November 2010

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Shi’ite Islam: On the Wrong Track

by Keith Carey

“Shi’ite Muslims are the product of the violent schism that followed the death of the prophet Mohammed in AD 632 and through the centuries have generally been the losers in the struggle to lead the faithful and to divide patronage and power. That has left them with a sharp feeling of dispossession, of being a people denied their destiny by corrupt rulers” (CS Monitor).

This quote gets to the heart of why Shi’ite Muslims do what they do in today’s world. The Shi’ite Muslims have played second fiddle to the far more numerous Sunnis ever since they had their initial split about 30 years after the death of Islam’s founder, Mohammed. Those who eventually became the Sunni sector thought that a “worthy” man should become the leader of the entire Islamic ummah, or community. Those who eventually became the Shi’ites believed that a direct descendant of Mohammed should become the caliph (leader) of the caliphate (political state ruled by Islamic Law). They believed that Ali, Mohammed’s first cousin and closest male relative, should become caliph. They think that Mohammed himself chose Ali as his successor.

After the death of Mohammed, it took 35 years for Ali to take the leadership position because other “worthy” individuals were given the title before him. When he did, his rule was often contested, and Ali was killed in 661AD. His main rival, Mu’awiya, claimed the caliphate. Ali’s older son Hassan accepted a pension in exchange for not pursuing his claim as leader, but he was still assassinated within a year. Hussein, Ali’s younger son, agreed to postpone his claim to the caliphate until Mu’awiya died. When that happened, Mu’awiya’s son Yazid took the caliphate. Hussein led an army against Yazid, but he and his men were slaughtered at the Battle of Karbala, in southern Iraq. (source) To this day, Shi’ite Muslim’s acknowledge his death each year. Hussein was survived by his infant son, Ali. The Shi’ites still recognize the line of Ali as the legitimate rulers of the Islamic caliphate. Yazid formed the hereditary Ummayad Dynasty, which was recognized by the Sunnis.

Today most Shi’ite Muslims think that there were 12 imams, whom they regard as infallible interpreters of law and tradition. (Most of these imams were persecuted or killed by the Sunnis). Each imam was the direct descendent of the Prophet Mohammed through Hussein and Ali. This era ended in 873 with the disappearance of the 12th Shi’ite Imam, Mohammed al-Mahdi when he was four years old. Shi’ites believe he disappeared and will reappear some day ushering in an era of peace and justice.

Shi’ite Muslims Gaining Power in the 21st Century

As you have seen, the Sunni branch of Islam has held political power for many centuries. Yet both branches of Islam emphasize the importance of political power. Since the Shi’ites have lacked the power of their Sunni cousins, they tend to emphasize martyrdom and suffering, especially that of Ali and Hussein.
Today, Shi’ites make up only 10-15 percent of the Muslim world, with the Sunnis taking up almost all the rest. Shi’ites are the majority in only a few Muslim countries: Bahrain, Lebanon, Iraq, and (most importantly) Iran. However, Shi’ite political power has increased considerably since their zealots took control of Iran’s government in 1979. They have established the terrorist group Hezbollah as a bulwark against Israel’s power in the Middle East. Sunni Muslims regard this as a threat to their own influence over the Palestinian Arabs. However, the government of Syria, which is dominated by Sunnis, is very friendly with both Iran’s government and with Hezbollah. The latter is a powerful political force in Lebanon where they oppose neighboring Israel.

This decade has been especially good for those who crave Shi’ite Muslim geopolitical power. When the U.S. toppled the Sunni Muslim based Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-based regime in Iraq, it removed two of Shi’ite Iran’s biggest rivals. Since that time, Iraq’s 60 percent Shi’ite majority has been able to enjoy more political power than they have had since the 1920s. To gain more power in Iraq, they have committed atrocities against the formerly powerful Sunni minority through militias like the Mahdi Army. Iran, the heart and soul of Shi’ite Islam, is in the process of developing nuclear weapons. Political power is rising for the Shi’ites, and they anticipate great changes in their favor at the expense of others. (source 1, 2).

