The Occultation
The Occultation in Shia Islam refers to a belief that the messianic figure, or Mahdi
In Islamic eschatology, the Mahdi is the prophesied redeemer of Islam who will stay on Earth for seven, nine or nineteen years- before the Day of Judgment and, alongside Jesus, will rid the world of wrongdoing, injustice and tyranny.In Shia Islam, the belief in the Mahdi is a "central religious...

, who in Shi'i thought is an infallible
‘Iṣmah or ‘Isma is the concept of infallibility or "divinely bestowed freedom from error and sin" in Islam. Muslims believe that Muhammad and other prophets in Islam possessed ‘iṣmah. Twelver and Ismaili Shia Muslims also attribute the quality to Imāms and Fatima Zahra, daughter of Muhammad...

 male descendant of the founder of Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

, Muhammad
Muhammad |ligature]] at U+FDF4 ;Arabic pronunciation varies regionally; the first vowel ranges from ~~; the second and the last vowel: ~~~. There are dialects which have no stress. In Egypt, it is pronounced not in religious contexts...

, was born but disappeared, and will one day return and fill the world with justice. Some Shi'is, such as the Zaidi
Zaidiyya, or Zaidism is a Shi'a Muslim school of thought named after Zayd ibn ʻAlī, the grandson of Husayn ibn ʻAlī. Followers of the Zaydi Islamic jurisprudence are called Zaydi Shi'a...

 and Nizari
'The Shī‘a Imami Ismā‘īlī Tariqah also referred to as the Ismā‘īlī or Nizārī , is a path of Shī‘a Islām, emphasizing social justice, pluralism, and human reason within the framework of the mystical tradition of Islam. The Nizari are the second largest branch of Shia Islam and form the majority...

 Ismaili, do not believe in the idea of the Occultation. The groups that do believe in it differ on the succession of the Imamate, and therefore which individual is in Occultation. The Hidden Imam is still considered to be the Imam of the Time
Imamah (Shi'a doctrine)
Imāmah is the Shia doctrine of religious, spiritual and political leadership of the Ummah. The Shīa believe that the A'immah are the true Caliphs or rightful successors of Muḥammad, and further that Imams are possessed of divine knowledge and authority as well as being part of the Ahl al-Bayt,...

, to hold authority over the community, and to guide and protect individuals and the Shi'i community.


In Twelver Shia Islam, the largest branch of the Shia faith, the twelfth imam
Twelve Imams
The Twelve Imams are the spiritual and political successors to Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, in the Twelver or Ithna-‘ashariyyah branch of Shī‘ah Islam....

, Muhammad al-Mahdi
Muhammad al-Mahdi
Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Mahdī is believed by Twelver Shī‘a Muslims to be the Mahdī, an ultimate savior of humankind and the final Imām of the Twelve Imams...

, went into Occultation in 873. The Occultation is split into the Minor Occultation and the Major Occultation.

Minor Occultation

The Minor Occultation (Ghaybat al-Sughra) refers to the period when the Twelver Shia believe the Imam still maintained contact with his followers via deputies (Arab.
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

 an-nuwāb al-arbaʻa). During this period, from 874
Year 874 was a common year starting on Friday of the Julian calendar.- Europe :* Ingólfur Arnarson arrives as the first permanent Viking settler in Iceland, settling in Reykjavík ....

Year 941 was a common year starting on Friday of the Julian calendar.- Births :* Charles d'Outremer, son of Louis IV of France* Brian Bórumha mac Cennétig, High-King of Ireland...

 AD, the deputies represented him and acted as agents between him and his followers.

Shia believe that in 873, after the death of his father al-`Askari, the eleventh Imam, the 12th Imam (who was only four years old) was hidden from the authorities of the `Abbasid caliphs as a precaution. His whereabouts were disclosed only to a select few. Four of his father's close associates became mediators–known as Saf’ir–between the Imam and his followers, until the year 941. This period is considered by Twelvers to be the first or the Minor Occultation (al-Ghayba) of the Twelfth Imam.

