Replies To The Objections

(a) Longevity

Is it possible for any human being to continue to live for many centuries, as is presumed in the case of this Awaited Saviour who has already lived for more than 1145 years? This long life is about 14 times the life of an ordinary man who passes through all stages of life from infancy to old age.

The impossibility of such a long life is the objection. Let us have a close look at the objection. The word impossibility here (like any other truth) is relative. It has meaning only in relation to some person, place and time. What is impossible for one person need not be so for the others. Then what is impossible in one place may be quite possible in another place. Again what is not possible at one time may be quite possible at another. There is no dearth of illustrations to prove how impossibility is a relative term.

In other words, the possibility of a thing may be of three categories viz. factual possibility, scientific possibility and logical possibility. To journey across the ocean, to reach the bottom of the sea and to travel to the moon are practical possibilities. There are people who have accomplished these tasks in one way or another.

By a scientific possibility we mean that there may be certain things which may not be practicable in the present circumstances but there exists no scientific reason to justify the denial of their practicability in favourable circumstances and the scientific trends indicate that they will be feasible sooner or later. For example, there exists no scientific reason to deny the possibility of man's travelling to Venus. Although, it has not been possible for anyone to go to that planet so far, yet we know that there is only a difference of degree between man's landing on the moon and his landing on Venus. It is only a question of surmounting additional difficulties because of the greater distance. Hence, it is scientifically possible to go to Venus, though practically it is still impossible. In contrast, it is scientifically impossible to go to the sun in the sense that science does not hope that it will ever be possible to manufacture a protective shield against the heat of the sun which is virtually a huge furnace blazing at the highest imaginable degree of temperature.

By a logical possibility we mean that, on the basis of self-evident laws, reason does not regard a thing impossible. For example, it is logically impossible to divide three oranges into two equal parts without cutting anyone of them. It is self-evident that, three being an odd number, it is not divisible into two whole numbers. Only an even number can be so divided and the same number cannot be both odd and even simultaneously, because that will mean self-contradiction which is impossible. But a man's entering into fire without being hurt or going to the sun without being affected by its heat is not logically impossible, for it is not self-contradictory to suppose that heat does not pass. from a body having a higher temperature to a body having a lower temperature. Only experience has proved that if two bodies are mixed or put together, heat passes from a body having higher temperature to a body having lower temperature, till the temperature of both the bodies is at par.

Thus, we know that the scope of the logical possibility is wider than that of the scientific possibility and the scope of the scientific possibility is wider than that of the practical possibility.

There is no doubt that a person's remaining alive for thousands of years is not logically impossible, for there is nothing irrational or self-contradictory about it. Life itself does not imply the sense of quick death.

Admittedly, such a long life is not as practical as descending to the bottom of the sea or ascending to the moon. Notwithstanding the present scientific facilities it has not so far been possible to prolong human life to hundreds of years. Even those who have all the modern facilities at their disposal and are the keenest to continue to live cannot have more than the normal span of life.

As for the scientific possibility there exists nothing to justify its denial from a theoretical point of view. In fact this question is related to the physiological explanation of senility. The question is, whether there exists a natural law according to which human tissues and cells, after attaining the stage of full development, automatically begin to stiffen and degenerate, till they cease functioning at a particular moment or the senile degeneration is caused by some external factors, such as microbes and poisons infiltrating into the body through polluted food, unhealthy jobs or some other causes. It is a question with which science is grappling at present and is earnestly trying to find an answer to it. For the present there is more than one scientific explanation of senility. Anyhow, if we accept the view that senile degeneration is caused by external influences, it means that if the tissues of the human body are secluded from these particular influences it is theoretically possible to prolong life, to delay senility and even to control it eventually.

The other view tends to suppose that living cells and tissues are governed by a natural law according to which they carry within themselves the seeds of their complete exhaustion. They, in their natural course, pass through the stages of old age and senility and eventually cease to function.

