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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: http://hnn.us/articles/13146.html; for more in-depth info, see the links here to my other writings, including my book on Mahdism.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Senior Iraqi Politician: The Mahdi Hates the Kurds and their Ways

Yesterday the Iraqi Kurdish media outlet "Rudaw" ("The Happening") ran a fascinating, and rather disturbing, article entitled "Shia Leader: The Awaited Imam Mahdi Will Fight the Kurds." The "Shia leader" in question is a former Majlis (Parliament) member and senior figure in the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (formerly the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq), Jalal al-Din Ali al-Sahgir (or "Sagheer"). ISCI (or SIIC) is the second-largest party in the Iraqi Majlis, holding some 52 of 440 seats, and is quite powerful in Basra and southern Iraq particularly via its armed Badr militia. So when al-Sahgir speaks on Mahdism, it's worth weighing his words.

According to "Rudaw," back on August 10 al-Saghir delivered a khutbah in Baghdad's Buratha Mosque (of which he is the imam) in which he speculated that recent political events in Syrian Kurdistan might be signs of the impending arrival of the 12th Imam al-Mahdi--especially, eschatologically, if an earthquake were to strike there, and Turkish troops were to move into the Cizre/Malikiyah area; al-Sahgir also is said to have mused that Syria would fracture into five polities, including a Kurdish one which would be obliterated by the Turks.  He also, allegedly, referred to Kurds of Syria and Iraq as mariqah or maraqah, "renegades" or "heretics," whom the Mahdi will combat, along with "converted Shia"--but claimed subsequently to have meant the "Kurdish autonomous region" and not the Kurds themselves.  According to Professor Nawzad Koshnaw, Arabic professor at Salahaddin University in Erbil (Iraqi Kurdistan), al-Sahgir's employment of mariqah is tantamount to khawarij, the "rebels" in the early history of Islam whom the fourth Sunni Caliph (and first Shi`i Imam), Ali, fought against--and thus al-Saghir clearly implied that "the Kurds are deserting the laws...of the Iraqi government, and therefore Imam Mahdi will appear and fight the Kurds."   

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Battle of Badr, 624 AD/2 AH.  "Remind me again, guys--are we the mariqah, or are they?"

Observations:

1) Modern Iraqi Mahdism has, heretofore, been largely a phenemenon manifesting among outre groups there: Ahmad al-Hasan's Ansar al-Mahdi, the late Abd al-Zahra al-Qar`awi's Jund al-Sama', or Mahmud al-Hasani al-Sarkhi's Jaysh Husayn, as well as (albeit probably more politically and less seriously) Muqtada al-Sadr's Jaysh al-Mahdi.  Now, however, a mainstream Iraqi politician is espousing Mahdist views--and not just pious ones reflecting some far-off, future hope but beliefs working eschatology into the modern political scene in the Middle East. When George Bush ordered the US military into Iraq to take down Saddam, had none of his advisors ever apprised him of the apocalyptic attitudes prevalent in Twelver Shi`ism--or the dangers of letting the mahdist jinn out of its secular, Ba`athist bottle?

2) Ali al-Saghir not only advances ambiguous apocalyptic auguries--he identifies one particular group, the Kurds, as enemies of the Mahdi.  Most Kurds are Sunni Muslims, and some (particularly in Iran and even some in southern Iraq) are even Twelver Shi`i.  Nonetheless, Imam al-Saghir feels no qualms about singling them out for Mahdist opprobrium--primarily, it would appear, not on religious grounds but on a political one: insufficient loyalty to the post-Saddam Iraqi state.  

3) The leadership of ISCI/SCII has, since the group's founding with Iranian supervision in 1982, been not just pro-Iranian but pro-vilayet-i faqih ("rule of the [Shi`i] jurisprudent," Khomeini's signature political concept).  In the Islamic Republic of Iran adherence to this concept has been largely equated with loyalty to the Tehran regime itself.  Iraq, however, does not have Twelver Shi`i clerical rule--at least not yet.  Is al-Saghir signaling that this is the direction in which Iraq's goverment must go, by his lights? Even more troubling, are his Mahdist critiques of the Kurds a way for him to preemptively rule out an entire ethnolinguistic group from political legitimacy--and thus to set the stage for their purging, or worse, should clerics like himself seize power in Baghdad?

Take a look at al-Saghir's own website (if you can read Arabic), among which the interesting articles/lectures include the likes of "Who Are Yajuj and Majuj?" (The Islamic equivalents of Gog and Magog described in the Bible in Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39, as well as Revelation chapter 20.) 

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Dhu al-Qarnayn, the Qur'anic version of Alexander the Great, overseeing the incarceration of the bestial hordes of Yajuj and Majuj.  Does Ali al-Saghir see himself as Alex, and the Kurds as these negative eschatological figures? 

