This excerpt is an incomplete translation of the section which Ibn Khaldun devotes to the subject of the Mahdi, and comprises in full his study of the ahadith on him.
If we examine first the ‘aqidahs which are acknowledged, such as those of at-Tahawi, an-Nasafi, or Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani (in his Risalah and the Kitab al-Jami‘) we find that none of them mention the Mahdi as a fundamental part of the ‘aqidah of Islam, whereas all do indeed mention the return of ‘Isa, peace be upon him, and the descent of the Dajjal, except in the Risalah, whose ‘aqidah is brief.
When we turn to the works of ahadith, we find that Malik in Muwatta, and al-Bukhari mention nothing of the Mahdi at all, although Muslim does mention a hadith that in later times there will be an unnamed noble and generous khalifah. It is inconceivable for these great Imams to have neglected something which is a fundamental pillar of the ‘aqidah.
The significance of this section is not to deny that there may be at some point in the future of Islam a great rightly-guided Khalifah, but that it is not a fundamental part of the ‘aqidah and that it is a deviation of Islam to ‘wait for the Mahdi’ in order to establish Islam, wage jihad or restore the Khalifate.
In the later part of this section Ibn Khaldun devotes some space to Sufi writings on the Mahdi, and on some of the historical personages particularly in North Africa who rose in revolt proclaiming themselves to be Mahdis. Ibn Khaldun writes that if there is to be a Mahdi he will have to appear according to the dynamics of political power outlined in theMuqaddimah, and not as in the apocalyptic fantasies of some sources.
This section is by no means the last word on this matter, and Ibn Khaldun’s chapter has met with criticism from other hadith scholars throughout the ages, but that is also of the nature of these sciences, since there are few scholars who have escaped criticism for some position they have taken. Some of the criticisms made of him are utterly baseless, such as that he was not a scholar of hadith. This is blatantly untrue since he was educated thoroughly in hadith and indeed later in Cairo taught both fiqh and hadith, and numbered among his pupils the great Ibn Hajar (not necessarily in the science of hadith) who is unquestionably one of the greatest authorities on the subject.
However, this chapter has particular interest for us because of the huge significance that the prophetic ahadith on the Mahdi are given in the time in which we live, and as a corrective to the transformation of the Mahdi into “al-Mahdi al-Muntadhar” (the Awaited Mahdi) whom one of our acquaintance wittily renamed “al-Mahdi al-Muntadhir” (the Waiting Mahdi).