Will the caliphate return before the Mahdi?
A simple answer is ‘no’; the caliphate will not return before the Mahdi. Before reading this paper, I urge the readers to read this piece first. A lot of the questions will be answered once you read it carefully and what is left will be clarified by what follows below إن شاء الله.
قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: تكون النبوة فيكم ما شاء الله أن تكون، ثم يرفعها الله إذا شاء أن يرفعها، ثم تكون خلافة على منهاج النبوة فتكون ما شاء الله أن تكون، ثم يرفعها الله إذا شاء أن يرفعها، ثم تكون ملكًا عاضًا فيكون ما شاء الله أن يكون، ثم يرفعها إذا شاء الله أن يرفعها، ثم تكون ملكًا جبرية فتكون ما شاء الله أن تكون، ثم يرفعها الله إذا شاء أن يرفعها، ثم تكون خلافة على منهاج النبوة، ثم سكت.
It was narrated by Ahmed in his Musnad, from al-Nu’man b. Bashir, who said: “We were sitting in the mosque of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), and Bashir was a man who did not speak much, so Abu Tha’labah al-Khashnee came and said: ‘Oh, Bashir b. Sa’ad, have you memorized the words of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) regarding the rulers?’ Huzayfah replied, ‘I have memorized his words’. So Abu Tha’labah sat down and Huzayfah said, ‘The Messenger of Allah (saw) said ‘Prophet-hood will be amongst you as long as Allah wishes, then He will lift it up when He wishes to lift it up. Then there will be a Khilafah on the way of the Prophet, and it will be as long as Allah wishes it to be, then Allah will lift it up when He wishes to lift it up. Then there will be an inheritance rule (ملكًا عاضًا), and it will last as long as Allah wishes it to, then Allah will lift it up if when He wishes to lift it up. Then there will be a coercive rule (ملكًا جبرية), and it will last as long as Allah wishes it to be, then Allah will lift it up when He wishes to lift it up. Then there will be a Khilafah on the way of Prophet-hood.’ Then he was silent.”
Reference: Masnad Ahmed b. Hanbal (Hadith # 18430), as-Saheeha al-Albani (Hadith # 5). It has been declared Hasan by Sh’uaib Arnaoot, and al-Albani classified it as Sahih. The text quoted is the one from Masnad Ahmed.
The following is argued:
يأتي على الناس زمان لا يبقى فيه مؤمن إلا لحق بالشام
It was narrated by Al-Haakim, and classified as Sahih, the narration of Abdullah b. ‘Amr, who said: “There will come a time when there will not be one believer left, but will rush to Al-Shaam.”
What is claimed from this is that the Mahdi would come in Makkah and hence, what appears from this Hadith is that there would be another caliph before him who would be in Shaam. However, the above Hadith refers to the time of Eisa (عليه السلام) as mentioned in an authentic Hadith. Eisa (عليه السلام) would descend in Damascus and chase the Dajjal to the gate of Ludd. All these would be happening in or around Shaam. The passage from the lengthy authentic narration is as follows:
He will then search for Dajjal until he will catch hold of him at the gate of Ludd (village near Jerusalem), and will kill him. Then the people, whom Allah will have protected, will come to `Isa son of Maryam, and he will wipe their faces and will inform them of their ranks in Jannah, and it will be under such conditions… that Yajuj and Majuj would attack.
Hence we see that people would gather around Eisa (عليه السلام) in Shaam from where Allah would instruct him to go to the mountain for safety from Yajuj and Majuj. The mountain may or may not be in Shaam but the place of assembly is definitely al-Shaam.
Additionally, this argument assumes that migrating to the capital of the caliphate is a must which is not stated in any Hadith and is nothing more than an unsubstantiated assumption. Secondly, what does caliphate actually mean? Does it mean that one single country implements Islam? If so, would such a single country alone classify as a caliphate? Or does caliphate mean that multiple Muslim countries unite and form a single country? The original claim that everyone would be required to migrate to Shaam assumes that caliphate would only be implemented in Shaam (whatever that means) while all the other Muslim countries would be outside caliphate. The return of caliphate with the Mahdi would unite the Muslims from numerous lands and anything otherwise that claims the status of caliphate without uniting the Muslims is just another form of nation-state.
