Chapter 11

Islamic Eschatology

The “end times” or eschatological beliefs in Islam play a major role in the promotion of the Islamic Antichrist theory. In fact Joel Richardson’s first book, Antichrist: Islam’s Awaited Messiah, later republished as Islamic Antichrist, was entirely about Islamic eschatology. That book attempts to prove that the Antichrist will be Islamic by comparing Islamic beliefs about the last days to Christian beliefs. The thesis of Richardson’s Islamic Antichrist book is, in short, that Islamic eschatological beliefs are preparing the Muslim world to accept the Antichrist and False Prophet. We will discuss this thesis in much more detail later, but for now I only want to point out that Islamic Antichrist theorists such as Joel Richardson put a particular emphasis on Islamic eschatological beliefs when trying to convince people of their theory.

General Overview of Islamic Eschatology

Before we discuss what Joel Richardson and others claim about the end times beliefs of Islam, I will first offer a brief overview of the subject of eschatology in Islam to provide some context for the rest of this chapter.

There are some significant differences of opinions about the end times among Sunni and Shiite Muslims; however, both sects do share many common beliefs as well. I will attempt to limit this overview to only those ideas that are common to both groups.

In Islam, the “day of judgment” or the “day of resurrection” is preceded by several signs. These signs are categorized into two groups by Islamic scholars, the minor signs and the major signs. Many of the minor signs are very general; for example, a few minor signs include “an increase in killing” and “much wine is drunk.” It is generally believed by Muslims that some of the minor signs have already happened while others have either not yet occurred or have begun but have not yet concluded. Not many of the minor signs are used to support the Islamic Antichrist theory and thus will be largely ignored in this book.

The major signs are much more important for this study as they basically give an outline of the major events the average Muslim expects to happen as the day of resurrection approaches. Most Islamic scholars agree that none of the major signs have happened yet.1 I will list a few of the most relevant major signs in chronological order.2

  1. The emergence of the Mahdi

    The Mahdi is said to be unite the Muslim world to fight several battles, including the conquest of Constantinople. He shares the wealth that he acquires through conquest with the people. He rules the world for five, seven, eight, nine, or nineteen years (Islamic sources differ) before Isa returns.

  2. The appearance of the Dajjal

    The Masih ad-Dajjal (literally the false messiah) will appear after the battle of Constantinople. He will be blind in one eye and his other eye will be deformed. He will travel the entire world deceiving people. He will gather many followers (mostly Jews and women) and his powers of persuasion are said to be almost irresistible. He will draw the Mahdi’s armies to fight him in battle, though it will actually be Isa (the Muslim Jesus) who kills him.

  3. The return of Isa (Jesus)

    Isa, who Muslims believe to be a prophet but not God, will return just as the Mahdi’s armies are preparing to battle the Dajjal’s armies. Isa will kill the Dajjal and all the Dajjal’s followers and help to convert many people to Islam. After this, Isa will rule over a supernaturally restored Earth until he dies forty years later.

  4. Ya'jooj and Ma'jooj (Gog and Magog war)

    Two tribes of vicious beings which had been imprisoned by Dhul-Qarnayn will break out. They will ravage the earth, drink all the water of Lake Tiberias, and kill all believers in their way. They will kill so many people that even Isa has to flee, though later Isa prays to Allah who sends destruction on Gog-Magog.

There are many more major signs, but these four are relevant to the Islamic Antichrist theory and, thus, will be my primary focus.

Islamic Antichrist Theorist Claims About Islamic Eschatology

The basic idea proposed by those holding to the Islamic Antichrist theory is that the events described above will actually come to pass more or less like Islamic people expect them to. They would, however. say the Mahdi, in Islamic tradition, will actually be the Antichrist; that Isa, the Muslim Jesus, will be the False Prophet; and that the Dajjal, the Islamic version of the Antichrist, is actually the real Jesus.

This line of thinking relies on listing a number of similarities between the prominent eschatological figures in Islamic and Christian traditions. For example, in the case of the Mahdi, Richardson suggests that both the Mahdi and the Antichrist are to be world political and religious leaders who kill Christians and Jews. In the case of the Isa and the False Prophet, Richardson points out that Isa and the Mahdi are kind of a team in the end times, in the same way the Antichrist and False Prophet are said to be. He suggests that Isa is said to have many of the same roles as the False Prophet, and thus, are the same people. In the case of the Dajjal, Richardson points out that the Dajjal will most likely claim to be the Jewish Messiah and should, therefore, be seen as the return of the real Jesus who is, of course, the Messiah to the Jews. This is a very incomplete overview of the similarities of these figures suggested by Richardson. I will offer a much more in depth look at his claims later in this chapter as I critique his theory.

I will attempt to refute Richardson’s arguments about Islamic eschatology in several ways. I will begin with a discussion of the history and origins of the Islamic beliefs about the end times. I will then look very closely at the supposed similarities of each of these figures and attempt to offer a detailed refutation of the idea that these similarities are profound, or in some cases, exist at all.

