In Islamic eschatology the Mahdi (مهدي transliteration: Mahdī, also Mehdi; “Guided One”) is the prophesied redeemer of Islam. The advent of Mahdi is not a universally accepted concept in Islam, there are basic differences among different sects of Muslims about the timing and nature of his advent and guidance. Most Muslims believe that the Mahdi will change the world into a perfect and just Islamic society alongside Jesus before Yaum al-Qiyamah (literally “Day of the Resurrection” or “Day of the Standing”). The “hdi” of “Mahdi” refers to the Arabic root “هدی” which means “to guide”. “Mahdi” is also an Arabic name.
The exact nature of the Mahdi differs according to Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. For a more in-depth Shi’a account of the Mahdi, see Muhammad al-Mahdi. Despite modern popularity, the Mahdi is not mentioned in the Qu’ran.
Shi‘ites claim the Mahdi is their 12th Imam, as evidenced in a hadith from the Shia text (Kitab Al-Kafi) containing a conversation between the first Shia Imam; Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib and a man named al-Asbagh ibn Nubata. 
Even if the entire duration of the world’s existence has already been exhausted and only one day is left before the Day of Judgment, God (Arabic:Allah) will expand that day to such a length of time, as to accommodate the kingdom of a person out of my Ahl al-Bayt who will be called by my name. He will then fill the Earth with peace and justice as it will have been filled with injustice and tyranny before then.
― Sahih Tirmidhi, V2, P86, V9, P74 – 75.
The Mahdi, according to Shi’ite tradition, will arise at some point before the day of judgement, institute a kingdom of justice, and will in the last days fight alongside the returned Jesus against the Dajjal, the Antichrist.
However, like most religious concepts, various Muslim traditions have ascribed different characteristics to the Mahdi. Also, as Mahdiism is closely related to the leadership of the Ummah, it has had the potential to be abused as some leaders of secularly focused politico-religious movements in the name of Islam who have claimed to be the Mahdi.
Of those Sunnis that hold to the existence of the Mahdi, some believe the Mahdi will be an ordinary man, born to an ordinary woman. Umm Salamah said:
“I heard the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon Him) say: ‘The Mahdi is of my lineage and family…’”
― Sunan Abu Dawud, 11/373; Sunan Ibn Maajah, 2/1368.
Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri (may Allah be pleased with him) said:
“The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon Him) said: “He is one of us…”
― Reported by Abi Na’eem in Akhbaar al-Mahdi, see al-Jaami’ al-Sagheer, 5/219, hadith 5796.
The Shi’a belief is that Mahdi has been alive and in occultation for 1200 years and is eleven generations down from Muhammad – i.e. the twelfth Shi’a Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi.
Divergent views among Sunnis
The coming of the Mahdi is a disputed notion within Sunnis, with the claim being denied notably by both the Ahle Quran and notable Darul-uloom Nadwatul Ulama clerics. Mahdi is not mentioned in the Qu’ran and there are few authentic hadiths that mention him in any detail.
Although Mahdi is not reported in Sahih al-Bukhari nor Muslim, it is found in Sunan Abi Dawud, Ibn Majah and Tirmidhi and agreed upon by Sunni scholars as sound and trustworthy (saheeh and thiqat sanad).
Al-Shaykh Muhammad ibn Ja’far al-Katani said: “The conclusion is that the hadiths narrated concerning the Mahdi are mutawatir, as are the hadith concerning the Dajjal and the descent of Jesus the son of Mary, upon whom be peace.” Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Hajar al-Haytami in his fatwa titled The Brief Discourse on the Portents of the Awaited Mahdi, said that denial of the Mahdi is disbelief. Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti in his book The Rose Fragrance Concerning the Reports on al-Mahdi, wrote, “This is the belief of Ahl al-Sunnah, this is the belief of the Sufis, this is the belief of our Shaykhs, and this is the belief of the true Shadhili Shaykhs, whose path both al-Suyuti and al-Haytami followed. Whoever differs with them is a liar and an innovator.”
The Naqshbandi Haqqani Sufi Order, under the leadership of Shaikh Hisham Kabbani of Islamic Supreme Council of America (ISCA), is among the Sufis who strongly believes the coming of Imam Mahdi in this 21st Century is imminent. Shaikh Hisham has written a book “The Approach of Armageddon” that touches much on this subject.
Claims of being the Mahdi
There have been several personalities over time who have considered themselves the Mahdi prophesied in Islam. Similar to the notion of a Messiah in the Judeo-Christian religions, the notion of a Mahdi as a redeemer to establish a society has lent itself to various interpretations leading to different claims within minorities or by individuals within Islam.
The first historical recorded reference to a movement using the name of Mahdi is al-Mukhtar‘s rebellion against the Umayyid Caliphate in 686, almost 50 years after Muhammad’s death. Al-Mukhtar claimed that Ibn al-Hanifiya, a son of the fourth Caliph Ali (the first Imam of Shi’ite), was the Mahdi who would save the Muslim people from the unjust rule of the Umayyids. Ibn al-Hanifiya was not actively involved in the rebellion, and when the Umayyids successfully quashed it, they left him undisturbed.
The Mahdi in fiction
Many authors have used the concept of the Mahdi in fictional stories. Perhaps the best known is Frank Herbert, whose Dune science fiction novels centered on the character of Paul Atreides, who was proclaimed by his followers, the Fremen, to be the Mahdi. Paul’s Fremen name, “Muad’Dib”, means “teacher of adāb (manners and respect)” in Arabic, although within the novel it is a word in the Fremen language of Chakobsa, and is the name of a kind of desert mouse.
In The Wheel of Time fictional world, the Tinker people are divided into travelling bands each led by a mahdi, which is translated as “seeker”. The Tinkers are of the same ethnicity as the Aiel, a Fremen-like desert-dwelling people. One of the Aiel warrior societies is the Duadhe Mahdi’in, meaning “Water Seekers.”
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- Shauhat Ali: Millenarian and Messianic Tendencies in Islamic Thought: Lahore: Publishers United: 1993.
- Timothy Furnish: Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Jihad and Osama Bin Laden: Westport: Praeger: 2005: ISBN 0275983838
- Abdulaziz Abdulhussein Sachedina: Islamic Messianism: The Idea of the Mahdi in Twelver Shi’ism: Albany: State University of New York Press: 1981: ISBN 0-87395-458-0
- Syaikh Hisyam Kabbani: The Approach of Armageddon:Islamic Supreme Council of America: 2002
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