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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.

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It depends on your version of your religion as to whether or not you see the return of the Messiah in the End Times as requiring some earthly assistance, including the use of force to “hasten the end.” Most of the devout pray to hasten the return of the Messiah…but a few use bombs such as those that exploded in Boston.

In his masterful and terrifying book, The End of Days, my colleague Gershom Gorenberg traces the way in which small groups of Jews, Christians, and Muslims seek to control the Temple Mount in Jerusalem as a landing pad for global Godliness. Alas, for the most fanatic, this means converting or killing all of us who refuse to join in the purification of the planet in anticipation of the end of time and the return of the prophesied Messiah.

  • For Jews, the Messiah has not yet arrived. Jesus was not a true Messiah. When the true Messiah returns, he will return to the rebuilt Temple of Solomon, the site of which is in Jerusalem.
  • For Christians, it is Jesus, the true Messiah, who was executed and rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, who is the true Messiah. Some believe Jesus will return to the Temple Mount
  • For Muslims, the actual Messiah is called the Mahdi. Muslims know this is correct because Jesus—who is a revered prophet in Islam—returns and tells the world that he was indeed a prophet of God, but that the real Messiah (the Mahdi) returns to establish Islam as the ruler of earth.

Each religion expects the true Messiah to return to the same small hill in Jerusalem. For Jews and Christians it is the Temple Mount. For Muslims, who currently control the land, the same hill is called al-Haram al-Sharif. In anticipation of the return of the Messiah—in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—some engage in rituals of purification to cleanse Earth and hasten the return of the Messiah. In rare instances this includes violence as a part of the ritual of purification.

The bombing of the Boston Marathon may be a horrid example of a totalitarian tendency dubbed “political religion” and popularized as a concept by theorist Eric Voegelin in the 1930s.-{2} Examples of political religions include Hitlerism, Stalinism, and the regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia. All are forms of totalitarianism that demonized and scapegoat a named enemy for all problems in a society. Other scholars use terms such as “the sacralization of politics” (Gentile) and palingenesis (Griffin) to analyze such movements.

The term “political religion” does not mean a religion that has become politicized; it means a political movement that raises the stakes for its program so that obedience and action are raised to the level of a religious or metaphysical obligation. You are either on the bus or you will be thrown under the bus. Obedience to the end goals of the political movement are an absolutist requirement. Having arrived at this totalitarian worldview, it is quite possible to attach it to a religious motive, especially one based in apocalyptic prophecy.

This is the worldview of the militant “Jihadists” who engage in acts of terrorism. Most Muslims see Jihad within Islam as a term that means a struggle to find truth and not justifying acts of terrorism. According to an essay in the Islamic magazine The Fountain, Jihadists:

…cannot fight those who do not oppose them, cannot engage in indiscriminate killing and pillage, and must remain honorable while fighting (no deliberate killing of women, children, or the elderly, mutilation of corpses, and destruction of land and crops). Force is to be used only when there is no other choice (2:190).-{3}

Islamic fundamentalism

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