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Sooshyant ; the Jews said he was to be the son of David, and the Persians said he was to be the son of Zoroaster. Muḥammad the Prophet admitted that Jesus Christ was a prophet, and declared him to be the greatest of the prophets of the old dispensation ; but he regarded Him as inferior to the line of prophets of which he himself was the first, and said He would only be the servant,
r vicar, of the supernatural personage who was to come in the last days, and who was to right all things, namely, the Mahdi. The word Mahdi means he who is directed (or led) [by God). According to Muhammad, the Mahdî was to destroy Antichrist and convert Christians to the religion of Islâm! The Mahdî was to be a descendant of the Prophet through 'Alî, the cousin of Muḥammad, who had given him his daughter Fâțma to wife.
When the Persians were conquered by the Muhammadans, they accepted the religion and doctrines of the Prophet, but they adopted the view that his legitimate successor (Khalifa) was his son-in-law ‘Alî, and that the first three khalifas, Abu-Bakr, 'Omar, and 'Othman were impostors, who had seized the Khalifate by intrigue. Thus the Muḥammadan world was split up into two parties, the Sunnites, or “traditionalists," who acknowledge the first three Khalifs, and the Shi'ites, or Imâmians, who reject them. 'Alî was declared to be divine by his adherents even during his lifetime, and after he and his sons Hasan and Husên had been murdered by the 'Omayyad usurpers, his life and deeds appealed in a remarkable manner to the imagination of the Persians, and, remembering that the Prophet had deciared that the Mahdi should spring from his own family, they accepted and promulgated the view that he was to be among the descendants of 'Alî. There have been many who assured the title “Mahdi,” but the first of these was " Muhammad, the son of the Hanafite," i.l., the son of 'Alî by another wife, and he was practically
made to adopt it by a cunning man called Mukhtar. Mahdî after Mahdî appeared in the Muḥammadan world, but when the eleventh Imâm had come to an end, that is to say, had been murdered—the true Mahdî was to be the twelfth-and left no successor, men began to fall into despair.
At the end of the VIIIth century a schism among the Shiites took place, and a large, wealthy body of men, who called themselves Ismaelites (from Ismâ'îl, the son of Ja'fâr), left them ; the leader of the new sect was a Persian dentist called 'Obêdallâh, who sent messengers to Arabia and the north of Africa to announce the advent of the Mahdî, i.e., himself. 'Obêdallâh, moreover, declared himself to be a descendant of ‘Alî, and with this prestige in 908 he succeeded in founding a dynasty in North Africa, having overthrown the reigning Aghlabite king there. He also founded the city of Mahdîya. In 925 'Obêdallâh attempted to overrun Egypt, but he was defeated, and it was not until 969 that the Fâțimids succeeded in conquering Egypt, which they did under. Jôhar, the general of Mu'izz, the great grandson of 'Obêdallâh, who founded the city of Cairo and assumed the title of Khalifa. Thus a Mahdî made himself master of nearly all North Africa and of Egypt, and his dynasty ruled the last named country for well nigh 200 years. * The next great Mahdî was Muḥammad ibn-Tûmurt, of the tribe of Masmada, and a native of Morocco, whose followers, known by the name of “ Almohades," conquered Spain and ruled it during the XIIth century. The idea of the Mahdî still lives in Northern Africa, and without taking into account the Mahdi of the Senûsi (see Wingate, Mahdiism, † p. 2 ff.), who always calls himself “ Muḥammad al-Mahdî,” it is said that at the pre
* A.D. 972-1172.
+ On Mahdiism generally, see Querry, Recueil des lois Chyiles, vol. I. ; Gobinean, Religions, p. 340 ff. ; De Slane, Ibn-Khaldun, vol. III., p. 496; Darmesteter, The Mahdi, London, 1885.
sent time another Mahdî is waiting at Massa in Morocco to declare himself to the world. In 1666 a Mahdî called Sabbatai Zevi inade his appearance in Turkey, but he disgraced himself by submitting to become a servant of the Sulțân Muḥammad IV. Another appeared at Adrianople in 1694, but he was eventually exiled to Lemnos. In 1799 a Mahdî from Tripoli appeared in Egypt, but he was killed in a fight with the French at Damanhûr.
