Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Black Banners of the East

Although the imagery is more stylized than earlier descriptions of the fiery, smoking mountains of Eden and the Sinai, the basic ideas are still present. The sea of glass/crystal mingled with fire, for example, is reminiscent of the great quantities of volcanic glass such as obsidian produced by eruptions.

However, the localization is never quite complete. The great 'war in heaven' is still placed in the mount of Eden, the cosmic site of the original conflict. It was here that Tala, the Morning Star, descended to earth. The motif linking the stars with the cycle of conflict occurs in many traditions including those of the Hebrews and Zoroastrians.

It is said that from the east and from the quarters of Hind or China (he will appear) and as appears from the religion, the sign at his birth will be the falling of the stars.

The Persian Rivayats of Hormazyar Framarz and others

The Muslims also naturally incorporated these ideas into their prophetic views of the latter days.

The Black Banners will come to you from the East, their hearts are like iron. Whosoever hears about them let them go crawling -- even over ice!

Hadith of Thawban

The predicted "Army coming from the East" is led by a man called Mansur. Generally the location of the "East" is obscure although it is indicated that he shall approach Mecca from the direction of Transoxania (Uzbekistan and parts of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan). Some modern fundamentalists believe that Osama bin Laden is none other than the Mansur who will lead his troops from Afghanistan in a great world battle. These armies carrying black banners come to the aid of al-Mahdi, the future messianic king.

In certain Hadiths, al-Mahdi and some of his companions are described as "Masters of the Dwellers of Paradise."

We are the children of Abd Al Muttalib, the Masters of the Dwellers of Paradise myself, Hamza, Ali, Jafar, Al Hasan, Al Hussain and Al Mahdi


Although the Muslim version appears to localize things more in Central Asia, we still have ideas similar to those in the Jewish and Christian traditions. For example, the water that seems to be at the same time fire, and the paradise that appears as hell, but in this case associated with al-Dajjal the Antichrist:

The anti-Christ will appear and with him will be both water and fire. That which people perceive to be water will be fire that burns and that which people perceive to be fire will be cool and sweet water. If any among you encounters him, you should jump into that which you perceive to be fire because it is sweet and palatable water.

Hadith of Ribi

I shall tell you something about the anti-Christ that no Prophet has told his people -- he is one-eyed and will have with him what appears to be Paradise and Hell. That which he calls Paradise will be Hell, and that which he calls Hell is Paradise.

Abu Hurayrah

Among the Ismailis, the Hidden Imam is stationed in the "Green Isle" where the Tree of Paradise and the Spring of Life are found. The Hidden Imam in this tradition returns as al-Mahdi. Paradise is viewed often as an archipelago of five linked islands although the location is obscure. In latter times, it was said to be in the "intermediate East" a location sometimes earthly, sometimes otherworldly of the pre-heavenly abode of the departed.

Muslim views of the apocalypse thus hold much in common with those found in the religions that preceded it in the region.

Ideas of a great end-times battle in various traditions are also found in prophecies which give some rather specific details including chronological dates. We will examine how these timings appear to correlate with the epoch of the ancient eruptions suggested here as initiating the great cycle of conflict.

Paul Kekai Manansala