Muhammad (bin Salman) Radio

My attempts to finish my new book Enemies of the Caliphs: Jihad and Islamic Counterinsurgency, 12th-20th Centuries have been stymied recently by the low-grade “walking” pneumonia which I somehow contracted last month. But I have been able, between coughing fits, to do some analysis for two different radio stations: KFUO AM 850, St. Louis and KNUS 710 AM, Denver.  The former is the flagship station for my own denomination, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and it produces “World Lutheran News Digest” on which I appeared discussing, at length, the historical and theological ramifications of President Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.  The latter is home to the inestimable Peter Boyles, for whom I have become something of a regular guest.  Peter has had me on four times in the last three weeks: once to cover the latest elections in Iraq and the powerful showing of Muqtada al-Sadr; and thrice–May 31, June 4, and June 6–to speculate on the abrupt disappearance from the world stage of Muhammad bin Salman, Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Thanks for your prayers as I wait for the steroids and antibiotics to restore my lungs to normal, God willing.  That (mainly) Ottoman COIN book isn’t writing itself.

Enemiesofthecaliphsfinalcoverasof9.21.17

The “Iran Deal” Exit Debate: Much Ado About Very Little

At 2 pm ET today, President Trump is scheduled to announce whether the US will stay in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action–commonly known as the “Iran Deal,” which the Obama Administration, UN Security Council members and Germans negotiated to, theoretically (and hopefully), slow down the Islamic Republic’s quest for nuclear power and, few doubt, nuclear weapons.

Having studied the nexus between Iranian politics and its Twelver Shi`ism for years–and having spent some time in that country–I believe that no amount of signed paperwork will deter Iran’s ayatollate from pursuing nuclear weapons.  Having them would not only give Iran even greater regional clout; it would provide “regime insurance,” such as the North Koreans obtained by developing such bombs.  And make no mistake: preservation of their vilayet-i faqih, along with attendant wealth, status and power, is what Khameini, Rouhani and the other regime supporters fervently desire.  They have absolutely no intention of using nukes against Israel in order “hotwire the apocalypse” and spark the coming of the Mahdi.  Anyone who thinks otherwise should read my still-relevant, 16-pp. 2011 paper on this topic.  Do Iranian leaders lie? Of course. It was the Twelvers, after all, who invented taqiyyah.  But short of invading the country, we really have no way of stopping Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons–and that would be even stupider than invading Iraq turned out to be.

MeJamkarancropped

Yours truly at Jamkaran Mosque, Qom, 2008. No nukes or Mahdis were found in the course of that trip–although by now the former are probably extant. 

Mossad Recruits the Mahdi!

Media in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia report that two Palestinians are on trial for working with Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency,  and also for supporting “Daesh” (ISIS).  Besides allegedly “planning terrorist activities during the upcoming Hajj,” “[o]ne of them has also been accused of claiming to be Al-Mahdi.” Furthermore, “[t]he Mahdi claimant has also been accused of using illegal drugs, violating the Kingdom’s laws by overstaying after Hajj and giving false information about himself.” (This version of the story, dated yesterday, is up at riyadhvision.com.sa.  The one at arabnews.com originally was exactly the same–but today the information about the Mahdi claimant has been edited out.)

For anyone unfamiliar with Islamic eschatology, the Mahdi is the “divinely-guided one” described in hadiths (alleged sayings of Islam’s founder Muhammad)–not in the Qur’an–who will appear before the end of time to make the entire world Muslim via both conversion and conquest.  Dozens of major, and hundreds of minor, Muslim personalities have claimed to be the Mahdi over the last 14 centuries–as I discuss in two books on the subject: Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, their Jihads, and Osama Bin Laden (2005) and Ten Years Captivation with the Mahdi’s Camps: Essays on Muslim Eschatology, 2005-2015 (2015). And this doctrine is not some arcane one, limited only to the fringes of Islam: hundreds of millions of Muslims, Sunni as well as Twelver Shi`i, profess belief in the coming of the Mahdi.

SeizureofGrandMosque1979smokerising

Smoke is always rising from…Mecca.  At least when it’s under apocalyptic assault. (Wikipedia, public domain).

Many Muslim rulers are wary, to put it mildly, of Mahdism because the doctrine has been the motivation for many of the most violent jihads in history–many, if not most, of them rebellions directed at extant Islamic authorities. The Saudis, in particular, detest Mahdist manifestations because one of them almost overthrew the House of Saud in 1979.

