Innumerable narrations contain the signs and symbols of the reappearance of Hazrat Wali-e-Asr Imam Mahdi (a.s.) Janab Sheikh Sadooq and Allamah Majlisi (May Allah Shower His blessing on them) the highly acclaimed Shia scholars have described these narrations among the signs and symbols of the re-appearance of Imam (a.s.) Here we will discuss them wholly from literary point of view.
1. Importance of signs and symbols of re-appearance of Imam (a.s.):
Since long all the Muslims in general and the Shias in particular are looking forward for the reappearance of Imam Mahdi (a.s.). It is undoubtedly an established fact like the Doomsday for which no fixed time or period is sounded. Only Allah knows, we know not. We have only to focus our attention on the indications assigned for it. To investigate, to find out and to distinguish between these signals and tokens for the reappearance of Imam (a.s.) is of immense importance. We can assume on the basis of these indications (not for certain) that the time and period is not far away. Due to this more emphasis is given on these signs from the beginning itself.
2. There are two types of indications and signs:
The signals given by Ahle Bait (a.s.) are not of one type. Some of the signs told by the descendants of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a) are unchangeable while some of them are inconstant. Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) has said that five signs before the re-appearance of Hazrat Qaim (a.s.) would appear:
(i) The appearance of Yemani,
(ii) Revolt of Sufyani,
(iii) Mysterious voice,
(iv) Murder of a pious man between Safah and Marwa,
(v) Sinking of Sufyani’s army between Mecca and Medina at a place known as Baiza.
(Behaarul Anwaar, vol. 52, pg. 254)
According to another narration some other sure signs are related by Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) like the division of Bani Abbas in different groups; Sighting of mysterious hands from the sky (Behaarul Anwaar, vol. 52, pg. 206) while other signs are mutable. It can be concluded by keeping both the symbols together that some of them are uncertain.
3. Can any change be anticipated in the things predicted?
According to the thorough and absolute Shia teachings and tenets the answer will be in affirmative. Changeability among the Shias is an important belief based on Quran. In the light of Shia tenets, the mishaps, calamities and other ugly incidents which are expected can be changed, altered and averted. Accordingly the problems of livelihood age. hunger, prestige honor, insult and disgrace, incurable diseases, earthquakes, famine, revolution and war which are about to engulf the mankind can be turned aside from or there may be increase or decrease in their severity. The glaring example of the changeability is the episode of the followers of Hazrat Yunus (a.s.) whose calamity was kept off and prevented. At two different places, it is mentioned in the Holy Book that the followers of Hazrat Yunus (a.s.) were subjected to the severe wrath of Allah the Almighty. So the Prophet (a.s.) distanced himself from them and went far away. But his followers suddenly changed their behaviour and stand.They pleaded for mercy from the Almighty Allah from the depth of their hearts. The calamity was averted (Surah Yunus: 98).
Allah can change the destiny and is not subject to any control, can set right the things, comes to the rescue of those who have lost the hope, has authority to control the things when they are uncontrollable and manages the affairs when they are unmanageable. The changes and alterations should not be amounted to the repentance of Allah for the decision given previously. Such types of change would be called to have its base on ignorance and can be presumed that the decision when first given was due to lack of knowledge but after having gained the complete knowledge the change was taken place. Actually this change is not linked with divination and foreknowledge. This has the direct connection as per the narrations of descendants of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a) (with the knowledge of the unseen) where the foreknowledge is treasured. From this treasure all the angels, the Prophets and the spiritual leaders (Imams) are adorned with the foreknowledge and inspirations. Nothing has thus found place regarding change in the Commandments of Allah in (Quran) in the unseen treasure of knowledge. On the basis of the foreknowledge Hazrat Yunus (a.s.) went far away from his followers. When he returned, was flabbergasted to find that the calamity was averted. It is clear that the calamity was mentioned but the change was not mentioned so Hazrat Yunus (a.s.) was taken aback to see the change. The descendents of Prophet (a.s.) were embellished with divine knowledge written in the knowledge of the unseen. Whatever signs were described in that were all told by the spiritual leaders (Imam). Regarding the change in signs nothing was predicted so was not told by the Imam but due to the faith in alteration there is a possibility of change in symbols also.
