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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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Friday, December 21, 2012

Sorry, Mayans--But He's Right!
1:29 pm est          Comments

The Mahdi and the Mayans
It is now just a few hours before the Mayan Long Count calendar ends and, according to apocalyptic aficionados thereof, the planet Nibiru will shed its Romulan cloaking devices and appear, the Earth's magnetic poles will flip, and dogs and cats will start living together.  For some Muslims (and, indeed, even a few infidels) striving to find any signs of the coming of the Mahdi, these cosmic catastrophes will lead to the rising of the sun in the West--one of the major eschatological signs in Islam. 
Somehow I doubt all this will come pass--at least in the next day or so.  And I had written, over the course of several hours, earlier, quite a lengthy commentary on the whole phenomenon of Islamic apocalyptic in relation to Mayan.  Alas, as I was nearing the end of that missive, my relatively new Dell computer was suddenly possessed by al-Dajjal, or one of his minions, and completely froze up--leaving me no recourse but to shut it off, thus losing all my work.  I am now too tired (and disgusted) to try and reconstruct my analysis--especially considering I have to help the family prep tomorrow for our out-of-state Christmas trip. So for now I must get some sleep and hope the planet is still here, and relatively unscathed, in the morning.  I leave you with clips to my three favorite end-of-time songs:
1) U2, "Until the End of the World"
2) The Doors, "The End"
3) Imagine Dragons, "Radioactive"
Or, if you'd rather chill (and pray), I suggest Anonymous 4, "A Mass for the End of Time."
I will be back, soon, with commentary on a new publication by the Iraqi "vice-regent" of the Mahdi, Ahmad al-Hassan al-Yamani.   Assuming we're all still here, of course.
1:30 am est          Comments

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

When the Man Comes Around: Christian and Muslim Post-Apocalyptic History
Back in October (2012) I presented "After the End of the World: Modern Christian and Muslim Views of Post-Apocalyptic History" for the Southeast World History Association conference "The Ends of the World" at Georgia State University in Atlanta.  Herewith is a summary of that presentation.
ἀποκάλυψις ("apocalypse") originally meant "uncovering"--hence the "revelation" of St. John--not "total destruction."  So, lexically, "post-apocalyptic history is not an oxymoron.  Furthermore, even assuming arguendo the "Doomsday Prepper" meaning of apocalypse, it's not accurate to posit that after said event the planet is necessarily a "wasteland, terrorized by roving bands of irradiated mutants" (and/or zombies).  History can go on after the apocalypse--especially in the Islamic view.
Post-Muslim apocalypse: the US humbled, and Mahdi-provided free snow cones for all (Muslims)!

It's not an oversimplifcation to observe that in Christian thought humans largely cease being historical actors with the Last Judgement, becoming (mere) objects in the divine plan.  But even for those Christians (often Evangelical Protestants) who separate the Second Coming from the Judgement, usually by making His return and 1,000 year (millennial) reign precede the latter, history also largely comes to a screeching halt thereby--again, because in the millennium humans are not masters of their own destiny but pawns (or, if you prefer, sheep) in the God v. Satan conflict.  Thus, for two millennia Christians have been oriented much more toward pre-apocalyptic prognostication than envisioning what the Millennial and/or New Jerusalem polity would look like: for example, the First Crusaders (1096-1099) hoped to spark Jesus' return by retaking Jerusalem; and now, over nine centuries later, some Evangelicals want Israel to rebuild the Temple because they believe that will hotwire His descent.
There are a few exceptions to this pre-apocalyptic focus: most notably, the 16th c. "Kingdom of Münster" wherein theocratic and nihilistic Anabaptists established what they claimed was the first outpost of the "New Jerusalem" (of Revelation 21), albeit with polygamy, decapitations and communism; and, on a far larger level, the "Taiping Rebellion" in Qing China (1850-64) in which Hong Xiuquan claimed to be Jesus' "younger brother" and led a pseudo-Christian, apocalyptic movement that may have caused the deaths of as many as 30 million Chinese.  (It is also worthy of note that the Qing government was assisted in putting down this rebellion by a British officer Charles Gordon--who, two decades later, would be hired by the Ottoman Empire to put down a similar, but Islamic, messianic movement in Sudan! In that latter case, however, Gordon would be killed.)
Dervishes to the left, Mahdists to the right--there Gordon is, stuck in the middle with--well, no one.