Muhammad Ahmad, the Mahdî who in recent years set the Sûdân in a blaze, was born on the Island of Lebâb, which is also called “Gazîrat al-Ashraf,” or “ Island of the Nobles," near ķașr Wâd Nimiri, about 290 miles from Wâdî Halfa, either in 1843 or 1848 ; his father's name was 'Abd-allâhi, and that of his mother Âmina. Thus Aḥinad's parents bore the same names as those of the Prophet. His family went to Abâ, or Abba, Island, on the White Nile, and he worked at the trade of boat building, after he had left school at Omdurmân. When twelve years of age he knew the Kur'ân by heart, and when twenty-two years old he settled down in the Island of Abba in the White Nile, and meditated there for fifteen years. He lived in a hole in the ground, and fasted and prayed, and his reputation for sanctity spread over the whole country; his followers and disciples increased so fast and in such numbers that at length he declared himself to be the Mahdî. . Like his predecessors, he sent forth envoys to all parts to declare his divine mission. In 1881 he and his dervishes cut to pieces 200 soldiers who had been sent to seize him ; and a few months later, at the head of 50,000 rebels, he defeated and slew at Gebel Ķadîr nearly 7,000 Egyptian troops.
These victories gave him a reputation for invincibility, and thousands of men in all parts of the Sûdân could not help believing in his pretensions when they saw city after city fall into his hands. Few now doubted that he was the twelfth and last Imâm, and his adoption of the Shi'ite views, and his
calling his followers by the Persian name “ Darwish,'* made men to assume the heavenly character of his work. He professed the religion of the greatest of the Persian mystics, and his astute policy in this respect contributed greatly to his success. On November 5, 1883, he annihilated Hicks Pâshâ's army, which had been led into an ambush in the Forest of Shekan by treacherous guides, and Al-'Obed and the neighbouring country fell into the Mahdi's hands. On December 16 Slatin Pâshâ surrendered to him, and the name of 'Abd al-ḥader having been given to him by the Mahdiists he was sent to Omdurmân. On January 15, 1884, the valuable province of Darfûr became a part of the rebels kingdom. In February General Gordon arrived in Khartûm on his fatal mission, having on his way thither, unfortunately, told the Mudîr of Berber and the Émir of Matammah that he was going to remove the Egyptian garrisons; this became noised abroad, and many people, when they learned that the Egyptian Government was going to abandon the Sûdân, joined the Mahdi. Thus fate played into the Mahdi's hands. The next city to fall was Berber, Gordon's troops having been defeated on March 16.
On October 23 the Mahdî arrived in Omdurmân, being well aware of Gordon's desperate condition through the correspondence which had been captured in the steamer Abbas. This unfortunate steamer was wrecked on the Fourth Cataract, and Colonel Stewart was betrayed and murdered there; all letters and papers found in the baggage were sent to the Mahdî. On Sunday night, January 25, the Mahdî attacked Khartûm and entered the town, and a little before sunrise on the Monday General Gordon was murdered ; and in a few days 50,000 Dervishes looted the town and destroyed 10,000 men, women, and children. As a proof of the admiration for General Gordon
.a mendicant monk درویش *
felt by even his bitterest foes, it is sufficient to quote a common saying in the Sûdân, “Had Gordon been one of us, he would have been a perfect man.” After the capture of Kharțûm, no one doubted the divine mission of the Mahdi, and his word and power became absolute.
He now gave himself up to a life of ease and luxury. He who had professed himself satisfied with one coarse garment, and had lived in a hole in the ground, and slept upon a straw mat, and fasted and well-nigh starved himself, now dressed himself in shirts and trousers of silk and in the daintiest fabrics of the East, and lived in a large, fine house, and slept upon the best bed that Kharțûm could produce, and ate dainties and drank immoderately. Father Ohrwalder tells us that he had his clothes perfumed before he put them on, and that his wives anointed his body with the expensive unguent called “Sandalia,'* musk, and the oil of roses. He had four lawful wives, and an unlimited number of concubines, among whom were representatives from almost every tribe in the Sûdân ; with these were a number of little Turkish girls of eight years of age, for the Mahdi's sensuality spared no one. He would recline in his house on a splendid carpet, with his head on a pillow of gold brocade, with as many as thirty women in attendance upon him ; some would fan him with great ostrich feathers, others would rub his hands and feet as he slept, and 'Aisha, his chief wife, would cover his head and neck with loving embraces. His blessing was sought for by tens of thousands of men and women, and the earth touched by his foot was held to be holy. His life of ease, however, was his undoing, and a few months after the fall of Kharțûm he became ill, and his disease progressed with such rapidity that he died on June 22, 1885, some say of heart disease, others of poison. When the Mahdî died his sway was absolute over about
* Its chief ingredient is sandal-wood oil, to the odour of which many potent qualities are attributed.