of the Belief in the Mahdí
Dr. Emámí: When did the belief in Mahdí become prevalent in the Islamic environment? Was there any conversation about the Mahdí during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) or was it after his death that the belief became widespread among Muslims? There are some who have written that there was no Mahdiism in the beginning of Islam. It was only in the second half of the first century (7th century CE) that the idea appeared among the Muslims. There was a group that regarded Mu<ammad b. \anafiyya as the Mahdí and gave the good news to the people about the good fortune Islam would acquire through him. The same group believed that Mu<ammad b. \anafiyya had not died but he was living in Mt. Ra_wá and one day would return."
Mr. Hoshyár: The belief in Mahdí was widespread during the time of the Prophet. The Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) on more than one occasion had announced the future coming of the Mahdí. From time to time he would inform the people about the government of the Mahdí and the signs of his emergence, giving his name and patronymic (kunya). There are numerous <adíth-reports that have come down to us from both the Sunni and the Shí'í sources on this subject. Actually some of these reports have been related so frequently, and without interruption in all ages, that nobody can doubt their authenticity. For instance, we read the following <adíth reported from 'Abd Alláh b. Mas'úd, who heard the Prophet say:
The world will not come to an end until a man from my family (ahl al-bayt), who will be called al-Mahdí, emerges to rule upon my community.
Another tradition reported by Abú
al-\ujáf quotes the Prophet saying three times:
Listen to the good news about the Mahdí! He will rise at the time when people will be faced with severe conflict and the earth will be hit by a violent quake. He will fill the earth with justice and equity as it is filled with injustice and tyranny. He will fill the hearts of his followers with devotion and will spread justice everywhere.
The Prophet has declared:
The Day of Resurrection will not take place until the True Qá'im rises. This will happen when God permits him to do so. Anyone who follows him will be saved, and anyone who opposes him will perish. O servants of God, keep God in your mind and go towards him even if it happens to be on the ice, for indeed he is the caliph of God, the Exalted and Glorified, and my successor.
In another <adíth the Prophet is reported to have said: "Any one who denies al-Qá'im among my children will have denied me."
In still another <adíth
the Prophet assured his community by stating:
The world will not come to an end until a man from the descendants of \usayn takes charge of the affairs of the world and fills it with justice and equity as it is filled with injustice and tyranny.
from among the Descendants of the Prophet
Such <adíth-reports are abundant. The main idea that runs through all of them suggests that the topic about the future coming of the Mahdí and Qá'im during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) was well known. In fact, the way these reports speak about the subject indicates that it was not something new which was being presented to the people. On the contrary, they relate the signs and characteristics of the person who would emerge as the Mahdí, as in the statement "the promised Mahdí will be among my descendants."
The following traditions reflect such a
pattern in their presentation. It is reported from 'Alí
b. Abí ^álib who said:
I asked the Prophet: "Is Mahdí going to be among our own family or from some other?" He replied: "He will be among us. God will conclude His religion through him, just as He began it with us. It will be through us that people will find refuge from sedition, just as it was through us that they were saved from polytheism. Moreover, it will be through us that God will bring their hearts together in brotherhood following the animosity sown by the sedition, just as they were brought together in brotherhood in their religion after the animosity sown by polytheism."
Abú Sa'íd al-Khu_arí,
a close associate of the Prophet says:
I heard the Prophet declare from the pulpit: "The Mahdí from among my descendants, from my family, will rise at the End of Time, while the heavens will pour rain and the earth will bring forth green grass for him. He will fill the earth with justice and equity as it is filled with tyranny and injustice."
In another tradition from Umm Salma, the wife of the Prophet, there is even more specific information given to the community. The Prophet says: "Mahdí will be among my progeny, among the children of Fá>ima."
On another occasion the Prophet said:
The Qá'im will be among my descendants. His name will be my name and his patronymic will be my patronymic. His character will be like my own. He will call people to my custom and to the Book of God. Anyone who obeys him would be obeying me, and any one who turns away from him would be turning away from me. Anyone who denies his existence during his concealment would have denied me, and anyone who falsifies him would have falsified me. Anyone who confirms his existence would have confirmed my existence. As for those who are engaged in falsifying what I have said about him and thereby mislead my community, I will complain against them to God. "Those who do wrong shall surely know by what overturning they will be overturned." [28:228] 
Abú Ayyúb An#árí
I heard the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) say: "I am the chief of the prophets and 'Alí is the chief of the legatees. My two grandsons are the best among the descendants. The infallible Imams will come forth from among us through \usayn. Moreover, the Mahdí of this community is among us." At that time an Arab stood up and asked: "O Prophet of God, how many Imams are there after you?" He replied: "Equal to the number of the apostles of Jesus and the chiefs of the Children of Israel." 
A tradition with similar information has
been cited from Hudhayfa, another companion of the Prophet, who
heard the Prophet declare:
The Imams after me will be equal to the number of the tribal chiefs among the Children of Israel. Nine among them will be the descendants of \usayn. The Mahdí of this community is among us. Beware! Truth is with them and they are with truth. Thus be careful of the way you treat them after me. 
In still another tradition Sa'íd
b. Musayyib reports from 'Amr b. 'Uthmán b. 'Affán,
We heard from the Prophet saying: "The Imams after me will be twelve in number, of whom nine will be from the progeny of \usayn. Moreover, the Mahdí of this community will be among us. Anyone who holds on to them after me holds on to the rope of God; and whoever abandons them has abandoned God." 
There are numerous <adíth-reports
of this kind in the sources which one can undertake to examine.
