Friday, October 7, 2011

Iran’s apocalyptic vision

Lost amid the debates over the economy is Iran’s nuclear program. In spite of years of diplomatic efforts by Presidents Bush and Obama, Iran is inching ever closer to obtaining operational nuclear weapons.

It is unlikely that diplomatic efforts will convince the Iranians to abandon their quest for a nuclear weapon. In their desire for a diplomatic solution, many western observers fail to take into consideration the religious beliefs of the Iranian leaders. Much of Iran’s leadership, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, belongs to a sect of Shia Islam called the “Twelvers.”

The Twelvers await an Islamic Messiah called the Mahdi, who will one day emerge to lead the world to peace and prosperity under Muslim rule. The Mahdi, Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al Mahdi, was a Shiite Imam who lived in the ninth century. According to Shia tradition, the Mahdi was taken into occultation, supernaturally concealed from mankind by Allah. Twelvers believe that he will return to earth, followed by Jesus, at a time of great chaos and war to rescue mankind.

When Ayatollah Khomeini rose to power in the Iranian Revolution of 1979, he became the first Shia leader since Imam al-Mahdi to take the title of Imam. Khomeini was believed by many Iranians to be the Mahdi, but when he died in 1989 he had still not ushered in the era of Islamic peace and prosperity.

Since Khomeini’s death, Iran’s leaders have more overtly voiced belief in the Mahdi. Shortly after his election in 2005, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the United Nations. His speech closed with a prayer to Allah to hasten the coming of the Mahdi:

From the beginning of time, humanity has longed for the day when justice, peace, equality and compassion envelop the world. All of us can contribute to the establishment of such a world. When that day comes, the ultimate promise of all Divine religions will be fulfilled with the emergence of a perfect human being who is heir to all prophets and pious men. He will lead the world to justice and absolute peace.”

"O mighty Lord, I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository, the promised one, that perfect and pure human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace.

Ahmadinejad, who appropriated $17 million to the Jamkaran mosque, a shrine to the Mahdi in Qom, Iran, later described the speech in a DVD translated by PBS:

On the last day when I was speaking before the assembly, one of our group told me that when I started to say "In the name of God the almighty and merciful," he saw a light around me, and I was placed inside this aura. I felt it myself.

I felt the atmosphere suddenly change, and for those 27 or 28 minutes, the leaders of the world did not blink. When I say they didn't bat an eyelid, I'm not exaggerating because I was looking at them. And they were rapt.

It seemed as if a hand was holding them there and had opened their eyes to receive the message from the Islamic republic.

In March 2011, the Iranian government released a documentary film, “The Coming is Near,” that postulated that the Mahdi’s arrival was imminent. The film also hints that both Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, are precursors to the Mahdi’s coming.

Even though many westerners are secular and pay little attention to end-times prophecies, the important thing is that the Iranians, including members of the Iranian government who will soon have their fingers on the nuclear trigger, do believe the prophecies of the Mahdi’s return. The fact that western powers are in disarray due to the economic crisis and that coalition forces are perceived by Muslims to be in retreat in Afghanistan and Iraq must seem a divine opportunity for those who believe that a world filled with chaos and war is needed to open the door for the messianic Twelfth Imam.

Iran’s leaders have made plain that they will use nuclear weapons if they can build them. According to the Iran Press Service, Ayatollah Hashemi-Rafsanjani, a prominent cleric, said, “If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the [nuclear] arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.” President Ahmadinejad said in a 2005 speech to the “World Without Zionism” conference that Israel “must be wiped off the map” (translation by the N.Y. Times). Supreme Leader Khamenei has long agreed. In 2000, CNN reported that he said, “Iran's stance has always been clear on this ugly phenomenon (Israel). We have repeatedly said that this cancerous tumor of a state should be removed from the region.” To that end, Iran has long sponsored terrorism against both Israel and the United States using surrogates such as Hezbollah and al Qaeda.

To ignore the Iranian leaders when they they call for the destruction of Israel, the “little Satan,” and the United States, the “great Satan,” is akin to leaders of the past who ignored Adolf Hitler’s intentions that were clearly spelled out for the world in “Mein Kampf.”

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