Over the last month or so I’ve guest-blogged at zenpundit.com, on the topic of military science fiction which I think should be on the various recommended readings lists for our armed forces–especially the officers. I focus on the excellent “Future History” series of books in the universe that grew out of (or, perhaps more properly, grew up to support) the 1974 novel by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven, The Mote in God’s Eye. Here are the links:
Last weekend I spoke at the “Madison Forum,” a local (north Atlanta suburbs) conservative-libertarian group. Here’s the video link (which picks up a few minutes after I’d started):
Yesterday Arab News ran an article entitled “Why Iranian Missiles Are Targeting Makkah [Mecca],” by Dr. Mohammed al-Sulami. He writes that the Houthis who have taken over most of Yemen “have been systematically targeting Makkah” with missile strikes, rather than Saudi military bases, at the behest of their Iranian patrons. Why? For two reasons, according to him. Secondarily, because the Houthis are “irrational” by nature–as are all such “militias,” whether Lebanon’s Hizbullah, pro-Iranian groups in Iraq, al-Qaeda or “Daesh” (ISIS). But primarily because the Houthis are doing Tehran’s bidding: trying to create violent chaos in Arabia, specifically in Islam’s holiest city, and thus spark the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam al-Mahdi.
This is a version of the “hotwiring the apocalypse” thesis, which I have written about many times–on this site, in my book Ten Years’ Captivation with the Mahdi’s Camps, and most concisely in the article “Do Iran’s Leaders Want to Hotwire the Apocalypse?” Al-Sulami adduces two sources: an unlinked Iranian website with an article called “Akhir al-Zaman” (“the end of the age/time”), and a 2008 British Shii Muslim movie, 313 (referring to the number of martyred followers of Muhammad’s grandson Husayn). According to al-Sulami’s exegesis of these two sources, “the reappearance of the Mahdi will not be achieved unless chaos unfolds across Hijaz [western Arabia], because the existence of a powerful and harmonious government that is hostile to Shiites and the Mahdi is a major impediment” to Iran’s plan of coaxing him to manifest. Thus, the ayatollahs arm and induce the Houthis of Yemen to attack the Kingdom, specifically Mecca. But al-Sulami argues that the Yemeni pawns should not bear the brunt of the blame; rather, “the finger of blame should be pointed firmly at the Iranian regime.” For it is Tehran that “poses a real and grave threat to Saudi Arabia and the entire region.”
- Dr. al-Sulami should have noted that while the Houthis are Shii, they are not of the same ilk at Iran’s Twelvers. Yemen’s Shiis are Zaydis, or Fivers. They don’t hold the same firm eschatological beliefs as their Iranian cousins. Twelvers are so called because they believe the 12th descendant of Muhammad, also named Muhammad, disappeared–but did not die–in the ninth century AD and will return as the eschatological Mahdi. Thus there can only be one. The Zaydis/Fivers, on the other hand, believe that their community has been led, across the centuries, by many mahdis, who are sent by Allah to deliver the true Muslim community. There are enough similarities between Iranian and Yemeni Shiis that they can work together, over against Saudi Sunnis (as well as Sunni ISIS and AQ groups). So in the final analysis the Zaydis are almost certainly lobbing missiles at KSA for prosaic political and military reasons, not apocalyptic ones.
- So is al-Sulami correct that the ayatollahs and their overseas operators–in this case, the Quds (“Jerusalem”) Force of the Iranian Republican Guards Corps–are directing the Houthis missile strikes on Islam’s holiest city? Perhaps. I have argued, as in the aforementioned article, that Iran wants nuclear weapons, but not to use to hotwire the apocalypse by, in particular, attacking Israel. (Read it.) However, this Arabian apocalyptic pot-stirring might very well be something that some of the clerical regime wishes to carry out–since it doesn’t run the risk of an Israeli or American nuclear response, nor does it threaten to destroy Jerusalem, which is important in Islamic End Times machinations.
- Note that al-Sulami studiously avoids mentioning that the Mahdi is also a staple belief of Sunni Islam, derived from quite a few hadiths on topic. But since 1979, when a violent Mahdist movement tried to overthrow the Saudi Kingdom, most Saudi commentators have steered clear of broaching this topic. And KSA has seen any number of self-styled “mahdis” crop up in the years since–as I wrote about here just last month.
