Islamic messianism has been exploited on numerous occasions in Iranian history but rarely with the same intensity as that witnessed in the modern period, an era marked by messianic hopes and chiliastic tensions. This panel will seek to broaden scholarly understanding of Islamic messianism through three presentations exploring how messianism has been received, conceived and reconceived in Iranian Islam. The aim of this panel will be to gain a greater understanding of this powerful concept in Islamic thought and to consider some of the ways it has been negotiated by Iranians throughout history. The first paper, “After a Break in the Sequence: Moses and the Messiah in Early and Modern Shi`i Literature,” will examine the changing images of Moses vis-à-vis the Shi`i messiah from early to contemporary works. The second presentation, “The Shi‘i Mahdi and the Sunni Mahdi: Towards a Comparative Study,” will compare the figure of the Mahdi in the earliest Sunni and Shi`i primary sources. The final two papers will focus on the modern period. The third paper, “The Baha’i Faith and Islamic Messianism in Iran,” examines the messianic aspirations of Iranian Muslims and Baha’is based on study of two of the foremost messianic sources in the Baha’i corpus. The fourth paper will argue that the promotion of Shi`i-Sunni rapprochement by a prominent 20th century Grand Ayatollah was in no small measure a reaction to the post-messianic Baha’i religion.
The image of pre-Islamic prophets in the corpus of Twelver Shi`i messianic literature has to date received little scholarly attention. This paper will be the first attempt to examine the changing conceptions of Moses, the prophet mentioned more than any other in the Qur’an, as encountered in Shi`i classical and contemporary works written to prove the occultation (ghayba) of the Shi`i messiah known as the Qa’im or hidden Imam. Events in the life of Moses as recounted in the Qur'an come to represent a template for the life of the Qa'im in Shi`i hadiths. One particularly important and lengthy hadith casts Moses's role as the messianic deliverer of the Israelites as a typological prefiguration of the mission of the Qa'im, defining occultation as the interregnum between two prophets (in this case, Joseph and Moses) when the earth is bereft of a prophet or messenger. This hadith bares striking similarity to a set of controversial Traditions recorded by early Shi`i scholars stipulating that the Qa’im will only rise after an interval or break in the series of Imams (`ala fatra min al-a’imma), i.e., after a period of time when there are no Imams, just as the Prophet Muhammad appeared after a break in the sequence of Messengers. After presenting these hadiths, this paper will focus on attempts by Shi`i scholars and Qur'an commentators to negotiate such Traditions. As we will see, although such Traditions are found in early Shi`i works, they are either passed over in silence or at times blatantly distorted by some contemporary works, including Persian translations.