two thousand years are like one or two minutes in relation to a year. The Hour of Doomsday is not only the appointed hour of mankind that it should be related to it and seen as distant. It is because of this that the Absolutely Wise One conceals Doomsday in His knowledge among the ‘Five Hidden Things.’ It is due to the mystery of this vagueness that every age including the Age of the Bliss, the Age of the Prophet, people have been frightened of the end of the world. Some of them even said that the conditions had all but appeared.1
Thus, unfair people who do not know this truth say: “Why did the Companions of the Prophet with their vigilant hearts and keen sight, who had been taught all the details of the hereafter, suppose a fact that would occur one thousand four hundred years later to be close to their century, as though their ideas had deviated a thousand years from the truth?”
The Answer: Because, through the effulgence of the Prophet’s conversation, the Companions thought of the hereafter more than anyone, and knowing the transience of the world and understanding the Divine wisdom in the hour of Doomsday being vague, they assumed a position of always awaiting the world’s appointed hour and worked seriously for the hereafter. God’s Noble Messenger (Peace and blessings be upon him) repeating: “Expect Doomsday. Wait for it”2 was prophetic guidance arising from this wisdom, it was not a pronouncement of revelation concerning the specific time of its occurrence and far from the truth. The cause is one thing and the wisdom is another. Thus, sayings of the Prophet (PBUH) of this sort arise from the wisdom in certain things being indefinite.
It is also due to this mystery that they expected the individuals who will come at the end of time like the Mahdi and Sufyan long beforehand, and even in the time of the generation succeeding the Prophet, and hoped to live long enough to see them. Some of the saints, even, said that they had passed. Like the end of the world, Divine wisdom requires that the times of these individuals are not specified either. Because every age is in need of the Mahdi’s meaning, for he strengthens morale and saves the people from despair. Every century has to have a share of this meaning. In order that people should not heedlessly follow evil and the reins of the soul should not be left free in indifference, every century the fearsome individuals who come to lead strife must be shrunk from and feared. If they had been specified, the benefits of general guidance would have been lost.
Now, the difference in the narrations about individuals like the Mahdi, and their meaning, is this: those who expounded Hadiths applied the text of the Hadiths to their own interpretations and commentaries. For example, since
al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, iv, 545, 549; Musnad, ii, 298, 299.
Tirmidhi, Fitan, 39.