Editor’s note: Although FFRF columnist James Haught died, sadly, on July 23 at age 91, we are lucky to still have a bunch of pieces Jim gave us to use — some fresh and others previously published — that we will be sending out till we exhaust this treasure trove.
Here’s an odd twist of religion: Multitudes of Muslims believe that Jesus will return to Earth soon — not to spread Christianity, but to abolish it in favor of Islam.
Muslim scholar Mustafa Akyol has outlined this bizarre tenet in The Islamic Jesus: How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of the Muslims. In a New York Times commentary, he explains:
Islam has two major scriptures: The Quran, supposedly dictated to Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel, and the Hadiths, sayings of Muhammad recorded by others.
The Hadiths foretell two saviors: The first is the Mahdi, a holy leader who will unite Muslims worldwide — and the second is Jesus, who will come to renounce Christianity and affirm Islam as supreme.
A 2012 Pew Research poll found that half of Muslims in nine Islamic nations expect the Mahdi to arrive soon, perhaps in their lifetimes.
Akyol says that many Muslims feel stuck, so they seize upon the savior predictions in hope of better times. “The main quandary of the Muslim world for the past two centuries,” he writes, is: “Why have we moved so far backward compared to the West?”
Perplexed, many Muslims conclude that “only divinely guided saviors can find a way out,” he says. “This belief discourages pursuing the real solutions to the gap between the Islamic world and the West: science, economic development and liberal democracy.”
Over the centuries, various Muslim leaders have proclaimed themselves the Mahdi and launched holy wars that ended in defeat or triggered bloody persecutions.
The first was al-Mukhtar in 686 A.D., whose uprising was quashed by other Muslims. Another such doomed jihad erupted in Morocco in 1610.
In 1844 in Persia, Bahaullah, the Promised One of All Religions, declared that he was the Mahdi coming for Muslims, Jesus coming for Christians, the Messiah coming for Jews, Lord Krishna coming for Hindus, etc. His followers, the Baha’i, were massacred by the thousands.
In 1881, a Sudanese holy man claimed to be the Mahdi and started a jihad that captured Khartoum, killing defenders including British general Charles “Chinese” Gordon. (No stranger to holy wars, Gordon got his nickname by previously leading an army against Taiping religious fanatics in China.) Then, Lord Kitchener arrived with artillery and Maxim machine guns to wipe out the rebels.
In 1979, a proclaimed Mahdi led a revolt to seize the Grand Mosque in Mecca, causing a two-week siege that killed approximately 300 people.
It’s strange that for so many Muslims, the second coming of Jesus is entwined with belief in another messiah, the Mahdi.