Is it possible for any human being to continue to live for many centuries, as is presumed in the case of this Awaited Savior, who has already lived for more than 1145 years? This long life is about 14 times the life of an ordinary man who passes through all stages of life from infancy to old age??
The impossibility of such a long life is the objection. Let us have a close look at the objection. The word “impossibility” here (like any other truth) is relative. It has meaning only in relation to some person, place and time. What is impossible for one person need not be so for the others. Then what is impossible in one place, may be quite possible in another place. Again what is not possible at one time may be quite possible at another. There is no dearth of illustrations to prove how impossibility is a relative term.
In other words, the possibility of a thing may be of three categories, viz. factual possibility, scientific possibility and logical possibility.
To journey across the ocean, to reach the bottom of the sea and to travel to the moon are practical possibilities. There are people who have accomplished these tasks in one way or another.
By a scientific possibility, we mean that there may be certain things which may not be practicable in the present circumstances, but there exists no scientific reason to justify the denial of their practicability in favorable circumstances and the scientific trends indicate that they will be feasible sooner or later. For example, there exists no scientific reason to deny the possibility of man’s traveling to Venus. Although, it has not been possible for anyone to go to that planet so far, yet we know that there is only a difference of degree between man’s landing on the moon and his landing on Venus. It is only a question of surmounting additional difficulties because of the greater distance. Hence, it is scientifically possible to go to Venus, though practically, it is still impossible. In contrast, it is scientifically impossible to go to the sun in the sense that science does not hope that it will ever be able to manufacture a protective shield against the heat of the sun which is virtually a huge furnace blazing at the highest imaginable degree of temperature.
By a logical possibility, we mean that on the basis of self-evident laws, reason does not regard a thing impossible. For example, it is logically impossible to divide three oranges into two equal parts without cutting any one of them. It is self-evident that, three being an odd number, it is not divisible into two whole numbers. Only an even number can be so divided and the same number cannot be both odd and even simultaneously, because that will mean self-contradiction which is impossible. But a man’s entering into fire without being hurt or going to the sun without being affected by its heat, is not logically impossible, for it is not self-contradictory to suppose that heat does not pass from a body having a higher temperature to a body having a lower temperature. Only experience has proved that if two bodies are mixed or put together, heat passes from a body having higher temperature to a body having lower temperature, till the temperature of both the bodies is at par.
Thus, we know that the scope of the logical possibility is wider than that of the scientific possibility and the scope of the scientific possibility is wider than that of the practical possibility.
The possibility of the Mahdi’s existence?
There is no doubt that a person’s remaining alive for thousands of years is not logically impossible, for there is nothing irrational or self-contradictory about it. Life itself does not imply the sense of quick death.
Admittedly, such a long life is not as practical as descending to the bottom of the sea or ascending to the moon. Notwithstanding the present scientific facilities, it has not so far been possible to prolong human life to hundreds of years. Even those who have all the modern facilities at their disposal and are the keenest to continue to live, cannot have more than the normal span of life.
As for the scientific possibility there exists nothing to justify its denial from a theoretical point of view. In fact, this question is related to the physiological explanation of senility. The question is, whether there exists a natural law according to which human tissues and cells, after attaining the stage of full development, automatically begin to stiffen and degenerate, till they cease functioning at a particular moment or the senile degeneration is caused by some external factors, such as microbes and poisons infiltrating into the body through polluted food, unhealthy jobs or some other causes. It is a question with which science is grappling at present and is earnestly trying to find an answer to it. For the present, there are more than one scientific explanations of senility. Anyhow, if we accept the view that senile degeneration is caused by external influences, it means that if the tissues of the human body are secluded from these particular influences, it is theoretically possible to prolong life, to delay senility and even to control it eventually.
The other view tends to suppose that living cells and tissues are governed by a natural law according to which they carry within themselves the seeds of their complete exhaustion. They, in their natural course, pass through the stages of old age, and senility and eventually cease to function.
Even if we accept this view, it does not mean that this natural law is not flexible. In fact, it is supposed to be a flexible law, for we see in our ordinary life, and it has been confirmed by scientific laboratory observations also, that senility is an untimely physiological phenomenon, in the sense that sometimes it appears early and sometimes very late. It is a common experience which has also been confirmed by the observations of the physicians, that many a man of advanced age still possess a supple body and do not suffer from any old age ailments. It is because of the flexibility of this natural law that the scientists have already succeeded in prolonging the life of certain animals, hundreds of times beyond their normal span of life by artificially creating conditions conducive to the delay of senility.
They have falsified the law of natural senility by acquiring brilliant successes and have made it clear scientifically that to postpone senility or to provide opportunities and specified factors, therefore is possible and if present day science is not able to enforce this programme in the case of phenomena like human beings, it is on account of the fact that more difficulties are involved in the matter with regard to man as compared with other animals.
In a nutshell, it is logically and scientifically possible to prolong life, though it is still practically impossible to do so. Anyhow, science is endeavouring to make it practical also.
Islam and Science
If we consider the question of the Mahdi’s age in this light, there appears to be nothing strange or surprising about it, for it has been proved that such a long life is logically and scientifically possible and the scientists are working to turn its possibility into a reality. All that appears to be surprising is that the Mahdi has attained such a long life before the scientists have been able to turn its theoretical possibility into a practical one. This phenomenon can be compared to the discovery of a cure for cancer or brain haemorrhage before science can make such a discovery.
If the question is how Islam, which planned the age of the Awaited Savior, could anticipate science in this field, the answer is simple. This is not the only field wherein Islam has anticipated science. The Islamic Shariah as a whole anticipated the scientific movement and the natural development of human thinking by several centuries. Islam had already presented, for practical application, the laws, which science has taken hundreds of years to discover. It has propounded doctrines, the wisdom of which has been corroborated by science only recently. It disclosed such secrets of the universe which none could think of, at that time and the truth of which, was later confirmed by science. If we believe in this, then it is not too much for Allah, the Exalted, to anticipate science in planning the age of the Mahdi. We have talked of only those aspects of anticipation which we can see directly. We can add other instances about which Quran has told us.
Here we have talked of only those aspects of anticipation by Islam vis-a-vis science which we can observe directly. It is, however, possible for us to add some other instances of anticipation about matters which it has not been possible for science to comprehend so far. For example, Quran tells us that the Holy Prophet of Islam (s), was carried one night from Masjid al-Haram (at Mecca) to Masjid al-Aqsa (at Jerusalem). If we try to perceive the quality of this journey, within the framework of natural laws, it points to the application of laws which govern nature in this sense that science has not yet been able to understand them and it will take it hundreds of years more to specify their quality. The same Divine Knowledge, which granted the Prophet this high speed long before science could consider it to be possible, also granted long life to his last Divinely appointed successor, long before it could be achieved by science.