His name is al-Mahdi (the Guided One) and God is protecting him. In Shi‘a Imamology he is the one who will redeem this corrupt world and establish divine rule on this planet. One of his names is al-Hujja (God’s Proof) and he is expected to reappear to put an end to the iniquities of this world.
His return has been foretold by Prophet Muhammad(s) and all other Imams of the Shi‘a faith. His other name is Sahib al-Zaman (i.e. The Master of the Time) as Time is subservient to him, not him to Time. Time has bowed to him for more than a millennium and by the will of God his youthful existence has remained unperturbed by the ravages of Time.
His name is also Baqiyat Allah (i.e. The Remnant of God) as he is the last of the pure Progeny of Prophet Muhammad (saw) who is treading on this planet, praying to God for his return and for his followers while remaining in touch with his select followers.
He is the Living Imam who brings blessings unto our planet. He is the only Proof whose existence is a surety for the survival of the planet. His followers have been awaiting his return for centuries, supplicating to God every day to expedite his reappearance.
The gathering of his followers every Friday morning is called the Nudba session. In such a gathering, the believers shed tears for their separation from the Hidden Imam and beseech God for his return. The supplications recited during the Nudba sessions are only one of out of more than 40 supplications related to the Living Imam.
Now there is a book in English that contains all supplications related to Imam Mahdi(aj) in one volume. Sahifat-ul-Mahdi(aj), or Divine Supplications, is the latest bilingual (Arabic-English) book published by the Muhammadi Trust, a London-based Islamic organisation that three decades ago gave us the superb edition of another Sahifa, Sahifa Sajjadiyya, also known as The Psalms of Islam.
Whereas Sahifa Sajjadiyya, translated by William Chittick, was a collection of prayers of Imam Ali ibn al-Husayn(a), known as Imam Sajjad or Zain al-Abedin, the latest Sahifa, translated into English by Hamid Tehrani and Afzal Sumar, is a compilation of prayers attributed or related to Imam Mahdi(aj), the Living Imam.
These supplications reflect man’s yearning to be with God, to talk with Him as a Friend, a Confidant, a Beloved, and as the Creator of all beings, as the Master of this world and the world to come. They also reflect the yearning of Imam Mahdi’s followers who have been awaiting his reappearance for more than a millennium.
Sahifat-ul-Mahdi(aj) was originally compiled around three decades ago in Iran and only in Arabic. Later a bilingual edition was also compiled in which Arabic prayers were presented along with their Farsi translation.
The compiler of the new Sahifa is Shaykh Isa Ahari, an Iranian Azeri scholar who explains in the introduction how after a meeting with the late Allameh Muhammad Husayn Tabataba’i in the northwest Iranian city of Tabriz in 1968, he decided to compile the prayers.
He relates how Allameh Tabataba’i had engaged earlier in a dialogue with the renowned French philosopher and Iranophile, Henri Corbin, regarding prayer:
“Allama Tabataba’i said, ‘I once had a discussion with Henri Corbin about supplications. I asked him, ‘What do you do when you feel that you need to supplicate?’… Corbin said, ‘I avail myself of the supplications reported from your Twelfth Imam. Since the person who has composed these supplications is alive, they inspire special fervour.’”
The statement above obviously proves the position of Allameh Tabataba’i as the preeminent Muslim scholar and Quranic exegete of his time and his dialogue with one of the most respected philosophers of the West. It also shows the highest regard for the Shi‘a Imams and the supplications attributed to them by a well-known Western philosopher.
It is noticeable here that although Corbin refers to Imam Mahdi(aj) as ‘your Twelfth Imam’, later according to a number of accounts including Ahari’s, he converted to the Shi‘a faith. Ahari refers to this point in his Persian introduction, ‘Corbin became mustabsir’ (converted to Shi‘a faith).
Sayyid Hussein Nasr is another world class scholar who has testified that Corbin identified so strongly with the Shi‘a faith, that he would use the French phrase ‘nous Shi’ites’, i.e. ‘we Shi‘as’.
The meeting with Allameh Tabataba’i and admiration of Corbin for Imam Mahdi(aj), seems to have inspired Shaykh Ahari to search and compile supplications attributed to the Living Imam.
From the first edition-the Arabic version in 1968 to 1986, Shaykh Ahari visited a number of libraries to ensure he collected all the extant authoritative supplications. The final tally came to 42 supplications.
Although it would have been enough if the latest edition had been published in English only, the beauty of this hardcover bilingual, gilded edition makes the Arabic text also readily available for the reader.
Those who only have a rudimentary knowledge of Arabic can follow the translation in English as the typesetting is such that all corresponding Arabic and English paragraphs are facing each other almost line by line on each page.
The publication of bilingual editions of classics of Islamic literature in recent years has become more prevalent because it makes the original text visible to the English reader. Even if the reader does not know Arabic or Persian, it evokes a sense of authenticity when one is reading the English translation.
Sahifat-ul-Mahdi(aj), or Divine Supplications, provides 18 pages of endnotes. About half of the 99 endnotes provide precise references to classical Shi‘a texts where the supplications were recorded. The other notes provide explanations about how the supplications originated from the Imam Mahdi(aj) and reached his followers. The work is, therefore, of benefit to both the laity and scholars of Muslim culture and civilisation.