Two Minuets to Midnight: Muslim Eschatology, Part One

“Liber scriptus proferetur, In quo totum continetur, Unde mundus judicetur” – Dies Irae –

In early 2018 the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists released it annual statement to the world which read ‘It is now two minuets to midnight… the closest the clock has ever been to Doomsday, and as close as it was in 1953, at the height of the Cold War’. The greatest risks, the Bulletin noted, were in the nuclear realm, most notably between the United States and North Korea stating that the “Hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions by both sides have increased the possibility of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation”. It also notes that the dangers of nuclear threat were not confined to these two countries but also between the US and Russia (with Russia undermining the INF and upgrading their nuclear weapons), tensions in Asia Pacific between the US and China over the South China Sea, in South Asia with Pakistan and India building their own nuclear weapons, and the continued uncertainty over the US support for the landmark Iranian nuclear deal (which the US now seems to have withdrawn from). Beyond the nuclear threat also remains the issue of climate change, as well as advances in technology that can be, and have been, used to disrupt “democracies around the world as states seek and exploit opportunities to use information technologies as weapons, among them internet-based deception campaigns aimed at undermining elections and popular confidence in institutions essential to free thought and global security”.

Walk down any major city centre, where the people can be found shopping or enjoying the night life, where performers and buskers alike will be retailing the passerby’s with poetry, music, offers of massages or handing out cards with discounts to various clubs or bars, you will most likely spot that one person who is either standing on a platform proclaiming that “salvation is at hand”! Or they may be walking around with a giant placard that reads ‘the end is nigh’. On any given day these people would be given a deaf ear, if given an ear at all. They are the crazies, the unkempt, unwashed loonies who clearly need help… Or are they? (Well, they could probably do with a wash, but still…)

Stories about the end of the world, a final apocalypse, are often scoffed at in this day and age and reduced to stories of old, fables of a long and bygone era in which people were superstitious and believed in almost anything out of the ordinary without sound proof or logical reasoning. Since time immemorial people have believed in some sort of final reckoning, an end to all things. Both Abrahamic and non Abrahamic religions share this belief in some sort of eschatological end, from the Norse ‘Ragnarok’ to the Hebrew ‘End of Days’ to the Muslim ‘Day Of Judgement’. However, scientific discourse has not been immune to the idea of an all encompassing ‘end’ either, albeit in a less supernatural and a more scientifically observable way (well, as observable as an apocalypse can be)

Since I am not a scientist and have no real grounded understanding of ‘deep time’ and the ultimate fate of the universe as presented by the scientific community, I will leave such theories as the ‘big rip’, ‘ big crunch’, ‘big bounce’ and ‘big freeze’ to those more suited to understanding the physical cosmology of the universe that we live in and how such things may or may not play out. What i can do however is to examine those things that are a little closer to home, particularly those pertaining to the Abrahamic notions of End Times, in particular, Muslim eschatological discourse from the various Islamic Traditions (Hadith) and the Quran, as well as how they may have influenced certain historical figures and revolutionary movements throughout our history.

The adoption of an ideology that leads to a Messianic future implies that the world in its current state is unacceptable and needs to be have its morals, ideologies and spirituality reformed or renewed. The Muslim religion, if not in essence, is also an apocalyptic one. However, the apocalyptic Traditions (Hadith) of Islam only seem to emerge in times of crisis or change – most recently noted would be during the Gulf war (1990-91), the attacks of September 11th, and the emergence of groups such as ISIS. There are many hadith that prophesise the coming of an apocalypse and the events leading up to that Final Hour in some detail. The hadith are clearly not from a passive culture as there is an absolute and firm belief that the Final Hour is indeed approaching and that the entire world will be participating in some form or other. Nobility and salvation in apocalyptic themes are acquired through faith, therefore it is up to the individual in society to join in the cause of ‘Good’ on their own initiative. Once absolute faith in the one God is met, then at least in a spiritual sense, for the Muslim, there seems to be no obstacle that cannot be overcome through prayer and a strict adherence to the laws of God.

Apocalyptic Literature can be found in almost every world religion today (E.g. Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism etc) and Islam is no exception. Many of the hadith pertaining to the Last Hour and the events preceding it can be found in the Sunnan of Abu Da’ud in the section entitled Kitab Al Malahim, in Sahih Muslim in the section entitled Kitab Al Fitan, in Sahih Al Bukhari (also in a section entitled Kitab Al Fitan) and of course the Holy Quran itself which has many verses about the approaching of the Hour and of the Hour itself (although in a more general cosmological sense than is presented in the detailed hadith narrations).

In ‘Studies in Muslim apocalyptic’, Prof David Cook writes that the apocalyptic traditions are literary creations composed of a number of different elements. Apocalyptic literature is shaped by the beliefs and prejudices of surrounding populations, especially those of new converts who may have brought over with them their own indigenous beliefs and cycles. Throughout the centuries there has been a potentially harmonious relationships between the different traditions throughout antiquity and the possible social or political reasons that may have contributed to the development of the literature. Although the idea of messianism stems from religious lines of thought, there are certain factors that must be taken in to account such as the social and political settings of the time in which they were written such as class structure, professions, sectarian groups and relationship of people with power. On the other hand, we must delve in to Sunni and Shi’a ideas on the figure of the Mahdi, the oigin of the word, its different uses throughout the ages, and the transition of the word from a political standpoint to a messianic one. These will be examined in part two when looking at the Messianic revolution that took place in the Sudan during the latter part of the 1800s as well as the 1979 siege that took place in Mecca by Juheiman Al Otaibi, leading to heightened security and restricted access to the holy city after said events.

