In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
The Imam in Occultation
What is the benefit to believing in an Imam who is not apparent to the public eye, and resides in occultation? How can people benefit from this Imam? These are common questions which crosses the minds of Shiites. In the following narration, Imam Sadigh (PBUH) compares the manner in which people benefit from an Imam who is in occultation as “similar to how they benefit from the sun, when covered by clouds.”(1) The occultation of Imam Mahdi (PBUH) is similar to when the sun is behind clouds; people do not see it, but they benefit from its light.
But in regards to what benefits an Imam in occultation has, the first result that arises in the belief of the presence of Imam Mahdi (PBUH) held strongly by the Shiites is that there exists between them an Allah (SWT) a live representative and deputy of Allah (SWT) on the earth. One of the common beliefs in all monotheistic religions is the presence of a representative between the people and the Lord, or between this world and the spiritual world, in which the blessings of the Lord is given to the humans through that person who also has the responsibility of guiding people. However, people of the monotheistic religions also hold the belief that at the moment there are no living representative between this world and the spiritual world. Jews, for example believe that after the demise of Prophet Moses (PBUH) this connection between the world and the heavens was lost, and Christians believe that Prophet Jesus (PBUH) was murdered on the cross, and died thousands of years ago. Even non-Shia Muslims, the Sunnis believe that with the demise of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH&HP), man’s hand has been cut from a connection between the earth and the heavens. Shiites however, are the only ones who believe that such a live connection between the heavens and the earth continues to exist, by one who is considered a complete human being. It is he who maintains the connection between the people and the world above, and is responsible for the guidance of the mankind. This is an important benefit, accepted by Shiites alone.
Furthermore, Shiites believe in the existence of an Imam and leader chosen by Allah (SWT) who lives among the people, and awaits the Lord’s orders to rise. By the power invested in him by Allah (SWT), the Imam is aware of what happens to the Shiites, and is witness to their manners and actions. This matter is influential in helping Shiites refrain from ill-acts, and an encouraging force in helping them carry out their religious rituals, assisting them to prepare the grounds for a global just rule on earth.
Under the belief to the existence of a present Imam, who is the savior of all mankind from corruption and oppression, Shiites have a special form of hope towards a victorious future. The living Imam of Shiites is the same promised savior, whom with his reappearance will remove the works of oppression and corruption from the earth, and establish global justice to all humanity. Although the belief in a savior is common among all religions, for Shiites however, this golden age has been in reach, and a hope for this occurrence is much more real and attainable. In reality, for the pious the belief in the Ahl al-Bayt (PBUT) is such that because they believe that a true Imam, who is the representative of Allah (SWT) for the people is alive and aware of people’s situation, and can at any moment and with the permission of Allah (SWT) rise against the enemies, a light of hope continues to flourish in their hearts, and this helps them increase their strength against the pressures of the oppressors and followers of wrong, and increase preparation for the establishment of true justice on earth.
Indeed, the Shiites do not see the benefit of the Imam in occultation any less than his period of appearance, and with this belief in him, they have kept the hope for the future in their hearts alive, and with prevention of sin and carrying out their responsibilities as a servant to Allah (SWT), they prepare themselves for the establishment of a global rule.
(The above is a selection taken from the book "Imam Mahdi (PBUH), an Illuminating Truth", written by Murtaza Torabi (with minor changes))
source: Roshd website