A Twisted Second Coming

At the heart of orthodox Shi’ite theology lies the second coming of the Hidden Imam, also known as the Mahdi. Remember that Shi’ites believe that a descendent of Islam’s prophet, Mohammed, should always lead Islam as an imam. But their 12th such “imam” disappeared at a young age, and thus had no male descendents. Shi’ites believe that he was taken up to heaven. Until his return as the ultimate savior to bring justice and peace they will have to depend on Shi’ite clergymen for political leadership. (http:www.drsoroush.com/English/On_DrSoroush/E-CMO-20021100-Islam-A_Mosaic-Not_a_Monolith.html). After a battle between the forces of good and evil, the Mahdi will rule in a 1,000-year reign of peace. Unjust rulers who are not connected with the Prophet Mohammed will be destroyed at that time. Jesus, one of Islam’s other prophets, fits in with this, but He is not as central to their theology as the 12th Imam.
Their idea of “justice” includes a time where Shi’ites are vindicated as being right, and the entire world will be under their political control. No longer will they have to face abuse, persecution and martyrdom as they have throughout their history. Remember that Islam focuses heavily on political power. “Might makes right” means perfect justice if it means that they have absolute political power.

This has some twisted ramifications in today’s world. According to an October 15, 2008 article in the Los Angeles Times, there are fringe Shi’ite groups in Iraq that are trying to cause chaos to hasten the second coming of the Mahdi. One such group tried to convince a vulnerable young widow to commit adultery with an older man to “speed the return” of the Mahdi. (http://articles.latimes.com/2008/oct/15/world/fg-cults15). In fairness to most Shi’ite Muslims, this would be repulsive behavior.

Speeding the return of the Mahdi explains many of the beliefs and actions of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His determination to develop nuclear weapons and his caustic stance towards the United States and Israel fit in with his desire to usher in this second coming. (http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2008/0924/p06s01-wome.html). Ahmadinejad has publically accused the U.S. of trying to prevent the coming of the Mahdi (See http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2009/12/07/93422.html).

One of the main differences between Sunni and Shi’ite Islam is the latter’s emphasis on death and martyrdom. On December 15th, Shi’ite Muslims will begin Ashura, their annual time of mourning over the “martyrdom” of Hussein, during the Battle of Karbala. Hussein was the grandson of Mohammed. Shi’ites regard Hussein as among the holiest of men. In simple terms, Hussein was the founder of their sect of Islam. Ashura will be commemorated by sermons, marches and bloody self-flagellation by hundreds who identify with the suffering of their holy man. To use a prayer guide for Ashura, go to: http://www.cryoutnow.org/videogallery/index.html


How Should We Pray for Shi’ite Muslims?

  • Pray that as Shi’ite Muslims commemorate Ashura next month that they will realize that they are on the wrong track.
  • Shi’ite Muslims understand that there is purpose in death and martyrdom, though the meaning has been twisted. Pray that they will understand the importance of Christ’s death on the cross to pay for their sins.
  • Shi’ite Muslims enthusiastically anticipate the Second Coming of the Mahdi. Pray that they will soon understand that the One they call a prophet, Jesus, is the One to look for instead of the Mahdi.
  • Pray that Shi’ite Muslims will anticipate the Second Coming with repentance of sin rather than a false hope for worldwide political power.

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From the Editor

by Keith Carey

Dear Praying Friends,

The Shi’ite Muslims are far less numerous than their Sunni Muslim cousins. Shi’ite Muslims believe that the “Twelfth Imam” will come to earth to bring justice and set the world straight. Shi’ites also believe in having the clergy direct the government, a more radical position than the Sunnis. 
The problem with Shi’ite theology is that it is designed to bring political power to their sect rather than establish the reign of the True, just King. The good thing about their beliefs is that, unlike Sunni Muslims, the Shi’ites understand that the righteous often die unjustly. It would be easy for them to accept that Isa (Jesus), a righteous man, died on the cross. By contrast, Sunni do not believe that Allah would allow the righteous to die at the hands of sinners.
This is an important time to be praying for the Shi’ite Muslims. We live in a time when Iran, the leader of the Shi’ite world, is gaining political and military power. As you will see from several of our prayer entries, many Iranians are discontented with their government’s Shi’ite Islamic rulers, and their spiritual answers. According to Shi’ite theology, if you reject the clergy who rule the country, you are also rejecting their religious system. For some Iranians, this offers an opening for spiritual change. Iran’s youths are looking for truth. Pray that they will find their spiritual answers in Christ.
In Him,
 
Keith Carey, managing editor, GPD