“Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets.” [Sûrah al-Ahzâb: 40]
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “I am the Seal of the
Prophets. No Prophet will come after me.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhî (2219) and Sunan
Abî Dâwûd (4252)]
This is an indisputable tenet of faith in Islam. For this reason, Muslims – whether laymen, scholars, or leaders – unanimously declare as unbelievers anyone who claims that there is a prophet after Muhammad (peace be upon him). This is why the Islamic courts have declared the Qâdiyânî and Bahâ’î sects as outside the fold of Islam and their adherents as unbelievers. This is because they claim some of their leaders to be prophets after Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), like Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (in the case of the Qâdiyânîs) and others. These people fall into unbelief because they violate an indisputable tenet of the faith.
`Abd Allah b. Saba’ attempted to sneak this idea into Islam through the back door by claiming that the Prophet (peace be upon him) will return from the grave. He did not say that there was going to be another Prophet, but this was just the beginning, for once the people, or at least a group of them, bought into this idea and began waiting expectantly for the Messenger’s return (peace be upon him), the matter became simple. Anyone could come forward and claim that he was the Prophet (peace be upon him) returned from the grave and not some other person claiming prophethood for himself. This was the danger of such an idea.
Such a claim to prophethood violates the beliefs of all the Muslims. It violates Islamic Law. It runs contrary to the consensus of the Companions, the Successors and the early scholars. A person who make such a claim must fall in one of two categories:
1. The person might be insane. This person should receive psychiatric help.
2. The person is rational.
Every attempt should be made to make this person understand and to convince him of the truth. If he persists in his claim, then his case must be brought before the courts. In this way, the Qâdiyânîs of Pakistan and other groups have been declared unbelievers in the most unambiguous terms, so that the public would have no misunderstanding on the matter.
`Abd Allah b. Saba’ also made the claim that `Alî b. Abî Tâlib was the Mahdî. He used to say: “If you brought me his brain in seventy parcels, I would not believe that he has died.” He claimed that `Alî would return and fill the Earth with justice just as it was filled with iniquity. This claim subsequently changed to Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyyah, who was the son of `Alî b. Abî Tâlib. One of the people who claimed that Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyyah was the Mahdî was a man from Iraq named al-Mukhtâr b. Abî `Ubayd who used to claim that angels visited him. When the Companion Ibn `Umar was informed of al-Mukhtâr b. Abî `Ubayd’s claim to receive revelation, he said: “He is telling the truth, for Allah says: ‘The devils inspire their helpers…’ [Sûrah al-An`âm: 121] Ibn `Umar showed him no courtesy, in spite of the fact that he was married to Safiyyah bint Abî `Ubayd, al-Mukhtâr’s sister.
The sect that claimed that Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyyah was the Mahdî was known as the Kîsâniyyah.
One of their members was the famous poet Kathîr `Azzah, who wrote:
Nay, for the Imâms are from Quraysh,
The leaders in truth, four of them peers.
`Alî and three from his household.
They are the grandsons, of whom there is no ambiguity.
One of them is the grandson of faith and righteousness.
Another was taken away at Karbalâ'
The other will not taste death until
He leads the calvary carrying the banner.
He is hidden and unseen in our times,
In Radwâ, he enjoys honey and water.
In another poem he writes:
Nay, say to the guardian, my soul has ransomed you.
You have waited too long in the mountain.
You have harmed the people who are loyal to you,
And who call you Caliph and Imam.
In you, the people of the Earth have again become one.
You have kept away from them for sixty years.
Ibn Khawlah has not tasted death
Nor bequeathed his bones to the Earth.
He has his sustenance every day,
And drink following his food.
When Muhammad b. `Abd Allah b. Hasan rose against Abî Ja`far al-Mansûr, he acquired the title of Mahdî, hoping to be the one foretold in the hadîth. Then his army was routed and he was killed in the year 145 A.H. His head was severed and paraded from Madinah to Iraq. In spite of this, his followers split into three camps. There were those who admitted to his death and discarded the notion that he was the Mahdî. Then there were those who claimed that he would return, even though it was made to appear that he had died. A third group decided that the Mahdî was someone else.
The strange thing is that this situation has repeated itself throughout history. When the recent events happened in the Haram in Mecca, some of those who claimed that their leader was actually the Mahdî were so filled with the idea that, after he was killed, they claimed that he did not die but had escaped and fled. A person is often willing to deny the evidence of his own senses because of some notion that has enthralled him. He cannot bring himself to admit that he was mistaken or deceived or that the idea he held so dear was false.
