The appearance of the Mahdi is one of the major signs of the Last Hour. It has been mentioned in numerous aḥādīth leading to some classical scholars, such as al-Kattani, al-Sakhawi and al-Shawkani, to consider these narrations as mutawātir (mass-transmitted) in meaning.
Given the clear fact that without doubt we live in times of great corruption and injustice, the future promise of a Caliph who is descended from the Prophet ﷺ and who will rule our planet justly gives Muslims hope that things will change in the future.
عَنْ أَبِي سَعِيدٍ الْخُدْرِيِّ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ الْمَهْدِيُّ مِنِّي أَجْلَى الْجَبْهَةِ أَقْنَى الْأَنْفِ يَمْلَأُ الْأَرْضَ قِسْطًا وَعَدْلًا كَمَا مُلِئَتْ جَوْرًا وَظُلْمًا يَمْلِكُ سَبْعَ سِنِينَ
4285 سنن أبي داود كتاب المهدي
Abu Sa‘id al-Khudri (r) narrates: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “The Mahdi will be from my lineage, with a curved nose. He will fill the earth with justice and equity, just as it had been filled with tyranny and oppression. He will rule for seven years.” [Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitāb al-Mahdi, #4285, graded ṣaḥīḥ by al-Suyuti in al-Jāmi‘ al-Ṣaghīr #9225]
And there are more aḥādīth in the same vein.
Due to modernist interpretations of this prophecy, some people use the fact that the Mahdi will appear as an excuse for inaction. Because the Caliphate will only return when the Mahdi appears, the argument goes, it is futile to strive to re-institute Islamic rule and thus there is no need to work for this. Other duties, such as enjoining good and forbidding wrong (al-amr bi’l-ma‘rūf wa’n-nahy ‘ani’l-munkar) are, as a result, also neglected by those who use this excuse.
The classical Islamic scholars never asserted that we should ‘wait for the Mahdi’. On the contrary, as we shall see, they emphasised the sin of being without a Caliph/Imam who implements the Shari‘ah. And they also insisted that we should take unjust, oppressive rulers to task.
Furthermore, authentic aḥādīth prove that the Caliphate will return before the appearance of the Mahdi.
The Caliphate will be re-instituted before the Mahdi appears
عَنْ أُمِّ سَلَمَةَ عَنْ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ يَكُونُ اخْتِلَافٌ عِنْدَ مَوْتِ خَلِيفَةٍ فَيَخْرُجُ رَجُلٌ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْمَدِينَةِ هَارِبًا إِلَى مَكَّةَ فَيَأْتِيهِ نَاسٌ مِنْ أَهْلِ مَكَّةَ فَيُخْرِجُونَهُ وَهُوَ كَارِهٌ فَيُبَايِعُونَهُ بَيْنَ الرُّكْنِ وَالْمَقَامِ وَيُبْعَثُ إِلَيْهِ بَعْثٌ مِنْ أَهْلِ الشَّامِ فَيُخْسَفُ بِهِمْ بِالْبَيْدَاءِ بَيْنَ مَكَّةَ وَالْمَدِينَةِ فَإِذَا رَأَى النَّاسُ ذَلِكَ أَتَاهُ أَبْدَالُ الشَّامِ وَعَصَائِبُ أَهْلِ الْعِرَاقِ فَيُبَايِعُونَهُ بَيْنَ الرُّكْنِ وَالْمَقَامِ
4286 سنن أبي داود كتاب المهدي
Umm Salamah (r) reported: The Prophet ﷺ said, “There will be a conflict with the death of a Caliph and a man among the residents of Medina will go out fleeing to Mecca. Some people will come to pledge allegiance to him, although he is unwilling, and they will pledge allegiance to him between the corner of the Ka‘bah and the station of Ibraham. An army from Syria will be dispatched for him and they will be swallowed in the desert between Mecca and Medina. When the people see that, the saints of Syria and the strong tribes of Iraq will come to him and pledge allegiance to him between the corner and the station.”
[Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitāb al-Mahdi, #4286. Also related by al-Tabarani in al-Awsat and Imam Ahmed in his Musnad. According to al-Haythami in Majma‘ al-Zawā’id, the transmitters in al-Tabarani’s narration are sound and authentic]
The above hadith mentions that conflict will occur when a Caliph dies, and that this will be followed by the Mahdi being given the pledge of allegiance (bay‘ah) to rule as the next Caliph.
And another hadith also proves that the Caliphate/Imamate will return before the Mahdi appears:
قتَلُ عندَ كَنزِكُم ثلاثَةٌ كُلُّهُم ابنُ خَليفَةٍ لا يصيرُ إلى واحِدٍ منهُم ثُمَّ تطلُعُ الراياتُ السودُ من قِبَلِ المشرِقِ فيقاتلونَكُم قتالًا لَم يقاتِلهُ قومٌ ثُمَّ ذكر شيئًا لا أحفَظُهُ قال فإذا رأيتُموه فبايِعوهُ ولو حَبوًا على الثَّلجِ فإنَّهُ خليفَةُ اللَّهِ المهدِيُّ
Thawban narrated that the Prophet ﷺ said: “Three will fight one another for your treasure, each one of them the son of a Caliph, but none of them will gain it. Then the black banners will come from the East, and they will kill you in an unprecedented manner.” Then he mentioned something that I do not remember, then he said: “When you see him, then pledge your allegiance to him even if you have to crawl over the snow, for that is the Caliph of Allah, the Mahdi.”