Even if we accept this view it does not mean that this natural law is not flexible. In fact it is supposed to be a flexible law, for we see in our ordinary life, and it has been confirmed by scientific laboratory observations also, that senility is an untimely physiological phenomenon in the sense that sometimes it appears early and sometimes very late. It is a common experience which has also been confirmed by the observations of the physicians, that many a man of advanced age still possess a supple body and do not suffer from any old age ailments. It is because of the flexibility of this natural law that the scientists have already succeeded in prolonging the life of certain animals, hundreds of times beyond their normal span of life by artificially creating conditions conducive to the delay of senility.[1]

They have falsified the law of natural senility by acquiring pilliant successes and have made it clear scientifically that to postpone senility or to provide opportunities and specified factors therefore is possible and if present day science is not able to enforce this programme in the case of phenomena like human beings it is on account of the fact that more difficulties are involved in the matter with regard to man as compared with other animals.

In a nutshell, it is logically and scientifically possible to prolong life, though it is still practically impossible to do so. Anyhow, science is endeavouring to make it practical also.

If we consider the question of the Mahdi's age in this light there appears to be nothing strange or surprising about it, for it has been proved that such a long life is logically and scientifically possible and the scientists are working to turn its possibility into a reality. All that appears to be surprising is that the Mahdi has attained such a long life before the scientists have been able to turn its theoretical possibility into a practical one. This phenomenon can be compared to the discovery of a cure for cancer or pain haemorrhage before science can make such a discovery.

If the question is how Islam, which planned the age of the Awaited Saviour, could anticipate science in this field the answer is simple. This is not the only field wherein Islam has anticipated science. The Islamic Shari'ah as a whole anticipated the scientific movement and the natural development of human thinking by several centuries. Islam had already presented, for practical application, the laws which science has taken hundreds of years to discover. It has propounded doctrines, the wisdom of which has been corroborated by science only recently. It disclosed such secrets of the universe which none could think of at that time and the truth of which was later confirmed by science. If we believe in this, then it is not too much for Allah, the Exalted, to anticipate science in planning the age of the Mahdi. We have talked of only those aspects of anticipation which we can see directly. We can add other instances about which Qur'an has told us.

Here we have talked of only those aspects of anticipation by Islam vis--vis science which we can observe directly. It is, however, possible for us to add some other instances of anticipation about matters which it has not been possible for science to comprehend so far. For example, Qur'an tells us that the holy Prophet was carried one night from Masjid al-Haram (at Mecca) to Masjid al-Aqsa (at Jerusalem). If we try to perceive the quality of this journey within the framework of natural laws it points to the application of laws which govern nature in this sense that science has not yet been able to understand them and it will take it hundreds of years more to specify their quality. The same Divine Knowledge, which granted the holy Prophet this high speed long before science could consider it to be possible, also granted long life to his last Divinely appointed successor, long before it could be achieved by science.

(b) Suspension of laws

It is true, as far as common experience and the experiments carried out so far by the scientists are concerned, this long life granted by Allah to the Awaited Saviour appears to be very unusual. But his role of revolutionizing the world order and rebuilding the entire system on the basis of justice and truth is also so extraordinary that neither are the people familiar with it nor has it ever been experienced in history. So it should not be surprising if at the preparatory stage also his role is preceded by some unusual and extraordinary events, like his long life. Howsoever, unfamiliar these events may be, they are not more unusual than the great role to be performed by the Mahdi on the appointed day. If we can relish that role, having no precedent throughout history, there is no reason why we should not relish his long life unprecedented in our ordinary life.

We wonder if it is a mere chance that each of the only two persons who undertook to purify the human civilization of all its impurities and to reconstruct the world should have had a very long life span, several times that of a usual one. One of them played his role in the past. He was Noah, about whom the holy Qur'an has expressly said that he lived among his people for 950 years. He reconstructed the world after the Deluge. The other is to play his role in the future. He is the Mahdi who has already lived among his people for more than a thousand years and is destined to play his role on the appointed day and build the world anew.

How is it then that we accept the longevity of Noah who lived at least for about a thousand years and deny that of the Mahdi.

We have learnt that a long life is scientifically possible but let us suppose that it is not so and the law of senility is inexorable and cannot be defied either today or in future. Then what does this mean? It means only this that to live for centuries, as is the case with Noah and the Mahdi, is contrary to the natural laws established by science through modern methods of experimentation and investigation.

In this case a long life may be accepted as a miracle which suspends a natural law in particular circumstances to preserve the life of a particular person entrusted with a celestial mission. This miracle is not unique in its kind, nor is it alien to the Muslim belief derived from the text of the Qur'an and the Sunnah.

The law of senility is not any the more relentless than the law of the exchange of heat, according to which heat passes from a body having a higher temperature to a body having a lower temperature. This law was suspended to protect Apaham when he was thrown into the burning fire, for this was the only way to preserve his life. The holy Qur'an says: "We said: O fire, be coolness and peace for Apaham". (Surah al-Anbia, 21:69). Accordingly, he came out of the fire unscathed.

In many other cases also natural laws were suspended to protect the prophets and other Divinely appointed people.

The sea was parted for Moses. It appeared to the Romans that they had captured Jesus whereas they had not. Muhammad got out of his house while it was surrounded by a mob of the tribe of Quraish, waiting for an opportunity to assassinate him. Allah concealed him, so that the Quraishites could not see him when he walked out through their midst. In all these cases natural laws were suspended for the protection of the people whose lives the Divine Wisdom wanted to preserve. The law of senility too, can be packeted with these cases of suspension.

From the above discussion we can arrive at a general conclusion and say: Whenever it is necessary to preserve the life of one of the chosen servants of Allah to enable him to accomplish his mission, the Divine Grace intervenes to protect him and one of the natural laws is suspended. On the contrary if the period of his appointment comes to an end and the task entrusted to him by the Almighty is accomplished he meets death in accordance with the natural laws related to life or is martyred.

In this connection we are usually confronted with the following questions.

How can a natural law be suspended and the compulsory relationship existing between the various phenomena be severed?

Will such a suspension not be in contradiction with science which has discovered that law determines the compulsory relationship on the basis of experimentation and investigations?

Science itself has provided an answer to this question. It has already given up the idea of compulsion in respect of natural laws. It only says that these laws are discovered on the basis of systematic observation and experiment. When it is observed that one phenomenon invariably follows another, this invariability is treated as a natural law. But science does not claim that there exists a binding and compulsory relationship between any two phenomena, because compulsion is a factor which cannot be proved by experiment and scientific methods of investigation. Modern science confirms that a natural law as defined by it, speaks only of an invariable association between two phenomena and is not concerned with any compulsory relationship between them.[2]

Hence, if a miracle takes place and the natural relationship between two phenomena peaks down it does not amount to the peaking down of a compulsory relationship.

In fact, a miracle in its religious sense has become more comprehensive in the light of modern scientific theory than it was when the classical view of casual nexus prevailed. According to the old theory it was presumed that the phenomena invariably associated with each other must have an inevitable relationship between them and this inevitability meant that their separation from each other was inconceivable. According to modern scientific thinking, however, this relationship has been transformed into a law of association or invariable succession.

Thus, a miracle need not come into clash with inevitability any longer. It is only on exceptional state of the invariability of association and succession.

We agree with the scientific view that modern scientific methods cannot prove the existence of an inevitable relationship between any two phenomena. Anyhow, we are of the view that there must still be some explanation of the invariability of association and succession. As it can be explained on the basis of the theory of intrinsic inevitability, it can also be explained if we assume that it is the Wisdom of the Organizer of the universe which requires a particular phenomenon to be invariably related to some other phenomenon and that in certain cases the same wisdom may require that there should be an exception. Such exceptional cases are called miracles.

Now let us take up the question as to why Allah is so keen to prolong the Mahdi's life that, even natural laws are suspended for his sake. Is it not advisable to leave the leadership of the appointed day to a person to be born in the future and pought up according to the needs of that time? In other words, what is the justification for this long occultation?

Most of the people who ask this question do not want an answer simply based on belief. It is not enough to say that we believe it to be so. What the interrogators really want is a social explanation of the position in the light of the tangible requirements of the great change expected to be pought about by the Mahdi.

