zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » Guest Post: Iran or Afghanistan? The Black Flags of Khorasan…

Guest Post: Iran or Afghanistan? The Black Flags of Khorasan…

Returning as a guest-blogger, Charles Cameron, who is the former Senior Analyst with The Arlington Institute and Principal Researcher with the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University. The topic is an update on Cameron’s previous cautionary post on the potential implications of an emerging strand of Mahdism among radical Islamists.

( Ed. There will be an update later with two supporting images when I resolve a minor technical issue….)

Iran or Afghanistan? The Black Flags of Khorasan… 

By Charles Cameron.


A couple of days ago I saw a video, posted on YouTube September 12, 2009, titled “The Army Of Imam Mahdi”. It carries the subtitle: “Soon the Army of Imam Mahdi will start its march from Afghanistan towards The Holy Land( Palestine ) and liberate it from the claws of Israel”. I have embedded it for your viewing convenience at the bottom of this post.

This video suggests that I should follow-up on my previous post, “Mahdism in the News” at , in which I noted that the personal representative of Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Jurisprudent of (Shi’ite) Iran, had issued a call to neighboring and sympathetic nations to a joint mobilization in preparation for the return of the Mahdi.

That was a Shi’ite affair: but Sunni Muslims also await the Mahdi’s arrival, though not as the returning Shi’ite Twelfth Imam — and this video correspondingly offers us an appropriate parallel to Ali Saeedi’s call — but IMO should not be confused or conflated with it.


I would like to make this much clear at the outset.

It is roughly as likely that the Ayatollah Khamenei would accept a Mahdi from among Al Qaida or the Taliban as it is that Pope Benedict would accept a Christ who staged his Second Coming in support of the fiercely anti-Catholic Rev. Ian Paisley of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster.

That’s not a scholarly comparison, by the way — more of a powerful hunch. But I think it needs to be said.

The Imam Mahdi of the Shi’ites is himself their Twelfth Imam, who was born in 869 CE and then “occulted” — hidden from mundane sight — centuries ago, returning among us in the fullness of time. He is Shi’a of the Shi’a, Muhammad ibn Hasan ibn ‘Ali, the last and greatest in the great Shi’ite lineage of the Twelve Imams.


It was Joel Richardson’s blog at that first alerted me to this video (hat-tip, Joel). He writes:

This is the first time that I have seen solid proof that al-Qaeda and the Taliban is thoroughly guided by Islam’s demonic eschatology. For those who claim that Mahdism is only held by Shi’a, take note that it is a Sunni group that has created this thoroughly Mahdist video and not Shi’a. Al_Qaeda and the Taliban literally views themselves collectively as the Mahdi’s army carrying the Black Flags that will march to Jerusalem to “liberate” it from the Jews. This is a full blown Al-Qaeda / Mahdi Army recruitment video.

I think that’s a bit of an overstatement. I’d say more cautiously that this is evidence that al-Qaeda and the Taliban can be construed in light of Sunni Mahdist expectation, and may view themselves as the Mahdi’s army — and definitely shows that a Mahdist current is at work in some Sunni circles.

The sheikh who is quoted in the video is from Trinidad.

In a more far reaching post at , Joel also claims that the video was ” released under the al-Sahab label” — the al-Sahab logo appears on some of the footage, but the video itself is not from al-Sahab as far as I can determine — and his subtitle, which may have been provided for him by a WND editor, claims the video contains “footage confirming unity of apocalyptic Muslims”. Given Joel’s reference in the same post to the recent Iranian “mobilization” call on which my own earlier post was also based, I think it is important to emphasize:

(a) that while Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims may both be in expectation of the Mahdi, and may indeed both (sometimes) draw on ahadith about his army coming with black flags out of Khorasan, this does not mean that the two streams of Mahdism can be lumped together as a single movement, and

(b) that this video appears to be a production of sympathizers with the Taliban, rather than an Al-Q / al-Sahab production.


