Why didn’t the Leader appear during this period? If he has prepared himself for a social mission, what stopped him from appearing on the stage during the period of Lesser Occultation or at a later time, instead of changing it into a greater occultation, as the conditions for social activism and change were simpler and easier at that time? Further, his links with the people through the set-up of the Lesser Occultation provided him with the opportunity to gather his forces and launch his movement with a powerful initiative. The ruling forces around him too had not yet acquired the terrible power and strength which mankind acquired afterwards as a result of scientific and industrial progress.
The answer is that the success of any activity involving social change depends upon certain concrete conditions and circumstances and its objective cannot possibly be achieved unless these conditions and circumstances are realized. The missions of a celestial origin for initiating social change in the world are distinct in their absence of dependence on existing circumstances when their apostolic dimension is taken into consideration. Because the message upon which this process of change is based is divine and a celestial product, not the outcome of prevailing circumstances. However, from the viewpoint of its execution, it depends on presence of certain objective conditions for its being successful and timely. It is for this reason that the Heavens had to wait for five centuries of Jahilliyah to pass before sending its final message through the Prophet Muhammad (s) because the dependence of its execution on objective conditions necessitated its delay despite the world’s long-standing need.
Among objective conditions which affect the executive aspect of the process of change are those which form a conducive atmosphere and general climate for the intended change, as well as some details which are essential for the process of change in its detailed course. Taking into consideration, for example, the process of successful change led by Lenin in Russia, we see that it was linked to such factors as the outbreak of the World War I and the decline of Czarist rule, and this facilitated the creation of a suitable atmosphere for revolutionary change. It also depended on certain other specific and limited factors such as Lenin’s surviving his journey while infiltrating into Russia to lead the Revolution. For any incident impeding him could result in the Revolution losing its impetus in arising swiftly on the political stage.
In the process of divine change it is an unchanging wont of God Almighty that is limited in its executive aspect by objective conditions which create a conducive climate and general atmosphere for successful accomplishment of change. Consequently, the advent of Islam did not occur except after a long period of suspension in the coming of prophets, a long gap continuing for centuries.
Therefore, despite that God Almighty possesses the power to surmount all obstacles in the path of a divine mission and to create miraculously a conducive climate for it, He does not choose these methods because the trials, tribulation and ordeals through which roan attains perfection require that the activity of divine change be natural and objective in this regard. This does not stop God, the Glorious and the Exalted, from intervening at times in certain details which by themselves do not create the conducive climate but are catalysts which speed up the process within the prevailing conducive climate. To this class belong the providential favours and help which God grants to His friends (awliya‘) in times of difficulty, thereby supporting His mission. Thus the fire litby Nimrud is changed into coolness and safety for Abraham, the hand of a treacherous Jew is paralyzed when he raises his sword over the Prophet’s head, and a powerful windstorm blows away the tents of the infidels and idolaters who besieged Madinah during the Battle of the Ditch, striking terror into their hearts. But all these are only details and instances of providing help in decisive moments following the presence of a conducive atmosphere and climate for a general change that advances in a natural way under the influence of objective conditions.
In the light of this, we can study the position of Imam Mahdi ( `a) and see that, like any other social change, the change for which he has been prepared depends, from the standpoint of execution, on concrete factors conducive to the emergence of a suitable climate. Consequently, it is natural that this change should be timed accordingly. Obviously, the Mahdi has neither prepared himself for a social change of limited dimensions nor is it limited to some part of the world. The mission for which he has been preserved by God, the Glorious and the Exalted, is of global dimensions and involves the emancipation of all mankind from the darkness of tyranny into the light of justice. A change of such great proportions cannot be undertaken solely on the presence of a message and a worthy leader; otherwise these conditions were fulfilled during the time of the Prophet himself. It requires a suitable global climate and a general conducive atmosphere that may be bring about the needed concrete conditions for the process of world-wide change.
From the human aspect, the feeling of the civilized human being of having reached a dead-end is an essential factor for creation of that suitable climate so that he may accept the new message of justice. This feeling of exhaustion is produced and deepened by a variety of cultural experiences from which the civilized man emerges burdened with the wrongs of his own making, to become conscious of the need for help, turning by his innate nature towards the transcendental and the unknown.
From a material aspect, the material conditions of modem life may be more helpful for carrying out a global mission than the past conditions of an earlier era such as the period of Lesser Occultation. This is due to the shortening of distances, the great possibility of interaction among different nations of the world, and the presence of the means communication required by a central body for enlightening the nations and educating them on the basis of the new message.
As to the point raised in the question concerning the advancements in military power and equipment which the Awaited Leader will have to encounter on the promised day the more his advent is delayed, that is correct. But what benefit could increase in material power bring to men who possess such power and equipment with a defeatist mentality and a shattered morale? How many times in history have the lofty edifices of civilizations collapsed at the first military stroke because of their having broken down earlier by loss of self-confidence and faith in their existence and dissatisfaction with their own reality.