sexta-feira, 20 de abril de 2018

Wait and Mystic: The esoteric meaning of Mahdist belief in Shi'ism

By Pedro Ravazzano

To reflect on the return of Imam al-Mahdi is to speak about the outcome of the revelatory dynamic in its deepest mystical sense. The End of Time, with the manifestation of the Expected, is also formed by those two dimensions that are present throughout the Shiite religious and spiritual structure: the apparent-exoteric (zahir) and the occult-esoteric (batin). On the one hand, the collective plan, universal and external, that will be seen in historical movements and, on the other, the internal dimension, interpersonally individual, acting in the hearts of the faithful. It is noted that just as the cycle of prophecy culminates in the Seal of the Prophets, Walayah, which runs parallel to the prophecy from period to period, has a double seal in the Muhammadan revelation: the seal of the general Walayah in the person of the first Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib and the Seal of Muhammadian, Walayah the esoteric aspect of earlier esotericism, in the person of the twelfth Imam, Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Mahdi.

Imam al-Mahdi, son of Imam Hassan al-Askari, from birth and childhood, had a life surrounded by miraculous and fantastic events. One of the most interesting symbolic aspects in his family history, which often goes unnoticed, is about the origin of his mother. According to some reports, she would have been a black slave, probably from Nubia. Other references, however, present her as the granddaughter of the Byzantine emperor, descendant of the apostle Simon. According to this version, the Byzantine princess was captured and sold as a slave in Baghdad, arriving at the entourage of Hakimah Khatun, daughter of the ninth Imam, Muhammad al- Jawad. Tradition says that shortly before being captured, the princess, whose name at the time was Maliki Bash Yashika, found herself in a dream with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with the Lady Fatima. They both urged her to convert to Islam and allow herself to be captured by Muslim troops, for she was destined for a glorious life.

The most interesting points in the maternal origin of Imam al-Mahdi are those that seem to highlight a symbolic substrate of unequaled weight. As part of the dual structure of Shiism, it is possible to see these characteristic notes in Lady Narjis as part of a referential framework. She, while Greek (or Roman) and Christian, before her conversion, grants a character of full universality to her son. He, as the Expected of all peoples, has already overcome the ethnic and religious barriers of his family origin, carrying the blood of the Messenger of Islam and the Apostles of Jesus, the Arabs of the deserts and the Byzantines of the cities. This generational duality is of singular symbolic relevance and connects deeply with the Mahdi's charism in its restorative mission.

In Shiite perspective, the term "Imam" refers to the person who contains within himself the "Muhammadan Light" (al-nur al-mahammadi) which was transmitted through Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet, and Ali the first Imam, to their offspring, ending with the Hidden Imam, end and completeness of the Cosmic Imam in its integral revelatory manifestation. As a result of the presence of this light, the Imam is considered "sinless" (ma'sum) and possesses perfect knowledge of the esoteric and exoteric order. The Imam, as the vehicle of the revelation of God, is the mystical perpetuation of the Divine Being on earth. Therefore, commenting on verse 39:69 - "And the earth shall shine with the light of his Lord" - Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq said, "the Lord of the Earth is the Imam of the Earth." The existence of Imam al-Mahdi is the validation, on the part of Shi'ism, of the spiritual heart of the world. Allamah Tabataba'i, in "Shi'ite Islam," recalled that even before its eschatological appearance, the Imam Expected already exerts this mystical force on the life of the believers, acting as the transcendent pole to which all those who seek God converge.
"The duty of the Imam is not only the formal explanation of the religious sciences and exoteric guidance of the people. In the same way that he has the duty of guiding men outwardly, the Imam also bears the function of walayat and the esoteric guidance of men. It is he who directs man’s spiritual life and orients the inner aspect of human action toward God. Clearly, his physical presence or absence has no effecting this matter. The Imam watches over men inwardly and is in communion with the soul and spirit of men even if he be hidden from their physical eyes. His existence is always necessary even if the time has not yet arrived for his outward appearance and the universal reconstruction that he is to bring about."
The advent of the Imam presupposes the elevation of the hearts of men. In one respect, the faith of his followers depends on the progressive fulfillment of this personal Parousia, through its own act of being. The believer who discovers the Light of the Imam of Time and the initiation he bestows also returns to the origin, given that, in a mystical sense, he remakes the primordial initiation when, in the World of Particles, his preexisting entity was initiated in the divine secrets by the luminous form of the archetypal Imam. In this sense, the collective dimension of Mahdi's messianism, emphatically marked by violence and the battle against evil, actualizes the primordial battle between the forces of intelligence and ignorance. Trapped since the dawn of creation, this struggle writes the history of humanity, since it has repercussions from time to time in the conflict that places the Imams and his initiates against the forces of darkness and counter-initiation.

Through spiritual restoration, through a universal initiation, lifting the veil that separates the exoteric from the esoteric, the Qa'im cyclically rescues the world, returning to this original "moment" when only those full of wisdom inhabited the universe. In this context, the Mahdi eschatological battle is the ultimate in this endless cosmic war that will seal the ultimate victory of the Intelligence forces over those of Ignorance. This victory thus constitutes the return to the origin, since overcoming the Ignorance and its Armies, the Mahdi recovers the world to its original state. In this sense, Islamic eschatology departs from the Christian notion, for example. While in the Muslim worldview there is a cyclical process of resumption of the original sense of creation and existence, Christianity understands the end of time within an evolutionary and progressive framework.