Observations:

Any hint of Mahdism–however deluded the person claiming it might be–causes the royal family major thawb bunching, since only Allah knows whether such might herald another Juhayman al-Utaybi, who along with his brother-in-law, the Mahdi claimant Muhammad al-Qahtani and a legion of followers, took over Mecca’s Grand Mosque in 1979 for several weeks.  The obvious vacillation over reporting the Mahdist dimension of this trial is evidence of that–but, I suspect, also demonstrates that one of the accused did indeed make such a claim, because it’s extremely doubtful that Saudi authorities would inject this element simply to highlight ISIS’ actual apocalyptic aspects.

Utaybi_001

Portrait of a failed Mahdi: Juhayman al-Utaybi, before his beheading in Jan. 1980. (Wikipedia, public domain).

In addition, the charge that Palestinians are spying for Israel has several dimensions.  The Saudis’ historical support for the former over against the latter seems to be waning with Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman [MbS], who just recently told the Palestinians to either negotiate with the Jewish state or “shut up and stop complaining.”  Bin Salman has also been moving the Kingdom toward cooperation, if not quite alliance, with Israel over against what both of them consider the greater threat: the militantly-Shi`i Islamic Republic of Iran.  So arresting two Palestinians on charges of helping Israel might represent both a warning shot to the former and an olive branch vis-a-vis Saudis who blanch at rapproachement with the “Zionists,” insofar as it implies that the Israelis are, if not stirring, at least spicing the ISIS pot.

Finally: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent public announcement that Iran had been lying about not trying to develop nuclear weapons (sure to overjoy the Saudis–or at least the supporters of MbS) was based on a massive trove of documents which Mossad stole out from under the ayatollahs’ noses in Tehran.  But of course if the Mahdi, now revealed to be a Palestinian Arab Sunni and not a Persian Twelver Shi`i, was working with Israeli intelligence–it all now makes sense!

More seriously: traditional Islamic eschatology, both Sunni and Twelver Shi`i, says that the Mahdi and the returned prophet Muslim Jesus will join forces to defeat the Dajjal, “Deceiver,” and his minions of unbelief (non-Muslims). Modern Sunni books often add that the Shia Mahdi will in reality be this very Dajjal, while books by the Shia make the same exact claim about the Mahdi whom the Sunnis will follow.  Sunni exegetes may have the upper hand, however, as they can point to hadiths to the effect that the false Shia Mahdi–really the Dajjal–will have as his main body of supporters “70,000 Jews from Isfahan.”

Eschatological prognostication, contra  what many journalists maintain, is not only–or even primarily–the province of American Evangelical Protestants; based on my two decades of study, it’s far more prevalent in the Islamic world. And Muslim eschatologists add a strong element of conspiracy theorizing, which usually blames “the Jews”–sometimes aided by their Christian, “Crusader” allies–for any negative development in the ummah, whether real or perceived. There were Muslims who claimed that the US invaded Iraq in 2003 in order to track down and stymie the Mahdi.   So you can be sure that linking Mossad with the Mahdi was not done by accident–whether MbS approved or not.

ArabicEschatologybooks

My shelf of Arabic books on the Mahdi, Dajjal, etc.  Don’t wait for the movies!

Blinded by the Right on the Road to Damascus?

This morning I was interviewed by the intrepid Peter Boyles on his KNUS AM 710 Denver radio show. We discussed the geopolitical situation in Syria, the alleged use of chemical weapons and the US airstrikes, as well as why President Trump seems so eager to attack al-Assad.

Ottomansyria1803

Ottoman Syria, from Wikipedia (public domain)

Also: I’m finishing my new book Enemies of the Caliphs: Jihad and Islamic Counterinsurgency, 12th-20th Centuries.  A trip to England, a horrible cold, and the end of the spring university semester have all conspired to slow me down.  Insha’allah, it will be out by late May.

 

 

Twin Interpretations of Different Ummahs

Last week, for the “history and politics of terrorism” course which I am teaching this term, I re-read Rudolph Peters’ book Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam (Markus Wiener, 1996).  This short volume should be required background for anyone in any government agency interacting with any parts of the Islamic world.  Officials like former National Security Advisor LTG H.R. McMaster, in particular—noted for claiming that groups espousing and waging jihad are “unIslamic”—would benefit from Peters’ concise expositions of jihad, drawing upon the Qur’an, the hadiths (alleged sayings of Islam’s founder), and Muslim scholars across the centuries.

QuranpagefromIstanbul

A Qur’an page in Arabic, with Ottoman glosses, which I purchased in Istanbul.