Whenever the believers faced a problem, they would write their concerns and send them to his deputy. The deputy would obtain the Imam's verdict, endorse it with his seal and signature, and return it to the concerned parties. The deputies also collected zakat
Zakāt , one of the Five Pillars of Islam, is the giving of a fixed portion of one's wealth to charity, generally to the poor and needy.-History:Zakat, a practice initiated by Muhammed himself, has played an important role throughout Islamic history...

 and khums
Khums is the Arabic word for One Fifth . According to Shia Islamic legal terminology, it means "one-fifth of certain items which a person acquires as wealth, and which must be paid as an Islamic tax"....

 on his behalf. For the Shia, the idea of consulting a hidden Imam was not something new, because the two prior Shia Imams had, on occasion, met with their followers from behind a curtain.

Shi'a tradition holds that four deputies
The Four Deputies
In Twelver Shia Islam, the Four Deputies were the four individuals who served as messengers between the community and the twelfth and final Imam, upon him going into the Minor Occultation.Twelver Tradition hold that four deputies acted in succession to one another:...

 acted in succession:
  1. Uthman ibn Sa’id al-Asadi
    Uthman ibn Sa’id al-Asadi
    In Twelver Shia Islam, Uthman ibn Sa'id al-Asadi was the first of The Four Deputies appointed by the twelfth and final Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, while he was in the Minor Occultation....

  2. Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Uthman
    Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Uthman
    In Twelver Shia Islam, Uthman ibn Sa'id al-Asadi was the second of The Four Deputies appointed by twelfth and final Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, while he was in the Minor Occultation....

  3. Abul Qasim Husayn ibn Ruh al-Nawbakhti
    Abul Qasim Husayn ibn Ruh al-Nawbakhti
    Abul Qasim Husayn ibn Ruh al-Nawbakhti In Twelver Shia Islam, was the third of The Four Deputies appointed by twelfth and final Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, while he was in the Minor Occultation....

  4. Abul Hasan Ali ibn Muhammad al-Samarri
    Abul Hasan Ali ibn Muhammad al-Samarri
    In Twelver Shia Islam, Uthman ibn Sa'id al-Asadi was the fourth and last of The Four Deputies appointed by the twelfth and final Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, while he was in the Minor Occultation. Unlike his predecessors he had not appointed a successor, and the Major Occultation began....

In 941 (329 AH), the fourth deputy announced an order by Muhammad al-Mahdi that the deputy would soon die, the deputyship would end, and the Major Occultation would begin.

The fourth deputy died six days later, and the Shi'a Muslims continue to await the reappearance of the Mahdi. In the same year, many notable Shi'a scholars such as Ali ibn Babwayh Qummi
Ali ibn Babwayh Qummi
Ali ibn Babawayh Qummi was a Twelver Shi'a scholar from the time of the Ghaybat al-Sughra. He's the father of Shaikh Saduq.He wrote a letter to Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi, asking for prayer for him to have a child, as doctors had told him he could not have one. Thus was always called his son, Shaikh...

 and Muhammad ibn Yaqub Kulayni, the learned compiler of al-Kafi also died.

Major Occultation

The Major Occultation denotes the second, longer portion of the Occultation, which continues to the present day. Shia believe, based on the last Saf’ir's deathbed message, that the Twelfth Imam had decided not to appoint another deputy. Thus, al-Samarri's death marked the beginning of the second or Major Occultation. According to the last letter of Muhammad al-Mahdi to Ali ibn Muhammad al-Samarri,
from the day of your death [the last deputy] the period of my major occultation will begin. Henceforth, no one will see me, unless and until Allah makes me appear. My reappearance will take place after a very long time when people will have grown tired of waiting and those who are weak in their faith will say: What! Is he still alive?"

Rest assured, no one has a special relationship with God. Whoever denies me is not from my (community). The appearance of the Relief depends solely upon God. Therefore, those who propose a certain time for it are liars. As to the benefit of my existence in occultation, it is like the benefit of the sun behind the clouds where the eyes do not see it. - Kitab al-Kafi
Kitab al-Kafi
The Kitāb al-Kāfī is a Twelver Shī‘ah hadīth collection compiled by Muhammad Ya‘qūb Kulaynī. It is divided into three sections: Usūl al-Kāfī, which is concerned with the principle of religion, Furū al-Kāfī, which is concerned with the details of religious law, and Rawdat al-Kāfī, which is...

, Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni 

With regard to advice for his followers during his absence, he is reported to have said: "Refer to the transmitters of our traditions, for they are my hujja (proof) unto you and I am God’s proof unto them."


Ismaili before the rise of the Fatimid Empire believed that Muhammad ibn Ismail
Muhammad ibn Ismail
Muhammad ibn Ismail was the son of Ismail ibn Jafar and an Ismaili Imam. The majority of Ismaili follow his descendants through his son Wafi Ahmad / Abdullah ibn Mohammad who founded the Fatimid Empire, including the Nizari and Mustaali.- Biography :...

 had gone into Occultation, and were called Sevener to reflect their belief in only seven imams, Muhammad's father Ismail being the last till his return. The Qarmatian Sevener branch accepted a Persian prisoner by the name of Abu'l-Fadl al-Isfahani from Isfahan, who claimed to be the descendant of the Persian kings, as the returned Muhammad ibn Ismail
and also as their Mahdi. They rampaged violently across the Middle-East in the tenth century, climaxing their bloody campaign with the stealing of the Black Stone
Black Stone
The Black Stone is the eastern cornerstone of the Kaaba, the ancient stone building towards which Muslims pray, in the center of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is revered by Muslims as an Islamic relic, which according to Muslim tradition dates back to the time of Adam and Eve.The...

 from the Kaaba
The Kaaba is a cuboid-shaped building in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and is the most sacred site in Islam. The Qur'an states that the Kaaba was constructed by Abraham, or Ibraheem, in Arabic, and his son Ishmael, or Ismaeel, as said in Arabic, after he had settled in Arabia. The building has a mosque...

 in Mecca
Mecca is a city in the Hijaz and the capital of Makkah province in Saudi Arabia. The city is located inland from Jeddah in a narrow valley at a height of above sea level...

 in 930 under Abu Tahir Al-Jannabi
Abu Tahir Al-Jannabi
Abū-Tāhir Sulaymān Al-Jannābī was the ruler of the Qarmatian state in Bahrain and Eastern Arabia, who in 930 led the sacking of Mecca.The son of ‘Abu Sa’id al-Jannabi, the founder of the Qarmatian state, Abu Tahir became leader of the state in 923...

. After the arrival of the Mahdi they changed their qiblah from the Kaaba to the Zoroastrian-influenced fire. After their return of the Black Stone in 951 and defeat by the Abbasids in 976 they slowly faded out of history and no longer have any adherents.


According to the Tayyebi branch
Tayyibi is a branch of Mustaali Ismailism that split with the Fatimid supporting Hafizi branch by believing Taiyab abi al-Qasim was the rightful Imam. They are the surviving branch of the Mustaali and have split into Dawoodi Bohra, Sulaimani Bohra, and Alavi Bohra.Upon the death of the 20th Imam...

 of Mustaali
The Musta‘lī Ismā'īlī Muslims are so named because they accept Al-Musta'li as the nineteenth Fatimid caliph and legitimate successor to his father, al-Mustansir...

' is a branch of Shia Islam. It is the second largest branch of Shia Islam, after the Twelvers...

 Shi'a Muslims
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

, during the Occultation of the twenty-first imam, Taiyab abi al-Qasim
Taiyab abi al-Qasim
aṭ-Ṭayyib Abī l-Qāṣim was, according to Ṭayyibī Musta‘lid Isma‘ili Muslims, the 21st and the last Fatimid Imām, the hereditary leader of the Muslim community in the direct line of ‘Ali). Abī l-Qāṣim was the son of the 20th Fatimid Imām, Mansur al-Amir Bi-Ahkamillah, was the ruler of Egypt from...

, a Da'i al-Mutlaq
Da'i al-Mutlaq
The term Dāʻī al-Mutlaq literally means "the absolute or unrestricted missionary". In Ismā'īlī Islām, the term dāʻī has been used to refer to important religious leaders other than the hereditary Imāms, and the Daʻwa or "Mission" is a clerical-style organisation. "The Daʻwa" was a term for the...

