Ahmadinejad, like supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a majority of Shi’ites, adheres to the belief in the twelfth imam – also known as the “hidden” imam, Mahdi – who disappeared more than a thousand years ago but miraculously has been kept alive, pending his emergence at a time of global chaos.
The chaos component of that belief has given rise to concerns in some circles that Iranian leaders may seek to expedite the process in a bid to hasten the Mahdi’s appearance.
“Apparently, Ahmadinejad sees himself as an instrument to pave the way for the arrival of Imam Mahdi,” the pan-Arabic media group Al-Bawaba said in an article published in 2006, during a period of intensified concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities and ambitions.
The Iranian president, who has addressed the UNGA’s fall session in New York every year since taking power in 2005, has mentioned the Mahdi in past speeches. In 2009, for example, he urged Allah to “hasten the arrival of al-Mahdi,” who he said would “return” and, with the help of the righteous and true believers, usher in a time of peace.
This year’s speech – his last, since his second and final presidential term ends in mid-2013 – ended with a lengthier section on the mystical subject than in the past. He also suggested that the Mahdi’s return is not far off, likening it to a coming spring after a “winter of ignorance.” In the context of earlier parts of the speech, the Iranian regime evidently views the United States and Israel as largely responsible for that “winter of ignorance.”
“Now we can see and sense the sweet scent and the soulful breeze of the spring, a spring that has just begun and doesn’t belong to a specific race, ethnicity, nation or a region, a spring that will soon reach all the territories in Asia, Europe, Africa and America,” he said.
(The spring reference could relate to the so-called “Arab spring” – which Iran views less than a movement ushering in democracy than an “Islamic awakening” inspired by Iran’s 1979 revolution.)
“The arrival of the ultimate savior [a term Shi’ites use for the Mahdi] will mark a new beginning, a rebirth and a resurrection. It will be the beginning of peace, lasting security and genuine life,” Ahmadinejad said.
“His arrival will be the end of oppression, immorality, poverty, discrimination and the beginning of justice, love and empathy.”
Ahmadinejad ended by calling on mankind to prepare the way for the Mahdi’s advent.
“Let us join hands and clear the way for his eventual arrival with empathy and cooperation, in harmony and unity,” he said. “Let us march on this path to salvation for the thirsty souls of humanity to taste immortal joy and grace.”
Ahmadinejad apparently views his UNGA appearances as a theological opportunity. Months after his first UNGA speech, in 2005, he told clerics in Iran that as he delivered his address in New York he had sensed a divine hand entrancing his listeners.
Near the beginning of Wednesday’s speech he told the gathering, “I am here to voice the divine and humanitarian message of learned men and women of my country to you and to the whole world.”
The four minute-long Mahdi section of the 2012 speech received relatively little media coverage. A Nexis search found that a French news agency report angled on the Mahdi remarks was mostly picked up by outlets in Islamic countries, especially Lebanon, Pakistan and Gulf states.
Joel C. Rosenberg, a best-selling Christian author and commentator who has worked as an aide to Israeli politicians including Binyamin Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky, has written books on Shia theology.
“Islamic theologians say Muslim political leaders today are supposed to set into motion the annihilation of Judeo-Christian civilization as we know it and create the conditions of chaos and carnage to hasten the arrival of the Twelfth Imam,” he wrote on his blog Wednesday, in an article on Ahmadinejad’s UNGA speech. “Then the Mahdi is supposed to turn all these wars and killings to his advantage and establish justice and peace.”
“As I have both described and documented in my books, it is this Shia End Times theology that is driving Iranian foreign policy today,” Rosenberg continued. “This is why the mullahs in Tehran are working so hard to pursue nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, to prepare the way for the rise of this Islamic kingdom or caliphate.”