Islamic Eschatology: A Source for Da’esh’s Ideology and Strategy
By Bassam Michael Madany
In Chapter 15 of his book, “ISIS and Islam: Through the Eyes of a Former Muslim,” Brother Rachid has made a valuable contribution to the subject of Islamic Eschatology as a source for the Ideology and Strategy of the Caliphate Movement, known by its Arabic acronym as “Da’esh,” and in English as “ISIS.”
“Da’esh” is a term the Western world is being made more familiar with. The media have covered it in some degree in general, noting its beginnings, the brutal character of its adherents, it various campaigns throughout the Middle East, and the international character of its fighters. But the source of its ideology has been covered to a lesser degree and does deserve more attention.
Eschatology, a Greek term that refers to the “End Times,” is a basic theological category in all theistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam but differently defined and understood. Its cosmology is linear. History has had a beginning at Creation, and will one day end at the Consummation of all things. How these three world religions interpret eschatology, of course, is very different.
In Christianity, the “End Times” refers to the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment and the eternal state where there will be a final separation of believers from unbelievers in Hell or Heaven. Judaism, from which Christianity came, differs with it particularly on Christology. The same holds true about eschatology
Islam also has concepts like resurrection, judgment and an eternal state incorporated into an “End Times” category. But theology takes a back seat to ideology. Throughout history, doctrinal matters were not so prominent in the thinking of practicing Muslims.
The Qur’an on the End Times
The Meccan Surahs of the Qur’an (610 – 622) are replete with appeals to Arabs to believe in Allah and His Apostle, as a pre-requisite for entry into Jannah (Paradise,) and escape the unending and horrific sufferings of Jahannam (Hell)
The 75th Surah of the Qur’an known as “The Resurrection” has 40 Ayahs (verses.) The first 15 Ayas give an adequate idea of what would transpire on “Yawm al-Qiyamat,” (Resurrection Day)
“I do call to witness the Resurrection Day; And I do call to witness the self-reproaching spirit: (Eschew Evil). Does man think that We cannot assemble his bones? Nay, we are able to put together in perfect order the very tips of his fingers. But man, wishes to do wrong (even) in the time in front of him. He questions: ‘When is the Day of Resurrection?’ At length, when the sight is dazed, And the moon is buried in darkness.
And the sun and moon are joined together, That Day will Man say: ‘Where is the refuge?’ By no means! No place of safety! Before thy Lord (alone), that Day will be the place of rest, that Day will Man be told (all) that he put forward, and all that he put back.
Nay, man will be evidence against himself, even though he were to put up his excuses.”
Other Qur’anic passages give dreadful descriptions of the sufferings of Unbelievers:
“Lo! We have prepared for disbelievers Fire. Its tent encloseth them. If they ask for showers, they will be showered with water like to molten lead which burneth the faces. Calamitous the drink and ill the resting-place!” (Surah 18:29)
“These twain (the believers and the disbelievers) are two opponents who contend concerning their Lord. But as for those who disbelieve, garments of fire will be cut out for them; boiling fluid will be poured down on their heads. Whereby that which is in their bellies, and their skins too, will be melted; And for them are hooked rods of iron. Whenever, in their anguish, they would go forth from thence they are driven back therein and (it is said unto them): Taste the doom of burning” (Surah 22:19-22)
Hadith, Sirat, and Commentaries
Islamic prophecies about the future dominate the consciousness of Muslims. From their earliest years, they are taught that Islam is a victorious faith and will ultimately prevail over the Kuffar (Forces of Unbelief.) The Final Battle will be at Dabeq which is just north of modern day Aleppo. There are several Hadiths that support this scenario. Sermons delievered on Fridays from Sunni mosques, often quote enthusiastically from these Hadiths, predicting the approach of the Last Days.
Studying Da’esh’s propaganda reveals that it heavily foucuses on the prophecies of the End Times, in the Qur’an, Hadith, Sirat Muhammad (Life of Muhammad), and Tafsir (Commentries). These accounts furnish the propagandists with a justification for the warfare they foment against Islamic regimes that fail to apply the Sharia, and, of course, the Kuffar are included as beyond the pale. Da’esh holds to a firm belief in the fulfillment of the Eschatalogical teachings as determined by their interpretation of the faith, and the ultimate victory of Islam.
