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Apocalypse Row: Netanyahu, Nukes, and Iranian Eschatology — Tim Furnish

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

[ guest post by Tim Furnish, posted by Charles Cameron ]
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Blog-friend and occasional guest poster Dr Tim Furnish just posted this very timely piece at his MahdiWatch blog, and I am delighted to post it in its entirety here with Tim’s permission.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will speak to a joint session of the US Congress on Tuesday, March 3, 2015.  If his speech earlier today at the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was any indication, the Islamic Republic of Iran and its pursuit of nuclear weapons will be the major topic.  Partisan bickering (about whether the Republican majority in the House and Senate wished to insult President Obama) aside,  the central issue boils down to whether Bibi is correct in his long-held belief that the IRI leadership amounts to a “messianic, apocalyptic, radical cult” which must be stopped at all costs from going nuclear (as he first said six years ago).   

He is not.  

Now as my usual friends and colleague sharpen their knives, allow me to explain.  First off, I am a staunch supporter of Israel, as both a Christian and an American, and have been there three times in the last decade.  Also, now that Turkey, under Sultan Erdoğan, has slipped back into Neo-Ottomanism, Israel is the only truly democratic nation in the Middle East.  Along with the Kurds, the Israelis are our closest allies in that region.  

But that does not mean that everything Israeli is automatically correct.  And this claim that Iran wants nuclear weapons in order to use them on Tel Aviv and thus spark the coming of the 12th Imam al-Mahdi is a gross misreading of Twelver Shi`i doctrines as well as of Iranian politics. 

I examined this issue in depth for the Institute for Near East & Gulf Military Analysis back in 2011, in a paper entitled “A Western View on Iran’s WMD Goal: Nuclearing the Eschaton, or Pre-Stocking the Mahdi’s Arsenal?”  The major points therein follow, after this pictorial message:

Ismail
Safavid Shah Isma’il (L), founder of the 16th c. dynasty that converted Iran to Twelver Shi`ism. HE would not have hesitated to use nukes (in fact, his turban itself is weaponized). But Khamenei? Not bloody likely.

Z  Belief in the return of the 12th Imam from ghaybah, “occultation,” is not “fringe” or “extremist” but a mainstay of this brand of Islam (just as is the doctrine of Jesus’ return for all orthodox Christians).

Z The 12th Imam’s reappearance is totally up to Allah’s discretion; nothing humans can do will advance his timetable.  “Hotwiring the apocalypse” depends not on WMD usage or any other violent activity but, rather, hinges on creating the Mahdist state in microcosm (i.e., the IRI) and then waiting on Allah to send the Mahdi to rule it.

Z The anjuman-i hujjatiyeh (“Hujjatiyeh Society”) is not some insane group dedicated to destroying Israel but an organization dedicated to re-converting Baha’is to Twelver Shi`ism—and, furthermore, was banned in the early 1980s for being insufficiently supportive of Ayatollah Khomeini’s clerical rule.

Z As per the excellent article by Ze’ev Maghen, “Occultation in Perpetuum: Shi`ite Messianism and the Policies of the Islamic Republic,” the ruling ayatollahs are probably the most vociferous opponents of a true Mahdist claim on the planet—because acknowleding anyone as such would end their rule of Iran, and with it their wealth, power and privilege. 

Z Twelver Shi`i views of jihad mandate that jihad-i ghalaba, “victorious holy war,” be prohibited until the return of the 12th Imam—NOT employed to importune him to appear.  Usage of nuclear weapons is thus really not allowable for the apocalypse-hotwiring which many pundits impute  to Iran.

Z Yes, some Iranian leaders have spoken, repeatedly, of Israel being “erased from the pages of history.”  But I believe that this means they believe in a gradual demographic disintegration of the “Zionist entity,” and not a mushroom cloud over Israel.

Z It is possible for men to have long beards, wear turbans, express eschatological beliefs and yet still be rational political actors. The Supreme Leader and his cronies all know that were Iran to use a nuclear weapon against Israel, their nation would be a radioactive ruin about 15 minutes later. The Mahdi has no desire to rule over such a wasteland. Plus, it would deprive the clerics of their wives and Rolls Royces.

