|True Recognition of the Imam (AS)|
As the first step, we should have the true recognition of the Imam al-Mahdi (AS) with all his exclusive rights. This is one of the most important conditions for his expectants and is their prime duty. Recognition (Ma'rifat) is not just to know their name and their lineage. In a primary level, recognition means to acknowledge their rights and authorities, while in an advanced level it is to acknowledge their light (Nur). Fudhail Ibn Yasar narrated:
I asked Imam al-Sadiq (AS) about Allah's saying, "On the day that We shall call every group with their (respective) Imam. (17:71)" The Imam (AS) replied, "O Fudhail! Know your Imam, for if you have real understanding of your Imam, postponement or advancement of this matter (al-Faraj) shall not hurt you. He who recognizes his Imam and dies before the rising of the holder of this matter, he is like the one who is sitting in his army. Nay, he is like the one who is sitting under his banner."
Notice also that the above tradition has a pointer to the issue of al-Raj'a (earthly return). The true Imam-cognizant is of the Imam's soldiers and will return to this world by Allah's leave to help the Imam (AS) once he rises. In another tradition, it is narrated:
Imam al-Sadiq (AS) said, "The lowest limit of the recognition of Imam is that He is the peer of the Prophet (PBUH&HF) without the degree of prophethood and is his inheritor, and that obedience to him is obedience to Allah and obedience to His Apostle, and submitting to him in all matters and returning every (religious) issue to him and taking his words."
Furthermore, Sadir narrated:
Imam Baqir (AS) said, "Certainly, people are charged with three obligations: Recognition (Ma'rifa) of the Imams, submission to them in what reaches them (of their instructions), and referring to them in any disagreement (in religious matters)." Moreover, Ibrahim al-Ziyad narrated:
Imam al-Sadiq (AS) said, "He who claims to recognize us but adheres to other handholds is a liar."
The traditions are quite clear that a person who does not refer to Ahl al-Bait (AS) in every religious issue has not recognized Ahl al-Bait (AS) as the guiding Imams. The religion belongs to Allah and any one who has really acknowledged this fact, seeks the knowledge of religion only through His vice-regents. Seeking guidance and religious knowledge from other than Ahl al-Bait (AS) is equivalent to denying them as His vice-regents.
Learning our duties and submitting to words of the Imam (AS)
The expectants should learn about the instructions of Ahl al-Bait (AS) and act upon their commands, which are available to us in the form of Hadith. This can only be achieved if we study the traditions of Ahl al-Bait (AS) in a regular basis and submit to their words:
Imam al-Sajjad (AS) said, "Surely, the religion of Allah shall not be intercepted by the deficient intellects, false opinions, and corrupt criteria. It shall not be grasped except by submission. He who submits to us shall be safe. He who accepts our guidance shall be guided. He who acts upon analogy (Qiyas) and opinion (Ra'y) shall perish. And he who feels difficulty in his heart in accepting our sayings or our verdicts, has disbelieved in the One who sent Quran, the Great, while he does not know."
Imam Ali (AS) said the following in one of his sermons given in Nahj al-Balagha:
"Look at the people of the Prophet's family. Adhere to their direction. Follow their footsteps because they shall never let you out of guidance and shall never throw you into destruction. If they sit down, you sit down, and if they rise up you rise up. Do not go ahead of them for you will go astray, and do not fall behind them for you will perish."
Yazid Ibn Abd al-Malik narrated:
Imam al-Sadiq (AS) said, "Visit each other since this would revive your hearts and would cause reminding of our traditions. Our traditions cause affection among you. If you follow them you will be guided and saved, and if you abandon them you will be misguided and perished. Thus act upon them and I guarantee your salvation."
Educating others about the religion
As an expectant, we should also teach what we know from Ahl al-Bait (AS) to other qualified individuals, narrate their traditions, and transfer what has been conveyed to us from their knowledge:
Imam al-Ridha (AS) said, "May Allah bless he who revives our matter/kingdom." He was asked, "How is your matter/kingdom revived?" The Imam (AS) replied, "To learn our knowledge and to teach them to the people. Verily, if people know the beauty of our sayings, they will follow us." Those who wish to see the kingdom of al-Qa'im (AS) in near future, should learn and act upon the instructions of Ahl al-Bait (AS) first, and then teach them to those who are willing to know. There is a series of wonderful traditions from the Prophet (PBUH&HF) and the Imams (AS)-one from each in consecutive order-narrated by Imam Hasan al-Askari (AS) in his Tafsir, which are known as the traditions of "The Orphans of Family of Muhammad (PBUH&HF)". I only quote the first one, which belongs to the Apostle of Allah (PBUH&HF):
The Imam al-Askari (AS) said, "As for Allah's saying 'and the Orphans (4:36)', indeed the Apostle of Allah (PBUH&HF) said, "Allah, the Glorious, has urged (people) to be kind towards the orphans, due to the severance of their links with their fathers. Therefore, he who protects and shields them, Allah shall protect him. He who honors them, Allah shall honor him. He who touches his hand over the head of an orphan-out of kindness toward him-Allah places for him in Paradise for every strand of hair that passed under his hand, a castle more expansive than what the universe encompasses, and within which is whatsoever the souls desire and the eyes cherish and therein shall they remain forever. (Referring to Verse 43:71).'"
Then the Imam (AS) continued, "More severe than the orphancy of this orphan is that of the one who has been orphaned from his Imam, [whose link with his Imam has been severed,] who is unable to reach him, and who does not know his commandments on those of religious laws that he is in need of them. Behold! For any of our followers who possesses knowledge of our sciences, this [other] person-the one ignorant of our path, who is severed from seeing us-is thus an orphan under his guardianship. Then, behold! Whosoever (of our followers) guides and instructs him, and teaches him our path, he shall be with us in the loftiest companionship [a special degree in Paradise where the Prophets and the Imams reside]. My father reported this to me, from his forefathers, from the Apostle of Allah (PBUH&HF)."