Sunni <adíth on the Subject of the Mahdí
Dr. Fahímí: Mr. Hoshyár! Our friends know it. But let me tell you that I follow the Sunni school of thought. Hence, the positive evaluation that you have of the Shí'í <adíth-reports, I do not share. In all likelihood, extremist Shí'ís, for whatever reasons, after having accepted the narratives about the Mahdiism, must have fabricated traditions in support of their views and ascribed them to the Prophet. The evidence for my contention is that the traditions about the Mahdí are recorded only in your Shí'í books. There is no trace of these in our authentic -- @i<á< -- compilations. Yes, I am aware that there are some traditions on the subject in our less reliable compilations.
Mr. Hoshyár: In spite of the most unfavorable conditions under the Umayyads and the `Abbasids, whose politics and oppressive governments did not allow the discussion or the spread of hadíth about wiláyat and imámat and the ahl al-bayt or their being recorded in the books of the <adíth, your compilations of <adíth are not completely void of any traditions on the subject of the Mahdí. If you are not tired I may cite some of them for you.
Engineer Madaní: Mr. Hoshyár! Please continue your conversation.
Dr. Fahímí! In your compilations, the @i<á<,
there are chapters devoted to the subject of the Mahdí
in which traditions from the Prophet have been recorded. For example,
'Abd Alláh reports from the Prophet, who said: "The world will not come to pass until a man from among my family, whose name will be my name, rules over the Arabs."
Tirmidhí has recorded this <adíth
in his @a<í<  and comments:
"This <adíth on the Mahdí is reliable,
and has been related by 'Alí b. Abí ^álib,
Abú Sa'íd, Umm Salma and Abú Hurayra":
'Alí b. Abí ^álib has narrated from the Prophet, who said: "Even if there remains only a day on earth, God will bring forth a man from my progeny so that he will fill the earth with justice and equity as it is filled with tyranny."
In another <adíth Umm Salma narrates that she heard the Prophet say: "The promised Mahdí will be among my progeny, among the descendants of Fá>ima."
Abú Sa'íd al-Khu_ari says:
The Prophet said: "Our Mahdí will have a broad forehead and a pointed nose. He will fill the earth with justice as it is filled with injustice and tyranny. He will rule for seven years." 
'Alí b. Abí ^álib has
related a tradition from the Prophet who informed him:
The promised Mahdí will be among my family. God will make the provisions for his emergence within a single night. 
Abú Sa'id al-Khu_arí has related
a tradition from the Prophet who declared:
The earth will be filled with injustice and corruption. At that time, a man from among my progeny will rise and will rule for seven or nine years and will fill the earth with justice and equity.
Greater detail is provided in another hadíth
reported by Abú Sa'íd al-Khu_arí. In this
tradition the Prophet said:
Severe calamity from the direction of their ruler will befall my people during the Last Days. It will be a calamity which, in severity, shall be unprecedented. It will be so violent that the earth with injustice and corruption will shrivel for its inhabitants. The believers will not find refuge from oppression. At that time God will send a man from my family to fill the earth with justice and equity just as it is filled with injustice and tyranny. The dwellers of the heavens and the earth will be pleased with him. The earth will bring forth all that grows for him, and the heavens will pour down rains in abundance. He will live among the people for seven or nine years. From all the good that God will bestow on the inhabitants of the earth, the dead will wish to come to life again.
There are numerous traditions that convey
these meanings in your books. I believe we have cited enough reports
to make our point.
Objection Raised by One of the Authors:
The author of the book entitled: Al-Mahdiyya fí al-islám
Mu<ammad b. Ismá'íl Bukhárí and Muslim b. \ajjáj Níshabúrí, the compilers of the two most authentic books of the Sunni <adíth, who recorded these traditions meticulously and with extreme caution in verifying their reliability, have not included traditions about the Mahdí in their @i<á<. Rather, these traditions are part of the compilations of Sunan of Abú Dáwúd, Ibn Májáh, Tirmidhí, Nasá'í and Musnad of Ahmad b. Hanbal. These compilers were not careful in selecting traditions and their <adíth-reports were regarded by scholars like Ibn Khaldún as weak and unacceptable.
Khaldún and the Traditions about the Mahdi:
To elaborate on the topic of the reliability of the <adíth
on the Mahdí, let us cite Ibn Khaldún's opinion
on the matter in full:
It has been well known (and generally accepted) by all Muslims in every epoch, that at the end of time a man from the family (of the Prophet) will without fail make his appearance, strengthen Islam and make justice triumph. Muslims will follow him, and he will gain domination over the Muslim realm. He will be called the Mahdí....Such traditions have been found among the traditions that religious leaders have published. They have been critically discussed by those who disapprove of them and have been often refuted by means of certain traditions.
This was the summary of the opinions held by Ibn Khaldún. He then proceeds to mention the transmitters of these hadíth and critically evaluate their reliability or lack thereof, as held by the scholars of transmitted sciences.
Let us respond to some points raised by
1: Uninterrupted Transmission
(tawátur) of the Traditions
Numerous Sunni scholars have recognized the traditions about the Mahdi to have been uninterruptedly transmitted. They have in fact transmitted them uninterruptedly from other sources without raising objections to them. Among these scholars are Ibn \ajar Haythamí, in al-@awá'iq al-mu<arriqa; Shablanjí, in Núr al-ab#ár; Ibn @abbágh, in al-Fu#úl al-muhimma; Mu<ammad al-@abán in As'áf al-rághibín; Kanjí Sháfi'í in al-Bayán; and so on. Such an uninterrupted transmission of these traditions compensates for the weakness found in their chain of transmission. According to 'Asqalání, a tradition that is reported in every generation uninterruptedly leads to establish its veracity, and an action taken based upon it is not subject to dispute.
