(Note: I would like to thank bro. Hafiz Kusairi for his technical assistance when writing this article. This article has been published by Eurasia Review, 9 February 2015.)
by Muhammad Haniff Hassan
Fellow, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
One of many narratives used by ISIS in its propaganda materials to win support from Muslims all over the world is the Armageddon or Al-Malhamah Al-Kubra (the Great Battle) narrative. This narrative taps on Islamic traditions concerning the End of Time that have been circulated among Muslims since the first generation of Islam.
The broad original Armageddon traditions in Islam speak about the final battle between the evil forces led by Dajjal [Anti-Christ] and the Muslim army under the leadership of Prophet Isa (Jesus) and his assistant Al-Mahdi (the Mahdi) which culminates with the death of the former and the defeat of his forces and the glorious victory for the latter. Prior to the emergence of Al-Mahdi, the second coming of Prophet Isa and the final battle, however, there will be series of battle between the Muslim and Roman army in the vicinity of Syria.
These battles will attract true Muslims to congregate in Iraq and Syria and they would form the bulk of Al-Taifah Al-Mansurah (the victorious/saved sect) of the End of Time as illustrated by Ibn Taimiyah, a much revered scholar by ISIS, in his famous book Majmu` Al-Fatawa (Compilation of Fatwas), “Islam in the end of times will be more manifested in Sham… So the best of the people on the earth in the end of times will be those who keep to the land of [Prophet] Ibrahim’s hijrah [migration], which is Sham.”
According to ISIS, what is currently happening in Syria and Iraq that pits them with the US led coalition forces represents that series of battle that would lead to the Armageddon.
Dabiq no. 4, ISIS official online magazine, asserts after citing hadiths [the Prophet’s traditions] that relate events in the End of Time, “These ahadith [plural for hadith] indicate that the Muslims will be at war with the Roman Christians. Rome in the Arabic tongue of the Prophet refers to the Christians of Europe and their colonies in Sham prior to the conquering of Sham at the hands of the Sahabah [the Prophet’s companions]. There will be pause of war due to peace treaty. Then, there will be a treachery by the romans which lead to continuation of war and events which lead to “the final, greatest, and bloodiest battle – al-Malhamah al-Kubra – between the Muslims and the Romans prior to the appearance of the Dajjal and the descent of al-Masih [Prophet `Isa]. This battle ends the era of the Roman Christians, as the Muslims will then advance upon Constantinople and thereafter Rome, to conquer the two cities and raise the flag of the Khilafah over them.”
The hadiths cited by Dabiq to support the above assertion are:
- “Allah’s Messenger said: Indeed the camp of the Muslims on the day of al-Malhamah al-Kubra will be in al-Ghutah, next to a city called Damascus, one of the best cities of Sham.” (Narrated by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, and Al-Hakim)
- “Allah’s Messenger said: I saw as if a pillar of the Book was taken from underneath my pillow, so I looked and it was a shining light extending towards Sham. Verily faith, at the time of tribulations, is in Sham.” (Narrated by Al-Hakim)
- “Allah’s Messenger said: Sham is the land of congregation and dispersal [meaning resurrection].” (Narrated by Al-Bazzar and others) 
- “Allah’s Messenger said: The Hour will not be established until the Romans land at al-A`maq or Dabiq (two places near each other in the northern countryside of Halab). Then an army from Madinah [made up] of the best people on earth at that time will leave for them. When they line up in ranks the Romans will say: Leave us and those who were enslaved from amongst us so we can fight them. The Muslims will say: Nay, by Allah, we will not abandon our brothers to you. So they will fight them. Then one third of them will flee; Allah will never forgive them. One third of them will be killed; they will be the best martyrs with Allah. And one third will conquer them; they will never be afflicted with fitnah. Then they will conquer Constantinople. While they are dividing the war booty, having hung their swords on olive trees, Shaytan [satan] will shout: The [false] Messiah has followed after your families [who were left behind.] So they will leave [for their families], but Shaytan’s claim is false. When they arrive in Sham, he comes out. Then when they are preparing for battle and filing their ranks, the prayer is called. So `Isa Ibn Maryam will descend and lead them. When the enemy of Allah sees him, he will melt as salt melts in water. If he were to leave him he would melt until he perishes, but he kills him with his own hand, and then shows them his blood upon his spear.” (Narrated by Muslim)