The second argument is perhaps the strongest one and it is as follows:
يَكُونُ اخْتِلاَفٌ 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 مِنَ الشَّامِ فَيُخْسَفُ بِهِمْ بِالْبَيْدَاءِ بَيْنَ مَكَّةَ وَالْمَدِينَةِ فَإِذَا رَأَى النَّاسُ ذَلِكَ أَتَاهُ أَبْدَالُ الشَّامِ وَعَصَائِبُ أَهْلِ الْعِرَاقِ فَيُبَايِعُونَهُ بَيْنَ الرُّكْنِ وَالْمَقَامِ ثُمَّ يَنْشَأُ رَجُلٌ مِنْ قُرَيْشٍ أَخْوَالُهُ كَلْبٌ فَيَبْعَثُ إِلَيْهِمْ بَعْثًا فَيَظْهَرُونَ عَلَيْهِمْ وَذَلِكَ بَعْثُ كَلْبٍ وَالْخَيْبَةُ لِمَنْ لَمْ يَشْهَدْ غَنِيمَةَ كَلْبٍ فَيَقْسِمُ الْمَالَ وَيَعْمَلُ فِى النَّاسِ بِسُنَّةِ نَبِيِّهِمْ -صلى الله عليه وسلم- وَيُلْقِى الإِسْلاَمُ بِجِرَانِهِ إِلَى الأَرْضِ فَيَلْبَثُ سَبْعَ سِنِينَ ثُمَّ يُتَوَفَّى وَيُصَلِّى عَلَيْهِ الْمُسْلِمُونَ
“Disagreement will occur at the death of a caliph and a man of the people of Medina will come… flying forth to Mecca. Some of the people of Mecca will come to him, bring him out against his will and give bay’ah to him between the Rukn and the Maqam. An expeditionary force will then be sent against him from Syria but will be swallowed up in the desert between Mecca and Medina. When the people see that, the God fearing people of Syria and the best people of Iraq will come to him and swear allegiance to him between the Corner and the Maqam. Then there will arise a man of Quraysh whose maternal uncles belong to Kalb and send against them an expeditionary force which will be overcome by them, and that is the expedition of Kalb. Disappointed will be the one who does not receive the booty of Kalb. He will divide the property, and will govern the people by the Sunnah of their Prophet (peace be upon him) and establish Islam on Earth. He will remain seven years…”
Reference: Reported by at-Tabarani in al-Awsat, by Imam Ahmed in his Masnad and by Abu Da’wud in his Sunan. According to Haithmi in his Majma’ az-Zawaid the transmitters in at-Tabarani’s narration are sound and authentic. But this hadith has been graded by al-Albani as Da’eef in Ad Da’eefah and in the Takhreej of Sunan Abu Da’wud and also by Sh’uaib Arnaoot in the Takhreej of Masnad Ahmed.
The portion “Disagreement will occur at the death of a caliph” indicates the return of Khilafah before the coming of al-Mahdi.
The second narration for this argument (that Khilafah would be established before the Mahdi) is as follows:
يقتتل عند كنزكم ثلاثة كلهم ابن خليفة ثم لا يصير إلى واحد منهم ثم تطلع الرايات السود قبل المشرق فيقاتلونكم قتالا لم يقاتله قوم ثم ذكر شيئا فقال : إذا رأيتموه فبايعوه و لو حبوا على الثلج فإنه خليفة الله المهدي هذا حديث صحيح على شرط الشيخين تعليق الذهبي قي التلخيص : على شرط البخاري ومسلم
“Three men, all of them sons of Khalifah, will fight over your treasure and none of them will take it. Then black flags will appear in the Orient, they will kill you in a manner in which no one had been killed before. Thawban added the Prophet said something else that I do not remember very well, then the Prophet said: “When you see this (man) pledge allegiance to him even if this requires you to crawl on snow as he is the Caliph of Allah, Al Mahdi”
Reference: Quoted by Al Haakim in his Mustadrak and he say it is according to the conditions of Bukhari and Muslim an Ad Dahabi has supported his claim in the talkhees. Also mentioned by Ibn e Majah in his Sunan with a different chain. Albani says its meaning is authentic except for the statement: as he is the Caliph of Allah, Al Mahdi.
Any ruler or a king of any territory is called a caliph in Arabic and the word caliph does not necessarily mean The Ruler or The Imam or Ameer ul-Mu’mineen ruling the entire Muslim world according to Quran and Sunnah. The death mentioned of a caliph in the tradition refers to the death of the ruler governing the territory of Arabia.
