Because so many people today fail to take religion seriously, it's hard for them to understand those who do. A classic example is Iran, where the risks couldn't be higher since nuclear weapons are at stake.
Shiite Muslims—the overwhelming majority in Iran—believe that following Muhammad's death, leadership of the Muslim world was to be passed down through his descendants. Each successor was known as an imam—Arabic for "leader." The 12th of these imams was born in A.D. 868 or 869 and disappeared without a trace about five years later. But that's far from the end of the story.
A branch of Shiite Muslims believe that this 12th imam survived and has been in hiding ever since, waiting until the time is right to emerge and lead Islam again. These believers are commonly called "Twelvers" because of their belief in the imminent reappearance of this 12th imam in a time of global chaos.
Many Muslims also believe in the coming of a figure they call al-Mahdi, meaning "the [divinely] guided one," who will lead Islam to its rightful place as the one true religion in the world. Common among Twelvers is belief that the 12th imam and the Mahdi are one and the same and that they have a religious duty to initiate the period of world chaos from which the 12th imam/Mahdi will emerge. They also believe that Jesus Christ will return alongside the 12th imam/Mahdi—but as a Muslim who will help convert the world to Islam.
What should be profoundly disturbing to Western leaders is that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei are fervent adherent of Twelver beliefs. Sound too far out to believe? Notice these concluding remarks from Ahmadinejad's address to the United Nations on Sept. 22, 2011—less than a year ago:
"A [bright] future . . . will be built when humanity initiates to tread the path of the divine prophets and the righteous under the leadership of Imam al-Mahdi, the Ultimate Savior of mankind . . . He will come alongside with Jesus Christ to lead the freedom and justice lovers to eradicate tyranny and discrimination, and promote knowledge, peace, justice, freedom and love across the world."
Of course, he fails to mention that this period of "peace, justice, freedom and love" will be due, he believes, to the establishment of Islam as the dominant religion by "Imam al-Mahdi" in accordance with the Koran's instruction (Suras 2:193; 61:9) after a period of worldwide turmoil that his devotees are expected to initiate.
So while Western governments pursue endless rounds of fruitless negotiations trying to convince the Iranians to abandon pursuit of nuclear weapons, Iran's leaders play for time until the moment is right to deal with what they call "the Great Satan" (the United States) and "the little Satans" (Israel and Britain) and to initiate the period of global chaos they're sure is coming. How do you negotiate with people whose desire is to start a global nuclear war so that their messiah will come to save them and win the war for them?
While this kind of news is alarming and even terrifying, we can be comforted that Jesus Christ will return—and in a very powerful way. He will set this world aright and bring world peace—just us your Bible promises. He will redeem this world from the clutches of Satan and the deceits of false religion, including Islam. And, contrary to Islamic belief, Christ will not return with the 12th imam.