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Heat and Hajj 2076

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — one black swan that’s almost predictable — where two timelines meet ]

God in His wisdom has decreed that all right thinking humans should circumambulate the Kaaba in Mecca if at all possible during their human lifetimes, so proclaims Islamic orthodoxy.

A Guardian piece titled Extreme heatwaves could push Gulf climate beyond human endurance, study shows gives an approximate date by which Mecca may be impossibly hot for humans, even clothed in the brilliant white ihram of the pilgrimage:

The extreme heatwaves will affect Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha and coastal cities in Iran as well as posing a deadly threat to millions of Hajj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia, when the religious festival falls in the summer. The study shows the extreme heatwaves, more intense than anything ever experienced on Earth, would kick in after 2070 and that the hottest days of today would by then be a near-daily occurrence.

After 2070.


Tim Furnish, describing the Boston conference at which we both participated last year, expresses his regret that the Center for Millennial Studies is no longer with us in these words:

It’s a pity that Landes’ CMS has run its course, for as the Islamic year 1500 AH (after hijrah)/2076 AD approaches, Muslim eschatological fervor — almost certainly to include jihadist leaders thinking themselves the Mahdi — will only increase

Graeme Wood in his article What ISIS’s Leader Really Wants perhaps simplifies reality a little when he writes:

David Cook, a historian at Rice University who studies Muslim apocalypticism, points out that the battles preceding the Day of Judgment will take place in modern Syria, with a final showdown in the year 1500 of the Islamic Hijra calendar, or A.D. 2076.

2076, or 1500 AH, is indeed a plausible date, but not the only possibility.


If there’s a second part to this post, it will express the extreme fierceness and driving passion of what Richard Landes calls “Active Cataclysmic Millennialism” — a category that includes both secular variants (Nazi, Marxist) and religious (Taiping Rebellion) — and how it ties in with the converging ecological and Mahdist timelines discussed above.

Okay, at the point of convergence:

Mecca uninhabitable, Hajj obligatory, and the arrival of the Mahdi imminent — it’s a potent brew to consider as we head towards the 2070s.

Dune, Islam, Jihad, and the perennially missing Mahdi

Friday, June 17th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — on the proleptic brilliance of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, Dune ]

who's your mahdi
image via Ian Rountree


In Arabic and Islamic themes in Frank Herbert’s “Dune”, the writer Khalid admits “I did not read the original novels. I have watched and enjoyed the movie and the mini-series, and read summaries of the novels” — but he’s an Arabic speaker, and offers us an annotated list of Arabic bterms and phrases he encountered in his necessarily limited exposure to the Dune novels. One term which he does annotate is “Mahdi” — about which he has this to say:

In the Fremen messianic legend, ‘The One Who Will Lead Us to Paradise.’ Paul Atreides, the central figure in the Dune novel is the son of the murdered Duke, he is exiled with his mother, manages to escape, and after a confrontation with the Fremen, gains their respect, and becomes their leader in their struggle against the evil Harkonen. He is called the Mahdi. In Islam, the Mahdi (“The Rightly Guided One”) is an all human Messianic figure, who comes to “fill the world with justice” after much of the opposite. The views of Sunni Islam differ quite a bit from Shia Islam on this, but they both at least agree on this part. Mahdi si a much more central figure in Shia Islam than it is in Sunni Islam, where the concept is often denied and attributed to legends and myths.

And that’s it.


lya Somin‘s Volokh Conspiracy piece, Radical Islamism and Frank Herbert’s Dune doesn’t mention Mahdism. Wikia’s Muad’Dib’s Jihad doesn’t either — but Wikia is a fan outlet, and fandom can be excused if it is only occasionally scholarly, it’s a form of devotion, and worthy in its own right. There’s no mention of the Mahdi in Liel LeibovitzTablet review of Jodorowsky’s failed but fascinating attempt to film Dune, What science fiction tried to teach us about Jihad, and why no one listened.

Oy: my own equivalent would be titled What science fiction tried to teach us about Mahdism, and why no one listened!

Indeed, one might hope that Ashley Andrews Learn PhD, in her Jihad: Comparing the Fremen Revolt to Contemporary Islamic State, would at least briefly mention the Mahdi, given that IS refers to the Mahdi by name in their magazine Dabiq issue 3:

And he [the Prophet] (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) linked this blessed land with many of the events related to al-Masih, al-Mahdi, and the Dajjal.

and featured a hadith expressly about the Mahdi, though it does not name him, on the final page of issue #5:

Ibn Mas’ud (radiyallahu ‘anh) narrated that Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “If there were not left except a day from the dunya, Allah would lengthen that day to send forth on it a man from my family whose name matches my name [Muhammad] and whose father’s name matches my father’s name [‘Abdullah]. He will fill the Earth with justice and fairness as it was filled with oppression and tyranny.” [Sahih: Reported by Abu Dawud]

But no.


