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Sympathy for the Dajjal

Published in Malay Mail Online

One of my guilty pleasures these days is a TV show called Lucifer, which strange as it may sound is just a crime procedural show — but with the titular fallen angel as its lead.

The series itself is based of a graphic novel series by the same name, a spin-off of the seminal “Sandman” graphic novels by Neil Gaiman.

In both the TV show and comic, Lucifer is shown as a suave, charming gentleman who now runs a nightclub called Lux, after he abandoned Hell and his lordship over it. After millennia, Lucifer has grown tired and bored with his reign, and felt that he was forced to rule just because he had rebelled against God.

And in both, Lucifer detests the stereotypes and prejudices that humans have projected upon him: that the Devil was the one who forced mortals to commit evil and sin. After all, is it not convenient to blame somebody else for all your failings and weakness?

While the Devil often gets the blame, in certain Muslim cultures, another figure also regularly gets the blame for every single conspiracy theory and malady afflicting the community: the Dajjal.

In Islamic eschatology, the Dajjal — literally “The Deceiver” — is said to be a false messiah who would appear to humankind at the end of days. He has been described as an equivalent to the Antichrist, and Jesus himself will descend from heavens to lead a battle against the Dajjal and his followers, before killing him.

There are various hadith, or sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), that describe the coming of the Dajjal and his features. Among the most common ones, the Dajjal is described as having only one eye — the left — and his forehead will be inscribed with the Arabic word “kafir”, or infidel, that only believers can see. The Dajjal will claim prophethood and divinity, and will perform fantastical feats.

It is said that he will appear between Syria and Iraq, but his emergence will only be known when he is in Isfahan — where he will gather followers among the Jews of Isfahan, who see him as their Messiah. Isfahan, now located in central Iran, is known as the country’s third largest city and a manufacturer of fine carpets and textiles. Apparently, it is also a sister city of Kuala Lumpur.

Due to the sketchy descriptions of the Dajjal, it has captured the imagination of many Muslims ever since, and many interpretations have come up in addition to accusations of what or who the Dajjal actually is.

One of the more interesting interpretations I have heard is that the Dajjal is just a metaphor for the television — the screen is the one eye, spewing deceit and manipulations, and misleading the Muslim community with entertainment and illicit shows…. you can see how that would make sense to some.

But as with many things Islam, the faithful tend to take things literally. So many fictional characters have been accused of being the Dajjal by the Jews — another favourite punching bag for the Muslims — to confuse the Muslims. Just a simple Google search would bring you to these conspiracy theories, implicating even the Minions, cute stars of Despicable Me and their own series.

The latest ridiculous assertion to go viral in Malaysia has to do with the Disney film Moana. The culprit? Maui, the demi-God in Polynesian theology folklore, so revered that they even named an island after him.

How did it come to that? The original accuser cited a hadith involving Tamim al-Dari, a Christian priest who converted into Islam and became one of Muhammad’s companions.

In the hadith, it is said that Tamim had sailed with 30 men in stormy seas until they arrived at an island, where in a monastery he had met a man who called himself the Dajjal. The man was said to be massive, hairy, and shackled as it was not yet the time for him to appear.

A massive, hairy islander… that was how the accuser came to the conclusion that Maui is an allegory of the Dajjal leaving his island.

Was it a bit far-fetched to say that the Arabs sailed to the Pacific Islands in the 7th century? Well, do not discount the imagination of the faithful.

As the social media post became viral from both believers and detractors, it was immensely worrying to see how easily the community disparaged Polynesians by calling one of their sacred characters the Antichrist himself, despite insisting that by the same token Islam must be respected.

It is so easy to disrespect the Polynesians — a culture that they deem so alien, even when in truth, the Polynesians are much closer to the Malays than they will ever be to the Arabs whom they so idolise after embracing their religion.

After all, just like the Pacific Islanders, the Malays were also famous seafarers before they decided to settle down. Having similar roots, a few Malay words also have Maori equivalents: “ikan” (fish) is “ika” in Maori, “lima” (five) is “rima”, “api” (fire) is “ahi”, and so on.

This fixation on the supernatural evil of Dajjal also ignores the reality that there is great evil perpetrated by humans and among humans themselves, without the need of a devilish deceiver as a mastermind.

The protracted Syrian conflict which has recently received mainstream attention following the displacement of East Aleppo dwellers is an example of evil and catastrophe that has afflicted humankind, but passed under the noses of most of us… even the best of us.

The destruction has laid bare the horrific reality of war: that there are no good guys, no bad guys, only victims and casualties. Over the course of five years, an estimated 450,000 people have died, more than 1 million injured, and over 12 million — half of Syrian pre-war population — have lost their homes.

Instead, many of us — driven by our need for a narrative that requires a hero and a villain — have chosen who to root for based on a mixture of propaganda and disinformation, lashing out at others based on our preconceived prejudices.

Have sympathy for the Dajjal, or even the Devil, for the evil really lies within us humans.

Published inMMO column
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