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al-Mahdi is "the rightly-guided one" who, according to Islamic Hadiths (traditions), will come before the end of time to make the entire world Muslim.  Over the last 1400 years numerous claimants to the mantle of the Mahdi have arisen in both Shi`i and Sunni circles.  Modern belief in the coming of the Mahdi has manifested most famously in the 1979 al-`Utaybi uprising of Sa`udi Arabia, and more recently in the ongoing Mahdist movements (some violent) in Iraq, as well as in the frequently-expressed public prayers of former Iranian President Ahmadinezhad bidding the Mahdi to return and, in the larger Sunni Islamic world, by claims that Usamah bin Ladin might be the (occulted) Mahdi.  Now in 2014 Mahdism is active in Syria, as the jihadist opposition group Jabhat al-Nusra claims to be fighting to prepare the way for his coming; and in the new "Islamic State/caliphate" spanning Syrian and Iraqi territory, as its leadership promotes the upcoming apocalyptic battle with the West at Dabiq, Syria.  This site will track such Mahdi-related movements, aspirations, propaganda and beliefs in both Sunni and Shi`i milieus, as well as other  Muslim eschatological yearnings.
For a primer on Mahdism, see my 2005 article, "What's Worse than Violent Jihadists?," at the History News Network:; for more in-depth info, see the links here to my other writings, including my book on Mahdism.

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Hidden Imam al-Mahdi: Happy 1144th Birthday! 11:10 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Advice about Dealing with Islam for Conservatives and Christians

It was thirty years ago (although not today) that I first became interested in Islam, after buying (for $1) a discarded college library copy of (Anglican) Archbishop Kenneth Cragg's superb book The Call of the MinaretLittle did I know then that within a year I would be in the Army learning Arabic, eventually leading to a PhD in Islamic history and that the study of Islam, Islamic history and the modern Muslim world would come to be a major part of my life.
So while I don't claim the ability to speak ex cathedra on such issues, I will more modestly invoke argumentam ad verecundiam in order to take my fellow conservatives and Christians to the rhetorical woodshed. Why them? Because while I don't expect liberals and, frankly, Muslims to be scrupulously honest and accurate in their treatment of Islam, I do expect my side to be so.  Thus, herewith are my six propositions for conservatives and Christians who speak and write about Islam:

