MARCH 21, 2012: Guest Lecturer: Professor Rula Abisaab
“The Imam Occultation (Ghayba) and Return (Raj’a)”
*Imam al-Husayn d. 680 in Karbalā
We look at the Islamic revolution as definitive moments in the history of the Middle
East as well as internationally.
12 Imam: the lost leader
There is tendency to avoid depictions of the face of the 12 Imam and just show
light instead of a face
For the Shi’ites, after the death of Prophet Mohammed, there was a struggle of how
would succeed him.
They believe that the descendants of the daughter of Prophet Mohammed and his
cousin should be rightful successor to rule after Mohammed. These rightly guided
leaders were “impeccable”, they do not commit sin or error.
The Imams go through the al-Husayn line until the 12 , who is believed to have gone
The last Imam goes into hiding
The 12 Imam was born in 255/868 in Samarra’ given the name Abu al-Qasin
Muhammad like the Prophet
Through a cave under the mosque in the gold-domed shrine of the ‘Askariyyayan
(0 al-Hadi and 11 Imam al-‘Askari)
At a later period a gate can be seen in the cave, namely, Bab al-Ghayba (Gate of
Occultation) built by the Capliph al-Nasir (in 1209). Behind it is the occultation
chamber (hujrat). In the corner is a well down which the Imam al-Mahdi is said to
Man believed in the occultation because the late Imams rarely showed themselves
to their followers in fear of Abbasid persecution
The last Imam was believed to have communicated his views to his community
through 4 deputies who expressed what became the Twelver Orthodox Position,
administered the affairs of the community and the last 2 received the legal monies
from khums and zakat.
Confusion about the Occultation continued for another 100 years. Shi’ite scholars
wrote several works to prove the Occultation doctrine. The end of the lesser
occultation identified the 12th Imam identified with the Mahdi (the Messiah).
The problem arose after 70 years, because by then they thought he would be close
to dying or dead and they should be seeing him then, so then the idea of him going
into hiding becomes prominent.
After the 4 deputies, the Shi’ites lost all communication with the 12 Imam, and the
period of the Greater Occultation (after 941) started. The last message from the
hidden Imam noted:
“the second occultation has come and there will not now be a manifestation except
by the permission of God and that after long time has passed, and hearts have
hardened and the earth has become filled with tyranny.. he who claims to have seen
me before the emergence of the Sufyani and the Cry (from the heavens) is assuredly
a lying imposter.”
Sufyani is an anti-Christ figure. In the Shi’ite theology, he lives, and does not die. He lives physically, but people
cannot see him. In the doctrine, the earth cannot be left at anytime with the Imam
because they are a symbol of the mercy of God.
And Mahdi: did not die, but have been concealed by God from the eyes of humans
The Mahdi will rise at the end of time and with him, Imam al-Husayn returns from
death and accompanies him. Christ will return too along with other Imams and
Prophets and saints (Martyrs of Karbala and Badr). His enemies will be led by the
one-eyes Dajjal (anti-Chris) and the Sufyani in an apocalyptic battle of good against
The Mahdi announces himself in Mecca, and then goes to Kufa in Iraw and brings a
new book and a new Shari’a much like the Prophet.
The sword will stand between him and Quraysh, and will face cursing and resistance
from east to west and will spread justice.
*Tension arose between the implications of the Occultation and political realities;
the ‘ulama’s relationship to temporal rulers fluctuated as we will see later
Principles legal functions of the Imams:
o Leading jihad for the purpose of spreading Islam as well as defending
o Division of booty (qismat al-fay’)
o Leading Friday prayer (salat al-jum’a)
o Implementing legal rulings (tanfidh al-ahkam)
o Imposing legal penalties (iqamat al-hudud)
o Collection religious taxes od Zakat and Khums
In the absence of the Imam, all governments are considered illegitimate (until
Some Shi’ite jurists accepted a practical association with government, they confined