by Ahmed Khan, Founder, The Rahnuma Daily
(RAHNUMA) Subhat al-Akhbar: The Rosary of World History is a very important work in Ottoman Turkish delineating the genealogy of the Ottoman Sultans, from Adam, the first completely perfected Man (al-Insan al-Kamil) and prophet, through Sultan Mehmet II, the Conqueror (d.1481) to Sultan Mehmed IV (d. 1687).
Genealogy has always played a major component of political ideology among Muslim dynasties from the Rashidun Era to the Sharifian revolt against the Ottoman caliphate.
The primary function of Subhat al-Akhbar was to introduce multiple sources of political legitimacy used by the Ottoman rulers to readers.
According to Shahzad Bashir, an Assistant Professor of Religion, Carleton College: “The manuscript’s series of pictorials begins with a portrait of Adam and Eve, followed by numerous biblical (and other) prophets, Jesus, and Muhammad. Portraits of prophets occupy the right and center of pages and are flanked, on the left, by legendary Persian kings and heroes celebrated as paragons of power and virtue in Islamic royal traditions. After Muhammad, the subjects of portraits change to religio-political figures from early Islamic centuries and rulers belonging to major dynasties. In this category, the manuscript depicts the first four caliphs, the Twelve Shi’i Imams, and rulers from Abbasid, Samanid, Ghaznavid, Saljuq, Mongol, and various Turkic dynasties.”
The absence of the Umayyad and Timurid dynasties in the text marked a significant ideological statement by the Ottoman Sultans.
In his book Fasl al-Khitab in the chapter Ahwal al-Aqtab: Fadhail Khulafa wa Ahlul Bayt p. 592, Khwaja Muhammad Parsa states, “Imam Hasan al-Askari is the father of Abul Qasim Muhammad al-Muntadhar…the birth of al-Muntadhar was on the night of the 15th of Sha’ban, 255…his mother’s name is Narjis” [Fasl al-Khitab [Arabic]: Fadhail Khulafa wa Ahlul Bayt, p. 592, Khwaja Muhammad Parsa].
Narjis, the wife of Imam Hasan al-Askari, was the granddaughter of Bardas (d. 866), the brother of Byzantine Empress Theodora.
Bardas engineered Theoktistos’ fall and became the regent for his nephew, Michael III (r. 842–867), who was just two years old when he succeeded as sole emperor of the Byzantine Empire. Bardas rose to the rank of Caesar and was the effective ruler of the Byzantine Empire, also known as the Eastern Roman Empire, for ten years.
The capital of the Byzantine Empire was Constantinople, known today as Istanbul, Turkey, and for the Ottomans, the conversion of the Hagia Sophia to a mosque symbolized the transfer of power from Europe’s greatest Empire, to the hands of the Twelfth Imam himself, whose representatives were none other than the Ottoman Sultans, who also claimed the caliphate to themselves though from the Abbasids, but nevertheless through the blessings of Twelve Shiite Imams.
According to early Ottoman traditions, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II, el-Fatih (the Conqueror) decided to attack Constantinople only after being convinced by his spiritual advisor, the Sufi Master Aksemseddin that the Twelft Imam Saheb uz-Zaman Muhammad Mahdi al-Muntadhar ibn Hasan Al-Askari was hidden in the conquering army as a soldier.
Following the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mehmet II, el-Fatih, the Conqueror, assumed the title “Kayser-i-Rûm” (Caesar of the Roman Empire). The adoption of the title implied that the Ottoman state considered itself the continuation, by absorption, of the Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire, a view not shared in the West.
Hence, for Ottomans, the fall of Constantinople was seen as the fulfillment of a prophecy about the Ottoman Sultans which justified their rule over the Arab and non-Arab Muslim world, specifically Mehmet II and the Sultans who followed him. These Sultans were styled as representatives of the Hidden Twelfth Imam Muhammad Al-Mahdi in their capacity as Muslim caliphs as the Subhat al-Akhbar and earlier genealogical texts implied, but also now justified their claim to the title of Ceasar of the Eastern Roman Empire through their connection via the shadow caliphate to the Hidden Imam.
As outlandish as that might sound to many, it is theology, and most end time theology usually does. This even provides insight into why Iran might find it to be almost likened to a religious destiny to be allied to Putin’s Russia, which is the last citadel of what is left of the cultural legacy of the Eastern Roman Empire, which to Iran is linked to Narjis, mother of the Twelfth Shiite Imam.
A 2012 study by US based Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life revealed over 670 million Muslims expect Mahdi and Jesus to appear before 2050.
Irrespective of whether one believes in these narratives or not, eschatology is a significantly popular narrative in the Muslim world, and cannot be ignored. Such narratives need to be simply reinterpreted, and if done properly, like with the Ottoman Sultans of the past, and Iran’s Ayatollahs, can also in fact be helpful. Embracing and reinterpreting these narratives is the tool to forever halt all forms of regional eschatological narratives, which are being used to justify violence as we see with the Houthis for instance, and destabilize the Gulf in the name of the Hidden Arabian Guide Imam Muhammad Al Mahdi.
This proposal is in fact, technically no different to how Gulf states refused to refer to ISIS as “Islamic” and instead referred to it as Daesh. Likewise, it is now time for the Arabians to reclaim the Twelve Imams, and specifically the Twelfth Imam – all of whom were from Arabia and greater Arabia.
