Islam and Apocalyptic

There is power in apocalypse. Fundamentally, the belief in the imminent end of the world changes people, and gives them the strength of absolute conviction that God is on the side of the believer, a very definite goal, and the impetus to excel above and beyond one's ordinary abilities. All three of these components are present in a truly apocalyptic group, and serve to mold it together into a possibly (though not necessarily) destructive organism, to which the outside world is an enemy to be conquered and dominated. While all of the above is well known and obvious after studying any apocalyptic groups, the question before us is: Is Islam an apocalyptic faith, and if it is, then what are the ramifications for the outside world?

A grasp of history is crucial to the understanding of the modern apocalyptic Muslim, because of the living nature of this past for him. Therefore, our discussion must start at the dawn of Muslim history. Many theories have been proposed in order to explain the phenomenal Muslim conquest of the entire ancient world, from Tours in France to the borders of China in Central Asia, during the period of a century. Some scholars dismiss the idea that religious belief was a primary or even a secondary contributing factor in these conquests. Yet this prejudice is very damaging to our present-day understanding, if only because contemporary Muslims themselves believe that their absolute faith in Allah and the unifying nature of Islam were the most important reasons for their successes. Here, one must read between the lines and understand, that absolute faith and unity were not enough to embark on the jihad. There had to be a third component to this equation: the imperative to conquer the world before the expected Hour of Judgment. This is the component which will interest us here.

It is not so important for us to know what historically impelled this conquest as to understand how the modem Muslim feels about his history. This conquest, called the jihad, is closely connected in the sources to apocalyptic beliefs. In this regard a tradition should be quoted: "Behold! God sent me [the Prophet Muhammad] with a sword, just before the Hour [of Judgment], and placed my daily sustenance beneath the shadow of my spear, and humiliation and contempt upon those who oppose me." Muslims, according to this understanding, did not try to conquer the world for the sake of domination, but because God commanded them to, before the imminent end of the world. In Islam we have the first example of what an apocalyptic group can achieve when given a limited time limit to accomplish an impossible task: world conquest. They almost made it. Since the most revolutionary idea present in fundamentalist Islam is that modem Muslims are reenacting the situation of the Prophet Muhammad, during the seventh century, and that all of the rest of the world, including the so called Muslim countries, are infidel. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the feeling that an apocalyptic-jihad is necessary to correct things is very strong.

For the contemporary Muslim the present world is a world turned up-side down. Everywhere his faith has lost ground as a result of colonial conquests and Christian missionaries, as well as representatives of cultural imperialism, such as the media (they are frequently all grouped together). God has promised to Muslims that they are not only the recipients of the final abrogating revelation to the Prophet Muhammad, but that they will be crowned with worldly success and dominion as well. For over a thousand years (from the perspective of the Muslim) this was true. It was the Arabs and the Turks who dominated the world scene, in accordance with God's promise, from 630 to 1688. However, not even the most hardened traditionalist can deny the second or even third-class status of the Muslim today. Obviously God cannot be at fault for this situation- the Muslims themselves must be. The perception is that God is testing the chosen few just before the end of the world. They must prove their faith to God through worldly domination and the reestablishment of the God-ordained Muslim superiority.

It is irrelevant to say, as some do, that the apocalyptic nature of Islam has been dormant for hundreds of years. This position is only useful as a defense mechanism. If apocalyptic tendencies are latent in a group or faith, and the tendencies begin to appear, then they are gradually going to influence everyone, whether consciously or not. Already much of the apocalyptic discourse has passed to other groups, even to those religious establishments for whom the apocalyptic groups have only contempt.


A brief survey of the apocalyptic beliefs available to the modern Muslim, therefore, is in order. Most scenarios start with the Arab-Israel conflict, as the basis for the end-time events, though some start with the Gulf War (1990-91). At some time in the near future a demonic being, called the Dajal (the Muslim Antichrist), will gain control over most of the world, with the exception of certain Muslim countries (the lists of these vary, but are usually the most anti-western ones). This being will be a Jew and will control by means of a world-embracing conspiracy, after the fashion of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In general, apocalyptic believers state that this being, if not physically present in the world today, malevolently influences the course of events preparatory to his eventual revelation. An apocalyptic war is postulated between the Dajal, who will lead the west and Israel, against the Muslims.

1) anti-western attitudes

For the modem Muslim, the words "the west" and Christianity are identical (though that is not the perception of most in the west). Therefore, the opposition to "the west" is a religious imperative, because to accept western influence would to be accept the superiority of Christianity. Even for those who are perceptive enough to see the difference between a cultural and economic system (the west) and a religious system (Christianity), to acknowledge any system other than Islam as the superior one would be unthinkable. Anti-western attitudes are generally expressed in the part of the apocalypse dealing with the moral symptoms of the end-times. These include a broad range of distasteful activities (violence, immorality, etc.), all of which are (and have been) present in all societies at all times, but which, for the apocalyptic believer, is convenient to ascribe to western influence. Economic influence is also decried, since the western economy is based on the taking of interest in loans, which is strictly prohibited by Islam. Therefore, a wide range of traditions are cited in order to "prove" that these are symptomatic of the finale, and to be attacked and resisted as much as possible.

