Contemporary and Social Issues

‘Messiah’ on Netflix: What you need to know!

Ayyaz Mahmood Khan, Islamabad, UK

Netflix has recently released a new series –  ‘Messiah.’ The lead character appears to be a religious leader or prophet-like figure who emerges from the Middle East and is referred to by some characters as Al-Masih (the Messiah).  Al-Masih performs miracles of various sorts but his arrival coincides with a series of environmental disasters accompanied by ensuing havoc and violence. As he gathers followers, a CIA agent ‘must race to unravel the mystery of whether he really is a divine entity or a deceptive con artist capable of dismantling the world’s geopolitical order.’ 

The series has provoked controversy and debate, especially amongst Muslims and Christians. Some Muslims have pointed out that to refer to the lead character of the series as Al-Masih (the Messiah), is to use the name by which the ‘Dajjal’, or Anti-christ, will announce himself when he appears in the latter days. Others have been outraged and described the series as offensive, blasphemous and disrespectful. A change.org petition has been launched as well describing the show as “evil and anti-Islamic propaganda.”

The creator, Michael Petroni has commented that he “doesn’t set out to offend anyone,” and goes on to say that, “there is going to be a lot of noise around the show and a lot of debate. I’m hoping for debate.” It is said that the purpose of this new series is to “imagine how modern society would react if such a figure appeared.” Netflix describes this as “a provocative and suspenseful thriller that explores the power of influence and belief in the social media age.”

The new Netflix series ‘The Messiah’ has provoked the sentiments that surround it by religious followers who believe in the second coming of the Messiah and who hold that when the Antichrist (or Dajjal) emerges, the ‘Mahdi’ would fight him in an ultimate battle between good and evil. Let us breakdown the true nature of these concepts of the ‘Messiah’, ‘Mahdi’, and ‘Dajjal’ (Antichrist). 

Given the confusion, it is helpful to clarify some of the terms being used and what they really represent.  

So who is the Messiah?

Muslims believe that Jesus (as), the Messiah, will appear in the latter days according to the prophecies of the Founder of Islam (sa). An overwhelming majority of non-Ahmadi Muslims believe that he physically ascended into the heavens after his Crucifixion and so he will physically descend from the sky in the latter days, with his hands on the shoulders of two angels. They believe that the Messiah will then join forces with the Imam Mahdi and wage a bloody war against the disbelievers until they convert to Islam. As a result, the Muslims would become kings and rulers.

The fact of the matter is that this grossly disfigured view of Islam couldn’t be further from the truth. It is neither supported by the Holy Quran, nor the words of the Prophet of Islam (sa). Religious adherents throughout the ages, have always enjoyed fantastical stories of people flying up into the heavens, and returning again, and overturning the world in their favour through magic spells and bloody wars, but this has never materialised in the past, nor will it in the future.

Firstly, Jesus (as), who was a prophet of God, did not physically ascend into the heavens, and so it naturally follows that, he will not descend physically in the latter days either. The Holy Quran categorically states in chapter 5 verse 118 that after Jesus (as) died his natural death, God was a watcher over his people. There is mention in Islamic literature and various source texts of the ‘descent’ of Jesus (as) in the latter days but the Arabic word ‘nuzul,’ which is used for ‘descent,’ refers to the coming of a great blessing of God Almighty, which as if, is a grace that descends from the heaven. In the Holy Quran, it is said that iron and cattle ‘descended’ from on high, and of course, all this means is that these are immense blessings of God, by which humanity benefits immensely; it does not mean that these things physically came down from the sky. 

Secondly, it ought to be noted that when the Holy Quran, which is considered to be the word of God, vouchsafed to the Prophet of Islam (sa), that the Jesus (as) would die a natural death. So it is obvious that prophecies which refer to his coming in the Latter Days must be understood in a metaphoric and spiritual context. 

The fact of the matter is that in light of the Holy Quran and the sayings of the Prophet of Islam (sa), the true Messiah who would appear in the latter days, would be a man that would appear as a spiritual manifestation of Jesus (as). He would be a prophet of God and possess a disposition that was similar to that of Jesus (as) and would heal the world from the wounds of sin and evil with his Messianic qualities. 

Who is the ‘Imam Mahdi?’ 

