Monday, February 9, 2015

Prophecies in the Holy Scriptures: Word of God or Folly of Man? - Part IV

Prophecies in the Holy Scriptures: Word of God or Folly of Man?

Part IV – Prophecies in the Ahadith

Originally Published: February 2, 2015
Updated: June 21, 2015

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“Let those who are present convey to those who are absent. For perhaps the one to whom it is conveyed will understand it better than the one who (first) hears it.”

-         Sunan Ibn Majah, 1:1:233

This is the final article of our series “Prophecies in the Holy Scriptures: Word of God or Folly of Man?” and the second part of our examination of prophecies in the Islamic sources.  In Part III, we examined prophecies found in the Holy Quran.[1]  In this finale to the series, we will examine the second main source of Islam, the ahadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).[2]

Prophecies in the Ahadith
As we stated in Part III, the ahadith are a major source of prophecies about future events, whereas the Quran was not primarily revealed as a book of prophecy.  During his prophethood, Muhammad (peace be upon him) related the information concerning future events to his followers, who then preserved them for posterity.  There are many prophecies in the ahadith compilations, some which are easy to understand and others which are more cryptic and open to interpretation.[3]  For the purposes of this article, we will tend to ignore prophetic ahadith whose interpretation is a matter of debate, unless they are coupled with ahadith which are easy to understand.[4] 
1.   Sahih Muslim, 41:6925 –

“Mustaurid al-Qurashi reported: I heard Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The Last Hour would come (when) the Romans would form a majority (أَكْثَرُ) amongst people.  'Amr said to him (Mustaurid Qurashi): See what you are saying? He said: I say what I heard from Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him). Thereupon he said: If you say that, it is a fact for they have four qualities. They have the patience to undergo a trial and immediately restore themselves to sanity after trouble and attack again after flight. They (have the quality) of being good to the destitute and the orphans, to the weak and, fifthly, the good quality in them is that they put resistance against the oppression of kings.”

Discussion:  In this hadith, it is stated that when the Day of Judgment comes, the Romans (i.e. Christians) would be a majority amongst people.  The Arabic word in the hadith that is usually translated as “majority” is أَكْثَرُ, which according to Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon, means:

“[m]ore, and most, in quantity, and in number.”[5]

In other words, one of the signs of the Day of Judgment is that the Christians would be the most numerous group of people in the world, even more so than Muslims.  And indeed, in modern times, Christianity is the largest religion in the world, as all scientific polls and sources, both Christian and non-Christian, acknowledge.  For example, in a 2006 book criticizing the theory of evolution, Dr. Jonathan Wells, a molecular scientist and Christian proponent of the intelligent design theory stated:

“As of 2005, Christianity had far more adherents than any other religion in the world.  About 33 percent of the world’s six and a half billion people identify themselves as Christians…[6]

And according to more recent figures provided by the Pew Research Center, Christians formed 31.5% of the world’s population as of 2010, a clear majority when compared to other religious groups, including Muslims, who make up the second largest group at 23.2%.[7]  No other group, not even atheists, comes close.  In other words, Christians are “…most in quantity”, as the word “أَكْثَر” suggests.    

However, the hadith also states that this would occur before the approach of the “Hour”, which refers to the Day of Judgment.  In fact, the prophecy stated that the “Hour” would come when the Christians would be the most numerous group.  However, a recent publication by the Pew Forum shows that in the next fifty years, Muslims will be almost as numerous as Christians, and will probably overtake the latter after that point.[8]  Does this mean that the Last Hour will occur before this demographic change occurs?  Or does it mean that since Christians are currently the largest religion in the world, it is simply one of the signs of the approach of the Last Hour?  The answer can only be one of a speculative nature, since no one knows when the Hour will actually come.[9]  Since other ahadith state that with the descent of Jesus (peace be upon him), Christianity will be abolished,[10] the fact that Christians are currently the largest religious group does not mean that they will remain so until the Day of Judgment.  In light of this, it seems that the latter scenario makes more sense.  Allah knows best.         

Status: Fulfilled 

2.   Sahih Bukhari, 2:47 – 

“Narrated Abu Huraira: One day while the Prophet was sitting in the company of some people, (The angel) Gabriel came… […] Then he further asked, "When will the Hour be established?" Allah's Apostle replied, "The answerer has no better knowledge than the questioner. But I will inform you about its portents. 1. When a slave (lady) gives birth to her master. 2. When the shepherds of black camels start boasting and competing with others in the construction of higher buildings. And the Hour is one of five things which nobody knows except Allah. […]”

