Imam Mahdi birth and his parents in Sunni traditions

Imam Mahdi birth and his parents in Sunni traditions

In the previous part (article: The Twelfth Imam from Sunni traditions point of view ), I provided extensive traditions from the six authentic Sunni collections concerning the fact that Imam Mahdi (PBUH) who is different from Jesus (the messiah) WILL come and he is the descendant of Prophet and his daughter Fatimah. The traditions further illuminated the fact that Jesus (who was a great Prophet) will pray behind al-Mahdi (who is an Imam). Also I cited the fatwa of Sunni scholars who stated that the belief in the "Mahdi of the House of Prophet" is one of the Islamic tenets for "Ahl al-Sunnah wal Jama'a", and anyone who denies it is either ignorant or an innovator.

In this part however, I would like to talk about some special specifications of Imam Mahdi which is questionable for a majority of Sunnis. Imam Mahdi's Identification:

Shia believe that Imam Mahdi is the only son of Imam Hasan al-Askari (the 11th Imam) who was born on 15th of Sha'ban 255/869 in Samarra, Iraq. He became the God-appointed Imam when his father was martyred in 260/874. Imam Mahdi went into occultation (disappearance; leaving among people while they can't recognize him) at the same time. He will re-appear when Allah wills. More specifically:

His title is "al-Mahdi" which means "The Guided One."

His name is Muhammad Ibn al-Hassan (PBUH).

His lineage, traced back to al-Imam Ali (PBUH), is: Muhammad Ibn al-Hassan Ibn Ali Ibn Muhammad Ibn Ali Ibn Musa Ibn Ja'far Ibn Muhammad Ibn Ali Ibn al-Husain Ibn Ali Ibn Abi Talib (PBU THEM).

On the other hand, the majority of Sunnis are not so sure that he has been born yet. They believe he will be born forty years before his mission. The name of Imam Mahdi is Muhammad (which is the same as what Shia believe). There is however one single Sunni report which adds that the name of the father of Imam Mahdi is Abdullah while one of greatest Sunni scholars (Ganji-Shafeei) believes that Imam Mahdi was born five years before his father martyrdom and he is in occultation (exactly like Shia) also believe this tradition is a fictitious tradition. (Albayan fi Akhbare Sahib Az-Zaman)

Now let us see what is the argument of each side:

Question 1:

Some Sunnis question Shia that how a five year old boy can become an Imam for the people? And why attribute all this importance to him?

Answer 1:

First, we must question whether or not in the history of religion, the phenomenon of young leaders has a parallel. Undoubtedly, there is. The Quran strikes two examples which are worthy of mentioning:

We have the example of Jesus (PBUH) who became Prophet and spoke people when he was a baby in the cradle:

"But she pointed to the baby. They said: `How can we talk to one who is a CHILD in the cradle?' He said: `I am indeed a servant of Allah. He HAS GIVEN me Scripture and ASSIGNED me a Prophet, and He has made me blessed wherever I be, and has enjoined on me Prayer and zakat as long as I live.'" (Holy Quran 19:29-31)

Thus Jesus (PBUH) became a Prophet and received revelation and book while he was less than one year old!

Furthermore, in few verses before, Quran mentions the case of Prophet Yahya (John), to whom Allah said:

"O Yahya! Take hold of the Book with might:' And We gave him the appointment (of prophethood) in his CHILDHOOD." (The Quran 19:12)

So if a two-year old boy can become a prophet and receives revelation, then why cannot a five-year old boy become Imam?

