Islamic Apocalypse?

How the U.S.-led war with Iraq fits into a Muslim doomsday scenario--and how President Bush may be involved.

Many Americans, particularly evangelical Christians, are watching events in the Middle East and wondering if the Iraq war is part of an end-times scenario predicted in the Bible.

Some Muslims also hold apocalyptic views. For them, the Iraq war looks like the unfolding of events leading to their own doomsday scenario--which includes a Rapture-like appearance by Jesus and an antichrist who may or may not be President Bush.

Beliefnet talked with David Cook, a Rice University scholar of Islamic apocalypticism.

How did Islamic apocalypticism get its start?

It has been around from the time of the revelation of the Qur'ran. There is an apocalyptic tradition within the Prophet Muhammad's history and in the Hadith literature [a narrative record of the sayings and customs of Muhammad and his companions]. Within the larger Islamic tradition, there is constant speculation of appearances of messianic figures and pseudo-prophets.

The Qur'an is heavily apocalyptic in the sense that it expects the end of the world to happen imminently. Surah 54:1 talks about the hour approaching and the splitting of the moon. There are a lot of cosmic signs in the Qur'an, such as stars falling and heavens being rolled up. At the same time, the Qur'an is cautious about making predictions about the end of the world. For example, in Surah 31:34, the Prophet is asked about when the end of the world is going to happen. He says that knowledge is just with God, which avoids the question.

How are apocalyptic Muslims interpreting the period from September 11 to this moment, with the United States at war with Iraq? What are they seeing?


The standard interpretation is that it's a replay of the Muslim fight against the

Byzantine Empire

in the 7th and 8th centuries, after a period of alliance between the two groups. The interpretation is that the Byzantines equal the United States, and the Muslims equal those who fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. [The Muslims in Afghanistan are cited because, like the early Muslims, they allied with the "Byzantine," i.e. American, forces--but only for a few years, until the rise of the Taliban, when the United States stopped supporting Muslims in Afghanistan.] The tradition goes on to say there will be fallout between the two, and then the Byzantines will massively attack the Muslims, and the Muslims will be totally disorganized and defeated. The Byzantines are technologically superior and dangerous.

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