On the figure of Al Mahdi Al Muntathar (The Awaited Mahdi)

The central figure of Muslim Apocalyptic, Al Mahdi Al Muntathar, is not mentioned in the Holy Quran. The Term Mahdi, In Arabic, means ‘he who is rightly guided‘ (I use ‘he’ because the word is in the masculine form); that being divine guidance. However, throughout the annals of history, the term Mahdi has not just been used in the religious, spiritual messianic sense but also as a spiritual front for political and military issues. In Marius Baar’s ‘the unholy war’ he writes that “Biblical prophecy has become modern history, and we are eye witnesses to it!” Movements have come and gone and come again, yet we are still here. Barr then quotes from the Bible, a verse that some Muslims believe to be about the Prophet Muhammad or the Mahdi:

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him” – Deut 18:15

The verse is further expanded upon in Deuteronomy 18:18 with:

“I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him” – KJV

The Idea of the Mahdi as a messiah has on some occasions been used in order to bring together the masses (who are usually only vaguely familiar with the Traditions) under one rule against a government or regime that is seen as oppressive by and to the people. According to hadith the appearance of the Mahdi will be preceded by certain events and the emergence of other individuals such as Al Sufyani and Al Dajjal Al A‘war, both of whom will be discussed later on. The figure of Al Sufyani is prophesised to re-conquer Israel for the Muslims and kill many of the Jews. The Mahdi will conquer Constantinople, Rome and all of Europe while the Antichrist (Dajjal) openly proclaims himself. Only when all the pieces of the puzzle are in play i.e. the Sufyani, The Mahdi and the Dajjal; Jesus the Messiah, will descend to the earth and will personally destroy his spiritual opposite, the Dajjal.

Some traditions concerning the emergence of the Mahdi:

The Mahdi will emerge following the instance of such vile corruption (fitnah) whereby all of the prohibitions are regarded as lawful – Al qawl al mukhtasar fi alamat Al Mahdi Al Muntathar – Ibn Hajar

The above tradition from Ibn Hajar relates that the Mahdi will not appear untill those unlawful things, e.g. alcohol, fornication, intoxication, usury, bribery etc become widespread and socially acceptable. Once this corruption has started to take over the lands of the many nations, then the Mahdi will appear:

A kind of corruption will surface, from which no party will be able to protect itself, and spread immediately to every direction. This situation will persist until one comes and says: ‘O people, from now on your leader is the Mahdi’ – Ibid

The scenarios involving the Mahdi are slightly different from tradition to tradition. However it is possible to glean some sort of general outline of the course of events. The Mahdi will come to bring a vast Muslim empire into being and ultimately to convert the people to Islam (or at least most of the peoples). During the social, political and moral chaos of the Final Times, God will send forth a servant having superior morality and intellect, the Mahdi, to invite humanity back to Sirat Al Mustaqim, The upright path. The Mahdi’s first task will be to wage a war of intellect within the Islamic world and to turn those Muslims who have moved away from Islam’s true essence back to true belief and morality. At this point, the Mahdi has three basic tasks: 1) Tearing down all philosophical systems that deny Allah’s Existence and support atheism. 2) Fighting superstition by freeing Islam from the ideologies of hypocritical individuals who have corrupted it, and revealing and implementing true Islamic morality based on the rules of the Quran. 3) Strengthening the entire Islamic world, both politically, socially and spiritually, and then bringing about peace, security and well-being in addition to solving societal problems. According to many hadith’s, The Prophet Jesus (pbuh) will return to earth a little while after the Mahdi, and will call upon all Christians and Jews, in particular, to abandon their current superstitions and to live by the Quran. As the Christians listen to him (not necessarily the Jews for some reason), the Islamic and Christian worlds will come together in one faith, and the world will experience that period of great peace, security, happiness, and well-being in a kind of ‘Golden Age’.

Some modern contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic writers (E.g. Abdul Hamid, Hisham Kamal: Iqtaraba khuruj Al Masih Al Dajjal, Cairo: Dar al-Bashir 1996.Halak wa-damar Amrika Al-muntazar, Cairo: Dar Al Bashir 1997.Abdul Hakim, Mansur:Nihayat wa-damar Amrika wa-Isra’il, Cairo: Maktaba Al-Tawfiqiyya) believe that the conquering of the Byzantine nation, supposedly the United States, will add them to the Muslim rank for a while and then betray them. It seems that the Mahdi is also coming to deliver the Muslims from the West and its treacherous Jewish overseers (most probably U.S government bodies) .

The personal description of the Mahdi is in accordance with Sunni Apocalyptic. He is likened to the prophet Joseph (pbuh), Moses (pbuh), Jesus (pbuh) and Muhammad (pbuh) sharing some similar qualities with each. However the Shi’a and Sunni texts that regard the Mahdi have greatly evolved over the years during the different dynasties. The purpose of mentioning this is because nowhere in early traditions does it state that the Mahdi is from the family of the prophet Muhammad. However with the later traditions the Mahdi is seen as being descended from the Prophet through his daughter Fatima from the line of his nephew Ali bin Abu Talib, the fourth Khailfa.

