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The Twelfth Imam Mahdi a.s. (Hz. Muhammad al-Mahdi a.s.) --- The Pretenders and false claimants


Muslim history is full of claimants who have called themselves the Mahdi in practically all Muslim lands from the west to the east.  In al-maghrib (the Muslim west), the claimants took to military insurgences against decadent regimes, and against external (non-Muslim) colonial aggression.  In this regard, the middle of the nineteenth century AD was a particularly stressful time for the Muslim Ummah.  Several European countries were actively competing against each other in acquiring foreign lands as well as aggressive missionary efforts.  Many Muslim countries had become their targets, which caused several brave, as well as painful episodes of history pertaining to this era. There was an uprising unsuccessful against the British in India (1847 AD), however there was no Mahdiist claim attached to this effort.  An unsuccessful Mahdiist uprising took place in Somalia against the Italian and British encroachment.  A Mahdiist claimant was executed in Egypt when he rose against the Turko-Egyptian regime who, for their own political survival, were flirting with the West and causing the Muslim Ummah to an unworthy exposure.  Similar risings occurred in Tunisia (1860 AD), Morocco and West Africa against the French encroachments, but they also met their careers by execution.

A powerful and prolonged jihad was carried out by Sayyid al-Mahdi al-Sanusi in central Sahara against the Italians in the Libyan territory, and against the French in the Chad territory.  He was the second head of the Sanusi tarika (1859-1902 AD).  Although he never claimed to be the awaited Mahdi, people believed that he was.  Ultimately, his son Sayyid ldris bin al­Mahdi was installed as the first king of independent Libya in 1951.

Some of the historical events cited below, manifest the same reaction of the Ummah towards pressure for survival, and looking for the awaited Mahdi for salvation.  Most of these movements failed because they did not meet the criteria set forth in the ahadith quoted from the Prophet.  Consequently their effects were short-lived.  Only a few of them have survived to this day.  It is beyond the scope of this book to name them all or to describe the circumstances in which they laid their claims.  Some of these movements were considered heretic, and their followers were severely persecuted.  The proponents of these movements founded new sects, and are described briefly here.

The Fatimid Dynasty, and of the Ismailia Sect

Ubaid Allah Muhammad, claiming to be from the chain of hidden Imams descending from Muhammad bin Ismail bin of Imam Ja'far as-Saadiq migrated from Yemen, and made his way to the far west in Morocco.  There he declared himself to be the awaited Mahdi.  He laid the foundations of the Fatimid dynasty initially in Morocco, but then moved to Egypt.  He was the first Fatimid caliph (934-946 AD).  There were a total of fourteen caliphs in this dynasty.

The Ismailia evolved their own theology, which is totally different from that of the mainstream Islarn, both from the Shiite and the Sunni point of view.

About fifty years before the final demise of the dynasty, Nizar was nominated by the Fatimid Caliph al-Mustansir as his successor.  However, after the death of al-Mustansir, Nizar was ousted by the powerful vizier al­Afdhal in favor of al-Musta'li.  This led to a revolt by Nizar (I 043 AD) that was crushed, but led to serious consequences for the dynasty.  Nizar teamed up with Hasan bin Sabah, who had founded the dreaded movement called Fida e’yyen (the assassins), with their head quarters in the Far East (Central Asia.) The progeny of Nizar did not give up their aims for the high post of the caliphate, but their rebellions were also unsuccessful.

At the end of the rule of al-Abid ( 1160-1171), the Fatimid rule ended, and with that the hopes of the Nizari princes.  The present Agha Khan traces his direct lineage to Nizar, the ousted prince of the Fatimids, and continues to use the tide Prince (the political leader), as well as the Intam (the spiritual leader) of his adherents.

The Muwahids of Morocco

Muhammad bin Abdallah bin Tumart was a native of Sus, Morocco. He was born in the village of Ijilis, in the tribe of Hargha.  As a yotmg man, he decided to learn religion, and journeyed to Baghdad for it.  By the time he completed his studies, he had become an acknowledged master and a teacher.  On his way back, he preached to the locals at each of his stops, and attracted followers.  Abd al-Mu'min was one such'adherent, who later, played a key role on overthrowing the rule of al-Muravids and replacing it with the al-Muwahids.

Ibne Tumart proceeded westward to Fez where the Maliki fuqaha (jurists of the Malild School) resisted his teaching.  They asked the governor for a debate with him, at which they lost.  Threatened by his success, they prevailed on the governor and had him exiled from Fez.  He moved on to the city of Marakah, but again met with resistance from the jurists in the court of the al-Muravid ruler.  With a threat of death or fife imprisonment, he finally decided to migrate back to his home district of Sus, and settled among the Masmuda people in Timnal.

He taught religion to the people and grew strong as a leader.  He then declared himself to be the awaited Mahdi, and launched his assault on the regime of the al-Muravids under the leadership of Abd al-Mu'min.  Their first attempt was unsuccessful, with heavy loss of life, but Abd al-Mu'min escaped.  After the death of Ibne Tumart (1130 AD), Abd al-Mu'min led successful raids and finally vanquished the al-Muravids.

