Why the return of the Imam Al-Mahdi is a perpetually recurring phenomenon, manifesting right this very second, rather than a hypothetical "future event"...
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
"When you learn in the treatises of the ancient Sages that there exists a world provided with dimensions and extension, other than the pleroma of Intelligences [that is, a world below that of the pure archangelic Intelligences], and other than the world governed by the Souls of the Spheres [that is, a world which, while having dimension and extension, is other than the world of sensory phenomena, and superior to it, including the sidereal universe, the planets and the 'fixed stars'], a world where there are cities whose number it is impossible to count, cities among which our Prophet himself named Jabalqa and Jabarsa, do not hasten to call it a lie, for pilgrims of the spirit may contemplate that world, and they find there everything that is the object of their desire." Suhrawardi, "Book of Conversations" (Corps spirituel) p. 147
In contradistinction to the popular beliefs of many modern day Ithna ..Ashariyyah Muslimun, throughout the ages there have been a small number of ..urafa who maintain that the Imam az-Zaman (Leader of the Age) - while in fact the son of Imam Hasan al-`Askari - has ascended long ago from this material world of dunyaa' of `alam al-mulk to the world unseen by physical eyes, known as the "Barzakh" in the Qur'an and Ahadith, and as "Hurqaliyyah" (or Hurqalya), in latter esoteric (batini) parlance. This dimensional "barrier" world is the world - between `alamu-l-mulk (the physical world of the dunyaa'), and the Angelic world of `alamu-l-Malakut - which one encounters both upon death, and also in stated of deep meditation and lucid dream states. When humankind reaches maturity and abandons strife and conflict (fitnah) of the dunyaa', preparing itself to meet and behold the Imam az-Zaman, only then will we be able to see him. For the manifestation of the Hidden Imam who resides in Hurqaliyyah is not an outward event to be expected, but rather a perpetual return that gradually takes place as the traveler, ascending Mount Qaf towards Hurqaliyyah, brings about the real event of the awaited Imam within his innermost heart (qalb). Thus, it is not a rise at some far off, hypothetical date, which we can or must be waiting for. Rather, this return takes place within; when the salik (spiritual seeker), lead by his Shaykh, Imam al-Mahdi, reaches the state of "no-state," of fana'; annihilation, death of the ego (nafs), and subsequent awakening of the Ruh Allah within.
This cannot be understood in normative, base terms and conceptualizations of the individual "self" or collection of "selves" (nufus) as necessarily "real." For at the root of understanding the mystical reality of the perpetual return of the Imam al-Mahdi is the awakening to the Oneness of Existence, "Wahdat al-Wujud." Any attempt to conceive of this notion outside of the conceptual paradigm of Wahdat al-Wujud will not only lead to confusion and misunderstanding, but also likely outrage on the behalf of the conventional religious dogmatist.
Much of this outrage is due to fear of past exploitations of the truth for the sake of the imagined personal gain (in wealth, power, adoration or fame), of messianic imposters who exploited the esoteric (batini), for the sake of lording gnosis (`irfan) over the masses; spoon-feeding it to them after having first chewed it up, swallowed and regurgitated it. We see this best exemplified in the case of Mirza `Ali Muhammad who came to refer to himself as the "Bab" (or the "Gate" of the Mahdi), and capitalized on the primitive superstitions of the masses, who seeing that nearly 1,000 years had passed since the disappearance of the Imam al-Mahdi, were eagerly expecting his return and rise at any minute, due to the collective subconscious anticipation surrounding that date.
It is out of fear of what normative Shi`ism views as the "Babist" tumor on Shaykhiyyah (the "Shaykhi" School started by Shaykh Ahmadu-l-Ahsa'i, who lived from 1753 to 1826 C.E.), that many Shi`ah today are theologically terrified of looking into the eyes of this concept of the Imam having lived on - like prophets before him such as Idris, Ilyas and the like - in the realm of Hurqaliyyah. The reality of this realm of Hurqaliyyah, internal and hidden, surrounds and encompasses what is commonly deemed external and visible. Thus, it is this spiritual reality that envelops and contains the reality which is considered "material."
