The World Gets Topsy-Turvier: Signs of the End Days [1/2]
The Hour is drawing near and the moon has been cleft in two, declares the Qur’an [54:1] In another of its many eschatological verses, it says: They ask you about the Hour. Say: ‘Knowledge of it is but with Allah. What will make you aware of it? It maybe that the Hour is near.’ [33:63] The Prophet, peace be upon him, stated: ‘My coming, and the Hour, are like this’ – holding up his index and middle finger to demonstrate their closeness.1 In another hadith, it mentions: ‘Count six things before the Hour comes,’ and the first of them he mentioned was: ‘my death.’2 These two events are considered to be the first two “signs” of the End Days; the first of the ashrat al-sa‘ah – “signs before the coming of the Hour.”
Going back to the Qur’an again, it alerts about the Hour and the mighty reckoning it will bring: Closer draws to mankind their reckoning, yet they heed it not and disregard it. [21:1] And: They think it is far off; while We see it as near. [70:6-7]
Our ‘ulema have divided these End of Day signs into two groups: major and minor (or greater and lesser). Most of the minor signs (ashrat sughra) will be, in a way, a prelude to the Final Hour and take place a considerable time before it; some shall immediately precede the major signs (ashrat kubra) or will accompany them; whilst a few will occur after the major signs have unfolded.
Another way the minor signs have been classified is: (i) those that have occurred and have ended; (ii) those which have occurred and continue to proliferate; and (iii) those signs which have yet to occur.3
An example of the first would be the coming and departing of the Prophet, peace be upon him, to and from this earthly realm. Another would be the Plague of Amwas, as per the hadith: ‘Count six things before the Hour comes: my death, then the conquest of Jerusalem, then a plague that will afflict you like the disease of cattle …’4 Ibn Hajr said: ‘This sign was manifested in the Plague of Amwas during ‘Umar’s caliphate, and this occurred after the conquest of Jerusalem.’5 This plague struck in 18H and claimed the lives of 25,000 people; including that of the famous Companion, Abu ‘Ubaydah b. al-Jarrah.
Signs that have already occurred and which continue their onward trajectory include: the uncritical imitation of non-Muslim culture, values and lifestyles. There occurs in one hadith: ‘The Hour will not be established until my ummah takes to what previous nations took to.’6 And in another hadith: ‘You will soon follow the ways of those who came before you, inch by inch, handspan by handspan, so much so that if they were to enter a lizard’s hole, you would do likewise.’ They asked: O Allah’s Messenger, do you mean the Jews and Christians? He replied: ‘Who else?’7 As long as we keep deferring to the monoculture and its masters, things shall not bode well for this ummah of great mercies. Inculturation must be guided by the rulings and objectives of our shari‘ah, as well as kept wise by the profound insights of our tasawwuf/tazkiyah tradition.
Some more signs in this genre include: ‘From the signs of the Hour is that knowledge will be lifted and ignorance established.’8 The knowledge (‘ilm) being referred to here is sacred knowledge; knowledge of Islam: its rulings, ethics and spiritual demands. As for secular knowledge, that continues to proliferate. Another sign is: ‘Before the Hour comes, usury (riba) will be widespread.’9 In another: ‘The Hour will not be established until Allah takes His virtuous servants from the earth, so that only the riffraff remain: they will neither recognise virtue nor reject vice.’1o Another hadith worth citing here: ‘The Hour will not be established until people compete in building lofty buildings.’11 This is akin to the famous hadith: ‘You will see the barefooted, scantly-clad, destitute herdsmen competing to construct lofty buildings.’12 The project of scraping the skies by former herdsmen and their descendants is already well underway, even disfiguring the skyline of Islam’s most holy of holies.
Other signs in this category include: ‘The Hour will not be established until trials and civil commotions become widespread, lying proliferates and markets become closer.’13 And: ‘The Hour will not be established till time passes rapidly.’14 Markets being close together is said to refer to how modern travel and communications have made them and their goods instantly knowable, accessible and purchasable: whilst the quickening of time refers to the lack of blessing (barakah) in it, such that what could be done in the past is more than can be done now, in the same span of time. This quickening of time (taqarab al-zaman) has also been interpreted literally, as in the hadith: ‘The Hour will not come until time quickens and a year is like a month.’15
Another hadith reads: ‘The Hour will not be established until mountains are moved from their places and you shall see great calamities that you have never seen before.’16 The Prophet, peace be upon him, also said: ‘The Hour will not be established till the land of the Arabs return to being meadows and rivers.’17 We’re currently seeing the birth of significant tracts of green pastures in the larger Arabian peninsular, albeit via manmade feats of engineering (as with the case of mountains being moved).
Another sign, this time less positive, speaks of the Khawarij: ‘Towards the end of time there shall come a people young in age (hudatha’u’l-asnan) and also lacking in intellect (sufaha’u’l-ahlam). They will speak with the best speech of people, yet they shall pass through Islam as an arrow passes through its game. Their faith won’t go beyond their throats. Wherever you encounter them, slay them; for in slaying them entails a huge reward on the Day of Judgement.’18 Another hadith about them says: ‘There will arise a people who will recite the Qur’an but it won’t go beyond their collarbone. Each time a new generation arises, they will be cut-off [Ibn ‘Umar said the Prophet, peace be on him, repeated the words: ‘each time a new generation arises they will be cut-off’ more than twenty times], until the Dajjal appears at their tale end.’19 Thus this misguided sect will keep rearing its violent and ugly head among the ummah, but each time they do so they will be known by the People of Knowledge and will be duly repudiated. Wa li’Llahi’l-hamd.
And finally in this category are the usual suspects: ‘From the signs of the Hour is that knowledge will diminish, ignorance will proliferate, fornication/adultery (zina) will be prevalent, and the numbers of women shall increase whilst that of men decrease; so much so that one man will care for fifty women.’20 ‘The Hour will not be established until earthquakes increase.’21 And finally: ‘Towards the end of my ummah there will be men who will ride on something like comfortable saddles, and will dismount at the doors of mosques; and their women will be clothed yet naked.’22 Women immodestly dressed is understood: as for “comfortable saddles,” could that be referring to modern cars – as suggested by some scholars?
Examples of signs which have yet to reveal themselves would include: ‘The Hour will not be established until the Euphrates reveals a mountain of gold, over which people would fight. Ninety-nine out of each hundred people will be slain, though every man among them will think that perhaps he will be the one to be saved [and hence get the gold].’23 It says in another hadith: ‘The Euphrates will soon uncover a treasure of gold, he who is present there should not take anything of it.’24
Three end days persons are significant in this genre of hadith. The first is mentioned in the Prophet’s words, peace be upon him: ‘The Hour will not be established until a man from Qahtan will emerge, who will drive the people with his whip,’25 which is a metaphor for people accepting his leadership and authority over them.26 The second person: ‘The Ka’bah will be demolished by Dhu’l-Suwayqatayn from Abyssinia.’27 The last personality: ‘Night and day will not cease until a man called Jahjah would come to power.’28 Put aside what the Rastas may (or may not) think of this hadith, there isn’t much discussion on these three personalities in the hadith commentaries. Some have suggested that Jahjah is the man from the distinguished Arab tribe of Qahtan; others disagree and say that this is unlikely, since another hadith makes it clear that Jahjah is a freed slave; others believe that he and Dhul-Suwayqatayn are one and the same. And Allah knows best.29
Another sign yet to occur is the unarmed conquest of Constantinople: ‘The Hour will not be established until seventy-thousand of the Banu Ishaq march against it. When they reach it and descend upon it they shall neither fight with weapons, nor fire any arrows, but will say: la ilaha illa’Llahu wa’Llahu akbar, upon which the side facing the sea will fall. They will say la ilaha illa’Llahu wa’Llahu akbar a second time, whereby the other side shall fall. They will again say la ilaha illa’Llahu wa’Llahu akbar whereupon it will be opened to them and they shall enter it and claim the booty …’30
Finally in this genre are the various prophecies concerning the coming of the Mahdi, about whom the Prophet, peace be upon him, declared: ‘I give you glad tidings of the Mahdi, who will be sent when people are divided and earthquakes occur. He shall fill the world with justice and fairness as it was filled with injustice and oppression. The inhabitants of the heavens and the earth will be pleased with him, and he shall divide wealth justly.’31 In another hadith: ‘There will appear in the last part of my ummah the Mahdi. Allah shall grant him rain and the earth shall bring forth its vegetation. Wealth would be distributed fairly, livestock and livelihood will be abundant and the ummah shall become great. He will live for seven or eight [years].’32 And this: ‘If there remained only one day left in this world, Allah would prolong it and send to it a man from me, or from my family, whose name will be the same as mine and whose father’s name would be the same as my father’s. He will fill the earth with justice and fairness just as it had been filled with injustice and oppression.’33
Of course, there are hadiths in each of the three categories whose meanings aren’t so obvious or clear. Scholars differ over their interpretations and meanings; and thus the signs they contain may have occurred or are yet to occur. In other words, it may not be easy to determine which of the above three categories the hadith should be put in. An example of one such obfuscation is the aforementioned hadith about “comfortable saddles”. Does this refer to modern cars, or to something that is yet to make its debut in the world? The wording is unarguably highly suggestive of modern transport, but one couldn’t state this with absolute certainty.
