Islam, Legitimacy, and Judgment Day

Yesterday I got into a heated discussion regarding the legitimacy of government while introducing David Graeber's ideas regarding anarchism and his possible academic course on direct actionThe discussion also veered towards the question what should a person do while living under what he considers oppression. My interlocutors were male and they were wondering about this. We used the word zulm for oppression since it seemed more suitable to both contemporary and historical situations. (It can also mean wrongdoing, darkness, and inequality.) Sometimes they thought I was too idealistic. But I countered that it is also idealistic in the same sense to stop eating a brand of so-called halal chicken once you find that the chickens were not treated humanely, as one of the interlocutors did. He threw away his 5 euro stock of chicken after learning about the factory's treatment of chicken and also dissuaded his roommate from eating the chicken as well.

I learned that that in one interlocutor's idea of Islam, there are three responses to zulm: 1st option is that you engage in "direct action," 2nd option is that you voice your opinion against zulm, and 3rd you acknowledge it in your heart. The 3rd option is the least you can do. (I have yet to find the text for backing this up.) 

During this discussion I sketched out a broad scope of why certain political scientists and historians are interested in the history of political formation and sources of legitimacy. Scholars of Islamic history see a promising division of power between the ulema (scholars of Muslim religious law) and the king. But why did it not lead to a parliamentary reform like in Europe, where the aristocrats also limited the power of the king? I still have not read enough to cite authors, but I know that scholars of Iranian Islamic history have strove to figure out what role the ulema played in politics, e.g., Michael M. J. Fischer (2003) and Said Amir Arjomand (1989). Graeber said in his talk at the Gottingen Literature Festival that the state's legitimate use of the monopoly of violence is derived from the law; the law's legitimacy is derived from the constitution; the constitution is written (in the case of certain countries) from a violent popular revolution. So the question bothering many activists and social scientists is: how does one actually distinguish which revolution is the "right" one? And rather not a mob or one that could be usurped by forces of zulm

The question of Mahdi (the Expected One) came up since I said that this idea can be used for political ends, such as power consolidation or gaining legitimacy. Scholars also find that the Mahdi is still used to challenge political authority (Eickelman, 1998). Islam shares aspects of the eschatology with Christianity, such as that there will be a Day of Judgement. But prior to the 2nd coming of Christ, the Islamic eschatology usually sees that the Mahdi would come as a religio-political ruler prior to the Day of Judgment. Different sects in Islam are disputed over the identity of the Mahdi. The Twelver Shi'as, for example, see their Mahdi as the hidden Twelfth Imam who will come out of hiding. Some Sunnis accept there would be a Mahdi but do not endow him with as much divine authority. I quoted the following from The Oxford Handbook of Millennialism:
The Safavid dynasty in Iran was truly an apocalyptic dynasty from the beginning. Shah Isma'il (r. 1501-24), the founder of the dynasty, made messianic claims (as well as possibly even of divinity). Prior to the appearance of the Safavids Iran had been majority Sunni, but through the use of a charismatic blend of Sufism and Shi'ism, in some cases making extreme claims about the authority of the dynasty, the Safavids managed to convert most of the country by the middle of the seventeebth century. A key moment for the dynasty happened under the young Shah ‘Abbas I (r. 1588-1629) at the turn of the Uslamic millennium in 1591-91, when he suppressed the hitherto powerful Kizilbash group, which had been the backbone of messianic beliefs and the most fervent supporters of the Safavids. Thereafter, like the Ottomans, the Safavids moved away from the use of apocalyptic and messianic themes.
The same section of this book mentions that the Mughal ruler Akbar also used this theme when creating his "heterodox" version of Islam, Din-i Ilahi. He was even given the title of "Lord of time."

Cited in John F. Richards The Mughal Empire: The new Cambridge history of India:" In the RN 50 (1604 A.D.), these Nur ala Nur ("Light unto Light") gold coins (10.9g) were struck. The front says: "By the stamp of the emperor Akbar gold becomes bright" / "On this gold the emperor's name is Light (upon Light)." mint location (Agra). (source:cngcoins.com)

I read again in Sanjay Subramanyam's article Connected Histories, where he ponders on how these ideas form similar frameworks for comparative history and how messianism played a crucial role in Akbar's court transition--
Akbar is reported to have asked if Muhammad was mentioned in the Gospel, to which [Portuguese Jesuit Antonio] Monserrate responded by insisting that he was not, being a false prophet. Monserrate now writes that Akbar wondered aloud, somewhat disingenuously, 'Surely Muhammad cannot be he who is to appear at the end of the world as the adversary of all mankind (that is he whom the Musalmans calls Dijal)', the reference being to the idea of the masih al-dajjal, the Anti-Christ who appears in some Islamic legends as riding on an ass at the end of time.
This incident, a trivial one, begins to assume significance when set in its wider regional and supra-regional context. For a millenarian conjuncture operated over a good part of the Old World in the sixteenth century and was the backdrop to such discussions as that between Akbar and Monserrate, which took place just eleven years before the year 1000 A.H (1591-92). This was a time when many Muslims in southern and western Asia, as well as North Africa  awaited signs that the end of the world was nigh, and when the Most Catholic Monarch, Philip II of Spain, equally wrote gloomily: 'If this is not the end of the world, I think we must be very close to it; and, please God, let it be the end of the whole world, and not just the end of Christendom.'
As a response to my challenge, regarding how easily certain people can usurp the idea of the Mahdi, one of my interlocutors said that there is a hadith that says if there is a statement that predicts the precise Day of Judgment, that statement is certainly false. He went on to list different ways of testing the veracity of hadiths. That is a very intriguing topic that I will definitely read more about. My interlocutor said that there should not be a rejection of religion from politics entirely, because then that would be assenting to the rule of Chengiz (Genghis, meaning, the rule of the sword). He sees that justice is the only measure of a true Islamic polity, rather than the cultural authenticity, such as wearing traditional dress or not. But then for me the discussion gets kind of caught in a loop because in his ideal world, an Islamic regime would automatically be just. But there is no possibility under any other regime or anarchist collective consensus for the same result. So now, despite forms of zulm, it is better to just wait and see.