With recent developments, is it possible – next to the cult-like popular Netflix series Ertuğrul – the restoration of Hagia Sophia as a mosque is the final play in President Erdogan’s party’s work to attempt to reinstate and popularize Turkish cultural hegemony in the Muslim world?
If my speculation above on the ideological drivers behind the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople are correct, which they are, then we can also understand the symbolism the restoration of Hagia Sophia as a mosque holds for President Erdogan’s party.
The restoration is seen by the few ideologues at the very top of Erdogan’s party as being as done in support of the return of the Mahdi, whose blessings were believed to have aided Sultan Mehmet II, el-Fatih to conquer Constantinople, and capture Hagia Sophia hundreds of years ago. These ideas link Erdogan’s Turkey to Iran ideologically, and unite the two major centers for non-Arab Sunni and Shiite Islam under a common goal. This is where India can enter and how Indian Muslims and their population can be of tremendous importance in terms of public support for Arab monarchies, if they can see the opportunity in it.
Turkey’s historical support for Morsi, friendship with Qatar, and major play during the Khashoggi investigation to undermine the image of the Saudi Crown Prince directly demonstrated to the world it has it’s own plans for both Palestine and the Holy Cities, and so not addressing this ideological threat with an effective counter narrative could deal a more significant blow to the next generation of Arab rulers then they think, and popular support of Indian Muslims is just the solution Gulf nations require.
Indian society is divided along caste lines, even amongst its Muslims, and given the countries most popular Muslim Saint Khwaja Moinuddin is a descendant of the 11th Shia Imam Hasan Al-Askari, Al Askari Sayyids are the default popular leaders selected by the vast majority of Indian Muslims and hence, are the group the Gulf leadership needs to court.
The Arab world needs to befriend Indian Muslims, not just India, if it wants to effectively repel Turkish and Iranian religious narratives which seek to undermine the legitimacy of their leaders by popular support.
The descendants of Imam Hasan Al-Askari, who are by this account, relatives of the 12th imam, can help win broader recognition and legitimacy to support the current reforms taking place in the region, and winning their blessings and support, technically is no different to how the Ikhwan were courted by Ibn Saud, and how the British courted the Sharifs of Mecca, and how America’s Evangelicals court the Chosen People in Israel.
Unknown to most strategists, Al Askari Sayyids are in fact the counter narrative to Iran’s Wilayat i-Faqih doctrine, as their very existence undermines the argument of Wilayat i-Faqih by virtue of hereditary leadership, the core doctrine of Shiism itself! So feared are Al Askari Sayyids in the Islamic Republic of Iran, that Iran has actual studies to deny their very existence, despite the fact that thousands of Iranians, Egyptians, Sudanese, Indians and others have been registered as Imam Hasan al-Askari’s descendants for hundreds of years by the registrar of Sayyid families, Naqib Al Ashraaf, in these respective countries.
Al Askari Sayyids fled from Iraq and Medina as refugees during the end of the Abbasid era, and are now found in non-Arab lands, and include some of the most influential Muslims in history like Khwaja Bahauddin Naqshband Bukhari, Khwaja Qutbuddin Mawdud Chisti, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, Khwaja Mir Dard of the Delhi School, Tajuddin Awliya of Nagpur, Sayyid Ahmed Badawi of Tanta, Egypt, and even Lt. Colonel Amiruddin, the Nizam of Hyderabad’s Military Secretary.
For over 1300 years, Arabs overwhelmingly neglected the descendants of Imam Al Husayn, and the subsequent damage that has done to the Arab understanding of Islam, can be seen in the intellectual weakness of its religious leaders who remained aloof from them. Arab Islam has for the vast majority of its history been molded by the writings of Persian influences, while Persian Islam is a direct byproduct of Persian fascination with the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. Bukhari and the majority of the compilers of the Hadith texts being the best example of Persian influence on Arab Sunni and Shi’ite Islamic narratives.
The Golden Age of the Arab and Islamic civilization commenced during the period of Ali Ibn Al Husayn titled ‘Zayn Al Abdin’ and ended in the 12th century.
Sir Edward Arthur Henry Blunt’s ‘The Caste System of Northern India with Special Reference to the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh’ published by Oxford University Press in 1931 mentions the Al Askari Sayyids amongst the various Muslim castes of India.
Muslims in the Arab world, Turkey and Iran, and even India believe the restoration of the Golden Age the Islamic civilization and its restoration to be a hub for economic, scientific, technological, cultural, and artistic advancement, is something inherently intertwined and interconnected to the return of Imam Hasan Al Askari’s family to the Arab world with the advent of the Mahdi, and the Arab world finally embracing them. Maybe the pressure exerted by Turkey and Iran on the Arab world will enable it to finally embrace Al Askari Sayyids back into their societies, and finally embrace the change which is upon them with open arms.
Doing so will be a good move in my opinion.
Ahmed Khan is the Founder of The Rahnuma Daily (theRahnuma.com), the online global English daily edition of The Rahnuma-E-Deccan Daily (ReDD), India’s oldest Urdu daily print newspaper established in 1921. More than 81.1 million Indians identify Urdu as their language, and as per the annual INA (Indian Newspapers Association) report, ReDD ranks among the top 5 most widely circulated and read Urdu daily print newspapers throughout India. Ahmed resides in Hyderabad at his maternal ancestral home and can be contacted at, email@example.com