Expectation of a redeemer is a widespread phenomenon across many civilizations. Classical Islamic traditions maintain that the mahdi will transform our world by making Islam the sole religion, and that he will do so in collaboration with Jesus, who will return as a Muslim and play a major role in this apocalyptic endeavour.
While the messianic idea has been most often discussed in relation to Shi‘i Islam, it is highly important in the Sunni branch as well. In this groundbreaking work, Yohanan Friedmann explores its roots in Sunni Islam, and studies four major mahdi claimants – Ibn Tumart, Sayyid Muhammad Jawnpuri, Muhammad Ahmad and Mirza Ghulam Ahmad – who made a considerable impact in the regions where they emerged. Focusing on their religious thought, and relating it to classical Muslim ideas on the apocalypse, he examines their movements and considers their achievements, failures and legacies – including the ways in which they prefigured some radical Islamic groups of modern times.
Yohanan Friedmann is Max Schloessinger Professor Emeritus of Islamic Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Professor at Shalem College, Jerusalem. In 2003 he received the Landau Prize in the Humanities, and in 2016 he was awarded both the Israel Prize for Near Eastern Studies and the Rothschild Prize in the Humanities. His publications include Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi and Tolerance and Coercion in Islam.
‘Building on his earlier rich forays into Islamic apocalypticism, Friedmann offers a clear and succinct account of Sunni mahdism in history. Deftly choosing his case studies and progressing effortlessly from early Islamic to medieval and modern times, he corrects a significant imbalance in previous scholarship on the figure of the mahdi: the tendency to privilege Shi‘i conceptions. An excellent launchpad for anyone wishing to make the acquaintance of the Sunni mahdi.’
– Christian Lange, Professor and Chair of Arabic and Islamic Studies, University of Utrecht
‘For more than five decades, Yohanan Friedmann has patiently and meticulously studied a crucial aspect of Islamic history: the role of prophetic figures in mediating between God and humankind, and the social and political implications of that role. Through his past monographs to this work, he has examined thoroughly, with impressive erudition and subtle reflections, the subject from the earliest days of Islam to the present. He thus reveals – with not only the rigour of a philologist and a historian, but with clarity and great pedagogical skill – one of the most important dimensions of Muslim religiosity in all its diversity and complexity.’
– Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi, Professor, École Pratique des Hautes Études – Université PSL (Sorbonne)
‘This excellent book brings into focus the stories, systems of thought and movements created by four mahdis active in different times and places, from medieval al-Andalus to modern India. Friedmann draws upon his in-depth knowledge of the classical Islamic sources to magisterially reveal the inspiration and the interpretative capacities of these leaders, and in so doing he challenges the idea that mahdism is a phenomenon related to Shi‘i rather than to Sunni Islam. He adroitly uses these four central characters to show how the expectation of a redeemer translates into political movements, with mostly tragic consequences.’
– Mercedes García-Arenal, Research Professor, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas