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Arab Spring and apocalyptic dawn

[ by Charles Cameron — Mahdism and the Arab Spring, depth of apocalyptic expectation not limited to militant circles ]



screen-cap from a Feb 2011 video associated with Harun Yahya, see below

I’ve been holding back on posts about Shi’ite apocalypticism, because it seems to me that President Ahmadinejad‘s influence is on the wane for reasons not entirely disconnected from his keen and oft-expressed expectation of the soon coming of the Hidden Imam.

I have posted a couple of times recently on Sunni apocalyptic — but there my focus has been on AQ, Taliban and the black banners of Khorasan, as illuminated recently by the books of Syed Saleem Shahzad and Ali Soufan. My next forays will hopefully concern another strand of militant Sunni apocalyptic– the traditions of jihad against India (Ghazwa-ul-Hind) — and I’d also very much like to turn my attention some more to some of the eschatological issues in current Christian circles in the US.

But first: a quick glimpse of apocalyptic expectation in the Arab Spring.


Under the title Mubarak’s fall spawns End of Times prophecies, Yasmine Fathi recently reported in Egypt’s Al Ahram online:

The idea of Mubarak as Anti-Christ has caught fire on social networking sites, with many users presenting Muslim Hadiths, sayings of the Prophet, in support of the theory. While others dispute the notion, they nevertheless posit Mubarak’s very existence as a sign that the end is indeed nigh.

One website noted that, according to certain Islamic beliefs, doomsday will come after Egypt is ruled by a leader whose first name is “Mohamed” and second name is “Hussein,” of which “Hosni” – Mubarak’s middle name – is a variation. This, say doomsday-watchers, constitutes further proof that his existence – and recent fall – represented a sign that the end of time can be expected any day now.

One theory currently making the rounds on the web suggests that the world will end on 26 September – this Monday – due to massive earthquakes caused by a rare planetary alignment. The quakes, believers say, will make Japan’s recent disaster look like a walk in the park.

Even Egypt’s Coptic Patriarch, Pope Shenouda III, referred to the prediction, joking at the end of his last weekly sermon, “We’ll meet again next Wednesday after the earthquake, God willing.”

After the theory was savaged by local and international scientists, however, the public’s attention has shifted again to the year 2012 – only three months away – which many fatalists fear will be our last year on earth, since the Mayan calendar ends on 21 December of next year.

The first point to note here is that apocalyptic sentiment is alive and thriving in the Arab world — and not just in the militant jihadist circles of AQ and the like — or Hamas — either.

That’s a significant datum — and our cue for another reading of JP Filiu‘s Apocalypse in Islam.


The number and variety of strands converging in these few brief paragraphs is impressive:

social networking
apocalyptic expectation catching fire
Mubarak’s name as a sign
a date certain — a week from now
cross-religious banter from Pope Shenouda

— and there’s even a reference to the “Mayan” chronology with its 2012 end-date — which (though Fathi doesn’t mention it) just happens to coincide with the Saudi dissident Sheikh Safar al-Hawali‘s ETA for the return of Jerusalem to Islam on the final page of his pamphlet, The Day of Wrath.


Let’s go back to Fathi for a more nuanced — and theologically informed — view:

But according to Amena Nosseir, professor of Islamic theology and philosophy at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the true date of the “final hour” will never be revealed to mankind.

“God has not bestowed knowledge of the final hour to any of his prophets or worshippers, and there’s a holy wisdom behind his decision to withhold this information,” she said. “God created humans to create life on this planet, so it doesn’t make sense that he would give them the knowledge of when the end of time will be.”

Even al-Hawali qualifies his suggested date thus:

Therefore, the end -or the beginning of the end- will be 1967 + 45 = 2012, or in lunar years 1387 + 45 = 1433.

This is what we hope will happen, but we do not declare it to be absolutely certain, but if the fundamentalists would like to bet with us, as Quraysh did with Abu Bakr concerning the Qur’anic prophecy concerning the Romans, then without doubt they will lose, although we cannot guarantee that it will be that exact year!

Setting a date for time to end may be the most reliable method yet devised for proving oneself unreliable.


There are other stirrings.

Harun Yahya, an influential Turkish figure, reports that a green horse and rider can be discerned in a recent Cairo video, and proposes that the rider is Khidr — the teacher of Moses in Sura 18 of the Qur’an (which the great scholar Louis Massignon terms “the apocalypse of Islam”) and a mysterious figure of inspiration in Islamic lore…


He also “reads” Mubarak as an eschatological figure — the Rook — and indeed, this entire video — only five minutes long and readily available on YouTube — is worth watching, to get a visceral sense of how strong this narrative current is:

BTW: see Halverson, Goodall and Corman‘s Master Narratives of Islamist Extremism for a sense of how significant “narrative” is… and then, yes, reread Filiu!


Hat-tip for a hot tip to Bryan Alexander.

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