We find that the term Khalifah has been used for others who do not fall under the Shara’i definition of Khalifah. From the very first Hadith, we learn the following sequence:
- Prophet-hood (lasted 23 years)
- Caliphate (lasted 30 years)
- Coercive rule (perhaps military dictatorships)
- Return of Caliphate
There have been cases where kingship was replaced by coercive rule which in turn was replaced again by kingship (or democratic kingship). The Prophet (ﷺ) gave us these general sequences and hence such oddities do not contradict the sequence; the bottom line behind the Hadith stays.
Moreover, there are occasions where the Prophet (ﷺ) even called some people falling under kingship with the title of Khalifah (read more here). This does not mean that they become legitimate Shara’i khulafa because the Prophet (ﷺ) said: The khilafah will last thirty years after me. Hence, we learn that those referred to as Khulafa within the kingship period were linguistically Khalifahs. If one is stern and argues that the word in the Hadith i.e. Khalifah, should be understood without interpretation, then response to them is that it is not an interpretation – the Prophet (ﷺ) has called other rulers as Khalifah as well. The link quoted should be educational.
To conclude this argument, not everyone mentioned in the Hadith as Khalifah is the Khalifah mentioned to fall under the return of caliphate. The real Khilafah upon the way of Prophet-hood would only return with the Mahdi. Moreover, this contradicts the first argument as well which argues that the return of caliphate would be only in Shaam.
Mahdi will be the one through whom Allah will set mankind’s affairs straight, and will fill the earth with fairness and justice just as it was filled with wrongdoing and oppression. If the caliphate upon the way of the Prophet (ﷺ) was to emerge before the Mahdi, why would the Mahdi rescue it from wrongdoing and oppression? If he needs to save the world from wrongdoing and oppression, then whatever is before him is not a caliphate upon the way of Prophet-hood.
Regarding the Hadith of three sons of rulers fighting over the treasure, there is a one-sided understanding devised based on the Hadith of the treasure which is that three princes would fight over a real treasure of gold buried under the Ka’abah which would not come to any of them. The treasure in the Hadith appears to be referring to the ruler-ship or kingship which would not come into the hands of any of those three. One narration states that disagreement would have arisen at the death of a ruler while the other states that three princes would fight over the treasure. What is apparent from these Hadiths is that the treasure is the rule over Arabia. Even if there is a real treasure buried under the Ka’abah, the parties of the civil war, who would have already been fighting for power, may also fight over the treasure. The former is more apparent than the latter. The treasure would not come to any of the three princes; it would come into the hands of the Mahdi.
There are further supporting narrations as follows:
The year in which he will emerge, people will perform Hajj together and gather without an Imam. The Hajis will be looted, and there will be a battle at Mina in which many will be slain and blood will flow until it runs over the Jamra al-‘Aqaba [Narrated by `Amr b. Shu`ayb, al-Hakim and Nu’aym b. Hammad].
أخرج ( ك ) نعيم بن حماد (986), والحاكم (4\503\8584) عن عمرو بن شعيب عن أبيه عن جده قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم :
في ذي القعدة تَجَاُدُب القبائل, و عامئذ ينهب الحاج فتكون ملحمة بمنى, [ فيكثر فيها القتلى, وتسفك فيها الدماء, حتى تسيل دماؤهم على عقبة الجمرة ], حتى يهرب صاحبهم فيؤتى به, بين الركن والمقام, فيبايع وهو كاره, [ ويقال له: إن أبيت ضربنا عنقك] , فيبايعه مثل عدة أهل بدر, يرضى عنه ساكن السماء وساكن الأرض
Amr b. Shuaib reported from his grandfather that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: ”In Zul-Qa’da, there will be fight among the tribes, Muslim pilgrims will be looted and there will be a battle in Mina in which many people will be slain and blood will flow until it runs over the Jamarat al-Aqba. The man they seek will flee and will be found between the Rukn and the Maqam of Prophet Ibrahim. He will be forced to accept people’s Bay’a (pledge). The number of those offering Bay’a will be the same as the number of the people of Badr. Then, the dweller of Heaven and the dweller of the Earth will be pleased with him [Nu’aym b. Hammad’s book Kitab Al-Fitan].
People would gather without an Imam and it appears that the leader ruling Makkah and Madina (i.e. Arabia in totality) would have died and civil war would be under way around the time of Hajj and Hajj would take place in the absence of a settled leader in Arabia.