As noted above, this blog deals with “culture, geopolitics and religion.” But its main focus, as often as possible, is meant to be Islamic eschatology–particularly Mahdism. Unfortunately, aspiring Mahdis have been few and far between in the last few years. But that drought has ended! Last Friday, during the khutbah at the Grand Mosque of Mecca, “an armed man, in his 40s, was detained after attempting to attack the Imam [prayer leader/preacher].” Said attacker was “a Saudi man claiming to be the awaited Mahdi, local media reported.” (Source: “Mecca Grand Mosque Pulpit Attacker Claims to be Awaited ‘Mahdi.”)
The story ran in Gulf News, a UAE outlet. So you’d think they could get the Islamic background on the Mahdi–the primary Muslim End Times actor, predicted in both Sunni and Shii hadiths–correct. Not exactly. The article says “the anticipated Mahdi is the prophesied redeemer of Islam who will rule for seven, nine or nineteen years…before the Day of Judgment and will rid of the world of evil.” Actually, according to the hadiths and Islamic scholars, the Mahdi doesn’t “redeem” anything. Islam in fact has no concept of a “redeemer,” as Jesus Christ is in Christianity. The Mahdi will conquer the world and impose a global caliphate that enforces Islamic law. Most of his evil-ridding will consist of forcing Jews and Christians to convert to Islam–while polytheists and atheists will be eliminated.
Tawfiq Nasrallah, the story’s writer, does also provide a brief recap of the 1979 “siege of Mecca,” when several hundred armed followers of Juhayman al-Utabyi, threatened Saudi rule. But Nasrallah gets several facts wrong. al-Utabyi did not claim to be the Mahdi; rather, he claimed that his brother-in-law, Muhammad al-Qahtani, was. The Mahdist militants did not take over the Kaabah compound, but the Grand Mosque. And he neglects to mention that the “special forces” who eventually ended the occupation were in fact French.
Strategically, this article fails to note that between 1979 and 2021 there were a number of other attempted Mahdist usurpations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There were several in 2011, also in Mecca; and at least one in Madina. In fact, there may have been as many as nine such disturbances, if not more. (See my book Ten Years Captivation with the Mahdis’ Camps, pp. 169-174).
Mahdism is not just, or even primarily, a phenomenon of (Twelver) Shiism. As I’ve been writing about since 2001 (starting with my doctoral dissertation on topic that year), most Mahdist jihads across space and time have been Sunni ones. The fact that staunchly Sunni Saudi Arabia sees such phenomena should demonstrate that.
By the way: the title of this post is a take-off on a great episode from one of my favorite kids’ shows, The Penguins of Madagascar.
Finally, here’s a good five-volume Arabic source on Mahdism, which covers both Sunni and Shii sources:
I’m old enough to remember The Time Tunnel, which ran for one season, 1966-67, on ABC. It’s currently re-airing on MeTV, and this past Saturday night I caught an episode I’d never seen (or at least didn’t remember): #29 (the penultimate one), entitled “Raiders from Outer Space.” The stock 1960s bug-eyed aliens are not actually the most memorable aspect, however; it’s that they invaded Earth in the 1880s, and set up their main base–complete with death rays intended to obliterate London, the capital of our most powerful empire–in Sudan!
This allows the show’s time-traveling protagonists, Drs. Anthony Newman and Douglas Phillips, opportunities not just to fight aliens but the Sudanese Mahdists, and our heroes wind up in besieged Khartoum. Battle footage from the 1955 film Storm Over the Nile is mixed with shots of Tony and Doug helping the Brits fend off the Mahdi’s minions.
Sure, this episode had British officers with American accents, melanin-deprived Sudanese, and alien invaders almost as stupid as those ones in Signs (who were allergic to water, yet tried to take over a planet 70% comprised of the stuff–while naked). But it was great fun. At least for academics who have studied Mahdist Sudan.
And The Time Tunnel, for all of its 1960s-era cheesiness, did at least assume a historically literate audience. Its 30 episodes included ones dealing with the War of 1812, the Trojan War, the Reign of Terror, Kipling’s Afghanistan, the Magna Carta, the Israelite siege of Jericho, Cortes in Mexico, the First Barbary War, Kublai Khan, Arthur’s Merlin, and of course Khartoum. Could a TV show like that even make it past the pitch stage today? I doubt it.