Despite these two glaring examples of pre-apocalyptic violence, they are indeed the exceptions and not the rule in Christian history.  Islamic history is another matter entirely, for it is rife with movements led by men who considered themselves al-Mahdi, the "divinely-guided" one predicted in several hadiths (alleged sayings of Muhammad), albeit absent from the Qur'an.  The job of the Mahdi--or, for the largest branch of Shi`is, the returned Twelfth Imam (the last male descendant of Muhammad, believed to have gone into occultation over a millennium ago)--is to usher in the global rule of Islam and he operates entirely within the normal run of space-time.  Thus, Morocco's Ibn Tumart (d. 1130 AD), Sudan's Muhammad Ahmad (d. 1885) and Saudi Arabia's Muhammad al-Qahtani (d. 1979) on the Sunni side; and all the Egyptian Fatimid caliphs (969-1171 AD), as well as the Safavid Shahs of Iran (1501-1722) on the Shi`i one considered themselves Allah-directed architects of the burgeoning, eventually global, Islamic state.  And this state would exist (so they all thought) for some considerable period of time before the actual End, the Last Trumpet and the queuing up for judgement.  The modern rulers of Iran likewise see themselves as creating the "Mahdist state in microcosm" which will serve as a "vanguard" for the emergence and coming rule of the Imam al-Mahdi.  Thus, in Islamic messianic thought human efforts within history--primarily jihad in all its range of meaning and activity, from (mere) da`wah, or "propagation," to holy war--are capable of influencing the eschatological timetable and helping erect the foundation of al-malakut Allah, "the kingdom of Allah."  In a very real sense the Mahdi is apocalyptic, then, because Allah is revealing to him how he should proceed with Islamizing the planet.  This is a major difference from the historical Christian view of apocalypse and history in which, as aforementioned, the post-apocalyptic Kingdom can only be established by Christ Himself once He returns--and not by any of his followers (or at least any of the sane ones). 
In one very important respect, however, there appears to be convergence between Islam and Christianity regarding apocalyptic and eschatology: the Evangelical position which "Christian Zionism" predicates that rebuilding the Temple will allow (force?) Jesus to return is similar to the Muslim view--held primarily by some jihadist Sunnis and not, as many commentators allege, by the Twelver Shi`is--of "hotwiring the apocalypse:" using a nuclear weapon against Israel (or the United States) in order to spark the Mahdi's emergence.   This attribution to the ayatollahs of such a belief flies in the face of Twelver Shi`i teachings and modern Iranian history.  In fact, while the Sunni apocalyptic jihadist view most closely resembles modern Evangelical "Christian Zionism" (although the latter is far less violent), the Twelver Shi`i position most closely tracks the historical Roman Catholic/Orthodox/Lutheran Christian one--that there is little to nothing humans can do to advance the messianic timetable, except "prepare and wait."
One major reason for the historical difference between mainstream, historical Christianity and Islam on this issue had not occurred to me until I heard the presentation (at the same SEWHA panel) by Professor Matthew Myers of Shorter University, entitled "Surviving the End of Your World: Coping and Crisis in Early Christian Communities." Prof. Myers elucidated the integral role of suffering in the pre-Constantinian church, which led me to consider two matters: 1) the unimportance--and, indeed, despising--of suffering in the early (and modern) Sunni Muslim world, where such is seen as evidence of God's disfavor; and 2) perhaps more importantly, the Sunni and Shi`i view that salvation is primarily communal--that of the ummah--whereas in Christianity there is much more focus on individual soteriology.  One might reasonably conclude that Islam's emphasis on the Borg-like success of Islam in toto lends itself to a more developed historical consciousness regarding the post-apocalyptic world.  Also, the Christian concept of martyrdom is one of suffering and dying for Jesus' sake in the face of persecution, whereas a "martyr" (shahid)  in Islam is most decidely not one who suffers placidly and passively, but who dies fighting fi sabil Allah ("in the path of Allah")--acting to change history, one (body) piece at a time.  That is quite a significant contrast.
Finally, it's also worthy of note that the Islamic view of post-apocalyptic history is reminiscent of that held by a near-Church Father, Origen (d. 254 AD), who "understood history as a process involving the participation of persons in grand events leading to an eventual culmination or 'end of history.' [BUT] Unlike mainstream Christian eschatology, Origen did not understand the end of history as the final stage...but rather as the culmination of a human-divine (co-operative) process...."
Johnny Cash's man who comes around will be Jesus Christ; for Sunnis and Shi`is it will be the Mahdi (coming for the first time or returning matters little).  While there are many similarities between the Christian and Muslim views, the even larger differences between Jesus and the Mahdi have ensured that the world's two largest religions will continue to have quite divergent approaches to the apocalypse--both what triggers it and what comes in its wake. 
Masih Jesus: "Look, this is really starting to burn me up--YES, I DO like bacon and NO, Muhammad did NOT get it right!"
1:17 pm est          Comments

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

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