Belial, Antichrist, and Dajjal: Personification of Lawlessness in Abrahamic Eschatology; Signs to the Rightly Guided World
The destiny of mankind in the eschatological philosophy shared by the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is ordained to travail through apocalyptic tribulations and violent end of one existence to usher in a new one bereft of suffering and immorality adorned by peace and justice.
The eschatology of each of these traditions presents esoteric signs foreseeing a world no longer ruled by Godly virtues but rather oppressed by evil, ultimately redeemed and delivered through the dynamic leadership of a messiah whose weapon for destroying wickedness is Divine Law. Judaism and Christianity sustain a rich heritage of apocalyptic literature (both canonical and apocryphal) concomitant with messianic anticipation, Islam shares this tendency with its distinct yet familiar apocalyptic vision as well, preserved predominately via Hadith.
Salient motifs in the apocalyptic precepts of these traditions include various ‘signs’ that point to the approach of lawlessness and direct divine intervention. The signs of the ‘End of Days’ or ‘End Times’ reveal assurance that God’s people will be raised up from tyranny, oppression and ignorance into their ultimate purpose: to witness the triumph and glory of God’s law.
This paper will focus comparatively on two signs found predominately in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic eschatology associated with the approach of the fulfillment of human destiny: The initial sign of lawlessness, manifested by a world governed by abasement, ignorance, and injustice associated with a pseudo messiah symbolically known as Belial, Antichrist, and Dajjal respectively. The conclusive sign of the return and triumph of Divine Law succored by authentic messianic leadership known as the Moshiach, the Messiah and the Mahdi in their particular tradition will be discussed as well.
Key Terms: Eschatology, Apocalypse, Belial, Antichrist, Dajjal and Law
The concept of eschatology (doctrine of the last things) as found in the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam addresses the final destiny of the world - the initiation of Divine governance. Typically, each particular tradition focuses primarily on its role and responsibility with in the context of God’s final analysis and fulfillment of prophecy.
Therefore, while eschatology transpires as a shared or common philosophy, theological doctrines vary significantly not only from tradition to tradition but also with traditions themselves. The ideas presented in the paper may not reflect the views and beliefs of every adherent in their particular tradition, as no religion is monolithic in praxis or orthodoxy. The celebrated Jewish proverb regarding the coming of the Moshiach emphasizes the circumstantial ambiguity in Jewish messianic anticipation, “the Moshiach will come only to a generation which is altogether worthy or altogether unworthy”.
The impact of political crisis, psychological and physical violence, as well as religious oppression has sculpted eschatological concepts of Abrahamic tradition into individual forms that share foundational precepts. The Arabic idiom, "Every place is Karbala; every day is Ashura" underscores Islamic (particularly Shi’a) eschatological concepts; the struggle with oppression for the survival of the ideal way.
The intimate connection between Judaism and Christianity and their shared experience of state endorsed persecution, creates a unity in eschatological forms of overcoming injustice as well.
By examining textual sources for eschatological doctrines in context with historical crisis, we can discern the etiology of some of the mysterious symbols associated with all three eschatologies – in particular the signs or indicator of the status of divine law in the final stage of the world.
The Torah as God’s everlasting law represents the eternal soul of the Jewish people. In this light, Jewish eschatology concerns itself sequentially with the collective destiny of a Covenanted People and with the righteous communities of a covenanted world. The fate of the individual soul intertwines with the immortality of God’s purpose for mankind. The main thrust of Jewish eschatology propels expectation of greater things to come. YHVH’s (the One True God) assessment of His People and restoration of His Kingdom i.e., Law in a transformed rather than discarded world.
In Christian and Islamic eschatology, death interprets consciousness rather than terminating it; therefore, the emphasis of God’s analysis or judgment of the individual ergo life after death prevails as well as that of the communal destiny redeemed in the ambers of a destroyed wicked world. For the purposes of this year’s conference, this paper will focus on the relationship of signs for the community directed toward eschatological expectation.
Apocalyptic Tradition Source of Eschatological Information:
Each of the Abrahamic eschatological traditions anticipates the advent of dynamic guidance within the subtext of a troubled world dominated by a leader, leadership or system of ungodliness (indicating the lack of God’s presence in the world). The character of this wicked leadership represents the harbinger of the community ready for transformation. Each tradition manifests its greatest fears and perceptions of evil onto a unique archetype within the community – the adversary of the right path. The antagonist through guile and guise attempts to lead the world astray. Abrahamic tradition anticipates the ultimate defeat of the contender for leadership by the defender of God’s way, yet it is the destiny of man to aid the hero on God’s mission. Man’s duty is to root out the deceiver’s charade and remain steadfast to the laws of God. These traditions provide esoteric clues to the identity of the nature or character and timing of this charlatan associative with eschaton.
The metaphysical nature of religion in general and the concept of eschatology in particular find their greatest expression in an esoteric lexicon, which veils many concepts from merely one interpretation. However, their meanings are not maliciously hidden from us; rather they are often cloaked in poetic metaphor and mystery.
From a historiographical perspective, the intentional reliance upon ambiguous, allegorical references and cipher i.e. signs, particularly in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic prophecy and literature, suffices in part as self-censorship to protect the author from impunity for criticizing oppression. From the method of phenomenology, the ambiguity in eschatological language is derived in part from the fact that humanity cannot penetrate the veil of the unseen and its knowledge including the assigned hour or date when God will close this chapter of history. Qur’an says in Surah Yunus; 19, ‘The unseen is only for Allah to know. Then wait ye: I too will wait with you.” This facilitates God’s purpose for humankind; Messianic anticipation is as much about God waiting for us as the world waiting for its Messiah.
In Judaism and Christian, eschatological signs are believed to be encoded in apocalyptic literature as found in the Canonical Biblical Books of Isaiah, Daniel, Zechariah, Jeremiah, and Micah as well as the Book of Revelation. (Of these mentioned, the Book of Revelation belongs exclusively to Christian Canon.) In addition to the Biblical books, Judaism maintains extra-textual apocalyptic Pseudepigrapha works and within the text known as the Dead Sea Scrolls exists early Jewish apocalyptic writings as well.
The word Apocalypse denotes several connotations including the popular usage for a cataclysmic disaster/warfare as well as a genre of Judaic and Christian literature marked by the prominence of prophetic supernatural visions. Apocalypse comes from the Greek verb ποκάλυψις meaning to ‘reveal’ or literally lifting the veil. In the context of eschaton, the revelation or apocalypse pertains to future events. An Apocalypse in Jewish and Christian textual application purports to be a teleological disclosure of esoteric knowledge or a depiction of God’s will for the future.
The custom of eschatological visions was normative and expressed in many oral traditions of ancient peoples contemporary with the writers of Biblical apocalypse. Certain aspects of Jewish and Christian appear cognate with the fantastic imagery of Babylonian and Persian eschaton of the time suggesting influence. However, many ancient eschatological doctrines pessimistically saw the world as cyclic, unreformable. With emerging monotheism (primarily witnessed in proto-Zoroastrianism), a progressive worldview launched eschatology into a linear context, heralding man with the divinely ordained task of reforming the world in lieu of soteriological anticipation.
Perhaps invigorated by this budding optimism, Jewish apocalyptic tradition and by extension Christian displayed the intrinsic characteristic of God working through history to help humankind underscored by political motifs.
Jewish apocalyptic traditions flourished in the historical background of the exilic and post-exilic eras after the ‘gate of prophecy had been closed’. In this period, the Children of Israel remained under the domination of ‘foreign’ powers, subjugated to laws contradictory to their own in stark contrast to the Biblical Promises of pre-exilic Prophecy. Comparatively, the message or vehicle of prophecy conveyed primarily the necessity of immediate reformation and repentance while, the communication of an apocalypse rendered hope and reward in a much wider temporal scope, often by assessing the present despair through the guise of retelling the past and predicting the future.
Attendant with the summon for reform, Biblical prophecy issued the consequence or fate of divine insight ignored which in many senses achieved a putative quality of prophecy fulfilled; for example, the various defeats and eventual subjugation of the Biblical nation Israel represent the consequence or God’s judgment on the people for their infidelity to Him. In this perspective, the Children of Israel realized their prophesized transgressions and actualized judgment all the while awaiting the promised renewal. Apocalyptic literature of Judaism is the progeny of the unfulfilled prophecy of glory and redemption - a bridge between reality and promise. R. Bauckman (1980, p.74) elaborates,
In the extended period of contradiction between God's
promises and the reality of Israel's historical
experience, the apocalyptists sought to assure the
faithful that God had not abandoned his people, that
the promised salvation was coming. To this end they
stressed the divine sovereignty over history: God has
predetermined the whole course of world history and
the End will come at the time he has appointed.
Some of the characteristic traits of Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature include Pseudonymity, the practice of disguising actual authorship, attributing it to eminent sages and prophets of the past as necessitated by the end of Jewish Prophecy and the inherent ‘historical’ quality of apocalyptic literature. Revelation through vision or dream born by an angel of future cataclysmic events in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil and establishes His dominion.
Guise, veiling a present source of malevolent oppression and agitation as a future focus for God’s wrath (i.e. representation of The Empire of Babylon as a whore, the Empire of Rome as a beast). This is also achieved primarily through Symbolical mystical imagery, metaphoric language employed to describe persons, events and times in an effort to either obscure identity or enhance meaning through allegory. Examples include creatures and abominations described in grotesque features with distinctive markings (i.e. horns, numbers, and special eyes) as representational of evil. Apocalyptic literature relies on the thematic motif of God’s elect conquering or destroying the symbols of abomination. All of these characteristics bear the hallmark of messianic anticipation in the flux of religious/political oppression.