Now I feel an urge to rewatch Chuck Heston take on the Mahdi….
Last week (May 3-7, 2021), I once again played maven on two topics: President Biden’s claim that “white supremacist terrorism” is the greatest such threat to America; and the danger posed to American and the world by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s weaponized belief in the Twelfth Imam of Shiism.
On May 4 my article “White Supremacists Our Most Dangerous Threat? A Whiter Shade of Tall Tale” ran over at The Stream. (Yes, that title includes my lame attempt at a Procol Harum reference.) On May 7 my interview covering the 12th Imam and Iran on “Expedition Truth” radio posted. (Due to some technical glitches, I don’t come on till about 10″ into the show.)
Insofar as Iranians are white–and they most certainly are–then a claimant to the mantle of the putative 12th Imam al-Mahdi, should he ever shake loose the occultation coil, would pose a true threat to America and the entire world’s population of Christians, Jews and all non-Shii Muslims. But even sans his presence the IRI, as the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism, one also seeking nuclear weapons, represents a far greater danger to America than Trump supporters–even ones that broke into Nancy Pelosi’s office. Beware folks sporting turbans far more than those in MAGA hats–or even buffalo-horn headgear.
Listen to my interview, and read my article; then decide for yourself which white supremacist threat is real, and which is imagined.
A few weeks ago Norwich University was kind enough to publish, on its “Voices on Peace and War” blog, my piece “Grand Strategy Ottoman: Providing Valuable COIN Lessons to America.” (Special thanks to LTC Yangmo Ku, PhD, for arranging this.) Therein I draw upon my latest book, The COIN of the Islamic Realm: Insurgencies & the Ottoman Empire, 1416-1916, for examples of how the Turkish empire waged counter-insurgency in its domains while also often navigating Great Power competition with, for example, the Safavid and, later, British empires.
In a similar vein, although admittedly more speculatively, about this time last year I published an article entitled “How Middle-earth Can Help Us Deal with the Middle Kingdom.” In it I looked at the grand strategy of the leaders of the West in The Lord of the Rings in terms of how they eventually defeated Sauron’s bid for conquest of Middle-earth–and whether that provides any guidance as to how the West should deal with the rising power of Communist China.
We can probably learn more from the Ottoman Empire than from Gondor–but why not take a look at both?
March 29 is the (alleged) birthday of Muhammad b. Hasan “al-Mahdi,” the twelfth and final Imam of Twelver Shiism [which I write sans correct transliteration, because such causes my text here in WordPress to change font size]. He is said to have been born 870 AD/256 AH. These Imams are believed by this sect–which comprises a majority in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Azerbaijan, as well as minority pockets elsewhere–to be the rightful and Allah-ordained leaders of Islam, as descendants of Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law Ali. After the death of the eleventh Imam, Hasan al-Askari (probably poisoned by the Sunni Abbasid Caliph), his son Muhammad at the age of four or five allegedly disappeared from human sight but stayed in contact with his followers for the next 37 years. In 941 AD he then went radio silent, and will not be heard from again until Allah sends him forth from this mystical occultation to lead the world–by conversion and conquest–to (Shiite) Islam.
The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Mehr News Agency last week ran a long story about the “Hidden Imam,” entitled “Mankind in Need of a Savior.” Since this coincided with our Western Christian Holy Week, I thought it a worthy topic of discussion.
Both Sunnis (the majority branch of the religion) and Shiis believe in the Mahdi, the “divinely-guided one” whom Allah will send to make the entire world Muslim. This will be done with a little help from his friend, the non-crucified and thus non-resurrected Jesus, who will have returned and revealed he was a Muslim all along. The only real difference is that the Sunnis believe he’s not yet been here and thus will emerge onto the stage of history, eventually being acknowledged, while the Shiis, as noted, think he will be the returning-from-hiddenness Muhammad, son of Hasan al-Askari. The Mahdi will combat the forces of evil (both human–particularly Christian states–and supernatural, notably the Dajjal, or “deceiver”/antichrist), take over the world in tandem with Jesus, enforce Islamic norms and laws, and eventually die. While the Iranians, and indeed many other Muslims (to include Sunnis), refer to the Mahdi as “savior,” he’s much more of a religious warlord. Any “salvation” he engenders is entirely in the military and political realm, not the spiritual or personal one.
