Most people are aware of the Christian and Jewish concepts of messiah, but very few outside of Islam know of their concept of messiah and how it irreconcilably pits them against the Judeo-Christian world. Today, the Islamic concept of the messiah is being expressed in current political events, most notably in the nuclear agreement with Iran.
There is no direct reference to a messiah in the Koran, however Islam has a strong tradition of Mahdi, a redeemer of Islam who will come as a ruler. The arrival of Mahdi will coincide with the arrival of the Christian messiah, who will be the Mahdi’s assistant in fighting the Masih ad-Dajjal, the false messiah, or anti-Christ. According to the tradition, the Mahdi will reappear along with Jesus, who will declare himself a Muslim, and kill Christians who refuse to convert.
Mahdi is also seen as a time when everyone will convert to Islam. In the Hadith, quotes from Umm Salama, one of Muhammad’s wives, states that when the Mahdi arrives, non-Muslims will all convert. According to Shia Islam, the Mahdi will be preceded by an era in which two thirds of the world’s population will die – one third by plague and one third by war. The time before the arrival of the Mahdi will also see a great war in Syria and Iraq that will destroy both countries, accompanied by a great fire and “redness in the sky.”
For Sunni Muslims, the Mahdi is the Prophet Muhammad’s successor who is yet to come. For most Shia Muslims, the Mahdi was born but disappeared and will remain hidden from humanity until he reappears to bring justice to the world. As in Judaism and Christianity, there have been Muslim leaders through the ages who have claimed to be the Mahdi, though his arrival is still anticipated.
The Shia Islamic concept of Mahdi includes resurrection of the dead, especially of their dead imams and leaders, as well as the belief that the Mahdi will conquer Constantinople, which was the capital of the Roman and Byzantine Empires, instrumental in the rise of Christianity. Constantinople was later conquered and became the capital of the Islamic Ottoman Empire. Istanbul, its modern incarnation, is the most populous city in Turkey, which has recently joined the US led fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).
The concept of the Mahdi greatly influences the political agenda of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the global leader of Shiite Islam. Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took the concept of the Mahdi very seriously and is a guiding force in his politics. In almost all of his speeches, at home and abroad, Ahmadinejad begged Allah to hasten the return of the Mahdi.
During a speech made in front of the United Nations in September 2008, Ahmadinejad beseeched Allah to “hasten the emergence” of the Mahdi.
“Oh mighty Lord,” he said, “I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository (a euphemism for Mahdi), the promised one, that perfect and pure human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace.”
It was reported that Ahmadinejad’s direct reference to the Mahdi left the audience of diplomats with their mouths hanging open.
The former Iranian president’s belief also affected his diplomatic relations with the US. According to a report in the Washington Post, Ahmadinejad accused the US government of trying to arrest the Mahdi, also referred to as the Hidden Imam.
“To quote a friend, they’ve completed a case against the Hidden Imam, and closed it also for his arrest,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying. “The only (thing) they lack is his picture.”
“It is really a government established by Satan to prevent reaching God and the Hidden Imam,” he added.”This evil government knows that its end will come if the Hidden Imam reappears.”
Ahmadinejad’s version of messianic Islam is popular with the masses but earned him the ire of the Iranian clergy, who considered his rhetoric too extreme, even for them. Many Middle-East commentators have conjectured that his intentions are to hasten the messianic process by creating the horrific chaos that is prophesied to precede it.
All this would be academic, however Ahmadinejad has announced his intention to run in the next Iranian presidential elections. In his country, Ahmadinejad is popular with the religious and the rural populace. In the West, he is known for non-compliance with nuclear regulations bordering on reckless endangerment.