The Sudden Nature of the Advent of Al-qa'im (as)
The Shia and the Sunni traditionalists have narrated that the advent of Imam al-Mahdi (AS) will be rectified by Allah within just one night. In other words, its time is very unpredictable and depends on Allah's sudden choice of action and his advent will take place miraculously. The Sunnis have narrated from Muhammad Ibn Hanafiyya (RA) and Imam Ali (AS) that the Holy Prophet (PBUH&HF) said:
"al-Mahdi is of us Ahl al-Bait (AS); no doubt, Allah will rectify his matter within a night."[^9] In some other traditions, the Imams (AS) stated that the time of the rising of al-Qa'im (AS) is like the time of the Hour of resurrection, which is completely unpredictable and is known only by Allah. The time of resurrection has not yet been decreed and Allah shall enforce it suddenly once He wills. Di'bil narrated:
Imam Ali Ibn Musa al-Ridha (AS) said, "The Imam after me is my son, Muhammad (AS), and after him is his son Ali (AS), and after Ali is his son al-Hasan (AS), and after al-Hasan is his son the Proof of Allah who shall stand (al-Hujjat al-Qa'im). He is awaited during his occultation and is obeyed during his manifestation. Even if there remains from the life of the world but a single day, Allah shall expand that day until he rises and fills the world with justice in the same way that it was filled with tyranny and injustice.
But when? As for news of the time (of reappearance), indeed my father told me having heard it from his father who heard it from his ancestors who heard it from Ali (AS) that it was asked from the Prophet (PBUH&HF), 'O the Apostle of Allah! When will al-Qa'im from your offspring appear? He said, 'His similitude is the similitude of the Hour (of resurrection). None but He shall manifest it at its time. It is heavy for the heavens and the earth. It will not come to you unless suddenly. (7:187)'"
Allah stated in Quran:
"They ask thee about the Hour - when will be its appointed time? Say, The knowledge thereof is with my Lord (alone). None but He shall manifest it at its time. It is heavy for the heavens and the earth. It will not come to you unless suddenly. They ask thee as if thou were eager in search thereof. Say, The knowledge thereof is with Allah (alone), but most men know not. (7:187)"
In fact, the traditions state that some of the Quranic terms and verses that apparently refer to the day of resurrection alternatively refer to the day of rising of al-Qa'im (AS). These terms include, "the hour (al-Saa'a)"[^10], "the hereafter (al-Akhira)"[^11], "the days of Allah (Ayyam Allah)"[^12], "the day of the religion (Yawm al-Din)"[^13], etc. One of the most important common specifications of both events is their sudden, unexpected, and miraculous manifestation.
Once Allah makes Badaa and creates His decree on the sudden advent of Imam al-Mahdi (AS), the first one who will become aware of it is the Imam (AS) himself through inspiration. Mufadhdhal Ibn Umar narrated:
On the commentary of verse, "Then, when it is knocked in Naqur (74:8)", Imam al-Sadiq (AS) said, "Certainly, of us will be an Imam who will be victorious and will be concealed. Once Allah, the Glorious, wills to manifest his affair, He shall impact his heart with a hint, and thereupon, he will emerge and will rise by the authority of Allah, the Glorious."[^14]
Moreover, Abu Jarud narrated:
I said to Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (AS), "May I be sacrificed for you, inform me about the holder of this matter." The Imam (AS) replied, "He turns from the most fearful person to the most confident one overnight, and his program will be revealed to him in a matter of one night and one day." I asked, "Is this revealed to him?" The Imam (AS) replied, "O Aba Jarud, this is not the revelation of the prophethood. Rather, it will be a revelation similar to the one that He gave to Maryam, the daughter of Imran, to the mother of Moses, and to the honeybee. O Abu Jarud, the Qa'im of the family of Muhammad (PBUH&HF) is more honorable than Maryam, the mother of Moses, and the honeybee!"[^15]
The sudden change of the state of Imam Mahdi (AS) from the state of fear to the state of security, which is also pointed out in verse, "He will most certainly, after their fear, give them security in exchange (24:55)," shows that even the Imam (AS) does not know the time of his uprising until Allah initiates Badaa and makes it a knowable reality and permits his rising. Thus, like his followers, the Imam (AS) is himself an expectant. Of the titles that have been mentioned in the traditions for Imam al-Mahdi (AS) are: "the expected (al-Muntadhar)" and "the expectant (al-Muntadhir)".
All the above pieces of evidence, among others, prove that the time of the rising of Imam al-Mahdi (AS) is of suspended matters (Mawquf) and that his coming is very unpredictable and sudden. This event will be one of the greatest manifestations of Allah's power, which will take place at the time that most people would consider it unfeasible. Allah will suddenly make Badaa and will fully accommodate the Imam's advent within one night. Although the rising of al-Mahdi (AS) is in Allah's will, the time of his rising has not yet been decreed.