A diverse wealth of Jewish eschatological signs exists in the prevalence of works labeled apocryphal . Originally, the word apocryphal indicated ‘secret or esoteric’ writings, rejected for liturgical purposes . However, the connotation now implies texts outside of canon, which interject minimal dogmatic/theological value; but feed the far greater hunger for detail and extrapolation into the mysteries of religion. These works include the Books of Enoch, Noah, Elijah and other apocryphal books including The Ascension of Moses, The Testament of the XII Patriarchs, etc.
The preponderance of Apocalyptic literature both Canonical and Apocryphal in Judaism stems largely from the psychological effects of a people in Exile, in the case of Christianity; the oppression and martyrdom of members during the early days of the nascent religious movement. In such times of tension and crisis, many treasured apocryphal writings often preferring them to canonical books. Apocryphal books infused profound occult hope into the most pessimistic hours of monotheistic history. The darker life grew and the more desperate the political situation, the more eagerly many turned to find promises of the end to such strife and a brighter future.
This heightened level of tension figures less predominately in the clarification of Islamic Eschatology as a whole. Perhaps the Passion of Kabala correlates to a crisis so intense it generated a literary form to galvanize generations to come. Out of the pathos of Karbala emerged a poetic oral tradition sublimely expressing the struggle and suffering of the Shiite Imamate to preserve Islam. Reciting Marsiya (مرثیہ , an elegiac poem written to commemorate the martyrdom and valour of Imam Husayn and his comrades) to this day remains an important ritual in the remembrance of what Shi’a see as the supreme sacrifice made in guardianship of Islamic Deen ergo; divine law. Deep within the poetic ethos of Shi’a sacrifice foments a sentiment of anticipation for deliverance from the suffering. The Marsiya like the apocryphal books of Judaism and Christianity, extol Muslims to conceptualize the potential for liberation from oppression.
Within the tradition of Islam, the signs of the eschaton share some of the qualities found in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature, in particular the agency of angelic vehicle of revelation and dreams ( Hadith relates that the Prophet of Islam had dreams or visions of the Dajjal (Islamic antichrist)).
In Qur’an, there is the mysterious imagery of a powerful beast associative with punishing those who do not believe in the Way. Similarities also include prophesized cataclysmic events such as the atrocities of Yajuj and Majuj , as well as the destruction of evil, and to a lesser extent the use of guise, (Dajjal will disguise the truth until Hell resembles paradise and Paradise appears to be Hell). Like Judaism and Christianity, many signs abound in the Qu’ran, with extra textual references found in Hadith. Hadith, a corpus of traditions and wonts of the Prophet, flesh out details lacking in the Qur’an, much like the Oral Tradition of Judaism elucidates the Torah with details not incorporated in the scripture.
Analysis of the personification of lawlessness in Abrahamic Eschaton:
Humanity’s darkest hour
Jewish apocryphal and Christian Apocalyptic literature as well as Qur’an and Hadith regarding the Final Days foresee God’s intervention with a worldview that challenges morality and His laws, underscored by change in leadership. Each eschatological tradition singles out a uniquely immoral individual (the immoral individual may serve as a concealment of a system or political power) as the epitome of corruption and wicked governance - a deceiver or pretender claiming divine prerogative. This pseudo prophet (or counterfeit system) will seduce and lure many from monotheistic culture and prophetic commandments, indicating humanity’s darkest hour. In the context of signs indicating the approach of eschaton, the false messiah functions as the antithesis of God’s will – the wrong type of governance.
In the Abrahamic traditions, Law functions as the center of religion, the formative force, God’s will. Prophecy must accompany divine law; God’s messengers move the people to walk in the path of God. The task assigned to every prophet served to correct moral behavior and proclaim religious truths through the assignment of Divine Directives.
Collectively, the prophets voiced a specific way of living; stressing ethical monotheism. In the Persian proto-monotheistic religion Zoroastrianism, the correct nature of human society is known as Daena, in Hebrew דרך (Derekh) means ‘way’ in the manner of God’s acting or nature another connotation is ‘straight path’ in the course of one’s life. The Arabic word دین (Deen) means ‘authority’ interchangeable with ‘religion’ implying the sacred norm by which to mold life. Euphemistically Deen is known as the ‘straight path’ in Islam. The application of these three words denote (from their own religious perspective) transcendent principles and the application or habit of following that Law in life. The Pretender of each tradition will strive to diminish the validity of God’s laws and in doing so will diminish the value of life itself.
Judaism as a religious tradition extols praxis over doctrine, therefore one finds very little consensus among the various ‘sects’ i.e. Chassidic, Reform, Conservative, and the other assorted movements, regarding beliefs including an eschatological philosophy. Perhaps the most adhesive element in general among the various movements aside from the Law is not what they believe but rather the beliefs the movements consistently reject. In this context, we can discern a uniform rejection of cosmic dualism in Judaism – based on the first five books of Tanakh little evidence supports the existence of a supernatural opponent to God.
The Biblical Book Lamentations says From the Supernal One cannot emerge both evil and good; Chassidic teachings regard this to mean the "evil” humankind encounters is only the concealment of good.
Rivals for the prerogative of adoration appear in the guise of various other gods; however, scripture eventually exposes the deceit in idolatry. Textually, the Children of Israel face opponents but a dichotomy of good and evil forces in the micro and macro realms of life consists only of obedience and disobedience to the Law in particular and God in general. In this respect, consistent ‘stiff necked’ disobedience to God’s law epitomizes their greatest opponent. Disobedience is concealment of good or absence of God in the world.
Torah represents the most valuable cargo a Jew bears in the caravan of life. Its Divine mitzvah (commandments) are metaphorically referred to as the ‘yoke of the kingdom of heaven’ invoking a sense of bondage or obedience to God. Within the context of eschatology and Jewish anticipation of recommitment to the laws and heritage of Torah, there exists an allegory of anyone who rebels against God’s authority and laws as wicked or worthless.
The word Belial is scornfully evoked for such an individual and with it is attached the rabbinical definition of “one who has thrown off the ‘yoke of heaven’ [i.e. the Torah, the law]”. Jewish exegetes suppose several possible etymons for Belial. Some writers construe ‘worthless’. The Talmud regards Belial as a compound word composed of beli and ol meaning ‘without a yoke’. Other writers posit ‘never to rise’ denoting never to do well . The final etiology could function as an apt reference to not repairing the world and its consequence of exclusion from eschatological redemption. In addition, Belial is also translated in the Septuagint as ‘lawlessness’ .
Minor significance is attached to Belial in the overall scope of Judaism; the metaphor for the most part supports an eschatological concept found predominately in extra-textual material. Scripturally, Belial does not appear as a personal name but rather symbolizes opposition to God’s laws; rare references in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) usually designate persons committing wickedness, sedition and idolatry; those who disregard divine law or in Biblical language those who ‘do not fear God’.
This euphemism conveys the earliest concept of religion as recognition of right from wrong. Other oblique references associate the word Belial with the netherworld, including ‘rivers of the underworld’ and ‘the land from which there is no return’. Some writers conjecture the metaphor of a ‘land of no return’ represents an exact translation into emerging monotheism of the Assyrian mythological dragon of the Abyss – an Ancient Near East cultural reference to primordial chaos. The innuendo of pre-creative chaos tracks well with the concept of lawlessness and disorder. Allusions to waterways of the underworld or ‘the deep’ keep with the nuance of the etymon ‘never to rise’ i.e. the rejected or banished by God (omission from possible resurrection).
Belial eventually began to represent anthropomorphous of the agent of evil in Jewish apocryphal Apocalypses indicative by the many epithets associative with Belial as a personal name including the Angel of Lawlessness, the Spirit of Darkness and ultimately the Father of all Idolatrous Nations. This supports the precative curse associative with the meaning of Belial, ‘may he have no rising’. Eventually these ideas contributed to Christian concepts regarding the Antichrist.
In the Apocalypse known as the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, appears several references to Belial’s opposition to the Law of God and the choice that must be made between obedience to God’s Holy laws and the works of Belial. The Testament purports the lives and words of the 12 sons of Jacob. Each Testament exhorts the reader to emulate the virtues elucidated and avoid the sins committed by the writer.
Each Testament also possesses prophetic visions of the future. The Testaments are Jewish works originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic with Christian interpolations. Scholars have discerned similarities with The Testaments and the writings of the Christian New Testament leading to conjecture that Paul and other writers quoted from the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs in their expositions of virtue in waiting for the Second Coming of Christ. In the context of Belial, The Maccabean Testament of Levi specifically foresees the Moshiach (messiah) receiving the ‘holy ones’ and overcoming Belial and his hosts. Therefore, Levi extols his offspring to accept the yoke of God and reject Belial. From the Testament of Issachar we see:
I sighed with every one that was troubled, and I gave my bread to the poor. I ate not alone; I broke no oath; I wrought piety and truth all my days. I have loved the Lord with all my might, and I have loved every man even as my children. Do ye these things, my children, and every spirit of Belial will flee from you, and no deed of evil men will have power over you; and ye shall subdue every wild beast, having with you the God of heaven, that walketh with men in simplicity of heart.
In addition, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, known as The War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness, describes Belial as the leader of Darkness:
'But for corruption thou hast made Belial, an angel of hostility. All his dominions are in darkness, and his purpose is to bring about wickedness and guilt. All the spirits that are associated with him are but angels of Sweed, a type of drug.' (1QM)
A Rabbinic axiom says the Step (or Coming) of the Moshiach (messiah) is discerned in the insolence and lawlessness of the people, ‘the turning of the schoolhouse into a brothel, and the turning of the rulers to heresy’. Belial (whether an individual leader or collective presence of mind in the world) represents a sign of degradation. Apocalyptic literature foretells the disorder in the world of man (‘lawlessness i.e. Belial will prevail, causing men to hate and persecute’) and disharmony in the world of nature (‘birds, beast, trees, and stones and will cease to act in accord with nature’) accompanying the disobedience to God’s way.
