Identifying Al-Mahdi

The theme of this blog is inversions; theological concepts that are totally reversed when compared within Christianity and Islam. Some are minor yet revealing. Others are nothing short of shocking.

Perhaps no two things are more polar opposites than the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Antichrist. By definition, the word “antichrist” means “against Christ.” Whether the Antichrist is merely an agent of Satan, Satan incarnate, or begins as the former and ends as the latter is less important than the fact that the Antichrist will be a direct force in implementing Satan’s agenda as much as possible here on earth.

For almost two millennia now, Christians have tried to identify the groups, systems, or institutions that would formulate the kingdom of Antichrist. Every generation tries to shoehorn the political or religious boogieman of its day into a Biblical framework that will predict future events. Therefore, care must be taken not to make the same mistake in our current times. What we do know is that Satan exists (John 8:44), he has strategies (Ephesians 6:11), and that he masquerades as an agent of light (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). What we would expect then is that whatever form the kingdom of Antichrist will take, it will look good on the surface. Its evil nature will only be revealed prior to its inception by deeper investigation but after its inception it will become readily apparent once it has had time to run its course and its fruits are manifested (Matthew 7:16).

Speaking of end-times, as it happens, Islam has its own set of end-times prophecies. While a complete analysis of the Islamic end-times scenarios would take way more space than available here, we can focus in on one particular aspect of it. Within Islam, there is an end-times figure known as Al-Mahdi. In Arabic, Al-Mahdi means “the rightly guided one.” Muslims believe that in the last days, Al-Mahdi will come on the scene and unify the world under Islam. He will be considered the best of humanity. For example, consider this quote form Ayatullah Baqir al-Sadr and Ayatullah Murtada Mutahhari in the book The Awaited Savior

“A figure more legendary than that of the Mahdi, the Awaited Saviour, has not been seen in the history of mankind. The threads of the world events have woven many a fine design in human life but the pattern of the Mahdi stands high above every other pattern. He has been the vision of the visionaries in history. He has been the dream of all the dreamers of the world. For the ultimate salvation of mankind he is the Pole Star of hope on which the gaze of humanity is fixed..” [i]

Muslims the world over, both Sunni and Shi’a, await the advent of Al-Mahdi. In this previous article, I discussed one irony of how Muslims will recognize his coming. Yet, in a more practical sense, the Hadith do set out some guidelines as to how Muslims can identify him. I have listed them in the following table. Simultaneously, I have listed some Biblical passages describing the Antichrist and his kingdom. Please compare carefully.

Islamic Sources Regarding Al-MahdiChristian Sources Regarding Antichrist
World ruler“He will reappear on the appointed day, and then he will fight against the forces of evil, lead a world revolution and set up a new world order based on justice, righteousness and virtue…ultimately the righteous will take the world administration in their hands and Islam will be victorious over all the religions.” [ii] It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. Revelation 13:7
Leads from Jerusalem“Jerusalem will be the location of the rightly guided caliphate and the center of Islamic rule, which will be headed by Imam al-Mahdi” [iii] who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. 2 Thessalonians 2:4
Spiritual Leader“Al-Mahdi will receive a pledge of allegiance as a caliph for Muslims. He will lead Muslims in many battles of jihad. His reign will be a caliphate that follows the guidance of the Prophet.” [iv] All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. Revelation 13:8
Changes times and laws“Surely the number of months with Allah is twelve months in Allah’s ordinance since the day when He created the heavens and the earth,” Qur’an 9:36

“It is considered a divine command to use a calendar with 12 lunar months without intercalation, as evidenced from the Holy Qur’an.”[v]
He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. Daniel 7:25
Kills Jews and Christians“The Mahdi will offer the religion of Islam to the Jews and Christians; if they accept it they will be spared, otherwise they will be killed.” [vi] So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. Revelation 12:17
Uses beheading as method of execution[8.12] When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them. Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, Revelation 20:4a
Makes 7 year peace treaty[Muhammad] said: “There will be four peace agreements between you and the Romans [Christians]. The fourth agreement will be mediated through a person who will be from the progeny of Hadrat Haroon [Honorable Aaron] and will be upheld for seven years.” [vii] And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.” Daniel 9:27
Man on the white horse“I find the Mahdi recorded in the books of the prophets…For instance, the book of Revelation says “and I saw and behold a white horse…and he that sat…on him went forth conquering and to conquer.” [viii] Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer. Revelation 6:1-2

In the Islamic end-times prophecies, the names have been changed. The villain is the hero. The antagonist is the protagonist. All of the prophetic details remain intact, but the players have been swapped. Satan knows God’s prophecies and that they cannot be thwarted, so the best approach to lead people astray is by constructing a complete anti-parallel set of prophecies marking himself as the hero.