As Peters points out right off the bat, “the Koran frequently mentions jihad and fighting (qital) against the unbelievers” and “[c]lassical Muslim Koran interpretation….regarded the Sword Verses, with the unconditional command to fight the unbelievers, as having abrogated all previous verses concerning the intercourse with non-Muslims” (p. 2).  (Peters, like many European scholars, uses “Koran” instead of “Qur’an.”) He also provides copious citations to the Islamic holy book, and does not simply assert that it supports jihad.  Classical interpreters also believed that jihad’s ultimate purpose is “to bring the whole earth under the sway of Islam…” (p. 3).  Sunnis and Twelver Shi`is differ in this regard insofar as the latter believe that only defensive jihad can be waged in the absence of the Twelfth Imam, the Mahdi (p. 4).  Early modernist Muslim intellectuals like the Egyptian Muhammad Abduh (d. 1905), a Sunni, also argued that defensive jihad is the only kind permitted—but in that definition included fighting to remove colonial rulers of Islamic territory (p. 6) and, by extrapolation, to any situation where Muslims are seen as oppressed.

Classical (pre-modern) Islamic thought assumed that the normal state of affairs between the dar al-Islam and the non-Muslim dar al-harb was that aptly described in the latter term: “the domain of war.”  Many 20th century Muslim scholars, however, see peace as the default position and thus make jihad something that must be justified and declared, instead of simply assumed.  Mahmud Shaltut (d. 1963), another Egyptian Sunni thinker, wrote that “’the Messenger [Muhammad] only fought those who fought him….’” (p. 113).  Whether that’s exactly true, historically, is debatable—but any limitation of Islamic holy war is better than none.  Of course, no work on jihad would be complete without discussion of the concept of “greater” v. “lesser” types thereof—the ubiquitous, in our time, claim that violent holy war is the latter, and “exerting onself for some praisworthy aim” is the former.  However, as Peters points out, the problem here is that the hadith whence this formulation comes “is not included in one of the authoritative compilations” (p. 116).  In fact, this alleged hadith does not occur in any of the six respected Sunni compilations, and many Muslim scholars deem it a a fabricated one.  And 20th century fundamentalist thinkers like the Egyptian founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna (d. 1949), and the Indian Islamic theorist Abu A`la Mawdudi (d. 1979), condemned this “greater v. lesser jihad” trope as one “spread on purpose to weaken Muslim combativeness” (p. 118).

Regarding the issue of whether jihad is Islamic or not, Peters is clear that it most defintely is—with the caveat that “modernist authors underline the defensive aspect” thereof (p. 122), while “[f]undamentalist writers on the other hand do not depart…from the classical doctrine and emphasize the expansionist aspect” (p. 123).  Peters’ observation, writing in the mid-1990s, that “[a]t the present, most authors on jihad follow this defensive tendency, although…there seems to take place a certain radicalization towards a more fundamentalist approach” (p. 125) proved prescient, with the rise of al-Qa`idah, ISIS, and their ilk who “are of the opinion that one cannot apply the categories ‘offensive’ or ‘defensive’ to jihad” at all.  It is, rather, a “universal revolutionary struggle” (p. 130).

A very interesting point in Peters’ book is the status of the doctrine of naskh, “abrogation,” by which “it was assumed that the unconditional command to fight the unbelievers, to be found in those verses that were revealed in the latest stages of Muhammad’s life, had abrogated all other prescriptions.  The modernists, however, [or at least some of them] have rejected this method of interpretation.” (p. 125).  Thus, for example, the most famous Sword Verse, Sura al-Tawbah [IX]:5—“when the sacred months are passed, slay the idolaters wherever you find them….”—must be read contextually, in light of the immediately previous verse, as well as v. 29 of the same chapter, to the effect that the “idolaters” to be attacked are “only those Jews and Christians…that had violated their pledges and assailed the propagation of the Islamic mission” (p. 127).

In the final analysis, says Peters, “the modernist and the fundamentalist tendency represent two different reactions to Western penetration. The modernists have reacted in a defensive manner, by adopting Western values and reforming their religion in the light of these…. The fundamentalists, on the other hand, have reacted in a self-assertive manner, by rejecting everything Western and emphasizing the real Islamic values” (p. 133).

