The belief in the coming of the Mahdi is so entrenched that over the years, people claiming to be the Mahdi have appeared across the Muslim world – in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East – and throughout history since the birth of Islam (610 AD). For the sake of this article, we will call them pseudo-Mahdis or false claimants of Mahdi.
In Islamic literature, the Mahdi is a Messianic figure who, it is believed, will appear on Earth before the Day of Judgment, and will rid the world of wrongdoing, injustice and tyranny. This belief in the coming of one person is universal and can be found in major religions of the world including Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism amongst others. (Read More)
A pseudo-Mahdi can wield great temporal, as well as spiritual, power. In the past , pseudo-Mahdis have founded states (e.g. the late 19th-century Mahdiyah in Sudan), as well as religions and sects (e.g. Babism, or the Ahmadiyya movement). The continued relevance of the Mahdi doctrine in the Muslim world was most recently emphasised during the 1979 seizing of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, by at least 200 militants led by Juhayman al-Otaibi, who had declared his brother-in-law, Mohammed bin abd Allah al-Qahtani, the Mahdi.
- Duties of Shiah in Ghaybat – Know the Signs of the True Mahdi
- Importance of Recognition of the Imam of the Time
- Duties of Shiah – Pray and supplicate for true recognition
Let us look at some false claimants of Mahdi over the years. For academic interest, readers can also read about those who falsely claimed to be the deputy of Imam Mahdi (as).
Eighth century AD
Saleh ibn Taarif, the second king of the Berghout, proclaimed himself prophet of a new religion in the 8th century. He appeared during the caliphate of the Umayyad Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik. According to Ibn Khaldun’s sources, he claimed receiving a new revelation from God called a Quran, written in the Berber language with 80 chapters. He established laws for his people, which called him Salih al-Muminin (Restorer of the Believers), and the final Mahdi.
Islamic literature considers his belief heretical, as several tenets of his teaching contrast with orthodox Islam, such as capital punishment for theft, unlimited wives, unlimited divorces, fasting of the month of Rajab instead of Ramadan, and ten obligatory daily prayers instead of five. Politically, its motivation was presumably to establish their independence from the Umayyads, establishing an independent ideology lending legitimacy to the state. Some modern Berber activists regard him as a hero for his resistance to Arab conquest and his foundation of the Berghout state.
Abdullah ibn Muawiya was a descendant of Jafar ibn Abi Talib. At the end of 127 AH / AD 744, Shiahs of Kufa appointed him as Imam. He revolted against Yazid III, the Umayyad Caliph, with the support of Shiahs of Kufa and Ctesiphon. He moved to west of Iran and Isfahan and Istakhr. He managed to control the west of Iran for two years. Finally, he was defeated by the caliph armies in AD 746–7 and fled to Harat in Khurasan. He allegedly died imprisoned by Abu Muslim, his rival. His followers did not believe his death and said that he went to occultation and he would return as Mahdi.
Ninth century AD
Mohammed ibn Imam Sadiq, surnamed al-Dibaj (“the handsome”), the younger full brother of Imam Kazim (as), and son of Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (as) appeared in Makkah in the year 200 AH claiming that he was the awaited Mahdi. He believed in a Zaydi Shiah type of Imamate and declared himself as the Caliph of the Muslims and took the oath of allegiance from them and was called the Leader of the faithful or Ameerul Momeneen. He was recognized as the Imam by a small group of followers. His followers became denominated as the Shumaytiyya after their leader Yahya ibn Abil-Shumayt (al-Sumayt). However, his revolt against the Caliph al-Mamun proved unsuccessful in the very same year it started. He ended his revolt by abdicating and publicly confessing his error and was then banished from the Hejaz and the Tihamah. Al-Dibaj died in 203 AH and was buried in Bastam, Iran.
Tenth century AD
Abdullah al-Mahdi Billah (r. 909-934), the first caliph of the Fatimid state, established in 909, was one of only two claimants who succeeded in establishing a state.
His preacher/Da’i Abu Abdullah Al-Husayn Al-Shi’i helped secure for him parts of north Africa using the support of the Berber locals. The Fatimids later built Cairo as capital in Egypt and their descendants continued to rule as Caliphs (the sixth, Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, is believed by the Druze to be in occultation and due to return as Mahdi on Judgment Day) until Salah-ud-Din Ayubi (also called Saladin) took over Egypt and ended the Fatimid state. He imprisoned the last Fatimid Caliph and his family in the Fatimid Palace until death.
