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وَنُرِيدُ أَن نَّمُنَّ عَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ ٱسْتُضْعِفُوا۟ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ وَنَجْعَلَهُمْ أَئِمَّةًۭ وَنَجْعَلَهُمُ ٱلْوَٰرِثِينَ
And We desired to show favor to those who were abased in the land, and to make them imams, and to make them the heirs.
(Sūrat al-Qasas, No 28, Āyat 5)
Used by the Shī’ah as one of the strongest Quranic proofs for the coming of Imam Al-Mahdī, this verse is situated near the beginning of Sūrat al-Qasas. This sūrah was revealed in Makkah at a time when the early Muslims were few in number and downtrodden, and it contains reassurance for the Muslims that a time will come, when they will have power and might in this world. It mentions the part of Prophet Mūsā’s story in which Fir‘awn was at the height of his arrogance and seemingly indestructible rule. The vastness of his empire and the totality of his authority was such that it seemed all but impossible that his power could ever wane. Yet Allah ‘azza wajall brought about the means to his downfall in the most beautiful and unlikely of ways. As this verse asserts, it is His plan and will (“nurīdu”) that the oppressed shall rule the earth, and this plan came to fruition at the time of Mūsā ‘alayhis-salām and at the time of Holy Prophet sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālihi wasallam and will do so once again on a grander and all-encompassing scale at the return of Imam Al-Mahdi ‘ajjallāhu farajh.
It is important to note that the oppression (“istidhāf”) mentioned in the verse is not limited to physical persecution. Rather, it includes ethical, cultural, and economic oppression – the subjugation of one’s thoughts and ideas, one’s identity, one’s ability to reach Truth. In reality, it is these psychological forms of oppression that have more grievous consequences on human ascension towards the divine. And it is indeed this more subtle type of persecution that ails a vast portion of humankind today, in the west and the east. Recognition of this point is crucial for understanding just how beautiful and powerful the promise is contained within this verse.
The word used in the verse to indicate Allah’s favor comes from the root “manna”, which indicates a weighty blessing of great magnitude. The Holy Quran has only used this word to describe four divine blessings:
1. The blessing of Islam itself: كَذلِكَ كُنْتُمْ مِنْ قَبْلُ فَمَنَّ اللَّهُ عَلَيْكُمْ – You too were such [i.e., disbelievers] earlier, but Allah did you a favor” (Q 4:94).
2. The blessing of prophethood: لَقَدْ مَنَّ اللَّهُ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ إِذْ بَعَثَ فِيهِمْ رَسُولًا – Allah certainly favored the faithful when He raised up among them an apostle. (Q 3:164).
3. The blessing of guidance: بَلِ اللَّهُ يَمُنُّ عَلَيْكُمْ أَنْ هَداكُمْ – – Rather it is Allah who has done a favor in that He has guided you (Q 49:17).
4. The governance of the oppressed believers (the current verse).
In the eyes of Allah, then, the believers’ promised inheritance and ruling of the earth is a sacred favor akin in importance to that of divine guidance itself. Within the Shī‘ah hadith corpus, a great many narrations exist that interpret this verse in light of the eventual uprising of the Twelfth Imam (af). For instance, Amīrul-Mu’minīn Imam Ali (a) has been reported to recite this verse and then say: Those who were oppressed and shall inherit the earth] are the progeny of Muhammad (s). After all their efforts, Allah will send the Mahdī from amongst them, thereby honoring them and debasing their enemies.
From this we understand that just as the prophetic mission was incomplete without the proclamation on 18th Dhul Hijjah 10 AH, at Ghadir Khumm, the divine enterprise will not end before the entirety of the physical and metaphysical realms fall under the purview of Godly leadership. It is His Will that it be so; and whatever He wills, is (Q 36:82).
How are we to thank our Lord for this most astounding of blessings? After celebrating the birth of Al-Mahdī (af), let us reflect on this question and bring within us the spirit of true gratitude. Let us rethink our lives, reinvent ourselves such that our every word and action is in service to the Imam of our Time and with the intention of hastening his return. He is known as Al-Muntazar (the awaited one), yet he is also Al-Muntazir – the one awaiting, patiently watching the centuries go by, waiting for us – his self-proclaimed followers – to reform ourselves and demonstrate our absolute readiness to aid his mission. Has enough time not passed for us to truly give thanks for this greatest of blessings and bring about the means to its fruition? Or, as Allah puts it beautifully in the Holy Quran:
أَلَمْ يَأْنِ لِلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ أَن تَخْشَعَ قُلُوبُهُمْ لِذِكْرِ ٱللَّهِ وَمَا نَزَلَ مِنَ ٱلْحَقِّ
Is it not time yet for those who have faith that their hearts should be humbled for Allah’s remembrance and to the truth which has come down [to them]? (Q 57:16)
Sources: Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; Agha Muhsin Qarā’atī, Tafsīr Nūr.