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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 most recently in the ongoing
Mahdist movements (some violent) in Iraq, as well as in the frequently-expressed public prayers of Iranian
President Ahmadinezhad bidding the Mahdi to return and, in the larger Sunni Islamic world, by claims that Usamah bin Ladin
might be the (now occulted?) Mahdi. 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.
Monday, November 11, 2013
Days of Future Mahdism Have Not Passed
Some time back I was asked by a friend/follower
on Twitter about scenarios that could lead to a Mahdist movement taking power somewhere in the modern Muslim world.
I will now attempt to construct a plausible set of circumstances that would encompass a Mahdi claim
being taken seriously by a sufficient number of Muslims such that it would become a political and military movement.
12:09 pm est
First, for the scoffers, let me adduce (again)
the 2012 empirical polling data from Pew, “The World’s Muslims: Unity and Diversity.” The data on Mahdism in particular I broke down for History News Network last year, pointing out, inter alia, the following crucial data: some 42% of Muslims (surveyed
in 23 countries) expect the “imminent” appearance—meaning in their lifetimes—of the Mahdi.
In actual numbers, that amounts to about 670 million Muslims. Belief in the Mahdi’s coming
is highest in: Afghanistan, 83%; Iraq, 72%; Turkey, 68%; Tunisia, 67%; Malaysia, 62%; Pakistan, 60%; Lebanon, 56%; Morocco,
51%; Palestinian territories, 46%; and Egypt, 40%. So much for the academic theory that Mahdism is just
a medieval holdover in Islam, held by only the uneducated and marginal; on the contrary, Mahdism is quite strong in the Islamic
world, across sectarian lines—for of the 10 countries listed above, only two (Iraq and Lebanon) are majority Shi`i;
the rest are predominantly Sunni.
Mahdism , then, is as
potent a belief in the Muslim world today as it ever has been—although in the past it tended to take reified form (both
Sunni and Shi`i) more often and, if not always more successfully—certainly often violently.
For example, Ibn Tumart (d. 1130 AD) claimed to be the Mahdi and created a movement that conquered much of what is
now Morocco, Algeria, Tunisian and Spain. The Isma’ili Shi`is took over Egypt in the 10th century
AD and their Imam-Caliphs ruled it, as well as much of the Maghrib and even the Hijaz, until Salah al-Din ended that dynasty
in 1171. Muhammad Ahmad (d. 1885) of Sudan is perhaps the most well-known Mahdi in history, thanks to Winston
Churchill’s The River War and the movie Khartoum. The Ottoman Empire was bedeviled, over the centuries, by dozens of chaps (usually Sufi mystics) who believed themselves to be the Mahdi and led rebellions
(as, for that matter, was true of the Sudanese Mahdi—legally an Ottoman subject and a Sufi, too). One
self-styled Mahdi even cropped up in Republican Turkey in 1930. Twelver Shi`i Mahdism was a major impetus
for Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution in Iran in 1979—but it was also, the same year, the motivation for the Mahdist
revolution manqué of Juhayman al-`Utaybi (d. 1980) and his messianic brother-in-law Muhammad al-Qahtani (d. 1979) in
Saudi Arabia. But since
1979, Mahdist movements have seemed rather puny by comparison. The Islamic Republic of Iran remains the
only state purveyor of the belief system. On the non-state side, Iraq (post-US occupation) has seen the
rise of not just Muqtada al-Sadr’s Jaysh al-Mahdi [Army of the Mahdi] and its even more violent offshoot Asa’ib
Ahl al-Haqq [Battalions of the Family of Truth] but also, albeit less known: Ansar al-Mahdi
[Helpers of the Mahdi], the extremely jihadist Jund al-Sama’ [Army of Heaven] and the more benevolent Jaysh
Husayn [Army of Husayn]. JaM has become a political force in Iraq, and JaS engaged
in combat with US and Iraqi government forces—but neither came close to taking power, either via the ballot box or the
gun. Non-state Mahdist movements exist, as well, in Morocco (also called Ansar al-Mahdi) and in
Kyrgyzstan (another Jaysh al-Mahdi). Solo, free-lance Islamic messiahs have also proliferated
in Saudi Arabia in the last few years—much to the chagrin of the establishment, quite paranoid (with good reason) about
Mahdism since al-`Utaybi and his men occupied the Great Mosque of Meccas for three weeks in 1979. Nigeria
saw a Mahdist movement known as Yan Tatsine between WWII and the late 1970s. Several
Mahdist Muslims have arisen and developed followings in India and Pakistan since 1947 (as Yoginder Sikand
details in Pseudo-Messianic Movements in Contemporary South Asia, Global Media Publications, 2008). Even
Turkey is home to a non-jihadist strain of Mahdism, developed by Adnan Oktar, a.k.a. “Harun Yahya,” whose followers
claim that his esposual and re-working of Said Nursi’s (d. 1960) Sufi Lite metaphysic makes him the true Mahdi.