Non-Ahmadi Muslims believe that the Imam Mahdi will appear from among the Muslims in the Latter Days and join forces with the Messiah . Together they will literally rid the world of Christianity, breaking every Cross around as well as ridding the world of its pig population! In the havoc and chaos that this bloody Mahdi would bring, everyone would also convert to Islam.  This is clearly  nothing more than the fabrication of warmongering clerics who incite the masses to serve their own vested interests. There is a saying of the Prophet of Islam (sa) recorded in a Hadith (saying of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa)), which states that when the Messiah appears in the latter days, he would put an end to religious wars. Further, the Holy Quran clearly states that there should be no compulsion in religion (2:257). So any notion about the coming of a bloodthirsty Mahdi or Messiah is diametrically opposed to the teachings of Islam. 

Just one of countless examples from early Islam can demonstrate this. When the Holy Prophet (sa) returned as a victor to his birthplace Makkah after being exiled, the disbelievers had forfeited and the entire town was now in the hands of the Muslims. The people of Makkah were those who had inflicted all manner of cruelties, war crimes and persecution upon the Holy Prophet (sa) and his followers for over a decade, to the extent that the Prophet’s close family members had died as a result. Yet the Holy Prophet (sa), holding complete power to mete out any sort of revenge he wished, decided instead to forgive all his oppressors. This has been described by many non-Muslim historians as one of the greatest acts of compassion in human history.

Thus, in Islam, prophets of God bring a message of peace, not war. Breaking the Cross and killing the swine is only a metaphorical allusion to the ending of false Christian doctrines regarding the Divinity of Christ (as) and killing of ‘swine’ means ridding people of immoralities and indecencies, not the literal killing of animals! 

What is the Antichrist or Dajjal?

A study of the Hadith illustrates that in the time of the Messiah and Mahdi, the Antichrist or Dajjal would appear, and that one of the primary tasks of the Messiah and Mahdi would be to kill Dajjal. 

So who and what is the Dajjal? The Prophet of Islam (sa) has vividly described the characteristics of this Dajjal, which unfortunately have been misunderstood by a large number of Muslims throughout the world. This misunderstanding has arisen mainly because the characteristics of Dajjal, as expounded by the Prophet of Islam (sa) in the Hadith, have been taken literally. 

There are various characteristics of Dajjal which have been mentioned in Hadith literature, in various collections. A summary of these aspects, taken from various Hadith is presented here. The Prophet of Islam (sa) is reported to have said that:

There has been no prophet who has not warned his people of the one-eyed Dajjal. Beware! He would be blind in his right eye. He would come with paradise and hell, but what he calls a paradise would be hell. The word ‘kafir’ (infidel) would be written on his forehead, and every believer, whether literate or illiterate would be able to read it.  The Dajjal would order the sky to send down water and the clouds would send down rain; he would order the earth to grow and it would grow its produce. He would cross abandoned land and order the earth to bring forth its treasures, and its treasures would come forth and begin to follow the Dajjal. He would kill a man and bring him back to life. The Dajjal would be a mountain of bread and a stream of water. –  (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Mishkat)

Unfortunately, without studying all of the relevant narrations which describe the Dajjal or Antichrist, Muslims have taken the few characteristics that they do know of and have understood them literally to refer to a man who would travel the world performing miracles and feats of wonder that are beyond the ability of any human being. He would be virtually unstoppable and wield a power no less than God Himself.

In reality, the Dajjal, is not one individual, wielding miraculous power, who would falsely claim to be the Messiah and fight against the true Messiah in physical battle. Dajjal is an Arabic word, which means ‘a great deceiver or liar’. Another meaning is ‘that which covers up the earth due to its abundance.’ This word also refers to that which ‘travels throughout the land, and possesses great wealth and treasure.’ Therefore, in view of these definitions, Dajjal quite plainly refers to rich and wealthy powers which cover the earth with their influence and promote evil and mislead the masses through falsehood and deception.  It is these very evil forces which all prophets of God come to destroy through goodness, piety and virtue, and with their spiritual influence. When the Messiah was to appear in the latter days, it was this very evil that he was destined to dispel from the world through his Messianic qualities.  

