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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, April 27, 2014

The Blood-Spangled Banner of the Mahdi, Jabhat al-Nusra and Syria
My friend Charles Cameron, who blogs regularly on strategy and other high-brow issues at zenpundit, just recently pointed out that the major jihadist group in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, has yet again (on April 23, 2014) trumpeted its Islamic eschatological beliefs.  As per MEMRI:  
Jabhat al-Nusra cleric: “We are fighting the Safavid-Shiite alliance…and we are fighting the Zionist-Crusader alliance….Sami al-`Uraydi, senior JaN religious authority: “Thanks to Allah, the banner has been raised.  The first to raise the banner in this century was Sheikh Osama, may Allah accept him in Paradise. The banner passes from one lion to another, from one man to another, until it will reach Muhammad bin Abdullah, the Mahdi.  Allah willing, the banner will not be lost, until it has reached Muhammad bin Abdullah, the Mahdi. The age of great wars began with the 9/11 attacks” [emphasis added]. The Middle East Media Research Institute entitles this video clip translation “Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra Conquers Military Post in the Syrian Golan, Commemmorates Bin Laden.”  A far more accurate appraisal would be “Major Sunni Jihadist Group Adduces the Mahdi.”
The Mahdi will be a left-handed swordsman, like me! (But that's where the resemblance ends....)

 I have been warning of the dangers of Mahdism for years (even before the publication of my book Holiest Wars in 2005), on this site and in other publications and lectures.   Once again, let me point out that according to no less an authority on public opinion than Pew, belief in the imminent coming of the Mahdi is widespread in the Islamic world—among Sunnis as much, if not more so, than among Twelver Shi`is.  All told, almost 700 million of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims expect the Mahdi to come in their lifetimes.  Yet most analysts and commentators still consider this primary Muslim eschatological belief to be “extremist” and thus not worth studying.  Wake up, CIA and State.  Call me.  More specifically, I warned about the eschatological elements active in the Syrian conflict—on all sides—in a piece last September, entitled “Intervening (in Syria) Like It’s the End of the World?  Thus, I was only seven months ahead of Reuters’ “Apocalyptic Prophecies Drive Both Sides to Syrian Battle for End of Time.”  
 What does this latest JaN communique tell us?
1) History matters.  JaN clerics employ half-a-millennium old Islamic discourse, which nonetheless still resonates with many in the umma: the Safavids were the militant Twelver Shi`i rulers of Persia/Iran from 1501-1736 (they were also mystical Sufis—albeit violent ones) and the inveterate enemies of the Sunni Ottomans.  Of course, JaN also trots out the cliched Crusader trope, as well as the Zionist one.  But note that pride of antagonistic place is given to the other Muslim enemy this time.
2) Usama bin Ladin is not just lionized and prayed to be in Paradise, but held up as a forerunner to the Mahdi.  
3) The Bin Ladin-orchestrated 9/11 attacks (sorry, “Truthers”) were not just terrorism but, according to JaN, of an entirely higher register: they commenced the “age of great wars” which will lead to the coming of the Mahdi, who will conquer the entire world for Islam.
4) That "banner" is the flag with the shahada--the Muslim profession of faith--emblazoned on it.  Eschatology thus intrudes on the present, as the standard by which the many members of the world's second-largest religion live is conflated (quite reasonably and legitimately, according to Hadiths) with the Mahdist moment and movement.
The Lone Horseman of the Muslim Apocalypse does not come meekly, riding on a colt.

5) At the risk of sounding like a broken record—when will Mahdism, which is being shouted from not just rooftops but battlefields, be taken seriously in the IC, military ranks and diplomatic corps?  Mahdism has been the most potent form of jihad waged across at least a millennium of Islamic history, from North Africa to Southeast Asia.  It’s not going away because of the Internet or Barack Husayn Obama or John Kerry (in fact, all of those are probably exacerbating it).   And now militant and revolutionary Islamic messianism is being openly proclaimed among a major al-Qa`ida affiliate--among violent men who revere Usama bin Ladin and Ayman al-Zawahiri.  To paraphrase a
particular movie favorite of mine:  “Militant Mahdism is out there.  It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until all non-Muslims are converted—or dead.”
7:29 pm edt          Comments

