Shi’ite scholars are nearly unanimous in concluding that Muhammad was appointed to his prophetic mission by Allah on the 27th day of the month of Rajab. According to Ulil Abshar-Abdalla of the Liberal Islam Network, the event has special significance to Muslims:

An important phase which is symbolically considered as reflecting the mission of Muhammad is his meditation in a cave outside Mecca. After he attained the revelation in 610 AD, in spite of staying in the cave, enjoying solitary meditation, and staying away from society, he returned to the city to propagate the teachings, and directed a ‘social transformation’.

In Islam there is a difference between a Nabi (prophet) and a Rasul (messenger). A Nabi is the one who attained revelation, and who is not required to disseminate it to society. While a Rasul, on the contrary, attained revelation and had to propagate it. Muhammad was both a Nabi (prophet) as well as a Rasul (messenger).

I am, here, using simple terminology. I want to call Muhammad a prophet and a politician as well. In his 23 year career, Muhammad showed a moral reformation through his prophetic career, and led a social and political reformation in Medina.

In essence, the 27th day of Rajab marks the beginning not only of Mohammad’s career as a prophet, but of his career as a transforming leader.

According to, August 22, 2006 corresponds with the 27th day of Rajab, making it the anniversary of the beginning of Muhammad’s prophetic mission, according to the Shi’ites. This is a different occasion than the “Night Journey” or “Miraj” cited by Robert Shelton in, in which Muhammad, after years of preaching, is taken on a journey by the angel Gabriel to the “farthest mosque” (understood by some to be Jerusalem) before ascending to heaven. So another theory as to the significance of August 22 to Iran begins to emerge.

The devotion of Iran’s Shi’ite president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to the return of a mystical descendant of Muhammad, known as the 12th Imam, or Mahdi, is now famous:

In a keynote speech on Wednesday to senior clerics, Ahmadinejad spoke of his strong belief in the second coming of Shi’ite Muslims’ “hidden” 12th Imam.

According to Shi’ite Muslim teaching, Abul-Qassem Mohammad, the 12th leader whom Shi’ites consider descended from the Prophet Mohammed, disappeared in 941 but will return at the end of time to lead an era of Islamic justice.

“Our revolution’s main mission is to pave the way for the reappearance of the 12th Imam, the Mahdi,” Ahmadinejad said in the speech to Friday Prayers leaders from across the country.

“Therefore, Iran should become a powerful, developed and model Islamic society.”

“Today, we should define our economic, cultural and political policies based on the policy of Imam Mahdi’s return. We should avoid copying the West’s policies and systems,” he added, newspapers and local news agencies reported.

Ahmadinejad refers to the return of the 12th Imam, also known as the Mahdi, in almost all his major speeches since he took office in August.

A September address to the U.N. General Assembly contained long passages on the Mahdi which confused Western diplomats and irked those from Sunni Muslim countries who believe in a different line of succession from Mohammed. (Reuters, Nov. 17, 2005)

August 22 is at the very least an auspicious day for the Shi’ite Ahmadinejad: in that it is the day that Muhammad’s power to create a new Islamic society became manifest, it can be analogized with the beginning of the putative new era of Islamic justice to be ushered in by the Mahdi. As Iran comes out of its period of isolation — its time in the cave — Ahmadinejad’s public statements indicate that he sees himself as an agent of change in the next phase of Islamic development, one in which “the world is standing on the threshold of great development and the Muslims are expected to overcome their aggressive enemies.” Symbolically, it may be that Ahmadinejad sees August 22, the day on which he has promised to respond to Western nations regarding their offer of incentives to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear program, as the day on which he begins his own transforming mission.

If the speculation is correct and Ahmadinejad has chosen August 22 for spiritual reasons and not just because it falls easily between already-scheduled dental and car inspection appointments . . . whether Ahmadinejad decides to initiate Iran’s new global Islamic mission in imitation of Muhammad-as-moral-reformer-and-politician, or in imitation of Muhammad-as-conquering-general, is something that remains to be seen.

UPDATE: See also my subsequent post, Another Perspective on ‘August 22′: Persian vs. Islamic Calendars.

FURTHER UPDATE:  See our liveblog of August 22.