Chavez and the Second Coming?

[ by Charles Cameron — the final, astounding, Messianic-Mahdist word goes to Hugo Chavez! caught on video! ]

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We now know, thanks to VOA and the Atlantic, this much:

The death of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez has prompted eulogies from around the world, but few of the messages have been as eccentric as the second-coming predicted by Iran’s president.

And as if returning to Earth alone was not enough, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad says Chavez will do so alongside some esteemed company.

“I have no doubt that he [Chavez] will return alongside Jesus Christ and the Mahdi [the Hidden Imam] to establish peace and justice in the world,” Ahmadinejad wrote in an emotional condolence message posted on his personal website. The Mahdi is a revered figure among Shi’ite Muslims, many of whom believe he will return to save humanity.

Not surprisingly, as reported by Reuters, these remarks drew rebukes from some senior Iranian clergy:

“The terms Mr Ahmadinejad used to describe the Venezuelan president are not appropriate for us,” the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Ghorbanali Dorri Najafabadi, a cleric and a senior member of the Assembly of Experts, as saying.

“One can naturally send a diplomatic letter without getting into religious discussions,” hardline Friday prayer leader Ahmad Khatami was quoted as saying by Iranian media, adding that he believed Ahmadinejad’s decision to do so was wrong.

According to the parliamentary news agency ICANA, lawmaker Mohammad Taqi Rahbar said on Thursday Ahmadinejad’s comments were “certainly wrong and exaggerated”.

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Dr Timothy Furnish attributes this sort of blurring of theological categories to what he terms “ecumenical messianism” — for some quick context see his comments on the Lutheran Witness site. I’d suggest that is not just a fleeting idea but an area we should look into in some depth, if only because I myself was struck by an earlier incarnation of much the same idea, as expressed by the late Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, who is quoted as having said:

The Mahdi is not an embodiment of the Islamic belief but he is also the symbol of an aspiration cherished by mankind irrespective of its divergent religious doctrines. He is also the crystallization of an instructive inspiration through which all people, regardless of their religious affiliations, have learnt to await a day when heavenly missions, with all their implications, will achieve their final goal and the tiring march of humanity across history will culminate satisfactory in peace and tranquility. This consciousness of the expected future has not been confined to those who believe in the supernatural phenomenon but has also been reflected in the ideologies and cult which totally deny the existence of what is imperceptible. For example, the dialectical materialism which interprets history on the basis of contradiction believes that a day will come when all contradictions will disappear and complete peace and tranquility will prevail.

In light of that quote, Ahmadinejad‘s interest in Hugo Chavez seems a little less far-fetched.

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Okay, I’m no expert, but I do try to keep more or less on top of the swirling currents of contemporary Mahdism, which is from my POV understudied — and when studied in haste, often misunderstood — but I swear I never saw this one coming.

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