Besides this martial element, the biggest problem with the Twelfth Imam is his total lack of historicity. There are no sources, outside an extremely small coterie of Twelver Shiis true believing ones, corroborating that Hasan al-Askari even had a son. And of course only a member of the sect could buy the story that a five year old boy would be put on ice for over a millennium. As a historian and, yes, a Christian, I think Ockham’s Razor points to the eleventh Imam dying sans progeny, with the mythology of his son being created to keep this sect of Islam alive. And in this the fiction succeeded all too well. But even if the Shii Twelfth Imam were historically verifiable–what difference would it make? He has no truly salvific power in his lifetime, and is long since dead and gone, just like all the other Imams. Or Muhammad himself, for that matter. Dead desert warlords, at best; deluded false prophets, at worst.
Contrast Muhammad, or his epigone the Mahdi (Sunni or Twelver), with the true Savior of Mankind–Jesus Christ. We know He existed, historically, for not just pious Christian sources (the Gospels, Epistles and early Fathers) but antagonistic pagan or Jewish Romans (Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus) attest to His historicity. Furthermore, He died on the Cross to expiate our sins; and His Resurrection not only proved Him right, but allows us to align our lives with His and, ultimately, to achieve eternal life. Can the Twelfth Imam do that?
Yes, Iranian news outlets are entirely correct that mankind is in need of a savior. But it’s not the Mahdi. It’s the Incarnate Second Person of the Trinity, Crucified and Resurrected. May all Iranians, and indeed all peoples, come to that saving knowledge before it’s too late.
A number of conservative and Christian outlets (such as this one) are very concerned that a prominent Church of Sweden theologian claims that “Christians can view Muhammad as a prophet.” Jakob Wirén, in To Make Room for the Other?, advises Christians to view the founder of Islam as analogous to an Old Testament prophet. (I cannot find any information about this book other than second-hand; and all the links in the afore-cited article go to Swedish sources. However, Wirén’s 2017 book Hope and Otherness: Christian Eschatology and Interreligious Hospitality seems to cover the same topic. Perhaps his new one is a more popular version this work.) Wirén is a systematic theologian at Lund University and an advisor to the Archbishop of Uppsala.
First, the Lutheran Church of Sweden is (in)famous for its extreme theological liberalism. It not only ordains women, but blesses homosexual “marriages” and ordains practicing homosexuals. That might have something to do with its membership going from 95% of Sweden’s population in 1972 to 56% in 2019–and many of those are not even practicing, or believing, Christians.
Second, this attempt to mainstream Muhammad into Christianity goes back many years, and is not new with Swedish apostates. The French Catholic scholar of Islam, Louis Massignon (d. 1962), was perhaps the 20th century’s leading proponent of such. His ideas greatly influenced the Vatican II documents such as Lumen Gentium and Nostra Aetate which, among other things, declared that Islam was a fellow “Abrahamic faith” and that it contained genuine, if imperfect, revelation from God. In more recent years Catholic theologian Hans Küng has argued that “if we acknowledge Muhammad as a post-Christian prophet, then to be consistent we shall also have to admit…that…his message is not simply Muhammad’s word, but God’s word” (Christianity and the World Religions, 1986, p. 31). He also contends that “perhaps…it is only dogmatic prejudice when we recognize Amos and Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah, as prophets, but not Muhammad” (p. 26).
Perhaps it’s because I’m trained as a historian, not a systematic theologian–but I cannot find a logical way to acknowledge the prophecy of a man whose utterances, enshrined in the Quran, deny the Trinity, condemn the Incarnation, and claim the crucifixion is a lie. Yes, I’m sure Massignon and Küng and Wirén meant well–but so what? This “can’t we all just get along?” approach still amounts to telling people what their itching ears want to hear. Either Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth and the life“–as He said about Himself–or He’s not. Muhammad taught otherwise, and granting Islam’s founder authoritative status in the Church reeks of antichrist.
I just recently finished a slim bio of the Ethiopian Christian martyr Reverend Gudina Tumsa, killed by the Communist regime there in 1979. Tumsa was the head of the Ethiopian Evangelical Chuch Mekane Yesus (EECMY) before his untimely murder. He had studied in the US and traveled to South Africa, where he met Anglican Bishop (then) Desmond Tutu. While Gudina agreed with Tutu on the horror and ungodliness of apartheid, he parted ways with him on the ecumenical movement. Reverend Gudina believed that salvation is NOT possible outside of Christianity and that the primary task of the Church is to evangelize the world. “His concept of ecumenism was based on the authority of Scripture” (Urga, p. 46).