In Jewish eschatology, because of Belial, Truth and the laws of Torah will be minimized in Judaism and seem alien to the world as well. Calamity, the causality brought on by the wicked i.e. lawless behavior of man often finds expression in the Biblical plagues and curses, punitive measures exercised most frequently as a demonstration of God’s supremacy. From the book of Isaiah Chapter 24
The earth is defiled by its people; they disobeyed the law, violated the statues and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear the guilt…Isaiah 24; 5-6.
The plagues associative with the End of Days in Judaism include the signs of warfare and captivity, famine and death, terror and havoc, earthquake and fire, illness and pain; epitomizing the Talmud’s plea, ‘Let the end of days come but may I not live to se them, because they will be filled with so much conflict and suffering.’
Watch out that no one deceives you for many will come in my sane, claiming, “I am the Christ”, and will deceive many…..For false Christs and false prophets will appear to perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect….
The Gospel According to Matthew
Similar to the Jewish eschatological concepts of Belial as ‘lawlessness’, Antichrist denotes a characterization of denial as well as a character of evil in the drama of eschaton. In both traditions of Judaism and Christianity, we see a tendency to elaborate obscure textual references into an enigmatic metaphor of evil. The word Antichrist appears only in the Johannine Epistles. The author’s application of the term indicates a quality or state of being that denies the authority of Jesus.
Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, 1 John 4:2-4
The word Antichrist is derived from two ancient Greek words, αντί + χριστος or anti+ khristos. Khristos or Christos means ‘the anointed’ referencing divine unction, founded upon the ancient custom of consecration whereby oil was poured on the head of those given authority. Christos as a title in junction with the name Jesus designated legitimacy as heir to the divinely ordained Davidic leadership.
According to Jewish tradition as related in the Torah/Old Testament, from the lineage of David will come all the future kings of Judah and ultimately, at the end of history, the Messiah. From the perspective of Christianity, association with the Davidic covenant does not invest Jesus with power to replace the law but rather demonstrates his destiny to fulfill God’s wishes and epitomize God’s law on earth. The word anti implies several connotations including ‘in place of’ and the antonym of ‘in opposition of’; therefore antichristos might denote one resembling Christ or one who opposes Christ. Both definitions resonate well within Christian eschatology regarding the great deceiver or pseudo messiah as the mirror image of Jesus Christ. Underscoring the crux of evil in every tradition - in order to seduce and deceive humankind, evil takes on the guise or charades as its opponent.
The model of Antichrist in Christianity tracks through two intertwining paths, that of heresy and the other of opposition to God – for to reject Jesus was the ultimate Christian apostasy tantamount to the rejection of God. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says,
I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.
The Gospel of John 14; 6-7
From the perspective of the Johannine Epistles (in the Bible), the reference ‘the spirit of antichrist’ castigated individuals considered heretics in the Christian movement; ergo we see references to many antichrists. The Epistle explains that those who have rejected belief in a historical manifestation of God upon the stage of humanity through the body of Christ are not true members of the Christian community, the inheritors of the Kingdom of God. From 1 John 2:18-19,
Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
The reader must bear in mind that the Epistles and other books following the Gospels in the Bible reflect the development of Christian ideology and the various conflicts among the nascent followers of the precept of the corporeal divinity of Jesus as Christ. In most cases, the various Epistles were letters written to a specific church in a defensive context addressing a local and immediate ‘situation’. So part of the orbit of concepts about an antagonistic antichrist includes adversaries to doctrinal concepts such as Jesus ‘appearing in the flesh’ i.e. God incarnate.
The span of Antichrist pertinent to this paper encompasses the emerging idea that an Adversary to Christ’s teachings and the way of God will come in the ’Last days’ and that will be a sign of the approaching Second Coming or the return of Christ as Messiah. In his second letter to the church at Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul (perhaps the Pauline authorship is pseudonymous) interchanges the term ‘the man of lawlessness’ or ‘the lawless one’ with the concept of Antichrist emphasizing the ultimate rebellion against God. From 2 Thessalonians chapter 2:
Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. 4 He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God….. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming.
Paul, a Hellenized Jew who converted to Christianity, masterfully connected Jewish precepts into Christian concepts to illustrate that Jesus was the awaited Messiah per the prophecies of the Torah. In ancient Greek texts of Second Thessalonians, the expression attributed by Paul for lawlessness is anomia. The Greek word anomia literally means, "Being without law" also implying transgression of the law. Paul underscores the word play of law with Torah as the yoke of Heaven i.e. God. Torah (תורה) is a Hebrew word denoting ‘law’. Therefore to be lawless means to be without Torah or yoke as well meaning iniquity or transgressing the word of God (in the Gospel of John, ‘word’ is a Christian metaphor for Jesus: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.).
The ‘lawless one’ refers not to misconduct but rather defiant rejection or disbelief in the Prophesized laws of God. Paul states ‘the mystery of lawlessness is already at work’, which implies that this condition or state of rejecting concepts about Jesus as the fulfillment of divine law already exists but will be supremely manifest by one who will attempt to lead the world of believers astray:
he will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God, is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God 2 Thessalonians 2;4.
In the Apocalyptic book of Revelation, we see heresy and lawlessness anthropomorphous into several reviled symbolic figures including the dragon, the harlot, and ultimately the Beast; evil incarnate also called the Son of Perdition. However, both the writing of Paul’s letter to the Church in Thessalonica, and the Book of Revelation were driven by perceived external ecumenical crisis. Most of Paul’s writings (none of which are categorized as apocalyptic) were meant to give specific practical guidance to a definite community and were usually incorporated into that community’s liturgy.
Paul’s advice served as literal guidance. Paul himself said, ‘I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one by who the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy’. Yet a vast portion of the Christian canon is attributed to his authorship and that practical advice serves today as the backbone of Christianity. Paul advocated co-existing in peace with non-Christians and more importantly non-resistance to the Roman Empire. However, the author of the Apocalypse of John the last book in the Christian Testament also known as Revelation purports very little practical advice instead castigates wickedness in cloaked hyperbole and symbolism. John advocates resistance to the seductiveness of pagan Rome. However, once Rome became the capitol of Christianity, a literal interpretation of the apocalyptic themes became problematic forcing a more inward or spiritual analysis of the signs of Revelation.
Analysis of lawless figures in the Apocalyptic Books Daniel and Revelation
The book of Revelation represents the only apocalyptic book in Christian canon (the New Testament) and closely resembles the apocalyptic book in the Hebrew canon, Daniel. Daniel’s visions may have influenced the ideas and symbology of Revelations – as the themes carry over into the apocalypse of the New Testament. Both books purport to describe the signs of what will happen in the ‘Last days’. Imagery found in each tome reveals the anxiety and greatest fears of a community living in oppression. The circumstances behind each story reveal times of crisis and political systems that oppose monotheism. Both rely on the use of visions or dreams in fantastic imagery to delineate God’s triumph battle over wrongful governance. In each book, the symbolic descriptions i.e. horned talking beasts, dragons, should not be taken as literal descriptions, nor are the symbolism meant to be pictured realistically. They function as captivating literary devices to express intense psychological distress.
The book of Daniel was written in the period of the Maccabean revolt against a Syrian-Greek force governed by Antiochus IV Epiphanes that suppressed Jerusalem around the year 165 BC. (However, Daniel does not represent a ‘manifesto’ of that rebellion but rather the vision of a world transformed.) During the Seleucid dynasty, Antiochus tyrannized the Jews by desecrating their Temple and forbidding all religious practices, an action tantamount to stripping the Jews of their law ergo yoke. Antiochus belligerently attempted to destroy the bond between the Jews and God creating a state of lawless i.e. nonexistence. Those Jews, who would not compromise their principles and abandon the Law, resisted and rebelled eventually winning.
Cloaked in the ‘current’ crisis of the Maccabees, the character Daniel a pious young man and model Jew who figures during the Babylonian Exile a period of history prior to the Maccabean revolt, entreats the Jews to stand fast in faith and look forward to the righteous dynasty of God’s Kingdom. (Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and earned the most reviled place in Jewish history for it.) The figure Daniel purports several apocalyptic visions and ultimately a transfigured world.
Included in the visions is the reoccurring description of an ‘arrogant king’ who defiles the Temple, sets up a "desolating abomination" i.e. idolatrous worship (or a false covenant which we may infer as inerrant law), and persecutes those who remain true to the "holy covenant". The projected arrogant king represents ultimate disobedience (living without a yoke) and wicked governance, this projection prefigures the role of the Antichrist in Christianity. In both cases, the imagery serves as a sign of the corruption that will manifest the need for reformation.
The literary device of veiling present strife and crisis in the context of past achievements is what gives apocalyptic literature its distinctively prospective character. The past is pulled into the present and both are pitched into the future. The reader senses a cycle of fulfillment and impression that God is directing the course of history. The book of Daniel represents a response on two levels. Initially, it is written in response to a political crisis with a Divine response of deliverance. Perhaps the ‘religious’ nature of an apocalypse obscures the fact that such tomes criticize political or power systems. However, the reader must bear in mind that no distinction existed between religion and politics in Ancient Near Eastern Culture.
Comparatively, the book Revelation like Daniel fomented in the environment of religious/political oppression by a perceived ‘evil’ empire. The book of Revelation, (as is the case with Daniel) prophesizes a period of world crisis dominated by counterfeit wicked leadership, a veiled reference to Rome’s dominance of the region. The word Antichrist does not appear in the text of Revelation, rather the figure denominates the text in guise of ‘beast’ and ‘false prophet’. Beast aptly fits in the scenario of an animal that requires a yoke to direct its path with the nuance of something horrific that cannot be yoked. The vision purported by the author describes humanity’s darkest hour when a political ruler will dominate the world, subjugate the faithful to laws contradictory to God’s laws i.e. idolatry.