I) Islam IS  a religion.  Stop saying it's not. 
A favorite thesis of many evangelical Protestant bloggers and commentators (as well as many of that rank-and-file) is that Islam is a "totalitarian political system" and not a religion. At the risk of sounding like President Obama upbraiding George Stephanopolous for using the dictionary definition of "tax"--here's how Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines "religion:" "the service or worship of God or the supernatural."  Islam has a deity; angels, demons and jinn; heaven and hell; a developed eschatology; de facto if not de jure clergy; etc.  Just because many, if not most, Christians (myself included) reject the Islamic worldview on these matters does not mean that Islam is not therefore a religion.  Ditto for Islam's clearly violent and misogynistic dictums, enshrined in the Qur'an.  Many (not all) of the world's second-largest faith system believe that their religion and the state should be coterminous via sharia`ah--but that does not make Islam a non-religion; rather, it makes Islam the world's pre-eminently political religion, the advance of which should be forestalled at all costs.  Trying to portray Islam as purely political (and military), and ignoring its clear status as a religion, is just silly and makes one who argues thusly look ignorant and worth dismissing.
II) Islam is not monolithic.  Stop saying it is.
Islam has existed for 1433 years and has, by most estimates, some 1.6 billion adherents now.  Just like the other three major world religions--the larger Christianity (2.2 billion) and the smaller Hinduism (900 million) and Buddhism (400 million)--Islam has "orthodoxy," heterodoxies, sects, subsects and outright heretical groups. The well-known Sunni-Shi`i divide only tells a small part of of the story, in much the same way that merely describing Christianity as comprised of Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy, while necessary, is hardly sufficient to adequately assess the historical and theological realities.  Yes, most Muslim sects share the basic beliefs: Muhammad, Allah, Five Pillars, shari`ah in some fashion, jihad, etc.  But there are also major differences; for example, none of the three major Shi`i groups believes in a caliphate--that is a Sunni institution; Shi`is of all stripes believe that divine guidance did not stop with Muhammad, as per the Sunnis, but continued (and continues, for the Isma'ilis and Zaydis) through the line of Imams descended from Ali; and, most importantly, some sects and even elements of the major "charismatic" movement within Sunnism--Sufism--maintain that jihad does not automatically mean "holy war."  Stating categorically that "Islam teaches X" is called, in academic circles, "essentializing."  Of course, the liberal academics who predominate in the Islamic/Middle Eastern studies field then will immediately essentialize that "Islam is peaceful" and marred by "a few extremists."  But if they are wrong and ahistorical to claim that "Islam teaches Y" (Y = "peace"), it's also true that conservatives and Christians are inaccurate when they allege that "Islam teaches X" (X = "permanent bloody-scimitar-wielding decapitation").  We can acknowledge, decry and combat Muslims who seek to Islamize the planet while avoiding falling off the horse on the other side from them and their apologists over at HuffPo.  And unless we admit (and analyze) the theological, historical and political differences found within the Dar al-Islam, we won't be able, frankly, to exploit (both positively and negatively) those very real variances.
III) Moderate Islam exists.  Stop denying it.
This commandment is the flip side of the previous one.  I know my good friend Robert Spencer, as well as several other prominent and well-informed counter-jihadists, argues often that while moderate Muslims may exist, moderate Islam does not.  But as I pointed out in this online symposium over against Mr. Spencer (and several other commentators, including every conservative media outlet's favorite Muslim "reformer," Dr. Zuhdi Jasser), there are Islamic sects and movements that reject a literalist exegetical paradigm for reading the Qur'an, and thereby avoid having to take Sura Muhammad [XLVII]:3 ("behead your enemies") or Sura al-Nisa' [IV]:34 ("beat your wives") or other such passages at face value.  These include the Sevener Shi`i Isma'ilis, the admittedly-heterodox Ahmadis, any sect in which the ancient Islamic rationalist school of Mu`tazilism survives (such as the Zaydi Shi`is of Yemen and the Sunni Ibadis of Oman), and, as aformentioned. a number of Sufi orders. Yes, these groups are outnumbered (and, so far, outgunned) by the likes of the Salafis and Taliban and Deobandis and Boko Haram and al-Qa`idah [AQ].  But such brands of Islam do exist, and by that very existence serve as a rebuke to the Qur'anic literalists and fundamentalists.  To adduce an imperfect, but illuminative, analogy: Arianism, an early Christian heresy which (to greatly simplify) taught that Christ was not co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, was probably the majority brand of Christianity in Western Europe between the fall of Rome and Charlemagne's time, as well as being quite popular in the Byzantine Empire--yet it ultimately died out.  Perhaps just as orthodox Christianity had to fight back from minority status, so too non-jihadist, albeit currently marginal, Islam might eventually gain the upper hand.  This will take decades, if not centuries, and will ultimately prove an in-house Muslim struggle.  But that doesn't mean we conservatives and Christians (and Jews, and atheists, and Sikh, and Hindus) shouldn't  assist these marginal Muslims as much as possible--starting with conceding their presence.

