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Why We Need to Understand the Apocalyptic Worldview of a Small Group of Radical Muslims

If we want to understand the genesis of much Islamic terrorism by a small handful of Muslims, a speculative tour of their apocalyptic worldview may help us design a more effective response.

People visit a make-shift memorial on Boylston Street on April 20, 2013, near the scene of the Boston Marathon explosions.
Photo Credit: AFP


Walk a mile in the shoes of those who claim to honor God and yet cheer the bombing of the Boston Marathon.

They represent only a tiny fraction of the Muslims on our planet, yet they see themselves as carrying out the will of God. Fanatics such as these can be found in many of the World’s religions. They shoot abortion providers in the United States; blast apart buses in Israel; and murder Muslims and Hindus in India.

These religious fanatics often combine a totalitarian political mindset with a belief in sacred prophecy that they are mandated by God to rule the world, and they must act now against their enemies because time is running out. In fact they believe that we are approaching the end of time itself, the literal end of the world as we know it. This worldview is call apocalypticism. Sketchy details are emerging that suggests one of the motives for the alleged suspects in the Boston bombing may have been a belief in an obscure and contested Muslim prophecy about the apocalyptic End Times.

We may never know the full details of what motivated the Tsarnaev brothers, but if we want to understand the genesis of much Islamic terrorism by a small handful of Muslims around the world, a speculative tour of their apocalyptic worldview may help us design a more effective response.

A YouTube page reportedly created by Tamerlan Tsarnaev reveals a fascination with apocalyptic Islamic prophecy. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a battle with police early Friday morning; his brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was arrested late Friday night. The two brothers were named as bombing suspects by authorities, but family and friends find it hard to believe they were implicated in the act of terrorism. Although at this stage it is just speculation, it is possible that one or both of the brothers learned how to be Islamic terrorists for God by using online resources.

Apocalypticism is the belief in an approaching confrontation between absolute good and absolute evil about which a select few have forewarning so they can make appropriate preparations. During this confrontation, hidden truths are revealed, and afterwards the earth is transformed in a significant way. Terrorism fueled by apocalyptic belief within Islam is a core element for the most aggressive and militant forms of Islam such as al Queda and Hamas, and it created one of the most ruthless resistance campaigns in Chechnya where the Tsarnaev elders lived during the equally brutal and murderous Russian invasions in the 1990s.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s YouTube page included a link to a 13 minute video, titled “The Emergence of Prophecy: The Black Flags from Khorasan,” claiming that an Islamic holy war has already started. The apocalyptic video is by renegade cleric Shaykh Feiz Mohammed. The video begins with the statement that "The prophet said when you see the black flags coming from the direction of Khorasan, you will join their army. That army has already started its march."

Khorasan is the name of an ancient region, just to the south and east of Chechnya and incorporating parts of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. A rare old map illustrates its dimensions.

The brothers Tsarnaev were raised in a broader region bordering Khorasan among Muslims where the Black Flag prophecy says God will raise a mighty army. Straddling the territory from Chechnya to Iran and Afghanistan are the Caucasus, a mountain range from which the term Caucasian is derived.

The Black Flags from Khorasan prophecy tells of a massive army of non-Arab Muslims marching on Jerusalem to prepare the way for the return of the Mahdi, the figure in Islamic apocalyptic narrative who signals the end of time and the global triumph of Islam. The video claims that in the forthcoming End Times Allah “will rise up a group of people, which will give their allegiance to Imam Mahdi and Eesa (Jesus)...." Along with the Mahdi, Jesus of Nazareth is a prophet in Islamic religious tradition who precedes the Mahdi and tells of the forthcoming victory of Islam.

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