[Related by Ibn Majah his Sunan (#4084); al-Bazzar in al-Musnad (2/120); al-Ruyani (#619); al-Hakim in al-Mustadrak (4/510) and Ibn Kathir in al-Bidāyah wa’n-Nihāyah (1/42)
Al-Hakim said: “This is a ṣaḥīḥ hadith according to the conditions of Bukhari and Muslim”
Ibn Kathir said: “Its chain of narration is qawī ṣaḥīḥ (strong, sound)”]
This is clear proof that the Caliphate will be re-instituted at some unknown point in time before the Mahdi is appointed as Imam over the Muslims.
The aḥādīth about the Mahdi are declarative statements and not in the command form
Another important point, from the science of uṣūl al-fiqh (principles of Islamic jurisprudence) is that the aḥādīth concerning the appearance of the Mahdi are akhbār (declarative statements) which are in the informative form. When a statement in the text is informative, a qarīna (connotation) is required to make it a command or prohibition. For example, the words in one hadith: إن هذا الأمر في قريش – “Verily this matter [i.e. ruling] is within Quraysh…” does not mean that it is prohibited for someone from outside the tribe of Quraysh to be a Caliph. This is a khabar like the statement “Zaid is standing up”, that does not indicate the banishment of anyone other than Zaid standing.
[A detailed uṣūlī discussion about whether or not it is compulsory for the Caliph to be a Qurayshite can be found here]
An example of a qarīna is in the words: مَنْ مَاتَ وَلَيْسَ فِي عُنُقِهِ بَيْعَةٌ مَاتَ مِيتَةً جَاهِلِيَّةً – “…whosoever dies without a bay‘ah on his neck dies the death of jāhilīyyah”. The mention of the death of pre-Islamic Ignorance is a connotation indicating that a pledge of allegiance to a Caliph is an obligation (see discussion of the hadith below).
So a Shari‘ah command or prohibition cannot be derived from a hadith which is a khabar (a declarative statement) in the absence of a qarīna, and it certainly cannot be used as an excuse to avoid performing a farḍ (obligation).
Re-establishing Islamic ruling is a duty that must not be neglected and there can be no excuse for inaction in this regard.
The sin of living without a Caliph
Waiting for the appearance of the Mahdi cannot absolve us of the sin of living without a Caliph/Imam who implements Islam. The following is related in Sahih Muslim on the authority of Nafi‘:
مَنْ مَاتَ وَلَيْسَ فِي عُنُقِهِ بَيْعَةٌ مَاتَ مِيتَةً جَاهِلِيَّةً
The Prophet ﷺ said, “…whosoever dies without a bay‘ah (pledge of allegiance to a Caliph) on his neck dies the death of jāhilīyyah.”
[Sahih Muslim #1851]
This does not mean that one will die a disbeliever. Rather it means one will die sinful. Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani mentions the meaning of مات ميتة جاهلية:
“To die as those who died in the pre-Islamic period of Ignorance (al-jāhilīyyah) means the state of death: to die in a state of misguidance with no Imam [Caliph] to obey, as the inhabitants of that era had no such kind of ruling. The hadith does not mean that the Muslim will die as a kāfir but as a disobeying Muslim. This hadith has possible definitions: To resemble between the state of death between the disobeying Muslim and the Jāhil, even if the Muslim was not in reality a Jāhil; or, to frighten and reprimand…” [Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Fatḥ al-Bārī Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, #7053]
This sin is also mentioned by al-Taftazani in his famous commentary of Imam Nasafi’s creed. He refers to a situation where “there is no Imam (Caliph) and that means the entire Ummah is disobedient and their deaths are like the death of jāhilīyyah.” [Cf. p. 293 of Mufti Muhammad Huzaifah’s translation of Sharḥ al-‘Aqā’id al-Nasafīyyah].
Noble reader! Please heed the words of the Beloved of Allah ﷺ and the comments of the classical scholars. Waiting for the Mahdi will not be an excuse for us on the Day of Reckoning. All of us who do not strive in some way to re-institute the Islamic Caliphate are considered disobedient and sinful.