Twelfth century AD
The Moroccan Ibn Tumart (c. 1080 – c. 1130), sought to reform Almoravid decadence in the early 12th century. Rejected in Marrakech and other cities, he turned to his Masmuda tribe in the Atlas Mountains for support. Because of their emphasis on the unity of God, his followers were known as Al Muwahhidun (‘unitarians’, in western language: Almohads).
Although declaring himself Mahdi, Imam and Masum (literally in Arabic: innocent or free of sin), Mohammed ibn Abdullah ibn Tumart consulted with a council of ten of his oldest disciples, and conform traditional Berber representative government, later added an assembly of fifty tribal leaders. The Almohad rebellion began in 1125 with attacks on Moroccan cities, including Sus and Marrakech. But as Mohammed ibn Abdullah ibn Tumart died in 1130, his successor Abd al Mumin took the title of Caliph – claiming universal leadership in Islam – and placed members of his own family in power, converting the system into a traditional sultanate.
Fifteenth century AD
Sayyed Mohammed Jaunpuri (9 September 1443 – 23 April 1505) was born in North Eastern India in Jaunpur (modern-day Uttar Pradesh). Sayyed Mohammed Bin Sayyed Abdullah was a descendant of the seventh imam, Imam Kazim (as).
He (Sayyed Mohammed Jaunpuri) claimed to be the promised Mahdi on three occasions, first at Makkah, right in front of Kaabah (between rukn and maqam) in the Hijri year 901 AH (10th Century), second at the Ahmedabad in Gujarat, India, at Taj Khan Salaar Masjid in the Hijri year 903 Hijri (10th Century), third was “Dawa-e-Maukada” at Badli in Gujarat, India in the Hijri year 905 Hijri(10th Century), attracting a large followers, and opposition from Islamic scholars.
His five deputies were: 1) Bandagi Miyan Sayyed Mahmood also known as Sani-e-Mahdi, 2) Bandagi Miyan Sayyed Khundameer also known as Siddiq-e-Wilayat, 3) Bandagi Miyan Shah-e-Neymath also known as Miqraaz-e-Biddath, 4) Bandagi Miyan Shah-e-Nizam also known as Dariya-e-Wahdath-o-Ashaam, 5) Bandagi Miyan Shah-e-Dilawar also known as Maqbool-e-Mahdi.
Sayyed Mohammed Jaunpuri died in 1505 AD, aged 63, at Farah, Afghanistan. His followers, known as Mahdavis, continue to exist and are centred around the Indian city of Hyderabad, although there are Mahdavi communities in Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, as well as in Pakistan and overseas in the United States, Canada, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Africa and the United Kingdom.
Read More: Why Mahdi Jaunpuri is not the promised Mahdi
Sixteenth century AD
Shah Ismail I Safavid – In 700/1301, Safi al-Din assumed the leadership of the Zahediyeh, a significant Sufi order in Gilan, from his spiritual master and father-in-law Zahed Gilani. The order was later known as the Safaviyya. Like his father and grandfather Ismail headed the Safaviyya Sufi order. An genealogy claimed that Sheikh Safi (the founder of the order and Ismael’s ancestor) was a lineal descendant of Ali. Ismail also proclaimed himself the Mahdi and a reincarnation of Ali.
Ahmed ibn Abi Mahalli (1559–1613), from the south of Morocco, was a Qazi and religious scholar who proclaimed himself Mahdi and led a revolution (1610–13) against the reigning Saadi dynasty.
The 19th century provided several Mahdi claimants, some of whose followers and teachings survive to the present day.
Diponegoro – (11 November 1785 – 8 January 1855), prince of Yogyakarta, Java. He saw himself as a Javanese Mahdi, or Ratu Adil (prophesied by King Joyoboyo), against Dutch colonialism.
Ali Mohammed Shirazi (Bab) (20 October 1819 – 9 July 1850), claimed to be the Mahdi on 24 May 1844, taking the name Bab (Gate), implying that he was the Gate to the promised Mahdi. Over time he claimed to be the Mahdi himself. During the last days of his life, he claimed to be God Himself. Today Bahais claim that the Bab was an independent prophet with his own religion – Babism. The Bab was executed by firing squad in the town of Tabriz. His remains are currently kept in a tomb at the Bahai World Centre in Haifa, Israel.
The Bab is considered the forerunner of Bahaullah (pronounced ba-haa-ol-laa, Glory of God), and both are considered prophets of the Bahai Faith. The declaration by the Bab to be the Mahdi is considered by Baha’is to be the beginning of the Bahai calendar.
