Within the Islamic faith is the realm of eschatology, the theology that there will be manifest signs prior to the end of time. Eschatology is important because it gives clarity regarding the signs leading to the end of this temporal world and provides hope to the faithful to remain steadfast in the face of developing turmoil. Those who do not recognize these signs are more likely to fall into despair when they appear, unlike those who have knowledge which strengthens their faith. Part of the Islamic eschatology among Sunnis and Shi’is is the concept of al-Mahdiyyah, the belief that a rightly-guided saint will appear at the end of time to lead people aright. Just as Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is the Seal of the Prophets, Imam al-Mahdi will appear as the Seal of Saints (Khatim al-Awliya) on earth.1
Though al-Mahdiyyah in general is a belief with widely narrated (mutawaatir) basis, there has been disagreement among Muslims on this issue, from the signs associated with the appearance of Imam al-Mahdi to the time of his actual manifestation. As there have always been false messiahs within religions, as well as overzealous followers who falsely ascribed saviorhood to pious persons who did not claim it for themselves, this phenomenon has also taken place among Muslims. The great Western African scholar Shaykh Uthman dan Fodio aka Uthman bin Fudi (may Allah’s mercy be upon him) dealt with this issue among his disciples, some who falsely proclaimed him to be al-Mahdi.
Uthman dan Fodio wrote a clarification to the issue of him not being al-Mahdi entitled Tahdhir al-Ikhwan ‘an Id’aa al-Mahdiyyah, as well as a treatise called Tanbih al-Ummah ‘ala Qurb Hujum Ashrat as-Sa’ah about the signs of the time ushering in Imam al-Mahdi.
The following are some of points taken from the explanations of dan Fodio on the two interconnecting topics:
1. al-Mahdi will come from the male descendants of Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet ﷺ, and this was certainly elucidated on in numerous authentic narrations.2
Uthman dan Fodio had maternal lineage to the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him & his family) rather than paternal lineage. His mother, Sayyidah Hawa bint Sayyidah Fatimah bint Muhammad ash-Sharif (may Allah’s mercy be upon them) was a descendant of Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadhili (may Allah sanctify his spirit), who was a from the lineage of Imam al-Hasan bin Ali (peace be upon them).
2. "I was certainly born in Bilad as-Sudan (sub-Saharan Africa) in a location called Maratt while it is known from prophetic narrations that al-Mahdi will be born in al-Madinah…Ali bin Abi Talib (may Allah be pleased with him) said, 'Al-Mahdi will be born in al-Madinah.'"3
3. It is narrated by Abu Dawud on the authority of ibn Mas’ud and also by at-Tirmidhi in a sound tradition that “Al-Mahdi’s name will correspond with my name and his father’s name will be with my father.”4
4. There will be two eclipses during the Month of Ramadan, one being a solar eclipse in the middle of Ramadan.5
5. The appearance of Ya’juj (Gog) and Ma’juj (Magog).6
6, The rising of the sun in the West.7
7, A fire will gather people from the East to the West.8
8. Al-Mahdi will arrive at the time of the coming out of ad-Dajjal and the descent of ‘Isa (peace be upon him), just as it was said by al-Hasan al-Yusi (may Allah be pleased with him) in his lectures.9
9. Ad-Dajjal will come from Khurasan, and then proceed to the Hijaz between Iraq and Greater Syria, but Allah knows best.10
10. Certainly, the narration from al-Bukhari and Muslim on the authority of Anas bin Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) said that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah’s prayers and peace be upon him) said, “There will be no land that ad-Dajjal will not enter except for Makkah and al-Madinah.”11
11. What is clear from what will save people from his [ad-Dajjal] trial is what has been narrated by Muslim on the authority of Abu Darda that the Prophet ﷺ said, “Whoever safeguards ten ayat from the first part of Surah al-Kahf shall be protected from ad-Dajjal.”12
12. He will go out with ‘Isa bin Maryam to fight ad-Dajjal in Palestine near Bayt al-Maqdis, and ‘Isa will pray behind him.13
As there are more signs about the end of time than those listed, it is clear that Uthman dan Fodio did not declare himself to be al-Mahdi. Although all of these signs have not manifested themselves, the coming of the last days is, however, drawing near. This inevitability, just like death, however, should not be a source of grief for Muslims. As we should know the signs of the coming of Imam al-Mahdi include that “he will fill the earth with justice just as it has been filled with tyranny,” it is also important for us to strive to be those of faith and justice so that if we live to see his appearance, he will recognize us to be among his followers.14 This was the understanding of our great scholars of the past such as Shaykh Uthman dan Fodio.
1. Salim, Muhammad, al-Jafr al-Kabir al-Jami’ wa Misbah an-Nur al-Lami fi Hall Rumuz ash-Shaykh al-Akbar wa al-Kibrit al-Ahmar ash-Shaykh Muhyi ad-Din bin ‘Arabi, Page 79
2. Bin Fudi, Uthman, Mukhtarat min Mu’allifat Volume 2, Page 247
3. Ibid., Page 249
5. Ibid., Page 258
6. Ibid., Page 83
9. Ibid., Page 255
10. Ibid., Page 62
11. Ibid., Page 65
12. Ibid., Page 66
13. Ibid. Page 257
14. Al-Hakim, al-Mustadrik, Volume 3, Number 436; al-Jawzi, Tadhkirah al-Khawass, Page 305; as-Suyuti, ad-Durr al-Manthur, Volume 6, Page 55
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