بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
In the name of Allāh, the Supremely Beneficent, the Sublimely Magnanimous
نحمده و نصلي على رسوله الكريم
و على عبده المسيح الموعود
We send prayers and blessings upon His (swt) Noble Messenger (saw) and upon his (saw) Servant, the Promised Messiah (as)
The following is a 5 part series on the concept of the Imām al-Mahdī – rightly guided leader, an eschatological figure who is understood by the Muslims as being the de facto supreme leader of the Muslims during the latter days, who alongside Jesus – who shall return descending from the sky – will bring about the supremacy of Islam in the world and bring justice to it as it was filled with injustice.
It was written by Hadrat Mawlawī Shayr ‘Alī (may Allah be pleased with him and have mercy on him) in 1908, a great scholar of the Islamic sciences and the Qur’an, who produced one of the first translations of the Qur’an into English by a Muslim in history. He was a Sunni scholar of Islam who also had a B.A. and himself took the bay’ah (pledge of allegiance) of Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (‘alayhi al-salām) who claimed to be the Imām al-Mahdī in 1891 and started the Ahmadiyya Islamic Order.
As such, this article will analyze all the relevant ahādīth (traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) regarding the Mahdī and also the prevailing notions of the Mahdī held by Muslims of today. It is one of the most scholarly pieces on the concept of Mahdī in Ahmadiyya literature and serves as a great introduction to Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (‘alayhi al-salām) as fulfilling the prophecies of the Mahdī to Muslim seekers of truth. It will be released in 5 parts. Here begins the first part. Later parts will delve into the signs of the Mahdī. Asides from the introduction and the conclusion, all of the words henceforth are those of Hadrat Mawlawī Shayr ‘Alī.
Source of Original Article: Review of Religions, May 1908
Inauthenticity of the Ahādīth relating to the Mahdī
Traditions giving the Name of the Mahdī
Traditions regarding his Lineage
Traditions relating to the Land of the Mahdī’s appearance
Tradition concerning the period of the Mahdī’s ministry
Traditions relating to the Time of his Appearance
Concept of the Warrior Mahdī held by Contemporary Muslims
Conclusion of Part I
The Islamic prophecy of the advent of a holy champion of Islam (or a Mahdī as they call him) is a prophecy of world-wide reputation. There has been no age but has witnessed the appearance of a pretender to this office. Mahdī is a holy and pure name; it means one that is guided in the right path. But it is painful to note that ignorant and fanatic Mullahs have represented the holy holder of this title in such dark colours and some of the pretenders that set themselves up as Mahdīs allowed themselves to commit such horrible atrocities that the word Mahdī, a holier and more innocent name than which does not exist, now carries with it a most terrible signification. The holder of this holy title is represented by fanatic Mullahs and Mawlawīs as a bloody warrior who will deluge the earth with infidel blood. These foolish priests of Islam know of no other means of propagating the holy religion of Islam and believe that the Mahdī too will resort to sword as the only means of propagating it. Alas, a great injustice has been done to this holy name and a very innocent and harmless title has been misrepresented as the terrible title of a bloodthirsty man-killer. The object of this paper is to clear off the errors and misconceptions that having accumulated round the name of the Mahdī through long centuries, have hidden the reality from men’s eyes, and to represent it in tis true light by showing its true significance.
The first difficulty that one meets with in studying the prophecy of the advent of the Mahdī is that one is confronted with a mass of traditions almost all of which are admittedly inauthentic.
The late Nawab Siddiq Hasan Khan of Bhopal State [India], an eminent theological writer of the Ahl-e-Hadīth sect, took great pains to collect all the traditions regarding the advent of the Mahdī in his famous work the Hujāj al-Kirāmah, and speaking of the authenticity of these traditions observes on page 365 of that work:
“There is no doubt that in the chain of narrators of most of the traditions there are persons who were careless, of bad memory, weak or of feeble judgment and had other faults. These weak and faulty traditions, taken collectively bear evidence to the truth of the fact that the Mahdī shall appear in the latter days, though there are very few of them that are pure.”