Mahdism’s path to power has three stages (according to Jan-Olaf
Blichfeldt, Early Mahdism: Politics and Religion in the Formative Period of Islam, Brill, 1985): 1) disseminating
revivalist propaganda aimed at undermining an extant (Islamic) regime; 2) forming a renegade “military theocracy”
and attempting to seize power; and 3) conquering, or forming separately, a territorial state based on Mahdist beliefs—one
that eventually wanes in ideological fervor and is supplanted or conquered in turn (albeit sometimes after a number of years).
Many pre-modern movements made it to levels one or two, and some—Ibn Tumart, the Sudanese Mahdi, others on a
smaller scale—even reached level three. Since 1979, however,
no Mahdist movement has made it past the second level (al-`Utaybi’s), and most have been stymied at the first (the aforementioned
groups in Iraq, Morocco and Kyrgyzstan; and the authors of reams of pro-Mahdist books, articles and websites).
For a modern Mahdist movement to gain ground among Muslims as not just an abstract belief system but a concrete political
and/or military movement, reaching Blichfeldt’s third stage, it would seem that it would need to win support in one
(or more) of the following: 1) a state; 2) a transnational organization; and/or 3) a terrorist organization.
Other than the Islamic Republic of Iran, where Twelver Shi`ism
is the regnant ideology but which—because of Sunni antipathy—is limited in the reach of its Mahdist da`wah
(“summons, propaganda”) to Yemen, Azerbaijan, Lebanon and a few pockets elsewhere, state Mahdism faces at best
slim prospects. (And even in Iran, no one dares claim to be the Mahdi, because to do so would shatter the
future hope of the Twelfth Imam’s return which is the regime’s raison d’être. )
Although a man claiming to be the Mahdi ran for the Egyptian Presidency last year, and a number of self-styled
Mahdis have announced themselves in Saudi mosques in the last several years, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which
a Mahdi claimant could first win an election, or seize control, in a major Sunni Muslim nation-state. His path to power would probably start in a non-state venue.
Ottoman Sultan Suleyman, the last major Sunni leader to be thought the Mahdi.
What about the transnational
organizations with an Islamic bent? I would submit that the four major ones are the
Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb al-Tahrir and the obscure, but quite influential, Tablighi Jama`at. The
OIC is the Islamic “UN,” if you will (and, indeed, is the world’s second-largest transnational organization,
behind only the UN itself)—and that organization’s potential as the springboard to a new caliphate has already been examined. The Muslim Brotherhood is the Sunni Muslim world’s foremost Islamist political movement, primarily—but not solely—Arab.
Hizb al-Tahrir, or “Party of Liberation,” is a transnational movement to resurrect the caliphate (Sunni Muslim rule under one
man) which is banned in many countries (but not the US) as a terrorist group. And Tablighi Jama`at is an ostensibly non-political Islamic re-pietization movement which began in India but has spread to
many countries of the world and is said to have as many as 80 million members. The OIC is dominated by
men who strive for (greater) Islamic unity, and long for the days when “Islamdom” was the only global counterweight
to the West’s “Christendom”—but these are decidedly non-mystical and non-messianic, and so any attempt
by a self-styled Mahdi to have himself elected Secretary-General of this organization would likely falter as the elector Foreign
Ministers either fell out of their chairs laughing or ran to reach for their decorative daggers and scimitars.
