There was only one madh-hab (school of fiqh) during the time of the Rightly-guided Caliphs. With the emergence of the Umayyad rule, the situation changed. The Umayyad caliphs did not have the same religious authority as the previous ones. After the Umayyad (661-750 CE) came the Abbasids. In comparison to the Umayyads, they were more supportive of Islamic law. The crystallization of four major Sunni madhahib of Islamic fiqh came about by the third century of Hijrah; before this there were about twenty different madhahib.
In the Sunni world there are now Four Orthodox Schools (Schools of Fiqh) of thought [the Four Madhahib]: the Shafi’i, Hanafi, Maliki and Hanbali. With regard to legal matters, these four orthodox schools give different weight in legal opinions to prescriptions in the Quran, the hadith or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, the consensus of legal scholars, analogy (to similar situations at the time of the Prophet), and reason or opinion. Towards the end of the first century of Islam, Imam Abu Hanifa in Kufa and Imam Malik in Madina founded mazahib (schools) or religio-legal thought, named after them as the Hanafi and the Maliki schools. In the following century, the two other great schools were founded — the Shafei school of Imam Idris al-Shafei in Egypt and the Hanbali school of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal in Baghdad. The differences between the four famous Jurists Imaam Abu Hanifa, Shaaf’ee, Maaliki and Hanbaliy stem from their differences on principles. The basic principle according to Imaam Maaliki is to prefer Amal-e-Madinah, that is the practices of the people of Madina Munawwarah. However, that principle is not adopted by Imaam Ahmad ibn Hanbal.
The fanatical loyalty to a particular madh-hab among Muslims is decreasing. Now Hanafi, Shafi`i, Maliki and Hanbali and even Ja`fari followers pray together and work together. Most scholars hold that it is not required of the Muslim to follow a certain Fiqh School because nothing can be made required of Muslims except that made by Allah and His Prophet. When in need of Fatwa, Muslims could consult with any scholar regardless of his Madh-hab. A common Muslim is said to have no Madh-hab.
Sunni Islam does not possess clerical hierarchies and centralized institutions. The absence of a hierarchy has been a source of strength that has permitted the faith to adapt to local conditions. However, it also has been a weakness that makes it difficult for Sunni Muslims to achieve any significant degree of solidarity. Despite some very minor disputes there are many Sub-Groups in the four groups like Kharjiites, Wahabis, Deobandi, Barelvi, Ahle-Sunnat Wal Jamat, Ahle Hadith, Ghurba Ahle Hadits, Sunnis of Green Turban, Sunnis of Brown Turbans etc. etc. They declare each other wrong and seldom offer prayer behind each other.
Among Sunni Muslims, effective power and the ability to maintain order are sufficient for legitimate authority, in stark contrast to the more uncompromising Shia views of government as the sole province of religious leaders. For Sunnis, even a bad Muslim ruler is preferable to chaos and anarchy, and the Sunni religious tradition contains only a limited right to rebel. However, if a ruler commands something that is contrary to God’s law, the subject’s duty of obedience lapses.
Originally political, the differences between Sunni and Shia interpretations rapidly took on theological and metaphysical overtones. In principle a Sunni approaches God directly; there is no clerical hierarchy. Some duly appointed religious figures, however, exert considerable social and political power. Imams usually are men of importance in their communities but they need not have any formal training; among the beduins, for example, any tribal member may lead communal prayers. Committees of socially prominent worshipers usually run the major mosque-owned land and gifts. In many Arab countries, the administration of waqfs (religious endowments) has come under the influence of the state. Qadis (judges) and imams are appointed by the government.
Within the Sunni Muslim tradition, Hanafi is one of four “schools of law” and considered the oldest and most liberal school of law. Hanafi is one of the four schools of thought (madhabs / Maddhab) of religious jurisprudence (fiqh) within Sunni Islam. Named for its founder, the Hanafi school of Imam Abu Hanifa, it is the major school of Iraqi Sunni Arabs. It makes considerable use of reason or opinion in legal decisions. Sunni Hanafi creed is essentially non-hierarchial and decentralized, which has made it difficult for 20th century rulers to incorporate its religious leaders into strong centralized state systems.
The Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence was founded by Abu Hanifa, born in Kufa, Iraq about A.D.700. He was one of the earliest Muslim scholar-interpreters to seek new ways of applying Islamic tenets to everyday life. In his lifetime Abu Hanifa was disgraced, called ignorant, inventor of new beliefs, hypocrite and kafir. He was imprisoned and poisoned. He died in 150 A.H. [circa 767-768 C.E.]. Abu Hanifa’s interpretation of Muslim law was extremely tolerant of differences within Muslim communities. He also separated belief from practice, elevating belief over practice. Hanafi took Shafi as his rival and vice versa.
Most of the Hanafi school follows al-Maturidi in doctrine. Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Mahmud Abu Mansur al-Samarqandi al-Maturidi al-Hanafi (d. 333) of Maturid in Samarqand, Shaykh al-Islam, was one of the two foremost Imams of the mutakallimûn of Ahl al-Sunna. He was known in his time as the Imam of Guidance (Imâm al-Hudâ). The majority of the Taliban are Maturidis.
Broad-minded without being lax, this school appeals to reason (personal judgment) and a quest for the better. It is generally tolerant and the largest movement within Islam. The Hanafi school is known for its liberal religious orientation that elevates belief over practice and is tolerant of differences within Muslim communities.
A sectarian dispute in the United States was transformed into a mass hostage taking by Hanafi Muslims in Washington, DC in 1977. The Hanafi Movement in the United States was founded by Hamas Abdul Khaalis in 1968. Khaalis, formerly Ernest 2X McGee, had been the Nation of Islam’s first National Secretary and a friend of Malcolm X. He had converted to orthodox Islam and founded the Hanafi Movement with money donated by Kareem Abdul-Jabar. On 09 March 1977, Khaalis and about a dozen of his followers armed with shotguns and machetes seized control of seized the District Building [city hall], the B’nai B’rith building, and the Islamic Center, in the District of Columbia. Khaalis said they were seeking revenge for the murders of Khaalis’ family members by Black Muslims in 1973. They held 134 hostages for more than 39 hours, they shot Washington DC city councilman Marion Barry in the chest, and they shot a radio reporter dead. The standoff ended and the hostages were freed after ambassadors from three Islamic nations joined the negotiations. The Hanafis were convicted and sentenced to long terms in prison.
