Earlier today The Stream published my latest article: “History: Will It Go ‘Round In Circles?” Other children of the 1970s will recognize that as the title of Billy Preston’s #1 hit from the summer of 1973. Therein I look at four prominent historians’ concepts of cyclical history–only one of whom is Ibn Khaldun–and how those comport with the Christian linear one. As the Fifth Beatle sang, history does “let the bad guy win every once in a while.” But does that mean that it’s “a story [that] ain’t got no moral?” And will it just go round and round in circles?
On this same topic, in 1992 Francis Fukuyama published the controversial, but highly influential, book The End of History and the Last Man. In it he argued that with the collapse of the USSR the preceding year, Western-style “liberal democracy” had proved itself the ultimate form of human government–and thus that political history was effectively over.
Yesterday I blogged on a fellow arrested in Egypt for claiming to be the Mahdi. A story last night in The New Arab shed more light on this: “Egyptian ‘Facebook Messiah’ Arrested after Claiming to be Muslim Mahdi.” According to the latter, his name is Muhammad Habash and he had posted on social media–not just via a sign on his house–that he was the Mahdi, and that “helpers of the Dajjal” were hindering the promulgation of his message. Egyptian authorities arrested him for “spreading false beliefs about the Islamic religion and claiming that he was the promised Mahdi….”
The staff writers of this article do manage to admit that “over the course of modern and medieval Islamic history, many people have claimed to be the Mahdi….” And that Egyptian security forces had arrested similar Mahdi claimants in 2020 and 2017.
So how was Sayyid Habash spreading false beliefs? Although not in the Quran, the statements about the Mahdi by Islam’s founder are accepted by hundreds of millions in the Islamic fold. And maybe Habash really is the Mahdi–because when it comes to Islam’s militant “messiahs,” past performance may not always be indicative of future results.
By the way: if Facebook is so obsessed with preventing the spread of “disinformation,” why did its “fact checkers” allow Habash to make his eschatological claims on that platform?
The coming of the Mahdi, according to the cover of a book in my library. The dove belies the jihads he will wage.
Less than two months ago I blogged on a Saudi who put himself forward as the Mahdi–and in the Grand Mosque of Mecca, no less. Well, the same thing just happened in Egypt, albeit rather more sedately. Egyptian police just arrested a certain “Muhammad” for claiming to be Islam’s major eschatological figure. But unlike that Saudi chap–or many previous militant Mahdis–this man had simply (if grandiosely) posted a sign on his house reading “the House of the Awaited Mahdi for Memorisation of the Holy Quran.” This may get him charged with “contempt for Islam.”
The Gulf News correspondent, Ramadan al-Sherbini, then throws in a reference to the (in)famous 1979 “siege of Mecca”–but gets a major element thereof wrong. Juhayman al-Utaybi, the leader of the occupation of the Meccan Grand Mosque, did not claim to be the Mahdi himself; he announced that his brother-in-law, Muhammad al-Qahtani, was. And the “security forces” which evicted them and their armed followers were French, not Saudi. Al-Sherbini also mentions the May 2021 Meccan Mahdi claimant.
Still, an addled (or pretentious) Quran teacher just posting a Mahdist sign would seem to be harmless. Maybe he was simply announcing his belief in the Mahdi’s coming–although you’d think Islam’s deliverer wouldn’t need Quran lessons. Clearly, Egyptian officials were telling this Muhammad:
This morning The Stream published my 50th article: “A Guide for the Misled–on Islam.” Therein I give accurate definitions–not apologetic/media spin–for 20 key Islamic terms, and then provide four essential truths about the world’s second-largest religion. And I do so in a non-partisan fashion; in fact, some of what I write may anger conservatives–although most will run counter to liberal fantasies.