Monday, April 21, 2014

Even Reverend Lovejoy Has His Ecumenical Limits....
10:20 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Isma'ili Islam On the Crucifixion: Not Quite the Real Thing
For some 14 centuries, the vast majority of Muslims, following mainstream Islamic doctrine, has denied that Jesus was crucified—and thus, of course, that He was Resurrected.  The proof text for this Islamic rejection of the central teaching of Christianity is Sura al-Nisa’ [IV]:157:
 Muslim commentators such as Ibn Kathir, et al., have long maintained that Jesus was taken to heaven and someone else—probably Judas—was crucified in His place.  Other Islamic writers over the centuries have held slightly differing positions, but the bottom-line conclusion has always been that Jesus’ Crucifixion is a Christian lie.   However, one group of Muslims—the (heterodox) Isma’ili (Sevener) Shi`is—has for centuries held a unique view of Jesus’ Crucifixion, as elucidated in the paper by Khalil Andani, “`They Killed Him Not.’ The Crucifixion in Shi`a Isma’ili Islam” (2011).   Andani makes several points herein—that:  the Qur’anic text does not deny the Crucifixion per se—but rather that the Jews perpetrated it; over the centuries Muslim commentators have held views ranging “from total denial to actually asserting that the crucifixion did take place historically;” and, most importantly, “it was only the human body or the nahut of Jesus that was killed and crucified upon the Cross while the eternal reality of lahut of Christ can never be killed or crucified.” 

There is much to be admired in the Isma’ili position regarding Christ’s crucifixion: not only is it in many ways closer to the Christian than the Islamic one, but it is also more intellectually honest than the latter is wont to be.  For example, al-Mu`ayyad fi al-Din al-Shirazi (d. 1078 AD), a noted Isma’ili theologian, said that “denying the historicity of the Crucifixion is to contradict a historical fact established by the testimony of two major religious communities, the Jews and the Christians” (this is also contra the modern cadre of irrational and ahistorical Jesus-deniers known as “mythicists”).   As Andani also notes, “even the prominent Sunni Muslim theologian al-Ghazali [d. 1111 AD] eventually came to affirm the Crucifixion….”  (albeit by following Isma’ili reasoning, something the vast majority of Sunni clerics have never been willing to do).

Isma'ili calligraphic representation of `Ali as the "tiger of Allah."  Not quite Aslan, alas. 
The particular Isma’ili twist on the topic is in taking the Qur’anic phrase shubbiha lahum, “that which/whom appeared to them” to mean not Judas or another person being crucified in Jesus’ place while resembling Him—but rather that His human, not his divine, nature was killed on the cross.  Andani exults that by this view “Muslims can join Christians in recognizing the historical event [of the Crucifixion”—but then goes on to admit, with breath-taking understatement,  that “they may not attribute to it the same theological significance.” Despite its beguiling, and welcome, difference from mainstream Sunni (and Twelver Shi`i) Crucifixion-denial, the Isma’ili position is untenable.  Not only does it rely in large measure upon corroboration from heretical and noncanonical “gospels”—most notably the 3rd century AD Acts of John—but the Isma’ili crucifixion theory recapitulates the errors of the Docetists and, more specifically, the Apollonarians, who held that “Jesus had a human body and lower soul…but a divine mind.”  Most damningly, from a Christian perspective, even this seemingly-ecumenical Isma’ili concession still denies the Atonement—because it negates both the sacrifical and redeeming death of the God-man, Jesus Christ, and the validating and glorifying Resurrection which came after. We Christians should all appreciate the historical rigor and intellectual honesty which Isma’ili thinkers like Mr. Andani are willing to bring to bear on an issue of such supreme importance. But this religious rectitude serves primarily to reinforce the unbridgeable gulf between Christianity and Islam, over against false claims that they teach the same thing about Jesus. 


Now that is is past midnight on Easter, April 20, 2014, I can state unequivocally (again): “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”  I pray that eventually our Isma’ili, and indeed all Muslim, brothers and sisters, will join us in that central reality of life.   The Isma’ilis have taken the first step on that road, to their credit.