The MB, unlike the OIC, is a popular, conservative grass-roots Sunni (mainly Arab) movement that aims for Islamic unity
and polity via re-Islamizing society from the ground up; as such, and following its founder Hassan al-Banna (d. 1949) and
his “apostle” Sayyid Qutb (d. 1966), the MB has little tolerance for Sufi mysticism—the usual provenance
of Mahdism. One can hardly imagine an Islamist technocrat like Muhammad Morsi adopting Mahdist beliefs.
Whereas the OIC works at the rarefied Foreign Ministry level between Islamic states and the MB does so via the more
mundane local political processes within Islamic countries, HT strives to do a bit of both, albeit sans any official state
blessing (and, indeed, often outright state opposition and repression). HT has tried
declaring a caliphate—as in, for example, Zanzibar—then hoping that Muslims would jump on the bandwagon and lobby
for it to replace the extant government; alas for them, such has not yet come to pass. Still, the group
is active in many countries (including the US) and continues to churn out theoretical tracts, and hold conferences, on how
a caliphate might be (re)constructed. And a caliphate would be a very plausible platform for a self-proclaimed
Mahdi to appropriate. TJ is the most far-reaching and arguably influential transnational Islamic organization,
rather akin to the Catholic Church’s Opus Dei program for revitalizing the laity’s faith and putting it into action.
It has been deemed by some a “conveyor belt” to terrorism—but this is true only insofar as TJ is
a path to stricter adherence to more conservative, indeed fundamentalist, Islamic norms (see my article on this topic). Unlike the MB, however, TJ is not totally opposed to Islamic mysticism, and even incorporates
some Sufi practices (such as dhikr, “remembrance” of Allah via repetitive prayers) into its program.
A charismatic, mystically-oriented Muslim leader with Mahdist aspirations is probably more likely to emerge from TJ’s
ranks than from any of these other organizations. If such a man were to bridge the gap between TJ and HT,
wedding the former’s piety, Muhammadan emulation and transnational reach to the latter’s political program, zeal
and activism—then a non-state caliphate with a Mahdi in charge is possible. Both
are Sunni, too, so neither could accuse the other of heretical Shi`ism. The biggest obstacle to a
TJ-HT Mahdiyah would be HT’s technocratic bent (akin to that of the MB), which could conceivably be overcome by its
zeal for one-man Islamic rule; possible since a Mahdi would be a super-caliph, and thus—perhaps—acceptable.
What of the legions of Muslim terrorist groups? Would any of them be amenable to Mahdism?
Many are Salafi/Wahhabi or MB, and most Muslims of that bent are ardently opposed to mystical Islam
and thus, presumably, to Mahdism. But the gap between Salafis and Sufis can be overstated—it is not
always absolute. In the past Sufis waged some of the most violent jihads in history, and many Sunni Mahdis
came from Sufi contexts (because of the orders’ penchant for charismatic leadership and extant quasi-military organization).
