Friday, 26 October 2012
Myths of a Muslim Anti-Christ
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
The Far Right fringes of Evangelical Christianity in the US have an antagonistic relationship with Islam. To them, Muslims belong to a demonic faith, and Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) was a man possessed. Unsurprisingly, coming from a group that does not put have much respect for Biblical scholarship, and take their preferred translation of the Bible literally, there has been a growing movement in evangelical circles to pin the ethnic and religious background of the future Antichrist as a Muslim. So how did this develop?
In “The Power to Make War”, Zane Hodges asserted that the Anti-Christ would be a Muslim due to the reference of the ‘Assyrian’ found in the Book of Isaiah. That particular reference was cited as discussing the Anti-Christ. By several leaps of logic, he said that since the Bible was indicating that the Anti-Christ will be an Assyrian, and since the Assyrian Empire was founded in the Middle East, the Assyrian Anti-Christ must also be a Muslim.
In The Assyrian Connection, Philip Goodman also pointed out the reference of ‘the Assyrian’ in Micah 5:5 as evidence for an Assyrian Anti-Christ.
5 And they shall feed the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod with the spears thereof: and He shall deliver us from the Assyrian when he shall come into our land, and when he shall tread in our borders.
Goodman speculated that there will be a revived Assyrian Empire founded in the Middle East. This Assyrian Empire will spawn the Anti-Christ and will invade the globe from the Middle East. His work can be viewed here: The Antichrist: Will he be a Muslim?, a site by David Reagan of Lamb and Lion Ministries, an Evangelical Christian conspiracy portal.
Joel Richardson, author of “Anti-Christ: Islam’s Awaited Messiah”, believes the fourth world empire of Daniel’s (a.s.) dreams was not Rome and its descendants, but rather, the Ottoman Empire. This revived Ottoman Empire will create a caliphate across the Middle East, and will lead a host of nations against Israel. Richardson also cited the similarities between the Shi’ite last imam in Islamic eschatology with the Anti-Christ of Scripture, claiming this tenuous link with beheadings, an alleged thirst for conquest, and a supposed intense dislike for Christians and Jews. Of course, these points are either conjecture or outright misconception.
We will address their six foundational points by reexamining the verses of the Bible cited from an Evangelical Christian perspective. Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, mainstream Christianity, with their credible Bible scholarship as opposed to these literalist speculations, tend to view many of these verses in their historical context, addressing the challenges and the crisis of faith when the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah faced repeated invasions by the Assyrian Empire.
Firstly, the ‘Assyrian’ reference in Scripture does not necessarily refer to the Anti-Christ. Dr. David Reagan, of Lion and Lamb ministries said in his article, “The Anti-Christ: Will He Be a Muslim?” that the reference found in Micah 5:5 to the ‘Assyrian’ is located within a Millennium Passage of Micah. According to Evangelical Christian eschatology, Millennium Passages describe a world after the return of Jesus Christ (a.s.) but before the Resurrection, a thousand year period of his kingdom on Earth. Actual Biblical scholarship from the Catholic and Orthodox perspective would disagree on many of these points, particularly the literalist reading of the Bible. During the Millennium, Dr. Reagan asserts that God will protect Israel from all her enemies; Assyria was the foreign power that eventually conquered Israel at the time of Micah (a.s.) and thus, refers to an analogue that will arise to do so again.
Similarly, references in the Book of Isaiah to ‘the Assyrian’ are attributed more to the character of the Anti-Christ rather than the ethnicity.
5 Woe, too, upon the Assyrian! What is he but the rod that executes My Vengeance, the instrument of My Displeasure? 6 I have Sent him to punish one nation that has proved false to me; against one defiant people he holds my warrant; let him prey on it as he will, carry off what spoils he will, trample it like the mire in the streets.
In this and further passages, the ‘Assyrian’, is an instrument of Divine Wrath for the iniquities of Israel. Within the historical context, we have understood it to refer to the rulers of the Assyrian Empire, Tiglath Pileser II and his line. But further passages give assurance that Assyria will be defeated.
25 In this My Own land I will Break the power of Assyria; upon these hills, I will Trample him under foot. Gone his yoke; there shall be no more shouldering his burden; 26 such Purpose I have for the world’s ordering; My Hand once lifted, all the nations must bow.
The ninth and tenth chapter of this book actually dealt with the destruction of Babylon by the Medes, about two centuries after Isaiah’s (a.s.) own time. But here, the prophecy abruptly returns to contemporary events; the destruction of the Assyrians when they invaded Judah. It is a prophecy that had already come to pass.