Another example is the hadith: ‘As the Hour approaches crescent moons will swell; and that people will observe a first night crescent moon and declare: “it is two nights old!”‘34 Now is this phenomenon referring to something that has yet to take place? Or does it bespeak of our current hilal dilemma wherein some Muslims have chalked up a record of allegedly spotting the new moon one day before everyone else? Does the “swelling” of the moon refer to seeing it with the aid of telescopes and binoculars, or to the phenomenon known as size constancy, or to something entirely different?
Then there is that rather intriguing hadith which says: ‘By Him in whose hand is my life! The Hour will not be established until wild beasts speak to people, until the end of a man’s whip and his shoelace speak to him, and his thigh informs him about what his family is doing in his absence.’35 Is this speaking hinting at mobile phones (which were not so long ago fashionably worn on the hip) and items of clothing they are now being sown into? Or to some future piece of tech? Or should this be taken literally, i.e. that animals and inanimate objects shall actually speak. We know of a few reports in the prophetic age where animals did speak to people; hence inanimate things actually speaking wouldn’t be so far fetched.
Another engaging End-Day event is given in the following Companion-report (athar), which finds ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Amr saying (presumably on prophetic authority, since it is speaking of an unseen, future event which cannot be known except through Revealed authority): ‘When you see the belly of Makkah with passages dug out and you see the buildings taller than the mountain tops, then know that the affair has cast its shadow (fa‘lam anna’l-amr qad azallak).’36 Many are convinced that this report, if authentic, is describing the tunnels that bore through Makkah’s mountains, allowing pedestrians and traffic to flow in and out of Masjid al-Haram. As for its buildings being taller than mountains, this is a recent happening of the last two decades or so. Things have taken a turn in Makkah during our very lifetime. While there is much change that pilgrims and visitors can and should be thankful for, the city is also awash with garish hotels, gaudy shopping malls and a lurid clock-tower; many of which dwarf the surrounding mountain tops.
What these hadiths show is that some End Day hadiths aren’t so easy to decipher. So scholars have always insisted on interpretative restraint and to not make quick calls about who or what these hadiths do or do not apply to – especially those with greater socio-political ramifications. Rushing into passing fatwas in such matters can and has led to great civil unrest and fitnah in our history; the usual culprits of commotion are, in the main, when the unlearned or hasty insist on pining the titles of Dajjal or Mahdi onto specific individuals whom the ‘ulema have said don’t fit the bill.
As for the major signs, they are summed up in following hadith: ‘The final Hour will not occur until ten signs come to pass: a landslide in the East; a landslide in the West; and a landslide in the Arabian peninsular; the Smoke; the Anti-Christ (al-dajjal); the Beasts of the Earth; Gog and Magog; the sun rising from the West; a fire from Yemen that will drive the people to the place of the Gathering; and the descent of Jesus, son of Mary.’37
Doubtlessly, things have been set in motion that are now unstoppable. We Muslims of today are living through monumental times and changes, where the lesser signs of the Hour; these ashrat al-sa‘ah, are unfolding rapidly and vividly before our very eyes. The midnight hour is soon to strike, the cosmic order is reaching a crescendo, and Islam’s End of Day auguries continue to be proved true.
