Only in the past decade or so, however, has knowledge of another “waiting people” emerged, a third hat thrown in the messianic ring. Muslims, it seems have a messiah, too, called the Mahdi. Many in the United States and around the world who became students of Islam after the terrorist attacks on America on September 11, 2001 were shocked to discover that Muslims were expecting the Mahdi at any moment. Even more alarming was the revelation that Islamic fundamentalists saw terrorism as a legitimate means through which his arrival could be hastened.
However, many in the less scholarly element of the world population only became aware of Islam’s messianic expectations on September 20, 2006, when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stood before the United Nations and the world community and prayed for the Mahdi’s hasty return. His prayer received a great deal of media attention, with a shocked international community reacting to his overt declarations that there can be no peace on earth until the Mahdi arrives to usher it in, beginning his speech by saying: “In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Praise be to Allah and peace be upon Prophet Mohammad and his infallible household and chosen disciples. O Allah, hasten the reappearance of the imam of the times and grant to us victory and prosperity. Include us among his followers and martyrs.” (Note: An imam is a Muslim leader of the line of Ali, held by some Muslims to be the divinely appointed, sinless, infallible successors of Muhammad, the twelfth one being the Mahdi.)
He was equally clear as he ended his speech: “O, Almighty Allah, all men and women are your creatures and you have ordained their guidance and salvation. Bestow upon humanity that thirsts for justice, the perfect human being promised to all by you, and make us among his followers and among those who strive for his return and his cause.” The international community would have been less shocked however, had they paid a little more attention in 2005 when the Iranian president addressed the same UN body and said this:
“Dear Friends and Colleagues, From the beginning of time, humanity has longed for the day when justice, peace, equality and compassion envelop the world. All of us can contribute to the establishment of such a world. When that day comes, the ultimate promise of all divine religions will be fulfilled with the emergence of a perfect human being who is heir to all prophets and pious men. He will lead the world to justice and absolute peace…O mighty Lord, I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository, the promised one, that perfect and pure human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace.”
The references to the Twelfth Imam that riddle Ahmadinejad’s speeches are not hyperbole nor is his messianism some sort of ruse to gain favor with any particular religious group. Although some have called him a madman, a more apt label is zealot. He is a man driven by religious fervor, believing beyond question that the Islamic savior is about to return, and it is his personal mandate to prepare the way. According to members of his cabinet, he is a man who is “being inspired by God.” Others in Iran have referred to his election to the presidency as “an answer to the prayers of the Lord of the Age.” As a human being, a Muslim, and the president of the 18th largest country in the world, mahdaviat (belief in and efforts to prepare for the Mahdi) is his raison d’etre.
The Mahdi: New Theology or Old?
The term Mahdi means “guided one,” and Islamic eschatology says he will arrive on earth before the coming of the Day of Resurrection or Day of Judgment. He is the prophesied redeemer of Islam who will rid the world of error, injustice, and tyranny. Although the concept of Mahdi is not explicitly mentioned in the Koran, it is found in the hadith (oral traditions regarding the words and deeds of Muhammad) and is a recognized principle in both Shia and Sunni traditions. According to the Encyclopedia of Islam, the concept originated in the early years of the development of the religion and has become particularly identified with the Shia stream— Islam’s second largest sect, which focuses on martyrdom, suffering, and violent jihad. Though important in the larger Sunni sect, it is not as powerful or central an ideal as it is to the Shiites.
Both streams agree, however, that his arrival will roughly coincide with the second coming of Yeshua (Jesus). According to Islamic eschatology, the two will serve together as Yeshua joins the Mahdi in spreading the truth of Islam to the four corners of the earth. The rest of the Mahdi’s end-time army will consist of archangels Gabriel and Michael, 3,000 other angels, and 300 young non-Arab men and women with hearts of iron, who are like lions by day and true believers by night, unmatched in self-sacrifice. The Mahdi, however, will be the star of the show, a holy individual whose morality, physical beauty, and redemptive activity are unparalleled on earth and cannot be equaled, imitated, or acquired by effort. He has been chosen by Allah and by the will of Allah, his coming cannot be prevented. It can however be hastened.
Hastening the Day
Ahmadinejad has made it clear that he is committed to making Iran the platform for the appearance of the “lord of the age.” There are then two imperatives for the helpers of the Mahdi: to hasten his coming through various acts of obedience and to make sure that the country of Iran is ready to take its place at the head of the nations when the Mahdi arrives to establish his one-world government and make Islam the religion of the entire globe.