Even today some Sufi orders, such as the Qadiris, often agree with the Salafis on the
importance of shari`ah and Islamic government. Others, like the Naqshbandis, have historically
been fond of waging jihad against Islam’s enemies. And a fusion of Sufism with Salafism or MB ideas
has been attempted before, as by Sa’id Hawwa (d. 1989), a Syrian Naqshbandi Sufi who also belonged to the MB and envisioned
the Naqshbandi order as the spiritual guide for the politically-active MB and, more relevantly for the issue at hand, that
jihad should be off-limits until the caliphate’s reestablishment. At least one Sufi terrorist group
exists (Iraq’s Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqah al-Naqshbandiyah [Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order]) and many
more of them have strong eschatological doctrines—such as the Haqqani offshoot of the Naqshbandiyah. On
the Salafi side, at least some of those groups have been infused with eschatological and Mahdist fervor—as, for example,
Jabhat al-Nusra [Support Front] in Syria, whose members already view that country’s civil war as the precursor to the End Time events of the Islamic hadiths. And at least 10 of the groups on the State Department terrorist
organization list claim to be fighting to reestablish a caliphate: all the al-Qa`idah [AQ] affiliates; Abu Sayyaf (Philippines);
Lashkar-e Taiba (South Asia); Jemaah Islamiyah (Southeast Asia); Harakat ul-Jihad-i-Islami (Bangladesh); al-Shabab (East Africa);
Indian Mujahidin; and most likely the Abdullah Azzam Brigades (transnational). This
is not Mahdism per se, but as aforementioned with HT any desires for one-man Islamic rule are ipso facto complementary
to Mahdism, which, essentially, constitutes an eschatological one-man polity. AQ members
reportedly held mystical, if not Mahdist, veneration for Usama bin Ladin (see my book Holiest Wars, pp. 156ff).
A future AQ leader, who manages to plan and execute an even more “successful” attack on the US or Israel
than 9/11—say, via a nuclear weapon—might gain caliphal or even Mahdist cachet sufficient to bring together not
only a number of terrorist groups but perhaps even the like of HT and TJ. It might be a “virtual
Mahdiyah” with no geographic center and a peripatetic leader—but a sort of transnational, messianic entity nonetheless,
commanding the political and religious loyalty of tens (or hundreds) of millions of Muslims and having a ready-made military
wing in several Islamic terrorist organizations. Such a leader might even be able to draw support, if not
allegiance, from Twelver Shi`i groups like Lebanon’s Hizbullah or the various ones in Iraq, if he were to adduce a genealogy
that included any of the Twelver Shi`i Imams (such as was done by the 15th century AD Indian Mahdi, Sayyid Jawnpuri, who although
Sunni claimed descent from Musa al-Kazim, the seventh Imam).
Logo of the "Army of the Men of the Nasqshbandiyah Order:" "With the help
of Allah, Victory is Near!"
Mahdism is, historically, closely tied to belief in the mujaddid, the “renewer”
of Islam predicted in several hadith to come every 100 years; thus, eschatological expectations in Islam have tended to skyrocket
as the turn of each Muslim century approaches, as was the case in 1979 (al-`Utaybi), 1881 (the Sudanese Mahdi), etc.
The year 1500 AH (After Hijra) will occur in 2076 AD. Couple that with the empirical data
from Pew indicating strong eschatological beliefs among many Muslims, the global Islamic community’s growing sense of
victimization at the hands of the Christian West (and Russia), the burgeoning influence of transnational Islamic movements
like the pious TJ and political HT, as well as the continued (indeed, flourishing) popularity and power of jihad-waging terrorist
groups—and the emergence of a political and/or military Mahdist movement in the coming decades appears to be a good
Bottom line: An alliance of non-state groups like TJ and/or HT with AQ Central (and very possibly the South Asian terrorist
organizations) naming one man as caliph, who then reveals that he also considers himself the Mahdi, is the most likely path
to modern Mahdism. Such a hypothetical movement would be powerful and dangerous enough if it merely
stalled at the renegade military theocracy stage. Should this new Mahdi and his followers gain the support
of (or take over) an extant Muslim-majority state (Egypt? Turkey? Post-Saudi Arabia?), moving into stage three of political
Mahdism, the world would have its hands full—especially were he to do so where he would gain a nuclear arsenal, such
as in Pakistan. I won’t be around in 2076, but my boys’ (and grandchildrens’?)
celebration of the American Tricentennial might well be tempered by the threat of an Islamic Mahdi.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Who's The Real Terrorist?
11:11 am edt
Just in case any of my loyal readers thought that I might have met my demise, I'm posting this quite accurate meme to prove
it ain't so!
