Mahdi in Sunni Islam
A Commentary on Hadiths about Mahdi

بسم الله الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ
In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

وَعَدَ اللهُ الَّذينَ آمَنُوا مِنْكُمْ وَ عَمِلُوا الصّالحاتِ لَيَسْتَخْلِفَنَّهُمْ في الاَرْضِ كَما اسْتَخْلَفَ الَّذينَ مِنْ قَبْلِهِمْ وَ لَيُمَكِّنَنَّ لَهُمْ دينَهُمُ الِّذي ارْتَضي لَهُمْ وَ لَيُبَدِّلَنَّهُمْ مِنْ بَعْدِ خَوْفِهِمْ اَمْناً يَعْبُدُونَني لا يُشْرِكُونَ بي شَيْئاً وَ مَنْ كَفَرَ بَعْدَ ذلِكَ فَاٌولئِكَ هُمُ الْفاسِقُونَ (النور – 55)

“Allah has promised those who have believed among you and done righteous deeds that He will surely grant them succession [to authority] upon the earth just as He granted it to those before them and that He will surely establish for them [therein] their religion which He has preferred for them and that He will surely substitute for them, after their fear, security, [for] they worship Me, not associating anything with Me. And whoever disbelieves after that - then those are the defiantly disobedient.”

In verse 55 of Surah An-Nur (24) God explicitly promises the righteous believers that they would take control of the earth eventually. He promised that Islam will become pervasive and fears and insecurities will turn into peace and security. Atheism will be eliminated from the world and God’s servants will freely continue worshiping the Unique God. An ultimatum was given to all humans suggesting that if anyone decides to become a disbeliever, he/she will be considered a guilty sinner.

Moreover, the Noble Quran states that:

وَ لَقَدْ كَتَبْنا فِي الزَّبُورِ مِنْ بَعْدِ الذِّكْرِ أَنّ الارْضَ يَرِثُها عِباديَ الصّالِحُونَ (الانبیاء – 105)

“And We wrote in the Scripture (The Zabur = the Psalms), after the Message (given to Moses), that my righteous servants will inherit the earth.”

Verse 105 of Surah Anbia (21) also annunciates a definite divine promise according to which the righteous men will inherit and own the earth. This verse promises a time when the earth and all of its continents, regions, and mines will be run and controlled by God’s worthy servants. The same promise is made in other verses of Quran such as verse 5 of Surah Al-Qasas (28):

وَنُرِيدُ أَن نَّمُنَّ عَلَى الَّذِينَ اسْتُضْعِفُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَنَجْعَلَهُمْ أَئِمَّةً وَنَجْعَلَهُمُ الْوَارِثِينَ (القصص – 5)

“And it is our will to bestow grace upon the poor and miserable on earth and make them leaders and inheritors of earth.”

It could="" be said that these important divine promises were actualized for world’s Muslims at relatively large scales at the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and subsequent periods. Moreover, Islam, which had once been captivated by the enemies who had not allowed slightest manifestation of this religion, when Muslims had been living in fear, eventually took over not only the Arabian Peninsula but also large portions of the world and the enemies were defeated on all levels.

However, the global Islamic governance, which will cover the whole world, eradicate atheism and idolatry, and spread security, peace, freedom and pure monotheism, has not been actualized yet. Therefore, realization of this goal should be expected, and according to frequent narrations such a government will be established with the rise of the “Mahdi”.

Hadiths on Mahdi were narrated by many companions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Narrations on the rise of Mahdi quoted from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and statements of Prophet’s companions (whose testimonies work as hadiths) that relied on Prophet’s sayings are included in many of the well-known Islamic books as well as books of Prophet’s hadith from Islamic factions (including Shiite and Sunni). Some Islamic scholars have written special books on Mahdi, and some of the early and recent scientists have asserted in their books that hadiths on Mahdi are frequent and absolutely undeniable.

The Sihah Sitta (or the Authentic Six books) is the most authentic Sunni books, which are the second most important religious sources available to Sunnis following the Noble Quran. These six books, which are listed as follows, are studied and used by Sunni scholars:

  • Sahih Bukhari
  • Sahih Muslim
  • Sunan Abu Dawood
  • Sunan al-Tirmidhi
  • Sunan al-Nasai
  • Sunan ibn Majah

The Sihah Sitta includes two spectra of hadiths on Mahdism: In the first series of hadiths the notion of Mahdism is inferred from the hadiths, whereas the second group of hadiths includes special hadiths that only focus on the Mahdi. In this commentary we first discuss hadiths from the Authentic Six with general references to Mahdism and then we discuss hadiths specifically dedicated to the Mahdi.

General Mahdism Hadiths in the Sihah Sitta
Hadith al-Thaqalayn

One of the hadiths agreed by all Islamist factions is the “Hadith al-Thaqalayn”, which is mentioned in the most credible hadith books. It was narrated by about 43 companions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and has been included in most references in history. There are slight differences between the meanings of some narration, but the main point is Prophet’s will and recommendation to his nation, which encourage them to hold to the two weighty things (al-Thaqalayn) and not be misled.