Peters’ book, for all its brevity (only 204 pages), effectively demolishes, via solid and irrefutable evidence from the Islamic sources themselves, twin canards of the Left and the Right about Islam.  On the one hand, it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that jihad is part-and-parcel of Islam’s sacred texts, going back to its provenance, and is by no means a “hijacking” or “perversion” of that faith.  On the other hand, his showcase of relevant Islamic thinkers severely undermines the “scimitar syndrome” (p. 108), which holds that Islam is ONLY a “violent and fanatical creed”—for many (albeit not yet enough) maintain that their faith is not bound solely to the dead, and deadly, letter of the Qur’an and hadiths, as per the classical jurists.  Rudolph Peters’ Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam provides hope that Islam’s problematic literalist strain might eventually be abrogated itself by those who hold that the religion’s sacred texts, while true, do not have to be adhered to, and acted upon, exactly as written some 14 centuries ago.

Addendum (3.29.18):  It was remiss of me not to mention that Peters deals almost exclusively with Sunni expositors on jihad–and usually Egyptian ones, at that.  He says very little about Shi`ism at all, except for the mention that in the Twelfth Imam’s absence only defensive jihad is permitted.  But what about the doctrines of the other major sects, notably the Isma’ilis and Zaydis? The former, as the medieval Assassins (non-state) and Fatimid caliphate (state), have been very influential in Islamic circles; and the latter largely are coterminous with Yemen’s Houthis, who are fighting jihad currently against not just Sunnis in their own country but against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Talking Turkey about the Mahdi

Last week, MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute) reported on a story from several months earlier, which had appeared in the pro-Erdoğan newspaper Yeni Şafak (“New Dawn”), calling for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to form a massive Muslim military front against Israel.

New Dawn is the semi-official voice of President Erdoğan and his ruling AK Party, so ideas advanced there are, if not approved by, certainly popular within Turkey’s power elites.  Abandoning its former (pre-AK) de facto alliance with the Jewish state, Israel is now described as “an outpost of the Crusade and a dagger in the heart of Islam” which spies on Muslims for the Christian world.  In order to “liberate Palestine” the OIC, led by Turkey, could cooperate to field over 5 million men, far more than the “occupation forces” of a mere 160.000, and use them for a siege.  Turkey, with its huge army, and Pakistan, with its nuclear weapons, would serve as the leaders of this alliance.

Besides Israel’s nefarious anti-Muslim status, President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is presented as an affront to Muslims worldwide, lending impetus to this Islamic military alliance.

Ottomanarmy1900Wikipublicdomain

Ottoman Imperial Army, 1900 (Wikipedia, public domain).

Observations:

This development echoes two broad points which I have made in previous writings.  Most recently in these pages (“In God’s Countries,” January 16, 2018), I discussed the OIC as being the only religion-based geopolitical entity on the planet, there being no equivalent organization for the other two transnational faiths, Christianity and Buddhism.  Perhaps more saliently–and eschatologically–back in 2013 I analyzed how the OIC (and other pan-Islamic groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood [MB], Tablighi Jama`at [TJ] and Hizb al-Tahrir [HT]) might be leveraged into a platform for an Islamic leader to proclaim himself the Mahdi (“Days of Future Mahdism Have Not Passed”–available here and in my book Ten Years’ Captivation with the Mahdi’s Camps, pp. 76-83).

Erdoğan has not expressed overtly Mahdist pretensions (yet), but as many know he certainly harbors neo-Ottoman ideas about his and Turkey’s role in the region and the world.  (Ottoman sultans often also claimed to be caliphs–and the latter title, as “successors” to Muhammad, included aspects of Islamic legitimacy which the former designation lacked.) And thus when New Dawn, in this article on creating an Army of Islam, adduces an eschatological hadith about the End Time battles between Muslims and Jews–the latter “owners of Jersualem” being unable to “find a single tree to hide behind”–we know that the formerly secular rulers of Turkey are operating in a distinctly apocalyptic register.

Heretofore I had been convinced (“Days of Future Mahdism….”) that a Muslim leader with the effrontery to try to claim not just the caliphate but the Mahdiyah would likely emerge from the ranks of a non-state, probably Arab Salafi group–a Bin Ladin, or al-Baghdadi–and piece together support from a pietist organization (like TJ) sufficient to create a “virtual caliphate” with cells of supporters across the Islamic world, but, at least initially, no official state support.

But if powerful members in the party of the President of Turkey–with its large population, modern military and distinct claim to the mantle of the Ottoman Empire–are now trying to rally the larger entire ummah around the goal of defeating, if not destroying, Israel and invoking apocalyptic imagery to do so, then Israel and the West don’t just have a political problem: we have an Islamic eschatological one.  Instead of obsession about what American Evangelical Protestants think about the End Times in the age of Trump, the media might want to examine MUSLIM beliefs about such matters.

