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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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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Between a Stone and a Hard Case: Old School v. New School Mahdism
When last I blogged,  the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran [IRI] had elevated the recently-deceased El Jefe of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, to eschatological status—claiming that he would return along with Jesus and the Mahdi to establish peace and justice by, presumably,  providing cheap oil to the planet’s masses and humbling various political Satans, both Great (the US) and Small (Israel).  Since then, Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s hyperbolic encomium has incurred the wrath of Iran’s more orthodox  ayatollahs, whose spokesman Ahmad Janati  went beyond the lukewarm criticism first offered by  Ahmad Khatami and openly accused Ahmadinejad of irtidad, “apostasy” (literally “retrogression” or “desertion” in Arabic).  According to a story in (March 15, 2013), Janati “said Iran’s clergy had been  ‘upset’ by the remarks” and that he wished the President “had spent a few days in seminary before discussing such issues.  Chavez was a populist and anti-American.  His political agenda was completely acceptable.  But he was not a Muslim.”   The Saudi site seems to have take the story from AFP (Agence France-Presse), which may help explain the strange statements in the article imputing to Ahmadinejad the language that Chavez would be “resurrected” along with Jesus and the “Perfect Man”—the Mahdi.  Neither in Sunni nor in Twelver Shi`i Islam is Jesus “resurrected”—because, according to the Quran (Sura al-Nisa’ [IV]:157-8), Jesus was not crucified at all and according to hadiths (such as one in Bukhari), he was taken to heaven and will return again.   And as for the Mahdi: neither the not-yet-appeared Sunni Mahdi, nor the returning 12th Imam of the largest branch of Shi`ism, has to be “resurrected” (unlike Chavez)—since the Sunni one has not come yet, and the Twelver one never died; whether this inanity reflects AFP’s secular ignorance of Islamic eschatology, or was inserted by the Sunni Saudi editors of alArabiya as a slam on Shi`i belief, is unknown.   In any event, Iran’s President should probably be thankful that his term expires in a few months, or else the ayatollahate would probably be finding ways to impeach him—despite  his long-standing Shi`i orthodoxy.

Ahmadinejad might be forgiven for buying one of these shirts....

Meanwhile, a newly-minted American Twelver Shi`i Muslim recently (last year) has been claiming that the Mahdi is already on Earth.  Sean “Ali” Stone, son of famous movie director Oliver Stone, spoke at the Universal Muslim Association of America—a Shi`i group—in Reston, VA, last year about his conversion, the Mahdis, and current events.   Despite having a Jewish mother and being raised Christian, Stone averred that he “did not change religions” but simply “accepted Muhammad (pbuh) as a prophet” and that he “loves Imam Ali and Imam Husayn.”  The (Twelver) Shi`a, he maintained, are “for the oppressed,” over against the “Satanic empire that rules the world.”  Stone also went on to excoriate the popular culture for holding up the likes of Rihanna as worthy of emulation, not least because she is a “product of the Illuminati.”  Rather, people should, like him and all Shi`a, “have faith in the Mehdi” [as he pronounced it], who is “already choosing his sides, his army.”  (Also, Stone reminded the enthusiastic audience that “it’s not the Shi`a way to murder people—that’s Wahhabi, Salafi [practice.].” )  Shi`a Islam’s most famous recent convert then explained that he “was told in Iran by one of the top jinnmasters that the Mehdi showed himself in 2006 in the invasion of Lebanon—the 33-day war—because no one expected Israel to lose that war.”  Stone claimed [still quoting the Iranian “jinnmaster,” presumably] that “there were fireballs from heaven” which “destroyed whole Israeli tanks” and that “there were many reports of Israelis with their arms severed—clean—by swords” and that “when analyzed, the wounds indicated swords thousands of years old.  Are these signs of the return of the Mehdi? The jinnmaster thinks so.  I think so. “  Stone then moved into literary-cultural criticism, opining that “the reason The Wizard of Oz is an old man is that Frank Baum is telling you truth”—about the aforementioned “Satanic empire.”  Stone more than once mentioned the recent economic recession as proof that “the system is collapsing—indeed, that the US government wants the system to collapse for some unspecified, nefarious reason.   Against that, “the great sword of Ali is our ability to speak, to educate,” and Stone concluded by calling upon all Shi`a Muslims to “take responsbility for all of mankind as did Christ, Muhammad, and all the prophets.”
Jinnbusters, Jinnmasters--what's the difference?

Observations (on both stories):
1) The Iranian regime’s penchant for assimilating ideologically-aligned non-Muslims into its anti-Western, socialist front [see my previous blogpost] does know some limits—such as elevating Citgo’s oil daddy to prophetic status. 
2) Mainline news outlets remain woefully uniformed about basic Islamic doctrines (the idea that the Mahdi/12th Imam, or Jesus, will be “resurrected”).
3) Sean Stone may be sincere, but he’s also sincerely stupid.  He reminds me of a friend I had in graduate school at Ohio State: she was doing a doctorate in Arabic, and announced to me one day “I am a Catholic Muslim” (or perhaps it was “Muslim Catholic”).  “No,” I told her, “you’re simply confused—because Christianity  proclaims Christ crucified and resurrected, while Islam denies both.  Ergo, you cannot logically adhere to both belief systems.”  Despite your claims to the contrary, Mr. Stone—you DID change religions, because Muhammad’s teachings directly contradict the New Testament.
4) Stone’s conspiratorial ramblings about systemic collapse and Satanic powers constitute exactly the sort of mush-headed liberal (and perhaps libertarian) world-view that the IRI is trying to exploit vis-à-vis the West [again, I went over this is detail in my previous blogpost].  And despite Stone’s  logical, historical and theological ignorance, he will influence at least some in our society because his concern for the poor is so obviously “Other” than Christian and so sticks it to The Man/Ruling Class/1%.
5) Stone’s gullibility is stupefying.  If there had been fireballs from heaven that obliterated Merkava tanks, wouldn’t CNN have caught them on tape? If mysterious sword wounds had decimated IDF soldiers, might al-Jazeera or the BBC have noted such? Does he really believe this tripe? Alas, it seems he does.
6) Neither I, nor any of my academic Iranian friends, have ever heard of “jinnmasters” in modern Iran.  Such existed in the past in Islamic areas, but were generally Sufis—as the famous mystic and poet Jalal al-Din Rumi (d. 1273) was said to have been.  But Sufism was forced underground in Iran, first with the Safavid conquest of the 16th century, then more forcefully after the 1979 Revolution (for a host of reasons, most notably the Twelver establishment’s distrust of Sufi shaykhs’ charisma).  So just who is this “jinnmaster” to whom Stone claimed to have spoken?

7) It is somewhat hopeful that Stone refers to Ali’s sword as being one of truth and learning—but that only came after the account of the Mahdi lopping off Israeli arms and dusting Israeli armor, remember. 
8) These two accounts of Shi`a Mahdism--by and life-long Shi`i, Ahmadinejad and a new convert, Stone--really encapsulate the old and new(er) schools of thought on the topic: the former focuses on the Mahdi wielding a sword and slaying Islam's enemies, while the latter is more open to ecumenically incorporating Islamic messianism into its older brother, the Christian brand.  Ironically, however, here we see that it is the new Muslim, Stone, who more forcefully adduces the ancient type of Mahdi; while the old Muslim, Iran's President, appears more willing to engage in a bit of syncretism in the name of politics.
A Persian book on the occult sciences and how to subjugate jinn; wonder if the Mahdi's miraculous, invisible Jew-slaying sword is mentioned?

3:43 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Hugo Just Left Caracas--But Is He Bound for Jamkaran?
As everyone except the low-information voters should know by now, former Venezuelan jefe, er, “President” Hugo Chavez went to that great Comintern in the sky a few days ago.  If there’s a Socialist heaven, Hugo is even now comparing notes on how well he liberated the masses, duped the useful idiots and thwarted the capitalist Yanquis with the likes of Che Guevara, Vladimir Lenin and Saul Alinsky. But according to the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, St. Hugo is breaking bread in the afterlife with two rather less secular figures: Jesus and Muhammad al-Mahdi.  Well, technically, Hugo can only be hanging out with Jesus, since the Mahdi is—according to Twelver Shi`i doctrine going back over a millennium—in a state of ghaybah, “occultation,” and thus not (yet) in heaven with Allah.  (The more populist, albeit crass, Iranian view is that he is literally accessible via a well behind Jamkaran mosque.)
Come, Lord Hugo! 

