The "Mehdi Moud" Prophecy Revisited
Brian Steel October 2002
Copyright Brian Steel 2002
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The frequently repeated allegations by SB writers of a very detailed prediction by the Prophet Muhammad of the coming of SB is accepted by many devotees as totally authentic. Periodic controversy over this extraordinary story (complicated by a lack of sources in English) has surfaced both in SB devotee circles and beyond, but the arguments have been inconclusive. While sceptical about the concept and many of the details of the story, for a long time I was unable to assemble enough conclusive counter-evidence. Now at last, I believe, I may be in a position to settle the matter, showing that writers who propagate this myth are doing SB a disservice, and that critics (like Dale Beyerstein - Chapter 8) who deny the existence of an ancient work called Bihar al-Anwar are also in error.
First of all, there seem to be two different chronological phases of the dissemination of this story.
The first phase refers to the 1980s, when these astonishing revelations began to seep into SB literature. In one of its many early versions, the story begins, exotically:
"At a bookstall in Teheran was recently discovered a huge volume. It was the 14th edition of the Discourses of Mahommed [sic] in 25 volumes, called "The Ocean of Light". It is said that these discourses were collected together some 700 years after the Prophet's death. "Volume 13 of "the Ocean of Light" is called Mehedi Moud in Arabic, which means 'The Great Teacher that was promised.'" (Sathya Sai Newsletter U.S.A., Fall 1983, pp. 34-36)
Perhaps the fullest early (1983) version is that by R. Lowenberg, in The Heart of Sai (pp. 120-124). Lowenberg says that in the ashram he met an Iranian lady known as "Irani Ma", who told him she had written a book about SB in Farsi which she was hoping to get translated into English for publication. One of the stories on the book described her finding of the old book in the market and reading the Prophecies of Muhammad about the coming of the "Great Teacher". As she read the prophecies, "I found in this book everything I had seen at Brindavan, in Sai Baba." She went on to tell Lowenberg some of the 300 identifying signs which coincide with characteristics of SB.
Muhammad is alleged to have said things like the following, which "Irani Ma", Lowenberg, and other writers take as conclusive proof that the Prophet was referring to none other than SB: "Christians and other people of other religions will see Him, but Mussalmans will be so bad that they will not find him. The people of those religions will collect under a great tree, and they will have a spot on their foreheads." Of the physical signs she mentions: "His hair will be profuse. His forehead will be large and concave. ... His body will be small in size, but His stomach will be large. His legs will be like those of a young girl ... He will give everyone gifts that are light in weight. ... He will wear two robes. ... He will live 95 or 96 years on earth. ... Mussalmans will only recognise Him nine years before His passing from the world. ... So as not to be deceived, you should know that the Master of the World will bring things out of His body, through His mouth." (Lowenberg, pp. 122-3)
Another version (S. Kant, p. 17) claims that although it was an Iranian writer who discovered the volume, the information first surfaced in an esoteric magazine in England called Two Worlds (date unknown). That article was written by an English journalist named Peggy Mason, who in her old age became a staunch SB devotee, writer and unofficial publicist.
This story of the coming Messiah (or Mahdi, for the Muslims), with variations and embellishments (and identifying characteristics ranging from 27 in number to the 300 mentioned above) has since been repeated by many SB writers.
(Incidentally, "Irani Ma" is mentioned as the discoverer of the old book in a Persian Market in another full version of this fable included by Swami Maheshwaranand in Volume 1 of his slim but fanciful account of the Himalayan Nara Narayana Gufa ashram. Maheshwaranand states specifically that "Irani Ma, one of the old devotees of Bhagawan, wanted to publish what Prophet Mohammed had prophesied ... Baba, however did not give permission for its publication." (p. 61) How wise of SB.
The bare background facts are these:
Because of the nature of their religious beliefs, it is difficult for Muslims to acknowledge that SB is a Form of God.