The Origins of Islamic Eschatology and Why It Matters

To fully understand the problems with the Islamic Antichrist proponents’ views about Islamic eschatology, it is necessary to understand how Islamic traditions about the end times came about in the first place. This is partly because there seems to be some acceptance on the part of Islamic Antichrist theorists that the end times events in Islamic tradition are going to occur more or less like Muslims say they will, with only minor changes. I feel that they give these Islamic prophecies far too much credibility.

The idea that the False Prophet of Revelation 13 will claim to be the Islamic version of Jesus and force everyone to be a Muslim is certainly not an explicit teaching about the False Prophet in the Bible. The theorists look at the prophecies about Isa in Islamic tradition and assume they are demonically inspired prophecies that have something to tell us about how the end times will play out. They then force the idea that the False Prophet will be a Muslim Jesus into Revelation 13.

Understanding the history of Islamic eschatology demystifies it completely. Hopefully, once you see how Muslims have come to believe what they do about the end times, you will understand that these Islamic prophecies have absolutely nothing to teach us about how the last days will actually play out and, assuming they do provide some kind of guideline can only lead to error.

An Overview

Most of the ideas about Islamic end-times beliefs do not come from the Quran, the central text in Islam, but from the hadiths, a word that means “tradition.” The hadiths are a collection of sayings attributed to Mohammed, compiled by his followers over the hundreds of years after his death in AD 632. Even within Islam, many of these hadiths are considered spurious. By the ninth century, the number of these sayings had grown exponentially to about 60,000. Some of them clearly contradict each other. Islamic scholars had to decide which ones were authentic and which had been invented for political or theological purposes.3

It is important to note that ideas about the end times in Islam arose at least 600 years after the book of Revelation was written; most of them came about much later than that. The people who constructed Islamic eschatology, therefore, were very aware of Christian and Jewish views about the end times and, as we will see, liberally borrowed from them.

How Islamic Eschatology Developed

There are two main ways that Islamic end times beliefs came to be. The first way, which is the most common, is by borrowing from the Bible itself. Since Islam claims to accept both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as true, they also accept the end times views expressed in the Bible as true. For example, Muslims believe in the resurrection of the dead, the return of Jesus to reign on Earth, the Antichrist, the Gog-Magog war, and many other Christian doctrines about the end times. However, since Muslims also believe that Christians and Jews have corrupted the Bible, they feel this gives them a license to rewrite certain aspects of the Bible to make Islam out to be the victorious religion in the end times. This results in hadiths that, on their face, are obviously taken from the Bible but include substantive changes that are necessary to make Islam out to be the true religion.

For example, the following hadith describes what the world will look like when Isa, the Muslim Jesus, returns and rules the world.

“Eesa ibn Maryam [Jesus son of Mary] will be a just judge and ruler among my Ummah…Grudges and mutual hatred will disappear and the venom of every venomous creature will be removed, so that a baby boy will put his hand in the mouth of a snake and it will not harm him; a baby girl will make a lion run away and it will not harm her; and the wolf will be among the sheep like their sheepdog. The earth will be filled with peace just as a vessel is filled with water. The people will be united and none will be worshipped except Allah. War will cease and Quraysh will no longer be in power. The earth will be like a silver platter, with its vegetation growing as it did at the time of Adam, until a group of people will gather around one bunch of grapes and it will suffice them, and a group will gather around a single pomegranate and it will suffice them. An ox will be sold for such and such an amount of money, and a horse will be sold for a few dirhams.”4

An astute student of the Bible will notice several commonalities with this description of the Earth when Isa returns and the descriptions of the messianic age in the book of Isaiah.

Children playing with snakes:

“The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole,

And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.

They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,

For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord

As the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:8–9)

Wolves and lambs coexisting:

“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,

The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,

The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;

And a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)

In the hadith quoted above, we see many other commonalities with descriptions of the messianic age in the Bible, such as the depictions of peace and abundance of materials. It is clear, at least in part, this hadith is based on the descriptions of the messianic age in the Bible.

Highlighting the differences in these two versions is also important for our study. For example, we see in the hadith above that “Allah” is the God the world worships during this time. This is an example of the aforementioned insertion of Islamic doctrine into biblical concepts to make Islam look like the ultimate victor. This particular hadith also inserts the idea that “the Quraysh will no longer be in power.” The Quraysh were a powerful merchant tribe that controlled Mecca and its Ka'aba during the time this hadith was written. They caused various problems for Mohammed and his followers, resulting in many conflicts and wars. Here we see that the hadith writers were also prone to adding ideas from their current political circumstances to their eschatological doctrines.

One way to show how much Islamic eschatology is based on the New Testament is by listing a few Islamic doctrines concerning Isa and comparing them to Christian eschatological beliefs concerning Jesus. For example, Muslims believe the following things about Isa:

  1. He was born of the Virgin Mary.
  2. He was a prophet.
  3. He performed many miracles.
  4. He ascended into heaven.
  5. He is coming back in the last days.
  6. He will destroy the Antichrist.
  7. He will destroy the wicked people on earth.
  8. He will rule the world with justice and peace in a restored Earth.

