THE TIMES AND LIFE OF IMAM MUHAMMAD AL-MAHDI (as)
The Birth of Imam Mahdi(as):
The intention of the Abbasid caliphs was to prevent the conception and birth of the awaited Mahdi from the union of Imam Hasan Askari (as) with Nargis Khatoon. This was based on the several traditions circulating among the early days of Islam as well as the fact that he would be the last in the chain of the twelve representatives of the Prophet. Further, it was believed that with the coming of the Mahdi, the tyrants will run for refuge, and the oppressed would be liberated. As demonstrated by Allah in several places in the Qur'an, His divine Will can never be superseded. Nargis was able to conceal her state of gravidity, and when the birth occurred, none other than Hakeema, daughter of Imam Muhammad Taqi (as), attended it.
The child was kept effectively hidden from the searching eyes of the tyrants. Although the news had leaked out about the birth of a son to Imam Hasan Askari (as), no one could find clues to prove it. In fact, the Caliph ordered that the estate of the Imam be kept under trust for two years to see if any of the bond women of the Imam would file a claim for heir ship for her offspring. When he was satisfied that there was no apparent heir to the Imam, he gave up the search and closed the case. This is probably the reason why many historians deny the very existence of a son born to the eleventh Imam.
Only the most trusted devotees of Imam Hasan al-Askari (as) knew of the birth and occultation. Scholars and researchers of theology have obtained evidence of the existence of a "Mahdi" from sources such as the Qur'an, ahadith of the Prophet quoted through respected companions as well as quotes from Imams of the Ahle Bait.
THE OCCULTATION OF THE TWELFTH IMAM
There is evidence in the literature about the time and the types of the occultation of the Twelfth Imam including the controversies surrounding this subject. This occultation occurred in two phases as detailed below:
Ghaibat us-Sughra (The Lesser Occultation):
This was a period of seventy years between 260 AH and 329 AH. The Imam was not available to his followers in person, but carried out his mission of guidance through four of his most trusted emissaries. During this period, the actual personal contact with Mm was kept to an extremely limited number. However, the followers of Ahle Bait and his devotees kept constant communication with him for guidance. They wrote letters to him, and he sent back written replies to them.
Ghaibat al-Kubra (the Greater Occultation):
At his deathbed in 329 AH, the last emissary of the Imam read the contents of his last letter to him. In it he said that the Imam had ordained not to appoint any new emissary to follow him because the Imam was going into the period of his greater occultation. He said that the period of his greater occultation would be as long a period of time as Willed by Allah. From then on, there would cease to be any physical contact with him until the time Allah would ordain his re-appearance. Throughout the ages, there would be others making false claims to be the Awaited One, but beware of the falsehood, and seek the Truth that had already been revealed.
The Twelfth Imam (as) warned the believers to remain steadfast and not succumb to the false claims by others to be the Awaited Imam (as). He also warned that there would be considerable doubt among the misguided regarding the very belief of his occultation. The author considers this to be beyond the scope of this book to indulge in further discussion on the subject here because of its length as well as the attended controversies.
THE TRADITION OF WRITING LETTERS TO IMAM-E ZAMAN (as)
Up to the end of the lesser occultation, the followers and the devotees used to communicate with the Twelfth Imam (as) through his safer (emissary). However, from the time of the death of his last safir, the tradition of written communications with the Imam has continued to this day, and there are believers who testify that they still get replies from him in some unusual ways.