What Is the Islamic Belief on the Coming of the Messiah?
29 SEP 2017
Some version of the Messiah is common to the world's most well-known monotheistic religions. In Islam, Jesus is given the title of Messiah, but Muslims also have their own messianic figure. Both Jesus and Mahdi, or the Twelfth Imam, will return at the end of days to fulfill their respective roles.
1 Messiah Defined
The word Messiah comes from Hebrew and means "the annointed one." The Quran refers to Jesus by this term. However, Jesus will not be the one to bring about the end of days, according to Muslim beliefs. The word Mahdi is more common among Muslims. It means "the guided one" and is interpreted differently by various Muslim groups and denominations. Traditional Muslim texts do not mention Mahdi or any sort of messianic coming in the future.
The Quran describes the story of Jesus much the same as way as in the Bible. It uses the word Messiah exclusively to denote Jesus. For example, in Verse 3:45, the Quran says, "O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus." However, Muslims do not generally call Jesus the son of God. Instead, they think of him as a prophet and hold him in high regard. Similarly, for Muslims, Jesus as Messiah indicates that Jesus was a messenger from God and the most important prophet before Muhammad.
The two main sects of Islam are Sunni and Shiite. Both groups hold the belief that the Mahdi will appear as a messianic figure, although they do not usually use the word "Messiah" to describe him. When he comes, time or the world will end and justice and peace will be restored. In his book "A Muslim Primer," Hebrew and Jewish Studies scholar Ira G. Zepp, Jr. says, "for Sunnis this [Mahdi] refers to a more anonymous figure." In fact, many Sunnis don't believe in the idea of Mahdi at all. However, Muslims of both persuasions "believe that Jesus will also come before the Day of Judgment to defeat the forces of the ad-Dajjal (the anti-Christ)." But Mahdi and Jesus are not the same person in this scenario, as noted by the word "also."
4 Shiites and the Twelfth Imam
Shiites have a more specific understanding of Mahdi. They call him the Twelfth Imam, who is believed to have disappeared in 873 when he was four years old. When he comes out of hiding, Zepp explains, Shiites expect "the reestablishment of a just and pure Islamic state," which will be "a form of the Kingdom of God." The Twelfth Imam is the direct descendant of early Muslim Imams, including Ali, the First Imam and also the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad.
- 1 Many Peoples, Many Faiths (8th Ed.): Robert S. Ellwood and Barbara A. McGraw
- 2 Essential Islam: Diane Morgan
- 3 A Muslim Primer (2nd Ed.): Ira G. Zepp, Jr.
- 4 Quran: Surat 'Āli `Imrān (Family of Imran): 3:45
- 5 Encyclopaedia Britannica: Ali (Muslim caliph)
- 6 Encyclopaedia Britannica: mahdi (Islamic concept)