The fact is, even a cursory glance over the aforementioned description, would make it clear that these are not characteristics which could exist in a human being. Being blind in the right eye is simply a metaphoric expression, which indicates that those powers or groups of people who promote sin and falsehood throughout the world by deception would be spiritually dead. How is it physically possible for a human being to contravene the laws of nature and make the clouds rain by a simple command? How could a human being bring a dead person to life? Basic science and common sense both reject such notions as do the laws of nature created by God Himself. And it is precisely religious views like these which turn religion into a mockery. 

Where is the true Messiah? 

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) – Promised Messiah and Mahdi

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community believes that the Messiah and Mahdi who was to appear in the present age as a prophet of God, has come in the person of their founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), who hailed from the village of Qadian, in India. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) claimed to be a prophet of God (the Holy Prophet (sa) referred to the coming Messiah as ‘Nabi’ or prophet several times in the traditions), and the second coming of Jesus (as). He announced that he was not just a spiritual manifestation of Jesus the Messiah, but also a manifestation of all the prophets of other Faiths, and the purpose of his advent was to dispel misguidance, put an end to war and conflict, and unite humanity with a message of love and peace. The Community also holds that the Antichrist or Dajjal that was destined to emerge to fight the Messiah has also appeared, as it were, and its deceit and falsehood is prevalent in the world around us in the form of evil, sin and violence.

When Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) of Qadian claimed that he had been divinely commissioned by God to propagate His message, he confronted the evil forces of the Antichrist or Dajjal in two ways. Firstly, he corrected the false beliefs prevalent among all the religious denominations of the world through powerful and logical argumentation. As a result, he demonstrated that the religion of Islam was the only religion that could solve all the world’s problems and give true salvation to humanity. Ultimately, this is how he defeated the Antichrist known as Dajjal in Islam. He essentially dismantled the intricate web that it had woven through its deceitful ways to misguide the people and lead them away from God and towards a life of irreligiousness. Secondly, through prayer and his spiritual influence, he produced a community of followers who developed a living relationship with God and thus infused a sense of spirituality within them, and gave them the purity and piety that was required to not only transform their own lives, but the people around them as well, and in turn the whole of humanity, one generation after the next.

The writings and life history of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) are a testament to the fact that he tirelessly worked as an advocate of peace and love, and lay the framework for inter-religious harmony in the modern age. When he made his claim he was faced with fierce opposition and hostility, and threats were made on his life, but he continued to convey the peaceful message of Islam with humility and forbearance, just as Jesus (as) did in his time, and all the prophets before him. He invited people time and again to visit him in Qadian so that they could witness for themselves the signs and miracles that he manifested day in and day out. He made magnificent prophecies which were published well in advanced and then they were fulfilled in letter and spirit — many of these prophecies related to major world events, like the First World War, among other things and revolutionary changes in the fabric of society.

A community established by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) in 1889, which began from the Punjab, India, has now spread to over 200 countries, where it continues to propagate the message of Islam, which is a message of love and mutual harmony. After the demise of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), the community is led by a divinely instituted system of Caliphate, which promotes peace and understanding throughout the world. The present spiritual head and Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba), who travels the world to spread this very peace and understanding. He has spoken at Parliament Hill in the United Kingdom, he has addressed Capitol Hill in Washington, and also governments and nations throughout the world to remind them of the duties that they owe to God and the responsibilities that they owe to serve humanity at large. 

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has a track record of over 100 years where not a single member has ever been radicalised, nor has the community and its divine leadership ever stirred violence and bloodshed in the world. In fact, the divinely appointed leaders of this community, from its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), and after him, his Caliphs have always been a beacon of light and wisdom in a dark world. Something which people from all walks of life, even those who are not members of the community, have testified to in clear terms.

‘Messiah’ the Netflix series raises some interesting issues about how  the modern world would react to a spiritual leader who claims to be the Messiah and Mahdi. The debate around it has exposed the real need to understand the Quran and Hadith and the dangers of  their literal interpretation. Those viewers  interested in finding out the truth behind the hype might want to  look at the life of  the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community the true  Messiah and Mahdi of the age.

About the Author: Ayyaz Mahmood Khan is an Imam who spent seven years in the International Theological College of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in London where he studied the oriental languages of Persian, Arabic and Urdu as well as comparative religions specialising in colonial South Asian polemic literature of the nineteenth century. Ayyaz has produced and presented numerous television programs focusing on the interplay of modern society and religion. He has given lectures at UCL and Imperial College in areas of Shariah and the Islamic concept of the Caliphate.

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