Peter the Venerable (d. 1156), who published the first Latin translation of the Qur'an. This is him with his rod talking to his staff. 
IV. Jesus loves me, this I know.  So stop telling me and everyone else we'll fry without Him.
Look, I was baptized by immersion ("dunking" for my friends back in Kentucky) in Warsaw (KY) Baptist Church in 1976, and I've been a Lutheran Christian (who reads the Orthodox Study Bible) for 27 years now.  I realize Christ died, and was resurrected, to atone for my sins.  And what's more, I believe it.  It's called "the Gospel." But far too many evangelicals seem to think that an effective anti-Islamization strategy consists of hammering Muslims and liberals (and sometimes even other Christians) with the Law, telling them that they can look forward to an eternity of doing the backstroke in the Lake of Fire, and leaving it at that.  Such folks seem to forget our Lord saying to be as wise, or as shrewd, as serpents (Matthew 10:16).  While ultimately I believe the global advance of Islam can be halted by the only larger world religion, I do also think that the "My Messiah is better than your Prophet" approach might be a tad simplistic--and infuriating to others, including, say, Catholics and Orthodox and non-evangelical Protestants, as well as non-Christians.  Dial the intolerant Christian stereotype back just a bit, and you might find that those of us opposed to Islamization of the planet Earth have more in common than we do apart.  Case in point: some evangelicals believe that Isaiah 19 is being fulfilled currently by the Muslm Brotherhood taking over Egypt; but most of us Christians think, rather, that that particular Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled in the first millennium BC-- so labeling our quite mainstream Christian view as "apostate" (as was done to me recently) is not only ignorant but narrow-minded and, most importantly, alienates potential allies in the counter-jihad movement.  Most of the world's 2.2 billion Christians are NOT evangelical Protestants, so keep that in mind and focus on alerting folks to the problematic nature of Islam and operate under the maxim "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" rather than "an enemy is just another Christian who hasn't attacked you yet."
V. Stop talking about the end of the world--or at least the Christian one.
Yes, this is quite ironic for a guy whose expertise is Islamic eschatology, and doubly-so posted on a website entitled  I, along with probably 1.5 billion other Christians, recite the Apostles' or Nicene Creed every Sunday--both of which state that Christ "will come again to judge the living and the dead."  I even believe in the Rapture because, contra media  and liberal Christian scorn, it is a Biblical doctrine, clearly spelled out in I Thessalonians 4:17.  So I'm not against prognosticating about The End, to include speculating on whether the Antichrist might be the Mahdi as opposed to the Papacy.  (Even if that makes me a bad Lutheran.) What troubles me is examining Islamic theology and history just to cherry-pick Qur'anic or Hadith (sayings attributed to Muhammad) pieces in order to use them to help solve a predetermined, usually pre-tribulationist Protestant eschatological puzzle--and then trying to argue that US political, military or counter-terrrorism policies should be predicated on such "analysis."  What would make a lot more sense would be to examine Islamic eschatological and apocalyptic doctrines, and historical manifestations of Mahdism, on their own merit.  This would give us insight into whether any current non-state (AQ, etc.) Islamic terrorist organizations, and/or any extant Islamic states (the Islamic Republic of Iran, most prominently), might be motivated by eschatological beliefs--and what that might entail (as I did in a preliminary fashion in the final chapter of my book Holiest Wars).  As a Christian believer, I study Revelation (and Daniel and the Gospels, etc.) in order to learn as much as possible about when Christ will return; but Christ Himself warned us that we would not be able to figure it out, in Matthew 24:36.  So let's instead work on what we might have a shot at ascertaining--things like whether Iran will use nuclear weapons against Israel, or whether, now that Usama bin Ladin has proved not to be the Sunni Mahdi, he might transmogrify into an occulted, Shi`i-type one.
VI. Look at history and not just Islamic theology.
Yes, Islamic doctrines--derived mainly from Qur'an and Hadith--are a sina qua non for understanding jihad, da`wah (Islamic proselytizing) and why 60% of the world's terrorist organizations today are Muslim ones.
But Christianity cannot be understood in all its global impact, over two millennia, without studying the forms of Christian society, polity and international relations under Constantine and Charlemagne and Charles V and Cromwell and Churchill.  Reading the Bible alone may tell you the ideal, but it won't tell you the much messier historical reality.  Likewise for Islam.  The Qur'an may mandate "fighting and slaying the idolaters wherever you find them" (Sura al-Tawbah[IX]:5), but the Ottoman Empire could, and did, not always act upon that directive--sometimes because it encountered superior (European Christian) firepower, other times because a substantial minority of the empire's own population was made up of these "idolaters" (Trinitarian Christians)--or both.  Look at the idea of the caliphate in Islam.  This idea of a one-man "successor" to Muhammad as political and military (albeit not prophetic) ruler of all Sunni Muslims is being promoted again here in the early 21st century, most notably in the wake of the "Arab Spring" the past year and especially with the election of the Muslim Brotherhood's Muhammad Mursi to the presidency of Egypt.  But any student of Islamic history can tell you that the period of Islamic unity under one caliph was a very, very brief one--a matter of just the first few decades, and that the other 1268 years of Islamic history between 656 (Ali's accession) and 1924 (dissolution of the Ottoman caliphate) saw multiple caliphs and caliphates across the Islamic world from the Maghrib to Malaysia.  One caliph to rule them all has been largely a chimerical quest for Muslims over the centuries.  That is not to say that we should not be concerned about the prospect of significant portions of the Muslim (especially Arab) world somehow consolidating and then both enforcing shari`ah internally and perhaps posing a transnational threat externally. But let us do so informed by, again, the messy and sometimes inconvenient realities of history, not blindly accepting our enemies' propaganda and thereby giving it more power than it deserves.

