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Islamic Eschatology with a Focus on Shi'a Beliefs

Islamic Eschatology with a Focus on Shi'a Beliefs

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Submitted in partial fulfillment of course requirements for ICST 531 - Introduction to Islam at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. October 16, 2011.
Submitted in partial fulfillment of course requirements for ICST 531 - Introduction to Islam at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. October 16, 2011.

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LIBERTY UNIVERSITY

―OH, ALLAH, HASTEN THE ARRIVAL OF IMAM AL-MAHDI‖ ISLAMIC ESCHATOLOGY WITH A FOCUS ON SHI'A BELIEFS

A PAPER SUBMITTED TO DR. ED SMITHER IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR
THE COURSE ICST 531

LIBERTY BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

BY ELKE SPELIOPOULOS

DOWNINGTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA SUNDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2011

CONTENTS

Introduction ..................................................................................................................................... 1 Islamic Eschatological Expectations............................................................................................... 2 Al-Janna and Al-Nar ................................................................................................................... 4 Al-Janna (Garden) ....................................................................................................................... 4 Al-Nar (Hell) ............................................................................................................................... 6 Satan............................................................................................................................................ 7 The Dating of the End of Time ................................................................................................... 8 Mahdism ......................................................................................................................................... 8 Key Players ................................................................................................................................. 9 The Mahdi ............................................................................................................................... 9 Jesus ...................................................................................................................................... 11 Al-Dajjäl (the Deceiver) ....................................................................................................... 12 Al-Dabbah (the Beast) .......................................................................................................... 13 Yajuj wa-Majuj (Gog and Magog) ....................................................................................... 14 Al-Sufyani ............................................................................................................................. 14 Specific Shi‘ite Beliefs of Mahdism ............................................................................................. 15 Shifts in Eschatological Interpretation Since 1948 ....................................................................... 18 Conclusion .................................................................................................................................... 19 Bibliography ................................................................................................................................. 20 iii

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Introduction Speaking at the United Nations over the past few years since his 2005 election, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has confounded Western minds paying attention to his words with his petition for the speedy return of the Twelfth Imam during his speeches. The following is a portion of the conclusion of his 2011 speech at the UN: This movement is certainly on its rightful path of creation, ensuring a promising future for humanity. A future that will be built when humanity initiates to trend the path of the divine prophets and the righteous under the leadership of Imam al-Mahdi, the Ultimate Savior of mankind and the inheritor to all divine messengers and leaders and to the pure generation of our great Prophet. The creation of a supreme and ideal society with the arrival of a perfect human being who is a true and sincere lover of all human beings, is the guaranteed promise of Allah. He will come alongside with Jesus Christ to lead the freedom and justice lovers to eradicate tyranny and discrimination, and promote knowledge, peace, justice, freedom and love across the world. He will present to every single individual all the beauties of the world and all good things which bring happiness for humankind.1 Uncertain of what this reference to Imam al-Mahdi means, some listeners have sought to understand Islamic eschatology better, in particular, as it appears threatening in light of the terror attacks of 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The question at hand is whether the references to this Mahdi are a particularity of Iranian Muslim beliefs (or maybe even a sect, which Ahmadinejad is a part of), or whether this is an integral part of Muslim eschatology. This paper will investigate the background of Islamic eschatology with a particular focus on Shi‘ite belief in the Twelfth Imam and its departure from the overall Islamic eschatological belief system. In the course of discovery, it becomes clear that many elements of Islamic
United Nations, Transcript of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Speech at the General Assembly, http://gadebate.un.org/sites/default/files/gastatement/66/IR_en.pdf (accessed October 14, 2011).
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eschatology sound vaguely familiar to a Christian believer. Yet there are also significant departures, in particular in the person and role of Jesus, that need to be properly investigated and understood. As such, Islamic eschatology needs to be comprehended in more than broad strokes in order to be successful in sharing Christ with Muslims. Islamic Eschatological Expectations Muslims, much like evangelical Christians, are expecting the arrival of the end times to be ushered in by a number of distinctive signs, in particular ―deep moral turpitude and devastating disruptions of the natural world.‖2 Like the time of tribulation in Christian apocalyptic thinking, Muslim minds see a devastating time ahead for the Muslim community. The Qur'an makes it clear that God has authority over history. The world will be ended by God just as he created it, followed by a recreation of the world in preparation for a Day of Judgment. For a Muslim, this means that all bodies will be resurrected, and a final reckoning of all earthly thoughts, sayings and deeds will occur. Qur'anic eschatology centers on two concepts for the afterlife: the joys of the Garden for believers and faithful followers of Allah, and the pain and punishment of Hell for the wicked. Many passages in the Qur'an describe the wonderful and refreshing rewards for the faithful, while warning the wrongdoers in no uncertain terms of horrific punishment in the afterlife. In the Qur'an, ―The Hour‘ (al-sä'a)” will come upon all mankind and will bring with it for every human being a ―unique and unprecedented self-awareness of his deeds.‖3 At this pivotal moment, al-äkhira (the end) in Arabic, every person will have an acute awareness of his or her deepest self, stripped of all the peripherals of life and bared of the falsehoods adopted when
Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad and Jane I. Smith, ―The Anti-Christ and the End of Time in Christian and Muslim Eschatological Literature,‖ Muslim World 100, no. 4 (2010): 505.
3 2