Hanafi scholars refuse to control a human religious or spiritual destiny, and refuse to give that right to any human institution. Among the Hudud crimes, those crimes against God, blasphemy is not listed by the Hanafis. Hanafis concluded that blasphemy could not be punished by the state. The state should not be involved in deciding God-human relationships. Rather, the state should be concerned only with the violation of human rights within the jurisdiction of the human affairs and human relationships.
Notwithstanding their common heritage from Imam Abu Hanifah, the scholars belonging to the Hanafi madhhab are divided in the Barelvi and the Deobandi school, and these two schools have different attitude toward Wahhabism.
The Sunni Hanafi school is dominant in the Arab Middle East, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The followers of Imam Abu Hanifa (d. 767) are found in Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, China, North Africa, Egypt, and in the Malay Archipelago. The school is followed by the majority of the Muslim population of Turkey, Albania, the Balkans, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, India and Iraq. Most of the Kyrgyz are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi school. Ethnic Kazakhs, who constitute approximately one half of the national population, historically are Sunni Muslims of the Hanafi School. Ethnic Uzbeks, Uyghurs, and Tatars, comprising less than 10 percent of the population, also largely are Sunni Hanafi. Other Islamic groups, which account for less than 1 percent of the population of Kazakhstan, include Shafit Sunni (traditionally practiced by Chechens), Shiite, Sufi, and Akhmadi.
Sunni are found throughout Afghanistan. An estimated 84% of Afghanistan’s population is Sunni, following the Hanafi school of jurisprudence; the remainder is predominantly Shi’a, mainly Hazara. In March 2003 Ayatollah Mohammad Asef Mohseni, leader of the predominantly Shia Harakat-e Islami-yi Afghanistan, proposed that, along with the Sunni Hanafi school of jurisprudence, the Shia Ja’fari school of jurisprudence be included in the new constitution as an official sect.
Barelvi Islam Deobandis and Barelvis are the two major groups of Muslims in the Subcontinent apart from the Shia. Barelvi Hanafis deem Deobandis to be kaafir. Those hostile to the Barelvis deprecated them as the shrine-worshipping, the grave-worshiping, ignorant Barelvis. Much smaller sects in Pakistan include the Ahl-e-Hadees and Ahl-e-Tashee. The non-Pakhtun population of Pakistan is predominantly Barelvi. The stronghold of Barelvism remains Punjab, the largest province of Pakistan. By one estimate, in Pakistan, the Shias are 18%, ismailis 2%, Ahmediyas 2%, Barelvis 50%, Deobandis 20%, Ahle Hadith 4%, and other minorities 4%. The Ahle-e-Hadith is a small group of Sunni Muslims in India who do not consider themselves bound by any particular school of law and rely directly on the Prophet’s Sunnah. By another estimate some 15 per cent of Pakistan’s Sunni Muslims would consider themselves Deobandi, and some 60 per cent, are in the Barelvi tradition based mostly in the province of Punjab. But some 64 per cent of the total seminaries are run by Deobandis, 25 per cent by the Barelvis, six percent by the Ahle Hadith and three percent by various Shiite organisations.
The Muslim League was founded by the Aga Khan, leader of the Ismaili Sevener Shiites. And Jinnah was an Ismaili. The barelvis and shias and ismailis and Ahmediyas joined the Pakistan movement, while the deobandis opposed the formation of Pakistan, since they wanted to islamise all of India. But the Deobandis in Pakistan owed their allegiance to Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani, who organized the Deobandi ulema who were in favour of Pakistan into the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam. The so-called “nationalist Muslims” who opposed Partition, such as Maulana Azad and Maulana Maudoodi, were Sunnis.
The differences between these sects can be difficult to understand. For the Barelvis, (who are mostly from the Pakistan province of Punjab) the holy Prophet is a superhuman figure whose presence is all around us at all times; he is hazir, present; he is not bashar, material or flesh, but nur, light. The Deobandis, who also revere the Prophet, argue he was the insan-i-kamil, the perfect person, but still only a man, a mortal. Barelvis emphasise a love of Muhammad, a semidivine figure with unique foreknowledge. The Deobandis reject this idea of Muhammad, emphasising Islam as a personal rather than a social religion.
The Barelvis follow many Sufi practices, including use of music (Qawwali) and intercession by their teacher. A key difference between Barelvi and Deobandi that Barelvi’s believe in intercession between humans and Divine Grace. This consists of the intervention of an ascending, linked and unbroken chain of holy personages, pirs, reaching ultimately to Prophet Mohammad, who intercede on their behalf with Allah. It is a more superstitious – but also a more tolerant tradition of Indian Islam. Their critics claim that Barelvis are guilty of committing innovation (Bidat) and therefore, they are deviated from the true path – the path of Sunnah.
The Pakistan Movement got support from the Barelvis (Low Church). It had faced opposition from the National Indian Congress which was supported by the Deobandi seminaries (High Church). However, after the establishment of Pakistan as an Islamic state in 1949, Barelvi Low Church was too mixed up with mysticism to be a source of Islamic law. Ironically, Pakistan moved away from the ‘spiritual pluralism’ of the Barelvis, who had supported Pakistan, and relied on the more puritanical Deobandis who had opposed it.
Unlike the Deobandis, the Barelvis see the Prophet Mohammad as more than a man, a part of the divine light of Allah. This doctrine gives rise to a form of Islam that provides a space for holy men and esoteric practices and graves appear to be often more ornate than those found within Deobandi communities. The Wahhabi (Arabia), Deobandi (Pakistan and India) and Jamaat-I-Islami all are anti-sufi, and against the over devotion to Muhammad, whereas the Barelvis emphasize Muhammad’s uniqueness. Indeed, nearly 85% of South Asia’s Sunni Muslims are said to follow the Barelvi school, closer to Sufism. The remaining 15% of Sunnis follow the Deobandi school, more closely related to the conservative practice of Islam. Most Shiites in the subcontinent also tend to be influenced by the Sufis. Pakistan’s Muslims, like other Muslims in the region, tend to follow a school of Islam which is less conservative, and hence the support for strongly and overtly religious parties has been minimal.