5:10 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Up with the Mahdi and the Radio*

Here's the hour-long archived clip of me on Dr. Jamie Glazov's radio show last night (Aug. 21, 2012), discussing at some length Mahdism, eschatology (both Muslim and Christian), the latest Pew study on Islamic beliefs and US policy toward the Muslim world. 

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*Paraphrasing (slightly) U2's "Stay (Faraway, So Close)". 

10:27 am edt          Comments

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Radio Mahdi

I will be on the Dr. Jamie Glazov show tonight (August 21, 2012) at 11 PM EST (8 PM on the Left Coast, where the show originates), discussing Islamic eschatology, Mahdism and my article crunching the Pew numbers on those, and other, topics. 

My interviews come highly recommended:

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10:25 am edt          Comments

Sunday, August 19, 2012

DHS Eschatological Threat Level, Post-Pew Study of Mahdism
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10:30 pm edt          Comments

Monday, August 13, 2012

Day(s) of the Mahdi?!

Not content with my earlier blogpost examining the newest Pew data on Mahdism and other beliefs and attitudes among Muslims, I penned (er, typed) a 2,700-word piece, going into even more detail and analysis, that is up on History News Network today: "Mahdism (and Sectarianism and Supersition) Rises in the Islamic World.

Seems this pulp writer from the 1980s was smarter than most modern Middle East analysts!

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3:53 pm edt          Comments

Friday, August 10, 2012

Don't Leave a Live (or Occulted) Mahdi Out of Your Calculations

Rumors of my demise, or occultation, have been greatly exaggerated; rather, in July I was on a family vacation (finally getting to see Maine!) and, upon returning from New England, had in short order to leave for the Left Coast (working trip), followed by another out-of-town lecture and, finally, this past week my boys went back to school.  So it's time to get back in the eschatological saddle (like this chap): 


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The most notable--indeed, strikingly important--news about Mahdism to be revealed recently comes from the Pew Forum on Religious Life's latest study, "The World's Muslims: Unity and Diversity" (released yesterday, August 9, 2012) which surveyed tens of thousands of Muslims in 24 different countries.  Under the subcategory "Articles of Faith" there is fascinating--and disturbing--data on belief in the Mahdi's imminent (in one's lifetime) return:
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Observations and Analysis:
1) Of the 23 countries whose Muslim citizens were polled, nine have majorities which expect the Mahdi in their lifetimes, with the overall average percentage at 41.8%--and considering the huge samples and wide geographic latitude which Pew used, it is safe to extrapolate this percentage to Islam as a whole; ergo, 42% of 1.6 billion = 672 million Muslims who believe in the Mahdi's imminent return! This is FAR greater than I had supposed: since starting studying Mahdism in the mid-1990s, I had always estimated that only about 10% of Sunnis believed thusly--but using this data for just majority-Sunni populations (taking out Azerbaijan, Lebanon and Iraq in the Pew sample), the average is even higher: 45%! Further, note that the MOST-Shi`i (Twelver) country in the world, Iran, was not surveyed.  Bottom-line: Mahdism is a far stronger and more-widely held belief than even I had thought--and I've been preaching its pervasiveness for years.

2) Despite the conventional wisdom (repeated even by Pew, in the face of their own data) that Mahdism is primarily the province of Shi`is, note that three of the four countries with the highest percentage expecting the Mahdi are majority-Sunni ones: Afghanistan (83%), Turkey (68%) and Tunisia (67%).  This has ramifications, respectively, for: US policy in a country we are currently occupying; the only NATO Muslim-majority nation; and the vanguard state of the "Arab Spring." (Said ramifications which I will explore is a soon-to-be-published article.)  At this juncture I would only adduce the following explanatory theories: Afghanistan is so rife with Islamic messianism because the 80% of the population that is Sunni and the 20% that is Shi`i (albeit Sevener/Isma'ili, as well as Twelver) both are in the middle of a war and occupation by a "Christian" power--which tends to ratchet up such expectations; Turkey's population, overwhemingly Sunni, is being swayed by the "soft (and peaceful) Mahdism" of two major public intellectuals and Turkish Mahdists--Adnan Oktar ("Harun Yahya") and Fethullah Gülen; Tunisia is in North Africa, the well-spring of some of Islam's most powerful Mahdist movements, going back to Ibn Tumart (d. 1130 AD).  Might Mahdism in Afghanistan have something to do with the chronic opposition to US forces, up to and including the by-now regular murder of US soldiers by Afghan troops? This is one topic I intend to explore in the promised upcoming article.

