Corpse-strewn landscapes; operating theatres swamped with mutilated children; a nation’s peace shattered by sectarianism, the likes of which we’ve rarely seen in other conflict zones. Conversations on Syria are unlikely to pass without mentioning such a catalogue of horrors, writes journalist Hasnet Lais.
While the scale of the crisis may have reached a sickening high, for many Muslims however the situation presents more than just a rallying human rights cry. Unlike the conflicts brewing in other parts of the Islamic world, there’s a reason why the Syrian jihad in particular has them gripped to the point of hypnosis. And it’s got the glossiness of spectacle written all over it.
According to Islamic tradition, the Prophet Muhammad (saw) foretold that Syria would serve as a carte blanche for global jihadists. It has been reported that Jesus (as) would descend in Damascus to replenish the ranks of the mujahideen. From there, he will sow the seeds of a transnational jihad against the kuffar and declare Islam as his faith, sending Christendom to its inglorious exile.
To add a further sting to the tale, Muhammad (saw) branded “Khurusan” (Afghanistan) as a crucible for war, where the army of Imam Mehdi – a redeemer promised by God – will be waiting in the wings to join Jesus (as) in converting Syria into an incubator for jihad.
It turns out that Syria is more than just a people’s struggle against militancy and authoritarianism. Its importance transcends geopolitics. Put simply, Syria has been elected to do God’s bidding and bares a special significance for Muslim catastrophists who are relishing the prospect of joining their comrades-in-arms.
The script may be as adrenaline-soaked as any rollicking action-fest but just to be clear, this is not the quackery of a few hyper caffeinated mosque-goers and Al Qaeda hawks, peering through a crystal ball. Whoever thinks it’s just a masochistic yearning of loose-cannon Salafis, prodded by sheikhs and sermons to make a mass exodus to the killing fields when time is nigh, think again. My experiences have taught otherwise.
I recently walked by a propagation table at London’s Whitechapel market and the literature on display suggested rank and file Muslims were deeply entangled in the same blood-curdling narrative. Fast forward a few weeks and I’m at a community centre in Walthamstow, hired by local Muslims for religious circles. The discussion point was “Al-Sham”- the classical Arabic for Syria – and how it will play host to the same cataclysmic encounter.
In attendance were men, women and children, lapping up the Manichean rhetoric. Yes, this is Sunni dogma across the board. From demagogues like Anjem Choudary beating the drum of jihad (at the taxpayer’s expense) against Shias in Syria to moderate Imams agitating for an apocalyptic rush, Muslims are abuzz with the news that they will be fighting in the same trenches as Jesus (as) who will take Israel to the guillotine before ushering an era of pax-Islamica.
If by some decree we live to witness this saga, the country already dubbed a sectarian tinderbox will almost certainly descend into a 1980’s Lebanon on steroids. And more.
For those who are quick to brand religion a mumbo-jumbo oddity in the modern age, this kind of obsession about the end times would seem no different to the twaddle of Hillbillies and Christian millenarians at a Southern Baptist Convention. To earthly observers of war, the view that Damascus holds all the aces and that it will serve as a launching pad for masterminding the fate of the Muslim world is an utterly nutterly flight of fancy.
It’s too absurd to deserve any attention and demonstrates the folly of organised religion. It vindicates the view that the religious are the first to forge faux-histories, re-hashing the Fukuyaman “end of history” thesis with scriptural makeovers to give their eschatological schizophrenia any ounce of credibility. But make no mistake about it. The Armageddon scenario described above has compelled the imagination of large swathes of the Islamic world.
No place for rationality
So where does this leave Muslims who are desperate not to see Damascus fall into a heap of ruins? In a quandary. The sheer number of co-religionists who speak of impending disasters and conquests denies them any chance of rationalising the conflict outside scriptural terms.
According to Muslim catastrophists, the slogans of peace and diplomacy muddy the waters and are at odds with the Prophetic message inciting believers to go out in a blaze of glory. There’s no time to crank up pity and sentiment every time an Alawi is shred to pieces, or recoil at the macabre spoils of war, when every improvised explosive device that breaks a blockade at a Syrian suburb has Muhammad’s (saw) blessing.
Not only are they interpreting the chain of events in Syria in a way which falls outside the straitjackets of conventional politics but they’ve reached a stage where only theological explanations can be deployed to chronicle global developments. And with Syria historically being the birthplace of many Prophets and a sanctuary for holy sages, they are convinced that by placing all their eggs in the Syrian basket, Damascus will live up to its billing as the next chapter in the epic history of its people.
No matter how often Assad resorts to chemical warfare, Sunni insurgents itching for a new assignment will be queuing up to profess their love for the smell of napalm in the morning.
Seeing how embedded the eschatological dimension of conflict is in their psyche, Syria ceases to be just a turf war between America and Russia, or a collision course between the Sunni Gulf and Shiite crescent. Without complicating the regional dynamic, the country is slowly morphing into a divinely-appointed theatre of war, waiting to tip the cosmic scale and baptize Muslims into a culture of martyrdom.
It’s the stuff from which grand narratives are wrought. And with a European Union of jihadists joining the fray, the number of Muslims eager to ride in this tour de force of prophetic mayhem shows no signs of abating. Just sit back and watch, as the saga takes Gone With The Wind proportions.