A similar opinion is held by Sayyid A<mad, Shaykh al-Islam and the Sháfi'ite Muftí, who writes that the traditions about the Mahdí are numerous and mutawátir. Among these some are 'sound' (#a<í<), others are 'good' (<asan), and still others are 'weak' (_a'íf). However, he says, the majority are weak traditions and, since they are numerous and their reporters are also in large number, some go towards strengthening the others, and lead to their acceptance as reliable.
Among those who narrate the <adíth
about the Mahdí are a group of prominent companions of
the Prophet. These include: 'Abd al-Ra<mán b. 'Awf,
Abú Sa'íd al-Khudarí, Qays b. Jábir,
Ibn 'Abbás, Jábir, Ibn Mas'úd, 'Alí
b. Abí ^álib, Abú Hurayra, Thawbán,
Salmán Fárisí, \udhayfa, Anas b. Málik,
Umm Salma, and others. Among the Sunni authors who have included
these traditions in their books are: Abú Dáwúd,
A<mad b. \anbal, Tirmidhí, Ibn Májah, Nasá'í,
^abrání, Abú Nu'aym I#fáhání
and numerous other compilers of the <adíth.
2: Weak Transmission Is Not an Issue in All Places:
It is important to state that most of the persons who are recognized as being weak in their transmission and are mentioned by Ibn Khaldún have also been accredited by others. In fact, even Ibn Khaldún mentions some of them. Moreover, the weakening of the transmission of a <adíth does not have absolute preponderance over its being approved as reliable because special characterization is a subjective matter. Whereas a certain characteristic of a tradition might render it a weak tradition in accord with one researcher, another investigator might find quite the opposite. Hence, the opinion of the former can be accepted only if the reason for rendering a tradition weak is made clear.
In his Lisán al-mízán 'Asqalání says: The weakening of the tradition assumes preponderance over its accreditation when the reason for doing so is made explicit. Otherwise, the opinion of the person rendering the tradition weak has no value.
Abú Bakr A<mad b. 'Alí al-Baghdádí writes: It must be pointed out that as for the traditions accepted and used as evidence by Bukhárí, Muslim and Abú Dáwúd, although some of their transmitters have been criticized and have been declared unreliable, the reason for their criticism and unreliability has not been well established and proven by them. Moreover, he says, if weakness and reliability of a tradition are of equal weight, then its weakening is preponderant. However, if weakness is less obvious than reliability, then there could be varying opinions about that tradition. The best way to resolve this problem of authenticating a tradition is to say that if the reason for weakness is mentioned and if that reason is convincing, then weakness has preponderance over reliability. But if the reason is not mentioned, then reliability has preponderance over weakness. 
To be sure, we can not generalize and state
with absolute certainty that in all places of dispute over the
reliability of a tradition, its being regarded as weak has preponderance
over its being considered as reliable. If all points of weakness
are made effective, then there would be very few traditions that
would be spared from criticism. It is, therefore, important that
in such cases careful analysis and rational evaluation are carried
out to clarify the truth.
3: Unreliable Simply Because of Being Shí'í
Often a tradition is deemed weak because its transmitter is a Shí'í. For example, Ibn Khaldún, rejected Qu>n b. Khalífa, one of the transmitters of the Mahdí traditions, because he was a Shí'í. In this connection he quotes 'Ijlí saying that Qu>n was good in <adíth, but he was somewhat inclined towards Shí'ísm. Again, according to A<mad b. 'Abd Alláh b. Yúnus and Abú Bakr b. 'Ayyásh, Qu>n was unreliable and his traditions were rejected because of his 'corrupt' beliefs. On the other hand, there were others like A<mad b. \anbal, Nasá'í, and so on, who accredited him and regarded his traditions reliable.
Another transmitter by the name of Hárún
was also regarded as weak because, as Ibn Khaldún tells
us, he and his sons were Shí'ites. Some <adíth
scholars regarded Yazíd b. Abú Ziyád a weak
transmitter because "he was the leader of the Shí'ís"
and that he was among the Shí'ís of Kúfa.
Commenting on 'Ammár al-Dhahabí, Ibn Khaldún
tells us that although prominent traditionists like A<mad b.
\anbal, Nasá'í and others had regarded him reliable,
Bishr b. Marwán, because of his Shí'ism, considered
him weak. Also 'Abd al-Razzáq b. Humám's traditions
were regarded as weak because he narrated traditions relating
the merits of the family of the Prophet and was famous for his
4: Difference of Creed
Another excuse used to discredit traditions reported by some pious and truthful individuals was the difference in creed. For example one of the sensitive issues that generated lots of debate and led to an inquisition at that time was that of the createdness of the Qur'an. There were some in the community who believed that the Qur'an was not created in time, and hence, was eternal. Others believed that it had appeared at some point in time and, hence, was created. These two groups were engaged in not only heated arguments, but also mutual condemnation. A number of the narrators of the <adíth believed that the Qur'an was either created in time or that indicated that they had doubts about the issue. These narrators were discredited and condemned.
The author of A_wá' 'alá
al-sunna al-mu<ammadíya writes:
The scholars had condemned a group of narrators like Ibn Lahí'a as unbelievers. Their sin was their belief that the Qur'an was created. Moreover, it is said that Mu<ásibí did not accept the inheritance from his father because, he said: "Those who are dualists do not inherit from each other. I do not want my share of inheritance from my father." The reason for his refusal was that his father was a wáqifí, that is, he was doubtful in expressing his opinion whether the Qur'an was created or not. 
Just as extreme religious prejudices and differences became the cause for overlooking the trustworthiness and truthfulness of the narrators (thereby rejecting what they reported), shared belief on a matter and belonging to the same school of thought generated unwarranted trust of the narrators, whose unreliability and corrupt character were overlooked. The situation was so critical that instead of verifying the credibility of the narrator they actually accredited them. Thus, for example, according to 'Ijlí, 'Umar b. Sa'd was among the reliable transmitters of the second generation of the companions of the Prophet, whose traditions people had recorded. This evaluation is contrary to the generally held fact that he was responsible for the murder of Imam \usayn (peace be upon him), whom the Prophet had declared the chief of the youth in Paradise and his beloved grandson.
Such was the case with Bisr b. Ar>át, who received an official assignment from Mu'áwiya. He had massacred thousands of innocent Shí'ís and used to publicly curse 'Alí b. Abí ^álib, the Prophet's caliph. However, such a person of low character has been excused for these heinous deeds and has been regarded as an independent and learned authority in jurisprudence.
Regarding 'Utba b. Sa'íd, Ya<ya
b. Mu'ín writes:
He is reliable. Nasá'í, Abú Dáwúd, and Daraqu>ní have also regarded him trustworthy. On the other hand, 'Utba b. Sa'íd was a companion of the wicked \ajjáj b. Yúsuf.
It is not difficult to see the double standards that were applied in accreditation of the traditions reported by individuals whom they favored. Búkharí accepted the traditions reported from Marwán b. \akam in his @a<í<, and relied upon them. And yet Marwán was one of the major causes of the Battle of the Camel, having encouraged and instigated ^al<a to fight against 'Alí. Then, during the battle, the same Marwán killed ^al<a.
The author of Kitáb a_wá' draws our attention to the fact that careful analysis of what these scholars did to authenticate Marwán clearly shows an endeavor to promote a wicked person like Marwán, who favored killing 'Alí, actually killed ^al<a, and was responsible for the murder of \usayn b. 'Alí. On the other hand, <adíth compilers like Búkhárí and Muslim discredited prominent scholars and memorizers of the Prophetic traditions like \ammád b. Maslama and the pious and god-fearing Mak<úl, simply because of their disagreement on some issues related to the creed.
All in all, if any person narrated traditions
in praise of the family of the Prophet and 'Alí b. Abí
^álib or related traditions agreeing with the Shí'í
beliefs, some staunchly Sunni scholars suspected their <adíth
reports to be unreliable or declared them unconvincing. If this
was the treatment of those suspected of Shí'í leanings,
then <adíth reported by those whose Shí`ism
was public knowledge received even more blunt treatment. Their
traditions were rejected outright. One need only read ^abarí's
books to fathom the prejudicial treatment given to the narrators
whose beliefs were contrary to the mainstream Sunni faith. According
to Muslim, the compiler of the @a<í< Muslim,
^abarí says: "I met Jábir Ju'fí. But
I did not record any tradition from him because he believed in
raj'a (return of the dead before the emergence of the Mahdí)."
5: Unfounded Prejudice
It is obvious that to pursue an agenda and to follow prejudice is not conducive to objective research. Anyone who intends to do research about a subject and to get to the truth of a matter must discard his unfounded prejudices against and hatred towards it, and then begin his investigation. When, during the process of the investigation, a piece of evidence is found in a tradition, one should investigate its narrator in order to prove his reliability. If the narrator's reliability is confirmed then his tradition should be accepted, regardless of whether he is a Sunni or a Shí`í. It is against the rule of fairness and the method of investigation that the traditions of a reliable narrator be rejected simply because he happens to be a Shí'í or is accused of being one. In fact, fair minded scholars among the Sunnis have been aware of this prejudice.
In this connection 'Asqalání
One of the instances when one should pause in accepting the opinion of the person who is engaged in discrediting a narrator is to investigate whether there exists a difference in the matter of creed between the person who is engaged in discrediting and the narrator who is being discredited. For example, Abú Is<áq Jawzjání was a Sunni who hated the ahl al-bayt (a ná#ibí) while the people of Kufa were famous for their Shí`ism. Hence, he discredited the Kufan narrators in the most severe terms. Accordingly, people like A'mash, Abú Nu'aym and 'Abd Alláh b. Músa, although the leaders and pillars of narrators of <adíth, were declared unreliable by him. Qushayrí says: "The motives of the people resemble the pits of fire." Consequently, in such instances, a statement about the narrator's reliability has preponderance over a statement about his unreliability.
Similarly, Mu<ammad b. A<mad b. 'Uthmán
Dhahabí, following his account about Abán b. Taghlib's
If some one objects to why we declare him trustworthy, in spite of the fact that Abán was among the people of innovation (i.e., Shí'ís), I say thus: Innovation is of two kinds. One is a lesser type like the extremism in Shí`ism, or Shí`ism without extremism and sinful deviation. This kind of innovation was common among a number from the second and third generation of the companions of the Prophet, in spite of the fact that their piety and moral probity were beyond reproach. If it is decided that the traditions reported by such narrators should be rejected, a large number of Prophetic traditions would necessarily have to be rejected. The wrongness of such an opinion is self-evident. The second type of innovation is of a greater type, such as the complete rejection [of the first three caliphs] and the cursing of Abú Bakr and 'Umar. Indisputably, the traditions reported by this group have no value and should be rejected.
In short, anyone who undertakes research
and wants to discover truth, should not accept such statements
of the unreliability of a narrator at face value. Rather, he should
try to uncover the reason for discrediting a narrator and whether
that person truly deserves such a judgement.
