Q: A friend of mine says that when an Imaam speaks about Imaam Mahdi then it is Shiasm. Can you please clarify the difrennce between Sunnis and Shias on Imaam Mahdi.
A: When a Sunni speaks about Imam Mahdi, he refers to the person mentioned in the hadith of the Rasoolullah sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, as mentioned in Ibni Majah and Abu Dawood. He will be born towards the end of the world and will establish justice on earth. Rasoolullah sallallahu alaihi wasallam gave certain signs which will herald the arrival of this great Imam as well as a detailed description of him. The Ahadeeth on this issue leave no room for rejecting or even doubting the coming of Imam Mahdi. Neither do the facts leave us in the dark as to recognising this great Imam when he eventually does arrive.
The Mahdi whom the Shias refer to is Muhammad al-Mahdi, the so-called twelfth Imam, who was born in 869 CE and was supposedly hidden by God at the age of five (874 CE). They believe he is still alive but has been in hiding, awaiting the time for his return. They believe that when Imam Mahdi was five years old, he fled from his enemies and went to hide in a cave in the city of Samarra, Iraq. He is still hiding in that cave till this very day, according to Shia Doctrine.
So there is a huge difference between the true Mahdi spoken of in authentic ahadeeth, and the Mahdi of the Shias, who exists only as a figment of their imagination.
And Allah knows best
Mufti Siraj Desai