In Islamic eschatology, the Mahdi was the divinely guided leader who would fill the world with justice. In popular Islam, the idea of the Mahdi is often associated with messianic expectations. In Sudanese history, the Mahdi is most commonly a reference to Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi (1848–1885). He was a major religious leader and the founder of the Mahdist movement in the Sudan. He was born in the Dongola area and received a relatively thorough religious education. He became a strong critic of what he believed was the prevailing immorality of the social and political leaders of his day. His own zeal and the general expectations combined to create the conviction that he was the anticipated Mahdi. His support grew rapidly and government attempts to stop the movement militarily failed. By January 1885, the Mahdi’s forces had taken Khartoum and most of the northern Sudan was under his control. He tried to create an organization modeled on the early Islamic community. Muhammad Ahmad died in Omdurman not long after the conquest of Khartoum. The descendants of the Mahdi have played an important role in twentieth-century Sudanese history.
   See also <>.
    Collins, Robert O. The Southern Sudan, 1883–1898: A Struggle for Control . New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1964;
    Holt, P. M. The Mahdist State in The Sudan, 1881–1898: A Study of Its Origins, Developments and Overthrow . Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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