Thus according to this learned writer, the only thing that the traditions conclusively prove is that a Mahdī must appear in the latter days. As to the details of his appearance nothing can be said with certainty owing to the inauthenticity of the traditions. The same view is expressed by the learned theologian elsewhere when he says:
“All the traditions that relate to the appearance of the Mahdī, the events, the occurrences, the dangers and the conquests of his time etc., only show the truth of his appearance, in whatever way it may be.” (pg. 384)
The concluding words are significant. They show that in the opinion of the writer, the traditions that speak of the advent of Mahdī are almost all so self-contradictory and inauthentic that they prove nothing beyond the fact that a Mahdī is to appear. As to the details, the traditions are hopelessly at variance with each other so that we can not say with certainty how the appearance is to take place.
These remarks of a learned theologian will give the reader an idea how far the traditions that speak of the advent of the Mahdī are reliable. The unreliability of these traditions may further by judged from the fact that they find no place in the two well-known works on the traditions, viz, the Sahīh Bukhārī and the Sahīh Muslim, works which the consensus of Muslim opinion has declared to be more authentic than any other collection of traditions. These two books that enjoy the distinction of being the most reliable works on tradition have nothing at all to say as to the advent of a Mahdī. This shows that the learned compilers of these works did not look upon these traditions as authentic enough to have a place in their collections and hence they rejected them. To what further conclusion this circumstance gives rise, I shall state further on.
Most of the traditions are unreliable not only because their narrators were untrustworthy but also because there is much evidence in the traditions themselves which points to their unreliability. The traditions are full of contradictions. They disagree on the name of the Mahdī, his lineage, the place and the time of his appearance, and the period for which he will live on the earth after his appearance. I quote below some of the traditions in order to show how they contradict each other on almost every important point.
Sunan Abī Dāwūd has the following tradition [of the Prophet Muhammad]:
“Even if there remain only one day to the end of the world, God will lengthen that day until He raises therein a man from me (or from my family) whose name will coincide with my name and whose father’s name will coincide with that of my father.” (Sunan Abī Dāwūd, Kitāb al-Mahdī, #4269)
The same author has another tradition which represents ‘Alī (ra) saying:
“This my son, Hassan, is a sayyid (leader) as the Holy Prophet (sa) styled him, and there shall appear from among his descendants a man who will be called after the name of your prophet, whom he will resemble in character and not in personal appearance.” (Sunan Abī Dāwūd, Kitāb al-Mahdī, #4276)
Both these traditions, if literally, if literally interpreted, mean that the Mahdī’s name is to be Muhammad.
There are other traditions which give the Mahdī’s name as Ahmad and not Muhammad.
Nawab Siddiq Hassan Khan observes on page 352 of his work already referred to that according to some traditions, the name of the Mahdī is Ahmad and that of his father ‘Abdullah. One of the traditions runs thus:
“A crier shall cry from the heavens: O people, verily God has ride you of the tyrants and the hypocrites and their hosts and made the best of his servants a lord over you, so join him at Mecca, for he is the Mahdī and his name is Ahmad, son of ‘Abdullah.” (Iqtirāb al-Sā’ah, pg. 66)
Again, there is a tradition which gives his name as ‘Isā (Arabic form of ‘Jesus’). This tradition will be found in another part of this article.
As to the name of his father, the Shi’as contend that it is Hasan and not ‘Abdullah.
Firstly, there are traditions that represent him as a descendant of Fātima (ra). Abū Dawūd reports on the authority of Ummi Sālama (ra): “The Mahdī is from my (i.e. the Holy Prophet’s) family, from the children of Fātima.” (Sunan Abī Dawūd, Kitāb al-Mahdī, #4271)
We have now to see whether the Mahdī is to be a descendant of Hasan or Hussayn, the two sons of Fātima. Here there is a great split in the traditions, some representing Mahdī as a descendant of Hasan and others denying it and representing him as a child of Hussayn. I have already quoted a tradition from Abū Dawūd which represents the Mahdī as the seed of Hasan [Sunan Abī Dāwūd, Kitāb al-Mahdī, #4276].
Another tradition to the same effect is narrated by Tamām and Ibn ‘Asakīr and runs thus:
“There shall appear in the last days a man from the children of Hasan, who if confronted by mountains shall move them from their resting place and shall make his way through them.”
Another tradition to the same effect is narrated by Tammām and Ibn ‘Asakīr [from ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr, narrated in Ibn ‘Asakīr’s Tārīkh Dimashq – “History of Damascus”] and runs thus:
“There shall appear in the last days a man from the children of Hasan, who if confronted by mountains shall move them from their resting place and shall make his way through them.”
