Among the important questions concerning the issue of Mahdawiyyat is Imam Mahdi’s long life. Some Sunni scholars like Sa’ad al-Din Taftazani are of the view that Mahdi cannot live such a long life saying that it cannot be easily accepted that someone may live such a long life in this world.
Taftazani does not deny that Mahdi, son of Imam Hasan Askari is born. What he terms as unacceptable is his extraordinary long life.
It is on the basis of such an opinion that some Sunni scholars based on existing evidence accept that Imam Mahdi is born but claim that now he is no longer alive. This is because they regard it as unlikely for a person to live an extraordinary long life. Their opinion is however in contradiction with a prophetic tradition saying:
من مات و لم یعرف امام زمانه مات میته جاهلیه
He who dies without knowing the imam of his time, dies the death of ignorance.
According to this tradition, there is no time without an imam. Given such traditions, some Sunni scholars, have, instead of speaking about the death of Imam Mahdi, said that they know that he is born but they do not know what has happened to him. Since they cannot accept Imam Mahdi’s long life, therefore they are not willing to confess to it.
On the hand, since they know that the rejection of Imam Mahdi’s long life is in contradiction with traditions, they do not explicitly reject his long life. As a result, they accept his birth, though they say they do not know what has happened to him.
It seems as if they feel compelled to accept these traditions and thus they are required to accept his birth and long life as well.
Is long life something incredible?
Something might seem incredible before it happens, but once it happens it is no longer incredible. For example, you believe that something is impossible, but if it happens for once you can no longer be cocksure about its impossibility and your certainty will decrease. Now if the same phenomenon happens for twice and thrice, your certainty will also decrease correspondingly. If this process continues to happen your certainty will continue to decrease.
Now in response to what Taftazani has said, it must be pointed out that Allah has given long lives to (many including) Noah, Khidr and Jesus Christ. The belief in Jesus’s long life is an essential belief among Muslims and no one can deny that Jesus is alive now.
Similarly based on Sunni traditions, Dajjal is alive now and they believe firmly that he is alive now.
Now that there have been many people in the world, who have lived long lives, no one can deny as improbable Imam Mahdi’s long life.
The discoveries and inventions we observe everyday also make impossibles possible.
The belief cherished by Taftazani and his likes that long life is improbable gets increasingly weakened as history proceeds ahead.
[To explain it further], some of our scholars have said that it may look queer if someone claims that he is able to walk on the surface of water, but if he does it for once and people watch it, they will somewhat change their views concerning walking on water’s surface. If he does it for many times, it will become a natural act and everyone will easily accept it.
Ibn Taymiyya and denial of Khidr’s being alive
He basically refuses to accept that Khidr is alive now saying that most scholars are of the view that he is dead by now.1
He rejects the fact the Khidr is alive by now in order to be able to say that the point that Mahdi is alive by now is very unlikely.
Opponents of Ibn Taymiyya’s opinion
Contrary to Ibn Taymiyya, in his al-Isaba, Ibn Hajar Asqalani considers Khidr as one of the companions of the Holy Prophet(S).3
Likewise, in his Tahdib al-Asma wa al-Lughat, Hafiz Nawavi, a sixth or seventh century scholar openly says that according to most scholars Khidr is alive now.2
This shows that Khidr was alive when Nawavi was living.
Other scholars like Qari (in his Mirqat al-Mafatih fi Sharh Mishkat al-Masabih (4) and the commentator of al-Mawahib al-Ladunniya who lived years after Nawavi’s time, were also of the view that Mahdi was alive (at least) until their times. They have gone so far that they have mentioned in their books stories of people meeting Khidr and listening to his words.
Given all these issues, Ibn Taymiyya’s refusal to accept that Khidr is alive is very meaningful! He knew if he accepted that Khidr was alive it would pave the ground for rejecting the theory that rejects Mahdi’s long life as incredible.
Divine power and wisdom
Moreover, if Allah who is all-power, wills on certain grounds to keep someone alive for thousands of years He will do it. Thus it is not that much difficult to answer the question of Imam’s long life in our present time.
- 1. Minhaj al-Sunna, vol. 4, p. 93.
- 2. Al-Isaba, vol. 1, p. 429.
- 3. Tahdib al-Asma wa al-Lughat, vol. 1, p. 176.
- 4. Miqat al-Mafatih, vol. 9, p. 962.