 

 

 

 

Smart Friends in Low Places

By now many have heard of the (in)famous slandering of US military forces by California high school history teacher and erstwhile (Democrat?) politician, Gregory Salcido: “Think about the people you know who are over there…. They’re not high-level bankers.  They’re not intellectual people.  They’re the freakin’ lowest of our low.”  (Former Democrat POTUS candidate and Secretary of State John Kerry made virtually the same claim some years ago.)

As a college history professor who has to (re)teach “graduates” of public high schools, I can attest that secondary history “teachers” (especially ones who are also Left Coast politicians) are the last folks who should cast stones at others’ intelligence levels.  In fact, it’s a safe bet that the average IQ of the most-frequently deployed US military service members–US Special Forces, the ones most likely to be over there–is considerably higher than that of high school teachers.  At least one empirical analysis of public school teachers reckons that their average IQ is a resounding 104–whereas the minimum IQ to just apply for Army Green Beret training is 115 (based on data from here, as well as here, and extrapolating from info here).  Furthermore, in addition to weapons and reconnaissance and communications and airborne training, Special Forces folks also have to learn foreign languages such as Arabic, Mandarin, Baluch and Hausa.  In fact, “it takes longer to train a Special Forces soldier than it does to train a fighter pilot.” And that’s just enlisted SF; keep in mind that Special Forces officers, like all military officers, have at least a college degree–and once they reach 0-4 (Major), most of them get Master’s degrees.

So, Mr. Salcido, our highly-trained and intelligent Special Ops folks deployed overseas are not “dumb shits.” But you most certainly are included in those ranks.

SpecialOpslogo

 

 

Fake News: Middle-earth Edition

Denethor Denies Falling for Fake News, Colluding with Mordor, Banning All Immigrants

Minas Tirith Monitor, Narvinyë 25, 3019 Third Age

Lord Denethor II, son of Ecthelion, Lord and Steward of the Kingdom of Gondor, responded in a press conference to accusations by members of the Parliamentary “Black Numenorean” Caucus that he was not only a consumer, but a disseminator, of fake news; and that he had, in addition, colluded with the Dark Lord himself to gain and maintain his political position.

“Nonsense. You in the media are going crazy with your conspiracy theories and blind hatred.  Plus you pay too much attention, as does my younger son, to a certain grey-bearded alarmist.  For 35 years no one ever accused me of heeding fake news–until rumors of a possible challenge to my rule from some obscure Ranger of the North, last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity, surfaced.  As for colluding with Sauron the Deceiver: we have never met, and if we did I would not shake his hand–even if he had one at this point.  Sauron has proved himself a liar for many millennia by now–so why should I believe his fake news about Mordor’s supposed massive military buildup? Moreover, why would the The Enemy want me in power, when it is well known that we descendants of Numenor ever bear the brunt of the chief hatred of the Dark Lord?”

As for who might benefit from such allegations, Lord Denethor retorted “my political enemies, who made up those stories to undermine me.  I am looking in the direction of Isengard, Saruman the White–or as I prefer to call him, Gunpowder Man. He has allies among the old Numenorean families here in Gondor.  And do not claim that I am ‘racist’ by referring to them as ‘black’–for you know full well that such is a reference to their ancestors’ ancient support for Sauron, not to their skin color.”

When pressed by Minas Tirith Palace pool reporter Fomentor, son of Fulminaterix, on his alleged addictive use of the palantir, Denethor countered that “assuming you are correct, my usage of that media platform might not be Stewardesque, but it would be late Third Age Stewardesque.  It is, after all, no longer the Second Age.  If I were using one of the ancient Seeing Stones–and I am neither confirming nor denying such–we could dispense with the Steward’s Daily Brief, which didn’t provide all that much intelligence and which Prince Imrahil–or as I like to call him, ‘Elf’–had frankly done a poor job of providing.”

Lookinginpalantirfrommybook

Denethor bristled when a  writer for the Harad Herald brought up the Steward’s ban on Orc, Easterling and Southron immigration into Gondor’s domains.  “Reports from our northern ally Rohan are that–and I quote here Eomer, heir to the throne–‘Orcs are roaming freely across our lands; unchecked, unchallenged, killing at will.’ I will not let this same tragedy befall Gondor. Orcs are banned permanently from our kingdom. And as you well know, my stop on immigration from Harad and the lands east of the Sea of Rhûn is set to last only until Midsummer’s Eve and is in no wise a permanent ban on them.  Easterlings and Southrons who come here illegally, however, will be sent back and must apply to enter through the Gondorian embassy in their respective lands.  Chain migration, especially if it involves invaders wearing chain mail, will no longer be tolerated.”

