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al-Mahdi is "the rightly-guided one" who, according to Islamic Hadiths (traditions), will come before the end of time to make the entire world Muslim.  Over the last 1400 years numerous claimants to the mantle of the Mahdi have arisen in both Shi`i and Sunni circles.  Modern belief in the coming of the Mahdi has manifested most famously in the 1979 al-`Utaybi uprising of Sa`udi Arabia, and most recently in the ongoing Mahdist movements (some violent) in Iraq, as well as in the frequently-expressed public prayers of Iranian President Ahmadinezhad bidding the Mahdi to return and, in the larger Sunni Islamic world, by claims that Usamah bin Ladin might be the (now occulted?) Mahdi.  This site will track such Mahdi-related movements, aspirations, propaganda and beliefs in both Sunni and Shi`i milieus, as well as other  Muslim eschatological yearnings.
For a primer on Mahdism, see my 2005 article, "What's Worse than Violent Jihadists?," at the History News Network: http://hnn.us/articles/13146.html; for more in-depth info, see the links here to my other writings, including my book on Mahdism.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Isma'ili Islam On the Crucifixion: Not Quite the Real Thing
For some 14 centuries, the vast majority of Muslims, following mainstream Islamic doctrine, has denied that Jesus was crucified—and thus, of course, that He was Resurrected.  The proof text for this Islamic rejection of the central teaching of Christianity is Sura al-Nisa’ [IV]:157:
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 Muslim commentators such as Ibn Kathir, et al., have long maintained that Jesus was taken to heaven and someone else—probably Judas—was crucified in His place.  Other Islamic writers over the centuries have held slightly differing positions, but the bottom-line conclusion has always been that Jesus’ Crucifixion is a Christian lie.   However, one group of Muslims—the (heterodox) Isma’ili (Sevener) Shi`is—has for centuries held a unique view of Jesus’ Crucifixion, as elucidated in the paper by Khalil Andani, “`They Killed Him Not.’ The Crucifixion in Shi`a Isma’ili Islam” (2011).   Andani makes several points herein—that:  the Qur’anic text does not deny the Crucifixion per se—but rather that the Jews perpetrated it; over the centuries Muslim commentators have held views ranging “from total denial to actually asserting that the crucifixion did take place historically;” and, most importantly, “it was only the human body or the nahut of Jesus that was killed and crucified upon the Cross while the eternal reality of lahut of Christ can never be killed or crucified.” 

There is much to be admired in the Isma’ili position regarding Christ’s crucifixion: not only is it in many ways closer to the Christian than the Islamic one, but it is also more intellectually honest than the latter is wont to be.  For example, al-Mu`ayyad fi al-Din al-Shirazi (d. 1078 AD), a noted Isma’ili theologian, said that “denying the historicity of the Crucifixion is to contradict a historical fact established by the testimony of two major religious communities, the Jews and the Christians” (this is also contra the modern cadre of irrational and ahistorical Jesus-deniers known as “mythicists”).   As Andani also notes, “even the prominent Sunni Muslim theologian al-Ghazali [d. 1111 AD] eventually came to affirm the Crucifixion….”  (albeit by following Isma’ili reasoning, something the vast majority of Sunni clerics have never been willing to do).

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Isma'ili calligraphic representation of `Ali as the "tiger of Allah."  Not quite Aslan, alas. 
 
The particular Isma’ili twist on the topic is in taking the Qur’anic phrase shubbiha lahum, “that which/whom appeared to them” to mean not Judas or another person being crucified in Jesus’ place while resembling Him—but rather that His human, not his divine, nature was killed on the cross.  Andani exults that by this view “Muslims can join Christians in recognizing the historical event [of the Crucifixion”—but then goes on to admit, with breath-taking understatement,  that “they may not attribute to it the same theological significance.” Despite its beguiling, and welcome, difference from mainstream Sunni (and Twelver Shi`i) Crucifixion-denial, the Isma’ili position is untenable.  Not only does it rely in large measure upon corroboration from heretical and noncanonical “gospels”—most notably the 3rd century AD Acts of John—but the Isma’ili crucifixion theory recapitulates the errors of the Docetists and, more specifically, the Apollonarians, who held that “Jesus had a human body and lower soul…but a divine mind.”  Most damningly, from a Christian perspective, even this seemingly-ecumenical Isma’ili concession still denies the Atonement—because it negates both the sacrifical and redeeming death of the God-man, Jesus Christ, and the validating and glorifying Resurrection which came after. We Christians should all appreciate the historical rigor and intellectual honesty which Isma’ili thinkers like Mr. Andani are willing to bring to bear on an issue of such supreme importance. But this religious rectitude serves primarily to reinforce the unbridgeable gulf between Christianity and Islam, over against false claims that they teach the same thing about Jesus. 

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Now that is is past midnight on Easter, April 20, 2014, I can state unequivocally (again): “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”  I pray that eventually our Isma’ili, and indeed all Muslim, brothers and sisters, will join us in that central reality of life.   The Isma’ilis have taken the first step on that road, to their credit.

