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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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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Where's Your Messiah Now--On the Left or the Right?
The latest issue of “New Oxford Review” carries a book review by Anne Barbeau Gardiner of Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (Free Press, 2013).  I confess to having not (yet) read this book, but will nonetheless employ Professor Gardiner’s excellent appraisal, as it touches on eschatology.  According to her, Douthat discerns four heresies ascendant as traditional, orthodox Christianity has somewhat waned in America.  First, the “New Quest” for the historical Jesus, epitomized by the liberal theologians of the Jesus Seminar, has derided orthodox Christian views of Jesus as “myth invented by the winners,” despite the fact that “orthodox Christianity [has] a far greater antiquity than the Gnostic texts.”  Second, proponents of “Prosperity Theology,” such as Joel Osteen, ignore Good Friday and skip to Easter in order to peddle their name-it-and-claim-it doctrine.  Third, the “God  Within” mystics, led by Oprah Winfrey, have pushed a Christian Lite narcissism in which God is but a “Higher Power” and suffering is illusory—more neo-Buddhist than Christian, and a far cry from the true Christian mysticism of Hildegard, Brother Lawrence or even Thomas Merton.  Finally, Douthat identifies “American nationalism” as an American heretical coin—and one that has two sides: “messianic” and “apocalyptic.”  In Gardiner’s words, “the messianic side turns democracy into a religion capable of doing the ‘redemptive work that orthodoxy reserves for Christ and his Church,’ while the apocalyptic side envisions our national history as a ‘downhill slide.’  Today these two sides are ‘bipartisan afflictions.’ Each takes its turn in the driver’s seat—the messianic when a favored political party is in power, the apocalyptic when it is out of power….creating a Manichaean landscape of good versus evil where a Christian is pressured to conform his ‘theology to ideology.’”
Here's your Messiah--if you're liberal.

There is a large overlap in the United States between political affiliation and church (denominational) membership.  Democrats tend to cluster in mainline/liberal Protestant churches, such as the Episcopal, Methodist, ELCA, PC-USA,  African-Methodist Episcopal and National Baptist ones.  Republicans predominate in the more conservative Protestant ones—largely Evangelical like the Southern Baptists, Christian & Missionary Alliance, various Pentecostal churches;  but also including non-Evangelicals such as the Orthodox churches, and my own denomination, the Lutheran-Church-Missouri Synod.  (Catholics, the largest single denomination in America with almost 70 million members, are not so easily categorized, as they tend to be socially conservative but economically liberal—and thus are not a reliable voting bloc for either Republicans or Democrats.)  Douthat’s contention (at least according to Gardiner) seems to be that both blocs—political-theological liberals, and political-theological conservatives—are equally capable of manifesting the messianic or apocalyptic dimensions of Christian heresy, depending on whether they’re (or their candidate is) in power.  However, I think that this analysis sacrifices accuracy on an altar of fair-mindedness.  I would contend that a more accurate reading of US history, certainly since FDR, indicates that liberals are almost always messianic, while conservatives tend more toward the apocalyptic.  It’s certainly the Democrat party, for the most part, that worships the idea of our elected democratic officials as messianic wealth-redistributors, assisted by their hordes of bureaucratic disciples; while the GOP (not unreasonably, perhaps) obsesses about apocalyptic demise—whether politically, theologically, or both.  The Left’s messiah-complex is obvious: think FDR, JFK, LBJ, time in the wilderness, false messiah (Clinton), then the real deal: BHO!  The Right, by contrast—for various reasons, to include a healthier distrust of political messianism—is much more pessimistic about utopian dreams, this side of the true Second Coming; but that pessimism does all too easily elide into an anti-utopian despondency, and a growing tendency to eschew politics altogether (such as in Evangelicals’ and other conservative Christians’ failure to get out and vote for Mormon Mitt Romney) in favor of waiting for The End.
And here's the view of that "messiah" from the other end of the political-theological spectrum.

Meanwhile, American Muslims (who, numbering 2.6 million, comprise a tiny but growing demographic slice) overwhemingly vote Democrat and supported Obama at rates rivalling that of black Americans, indicating their tendency to view the current POTUS, at any rate, through Mahdist glasses—thus putting them squarely in the same camp as Douthat’s heretical Christians.
And the all-too-prevalent Muslim view....
5:14 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Forgive my eschatological hiatus, as I was off with the family to Maine (visited COL Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's home) and spent a morning at Gettysburg on the way back (making a pilgrimage to Little Round Top, of course, to honor Professor Chamberlain).  Now, returning to matters millennial, three recent stories are worth examining—one Muslim, two Christian.  First, nine members of Kyrgyzstan’s Jaysh al-Mahdi, “Army of the Mahdi,” were given long prison sentences for attacks in Bishkek two years ago.  The Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty story adds that, in the 2011 firefight with state security, JAM’s “leader was killed.”  One wishes that the Kyrgyz authorities had taken him alive, or at least squeezed more information out of his followers who were (although, to be sure, perhaps state security has more info but is simply withholding it from the press).  The rare analyst who actually touches on this movement chalks it up to “universalistic jihadism” and makes no mention whatsoever of the overt Mahdism element.   That’s unfortunate, because Mahdist movements are qualitatively different from jihadist ones, although the two do share many aspects.   Much more research needs to be done on JAM in Central Asia, and any connections it might have to Twelver Shi`i state or non-state actors, as well as to Sufi tariqat. Next, Jesus may have left Chicago but has now relocated to Russia—Siberia, to be exact.  One Sergey Anatolyevitch Torop, a.k.a. “Vissarion,” claims to be the “reincarnation of Jesus Christ.”  (Although, since Jesus is alive and bodily ascended to heaven, how can someone reincarnate Him? It’s all so confusing.)   Vissarion, a former traffic cop, has some 10,000 followers in a cult that syncretistically blends Orthodox Christianity, Buddhism and a number of other beliefs, most notably aliens and UFOs.  He’s also wrongly predicted the end of the world a number of times.  I would remark that there seems to be a connection between traffic management and apocalyptic—ex-IRI President Mahmud Ahmadinejad holds a PhD in traffic transportation planning—but that would just be plain nutty, wouldn’t it? Finally, it’s the end of the world as we know it but Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill does not feel fine—not at all.  Why? Because gay marriage is causing the the apocalypse to arrive on an accelerated schedule, he says.  Well, at least the Patriarch, not just President Putin, has found something he can blame on the US and Western Europeans.  Although, to be fair to His Holiness, he does, arguably, have Scriptural backup (Romans 1:18ff; II Thessalonians 1:7-9; II Peter 3:3ff; Revelation 22:15). 
One of us is a false messiah--but I'll be damned if I know which one.  Hey, can that camel say "Hump DAAAAY?!"

These stories demonstrate, yet again, that both Christians and Muslims hold strong eschatological beliefs.  At least the former, however, have largely separated such from any violent tendencies—something Muslims have yet to do, alas. 

4:20 pm edt          Comments

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

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