12:56 am edt          Comments

Thursday, April 17, 2014

al-Qaida Comes to Jesus--the Muslim One, Unfortunately

The American media and US intelligence community have both--as usual--missed the point about yesterday's al-Qa`ida jihad-fest in Yemen, in which AQ deputy caliph Nasir al-Wuhayshi calls for Muslims to "eliminate the cross" and "the bearer of the cross [which] is America." CNN, FNC and various and sundry US government analysts and politicians over the past 24 hours have exegeted the video of this meeting to mean that 1) we should have had armed drones there sooner, and 2) our intelligence is still lacking, if the CIA was indeed unaware of this mass AQ confab. 
Important as these two issues are, however, they are both tactical ones, and thus of lesser importance than the glaringly obvious strategic point made by al-Wuhayshi: AQ does not want to attack America primarily because of our "freedoms" but because we are the largest Christian country on the planet.


This inconvenient truth flies in the face of both post-9/11 US administrations.  Only 9 days after the Islamic terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 Americans, President Bush was misconstruing the perpetrators as "enemies of freedom."  President Obama and his willfully ignorant mouthpieces (like Eric Holder and John Brennan) have doubled down on this nonsense, and even exceeded it by their constant claims that the very idea that Islam might have had something to do with motivating those engaged in self-described jihad is ipso facto discriminatory. (A variation of this head-in-the-sand "analsyis" holds that "religious fundamentalists'" hatred of modernity is the culprit.)

Alas, the secularists and leftists in downtown Atlanta, Manhattan, Foggy Bottom and Langley are wrong, and as long as they continue to be wrong the West will go on losing its civilizational battle--which is not just with Islamic "extremism" or AQ but with literalist Islam itself. 

Why? Because the Qur'an and the Hadiths (alleged sayings of Muhammad) instruct Muslims to labor, violently and non-violently, until the entire world is either converted or submissive to Islam.  And since historically and theologically the main (indeed, only) rival to Islam has been Christianity,  that religion and its adherents have been the object of the lion's share of Islamic ire--and most of that long before AQ even existed.  Recall that the majority of the Middle East and North Africa west of the Tigris and Euphrates was Christian by the 7th century AD.  It was only after the irruption of Islam from Arabia and the "destruction of tens of thousands of churches" that the intolerant religion of Muhammad gained the upper hand in those regions.


AQ's #2 calling for a jihad, an Islamic religious war, against Christians is nothing new; neither is it "extremist."  Such has been the norm for most of the last fourteen centuries, and Americans have simply been lulled into lassitude by the earlier 20th century retreat of Islamic aggression (along with, it must be said, American ignorance of history courtesy of shoddy public schools, as well as books, lectures and coverage by dhimmi media and their "experts").  AQ is weaponized Islam; but it is not the first version, nor will it be the last.

There are even hadiths which state that when "prophet Jesus" (nabi `Isa) returns from heaven--for of course he was never crucified and thus never resurrected, but simply taken up--he will kill all the world's pigs, destroy all the crosses and then kneel down and pray behind the Mahdi, who outranks him.  AQ is thus following mainstream Islamic teachings (both Sunni and Twelver Sh`i) in eschatological matters, as well more mundane ones.

A drone strike on al-Wuhayshi and his Muslim brothers in Yemen was necessary; but it would have been woefully insufficient to stem the tide of Islamic ideology, of da`wah, which continues to captivate the vast majority of Muslims in the Middle East, as well as growing numbers of supporters in America and the West.  (For example: the Boston Marathon jihad of the brothers Tsarnaev was motivated, at least in part, by Islamic eschaological belief.)  As long as the American intelligentsia and leadership denies that many members of the world's second-largest religion are waging war on the adherents of the largest one, al-Wuhayshi and his ilk will have the upper hand.

Jesus and the Mahdi, back from a hard day of destroying churches, hit the drive-thru at Sonic Boom Falafel.

12:23 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Happy Den of Thievery Day!

Actually, I'm not a formal member of the Tea Party (which works, here in the US, for the decidely non-radical agenda of lower taxes, smaller government and adherence to the Constitution) and I realize that when Christ cleared the money-lenders from the Temple, he was rescuing His Father's house from the taint of greed and not advocating for tax cuts.  But still, the juxtaposition between April 15 (the deadline by which Americans must pay all taxes owed for the previous year) and Holy Week was just too rich to pass up.
9:27 am edt          Comments

Monday, April 14, 2014

Eschatological Nature of Holy Week

My good friend Ralph Sidway, an Orthodox Christian who runs the "Facing Islam" blog, has a fascinating article about the eschatological aspects of the week between Palm Sunday and Easter.

Christ of the Last Judgement, with the Book of Life and Death (from 

9:41 am edt          Comments

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

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