John, the author of Revelation opens the narrative by stating that he is in exile on the Island of Patmos, imprisoned in a cave, due to his extreme Christian views. The author is clearly antagonistic toward the Roman Empire of the time and his views however guised are subversive to any authority other than Christ. John’s visions and imagery underscore his disgust with a perceived level of acquiesce among Christians with the idolatrous practices of Rome in particular obedience to an imperial court that worships its political leader as god.
John, on the other hand, believes that the worship of the emperor was idolatry and more so that Roman laws were illegitimate. The apocalypse reflects his asceticism to worldliness and ultimate hope that God’s chosen will overthrow and yoke the Roman Empire Law guised as a beast. John uses pejorative imagery of a beast and prostitute in allusion to Rome and Babylon (Babylon is associative with Rome for destroying Jerusalem.) and their religious persecution of both the Jews and Christians.
Beast, “Then I saw another beast coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb but spoke like a dragon. He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast” Revelation 13; 11-12.
Harlot, “There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven head and 10 horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries….I saw the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the those who bore testimony to Jesus” Revelation 17;3-6.
The reference to adultery alludes not to sexual fornication but rather the Biblical troupe of infidelity to God. Jewish tradition allegorizes the relationship between the Children of Israel and YHVH (God) kindred to marriage a sacred lawful union. Eventually and by extension in Christianity, any nation including Israel that practiced idolatry was unfaithful to the One True God. John goes on to say that the woman had a title on her head saying ‘Babylon the Great the Mother of Prostitutes and of the Abominations of the Earth’.
John envisions a world of dominated by a lawless power; contextually the Romans as pagans were a people without Torah i.e. ‘revealed’ Divine Law (compare this to the Islamic concept People of the Book). Acquiesce to the laws of Rome represent Apostasy or Divine Treason. Therefore, John’s prophecy centers on signs of abomination and Divine retribution against any and all who reject God’s law.
"Shall I not tell you about the Dajjal a story of which no prophet told his nation? The Dajjal is one-eyed and will bring with him what will resemble Hell and Paradise, and what he will call Paradise will be actually Hell; so I warn you (against him) as Noah warned his nation against him.
The false messiah or lawless figure in Islamic eschatology is known as Al-Masih Ad-Dajjal. The term Al-Masih Ad-Dajjal الدّجّال (Arabic for "The False Messiah") is also a literal translation of the term "Meshiha Deghala", found in the Peshitta or Christian Bible translated into the Syriac language. Syriac is a dialect, or group of dialects, of Eastern Aramaic, which shares a common vocabulary with Arabic and Hebrew as related tongues. The term Meshiha Deghala carries the same connotations of the Greek "antichristos" representing a conversion of Christian Greek terminology into Syriac. Masih, the Arabic word for Messiah, is used as one of the titles associated with the prophet Isa or Jesus in Islam. The word Masih implies many connotations. Some suggest it means to be touched on in the head in the context of the purification rite of ablution.
Some Islamic scholars correlate this with the Jewish and Christian concept of unction. Masih conveys the meaning of anointed. The article ‘Al’ heightens the meaning to ‘the most anointed one’. The grammatical form of the Arabic Masih word also emphasizes not only an inherent quality but also ability. According to A Grammar of the Arabic Language, vol. 1, Edited by W. Wright, L.L.D, copyright 1967, p. 136, “It is an "intensive form" that often indicates "a very high degree of the quality which their subject possesses or an act which is done with frequency ... by their subject." Indicating Al-Masih, the most anointed, has the ability to anoint others –perhaps the anointing of Masih is his teaching of Allah’s will or way. The Qur'an does not refer to any other prophet as being "masih" ergo anointed, much less "al-Masih".
Another meaning associative with Masih is the concept of surveying the world to propagate a message. The latter concept corresponds with Ad- Dajjal as the false messiah who will attempt to deceive the world.
As is the case with Belial in Judaism, Ad-Dajjal primarily occupies a place in Islamic eschatology; no references to Ad-Dajjal exist in Qu’ran, rather the tradition of Hadith fleshes out Islamic concepts. Similar in nature to the flexibility in definition of antichrist in Christianity the word Dajjal denotes a couple of conations, primarily associative with a system of falsehood and deceit, also vaguely referring to Satan or an unseen force of evil who is the master of falsehood and deceit.
However, with the article ‘Ad’ Dajjal becomes the specific End Times deceiver or false prophet. Therefore, in Islamic eschatology we clearly see two individuals with opposing titles: Isa al Masih (Jesus) and the Al-Masih Ad-Dajjal (The Deceiver). One represents the anointed or chosen way of Allah and the other is falsehood. In Islamic eschatology, Al Masih and Al Mahdi are not the same individual. Each places a significant role in the fulfillment of Allah’s divine plan in the eschaton. Similar to the Jewish concept of Belial, Dajjal (without the article Ad) conceptually represents divine treason. As is the case with Belial in Jewish apocalyptic literature Ad Dajjal represents the leader of falsehood who occupies the throne of every act antithetical to Divine law.
As mentioned earlier, due to the historical circumstances of crisis and socio-religious oppression, Jewish and Christian eschatology found its greatest expression in apocalyptic literature. This particular genre (dictated by tyranny and repression) for the most part eluded Islam. However, the corpus of Hadith contains a rich tradition of apocalyptic (in the context of cataclysmic events) prophecy. While much of the esoteric symbolism necessitated by secrecy in Judaism and Christianity is absent, fantastic imagery still surrounds Ad-Dajjal.
According to one Hadith, three signs mark the End of Time (Ahara-Zamon): The fitna of the Beast (Dababah Asr ), The rising of the sun in West, and The Second Coming of the Masih or Jesus.
وَ فِي رِوَايَةِ أَبِي الْجَارُودِ عَنْ أَبِي جَعْفَرٍ ع فِي قَوْلِهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ قادِرٌ عَلى أَنْ يُنَزِّلَ آيَةً وَ سَيُرِيكَ فِي آخِرِ الزَّمَانِ آيَاتٍ مِنْهَا دَابَّةُ الْأَرْضِ وَ الدَّجَّالُ وَ نُزُولُ عِيسَى ابْنِ مَرْيَمَ ع وَ طُلُوعُ الشَّمْسِ مِنْ مَغْرِبِهَا
امام صادق در تقسیر آیه إِنَّ اللَّهَ قادِرٌ عَلى أَنْ يُنَزِّلَ آيَةً فرمود نشانه هایی که در آخرالزمان خواهی دید ؟ زمین و دجال و برگشت حضرت عیسی بن مریم و طلوع خورشید از مغرب است
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: I have told you so much about the Dajjal (Antichrist) that I am afraid you may not understand. The Dajjal is short, hen-toed, woolly-haired, one-eyed, an eye-sightless, neither protruding nor deep-seated. If you are confused about him, know that your Lord is not one-eyed.
Another fantastic characteristic associated with Ad-Dajjal is a mark of the letters ‘KFR’ (ک ف ر) on his forehead between his eyes. KFR refers to the Arabic word Kaafir:
There is written between his eyes the word "kaafir". He then spelled the word as k. f. r., which every Muslim would be able to read
As recorded in Nahj al-balaghah or Path of Eloquence, Imam Ali related to Asbagh Ibn Nabateh, that the Dajjal will be blind in the right eye and the left eye will shine like a star. Between his eyes will be the sign of KFR visible to both the literate and illiterate. The Dajjal will come when the world is in great distress at a time when the sky no longer ‘cries’.
The root of Dajjal dajala signifies ‘to mix’ and expresses the meaning of deliberately confusing matters through ambiguity. According to Hadith Dajjal will bring with him what “will resemble Hell and Paradise, and what he will call Paradise will be actually Hell” . The letters KFR are the root of the Arabic word Kaafir (کافر) which means to cover or reject.
Before the advent of Islam the root word KFR described farmers burying seeds in the ground, covering them with soil while planting. In the perspective of Islam the etiology suggests covering up or ‘smearing’ the truth with deceit or filth. A kaafir denotes one who systematically rejects God and His messengers. In the context of this conference, the author wishes to emphasis kaafir solely as those who consciously live in spite of God and more specifically Divine law. The letters KFR on Ad-Dajjal do not seem to be apparent for the entire world to witness. They reflect a pejorative quality or characteristic distinctively known to Muslims. According to Islamic tradition, Ad-Dajjal embodies the way of kaafir, constitutes a system of confusing the truth with deceit.
In addition to the mark of KFR which correlates to the mark of the beast in Christianity (pundits posit that 666 actually represents a numerical calculation of letters for an imperial Roman title or slogan used officially for documents and commercial contracts) , the distinguishing feature of Dajjal’s one eye harkens to Judeo-Christian apocalyptic symbolic characteristics as well.
While Dajjal appears to have two physical eyes, one is faulty impairing his vision and character. The book of Daniel alludes to a grotesque figure. (Christians interpret the allusion as a reference to the ‘Son of Perdition’ the antithetical Son of God, some in Judaism posit that the figure represents a mighty empire and enemy of Israel) The figure is a beast that crushes and devours it victims, a creature with a ‘horn most imposing that had eyes and a mouth that spoke’. This horn wages war against the ‘holy ones’ of the Most High (God). (Daniel 7; 20). Biblically a horn alludes to potency (Ancient Near Eastern religious cults portrayed gods with horns adding a supernatural or occult nuance to the symbolism in the Biblical context). Eyes often symbolize wisdom. The Beast of Daniel possesses supernatural power and cunning.