The aspects of Isa that differ from the Christian understanding of Jesus are all related to maintaining Islam doctrine concerning Isa. For example, instead of having Jesus return as a champion of Christianity, they made him return as a champion of Islam and antagonistic toward Christians. This doesn’t mean that we should actually expect a false Jesus to come back as a champion of Islam; it simply is the typical way Muslims use the Bible for their own ends. They read the Bible and switch the religions in view to make Islam look good.

This tactic can be seen in the Islamic version of the story of Abraham almost sacrificing his son Isaac in Genesis 22. In the Islamic version of this story, they switch Isaac with Ishmael, since Ishmael is supposedly the progenitor of the Muslim people. This is a typical example of how Islamic doctrine is based on the Bible, yet liberally altered in order to glorify Islam over Judaism and Christianity.

So the first way that Islamic eschatology developed is by hadith writers looking at what the Bible said about the end times and changing certain details to make Islam appear to be victorious in the end times. This, of course, required them to make the heroes all Muslim and the bad guys Jews and Christians. There is nothing about this process that should make us think their version of the end times, where they differ from the Bible, is going to come to pass any more than we should expect the Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness’s versions of the end times to come to pass.

Extra-Biblical Texts

One of the more fascinating research projects I have undertaken while writing this book is the second way Islamic eschatology developed, which is by borrowing early Christian beliefs about the end times found in extra-biblical sources. There are many aspects about Islamic eschatology that are completely foreign to the Bible, and I have often wondered if the writers of the hadiths were simply coming up with these new ideas about the end times out of thin air. However, after examining in detail the early apocalyptic writings of Christians, especially those written in Syria, I was astounded to see that the Islamic writers of the hadiths seemed to be borrowing huge amounts of information from these spurious Christian sources. Then, much like in the case of their borrowing from the Bible, they changed small details to make these extra-biblical writings compatible with Islamic doctrine.

Apocalyptic Pseudepigrapha

The primary texts used to fill in the gaps of Islamic eschatology are the apocalyptic pseudepigraphical writings of the early Christian church. The word pseudepigrapha means “false name” and refers to texts that are falsely attributed to other people, usually biblical apostles or prophets. For example, many people have heard of the gnostic gospels such as the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Judas. These are examples of pseudepigraphical writings.

In addition to being falsely attributed to ancient writers, apocalyptic pseudepigraphical writings were written in an apocalyptic style like the book of Revelation. Some examples of apocalyptic pseudepigraphical writings are the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodias, the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Ephraim, the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Baruch, as well as many others.

Apocalyptic pseudepigraphical writings were partially based on the events described in the book of Revelation, but they often added new details, events and characters which are not found in the Bible. Usually these additions pertained to the current political circumstances at the time they were written. These writings became extremely popular in early Christianity and often the new details about the end times that they offered were considered as authoritative as the biblical writings. The acceptance of these forgeries was due, in part, to a lack of biblical literacy, as well as the inability to accurately date documents at the time. It wasn’t until the late Middle Ages that these spurious writings were widely understood to be fakes. As a result the Islamic writers of the hadiths, who were writing at a time when these spurious Christian documents were widely accepted as true, incorporated many elements from these apocalyptic pseudepigraphical writings into their hadiths, while making various changes to suit Islamic doctrine.

Examples of Islamic Borrowing from the Pseudepigrapha

One of the more obvious examples of Islamic writers borrowing from Christian pseudopigraphical writings is the Islamic version of the Gog-Magog war. The following is a summary of the hadiths concerning the Gog-Magog war from an influential Islamic scholar named Imam Ibn Kathir, who wrote in the 1300’s in Syria. This is also the standard understanding of the Gog-Magog war among Muslims today.

“At the time of Abraham (p.b.u.h.), there was a king called Dhool-Qarnayn. He performed Tawaaf around the Kabah with Abraham (p.b.u.h.) when he first built it; he believed and followed him. Dhool-Qarnayn was a good man and a great king; Allah gave him great power and he ruled the east and west. He held sway over all kings and countries, and traveled far and wide in both east and west. He traveled eastwards until he reached a pass between two mountains, through which people were coming out. They did not understand anything because they were so isolated; they were Gog and Magog. They were spreading corruption through the earth, and harming the people, so the people sought help from Dhool-Qarnayn. They asked him to build a barrier between them and Gog and Magog. He asked them to help him to build it; so together they built a barrier by mixing iron, copper and tar.

“Thus Dhool-Qarnayn restrained Gog and Magog behind the barrier. They tried to penetrate the barrier, or to climb over it, but to no avail. They could not succeed because the barrier is so huge and smooth. They began to dig, and they have been digging for centuries; they will continue to do so until the time when Allah decrees that they come out. At that time the barrier will collapse, and Gog and Magog will rush out in all directions, spreading corruption, uprooting plants, killing people. When Jesus (p.b.u.h.) prays against them, Allah will send a kind of worm in the napes of their necks, and they will be killed by it.”

