Published: 00:00 GMT Daylight Time - Monday 21 August 2006
Muhammad's Night Journey and President Ahmadinejad of Iran
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has stated that his reply to the international demands that Iran stop enriching uranium will be given on the 22 August 2006. Observers noted that this date is an important Muslim festival, commemorating Muhammad's Night Journey (isra') on a miraculous winged steed (Burak) from Mecca to Jerusalem and his Ascent (mi'raj) from the Temple Mount into paradise where he conversed with former prophets like Abraham and Moses and led them in prayer, thus proving his God-given pre-eminence over them. In some variations of the story, Muhammad sees God's throne and God himself face-to-face. On this day around the Muslim world, gatherings are held in mosques, the story is recited and sweets and food distributed with great joy. There has been much speculation as to the symbolic meaning of Ahmadinejad's choice of this day as the appropriate date for delivering his response to what he perceives as demeaning Western demands.
The Quran does not mention Jerusalem by name, but simply "the farthest mosque" (al-masjid al-aqsa), which some Muslim commentators identified as a place in the Arabian Peninsula. However, later commentators, and modern Muslim consensus, agree that Jerusalem was the locale, and the story is used to stake Islam's claim to Jerusalem as against Jewish and Christian claims and to institutionalise Jerusalem as Islam's third most holy city.
While some Muslim commentators believe the event was a dream or a mystical vision, for most Muslims Muhammad's Night Journey and Ascension are a factual real-life historical event which bears witness to Muhammad's exalted position as the last and final Prophet, and to Islam's elevated status as God's final revealed religion superseding Judaism and Christianity and given supreme power and dominion in this world.
The Night Journey thus has deep symbolic meaning for Muslims in their rejection of Jewish religious rights in Jerusalem, and for Muslim claims of superiority over the Christian West as God's chosen people, given political dominion and power over those who did not accept God's final revelation in Muhammad.
In Ahmadinejad's worldview, the time of Western infidel hegemony in the world has come to an end. This is the time of the resurgence of Islam, when in preparation for the return of the Mahdi, the Muslim end time saviour, God is restoring Islam's natural right to power and dominion in the world, giving Muslim states the oil, money, weapons and power to assume a leading position in world affairs. The time of humiliation is over, and given the assured final victory of the Mahdi and of Islam, there is no need for pragmatic accommodations and compromises.
Bernard Lewis, one of the foremost scholars of Islam, warns that Ahmadinejad might use this event to go further than merely reject the latest proposal. He might even unleash a strike against Israel to precipitate the apocalyptic process.
While all such forecasts are speculative, what is clear is that the West is not facing localised terrorist dangers or conflicts that can be isolated and safely handled as separate issues. Rather, the West is facing a world-wide resurgence of a virulent form of Islamism in Shi'a and Sunni varieties, bearing apocalyptic features, that is determined to restore Islamic hegemony in the world and weaken and destroy the Western "Crusader and Jewish-Zionist" enemy by all means at its disposal. These include terrorism, proxy wars, alleged liberation struggles and the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Islamic states such as Pakistan and Iran. Combined, these measures will finally tip the strategic balance in the world in favour of the Islamic global nation (umma).