Shi'ite pilgrims pray at the Imam Hussein shrine during the preparations for the annual festival of Sha'abaniya pilgrimage in Kerbala, 80 km (50 miles) southwest of Baghdad, June 23, 2013. Sha'abaniya is a ritual marking the birth of Mohammed al-Mahdi, the 12th Shi'ite imam and a revered figure in Shi'ite Islam.[Photo/Agencies]

Shi’ite pilgrims pray at the Imam Hussein shrine during the preparations for the annual festival of Sha’abaniya pilgrimage in Kerbala, 80 km (50 miles) southwest of Baghdad, June 23, 2013. Sha’abaniya is a ritual marking the birth of Mohammed al-Mahdi, the 12th Shi’ite imam and a revered figure in Shi’ite Islam.[Photo/Agencies]

Revelation 17:8-11 (NASB) “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction…11  “The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction.

For most of the world, the day passed with little fanfare. June 23, 2013 was a Sunday according to the Gregorian calendar. I spent the day enjoying the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in my church — I could have preached all day long (but by 1pm, I would have been by myself!). Yet, thousands of miles away, Shia Islam pilgrims journeyed to Karbala, Iraq (the Sha’abaniya festival), to spend the day remembering the birthday of their 12th Imam, Muhammad bin al-Hasan, born on Friday, 15th of Shaban 255 A.H.1  Of course, the journey for Shias is never a journey of peace. Along the way, their Sunni “brothers” exacted the perpetual toll of blood-violence upon them. According to reports, ten car bombs exploded in Baghdad, killing 40 and maiming hundreds more.

Based on the Western calendar, the date of the 12th Imam’s birth was August 1, 869 AD. The date is far more than just another date to Shias — the unbelievable woos us — according to Shias (Twelver branch)2, the 12th Imam is still alive today. Twelver Shias are celebrating the 12th Imam’s 1,179th birthday!  How do Shias explain the unexplainable? The 12th Iman is in hiding by the command of Allah.  That is, he is still alive, but not visible to the naked eye. Allah has concealed him, hidden him, in order to protect him from those who might harm him (hard to figure how Allah can hide him for 1,179 years and not be able to protect him in plain view). Thus, the 12th Iman is also referred to as the “Hidden Imam” (al-Maktūm3by Shias.

Within Shiism there is even a doctrine describing his concealment: it is called “occultation” (ghayba). Here is how one noted Muslim source defines the doctrine of “occultation”:

Occultation (ghaybah4) is a state chosen by God for the Imam who is in danger of being slain by his enemies. Thus the twelfth Imam, Muhammad b. al-Hasan … went into occultation in the year 873–874 and will continue to live in this state for as long as (Allah) deems it necessary. Then He [Allah] will command him to reappear and take control of the world in order to restore justice and equity.5

You may wonder why the 12th Imam was ever forced into hiding in the first place. The reason is rather simple. Since the Sunni and Shia divide in 680 AD, Sunnis have been the dominant and controlling sect of Islam. Shias have been the persecuted, minority sect, even to the point of being considered unbelievers by Sunnis. Shia imams were considered a threat to Sunni leaders because Shia imams were blood descendants of Muhammad through Ali and Fatima (Muhammad’s son-in-law and daughter).6 Sunni caliphs did all they could to insure the elimination of this threat through death or imprisonment of the imams.  Because of the danger to the imam and his descendants, when Muhammad b. Hasan was born, his father, the eleventh imam, hid his son from public view.  At his father’s death (873), when Hasan was only seven, he went into hiding — and the doctrine of “occultation” became the explanation of his whereabouts.7

If you think about it, a birthday celebration after 1,179 years is very likely to lose its “celebratory” nature. So why has this not occurred for Shias with their 12th Imam? One reason is Shias believe their 12th Imam is actually hiding in a well (what a bummer place to have to hide!) outside Qom, Iraq, in the village of Jamkaran.

Jamkaran Mosque (courtesy of mahdiwatch.org)

Jamkaran Mosque (courtesy of mahdiwatch.org)

Here is how one noted Islamic scholar describes the location:

Qom has also taken on importance for its proximity to the village of Jamkarān, located some six kilometers from the city center and famous for its celebrated mosque of the same name. The Jamkarān mosque is believed to have been built by a believer in the late tenth century C.E. at the request of the hidden twelfth Imam. It is believed that the Imam himself walked in the courtyard of the mosque. The mosque features a well into which visitors are encouraged to drop prayer requests, many believing that the hidden Imam reads each request.8

Perhaps the many prayer requests dropped into the well keep Shias coming back one more time; but there is more.  Shias believe that the 12th Imam will one day reappear by the command of Allah, that is, he will rise up (al-Qaim) from his occultation.  When the 12th Imam rises9, he will rise with a new name– the name of his ancient ancestor, the Messenger of Islam, Muhammad, himself. The 12th Imam will then be known as: Muhammad al-Mahdi, the eschatological figure who will lead Islam in dominion over the entire world. Al-Mahdi will begin his dominion by redressing the wrongs committed by Sunnis against Shias. Then, after subduing Sunnis and uniting Islam, he will turn his sword upon the world, and usher in peace in the name of Allah.

