Book: Le mahdi incompris

Marc Gaborieau, Le mahdi incompris. Sayyid Ahmed Barelwî (1786-1831) et le millénarisme en Inde, Paris, CNRS Editions, 2010, 339 p.

Sayyid Ahmed Barelwi is a well known figure of Islamic revival in South Asia, usually associated with the last phase of the expansion of British colonization at the beginning of the 19th century. His career is both a religious one, as well as a military one. He headed the last resistance against the Western expansion of the British Empire in India. But his fame is due to the different roles he played among his Muslim followers. Finally, the two careers merged through his death as a martyr on the battlefield at Balakot in 1831. During his lifetime, he, himself proclaimed to be the khalifa of Khorasan but after his death, some of his disciples venerated him as the Mahdi, the Muslim saviour who will come for the Day of Judgement. Mainly based on colonial sources, the book does not attempt to explain why Sayyid Ahmed Barelwi was a “misunderstood Mahdi”. Nonetheless, a step forward was achieved since in a previous publication, Gaborieau called him the “forgotten Mahdi”.

Michel Boivin

 

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