The Mahdî, for the Shî`ah, moved from person to person each time someone they vested their hopes in proved to be false. After Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyyah, some of them began to look towards Muhammad b. Ja`far, known as Ja`far al-Sâdiq. After he died, some turned to Ismâ`îl b. Ja`far. These people are known as the Ismâ`îliyyah, a sect of the Bâtiniyyah. After he died without leaving a son, some others began awaiting Muhammad b. Ismâ`il. These people belong to another sect of the Bâtiniyyah known as the Qarâmitah. The most famous Shî`ah sect is the Ithnâ `Ashariyyah (the Twelvers). They recognize twelve Imams, the last one being Muhammad b. al-Hasan al-`Askarî, the Mahdî. To them, he is an infallible Imam who went into occultation in a subterranean cave over 1200 years ago. The truth is that his alleged father, Muhammad al-`Askarî, died without having sired any children. For this reason the following verses were penned:
Never did happen the birth of the one in the cavern
Who you spoke to in your ignorance. It did not happen!
Your intellects have fallen into disrepair. To the griffon and goblin you have added a third! As for the Abbasid Mahdî, he was named Muhammad by his father, the Caliph Abû Ja`far al-Mansûr. He then gave him the title of Mahdî because he was combating the problem of the alleged Mahdî from the Ahl al-Bayt. He was compelled to fight fire with fire. In his private assemblies, he used to say: “By Allah, neither the Mahdî of Ahl al-Bayt nor my son is really the Mahdî. We are just fighting them with the same thing that they are throwing at us.” Thus, the sun of Abû Ja`far al-Mansûr claimed to be the Mahdî out of his rivalry with another claimant known as the “Pure Heart.”
There have been many “Mahdîs” throughout history. There was the Mahdî Ibn Tûmart in Morocco who established the Almohad Caliphate. Then there was the Mahdî of the Sudan, Muhammad – or Ahmad – b. `Abd Allah who established the Mahdist Movement, which still exists as a political party in that country. He used to say that he was from the Prophet’s household (Ahl al-Bayt) and claimed to receive revelation. He also claimed that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) spoke to him in person and told him that he was the Mahdî. Many people rallied around him. Admittedly, some good came out of the movement, for it played a role in freeing the Sudan from colonial occupation.
There have been a number of “Mahdîs” who never rose to any prominence. Ibn Taymiyah writes: “I know of more than one sheikh in our times known for piety, asceticism, and devotion, each of whom thinks he is the Mahdî. Some of them might possibly be inspired with this notion while they are awake, but they are hearing it from demons.”
Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalânî in his book compiling the biographies of the notable people of the 8th century A.H., mentions one of these people: “His mental state deteriorated and he began making exorbitant claims such as seeing Allah, ascending into Heaven, and having Allah speak to him and inform him that he is the Mahdî.” We have already presented a selection of the hadîth to be found on the Mahdî. We have also discussed a number of historical events that were directly related to this issue. Now, in closing, we shall offer some observations about what we have presented.
We can easily observe that overwhelming despair causes people to look for an escape. Even if the solution is only imaginary, it gives them something to cling to and focus on in the face of their great failures and dashed hopes. This is the reason we find the Mahdism so prevalent among the Shî`ah. They had always been a minority and for the most part, political power rested in the hands of Ahl al-Sunnah. They felt alienated and excluded. Their leaders were far away from the centers of influence and decision making, so they substituted for these shortcomings by providing their followers with concepts that would protect their spirits and fortify their resolve. This might have been something purely psychological, for though it may have been a deliberate ploy for some, others may have been so enthralled with these ideas that they actually believed them and then spread them to others with genuine conviction. Other people would then be ready to accept such ideas being expressed with such obvious earnest, honesty, and sincerity. They would also inherit their enthusiasm.
Mahdism provided an outlet for the Shî`ah who had no opportunity to acquire political power. They instigated many revolts, but these were all failures. A discussion of these revolts and their outcomes can be found in al-Asfahânî's book Maqâtil al-Tâlibîn.
Likewise, some people from Ahl al-Sunnah, on occasions when circumstances brought them to despair, took these ideas as a means of escape. When the Spanish expelled the Muslims from Spain, some Muslims resorted to claiming that the Mahdî had appeared. They waited for him expectantly, believing that when he came, he would lead them to victory against the Spanish.
