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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, April 19, 2008

Sometimes Size Does Matter

Aswat al-Iraq [Voices of Iraq], the independent Iraqi news service, has some interesting reporting this past week on the recent fighting between the Iraqi military and the Jaysh al-Mahdi forces:
On the first day of ferocious fighting, namely March 25, a soldier, who settled for mentioning his initials as M.N., surrendered his arms and uniform to fighters from Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militias in the area of al-Keziza, 10 km northern Basra....M.N., a conscript in the Iraqi Army's 14th Division formations, did not know that Operation Saulat al-Forsan (Knights' Assault) was targeting the Mahdi Army in specific. "I believed that our mission was to serve the people. I surrendered because I did not want to fight our brothers. They're Shiites like us, not Israelis," he said.
The 28-year-old M.N. was one of 1,300 troops and policemen discharged from service. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pledged to have the deserters court-martialed because they failed to "support security forces in their war against the militias. Those people have lied because they swore by the Quran that they would never support their factions or parties but they eventually did just that," Maliki said....
An officer of the 9th Division, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, "After clashes that continued for hours between us and the Mahdi Army militiamen, I became positive that I could not go on fighting. I found out that it was a lost unequal battle. The Mahdi armament was much stronger than the Iraqi army's. We had no heavy mortars while the Mahdi fighters had mortars of all calibers, not to mention the improvised explosive devices they planted everywhere," the 35-year-old officer told VOI....
1) Not only is M.N. loathe to fight against his co-religionists in the central government's name, he thinks the Israelis (at least he didn't say "Jews") are the Iraqis' real enemy.  The question is whether this is a by-product of Ba`ath Party brainwashing under Saddam's long tenure, or of more recent vintage under the new regime. 
2) Does al-Maliki mean simply that Iraqi soldiers take an oath on the Qur'an to defend the  Baghdad government, or that their failure to do so was a  transgression of actual Qur'anic principles? Either way--and much more strongly if it is the latter--we see more evidence of the heavy influence of Islam in this new Iraqi democracy.
3) Most troubling is the assertion that the Jaysh al-Mahdi had superior firepower.  This begs several questions: can't our billions of dollars in aid provide the Iraqi army better, larger-caliber weapons? relatedly, are all Iraqi army forces this underequipped, or is this just a case of a spot shortage of mortars? whence is the Mahdi Army getting these mortars (Iran? Hizbullah? Syria?)?  

8:59 am edt          Comments

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mahd[i] about Obama
As we're all painfully aware of by now, some of Barack Hussein Obama's liberal legions of supporters harbor messianic expectations about him--and I'm not referring just to journalists.  Over on the other side of the political spectrum, there are evangelical Christians who have seasoned their eschatological stew with Mahdist spices, and in fact kicked things up a notch by claiming that the Mahdi of Islam will be the Antichrist of Christianity.  It was probably inevitable that these two ideological currents would eventually flow together, as evidenced by emails to this site recently:
"Barack HUSSEIN is probably Islam's mahdi.....1400 year old Islamic prophecy says this mahdi will be named HUSSEIN.. I have reference for this...The masses have called b. Obama the messiah... Say he walks on water, the chosen..etc..The entire world is for Obama...looks like anti Christ to me.. And the mahdi to muslims....
This 12th imam named HUSSEIN  will promise peace, unity, brotherhood hood and the kingdom of god on earth.. OBAMA HAS PROMISED THIS TO AMERICANS...while he gives all America's money to the u.n. And Muslim nations..Obama plans for USA to enforce the  U.N.s law forbidding defamation against  religions..This will stop the real truth about Islam lies and will cause persecution and death among Christians, etc...This man is not what he appears to be and America will know it soon..Not to mention the fact Obama was a Muslim when he was 6 to 10 years old ...and even took the shahada recently in the presence of a newspaperman....Taking the shahada is the only requirement to become Muslim. And Obama knows this ...He wears Muslim garb.. And.. His so called  church is pro Islamic and and anti-white, anti-American and anti-Christian.."
There you have it.  A vote for BHO is a vote for the Mahdi.  Someone alert Ahmadinezhad--and the Clinton campaign! 
12:07 pm edt          Comments

Friday, April 11, 2008

So Happy Together?