The Salaf gave priority to appointing an Imam/Caliph and generations of Muslims did the same. They did not say “wait for the Mahdi”. Ibn Khaldun writes that when the Prophet ﷺ passed away, the Sahabah “proceeded to render the pledge of allegiance (bay‘ah) to Abu Bakr (r) and to entrust him with the supervision of their affairs. And so it was at all subsequent periods. At no period were the people left in a state of anarchy. This was so by general consensus (ijmā‘), that proves the position of Imam is a necessary one.” [Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah, section 3, chapter 26]
A more recent scholar, the Late Shaykh al-Albani (r), states the following:
لا يجوز للمسلمين أن يتركوا العمل للإسلام ، وإقامة دولته على وجه الأرض انتظاراً منهم لخروج المهدي، ونزول عيسى ـ عليهما السلام ، يأساً منهم أو توهماً أن ذلك غير ممكن قبلهما ، فإن هذا توهّم باطل
“It is not permissible for Muslims to abandon working for Islam and the establishment of its state on the face of the earth, waiting for the appearance of the Mahdi and the descent of ‘Isa, peace be upon them both, feeling despair and imagining that is not possible before (they appear). This notion is false.”
[Shaykh Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani, Fiqh Ashrāṭ al-Sā‘ah 311]
Enjoining the Ma‘rūf and forbidding the Munkar
The classical scholars, several of whom themselves personally spoke out against contemporaneous rulers [see for example here and here], mentioned the duty of al-amr bi’l-ma‘rūf wa’n-nahy ‘ani’l-munkar and its paramount importance.
Imam Ghazali states in Book XIX of his Iḥyā’ ‘ulūm al-dīn:
“Enjoining good and forbidding wrong is the greatest pillar of the dīn, and it is the mission for which Allah sent all the prophets. Had its enactment been suspended and its knowledge and action disregarded, prophethood would have become dysfunctional, religion would have disappeared, slackness prevailed, misguidance spread, ignorance common, whole lands come to ruin and the people perished, but they would not have realised their destruction except on the Day of Judgment.”
[Cf. A Treasury of Al-Ghazali, Mustafa Abu Sway, p. 54]
In his famous commentary of Sahih Muslim, Imam al-Nawawi writes, in the chapter entitled Forbidding what is Wrong is Part of Iman:
“The Prophet ﷺ said that whoever sees a wrongful action he ‘should change it’. This is a compulsory order according to unanimous understanding. That enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong are duties endorsed by the Qur’an, the Sunnah and the unanimous verdict of the Muslim community.” [Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, Volume 2, Page 6 of Ustadh Adil Salahi’s translation]
In the same chapter, Imam al-Nawawi quotes Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni who stresses the importance of taking the ruler to task, to the extent that the latter states that in some circumstances the ruler needs to be removed:
“If a ruler enforces measures of injustice and this becomes clear and he does not pay heed to advice but persists in wrongdoing, it is permissible for the leading figures in the community to collaborate to remove him.” [Ibid., pp. 11-12]
Imam Ghazali also mentions the importance of holding the ruler to account in his Iḥyā’ ‘ulūm al-dīn:
“It is, then, the duty of every religious man [mutadayyin] to censor them [the rulers] by exposing their tyranny and decrying their practices.” [The Book of Knowledge, Nabih Amin Faris, p. 172]
The duty of Muslims to forbid evil, especially the wrongdoings of the rulers, and to re-institute the Caliphate cannot be dismissed by incorrectly appealing to the prophecies relating to the Mahdi. The farḍ of implementing Islam remains upon every Muslim, whether or not he appears in our lifetime or not. In fact a number of narrations indicate that the rightly guided Caliphate will return and that gives hope to those working to bring it back. One of these aḥādīth, narrated by Hudhayfah (r), is below:
«تَكُونُ النُّبُوَّةُ فِيكُمْ مَا شَاءَ اللَّهُ أَنْ تَكُونَ ثُمَّ يَرْفَعُهَا إِذَا شَاءَ أَنْ يَرْفَعَهَا ثُمَّ تَكُونُ خِلَافَةٌ عَلَى مِنْهَاجِ النُّبُوَّةِ فَتَكُونُ مَا شَاءَ اللَّهُ أَنْ تَكُونَ ثُمَّ يَرْفَعُهَا إِذَا شَاءَ اللَّهُ أَنْ يَرْفَعَهَا ثُمَّ تَكُونُ مُلْكاً عَاضّاً فَيَكُونُ مَا شَاءَ اللَّهُ أَنْ يَكُونَ ثُمَّ يَرْفَعُهَا إِذَا شَاءَ أَنْ يَرْفَعَهَا ثُمَّ تَكُونُ مُلْكاً جَبْرِيَّةً فَتَكُونُ مَا شَاءَ اللَّهُ أَنْ تَكُونَ ثُمَّ يَرْفَعُهَا إِذَا شَاءَ أَنْ يَرْفَعَهَا ثُمَّ تَكُونُ خِلَافَةً عَلَى مِنْهَاجِ النُّبُوَّةِ»
‘The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Prophethood will last with you for as long as Allah wants it to last. Then there will be Caliphate according to the Method of Prophethood, and things will be as Allah wishes them to be. Then Allah will end it when He wishes. Then there will be hereditary rule, and things will be as Allah wishes them to be. Then Allah will end it when He wishes. Then there will be an oppressive rule, and things will be as Allah wishes them to be. Then Allah will end it when He wishes. Then there will be a Caliphate according to the method of Prophethood.” Then he ﷺ fell silent.’ [Musnad Ahmed #18430, ṣaḥīḥ]