Muslim and @a<í< Bukhárí and Traditions
about the Mahdí
It is important to emphasize that if the traditions about the Mahdí were not recorded by Bukhárí and Muslim, this does not mean that the reports were weak in transmission. After all, these two compilers had no intention of shedding light on all the traditions. According to Bayhaqí, Muslim and Bukhárí did not intend to search for all the traditions. The evidence is provided by the inclusion of numerous traditions that were recorded by Bukhárí and which are not part of Muslim's collection. At the same time, there are traditions in the @a<í< of Muslim which were avoided by Bukhárí. Just as Muslim claimed to have recorded only the authentic traditions in his compilation, so did Abú Dáwúd in his collection. This latter fact has been observed by Abú Bakr b. Dása who heard Abú Dáwúd say: "I have recorded 4,800 traditions in my collection of which all are either reliable or close to reliable." In addition, Abú al-@aba< confirms that it was reported to him that Abú Dáwúd made a similar claim about the traditions in his compilation, Sunan, adding that if he included a weak tradition he made that clear. "Hence any tradition about which I have not made any comment should be regarded as reliable." A similar positive opinion about Abú Dáwúd's Sunan has been related from Kha>abí in the introduction to the present edition by Sá'átí. In short, the traditions in Muslim and Bukhárí are not different in reliability from the traditions recorded by other authors of the @a<í<. What is important is that their transmitters should be investigated in order to establish their credibility or the lack thereof.
To be sure, the @a<í<s
of Muslim and Bukhárí, whose authority is accepted
by all the Sunnis, are not completely devoid of traditions about
the Mahdí, although the term mahdí has not
been used to express this belief among Muslims. Following is one
It is reported from Abú Hurayra that the Prophet said: "What will be your reaction when the son of Mary descends and your Imam is among yourselves?" 
There are a number of other traditions on
a similar theme in these two compilations. It is also important
to bear in mind that Ibn Khaldún has neither totally falsified
all the traditions about the Mahdí, nor has he claimed
that he does not accept them. The context of Ibn Khaldún's
remark about these traditions is provided by his opening statement
in this section when he says:
It has been well known (and generally accepted) by all Muslims in every epoch, that at the end of time a man from the family (of the Prophet) will without fail make his appearance, who will strengthen Islam and make justice triumph. Muslims will follow him, and he will gain domination over the Muslim realm. He will be called the Mahdí.
It is evident that he has briefly accepted
the fact that the belief in the awaited Mahdí is common
among Muslims. Moreover, after his critical evaluation of the
traditions and their transmitters he concludes the discussion
with the following observation:
This is the situation of the traditions about the awaited Mahdí. It has been seen in the books that, with the exception of very few, most of these traditions are regarded as unreliable.
Hence, even at this point he has not rejected all the traditions on the subject. Rather, as he confesses, some of them are authentic.
Furthermore, it is relevant to point out that the traditions on the subject of the Mahdí are not confined only to those mentioned and critically evaluated by Ibn Khaldún. Quite to the contrary, most of the books on <adíth, both by the Sunnis and the Shí`ites, narrate traditions in an unbroken chain of transmission which actually comes close to their verification as being credible. Had Ibn Khaldún known about the existence of all these traditions, he would have probably regarded the belief in the Mahdí as deeply rooted in the Islamic revelation.
To conclude this discussion, we can say
that it is incorrect to maintain, as some scholars do, that Ibn
Khaldún rejected the tradition about the Mahdí.
On the contrary, it is these authors who have read into Ibn Khaldún
such an opinion.
Opinions from Ibn Khaldún:
Ibn Khaldún concludes this section
on the traditions concerning the Mahdi thus:
The truth one must know is that no religious or political power's propaganda can be successful, unless power or group feeling exists to support the religious and political aspirations and to defend them against those who reject them, and until God's will concerning them materializes. We have established this before, with rational arguments which we presented to the reader. The group feeling among the Fa>imids and ^alibids, indeed, that among all the Quraysh, has everywhere disappeared. The only exception is a remnant of the ^alibids -- \asanids, \usaynids, and Ja'farites -- in the \ejaz, in Mecca, al-Yanbu', and Medina. They are spread over these regions and dominate them. They are Bedouin groups. They are settled and rule in different places and hold divergent opinions. They number several thousands. If it is correct that a Mahdí is to appear, there is only one way for his propaganda to make its appearance. He must be one of them, and God must unite them in the intention to follow him, until he gathers enough strength and group feeling to gain success for his cause and to move people to support him. Any other way -- such as a Fa>imid who would make propaganda for (the cause of the Mahdí) among people anywhere at all, without the support of group feeling and power, by merely relying on his relationship to the family of Mu<ammad (peace be upon him) -- will not be feasible or successful, for the sound reasons that we have mentioned previously.
In response to this assertion by Ibn Khaldún it must be pointed out that there is no doubt that anyone who wishes to revolt and gain power so as to establish a government must have the unquestioning support of his followers in order to reach that goal. Similar conditions must be fulfilled in the case of the awaited Mahdí and his universal revolution. However, it is not necessary to require that his supporters be among the descendants of 'Alí and the Quraysh. The reason is that if the government and leadership is based on ethnic and group feeling then the support has to come from that feeling. Moreover, these should be the ones to support him unquestioningly. This was certainly true in the case of ethnic groups and dynasties that came to power by means of this sense of loyalty and solidarity. In general, a government that comes to power through the specific and limited sense of group feeling is necessarily dependent upon a specific and limited group of supporters. This is true in all such cases of nationalistic, ethnic, and ideological states.
However, if a government is founded upon a specific program, then it has to gain support of those who favor it. And this order can succeed only if a group recognizes the value of the program and desires to implement it by supporting the leadership that is committed to it. The revolutionary program of the Mahdí is of this kind. The Mahdí's program is profoundly universal. It desires that humanity, which is being driven into extreme forms of materialism and opposition to divine commands, respond to the divinely ordained system which rests upon moral and spiritual goals. It wishes to resolve the problems facing humanity by clarifying the boundaries in such a way as to remove any cause of conflict in society. It wants to bring people together under the banner of the Unity of God and universalize submission and service to God. Such a program, if implemented, would end tyranny and injustice and spread peace through justice all over the world.