The same can be said for some of the Muslims in the Caucasus who believed that Sheikh Mansûr, who led one of the liberation movements shortly before the time of Sheikh Shâmil, would return again and lead the jihâd.
The Kurds are a people who without doubt have gone through bitter suffering in many countries and throughout their history, with the historical exception of Salâh al-Dîn al-Ayyûbî and his descendants. As a consequence, many Kurds have held the belief that one of their leaders, Hasan b. `Alî, was going to return.
Feelings of frustration might come after a failure in some major undertaking or in the failure of the hopes connected with it. This could be a war effort or some other movement on which people pin their hopes and look towards as a way out of their desperation. When such efforts fail and their hopes are dashed to the ground, they become demoralized and fall into despair. They can find an escape in waiting for someone.
It is best for the Muslim nation not to pin its hopes on a specific undertaking. The area of Islamic work is far broader than to be confined to one enterprise or another. If some efforts fail, others will succeed. In this way, people's hearts can stay clear of debilitating frustration and despair. Defeat, failure, and frustration provide the ideal environment for Mahdist ideas to proliferate, especially among those who do not possess a positive plan of action that can fulfill them and channel their energies.
Despair often leads a person to believe that work is pointless and that the solutions to the problems they are facing are far beyond the reach of human effort. They see no way out aside from divine intervention of a miraculous nature, intervention that comes in the form of the Mahdî sent to them as divine assistance to inflict heavy casualties upon their enemies and visit them with destruction. He will unite the Muslims and dispel their differences.
When we embrace such ideas, we excuse ourselves from engaging in any serious or fruitful work. We become complacent while we wait for the Mahdî. Such feelings, in my opinion, stem from a combination of two afflictions:
The first is a defeatist attitude that can affect a group of people or even an entire nation when the hopes that they had vested in something specific evaporate. This is why, whenever a "Mahdî" dies, the people transfer their hopes to another or claim that he did not die or that he will one day return.
The second affliction is a longing for radical and total change and dissatisfaction with anything gradual. This is a failure to take into consideration the divine order in Creation. It is also a failure to recognize the value of gradual or partial reform. Such people dream that all of the iniquity that prevails around the world will just be swept away in the blink of an eye. Yes, we must believe that Allah has the power to change whatever He wills.
In the blink of an eye, before it can open again,
Allah changes one situation into another.
However, Allah has established a natural order for the change and reform that He has ordered us to work towards. This is why Allah says:
"Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is within themselves." [Sûrah al-Ra`d: 11]
There are those who dream of a final solution to bring their difficulties to an end. Their problem is that they want all of this to happen within their lifetimes. The idea of planting a seedling that they and their children after them will nurture while they toil and wait for the results is something that stretches their determination beyond its limits. They are not waiting for the fruits of their own efforts and endeavors, but for something that requires no effort from them except to wait and dream.
It can be observed that people who engage in productive work like providing aid to others, teaching, calling people to Islam, and effecting reform - people who have projects, objectives, and activities that focus their attentions, energies, and hopes - are unmoved by Mahdist ideas. Such ideas have no appeal to them, even if they are themselves simple people. This is because the productive work that they engage in fulfills their lives and provides them with satisfaction. They do not need a mental crutch to support them. If one day such a person does arrive, they would readily join with the others in supporting him. All the same, they do not depend upon it happening, nor do they suspend their efforts waiting for it to happen.
As for those who pin their hopes on some distant, unattainable objective while at the same time make no effort to bring it any closer to realization but just sit around and wait, such people often look upon the efforts of others with derision. They ask: "What do you think you can do? Can you turn back the raging winds or the floodwaters with your puny little hands?" Such people see nothing as a solution except for radical and total change, and such change will only come at the hands of the Awaited One.
This is why most Mahdist claims throughout history have come about in an atmosphere of tension and crisis and in times of social or political upheaval. All such Mahdist movements took place at times when people, especially the youth, felt trapped, when they could see no way out and no light at the end of the tunnel. They found no recourse but to turn to these ideas.
