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al-Mahdi is "the rightly-guided one" who, according to Islamic Hadiths (traditions), will come before the end of time to make the entire world Muslim.  Over the last 1400 years numerous claimants to the mantle of the Mahdi have arisen in both Shi`i and Sunni circles.  Modern belief in the coming of the Mahdi has manifested most famously in the 1979 al-`Utaybi uprising of Sa`udi Arabia, and more recently in the ongoing Mahdist movements (some violent) in Iraq, as well as in the frequently-expressed public prayers of former Iranian President Ahmadinezhad bidding the Mahdi to return and, in the larger Sunni Islamic world, by claims that Usamah bin Ladin might be the (occulted) Mahdi.  Now in 2014 Mahdism is active in Syria, as the jihadist opposition group Jabhat al-Nusra claims to be fighting to prepare the way for his coming; and in the new "Islamic State/caliphate" spanning Syrian and Iraqi territory, as its leadership promotes the upcoming apocalyptic battle with the West at Dabiq, Syria.  This site will track such Mahdi-related movements, aspirations, propaganda and beliefs in both Sunni and Shi`i milieus, as well as other  Muslim eschatological yearnings.
For a primer on Mahdism, see my 2005 article, "What's Worse than Violent Jihadists?," at the History News Network:; for more in-depth info, see the links here to my other writings, including my book on Mahdism.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Back to the Future?

In the last decade many non-Muslims have learned the difference between Sunnis and Shi`is.  Some have even learned something about Sufis, the mystics of Islam who--to briefly summarize a long historical and theological discussion--emphasize direct experiences of Allah over wooden adherence to shari`ah.  Sufism has even been advanced as an "antidote" to the violent Sunni Muslim views of the Wahhabis/Salafis/jihadists, most notably by author, and convert to Islam, Stephen Schwartz in articles and most recently, and comprehensively, in his newest book The Other Islam: Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony. 
I think Mr. Schwartz is on to something, because it is true that many Sufi orders and their adherents are practitioners of a non-literalistic (regarding the Qur'an), "moderate" brand of Islam. However, as I have discussed with Mr. Schwartz, his view of Sufism needs to be advanced with the caveat "be careful what you wish for." Sufism may have been largely quietist and non-violent in modern times, but throughout a millennium or so of Islamic history Sufi orders, and their charismatic leaders, were often involved in revolutions, jihads and wars.  Six of the eight Mahdist movements I examine in my first book, Holiest Wars, were led by Sufis shaykhs, many of whom had legions of followers from their own (and other) Sufi orders--the most notable example being the famous Sudanese Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmad (d. 1885), that bane of General Charles Gordon, a.k.a. Charlton Heston.  Other Sufi-led wars, to cite just a few examples, were fought against the Russians in the Caucasus and the French in Algeria.
And there are indications that the latent militant tendencies of some Sufi orders may be resurfacing and, indeed, becoming transnational.  Almost two years ago the Jamestown Foundation reported that at least two Sufi orders--the Qadiris and the Naqshbandis--had taken up arms in Iraq against U.S. forces (  Two days ago MEMRI reported a story from Syrian TV about a meeting in Damascus between a delegation from the Army of the Naqshbandi Order and Khalid Mash`al, head of Hamas.  The Naqshbandis brought gold jewelry from "the noble Naqshbandi women, who wanted to participate in the nation's jihad in Gaza." The Sufi spokesman added that "this is what our tolerant Islamic shari`a dictates, since the battle against injustice, tyranny and occupation is a common battle."  Mash`al concluded, praising his Syrian hosts: "Here in Damascus--Baghdad and Gaza have met. The unity of arms stressed the unity of blood, in the hope of meeting soon in a land liberated forever" ( 
As I said in a paper presented at the ASMEA (Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa) Conference in Washington, D.C. last April: "in the 18th and 19th centuries (and even into the 20th), the Sufi orders with their extant organizational structures and obedience to a charismatic leader often proved a ready vehicle for a Mahdist hijacking."  The convergence between Hamas and the Iraqi Naqshbandis may be simply a utilitarian matter of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." But it may also indicate the beginning of something more ominous: the return of militant, charismatic Sufism--with its Mahdist sympathies--to the Sunni fold.  (Remembers, a Sunni shaykh in Palestine has already claimed the Mahdi was born a few years ago in the territories.) Stay tuned.