4. Can the symbols and signs be changed and subjected to alterations?
It is a complex problem which requires literary discussion and arguments. The scholars of high reputation have different views. According to the highly placed narrator Mirza Husain Noori (a.r.) author of the book Mustadrak al Wasael there can be change in these signs also like the change in rest of the things.
(Najmus-Saqib, chap. 11).
The eminent scholar Ayatullah Sayed Mohammad Taqi Isfahani (a.r.) has expressed altogether different views as any change is not acceptable to him in these symbols.
Further discussions and arguments in this article will prove that narrator Mirza Noori (a.r.) was right in his conclusion and the correctness of his views can easily be established. Two types of signs and indications are narrated by the Imam (a.s.). Some of them are certain while others are uncertain. If there would not have been uncertain signs there was no point in treating some signs as certain and unchangeable. So it amounts to the change in the symbols. There can be change at least in uncertain signs and signals. Later on it would also be proved that even certain signs could also be changed.
5. Is alteration not possible in the time of reappearance of Imam (a.s.)?
Regarding the change both these narrations can be put as a proof in which the reappearance is predicted early or late. The conditions of the period and time of re-appearance are described in some narrations. If it will be proved that reappearance is alterable and can occur late or early then it will be implied that the signs can also be changed. The following narrations can be quoted regarding the change in re-appearance:
A narrator inquired from Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) whether there is any remedy to this complex problem so that we feel relaxed? Imam (A. S.) replied, “Yes but it is only you people who have disclosed this secret so the re-appearance is delayed by Allah.”
(Behaarul Anwaar, vol. 52, pg. 117)
It can be explained in this way in detail that the Imams (a.s.) used to hint to their followers (Shias) about the reappearance without fixing any period. That secret was passed on to the enemies by some mentally weak Shias which averse Allah and thus the reappearance was delayed. In another narration Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) said that re-appearance was delayed twice (Behaarul Anwaar, vol. 52, pg. 117) while it was actually delayed thrice according to another narration (Behaarul Anwaar, vol. 52, pg. 289-291).
The following sayings of Imam (a.s.) can be put forward as a third example which proves that delay or haste can possibly occur in reappearance. The words are as follows: “Pray for early reappearance as it would be for your good. It would be a means to make you free from hardships”. (Behaarul Anwaar, vol.53).
Hazrat Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) relates that “the wrath of Allah, on Bani Israel was prolonged, they prayed to Allah to pardon their sins from the depth of their hearts continuously for a fortnight. Allah then commanded Janabe Moosa (a.s.) and Janabe Haroon (a.s.) through heavenly message to protect them from the tyranny of Firaun. Thus hundred and seventy years of their calamity and hardships were reduced. So they were freed early from Allah’s displeasure. Imam (a.s.) further added that you can also pray to Allah to help you pardon your sins. Like Bani Israel you will also be freed early from hardships. If you will not act like them Allah would continue to carry it up to the last stage”.
It has now become clear that the early reappearance of Imam (a.s.) so to say depends very much how we reciprocate. If we will pray to Allah sincerely to pardon us we will find a sea of change in ourselves and will abstain from sins by being faithful to Allah. Only then we can hope for quick and early reappearance of Imam Mahdi (a.s.).
When it is evident that alterations are possible in reappearance so also the change is possible in the signs described for the time and period of reappearance.
