Date of Award

Spring 2012

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Major

International Studies-- Middle Eastern Studies

First Advisor

Shafqat Hussain

Second Advisor

Vijay Prashad

Third Advisor

Janet Bauer

Abstract

A man by the name of ‘Abd Allah bin Mas’ud reported the following hadith from the Prophet: “The world will not come to an end until a man from my family (Ahl al-Bayt) who will be called al-Mahdi emerges to rule upon my community.”[1] From this hadith we can conclude that belief in the Mahdi can be historically traced back to the time of the Prophet. This topic, which has been cultivated over the years by endless scholarly works, has cemented its place in Athnā‘ashariyyah doctrine. Essentially, one who does not believe in the Mahdi and his return simply cannot be a Twelver Shi’a.

With this in mind we look to contemporary period where, among the many global dangers, there is the issue of nuclear weapons and the proliferation of said weapons into the hands of countries where they could be abused. One such country where this is a growing possibility is Iran, where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly proclaimed his belief in the return of the Mahdi and how his government is paving the way towards this return. This, along with inflammatory statements directed towards the West, has led many around the world to question the intentions of the Iranian nuclear program. Either way, there is a clear confusion or misconception around this topic by both sides. To understand the inner workings of Iran and its policies one must first understand their beliefs, values and ideals. This is impossible without first grasping the concept of the Mahdi as it pertains to the Twelver Shi’a. Although it may seem eccentric and peculiar to those foreign to the subject, this notion of an imminent return is a widely held view amongst the Twelver Shi’a masses. It is considered one of the fundamentals of Shi’i belief and the hastening of this return is prayed and hoped for each and every day by Shi’an-e-Ali from all cultures and ethnicities.

The method and approach taken to answer the pertinent questions surrounding the topic will be done in two different ways. The first manner of research and extraction of data and vital information will be done through the close reading of several primary and secondary sources. These are sources that are written by those closest to the subject of the Mahdi; they are the Ayatollahs, clergymen, students and scholars from the Islamic world. In an attempt to keep the various perspectives on the issue balanced throughout the paper, Western sources will also be utilized. The second approach will be through interviews and surveys with clergymen from Iran (Ayatollah Dr. Qazwini) as well as ordinary citizens in the city of Qom. Not only will this provide authenticity to the work, but it will also give an insider’s view of how belief in the apocalypse affects daily life in Iran.

In focusing and writing on this topic the hope herein is to clarify the role of religion, specifically Twelver Shi’ism in Iranian sociopolitical life. It is also greatly significant to show the direct correlation between the belief in the return of the Mahdi and the manner in which policy/governance is approached by the Supreme Leader, Assembly of Experts, and Executive branch (the President).

The larger implications for the subsequent findings of this paper will not only help others in understanding Iran’s nuclear and political agenda for the global world but it will also greatly facilitate the understanding of Shi’a Islam, specifically the undeniable Shi’a belief in the return of the Mahdi. The globalized world is moving towards greater distinctions among what Samuel Huntington called “the West and the Rest” and in the polarities of these two entities there is an apparent catalyst; religion. More specifically, this paper serves those who seek answers regarding the rift between the many Islamophobic governments of the West and the many belligerent and unfounded “Islamic” governments of the Muslim World.

[1] Bihar al-Anwar Vol. 51 p. 75 Allamah Majlisi

Comments

Senior thesis completed at Trinity College for the degree of Bachelor of Arts in International Studies. Accessible to members of the Trinity community only.

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