Imam Mahdi in Sunnism 2

For example, let us cite two hadiths: The Sahih of Bukhari mentions a tradition reported by Abu Hurayra: “The Prophet said: ‘How will you react when the son of Mary (Jesus) descends among you while your Imam will be from among yourselves?’”(1) The Sahih of Muslim reports a tradition from Jabir b. ‘Abdullah: “I heard the Prophet saying: ‘A group of Pure ones from my Community will fight continuously for the Truth (Haqq) until the Day of Judgement.’ He said: ‘Then will descend ‘Isa ibn Maryam. And your Leader (Amir) will tell him: Come and lead the prayer for us. He will answer: No, for some of you are leaders of others, that is what God has granted to this Community.’”(2)

 In the rest of the authoritative collections of traditions, the Mahdi and all that concerns his advent is explicitly mentioned in traditions from the Prophet, which allows us to think that the idea is not exclusively Shi’ite. Several compilers of hadith like Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d.241 AH/857 AD), Ibn Madja (d.273 AH/887 AD) , al-Tirmidhi (d.279 AH/892 AD), Abu Dawud al-Sajistani (d. 275 AH/889 AD), Ahmad al-Bazzar (d.292 AH/904 AD), Abu Ya’lah al-Mawsili (d.307 AH/919 AD), al-Tabarani (d.360 AH/971 AD), al-Hakim al-Naysaburi (d.431 AH/1040 AD), and al-Bayhaki (d.1077 AD) have specifically recorded traditions about the Mahdi  in their collections.

According to the Encyclopaedia of Islam, the Mahdi traditions contained in the canonical Sunni hadith collections of Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, Ibn Madja and al-Nassa’i as well as the Musnad of Ibn Hanbal, were numerous enough to provide a solid basis for the popular belief in the Mahdi as well as in the post-classical collections of hadith like those of al-Tabarani, al-Hakim al-Naysaburi, and al-Bayhaki. The eschatological role of the Mahdi became generally more pronounced, but it never became an essential part of Sunni religious doctrine and Sunni creed rarely mentions it. The view that the Mahdi would rule the Muslim community at the time of the descent of Jesus was commonly accepted.(3)

Ibn Khaldun (d. 405 AD), who refutes the certainty of the majority of the hadith concerning the Mahdi, nevertheless accepts a minority of them.(4). In his Muqaddimah, he has summarized the Sunnite position on the question of the future restorer of the faith in the following terms: “It has been well known (and generally accepted) by all Muslims in every epoch, that at the end of time a man from the family (of the Prophet) will without fail make his appearance , one who will strengthen Islam and make justice triumph. The Muslims will follow him, and he will gain domination over the Muslim realm. He will be called the Mahdi.

Following him, the Antichrist will appear, together with all the subsequent signs of the Hour (the Day of Judgement), as established in (the sound traditions of the Sahih)” [authoritative collections of the prophetic sayings recognized by the Sunnites.] After the Mahdi, ‘Isa (Jesus) will descend and kill the Antichrist. Or, Jesus will descend together with the Mahdi and help him kill (the Antichrist), and have him as the leader in his prayers.”(5)

In spite of support for the belief in the Mahdi by some prominent traditionists, opposition to the belief in him did not entirely disappear among the hadith scholars.(6) In the early period of the Islamic history, a minor group of Muslim scholars denied the appearance of the Mahdi and claimed that only Jesus would come. Ibn Madja reports this hadith (“la Mahdi illa ‘Isa; there shall be no Mahdi except Jesus”) in his Sunan and says that it was reported by one person only, and that is Idris Shafi’i. (7)

Furthermore, Qurtubi states that there are unknown transmitters in the chain of the narration of this hadith and that it is therefore weak. He also states that this hadith contradicts all the hadiths reported by the Prophet about the Mahdi, descended from the Prophet’s family through Fatima.(8) On the other hand, in the middle of the 7th/13th century, several Sunnite scholars supported the Shi’ite belief that the twelfth Imam was the expected Mahdi, relying solely on Sunnite traditions and countering Sunnite objections to the Mahdi-ship of the twelfth Imam.

Among them, Sibt ibn al-Jawzi, shortly before his death in 654 AH/1256 AD in Damascus, assembled reports from Sunni sources about the virtues of ‘Ali and his descendants, and at the end affirmed that the Twelfth Imam was the expected Mahdi in his Tadhkira khawas al-‘umma bi- dhikr khasa’is al-a’imma . Support of the Mahdi-ship of the Twelfth Imam by these Sunni authors, as also by later ones, was regularly noted by Imami apologists.(9)

Regardless of the authenticity or otherwise of the traditions cited on this question, the ultimate triumph of Good over Evil in the Qur’an and the universal idea of hope in Islam is embodied in the figure of the Mahdi. The belief in a future Saviour and the Messianic concept has had a significant social and psychological impact on Muslims. In every crisis and in times of turbulence, these beliefs served to raise their hopes.



1. M. ibn Isma’il al-Bukhari, Sahih Bukhari, Bab. Nuzul ’Isa ibn Maryam 49, Vol. 4, p.143: ... عن أبي هريره قال: قال رسول الله (ص),  كيف أنتم إذا نزل ابن مريم فيكم و إمامكم منكم؟

2. Muslim ibn Hajjaj, Sahih Muslim, Kitab Al-Iman, num. 247, Vol. 1, p. 137: ... عن جابر بن عبدالله يقول. سمعت النبى (ص) يقول: لاتزال طائفه من أمتى يقاتلون على الحق ظاهرين إلى يوم القيامه. قال فينزل عيسى ابن مريم (ع)  فيقول أميرهم: تعال صل بنا. فيقول: لا, إن بعضكم على بعض أمراء تكرمة الله هذه الأمة.

3. “Al-Mahdi”  in EI², p.1234.

4. A. Amin, al-Mahdi wal-Mahdawiyah, p.108.

5. Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah, vol. 2, p.156.

6. “Al-Mahdi”,  EI², p.1234

7. Ibn Madja, Muhammad Ibn Yazid al-Qazwini (207-275 A.H.)  Sunan Ibn Madja, Kitab al-Fitan, Bab Shiddat al-Zaman, Vol. 3, p. 434.

8. Al-Qurtubi, Al-Tadhkirah Fi Ahwal al-Mawta wa umur al-Akhira , Bab  Fi al-Mahdi.

9. “Al-Mahdi”, EI², p.1237