Hadith Text:

  • In his Sahih, Muslim quotes the following saying from Zaid ibn Arqam:

    قَامَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَوْمًا فِينَا خَطِيبًا بِمَاءٍ يُدْعَى خُمًّا بَيْنَ مَكَّةَ وَالْمَدِينَةِ فَحَمِدَ اللَّهَ وَ أَثْنَى عَلَيْهِ و وَعَظَ و ذَكَّرَ ثُمَّ قَالَ أَمَّا بَعْدُ أَلَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ فَإِنَّمَا أَنَا بَشَرٌ يُوشِكُ أَنْ يَأْتِيَ رَسُولُ رَبِّي فَأُجِيبَ و أَنَا تَارِكٌ فِيكُمْ ثَقَلَيْنِ أَوَّلُهُمَا كِتَابُ اللَّهِ فِيهِ الْهُدَى و النُّورُ فَخُذُوا بِكِتَابِ اللَّهِ وَ اسْتَمْسِكُوا بِهِ فَحَثَّ عَلَى كِتَابِ اللَّهِ وَ رَغَّبَ فِيهِ ثُمَّ قَالَ و أَهْلُ بَيْتِي أُذَكِّرُكُمْ اللَّهَ فِي أَهْلِ بَيْتِي أُذَكِّرُكُمْ اللَّهَ فِي أَهْلِ بَيْتِي أُذَكِّرُكُمْ اللَّهَ فِي أَهْلِ بَيْتِي

    (صحيح مسلم الحديث رقم 2408)

    One day Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) stood near a waterhole named “Khuum”, which was located between Mecca and Medina, and delivered a sermon to the audience. After praising God Almighty and giving advices and reminds, he said: “O people! I am indeed nothing but a human and the divine messenger is about to come to collect my soul and I will accept his invitation. I leave two valuable things for you. The first one is God’s book, to which you should adhere and hold to.” Then the Prophet gave many recommendations about Allah’s book and encouraged people to practice its orders. Then he added: “And my Ahl al-Bayt (my household)! I hereby remind you of the rights of my Ahl al-Bayt.” He repeated the latter sentence three times.

  • Based on his own evidence Tirmidhi quotes the following saying from God’s Messenger (PBUH):

    إِنِّي تَارِكٌ فِيكُمْ مَا إِنْ تَمَسَّكْتُمْ بِهِ لَنْ تَضِلُّوا بَعْدِي أَحَدُهُمَا أَعْظَمُ مِنْ الْآخَرِ كِتَابُ اللَّهِ حَبْلٌ مَمْدُودٌ مِنْ السَّمَاءِ إِلَى الْأَرْضِ وَعِتْرَتِي أَهْلُ بَيْتِي وَلَنْ يَتَفَرَّقَا حَتَّى يَرِدَا عَلَيَّ الْحَوْضَ فَانْظُرُوا كَيْفَ تَخْلُفُونِي فِيهِمَا

    (سنن الترمذي الحديث رقم 3788)

    I leave two things to you so that you hold to them and not to be misguided. One is greater than the other; it is God’s Book, which is like a rope hanging from the sky and the second is my Ahl al-Bayt. These two valuable things are inseparable and will join me in the pool (in the paradise). Be careful how you treat my trusts.

Points Inferred from Hadith al-Thaqalayn

  • God’s book and Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt (kin) was the most precious thing to the Prophet’s. “Thaqalayn”, in Arabic, is a derivation of the “Thaqal” root, which means “provision” or every precious thing that needs protection and maintenance. He referred to God’s book and his family as “Thaqalayn” to magnify their place and dignity.
  • Guidance, salvation and felicity happen in the light of Allah’s book and Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt. According to Tirmidhi Prophet (PBUH) said: “If you hold to these two things you shall never be misled.”
  • The Prophet (PBUH) said: “until they join me in the pool (in the paradise)” and “you look how you treat my trusts.” These two phrases suggest that people’s guidance depends on their adherence to both, and it is not possible to stick to the Quran but let go of Prophet’s progeny and Ahl al-Bayt.”
  • According to Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Prophet (PBUH) stated that: “These two shall never be separated from each other until they join me in the pool (in the paradise)”. This statement means that the Quran and Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt will survive till the Judgment Day. Therefore, if we assume imagine a time when the Quran is still available but Prophet’s kin is forsaken, we are somehow assuming their separation. However, as long as the Noble Quran remains amongst us, Prophet’s family and Ahl al-Bayt shall also remain and live among us.
  • Another point mentioned by Prophet in this saying was “Look how you treat these two successors I leave amongst you.” This is the most important point, which suggests that by this will Prophet (PBUH) introduces the Quran and his Ahl al-Bayt as two weighty things and successors to himself.
  • The most important point inferred from Hadith al-Thaqalayn is the proof of chastity and infallibility of Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt. The point that Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt is mentioned next to the Quran by Prophet (PBUH) is an important proof of this point. The Quran is undoubtedly a book with no error and vainness, and thus it is forbidden to oppose this book. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) mentioned his Ahl al-Bayt next to the Quran and referred to their unbreakable bond till the Judgment Day. He introduced these two valuable things as guidance for the whole nation and stated that lack of adherence to these two will lead to misguidance. Hence, these points prove the true symmetry between these two weighty things, which only suggests the chastity of his kin.
  • A careful examination of Prophet’s words when he says “These two shall never separate” indicates that Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt and Quran are not in opposition. That is the Ahl al-Bayt agrees with the words and teachings of the Quran. Does this have any other meaning than Ahl al-Bayt’s chastity and their immunity from sin?

