The Return of the Twelfth Imam


In a fascinating article for FrontPage Magazine titled “Now the Twelfth Imam Can Come,” scholar of Islam Robert Spencer provides a crash course on the nature of Twelver Shi’ite theology, with particular reference to a nuclearizing Iran. Shi’ites believe in the return of the so-called Twelfth Imam who is descended from Mohammed’s son-in-law Ali ibn Abni Talib, the fourth caliph assassinated in 661 in a succession war, after which the split between Sunnis and Shi’ites eventually became permanent. As Spencer explains, the Shi’ites continued a line of imams, “members of Muhammad’s household and his prophetic heirs. Each one in turn, over two centuries, was poisoned.…According to the traditions of Twelver Shi’ism, the official religion of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the twelfth of these Imams, a boy of five years old, disappeared under mysterious and disputed circumstances in the year 874 – but remained alive.” Though communicating with the world through various agents, he entered the state of “occultation” in 941, promising to return when the time would be propitious.

The reigning authority on Twelver Shi’ism is the historian Emmanuel Sivan, who in his magisterial volume on the subject, Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics, warned that an integral part of Shi’a Islam’s belief and thought involves the initiating of a planetary conflagration. This belief system posits that Allah’s kingdom will be established on earth by the Twelfth or Hidden Imam, also known as the Mahdi, whose advent can be hastened by creating the right set of circumstances: friction and misunderstanding among the nations and violent upheavals in a welter of blood and fire.

Incredulous westerners who would pass this off as merely a quaint belief to be taken with a grain of salt, or indeed with a whole salt shaker, should reconsider. Sivan spends many pages describing and analyzing the Shi’ite vision of an “ideal, legitimate state to be instituted by its leader, the Hidden Imam.” Over the course of history, he writes, a “minority of Shi’ites, quite substantial and dangerous at times, would move from pessimistic idealism to an optimistic brand of the same approach—the imam’s arrival is imminent, God’s kingdom is bound to be brought upon earth by this messiah (mahdi), and one should help precipitate its descent by armed revolt.” The Mahdi’s arrival has been eagerly anticipated and rumor has it that Iran’s former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—like Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, a fervent believer in the Mahdi’s parousia—widened a boulevard in Tehran to welcome the savior with public celebrations. This may be a canard, but even were it the case, Ahmadinejad need not have bothered. That was yesterday; today is a new beginning.

What the world does not yet know is precisely that of which the Iranian mullahs are now gleefully aware, namely, that the Twelfth Imam has already returned and is hard at work arranging the coming apocalypse. According to an occult scripture, unearthed in a clay jar at an excavation works near the Arak nuclear site, that only the ayatollahs and a few select individuals (like the present writer) have been privileged to study, the Mahdi has fulfilled all the signs and portents that announce his presence.*

* Labelled the Arak Codex #190001, this document reposes in the Inscriptions Department of the Malik National Museum of Iran in Tehran.