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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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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Br'er Mahdi? Luring the US into Eschatological Quicksand in Syria
Last night the United States and several allied Arab nations began airstrikes on the Islamic State [IS], as well as on the al-Qa`ida/Jabhat al-Nusrah offshoot Khurasan (or Khorasan), in Syria.  I wonder if the American political and military leadership realizes that in so doing we are waging war to stave off the end of the world—at least, that’s the opinion of many of our targeted enemies. I have previously explicated the extant and evident End Times beliefs of the major Sunni players in Syria—notably ISIS/ISIL/IS and Jabhat al-Nusrah.  Now comes a new twist: according to, of all sources, an Iranian one, IS is disseminating photos of a one-eyed infant which the group claims is the  Dajjal—the “Deceiver,” or anti-Christ, of Islamic tradition.  The story quotes Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair General Dempsey from a few weeks ago to the effect that IS has “an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision.”  It also, interestingly, quotes me: “once the caliphate is firmly established, then the likelihood of a Mahdiyah being proclaimed increases."  (Does this constitute damning with faint praise?  Although nice on my trip to Tehran in 2008, official Iranian outlets have written negatively about me since.)  It is curious, as well, that the Ahlul Bay [Ahl al-Bayt, “Family of the House (of the Prophet)”] News Agency would mock IS adducing the one-eyed Dajjal—since the idea is clearly found in both Sunni and Twelver Shi`i hadiths 

Urdu book on the Dajjal.  Now where have I seen this one-eyed chap before? Perhaps some pipe-weed will clear my mind....

This goes hand-in-fist with the many eschatological references in IS’s three issues of “Dabiq” magazine—the very name of which refers to the major apocalyptic battle between Muslim and “Roman/Crusader” forces at that location in northwest Syria.  (Again, see my previous blogalyses on the topic.)   But Levantine eschatological fervor is almost certainly being further inflamed by this newly-revelaled Khurasan organization—which, according to US intelligence and military sources, was planning “imminent” attacks on Americans, probably airliners.  The region of Khurasan is, however, much more than merely “part of the old Islamic caliphate that included Afghanistan [as well as eastern Iran and parts of Central Asia].”  That eastern Islamic territory was considered to be the eschatological font, as it were. There are a number of (Sunni) hadiths which predict that the Mahdi will ride in, with his jihadist entourage, from Khurasan to deliver the Islamic world and subjugate its enemies.  Furthermore, the Mahdi’s forces will bear the (in)famous black flags so beloved of groups like IS and Boko Haram right now.   Knowing the eschatological penchant of Jabhat al-Nusrah, I thus doubt that its splinter group’s name is only a geographical reference.  

Khurasan--also known as Greater Stanistan.

Finally, I sat through all 55:14 of the new IS video “
Flames of War: Fighting Has Just Begun.”  Frankly, this bloody and boring film is simply a live-action version of “Dabiq” magazine—albeit in the latter one at least is not subjected to interminable, grating Arabic Islamic chants and mind-numbing repetitions of “allah akbar.”  The usual IS suspects are everywhere: jihad is a duty; the caliphate is back, and this time it’s personal Bush/Obama; watch us kill “Nusayris” (Syrian Alawis), “Safawis” (Iraqi soldiers—“Safavids,” referring to the Twelver Shi`i Persian empire of early modern times), “murtaddin” (“apostate”) Kurds, usually en masse.  (IS even makes some of them dig their own graves before shooting them all in the backs of their heads.)   

One aspect of the IS propaganda was new, however;  speaking directly to the United States, the self-styled Caliph Ibrahim says “O defender of the cross…a proxy war won’t help you in Sham [Syria] just as it didn’t help you in Iraq….you will be forced into a direct confrontation…despite your reluctance…” [emphasis added].    


1) IS is not the only belligerent in the Middle East with an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision; Jabhat al-Nusrah has one, as well—as does, most likely, Khurasan.
2) Said eschatological paradigms are not “extremist” but very much in the Islamic mainstream (both Sunni and Shi`i)—and it would behoove analysts to consider them. 