Not only are there traditions that describe the physical features of the Mahdi , there are those that address his lineage e.g. :

Narrated by Abu Sa’eed Al-Khuthari: The Prophet (PBUH) said: The Mahdi will be of my stock, and will have a broad forehead and prominent nose. He will fill the earth with equity and justice as it was filled with oppression and tyranny, and he will rule for seven years – Sunnan Abu Da’wud Sunnan, Kitab Al Mahdi

Also, and in some detail, there are traditions about who his enemies are, and in some cases how he will defeat them. It is related that his name will be Ahmad Ibn ‘Abdullah (like that of the Prophets own name). One of the companions of Muhammad (pbuh), ‘Imran Ibn Husain (d. AH 52), asked the prophet if he could describe the Mahdi, and the Prophet relates:

He will be a man of my offspring, and will look like the men of the children of Israel. He will emerge when my Ummah (community) suffers painstaking trials. His colour will be Arabian, his age 40, his face like a shining star. He will fill the earth with justice, as much as it has been filled with injustice and oppression. He will reign for 20 years and will dominate the cities of the infidels: Constantinople and Rome” – Al Tabari, Tahdhib al athar (mafqud), no 687. Cf. Suyuti, Akhbar al Mahdi, no 80.

Some scholars outside the sphere of Orthodox Islam reject all the traditions attributed to the prophet Muhammad that mention the second return of Jesus, the Dajjal and the Mahdi, believing that they have no Quranic basis. Those who follow this line of thought usually present the argument that the Quran is incorruptible whereas the Hadith are a different matter in that they were compiled by men based on what they could remember from the oral tradition and are susceptible to tampering. But for the majority, if the Isnad of a hadith (chain of narration) is reliable, then the hadith can be accepted as true.

On the Figure of Al Masih (The Messiah)

In its original sense the term Messiah literally meant ‘the anointed one’; typically this would mean or refer to someone who was anointed with holy oil (usually a king or some high ranking priest). However, figuratively, the anointing is done to signify or identify a certain individual that has been chosen (divinely) for a particular task. In the Jewish tradition the Messiah (Mashiyakh in Hebrew) refers to a future Jewish king who is a descendant from the line of King David and is prophesised to rule over the Jewish peoples during a Messianic age. This is very similar to the Christian and Muslim version of the Messiah in that Jesus will return and rule over the believers for an allotted number of years except that for Judaism the figure of Jesus (pbuh) is not a part of this plan. In Christian belief, the messiah, as mentioned in Hebrew prophecy from Biblical sources, is believed to be more of a spiritual saviour and that this person is infact Jesus the Messiah (pbuh). In Islam, like Christianity, the Messiah is Jesus (pbuh), however he is not believed to be the son of God as is a fundamental cornerstone in Christian theology.

The Quran explicitly states that Jesus is the Messiah:

(And remember) when the angels said: O Mary! Lo! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a word from him, whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, illustrious in the world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near (unto Allah) – Quran 3:44, Bukhari, Kitab Ahadith Al Anbiyya (The book of the Prophets) no. 41

In a hadith narrated by Abu Hurraiyra in the Sunnan of Abu Da’ud, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have said:

There is no prophet between me and him, that is, Jesus (peace be upon him). He will descend (to the earth). When you see him, recognise him: a man of medium height, reddish hair, wearing two light yellow garments, looking as if drops were falling down from his head though it will be wet. He will fight for the cause of Islam. He will break the cross, kill swine, and abolish Jizya (tax). God will perish all religions except Islam. He will destroy the Antichrist and will live on the earth for forty years and then he will die. The Muslims will pray behind him – This Tradition has another version which appears in Bukhari Vol. 9 no. 242 in which the Prophet also sees the Dajjal.

From the above Hadith, we find that the role of the Messiah, like that of the Mahdi, is quite specific in Islamic Thought. Not only will the Messiah, Jesus (pbuh), “kill all pigs” and “Break the cross”, but he will also declare that the Mahdi is the true leader of the Muslims. However It must be clear, the Mahdi is not a prophet or a messenger, but rather acts as a final ‘General’ of sorts for the forces of good against those of darkness in a final battle. In essence, he is like the ultimate Mujadad (a renewer of the faith, which will be examined later).

One question that may be asked is ‘why Jesus (pbuh) and not a new prophet or messenger’? An argument proposed in Mirza Tahir Ahmad’s ‘Revelation, Rationality: knowledge and truth’ is that the Quran states that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is what is known as “Khatam al Nabeeyeen” (Quran 33:39-41) or “the Seal of the Prophets”. This would mean that if Muhammad (pbuh) was the last of the prophets, then the notion of another prophet after him would be quite highly problematic. Therefore it may have been assumed by the Apocalyptic writers and certain compilers of the Islamic prophetic traditions that the return of Jesus (pbuh) as the Messiah at the End of Times is not saying that a new prophet has come, but one who has already come and temporarily left, securing Muhammad’s (pbuh) legitimacy as the “Seal of the Prophets”. It must be made clear that although in his work, Mirza Tahir Ahmad mentions this explanation, he does not infact agree with any of the sources that make a claim that Jesus (pbuh) will return near the End of times as he believed the narrative to be a concoction of Mulla’s because of their “own contradictions in the finalty of the holy prophet, as well as believing in the re – advent of Jesus as a prophet after him” (Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Ch: Jesus vs. finalty, p.693) . The break down of the ‘rationalityof Jesus’ future return should look something like this:

1) Jesus (pbuh) was lifted to heaven with a purpose and will be brought back to earth near the End of time which only almighty God can know.

2) The coming of an older Prophet after the last one has already appeared will not contradict Seal-hood.

3) The need of a new prophet at the End of Times will be fulfilled without causing any strains or dilemmas in God’s own decree since Jesus (pbuh) was a prophet before Muhammad (pbuh).

