4.3.2. Jesus Christ and the Mahdi
Unlike Christian eschatology, which is populated by a single messianic figure in the person of Jesus Christ, in the Islamic one there are two messianic figures with similar roles: Isa (Jesus, the son of Mary) and the Mahdi.
The first, Isa, was an important prophet, but his mission and teachings only foreshadowed – and at the moment they complement – the true teachings received by Muhammad. According to lots of hadiths, at a moment known only by Allah, Isa will return in a physical and visible way, concurrently with the advent of the eschatological entity the Mahdi and shortly after the rise of al-Dajjal. Jesus will descend to the earth from the clouds of heaven, will guide the righteous through the power of Allah, will kill al-Dajjal, will put an end to all wars and will establish an era of peace and prosperity. Jesus will perform the role of the Messiah (mahdi), but only as an apostle of God.
The second, the Mahdi (or Mehdi – the “Guided One”), is a controversial messianic entity. The Sunni doctrine still debates if the idea of the Mahdi is an invention with political tint or he is indeed Muhammad’s successor who is yet to come.40 The concept is not explicitly mentioned in the Quran and in the Sunni hadiths such as the famous Sahih Al-Bukhari; these mention only the Second Coming of Jesus. By contrast, for the Shiite Muslims the symbol of the Mahdi developed into a powerful and central religious idea. But there are significant differences of opinion regarding the moment and the manner the Mahdi will make himself acknowledged. For example, the Shiite community of Imami Shī’ism (“Twelver”) believes that the Mahdi, and not Isa, will kill al-Dajjal. It is believed that the Mahdi might be the twelfth imam (and the last), Muhammad al-Māhdī, who was born in 869 AD and was hidden by God at the age of five. He is still alive, lives in occultation (half-death), and at the right time he will return in the world. The Shiite tradition says that toward the end of time lots of people will pretend that they are the Mahdi, but all these claims will be false; the true Muslims will recognize the real Mahdi when they will see him.
Both Sunnis and Shiites believe that the Mahdi will be the savior of Islam and will rise shortly before Judgment Day. He will free the world of error, injustice and oppression together with Jesus. Traditionally, the Mahdi is seen as a direct descendent of Muhammad on the genealogical line of Fatimah (the prophet’s daughter), his name will be “Muhammad” like the great prophet, and his father’s name will be “Abdullah” (which means “God’s servant”) (Sunan Abi Dawud 4279-4290 – Kitab al-Mahdi). He will be simple and handsome, will restore the original faith, will fight for the cause of Islam in the world and he will win, will protect the Muslims from destruction, will fill the world with justice at a time when there will be oppression and corruption, and he will lead for seven, nine or 19 years. The signs that foreshadow the coming of the Mahdi are the following: the rise of a black flag, the advent of al-Dajjal, both a lunar and a solar eclipse in the same month of Ramadan, the rise of a star with a glowing tail from the east, the image of the Mahdi will appear on the Moon.41 In addition to these, the Sunni doctrine speaks about the growth of the murders, the abandonment of faith, the complete ruination of large cities and the polarization of wealth toward a few and the spread of famine toward the many. The Shiite doctrine adds the following signs: war and pandemic, the advent of the false triad of al-Dajjal, Sufyani and Yamani, the Arabs will gain their independence by chasing away the foreigners, the eruption of a great conflict in the land of Syria and Iraq until it will be destroyed, death and fear will affect the people of Iraq when a fire will appear in the sky and a redness will cover the country.
The Mahdi will come out in a year divisible by 2; he will announce his presence in the city of Mecca between the corner from Ka’ba and the place of Abraham and will urge the people to show him loyalty. Then he will go to Kufa. At the time of his coming al-Dajjal and Sufyani (one of the oppressors who works for al-Dajjal; the correspondent of the “False Prophet” from Revelation 13:11-14) will gather an army against Muslims. The two forces will confront in a final battle (the Christian Armageddon) (Sunan Abi Dawud 4291-4350 – Kitab al-Malahim). During the battles, Isa will descend from heaven on the wings of two angels, east of Damascus, dressed in yellow clothes and with his head anointed. He will join the forces of the Mahdi and he will kill al-Dajjal. Isa will preach the Islamic teachings and all the people of the book (Christians and Jews) will believe in him. Therefore there will be a single religious community, Islam.
After the death of the Mahdi (the circumstances of his death are not clear), Jesus will take the role of supreme leader. This is the moment when a period of 40 years of peace and prosperity will begin, and not 1,000 years as it is prophesied in Christian eschatology. During the four decades two ancient tribes, Gog and Magog, will spread and will create disorder on the face of the earth. But Jesus will pray to Allah, who will kill them by afflicting them with a sort of worm in their nape. In the end, Jesus will die after 40 years of leadership and he will be buried in Medina, close to Muhammad’s grave.42
Although Christian eschatology makes no reference to the Mahdi, in Revelation there is a verse that seems to support his image: “And she was delivered of a son, a man child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and unto his throne” (Revelation 12:5). However, Islam is seen by Christians as a heresy because it denies Christ’s divinity. Hence, as in the case of the Jewish messiah, the Mahdi is seen as a possible cover for the Antichrist, who will lead an Islamic jihad against Christians: “Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, [even] he that denieth the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22).
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