Prophet’s Kin and Ahl al-Bayt in Hadith al-Thaqalayn

Now we are going to find the meaning of Prophet’s kin and Ahl al-Bayt, who are considered the equivalent of the Quran by Prophet in this hadith. The same question was mentioned in interpretation of the verse of purification (انما یرید الله لیذهب عنکم الرجس اهل البیت و یطهرکم تطهیراً; part of verse 33 of surah Ahzab). Who are the Ahl al-Bayt in this verse whose inherent chastity and innate purity were approved by God?

Who Are Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt?

Various opinions have been stated by Sunnis, among which the following three viewpoints are the most famous:

  • Some believe that Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt includes his wives.
  • Some believe that Ahl al-Bayt includes Prophet’s wives and all Banu Hashim members for whom acceptance of charities is forbidden. In this case, the Ahl al-Bayt includes House of Ali, House of Aqil, House of Jafaar, and House of Abbas.
  • Ahl al-Bayt includes Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Ali (Prophet’s son-in-law and cousin), Fatimah (Prophet’s daughter and Ali’s wife), and Hassan and Hussein (two offspring of Ali and Fatimah who are the grandchildren of Prophet Muhammad).

For righteous interpretation of this hadith, it is necessary to study Prophet’s words to see whether he introduced his Ahl al-Bayt and gave examples. Fortunately, there are several hadiths in Sahih Muslim and Sahih al-Tirmidhi in which Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) introduces his Ahl al-Bayt both verbally and practically.

  • In his book, Sahih Muslim quotes from Aisha, Prophet’s wife:

    خَرَجَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ غَدَاةً وَعَلَيْهِ مِرْطٌ مُرَحَّلٌ مِنْ شَعْرٍ أَسْوَدَ فَجَاءَ الْحَسَنُ بْنُ عَلِيٍّ فَأَدْخَلَهُ ثُمَّ جَاءَ الْحُسَيْنُ فَدَخَلَ مَعَهُ ثُمَّ جَاءَتْ فَاطِمَةُ فَأَدْخَلَهَا ثُمَّ جَاءَ عَلِيٌّ فَأَدْخَلَهُ ثُمَّ قَالَ إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنْكُمْ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيرًا

    (صحيح مسلم الحديث رقم 2424)

    God’s Messenger left the house in the morning wearing a patterned cloak of black hair. Hassan ibn Ali came and Prophet took him under his cloak. Then Hussein came and he took him under his cloak too. Then Fatimah came and Prophet covered her and then Ali came and went under the cloak. Then he recited this verse:

    “قَالَ إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنْكُمْ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيرًا”

    “Allah intends only to remove from you the impurity [of sin], O people of the [Prophet's] household, and to purify you with [extensive] purification.”

  • Along with the Mubahala verse (Surat Āl ʻImrān, verse 61) Sahih Muslim quotes a hadith from Saad ibn Abi Vaqas about the virtues of Prophet’s companions:

    لَمَّا نَزَلَتْ هَذِهِ الْآيَةُ فَقُلْ تَعَالَوْا نَدْعُ أَبْنَاءَنَا و َأَبْنَاءَكُمْ دَعَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَ سَلَّمَ عَلِيًّا وَ فَاطِمَةَ وَ حَسَنًا وَ حُسَيْنًا فَقَالَ اللَّهُمَّ هَؤُلَاءِ أَهْلِي

    (صحيح مسلم الحديث رقم 2404)

    When the verse “فَقُلْ تَعَالَوْا نَدْعُ أَبْنَاءَنَا و َأَبْنَاءَكُمْ” (English: Let us invite our offspring and you invite yours.) Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) summoned Ali, Fatimah, Hassan, and Hussein and said: “Dear Lord! These are indeed my Ahl al-Bayt.”

  • Concerning the verse of purification (verse 33 of surah Ahzab) Tirmidhi states with his own evidence:

    مَّا نَزَلَتْ هَذِهِ الْآيَةُ عَلَى النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَ سَلَّمَ إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنْكُمْ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَ يُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيرًا فِي بَيْتِ أُمِّ سَلَمَةَ فَدَعَا فَاطِمَةَ وَ حَسَنًا وَ حُسَيْنًا فَجَلَّلَهُمْ بِكِسَاءٍ وَ عَلِيٌّ خَلْفَ ظَهْرِهِ فَجَلَّلَهُ بِكِسَاءٍ ثُمَّ قَالَ اللَّهُمَّ هَؤُلَاءِ أَهْلُ بَيْتِي فَأَذْهِبْ عَنْهُمْ الرِّجْسَ وَ طَهِّرْهُمْ تَطْهِيرًا قَالَتْ أُمُّ سَلَمَةَ وَ أَنَا مَعَهُمْ يَا نَبِيَّ اللَّهِ قَالَ أَنْتِ عَلَى مَكَانِكِ وَ أَنْتِ عَلَى خَيْرٍ

    (سنن الترمذي الحديث رقم 3205)

    When the verse “إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنْكُمْ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيرًا” (English: “Verily God wants to keep evil and vice away from your family and He wants to make you all-pure”) was sent down to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), he was in Umm-Salama’s house. Then he summoned Fatimah, Hassan and Hussein and took them under his cloak. Then he took Ali, who was standing behind him, under his cloak. Then he said: “O Lord! These are my Ahl al-Bayt. So free them of any evil and abomination and make them pure and clean.” Then Umm-Salama asked: “O Allah’s Messenger! Am I one of them?” The Prophet responded: “You have your own place and you live with goodness and virtue (but you are not a part of this group).”