The Barelvis believe the Prophet is a human being made from flesh and blood [bashar] and a noor [light] at the same time. This is like the example of when Gabriel, who is also noor [light], used to appear to the Prophet in the form of a man, flesh and blood. He is infallible and perfect and free from all imperfections and sinless (as are all Prophets). He is human but not like other humans. Allah has given him the ability to see the whole of Creation in detail while he is in his blessed grave as if he was looking at it in the palm of his hand. This is called being “nazir” (“witnessing”). Allah has given him the ability to go physically and spiritually to anywhere in the Created Universes he pleases whenever he pleases (peace be upon him) and to be in more than one place at the same time. This is what is meant by “hazir” (present). This is not the same as believing that he (peace be upon him) is present everywhere all the time!
The northern Indian Deobandi school argues that the reason Islamic societies have fallen behind the West in all spheres of endeavor is because they have been seduced by the amoral and material accoutrements of Westernization, and have deviated from the original pristine teachings of the Prophet.
Deoband is a town a hundred miles north of Delhi where a madrasa (religious school) was established there in 1867. The so-called ‘Deobandi Tradition’ itself is much older than the eponymous Dar-Ul-Ulum at Deoband. The Deoband madrasa brought together Muslims who were hostile to British rule and committed to a literal and austere interpretation of Islam.
For the last 200 years, Sunnis often have looked to the example of the Deoband madrassa (religious school) near Delhi, India. The Deoband school has long sought to purify Islam by discarding supposedly un-Islamic accretions to the faith and reemphasizing the models established in the Koran and the customary practices of the Prophet Mohammed. Additionally, Deobandi scholars often have opposed what they perceive as Western influences.
Just as Sikhs originated from Hinduism, but are not Hindus, and Protestants came from Roman Catholicism, but are not Catholics, similarly, the Deobandi sect originated in the Sunni community, but are not strictly Sunnis. The tack of Darul Uloom Deoband is in accordance with the Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah, Hanafiate practical method (Mazhab) and the disposition (Mashrab) of its holy founders, Hazrat Maulana Mohammad Qasim Nanautavi and Hazrat Maulana Rasheed Ahmed Gangohi.
The Deobandi interpretation holds that a Muslim’s first loyalty is to his religion and only then to the country of which he is a citizen or a resident; secondly, that Muslims recognise only the religious frontiers of their Ummah and not the national frontiers; thirdly,that they have a sacred right and obligation to go to any country to wage jihad to protect the Muslims of that country.
The Deobandi interpretation of Islamic teachings is widely practiced in Pakistan. The Deobandi movement in Sunni Islam, was founded in response to British colonial rule in India and later hardened in Pakistan into bitter opposition to what its members views as the country’s neo-colonial elite. The Islamic Deobandi militants share the Taliban’s restrictive view of women, and regard Pakistan’s minority Shiia as non-Muslim. They seek a pure leader, or amir, to recreate Pakistani society according to the egalitarian model of Islam’s early days under the Prophet Mohammed. President Musharraf himself, is a Deobandi, actually born in the city in India, where the school took it’s name.
During the first half of April 2000, the Government of Pakistan permitted a 3-day conference organized by the Deobandi Muslim political party Jamiat-Ulema-Islami (JUI). Several speakers at the conference made anti-Western political declarations. Deobandi and Barelvi sects struggled, sometimes violently, for control over local mosques in Lahore neighborhoods.
The fundamentalist Deoband Dar-ul-Uloom brand of Islam inspired the Taliban movement and had widespread appeal for Muslim fundamentalists. Most of the Taliban leadership attended Deobandi-influenced seminaries in Pakistan. The Taliban was propped up initially by the civil government of Benazir Bhutto, then in coalition with the Deobandi Jama’at-ulema Islam (JUI) led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman [who by 2003 was the elected opposition leader at the Center in Islamabad and whose protégé is now the chief Minister in the NWFP]. Traditionally, Sunni Islam of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence was the dominant religion of Afganistan. The Taliban also adhered to the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam, making it the dominant religion in the country for most of 2001. For the last 200 years, Sunnis often have looked to the example of the Deoband madrassah (religious school) near Delhi, India. Most of the Taliban leadership attended Deobandi-influenced seminaries in Pakistan. The Deoband school has long sought to purify Islam by discarding supposedly un-Islamic accretions to the faith and reemphasizing the models established in the Koran and the customary practices of the Prophet Mohammed. Additionally, Deobandi scholars often have opposed what they perceive as Western influences. Much of the population adheres to Deobandi-influenced Hanafi Sunnism, but a sizable minority adheres to a more mystical version of Sunnism generally known as Sufism. Sufism centers on orders or brotherhoods that follow charismatic religious leaders.
Although the majority of the Islamic population (Sunni) in Afghanistan and Pakistan, belong to the Hanafi sect, the theologians who have pushed Pakistan towards Islamic Radicalism for decades, as well as the ones who were the founders of the Taliban, espoused Wahabi rhetoric and ideals. This sect took its inspiration from Saudi Hanbali theologians who immigrated there in the 18th century, to help their Indian Muslim brothers with Hanbali theological inspiration against the British colonialists. Propelled by oil-generated wealth, the Wahhabi worldview increasingly co-opted the Deobandi movement in South Asia.
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal was kept in prison for 28 months, with a heavy chain around his feet. He was publicly humiliated, slapped and spat upon. Every evening he used to be flogged. All this was because of the controversy regarding whether the Quran was `uncreated’
The Shaf’i school is considered the easiest school and the Hanbali is considered the hardest in terms of social and personal rules.
The government of Saudi Arabia vigorously enforces its prohibition against all forms of public religious expression other than that of those who follow the government’s interpretation and presentation of the Hanbali school of Sunni Islam. This is despite the fact that there are large communities of non-Muslims and Muslims from a variety of doctrinal schools of Islam residing in Saudi Arabia. Under the Hanbali interpretation of Shari’a law, judges may discount the testimony of people who are not practicing Muslims or who do not have the correct faith. Legal sources report that testimony by Shi’a is often ignored in Saudi courts of law or is deemed to have less weight than testimony by Sunnis. The explanation of Saudi officials is that their Hanbali school of Islam religiously mandates that they deny other religions the right to function openly on the Arabian Peninsula – a right that is clearly protected in international law.
This branch of Islam is often referred to as “Wahhabi,” a term that many adherents to this tradition do not use. Members of this form of Islam call themselves Muwahhidun (“Unitarians”, or “unifiers of Islamic practice”). They use the Salafi Da’wa or Ahlul Sunna wal Jama’a. The teachings of the reformer Abd Al-Wahhab are more often referred to by adherents as Salafi, that is, “following the forefathers of Islam.”