As a Christian, if this does not break your heart for Muslims, I don’t know what could. Satan has completely turned around prophecies in order to get Muslims to willingly submit to the Antichrist kingdom. As a Muslim, don’t you find it odd that your religion has a completely inverted set of prophecies compared to the Injil?

** This article relied heavily upon the advance research done by Joel Richardson in his book The Islamic Antichrist. I highly recommend it as it delves much deeper into this topic.

[iii] Muhammad ibn Izzat, Muhammad ‘Arif, Al Mahdi and the End of Time (London, Dar Al-Taqwa, 1997) p.40
[iv] Abdulrahman Kelani, The Last Apocalypse, An Islamic Perspective, (Fustat, 2003), pp. 34-35
[v] Dr. Waleed A Muhanna, A Brief Introduction to the Islamic Calandar
[vi] Ayatollah Ibrahim Amini in Al-Imam Al-Madhi: The Just Leader of Humanity.
[viii] Muhammad ibn Izzat, Muhammad ‘Arif, Al Mahdi and the End of Time (London, Dar Al-Taqwa, 1997) p.15

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Unraveling Jihad

Due to events of the past years, the idea of whether Islam is a religion of peace has been put forward by any number of pundits and media outlets. We hear how the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful people. We also hear other voices insist that Islam is not a religion of peace. Can these two seemingly opposing viewpoints both be true? If so, how can this be?

Part of the answer rests on the difference between Islam and Muslims. On the one hand, there is the issue of Islam and its theology. What does the religion teach? What are its major tenets? What are the commands given to Islam’s adherents? Are there multiple ways in which these commands can be interpreted? On the other side of this, how do Muslims choose to live out their lives on a daily basis? How do they interact with others, and what values to they hold dear?

In other words, what are the differences between theology and practice? To understand this distinction, consider the Christian concept of forgiveness. The Bible teaches Christians are to forgive those who wrong them. In fact, Christians are not only told to forgive, but to actually pray for those who are persecute them (Matthew 5:44). This isn’t a command that has multiple interpretations; it stands squarely in plain language. It’s an outrageous concept and it goes against every fiber of our being. Our natural instinct calls us to fight back and retaliate. So many Christians don’t practice this kind of countercultural response and instead hold on to a grudge or become embittered toward those who harm them. Why is it that many Christians don’t live out this ideal as prescribed by Jesus Himself? We could apply this same idea to any number of concepts, such as tithing, extreme hospitality, or not worrying about tomorrow’s troubles. The point is that there is doctrine that a religion teaches and then there is how its adherents actually live out their faith.

Islamic sources such as the Qur’an and Hadith teach jihad as a mandatory part of Islam. There isn’t any way to avoid this issue, and I have documented that in abundance in previous articles (here and here). I have heard Muslim apologists refer to jihad solely as the internal struggle, but the Qur’an and Hadith don’t support this view. For example, blind and lame people were excluded form jihad, and Muhammad’s orders regarding jihad were given within the context of his army preparing for and returning from military battle. Yet the reality is that the vast majority of Muslims don’t live up to this ideal practice as directly by Islamic theology. I believe there are three major reasons for this inconsistency.

First, many Muslims are basically good and moral people. The idea of jihad is repugnant to them. Therefore, they find ways to diminish or completely ignore the statutes. People have a tremendous capacity to mold a religion to fit their own personal belief system. This is basic human nature, and certainly is not confined to Muslims. Many Muslims follow their conscience rather than the commands regarding jihad as laid out within Islam.

Second, many Muslims are unaware of what their religion teaches. Many mosques, such as the one nearest myself, tend to overlook and sidestep any teachings relating to jihad. They focus on other aspects of the Islamic faith. Any good heretical movement that can split theology and practice does so by overemphasizing some aspects of the religion, while underemphasizing or completely ignoring others. Many Muslims haven’t been exposed to the dictates and requirements placed upon them in the Qur’an and Hadith concerning their duty to fight the infidels. In their minds, they are following Islam as best they know how given the partial theology they have been taught.

Third, there are many Muslims who do believe in jihad. However, part of Muhammad’s teaching relates not only to jihad itself, but also speaks to its timing. When Muslims are vastly outnumbered, Islam teaches that provisions should be made to bide their time. There are stages of infiltration to increase Muslim numbers. At a later date, when the time is more ripe, more aggressive and direct action can be taken.[i] There are many Muslims who secretly believe in jihad, but know that here in the West, that day is still several years away. What the media defines as the “radical” Muslims are those in the third camp who also believe the time is now rather than later. What percentage of Muslims that fully subscribe to jihad, but is patiently waiting for better timing is unknown. Such statistics could probably never be gathered.

In summary, Islam is not a religion of peace. Yet many Muslims are indeed peaceful. It isn’t the “radical” Muslims who have perverted Islam. It is the peaceful Muslims who have perverted Islamic theology in order to fit their consciences, their lack of knowledge, or their desire to await a more opportune time to launch more direct and combative action.

[i] Shoebat, Walid. God’s War on Terror. Top Executive Media, 2008, p 118-121.

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The Mustard Seed

I never cease to be amazed at how many ways the aspects of Christian and Islamic theology can be contrasted. For example, in each religion, often the very same symbol is used as an illustration. For example, Jesus uses the mustard seed to illustrate a point in the Bible. Similarly, the Qur’an uses the mustard seed to illustrate a point in the Qur’an. Yet the very same item is used as an avenue to illustrate two drastically opposing concepts.

In the Bible, there are two parables that use a mustard seed to make a point. One of them occurs in Matthew 13 and regards the growth and expansion of the kingdom of heaven. The other, which we will examine in more detail, occurs in Matthew 17. To put the parable in context, Jesus has just transfigured himself, and He and the disciples have come down from the mountain where they meet a man whose son is demon possessed (Matthew 17:15). The man had already been in contact with Jesus’ disciples, who were unable to do anything about it (Matthew 17:16). Jesus heals the boy (Matthew 17:18) and it is here where the story picks up in verse 19,

19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” 20 And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.

The issue at hand is faith. How much faith must you have? According to Jesus, the amount of faith required to accomplish the seemingly impossible is tiny. The mustard seed is used as this illustration because of its miniscule size. It takes the smallest amount of faith in order to connect with God and subsequently perform good works. God also makes it clear in the Bible that it is faith alone which leads to salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). The result of even the tiniest amount of faith is not just the path to salvation, but the power of God to then tap into His power (Ephesians 2:10). While Jesus’ parable doesn’t explicitly refer to salvation, it is about faith, and how much you are required to have. The point is that the mustard seed is used as a measure of faith, which is what leads to salvation, which is what later leads to good works.

The Qur’an also mentions the mustard seed. This verse in the Qur’an references salvation more directly. It specifically tells the Muslim faithful about the accuracy of measurement when their deeds are weighed and their eternal destiny will be determined.

[21.47] And We will set up a just balance on the day of resurrection, so no soul shall be dealt with unjustly in the least; and though there be the weight of a grain of mustard seed, (yet) will We bring it, and sufficient are We to take account.

Here the Qur’an refers to the scales that will be used to measure a person’s good deeds against their bad deeds on the day of judgement. If the scales are heavy with good deeds, the Muslim can go to paradise. If the scales are light, the Muslim will spend eternity in Hellfire. Here the mustard seed is used as an illustration of how exacting the measurement will be. If your bad deeds outweigh your good deeds by just a smidgeon, your fate is sealed. The Qur’an has other such verses that reiterate the same concept. For example, consider chapter 99, verses 6-8

[99.6-8] On that day men shall come forth in sundry bodies that they may be shown their works. So he who has done an atom’s weight of good shall see it. And he who has done an atom’s weight of evil shall see it.

Ultimately, Allah’s decision on the Muslim’s salvation is measured by good deeds versus bad deeds, and everything, no matter how microscopic, will be counted.

So in both Christianity and Islam, the mustard seed is used to signify how tiny something must be in order to be counted. Yet what it refers to isn’t just different, but completely antithetical. In Islam, the smallest of acts can be counted against your account. In Christianity, the smallest amount of faith in Jesus provides access to eternal life with Him. Both religions use the tiny mustard seed to make an example, yet the same object represents two totally different conceptions of salvation.

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