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.

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