At the end of his bizarre speech at the United Nations last week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on Allah to send down the Hidden Imam, or the Mahdi, who Shiites believe will come at the end of time. “I emphatically declare that today’s world, more than ever before ... longs for the perfect righteous human being and the real savior who has been promised ...” said Ahmadinejad. “Oh, almighty God ... Bestow upon humanity ... the perfect human being promised to all by you.”
What exactly did this man—who is even now seeking a nuclear weapon—mean? In Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law, originally published in 1910 and available now as edited by Bernard Lewis from Princeton University Press, famed Arabist Ignaz Goldziher explained the Shiite doctrine of the Mahdi. “The most widely accepted chain of Imams, recognized among Shi’is to this day, is that of the sect of the so-called ‘Twelvers’ (or Imamis). According to this group, the office of Imam passed from Ali, through his direct descendants, down to an 11th visible Imam, whose son and successor, Muhammad Abu’l-Qasim (b. Baghdad 872), was taken from earth while still a child not yet eight years old. He has lived since in occultation, invisible to mankind, and will appear at the end of time as the Imam-Mahdi, the savior of the world, to rid the world of all injustice and to establish the rule of peace and righteousness.
This is the so-called ‘Hidden Imam,’ who has continued to live since his disappearance, and whose reappearance is daily awaited by the Shi’i believer.” Twelver Shiism is not only the dominant religion in Iran, it is also the majority religion in Iraq.
In Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law, cited also at left in the Brief of the Week, Ignaz Goldziher explained in 1910 how Muslim revolutionaries have used the doctrine of the Mahdi (invoked by Iranian President Ahmadinejad at the UN last week) to propel anti-Western political crusades and wars.
“In the course of Islamic history, this belief could also serve as justification for religious-political rebels who aspired to the overthrow of the existing order,” wrote Goldziher. “It gained them popularity as embodiments of the idea of the Mahdi; it helped them precipitate vast areas of the Islamic world into turmoil and war. Everybody remembers such occurrences from the most recent history of Islam. Even in our own time, aspirants to the role of Mahdi have appeared in various Islamic areas, mostly in order to counter the increasing influence of European states on Muslim territories.”