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ISIS’ Millenarian Theory and its Refutation: Perspectives from Several World Religions on Mahdaviat Doctrine and its Misinterpretations (Part 1)

By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam

28 May 2016

Note: A large part of the attraction of ISIS for Muslim youth is its millenarian thesis. It has convinced many that end of times is at hand, that they are engaged in the end-times battle, the Malhama. This has made the war they are engaged in imperative and urgent. Millenarianism or Islamic Eschatology, Ilm-e-Aakhiruzzaman, was an inspiration behind some ideologues of al-Qaeda as well. But Osama bin Laden himself and most of his ideologues did not emphasize it much. As for ISIS, even in its previous avatar as Jamāʻat al-Tawīd wa-al-Jihād (The Organisation of Monotheism and Jihad) founded in 1999 by Jordanian radical Abu Musab al-Zarqawi which later pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda, several ideologues strongly believed in the apocalyptic worldview, the theory of this war being the final great war, al-Malhama al-Kubra, in which Islam will conquer the world.

World domination has been a Muslim dream for ever. Books like Qeyamat Ki Peshingoyian, or prophesies of the Prophet about the last days on earth have always been a bestseller in Muslim religious bookshops in every part of the world. No matter how irrational, Muslims of all denominations have for ever been waiting for a Mahdi or an Imam who will appear in the final days and set everything right. Indeed, this belief cuts across religious barriers. Believers in a number of religions are looking forward to the sudden appearance of a deliverer. This has made the task of ISIS easier. To help understand this phenomenon better, New Age Islam is presenting a study by our regular columnist Mr. Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, a classical Islamic scholar who specialises in comparative religion. Almost the entire Islamic Eschatology is based on Hadees, and we don’t think by strengthening the institution of Hadees, that were collected up to 300 years after the demise of the Prophet (p.b.u.h), seeking to find answers in Hadees itself, we can fight the radical Islamic theology. But it is important to know and understand.  --- Editor


The reason why we need to understand the apocalyptic worldview of radical Islamists, mainly represented by ISIS, is that it is the genesis of much of the violent extremism across the Muslim world. A holistic understanding of their apocalyptic theories may even help us refute their radical thoughts more accurately and efficiently.

A comparative analysis of the World religions’ perspectives on Mahdaviat Doctrine establishes that every major religion of the world prophesies a respective messiah figure to appear at the end-time with clear signs and exhortations. They urge people to identify the real awaited Messiah or imam Mahdi with his magnanimous character, peaceful nature and noble personality traits as a saviour of mankind from the clutches of evils. But on the contrary, the self-imposed caliphate, which falsely claims to be the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’ (Daesh in Arabic), has misinterpreted the Mahdaviat Doctrine to serve its ulterior motives and further its nefarious political ends. It loudly claims to be the only truth-bearing or saved sect that can lead the global Muslims to the righteous path to salvation in this ‘end time war’. Therefore, it calls upon the Muslims of the world to render their allegiance and support to its self-imposed caliphate which actually goes against the tenets of Islam. Given this, an intellectual rebuttal of Daesh’s misinterpretation of the Mahdaviat Doctrine, its theology of millenarianism and end-time war is imperative for moderate Islamic scholars.

An objective and critical study of the ISIS’s misinterpretations of the Mahdaviat Doctrine results in a clear and candid exposition of all its false and untenable claims.  It reveals that the Self-imposed Islamic caliphate’s claim to fight the end-time war is inconsistent with the actual Islamic narrative. Hence, its claim to be an early army of Imam Mahdi does not stand up to scrutiny by any stretch of imagination. Based on rigorous research and comparative analysis of all religions’ perspectives of the Mahdaviat Doctrine, this three-part article engages in the refutation of the Daesh’s misinterpretations of the Mahdaviat Doctrine, point by point and clause by clause.

Comparative Analysis of Mahdaviat Doctrine in Major World Religions

It is interesting to note that the term ‘Messiah’ or ‘Mahdi’ is generally taken to be specific to the Abrahamic faith traditions; Islam, Christianity and Judaism only. But prophecies abound in nearly all world religions that a ‘saviour’ will come and accomplish the messiah’s mission. Thus, the Mahdism doctrine is not exclusive to Islam or Abrahamic religions. It is common to all major religions and faith traditions of the world including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

Jews long for the promised Messiah. Christians believe in the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, who has already come and ascended to heaven but will reappear at his Second Coming. Buddhist scripture prophesies the coming of the Maitreya Buddha. Hindu scriptures prophesy the future descent of an avatar named Kalki. Zoroastrian scriptures prophesy the coming of the Saoshyant. Similarly, Confucian texts speak of a future True Man who will finally bring peace to the world by perfectly instituting the Way of Confucius. The Sikh community in India is also greatly looking forward to see the "Mahdi Meer" who will be born for a purpose of defeating the evil forces.