In an article by David Cook for ‘Presence Magazine’ titled ‘Islam’s Apocalypse’, he states that “My own personal belief is that Islam was started as an apocalyptic movement, not necessarily a millennial movement. An Apocalyptic movement is one that feels the end of the world is imminent, whereas a millenarian movement seeks to bring about a messianic otherworldly kingdom”. This almost accurately describes the essence of Islam since the main premise is to prepare for the next life in the hereafter by worshiping God and spreading Islam so that the rest of the world can also prepare for the immanent End and a new beginning in an eternal Paradise, although there does seem to be an undertone of the millenarian. In regards to Cooks statement that the religion of Islam was started as an apocalyptic one, we find the tradition concerning Jesus (pbuh):

The Hour will not be established until the son of Maryam (i.e. Jesus) descends amongst you as a just ruler – Sahih Al Bukhari, Kitab Al Anbiyya (Book of the Prophets)

There is no mention of any notion of time frame here, only an event that will mark a certain passage in time. What is interesting here is that Jesus will be a “just ruler”, meaning that there will be an age of peace. There is a clear millenarian undertone here as there is no indication as to how long he will rule. What is certain is that his rule will only last for a number of years until the time of Judgement (Yawm Al Qiyama). There are also traditions that describe some of the main objectives of Jesus (pbuh) besides that of killing the Antichrist:

Isa (as), son of Maryam (as), will be a just judge and just ruler (in my community), break and crush the cross and kill the pig … The earth will be so filled of peace as a vessel is filled with water. The entire world shall recite and follow one and the same Word (Quran) and none shall be worshipped except Allah – Ibn Maja

According to the above mentioned hadith we find more evidence of millenarianism as previously mentioned. With the arrival of Jesus (pbuh) it seems that he is to bring an age of peace before the final Hour is to arrive.

On the figure of Al Mujadad (Re-newer or the Restorer)

Al Mujadad, according to Islamic tradition, is a person or persons whom is sent by Allah in the first half of every century of the Muslim calendar. In the Sunnan of Abu Da’ud, in the Kitab Al Malahim, we can find the following hadith:

Inna’allahu yab’ath li-hathihil umma ‘ala ras kull mi’at sanna man yujadid laha amr deenyha – Abu Da’wud, Sunnan

And God shall send to this community at the turn of every century someone/people who will restore the religion.

From this tradition we can see that the Mujadad is not just a single person throughout history, but different persons living in different centuries. Throughout the centuries there have been many people that have been given the title of Al Mujadad because of the ‘corrections’ they may have made in the Muslim society’s that they had lived in (some of these possible contenders are: Abu Hanifa An-Nu’man – 699 – 767 CE, Ahmad Ibn Hanbal – 780 – 855 CE, Malik bin Anas – c. 715 – 796, Al Shafi’I – 767 – 820 AD, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali – 1058 – 1111, Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani – 1372 – 1448, Hassan Al Bana – 1906 – 1949)

In her article, The “cyclical reform”: A study of the Mujadad Tradition, Ella Landau Tasserson writes that “according to J. Voll, Tajdid in medevil Islam was indeed a call for reform, and was based on the idea that the Muslim community “Always departs from the path of the Quran and the Sunnah”. She then goes on to say that “It seems to me that Voll’s interpretation is hard to accept, because it is based, again, on the assumption that Islam recognises its own imperfection”. The latter part does not ring true to me as the idea of a reformer does not mean that it is Islam recognises its own imperfection, but rather that it recognises the imperfections in people and their inability to stay true to a certain path without deviating. The way it is portrayed here is almost as if Islam is a living entity that deviates from its original meaning. To clarify, imagine Islam as a ‘book’. The words do not change nor does the message. It is printed on paper and cannot be changed once done so. It is not ‘alive’ so to speak. Therefore if the Muslims were to deviate from the teachings of this ‘book’ it does not mean that the book has changed in any way but rather human nature has gone off at a tangent from its original path. Therefore, when the Mujadad guides people back to the ‘book‘ (for that is what the mujadad is in essence, a guide), it is still the same ‘book’ that we originally started off with.

Al Dajjal Al A’war (The partially blind deceiver, or the Antichrist)

Al Dajjal Al A’war, also know as Al Masih Al Dajjal (the false messiah) is a being that is sent to the human race as a tribulation and test for those living at or near the End of Days, better known as Yawm al Qiyaama (the day of reckoning/resurrection).

Interestingly enough, like the figure of the Mahdi, there is no mention of the Dajjal in the Quran. However traditions on the Dajjal can be found in the sources of hadith narrations:

Anas b Malik reported: That Allah’s messenger (PBUH) said: There is never a Prophet who has not warned the Ummah of that one eyed liar; behold, he is one eyed and your Lord is not one eyed. On his forhead are the letters KFR (KFR being the root letters for Kafir, non believer) – Sahih Muslim, Vol. 4, Kitab Al Fitan no. 7007. A very similar Tradition can be found in Bukhari no. 241

Ya’qub b. Asim b. Urwa reported: I heard a person saying to Abdallah b. Amr: you say that the Last Hour would come at such and such a time… The Dajjal would appear in my Ummah – Sahih Muslim, Vol. 4, Kitab Al Fitan no. 7024

It should be noted that the Dajjal and Jesus (pbuh) are two diametrically opposed beings. As fire is inevitably extinguished by water, thus is the relationship between the two inextricably linked opposites. We should note, the traditions concerning the Dajjal do not give a particular time frame as to when he is to appear or exactly where, but rather identifications as to his appearance and signs and events that will mark him out.

