Monday, July 21, 2014

Islamic State Caliphate's first English-language publication focuses on Apocalyptic themes

"The Caliphate has returned, whether we like it or not.  The IS, as evidenced by Dabiq, clearly thinks the eschatological clock is ticking." The implications are apocalyptic.

New Islamic State Magazine "Dabiq": Western Forces On the Eve of Destruction
by Timothy R. Furnish, Mahdi Watch — July 14, 2014

Since the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham [Greater Syria] declared the resurrection of the caliphate a few weeks ago, analysts and journalists have focused on the ramifications of that putative political office for the Islamic world.  However, at the start of Ramadan the new “Islamic State” and its caliph attempted to move the propaganda needle from the merely realpolitickally ridiculous to the apocalyptically awe-inspiring—by invoking Muslim eschatological traditions.

The venue for this is an online English magazine entitled Dabiq: The Return of Khilafah, the 50 pages of which skillfully blend Qur’anic citations (10  in total), hadiths (12 of these), Salafi-jihadist exegesis and imagery to legitimize the new caliphate, motivate the faithful, and reach out to (primarily) Western Muslims.   The main proof text of this entire document is a lengthy hadith (saying attributed to Islam’s founder, Muhammad) about a major Last Hour battle.  Since IS’s magazine quotes the entire hadith twice, and refers to it several other times, the tradition is worth quoting in full: 

Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The Last Hour would not come until the Romans would land at al-A'maq or in Dabiq. An army consisting of the best (soldiers) of the people of the earth at that time will come from Medina (to counteract them). When they will arrange themselves in ranks, the Romans would say: Do not stand between us and those (Muslims) who took prisoners from amongst us. Let us fight with them; and the Muslims would say: Nay, by Allah, we would never get aside from you and from our brethren that you may fight them. They will then fight and a third (part) of the army would run away, whom Allah will never forgive. A third (part of the army). which would be constituted of excellent martyrs in Allah's eye, would be killed and the third who would never be put to trial would win and they would be conquerors of Constantinople. And as they would be busy in distributing the spoils of war (amongst themselves) after hanging their swords by the olive trees, the Satan would cry: The Dajjal has taken your place among your family. They would then come out, but it would be of no avail. And when they would come to Syria, he would come out while they would be still preparing themselves for battle drawing up the ranks. Certainly, the time of prayer shall come and then Jesus (peace be upon him) son of Mary would descend and would lead them in prayer. When the enemy of Allah would see him, it would (disappear) just as the salt dissolves itself in water and if he (Jesus) were not to confront them at all, even then it would dissolve completely, but Allah would kill them by his hand and he would show them their blood on his lance (the lance of Jesus Christ) [Sahih Muslim, “Kitab al-Fitan wa Ashrat al-Sa`ah,” #6924].   

Dabiq is just north of Aleppo
, near the Turkish border, and al-`Amaq/al-`Amq is in the same vicinity.  (Both are near Hatay, of Indiana Jones fame.)  A type of the eschatological battle described in this collection of Muslim b. al-Hajjaj (d. 875 AD) was fought at or near that location in 1516 between the Ottoman Turks and the Egyptian Mamluks.  The heirs of the Eastern Romans won that battle decisively, thanks to their effective use of artillery—thus leading to the four centuries of Ottoman dominance over the Arab Middle East.   To sum up this hadith: the Romans land an expeditionary force in northwest Syria; after heavy losses the Muslims defeat them and conquer “Constantinople;” the Dajjal—the “Deceiver,” or Muslim Antichrist—appears and then the returned Jesus dispatches him via melting or lance.

The last thing the Dajjal will ever see....