Thursday, September 26, 2013
President Obama: Dhimmi, Da`i or Dunce?
9:39 am edt
My article with that title is up over at "Frontpagemag."
It examines the global persecution of Christians by Muslims and why the leader of the world's largest Christian country
refuses to speak out against it. Ottoman soldiers beheading Georgian Christians (courtesy of Raymond Ibrahim).
Friday, September 6, 2013
Intervening (in Syria) Like It's The End of the World?
Syria no doubt appears to many Americans as simply yet another foreign, Islamic
land which the POTUS (this time Democrat, for a change) wants to bomb and/or invade despite (or even perhaps because of) the
natives’ penchant for scimitar-wielding, jihad-waging and mass killing—like Afghanistan, Libya or Iraq.
While perhaps necessary, this view is woefully insufficient to do justice to the importance of Syria in Islamic history
and eschatology. And any understanding of apocalyptic Islam in the modern Syrian fitnah, or
“civil strife,” is impossible without, first, a basic grasp of the historical and eschatological background to
that crucial region. So put away your video poker games and pay attention!
5:19 pm edt
Afghanistan, with apologies to our (shrinking list of) Muslim allies there,
has always been a backwards periphery of the Islamic world vis-à-vis the Arab Middle Eastern heartland.
It did have some eschatological resonance, however, stemming from the ancient traditions—enshrined in hadith,
alleged sayings of Islam’s founder, Muhammad—that “black banners from the East” would come to Syria
and Iraq and (re)establish true Islamic rule after a period of Islamic devolution. This trope was, indeed,
exploited early on in Islamic history when the fomenters of the Abbasid revolution (and eventual caliphate) invaded from Khurasan (eastern Iran/western Afghanistan) and overthrew the
extant Umayyad Caliphate, centered in Damascus. But Afghanistan has never been a major locus of Islamic
learning or power since then, and its eschatological utility has been as a mere staging area, not a center of action.
Jabhat al-Nusra's Black Banner, emblazoned with the Shahadah.
As for Libya, after the Islamic
conquest it was little more than a barely-Islamized Berber frontier between Egypt and the more powerful and sophisticated
polities to its west, and even after the Ottomans came “Cyrenaica” was of little import in any Islamic equations
before the Sanusi Sufi jihad against the occupying Italians in the 20th century. In terms of eschatological
significance, Libya had and has none. Iraq
has always been more more critical to Islamic history than far-eastern Afghanistan or thinly-populated North African Libya—albeit
less so than Syria. Iraq was on the fault-line between Western and “Eastern” civilizations,
going back to Roman and Byzantine times, when it was a contested buffer zone between those empires and the various Persian
ones. The region of Iraq itself was divided, after the coming of Islam, into Sunni and Shi`i sections—the
former often under Ottoman Turkish rule, the latter in the orbit of (or at least doctrinally sympathetic to) the Safavid ,
and subsequent other Shi`i, Iranian states. To this day, especially post-American occupation (which
empowered the Twelver Shi`i Iraqi majority to take power), Iraq is religiously and even eschatologically important for the
Twelvers of the world primarily because six of the twelve Imams’ tombs are there and, after his reappearance, the returned 12th Imam al-Mahdi will rule from Kufa, Iraq. However,
despite Baghdad’s undeniable importance as a political and intellectual center from its founding in 750 AD to its demise
at the hands of the Mongols in 1258, Iraq pales in importance next to Syria for
the majority Sunni Muslims, particularly Arab ones. Syria was the first area outside the Arabian peninsula to be conquered, and not only was it wrenched away from the superpower al-Rum (the Byzantine
Christian Empire), but al-Sham, “Greater Syria” centered on Damascus included Jerusalem, the capture
of which “proved” Islamic superiority to the other, corrupted monotheistic religions: Judaism and Christianity.
