Is the hadith of the black flags of al-Mahdi authentic?
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful
There are some hadith in which we are commanded to follow an army carrying black flags from Khorasan, and therefore we should pledge allegiance to some armed groups carrying black flags we see today. Are these hadith authentic?
The prophetic traditions which mention the appearance of black banners (rayatun sudun) are all weak and inauthentic. As such, we cannot accept them as evidence in matters of Islamic creed in which we must believe. Muslims should not be fooled by groups carrying black banners intending to attribute themselves to the righteous ruler Al-Mahdi, but rather such groups must be judged on the basis of their actions, not the color of the flags they wave.
First, there is the hadith attributed to Abu Huraira in which the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, supposedly said:
تَخْرُجُ مِنْ خُرَاسَانَ رَايَاتٌ سُودٌ لَا يَرُدُّهَا شَيْءٌ حَتَّى تُنْصَبَ بِإِيلِيَاءَ
Black standards will come from Khorasan, nothing shall turn them back until they are planted in Jerusalem.
Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhī 2269
This tradition was declared weak by Al-Tirmidhi himself in his commentary on it, by Ibn Hajar in Al-Qawl al-Musaddid 1/53, by Ahmad Shakir in his verification of Musnad Ahmad 16/316, and by Al-Albani in Silsilat al-Da’ifah 4825.
Second, there is the hadith attributed to Abdullah ibn Mas’ud in which the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, supposedly said:
وَإِنَّ أَهْلَ بَيْتِي سَيَلْقَوْنَ بَعْدِي بَلاَءً وَتَشْرِيدًا وَتَطْرِيدًا حَتَّى يَأْتِيَ قَوْمٌ مِنْ قِبَلِ الْمَشْرِقِ مَعَهُمْ رَايَاتٌ سُودٌ فَيَسْأَلُونَ الْخَيْرَ فَلاَ يُعْطَوْنَهُ فَيُقَاتِلُونَ فَيُنْصَرُونَ فَيُعْطَوْنَ مَا سَأَلُوا فَلاَ يَقْبَلُونَهُ حَتَّى يَدْفَعُوهَا إِلَى رَجُلٍ مِنْ أَهْلِ بَيْتِي
The people of my Household will face calamity, expulsion and exile after I am gone, until some people will come from the east carrying black banners. They will ask for something good but will not be given it. Then they will fight and will be victorious, then they will be given what they wanted, but they will not accept it and will give leadership to a man from my family.
Source: Sunan Ibn Mājah 4082
Ibn al-Qayyim declares this tradition to be weak in Al-Manar al-Munif 116 on account of the sub-narrator Yazid ibn Abi Ziyad, whose skills of memorization were deficient. Al-Dhahabi rules the tradition to be inauthentic in Mizan al-I’tidal 4/423 and Al-Albani says it rejected (munkar) in Silsilat al-Da’ifah 5203.
Third, there is the tradition attributed to Thawban in which the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, supposedly said:
يَقْتَتِلُ عِنْدَ كَنْزِكُمْ ثَلاَثَةٌ كُلُّهُمُ ابْنُ خَلِيفَةٍ ثُمَّ لاَ يَصِيرُ إِلَى وَاحِدٍ مِنْهُمْ ثُمَّ تَطْلُعُ الرَّايَاتُ السُّودُ مِنْ قِبَلِ الْمَشْرِقِ فَيَقْتُلُونَكُمْ قَتْلاً لَمْ يُقْتَلْهُ قَوْمٌ
Three will fight one another for your treasure, each one of them the son of a caliph, but none of them will gain it. Then the black banners will come from the east, and they will kill you in an unprecedented manner.
Then it is mentioned that Thawban said:
ثُمَّ ذَكَرَ شَيْئًا لاَ أَحْفَظُهُ
Thereafter, the Prophet mentioned some things I did not memorize.
And the tradition continues:
فَإِذَا رَأَيْتُمُوهُ فَبَايِعُوهُ وَلَوْ حَبْوًا عَلَى الثَّلْجِ فَإِنَّهُ خَلِيفَةُ اللَّهِ الْمَهْدِيُّ
When you see them, then pledge your allegiance to them even if you have to crawl over the snow, for that is the caliph of Allah, Al-Mahdi.
Source: Sunan Ibn Mājah 4084
Al-Dhahabi declares the tradition to be rejected (munkar) in Mizan al-I’tidal 3/128, as well as Al-Albani in Silsilat al-Da’ifah 85. Ibn Al-Qayyim says in Al-Manar al-Munif 115 that the sub-narrator ‘Ali ibn Zayd is weak and his traditions have been rejected.
Throughout history, groups of Muslims have used such traditions and symbols like the black flag to attribute themselves to Al-Mahdi, a righteous ruler who will appear near the end of time. Perhaps among the first to do so was the Abbasid dynasty who carried black banners and referred to their Caliphs as Al-Mahdi in an attempt to legitimize their rule.
Likewise in modern times was the insurgency of Juhayman Al-Otaybi in 1979 wherein his followers violated the sanctity of Islam by attacking and killing the Muslims of Masjid al-Haram in Mecca. They declared that a man among them was the promised Al-Mahdi and therefore Muslims were obligated to support their violent rebellion.
In the same way, we expect impostors and pretenders to continue using weak traditions and specious arguments to deceive ignorant Muslims into supporting their misguided ambitions. Rather, any group that calls to Islam must be judged by the actions of its members and the character of its leaders.
Those who declare ordinary Muslims to be unbelievers, justify spilling their blood, and seizing their property have nothing to do with Islam even if they recite the Quran and carry Islamic symbols. Indeed, it has been authentically reported that the Khawarij sect recites the Quran, yet they are the worst of the creation and the dogs of Hellfire. Such is the abomination of those who have taken the blessed seal of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and turned it into a symbol of terrorism in the eyes of the world.
We must protect ourselves, our families, and our communities from such propaganda by holding fast to the scholars whose piety and knowledge are well known, and in Allah we seek refuge.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.