I hope my conservative and Christian brothers and sisters will at least consider these suggestions as they go forth to do their own battles, rhetorical or real.  As has been said, "advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise...." (Gildor, at the Council of Elrond, in The Fellowship of the Ring).  Perhaps I overestimate my own wisdom on this topic; certainly some who read this, even those who formerly had deemed me to possess it, will (now) think otherwise.  But since I spend much of my time and energy trying to correct the misapprehensions of non-Christians and/or non-conservatives regarding Islam, I thought it useful to do so for the other end of the religious and political spectrum.  Take from this what you will.  And if so moved, please let me know whether it has been helpful.

Don't be this guy: always learning, but never able to acknowledge the truth--nor to clean up his study, obviously! (Where IS that Grima Wormtongue when you need him?)

4:38 pm edt          Comments

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Wide Awake, Not Sleeping, Regarding Islamization in the US
My friend Eric Allen Bell, liberal film-maker and blogger extraordinaire, has now taken on a new task: exposing the problematic aspects of Islam wherever they manifest.  To that end, he has an excellent expose online today at "Atlas Shrugs" entitled "Murfreesboro [Tennessee] Mega-Mosque Proselytiziing in Public School Curriculum"--wherein yours truly is quoted at length: 

"I think that what we have here, with Abdou Kattih's attempt to get the Rutherford County school system to, in essence, Islamize itself, is not jihad per se but the "soft" power version of Islamization--known as da`wah. Da`wah literally means "call," "invitation" or "summons" to Islam (or to a particular sectarian version thereof--most prominently, in Islamic history, to the Sevener Shi`i version of that faith known as Isma'ilism).  As the august Encyclopedia of Islam  notes, da`wah "can often be translated as mission or propaganda" but also "has the sense of doctrine, religion, community, sect...."  As such, it is perhaps best viewed as a "kinder, gentler"--that is, non-"kinetic"/non-violent--version of Jihad.  

But it aims for the same goal: an Islamized society and system where, in the final analysis, Islamic norms and, eventually, rule of law (shari`ah) predominate. 

Take a look at this chart, p. 36, from a Dutch study, From Dawa to Jihad: The Various Threats from Radical Islam to the Democratic Legal Order (2004); it shows the relationship of jihad to da`wah quite well.