The Dajjal is not to appear untill the Rome (Syrian territory) has been conquered as reported in Sahih Muslim by Nafi b. Utba (Sahih Muslim Vol. 4, Kitab al fitan). Also, Yusair b. Jabir has reported Abd Allah bin Mas’ud as saying that there would be much bloodshed among the Romans at the time of the appearance of the Dajjal. The Final Hour itself will not come untill at least ten things come before it. In a tradition found in the Sunnan of Abu Da’wud (no. 4311) we find that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is said to have warned against certain tribulations that would occur before the hour, amongst them the rising of the sun in the West and the appearance of the Dajjal (Sunnan Abu Da’wud, p. 491 no. 4311).

However there does seem to have been some speculation as to who the Dajjal may have been or where he may currently be such as the tradition concerning Ibn Sayyad (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al Fitan) who was a Jewish contemporary of the Prophet (David J. Halperin, The Ibn Sayyad Traditions and the Legend of al-Dajjal, p. 213-225). It was reported by Abu Sa’id that the Prophet and the two companions Umar ibn al Khattab and Abu Bakr were walking on the roads of Madina and encountered Ibn Sayyad. The Prophet (pbuh, seemingly unsettled at the appearance of this person) asks him “Do you bear witness that I am the messenger of God”? (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al Fitan) The answer that the Prophet (pbuh) and the companions received was a mirror of his own question “Do you bear witness that I am the messenger of God”? when the Prophet (pbuh) heard this he in turn said “I affirm my faith in Allah and in his Angels and in his books” then goes on to ask Ibn Sayyad “what do you see”? (it seems that the reason the Prophet (pbuh) asked this question of ‘seeing’ to Ibn Sayyad is because he was what was known as a ‘kahin’ which is a type of seer (or sorcerer). Ibn Sayyad replied with “I see the throne over water” (a highly possible reference to the throne of Iblis or Satan, however it seems that Ibn Sayyad did not know which throne it was and believed it to be the throne of Allah since he claimed to be the messenger of Allah). The prophet then dismissed the situation saying “leave him be, he has been confounded”. This hadith simply determines the identity of Ibn Sayyad. It is unclear what this hadith was intended to clarify other than that Ibn Sayyad was just one of the impostors with whom Muslims had encountered, however he is decidedly not the Dajjal that is destined to appear at the Last Hour. The Hadith makes clear that the ‘kahins’ (seers) were under a misconception that they could receive divine revelation and relay messages of the unseen like the Prophets. However to dispel this false belief the Prophet Muhammad asks Ibn Sayyad what was in his mind (which was the verse pertaining to ‘dukhan’ or smoke, Quran ch. 44). Ibn Sayyad began chanting “Dukh, dukh, dukh” without understanding what it meant. Since he could only say half of the word (dukh as opposed to Dukhan which means smoke) the prophet exposed him for the emptiness of his claims. Cook gives an interesting solution to the meaning of the name Sayyad in which he explains that it could be connected to the Christian tradition of the Antichrist. In this narrative (Apocalypse of Daniel, 767) the devil takes the form of a fish and is caught by a fisherman who gives it to a girl who eats it and conceives the Antichrist. As possible as this may sound (as Ibn Sayyad literally means son of the fisherman) it is not a string argument as the name ‘Sayyad’ was not an uncommon Arab name.

It is very difficult to place this tradition in the big scheme of things as it does not really fit in with tradition. The traditions on Ibn Sayyad seem to have been left deliberately ambiguous. What is interesting, is that Ibn Sayyad, an adversarial type figure (and a Jew), was left unpunished by the prophet even after he had made his bold statement of “do you bear witness that I am the prophet of God”?, in direct defiance of the Prophet himself. It would be easy to dismiss this tradition since it does not really hold any value other than to put suspicion and an evil nature on to this character of Ibn Sayyad. But the fact of the matter is that names like those of Muslim and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal have accepted these traditions as sahih, true. What makes it even more compelling is the fact that the chain of narration, the Isnad, consists of some powerful names such as Abdullah Ibn Umar, Abu Dhar Al Ghifari and Jabir Ibn Abdallah not forgetting to mention the name of the mighty Khailfa Umar Ibn al Khattab to the mix. It has become quite perplexing trying to fit in this particular tradition, its need to be included in compilations of hadith or its relevance especially when there is the tradition of Al Tammimi and Al Jassassah, which will be looked at further down, is quite odd and more than a little confusing.

There are some traditions that say that the Dajjal is already in the world (like the story of the Dajjal chained in the west) spreading his influence. Most believe his influence to be disseminated through political systems and various forms of government and media. In a world where politics and money are the supreme power, it would only make sense that the Dajjal, in order to prosper and gain what he wants (world domination and plunging man in to sin), he needs to conquer the world of the politician and the academic. Some modern writers believe that the Dajjal is not even a person but rather an ideology or system that is slowly but surely affecting the minds of believers and non believers alike. What is fascinating about some of the traditions is the fact that some of them are so very detailed in describing future events to the point that there are some h adith that describe the very facial features of the Dajjal such as:

When Dajjal appears, his complexion will be white and his right eye will be blind, while the left eye will shine like a bright star – Sahih Al Bukhari, 77:68-92; also the Musnad of Ahmad, vol. 1, p.240-374


On his (The Dajjal) forehead will be written Kafir, meaning a disbeliever. Every Muslim will be able to read this whether literate or illiterate – The Musnad of Ahmad, vol. 2, p.228-250

The Name of Masih Al Dajjal seems to have been given due to the fact that it is oppose to the true teachings of Jesus Christ (pbuh), who himself did not teach the doctrines of his ‘son-ship’ or that of atonement according to the Quran. The Quran gives some verses about the topic of God having a son, none more crystal clear than that of Sura’t Al Ikhlas:

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful, Say: He is Allah, the One! (1) Allah, the eternally Besought of all! (2) He begetteth not nor was He begotten. (3) And there is none comparable unto Him. (4)

According to some modern apocalyptic writers, e.g. Ahmad Thomson in his book ‘Dajjal, the Antichrist: The King who has no clothes’ or Ali Akbar in his book ‘Israel and the prophecies of the Holy Quran’, the doctrine of son-ship is something that the antichrist would be in favour of people accepting as it puts up a partnership with God turning from monotheism to polytheism.