The basic text of this form of Islam is the Kitab at-tawhid (Arabic, “Book of Unity”). Central to Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab’s message was the essential oneness of God (tawhid). The movement is therefore known by its adherents as ad dawa lil tawhid (the call to unity), and those who follow the call are known as ahl at tawhid (the people of unity) or muwahhidun (unitarians). The word Wahhabi was originally used derogatorily by opponents, but has today become commonplace and is even used by some Najdi scholars of the movement. Most Wahhabi people live in Saudi Arabia. Almost all people in Mecca and Medina belong to this school.
The Caliphate was brought into being by the implementation of Islam for about three decades. They called this shortlived experiment Khilafat Rashidah, the rightly-guided Caliphate, implying thereby that the rulers that followed were misguided. Fundamentalists seek the restoration of the Islamic State i.e. the Khilafah, and by electing a Khaleefah and taking a bay’ah on him that he will rule by the Word of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’Ala) i.e. he will implement Islamic laws in the country where the Khilafah has been established.
Wahhabism [Wahabism] is a reform movement that began 200 years ago to rid Islamic societies of cultural practices and interpretation that had been acquired over the centuries. The followers of Abdul Wahab (1703-1792) began as a movement to cleanse the Arab bedouin from the influence of Sufism. Wahhabis are the followers of Ibn ‘Abd ul-Wahhab, who instituted a great reform in the religion of Islam in Arabia in the 18th century. Mahommed ibn ‘Abd ul-Wahhab was born in 1691 (or 1703) at al-Hauta of the Nejd in central Arabia, and was of the tribe of the Bani Tamim. He studied literature and jurisprudence of the Hanifite school. After making the pilgrimage with his father, he spent some further time in the study of law at Medina, and resided for a while at Isfahan, whence he returned to the Nejd to undertake the work of a teacher.
Aroused by his studies and his observation of the luxury in dress and habits, the superstitious pilgrimages to shrines, the use of omens and the worship given to Mahomet and Mahommedan saints rather than to God, he began a mission to proclaim the simplicity of the early religion founded on the Koran and Sunna (i.e. the manner of life of Mohammad).
To understand the significance of Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab’s ideas, they must be considered in the context of Islamic practice. There was a difference between the established rituals clearly defined in religious texts that all Muslims perform and popular Islam. The latter refers to local practice that is not universal. The Shia practice of visiting shrines is an example of a popular practice. The Shia continued to revere the Imams even after their death and so visited their graves to ask favors of the Imams buried there. Over time, Shia scholars rationalized the practice and it became established. Some of the Arabian tribes came to attribute the same sort of power that the Shia recognized in the tomb of an Imam to natural objects such as trees and rocks.
Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab was concerned with the way the people of Najd engaged in practices he considered polytheistic, such as praying to saints; making pilgrimages to tombs and special mosques; venerating trees, caves, and stones; and using votive and sacrificial offerings. He was also concerned by what he viewed as a laxity in adhering to Islamic law and in performing religious devotions, such as indifference to the plight of widows and orphans, adultery, lack of attention to obligatory prayers, and failure to allocate shares of inheritance fairly to women. When Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab began to preach against these breaches of Islamic laws, he characterized customary practices as jahiliya, the same term used to describe the ignorance of Arabians before the Prophet.
Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab focused on the Muslim principle that there is only one God, and that God does not share his power with anyone — not Imams, and certainly not trees or rocks. From this unitarian principle, his students began to refer to themselves as muwahhidun (unitarians). Their detractors referred to them as “Wahhabis”–or “followers of Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab,” which had a pejorative connotation. The idea of a unitary god was not new. Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, however, attached political importance to it. He directed his attack against the Shia.
Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab’s emphasis on the oneness of God was asserted in contradistinction to shirk, or polytheism, defined as the act of associating any person or object with powers that should be attributed only to God. He condemned specific acts that he viewed as leading to shirk, such as votive offerings, praying at saints’ tombs and at graves, and any prayer ritual in which the suppliant appeals to a third party for intercession with God. Particularly objectionable were certain religious festivals, including celebrations of the Prophet’s birthday, Shia mourning ceremonies, and Sufi mysticism. Consequently, the Wahhabis forbid grave markers or tombs in burial sites and the building of any shrines that could become a locus of shirk.
His instructions in the matter of extending his religious teaching by force were strict. All unbelievers (i.e. Moslems who did not accept his teaching, as well as Christians, &c.) were to be put to death. Immediate entrance into Paradise was promised to his soldiers who fell in battle, and it is said that each soldier was provided with a written order from Ibn ‘Abd ul-Wahhab to the gate-keeper of heaven to admit him forthwith. In this way the new teaching was established in the greater part of Arabia until its power was broken by Mehemet Ali. Ibn’Abd ul-Wahhab is said to have died in 1791.
The teaching of ul-Wahhab was founded on that of Ibn Taimiyya (1263-1328), who was of the school of Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Copies of some of Ibn Taimiyya’s works made by ul-Wahhab are now extant in Europe, and show a close study of the writer. Ibn Taimiyya, although a Hanbalite by training, refused to be bound by any of the four schools, and claimed the power of a mujtahid, i.e. of one who can give independent decisions. These decisions were based on the Koran, which, like Ibn Hazm, he accepted in a literal sense, on the Sunna and Qiyds (analogy). He protested strongly against all the innovations of later times, and denounced as idolatry the visiting of the sacred shrines and the invocation of the saints or of Mahomet himself. He was also a bitter opponent of the Sufis of his day.
The Wahhabites also believe in the literal sense of the Koran and the necessity of deducing one’s duty from it apart from the decisions of the four schools. They also pointed to the abuses current in their times as a reason for rejecting the doctrines and practices founded on Ijma, i.e. the universal consent of the believer or their teachers. They forbid the pilgrimage to tombs and the invocation of saints. The severe simplicity of the Wahhabis has been remarked by travellers in central Arabia. They attack all luxury, loose administration of justice, all laxity against infidels, addiction to wine, impurity and treachery.
Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab’s mission in his own district was not attended by success, and for long he wandered with his family through Arabia. Realizing that he needed political support and authority to effectively reverse the status quo, Ibn Abdul-Wahhab presented his program of reform to the governors of the central Arabian city-states. He began by approaching Othman ibn Mu’amar, the governor of Uyayna, his home state. Ibn Mu’amar was receptive to Abdul-Wahhab’s ideas and allowed him to preach within the city. As word of the movement spread, however, strong pressure to silence Ibn Abdul-Wahhab came from powerful tribes in the region who viewed change as a threat to their decadent lifestyle. Fearing invasion, Othman ibn Mu’amar felt compelled to ask the reformer to leave Uyayna.
At last he settled in Dara’iyya, or Deraiya (in the Nejd), where he succeeded in converting the greatest notable, Mahommed ibn Sa’ud, who married his daugther, and so became the founder of an hereditary Wahhabite dynasty. This gave the missionary the opportunity of following the example of Mahomet himself.
This association between the Al Saud and the Al ash Shaykh, as Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab and his descendants came to be known, effectively converted political loyalty into a religious obligation. According to Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab’s teachings, a Muslim must present a bayah, or oath of allegiance, to a Muslim ruler during his lifetime to ensure his redemption after death. The ruler, conversely, is owed unquestioned allegiance from his people so long as he leads the community according to the laws of God. The whole purpose of the Muslim community is to become the living embodiment of God’s laws, and it is the responsibility of the legitimate ruler to ensure that people know God’s laws and live in conformity to them.
Under ‘Abd ul-Azlz they instituted a form of Bedouin (Bedawi) commonwealth, insisting on the observance of law, the payment of tribute, militaiy conscription for war against the infidel, internal peace and the rigid administration of justice in courts established for the purpose. Wahhabis consider Wahhabism to be the only true form of Islam. They do not regard Shi’as as true Muslims are particularly hostile to Sufism.
It is clear that the claim of the Wahhabis to have returned to the earliest form of Islam is largely justified. The difference between ul-Wahhab’s sect and others is that the Wahabis rigidly follow the same laws which the others neglect or have ceased altogether to observe. Even orthodox doctors of Islam have confessed that in Ibn ‘Abd ul-Wahhab’s writings there is nothing but what they themselves hold. At the same time the fact that so many of his followers were rough and unthinking Bedouins has led to the over-emphasis of minor points of practice, so that they often appear to observers to be characterized chiefly by a strictness (real or feigned) in such matters as the prohibition of silk for dress, or the use of tobacco, or of the rosary in prayer.
Imam Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab died in 1792.
The Wahhabi ulama reject reinterpretation of Quran and sunna in regard to issues clearly settled by the early jurists. By rejecting the validity of reinterpretation, Wahhabi doctrine is at odds with the Muslim reformation movement of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This movement seeks to reinterpret parts of the Quran and sunna to conform with standards set by the West, most notably standards relating to gender relations, family law, and participatory democracy. However, ample scope for reinterpretation remains for Wahhabi jurists in areas not decided by the early jurists.
The 1920s marked the beginnings of modern Arabia. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz understood the potential advantages Western technology offered; the importation of a fleet of automobiles and, later, the building of airstrips gave him the means of reaching distant parts of his territory in a fraction of the time required previously. He also ordered the creation of an extensive information network based on the wireless telegraph, through which he was able to extend his “eyes and ears” across the country. However, some of his followers were less than enthusiastic, and their leader spent much time and effort explaining personally the value of the telephone in particular. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz finally overcame their opposition by inviting skeptics to listen to recitations from the Qur‘an being read down the phone line.
Aware that the fledgling nation would be ill-equipped to function in the 20th century without industrial modernization, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz was eager to embrace technology; however, he was no less aware that change had to be selective and gradual if it was to be accepted by the citizenry. Arabist and historian Leslie McLoughlin pointed out that “it was the insight of Ibn Sa‘ud that slow change without disabling disputes was better than speed of change with great disruption.”
Under Al Saud rule, governments, especially during the Wahhabi revival in the 1920s, have shown their capacity and readiness to enforce compliance with Islamic laws and interpretations of Islamic values on themselves and others. The literal interpretations of what constitutes right behavior according to the Quran and hadith have given the Wahhabis the sobriquet of “Muslim Calvinists.” To the Wahhabis, for example, performance of prayer that is punctual, ritually correct, and communally performed not only is urged but publicly required of men. Consumption of wine is forbidden to the believer because wine is literally forbidden in the Quran. Under the Wahhabis, however, the ban extended to all intoxicating drinks and other stimulants, including tobacco. Modest dress is prescribed for both men and women in accordance with the Quran, but the Wahhabis specify the type of clothing that should be worn, especially by women, and forbid the wearing of silk and gold, although the latter ban has been enforced only sporadically. Music and dancing have also been forbidden by the Wahhabis at times, as have loud laughter and demonstrative weeping, particularly at funerals.
The Wahhabi emphasis on conformity makes of external appearance and behavior a visible expression of inward faith. Therefore, whether one conforms in dress, in prayer, or in a host of other activities becomes a public statement of whether one is a true Muslim. Because adherence to the true faith is demonstrable in tangible ways, the Muslim community can visibly judge the quality of a person’s faith by observing that person’s actions. In this sense, public opinion becomes a regulator of individual behavior. Therefore, within the Wahhabi community, which is striving to be the collective embodiment of God’s laws, it is the responsibility of each Muslim to look after the behavior of his neighbor and to admonish him if he goes astray.
In the 1990s, Saudi leadership did not emphasize its identity as inheritor of the Wahhabi legacy as such, nor did the descendants of Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, the Al ash Shaykh, continue to hold the highest posts in the religious bureaucracy. Wahhabi influence in Saudi Arabia, however, remained tangible in the physical conformity in dress, in public deportment, and in public prayer. Most significantly, the Wahhabi legacy was manifest in the social ethos that presumed government responsibility for the collective moral ordering of society, from the behavior of individuals, to institutions, to businesses, to the government itself. King Fahd ibn Abd al Aziz Al Saud repeatedly called for scholars to engage in ijtihad to deal with new situations confronting the modernizing kingdom.
Maliki is one of the four schools of Fiqh or religious law within Sunni Islam, named for Malik ibn Anas (ca. 710-95), a leading jurist from Medina. This school recorded the Medina consensus of opinion, and uses hadith (tradition) as a guide. The Maleki is predominant in north, central and west Africa and Egypt. Following the tradition of Imam Malik, this school appeals to “common utility…the idea of the common good.”