This fervent triumphalism only intensified after the hated Crusaders were expelled from their 88-year occupation by
the Syrian Kurd Salah al-Din in 1187, and the “Zionist occupation” of al-Quds
(“The Holy” [city], Jerusalem) since 1948 is seen by many Arab (and other) Muslims are merely a temporary
setback, which the Mahdi and Jesus will rectify—perhaps soon. Thus many hadiths predict
eschatological events transpiring in what the French and Brits used to call “the Levant,” the most important among them including: al-Sufyani, (a “type” of the Muslim antichrist, al-Dajjal, “the Deceiver”) will
emerge from Syria; Christians will (re)conquer Syria; the Mahdi will reveal himself; the Dajjal himself
appear; Jesus will return by descending into Damascus; the armies of the Mahdi and the Sufyani will battle; and
Jesus will kill the Dajjal in or near Jerusalem. After all this the Mahdi and Jesus will jointly rule over
a Muslim planet, and eventually both will pass away. The true end of history, and the Final Judgement, will not come for some
years after that. Interestingly, the Sunni Mahdi and the Twelver Shi`i one perform virtually the same role,
the major differences being 1) the former will step onto the stage of history for the first time, whereas the latter will
return from a millennium-old mystical ghaybah, or “occultation;” and 2) Sunni eschatologists prognosticate
that the person whom Shi`is believe to be their 12th Imam will actually be the Dajjal—and Shi`is say the same about
the Sunni Mahdi! Thus, Syria is the most important eschatological venue of Islam,
bar none. Quoting sayings of some of their twelve Imams,
at least one Iranian government official has superimposed eschatological themes on the Syrian conflict—Hujjat al-Islam (or “Hujjatollah,” a cleric ranking below Ayatollah)
Ruhollah Husayniyan, who claims that the strife in Syria is the prelude to the Imam al-Mahdi’s coming and revolution.
(This sort of “newspaper exegesis” has been going on for years in Tehran and Qom, actually.) And Twelver Shi`is in neighboring Iraq and Lebanon
are not only enthused about this idea, but have been motivated by Mahdism to go join the fight for Bashar al-Asad and the Alawi regime over against its Sunni opponents! As I pointed
out in a recent article on Syria, the Twelver Shi`i Islamic Republic of Iran has supported the Syrian Alawi-Ba`athist
rulers for decades, despite the latters’ heterodox, at best, quasi-Muslim (Alawi) beliefs and official Arab secular-socialist
(Ba`athist) political affiliation. Why? Because the ayatollahs have geopolitical and economic concerns
that override mere doctrinal differences between Twelver Shi`ism and its offshoot sect Alawism: access
to their non-state proxy Hizbullah in Lebanon, giving them a salient against Israel; an Arab state ally
in Damascus; and potential access to the Mediterranean for any oil and gas pipelines, via Iraq. Sunnis, particularly Salafi-jihadist ones, find it far harder to dismiss Alawi
religious aberrations, considering that the intellectual “godfather” of modern Sunni fundamentalism, Ibn Taymiyah
(d. 1328) issued fatwas against the Alawis some 700 years ago, and those condemnations—which make Alawis legally killable for Sunnis—have recently been reiterated by Salafi clerics. There are credible reports that both the leadership and many members of Jabhat al-Nusra li-Ahl al-Sham min
Mujahidin al-Sham fi Sahat al-Jihad (“The Front of Support to the People of Syria from the the Holy Warriors of
Syria in the Battlefields of Jihad”), the most formidable opposition fighting force, and one of the most vociferous
Salafi-jihadist ones—as its name clearly indicates—“believe that the Syrian revolution provides a golden
opportunity for them to work towards the realisation of this prophecy, and they work in the hope that they may become the
people mentioned in these hadiths.” JaN also advocates re-establishment of the caliphate, imposition
of shari`a to include relegation of Christians to second-class dhimmi status, and killing of Alawis.