Many elements in this story have no correspondence with the biblical account of the Gog-Magog war. However, when you look at the Christian pseudepigraphical writings which were popular when these hadiths were written, you find in them the same basic elements. The following is an example of the teaching on Gog-Magog found in the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodias:

“Hear now then in true fashion how these four empires were joined, the Ethiopian with the Macedonian and the Greek with the Roman. They are the four winds that move the great sea (Dan. 7:2). Philip the Macedonian was the father of Alexander and took to wife Chuseth, the daughter of King Phol of Ethiopia. From her was born Alexander, who was made ruler of the Greeks. He founded Alexandria the Great and reigned nineteen years. He went to the East and killed Darius, king of the Medes. He was the ruler of many regions and cities and he destroyed the earth. He even went as far as the sea which is called the region of the sun where he beheld unclean races of horrible appearance. . . . He gave orders and gathered them all together with their women and children and all their villages. Leading them away from the East, he restrained them with threats until they entered the northern lands where there is no way in or out from East to West to visit them. Alexander prayed to God without interruption and He heard his prayer. The Lord God gave a command to the two mountains which are called the "Breasts of the North," and they came together to within twelve cubits. Alexander built bronze gates and covered them with unmixed bitumen, so that if anyone wished to force them open by steel or to melt them with fire, he would be able to do neither, but immediately every fire would be extinguished…Who are the nations and the kings that Alexander concealed in the North? Gog and Magog…”

“Then [in the last days] the ‘Gates of the North’ will be opened and the strength of those nations which Alexander shut up there will go forth. The whole earth will be terrified at the sight of them; men will be afraid and flee in terror to hide themselves in mountains and caves and graves. They will die of fright and very many will be wasted with fear. There will be no one to bury the bodies. The tribes which will go forth from the North will eat the flesh of men and will drink the blood of beasts like water. They will eat unclean serpents, scorpions, and every kind of filthy and abominable beast and reptile which crawls the earth. They will consume the dead bodies of beasts of burden and even women*s abortions. They will slay the young and take them away from their mothers and eat them. They will corrupt the earth and contaminate it. No one will be able to stand against them.

“After a week of years, when they have already captured the city of Joppa, the Lord will send one of the princes of his host and strike them down in a moment.”

Beside the fact that the king who built the gates to imprison Gog-Magog is given a different name in each account, “Dhool-Qarnayn” in the Islamic version and Alexander the Great in the Christian version, all the other elements are virtually identical. In fact even many Islamic scholars recognize that Dhool-Qarnayn is probably a reference to Alexander.5 The name Dhool or Dhul Qarnayn literally means “having two horns” and is probably a reference to the fact that Alexander is sometimes pictured as having two horns in ancient Greek inscriptions and coins.

Here are some other areas of correspondence between the Islamic sources and Christian pseudopigrapha regarding Gog and Magog.

  • Both kings were godly men who traveled to the Far East.
  • Both kings found an unruly race of people there named Gog and Magog who needed to be imprisoned.
  • Both kings imprisoned Gog and Magog by herding them between two mountains.
  • Both kings built a gate between the two mountains using bronze and tar.
  • Gog and Magog were unable to get out of the gates until God/Allah decreed.
  • At the end of time both texts say that Gog and Magog will get past the barrier and cause destruction.
  • Both texts say that God/Allah will cause their destruction suddenly.

The similarities shared by the Islamic hadiths and Christian forgeries should be quite obvious. Here again the differences are telling as well. It is likely that Islamic writers didn’t like the idea of having a pagan king (Alexander the Great) as the hero of this story, so they simply obscured his identity by giving him a fictitious name and claiming that he was a good Muslim, saying that he “performed Tawaaf (an important Islamic ritual) around the Kabah with Abraham.”

It is interesting to note that the Christian sources actually stole this story from the much earlier Alexandrian Romance stories and adapted it for their purposes by adding the parts about biblical prophecy. The Alexandrian Romances were fictional stories about Alexander the Great that often depicted him in fanciful situations, like fighting mythical monsters. These stories were extremely popular shortly after Alexander’s death and remained so for hundreds of years, undergoing numerous adaptions by various groups. So the Islamic writers of the hadith basically stole their version of the Gog-Magog story from Christian forgers who had originally stolen it from the Alexander Romance stories and adapted it to fit with their end times beliefs.

The Origin of the Dajjal in Apocalyptic Literature

The Islamic version of the Antichrist, the Dajjal, is, on the one hand, clearly an adaption of the biblical version of the Antichrist. However, many descriptions of the Dajjal’s characteristics and actions in Islamic tradition are not found in the Bible. I will attempt to show in this section that when the descriptions of the Dajjal differ from the biblical account, it is clear that the information is being adapted from the Christian psuedopigraphical material.

I will begin by showing that the physical descriptions of the Dajjal were borrowed from the Christian pseudopigripha. In the Bible there is very little if any discussion about what the Antichrist looks like; however, in the extra-biblical Christian psuedopigrapha, physical descriptions of the Antichrist became a very common theme. He is often described as having an odd complexion, thick hair, one blind eye, one deformed eye, and elongated physical features, as well as having three letters that mean “deny” or “reject” written on his forehead. Given what we have seen so far, it is not surprising that every one of these physical descriptions were later incorporated into the physical descriptions of the Dajjal found in the hadiths.