Fazlur Rahman, Major Themes of the Qur'an (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 106.

2

exposed to truth. As will be seen in the discussion on Satan, man has become enveloped in a selfdeception, ghurùr, which has added layers of perverted elements to his consciousness.4 In Surah 81:1-14, a quite horrific depiction of that day is given. It is certainly a time of no pretense as humans prepare to give account to their Maker. The Qur'an speaks of prophets who were sent to communities to convey God‘s truth to them. On this day of ultimate accounting, while there will be a level of judgment on communities and their respective prophets, the judgment will be on individuals and their actions and thoughts. There will be no advocate, whether family or friend or clan member, but rather each human will be evaluated for his words and deeds individually. In the Qur'an, God says, ―Now you return to Us, alone, as We first created you: you have left behind everything We gave you, nor do We see those intercessors of yours that you claimed were partners of God. All the bonds between you have been severed, and those about whom you made such claims have deserted you.‖ (6:94) The Qur'an thus does not allow for an intercession and highlights a person‘s ―state of helplessness except God‘s own mercy.‖5 Interestingly enough, it will be clearly visible to all who falls into which category, as those who have lived good God-fearing lives will carry the sheets listing their deeds in their right hand, while those who have done evil will hold them in their left hand (69:19-29). People will not be able to hide their innermost thoughts, but rather these will become public, in an interpretation of 100:9-11. In an even more intimate ―spilling of secrets‖, in 41:19-24 even the skin gives testimony of the deeds of the person being judged. Rahman writes, ―There is, indeed, no refuge from a situation where one‘s mind becomes transparently public and where one‘s own physical organs begin to bear witness against one.‖6
4 5 6

Ibid., 107. Ibid., 108. Ibid., 109-10.

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Al-Janna and Al-Nar From the limited sources available, it does not appear that pre-Islamic Arabia had an eschatological framework that included a well-defined afterlife. Rather, it appears that the belief system centered on pantheistic worship of trees, stones, and gods and goddesses.7 With the arrival of Muhammad and the penning down of the Qur'an, the understanding of an afterlife arose featuring a Garden and Fire, for the good and evil respectively. The concept of heaven and hell in Islamic thinking is somewhat different from the Christian understanding. The terms alJanna and al-Nar describe the Garden and the Fire, which depict the two main destinations of the afterworld Muslims find in the pages of the Qur'an. According to Rustomji, unlike in Christian thinking of an afterlife, the Muslim believes more in a concept of an afterworld, which has al-Janna and al-Nar as components. Discussing this framework of eschatological thinking, Rustomji‘s writes that the closest a Christian author has come to this understanding of an afterworld is Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy.8 She adds that ―unlike the terms ‗heaven‘ and ‗hell‘, al-janna and al-nar operate in different semantic fields. They are simultaneously places and things. One can walk into the Garden or the Fire…when the Garden and the Fire are promised, it is their spatial dimensions that are invoked.‖9 Al-Janna (Garden) Rustomji describes the afterlife in the Garden as ―an everlasting banquet‖ where the faithful ―experience fully the joy that could not exist for those who toiled on earth for Allah.‖10 Hadiths describe believers in the afterworld as having transformed bodies; one tradition
Nerina Rustomji, The Garden and the Fire: Heaven and Hell in Islamic Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), 2.
8 9 7

Ibid., xvi-xvii. Ibid., xviii. Ibid., 83.

