In the first part of our series on Inculcating Love and Followership During the Occultation of the 12th Imām (ʿaj), we described the fundamental building blocks of including Imām Mahdī (ʿaj) in our lives. We talked about:
- The two levels of understanding Imām Mahdī (ʿaj)
- Supplications for the Imām (ʿaj)
- Doing actions on behalf of the Imām (ʿaj)
- Regular salutations to the Imām (ʿaj)
- Adopting a lifestyle that pleases the Imām (ʿaj).
The ideas and themes mentioned in the previous article are not new to us. We have heard them time and again. Unfortunately, we as a collective Muslim community are falling short in our duty to build a relationship with Imām Mahdī (ʿaj). That is why reminders are helpful (as attested to by the Noble Qurʾān):
“And remind, for indeed, the reminder benefits the believers.”
Reminders can break the monotonous cycle we fall into in our daily lives. It forces us to introspect, reflect, and evaluate our progress in preparing for his blessed reappearance and – inshāʾAllāh – incentivize us to take action.
If any of us were asked if we desire an intimate and personal relationship with the Imām (ʿaj), none of us would say no! The issue is the “how”.
In the second part of the series, we want to look at our relationship with Imām Mahdī (ʿa) in a different light. Performing aʿmāls and reciting duʿās (and everything else mentioned in part one) are highly recommended but they often feel too “formal” or “prescriptive”. We sometimes finish these actions without feeling a genuine sense of progress in our relationship with the Imām (ʿaj).
That’s why this article is going to propose a model of connection that mirrors how we develop friendship with other people throughout our lives.
The components of developing a strong and healthy friendship can be adapted to help us connect with Imām Mahdī (ʿaj).
We stress that the recommendations here are not an alternative to the ideas suggested in part one. The prescriptive model is derived from recommendations/duʿās left behind by the Ahlul Bayt (ʿa) and the prominent ones amongst our past and present religious scholars (ʿulamāʾ). For best results, we should take what is possible from the prescriptive model and the friendship model proposed here. In fact, the two complement each other.
With that being said, here are four characteristics of a friendship that we can adapt and apply in our relationship with the Imām of our time (ʿaj).
Be Dependable and Reliable
We love the friends we have in our lives because they are dependable and reliable. When we need them, they are there. If they say they will meet us somewhere at 2pm or will call us at 10am, they follow those promises with action.
In our relationship with Imām Mahdī (ʿaj), the emphasis on being dependable and reliable falls on us. The Imām is an ever-present and reliable figure in our lives. It’s time for us to return the favor. We can do this by allocating time for him in our daily lives and turning up regularly in that period.
What you do in that allocated time is up to you. You can do any of the actions mentioned in part one or something that is unique and a secret between you and him. For example, you could write a letter to the Imām (ʿaj) and leave it in a jar. You can converse with him as you do with your friends (he hears you!) or simply drown out the world and reflect upon him and your duty to him.
The idea here is that repetitive actions firstly shows Imām Mahdī (ʿaj) that you care about him. Furthermore, our love, respect, and admiration for him will eventually move from our tongue and enter our heart and be reflected in our actions and lead to the strengthening of our faith.
When we attain true faith, it increases our certainty in the Imām (ʿaj) and his eventual reappearance. As a result, we will perform actions, not only more eagerly, but with greater presence of mind.
In this regard, Prophet Muḥammad (ṣ) has said: “Faith is inner knowledge by means of the heart, attestation with the tongue and action with the limbs.”
Imām Mahdī (ʿaj) will slowly and genuinely become the most important person in your life (we all say he is, but it’s difficult to act on it).
We remember once reading about a family who would set the dinner table and leave one chair and plate reserved for the Imām (ʿaj). It might sound silly to some but it symbolically showed he is a part and parcel of their life.
So, feel free to get creative!
Active listening is a communication technique that involves fully focusing on, understanding, and engaging with the person speaking.
In a friendship, active listening is important because it demonstrates that you value and respect the person you are communicating with and makes the friendship stronger.
But hang on – how do we actively listen to Imām Mahdī (ʿaj)?! He is hidden in plain sight!
Although the Imām (ʿaj) is not speaking to us everyday, we have an idea of what he wants from us. So, in a general sense, he is speaking to us.
There is a reason why Prophet Muḥammad (ṣ) in his final sermon made the Qurʾān and the Ahlul Bayt (ʿa) the two weighty things – because adherence to both prevents one from going astray.
Similarly, we have 1000s of ḥadīth from the other Immaculate Imāms (ʿa) with countless guidance. Following these would be the same as following the current Imām (ʿaj).
Complying with the laws and lifestyle of Islam is a way of telling Imām Mahdī (ʿaj) that we are actively listening to him. We are hearing, we are understanding, we are acting, and we accept his guidance!
Many Muslims (us included!) are guilty of passively listening to the Imām (ʿaj). This means we are reading the Qurʾān but not acting on it. We are performing the compulsory prayers but without concentration. We are meeting the criteria of fasting according to Islamic law but not in the spirit of fasting, such as ensuring all our organs fast. We pray for Imām Mahdī (ʿaj) but – God forbid – could be the first to reject him due to our lifestyle.
You get the idea.
Trying our hardest possible to be a Muslim in its truest sense sends a message to Imām Mahdī (ʿaj) that we care and are hastening his reappearance as much as possible. Similar to how we listen to our friends, acknowledge their feelings and what they want from us and do our best to be a good friend and follow up on it.
A good friend acknowledges his or her friend’s feelings, is able to put themselves in their shoes and feel their pain. This mutual sharing of feelings makes the other person feel valued and cared for.
Dear reader, it’s crucial we understand the state our Imām (ʿaj) is in. He is alone and hidden. He is waiting for us to be ready for him so God can finally give him permission to reappear. He can’t reappear without enough support. Every Thursday, our deeds are presented to him. Imām Mahdī (ʿaj) is happy about our good deeds but our sins deeply distress him.
We need to take some time out to acknowledge the Imām’s circumstances and try to look at the world from his lens. With enough reflection, we can identify how we may be contributing to his sadness and disappointment in us, and with this we can strive to correct our behavior. This way, we attain his pleasure and show him that we value his guidance and leadership.
Communication is the bedrock of any friendship. There’s no friendship if you don’t talk! Complement the duʿās and salāms you send him with a form of communication that you’re most comfortable with.
Many of our scholars and thinkers have suggested speaking to him in a conversational way like we do with our friends. When in your bedroom, the car, or walking down the street, just ‘catch up’ with him as you would anyone else.
You can speak to him about anything you want – how your day is going, your problems, your successes and failures – whatever you’re most comfortable with.
He is listening to everything you’re saying and is over the moon you’ve chosen to actively share with him.
And with this, we close the second part of the series on love and followership during the occultation of Imām Mahdī (ʿaj). As mentioned in part one, do not try to do too much too soon in trying to establish a connection with the Imām. Pick one small action and commit to it for the long-run. Build your relationship through that one act and it will give you resilience and capacity to perform more.
May Allah (swt) hasten the reappearance of the Awaited (ʿaj) and may we live to see and enjoy his victory.
Read the third part here.
- Noble Qurʾān, Sūrah adh-Dhāriyāt (51, Verse 55)
- Mizān al-Ḥikmah, Ḥadīth #1086
- For full text, refer to: Mizān al-Ḥikmah, Ḥadīth #2365; Biḥār al-Anwār, Vol. 23, P. 106, Ḥadīth #7