One of the common practices we all seem to engage in during the days leading up to and just after the new year is to prognosticate about the coming year, about what may or may not happen. With that in mind, there are a number of things that have come to my attention that have made me more than normally concerned for what may happen in 2007.
Those of you who have read me in the past are aware that I am in the camp that believes that Islam is the religion that best fits as the religion of the Anti-Christ. While it has been fashionable since the Reformation for many Protestants to target Roman Catholicism as the prime candidate, anyone who believes that Rome would ever deny the divinity of Jesus has allowed their sectarian enthusiasm to blind their common sense. Islam denies the divinity of Jesus. They deny his resurrection. They claim Allah is singular and the only God and anyone who denies that is anathema.
This is not new. Islam has believed this for over thirteen hundred years and acted on that belief. However, within Islam there is a great divide. There are two main belief systems, split by the argument of who had the right of succession to the mantle of Mohammad. These are Sunni Islam and Shia Islam.
An overwhelming number of those who follow Islam are Sunnis. Some estimate that is almost 90%. Sunnis take their name from the sunnah, or example or path of Muhammad that is considered the main pillar of their doctrine. They also believe that the Caliphates established after the death of Mohammad are the true succession of Islam. You may remember that one of the chief goals of Al Qaeda (whose roots are in the Wahhabi strain of the Sunni faith) is the re-establishment of the Islamic Caliphate.
The other large group, dominate in Iran and much of Iraq, is Shia Islam. This statement from Wikipedia explains their position.
Shia Muslims believe that specific persons from Muhammad’s family (the Imams) were the best source of knowledge about the Qur’an and Islam, the most trusted carriers and protectors of Muhammad’s Sunnah (traditions), and the most worthy of emulation.
In particular, Shia Muslims recognize the succession of Ali (Muhammad’s cousin, son-in-law, the first young man to accept Islam second only to Muhammad’s wife Khadija and the male head of the Ahl al-Bayt or “people of the [Prophet’s] house”) as opposed to that of the caliphate recognized by Sunni Muslims. Shia Muslims believe that Ali was appointed successor by Muhammad’s direct order on many occasions, and that he is therefore the rightful leader of the Muslim faith.
Within Islam, there is a tradition that Christians should be concerned about, the tradition of the Mahdi or Islamic Redeemer. This redeemer will arise before the day of final judgment. He will institute a universal kingdom of justice, and during last days he will fight alongside the returned Islamic prophet Jesus against the Dajjal (Antichrist or false Messiah). So Islam also has a messianic tradition.
However, the Shia believe in a very specific fulfillment of this tradition. It is believed that the twelfth imam, Muhammad ibn Hasan ibn Ali (al-Mahdi), is the ultimate savior of mankind. When the eleventh imam died in 874, his young son stepped forward at his funeral and declared:
Move aside, uncle; only an Imam can lead the funeral prayer of an Imam.”
As his uncle moved aside, the young child led the funeral prayer for his father. The common story is that at this very moment the Muhammad al-Mahdi disappeared and went into ghaybat, or occultation, hidden from the world until his appointed time.
The Shias see this twelfth imam, who they believe has been held in occultation, as the awaited redeemer. What makes this significant for the year 2007 are statements made by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran.
Ahmadinejad claims he had a “vision” while giving his recent speech at the U.N., which anointed the divine mission he believes he has been given. The Iranian president believes he has a personal role in aiding the immanent return and ascendancy of the Shiite Mahdi. In a speech in Tehran on November 16, 2006 he stated that his “mission” was to “pave the path for the glorious reappearance of Imam Mahdi, may Allah hasten his reappearance.” Some in his circle believe the time for this reappearance is 2007.
For Christians, what is prophesied about this Imam Mahdi is important:
Another beautiful moment of the Savior’s appearance is the coming down of Prophet Jesus (PBUH) from heaven. Hazrat Mahdi receives him courteously and asks him to lead the prayers. But Jesus says you are more qualified for this than me. We read in the book Tazkarat ol-Olia, ‘the Mahdi will come with Jesus son of Mary accompanying him.’ This indicates that these two great men are complement each other. Imam Mahdi will be the leader while Prophet Jesus will act as his lieutenant in the struggle against oppression and establishment of justice in the world. Jesus had himself given the tidings of the coming of God’s last messenger and will see Mohammad’s ideals materialize in the time of the Mahdi. [Emphasis added]
It seems most of the media are missing these important developments in the Islamic world. That does not make these events any less significant or their occurrence any less ominous, not only to Christians, but the world at large.
May God grant us the wisdom and the grace to discern the times, to be ready both in season and out of season to give account for what we believe. We do indeed live in remarkable times.