Malik did not record the fundamental principles on which he based his school and on whose basis he derived his judgements and to which he limited himself in the derivation of his rulings. In that respect he resembled his contemporary, Abu Hanifa, but not his student, ash-Shafi’i, who did record the principles he used in derivation and defined them precisely, specifying the motives which moved him to consider them and their position in deduction. Malik only transmitted from people in whose mursal and balaghat hadith he had absolute confidence. That is why his great concern was with the choice of transmitter. When he had confidence in the character, intelligence and knowledge of the transmitter he dispensed with the chain of narration. Malik clearly stated that he took the practice of the people of Madina as a source. He never wore shoes whilst in Medinatul Munawwarah [Medina]. He never sat on a horse or used the toilets in this blessed city. He always went out of the city to relieve himself.
Maliki is practiced in North Africa and parts of West Africa. It is the second-largest of the four schools, followed by approximately 25% of Muslims. Arabia, North and West Africa, Upper Egypt and the Sudan is the location. The colonial legal system influenced development of Morocco’s legal system while shari’a courts continued to apply Maliki fiqh to matters of family law. Also local tribunals applying customary law. Following independence in 1956, a Code of Personal Status (al-Mudawwana) was issued, based on dominant Maliki doctrine.
The Shaf’i school is predominant in east Africa, Indonesia and southeast Asia. Al Shafii’s (d. 855) thought influenced Indonesia, Southern Arabia, Lower Egypt, parts of Syria, Palestine, Eastern Africa, India and South Africa. The school remains predominant in Southern Arabia, Bahrain, the Malay Archipelago, East Africa and several parts of Central Asia. Shafi’i is practiced in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. It is followed by approximately 15% of Muslims world-wide.
The Shaf’i school is considered the easiest school and the Hanbali is considered the hardest in terms of social and personal rules. Hanafi took Shafi as his rival and vice versa. Tradition, the consensus of the Muslim community and reasoning by analogy are characteristics of this school.
Most Kurds in Iraq follow the Shafii school of Sunni Islam. A minority of Kurds, concentrated in parts of the Kifri and Klar areas of Kirkuk, follow the Hanafi school.
The Shafi’iyyah school of Islamic law was named after Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi’i [Shaf’i, Shaafi`ee] (767-819). The school of Imam Abu Abd Allah Muhammad Shafii of the Quraysh tribe of the Prophet, brought up in Mecca. He later taught in both Baghdad and Cairo and followed a somewhat eclectic legal path, laying down the rules for analogy that were later adopted by other legal schools. He was a descendant of the Prophet’s uncle, Abu Talib, and came to Egypt in the 9th century. Saladin who founded the first madrasa, dedicated to the Shafi’i rite near the tomb of its founder, Imam al-Shafi’i. Al-Shafi`i was known for his peculiar strength in Arabic language, poetry, and philology. Imam Shafi`i was called devil and imprisoned. Prayers were said for his death. He was taken in captivity from Yemen to Baghdad, in a condition of humiliation and degradation.
Then at the time of Al-Shafi’i, the Prophet’s ahadith were gathered from different countries, and the disagreements among the scholars increased until Al-Shafi’i wrote his famous book, Al-Risalah, which is considered the foundation of Islamic jurisprudence. The Shafi’i tradition is particularly accessible to English speaking Muslims due to the availability of high quality translations of the Reliance of the Traveler.
The great religious traditions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam — share references to a savior of humanity at the end of time. These religions share glad tidings of his coming, though there are differences in detail and deep controversies in interpretation.
The idea of the coming of a Mahdi (the guided) has roots in Islamic traditions, both Shiia and Sunni, even though the Mahdi is not mentioned in the Qur’an. The Mahdi prepares the way for the second coming of the Prophet Isa (Jesus) and the impending end of the world. Eventually the awaited Imam will appear, and the Divine Aim will reach its fulfillment. The Qur’an explicitly declares the return of Jesus to earth. Surah Al ‘Imran 55 is one of the verses indicating that Jesus will come back. But in many verses of the Qur’an Allah states that those having faith in the trinity certainly are disbelievers: Those who say that the Messiah, son of Maryam, is the third of three are disbelievers. There is no god but One God. (Surat al-Ma’idah: 73).
The first stage of this hope coincides with the expectations of the Second Advent of Jesus, who as Mahdi will bring about the restoration of justice and order in the world. In the course, however, of the further development of the hope, the eschatological activities of Jesus became merely an accompanying phenomenon. Those inclined to a realistic view conceded occasionally that the hopes of the Mahdi were brought nearer to fulfillment through certain rulers from whom the restoration of divine justice was expected. Much was hoped for in this respect, after the overthrow of the ‘ Omayyads, from certain rulers of the ‘Abbaside dynasty. This idle dream, however, was soon dispelled. In the eyes of the pious, the world remained as base as before. The Mahdi idea consequently began to take the form of a Mahdi Utopia, whose realization was removed into a hazy future, which encouraged the steady growth of crude eschatological embellishments. God will stir up a man from the family of the prophet, who will restore the disorganized work, fill the world with justice, as it is now filled with injustice.
To the Judaic Christian elements to which the Mahdi belief owes its origin there were added features taken from the Parsee picture of Saoshyaiit, and in addition the irresponsible phantasy of idle speculation contributed its share to produce a rich Mahdi mythology. The Hadith seized upon this material which formed the subject of so much discussion among the circle of the believers. To the prophet himself there was attributed a detailed description of the personality of the Redeemer proclaimed by him. While such traditions were excluded from conscientious collections they were taken up and repeated by those who were less scrupulous.
In anticipation of Judgment Day, it was essential that the people return to a simple and rigorous, even puritanical Islam. The Islamic belief in the second coming of Christ is the creed of Sunni and Shi`i Islam in its generality. For Muslims, there is no question about the forthcoming Armageddon, following which war technology shall become unusable. The Mahdi will defeat the remaining third of the Jews (the other two thirds having already perished at Armageddon); This will be followed by a Christian vs. Muslim war, called al-Malhama al-Kubra (“Great Slaughter of the Intercessor” ie, the Prophet) in Muslim texts.
When the Mahdi’s Army receives word of the Antichrist, they will go to fight the Antichrist, but he will besiege them in Jerusalem. Jesus will descend, and perform the dawn prayer behind the Mahdi, then Jesus will go out and kill the Antichrist. After that, he will take over the Caliphate. Upon the return of Jesus, he will not accept that Christians and Jews live with any other religion than Islam, and so will unite all the believers as Muslims.