In March Dr. David Wurmser, a Middle East expert and former advisor to Vice-President Cheney, spoke to the Middle East Forum in New York City (  Among his many trenchant remarks on Lebanon was the following:
"He also identified a radical change in Iranian's notion of Islam. While the Iranian revolution defended Shi'ite interests and opposed Arab nationalism, over the past four years, `Iran has made a bold move to co-opt Arab nationalism.' The Arab-Israeli conflict has become a key issue on which Iran can attempt to seize leadership of the Islamic world from the Sunnis and Arabs. A central part of Iran's national policy, Mr. Wurmser asserted, is to have an active war with Israel, be victorious, and seize leadership of the Muslim world. Iran's success at assuming the mantle of Islam is evident in that in the past two or three years, Muslim Brotherhood leaders have recognized that Shi'ites are true Muslims, a concept that they had vehemently opposed previously."
I'm glad a scholar with top-level political connections is talking about this (although I disagree with him that Iran wants an "active war with Israel.)  But for the past year I've blogged this issue nine times on this site:
1/19/07: "A Uniter, Not a Divider"
3/16/07: "No Sects Please, We're Mahdists"
4/27/07: "Reunited and It Feels So Good...."
5/2/07: "The Shi`i Sickle Gets Sharper"
6/9/07: "Preparing the Way for the Mahdi"
6/22/07: "The Enemy of My Friend is...My Friend?"
7/28/07: "The Stealth Caliphate?"
8/10/07: "Resurrecing the Fatimid Caliphate, Part Deux"
9/10/07: "Clash of the Titans: Bin Ladin v. Khameini"
There is an entire propaganda arm of the Islamic Republic of Iran's government--set up by Khomeini before he died and re-energized under Ahmadinezhad's presidency--devoted to uniting the sundered Islamic world under Tehran's banner: Majmua` Jihani-yi Taqrib-i Maththahab-i Islami, or World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought.  This is an ideological attempt to unite Muslims across the Sunni-Shi`i divide and I would argue that it's proving more successful than its more well-known, and media-covered, Sunni political cousin the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).  I will be writing more on this organization soon but for now it would be worth keeping in mind that last week a mini-me version of Iranian unity took place in California, and in attendance were not only representative from the Council on American-Islamic Relations but also the consul from Saudi Arabia:

Shia-Sunni Convention in US Focus on Ways to Move Forward Together

Categories: World of Islam
08 April, 2008

CALIFORNIA, The United States: The birth of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) drew in hundreds of Muslims to participate in the 3rd annual Shia-Sunni symposium in California.
The event titled “Moving Forward Togetherâ€‌ brought together a cast of prominent Muslim scholars, leaders, and activists from So. California. Each distinguished speaker addressed areas of commonality and concern amongst the two major branches of Islam and ways to move forward together.
Among the panelists were representative of Islamic public relations council Dr. Maher Hathout, imam of Islamic Association in Orange county Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, Imam of Islamic cultural center Sayed Moustafa al-Qazwini, implementation director for Islamic shoura council in California Shakeel Syed, Sheikh Sa’adullah Khan, Seyed Ali Qazvini, and member of al-Farooq mosque Maria Khani.
Prominent attendees also included: the Consulate General of Lebanon, Mr. Fadi Hajali, Mr. Ali Abdul Al-Latif, Saudi Arabic Consulate, and CAIR representatives, Sr. Sherrell Johnson & Br. Omar Jubran.
Source:Jafariya News

9:58 am edt          Comments

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Blogging about the End of the World
My article on Iraqi Mahdism, "Will Iraq Stoke Flames of Islamic Messianism," ran this week at PajamasMedia:
6:19 pm edt          Comments

