Is being patient and resilient in face of the difficulties that arise during the Era of Occultation constitute one of the specific religious duties of Muslims vis-à-vis Imam Mahdi (a)? (question)

From Imamatpedia

Patience in Face of the Difficulties that Arise During the Occultation of Imam Mahdi (a)

One of the specific duties of all Muslims during the period of occultation is to exercise patience and resilience in the face of adversity. These difficulties exist so as to purify those who await Imam Mahdi (a). In this regard, Imam Baqir (a) is reported to have said : "O' Shi'a of the Holy Prophet's progeny, you will be as thoroughly purified (during the era of occultation) like the purification of kohl within the eye"[1]. Similarly, Imam Sadiq (a) is narrated to have stated : "The deliverance will not reach you until the onset of destruction! No, by God, it will not reach you, until you are rendered pure and clean by way of numerous trials and tribulations"[2]. Indeed, the innumerable difficulties and immense pressures created by the opponents of Islam and wilāyah (i.e. divinely ordained authority) for the Shi'a who await Imam Mahdi (a) will be so great that any Muslim who awaits Imam Mahdi's return will have to possess the steadfastness of a mountain and the patience of the prophet Ayyūb (a) in order to successfully survive through this challenge without falling prey to corrupt deviation and hopelessness. The Qur'an speaks of such patience by saying : "By Time! Man is indeed in loss, except those who have faith and do righteous deeds, and enjoin one another to [follow] the truth, and enjoin one another to patience"[3]. Some Quranic exegetes believe this Quranic chapter is related to the era of the occultation of Imam Mahdi (a). As such, they argue that during this period all human beings will languish in a state of detriment and existential bankruptcy, having lost the essential capital of their inherent humanity, except those true believers who after having prepared themselves for this age continuously support one another through mutual motivation towards resilience and patience. Even within the narrated traditions we find that being patient in the face of difficulties is indicated as one of the rights of the Immaculate Imams (a) that must be fulfilled by the Shi'a. While speaking to one of his companions named Mu'min al-Ṭāq, Imam Sadiq (a) is reported to have said : "O' son of Nu'man, there is no believer except that he must fulfill three sets of rights: the rights of God Almighty, the rights of His Messenger (s) and the rights of the Imam … and (amongst) the rights of the Imam is that the believer must exercise patience in the face of adversities and hardships until God Almighty provides him with deliverance"[4].

Patience Alongside Devout Religiousness

During the era of occultation, patience alone cannot be deemed enough and must be exercised alongside a devout observance of religiousness. While explaining the Quranic verse that says : "O you who have faith! Be patient, stand firm, and close (your) ranks, and be wary of Allah so that you may be felicitous"[5], Imam Baqir (a) is reported to have said : "Be patient (and diligent) in the performance of divine obligations and stand firm in front of the enemies and close your ranks to safeguard your Imam (whose return you piously await)"[6]. Likewise, a narrated tradition of the Holy Prophet (s) gives glad tidings to those who are devout and God-conscious during the era of occultation. In this tradition the Blessed Messenger is reported to have said : "O' Jundab, during the age of occultation every king that gains power over the people will treat them with tyranny and oppression. Then, when God Almighty ordains the uprising of the Qa'im (a) to occur, the world will be filled with justice and impartiality just as it was previously saturated with tyranny and oppression … Blessed are those who exercise patience and fortitude during the age of occultation. Blessed are those who practice piety and remain God-conscious while treading upon their path"[7]. The reason why patience must go hand in hand with devout religiousness is that if patience is practiced alone, the peace and security of society will eventually be destroyed as people will gradually fall prey to hopelessness and despair.