Muslims believe that a Messiah-type figure (Imam Mahdi, or the Mahdi) will appear (or re-appear) at a difficult period of history to restore the faith and ensure the final victory of Islam. Varying versions of the description of the expected Mahdi occur in several Muslim sources. One of these is Bihar al-Anwar ("Ocean of Light" - a metaphor for God), a voluminous work by a seventeenth century Iranian scholar, Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi (1628-1699), which contains, among much else, the basic Shi'ite version of the Mahdi story. It should be added that although (majority) Sunni Muslims and (minority) Shi'ite Muslims have come to agree in principle on Prophecy of the coming of the Mahdi, only the Shi'ites believe that he will be the returning Twelfth Imam of ancient days, who has remained in invisible concealment, but watching over their fortunes.
In Majlisi's (Shi'ite) work and other Shi'ite sources there are references to Hadiths (Traditions, or Sayings) which give a variety of predicted physical and other information about the Mahdi and the circumstances of his appearance. Most of the essential characteristics of the Mahdi suggested in such Muslim writings simply do not correspond with those suggested or repeated by over-enthusiastic writers of SB books.
Professor Mostafa Vaziri, referring to Bihar (pp. 1066-1239) writes: "Muhammad Majlisi's account of the return of the Imam Mahdi consists of several traditions that contain discrepancies in reporting the names, places, and circumstances of the Imam's reappearance." He goes on to mention that the Mahdi will arise in Mecca. He will proclaim his descent from the prophet via his alleged father [The Eleventh Imam]. He will be accompanied by 313 men [from a historic battle] and will be flanked by the angels Gabriel and Michael. "His intentions will be to create a government in which all other religions fade away, their disciples convert to Islam, and nonbelievers become believers." (Vaziri, p. 171)
In Shi'ite sources quoted on the website <www.irshad.org/idara> which gives many sources of different information on the Mahdi, we find the following two sets of details:
1. From documentary source: "Bukhari, kitabul-Anbiya, Chapter Nuzul Isa bin Maryam":
"According to these reliable, authentic, and universally accepted narrations, Mahdi will:
1. Be from among the family of Prophet, among the descendants of Fatima;
2. Have a broad forehead and pointed noise;
3. Appear in one night;
4. Appear just before the day of judgment;
5. Have same name as hazrat Muhammad;
6. Escape from Madina to Makkah where people will pledge allegiance to him;
7. Receive pledge and help of Iraqi people;
8. Fight in battles;
9. Rule over the Arabs for seven years according to Sunnah;
10. Spread justice and equity on earth;
11. Eradicate tyranny and oppression;
12. Lead a prayer in Mekkah which Jesus will follow in;
13. NOT be the same individual as the Promised Messiah (Jesus).
2.. From documentary source: "Ibn Tawus, Kitab al-malahim wa al-fitan", p. 64:
"According to these hadith, Mahdi will:
1. Be from the Family of the Prophet and descend from Hussain, son of Fatima;
2. Appear at the end of time;
3. Appear when earth is filled with injustice and tyranny and believers are severely oppressed;
4. Appear when a severe earthquake will occur and green grass will grow (presumably in Arabia);
5. Fill the earth with justice and equity;
6. Spread brotherhood, equity, and devotion among Muslims;
7. Rule over the Muslim community, according to Hadith, for seven or nine years;
8. Live and act with the qualities of the holy Prophet.
The second more interesting phase begins in about 1990 with the belated description by a Muslim SB devotee and academic, Dr Zeba Bashiruddin, of her 15 year intensive search for the link between SB and Islam, and her own mystical devotion to SB.
In November 1990, Dr Bashiruddin published a short but authoritative article in the official SSO magazine, Sanathana Sarathi (pp. 298-300): 'The Truth of a Prophecy'. Its content was spellbinding for devotees. The author prefaces her revelations by confessing to a long but victorious struggle against anxiety and doubt about her feelings for SB over more than ten years of intensive study and introspection:
"When over a decade ago doubts assailed the mind, this author was led to the Fountain of Truth and the injunction reverberated clearly: "You do not know your own religion, how can you know ME?" With these words Baba guided me to an intense study of Sufism, the holy Quran and Islam. Therefore, what is conveyed through these words is undoubtedly His gift. It has come, like all other lessons in spirituality, in the form of a book. Later it has been checked and verified through inquiry from centres of Islamic Studies."
