DABIQ, Syria (Christian Examiner) – Dabiq is a small Syrian town six miles from the Turkish border, but it figures into the end times theology of the Islamic State (ISIS) in a big way.
According to multiple reports from the region, U.S. and Turkish-backed rebels are advancing on the town of 3,000 in order to free it from the control of terror group. In recent days, 15 of the rebels have been killed in fighting near the village.
"If matters proceed as planned, within 48 hours we will be in Dabiq," Ahmed Osman, the commander of the Sultan Murad Free Syrian Army (FSA), told Reuters Monday.
Turkish forces also have been inside Syria since they crossed the border Aug. 24, and now they are assisting the rebels in the push to take the symbolically important ISIS stronghold.
ISIS's English-language recruitment and propaganda magazine is named for the town, which is where it believes the Muslim messiah – or Mahdi – will return to fight an apocalyptic battle with "crusading" and "infidel" Christian forces. Some sources have claimed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi sees himself as the Mahdi foretold in an ancient hadith.
According to Sunnah 54, which relates an oral tradition of Muhammad, "The Last Hour would not come until the Romans would land at al-A'maq or in Dabiq. An army consisting of the best (soldiers) of the people of the earth at that time will come from Medina (to counteract them)."
In addition to the armies of Islam gathering against those of the Romans, generally interpreted to mean "Americans," both the Mahdi and the Muslim Jesus feature prominently in the prophecy. The Mahdi will lead the armies of the Islamic State and nominal Muslims will also join in the fighting. During the battle, they believe, "Jesus (peace be upon him), son of Mary, would descend and would lead them in prayer."
According to the story, Jesus – referred to as Allah's "lance" – will defeat the armies of the enemy, even as the Mahdi is martyred for the Islamic faith. He will also vanquish a false messiah called the "Dajjal" and then rule the earth for Allah until the day of final judgment.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights notes that ISIS has sent another 800 troops to Dabiq to reinforce the town. It has also heavily mined the area around it.
The belief that Muslims await a climactic battle with the West which will cause the Mahdi to appear is shared by many Muslims, including the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood and Shiites in Iran. Various Muslim preachers have named former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as potential candidates for the Mahdi.
Ahmadinejad was reportedly considering another run for Iranian president. However, Ayatollah Khamenei told him it would not be in the best interest of the country to run for another term. Ahmadinejad then issued a statement claiming he would not run again, dampening his prospects of being recognized as the Mahdi.
In Islam, the Mahdi is seen as an individual who can unite the full spectrum of Muslims.