In any case, the enormously difficult circumstances that prevail during the era of occultation dictate that every Shi'a who awaits Imam Mahdi's reappearance must be steadfast and patient when facing the adversities and tribulations of this special period, while also defending and preserving his or her existence and essential identity. Indeed, a person who awaits Imam Mahdi's return is a person who predicts and foresees the challenges that exist within the age of awaiting Imam Mahdi (a) and, as a result, his or her patience and resilience is not overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude and intensity of these problems. In this regard, some narrated traditions have mentioned the particular hardships which an individual awaiting Imam Mahdi (a) must overcome. For instance, Imam Husayn (a) is reported to have said : "Those who exercise resilience and perseverance when faced by the torments and denunciations of the era of Imam Mahdi's occultation are like the people who fought with their swords alongside the Prophet (s) himself"[8].

Patience and Resilience in Performing Acts of Ritual Worship

It can be said that the most important form of patience that a Muslim must practice during the age of occultation is patience and steadfastness in the performance of acts of ritual worship. Narrated traditions that encourage Muslims to await Imam Mahdi (a) actually speak of a believer's sincere intention and resoluteness in performing acts of worship. One narrated tradition states : "The most superior of all acts of worship is the awaiting of deliverance"[9]. Herein, the sincere intention and steadfastness of a believer in the performance of his acts of worship for the attainment of God's pleasure are highlighted. Difficulties and problems faced by a believer in the path of worship or, more accurately, due to his or her beliefs as a person who awaits Imam Mahdi (a) are challenges that did not exist during the era of the Holy Prophet (s) nor would they prevail during the age of Imam Mahdi's reappearance. Indeed, difficulties in general can be divided into two categories:

1. Difficulties faced by an individual voluntarily in the natural process of striving to protect and preserve his or her belief and faith.

2. Hardships and harassments inflicted upon an individual by others due to their animosity towards his or her faith and belief system. These are the difficulties that are relevant to our current discussion about a believer who actively awaits the return of Imam Mahdi (a). This particular type of adversities do not exist within an Islamic society where Islamic teachings are being implemented in a complete and comprehensive sense, such as the society that existed during the era of the Prophet (s) and the one that shall come into being during the age of Imam Mahdi's reappearance. In fact, these torments are exclusive to the era of Imam Mahdi's occultation i.e. the era during which we currently live wherein righteousness is considered abhorrent while evil is deemed commendable, and wherein sincere people are kept away from any involvement in social life despite their purity and competence.

The Emphasis Placed by the Immaculate Imams (a) Upon Being Patient During the Era of Occultation

The following reasons lie behind why the Immaculate Imams (a) encouraged and invited their Shi'a to be devoutly patient:

1. The lengthy duration of the age of occultation. In a narrated tradition, the Commander of the Faithful (a) is reported to have said : "Striving to uproot mountains is easier than struggling against a monarch, the duration of whose reign has been already been determined. (Thus) seek help from the Almighty and be patient. Indeed, the Earth belongs to God and He gives it to whomsoever He pleases, and true and ultimate prosperity is exclusively for the righteous. Do not be unduly hasty with regards to this matter (i.e. the deliverance brought about by the Imam of the Age) before its preordained time comes to pass, for such haste will only lead to regret. Similarly, do not perceive the end of this waiting period to be far away, for such a perception will lead you to become stone-hearted"[10]. Therefore, if a person who awaits Imam Mahdi (a) is not able to exercise patience and is not able to tolerate the difficulty that lies in this lengthy waiting period, then such a person will eventually lose control and will fall prey to deviant corruption while becoming a victim of the evils listed in the above-mentioned narrated tradition.

2. A person who awaits Imam Mahdi (a) is always susceptible to folly. The trials and tribulations of the End Days can always deviate him or her from the path of truth. In such a situation, one must exercise patience and resilience in order to prevent any such deviation from taking place. Speaking of the ordeals that face those who await Imam Mahdi (a) during the age of occultation, Imam Baqir (a) is reported to have said : "I swear by God, you will not attain that which you desire (i.e. the reappearance of Imam Mahdi) except after having thoroughly passed through the sieve of examination. You will be tested so that the good may be separated from the bad, and the steadfast may be distinguished from those who merely claim to be so. I swear by God, this desire will not attain fulfilment except after the onset of hopelessness and despondency. (This event will not occur) until after the wickedness of the wicked as well as the competence and worthiness of the virtuous is revealed"[11].