In Kitab al Imaan in Sahih Muslim there are some traditions that describe Jesus (pbuh) and the Dajjal in the same hadith. In a tradition (The Musnad of Ahmad, vol. 2, p.228 – 250) narrated on the authority of Abd Allah b. Umar the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was relating (perhaps about a dream he had) that one night when he was near the Ka’ba he saw a man with wheat complexion amongst the fair complexioned men. The man spoken of had a lock “of hair that was the most beautiful you ever saw”. This man was leaning on two men and was going around the Ka’ba doing Tawaf (circling the Ka’ba). The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) then saw another man, “stout and having too much curly hair, and blind in his right eye as if it was a full swollen grape”. The prophet then asked (perhaps an angel) who the man was, and the answer was “he is al Masih al Dajjal”. In this tradition, Jesus (pbuh) is presented as a beautiful man with wheat like skin and beautiful hair whereas the Dajjal is presented as an ugly, unkempt one eyed man. He is not simply blind in his right eye but it is also deformed and damaged with the appearance of a swollen grape.

In one account related to the Prophet (pbuh) by Tammim al Dari, a Syrian Arab who converted to Islam during the Prophets (pbuh) lifetime and also on whose authority the Prophet (pbuh) relates the story, the Dajjal is in fact already alive and is imprisoned on an island somewhere to the west. As the story goes, Tammim set sail with thirty of his men from the tribes of Lakhm and Judham. It is not clear as to the purpose of this journey or where they were headed. At sea, they were caught in a storm which pushed them off course and left them wrecked on an island (the extent as to the damage of the ship is also unclear; since they managed to return to relate the story of their tribulation at sea). On the island they were met by a mysterious creature on the beach that introduced itself as Al Jassassah (Sahih Muslim, Vol. 4, Kitab Al Fitan no. 7028). This creature is described as a female with very long hair that would drag behind it and cover the entire front part of the body. Because of the excessive hair they found it difficult to identify her front from her back. It should be noted that in some traditions this creature is described as being male and/or insane (Abu Amr al-Dani, al-Sunan al-Warida fi al-Fitan). This creature tells the men that if they seek answers then they should go to the nearby monastery. It is in this mysterious monastery that they find a huge man who is chained with iron, and looking very sad, at least in appearance. In some traditions he is described as being mamsouh al ayn or partially blind. When they relate to him their story of how they came to the island he asks them a series of questions that seem to be somewhat mysteriously prophetic. There are three accounts of this incident, however they are not always the same. Below I have listed down all the questions that he asked from all the traditions relating to this particular incedent:

1) He asks about the palm trees of Baysan and whether they are still growing (Ibn al Munadi, Malahim 230-31).

2) He asks about the sea of Galilee and whether there was still water in it.

3) He asks about the well of Zughar and whether there was still water in it.

4) He asks about what the Arabs are wearing, whether they wear cotton and wool (Al Baghawi, Sharh, xv, 66-7, however in Ibn Hibban, Sahih, viii, 278 (6750) the material used is hair).

5) He asks about the Ummi Prophet and weather he has been sent yet and how his people were treating him (‘Ummi’ seems to be derived from ‘Ummah’ meaning nation or peoples. In this context however, ‘ummi’ refers to the uneducated or illiterate prophet).

All his questions are answered in the affirmative which seems to please the chained man who lets out three howls and then proclaims to the travellers that he is the Masih Al Dajjal and that his time is almost at hand.

It is interesting that most of his questions were to do with the availability of water and things that grow I.e. agriculture. Cook makes note that the questions the chained man relates are all about places in or around the Jordan river valley making it entirely possible that this particular tradition was, or if not, created in Syria, then modified there (Cook, studies in Muslim Apocalyptic, p.119). Nu’aym does not make mention of some of these questions about the Jordan or its state of natural production (Nu’aym ibn Hammad, Kitab al Fitan) . It should also be noted however that Nu’aym, possibly the earliest transmission of this tradition, is not considered as reliable because of his very short Isnad’s (chains of narration) and the fact that some of the people he mentions in the Isnad of some of his traditions have been previously unheard of so the authenticity is questionable.

Gog and Magog, Yajuj Majuj

Dhul Qarnayn and the Quranic account about him follow closely to the “Gates of Alexander” story from the “Alexander Romance” (Richard Stoneman, Pseudo – Callisthenes, The Greek Alexander Romance, Penguin classics 1991). Since the construction of a great iron gate to hold back a hostile northern people was attributed to Alexander many centuries before the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the recording of the Quran, most historians consider Dhul-Qarnayn as a reference to Alexander the Great. There are some scholars that reject this idea and try to associate this character with some other ancient figure such as Cyrus the Great or even Darius the Great. Not only is he mentioned in the Quran but also in some hadith such as those compiled by Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim.