, meaning unrestricted missionary, maintains contact with him. The several branches of the Mustaali differ on who the current Da'i al-Mutlaq is.


The Nizari Ismaili believe that there is no occultation at all, that H.H. Karim Aga Khan is the visible 49th Imam and the descendant of al-Mahdi, and that his authority is no different than the authority of Imam al-Mahdi or Imam Ali the first Imam; he currently provides guidance to Nizari Ismailis with worldly and spiritual matters.


The Druze
The Druze are an esoteric, monotheistic religious community, found primarily in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan, which emerged during the 11th century from Ismailism. The Druze have an eclectic set of beliefs that incorporate several elements from Abrahamic religions, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism...

 believe the imam Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah
Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah
Abu ‘Ali Mansur Tāriqu l-Ḥākim, called Al-Hakim bi Amr al-Lāh , was the sixth Fatimid caliph and 16th Ismaili imam .- History :...

 has gone into the Occultation after he disappeared in 1021 followed by the four founding Da'i
Da‘wah or Dawah usually denotes the preaching of Islam. Da‘wah literally means "issuing a summons" or "making an invitation", being the active participle of a verb meaning variously "to summon" or "to invite"...

 of the Druze sect including Hamza ibn-'Ali ibn-Ahmad
Hamza ibn-'Ali ibn-Ahmad
Hamza ibn ‘Alī ibn Aḥmad was an 11th century Ismaili and founding leader of the Druze sect. He was born in Zozan in Greater Khorasan in Samanid-ruled Persia ....

 leaving the leadership to a fifth leader called Baha El-Deen. The Druze refused to acknowledge the successor of Al-Hakim as an Imam
An imam is an Islamic leadership position, often the worship leader of a mosque and the Muslim community. Similar to spiritual leaders, the imam is the one who leads Islamic worship services. More often, the community turns to the mosque imam if they have a religious question...

 but accepted him as a Caliph
The Caliph is the head of state in a Caliphate, and the title for the ruler of the Islamic Ummah, an Islamic community ruled by the Shari'ah. It is a transcribed version of the Arabic word   which means "successor" or "representative"...

 . The faith further split from Ismailism as it developed very unique doctrines which often classes it separately from both Ismailism and Islam.

Scholarly observations

Some scholars, including Bernard Lewis
Bernard Lewis
Bernard Lewis, FBA is a British-American historian, scholar in Oriental studies, and political commentator. He is the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University...

 also point out, that the idea of an Imam in occultation was not new in 873 but that it was a recurring factor in Shia history. Examples of this include the cases of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah
Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah
Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah surnamed Abu'l-Qasim was an early Muslim leader. He was a son of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the first Shi'ite Imam and the fourth Sunni Caliph.-Biography:...

 (according to the Kaysanites Shia
Kaysanites Shia
The Kaysanites were a once dominant Shi'a Ghulat sect that formed from the followers of Al-Mukhtar. They believed in the Imamate of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah. Following the death of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah the sect split up into numerous sub-sects, each with their own Imam and unique beliefs...

), Muhammad ibn Abdallah An-Nafs Az-Zakiyya
Muhammad ibn Abdallah
Muhammad ibn Abdillah Al-Mahd ibn al-Hasan al-Muthanna ibn al-Hasan ibn 'Ali ibn Abi Talib or Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya was a descendant of Muhammad through his daughter Fatimah...

, Musa al-Kadhim
Musa al-Kadhim
' was the seventh of the Twelve Imams of Twelver Shi'a Islam. He was the son of Imam and his mother was Hamidah Khātūn, a student and former Zanjiyyah slave...

 (according to the Waqifite Shia
Waqifite Shia
The Waqifite Shia were a Shia sect who accepted the Imamate of Musa al-Kadhim, but refused to accept the Imamate of his successor Ali ar-Ridha.-Beliefs:The Waqifites believed in the Mahdism and the occultation of Imam Mūsà ibn Ja‘far al-Kāẓim...

