The conflict is typically viewed as merely a power struggle between President Bashar al-Assad and his rebel foes, mostly Islamists, as a consequence of the Arab Spring uprisings—with thousands of jihadists swarming in from other countries to help overthrow Assad and promote an Islamic state based on Muslim law. Yet while the Arab Spring was an instigator, it has played into a bigger picture.
Consider that, as Reuters reports, “Sunni and Shi’ite fighters on the frontlines … believe it was all foretold in 7th Century prophecies”—sayings, or hadith, of Muhammad “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” (“Apocalyptic Prophecies Drive Both Sides to Syrian Battle for End of Time,” April 1, 2014).
The report continues: “ ‘If you think all these mujahideen came from across the world to fight Assad, you’re mistaken,’ said a Sunni Muslim jihadi … ‘They are all here as promised by the Prophet. This is the war he promised—it is the Grand Battle,’ he told Reuters …
“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 descendant 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 …
“Both sides emphasize the ultimate goal of establishing an Islamic state which will rule the world before total chaos … Hadith on both sides mention Syria as a main battlefield, naming cities and towns where blood will be spilled. Hundreds of thousands of people will be killed. The whole region will be shaken from the Arabian Peninsula to Iraq, Iran and Jerusalem, according to some texts. Saudi Arabia will collapse. Almost every country in the Middle East will face unrest. One statement says ‘blood will reach knee-level.’
“A widely circulated hadith attributed to Mohammad says Sham, or Syria [actually the broader Levant], is [Allah’s] favored land. Asked where the next jihad will be, he replies: ‘Go for Sham, and if you can’t, go for Yemen … (though) [Allah] has guaranteed me Sham and its people.’”
These are widely held motivations for the fighting in Syria. “Although some Sunni and Shi’ite clerics are privately skeptical of the religious justifications for the war, few in the region express such reservations in public for fear of being misinterpreted as doubters of the prophecies.” (Source: Reuters.)