Over the last month or so I’ve guest-blogged at zenpundit.com, on the topic of military science fiction which I think should be on the various recommended readings lists for our armed forces–especially the officers. I focus on the excellent “Future History” series of books in the universe that grew out of (or, perhaps more properly, grew up to support) the 1974 novel by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven, The Mote in God’s Eye. Here are the links:
Yesterday Arab News ran an article entitled “Why Iranian Missiles Are Targeting Makkah [Mecca],” by Dr. Mohammed al-Sulami. He writes that the Houthis who have taken over most of Yemen “have been systematically targeting Makkah” with missile strikes, rather than Saudi military bases, at the behest of their Iranian patrons. Why? For two reasons, according to him. Secondarily, because the Houthis are “irrational” by nature–as are all such “militias,” whether Lebanon’s Hizbullah, pro-Iranian groups in Iraq, al-Qaeda or “Daesh” (ISIS). But primarily because the Houthis are doing Tehran’s bidding: trying to create violent chaos in Arabia, specifically in Islam’s holiest city, and thus spark the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam al-Mahdi.
This is a version of the “hotwiring the apocalypse” thesis, which I have written about many times–on this site, in my book Ten Years’ Captivation with the Mahdi’s Camps, and most concisely in the article “Do Iran’s Leaders Want to Hotwire the Apocalypse?” Al-Sulami adduces two sources: an unlinked Iranian website with an article called “Akhir al-Zaman” (“the end of the age/time”), and a 2008 British Shii Muslim movie, 313 (referring to the number of martyred followers of Muhammad’s grandson Husayn). According to al-Sulami’s exegesis of these two sources, “the reappearance of the Mahdi will not be achieved unless chaos unfolds across Hijaz [western Arabia], because the existence of a powerful and harmonious government that is hostile to Shiites and the Mahdi is a major impediment” to Iran’s plan of coaxing him to manifest. Thus, the ayatollahs arm and induce the Houthis of Yemen to attack the Kingdom, specifically Mecca. But al-Sulami argues that the Yemeni pawns should not bear the brunt of the blame; rather, “the finger of blame should be pointed firmly at the Iranian regime.” For it is Tehran that “poses a real and grave threat to Saudi Arabia and the entire region.”
Dr. al-Sulami should have noted that while the Houthis are Shii, they are not of the same ilk at Iran’s Twelvers. Yemen’s Shiis are Zaydis, or Fivers. They don’t hold the same firm eschatological beliefs as their Iranian cousins. Twelvers are so called because they believe the 12th descendant of Muhammad, also named Muhammad, disappeared–but did not die–in the ninth century AD and will return as the eschatological Mahdi. Thus there can only be one. The Zaydis/Fivers, on the other hand, believe that their community has been led, across the centuries, by many mahdis, who are sent by Allah to deliver the true Muslim community. There are enough similarities between Iranian and Yemeni Shiis that they can work together, over against Saudi Sunnis (as well as Sunni ISIS and AQ groups). So in the final analysis the Zaydis are almost certainly lobbing missiles at KSA for prosaic political and military reasons, not apocalyptic ones.
So is al-Sulami correct that the ayatollahs and their overseas operators–in this case, the Quds (“Jerusalem”) Force of the Iranian Republican Guards Corps–are directing the Houthis missile strikes on Islam’s holiest city? Perhaps. I have argued, as in the aforementioned article, that Iran wants nuclear weapons, but not to use to hotwire the apocalypse by, in particular, attacking Israel. (Read it.) However, this Arabian apocalyptic pot-stirring might very well be something that some of the clerical regime wishes to carry out–since it doesn’t run the risk of an Israeli or American nuclear response, nor does it threaten to destroy Jerusalem, which is important in Islamic End Times machinations.
Note that al-Sulami studiously avoids mentioning that the Mahdi is also a staple belief of Sunni Islam, derived from quite a few hadiths on topic. But since 1979, when a violent Mahdist movement tried to overthrow the Saudi Kingdom, most Saudi commentators have steered clear of broaching this topic. And KSA has seen any number of self-styled “mahdis” crop up in the years since–as I wrote about here just last month.
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.”)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.