This iconic photo of the famous Tunisian mujahid Abu Ahmad at-Tunisian on the ruined streets of Kobane distills the whole conflict into one image for me. To glory in apocalypse, to embrace it. To use apocalypse as a tool in multiple dimensions. This is a wholly alien concept for the west– the US especially seeks to armor itself against apocalypse, and both dreads and fears it. This is obvious from the spate of movies flowing from Hollywood– classic apocalypse movies like San Andreas or 2012 and post-apocalyptic dystopian world of the future movies like Mad Max: FuryRoad, the Purge, Divergent, Hunger Games, Snowpiercer, and Interstellar. Movies are the mirror of culture. The paranoia induction that has infused the US since 9/11 bleeds out into the culture as fear and dread…a kind of prophecy of doom– fear of retribution perhaps from the burgeoning non-white global populations? Or justice for the horror show the US has created in MENA and Africa? Who can say.
In contrast the muslim world weaves prophecy seamlessly into culture. But the Islamic State takes incorporating prophetic methodology to a whole new level– the embrace of Apocalypse, as something eminently to be desired and fervently worked towards. In another Hollywood movie, The Edge of Tomorrow (this one of the Alien Invasion genre) one of the characters says “the enemy that sees the future cannot be defeated.” Although the plucky Tom Cruise does manage to defeat the prescient Aliens in the end, he does it by making his version of the future come true. My consideration of IS is “and what of the enemy that not only sees the future, but creates the future”? Because that is how the Islamic State operates. Much has been made of the fatawa allowing the taking of polytheist slaves. Yet for IS this is fulfilling prophecy, one of the minor signs.
The slavegirl will give birth to her master. [Bukhari and Muslim]
I highly recommend two excellent books, Hassan and Weiss: Inside the Army of Terror, and Jean-Pierre Filiu: Apocalypse in Islam: Hassan for a finely tuned history of the evolution of IS from AQ, and Filiu for the detailed analysis of the different strains of prophecy. I learnt a lot about the history of Operation Iraqi Freedom that I hadn’t known and the sorry role the US played in shaping IS into an implacable enemy with near infinite population resource resupply and an impenetrable ideology that resembles a forward error correcting code. The latter is evidenced by the continued profound failure of the West to craft an appealing counternarrative to jihadi-salafism.
Hassan Hassan really gets it– the multidimensional scope of IS ideology. Ibn Taymiyya anchors IS in the past, instantiates IS in the present, and projects IS into the future. The paradigm is both intellectually parsimonious and elegant. Ibn Taymiyya is Shaykh al Islam– calling IS khawarij is tantamount to calling Taymiyya khawarij– Taymiyya makes IS unimpeachable in their claim to be islamic– he confers immunity on them. In Taymiyya’s time the Uleema were utterly corrupt and the Shia had allied with the Mamluk rulers, much like the present day Uleema and the Shia in Syria and Iraq. Its indisputable that an analogous environment is reproduced in the contemporary Middle East.
Hanbali manhaj is both the strictest and the most widely followed of the four canonical schools of Sunni Islam:
“[Hanbali manhaj]…affirming the uncreated character of the Quran and rejecting the possibilty of free interpretation, which placed it in irreconcilable opposition to Shiism.”– Filiu
Ibn Taymiyya was the champion of Hanbali literalism and this deeply informed the apocalyptic vision of one of his students: Ibn Kathir. In Filiu Ibn Kathir’s chapter is fittingly called “The Apocalypse of Revenge”. But remember that the Hanbali teachings of Taymiyya, the conviction of absolute certainty that informs Aulhus Sunnah and Sunni literalism, is carried into the future by the Prophetic Methodology.
So this is getting too long…will be continued in Embracing Apocalypse Part II: Hanbali Literalism and the Uncreated Quran