Mohammed Ahmad (12 August 1844 – 22 June 1885), a Sudanese Sufi sheikh of the Samaniyya order, declared himself Mahdi in June 1881 and went on to lead a successful military campaign against the Turko-Egyptian government of Sudan. Although he died shortly after capturing the Sudanese capital, Khartoum (1885), the Mahdist state continued under his successor, Abdullahi ibn Mohammed, until 1898, when it fell to the British army following the Battle of Omdurman.
Mirza Ghulam Aḥmad Qadiani (13 February 1835 – 26 May 1908), claimed to be both the Mahdi and the second coming of Jesus in the late 19th century in British India. He founded the Ahmadiyya religious movement in 1889, which, although considered by its followers to be Islam, is not recognized as such by the majority of mainstream Muslims. In 1974, the Pakistani parliament adopted a law declaring the Ahmadis to be Non-Muslims. Since Ghulam Ahmad’s death, the Ahmadiyya community has been led by his successors.
Wallace Fard Mohammed (26 February 1877 – 1934) founded the Nation of Islam, an Islamic religious movement, in Detroit, United States on July 4, 1930. The Nation of Islam teaches that W. Fard Mohammed was both the “Messiah” of Judaism and the Mahdi of Islam.
Mohammed bin Abdullah al-Qahtani (28 September 1935 – 9 January 1980), was proclaimed Mahdi by his brother-in-law, Juhayman al-Otaibi, who led over 200 militants to seize the Grand Mosque in Mecca on 20 November 1979. The uprising was defeated after a two-week siege in which at least 300 people were killed.
Riyaz Ahmed Gohar Shahi (born 25 November 1941) is the founder of the spiritual movements Messiah Foundation International (MFI) and Anjuman Serfaroshan-e-Islam.He is controversial for being declared the Mahdi, Messiah, and Kalki Avatar by the MFI.
Shahi’s supporters claim that his face became prominent on the Moon, Sun, nebula star and the Black Stone in Mecca, and that these appearances were signs from God that Gohar Shahi was the awaited Imam Mahdi, Messiah, and Kalki Avatar in 1985. Shahi has also supported this claim, saying that God had revealed the images of Shahi on the Moon and various locations, for which Shahi himself was not responsible, and if questions should be raised, they should be raised with God.
Messiah Foundation International claims the alleged images to be signs from God, pointing to Shahi being the awaited Mahdi, and quote religious texts. His whereabouts are unknown: a Pakistani news agency says he died in 2003 and some say he is serving a lifetime prison in Pakistan, while others say he is in the United Kingdom.
Ariffin Mohammed (1943-2016), also known as “Ayah Pin”, the leader and founder of the banned Sky Kingdom, he was born in 1943 in Beris, Kampung Besar Bachok, Kelantan. In 1975 a spiritual group was formed in Bagan Lebai Tahir, Butterworth, Penang. He claimed to be the incarnation of Jesus, as well as Mohammed, Shiva, and Buddha. Devotees of Sky Kingdom believe that one day, Ayah Pin will return as the Mahdi. His followers consider him the king of the sky, and the supreme object of devotion for all religions.
Twenty First century
Dia Abdul Zahra Kadim (1970 – January 2007), a Shiah Iraqi former leader of Soldiers of Heaven, claimed to be the Mahdi.
According to seminary expert, Mehdi Ghafari, more than 3,000 Mahdi claimants were in prison in Iran in 2012.
People who were ascribed to be the Mahdi by their supporters
- Master Fard Mohammed (according to the Nation of Islam)
- Mohammed ibn Abdullah An-Nafs Az-Zakiyya
- Mohammed ibn Abdullah al-Aftah ibn Jafar al-Sadiq
- Imam Sadiq (as) (according to the Tawussite Shiah)
- Imam Kazim (as) (according to the Waqifite Shiah)
- Mohammed ibn Qasim (al-Alawi)
- Yahya ibn Umar
- Mohammed ibn Ali al-Hadi
- Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah
The announcement of so many people as the “Promised Mahdi” is a lesson in itself. The lesson is from the point of view that there are thousands of traditions from the Holy Prophet (sawa) and Imams (as) regarding the signs of the true Mahdi. For example – that the Mahdi is from the progeny of Hazrat Fatemah (sa) and that he will reappear from Makkah and most importantly he will fill the earth with justice and equality just as it will be rife with injustice and oppression. This has not happened till now. We still find the world becoming more and more oppressive every single day. This is a sign that the true Mahdi has not reappeared.