IN HIS NAME
(THE IRANIAN CONNECTION)
By Zahir Davdani
There is no doubt that the Netflix series Messiah will be considered blasphemous amongst mainstream Christians and Muslims alike, given its outright bypassing of religious doctrine and laws, such as the divinity of Jesus in the Christian tradition and the absence of performance of the Islamic prayer by Al-Masih. And rightfully so, because a Savior for mankind who doesn’t even keep the laws of the true religion is hardly genuine and is more akin to being the Antichrist than Christ.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that the creator of the series was intending on overturning the authority of revealed religion, as it should be kept in mind that the primary audience is a Western one, one that is devoid for the most part of religion and spirituality. Thus to get to the heart of the Western audience there had to be an appeal made to a universal version of the Savior. Otherwise, if he was presented in the guise of a particular religion, that would risk alienating a great deal of the viewership – even if that guise was a Christian one, given the falling out which took place between the West and Christianity.
In addition to which, when the Savior does come, he will in fact be a universal figure, appealing to all – not through lack of abidance to the laws and doctrines of any particular religion, but through the transcendent intensity of his spiritual persona – something which couldn’t be reflected in the series without falling into the stereotypes associated with any particular religion.
It seems to me that Messiah, far from being a rejection of any particular Messiah promised by a religious tradition, is in fact an affirmation of the concept of the Messiah or Savior promised by the world’s religions. With the universal portrayal of Al-Masih serving two purposes:
1. As mentioned above.
2. To make the point that any one particular religion doesn’t contain all the truth – otherwise why would there be any need for a Savior?
Thus the figure of Al-Masih represents the spirituality lying at the heart of religion, which because of its elusive nature is often covered over by centuries of encrusted ritual practice and doctrine. And which the Savior when he comes will have to uncover, in order to complete the collective journey of the human race, which after centuries of focused intellectual development has reached the point of intellectual sensitivity to be able to receive such a message.
Thus we see throughout the series, in addition to a constant theme of reflecting the spiritual dysfunctionality of post-modern society – as reflected in the broken down emotional lives of the characters in the series, a constant exposition of the flaws of organized religion as it stands today:
In Episode 1 [16:45] we see the only instance of violent anger on the part of Al-Masih directed against an outwardly pious follower of Islam, but whose shallow understanding of the religion incurs Al-Masih’s wrath. One is reminded of the incident after the battle of Hunain, when the Prophet Muhammad was busy distributing the war booty, and a person called Dhul Khuwaysirah came to him and admonishingly said: Maintain justice in distributing the booty. So the Prophet replied: If I don’t maintain justice then who will?! At which Umar said: Give me permission to strike his neck. The Prophet replied:
“Leave him, for he has companions next to whose praying your praying will seem insignificant and next to whose fasting your fasting will seem insignificant, they will read the Quran and it will not go past their throats. They will shoot away from the religion the way an arrow shoots from a bow…”1
And then there is the criticism directed at Christianity, reflected in the constant waxing and waning of Felix’s faith and epitomized in the tense exchange which takes place between him and Al-Masih in Episode 8 [16:50]:
Felix: What is my part in all this?
Al-Masih: Only you know that.
Felix: And how do I know that?
Felix: Pray? To who? Aren’t you supposed to be God?
Al-Masih: Do you believe that?
And then there is Judaism. Al-Masih’s exit near the end of Episode 10 when he is taken away by a group of Israelis is a highly symbolic reference to Jesus’s capture by the Jews and the Romans. So the message is that just as 2000 years ago the Jews missed the Messiah, so again today, in the form of the state of Israel, they missed recognizing a savior.
Thus the description which best fits Al-Masih is that of a highly accomplished mystic. This is something which is reflected and emphasized throughout the series. We see Al-Masih manipulating nature at will, with the sandstorm, tornado and flood seemingly connected to him. And just as easily manipulating people’s minds – entering their dreams, appearing in visions and reading their emotions and thoughts.
It seems that the figure of Al-Masih has been carefully crafted for maximum universal appeal. One can easily see the followers of Eastern spiritual traditions as readily being able to relate to him – for example, note the Hindu meditation posture which he adopts in Episode 1 [40:00].
What is also very interesting to note is the Iranian connection. The fact that Al-Masih has been made an Iranian and is carrying a political spiritual message does not seem coincidental. Ayatullah Khomeini, it should be remembered, was himself a mystic and he brought into the world a force of change which was just as spiritual as it was political, redirecting the course of history.
The sandstorm in Episode 1 which buries ISIS is particularly reminiscent of the sandstorm in the Iranian desert of Tabas, which caused the catastrophic destruction of the Delta Force mission sent to Iran by Carter just after the Islamic Revolution.
One senses that the creator of the series has been deeply impacted by the Iranian version of mysticism with its political dimension and what implications that has for the future world order – notice the resemblance of President Young to the Shah of Iran in Episode 9 [37:50]. It is almost as if he has bought into the version of the Messiah espoused by Shia Islam and especially the Islamic Republic of Iran and is trying to prepare the minds of the audience for a Messianic figure linked to Iran.
All in all, Messiah is anything but idle entertainment. The aim is transformation, transformation of the viewer mirroring the transformation of the characters in the series. It is gospel for a post-modern age.