Similarly, while speaking of the exegesis of the Quranic verse that says : "We will surely test you with a measure of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth, lives, and fruits; and give good news to the patient"[12], Imam Sadiq (a) is reported to have stated : "Indeed, before the uprising of Imam Mahdi (a), you, the believers, will be subjected to difficulties like fear, hunger, a loss of wealth and lives, and afflictions of agricultures, while good tidings exist for the patient … this means that good news about the imminence of deliverance and Imam Mahdi's reappearance must be given to those who exercise patience during such a time".

1. In the era of occultation society will become weak in terms of religious beliefs and convictions. During such circumstances, a group of people must take upon themselves the responsibility to teach and educate others so as to save them from ignorance. On the other hand, those who await Imam Mahdi (a) in a genuine sense know very well that grounds must be prepared for his reappearance. Therefore, it becomes abundantly clear that such responsibilities require an immense degree of patience and steadfastness.

2. The community of those who await Imam Mahdi (a) during the period of occultation require a diligent preservation of their internal cohesiveness and unity. Likewise, they must be resilient in the face of their enemies and must try to fix the all difficulties. These critical objectives can only be achieved if a group of dedicated individuals gather their resolve in order to work out solutions as well as eliminate the reasons and catalysts that lead to disagreement and conflict. Obviously, such an enormous task is always riddled with innumerable challenges and problems, and a person who awaits Imam Mahdi (a) can only face such challenges successfully if he or she exercises patience and firm steadfastness.

3. Indeed, without patience and resilience, one cannot preserve one's spirit of hope, energy, feeling of duty and responsibility as well as one's spiritual and emotional link to the Imam.

The Relationship Between Patience and Awaiting Imam Mahdi(a)

The greatest of all elements that can create patience and resilience for Muslims in the face of adversities and calamities is their devout wait and anticipation for the reappearance of the Hidden Imam (a). In fact, some believe that exercising patience during the time of occultation is one and the same as waiting for the Hidden Imam (a). Imam Rida (a) is narrated to have said : "Indeed, how blessed is patience and the awaiting of deliverance! Have you heard God words when He said : "So be on the watch; I too will be watching along with you", and when He said : "So wait. I too am waiting along with you". Therefore be patient, because the deliverance will not come to pass except after the time of hopelessness and despondency[13]. Indeed, people who came before you were much more patient than you"[14]. In another place, the Holy Prophet (s) is reported to have declared that those who practice patience and await the Imam of the Age (a) during the era of occultation are like the Prophet's brothers. Within this narrated tradition, the Holy Prophet (s) is quoted to have said : "My brothers are those people who shall come during the End of Times and (shall believe in me without ever having seen me) … the resilience practiced by these individuals for the preservation of their religion is harder than uprooting thorny weeds in the pitch black darkness of night or picking up a seething hot flame with one's bare hands. They are torches of guidance and God Almighty grants them salvation from the darkest of tribulations"[15]. In another place, the Prophet (s) is reported to have said : "Blessed are those who remain patient during his occultation … they are people whom God Almighty describes in His Book by saying: "(They are those) who believe in the Unseen"[16]."

Conclusion

Based on narrated traditions, calamities and adversities will become widespread within society during the age of occultation and innumerable tribulations will come into effect. Within such circumstances, those who await Imam Mahdi (a) must be patient and steadfast since one of the specific religious responsibilities of all Muslims is to tolerate these difficulties and hardships. Furthermore, a person who awaits Imam Mahdi (a) in a genuine sense is both patient as well as being thankful to God. On the one hand, he firmly perseveres against all hardships brought about by daily life, while exercising forbearance in the face of all torments and denunciations hurled at him by various opponents and enemies. He endures the fact that the period of the occultation has become lengthy and that he remains separated from his beloved master. He prays to God Almighty to grant him steadfastness while also expressing gratitude to Him for having bestowed upon His lowly servant such a great blessing and gift (i.e. the gift of awaiting Imam Mahdi).

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