Why Did not the Occultation Become Complete from the Beginning? 1

Why Did not the Occultation Become Complete from the Beginning? 1

The group met at Dr. Jalali's house. The session began on time. Everyone was anxious to hear Dr. Jalali's questions.

Dr. Jalali: What was the purpose of the Short Occultation? If the twelfth Imam was going to be in occultation, why did he not do so immediately following the death of Imam Hasan 'Askari? Why did he not become completely cut off from his followers?

Mr. Hoshyar: You must realize that the disappearance of the Imam and the leader of the community for a long time is an uncommon event and would be hard for the people to believe and get used to. It was for this reason that the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) and the Imams decided to make the people aware of such a phenomenon gradually.
Hence, from time to time they related the events connected with the occultation, they spoke about the difficulties people would face in the absence of the Imam, and described the condition of those who would reject the idea and the losses they would suffer, and praised the condition of those who would remain firm and the rewards they would reap. At times, through their own inaccessibility they demonstrated a situation which resembled the era when the last Imam would be living an invisible life.

Mas'udi, the famous historian, in his book Ithbat al-wasiyya describes this gradual introduction of the notion of the Imam's occultation. He says that Imam Hadi, the tenth Imam, met very little with the people and, except for some of his special associates, did not maintain contacts with others. When Imam Hasan 'Askari assumed the Imamate, most of the time he spoke with the people from behind a curtain so that his followers would be get used to the idea and be prepared to accept the disappearance of the twelfth Imam.(1)

If the complete occultation had begun immediately following the death of Imam Hasan 'Askari, then, in all likelihood, the fact about the existence of the twelfth Imam would have been ignored and in time people would have completely forgotten that there exists an Imam in occultation. Consequently, it was the Short Occultation with which the event of the disappearance of the Imam occurred.
During this period the Shi'a were able to contact the Imam through his special deputies and were witness to the signs and miraculous deeds that appeared in the hands of these prominent followers of the Imam. When the notion of occultation and the Imam's ability to provide the necessary guidance through his deputies in that state became firmly accepted, the Complete Occultation occurred.

Is There Any Time Limit to the Complete Occultation?

Engineer Madani: Is there any time limit fixed for the Complete Occultation?

Mr. Hoshyar: No, there is no time limit fixed. However, there are many hadith-reports that point to the prolongation of the occultation to such an extent that some people will fall into doubt about the existence of the Imam. For example, Imam 'Ali has related the following about the Qa'im:

His occultation will be so long that an ignorant person will say: "God does not need the ahl al-bayt."(2)

Similarly, Imam Sajjad has related that among the characteristics of Noah that would recur in the Qa'im would be his long age.(3)

The Philosophy of Occultation

Engineer Madani: If the Imam of the Age was living among the people, they would have been able to reach him and consult with him in times of need to seek solutions to their problems. That would have been better. In spite of such a need among his followers why did he go into occultation?

Mr. Hoshyar: To be sure, if there had been no obstacles to his being present among the people, it would have been more expedient and beneficial to have him around. However, since God has chosen a state of invisible existence for him, and since God's acts are founded upon what is in the best interest of humanity, one should also believe, as one does in other instances, that in this case also the reason for occultation is also based on divine wisdom, about which we have simply an overall knowledge, the details being unknown to us. The following hadith corroborates the point we are trying to make, namely, that the actual reason for occultation was not explained for the people, and except for the Imams themselves no one knew anything about it.

The hadith is reported by 'Abd Allah b. Fadl Hashimi. He relates:

Imam Sadiq said: "The one entrusted with the command will necessarily live an invisible life. This will lead those who are already astray into doubt." So I asked the Imam the reason. He said: "I am not permitted to reveal the reason." I went on to seek the philosophy behind the invisible life [of the Imam of the Age].

He said: "It is the same wisdom that existed in the prior situation when other proofs of God also went into occultation. However, the true understanding behind this occurrence will not take place until after he has reappeared, just as the wisdom behind making the boat defective, killing the boy, and repairing the falling wall [in the story of Moses and Khidr in the Qur'an] were revealed to Moses only after the two had decided to part company.

O the son of Fadl! The subject of occultation is among the divine secrets and a concealed matter whose knowledge is only with God. Since we regard God to be wise we must also affirm that His acts are based on that perfect wisdom, even when the detailed understanding is not accessible to us."(4)

The hadith certainly points to the fact that the main reason for the occultation was not explained to the people either because it was not suitable for the people or because they had no preparation to grasp it. But there are other traditions in which three benefits are given for the occultation of the Imam:

(1) The benefit of being tested and purified: There are some who do not have strong faith. Through the requirement of believing in such a phenomenon as the invisible existence of the Imam their true inner self is made manifest. Then there are those who do have strong faith in hidden things, but because of the prolonged concealment and their awaiting for the deliverance so long, they have suffered a lot. Such people should receive proper recognition and should reap rewards for their steadfastness and patience. Imam Musa Kazim has related this situation in the following hadith:

When the fifth descendant of the seventh Imam disappears watch out for your faith. God forbid, if someone may drive you away from your religion. O my son! Undoubtedly, the Master of the Command will have such an occultation that a group of believers will turn away from religion. God will test the believers with the occultation [of their Imam].(5)

(2) The benefit of being relieved from having to pay allegiance to unjust rulers. There is a tradition reported by Hasan b. Faddal from Imam Rida, who said:

"I see my followers in the aftermath of the death of my third descendant [i.e., Imam Hasan 'Askari) looking for their Imam everywhere and not finding him." I asked him the reason for that. He said: "Because their Imam will have entered the state of occultation." I went on to ask the reason for the occultation. He said: "This will be so that when he reappears he will have paid no allegiance to anyone.(6)"

(3) The benefit of being immune from murder. Zurara reports the hadith from Imam Sadiq, who said: "The Qa'im must live an invisible existence." I asked for the reason. He said: "He is afraid of being killed," and pointed to his stomach.

These three benefits are reported in various ways in a number of traditions, especially those reported from the ahl al-bayt.

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1. Ithbat al-wasiyya, p. 206

2. Ithbat al-hudat, Vol. 2, p. 393

3. Bihar al-anwar, Vol. 51, p. 217

4. Bihar al-anwar, Vol. 52, p. 91

5. Ibid., Vol. 52, p. 113

6. Ibid., Vol. 51, p. 153