The Mahdi

The Mahdi (Maulvi Sher AIi, B.A.) (This article has been reproduced from the 1908 May issue of the Review of Religions. – Editor.) The Holy Prophets prophecy of the advent of a holy champion of Islam (or a Mahdi as they call him) is a prophecy of a world-wide reputation. There has been no age but has witnessed the appearance of a pretender to this office. Mahdi is a holy and pure name; it means one that is guided in the right path. But it is painful to note that ignorant and fanatic mullahs have represented the holy holder of this title in such dark colours and some of the pretenders that set themselves up as Mahdis allowed themselves to commit such horrible atrocities that the word Mahdi, a holier and more innocent name than which does not exist, now carries with it a most terrible signification. The holder of this holy title is represented by fanatic mullahs and maulvis as a bloody warrior who will deluge the earth with infidel blood. These foolish priests of Islam know of no other means of propagating the holy religion of Islam and believe that the Mahdi too will resort to sword as the only means of propagating it. Alas, a great injustice has been done to this holy name and a very innocent and harmless title has been misrepresented as the terrible title of a bloodthirsty man-killer. The object ofthis article is to clear off the errors and misconceptions that having accumulated round the name of the Mahdi through long centuries have hidden the reality from men’s eyes, and to represent it in its true light by showing its true significance. INAUTHENTICITY OF THE TRADmONS RELATING TO THE MAHDI The first difficulty that one meets with in studying the prophecy of the advent of the Mahdi is that one is confronted with a mass of traditions almost all of which are admittedly inauthentic. The late N awab Siddiq Hasan Khan of Bhopal State, an eminent theological writer of the Ahl-i-Hadis sect, took great pains to collect all the traditions regarding the advent of the Mahdi in his famous work the Hujaj-ul-Karamah, and speaking ofthe authenticity ofthese traditions observes on page 365 of that work: – “There is no doubt that in the chain of the narrators of most of the traditions there are persons who were THE MAHDI 27 careless, of bad memory, weak or of feeble judgment and had other faults …. These weak and faulty traditions, taken collectively bear evidence to the truth of the fact that the Mahdi shall appear in the latter days, though there are very few of them that are pure.” Thus according to this learned writer, the only thing that the traditions conclusively prove is that a Mahdi must appear in the latter days. As to the details of his appearance nothing can be said with certainty owing to the inauthenticity of the traditions. The same. view is expressed by the learned theologian elsewhere when he says: “All the traditions that relate to the appearance of the Mahdi, the events, the occurrences, the dangers and the conquests of his time, etc., only show the truth of his appearance, in whatever way it may be,” (page 384). The concluding words are significant. They show that in the opinion of the writer, the traditions that speak of the advent of Mahdi are almost all so self-contradictory and inauthentic that they prove nothing beyond the fact that a Mahdi is to appear. As to the details, the traditions are hopelessly at variance with each other so that we can not say with certainty how the appearance is to take place. These remarks of a learned theologian will give the reader an idea how far the traditions that speak of the advent of the Mahdi are reliable. The unreIiabiIity of these traditions may further be judged from the fact that they find no place in the two well-known works on the traditions, viz, the Sahih Bukharee and the Sahih Muslim, works which the concensus of Muslim opinion has declared to be more authentic than any other collection of traditions. These two books that enjoy the distinction of being the most reliable works on tradition have nothing at all to say as to the advent of a Mahdi. This shows that the learned compilers of these works did not look upon these traditions as authentic enough to have a place in their collections and hence they rejected them. To what further conclusion this circumstance gives rise, I shall state further on. Most of the traditions are unreliable not only because their narrators were untrustworthy but also because there is much evidence in the traditions themselves which points to their unreliability. The traditions are full of contradictions. They disagree on the name ofthe Mahdi, his lineage, the place and the time of his appearance, and the period for which he will live on the earth after his appearance. I quote below some of the traditions in order to show how they contradict each other on almost every important point. (a) Traditions giving the name of the Mahdi. – Abu Daud has the following tradition: – “Even if there remain only one day to the end of the world, God will lengthen that day until He raises therein a man from me (or from my family) whose name will coincide with my name and whose father’s name will coincide with that of my father. ” The