6. Can the reappearance be subjected to alterations?
The changes and alterations are linked with appointed and certified things. The commandments of Allah are not wavering and inconstant. Allah declares in the Holy Book”. “No doubt the words of Allah are never vacuous”. Whatever can be said and written in the light of the teachings of Ahle Bait (a.s.) is only this that the reappearance of Imam (a.s.) either be delayed or altered or occurs early but is not immutable. The reappearance is the commandment of Allah that never changed. Allah in His Holy Book says, “Allah has promised his pious and faithful beings to appoint a vicegerent on earth and endow him with authority to popularise the ways of choicest religion of Allah and the peace will prevail everywhere instead of fear and terror (Surah Noor).
The promise of Allah is never in vain and void. A person came to Imam Taqi (a.s.) and expressed his fear regarding the possibility of change and alteration in the reappearance of Imam (a.s.). He was told by Imam Taqi (a.s.) that reappearance of Imam Mahdi (a.s.) is a commandment of Allah which is not inexpressive”.
(Behaarul Anwaar, vol.52, pg. 251)
7. Can there be any change in authentic and established signs of re-appearance of Imam (a.s.)?
Positive indications mean those which are willed by Allah so unchangeable and will never be changed while the rest can be categorized as vague so liable to be changed. There is no commandment of Allah regarding them only their quality and characteristic is mentioned. The appearance of Yamani, The revolt of Sufyani and Sinking of army, murder of a pious man and sounding of a voice from the heaven are stamped and thus not subject to alterations. Expressive and inexpressive signs can be measured by action or inaction. Although the signs and indications whether the certain or uncertain are not visible in the outside world the possibility of change can not be ruled out. Both are liable to be changed. The revolt of Sufyani was related in presence of Imam Taqi (a.s.) as an unchangeable sign. Accordingly an individual enquired from Imam (a.s.) whether a change is possible even in this stable sign? The Imam replied in the affirmative.
(Behaarul Anwaar, vol. 52, pg. 151-250)
Keeping the above in mind there is no apparent distinction between vacuous and secure signs as both are changeable.
8. What is the meaning of change in the signs?
We have already described this point above in detail in point.3 of this article that the change in precious signs occur under peculiar circumstances. The Prophets, messengers of Allah and spiritual Leaders (Imams) acquire Knowledge from divine source in which early and preliminary decisions with their signs and symbols are mentioned. Sometimes due to some particular reasons changes and alterations are brought about in previous decision and amendments are made in them. So whatever indications are given by the Imam (a.s.) regarding the incidents which are to occur including the reappearance are totally based on the previous decisions mentioned therein. It does not in any way mean that signs should be ignored and should be considered as insignificant “You should not be taken aback if the other day that incident is changed or altered for which you were told before hand” as was told by Imam (a.s.).We should have faith in the utterances of Imam (a.s.) and should not doubt authenticity. Instead we should try to find out whether or not that incident was from amongst them which were changeable. A true follower is he who has faith in changes and alterations and not carried away by inconstant and constant signs. If predicted incidents have not occurred he should not lose his faith and should not base it on ignorance and it should be treated as a previous decision which was changed by Allah’s will as such thoughts would have double and manifold advantages
(Kafi, vol. 2, pg. 269)
He who has faith in narrations would never be taken aback if the Imam (a.s.) reappears before the sighting of the signs as one is awaiting for the Imam (a.s.) and not looking forward for the signs.