3) Seemingly contra the historical association between Mahdism and Sufism, it does not seem to be the case (based on Pew's data) that overall belief in the Mahdi's imminent return correlates, in the modern Islamic world, with adherence to Sufism (Islamic mysticism).  Here is Pew's Sufism data:


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First, for the uninitiated, Sufism tends to be found in Sunni countries in the last several centuries--not least because Twelver Shi`ism assimilated much of Sufism's mysticism, and (thus) both religiously and politically Sufism came to be seen in places like Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan as something of a threat to the establishment (hence the low numbers of Sufis in Iraq and Azerbaijan, as well as Lebanon).  That said, note that  while it does appear that the historical link between Sufism and Mahdism may have been severed--based on lack of Sufi order membership  in places like high-Mahdism areas like Turkey, Afghanistan and Tunisia--we do not know the degree of overlap between the small percentages of Sufis in each country and Mahdist belief, much less the intensity of such belief.  Historically, as I've written about in various venues, many (if not most) violent Mahdist jihads have emerged from Sufi milieus.  There is anecdotal evidence from Iraq and other locales that this is still happening, this Pew data notwithstanding.  One very relevant future avenue of research is the strong Sufi adherence in Sub-Saharan Africa and Mahdism--because none of the 15 African countries Pew surveyed for Sufi data was included in the Mahdism question. 

4) Why is Mahdist belief so LOW in former Soviet Central Asia--the 'stans, in particular Uzbeki-, Kyrgyz- and Kazakh-? Probably Marxist indoctrination for decades has something to do with it; but then how does one explain the much higher (39%) Mahdism in Tajikistan?  This is worth further research, as well.

5) Lest we forget, there's another major positive (or "good"--as opposed to negative/"evil" ones like al-Dajjal, "the Deceiver") Muslim eschatological figure whom the Qur'an and the Muslim hadiths predict to return: `Isa b. Maryam, or Jesus (albeit, for Muslims, not "the Christ" because he was never crucified nor resurrected and will return as a good Muslim). 


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And the Muslims were SO CLOSE on this one....

In Tunisia, Turkey and Iraq each some 2/3 of the folks believe in Jesus' imminent return, while majorities of four other Muslim countries do so, as well; the overall average for the 22 countries surveyed is 35%--and, again, extrapolating to the Islamic world as a whole, that means some 435 million Muslims look for Jesus to come back in their lifetimes!  I'm not sure what this could portend for US foreign policy, but Christians and their church leadership might want to seriously think about it.

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There is more in the Pew data, but that must wait for another blog--or publication.

In related stories, the Pakistani Sunni blogger over at "Grande Strategy" has put up some videos prognosticating on when the Mahdi will arrive.  Purveying abstruse numerological calculations drawing on Islamic hadiths and other more obscure and doubtful data (such as the alleged existence and approach of the unseen planet Nabiru), Mr. Strategy maintains that the Mahdi's zuhur, "manifestation," is probably no more than 14 years away. 

Also, in a more prosaic vein, State Security in Kyrgystan has arrested another member of that country's Jaysh al-Mahdi ("Army of the Mahdi"), whose "weapons cache" included "religious-extremist literature, combat knives, bomb components, detonator capsules and fuses." This group's definition of Mahdism would seem to most closely resemble that of the 16th c. Safavids (who forcibly converted Iran to Twelver Shi`ism):


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Hold still, infidel! This will hurt me more than....just kidding.

"Grande Strategy" and JAM in Kyrgystan (as well as an unholy host of other Mahdists) expect a Mahdi who will function as a global warlord, conquering and, in some scenarios, slaughtering the world's non-Muslims till they convert or submit via death or dhimmitude.  Which view of Mahdism predominates among the Islamic world's 672,000,000 believers in the Mahdi's coming is currently still unknown.  Let us hope that rather than the jihadist Mahdi, most of the Mahdists among the world's second-largest faith have something more like this in mind:


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Jesus and the Mahdi peacefully comparing burning intensity of divine revelations.

.: Bottom-line conclusions:

1) (An)other violent Mahdist movement(s) in the 21st century seems very likely: if even 1% of 672 million is so inclined, that makes 6.72 million potential jihadist believers in the Mahdi

2) Even more likely is a political consolidation movement among several Islamic countries or regions centered around a charismatic leader claiming the Mahdiyah; if just 20 or 30% of the legions who believe in the Mahdi can be convinced to put a claimant in charge, he would have between 100-200 million supporters!

3)  The usual State/Defense departments' "rational actor" approach to international relations might be quite simply irrelevant, if almost half the world's Muslims expect the imminent return of their eschatological deliverer.

4) Turkey is far more off the rails than we had thought, if it's true that almost 70% of that allegedly-pro-Western nation's people expect the Mahdi to appear soon.

5) Afghanistan is a lost cause: over eight in ten of its people expect the Mahdi in their lifetime, and no amount of roads and clinics and girls' schools built by the infidels will change that.  

12:51 pm edt          Comments


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

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