Islam and the Little Horn or Daniel 7

P. Gerard Damsteegt
Church History Department, S. D. A. Theological Seminary, Andrews University
Author, Foundations of the Seventh-day Adventist Message and Mission

Ever since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center by Islamic militants, the attention of some Christians has been directed to Bible prophecy, looking to see whether the Bible projects any role for this world religion in our time.

A review of the history of prophetic interpretation shows that some leaders of the Protestant ReformationClike Luther and CalvinCpointed to Islam as a possible fulfillment of the little horn of Daniel 7. Recently this view has been revived; some are suggesting that we should take Islam seriously today as a fulfillment of Daniel 7.[1]

From a historical point of view it is not surprising that the Reformers looked at Islam as a fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy. When Islam arose in the 7th century and for some time after, Catholics also identified Islam as the Antichrist. During the 16th century Islam was a very great threat to Christianity because of its military successes in Eastern Europe.

Against this background Luther interpreted the little horn of Daniel 7 as both Islam and the papacy. So did some other Reformers. We should, however, be careful what we accept of the Reformers' interpretations of Daniel, because much of this prophetic book was to be sealed until the time of the end (Daniel 12:4). Obviously the time of the Reformation was not the time of the end.

The events of the 18th and 19th centuries, such as the French Revolution, the "deadly wound" to the papal government and the decline of the Islamic Ottoman empire, led prophetic expositors to conclude that Islam did not fit the profile of the little horn. However, in the light of recent political developments focusing on Islam it will be helpful to see whether there is anything to the notion that Islam can be identified as the little horn of Daniel 7.

The Four Kingdoms. The prophecy of Daniel 7 presents the familiar picture of four beasts coming out of a great sea. First appeared a lion, which interpreters have identified as representing Babylon. The second beast was a bear, representing Medo-Persia. The third was a leopard, representing Greece, and the fourth, a "dreadful and terrible" beast, representing Rome. Ten horns emerged out of the fourth kingdom, followed by a little horn which would attempt to annihilate God's people.

Although experience has shown that most prophecies can be understood only after they have been fulfilled, the early Christians interpreted the four beasts as Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome, and they expected ten kingdoms to arise out of Rome. History reveals that they were right! Between a.d. 351 and 476 barbarian invasions broke the Roman Empire into ten kingdoms. The early Christians also believed that after the division of the empire the little horn power would arise and oppose Christ and His church, bringing great affliction upon God's people.

Daniel 7:8, 11, 20, 21, 24 and 25 present the little horn's characteristics. In trying to identify the little horn power we need to be sure each aspect of the biblical description fits the power we apply it to. We will now compare each of these distinctive features with Islam to see whether Islam fits historically.

Origin of the Little Horn

1. It arose out of the fourth beast (Dan 7:7, 8)

The prophecy shows that the little horn was to arise out of the fourth beast, which is the Roman Empire. This is certainly not the case with Islam. Islam originated outside the Roman Empire. It began its conquests from its base at Medina in today's Saudi Arabia. It is therefore incorrect to identify the little horn as Islam on the basis of the geography of its origin.[2]

2. It arose among the ten horns (Dan 7:8)

History shows that ten barbarian tribes (the ten horns) established themselves within the Roman Empire as kingdoms during the 4th and 5th centuries. The little horn was to develop among these kingdoms, or ten horns. This was not the case with Islam, which, as we have seen, developed outside the divided empire. So this characteristic of the little horn does not fit Islam.[3]

3. It arose during the time of the ten horns (Dan 7:24)

The little horn arose while the ten barbarian kingdoms were in place. But by the time Islam arose, three of the ten had already disappeared. Therefore, there is no relation between the rise of Islam and the ten kingdoms of the Roman Empire. Again, this time characteristic of the little horn does not fit Islam.[4]

4. It subdued and uprooted three kingdoms (Dan 7:8, 20, 24)

During its rise the little horn subdued and uprooted three of the horn kingdoms. Some have suggested that Islam fulfilled this characteristic because it subdued Egypt, Palestine and Syria, three major centers of primitive Christianity and of the Eastern Roman Empire.

But this view is problematic. The prophecy does not speak about centers of Christianity. It refers to kingdoms that totally disappeared. The early Islamic conquest of Egypt, Palestine and Syria refers to regions within the Eastern Roman Empire. These regions were not kingdoms at all. Furthermore, the three uprooted horns have to be kingdoms that were part of the ten kingdoms that derived from the Roman Empire. Islam fails to meet this characteristic of the little horn.

In addition, Islam did not confine itself to these three regions. Note the conquests of Islam. Between a.d. 635 and 649, a period of about 15 years, it conquered Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia, Babylon, Egypt, the island of Cyprus, and the areas of North Africa that included Pentapolis, Carthage, and Tripoli. Some of these regions were part of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire (Syria, Palestine, Egypt, North Africa, and Cyprus). Others were under Persian control (Mesopotamia and Babylon). Designating only some regions of the Byzantine Empire (Egypt, Palestine, and Syria) as the three horns that the little horn uprooted and not mentioning other regions of its early conquest is completely arbitrary. Again Islam does not fit this characteristic of the little horn.[5]

Appearance of the Little Horn

5. It had eyes like the eyes of a man (Dan 7:8, 20)

The little horn had eyes like human eyes, a feature representing evidence of intelligence. This aspect could apply to Islam.

6. It had a mouth speaking great things (Dan 7:8, 20)

The little horn had a mouth speaking great things. This has been interpreted as speaking blasphemously. Here Islam could qualify, because throughout its history it has spoken blasphemous things against the Christian faith.

7. It looked more stout than its fellows (Dan 7:20)

The little horn is stouter in comparison to the ten kings. In the literal sense of the word, we cannot say that Islam was more stout or greater than its fellow kingdoms.

Granted that Islam grew until it was much more powerful than the barbarian kingdoms. However, these kingdoms cannot be considered as fellow kingdoms of Islam, because Islam did not arise among them.

8. It was different from the other horns (Dan 7:24)

It is true that Islam has been different from the other kingdoms. These other horns or kingdoms were primarily political powers, while Islam has always been a strongly religio- political power. Here Islam would qualify.

Behavior of the Little Horn

9. It spoke great words against the most High (Dan 7:25)

This could certainly apply to Islam, a religio-political power that has frequently spoken blasphemous words against the God of Christianity.

10. It made war with the saints and prevailed against them (Dan 7:21); it wore out the saints of the most High (Dan 7:25)

The long-continued conflict between Islam and Christianity appears at first glance to reflect the persecuting nature of the little horn. Islamic nations have fought many wars against Christians. However, in the time prior to the Crusades (11th to the 13th century), Islamic powers made a distinction in their treatment of the followers of the various Christian churches. For example, they showed no mercy toward Roman Catholics, who venerated Mary and the saints and used images, which Muslims considered idolatry.[6]

Nestorian or Syrian Christians, however, who professed to follow the Scriptures and opposed image worship, were allowed great freedom; at times they were even employed and respected at the courts of the caliphs.[7]

This means that the most faithful Christians, or "saints," were respected, while the apostate Christians were persecuted. The prophecy stated that God's true followers, not the apostates, would be the ones persecuted. By persecuting the apostates instead of the "saints," Islam proved it was not the little horn.

11. It thought to change times and laws (Dan 7:25)

Some suggest that Mohamed's decision to make Friday the Islamic day of worship fulfils the little horn's characteristic of changing times and laws. However, nothing in Islam's past indicates that any Muslim has publicly claimed to have changed God's law from the Saturday Sabbath to Friday.

The prophecy said that the little horn would make a deliberate attempt to change God's times and laws. Here the focus is on a religious power that claims to have the authority to alter God's law.

Islam does not consider Friday a weekly day of rest! True, there is a Friday noonservice with prayer and a sermon, but rest and abstinence from any secular work on Friday is not a part of the Muslim religion.

The following passage in the Koran gives an insight into the nature of the Friday "Day of Congregation." "O you who believe! When the call is made for prayer on Friday, then hasten to the remembrance of Allah and leave off traffic; that is better for you, if you know. But when the prayer is ended, then disperse abroad in the land and seek of Allah his grace, and remember Allah much, that you may be successful."

A Muslim commentator has explained these verses this way: "Ordinary business may be carried on by a Muslim on Friday before or after the Jumuíah prayer. Hence, unlike the Jewish and the Christian Sabbaths, it is not necessarily a day of rest. But attendance at the Jumuíah prayers is obligatory, and as soon as the call to prayer is given, every Muslim is bound to leave business of every kind and immediately to hasten to the mosque."[8]

Clearly, the weekly Muslim holy day is nothing like the weekly biblical Sabbath of rest.

Why did Muslims select Friday? We read, "Muhammad claims in the Traditions to have established Friday as a day of worship by divine command. He says, >Friday was ordered as a divine day of worship both for the Jew and Christian, but they have acted contrary to the command. The Jew fixed Saturday and the Christian fixed Sunday.'According to the same traditions, Friday is >the best day on which the sun rises, the day on which Adam was taken into Paradise and turned out of it, the day on which he repented and on which he died. It will also be the Day of Resurrection.'"[9]

When we compare these reasons for observing the Muslim Friday with the text of Daniel 7:25, we discover that none of them fit the characteristic of the little horn whothinks--or intends--"to change times and laws." We notice that Islam has never claimed to change God's law but states that originally God appointed Friday as the divine day of worship. Thus from an Islamic perspective, those who changed God's law are the Jews and Christians. The position of Islam on the weekly day of worship clears it from being a fulfillment of the little horn.

Its Duration

12. It reigned for a time, times, and the dividing of time (Dan 7:25)

The little horn's three-and-a-half-year time period does not find any historical fulfillment in the history of Islam. To reconcile this problem, proponents suggest that the period is half of seven, God's number of perfection. The "half of seven" time period then becomes a symbol of incompleteness and limitation. During this period the forces of the Antichrist are limited and do not reach the scope of the complete destruction of God's people.

Interpreting the three and a half years as an indefinite time is a complete departure from the continuous historical or historicist school of prophetic interpretation that the Reformers taught and Adventists maintain. It comes from a different school of prophetic interpretation, called idealism, that is careful to avoid seeing specific historical events as fulfillments of prophecy. Idealism leaves the identity of the little horn blurred and subject to speculation, leading to the view that the prophecy can have multiple fulfillments.


            After reviewing these 12 identifying characteristics of the little horn given in Daniel, we conclude that only four can apply to Islam. The majority of characteristics, 8 out of 12, do not fit Islam. We can conclude, therefore, that Islam is not a viable fulfillment of the little horn. Without a better proposal, we have no grounds for moving away from the interpretation of the little horn that Adventists embraced in the 19th century and have taught ever since.

Let us beware of muddying the interpretive waters, casting doubt on clear historical fulfillments, and getting excited over speculative interpretations, when the long-established views are just now reaching their most complete fulfillment.


1 See Samuele Bacchiocchi's newsletter, Endtime Issues No. 86: AIslam and the Papacy in Prophecy," July 6, 2002.

2 Harry W. Hazard, comp., Atlas of Islamic History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951); R. Roolvink, comp., Historical Atlas of the Muslim Peoples (Amsterdam: Djambatan, 1957); William C. Brice, ed., An Historical Atlas of Islam (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1981).

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 See, e.g., Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History (New York: Modern Library, 2000), xiv; P. M. Holt, et al., eds., Cambridge History of Islam (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 1:62, 63; G. B. von Grunebaum, Classical Islam: A History 600-1258 (Chicago: Aldine Pub. Co., [1970]), 54, 202; Bernard Lewis, ed. and tr., Islam from the Prophet Muhammad to the Capture of Constantinople (London: Macmillan, 1976), 1:xxxv. 

6 See, e.g., Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 2:51.

7 See, e.g., John Stewart, Nestorian Missionary Enterprise, the Story of a Church on Fire (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1928), 214, 215; Aziz S. Atiya, A History of Eastern Christianity (London: Methuen, 1968), 193, 194.

8 Maulvi M. Ali, The Holy Qur-án Containing the Arabic Text with English Translation and Commentary (Woking, Surrey, England: Islamic Review Office, 1917) 1077.

9 Thomas P. Hughes, Dictionary of Islam: Being a Cyclopaedia of the Doctrines, Rites, Ceremonies, and Customs, Together with the Technical and Theological Terms of the Muhammadan Religion (London: W. H. Allen & Co., 1885) 132. See also H. Lammens, Islam: Beliefs and Institutions (New York: Dutton, [1926]), 59, 60.