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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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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Don't Go to Extremes--Even About Islam
I am a conservative, both politically and theologically--but I am in no wise a fundamentalist, as I tend to focus on what's true and what works, rather than being wedded to any particular ideology. (No doubt my psychological profile [INTJ] on the Myers-Briggs typology, if anyone's interested, has something to do with this, as well as my long study and teaching of world history from ancient times to today.)  Consequently, as the 21st century wears on and I continue writing and speaking about the two topics of greatest personal and professional interest--Christianity and Islam--I find myself on the receiving end of attacks from not just the usual suspects on the Left but also, increasingly, broadsides from ostensible allies in the Evangelical Christian community.  Some months ago I responded to the latter on this site, via "Advice for Dealing with Islam for Conservatives and Christians" (July 3, 2012).  While I would not go as far as my good friend Eric Allen Bell and state that "the extreme Religious Right has hijacked Counter Jihad" [the efforts to stave off Islam's advance, particularly in the US], I do agree with him that too many Evangelical Christians "are making fools of us and undermining our message."  Eric is not a Christian; I am (albeit far more ecumenical than many Evangelicals, many of whom seem to think it's still Nov. 1, 1517).  He tends to believe that Evangelical Christians simply muck up the anti-Islamization movement via ignorance and intolerance--and there is great truth to this.   I think, however, that any counter-Islamic program simply must include Christianity, if only (at least) an invocation of the primary role of Jerusalem, not just Athens, in the building and development and, yes, future existence of Western civilization.  Thus, I think our more vociferous and too-often Islamo-ignorant Evangelical Protestant friends need to be educated, not dismissed. 
Jesus and the Mahdi riding together (medieval Persian).  Can't we conservatives and liberals just get along in like fashion? I'll take the camel, like Jesus; you libs get the black horse, like the Mahdi.  (Wait, that's racist. Never mind.   Just pay the man at the toll  booth before he beheads us, ok?)

To that end, my aforementioned blogpost outlined six conservative and/or Christian errors regarding Islam:
1) Denying Islam is a religion, when it clearly is
2) Viewing it as monolithically violent, when it is not
3) Denying the existence of moderate Islam, not just moderate Muslims
4) Refusing to acknowledge Jesus' importance in Islam and take advantage of that issue
5) Seeing Islam as merely another lens through which to view the imminent end of the world
6) Adducing only theology (Bible and Qur'an) and ignoring 1433 years of history.
(For the fuller explanation of each, see the July 3 post on this site.)
I would now add another:
7) Appealing to Evangelical writers and pastors who are clearly lacking the requisite scholarship in approaching the Qur'an and Islamic history--thus fostering the media and popular stereotype of the ignorant, "Islamophobic" Christian.
But in interests of fairness, I have also gleaned six errors which liberal-secularists and even Muslims fall into concering the world's second-largest religion (and which I explicated, along with the conservative errors, in a public lecture at Georgetown College--my alma mater in Kentucky--back on October 23, 2012):
1) COEXIST stickers are neither accurate nor a policy agenda
     Liberals have been indoctrinated by 40 years of shoddy public school education into believing that all religions teach "basically the same thing." On not just a theological, but a logical level, this is absurd.  Christiantiy teaches that Christ was crucified and resurrected; Islam denies both.  How, thus, can the two religions be teaching the same doctrines?  Likewise, Hinduism and its offshoot Buddhism have as core tenets that the physical universe is an illusion to be transcended, whereas the Western monotheisms all say just the opposite.  Oh, and Muhammad taught that jihad is holy war against "unbelievers" and is ordained by Allah--whereas Jesus mandated "turn the other cheek" when someone strikes you.  Thus, while liberals love this:

The reality, at least from the historical Sunni Muslim perspective, is more along these lines:

