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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.

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

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. 

 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 words).
◊ 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
◊ There 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!
9:13 am edt          Comments

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

ISIS: Apocalypse...How?
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 the following:
"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.

SecDef Hagel 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 tremendously well-funded."
• "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 geopolitical equation.
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 depressing.  
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.
1:28 pm edt          Comments

Friday, August 22, 2014

Losing Your Brains, Not Just Your Head, Over Islam
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."

Here are the relevant radio links:

1) "The Jonathon Vernon-Smith Show," 8.22.14 on BBC "Three Counties Radio:"  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:
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:
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?
1:07 pm edt          Comments

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

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