The mahdi didn't bring back khilafah after the assassination of Uthman bin Affan (ra) when Medina was without a caliph for 5 days, nor in 1258 when the Mongols ransacked Baghdad and Muslims had no caliph for 3 years. I don't believe he will now.
The duty is a collective one upon the ummah. If they choose not to do it, Allah will not grant it to them as the shari condition is effort is required with conviction.
Furthermore, the mahdi will emerge during the era of khilafah when one caliph dies. This can be seen in the hadith narrated by Umm Salamah (ra) that the Messenger of Allah (saw) said:
“يكون اختلافٌ عند موتِ خليفةٍ فيخرج رجلٌ من أهلِ المدينةِ هاربًا إلى مكةَ فيأتيه ناسٌ من أهلِ مكةَ فيخرجونه وهو كارهٌ فيبايعونَه بين الركنِ والمقا ...
Disagreement will occur at the death of a caliph and a man of the people of Medina will come flying forth to Mecca.
Some of the people of Mecca will come to him, bring him out against his will and give bay’ah to him between the Rukn and the Maqam. An expeditionary force will then be sent against him from Syria but will be swallowed up in the desert between Mecca and Medina.
When the people see that, the God fearing people of Syria and the best people of Iraq will come to him and swear allegiance to him between the Corner and the Maqam.
Then there will arise a man of Quraysh whose maternal uncles belong to Kalb and send against them an expeditionary force which will be overcome by them, and that is the expedition of Kalb. Disappointed will be the one who does not receive the booty of Kalb. He will divide the property, and will govern the people by the Sunnah of their Prophet (saw) and establish Islam on Earth. He will remain seven years…” (Sahih in Sunan Abi Dawood; Hasan in Sahih Ibn Hiban; Tabarani in al-Awsat sahih according to Ibn Hajar in his Majma’ az-Zawaid)
And another hadith also proves the khilafah will return before the mahdi appears:
قتَلُ عندَ كَنزِكُم ثلاثَةٌ كُلُّهُم ابنُ خَليفَةٍ لا يصيرُ إلى واحِدٍ منهُم ثُمَّ تطلُعُ الراياتُ السودُ من قِبَلِ المشرِقِ فيقاتلونَكُم قتالًا لَم يقاتِلهُ قومٌ ثُمَّ ذكر شيئًا لا أحفَظُهُ قال فإذا رأيتُموه فبايِعوهُ ولو حَبوًا على الثَّلجِ فإنَّهُ خليفَةُ اللَّهِ المهدِيُّ
Thawban narrated that the Prophet (saw) said: “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 he mentioned something that I do not remember, then he said: “When you see him, then pledge your allegiance to him even if you have to crawl over the snow, for that is the Caliph of Allah, the Mahdi.” (Ibn Majah 4084; Bazzar 2/120; al-Ruyani 619; Hakim 4/510 and Ibn Kathir in al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah 1/42)
Scholars like Shaykh al-Albani noted:
لا يجوز للمسلمين أن يتركوا العمل للإسلام وإقامة دولته على وجه الأرض انتظاراً منهم لخروج المهدي ونزول عيسى عليهما السلام يأساً منهم أو توهماً أن ذلك غير ممكن قبلهما
It is not permissible for Muslims to abandon working for Islam and the establishment of its state on the face of the earth, waiting for the appearance of the Mahdi and the descent of Jesus, peace be upon them both, feeling despair and imagining that is not possible before them. This notion is false. (Source: Fiqh Ashrat al-Saa’ah 311)
Shara did not relate the provisions of Islam to the presence of a specific person; this is a disruption of the Deen and the Shara such as saying that the establishment of the duty of Khilafah and the application of Deen is related to the emergence of Mahdi, but before that, there are no duties!!
Therefore, we are working for the duty until we acquit ourselves of sin even if Imam Mahdi is the one who will establish it, for we are meant to work for it and not to search for al-Mahdi. Our issue is not the search for someone who is fit for Khilafah while it has not been established yet; the issue is building a state and reviving a nation, so by Allah, do these reliant thoughts revive the Ummah?
Khilafah will not descend on the wings of the angels, but there will be people who will establish it. It is the issue of the Ummah and not a divine right of a particular person, and this means that the work for Khilafah is obligatory and necessary. Imam al-Mahdi, if he is the one who establishes the Khilafah, then he is a person and will not be printed on his forehead that he is the Khaleefah. People will not know that he is the one concerned except upon his ruling by Islam and his good application of it to achieve justice that lifts injustice. People will not be submissive to him just like that, for the people denied who is better than him, our dear Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, and he is not more honourable to Allah than the Prophet. Rather, there must be awareness among the Ummah and cohesion of the people of strength and power to support him. There is a Hadeeth of the Holy Prophet that shows that al-Mahdi will come after the death of a Khaleefah, and this means that the Khilafah will be established before al-Mahdi and that he is not the one who establishes it initially, it was narrated by Umm Salamah (r.a) who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
يَكُونُ اخْتِلَافٌ عِنْدَ مَوْتِ خَلِيفَةٍ فَيَخْرُجُ رَجُلٌ مِنْ بَنِي هَاشِمٍ، فَيَأْتِي مَكَّةَ، فَيَسْتَخْرِجُهُ النَّاسُ مِنْ بَيْتِهِ وَهُوَ كَارِهٌ فَيُبَايِعُونَهُ بَيْنَ الرُّكْنِ وَالْمَقَامِ، فَيُجَهَّزُ إِلَيْهِ جَيْشٌ مِنَ الشَّامِ، حَتَّى إِذَا كَانُوا بِالْبَيْدَاءِ خُسِفَ بِهِمْ، فَيَأْتِيهِ عَصَائِبُ الْعِرَاقِ وَأَبْدَالُ الشَّامِ، وَيَنْشَأُ رَجُلٌ بِالشَّامِ، وَأَخْوَالُهُ كَلْبٌ فَيُجَهَّزُ إِلَيْهِ جَيْشٌ، فَيَهْزِمُهُمُ اللَّهُ، فَتَكُونُ الدَّبْرَةُ عَلَيْهِمْ، فَذَلِكَ يَوْمُ كَلْبٍ، الْخَائِبُ: مَنْ خَابَ مِنْ غَنِيمَةِ كَلْبٍ، فَيَسْتَفْتِحُ الْكُنُوزَ، وَيُقِسِّمُ الْأَمْوَالَ، وَيُلْقِي الْإِسْلَامُ بِجِرَانِهِ إِلَى الْأَرْضِ، فَيَعِيشُ بِذَلِكَ سَبْعَ سِنِينَ أَوْ قَالَ: تِسْعَ سِنِينَ
Disagreement will occur at the death of a Khaleefah, and a man of Bani Hashim will flee to Makkah and some of the people of Makkah will come to him and will bring him out against his will, and they will pledge allegiance to him between the corner (Black Stone) and the Maqam. An army will be sent against him from Ash-Shaam, which will be swallowed up by the earth in Al-Baida. When the people see that, the devoted worshippers (Abdaal) from Ash-Shaam and the best people (Asaa'ib) from Al-Iraq will come to him and pledge allegiance to him. Then there will arise a man in Ash-Sham whose maternal uncles belong to Kalb and send against them an expeditionary force which will be overcome by them, and that is the expedition of Kalb. The real loser will be the one who does not receive the booty of Kalb. He will divide the wealth and Islam will become established on earth and he will remain for seven years, or he said nine years. (Reported by al-Tabarani in al-Awsat, and al-Haythami mentioned it in Majma' al-Zawaid and said the transmitters are sound and authentic)
The narrators of the hadeeth and its commentary agree that the Khaleefah mentioned in this hadeeth is al-Mahdi. For at the beginning of the hadeeth, he said: Disagreement will occur at the death of a Khaleefah, meaning that the Khilafah exists before the appearance of Imam Mahdi.
Thus, having Khilafah at all times is an obligation upon the Ummah. This concept of waiting for Imam Mehdi is both destructive and misleading that had unfortunately turned away many people from the work to establish the Deen of Allah (swt).
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