The Length of the Occultation and Difficult and Formidable Trials
According to what is well known, during the occultation of Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return), which will be very lengthy, difficult trials will occur such that a person will be a believer in the morning but a disbeliever in the evening. Are these types of trials in the time near the reappearance or will such trials occur throughout the period of occultation?
According to Islamic principles, the world is a place of tests and trials and people are in a state of being tried during everything that happens to them. During youth and old age, whether wealthy or in need, in health and illness, when in power, when in leadership, they are always in a state of trial; it makes no difference whether the Imam (peace be upon him) is present or in occultation.
The Qur’an says in this regard:
أَحَسِبَ النَّاسَ أَنْ يُتْرَكُوا أَنْ يَقُولُوا آمَنَّا وَهُمْ لاَ يُفْتَنُونَ
“Have the people presumed they would be released upon saying, ‘We believe,’ without being tested?”1
As we know, during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) himself, while all of the programs and incidents were a test, sometimes, severe trials would occur, in which none but a few were able to fulfill their obligation. For example, in battle, aside from individuals like ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be upon him) and Abu Dujana and a few others, none were able to stand firm in jihad and defense of Islam and the Prophet. This is because during severe trials, only a limited number of people have the ability to stand firm; many an individual would flee out f fear. It has been related that in on the battles ‘Uthman fled from the battlefield and returned after three days. Or after the Prophet’s (peace be upon him and his family) demise, such a severe trial came to pass that not more than three or seven people were able to successfully perform their duty and remain firm on the line that the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) had specified. Afterwards as well, such trials continued and shall continue, so that, in the words of the Qur’an:
لِيَمِيزَ الْخَبِيثَ مِنَ الطَّيِّبِ
“…so that Allah separates the impure from the pure.”2
These trials have wisdom and many benefits, among which is that the disposition of the people of the world and society become ready for that dignified reappearance in which the resolute and steadfast believers will be separated from the remaining people. Preserving one’s faith during the period of the Imam’s (peace be upon him) occultation is possible by enduring very severe difficulties. Without doubt, millions of people leave this school of trials with pride and heads held high, that is through patience and forbearance and perseverance in difficulties, they succeed in preserving their religion, faith, and honor.
According to the content of some traditions, during this period protecting one’s religion will become more difficult than holding fire in the palm of one’s hand, and oppression, injustice, corruption, and perversion will become prevalent. Values will be regarded as being against values, and things opposed to values will be regarded as values. Sins will be considered a matter of pride and accomplishment. One’s friends will encourage and induce him to sin and reproach him for not cooperating with oppressors, sinners, and corrupt people.
Women will enter into work exclusive to men. Many wars and natural afflictions will come about. In a tradition of Jabir ibn Abdullah al-Ansari regarding the commentary of the verse:
أَطِيعُوا اللهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَأُولِي الأَمْرِ مِنْكُمْ
“(O you who believe!) Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority amongst you (the legatees of the Messenger).”3
It has come that the Noble Messenger (peace be upon him and his family) gives news about his khulafa’ and successors from Imam ‘Ali (peace be upon him) until Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return), names them one after one and gives tidings to the people about the conquering of the East and West of the world at the blessed hands of Imam al-Mahdi (may Allah hasten his return), and says, inter alia:
"ذَالَكَ الَّذِي يُغِيبُ عَنْ شِيعَتِهِ وَأَوْلِيَائِهِ غَيْبَةً لاَ يُثْبِتُ فِيهَا عَلَى الْقَوْلِ بِإِمَامَتِهِ إِلاَّ مَنِ امْتَحَنَ اللهُ قَلْبَهُ لِلإِيمَانِ."
“He is the one who will be concealed from his Shi‘a and friends such a concealment that none shall remain firm in belief in his Imamah except one whose heart Allah has tested for faith.”4
And Amir al-Mu’minin has also informed about these difficulties and tribulations in Nahj al-Balagha. In one instance, he says;
مَا أَطْوَلَ هَذَا العِنَاءِ وَأَبْعَدَ هَذَا الرَّجَاءِ.
“How lengthy is this adversity, and how distant is this hope!”5
It has even been related, in another tradition, that:
إِنَّ لِصَاحِبِ هَذَا الأَمْرِ غَيْبَةً اَلْمُتَمَسِّكُ فِيهَا بِدِينِهِ كَالْخَارَطِ لِلْقِتَادِ.
“Verily the Master of this Affair has a such a concealment that one who grips firmly to his religion during it is like one who picks thorns with his hands.”6
Therefore, as can be understood from the traditions, the entire period of concealment is a period of trial and examination; of course, the types of those trials are different in the different times and places. The believer during this period must show perseverance in abiding by the commandments of religion and struggling to elevate the word of Islam and honor of the Muslims and to repel the influence and cultural and political domination of foreigners. He must be in combat and jihad with all negative and unhelpful circumstances and conditions and be hopeful of the victory of Islam and the Muslims and the succor of Allah. He must not lose hold of himself in face of the power and strength of the disbelievers or become inclined towards their improper behavior. And at the same time he must have certainty that the promises of Allah and the Prophet of Allah are true and that eventually Islam will be victorious and conquer the world, as a result of which justice and equity shall fill the world.