All of these views are also present, to varying degrees, in the other major Islam-based opposition groups, which in
toto comprise about half of the Syrian regime’s opponents (and a majority in the north and east of the country):
Ahrar al-Sham, “Free Men of Syria;” Kata’ib al-Faruq, “Battalions
of Faruq” (a name for the second caliph of Islam); Liwa al-Tawhid, “Banner of Unity” (meaning strict
monotheism—an implicit critique of Christian Trinitarianism;) Suqur al-Sham (“Falcons of Syria”);
Ansar al-Islam, “Protectors of Islam;” Ahfad al-Rasul , “Descendants
of the Messenger [Muhammad]; and Ghuraba, “Strangers” or “Expatriates.”
Ahfad al-Rasul's crest. The scimitar is mightier--or at least longer--than the rifle.
The Faruq Battalions were initially part of the Free Syrian Army,
the largest opposition group, composed mainly of Syrians and military units that had deserted the Syrian Alawi-dominated military.
The FSA has been trying to downplay connection to the KaF, since one of the latter’s members was filmed eating the heart of a dead regime soldier. Even “moderate Islamists”
like those in Suqur al-Sham [SaS] favor imposing the jizyah tax on Syria’s million of Christian, should they
overthrow al-Asa. No doubt the eschatological fervor varies across groups, as well—but is almost
certainly extant, to some extent, in all of them, not just the ones deemed “extremist.” As
evidence thereof, I shall adduce Syrian Sunni Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqubi, a highly- and Western-educated Islamic scholar and preacher who supports the opposition—and
also believes that the eschatological end game of Islam is playing out in Syria, with the Mahdi and the Sufyani soon to appear.
Al-Yaqubi, it should be noted, is also a Sufi, an Islamic mytic of the Shadhili order. Islamic
apocalyptic thought and praxis have often been connected to Sufism, and I have warned in numerous posts and articles about
the threat posed by a confluence of mystical and Salafi-jihadist thought. Now, this appears to be
happening in Syria—as well as, it should be noted, in neighboring Iraq, where the Naqshbandi Sufis have waged jihad against not just the former American occupiers but Baghdad government forces.
"Did I behead six infidels, or only five? In all the excitement, I kinda forgot myself."
Wonderful art by Ahat al-Ghareb.
Eschatology is making both sides in the Levant—Sunni and Shi`i—more violent and zealous.
The quasi-Shi`i Alawi regime (backed by its Twelver Shi`i patron) may have used chemical weapons; but some of the Sunni groups it is fighting are increasingly employing
the equally-horrific practice of decapitation--which may have now passed from the mundane Qur'anic-based register of just deserts for infidels into a macabre realm of sacrifices to Allah intended to "hotwire the apocalypse."
While certain writers in the US obsess about Evangelical Christians trying to fit the Syrian Islamic civil war into a Christian eschatological
blueprint, the truth is that they have no significant political power (and the ones I know
are adamantly against President Obama’s proposed strikes on the al-Asad military)—they just like to opine,
talk, and sell books. The true believers in the Mahdi, the Sufyani and the return of the Islamic Jesus—who
comprise hundred of millions of Muslims, according to polling data—should be the real focus of concern, most especially those of their ranks
putting their beliefs into practice in Aleppo, Dayr al-Zur and Idlib. The Obama Administration
would do well to consider the apocalyptic aspects of the Syrian civil war before committing our forces to
helping those of the Mahdi (if we back the Sunni jihadist "opposition" via air strikes) or
the 12th Imam (if we do nothing, and tacitly assist al-Asad and his Twelver Shi`i allies).
Thursday, August 29, 2013
The Alawis of Syria and the (In)Advisability of US Intervention There
9:15 am edt
I have an article up today on certain aspects of the Syrian civil war situation that analysts and policy makers are missing
(or ignoring)--most notably, that the pseudo-Shi`i Alawis, as well as their Christian allies, fear being slaughtered by the
Salafi-jihadist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra
. The article is entitled "Reprehending Ignorance About Syria
|Jamkaran Mosque near Qom, Iran (during my trip there Aug. 2008)