In order to achieve this universal goal
it is not sufficient to rely on the leadership of the descendants
of 'Alí, who are spread all over the \ejaz, and to expect
that the group feeling would help the Mahdí to reach his
universal goal. To be sure, there is a need for the peoples of
the entire world to prepare themselves to respond to the call
of the Mahdí. Besides the divine endorsement of this program,
the Mahdí's victory is dependant upon a reasonably large
and earnest group of people, who, being aware of the merits of
the divinely ordained system, would seriously aspire to see such
an order implemented. Moreover, they would be willing to sacrifice
their lives for that cause. Consequently, if the people see an
infallible and incontestable leader who has access to the divine
plan for humanity and has divine endorsement of his program, they
would not hesitate to assist him in establishing the ideal public
order, even if this means that they would have to sacrifice their
Existence of the Mahdí is Certain
There are numerous Prophetic traditions
about the Mahdí, reported by both the Sunni and the Shí'í
sources. Close examination of the contents of these traditions
proves that the subject of the future coming of the Mahdí
and the Qá'im was a well established tenet during the Prophet's
life time. People anticipated someone who would take upon himself
to establish truth and spread the worship of God. Moreover, they
expected that person to take charge of purifying the earth and
instituting justice. The belief was so wide spread among the people
that having verified it in principle they were engaged in discussing
its details. Sometimes they would ask: "From which family
would the awaited Mahdí arise?" At other times they
wanted to know his name and patronymic. Still at other times they
wanted to know the reason why he was called the Mahdí.
They wanted to know about his revolution and asked about the signs
of his appearance. They also wanted to find out if the Mahdí
and the Qá'im were one and the same person. They were told
about the Mahdí's occultation and wanted to understand
the reasons and the obligations of his followers while he was
in occultation. The Prophet also, from time to time, used to inform
people about the existence of the Mahdí. He would inform
them saying: "Mahdí will be among my descendants.
He will be among the sons of Fá>ima, among the descendants
of \usayn." At other times he would announce his name and
patronymic and give information about the signs of his reappearance
and other related matters.
Discussion among the Companions and the Subsequent Generations:
After the Prophet's death the story of the coming of the Mahdí was often heard among the prominent companions of the Prophet and the following generation. The matter was regarded among the religious truths and was treated as one of the certain future events. The following are some examples of this in the sources:
Abú Hurayra says: "People will pay allegiance to the Mahdí between rukn and maqám." Ibn 'Abbás is reported to have told Mu'áwiya that a person among the descendants of the Prophet will rule for forty years at the End of Time. On another occasion a man asked Ibn 'Abbás to inform him about the Mahdí. He said: "I hope that in the near future a young man from our family (the Háshimite) will arise to put an end to civil strife and sedition." Ibn 'Abbás also specified the descendant of the Prophet as being from the children of Fá>ima. According to another famous companion of the Prophet, 'Ammár Yásir: "At the time when Nafs al-Zakiyya is killed a caller from the heaven will say: 'Your commander is so-and-so.' Following it the Mahdí will emerge and fill the earth with justice and equity."
'Abd Alláh b. 'Umar mentioned the name of Mahdí in the presence of an Arab who said: Mahdí is Mu'áwiya b. Abú Sufyán. 'Abd Alláh said: "It is not as you say. Mahdí is a person behind whom Jesus will offer his prayers."
'Umar b. Qays asked Mujáhid if he knew anything about the Mahdí, since he did not believe in what the Shi'a were saying about him. Mujáhid said: "Yes, I do. One of the Prophet's companions told me that the Mahdí will not appear until that time when Nafs al-Zakiyya will be killed. At that time he will take the command and will fill the earth with justice and equity."
Nufayl's daughter 'Umayra narrates that she heard \asan b. 'Alí's daughter saying: "This affair about which you are waiting will not occur until among you some seek to distance themselves from the others and curse each other." The author of Maqátil al->álibiyín Abú al-Faraj I#fahání writes that Fá>ima, \usayn b. 'Alí's daughter, used to engage in midwifery as a voluntary service to the women of Banú Háshim. Her son used to object to her saying: "We are afraid that you will be recognized as a professional midwife." In reply she would say: "I am awaiting someone. As soon as he is born I will stop assisting in delivery."
Qatáda asked Ibn Musayyib: "Is the existence of Mahdí a truth?" He said: "Yes. He is a member of the Quraysh, among the descendants of Fá>ima." A similar tradition is reported from the famous scholar Zuhrí, who also related that the Mahdí will be among the descendants of Fá>ima. Abú al-Faraj reports an event when Walíd b. Mu<ammad was with Zuhrí and a clamor transpired. Zuhrí asked Walíd to find out what had caused it. After finding out Walíd reported: "Zayd b. 'Alí has been killed and his head has been brought." Zuhrí was upset and said: "Why is this family in haste? Haste has destroyed a number of them." Walíd asked: "Will they reach power?" He replied, "Yes, because 'Alí b. \usayn narrated to me on the authority of his father who heard this from Fá>ima, the Prophet's daughter, who, in turn, heard the Prophet tell her: 'Mahdí will be among your descendants.'" In another place Abú al-Faraj reported a tradition from Muslim b. Qutayba, who said: "One day I went to visit Man#úr, the 'Abbásid caliph. He said: 'Mu<ammad b. 'Abd Alláh has revolted and has announced that he is the Mahdí. By God, he is not the Mahdí. Let me tell you something. I have not told nor will I tell this to anyone else besides you. My son Mahdí is not the one mentioned in the traditions. I have just named him Mahdí as a good omen.'"