same author has another tradition which represents Ali saying: “This 28 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS my son, Hasan, is a leader as the Holy Prophet styled him, and there shall appear from among his descendants a man who will be called after the name of your prophet, whom he will resemble in character and not in personal appearance. ” Both these traditions, ifliterally interpreted, mean that the Mahdi’s name is to be Muhammad. ,There are other traditions which give the Mahdi’s name as Ahmad and not Muhammad. Nawab Siddiq Hasan Khan observes on page 352 of his work already referred to that according to some traditions, the name of the Mahdi is’ Ahmad and that of his father Abdulla. One of the traditions runs thus: “A crier shall cry from the heavens: 0 people, verily God has rid you of the tyrants and the hypocrites and their hosts and made the best of his servants a lord over you, so join him at Mecca, for he is the Mahdi and his name is Ahmad, son of Abdullah.” (Iqtirab-us-Saah, page 66). Again, there is a tradition which gives his name as Isa (Arabic form of Jesus). This tradition will be found in another part of this article. As to the name of his father, the Shiahs contend that it is Hasan and not Abdullah. (b) Traditions regarding his descent. – On this point too’tbere is a hopeless confusion in the traditions. Firstly, there are traditions that represent him as a descendant of Fatima. Abu Daud reports on the authority of Umme Salma: “The Mahdi is from my (i.e., the Holy Prophet’s) family; from the children of Fatima.” We have now to see whether the Mahdi is to be a descendant of Hasan or Husain, the two sons of Fatima. Here there is a great split in the traditions, some representing Mahdi as a descendant of Hasan and others denying it and representing him as a child of Husain. I have already quoted a tradition from Abu Daud which represents the Mahdi as the seed of Hasan. It runs thus: “Ali looked at his son, Hasan, and said: ‘This my son is a leader, as the Holy Prophet styled him, and there shall appear from among his descendants a man,who will be called after the name of your prophet, whom he will resemble in character, but not in personal appearance.’ ” Another tradition to the same effect is narrated by Tammam and Ibn-Asakar and runs thus: “There shall appear in the last days a man from the children of Hasan, who, if confronted by mountains shall remove them from their resting place and shall make his way through them.” Against these traditions, we have others according to which the Mahdi is to be a descendant of Husain and not of Hasan. Ibn Asakar narrates on the authority of Jabir: “Verily Mahdi is from the children of Husain.” The Shiahs stick to traditions which declare the Mahdi to be a descendant of Husain. An THE MAHDI 29 attempt has been made to patch up this difference in another tradition which declares the Mahdi to be a descendant of both Hasan and Husain. Tabrani and Abu Nuaim narrate on the authority of Ali Halali: The Holy Prophet said to Fatima, “By Him who raised me with truth, verily the Mahdi of this religion is to be from these two, i. e., Hasan and Husain.” It would have been well if this difference had ended with Hasan and Husain, but unfortunately there come forward others, who announce the Mahdi to be descending from quite a different stock, thus excluding both Hasan and Husain. For instance, there are a number of traditions in which the Mahdi is represented as a descendant of Abbas, the uncle of the Holy Prophet. Kaab Ahbar is said to have narrated the following tradition: “The Mahdi is to be a descendant of Abbas.” Dar Qutni and Ibn Asakar narrate as follows: “Osman (the 3rd caliph) said, ‘I heard the Holy Prophet say that the Mahdi was to be a descendent of his uncle, Abbas’.” Another tradition is narrated by Khateeb, which says: “The Holy Prophet said, ‘0 Abbas, God commenced this religion, Islam, with me, and it is nigh that He should perfect it with a child of thine, who shall fill the earth with peace and equity after it has been filled with injustice and iniquity, and it is he who shall perform his prayers with Jesus, son of Mary’ .” Similarly there are many other traditions which represent the Mahdi as one of the Abbasides. But the party of the Omayyads have not been behind that of the Abbasides in claiming the Mahdi as one of their own number. They have gone so far as to apply the prophecy to a pious king of Omayyad dynasty, viz., Omar bin Abdul Aziz. Jalal-ud-Din Sayooti quotes the words of Wahab bin Munabbah on page 158 of his work, the Tarikh-ul-Khulafa, which run as follows: “If there is any Mahdi among the followers of the Holy Prophet, he is Umar, son of Abdul Aziz.” Similarly there are traditions which show that the Mahdi is to be from the children of Omar, the second caliph. Thus there are five great people in Islam that respectively claim the Mahdi as belonging to their own community, viz., (a) The children of Hasan. (b) The children of Husain. (c) The Abbasides. (d) The Omayyads. ( e) The children of Omar. It may also be noted here that the descendants of Ali from his wives other than Fatima hold that the Mahdi must