Have you ever heard of prodigies? They are kids between the ages of four to 18 that exhibit signs of exceptional skills that are usually found in highly qualified adults only. Here are some examples from history:

"John Stuart Mill (1806-73), a 19th-century English philosopher and economist, advocated utilitarian reforms in his many writings and as member of Parliament. A child prodigy, Mill had mastered Greek by the age of 7 and studied economics at the age of 13. His works express his social thought with great clarity and thoroughness. (The Bettmann Archive)"

"The French thinker, mathematician, and scientist Blaise Pascal, b. June 19, 1623, d. Aug. 19, 1662, has been credited not only with imaginative and subtle work in geometry and other branches of mathematics, but with profoundly influencing later generations of theologians and philosophers. A prodigy in mathematics, Pascal had mastered Euclid's Elements by the age of 12. Pascal invented and sold the first calculating machine (1645)."

"Wolfgang was the greatest musical child prodigy who ever lived. He began composing minuets at the age of 5 and symphonies at 9."

"Beethoven's own talent was such that at the age of 12 he was already an assistant to the organist Christian Gottlob Neefe, with whom he studied."

"Sarah Caldwell, born Maryville, Mo., Mar. 6, 1924, is a conductor and producer. A child prodigy in both mathematics and music, before reaching the age of ten."

While not exhaustive, the list serves the purpose of demonstrating that this phenomenon occurs naturally among normal human beings from all walks of life. So scientifically speaking, it is quite possible that a child demonstrates abilities that adults cannot. Also religiously speaking anything Allah desires will happen no matter how strange. Indeed Allah asserts unequivocally in Quran that if He wanted something, all He has to do is to say to it: "Be! and it will be!".

Question 2:

Everybody is mortal. How can he live so long?

Answer 2:

Yes, in fact Imam Mahdi will die too. But the difference is the length of life in this world. In fact Quran and the prophetic traditions tell us that some people have had/are having long life in this world. So it is possible to see this phenomena again.

Are you aware that according to the Quran (see 29:14), Prophet Noah has just been prophet for 950 years? In fact, he was alive even more than that because we should add his age before prophethood to the above number. Who knows how much it was.

Do you agree that Prophet Jesus (PBUH) is still alive? He is in fact 1,994 years old now. Of course, he is not living on Earth right now; he is living in the Heavens. But according to Muslim's belief, he will come back to Earth, and will pray behind Imam al-Mahdi (PBUH).

Do you agree that al-Khidr (PBUH) is still alive? Quran mentions his story with Moses (PBUH). He existed before the birth of the Prophet Moses (PBUH), so al-Khidr (PBUH) is now more than 3000 years old. He lives right here on this Earth, but we cannot recognize him (fairly similar to the case of Imam Mahdi). He serves Allah as one of His agents.

No doubt Allah has the ability to give someone a very long life, but He also has assigned a death time for everybody (including the above mentioned individuals) which can be so soon or so late.

Moreover, scientifically speaking, there are NO objections whatsoever to the extended life span assertion. A group of scientists conducted a series of experiments at the Rockefeller Institute in New York in 1912 on certain "parts" of plants, animals, and humans. These scientists included Dr. Alex Carl, Dr. Jack Lope, and Dr. Warren Lewis and his wife, among others. Among the experiments conducted was one that directly treated the nerves, muscles, hearts, skin, and kidneys of human beings. These organs were not in a human body, they were independent organs that were perhaps donated for the experiment.

It was concluded by the scientists that these "parts or organs" CAN continue to live almost indefinitely as long as they are nourished properly, and as long as they are shielded from external negative interactions like microbes and other obstacles that might inhibit the growth of these organs; furthermore, the assertion was made that the cells would continue to grow normally under the above conditions, and that the growth is directly related to the nourishment provided. Again, aging had no effect on these organs, and they grew every year without any signs of deterioration or aging. The scientists concluded that these organs will continue to grow as long as the patience of the scientists themselves is not exhausted, causing them to abandon the nourishment process.

Question 3:

Where is Mahdi (PBUH) right now? Is he in cave?

Answer 3:

Imam Mahdi disappeared in 260/874 when he became Imam. The last time that he was seen, was in the cellar of his father's house in Samarra, Iraq. That is what is rumored regarding Shia that they believe Mahdi is in the cave!!!

