A Quick guide to the Islamic attitude toward prophecies
By Elias Karmi, Engage Minnesota
For some religions/denominations, notably Evangelical Christians, the subject of the End Times constitutes a formidable chunk of faith. Many of Pastor John Hagee’s books, from the fictional “Left Behind” series to “Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World,” attempt to predict the future according to interpretations of the Bible and have enjoyed tremendous popularity among Evangelical Christians. “Left Behind” was even made into a movie.
The issue of the End Times is even believed to be a driving force behind some US foreign policies, especially toward Israel and the Middle East. Many Christians believe that a key event in the End Times is the formation, and later persecution, of the state of Israel. According to them, Jesus Christ will then make his second coming to defeat Israel’s enemies. Former House majority leader Tom DeLay said in an interview with The Nation’s Max Blumenthal: “we have to be connected to Israel to enjoy the second coming.” President George W. Bush maintains close ties with religious figures who firmly believe that Israel is necessary for the second coming, such as Hagee, the Apostolic Congress (see endnote), and Pat Robertson.
Islamic texts are rich with prophecies, from the sun rising from the west to, interestingly, the second coming of Jesus Christ. But I, as a Sunni Muslim, wanted to understand what to do with this information. Should I act upon them in any way? And if so, how? For a reliable source, I turned to Dr. Waleed Al Meneese, Imam of Dar Al Farooq mosque in Dinky Town. Dr. Al Meneese is widely known and respected among Minnesota Muslims. He obtained his degrees in Arabic language and Islamic studies from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. I sat down with Sheikh Waleed and asked for his input on this increasingly important issue.
Muslims believe that the End of Days is a literal term: life will be taking place, business as usual, with good and evil people dwelling on earth, when suddenly something described as an angel’s “blow in the horn” will wipe out all life on earth. Later, all people will be resurrected and judged, with God sending people either to Paradise or Hell, according to the Qu’ran.
Some of the events preceding “the Hour,” –- or Judgement Day, were revealed to Muslims either in Qur’anic verses or in statements by the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Sheikh Waleed and I discussed how to understand such revelations as follows:
1) There is absolute insistence that God and only God knows when the Final Day is. Several instances were reported in which people would ask Prophet Muhammad, PBUH, when the Last Day is, and his answer consistently declared his lack of knowledge. He was also ordered by God to say so in the Qur’an. [7:187], [33:63], [79:42,43,44].
2) These Signs are not to be taken as means of prediction, but mainly as faith-reinforcing events; the signs are meant to make Muslims glad to see that their prophecies are coming true according to their teachings. “Even the word ‘waiting’ as in ‘waiting for the signs’ is not suitable here”, says Sheikh Waleed, “because it implies some sort of planning. Muslims are only supposed to watch the signs happen.” In other words, Muslims are not to consider such prophecies in planning their lives or making decisions for the future.
Muslims believe that time is a relative thing. A day by God’s standards is described in the Qur’an as a thousand human years. Thus when texts say that some particular sign is “near”, according to SCheikh Waleed, Muslims should understand that there is no way to predict when it will happen or even give an estimate.
3) The Signs described in the Qu’ran are only a few of the events that will precede the Final Day. Accordingly, events appearing similar to certain Signs should not be judged too early as being these reported Signs until they completely unravel. “When the Mongols invaded much of the Muslim world during the Mamluki era, many people thought they were the prophesied Gog and Magog (a vast army of a nation that is prophesied to spread much destruction and carnage chaotically)”, said sheikh Waleed, “which turned out to be false because they were eventually defeated”. By that logic, even if there were a Muslim prophecy that the state of Israel will usher the second coming of Christ, which there is not, there is no way of knowing that it is this state of Israel in this time. Having prophecies does not entail anyone to say “now watch this happen” or “I told you so”. It is only after the prophecy is fulfilled that Muslims look back and confirm it.
4) Based on the guidelines above, to assume that anyone has the ability to “assist” in bringing about the fulfillment of a prophecy goes beyond the absurd into being arrogant and lacking in manners for any person of faith. Many Muslims I have spoken to in the Middle East find it hard to believe that the United States has a religious agenda behind its staunch support of the state of Israel, because in the Muslim mindset a prophecy is bound to happen and thinking that one can help make sure it does is unnecessary and unacceptable.
Muslim scholars throughout the centuries have repeatedly discouraged Muslims from being too preoccupied with Signs of the Hour. A friend of mine affectionately uses the term Messianic Apocalyptic Dementia (MAD). Sheikh Waleed remarked: “Our focus should be to use our limited time on Earth to do good works and stay away from sin. Trying to foretell the future falls into neither.”.