|The period of ‘Awaiting’ (intizar) is the period of reflection, meditation, and perfection because it is during this long stretch of time that we are expected to excel in all our undertakings. There is no excuse for anyone living during this age to await the return of the Imam and to expect that justice will be established and reforms will be undertaken to improve the quality of life of every person on earth. Quite to the contrary, the only way to prove our faith in and loyalty to the Imam of the Age is to be actively vigilant about all measures that are needed to be taken for our total spiritual and moral well being, both at individual and community levels, so that our commitment to justice and fairness in our dealings with one another and with the world at large becomes an inseparable ingredient of our spiritual and moral development. This commitment essentially requires us to develop intellectually and in knowledge so that our understanding of the requirements of the ‘Awaiting’ becomes the source of our witness to the Proof of God’s existence. God is perfect and God’s perfection is witnessed in the universe that God has created. The universe is the objective proof of God’s existence and God’s power. Whereas the entire universe as the jihan-e asghar (the smaller existence) becomes the proof and witness for the Perfect God’s existence, even when God is invisible to human eyes, the perfect human being, in whom the jihan-e akbar (the greater existence) is manifested, can become the proof and witness for the existence of the invisible Imam al-Mahdi. But how do we, you and I, witness the invisible existence (ghayba) that is also the Proof of God’s existence? How can an invisible Imam become the proof for the existence of the Invisible God? Since both the Perfect God and the perfect human being are in the state of invisibility (al-ghayb), it is perfection of the intellect that can witness the perfect existence of God and the Proof of God (hujjat allah). Here is Imam Zain al-`Abidin’s statement that gives us the hope of experiencing the existence of the Imam of the Age in the state of prolonged invisible existence:O Abu Khalid,(1) indeed the people living during his occultation, upholding his Imamate, and awaiting his emergence [as the Mahdi], will be the best of all the periods [put together]because God (exalted be His Remembrance) will give them intellects, insights, and knowledge by means of which the invisible existence [of the Imam]will become for them like direct witnessing (al-mushahada) [of him]. [Moreover, God] in that period [of ‘awaiting’]will afford his followers the status of those who engaged in fighting [the sources of evil and injustice]with the sword under the leadership of the Prophet. These people will be the sincere ones in reality, and will be our followers in truth, and will be those who call upon the people, secretly and in open, to follow the Path of God.The excellence of the people living in the Age of Awaiting lies in their struggle to realize that God has endowed them with special gifts by means of which they can actually see the Awaited Imam. The challenge during the Age of Awaiting, then, has been to shrug off ignorance that takes away our ability to engage in using the divine gifts of reason, reflection, and knowledge to prepare for the direct experience and witnessing of the Imam. The more we employ our reason, and develop insights to apply them in our everyday life to attain God’s pleasure, the closer we are to the witnessing of the Imam of the Age.This challenge requires us to engage in our self-knowledge, because it is only when we understand ourselves can we expect to access God’s special gifts in order for us to overcome the apparent difficulties in the physical world of not being able to witness the invisible existence of the Imam. God’s design links our self-perfection with our ability to witness our Imam during the period of ‘Awaiting.’
The holy Qur’an symbolizes both self-knowledge and self-perfection – the message captured in dhikr and fikr. The challenge of the Qur’an is to engage in self-understanding through God’s remembrance and self-perfection through the Prophet’s example. As such the challenge of the ‘Awaiting,’ as the Qur’an teaches is to engage in our self-understanding (tadabbur) and self-perfection (taqwa) through reflection, and meditation over the God-given inner strength so that we can raise our status in compatibility with the Imam’s perfect example. Once we achieve that perfection through purity, then, according to Imam Zain al-`Abidin, it is as if we were engaged in fighting the forces of evil in the presence of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family). What is needed during the period of Awaiting is to further justice and peace as the Imam would have done, with good understanding and insight about God’s purpose for humanity as a whole. It is only then that we could in truth claim to be the followers of the Ahlul-Bayt and the believers in the spread of justice and equity under the leadership of the Imam of the Age, al-Hujjat b. al-Hasan al-Qa’im al-Mahdi (peace be upon him).
by: Professor Abdulaziz Sachedina