2) Islam is not monolithically the "religion of peace."
This is the flip side of the Evangelical Christian/Republican stereotype.  As a certain Dr. Luther once said: "just because your opponent falls off the horse on one side, don't you fall off on the other."  Lexically, Islam means "submission" [to Allah], not "peace."  Thirty-two of 51 groups on the State Department Foreign Terrorist list are Islamic in ideology, goals and motivation; between 1981 and 2011 there were almost 900 attacks, over 14,000 deaths and 40,000 wounded in Islamic terrorist attacks, according to the country's most respected terrorism database; and three of the four state sponsors of terrorism are Muslim nations (Iran, Sudan and Syria--and more could be added).  Apologists try to account for this inconvenient empirical data by adducing poverty or George Bush--but facts are stubborn things. 
3) Burning a Qur'an might be wrong--but so is ignoring what's in it
By now most Americans are quite well-versed in the basics of Qur'an-torching (if you're one of those who somehow missed the last two years' worth of such stories, check out my blogpost from March 12, 2012).  In fact, the antagonist of most such stories, Pastor Terry Jones of Florida, was just sentenced to death in absentia in Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Egypt (although for allegedly helping fund the recent, infamous "Innocence of Muslims" video about Muhammad, not actually for his bonfire of the inanities).  I have had State Department officials and journalists tell me, in response to my incredulous question whether they'd ever actually read the Qur'an, that "I don't need to."  Fine. Then condemn yourself to a continued and self-willed ignorance about why the Taliban, Boko Haram, al-Qa`idah, Ansar al-Shari`ah, Hamas, Lashkar-e Taiban and an unholy host of other ISLAMIC organizations exist, proliferate and garner support--because of the 164 jihad passages in the Qur'an, as well as as the legion of hadiths (alleged utterance of Muhammad) that lionize violence against non-Muslims. 
Recent State Department/DHS/DOJ briefing on "jihad."

4) Ignorance of history (real or feigned) is no excuse
Besides theological texts, Islamic history is rife with examples of jihad and violence.  Muslims did not spread Islam from Arabia west to Iberia and east to the Hindu Kush within 120 years after Muhammad's death by handing out brochures.  In the intial wave of expansion, conquest was the norm.  Yes, later, Islam was disseminated by travelers, traders and their caravans, Sufis, diplomats, etc.  But jihad fi sabil Allah ("holy war in the path of Allah") never truly went away.  And Muslim polities often waged it against each other: Umayyads against Abbasids; Fatimids against Seljuks; Ottomans against Safavids; Saddam against Khomeini; Alawis against other Syrians.  In fact, peace in the Islamic world is the exception, not the norm.  The much-maligned Crusades were the Christians fighting back, finally--not really aggression.  And I've never understood why Palestinian Muslims can demand Jerusalem "back," or North African Muslims the return of "al-Andalus"--but Christians are not allowed to make the same claim regarding the Ottoman Turkish Muslim conquest and annexation of Christianity's former leading city, Constantinople?  Study some history, my liberal friends--before I open a can of Santayana on you.
Thanks to the geniuses over at for this useful historical graphic!

5) No, some speech is NOT freer than others
As Glenn Beck recently quite trenchantly (and humorously) pointed out, for far too many liberals there is a First Amendment double standard in this country: "artistic" mocking of Christians and Christians is approved, even encouraged; anything that Muslims (or supporters of Obama) deem offensive is labled "hate speech" and branded as beyond-the-pale. US troops burning Bibles in Afghanistan?  Necessary to mollify our Muslim "hosts."  Burning Qur'ans in Afghanistan? An atrocity for which someone (American and Christian) must be punished--despite the fact that burning defaced Qur'ans is perfectly acceptable under Islamic law.  "Piss Christ," Virgin Mary-in-feces or gay Jesus?  The unavoidable (and probably salutary--if you're a Christian) part of living in a free society.  "The Innocence of Muslims" video? An affront to Muslims that justifiably causes them to riot and kill American ambassadors and thus that cannot be tolerated.  Come on, liberal friends: I know cognitive and dissonance are your middle names, but for Voltaire's sake--pick a lane!
6) The enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend
It's clear that many (not all) hard-core liberals detest Christians in general, and conservative/"fundamentalist" Christians in particular (usually Evangelical, but sometimes including Catholics; so far the Orthodox, perhaps because of their ZZ Top beards, have mostly avoided recrimination).  But contra Rosie O'Donnell and my former college faculty colleague who once told me that "Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson scare me more than Usama bin Ladin"--I would retort that Southern Baptists do not fly airplanes into buildings.  And, unlike Salafists and jihadists, they support free speech, women's rights (no, being ordained is not a civil right) and religious freedom.  Sophomoric and idiotic attempts to conjure "Christianism" are just that (sophomoric and idiotic)--as if there's anything more than a surface resemblance between Christians who decry the overriding secularization of American society and vote accordingly, on the one hand and, on the other, Muslims who support sharia`ah with its amputations for theft and stoning for adultery.  Rosie and her ilk may decry the "American Taliban" but it's just flat-out stupid to de facto (and sometime even de jure) ally with the real Taliban over against Christians.  And many on the Left who do so are just using Islam and Muslims as foils against American Christians and their party, the GOP--they don't really care about Islamic mores or Muslims, for that matter.  It's time the liberals on the Left and the Obama Coasts woke up, smelled the Starbucks of reality and thanked the deity du jour that their heads are still attached--exactly because they DO live in a majority-Christian country protected by yes, a majority-Christian military.
.: In sum: 
     • Christians and conservatives: reinforce negative stereotypes (of themselves and Muslims); seek to inject Evangelical exegesis into US foreign and military policy; foreclose on avenues of dialog (especially via Jesus) with Muslims; and see Muslims as merely tools (often eschatological ones), not actors themselves.
     • Liberals and (some) Muslims: deny differences between religions and within Islam itself; seek to inject liberal-secular views into US foreign and domestic policy; employ deleterious double-standards for Muslims and virtually every other religion,  notably Christianity; are all too willing to sacrifice the First Amendment on a politically correct, multicultural altar; and want non-Muslims to, in effect, abide by (if not outright adopt) Islamic norms. 
My advice to both sides:
Stop making the issue of Islam and Muslims a domestic political football and means of demonizing American political opponents
    → Stand up for free speech--don't just pay it lip service when convenient
    → Learn as much as possible about Islamic history
    → Listen to Dr. Henry Jones, Sr.: try reading books--especially the Qur'an--instead of burning them
    → Work on that whole serpent and dove paradigm of Matthew 10:16: "I [Jesus] am sending you out like sheep among wolves; therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."
          Liberals-secularists too often emulate the latter (from fear of offending, or beheading by, Muslims)
          Conservatives-Christians are often willing to strike, apologeticaly, like snakes--but frequently forego the education about Islam that produces shrewdness.  
          And both sides need to be more sheepish about their own positions--more willing to listen and learn.
     Otherwise, the Islamic wolves will win.
An Ottoman Islamic painting of Musa (Moses) practicing snake-fu on Pharaoh.  Apparently in 1200 BC the serpents were more like small dragons.
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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Awaited Mahdis and Mad Hatters