Discussion: In this hadith, the Prophet was quoted as having given two more signs of the coming of the Hour.[11]  The first is a rather cryptic prophecy about a slave giving birth to her master, whereas the second is a prophecy about shepherds competing in the construction of bigger and bigger buildings.  With regard to the former, the scholars of Islam disagreed as to its meaning.  Some stated that it was referring to a time when children would be disobedient to their parents whereas others have more interesting theories.  According to the contemporary scholar Moustafa Zayed, the prophecy is referring to the modern phenomenon of wealthy families choosing a surrogate mother (usually a maid) to give birth to their children.  Zayed states:

“So when this maid agrees and she gives birth to that surrogate baby, she is the maid that gives birth to her master.”[12]

Whether this interpretation is correct or not, what is certain is that there has been debate as to the meaning of the Prophet’s statement.  As such, we can only speculate.  If Zayed’s interpretation is correct, then it means that the prophecy has been fulfilled in modern times.  However, it could also be that the more traditional interpretation (parents giving birth to disobedient children) is correct.  Due to the debate, it seems prudent to assign this particular prophecy as “unsettled”, though it is true that in either case, the prophecy has be fulfilled.

            In contrast to the first prophecy, the second one is clear and there has been no debate as to its meaning.  It refers to a time when “the shepherds of black camels” (i.e. the Arabs) will compete in the construction of tall buildings.[13]  To explain the meaning of the hadith, the famous scholar An-Nawawi stated:

“The people of badī’a (the desert Bedouins) and their like are indigent.  There will come a time in which they become rich and build such structures to demonstrate their wealth.”[14]

In other words, the hadith prophesied that the once poor Arabs (Bedouins) would reach a state of immense wealth and use it in competing with each other in the construction of tall buildings.  This leads to the question of whether the once poor Bedouins have indeed reached such a state of financial strength.  As any person can see with the recent boom in architectural projects in the Middle East, the answer to this question is a definitive “yes”. 

Currently, the tallest building in the world is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.[15]  However, Saudi Arabia has plans to build the “Kingdom Tower”, which will be even taller and is scheduled to be completed by 2018.[16]  All of these projects are financed by the enormous wealth of the ruling families of these nations, and yet these families have a heritage which is much more modest.  The former ruler of Dubai, for example, Sheik Rashid Bin Saeed Al-Maktoum once stated:

“My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I drive a Mercedes, my son drives a Land Rover, his son will drive a Land Rover, but his son will ride a camel…”[17]

The current ruler of Dubai, under whose reign the Burj Khalifa was built and completed, is Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the third son of Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum.[18]  But the fact is that despite having enormous wealth and power, he is only two generations removed from a simpler Bedouin life, where luxury cars would have been an unattainable dream!

            Similarly, the Al-Saud family, which has ruled the modern state of Saudi Arabia since the early 20th century, also has more humble origins.  Before the discovery of oil, the Al-Saud family did not command the fabulous wealth it now has.  In the mid-20th century, before the discovery of oil, Saudi Arabia was among the poorest and most undeveloped nations in the world.[19]  But since the discovery of oil, Saudi Arabia has been transformed into one of the wealthiest nations in the world.  It is no wonder then that the Saudi royal family has made plans to build the tallest man-made structure in the world!  There is no doubt that this prophecy has come true.

Status: Fulfilled

3.      Sahih Muslim, 5:2208 –

“Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The Last Hour will not come before wealth becomes abundant and overflowing, so much so that a man takes Zakat out of his property and cannot find anyone to accept it from him and till the land of Arabia becomes meadows and rivers.”

Discussion: In this interesting hadith, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stated that the Day of Judgment will not come until wealth becomes “abundant and overflowing” and the Arabian peninsula, which is of course mostly a desert, will be transformed into a land of “meadows and rivers”.  In other versions of this hadith, it is stated that Arabia will “return” to being meadows and rivers.  For example, in Sahih Al-Jami, a similar hadith states:

“…The Hour will not come till…the land of the Arabs will return to be meadows and rivers.”[20]

Yet another hadith in Musnad Ahmad states:

The Hour (of Resurrection) will not occur until the Arabian Peninsula returns, as it used to be, paradises and rivers.[21]

This prophecy is interesting for two reasons, since it states that the Arabian Peninsula will “return” to being “meadows and rivers”.  In other words, it is claiming that the land which is now a desert once was the exact opposite, having rivers running through it, and will again return to this state in the future.  As far as the prophecy of the future is concerned, it appears that it is beginning to come true.  According to NASA:

“Over the last 24 years, [Saudi Arabia] has tapped hidden reserves of water to grow wheat and other crops in the Syrian Desert.”[22]

Satellite images provided by NASA show that since 1987, there has been a gradual increase in green vegetation appearing in agricultural fields that are 1 kilometer across.  While this is not a complete fulfillment of the prophecy, it certainly seems to be a start.  Indeed, we would expect that the process of “de-desertification” to be very long.   Of course, the appearance of green vegetation is due to man-made efforts, and not natural processes.  Hence, it would be premature to say that the prophecy has definitely been fulfilled.  Rather, we can say that it may be in the process of being fulfilled and that it actually could take decades before it is completely fulfilled.[23]      

