The Minor Occultation (Ghaybat al-Sughra), refers to the Twelver Shia Muslim belief in a period in the disappearance, or Occultation, of the final and twelfth Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, when the Imam still maintained contact with his followers via deputies (Arab. an-nuwāb al-arbaʕa). During this period, from 874-914 AD, the deputies represented him and acted as agents between him and his followers.
Whenever the believers faced a problem, they would write their concerns and send them to his deputy. The deputy would ascertain his verdict, endorse it with his seal and signature and return it to the relevant parties. The deputies also collected zakat and khums on his behalf. For the Shia, the idea of consulting a hidden Imam was not something new because the two prior Shia Imams had, on occasion, met with their followers from behind a curtain.
Shia Tradition hold that four deputies acted in succession to one another:
- Uthman ibn Sa’id al-Asadi
- Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Uthman
- Abul Qasim Husayn ibn Ruh al-Nawbakhti
- Abul Hasan Ali ibn Muhammad al-Samarri
In 941 (329 AH), the 4th deputy announced an order by Muhammad al-Mahdi, that the deputy would soon die and that the deputyship would end and the period of the Major Occultation would begin.
The 4th deputy died six days later and the Shi'a Muslims continue to await the reappearance of the Mahdi. In the same year, many notable Shi'a scholars such as Ali ibn Babwayh Qummi and Muhammad ibn Yaqub Kulayni, the learned compiler of al-Kafi also died.