With the hajj over for this year, Saudi officials by mid-November were no doubt still heaving sighs of relief that Iranian agents had not managed to stir up trouble in 2012.  Then, another pesky mutamahdi (false mahdi) reared his mystical head, "muttering 'I'm the Expected Mahdi' while dressed in ihram and circumambulating the Ka`aba....Brig. [General] Yahiya Massad al-Zahrani, Commander of the Grand Mosque Security Forces, said the man, thought to be a psychistric patient, would be referred to the mental health hospital in Makkah [Mecca]....The man is described as a tall black male adult in his 40s."  In 2011 there were at least half-a-dozen such incidents in the  staunchly-Wahhabi Kingdom of Saudi Arabia--one of which is attested in this recording wherein, between 1:57 and 2:00, you can hear a man shouting (probably into the mike on the minbar, or "pulpit") "Ana al-Mahdi! Ana al-Mahdi al-Muntazar!" ("I am the Mahdi! I am the Awaited Mahdi!" "Goo goo g'joob."  OK, my translation is a bit liberal, I confess.)  No doubt he, too, was hustled away to have his sanity examined (quite possibly via full lobotomy). 

A typical Saudi "mahdi," in the eyes of the establishment.

But at least the Saudi self-styled Mahdis are (so far) peaceful.  Over across the Maghrib, in Morocco, members of a group called Ansar al-Mahdi ("Helpers" or "Partisans of the Mahdi") have once again been "thwarted [in] an carry out attacks on strategic sites in the kingdom;" furthermore, "members of the cell are suspected of trying to contact with [sic] members of the Al-Qaeda international terrorist network in northern Africa."  Northwest and West Africa is rapidly becoming a jihadist and Salafist nexus, home to AQIM (al-Qa`idah in the Islamic Maghrib) in Mali, Mauritania and Algeria; Boko Haram in Nigeria; Ansar al-Shari`ah (responsible for killing our Benghazi consulate staff) in Libya.  And Sufism, Islamic mysticism, is quite prevalent in the region as well--one major reason that western African and the Maghrib have seen plenty of Mahdist movements over the centuries (most notably that of Ibn Tumart's al-Muwahhidun, or "Almohads," a millennium ago).   Currently the jihadists/Salafis and Sufis are at each other's throats--particularly in Mali and Libya.  But Sufism has also been the primary ground for most Sunni Mahdist movements in history, and it is very possible that it could be, once again. 

"Which one of us is the Mahdi? Who cares? Just kill some Catholics and try not to stain that blue turban!