Z All of the above by no means makes the IRI a peaceful or trustworthy state.  The ruling ayatollahs want nuclear weapons not only to hold onto their power (as per the ruling clique in Pyongyang) but to provide immunity against possible American military strikes and to increase Tehran’s regional clout—just not to summon the Mahdi via a nuclear conflagration.  

President Jarrett, er, Obama and SecState John Kerry are fools to think that any written agreement will disabuse Khameini and his ilk of their lust for nuclear weapons.  But attempting to counter the administration’s naiveté with inane bluster that misepresents our enemy’s beliefs and intentions amounts to falling off the horse on the opposite side.  Instead, let’s try sitting upright on a strong horse and avoiding partisan extremes of misapprehension.  

David Brooks gets his Islamic eschatology wrong on NewsHour

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — why scholarship should inform punditry ]
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I am a bit surprised, I have to say, that I haven’t seen — and Google doesn’t seem to have found, either — a clear rebuttal to one highly significant detail in David Brooks‘ discussion with Mark Shields and Judy Woodruff on Islamic eschatology.

In the PBS NewsHour segment labeled Shields and Brooks on fighting Islamic extremism (above), Brooks makes the statement:

I do think you have to take the religion seriously, that these people are — it’s not like they can’t get what we want. They want something they think is higher than what we want. Their souls are involved. And I’m saying you have to conceive of them as moving, as acting in a religious way.

And you have to have religious alternatives. And they are driven by an end times ideology. They think there’s going to be some cataclysm battle and Mohammed will come down. And if you ignore that part of it, write it off as sort of marginal, that they are being produced by economic dysfunction, I just think you’re missing the main deal.

I’m largely in agreement with this, but the phrase “and Mohammed will come down” is just plain wrong. In Islamic eschatology, it is claimed that Jesus (‘Isa ibn Maryam) — not Muhammad — will “come down” from heaven at the ‘Umayyad mosque in Damascus:

God will send the Messiah, son of Mary, and he will descend to the white minaret in the east of Damascus, wearing two garments dyed with saffron, placing his hands on the wings of two angels. When he lowers his head, beads of perspiration will fall from it, and when he raises his head, beads like pearls will scatter from it.

The return of Jesus and his “breaking the cross” and preaching the one faith of Submission (Islam) may be what Brooks should have mentioned — or perhaps he meant the arrival and recognition of the Mahdi, who does not “come down” to us but is already among us by the time his end times role begins.

I can see how this may seem a slight slip-of-the-tongue to David Brooks, who is after all not solely preoccupied with IS, Islam, and / or apocalyptic — but it’s not something that should go unchallenged if we are to “take the religion seriously”.

On the Prophet’s banner, and the Coming One

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — from battle-flag to transcendent symbol ]
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Father of the Imam Mahdi, postcard from Masshad, Iran, author's collection

Father of the Imam Mahdi, postcard from Masshad, Iran, writer’s collection

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I have written so much on the topic of the black banners from Khorasan [eg], which in turn arguably derive from the black raya or battle-flag of the Prophet, that I thought these ahadith from the Shia text by Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi, Bihar ul Anwar, would be of interest. They are drawn from the section titled:

Flag of the Qaim is same as the flag of the Prophet

Note here that the Qa’im — literally “He Who Arises” — is a Shia term for the Mahdi, as is Imam Zamana — “Imam of the Age”.

129- Ghaibat Nomani: It is narrated from the same chains from Abdullah bin Hammad from Abdullah bin Sinan from Abi [Abdullah] Ja’far [bin Muhammad] that he said:

“The Almighty Allah has fixed the time of the reappearance of Imam Zamana (a.s.) against the time fixed by the time-fixers. The flag of the Qaim is the same flag as that of the Prophet, which Jibraeel brought from the heavens in the Battle of Badr and he waved it during the battle.

