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The Mahdi

The great religious traditions -- Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- share references to a savior of humanity at the end of time. These religions share glad tidings of his coming, though there are differences in detail and deep controversies in interpretation.

The idea of the coming of a Mahdi (the guided) has roots in Islamic traditions, both Shiia and Sunni, even though the Mahdi is not mentioned in the Qur'an. The Mahdi prepares the way for the second coming of the Prophet Isa (Jesus) and the impending end of the world. Eventually the awaited Imam will appear, and the Divine Aim will reach its fulfillment. The Qur'an explicitly declares the return of Jesus to earth. Surah Al 'Imran 55 is one of the verses indicating that Jesus will come back. But in many verses of the Qur'an Allah states that those having faith in the trinity certainly are disbelievers: Those who say that the Messiah, son of Maryam, is the third of three are disbelievers. There is no god but One God. (Surat al-Ma'idah: 73).

The first stage of this hope coincides with the expectations of the Second Advent of Jesus, who as Mahdi will bring about the restoration of justice and order in the world. In the course, however, of the further development of the hope, the eschatological activities of Jesus became merely an accompanying phenomenon. Those inclined to a realistic view conceded occasionally that the hopes of the Mahdi were brought nearer to fulfillment through certain rulers from whom the restoration of divine justice was expected. Much was hoped for in this respect, after the overthrow of the ' Omayyads, from certain rulers of the 'Abbaside dynasty. This idle dream, however, was soon dispelled. In the eyes of the pious, the world remained as base as before. The Mahdi idea consequently began to take the form of a Mahdi Utopia, whose realization was removed into a hazy future, which encouraged the steady growth of crude eschatological embellishments. God will stir up a man from the family of the prophet, who will restore the disorganized work, fill the world with justice, as it is now filled with injustice.

To the Judaic Christian elements to which the Mahdi belief owes its origin there were added features taken from the Parsee picture of Saoshyaiit, and in addition the irresponsible phantasy of idle speculation contributed its share to produce a rich Mahdi mythology. The Hadith seized upon this material which formed the subject of so much discussion among the circle of the believers. To the prophet himself there was attributed a detailed description of the personality of the Redeemer proclaimed by him. While such traditions were excluded from conscientious collections they were taken up and repeated by those who were less scrupulous.

In anticipation of Judgment Day, it was essential that the people return to a simple and rigorous, even puritanical Islam. The Islamic belief in the second coming of Christ is the creed of Sunni and Shi`i Islam in its generality. For Muslims, there is no question about the forthcoming Armageddon, following which war technology shall become unusable. The Mahdi will defeat the remaining third of the Jews (the other two thirds having already perished at Armageddon); This will be followed by a Christian vs. Muslim war, called al-Malhama al-Kubra ("Great Slaughter of the Intercessor" ie, the Prophet) in Muslim texts.

When the Mahdi's Army receives word of the Antichrist, they will go to fight the Antichrist, but he will besiege them in Jerusalem. Jesus will descend, and perform the dawn prayer behind the Mahdi, then Jesus will go out and kill the Antichrist. After that, he will take over the Caliphate. Upon the return of Jesus, he will not accept that Christians and Jews live with any other religion than Islam, and so will unite all the believers as Muslims.

The Ismailis, a Mohammedan sect. like the rest of the Shiah, or party of AH, held that the dignity of Imam, or head of the true faith, was inherent in the house of the Prophet and the line of Ali, the Prophet's cousin, son-in-law, and chosen lieutenant. They arose in Syria and Persia, taking their name from one Ismail, whom they regarded as the seventh and last of the Imams, and who lived about 770 A.D. But the sect acquired its importance a century later from Abdallah al Kaddah, a Persian of Susiana, and son of Maimim. He was an oculist, a scholar, and an able juggler. The Ismailis had then no visible Imam ; indeed the Shiah lost its twelfth and last Imam in the mysterious disappearance of Mohammed in 879 A.D. The idea of a 'Hidden Imam,'destined to appear for the reformation of religion and of the world, thus became necessary for its existence. To undermine the whole empire, to prepare a great revolution and overthrow Islam was Abdallah's desire. His instrument was the faith in a 'Hidden Imam,' or 'Mahdi,' 'Guided or Inspired One," styled by Abdallah the seventh prophet, Mohammed having been the sixth. The resurrection, the end of the world, final judgment, and rewards and punishments were mere allegories. The universe was eternal. Mohammed, the Chief, Hidden Imam, Mahdi, or Seventh Prophet, son of Ismail, was, after all, not to appear but in his doctrine taught by his disciples and apostles ; and the duty of all believers was to bring the world's sovereignty into the hands of these.

Up till comparatively modern times this phase of belief has sustained itself among Moslem groups standing outside of the Shi'itic circle. The Moslems in the Caucasus believe in the return of their hero Elija Mansur, a forerunner of Shamil (1791), who is to reappear a hundred years after the expulsion of the Muscovites.12 In Samarkand the people believe in the reappearance of the sacred persons of Shah-zinde and Kasim ibn 'Abbas. Just as among the Kurds we find from the eighth century after the Hijra the belief in the return of the executed Taj al-'arifln (Hasan ibn 'Adi).

Through the history of Islam, a few individuals claimed to be the Mahdi and found a following among those who were looking for salvation. For some of these figures, like Bab in Iran or Mirza Ghulam in India, the claim of being Mahdi was a stepping stone to the development of sects which broke away from Islam.

Muhammad b. Hanafiyya was regarded as the Mahdi by some Muslims. The Jarudis among the Zaydis believed that Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah b. Hasan was the Mahdi. The Nawusi's believed that Imam Ja'far Sadiq was the Mahdi. The Waqifis believed that Imam Musa b. Ja'far had not died and was in occultation.

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Page last modified: 08-04-2015 20:26:01 ZULU