Mahdi and Sudan

by Scott Baldwin
Class of 1997

Mahdi was determined to purify the Islamic faith and set out to due so from Aba Island in 1881. To reach independence, Mahdi needed to free Sudan from the fetters of Egypt, who in turn was under British rule. Independence for Sudan was short lived, and it was even more short lived for al-Mahdi, who led his followers for only four significant short years (1881-1885). In this short time, though, he created a vast Islamic state from the Red Sea to Central Africa by utilizing internal class struggles, preaching the omnipotent Qur'an, and by successfully organizing his ansar (his military).

Sudan in 1881 wasn't a place of cultural harmony. Britain condemned the nation of Sudan because of it's infamous slave trade. Muslim worshippers felt betrayed by their non-Muslim governors. Muslim tax payers weren't content to be flogged with every late payment, and partly civilized warlike tribesman shifted about the nation uncomfortably wishing the peace would end. Mahdi was aware of these cultural conflicts, and he used them to his advantage so that he could unite a theocratic state under his power, guided by the moral law of the Qur'an.

By preaching the Qur'an with unparalleled religious fervor, Mahdi had won respect from other pious followers. In 1881, Mahdi deemed himself a religious prophet who Allah had chosen to purify the Islamic faith. A small group of fellow followers armed with merely sticks and spears left Aba Island intent upon conquering Sudan to benefit the Islamic faith.

Mahdi proved talented in logistics. His rag tag army quickly gained headway by winning several small victories. Each victory presented new rifles, bullion, jewelry, and other loot. In 1883, Mahdi's followers were now an army. His doubters were few and his followers were many. When Egyptian forces were sent to crush him in 1883, he crushed them with conviction, literally leaving no one standing. Two years later Mahdi's forces captured Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. His divine mission was now complete.

Mahdi's life was cut short by typhus in 1885. His successor was 'Abd Allah who led until the battle of Omdurman in 1898. Until then, Sudan remained an obstinate nation in Africa because of Mahdi's lasting influence. Mahdi offered direction to a country that was helplessly bickering amongst themselves. His divine mission to purify the Islamic faith was welcomed by the Sudanese. For four consecutive years, Mahdi saw nothing but victory after victory until his death in 1885. Thus, leaving himself a flawless record that accordingly fits the aura of a prophet such as Mahdi