- “Allah’s Messenger said: You will have a treaty of security with the Romans until you both fight an enemy beyond them. And you will be victorious, you will gain war booty, and you will achieve such without losses. Thereafter you will return until you lodge at a pastureland full of rocky mounds. A man from the Roman Christians will then raise the cross. He will say: The cross has prevailed! A man from the Muslims will then say: Rather Allah has prevailed, and then he will angrily rise and crush the cross, which is not at a distance from him. Then the Romans will betray the treaty by rising against the breaker of the cross and striking his neck. The Muslims will then rise and rush to their arms. They will then battle. Allah will bless this party of Muslims with shahadah [martyrdom]. The Romans will say to the Roman leader: We are sufficient for you against the Arabs. They will then gather for the Malhamah (the grand battle before the Hour). They will come for you under eighty banners, with each banner there will be twelve thousand people.” (Narrated by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban and Al-Hakim)
- “`Abdullah Ibn Mas`ud said: The Last Hour will not come until the people stop dividing inheritance and rejoicing over booty. Then he said, while pointing towards Sham: An enemy shall muster strength against the Muslims and the Muslims will muster strength against them. Yusayr Ibn Jabir asked him: You mean the Romans? He said: Yes, and there will be a great raddah (fleeing) and the Muslims will prepare a detachment for fighting unto death so that they may not return but victorious. They will fight until night will intervene between them; both sides will return without being victorious and the detachment will be wiped out. The Muslims will again prepare a detachment for fighting unto death so that they may not return but victorious. They will fight until night comes upon them; both sides will return without being victorious and the detachment will be wiped out. When it is the fourth day, a new detachment from the remnant of the Muslims will be prepared and Allah will decree that the enemy would be routed. And they will fight such a fight the like of which will not be seen (or which has not been seen), so much so that even if a bird were to pass their flanks, it would fall down dead before reaching the end of them. (After the battle), when relatives count each other, they will find that after one hundred, only one man is left from them. So what can be the joy at the spoils of such war and what inheritance can be divided! While they are in this very state, they will hear of a calamity more horrible than this. And a cry will reach them: The Dajjal has taken your place among your families. They will, therefore, throw away what is in their hands and go forward sending ten horsemen as a scouting party. Allah’s Messenger said: I know their names and the names of their fathers and the color of their horses. They will be the best horsemen on the surface of the earth on that day or amongst the best horsemen on the surface of the earth on that day.” (Narrated by Muslim)
The abovementioned narrative is consistent with the view held by ISIS prominent figures:
- Abu Mus`ab Al-Zarqawi, the founder of Al-Tawhid Wa Al-Jihad group which later on evolved to ISIS, had reportedly said, “The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify – by Allah’s permission – until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.”
- Abu Muhammad Al-`Adnani, ISIS former spokesperson, said, “O soldiers of the Islamic State, be ready for the final campaign of the crusaders. Yes, by Allah’s will, it will be the final one. Thereafter, we will raid them by Allah’s permission and they will not raid us…. And so we promise you [O crusaders] by Allah’s permission that this campaign will be your final campaign. It will be broken and defeated, just as all your previous campaigns were broken and defeated, except that this time we will raid you thereafter, and you will never raid us. We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women, by the permission of Allah, the Exalted. This is His promise to us; He is glorified and He does not fail in His promise. If we do not reach that time, then our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market.”
- Abu `Umar Al-Baghdadi, the late Emir of Islamic State of Iraq, the predecessor of ISIS, said, “The Iraqi Jihad brought back life to jihadi regions which had weakened a bit after their strength. It also prepared the path for attacking the Jewish State and retaking Baytul-Maqdis. It is as if I stand before the `asa’ib (bands) of Iraq that leave from here to give support to the Mahdi whilst he holds on to the curtains of the Ka’bah.”
