By James A. Haught
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 support of Islam.
Muslim scholar Mustafa Akyol outlines this tenet in his book, The Islamic Jesus: How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of the Muslims. In a New York Times commentary, he explained:
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. One Hadith says:
“The Son of Mary will soon descend among you as a just ruler; he will break the cross and kill the swine.”
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 millions of Muslims feel inferior, 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 wrote, 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 said. “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, Baha’u’llah, the so-called 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 thousands.
In 1881, a Sudanese holy man claimed to be the Mahdi and started a jihad that captured Khartoum, killing defenders including British general “Chinese” Gordon. Then Lord Kitchener arrived with artillery and machine guns to wipe out the Sudan rebels. One battle killed 11,000 poorly armed holy warriors and only 48 of Kitchener’s forces.
In 1979, a proclaimed Mahdi led rebels to seize the Grand Mosque in Mecca, causing a two-week siege that killed 300.
It’s strange that, for hundreds of millions of Muslims, the second coming of Jesus is entwined with belief in another messiah.
(Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail, and a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine. This article originally appeared in The Charleston Gazette-Mail, October 2016.)