            But what about the claim that Arabia was once a land of “meadows and rivers”?  Is this claim true?  In what can only be described as an amazing example of the divine origins of Islam, the answer is a definite “yes”!  It turns out that Muhammad (peace be upon him), a 7th-century Arab merchant who had no business knowing the geographical history of Arabia, was correct and preempted the scientific confirmation of Arabia’s pre-desert conditions by 1400 years.  As previously mentioned, Saudi Arabia has been drawing water from below the desert sands to create agricultural fields.  But where did this water come from?  According to NASA:

“The green fields that dot the desert draw on water that in part was trapped during the last Ice Age. In addition to rainwater that fell over several hundred thousand years, this fossil water filled aquifers that are now buried deep under the desert's shifting sands.”[24]

In addition, an article from the University of Oxford reported in 2012 the following:

“Satellite images have revealed that a network of ancient rivers once coursed their way through the sand of the Arabian Desert, leading scientists to believe that the region experienced wetter periods in the past.”[25]

Finally, according to an article by Patricia Groves of the “Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey”:

“The picture that emerges of life six to eight million years ago in the late Miocene period is of a thickly vegetated land, abounding in wildlife, not unlike present day East Africa. There was evidence of wide rivers flowing through what must have been well-wooded savannah plains.”[26]

She also describes:

“…a time in the history of the Arabian peninsula only seven thousand years ago during the Arabian Neolithic period when the inhabitants were not just hunting and fishing, but also herding domesticated animals, including goats and sheep. The evidence allowed a remarkable glimpse into this pastoral community, showing that a broad economic base supported what appears to be a relatively comfortable lifestyle.”

Given this amazing evidence, skeptics must ask themselves: How did Muhammad (peace be upon him) know that the land of Arabia (which has been an unforgiving desert land for thousands of years) was once a land of “meadows and rivers”?  Surely, the skeptics must admit that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) demonstrated a knowledge of the unknowable.  A 7th-century Arab had no business knowing what Arabia looked like in the distant past, yet Muhammad (peace be upon him) somehow knew!  Is this not evidence of the divine origins of Islam?  The answer should be obvious to all non-biased individuals.  So while the prophecy has not yet been fulfilled (but clearly has begun to be fulfilled), the hadith still manages to amaze the reader by demonstrating scientific knowledge of the geographical history of the Arabian Peninsula.      
Status: Partially fulfilled/To be fulfilled

4.      Sahih Ibn Hibban, 1889 –

“’Abd Allah Ibn Umar related that the Prophet said: The Hour will not come until there are men and women in the streets having sexual relations with each other like donkeys do.”[27]

Discussion: Containing yet another prophecy concerning the signs of the Day of Judgment, this hadith states that a time will come when there would be sexual promiscuity to the extent that people would have intercourse in the streets.  In addition, another hadith has warned that whenever people engage in immorality such as this, they will be stricken with previously unknown diseases:

“It was narrated that ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar said: ‘The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) turned to us and said: ‘O Muhajirun, there are five things with which you will be tested, and I seek refuge with Allah lest you live to see them: Immorality never appears among a people to such an extent that they commit it openly, but plagues and diseases that were never known among the predecessors will spread among them.’ […]”[28]

So, we have two ahadith which prophecy the widespread practice of sexual promiscuity and the ill-effects it will have on humanity, respectively.  Anyone living in modern times knows that not only has open sexual intercourse become the norm in many societies, but that it has resulted in the discovery of new diseases which were previously unknown to mankind.  

The so-called “sexual revolution” has led many people to eschew modesty and abstinence in favor of immorality and fornication.  Perhaps the most iconic example of this wanton sexual promiscuity is the famous 1969 Woodstock music festival held in New York.  As author James E. Perone explains:

“This free approach to nudity and sex of the 1969 festival was seen by those who supported the free hippie lifestyle of the Woodstock generation as beautiful and by those who did not support that particular lifestyle as symbolic of a breakdown of decency and morals in American society.”[29]

And consequently, this “free approach” to sexual intercourse has led to the emergence of new diseases like AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), exactly as the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) warned.  In fact, AIDS is not the only disease to have emerged in human history as a result of illicit sexual activity.  Syphilis was first reported in Europe in 1494, and was thought to have been transmitted by sailors returning from the New World.[30]  Unlike AIDS, which is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), syphilis is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum.[31]  Thus, when European sailors apparently engaged in promiscuity in the New World, they unwittingly infected themselves with this disease, and then brought it to Europe, where it spread like wildfire.  We have, therefore, yet another prophecy of Muhammad (peace be upon him) that has been fulfilled.  Mankind seems to be inching closer and closer to the Day of Judgment.