Why do we so often miss the Mahdi?

There’s space available for a serious look at Dune in light of today’s jihadism and Mahdism, and I’d fill it if I could find the time. I thought space-time was supposed to be a single continuum, though — how come there’s space but no time?

You’ll seldom find time with no space, except when attempting to park a car..

Njdeh Asisian on Iranian eschatology at SWJ

Monday, May 9th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — one selection from a much longer piece, followed by a CAVEAT LECTOR in red and a note about the Houthis ]

Imam Mahdi will capture minds
Mahdist image from a Haroun Yaha fansite in Pakistan — representing a Sunni variant eschatology in the school of Bediüzzaman Said Nursî, see Yahya’s official website, also an academic analysis of Yahya’s work at The Mahdi wears Armani — a distant cousin to the Shia and Sunni doctrines below


Okay, I posted the image above for its delightful AE Van Vogt science-fictionality. Now to the serious topic at hand.

Here’s the “Globalization and Eschatological-Apocalyptical Approach” section of Njdeh Asisian, Shia Iran and Effects of Globalization on State and Religion: The Beginning of Post-Islamism Era:

Eschatological-Apocalyptical analysts, without paying attention to what is going on within their own backyard, believe that the globalization provides tremendous opportunities for the expansion of the global reach of Shia Islam. The other side of this statement is also true when you read carefully between lines. The same Eschatological-Apocalyptical analysts believe that globalization negatively impacts the Islamic Republic because of its influence on Iranian civic society and the continuous weakening of the religious component of the Republic (Shia Islam). In other words, the Islamic Republic’s dilemma cannot be solved unless there is a global Islamic state where secularization and liberal-democratic forces have been defeated by the universal Islamization of the international political system. Consequently, the Islamization of global political system will also put an end to the liberal tendencies of Iranian people. The best possible model for such a scenario is the Soviet Union. With collapse of the Soviet Union, the Marxist-Leninist parties and even countries have collapsed, one after another, due to the failure of ideological legitimacy.

I will examine two types of “eschatological- apocalyptical” approaches to globalization. The first type is the realist approach in which adherents sought to prepare the ground for the political manipulation of the world order. The second type is to consider the globalization process through the Shia Eschatology.

The realist approach searches to find ways and means to establish a structure and thought process which will eventually bring into power an Islamic political and legal system as a dominant power on the world stage. In the realist opinion, the Iranian revolution of 1979 should serve as a serious basis of a new beginning for globalization of Islam as a major power broker in the international political system. They mentioned that, “From the beginning, the nature of revolution and the Islamic movement was based on the culture and return back to our original identity which was based on the religious doctrine. Therefore, we witnessed a fact that the Iranian Islamic Republic’s constitution highly praised the goal of having a global government which governs by Monotheism and hoists the banner of ‘There is no God but Allah’ in all over the world.”

At the same time, the realists promote the nature of global mission of the Iranian Revolution through the Iranian Constitution of 1979. In the constitution, religious identity and values are held in the highest possible place with the promise, made in the constitution, to assist all oppressed people around the world. They have envisioned the Iranian political system as the model for the future global Islamic order. At the same time, these Muslim intellectuals believe that they can offer something more important for human society, without rejecting the very essence of the globalization and technological advancements of our era.

The first step of the realists is to establish the legal framework for the future world order. They consider Islam as the engine of change on the global level and they mentioned that “now days the world turns to religion to fill the spiritual and emotional gaps; further, the world came to acknowledge that liberal-democracy is not useful and it tries to improve the situation through spirituality. This new trend produces a significant opportunity for different religions, and especially for Islam, in order to provide the masses with true teachings.” Further, Shia Jurisprudence is one that can bring serious and positive changes in human life because it has a global nature and it can implement it all over the word; therefore, “One of the distinguished features of Islam that makes it more applicable to the phenomenon of globalization is the existence of political Shia Jurisprudence. The special trait of political Shia Jurisprudence is that it turned Islam [automatically global]; Islam is a pro-active religion that is capable of answering all challenges that human beings can face.”