The Ismailis, a Mohammedan sect. like the rest of the Shiah, or party of AH, held that the dignity of Imam, or head of the true faith, was inherent in the house of the Prophet and the line of Ali, the Prophet’s cousin, son-in-law, and chosen lieutenant. They arose in Syria and Persia, taking their name from one Ismail, whom they regarded as the seventh and last of the Imams, and who lived about 770 A.D. But the sect acquired its importance a century later from Abdallah al Kaddah, a Persian of Susiana, and son of Maimim. He was an oculist, a scholar, and an able juggler. The Ismailis had then no visible Imam ; indeed the Shiah lost its twelfth and last Imam in the mysterious disappearance of Mohammed in 879
A.D. The idea of a ‘Hidden Imam,’destined to appear for the reformation of religion and of the world, thus became necessary for its existence. To undermine the whole empire, to prepare a great revolution and overthrow Islam was Abdallah’s desire. His instrument was the faith in a ‘Hidden Imam,’ or ‘Mahdi,’ ‘Guided or Inspired One,” styled by Abdallah the seventh prophet, Mohammed having been the sixth. The resurrection, the end of the world, final judgment, and rewards and punishments were mere allegories. The universe was eternal. Mohammed, the Chief, Hidden Imam, Mahdi, or Seventh Prophet, son of Ismail, was, after all, not to appear but in his doctrine taught by his disciples and apostles ; and the duty of all believers was to bring the world’s sovereignty into the hands of these.
Up till comparatively modern times this phase of belief has sustained itself among Moslem groups standing outside of the Shi’itic circle. The Moslems in the Caucasus believe in the return of their hero Elija Mansur, a forerunner of Shamil (1791), who is to reappear a hundred years after the expulsion of the Muscovites.12 In Samarkand the people believe in the reappearance of the sacred persons of Shah-zinde and Kasim ibn ‘Abbas. Just as among the Kurds we find from the eighth century after the Hijra the belief in the return of the executed Taj al-‘arifln (Hasan ibn ‘Adi).
Through the history of Islam, a few individuals claimed to be the Mahdi and found a following among those who were looking for salvation. For some of these figures, like Bab in Iran or Mirza Ghulam in India, the claim of being Mahdi was a stepping stone to the development of sects which broke away from Islam.
Muhammad b. Hanafiyya was regarded as the Mahdi by some Muslims. The Jarudis among the Zaydis believed that Muhammad b. ‘Abd Allah b. Hasan was the Mahdi. The Nawusi’s believed that Imam Ja’far Sadiq was the Mahdi. The Waqifis believed that Imam Musa b. Ja’far had not died and was in occultation.
The Sunni Mahdi
Among the Sunnis the expectation of a Mahdi, despite its authorization in tradition and its theological elaboration, never became a fixed dogma, but appeared as mythological elaboration of the future ideal, as a supplement to the orthodox system. Sunni Islam emphatically rejects the Shi’itic form of this belief. It ridicules the long-lived, hidden Imam. It is sufficient for the Sunnis to regard the claim of the “Twelvers” as absurd, because according to Sunni tradition the Mahdi must bear the very same name as the prophet (M. ibn ‘Abdalliih), whereas the father of this hidden Imam, i. e., the eleventh visible Imam, bore the name Hasan.0 Besides since the Shi’itic Mahdi disappeared as a child, he is disqualified canonically by virtue of his immaturity from the dignity of Imam, which can only be accorded to an “adult” (bdligh). Others even deny the existence of a surviving son of Hasan al-‘Askari.
The Mahdi figures in Sunni belief, as events in the Sudan in the late 19th Century reveal. The story of the Mahdi and his fundamentalist revolt in the Sudan in the late 1880s is the stuff that movies are made of (ie., “Khartoum”, “The Four Feathers”). Charles George “Chinese” Gordon, a British officer, resigned as governor general of Sudan in 1880. His successors lacked direction from Cairo and feared the political turmoil that had engulfed Egypt. As a result, they failed to continue the policies Gordon had put in place. The illegal slave trade revived, although not enough to satisfy the merchants whom Gordon had put out of business. The Sudanese army suffered from a lack of resources, and unemployed soldiers from disbanded units troubled garrison towns. Tax collectors arbitrarily increased taxation.
In this troubled atmosphere, Muhammad Ahmad ibn as Sayyid Abd Allah, a faqir or holy man who combined personal magnetism with religious zealotry, emerged, determined to expel the Turks and restore Islam to its primitive purity. The son of a Dunqulah boatbuilder, Muhammad Ahmad had become the disciple of Muhammad ash Sharif, the head of the Sammaniyah order. Later, as a shaykh of the order, Muhammad Ahmad spent several years in seclusion and gained a reputation as a mystic and teacher. In 1880 he became a Sammaniyah leader.
Muhammad Ahmad’s sermons attracted an increasing number of followers. Among those who joined him was Abdallahi ibn Muhammad, a Baqqara from southern Darfur. His planning capabilities proved invaluable to Muhammad Ahmad, who revealed himself as Al Mahdi al Muntazar (“the awaited guide in the right path,” usually seen as the Mahdi), sent from God to redeem the faithful and prepare the way for the second coming of the Prophet Isa (Jesus). The Mahdist movement demanded a return to the simplicity of early Islam, abstention from alcohol and tobacco, and the strict seclusion of women.
To avoid arrest, the Mahdi and a party of his followers, the Ansar, made a long march to Kurdufan, where he gained a large number of recruits, especially from the Baqqara. From a refuge in the area, he wrote appeals to the shaykhs of the religious orders and won active support or assurances of neutrality from all except the pro-Egyptian Khatmiyyah. Merchants and Arab tribes that had depended on the slave trade responded as well, along with the Hadendowa Beja, who were rallied to the Mahdi by an Ansar captain, Usman Digna.
Early in 1882, the Ansar, armed with spears and swords, overwhelmed a 7,000man Egyptian force not far from Al Ubayyid and seized their rifles and ammunition. The Mahdi followed up this victory by laying siege to Al Ubayyid and starving it into submission after four months. The Ansar, 30,000 men strong, then defeated an 8,000-man Egyptian relief force at Sheikan. Next the Mahdi captured Darfur and imprisoned Rudolf Slatin, an Austrian in the khedive’s service, who later became the first Egyptian-appointed governor of Darfur Province.
