NASHVILLE, Tennessee, (BP) Among the nearly 68 million people in Iran, the vast majority are Muslim who place their hope not in modern-day politics or rulers but in a person who walked the earth centuries ago and is promised to return.
“Both Islam and Christianity have a very well-defined eschatology, or period of the last days; both of them cannot be correct …,” said William Wagner, senior professor at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and author of the book, “How Islam Plans to Change the World.”
A majority of Shiite Muslims traditionally believe that the “12th Imam” (Islamic religious leader), born in 868 A.D., was placed by God into hiding (known as occultation) until the day of judgment. Southern Baptist author and evangelist Anis Shorrosh explained that many Shiites also refer to the 12th Imam as the Mahdi, an Arabic word that generally references a messiah, or a guide.
“This man will come to show them the way, because the prayer of every Muslim five times a day … ends with ‘Show us the right path, not the path of those who have incurred your anger or those who are lost, but those upon whom grace has come,’” Shorrosh said.
Though most strains of Islam have a belief in the Mahdi, Shiites traditionally believe he is Mohammed ibn Hasan, the 12th in the line of imams who were descendents of the prophet Mohammed. Though they do not know when the Mahdi will return, they believe he will come to end the misery of his people. Some strains of Islam even hold a belief that Jesus will be the Mahdi who will return and proclaim Islam as the true religion.
“Satan always tries to duplicate everything that God does,” Wagner said, “and I believe he has created his own eschatology that is somewhat similar to that of Christianity, but false enough to where it is apparent that it is not the truth.”
Ray Tallman, director of the school of intercultural studies at Golden Gate Seminary, noted that the major eschatological question for Shiite Muslims is when the Mahdi’s return will take place -– and many hold the belief that the time is near. The increasing clash with Israel and that with Christianity are two indications to Shiites that the Mahdi’s return could be near, said Tallman, who spent seven years as the international director for Arab World Ministries.
“All of that is sort of a sign of the times that now it has come to this, and that what is actually being done now out of hate has an eschatological sign of promise to it,” Tallman said of the Shiite view.
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been cited by various news sources as not only believing in the eventual return of the Mahdi, but that the return is near and that it is the responsibility of the Iranian government to prepare the country for his return.
“Belief in a savior is universal,” BBC News quoted Ahmadinejad as saying in January. “It is the pivot of our beliefs as Muslims and Iranians. We believe that an offspring of the prophet, may peace be upon him, will be the ultimate savior. His name and attributes are clear. He will come and will administer ultimate justice.”
The belief that the Mahdi’s return is near is not a new claim among Shiites, Wagner said, but one that has been held almost since the 12th Imam was historically placed into hiding.
“Almost every generation has some figures in Islam that either claim to be the 12th Imam or claim that the 12th Imam will come to himself,” Wagner said.
Although Shiites and Sunnis often battle against each other, as is currently the case in Iraq, Wagner noted common efforts among both groups of Muslims to destroy Israel, which is a critical part of Islam taking control in the world and thus ushering in the Mahdi.
“They feel like one of the major blocking points is Israel, and that is one reason why they feel like they must destroy Israel,” Wagner said.
Wagner further noted that Islam is “on the march” with the intention of the entire world becoming Muslims.
“The problem is that in many parts of the world today, Christianity has become very weak,” Wagner said. “It is extremely necessary for all Christians to reevaluate their faith and to become stronger in their faith in Jesus Christ. This is the one thing that Islam fears the most because, down deep; they know that they cannot compete with the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Wagner also noted that Islam is a religion of fear, with many Muslims fearing their own faith.
“It is the task of Christians to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to Muslims everywhere so that they can be released from this fear and find the assurance of eternal salvation through Jesus Christ,” Wagner said.
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