Other sources that mention these traditions include the following:
Ibn Sírín used to say that the promised Mahdí will be from this Umma. He will be the one who will lead Jesus in prayers. In another place he reports a tradition from 'Abd Alláh b. \árith. He said: "The Mahdí will arise at the age of forty and will resemble the Children of Israel." A variant of this tradition reported by Ar>at says that the Mahdí will arise at the age of twenty. Another tradition in the same section explains the reason Mahdí was named thus. Ka'b says: "He was named Mahdí because he will be guided to the hidden matters." 'Abd Alláh b. Shurayk used to relate that the Prophet's standard will be with the Mahdí.
Ibn Sírín records several
other traditions that speak about the function of the Mahdí.
One of these reported from \akam b. 'Uyayna says that the reporter
asked Mu<ammad b. 'Alí al-Báqir:
We have heard that one among your ahl al-bayt will arise and will establish justice and equity. Is this true? He said: "We are also awaiting his appearance and living in hope."
In another tradition Salma b. Zafar reports:
One day people were talking about the appearance of the Mahdí in the presence of \udhayfa. \udhayfa said: "If Mahdí has indeed appeared while you are living close to the Prophet's period and while his companions are living among you, then you are truly fortunate. However, that is not the case. Mahdí will not appear until people are devoured by oppression and tyranny and there is no one absent more beloved and more needed than him."
People were so familiar with the characteristics
of the Mahdí that Jarír, the Arab poet, read the
following lines of his poem for the Umayyad caliph 'Umar b. 'Abd
al-'Azíz in which he compares the caliph with the future
Your presence is a blessing. Your conduct is the conduct of the Mahdí. You are fighting your lower self, and you spend the night in recitation of the Qur'an.
Mu<ammad b. Ja'far reports that he once
told Málik b. Anas his misfortunes. He said: "Wait
until the significance of the verse of the Qur'an: 'Yet We desired
to be gracious to those that were abased in land, and to make
them leaders, and to make them the inheritors (27:5),' becomes
Awaited the Appearance of the Mahdí
From all the references to the Mahdí and his appearance in the sources, it is obvious that people were awaiting the coming of the Mahdí from the early days of Islam, and were actually counting the days for that to happen. They regarded the establishment of the legitimate government through his emergence a certainty. This anticipation used to get intense during times of political turmoil and unfavorable social conditions. People expected that the emergence would take place imminently. On many occasions they would adhere to the false pretender or would regard some person to be truly the promised Mahdí. Those whom people thought were the promised Mahdí included the following:
(1) Mu<ammad b. \anafiyya:
Since he had the name and patronymic of the Prophet, there was a group that believed him to be the Mahdí. According to ^abarí, when Mukhtár b. Abú 'Ubayd Thaqafí wanted to revolt against the Umayyads and exact revenge from those who had murdered the grandson of the Prophet, \usayn, he ascribed Mahdiism to Mu<ammad b. \anafiyya. And he claimed to be his envoy and his deputy and showed the letters he had brought with him to the people.
Ibn Sa'd tells us that when people wanted to greet Ibn \anafiyya they would address him thus: "Peace be to you, O Mahdí!" And he would reply: "Yes, I am the Mahdí, and I shall guide you towards the straight path and prosperity. My name is the same as the name of the Prophet, and my patronymic is also his patronymic. Whenever you want to greet me say: 'Peace be to you O Mu<ammad; peace be to you O Abú al-Qásim!'"
This and other similar reports indicate that one of the signs of the appearance of the promised Mahdí was the combination of the Prophet's name and patronymic for a person. This is the reason Ibn \anafiyya made a reference to this fact for himself. However, careful investigation of historical sources reveals that it was not Ibn \anafiyya who made such claims for himself. It was others, like Mukhtár, who introduced him thus. On his part, sometimes Ibn \anafiyya kept silent on the matter, confirming the attribution to him. This policy was probably followed with the hope that the murderers of Karbalá would be avenged and the Islamic leadership would revert to its rightful holder. This is supported by another report in which Ibn \anafiyya tells the people: "Be aware that the rightful people have a government, which will be established when God desires it. Anyone who witnesses it will be fortunate and anyone who predeceases it will enjoy the blessings of God in the hereafter."
Mu<ammad b. \anafiyya, in a sermon that he delivered in the presence of some seven thousand people, said: "You have hastened in this matter. Yet, among your descendants are people who, with the help of the family of the Prophet, will wage war against the enemies of God. The government of the family of the Prophet is not concealed from anyone. However, its materialization will take time. I declare solemnly in the name of the One in whose hand is Mu<ammad's life, the rule will return to the Prophet's family."
(2) Mu<ammad b. 'Abd Alláh b. \asan:
This was another descendant of the Prophet, whom people accepted as the Mahdí. According to Abú al-Faraj, when Mu<ammad b. 'Abd Alláh was born the family of the Prophet rejoiced and quoted the Prophet saying: "The name of the Mahdí is Mu<ammad." As such, they were hopeful that Mu<ammad would be the promised Mahdí. They used to adore him. In the gatherings he was mentioned frequently and the Shí'ís used to give each other good news about his impending appearance.