Ahmadinejad, whose zeal for the return of Imam al-Mahdi exceeds even mainstream Twelver Shi`i expectations, said that “I have no doubt that he [Chavez] will return alongside Jesus Christ and the Mahdi…to establish peace and justice in the world.”  In addition, Iran’s President “supported allegations made by Venezuelan Vice President [now President] Nicolas Maduro, who said shortly before Chavez’s death that he had ‘no doubt’ the country’s enemies [we perfidious Yanquis, of course] had somehow given the leftist leader the cancer from which he eventually died.”  Ahmadinejad “said Chavez was a ‘martyr’ who fell to a ‘suspect illness.’”  Remember: Chavez had visited Iran 13 times, and Ahmadinejad had reciprocated with half-a-dozen trips to Venezuela in the last eight years.
Ahmadinejad’s rather heretical statements did not go uncriticized.  Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami (no relation to the former President), an influential member of the Majlis-i Khobregan-i Rahbari—the “Assembly of Experts of Leadership” which chooses and oversees the Supreme Leader—rebuked Ahmadinejad for claims that were “not appropriate” and for “exaggeration.”  Khatami was even understated in his criticism, cosidering that there are no eschatological hadiths (Sunni or Shi`i) which mention a Venezuelan Catholic coming on the clouds of heaven with the Muslim dynamic duo.
Sorry, Hugo, you don't have a horse (or donkey) to ride in on, as do Jesus and the Mahdi. 
What prompts Ahmadinejad to make such extravagant claims about a non-Muslim political leader? The conjunction of ancient Twelver Shi`i beliefs and modern IRI political interests, clearly.  The Mahdi, in both Sunni and Shi`i traditions, will “fill the world with justice and equity as it had been filled with injustice and inequalities”—he will serve as something of a global Robin Hood, in effect.  Such Islamic belief has been institutionalized in the modern IRI, held up since Ayatollah Khomeini’s time as the “vanguard” of the future Mahdist state.  Added to this in the last several decades has been Western neo-Marxist thought, in which global geopolitics is a zero-sum game pitting the planet’s mostazafan, “oppressed,” against the mostakhbaran, “oppressors” (or “arrogant powers,” as Ahmadinejad is fond of fulminating against in speeches—led of course by the United States).  Article 154 of the IRI’s Constitution makes clear that Tehran’s ayatollate sees itself as leading the Earth’s 99% against the 1%: Iran “suports the just struggles of the oppressed against the oppressors in every corner of the globe.”  This Islamic liberation theology plays well in certain corners of the globe, especially when backed up by Iranian petrodollars.  The IRI, and Ahmadinejad in particular, had seen Chavez as its nonaligned brother in arms, waging rhetorical (and, when possible, guerrilla/asymmetric) warfare against the Great Satan/El Diablo Grande.  While Islam is at best a marginal religion in America Del Sur, Tehran had been hoping to leverage its advancement the Latin parts of the Western Hemisphere via a Venezuelan salient.  The IRI could realistically entertain such aspirations because of the close similarities between Latin American populism and Iran’s Shi`i da`wah; both are         
● Middle-class based
● Indignant and conspiratorial about external meddling, particularly American
          ● More fond of Leftist rhetoric than concrete socio-economic development
● Politically schizophrenic: revolutionary when out of power, conservative when in control
● Heavily dependent on European political philosophy, especially Marxism
● Obsessed with charisma-based leadership.
In particular, Ahmadinejad and Chavez both are, er, were characterized by         
● Having been democatically-elected (at least once)
● Authoritarianism once in power

● Populism and socialism         
● Anti-Americanism
● Resource nationalism (both via oil, primarily)
● Judicious repression of opponents.
Twin sons of different madres? Hugo and Mahmud in happier times....

In September 2009 Hugo was in Mashhad, Iran and said the following: “The Messiah [Jesus] and the Mahdi are not dead, they are alive and well and will soon return to spread justice over all the world. This afternoon Imam Khameini told us that as long as we two Presidents are united in our hearts and minds, as long as we pursue the same humanistic deeds together, and as long as we continue seeking justice, the Mahdi and the Messiah will emerge very soon.  Therefore, we must struggle so that his holiness the Mahdi and the Messiah emerge to spread justice all over the world.”  Chavez was too modest to include himself in that august, holy company—but Ahmadinejad has done so for him, posthumously.


1) Twelver Shi`ism is the brand of Islam most compatible with Western political and theological (Christian) liberalism, particularly Catholic liberation theology—since all three promote the “preferential option for the poor”
2) Iran’s incessant efforts to win friends and influence people in the Christian community via “ecumenical messianism”—which I saw firsthand during my trip to Iran in 2008—certainly bore fruit with Hugo
3) Thus, Iran’s Islamic salient into Latin America has suffered a setback with Chavez’s shuffling off his mortal coil.  But there are a number of organizations which might be very amenable to IRI blandishments, such as: the Sunni Islamic da`wah group Murabitun active in Mexico; the Twelver Shi`i offshoot Hizbullah America Latina active in Argentina and Venezuela, which espouses an “Islamo-Christian liberation theology” combining the thought of Khomeini and Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, liberation theologian; and Aztlan, the Chicano/Hispanic irredentist movement which aims to detach the southwestern US from “Anglo” control—a cause which Tehran would certainly consider supporting, especially should the US threaten Iran’s territorial integrity via backing, for example, the Baluch separatist group Jundullah in southeastern Iran
4) These first three points notwithstanding, Mahmud seems to have allowed his personal affection for Hugo to outrace his political instincts.  Elevating even a close personal and political ally to the status of the two greatest eschatological figures in Islam is an encomium too far.  Perhaps Ahmadinejad figured that since he will be out of office in a few months, he had nothing to lose.  Or maybe he really has lost his Muslim mind. 

By the way: this post title is a riff on ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago"--speaking of whom....

I have it on good authority that one (or both) of these guys is far more likely than the Mahdi or Hugo to accompany Jesus when He returns. 

6:36 pm est          Comments

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

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