One of the questions that is often asked about Hazrat Mahdi(a) is ,why should God, the Glorious and the Exalted, show such special concern for this particular individual and suspend natural laws for the sake of prolonging his age? Moreover, why not leave the leadership of the promised day for someone to be born in the future, to be summoned by the signs of the promised day, to appear on the stage and carry out his awaited role? In other words, what is the benefit of this long occultation and what is its justification?
This question is asked by many people and they do not want a reply based on occult explanations, considering that we believe that the Twelve Imams ( a) form a unique chain of which not a single link can be altered. But those who raise this question demand a social interpretation of this stance based upon tangible realities of the process of change as such and understandable needs of the promised day On this basis we will temporarily shift our attention from the, characteristics which we believe these infallible Imams to possess and raise the following question: Taking into account the process of awaited change on the promised day, to the extent it is understandable in the light of human life and experience, is it possible to consider the longevity of the leader reserved for that day as one of the factors greatly conducive to its success and its leadership?
Our reply to this question is in the affirmative for a number of reasons among which are the following: The process of a great change requires that the leader who brings it about should possess a unique spirit which is full of consciousness and preeminence and awareness of the insignificance of the dominant arrogant systems for whose annihilation he has been prepared and to replace them with a new civilization and a new world order. And the more the revolutionary leader is conscious of the pettiness of the civilization which he combats and the more dearly he perceives that it is only a point on the long line of human civilization, the higher will be his morale in confronting it and continuing his campaign against it until victory.
It is obvious that the required measure of this awareness would be proportional to the extent of the change itself and the extent and hold of the civilization and regime to be annihilated. Therefore, confrontation with a mightier system and a more deeply-rooted civilization requires an awareness possessing greater force and vigour. Considering that the mission of the promised day is to bring about a comprehensive change in a world filled with injustice and oppression by transforming all its cultural values and diverse systems, it is natural that such a mission should require someone whose awareness is greater than that of the world in its entirety, someone who is not an offspring of that world grown up in the shadow of the civilization which he seeks to demolish and transform into a civilization based upon justice and truth.
That is because someone who grows up in the shadow of a deep-rooted civilization and spend his life under the spell of its authority, values and ideas, dwells under a feeling of awe for it because it was already there when he was only an infant, a mighty adult when he still grew up as a child, and when he had opened his eyes on the world he did not see anything except its myriad faces. As against this there is someone who has delved deeply in history and lived in the world before this age of enlightenment, and has seen great civilizations ruling over the world one after another and then decline and fall with his own eyes and not through books of history, seeing also the present civilization which constitutes the latest chapter in human history prior to the promised day. He saw it while it was still a small seed hardly visible.
He then saw these seeds establish themselves in the body of society waiting for an opportunity to sprout and grow. He has witnessed its growth and march, its ups and downs, and observed it blossom and grow into a giant and gradually control the destiny of the entire world. Surely such a person who has lived through all these stages with complete awareness and insight will mark this giant, which he intends to confront, through the long history he has personally observed, not as something read in books of history. He will neither view it as inevitable fate, nor as Jean Jacques Rousseau viewed France without a monarch, for it is said that he was terrified by the mere idea of France without a king, despite his being, intellectually and philosophically, one of the leading advocates of political change during that era.
That was so because he had grown up in the shadow of monarchy and had breathed in its atmosphere throughout his life. But someone who has accompanied history itself carries within him the awe and force of history and profound awareness of the fact that the order and civilization that surrounds him is the offspring of a day from among the days of history that came into being due to certain conducive factors and which will perish when other factors appear, and in near or distant future nothing will remain of it in the same manner as nothing of it lasted in the past; that life-spans of civilizations and regimes, however long they may be, are not more than numbered days in the long course of history. You may have read the Surat al-Kahf. It mentions the story of the youths who professed faith in their Lord: God had increased them in guidance at a time when they were confronted with a dominant idolatrous regime which, without pity and hesitation, ripped the buds of tawhid and stifled any effort to rise above polytheism.
They were under great stress; despair had overwhelmed them and they had lost hope. Unable to find any solution, it appeared to them that falsehood would continue to rule and oppress for ever and to prevail over the truth, forcing into submission everyone whose heart leaned towards truth. They sought refuge in a cave seeking from God relief from their predicament. Do you know what God did? He caused them to fall asleep for 309 years in the cave. Then he raised them from sleep and sent them forth on the stage of life after the regime that had overwhelmed them with its power and oppression had disintegrated and collapsed to become an inert and harmless part of history.
All this was done so that those youths might witness the fall of untruth whose prevalence, power, and persistence seemed overwhelming to them, land that they might see its end with their own eyes and witness the triviality and insignificance of falsehood. If this clear vision -- with all its spiritual force and sublimity -- was realized by the Men of the Cave through this unique incident which extended their life-span by 300 years, a similar thing applies to the Awaited Leader in the course of his long life-span, which enabled him to witness the giant of a civilization when it was still a dwarf, the ancient tree when it was still a seed, and the epochs when they were taking their first breaths of life. In addition, this experience of accompanying successive civilizations and direct contact with their movement and development, have a great role in intellectually preparing and deepening the leadership skills for the promised day, as they expose the reserved individual to the various efforts made by others along with their points of weakness and strength and all kinds of error and correct judgment, giving him the utmost ability to evaluate social phenomena with a complete awareness of their causes and historical conditions.
Further, the change that the Awaited Leader is destined to bring about is based upon a specific message, the message of Islam. It is but natural that it should require a leader who in nearer to the sources of pristine Islam, with a personality built in an entirely independent manner separately from the cultural influences he is destined to combat on the promised day. This is opposed to the case of a person who is born and brought up in that culture and whose thoughts and sensibilities take shape within its environs, because such a person is usually not free from the influences and tendencies of this culture even if he is leading a change against it. Therefore, for ensuring that the reserved leader is not influenced by the civilization for whose change he has been prepared, it is necessary that his personality be entirely built in an earlier civilizational stage closest in its general spirit and origin to the civilization which he seeks to realize on the promised day under his leadership.
by Shahid Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr Translated from the Arabic by Mujahid Husayn