This particular battle in or around Mina may either be due to the civil war that ensues or perhaps some miscreants may use the opportunity to creates more chaos on Arabian soil. Some groups have been doing such things in the past as well .
Nu’aym b. Hammad reports in Kitab Al Fitan, in the chapter sinking and destruction of the army from Shaam, page 202, on the authority of Mujahid that Tubay said:
“A man will seek refuge in Makkah and will be killed, then after that, a long period of time will pass, then another man (the Mahdi) will seek refuge in Makkah but if you meet him do not fight him for if you do you will be part of the army that will be sunk and destroyed.
This happened when Muhammad bin Abdullah al-Qahtani took refuge (and announced to be the Mahdi) in Masjid al-Haram in 1979.
The following interesting argument is made claiming that reformers before the Mahdi are essential:
The era of the Mahdi is only seven years and the work required for his task is very heavy and not something that appears practical in that time and hence there have to be caliph(s) before him and the matter that will be done step by done, and the first step will be laid before the advent of Mahdi.
Islam didn’t spread over the complete Arabian Peninsula and the Roman and Persian Empire in times of Prophet Muhammad, the expansion occurred in the times of Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman, so it’s logical to believe that Mahdi won’t be the only one in this spread of Islam and pious Khulafaa will precede him before it.
Considering the above points it is more likely that Khilafah will be established in Ash Shaam before the advent of Mahdi, remember there is no hadith stating that Mahdi will be the one to establish Khilafah for the first time after it is lost.
The reason it is interesting is that Hadiths mention phantom caliphate to appear before the Mahdi. Abdullah Al Andalusi has written something similar:
ISIS’s call to establish a Caliphate, while attempting to play upon common Muslim sentiment, permits the Western media and the U.S. to demonise and depict the concept of a Caliphate as a sectarian and deeply ignorant and brutal regime. For example, just two days ago, a Channel 4 program (UK television) depicted the recent gain of Mosul by ISIS under the banner ‘Sunni vs. Shia – A new Caliphate’. And a large number of media sites have arisen discussing the ISIS + the “Caliphate”. This may be the media’s attempts to create a ‘phantom caliphate’, an observation first proposed by professor Noman Hanif, which is essentially to damage the high esteem the concept held in the Muslim collective memory, and ultimately turn Muslims against it (and towards a Secular system). [Source]
The above passage is based on analysis on purely political insight. There are Hadiths to support this insight as well. However, before discussing those Hadiths, it is important to discuss the reformers before the Mahdi who are also mentioned in Hadiths:
إِذَا وَقَعَتِ الْمَلاَحِمُ بَعَثَ اللَّهُ بَعْثًا مِنَ الْمَوَالِي هُمْ أَكْرَمُ الْعَرَبِ فَرَسًا وَأَجْوَدُهُ سِلاَحًا يُؤَيِّدُ اللَّهُ بِهِمُ الدِّينَ
Narrated Abu Hurairah that the Prophet (ﷺ) said: When great wars will occur (إذا وقعت الملاحم), then Allah (ﷻ) will raise an army from those loyal to Arabs. They are the most generous Arabs (Akram al-Arab) in terms of riding and weaponry. Allah (ﷻ) will support Deen (Islam) by them” [Sunan Ibn Majah Hadith 971 Volume 3].
This Hadeeth is Hasan. It is narrated by Ibn Maajah (4090), Al-Haakim (4/848), and Ya’qoob bin Sufyaan al-Fasawi in al-Ma’rifah wal Taareekh. Al-Haakim has authenticated it to be on the conditions of Shaykhayn and Zahabi followed him. And al-Busayri said: “This chain is Hasan”.
- Mawali means loyalist and this title also referred non-Arab slaves as well as to those freed slaves who stayed with their ex-masters. However, in modern times, there is neither slavery nor ex-slaves staying with their ex-masters nor non-Arab slaves under control of Arab masters and hence the term describes those non-Arabs loyal to Arabs.
- Akram al-Arab is translated as best Arab but this is not correct. Akram is most generous. This army originating from non-Arabs is called the most generous Arab army as well.
One may find this confusing or contradictory; how can a non-Arab army be a generous Arab army? Either you’re an Arab or a non-Arab, how can you be both? What appears is that the non-Arab army would have great riders (or pilots) and great weaponry and they would be supported by generous Arabs. Perhaps the generous Arabs may sponsor it like they have been sponsoring in our times as well .
