Religious faith in the ‘Mahdi’ could bring catastrophe to Turkey

By Ergun Babahan
Jan 02 2020

Adnan Tanrıverdi, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s chief military adviser and the founder of the Turkish government-sponsored paramilitary company SADAT, said last week that his company was paving the way for the arrival of the Mahdi, the long-awaited religious figure some believers say will be sent to redeem Islam.

Taken together with Erdoğan’s expansionist policy in Libya after years of military operations in Syria, Tanrıverdi’s comments reveal the religious beliefs underpinning Turkey’s new military-based foreign policy.

Turkey has been putty in the hands of those whose mental health and judgment are questionable, and has entered a dangerous path.

Scholar and Ahval contributor Gökhan Bacık said the Mahdi concept was not originally rooted in Islam, but instead originated in the 12th century from controversial hadiths attributed to the Prophet Muhammad.

This belief says God sends figures to renew the religion known as mujaddids every century, and the last of those mujaddids will be the Mahdi. He is believed to be the redeemer of Islam, who will appear before the Day of Judgment and bring justice and equality to the world.

According to those hadiths, followers of the Mahdi are as superior as him. To acquire the privileges granted to the Mahdi and his followers, and to prove that their leader was the long-awaited Mahdi, Islamic groups have fabricated scores of hadiths throughout history.

Some said the Mahdi would appear in the Syrian capital of Damascus; others argued he would rise in Turkey’s Istanbul or Madinah in Saudi Arabia.

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Now Tanrıverdi, a retired general, is saying that Turkey is preparing for the Mahdi’s appearance. According to this discourse, Erdoğan is seen either as the Mahdi, or one of his disciples.

The Mahdi discourse is not exclusive to Erdoğan’s supporters in Turkey. Members of the Fethullah Gülen’s religious movement, blamed for the failed coup attempt in 2016, viewed him as the Mahdi and there was a belief the U.S.-based preacher would return to Turkey from self-imposed exile to fulfil that role.

The belief in a Mahdi is in most cases little different to other harmless religious beliefs. Unfortunately, Tanrıverdi’s statement raises the dangerous possibility that Turkey’s foreign policy has become divorced from reason and is now being determined according to the religious beliefs of a group of fanatics.

It may be this belief in the Mahdi that is dragging Turkey into a military adventure in Libya, and not only the government’s view of the national interest.

The Turkish parliament on Thursday approved a motion allowing the government to send troops to Libya. The military units to be dispatched will probably undertake the command of jihadist mercenaries being paid a reported monthly salary of $2,000, who have been selected from Islamist groups in Syria.

Turkey will wage war through an army that consists of jihadist militants who have been designated as terrorists by states including Russia, which has taken the side of the Libyan National Army, Turkey’s opponents in Libya.

Such a transformation seems incredible for a country that dreamt of becoming a member of the European Union (EU) 10 years ago.

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There is a huge danger at Turkey’s door. If the warfare in Libya is prolonged, political action by Ankara’s rivals in the region may result in Turkey being added to the list of countries recognised as supporters of terrorism, especially if its military proxies are held responsible for terrorist attacks in the West.

History shows us the fatal consequences of such crazy projects. Only looking at Enver Pasha’s adventurous and expansionist policies during the early years of the previous century in the region is enough to comprehend the costs those projects have entailed.

Enver, a leading member of the Committee of Union and Progress and the Ottoman government between 1913 and 1918, was also a pan-Islamist. Because of bad decisions based on his religious beliefs, tens of thousands of Ottoman soldiers lost their lives in the Caucasus Campaign against the Russians between 1914 and 1915. Then Enver lost his life pursuing a war to establish an Islamic empire in Asia.

It seems that Erdoğan and his party are striving to fulfil the dreams of Enver and are unsatisfied with the peaceful foreign policy approach adopted by the Turkish Republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

This is Islamist mindset now reigns supreme in Turkey. The Islamists recognise that the gap in the level of development between the Muslim world and Western civilisation cannot be closed. They therefore seem to have placed their hopes in a Mahdi who will appear and bring their troubles to an end.

This situation is a matter of grave concern for Turkey.

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