We must also observe that Mahdism throughout history had almost invariably been associated with the Shî`ah, whereas today we see a startling reversal of this trend. The Shî`ah, whose whole history has been one of expectation and waiting - the very Shî`ah who had produced dozens of Mahdîs, and claimed that the Friday prayer, jihâd, and many other works were not valid until the Mahdî arrives - have now learned their lesson and evolved their ideas about awaiting the Mahdî. They have not discarded the idea. The vast majority of them still believe in the Awaited Mahdî, but they have found alternatives to waiting. They have begun to work, plan, and achieve results. Because of this change, they have established nations for themselves. They have formed political parties and organizations. Their media operations and their activities are unparalleled today. At the same time, Ahl al-Sunnah has begun to drone on about the Mahdî and how they wait for him in anticipation, speculating about who he is.
This is a very strange reversal in thought. The youth of Ahl al-Sunnah should stop and consider that they are putting themselves into a very difficult situation. They are heading for the very situation from which others had to bring themselves out. Nothing good can be said about this trend, especially after history has shown us how dangerous and debilitating it is.
There are two types of people who claim to be the Mahdî. The first type is the person who knows that he is lying. He is out to deceive people, turn them into his followers, them exploit them. If we look at the Fatimid state, we see that it was established on the basis of such a claim. The same can be said for the Almohads, the dynasty founded by the "Mahdî" Ibn Tûmart. These people raised the Mahdist banner for political ends and material gain, and they achieved what they had aspired to. Other claimants who had the same goals were not so fortunate.
The second type of person who comes with this claim is confused and imagines that he actually is the Mahdî. Such people are afflicted, as Ibn Hajar puts it with: "a deteriorated mental state." This situation is well understood by contemporary Psychology. There are people who become disturbed or have a split personality. Some people claim to be Jesus or the Mahdî or even someone greater than that.
Overemphasizing an issue is a form of deviance, even when dealing with a legitimate issue. As a case in point, consider the appointment of an imâm to lead the Muslims. There is no dispute about this principle, except for the unusual opinion held by al-Asamm. As for the rest of the Muslims - and all of Ahl al-Sunnah without exception - appointing an imâm is seen as a religious requirement and a necessity.
The Shî`ah, however, go overboard on this issue, making it the demarcation line between them and everybody else. They have built upon it an imposing ideological edifice. When you read their books and consider their principles and beliefs, it seems as if the Earth and the entire universe were created only for the office of the imam, specifically the imamate of `Alî b. Abî Tâlib and his descendants. They make it seem as if these imâms are the ones who sustain all of existence, and that the life of the Hereafter emanates from them and is for them. They are depicted as the only true leadership for the people and the only source of reform for humanity. The protection of the faith is only through them. There are many other causative relationship that they tie to their imâms, besides those that we have mentioned, and all these claims are made without any evidence to support them.
Ahl al-Sunnah should grasp this fact that overemphasizing any issue can be a form of deviance. Yes, you must believe in a matter that is legitimate, but you must likewise give it its legitimate emphasis, neither blowing it out of proportion nor neglecting it. This principle applies to the question of the Mahdî. Some people go so far as to deny the hadîth about the Mahdî altogether. Often they do this because of the great many ways the idea of the Mahdî has been abused throughout history, as if denying his existence will put and end to the problem. Sometimes, though, the reason for their denial is a lack of knowledge about the Sunnah. This is one extreme. Then there are those who embrace the idea of Mahdism with such force and excessive zeal that it consumes them. They are as much in error as those who reject the Mahdî altogether.
The same can be said for any other issue, even the issue of worship. If someone goes to an extreme in his fear of Allah, he can wind up falling into the errors of the Khârijîs (1). On the other hand, excessive hope for Allah's forgiveness can lead one into the mistakes of the Murji'ah (2). Excessive love can lead to the errors of the Sufis. This is true for all legitimate Islamic principles. We must believe in them and give them their proper weight, neither exaggerating their importance nor neglecting them. This is a very important concept. This is part of the "just balance" that is given special mention in the Qur'ân:
"We have made you a nation justly balanced." [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 143]
This just balance is to have moderation by neither going to extremes in these matters nor shunning them altogether. When we consider the questions about which the Muslims differ, whether we are talking about the Muslims in general or the Islamic workers and organizations in particular, we often see that the cause of such disagreement is their adopting one extreme position or another. One group goes to extremes on the issue of Islamic government, so much so that they accuse Muslim governments of unbelief, as well as those scholars and citizens who are contented with these governments. Then there are others who neglect this same issue and belittle its importance, claiming without any proof from Allah that people are free to govern themselves by any law and political system they see fit. These people are as excessive in their neglect of these issues as those others are in promoting them.
