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Messianism in Islam

According to the New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Messianism may be described in general terms as an ideology consisting of a complex of ideas, doctrines, attitudes, and expectations which, at a particular moment in history and as a result of a specific configuration of facts, has the potential to materialize in a Messianic movement with a markedly eschatological or Utopian revolutionary character and message. Messianism, which tends to develop in conditions of frustration, stress and suffering, includes both a negative evaluation of the present as well as a hope and expectancy that the time process will bring about a major change for the better, leading either to the restoration of a past golden age or to the creation of a new one. Although Messianism both as ideology and as movement is not necessarily centered upon a Messianic figure, Messianic movements are usually initiated by a charismatic personality. 1

Messianism is a widespread ideology present among people from all kinds of cultural and religious background. As A.A. Sachedina states: "The notion of an expected deliverer who is to come... and establish the rule of justice and equity on earth, is shared by all major religions in the world. Jews, Christians, or Zoroastrians who at different times were subjected to the rules of those who did not share their religious heritage, cherished their traditions concerning a Messiah or Saoshyant of a divinely chosen line." 2 Also Shari'ati in his Expectation.. a School of Protest, acknowledges that the "yearning instinct" for a saviour is a universal phenomenon in all human cultures and that Islamic yearning for the Mahdi is identical to the expectation in Christianity of Christ's second coming and to a universal hope for establishing a "golden age". 3

The similarity of this ideology in all religions and the question of its origin often leads to studies and conclusions on the influence of one religion on another as regards the Messianism issue. For example, we find studies about the Jewish influence upon Christian and Islamic Messianism or Persian and Zoroastrian influence on Jewish, Christian or Muslim apocalypticism, Messianism and eschatology. In modern scholarship, these conclusions are a subject of controversy. In fact, the sheer extent of belief in this ideology would seem to reflect the universality and innateness of humanity's hope for a better future.

In the Islamic context, Messianism is emblemized by the eschatological figure of the Mahdi who, it is believed, will rise to restore the purity of the faith and to create an ideal religiopolitical system under a just social and legal order, a world free from oppression in which the Islamic Revelation will be the norm for all nations. However, it is difficult to discuss Messianism as a concept within the Islamic faith in general without first considering it separately within the two main branches of Islam, Sunnism and Shi'ism, as the dimensions, the functions and the importance of this ideology vary between them.

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1 "Messiah and Messianic Movements " in the New Encyclopaedia Britannica P. 1017-1022

2 A.A. Sachedina, Islamic Messianism, P.1.

3 Shari'ati, Intizar, p.4

Adapted from the book: "Mahdi in the Qur'an" by: "N. Vasram and A. Toussi"

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