This army raised by Allah would have those non-Arabs (black flags) who would be loyal to Arabs and supported by generous Arabs and hence the better or more meaningful translation of the Hadith would be:
When the great wars occur, Allah will raise an army from those non-Arabs loyal to Arabs. They are the most generous Arabic (or Arab sponsored) army in terms of riding and has the best weaponry.
There are reports that as soon as the pledge to the Mahdi would be given, pious people from Shaam and Iraq would come to join him. Other pious ones may have joined this army from the East along the route as well. This understanding is in complete harmony with Hadiths of black banners from the East. Black banners would start from the non-Arab lands of the East and be joined by Arabs along the way and supported by rich and generous Arabs financially. Allahu A’alam.
We have read earlier the Hadiths of black flags coming from the east from towards the direction of Khurasan. Allah knows whether these black flags are the same as the army of this Hadith or separate armies. Since the timings of both these are the same and they eventually reach Makkah at the same time, it appears that the army that Allah will raise is the same army that departs from Khurasan region.
The Prophet (ﷺ) did not use the word Khalifah for them and all those before the Mahdi whether for this army or of black flags or any other.
There are forces working for the betterment of their respective lands which will unite for the greater cause when Allah wills it to happen. We see explicit mention of forces before the Mahdi that would aid him yet none of them mention that there would be a Caliphate before him.
يَخْرُجُ رَجُلٌ مِنْ وَرَاءِ النَّهْرِ يُقَالُ لَهُ الْحَارِثُ بْنُ حَرَّاثٍ عَلَى مُقَدِّمَتِهِ رَجُلٌ يُقَالُ لَهُ مَنْصُورٌ يُوَطِّئُ أَوْ يُمَكِّنُ لآلِ مُحَمَّدٍ كَمَا مَكَّنَتْ قُرَيْشٌ لِرَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَجَبَ عَلَى كُلِّ مُؤْمِنٍ نَصْرُهُ ” . أَوْ قَالَ ” إِجَابَتُهُ ”
A man called al-Harith b. Harrath will come forth from Ma Wara an-Nahr (beyond the river). His army will be led by a man called Mansur who will establish or consolidate things for Muhammad’s family as Quraysh consolidated them for the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). Every believer must help him, or he said: respond to his sermons [Sunan abi-Da’ood, book 37, Hadith 4277]
The Hadith is weakened by Sheikh al-Albani but used by Ibn Kathir in his Book of the end. However, other authentic narrations confirm the existence of Mansur (for e.g. see Musannaf Ibn Abi Shayba 36939).
The Hadith appears to be discussing the area across the river which may be either east of Kabul or towards the north (Central Asia). The area north of Kabul is still suffering from the severe onslaught of communism and the general populace is heavily affected by it as well whereas the area east of Kabul has non-Arabs who are great pilots and have great weaponry as well.
Black flags would go out from east. Black flags would have a fight with anti-Sunni forces in Iraq where Iraqi Muslims would also join them against the anti-Sunni alliance. The enemies of the Sunnis would be defeated and forced back into Syria. He would then send an army to the Mahdi which would sink into the earth. The black flags would then reach Makkah and strengthen the army and fight with him. Arab rebellion would be crushed and anti-Sunni alliance would be defeated. This way Khilafah would be implemented on Arabia, Syria, Iraq, non-Arab areas of the east (as they would have already been taken by black flags). Later the Mahdi may take over other countries by himself whereas some of these would be handed over to him. This is my analysis and Allah knows best.
Allah knows best but it appears that all these Hadiths are referring to the same area, people, and army.
The scholars have said that one must not sit and wait for the Mahdi and that one must be a part of the Islamic revival. Sheikh al-Albani says that the Mahdi would not be greater than the Prophet (ﷺ) who reformed the nation in 23 years. Hence, some infer from this statement that there have to be more caliphs before the Mahdi to undertake the massive task. This is answered by the Hadiths of the struggle before the Mahdi and the leaders before him as well. True, there will be leaders but to call them caliphs would not be entirely accurate. Sheikh al-Albani’s statement is very wise:
Both Shariah and reason require that this duty (struggle for the cause of Islam) be done by the faithful Muslims. Even if the Mahdi comes, he would not need to lead them to victory and even if he does not come, the people do their duty.
