The return of the Redeemer and the vengeance narrative

Throughout the ages, Christians and Muslim have speculated that the return of their Redeemer was imminent. Although there is a prohibition in Islam about speculating about the time of the return of Imam Mahdi, and Christians are told that no one knows the hour or the day of Christ's reappearance, believers in both traditions have clung to the notion that their deliverance was close at hand.

For Christians, concentration on the eschatological texts of the Bible has taken on increasing significance in recent years. The creation of the state of Israel in 1948 fueled renewed interest in the fulfillment of end-times prophecies, particularly those that predicted the return of Jews to Israel and reconstruction of the Jerusalem temple that was destroyed in A.D. 70. Christians who believe in end-times prophecies tend to focus heavily on the apocalyptic verses of Daniel and Ezekiel in the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation in the New Testament.

For Shi'ia Muslims, an emphasis on the return of the twelfth Imam has been a central theme of their tradition for centuries and their prophecies are described in the Qur'an and various other hadith traditions including that of al-Mufaddal b. Umar. The texts of both faiths speak of a Redeemer who will come to restore justice and peace upon the earth after battles with the forces of evil and the oppressors of the believers. These texts convey the visions of prophets and holy men who used vivid (and often violent) imagery and prophecy to describe the end of days.

The concept of a Redeemer who is to come and establish the rule of justice and establish an everlasting peace on the earth is shared by all major religions of the world. Christians envision a second coming of Christ in which all nations will recognize his dominion to establish the kingdom of God on earth while Muslims conceive of an Imam who will rise against existing intolerable secular authority and create just social order in which Islam will be the one true religion for all nations.

Coupled with this concept, however, is also the belief in that revenge will be exacted upon the oppressor. Perhaps for similar reasons, the revenge narrative is very much a part of both traditions.

There is a certain brand of religious scholarship that emphatically states that historical context must be considered when examining the eschatological texts of any religious tradition. Professor Aziz Sachedina of the University of Virginia is one such scholar. Dr. Sachedina believes that, for believers of most major faiths, the political and social turmoil of the day was written in form of prophecy, specifically in a narrative evoking vengeance against the oppressor. Such a hope is the natural outcome among groups who have been wronged and oppressed; the need for a deliverer becomes imperative.

For Shi'ia Muslims, the oppression of the caliphs and their administrators added much to the events foretold in apocalyptic traditions, just as the oppression of the early Christians influenced early writers to put their hope in a messiah who would not only universalize the faith but would put down their oppressors. It would seem, then, that the degree of violence of the eschatological texts runs parallel to the amount of oppression experienced by the oppressed group: the deeper the oppression, the darker the apocalyptic vision.

An illustration of this concept may be found in the Bihar regarding the return of the Prophet: "With the believers, those who falsified his mission and doubted it will also return so that proper vengeance for their disbelief can be exacted from them."

This sentiment is further evidenced in the condolences that Shi'ites offer each other on the occasion of the Ashura: "May God grant us great rewards for our bereavement caused by the martyrdom of alp-Husayn (peace by upon him), and make us among those will exact vengeance for his blood with his friend the Imam al-Mahdi, from among the descendents of Muhammad (peace be upon him)."

For Christians, this sentiment is evidenced by several Old and New Testament passages including Deuteronomy 32:43 which states: "Rejoice, oh you nations, with his people. For He will avenge the blood of His servants and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land and to his people."