throughout his life and conquered many lands but all these achievements did not detract him from his spirituality; he always maintained his spiritual link with Allah s.w.t. Imam Mahdi will continue the tradition of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon Him) and spread the message of spiritual reawakening. Much has been written about the emergence of Imam Mahdi and the events that will follow his arrival, but the spiritual role that he will play in the lives of Muslims has been overlooked.
The life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) is full of examples of his inner spirituality; it was an integral part of his character and was reflected in his actions. It is for this reason, that he is the best example for the whole of humanity; however his example is no longer followed by all Muslims. The Sunnah of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) is in decline and is the object of ridicule amongst many Muslims. For example, Muslims who keep long beards are mocked by fellow Muslims; what Muslims do not realise is that by demeaning the Sunnah, they are also insulting the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w). Imam Mahdi will epitomise the characteristics of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and will promote spiritual well-being in the Ummah. All of the prophets who came before the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) preached a message of inner peace combined with living a life of righteousness.
This then raises the important question, what is the purpose of spiritual enlightenment? The simple answer to this complex question is that, spiritual enlightenment allows the believer to make a connection with his creator i.e. the believer is able to reach a higher plane of understanding and is able to remove the shackles of his earthly vices, which weaken his spiritual well-being. However, only exceptional individuals can make this connection by themselves, the vast majority of people require some form of guidance or instruction in order to establish a true link with Allah s.w.t. Imam Mahdi will be the conduit by which Muslims will be able to create a relationship with their Lord. This is a common Islamic practice, whereby a pupil of a particular Sheikh or spiritual guide, will be guided spiritually so that he or she can attain a higher state of understanding or realisation. Once this realisation process has been completed, the purification process can then be initiated, before the student is finally able to make a spiritual connection with Allah s.w.t. It is important to understand the relationship between the Sheikh and his student, this particular dynamic is nowadays greatly misrepresented. It has its basis in the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), where the Sahabah gave their allegiance to the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon Him). By giving their allegiance or Bayat they entered into a sacred contract, whereby they agreed to live a life of righteousness. This tradition has continued throughout Islamic history, mainly by the Sufis and their followers.
When Imam Mahdi finally emerges, all the Muslims of the world will be required to give Bayat to him, by doing so they will be entering into a sacred covenant; that will require them to follow the Quran and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). To follow the Quran and Sunnah does not mean that we simply adhere to a set of prescribed rituals, without understanding the reasons behind them and the benefits that they provide for the true believer.
The Bayat of Imam Mahdi will connect everyone directly to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). Furthermore, all current Bayats to existing spiritual guides will become null and void and no further Bayats will be accepted other than that of Imam Mahdi.
One of the greatest ills facing the Muslim Ummah today; is that many Muslims have simply reduced Islam to a set of rituals which they follow blindly without any understanding or comprehension of their significance. This spiritual vacuum has consequently resulted in some Muslims becoming disillusioned with their faith, and have sought answers outside the fold of Islam, with disastrous consequences e.g. following strange cults who have attempted to create their own version or interpretation of Islam, for example the Perverzis, who only believe in the Quran and have rejected all Ahadith. These groups have renounced all the orthodox Islamic teachings, so that they could create their own religion. We need to be very careful when studying Islam because there are many Ahadith which warn Muslims about the dangers of introducing innovations (Bidat) into Deen. The following Ahadith warns about the dangers of Bidat.
It was narrated on the authority of Abu Najih al-Irbad bin Sariyah, radiyallahu \'anhu, who said:
The Messenger of Allah, sallallahu \'alayhi wasallam, delivered an admonition that made our hearts fearful and our eyes tearful. We said, "O Messenger of Allah, it is as if this were a farewell sermon, so advise us." He said, "I enjoin you to have Taqwa of Allah and that you listen and obey, even if a slave is made a ruler over you. He among you who lives long enough will see many differences. So for you is to observe my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the rightly-principled and rightly-guided successors, holding on to them with your molar teeth.