The danger, which many who are aware of these concepts fear, is best exemplified in what actually occurred within the pages of history with Babism and its later development into Bahaism. For, Mirza `Ali Muhammad imagined, if the Imam exists in the realm of Hurqaliyyah, then it is possible that he could return to this world in a physical body different than the one he departed in. This concept was all it took for Mirza `Ali Muhammad to declare himself first the "bab" or "gate" to the 12th Imam, then after gaining a significant enough following, move on to claim for himself the Prophet Muhammad's title of "Nuqtiyiula" (meaning "Primal Point"), and subsequently abrogate Shariy`ah. This apostasy alone was enough to frighten scholars away from further exploring the Shaykhiy notions, which became much stigmatized in some circles, because of Mirza's apostasy.
Nevertheless, the Supreme, Governing Reality (al-Haqiqah), is not bound by the constraints of time-space, culture, individual consciousness, belief or desire. What is, is, and neither belief nor hope to the contrary of this Reality can, or will change what is. All of the imposters in the world can arise claiming to sit in the seat of prophethood, but this does not invalidate the nature of prophethood, nor the appointment of prophets by the Divine through the Angelic Messengers. Similarly, all of the imposters in the world can arise claiming to be "this" or "that." But we are warned of these types by `Isa himself who told us that we will "know them by their fruits," that is, we will see those who go around proclaiming startlingly things about "their" identity of "their" nufoos, and surely this is the fruit of a poisonous tree. For a man who has spent his entire life in the city may be left in the forest with no knowledge of botany or identifying wild edible plants, but this does not mean that his personal fear of every wild berry he sees will be shared by a man who grew up surrounded by unimpeded, primordial nature.
What is real is real. We can define, codify and center our realities around given socio-spiritual memes and paradigms which many culturally and/or subjectively fixate upon and grow attached to. However, these individual "realities" are nevertheless governed supremely by one singular and immutable Reality. It is this which is the singular Haqeeqah, the Supreme Reality, the Absolute Truth (Haqq).
Once you have truly embarked upon the mystical journey inward (something altogether different than merely theoretically understanding that there is "a journey" or intellectually philosophizing about this hypothetical journey), to the Golden Masjid, on the Green Island (Jaziratu-l-Khazhrah), within the White Sea beyond the seas of the elements, then you find the true Shaykh, the true Guide, the true Mahdi. This is the true Imam of your own being. It is from the "true" West, the "Celestial West" of the abode of Jabarsa that the Imam will return, from where the Imam is returning. When you understand this, then any notion of a physical return of the Imam (real or imagined), is incidental to the Spiritual Reality. For this perpetual return is not bound by the constraints of time-space, nor is it hastened by prayers, supplications, lament, mourning and wailing for relief, for faraj. These will not hasten the perpetual return of the Imam. We must understand the true meaning of the words ascribed to the 12th Imam himself that "If our Shi`ah were firm in their promise wholeheartedly, then our meeting would not be delayed."
We must understand this and reflect upon why the commission to rise was invested in A'immah before the 12th Imam, most notably Imam Ja`far as-Sadiq, who claimed that as a result of the "Badaa" of Allah's Free-Will in relation to human free- will, the Qayim, the Rise was delayed and would manifest in another generation. Thus the Imam said: "This matter (the rising in arms) was vested in me, but Allah delayed it; Hu shall do with my progeny whatever Hu wants."
Tusi, al-Ghayba, 278
This is in accordance with Aayah 39 of Surat ar-Ra'ad (13) in the Qur'an wherein it is written that: "Allah blots out, and Hu establishes whatsoever Hu will; and with Hu is the Umm al-Kitab.