), Muhammad ibn Qasim (al-Alawi)
Muhammad ibn Qasim (al-Alawi)
Muhammad ibn Qasim was an Alawite Imam. He led an Alawite rebellion that took place in Taloqan at the beginning of the 3rd century of Hijrah , in the year 219 A.H and during the days of the Caliphate of Al-Mu'tasim. However, Al-Mu'tasim defeated and arrested him and carried him to Baghdad,...

, Yahya ibn Umar
Yahya ibn Umar
Yahya ibn Umar ibn Yahya ibn Husayn ibn Zayd ibn Ali Zayn al-Abidin ibn Al-Husayn ibn Ali al-Murtada was an Alid Imam. His mother was Umm al-Husayn Fatimah bint al-Husayn ibn Abdallah ibn Ismail ibn Abdullah ibn Ja`far ibn Abī Tālib. In the days of the Abbasid Caliph Al-Musta'in, he marched out...

 and Muhammad ibn Ali al-Hadi
Muhammad ibn Ali al-Hadi
Muhammad ibn Ali al-Hadi was the son of Ali al-Hadi and the brother of Hasan al-Askari, the 10th and 11th Twelver Shia Imams respectively.A section of the Imamate Shiites believed that the Awaited Imam Mahdi was Muhammad ibn Ali al-Hadi, who died suddenly in Dajil. They believed in his occultation,...


Bahá'í views

In the Bahá'í Faith
Bahá'í Faith
The Bahá'í Faith is a monotheistic religion founded by Bahá'u'lláh in 19th-century Persia, emphasizing the spiritual unity of all humankind. There are an estimated five to six million Bahá'ís around the world in more than 200 countries and territories....

, which sees the Báb
Siyyid `Alí Muḥammad Shírází was the founder of Bábism, and one of three central figures of the Bahá'í Faith. He was a merchant from Shíráz, Persia, who at the age of twenty-four claimed to be the promised Qá'im . After his declaration he took the title of Báb meaning "Gate"...

 as fulfilling the Islamic prophecy of al-Mahdi, Bahá'u'lláh
Bahá'u'lláh , born ' , was the founder of the Bahá'í Faith. He claimed to be the prophetic fulfilment of Bábism, a 19th-century outgrowth of Shí‘ism, but in a broader sense claimed to be a messenger from God referring to the fulfilment of the eschatological expectations of Islam, Christianity, and...

 and `Abdu'l-Bahá
‘Abdu’l-Bahá , born ‘Abbás Effendí, was the eldest son of Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith. In 1892, `Abdu'l-Bahá was appointed in his father's will to be his successor and head of the Bahá'í Faith. `Abdu'l-Bahá was born in Tehran to an aristocratic family of the realm...

 considered the story of the Occultation of the twelfth imam in Twelver belief to have been a pious fraud conceived by a number of the leading Shí`ahs in order to maintain the coherence and continuity of the Shí`ah movement after the death of the 11th Imam, Hasan al-`Askarí. Bahá'ís
Bahá'í Faith
The Bahá'í Faith is a monotheistic religion founded by Bahá'u'lláh in 19th-century Persia, emphasizing the spiritual unity of all humankind. There are an estimated five to six million Bahá'ís around the world in more than 200 countries and territories....

 believe that Sayyid `Alí Muhammad-i-Shírází, known as the Báb, is the promised Twelfth Imam, the Mahdi, who had already made his advent and fulfilled all the prophecies. The Shaykhi movement
Shaykhism is an Islamic religious movement founded by Shaykh Ahmad in early 19th century Qajar Iran. It began from a combination of Sufi and Shi‘a doctrines of the end times and the day of resurrection. Today the Shaykhi populations retain a minority following in Iran and Iraq...

 of the early 19th century claimed to have made preparations for the Mahdi. In 1848 the Báb and his followers began to teach more openly, and the Báb was publicly executed
Execution of the Báb
On the morning of July 9, 1850 in Tabriz, a young Persian merchant known as the Báb was charged with apostasy and shot by order of the Prime Minister of the Persian Empire...

in 1850.
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