Approaching this from an Evangelical Christian perspective, similar types of Anti-Christs are found throughout Scripture. There were the Assyrian kings, Sennacherib and Tiglath Pileser II. The most famous was the Pharaoh of the Exodus. And then there was Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid king who sided with Reformist faction of the Jews in the Maccabean civil war. He was prophesied in Daniel 8 and again in Daniel 11 and identified as the 11th Horn of the Beast. The ‘Assyrian’ should then be taken as a character archetype, not a particular person.
Secondly, what is not known by many Evangelical Christians is that the Assyrians still exist as an ethnic group, and that they are predominantly Christian. The Assyrian Church is one of the oldest continuously existing churches in the world. Most of them reside in present day Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, all overwhelmingly Muslim nations, but Assyrians themselves have remained over 90% Christian today. This itself demolishes the claim that an Assyrian Anti-Christ would have to be Muslim.
Thirdly, we must reiterate that Daniel (a.s.) predicted a Roman Anti-Christ not a Middle Eastern one. In the Seventy Weeks passage in the ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel 9, Daniel (a.s.) predicted the coming Tribulation as well as the ethnicity of the Anti-Christ.
26 ... and then sixty-two weeks must pass before the Christ is done to death; the people will disown him and have none of him. Then the army of an invading leader will destroy both city and sanctuary, so that his taking away will mean utter destruction; only a ruin is to be left when that war is ended.
Daniel (a.s.) prophesied that this same ‘leader’ in verse 26 will make a treaty with Israel in verse 27. He will then break that treaty and set up the abomination that causes desolation during the middle of the Tribulation. The ‘people’ of this prince, this Anti-Christ, were predicted to destroy the city of Jerusalem and the sanctuary of the Temple.
27 High covenant he shall make, before another week is done, and with folks a many; but when that week has run half its course, offering and burnt-sacrifice shall be none; in the temple all shall be defilement and desolation, and until all is over, all is fulfilled, that desolation shall continue.
In 70 CE, almost five hundred years after Daniel’s (a.s.) prediction, the Roman Empire under Trajan besieged and sacked Jerusalem. The Temple was pulled down. This was after three Jewish uprisings and a civil war between the Zealots and the other Jews where the Zealots sabotaged the defence of the city. It is estimated that 40,000 to 100,000 Jews were killed in the fighting amongst themselves and with the Romans. Jews were crucified along the roads leading to Jerusalem and this was the start of the Diaspora, where the Jews were forbidden from even coming within a days’ ride of the city. Jerusalem has only been destroyed one time after Daniel’s (a.s.) prophecy and it occurred almost 2,000 years ago at the hands of the Romans. There were no Muslims involved in this; this was 600 years before the advent of Islam. Therefore, from an Evangelical Christian perspective, if they want to take this as an unfulfilled prophecy, they can conclude that the Anti-Christ, the leader of the Romans, will be a man of Roman descent, certainly not Assyrian.
Building on that, the Fourth Beast of Daniel’s (a.s.) dream is Roman, and therefore, Western, not Middle Eastern. Daniel’s (a.s.) four world Gentile empires found in chapters 2 and 7 of his book describe four world empires in chronological order.
31 “A vision thou hadst of a great image; what splendour, how terrible an aspect it was that confronted thee! 32 Of fine gold the head, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze; 33 of iron the legs, and of the feet, too, part was iron, part was but earthenware. 34 And as thou wert watching it, from the mountain-side fell a stone no hands had quarried, dashed against the feet of yonder image, part iron, part clay, and shattered them. 35 With that, down came iron and clay, down came bronze and silver and gold; chaff of the threshing-floor was never so scattered on the summer breeze. They were gone, none knew whither; and stone that had shattered image grew into a high mountain, filling the whole earth. 36 So much for the dream, and now we that know the secret of it will tell the king’s grace what it means. 37 Thou hast kings for thy vassals; royalty, power, dominion and great renown the God of Heaven has Bestowed on thee; 38 every haunt of man and wild beast and flying bird, He has Given over to thee, all alike He has Made subject to thee; the head of gold, who else but thou? 39 Another and a lesser empire must follow thine, one of silver, then another of bronze, still wide as the world; 40 then a fourth, of iron, breaking down and crushing all before it, as iron has power all-conquering, all-subduing. 41And whereas you saw the feet, and the toes, part of potter's clay, and part of iron: the kingdom shall be divided, but yet it shall take its origin from the iron, according as you saw the iron mixed with the miry clay. 42 But feet and toes of the image were part iron, part clay; this fourth empire will be divided within itself. Foundation of iron there shall yet be, from which it springs; sure enough, in the feet thou sawest, earthenware was mixed with true steel. 43 Iron and clay mingled; race of the conquerors shall be adulterated with common human stock; as well mix clay with iron! 44 And while those empires yet flourish, another empire, the God of Heaven, will Bring into being, never to be destroyed, never to be superseded; conqueror of all these others, itself unconquerable. 45 This is that stone thou sawest none ever quarried, that fell from the mountain-side, bringing clay and iron and bronze and silver and gold to nothing; this was a Revelation the king’s grace had from the Most High God Himself of what must come about; true was thy dream, and this, past doubt, the meaning of it.”