However, in Islam, Dajjal with his eschewed sight and the epithet of Kafir in proximity of his vision possesses myopic knowledge. In Islam, knowledge is derived from two sources, ‘aql and Ma’rifah. ‘Aql means reason or exercise of the intellect and depends entirely on a rational process. However, reason alone is blind. Ma’rifah, or intuitive gnosis equated with wisdom is direct knowledge acquired alongside the processes of logic or reason. The Prophets and Ahlul Bayt (including the Awaited Mahdi), as recipients of Ma’rifah, possess initiated and perfect knowledge of Allah. Knowledge is therefore both a divine gift and a creative process of the human intellect.
The system of Dajjal as KFR covers aql or reason and therefore cannot see clearly or analyze beyond the immediate and base needs of man. The rejection of revelation and ergo religion is not entirely rooted in corruption of the will but also in the neglect and waste of knowledge. When a person sins intelligence departs and the individual becomes more like an animal than a reasoning being. The Qur’an describes those who avoid the path of religion as "lâ ya`qilûn" (Surah Baqarah; 170-171), those who will not use their intelligence appropriately. Ad-Dajjal’s possesses like all men two physical eyes, the vehicles to receive ‘aql and Ma’rifah. For whatever ontological reason Ad-Dajjal utilizes only one eye; he possesses the capacity to reason if only in cunning, but not Allah’s favor or enlightenment. He lacks complete vision and knowledge – he forsakes or wastes one eye. Hadith concerning the eye of Ad-Dajjal relates:
Ad-Dajjal was mentioned in the presence of the Prophet. The Prophet said, "Allah is not hidden from you; He is not one-eyed," and pointed with his hand towards his eye, adding, "While Al-Masih Ad-Dajjal is blind in the right eye
Islam rejects anthropomorphic references to Allah; therefore, the reference to Allah’s eyes is purely metaphoric – indicating the completeness of Allah’s vision or sight in contrast to the inadequate vision of Dajjal. Dajjal as the final enemy of the righteous, covers, or ignores; he ‘turns a blind eye’ toward Allah. The system of Dajjal in Islam represents humanity’s darkest hour.
According to Hadith Ad-Dajjal will deceive many with his vision and eventually gather a great army to rebel against the righteous:
'O Messenger of Allah, how quickly will he (Dajjal) walk upon the earth?' He said, 'Like a cloud driven by the wind. He will come to the people and call them (to a false religion), and they will believe in him and respond to him.
Ad-Dajjal as the protagonist in Islamic eschatology represents rejection of Allah’s will - the metaphor of an unbridled beast wandering off the straight path, leading others astray. The period of Belial, Antichrist and Ad-Dajjal symbolizes anarchy, comparative with the primordial period before Creation in the Bible. Perhaps most profoundly, the system of Belial, Antichrist or Dajjal represents the absence of God’s way. In the eschatological traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Judaism the period of lawlessness precedes the ultimate establishment of God’s law in the world. Lawlessness gives birth to the reign of Law. Each tradition parlays the task of destroying or eliminating the system of lawlessness upon its messiah.
The Culmination of Eschatological Signs – Manifestation of God’s Law
Humanity’s Brightest Hour
The function of Abrahamic eschatology stresses leadership. As symbols Belial, The Antichrist and Ad-Dajjal characterize dark cynical rebellion against divine leadership and God’s laws. In the Abrahamic traditions, the erroneous faith in these systems is demonstrated by the dilapidation of the world and the appearance and triumph of the messianic figure known as Moshiach, the Messiah and al-Mahdi. In the context of Islamic eschatology, both Jesus the Messiah and The Awaited Imam Mahdi play a role in the transfiguration of a lawless world into a rightly guided one.
A salient characteristic of Abrahamic eschatological signs is the messianic campaign to destroy lawlessness; replace anarchy with order or Law. Each tradition focuses upon the manifestation of the divine statutes or right governance as the culmination of creation - the brightest hour. For instance, according to Jewish tradition the Moshiach (the Hebrew word meaning ‘anointed one’) the legitimate or divinely chosen leader of Judaism will rejuvenate and invigorated the principles of Torah among the Nation of Israel by encouraging Torah’s highest standards.
Therefore, the ‘End of Days' as understood in Judaism speaks of the end of the days of Belial – when “government will turn atheist and there will be no protest. Truth will vanish.” Sanhedrin 97a, Sotah, 49b. The coming of the Moshiach represents the restoration of God’s dominion and leadership, “And the lord shall be king over all the earth; in that day there shall be one Lord with one name.” Zechariah 14:9.
Jewish tradition supported by Biblical prophecy describes how the Moshiach (a completely human ruler i.e. he will not possess any supernatural or divine qualities) will bring the Jews back to observation of the Torah- they return to their yoke. The seminal Jewish Philosopher Moses Maimonides states in Hilchos Melachim - "The Laws Concerning Kings" from his well-known work the Mishneh Torah:
“If a king will arise from the House of David who delves deeply into the study of the Torah and, like David his ancestor, observes its mitzvos as prescribed by the Written Law and the Oral Law; if he will compel all of Israel to walk in [the way of the Torah] and repair the breaches [in its observance]; and if he will fight the wars of G-d; - we may, with assurance, consider him Mashiach.”
The Moshiach will reestablish the Sanhedrin or Rabbinical court to correctly administer and oversee Jewish Law for the People of Israel. However, the Moshiach will not govern the world. Rather he will lead or inspire the world to achieve its zenith along side with his own community.
The Messiah will be a very great king, he will achieve great fame, and his reputation among the gentile nations will be even greater than that of King Solomon. His great righteousness and the wonders that he will bring about will cause all peoples to make peace with him
The Sages and prophets did not yearn for the Messianic Era in order that [the Jewish people] rule over the entire world, nor in order that they have dominion over the gentiles, nor that they be exalted by them, nor in order that they eat, drink and celebrate. Rather, their aspiration was that [the Jewish people] be free [to involve themselves] in Torah and its wisdom, without anyone to oppress or disturb them, and thus be found worthy of life in the World to Come
The Torah has stressed not only to the Jews, but to the other nations of the world as well, that Judaism serves humankind by being ‘a lamp unto the world’. The 613 commandments or laws found in the Torah, do not represent the laws for all of humanity, but rather for a people. Their ethical monotheistic behavior represents God’s standard. Therefore, other God given laws are relevant for those not included in the Jewish covenant. The age lead by the Moshiach will be defined in part by the nations of the world co-existing peacefully through adherence to their own righteous laws (covenants with God) and religious frameworks rather than Judaic law.
In Christianity, the return of Jesus, the Messiah, is the most significant eschatological event. As the essence of Christianity the example of God consciousness, Jesus serves as the example of how God expects His people to act – a physical manifestation of righteousness or lawfulness. Relative to Judaism, eschatological concepts vary greatly within the religion from movement to movement. Several perspectives regarding the events and requirements of the Parousia reflect this diversity. Only a few Christian organizations claim complete and authoritative interpretation of the vast symbology associated with eschatology. Regarding the timing of the Parousia, the Bible explicitly states in several verses that this knowledge is unavailable to humanity:
No one knows about the day or hours, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the father….Therefore keep watch because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. Matthew 24: 36 and 42.
On one occasion while he was eating with them, he gave them this command. …wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. They asked him, Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel? He said to them, “it is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has by his own authority”. Act 1:4-7.
One elemental motif in many Christian approaches is the concept of millennial expectation. The transformation brought upon earth by the return and reign of Jesus Christ, which reverses the previous period of lawlessness and suffering. With in the context of millennialism dogma varies denominationally including these scenarios:
- An imminent ‘apocalyptic’ i.e. cataclysmic transformation spurs the faithful into action.
- Christ returns only after humans have established a world worthy of his kingdom through their own efforts.
- Christ returns to save a sinful humanity and defeat the forces of Satan.
The Catholic Church rejects the concept of millennialism in particular the penchant to label religious figures or political leaders as the Antichrist:
The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism. (Catechism of the Catholic Church. Imprimatur Potest +Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Doubleday, NY 1995, p. 194).
Within the limited scope of this paper for the Mahdaviat Conference, the significance of the return and reign of Jesus Christ is the expression of God’s law on earth and the destruction or rejection of lawlessness. Rather than pessimistically waiting for the return of Jesus, many Christians believe his presence exists in the world manifest through human effort to transform inequity in the world into justice through divine law. The greater the effort exhorted the greater the manifestation is realized.
Toward the end of Revelation found in the Christian Bible, John foresees the Rider on the White Horse:
“I saw heaven standing opened and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice, he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He is dressed in a robe dripped in blood and his name is the word of God….Out of his mouth comes a sharp words with which to strike down nations….On his robe and on his thigh he has the name written; KING OF KINGS And LORD OF LORDS” Revelation 19;11-16.
Due to the mysterious imagery, opinion varies on whether The Rider on the White Horse represents Christ or the Antichrist. Following along with the narrative, under the pretext that the Rider signifies Christ we see:
I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army…the beast was captured…the rest were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse… 19-22.
This episode in Revelation parallels a metaphor found in the passion of Imam Husayn in Shi’a Islam. Similar to the genre of apocalyptic literature, Shi’a Islam possesses a literary tradition known as Marsiya. The Marsiya is an elegiac poem written to memorialize the martyrdom of Husayn the third Imam in the initiated chain of Shi’a guidance. The literary form relies upon descriptions of the battlefield, moral edification, and portrayals of emotional states of being of the characters to induce lamentation and ‘soz’ or burning of the heart.
Marsiya became an effective tool to galvanize feelings for reform during periods of political turmoil in Shi’a communities throughout the 19th and 20th centuries . Imam Husayn’s confrontation and ultimate sacrifice at Karbala with a military detachment of the Umayyad Caliph became a powerful metaphor for the revolt against tyrannical oppression, despotic sovereignty and most profoundly opposition to God. The name of Yazid (the contentious Caliph during the uprising) in Shi’a communities metamorphosed into the ultimate symbol of tyranny, corruption and, antagonism toward true Islam. In context with other eschatological writings, the event of Karbala recorded in prose imbues the present and the future – the expression of right over might becomes eternal. From a Marsiya written by Mirza Ghalib, “The glory and jewel of faith, Hussain Ibn-e Ali, who shall be called the candle of the gathering of grandeur”.