(The Gog and Magog people being walled off by Alexander’s forces.–Jean Wauquelin’s Book of Alexander. Bruges, Belgium, 15th century – Wikipedia)

Yajuj and Majuj, or Gog and Magog, are mentioned in Surat al Kahf of the Quran. As the story goes, Dhul Qarnayn travelled the expanse of the earth in three directions until one day he came upon a tribe that were under threat from a tribe or tribes of people that were wreaking havoc in the land. Not only were they destroying everything in sight but they also seemed to be impervious to any assault or defence on the part of those who were in their way. The people offered tribute in exchange for protection. Dhul-Qarnayn agreed to help them, but refused the tribute; he constructed a great wall that the hostile nations were unable to penetrate. They will be trapped there until the final approach of Yawm al Qiyama (the day of resurrection), and their escape will be a sign of the end:

But when Gog and Magog are let loose and they rush headlong down every height (or advantage). Then will the True Promise draw near – Quran, 21:96-97

According to Muslim scholars, Yajuj and Majuj are two big tribes from the children of Japheth (In a footnote commentary, Al Tirmidhi explains that the tribes are descended  from Japheth, Abwab al Fitan, p. 34). The Bible refers to “Magog” as the second son of Japheth between Gomer and Madai, Gomer representing the Cimmerians and Madai the Medes. But in the list of Nations, Gen 10, the term expresses rather the complex of barbarian peoples living at the extreme north and north east. In Ezek 39:6 Magog is referred to as a northern people whose leader is Gog (according to the Jewish encyclopaedia article ‘Gog and Magog’ , Josephus Identifies them with the Scythians, a name among which for classical writers stands as a number of ferocious tribes). These places have been identified by researchers as located in present day Moscow. Some scholars have also identified the word Mangol as the Chinese word Mangog or Manchog. If this is true than the region associated to Yajuj and Majuj would cover the entire area between Russia and China from the Moscow river to Mongolia. Below I have supplied a map that was drawn up by a 12th C ( 804/1154/1456 A.D) Muslim scholar Al Idrisi. Yajuj and Majuj appear in Arabic script on the bottom left edge of the Eurasian landmass, enclosed within dark mountains, at a location corresponding roughly to Mongolia. (The below map is in reference to the story of Dhul-Qarnayn in the Qur’an).

(World map by Al Idrisi indicating where Gog and Magog may be imprisoned. Notice that south is on top and north at the bottom)

Dhul Qarnayn came across a tribe of people who complained to him about the tribes of Yajuj and Majuj which inhabited the land behind two huge mountains and often emerged from behind these mountains to perpetrate acts of anarchy and plunder among them. They requested Dhul Qarnayn to erect a barrier between themselves and the tribes of Yajuj and Majuj so that they could be saved from their savagery. With the knowledge that was at his disposal via the grace of Allah, Dhul Qarnayn enlisted their help in the form of physical labour and set about erecting a high wall between the two mountains. The height of the wall or its exact length is unknown. What is known is that the height of this wall reaches that of the summit of both mountains. It is made with blocks or sheets of iron, which is further strengthened by molten lead. In this manner Yajuj and Majuj are unable to scale the wall, or cross it, except through by grace of Allah:

And when the promise of my Lord approaches, He will level it to dust – Quran 18:98

(Iskandar (Alexander) builds a wall to seal Yajuj and Majuj; here aided by dīvs (demons). — Persian miniature from a Falnama, 16th century – Wikipedia)

Now that we have some idea of the tribes of Yajuj and Majuj and their possible geographical location, we should now look at some of the prophetic traditions that regard their role during the final stages of Yawm al Qiyama, or to be more specific, as the final tribulation that the human race will have to endure. In Bukhari and Muslim we find some traditions that explain the efforts of Yajuj and Majuj to escape their imprisonment from the mountain passes and the reasons as to why it is taking such a long time to do so:

Abu Hurairah (R.A.) narrates that every day Yajuj and Majuj break (dig) through the wall erected by Dhul Qarnain (A.S.) until they reach the end of it to the extent that they can actually see the light on the other side. They then return (home) saying that ‘We will break through tomorrow.’ But Allah Subhana wa Ta’ala causes the wall to revert to its original thickness and the next day they start digging through the wall all over again, and this process continues each day until as long as Allah wills them to remain imprisoned. When Allah wishes them to be released, then at the end of the day they will say, “If Allah wills, tomorrow we will break through.” The following day they will find the wall as they had left it the previous day (i.e. it will not have returned to its orginal state) and after breaking the remaining part of it they will emerge.

And once they are free from their imprisonment:

But when Yajuj and Majuj are let loose and they rush headlong down every hill – Quran 21:97

There are a number of traditions about Yajuj Majuj that are reported from the Prophet’s (pbuh) mouth on the authority of various companions. In one tradition, the Prophet had awoken from a fitful sleep and began invoking the name of God for protection. When asked what was wrong he explained that he had a dream in which he saw that the barrier that was holding Yajuj Majuj at bay had already started to show signs of breaking:

“The barrier of Yajuj and Majuj has opened so much. And Sufyan made a sign of ten with the help of his hand (in order to indicate the width of the gap)” – Muslim, Kitab Al Fitan wa Ashrat As sa’ah, p.1493, no. 6881

This would indicate that the Prophet (pbuh) felt that the time for release of the two tribes would soon be at hand.

It is also speculated that they are also related to the Turks and that the name Turk comes from Mutrikun, those who were left. When the barrier was erected to seal off the tribes of Yajuj and Majuj, it is said that the 22nd tribe had been out hunting or raiding. When they tried to return home to their brethren they were left out hence Mutrikun or Turk.