10

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describes it as follows: ―Inhabitants of al-Janna would enter hairless, beardless, eyes anointed with collyrium, age thirty or thirty three.‖11 In addition, there will be no health issues, and no one would become ill or die. Bodily functions such as urination or defecation also cease, and sweat is transformed to be sweet-smelling. According to one Hadith, ―men will be given additional strength for sex‖, apparently, according to the Prophet, men would have the sexual strength of a hundred men.12 In general, inhabitants of the Garden will be increasingly more beautiful. Their residences, furnishings, garments, adornments and perfumes will be of luxurious materials. Believers‘ families will continue in the Garden, even extending to the rejoining of all generations of extended families. The faithful are served by helpers who may be ―angels, youths, and pure companions.‖13 There are male servants, young men (wildan) and slave boys (ghilman) who will cater to the food and drink needs, but ―function as objects in the landscape, as opposed to sentient, sensitized beings.‖14 However, there appear to be no females (huri) in the Garden who act in a servant function, rather they are there to provide companionship and are described as ―wives with beautiful eyes‖ and are ascribed virginal aspects. It appears that the understanding of the role of these companions shifted and evolved from an original concept of purity to one where the females become sensual companion.15 The Qur'an, in 55:72, speaks of ―Companions restrained (as to their glances), in (goodly) pavilions.‖16 In another surah, it says ―We have created (their Companions) of special creation. And made them virgin - unmixed (and undefiled),- Beloved (by nature), equal in age,- For the
11 12 13 14 15 16

Ibid. Ibid., 84. Ibid., 91. Ibid. Ibid., 95. Translation Abdullah Yusuf Ali

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Companions of the Right Hand.‖ (56:35-38)17 From these ayat, commentators on the Qur'an have developed more elaborate afterword pleasures, such as this commentary on 55:72 in Sunan alTirmidhi, ―It was mentioned by Daraj Ibn Abi Hatim, that Abu al-Haytham 'Adullah Ibn Wahb narrated from Abu Sa'id al-Khudhri, who heard the Prophet Muhammad PBUH saying, 'The smallest reward for the people of Heaven is an abode where there are eighty thousand servants and seventy-two houri, over which stands a dome decorated with pearls, aquamarine and ruby, as wide as the distance from al-Jabiyyah to San'a.‖18 The rewards for men in the afterworld have been made rather explicit; however, there appears to be no correlated afterworld experience for women. Al-Nar (Hell) For those who were unbelievers or who were wicked in this life, the afterworld will not be one that is pleasurable. Al-Nar, or Hell, is a place in which physical punishment is literal, just as happiness is literal in the Garden. The Qur'an is replete with descriptions of pain, torture, and blazing fire.19 One Hadith reports that Muhammad interceded for his uncle Abu Talib, who was then brought up from the lowest to the shallowest fire. Yet even here his brain would boil, considered the lightest punishment in the Fire.20 Even so, the physical elements of an afterworld for those condemned to Hell are not the true curse. The real punishment that unbelievers will experience is the realization that they cannot reverse the outcome of their lives. There is no changing the fact that they will suffer in Hell. Rahman writes, ―the standard Qur'anic terms for the ultimate sequel … are not salvation
17 18

Translation Abdullah Yusuf Ali.

Sunan al-Tirmidhi Vol. IV, Chapters on "The Features of Heaven as described by the Messenger of Allah", ch. 21 "About the Smallest Reward for the People of Heaven", hadith 2687
19 20

Rahman, Major Themes of the Qur'an, 112-13. Rustomji, The Garden and the Fire, 38.

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and damnation so much as success (faläh) and loss (khusrän), both for this life and the hereafter.‖21 It appears like there is some level of interaction possible between the residents of the Garden and of Hell as well as another category of men who are described as being ―on the Rampart‖, and who have not been ascribed to either final outcome, but can see both sides, as is described in 7:44-50. Satan There are ninety-eight references in the Qur'an to Satan (shaytan), which describe him as the ―source of fear, slippage, precipitating hatred, and above all temptation.‖22 However, he is typically not depicted as the ruler of lesser demons, but rather as one who has a large following of humans and jinn (demons) who serve him as his ―cavalry and infantry‖ (17:64). The Qur'an describes the jinn as created beings, somewhat akin to humans, with the key difference that jinn were created by fire, while humans were made of baked clay, according to 7:12.23 Iblìs, another name for Satan, is described in 18:50 as part of the jinn, and the one who refused to bow down to humans in pride. There are no superlative assigned to him, meaning that the Qur'an does not place him in a hierarchical order, however, 14:22 appears to clarify his role as having been ―assigned by God to corrupt mankind.‖24 Satan‘s role can be summarized as ―the paramount power of temptation‖ and ―assigned by God to corrupt mankind.‖25 While this role seems central to the Islamic understanding of
21 22 23 24 25

Rahman, Major Themes of the Qur'an, 108. Abbas Amanat, Apocalyptic Islam and Iranian Shi'ism (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2009), 203. Rahman, Major Themes of the Qur'an, 121. Amanat, Apocalyptic Islam and Iranian Shi'ism, 203. Ibid.

