ISIS makes us cringe in utter disgust with its chilling violence, throat-slitting and massacres staged to evoke maximum fear and terror upon its victims, and onlookers over the internet.
As a Muslim, it is mortifying to have ISIS claim to follow Islam. There are some, including journalists, who draw a spurious association between ISIS and the tenets of Islam.
However, by analyzing modern and ancient history we can now open the view that it was none other than the Prophet Muhammad who drew the correct association. In a remarkable prophecy, he foretold: Things will happen to my followers as did to the Jews that they will come to resemble each other like the shoe on one foot resembles the shoe on the other.
The Atlantic magazine, in its November 2016 issue, ran the cover story of how ISIS, a militia of thirty thousand or so, had effectively weaponized social media holding the attention of a global audience with its shocking violence, thus projecting itself as larger-than-life and drawing the fear and terror of its foes.
But the grave miscarriage of religious zeal or jihad into terrifying and gruesome murder is not a first with ISIS.
Authors Emerson T. Brooking and P.W. Singer wrote in The Atlantic cover story-- Terrorism has always been theatrical. Some 2,000 years ago, Jewish zealots known as ‘The Sicarii’, or “dagger-men”, stalked Roman-occupied Jerusalem. Rather than killing quietly in alleyways, they made sure to slay Roman-sympathizers before a crowd. The aims of these town-square assassinations were the same as those of the Islamic State’s YouTube beheading: to send a signal to as large an audience as possible.
The Sicarii ,it appears, are destined to live in infamy; they inspire terrorism even today. The critically acclaimed drug-war hit-movie Sicario opens with the introduction: The word “Sicario” comes from the Zealots of Jerusalem. Killers who hunted the Romans who invaded their homeland. In Mexico, Sicario means hitman.
As the movie portrays-- drug-cartel hit-men use chilling killing techniques to instill fear and terror among their foes and would-be resistors.
Author Reza Aslan wrote in his best-selling book, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth”: Many Jews in first-century Palestine strove to live a life of zeal, each in his own way. But there were some who, in order to preserve their zealous ideals, were willing to resort to extreme acts of violence if necessary, not just against the Romans and the uncircumcised masses, but against their fellow Jews, those who dared submit to the authority of Rome. They launched a guerrilla war throughout Galilee, plundering homes, setting villages ablaze, and meting out the justice of God upon the Jewish aristocracy and those who continued to pledge loyalty to Rome.
The rise of fanaticism and violence in Judaism during the times of Jesus was so wide and intense that Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, in his chronicle The Antiquities of The Jews, was compelled to call it the Fourth Philosophy— in addition to the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essenes. Those who followed to the Fourth Philosophy (Zealots/Sicarii/Bandits) took to a murderous rage that Josephus describes as an unfortunate aberration of Jewish tradition and a reign of terror.
Zealots and Jihadists
Discovering this parallel in Jewish and Islamic histories foretold by the Prophet Muhammad, we see that, per scripture, the ideologies of zeal and jihad are not prescriptions for war, but quite the contrary.
The word zealot comes from the Psalms of David verse 69:9—Zeal for your (God’s) house consumes me. In the very next verse, the Prophet (and King) David speaks of weeping and fasting as a reproach to God, not violence.
Similarly, the term jihad is mentioned several times in the Quran as a reproach to God by means of sacrifice and personal effort as in 61:12-- …and do jihad in the cause of God with your wealth and your persons.
Historically, with the inception of Jewish and Islamic histories, both movements faced severe persecution, mortal enemies and the threat of extinction. Both movements in their early histories enjoyed remarkable military success and robust empires that advanced civilization.
However, over the vicissitudes of time both civilizations suffered decline and subjugation to foreign powers. At this juncture in their histories, religious thought of Jews and Muslims held prophetic beliefs that a Messiah will appear in the future to restore their glorious past.
Unfortunately, misconceived zealotry during the first century and jihadism today channeled social grievances and religious ideology into naked violence and acts of terror.
When Jesus appeared as Messiah to the Israelites (per Christians and Muslims) extremist violence in Judea was in full swing. The Romans did not persecute Jews on the basis of religion. Yet the zealots believed that Israel was under the choke of an idolatrous power (Rome) because it had failed to cleanse the holy land, by violence if necessary.
When Jesus was confronted by St. Nicodemus with the key question of if fighting Rome was a religious duty, he replied that redemption before God does not require rebellion against Rome-- Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and render unto God the things that are God's (Matthew 22:21).
The Prophet Muhammad applied the terminology of Jesus Son of Mary to the Messiah in his following. Ahmadi-Muslims believe the prophecy was allegorical relating to Jewish and Islamic histories, and was fulfilled in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908).
Like the zealots during the times of Jesus, flawed jihadist ideals during the times of Ahmad reflected grievances from the choke of subjugation of mushrik (non-monotheistic) rulers (the British) and called for a jihad to oust them. Yet the British too did not restrict Muslims from practicing their religion. Like Jesus, Ahmad reproached the extremist ideology of his time. He wrote in “British Government and Jihad”: Today’s Islamic scholars completely misunderstand jihad and misrepresent it to the general public...clerics who persist in propagating these blood-spattered doctrines are in fact responsible for murders…who know nothing of why Islam was forced to fight battles in its early history.
Modern history of extremist violence and the ancient history of extremist violence is now open to a rational and coherent view of Prophet Muhammad’s prophecy: he foretold how terrible events with some in his following will parallel the events of when the Messiah appeared to the Israelites.
And thus it would wholly exonerate him from the acts of these Sicariis of our time.