Finally, when asked about the whereabouts of his eldest son and heir Boromir, who has not been seen in months, Denethor replied that he had been sent on a classified diplomatic mission to an undisclosed location to the north and, being no wizard’s pupil, was expected to return bearing a mighty gift for the Steward.  Reports that Boromir might have been injured on the return trip were greatly exaggerated; and in fact, the worst-case scenario probably involved his simply taking an arrow to the knee.

 

 

 

In God’s Countries

In the wake of the anti-government protests in Iran which kicked off 2018, social media was awash in the claim that “theocracy never works.”  But that depends on what your definition of “theocracy” is.  If it’s “government by immediate divine guidance,” then the empirical data is, admittedly, rather thin.  But if it’s “government in which the deity’s (or deities’) laws are recognized as guidance,” then historical examples can be adduced going back millennia: Hammurabi’s Babylonian Empire and the pre-Constantine Roman one were officially polytheistic; the Kushan Empire of the Indian subcontinent was, at least under certain rulers, Buddhist–as was China under the Mongol Yuan dynasty; Sassanian Persia was Zoroastrian; the Roman Empire, both West and East, was Christian by the late 4th century AD (and the latter survived for another millennium as such); ancient Israel was of course a theocracy (as were other Jewish states, such as the later Himyarite kingdom of Yemen); and by definition any Islamic caliphate or imamate across the centuries has been a religious state.

In fact, states that established and adhered to a religion of some kind were the norm in human history until the European Enlightenment ideas of a secular governmental system (or at least a religiously-neutral one) were put into effect in Philadelphia in 1787.  So it’s really quite silly and ahistorical to maintain that theocracies are untenable. For millennia, they worked quite well.

But what about in the modern world? As a 2017 Pew study shows, 43 countries (of the world’s 199) have an official, state religion: 27, Islam; 13, Christianity; 2, Buddhism; 1, Judaism. Pew also has a category for “preferred/favored religion,” but such does not qualify as theocracy, atheist protestations notwithstanding. Most countries (109), even those with Christian majorities such as the United States, are officially secular.  And of course some countries–all in Asia, except for Cuba–are actively hostile to religion.

The “Christian” states include the likes of Costa Rica, Liechtenstein, Malta, Iceland, Zambia, Norway and Denmark, as well as officially-Anglican England (not the U.K.) and formally Catholic Italy.  But it’s safe to say that the leaders of these countries make little, if any, recourse to the New Testament in the actual running of their governments–much less that the Great Commission is a part of their foreign policies.  The world’s three largest Christian-population countries–the US, Brazil and Mexico–operate the same way; none enforces Southern Baptist or canon law, domestically or abroad.  Only Russia, the fourth-largest Christian and major Orthodox power, can be said to promote Christianity on the global stage, even as its system is more “Caesaropapist” (the church serves the state) than theocratic.

Majority-Muslim states, on the other hand, mostly burn with Islamic zeal–even if none can claim the legitimate caliphate any more.  Saudi Arabia and Iran not only impose strict Sunnism and Twelver Shi`ism, respectively, on their populations, but each spends massive amounts of money yearly attempting to export its brands of Islam to other parts of the planet. Most of the countries with Muslim majorities (as well as parts of others, such as northern Nigeria) enforce shari`ah law in whole or in part–which means the Qur’an and Hadiths (sayings of Muhammad) are instrumental in private and, usually, public life.  (That may not be theocracy per se–but a difference which makes no difference is no difference.) In addition, those 57 Muslim states have been organized into a transcontinental geopolitical bloc since 1969, which is now known as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.  No other religious grouping on Earth is organized politically on such a scale; in fact, as Bernard Lewis points out, “the very idea of such a grouping…in the modern world may seem anachronistic and even absurd. It is neither…in relation to Islam” (The Crisis of Islam, pp. 13, 14).  This is because “most Muslim countries are still profoundly  Muslim, in a a way and in a sense that most Christian countries are no longer Christian” (Ibid., p. 16).   The OIC gives Muslims a global political voice, far louder than that of any other religious bloc–even Christianity, the world’s largest religion. (Not only does the organization have a special status at the UN, but the US even has an official envoy to the OIC–a practice which began under President George W. Bush.)

OICsymbolflag

Flag of the OIC (from Wikipedia, public domain). Yes, it says “Allahu Akbar.”

In fact the world’s largest religion’s adherents are also the most persecuted–and most often by members of the second-largest: Islam.  The Islamic theocracies, individually and collectively, thus seem to work quite well in three realms: proselytizing for their faith; advancing their faith in the global court of public opinion; and squeezing the lifeblood out of Christianity wherever possible.  Islam as a religion is supported politically both by individual states, some with a great deal of wealth, and by a massive and influential alliance of Muslim polities.  No other religion has any such temporal advocacy.  Is it any wonder, then, that Christians have come to see, not without reason, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump as their champions? Few of us want to fight fire with fire–to create our own theocracies to battle the extant ones of Muhammad’s (although an analogous international organization is not a bad idea).  At the very least, however, Putin and Trump may actually need to work together to defend Christian civilization, if not Christian faith, against its malcontents–most of whom are, unfortunately, Muslim. That’s the kind of collusion I could really get behind.

 

Where’s Your Apocalypse Now?

Happy 2018!  I must apologize to my legion–ok, cohort or, maybe, maniple–of followers for not having blogged since early October; but in my defense I plead teaching three university history classes, trying to finish my new book Enemies of the Caliphs, and a high school football season that lasted until mid-December (but was well worth it: my sons play on the team that won our state’s 4A championship)!

Like Rush, I had a 2017 “big stack of stuff” on which to opine; but much of that is dated, and I’m going to examine only the most relevant remaining material in ascending order of importance.

Last summer, a Vatican publication went after President Trump and his (then) “apocalyptic” advisor, Steve Bannon for allegedly masterminding Mr. Trump’s “xenophobic and Islamophobic vision” which is “Manichaean” and “no different from the one that inspires Islamic fundamentalism.”  The co-authors are a Jesuit and a Presbyterian pastor, which just demonstrates that the educational standards for those respective organizations have fallen precipitously since the days of Ignatius Loyola and John Calvin.  Mr. Trump is a Presbyterian himself, and a devotee of Norman Vincent Peale–which makes the President more Christian Lite than slavering Southern Baptist.  Mr. Bannon is a Catholic (whose fundamentalists speak Latin and burn nothing but tons of incense), and even when he was still welcome in the White House (as he no longer is) his Huntingtonian observations that Islam is a major threat to Western civilization did not render him “fundamentalist,” much less “apocalyptic,” but simply a geopolitical realist–Bannon’s ostensible admiration for “darkness, Satan and Darth Vader” notwithstanding.  Most disturbing and ridiculous is the attempt–which we’ve seen before from Pope Francis himself–to equate Islamic and “Christian” violence–as if the dozens of Islamic terrorist groups around the world had Christian analogs who were inspired by the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers just as jihad is driven by the Qur’an and the Hadiths.

LastJudgmentpainting

15th c. German rendering of the Apocalypse.  Steven Bannon is wearing a hat, lower center-right.

At the end of 2017, armed Islamic groups  in Libya desecrated the grave-shrines of both Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Sanusi (or “Senussi”) in al-Kufra (the far southeast of the country) and Omar al-Mukhtar in Benghazi (Libya’s major eastern city, on the Mediterranean coast).  Muhammad al-Mahdi (d. 1902) was the head of the Sanusiyah Sufi order and father of Libya’s only king, Muhammad Idris, who was deposed by Mu`ammar al-Qadhafi in 1969 and died 13 years later.  (Muhammad al-Mahdi had been asked by the Mahdi of Sudan, Muhammad Ahmad, to be one of the latter’s caliphs upon his conquest of Sudan in the early 1880s–but declined, not least because many  in north central Africa considered him to be the actual Mahdi.) Omar al-Mukhtar was also a Sanusi Sufi, and led the guerrilla war against the occupying Italians from 1923 until his capture and execution in 1931.  The group blamed for attacking the graves of these men is described as “Sobol al-Salam Brigade, a radical group of Madhkhali sect that operates under Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled army…”  Madhkhalism (named after its Saudi founder) is a form of tame Salafism, which supports fundamentalist Sunni ideology but renders it subservient to the state–making it a favorite of extant Muslim rulers over against the Muslim Brotherhood.  Madhkhalism has been growing in Libya, and General Haftar–the de facto ruler of eastern Libya–may be using its adherents as foot soldiers to increase his chances of taking over the entire country.  But why send them as raiders into Sufi shaykhs’ tombs? Does Haftar fear the popularity of the Sanusis in Libya, and their possible return to power in the form of the late King Idris’ nephew, Muhammad al-Sanusi? Is this simply a quid pro quo, under which Haftar looks the other way as Madhkhalis indulge their Salafistic animosity toward Sufis?  In any case, the conflict between Salafis of all stripes and Sanusis, long-time power-brokers in Libya, should be monitored going forward.  It is fascinating that the specter of the Mahdi looms behind events in Libya, considering that both indigenous Sanusis and interloping ISIS Salafis believe in that incarnation of Islamic eschatology.