Deformed Eyes

From the Christian pseudopigrapha:

“His right eye like the star that rises in the morning, and the other without motion.” (The Apocalypse of Pseudo-Ezra)

“He shall be bald-headed, with a small and a large eye.” (Pseudo-Daniel)6

“His right eye like the star which rises in the morning, and the other like a lion’s.” (Apocalypse of Pseudo-John)

From Islamic Hadiths:

“His right eye will be punctured, and his left eye would be raised to his forehead and will be sparkling like a star.”7

“Ad-Dajjal is blind in the right eye and his eye looks like a bulging out grape.”8

In both the Islamic and Christian traditions we see the theme of the Antichrist/Dajjal having two deformed eyes one of them is blind and the other is said to be like a star. These traditions vary slightly from source to source, but the basic characteristics are enough to suggest that the Islamic writers were borrowing from the Christian writers who preceded them. This will become more of a certainty as we see more instances of this type of borrowing.

Three Letters on His Forehead

In the Bible the Antichrist is said to cause his followers to receive a mark on their right hand or forehead. This mark is said to be the number 666. However, in the apocalyptic Christian literature as well as the Islamic hadiths, we see a significant variation of this teaching. They both claim it will be the Antichrist/Dajjal himself that has this mark, not necessarily his followers; and the mark is actually three letters, not numbers, that mean “reject” or “deny.” As in the previous case, the fact that this tradition cannot be found in the Bible and that both Islamic and Christian traditions share almost identical views of this non-biblical teaching show that Islamic borrowing from the earlier Christian pseudopigraphical material is very likely.

From the Christian pseudopigrapha:

“And he [the Antichrist] also has upon his forehead three letters; A, K, T. And the A signifies: ‘I deny,’ the K: ‘And I completely reject,’ the T: ‘The befouled dragon.’” (The Apocalypse of Pseudo-Daniel)

From Islamic Hadiths:

“Anas b. Malik reported that Allah’s Messenger (SAW) said: Dajjal is blind of one eye and there is written between his eyes the word ‘Kafir.’ He then spelled the word as k. f. r., which every Muslim would be able to read.” 9

At first glance the only similarities between the Christian and Islamic traditions about the mark of the beast is that it would be on the Antichrist/Dajjal’s forehead, as opposed to his followers’, and that it would be three letters as opposed to numbers. However the fact that these three letters are different (A.K.T. in the Christian tradition and K.F.R in the Islamic tradition) should not be seen as a true difference because both writers made the letters on the Antichrist’s forehead mean the same thing (i.e., to “deny” and “reject,”) despite the letters being different.

The writer of Pseudo-Daniel does not tell his readers why A.K.T should mean to “deny” and “reject.” He seems to suggest that there is a kind of secret meaning to the letters that is not able to be discovered by normal means. The writer of the hadith, however, changes the letters to K.F.R,. a reference to the Arabic word Kafir, which literally means “to deny or reject.” In other words, the three letters on the Antichrist/Dajjal’s forehead mean the same thing in both traditions, though the letters were changed in the Islamic version, possibly to avoid the need to interpret the letters in an esoteric way, as is the case in Pseudo-Daniel.

Skin and Hair

The last of the physical descriptions of the Antichrist and the Dajjal found in the extra-biblical traditions that I will discuss are those regarding his skin and hair.

From the Christian Pseudopigrapha:

“The appearance of his face is dusky; the hairs of his head are sharp, like darts” (Apocalypse of Pseudo-John)

From Islamic hadiths:

Ubada ibn Saamit narrates that the Prophet… “The hair on his head will be Aja'd “(coarse and curly).10

“Dajjal is blind of left eye with thick hair.”11

“Red complexioned, fat, with coarse hair”12

The emphasis that the Christian pseudopigrahical material puts on the coarseness of the Antichrist’s hair seems to be reflected in the hadith writers using the Arabic word Aja'd (coarse) to describe the Dajjal’s hair. The complexion of the Dajjal is variously described in the hadiths as reddish or sometimes fair. This variation on the skin color in the hadith may be related to the original Christian sources being somewhat vague, using the word “dusky” to describe the Antichrist’s skin.

Description of the Antichrist’s Actions

A number of descriptions about the actions of the Antichrist are found in extra-biblical Christian traditions but cannot be found in the Bible. Here again we will see these non-biblical teachings showing up in Islamic traditions.

Three Years of Drought

From the Christian Pseudopigrapha:

“Antichrist; he shall be exalted even to heaven, and shall be cast down even to Hades, making false displays. And then will I make the heaven brazen, so that it shall not give moisture upon the earth; and I will hide the clouds in secret places, so that they shall not bring moisture upon the earth… And again I said: Lord, and how many years will he do this upon the earth? And I heard a voice saying to me: Hear, righteous John. Three years shall those times be.” (Apocalypse of Psuedo-John)

From Islamic hadiths:

“There will be three hard years before the Dajjal. During them, people will be stricken by a great famine. In the first year, Allah will command the sky to withhold a third of its rain, and the earth to withhold a third of its produce. In the second year, Allah will command the sky to withhold two thirds of its rain, and the earth to withhold two thirds of its produce. In the third year, Allah will command the sky to withhold all of its rain, and it will not rain a single drop of rain.”13

In both the Christian and Islamic traditions God will withhold rain for three years because of the Antichrist. Though the Christian version is not specific on the matter, it seems to suggest that the three years of drought come during the reign of Antichrist, whereas the Islamic tradition says the drought precedes the appearance of the Dajjal. In addition the Islamic tradition suggests an incremental drought as opposed to the Christian version where the drought is total for the duration of the three years. Despite these slight differences the similarities are telling.

