Question: In connection with your articles on “Dispensationalism” and “Christian Zionism”—a few of the neo-conservative commentators have been talking about a similar ideology among the Moslems. Just what or who is “the Twelfth Imam”?
Answer: First a little background. When Mohammed died, he left his followers with a number of uncertainties: Was Allah unchanging or changeable? Was man predestined to his fate or did he possess free will? Was the Koran eternal, or something created?; was it the sole rule of Islam;? was it to be interpreted?; how and by whom? Was Mohammed to have a human successor?; if so, who might be eligible, and how was he to be chosen?
The Shi’ites, found primarily in Persia (modern Iran), making up about twenty percent of the world’s Moslems held that Mohammed’s successor should inherit the position. After three appointed leaders (the caliphs Abu Bekr, Omar, and Othman) came Mohammed’s cousin Ali, who was married to Mohammed’s daughter Fatima. Ali’s sons ruled with the title of “Imam,” which translates as “leader” or “role model.” Among the Shi’ites this title, particularly when capitalized, refers to the descendents of Ali, and to none other. Ali’s two sons ruled as the second and third Imams. Some sects among the Shi’ites have the line of succession stopping after the fourth or sixth Imam. Many, however, point to the twelfth Imam, Muhammad al‑Muntazar, as the final Imam. In 878 AD this twelfth Imam concealed himself in the cave of the mosque at Samarra (north along the Tigris River from Baghdad). Said to be in “occultation” until the end of time, this Imam is said to remain alive, and is expected to return as Muhammad al‑Mahdi, a “divinely guided one” who will preside over a period of righteousness and peace before the world’s end.
There is said to be a sect among the Shi’ites called the Hojjatieh, who hope they can encourage the early return of Mahdi buy stirring up apocalyptic violence. The sect was condemned by the Ayatollah Khomeini around 1980, but the neo-conservatives claim that Iran’s current President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, may be a member. The same neo-cons, predicting and condemning violence to bring about the return of the Mahdi, generally ignore the identical threat posed by certainly existing Christian Zionists, who hope to force the return of Christ with a similar apocalyptic battle at Armageddon.
There is a “hadith,” one of the sayings of Mohammed—obviously not accepted by all Moslems—which denies the possibility of the Twelfth Imam as the Mahdi, for it quotes one “Anas ibn Malik that the prophet said, "لا مهدي إلا عيسى بن مريم", literally meaning: there is “no Mahdi but Jesus son of Mary.”
 John B. Noss, Man’s Religions (NY: Macmillan, 1956), p. 732.
 John von Heyking, Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs, “Iran’s President and the Politics of the Twelfth Imam,” www.ashbrook.org/publicat/guest/05/vonheyking/twelfthimam.html