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Satan, there is no further role for him once the condemned realize on the Day of Judgment who was behind their temptations and ultimate failings, but by then it is too late. Satan has no part in Islamic eschatology in either part of the afterworld, not even in a sort of purgatory. Modern thinking appears to have relegated Satan‘s role to less of a personalized being and rather to an ―intrinsic force‖26. The Dating of the End of Time Much like their Christian – and to some degree Jewish – counterparts, Muslims have attempted to pinpoint a time when these final events would take place. The Qur'an is explicit that such timing is not possible (7:187, 31:34, 43:85), however the Hadiths traditions have largely ignored this through all means possible, e.g. gematrical exposition of the Qur'an or Sufi texts.27 Some dating had placed the end of time in 1978, which coincides with the year 1400 A.H. Closer to the new millennium, the year 2000 became a candidate, despite a lack of apparent Islamic calendar corollary. The Egyptian writer Amin Muhammad Jamal al-Din has written a series of books trying to date the end of the world through a methodology that actually leverages Christian texts to pin a date to apocalyptic events. Most of the predictions given from scholarly sources, beginning mid last century, are tied to the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. Mahdism Mahdism, or the expectation of a future messianic personality who will bring about a perfect Islamic world in the here and now, is common to Sunni and Shi‘ite Muslims. The Mahdi is ―the epitome of what the true Islamic ruler should be; he is the person who will set things
26 27

Ibid., 205. David Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press,

2008), 85.

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right.‖28 Both major branches of Islam expect the arrival of the Mahdi. The key difference, according to Ayatollah Nasir Makarem Shirazi, is that "Shias believe that the Imam of the time was born and is in occultation, while Sunnis believe he will be born in the end of days. Certainly, there is a minority among Sunni scholars who share the belief of the Shias in this matter."29 Mahdism, according to Shenk, is an eschatology that has ―the potential to form powerful movements that cannot be trivialized.‖30 The introduction of this paper citing Iranian President Ahmadinejad‘s words at the UN seem to hint at this. Shi‘ite beliefs specific to Mahdism, which vary from the Sunni understanding of a yet-to-appear Mahdi, will be discussed in a section below. Key Players Mahdism is not understood by simply telling the story of the Mahdi, especially as there are conflicting traditions in the Sunni and Shi‘a branches of Islam, but rather one ought to inspect the other elements of Mahdi traditions. There are six primary characters in Mahdism: the Mahdi himself, Jesus, al-Dajjal (or the Deceiver), al-Dabbah (the Beast), the collective entity called Yajuj wa-Majuj (or Gog and Magog), and al-Sufyani. The Mahdi Al-Mahdi, or ―the rightly guided one‖, will ring in the end of time, according to Muslim traditions. The Mahdi himself is not mentioned in the Qur'an, but is mentioned in a number of Hadiths. While Jesus (see below) holds the more messianic title of al-Masih, a cognate of the
28 29

Ibid., 126.

Islamic Insights, Our Responsibilities before Imam Mahdi, http://www.islamicinsights.com/religion/clergy-corner/our-responsibilities-before-imam-mahdi.html (accessed October 16, 2011). David W. Shenk, ―Muslims and Christians: Eschatology and Mission,‖ International Bulletin of Missionary Research 33, no. 3 (July 2009): 120.
30

