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Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Mahdi cometh!

The first ever person to be known as Mahdi was called Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah son of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the fourth Caliph. After the tragic events of Karbala, there was no one the Muslim masses could see as their spiritual leader. Imam Hussain’s only surviving son was too young at that time. As is the case with all political intrigues, a gap needed to be filled by opportunists. Muhammad ibn Ali was proclaimed the rightful heir to the Prophet. He was called the Mahdi, the Promised Guided Leader as was foretold by the Holy Prophet himself.

This did not last for long. Muhammad ibn Ali vanished from Madina one day. A famous poet of his time wrote a eulogy, calling him to return and take his rightful place as the leader of Muslims. The story of a hidden Imam in a cave began from this Mahdi, the first one but not the most famous one.

Since then, the title of Mahdi has been used by many people in the hope to gain popular support. Revolutionaries used it to overthrow the incumbent Caliphs. Caliphs used it to cement their authority. Various religious sects used it to attract converts into their cults. But none of these so-called Mahdis ever fulfilled the propehcised purpose of his advent.

Then there was the boy-Mahdi who also vanished into a cave. Shia Muslims await for his triumphant reappearance even to this day.

The Boy Mahdi. Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Mahdī

Shah Waliullah was a scholar and Sufi who witnessed the post-Aurangzeb decline of the Mughal empire.

He was known as the Muhaddath of Delhi. A great scholar of Quran and Hadith as well as a Saint. And in his case, he also claimed that God spoke to him.

He could not bear to see political and moral decline of his people. It is said that he received visions and revelations about the imminent arrival of the Mahdi. One of these revelations even said that if Waliullah was to affect a revolution, he may well be the Mahdi himself. But he was not very comfortable with this idea.

He knew that Mahdi is supposed to appear in Arabia, fulfilling many prophecies mentioned in Hadith. We don't know if it was the ernest desire of Shah Waliullah to find the rightful Mahdi or failing that, be that Mahdi himself: He left Delhi for Hejaz. He would remain in Makkah and Madina for almost a decade.

Shah Waliullah was certain of the coming of the Mahdi whose arrival would begin a new era of glory for Islam. His estimates placed the Mahdi during his time, as a famous Hadith had foretold that the signs for Mahdi would start appearing after one thousand years. But no Mahdi appeared in his life time. Shah Waliullah wrote that he received instructions in various visiions to go back to India and continue his religious leadership for the Indian Muslims. He died in 1762.

The beginning of 19th century saw a failed claimant of Mahdi in India. It was before the British had taken full control over the subcontinent. A man calling himself Ahmad and Rajah Nukluk sent a letter to the English governor or Surat to accept him as the Imam. The governor sent his army as the response, and he was killed along with a handful of his followers.

Syed Ahmad of Bareli, the famous freedom fighter and a follower of Shah Waliullah was also hailed as the Mahdi by some of his followers. But he also vanished mysteriously after the Battle of Balakot in 1831, never to be seen again.

Muhammad Ahmad of Sudan, a famous scholar of the Qadri order of Sufis arose as the next Mahdi. He claimed to have received revelations and visions confirming him to the status of the promised Imam. He rose against the Turkish as well as the British Colonial rulers. Inflicting defeat after defeat to his adversaries, he finally succumbed to the British onslaught. Muhammad Ahmad had all the hallmarks for a successful revolutionary. Like Shah Waliullah, he was educated and pious. He had a fanatical following and influence over a vast territory. Even the Sharif’s of Makkah feared him.

In order to fulfil the prophecies regarding the Mahdi to the letter, Muhammad Ahmad even planned to go to the Hajj in 1882 to claim his leadership over all Muslims. He either abstained from going through with his plan or was prevented from it due to his military campaigns.

Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahamd of Qadian India, also claimed to be the Mahdi. He founded the Ahmadiyya Movement in 1889. He did not have a political agenda or a military solution for the Muslims. His defense of Islam against he onslaught of Christian and Arya missions stood the test of time. Even the sun and the moon eclipsed in his time in a particular order as foretold in a famous Hadith. If there was ever a Mahdi prophecised, and I believe there was, it was bound to be someone who fulfilled the prophetic words not only in his person, but also in deeds. Most importantly for an outside observer it is the outcome of his deeds which have started a revolution.

One of his followers and companions was Abdul Latif of Afghanistan. A high ranking official of the court of Kabul and a well known scholar of his time. He once told that before he had known about the claims of Hadhrat Ahmad, he had received so many revelations from God about the immediate appearance of Imam Madhi that he feared that it could even be him. Like Shah Waliullah, he also knew the significance of these revelations. So he also started his Journey to Arabia for Hajj, only to discover that a Mahdi has appeared in Qadian. Abdul Latif never went to Hajj, instead he pledged his life to the Mahdi. Soon after his return to Afghanistan, Abdul Latif was charged with apostasy and stoned to death in Kabul.

Success is the best proof of Divine support. Where all the other claimants of Mahdi failed, Hadhrat Ahmad's success despite intense persecution and opposition around the world shows that he was true in his claims. All those prophecies about the guided one were true all along.

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