Against these traditions, we have others according to which Mahdī is to be a descendant of Hussayn and not Hasan. Ibn ‘Asakīr narrates on the authority of Jābir:
“Verily the Mahdī is from the children of Hussayn.”
The Shi’as stick to traditions which declare the Mahdī to be a descendant of Hussayn (ra). An attempt has been made to patch up this difference in another tradition which declares the Mahdī to be a descendant of both Hasan and Hussayn. Tabrānī and Abū Nu’aym narrate on the authority of ‘Ali Halālī:
“The Holy Prophet (sa) said to Fātima, ‘By Him who raised me with truth, verily the Mahdī of this religion is to be from these two, i.e. Hasan and Hussayn.”
It would have been well if this difference had ended with Hasan and Hussayn, but unfortuntaely there come forward others, who announce the Mahdī to be descended from quite a different stock, thus excluding both Hasan and Hussayn. For instance, there is a number of traditions in which the Mahdī is represented as a descendant of ‘Abbās, the uncle of the Holy Prophet. Ka’ab Ahbār is said to have narrated the following tradition:
“The Mahdī is to be a descendant of ‘Abbās.”
Dār Qutnī and Ibn ‘Asakīr narrate as follows:
“‘Uthmān (the 3rd Caliph) said, ‘I heard the Holy Prophet (sa) say that the Mahdī was to be a descendant of his uncle, ‘Abbās.”
Another tradition is narrated by Khatīb al-Baghdādī, which says:
“The Holy Prophet said, ‘O ‘Abbās, God commenced this religion, Islam, with me, and it is nigh that He should perfect it with a child of thine, who shall fill the earth with peace and equity after it has been filled with injustice and inequity, and it is he who shall perform his prayers with Jesus, son of Mary.”
Similarly, there are many other traditions which represent Mahdī as one of the ‘Abbāsids [descendants of ‘Abbās]. But the party of the Umayyads [descendants of the Banū Umayyah i.e. Abū Sufyān and ‘Uthmān’s line] have not been behind that of the ‘Abbāsids in claiming the Mahdī as one of their own number. They have gone so far as to apply the prophecy to a pious king of the Umayyad dynasty, [the Caliph] ‘Umar bin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz. Jalal al-Din Suyūtī quotes the words of Wahb bin Munabbih on page 158 of his work, the Tārīkh al-Khulafā’, which runs as follows:
إن كان في هذه الأمة مهدي فهو عمر بن عبد العزيز
“If there is any Mahdī from the Ummah of the Holy Prophet (sa), he is ‘Umar bin ‘Abd al-‘Azīz.”
Similarly, there are traditions which show that the Mahdī is to be from the children of ‘Umar [bin al-Khattāb], the second Caliph.
Thus there are five great people in Islam that respectively claim the Mahdī as belonging to their own family, viz.,
(a) The children of Hasan
(b) The children of Hussayn
(c) The ‘Abbāsids
(d) The Umayyads
(e) The children of ‘Umar
It may also be noted here that the descendants of ‘Alī from his wives other than Fātima [the ‘Alids] hold that the Mahdī must be a child of ‘Alī, but not necessarily from his wife Fātima, and they have their own traditions to depend upon.
While these various people claim the Mahdī as one of their own number, each quoting tradtions in their support, there are traditions in which no particular family is specified, but it is declared in general terms that the Mahdī is to be from among the followers of the Holy Prophet. I have already bothered my readers too much with quotations on the question of the lineage of the Mahdī, so I will now content myself only with pointing out the fact that there are traditions which do not partake of any sectarian character and which speak of the Mahdī as appearing from among the followers of the Holy Prophet. Anyone who refers to works on tradition, such as Abū Dawūd etc., will find traditions in which the Mahdī is spoken of as appearing from among the followers of the Holy Prophet (من أمتي – ‘from my Ummah‘, or في أمتي – ‘in my Ummah’).
