Controversy: Anies Baswedan as Imam Mahdi

Abah Aos and Anies Baswedan. Credit: @aniesbaswedan/X


In the context of every national election that takes place in Indonesia, the participation of religious leaders – whether they are esteemed scholars or revered Sufi Masters (Murshids) – has been a recurring and notable phenomenon in the realm of practical politics.

Their roles in these political processes stem from deep reservoir of religious authority and influence they command within the Indonesian society. The pervasiveness of their influence extends far beyond the confines of mere social barriers. In fact, it is believed to permeate into the spheres of economics and politics, thereby shaping the socio-political landscape of the country.

One of the most compelling evidence lies in the dynamics of national elections, whereby political parties and candidates often seek to form alliances and partnerships with these religious figures. These collaborations are not mere symbolism but practical endeavors aimed at enhancing their vote counts in each region.

The rationale behind these partnerships is the acknowledgment of the significant sway these religious leaders hold over the electorate, especially among the Muslim community, which looks up to them for moral and political guidance.

The Power of Murshids

With such prevalent phenomenon, it is vital to recognize the normative role of Murshids. Their choices and actions are more than personal decisions; they form an initial guide for their numerous followers. Their teachings and pronouncements provide a moral compass that extends to various aspects of life, including the thorny realm of politics. Murshids’ substantial following, nourished by years of spiritual guidance and religious mentorship, translates into real and tangible political clout. In the context of democratic electoral processes, their influence emerges as a potent source of potential votes, making them an attractive asset for political aspirants seeking electoral success.

Moreover, when examining Murshids’ role from a different perspective, their charisma and magnetic appeal become pivotal attributes. In the cutthroat world of political competition, their standing as a leader with a significant following makes him an alluring figure for those pursuing power. His charm, the charisma that emanates from his spiritual and moral authority, becomes an attractive force that draws political actors to seek his favor and support. This is particularly evident in the intense “battle” for political dominance, whereby Murshids’ blessing or endorsement can carry significant weight and influence the choices and behaviors of politicians and voters alike.

It is commonly recognized that the political fatwas issued by these religious leaders, as seen through the eyes of their students and dedicated followers, maintain significant and long-lasting influence. These pronouncements are not just statements of religious doctrine; they have transcended into tools that shape political decisions and guide the behavior of individuals within the complex tapestry of Indonesian politics.

In Indonesia, the political actions of religious leaders – such as the ones we find in various religious orders (tarekat) – constitute a fascinating and intricate facet of the political landscape. These leaders wield considerable influence, particularly through religious orders with the power to mobilize their followers and sway them towards supporting a specific presidential candidate.

An illustrative example of this dynamic is the case of Shaikh Abdul Gaos, affectionately known as Abah Aos, who leads the Tarekat Qadiriyah Naqshabandiyya (TQN) Sirnarasa, one of the largest tarekats in Indonesia.

Abah Aos and His Controversy

Abah Aos’s profile shot to the forefront after a highly controversial statement regarding one of the presidential candidates, Anies Baswedan. In a public address before his devoted followers, Abah Aos declared his official endorsement of Anies Baswedan for the upcoming presidential election.

What makes this declaration particularly intriguing is the spiritual and eschatological dimensions that Abah Aos introduced into the political discourse. He proclaimed that Anies Baswedan is a figure believed to be the Imam Mahdi, a messianic figure in Islamic eschatology, who is destined to stand against Dajjal, a malevolent figure in Islamic apocalyptic narratives. This assertion intertwines religious belief with political support, transcending mere political endorsement and tapping into deep-seated eschatological hopes and beliefs of his followers.

Moreover, Abah Aos took this declaration a step further by claiming that all ulamas unanimously agreed to issue a fatwa declaring it forbidden (haram) for anyone not to support Anies Baswedan in the 2024 Presidential Election. He even said that it is forbidden not to support Anies Baswedan, likened it to supporting Dajjal.

This bold claim elevates the political discourse to an unprecedented level, intertwining religious authority, divine prophecy and political leadership. It presents a situation where a political figure is perceived not only as a candidate but as a prophesied figure, thereby transforming the presidential election into a spiritual mission for some.

The claims made by Abah Aos have sparked intense reactions from netizens across the digital realm, generating a vast spectrum of opinions, both negative and positive. This phenomenon is a reflection of the intricate interplay between religion, politics and the digital age, where information spreads rapidly and opinion-sharing is highly accessible.

Sufism, historically seen as detached from politics due to its emphasis on spiritual pursuits over worldly matters, has experienced a nuanced transformation amid modernization. Contrary to earlier assumptions, Sufism continues to attract followers across urban and rural areas, adapting to societal changes and engaging actively in practical politics.

Yet, the direct involvement of Murshids in politics, exemplified by figures like Abah Aos, can lead to theological disputes and criticism from religious circles, risking their spiritual authority and sparking concerns about social divisions.