A Test with Enoch and Elijah

From Christian Pseudopigrapha:

“And then I shall send forth Enoch and Elias to convict him; and they shall show him to be a liar and a deceiver” (The Apocalypse of Pseudo-John)

From Islamic hadiths:

“Two angels resembling two Prophets, one on either side will accompany him [the Dajjal]. This will be to test mankind. Hence Dajjal will ask, ‘Am I not your lord? Do I not give life and death?’ One of the angels will reply, ‘You are a liar.’ However nobody will be able to hear this reply besides the other angel. The second angel addressing the first angel will say, ‘You are speaking the truth.’ Every body will hear what this second angel said and will think that an angel is testifying that the Dajjal is Allah though in reality this second angel was addressing the first and agreeing with his reply that you are speaking the truth that the Dajjal is certainly a liar.”

The Christian source here refers to “Enoch and Elijah,” the Old Testament prophets who many Christians, both then and now, believe will be the two witnesses of Revelation 11. Islamic tradition mentions “Two angels resembling two Prophets.” The description in the hadith is also slightly different in intent from the Christian text, but it is notable that both the Islamic and Christian traditions describe the two witnesses performing a test to prove the Antichrist/Dajjal is a “liar.”

There are many other similarities between the Antichrist in pseudopigraphical texts and Islamic hadiths and much more work needs to be done in comparing the two traditions. I will, however, assume that the reader has enough information to see the similarities for themselves by this point, and I will move on the commonalities between the Mahdi and the Last Roman Emperor.

The Origin of the Mahdi in Apocalyptic Literature

Now that you have seen the significant dependence that the writers of the Islamic hadiths had on early extra-biblical Christian writings, it should be much easier to convince you that the concept of the Mahdi was derived entirely from the same apocalyptic Christian writings.

In the case of the Islamic Isa and the Dajjal, there is a clear one-to-one comparison with the Christian Jesus and the Antichrist. As we have seen, Isa is based primarily on the Christian Jesus with adjustments for Islamic doctrine. The same is true for the Dajjal where we have seen that the basic concept of the biblical Antichrist was used.

The Islamic Mahdi, on the other hand, is much more interesting in this respect since there is no obvious figure in the Bible that corresponds directly to him. The Bible never mentions a human king who fights religious wars and restores a temporary orthodoxy before the appearance of the Antichrist and the return of Jesus. It would seem at first glance that the writers of the hadith have come up with an entirely new end times character. However, I will attempt to show that it was, in fact, the early Christian writers of the pseudopigrapha that came up with this brand new eschatological character, which was then copied and adapted by the writers of the hadiths to form their concept of the Mahdi.

The new end times character that the Christian extra-biblical apocalyptic writers introduced was a divinely guided monarch who would overcome the present tribulations and usher in a time of temporary peace before the return of Jesus. Though he was not given a name at the time, he would come to be known as the Last Roman Emperor. The primary text that popularized the idea was Pseudo-Methodius, written in the early seventh century, but the Syrian Apocalypse of Daniel played a role as well. The Last Roman Emperor was said to arise at a time when Roman Christianity was in great distress. He would fight a number of wars with the enemies of Christianity and restore Roman Christianity to its previous place of prominence. He would rule for seven to ten years which are described as being particularly plentiful. Then, just before the Antichrist and the Gog-Magog war broke out, Jesus would return, defeat the rebellion, judge the enemies of God, and The Last Roman Emperor would give Jesus his crown.

It is difficult to explain how prominent this idea was at the time. In his paper “The Last Roman Emperor and the Mahdi,” Andras Kraft says that the Last Roman Emperor was given “near-canonical status” at that time and in the centuries that followed. The figure eventually developed into the so-called “Great Monarch,” a concept still believed in certain Catholic circles today. The Last Roman Emperor was also mentioned by Christopher Columbus in his Book of Prophecies written in the early 1500s.

Considering that the concept of the Last Roman Emperor was believed to be true biblical teaching by so many Christians at the time, it is not surprising that Islamic writers incorporated the idea into their eschatology as well. Many of the same early Christian texts from which the hadith writers were borrowing were the same texts that speak of the Last Roman Emperor. In other words, if the Islamic writers were already constructing their doctrines about the Gog-Magog war, the Dajjal, and Isa from Pseudo-Methodius and other similar texts, it is no surprise that they also incorporated the Last Roman Emperor from those same documents into their theology.

The Islamic Antichrist proponents try very hard to find similarities between the Mahdi and the Christian Antichrist. I will argue later that this can only be done in a very general way. But if you choose to compare the Islamic Mahdi with the Last Roman Emperor figure instead of the Antichrist, you can produce a much more impressive list of similarities.

The Mahdi and the Last Roman Emperor share the following characteristics.

  • They both are human kings.

