Islamic state, Dabiq, the Mahdi and the end-times

Dabiq is the name of a small town in northern Syria with no special claim to fame apart from the fact that the Umayyad caliph Sulaiman ibn Abd al-Malik (674-717 CE: reigned 715-717) was buried there in 717. So why has Islamic State (ISIS) called the magazine it publishes Dabiq? The main reason appears to be that according to Muslim eschatological tradition it will be the site of a major battle that will be fought between Muslims and Christian invaders, a battle that will be one of the signs that the end-times have begun[1].

Muslims do not necessarily all agree on the exact order of events here, but one of the most important of these signs will be the appearance of a man with the title of Mahdi (meaning ‘rightly-guided-one’ in Arabic), a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. He will lead a force west from central Asia (his men carrying black banners) and establish himself in Medina. A Christian force will invade Syria from Turkey. The Mahdi will move his forces up to meet and defeat it at Dabiq (or al-Amaq), and go on to conquer Constantinople (Istanbul). This will be followed by the appearance of the Antichrist (referred to as the dajjal) who, leading an army from the east, will drive the Mahdi back and establish his control over most of the world. Many Muslims will take refuge in Jerusalem and his forces will lay siege to the city. At this point Jesus will descend from heaven via one of the minarets in the Great Mosque in Damascus, and he and the Mahdi will join forces and defeat the Antichrist. It is often said that it will be Jesus who will actually kill him. Then Jesus or the Mahdi will rule the planet and there will be a period of peace and prosperity for all before the world ends. The beginning of the end will be signalled when the hordes of Yajuj and Majuj (Gog and Magog) break out from behind the rampart behind which they have been penned and attack (Qur’an 21:96). Allah will dispose of them and the Day of Judgement will follow.

Obviously it is no coincidence that the leaders of Islamic State have named their magazine after the town where it is believed that one of the main events in the Muslim end-times scenario, with its references to a major confrontation between Muslims and Christians, may take place. By mid-2015 according to the Guardian journalist, Martin Chulov, Dabiq was ‘draped in the group’s iconography, black flags flying above all its mosques and civic buildings’ (as noted above, black flags will be carried by the Mahdi’s forces)[2]. It is unlikely that all the followers of Islamic State believe that we are at the beginning of the end-times. It does nevertheless seem to be the case that one inspiration for many of the Muslims who have travelled from round the world to fight in Syria has been the belief that the movement is engaged in an eschatological conflict which has been predicted in Muslim sources for more than a thousand years[3]. Islamic State is of course a Sunni movement, but many Shi’ite Muslims also believe in the arrival of the Mahdi and in his battle with the Antichrist. For them however, Jesus will play a less important role; the Twelvers or Imamis envisage the Mahdi as the 12th and final Imam, who will return to kill the Antichrist and introduce a golden age before the Day of Judgement. Many Imamis have joined the fight against Islamic State, and reportedly have also been inspired by Mahdist beliefs[4].

Dr Hugh Beattie (Open University)


1.In fact, according to one of the key hadiths (Prophetic traditions) on which the scenario is based, the battle will be fought either at Dabiq or at al-Amaq, and why ISIS/Daesh have focused on Dabiq is not entirely clear (Hadith Number 6924 in the collection of Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj (d. 875 CE) –…6924 accessed 28.9.2015).

2. Martin Chulov, ‘ISIS Why they fight’, The Guardian, 17.9.2015, pp.32.

3. See e.g. Hadith Number 6924 in the collection of Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj (d. 875 CE) –…6924 accessed 28.9.2015

4. See e.g. Mariam Karouny, ‘Apocalyptic prophecies drive both sides to Syrian battle for end of time’,, accessed 12.9.2015. For more on eschatology in Islam see e.g. Marilyn Waldman, ‘Eschatology: Islamic Eschatology’ in Lindsay Jones, editor, Encyclopedia of Religion, 2005, Vol. 4, pp.2836-2840; Hugh Beattie, ‘the Mahdi and the End-times in Islam’ in Sarah Harvey and Suzanne Newcombe, editors, Prophecy in the New Millennium when Prophecies Persist, Farnham/Burlington VT, Ashgate, 2013, pp.89-103.