Hence, we leave aside for the time being the qualifications we believe the infallible Imams to have possessed and take up instead the following question:

Is it likely, in the light of the past experience, that such a long life of the leader-designate will contribute to his success and will enable him to play his role better?

Our reply to this question is in the affirmative. Some of the reasons are given below:

The proposed great revolutionary change requires that its leader should possess a unique mental calipe. He should be conscious of his own superiority and the insignificance of the knotty system he has to overthrow. The more conscious he is of the insignificance of the corrupt society he has to fight against, the more prepared he will be psychologically to wage a war till victory is won.

It is evident that the size of his mental calipe should be proportionate to the size of the proposed change and the size of the social system required to be eliminated. The more extensive and deep-seated this system is, the greater should be the psychological push required.

The mission being to revolutionize the world, full of injustice and oppression, and to ping about a radical change in all its cultural values and diverse systems, it is but natural that it should be entrusted to a person whose mental calipe is higher than that of anyone in the whole of the existing world and who may not have been born and pought up under the influence of the society required to be demolished and replaced by another culture of justice and righteousness. One pought up under the shadow of a deep-seated and world-dominating culture is naturally impressed and overawed by it, that being the only culture which he has seen and by which he has been influenced from a tender age.

But the case should be different with a person who has a long historical background, who has witnessed several great cultures successively grow and decline, who has seen the big historical changes with his own eyes and has not read about them in books, who has been a contemporary of all the stages of the development of that culture which happens to be the last chapter of the human history before the appointed day and who has seen all its ups and downs. Such a person, who himself has lived through all these stages very carefully and attentively, is competent to look at the culture he has to grapple with in its historical perspective and is not daunted by its magnitude. He does not regard it as an unalterable destiny. His attitude to it will not be like that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) to the French monarchy.

It is reported that Rousseau, in spite of being a great champion of political revolution from an intellectual and a philosophical point of view, shuddered at the very thought of there being a France without a king, the reason being that he was born and pought up and had always lived under the shadow of monarchy. But the man having a long historical background and being fully aware of the historical factors knows perfectly well how and when the prevailing culture and the prevailing system came into being and developed. He knows that the historical age of the cultures and systems, howsoever long, is very limited.

Have you read the Surah al-Kahf (Chapter 18 of the holy Qur'an) and have you gone through the story of the youths who believed in Allah and were virtuous, but had to face an idolatrous system which was dominant at that time and which ruthlessly crushed every idea of Monotheism? They felt greatly distressed and lost all hope. In utter despair they took refuge in a cave, for they were at their wits' end and did not know what to do. They prayed to Allah to resolve their difficulty. They thought that the then existing unjust system would continue to prevail for ever and would liquidate all those whose hearts throbbed for the truth. Do you know what Allah did? He sent them to sleep in the cave for 309 years. Then He awakened them and sent them back to the scene of life. By then the unjust regime, the power and tyranny which had dazzled them, had completely collapsed and become a part of past history. This arrangement was made to enable those young men to see themselves the downfall of falsehood, the power and grandeur which had overawed them. The people of the cave achieved moral uplift and sublimation through this unique experience which extended their lives for three hundred years. The same privilege will be enjoyed by the Awaited Saviour through his long life which will enable him to see the giant dwindling into a dwarf, a lofty tree shrinking to become a mere seed leaf and a tornado turning into a mere whiff of the wind.

Furthermore, the experience gained through the direct and close study of so many successive cultures will widen the mental horizon of the person designated to lead the revolution and will prepare him better for the accomplishment of his mission. He will have benefited by the experience of others, knowing their strong and weak points, and will be in a better position to assess social developments correctly in their true historical context.

As the revolution to be pought about by the Awaited Saviour is to be ideological and based on the message of Islam, the very nature of his mission requires him to be close to the early Islamic sources and to have a personality built independently of and detached from the influences of the culture he is destined to fight. A person born and pought up under the shadow of a particular culture cannot in all probability, escape its effects totally, even if he leads a campaign against it. To ensure that the leader-designate is not himself influenced by the culture he is expected to change, his personality must be built fully at a cultural stage closer in its general spirit to the system he wants to establish.