(Dirar Island 1844-Omdurman 1885) Sudanese politician and religious leader.
Two representations of El Mahdi, that resemble one another very much.
His original name was Muhammad Ahmad, and he was arguably the single most influential personality in the history of the modern Sudan. A descendant of an 'Arabized Nubian' family from Dongola, he was born in 1844 in Dirar Island off Dongola.
Adore God, and hate not each other, but assist each other to do good.
El Mahdi in one of his proclamations.
His outward appearance was strangely fascinating, he was a man of strong constitution, very dark complexion, and his face always wore a pleasant smaile. He had singularly white teeth, and between the two middle ones was a vee-shaped space, which in the Sudan is considered a sign that the owner will be lucky. His mode of conversation, too, had by training become exceptionally pleasant and sweet".
Father Joseph Ohrwaled, the Austrian priest who for seven years was El Mahdi's prisoner.
His father was a descendent of a respected religious man, sharif, known for his good 'faith' among the people of that area. He migrated to Khartoum for better prospects for his family. All Muhammad's brothers preferred to master the fathers profession of building boats, but he found himself attracted to religious studies like his great grandfather the shariff.
He learned the Holy Koran in Khartoum and Kararie and later he studied fiqh under Shaykh Muhammad Kheir patronage. Muhammad Ahmed mastered different aspects of Islamic Studies and was known for his Sufi tendency among his mates. In 1861 he approached Shaykh Muhammad Sheief, the leader of Sammaniyya Sect, and requested to join his students and learn more on Sufism. Muhammad had shown a great deal of devotion and dedication to his Shaykh and teacher as well as great deal of faith which distinguished him from his colleagues. When Shaykh Muhammad realized Muhammad's dedication and devotion he appointed him shaykh and permitted him to give Tariqa and Uhuud to new followers wherever he wanted to be.
In 1871 Muhammad Ahmed migrated with the rest of his family to Aba Island in western Sudanwhere he built a mosque for prayers and started to teach the Koran and Islamic Studies. Shortly he could gather all the inhabitants of Aba Island around him and got a wide popularity and fame among them.
The following years and until he declared himself Mahdi he spent time visiting people in different neighbouring areas warning them and asking them to follow the "path of God Almighty". He roamed all the areas as far as Dongola in the north, the Blue Nile region, Kordofan in the west, Sinnar and East of Sudan. He noticed the people's discontent with the ruling Turks (the Ottoman-Egyptians) and their desire to get rid of it to the extent that they wished the appearance of the awaited Mahdi to save them. So whenever they found in man a great deal of knowledge, dedication and devotion to the religion they thought that he was the Mahdi.
Muhammad found in the people the desire and belief that he was the awaited Mahdi. Meanwhile he was very much concerned by the bleak condition of Islam in Sudan under the self-proclaimed Shaykhs. Forced by all this in addition to the necessity to take in consideration the wish and desire of the majority of the people and the sense of expectation of el Mahdi he started to prepare himself to proclaim Mahdism.
During this period, the Khalifa Abdullahi arrived recognized Muhammad Ahmed as 'Mahdi' even before Muhammad himself had proclaimed it. From then on and until the fall of Khartoum to the Mahdi's forces in January 1885 there was a continuous triumphal progress of volunteer armies fighting for the victory of Islam and the accomplishment of the eschatological mission.
It was in 1881 at Aba Island that he proclaimed himself as the 'Mahdi' and started to unify central and southern Sudanese tribes to exploit their increasing social and economic discontent with the ruling Turks and their exploitation of the country's resources and maladministration. El Mahdi led a national revolution and an 'Islamic revivalism' uprising against the ruling Turks which was culminated by the fall of Khartoum and assasination of Gordon Pasha in 1885.
Eventhough El Mahdi died shortly after the fall of Khartoum, his Mahdist Islamic regime survived until 1889 when the Anglo-Egyptian forces under Kitchner captured Khartoum, regained control and proclaimed a British-Egyptian condominium dominated mainly by British Policies. The British presence would last until 1956 when Sudan got its independence.