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I Thought I Saw It Coming

Reader comment on item: More on Mahdaviat in Current Politics

Submitted by Fred Baehr (United States), Apr 4, 2011 at 02:08

When Ahmadinejad concluded his address to th UN he gave a prayer in which he prayed for the return of the Mahdi soon. I had to explain to friends that this was an apocalyptic thing and that he wanted to create the conditions necassary for that eventuality. They still didn't think it was very important. But this article points out that this belief of his can have serious consequences.

I have found that people like ourselves, educated citizens of the modern world, have the most difficult time believing that any people who live in their own cities can possibly be that different from ourselves. They instinctively recoil from the suggestion that millions of city dwelling Muslims around the world have a mindset that we would in ourselves call medieval superstition. They tend to think such a claim is evidence of prejudice because of their experience with Muslims with whom they have come into contact with in the west, socially, at work, or through the news. But mysticism is rife in Islam no less than in many strains of Christianity, and post- apocalypticism that hopes to bring on the end of time is a popular variety of that mysticism. When translated into political action it is potentially dangerous.

Some people consider it a form of blasphemy to think you can force God into acting by creating certain foretold conditions. I tend to agree. None the less such beliefs would seem from the strictly rationalist point of view to border on insanity.

I was recently at a lecture given by an Imam in Honolulu. The Imam told a story about Mohammed talking with a palm tree and assuring it a place in paradise, at which the tree rejoiced. He was telling this story as being as factually true as, say, that Mohammed went from Mecca to Medina. I believe it is a well known tale. It caught my interest. First of all it implies that trees have human emotions, can speak human language and have aspirations toward salvation and eternal life, in other words, that trees are mentally just like us. This would be animism, and it is odd that an animist belief should be attached to Mohammed, who threw down the 360 animist idols at the Kaaba, and repudiated animism thereafter. It also occurred to me that there is a word which we use to describe people who have conversations with trees, and that word is "insane". Only a psychotic could believe he is talking to a tree that is talking back to him. So is this old story evidence that Mohammed was psychotic, or might it be evidence that Mohammed was a clever manipulator of the mystically inclined people with whom he was surrounded?

Of course Islam is far from singular in this sort of mysticism, but modern people of most faiths have reconsidered their old tales from scripture in the light of rationalistic reasoning, but possibly less so in Islam. That Ahmadinejad is a dangerous and virulent person is all too obvious to me. But could it be that he is a genuine believer in mystical possibilities that would render him insane by rationalist standards common in the west? In other words is it fair and descriptive rather than merely insulting to call him insane? And if so, how far must we then extend this judgement upon others with mystical belief systems in religions around the world? Is mystical religion insane?

Submitting....

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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