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Apocalyptic arrives, but not yet the Coming One

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- on the intersecting logics of IS, current and classical Islamic eschatology, and violent millennial movements in general ]
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 Al Malhamah al Kubra, the great end times battle, image from Dabiq


Al Malhamah al Kubra, the great end times battle

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Ella Lipin, research associate for Middle East studies for the Council on Foreign Relations, blogged on the apocalyptic side of the “caliphate” a few days back under the title Understanding ISIS’s Apocalyptic Appeal:

To the outside world, this period of atrocities perpetrated by ISIS, such as the beheading of two American journalists, may be another defining moment in shaping the Middle East. But for many people in the region, ISIS’s message resounds and its arrival marks the end of days and the fulfillment of divine prophecy. To understand ISIS’s appeal and ultimately how to defeat it, the United States must recognize how the organization situates itself within Islamic apocalyptic tradition.

That’s good, that’s fine.

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To back up a bit, Martin Dempsey said of IS almost a month ago:

This is an organisation that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated.

I noted this with approval, and lamented the lack of earlier awareness of this point in my post The curious case of the unheard word “apocalyptic”.

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And today, Terrence McCoy of the Washington Post quoted Ms Lipin in a piece about Dabiq magazine titled The apocalyptic magazine the Islamic State uses to recruit and radicalize foreigners:

This is not the beginning, the magazine says. It is the end. It is the culmination of a centuries-long war that has burned and simmered but never been extinguished — that will soon grow to consume everything. It is the apocalypse. And it is coming.

This is the chilling vision set out in the Islamic State magazine called “Dabiq,” published in several European languages including English.

Again, that’s good to see.

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But what exactly are the implications?

I’ve posted my own detailed analysis of a mere 10 pages of Dabiq, focusing explicitly on implications regarding the Saved Sect and the Victorious Group, and the entire logical edifice IS has constructed to take us from the Dabiq hadith via the notion of hirah to the recruitment of a global force of jihadists, in Dabiq issue 3 part 1- Hijrah. Tim Furnish has blogged about this, as has J-P Filiu. Their work is of crucial importance, along with that of David Cook. And the posts I’ve linked here are far from all these scholars have written — each has been covering specifically Islamic apocalyptic for years.

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But that’s the IS logic, and there are other logics that need to be understood.

One is the Islamic logic that views IS as Kharijites, “breakaways” and heretics who in an excess of religious fervor have broken away from the very religion they profess to follow. That’s a topic that should be addressed from within Islam, IMO. For now, here’s a link to a short video from a Manchester (UK) Salafist sheikh, who views both IS and JN as Kharijite. I’ll report here if I see this line of argument particularly well presented.

In strictly poetic terms, there’s Shadab Zeest Hashmi‘s Shade, posted in 3QuarksDaily — if you still have a heart for beauty in these grim times:

Allahu Akbar or God is Great, the anthem stolen by the wicked terrorist, whose attack is aimed at life, what holds life together for me— the zikr: Allahu Akbar, God is Greater, greater than prayer, greater than the spectacularly leaping science, the elegance of logic, the morality police, the lust of the spirit or the intellect, greater than the molten heart of a mother, a day laborer’s fatigue, greater than the beauty of discipline, the disciple of beauty, the ecstasy of disarray, greater than terra firma or the firmament, greater than sorrow.

If you still have a mind for poetry.

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But there’s at least one other logic that needs to be understood — because it shows what the modifier “apocalyptic” can do to an already violent movement. It’s the logic explored by scholars like Jeffrey Kaplan, Michael Barkun, Catherine Wessinger, Michael Barkun, Richard Landes, Jean Rosenfeld, and John R Hall.

That’ll require a whole new post. But it’s the horse that pulls the cart of millennial and messianic / mahdist movements — and maybe we should understand the horse before the cart?

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Sheikh Imran Hosein on Islamic Apocalyptic, sorta

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- shifting the eschatological focus from Syria to Ukraine, with thanks to Stephanie ]
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Stephanie Chenault pointed those of us who follow her FB page to an amazing video by Sheikh Imran Hosein, of whom I have written more than once [eg: 1, 2]:

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Here’s a taste…

We are now moving towards the Malhama (Great War) prophesied by Nabi Muhammad (Sallallaahu ‘Alaihi Wasallam). If you do not have Islamic Eschatology (knowledge of the end times) you will go to work in the morning, face the morning traffic, come home in the evening, face the evening traffic, have your Biriyani for dinner, watch TV until you go to sleep. And you will have absolutely no knowledge whatsoever that you are standing on the door of the Malhama (Great war/World War 3); that’s where we are today with our scholars of Islam (no knowledge about the reality of the world today). It is sad for me to speak these words. Once the Malhama (World War 3) takes place, we don’t have as Muslims any significant role to play in the Malhama. No, we don’t have Nuclear weapons. When these Nuclear weapons explode, that’s going to give us the Dukhan (Smoke, one of the major signs of the last day). Most of mankind will die. But they (angels) must be saying up there; most of mankind deserve to die. Israel is calculating; the rump that will be left behind would be easier for Israel to rule (the world). And it will be very convenient for Israel if the two powers (NATO alliance and Russian alliance) destroy each other…”

