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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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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Mahdi: Black by Popular Demand?

Last week Louis Farrakhan, the head of the Nation of Islam, in a sermon ( ignored by the media, made a startling claim: that he is the Mahdi!
Some background might be in order for readers not well-versed in NOI matters. Wallace Fard Muhammad started the NOI as the "Black Muslim" movement in Detroit in 1930; the leadership thereof passed to his disciple Elijah Poole Muhammad upon the former's "disappearance" (death) in 1934. NOI doctrine for some decades claimed that Wallace Fard was the Mahdi and the Messiah rolled into one, although eventually among some NOI members the idea evolved that he was actually God Incarnate (which, interestingly, is akin to what the Druze of Lebanon and Israel, and the Alawis of Lebanon and Syria, believe about their respective sects' founders).  Upon Elijah Poole's death in 1975 his son Warith Deen Muhammad took over, renaming the organzation the American Society of Muslims and moving it closer to mainstream Sunni teachings.  However, between 1978-81 Farrakhan differed, and finally broke, with Warith Deen and reconstituted a smaller (tens of thousands), yet tightly-hierarchical and devoted, NOI.  
Back in 2006 I participated in a conference in DC at Centra Technology on "Understanding Differences in Islamic Movements."  The very final panel was on the topic of "The NOI in the U.S.," with papers by Dr. Jeffrey Ogbar of the University of Connecticut and Dr. Vilbert White of the University of Central Florida.  The key issue: is it possible that the NOI could cooperate with jihadist groups within the U.S., or actually engage in Islamic-based violence itself?  Ogbar said no, White said yes.  
Now that Farrakhan had laid claim to the mantle of the Mahdi, let us hope that Professor White was wrong. 

11:12 am est          Comments

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

You and What Arm-y?
Last week, according to the Arab news outlet al-Arabiya, President Ahmadinejad of Iran "reiterated his accusations that the United States was hindering the return of...the Mahdi..." ( and that Iran would "cut...from the arm" any hand used to attack Iran." Also, according to this report, Ahmadinejad said "if the Mahdi does not come, this will mean that the battle of Karbala could be repeated. The Mahdi will face what the prophets faced and his life will be in danger." He went on to claim that American "arrogance" is a major stumbling block to the 12th Imam's return, and pulled out the usual Chomskyian and Far Left Democrat allegations that the US "plunders the wealth of nations by invading them" and perpetrated the 9/11 attacks itself "to gain the sympathy of the world."  
1) Karbala was the paradigmatic, for Shi`is, battle in 680 AD between Husayn (grandson of Muhammd through Ali) and his followers, on the one hand and the "usurper" Sunnis led by the Umayyad caliph Yazid I, on the other.  The Shi`is were soundly defeated and Husayn "martyred."  Karbala, today, is located in Iraq.   Also, some Twelver Shi`is in Iran believe that the seat of the Mahdi's global caliphate will be in Kufa--also in Iraq.  So current Iranian geo-eschatology hinges on important events taking place in Iraq, not Iran--an issue that analysts should keep in mind.  Note, as well, that Ahmadinejad allegedly states that if the Mahdi does NOT come, Karbala could be repeated. Is this a very clever way of sowing the ground for Iranian military action against Iraq (or Americans in Iraq?) in the absence of the Mahdi?  Or is it a true believer's way of preparing the way for someone to claim the Mahdiyah?
2) Ahmadinejad's repeated refrain accusing the US of plundering other nations' wealth scores points not just with Hugo Chavez but with at least some factions of the Left--those who show up at Davos every year, clad in their expensive Birkenstocks, backpacks and cellphones, to trash the evils of the global capitalist system led by the U.S.  It also reminds me of the inevitable couple of  students in my college world history classes who would parrot that "the US invaded Iraq for oil!"  Of course, none of them could ever answer my follow-up question: "then why is gasoline in the U.S. not 50 cents/gallon?"
At the end of the article al-Arabiya glosses that belief in the Mahdi is only found in Sh`ism--indicating that al-Arabiya writers and editors know very little about Sunni history and its legions of Mahdist claimants and movements over the last 14 centuries.
Final note: one of my clerical contacts in Qom, when asked about these statements of Ahmadinejad's, told me "they are not true"--although he admitted to having neither heard the speech nor read the transcript.  If he can provide me evidence that the IRI President indeed did NOT say such things, I'll be happy to publish it here.
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Jamkaran Mosque near Qom, Iran (during my trip there Aug. 2008)

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