The Corner

Mahdi Army

Email from my Dad (imagine him saying this while pushing me on a swing and you have a fairly good snapshot of my childhood):

I don’t think anyone has explained the significance of the name of the Shiite militia, the “Mahdi Army” – or at least I haven’t seen it. The Mahdi, mainly according to Shiite belief, is the messiah who will appear at the end of history and will reward and punish. Many Moslems over the years have claimed to be the Mahdi but the one who is most famous for it was Mohammed Ahmed (I think) who had a following of zealots in the late 19th century in the Sudan, which was then ruled by Egypt, but with British overseerage, and it came to be restructured as the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (also referred to as the Condominium.) The Mahdi rebelled against Egypt and Charles (“Chinese”) Gordon was sent to put him down, conquering Omdurman, the old Sudanese capital (the twin city of Khartoum. Gordon defeated the Mahdi but in the process was himself killed. Lord Kitchener was then sent to avenge the British deaths, which he did and laid out the new Khartoum in the design of the Union Jack. Winston Churchill, incidentaly, was with the Kitchener force and participated in what probably was the last classical cavalry charge, swords drawn. The Mahdi was extraordinarily charismatic and while he lived Omdurman was substituted for Mecca as the destination of the hajj for Sudanese and some other Moslems. I don’t know if Sadr is proclaiming himself to be the Mahdi – I doubt it – but it’s an interesting name for his “army.” (Gordon, incidentally, was callerd “Chinese” because he put down the Taiping Revolution in China with his “ever-victorious army ” a very popular guy, hence the need to avenge his death.)

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