The key passage in the video is a discourse attributed to Sufi Shayk Imran Nazar Hossein, who says:

The true messiah will destroy the false messiah. And when that happens then a Muslim army will liberate the Holy Land. The Prophet said, when you see the black flags coming from the direction of Khurasan, go and join that army. That army has already started its march. They know it, and that’s why they demonize as a terrorist anyone, anyone who supports that army. That army will liberate every single territory in a straight line until it reaches Jerusalem said Muhammad (as). At the heart of Khorasan is Afghanistan, and that’s why they have occupied Afghanistan. When that army liberates every territory on its way to Jerusalem, there will be in that army Imam al-Mahdi, and so the liberation from oppression in the Holy Land is not going to come about through any negotiations…

This would appear to be the Islamic scholar Imran Nazar Hosein (to use the spelling of his name used on the website dedicated to his work ), and the video clip that shows him was very likely taken some years back.

His biography can be found here. He appears to have had a distinguished career, including a period spent as Director of Islamic Studies for the Joint Committee of Muslim Organizations of Greater New York, and is the author of Jerusalem in the Qur’an – An Islamic View of the Destiny of Jerusalem.


The video includes clips of various mujahideen firing weapons and practicing martial arts, including one with shots of riders with a black flag…

and an image of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (Baitul Maqdas), which appears to be their final goal.


The hadith about the “black flags of Khorasan” mentioned here are, as I understand it, not strongly supported in the hadith literature, but they are available for quotation by those who wish to suggest that the Mahdist army will come from the general area now known as Afghanistan — or Iran, for that matter — a suggestion that gains interest as Afghanistan — or Iran — gains in geopolitical prominence…

Some quick indicators:

Sheikh Salman al-Oadah — once imprisoned for criticizing the Saudi regime and now one of its approved religious spokesmen — writes:

The hadith about the army with black banners coming out of Khorasan has two chains of transmission, but both are weak and cannot be authenticated. If a Muslim believes in this hadith, he believes in something false. Anyone who cares about his religion and belief should avoid heading towards falsehood.

Some people have used this hadith to support their claim that the Mahdi is from the family of al-Abbas and that the Mahdi is from of the Abbasid dynasty. There were Abbasid Caliphs who went by the name al-Mahdi.

The banners of the Abbasid State were black. It is not hard to see how this weak hadith might have been fabricated or at least tampered with to support the Abbasid cause.

That’s the negative view, to be set against significant Sunni jihadist currents that find the hadith useful.

As David Cook notes in his Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature, p. 173-74), Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden’s mentor, “popularized the position of Afghanistan as the messianic precursor to the future liberation of Palestine” in his book, From Kabul to Jerusalem. Cook also quotes an Egyptian apocalyptic author, Amin Jamal al-Din, as identifying the Taliban with the black flags and the Mahdi’s awaited campaign.

And while Ali-Saeedi, the spokesman for Khamenei, did not mention the Khorasan and black flag hadith in his call for a general mobilization in preparation for the Mahdi’s coming, Cook notes that the hadith in question have earlier been applied to the Iranian revolution of the 1980s under the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Timothy Furnish, in his book Holiest Wars: Islamic Manhdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden, discusses the Khorasan (“today eastern Iran and western Afghanistan”) and “black flags” hadith together with various Western theses as to their historicity, concluding that “the mass of hadiths” in general functions like a marketplace in which there is “a saying of the Prophet available off the shelf as a legitimizing agent for just about any position”.

Combine that with the apocalyptic habit of associating apocalyptic texts with events in today’s news, and you have a field ripe for what millennial historian Richard Landes calls “semeiotic arousal”.


The video itself:

14 Responses to “Guest Post: Iran or Afghanistan? The Black Flags of Khorasan…”

  1. Lexington Green Says:

    Here is an axiom I am pondering: Every successful blog tends to become a group blog.

  2. Lexington Green Says:

    OK, read the post.  John Buchan’s Greenmantle, was about a German plan to use a fake holy man to cause an uprising among the Muslims during World War I.  Could someone create a "fake Mahdi" as a way to throw these people off?  Maybe get him to march on Teheran, or something useful like that. 

  3. dr Says:

    good useful follow-up,  cameron.  many thanks.  interesting to see this confirmation of a millenarian strain in al qaeda.  interesting also to see how terribly tribal all this mahdism is.  and the khorasan aspect adds a new angle to wondering why so many regional and global actors think afghanistan is significant.  what a crossroads, in temporal as well as spatial terms.

