I receive a lot of letters asking me about the material that has proliferated on the Internet concerning the end of the world. People want to know how accurate that material is and what I think of it.
In the Sunnah, we find a lot of hadîth that talk about the trials and violent wars that will take place near the end of the world. However, we must make note of the following:
First of all, we need to be aware that most of these hadîth are inauthentic. The books that are written on the subject of the last days are replete with inauthentic material. This would include the works on this subject written by Nu`aym b. Hammâd, Abû `Amr al-Dânî, and Ibn Kathîr. Some of the material, however, is authentic. For example, there are a number of hadîth in Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim that are relevant to this topic.
It is necessary for us to verify the authenticity of any hadîth before we accept it. Though it is admittedly more serious when the hadîth relates to our beliefs or to matters of Islamic Law, this does not mean we can be lackadaisical when it comes to hadîth relating to etiquettes, biography, and the events of the future. Some people go so far as to bring material from the Bible – especially the Book of Daniel – and from books of astrology and visions and mention them along with the hadîth of the Prophet (peace be upon him), alleging that those sources support what is found in the hadîth. This shows just how poor their methodology is and how prone some people are to following their personal tastes and inclinations.
A second thing to keep in mind is that even when the hadîth we are dealing with are authentic hadîth, we still need to be able to understand them properly and place them in the proper context. This is a difficult task that many people are not qualified to cope with. This is how Satan has led a number of believers astray. We can see how often scholars differ about clear, practical matters of Law. How can it not be more difficult when we turn our attentions to matters of the Unseen, to obscure events that are to take place in the future?
It is quite ironic to see some people who avoid delving into clear matters of Islamic Law, claiming that they have insufficient knowledge to do so, fail to show the same level of caution when it comes to matters of greater ambiguity.
In the past, some scholars had been hasty in interpreting some events as signs of the Last Day. Maybe this behavior was a result of the conviction of their faith combined with a lack of patience. However, they never took matters so far as to prepare themselves for the end of the world or condemn the people of their generation. Also, no scholar of repute ever had the presumption to give a date for the end of the world. To do so would violate the sanctity of our belief in the Unseen and would cause average Muslims to have doubts about the revealed scriptures.
A third point to consider is that the hadîth about the trials near the end of time cannot be used to abrogate established aspects of Islamic Law. A believer must act according to the injunctions of the Law as they are unless there is unequivocal evidence that an injunction has been abrogated by the Qur’ân or Sunnah. It is therefore not in accordance with Islamic Law for a person to stop mixing with others and neglect his duty to enjoin upon them what is right and forbid them from what is wrong. A person might have a feeling that the time of strife has arrived and go into seclusion, relying upon the hadîth that call to doing so when that woeful time approaches. Admittedly, seclusion might be suitable for an individual at a specific place and time under specific circumstances. It is not, however, something that can be applied generally.
Therefore, it is a grave blunder for a person to base his support for something or someone – or his lack of support – on the mere feeling that this something or someone was what a certain hadîth had foretold. Likewise he should not praise or criticize anyone on this dubious basis. What he must do is apply the established principles of Islamic Law that deal with such matters as loyalty and disassociation, providing assistance, and securing the general welfare.
Finally, we must realize that the topic of what will happen in the last days is one wherein many people fall into error. It is by nature obscure and difficult. Therefore, only the most proficient scholars of hadîth and Islamic Law should approach it.
Some writers treat the hadîth about the trials and signs of the last days as if they were parts of some children’s toy. They tinker with these hadîth here and there until they feel they have them under control instead of engaging in thorough research to determine which events precede which and which are major and which are minor. Often, they do not even bother to verify the authenticity of the hadîth they rely upon.
I can see no point in begging such issues except for the satisfaction of people who want to hasten on the Unseen, who are tired of the real world, who are not competent enough to deal with natural causes, and who are too weak in faith to rely upon Allah.
There are some very serious matters that must be avoided, because when people get involved in them, they cause confusion for themselves and others in matters of faith. Among these are the claim that the Hour is about to arrive and the attempt to determine its date.
We cannot rely upon the so-called consensus of the historians about the ages of the previous nations. Who determined that there is such a consensus? How accurate are their claims? Those historians relied upon rounded figures and general numbers. They themselves disagreed about certain dates and about when certain Prophets had been sent. In any event, since when did the agreement of historians become evidence for matters of Islamic faith and Law?
It makes matters no better when someone says: “The Hour will arrive no later than the end of the next century and no sooner than tomorrow.” This poses a problem in that it can make some people who will live near the end of the century believe that the Hour is about to arrive.
The Qur’ân and Sunnah give us no room to make such estimates and claims. Allah says: “They ask you about the Hour, when will it arrive? Say: ‘The knowledge thereof is with my Lord. None but He can reveal as to when it will occur. It is heavy upon the heavens and the Earth. It will come to you all of the sudden.’ They ask you as if you were well acquainted with it. Say: ‘The knowledge thereof is only with my Lord, but most people do not understand.’” [Sûrah al-A`râf: 187]
Similar statements can be found throughout the Qur’ân, such as Sûrah Yûsuf: 107, Sûrah al-NahlSûrah Luqmân (34), Sûrah al-Ahzâb: 63, Sûrah Fussilât: 47, and Sûrah al-Zukhruf: 187. Can we get any evidence stronger than this to dissuade us from such speculation?
Allah also says: “The Hour is coming. I have almost kept it hidden.” [Sûrah Tâhâ: 15]
Some commentators of this verse, among them Ibn `Abbâs, Ibn Jubayr, and Mujâhid, explain that this verse alludes to the common Arabic phrase “I almost kept it hidden from myself.” Al-Farrâ’ goes further, adding: “So how could I reveal it to you?”
Al-Mubarrad writes: “It is a common practice among the Arabs when they want to emphasize how well they have kept something a secret to say: ‘I have concealed it even from myself’, meaning by it that they have not told a soul.”
There are so many clear, unambiguous passages in the Qur’ân stating that no one knows when the Hour will arrive. They are so many that no one who believes in the Qur’ân has an excuse to be heedless of them. Those who speculate on the Final Hour do so without any knowledge, guidance, or scripture to back them up.
Is it not strange how some Muslims can work themselves up over this issue until they think that they have arrived at absolute knowledge on the matter? They thoroughly convince themselves on the basis of some weak evidence or spurious reasoning. However, you often find these same Muslims expressing doubts about some established principle of Islam that it is incumbent upon them to believe in and act upon. You find them getting captivated with the mysteries of the Unseen, following personal revelations, chasing after conjecture and intuition, and pinning their hopes on supernatural events.
Why do they not instead try to gain mastery over the sciences and seek out the natural causes that Allah has placed in Creation? Then they might learn how to exploit these causes to serve humanity and secure human welfare. Then they might figure out how to protect their lands and their possessions.
We can see the despair and hopelessness that have overtaken the people, making them lose the initiative to act or even to defend themselves. Instead, they seek refuge in waiting for miracles to happen. They lose the ability to face the bitter reality in which they live and do nothing to make it sweeter except to dream.
A person with true faith, however, is more steadfast, resolute, and ready to defend himself. A believer’s hopes overpower his despair. Allah says: “No one despairs of Allah’s soothing mercy except those who have no faith.” [Sûrah Yûsuf: 87]
We should strengthen our trust in our Lord and correct our understanding of our religion, accepting it in truth and not seeking anything beyond that. And on Allah we must rely.