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Order of business: Caliph first, Mahdi next up?

Friday, July 11th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- an old Jihadica post revisited ]
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In a 27th June 2008 post on Jihadica, Will McCants reported that one al-Fata al-Jurani had argued on the Eklaas fourm that “the Mahdi will not appear until a caliph once again rules Muslims. After the caliph dies, the black banners will be unfurled and the Mahdi will appear” — quoting two hadith in support:

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Disagreement will occur at the death of a caliph and a man of the people of Medina will come flying forth to Mecca. Some of the people of Mecca will come to him, bring him out against his will and swear allegiance to him between the Corner and the Maqam. An expeditionary force will then be sent against him from Syria but will be swallowed up in the desert between Mecca and Medina. When the people see that, the eminent saints of Syria and the best people of Iraq will come to him and swear allegiance to him between the Corner and the Maqam. Then there will arise a man of Quraysh whose maternal uncles belong to Kalb and send against them an expeditionary force which will be overcome by them, and that is the expedition of Kalb. Disappointed will be the one who does not receive the booty of Kalb. He will divide the property, and will govern the people by the Sunnah of their Prophet (peace be upon him) and establish Islam on Earth. He will remain seven years… (Sunan Dawud)

Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The Last Hour would not come until the Romans would land at al-A’maq or in Dabiq. An army consisting of the best (soldiers) of the people of the earth at that time will come from Medina (to counteract them). When they will arrange themselves in ranks, the Romans would say: Do not stand between us and those (Muslims) who took prisoners from amongst us. Let us fight with them; and the Muslims would say: Nay, by Allah, we would never get aside from you and from our brethren that you may fight them. They will then fight and a third (part) of the army would run away, whom Allah will never forgive. A third (part of the army). which would be constituted of excellent martyrs in Allah’s eye, would be killed ani the third who would never be put to trial would win and they would be conquerors of Constantinople. And as they would be busy in distributing the spoils of war (amongst themselves) after hanging their swords by the olive trees, the Satan would cry: The Dajjal has taken your place among your family… (Sahih Muslim)

McCants then asked:

So if the caliphate were to be declared and acknowledged, would hitherto non-messianic Jihadi groups like al-Qaeda become messianic?

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Note also that the second hadith is the one that mentions Dabiq — which is also the title of the first magazine published by the new Caliphate.

We live in interesting times.

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The end of the world in footnote 35, page 18

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- how the "end times" aspect of the new "caliphate" gets buried somewhere under all the books, papers, and old burrito wrappings on my desk ]
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Richard Barrett‘s report for The Soufan Group in June 2014, Foreign Fighters in Syria, runs 33 pages, but you’d have to get to page 18 to read:

Indeed, the Islamist narrative of Syria as a land of ‘jihad’ features prominently in the propaganda of extremist groups on both sides of the war, just as it does in the social media comments of their foreign recruits. [35] The opportunity and desire to witness and take part in a battle prophesized 1,400 years earlier is a strong motivator. And for some, so too is the opportunity to die as a ‘martyr’, with extremist sheikhs and other self-appointed religious pundits declaring that anyone who dies fighting the ‘infidel’ enemy, whoever that may be, will be particularly favored in the afterlife.

Then, buried in footnote 35 — burial is the right metaphor, isn’t it? — you’ll find this understated gem:

35 Several hadith (the sayings of the Prophet Mohammad and his companions) refer to Syria as the land of Jihad where an epic battle between Muslim armies will take place, leading to the end of times.

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I am being more than a little unfair here, so let me offer a corrective of sorts. I may be keenly aware that Muslim eschatology is a powerful and often forgotten driver in contemporary jihadist recruitment, morale, and perhas strategy, but that doesn’t make it the necessary topic of any and every article on AQ, its various affiliates, or the new IS “caliphate”. And I’m pretty sure Barrett knows this too, since he is writing as a Senior Vice President in Ali Soufan‘s group, ancd Soufan was the man who named his book The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against Al-Qaeda — Soufan is very clear on the “end times” connection. So I am half nitpicking here, focusing in on just one footnote — and half in deadly earnest.