The writers credit the late Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi, decapitator extraordinaire of the IS[IS] predecessor organization the Islamic State in Iraq, with first linking the jihad there to the End Time battle at Dabiq.  Also, Dabiq has several pages extolling al-Zarqawi’s virtues and strategic vision for rec-creating the caliphate via these stages: 1) hijrah 2) jama`ah 3) destabilizing the taghut 4) tamkin 5) khilafah.   The original hijrah was  the “flight” of Muhammad and the small Muslim community from Mecca to Yathrib/Medina in 622 AD.  Ever since, this exploit has served as an example for groups of Muslims who deem their society and/or rulers insufficiently pious and who thus repeat the paradigm of flee, consolidate power and return to conquer.  Jama`ah is “community,” the expected group solidarity that hardens during hijrah.  Such a community then must act to undermine the tyrannical regime(s), the taghut (literally “despots” or “gorillas”).  As the oppressive rulers are rendered illegitimate  via jihad and tuwwahhush (literally “savagery” or “brutality”), controlling less and less territory, the true Muslims will be able to consolidate power (tamkin), ultimately leading to the caliphate—as IS[IS] has now proclaimed.  This rising new Muslim power “will trample the idol of nationalism, destroy the idol of democracy” and trigger the “demolition of Sykes-Picot” (the World War I British-French agreement which laid out plans for those two nations to rule over the Arab sections of the post-war Ottoman Empire).   This five-step program for attaining power can be repeated elsewhere—notably Yemen, Mali, Somalia, Sinai Peninsula, Waziristan, Libya, Chechnya, and Nigeria, as well as in certain areas of of Tunisia, Algeria, Indonesia, and the Philippines. 

 Dabiq also takes a number of pages to lay out an Islamic theological basis for the political power being claimed by “Caliph” Ibrahim.  The central argument is that “the concept of Imamah [political power] is from the millah [religious confession] of Ibrahim.”  Ibrahim, the Qur’anic version of the Biblical Abraham, was a “leader for mankind” because he followed Allah.  If al-Baghdadi’s true name is Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri, this is likely a case of IS[IS] attempting to theologically leverage the “Caliph’s” birth and regnal name.  Those who oppose him are “weak-hearted” who “makes fools of themselves” and thus “renegades” whose necks it it legitimate to strike—to behead, that is.   The Islamic State has “gained control over territory larger than many states…lands formerly under the control of the historical Umawi khulafa’ [caliphs] of Sham and the `Abbasi khulafa’ of Iraq.” (The Umayyad ruled the nascent Islamic empire from Damascus, 661-750 AD; they were supplaned by the Abbasids, who ruled from Baghdad, 750-1258 AD.) Furthermore, “this new condition opens the path for the complete unification of all Muslim peoples and lands under the single authority of the Khalifah. May Allah protect this Khilafah state and continue guiding it until its legions fight the crusader armies who will gather near Dabiq.”   

There are several other topical sections of Dabiq:  one about the “liberated” areas, with pictures of allegedly welcoming throngs; another deploying gruesome pictures of dead and maimed or severely injured children, alleged targets of the Iraqi and Syrian government forces; yet another boasting of the thousands of repentant Rafidis (“refusers”), murtaddin (“apostates) or Safawis (the Safavid Empire was the one that ruled Iran from 1501-1722 and fought, tooth-and-nail, against the Sunni Ottomans) being captured and brought to the true Islamic faith.  (There are also plenty of photos of dead Shi`is, as well as some about to be executed by IS[IS].)     

This magazine even hijacks Tolkien: the massed Rohirrirm cavalry about to ride down upon the legions of Orcs beseiging Minas Tirith (from The Return of the King) are shown on the bottom of a page exalting the coming unification of all Muslims under the caliphate.   One can only surmise that such an image is aimed at portraying the IS[IS] as outnumbered battalions fighting heroically against seemingly insurmoutable odds—and, of course, winning, much as do the Muslims at the battle of Dabiq, vanquishing the Romans/crusaders with only the remaining 1/3 of their forces.  But, again, on the last page, Dabiq comes back around to eschatology—reprinting in toto the aforementioned hadith from Muslim b. al-Hajjaj.

"A sword day! A red day! And the Sun rises--in the West!?" 


 1) The first English-language publication by the first caliphal state to be proclaimed since the demise of the Ottoman one 90 years ago is focused on apocalyptic themes—specifically an End Times’ Armageddonesque battle and the entry into history two of the three major Muslim eschatological figures: the Dajjal and Jesus.  “Caliph Ibrahim” and his staff would not have sanctioned such an endeavor without good reason.  The Muslims must have one man to lead them all against the evil Westerners in the great battle soon to come in Syria. Resistance to him is futile—and treasonous.  Join the inevitable winning side.  