Muslims expect the second advent of Hazrat Isa Alaihis Salam or Jesus Christ (peace be upon him), who will come as a Muslim Imam. Both Sunnis and Shias share this belief in common. Although among the Shias, there are various interpretations of the awaited Imam Mahdi.

While analysing the concept of Mahdaviat, Al-Malahama Al-Kubra and End Time from the Islamic perspective, I have also studied the eschatology of the world religions: Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism and Hinduism, besides Islam. The crucial point that all these religions share in common is that they all have prophesised a respective messiah figure to be appearing at the End Time.  However, in this research article, we will not delve deeper into the eschatology of the religions other than Islam. The prime focus of this comparative analysis is that every religion has its respective awaited messiah figure to appear at the end-time. I am producing below the core essence of all major religions of the world concerning the Mahdaviat Doctrine.

Mahdaviat Doctrine in Judaism

The Jews are desperately on the lookout for their long-awaited Mashiach Ormoshiach (Hebrew word that refers to the Jewish idea of the messiah), physically descended from the Davidic line. According to the Jewish doctrine of Mahdaviat, the awaited Messiah will rule the people of Israel, uniting them (see: Megillah 17b-18a, Taanit 8b) and maintain universal peace. However, the Jewish Messiah is not considered divine (see: Sotah 9a).

Mahdaviat Doctrine in Christianity

Contrary to the Jewish doctrine of Mahdaviat where the awaited Messiah is not considered divine, Christianity believes that Jesus Christ is both divine and the Messiah. The Christians have been exhorted to await the second advent of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) with an aim to defeat Satan (anti-Christ) at the final battle of Armageddon or the Great battle (Al-Malhama Al-Kubra). According to this doctrine, Jesus Christ will begin his reign from the Davidic throne in Jerusalem for the millennial kingdom.

Mahdaviat Doctrine in Buddhism

The Buddhists are expecting the Maitreya Buddha. According to Buddhist tradition and prophecy mentioned in the canonical literature of all major schools of Buddhism, Maitreya is a bodhisattva who will appear on the Earth in the future when the dharma will have been forgotten by most in the world. However, many Buddha claimants appeared at different times. The monk Xiang Haiming, Wu Zetian, Gung Ye, a Korean warlord and king of short-lived state of Taebong, Lu Zhongyi, the 17th patriarch of Yiguandao, L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the belief systems Dianetics and Scientology were among those who claimed to be Maitreya or incarnation of Maitreya. These Buddha claimants were widely rejected by most Buddhist monks. The modern Buddhists believe that their Maitreya Buddha will appear in the ‘late-time’, the ‘dark’ epoch when humanity is lost, apparently cut off from Wisdom.

Mahdaviat Doctrine in Hinduism

The Hindus are expecting the Tenth Avatar (Kalki) who will appear in the end of time. The name Kalki derived from Sanskrit word Kalka means the “destroyer of foulness or “destroyer of darkness or ignorance”.  According to religious texts of Hinduism, the Puranas, Kalki will be atop a white horse with a drawn blazing sword. In the Hindu eschatology, he is regarded the harbinger of the end time, after which he will usher in Satya Yuga. Vishnu Purana says, “By His irresistible might he will destroy all the Malechhas (Barbarians) and thieves, and all whose minds are devoted to iniquity. He will re-establish righteousness upon earth, and the minds of those who live at the end of the Kali age shall be awakened, and shall be as clear as crystal. The men who are thus changed by virtue of that peculiar time shall be as the seeds of human beings, and shall give birth to a race who will follow the laws of the Krita age or Satya Yuga, the age of purity. As it is said, 'When the sun and moon, and the lunar asterism Tishya, and the planet Jupiter, are in one mansion, the Krita age shall return”. (Vishnu Purana, Book Four, Chapter 24)

Mahdaviat Doctrine in Sikhism

In conformity to the Islamic doctrine of Mahdism, the Sikh scripture prophesises the advent of the "Mahdi Meer" who will be born for a purpose of defeating Kali, who will become egoistic referring to himself as the Almighty. In Dasam Granth, the Sikh scripture attributed to the tenth Sikh guru Guru Gobind Singh, it is prophesied that the powerful Mahdi will slay Kali and rule the world.

It should be clarified that Kali is also a Hindu goddess who is the mighty aspect of the goddess Durga. The name Kali is derived from the Sanskrit Kala, or time. Therefore, it represents time, change, power, creation, preservation, and destruction. (Continued)

A Regular Columnist with New Age Islam, Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is Comparative Religion & Classical Islamic Scholar, and Doctoral Research Scholar at Centre for Culture, Media & Governance (JMI Central University).


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