be a child of Ali, but not necessarily from his wife Fatima, and they have their own traditions to depend upon. While these various people claim the Mahdi as one of their own number, each quoting traditions in their support, there are traditions in which no particular community is specified, but it is declared in general terms that the Mahdi is to 30 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS be from among the followers of the Holy Prophet. I have already bothered my readers too much with quotations on the question of the descent of the Mahdi, so I will now content myself only with pointing out the fact that there are traditions which do not partake of any secretarian character and which speak of the Mahdi as appearing from among the followers of the Holy Prophet. Anyone who refers to works on tradition, such as Abu Daud, etc., will find traditions in which the Mahdi is spoken of as appearing from among the followers of the Holy Prophet. It is curious to note that not only various communities, but also the leading sects of Islam have each put forward claims with regard to the Mahdi. The Shias believe that the Mahdi will uphold the cause of Shiism, destroying every Sunni that will be found on the earth. The Muatazlas deny the very coming of the Mahdi. The Hanafis declare that the Mahdi is to be a follower of their Imam, Abu Hanifa. The Wahabis, on the other hand, fly into a passion at this claim of the Hanafis and hold that the Mahdi will be a staunch upholder of their sect. It is amusing to see these various sects quarrelling with each other on this point. A representative of the Wahabi sect, the author of the Hadees-ul-Ghashiya, may be quoted here to give the reader an idea of how these various sects vie with each other in claiming the Mahdi as one of their own number. The writer says on page 352 of his work: “If we live long enough to see the time when the Mahdi comes or the Messiah descends from the heavens, we will hail these gentlemen, the Hanafis, and ask them to tell which of us was in the right, they or we. Then they will know the rate of flour and dal and then they will learn their error. ” (c) Traditions relating to the land of the Mahdi’s appearance. – On this point too, the traditions clash with each other, as they do on other points. The following are the various places which have been named as the localities where the Mahdi is to make his appearance. 1. A village named Kada (I shall have to refer to this tradition later on and hence refrain from quoting it here). 2. Medina. Abu Daud quotes a long tradition in the course of which we have the following words: “There shall be a difference on the death of a Caliph. There shall then appear a man from among the people of Medina, who shall fly to Mecca.” Commenting on this tradition. Nawab Siddiq Hasan Khan observes on page 358 of his work already referred to:- “By a man in this tradition is meant the Mahdi and the tradition shows that the Mahdi shall not only be born at Medina but also make his appearance there.” 3. Mecca. Nairn bin Hamad narrates the following tradition: “The Mahdi shall appear at Mecca at the time of the night prayer.” (See Siddiq Hasan Khan’s work page 363). Ali Muttaqi in his treatise entitled the Mahdi observes:- THE MAHDI 31 “0 Reader, know that it is related in the stories of the prophets and in the traditions and in the writings of the Holy Saints that the Mahdi shall be the seed of Husain, the name of his father coinciding with that of the Holy Prophet’s father, viz., Abdullah, and he shall be born at Mecca and shall also die there.” 4. The land known as the Maghrab, i.e., North Africa. Nawab Siddiq Hasan Khan says on page 358: “Qirbati says in his book, the Tazkira, that the place of the birth of Mahdi is the Western land (the Magrab). From there he shall come by way of sea.” 5. The Masjid-i-Aqsa in Bait-ul-Muqaddas (Jerusalem). Siddiq Hasan says on page 358:- “It is also related that the Mahdi shall appear from the Masjid-i-Aqsa.” 6. The East. – Abu Nuaim and Ibn Asakar narrate as follows:- “There shall appear in the East a man from the decendants of Hasan, son of Ali, who, if confronted by mountains, shall remove them and shall make a way through them.” This is one of the traditions on the authority of which it is asserted by some that the Mahdi shall be a descendant of Hasan. The tradition has already been quoted. Ibn Maja relates another tradition which says:- There shall appear men in the East who shall render assistance to the Mahdi. 