(Reuters) – Conflict in Syria kills hundreds of thousands of people and spreads unrest across the Middle East. Iranian forces battle anti-Shi’ite fighters in Damascus, and the region braces for an ultimate showdown.
If the scenario sounds familiar to an anxious world watching Syria’s devastating civil war, it resonates even more with Sunni and Shi’ite fighters on the frontlines – who believe it was all foretold in 7th Century prophecies.
From the first outbreak of the crisis in the southern city of Deraa to apocalyptic 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 followers.
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 religious 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 Aleppo.
“They are all here as promised by the Prophet. This is the war he promised – 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 vanished 1,000 years ago and who will re-emerge at a time of war to establish global Islamic rule before the end of the world…
* * *
This is worth reading in full. If significant numbers of the fighters believe this, this war will carry on for years.