Monday, April 7, 2008

Will the Real (Ansar) al-Mahdi Please Stand Up?
Last week MEMRI reported a February story from al-Iraqiya TV in which an "Iraqi Tells Bizarre Story of Recruitment to a Messianic Shi'ite [sic] Terror Group" (, for which I give thanks to Charles Cameron for the heads-up).
According to "Abu Sajjad," the interviewee, he was convinced by Ansar [al-Imam] al-Mahdi propaganda that Ahmad Ibn al-Hassan is "the son of the Imam al-Mahdi."  Abu Sajjad also says that he "met hundreds of followers" and that they are all convinced that "World War III will break out in 2008, and that Ahmad ibn Al-Hassan would command [the Muslims], and that the Imam would appear."  Furthermore, Abu Sajjad states that "they wanted me to carry out...military operations....I saw that they had DShK machine-guns. Does the Imam Al-Mahdi need to use DShK machine-guns?" And according to Abu Sajjad, the Ansar al-Mahdi group wanted to "kill the religious authorities" in Najaf and Karbala to spark the public appearance of al-Hassan.  Perhaps most fascinating is Abu Sajjad's statement that the group also intended to "go on a hijra to Iran, liberate Iran from Sayyid Ali Khameini, and then return to Iraq, bearing black flags, and topple al-Maliki."
Contrast this account with the latest email communique I've received from one of the website administrators for the group's website,
"Dear Mr. Furnish,
Ansar al-Mahdi is not involved in the fighting right now in Southern
Iraq and we don’t have a political agenda as Moqtada al Sadr and his
army Jaysh al-Mahdi."
Despite the name similarity, we have no relationship whatsoever and any
way between us and Moqtada al Sadr and his army Jaysh al-Mahdi, as they
called themselves.
We are totally deferent entity. We are the supporters of Sayid Ahmad al
Hassan and certainly opposed Moqtada al Sadr and his army Jaysh al-Mahdi
to what they have and are doing."
1) There is a disconnect between what Abu Sajjad says, as a putative foot soldier, and the official line from the group regarding violence.  Possibilities here would be:
     a) Abu Sajjad is lying or misinformed: the Iraqi government would like nothing better than to impugn such groups
     b) my contact is lying or misinformed, so as to give Ansar al-Mahdi a more humane face
     c) Ansar al-Mahdi has splintered, and the members Abu Sajjad was working with are freelancing  outside of "official" control; or perhaps, like al-Qa`idah, Mahdism in Iraq is developing "franchises" that go their own way under the big tent of preparing the way for the Mahdi
2) Abu Sajjad demonstrates a curiously pacifistic view--one actually more common among Shi`is than Sunnis--of Mahdism when he asks whether the Mahdi would need DShK machine guns.  Actually, looking at the range of Mahdist movements across Islamic space and time, the answer to his rhetorical question would have to be "YES!"  Mahdist movements have been almost always violent, and one does not wage jihad sans weapons.  (Although the Mahdi might want a more portable weapon than that clumsy, 12.7 mm Soviet machine gun on its tripod.)
3) The Mahdists, like the jihadists, know how to use Islamic history and traditions to reach the masses: the hijra is a highly-resonant idea, since it goes back to Muhammad himself taking the Muslim community in 622 CE from persecution in Mecca to power in Medina; and the black flags are a common trope in the traditions, one used most successfully by the quasi-Mahdist Abbasids when then took over from the Umayyads in 750 CE and created the huge Abbasid Caliphate.
4) Analysts who would see groups like Ansar al-Mahdi as simply pawns of Tehran--akin to Hizbullah in Lebanon--would do well to note that this group (as evidenced by this Abu Sajjad interview, as well as my previous posts on the topic) considers BOTH the Baghdad and Tehran governments illegitimate. 
5) Despite my contact's protestations that Ansar al-Mahdi has nothing to do with the Jaysh al-Mahdi, MUCH MORE research needs to be done on the calculus of Mahdist movements in Iraq and their relationship to Iran (and Lebanon).  If any government folks need a volunteer to do so--and will pay for the trip--I'm willing to go investigate.  My Arabic could use a crash refresher course. 
9:17 am edt          Comments

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

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