Jibraeel said: “O Muhammad, by Allah, this flag is not of cotton, flax or silk.” I said: “Then what is it of?” He said: “It is of the leaves of Paradise. The Prophet (s.a.w.s.) spread it on the day of Badr and then he has folded it and gave it to Imam Ali (a.s.). It was still with Imam Ali (a.s.) until he spread it on the day of the battle of Jamal against the people of Basra and gained victory. Then he folded and kept it safe. It is with us and no one is to spread it until the Qaim (a.s.) appears. When he appears, he will spread it and then everyone in the east and the west will curse it. Terror will move a month before it, a month behind it, a month on its right side and a month on its left side.”

Then he said: “O Abu Muhammad, he (the Qaim) will appear depressed and angry because of the anger of Allah with the human beings. He will appear wearing the Prophet’s shirt, which the Prophet put on in the battle of Badr, turban, armor and holding the Prophet’s sword Zulfiqar. He will unsheathe the sword for eight months. He will kill excessively. [ .. ]

Here the banner is woven of no earthly cloth but of an angelic provenance…

130- Ghaibat Nomani: It is narrated from Abdul Wahid bin Abdullah from Muhammad bin Ja’far from Ibne Abil Khattab from Muhammad bin Sinan from Hammad bin Abi Talha from Thumali from Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) that he said:

“Once Abu Ja’far Baqir (a.s.) said to me: “O Thabit, as if I can see the Qaim of my family coming near to your Najaf.” He pointed to Kufa and then added: “When he comes to your Najaf, he will spread the banner of the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) and then the angels of Badr will descend to him.”

I asked him: “What is the banner of the Prophet (s.a.w.s.)?” He said: “Its pole is from the pole of the Throne of Allah and from His mercy. The rest of it is from the assistance of Allah. Everything that he swoops on with this banner Allah will make it perish.” I asked: “Is it kept with you until the Qaim (a.s.) appears or it is brought then?” He said: “No. It is brought then.” I asked: “Who will bring it?” He replied: “Jibraeel (a.s.).” [ … ]

Here the banner is clearly transcendent, cosmic in scope.

134- Ghaibat Nomani: It is narrated from Ali bin Ahmad from Ubaidullah bin Musa Alawi from Muhammad bin Husain from Muhammad bin Sinan from Qutaibah Aashi from Aban bin Taghlib that he heard Imam Ja’far Sadiq (a.s.) say:

“Abu Abdullah Imam Sadiq (a.s.) said: “When the banner of the truth (the Mahdi) appears, the people of the east and the west will curse it. Do you know why?” I said: “No, I do not.” He said: “That is because of what harms the people receive from his (the Mahdi’s) family before his appearance.”

And here, one reading of the English translation would suggest that “the banner of the truth” is the Mahdi himself, though I’d need the help of a linguist to know if that’s a plausible reading in the original..

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In any case, the first two, at any rate, are clearly referring to spiritual realities rather than exclusively to a flag of cloth, and can thus serve as correctives to a more literal understanding.

The Death of King Abdullah in three tweets

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — always amazed at the way “end times” considerations find their way into so many areas of geopolitics ]
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One can take the line De mortuis nihil nisi bonum.. which I rconfess I like..

One can take the line Veritas vos liberabit.. which I also favor, as does the CIA..

But as one might have guessed, my own final preference goes to omnium autem finis adpropinquavit..

Now there‘s a surprise!

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I hope to look into this third, specifically Mahdist interpretation of King Abdullah‘s death in a bit more detail in a subsequent post.

A metaphysical trigonometry

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — from [Inkling] Charles Williams via J’lem & Damascus to TS Eliot, iconology and the apophatic & cataphatic paths ]
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The Second Coming: Orthodox icon and Turkish miniature

The Second Coming: Orthodox icon and Turkish miniature

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The phrase “metaphysical trigonometry” is from Charles Williams, friend of Tolkien and Lewis, and is drawn from the opening paragraph of his book, The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church.

The beginning of Christendom, is, strictly, at a point out of time. A metphysical trigonometry finds it among the spiritual Secrets, at the meeting of two heavenward lines, one drawn from Bethany along the Ascent of the Messias, the other from Jerusalem against the Descent of the Paraclete. That measurement, the measurement of eternity in operation, of the bright cloud and the rushing wind, is, in effect, theology.