Besides the applicability of Islamic Jurisprudence at the global level which is theorized by religious scholars, Islamic Jurisprudence must be supported by sets of values that could be easily understandable and approachable by the masses. Therefore, the “Global Quranic Order is a desired system that had been promised to human beings. This system has structure and traits that is far different from the others. Creation of this Islamic Utopia is not possible unless [you] understand and recognize its peculiarities.” The most important pillars of this Islamic Utopia are “Global Quranic Order,” such as “Sovereignty belongs to God, Jurisprudence and Leadership, Unified Muslim Nation [Ummah], Unified Law [Fiqh], Justice, Rationality, Spirituality, Peace and Security, Good Life, Unified Language (Arabic as a Quranic language).”

The theory of Islamic globalization, as described above, is a world that its advocates want to create. They compare and contrast the current globalization with their own Quranic Order. “They do not reject the current technological advancement nor do they reject urbanization, industrialization, development, capitalism, science, and technology, and all that these imply for the organization of society. In this sense they are not anti-modern. They accept modernization, and the inevitability of science and technology and the changes in life-style they bring. However, and most importantly, they are unreceptive to the ideas that they say are Westernized.” They argued that the current Western-style globalization is based on false teachings. Therefore, globalization is taking the wrong route. “In the Alavi culture, technology is used for better living and the perfection of human beings and whatever improves the technological advancement is acceptable. In contrast, in the Western culture the technological advancements are used for profit and the capitalist culture is based on liberalism, individualism and hedonism which concluded in plunder of 99 percent of the population in favor of the 1 percent.”

The above mentioned Muslim scholars are providing theoretical grounds for an Islamic global government or empire. Naturally, these Muslim scholars resent the ideological part of globalization, where the liberal-democratic values have a dominant position in the global system. In other words, they want the technological advancements of the West without the ideology that is attached to it. A question arises here concerning what type of socio-economic system or platform they propose in order to keep up with the technological and economic creativity at the global level. It is obvious that no one can govern the world with just good wishes and ideology.

I move now from the realist theorists, who sought to establish an earthly Islamic Utopia, to the theocratic approach of Islamic globalization, where Shia Eschatology will change the world order beyond repair and establish a heavenly government on earth through the reappearance of the “12th Imam, Mehdi.”

In some Iranian writings regarding globalization and Islam, we see analysis that is a mixture of globalization theories, futurism, and the Shia Eschatology about the Mehdi. Muslims, regardless of whether they are Shia or Sunni, believe that one day the savior of the world or Lord of Ages, Mehdi, will appear in order to reestablish the justice, global governance and expanse of Islam all over the world.

In the Iranian case, we see the Shia version of Mehdi is somehow different from what Sunnis believe. The authors of these articles that call themselves “Mahdavist” have no faith in the current globalization processes. These authors are futuristic; they are analyzing international relations, geopolitics, socio-political relations, and economics of a society that does not exist, at least not yet. (Note: the other importance of this literature lies in the fact that the Iranian regime, due to its religious nature, cannot discount the religious belief system from interfering with what Kissinger called a Westphalian state that has specific commitments against the international community. However, many scholars and pundits do not look at the events in the Middle East through the lens of the religious belief system. Perhaps, this literature can assist them in understanding that the other side is preparing for an Eschatological end and even some activities may directly be connected to preparation for 12th Imams reappearance. The best example of this is Yemen. “Yemen plays a pivotal role in the Shia Eschatology”. Mahdavists have brought into Iranian globalization literature a phenomenon that is strictly religious. However, it is interesting to read and understand the religious scholars who are faithfully trying to analyze the religion through contemporary socio-political events. The other issue with these types of futuristic analysis is that there is no scientific literature or method that one can use to examine the validity of this claim. In other words, it is a religious belief system that one should accept by heart, rather than by scientific reason or methodology. The Mahdavists see the current globalization as a man-made phenomenon that has nothing to do with divine design for human beings.

They consider globalization as being empty of spirituality and human value and it is materialistic. In contrast they consider that real globalization will be achieved through the Mehdi’s revolt against the tyrannical order of the world. In the Mahdavist world, “The true definition of globalization is putting effort into building the world based on the Islamic teachings and governing the world through Islamic values. This goal is the undeniable promise of God. It is a message of the Quran, and the prophecy of prophets. On balance, wisdom of [the Islamic globalization] is doable. All man-made cultures and ideologies are condemned to total defeat and annihilation.”

