[ by Charles Cameron — on the proleptic brilliance of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, Dune ]
image via Ian Rountree
In Arabic and Islamic themes in Frank Herbert’s “Dune”, the writer Khalid admits “I did not read the original novels. I have watched and enjoyed the movie and the mini-series, and read summaries of the novels” — but he’s an Arabic speaker, and offers us an annotated list of Arabic bterms and phrases he encountered in his necessarily limited exposure to the Dune novels. One term which he does annotate is “Mahdi” — about which he has this to say:
In the Fremen messianic legend, ‘The One Who Will Lead Us to Paradise.’ Paul Atreides, the central figure in the Dune novel is the son of the murdered Duke, he is exiled with his mother, manages to escape, and after a confrontation with the Fremen, gains their respect, and becomes their leader in their struggle against the evil Harkonen. He is called the Mahdi. In Islam, the Mahdi (“The Rightly Guided One”) is an all human Messianic figure, who comes to “fill the world with justice” after much of the opposite. The views of Sunni Islam differ quite a bit from Shia Islam on this, but they both at least agree on this part. Mahdi si a much more central figure in Shia Islam than it is in Sunni Islam, where the concept is often denied and attributed to legends and myths.
And that’s it.
lya Somin‘s Volokh Conspiracy piece, Radical Islamism and Frank Herbert’s Dune doesn’t mention Mahdism. Wikia’s Muad’Dib’s Jihad doesn’t either — but Wikia is a fan outlet, and fandom can be excused if it is only occasionally scholarly, it’s a form of devotion, and worthy in its own right. There’s no mention of the Mahdi in Liel Leibovitz‘ Tablet review of Jodorowsky’s failed but fascinating attempt to film Dune, What science fiction tried to teach us about Jihad, and why no one listened.
Oy: my own equivalent would be titled What science fiction tried to teach us about Mahdism, and why no one listened!
Indeed, one might hope that Ashley Andrews Learn PhD, in her Jihad: Comparing the Fremen Revolt to Contemporary Islamic State, would at least briefly mention the Mahdi, given that IS refers to the Mahdi by name in their magazine Dabiq issue 3:
And he [the Prophet] (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) linked this blessed land with many of the events related to al-Masih, al-Mahdi, and the Dajjal.
and featured a hadith expressly about the Mahdi, though it does not name him, on the final page of issue #5:
Ibn Mas’ud (radiyallahu ‘anh) narrated that Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “If there were not left except a day from the dunya, Allah would lengthen that day to send forth on it a man from my family whose name matches my name [Muhammad] and whose father’s name matches my father’s name [‘Abdullah]. He will fill the Earth with justice and fairness as it was filled with oppression and tyranny.” [Sahih: Reported by Abu Dawud]
Why do we so often miss the Mahdi?
There’s space available for a serious look at Dune in light of today’s jihadism and Mahdism, and I’d fill it if I could find the time. I thought space-time was supposed to be a single continuum, though — how come there’s space but no time?
You’ll seldom find time with no space, except when attempting to park a car..