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Williams mentions Bethany, the geographic lift-off point for the Ascension of Christ — but where is his Second Coming to be witnessed?

Some Christian telecasters, literal-minded and consequently of the opinion that not only living eyes but even the eye of the camera will be able to capture the event, suggest the Mount of Olives:

Thus Christian Broadcasters’ Cameras Trained on Mount of Olives to Capture Christ’s Return:

Two of America’s biggest evangelical Christian broadcasters have stationed cameras on a hill overlooking Jerusalem, ready to cover the return of Jesus Christ from the Mount of Olives as predicted in the Bible, should any such event occur soon.

Texas-based Daystar Television Network was first to install a 24/7 camera from its terrace overlooking the Mount of Olives, and now Costa Mesa-based Trinity Broadcasting Network has bought the building next door, allowing it the same opportunity. The Mount of Olives, a mountain ridge east of Jerusalem, is rooted both in Jewish and Christian traditions, and is where Jesus is said to have preached to his disciples and later ascended to heaven, according to Acts chapter one.

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I am hoping one of the Latter-day Saint friends of this blog will have more to say on LDS expectation, but have found this reference to Missouri as the site of the New Jerusalem — not quite the same as the place of the Second Coming, but certainly related to some extent:

Building of the New Jerusalem:

Near the time of the coming of Jesus Christ, the faithful Saints will build a righteous city, a city of God, called the New Jerusalem. Jesus Christ Himself will rule there. (See 3 Nephi 21:23–25; Moses 7:62–64; Articles of Faith 1:10.) The Lord said the city will be built in the state of Missouri in the United States (see D&C 84:2–3).

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And in Islam, Damascus, and specifically the Umayyad mosque is the place of expectation, following the hadith reported in Muhammad Ata Ur-Rahim, Jesus: Prophet of Islam:

At that point, God will send the Messiah, son of Mary, and he will descend to the white minaret in the east of Damascus, wearing two garments dyed with saffron, placing his hands on the wings of two angels. When he lowers his head, beads of perspiration will fall from it, and when he raises his head, beads like pearls will scatter from it. Every disbeliever who smells his fragrance will die, and his breath will reach as far as he can see. He will search for the Dajjal until he finds him at the gate of Ludd (the biblical Lydda, now known as Lod), where he will kill him.

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It has been argued that the thrust of Hinduism as of Buddhism is vertically upwards, towards transcendance of this world in moksha, liberation, whereas that of Christianity is downwards, towards immanence, in the Incarnation, indeed in what Henri Nouwen calls “downward mobility”.

In reality, however, the god Vishnu descends into human form in his avatars Narsingh, Rama, Krishna, Kalki — to play lila within creation, while the yogi’s path leads upowards to moksha — and the Christ who descends into time and human circumstance is also the ascended and eternal Christ whose celestial marriage feast is celebrated in each Eucharist…

In short, paths of both ascent and descent are to be found, as perhaps we might have learned from the story of Jacob’s Ladder (Genesis 28,12):

and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.

Or as TS Eliot puts it in Four Quartets, variously echoing Heraclitus, Dante, John of the Cross:

And the way up is the way down, the way forward is the way back.

and:

Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

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Going a step further, Cleo McNelly Kearns writes:

The way down is the way of asceticism and abstraction, while the way up is the way of erotic experience, metaphor and imagination. The negative way seeks, through a process of progressive elimination of the partial, to attain a posture of complete humility and self-erasure before the void; the positive way calls for escalating degrees of recognition and self-affirmation proceeding from like to like to a place commensurate with contemplation of the whole. Likewise, the negative way, or way down, seeks to move the consciousness beyond the body and its images, while the affirmative way, or way up, seeks to move it more deeply into them.

The negative, apophatic way, avoids affirmative statements and images because they might be mistaken for idols and worshipped, while the affirmative, cataphatic way uses affirmations and images as icons and symbols through which the unseen may be glimpsed.

And we’re into a whole new areea of discourse.


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