KHALIFA, THE. Abdullah et Taaisha (Seyyid Abdullah ibn Seyyid Mahommed) (1846–1899), successor of the mahdi Mahommed Ahmed, born in 1846 in the south-western portion of Darfur, was a member of the Taaisha section of the Baggara or cattle-owning Arabs. His father, Mahommed et Taki, had determined to emigrate to Mecca with his family; but the unsettled state of the country long prevented him, and he died in Africa after advising his eldest son, Abdullah, to take refuge with some religious sheikh on the Nile, and to proceed to Mecca on a favourable opportunity. Abdullah, who had already had much connexion with slave-hunters, and had fought against the Egyptian conquest of Darfur, departed for the Nile valley with this purpose; hearing on the way of the disputes of Mahommed Ahmed, who had not yet claimed a sacred character, with the Egyptian officials, he went to him in spite of great difficulties, and, according to his own statement, at once recognized in him the mahdi (“guide”) divinely appointed to regenerate Islam in the latter days. His advice to Mahommed to stir up revolt in Darfur and Kordofan being justified by the result, he became his most trusted counsellor, and was soon declared principal khalifa or vicegerent of the mahdi, all of whose acts were to be regarded as the mahdi’s own. The mahdi on his deathbed (1885) solemnly named him his successor; and for thirteen years Abdullah ruled over what had been the Egyptian Sudan. Khartum was deserted by his orders, and Omdurman, at first intended as a temporary camp, was made his capital. At length the progress of Sir Herbert (afterwards Lord) Kitchener’s expedition compelled him to give battle to the Anglo-Egyptian forces near Omdurman, where on the 2nd of September 1898 his army, fighting with desperate courage, was almost annihilated. The khalifa, who had not left Omdurman since the death of the mahdi, fled to Kordofan with the remnant of his host. On the 25th of November 1899 he gave battle to a force under Colonel (afterwards General Sir) F. R. Wingate, and was slain at Om Debreikat. He met death with great fortitude, refusing to fly, and his principal amirs voluntarily perished with him.
The khalifa was a man of iron will and great energy, and possessed some military skill. By nature tyrannical, he was impatient of all opposition and appeared to delight in cruelty. It must be remembered, however, that he had to meet the secret or open hostility of all the tribes of the Nile valley and that his authority was dependent on his ability to overawe his opponents. He maintained in public the divine character of the power he inherited from the mahdi and inspired his followers to perform prodigies of valour. Although he treated many of his European captives with terrible severity he never had any of them executed. It is said that their presence in Omdurman ministered to his vanity—one of the most marked features of his character. In private life he showed much affection for his family.
Personal sketches of the khalifa are given in Slatin Pasha’s Fire and Sword in the Sudan (London, 1896), and in Father Ohrwalder’s Ten Years in the Mahdi’s Camp (London, 1892). See also Sir F. R. Wingate’s Mahdiism and the Egyptian Sudan (London, 1891).