Then she gives the results of her studies:
" Muslims all over the world believe in the advent of a great leader and guide. They all know him as MEHDI (Master). The Prophet, Hazrat Mohammad, has indicated that Hazrat Mehdi will appear for the welfare of muslims in the last decades of the 14th century Hijri (this century has just ended.) It will be a time of trouble and materialism. The Quranic values and their practice will be ignored, and men's hearts will turn to the worship of the world and its glamour, 'the other Gods' of the Koranic language. The prophecy goes on to postulate that Hazrat Mehdi will restore the Truth and 'Islam' will be the religion of the entire world." [bold type added]
"The signs regarding the time and the person of Mehdi, more than 150 in number, were related by the holy Prophet to Hazrat Ali, the fourth Khalif and a repository of Sufi secrets. These signs became a guarded treasure of Imams, descendants of Hazrat Ali and formed a part of the Shi'a tradition of the Prophetic sayings. In the 17th. century A.D. the well known scholar, Md.Baqir bin Md. Taqi-Al Majlisi-Al Isfahani (1627-1698) collected them in his voluminous book, Bihar- ul- Anwar, written in Arabic. The two Persian translations that contained the Prophetic sayings about Hazrat Mehdi are Khas-ul-Anwar and Bihar-ul-ANWAR (part Dwazdhum).
"A few of these selected sayings of the Prophet of Islam are listed here. It is left to the reader to recognise who the great Master is as seen by the holy Prophet in a vision, and described by him fourteen hundred years ago." [Bold type added. Note that, as a Muslim, Bashiruddin appears understandably reluctant to make a more definite statement.]
"The Master, commonly known as Hazrat Mehdi, will be seen by those who will search for him. (page 240) (All subsequent references in this article are to the Persian translation of Bihar-ul-Anwar.) ..."
"THE INSIGNIA OF HAZRAT MEHDI:
"Other signs as stated in Mohammad Baqir's work are:
Many Mohammedans will not know about his advent for a long time. That holy Spirit will wear two garments, one inner and the other outer (p.239). The robe, orange in colour, will be of such a shape that the contours of his back will be seen clearly (p.292, 777). His dress orange in colour, will spread Light among the people (p. 245).
"His hair, thick and dark, will reach His shoulders (25). His eyebrows are joined in the centre (242). His other features are: Broad and clear forehead (263). Straight nose with a dip in the beginning; a mole on the cheek, reminding of Hazrat Mosa, bright as a star; teeth with partings in the two front ones (243); Black eyes (777). Average height, compared with the Jewish height (239). The colour of the face is described variously as shining like a gold-bronze coin; so bright that it is impossible to recognize the real colour (263-293).The general impression: full of compassion, dignified, exalted (239).
"ATTRIBUTES AND QUALITIES:
His attitude to everyone will be brotherly, as if He knows them well (314).
He will love all Prophets and Saints; and whatever He wants will be done. He will overcome all opposition (242).
His devotees will find protection (342). People will find Him heavenly bliss personified (341).
He will be a shelter for the helpless and the rejected (235).
He will distribute A'be-e-Tuhur Kausr (spirituality)to people in the morning and evening (343). (The reference is to Baba's daily Darshans).
Divine light will be manifested from Him (252).
He will not bring new religion (6 ). (Baba has stressed often that He is not preaching a new religion.)
All knowledge and essence of all religions will blossom in His heart like a new garden (238).
He will fill the earth with peace. He will be a friend and an adviser (287). He will show the Straight path (352)."
"THE WORLD SCENARIO"
[A paragraph describing the degenerate condition mankind will be in, etc. Then:]
"They will consider His advent as a sport and a rumour but it will be the Truth (909 - Hazrat Imam Gazali).
"Hazrat Mehdi will free people from slavery, remove the lies from their minds (287); destroy satans and cure insanity (329).
Around the place where He will live, signs of prosperity will be visible in heaven and earth (294).
Men will crowd like clouds where He will live and fall like rains (389).
He will not live in Mecca (240); His reign will begin from the east and His banner will go round the world (306).
(Not only mankind but) Angels will be with Him (274).
He will have the collective wisdom of all Prophets (115).
The Prophet of Islam then, turning to the invisible crowds to come in the future, addressed:
"O! ye, Muslims, know this that He whose birth is hidden from you is your Master. HE IS MEHDI." (292)"BLOCKQUOTE
Then, abandoning her former caution and plucking up the courage of her convictions, Dr Bashiruddin proclaims aloud:
"To this writer these words undoubtedly revealed the Truth that SAI BABA IS NONE OTHER THAN HAZRAT MEHDI. It requires faith to accept Truth and indeed Allah shows a Straight Path to those whom He wants for He is all-knowing and wise."