Any act that defies the spirit of the current age and its immoral, repressive, and materialistic lifestyle will help to hasten the coming of the Mahdi. Beginning now to inculcate the thinking of men with the ideas of moral purity and self-sacrifice as taught by the Koran will help to create the environment into which the Mahdi will emerge. Therefore, acts of defiance against Western nations that are seen as the architects of evil are viewed not only as positive but necessary. The acquisition of nuclear weapons, the elimination of Israel, the destruction of Western democracies, and an end to the United States as a superpower are all preconditions to the arrival of the Islamic savior.
Many who ascribe to Ahmadinejad’s brand of messianism quote hadith that refer to the state of the world into which the Mahdi will come: one of ruin, spiritual darkness, and catastrophe. Even the faithful will fall away, and there will be worldwide war and chaos.
The Iranian president is convinced of the superiority of Islam and believes that the Koran calls on believers to wage war against unbelievers in order to pave the way for the Mahdi. Even Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has stated that the justice of the Mahdi for the world will not be attained through preaching and admonition but rather through confrontation. The followers of the Mahdi must be equipped with the power and the weaponry to confront the enemies of Islam. By preparing now to rule the world then, the helpers of the Mahdi shorten the time they must wait for their deliverer.
Thus Saith the Prophets
The early development of mahdaviat was based on a series of prophecies which informed the faithful about the end of days. Several events are to occur just before the Day of Judgment, and the arrival of the Mahdi is one of them. Additional prophecies also speak of the religious climate of that day. One of the prophecies says, the “religious leaders of that day will be the most evil religious leaders under the heavens, as sedition and dissension will go out from them and to them will it return.”
Another of the prophecies calls the clerics of that future day “faithless” and indicates that there will be great suffering because of them. There will be great spiritual darkness with very few true believers left as most of Islam sides with the evil religious leaders. Not only will they not welcome him, but in their apostasy they will vigorously oppose him, and the Mahdi will have no choice but to slaughter them.
On June 12, 2009, Ahmadinejad won a landslide victory over his opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, even though some Iranian watchers had thought that he might not be victorious this time. Some Iranian clerics had expressed disillusionment with the president, stating that he was much too open about such issues as the nuclear ambitions of the nation and its intention to wipe Israel off the map.
The influential Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Tavassoli, former member of the Expediency Discernment Council, for example, censured Ahmadinejad for openly calling for the destruction of Israel. He added, however, that “we all believe in that but there is no need to reveal it.” The Supreme Leader has also admonished the president not to “speak of matters that cause economic or political problems for Iran.” Mousavi, although slightly more liberal, did not hold significantly different political strategies than his opponent, but some clerics believed he would at least know when to keep his intentions to himself.
Mousavi was soundly defeated, however, in a highly contested election that sparked street demonstrations the likes of which were unseen in Iran since the revolution of 1979. The Revolutionary Guard took to the streets, killing 69 people and arresting scores of others in an attempt to reestablish order. Finally, on August 3, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared on Iranian television to endorse the new president and attest to the validity of the elections and the legality of the Iranian democratic process.
A horrified international community had watched helplessly as men and women were murdered in the streets of Tehran. Politicians and reporters spoke of a sincere public outcry for political reform. World leaders expressed their deep concern and hope that there would be a recount of the votes, that order would be restored, and the Iranian people’s demands for change considered.
The alarming truth may well be that Ahmadinejad and his supporters saw the riots as the fulfillment of prophecy and the rioters as the apostates spurred on by the most evil of the religious. Rather than a sincere public outcry for political reform, the reaction to Ahmadinejad’s reelection could be seen by those in power as positive proof that the president has been right along—the Mahdi is about to return and Ahmadinejad is his current representative on earth. A recount would have been meaningless, since it was the Mahdi’s will that achieved his victory.
In his article, “The Mystical Menace of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” author Daniel Pipes summed it up well when he commented that the most dangerous leaders in modern history are those (such as Hitler) equipped with a totalitarian ideology and a mystical belief in their own mission. Ahmadinejad, with his obsession with mahdaviat, fulfills both criteria. Add to that a nuclear arsenal, and the implications for the free world are more than ominous.
By Cheryl Hauer, International Development Director
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