We find plenty of Hadiths of positive taking place before the Mahdi but none of that positive is related to any Khalifah before the Mahdi. Selected people would be doing good before the Mahdi and will continue with him as well.
Now back to the phantom caliphate and Hadiths pertaining to it:
Then there will arise a man of Quraysh whose maternal uncles belong to Kalb. [See footnote 1 for more details on this man]
This particular individual would send an army from Shaam to attack the Mahdi in Makkah. If the Hadiths are close to our times, then this particular individual may have a major hand in ending the current Syrian civil war and emerge as a great leader who would come across as a bridge between Shias and Sunnis.
حدثنا يحيى بن اليمان عن يحيى بن سلمة عن أبيه
عن أبي صادق قال لا يخرج المهدي حتى يقوم السفياني على أعوادها
“The Mahdi does not emerge until the Sufyani emerges on the ashes (of the Muslim nation)” [Nu’aym b. Hammad’s Kitab al-Fitan].
There are reports that he would have declared himself the Khalifah after the massive civil war in Shaam.
حدثنا عبد الله بن مروان عن سعيد بن يزيد
عن الزهري قال يبايع السفياني أهل الشام
From Abdullah b. Marwan from Sa’eed b. Yazid from al-Zuhri: The people of Al-Shaam offer Bay’a (allegiance) to the Sufyani [Nu’aym b. Hammad’s Kitab Al-Fitan].
There are plenty of narrations along similar lines within Kitab al-Fitan of Nu’aym b. Hammad including those from the Sahaba or tabi’een but their authenticity is doubted. However, from what we know, there are strong indications that a phantom caliphate would be established in Shaam and in order to defend his fake caliphate, this man would send out an army to attack the Mahdi in Makkah. This is a further refutation of argument 1 above. There will be no Syrian caliphate before the Mahdi.
For a discussion on the authenticity of Hadiths pertaining to Sufyani, refer here.
There is a narration authentically attributed to Ali b. Abi Talib as follows:
عَلِيَّ بْنَ أَبِي طَالِبٍ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ، يَقُولُ: «سَتَكُونُ فِتْنَةٌ يُحَصَّلُ النَّاسُ مِنْهَا كَمَا يُحَصَّلُ الذَّهَبُ فِي الْمَعْدِنِ، فَلَا تَسُبُّوا أَهْلَ الشَّامِ، وَسَبُّوا ظَلَمَتَهُمْ، فَإِنَّ فِيهِمُ الْأَبْدَالُ، وَسَيُرْسِلُ اللَّهُ إِلَيْهِمْ سَيْبًا مِنَ السَّمَاءِ فَيُغْرِقُهُمْ حَتَّى لَوْ قَاتَلَتْهُمُ الثَّعَالِبُ غَلَبَتْهُمْ، ثُمَّ يَبْعَثُ اللَّهُ عِنْدَ ذَلِكَ رَجُلًا مِنْ عِتْرَةِ الرَّسُولِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فِي اثْنَيْ عَشَرَ أَلْفًا إِنْ قَلُّوا، وَخَمْسَةَ عَشْرَ أَلْفًا إِنْ كَثُرُوا، أَمَارَتُهُمْ أَوْ عَلَامَتُهُمْ أَمِتْ أَمِتْ عَلَى ثَلَاثِ رَايَاتٍ يُقَاتِلُهُمْ أَهْلُ سَبْعِ رَايَاتٍ لَيْسَ مِنْ صَاحِبِ رَايَةٍ إِلَّا وَهُوَ يَطْمَعُ بِالْمُلْكِ، فَيَقْتَتِلُونَ وَيُهْزَمُونَ، ثُمَّ يَظْهَرُ الْهَاشِمِيُّ فَيَرُدُّ اللَّهُ إِلَى النَّاسِ إِلْفَتَهُمْ وَنِعْمَتَهُمْ، فَيَكُونُونَ عَلَى ذَلِكَ حَتَّى يَخْرُجَ الدَّجَّالُ»
Ali b. Abi Talib said: There will be at the end of time a trial that will sort out men as gold is sorted out from metal. So do not revile the people of Shaam (Syria), but revile their cruel (or evil) ones, for among them are the great righteous people. A flood is about to be released upon the people of Shaam that will split their unity, so that even if foxes attack them, they would defeat them. At that time, a man from the household of the Prophet (ﷺ) will come out with three banners. The one who estimates highly will say that they are fifteen thousand and the one who estimates lower will say that they are twelve thousand. Their sign will be: Amit, amit [kill, kill]. They will meet in battle against seven banners, and under each of those banners will be a man seeking rule for himself and they will all be killed; then a Hashemite will appear and Allah will restore to the Muslims their unity and bounty, and they will remain like this until the emergence of Dajjal. [Mustadrak ‘ala al-Saheehayn lil Hakim 8658]
We know that the Mahdi would be the ruler of the Muslims throughout the period of Dajjal and hence, this Hashemite who will restore the unity and glory of Muslims would be the Mahdi. The above narration shows that before the Mahdi, there would be a Qureshi individual, with three banners, who would defeat seven other groups and take the position of power. Other Hadiths inform us that this Qureshi individual would be Kalbi from his mother’s side.
