Some so-called Muslims deny the belief in Imam Mahdi (a.s.) as an innovation of the Shias. They either reject Imam Mahdi (a.s.) completely or maintain that he will be born at a later date.
Obviously, these Muslims have not referred to the books of their own scholars who have documented many Quranic verses and traditions proving the existence of Imam Mahdi (a.s.) and establishing it as an Islamic belief and not a Shiite innovation.
The first tradition that we introduce on this subject is widely related, both with regard to its text as well as subject. It is believed to be correct by both the sects of Islam. Apart from other recorders of traditions, Muslim has also quoted it in his Sahih. It proves the necessity of the existence of the Imam Mahdi (a.s.).
The tradition is narrated by the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.):
مَنْ مَاتَ وَ لَمْ يَعْرِفْ اِمَامَ زَمَانِهٖ مَاتَ مِيْتَةً جَاهِلِيَّةً
Whosoever dies without recognizing the Imam of his time, dies the death of paganism (i.e. he dies an infidel).
- Sahîh-e-Muslim trad 1,851
- Musnad-e-Ahmad trad 16,434
- Musnad-e-Abi Dawood Al-Tayaalisi pg 259
- Mujam al-Kabeer trad 910
- Sharh al-Maqaased vol 4 pg 239
- Sharh al-Fiqh al-Akbar pg 179
The tradition is narrated varyingly as:
مَنْ مَاتَ وَ لَيْسَ لَهٗ اِمَامٌ مَاتَ مِيْتَةً جَاهِلِيَّةً
“Whoever died without an Imam died a death of ignorance.”
Sahih-e-Ibn Habbaan trad. 4,573 – Ibn Habbaan is considered by some to be most reliable after the two Shaikhs – Bukhari and Muslim.
This tradition proves that there is an Imam for the Muslims in every era. Put differently it means – there can never be a Muslim in any era but there will be an Imam for him.
This fact is supported by Quranic verses, two of which we are advanced as evidences:
اِنَّمَآ اَنْتَ مُنْذِرٌ وَّلِكُلِّ قَوْمٍ ہَادٍ
…You are only a warner and (there is) a guide for every people.
(Surah Ra’d (13): Verse 7)
يَوْمَ نَدْعُو كُلَّ أُنَاسٍ بِإِمَامِهِمْ
The day when We will call every people with their Imam…
(Surah Bani Israel (17): Verse 71)
Verses like these clearly prove necessity of a divine guide (Hadi) and leader (Imam) in every age for every Muslim.
Abdullah Ibn Umar did not want to die a death of ignorance
The importance of recognizing an Imam in every age becomes clearer when you consider the action of the second caliph’s son, Abdullah b. Umar when he learnt in Medina at night that Abdul Malik had become the caliph. He immediately rose and went to the door of his bloodthirsty and tyrant governor, Hajjaj b. Yusuf – and sought his permission to enter. When Hajjaj asked the reason, he conveyed to him that he had come to pay allegiance for Abdul Malik.
Hajjaj unimpressed with the reason said that he was not free and told Abdullah to come the next day.
Abdullah b. Umar became much perturbed and said – If I die tonight, I would die without paying allegiance to the Imam of the time. And according to the saying of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.), one who dies without recognizing the Imam of his time dies the death of ignorance. Hence you must take allegiance from me now.
Hajjaj called Abdullah inside and said – I am very busy and my hands are not free. You can pay allegiance at my feet.
Thus, Abdullah b. Umar despite being the son of the caliph was reduced to paying allegiance to Abdul Malik at the feet of Hajjaj b. Yusuf, after which he returned happily.
- Sharh-o-Nahj al-Balaaghah by Ibn Abi al-Hadid, vol. 3, p. 362, Egypt edition
It is surprising that the same Abdullah b. Umar did not find it necessary to pay allegiance to Ameer al-Momineen Ali b. Abi Taalib (a.s.) during his apparent caliphate on the death of Usman, their third caliph. Abdullah remained without an Imam for full four and a half years. Did he not fear dying the death of ignorance then?
At any rate, the tradition on recognizing the Imam failing which one dies death of ignorance is a complete guideline for the matter of caliphate. It clearly proves that the existence of an Imam is necessary in every age, whose recognition is incumbent upon all creatures.