Experts often talk about an identify crisis without relating this to a theological crisis or an eschatological crises that occurs in the religious mind. It is a non-specific term in many ways. These crises relate to theological interpretation – or “misinterpretation” – and the anxiety of end times in religious extremism. How will I survive? Am I doing the right thing? What can save me? Is God telling me to kill? Do I do this for my Lord?
Apocalyptic uncertainty (the pre-transitional phase in Qur’anic exegesis), as Dr Mark Durie below puts it, can be, in my opinion, a catalyst for religious violence. The eschatological transition (another one of Dr Mark Durie’s terms I have borrowed for this post) becomes apparent in violent form when a believer generates ideas of fighting for his belief (the post-transitional in Qur’anic exegesis) to save himself or his family from eternal Hellfire, the ends of days, or based on his or her understanding of scripture. This is especially powerful when we relate ‘sinners’ who drink and break fasting in the Islamic tradition, or those that have abortions in the Christian tradition, etcetera.
Now let us relate this back to early Islamic history, as featured in Dr Mark Durie’s video below: the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad, from the Medinan period imposed rejection and punishment on his enemies instead of waiting for the end of times for this to happen – he commands this through physical force. He commands right and forbids wrong; halal from haram, a performance-driven adventure judged by Allah and laid down in by Him through Muhammad and the Angel Gabriel. He becomes more active, he mobilizes his religious movement. Why? Because of the impeding threat of the end of days, end to life and protection of his religious revelations.
This is seen throughout Islamic history in numerous sects including early Sufi bands and different forms of Sunnism. A book on these similarities can be found here.
This crises between the beginning and the end turns religious instruction upside down. From a theoretical warning of the time to come and the salvation from Hell (e.g. conversion and doing ‘righteous’ deeds), into physical force to punish disbelief and martyr individuals (jihad; fatah, obedience in the message, struggling with disbelief and exulting it to expand it to humanity).
It turns a community of spiritual and religious quietists, proslyetists and, essentially, non-violent passivists into a violent religio-political force – even an apocalyptic cult, if you will. This is exactly the way the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has been described recently – those who attempt to emulate the Prophet Muhammad and copy his traditions, laid-down laws and other factors related to Islamic statehood.
And using the reference previous, I must add that the apocalyptic nature, identity crises and theological supremacism of these organisations and religious groups is not isolated to Islamic terrorism (see below). I find relating it to Islamic terrorism is a good way of explaining the internal debates within the Islamic State, re: yawmuddin (William McCants video below).
For example, other apocalyptic cults include that of Aum Shinirikyo or David Koresh and his Branch Davidians – the famous WACO Siege. See my other post here where I have combined the eschatological crises (i.e. that of end of life) with that of an identity-related and scripture-related crises (i.e. that of self and that of personal interpretation).
Here are some helpful videos: