Al-Baghdadi and his group of extremists--ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham)--have declared the establishment of a Caliphate, renaming their organization the Islamic State. They did this on the first day of Ramadan, a holy and symbolic day for Muslims. Already having control of extended territory in Iraq and claiming to have taken at least partial control of various oil revenues, the jubilant fighters now invite western Muslims to stream into Iraq to join them. Whether their claimed victory and caliphate will have the drawing power they hope remains to be seen--although hundreds of western youth have already joined them from the U.S., Canada and Europe.
Declaring a caliphate in Iraq may also have the power to draw the U.S. bombers into action--at least temporarily accelerating armed conflict in the area. Likewise, having now declared themselves the restored caliphate the ISIS fighters will most certainly have Jerusalem, Mecca and Medina squarely in their sights and will want to destabilize Jordan, destroy the government of Israel, and make their march into Saudi. Perhaps such actions are only the "wet" dreams of extremists--yet one must also be aware of the power of apocalyptic dreams in spurring on the violence of men who are completely convinced they are bringing in the final apocalyptic vision of the "end times".
Most Westerners are aware of Christian views on the so-called "end times" in which conflicts break out; natural disasters become commonplace; weather becomes extreme and finally an anti-Christ appears to rule the world. At that point according to Christian scriptures--believers are raptured--that is taken up in the clouds while still alive. And the rest remain on earth for a period of trials and tribulations under the anti-Christ--until the Messiah, claimed to be the resurrected Jesus arrives in Jerusalem on his white horse, storming through the clouds, his mighty sword raised to battle and ultimately defeat the anti-Christ and his minions. Thereby the final judgment is ushered in and those deemed worthy of eternal life are invited into the eternal heaven that appears and is instituted on earth. According to Christian scriptures, The streets of Jerusalem are at that time lit by an unworldly glow, the streets are paved with gold, man's "swords are beaten into plowshares and spears turned into pruning hooks" (Isaiah 2:4) and Jesus ultimately reigns forever.
Many fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. and elsewhere look eagerly for these "end times" and now interpret many signs of it being imminent in our time--i.e. the establishment of Israel as a state; armed conflict in the middle east; the emergence of extreme weather patterns; hard economic times and a general state of perceived sin in the world. And they do not welcome military intervention to stop it--they are instead all for the apocalyptic vision and accelerating the final end of the world as we know it.
What most westerners don't know is that many Muslims also harbor apocalyptic and eschatological views and that their vision parallels with the fundamentalist Christian views. Muslims also expect the end of the world to be ushered in by the establishment of a Jewish state, armed conflict in the Middle East, arbitrary killings, a rise in natural disasters and the rising of an anti-Christ who will have global influence. This will, as in the Christian tradition, ultimately usher in the return Jesus--who in Islamic tradition is viewed as one of the holiest prophets of Islam--who will, as in the Christian traditions, return to the area biblically identified as Galilee. The Muslim tradition says he will return to the mosque of the white minaret, which is believed to be in Damascus. His first task will be to take out the anti-Christ. He will according to Muslim scriptures overtake the anti-Christ at the Gate of Lud believed to be right outside of Tel Aviv, inside Israel proper. Then he will judge the living and ultimately reign over the righteous.
In Islamic tradition there will also be a "Mahdi" who appears shortly before the emergence of the anti-Christ and his battle with Jesus. This Mahdi will be a righteous ruler who will begin the battle with the anti-Christ and then be joined by Jesus. Interestingly, the Shia Muslims believe the Mahdi is already living here among them.
The Mahdi is supposed to be a just and good ruler whereas the anti-Christ ushers in a reign in which blood letting occurs without the people even understanding how and why they are being killed--much like my Iraqi associate's recent e-mail recounting how Sunnis are daily being randomly taken off the streets, killed for no clear apparent reason and then their families called to recover their dead.
Interestingly, hadith of Saheeh Muslim predicts the anti-Christ to appear on the road between Iraq and Syria. And in the Musnad of Iman Ahmed the hadith says that the anti-Christ will emerge from the remnants of the original extremist groups that were fought by the Prophet. This refers to the original Khawarij who made "Takfir"--that is to declare other Muslims as nonMuslims and justify killing them. This is much like today's al Qaeda fighters and especially their offshoots who do the same--hence the name Takfiris--which is often applied to those who live by the al Qaeda ideology or a derivation of it.
During the time of the Mahdi those under the black flags will march unto Mecca where they will give allegiance to him at the Ka'bah (the black holy cubic structure at Mecca that marks the direction of prayer) and solidify his legitimacy in the Muslim world. Interestingly al Qaeda groups currently march under black flags (with Islamic inscriptions) although it would be hard to argue that the Mahdi--a just and righteous ruler would emerge from among their ranks. That is unless one believed that group to be ushering in righteousness, as many of them do.
Whether one subscribes to such views or sees them as complete fundamentalist nonsense, it's important to know that others do take the "end times" seriously. And given the parallels between apocalyptic scriptures in both Muslims and Christians tradition and the current events in Syria and Iraq and the Islamic scriptures referring to end times, these events occurring during holy month of Ramadan and the scriptures supporting it may certainly give fuel to many more of our western youth going to join the newly claimed caliphate in Iraq.
Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the Medical School and author of Talking to Terrorists. She conducted psychological autopsies of over half of the one hundred and twelve Chechen suicide terrorists, interviewed hostages from Beslan and Nord Ost and has interviewed over four hundred terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world.
Mubin Shaikh, M.S. is a former Muslim extremist who became an undercover counter-terrorism operative. He has extensive experience in domestic counter-terrorism operations and policing and is now a Ph.D. candidate in the psychology of radicalization and terrorism. He regularly converses with and confronts ISIS members online and is an expert in counter-extremist messaging.