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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 more recently in the ongoing Mahdist movements (some violent) in Iraq, as well as in the frequently-expressed public prayers of former Iranian President Ahmadinezhad bidding the Mahdi to return and, in the larger Sunni Islamic world, by claims that Usamah bin Ladin might be the (occulted) Mahdi.  Now in 2014 Mahdism is active in Syria, as the jihadist opposition group Jabhat al-Nusra claims to be fighting to prepare the way for his coming; and in the new "Islamic State/caliphate" spanning Syrian and Iraqi territory, as its leadership promotes the upcoming apocalyptic battle with the West at Dabiq, Syria.  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:; for more in-depth info, see the links here to my other writings, including my book on Mahdism.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hastening the Messiah's Coming?

It has become conventional wisdom among American conservatives--both political and theological--that President Ahmadinejad and a certain segment of the Iranian government wishes to hasten the coming of the messianic figure in Islam, the Mahdi (the returned 12th Imam for Iranian Shi`is).  I am not sure that this view is correct, based as it is on serial misunderstandings (if not outright misrepresentations) of Twelver Shi`i history and doctrines.  Glenn Beck, for example, on his Feb. 5, 2010 show ( ) covered this topic and--as usual, unfortunately--got quite a few things wrong:
1) The belief that the 12th Imam will return "soon" is not really typical of all Twelver Shi`is.
2) Most Iranian (and Iraqi and Lebanese) Shi`is do NOT believe that the Mahdi's return can be "hastened," but will take place in Allah's good time and on his schedule, irrespective of human wishes.  But yes, SOME do believe in such hastening. 
3)Beck says "12ers are so dangerous that...the Ayatollah Khomeini banned them." He's very wrong here and seems to be conflating the Hojjatiyeh organization's members with Twelver Shi`is as a whole--this is akin to confusing all Christians with, say, snake-handlers or Pentecostals who speak in tongues. The Hojjatiyeh was an organization that was created in the 20th century to re-convert Baha'is to Shi`ism (Baha'ism began in the 19th century when a certain Persian chap declared himself the already-returned Mahdi--and this of course was, and is, anathema to mainstream Shi`ism). And it was banned by Khomeini in 1983--but not because of any specially fervent Mahdist beliefs, but simply because its founder and leaders looked askance at the clerical rule system that Khomeini had originated and imposed. 
4) Beck states that "the Twelvers believe that they have to wash the world in blood to hasten the return" of the Mahdi. While there are SOME, both lay and clerical, who believe this, it is NOT a staple of the belief system of Twelver Shi`ism.  Beck has been drinking too deeply at the alarmist, frankly ignorant well of the fiction author Joel Rosenberg.  A more correct assessment would be that, like Christians, most Twelver Shi`is believe that the world will be in a state of violent chaos before the return of their messiah figure--but that is a far cry from saying that believers must initiate such violence to "hotwire the apocalypse." 
I applaud Beck for actually delving into the religious beliefs of Ahmadinejad and the clerical rulers of Iran, and not applying only a political lens to examine what's going on in Tehran and Qom. However, his inaccurate, wildly-alarmist "analysis" does as much harm as good, and allows critics to dismiss his views.  [Blogger's note: I have offered to appear on Beck's show to correct some of these inaccuracies, but despite contacts with his producer my offer has been, so far, rejected.  It would seem Mr. Beck is more interested in heat than light on this topic.]
In a related story...during the sermon this past Sunday at church I was reading II Peter (our interim pastor is a wonderful man but he does tend to ramble), specifically 3:10-12:
"But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God...." [NKJV].
The Orthodox Study Bible (which I love, although I am Lutheran) has the following notes on that passage:
"Christians can actually hasten the coming of that day. How? Through evangelism...prayer...holy living...and repentance and obedience...." 
Neither Orthodox theology, nor that of any other Christian branch or denomination, encourages violence as a means to hasten Jesus' return--in fact, quite the opposite. (How could they, when Jesus' entire life was one of resisting and eschewing violence--quite unlike that of Muhammad or the prototypical Shi`i Imam, Ali?)  Nonetheless, while many Muslims (Sunni as well as Shi`i, for the doctrine exists in Islam's larger branch, as well) share  with Christians this view of peacefully hastening the coming of the deliverer, it is also undeniably true that an influential minority within each major branch of Islam--some hard-core ayatollahs, as well as some apocalyptic-minded Sunni jihadists--DO believe in "hotwiring the apocalypse." 
Now remind me again which is the "religion of peace?"

2:06 pm est          Comments

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Back to the Future?

In 1124 AD one Abu `Abd Allah Muhammad bin Tumart al-Susi, known to historians as Ibn Tumart, declared himself the Mahdi in what is now Morocco and created legions of muwahhidun (hence the textbook term "Almohads"), dedicated to two things: 1) belief in him as the Awaited Mahdi, and 2) tawhid, "unity [of Allah]," or strict monotheism, over against the perceived shirk, or "idolatry," of the extant Islamic rulers, the Murabits (Almoravids).  Eventually the Muwahhids conquered, in the name of their Mahdi, most of the Magrhib as well as the Iberian Peninsula--and, with their intolerant and cruel Islamic agenda which oppressed and killed in particular Catholic Christians, put the lie to the tiresome myth of medieval Islamic "tolerance" in al-Andalus.
It would seem that Morocco is experiencing a case of "deja vu all over again," as it deals with two similar modern-day groups. The first is Ansar al-Mahdi: "Helpers of the Mahdi." A few weeks ago the Moroccan Supreme Court rejected the appeal of 46 members of AAM, who had been sentenced to prison for "funding terrorist operations and planning a terror campaign against the Moroccan regime" (   A more detailed look at AAM  is available here:
In addition, Morocco's legal system last month "sentenced members of the group Fath al-Andalous (Reconquest of Andalusia) to fines and 4-15 years prison terms for plotting terrorist attacks...." (   Note well the group's aim, as advertised in its name: "REconquest" of Spain and Portugal. Once you go Muslim, in this mindset, you can never go back to being, say, Christian. Let up hope (and pray) that these two groups don't merge, or the 21st century version of the Maghribi Mahdi may well put the 12th century one to shame in terms of violence and persecution of Christians. 

11:25 am est          Comments

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

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