Difāʿ az Mahdawiyyat

Author: ʿAlī Aṣghar Riḍvānī
Reviewed by: Morteza Karimi

ʿAlī Aṣghar Riḍvānī, Difāʿ az Mahdawiyyat (Defending Mahdism), 3rd ed., 1 vol., Qom: Jamkarān Mosque Publication, 1386, 89 pp.

Almost all religions and schools of thought agree on the coming of a Savior, and according to all Muslims, Shiʿa and Sunni, his name is Mahdī (a), as hundreds of narrations about him and his characteristics have been narrated in the ḥadīth sources of both denominations. However, some Orientalists as well as some Muslim intellectuals have denied the doctrine of Mahdism and have put forward reasons for their claim. Difāʿ az Mahdawiyyat (Defending Mahdism) in Persian by ʿAlī Aṣghar Riḍvānī, deals with the most important reasons and criticizes them.

Alī Aṣghar RiḍvānīBorn in 1331 (solar) in Aligudarz, Iran, ʿAlī Aṣghar Riḍvānī in addition to academic studies in geography, has extensive religious studies, especially in the field of Wahhabism and Mahdism, and has authored several works, including Wahhābiyyat va Tawassul (Wahhabism and Tawassul), Tavallud-i Ḥaḍrat-i Mahdī (a) (the Birth of Imām Mahdī (a)), Imāmat va Ghaybat (Imamate and Occultation), and Ghaybat-i ughrā (Minor Occultation).

Difāʿ az Mahdawiyyat first presents 4 claims and reasons of the deniers of Mahdism. According to the first claim, the belief in Mahdism in Islamic society, especially Shiʿa, is the result of political pressure. This claim has been made by people like Van Vloten, Dwight Donaldson, Aḥmad Amīn, and Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Karīm ʿAttūm. For example, according to Aḥmad Amīn, the main reason in the emergence of the doctrine of Mahdism among Shiites and their insistence on it was the political pressures and hardships that they faced after the martyrdom of Imām ʿAlī (a) and Muʿāwiya’s coming to power. These sufferings intensified with the pledge of allegiance of Imām Ḥasan (a), the martyrdom of Imām Ḥusayn (a), the disintegration of the anti-Umayyad movements, and the strengthening of the Umayyad government.

The second claim raised by some Orientalists such as Van Vloten is that the expectation of salvation by a savior is specific to the spirit of the people of the East in general who are interested in discovering unseen news from the unknown future, which has no basis and truth. Some have also claimed that the belief in Mahdism has penetrated from non-Islamic societies to Islamic society, as the Libyan writer, Sāʾiḥ ʿAlī Ḥusayn says, “The theory of occultation is a common belief among Jews and Christians, and it is highly probable that the Shiʿa were influenced by them”, and according to ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Badawī, Kaʿb al-Aḥbār was the one who spread the belief in Mahdī (a) among Muslims.

Finally, some believe that the theory of Mahdism was caused by the failure of the Islamic world government in the era of the Prophet (s0, as Dr. Salmān al-Badūr -the head of the philosophy department at the University of Jordan- says about the origin of the popularization of the theory of Mahdism in the history of Muslims, “The government of the Prophet (s) was the embodiment of the utopia that Islam and other religions and schools had promised. The wish of many Muslims was that this utopia would spread all over the world in the same era, but this wish did not come true, but it never left the minds of Islamic thinkers, especially the Shiite community.”

After stating these 4 claims, the author of Difāʿ az Mahdawiyyat starts his detailed critique. According to ʿAlī Aṣghar Riḍvānī, the belief that at the end of human history and under the leadership of a savor, people will be saved from this existing situation, and a utopia will be created at the level of the whole society, and the earth will be filled with justice and peace, is a general belief and not specific to Muslims. On the other hand, this belief is rooted in the innate nature of all human beings.

The next point is that Mahdism and the appearance of the promised Mahdī (a) at the end of time is a belief that all Muslims, despite the differences, agree on, and it is never specific to a particular sect, since all the Imāmiyya, Zaydiyya, Mālikiyya, Ḥanafiyya, Shāfiʿiyya, Ḥanbaliyya, Wahhābiyya, and others agree on the fact that at the end of time, a person will rise from the progeny of the Prophet (s) and fill the earth with justice and righteousness. Many Sunni scholars have stated that this belief is shared by all Muslims, and even some of the Sunni jurists have given a fatwā that it is obligatory to kill someone who denies the Mahdī (a).

Difāʿ az MahdawiyyatIn the next section of Difāʿ az Mahdawiyyat, Mahdism is explained based on the Qurʾān, and on this basis, ten verses that prove the principle of Mahdism are mentioned. According to ʿAlī Aṣghar Riḍvānī, the emergence of false claimants of Mahdism is another proof of the authenticity of this belief, since the belief of Mahdism is so firm among Muslims that some people have even abused this belief and claimed to be the Mahdī (a). In this connection, 8 false claimants of Mahdism are introduced.

One of the evidences and signs of the certainty of a topic is that poets throughout history have written poems about it. Mahdism is one of the topics that poems have been written about since the early Islam. In this regard, the author refers to the poems of 13 poets, including Imām ʿAlī (a), Diʿbil al-Khuzaʿī, Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd, Ibn ʿArabī, Ṣadr al-Dīn Qūnawī and Faḍl b. Rūzbahān.

The next evidence explained in Difāʿ az Mahdawiyyat is the books written about Mahdism from the second century AH onwards in different styles (including theological, narrative, historical and comparative). In the next part of the book, the statements of 22 Muslim scholars who believe that the narrations of Mahdism are widely transmitted (mutawātir), and then the names of 45 Companions who have narrated such narrations, and the names of 47 Muslim scholars who confirmed the authenticity of narrations of Mahdism are mentioned.

In the final part of the book, six other arguments against the doctrine of Mahdism are presented and answered, including the claim that the non-narration of these ḥadīths in Ṣaḥiḥ by Muslim and Ṣaḥiḥ by Bukhārī is a sign of their weakness, and the claim that belief in Mahdism causes deviation or immobility in society.