In this context, ISIS claims for itself to be the force of truth and the US lead coalition is the Roman army is the Final Crusader before the Armageddon as prophesised by the Prophet. Similarly also is the congregation of “mujahidin” in Iraq and Syria to fight the coalition forces and Assad’s army, they fit the Armageddon narrative in the Islamic tradition.
“Then, these nuzza’ [strangers who break off from their family and tribe] gathered in Sham [Syria], the land of malahim [battles] and the land of al-Malhamah al-Kubra [the Great Battle]. Allah’s Messenger has informed of battles that will occur in places within Sham and its vicinity, such as al-Ghutah, Damascus, Dabiq (or al-A`maq), the Euphrates River, and Constantinople (which is near Sham), as well as Baytul-Maqdis (Jerusalem), the gate of Lod, Lake Tiberius, the Jordan River, Mount Sinai, and so on. And he [the Prophet] linked this blessed land with many of the events related to al-Masih, al-Mahdi, and the Dajjal…… They gathered together in the land of malahim [battles] shortly before the occurrence of al-Malhamah al-Kubra , announced their enmity and hatred for the cross worshippers, the apostates, their crosses, their borders, and their ballot boxes, and pledged allegiance to the Khilafah promising to die defending it. Then, they were opposed and forsaken by “the wise ones,” the “theorizers,” and “the elders,” who labeled them as being khawarij, haruriyyah (a branch of the khawarij), hashashin (a heretical isma’ili sect), the grandsons of Ibn Muljim (the khariji who killed `Ali Ibn Abi Talib), and the dogs of Hellfire! So if the muhajirin of the Islamic State in their thousands are the dogs of Hellfire, then who are the ones referred to in the hadith as being “those who break off from their tribes” and “the best of Allah’s slaves”? Apart from them, there are no other muhajirin left in Sham, except for a small number whose hearts yearn for the Islamic State and for giving bay’ah to the Imam. Then there will remain outside of the Islamic State only he who is obstructed from it by mountainous waves of envy and arrogance, so that he drowns in the methodologies of the hypocrites, the rumor mongers, and the weak-hearted, and he aids the sahwat of apostasy, following rukhas (concessions) on his path to heresy. We ask Allah for forgiveness and well-being in this life and in the hereafter.”
On this claim, Muslims all over the world are called upon to migrate to Iraq and Syrian and join the “blessed newly founded Islamic caliphate” under the leadership of the caliph Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and join the fight so as to be amongst “the best of Allah’s servants” and helpers of the long awaited Al-Mahdi and Prophet `Isa and hopefully witnessing the victory of truth above all falsehoods or died as martyrs in the cause of it.
Contesting ISIS narrative & mobilisation
Deep analysis to Islamic traditions concerning the End of Time which include the Armageddon would disclose the opposite position of what ISIS is calling upon Muslims. This opposite position is based upon various hadiths that warned Muslims about the widespread of strife and wars when the End of Time is near. Muslims who live in such situation are commanded to stay away from the conflict, not taking any sides and if necessary to live in seclusion (`uzlah) so as not to be implicated by the situation and affected by the harms. The hadiths permit Muslims to disavow participation in violence and war and to practice non-resistance in such situation even if it would cost their live.
Some of the hadiths are:
- It was narrated from Abu Musa Al-Ash`ari that the Messenger of Allah said: “Before the Hour comes, there will be tribulation like pieces of black night, when a man will wake up as a believer but be a disbeliever by evening, or he will be a believer in the evening but will be a disbeliever by morning. And the one who is sitting will be better than the one who is standing, and the one who is standing will be better than the one who is walking, and the one who is walking will be better than the one who is running. So break your bows, cut their strings and strike your swords against rocks, and if anyone enters upon anyone of you, let him be like the better of the two sons of Adam. (i.e. the one killed, not the killer).”
- A person said: Allah’s Messenger, what is your opinion if I am drawn to a rank in spite of myself, or in one of the groups and made to march and a man strikes with his sword or there comes an arrow and kills me? Thereupon he said: He will bear the punishment of his sin and that of yours and he would be one amongst the denizens of Hell.
