Talking Turkey about the Mahdi

Last week, MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute) reported on a story from several months earlier, which had appeared in the pro-Erdoğan newspaper Yeni Şafak (“New Dawn”), calling for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to form a massive Muslim military front against Israel.

New Dawn is the semi-official voice of President Erdoğan and his ruling AK Party, so ideas advanced there are, if not approved by, certainly popular within Turkey’s power elites.  Abandoning its former (pre-AK) de facto alliance with the Jewish state, Israel is now described as “an outpost of the Crusade and a dagger in the heart of Islam” which spies on Muslims for the Christian world.  In order to “liberate Palestine” the OIC, led by Turkey, could cooperate to field over 5 million men, far more than the “occupation forces” of a mere 160.000, and use them for a siege.  Turkey, with its huge army, and Pakistan, with its nuclear weapons, would serve as the leaders of this alliance.

Besides Israel’s nefarious anti-Muslim status, President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is presented as an affront to Muslims worldwide, lending impetus to this Islamic military alliance.


Ottoman Imperial Army, 1900 (Wikipedia, public domain).


This development echoes two broad points which I have made in previous writings.  Most recently in these pages (“In God’s Countries,” January 16, 2018), I discussed the OIC as being the only religion-based geopolitical entity on the planet, there being no equivalent organization for the other two transnational faiths, Christianity and Buddhism.  Perhaps more saliently–and eschatologically–back in 2013 I analyzed how the OIC (and other pan-Islamic groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood [MB], Tablighi Jama`at [TJ] and Hizb al-Tahrir [HT]) might be leveraged into a platform for an Islamic leader to proclaim himself the Mahdi (“Days of Future Mahdism Have Not Passed”–available here and in my book Ten Years’ Captivation with the Mahdi’s Camps, pp. 76-83).

Erdoğan has not expressed overtly Mahdist pretensions (yet), but as many know he certainly harbors neo-Ottoman ideas about his and Turkey’s role in the region and the world.  (Ottoman sultans often also claimed to be caliphs–and the latter title, as “successors” to Muhammad, included aspects of Islamic legitimacy which the former designation lacked.) And thus when New Dawn, in this article on creating an Army of Islam, adduces an eschatological hadith about the End Time battles between Muslims and Jews–the latter “owners of Jersualem” being unable to “find a single tree to hide behind”–we know that the formerly secular rulers of Turkey are operating in a distinctly apocalyptic register.

Heretofore I had been convinced (“Days of Future Mahdism….”) that a Muslim leader with the effrontery to try to claim not just the caliphate but the Mahdiyah would likely emerge from the ranks of a non-state, probably Arab Salafi group–a Bin Ladin, or al-Baghdadi–and piece together support from a pietist organization (like TJ) sufficient to create a “virtual caliphate” with cells of supporters across the Islamic world, but, at least initially, no official state support.

But if powerful members in the party of the President of Turkey–with its large population, modern military and distinct claim to the mantle of the Ottoman Empire–are now trying to rally the larger entire ummah around the goal of defeating, if not destroying, Israel and invoking apocalyptic imagery to do so, then Israel and the West don’t just have a political problem: we have an Islamic eschatological one.  Instead of obsession about what American Evangelical Protestants think about the End Times in the age of Trump, the media might want to examine MUSLIM beliefs about such matters.