In the original text, in Daniel 2:36, “We that know the secret of it”, it is supposed that Daniel (a.s.) was associating himself with his three fellow-pupils who might have accompanied him to the court. In Daniel 2:40-41, some identify the second empire with a Medes, the third with Persia, and the fourth with Alexander’s Macedon. Others identify the second with Persia, the third with Macedon, and the fourth with Rome. I believe the latter is more correct. The break-up of the Macedonian empire began with the victory of Paullus at Pydna, 168 BC. But it fragmented into several kingdoms. The Roman Empire had a schism between East and West that began in 284 CE with Diocletian splitting it and giving the western, poorer, half to Maximian. The western half soon dissolved while Byzantium stood for another thousand years and more. In Daniel 2:42, the text is literally, “As thou sawest iron mixed with earthenware, so they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men, but they shall not cohere, this with that, just as iron will not mix with clay”. This could mean that rival families and dynasties will form alliances through marriages, “the seed of men”, but it would be unable to keep the peace. So the fourth empire will be composed of strong and weak elements, a strong military but a weak ethical society, as I believe. Or that simply the conquering power will fail to assimilate the conquered kingdoms.
In summary, the first was the Neo-Babylon Empire, the lion head of gold. The second was the Achaemenid Persian Empire, the beast of silver arms. The third was the Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great, bronze torso. And finally, it was the Roman Empire, the iron beast with its two legs symbolising the Eastern and Western halves of the empire, and the future ten-toes of the Anti-Christ’s rule. Neither Islam nor the Ottoman Empire were represented. Chronologically, there are no gaps in Daniel’s (a.s.) dreams other than the one separating the iron beast of Rome with its ten-toed Anti-Christ of the Tribulation.
Babylon was conquered by the Persians in 538 BC. Persia was defeated and absorbed by Alexander the Great in 332 BC. After Alexander died, his generals divided the empires amongst themselves. These major kingdoms eventually succumbed to the power of Rome in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. Rome dominated the world for another seven hundred years until its eventual collapse in 476 CE. Byzantium was finally conquered by the Ottomans in 1453 CE. That is that tenuous link.
Islam is also a relatively modern phenomenon, from the 6th century CE. The Islamic world of today is a conglomerate of different cultures, sects and ethnicities; it is not a united Gentile empire like Babylon, Persia, Greece, or Rome was. The Ottoman Empire arose in the Middle Ages, and reached its greatest extent in the 17th century. The Ottoman Empire lasted 800 years until its dissolution n 1918. Scripturally and geopolitically, Turkey is not prophesied to conquer the world.
There are those who claim the two legs of Daniel’s (a.s.) dream represent the two legs of the Ottoman Empire, Shi’ah and Sunni. They have conveniently discounted nearly 1,000 years of Roman domination, the chronological outline of the prophecy of Daniel (a.s.), as well as the nature of Muslim history. The Ottoman Empire was predominantly Sunni, not Shi’ah. That Shi’ite Empire would be the Sarjavids in Iran. The vast majority of Muslims are Sunni, not Shi’ah. Unless Daniel’s (a.s.) end-times beast was hobbling around on one leg, his visions cannot represent Sunni and Shi’ah Islam. The end-times world government will be a Western government, not an Eastern one.
On the issue of beheading that are often cited, it is not something unique to Muslims. It is not even common in Muslim countries. The only country in the world that practices beheading as a form of legal punishment is Saudi Arabia. It is on the books in Iran and Yemen, but it is not practiced. The British and French people beheaded their monarchs and others. Japanese samurais preferred beheadings as an honourable death. Mexican drug cartels are also known for the gruesome practice.
Finally, the Bible describes the Anti-Christ as the worst human being in the world. The most telling indication that the Anti-Christ will not hail from a Muslim land is found here:
37 What are his fathers’ gods to him? Women’s dalliance is all his concern; of gods he recks little, that will set himself up over all.
Could we imagine the leader of Egypt or Iran proclaiming himself a god and asking others to bow before him? This declaration would be a direct blasphemy against Allah (s.w.t.) and a death sentence. Even in secular, this would never be accepted. More likely, the Anti-Christ will come from the heir of the Roman Empire – the Western world. We live in a world full of idols, from movie stars to celebrity chefs to charismatic politicians with no moral fibre.