What are the Differences between the Belief of Shiahs and the Belief of Sunnis about Mahdi?

The Belief of Shiahs about Mahdi

Generally, there exists a secret imam (leader) belief among the Shiah divisions, that is, Mahdi. Mahdi has all the attributes that the Imams possess. He will definitely emerge one day with the help of Allah.

The Shiah schools have a popular belief that the son of Hazrat Ali, Muhammad binal-Hanafiyya and imams died seemingly but they will come back.

The martyrdom of Hazrat Ali, the abdication of Hazrat Hasan and leaving the caliphate to Muawiya and then his death by being poisoned, and the martyrdom of Hazrat Hussein in a diplorable way in Karbala made Shiahs hopeless on account of losing the caliphate. So, the dignitaries of Shiahs spread the news that the caliphate will be taken over from Umayyads. Mahdi, at first, was assumed as a symbol who will take over a Shiah government, but later, Shiah believed actually that he will take over the leadership, and also, they embedded this assumption into their fundamentals of belief.

A group from Imamiya school interpreted the narratives stating about retaking over the government as the returning of the individuals and the resurrection of the dead. (1)

In fact, the belief of Mahdi el-Muntazar (expected Mahdi) varies among the Shiah groups. Instead of mentioning all of these beliefs, we will talk about the most famous of them.

Mirza Ali Muhammad, who is the organizer of the Babism and Bahaism, which derived from the Shiah of Imamiya, proclaimed himself being Mahdi. Then Mirza Hussein Ali who replaced Mirza Ali Muhammad asserted the same things for himself.

We observe that Mirza Gulam Ahmad, who is the organizer of Qadiyanism, which is supported by imperialists in India, proclaimed himself Mahdi as well as Messiah. Gulam Ahmad denied the narratives referred by Sunnah and Shiah indicating that Mahdi would be from the descendants of Hazrat Fatima.
Zaydiya, one of the most moderate schools of Shiah, founded by Zayd bin Ali in 740, does not have a belief about Mahdi. Jarudiya school introduced Muhammad bin Abdullah as the owner of the time by virtue of the name similarity. They spread narratives about it and brought about the obedience of the sons of Hashim, the sons of Abu Talib and the sons of Abbas. Later, Muhammad bin Abdullah argued with Mansur, one of the Abbasid Caliphs, and was killed by the command of him. However, his supporters, so as not to dissolve the groups who obeyed him, strived to spread that he had not died actually and would come again in the future.

Different Imams were accepted as Mahdi by different groups of Imamiya and they believed that Mahdi would come one day. According to Qitiya group, the twelfth Imam is the expected Mahdi.

According to Ismaeliya, which is one of the divisions of Imamiya and which is attributed to Ismael, the elder son of Imam Jafar, the Mahdi concept is necessary in order to be successful. They regard Imam Ubaydullah as the expected Mahdi.

According to the Ithnaashara, one of the two important groups of Imamiya, the twelfth imam Muhammad bin Hasan al-Askari is the lost Mahdi; he will come and carry out his duty one day. He disappeared two times. Firstly, he disappeared after his fathers death and this disappearance lasted until 940 and was named ghaybubah sughra (minor disappearance). During that period, he did not break off his relations with people and he communicated by means of four safirs (envoys). His second disappearance, started in 940 and has continued until today, and is named ghaybubah kubra (major disappearance).

Imam Muhammad Mahdi will appear when the Ummah is corrupted and dissension prevails in the community. He will put the world in order with his sword, and fill it with truth and justice. According to Shiah, the signs of Mahdis appearance have almost existed.

Shiah also give some evidence from the Quran. They also assert that the Hadiths related to the matter have unanimous testimony. According to them, denying Mahdis appearance is enough for being an unbeliever.

The Belief of Sunnis about Mahdi

For Sunnis, the belief of Mahdi does not take part in the fundamentals of the religion like belief in Allah, prophets or divine determining. It is not one of the indispensables of the religion. The Mahdi issue, which did not appear in the first period books of religious precepts and the Islamic theology, started to be discussed by the preachers after the second Hijri century (about 7th century) in order to give a hope to the community who had been disappointed. This issue started to be discussed after the 5th Hijri century, when the arguments increased, by Sunnis and was included in the Islamic theology books after the 8th Hijri century.

We do not observe that the first generation Sufis talked about Mahdi. Later, by means of witnessing, spiritual connections and inspiration, they started to mention Mahdi.. (2) Especially Muhyiddin-i Ibni Arabi mentioned Mahdi a lot.


(1) Âlûsî, Ruhul-Maânî, XX: 22.
(2) Ibni Haldun. ibid., II: 138.

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