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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: http://hnn.us/articles/13146.html; for more in-depth info, see the links here to my other writings, including my book on Mahdism.
Saturday, August 30, 2014
ISIS Has A Syria Strategy--An Apocalyptic One
The newest issue of "Dabiq," the marketing magazine for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/the Levant
(ISIS or ISIL), is out.
9:13 am edt
Some preliminary thoughts on it:
◊ The focus, as per the title, is on getting Muslims
to emigrate to the "Islamic State"/new caliphate--a process in which they have already had some success.
However, Islamic eschatology is also front-and-center: the title; the al-Zarqawi quote about burning "crusader"
armies at Dabiq; the first explicit mention by IS[IS] of the Mahdi; the "liberation" of
the Syrian town of Dabiq paving the way for the apocalytpic battle there with the "Romans" (Americans, in other
◊ President Obama is singled out as a "crusader apostate" who supports "Yazidi Satanism"
and "Peshmergan Zionism." It is unclear whether the labelling of this POTUS an "apostate" means
that IS[IS] leadership considers him a fallen Muslim, or simply refers to his (heretical) Christian faith
are several pages of text and photos dealing with the late James Foley. In fact, "Dabiq" prints two complete
pages alleging to be the text of Foley's final statement, which mostly consists of condemnations of US policy, blaming those
for his death, and regrets that he is an American. Of course, it is impossible to ascertain whether such was coerced.
But since Foley makes absolutely no mention of his Christian (Catholic) faith, it's hard to see how anyone can deem him a Christian martyr.I will post a more complete analysis of this publication next week. Stay tuned.
Beware those Romans/Byzantines/Americans: for they have a navy and advanced weaponry!
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Last week the senior leadership of the US Defense Department publicly acknowledged that Islamic apocalyptic thought is playing a prominent role in modern Middle Eastern conflicts. The Chairman
of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, in a press conference with his boss, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, said
1:28 pm edt
• "This is an organization that has an apocalyptic,
end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated."
And we thought Scuds were bad when Saddam had them! How extraordinary!
The top-ranking American military commander adduced Islamic eschatology as an important issue. Perhaps my eight
years of warning about Mahdism on this site has finally been heeded by certain folks.
and General Dempsey also said several other things worthy of note and examination:
• POTUS has asked for $500
million "to assist the moderate [Syrian] opposition
• "Strategically, there are limits to how much you
can accomplish with airstrikes. Tactically, you can accomplish a significant amount."
• IS[IS] "will have
to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially...a nonexistent border"
• "ISIS will only truly
be defeated when it's rejected by the 20 million disenfranchised Sunni that...reside between Damascus and Baghdad"
• "[I]n the aftermath of the Arab Spring [sic]...we actually have groups that now kind of are loosely connected,
in some cases affiliated, that run from Afghanistan across the Arabian peninsula into Yemen to the Horn of Africa and into
North and West Africa. So in general the conflict against these groups...that's going to be a very long contest.
It's ideological. It's not political. It's religious, in many cases."
• IS[IS] is "beyond just a
terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess." And "they are
• "ISIL's vision...includes...Lebanon, the current state of Israel, Jordan,
Iraq, Syria and Kuwait."
1) Overall, it's quite positive
that the DoD (belatedly) recognizes that Islamic apocalyptic/eschatological beliefs should be factored into the
2) Those of us who tend to think that Bashar al-Asad, for all his cruelty, is the least bad
option in Syria are never going to be persuaded otherwise as long as DoD leaders (or State or US Senators) are unable to identify,
specifically, members of the chimerical "moderate opposition" in Syria.
3) References to the
US needing a strategic vision that encompasses both Iraq and Syria and their "20 million disenfranchised Sunni[s]"
are necessary but not sufficient--because the inconvenient truth is that IS[IS]'s harsh but literalist brand of Islam
is proving popular not just among Arab "psychopaths" themselves but in France, Britain and even East Asia. As I've said in previous blogs and radio interviews, until official fatwas de-legitimizing
IS[IS] are put out by reputable Sunni authorities (such as al-Azhar and Yusuf al-Qaradawi), the organization
will maintain at least a patina of Islamic doctrinal credibility.
4) Is the Pentagon really only now
realizing that Islamic groups across the Eurasian and African landmasses are linked by a common religious ideology? That's
5) Secretary Hagel: IS[IS] is not just an ultra-terrorist group with an ideology and strategic
and tactical experience. It happens to be, whether we like or admit it, a territorial state.
6) General Dempsey, sir: you need to get re-briefed on what al-Sham constituted in Middle Eastern history,
and what it thus means for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. Yes, historic al-Sham encompassed what are now Lebanon,
Israel, most of Jordan and Syria. But it never included Iraq or Kuwait. Such inaccuracies make you look
bad (or they would if the press knew much about the topic).
Ottoman al-Sham encompassed the central district here (that comes to a point on the right).
al-Sham in pre-Ottoman Arab history stretched from Turkey to southern Israel, but did not extend as far east as Iraq--and
certainly not to the Persian Gulf. Still, that constitutes a large area coveted by IS[IS]. One last relevant observation, from another angle: my good friend Reverend Jack Smith, author
of the well-researched and thought-provoking book Islam: The Cloak of Antichrist (for which I wrote the "Foreword"), recently asked, in response to this
Hagel-Dempsey presser, whether "the Pentagon need[s] a Bible to develop war strategy against ISIS?"
Although I am a (conservative, but not Evangelical) Christian, my immediate and resounding
response is: NO!
Why? Because the last thing the US military or intelligence
community needs is to have the genuine war against apocalypse-fired Islamic militants conflated with a narrowly Evangelical
Christian view of matters. The US government is a secular, not a religious, one--and although I have repeatedly criticized
the refusal of the leader of the world's largest Christian-populated nation to do anything about global persecution of Christians,
I do NOT want our forces engaged in an Evangelical Protestant "Crusade." Furthermore, and just as (if not
more) importantly, opposing and defeating the Islamic "apocalyptic strategic vision"--which is shared by groups
besides IS[IS]--can only be done by analyzing said vision on its own Muslim terms, using Muslim (Arabic, Turkish and Persian)
sources. Frankly, in this fight, I don't give a damn in this context what Revelation or Ezekiel or Daniel
say--it matters more what's in the Qur'an, the Hadiths, and Islamic commentators thereupon. I say this to my Evangelical
brethren: it's not always about you and your interpretation of Christian Scripture. The rest of us (Catholic, Orthodox,
Lutherans, etc.) in the fold might have something worthwhile to say on the topic, too--but this fight against IS[IS] is neither
the time nor the place.
Addendum, as of 8.28.14: Reverend Smith contacted me and said that
his comment about having the Pentagon take guidance from the Bible on this issue was tongue-in-cheek. Understood.
I should also have made more clear that other Evangelicals besides him have advanced such ideas; thus my singling out of him
for critique was rather unfair. As a Christian I believe in the Second Coming--my church recites either the Apostles'
or Nicene Creed every Sunday, both of which attest to Jesus Christ "who will come again to judge both the living and
the dead." But the timetable is His, not mine. And as I said above, Christian eschatology (of any stripe) need not be
adduced to combat apocalyptic Muslim movements; in fact, it simply muddies the waters.
Friday, August 22, 2014
Losing Your Brains, Not Just Your Head, Over Islam
1:07 pm edt
When I wrote "Beheading in the Name of Islam
" for "Middle East Quarterly" in 2005, I did not anticipate it becoming the defining article on the topic--although
I fully expected my piece to remain relevant for the forseeable future, as has proved out. Last year, after the beheading of Lee Rigby by two Muslims
in the UK, I was interviewed on topic by "BBC-Ireland." This week, in the wake of the decapitation of James Foley
by the self-styled Islamic State, I've been on two different BBC programs, as well as American liberal commentator Alan
Colmes' show, and interviewed by the French newspaper "Libération."
are the relevant radio links:
1) "The Jonathon Vernon-Smith Show," 8.22.14 on BBC "Three Counties
I come on right after the 4" mark, then after a break and some other comments by the host he interviews me for
5-6 minutes. Besides beheading in Islam, we delve into the degree to which IS[IS] is simply following Islamic doctrines
and Muhammad's historical example to the letter, or whether IS is misrepresenting Islam. What's particularly illuminating
are the subsequent remarks by Muslim callers. One female Muslim seems never to have read the Qur'an, or to know that
Muhammad himself ordered beheadings; another chap named "Lutf" is an Ahmadi Muslim, a member of a heterodox (many
Muslims says heretical) sect who, thus, has little standing to be speaking in the name of "Islam" in toto.
2) "BBC Radio 5 Live" with Eleanor Oldroyd, 8.21.14: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04dmcrh
Once again, although in less detail than with JVS, we discuss the extent to which IS is indeed Muslim. I come
on at the 8:35 mark.
3) "The Alan Colmes Show," 8.21.14: http://radio.foxnews.com/2014/08/20/how-will-the-us-respond-to-the-death-of-james-foley/
Mr. Colmes, a well-known liberal commentator here in the US, makes it his mission to try to refute my points about IS
being legitimately Islamic, and do so in rather obstreperous (and fact-deprived) fashion.
Listen and decide
for yourselves who makes a better case based on the facts. Ali beheading Nadir b. al-Harith, a poet who had mocked "the prophet," at Muhammad's
directive. How can IS be "un-Islamic" when it's following the example of its founder?
Thursday, August 21, 2014
IS[IS]: Still Beheading Like It's The End Of The World
The “Islamic State” [IS], formerly the “Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham”
[ISIS or ISIL—the latter if one prefers “Levant”], ended Ramadan 1435/2014 with another issue of its propagandistic
“Dabiq” magazine. (Issue #1 thereof, which had come out at the beginning of the Islamic holy month, I dissected here.)