It is argued that the Mahdi cannot be the caliph to resume the pause between caliphate because caliph refers to someone who comes in succession and if he is the first one after a break, he does not come in succession.
This claim is good in isolation but with the fuller picture, it does not stand. The Mahdi would continue the ruler-ship of Arabia and would be a successor in a way. If there would be caliphs before him, then one of them would have to come after a long break and hence we reach a dead-end as to who starts to become a Khalifah because the succession is broken.
The argument in return that the Mahdi would be the Shara’i Khalifah while those before him would be linguistic caliphs is partially true but the linguistic caliph does not have many specific requirements and the ruler of a land can be the Khalifah of that land over his people. From the Hadiths, we learn that there is one peculiar quality of linguistic khulafa and this is that their people will unite behind them whether they are just and rule equitably or not. Based on this, many Muslim rulers of our times are Khulafa as per the linguistic definition provided to us by the Prophet (ﷺ) himself.
The entire Arabia united under one man and has remained united under his children and hence they would fall under the linguistic definition of Khalifah. We may even consider king Faisal to be a linguistic Khalifah; moreover, as Z.A. Bhutto declared him the Khalifah of the Muslims in the 70s as well. We may even consider king Salman to be a linguistic Khalifah and he is also the pioneer of the Islamic Military Alliance and his own people are united under him.
The wisdom behind the return of caliphate with the Mahdi
Ibn al-Qayyim states in al-Manar al-Muneef (p. 143) that the descent of the Mahdi from Hassan (رضي الله عنه) has great wisdom worth reflecting. He states that in order to put an end to the unfortunate civil war, Hassan (رضي الله عنه) gave up his right to caliphate. Allah has given the honour of leadership to a man from his progeny who fills the earth with justice. This is in accordance with the statement of the Prophet (ﷺ): Whoever leaves something for the sake of Allah, Allah shall compensate him a better one for that. The caliphate upon the way of Prophet-hood lasted for 30 years and ended with Hassan (رضي الله عنه) who ruled for about six months before letting it go for the sake of Allah. It will return to someone from his progeny (the Mahdi).
To sum it up and to reiterate: Caliphate upon the way of the Prophet-hood ended with Hassan (رضي الله عنه) and it will return with his descendant (the Mahdi).
The Mahdi lives to meet Eisa (عليه السلام)
The following is not directly relevant to the discussion at hand but has been quoted because some people find the Mahdi’s seven year rule to be problematic and attempt to justify it through other means and one of it is to argue that he would die before the return of Eisa (عليه السلام). It is argued:
We know that Eisa (عليه السلام) will descend at the very end of Dajjal’s reign and usher in an era of unmatched peace and prosperity after the death of Dajjal and Yajuj and Majuj. It is highly unlikely that the Mahdi would be around for Dajjal.
This is answered by a Hadith as follows:
Narrated by al-Haarith b. Abi Usaamah in his Musnad that Jaabir (r) said: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “‘Eisa b. Maryam will come down and their leader the Mahdi will say to him: ‘Come and lead us in prayer.’ But he will say: ‘No, one of them should lead the others in prayer, as a sign of honour from Allah to this Ummah.’
Ibn al-Qayyim said in al-Manaar al-Muneef (1/147): its isnaad is jayyid. The Hadith is narrated with a mawsool isnaad in Saheeh Muslim, without naming their leader. Muslim’s report (225) says: “… ‘And ‘Eisa b. Maryam will come down and their leader will say to him: ‘Come and lead us in prayer.’ But he will say: ‘No, one of them should lead the others in prayer, as a sign of honour from Allah to this Ummah.’”