Look, Syria — or more precisely “greater Sham” — is at the heart of Abu Musab al-Suri‘s treatise on the apocalypse. Jean-Paul Filiu notes in Apocalypse in Islam that “the wandering jihadist is preoccupied above all by the central role reserved for his homeland at the end of the world”:

It is self-evident to him that the “country of Sham” — Greater Syria, including Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan – looms as the apocalyptic theater par excellence, and that al-Qaida’s strategic conception of global jihad must be reoriented to take into account this final clash.

Filiu also comments, as I have said before:

There is nothing in the least theoretical about this exercise in apocalyptic exegesis. It is meant instead as a guide for action.

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I want to give you some background on all this — on our tendency to politely overlook apocalyptic signs, as if only Rorschach [in the Watchmen illustrations with which I bookend this post] and a few sandalled and long-haired crazies with “the end is nigh” signs on the pavement outside upscale stores or in cartoons ever really think about that stuff — and perhap the easiest way is to offer you the text of the relevant passage of an essay I wrote for the 2007 National Security Strategy Essay Contest sponsored by the Army-G3 and the Combating Terrorism Center, and wnich I kept on adding to but never quite finished…

My essay was titled How can the U.S. credibly and ethically deter adherents of extremist religious ideologies from engaging in terrorist activity? I’ll spare you the footnotes…

One of the greatest current risks we face in the Islamic world is that we will be blindsided by apocalyptic fervor, either in the form of a Mahdist movement, or in reaction to extremist Christian or Jewish messianic attacks on Temple Mount / the Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem. In view of this, the disdain in which “apocalyptic” is held is so great — and so significant from an analytic perspective — that I shall quote several authorities on the subject.

David Cook is our foremost scholar on apocalyptic movements within the Islamic world, quoted at length and with respect by Benjamin and Simon (senior director and director, respectively, in the Clinton NSC) in The Age of Sacred Terror. He writes:

Many monotheistic faiths encompass strains of belief that the end of the world is approaching, but such strains are not usually deemed “respectable.” The more specific these beliefs, the less respect they receive… The general disdain for such beliefs is so great that a scholar publishing on this subject is a source of acute embarrassment to any established religious institution of higher learning with which he — or very rarely she — is associated.

Cook is writing particularly about the treatment of scholarly works in (e.g.) Islamic countries, and mentions al-Azhar University, the leading Sunni seat of learning, in this context, and in fact al-Azhar banned his earlier work, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic, on the grounds that it “violated Islamic principles and harmed Islam’s image.” The same type of academic disdain, however, was prevalent enough in European circles that the psychologist Carl Jung wrote, “I will not discuss the transparent prophecies of the Book of Revelation, because no one believes in them and the whole subject is felt to be an embarassing one.”

Disdain for the topic is easily conveyed by senior to junior scholars. Stephen O’Leary, now the author of the Oxford University Press classic, Arguing the Millennium, notes that “apocalyptic studies are or have been not reputable within the academy.” He says the most explicit attempt to dissuade him from such studies came from a faculty member a major university department where he was interviewing for a position: “The implication, if not the exact wording, was that a fascination with apocalyptic beliefs and movements was a waste of time, since these phenomena were marginal and unworthy of serious study.”

And that disdain only to easily leads to an underestimate of the strength of the feeling involved. As O’Leary notes in his book,

Apocalyptic arguments made by people of good and sincere faith have apparently succeeded in persuading millions; it is unfair and dangerous to dismiss these arguments as irrational and the audiences persuaded by them as ignorant fools. In a world where bright utopic visions compete with increasingly plausible scenarios of global catastrophe, it seems imperative to understand how our anticipations of the future may be both inspired and limited by the ancient logic of apocalypticism.

One of our finest recent scholars of religious violence, Jessica Stern, was initially taken aback by the apocalyptic intensity of the terrorists she studied:

I have come to see that apocalyptic violence intended to “cleanse” the world of “impurities” can create a transcendent state. All the terrorist groups examined in this book believe — or at least started out believing — that they are creating a more perfect world. From their perspective, they are purifying the world of injustice, cruelty, and all that is antihuman. When I began this project, I could not understand why the killers I met seemed spiritually intoxicated. Now, I think I understand. They seem that way because they are.

