Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Must have been an angel

There was a wonderfully weird exchange on a Radio 4 religious affairs programme the other day (about 11 minutes in, if you're reading this post during the week when the BBC still has the programme available for catch-up on line). There was a panel discussion about "End Time Beliefs in Islam", in which one of the panelists recounted the following anecdote which Actually Happened to 'somebody's cousin':

The cousin and her husband, who were living in Germany, went for a drive in the mountains and got completely lost. A car appeared and stopped and a man, who spoke Arabic, got out. He gave the couple directions and asked them to 'help others as I have helped you', then drove off.

A guy appearing from nowhere, in Germany and speaking Arabic? What are the chances of that happening? Spooky.

Clearly, according to the panelist / whoever passed on the cousin's story, the stranger could only have been Muhammad al-Mahdi, the the last of the Twelve Imams revered by the Twelver sect of ShÄ«‘a Muslims, who was born around 869 AD and mysteriously disappeared around 941 AD but, according to prophecy, will reappear alongside Jesus in the end times to save the human race (as far as I know, the prophecy fails to mention that his work of salvation would involve acting as a spiritual sat nav for lost motorists, but, hey, where would prophecy be without creative interpretation?).

Another panelist was asked to comment and ventured that 'I'm afraid that I am sceptical about the identity of this individual being the Mahdi.' He then proceeded to bring the discussion back down to earth with his own, far more plausible, explanation: 'I'm quite happy to entertain the idea that perhaps this was an angel in the shape of a person, who came to the aid of these lost people.'

It's 2015 and we're still happy to call people like this "scholars" without any apparent sense of irony and invite them to share their wisdom with the rest of us on national radio. Personally, I'm not sure that it's a good idea to let people like this cross the road, or use scissors, without adult supervision.