Dr. Hamid Mavani on Imam Mahdi’s Mission


On the occasion of the birth of Imam Mahdi (A.S.) on the 15th day of the month of Sha’ban, ICCNC hosted a talk by Dr. Hamid Mavani entitled, “Social Justice: At the Center of Imam Mahdi’s Mission.” Dr. Mavani, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at Bayan Claremont Islamic Graduate School and a frequent speaker at ICCNC, was emphatic from the very beginning as to the centrality of justice, wedding the figure of Imam Mahdi to the cause of equity, fairness, and the restoration of a just balance. Dr. Mavani prefaced his main talk with a description of our times, an “age of uncertainty and doubt,” where everything must be proven by a narrow definition constituting “science.” Modern people have adopted a reflexive confidence in reason and feel no need for recourse in revelation, accelerating an anthropocentrist vision of the universe. “Why do we need revelation when we have reason?” they might rhetorically ask. The concept of an Imam of the Age, a messianic principle, would appear to be challenged by these circumstances. Unlike some observable phenomena that conform to a sense-based rendering of the sciences, the Imam does not exist under a microscope and cannot be empirically studied in a laboratory. So how can we prove his existence, asks Mavani. The Qur’an early-on reminds us that our faith in the unseen is what establishes a more encompassing view of the cosmos. Dr. Mavani offers Surah al-Baqarah, Verses 2-3 (This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah. Who believe in the unseen, establish prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them) as evidence of the centrality of the unseen in the moral universe. Opposite hadhir, that which is present to the senses, the unseen (ghayb) includes those forces that transcend this category and are specially accessible to perspicacious individuals.

The Qur’an often pairs belief with charitable actions, underscoring the close relation between the seen and the unseen and between the physical and the metaphysical. Mavani affirms that only when our beliefs and values are put into practice and become realized in the arena of justice are they the most valuable. Implicit in the meaning of vicegerency (khilafah) in Islam, as Mavani claims, is stewardship in maintaining balance, whether material in the form of protecting our natural environment or within the metaphysical values of racial, social, and economic justice. Here, we discover the true function of Imam Mahdi, to inspire a recalibration of our relation with the world, an ordering of truth that drives history toward perfection. This is also where one may discover the Imam, located in the spirit and hope for the good, his pure existence dependent on its realization through our efforts.

As Mavani states, this purpose of the Imam is consistent in both Shi’a and Sunni traditions, the divergence in traditions related mainly to the time of the Mahdi’s birth; While Shi’a believe the Mahdi was born on the 15th of Sha'ban, 255 AH, Sunnis maintain that he will be born on an undetermined date in the future. Also consistent between both traditions are those who appear in service of his mission as “reformers” (mujadids). The Prophetic tradition is replete with references to mujadids who contribute to, as Mavani describes, a “community of equilibrium” restoring greater balance, often by challenging believers to re-evaluate their assumptions of Islam. Mavani enumerates several categories of balance, including between rights and duties, the spiritual and the physical, reason and revelation, women and men, the individual and the collective, and in jurisprudential terms, muʿamalat (dealings and transactions) and ʿabadat (acts of worship). As if to drive his point home, Dr. Mavani ended his inspiring lecture by balancing a serious talk on justice with some levity in the form of several jokes.