Christian Zionism and Islamic Eschatology

In his recently translated book, Apocalypse in Islam (2011), Jean-Pierre Filiu reports a startling observation. In his discussion of apocalyptic writing subsequent to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, he noted the changes in the presentation. Previously the scenarios had developed as an "anti-Semitic species of fiction" focusing on Israel and the international Jewish conspiracy. After the invasion, the apocalyptic doctrine became more flamboyant, turning into "an irrational technique for making sense of a world in which hostile and infidel forces ran wild" (p. 121).

In this new frame of reference, the main enemy changed from the traditional ones of Israel and the Jews to a new and unexpected force. "The characterization of the invasion as a new crusade met with practically unanimous approval in circles where Christian Zionism was perceived to be a far more formidable enemy than Israel by itself." The scenarios were presented to include the prepositioning of forces for the predicted assault by the Antichrist on the Mahdi, the messiah figure of the Shi'ite branch of Islam, between Khurasan (northeastern Iran) and Greater Syria.

This outlook has appeared in various places in the Middle East. In Egypt the author Shaykh Safar al-Hawali in a book from 2001 targets "Christian Zionism, the most dangerous of all contemporary movements for humanity [for] it has managed to control the minds of the a third of the population of the most powerful nation in the world..." One of the six principles that he suggests is guiding Christian Zionism is the belief that God will bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse it. It is not indicated if he recognizes this is from the Bible. (p. 107) According to another author: "Jewish and Christian Zionists are presently working hand in hand" to help the Antichrist. He is joined by another writer who seeks to oppose "worldwide Zionist Christianity" that among other evils helped Ethiopian Jews return to Israel through the Sudan. The belief that is foundational to the Christian Zionists is that the Jewish state is the "key to the permanence of America." (94-5)

Several points are clear and consistent. One, the strength of the movement known as Christian Zionism is perceived by a variety of sources in the Middle East as powerful -- more so than Israel itself -- and regarded there as evil. Two, major efforts are being urged by apocalyptic writers to combat this influence and discredit the leaders, several of whom are named and condemned for specific statements supporting Israel. Three, in the minds of those writing on the Islamic apocalypse and the public reading and following these authors, there is no disconnect between Israel and Christians in the U.S. who support her.

A final note: Christians who support Israel have to be aware that end-times writers in the Islamic world perceive their views as wicked and demanding opposition. More to the point, Islamic writers invest such Christians with more influence than most of them would acknowledge.

Dr. John W. Swails III is a Professor of History and Director of the Center for Israel and Middle East Studies at Oral Roberts University

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