The Messianic Mahdist Moebius strip — or maybe Maze?
[ by Charles Cameron — a quick look at some confusing clashes between messianisms, with specific reference to the MUJAO — also the late Ayatollah Baqir al-Sadr sounding an ecumenical note ]
Tim Furnish opens his book Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, their Jihads and Osama bin Laden, with the words:
One man’s messiah is another man’s heretic.
What he doesn’t state outright, which is also true, is that all too often that heretic is the anti-Messiah.
I use that term “anti-Messiah” deliberately, because in discussing Islamic end times beliefs, the term “Antichrist” is frequently used by both Christians and Muslims to refer to the Muslim “equivalent” of the Christian Antichrist — ie the “deceiving messiah” or Masih al-Dajjal, whose coming at the end of days is predicted in Islamic apocalyptic narratives in negative counterpoint to the coming of the Mahdi, in much the same way that some Christian apocalyptic narratives predict the coming of the Antichrist in negative counterpoint to the return of the Christ.
This issue was brought home to me once again today when Aaron Zelin pointed me to this tweet from Afua Hirsch [ @afuahirsch ], West Africa Correspondent for the Guardian:
Frankly, I think that’s a very natural question to raise, and one that has an even more intriguing answer.
One other note, which I’ve separated out between asterisks here because I think it’s a crucial one at that:
by Afua Hirsch’s account, Mali’s Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) has the apocalyptic fever…
Strange things happen when different views of the end times, as prophesied one way or another in various branches of all three Abrahamic religions, clash.
Here’s where I see the moebius strip effect, whereby apocalyptic figures are turned into their opposites by rival sets of beliefs:
Some Muslims call the Dajjal (literally, “the deceiver”) the Antichrist — here, for instance, is a video clip of Sheikh Imran Hosein, whom I have discussed on Zenpundit before, quoting a hadith or tradition of the Prophet from the Sahih Muslim collection, and using the term “Antichrist” without further comment in his translation of the term Dajjal —
While some Christians call the Mahdi the Antichrist — as does Joel Richardson in his book currently issued under the title The Islamic Antichrist: The Shocking Truth about the Real Nature of the Beast. Reviewing the book in its first edition under its earlier title, Dr David R. Reagan sums Joel’s basic points succinctly:
Joel Richardson in his book Antichrist: Islam’s Awaited Messiah argues that the Mahdi will be the Antichrist of the Bible and that the Muslim Jesus will be be the False Prophet of the Bible who serves the Antichrist and his purposes. Both will be destroyed when the true Jesus returns at the end of the Tribulation.
We were talking about the Sufyani just the other day, right? Here’s a stunner to spin your head a further 180 degrees — the Sufyani as a second (and more dangerous) Dajjal than the Dajjal:
While the great Dajjal focuses on atheism and fights Christianity, the Islam Dajjal, Sufyan, fights Islam, which is the only true religion before Allah, openly. Therefore he is regarded as more frightening.
There’s also a question of one and / or many Antichrists in Christianity, of course — see 1 John 2:18:
Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
And hey, bear with me, I’m not done yet: members of the Ahmadi school quote a hadith from the Sunan Ibn Majah collection which says:
There is no Mahdi but Jesus son of Mary.
Ibn Majah, however, also has a hadith in which it is stated that at the time of the Mahdi’s advent he will invite the returning Jesus to lead the
evening dawn prayer [as quoted here]:
…while their Imaam will have advanced to pray the Fajr prayer with them, Eesa, the son of Mary will descend [at the time of the Fajr prayer]. The Imaam will draw backward so that ‘Eesa would go forward and lead the people in prayer. However, ‘Eesa would put his hand between his shoulders and say to him: “Go forward and pray, as it is for you that the call for the prayer was called, so their Imaam would lead them in prayer.”
I think so, unless you are paying close attention.
My own recommendation would be that the phrase “the Islamic Antichrist” should be replaced by “the Islamic equivalent of an Antichrist” when referring to the Dajjal, and “the Mahdi viewed as Antichrist” when referring to the Mahdi.
I know, I know — the chances of changing people’s verbal habits across the board are pretty slender.
But have I made things seem complicated enough?
This whose business naturally gets just a tad more complicated once one adds in the Sunni concept — I am not sure how widespread it is, but it would make a fascinating topic for research for someone with the requisite language skills — that the Mahdi of the Shiites will be the Dajjal of the Sunni… as shown in this screen cap of a YouTube video.
[Rafidi means one who has deserted the truth, and is a derogatory term, in this case used by Sunnis to disparage the Shiites.]
Or this one — with its equation of the Shiites with the Jews:
Of course, Christianity too has its share of internecine apocalyptic mud-slinging: Rev. Ian Paisley (long-time leader of the Ulster Unionists and Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster) interrupted Pope John Paul II‘s speech at the European Parliament to denounce him as the Antichrist — while Rev. JD Manning gives Oprah Winfrey that title…
Everything I have described above is dualistic in nature and sectarian in its specifics. It comes as something of a surprise, then, to find the late Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr quoted as writing:
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.
The point is made even more clearly in a speech given by the Iranian scholar Muhammad Ali Shumali:
So, our own camp comprises of people who have this understanding: First of all, they are the people who believe in the Ahl al-Bayt. Yet, in our camp it is possible for there to be people who work for the Ahl al-Bayt without knowing the Ahl al-Bayt. This is also something very important. You may have a non-Shia who works for the Ahl al-Bayt better than many Shias. Indeed, you have some Shias that work against the Ahl al-Bayt. You may even have non-Muslims who are working for Imam Mahdi—for the cause of Imam Mahdi, for justice, for many things—and they may not even know who Imam Mahdi is. So it is not that whoever is not a Shia is not in our camp.
I believe that the majority of the people of the world are not against us; it is just our failure to present our ideas and to convince them that what we have is for all mankind. I think in particular, in the case of Imam Mahdi, we must do the same thing: we must not present Imam Mahdi as a saviour for the Shias. Imam Mahdi is not a saviour for [just] the Shias. Imam Mahdi is a saviour for all mankind…
And then you see what you yourself see, and believe what you yourself believe.
October 29th, 2012 at 10:27 pm
I wonder if Islam has any analogue to “full preterists” in Christianity.
October 29th, 2012 at 10:48 pm
Well, both the Ahmadiyya and the Baha’i are offshoots of Islam which hold that the Mahdi has already come, in the persons of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and Bahaullah respectively — but most orthodox Muslims would not consider them fellow-Muslims for this very reason, just as most creedal Christians would not considser full Preterists to be fully orthodox, since the Apostles’ Creed says “he shall come again to judge the quick and the dead”.
That’s my own take, and I’m trying to be impartial in the way I phrase it — it’s an interesting question, and I’d certainly welcome others’ comments.
October 31st, 2012 at 10:50 pm
I believe some perhaps most Preterists spiritualize the judgement you mention as occuring when
an individual is judged at his resurrection, although I also believe most Preterists only believe in a
resurrection of the soul, more in line with pure neo-Platonism.