  • Tirmidhi quotes Anas ibn Malik based on his own evidence:

    أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَ سَلَّمَ كَانَ يَمُرُّ بِبَابِ فَاطِمَةَ سِتَّةَ أَشْهُرٍ إِذَا خَرَجَ إِلَى صَلَاةِ الْفَجْرِ يَقُولُ الصَّلَاةَ يَا أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنْكُمْ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَ يُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيرًا

    (سنن الترمذي الحديث رقم 3206)

    For six months, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) came to the door of Fatimah’s house before arriving to the mosque for morning prayers, and would say: “O Ahl al-Bayt! It is prayer time” (then he would continue with reciting this verse of Quran:)

    ِانَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنْكُمْ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيرًا

    (English: Verily Allah intends only to remove from you the impurity [of sin], O people of the [Prophet's] household, and to purify you with [extensive] purification).

Therefore, Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt is definitely limited to specific persons. On account of aforementioned narrations, Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt is undoubtedly those who are by his side or who were present in the Mubahala event (verse 61 of Surat Āl ʻImrān). They are: Ali, Fatimah, Hassan, and Hussein.

Who Are Prophet’s Etrat?

A person’s kin are his/her special relatives and family, and thus “Etrat” (Arabic: عترت) does not refer to all of one’s relatives. Prophet (PBUH) mentioned Thaqalayn several times and introduced his Ahl al-Bayt as equivalents of Quran. He also stated that these two valuable things will survive and will be inseparable till the Day of Judgment. These references reveal important and determining points which call for scrutiny. One of these important points is that as the Quran lives to the end of this world, a member of Prophet’s kin and Ahl al-Bayt should also accompany Quran and the absence of either of these two institutions leads to abolition of Prophet’s words. In addition, failure to adhere to either of these two things brings about loss and deviation.

Many Sunni scientists and researchers believe that Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt includes Ali, Fatimah and Fatimah’s offspring. In his book, Ibn Hajar, as one of the greatest hadith and jurisprudence scholars, quotes Abu Bakr, who said that Ali was the most important example of Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt. Ibn Hajar puts: “Prophet’s kin shall be those to who adherence till the Judgment Day is allowed and lead to safety and survival of all of the Earth inhabitants. They are similar to Quran in this sense, and thus Prophet (PBUH) ordered all Muslims to adhere to his Ahl al-Bayt.”

Now it is time to determine who the member of Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt and kin living in the present time is.

Prophet’s words in Hadith al-Thaqalayn are so serious and precise that suggest every Muslim has to know Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt until the world ends so that the prophecy, which holds “these two are inseparable” (لن یفترقا), applies to the bond between Quran and Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt. Now it is time to find Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt and kin in the present time. A just person realizes from Prophet’s sayings, especially in the Sihah Sitta, that the blessed being of the Prophet has determined the members of his Ahl al-Bayt and kin. As some Sunni scholars have asserted, Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt and kin, where are mentioned in Hadith al-Thaqalayn, are all of the twelve imams from Prophet’s generation and his twelve caliphs. The related hadiths are presented as follows.

In many narrations, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) introduced Mahdi as a member of his Ahl al-Bayt and kin. He introduced him as an equivalent to Quran and a pure individual. That is, the blessed being of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) provided certain proofs to humanity and the earth will never be free from his kin and Ahl al-Bayt as well as the Noble Quran.

In Sunan al-Tirmidhi, the author quotes from Allah’s Messenger:

لَا تَذْهَبُ الدُّنْيَا حَتَّى يَمْلِكَ الْعَرَبَ رَجُلٌ مِنْ أَهْلِ بَيْتِي يُوَاطِئُ اسْمُهُ اسْمِي

(سنن الترمذي الحديث رقم 2230)

The world will not come to an end until a man of my Ahl al-Bayt, with the same name as me, governs the Arabs.

In Sunan Abu Dawood, Abi Saeed Khedri quotes from Prophet (PBUH):

الْمَهْدِيُّ مِنِّي

(سنن أبي داود الحديث رقم 4285)

Mahdi is of me.

In Sunan Abu Dawood, the author quotes from Umm-Salamah who said that Prophet (PBUH) stated:

الْمَهْدِيُّ مِنْ عِتْرَتِي مِن ْوَلَدِ فَاطِمَةَ

(سنن أبي داود الحديث رقم 4284)

Mahdi is from my kin and Fatimah’s progeny.

The author of Sunan ibn Majah puts:

الْمَهْدِيُّ مِن ْوَلَدِ فَاطِمَةَ

(سنن ابن ماجه الحديث رقم 4086)

Mahdi is one of Fatimah’s progeny.

According to the above hadiths, Quran and Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt will never be separated and neither one can exist without the other. It is also found that Mahdi is among Fatimah’s progeny and Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt and kin. He is, indeed, one of the Thaqalayn which equal Quran, and thus adherence to Mahdi and Quran will lead to felicity and salvation.