It is curious to note that not only various families, but also the leading sects of Islam have each put forward claims with regard to the Mahdī. The Shi’as believe that the Mahdī will uphold the cause of Shi’ism, destroying every Sunni that will be found on the earth. The Mu’tazilites deny the very coming of the Mahdī. The Hanafis declare that the Mahdī is to be a follower of their Imām, Abū Hanīfah. The Wahhābīs, on the other hand, fly into a passion at this claim of the Hanafīs and hold that the Mahdī will be a staunch upholder of their sect. It is amusing to see these various sects quarreling which each other on this point. A representative of the Wahhābī sect, the author of the Hadīth al-Ghāshīyyah, may be quoted here to give the reader an idea of how tehse various sects vie with each other in claiming the Mahdī as one of their own number. The writer says on page 352 of his work:
“If we live long enough to see the time when the Mahdī comes or the Messiah descends from the heavens, we will hail these gentlemen, the Hanafis, and ask them to tell which of us was in the right, they or we. Then they will know the rate of flour and lentils and then they shall learn their error.”
On this point too, the traditions clash with each other, as they do on other points. The following are the various places which have been named as the localities where the Mahdī is to make his appearance.
1.) A village named Ka’dah (I shall have to refer to this tradition later on and hence refrain from quoting it here).
2.) Medina. Abū Dawūd quotes a long tradition in the course of which we have the following words:
“Disagreement will occur at the death of a caliph and a man of the people of Medina will come flying forth to Mecca.” (Sunan Abī Dawūd, Kitāb al-Mahdī, #4273)
Commenting on this tradition, Nawab Siddiq Hasan Khan observes on page 358 of his work already referred to:
“By ‘a man’ in this tradition is meant the Mahdī and the tradition shows that the Mahdī shall not only be born at Medina but also make his appearance there.”
3.) Mecca. Nu’aym ibn Hammād [the teacher of Imām Bukhārī] narrates the following tradition:
“The Mahdī shall appear at Mecca at the time of the night prayer.” (See Siddiq Hasan Khan’s work page 363)
‘Alī Muttaqī in his treatise entitled al-Mahdī observes:
“O reader, know that it is related in the stories of the prophets and in the traditions and in the writings of the Holy Saints that the Mahdī shall be the seed of Hussayn, the name of his father coinciding with that of the Holy Prophet’s father, viz., ‘Abdullah, and he shall be born at Mecca and shall also die there.”
4.) The land known as the Maghreb, i.e., North Africa.
Nawab Siddiq Hasan Khan says on page 358:
“Qirbatī says in his book, the Tadhkirah, that the place of birth of the Mahdī is the Maghreb (Western land). From there he shall come by way of sea.”
5.) The Masjid al-Aqsā in Bayt al-Muqaddas (Jerusalem).
Siddiq Hasan says on page 358:
“It is related that the Mahdī shall appear from the Masjid al-Aqsā.”
6.) The East. Abū Nu’aym and Ibn ‘Asakīr narrate as follows:
“There shall appear in the East, a man from the children of Hasan, son of ‘Alī, who if confronted by mountains shall move them from their resting place and shall make his way through them.”
This is one of the traditions on the authority of which it is asserted by some that the Mahdī shall be a descendant of Hasan. The tradition has already been quoted. Ibn Mājah relates another tradition which says:
“There shall appear some men in the East who shall render assistance to the Mahdī.” (Sunan Ibn Mājah, Kitāb al-Fitan, #4088)
7.) Khorasan. In the Musnad of Ahmad, we have the following report:
“When you see black banners coming from Khorasan, go unto them, for there you shall find the Caliph of God, the Mahdī.” (also in Sunan Ibn Mājah, Kitāb al-Fitan, #4084)
Here too there is a disappointing disagreement in the traditions. The following are the various numbers of years for which, it is said, the Mahdī shall live in this world after the public decleration of his mission:
(1) 5 years
(2) 7 years
(3) 9 years
(4) 19 years and a few months
(5) 20 years
(6) 24 years
(7) 30 years
(8) 40 years
It is needless to quote all these conflicting traditions; the following quotation from Siddiq Hasan’s work already referred to will do:
“The traditions regarding the period of Mahdī’s ministry are conflicting. Some traditions give the period as 5, 7, or 9 years, some give it as 7, some as 9; some say, he shall not live for less than 5 years and more than 9 years, some give the period as 19 years and a few months, some as 20 years, some as 24 years, some as 30 ears, while there are others that give the period of his ministry as 40 years.” (page 380)
The traditions which give the period of his ministry as 40 years are believed to be the most trustworthy.
Though most of the traditions represent the Mahdī as a contemporary of the Promised Messiah, yet there is a traidition which gives the time of his appearance as intermediate between the time of the Holy Prophet and that of the Promised Messiah.
