Sectarian Violence in Iraq – does it fulfill prophecy? By Jack Smith

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We are all aware of the recent “lowering of the flag” by the United States military, symbolically ending almost nine years of conflict in Iraq. Not surprisingly, almost before American troops had landed on United States’ soil, sectarian violence erupted in Baghdad, resulting in 72 deaths. The two predominant sects of Islam, the Sunnis (approximately 85%-90% of the world’s Muslims) and the Shi’ites (approximately 10%-15% of the world’s Muslims), populate Iraq, along with the Kurds. In Iraq, however, Shi’ites, are the majority sect (60%) and Sunnis are the minority sect (40%); but it’s not like the two sects populate Iraq living side-by-side much like Baptists and Methodists do in the Bible belt.

The Sunnis populate most of Baghdad and northern Iraq, while the Shi’ites populate the eastern and southern Iraq (Kurds, the extreme north of Iraq, both Sunni and Shi’ite) (see map). Under Saddam Hussein’s leadership, Sunnis controlled the country and Shi’ites were severely persecuted. With the invasion of Iraq by the United States and other coalition forces, the Shi’ites replaced the Sunnis in leadership (Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is Shi’ite), and a fragile “democracy” was attempted in Iraq shared by Shi’ites and Sunnis (and Kurds). With the exit of the United States military, the security vacuum in Iraq has occurred and violence has returned; and, the pre-existing divide within Islam so severe that the nine years of “relative” peace might more accurately be viewed as nothing more than Muslim sects “holding their breath,” while coalition forces were on Iraqi soil. The question this post addresses is this: Does the sectarian violence in Iraq (and Islam) find its fulfillment in the Bible’s prophecies of the last days?

Daniel 2 is one of the most important chapters in Bible prophecy. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (Babylon was the ancient capital city of Iraq) has a dream (Daniel 2:31f). A giant statue appears in the dream composed of a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet, partly of iron and partly of clay. The prophet Daniel saves the day and interprets the King’s dream. Each part of the statue represents a country that will have dominion over the prior kingdoms (the head of gold representing Babylon, the silver chest representing Media-Persia (defeated Babylon in 539 B.C.), the belly and thighs representing Greece (defeated Media-Persia in 331 B.C.), and the legs of iron representing Rome (defeated Greece in 146 B.C.). The last kingdom is represented by the feet, composed partly of iron and partly of clay; and, it is the identity of this kingdom that prophecy experts have divided on: Is it also Rome (represented by the iron in the feet) or another kingdom, a fifth kingdom?

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In this post, we are addressing only one aspect of whether Islam fulfills Bible prophecy of the last days. In order to properly answer our question, we must look at the whole of Bible prophecy; and, each interpretation of prophecy must be supported by every other interpretation of prophecy. Standing alone, an interpretation of one passage is hardly determinative; but if other interpretations also point to the same conclusion, then each interpretation is made more secure by the interpretations of the other passages. Interpreting prophecy is much like laying the pieces of a giant jig-saw puzzle, except there is no picture on the box. With the adding of each piece to the puzzle, the secure fitting of each new piece confirms the interpretation of all those previously interpreted. So then, the only way we can be certain if the “feet” symbolize Rome or some other kingdom is if other prophetic passages point to the same kingdom. This writer has interpreted many of these passages; and, it is not Rome they point to — but Islam.

Daniel 2:41 adds a hint to interpret the fifth kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. It states, “In that you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it will be a divided kingdom; . . .”

A Divided Kingdom?

Does the sectarian violence of Islam, i.e., Sunni vs Shi’ite, sound like a ”divided kingdom” to you? This division within Islam has existed ever since the death of Muhammad, 632 A.D. Muhammad failed to appoint a successor prior to his death, and ever since this failure, Muslims have been divided over who should be the legitimate successor to Muhammad, and therefore, the legitimate leader of Islam. Division over this issue eventually cemented an irrevocable divide between Sunnis and Shi’ites, and in 680 A.D., the two sides met at the decisive Battle of Karbala. Shi’ites (literally, followers of Ali, the first Imam of Shi’ism) were overwhelmingly outnumbered by Sunnis in this battle and were massacred without mercy.

