بسم الله الحمد لله و صلاة و سلام على رسول الله و على آله و سلم
In Islam’s 1400 year history, its gone through wax and wane. At some points in time, the Muslims divided into hundreds of micro-states only to be united a generation later. During the periods of down-turn, an interesting phenomena would occur. In the pain and hardship, some Muslims would be led to believe that they were the blessed generation that would see Imam Mahdi. They would become absolutely convinced of it, after all, were not the signs everywhere?
The belief in Imam Mahdi is often invoked by oppressed, down-trodden Muslims or during times of immense social change. Ahmadiyya is not the first to claim to have the Mahdi, nor will they be the last. In this short presentation, we will explore some of the groups, provide a short background, and list their modern manifestations.
In no specific order:
Movement of Juhayman – Perhaps the most dramatic of these movements was led by Juhayman ibn Muhammad ibn Sayf al-‘Utaybi. Born in 1936 in Saudi Arabia, Juhayman witnessed the transformation of his country from traditional bedoin society to a 1st world modern country. Many of the social ills that crept into the birthplace of Islam deeply disturbed Juhayman. He convinced his brother-in-law, Muhammad ibn Abdullah, who bears the very name of the Mahdi mentioned in the Hadith, that he was the Mahdi. His movement started as a social reformation movement, but later developed a secret radical element. On November 20th, 1979, Juhayman ordered weapons to be brought into the Ka’bah, quickly overthrew the guards, and declared that his brother-in-law was the Mahdi. He took bay’ah (pledge) from his followers between the Rukun and Maqam of Ibrahim, the very spot foretold in the hadith. He setup sniper positions on the mimbars, killing the Saudi guards who came to stop the comotion.
Sadly, it took tanks, soldiers, and innocent bloodshed to put down the revolt. Ustadh Yasir Qadhi has an excellent talk on it available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLAm8wSPVAo. (The talk itself is about religious extremism, but he talks about this movement.)
Mahdiyya – A Sudani-based order, the Mahdiyya was started by Muhammad Ahmad, a leader in the Samaniyya Sufi order. Born in 1884, he claimed to be the Mahdi, and led a successful military campaign against the Turkish, Egyptian, Italian, Belgium, and Ethiopian forces that were occupying Sudan. Following his victory, he established a short-lived Mahdist state. The overthrow of the oppressive foreign forces led many to believe that he truly was Imam Mahdi. The movement was subsequently led by his “Khalifah”. Because Mahdiyya was never antagonistic towards mainstream Islam, it was reabsorbed back into the Jama’ah. But to this day, many Muslims in Sudan consider themselves adherents of Mahdiyya and still consider Muhammad Ahmad to be the Mahdi.
Mahdaviyya – An Indian Mahdi-based faith which believes the Messiah is Muhamamd Jaunpuri. Born in 1443, from a young age, Jaunpuri was regarded for his knowledge and wisdom. He made a series of self-aggrandizing claims, including being the Lion of the Scholars and Master of the Saints. He claimed to be the Messiah during a trip to Hajj, where he was subsequently ignored, but managed to spread his teachings in India, mostly in Ahmedabad. Mahdavis still exist in India, with small communities in the US, specifically in Chicago.
Ahmadiyya – An Indian Mahdi-based faith which believes the Messiah is Mirza Ghulam. Born in 1883, Mirza was respected by a sizeable contention of Muslims of India. He made a series of self-aggrandizing claims, such as being Krishna, the Messiah, a Prophet and others. One claim of his many claims was that he was the Mahdi. He managed to spread his teachings in parts of India and Pakistan. Ahmadis still exist in India, Pakistan, and parts of the UK, Canada and West Africa.
Babism and the Baha’i Faith – Perhaps the most successful Mahdi-based off-shoot, Baha’ism was started by Ali Muhammad Shirazi from Persia. At the age of 25 he claimed to be the Bab (Gateway) to the Mahdi, the Mahdi himself, and eventually a prophet of Allah. The spread of his new religion would not have been possible had it not been for the Shaykhi branch of Twelver Shi’ism, which holds the belief in the coming of Imam Mahdi to be imminent. Many of the Shaykhis accepted Shirazi as the Mahdi and this led to the rise of the movement.
Ali Muhammad Shirazi was executed by firing squad in 1850 by the ruling authorities in Persia. Afterwards, Mirza Husayn Ali Nuri, a disciple of Shirazi, became his most influential believer. He declared himself as Baha’u’llah, a prophet foretold by Shirazi, and gained considerable prominence amongst early Baha’is. Threatened with imprisonment and immense persecution, he traveled around the Persian and Ottoman Empire to spread his new faith.
To this day, the Baha’i Faith has spread all around the world. Ahmadiyya and the Baha’i faith are twin religions, with many common characteristics and remarkably similar arguments. The Babi Faith, as distinct from the Baha’i faith, still exists, but in extremely small numbers. Adherents refer to themselves as “Orthodox Baha’i“.
Al-Harith ibn Surayj – From Khurasan, Al-Harith was an insurgent against the ruling Umayyad Dynasty. He accused the dynasty of of committing many public evils, much of which was true. But Al-Harith went to the extreme of claiming to be the Mahdi, who would fill the world with justice. He allied with the enemies of the Muslims and took refuge with the neighboring pagans of modern-day Turkmenistan to help them in their fight against Banu Umayyad.
Interestingly, he enlisted Jahm ibn Safwan, one of the first ones to mix Greek Philosophic elements with Islam, which led to many of the early heretical groups. The Muslims en masse rejected Al-Harith for many reasons, amongst which was that it is well-established that the name of Imam Mahdi will be Muhammad ibn Abdullah. He was killed in 128 AH in a battle with rival rebellion groups.
Muslims – But what about the Muslims? What do we believe? Reflect on the fact that Allah never disclosed to us an exact date of the coming of Imam Mahdi, nor is it a major point of ‘aqidah in most classical books, nor is it explicitly mentioned by name in the Qur’an, and only a handful of hadith on him exist. This was no accident. We certainly believe in him, but Muslims should not sit back and rely on Imam Mahdi to come and fix everything. Instead, we should be active in reforming the wrongs of our time. He will certainly come, but Allah is our focus, not a knight in shining armor.
These groups started because of legitimate anger and frustration, wide-spread social change and political chaos. It creates a feeling of immediacy, of “lets me do something!” Complainency leads to a sense that the Muslims are not good enough, that we need to join a new movement of change! But we Muslims must not allow ourselves to be led astray by joining fringe cults or political movements. We already have a Jama’ah! It it does not date back to a new leader or founder, it dates back to the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم! All of these groups began on legitimate concerns, but later went astray. Ahmadiyya is yet another one of them.
A man once came to the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم and asked “When is the hour?” (ie, Day of Judgement). The Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم responded by asking him “What have you prepared for the day?” Our goal is not to bring about the end of times and search for the Mahdi, but to purify our hearts and connection to God through his noble prophet.
If you want to find signs for something, you will see them everywhere. On a person note, I personally believe his signs are everywhere that he will come soon. But I am not actively waiting for him, counting down days on a calendar or announcing it on the street. Instead, we should focus on increasing our tawakkul, yaqeen, sabr and love of the prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم. Rectify the problems in your community, help the poor, feed the hungry, the meat of Islam! This is what matters, not running away to join some false claimant to Imam Mahdi.
May Allah guide us all to what is true and keep us away from going astray.