Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 2nd 2014 Contents A37
Wednesday, April 2, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
A Palestinian man walks outside the Damascus gate in Jerusalem's old city, Sunday. The Land Day
commemorates the Israeli government expropriation of thousands of dunams of land from Palestinians in
1976. AP PHOTO
BEIRUT---Conflict in Syria kills hun-
dreds of thousands of people and
spreads unrest across the Middle East.
Iranian forces battle anti-Shi ite fight-
ers in Damascus, and the region braces
for an ultimate showdown.
If the scenario sounds familiar to an
anxious world watching Syria s devas-
tating civil war, it resonates even more
with Sunni and Shi ite fighters on the
frontlines---who believe it was all fore-
told in 7th Century prophecies.
From the first outbreak of the crisis
in the southern city of Deraa to apoc-
alyptic forecasts of a Middle East soaked
in blood, many combatants on both
sides of the conflict say its path was
set 1,400 years ago in the sayings of
the Prophet Mohammad and his fol-
Among those many thousands of
sayings, or hadith, are accounts which
refer to the confrontation of two huge
Islamic armies in Syria, a great battle
near Damascus, and intervention from
the north and west of the country.
The power of those prophecies for
many fighters on the ground means
that the three-year-old conflict is more
deeply rooted---and far tougher to
resolve---than a simple power struggle
between President Bashar al-Assad and
his rebel foes.
Syria s war has killed more than
140,000 people, driven millions from
their homes and left many more
dependent on aid. Diplomatic efforts,
focused on the political rather than reli-
gious factors driving the conflict, have
made no headway.
"If you think all these mujahideen
came from across the world to fight
Assad, you re mistaken," said a Sunni
Muslim jihadi who uses the name Abu
Omar and fights in one of the many
anti-Assad Islamist brigades in Alep-
"They are all here as promised by
the Prophet. This is the war he prom-
ised---it is the Grand Battle," he told
Reuters, using a word which can also
be translated as slaughter.
On the other side, many Shi ites from
Lebanon, Iraq and Iran are drawn to
the war because they believe it paves
the way for the return of Imam Mahdi---
a descendent of the Prophet who van-
ished 1,000 years ago and who will re-
emerge at a time of war to establish
global Islamic rule before the end of
According to Shi ite tradition, an early
sign of his return came with the 1979
Iranian revolution, which set up an
Islamic state to provide fighters for an
army led by the Mahdi to wage war in
Syria after sweeping through the Middle
"This Islamic Revolution, based on
the narratives that we have received
from the prophet and imams, is the
prelude to the appearance of the Mahdi,"
Iranian cleric and parliamentarian
Ruhollah Hosseinian said last year.
He cited comments by an eighth cen-
tury Shi ite imam who said another
sign of the Mahdi s return would be a
battle involving warriors fighting under
a yellow banner---the colour associated
with Lebanon s pro-Assad Hezbollah
Islam split into its Sunni and Shi ite
branches during a war over the suc-
cession to the leadership of the faith in
the generation that followed the Prophet
Mohammad s death in 632.
The hadith, or sayings of the prophet
and his companions, have been handed
down orally over the centuries and are
the most important sources of authority
in Islam after the Quran itself. Many
date back to those medieval battlefields
in what are now Syria and Iraq, where
the two main Islamic sects took shape.
The historical texts have become a
powerful recruitment tool, quoted across
the region from religious festivals in
Iraq s Shi ite shrine city of Kerbala to
videos released by Sunni preachers in
the Gulf, and beyond.
"We have here mujahideen from Rus-
sia, America, the Philippines, China,
Germany, Belgium, Sudan, India and
Yemen and other places," said Sami, a
Sunni rebel fighter in northern Syria.
"They are here because this what the
Prophet said and promised, the Grand
Battle is happening."
Both sides emphasise the ultimate
goal of establishing an Islamic state
which will rule the world before total
Although some Sunni and Shi ite
clerics are privately skeptical of the reli-
gious justifications for the war, few in
the region express such reservations in
public for fear of being misinterpreted
as doubters of the prophecies.
"Yes some of the signs are similar
but these signs could apply at any time
after the fall of the Islamic state (1,000
years ago)," one Sunni Muslim scholar
in Lebanon said, asking that he not be
identified. "There is no way to confirm
we are living those times. We have to
wait and see."
Hadith on both sides mention Syria
as a main battlefield, naming cities and
towns where blood will be spilled.
Hundreds of thousands of people
will be killed. The whole region will be
shaken from the Arabian Peninsula to
Iraq, Iran and Jerusalem, according to
Saudi Arabia will collapse. Almost
every country in the Middle East will
face unrest. One statement says "blood
will reach knee-level."
Syria s civil war grew out of the "Arab
Spring" of pro-democracy revolts in
the Middle East and North Africa in
2011 after Assad s forces cracked down
hard on peaceful protests.
But because Assad is a member of
the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shii ism,
and most of his opponents are Sunni
Muslims, the fighting quickly took on
a sectarian character, which has largely
overwhelmed the political issues.
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