    Both the Mahdi and the Last Roman Emperor are described as purely human, not angelic or divine. Any supernatural things that happen during each of their careers are attributed to God/Allah. The idea in both cases is that God/Allah supports each of these kings and therefore guides and protects them.

  • They both come at a time of great trouble for their respective religions.

    Last Roman Emperor in Pseudo-Methodius:

    “Then suddenly tribulation and distress will arise against them. The king of the Greeks, i.e., the Romans, will come out against them in great anger.”

    The Last Roman Emperor is preceded by signs very similar to the Islamic “minor signs” which describe a moral decline:

    “Men will get themselves up as false women wearing prostitutes’ clothes. Standing in the streets and squares of the cities openly before all they will be adorned like women; they will exchange natural sex for that which is against nature.”

    The Mahdi in Islamic tradition:

    The Mahdi is frequently mentioned to come on the scene as a result of fitan (trials and tribulations). He is preceded by many of the “minor signs” which describe a time of moral decline. More specifically he is said to come to power to combat the Sufyani, a Muslim tyrant who causes great trouble. The Mahdi is said to defeat the Sufyani once he gains power.

  • They both are reluctant to rule.

    Last Roman Emperor in Pseudo-Methodius:

    “[The Last Roman Emperor will be] roused [in order to rule] as from a drunken stupor like one whom men had thought dead and worthless.”

    The Mahdi in Islamic tradition:

    “And he [The Mahdi] will accept it [the rule] reluctantly. He will not know, and they will not know, that he is the expected Mahdi, and previously there will be no calls for him to be Mahdi, and he will not even know himself, but God will choose him, and the people will choose him suddenly.”14

  • They both fight wars to destroy other human kings opposed to their religious system.

    Last Roman Emperor in Pseudo-Methodius:

    “He will go forth against them from the Ethiopian sea and will send the sword and desolation into Ethribus (Southern Arabia) their homeland...Egypt will be desolated, Arabia burned with fire, the land of Ausania burned, and the sea provinces pacified. The whole indignation and fury of the king of the Romans will blaze forth against those who deny the Lord Jesus Christ.”

    The Mahdi in Islamic tradition:

    “Although the uprising of Hadrat al-Mahdi (‘atfs) will commence in Mecca, he will conquer the land of Hijaz” (a large section of Arabia).15

    “He will have a sword with him, which he will unsheathe, and through him God will conquer the lands of Rome, China, Turkistan, Daylam, Sind, Hind, Kabul, Sham, and Khazar.”16

    “God will send al-Mahdi (‘atfs) and through him the religion will regain its grandeur and through him and for Him, glorious victories will be attained.”17

  • The primary enemy that he destroys will be a Muslim king who rules over Syria and kills women and children.

    In Pseudo-Methodius, the Last Roman Emperor put particular emphasis on destroying Syria:

    “The land of Syria will be empty and reduced; those dwelling in her will perish by the sword. . . . Egypt and the East and Syria will be under the yoke and hemmed in by great tribulations. They will be constrained without mercy...The inhabitants of Egypt and Syria will be in trouble and affliction, seven times the greater for those in captivity.”

    The reason that the world is in tribulation when he arises is due to the Muslim threat from those regions. The people he destroys are described as “casting lots for children.”

    The Mahdi in Islamic tradition:

    The Mahdi also places a particular emphasis on destroying Syria when he comes to power. This is because of a threat from “the Sufyani” an Arabic king who rules of Syria. The Sufyani also is said to treat women and children badly.

    “A man will emerge from the depths of Damascus [Syria]. He will be called Sufyani. Most of those who follow him will be from the tribe of Kalb. He will kill by ripping the stomachs of women and even kill the children. A man from my family will appear in the Haram, the news of his advent will reach the Sufyani and he will send to him one of his armies. He [referring to the Mahdi] will defeat them. They will then travel with whoever remains until they come to a desert and they will be swallowed. None will be saved except the one who had informed the others about them. (Mustadrak Al-Hakim)”

  • They both rule only briefly

    Last Roman Emperor in Pseudo-Methodius:

    “After this the king of the Romans will go down and live in Jerusalem for seven and half-seven times, i.e., years. When the ten and a half years are completed the Son of Perdition will appear.”

    The Mahdi in Islamic tradition:

    The hadiths give different times for the Mahdi’s rule (five, seven, eight, nine or nineteen years), but in any case it is a brief rule. Perhaps one reason for the contradictions in the hadiths is because of the odd way that the length of the rule of the Last Roman Emperor is described in Pseudo-Methodius (i.e. “seven and half-seven times”).

  • They both succeeded in restoring orthodoxy to their religion, but only briefly.

    Last Roman Emperor in Pseudo-Methodius:

    The Last Roman Emperor destroys the enemies of Christianity and sets up his religious rule, but this time is followed by terrible destruction, such as the Gog-Magog war and the appearance of the Antichrist.

    The Mahdi in Islamic tradition:

    Similarly the Mahdi succeeds in destroying the enemies of Islam and setting up a religious peace, but that peaceful time is followed by the Gog-Magog war and the appearance of the Dajjal, both of those events cause immeasurable destruction to the earth and to Islam.