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Now let’s put those quotes in the context of recent remarks by Tim Furnish:

As if ISIS is not bad enough with its jihadism, there are disturbing hints of eschatological thinking and Mahdism among that group and its allies. [ .. ]

No one has yet proclaimed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the Mahdi — but if Islamic history is any guide, it’s just a matter of time. Once the caliphate is firmly established, then the likelihood of a Mahdiyah being proclaimed increases. And as I noted in my book Holiest Wars, “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.

Nobody may yet have proclaimed al-Baghdadi as the Mahdi, but he’s claimed the caliphate for himself since Tim wrote this. And even if you think “nuclear weapons” compared to “conventional ones” is a bit of a stretch, consider Khartoum — and then multiply by the increase in the destructive power of weaponry between the 1880s and today…

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A claim that al-Baghdadi is the Dajjal, maybe?

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- also, the split between AQC and ISIS in a nutshell: rival claims to the title of Amir al-Mu'minin ]
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A site with the domain name “Horn of Satan” carries this banner at the head of each post.

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I’m intrigued by an article in today’s Al Arabiya News by Dr Theodore Karasik, Is ISIS bigger than al-Qaeda?, in which he writes:

Al-Baghdadi has designated himself as a global leader of the jihad fighters in particular and of Muslims in general, and as a herald of the Caliphate. Importantly, al-Baghdadi argues an apocalyptic viewpoint: “One should also beware of the likelihood of a false messiah claimant appearing among them, who would in fact be the Dajjal (Anti-Christ).”

A mention of the Dajjal in the context of ISIS and al-Baghdadi merits a slightly closer look, so I searched on “One should also beware of the likelihood of a false messiah claimant appearing among them” and found Dr Karasik’s article and three other hits, all of them from the site called Horn of Satan. All three refer to the same post from January 21st 2014 on that site, Self Declared Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of Isis the prophesied false Caliph?

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Dr Karasik’s article appeared to be quoting al-Baghdadi as warning us against the arising of a false messiah, the Dajjal, but the Horn of Satan post appears to have a different slant:

The Wahhabis usually disregard, downplay and even mock any importance for the lineage of Prophet Muhammed (saw) and they make secular equalitarian arguments against traditionalist Muslims in regards to this. But recently all of a sudden some of the takfiri Wahhabis of ISIS (a savage Khawarij cult group that is slaughtering Muslims in Syria, and made of mostly foreigners like Saudis and other takfiris from foreign countries), have been quite flashy in displaying a long name for their leader “Amir ul-Mu’minin – Abu Bakr Al-Husayni Al-Qurashi Al-Baghdadi”. Praise be to Allah, our Prophet (saw) taught us enough to respond to such false claimants.

This is then followed by ahadith regarding the Dajjal from two of the major collections, Abu Dawud and Sahih Muslim. Commenting on the first of these in terms of its applicability to al-Baghdadi, the writer says:

Whether this prophecy refers to him is a speculation although probable. But the meaning contained in it would still apply to him and the likes of him.

One should also beware of the likelihood of a false messiah claimant appearing among them, who would in fact be the Dajjal (Anti-Christ). These Khawarij at present have their strength in a region between Iraq and Syria, and this is the place from which Dajjal would likely emerge.

So the remark about “the likelihood of a false messiah claimant appearing among them” is not a warning from al-Baghdadi, as Dr Karasik implies when he introduces it with the phrase “al-Baghdadi argues an apocalyptic viewpoint: followed by a colon. It is a warning about al-Baghdadi as a possible Dajjal and and ISIS as a group from which such a figure might well be expected to arise.

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And why select al-Baghdadi and ISIS or these dubious honors? The Horn of Satan site — which would appear to be the source of the English translation of the quote Dr Karasik uses — explains both the choice of the potential Dajjal…

But recently all of a sudden some of the takfiri Wahhabis of ISIS (a savage Khawarij cult group that is slaughtering Muslims in Syria, and made of mostly foreigners like Saudis and other takfiris from foreign countries), have been quite flashy in displaying a long name for their leader “Amir ul-Mu’minin – Abu Bakr Al-Husayni Al-Qurashi Al-Baghdadi”

and the geographic location, suggesting that ISIS might be the group from which the Dajjal would emerge:

These Khawarij at present have their strength in a region between Iraq and Syria, and this is the place from which Dajjal would likely emerge.