The second and final part of this blog will focus on those hadiths, companion-reports and signs that speak about the actual topsy-turviness of the end times; and how social confusion and spiritual pollution begin to invert sacred norms and traditional human paradigms. Yet with all of these trials, tribulations, battles and struggles the followers of Abrahamic monotheism must of necessity face and endure, they cannot forget the promise of Allah, exalted is He: And the end is for those who fear Allah. [7:128] In one hadith we discover these words of the Prophet, peace be upon him: ‘Give glad-tidings to this ummah of ease, honour and glory, supremacy of religion, establishment upon earth, and victory. Whoever among them does an act of the Hereafter for the sake of the world, shall have no share in the Hereafter.’38
That being said, we mustn’t allow such triumphalism to feather the nests of our egos. Rather, we must temper our End of Day triumphalism with a more modest, sobering question – one which is the subject of our final hadith: A man asked, O Messenger of Allah, when is the Hour? The Prophet, peace be upon him, simply replied: ‘What have you prepared for it?’39
1. Al-Bukhari, no.6503.
2. ibid., no.3176.
3. See: Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1989), 13:104.
4. Al-Bukhari, no.3176.
5. Fath al-Bari, 6:342.
6. Al-Bukhari, no.7319.
7. Al-Bukhari, no.7320; Muslim, no.2669.
8. Al-Bukhari, no.80; Muslim, no.2681.
9. Al-Mundhari, al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib, no.2721, after which he said that it was related by al-Tabarani and its chain of narrators are those of the Sahih.
10. Al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, 4:435, after which he said: ‘This hadith is sahih as per the criteria of the Two Shaykhs.’
11. Al-Bukhari, no.7121.
12. Muslim, no.80.
13. Ahmad, Musnad, no.11009. Al-Haythami stated its narrators are those of the Sahih, except for Sa‘id b. Sam‘an who is trustworthy. See: Majma‘ al-Zawa’id (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2001), 7:446; no.12450.
14. Ahmad, Musnad, no.10560; it was graded sahih in al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.7422. Its like is also in al-Bukhari, no.1036.
15. Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan, no.2332. A fuller discussion of the matter is given in Ibn Hajr, Fath al-Bari, 13:20-21.
16. Al-Tabarani. Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.6857. It was graded sahih by al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 2002), no.3061.
17. Muslim, no.1012.
18. Al-Bukhari, no.5057.
19. Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.174. It was declared to be sahih in al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir, no.8027.
20. Al-Bukhari, no.81; Muslim, no.2681.
21. Al-Bukhari, no.1036.
22. Ahmad, no.7073. The hadith is hasan, as per al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1996), no.2683.
23. Muslim, no.2894.
24. Al-Bukhari, no.7119.
25. Al-Bukhari, no.3517; Muslim, no.2910.
26. As explained in Ibn Hajr, Fath al-Bari, 6:677.
27. Muslim, no.2909.
28. Muslim, no.2911.
29. See: Yusuf al-Wabil, Ashrat al-Sa‘ah (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2009), 189-91.
30. Muslim, no.2920.
31. Ahmad, Musnad, 3:37. Its chain of narrators are all reliable (thiqat), as stated by al-Haythami, Majma‘ al-Zawa’id, 7:431-2; no.12393.
32. Al-Hakim, Mustadrak, 4:557-8, where he said: ‘The isnad of this hadith is sahih.’ For a similar verdict consult: al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1985), no.711.
33. Abu Dawud, no.4282; al-Tirmidhi, no.2331, where he declared: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih.’
34. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Awsat, no.9376. Al-Haythami said, Majma‘ al-Zawa’d, 3:263; no.4808: its chain contains ‘Abd al-Rahman b. al-Arzaq al-Antaqi, whose biography couldn’t be ascertained.
35. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2181, where he states: ‘This hadith is hasan gharib sahih.‘
36. Ibn Abi Shaybah, Musannaf (Cairo: al-Faruq al-Hadithah, 2008), 13:260; no.38248. Its chain (isnad) includes ‘Ata al-‘Amiri, who has been called into question by certain hadith authorities.
37. Muslim, no.2901.
38. Al-Bayhaqi, Shu‘ab al-Iman, no.6835, and it is sahih. See: al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir, no.2825; and his Sahih al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib, no.23. It also occurs without the wording: “ease” in Ahmad, 5:134; Ibn Hibban, no.405; al-Hakim, no.7862.
39. Al-Bukhari, no.3688.