Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas
Question: There are various aḥādīth that state that Mahdi [عليه السلام] will come and rectify Islam. I also understand that he will lead ʿĪsā [عليه السلام] along with others in salah, does this mean that Mahdi [عليه السلام] has a higher ranking than that of ʿĪsā [عليه السلام]?
If this is correct, does this mean that Mahdi [عليه السلام] has a higher status than other Prophets, except of course the Prophet Muhammad?
Answer: assalamu `alaykum
No, the Mahdi does not have a higher rank than the Prophets (Allah bless them all).
The line of reasoning mentioned in the question is not valid as the very premise that the mere act of leading another in prayer indicates superiority is not sound.
This is an addition to the fact that:
(a) The narrations on the issue mentioning our liege-lord `Isa (Allah bless him) praying behind an individual of this community, though sound, are probabilistic in their establishment and indication and as such cannot be used to formulate a point of belief (if it indicated one) that goes contrary to decisive texts.
(b) These very narrations indicate the reason for our liege-lord `Isa’s (Allah bless him) refusal to lead prayer when offered to do so, namely to show how Allah has honored the community of Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace). Thus, when requested to lead he will reply, “No, for some of you are leaders upon others out of Allah’s honoring this community.” [Muslim]
(c) The fact that our liege-lord `Isa (Allah bless him) was offered to lead indicates that people understood his superiority over all others. His refusal was on account of other considerations as mentioned above.
Superiority of Prophets over Non-Prophetic Figures
There are a number of proofs from both the Qur’an and sayings of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) that demonstrate the superiority of a prophet over non-prophetic saints.
Proofs From the Qur’an
1. The statement of Allah Most High after naming numerous prophets, “each one We preferred above all beings.” (6:86)
Imam Baydawi in his commentary on this verse states, “there is proof in this for their superiority over those other than them from among created things.” [Anwar al-Tanzil]
The reason for this, as Imam Razi clarifies, is that the word used in the Qur’an is “`aalamin”, which refers to every existent thing apart from Allah. This includes non-Prophetic saints as well, as there is no proof that they are exempted from the general purport indicated by the word “`aalamin” within this verse.
Further, this verse also shows the superiority of a single prophet over non-prophetic saints as the purpose of the verse is not to state that all prophets together are given preference and superiority over all of creation but that a single prophet, on account of being given the duty of prophethood, is superior to all other created things who are not prophets.
2. The statement of Allah Most High, “God chose Adam and Noah and the House of Abraham and the House of Imran above all beings.” (3:33)
3. The statement of Allah Most High, “Whosoever obeys God, and the Messenger – they are with those whom God has blessed, Prophets, just men, martyrs, the righteous; good companions are they.” (4:69)
This verse indicates four ranks among those blessed by Allah, with the Prophets (Allah bless them) coming foremost.
Proofs From the Statements of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace)
1. Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas said, “I stated, ‘Oh Messenger of Allah, which person is most afflicted [in this world]?’ He replied, ‘The messengers then the most superior and then the most superior after them.’” [Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Ahmad (with a sound chain according to Ahmad Shakir)]
This narration clearly shows that the messengers are the most superior of all people as affliction has been made commensurate to one’s superiority in the religion.
2. The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “Allah selected my companions over all created things apart from the messengers and prophets.” [Bazzar]
If the companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) are superior to all created things apart from those Allah sent as messengers, it logically follows that these messengers are superior to all created things including the companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace).
All of the above goes to show that the rank of a prophet is superior to the rank of a non-prophetic figure. As Imam Mahdi is a non-prophetic figure, it is contrary to our creed to consider him superior to our liege-lord `Isa (Allah bless him).
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani