Heard the one about the Islamic Antichrist?
That’s the latest story seeking to grant American Christians a license to hate in the name of love. Muslims, the story goes, are willing dupes of Satan, anxiously waiting for the arrival of their messiah, called the “Mahdi.” This mighty ruler is the person identified in the Bible as the Beast and the Antichrist.
Just ask Joel Richardson. Haven’t heard of him?
Joel Richardson is a painter and lay preacher who has turned out books arguing that the Antichrist will be Muslim. Islam, therefore, is evil. He often remembers to add that all Muslims are not necessarily evil. It’s just that they follow an evil belief system that serves the Devil.
Richardson seems to think he has been chosen by God to “release new prophetic understanding concerning the end times.”1 Mostly this understanding consists of reading the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation as if they explicitly refer to Islam.
Of course, no one had heard of Islam until A.D. 622, nearly six centuries after the New Testament was finished.2 People would probably give Richardson a hard time if he claimed to find references to Coca-Cola or NASCAR in the Bible.3 How then does Richardson justify finding Islam in there?
Well, he says he did a lot of reading about Islam. Books about “Islamic eschatology.” But more important, Joel Richardson has a personal hotline to the Lord.
How do you suppose that Satan has planned to include the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims in his grand end-time deception? Did Satan fail to foresee and strategize regarding the global spread of Islam? Or has Satan included the Muslims of the world in his end-time strategy? Will Islam, the world’s third monotheistic religion, also undergo the persecution of Satan along with Christians and Jews as they all resist the Antichrist together? Or will Islam — the religion that prides itself on resisting any form of idolatry — simply submit to a demonic and false religious leader without putting up any real fight? For years, I questioned the Lord about these issues. In time, as my knowledge of Islam deepened, the answers to my questions became very clear.4
After all, a prophetess told Joel’s wife she would marry a man with privileged knowledge of the end times. There were seven thousand people in the room. So there.5
The other Joel
Richardson is not the only Joel working the Islamic Antichrist beat. Joel C. Rosenberg is a political organizer, filmmaker, and fiction writer who, like Richardson, has vaulted onto the New York Times bestseller list with a book about an Islamic Antichrist. The difference is that his books, The Twelfth Imam and The Tehran Initiative, are fictional thrillers about a super-scary Iranian nuclear weapons program aimed at bringing about the end of the world.
It’s only fiction, right? Well, yeah, except that Rosenberg’s publicity touts him as “a modern Nostradamus” who cranks out books that seem to anticipate real events. And like his fellow Joel, he distorts Muslim beliefs into a yearning for a “Twelfth Imam” who is identical with the Antichrist.
I’m convinced that both these authors are out to deceive Christian readers who crave reliable information about Islam. Under the guise of “love for Israel,” and even “love for Muslims” (if they convert to Christianity), the Joels peddle a vicious stereotype of what Muslims actually believe.
Shall I try to set the record straight? I’ll keep it short.
- The Mahdi is not the Antichrist. We know this because Islamic traditions (hadiths) mention both of them. You can’t have one without the other. The Mahdi (“Guided One”) is always the enemy of the Antichrist (Masih ad-Dajjal, “false Messiah”).
- The Mahdi is not the Twelfth Imam. One of the two Joels (Rosenberg, the fiction writer) pretends that the Mahdi is identical with the “hidden imam” that most Shia Muslims believe is the legitimate successor of Muhammad. To be fair, the other Joel (Richardson) seems to know the difference and has not made this claim (as far as I know). Anyway, only about 10 percent of Muslims believe in the existence of this Twelfth Imam.
- The Mahdi is a servant of Jesus. Neither of the Joels is willing to reveal that Muslim belief about the end times is a lot like Christian belief about the end times. According to the hadiths, Jesus will return to earth to defeat the false Messiah. The Mahdi, acting as Jesus’ lieutenant, will begin the wars, but Jesus will end them.
