There seem to be a number of ambiguities about this person. Who is the real Al-Mahdi (as)?
As it has been explained, Al-Mahdi is a famous title, which was used for different men. Some were given this name the day they were born and others have claimed later to be Al-Mahdi (as). Throughout Muslim history many pretenders and imposters have claimed to be Al-Mahdi (as). The fact that so many claimed this title throughout history should prove that this concept of Al-Mahdi (as) stems back to the ahadeeth of Prophet Muhammad (saws), and was not something invented in the religion later on, as many Orientalists have claimed. Many Muslim leaders, such as the Abbassid caliphs, tried to give this Holy position to themselves, even though they possessed none of the Divine Attributes associated with this position. This was not unique to the Abbassid dynasty, and we see that the most famous caliph of the Fatimid dynasty was named Ubayd Allah Al-Mahdi.
We are not speaking about the claimants like Mirza Ghoulam Ahmed from Qadian, or others such as the more recent false claimant Muhammad Ahmad (1848-1885), popularly remembered as Al-Mahdi, a Nineteenth century religious and political leader in Sudan. He was born near Dunculah, and turned to religious studies in his youth. After some years he developed a following amongst his people, and in 1881 he declared himself Al-Mahdi, the prophesied Muslim eschatological figure who would rid the world of evil, and declared a Holy war against Sudan's European-supported rulers. In 1884 Al-Mahdi's forces besieged the city of Khartoum for ten months, finally taking it and killing British general Charles George Gordon and his entire garrison. The Mahdi began to create a unified Islamic state, but he died unexpectedly of typhus five months later.
Lord Rondolph Churchill describes him in a letter to Lady May John Manners: "Randolph [referring to himself] and the Mahdi have occupied may thoughts about equally. Al-Mahdi pretends to be half mad, but is very sane in reality. Randolph occupied exactly the converse position."26 A brief criticism of those claimants will be given in question 47.
However these false claimants are not the subject of this book. Rather, we will be dealing with the true Al-Mahdi (as), i.e. Muhammad -son of Hassan Al-'Askari- Al-Mahdi (as), the Twelfth Imam.
26. 1884 Of Lord Randolph Churchill, letter to lady John Manners, May. Otd. from Chambers Dictionary of Quotations, Edited by Alison Jones. Chambers 1996
Adapted from the book: "The Awaited Saviour; Questions and Answers"
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