9. What is the purpose and object of symbols and signs?
The discussions about the tokens and signals have its advantages and benefits. It kindles the hearts of Shias with the ray of hope, vanishes the anxiety and worries and protects them from negative thinking that crowd their minds. The facts of reappearance are known only to Allah as we have described in this article in detail. The materials which were possibly being collected about the reappearance are wholly based on tokens and signals. The sighting of any of those tokens strengthens our faith in reappearance of Imam (a.s.) doubles the excitement. Yaqteen, farther of highly respected companion and follower Ali bin Yaqteen of Hazrat Imam Moosa Kazim (a.s.) was a blind follower of Bani Abbas while his son Ali bin Yaqteen was true Shia. Imam (AS.) guaranteed heaven for him. Yaqteen once asked his son Ali in light vein that prediction of Prophet (s.a.w.a) about the sovereignty of Bani Abbas had come true but so far Mahdi (a.s.) has not reappeared to minimize sufferings and pains of his Shias as was predicted by the Prophet (s.a.w.a). Ali replied that the source of narration is the same i.e. the regulations mentioned in the heavenly book with only difference that the time for the fulfillment of the promise made to you drew nigh while the time for our promise has not arrived so we are waiting for that day. If it would be told that it would occur within two or three years but would not occur majority of us would contradict the issue of reappearance of Imam (a.s.). To keep us on the track it is said that “the period of re-appearance is fast approaching”
(Ghaibat-e-Nomani, pg 158)
Thus the tokens and signals for re-appearance serve as a source of stability and security of faith.
The signs and tokens of reappearance of Imam (a.s.) are non constant and can be altered like other things. The meaning and sense of change is not the complete and actual change but the substitute in the preliminary decisions depicted in the Holy Book. Allah knows everything and there cannot be any change in His Commands.
The knowledge of the Prophets and Spiritual Leaders is acquired from the Holy Book so the secret are known to them. The change and alterations if any in the previous decision are mentioned only in unseen knowledge. We should have firm faith in the teachings of Spiritual Leaders. If the things have not occurred as predicted it has no link with their teachings but have direct connection with the knowledge of the unseen.
The reappearance of Imam (a.s.) may be delayed or may take place early. We are duty bound to provide means of early reappearance of Imam (a.s.) by doing good deeds and by prayers for early reappearance.
Change is possible where it is not promised by Allah. The re appearance is promised but there is no promise for time and period of re-appearance.
The signs and tokens of reappearance have a major role to play for stability and firmness in our faith for clear dealings and unblemished character.
11. In what manner the discussions affects the one who awaits?
It is advised in narrations to wait for reappearance every morning and evening and all the times.
(Behaarul Anwaar, vol. 52, pg. 145)
Such a piece of advise can be given only when the signs and tokens are inconstant.
If the tokens are unchangeable there is no point to wait all the time and every moment. It would be altered when these tokens are sighted. But under these conditions it can be argued that without sighting of those tokens how the reappearance is possible? The mentions in the narrations are contrary to that. Having a faith in change and alteration everybody would be ready and willing every morning and evening and all the time for reappearance. A person who does not believe in change in signs he would never wait all the time throughout the day and night. There is at least 15 days gap between the assassination of a pious man and the re-appearance of Imam (a.s.)
(Behaarul Anwaar, vol. 52, pg. 302)
So it is meaningless to think about the reappearance before the murder of a pious man. We are ordered to wait all the time. To wait for reappearance is considered a significant act. Such orders can be given only when the change in tokens are possible. A person who has no faith in alteration of signs and thinks of reappearance of Imam (a.s.) after sighting of the tokens such a person is actually waiting first for the sighting of tokens and then for re appearance of Imam (a.s.) which the narrative has given more importance to the reappearance of Imam (a.s.) and of tokens afterwards.
12. Awaiting for reappearance and not for tokens and symbols:
It is now clear that we should wait for reappearance of Imam (a.s.) and not for change in sign. We should not consider reappearance as impossible before witnessing the symbols and tokens. The reappearance is the command of Allah. It is not ordered by Allah, so the Imam (a.s.) has not re-appeared. It is only at this stage the true and sincere followers are praying, waiting and begging pardon before Allah to hasten the reappearance of Imam (a.s.) Allah is free to shower His blessings to any He likes. Allah can order the reappearance even before the sighting of signs and not bound by symbols. The symbols can be changed and Imam (a.s.) can be ordered to re-appear early. So we should wait for re-appearance of Imam (a.s.) and should not wait for the signs to appear.
O Lord of Husain (a.s.) we beg you to administer justice to Husain (a.s.) and bring forth the reappearance of Imam (a.s.) for consolation of Imam Husain (a.s.).