Moreover, the great scholar Ibn Sireen also double confirms this fact:
قَالَ ابْنِ سِيرِينَ: الْمَهْدِيُّ مِنْ هَذِهِ الْأُمَّةِ وَهُوَ الَّذِي يَؤُمُّ عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ
The Mahdi is from this Ummah and he is the one who leads Eisa b. Maryam. [Musannaf Ibn Abi Shayba 36945]
عن ابن سيرين قال : ينزل ابن مريم عليه لامته وممصرتان بين الاذان والاقامة ، فيقولون له : تقدم ، فيقول : بل يصلي بكم إمامكم ، أنتم أمراء بعضكم على بعض
Ibn Sireen said: Son of Maryam will descend between the Azaan and the Iqamah. They will say to him: Come forward (to lead) but he will say: On the contrary, your Imam is from among you; you are the leaders of one another. [Musannaf Abdul Razzaq 20838]
عن معمر قال : كان ابن سيرين يرى أنه المهدي الذي يصلي وراءه عيسى. باب نزول عيسي بن مريم عليهما السلام
Ma’mar said: Ibn Sireen saw that it was the Mahdi behind whom Eisa (عليه السلام) prayed – in the chapter descent of Eisa b. Maryam (عليهما السلام). [Musannaf Abdul Razzaq 20839]
Another question asked is about the peace during the time of Mahdi. It is said that since there would be so many wars, how come that era would be of prosperity and well-being?
Winston Churchill was asked during WWII about the state of his country and he said ‘if the courts are working fine, everything is fine’. For him the internal stability was more important than the war itself. Ponder over this and we see that this is a true statement. Similarly, if there is war during the Mahdi’s rule and internal systems work fine, the courts do their job well, the police is efficient and all departments work well, then there is internal peace.
It is pertinent to note that many Muslims confuse the era of great peace in the time of Eisa (عليه السلام) with the time of the Mahdi. There is good mentioned in the times of the Mahdi but that good is nowhere near the good during the caliphate of Eisa (عليه السلام) following him.
Moreover, Mahdi’s first wars would be as follows:
- Crushing the civil war (a good war to bring peace);
- Fighting against the anti-Sunni forces in Iraq and Shaam (another good war to bring end to oppression);
- Peace with Romans and a joint fight against common enemy which would be beyond Rome on that common enemy’s turf. Hence, even during this time of war, there would be peace for the Muslims on their lands;
- Three attacks from the Romans which the Muslims will repel. They may attack Muslims like they have done recently but this time, Muslims would defeat them and kick them out. So again we see that peace is not disturbed; in fact, the enemy’s peace is disturbed;
- There would be draught three years prior to Dajjal and this would increase by each year where the final year before Dajjal would be the most difficult. These may be difficult times but this does not impact peace in six (or four) of the nine (or seven) year rule of the Mahdi;
- Finally, Armageddon at the end of the Mahdi’s seventh or ninth year would take place. This would be disturbing time but this does not mean that the overall tenure of his is not peaceful;
- The beginning and the end would be troubling but beginning ones would end the troubles; the latter period would be difficult so we may have six or seven or eight years of good peace followed by the Armageddon and then the appearance of the Dajjal.
There will be efforts before the Mahdi but the caliphate on the way of Prophet-hood would return only with the Mahdi. On the contrary, there would be phantom caliphate(s) in Shaam before the Mahdi which would send an army to attack the Mahdi.
Scholarly backing is asked for this conclusion (i.e. of phantom caliphate). Asking for scholarly precedence is a good request and such a culture should be encouraged. Earliest scholars who have stated that there would be a fake caliphate before the Mahdi are Al-Harith b. Abdullah b. Abi Rabee’, Zi Qarnat, Artat b. al-Munzir, Khalid b. Ma’dan, Al-Zuhri (he is explicit about the pledge given to this Shaami individual), and Abi Sadiq among many others. Moreover, when one reads books on end times written in our times, one finds that this idea is very common. Even though the fake caliphate idea is apparent from simple reading of the text, I have mentioned names of scholars of the past as well.
Allah knows best.
Related reading: Contentions against Islamic end times prophecies | Chronology of end times prophecies | End times prophecies surrounding Arabia, Shaam, and the East | Sequence of Dajjal’s arrival: After conquest of Rome or Constantinople? | Who and where are the Yajuj and Majuj (Gog and Magog)? Has their barrier been broken?