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Hebrew mashiakh, it is clearly the Mahdi who ―for all intents and purposes …is the more relevant messianic figure in Islamic thought and history.‖31 In Sunni eschatology, according to Fahd Salim, a Sunni writer, several events will have to occur before and directly after the Mahdi is revealed. The Sufyani (see below) will have to appear, reconquering Israel for all Muslims and killing the Jews. The Madhi will then be revealed and will reestablish the caliphate (a clear departure from Shi‘ite thinking). He will conquer Constantinople (in several writers‘ opinion for the second time due to the reform efforts in Turkey that led Muslims away from the true faith) and Rome. This will be followed by a conquering of all of Europe during the time that al-Dajjäl (the Antichrist) proclaims himself. Jesus will return from heaven and will ultimately defeat al-Dajjäl. Serving as the central figure of these end times scenarios, the Mahdi will correct that which has been corrupted and return Islam to its roots and the faithful to their place. In Sunni tradition, the Mahdi is a ―reluctant leader, first chosen by God, after which the choice is apparently spontaneously confirmed by the masses of Muslims.‖32 There will be opposition to the Mahdi; in the eyes of one Islamic author, M. Da`ud, a gigantic army descending upon Mecca will consist of non-Muslims (possibly Americans).33 The Mahdi will be provoked by many others, but will be victorious in conquests. The Arabian Peninsula will be won over with Arab Christians turning to Islam because of the Mahdi. The Americans become involved (again?), and this culminates in them battling the Mahdi in a confrontation at a point at which the Mahdi aims at Israel and seeks the annihilation of the Jews. Mahdi‘s armies win decisively, possibly via a nuclear weapon launched through a suicide bomber on the Western fleet in the Mediterranean.
Timothy R. Furnish, Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama Bin Laden (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2005), 2.
32 33 31

Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature, 128. Ibid., 130.

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Most of the Jews will be killed, and many Westerners will willingly surrender to Islam. A sign of peace and technological wonders follows, as the West is forced to transfer its technological achievements to the Mahdi and his followers.34 It is not clear when the actual final time of judgment begins, but this could be over a century later, according to some scholars. The Mahdi‘s key role during his time will be to reorder society around the globe in utopian-appearing realignments of socioeconomic orders.35 Jesus Jesus, who is described in the Qur'an as the son of Mary and a prophet, not divine (5:75), will join the Mahdi in the fight against the Antichrist figure of al-Dajjäl (see below). There are some traditions who believe these two figures are really synonymous; however most traditions see differences that are clearly distinct. Some traditions describe Jesus as being of medium height, having a ruddy appearance and long hair flowing down ―as if he had just bathed‖.36 In the Qur'an, Jesus did not die, but rather resides with Allah (4:157-158). Islamic eschatology has him returning, possibly by descending on a mosque in Damascus, and proceeding to destroy all of the world‘s crosses, kill all pigs, and encourage the Ahl al-Kitab, the People of the Book, to join the lone true religion, the religion of Allah, Islam. Together with the Mahdi, he will lead the armies of Islam in their battle against al-Dajjäl. After his defeat, Jesus will live a full life of around 40 years and possibly get married and have children. He will ultimately die and be buried next to the Prophet Muhammad‘s grave in Medina.37
34 35 36 37

Ibid., 136-39. Furnish, Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama Bin Laden, 7. Furnish, Holiest Wars, 18. Ibid.

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Al-Dajjäl (the Deceiver) Haddad and Smith call al-Dajjäl, a type of Antichrist, ―perhaps the figure most important to contemporary apocalyptics.‖38 Described as a curly-haired, middle-sized, thin-faced and loudvoiced albino having red hair and a reddish color with a large head with leftover scarring from small-pox39, blind in one eye, and with the root of the word kafir written on his forehead, he is the polar opposite of the Mahdi. He is also said to be the descendant of Abù Sufyan, the enemy of the Prophet who only very late in life converted to Islam under duress and whose wife was Hind, the ―Liver-Eating Woman‖ who ―chewed the liver of Hamza, the Prophet‘s uncle, after the battle of UHud in 627.‖40 His intention is to draw the faithful Islamic community, or `umma, away from the true faith and to establish himself as the ruler over a powerful kingdom. According to one tradition, he is said to rule for a period of seven years.41 al-Dajjäl will perform many miracles in order to deceive the Muslim community. Among them are the healing of lepers, paralytics and the blind, raising the dead, causing vegetation and rain to appear (or preventing it), making cattle thrive or die, moving entire mountains and enticing them to fight with each other, and causing the sun to stop from moving.42 Cook writes, ―These miracles show a close affinity to those performed by Jesus…. His powers are very similar in kind, but totally evil in nature.‖43 It appears that in Islamic thinking, al-Dajjäl is the impersonation of evil, while Jesus is the counterpoint in moral goodness. As such, the battle must
Haddad and Smith, ―The Anti-Christ and the End of Time in Christian and Muslim Eschatological Literature,‖ 514. David Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic (Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam) (Greenwich: Darwin Press, 2003), 123.
40 41 39 38

Ibid.

Haddad and Smith, ―The Anti-Christ and the End of Time in Christian and Muslim Eschatological Literature, 515.
42 43

Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic (Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam), 100-1. Ibid., 101.