- Not all Muslims believe in the Mahdi. The Joels portray Islamic belief as monolithic. Muslims are supposed to be something like robots, all obeying the same instructions. Yet the “end times” beliefs in Islam are based on traditions that not all Muslims accept as valid. Neither the Mahdi, the False Messiah, nor the Twelfth Imam are mentioned in the Quran, which is the only text accepted as sacred by all Muslims.
In other words, these beliefs about the end of the world are comparable to Christian disagreements about the Second Coming of Christ and the timing of the Rapture, or whether there will be a Rapture at all. None of these disagreements are considered grounds for excluding a person from the faith — at least not by sane Christians.
Likewise, Muslims do not have to accept any particular belief about the end times in order to be acknowledged as Muslims. Virtually all Muslims do believe in Judgment Day, as do virtually all Christians. Muslim traditions about Judgment Day state that Jesus will descend from heaven and bring justice and peace to the world. Sound familiar?
The principal difference between the Christian and Muslim traditions is — not surprisingly — that Muslims believe Jesus will establish Islam as the universal religion, while Christians believe it will be Christianity. It would be surprising if either religion agreed with the other on this point.
Both of the Joels are best-selling authors whose fans regard them as modern-day prophets. I believe they have attained their success dishonestly, by deliberately distorting what they know about Islam.
Both men are subtle. Rosenberg, for instance, sets up fictional Muslim characters who behave in wicked, hateful ways — but he would never say we should hate Muslims. Richardson proclaims his love for Muslims while denouncing their religion.
Both men have political agendas that seem to wrestle with their Christianity for prominence. Rosenberg, for example, begins with the principle that Israel can do no wrong. Israel’s large nuclear arsenal is a force for peace, while Iran’s hypothetical weapons program is an implicit threat to Israel’s survival — indeed, to the whole world. Gosh, who could blame the Israelis for launching air strikes against Iran?
Richardson, meanwhile, proclaims that he does not — repeat, not — believe that President Obama is the Antichrist, as some have said. It’s just that Obama’s career is a perfect example of the kind of techniques that God told him the Antichrist will use to rise to power.
“Over half of the American people fell for it this time,” Richardson warned in 2009. “When the soon coming imposter messiah arrives, will we be any wiser?”6
No sign of a political agenda there. Just pure Christianity.
Their methods vary, but the objective is the same for both Joels. Brethren, fellow Americans — you should choose what to believe about Muslims, not according to what’s true, but according to what makes Islam appear mad, bad, and dangerous.
It’s what Jesus wants from you. Just ask his prophets, Joel and Joel.
- Books’ most hateful bestseller, by Jordan Michael Smith, Salon (Jun 1, 2012)
- Beck’s End-Times Prophet Joel Richardson, Media Matters (Jun 3, 2011)
1 “Joel Richardson on Islamic prophecy, end times,” YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaDTShXtYek. Sid Roth goes further, describing Richardson as “hand-picked by God.”↩
2 ;This quirk is probably not apparent to many of Richardson’s followers. Many people in the youth-centric U.S. assume that Islam is older than Christianity. ↩
3 Although finding the Bible in NASCAR is another story. See: Hugh Pyper, The NASCAR Bible, SBL Forum Archive, SBL Publications. ↩
4 Joel Richardson, The Islamic Antichrist, pp. 11-12 (q. in Who is Joel Richardson, Beck’s End Times Prophet?, Media Matters (Feb 17, 2011).↩
5 Again, see “Joel Richardson on Islamic prophecy, end times,” YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaDTShXtYek.↩
6 Joel Richardson What Obama and the Antichrist have in common, WorldNet Daily, Aug. 5, 2009. Richardson dredges up obscure hadiths to portray the Islamic Antichrist as a socialist. (“Good heavens! Just like Obama!”) Among the “techniques” the Antichrist is supposed to share with Obama is “a shallow appeal to class envy.” I guess that detail is somewhere in Revelation, right after the verse about the Antichrist taxing the capital gains of the people of God.↩