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The Occultation in Shi'a Islam refers to a belief that the messianic figure, al-Mahdi, who in Shi'a thought is an infallible male descendant of the founder of Islam, Muhammad, has been born but has disappeared and will one day return and fill the world with justice. Some Shi'a, such as the Zaidi and Nizari Ismaili, do not believe in the idea of the Occultation. The groups which do believe in it differ upon which lineage of imamate is correct, and therefore which individual has gone into the Occultation. The hidden imam is still considered to be the Imam of the Time, and is seen to still have authority over the community, and continues to guide and protect individuals and the Shi'a community.


In Twelver Shi'a Islam, the largest branch of the Shi'a faith, the twelfth imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, went into the Occultation in 260/873AD. The Occultation according to Twelver Shi'a, is split into the Minor Occultation and the Major Occultation.

Minor Occultation

Shia believe that in 873, after the death of his father al- `Askari, the eleventh Imam, the 12th Imam (who was only four years old) was hidden from the authorities of the `Abbasid caliphs as a precaution. His whereabouts were disclosed only to a select few. Four of his father's close associates became mediators - known as Saf’ir - between the Imam and his followers, until the year 329/941. This period is considered by Twelvers to be the first or the Minor Occultation (al-Ghayba) of the Twelfth Imam.

Major Occultation

Shia believe the last Saf’ir announced on his death-bed in 329/941AD that the Twelfth Imam had decided not to appoint another Saf’ir and had entered into total occultation. From this point to the present is the Twelfth Imam's second occultation, or Major Occultation.[1]



Ismaili before the rise of the Fatimid Empire believed that Muhammad ibn Ismail had gone into Occultation, and were called Sevener to reflect their belief in only seven imams, Muhammad's father Ismail being the last till his return. The Qarmatian Sevener branch accepted a Persian prisoner,a young Persian prisoner by the name of Abu'l-Fadl al- Isfahani, from Isfahan who claimed to be the descendant of the Persian kings as the returned Muhammad ibn Ismail.[2][3][2][4][5][6][7] as their Mahdi, and violently rampaged across the Middle-East in the tenth century, climaxing their bloody campaign with the stealing of the Black Stone from the Kaaba in Mecca in 930 under Abu Tahir Al-Jannabi. After the arrival of the Mahdi they changed their qiblah from the Kaaba to the Zoroastrian-influenced fire. After their return of the Black Stone in 951 and defeat by the Abbasids in 976 they slowly faded out of history and no longer have any adherents.[8]


In Mustaali Ismaili Shi'a Islam, during the Occultation of the twenty-first imam, Taiyab abi al-Qasim, a Da'i al-Mutlaq, meaning unrestricted missionary, maintains contact with him. The several branches of the Mustaali differ on who the current Da'i al-Mutlaq is.


The Druze believe the imam Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah has gone into the Occultation after he disappeared in 1021 followed by the four founding Dai's of the Druze sect including Hamza ibn-'Ali ibn-Ahmad leaving the leadership to a fifth leader called Baha El-Deen. The Druze refused to acknowledge the successor of Al-Hakim as an Imam but accepted him as a Caliph.[9] The faith further split from Ismailism as it developed very unique doctrines which often classes it separately from both Ismailism and Islam.

Other views

Scholarly observations

Some scholars, including Bernard Lewis[10] also point out, that the idea of an Imam in occultation was not new in 873 but that it was a recurring factor in Shia history.

Bahá'í views

In the Bahá'í Faith, which sees the Báb as fulfilling the Islamic prophecy of al-Mahdi, Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá considered the story of the Occultation of the twelfth imam in Twelver belief to have been a pious fraud conceived by a number of the leading Shí`ahs in order to maintain the coherence and continuity of the Shí`ah movement after the death of the 11th Imam, Hasan al-`Askarí.[11] Bahá'ís believe that Siyyid `Alí Muhammad-i-Shírází, known as the Báb, is the promised Twelfth Imam, the Mahdi, who had already made his advent and fulfilled all the prophecies. The Shaykhi movement of the early 19th century claimed to have made preparations for the Mahdi. In 1848 the Báb and his followers began to teach more openly, and the Báb was publicly executed in 1850.


  1. The Ocultation of the Twelfth Imam
  2. 2.0 2.1 Abbas Amanat, Magnus Thorkell. Imagining the End: Visions of Apocalypse. p. 123. 
  3. Delia Cortese, Simonetta Calderini. Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam. p. 26. 
  4. Abū Yaʻqūb Al-Sijistānī. Early Philosophical Shiism: The Ismaili Neoplatonism. p. 161. 
  5. by Yuri Stoyanov. The Other God: Dualist Religions from Antiquity to the Cathar Heresy. 
  6. Gustave Edmund Von Grunebaum. Classical Islam: A History, 600-1258. p. 113. 
  7. Yuri Stoyanov. The Other God: Dualist Religions from Antiquity to the Cathar Heresy. 
  8. "Qarmatiyyah". Retrieved 2007-04-24. 
  9. The Druzes: An Annotated Bibliography by Samy Swayd, Kirkland WA USA: ISES Publications(1998). ISBN 0966293207.
  10. The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam, Bernard Lewis, pp. 23, 35, 49.
  11. Shi`i Islam
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at The Occultation. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.