9:21 am est          Comments

Saturday, January 17, 2009

You're Gonna Have to Serve SOMEbody
According to a story in Agence France-Presse, carried on, French Muslim soldiers are refusing to deploy to Afghanistan because they would have to fight fellow Muslims (  French army officials are playing this down, since it (allegedly) consists only of "a micro-phenomenon concerning fewer than five cases per year."  The article is unclear about whether this is five cases in the entire French military, or five out of those deploying/deployed to Afghanistan. If the former, then it is indeed of little concern. However, if the latter, then Sarkozy might have a real problem: the French currently have 2,600  troops in Afghanistan, and so that would mean some 1% of French soldiers are refusing direct orders to fight there.  By way of comparison, the U.S. has about 31,000 troops in Afghanistan, and a commensurate desertion rate would amount to about 310 soldiers--which would be a real problem.  Much has been written about "Eurabia" and the Islamization of Europe, but few, if any, analysts have yet examined the issue of effects on European (and American) forces of military members whose primarily loyalty is to a faith, not to the nation-state.  Perhaps it's high time someone did so.
2:52 pm est          Comments

Friday, January 16, 2009

Portrait of the Mahdi as a Young Man
Last year, on the Ides of March, I commented on the Palestinian cleric--`Isa Badwan--whose claim that the Mahdi had been born in 2004 in the Palestinian territories was carried on Hamas' al-Aqsa TV.  Comes now an article ("Palestinian Journalist and Intellectual Criticizes Hamas TV Report of Mahdi's Birth & Prediction of Conquest of Rome," by an expatriate Palestian intellectual, Ahmad Abu Matar, to the effect that elements of Hamas are fostering such Mahdist beliefs among the Palestinian masses; Abu Matar mocks not only Badwan--"Since, as most Palestinians are surely aware, the city of Gaza's territory is only 45 square kilometers, it is highly possible that the awaited Palestinian Mahdi, who has already been born, lives within a few meters of the Israeli soldier Gilead Shali"-- but also Iraq's Muqtada al-Sadr, for claiming the U.S. invaded Iraq in order to identify and capture the Mahdi. 
Here's an interesting question: will the Mahdi join a local pack or den of the Hizbullah-run Mahdi Scouts?  Look for pack branches in the Palestinian (Sunni) territories of the Lebanese (Shi`i) Mahdi Scouts to be formed any day now.
10:19 pm est          Comments

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Mahdist Deja Vu All Over Again in Iraq

While violence is diminishing in Iraq, Mahdism remains as strong as ever. According to a January 1, 2008, story in "The L.A. Times:"
"Iraqi Police Arrest 5 Shiites Cult Members"
Kim Yoshino
January 1, 2009
"Iraqi police on Wednesday announced the capture of a Shiite Muslim cult leader and four followers who they suspect were planning to attack worshipers celebrating a major Shiite holiday next week.
The members of the group Heaven's Army were detained Tuesday a few miles east of Basra....
As many as 250 members of the cult died in January 2007 on the Shiite holiday of Ashura, in a battle with Iraqi and U.S. troops as the fighters were poised to stage an attack in the holy city of Najaf.
Arshad Dayem, a leader of the group, was among those arrested, the police official said.
Police said they confiscated maps and CDs containing plans for attacks in Basra, Karbala and other sites in Shiite-dominated southern provinces. Thousands of pilgrims are en route to Baghdad, Karbala, Najaf and Samarra for the holiday, which falls on Jan. 7 this year. Heaven's Army is one of several Shiite messianic cults. Most Muslims believe the Mahdi, a descendant of the prophet Muhammad, will appear with Jesus and establish peace and justice worldwide. Most Shiites believe the Mahdi is their 12th imam, who they say went into hiding in 878 and is still alive.
Last year, a cult called Supporters of the Mahdi clashed with Iraqi security forces in Basra and Nasiriya on Ashura, resulting in at least 80 deaths...."
1) Not that I doubt the veracity of the Iraqi government and police, but this is exactly the same modus operandi they used a year ago--allege impending attacks on pilgrims and holy sites--to round up the usual Mahdist subjects.  It would be nice and useful to have some other source of information besides the Iraqi government.  Perhaps such attacks were planned; alternatively, perhaps the government just wanted an excuse to tighten security  before Ashura, and/or to crack down on government opposition.
2) Does the "L.A. Times " have an editor? If so he should have caught the (oxy)moronic writing which in the same paragraph refers to "Shiite Messianic cults" which believe the same thing that "most Muslims" believe--that the Mahdi will come "and establish peace and justice worldwide." Such groups as "Heaven's Army" may be cult-like, but belief in the Mahdi alone does not ipso facto make them so.
3) Odds are that this group is called in Arabic either Jaysh al-Sama' [Army of Heaven] or Jund al-Sama' [Soldiers of Heaven]. But it would more professionally journalistic if the correspondent would provide the transliterated Arabic.
4) Mahdism of some stripe--and I have my doubts that it's purely Shi`i, as this story alleges--survives in Iraq and  appears to offer a clear and present danger to Baghdad's rule in the south of the country. 

5:24 pm est          Comments

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Show Me the Mahdi?!
In November, 2008 I was in Istanbul interviewing Adnan Oktar, a.k.a. "Harun Yahya," about his ideas of Mahdism and Pan-Islamic unity for my upcoming book on the caliphate.  Of course this necessarily entailed a discussion of his views of Darwinism v. Islamic Creationism. Here's the link:,_2008
1:16 pm est          Comments

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Jamkaran Mosque near Qom, Iran (during my trip there Aug. 2008)

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