7. Khorasan. In the Musnad of Abmad, we have the following report: “When you see black banners coming from Khorasan, go unto them, for there you shall find the Caliph of God, the Mahdi.” (d) Traditions concerning the period of the Mahdi’s ministry. – Here too there is a disappointing disagreement in the traditions. The following are the various numbers of years for which, it is said, the Mahdi shall live in this world after the public declaration of his mission:- (1) 5 years. (2) 7 years. (3) 9 years. (4) 19 years and a few months. (5) 20 years. (6) 24 years. (7) 30 years. (8) 40 years. It is needless to quote all these conflicting traditions. The following quotation from Siddiq Hasan’s work already referred to will do. “The traditions regarding the period of the Mahdi’s ministry are conflicting. Some traditions give the period as 5, 7, or 9 years, some give it as 7, some as 9; some say, he shall not live for less than 5 years and more than 9 years, some give the 32 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS period as 19 years and a few months, some as 20 years, some as 24 years, some as 30 years, while there are others that give the period of his ministry as 40 years” (page 380). The traditions which give the period of his ministry as 40 years are believed to be the most trustworthy. (e) Traditions relating to the time of his appearance. – Though most of the traditions represent the Mahdi as a contemporary of the Promised Messiah, yet there is a tradition which gives the time of his appearance as intermediate between the time of the Holy Prophet and that of the Promised Messiah. The tradition runs thus: “God will never destroy a people whose beginning is marked with my appearance, middle by that of the Mahdi, and end by that of Jesus,” (see Siddiq Hasan Khan’s work, page 384). The above are only a few of the numerous discrepancies to be met with in the traditions bearing on the advent of the Mahdi, and what I have said above is sufficient to show the unreliability of most of the traditions relating to the Mahdi. THE FANATIC MULLAS AND THE GHAZI MAHDI It is a pity that traditions that are not only utterly unreliable, but also injurious to Islam and threatening to public tranquillity are preached from the pulpit. Traditions representing the Mahdi as a warrior who shall destroy all non-Muslims stand lowest in the scale of authenticity, yet is it these traditions that are trumpeted abroad by fanatic Muslim priests as if they were the most authentic. Their conduct would have been excusable, had the traditions on the basis of which the Mahdi is represented as coming with sword in his hand and deluging the earth with infidel blood been reliable and trustworthy; but when it is seen that of the traditions regarding the advent of the Mahdi, those that depict him as a bloody warrior are the most unreliable, and that the Maulvies are not unaware of the fact, one is compelled to condemn their preaching as most mischievously dangerous. They not only degrade Islam in public estimation by their preaching a warlike Mahdi, but they are also a menace to public peace. If their motives had been good, if they had been the well-wishers of Islam, then instead of exciting public feeling for Jehad, and making the ignorant masses look fondly to the time when the imaginary Mahdi shall smite the heathen world with his sword and plunder its treasures, they ought to have exposed the unreliable character of the traditions and calmed down the public feeling by making the masses hold soberer views regarding the Mahdi. Then they would have done a service, not only to the Government, but also to Islam. But in order to let the reader know what kind of teachings are disseminated among the credulous and confiding masses, I give below a few quotations from the Iqtirab-us Saah, which is generally believed to have been the work of Siddiq Hasan Khan, though purporting to have been written by his son. On page 94, the Mahdi is represented as inviting people to God by means of Sword; on page 64, we have the following words: “He (the Mahdi) will fight battles and draw treasures, conquer city after city THEMAHDI 33 and subjugate the whole world from East to West. The Kings of India shall be brought into his presence with chains round their necks.” Then the writer adds by way of comment: “I say there is no monarch in India at present; there are only some chiefs, Hindu or Muhammadan, but they are not independent rulers, nay, they are only rulers in name. The great rulers of this country are Europeans and probably they will remain the rulers till that time, and therefore they shall be brought into his presence, or it may be that by that time the rule of some other monarch may be established here.” Similar views are expressed in other works of Siddiq Hasan Khan. For example see the Hujaj-ul-Karamah, page 374. I have already quoted Siddiq Hasan Khan to show that he believes most of the traditions relating to Mahdi to be in authentic , proving nothing beyond the fact that a Mahdi must appear, yet this very writer whose vast learning commanded the esteem of the whole Muslim India openly teaches that the European rulers of India shall be brought in chains before the Mahdi. This book was published in 1301 A.H. The mischief that such writings may work is inestimable. It is impossible to eradicate the deeply rooted error of Jehad from the hearts of the ignorant Muslims as long as a bloody Mahdi is preached by fanatic Mullahs. There may be certain Mullahs, like Muhammad Husain of Batala who secretly assured the Government that the traditions which speak of a warrior Mahdi are unreliable, but such assurances are of no avail unless the minds of the duped masses are purged of these mischievous beliefs by an open and vigorous exposure of the errors. I leave this subject here to return to it at the end of the article.