What is going on in Murfreesboro is, I think, clearly an example of "Covert Dawa," #3 in that chart: "These organizations often operate 'with a hidden agenda and under false pretences', with a focus on secretly propagating and financing exclusivism and parallelism. To the outside world, these...present themselves as legitimate humanitarian organizations and discussion partners for the government, but in fact they advocate and propagate a highly intolerant exclusivism and parallelism (hidden from the government's and the public's view). The realization of this pursuit can be characterized as a threat, all the more so because the methods to achieve it are characterized by secrecy" (p. 39).  Indeed, the Murfreesboro mosque and its propagandists may already be shading into the next level, #4, which is just one stop removed from "covert jihad:" "These forms of radical Islam try to undermine the structures of the democratic legal order via covert Dawa. At an international level there have been indications that in particular the radical branches of the Muslim Brotherhood employ covert Dawa strategies. Rather than confronting the state power with direct violence, this strategy seeks to gradually undermine it by infiltrating and eventually taking over the civil service, the judicature, schools, local administrations, et cetera" (p. 40)

It's certainly exclusivistic and undermining of the public school system to insist that Muslims be allowed to pray during school (as well as do their rather high-profile ablutions), to be excused from PT during Ramadan fasting, to be allowed out of school on Fridays for Muslim services.  And it's moving beyond mere equal treatment under the law for Muslims to demand that they be allowed to vet history, social studies and geography textbooks (are maps somehow different in the Islamic view?!) and to be allowed to determine, subjectively, what defines "religious prejudice."  One can safely assume that any historical discussion of, say, jihad - a staple of Islamic history and expansion, going back to Islam's founder Muhammad, for 1433 years - would be deemed "prejudicial" by Abdou Kattih.  I seriously doubt that Hindus or Sikhs, much less Christians, are allowed to vet textbooks thusly.  Why should Muslims be given special treatment in this regard?

Whether Kattih and his supporters in (and outside) Murfreesboro are consciously engaged as an outpost of the Muslim Brotherhood's "Civilization Jihadist" [sic] (Muslim Brotherhood's "Explanatory Memorandum On the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America," May 22, 1991, p. 5 of the English version) is almost beside the point--for they are certainly de facto operating as such.  And this is what the current administration (including the intelligence and law enforcement agencies), American media and far too many in our society as a whole fail to grasp (whether intentionally or not) that the Islamic imperative to engage in da`wah, ingrained into every Muslim who seriously practices that faith, is almost reflexively acted upon UNLESS it is made abundantly clear that it will not be tolerated.  That is not to say that Muslims cannot practice their religion - of course they can. They can even try to convert folks.  BUT unless Muslims are convinced that they will not be granted a special status in non-Muslim lands, they will continue to insist on being given a mile whenever they are granted an inch.  

 Da`wah is slow-motion jihad, if you will; and the longer it is allowed to gain momentum, it will only gather more and more steam and speed--until it becomes, if not unstoppable, certainly very problematic for non-Muslims and very hard to derail.

Catholics, the largest single religious body  here (almost 70 million of the US' 220+ million Christians), have never demanded that schools or employers adhere to canon law.  On the other end of the demographic spectrum, Hindus (0.4% of the population) are not coming to the US and demanding the practice of Dharma in American public schools and workplaces.  Muslims, while perhaps the fastest-growing religion in the US, still comprise no more than 1% of Americans - and while they may have been inculcated with the idea that Islamizing the West's major nation is their duty as Muslims (see Shavit, "Should Muslims Integrate into the West?," MEQ, Fall 2007), and reinforced in that belief by the American liberal tendency to treat them as "victims" (especially, paradoxically, post-9/11), our secular republic does not have to sacrifice its hallowed traditions and practices on an altar of political correctness and misguided Islamophilia."

As U2 sings in their best song, "Bad:" it's time for all Americans to become wide-awake, not sleeping, as a tiny religious minority exploits its alleged victimhood and the inanity of multicultural cowardice to change our society from within.   Eric Allen Bell's site "Global Infidel TV" is the perfect place to start sipping the coffee of reality and not the soma of political correctness.

4:44 pm edt          Comments

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Jamkaran Mosque near Qom, Iran (during my trip there Aug. 2008)

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