The advance of the Ansar and the Beja rising in the east imperiled communications with Egypt and threatened to cut off garrisons at Khartoum, Kassala, Sannar, and Sawakin and in the south. To avoid being drawn into a costly military intervention, the British government ordered an Egyptian withdrawal from Sudan. Gordon, who had received a reappointment as governor general, arranged to supervise the evacuation of Egyptian troops and officials and all foreigners from Sudan.
After reaching Khartoum in February 1884, Gordon realized that he could not extricate the garrisons. As a result, he called for reinforcements from Egypt to relieve Khartoum. Gordon also recommended that Zubayr, an old enemy whom he recognized as an excellent military commander, be named to succeed him to give disaffected Sudanese a leader other than the Mahdi to rally behind. London rejected this plan. As the situation deteriorated, Gordon argued that Sudan was essential to Egypt’s security and that to allow the Ansar a victory there would invite the movement to spread elsewhere.
Increasing British popular support for Gordon eventually forced Prime Minister William Gladstone to mobilize a relief force under the command of Lord Garnet Joseph Wolseley. A “flying column” sent overland from Wadi Halfa across the Bayyudah Desert bogged down at Abu Tulayh (commonly called Abu Klea), where the Hadendowa Beja — the so-called Fuzzy Wuzzies — broke the British line. An advance unit that had gone ahead by river when the column reached Al Matammah arrived at Khartoum on January 28, 1885, to find the town had fallen two days earlier. The Ansar had waited for the Nile flood to recede before attacking the poorly defended river approach to Khartoum in boats.
The Ansar slaughtered the garrison, killing Gordon, and delivering his head to the Mahdi’s tent. Kassala and Sannar fell soon after, and by the end of 1885, the Ansar had begun to move into the southern region. In all Sudan, only Sawakin, reinforced by Indian army troops, and Wadi Halfa on the northern frontier remained in Anglo-Egyptian hands.
The Mahdiyah (Mahdist regime) imposed traditional Islamic laws. Sudan’s new ruler also authorized the burning of lists of pedigrees and books of law and theology because of their association with the old order and because he believed that the former accentuated tribalism at the expense of religious unity.
The Mahdi maintained that his movement was not a religious order that could be accepted or rejected at will, but that it was a universal regime, which challenged man to join or to be destroyed. The Mahdi modified Islam’s five pillars to support the dogma that loyalty to him was essential to true belief. The Mahdi also added the declaration “and Muhammad Ahmad is the Mahdi of God and the representative of His Prophet” to the recitation of the creed, the shahada. Moreover, service in the jihad replaced the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, as a duty incumbent on the faithful. Zakat (almsgiving) became the tax paid to the state. The Mahdi justified these and other innovations and reforms as responses to instructions conveyed to him by God in visions.
On the advice of the British, who occupied Egypt since 1882, the Turko-Egyptian government was withdrawn. Although the Mahdi died in the same year, the Sudan under his successor, the Khalifa Abd Allah remained independent until 1898.
In 1892, Herbert Kitchener (later Lord Kitchener) became sirdar, or commander, of the Egyptian army and started preparations for the reconquest of Sudan. The British decision to occupy Sudan resulted in part from international developments that required the country be brought under British supervision. By the early 1890s, British, French, and Belgian claims had converged at the Nile headwaters. Britain feared that the other colonial powers would take advantage of Sudan’s instability to acquire territory previously annexed to Egypt. Apart from these political considerations, Britain wanted to establish control over the Nile to safeguard a planned irrigation dam at Aswan.
In 1895, the British government authorized Kitchener to launch a campaign to reconquer Sudan. Britain provided men and matériel while Egypt financed the expedition. The Anglo-Egyptian Nile Expeditionary Force included 25,800 men, 8,600 of whom were British. The remainder were troops belonging to Egyptian units that included six battalions recruited in southern Sudan. An armed river flotilla escorted the force, which also had artillery support. In preparation for the attack, the British established army headquarters at Wadi Halfa and extended and reinforced the perimeter defenses around Sawakin. In March 1896, the campaign started; in September, Kitchener captured Dunqulah. The British then constructed a rail line from Wadi Halfa to Abu Hamad and an extension parallel to the Nile to transport troops and supplies to Barbar. Anglo-Egyptian units fought a sharp action at Abu Hamad, but there was little other significant resistance until Kitchener reached Atbarah and defeated the Ansar. After this engagement, Kitchener’s soldiers marched and sailed toward Omdurman, where the Khalifa made his last stand.
On September 2, 1898, the Khalifa committed his 52,000-man army to a frontal assault against the Anglo-Egyptian force, which was massed on the plain outside Omdurman. The outcome never was in doubt, largely because of superior British firepower. During the five-hour battle, about 11,000 Mahdists died whereas Anglo-Egyptian losses amounted to 48 dead and fewer than 400 wounded. Mopping-up operations required several years, but organized resistance ended when the Khalifa, who had escaped to Kurdufan, died in fighting at Umm Diwaykarat in November 1899.
In the century since the Mahdist uprising, the neo-Mahdist movement and the Ansar, supporters of Mahdism from the west, have persisted as a political force in Sudan. Many groups, from the Baqqara cattle nomads to the largely sedentary tribes on the White Nile, supported this movement. The Ansar were hierarchically organized under the control of Muhammad Ahmad’s successors, who have all been members of the Mahdi family (known as the ashraf). The ambitions and varying political perspectives of different members of the family have led to internal conflicts, and it appeared that Sadiq al Mahdi, putative leader of the Ansar since the early 1970s, did not enjoy the unanimous support of all Mahdists. Mahdist family political goals and ambitions seemed to have taken precedence over the movement’s original religious mission. The modern-day Ansar were thus loyal more to the political descendants of the Mahdi than to the religious message of Mahdism.
In June 1986, Sadiq al Mahdi formed a coalition government. Unfortunately, however, Sadiq proved to be a weak leader and incapable of governing Sudan. Party factionalism, corruption, personal rivalries, scandals, and political instability characterized the Sadiq regime. that Imam Ja’far Sadiq was the Mahdi. The Waqifis believed that Imam Musa b. Ja’far had not died and was in occultation.
Contents courtesy GlobalSecurity.org and Wikipedia