Moment by moment expectation due to the unpredictability of the time of rising
The Shia authorities narrated:
Imam al-Sadiq (AS) said to his companions, "Be more hopeful on the things that you consider far-fetched than that which you presume very likely. Verily, Musa Ibn Imran (AS) went to bring fire (to provide heat and light) for his family and he came back to them while he was an Apostle, and this way, Allah rectified the matter of His servant and His Prophet, Musa (AS), within a night. In the same way Allah shall treat al-Qa'im, the twelfth of the Imams (AS). He shall rectify his matter in one night and shall take him from discomfort and concealment into the light of relief and reappearance."[^16]
There are many other Shi'i transmitted traditions, which convey the similarity of the sudden advents for some ancient Prophets (AS) with that of Imam Mahdi (AS).[^17]
The following tradition also shows that we should expect the rising of al-Qa'im at every moment and make ourselves ready for his arrival because his coming is very unpredictable. It is narrated:
Imam Ja'far Ibn Muhammad al-Sadiq (AS) said, "Expect the command/kingdom of your master in every day and night of your (life), and Allah (said) 'Every day He brings in a (new) matter/situation. (55:29)'."[^18]
The notion of continual awaiting/expecting and hoping to see the golden days of the earth at any moment has many positive benefits in our lives. It constantly reminds us the absolute power of Allah. A faithful servant who believes Allah has power to do all things, does not consider anything far-fetched for Him.
Moreover, so long as we expect the Imam (AS), we are hopeful for a better future and will not be disappointed by the difficulties and the problems of our present life no matter how severe they are. In addition, when we realize that Allah may advance the advent of al-Qa'im (AS) to a very near future, we do our best to prepare our spiritual state to receive him. In the last part of this work, we will discuss our duties as the expectant of al-Qa'im (AS), which would lead to Allah's satisfaction so that Allah might decide to waive the remaining time of occultation.
As we have seen, the existence of al-Badaa plays a central role in our way of expecting al-Qa'im (AS). Due to the possibility of Badaa, the fore-told signs are subject to change. If the signs were unchangeable there would be no point to wait all the time and in every moment. Having faith in change and alteration by Allah, everyone would keep himself ready every morning, every evening and all the time in between to receive the Imam (AS). According to the traditions, waiting for the Imam (AS) at any moment is the best deed and the most significant act.
Such action is meaningful only when the changes in the aforementioned signs are possible. A person who has no faith in alteration of signs and thinks of the reappearance of Imam (AS) after sighting of the signs is actually waiting primarily for the sighting of signs and then for the Imam (AS). Such an individual may deny Imam al-Mahdi (AS) if he reappears without the signs being fulfilled. To the contrary, the traditions give prime importance to the promise of the reappearance of the Imam (AS) and consider the appearance of the signs as an inferior issue. Abu Ubaida al-Hadhaa narrated:
I asked Imam al-Baqir (AS) about this matter (i.e., the rising of al-Mahdi (AS)). He (AS) replied, "Because you expect that it comes to you in a (certain) way, do not deny it (if it happens in another way)."[^19]
It is now clear that we should wait for the reappearance of Imam (AS) and not for the sign, and should not consider reappearance before witnessing the foretold signs impossible. It is only in this situation that imploring Allah to hasten the reappearance of Imam (AS) is meaningful. Allah is free to shower His blessings any time He wants. He has created a leader for this task so long ago and has kept him on call in concealment. He can order the reappearance of the Imam (AS) even before the sighting of signs or can change the signs for his early rise. Much more than any of His followers, our Imam (AS) is eagerly waiting for receiving Allah's permission at any moment.
The significance and the purpose of specifying the signs
Specifying the signs before the time of reappearance has its own advantages and benefits. Since the time of reappearance is not known to people, the only way to describe the reappearance is to describe its signs. Observing any of the mentioned signs strengthens one's faith in the reappearance of Imam (AS) and increases his anticipation.
Although whatever indications were given by the Imams (AS) regarding the incidents which are to occur are totally based on the previous decreed decisions, they should not be ignored and should not be considered as insignificant. These signs were not given for the purpose of predicting the time of reappearance, or for urging people to search the scientific data to estimate the time of the occurrence of the sign itself. They, rather, become a reminder for people only after they occur miraculously.
Once a sign occurs, the believers realize that it was amongst the signs that they were foretold, and thus, their faith and confidence will increase, and they will realize that the time of reappearance is closer than ever.
Keeping in mind the issue of al-Badaa, all the mentioned signs before his arrival, even if they finally occur, they may happen miraculously in an unpredictable manner. As we have seen in the second section, some of the signs such as an eclipse of the moon at the end of the month can only happen miraculously. Even for some other signs that can occur naturally and can be predicted by the available physical information, they may still occur supernaturally and thus their predicted schedules may be proven wrong.
The more interesting observation is that, one of the mentioned signs at the end of the time is the rising of the sun from the west, which shows that Allah will miraculously change the direction of the heavenly bodies, and thus, all astronomical data will change according to the new movements. This means that all timely predictions based on the available astronomical data will be proven false due to this single miracle of Allah.
Thus, instead of worrying about the time of the occurrence of the cancelable or at least the unpredictable signs before the rising of Imam al-Mahdi (AS), one should care about keeping faith in the Imam (AS) and following his Sunna. Only in that way, will one be safe from the afflictions of the end of time no matter if those signs finally occur or not. If some the signs occur he will gain more hope and energy that the appointed time is fast approaching, and if he did not observe the signs he will still remain hopeful to receive the Imam (AS) because he believes that Allah is never restricted by His creation including His previous will and has power to do all things at any moment.