If you’ve read my article on Dabiq 3, you’ll know that it too talks about the Great Final War — but with a perspective that focuses on Syria and Iraq rather than Russia and the Ukraine. In this respect, the Islamic State hews far more closely to the traditions and strategic playing out of the end proposed by Abu Musab al-Suri in his Global Islamic Resistance Call [excerpt linked is from Brynja Lia's book] and described in concentrated detail in pages 186-193 of J-P Filiu‘s Apocalypse in Islam.

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The video purports to be about Islamic Eschatology, certainly, while in fact it “connects the dots” between Sheikh Hosein’s own version of that eschatology and current events as he sees them. It is a fascinating piece, with Sh. Hosein towards the end admitting that he is the only Muslim scholar holding his particular view.

This view makes the Ukraine and Russia / Rom central to the events now unfolding, rather than al-Sham / Syria and Iraq, and puts great emphasis on an alliance between Islam and Orthodox Christianity, with Russia as the bastion of Orthodoxy. “Thank god for Vladimir Putin,” Hosein says at around the 1 hour mark.

You really have to hear the whole thing to appreciate it — and must then understand that a second 80 minute tape could describe an entirely different Sunni Islamic end times scenario, Abu Musab’s for instance, while an umpteenth ones might offer a Shiite version, etc etc.

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Some high points, with approximate times in the video for reference:

  • 38 Islam the religion did not come to conquer the world. It never came to establish its rule over the world. But it most certainly came to liberate the world from oppression.
  • 45-48 Constantinople and the Orthodox & Islamic alliance, alliance with western Christian prohibited.
  • 51 Dajjal’s Ottoman empire teaching perpetual, unjust, bogus jihad against Rum to rule the whole world
  • 56 Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople turned into a masjid in conflict with Allah’s command
  • 58 For centuries Dajjal was at war attempting to prevent Islamic-Orthodox alliance — also Russia is Rum
  • 1 hr 03 Why the importance of Crimea becoming part of Ukraine
  • 1 hr 11 The Black Sea as eschatological focus.
  • BTW, that comment about perpetual jihad to conquer and rule the entire world being a bogus doctrine receives some pretty strong repetition!

    Sh Hosein also offers us a number of interesting asides along the way:

  • 36 where he explains what “incline to peace” means not just ceasing from battle but also giving back all “fruits” of aggression and oppression
  • 42 where he suggests that those “closest to you in love and affection” (Q 5.82) is a predictive, futuristic verse.
  • I can’t do more than note these particular points in passing, but any one or two of them might make a ine and detailed post.

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    For the basic “signs of the times” which are what we normally think of as basic Muslim eschatology, see Sh. Hosein’s own page.

    For further research, the basic readings on Islamic eschatology are:

  • J-P Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam
  • David Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic
  • David Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature
  • The best account of Mahdis and Mahdist movements:

  • Timothy Furnish, Holiest Wars
  • You may also find some of my own early posts helpful for background:

  • Apocalyptic Vision: Guest Post by Charles Cameron
  • Guest Post: Iran or Afghanistan? The Black Flags of Khorasan
  • Guest Post: Connecting the Dots: Light on Light
  • — or perhaps Filiu’s recent posts in French, which Google can translate somewhat less than clearly:

  • L’État Islamique agit comme un rouleau compresseur
  • L’Etat islamique ou les chevaliers de l’apocalypse djihadiste
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    Dabiq, also Palestinian TV show satirizes IS

    Monday, September 1st, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron - ISIS video, early Dabiq reference, satirical response ]

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    dabiq fire

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    You may recall that almost exactly a year ago, Shiite truck drivers in Anbar province were stopped by ISIS patrols, questioned as to the exact form of Islamic prayer, and executed when they didn’t give an approved Sunni response. The event was captured on video, and visiting it today I was struck by the reference to Dabiq – see screencap above — already a crucial reference for pre-caliphal ISIS.

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    I was watching that video again because the Palestinian TV show Watan al Watar recently satirized ISIS / IS in a video of their own, and the correspondences were pretty exact:

    SPEC rakats

    The gentlemen in the upper image, above, are acting. Those in the lower image died in late August 2013.

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    You can view the satirican Watan al Watar video here:

     

    The original video can be found here for comparison.

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    It is perhaps worth noting that the Eretz-Zen post of that original video, back in late August 2013, describes the significance of Dabiq thus:

    The video ends with a statement threatening the “Armies of the Cross in Dabiq” to be burnt by the fire whose spark was ignited in Iraq. Dabiq is a town near Aleppo where the battle of Marj Dabiq took place on August 24, 1516, and it ended up in a decisive victory of the Ottoman Empire over the Mamluk Sultanate.