Since this battle, Shi’ites have similarly been outnumbered by Sunnis, and have been persecuted, killed, and even considered ”unbelievers” by Sunnis. What’s more, for Shi’ites, the divide over a legitimate successor hinged on a blood relationship to Muhammad, and the only blood line that existed was that of Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima, and her husband, Ali. Ali and Fatima had two sons (Husayn and Hasan), and only one of these sons had a male heir (Husayn). Shi’ites only considered heirs of Husayn to be legitimate. In addition, in order for heirs of Husayn’s line to be legitimate, Shi’ites also required that the living successor (referred to as “Imam”) “designate” or “chose” his successor prior to the living Imam passing away. Because Sunni caliphs were threatened by Shi’ites (because of blood descent through Muhammad), many Shi’ite leaders were murdered prior to their having chosen their successor prior to death.

This resulted in further division among Shi’ites. Branches within Shi’ism developed because agreement could not be reached among Shi’ites over who was actually “designated” by the predecessor Imam (Shi’ites believe that their Imams are divinely ordained), and therefore, legitimate. Shi’ite branches developed, the largest three called ”Fivers” (also called “Zaydis”), ”Seveners” (called “Ismailis”), and “Twelvers,” based on which Shi’ite Imam was legitimate. Fivers considered the 5th Imam to be legitimate, but not the 6th or following. Seveners considered the 7th Imam to be legitimate but not the 8th and following, and so on. Each branch attacked the other to enable its branch and beliefs to prevail. Eventually, Twelvers, prevailed as the most significant branch. Twelvers believe that there were twelve blood related heirs of Ali and Fatima, and these twelve were divinely ordained Imams; and that the 12th Imam, Muhammad ibn al-Hassan, went into “hiding,” (called “occultation”) and is still alive, but concealed from humanity.

While in hiding, he is referred to by Twelvers as the “Hidden Imam.” Shi’ites believe the Hidden Imam will “appear” at the command of Allah, at a time of world chaos and conflict. When he does, he will no longer be the Hidden Imam, but Muhammad al-Mahdi, the Islamic “Awaited One.” Al-Mahdi is prophesied by Shi’ism to bring peace and justice to the world (but he will do so through his “sword,” not by diplomacy). Shi’ites believe that al-Mahdi, as “Master of the Sword,” will be especially severe against Sunnis and that he will avenge all Sunni wrongs committed against Shi’ites since the Battle of Karbala (see “Islamic Messianism,” by Abdulaziz Sachedina, p. 173-174).

Twelvers make up 90% of the population of Iran.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran, believes himself to be the chosen forerunner of al-Mahdi and that he will prepare the way for al-Mahdi’s arrival.

Sectarianism and violence in Islam is never-ending. It has been since the death of Muhammad, 632 A.D. Further, within Shi’ism, the minority sect of Islam, division is so great that multiple branches have arisen, each of which considers itself to be the true branch of Shi’ism. Islam fulfills Daniel 2:41′s characteristic of a kingdom that will be divided. Islam also fulfills other prophecies of Daniel 2. Shi’ism ”combines in the seed of men” (Daniel 2:43), because blood descent of Muhammad through Ali and Fatima is a requirement for leadership within Shi’ism.

The sectarian divide in Iraq that has erupted in the recent deaths of many Shi’ites is not new to Iraq or to Islam. These deaths only continue the thread of evil that has so permeated Islam since its origin in the 7th century.  Is Islam divided within the meaning of Daniel 2:41? How many links do you need?

February 24, 2006, Time Magazine: Understanding Iraq’s Ethnic and Religious Divisions
http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1167476,00.html

August 13, 2006, New York Times: Muslims Against Muslims
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/13/books/review/Manji.t.html

From a Muslim Source: The Intra-Religion Conflicts Within Muslims, By Syed B. Soharwardy, http://www.islamicsupremecouncil.com/intra.htm

February 23, 2007, MSNBC.com: How conflicts within Islam will shape the future
http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/17285401/ns/today-books/t/how-conflicts-within-islam-will-shape-future/

March 3, 2004, Global Security.org, BAGHDAD, KARBALA BOMBINGS AIM TO PROVOKE ‘SECTARIAN CIVIL WAR’ http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/news/iraq/2004/03/wwwh40303.htm

Islam fulfills the prophecy of Daniel 2:41: it is divided.

But will it always be this way? In the last days, this will change but only for a brief period of time. Revelation 17:11-13, 16-17 is the key passage to this conclusion. Islam will be united in its 8th caliphate period; and this 8th period will be ruled by the 8th head of the “beast.” This eighth head is interpreted to be al-Mahdi of Shi’ism, and the beast is interpreted as Islam. This writer also interprets al-Mahdi to be the Antichrist. This question and its answer will need await a later post.

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By Jack Smith

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