The forces of the Sudanese Mahdī captured Khartoum in 1885 and brought an end to sixty-four years of Turco-Egyptian occupation of the Sudan. The Mahdī’s revolt—from the perspective of many scholars of the period, such as P. M. Holt—was launched because of the Egyptian government’s attempts to end slavery in the Sudan. This article analyzes the extant proclamations, sermons, and rulings of the Mahdī in order to identify his attitudes on slavery and emancipation. It argues that, contrary to what previous scholars have concluded, the Mahdī’s revolt against the Turco-Egyptian forces was not motivated primarily by the suppression of the slave trade. Rather, the Mahdī responded to the occupation’s imposition of poll taxes as a corrupted form of government divorced from the pure Islamic state he envisioned founding.
Ceremony and Symbols of Authority: 1882-1898
This book is the first analysis of the Sudanese Mahdiyya from a socio-political perspective that treats how relationships of authority were enunciated through symbol and ceremony. The book focuses on how the Mahdi and his second-in-command and ultimate successor, the Khalifa Abdallahi, used symbols, ceremony and ritual to articulate their power, authority and legitimacy first within the context of resistance to the imperial Turco-Egyptian forces that had been occupying the Nilotic Sudan since 1821, and then within the context of establishing an Islamic state. This study examines five key elements from a historical perspective: the importance of Islamic mysticism as manifested in Sufi brotherhoods in the articulation of power in the Sudan; ceremony as handmaids of power and legitimacy; charismatic leadership; the routinization of charisma and the formation of a religious state purportedly based upon the first Islamic community in the seventh century C.E.