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be between these two figures. al-Dajjäl is depicted as a very dangerous time of trial for all of Islam. Several traditions describe al-Dajjäl as extremely cruel. Cook writes: One Muslim in particular is singled out, cut up, and tortured in various gruesome ways. It is emphasized that he will under no circumstances give in to this torture, despite the fact that the Dajjäl raises him from the dead several times and tortures him further. This believer is described as the one possessing the greatest martyrdom in the eyes of God. In all likelihood this story is based on Christian martyrologies.44 However, unlike with al-Sufyani (see discussion below), where many faithful arise to fight him, few Muslims apparently actually oppose al-Dajjäl. Rather, it is Jesus who battles him45 and who finally defeats him, according to one tradition, by simply looking at him. 46 Al-Dabbah (the Beast) The Qur'an describes a beast arising from the earth in 27:82. This beast is similar to the Beast in Revelation in the Bible. It does not per se appear to be a malevolent creature despite an appearance that instills fear, but will mark believers and unbelievers in the forehead, which, of course, again appears like an allusion to the book of Revelation. However, this is where the similarities stop. Believers will have a white dot placed on their foreheads, whereas unbelievers will have a black dot applied. Al-Dabbah is described as a mixture of animals with ―the head of an ox, the eye of a pig, the ear of an elephant, the horn of a stag, the neck of an ostrich, the front part of a lion, the haunch of a cat, the tail of a sheep, and the legs of a camel.‖47 Al-Suyuti describes al-Dabbah‘s appearance from al-Safä in Mecca, while Jesus is circumambulating the Ka`ba; something that places al-Dabbah during a time when al-Dajjäl has already been defeated.48
44 45 46 47 48

Ibid., 108. Ibid., 108-9. Ibid., 101. Ibid., 122. Ibid., 121-22.

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While al-Dabbah seems to bring about fear in the Muslim heart, he is not a creature to be feared. He is not believed to cause harm to Muslim men and women, and he is even described as killing the devil in one tradition.49 Yajuj wa-Majuj (Gog and Magog) This composite figure, sometimes seen as one person, is a well-known element of mythological writings of the Middle East. Mentions are made both in the Qur'an and in the Bible (Gog and Magog). Some Qur'an scholars have postulated that 21:96-97 seem to refer to a dam in the northeast, which is intended to confine Yajuj wa-Majuj, and which will be unable to contain them at the end of times. They are sometimes pictured as large-sized cannibals, who rail against God and will be a menace to the people upon whom they come.50 However, in the end Yajuj waMajuj will be overcome by fire and other natural disasters. There is no true parallel between Yajuj wa-Majuj and al-Dajjäl, but they are seen as signs that heralds the end of time – the coming of the Hour. Al-Sufyani Not considered one of the major signs of the end time, the Sufyani is seen as a malicious leader who will come to power in al-Sham, greater Syria, before the arrival of the Mahdi. As Furnish writes, ―the Sufyani seems to be the crystallization in Islamic tradition of resentment toward the branch of the Umayyad dynasty descended from Mu`anwiyah b. Abi (or Abu) Sufyan.‖51 While al-Dajjal is typically seen in an Anti-Christ-like role as the one who opposes Jesus, al-Sufyani is seen as the opponent of the Madhi, especially in Sunni eschatological
49 50

Ibid., 122. . Haddad and Smith, The Anti-Christ and the End of Time in Christian and Muslim Eschatological Furnish, Holiest Wars, 19.

Literature.
51

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thought.52 His coming is heralded by an earthquake, and he will go on many ruthless military expeditions. He will be faced by several figures that appear to be both apocalyptic and messianic, such as al-Abqa` in Egypt, al-Ashab in al-Jazìram, and al-Yämanì.53

Specific Shi’ite Beliefs of Mahdism The above section on Mahdism and on the Mahdi himself reflected largely Sunni beliefs. Unlike Sunnis, Shi‘ites believe that the Mahdi is one of the Imams of the Imamate period of early Islam, i.e. a descendant of Ali. To this day, Shi‘ites commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, the Third Shi‘i Imam in AD 680 at Karbala. Amanat writes, ―The Mahdi…in Shi‘ism is not only from the House of the Prophet and a progeny of 'Ali, but, more importantly, is the ‗riser‘ (qa’im) who avenges all that went wrong in Shi‘i sacred history and all the sufferings that 'Ali, Fatima, Husayn, their family and supporters sustained. He restores their rightful place in history.‖54 With this understanding as a backdrop, it is easy to see that Shi‘ite beliefs tie back to the beginning of Islam and have to do with pain inflicted on them in their persecution. With today‘s Shi‘ites largely at home in Iran, Amanat leads back early forms of eschatological understanding by Shi‘ites to an influence of Zoroastrian and Jewish traditions. The binary approach he sees in Middle Eastern religions ―generally functions as a strategy to resolve the tension engendered by the problem of theodicy.‖55 The conflict between good and evil, there since the world began, will be resolved in one final and destructive battle, in which the forces of evil are defeated. He likewise sees the influence of Zoroastrian eschatology in the
52 53 54 55