The tradition runs thus:
لن تهلك أمة أنا في أولها وعيسى ابن مريم في آخرها ، والمهدي في أوسطها
“God will never destroy a people whose beginning is marked with my appearance, middle by that of the Mahdī, and end by that of Jesus.” (Kanz al-‘Ummāl 14/266 Hadīth 38671 cf. Kitāb al-Mahdī of Abū Na’īm)
The above are only a few of the numerous discrepancies to be met with in the traditions bearing on the advent of the Mahdī, and what I have said above is sufficient to show the unreliability of most of the traditions relating to the Mahdī.
It is a pity that traditions that are not only utterly unreliable, but also injurious to Islam and threatening to public tranquility are preached from the pulpit. Traditions representing the Mahdī as a warrior who shall destroy all non-Muslims stand lowest in the scale of authenticity, yet it is these traditions that are trumpeted abroad by fanatic Muslim scholars as if they were the most authentic. Their conduct would have been excusable, had the traditions on the basis of which the Mahdī is represented as coming with sword in his hand and deluging the earth with infidel blood had been reliable and trustworthy; but when it is seen that of the traditions regarding the advent of the Mahdī, those that depict him as a bloody warrior are the most unreliable, and that the Indian Mawlawīs are not unaware of the fact, one is compelled to condemn their preaching as most mischievously dangerous.
They not only degrade Islam in public estimation by their preaching a warlike Mahdī, but they are also a menace to public peace. If their motives had been good, if they had been the well-wishers of Islam, and of the beneficient Government which is raining its favours on us day and night, they, instead of exciting public feeling for Jihād, and making the ignorant masses look fondly to the time when the imaginary Mahdī shall smite the heathen world with his sword and pluner its treasures, ought to have exposed the unreliable character of the traditions and calmed down the public feeling by making the masses hold soberer views regarding the Mahdī. Then they would have done a srvice, not only to the Government, but also to Islam.
But in order to let the reader know what kind of teachings are disseminated among the credulous and confiding masses, I give below a few quotations from the Iqtirāb al-Sā’ah, which is generally believed to have been the work of Siddiq Hasan Khan, though purporting to have been written by his son. On page 94, the Mahdī is represented as inviting people by God by means of sword; on page 64, we have the following words:
“He (the Mahdī) will fight battles and draw treasures, conquer city after city and subjugate the whole world from East to West. The Kings of India shall be brought into his presence with chains round their necks.”
Then the writer adds by way of comment:
“I say there is no monarch in India at present; there are only some chiefs, Hindu or Muslim, but they are not independent rulers, nay, they are rulers only in name. The great rulers of this country are Europeans and probably they will remain the rulers till that time, and therefore they shall be brought into his presence, or it may be that by that time the rule of some other monarch may be established here.”
Similar views are expressed in other works of Siddiq Hasan Khan, for example see the Hujjāj al-Kirāmah, page 374.
I have already quoted Siddiq Hasan Khan to show that he believes most of the traditions relating to the Mahdī to be inauthentic, proving nothing beyond the fact that a Mahdī must appear, yet this very writer whose vast learning commanded the esteem of the whole Muslim India openly teaches that the European rulers of India shall be brought in chains before the Mahdī. This book was published as recently as 1301 A.H., i.e. only a quarter of a century ago. The mischief that such writings may work is inestimable. It is impossible to eradicate the deeply rooted error of [the understanding of] Jihād from the hearts of the ignorant Muslims as long as a bloody Mahdī is preached by fanatic Mullahs. There may be certain Mullahs, like Muhammad Hussayn of Batala, who secretly assure the Government that the traditions which speak of a warrior Mahdī are unreliable, but such assurances are of no avail unless the minds of the duped masses are purged of these mischievous beliefs by an open and vigorous exposure of the errors. I leave this subject here to return to it at the end of the article [in Part 5].
1. Ahādīth (traditions of the Prophet) regarding the Mahdī are largely inauthentic based on chain of narrators and contradict each other. Asides from those held to be authentic without a doubt, all we know can truly be sure of is that a Mahdī will appear.
2. The concept of a war-mongering fighter Mahdī as many mainstream Muslims today hold is totally opposed to the teachings of the Prophet (sa) and the Qur’an, especially where it says ‘there is no compulsion in religion’ (Qur’an 2:257)
To be continued.