The return of the 12th Imam

August 8, 2006

One of the questions about the current conflict between Israel and Hizbollah in Lebanon is — why? Not so much why did Israel respond in the way it did (which was predictable and inevitable, given the events in Gaza a short time prior), but why did Hassan Nasrallah provoke a war which he surely knew would follow his July 12th raid on Israel.

From its inception, Hizbollah was funded, equipped, trained and weaponised by the fundamentalist Sh’ia regime in Tehran. Hizbollah has always adhered to the Sh’ia path as laid down by the Ayatollah Khomeini, and took its ideological inspiration from Iran’s Islamic revolution. Its elemental goal was always acknowledged to be the destruction of the state of Israel and the return of the Palestinians to the land occupied by the Jews.

But with the election a year or so ago of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the position of President of Iran, a new element entered the regional dialectic. Ahmadinejad is a fundamentalist Sh’ia who subscribes, literally and fervently, to one of its mystic doctrines: the return of the occulted Imam, Muhammed al-Mahdi, the twelfth and last of the Imams directly descended from the Prophet Mohammed, and who was hidden from the world in his “grand occultation” in the 10th century.

The return of the occulted Imam, according to Sh’ia tradition, will be heralded by a period of great violence and destruction, and will usher in a last age in which the whole world will accept the sovereignty of Allah.

An appreciation of timing is important. 22nd August (the end of Rajab, in the Islamic calendar) is the date Ahmadinejad has set for Iran’s response to the international community’s demand that Iran give up its nuclear enrichment process. It is also the date on which Saladin entered Jerusalem and established Islam’s victory over the Crusaders.

Is it possible that Ahmadinejad has activated Iran’s Lebanese surrogates as the harbingers of the last days, who will prepare the ground for the return of Mohammed al-Mahdi, destroy the infidels, and restore the Caliphate in its final and most perfect form? It seems incredible; but fundamentalist Islam has a pre-modern mindset that confounds and mystifies its (Western) 21st century observers. We look with the same experiential puzzlement, I dare say, on Christian apocalyptics of the 16th century.

What Ahmadinejad has planned for 22nd August, of course, we do not know. But given his sabre-rattling over the past year, and the undoubted fact that he has missiles capable of reaching Israel, it is alarmingly possible he intends to launch them against “The Little Satan” on that particular and omen-laden day.

[Hmm. I’m not the first to arrive at this supposition. Here is an article by Amir Taheri on the subject.]

Update: Another illuminating article, this one by Matthias Kunzel. “Ahmadinejad’s World” discusses the Iranian President’s intense apocalyptic vision — derived from the tradition of the 12th Imam — and Ahmadinejad’s personal role in training and deploying the Basij, the teenage children who were sent onto the battlefield as human mine-detectors during Iran’s ten-year war with Iraq. Tens of thousands died, but Ahmadinejad still exhalts their memory. The Basiji movement, estimated at 1 million strong, is a powerful force in today’s Iran.



  1. Nice piece of echtological irony given that christian fundamentalist support for Israel is based on Israel fulfilling certain requirements for the second coming of Jesus.

    Do you have a better source than Amir Taheri? He reminds me too much a Ahmen Chalabi.

  2. You caught me in the middle of an amendment there, Shaun. I’ll dig around.

  3. Here’s an article by Charles Krauthammer — not the most impartial of commmentators but usually worth reading. googling ‘ahmadinejad imam’ gets lots of interesting results.

  4. That’s an interesting pick of yours, Rob, that article by Krauthammer, which begins:

    Lest you get carried away with today’s good news from Iraq…

    By all means, carry me away.

    Armageddon on the 22nd of August would be sweet, I’ve got a chapter due to my supervisor on the 24th. In the immortal words of TISM,

    Sometime in the next 10,000 years
    A comet’s gonna wipe out all trace of man
    I’m banking on it coming before
    my end of year exam

  5. I should have been clearer in that I’m not doubting Ahmadinejad’s fantasies about the 12th Imam. I noted that during LP’s apocalypso extravaganza in June. More the the analysis regarding whether ideas in the Imam’s second coming are influencing events in Israel/Lebanon.

  6. Choosing to launch an escalation of the current conflict on the day when all the children are in the mosques for Lailat al Miraj would seem to be either a very unwise calculation that the mosques will not be retributively targeted or very cynically hoping that they will be and lots of dead children will thus be available for parading around.

    That’s if he is planning something like that. Interesting piece, Rob.

  7. Thanks, tigtog.

    Shaun, I’ve updated the post with another article — scholarly and authoritative as far as I can tell, but you never know on the internet — about Ahmadinegjad’s fixation with the 12th Imam, among other things.

  8. Rob
    totally OT (feel free to delete when you’ve read it) but I’ve recovered your comment on the Affirmative Action post on catallaxy. Keep posting and I’ll keep a lookout and hopefully retrain the spam filter to accept you again.

  9. Well, today’s the day in Australia—when does the 22nd come around in Teheran?

  10. We must be there by now. I’ve been away from the Internet, I have no idea what happened today.

  11. Excellent site!!!
    Hey Liam, use this world clock.

  12. Rob,

    Do you think that some commentators on Iran have been letting their imaginations cloud their analysis just a little?

  13. Entirely possible in my case, Shaun. Bernard Lewis, though, has an established record of scholarship in this area. However, we don’t appear to have suffered a Middle Eastern replay of the apocalypse – at least for now.

  14. Lewis though has hitched his wagon to the neocon cause. Iran is country to invade du jour at the moment and some of the rhetoric is too similar to prior Gulf War II for my liking.

  15. Many people do not know that the Islamic Holy book was dictated to the Profit Mohamed by a deviant Egyptian Monk. All characteristics of the 12th Imam are taken from what is known about Jesus Christ: The awatited for, the word of God, the judge, tha savior, and much more. In the light of the Bible, this is the work of the Devil, to keep people away from the truth, from the real God.


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