Hadith of the Twelve Caliphs

One of the authentic and frequent hadiths included in the Sihah Sitta (The Six Authentic books) as well as the other credible and valid references of Sunnis is the Hadith of the Twelve Caliphs (or successors). This narration was quoted from Prophet (PBUH) by many people and thus undoubtedly it was stated by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Text of Narration in the Sihah Sitta

According to his own evidence, Bokhari quotes from Jaber ibn Samareh, who said that Prophet (PBUH) once stated:

سَمِعْتُ جَابِرَ بْنَ سَمُرَةَ قَالَ سَمِعْتُ النَّبِىَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ يَكُونُ اثْنَا عَشَرَ أَمِيرًا فَقَالَ كَلِمَةً لَمْ أَسْمَعْهَا فَقَالَ أَبِى إِنَّهُ قَالَ كُلُّهُمْ مِنْ قُرَيْشٍ

(صحيح البخاري الحديث رقم 6796)

“There will be twelve Amirs (princes).” Then he (Prophet) said something I did not hear, but my father said: “And Prophet said they are all from the Quraysh tribe.”

The author of Sahih Muslim also puts:

عن جَابِرِ بن سَمُرَةَ قال: دَخَلْتُ مع أبي على النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم فَسَمِعْتُهُ يقول: إِنَّ هذا الْأَمْرَ لَا يَنْقَضِي حتى يَمْضِيَ فِيهِمْ اثْنَا عَشَرَ خَلِيفَةً. قال: ثُمَّ تَكَلَّمَ بِكَلَامٍ خَفِيَ عَلَيَّ قال: فقلت لِأَبِي: ما قال؟ قال: كلهم من قُرَيْشٍ

(صحيح مسلم الحديث رقم 1821)

Jaber ibn Samureh says: I arrived at Prophet’s Muhammad with my father. We heard him saying: “Islamic caliphate will not end unless twelve successors govern Muslims”. Then he uttered words I could not hear. I asked my father: “What did Prophet say?” My father replied: “He said: All of these caliphs are from Quraysh.”

The following hadiths is another example:

عن عَامِرِ بن سَعْدِ بن أبي وَقَّاصٍ قال كَتَبْتُ إلى جَابِرِ بن سَمُرَةَ مع غُلَامِي نَافِعٍ أَنْ أَخْبِرْنِي بِشَيْءٍ سَمِعْتَهُ من رسول اللَّهِ صلي الله عليه وآله قال فَكَتَبَ إلي سمعت رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلي الله عليه وآله يوم جُمُعَةٍ عَشِيَّةَ رُجِمَ الْأَسْلَمِيُّ يقول: لَا يَزَالُ الدِّينُ قَائِمًا حتى تَقُومَ السَّاعَةُ أو يَكُونَ عَلَيْكُمْ اثْنَا عَشَرَ خَلِيفَةً كلهم من قُرَيْشٍ

(صحيح مسلم الحديث رقم 1822)

Amer ibn Saad ibn Abi Vaqas says: my slave and I wrote to Jaber ibn Samureh to be informed of what he heard from God’s Messenger (PBUH). Jaber wrote that on the Friday night when Aslami was stoned he heard Prophet Muhammad say: This religion stands firm until the Judgment Day and you will have twelve caliphs all of whom are from Quraysh.

The following points are inferred from the collection of hadiths about the twelve caliphs in the Sihah Sitta:

  • After God’s Messenger (PBUH), caliphate will be limited to twelve persons.
  • All of them are from Prophet’s tribe, Quraysh.
  • The dignity of Islam and glory of religion depend on the existence of these caliphs. In other words, the religion of Islam will stand firm and strong as long as one of these caliphs lives.
  • Islam does not cease to exist until twelve caliphs’ reign.
  • Another important point inferred from this saying is that the caliphate is successive and uninterrupted. This finding is implied by the word “caliph”. The word caliph is defined as follows in dictionaries: That person became the caliph of the other person amongst his people. He has to rise to accomplish his duties. The caliph is a person, who is a successor to his precedent when the precedent is absent, dead or unable to reign.

Manifestations of the Twelve Caliphs

It is clear that Prophet’s successor (caliph) is someone with self-purification and innate piety, that dispenses justice, enjoins good and forbids wrong. If someone considers himself the caliph of God’s Messenger (PBUH), but demonstrates evil, immorality and corruption in his behavior and deeds then that person is not Prophet’s successor but is Devil’s caliph, because the Prophet’s caliph has to be a manifestation of the Prophet himself.

There are numerous commentaries on the twelve successors of Prophet Muhammad by the Sunnis, some of which are poor and untenable. Two of these commentaries are presented below:

a) In this commentary, the twelve caliphs include Abu Bakr, Umar, Othman, Ali, Muawiyah, Yazid ibn Muawiyah, Muawiyah ibn Yazid, Marwan ibn Hakam, Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, Valid ibn Abd al-Malik, Soleyman ibn Abd al-Malik, and Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz.

As mentioned, the word “caliph” in these narrations stands for Prophet’s successor. Is it possible to accept that Prophet’s caliphs practically demonstrate their opposition to God’s Book and Prophet’s life and tradition in their deeds and behaviors? Moreover, in his divine words, Prophet (PBUH) asserts that these twelve successors will save dignity of Islam and integrity of Muslims. Did all the aforementioned people act like that? Does this hadith comply with the deeds of Yazid ibn Muawiyah and his kind? It is said that someone praised and extoled Yazid ibn Muawiyah before Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz (Umar II). Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz was infuriated and ordered his men to whip that man 20 times immediately.