Mahdavists believe that there is a close correlation between the reappearance of Mehdi and globalization. “The globalization that is based on liberalism, Omanism and secularism that propagated separation of church and state and rejected the system based on justice, is not acceptable for the global government of Mehdi. In contrast, the globalization that is acceptable is the one that does not pursue the domination of a specific culture, because all human beings are members of the global society. This type of globalization accepts multiculturalism, it accepts dialogue between civilizations, cultural understanding and access to shared values, mutual respect, international cooperation, and finally, the belief that global culture cannot swallow the other cultures, national or local”. Further, the global government of Mehdi cannot be considered as deterministic and cruel because it fulfills the prophet’s promises of global universal justice. Based on the Shia teachings, Mehdi will create a central government, a unified leadership and therefore, he will be able to end the main causes of conflict, wars and oppression.

In the final analysis, the universal Islamic government will establish the Islamic Jurisprudence that will put an end to religious and linguistic plurality where everyone is Muslim and speaks Arabic as the Quranic language. At the same time, the religious Eschatological-Apocalyptical approach does not produce a realistic analytical solution for the problems that Iran faces in the globalized world. This is because they are analyzing and looking for an unknown future and there is no set time for the reappearance of Mehdi.


I’m offering this here without much commentary, since I lack Farsi and access to the various quoted sources. This footnote, however, may be of interest:

Eschatology is a part of theology concerned with the final events of history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity. This concept is commonly referred to as the “end of the world” or “end time”. The word arises from the Greek eschatos meaning “last” and -logy meaning “the study of”, first used in English around 1550. The Oxford English Dictionary defines eschatology as “The department of theological science concerned with ‘the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell’.



I would however note this next footnote, and particularly the phrase, “According to our numerical analysis of the Quran”:

For Sunni Muslims, the Mahdi (Mehdi) is a unique Muslim leader who will appear in the End Times and act as a Caliph, ruling the Muslim World. According to our numerical analysis of the Quran, it seems that the Mahdi will be fulfilling a divine mission and will act as a Witness, a Warner and a Carrier of Good News, so he could be considered a Messenger.

This numerical anaysis appears to come from a site I’ve mentioned before [1, 2], Discovering Islam, which predicts:

The End Times: Based on Numerical Analysis of the Quran, Hadith, Arabic Words, and Historical Events.

Imam Mahdi in 2016
Jesus Christ (p) in 2022

I’d have to say that anyone quoting that site as though it is representative of Sunni Islam isn’t to be relied on for theological acumen. And that’s a serious defect, when writing about Shia Iran and Effects of Globalization on State and Religion


Finally — and bearing that caveat in mind — this footnote too may be of interest:

Based on the Shia Eschatology, the first group of people who will come to 12th Imam’s assistance are Yemenis. Currently the “Shia Houtis” of Yermen are trying to take over the government and establish a Shia state by Iranian assistance. As far as the Iranian theocratic elite concern, the sole purpose of the current Houtis’ agenda is to prepare for 12th Imam’s occultation which will take place in one of the Mosques in Makah Saudi Arabia. 12th Imam will be under siege in Makah until Yemenis come to his assistance. The Yemeni reinforcement will be the beginning of the 12th Imam’s journey.

And a minor point — just a typo — the Twelfth Imam’s occultation (ghayba) has already taken place: what is to be expected is his eventual return from occultation.

Human Sacrifice and State-Building

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

A while back I had a longish post that argued that the mass executions practiced by ISIS drew from the long pagan tradition of ritualistic human sacrifice. Today in the news, some social scientists see evidence of human sacrifice as the catalyst for establishing and maintaining stratified, hierarchical and (usually) oppressive societies:

Human sacrifice may seem brutal and bloody by modern social standards, but it was a common in ancient societies.

Now, researchers believe the ritualised killing of individuals to placate a god played a role in building and sustaining stable communities with social hierarchies.In particular, a study of 93 cultures across Asia, Oceana and Africa, has found the practices helped establish authority and set up class-based systems.

Human sacrifice was once widespread throughout these Austronesian cultures, which used it as the ultimate punishment, for funerals and to consecrate new boats.Sacrificial victims were typically of low social status, such as slaves, while instigators were of high social status, such as priests and chiefs, installing a sense of fear in the lower classes.

….Analysis revealed evidence of human sacrifice in 43 per cent of cultures sampled.