Returning to the context of the riders on a white horse, in her analytical, article Karbala and the Imam Husayn in Persian and Indo Muslim Literature [Marsiya], Anne Marie Schimmel discusses the poetic theme of resurrection for the spiritually dead through the suffering of the Imam Husayn in Shi’ a Islam. In the imagery of Shi’a mythos Imam Husayn is depicted as the rider of a white horse yielding the sword of truth against unlawful leadership.
The Rider of the White Horse of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse pertains to the symbolic metaphors from the Christian Bible of the eschatological signs; Conquest represented by a white horse, War a red horse, Famine a black horse and Death a pale green horse. The Rider
‘whose name is the word of God’ and who speaks words as sharp as a sword to strike down nations mirrors the Imamate which spoke sharp words when addressing the false leadership of the Muslim Ummah. Schimmel elaborates:
[w]hen Husayn b. 'Ali drew the sword, the sword of Allah, he shed the blood of those who are occupied with, and interested in, things other than God; graphically, the word la, the beginning of the shahada, resembles the form of a sword (preferably a two-edged sword, like Dhu'l-fiqar), and this sword does away with everything that is an object of worship besides God. It is the prophetic 'No' to anything that might be seen beside the Lord. By using the sword of 'No', Husayn, by his martyrdom, wrote the letters 'but God' (illa Allah) in the desert, and thus wrote the title of the script by which the Muslims find salvation.
We see a parallel in the Shi’a poetry with the apocalypse of Judaism and Christianity, where the past is pitched into the eschatological future. The two are stitched together into a mystical tapestry. The passion and dark imagery of Karbala foretells the bright future with Al-Mahdi, when the false objects of worship will be eliminated and God’s governance will prevail. In Islamic eschatology, the leadership of Al-Mahdi sojourns under the white banner of good governance or Al-Liwaa. The purpose of Imam Mahdi’s existence is to end corrupt governance once and for all. Both Christ as the rider of the white horse, and Imam Husayn as the progeny of the Promised Succor symbolize victory. The imagery of sacred violence i.e. warfare, blood and sacrifice are common eschatological themes in the Abrahamic traditions. The book of Isaiah (11:1-5) uses similar imagery:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – The Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of Counsel and of power, the Spirit of Knowledge and of the fear of the Lord…..He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Prophecy regarding the power struggle between lawlessness and right governance foretells confrontational battles, judgment and the slaying of wickedness. As with reading the apocalypse of Daniel and Revelation, relying on literal interpretations of the descriptions provides a superficial understanding.
The symbology ‘the sword that came out of the mouth’ of the rider on the white horse (i.e. conquest) and ‘the sword of Allah’ yielded by Imam Husayn, and ‘the breath of his lips [which] will slay the wicked’, as metaphor indicate speaking the truth to all – subduing falsehood. It is not force that will defeat wickedness, only truth can conquer evil. Each sword is used not to spill blood but rather to destroy the lies, which were exchanged for the way of God. Each metaphor imparts the image of the dangerous task of obliterating the heinous to make way for restoration- “to fill the earth with justice and equity as it was filled with tyranny and injustice.”
In the context of Islamic eschatology Al-Faraj (an epithet for the awaited one also known as Mahdi (AS)) meaning the relief (together with Isa al Masih or Jesus), will conquer hypocrisy, deceit and ultimately lawlessness.
Hadith postulates that the Mahdi will reform Islam to its pristine state:
It has come down from traditions that when Mahdi emerges…..he will remove the curtain obscuring the realities; he will enliven the holy religion of Islam and will annul all that is not in Islam and has been added to it such that people will imagine that Mahdi (a.s.) has brought a new religion and a new book.
The sixth Imam (from the initiated chain of Shi’a Islamic leaders), Imam Sadiq relates:
When our Qa'im arises he will call people anew to Islam, guiding them to the old thing from which people have turned away. He will be called Mahdi because he will guide people to the thing from which they have been separated. He will be called Qa'im because he will be commanded to establish the truth.
The promised Mahdi as the executor of God’s plans will herald the Islamic concept of good governance just as the Jewish Moshiach will reestablish the Sanhedrin. Also similar in fashion to the Christian concept of Christ returning to judge and rule the world, as ‘the right hand of God’. The Islamic Promised One will restore Deen (religion) as true uncorrupted guidance for the benefit of all of mankind. As is the case with Judaism’s reliance upon Torah, the Mahdi will rely on Islamic law for the norm to establish social order and a world free from oppression. According to Imam Ali, the Mahdi will ‘fill the earth with justice and equity, and brilliance and rationality’ .
In contrast to the system of Dajjal whose methods rely upon oppression, violence, and fear to dominate the world, the Promised One will illuminate the world; enable all of human society to reach true perfection and the full consciousness of spirituality, through the example of his very character. Imam Ali conveys,
When our Qa'im rises hostility and resentment will be eliminated from the hearts of the people, and general security will be established all over the world
Many will embrace Islam in reaction to the goodwill and peace demonstrated by the reign of the Mahdi. However, the Mahdi cannot contradict the precepts of Qur’an. Qur'an states in Surah Baqarah:
Let there be no compulsion in Religion: Truth stands out clear from error; whoever rejects Evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks. 2:256
Those who believe in Qur'an, and those whose follow the Jewish scriptures, and the Christians and the Sabians- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. 2:62
The Qur'an guarantees the position of Jews and Christians as members of God’s Ummah. The Mahdi’s governance will continue to honor the protected status of Judaism and Christianity as ahl al-dhimma.
Imam Sadiq says:
The Master of the Command was named as the Mahdi because he will dig out the Torah and other heavenly books from the cave in Antioch. He will judge among the people of the Torah according to the Torah; among the people of the Gospel according to the Gospel; among the people of the Psalms in accordance with the Psalms; among the people of the Qur'an in accordance with the Qur'an.
Islam is not unique in this precept, the leadership of the Christian Messiah and the Jewish Moshiach represents the fruition of Divine Law, the purification of religion and its practice. As indicated by the cruel and wicked governance of the discussed apocalypses Daniel and Revelation characterized in literary metaphor as abominations, leaders that oppose God’s law represent lawless individuals. It will be a counterfeit leadership in the guise of legitimacy, cloaked in religion that will persecute, oppress with force, and seek the elimination of any who worship the One True God- not the Chosen or Promised Leader. In the eschatological descriptions of Belial (i.e. yokeless or lawless one), Antichrist (i.e. beast or man of lawlessness), and Dajjal (visionless/myopic one who denies or covers the truth) we see nearsighted leadership that foments deceit, persecution, hatred and might over right. This contrasts with true religion and God’s Law. More importantly, the Promised One in each tradition challenges that system either reforming the system in place or restoring it to its pristine state.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with ears; but with righteousness, he will judge the needy, with justice, he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. Isaiah
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth….and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Now the dwelling of God is with men and, he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain. He said to me. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. Revelation
Even if the entire duration of the world's existence has already been exhausted and only one day is left before the Day of Judgment, God will expand that day to such a length of time, as to accommodate the kingdom of a person out of Ahl al-Bayt who will be called by my name. He will then fill the Earth with peace and justice as it will have been filled with injustice and tyranny before then.
- Hadith upon whose authenticity all Muslims agree, the Messenger of Allah said.
In the dawn of a new century, humankind proudly heralds a world governed by technological advances, intellectual evolution, and a far greater sense of well being than any other generation before. These expansions for the most part have pushed eschatological ideologies aside, swept concepts of a pseudo prophet away and minimalized messianic anticipation. Perhaps this sense of comfort and intellectual superiority makes it difficult for the modern reader to appreciate the significance of an apocalypse upon the ancient mind. Such books as well as eschatological signs assuaged the human need to understand injustice and oppression within the context of revealed monotheistic ethics and promises.
The rationalized temper discounts much of the related information in this paper as fantasy or irrelevant, primarily because of the real effect human justice has achieved in this world. One facile conclusion that may be gleaned from the fantastic imagery of a pseudo messiah and promised world hero is the propensity for the mind to derive great symbols of hope in the most perverse or hopeless of times. By rationally reducing every metaphor, sign and secret meaning to the most common denominator in all three traditions, we are left with a dichotomy of evil and virtue illustrating one basic and indisputable truth- the world, as ancient man knew and we know it today, is corruptible and must continually be reformed.
In the society of Abrahamic tradition, the eschatological element of great strife and trial at the hands of lawlessness presents the persecuted community with an exalted role in the Divine mission of establishing justice. This community, like the pretender and the world hero are signs. In the past, the human creation has endured and succeeded because of the path forged by former generations who methodically plodded the right course. Failure has always occurred when too many followed erroneous leadership. All three traditions anticipate the coming of a great guide who will ultimately lead the world to perfect success.
More importantly, each tradition has taught that humanity already possesses the knowledge or way (i.e. derekh and deen) to reform the world. We merely have not mastered the technology in our own hands. The task remains to continue along the course given us in anticipation of success or victory. By struggling or striving in intellectual engagement and religious dialogue to confront individual as well as ‘ecumenical’ ignorance and deceit we participate in the eschaton of lawlessness and establishing truth and justice in the world. Our participation becomes a bright and shining sign of the preparation of the rightly guided world too.
~Wa’Llahu a’lam: And Allah knows best.