In another place Abú al-Faraj reports an account which says that when Mu<ammad b. 'Abd Alláh was born he was named Mahdí with the expectation that he was the Mahdí promised in the earlier sources. However, the leaders of the ^álibids used to call him nafs al-zakiyya and, in accord with the divine decree, he would be killed in I<jár Zayt. One of the slaves of Abú Ja'far Man#ür relates that he was told by Man#úr to go and sit near the pulpit and listen to his lectures. Once he heard him say: "Do not entertain any doubt that I am the Mahdí, and the reality is also thus." The slave reported the incident to the Caliph who said: "By God, Mu<ammad is telling falsehood. The truth is that the promised Mahdí is my son." 
Salma b. Aslam composed lines about Mu<ammad
b. 'Abd Alláh in which he said: "That which is reported
in the traditions will materialize when Mu<ammad b. 'Abd Allah
appears among the people and takes charge of the affairs with
his hands. Mu<ammad has a special ring, which God has not given
to anyone except him. There will be signs of piety and goodness
in him. We hope that Mu<ammad will be the Imam through whose
blessed existence the Qur'an will come to life again. Moreover,
through his existence Islam will be revived and reformed, and
the poor orphan children and needy families will again live in
prosperity. He will fill the earth with justice and equity as
it is filled with corruption. And our hopes and aspirations will
of Medina and the Mahdí Traditions:
When Mu<ammad b. 'Abd Alláh revolted one of the jurists of Medina by the name of Mu<ammad b. 'Ajlán also rose with him. After he was killed, Ja'far b. Sulaymán, the governor of Medina, summoned Mu<ammad b. 'Ajlán and asked him: "Why did you rise with that liar?" He then ordered his hands to be cut. Other jurists who were present in the court at that time interceded on his behalf, emphasizing that Mu<ammad b. 'Ajlán was a pious jurist of Medina and had erroneously regarded Mu<ammad b. 'Abd Alláh as the Mahdí promised in the traditions.
Another well-known jurist and a prominent scholar of the <adíth, 'Abd Alláh b. Ja'far also rose with Mu<ammad b. 'Abd Alláh. When the latter was killed he fled from Medina and remained in hiding until he was granted amnesty. One day the governor of Medina passed by him and asked him the reason why he arose with Mu<ammad b. 'Abd Alláh, in spite of his learning in the law and traditions. He replied: "The reason I supported and cooperated with him was that I was confident that he was the promised Mahdí, about whom we have been informed in the traditions. I did not doubt Mu<ammad's Mahdiism until I saw him killed. At that time I knew he was not the Mahdí. I will not fall into anyone else's hoax from now on."
From such accounts it is evident that the subject of the Mahdiism was widespread from those early days of Islam, close to the period of the Prophet. It was accepted as an absolute religious truth and people were awaiting the Mahdí. It was for this reason that the common people, who knew little about the signs for the appearance of the Mahdí and who were downtrodden, believed that Mu<ammad b. \anafiyya and Mu<ammad b. 'Abd Alláh and other pretenders were the promised Mahdí. However, the scholars and those who were well informed about the ahl al-bayt, including Mu<ammad's own father, knew that he was not the promised Mahdí.
A man came to see 'Abd Alláh b. \asan and asked him when his son Mu<ammad would rise. He replied: "As long as I have not been killed, he will not rise." The man sighed and said: "From God we originate and to God we shall return. If Mu<ammad is killed, the umma will collapse." 'Abd Alláh said to him: "That is not the case." The man continued and asked when would Ibráhím rise. He said: "As long as I am not destroyed, he will not rise. He too will be killed." Once again the man uttered the same verse and declared that the community had indeed undertaken the path of destruction. 'Abd Alláh replied: "That is not so. Actually their master, the promised Mahdí, is twenty five years old. And at the time that he rises he will kill all the enemies." When Marwán was told that Mu<ammad b. 'Abd Alláh had revolted, he said: "Neither he nor any other person sharing his father's genealogy is the promised Mahdí. Rather, he will be the son of a slave girl." Whenever the Imam Ja'far @ádiq would see Mu<ammad b. 'Abd Alláh he would cry and say: "May my life be a sacrifice for him. People are speculating that he is the promised Mahdí. On the contrary he will be killed. Indeed, his name is not mentioned among the caliphs of this community in the book of 'Alí."
A group of people were sitting around Mu<ammad
b. 'Abd Alláh when the Imam @adiq entered the place. Everyone
stood up in respect. He inquired about the affairs and they replied
that they had decided to pay allegiance to Mu<ammad who was
the Mahdí. The Imam said: "I advise you to desist
from doing so, because the time for the rise of the Mahdí
has not approached yet. Moreover, Mu<ammad is not the Mahdí."
Poetry of Di'bil and the Mahdí:
When Di'bil b. 'Alí al-Khuzá'í
presented his famous lines in the presence of Imam Ri_á,
he ended his poem with the following lines:
No doubt an Imam will rise -- an Imam who will govern according to the name of God and the [divine] blessing.
These lines underscore the certainty with which Di'bil mentioned the rising of the Imam who will rule in the name of God and with God's blessings. On hearing this, Imam Ri_á wept and said: "The blessed angel has put these words in your mouth. Do you know this Imam?" Di'bil said: "No. But I have heard that an Imam among you will rise and will fill the earth with justice and equity." Imam Ri_á said: "After me my son Mu<ammad will be the Imam; following him his son 'Alí will be the Imam; and after 'Alí his son \asan will be the Imam. Following \asan his son will the Proof of God and the Qá'im, who should be awaited while he is in occultation. And when he appears he should be obeyed. He is the one who will fill this earth with justice and equity. But the time of his emergence has not been fixed. However, it has been reported by my ancestors that he would appear all of a sudden and in a flash of a moment."
There are numerous such reports in the historical
sources which, if you wish, you can investigate.
It was quite late at night and the meeting
was adjourned. It was decided that the group would meet the following