We all know that our Twelfth Imam (may Allah hasten his reappearance) has been alive for the last 1177 years and still in occultation, and will not physically appear in our lives until and unless we are ready. What are we doing wrong that our Imam is still in occultation and not visibly living among us?
Although Imam Mahdi is in occultation, he has not abandoned us. His occultation does not mean he is living in an isolated place, far away from inhabitation. Our Imam is with his followers and believers whenever they call him. This is a basic belief of Shia Islam – that our Imams have the ability to help their followers when they call for help, whether they are in Melbourne, London, Toronto, or anywhere else. He is hidden from our eyes, but very much aware of our conditions. We can benefit from his existence just as people draw advantage from the sun when it is concealed behind the clouds. We can relate all our difficulties to him. At every step, we can reach out to him through our cries for help. One can find thousands of incidents in reliable books of history when people called out to their Imam for help, and he came to their rescue.
We as Shia Muslims should have a sincere link with our Living Imam during his occultation. Our hearts and souls should be filled with love and affection for him. Our thoughts should be devoted to his service, and our desire should be to meet him. Our prayers should be to ask for the blessing of Allah to be showered on Imam Mahdi, and our supplication should be for salvation. Our existence should be one joined and attached unit, and our life should blaze with love for him.
Awaiting Imam Mahdi
Imam Ali (peace be upon him) said that awaiting the Faraj (deliverance) is the best act of worship.
We have a firm belief that one day our Living Imam will reappear by Divine command, and waiting and preparing for his arrival is one of the main duties of a Shia Muslims today. We should therefore try to obtain the ability and merit of being his special companions when he reappears. One who is waiting and preparing himself for the reappearance of the Imam must have the characters and merits of the companions of Imam Mahdi, and should be able to sacrifice his life and wealth in his way. For this reason, Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) has said: "One who waits for our commands is like a person who sacrifices his own blood in the way of Allah." Yes, he who is really ready for the Imam becomes like a martyr in the way of Allah. Are we recognized among those who are expecting his return? Are we waiting for the Divine Promise of the Authority of Allah in the same manner as we wait for the return of our loved ones from a journey?
In another tradition, Imam as-Sadiq narrated the virtues of the companions of Imam Mahdi: "If one takes pleasure in being among the companions of al-Qaim, he must wait for him and must act with good behavior and modesty. If he dies before the appearance of al-Qaim, he will be rewarded like one who has followed him. Then act diligently, and wait, that this effort and waiting will give you delight, O you who have found salvation."
Yet our approach towards promising loyalty to the Awaited Savior remains problematic. We have neglected to establish our responsibilities towards him. There are many ways we can establish a personal connection with our Imam and strengthen our loyalty to him in order to purify our souls by becoming true servants of God and His representative.
Prayers and Supplications for Imam Mahdi
Actively waiting for the Imam should be our ultimate goal, which can be achieved through prayers, supplications, and Qur'an recitation. Below are a few acts of worship we can perform that may bring us closer to God and strengthen our allegiance to the Imam:
We should recite Du'a Ahad for 40 days. Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq has stated: "Whoever recites this supplication for forty days after morning prayers will be amongst the helpers of the 12th Imam. Should (s)he die before the reappearance of the Imam, Allah will raise him/her from the grave in order for the reciter of this supplication to present him/herself to the Imam."
We should recite 50 verses of the Holy Qur'an daily, and gift the reward to Imam Mahdi. This is a highly recommended act as a means of strengthening our connection with our Imam.
We should send blessings on the Holy Prophet. Sayyid Ibn Tawus writes in Jamal al-Usboo: "Among the duties of Thursday it is recommended to send blessings on the Holy Prophet a thousand times, and it is recommended that one should say: "O Allah, bless Muhammad and the Family of Muhammad, and hasten their reappearance. And destroy their enemies, from the Jinns and humans; from the first and the last."
Other Duties during Imam's Occultation
If we study and look back at the lives of devout followers of the Holy Imams before the 12th Imam, and consider their sacrifices without hesitation, we will at once realize where we have gone wrong and how we can improve. We are not Salman Farsi, Ammar ibn Yasir, or Malik al-Ashtar (the true followers of Imam Ali), nor are we Maytham al-Tammar, who never stopped praising Imam Ali. Although we are believers and consider ourselves to be followers of our Imam, we lack the characteristics required of such a person and need to work very hard to become more like the examples which are narrated to us. Similarly, we are not the martyrs of Karbala, who with love and affection strived in the way of defending the Imam of their time and were martyred. We are reluctant to give our wealth, lives, time and other means in the way of our Imam, so how can we call ourselves true followers?
There are some duties we have to carry out whilst waiting for the reappearance of the 12th Imam in order to prove that we are his true followers, and to prepare ourselves for the time when he comes:
Be ready for his arrival. The major step for salvation is to recognize the Imam of the Age, which is so important that in the Holy Prophet's traditions we read: "He who dies without recognizing the Imam of his age is like one who had died during Jahiliyyah (the era before the advent of Islam)." To die during Jahiliyyah means a death lacking Islam and faith. And it is obvious that one who dies without recognizing the Imam of his age is counted in the group of the faithless. Therefore we must recognize Imam Zamana for the sake of Islam and our faith and so that we may be recognized as those who gained salvation and are among the faithful.
Recite supplications for his safety and success daily and pray for his quick reappearance.
We must look for ways to preserve the true Islam, and this can be in any way open to us, such as by writing books, articles, translating them, holding workshops, personal studying, teaching, sharing accurate information, talking to other people etc.
Just as we give charity (Sadaqa) when a family member travels or undertakes an important task to give them safety and success, we must also do the same for our Imam with an intention that we are giving Sadaqa for the safety and protection of Imam. This is not because he needs it, but rather to show our loyalty and love for him.
We should always try to perfect ourselves in our morals and ethics, and guide our friends and relatives. We must not forget to advocate good deeds (Amr Bil Ma'ruf) and advocate against sinful practices (Nahi Anil Munkar), as these are the fabric of any Muslim society.
In conclusion, we come to the realization that we have a living Imam who needs support, who loves us sincerely, and who still considers us all as his followers even though we are far from being anything like Hurr was for Imam Hussain (peace be upon him). We should be very thankful to Allah if some of the known virtues of the companions of the Imam Mahdi are found in us, and we should pray for their betterment and improvement daily. If these characteristics are not found in us, we should supplicate to Allah that He adorns us with these attributes and that our acts and conduct will also represent the truth of our claims. After all this, we will be able to sacrifice our worthless souls and, God-willing, we will able to face our Imam Mahdi with some dignity.
Maha Mahmood is a student at Panjtan School in Melbourne, Australia. She is 13 years old.