Then there is the moderation that gives every question its legitimate weight and its due consideration, eschewing all extremes. Allah says:
"Verily, for all things Allah has appointed a due proportion" [Sûrah al-Talâq:3]
There is no escaping
the fact that overemphasizing one matter always means neglecting another of equal,
if not greater, importance.
Islam provides a powerful alternative to waiting, and those who are engrossed in the question of the Mahdî and his expected appearance generally fail to take notice of it. This is the principle of renewal found in the hadîth related by Abû Hurayrah: "Allah sends to this nation at the beginning of each century those who renew the religion." [Sunan Abî Dâwûd (4291)] This is an authentic hadîth that has enjoyed widespread acceptance among Muslims. The issue of renewal is a legitimate Islamic concept, and it has been acted upon by the leading scholars. Abû Bakr engaged in it after the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him) by bringing the people back to the truth and fighting the apostates. `Umar b. `Abd al-`Azîz engaged in it when dealing with the Umayyads. Al-Shâfi`î, Ahmad and other scholars carried out this effort throughout the ages. Each one of these people carried out renewal in his own area of efficacy.
This is the issue that can actually reform the circumstances of the people and even inspire them to participate in their own reform. The reason for this is that renewal is not something that awaits the arrival of any individual like the Mahdî; it is the duty of every Muslim. Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said: "those who renew the religion." This is a general statement, not indicative of any particular individual or group. It embraces numerous people working in different areas of life. Who can single-handedly renew all aspects of Islam which embraces so many aspects of life, including education, work, worship, economics, and the media? This cannot be achieved by any one individual or even a group of individuals. Such sweeping renewal requires a vast number of people.
Even so, the Muslim nation will always require more reform and continued renewal. This is why Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) mentioned the divinely supported group that would remain steadfast on Allah's command and would neither be harmed by those who would forsake them nor by those who would go against them until the coming of Allah's decree. The concern of this group is reform and renewal. Some of them engage in education, some economic reform, some in Islamic work, others in relief efforts. We need to take our nation, its youth, its organizations, and its diverse peoples, out of the despair in which they dwell. This is a responsibility that we all share.
I wish to conclude with four points:
1. We must foster dialogue about the major issues facing the Muslims today. We must develop in our youth and our men the ability to listen. This is especially true for our leaders, both intellectual and political. For when people know that they are being listened to, it removes some of the discontent in their hearts. It opens up avenues for understanding, negotiation, and exchange. This preserves the unity of the Muslims and the energies of the youth. It directs their energies to the important task of confronting the real dangers surrounding them.
2. We must encourage our intellectual institutions to engage in Islamic work, education, and relief. We must encourage them to employ the media. Our charitable organizations must be supported and promoted as well, along with all other charitable efforts. We have to remove the despair and frustration that the Muslims are suffering from, because despair produces nothing. It can only bring about harm by placing people in a defeatist mindset.
3. We must provide opportunities for our young Muslims to live decent, respectable lives. We must provide this for our families and our society at large. Poverty and unemployment turn people into the fuel for any deviant ideology that comes along.
4. We must safeguard the Islamic nation from the vicissitudes of deviant though and moral depravity. There can be no doubt that these factors have the power to incite a reaction with grave negative consequences. We have begun to see in the Arab media and on the Internet and chat sites people maligning Allah and denouncing His Glory and Greatness. They are likewise slandering Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him), deprecating that which the Muslims hold sacred, and profaning the symbols of Islam. We must permit dialogue, but this dialogue must stay within the bounds of what is Islamically permitted. We must not give those who are sick and depraved and morally weak the opportunity to do abuse Islam in such an obscene and vulgar manner, because this can sometimes give birth to violent and extraordinary reactions. It is imperative for us to safeguard the Muslims from the deviant and filthy ideas and mores that the media, through the television, the Internet, and other means at its disposal, is pumping into our Muslim societies. We must put forth a major effort to do this.
I ask Allah to give strength to Islam and the Muslims and to instill weakness in polytheism and the polytheists. May Allah assist the Muslims everywhere and protect them from the evil of the wicked and the plots of the devious as long as there is day and night. May Allah help us to say righteous words and perform righteous deeds. Verily, He is capable of all things. And may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon our Prophet Muhammad and upon all of his family and Companions.
(1) An early Islamic sect that declared anyone who commits a major sin to be an unbeliever, damned for eternity.
(2) Another early Islamic sect that declared belief sufficient for salvation and considered deeds, sinful or otherwise, of no consequence.