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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, November 17, 2010

Preach Like an Egyptian
According to a story last week in the Egyptian news organ "al-Masry al-Youm" ["Egypt Today"], a shady Shi`i sect's members are being rounded up in that  country (  State Security "has opened investigations into 12 Shia [sic] Muslim individuals from Egypt, Morocco, Iraq and Australia arrested...on charges of 'promoting Shia doctrines," as well as "falsifying" the Qur'an and rejecting the Hadith, thanks to funds received "from several foreign countries."  The most important aspect of this story is that the sect's leader, Ahmad Hassan al-Yamami, is believed to be the Awaited Mahdi, "or expected messiah of the Shia faith."
1) al-Yamami was the head of Ansar al-Mahdi ["Companions of the Mahdi"] in southern Iraq, a group that engaged in battles with both Iraqi government and American forces several times, most recently in January 2008.  I wrote about him and this movement in "The Modern Impact of Mahdism and the Case of Iraq" [a chapter in Political Islam from Muhammad to Ahmadinejad, Joseph Skelly, ed. (Praeger Security International, 2010, pp. 182-192)].  According to members of the group whom I contacted, they were the innocent victims of Baghdad's attacks (which government was also illegitimate, since it refused to believe in al-Yamami's claims).  Regarding al-Yamami himself,  I was told that he is the "son of the 12th Imam," one of five signs presaging the coming of the actual 12th Imam al-Mahdi. 
2) If the Egyptian press report (based on State Security's assessment) is correct, then al-Yamami has ramped up his eschatological claim from mere Mahdist precursor to Mahdism per se. 
3) The presence of only a dozen supporters seems to indicate a quite marginal following for this Mahdist movement in Egypt--but its transference from Iraq to the most populous, and centrally-located, Arab Muslim country also demonstrates that Mahdism may be acquiring regional dimensions, as does the presence of believers from Morocco and, strangely, Australia. 
4) Egypt is an interesting new locale for al-Yamami.  Cairo's official tally of only 0.5% Shi`i population in the country is very likely far too low; furthermore, Egypt has a strong hisorical and intellectual tradition of Shi`ism, as it was ruled from 969-1171 AD by the Sevener Shi`i Fatimid dynasty--which in fact founded the famous al-Azhar madrasah and mosque the year after the Shi`i conquest. Thus, Egypt might be more susceptible to Shi`i blandishments than other Sunni countries (a vulnerability which the Islamic Republic of Iran may be trying to exploit: when he was in Iraq, Baghdad claimed that al-Yamami's Ansar al-Mahdi were supported by Iran).
5) There they go again: another media outlet stating that Mahdism is strictly a Shi`i phenomenon.  Egyptians should know better than the ignorati at Reuters and AP.  But, to be fair, perhaps the order came down from the government to refrain from reminding Sunnis that most men claiming the Mahdiyah have come from their ranks.
1:15 pm est          Comments

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

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