Ibid. Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic (Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam), 125. Amanat, Apocalyptic Islam and Iranian Shi'ism, 5. Ibid., 21.

15

human messianic or savior figure who will bring about ―cosmic reconstruction.‖56 The Mahdi in Shi‘ism brings a great revolt (khuruj), which will usher in both the Resurrection (qiyama) and the final judgment (yaum al-din). Amanat sees in all the religions of the Middle East at the time of the beginning of Islam (Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity) a very similar battle between a savior and his evil mirror image. The exception is in Zoroastrianism, where Ahriman is much more powerful than the Dajjäl of Islam, the Antichrist of Christianity, or Belial of the Hebrew Bible.57 Shi‘ite understanding of the role of the Mahdi has one other key aspect: to the Shi‘ite mind, the Mahdi is already known. He is the Hidden Imam (or al-Imam al-Gha’ib) who will reappear after his occultation, or hiding.58 There are several different branches within this line of eschatological conviction, each following a particular Imam, however the most prevalent form is that of the Twelver Shi‘ites, who believe the Twelfth (and last) Imam who disappeared at the age of five in AD 873-4 (260 AH) now lives in occultation, possibly in a ―celestial visionary space‖59 and will reappear to usher in the apocalyptic events of the end times. In more recent history, Iran‘s leadership has begun to pick up strongly on this eschatology to use it for desired political and social underpinnings of what, according to their convictions, should form modern (and Islamic) Iran. From the Mahdi-like Ayatollah Khomeini, who rang in the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 to President Ahmadinejad, the Mahdi messianic fever has served Iran‘s political and religious leadership well. The beginnings of the association of the United States as the Big Satan and Israel as the Little Satan began during the period of Stalin‘s reign who drove an aggressive anti-Semitic
56 57 58 59

Ibid., 27. Ibid. Ibid., 49. Ibid., 52.

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campaign via the airwaves picked up in Teheran, and it continued after the forming of the State of Israel, when Russian radio stations beamed radio programs into Iran portraying Zionism as more and more identifiable with those nations who supported Israel, such as the United States and Great Britain. The United States were viewed as an ―intrusive superpower‖ ringing in the ―latest phase of an imperial intrusion.‖60 With the influx of Western influences, begun during the reign of Shah Reza Pahlavi, it became necessary for the fundamentalist leaders to define a new opponent in the battle against evil. The existing satanic enemy of Shi‘ism was updated and made to play a more important role than simply being responsible for the ―mundane mischief assigned to him in popular beliefs.‖61 The wars and upheaval in neighboring countries intensified the proto-messianic feelings in Iran, in particular a confrontation with U.S. forces at the Mosque of Kufa, bearing great messianic significance, in 2005.62 With Ahmadinejad at the helm, this messianic frenzy has accelerated. Ahmadinejad has a soldier‘s history, i.e. he has seen much war in younger years. When he catapulted unexpectedly from virtual obscurity to the top leadership role in Iran in 2005, he himself saw this as a confirmation of the Mahdi‘s support.63 Interestingly, Ahmadinejad touts a message of the Mahdi‘s arrival as heralding ―peace, social justice, prosperity, and happiness for all humanity‖64, when according to Shi‘ite understanding, the Mahdi‘s arrival will bring with it a violent uprising that will be extremely bloody. Amanat sees this as a paradigmatic shift in understanding and is concerned over Iran‘s nuclear ambitions in parallel to its strong messianic expectation.
60 61 62 63 64

Ibid., 217. Ibid., 219. Ibid., 227. Ibid., 240. Ibid., 242.