    As readers of Furnish, Filiu or myself will know, the Dabiq battle mentioned in the video references a future, specifically end times battle — a far more significant matter.

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    Filiu on ISIS: “excitement at the approach of the end of time”

    Monday, September 1st, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- J-P Filiu, who wrote the book Apocalypse in Islam, returns reluctantly to the same topic ]
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    Filiu

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    Jean-Pierre Filiu, blogging on L’Etat islamique ou les chevaliers de l’apocalypse djihadiste — The Islamic State, or Knights of the Jihadist Apocalypse — writes:

    La violence extrême du monstre djihadiste tient largement aux convictions apocalyptiques de nombre de ses recrues. Ce monstre a réussi à imposer au monde entier l’appellation qu’il s’est choisie d’Etat islamique (EI), alors qu’il n’est pas un Etat, mais une machine de guerre, et que sa doctrine totalitaire menace avant tout les musulmans.

    Roughly and rustily translated – for Filiu is the man who showed me that the French I thought I had was entirely insufficient for scholarly purposes –he’s saying:

    The extreme violence of the jihadist monster is due in large part to the apocalyptic beliefs of many of its recruits.

    — and he continues, strikingly, that IS:

    now has dozens of testimonials from foreign IS “volunteers” in which they reveal their fears, but also their excitement at the approach of the end of time. The “land of Sham”, known to geographers as Greater Syria, is indeed, like Iraq, a land privileged for the fulfillment of such prophecies.

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    Filiu is both a distinguished professor at SciencesPo, and a one time career French diplomat whose postings included a stint between 1996–99 as Deputy Chief of Mission in Syria. He is also the author of the major work, Apocalypse in Islam [see also my review on Jihadology], which draws on his extensive readings in both the history and current market for apocalyptic ideas in Islam. He knows the terrain.

    Writing of the “Ultimate Battle” — which he characterizes as “a terrible bloodbath in which the Faithful are victorious” — Filiu says that “just this kind of terror apocalypse is portrayed as imminent on social networks” and notes that this argument is “hammered home to encourage immediate recruitment” to Baghdadi’s forces, since “fighting in this battle will be worth more than fighting in a thousand battles with less of an eschatological aura” (“car la participation à cette Bataille vaudra mille combats moins auréolés de gloire eschatologique.”)

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    A good portion of Filiu’s post is taken up with the IS magazine Dabiq and the role of the town of that name both in the current conflict and in apocalyptic hadith.

    Filiu’s conclusion? He fears he will soon be obliged to return once more to the apocalyptic meanderings of the jihad.

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    Book Recommendation: Ancient Religions, Modern Politics

    Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

    [by J. Scott Shipman]

    ancient religion

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Ancient Religions, Modern Politics, The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective, by Michael Cook

    Charles Cameron recently had a post here at Zenpundit, Which is mightier, the pen or the sword?  Frequent commenter T. Greer recommended this volume in the comment section and I ordered immediately. My copy arrived this morning and I had some quiet time and a bit of commuting time to devote to Cook’s introduction and the first few chapters. This is a very good treatment of roots of Islam and how those roots affect today’s political climate. Cook divides the book into three large parts: Identity, Values, and Fundamentalism. The comparative element is his use of Hinduism and Latin American Catholicism when compared in scope and influence to Islam.

    Here are a couple of good pull quotes from the Preface:

    I should add some cautions about what the book does not do. First though it has a lot to say about the pre-modern world, it does not provide an account of that world for its own sake, and anyone who read the book as if it did would be likely to come away with a seriously distorted picture. This is perhaps particularly so in the Islamic case—and for two reasons. One is that, to put it bluntly, Islamic civilization died quite some time ago, unlike Islam which is very much alive; we will thus be concerned with the wider civilization only when it is relevant to features of the enduring religious heritage. (emphasis added)

    Cook’s emphasis on shared identity is one of the best and most cogent descriptions I’ve found:

    “…collective identity, particularly those that really matter to people—so much so that they may be willing to die for them. Identities of this kind, like values, can and do change, but they are not, as academic rhetoric would sometimes have it, in constant flux. The reason is simple; like shared currencies, shared identities are the basis of claims that people can make on each other, and without a degree of stability such an identity would be as useless as a hyperinflated currency. So it is not surprising that in the real world collective identities, though not immutable, often prove robust and recalcitrant, at times disconcertingly so.”

    In the same comment thread where T. Greer recommended this Ancient Religions, Charles called Cook’s work his opus. Based on the few hours I’ve spent with the volume and the marginalia, Charles was characteristically “spot-on.”

    Published in March of this year, this is a new and important title. With any luck, I’ll complete the book and do a more proper review sometime soon.

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