CAIRO: An infidel horde flying 80 banners meets a Muslim army at the Syrian town of Dabiq in an apocalyptic battle. The Muslims are decimated but ultimately prevail, ushering in the end of days.
This ancient Sunni Muslim prophecy — mentioned in canonical accounts of the Prophet Mohammed’s sayings — has become a rallying cry for Islamic State jihadists in Iraq and Syria, especially since they seized Dabiq in August.
The town itself has negligible military value compared with the strategic IS-controlled cities of Raqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq.
But as IS jihadists come under a US-led aerial onslaught to stop their advance, its importance as a symbol has become clear.
“It raises morale,” said Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Brookings Institute. “It is fair to assume that the vast majority of (IS) fighters believe in this type of talk.”
Among IS supporters on social media, Dabiq has become a byword for a struggle against the West, with Washington and its allies bombing jihadists portrayed as modern-day Crusaders.
IS has even named its official magazine simply “Dabiq”.
“The lions of Islam have raised the banner of the Caliphate in Dabiq,” one Tunisian IS supporter wrote recently on Twitter. “Now they await the arrival of the Crusader army.”
The prophecy has been passed down in different versions, but in all cases it features a great battle between a Muslim army and the forces of non-believers.
Recent weeks have seen IS supporters interpreting a wide range of events as further evidence of its truth.
Some keep a close count of the US-led coalition’s members — now at more than 60 countries — in anticipation of when the prophecy’s “80 banners” are reached.
Others have interpreted comments by top US General Martin Dempsey on the possible need for ground forces as a signal of the foretold battle, writing on Twitter using the hashtag: “It is Dabiq, by God.”