Question: "Who is Al-Masih ad-Dajjal in Islamic eschatology?"
Answer: Al-Masih ad-Dajjal is a prominent figure in Islamic end-time beliefs. Masih is an Arabic title applied to Jesus, roughly meaning “messiah.” Dajjal means “greatest lie” or “most deceitful.” Combined with Arabic definite articles, the phrase Al-Masih ad-Dajjal literally means “the fraudulent Jesus” or “the lying Messiah.” Often referred to simply as Dajjal, this character is the Muslim equivalent to the Antichrist in Christian eschatology. According to Islamic beliefs concerning the end times, Dajjal will fool all the world’s people, except for true Muslims, through miracles and other signs. Eventually, he will be killed when the true Jesus—known in Islam as Isa—returns to earth.
Islam’s concept of Al-Masih ad-Dajjal, sourced from the Qur’an and traditional teachings known as the hadith, is very descriptive. He is described with a bulging, blind right eye and the Arabic word kafir—“unbeliever”—written on his forehead. His arrival is said to be preceded by intense worldwide immorality and violence. Immediately before Dajjal appears, there will be natural disasters and open Satanic worship. Once on the scene, this false savior will fool people with miraculous powers, and he will conquer the entire world except for the Islamic holy cities of Medina and Mecca.
Muslims generally believe in the appearance of yet another end-times figure, known as the Mahdi, meaning “guided one.” This man will be the perfect Muslim and the leader of the worldwide Islamic people. He will defeat Al-Masih ad-Dajjal in cooperation with Isa (Jesus), who will return to earth. Isa will kill Dajjal with a spear and unite the world under the banner of “true” Islam. Sunni Muslims differ as to whether Isa and the Mahdi are separate figures. Shia Islam primarily identifies this Mahdi as “the last Imam,” a figure who has been on earth—in hiding—for many centuries. Ahmadiyya Muslims believe the Mahdi was their founder, Ghulam Ahmad.
Similarities between Al-Masih ad-Dajjal and the Antichrist are not surprising. Very early in its history, Islam was critiqued for appropriating and misrepresenting Christian beliefs. Muhammad often claimed the Bible supported his message; he suggested that, if people would read it and consult with Jews and Christians, they would see that what he said was true (Qur’an 5:42–48; 5:65–68; 6:114–115; 10:64; 15:9; 18:27). Of course, as Islam spread, scholars began to point out that Muhammad’s knowledge of Judeo-Christianity—including issues such as the Trinity, Jesus, history, and the Old Testament—were contrary to what those faiths taught and preached.
Islamic teachings on the end times demonstrate heavy influence from Christian eschatology. Variations of the Antichrist, the tribulation, and the millennial kingdom are part of most Islamic denominations’ view of the last days. Al-Masih ad-Dajjal is an especially prominent example of this borrowing.