The Return of the Revenge of the Mahdi

As noted above, this blog deals with “culture, geopolitics and religion.” But its main focus, as often as possible, is meant to be Islamic eschatology–particularly Mahdism. Unfortunately, aspiring Mahdis have been few and far between in the last few years. But that drought has ended! Last Friday, during the khutbah at the Grand Mosque of Mecca, “an armed man, in his 40s, was detained after attempting to attack the Imam [prayer leader/preacher].” Said attacker was “a Saudi man claiming to be the awaited Mahdi, local media reported.” (Source: “Mecca Grand Mosque Pulpit Attacker Claims to be Awaited ‘Mahdi.”)

Who was that veiled man?

The story ran in Gulf News, a UAE outlet. So you’d think they could get the Islamic background on the Mahdi–the primary Muslim End Times actor, predicted in both Sunni and Shii hadiths–correct. Not exactly. The article says “the anticipated Mahdi is the prophesied redeemer of Islam who will rule for seven, nine or nineteen years…before the Day of Judgment and will rid of the world of evil.” Actually, according to the hadiths and Islamic scholars, the Mahdi doesn’t “redeem” anything. Islam in fact has no concept of a “redeemer,” as Jesus Christ is in Christianity. The Mahdi will conquer the world and impose a global caliphate that enforces Islamic law. Most of his evil-ridding will consist of forcing Jews and Christians to convert to Islam–while polytheists and atheists will be eliminated.

Tawfiq Nasrallah, the story’s writer, does also provide a brief recap of the 1979 “siege of Mecca,” when several hundred armed followers of Juhayman al-Utabyi, threatened Saudi rule. But Nasrallah gets several facts wrong. al-Utabyi did not claim to be the Mahdi; rather, he claimed that his brother-in-law, Muhammad al-Qahtani, was. The Mahdist militants did not take over the Kaabah compound, but the Grand Mosque. And he neglects to mention that the “special forces” who eventually ended the occupation were in fact French.

Strategically, this article fails to note that between 1979 and 2021 there were a number of other attempted Mahdist usurpations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There were several in 2011, also in Mecca; and at least one in Madina. In fact, there may have been as many as nine such disturbances, if not more. (See my book Ten Years Captivation with the Mahdis’ Camps, pp. 169-174).

Mahdism is not just, or even primarily, a phenomenon of (Twelver) Shiism. As I’ve been writing about since 2001 (starting with my doctoral dissertation on topic that year), most Mahdist jihads across space and time have been Sunni ones. The fact that staunchly Sunni Saudi Arabia sees such phenomena should demonstrate that.

By the way: the title of this post is a take-off on a great episode from one of my favorite kids’ shows, The Penguins of Madagascar.

Finally, here’s a good five-volume Arabic source on Mahdism, which covers both Sunni and Shii sources:

Mawsuah al-Mahdi, Encyclopedia of the Mahdi (Beirut: Manshurat al-Fajr, 2005). Thinking chimp not included.

Those Who Do Not Learn History Should… Watch “The Time Tunnel”

I’m old enough to remember The Time Tunnel, which ran for one season, 1966-67, on ABC. It’s currently re-airing on MeTV, and this past Saturday night I caught an episode I’d never seen (or at least didn’t remember): #29 (the penultimate one), entitled “Raiders from Outer Space.” The stock 1960s bug-eyed aliens are not actually the most memorable aspect, however; it’s that they invaded Earth in the 1880s, and set up their main base–complete with death rays intended to obliterate London, the capital of our most powerful empire–in Sudan!

This allows the show’s time-traveling protagonists, Drs. Anthony Newman and Douglas Phillips, opportunities not just to fight aliens but the Sudanese Mahdists, and our heroes wind up in besieged Khartoum. Battle footage from the 1955 film Storm Over the Nile is mixed with shots of Tony and Doug helping the Brits fend off the Mahdi’s minions.

Yes, I was watching this at 408 AM. Don’t ask…. And the siege was 1884-85, not 1883.
That appears to be the Ottoman flag over Khartoum’s main gate.
The Mahdist flag–which is quite accurate.
Beware Mahdists bearing artillery.
Don’t fire till you see the whites of their jalabiyas! Doctors’ orders!
Doug is always sporting a tie–even when fighting off an inexplicably white Sudanese Mahdist.

Sure, this episode had British officers with American accents, melanin-deprived Sudanese, and alien invaders almost as stupid as those ones in Signs (who were allergic to water, yet tried to take over a planet 70% comprised of the stuff–while naked). But it was great fun. At least for academics who have studied Mahdist Sudan.

And The Time Tunnel, for all of its 1960s-era cheesiness, did at least assume a historically literate audience. Its 30 episodes included ones dealing with the War of 1812, the Trojan War, the Reign of Terror, Kipling’s Afghanistan, the Magna Carta, the Israelite siege of Jericho, Cortes in Mexico, the First Barbary War, Kublai Khan, Arthur’s Merlin, and of course Khartoum. Could a TV show like that even make it past the pitch stage today? I doubt it.

Now I feel an urge to rewatch Chuck Heston take on the Mahdi….

White Supremacist Threats, Real and Imagined

Last week (May 3-7, 2021), I once again played maven on two topics: President Biden’s claim that “white supremacist terrorism” is the greatest such threat to America; and the danger posed to American and the world by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s weaponized belief in the Twelfth Imam of Shiism.

On May 4 my article “White Supremacists Our Most Dangerous Threat? A Whiter Shade of Tall Tale” ran over at The Stream. (Yes, that title includes my lame attempt at a Procol Harum reference.) On May 7 my interview covering the 12th Imam and Iran on “Expedition Truth” radio posted. (Due to some technical glitches, I don’t come on till about 10″ into the show.)

Insofar as Iranians are white–and they most certainly are–then a claimant to the mantle of the putative 12th Imam al-Mahdi, should he ever shake loose the occultation coil, would pose a true threat to America and the entire world’s population of Christians, Jews and all non-Shii Muslims. But even sans his presence the IRI, as the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism, one also seeking nuclear weapons, represents a far greater danger to America than Trump supporters–even ones that broke into Nancy Pelosi’s office. Beware folks sporting turbans far more than those in MAGA hats–or even buffalo-horn headgear.

Listen to my interview, and read my article; then decide for yourself which white supremacist threat is real, and which is imagined.

Jamkaran Mosque, Qom, Iran–from my trip there, 2008.