Last fall, King Salman of Saudi Arabia “ordered the establishment of an authority to scrutinize uses of the ‘hadith'” in order to “prevent them from being used to justify violence or terrorism.”  Supposedly ulama from many countries will work with Saudi ones in Medina on this project, because “Islamist groups such as Islamic State and al Qaeda [sic] have used interpretations of hadiths…to justify violence….” One suspects the hand of Crown Prince Muhammad behind this–as he is already trying to change the political and economic equation in KSA.  But just how much effect will it have on reducing the zeal for jihad and violence in the Islamic world? For one thing, the Turks have already been culling hadiths for several years, under a nearly identical project; in fact, they published “a seven-volume encyclopaedia of what is authors consider the most important hadiths”–which constitute only a small percentage of the 17,000 sayings attributed to Islam’s founder. Like the Turks, one would hope the Saudis take this approch: “hadiths calling for harsh punishments such as severing thieves’ hands were put into historical perspective, so they are not taken as models for modern times.”  But the problematic doctrines of Islam (violence, misogyny, etc.) are not only drawn from hadiths; the Qur’an, believed by Muslims to be Allah’s literal word, contains many harsh passages; to mention but the most prominent: Sura al-Tawbah [IX]: 5 tells Muslims to ambush, besiege, attack, and kill polytheists (which includes Trinitarian Christians); Sura al-Nisa’ [IV]:34 allows Muslim men to hit their wives who misbehave; and several passages of the Qur’an recommend beheading opponents, as I explained at length in a frequently-cited article.  And the consensus of mainstream Muslim (especially Sunni) ulama has maintained for centuries that the diktats of Allah are unalterably constant across space and time, so that it is impermissible to put verses of the Qur’an into historical perspective, as the Turks (and Saudis?) are doing with the hadiths.  Until that changes–until the Qur’an itself can be read other than literally (which today is only allowed in sects)–Islam will be bloody not just on its borders, but inside them.

Finally, and this from spring of 2017: KSA’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Muhammad “said that dialogue with Iran was impossible because of its belief in the Imam Mahdi, the so-called hidden imam….” Of course, KSA’s regional struggle with the Islamic Republic of Iran is about far more than a war of words over Sunni v. Shi`i eschatological beliefs–primarily, at this point in time, Yemen (although Iran’s involvement there is more effect than cause, as I wrote in 2015). Both official Iranian outlets and Hizbullah leader Hasan Nasrallah issued statements condemning Prince Muhammad and his entire Kingdom for their persecution of Shi`is and obstinate refusal to believe in the occulted 12th Imam.  But what Prince Muhammad conveniently leaves out is that Sunnis, too, believe in the Mahdi–just not one that is hidden and will return; but one who will come for the first time.  In fact, as I explain in my first book, Holiest Wars, most major Mahdist uprisings in history have been Sunni.  Saudi Arabia itself saw an apocalyptic revolution in Mecca fail in 1979  (and an echo of that, more explosive than eschatological, summer of 2017).  At least one Saudi writer, in “Reflections on Surah al-Kahf” (the 18th chapter of the Qur’an, which talks about Moses and some shadowy figures known as al-Khidr and Dhu al-Qarnayn), said recently that “we are living in the end of times; the hour is near, a prelude to the hour is the arrival of the Dajjal” (the “Deceiver,” or Antichrist of Islam).  And at least one summer 2017 youtube video, since removed, claimed, ironically, that “Mohammed bin Salman will be Imam Al Mahdi.” (Maybe that will give him the cachet to update not just hadiths, but the Qur’an!)

2017, thus, was rife with references to apocalyptic characters and events.  I suspect that in 2018 the ones in the Islamic world will prove more potent–but time will tell.

YajujwasmajujIslamicart

Yajuj and Majuj (Gog and Magog) being penned up by Alexander the Great.  They are one of the afflictions on humanity which will occur in the End Times, along with President Trump, before the Mahdi and Jesus fix things and make the world safe for Islam.