The Messiah and The Mahdi
From the Traditions of the Holy Prophet it is evident that the Promised Messiah was to be a follower of the Holy Prophet. One Tradition tells us that
‘the Mahdi is no other than the Messiah’ [Ibn-e-Maja]
Another Tradition says:
‘How would it be with you when the son of Mary will descend among you and you will have a leader raised from among you?” [bukhari, kitabul-anbiya, chapter nuzul isa bin maryam]
These two Traditions leave no doubt that the Messiah himself will be the Mahdi. He would lead followers of the Holy Prophet and would be one from among them, not an outsider. To think that the Messiah and the Mahdi are two different persons is wrong. It is against the clear indication in the Tradition: ‘The Mahdi is no other than the Messiah.’ It behoves good believers to ponder carefully over the utterances of the Holy Prophet. If the utterances seem contradictory, it is for us to try and resolve the contradictions. If the Holy Prophet said, on the one hand, that the Mahdi will appear before the Messiah, and the Messiah will then join the Mahdi and his followers in worship; and, on the other, that the Messiah himself is the Mahdi, what are we going to do? Accept one utterance and reject the other? Is it not rather our duty to consider the two utterances carefully and try to reconcile one to the other? The two utterances can be reconciled at once if we use one of them to interpret the other. It seems that the promise of the advent of the Messiah was couched in words which suggested that the Messiah and the Mahdi were two different persons. This suggestion is corrected by the Tradition which says ‘No Mahdi but the Messiah’ This Tradition makes it plain that the other Tradition is metaphorical. It means that a follower of the Holy Prophet will arise for the purpose of revivifying the world, but would not have that rank of a prophet. Then the promise relating to the second coming of Jesus will be fulfilled in his person and he will announce himself the Promised Messiah. The Tradition, therefore, tells us that the Promised One will start his career as a Muslim reformer who will become invested with the office of Messiah. Divine prophecies have to employ metaphors. They would convey very little otherwise.
If our interpretaion of these Traditions is not correct, then there are only two alternatives left for a seeker-after truth, both of them absurd and dangerous. Either, we admit that the Tradition, which describes the Messiah and the Mahdi as one and the same person, is not a true Tradition, or, we admit that the Messiah and the Mahdi are two different persons and that the intention of the Tradition is to point to a difference of spiritual significance in the two. It may mean that the true Mahdi would be the Messiah. The other, Mahdi would be insignificant compared with the Messiah. It would be like saying, “Nobody knows but so and so.” When we say such a thing, we do not mean literally that nobody else knows. What we mean is that the given person knows very much more. However, both interpretations are dangerous. One requires us to treat, without good reasons, as spurious a Tradition which is a well authenticated one, true on all sound criteria. The other implies that the Mahdi, in comparison with the Messiah, will be as nothing. Such a thought would be contrary to the Traditions which teach that the Mahdi will be the Imam and the Messiah a follower who stands behind the Imam in a congregation. Both alternatives, therefore, are absurd. The only worthwhile interpretation we can put upon the Tradition is that they foretell the coming of a Messenger from among the followers of the Holy Prophet. This Messenger will first present himself as a reformer and later announce himself the Messiah of the prophecy. The same person will be the Mahdi as well as the Messiah. Except for this interpretation, there can be no plausible interpretation of the Traditions on the subject.