Note, too, that eschatological rhetoric and imagery is increasingly transnational and mainstream in Sunni Islam--not limited to (alleged) mental cases or to the heterodox fringes of the Islamic world. Charges that Western (Christian) civilization in general and the US in particular are under the thumb of Iblis (Islam's satanic majesty) or his henchman, the Dajjal, are being disseminated by Malaysian thinkers from Pakistani sites.  All of this is yet more evidence that Mahdism continues to roil the Islamic world--and may yet prove a strategic threat to extant regimes, and perhaps even, eventually, to the US.

3:41 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Petraeus and Muhammad: Whole Lotta Love

No doubt the entire civilized--and even much of the uncivilized (i.e., those red states that vote GOP)--world has heard of l'affaire Petraeus. Now it seems that the US military's General-officer ranks have been the scene of a tawdry menage a quatre, as CIA Director Petraeus' dalliances with Paula Broadwell overlapped with alleged ones between General John Allen, top US officer in Afghanistan and a friend of Petraeus', one Jill Kelly. 
Those with stars on their shoulders are not the only ones prone to martial marital infidelity: although empirical data is almost impossible to find (which should be a tell-tale sign in its own right), anecdotal evidence abounds that infidelity is rampant in all branches of the service, and among all ranks, particularly (and unsurprisingly) among those deployed.  This should not surprise us, say expert psychologists, for after all not just the desire for, but the attainment of, multiple sex partners is natural for humans--or at least human males.   
At the same time, the US military has an ongoing need for cultural expertise, particularly regarding the Islamic world.  Thus it seems to me that the American infidelity-industrial complex can kill two (or more!) lovebirds with one stone: let's simply permit our service members who are deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Mali or any of the other member countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to adopt ancient Islamic strictures on sexual relations.  Islam has two rake-friendly modes: mu`tah, usually translated politely as "temporary marriage"--but in reality meaning, in the original Arabic, "gratification, pleasure, recreation" and referring to what Velvet Jones would call "being a ho" for a period as short an an hour; and full-blown polygamy with two, three or four wives (according to Sura al-Nisa'[IV]:3)--although many Muslim men for the last 1433 years, especially high-ranking ones, have not bothered to stop at four; Muhammad himself had at least 11 wives, and according to hadiths liked'em young, too!). 
The Muslim "prophet"enjoying only half (or fewer, in his case) of the huri allotment in the afterlife.

Rather than subject overburdened, highly-testosteroned men like Petraeus and Allen to outmoded, repressive, puritanical Christian modes of behavior that probably offend the conquered, er, host countries--I say we simply go whole hog, er, chicken and allow--nay, mandate!--that our troops in Muslim-majority countries adopt Islamic cultural norms on sex and marriage.  After all, the Obama Administration is already forcing them do so regarding handling the Qur'an--why not just take the logical next step and order them to abide by what's in that book? Of course, some modifications can be made: General officers get the maximum of four wives; field-grade officers get three; senior enlisted and junior officers get two; but anyone E-5 and below will have to make do with one "wife" or find a local imam (V. Elvet al-Junz?) or willing, culturally-diverse US chaplain (likely Episcopalian) who will sign off on a stress-releasing, bout of mu`tah--the imam in case Taliban-fleeing indigene(s) are the target group; the chaplain if a female US SM, enlisted or officer, is in the sights.  (There is always the option of pursuing non-local paramours, such as might be found in DC or Tampa--but one will need either stars on the shoulders or a jinn's lamp to get lucky at such long-distance.)
Everyone wins in this scenario: horny, deployed service members (pun intended); Islamo-friendly government cultural advisors; our salacious media; CAIR and other US pro-Muslim groups; the Obama Administration, which thereby keeps Benghazi and $16 trillion of debt off the front pages; and the global Islamic da`wah. What's not to like?

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

Mahdi, Mahdism, Eschatology, Usama bin Ladin, Dajjal, Ahmadinejad, al-Sadr, Hizbullah, Yajuj wa-Majuj, Dabbah, Jesus, `Isa, Holiest Wars, Nasrallah, End of Time, Twelfth Imam, Middle East Politics, Iran, Iraq, al-Sistani, Awaited Mahdi, al-Mahdi, the Mahdi, Hojjatiyeh, Armageddon, Dabbah, Muhammad, Hadith, Jihadists, Apocalypse, Consultant, Islamic Mahdis, Osama bin Ladin, al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda, al-Qa`ida, Azzam, Muhammad Ahmad, Ibn Tumart, al-Utaybi, Islam, Islamic, Muslim, Messiah, Ahmadinezhad, Khamanei, Ayatollah