What does this have to do with Bible prophecy? The Shia version of al-Mahdi (not the Sunni version) is specifically described in end-times Bible prophecy. Consider our opening passage, Revelation 17:8-11 NASB above, which describes the “scarlet beast.” The beast:

  1. “was”
  2. “is not”
  3. and is “about to rise up” from the abyss…

Each of these three conditions are satisfied by the Shia Islamic doctrine of al-Mahdi.  Al-Mahdi:

  1. He “was” — that is, he existed at one time in human history as a person, Muhammad bin Hasan, the 12th Imam of Shiism;
  2. He “is not” — that is, the 12th Imam is in hiding, concealed from humanity; it is as if while in hiding the Hidden Imam is alive but simply not present;
  3. He is “about to rise up from the abyss” — according to Shia prophecy the 12th Imam will one day “rise up” from his concealment where, according to Shia prophecy, he will lead Islam in world dominion through his sword. Interesting that Revelation 17:8-11 describes the “abyss” as the place from which he rises. Sounds very similar to the Jamkaran well in which the Hidden Imam supposedly resides. Nevertheless, don’t be fooled by the similar description of his abode. I think the “abyss” of Revelation 17:8 and the Jamkaran well are not the same place. The abyss is the abode of the demonic, not some well in Jamkaran, Iraq (Luke 8:31 NASB).

What is even more amazing is that all three of these Biblical conditions are satisfied simultaneously by the Shia doctrine of al-Mahdi. It is only in their simultaneous satisfaction that the prophecy of Revelation 17:8 – 11 has any real meaning.10

What is my point? The Islamic doctrine of the eschatological Muhammad al-Mahdi and the Biblical prophecy of the coming antichrist (“scarlet beast”) are the same.  Why is that important in the modern day? Because Iran is a Shia Muslim country. Iran threatens world peace with the advance of its nuclear weaponry, including the annihilation of Israel. It is this country that the doctrine of Muhammad al-Mahdi is the stuff of its leaders.

This eschatological figure is the “long awaited one” spoken of so frequently by the former president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. One of his famous quotes was in his closing prayer before the United Nations in 2005. In part, he stated this about al-Mahdi:

He will lead the world to justice and absolute peace. … Oh 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. ((Ibid. Islam the Cloak of Antichrist, p. 184.))

In spite of the end of Ahmadinejad’s term as president of Iran, his public voice and esteem for his relationship with the Mahdi seems to prevail. A recent report from Radio Free Europe quoted Iranian news agencies:

Iranian government spokesman has said that outgoing President Mahmud Ahmadinejad will return with the Hidden Imam, who according to Shi’ite belief went into hiding in the 10th century and will reappear to bring justice to Earth. “God willing, with the manifestation of Imam Mehdi, Ahmadinejad will also return and work for the establishment of pure Islam,” spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham was quoted as saying by Iranian news agencies.

In recent days, Iran’s president-elect Hassan Rouhani has been reported to have credited the 12th Imam (still in hiding, of course) as the means through which he was elected. Rouhani has also stated that he is interested in improving relations between Iran and the West.  How are we to believe Rouhani’s statement in light of his belief in the rising up of al-Mahdi who will lead Islam to world dominion?  Rouhani is a Shia Islam cleric, not a layperson as was Ahmadinejad. Joel Rosenberg’s blog makes the following point about Rouhani:

Despite the Western media’s insistence that Iran’s President-Elect, Hassan Rouhani, is a “moderate” and a “reformist,” the evidence is clear: Rouhani is actually a high-ranking Radical Shia cleric who fundamentally agrees with the terrorist and repressive policies of the Ayatollah Khamenei and has been faithful in supporting such policies.

Through whom will the Antichrist launch his world assault? From the perspective of this writer, it is Iran. Iran and her Shia leaders will pull the trigger. When the gun explodes, the great tribulation will begin.

Jesus come quickly.

Blessings.

Jack Smith

Footnotes to post:
  1. “A.H.” refers to the Islamic calendar. It commemorates the Hijra, or emigration of Muhammad and his followers to the city of Medina in 622 CE. The year “2013” corresponds to the Islamic years 1434–1435 AH. []
  2. Twelvers are the majority branch among Shiites, predominantly in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, and Syria (Alawites) []
  3. Newman, Andrew. “Ghaybah.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic WorldOxford Islamic Studies Online, http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t236/e0270 (accessed 24-Jun-2013). []
  4. Newman, Andrew. “Ghaybah.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic WorldOxford Islamic Studies Online, http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t236/e0270 (accessed 24-Jun-2013). []
  5. Abdulaziz Sachedina, Islamic Messianism, The Idea of the Mahdi in Twelver Shiism, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981, p 23. []
  6. See sources cited in Islam the Cloak of Antichrist, Jack Smith, p. 187 []
  7. Ibid. []
  8. Fischer, Michael M. J. and Omid Ghaemmaghami. “Qom.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic WorldOxford Islamic Studies Online, http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t236/e0660 (accessed 25-Jun-2013). []
  9. he does not “rise up” in the sense of a resurrection from the dead as Christ rose from the grave; the 12th Imam has never died []
  10. Interpreters of Bible prophecy often interpret this passage to apply to a “revived Roman Empire paradigm.” That is, the Rome Empire once existed (it “was”); it does not exist currently (“is not”). However, it will one day “rise up” to be the empire it once was. This interpretation does not require a simultaneous application of the three criteria provided by Revelation 17:8-11; and, without a simultaneous application, any past empire could fulfill the prophecy of Revelation 17:8-11. This seems hardly the correct view because the conditions of the prophecy are rendered meaningless unless all must be met simultaneously. []

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