يَمْحُو اللَّهُ مَا يَشَاءُ وَيُثْبِتُ ۖ وَعِنْدَهُ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ َ
Similarly, Imam Ja`far as-Sadiq spoke of the monumental change in Divine Will of Imamate from his son Isma'il to that of Musa that: "There was no bada' for Allah like the bada' in the case of my son Isma'il."
Thus, the nature of Allah is vibrant and completely capable of adapting with the course of change in human events. Living in the philosophical realm of psychological attachment to prophetic or cultural expectations will certainly doom us to failure. Thus, Allah Wills only perfection for us, but if we do not accept the open invitation to perfection, then Allah's Will "changes" in response to our rejection. For both Divine Predestination and Human Freewill exist synonymously like the inside and the outside of the same vessel. There is of course no contradiction between the two as time-space is itself an illusion of the dunyaa'.
The delay of the Qayim, the Rise of the Imam from the time of Ja`far as-Sadiq to a distant time in a future generation was a reaction from the Divine to human insufficiency and unpreparedness spiritually and physically for the Qayim. We see this illustrated in the now almost mythic seeming hadith about the standards which the disciples of the Imam must reach for the Rise to transpire. It is written in Bihar al-Anwar that Sahl ibnu-l-Hasanu-l-Khurasani who was one of the followers of Ahl al-Bayt in Khurasan (a province in Iran) came to Medina to meet Imam Ja`far as-Sadiq. Sahl al-Khurasani said: "O son of the Rasulullah! You are of the A'immah of Ahl al-Bayt. What prevents you from getting your right (i.e. the rule) while you find more than one hundred thousand Shi`ah who are ready to fight for you?"
The Imam asked him to sit down, and then ordered to turn on the oven that was in the house. After the oven became very hot and turned red, the Imam said: "O Khurasani step into the oven and sit in it."
The Khurasani said: "My master, o son of the Rasulullah! Do not punish me by fire and make it easy for me."
At this time, Harun al-Makki entered the room, and after the greetings exchanged, the Imam told him to put down his shoes and to sit down inside the oven. He did so and the Imam started talking to Sahl about Khurasan as if nothing had happened. After some time, the Imam said: "O Khurasani stand up and look inside the oven."
Sahl looked into the oven and saw Haroon sitting cross-legged inside the fire. Then Imam as-Sadiq asked Haroon to come out of oven and he came out healthy with no burn or injury. At this time, the Imam asked Sahl:
"How many individuals do you know in Khurasan like this man?"
Sahl replied: "By Allah, not even one."
The Imam confirmed his saying and said, "We do not rise at this time when we do not even have five helpers (like him). We know better about the proper time."
Bihar al-Anwar, volume 47 (p. 123, hadith 172; also in Manaqib by ibn Shahr Ashub)
Thus, for this reason alone, due to the zeal with which the disciples of the A'immah proclaimed allegiance to the cause of Allah, and yet did not seek after mastery of the Sirat al-Kamal, the Rise was postponed until a time when the Shi`ah were "firm on their commitment wholeheartedly." Still today this continues and WILL continue unless and until this commitment is made wholeheartedly by the appropriate number of Mystic Warriors (Mujahidina `Aarifin), through whom the Imam will act. Whether this manifests by the Imam leading purely from the invisible realm or by a physical return is completely inconsequential for these individuals and the actions they will already be taking.
Thus, it is reported that the tenth Imam said, "If your Imam goes into occultation, expect freedom from grief (to come from) beneath your feet."
Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 51, p. 161.