For instance, Habib Husin Alwi said, “Referring to Anies as the incarnation of Imam Mahdi is a matter that raises suspicions of religious and racial discrimination.”

Another figure who also had an opinion on this controversial statement was Kiai Abdul Wahab Ahmad, who stated that “This is clearly incorrect because in the hadiths, it is already stated that Imam Mahdi is a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, bearing a name and father’s name identical to that of the Prophet Muhammad. The Baswedan surname is clearly not a lineage from Prophet Muhammad. Such errors are highly significant as they represent common knowledge, and it is quite astonishing for someone claiming a religious leadership role to be unaware of this fact.”

In addition to criticism from religious figures, the controversial statement from Abah Aos has also become an easy target for buzzers to create hoaxes. For example, a a post circulating on Facebook associates Anies Yohanies (Anies) with Imam Mahdi.

Anies Baswedan’s team did not respond to the controversial statement from Abah Aos but only straightened out the hoax spread on Facebook with the response: “The problem related to the statement that Anies is Imam Mahdi is actually not an official statement and has no proven validity. The statement was originally put forward by a figure named Abah Aos which was subsequently exploited by the media, just like what happened to the hoax above. Thus, it can be confirmed that such content falls into the category of misleading content.”

The intertwining of religious authority with political endorsements, especially when tied to spiritual beliefs like the designation of a candidate as the Imam Mahdi, poses challenges. Critiques of such actions highlight potential pitfalls when religious leaders stray into contentious religious and ethnic territory, emphasizing the need for a delicate balance between religious teachings and political involvement to maintain harmony in a diverse society like Indonesia.

Abah Aos’ Political Behaviour

Abah Aos is no stranger to eyebrow-raising political behavior. He has strategically supported candidates with strong chances of winning, often favoring incumbents or those displaying potential for victory. In the 2014 Presidential Election, Abah Aos endorsed Prabowo Subianto and Hatta Rajasa but backed Jokowi in 2019 due to personal ties with Ma’ruf Amin and a belief in supporting the incumbent.

His endorsement of Anies Baswedan is not an isolated decision but rooted in guidance from his late mentor, Abah Anom. This pattern of political endorsements, including his support for Anies in the 2017 Jakarta Gubernatorial Election, illustrates the intricate relationship between religious leaders like Abah Aos and political figures. It sheds light on the intersection of faith, political strategy and personal connections in Indonesian politics, revealing the complexity behind these alliances.

Reinterpreting Abah Aos’ Statement

Abah Aos’s followers have defended his stance, interpreting his words as consistent with Islamic principles and carrying significant philosophical meaning.

Irfan Zidny al-Hasib provides a perspective on Imam Mahdi, stating that the correct interpretation of the term “Imam Mahdi” is “the Leader who receives guidance”. According to this interpretation, anyone who is deemed to receive guidance from Allah can be referred to as Imam Mahdi.

He goes on to explain Abah Aos’ reference to Dajjal, defining Dajjal as “massive deceivers”. He emphasizes that anyone who continuously spreads falsehood can be considered Dajjal. In the context of presidential elections, one might perceive supporters of other candidates as “Dajjal”.  

Of course, such interpretation is not for everyone. The controversy surrounding Abah Aos’s statements reflects the complex interplay between religious beliefs, political endorsements and varying interpretations of Islamic principles. It highlights how different individuals can interpret religious teachings in diverse ways and how these interpretations can influence their political choices and allegiances. The example provided by Irfan Zidny al-Hasib illustrates the interpretive flexibility within Islamic teachings and how these interpretations can be applied to contemporary political contexts.


Religious leaders in Indonesia, such as Abah Aos, wield significant influence and often endorse political candidates. This influence stems from their spiritual authority and the trust of their followers. With his considerable following, Abah Aos may be trying to influence the decision for the undecided voters among his followers.

However, Abah Aos’ open support did not significantly increase Anies Baswedan’s electability for. Indikator noted that the support base of Islamic organizations for Anies Baswedan remains at 13.8% despite Abah Aos’ endorsement.

Furthermore, Abah Aos’ claim that Anies Baswedan is the Imam Mahdi sparked both support and criticism. While some followers defended his interpretation of religious concepts, others, including religious figures, condemned it as unorthodox and divisive. This case highlights the complex interplay between religion, politics and personal beliefs in Indonesian society.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of STRAT.O.SPHERE CONSULTING PTE LTD.

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  • Haidar Masyhur Fadhil is pursuing his master’s degree in Islamic Studies at the Faculty of Islamic Studies, Indonesian International Islamic University (UIII). He obtained his bachelor’s degree from Al-Azhar University, Egypt. He has written for various publications and specializes in Hadith Studies, Muslim Societies and Political Islam.