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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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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Crusaders and Muslims and Sects--Oh My!
This past week I've had two articles published in online venues:
1) About the "Secular Crusade" against Christians in America, particularly the military:
2) About Islamic sects as the repositories of truly moderate Islam:
Both sites have places to comment--so please, go there and do so! 
6:18 pm edt          Comments

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Mahdi Code

Mired in the technological slum of the Blackberry world, I know very little about iPhones and Droids (unless the latter belongs to the metal gang that can't show straight regularly dismembered by Jedi light sabers).  But it seems that that at least one eschatologically-minded Muslim appplications developer is preparing the way for the Mahdi on Google's Droid phone system:
The Awaited Imam Mahdi app gives the detailed sequence of events that would lead up to the coming of Imam Mahdi (AS) explaining each aspect as and when it would occur preventing any doubts to linger in the minds of the reader (
I'm tempted to go buy a Droid phone, just to unlock the Mahdist mysteries.  If one of you already has one, and is willing to shell out $2.99 to find out when the Mahdi will return, please let me know what you discover! 
This app, being designed by a Muslim, will probably not suffer the fate of iSlam Muhammad (! 

1:16 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Back to the (Iranian) Future
Ayatollah Mohammed Bagher Kharrazi's call for a Greater Iran encompassing "the entire Middle East and Central Asia" has caused a veritable epidemic of Internet hyperventilating among the armchair alarmist eschatologists, many of whom are living proof that "a little learning is a dangerous thing."  Allow me to correct some of the more glaring inaccuracies and provide a modicum of informed analysis:
1) The Islamic Republic of Iran is NOT enamored of (re)creating a caliphate.  
The Caliphate--that historical redoubt of SUNNI Muslim institutional authority and power, from the Umayyads to the Ottomans--is the LAST thing that any ayatollah in Tehran or Qom wants. Rather, the Twelver Shi`is of Iran (as well as Iraq, Lebanon, and other concentrations throughout the region) look for the restoration of the Imamate--a ruling office inhabited by one of Muhammad's bloodline through his son-in-law, and cousin, Ali passed through the latter's sons.  The Sunni caliphs were, rather, chosen by ijma` or "consensus" of the Sunni communal leadership. The import for any Pan-Islamic geopolitical movement today is that there seems to be an unbridgeable gulf between Sunni caliphal dreams, which are based on some element of popular legitimacy, on the one hand, and Shi`i hopes for an imamate, on the other, which in its true form would require the return of the Mahdi, the Twelfth Imam and in his absence appears dependent on the continuation (and perhaps expansion, as Kharrazi implied) of clerical rule under the extant vilayet-i faqih. And both ayatollahocracy and Mahdiyah are, by definition, elitist and nondemocratic in the extreme. 
2) Kharrazi is not so much a "hard-liner" or "extremist" as he is an irredentist.
Western journalists and analysts really should learn not to throw around terms like "hard-liner" and "extremist" in contexts where they are entirely inappropriate.  (But of course that would require some actual in-depth knowledge of the relevant subject matter--but I digress.) Article after article commenting on this "Greater Iran" idea labels Kharrazi "radical," "extremist," "hard-liner," etc.  He's actually an irredentist--that is, he looks backward into Iranian history and sees that in the past his country was much greater in size than it is today and supports re-uniting those long-sundered regions. Unlike many Arabs, Iranians are quite proud of their pre-Islamic civilization and the political empires it created, which were important on not just a regional but a world scale in ancient times.  When Kharrazi speaks of an Iranian Islamic state "from Afghanistan to Israel" he probably has in mind the pre-Islamic Sassanian Empire for its rough borders:
The Sassian Empire lasted from the third century AD to the Islamic conquest in the mid-7th century AD and was, in the time it existed, an inveterate foe of the Roman/Byzantine Empire. At certain times Sassanian power even extended to the Mediterranean, as the empire sometimes managed to pry Syria and what is now Israel/Palestine away from Roman control.  When Kharrazi dreams of Greater Iran from the Med to the Oxus, this is most likely his template. 
(Some of my colleagues might argue Kharrazi has in mind the Abbasid Caliphate, 750-1258 AD, but there are significant problems adducing this state in this context:  a) the Abbasid empire, while heavily Persian in origins and bureaucracy, was not Iranian per se; b) neither was it really ever Shi`i, early propaganda claims notwithstanding; and c) its geographical extent included North Africa, Egypt and the Arabian peninsula, putting it outside Kharrazi's described area and including too many Arabs at the expense of the states and groups to Iran's north and east who are ethno-linguistically closer to the Iranians, such as Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmens, Afghans, et al.
 For these reasons I think the Sassanian state is more likely his model.)
3) Islamizing and eschatologizing geopolitics.
Kharrazi's irredentist nationalism is also heavily informed by his Twelver Shi`i beliefs and while Iran and Iraq are the only majority-Twelver states, there are significant populations of Twelver (and Sevener, or Isma'ili) Shi`is "from Afghanistan to Israel" (the red zones on this map):
As per my first point above, any Pan-Islamic state centered on Iran would be better off trying to encompass as many Shi`is as possible, which a Med-to-Hindu-Kush strategy does rather well; furthermore, since said polity is envisioned as "a prelude to the reappearance" and, eventually, "the single global rule of the Mahdi" then the more Shi`is, the better (since Mahdist belief is more institutionalized, if not always more fervent, in Shi`ism than in Sunnism). 
4) Shi`ism's "preferential option for the poor," which appeals to the Western Left.
Kharrazi's phrase that the "Islamic United States" will constitute "the global village of the oppressed" is easily missed, and when it is noted is passed off as a cynical attempt to garner support from Western liberals.  But Shi`ism, especially in its view of the Mahdi who upon his return will serve as a global Robin Hood (taking from the mostakbaran, the "rich," and giving to the mostazafan, the "oppressed), has a long tradition of supporting socioeconomic "justice," which has sharpened since the revolution there and been wielded by Khomeini and his successors--most notably, Ahmadinezhad--as a weapon against "arrogant powers" such as the U.S. and as a means of enlisting the support of leaders such as Hugo Chavez who buy into (either honestly or cynically) a global conflict between the haves and the have-nots. 
5:00 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the (Islamic) World?

