Messiah is a name or attribute of Jesus, peace be upon him. Messiah means “blessed” in Hebrew, thus this name might have been used for him in admiration for his merits and virtues. It is reported that he was given this name for several reasons: he was protected from all kinds of sins; his touch healed illnesses by God’s permission; he frequently traveled and made his message heard every where. Mahdi literally means one who has embraced the faith and has thus been led to the “straight path.” Mahdi also refers to the savior, who will come at a time when tyranny and injustice dominate all around the world; he will re-establish justice, make Islam dominant, and he will be a descendent of the Prophet (Ahl al-Bayt), peace and blessings be upon him.
Awaiting a savior at times when basic credo of belief is ignored, abandoning religious duties has become common, and proper conduct as enjoined by faith has been forgotten in the world, dates back very early in history. Jews, Christians, even many people before them all spent a lifetime with expectations of a savior, especially when they had to face injustice and suffer. Throughout the ages of prophetic mission that was represented by a chain of messengers, it was always a Prophet or a Messiah for whom the people waited. After the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, people no longer await a messenger; rather they are expecting a reviver or a savior, a guide or a mahdi from the lineage of the Prophet. This mahdi has been called Mahdi al-Rasul, due to the perception that the Mahdi will be sent like a messenger by God and that there are signs of his superiority over the Fuqaha al-Arbaa (four great jurists of Islam: Imam Azam, Imam Malik, Imam Safii, and Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal), saints of all ranks, and even the Qutb al-Irshad.1
Islam and anticipation of the Mahdi
In religions like Judaism and Christianity people have always awaited a Messiah or a Mahdi, who will save the believers from sufferings and teach the faith to others. Such anticipation consolidated the believers’ spiritual power and stimulated the believers’ determination for revival. It can even be argued that the popularity of prophets like Moses and Jesus were, to a certain extent, a consequence of this kind of anticipation. People who gathered around each of them said, “He is the powerful will and determination that the previous messengers gave glad tidings of!” According to the New Testament (Matthew 3:11) the Prophet John (the Baptist), said, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but he that comes after me is mightier than I; he is one whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; he shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Although he was also a prophet, when he listened to Jesus, the most glowing youth of Nazareth, who was also his cousin, he saw his enthusiasm and influence upon people, and he said, “This is the Messiah we have been awaiting!” John’s glad tidings gave rise to further enthusiasm and expectations in the community, and his testimony for Jesus quickened the process of the apostles’ faith in him, reinforcing their belief.
The Children of Israel have always anticipated a Messiah. When they noticed certain features of the savior described in their holy book, their anticipation became a fire burning inside, urging them toward further research. Nevertheless, during the translations of the scriptures, or as they were handed from generation to generation, some kind of a mist covered this very important issue, making it impossible to see what was behind. Lost in this overwhelming mist, the Children of Israel became lost in their viewpoint and got mired down in denial, although the savior for whom they had been waiting was standing in front of them. They denied the Messiah who embraced everyone with forgiveness and compassion, saying, “You are not him (the Messiah).”