It’s beginning to be embarrassing how obvious the Khorasan / black banner / Mahdism meme is getting these days. Earlier this week I pointed it out as the basic through-line of Syed Saleem Shahzad‘s Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond bin Laden and 9/11. Today it’s Ali Soufan‘s turn.
In his book, The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against Al-Qaeda — which I hope to review here — Soufan too makes the apocalyptic significance of AQ’s jihad painfully apparent. Take his title, for instance…
Black banners, eh?
Those would presumably be the ones mentioned to Soufan by Abu Jandal, who began to quote the hadith:
If you see the black banners coming from Khurasan, join that army, even if you have to crawl over ice; no power will be able to stop them —
at which point Soufan broke in and completed the hadith for him:
— and they will finally read Baitul Maqdis [Jerusalem], where they will erect their flags.
And in case you missed it, that’s an explicitly end-times, Mahdist hadith, as you can see from (eg) this Hizb-ut-Tahrir-associated site:
Messenger of Allah said: “If you see the Black Banners coming from Khurasan go to them immediately, even if you must crawl over ice, because indeed amongst them is the Caliph, Al Mahdi.” [Narrated on authority of Ibn Majah, Al-Hakim, Ahmad]
Soufan goes on to say:
I was to hear that reputed hadith from many al-Qaeda members I interrogated. It was one of al-Qaeda’s favorites.
Khurasan is a term for a historical region spanning northeastern and eastern Iran and parts of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and northwestern Pakistan. Because of the hadith, jihadists believe that this is the region from which they will inflict a major defeat against their enemies — in the Islamic version of Armageddon. Bin Laden’s 1996 declaration of war against the United States – a main text for al-Qaeda members – ends with the dateline “Friday, August 23, 1996, in the Hindu Kush, Afghanistan.” It’s not a coincidence that bin Laden made al-Qaeda’s flag black; he also regularly cited the hadith and referenced Khurasan when recruiting, motivating, and fundraising. Al-Qaeda operatives I interrogated were often convinced that, by joining al-Qaeda, they were fulfilling the words of the Prophet.
It is an indication of how imperfectly we know our enemy that to most people in the West, and even among supposed al-Qaeda experts, the image of the black banners means little…
I could go on, but that’s surely enough.
And by the way, who is that man on the cover, anyway?