Mahdawiyyat in Imam Khomeini’s mystical interpretation

American Herald Tribune | Anastasia Fatima Ezhova: In this chapter we shall refer to an important issue to which opponents of Imam Khomeini usually point to: it’s a question of the Occultation of Imam Mahdi (a). They ask: what is the sense of his Eminence’s (a) return and his (a) promise to establish a world reign of justice if we should establish a just Islamic state before his coming out of his Major Occultation? Isn’t there any contradiction between this point and Imam Khomeini’s political theory?

Imam Khomeini’s understanding of Mahdawiyyat is based on a general assumption that its meaning is wider and deeper than just to replace unjust and corrupt rulers by a just Infallible ruler, whom Shi’as should await passively and not interfering into the area of politics (though as ahadeeth tell us this is also a part of his Eminence’s mission). We’ve already demonstrated the contradiction between the last point and the need for implementing Islamic Law into practice which requires political power. We’ve also shown that according Imam Khomeini’s mysticism a genuine Shi’a competent jurist (faqih) and mystic (‘arif) can reach such a spiritual station that he will feel the Divine Presence to such an extent and love Allah so passionately that it will become impossible for him to commit a sin, though he is not Infallible and is not purified initially and by his nature.

And we’ve also mentioned that the Infallibles (a) viewed political power just like a means of the implementation of Shari’ah and justice. But, as we’ve noted, the meaning of wilayah is much wider than putting the Law into practice. In fact, as Henry Corbin points out, there are two different cycles – the cycle of nubuwwah al-tashri’ (law-revealing prophethood) and the cycle of wilayah. The first one has ended with the demise of the holy Prophet Muhammad (s), the Seal of the Prophethood; this Shari’ah is not to be changed and must be implemented till the Day of Judgment. The cycle of wilayyah will end with the end of Imam Mahdi’s (a) world governance, and after that the Judgement Day will occur. Thus, these two cycles lie in crossing but different spaces, that’s why it’s not correct to speak of usurping the political power of Infallibles (a) if their aim – which is putting Shari’ah and justice into practice – us being achieved. So let’s see, how Imam Khomeini describes the meaning of wilayah which belongs to Imam al-Mahdi (a), as well as the mystical goal of his Eminence’s occultation and return.

Referring to authentic traditions, Imam Khomeini defines the mission of Imam al-Mahdi in following terms:

“He will fill the earth with justice and equity, after that it has been filled with injustice and inequity. He will suppress the mustakbirin (arrogant rulers) of the world and will put the land in the hands of mustad’afin (oppressed ones, including Ahl al-Beyt (a) themselves). How wonderful and blessed will be the day on which the deceitful and the seditious people will be effaced from the earth, and the government of divine justice will dominate all over the world, and hypocrites and the deceitful ones will leave the scene, and the flag of Allah’s justice will govern humanity, and the forts of injustice and congresses of despotism will collapse down, and the objective of sending the prophets and the guardians (as) will be implemented, and Allah’s blessings will be sent down upon the earth, and the disgraceful ones will be broken, and the tongues instigating disunion will be cut off, and the divine light will shine upon the world, and the satans and their followers will be sent in isolation, and the false organizations of Human Rights will be cancelled. It is called that Allah, the Exalted, will enhance the arrival of that happy day of the appearance of this happy newborn, and manifest the sun of guidance and Imamate the soonest possible”. [1]

The mystical philosophy of Occultation described by Imam Khomeini enlightens the important point why he considered it to be possible to build an Islamic state before his Eminence’s return. We’ll put a direct quotation in order to comment it afterward.

Thus, Imam Khomeini writes:

“…For such a great procedure as spreading justice, in its real meaning, all over the world, there was no one among the entire humanity to do it except al-Mahdi the Promised (a), whom Allah has treasured for humanity. All the prophets who appeared had been sent to carry out justice, and their objective was to spread justice in the whole world, but they were not successful. The Seal of the Prophets (s) had also come for the same purpose and to reform the people and to educate them. Nevertheless, he was also unsuccessful during his life-time. But the Promised Mahdi is the one who will be successful on applying justice, in its real meaning, all over the world, not just ordinary justice known to common people, who think justice to mean equity in this world concerning their comfort and satisfaction, rather it will be equity in all stages of humanity. Whatever perversion man may have, mental, actual, spiritual perversion, to restore these perversions to their common meaning is implementing justice in man. If his behavior is perverse, he will return to equity when he turns away from perversion. If there is perversion and crookedness in one’s beliefs, to redress those crooked beliefs to a correct belief and to a straight path, this means creating in one’s mind. No one from the beginning till the end was capable of doing it, and it is only for the Promised Mahdi to spread justice in the whole world, the objective of which the prophets, who had come to do that, could not implement. Allah, the Exalted and Blessed, has treasured him to carry out, but certain hindrances prevented them from it. His being granted such a long life by Allah is for this purpose. This gives us to understand that among the human beings there was no other than him to do that. After the prophets, who were there but could not be successful, and after the prophets and the great godly men, there were the fathers of the Promised Imam, who also could not do it. Were the Promised Mahdi to die, like his fathers, there would have been no one among the human beings to be able to carry out the said justice. But he is a being saved for such a task. Therefore, according to these considerations, the celebration of the birthday of the Lord of the Time (may our lives be his ransoms) is the greatest feast for the Muslims, or rather for the humanity, not only Muslims”. [2]