According to a new AP story by Ali Akbar Dareini,  Iranian Ayatollah Mohammed Bagher Kharrazi has called for “the creation of a ‘Greater Iran’ that would rule over the entire Middle East and Central Asia….,” an “Islamic United States whose “formation would be a prelude to the reappearance of the Mahdi.” This Mahdist state would “stretch from Afghanistan to Israel, bringing about the destruction of the Jewish state” as well as both secular Arabs (Iraq’s Ba`ath Party) and hardline Sunnis  (Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabis).   I am dealing with both Shi`i and Sunni plans for Islamic unity in my new book, which should be out in early 2011:


2:53 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Falconer and the (Iranian) Snow Job

While I applaud Alan Parrot for finding what appears to be solid circumstantial evidence that Usamah bin Ladin is livin’ large—if sub rosa—in the Islamic Republic of Iran, I must also remind folks that I have been saying the same thing for years based on a deft application of Ockham’s Razor and geopolitical interests rather than on falconer connections. Here’s a repost of my blog from almost three years ago:

Saturday, June 9, 2007Where’s Usamah? I have repeatedly argued that Usamah bin Ladin is likely in Iran, rather than in Afghanistan or the Afghan-Pakistani border region, contrary to the conventional wisdom among government officials and analysts.  Circumstantial evidence supporting my thesis has come recently from Bin Ladin's former bodyguard, Nasser al-Bahri, in a recent interview with al-Arabiya TV:Interviewer: "Do you think there is any coordination between the [Al-Qaeda] organization and Iran?" Nasser Al-Bahri: "There is coordination on the basis of joint interests." Interviewer: "In what way?" Nasser Al-Bahri: "For example, there is a common enemy - the U.S. - and the Iranians, for your information, know that the [American] strike in inevitable. Therefore, they have to take advantage of all those available on the scene, including the Al-Qaeda organization." Interviewer: "So the way you see it, the Al-Qaeda organization can cooperate with the Iranians against America?" Nasser Al-Bahri: "It can cooperate with the Iranians but it won't operate under the Iranians. But there is no problem with regard to cooperation."
Here's the full link:
7:49 am edt 
12:40 pm edt          Comments

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

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