The Sultan v. the Mahdi

Adnan Oktar, aka “Harun Yahya,” a well-known Turkish Mahdist sect leader based in Istanbul, was arrested yesterday by the security forces of President Recep Erdoğan’s government according to news outlets in both Turkey and the Arab world—seemingly part of Erdoğan’s liquidation of any potential opposition to his further consolidation of power in the wake of his recent electoral victory.  Turkish police are also said to be hunting down hundreds of Oktar’s followers, alleging that arms caches were found in the organization’s headquarters on the Asian side of the Bosporus.

Most news outlets highlight Oktar, accurately, as an Islamic creationist who scorns Darwin and the theory of evolution.  But two other aspects of his thought are just as prominent, and more problematic: extravagant neo-Ottomanism, and Mahdism.


Turkish Mahdism as promoted by Oktar on his Pakistan blogspot.

Erdoğan has been accused of holding neo-Ottoman views; but even at his most megalomanical Turkey’s President probably doesn’t entertain this Oktarian vision:


Oktar’s Ottoman Empire on steroids and HGH with a shaker of delusion. From his website

Likewise, Erdoğan may see himself as a modern Sultan—but there is no evidence that he’s harboring any Muslim messianic aspirations; Oktar, however, had headed up a personality cult with followers who see him as the Mahdi, even if he won’t openly verify it.

I actually interviewed Adnan Oktar in Istanbul back in 2008.  I posted the transcript over on my now-defunct Mahdiwatch site (and seem to have lost my interview notes, alas).

However, as I explained at some length in my 2015 book Ten Years’ Captivation with the Mahdi’s Camps (pp. 235-241), Oktar resembles the much more well-known and powerful Fethullah Gülen, who heads up a massive, global system of schools and has been accused by President Erdoğan of masterminding a Turkish “deep state” which was behind the failed 2016 coup attempt.  Both Oktar and Gülen are disciples of the late Turkish Sufi thinker Said Nursi (d. 1960), who posited Islam as totally compatible with science and advocated peaceful, educational—not martial—“jihad.” But whereas Nursi and Gülen, while believing in the eschatological Mahdi, saw themselves less grandiosely as mujaddids, or “renewers,” of Islam—Oktar almost certainly sees himself as the End Times “rightly-guided one” sent by Allah.


Oktar’s (probably ghost-written) 1,000 page tome on Jesus & the Mahdi. Even I couldn’t wade through it. 

One can see why neo-Sultan Recep I would go after Gülen’s legions, and demand his extradition from Pennsylvania. But why would Oktar, with his small coterie of followers—as attractive and surgically-enhanced as the women might be—even show up on Erdoğan’s radar?

Here are my theories:

  • Oktar is too much like Gülen—Even if the former is merely a pale imitation of the latter in terms of real influence, he’s less circumspect in behavior and, as noted already, more pretentious in his personal claims. Turkish rulers going far back into Ottoman times are not exactly tolerant of those claiming to be the Mahdi (as I will detail in my forthcoming book Enemies of the Caliphs).  Besides: maybe Erdoğan is just jealous.
  • Alternatively, Oktar’s fawning support of Erdoğan and his ruling AK Party is embarrassing—When you’re a swaggering, overbearing, tin-plated dictator, being spoken of approvingly and publicly on a regular basis by the head of an Islamic sex cult with delusions of, if not godhood, at least god-direction is not high on your list of priorities. With friends like that, the Turkish Presi…er, Sultan hardly needs enemies
  • Oktar is too pro-Israel—As the “Jerusalem Post” noted in its article on Oktar’s arrest, “[f]or years Oktar and his friends…sought to do outreach to Israel and Jewish religious leaders….as part of an attempt to promote peace and serve as a kind of model of coexistence in which Turkey would be a bridge between East and West.” This included “numerous visits to Turkey of appearances on Oktar’s programs with prominent Israelis from across the political and religious spectrum.” Needless to say, this is at loggerheads with the Turkish leader who, earlier this year, called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “terrorist” and Israel a “terrorist state.”
  • Because he can.

Erdoğan’s reasons for arresting Oktar and rolling up his organization are probably some combination of all of these.  Unlike Gülen, Oktar’s power seemed to lie more in silicone than schools and soldiers, and his Mahdism was wielded primarily as an aphrodisiac.  And his Mahdism, while eccentric and borderline lascivious, was at least non-jihdadist–unlike most manifestations of that belief in Islamic history.  But now he’s at the mercy of his Sultanic majesty, and if Ottoman Turkish history is any indication, that never ends well for folks like Oktar.