Inside Iran: Signs of the Apocalypse

July 7, 2006
By George Thomas
CBN News Sr. Reporter

CBN.com – QOM, Iran - Whether it is his belief that Israel should be wiped off the map, denials of the Holocaust, obsession with going nuclear, or support for radical Islamic terrorist groups, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a man on a divine mission.

To understand him and that mission, you have to travel to a small dusty village called Jamkaran that is tucked into a corner of Iran's holy city of Qom.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, CBN News made that journey, heading south from Iran's capital of Tehran. Some 95 miles and a couple of wrong turns later, we arrived at the Jamkaran mosque on the outskirts of Qom.

Behind the Jamkaran mosque, there is a well. And according to many Shiite Muslims, out of this well will one day emerge their version of an Islamic savior.

They call him the Mahdi, or the 12th Imam. Ron Cantrell has written a book about him.

"The Mahdi is a personage that is expected to come on the scene, by Islam, as a messiah figure. He is slotted to come at the end of time, according to their writings -- very much like how we think of the return of Jesus," said Cantrell.

Cantrell said the Mahdi, a descendent of the Prophet Mohammed, vanished in the middle of the 9th century. No one knows what he really looks like.

"The 12th Imam disappeared around the age of 9,” said Cantrell, “with a promise that he would return and bring Islam to its total fruition, as the world's last standing religion."

Enter Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Since becoming the president of Iran in August 2005, Ahmadinejad has emerged as the Mahdi's most influential follower.

“He has stated that his mandate is to pave the way for the coming of this Islamic messiah," Cantrell explained.

In almost all his speeches, the president begs Allah to hasten the return of the Mahdi.

During one speech, he is talking to soldiers at a military parade in Tehran, which was also attended by CBN News.

“Oh, Allah, please facilitate Imam Mahdi's early return and make us one of his supporters," said Ahmadinejad.

He said something similar last September, just before ending a speech at the United Nations in New York.

"Oh mighty lord, I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository, the promised one, that perfect and pure human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace," Ahmadinejad prayed.

A few days later in Iran, Ahmadinejad told a group of religious leaders that, during his UN speech, he felt a bright light around him.

His reactions were captured on video and later posted on a conservative Iranian Web site.

"I felt it myself. I felt that the atmosphere suddenly changed, and for those 27 or 28 minutes, all the leaders of the world did not blink. When I say they didn't move an eyelid, I'm not exaggerating. They were looking as if a hand was holding them there, and had just opened their eyes to the message of the Islamic Republic,” Ahmadinejad recalled.

Ahmadinejad is reportedly tied to a radical Islamic society in Iran that believes man can hasten the appearance of the Mahdi by creating chaos in the world.

Ahmadinejad has stated that this chaos must take place before the Mahdi can come on the scene.

Some wonder if Ahmadinejad believes these are the end times. And, whether his calls for the destruction of Israel and nuclear pursuits are ways to accelerate the divine timetable.

"With him, it is a win-win situation,” Cantrell said. “If we attack him, he wins because chaos happens. If we don't attack him, he gets to create the chaos, which he has said he is willing to do."

In Shiite Muslim belief, the Madhi's second coming will be marked by apocalyptic times. Wars, famines, and floods will ravage the Earth -- followed by Judgment Day and a battle between good and evil.

On this Tuesday, as the sun dips behind the mountains that surround Jamkaran, the faithful -- many of whom voted for Ahmadinejad -- arrive by the thousands from across Iran to pray for the Mahdi's return.

Ezatallah Alimoradi, a follower of the Mahdi, said, "I feel so refreshed in my spirit when I come here to Jamkaran."

"This day belongs to the Mahdi,” said another follower, Akram Alsadat Emmami, “and I've come to share my heart with him."

The night begins with a visit to the sacred well. CBN News was given a rare opportunity to film people praying there. The opening of the well is covered by a green-like metal box to prevent people from jumping in.

Most of the time here is spent praying and kissing the metal box. Others scribble prayer requests to the Mahdi on pieces of paper that are then dropped into the well.

One man asks the Mahdi to forgive his sins. "If you ask in the right way, your prayers will be answered," he explained.

Another seeks healing for family members. "I don't come here just to pray for myself,” he said. “I also ask the Mahdi to take care of my family and their needs."

Many, like one young boy with a flashlight, believe the Mahdi is actually hiding at the bottom of the well, reading those prayer requests.

"I was looking into the well with my flashlight,” the boy said, “hoping to see the Mahdi -- but not tonight."

Shia tradition teaches that if you come to Jamkaran 40 weeks in a row, you will "see" the Mahdi.

A woman said, "I have not had the privilege to see him yet, but I've had many dreams about him. In one of my dreams, I saw a big bright light in the sky and this figure standing over me."

The next few hours are spent praying inside the Jamkaran mosque.

At the Jamkaran mosque, I've been told that, as a non-Muslim, I am not allowed to go inside. The truth is, though, every day tens of thousands of men and women come through the mosque to say their prayers -- and also to pray that one day soon the Mahdi would return.

Nadal, a follower of the Mahdi, said, "And because we believe that he is going to come back soon, we can believe in heaven and hell and we can believe in the life after death."

Ahmadinejad's government reportedly gave $20 million to help renovate the Jamkaran mosque. There are rumors that he is planning to build a railway line connecting Tehran and Jamkaran, to ferry the faithful.

And apparently, Ahmadinejad has also drawn up plans for the road that the Mahdi will take when he returns.

Cantrell said, "...that will actually serve as the red carpet rolled out in Iran for the Mahdi to appear."

And if all this wasn't mystical enough, there is also the belief that when the Mahdi comes back, he will be accompanied by Jesus Christ, who is referred to as the prophet Isa.

"The Mahdi will take Jesus to Mecca,” Cantrell explained. “They will circumambulate the Kabah together. The Mahdi will teach Jesus to pray, at which time Jesus will then replace the Gospel with the Koran, and then all of us -- as Christians -- wherever you are on the face of the Earth, will convert to Islam because Islam will be deemed the one lasting pure religion."

As the West drifts closer to a potential showdown over Iran's nuclear program, followers of the Mahdi are getting ready for Judgment Day.

And many of them are convinced that President Ahmadinjead, who is considered by some as Allah's shadow on Earth, will fulfill his divine mission to prepare the world for the coming of the Islamic savior.