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CULTURE DIGEST: Princeton scholar
warns of threats from Iran on Aug. 22

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Aug. 22 could be an ominous date for Israelis and Americans based on its significance this year as one of Islam’s most revered holy days, according to a Princeton professor who says Iran may be planning “cataclysmic events” to prepare the way for Shiite Muslims’ awaited messiah.

Bernard Lewis, a professor emeritus of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, warned in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that Aug. 22 this year corresponds to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427 on the Islamic calendar, which is when Muslims commemorate the flight of the prophet Muhammad on a winged horse to Jerusalem and then to heaven and back.

Aug. 22, Lewis said, could provide an opportune moment for Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to set in motion the return of the 12th Imam, whom Shiites believe will forever end the struggle between good and evil in the last days.

“Mr. Ahmadinejad and his followers clearly believe that this time is now, and that the terminal struggle has already begun and is indeed well advanced,” Lewis wrote in The Wall Street Journal Aug. 8. “It may even have a date, indicated by several references by the Iranian president to giving his final answer to the U.S. about nuclear development by Aug. 22.”

The United Nations Security Council has asked Iran to stop all uranium enrichment by the end of August, but Iran has refused. Western nations, led by the United States, believe Iran is using its nuclear program as a cover for developing atomic weapons while Iran says the program is for generating electricity with nuclear reactors.

Ahmadinejad repeatedly has said he believes Israel should be obliterated, and he is a clear foe of the U.S. government, which he contends is against Islam and is the strongest threat to his Shiite goal of Middle East domination.

Lewis identifies another key reason Ahmadinejad is an imminent nuclear threat, based on an concept that kept nations from nuclear attacks during the Cold War — mutual assured destruction.

“There is a radical difference between the Islamic Republic of Iran and other governments with nuclear weapons,” Lewis noted. “This difference is expressed in what can only be described as the apocalyptic worldview of Iran’s present rulers.”

In other words, Iran doesn’t fear retaliation if they attack Israel or the United States because a final global struggle against an evil enemy will present them with the privileges of martyrdom as taught in Islam, Lewis wrote. Death is not a deterrent.

“It is far from certain that Mr. Ahmadinejad plans any such cataclysmic events precisely for Aug. 22. But it would be wise to bear the possibility in mind,” Lewis wrote.

AHMADINEJAD OBSESSED WITH RETURN OF 12th IMAM — Kairos Journal, which seeks to equip church leaders as they engage the culture for Christ and has several leading Southern Baptists on its editorial team, has taken a look at Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s fascination with the return of Shiite Muslims’ messiah and what that means if Ahmadinejad is armed with nuclear weapons.

“Ahmadinejad belongs to the mainstream of Shi’a Islam, known as ‘Twelvers,’” an article posted at www.kairosjournal.org stated. “They recognize a historical succession of Imams, connected by family ties, commencing with Muhammad and concluding with the 12th Imam.”

The 12th Imam was born around 868 A.D. at a time of great persecution of Shiites, the journal explained, and in order to protect him, his father, the 11th Imam, sent him into hiding. He appeared in public briefly at the age of 6 when his father died but then went back into obscurity. Shiites believe he continues to guide Muslims, and they expect his “messianic” return to bring order from chaos and righteousness from unbelief, Kairos said.

“President Ahmadinejad seems to think that the time is ripe for the 12th Imam’s reappearance and that, as president, he should play a role in opening the way for his return,” the journal said. “He is reported to have said in one of his cabinet sessions, ‘We have to turn Iran into a modern and divine country to be the model for all nations, and which will also serve as the basis for the return of the 12th Imam.’”

Like Bernard Lewis of Princeton, the Kairos authors said Ahmadinejad seems to believe “that the hand of God is guiding him to trigger a series of cataclysmic events which could precipitate the return of the 12th Imam. Only time will tell if this is his true conviction; but if he does hold such a view, his possession of nuclear weapons is a particularly scary prospect.”

BANDA ACEH ENFORCES ISLAMIC LAW — A strict Muslim behavior code — Shariah law — is being enforced in the Indonesian province of Banda Aceh, the region hardest-hit by the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Aceh is the first of Indonesia’s 33 provinces to enact Shariah law and establish special courts and enforcement personnel to catch and punish offenders. For about a year, police have been rounding up unmarried couples, gamblers, drinkers and even individual women in an effort to crack down on behavior contrary to Islamic principles, according to a report by The New York Times Aug. 1.

Many of the cases are dealt the ultimate punishment, public caning at mosques in front of crowds. And some canings are televised nationally, The Times reported.

Though Indonesia has in some ways been considered a more open-minded Muslim nation, The Times said that is changing as more orthodox Muslims are pressuring the moderates to turn toward Islamic stricter practices. What is happening in Aceh “is likely to have considerable impact on the nature of Islam in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country,” The Times noted.

Women’s groups in Aceh are particularly angered by the behavior code because of arrests they believe were unwarranted. Three women were arrested in February, for example, for not wearing headscarves while sitting on a sofa in a hotel corridor, The Times reported.

But the women’s groups have to be careful not to criticize the existence of Shariah law but only its enforcement, The Times said, for fear of being considered unfaithful Muslims.

Some citizens also are questioning the need for such law enforcement since it appears that government officials were motivated to implement it so they would receive more money. A new section of government was opened for Shariah law in Aceh, The Times reported, and new police officers and court officials had to be hired.

“Why have they not introduced the Shariah laws on corruption?” the head of the Acehnese Women’s Empowerment Group told The Times. “Stealing in Islam is a bigger sin than these small sins.”

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  • Erin Roach