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Skeptics raise questions on the belief / existence of Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.) by criticizing reports on the Mahdi as doubtful or portraying the narrators as unreliable.
Traditions related to Imam Mahdi’s (a.t.f.s.) belief and existence cannot be rejected by raising token criticism on the reports / reporters related to Mahdi. As we will prove reports on the Mahdi are prolific reaching to the level of ijma / consensus on his existence. Discrediting the belief in Mahdi given the ijma over it, is a pointless exercise.
For the discussion we have drawn significantly from Ashraf Ali Thanvi’s (Ahle Tasannun scholar) rebuttal to Ibn Khaldun (a Sunni histographer) on the topic of Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.).
Critics who classify reports / narrators on Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.) as unreliable / doubtful surely realize that such questions / doubts can also be raised about the narrators of the two Sahihs (Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim) as well. But these doubts are not taken into account because the two Sahih have been well received and there is consensus on this point and, therefore, those doubts do not affect the authenticity (of the reports in the two Sahihs).
This tells us of a principle accepted by scholars including the skeptics in question that in matters where general consensus is reached, faults with the narrators are not harmful. Here we say that just as there is general consensus on the acceptability of the two Sahihs, the narrations about the advent of Imam Mahdi are also (accepted) by consensus. Just as the opinion of some who question the acceptability of the two Sahihs is not considered to nullify the consensus, the words of antagonists will not affect the consensus about al-Mahdi.
This is because in a general consensus, the view of a few antagonists is not given any consideration. Therefore, none of the reliable scholars and hadith authorities has gone against this consensus.
In fact, Sihah scholars like Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, as also others like Bazzar, Hakim, Tabarani and Abu Ya’la al-Mawsili have mentioned these traditions on the authority of a number of companions including:
1) Ali (a.s.)
2) Ibn Abbas
3) Ibn Umar
5) Ibn Masood
6) Abu Huraira
8) Abu Saeed al-Khudri
9) Umm Habiba
10) Umm Salama (s.a.) among others
The list of companions who report on the Mahdi is by no means exhaustive. And if we were to include the tabe’een in this list, then the number of reports on the Mahdi would be very large.
The reports on Mahdi are related from such famous personalities through different chains of transmitters. Therefore, just as faults with certain narrators in the two Sahihs (Bukhari and Muslim) do not have any effect on the consensus about their reliability, similarly faults with some of the transmitters of the reports about Mahdi do not affect the consensus regarding his existence / belief.
In fact, the consensus about Mahdi is more worthy of acceptance than the consensus on the acceptability of the two Sahihs because consensus on Mahdi is built upon reported text, whereas the consensus about the two Sahihs is based on opinion of scholars and there is no divine text supporting reliability of Muslim and Bukhari.
Moreover, whereas the knowledge of the chain of authorities for the point of consensus is not even essential to support the word of the erudite scholars (listed earlier), its knowledge, albeit through weaker links, will add to and strengthen the consensus on the Mahdi.
That there is no report about the Mahdi in the two Sahihs does not challenge the general consensus on the Mahdi for two reasons:
Firstly, because it is incorrect to say that there is no such tradition in the two Sahihs. In fact, it is there in Sahih Muslim even though it is not categorical. Therefore, even the two Sahihs are not without narrations on the subject.
Secondly, as clarified by the masters of hadith sciences (muhadditheen) and juristic theory (usuliyyeen), consensus does not require positive evidence from all individually; rather, publishing of the opinion of one and the absence of criticism by others is enough to prove it. Thus, as long as there is no proof of Bukhari’s and Muslim’s denial of this narration, it (lack of positive evidence) does not challenge the consensus on Imam Mahdi’s belief.
As a matter of fact, Bukhari did narrate reports about the Mahdi though not in Sahih but in another work. In his Tarikh al-Kabir he has mentioned two reports on the subject; one from the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) reported by Umm Salama (r.a.) and other from Saeed Ibn Musayyib.
- Tarikh al-Kabir v 3 p 346, v 8 p 406
Furthermore, the narrations on the Mahdi were well known even before Bukhari and Muslim and no one denied it. Thus, the consensus was (already) reached and the dissent of certain later people does not nullify the consensus of the earlier generations.
For this reason, the fact that there is general consensus on the advent of Mahdi has been acknowledged even by critics like Ibn Khaldun as he records, ‘it has been well known (and generally accepted) by all Muslims in every epoch, that at the end of time (Akhir al-Zaman) a man from the family (of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.)) will without fail make his (re)appearance . . .’
- Muqaddima (1980) v 2 p 156
Traditions on Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.) – his existence, reappearance, among other aspects are widely narrated by the most reputed of companions and tabe’een and recorded by the most erudite of scholars in their books. That is how this topic has reached the level of general consensus among Muslims. To raise token doubts on reports / reporters, does not challenge the general consensus on Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.) in any way and cannot be given any consideration.