‘Abdallahi ibn Muhammad, also known as "The Khalifa" (b. 1846 - d. November 24/25, 1899, Kordofan) was a Sudanese Ansar General and ruler. Born in central Sudan (Darfur) in 1846, 'Abdallahi was the son of a Baqqara religious leader. He was trained and educated as a preacher and holy man.
'Abdallahi ibn Muhammad was a political and religious leader who succeeded Muhammad Ahmad (al-Mahdi) as head of a religious movement and state within the Sudan.
As a youth, 'Abdallahi followed his family’s vocation for religion. Around 1880, he became a disciple of Muhammad Ahmad, who announced that he had a divine mission, became known as al-Mahdi, and appointed ʿAbdallahi a caliph (khalifah). When al-Mahdi died in 1885, ʿAbdallahi became leader of the Mahdist movement. His first concern was to establish his authority on a firm basis. Al-Mahdi had clearly designated him as successor, but the Ashraf, a portion of al-Mahdi’s supporters, tried to reverse this decision. By promptly securing control of the vital administrative positions in the movement and obtaining the support of the most religiously sincere group of al-Mahdi’s followers, ʿAbdallahi neutralized this opposition. ʿAbdallahi could not claim the same religious inspiration as had al-Mahdi, but, by announcing that he received divine instruction through al-Mahdi, he tried to assume as much of the aura as was possible.
ʿAbdallahi believed he could best control the disparate elements that supported him by maintaining the expansionist momentum begun by al-Mahdi. He launched attacks against the Ethiopians and began an invasion of Egypt. But ʿAbd Allāh had greatly overestimated the support his forces would receive from the Egyptian peasantry and underestimated the potency of the Anglo-Egyptian military forces, and in 1889 his troops suffered a crushing defeat in Egypt.
A feared Anglo-Egyptian advance up the Nile did not materialize. Instead ʿAbdallāhi suffered famine and military defeats in the eastern Sudan. The most serious challenge to his authority came from a revolt of the Ashraf in November 1891, but he kept this from reaching extensive proportions and reduced his opponents to political impotence.
During the next four years, ʿAbdallahi ruled securely and was able to consolidate his authority. The famine and the expense of large-scale military campaigns came to an end. ʿAbdallahi modified his administrative policies, making them more acceptable to the people. Taxation became less burdensome. ʿAbdallahi created a new military corps, the mulazimiyah, of whose loyalty he felt confident.
In 1896 Anglo-Egyptian forces began their reconquest of the Sudan. Although ʿAbdallahi resisted for almost two years, he could not prevail against British machine guns. In September 1898, he was forced to flee his capital, Omdurman, but he remained at large with a considerable army. Many Egyptians and Sudanese resented the Condominium Agreement of January 1899, by which the Sudan became almost a British protectorate, and ʿAbdallahi hoped to rally support. However, on November 24, 1899, a British force engaged the Mahdist remnants, and ʿAbdallahi died in the fighting.
'Abdallahi was born into the Ta'asha Baqqara tribe in Darfur around 1846 and was trained and educated as a preacher and holy man. He became a follower of Mohammed Ahmed (Muhammad Ahmad) "the Mahdi" in the 1870s and was named Khalifa by the Mahdi in 1881, becoming one of his chief lieutenants. The other Khalifas were Ali wad Hilu and Muhammad Sharif. 'Abdallahi was given command of a large part of the Mahdist army, and during the next four years led them in a series of victories over the Anglo-Egyptians. He fought at the Battle of El Obeid, where William Hicks' Anglo-Egyptian army was destroyed (November 5, 1883), and was one of the principal commanders at the siege of Khartoum, (February 1884 - January 26, 1885).
After the unexpected death of the Mahdi, 'Abdallahi succeeded as leader of the Mahdists on the death of the Mahdi in June 1885, declaring himself "Khalifat al-Mahdi", or successor of the Mahdi. 'Abdallahi had to suppress several revolts in 1885-1886, 1888-1889, and 1891 before emerging as sole leader. At first, the Mahdiyah was run on military lines as a jihad state, with the courts enforcing Sharia law and the precepts of the Mahdi, which had equal force. Later, as the Khalifa, 'Abdallahi established a more traditional administration.
The Khalifa invaded Ethiopia with 60,000 Ansar troops and sacked Gondar in 1887. He later refused to make peace. 'Abdallahi successfully repulsed the Ethiopians at the Battle of Metemma on March 9, 1889, where the Ethiopian emperor Yohannes IV was killed.
'Abdallahi created workshops to maintain steam boats on the Nile and to manufacture ammunition. In the 1890s, his state became strained economically, and suffered from crop failures. The Sudan became threatened by Italian, French and British imperial forces which surrounded it. In 1896, an Anglo-Egyptian army under General Herbert Kitchener began the reconquest of the Sudan.
Following the loss of Dongola in September 1896, then Berber and Abu Hamed to Kitchener's army in 1897, the Khalifa sent an army that was defeated at the Battle of Atbara River on April 8, 1898, afterwards falling back to his new capital of Omdurman.
At the Battle of Omdurman on September 2, 1898, the Khalifa's army of 52,000 men was destroyed. The Khalifa then fled south and went into hiding with a few followers but was finally caught and killed by Reginald Wingate's Egyptian column at Umm Diwaikarat in Kordofan on November 25, 1899.
Devout, intelligent, and an able general and administrator, the Khalifa was unable to overcome tribal dissension to unify Sudan, and was forced to employ Egyptians to provide the trained administrators and technicians he needed to maintain his self-proclaimed Islamist military dictatorship.