Yazid murdered Hussein ibn Ali, who was Prophet’s dear grandchild and the light of his eyes. Yazid was also a drunken sinner. In spite of the evils committed by Yazid ibn Muawiyah in his four-year reign, is it fair to consider him one of the Prophet’s twelve caliphs? In “History of Caliphs”, Al-Suyuti reveals some felonies and sins committed by caliphs (including Yazid ibn Muawiyah), which make any Muslim shameful to consider them Muslims’ caliphs.

Hence, the weakness of this explanation is evident.

b) There is another interpretation of the Hadith of Twelve Caliphs, which argues that there is no need for the twelve caliphs to rein successively, because some of them were the four caliphs who governed at the beginning (Abu Bakr, Umar, Othman and Ali). Hassan ibn Ali (Prophet’s grandchild), Muawiyah, Ibn Zubayr, and Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz are considered to be the other four caliphs, and another four caliphs will rise and govern until the Judgment Day.

However, this interpretation is neither correct, because the frequent sayings by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) prove the successive reign of the twelve caliphs. Undoubtedly, this interpretation and further explanations are naïve and invalidate this narration.

Ibn Kathir, the well-known commentator of Quran, asserts in his book:

و معنی هذاالحدیث البشارة بوجود اثنی عشر خلیفه صالحاً یقیم الحق و تعدل فیهم... والظاهر ان منهم المهدی المبشر به فی الاحادیث الواردة بذکره،

(English: The meaning of hadiths about the twelve caliphs suggests that these caliphs are virtuous caliphs who dispense justice…One of these twelve caliphs is “Mahdi”, whose existence is pointed out in various narrations.)

In addition, in “Bazl al-Mahjood”, which is a commentary on Sunan Abu Dawood, the author relates various saying about the Twelve Caliphs and states:

و آخرهم الامام المهدی و عندی هذا هو الحق

(English: Indeed the last of the Twelve Caliphs is Imam Mahdi, and I consider this promise the rightful truth.)

Even in Sahih Muslim it said that Prophet (PBUH) once stated that:

يَكُونُ فِي آخِرِ أُمَّتِي خَلِيفَةٌ يَحْثِي الْمَالَ حَثْيًا لَا يَعُدُّهُ عَدَدًا

(صحيح مسلم الحديث رقم 2913)

At the End of the Time of my people there will be a caliph who will bestow wealth and never count it.

It shall be noted that the word “caliph” (Arabic: خلیفه) was also used in this hadith.

On the other hand, these twelve caliphs are introduced in Shiite narrations and are said to be the Shiite Imams, the first of whom is Ali ibn Abi Talib, who is followed by Hassan, Hussein, and nine imams from Hussein’s generation. The last of these imams is Mahdi, and all of the imams have reigned successively. Comparison of the narrations to these twelve imams reinforces authenticity of the narration and its occurrence. That is to say, it limits the caliphs to twelve persons.

It is necessary to consider the statements by some Sunni researchers who say that: the twelve caliphs are the twelve Shiite imams, who are Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt and thus the twelve caliphs could not be the Umayyad rulers, because they are more than twelve and many of them committed evident evils and crimes. In addition, these twelve caliphs could not be of the Abbasid dynasty because the aforementioned explanation also applied to these people. Therefore, the twelve caliphs are the imams who were among Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt. They start from Ali and end to Mahdi, and all of which were pious and just.

Special Mahdism Hadiths in the Sihah Sitta
Hadiths on Honor and Origin of Mahdi

To understand a thing, one shall understand its essence, honor, and origin. Therefore, understanding an important subject like “Mahdi”, who is the last of Rashidun Caliphs prophesied by Prophet (PBUH), requires understanding of the honor and origin of that great individual.

  • Mahdi is among Abdul-Muttalib’s Progeny
    In his book, Sunan ibn Majah quotes from Anas ibn Malik who quotes from God’s Messenger:

    نَحْنُ وَلَدَ عَبْدِ الْمُطَّلِبِ سَادَةُ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّةِ أَنَا و َحَمْزَةُ وَ عَلِيٌّ وَ جَعْفَرٌ و َالْحَسَنُ وَ الْحُسَيْنُ وَ الْمَهْدِيُّ

    (سنن ابن ماجه الحديث رقم 4087)

    We are the offspring of Abdul-Muttalib: I, Hamzah, Ali, Ja’far, Hassan, Hussein, and Mahdi.

    This hadith proves that Mahdi is an offspring of Abdul-Muttalib (Prophet’s grandfather).

  • Mahdi from Prophet’s Generation
    It is quoted from Abu Saeed Khedri, who quoted from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH):

    الْمَهْدِيُّ مِنِّي أَجْلَى الْجَبْهَةِ أَقْنَى الْأَنْفِ يَمْلَأُ الْأَرْضَ قِسْطًا وَ عَدْلًا كَمَا مُلِئَتْ جَوْرًا وَ ظُلْمًا يَمْلِكُ سَبْعَ سِنِينَ

    (سنن أبي داود الحديث رقم 4285)

    Mahdi is from me. He has a long bright forehead and a long nose. He will dispense justice all over the earth as before him the earth is filled with sin and corruption. He will rule the earth for seven years.

  • Mahdi of Prophet’s Ahl al-Bayt
    There are several narrations on this topic in the Sihah Sitta including Sunan Abu Dawood, Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Sunan ibn Majah. In these narrations Prophet (PBUH) clearly asserts that Mahdi belongs to his Ahl al-Bayt. Some of these narrations are valid and authentic.
    • Abu Dawood quotes from Abi al-Tafil who quotes from Ali that Prophet (PBUH) once said:

      لَوْ لَمْ يَبْقَ مِنْ الدَّهْرِ إِلَّا يَوْمٌ لَبَعَثَ اللَّهُ رَجُلًا مِنْ أَهْلِ بَيْتِي يَمْلَؤُهَا عَدْلًا كَمَا مُلِئَتْ جَوْرًا

      (سنن أبي داود الحديث رقم 4283)

      If the world is going to end one day, God will send down a man of my Ahl al-Bayt on that day. He will dispense justice on the earth where filled with oppression and corruption.

    • In Sunan al-Tirmidhi, the author quotes from Asem, who quotes from Zar who quotes from Abdullah ibn Masoud who quoted from Prophet (PBUH):

      لَا تَذْهَبُ الدُّنْيَا حَتَّى يَمْلِكَ الْعَرَبَ رَجُلٌ مِنْ أَهْلِ بَيْتِي يُوَاطِئُ اسْمُهُ اسْمِي

      (سنن الترمذي الحديث رقم 2230)

      The world is not going to be destroyed until a man from my Ahl al-Bayt, whose name is the same as mine, governs the Arabs.

    • Based on another document, al-Tirmidhi quotes from Asem who quotes from Zar, who quotes from Abdullah ibn Masoud who quotes from Muhammad (PBUH):

      يَلِي رَجُلٌ مِنْ أَهْلِ بَيْتِي يُوَاطِئُ اسْمُهُ اسْمِي

      (سنن الترمذي الحديث رقم 2231)

      A man will come from my Ahl al-Bayt with the same name as mine.

    • In his Sunan, ibn Majah quotes from Muhammad ibn al-Hanifah, who quotes from Ali, who quotes from Prophet (PBUH):

      الْمَهْدِيُّ مِنَّا أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ يُصْلِحُهُ اللَّهُ فِي لَيْلَةٍ

      (سنن ابن ماجه الحديث رقم 4085)

      Mahdi is from my Ahl al-Bayt. Allah will make him fit within a night.

    • In his Sunan, ibn Majah puts:

      عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ قَالَ بَيْنَمَا نَحْنُ عِنْدَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ و َسَلَّمَ إِذْ أَقْبَلَ فِتْيَةٌ مِنْ بَنِي هَاشِمٍ فَلَمَّا رَآهُمْ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَ سَلَّمَ اغْرَوْرَقَتْ عَيْنَاهُ وَ تَغَيَّرَ لَوْنُهُ قَالَ فَقُلْتُ مَا نَزَالُ نَرَى فِي وَجْهِكَ شَيْئًا نَكْرَهُهُ فَقَالَ إِنَّا أَهْلُ بَيْتٍ اخْتَارَ اللَّهُ لَنَا الْآخِرَةَ عَلَى الدُّنْيَا و َإِنَّ أَهْلَ بَيْتِي سَيَلْقَوْنَ بَعْدِي بَلَاءً وَ تَشْرِيدًا وَ تَطْرِيدًا حَتَّى يَأْتِيَ قَوْمٌ مِنْ قِبَلِ الْمَشْرِقِ مَعَهُمْ رَايَاتٌ سُودٌ فَيَسْأَلُونَ الْخَيْرَ فَلَا يُعْطَوْنَهُ فَيُقَاتِلُونَ فَيُنْصَرُونَ فَيُعْطَوْنَ مَا سَأَلُوا فَلَا يَقْبَلُونَهُ حَتَّى يَدْفَعُوهَا إِلَى رَجُلٍ مِنْ أَهْلِ بَيْتِي فَيَمْلَؤُهَا قِسْطًا كَمَا مَلَئُوهَا جَوْرًا فَمَنْ أَدْرَكَ ذَلِكَ مِنْكُمْ فَلْيَأْتِهِمْ وَلَوْ حَبْوًا عَلَى الثَّلْجِ

      (سنن ابن ماجه الحديث رقم 4082)

      Abdullah narrates that when we were sitting before God’s Messenger (PBUH), a group of Banu Hashim youth passed by. When Prophet (PBUH) saw them his eyes were filled with tears and his face went pale. We said: “O Prophet! We wish to never see you in sorrow and grief.” Prophet replied: “We are a family for whom God Almighty has preferred the hereafter over this world. After my death my Ahl al-Bayt will be faced with misery and displacement and will be expelled. This continues until they come after virtue from the east with black flags, but they will not get it. Therefore, they will fight for it and will be aided and will be given what they asked for. However, they will no longer accept it till they submit the affairs to a man from my Ahl al-Bayt. He will fill the world with justice as it was filled with tyranny and corruption by others. Therefore, each of you who will live in that time shall run toward them even if you have to crawl on snow.

  • Mahdi one of Fatimah’s Offspring

    There are narrations in the Sihah Sitta, which prove that Mahdi is among Fatimah’s progeny.

    • In Sunan ibn Majah, the author quotes from Saeed ibn Mosayeb, who quotes from Umm- Salamah, Prophet’s wife, that Prophet (PBUH) once said:

      الْمَهْدِيُّ مِنْ وَلَدِ فَاطِمَةَ

      (سنن ابن ماجه الحديث رقم 4086)

      Mahdi is among Fatimah’s progeny.

    • In Sunan Abu Dawood, the author quotes from Saeed ibn Mosayeb, who quotes from Umm- Salamah that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) once said:

      الْمَهْدِيُّ مِنْ عِتْرَتِي مِنْ وَلَدِ فَاطِمَةَ

      (سنن أبي داود الحديث رقم 4284)

      Mahdi is of my offspring and from the descendants of Fatimah.

The Hadith on Similarity of Mahdi’s name with the Prophet’s (PBUH)

In Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Tirmidhi quotes from Abdullah ibn Masoud who said that Prophet (PBUH) once said:

لَا تَذْهَبُ الدُّنْيَا حَتَّى يَمْلِكَ الْعَرَبَ رَجُلٌ مِنْ أَهْلِ بَيْتِي يُوَاطِئُ اسْمُهُ اسْمِي

(سنن الترمذي الحديث رقم 2230)

The world will not end until a man from my Ahl al-Bayt with the same name as mine rules the Arabs.

Based on another document, Tirmidhi quotes from Zar who quotes from Abdullah ibn Masoud, who quotes from God’s Messenger:

يَلِي رَجُلٌ مِنْ أَهْلِ بَيْتِي يُوَاطِئُ اسْمُهُ اسْمِي

(سنن الترمذي الحديث رقم 2231)

A man will come from my Ahl al-Bayt with the same name as mine.

Therefore, there are hadiths which indicate that Mahdi’s name is the same as Prophet’s sacred name, which is “Muhammad”.

Other Important Hadiths
  • Sunan al-Tirmidhi:

    عَنْ أَبِي سَعِيدٍ الْخُدْرِيِّ قَالَ خَشِينَا أَنْ يَكُونَ بَعْدَ نَبِيِّنَا حَدَثٌ فَسَأَلْنَا نَبِيَّ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَقَالَ إِنَّ فِي أُمَّتِي الْمَهْدِيَّ يَخْرُجُ يَعِيشُ خَمْسًا أَوْ سَبْعًا أَوْ تِسْعًا زَيْدٌ الشَّاكُّ قَالَ قُلْنَا وَمَا ذَاكَ قَالَ سِنِينَ قَالَ فَيَجِيءُ إِلَيْهِ رَجُلٌ فَيَقُولُ يَا مَهْدِيُّ أَعْطِنِي أَعْطِنِي قَالَ فَيَحْثِي لَهُ فِي ثَوْبِهِ مَا اسْتَطَاعَ أَنْ يَحْمِلَهُ

    (سنن الترمذي الحديث رقم 2232)

    Abu Saeed Khedri (one of the companions of the Prophet), says: Our fear of occurrence of tragedies after the Prophet’s death made us ask him questions about it. Prophet said: “Mahdi will rise amongst my nation. He will live for five, seven or nine years.” - The only doubt is associated with the narrator of the hadith, Zaid. The narrator was asked about the definite duration of Mahdi’s life and the truth about the figures. He said that he will live several years. Then God’s Messenger said that someone will come to him and ask him: “O Mahdi! Bestow upon me.” And he will give him so much gold and silver that he cannot carry.

  • In Sahih Muslim, the author quotes from Jaber ibn Abdullah who quotes from Prophet:

    لَا تَزَالُ طَائِفَةٌ مِنْ أُمَّتِي يُقَاتِلُونَ عَلَى الْحَقِّ ظَاهِرِينَ إِلَى يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ قَالَ فَيَنْزِلُ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَيَقُولُ أَمِيرُهُمْ تَعَالَ صَلِّ لَنَا فَيَقُولُ لَا إِنَّ بَعْضَكُمْ عَلَى بَعْضٍ أُمَرَاءُ تَكْرِمَةَ اللَّهِ هَذِهِ الْأُمَّةَ

    (صحيح مسلم الحديث رقم 156)

    One community of my nation constantly fights for the truth until the Judgment Day when Isa ibn Maryam (Prophet Jesus) is sent down and the ruler of that faithful group tells Isa: “Let’s say prayer with us (please be our prayer Imam).” And Isa replies: “No! Some of you are superior to other because this is God’s will to revere this nation.”

A brief examination of the latter hadith yields the following points:

  • When the prophet Jesus (PBUH) returns to earth, a Muslim man handles the affairs of the nation.
  • The fact that the Muslim ruler asks the prophet Jesus (PBUH) to be the prayer imam proves the faith and authenticity of that ruler. Hence, although the word “Mahdi” is not explicitly mentioned in this narration, the attribute of “Mahdi” (which means the guided) is known to belong to that person.
  • Jesus’ following that Muslim ruler and his not accepting the leadership offered by that ruler proves the superiority of that Muslim’s ruler to the prophet Jesus (PBUH), because it is wrong to prefer an inferior to a superior being.
  • In these narrations the word “ruler” (Arabic: امیر) is used, which could only refer to a person named Mahdi.

It should be noted that the prophet Jesus (PBUH) will be sent down at the End of the Time to assist Mahdi, as the inheritor and pioneer of Islam. He links the two worlds by inviting the world’s Christians to Mahdi and Islam. Hence, in the presence of people, the prophet Jesus (PBUH) hands over the Imamah (leadership) to Mahdi and follows him.