Here’s the somewhat enigmatic marked-up screengrab from what looks to be a FaceBook page, used in the Horn of Satan post to illustrate the “flashy .. long name” given to al-Baghdadi:

FWIW, Musa Cerantonio is an Australian convert to Islam with a show on Saudi TV called “Ask the Sheikh, according to a December 2012 MEMRI bio. I suspect his FB page may have been taken down…

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Within jihadist ranks, Mullah Omar of the Taliban was hailed as Amir al-Mu’minin after he donned the cloak, mantle and authority of the Prophet, so to speak — some of the statements I quote in that piece describing the event are a little over the top, and the word “authority” in my title should be read in the metaphoric sense of “mantle”.

So Al-Qaida’s Ayman al-Zawahiri regards Mullah Omar as the Amir al-Mu’minin and ISIS gives al-Baghdadi the title — and there in a nutshell you have the split between AQC and ISIS, playing out on a battlefield near you in the fighting between ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra.

Not that the title doesn’t have other claimants — both King Mohammed VI of Morocco and Sultan Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III of Sokoto are also so styled.

And the title is more closely related to the Caliphate than to the Mahdi…

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As an aside — a “vending machine living in the clouds”…

The Horn of Satan site has its own echatological component, which you’ll find in the final post of their series, Answering Muhammed bin Abdul Wahab’s Four Principles of Shirk, titled The Four Principles in Light of End Times Tribulations. It consists mainly of ahadith warning of the coming of the Dajja, with a brief intro para attacking the English language booklet of Muhammad ibn ?Abd al-Wahhab‘s Four Principles, saying:

It opens the way for the enemies of Islam to attack the foundational doctrines of Islam. It is of the end time’s dajjalic plots that has deluded the modern day khawarij, into making true Muslims appear as polytheists and vice versa, and in making the path to heaven appear as hell and vice versa. It turns God into a vending machine living in the clouds, paving the way for people with such creed to be easily receptacle in taking dajjal as god.

Also of potential interest — a page titled Educational Curriculum and Sources for Boko Haram (A Wahhabi sub-cult in Nigeria, which hosts extracts from Dr Ahmad Murtada‘s Boko Haram: Its Beginnings, Principles and Activities in Nigeria.

Enough. And I’m a bit bleary-minded, I hope this makes sense.

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Lest we forget: Jabhat al-Nusrah and the Mahdi

Monday, April 28th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- another timely reminder of the Mahdist / "end times" strand in AQ affiliate JN ]

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Sami Al-’Uraydi, senior Jabhat Al-Nusra religious authority, according to MEMRI’s account:

Thanks to Allah, the banner has been raised. The first to raise this banner in this century was Sheik Osama, may Allah accept him in Paradise. The banner passes from on lion to another, from one man to another, until it will reach Muhammad bin Abdullah, the Mahdi. Allah wiling, the banner will not be lost, until it has reached Muhammad bin Abdullah, the Mahdi. The age of great wars began with the 9/11 attacks.

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It is only too easy for the secular western analytic and or decision-making mind to discount the religious content of AQ and related rhetoric, but even more dangerous to overlook the specifically apocalyptic element — in which expectation of the “soon coming” of the Mahdi is implicit — an element which facilitates what Richard Landes, leading world authority on millennialisms, terms “semiotic arousal”.

Remember Tim Furnish‘s remark in the first para of Holiest Wars, which I’ve quoted here more than once?

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.

We’re not there yet — there has been as yet no successful Mahdi claimant — but the messianic meme is present among both Sunni and Shia fighters.

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A tip of the hat both to Joel Richardson and to MEMRI .

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Update on the Ghazwa-e-Hind

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- okay, now Jane's has some detailing on the Ghazwa ]
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When I was eight or nine years old and a schoolboy whose father was a captain in the Royal Navy, a copy of Jane’s Fighting Ships was the most desirable — and unattainable — object in the physical world.

