TEHRAN (Christian Examiner) – Shiite Muslims awaiting the return of the Mahdi – a messianic figure – can expect to see him return in a "spaceship" of sorts, Iran's Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi said in a recent interview about the apocalyptic figure.
According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Shirazi said the figure's arrival will not be like in the olden days of Islam "with a sword." It will instead be "high-tech, as befits the modern age."
In Shiite Islam, the Mahdi – also called "the hidden imam" because they believe he was born but disappeared – will return to cleanse the world of all evil in preparation for the final Day of Judgment. Shiites believe the Mahdi will be assisted in battling against a false messiah by Jesus.
Though there is no description of any such figure in the Quran, several other Muslim writings (hadiths) contain information about the leader they believe will come. Sunnis also believe in a Mahdi who is to come.
Shirazi said one ancient source from the eighth century A.D. claimed the world would no longer need sunlight when the Mahdi comes because the land will be illuminated by "divine light."
"The interpretation of this saying is that the issue of light and energy is expressed in that both in daytime and nighttime powerful lights can replace sunlight," he said. In other words, the lights of the ship will provide light for humanity.
"Another hadith states: With regards to [the Mahdi], God elevates low places and lowers high places, so that the entire world is visible to him like the palm of his hand," he said.
"Today we use satellites [and by means of them] cover extensive areas, so that anyone with a receiver can use them .... In the time of the Mahdi's arrival, there will be a powerful apparatus that may be difficult for us to imagine today, for transmitting images so that the entire world is visible like the palm of a hand. Without worldwide control by an intelligence [apparatus], there can be no unified global regime [as foretold that there will be when the Mahdi arrives], and no peace, security, and decency... Therefore, God grants him this tool... Once again I stress that this is a routine matter, and that it is inconceivable that it will come about based on a miracle; rather [it will come about] by means of ordinary tools that are based on scientific and industrial advances."
Shirazi then discusses a "bestial vessel" which is reserved for the Mahdi.
"Bestial" means "like an animal," but it also means "savage" or "punishing." It isn't clear which Shirazi meant at the time, but he described the teaching of a particular hadith in detail. He said the vessel is as "loud as thunder and fast as lightning."
The Mahdi, he said, rides on it.
"Be aware that soon he will [appear] riding on clouds, and ascending to seven heavens and seven lands. This does not refer to an ordinary cloud, as clouds are not vessels that can be sailed upon in outer space. [Clouds] travel near the atmosphere that is close to the earth, and they cannot attain great altitudes. Therefore, the meaning here is an extraordinary and very swift vessel that looks like a dense cloud in the sky; its sound is that of thunder and its power and speed is that of lightning. When it moves, it slashes the heart of the sky with extraordinary force, and in this way it can advance to any point in the firmament. Therefore, this is a super-modern vessel, and there is none like it today. It is like a spaceship and like other swift and amazing space vessels that are found [only] in stories today, but nobody knows how close [these vessels] come to truth and reality."
Shirazi said the craft, however, may not actually be a spaceship.
When the Mahdi arrives, according to the cleric, he will restore peace and criminals will be monitored using advanced technologies that listen into people's homes, so it "will be possible to understand what they [criminals, infidels] say at home."
While such discussions may seem foreign to westerners and Christians, other voices have said similar things, including Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam.
In August 2015, Farrakhan said – as he has many times before – that "wheels" in the sky (such as in Ezekiel 1). He said the wheels, or UFOs, are instruments of divine judgment on white America.
"All of the governments are releasing their files on UFOs. America's holding back, [but] other nations are informing their people of the reality of what is above their heads," Farrakhan said.
"Who do you think then that you're dealing with, if you're the best in the world but you're thousands of years behind the technology on those wheels? I'm here to tell you, you are dealing with God. You have no weapon that can handle what is already prepared to take you out," Farrakhan said.
However, in Farrakhan's version of the tale of the Muslim messiah, it will not be an unknown or hidden figure. It will be Elijah Muhammad, whom he regards as the messiah.