2) anti-U. S. attitudes

It goes without saying that the U.S. figures prominently in most apocalyptic scenarios, never in a positive way. In general, the U.S. is portrayed as the Great Babylon (cf Rev. 17:3-4) or the Antichrist himself. Most recent American Presidents (notably Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton) are said in one place or another to be agents of the Antichrist, and frequently threatened with punishment for their activities. The Antichrist is said to manipulate all of the countries in the west, but his headquarters is invariably in the U.S. American economic and cultural activities are said to reflect the agenda of this demonic being, for which God will punish the country by various methods (earthquakes, nuclear attacks, etc.). In a number of scenarios, the Muslims, after their conquest of Israel, go on to conquer Western Europe and the U.S. It goes without saying that American foreign policy is seen as the principal method of the Antichrist's control of the world. Especially incomprehensible to Muslims is the continual American support of Israel; generally this can only be explained by a Jewish conspiracy theory (I have heard Egyptians and Palestinians who have insisted that all of the recent Presidents and members of Congress were Jewish, despite the evidence to the contrary). In the foreign policy realm the U, S. is accused of forcing Iraq to attack Kuwait (though not all apocalypticists are pro-Iraq- especially the ones in Egypt tend to see Saddam as an antichrist himself, frequently under the control of Israel). In the past there were frequently attempts to identify the U. S. and the U.S.S.R. together, since they were both perceived as under Jewish rule. For example, Sa'id Ayyub's influential book, The False Messiah, shows a demonic being wearing a U.S. flag and the hammer and sickle, along with a Star of David around his neck.

3) anti-Israel

Israel receives the strongest attacks in modem Muslim apocalyptic- it is rare to find a book or tract in which the Jewish state does not figure prominently. This is in contradistinction to classical Muslim apocalyptic, in which Jews are mentioned rarely. However, one classical tradition mentions Jews and is widely quoted: "The Hour [of Judgment] will not arrive until the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Muslims will kill them until the Jew will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rock and the tree will say: 0 Muslim, 0 servant of God, there is a Jew behind me- come and kill him!" This tradition is useful in the creation of scenarios in which the Muslims fight and defeat Israel. Generally, it is assumed that the Dajjal rules the Jewish state directly and that it accomplishes his goals in this world. This scenario is useful in explaining a wide range of uncomfortable events, since through it the Muslims find themselves arrayed not against a tiny, despised, semideveloped country, but against a demonic figure who commands the allegiance of millions of people throughout the world, and is the master of unknown Satanic powers.

4) anti-Arab and anti-Muslim religious establishment

Since most fundamentalists believe that the modem world is a recreation of the situation during the time of the Prophet, when the Muslims were a tiny believing band pitted against the whole infidel world, it is a given that other Muslims not part of "the group" are corrupt. In fact, they are generally declared to be infidels and collaborators with the west (or Israel), and must be fought just like everyone else. For this reason so many Muslim terrorist groups target their own government, even governments not perceived as friendly to western eyes, and most especially the religious establishment. This latter is generally connected to the government economically, and are seen as traitors. They frequently receive the scorn and the bullets of the fundamentalists. These attitudes, unlike the material on the U.S. and Israel, have some history in Muslim apocalyptic, and the modem apocalyptist has no need to adjust the classical material to meet the needs of the modem world.


One would obviously wish to know what exactly is the relationship between apocalyptic literature and apocalyptic-messianic groups. In other words, when there is a plethora of literature in the market on the end times or on the Antichrist or the Mahdi, can we expect for a figure or group to appear and put the material to use? Does a Hamas terrorist really read an apocalyptic pamphlet before picking up a bomb to commit suicide? Is he thinking that the end of the world is so close that there is no point in living, or that perhaps he is bringing the apocalypse closer to reality as he pulls the trigger? Unfortunately, there has been no real research in this area, and we really do not know what the answer to this question is. In my judgment, the closest analogy of the relationship of apocalyptic material to terrorist activities is that of pornographic material to sexual assault. While one cannot say that all obscene material leads directly to violent sexual practices, one can say that the vast majority of those who commit these actions have more than a passing acquaintance with pornography. Likewise, people of good will can come to opposite conclusions as far as the significance of the inciting material to the action.

Suffice it to say that the apocalyptic causes of important events in the Muslim world cannot be denied. The Islamic Revolution occurred during the last year of the 14th century (hijri), as did the apocalyptic revolt in the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca in Nov. 1979. Both movements used apocalyptic material to communicate the urgency of their reforming message. Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza is clearly an apocalyptic group, as is easily ascertained by the pamphlets and other literature it puts out, and its ideologists regularly use apocalyptic motifs in the propaganda war against the PLO and Israel. The beginning of the Intifada in 1987 coincides with a prediction of the end of the world (dating from 80 years ago). Both the Egyptian and Algerian fundamentalist movements use apocalyptic material regularly. The paucity of the research in this field impedes mentioning other movements, but one can say confidently that apocalyptic elements will be found in most, if not all, fundamentalist groups operative today.


The study of Muslim apocalyptic is absolutely essential to the understanding of modern Islam. Anyone who wishes to understand the huge influence which these groups have on the direction of Muslims will not be able to ignore them. Although the groups are frequently anonymous and unknown until they burst onto the world stage with some action, they cannot be accused of being secretive about their motives orbeliefs. Leaflets, pamphlets, and books are available at every bookstand, and are frequently handed out in mosques. Much research remains to be done to ascertain what is the exact connection between the literature and the action, especially suicide attacks which require a strong ideological imperative.

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