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: