To obtain knowledge about the special characteristics of Imam (as) and to have information about the ‘certain’ signs of his reappearance. This is obligatory according to texts (Quran and Hadith), and reason.
Imam Mahdi (as) is a guide and a leader whose obedience is compulsory and it is necessary to recognize correctly one whose obedience is compulsory. So that if someone lays a false claim to be that leader he can be exposed at once and we shall not be misguided by his false propaganda. Thus the recognition of Imam Mahdi (as) is wajib and it is also wajib to learn about his special characteristics so that if a false claimant of Imamate appears we can, at once, realize his falsehood.
Therefore people must know that the birth of Imam Mahdi (as) was hidden and that he has a long life. Also that his reappearance when Allah wills will be from Makkah; that he is an Arab and from the progeny of Hazrat Zahra (sa). These will ensure that if we are ever confronted with a person falsely claiming to be Imam Mahdi (as) – for example, if an Iranian person or an Indian person claims to be Imam Mahdi (as), we can reject that person outright because the traditions state very clearly that Imam Mahdi (as) is an Arab. Imam Mahdi (as) is differentiated through these signs and one who knows the signs will not fall in doubt.
There are two parts to recognition of Imam.
Firstly: Recognition of the Imam through his name and genealogy.
Secondly: Recognition of his special and distinguishing features.
Shaykh Sadooq (ra) has recorded a tradition of Imam Musa Kazim (as) that he said, One who doubts about four things has denied everything revealed by Allah. One of these being the Marefat (recognition) of the Imam of The Age.
A famous tradition from Holy Prophet (sawa) states that one who dies without recognising the Imam of the time, dies the death of Jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic era, which essentially means that he dies outside the fold of Islam)
In addition to the above there are dozens of traditions that emphasize the necessity of having the Marefat of ones Imam (as), because if one is unaware of his lineage and descent etc, there is a great risk of misunderstanding. Also if the actual characteristics and qualities of the Imam are not known how can one understand the scope of his Imamate? Therefore, knowledge of his lineage and personal qualities is very important. But is it not limited to only that. One must have “deep knowledge” of the Imam (as) and also of the position of Imamate.
In a tradition from Imam Baqir (as), Marefat or recognition is defined as such – “The lowest level of recognition of the Imam is to know that he is equal to the Prophet, except that he does not have prophethood and he is the successor to the Prophet (sawa), and that Imam’s obedience is Allah’s obedience and the Prophet’s (sawa) obedience and submitting to him in every matter and referring to him in every affair and embrace his view.”
Imam Mohammed Baqir (as) said, One who dies without having an Imam, dies the death of a pagan, and one who dies with the Imam’s recognition, it will cause no harm to him whether this matter (reappearance) is advanced or delayed. And one who dies having the recognition of his Imam, is like one who has stayed in the tent of the Qaim (a.s.) with him. (Al-Kafi volume 1 page 371)
In Tafseer Burhan, Muawiyah bin Wahab narrated from Imam Sadiq (as) that he said: Indeed the best and the most obligatory duty of man is to recognize Allah and to confess one’s servitude to Him, and the limit of recognition is that he should recognize that there is no real deity except Him and there is nothing like Him; and he should know that Allah is eternal and ever-living, without absence, He is described without being compared to anything, there is nothing like Him, and He is the hearer and the seer.
And after that is the recognition of the Messenger of Allah (sawa) and to testify for his prophethood. And the minimum recognition of the messenger is to believe in his prophethood and that the book he has brought or the commands and prohibitions that he has prescribed are from Allah, the Mighty and Sublime.
After that is to follow an Imam in every circumstance after recognizing him by his name and qualities. And the minimum level of recognition of the Imam is to believe that except for the rank of prophethood, he is equal in all aspects to the Messenger of Allah (sawa); and that the Imam is the successor of the Holy Prophet (sawa). Obedience of the Imam is obedience of Allah and the Prophet and submission of every matter to him and to refer to him in all issues and to accept his statements are the levels of recognition.
And we should know that the Imam after the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) is Ali Ibne Abi Talib (as) and after him Hasan, and Husain, then Ali bin Husain, then Mohammed bin Ali, then Jafar bin Mohammed, then Musa bin Jafar, then Ali bin Musa, then Mohammed bin Ali, then Ali bin Mohammed, then Hasan bin Ali and then the Hujjat from the son of Hasan (as). Then Imam Jafar Sadiq (as) said: O Muawiyah, I have laid out the basic principle of faith for you, so should act on it… (Tafseer Al-Burhan volume 2 page 34 tradition no 3)
- Read More: Duties of Shiahs in Ghaybat