~Wa’Llahu a’lam: And Allah knows best
The Holders of Authority and Legitimacy in Mahdism Doctrine
In the lights of Mahdism teachings Shia’ Muslims have to fight to the improvement of the world, to bring it closer to that model of perfect society that should bring peace to the world, to prepare the world for the coming of the Mahdi.
The awaiting of the Mahdi’s return is an inspiration to the Shia and concretizes as a doctrine of hope making policy more optimistic, determining the Shia to believe in a better future of humanity, as well as motivating them to help to its construction. The awaited victory of right, virtue, peace, justice, freedom and truth over forces of evil in all its forms, motivates continuously Shia society and will help to its every day improvement.
However, what until the time of reappearance, what should Shia society do, until the time of reappearance? Who should govern the Shia society and through what means of government? Is Wilayat-e-faqih a copy of Mahdism or should the system improve in itself?
Mahdism argues about just government with equal distribution of wealth and property among men, eradication of vices, war and restoration of peace, good governance, friendship cooperation and benevolence. With Mahdism as the central axis of the Shia theology, covering the most important doctrines of Islam, Shia Doctrine assumes a future-oriented history. Shia Doctrine because of Mahdism founds itself in a perpetual state of progressiveness, giving it a built-in mechanism of self-improvement.
A Divine Chain of Leadership
Since the beginning of creation, man becomes a ruler (Khalifa) of God over its creation and throughout its representatives, God rules over whole of its creation. Since the beginning, there was always a mediator between God and its creation. Mediators acted as proofs of God onto the earth as transmitters of divine emanation. They were perfect and infallible men. Through them man was instructed to follow the path of divine realization and the knowledge of God in order to gain deliverance and salvation.
God delivered his message and law through which believers could worship him. He appointed chosen men to guide the human community throughout its existence. They are the vice-regents of God and leaders of the human community. All Abrahamic religions believe in a chain through which God will is revealed and known to humans, through which God guided them towards salvation.
The Shia doctrine, by Mahdism Doctrine is though the only religion that kept such a relationship alive. It looks like a chain of representatives of God links the human community from its beginning until the end of time to God and His will. This holy chain is portraying and guiding men towards worship. Shia Doctrine can be seen in this aspect as a progressive creed, indulged in the belief of continue divine leadership. According to Shia Doctrine, God created man for a noble purpose, which is to worship Him and lead a virtuous life based on His teachings and guidance.
How would man know his role and purpose of his existence unless he received clear and practical instructions of what God wants him to do? Here comes the need of this divine chain. As what else would be the purpose of creation if not worshiping the Creator, knowing the creator and obeying Him? Moreover, how else can this relation been kept alive if not by delivering continuous divine representation? How else can believers obey if not sensing God’s greatness and leadership?
Only by understanding such a continuous relation will we be able to understand the Shia believes, to recognize its progress throughout history and to see its present as a stage in its development. Nevertheless, let us have a historical perspective on this divine chain linking humanity to the Divine, to be able to understand the Shia and Mahdism Doctrine as well as the Iranian Islamism.
1. The Prophets of God- Guidance and Leadership for Humanity
At first, there were the prophets of God. Prophethood is a common belief to heavenly revealed religions, having a special status and significance. Prophethood is God blessing and favor that He may bestow on whom He wills.
Every prophet stated clearly throughout history that what he receives is not of his own, but from God for the well-being of humanity. Prophets confirmed what was revealed before him and what may be revealed after him. A prophet does this to show that he is simply conveying the message that was entrusted to him by the One True God of all people in all ages. Therefore, the message is one in essence and for the same purpose; it should not deviate from what was revealed before him or what might come after him.
Prophets are necessary for conveying God's instructions and guidance to humankind. We have no way of knowing the reason we were created. What will happen to us after death? Is there any life after death? Are we accountable for our actions? In other words, is there any reward or punishment for our deeds in this life? These and so many other questions about God cannot be answered without revelation from the Creator and Knower of the unseen and does it not knowing God, one of the fundamental duty of the believers? Those answers must be authentic and must be brought by individuals whom we trust and respect. That is the reason why messengers are the select of their societies in terms of moral conduct and intellectual ability.
Supported by God and instructed divinely prophets affirmed and delivered from the beginning of creation a continuous message. They presented clear concept of God, His attributes, His creation and the unseen. They delivered the reason of creation, rewards and punishments to humanity for obeying or disobeying God. However, most important for the purpose of my thesis, they showed humanity how to run their societies according to His testament. That is, clear instructions and laws that, when applied correctly and honestly, will result in an ideal society.
The Quran mentions the names of 25 prophets and indicates that there have been others that are not mentioned to Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). These 25 include Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (PBUT), who are the greatest among God's messengers.
"Say (oh, Muslims) we believe in God and that which is revealed to us and that which was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael, and Isaac and Jacob, and their children, and that which Moses and Jesus received and that the prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them and unto Him we have surrendered.”
The last prophet in the chain of God was Muhammad (PBUH). He was born in Arabia in the sixth century C.E. He descends from the lineal chain of Abraham and his son Ishmael, being a member of Banu Hashim family, who were the holders of Mecca. People knew him as a man of excellent character, cultured manners, and called him “the trustworthy”, even before his delegation as a prophet. His revelation by God, claims to be the book of guidance for the whole humanity for all times, and mentions Muhammad as the last Prophet of God- The seal of Prophets. Once he died, Prophethood ended but not the divine guidance and leadership of humanity that continued in the mind of the Shia.
The Shia believes that humanity is in need of sustained spiritual guidance, provided by the Imam, who is the guardian and guide of all Muslims politically and spiritually. They hold that Muhammad explicitly designated his cousin and son-in-law Ali as his Khalifa (Successor). Thus, Shia believes Muhammad designated Ali and his direct descendants to serve as the Imams (wali-leaders) of the Muslim community. This assertion implies that, while the cycle of Prophethood ended with Muhammad, the cycle of Imamate began with Ali and continues amongst his direct descendants. For Shia Muslims, an Imam is a leader (wali), whose guidance extends to spiritual and temporal matters. In other words, an Imam can sanction new laws because he has direct contact with God. This direct contact makes an Imam infallible and invests in him the prerogative of interpreting the Quran, thereby gradually revealing its esoteric meaning. On the ground of Ghadir Khumm, Muhammad declared "To whomsoever I am Master, Ali is his Master” and following this principle is one of the fundamentals of Shia Doctrine, therefore, they believe that Ali ibn Abu Talib is the 1st Imam to teach the correct interpretation of Islam, the successor of Muhammad.
The Imam is the leader and example „from whose intellectual power and insight, those traveling toward God benefit, whose conduct and mode of life they imitate, and to whose commands they submit.” In a very large and comprehensive sense, Imamate includes both intellectual authority and political leadership.
„After the death of the Prophet, the Imam was entrusted with the guardianship of his accomplishments and the continuation of his leadership, in order to teach men the truths of the Quran and religion and ordinances concerning society; in short, he was to guide them in all dimensions of their existence...” “The true and veritable Imam is that exalted person, who combines in himself intellectual authority and political leadership.” He is the one “who stands at the head of Islamic society, being enabled thereby both of convey to men the divine laws that exist in every sphere and to implement them; and who preserves the collective identity and the human dignity of the Muslims from decline and corruption.”
The community saw itself well organized under the leadership of the Prophet (PBUH) and when he was gone, it was due for someone to replace him in the same position and authority. Imam Ali was the Imam from the day the Prophet Muhammad closed his eyes as he appointed him rightfully. He continues the divine light of guidance, regardless whether he became a Khalifa or not. The imam is the person who has comprehensive leadership in religious as well as worldly matters as the successor of the Prophet.” The Imam was therefore the universal authority entrusted divinely on both of the mentioned aspects.
Based on the succession of the Prophet, Imamate does not only reflect the spiritual guidance and leadership, it includes the social and political leadership also. Imamate is a position that combines the spiritual and religious leadership as well as the socio-political and worldly leadership. For the Shia, Ali is the first imam as well as the first Khalifa of the Prophet. Therefore, we cannot consider rationally that Ali is the first Imam but not the immediate successor of the Prophet. The difference between Shia and Sunnis is not about the spiritual leadership; it is on the socio-political leadership immediately after the death of the Holy Prophet.
God appointed Prophet Muhammad as to be the leader of the community, a community being religious, as well as social and political. It was a civil and a moral community that God entrusted to him, so he had a comprehensive authority and leadership. The appointment of a successor had to mean that Imams would benefit with the same authority and leadership.
Assuming that because imams did not historically exercise their political authority and leadership, they do not have this authority and leadership designated to them is a false supposition that cannot stand for itself. Not exercising one’s role and function does not prove the non -existence of the authority as is obvious.
“The twelve Imams themselves, and above all, the present twelfth or hidden Imam, were held to be necessary to the constitution of the Universe and of true religion. The Imam is God’s proof, he is the pillar of the Universe, the ‘gate’ through whom God is approached.”
The Imams are considered to be the successors of the Prophet (PBUH) and therefore the right holders of his authority, not because they are from his family but because they possessed the qualities of being pious, obedient to Allah and because they embody characteristics that are pre-required for this level of religious-political leadership”.
The Shia considers Imamate, like Prophethood, to be a fundamental belief, and obedience to the authority of their Imam, a religious obligation. Other than receiving divine revelation, which is specifically for the prophets, the Imams have all the qualities, duties and authority of the Prophet (PBUH); in consequence, they have the political and social as well as religious authority.
Political and religious guidance emanate from them and they are guardians over the believers, as God is the guardian of believers and as God delegated this guardianship to the Prophet, his authority is rooted in the mentioned Divine authority. As the authority of imams is rooted in the divine, why should not be the same applied to the deputies of Imam during the time of occultation?
Guardianship of the Prophet was originally established and legitimized by God’s appointment. Following this interpretation, the followers of the imams provide a large number of traditions and historical evidence that confirm the delegation of the imams, by God, through the Prophet, as “guardians of the believers” (wali).
3. The holders of authority during the age of occultation of Imam Mahdi
After the death of Prophet Mohammad, Ali and his descendents exercised God vice regency on earth. This authority and governance in both religious and political matters was to remain theirs until the end of time. What can we say about authority and legitimacy in the time of occultation of the Mahdi, a time we are now experiencing according to Shia Doctrine?
We are currently living in the age of the Twelve Imam, the Mahdi. He is found in a state of occultation. Does it mean that being in this state of occultation he does not govern the Shia society? Occultation of the Imam is divided according to Shia in the minor and major occultation. During the time of minor occultation, the Mahdi had appointed public deputies to guide the Shia in his absence. What does Shia Doctrine say about the Great Occultation? Has the deputation stop in the time the Shia community is currently experiencing?
According to Shia political doctrine, authority bestows upon a deputy by the infallible Imam and we can observe there is an important distinction between the specific designation of a deputy, and the ‘general’ designation of a number of deputies.
As while, there was an explicit nomination for each of the Imams to undertake leadership, and for the vice regency of the four deputies during the minor absence, the guardianship of the jurists during the greater absence is a ‘general’ designation. This means that no one is exclusively appointed as leader and deputy. Therefore, jurists who are just and qualified in Islamic jurisprudence have the right to exercise the Imam’s authority as his deputies.
Regarding the leadership of the Islamic community during the period of greater occultation, the authority as well as leadership is entrusted to the just and capable scholar, who acts as a deputy to the absent Imam, through a system of vice regency. So the guardianship of a jurist is legitimized and his authority is related to the original and absolute authority of God. In plus the jurist must be accepted by believers. As I mentioned above, a clear distinction should be drawn, however, between the authority of an imam and the guardianship of the scholars.
The Imams, whose authority is established upon their explicit designation by the Prophet, delegate and entrust a degree of their authority to those who possess specific qualities (such as justice and jurisprudence in the case of the scholar). Therefore, whereas the Imams were specifically appointed as guardians of legitimate authority, the jurists are not explicitly selected by name, but rather implicitly chosen as those who possess the correct qualities for leadership.
God has appointed prophets to run humanity in spiritual as well as in social and political matters. The last prophet appointed imams as legitimate holders of authority in religious as well as in political and social matters. Therefore, it is only logic to assume that in an era of occultation, the present Imam appointed his deputies to order in matters religious as well as political and social.
The doctrine of “guidance of the jurisprudent”( wilayat-e-faqih) forms the central axis of contemporary Shia political thought, advocating a guardianship based political system, which relies upon a just and capable jurist to assume the leadership of the government in the absence of an infallible Imam.
Today, in a time of the Hidden Imam, the guidance of the jurisprudent is the authority designated to learned jurist so that they may direct and advise the Muslim community in the absence of an infallible Imam. This authority derives from the Imam; therefore, the believers have the religious duty to obey their commands as the only legitimate authority. The concept of leadership encompasses many degrees of authority, summing up to the total scope of the scholar’s vice regency in the absence of an infallible Imam.
Some erroneously assume that it is something new and in essence distinguishable from the traditional status of marjayat. This misunderstanding is caused by a lack of attention to the definitions of and the relationship between ‘wilayat’ and ‘marjayat’ and the distinction between ‘fatwa’ and ‘hukm’ (the commands of faqih as wali, leader).
This misunderstanding comes from the wrong conception that the role of a marja’a taqlid is solely a juridical authority to whom the Muslim community may refer to in the case of religious questions and commandments concerning the practical and personal side of Islam. However, this definition is not comprehensives as it concentrates itself exclusively on one of the legitimized functions of a jurist, while overlooking the others. He is an expert in Islamic Law, a guide and proof of God’s existence, a model to follow and a leader as the deputy of the imam. He is wali (leader) when he acts as a leader of someone and a marja’a taqlid when he is referred to in religious matters.
Wilayat al-faqih refers to the all-comprehensive authority of the jurist (faqih) in the absence of the twelfth Imam. “Wilayat al-faqih” may include functions like wilayat al-nizam (the authority to manage public order), wilayat al-qada (the authority to administer justice), wilayat al-siyasa (the authority to administer a government and hold political office and wilayat al-tasarruf (authority for the jurist to act in a way that he judges to be the best in the interest of the community). A corollary to the wilayat al-faqih may include the duty to declare a jihad. It is to be noted that not all mujtahids accept the concept of the all-embracing and comprehensive view of wilayat al-faqih.
Marja al-taqlid refers to the role of a mujtahid who is competent to derive juridical rulings from the Quran and hadith literature and is able to arrive at solutions that are not explicitly stated in the sources, by having recourse to the principles as stated in usul al-fiqh. Such a mujtahid is qualified to issue juridical verdicts (or fatwa) and is a source of reference for followers, who pursue him by doing his taqlid (which literally means to imitate his acts).
Thus, it is possible for a person to be a marja al-taqlid without occupying the position of wilayat al-faqih. In addition, the other way around in also accepted, since in the Iranian constitution the leader is not obligatory a marja, and can be a simple mujtahid having leadership and managerial abilities.
Wilayat is a part of marjayat in the culture of the Shia.
The great marjas not only guided people with respect to the divine Law, but they also led people in the particular problems of society, for example when judging between people in particular matters and domestic disputes. The reason that the jurisprudent is an authority in matters of the law is because of his specialization in jurisprudence and his power to derive the rules of God from their sources. The reason aside from the above-mentioned qualities, for a jurisprudent to become a leader depends on his ability to manage society according to the principles and values of Islam.
It is because of this that it becomes possible for a person to be chosen as a leader due not so much to his aptitude in jurisprudence as much as to his better management skills. The separation of the offices of the marja and the leader becomes a reasonable, and in some instances, a necessary expedient. In principle, leadership is confined to a single person, whereas the marjayat is applicable to numerous individuals, just as does the possibility that the two offices to be combined in a single individual.
Since following the orders of the leader is obligatory upon all people, including other jurisprudents, and it is forbidden to disobey his orders, hence it is not possible for people to follow other than the leader in matters related to the social order and the running of society.
What was said above regarding the authority of the jurisprudent was in reference to the individual order and to matters of a personal nature; it is in these matters that people can follow other than the leader.
When the jurisprudent refers to the religious sources in order to obtain the general rule of God regarding a certain problem and uses the special techniques that exist for obtaining the rules of the Law, it is called giving an edict or “fatwa”. When the leader pays attention to the general rules of God, the various systems in Islam, and the conditions of the time, and according to these delineates a person’s or a specific group’s responsibility with regards to a certain matter, this is called giving an order or a “hukm”.
In doing this, he not only pays attention to the general rules of Islam and the lofty aspirations of the religion, but also to the specific conditions that exist in that time. The rules of God and the edicts of the jurisprudent who has all the necessary qualifications are mandatory, just like the rulings of the leader, but with this difference that the jurisprudents rulings are mandatory to him and his followers only, while everyone must follow the orders of the leader.
According to the logic of the “leadership of the jurisprudent” and its proofs, the jurisprudent takes upon himself the management of society and in accordance with the values of Islam, he takes on the responsibility of leadership. Nevertheless, marjayat means simply to issue an edict and is a completely different matter. The reason that the jurisprudent is an authority in matters of the law is because of his specialization in jurisprudence and his power to derive the rules of God from their sources. On the other hand, the reason that a leader is what he is is because aside from the aforementioned qualities, he has the ability to manage society according to the principles and values of Islam.
It is because of this that it becomes possible for a person to be chosen as a leader due not so much to his aptitude in jurisprudence as much as to his better management skills. It is possible that there be numerous specialists in society. Moreover, this is something that is to be sought after, so that everyone can refer to them with ease and obtain their rulings.
A multiplicity of centers of decision-making would cause disturbance so, it is imperative for the Shia that the leader to be one. It is not however necessary that various jurisprudents issue one edict in order that society remains undisturbed. Leadership is confined to a single person, whereas the marjayat is applicable to numerous individuals.
That the office of Wali-e faqih and the Marja do not have to be one and the same according to the Iranian Islamic Republic, Constitution as I mentioned above. It could be or it could be not. It depends on the person who assumes that position. When it is one and the same, he should be considered a marja when issuing a fatwa and a wali when issuing orders in political as social matters.
The beginning of Islam is not separate from the beginning of the Shia as it started with the Prophet Muhammad (PUBH), and has been preserved in its original form by the succession of Imams.
Prophet Mohammad had the duty to propagate God’s message, to teach the laws of religion and guidance, to judge between people and to lead and manage the society. These qualities and functions existed for the imams and exist for the jurisprudents in the time of the occultation of the Last Imam. They too have three functions, to act as judges, to give edicts in law and to expound the general rules of the Divine law for the people and to lead.
A system of government by the jurist is therefore understandable for the Shia. Its legitimacy comes from God himself, throughout history. It is a chain through legitimacy transmits itself. Prophets, then imams, managed God’s rule on earth at first and today, the jurist manages it. Jurists are divinely legitimated and are accepted by believers.
Understanding this governance of the jurisprudent as well as the general guidance of a marja is of high importance in understanding the legitimacy of the jurisprudent today when guiding the Shia Community.
This chain of guidance and legitimacy, as well as of authority is confined in the Mahdism Doctrine. Without the believe in the Mahdi’s return at the end of time to establish equity and justice, without the believe that during his absence the believer must await positively, by acting rightfully and establishing a close to perfection society, the chain would have been cut dramatically.
While studying in one of the numerous seminaries in Qom, I had the opportunity to ask a great scholar about Mahdism and the guidance of the jurisprudent. His answer…though simple and concise was that Wilayat-e- faqih is an exact replica of Mahdism.
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