  4. Larry Dunbar Says:

    "Here is an axiom I am pondering: Every successful blog tends to become a group blog." 

    I think there is an exponent in there somewhere. Double the meme and you probably get four times the noise.

  5. Lexington Green Says:

    "Double the meme and you probably get four times the noise."

    Any time one person tries to keep a blog, if he is good, two things happen.  If he is good, and diligent, he gets tired and runs of out ideas.  And if he is good, and diligent, he attracts readers with similiar interests and engages in a dialogue with them, and the blog becomes a conversation instead of a monologue.  The solution to the first ends up emerging from the second.  Making that solution = more good blogging instead of more noise is a challenge, of course.  But exhaustion and running out of time, energy and ideas so you cannot post every day all by yourself is also a challenge. 

  6. zen Says:

    Group blogs have the edge in post velocity and a number of other factors that give an advantage in terms of SEO and traffic. Great care needs to be exercised so that the blog retains a distinctive voice and that goes into careful choices in who you invite "in the house" and how they behave once they get there. The genteel comity at Chicago Boyz among co-bloggers does not play out everywhere, and I think Jonathan deserves credit for that ( and you as well Lex).

  7. Larry Dunbar Says:

    "But exhaustion and running out of time, energy and ideas so you cannot post every day all by yourself is also a challenge.”

    As one who is neither very good nor diligent, blogging still seems to drain energy from some place within. I can only wonder how someone good at it is able to post every day. I am hoping it is because the writing process comes easily for the individual and the experiences are many for the individual to draw from, which is the exact opposite for me.  I wasn’t using noise as a bad thing, only as some kind of a primordial soup for the blogger to use. With two authors I am thinking one reason that the blogs are more successful is that this soup doesn’t double but expands exponentially. Although the structure of the blog would tend to pull itself apart, in the relationship the authors have between them, the authors may find the writing part actually becomes easier, i.e. the posts tend to write themselves. You can see that in some of the comments here at Zenpundit. When CR comments, the conversation flows fairly easily. There is a kind of dynamic that takes off in conversation, emerging from complexity, perhaps.

    "…as it is that Pope Benedict would accept a Christ who staged his Second Coming in support of the fiercely anti-Catholic Rev. Ian Paisley of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster."

    So what do you think the Pope would do, nail him to a cross or something? I guess the real question is what someone like Sheikh Salman al-Oadah would do? I mean, I am just guessing, the real Imam Mahdi would have the answer to the question that separates the Shia and Sunni, which I guess comes down to: is it Unitarian or not?    Not that it is an easy question; it just should be easily enough for an Imam Mahdi to solve if he wanted to. And maybe that is the sticking point; would he want to. Would unity in explicit thought make an army stronger, or would an army going through this internal struggle come out stronger?  I would also want to ask: what is the relationship of the Imam Mahdi to the army? Is he some kind of general or an actual force? Do you really need to even unite in explicit thought if you are united in implicit spirit at a time of war? Is simply going kinetic and relieving complexity, enough to end the conflict within?  The Shia says they are waiting for the 12th, so that would lead me to believe that the first 11 were not able or did not choose to answer the dividing question, so I guess that point is moot. It is all about might is right. Then again, maybe Islam is already united and the paper work has not made it through the bureaucracy yet. Now there is a thought.  

  8. Lexington Green Says:

    Jonathan is the mastermind at CB.  He is very careful about who he invites, and he usually consults with me.  We have known each other since 1982, so we have a high degree of preexisting trust, despite some differences of opinion.   We work together to keep everyone playing well together and having pride in the blog as a group effort and a sense of community about it.  Over time, the blog has become pretty diffuse, which is a small loss, yet the various voices are (I think, usually) interesting and all generally on the libertarian/conservative right. 