Shia do NOT believe that Imam Mahdi is in the Cave or Cellar! He was just seen there for the last time. He can be anywhere Allah wishes. However one thing is clear is that he lives on the earth among people while people around him do not perceive and know him.

Second, with regards to the occultation of Imam al-Mahdi (PBUH), the Quran does NOT rule out such an occurrence at all. Again, the examples of Jesus (PBUH) and al-Khidr (PBUH), who are both in occultation, are worthy of mentioning.

Moreover, some of prophets of Allah have gone to occultation for a period of time. For instance, prophet Moses (PBUH) went to occultation for one time. When Almighty Allah summon Moses to go to Mountain for forty days. He appointed Aeron instead of himself and went to Mountain. Holy Quran says:

“And when We made an appointment with Moses for forty nights…”(2:51).

Based on the verse prophet Moses left his community for forty days and nights and went to Mountain and concealed from people eyes.

Of course other prophets went to Occultation too. To study other Prophets' occultation see book: “Kamal Oddin va Tamamo neemah: Vol: 1, Page: 171-200” written by one of most important and oldest Shia Sholars: Sheikh Sadoogh.

Question 4:

What about his mother? Provided that Shia is right in their assertion that Imam al-Mahdi's (PBUH) mother was a slave or bondwoman, isn't it shameful that he (PBUH) should be born to a slave-girl?

Answer 4:

The answer would be in the form of the following questions: Wasn't Hagar (PBUH), the Prophet Abraham's wife, a bondwoman? Did she not bear Isma'il (Ishmael) (PBUH), whom the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is a direct descendant of ? If it is acceptable for the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HF), the Seal of Prophethood, to be a descendant of Isma'il (PBUH) who was born to a bondwoman, then why not Imam al-Mahdi (PBUH)?

I need to mention to two important points:

  1. Not only Imam Al-Mahdi' Mother was not a slave but also was the granddaughter of emperor of Rome (She was a princess). Her real name was Malika (Also: Narjes, Soosan and Seighal) daughter of Joshua. Her ancestry is to Simon, one of the disciples of Jesus (PBUH).

She dreamed Holy Prophet Muhammad marrying her to (his grandson) Imam Hassan Askari. She in a very wonderful event came from Rome to Iraq with a cloth of slaves and changed her real name to Narjis which was one of slaves names not to be known by people and captured. Sheikh Sadough has narrated her whole adventure in the book“Kamal Oddin va Tamamo neemah: Vol: 2, chapter 41”.

  1. that the birth of al-Mahdi (PBUH) was an event surrounded with secrecy, because the authorities (The Abbasids) knew that the Mahdi who is to bring about a revolution is going to be the son of Imam Askari, and were awaiting his coming, to capture him for execution. Owing to that, Imam Hasan Askari (PBUH), the Mahdi's father, could not behave conspicuously by revealing who the mother of the Mahdi (PBUH) was. The Imam Mahdi's mother married to Imam al-Askari (PBUH). Notwithstanding, what has created the confusion among the critics of Shia is the fact that Imam al-Askari (PBUH) did not refer to her (PBUH) with one name. A variety of names were used in an effort to fool the authorities, and to prevent them from recognizing who she was. That was part and parcel of the plan to protect the Mahdi (PBUH). If had the father (PBUH) been slightly negligent in protecting his son, it is clear that Imam al-Mahdi (PBUH) would not have survived. The story of birth of Imam Mahdi is like that of the Moses. All the women were being regularly inspected by female specialists of Abbasids to find out if anybody is pregnant. The Imam Mahdi's mother did not have any sign of pregnancy to the last hours, similar to Moses's mother. But no doubt that what Allah wishes will certainly take place.