Ritualistic killing of humans was practiced in 25 per cent of egalitarian societies studied, 37 per cent of moderately stratified societies and 67 per cent of highly stratified societies.The researchers constructed models to test the co-evolution of human sacrifice and social hierarchy and found that human sacrifice stabilises social hierarchy once the system has arisen. They said it also promotes a shift to strictly inherited class systems, so that people of a high social class will continue to stay important over time, because of ritualistic killing.

‘In Austronesian cultures human sacrifice was used to punish taboo violations, demoralise underclasses, mark class boundaries, and instill fear of social elites  – proving a wide range of potential mechanisms for maintaining and building social control,’ they wrote. ‘While there are many factors that help build and sustain social stratification, human sacrifice may be a particularly effective means of maintaining and building social control because it minimises the potential of retaliation by eliminating the victim, and shifts the agent believed to be ultimately responsible to the realm of the supernatural.’

Supernatural forces….like for example, because Allah wills it.

This Austronesian study conclusions sounds remarkably similar to the role of (allegedly) Sharia sanctioned horrific punishments meted out by ISIS and fetishistically recorded and widely disseminated in video propaganda. A religiously ritualistic rein of terror as a mechanism to reengineer Sunni Arab society in areas under the group’s control and cement the state-building efforts of ISIS.

For details of ISIS use of extremely ghoulish violence for propaganda and state-building, I heartily recommend ISIS: the State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger.

On the horrors of apocalyptic warfare, 1: its sheer intensity

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — first in a series of four posts on the central theme of a proposed book ]

Saint Michael Fighting the Dragon

In a previous post, I introduced my work on a book proposal concerning Coronation: The Magic and Romance of Monarchy. The second book proposal I’ve put together, which is also currently in the hands of an agent and making the publishing rounds, is titled Jihad and the Passion of ISIS: Making Sense of Religious Violence.


We now have, I believe, a strong undertanding of the Islamic State and its origins in such books as Stern & Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror, Jason Burke, The New Threat, Joby Warrick, Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS, and Weiss & Hassan, ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror. Delving directly into the key issue that interests me personally, the eschatology of the Islamic State, we have Will McCants‘ definitive The ISIS Apocalypse. My own contribution will hopefully supplement these riches, and McCants’ book in particular, with a comparative overview of religious violence across continents and centuries, and a particular focus on the passions engendered in both religious and secular movements when the definitive transformation of the world seems close at hand.

What follows is the first section of a four-part exploration of the horrors of apocalyptic war.


I’ve attempted to give a sense of those passions in my post So: how does it feel at World’s End? — invoking Sylvia Plath‘s extraordinary couplet:

By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.
I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.

That’s the intensity of the feeling aroused, I’d suggest, in the throngs who followed Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi to Khartoum, and Winston Churchill in his book The River War, conveys the intensity of their jihad in these words:

the force of fanatical passion is far greater than that exerted by any philosophical belief, its function is just the same. It gives men something which they think is sublime to fight for..

Churchill is really pretty astounding on the topic of the Mahdi — a messianic figure in a religion he characterized as laying dreadful curses on its votaries inclouding “the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog”, and a warrior of whom he said that a future Arab historian should place him “foremost among the heroes of his race”.

Here is another Churchillian description of that “fanatical frenzy”:

Then came the Mahdi .. it should not be forgotten that he put life and soul into the hearts of his countrymen and freed his native land of foreigners. The poor miserable natives, eating only a handful of grain, toiling half-naked and without hope, found a new, if terrible magnificence added to life. Within their humble breasts the spirit of the Mahdi roused the fires of patriotism and religion. Life became filled with thrilling, exhilarating terrors. They existed in a new and wonderful world of imagination. While they lived there were great things to be done; and when they died, whether it were slaying the Egyptians or charging the British squares, a Paradise which they could understand awaited them.


Let me make the general point more explicit. Dr Tim Furnish, a frequent commentator on these pages and author of Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden, opens his book as I have cited frequently with this analogy:

Islamic messianic insurrections are qualitatively different from mere fundamentalist ones such as bedevil the world today, despite their surface similarities. In fact, Muslim messianic movements are to fundamentalist uprisings what nuclear weapons are to conventional ones: triggered by the same detonating agents, but far more powerful in scope and effect.

Will McCants makes it very clear in his The ISIS Apocalypse that the Islamic State as we currently encounter it is a caliphal movement rather than a Mahdist one, in other words that it is in an earlier stage of the same process leading eventually to the Mahdi’s arrival — although its propaganda, quoting its “founding father” Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is clearly apocalyptic…


Up next: On the horrors of apocalyptic warfare, 2: to spark a messianic fire

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