Prior to the End, certain signs must appear. They would take place at Bilad al-Sham, the Arabic term for Greater Syria; in Damascus and the surrounding region.This locality is extremely important, since Damascus was the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750) when most of the Islamic Futuhat (Conquests) occurred. By 732, the Caliphate’s territory had spread from India to Spain!
Another major event will be the appearance of “Massih al-Dajjal” (The False Messiah) in a region between Iraq and Syria. On his forehead, the word “Kafir” is engraved! He will be killed by “Al-Massih ibn-Maryam,” (i.e. the Qur’anic Messiah) upon his return to earth.
Dabeq is where the Final Battle will take place ushering the END of history. Da’esh’s fascination with Dabeq is great; the first American killed by this Jihadi group, was buried there. The video made of that decapitation, was followed by a speech in which the perpetrator forecast that more killings would happen, ending with the occupation of Rome!
The rapid occupation of the Christian lands by the Umayyads, gives the basis for Da’esh to dream of a repetition of those early victories. They refer to Mu’awiya, the first Umayyad Caliph who had camped at Dabeq on his march to Constantinople. He and his son Yazid, continued in their attempt to capture the capital of the Byzantine Empire, but failed. Another Umayyad Caliph, Suleiman ibn-Abdulmalek, vowed not to return to Damascus until he had conquered Constantinople. He camped at Dabeq for a long time but instead of victory he died and was buried there!
It is interesting that Da’esh appears to be losing its control of Mosul in Iraq. And it is happening at the hands of their rivals, the Shi’ites, together with the forces of the Iraqi army. So, the ideological battles alive and active within Islam continue. Most Muslims, Sunnis and Shi’ites, cling to their triumphalism, dreaming of re-enacting their early Conquests. This Utopian dream is kept alive by sermons proclaimed from the pulpits of several mosques, during the Friday morning gatherings at the mosques. It is inconceivable for them to relinquish their eschatological dreams of world conquest.
While it is difficult to forecast a jettisoning of this Islamic motif or impulse, yet there is hope arising from within the House of Islam. For example, Hassan Radwan, a resident of the United Kingdom, who taught for fifteen years at the Islamic Primary School in London, and has written four books for Muslim children. He wrote an article in The Guardian in late December 2015 entitled “Muslims can reinterpret their faith - it’s the best answer to Isis”
Here are exceprts showing how some Musim intellectuals are fighting the Ideology of ISIS:
“In my opinion we Muslims need to take the bold step of challenging the very idea that the Qur’an and Sunna are infallible. This will come as a shock to those of us brought up on the idea that the Qur’an is the perfect word of God, but some Muslims are already doing this. Thinkers such as Abdul Karim Soroush from Iran, Sayyed Ahmad Al-Qabbanji from Iraq and Saeed Nasheed from Morocco are questioning traditional views about the Qur’an.
“Saeed Nasheed, in his recent book, Modernity & the Qur’an, said: “The Qur’an is not the speech of God, just as the loaf of bread is not the work of the farmer. God produced the raw material, which was inspiration, just as the farmer produces the raw material, which is wheat. But it is the baker who turns the wheat or flour into bread according to his own unique way, artistic expertise and creative ability. Thus, it is the Prophet who was responsible for interpreting the inspiration and turning it into actual phrases and words according to his own unique view.”
It is not only encouraging that Mr. Radwan advocates a re-interpretation of the Qur’an and other authoritative Islamic texts, but he refers to another Muslim, the Moroccan author and reformist, Saeed Nasheed, who dealt with this subject, in his book “Modernity & the Qur’an” published in Beirut, Lebanon. Books and articles of this sort are very effective, coming from within Muslim circles. It is hoped that they would have a lasting impact on the minds of the young Muslim generation, immunizing them against the deadly “virus” emanating from Jihadi circles, such as Da’esh and Al-Qaeda.