Do You Remember/The Mahdis of September?

Forgive my invoking Earth, Wind & Fire on the very last day of September. But better late than never. At least I’m back to blogging after a summer hiatus.

This past month eschatological themes in the Islamic world (re)surfaced. On September 11th, Egyptian security forces arrested a chap in the Red Sea governate who had taken to calling himself the “Awaited Mahdi” on Facebook. This was in the port city of Safaga. One of his posts read “praise be to God and thanks be to God, Lord of the Great Throne, who chose me and made me one of the messengers to the worlds to raise [the] flag of Muslims, return people to the religion of Islam, eliminate unbelievers and criminals, and liberate al-Aqsa Mosque.” Of course, the Egyptian government stated that this fellow had a “prior criminal record” and “psychological issues.” One could of course say the same thing about any of the dozens (at least) of self-styled Mahdis who led such movements in the Dar al-Islam across the centuries–even the ones who succeeded in taking power. In fact, this man’s political agenda greatly resembles prior ones, especially in his stated desire to return Muslims to their religion, and to “eliminate unbelievers”–non-Muslims, that is. Had the authorities of the time been able to preemptively apprehend, say, Muhammad Ahmad the 1880s Sudanese Mahdi or Muhammad al-Qahtani, the Saudi Mahdi of 1979, those apocalyptic jihads might have been short-circuited. So, see? Facebook is sometimes a force for good. At least outside the USA.

At least the Mahdi had enough sense to manifest in a resort town!

Further to the northeast, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the ayatollahs are blaming some rogue followers of the Hidden Imam for stirring up at least some of the anti-government protests going on there. The IRGC (Iranian Republican Guards Corps, the regime’s praetorian guard) “has identified and arrested 12 people belonging to two organized riots teams in the northern Iranian province of Gilan.” According to Tehran’s official press organs, “the groups, which styled themselves the Anonymous Soldiers of the (Twelfth) Imam Mahdi, were aiming to attack sensitive government and law enforcement facilities and reignite violent protests across Gilan province.”[Gilan is northwest of Tehran, bordering the Caspian Sea.]

So far we have heard that the riots center around women protesting wearing of the hijab, and that the proximate cause was the suspicious death of one protestor, Mahsa Amini, in police custody. But perhaps the ayatollahs’ regime is being hoist by its own petard: if the Twelfth Imam, who will someday emerge as the eschatological Mahdi, is egging on opposition to the ayatollahs, how can they possibly hope to survive? Note, too, that like in Egypt the apocalyptic fervor emanates from a coastal area. So while some like it hot the Mahdi, whether Sunni or Shi’i, seems to like it cool.