Given these adverse conditions and hardships, the birth of the Imam (PBUH) was kept in utmost secrecy, that even the closest people to Imam Hassan Askari (PBUH), the father of the Mahdi (PBUH), did not know of the time of his (PBUH) birth. Only VERY FEW close associates were notified. The obvious contention is that the birth of Imam al-Mahdi (PBUH) constitutes a direct threat to the continuance of the corrupt government to rule. This situation is best understood when we refer back to the first few days of Islam when the Prophet (PBUH) preached the religion in utmost secrecy among a few loyal followers. The Prophet (PBUH) feared for the lives of these believers, and, as such, forbade them from revealing any information that might jeopardize the entire mission.

Question 5:

Who was his father?

Answer 5:

Shia Scholars along with some Sunni scholars believe that his father was Imam Hassan Askari (d.260/874). Below I have included the name of 31 Sunni scholars who confirm this fact. The overwhelming majority of prophetic traditions about Imam Mahdi (some of which I mentioned in the previous part) state that the name of Imam Mahdi is the same as the name of Prophet (Muhammad). However there exists a single Sunni report that has an additional phrase concerning that his father's name is also similar to that of Prophet's father (Abdullah). This extra phrase does NOT exist in all other reports by Shia and Sunni who narrated the first part of the Hadith. Moreover, the extra phrase in some Shia traditions is in the form of (that his nickname is the same as Prophets nickname Abul-Qasim) which is correct.

The single report which has the additional phrase (that his father's name is the same as that of Prophet's father) has been probably fabricated by Abdullah Ibn al-Hasan (Muthanna; the second) Ibn (Imam) al-Hasan (PBUH). Abdullah (d. 145/762) had a son named Muhammad who called him "Nafs al-Zakiyyah" and the al-Mahdi. (See Ibn Taqtuqa, al-Fikr fil-adab al- Sultaniyyah, PP 165-166). Abdullah used all his power and wealth to support the revolt of his son. Abdullah concealed his son several times in Umayyad period when there was still no danger for him. When he was asked why he did this, he said: "What an idea, their time has not come yet." (Muruj al- Dhahab, by al-Masudi, V6, PP 107-108). The first time Muhammad wrote a letter the Abbasid Caliph, al-Mansur, he wrote: "From Muhammad Ibn Abdillah, the Mahdi,..." (Tabari, V3, P29, Ibn Kathir V10, P85, Ibn Khaldun, V4, P4).

Muhammad Ibn Abdillah started his claims at the end of the rule of Umayad caliphs. Muhammad became powerful and tried to gain the support of the last Umayyad Caliph who was Marwan Ibn Muhammad (132/750), but the Caliph did not pay attention to him. Abul Abbas al-Falasti said to Marwan: "Muhammad Ibn Abdollah is striving to gain the power for he is claiming to be al-Mahdi". Marwan replied: "What does he have to do with me? (the Mahdi) is not him, nor any of his father's descendants. He will be the son of a slave woman."

When Marwan said that Mahdi (PBUH) is not one of his father's descendants, he meant the descendants of Imam Hassan Mujtaba (PBUH)(the first son of Imam Ali Ibn Abitalib PBUTH), while Mahdi (PBUH) is the descendant of Imam Husain (PBUH) and is son of a slave woman. Even Marwan was aware of these traditions because of which he did not pay attention to Muhammad Ibn Abdillah. This shows that the true versions of traditions from Prophet were wide-spread.

There is also a very small possibility that the fabrication of that extra phrase was done the Abbasid Caliph, Abdullah al-Mansur, who called his son the Mahdi. Muslim Ibn Qutaybah said: "Mansur called me and said: Muhammad Ibn Abdillah rebelled and he called himself the Mahdi. By Allah he is not. I will tell you something else which I have told no one before, and will tell no one after you. By Allah my son is not the Mahdi either but I did so to make a good future for him."

From all above it can be seen that the fabrication of the single report which includes that extra phrase, could be reconciled on Muhammad Ibn Abdillah and/or the Abbasid Caliph, al-Mahdi. This is not the place to examine the Hadith critically, but merely to point out the historical background of it.