  9. Charles Cameron Says:

    .So what do you think the Pope would do, nail him to a cross or something? .That was Dostoyevsky’s point in "The Grand Inquisitor", wasn’t it?  But perhaps I should have been clearer — I was meaning a *Christ-claimant*.  There have been many of those, and the popes have yet to recognize one of them.  A claimant who seems to side with Protestants against Catholics is frankly not liable to win papal approval.. Similarly, since the Iranian authorities’ expectation is on the return of a Shi’ite Imam who hasn’t even died — he’s been in occultation — and the whole point of the Imamate is that it represents the true lineage of divine guidance for humanity, the chance that a Sunni Mahdi-claimant would be recognized as the returning Twelfth Imam (a claim that as a Sunni he would reject) is (IMO) vanishingly small.. Nonetheless, Tim Furnish examines the question of what would happen if, say, bin Laden were to claim himself to be the Mahdi, in the final chapter of his book, Holiest Wars:. Most [Shi’I Muslims], of course, would reject any Sunni Mahdist claimant out-of-hand as merely an importor of the Hidden Imam.  But would all do so?  The bad blood between Sunnis and Shi’is in the modern world consists of more than just the name-calling outlined in anti-Mahdist books.  It manifests itself in the actions of Abu Musab a-Zarqawi, decapitator extraordinaire, who "favors butchering Shias [sic], calling them ‘the most evil of mankind…’".Furnish goes on to say, however, that he does see some signs of rapprochement as possible, noting that bin Laden himself is less prone to anti-Shi’ite rhetoric than Zarqawi and has on occasion "made tactical alliances with Shi’ite groups" — but while I can imagine some Catholics following a non-Catholic Christ-claimant and some Shi’ites following a non-Shi’ite Mahdi equivalent, I simply cannot envision the Pope — or the Supreme Jurisprudent — doing the same.. As for the possibility of a widespread Sunni following of an overtly Shi’ite claimant, Furnish also points out that the Shi’ite Mahdi will "not only create a worldwide, socioeconomically just Islamic state … but also rebuke the Sunnis for their stubborn refusal to admit their historical mistake of rejecting the Shi’I Imams.". But that’s not my point..My point is that we are woefully unaware of these Mahdist currents in both Sunni and Shi’ite Islam, and would do well to pay attention.

  10. Larry Dunbar Says:

    The bad blood between Sunnis and Shi’is in the modern world consists of more than just the name-calling outlined in anti-Mahdist books.  -._One only has to read Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini to understand that. Some bad shit has come between these boys, but what also should be understood is what it would take to unify. I don’t know the answer to this, but all it really takes is some kind of “tipping” point. I think this is especially true among Arabs, the tipping point seems so far away between the Sunni and Shia Arabs, but I am not so sure. -._But that’s not my point..My point is that we are woefully unaware of these Mahdist currents in both Sunni and Shi’ite Islam, and would do well to pay attention. -._Yes, and that is basically the point I am trying to make at the end of my last comment, as well. -._I think one thing Al Quada has shown itself to be is a bureaucratic organization.  Bureaucracy can be corrupt and that corruption can make it an un-transparent organization. But then to, Bureaucracy can also create complexity, by slowing the velocity of the movement of resources through the organization without any apparent reason. This complexity can also hinder transparency of the organization on which the movement is structured on. I think one thing that transparency could be hiding is the leveraging of perpendicular forces (forces of both Shia and Sunni). _.-While those in command are creating opposing forces and are the voice we hear, those perpendicular to command and in control of the information between the Shia and Sunni are not necessarily listening to those commands. The corruption or complexities are hiding the logic of the system. The command is well defined, but it could be that the control is not as well defined as one may believe. We hear what those in command say, what say those in control, the voice between brother and sister. Bring those voices forward and we will hear the voice of the 12th Imam Mahdi.

  11. Charles Cameron Says:

    It’s been a while since I read my John Buchan, but today I fished out the Gutenberg e-version, and this sentence from Greenmantle certainly catches my eye:

    How many thousands, think you, were in the Mahdi’s army who never heard of the Prophet till they saw the black flags of the Emirs going into battle?’

  12. Lexington Green Says:

    Someone should do a remake of Greenmantle for today — book or movie. 

  13. hamid Says:


    khorasan black flags

  14. Discover the truth ! Says:

    Discover the truth !…

    […]zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » Guest Post: Iran or Afghanistan? The Black Flags of Khorasan…[…]…

Switch to our mobile site