Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Occultation - (Shia Islam)

The Occultation (Arabic: غيبة‎ Ghaybah) in Shia Islam refers to a belief that the messianic figure, or Mahdi, who in Shi'i thought is an infallible male descendant of the founder of Islam, Muhammad, was born but disappeared, and will one day return and fill the world with justice. Some Shi'is, such as the Zaidi and Nizari Ismaili, do not believe in the idea of the Occultation. The groups that do believe in it differ on the succession of the Imamate, and therefore which individual is in Occultation. The Hidden Imam is still considered to be the Imam of the Time, to hold authority over the community, and to guide and protect individuals and the Shi'i community.
Poster inside the Muslim American Youth Academy, a private elementary school attached to the Islamic Center of America, the largest mosque in the United States (and a Twelver Shi'i one) located in Dearborn, Michigan.


In Twelver Shia Islam, the largest branch of the Shia faith, the twelfth imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, went into Occultation in 873. The Occultation is split into the Minor Occultation and the Major Occultation.

Minor Occultation

The Minor Occultation (Ghaybat al-Sughra) refers to the period when the Twelver Shia believe the Imam still maintained contact with his followers via deputies (Arab. an-nuwāb al-arbaʻa). During this period, from 874-941, the deputies represented him and acted as agents between him and his followers.

Major Occultation

The Major Occultation denotes the second, longer portion of the Occultation, which continues to the present day. Shia believe, based on the last Saf’ir's deathbed message, that the Twelfth Imam had decided not to appoint another deputy. Thus, al-Samarri's death marked the beginning of the second or Major Occultation. According to the last letter of Muhammad al-Mahdi to Ali ibn Muhammad al-Samarri:
Rest assured, no one has a special relationship with God. Whoever denies me is not from my (community) [there is no deputy after him]. The appearance of the Relief depends solely upon God. Therefore, those who propose a certain time for it are liars. As to the benefit of my existence in occultation, it is like the benefit of the sun behind the clouds where the eyes do not see it.

Background Information

YaleCourses: The Early Middle Ages, 284--1000 (HIST 210)
15. Islamic Conquests and Civil War


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