The entire point of the belief in Imamah for both Ahlul Sunnah and the Twelver Shias is the need of the Ummah for constant guidance. For Ahlul Sunnah an Imam is a scholar, a ruler, a leader of congregational prayers, e.t.c. For the Twelver Shias, Imamah is akin to Prophethood, in that Allah (swt) appointed 12 men, each succeeding the other, to lead and guide the Muslims after the death of the Prophet (saw).
The Twelvers believe that the 12th Imam is in occultation. This belief in the occultation of their 12th Imam has presented them with problems since its inception. Since the point of an Imam is to lead and guide the Muslims, the Twelvers were faced with the problem of having to explain how a hidden and inaccessible Imam benefits anyone.
The Twelvers attempted to solve this problems in several ways, one of them being fabricated narrations such as the following:
غير واحد ، عن محمد بن همام ، عن الفزاري ، عن الحسن بن محمد بن سماعة ، عن أحمد بن الحارث ، عن المفضل ، عن ابن ظبيان ، عن جابر الجعفي ن جابر الانصاري أنه سأل النبي صلى الله عليه واله هل ينتفع الشيعة بالقائم عليه السلام في غيبته ؟ فقال صلى الله عليه واله : إي والذي بعثني بالنبوة إنهم لينتفعون به ، ويستضيئون بنور ولايته في غيبته كانتفاع الناس بالشمس وإن جللها السحاب .
[Jabir al-Ansari asked the Prophet (saw): How will the Shi’a benefit from the Qai’m (the one who arises) when he is in hiding? So the Prophet replied : I swear by the One who sent me with Prophethood that they will benefit. They shall be illuminated with the light of his Wilayah during his occultation, just as the people benefit from the sun when it is hidden by the clouds.]
Source: Bihar al-Anwar, volume 52, chapter 20, page number 92
This is a popular explanation that Twelver Shias give when asked how the 12th Imam benefits them while in hiding. It is like the benefit that we receive when the sun is obscured on a cloudy day.
Famous Twelver Shia scholar Allamah Muhammad Baqir Al-Majlisi attempts to explain this , and we quote some of his explanations below:
كما أن الشمس المحجوبة بالسحاب مع انتقاع الناس بها – ينتظرون في كل آن انكشاف السحاب عنها وظهورها ، ليكون انتفاعهم بها أكثر ، فكذلك في أيام غيبته عليه السلام ، ينتظر المخلصون من شيعته خروجه وظهوره ، في كل وقت و زمان ، ولا ييأسون منه .
[When the sun is hidden behind the clouds, it continues to bring benefit to mankind. Nevertheless mankind continues to wait expectantly for it to reappear from behind the clouds so that they may benefit more from it. Similar is the state during the Imam’s concealment. The sincere ones from his partisans await his re-appearance all the time and in every epoch and do not give up hope in him. ]
أن منكر وجوده عليه السلام مع وفور ظهور آثاره كمنكر وجود الشمس إذا غيبها السحاب عن الابصار .
[The denier of his existence despite the abundant proofs of his existence is like the denier of the existence of the sun when the clouds hide it from sight.]
Source: Bihar al-Anwar, volume 52, chapter 20, page number 92-93
In response to this we shall analyse this explanation from both a logical and scientific point of view.
From a logical point of view we say that the sun is apparent to everyone before it is obscured by clouds. None can deny it exists because they saw it before it was obscured, and the sun is visible to all the people on Earth for the majority of their lives, no two individuals differ on its existence.
To make an analogy with the 12th Imam, we would have to say that only 2-3 people ever saw the sun before it was completely hidden by clouds, these people contradicted each other as to how it was obscured, and it has been obscured permanently ever since.
This is because some Shiites will say he’s hidden because he fears being killed by his enemies. Others say: “No no, he is only hiding so that God may test our faith.” Others say: “No no, he is hiding because he doesn’t have true supporters.” Others say: “No no, he is hiding as a punishment for us from God because of our corruption.” and so on and so forth from endless excuses. As for the sun, nobody differs on why it is concealed by clouds.
From a scientific point of view we must ask – what would happen to the people if the sun were obscured by clouds for over 1,000 years?
We need to assume that the sun is completely obscured by clouds, and that no light is reaching through. This is because the 12th Imam of the Twelver Shias is also completely obscured from the people who never see him. With no (or minimal) light reaching through the clouds, the Earth becomes devoid of solar radiation which is essential for the generation of heat. A sort of new ice age would dawn, with massive ice sheets forming the world over, impeding navigation of the seas and destroying worldwide commerce and trade.
With no solar radiation to provide for photosynthesis, most plant matter would rapidly die. The people would have no grain to make bread, no fruits and vegetables. Animals dependent upon plants would die, and within the space of a few years, humanity would face a catastrophic food crises, leading to mass starvation and famine. The progression of civilisation as we know it would come to a crashing halt, and the extinction of the entirety of humanity would rapidly follow.
So, to conclude, we thank Allah (swt) that he did not afflict us with such a calamity, and that we have Imams that are visible and accessible to us, through whom we seek knowledge and guidance.
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