Christians felt "troubled" by the Iranian president’s recent Christmas greeting that included references to Jesus.
"President Ahmadinejad’s Christmas greeting is nothing short of cynical," said the Rev. Dr. Keith Roderick, Christian Solidarity International Washington representative, on Thursday.
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wished "all Christians happiness and prosperity on the occasion of the birth of the Christ," on Tuesday according to an Iranian Student News Agency.
Roderick reminded that last year Ahmadinejad told a gathering of Iranian provincial governors that he would stop Christianity in Iran.
"This rhetoric is no more than a maniacal manipulation of truth to further his political agenda," declared the CSI Washington representative.
Faith McDonnell, director of Religious Liberty Programs at The Institute on Religion & Democracy also found the Iranian president’s greeting "very troubling." She is concerned that Ahmadinejad’s message will either be misinterpreted – "‘See, he’s a nice guy after all greeting those Christians and talking about Jesus’" – or it will be dismissed.
The hardline Iranian president also called for the return of Jesus and Islam’s Holy Prophet, Imam Mahdi. Together, he said they would "wipe away every tinge of oppression, pain and agony from the face of the world."
However, Dr. Ergun Caner, a former Muslim and current president of Liberty Theological Seminary in Virginia, explained that the Jesus Ahmadinejad spoke about is different than the Christian understanding of Jesus Christ.
"It's important for Christians to understand that Muslims are not monolithic," Caner told CitizenLink. "That is, all Muslims don't believe the exact same thing."
Caner said there is a group of Muslims popular in Iran called the 12th Imam Shi’ites that believe Jesus never died, he was not crucified, but instead was taken to Paradise. The Shi’ite Muslims believe one day Allah will send Jesus and Islam’s Holy Prophet Al-Mahdi back to Earth to fight the Anti-Christ.
"So, all of this preparation that Ahmadinejad talks about, is in preparation for Al-Mahdi to return," said Caner. "Al-Mahdi was a caliph in the 9th Century who they believe never died – he's hiding in caves, waiting to return."
As the sixth president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ahmadinejad has promised to restore an "Islamic government" in the country and reportedly vowed last year to stop Christianity in the country.
The anti-West leader is known for his outspoken criticism of the Bush administration, denial of the holocaust, and for continuing the country’s uranium enrichment which he denies is for development of nuclear weapons.