Shi’a (Shi’ite) Muslims are a minority within the Muslim community, making up about 10-15% of all Muslims worldwide. They separated themselves from the mainstream Muslim community soon after Mohammed’s unexpected death in AD 632 because they held a different position concerning who should succeed Mohammed as leader of the Muslims. The majority, which came to be called the “Sunni Muslims,” wanted the successor to be the most capable military leader who was also a member of Mohammed’s tribe, the Quraysh. The minority, later called the “Shi’a Muslims,” wanted the successor to be a close relative of Mohammed. However, at Mohammed’s death there was no son or nephew who could be appointed as Mohammed’s successor since his sons had all died previously and his two grandsons (Hassan and Hussein) were only children at that time. The Shi’a Expectation of the End Times is very different.
The Mysterious Disappearance of #12
The first three caliphs (successors) of Mohammed were Sunni caliphs, the fourth one was Ali, Mohammed’s nephew and son-in-law who had been married to Mohammed’s daughter Fatima many years before. Ali was able to maintain his position briefly before he was murdered in AD 661. The Shi’as believe that the rightful rulers of the Muslim community worldwide were actually Ali and his eleven descendants through Mohammed’s grandson Hussein who died as a martyr in Iraq in AD 680. A majority of Shi’as believe that Hussein’s line of succession continued till his descendant Mohammed al-Mahdi, the twelfth “rightly guided Imam,” mysteriously disappeared beginning in AD 874 at the age of five. He was supposedly accessible to certain people till AD 941. After that the Shi’a hope for ruling the Muslim community was totally transferred to the unseen world from which a hidden spiritual guide – called the Hidden Imam (leader) or Mahdi (the one who guides), will eventually return. This is the Shi’a Expectation of the End Times.
The Mahdi and the Anti-Christ
This sinless leader, the Mahdi, will establish an Islamic empire of peace and justice at the end of time. According to most Muslims (including Sunnis), the Mahdi will be aided by Jesus who is also supposed to return to earth when the Mahdi appears. Both the Mahdi and Jesus will be opposed by the Masih ad-Dajjal, an evil, one eyed, anti-Christ figure, who will eventually be slain and the whole world will submit to Islam. Some time after the victory of the Mahdi there will be a general resurrection of the dead followed by the last judgement.
Muslims generally have a strong belief in a future life consisting of a paradise for believers and eternal punishment for unbelievers but their ideas differ very profoundly from Christian belief. Shi’a Muslims generally have a much more concrete and intensive expectation of the end times to come than the Sunnis.
The Shi’as generally believe that the Mahdi is presently living even though hidden and that he is guiding the community of Shi’a believers. The hidden Imam transfers his knowledge to the most famous and learned Shi’a men of today so they can teach the ordinary members of the community. Before the rise of the Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini the Shi’a community held the opinion that righteous leadership could not be established on earth before the return of the Mahdi, the rightly guided one. Khomeini himself claimed to be the representative of the hidden Imam (Mahdi) who had told him to establish this empire of peace and justice on earth by fighting against the enemies of Islam. The Shi’a Muslims were motivated to determine their own destiny instead of just passively waiting for the return of the hidden Imam. Waiting for the returning Imam, was replaced by action, in the form of revolution. Khomeini openly encouraged Shi’a clerics to become involved in the political struggle. He was enabled to do so by his new interpretation of Shi’a tradition. The expectations of a nation under Islam appeared to have been fulfilled in the person of Khomeini. The current Iranian President seems to embrace that idea.
The Shia majority countries are Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan and Bahrain.
- There are possibly 200,000 Shi’a mullahs (religious leaders) in Iran alone and many thousands more in Iraq. They have a significant role in their communities and in society as a whole. They are teaching their people to place their confidence in the future Mahdi and to practice Islam with zeal. Pray for these leaders to come to know the living Messiah, Jesus (Acts 6:7).
- The Messiah is the ultimate hope for a world of peace and justice. Indeed the Bible promises us that one day the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the water covers the sea (Isaiah 11:9 and Habbakuk 2:4). There will be a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13). Pray that the millions of Shi’a Iranians and Iraqis discover the living and reigning Messiah who is the true hope of the world.