12:56 am edt          Comments

Thursday, April 17, 2014

al-Qaida Comes to Jesus--the Muslim One, Unfortunately

The American media and US intelligence community have both--as usual--missed the point about yesterday's al-Qa`ida jihad-fest in Yemen, in which AQ deputy caliph Nasir al-Wuhayshi calls for Muslims to "eliminate the cross" and "the bearer of the cross [which] is America." CNN, FNC and various and sundry US government analysts and politicians over the past 24 hours have exegeted the video of this meeting to mean that 1) we should have had armed drones there sooner, and 2) our intelligence is still lacking, if the CIA was indeed unaware of this mass AQ confab. 
Important as these two issues are, however, they are both tactical ones, and thus of lesser importance than the glaringly obvious strategic point made by al-Wuhayshi: AQ does not want to attack America primarily because of our "freedoms" but because we are the largest Christian country on the planet.

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This inconvenient truth flies in the face of both post-9/11 US administrations.  Only 9 days after the Islamic terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 Americans, President Bush was misconstruing the perpetrators as "enemies of freedom."  President Obama and his willfully ignorant mouthpieces (like Eric Holder and John Brennan) have doubled down on this nonsense, and even exceeded it by their constant claims that the very idea that Islam might have had something to do with motivating those engaged in self-described jihad is ipso facto discriminatory. (A variation of this head-in-the-sand "analsyis" holds that "religious fundamentalists'" hatred of modernity is the culprit.)

Alas, the secularists and leftists in downtown Atlanta, Manhattan, Foggy Bottom and Langley are wrong, and as long as they continue to be wrong the West will go on losing its civilizational battle--which is not just with Islamic "extremism" or AQ but with literalist Islam itself. 

Why? Because the Qur'an and the Hadiths (alleged sayings of Muhammad) instruct Muslims to labor, violently and non-violently, until the entire world is either converted or submissive to Islam.  And since historically and theologically the main (indeed, only) rival to Islam has been Christianity,  that religion and its adherents have been the object of the lion's share of Islamic ire--and most of that long before AQ even existed.  Recall that the majority of the Middle East and North Africa west of the Tigris and Euphrates was Christian by the 7th century AD.  It was only after the irruption of Islam from Arabia and the "destruction of tens of thousands of churches" that the intolerant religion of Muhammad gained the upper hand in those regions.

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AQ's #2 calling for a jihad, an Islamic religious war, against Christians is nothing new; neither is it "extremist."  Such has been the norm for most of the last fourteen centuries, and Americans have simply been lulled into lassitude by the earlier 20th century retreat of Islamic aggression (along with, it must be said, American ignorance of history courtesy of shoddy public schools, as well as books, lectures and coverage by dhimmi media and their "experts").  AQ is weaponized Islam; but it is not the first version, nor will it be the last.

There are even hadiths which state that when "prophet Jesus" (nabi `Isa) returns from heaven--for of course he was never crucified and thus never resurrected, but simply taken up--he will kill all the world's pigs, destroy all the crosses and then kneel down and pray behind the Mahdi, who outranks him.  AQ is thus following mainstream Islamic teachings (both Sunni and Twelver Sh`i) in eschatological matters, as well more mundane ones.


A drone strike on al-Wuhayshi and his Muslim brothers in Yemen was necessary; but it would have been woefully insufficient to stem the tide of Islamic ideology, of da`wah, which continues to captivate the vast majority of Muslims in the Middle East, as well as growing numbers of supporters in America and the West.  (For example: the Boston Marathon jihad of the brothers Tsarnaev was motivated, at least in part, by Islamic eschaological belief.)  As long as the American intelligentsia and leadership denies that many members of the world's second-largest religion are waging war on the adherents of the largest one, al-Wuhayshi and his ilk will have the upper hand.

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Jesus and the Mahdi, back from a hard day of destroying churches, hit the drive-thru at Sonic Boom Falafel.

12:23 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Happy Den of Thievery Day!
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Actually, I'm not a formal member of the Tea Party (which works, here in the US, for the decidely non-radical agenda of lower taxes, smaller government and adherence to the Constitution) and I realize that when Christ cleared the money-lenders from the Temple, he was rescuing His Father's house from the taint of greed and not advocating for tax cuts.  But still, the juxtaposition between April 15 (the deadline by which Americans must pay all taxes owed for the previous year) and Holy Week was just too rich to pass up.
9:27 am edt          Comments

Monday, April 14, 2014

Eschatological Nature of Holy Week

My good friend Ralph Sidway, an Orthodox Christian who runs the "Facing Islam" blog, has a fascinating article about the eschatological aspects of the week between Palm Sunday and Easter.

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Christ of the Last Judgement, with the Book of Life and Death (from Swordofthespirit.net). 