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Shifts in Eschatological Interpretation Since 1948 Shenk writes that in recent years, ―the volume of Islamic apocalyptic and eschatogical literature has increased dramatically, especially as a response to the emergence of the State of Israel.‖65 These writings often resemble apocalyptic writings in the Christian realm, such as the recent Left Behind series. The problem of a disconnect between dispensational Christian beliefs of the role of Israel in end-times scenarios and the conflicting view of Muslim eschatological convictions is summarized well by Haddad and Smith who write, ―Here then is the crux of the problem: what is necessary for the fulfillment of dispensationalist Christian belief on the one hand is exactly what is most painful for Muslims on the other, and seems to be provoking a counter-response.‖66 The shifts in interpretation over time, but especially since the middle of the 20th century become apparent in the conclusion of a summary paper of a 2009 conference entitled Roads to Paradise: Eschatology and Concepts of the Hereafter, which was printed in the Journal of Qur'anic Studies: It became clear that Islamic notions of eschatology and the afterlife, as seen by various scholars, are remarkably varied and diverse. Taking the Qur'anic description of Paradise, Hell and the eschaton as points of reference, Muslim religious thinkers and intellectuals of every period have arrived at their respective individual understandings of the fate of the deceased and the world as we know it. While some of them occupied themselves with rational analysis and logical argumentation, others embarked on a mystical contemplation of a deeper understanding of this and the other world.67
David W. Shenk, ―Muslims and Christians: Eschatology and Mission,‖ International Bulletin of Missionary Research 33, no. 3 (July 2009): 120. Haddad and Smith, ―The Anti-Christ and the End of Time in Christian and Muslim Eschatological Literature, 511. Christian Mauder and Omid Ghaemmaghami, ―Conference: 'Roads to Paradise: Eschatology and Concepts of the Hereafter in Islam': University of Göttingen, 27-31 May, 2009,‖ Journal of Qur'anic Studies 11, no. 1 (2009): 160.
67 66 65

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Conclusion Muslims live in expectation of a final day of judgment, which will divide the good from the evil and which will be preceded by a time of perfect Islamic society on earth under the rule of the Mahdi. Many of the eschatological beliefs of Islam are not found in the Qur'an directly, but rather in the Hadiths. There are a large number of scholars who have rendered often conflicting interpretations of the vagaries of the texts at hand. Significant differences exist between the Sunni and the Shi‘ite understanding of who the Mahdi is and his role. There has been a prominent rise in interest in eschatology in Muslim scholarship since the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. Anxieties associated with this geo-political development have also created a shift in interpretations of passages in the Qur'an and Hadiths that discuss the end of days and the signs surrounding this period. Many anti-Semitic sentiments have found their way into the writings of Muslim scholars, both Sunni and Shi'a. From a closer inspection of Islamic eschatology and in particular Mahdism, it has been shown that Christians who want to share their faith in Jesus Christ as not prophet, but Messiah, Redeemer and Lord, will need to understand the Islamic understanding of Jesus‘ role in Muslim end time scenarios, but clearly will also have to have a solid grasp on world history, or rather Middle Eastern history, to be able to understand and differentiate the spiritual, and in particular eschatological, mindset of Muslims encountered.

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Bibliography Amanat, Abbas. Apocalyptic Islam and Iranian Shi'ism. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2009. Cook, David. Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2008. ———. Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic (Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam). Greenwich: Darwin Press, 2003. Furnish, Timothy R. Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama Bin Laden. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2005. Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck, and Jane I. Smith. ―The Anti-Christ and the End of Time in Christian and Muslim Eschatological Literature.‖ Muslim World 100, no. 4 (2010). Insights, Islamic. Our Responsibilities before Imam Mahdi. http://www.islamicinsights.com/religion/clergy-corner/our-responsibilities-before-imammahdi.html (accessed October 16, 2011). Mauder, Christian, and Omid Ghaemmaghami. ―Conference: 'Roads to Paradise: Eschatology and Concepts of the Hereafter in Islam': University of Göttingen, 27-31 May, 2009.‖ Journal of Qur'anic Studies 11, no. 1 (2009). Rahman, Fazlur. Major Themes of the Qur'an. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1989. Rustomji, Nerina. The Garden and the Fire: Heaven and Hell in Islamic Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008. Shenk, David W. ―Muslims and Christians: Eschatology and Mission.‖ International Bulletin of Missionary Research 33, no. 3 (July 2009): 120-23. Sunan al-Tirmidhi Vol. IV, Chapters on "The Features of Heaven as described by the Messenger of Allah", ch. 21 "About the Smallest Reward for the People of Heaven", hadith 2687. The Qur'an. Haleem, M. A. S. Abdel, trans. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010. United Nations. Transcript of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Speech at the General Assembly. http://gadebate.un.org/sites/default/files/gastatement/66/IR_en.pdf (accessed October 14, 2011).

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