Sixty years on, I’m looking at a 6pp. abridged version of an article in Jane’s Intelligence Review Idownloaded the other day. It is titled Recruitment drive – Islamist groups urge India’s Muslims to join jihad — and I find it’s talking about a topic I feel is easily overlooked — or laughed away — the Ghazwa-e-Hind.

Zen and myself have written about the Ghazwa:

  • One hadith, one plan, one video, and two warnings
  • So many browser tabs, so little time
  • Pakistan’s Strategic Mummery
  • Khorasan to al-Quds and the Ghazwa-e-Hind
  • Early notes on the first issue of the jihadist magazine, Azan
  • Ahrar-ul-Hind, Ghazwa-e-Hind?
  • The topic is compelling, but what Zen calls the “mummery” of its televangelical proponent Zaid Hamid — blog-friend Omar Ali simply calls it “nonsensical” — tends to obscure the potential seriousness of the idea — backed as it is with variants on the “black banners from Khorasan” hadith favored by AQ recruiters in Afghanistan and invoked as far afield as Somalia…

    So when a Jane’s analyst sees fit to mention it, I perk up.

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    Here are the passages from the Jane’s report that mention the Ghazwa:

    The group’s two addresses and Umar’s video have the same Islamic references, citing verses from the Quran and jihadist mythology depicting the “black flag of the Khurasan [a historic reference to parts of Afghanistan and areas of Central Asia]” piercing the heart of India, seemingly indicating that this new anti-India jihadist wave is originating from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The mythology cites an army from Khurasan waging the Ghazwat-ul-Hind (meaning the ‘Battle of India’ in Arabic) – also cited as Ghazwa-e-Hind in Urdu – for the re-establishment of the khilafa (the Islamic caliphate).

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    Jihadist discourse regarding India frequently cites a hadith (a report of the deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), stating, “Allah has saved two groups of the Ummah from hellfire; the group that will invade Al-Hind [India] and the group that will be with Isa Ibn-e-Maryam [Jesus] in Damascus.” This seems to be one of the key doctrinal factors behind the renewed jihadist surge against India.

    Proponents of a unified global ummah have long perceived that India, as a geographical and demographical entity, should be part of the khilafa, and Al-Qaeda and other affiliated jihadist organisations fully endorse this view and the Ghazwat ul-Hind concept. The concept is surprisingly unifying when considered across the relevant spectrum of Islamist militant groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan, from transnational jihadists such as Al-Qaeda to nationalist Islamist actors such as the Taliban, Pakistani sectarian groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), and Kashmir-centric jihadists such as Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

    In a March 2010 edition of JeM’s Urdu-language weekly publication Al-Qalam , Pakistani cleric Mufti Asghar Khan Kashmiri claimed that the ongoing Ghazwat ul-Hind (referring to the Kashmiri insurgency) was a continuation of a series of battles begun by the Prophet Muhammad. Senior Harakat-ul-Jihad-ul-Islami (HUJI) commander Ilyas Kashmiri vowed in October 2009 to wage Ghazwat ul-Hind against India, before his reported death in an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) missile strike in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in June 2011. Similarly, in a February 2011 speech, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed threatened, “If freedom is not given to the Kashmiris, then we will occupy the whole of India, including Kashmir. We will launch Ghazwa-e-Hind.” The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has also released a number of statements threatening India. In January 2013, then TTP commander Wali-ur-Rehman Mehsud warned that once the group had established an Islamic state under sharia in Pakistan, its focus would turn to India and the establishment of an Islamic state there. One month later, TTP commander Asmatullah Muawiya threatened that Kashmir would become the next battlefield for militants following the scheduled withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in 2014.

    What Jane’s doesn’t appear to mention that I find significant, is that the Ghazwa-e-Hind spoken of in the ahadith is essentially an “end times” event, taking place simultaneously with the Mahdist army marching from Khorasan to al-Quds…

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    Oh, and believe me, I have made sure a copy of Jane’s Fighting Ships of World War II (cheaper than the $1,000 current issue) has made its way into the hands of my younger son…

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