It is clear that the above statement of Imam al-Hadi meant that it is the responsibility of every follower of the Imam al-Mahdi to prepare for the rise of their Imam by their own efforts and not wait for a physical return from the realm of Hurqaliyyah. For there is no man who will come and do what we ourselves will not do; lest he is acting of his own will and not that of Allah. The Mahdiy is not our housekeeper, who comes and cleans up the mess that we made in this world. There are no shortcuts in the Supreme Reality. There are no easy ways out. If we seek relief then we are to expect it to come from beneath our own feet. For once we make the inner Hajj of the qalb, once we have given bayyah to the Imam who exists out-of-time and space, only then do we approach the caliber of the companions of the Hidden Imam, and only then does the physical return of the Imam become incidental, as we already thusly find ourselves under the instruction and the guidance of the Hidden Imam within; the Imam of our TRUE Self. For neither the tales of Suhrawardi (who, it is said, Shaykh Ahmad derived his conception of the realm of Hurqaliyyah), nor the tales which in many notable Shi`ah have told us throughout the years of reaching the "land of the Hidden Imam," are imaginary, unreal, nor allegorical. Without a doubt, the Earthly appearance of the twelve A'immah concluded with the twelfth, who, as a young child went into occultation (ghaybah) in A.H. 260/C.E. 873; whose "second coming" the Prophet Muhammad himself announced. Upon this Manifestation at the end of the Zaman, he reveals the hidden meaning of all scriptural manifestations of the Kitab Allah and fill the Earth with equal rights and justice, as it has been filled with oppression and tyranny. Since then, the Hidden Imam is in the position of those who were removed from the visible world without crossing the threshold of death. He is present simultaneously in the past, present and future, having transcended the boundaries of time-space. For he has attained to the state of al-Khizhr. He is the Imam hidden from the material senses, but present in the quloob, the hearts of his true Shi`ah.
In his last letter to his fourth and last safir (representative), the Twelfth Imam al-Mahdi warned against those who would pretend to quote him, to have seen him, or even to be him in order to lay claim to a public, political or spiritual role in his name.
"In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful. You are going to die in six days, may Allah grant patience to your brothers in faith on your departure. So, be prepared, but appoint no one in your place, because from the day of your death the period of my major occultation (ghaybatu-l-kubrah) will begin. Henceforth, no one will see me, unless and until Allah makes me appear. My reappearance will take place after a very long time when people will have grown tired of waiting and those who are weak in their faith will say: 'What! Is he still alive?' When men will become cruel and inconsiderate, and the world will be full of injustice and violence. Very soon some men will claim to nave seen me. Beware! Anyone who makes such a claim before the coming out of Sufyaniy and the sound from heaven announcing my reappearance, is a liar and an imposter. There is no might nor strength except in Allah, the Magnificent."
Thus, access to the little Golden Masjid was only permitted to a person who, by attaining the spiritual degree at which the Imam has become his personal internal Guide, has attained a state similar to actual descendant of the Imam. It is this that permits the pilgrim to learn other mysteries of al-jazirat al-khazhrah. For the Imam is the manifestation of higher consciousness, the guide on the path of enlightenment. Thus, Shaykhu-s-Sadook wrote in his book "Kamaluddin" (pp. 370), that Imam ar-Ridha said in reply to a question concerning the coming of the Imam al-Qa'im that:
"Neither his body can be seen, nor his name can be uttered."
One who is not in the same spiritual state cannot perceive him, and will not recognize him no matter how many generations pass. It is for this reason that it is written that Muhammad said: "Happiness is for the one who will attend the Qa'im of my Ahl al-Bayt and will follow him before his rise. This person will love his (Al-Qa'im's) lovers and hate his enemies, and will accept the leadership of the A'immah from before his advent. These ones are my friends, and are the most sincere members of my Ummah whom I honor very much."
Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 52, p. 129
It is only by the process of this sojourn to the Inner Imam through accepting bayyah to him alone and seeking this Internal path while abrogating all "external" attachments and istidraaj that your Imam, your Guide, then takes you upon the Sirat al-Kamal, the Path of Perfection, as the boundaries of "you" and "he" melt away; disintegrating that which you have deemed "yourself," and fetally developing your Resurrected body within.
Brothers and sisters, this is the beginning of the understanding of the reality of the Rise of the Imam al-Qa'im, which takes place first within the heart of the Nu'min, and secondarily through the manifestation of the Divine Will through their actions, "on Earth as it is in Heaven."