Meta-historical Apocalypses

These are events that are almost entirely unconnected with historical events and are set in the eschatological future. They can however contain some historical data, and have historical personalities submerged under code names and description, though often these have been either idealised or demonised almost out of recognition. The Sufyani, for example, clearly represents the personification of the Ummayad dynasty (Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic, p.319). He is the ‘in your face’ evil tyrannical Arab ruler, whereas the Dajjal on the other hand is the greater of these evils. He is hidden and mysterious and supernaturally powerful. His main objective, which is shrouded in the mysterious miracles that he works, is to tempt the believers as well as the unbeliever away from belief in God. It should also be noted here that like Ibn Sayyad, the Dajjal is of Jewish origin (W. Brinner, “The image of the Jews as ‘other’ in medieval Muslim texts”, IOS 14 (1994) p. 227-40), The stories of his miracles , such as raising the dead back to life, represent some of the deep emotional needs (like the bringing back of dead loved ones) that are to be met in the hereafter (Al-Tayalisi, Mihnat al ma’bud fi tartib musnad al-Tayalisi Abu Da’ud, 217). The Dajjal is offering to fulfil those needs in this world and in this life time as oppose to Gods promise of the hereafter.

The Sufyani acts as a General or a warlord. Although he is an evil tyrant he is still human, but more importantly he is a Muslim (most probably because of his Arab descent) which means that once the Mahdi appears and throws Al Sufyani’s plans in to the air, he will still have a choice of repenting his sins. This is not the case with the Dajjal. The Dajjal cannot repent because he himself is a personification of evil; he is a fitna, a tribulation or affliction that is sent by God himself to perform a task of tempting the peoples away from God. It should be asked however, that since the Dajjal is a tempter, what of the other tempter of men, the Devil himself? The difference between the two is quite simple, the Dajjal as mentioned before is a creature that was designed to do one thing, and that is to be a tribulation to mankind; he has no free will in this matter. Iblis or Satan on the other hand is free to do as he chooses since he is from among the Jinn and has free will to choose (Quran – 18:50).

When speaking of meta – historical apocalypses we find that the need for an enemy is a very important one. There are quite a few of them and they are very powerful. The Christian is the “here and now foe” while the Jew is the metahistorical foe (Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic, p.315). It is usually, as is the case, the Christians who are able to put a formidably sized army on the battlefield and hold a fight even though they are always defeated. On the other hand the Jew is seen as a more devious, mysterious and ever plotting persona. They tend to suddenly appear without warning, with massive forces and mysterious power. Unlike the Christians who never give even up in defeat, the Jews collapse as suddenly as the appeared.

The figure of the Sufyani seems to have been tailor made as a candidate that fits perfectly in to what a meta-historical character is made of. He has also been described as the doppelganger of the Mahdi (Cook, P.122). Over the centuries the cycle of the Sufyani has been studied by scholars and analysed several times suggesting that it is a product of Shi’a apocalyptic thought along with anti Abbasid circles in Syria. Even before Nu’aym, people such as Muqatil bin Suleiman (d. 150/762) and Abd Allah bin al Lahia reporting full traditions on the figure of the Sufyani. The most obvious feature of the Sufyani is his name as it indicates his ancestry as being descended from Abu Sufyan. Abu Sufyan was an arch nemesis of the Prophet (pbuh) and the Muslims, however he did accept Islam, although it was after a bitter defeat.

The Sufyani in apocalyptic hadith is the rival of the Mahdi and is also called al Sakhri (the sarcastic) as this was the given name of Abu Sufyan, Sakhr ibn Harb. The whole cycle of the Sufyani is made up of expeditions that he sends out to subdue enemies in various places., an example of this is an expedition against the Byzantines in order to retrieve some Qurashi’s who have defected and sought sanctuary there. But his biggest expeditions are mentioned as being against Iraq and Persia (the East) and the Hijaz (modern day Saudi Arabia).

Al Athna’sharyoun (Twelver Shi’sm) and the Mahdi

Ali ibn Abi Talib became the 4th Khalifa in 656 CE but was killed in 661. The Damascus dynasty known as the Umayyad took over and had politically neutralised Ali’s two sons Hassan and Husain. Hassan abdicated khalifaship to Mu’awiya and Husain was martyred on the plains of Karbala, an event which is commemorated on the 10th of Muharram. After this, Shi’a groups never really recognised the legitimacy of the Sunni Khalifa’s, instead placing leadership on the descendants of Husain all of whom were given the title of Al Imaam. This line of Imams’ went on for a number of years untill the disappearance of the twelfth, Muhammad al Mahdi. At the age of five it is reported that he went in to a state of ghayba or occultation untill his time to return and would emerge as the awaited Mahdi.

The Shi’a branch of Islam believe that after the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) there were twelve Imaams that had a kind of divine authority. According to the Shi’a view, the Imaams were the only beings who could give correct instruction from the Quran as they were divinely guided, hence they provided an infallible source of divine authority. The Imaams were not accessible however but they did have a trusted network of ambassadors who would act as intermediaries/ambassadors between the people and the Imaams.

After Hassan Al Askari (11th Imam) died, tradition dictates that his son went in to a kind of occultation and would eventually return to the world as the awaited Mahdi. There would be two periods of this type of occultation. The first, called the lesser occultation was from around 874 to 941. The second occultation period began in 941 and the time of his emergence still remains indefinite since the time of th fourth ambassador. This means that the Imaam was absolutely cut off from the world and that the Muslim Ummah would have to fend for itself until God decreed that it was time for him to return.

Continued in part two…

The Eccentric Seeker.

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