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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, May 14, 2011

Mahdi, Thy Name Is Legion

According to a story last week in Saudi media, mental health officials there have expressed concern that in the last year there have been multiple cases of individuals openly claiming to be the Mahdi: "three the Kingdom...occurred in under a month...[and] six cases in the Eastern Province alone in the last year" according to Dr. Muhammad al-Zahrani, head oof the al-Amal Mental Health Complex in Dammam ( ).  It is unclear from this phrasing whether the total is six or nine, but the tally includes such phenomena as "a 29-year-old Saudi who earlier this month was Qatif after voicing his claims during prayers at a mosque on Tarout Island," "a foreign man [who] snatched the microphone from Sheikh Abdullah al-Juhani, Imam of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, during Asr prayer to announce his claims," and "an Egyptian [who] was arrested at a hotel in Madina which he purportedly used as a base to acquire followers."  Dr. al-Zahrani opined that delusional men such as these need medical treatment more than judicial punishment and should be hospitalized or institutionalized and "given good care until the best way to treat them is determined."


Famous Non-Muslim Exorcising Demons/Jinns


1)  Knowing full well that the eastern areas of KSA contain large populations of Twelver Shi`is, it's nonetheless striking that the bastion of conservative (some would say fundamentalist) Sunnism is witnessing such phenomena.  Geopolitically, the Saudis are no doubt paranoid about the issue for two major reasons: a) memory of the failed Mahdist overthrow of the monarchy by Juhayman al-Utaybi and Muhammad al-Qahtani "al-Mahdi" in 1979; and b) concerns that Tehran is stirring the Mahdist pot in KSA's east.

2) The presence of an unidentified Egyptian trying to create a Mahdist base in Madina bespeaks the growing transational trend within Mahdism.  Iraq has three active Mahdist movements (aside from the Mahdist Lite one of Muqtada al-Sadr, the Jaysh al-Mahdi) on of which, Ansar al-Mahdi, has been accused of sending da`is ("missionaries") to Egypt.  Might this "Egyptian" in KSA be connected to Iraqi Mahdism via Egypt? Preachers in Bahrain, scene of a great deal of Twelver Shi`i-Sunni conflict in recent months, have been claiming the Mahdi is near at hand to deliver them from Sunni oppression.  Iran may not want an open Twelver Mahdist claimant on its own soil, but it would certainly not be unhappy with such, Shi`i or Sunni, causing problems for Bahrain, KSA or Egypt

3) KSA already seems to have a problem  with "jinn possession" (  One might speculate as to whether this has any connection to the "mental health" of self-proclaimed Mahdis--as well as, if I may be politically incorrect, to the issue of crazed Muslim mobs killing Christians and other non-Muslims, demanding death for those who "insult Islam--the religion of peace" and "honor" killing women.  

7:50 am edt          Comments

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Usama bin Ladin: The New Vanished Imam?

The original vanished Imam is, of course, Muhammad al-Mahdi, the 12th descendant of Islam's founder through the line of Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law--who will, according to Twelver Shi`is, sooner or later return to usher in a global Imamate.  Heretofore the most famous modern vanished imam had been Musa al-Sadr, the influential Lebanese Shi`i cleric who "disappeared" on a trip to Libya in 1978--and who, according to some sources, is still alive in one of al-Qadhafi's prisons (  (This fascinating story is detailed in Fouad Ajami's 1986 book The Vanished Imam: Musa al-Sadr and the Shia of Lebanon.)
But now the world's most famous Sunni jihadist may be achieving vanished imam status. While normally a Twelver Shi`i doctrine, there is historical precedent for an occulted (Arabic ghayb[i], "absent, hidden, concealed, invisible") leader in Sunnism: in 1821 an Indian Sunni mujahid, Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi, "disappeared" fighting against infidels (British Christians and Indian Sikhs) and his followers never admitted he was dead; rather, they chose to cling to the belief that Barelwi was about to return and lead their jihad against the unbelievers.  This belief in a vanished, but undead, Sunni imam played no small part in inspiring a jihad that lasted for many years. 
I pointed this out more at length in a long blog on History News Network last week (  But since then another event has reinforced my view that Ibn Ladin is being invested with the mantle of a vanished imam.  During last Friday's prayers at al-Nur mosque in Cairo, Salafis and their ilk, led by Shaykh Hafiz Salamah, held a funeral service for Usama bin Ladin in which he was confirmed as a shahid ("Martyr") and wherein salat al-gha'ib were performed ( These are literally "prayers for the absent"--but gha'ib also means "hidden, concealed, invisible, unseen" and is in fact a word derived from the same Arabic root as the aformentioned ghayb.  Furthermore, this prayer service transmogrified into a pro-UBL-as-the-"Emir of Jihad" pep rally, replete with cries of "Death to America" and, as the mob marched to the US embassy to protest his "assassination," ones of "Bush [is a] terrorist" ( 
Well, at least the Egyptians are willing to give our former President some credit for taking out Ibn Ladin (unlike the American media or the Obama Administration). 
Bottom-line: for eschatologically-minded Muslims--in this case, Sunni--Ibn Ladin may be merely dead, but sans a body there's no proof he's really, most sincerely dead.  And, as such, he will continue to inspire jihadism and anti-Americanism and, very likely, attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt and probably against Christians in other majority-Islamic nations.  The angst at our killing of Ibn Ladin among too many Muslims, especially in a fairly Westernized and "moderate" Islamic nation like Egypt, demonstrates that his form of violent jihad was, and still is, far more popular in the Muslim street than most analysts are willing to admit.

1:10 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Nowhere Man Bin Ladin: The Islamic World Is At Your Command

My long blog article on how the lack of Bin Ladin's body (or even pix), courtesy of the Obama Administration, might have unfortunate Mahdist ramifications:

10:26 am edt          Comments

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

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