- He said: “What will you do when killing befalls the people so that Hijaratuz-Zait [a place in Madinah] is covered with blood?” I said: “Whatever Allah and His Messenger choose for me.” He said: “Stay with those whom you belong to.” He said: “I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, should I not take my sword and strike those who do that?’” He said: “Then you will be just like the people. Rather enter your house.” I said: “O Messenger of Allah, what if they enter my house?” He said: “If you are afraid that the flashing of the sword will dazzle you, then put the edge of your garment over your face, and let him carry his own sin and your sin, and he will be one of the people of the Hellfire.”
- The Prophet said, “Woe to Arabs because of evil which has drawn near! He will escape who restrains his hand.”
Muslim scholars who commenting on the above hadiths hold that the command not to participate in violent conflict is applicable whenever Muslims face situations, a) conflict between parties where there is no clear evidence to distinguish who is on the side of truth, b) periods where violent conflicts are widespread and cause widespread harms and destruction, c) when a Muslim believes his participation or even existence in such situations would cause greater harm than benefit to his faith and life, and d) when a Muslim believes that he would not be able to deal with the situation in accordance to the demand of the syari`ah due to factors within himself or external to him (beyond his control). The scholars also recognise that determining the situation and the resulting pacifist stand can be subjective from a person to another. Thus, a situation may represent what is mentioned in the hadiths to a person, but not to the other or the command in the hadiths may be applicable to a person/situation but not to the other.
On a similar note, I have listed a few hadiths related to the End of Time which described Iraq as the region where a deviant group (the horn of satan) will emerge and these hadiths could possible refer to ISIS in an article titled ISIS seeks legitimacy in Dabiq & its narrative published by Eurasia Review (11 December 2014). This therefore challenges ISIS’ self-righteous claim based on selective use of the Armageddon traditions in Islam as the truth-bearing or saved sect that require Muslims to render their allegiance and support.
There are no definitive theological evidences to validate ISIS Armageddon narrative. The claim can be easily challenged by the same collection of Islamic traditions on the End of Time and the Armageddon.
ISIS Armageddon narrative is clearly selective meant to serve its objective of political mobilisation . It is not an academic theological study that seeks to offer a full and comprehensive understanding of the current events and the End of Time.
If the ISIS narrative is not theologically definitive, how then should Muslims decide which position they should take, whether to support ISIS based of its narrative or not?
The indefinitive character of the narrative means that the narrative itself cannot be the main factor in making decisions. The key factor is located in the behaviour and conduct of ISIS in conformance to the syari`ah. In this regard, the stand made by hundreds of Muslim scholars all over the world as seen in www.lettertobaghdadi.com bears clear testimony that ISIS is far from the standards set by the syari`ah and thus Muslim should have no doubt about condemning and staying away from it.
Dabiq, no.3, pp. 9-11.
Dabiq, no. 4, pp. 34-5.
Dabiq, no. 3, p. 9.
Dabiq, no. 4, p. 33.
Ibid, p. 34.
Ibid, p. 35.
 Ibid, p. 8.
Ibid, pp. 35-6.
Ibid, p. 32.
Iraqi sunni anti-Al-Qaeda movement.
Dabid, no. 3, pp. 9-11.
Ibid, pp. 5-6 & 10
Ibn Majah, Sunan Ibn Majah, hadith no. 3961; Abu Dawud, Sunan Abu Dawud, hadith no. 4259. All citation of hadiths in this article is based on hadith database available at www.sunnah.com (5 February 2015)
Muslim bin Al-Hajjaj, Sahih Muslim, hadith no. 2887.
Ibn Majah, hadith no. 3958.
Abu Dawud, hadith no. 4249.
Salman bin Abdullah Al-`Awdah, Al-`Uzlah Wa Al-Khultah: Ahkam Wa Ahwal, (Dammam: Dar Ibn Al-Jawzi, 1993), pp. 40-9, 71-99.