Claimants of Mahdaviyat

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During the whole period of history there were some people who for the sake of political gains claimed to be Mahdi in spite of the fact that they did not profess the religion of Ahle Bayt (a.s). We shall discuss a few of such claimants in the following pages:

1. Mahdi Sudani

Among such well-known characters was Mahdi Sudani from the African continent.

Mahdi Sudani was born in 1848 at the Sudanese village of Dolga inhabited by people whose main occupation was building boats. He became the most well-known pseudo-Mahdi in Europe. His real name was Muhammad Ahmad and he assumed the title of Mahdi. By displaying excessive piety, he gained respect and honor at the age of twenty-two years. He was an eloquent speaker and he mostly condemned Egyptian authorities in his speeches. He exposed the tyranny of the rulers to the people and laid great stress upon the reappearance of Mahdi.

This self-proclaimed deputy of the Prophet and the false leader of the Muslims raised the standard of revolt in Sudan, which was under the rule of Egyptians in connivance with the oppressive Britishers. In his eloquent speeches he condemned the tyranny of the Egyptians to such an extent that Sudanese people began to hate them. He made special references to Imam Mahdi (a.s) and gradually proclaimed himself to be connected with the Mahdi as had been the usual practice of all false claimants at the start of their claim. Finally, he claimed to be Mahdi himself from the lineage of the Holy Prophet (a.s), the 12th Imam and the son of Imam Hasan Askari (a.s).

After obtaining basic education, he entered into the Sanusiya Sufi order and on the Island of Abba began to spend his time in meditation. His false claim of Mahdaviyat received support for the first time on this Island, which is 150 miles south of Khartoum.

Beginning of his Mission

Some historians state that after joining the Sanusiya Sufi order he had an argument with his Peer (Sufi guide) and hence began to collect his own disciples and subsequently claimed to be Mahdi of the time and the last Imam. At the outset itself Abdullah Al-Taaisha (Caliph) supported and advised him to accompany him to a place where the militant tribes could be instigated to rise in revolt.

In May 1881 the Egyptian government issued an order for him to present himself in Khartoum and clarify his position. But Muhammad Ahmad ignored this order, assumed rulership of the country and declared a holy war against the infidels as well as the progressive Muslims.

The Egyptian government dispatched an army of two hundred soldiers under Rauf Pasha to subdue him. On 11th of August the Egyptians landed on the Island of Abba to attack the followers of Muhammad Ahmad. The supporters of Muhammad Ahmad did not possess any firearms so they kept themselves hidden till night fell. As soon as it was dark they surrounded the Egyptian army and attacked it ferociously till the complete army was wiped out. After this Muhammad Ahmad fled to a secluded place where the possibility of retaliation from the Egyptian army did not exist. On the way he met the local leaders from whom he learned that there was great discontent among the people regarding the Egyptian government. The abolishing of slave trade was also a cause of economic unrest.

At the Jebel Ghadir he had to face the men of Yusuf Pasha and they compelled him to retrace his steps. In May 1882 the Egyptian government dispatched an army of 6000 to attack Muhammad Ahmad. One night, Muhammad Ahmad attacked the army of Yusuf Pasha and put them to death. After victory Muhammad Ahmad gained more clout and was joined by many people greedy for the spoils of war.

In the last part of the month of November 1882 Muhammad Ahmad concluded that he had sufficient military strength to capture the Egyptian fort of Al-Abeed. So he attacked Al-Abeed and captured it. Then he converted the fort as his residence and made it the seat of power.

Muhammad Ahmad used to wear a simple cotton dress. His followers also imitated him in his style of dressing. Outwardly he put up a facade of simplicity but used to lead a life of sensuality in secret. Women were his weakness. He tried to imitate the conditions of the Holy Prophet (a.s) and called his wife Ummul Momineen Ayesha. He also named his followers after the companions of the Holy Prophet (a.s) viz. Abu Bakr, Umar, Hassaan Ibn Saabit, Khalid bin Waleed, etc. The common followers were called as helpers (Ansar) He seemed to bring about the condition similar to the time of the Holy Prophet of Islam (a.s). But actually it was not so. If it had not been for the spread of oppression by the British and the Egyptians, this pseudo Mahdi would have never succeeded. But the oppressed people were tired of the tyranny and hence various tribes joined hands with Muhammad Ahmad.