The universal sign of the return of the Expected is the widespread invasion of the earth by Evil and victory over the Good, thus requiring in some way the manifestation of the eschatological Savior, the source of hope and redemption. Obviously, what characterizes the world immediately before the coming of the Mahdi is the loss of the meaning of the sacred, the obliteration of everything that connects man to God and his neighbor, a general failure to observe religious precepts and moral duties, human values. As a historical reason, it may be pointed out that, first, the Expected returns to revenge for the death of Imam Hussein.

As Henry Corbin observes, there is a curious convergence between the way Shi'ism conceives of Imam al-Mahdi and how the action of the Christian Paraclete is especially understood by some movements, such as the Joaquimites of the 16th century, followers of the heretical monk Joachim of Fiore. Within both notions, the story was directed by a paracletical idea, inspiring modes of thought and dialectical dynamics with views to the kingdom of the "Holy Spirit". Islam along with other religions, especially Judaism and Christianity, distorted and abandoned by their followers, will be graced with the reestablishment of their original integrity. Men will recover their Sacred Intelligence, the "inner imam" that dwells within human beings. As the light of the Imam is the heart of believers, the light of al-Mahdi will resonate directly in this luminous organ of sacred perception reigning in the heart. Thus, as a result of the awakening of spiritual consciousness, religions will be restored and freed from their imperfections. They will no longer be mere exoteric structures, but esoteric spiritual teachings. This universal initiation of the Pole of the Poles is the liberation of the hearts and the bridge by which of all the human beings will reach the fullness of the Truth.

The Mahdi will provide the believers of each religion with the hermeneutics of the occult meaning of their Sacred Scripture. The fundamental idea is that the expected Imam will bring with it neither a new revealed Book nor a new Law, but will reveal the hidden meaning of all Revelations. He, as the Integral Man, the esoteric aspect of eternal reality, is the revelation of the Revelations. The Parousia of the Imam Expected means a full anthropological revelation that unfolds within the man who lives in the Spirit. The Qa'im returns to restore the lost meaning of the sacred, first rescuing Islam in its original purity and integrity. It is understood, therefore, that without an Imam there is no religion and no esotericism, exoterism loses its direction, its purpose, as well as its meaning. That is why, in the end, the battle will mark the ultimate victory of the "believers" against their "enemies" and the definitive and universal establishment of the full religion.

Another unique aspect of the Mahdist Shia belief is that this, unlike the traditional eschatological "waiting" of the most varied religions, is not done on an absent expectation. The Expected, al-Mahdi, is already known and ceased to be a theological doctrine, as the Jewish Messiah. He exists and is loved by his followers. The Shiite expectation thus becomes something full of life. The Mahdi share the hopes of which believers already participate. As a witness, the Expect becomes a real force of spiritual vivacity for the faithful. This belief makes Shi'ism a unique religious notion among the most varied manifestations of the experience of faith. Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, in his text "An Inquiry Concerning", states:
"Thus, al-Mahdi (peace be upon him) is no longer an idea waiting to be materialized nor a prophecy that needs to be substantiated, but a living reality and a particular person, living among us in flesh and blood, who is sharing our hopes, suffering, sorrows and joys, actually witnessing all the sufferings, sadness and transgression that exist on the surface of the earth, who is affected with all this from near or far, who is waiting for the appropriate moment when he can stretch his hands to every oppressed and needy person and eradicate the tyrants."
Shiite theology is the only one that recognizes the preservation, maintenance and perpetuation of the spiritual direction between man and God, through the charismatic force of the Imamate. For Catholics, for example, magisterial authority is an institution wanted by God, but not an emanation of His Being. However, for the Shiites, the eternal Walayah incarnated in the figure of the Twelve Imams is the continuation of the esoteric dynamics of Muhammadan prophetism, in a spiritual dimension far beyond institutional stability. It may be said in conclusion that Shiite Islam is the only religion that recognizes that the heart of its mystical tenacity still beats a carnal breast in this God-created land. Ayatollah Mohammad Sadeqi Tehrani, commenting on Henry Corbin's relationship with Allamah Tabataba'i in "80 Stories from the Life of Allama Tabatabai," said:
“Corbin was of the opinion that because Shī’ism believes in the existence of a living Imām, it is the only religious sect that it is still alive. This is because the belief and reliance on Hazrat Mahdī (a) will always remain established. The Jewish faith died with the death of Hazrat Mūsa (a), the Christian one with the ascension of Hazrat Isa (a). All other sects of Islām also came to a dead-end with the death of Hazrat Muhammad (s), whereas Shī’ism maintained that the authority, Imām and possessor of Wilāyat who is connected with the spiritual world and receives Divine guidance is alive, and therefore Shī’ism itself remained alive as a religion”
Just as Prophet Muhammad, as the Seal of Prophecy, was the "mazhar" (epiphany) of prophecy in the absolute sense, the first Imam, the "wasi" or heir of Muhammad, was the "mazhar" and seal of "walayah" also in its absolute sense. The partial manifestations of the "walayah" began with Seth, son of Adam, and will culminate with the Madhi - in the present, the hidden Imam - as Seal of the particular walayah during the final period of prophecy. It is worth mentioning that the twelve imams, as a pleromatic unity, form the same light and the same essence. It is understood, therefore, that the Muhammadan Imamate is the manifestation of the esoteric aspect of the eternal prophetic Reality. Thus, the belief in this eschatological return has a historical dimension, of restructuring justice and order. On the other hand, the reappearance of the Mahdi carries in its essence the ransom of the mystical sense of human existence itself. The Expected will bring with him universal initiation, capable of reviving spiritual consciousness. The Mahdi belief is what makes the hope of the future throb in the heart of Shi'ism. Not just a wait for human and earthly redemption, but rather the expectation of the resumption of creational integrity in its original depth.

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