3) Last month, in my break-down of the second issue of “Dabiq,” I wrote the following:  
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.   “Caliph Ibrahim’s” latest warning to us—that the US is destined for direct conflict (meaning ground forces) with IS—clearly supports my contention.  IS leadership is firmly convinced, based on its literal reading of relevant hadiths, that a great force of “Romans/Crusaders” (Americans) will invade Syria and that a pious group of Muslims, the Islamic State, will defeat it.  Thus, I am convinced that Ibrahim and his ansar WANT massed American boots in Syria, the sooner the better—and are trying to goad us into providing them. 

4) Finally, a very important point which no one in the analytical or journalistic community notices--or cares to admit: the new Caliph refers to the United States of America as "defender of the cross."  Not "proponent of Ayn Rand," "guardian  of the Enlightenment" or "warden of Jeffersonian democracy."  The Islamic State's leader forthrightly and inconveniently spells out exactly why they hate us: because, in the eyes of him and his Muslim followers, we are a Christian nation.   There are those who will dismiss this as a mere progagandistic trope.  But they would be wrong to do so.  IS, along with Boko Haram and al-Qa`ida and Jabhat al-Nusra and the Taliban (to name only a few), as well as the non-terrorist but Muslim fundamentalist strains such as Wahhabism and Deobandism and Salafism--all view the world through a simplistic but legitimately Islamic lens of Dar al-Islam v. Dar al-harb: the "house of Islam" v. the "house of war."  And for 14 centuries the vanguard of the latter has been Christendom.  Some decry pointing this out as crass  "Crusaderism."  But as that combat veteran J.R.R. Tolkien points outs, "it needs but one foe to breed a war"--and when that enemy declares its war on us in religious terms, should we pretend otherwise?

4:26 pm edt          Comments

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Islamic Historical Roots of ISIS: Furnish on Fox News Channel
The Fox News Special "Greta: Investigates ISIS" has now aired thrice.  The entire 60 minutes is not yet available online, but a long trailer (8:34) is, and much of my commentary appears therein.

8:45 am edt          Comments

Thursday, September 18, 2014

You Say ISIL, I Say ISIS--Let's Blow the Whole Thing Up

I was interviewed for 90 minutes last week by the good folks at Fox News Channel in New York City for the upcoming Greta van Susteren special "Greta: Investigates ISIS." It will air on Friday, September 19 at 7 pm Eastern Time (US) and again Saturday, September 20 at 10 pm and Sunday, September 21 at 9 pm.

I will provide historical background opinings on the caliphate, Sunni-Shi`i differences, Ottomans v. Safavids, Qur'anic doctrines, etc., which will serve as springboards for the panel discussion on the show. 
Here's a one-minute trailer (in which I appear for just a few seconds):


11:33 pm edt          Comments

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Obama on ISIS: Oft In Lies Truth Is Hidden
Today is 9.11.14, thirteen years exactly since the attack by al-Qa`idah-affiliated Muslims that killed almost 3,000 Americans.  In a speech last night President Obama explained his belated articulation of a strategy to defeat (the) Islamic State, or IS—which he calls ISIL, the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (also known as ISIS, “the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham/[Greater] Syria”).   POTUS made two assertions in particular that relate to the beliefs and activities of IS:  1) “ISIL is not Islamic. No religion condones the killing of innocents…;” and 2) “ISIL is certainly not a state” since it “is recognized by no government nor by the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple” with “no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.”

Are these statements accurate?  Regarding the first: besides its very name, Islamic State has now published three issues of its “Dabiq” magazine—two of which I have closely analyzed in previous blogposts.  To summarize my takes on the first two: the name “Dabiq” is taken from a Hadith (saying of Muhammad’s) referring to a future apocalyptic battle between Muslims and “Romans”—understood as Western, Christian forces; both cite the Qur’an and the Hadiths numerous times (far more than the two Qur’anic citations mustered by the much-ballyhooed anti-IS fatwa put out by British imams); pan-Islamic ideas are trumpeted as far more legitimate than the “colonial” nation-state boundaries extant in the Middle East; historical examples of Islamic empires (Umayyads and Abbasids, in particular) are adduced as precedent for IS’s caliphate; and the ancient Muhammadan pattern of hijrah to a safe zone—in this case, the IS--is recommended to Muslims everywhere.  

In the third issue of “Dabiq,” subtitled “A Call to Hijrah,” Islamic State doubles down on dissemination of Islamic doctrines.  The Qur’an is quoted 8 times; 35 Hadiths are presented; 17 different Islamic scholars are put forward (most notably Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Kathir).  The progenitor of Islamic State, Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi, is quoted 6 times and given the status of “martyr.”  The liquidation of the treacherous Syrian Shu`aytat tribe—killing all the men and taking the women and children as ghanimah, or “war booty”—is justified on the basis of the example of Muhammad, who ordered that two men who stole his camels were punished by having “their hands and feet cut off, their eyes…pulled out with hot iron, and they be thrown out on …an area covered with black stones near Madinah…so they would ask for water to drink, but not be given any…until they died” (“Dabiq,” #3, p. 14).  


Islamic eschatology is once again given top priority, after its prominent explication in issue 1 but its side-lining in the second issue.  “Sham,” or Greater Syria, is called the “Land of Malahim,” or “epic battles”—most notably al-Malhamah al-Kubra, the “Great Battle” which will take place at Dabiq, the town in northern Syria which the Islamic State recently “liberated.”   Syria is “linked…with many of the events related to al-Masih [“the Messiah,” Jesus], al-Mahdi, and the Dajjal.” The restored caliphate will be leading the charge against the evil Western forces, of course.   But to get up to strength to do so, IS needs not just more jihadists but more educated Muslims, with their families, to build the infrastructure of the Islamic State—hence the many paged herein devoted to convincing Western Muslims of the need for hijrah, or “emigration” to its domains.   
Thus, refuting Obama’s second assertion, that IS is not a state, “Dabiq” extolls the Islamic education of youth, the many abandoned homes available for occupancy, the social services which the new caliphate can provide.  “Do not be a slave to work, but come on hijrah for jihad and your needs will be met.”  Indeed, “the life of jihad is not possible until you pack and move to the khilafah.”  

The final pages of “Dabiq” #3 are devoted to the decapitation of James Foley: Obama, supporter of “Yazidi Satanism and Peshmergan Zionism,” is blamed primarily, although Foley himself is also impugned for “glorifying crusaders” (his journalistic work in war zones) and for espionage.  Foley is shown with a knife at his throat—but not actually beheaded.   So don’t take the word of the Vatican, conservatives or atheists that ISLAMIC State is, well, Islamic—just read the ISLAMIC State’s publications.  It also clearly has a vision—a profoundly Islamic, albeit Sunni fundamentalist, one. Whether Western politicians—notably, but not only, Obama—deny the clear causal link between Islam and global terrorism out of ignorance, rejection of reality or shrewd Machiavellian realpolitick is debatable.  But whatever the reason, it’s become not just tiresome and annoying but injurious both to the American people (who are becoming increasingly bitter toward both Democrats’ and Republicans’ political correctness on this issue) and to our transnational efforts to stem such terrorism (failing to address root causes is a recipe for continuing disasters, not solutions).   Mr. Foley and Mr. Sotloff lost their heads, in large part because our leaders have lost not only their minds, but their spines.  But even their lies cannot hide the truth.

Since the second part of my title quotation comes from Tolkien (spoken by the Elf Glorfindel at the Council of Elrond, referring to Saruman), I leave you with a scene from "Return of the King" in which the Orcs besieging Minas Tirith launch the severed heads of Gondorian soldiers back into the city--much as the Muslim Ottomans did in real-life sieges of Christian cities.  Perhaps Victor Davis Hanson is right to ask whether the Orcs are winning.  But I still hold out hope that Western civilization will produce, if not an Aragorn, at least some Boromirs to save us.

"FOR GONDOR!" One of the most stirring parts of the "Lord of the Rings" movies!
1:47 pm edt          Comments

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

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