Status: Fulfilled

In this final article of the “Prophecies in the Holy Scriptures” series, we have examined four prophetic ahadith.  This examination has provided indisputable evidence of the divine origins of the Prophet Muhammad’s mission.  He foretold that Christians would become the most numerous group.  He foretold that the poor Arabs would one day become wealthy and compete with each other in the construction of taller and taller buildings.  He foretold that the desert of Arabia would return to its prehistoric state of “meadows and rivers”, thereby demonstrating knowledge of Arabia’s distant history, which no person until the advent of modern science would have known.  He foretold that a time would come when people would engage in sexual relations with no inhibitions or shame.  All of these prophecies have been fulfilled already or are being fulfilled before our very eyes.  Coupled with the evidence presented in Part III, the evidence presented in this article should surely persuade unbelievers of the truth of Islam.  In fact, what we have examined in this article is only a small sample of the prophetic ahadith.  There are many more ahadith which we could have examined, and they would only further add to the evidence for Islam.  Those sincerely seeking the truth must acknowledge that the evidence lies squarely on the side of Islam.   
And Allah knows best!

[2] All ahadith (sing. hadith) are taken from the following websites:

[3] The cryptic nature of some prophetic ahadith is due to the fact that they convey information about the end times or some other future events, which obviously have not yet happened.  Hence, speculating on the meaning of such ahadith would be a fruitless endeavor and they will not be examined in this article.  An example is the following hadith about the Dajjal from Sahih Bukhari:

“Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, "Shall I not tell you about the Dajjal a story of which no prophet told his nation? The Dajjall is one-eyed and will bring with him what will resemble hell and paradise, and what he will call paradise will be actually hell; so I warn you (against him) as Noah warned his nation against him."” (Book 55, Number 554)

Obviously, the Dajjal has not yet arrived, and the interpretation of what the Prophet meant by “hell and paradise” is a matter of debate.  Is it to be taken literally or is it merely a metaphor for evil and good (i.e. what the Dajjal calls hell will actually be good, while what he calls paradise will actually be evil)?  Since the hadith has not been fulfilled yet, it is a matter of the unknown.  It will be understood by those who live to see the time of the Dajjal, inshaAllah.  As another hadith of the Prophet states:

“Let those who are present convey to those who are absent. For perhaps the one to whom it is conveyed will understand it better than the one who (first) hears it.” (Sunan Ibn Majah, 1:1:233)

[4] However, as we will see, in some cases, even with multiple interpretations, a prophecy can still be acknowledged as having been fulfilled.

[6] Jonathan Wells, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design (Washington DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2006), p. 170. 

[9] As the Holy Quran states:

“They ask thee about the (final) Hour - when will be its appointed time? Say: "The knowledge thereof is with my Lord (alone): None but He can reveal as to when it will occur. Heavy were its burden through the heavens and the earth. Only, all of a sudden will it come to you." They ask thee as if thou Wert eager in search thereof: Say: "The knowledge thereof is with Allah (alone), but most men know not."” (Surah Al-Araf, 7:187)

[10] Sahih Bukhari, 34:425 states (emphasis ours):

“Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, "By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, the son of Mary (Jesus) will shortly descend amongst you people (Muslims) as a just ruler and will break the cross and kill the pig and abolish the Jizya (a tax taken from the non-Muslims, who are in the protection, of the Muslim government). Then there will be abundance of money and no-body will accept charitable gifts.”

[11] There are many other ahadith, which mention both the major and minor signs of the Day of Judgment.  We will discuss a few in this article.   

[12] Moustafa Zayed, The Prophecies of Muhammad: His Miracles and Prophecies Till the End of Time (North Charleston: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012), p. 224.

[13] Other versions of the hadith refer to “naked, barefooted shepherds”.  In any case, they all refer to poor and destitute shepherds who would compete with each other in the construction of tall buildings.

[14] Quoted in Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, The Approach of Armageddon? An Islamic Perspective (Washington DC: Islamic Supreme Council of America, 2003), fn. 74, p. 91.

[19] M. Riad El-Ghonemy, Affluence and Poverty in the Middle East (New York: Routledge, 1998), p. 56.

[20] Sahih Al-Jami, Number 7429.  As quoted in Zayed, op. cit., p. 194.

[23] On a side note, NASA does point out that the Saudi project is not sustainable and that the water which it is currently drawing from the ground will only last for about 50 years.  What will happen to the green fields when the water runs out and how will the Saudis sustain them?  That remains to be seen.

[27] As quoted in Kabbani, op. cit., p. 128.

[28] Sunan Ibn Majah, 5:36:4019.

[29] James E. Perone, Woodstock: An Encyclopedia of the Music and Art Fair (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2005), p. 142.

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