The Islamic Rapture
by Ahmed Qerni
Ten years ago, when I made up my mind to leave the Qadiani Ahmadiyya (a cult to my reckoning), I was told that I would never be accepted as a Muslim by most Muslim scholars as I do not believe that Jesus is alive on the sky (or somewhere else). I really did not want to leave the shaky ground of the cult for what I considered other shaky ground, so I decided to look deeper into the issue, and found out that al-Tabari, ibn-e-Khaldun, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Allama Muhammad Iqbal, Abul Ala Maududi, Javed Ghamidi and others have always looked at the Messiah-Antichrist-Mahdi scenario skeptically, and though not traditional scholars, all are highly respected for their scholarship. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad copied these thoughts and showed them off as his revelation from God. Enough about him.
Let us explore this further.
The three protagonists of the common Islamic version of the Rapture are Maseeh ibn Maryam (Jesus, son of Mary, peace be upon him), Maseeh-Dajjal (deceptive Messiah, or Antichrist) and al-Mahdi. The first is one of the most famous persons in human history and does not require an introduction. The second is a pre-Islamic concept, mentioned by John in his epistles and described as the Beast in his Revelation. The third, as I believe, was a creation out of the necessity of some theological tangles in the Christian narrative that got absorbed into Islamic eschatology.
Let us dwell for a moment on the Antichrist – in the Bible, it is introduced in Daniel and takes his present form from the revelation of John the disciple of Jesus. Yes, absorb this fact and I never understand why most Islamic scholars do not represent it as such – the Antichrist (the concept and the description) and most of his description were first defined in the revelation of John, and not defined by Muhammad(saw), even if we believe the Ahadith about Maseeh-Dajjal. OK, please get this – the Antichrist is first defined in the revelation of John, someone who Muslims do not believe as a prophet or a recipient of divine revelation. This is not John the Baptist (Yahya a.s.) but John the disciple of Jesus who is telling us about the Antichrist and the return of Christ. The strongest attestation that the concept is pre-Islam is that of the Prophet (saw) himself:
Narrated Ibn Umar: Once Allah’s Apostle stood amongst the people, glorified and praised Allah as He deserved and then mentioned the Dajjal saying, “l warn you against him (i.e. the Dajjal) and there was no prophet but warned his nation against him. No doubt, Noah warned his nation against him but I tell you about him something of which no prophet told his nation before me. You should know that he is one-eyed, and Allah is not one-eyed.” (Saheeh Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 55 (Prophets), Hadith 553)
The al-Mahdi Ahadith are unanimously considered problematic with respect to the accepted science of narration, and diverge very much between Sunni and Shia. So many people have claimed to be Mahdi, and many others did not claim and have been known as Mahdi, that this at least deserves deeper scrutiny. Even today, with all past books at our disposal, most leading scholars disagree on the exact coming of Mahdi. Personally, I cannot believe the Guide (saw), al-Hadi, who received the Quran (the Guidance), would use the word al-Mahdi (the Guided one) for anyone in the future.
The earliest book of Ahadith (Muwatta) has no mention of Mahdi or Messiah, then the later books like Bukhari and Muslim (two books with the prefix Saheeh – trustworthy) mention Messiah but not Mahdi, and Mahdi only starts to appear in Ahadith after the Shia split and the Imamia doctrines, and it appears the stress on the al-Mahdi being part of the clan of the Prophet and of the Quraish signals some unique political circumstances of the era, and the deeply specific and peculiar descriptions of the Mahdi were fulfilled in the form of Umar bin Abdul Aziz and other people in Islamic history. Abul Ala Maududi also says that the future Mahdi will most likely be a Muslim statesman who will be known as such after his death. If so, it again goes against the common Islamic rapture scenario where the Mahdi will lead the Messiah in prayer after being requested to do so by the latter.
Most likely, the concept of the return of Jesus (more on this later) created a theological conundrum – how could an Israelite prophet, who promised of Ahmad coming *after *him, come back as the same prophet after the Last Prophet and threaten to usurp the authority of whoever was the Muslim leader of the time. I believe that the emerging concept of al-Mahdi was quickly latched upon by scholars of the time to solve this conundrum – later Ahadith tell us that al-Mahdi would be the great and last promised Muslim leader, with the same name as Muhammad(saw) and with a father of the same name, almost like a second coming, who would lead the returned Jesus in prayer, and Jesus will explicitly cede this authority to him while focusing on killing the Antichrist. Medieval scholars must have considered the problem solved!
And [mention] when Jesus, the son of Mary, said, “O children of Israel, indeed I am the messenger of Allah to you confirming what came before me of the Torah and bringing good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name is Ahmad.” But when he came to them with clear evidences, they said, “This is obvious magic.” (Quran, 61:6)