The Mahdawi Sect:

Syed Muhanunad Mahdi (1443-1505 AD) of Jawnpur, India, proclaimed himself to be the awaited Mahdi, and attracted some adherents in Ahmadabad, Gujrat.  He was forced to leave India, and found home in north western Afghanistan.  Upon his death, he was buried there.  His followers claimed that he could do miracles including the ability to heal the sick and raise the dead.  They were actively persecuted by sultan Muzaffar II of Gujrat (1511-1526AD), and many were put to death.  They continued to be pursued after by Aurangzeb when he was the governor of Ahmadabad (1645 AD).  As a result, they began the practice of takiyya (dissimulation).  The number of surviving adherents of this sect is uncertain.  However, in India, they are found in small groups in Bombay, Deccan, and Utter Pradesh.  In Pakistan, they are found in the province of Sindh where they are known as Zilais.

The Babi Sect:

The concept of 'the Bab', (the gateway) to knowledge of the Divine Truth (the Hidden Imam: al-Mahdi), was originated by Ahmad al-Ahsai in Iran.  He claimed to be under special guidance from the Imam, and gathered followers.  He then evolved a totally separate set of beliefs and ritual practices.  He exalted the Twelve Imams and their role in creation beyond the claims of the mainstream Shiites, to the point of polytheism.  His successor, Syed Karim Reshti (d. 1843 AD) claimed that the Hidden Imam was guiding him through his dreams.  This deviant belief was regarded with suspicion by the ruling authorities.  After the death of Syed Karim, his followers took another leader known as Mirza Ali Muhammad of Shiraz (1820-1850 AD).  Mirza Ali Muhammad had become disenchanted with the fanaticism of the mullahs (clergy) and was already preaching his revolutionary ideas in public.  He was thus perfectly suited to be the successor to Syed Karim.

By the year 1844 AD, a popular belief was circulating that the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam was imminent.  Mirza Ali Muhammad claimed that he was the Bab and in 1848 AD, he declared himself to be the awaited Mahdi.  Soon afterwards, he declared himself the revealer of a new religion, and laid down a totally new set of rules of belief and the practice of their faith.  He further expanded his role into prophethood and beyond.  He also predicted a "promised one" who would follow him and fulfill his teachings.

The authorities arrested him and sequestered him in the fortress of Maku in Azerbaijan.  He was finally transferred to Tabriz where he was condemned and executed by bullets of a Christian firing squad.

The followers of the Bab are known as the Babi or the Ahle Bayan (the followers of Bayan, the writings of the Bab).  After attempts by three Babis to assassinate Shah Nasir ud-Din, the king of Iran (I 852 AD), their sect was banned and actively persecuted as heretics.  At that time, authorities also arrested and interned Mirza Husain Ali Nuri, a young convert to the Babi doctrine.  His half brother Mirza Yaha, at age thirty years, was recognized by Babis as the successor to the Bab and called him Subhe Azal (the Eternal Dawn).

To escape persecutior4 Mirza Yahya left Iran and moved to Baghdad.  He maintained the pure form of the teachings of his master.  His followers are known as the Azali Babis.  However, the Turkish government took him from Baghdad and detained him in Famagusta (Cyprus).  Only a few members of this sect have survived.

The Bahai Sect:

Mirza Husain Ali Nuri (c. 1817-1892 AD) was -imprisoned in Tehran and later exiled. He came to settle in Baghdad in 1852 AD.In 1863 AD he declared that he was the man yuzhiruhu-Ilah, (the one whom Allah shall manifest) predicted by the Bab.  Durmg the few months that followed, he modified the Babi faith to give it a more universal appeal, and thus laid the foundation of a new religion named after his epithet Baha Ullah (die Splendor of Allah).  He was imprisoned initially in Adrianople in 1863 AD, and later moved to Acre in 1868 AD where he died in 1892 AD.

The followers of his doctrines are known as the Bahais and are spread throughout the world.  Besides the Middle East, the Bahai doctrine has found acceptance in Europe and Americas.

The Ahmadiya Sect:

This was originated by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, district Gurdaspur, Punjab, British India, (1843-1908 AD).  In the year 1900 AD, they got themselves registered with the Imperial Indian government as a separate modem Muslim Sect.

Reacting to the challenges of the West and zealous efforts of the Christian missionaries in British India, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad first declared himself to be a mujaddid (a renewer of the faith) in 1882 AD.  Soon afterwards started claiming to be the awaited Mahdi as well as the promised Messiah (Second Coming of Jesus Christ).  He even claimed to be the buniz (re-appearance) of Prophet Muhammad, and the avtar (die returning) of Lord Krishna of the Hindus.  He claimed to receive Divine Revelations, and the ability to perform miracles.  In 1889 AD, he announced that he had received orders from Allah to start accepting bayat (fealty) from his believers.

Not unexpectedly, there was uproar over these claims by the Christians, Muslims and Hindus of India.  This led to fatwas (Muslim juristic decrees), debates, contests as well as a few law suites against these claims.  However Mirza Ghulam Ahmad continued Ms office till his retirement due to old age.  Thus, until his death in 1908 AD, his affairs were run by the Sadr Anjtunane Ahmadiya.  He was succeeded by Khalifa Nur ud-Din.

After the partition of British India (1947 AD), many adherents of this sect migrated to Pakistan and built their headquarters in Rabwa.  They have spread to many Muslim countries and elsewhere in the world by their active propaganda and missionary efforts.

The sect split into two groups.  The Qadiani faction considers Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as a Nabi (prophet) and the Lahori Party who consider him only as a mujaddid (the renewer of the faith).