  • They both rule over a temporary time of peace and prosperity.

    Last Roman Emperor in Pseudo-Methodius:

    “The whole indignation and fury of the king of the Romans will blaze forth against those who deny the Lord Jesus Christ. Then the earth will sit in peace and there will be great peace and tranquility upon the earth...”

    The Mahdi in Islamic tradition:

    “The Mahdi will appear. Allah will grant him rain, the earth will bring forth its fruits, he will give a lot of money, cattle will increase and the ummah will become great.”18

    “He will fill out the earth with peace and justice”19

  • Both of their reigns will be followed by the Gog-Magog war.

    Last Roman Emperor in Pseudo-Methodius:

    The description of the peace the Last Roman Emperor will win for himself is followed by the description of the Gog-Magog war.

    “Then the ‘Gates of the North’ will be opened and the strength of those nations which Alexander shut up there will go forth.”

    It is clear from the context that follows that the initial peace of the Last Roman Emperor is followed by the Gog-Magog war.

    The Mahdi in Islamic tradition:

    In Islamic tradition it is clear that the Gog-Magog war takes place after the initial peace of the Mahdi. In addition Isa, not the Mahdi, is ruling at the time of the Gog-Magog war, which conclusively puts the war after the Mahdi’s initial time of peace.

  • The Antichrist figure comes on the scene at the end of his career.

    Last Roman Emperor in Pseudo-Methodius:

    “After this the king of the Romans will go down and live in Jerusalem for seven and half-seven times, i.e., years. When the ten and a half years are completed the Son of Perdition will appear.”

    The Mahdi in Islamic tradition:

    In the hadiths it is quite clear that the Dajjal does not appear until after the Mahdi has defeated Constantinople, an event that occurs toward the end of his career. Isa is said to appear as the Mahdi’s armies, recently returned from Constantinople, are preparing to fight the Dajjal. Isa’s appearance marks the beginning of the end of the Mahdi’s rule.

  • In both cases Jesus returns at the end of his time after the Antichrist has been revealed.

    Last Roman Emperor in Pseudo-Methodius:

    Though the actual return of Jesus is not mentioned in Pseudo-Methodius, it does describe the Last Roman Emperor going to Golgotha (the cross of Christ) and laying his crown on the cross (symbolically giving his throne to Jesus). He does this because of the appearance of the Antichrist.

    The Mahdi in Islamic tradition:

    As mentioned earlier Isa appears after the conquest of Constantinople, when the Mahdi hears of the appearance of the Dajjal. Isa seems to appear for the expressed purpose of defeating the Dajjal, something the Mahdi apparently cannot do.

  • In both cases he does not defeat the Antichrist.

    Last Roman Emperor in Pseudo-Methodius:

    As mentioned in the previous point, the Last Roman Emperor, upon hearing of the Antichrist’s appearance, goes to give his throne symbolically to Jesus. He dies at this point. The last words of Pseudo-Methodius make clear that the Antichrist is still on earth after the Last Roman Emperor’s death.

    “When the Cross has been lifted up on high to heaven, the king of the Romans will directly give up his spirit. Then every principality and power will be destroyed that the Son of Perdition may be manifest.”

    The Mahdi in Islamic tradition:

    Here again the Islamic traditions are quite clear that Isa, not the Mahdi, defeats the Dajjal.20

    “And Allah would then send Jesus son of Mary who would resemble ‘Urwa b Mas'ud.’ He (Jesus Christ) would chase him [the Dajjal] and kill him.”21

  • In both cases Jesus will rule after him.

    Last Roman Emperor in Pseudo-Methodius:

    This is seen by the Last Roman Emperor abdicating his throne to Jesus and then dying. The text presumes that Jesus will then return to Earth and rule after this. Other material from the time, such as the Apocalypse of Daniel, make this point much more clear.

    The Mahdi in Islamic tradition:

    It is difficult to know exactly how long the Mahdi lives after Isa arrives. Some Muslims believe he will immediately be killed by a bearded woman or give up the rule of the world to Isa and be killed later. Others believe there will be a short time in which they rule together before Isa takes over. In any case, since Isa is said to rule for forty years after his return and the Mahdi’s rule is said to be much shorter, it is clear that Isa rules after the Mahdi dies.

When you add to this the supplemental information we have already discussed, such as the Gog-Magog war similarities in both versions or the descriptions of the Antichrist/Dajjal having one blind eye and one that shines like a star, it becomes nearly impossible to see these similarities as coincidences. The Mahdi idea, just like so many of the other non-biblical concepts in Islamic eschatology, is based on the peculiar ideas found in the extra-biblical traditions of the early Christian church. It should be noted that, in the case of the Mahdi and the Last Roman Emperor, the writers of the hadiths continued with their method of reversing the religions involved in the original story to make Islam out to be the victor. So in this case, instead of this eschatological hero being a Roman king who fights for Christianity, he is an Islamic king (Caliph) who fights to restore Islam. This is all that is needed to explain the development of the Mahdi idea. That being said, I would recommend the paper I mentioned earlier “The Last Roman Emperor and the Mahdiby Andras Kraft for more of the background on this subject.