When Muhammad Ahmad traveled for the first time from the Island of Abba towards Masat he termed his journey as "Hijrat" - migration. He also appointed his four caliphs. The first caliph was Abdullah Al-Taaisha. He was given the title of Abu Bakr. He pretended to establish a rule on the Quranic principles but the actual fact was that he wanted to put up this false show so that he could collect people under himself. In order to administer the country, he collected both Zakat and Khums. But the distribution of the same was with favoritism. He prohibited the study of religion and Fiqh. He only stressed on the recitation of the Holy Quran but strictly prohibited any discussion on it. Like the Wahabis he prohibited the consumption of tobacco and considered it more sinful than drinking wine. He did not forgive even the smallest of the sins.

Control on Sudan

Due to the Egyptian and the British rule, Sudan was passing through a very critical period. The British dispatched an army of 10,000 under William to attack Muhammad Ahmad. On the 3rd of November Muhammad Ahmad reached Kashgil to confront the army and inflicted a terrible defeat upon it. Now the whole of Sudan was virtually under his control.

In December 1884 the army sent by Salauddin Pasha under an Austrian officer was defeated by Muhammad Ahmad after a conflict which lasted a whole year. At this defeat the British prepared to flee Sudan. In order to facilitate this exit, General Charles George Gordon was dispatched. Prior to this, he had held the post of the Governor General of Sudan and hence was very popular among the locals.

Secondly, he was capable to handle Muhammad Ahmad who had by now established himself as the Mahdi and the complete master of Sudan. He reached Khartoum on the 18th February 1884 and made an offer of recognizing the rule of Muhammad Ahmad if he would free all the prisoners. He also offered to permit the resumption of the slave trade.

Instead of accepting these conditions Mohammed Ahmad prepared to attack Khartoum and on the 22nd August laid siege to the city. Even though he could not face the fire arms and the sophisticated weapons he prolonged the siege so much that the people began to worry. There was a great shortage of the necessities of life in the city as Muhammad Ahmad had prevented all sort of communication. Muhammad Ahmad found the time ripe for his purpose and entered the city on 25th January 1885 and started plunder and destruction.

General Gordon was killed just outside his palace. Sudan was completely lost by the British and Muhammad Ahmad made Khartoum the seat of his Caliphate. In order that he may exercise a complete control over Sudan he sealed all the borders and even prohibited the people from going for Hajj.

Death of Mahdi Sudani

This false Mahdi died on 22nd June 1885 due to high fever. He had already appointed Abdullah Al-Taaisha as his successor but due to his weak disposition he faced defeat at the hands of General Kitchener. Sudan once again fell into the hands of the British. In order to take revenge the British dug up the grave of Muhammad Ahmad, cut off his head and sent it to England.

2. Mahdi Tahama

Mahdi Tahama was a native of Yemen and around the year 1159 A.D. he appeared and claimed that he was the Awaited Imam whose glad tidings were given by the Prophet (a.s). A group of Bedouins followed him and he annexed the Kingdom of Hamadani dynasty in Sanaa and Najjahi Kingdom in Zubaid. His grandson, Abdul Nabi took over the position of his grandfather in 1162 AD and continued the efforts of his predecessor. However, Turan Shah, on behalf of Salauddin Ayyubi destroyed his rule.[1]

3. Mahdi of Senegal

In 1828 A.D. a character appeared in Senegal and claimed to be the Awaited Mahdi. He took up the standard of revolt against the regime of that time but was defeated badly and executed.[2]

4. Mahdi of Soos

Soos is a town in Western Arabia. In this place a man arose and claimed to be the Awaited Imam. A large number of people began to follow him but he was shot dead.[3]

5. Mahdi of Somalia

A person named Muhammad, the son of Abdullah Somalian claimed in 1899 A.H. to be the Awaited Imam. He had great influence in his tribe, Ujadin and he fought the British and Italian forces for almost 20 years and died in 1920 A.H.[4]

These were some persons who claimed to be the Promised Mahdi. Here we conclude our discussion on this subject.
[1]  - Tarikh Ash Shaubul Islamiya, Pg. 324-326

[2] - Hazirul al-Islami, 2/195

[3] - Al-Burhan, 1/281

[4] - Tarikh Ashshuyub al-Islamiya, Pg. 640