12:59 pm edt
This second issue is book-ended with apocalyptic references: p. 2 repeats
the Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi (who went to meet the huris, 2006) quote—adduced several times in issue #1—about the
spark that had been lit in Iraq eventually burning the “crusader armies in Dabiq;” while the final page excerpts
a hadith foretelling the Muslim conquest of Arabia, Persia, Rome and the defeat of the Dajjal (the “Deceiver,”
the Islamic antichrist figure). IS’s flagship publication also brags that the group is coming for
Palestine and, as per another hadith, that it will “fight the barbaric jews and kill those of them hiding behind the
gharqad trees…” But
the second installment of “Dabiq,” unlike the first, does not obsess about the End Times breaking into today’s
Middle East; rather, it focuses like a Bond supervillain laser beam on two related topics: the Biblical/Qur’anic flood,
and the Islamic practice of mubahalah.
The Flood, which is the title of the entire issue, is adduced because the Islamic State posits the state
of the world to be just as it was in the time of prophet Nuh—with even the Muslims so ignorant of true religion (Islam,
of course) that they are in need of saving. And the Ark today is none other than the Islamic State, where true shari`ah
is enforced and where no one is “free to choose”—because the witless masses are incapable of choosing
religious truth, and so must have it imposed upon them. Moderate Muslims who believe in choice and “peaceful
means of change” are fools spouting “twisted methodology.” Just as in prophet Nuh’s
time, “it’s either me or the flood.”
I don't know...I might take my chances and swim.
“Dabiq”#2 goes on at length about “the widespread ignorance amongst the people”—meaning
Muslims, who “are like a hundred camels amongst which you can’t find any that are fit for riding.”
Only by fleeing to the Ark of the Islamic State can Muslims be saved from “baathism, secularism, liberalism,
democracy or anything else that would contradict the essence of tawhid [Islamic teaching of strict “oneness” of
also devotes almost ¼ of this entire publication to explicating mubahlah and invoking it over against their
opponents—mainly Jabhat al-Nusrah. Mubahalah comes from the verb bahala, which can mean either “to curse” or “to
supplicate/implore Allah.” It is, in essence, a religious ordeal in which two disputing religious
parties summon Allah as witness to curse the incorrect/dishonest one. It is referenced in Sura `Ali ‘Imran [III]:39ff, and explicated by later Muslim commentators as referring to a dispute between Muhammad and
some Christians from Najran over the position of Jesus. IS, perhaps feeling the sting of criticism from
its erstwhile allies, challenges JN (as well as Syria’s Islamic Front) to trial-by-mubahalah—confident that it is entirely within Allah’s will.
The only other major theme
which IS pushes in this issue of “Dabiq” is the demand for (Sunni) Muslims to migrate to the domains of the new
caliphate, or if that is not possible at least to “organize bay`at (pledges of allegiance) to the Khalifah Ibrahim”
among family, friends and neighbors and post them on the Internet. Much of the rest of this magazine—some
18 pp. out of the total of 44—consists of photographs of the usual jihadist favorite subjects: dead Kurds and Shi`is,
dynamited Shi`i shrines and mosques, triumphant bearded and heavily armed caliphal warriors “liberating” areas
of Syria and Iraq. It ends with the aforementioned hadith predicting that the Muslims would go from conquest to conquest,
ultimately prevailing over even the Dajjal.
Urban renewal, courtesy of IS: the dynamited tomb/shrine of Ahmad al-Rifa`i, founder of the
Rifa`i Sufi order.
1) This issue of “Dabiq” appears
more defensive, indeed apologetic, than the first one. The invoking of mubahalah clearly indicates
that criticism from other Muslims (not from Obama or David Cameron) has had some effect. Perhaps
the rector of al-Azhar or the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia should take IS up on the mubahalah challenge, since the
group clearly takes the issue very seriously and would have its legitimacy degraded by Allah failing to curse the Egyptians
or Saudis (although IS spokesjihadists might try to claim that any negative events in those countries amounted to evidence
of divine retribution for failing the test).
Once again, creating such a glossy and lengthy publication in English demonstrates that the newly-minted caliphate is trying
to manipulate Western, or at least Western Muslim, public opinion. Considering how many British (and perhaps
also, now, American) volunteers it has attracted, continuing such a strategy makes sense.
3) Although, as already noted, this second
installment of “Dabiq” is less eschatological than the first one, it does nonetheless continue to invoke Islamic
apocalyptic themes—showing either that the IS leadership is enamored of the End Times, it knows the resonance of such
a theme for many (Western/Westernized) Muslims—or both.
4) I would maintain that IS atrocities
like the beheading of James Foley and the mass murders of Shi`is and Yazidis are, in effect, "bizarre rituals intended to bring about the end of the world"--or at least to spark the Mahdi's coming. I truly think that IS has passed into the realm of trying to hotwire
the apocalypse. God willing no one is stupid enough to try and find "moderate ISIS" with whom to negotiate.
IS human sacrifice of American journalist James Foley. It won't induce the coming of the
Mahdi--but hopefully it will cause the avenging coming of American military forces.
|Jamkaran Mosque near Qom, Iran (during my trip there Aug. 2008)