The physical details given by Bashiruddin in this official magazine for devotees (Sanathana Sarathi) are interesting but not conclusive, and they differ greatly from the previous (and subsequent) exaggerations by other SB writers. The other background details which she presents refer, exclusively (like the ones quoted from other Muslim sources earlier), to a Muslim setting for Imam Mahdi. However, from 1990 on, spurred on perhaps by news of this article, SB writers have regurgitated either the exaggerations of the crude and imaginative Phase 1 "Mehdi Moud" story or selected pieces of the Bashiruddin material, sometimes including a reference to the Bihar al-Anwar book.
In 1994 (?), Bashiruddin published a book, Sai Baba and the Muslim Mind (Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning), an 88-page account of her mystical experience and understanding of SB. The book deals with her meeting with SB in the early 1970s, her slow but inexorable attraction to him, specially stimulated by a single initial look (as in the case of so many other devotees) and his Sufi features. Dr Bashiruddin also conveys her growing amazement that as a Muslim she can accept this Form as Allah. All this is the product of her years of anxiety and intense University study (especially between 1985 and 1991) of SB, the Quran and the Sufi tradition. This work finally enables her to solve her essential dilemma by asserting that SB belongs within the (Muslim) Sufi spiritual tradition. This is also essentially the spiritual-intellectual basis on which Dr Bashiruddin's later articles and lectures are based.
But in this second work (as in a short 1980 article equating SB's alleged 'Divine' miracles to the miracles of Prophet Muhammad) Bashiruddin makes no further mention of a prophecy by Muhammad.
Apart from the superficial matter of the lack of convincing identification signs offered by SB writers, the idea that the Prophet Muhammad accurately prophesied SB's 'Advent' as the Muslim Mahdi is theologically incongruous (and possibly blasphemous for Muslims). How can SB be the awaited Muslim Mahdi (and for Shi'ites the re-emerging Mahdi) if he is of non-Muslim birth and religious orientation? Furthermore, how could he establish Islam as "the religion of the entire world" if he teaches that all religions are to be regarded as equal? Such relevant but inconvenient questions do not intrude into the "Mehdi Moud" accounts in SB literature.
Therefore the constant triumphant repetitions of the "Prophecy of SB's Advent by Muhammad" should be regarded as just another powerful myth about SB created and sustained by devotee writers through excessive devotion, and propagated, first by "Irani Ma" (orally), then in print by Peggy Mason and others, and finally, with more academic authority, by the Muslim devotee and writer Zeba Bashiruddin. (It is even within the bounds of possibility that the pseudonymous "Irani Ma" was an early "spokesperson" for Zeba Bashiruddin in the long period of doubt and reflection which preceded her 1990 article.) The publication of such a spectacular tale allows other eager devotee writers to swallow it and joyfully spread it because, to them, the details (which would not have been easy to check, even if they had felt the need) seems to fit in so plausibly with their conception of SB's 'Divine nature'.
Additional Reference Notes:
Vaziri, Mostafa, The Emergence of Islam: Prophecy, Imamate, and Messianism in Perspective, New York, Paragon House, 1992.
Bibliographical details given by Professor Vaziri:
Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 13, Teheran, Darul Kutub al-Islamieh, n.d.
According to The OXFORD Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, Bihar was first printed in 1887 - so it must have circulated before that in manuscript form. The second edition began to be published (in a projected work of 101 volumes) in the 1960s in Teheran. I also have one incomplete reference to a 1970 Ph.D thesis on the work by Karl-Heinz Pampus, in Bonn University Library. Pages 135-229 of this thesis apparently contain a detailed analysis of Vols. 51 and 52 of Bihar, which seem to be the relevant ones for the Mahdi Hadiths of Muhammad's reported detailed prophecy according to this Shi'ite cleric and scholar.
The Shi'ite website mentioned above also offers a title and an author: The Awaited Saviour by Ayatollah Baqir Al-Sadr and Ayatollah Murtada Mutahhari.
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