2) The IS leadership no doubt knows anecdotally what Pew data told us empirically in 2012: that eschatological beliefs in the Islamic world are not “fringe” or “extreme” but, in point of fact, are quite mainstream, even in Sunni Islam: 42% of Muslims expect the Mahdi—Islam’s primary End Time actor—to come in their lifetimes, while 35% look for Jesus’ imminent return.   In Iraq, the figures are 72% and 64%, respectively.   Syria was not included in the polling, but considering the raging bloody civil war there, it’s quite likely that similar apocalyptic expectations exist—and the new caliphate aims to exploit such in Iraq, Syria and beyond.  And while Dabiq appears aimed at a Western (Muslim?) audience, and at Muslims living in diaspora here, it’s also quite accessible to anyone in the Middle East proper with a computer, Internet access and rudimentary English skills.  

3) Dabiq adduces, and advertises,  a hadith which speaks of the Antichrist and Jesus—but not the Mahdi.   Traditional exegesis of this (and similar) hadith(s) holds that the leader of Muslims at the Battle of Dabiq/al-`Amaq will be the Mahdi himself.  Does this mean that the IS leadership (and rank-and-file) considers Ibrahim to be not just caliph but Mahdi—but is simply loathe to say so in its first publication?  Or is the head of the “new caliphate” a ruler who prepares the way, and the realm, for the actual eschatological leader?  

4) Either way, the clearly-stated doctrine of tawwahhush gives this new, self-styled caliph a license not just to kill but to brutalize and sow panic as a means of undermining any target regime.  This is working in Syria and Iraq.  Is Jordan or Saudi Arabia next?  As my friend Dr. Ted Karasik wrote earlier today, tawwahhush might very well mean biological, chemical or nuclear/radiological warfare.  A caliph might decide to deploy such weapons, either on his own recognizance or as a means of hotwiring the apocalypse/arrival of the Mahdi.  And if Ibrahim/al-Baghdadi thinks himself the Mahdi, then any and all weapons are acceptable to wage war fi sabil Allah: “in the path of Allah.”   

5) As I noted in last week’s blogpost (Saturday, July 5, 2014), a number of Sunni factions are speaking out against the caliphal claims of the IS:  Lebanese shaykhs; professors at al-Azhar in Cairo; Yusuf al-Qaradawi; even pro-caliphate Hizb al-Tahrir.  To this list we can now add current Turkish politician and former head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoğlu, as well as a coterie of British imams.  These condemnations are good, but more, and more official ones, are needed.  Where are the fatwas from the world’s most influential Muslim, Dr. Ahmad Muhammad al-Tayyib, rector of al-Azhar; or Dr. Ali Guma, former Grand Mufti of Egypt?  Kinetic—military—operations against the IS are  of course necessary, and are currently being carried out by the likes of Ansar al-Islam and, most doggedly, Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqah al-Naqshbandiyah (“Army of the Men of the Naqshandi [Sufi] Order”).   Although composed primarily of former Saddam Hussein government and military members, many of his Ba`ath (Arab Socialist) party, it seems that many in JRTN are also practicing Sufis—Islamic mystics.  The Naqshbandi order is one of the oldest and perhaps the largest of the dozens (at least) of extant Sufi networks, and it has historically been the one most prone to waging violent jihad; for example, Naqshbandis fought many insurrections against the Ottoman Empire.  If the newly-minted caliph indeed has Mahdist aspirations, there is perhaps no group better suited to beat it out of him and his followers.   Still,  it’s possible for opponents of the IS to win the shooting war but lose the ideological one.  

The Caliphate has returned, whether we like it or not.  The IS, as evidenced by Dabiq, clearly thinks the eschatological clock is ticking.  Let’s hope it won’t be necessary to raise the Mahdist alarm. 

Dabiq might go something like this.  (Credit to AlanGutierrezArt.)