If we refer to the history of the early Islam we’ll find many examples of hypocrisy and conspiracies around the holy Prophet (a), as well as after his demise when a number of his companions rebelled against his order and the order of Allah to appoint Imam Ali (a) to be his (s) successor. Nevertheless, both the holy Prophet (s) and Imam Ali were ruling and judging according Shari’ah even in such conditions, and they have established Islamic state which is required for the implementation of the revealed Law (as the cycle of nubuwwat al-tashri’ has ended and this version of religious law is ultimate). Thus, the mission of the Prophet (a) was not to change people but just to call them to change themselves and create the political, economical, judicial order that is prescribed by Allah the Great and Exalted: “Whether We shall show thee (within thy life-time) part of what we promised them or take to ourselves thy soul (before it is all accomplished),- thy duty is to make (the Message) reach them: it is our part to call them to account” (13:40), “But if they turn away, thy duty is only to preach the clear Message (16:82)”. This cycle has already been accomplished, so the duty of putting Shari’ah into practice is our duty and no one can annul it.

While the holy Prophet (s) who is the first of Infallibles (a) is the Seal of nubuwwat al-tashri’, Imam Mahdi (a) is the Seal of wilayah, so his mission is to accomplish the task of inner purification of people. As we witness it from history, any revolution and political order can be called just temporary and not final if it is based just on creating appropriate conditions and not changing the inner essence of people. But accomplishing the noble task of human nature’s transformation requires centuries and definite historic experience of the whole humanity, as inner purification and inspiration cannot be imposed upon people by force as it’s absolutely impossible, while the Law can be put into practice even without everybody’s total contest. And this is the reason why Imam al-Mahdi (a) has been granted such a long life and why his Eminence’s Occultation lasts many centuries.

An Islamic state established before Imam Mahdi’s (a) return cannot make everybody rid of hypocrisy or sinful nature, but its task is, first of all, to defend Shari’ah, social justice and the rights of those who are weak, poor and oppressed, and, secondly, to create conditions for religious people in order to give them an opportunity to bring up new generations who are devoted to Islam and Ahl al-Beyt (a) in their hearts and actions (this doesn’t mean, of course, that all the citizens of such an Islamic state are sincere Muslims who follow Shari’ah out of true devotion and not of fear, as this task cannot be accomplished before the Imam’s (a) return, as we’ll explain below) . This group of true Shi’as of the Imams (a) can be called “the party of Allah” (Hizb Allah), and the Holy Qur’an says about them: “Whoever takes for his guardians Allah, His Apostle and the faithful [should know that the party of Allah is indeed the victorious” (5:56).

When the number of such people forms a critical mass, they’ll get able to be the companions of Imam al-Mahdi’s (a) and thus will draw his approach nearer. This is one of the cornerstones of Imam Khomeini’s understanding of Mahdawiyyah.

There is a narration which specifies who are called the party of Allah: “Imam al-Sadiq (a) said, “We and our followers (shi‘a) are the party of Allah, and the party of Allah is the victorious”. [3]

Describing a true Shi‘a Imam Khomeini points out:

“Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (A.S.) says, as it is related, that probably there is a dweller of the froutiers who is hungered, and so he feels discomforted lest there should be someone hungrier than he. Such a man is our Amir, our Master, our Imam. Yet we keep talking about the Imam without imitating him, without following his way. This is the meaning of being an Imam. The meaning of a Shi‘ite is that he should follow as if he was in a funeral procession – if he proceeds behind the coffin, he will be a follower, but if he turns out of the procession, he is, then, not a follower. A Shi‘ite must follow ‘Ali like this”. [4]

By the way, in Shi‘a hadith collections there are many traditions depicting genuine Shi‘ites and false Shi‘ites who call themselves like this only by their tongues. There are several features of both of them. Thus, the Imams (a) denied the right of some corrupt people to be named Shi‘as. Here are some narrations on this account:

“Imam al-Sadiq (AS) said, ‘There is a group of people who claim that I am their Imam, but by Allah, I am no Imam of theirs – may Allah curse them – every time I conceal a secret, they disclose it. Every time I explain a matter, they retort, saying, ‘Actually that means such and such.’ I am only the Imam of those who obey me”. [5]

“Imam al-Sadiq (AS) once asked a man about his tribe and brothers whom he had left back home, which the latter replied by praising them, attesting to their integrity and extolling them. Then Imam (AS) asked, ‘Do the rich among them visit poor when they are ill?’ He replied, ‘Not much’. ‘Do the rich frequent the poor at all?’ Imam asked. The man replied, ‘Not much’. ‘Then, do the rich maintain relations with the poor?’ The man replied, ‘Verily you are listing virtues that people amongst us rarely possess.’ Imam said, ‘Then how can these people claim to be shi‘a?!” [6]

On the other hand, there are also some ahadeeth that describe true virtuous Shi‘as:

“Imam al-Sadiq (AS) said, ‘Our shi‘a are none other than those who are consciously wary of their duty to Allah and obey Him. They are known solely for their humbleness, their humility, their returning promptly whatever is entrusted in their care and their abundant remembrance of Allah”. [7]

“Imam al-Sadiq (AS) said, ‘Verily, the shi‘a of ‘Ali were those who restrained their stomachs and their sexual desires [8], who struggled and fought intensely, who worked hard for their Creator, who hoped for His reward and feared His punishment. If you have seen such people, then they are the very shi‘a of Ja‘far”. [9]

“Imam al-Sadiq (AS) said, ‘Test our shi‘a with regard to three things: the prayer time to see how well they observe it, their secrets to see how well they guard them from our enemies, and their wealth to see how they help out their fellow brothers with it”. [10]

We should add that Islamic government also provides a suitable platform for such pious people so that they could lead an Islamic policy not only inside, but also outside of a territory that is under the jurisdiction of Islamic governance. And during the period of the major Occultation such a state will be anyway surrounded by many enemies as it is stated in the Holy Qur’an:

“The Word is proved true against the greater part of them: for they do not believe. We have put yokes round their necks right up to their chins, so that their heads are forced up (and they cannot see). And We have put a bar in front of them and a bar behind them, and further, We have covered them up; so that they cannot see. The same is it to them whether thou admonish them or thou do not admonish them: they will not believe. Thou canst but admonish such a one as follows the Message and fears the (Lord) Most Gracious, unseen: give such a one, therefore, good tidings, of Forgiveness and a Reward most generous” (36:7-11) .

In turn, the transformation of a human nature will lead to the transformation of the whole reality, as it was created for a human being.

Thus, establishing Islamic governance before Imam Mahdi’s (a) return won’t lead to a total win of justice as for such a transformation not only outward (concerning laws and political system) but also inner revolution (concerning human nature) is required. It won’t also be worldwide as mu’minun will become majority only with the Imam’s (a) return. Nevertheless, putting Islamic laws into practice and creating Islamic government is a duty, and we’ve already delivered many arguments proving the first point, and we are also going to demonstrate the correctness of the second statement.


Islamic revolution the concept of which was elaborated and put into practice by Imam Khomeini is not a kind of impermissible innovation which goes against the principles of Shi‘ism, rather it has deep mystical roots within Shi‘a doctrine, history and mysticism (‘irfan).

In fact, Islamic revolution is a sort of al-jihad al-difa‘i, i.e. defensive jihad which is permissible and obligatory during the period of Major Occultation, while al-jihad al-hujumi (conquering non-Muslim lands) is prohibited in this era.

Islamic revolution is an act of defense of Shari‘ah that is being replaced by unjust laws invented by tyrants in order to gain profit from people’s sufferings.

Islamic revolution is an act of defense against Western capitalist colonizers, world oligarchy and imperialists who conquer and attack Muslims all over the world in order to control their natural resources and use it thus damaging its genuine owners who are people. It is also defense against local rulers and oligarchs submitted to these colonizers and collaborating with their Western masters all over the world.

Islamic revolution is an act of defense against the corruption and social and economical injustice which these rulers and governments cause and promote through their dirty financial actions, through mass-media and mass-culture, through their oppression of common people whose interests Islamic politics and Shari ‘ah do protect.

Islamic revolution doesn’t even damage the interests of non-Muslims if they are not the helpers of oppressors and do not struggle against Islam. Rather, many of them also suffer from this world injustice and can obtain a true safety and their rights’ protection under Islamic ruling. That’s why some of them support Islamic revolutionary movement.

Islamic awakening which we witness today is also a part of this great revolution, and, in sha Allah, this will be another step to bringing the return of Imam Mahdi (a) closer and closer.


[1] M.J. Khalili. Manafi Anari. Fundamentals of the Islamic revolution, p. 150.
[2] Ibid, p. 151-152.
[3] Al-Tawhid, p. 166, hadith № 3; The Scale of Wisdom. A Compendium of Shi‘a Hadith,
[4] M.J. Khalili. Manafi Anari. Fundamentals of the Islamic revolution, p. 153.
[5] Bihar al-Anwar, v. 69, p. 9, hadith № 11; The Scale of Wisdom. A Compendium of Shi‘a Hadith, p. 601.
[6] Al-Kafi, v. 2, p. 173, hadith № 10; The Scale of Wisdom. A Compendium of Shi‘a Hadith, p. 601.
[7] Tuhaf al-‘Uqul, p. 295; The Scale of Wisdom. A Compendium of Shi‘a Hadith, p. 600.
[8] I.e. abode fornication and what leads to it.
[9] Al-Kafi, v. 2, p. 233, hadith № 9; The Scale of Wisdom. A Compendium of Shi‘a Hadith, p. 600.
[10] Bihar al-Anwar, v. 83, p. 22, hadith № 40; The Scale of Wisdom. A Compendium of Shi‘a Hadith, p. 600.