9:41 am edt          Comments

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I'm Not the Mahdi--Now $%*# Off!
Many analysts and journalists who cover the Islamic world focus on the likes of  al-Qa`idah [“al-Qaeda” for those of you from Monkey’s Eyebrow, KY] and the Muslim Brotherhood.  Far fewer spend much time on an equally important Islamic movement: that of the Turkish neo-mystic Fethullah Gülen.  (For a rough metric of the relevant interest in these three, try a Google search for each and you’ll find the following results: AQ, 107 million; MB, 86 million; Gülen, 1.3 million.)  Such relative disinterest is unfortunate, because this Turkish-American movement (Gülen has lived in Pennsylvania since his eviction from a much more secular Turkey in 1991) is important on three levels: 1) Mahdism;  2) global educational reach; and 3) within Turkish politics.

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No, this is not a selfie of Shelob, but rather Ottoman calligraphy that reads "Ali, vice-regent of Allah."

In terms of Mahdism
, both G
ülen and another prominent, albeit much more idiosyncratic, Turkish religious leader named Adnan Oktar, are devotees of the late Turkish mystic
Said Nursi (d. 1960), known to his followers as “Bediüzzaman” (Arabic badi` al-zaman, “wonder of the age”).   Nursi in his writings stressed the compability of Islam with modern science and education, and advocated “jihad of the word” over “jihad of the sword.”  Nursi very likely considered himself to be a, if not the, Mahdi—tantamount to the Islamic mujaddid, “renewer,” who is predicted in some hadiths to come every century.  That would seem to be the same view that Gülen holds of himself, as evidenced by an interview in “Today’s Zaman” last Friday: “I am not claiming to be the Messiah or Mahdi; I am just an ordinary man….” He continued: “Some circles have attributed similar remarks to Bediüzzaman in the past.  They exploited his comments and views on the return of the Messiah or Mahdi, arguing that he considered himself the Mahdi or Messiah.”   And Gülen reiterated his denial: “On this matter, I follow in the footsteps of Mevlana [Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rûmi, d. 1273 AD).  I am not claiming to be the Messiah or Mahdi.”   Also like Nursi, Gülen is an Islamic mystic but holds no formal membership in any of the hundreds of tariqat, or Sufi orders.  

His educational system,
however, is pedagogically and religiously a mixture of Nursi’s ideas and Gülen’s thought, with a dose of Naqshbandi Sufism—specifically, the need to be involved in politics—thrown in. (On this topic, see Erol N. Gulay, “The Gülen Phenomenon: A Neo-Sufi Challenge to Turkey’s Rival Elite,” in C ritique: Critical Modern Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 16, No. 1, Spring 2007, pp. 37-61.)   The “Gülenistas” have created perhaps the world’s largest charter school system, which as of 2012 was also the largest such system in the United States, numbering 135 schools and 45,000 students.  Although the schools in America are said by administrators and proponents to be STEM-oriented ones that eschew Islamic indoctrination,  critics are doubtful.   Overseas, particularly in Muslim-majority countries, Gülen schools unabashedly teach Islam—but a neo-Sufi, indeed kinder and gentler version of that faith than is disseminated by the Wahhabis and Salafis of Arabia or the Deobandi-influenced Taliban of South Asia.

Politically
, the ruling AK Party of Turkey—particularly its leader and the current Prime Minister,
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—has increasingly been at loggerheads with Gülen and his people, accusing them of constituting a “deep state” which wields the real power behind the scenes.  The actual reasons for this split between two erstwhile allies are byzantine (pun intended), but seem to center around who has more power in Turkey; view of and relations with Israel vis-à-vis other Muslim states; and the profits from Turkey’s gold-for-oil trade with Iran. 

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Leaked AK plan to take out Gülen during his coffee break.  Left-handed guitarist killing is optional, especially if he's singing "Band on the Run."

 
Observations:

1) As I’ve remarked before,  I’ll take any day, and twice on Friday, a Mahdi or Mujaddid who states that  “the conquest of the world will be achieved, not on the back of a horse, a sword in the hand, a scimitar at the waist” but rather by “penetrating into people’s hearts with the Qur’an in one hand and reason in the other” (Gulay, p. 42)—as has Gülen.   This IS truly moderate Islam, and far from lumping Gülen’s people in with the jihadists we should be encouraging the spread of his charter schools across the Islamic world, with their Sufi Lite message of educational, not bloody, jihad (which, really, is tantamount to da`wah, “proselytization”).  


2) However, also regarding these charter schools and their place in the US (or any other non-Islamic society):  great scrutiny should be applied to them here, to ensure that they stick to teaching science, technology, engineering and math and do not attempt to inculcate Islamic values among the 99.4% of the US population that is non-Muslim.  If they can do that, let them operate. If not, shut them down more quickly than Duke in this year's NCAA tournament.


3) Regarding Turkey’s internal politics and this Erdo
ğan-Gülen struggle—I don’t have a dog in that fight, but it looks increasingly as if the latter is the only force that can prevent the former from asserting neo-Ottoman-style authoritarian power.  A Gülenized Turkey might become the first truly moderate Islamic state; certainly the Gülenists are much more likely to drive such a result than the poseur moderates like the Muslim Brotherhood.

Today's post title comes from Monty Python's brilliant 1979 satire of messianism, "Life of Brian"--specifically, the scene "I'm not the Messiah!"

10:43 am edt          Comments

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Jamkaran Mosque near Qom, Iran (during my trip there Aug. 2008)

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