African Christianity in general is growing by leaps and bounds. Even a decade ago 1/4 of the world’s Christians lived in Africa–the percentage here in 2021 is undoubtedly higher. Five of the world’s ten largest Lutheran bodies are found in Africa or Asia. The Ethiopian church is the world’s largest, followed by the one in Tanzania. Also in the top ten are Lutheran churches in Indonesia, India and Madagascar. One might well speculate that Africans’ adherence to orthodox Christianity has something to do with this. The EECMY, for example, broke with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) back in 2013 over its support for abortion and homosexuality. Now the Ethiopian Lutherans are affiliated with my own denomination, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod–which so far still takes I Corinthians 6:9, 10 seriously. And refuses to heed the Quran.
Although I have not blogged since December 2020, rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated. I’ve just been busier than a one-armed suicide bomber. I taught a month-long intensive, online world history course over Christmas. And I’ve published seven articles over at The Stream in the interim. Then spring term began. But enough excuses! Once more unto the blogging breach!
And what better topic than an ideological, and legal, spat over the Quran? According to The Indian Express (March 14, 2021), “PIL by Shia board’s former chief on Quran draws massive backlash.” One Wasim Rizvi filed Public Interest Litigation (akin to a class action suit, it seems) “seeking the removal of 26 verses from the Quran that he alleged promote terrorism and jihad.” The reaction was swift–and brutal. Sunni and Shia clerics in Uttar Pradesh condemned Rizvi for “insulting the Quran” and “hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims.” The General Secretary of the Indian Ulama’s Assembly slammed him as a “Yazidi.” Not to be outdone, the head of an Islamic Welfare Association, Hasnain Jaffrey, literally put a bounty of ₹20,000 on Rizvi’s head. “Whoever will bring the head of Wasim Rizvi, I will reward them” with 20,000 Indian rupees. Refusing to totally lose his head, a Kashmiri BJP (ruling Hindu nationalist party) politician merely filed a criminal complaint against Rizvi for “spreading hatred.” This FIR (FIrst Information Report) states that “the Quran teaches us peace, not violence” and that “any kind of blasphemous act against the Holy Quran is intolerable to humanity in general and Muslims in particular.” Yet another BJP pol called on the Indian government to “act quickly against Rizvi and arrest him for….hurting the religious sentiments of billions of Muslims across the globe,” adding that “Rizvi’s remarks are unacceptable and…Quran teaches love, brotherhood and peace, not violence.”
- Mr. Rizvi is a brave and honest man. I will pray for him. I have long said that Shia (yes, even the Twelver brand) Islam is potentially more flexible and moderate than the majority Sunni version, because Shias are allowed to read the Quran in non-literal ways. If they can survive, that is. And the holy book of the world’s second-largest religion needs cleansing of its archaic exhortations to violence; doing so with the hadiths (Muhammad’s alleged sayings) is necessary but insufficient to defang that religion. But Rizvi is too optimistic, for there are actually some 164 jihad verses in the Quran. Still, Rizvi was willing to acknowledge the problem.
- Muslims constantly assert that Islam is the one, true religion. (Fair enough–we Christians make the same argument about our faith.) But many Muslims (and some non-Muslims) go much further, contending that Islam is tougher, more masculine than other religions–particularly that milksop, “loser” one whose founder was crucified. So the irony is thick enough to cut with a scimitar when Muslims prove so laughably thin-skinned and, well, downright wimpy. They get their feelings hurt–at least according to their leaders–by the very suggestion that parts of their holy book promote violence. And I’ve never understood how an inanimate collection of writings can be “insulted.” Have you ever heard of “insulting the Bible?” I think not. Seriously, Muslims: grow up and, as one of my old military buddies used to say, “grow a pair.”
- Remember: Allah, in the Quran, teaches “love, brotherhood and peace, not violence.” And since Wasim Rizvi implied otherwise–off with his head!
- Finally, I leave you with this Tweet from the Muslim World League. See if you can square it with this fracas among Indian Muslims: